Sunday 31 October 2021

I don't know whether I have ever seen a ghost

but, with Halloween coming up, I would like to follow up on a blog post written by Katherine Langrish

I am not  even sure what I think about ghosts or things like fortune telling or anything else to do with a spirit world - real or supposed. What I do believe is that it is better not to meddle with these things.

I do believe that there are things we cannot yet explain, that we may never be able to explain. I also believe that people can have strange experiences, some of them pleasant and others not so pleasant, that cannot easily be explained away. It may be that these are nothing more than imagination running wild, misunderstandings about what is going on at the time, or from some physical cause we do not yet understand. There may be something else but I have no idea what that might be.

I have had several strange experiences in my life, not things I would wish to repeat. I remember not wanting my youngest sister to go and visit another young friend one day. Normally I would  have taken no interest at all in her going. My brother and I were  busy doing something else for our mother. I think our mother was probably relieved to have her youngest child out of the way - until the Black Cat fell off the little bike she was trying to ride and broke her leg. I remember our mother seemed annoyed rather than sympathetic but that was her usual reaction to any sort of medical problem. It was nothing to the fear and guilt I felt that  I had somehow "allowed" this to happen. It was ridiculous of course. It was not up to me to say my sister could go to play with her friend. 

Some people would say it was a "premonition". I don't know what it was but it felt real at the time, very real.

My maternal grandmother died suddenly. She went to lie down for her usual afternoon "rest" and never woke up. I don't think any of us were upset by this. She was not a nice woman. My mother admitted to being greatly relieved. My parents were about to leave their last country posting. "Nana" would have wanted to live with her daughter in the city. I would not have worked. My brother and I were struggling, really struggling, with her demands as it was. It was my brother who found her. Even now he remarks on how calm he felt then. He went to the retired nurse across the street and she took over from there. 

A week later, after my mother had returned to the country, my brother and I were alone in the house. We were in separate rooms studying when I felt a very strong urge to go outside. I had no reason to go at all. I was writing an essay.  I tried to ignore the feeling but gave up and went out one door - just as my brother was going out the other. We looked at each other. Then my brother said, "That was weird." Both of us had, at identical moments in time, felt the same compulsion to be outside.  We had both felt a sense of something, if not actually malevolent, rather nasty indoors. There were some muted noises inside and then silence. We waited for a short while and then went back in together. The house felt normal again. Was it just the over-active imaginations of two people in their late teens?

While I was at university in London I was invited to afternoon tea in the room of another girl in the hall of residence I was living in. She had a friend staying from her home country in Asia. Her friend P... had a reputation for being able to foretell the future. The others wanted to know.  I suppose they thought of it as part of the afternoon's entertainment. I had no desire to participate. The others did and she "told" them things that could have been taken one way or another. But she told one girl she couldn't tell her anything. After the others had gone and I was there with just the two of them she turned to her friend and told her that this girl was about to lose a brother in an accident. Now she knew nothing about this girl. Perhaps it was a fair guess that she would have a brother but the fact that there was a brother and  several days later he was killed in a motorbike accident in South America was something shocking.  The girl who had invited me to afternoon tea later told me, "P... thought the others were very foolish but she respected you for not wanting to know anything."

No, I don't want my "fortune" told. I don't want to know what is coming - and not being able to avoid it. I don't want to never have a nice surprise. The ability to foretell the future that way would not be a blessing it would be a great burden.

I don't know what I think about ghosts either. Tonight is Halloween and the children in the street want to "celebrate" it with a bit of fun. "Trick or treat" is not really part of our culture. I hope it never is. But, I am  going participate with a small "cauldron" of chocolate frogs and a friendly smile because that is what children need. 

Saturday 30 October 2021

A visit to the doctor

is something I try to avoid. It isn't always possible of course but I am not one for going to the doctor with mild symptoms. There are other people who feel differently.

I had an appointment yesterday. I was doing the right thing by following up on a letter that had been sent out "reminding" me that I had an "overdue" appointment for a female test. The reminder was interesting in that I had never had a test of that nature. 

Middle Cat, who needs to see our GP much more frequently and knows her well, inquired about this for me.

"Tell Cat to make an appointment. We can talk about it."

I made the appointment. We discussed it. No, probably not necessary. We can try. It might be interesting to see if  we can...  it was that sort of conversation.  (As I suspected it wasn't possible. Our GP was not surprised and neither was I.) 

It was a longer than usual appointment though so we discussed other things as well - not to do with me but relating to other people I am concerned about.  As we did so I was keeping an eye on the time. Our GP is notorious for running late. She was already running late at 8:40am (my appointment time). 

"C.... I am out of here now. If I go now you will be back on track for appointment times," I told her.

She looked at me startled. Then she smiled and sighed, "Trust you to keep me on track. See you in eight weeks for the annual check  up."

I was almost out the door when she tried to ask another question. I looked at her. "I'll answer that one in eight weeks time," I told her.

And I heard her laughing as I prowled off across an almost empty waiting room. 

But I think it was important to try and keep her to time. It's no fun sitting there in the waiting room if you are perhaps elderly and frail or young and restless or if you are anxiously waiting to hear about your test results. There are all sorts of reasons for busy doctors to be running late but simply chatting to patients about other things is not one of them. 

And the reception staff, both talking to other people, gave me a discreet thumbs up as I left.

Friday 29 October 2021

Should we have to present ID in order to vote?

The question has come up again because the federal government here in Downunder is proposing that this should happen. The Opposition is, naturally, opposing such a move. They claim it is a policy more akin to President Trump than democracy.

The reality of course is that people in many countries do have to present ID in order to vote. Those countries are also considered to be democracies.

Of course the difference between most of them and this country is that they, unlike Downunder, do not have compulsory attendance at the ballot box.

It is no secret that I am opposed to compulsory attendance at the ballot box. I would still vote and I would be strongly encouraging everyone else to vote. That said I do not believe people should ever be put in a position where they feel compelled to vote. You cannot actually compel people to vote of course. You have to take the ballot papers, "mark" them, and then place them in the relevant box or boxes. How you "mark" the papers is entirely your own affair. Many people are unaware of that. Even the Electoral Commission advertises "voting is compulsory". 

But I am not opposed to the idea of having to present some form of ID in order to vote. The vast majority of Downunderites eligible to vote have some form of ID. It's how they got on the electoral rolls in the first place.  There are a very few who don't and they can make "declaration votes". The government is proposing a wide variety of forms of ID be acceptable.

So, why oppose it? People are not being asked for a mandatory ID card.  It will simply be a request for proof that you are who you say you are. 

And therein lies the problem. I am all too well aware that there are people who use the vote of other people. The electoral rolls don't always get updated in time. People die and others use their vote by going to another polling station and claiming to be that person. There are also far too many instances of people who do not have the capacity to vote being on the electoral register. A friend of mine discovered her profoundly intellectually disabled daughter had been placed on the electoral register despite not having any understanding of the process or even understanding the concept of "choice". Despite this it appeared that she had "voted". What had happened was that one of the staff working in the residence she lives in had put her on the electoral register - and then used her vote as well as her own. That's a serious offence but it was impossible to prove. Her parents had a difficult time getting her name removed. It would be by no means the only time this has happened.

There was  a well reported case some years ago of either a family or group of people who actually set out to see how many times they could vote overall. They claimed to have each voted many times. I don't know how they did it but it must have involved some precision planning to get around as many polling booths as possible. I doubt they used their own names. They wouldn't need to. They could say they were anyone at all. That alone is good reason to need to show ID.  

I submitted a paper to the current Royal Commission about the problems many people with disabilities have in voting, especially in voting the way they want to vote. Too many of the people I interviewed complained that their vote was being used by others in one way or another. Having to present voter ID would reduce some of that risk.  It's time we thought about it for that reason if no other.  

Thursday 28 October 2021

"Vegemite" is trending on Twitter

this morning. I don't usually bother too much about what is "trending" unless it is an international emergency of some sort but....Vegemite?

I think it would be reasonable to say that the majority of my generation grew up eating Vegemite - and the generation after that too. It may still be the case that the majority of little Downunderites eat Vegemite.

For the uninitiated of you in Upover and elsewhere, Vegemite is a yeast extract. It looks a little like sticky black tar. Marmite is a sloppy relation to Vegemite - and no, it doesn't taste quite the same. 

Vegemite is what is put on toast at breakfast time and in sandwiches at lunch time.  You might add cheese or tomato or egg or even avocado but the Vegemite is an essential part of the sandwich. Add Vegemite and you don't need to add salt. 

There are differing views on how thick the Vegemite has to be spread. I prefer a mere hint myself - savour the flavour that way please. Middle Cat likes more on her toast than I do.  I have seen it spread so thickly it would be inedible to all but the most dedicated of "saltaholics".  

As kittens my mother would prepare us an after-school snack of a "weet-bix" (the sort of breakfast biscuit you usually pour milk on) and a smear of Vegemite. It was cheap, particularly as we did not have the added luxury of butter or margarine. We had already had a Vegemite sandwich for our school lunch. Peanut paste (now peanut butter) was something reserved for special occasions.  Unlike other children we never had jam or honey or banana sandwiches. 

We ate our boiled eggs with toast "soldiers" and the toast had Vegemite on it. If we were recovering from some illness it would be "dry" biscuits (the sort you use for cheese) with a hint of Vegemite. That was the closest my mother ever got to "invalid" food. Her religious beliefs precluded any sort of illness on our part. This sort of food was a convenience for her - rather than pander to us. 

When I went to live in London I thought I would try to do without Vegemite but discovered a friend had tucked a jar into my overnight bag - and that you could buy it in London anyway!

For the most part my American friends do not share my enthusiasm for Vegemite. I can understand that. They don't have the right sort of bread there. There is too much sugar in it. It is a different story in England. I converted quite a few from Marmite to Vegemite. They had less success in trying to convert me...even though you can buy Marmite here too.

Vegemite requires the right sort of bread, real bread. It is wonderful on toasted sour-dough too. 

Vegemite is part of the Downunder landscape. It is part of growing up. Despite all the concerns about "too much salt" in our diets it is one thing we are unlikely to stop eating. Anyway it has all those "B" vitamins in it - and aren't they supposed to be good for you?


Wednesday 27 October 2021

"Fast food"

is not part of my diet. You know the sort of thing I mean - those strange "chain" places where you can buy something called a "burger".

I am prompted to write about these this morning because someone posted a picture this morning of what she was given when she ordered something - and what, according to the picture, she should have been given. To both her and to me there is a vast difference between a roll filled with cheese, tomato, lettuce etc and a roll filled with a single slice of cheese and a sliver of onion.

It is not the first time I have seen and heard of such complaints. I have never eaten from that particular chain. The bread there is soft and squashy. It has no substance. I suspect it has far more sugar in it than is good for any living creature. (Don't get me wrong. I do like some things made with sugar or honey!)  I have sometimes wondered whether the reality matches up to the pictures. Apparently not.

That chain has a shop not far from two other shops (restaurants?) where I live. All three are on the main road along with.... well wait a moment.

There is that chicken place on the corner. I am sure you know which chicken place I mean. The "colonel" must have been a very wealthy man when he died. I was once given a piece of the chicken to "try". I didn't like it. Perhaps I am a fussy cat but it just didn't appeal to me. I have never been in to the shop.

Right next door to that is a place which sells "whoppers". Now, in this country, a "whopper" is also a lie. I have not investigated this place either. 

Both places seem to be busy. You don't even have to get out of your car to get your lunch. You just "drive through". They also do a roaring "after school" trade. High school students have a lot more pocket money now than anyone in my peer group ever had.

 Then there is the place which sells cakes, mostly cheese cakes, next door - but that seems to be a place for adults. Yes, I've been in there a couple of times when there have been family celebrations but I have more fingers on one paw than that. 

Then we come to an Italian place which is more like a restaurant. It is reputedly the centre of the local drugs trade but we have eaten there  a few times. 

Tucked away in a corner is a tiny Thai place. It seems to keep going so I assume the food is good. It certainly seems able to compete with the place that sells the soft squashy rolls. That's only about thirty metres away.  

The "pizza" place comes next but that only opens late in the day and stays open well into the night. It is next door to the "other chicken" place - an independently owned shop where the owner sells not just chicken but more "burgers", chips and the like. At lunch time that place is crowded with work men who don't mind getting out of their vans to get their lunch. Some of them are so regular that the owner can ask "the usual?" He gets a nod and that is the end of the conversation.  

There are other chicken, pizza, burger places dotted around. 

And then there is the fish and chip shop. It is part of a chain. The place is very, very clean. (I've been shown the kitchen.) Middle Cat knows the owners. She had one of them as a patient when she was working. One of my nephews made a commercial with the now grown up daughter. The family worked with Middle Cat's father-in-law too. (When he was alive he owned an independent fish shop which had queues which quite literally and without exaggeration stretched around the corner into the next road. It had a reputation all over the city. He trained a few people in his time.)

The fish and chip shop is on another road, some distance away. It is worth the extra effort of going there. It's actually cheaper. The food is much better. 

I am beginning to think there is no such thing as good "fast food". Food needs exploration and effort. 

Tuesday 26 October 2021

Using up the scraps

can require thought or a little ingenuity or something... I am not sure what.

"Cat, is there any timber left if your father's shed?" someone asked me yesterday.

"Yes, do you need a bit?" I asked in reply.

"Mmm....yes - about this big." 

"Come and have a look."

I know that this man has a shed full of timber. He spends most of his waking hours working in his shed. I also know exactly what his problem was...he didn't have the "right" bit. 

I unlocked the shed. He looked in and nodded resignedly. I could see him thinking that here was someone else who had collected more timber than he could use. 

I showed him where to find the small pieces of timber and left him to it.  A little later he came out with a piece of "pinus radiata". 

"Just right! Thank you." 

That type of pine is cheap timber - as timber goes. Brother Cat has gone off with the Huon Pine, the Tasmanian Blackwood, the Silky Oak and other wonderful timber. He is in his "shed" making things for other people just the way the Senior Cat did.

My mother used to make up what she called "gardening jumpers" or sweaters or pullovers for the male members of the family. These were striped affairs made out of left over yarn. They were made so no wool got wasted. They were intended for "just around home" but the Senior Cat and my nephews wore theirs to the hardware shop as well.  I re-knitted the cuffs on these. I patched the elbows and other places. The Senior Cat only ceased to wear his when he went into the residence he now lives in. My nephews passed theirs on when they grew out of them. They were worn until they could no longer be patched.

I have made more than one garment out of scraps of yarn. Given time and the capacity I will make more. It's a challenge to design something like that. Where my mother simply knitted mismatched stripes I like to experiment in other ways. 

But, there is always the problem of not having the "right" yarn for the work in hand or the desired project. That means going out and getting yet another lot of yarn. There are more scraps and those scraps have to be used. It's never ending. The only comfort is that other craftspeople understand the words "stash advancement beyond life expectancy".  

Monday 25 October 2021

Riding your bike in the street

and thus to school was one of the things that we looked forward to when I was a kitten. 

Of course, having lived in the country for the first five years of my life, I had been tearing around on a tricycle ever since I had managed to learn to ride one. Every other child I knew was the same. We all had "dinkies" - small tricycles with a tray at the back. There were no bikes for the under-fives at that time. 

We rode our tricycles all over the little community in which we lived.  It didn't matter if we were out of our mother's sight because everyone knew everyone and that meant they knew us. We knew them too. We usually behaved. If we didn't word would get back to our parents. I remember the neighbour's small boy running his wheels into the knees of an elderly woman. He stood there white-faced. She had not been hurt but he knew that unless he apologised immediately his father would give him a "walloping" that night. From memory the woman's response was to scold him for "not looking" and then to accept his apology. I doubt he was punished again. All of just knew what the consequences of bad behaviour would be. 

The good thing was that we could roam without close adult supervision. We crossed roads, including what is now a very busy main road. Back then it was not nearly as busy. There were cars. We had been taught to look for them. We lined up like ducklings behind the Irish boy who lived directly opposite. When there was no car in sight he would give the command and we would race across the road. From there we went down the side road to the railway station or on to the closest farm. We went to the general store for our mothers, to the butcher and to the tiny bakery. We went to the churchyards and over the little bridge to the high school. 

Here the children are confined to racing up and down the footpath while their parents watch. There is still the ever present danger of at least two residents backing out without taking sufficient care for pedestrian and pedalling traffic. My immediate neighbour on one side objects to the children riding along the footpaths at all. His own grandchildren "would never be allowed to do something like that". Oh? Really? 

It's a risk the parents have decided to take. If I am around and have a few minutes I will help. "Play policeman!" the children will tell me. The really sad thing in all this though is that there is also what is known as "the court". This is the group of units almost directly opposite our house. There is a long "driveway" which leads to it. It ends in a key hole shape. The speed limit is 5km hour. The letter boxes are at the far end of it, next to the first of the units. The postman/woman goes down the driveway to deliver but the children are not allowed to ride there.  

All this comes down to one woman who lives in one of the units. She has never married. She doesn't like children. "They're noisy. You never know what they are going to get up to." She claims the long driveway is private property.

But there are suddenly more children in the street. There are some living in the units in the court itself. They want to be able to ride there too. She is objecting to that as well.

I foresee trouble. Today I need to check on whether the "driveway" is private property or an access road. It would be good if it was an access road. The parents and I can take it turns to watch much more easily and safely from there.  

Sunday 24 October 2021

Extended day care for three year old children

is now being proposed by the Opposition in this state. It is one of their "new election policies". 

"Get the children into day care and go back to work," they are telling mothers of young children. 

I have some serious concerns about this. There is one full-time mother in this street. She has twin girls. She is not a "career mother". I don't know what she did before she married and had the twins. All she has ever told me is, "I don't have any qualifications to do anything." (I very quickly informed her she was qualified for motherhood and doing a good job in that role.)

The other mothers all work in different ways. One works from home three days a week. On the two days she is not there her parents are there one day, her in-laws are there on the other. Her son is now at school. Her daughter goes to pre-school for the three days she works but not for extended hours. 

The mothers across the road from me are a paediatrican and and an occupational therapist respectively. They work at varying times. The occupational therapist has in-laws she relies on in school holidays but she and her husband have alternate arrangements during the term. The paediatrican and her husband have no relatives here but they have a long term child minder they trust and the two children like. It was hard work find her - and they have worked at keeping her. The arrangement will end when the younger child starts school in the new year. 

The other children in the street are all school going age. Their mothers face all the problems of work-school-illness and more. I spoke to one yesterday after her child had fallen off the bike he is learning to ride. "Thank goodness' he hasn't broken anything. I don't have time for that. It's such a temptation to let him play on the computer when this sort of thing happens."

And I think that sort of remark says it all. Her husband was mowing the lawn at the back of the house. She was trying  to deal with the laundry and house cleaning. 

"It's pizza night," she told me, "I still need to cook for the rest of the week tomorrow."

She looks exhausted. The other mothers are tired too. They love their children but they have too much to do. Extended day care is not the answer to this. It may even add to their problems. Their children will still have to be fed, clothed, kept clean and "brought up". They will still be expected to supervise homework, go to parent nights, take their children to sporting activities on weekends and more.

At the same time other people are going to be teaching these children. This is the time to teach highly impressionable young children their letters and numbers and colours and "suitable" stories about social and environmental issues.   This is where they will be indoctrinated into the politically correct thinking required of them as they grow up. Their days are already planned for them. 

All this is supposed to be good for everyone. Perhaps it is but there was a lot of fun to be had making mud pies in the vegetable patch. Playing imaginative games  outside without adult supervision taught most of us a lot more.  

Saturday 23 October 2021

What history should we be teaching children?

 It's up for debate again and I am interested because one of the local mothers was concerned enough to tackle me about the issue yesterday. She is not happy with the "negativity" in the curriculum and the plans to change it still further in that direction.

"Do my children really need to know that stuff? It's up for debate anyway isn't it?"

History isn't a set of facts or even a set of ideas. It should be up for debate.  The problem is that, in schools, there is no room for debate. There is no time for debate. There is a curriculum to be got through and that curriculum is bound by a new set of "politically correct" ideas about what children should know.

I don't subscribe to the "black armband" view of history - the view that the indigenous population of this country was deliberately given "measles infested" blankets to kill them off. It is not true. I would much prefer children were taught that the early settlers, many of them convicts, brought with them diseases that the indigenous population had no protection against. That might usefully lead to discussions about modern health, vaccinations and some of the reasons why our indigenous population has a lower life expectancy.  That doesn't make what happened right but, given our understanding of medicine at the time, it makes it easier to understand. Isn't this the sort of thing we should be talking about? Or should we only be suggesting that the land was "stolen" and that we "owe" the indigenous population a debt we can never repay?

Many slave traders bought their victims from the tribal "kings" or chiefs in their native countries. Some of those "kings" became very wealthy. This is a conveniently forgotten fact - if it is known at all. It is not what I was taught in school. We were told that ships arrived and people were "captured" and taken away. That they were slaves in their own countries was never mentioned. It doesn't make the slave trade right, if anything it makes it worse, but it does mean that there is another way of seeing it. Is this something we should be discussing?

I remember "social studies" in primary school. It was a mix of history, geography and more. It focussed on Downunder of course. I was taught we "lived off the sheep's back" and which areas of my state we grew wheat in. I was taught about "Flynn of the Inland". I was proud of the fact that my grandfather knew this man. I "did" Captain Sturt going down the Murray more times than I care to think about. I was proud of the fact that a great-uncle lived in what had been Sturt's cottage - now an historic site. I was taught, quite wrongly, that First Fleet convicts were sent out for things like stealing a loaf of bread. I grew tired of all this. I longed to learn other history as well.

It was my love of reading which saved my love of history. I devoured Rosemary Sutcliff, Geoffrey Trease, and Cynthia Harnett. The librarians at the Children's Library in the city knew me well enough to know they needed to include such things in the parcels they sent me through the Children's Country Lending Service. I feel sorry for children now. They don't have access to so many of the books I found fascinating.

In high school I did more of the same until, in the equivalent of my O level year, I could suddenly do "Modern History" and there was also an "Ancient History" and an "Economic History" subject in the list of available subjects. Only "Modern History" was taught in the school I was attending at the time but one of the teachers guided me through Ancient History by giving me the reading, giving me essay topics - and marking my efforts. I also read the Economic History text and learned the chapter summaries at the back of the book. I sat all three exams and passed. Looking back though it was the amount of reading I had done which was the reason for my success. I was taught very little. Just one history lesson stands out, the one in which the teacher walked in and said, "Close your books. I am about to tell you what will be happening, about the history you are living now." He proceeded to tell us about what was then Rhodesia. His predictions, right down to the disaster which was Mugabe, were correct. Some years later, just before his death, this same teacher told me how frustrated he was by the curriculum.

I would be frustrated too. I only ever taught one class of "normal" children. I hope I taught them that history was not just the "facts" in the book. What I would be expected to teach them now would cause me many problems. History is too complex for "politically correct" thinking to be imposed on it.


Friday 22 October 2021

Last on the Climate Council's list?

This was almost gleefully reported in the media. Downunder is doing so badly on our efforts towards saving the planet that we come last on the list of thirty-one developed countries! Shock! Horror! This is dreadful!

Or is it? The Climate Council report comes in part from figures from the WHO. It uses something called "per capita" emissions. It is also a glorious example of how such statistics can be abused for ideological purposes.

I am not going to say we don't need to improve our environmental efforts because we could improve them and we should improve them. But are we really the bottom of the list? Let's look at it in another way.

Downunder produces around 1% of the world's emissions of that nasty little greenhouse gas. Yes, 1%. We do that despite being the world's smallest continent (or largest island). Why?

Downunder has a small population relative to land mass. We are edging towards 26m as I write this - around 25.8 m. The entire country has a population about 13m less than the state of California. Most people live in the eastern states of Downunder and most people live on the coast or within a short distance of it. They live in cities and towns that have sprawled out for long distances. The city I live in has spread north and south and, more slowly, into the low range of hills behind us.

The idea of a single unit dwelling on a small piece of land is still seen as the desirable way to live - but you need space for that. You need services and, above all, you need power. That power is expensive to provide and more power is used.

People travel long distances to work. Many of them use cars to do so. In some cases they have no choice. Public transport here is not quick. It is not convenient. Early planners did not foresee the present problems.  All this requires more power too.  People who live 50km from their place of employment are going to use more power than people who live 5km.

We also need to move things around the country. Transporting goods and services, power and water, adds to emissions too. 

It would require a massive amount of change to reduce the per capita emissions rate. People would need to use their cars far less. They would need to live closer to their place of employment (or work from home). We would need to isolate areas of the country and reduce the amount transported in and out. 

These things aren't going to happen in a hurry - if at all. But Downunderites do use alternative energy sources. This state could run on alternative energy sources up to a point - but at a cost it can't sustain in the long term. It's something we need to work on.

We need to work on the whole problem. It is going to be very hard work. People will need to radically change the way they live and work.

At the same time we need to recognise that simply using  "per capita" as a means of measuring performance is not valid. It isn't helpful. It doesn't take into account all the variables. 

Given the landscape is Downunder really doing so badly? Isn't it time to include a country like China - still called "developing" - in the statistics and demand more from them?  

Thursday 21 October 2021

Using a QR code or signing in

wherever we go is compulsory at present. This is supposed to make it quick and easy for others to "contact trace" us if there is a Covid19 outbreak here. Mask wearing in shops and other locations is also compulsory except under certain circumstances.

We were also told that, after twenty-eight days, the information would be destroyed and no records would be available to anyone. Most people started doing what was required of them. In time there have been some lapses. It has had a massive effect on our ability to communicate with each other and that in turn is having a negative effect on mental health. 

Despite that there are still people refusing to get vaccinated - even when we have been told that "opening up" depends on hitting (at minimum) at least 80% of the eligible population being fully vaccinated. They still claim a "right" that is apparently not available to the rest of us.

On top of that it has now been revealed the information we have been so dutifully giving others when we sign in is not being destroyed. It is being stored. How long for? Why? Of what possible interest is it to anyone else that I went to the supermarket or the chemist or the library or the post office or, most importantly, go to visit the Senior Cat?   After twenty-eight days it is surely of no interest to anyone. If I sign in manually (write it down) then I can be anyone at all. I have seen some strange names above me at times. If I use someone else's phone to sign in via "the app" then how do they trace me?

I try to do the right thing. I didn't sign in yesterday when I stopped at the edge of the cafe in the shopping centre. It is open to the public. Unless you buy something there nobody expects you to sign in if you are merely passing by and, like me, stop to speak to someone. 

The person I stopped to speak to is someone else who is dying. She told me, "They just said I won't see Christmas but I will see Christmas. I am not going to let the grandchildren miss Christmas."

I suspect H... will see Christmas. I have never known anyone work so hard at simply staying alive. The lung cancer - and she is another who never smoked - has spread to other parts of her body. I can no longer give her a hug. We aren't supposed to hug people any more and I would have to be so gentle. The last time I did all I could feel was bones. 

I didn't sign in though when I stopped to speak to her. There was no point. It wasn't required. I wasn't buying anything. I could simply prowl on to the greengrocer. The staff there know her and asked if she was "okay today". We agreed on the signing in issue.

People are going to cease doing it if they think their visits everywhere are being stored instead of destroyed at the legislated time. That seems far more dangerous to me than me quite legally stopping to speak to a dying woman in circumstances where it might be sensible to be required to sign in.  

Wednesday 20 October 2021

Exactly what is "net zero by 2050"

 is something that puzzles me. Yes, I understand that it is supposed to mean that if we put something nasty into the atmosphere we are also supposed to be putting something nice in to negate that.

But don't we need to do more than that? Shouldn't we be aiming to put more of the good stuff in and reducing the amount of nasty stuff we already have there? Is this possible?

It is a topic under constant discussion here, even more so at the moment. Our Prime Minister is supposed to be heading off to Glasgow very shortly. Before he goes he has to have an agreement in place with the other party in the Coalition government. 

There are people in the other party who are holding out on all this. It sounds like madness - until you realise that they come from rural areas where any policies are going to have a likely much greater economic impact.  

And that is the problem, not just here but everywhere. People want to save the planet but they don't want to do it at great economic cost to themselves. People don't really want to change their life styles to suit the planet.  They don't want "ugly solar panels on the roof". They don't want to walk/pedal/use public transport. They want to eat strawberries and bananas all year round - and it doesn't matter how far those things have to travel.

Our local green grocer displays the origin of the things he sells. He sources as locally as possible at all times. He is fighting a (perhaps losing) battle with people who don't understand the concept of "seasonal" fruit and vegetables. The local family run supermarket tries to do the same. Both are up against one of the very big multi-national companies - a company which also sells petrol and liquor. There are enough educated and financially stable people in this district that both green grocer and supermarket have survived. I will regret it if they go or I need to move. At least they are trying to do their bit for "net zero". 

I went past the petrol station yesterday. It was a relief to know I was simply burning kilojoules or calories. Petrol was advertised at $1.85.6 a litre. However I doubt that this will stop people using their cars. They probably don't understand this "net zero" thing any more than I do. 

Perhaps we need to tell people they need to shop locally, eat seasonal foods, walk more, use public transport. If we are going to use solar panels then they need to be made here - as much from locally sourced materials as possible - and we need to find ways of recycling the materials from which they are made.

This "net zero" idea is all very well but I think we can do a lot better than that.

Tuesday 19 October 2021

We can't get country doctors

and it does not surprise me. Our rural health services are in urgent need of help. They have been that way for a long time now. Doctors don't want to work in rural areas or even in regional areas.  I can hardly blame them.

Doctors in rural areas are on call ALL the time. They can never take time off - even to eat and sleep - without wondering if there will be "that" phone call which requires them to drop everything. They can't stop to fill their car with petrol without someone wanting to ask a question about something which is worrying them. They can't stand in the queue at the local supermarket without being accosted. 

They have to take on far more responsibilities than a city GP. The last time most city GPs delivered a baby it was under the supervision of an entire medical team. Most city GPs have never done anything but the most minor of surgery. City GPs don't deal with arms mangled in a harvester. City GPs don't deal with all sorts of things rural doctors deal with on an almost daily basis. City GPs send you off to a "specialist" for things the rural doctor is simply expected to handle.

There are some amazing stories about rural GPs. There was the doctor (and we knew this man) who operated on a farmer (another man we knew) by the roadside in the middle of the night and "hoped to hell it worked". It did work. It should not have worked but it did work. He took a risk which paid off, a risk a city GP would not even have considered. 

Another rural GP we knew was, in the absence of any vet, called on to be the vet as well. She once delivered a calf and then came on to the school to stitch the arm of a student. I made her a cup of tea while she did it - before she went on to hold her surgery in the town's memorial hall, and do it without the benefit of any help.

Rural doctoring is very different. You might need to deal with anything from birth to death and everything in between. 

If they want people to go on doing this job then they have to pay them well. Litigation was once unknown but people think they know more now. Dr Google has taught them "all about it". Make a mistake and you will find yourself, at best, up in front of the board.  There are no colleagues to cover for you. 

Perhaps we should require all aspiring GPs to spend a year in a rural community. It is possible they may learn a great deal that only experience can teach them. Some of them might even be persuaded to stay a bit longer. 

Monday 18 October 2021

Being a Member of Parliament

is, I suspect, a largely thankless task.

I have been thinking a good deal about this over the last few days. The assassination of a second MP in England  has left me shocked and bewildered. It was hard enough to take in the death of Jo Cox back in - was it 2015?  

I never knew her. I had never even heard her name but it still left me shocked. Killing someone meant to represent you in parliament? It seemed unthinkable in a democracy. The second death, of Sir David Amess, is perhaps even more shocking. The unspeakable has happened again. 

This time I had heard of him. It was not because he held any ministerial position but because he was the local MP of my late friend E...  E... had moved to Leigh-on-Sea when she and her husband retired. Until then they had lived in London. E... was a teacher, and then the head of a school. Her husband had a similar sort of "people" job. They wanted somewhere "quieter". It suited them until they were both diagnosed with serious illnesses. E... decided they needed just a bit of extra support to stay in their own home. She set about trying to get it, struck an obstacle she needed some help to climb - and went to visit her local MP.  Sir David listened and took action. E... died quietly in her own home, just as she had wished. I always thought that, if I were ever to meet the man, I would tell him that. 

And now he has gone too. I thought about this. My local MPs have tended to know me. They have known me since my teens. In my teens the Senior Cat was very friendly with the local MP in the rural community we were living in. It was not unusual to find him in our home. He would sit at the kitchen table and drink tea with the Senior Cat as they went through things that needed to be done. This had nothing to do with politics as such. It was more to do with the problems of the local community. As the head of the school the Senior Cat knew a lot about these. He was also expected to be the local social worker, minister of religion, marriage guidance counsellor, town planner and much more. The local MP was also expected to carry out these and other roles.

While I respected this man it did not stop me arguing with him. He actually encouraged it, "Come on Cat. Tell me what you think. I don't want to hear  what you have been told. I want to know what you think." He said this sort of thing to me more than once.

Looking back I know I was very fortunate he took such an interest in me. A decade later he tried to persuade me to enter politics. I said a polite "No thank you." It is one invitation I have never regretted turning down. I don't think for a moment I would have been successful in getting in. I would have hated it if I had.

Your time is not your own. A good MP is always available - twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year. It may not be obvious to most of his or her constituents. They will have no idea about much of what he or she does. 

I once did a short stint in the office of the man who was once the local MP for this district. It was not something I ever intended to do, indeed did not want to do it. His secretary asked me to do it. I liked her and she had witnessed my paw print on documents hundreds of times. I did it for her. She went into the main parliamentary office in the city and I was left to keep things going in the electorate office. I answered the phone many times a day. I made decisions I never thought I would have to make. I made phone calls to the secretaries of some of the most powerful people in the country. I wrote letters. I talked to unhappy constituents - and a few happy constituents. I was there for twelve hours a day most days. A change of government tends to bring on such problems. 

It was interesting but exhausting. When the MP appeared things would be frantic. In all this I was merely a very temporary and untrained substitute. I couldn't take short hand - which infuriated him - and my typing was not nearly as fast as that of the woman who had asked me to help. All this was happening and I was merely the person there intended to be a help. He was the MP. He would send me home and still be there until midnight.

We hear about "lazy MPs" but, after that experience, I have often wondered how hard some of them must work. It may be much harder than many people realise.

And they are there on the whim of the people they serve. People like Sir David should be able to eventually retire gracefully and enjoy some leisure time - and we almost never give it to them. 

Sunday 17 October 2021

Yesterday I talked to a dying man

and it was strangely good to do so.

He knows he is dying. Yesterday was not a good day. He was carrying a small bottle of oxygen on his back...and the "whipper snipper" in his hands. He was going to edge their tiny front lawn. Somebody else has to mow the lawn now but he can still do that - but it is an effort.

"Gidday matey good to see you,"he told me as I stopped. I didn't immediately ask about him. I asked about his wife and the six month old dog they now have.

There's a reason for that dog. I knew that the first time I met him. He's small but smart. He somehow knows he is there for a reason. He is a "mummy's boy" - as if he knows that, barring accidents, he will need to be there for C.... when B... goes.

B... could go at any time.He has had four stays in intensive care. He has COPD - chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It has not been fun. 

B... had to give up a promising career in the army because of it. He never smoked, never had more than the occasional beer in very hot weather. He thought he was fit. He thought he was going to last forever...the way we all do at certain stages of our lives. 

"I'm over it Cat," he told me some months ago. The lock down was getting to him. He wants to spend what time he has left with his immediate family. He wants to be able to chat to their wonderful next door neighbours. He wants to be able to stop me as I am pedalling along the street. 

He asks if I have seen his former neighbours from across the street. He was the one who put up more and more Christmas lights each year so that the children could enjoy them - children from a family whose cult like religion refuses to celebrate Christmas or birthdays.  A few years back he could still, with some difficulty, climb up to his roof to do that. It was an enormous effort - but one he believed was worth the effort. He went on adding to his Christmas display because the adult cult members across the street didn't like it - but their children loved it. 

"I'm going to give them a little joy in their lives," he once told me. 

He asks after the Senior Cat. I've told him he is welcome to use the Senior Cat's mobility scooter - still sitting here - if  it gets to the point where he wants to go walking the dog with his wife and feels he can't do it. Right now he can make it to the end of the street and back... then  he watches as they walk on. He's thinking about the scooter but I doubt he will use it. He could leave us at any time.

I told him about Friday. His reaction to Ciaran's grief is "Poor bastard! What a hell of a thing to happen. I'm so damn lucky."

And perhaps it is that attitude which has got him so far. His wife has told me that the medical profession thinks he should have died several years ago. Instead, he is up and doing things. He may be doing them slowly but he is still doing things. He may need to go and rest after doing some little thing but he is still doing things. B.... actually does more than some fitter and healthier people I know. 

And somehow the little dog knows all this. He comes out with B...'s wife and sits there quietly between them. He looks from one to the other as if to say, "Yes, I'll look after her when you've gone."

And I wonder how animals know these things. 

Saturday 16 October 2021

It was supposed to be a "quiet" occasion

and perhaps it was in a way but it was also a crowded one.

Yesterday the entire senior school, some of the juniors, many parents and some people in the local community gathered together and watched a tree being planted. They listened to words we had struggled to write and one man struggled to say. 

Every girl in Ciaranne's class, apart from one, had a parent there. Some of them had both parents. The girl who had no parents had her grandparents there. Her parents live in another country and could not be there.  There were many other parents too. 

We didn't intend it to be like that. We thought it would be small and very quiet. What happened was something very different. Word went around. The senior school wanted to be there and their parents asked to come as well. Some of the juniors joined in to watch the tree being planted. 

There were a lot of tears - not the least of them mine. Ciaran's boss broke down more than once. Ciaran wept openly as he held the hand of his daughter's closest friend and walked to the place prepared by the school's gardener.

But, it was also good. It didn't rain. The tree is in and surrounded by the necessary protection. There is a temporary label for now and at some point in the future there will be a small plaque. Ciaran was surrounded by people who cared, really cared. They took time away from work to be there. They cancelled appointments to be there. 

It has left him feeling bewildered and perhaps even more bereft than before. It has also left him feeling immensely proud of the way his daughter was such a positive force for so many. 

I went to an actual funeral yesterday afternoon. I didn't want to go but I wanted to say another goodbye. I made myself go and I am glad I did. J.... was 92 and I knew him for more than fifty years. He was another force for good in his community. He also lost a daughter, although she was perhaps ten years older than Ciaranne when she died. I listened to his nephew give the eulogy and understood a little better J...'s loss. He was a very direct person but people accepted his criticisms and corrections because they knew that he genuinely cared to always have things done for the best. He was a man who gave generously of not just money but time.

I sat in the church J... had attended for eighty years. It is a church familiar to me from more than one funeral, including my mother's. It is the place where we will farewell the Senior Cat. I was surrounded by people I know, people who cared about J... and were there to support his family. They are people who still care about the Senior Cat. 

And I was reminded again of the scene in the BBC series, "The Ascent of Man". Jacob Bronowski who presents it shows a short clip of a blind man feeling the features of another man's face, that of a Holocaust survivor. I remember the words,

"We must learn to touch people." 

Right now that matters more than ever.  

Friday 15 October 2021

Going to a funeral

is not something any normal person looks forward to doing I suppose. It  may be something we want to do for one reason or another but it does not mean any of us are going to enjoy the occasion. There will always be someone missing from it.

Ms W's father did not want a funeral. He didn't want anything at all for a while. It is only in the last week when another idea was put to him that he felt he could face anything at all. 

It wasn't my idea. It came from the girls in her form at school. They put it to their form teacher first and, with her support, went to the school principal. She took it up with the governing council. They agreed "without hesitation" and today there will be a tree planting ceremony in the school grounds.

There is a designated "quiet corner" in the school grounds. I don't know when it was begun and I have never even seen it. Ms W used it sometimes, as do the other boarders. You can talk there if you want to talk but it is generally considered not to be a place for loud conversation. It's a place for writing letters home, calling family on your 'phone at weekends and things like that. 

It borders on one of the bigger playing areas and I think that might be a good thing. I have been told that there might be more people there than Ms W's father expects. I am certain there will be. I've had some phone calls asking "will it be all right to go?"  I know the school has had some more.

Ms W's father isn't going to say anything. He has said he just can't do that. His boss is going to do it instead. His boss is a wise man. I have always liked him and I like him even more now. Yesterday we went through what he is going to say. He isn't going to suggest she was perfect but it is a reflection of her - kind, caring, and funny. We have included a quotation from her small contribution to one of the books written by Nicola Morgan. We have included one of the many jokes sent to her by Roger Wright, a former professor of Spanish at Liverpool University.  We have included a haiku from her friend Junko Morimoto. All that is  intended to acknowledge the way she forged friendships outside her peer group, with adults in far away places. There are others who will be mentioned too.

On her desk at home, lined up with all of Nicola Morgan's books and the books I wrote for her, is her copy of Dag Hammarskjold's "Markings". I gave it to her last year during the lock down when the girls were asked to "find some little thing to think about and share with the others". I don't know how much of it she had read but some passages were underlined in pencil, including this one she had dated the day after she became the class representative (form captain).

"Your position never gives you the right to command. It only imposes on you the duty of so living your life that others can receive your orders without being humiliated."

She had added the words, "I need to remember this."


Thursday 14 October 2021

Breast screen

is uncomfortable and undignified. It is also a free service and something that needs to be endured. 

I am off to the two yearly screen today and I am not looking forward to it. It ranks along with the dentist in my list of things I prefer not to do.

I do it because I know it is the sensible thing to do. I am thankful that such services exist in this country. Yes, they make economic sense. Do it and catch something nasty early and there is a good chance of a complete recovery. Don't do it and the consequences could be catastrophic.

My only aunt, someone not that much older than me, has an annual screen.  Her mother, an aunt, and two sisters all lost their lives to breast cancer.  Her family has the gene which raises the likelihood from possible to probable.  Each year my aunt goes through the process and then waits for the results. It has not been easy for her.

Our good friend P, a nun, had breast cancer. She has been free of cancer for many years but she has lingering problems which need continuing care and attention. Like me she is grateful for a medical system which allows people to attend breast screening clinics at taxpayer expense.

There are many people who are eligible to go who don't go even here in the city where there is more than one screening centre. In rural areas it is not as easy but there are mobile units and, for many people, it is still possible.

In the past I have had my appointments in early September. This year they are running late because of the pandemic. I had a reminder to attend yesterday and, with it, a reminder to wear a mask.  My thought on seeing it was that I had of course planned to wear a mask. I will be coming into close contact with the stranger who takes the images. She (and it is always a woman) will be coming into close contact with people all the time. Of course she will be wearing a mask but she is still in close contact. 

It is things like that which make me feel upset by people who complain about wearing a mask in close contact settings. I am upset by people who could get vaccinated but refuse to do so. I had a brief conversation with someone yesterday. She has been going through yet another lot of chemotherapy and looks exhausted. She is in her eighties and told me, "I am not going to do this again." This time she has done it in the hope she will live long enough to see her son who is trying to come from America. But breast screen has given her another eighteen years of largely happy life. 

No, I am not looking forward to the appointment - but I am so lucky to live somewhere which allows me to make such appointments. 

Wednesday 13 October 2021

A ring of park lands is supposed

to encircle the central part of the city in which I live. 

Unlike almost every other city in the world the central part of the city was planned from the start. It is laid out in a grid - a square mile of each on either side of the "river" which runs through the centre. (The "river" is barely worthy of the name. It is not much more than a creek.)  

When the city was planned the park lands were put there for a purpose. Colonel William Light knew what he was doing. The park lands are supposed to be there for the benefit of the people - "in perpetuity".

Successive governments have eroded them. The first thing they put in place was a cemetery. That is perhaps understandable. Other buildings have gone up over time but there has always been some recognisable park land left.

The problem has been that this has sometimes been used in ways that were never intended. Colonel Light never saw a Formula One racing car. The idea of such a monstrosity racing around the streets would no doubt have horrified him. 

More recently there has been another "motorsport" event in the park lands. It was loved by some and hated by others. It closed off a large portion of the park lands to the general public for many months at a time. "Temporary" buildings were erected at great cost each year - because some people recognised that the park lands were not for building on.  Others argued that the buildings should be there permanently. They almost won. 

The event in the city has now, quite rightly, been abandoned. For all the claims of how popular it was and how much money it brought into the state the reality is that it clashed with a much more popular "Fringe" and "Festival of Arts" events. It disrupted the lives of people who lived and worked in the city - who had lived and worked there long before the event was brought in. 

The "track" is still there in the park lands and now some are claiming it should be "preserved". They claim it has some sort of cultural significance. Others say it simply adds to the heat surrounding the city in summer and trees should be planted to offset this.

I am of course of the latter camp. It is well known I have no time for "motor sport". I don't see it as a "sport" at all. I don't care how much money it brings into the state. We can find other ways to bring money in.  I know we need to plant more trees too, a lot more trees. The park lands have lost far too many trees in recent years. 

It should still be possible to preserve the playing fields on the park lands and plant more trees. The race track though is not a playing field. It is not grass. It is tarmac or bitumen. Many people see it as an eyesore. It is not just that however. It adds to the heat in summer. We need that even less than before. 

There is only one reason to preserve the race track and it is the very reason it should be removed. If it was left there and, even worse, maintained then people could agitate for a return to motor sport  in the place which Colonel Light saw as a quiet place for people to relax in. 

Now surely that is something worth preserving? 

Tuesday 12 October 2021

So are you prepared to pay for "climate change"

or "climate change action" or something else?

Apparently about half of a group of Downunderites surveyed on the issue of climate change said they were not prepared to pay anything extra to achieve the "net zero by 2050" goal. Mind you they apparently still think it is important to do this - but they don't want to pay for it.

We have a particular problem in Downunder. People are addicted to owning cars and using them - often to travel long distances. Of course most of these cars have used fossil fuels in the past. I can only assume that this contributes a lot to our "carbon imprint". 

I went in a car yesterday. It was for a short distance. Normally I would pedal to that location. I felt a little guilty about this - even though Middle Cat was going to the same place and drove less than a kilometre further than she otherwise would have driven.

A "Sunday afternoon drive" used to be the thing in my kittenhood. My maternal grandfather would get behind the wheel and my grandparents would head off up a very winding road into the hills behind us. Papa, as we called him, liked driving. They would wander through the hills and stop somewhere with a view. Nana would take out the thermos and the scones she had made before going to church in the morning. They would sit there and have "afternoon tea". Taking it with you was essential in those days. There were no cafes or tea shops open. 

My paternal grandfather would also get behind the wheel but not nearly so often. He passed his detestation of driving along to his two sons. (The Senior Cat loathed driving.) If Grandpa went out on a Sunday it was because it suited him and the man for whom he was making the suit. Grandma would sometimes go with him if the autumn colours were out in the hills or the summer heat was less up there. Grandpa used the trips to measure and fit his clients - and often to buy bulk fruit from them or someone else. He would leave the fruit at the local orphanage door before arriving home. Grandma would then put the kettle on. 

The difference between my two grandfathers attitude towards the car was as different as you could get. For one it was almost a "toy" and for the other it was strictly a work tool.

If we are going to succeed in reaching that "net zero" goal then we need to take the attitude of my paternal grandfather. That does not mean not going on holiday or not dragging a caravan with it. What it does mean is using public transport to go to work and not using a car if it is not strictly necessarily.  We need to learn to "pay" with extra time and the fare for public transport or the exercise on a bike. It means getting up in time to walk children to school and then catch the bus or the train.

I really think it is that sort of activity which might cause us to fail to reach net zero. We can have all the solar, wind, hydrogen (and even nuclear) power there is but I believe it won't change things unless we change our expectations too - and the effort we put in.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe we can do it all simply and easily. It would be nice to be wrong - but I don't think I am.  

Monday 11 October 2021

On line learning is not

the same as face to face learning. It is most definitely not the preferable way to learn - or teach.

There was an interesting article yesterday by one of the local journalists. He was expressing his concern at the way so many universities here have moved to "on-line" learning and not just during the Covid19 lock downs. 

He pointed out, quite correctly, that there were moves before that. My nephews here both had a great deal more available on line than the students I was working with say ten years before they were at university.

On-line learning is of course something that has become possible with the internet and greater access to the internet. Learning "at a distance" on the other hand has long been known in Downunder. The vast distances between students and teachers in the "outback" had to be catered for somehow. The problems were solved in part by correspondence lessons supervised by harassed mothers or, if the family could afford it, young girls acting as "governesses". These were supplemented by the "School of the Air". These things have been updated. Video links have helped a lot but it still is not the same as actually being in a classroom.

Over the past eighteen months I have tried to help some students who would normally be attending lectures, going to tutorials, participating in seminars, reading in the library, chatting to friends and much more. All that stopped with the first lock down although some of it was disappearing before that. I have worked with students who are still at home in places like China, Malaysia, India and more. They are struggling.

On-line lectures are not the same. I have watched a few. The delivery of information is not the same at all.  

Teaching is not simply about the delivery of information. It is also about receiving information. It is a two way process. Good teachers will be watching their students. They will ask questions of their students. If there are blank looks they can back track, explain again or explain differently. In the classroom good teachers will know if students are learning. There is no such "feed back" on-line.

Yes of course you can set a "test" or "quiz" or get students to write an essay - if you are willing to mark it. It will give you some idea if you have managed to teach what you planned to teach if you do these things. 

If you only do it on-line though there is something missing. I read some essays recently - before they were passed in. I am thankful I did not have to mark them. They lacked that spark of interest, of enthusiasm, of imagination. The last is hard to come by in many of the students I help. They are used to showing their teachers great respect. They don't question ideas put to them. These essays were worse than that. They were dull, stilted repetitions of the lectures they had dutifully watched...nothing more. 

This is not learning, especially learning at tertiary level. Of course students will still know something at the end of their courses but university has to be about more than that. The researchers of the future depend on being able to participate actively in the learning process now. On-line learning makes that much more difficult to do.

Sunday 10 October 2021

Social media can be for the good

and I was reminded of that again yesterday. A friend posted a note saying she was awaiting an "all clear" from her medical team and that it had been delayed. Hopefully it is nothing more than a paperwork delay. 

Her post generated a lot of positive and supportive messages for her. It is the sort of post to which normal, caring people do respond. I added one too because I genuinely wanted to wish her well. 

I know how much such messages can mean. I had some myself recently and they really were so good to hold on to  - they were like hugs in the middle of the night. They are still like that. I wasn't on my own even though I was alone in the house.

For many years my family lived in small rural communities. One place would scarcely have been labelled "hamlet" in English terms. It had a two teacher school. My parents were the teachers. Most of the children travelled in from outlying farms. The "buses" were just vans with extra seats. Those vans also delivered the mail, items from the general store in the "town", and the local news. There was a "party line" telephone service - you wound a little handle to alert the man who ran the post office counter at the general store. He connected you to the person you wanted. He often knew if people were at home or somewhere else. If it was urgent he would try  to reach them at a different location. He could connect several women  to discuss the catering for the annual agricultural show or men to line up the local football team. He knew when a young mother was going into labour and sent the wife of a neighbouring farmer to help. It was a sort of social service - a much needed one.    

In a larger but still rural community people knew one another. The rural equivalent of modern day social media was what we called "the bush telegraph" - that network of communication which could be infuriating because it was hard to keep information private but also so very necessary when people needed help.   

I'd like to think that social media can be like the old bush telegraph - there when people need it most.


Saturday 9 October 2021

Free transport for school children?

There is a call for this in today's paper and I know there will be support for it from many parents. 

It was tried once before. It was abandoned.

People seem to have forgotten what happened when they tried it. Put simply there were too many children on the move and out of control. No, they were not necessarily truanting in great numbers - although the free transport certainly helped some to skive off  for days at a time. What was happening was something quite different. 

What was happening was that gangs of children and young teens were moving into other areas. It was almost as if they were deciding among themselves who would get what area of the city to vandalise. They would conduct their nefarious activities outside the area they lived in so they would not be recognised. 

A lot of this was petty theft, shoplifting (often food), and graffiti games. These were "bored" youngsters who got a thrill from engaging in minor criminal conduct.

I doubt I will ever forget the day I was heading for a train in the main railway station in the city. I was nearly knocked over - did stumble but was righted by someone else - as a young boy ran past me. He was holding an ice cream cone in his hand. Not far away from him, just in front of the old kiosk which sold such things, was another child in tears. The second child had Down Syndrome. He had, for the first time in his life, independently asked for and then paid for his own ice cream cone.  He was devastated. His mother was distraught. The two policemen who had, for once, been passing could do nothing. The other child was an indigenous child who was obviously truanting from school for the day. He had gone to the top of the stairs and was taunting everyone between licks of ice cream - and then he simply disappeared. 

That incident alone (and yes, I did buy the other child another cone - or rather, after consulting with his mother, I gave him the money to buy it for himself ) was enough to make me think free transport for children was not a good idea.

I know the railway staff were not happy with the idea. It caused issues for them. Unaccompanied children on public transport are a safety risk, particularly if they are "high" on the idea of just being able to get on any bus or train without a ticket.

If people don't have to pay for a service they are less likely to appreciate it. Transport to get to and from school should be cheap but it should be paid for and children should have to be able to produce a ticket or a pass. It is good training for later in life.

There is free transport between certain hours for seniors in this state and I know someone will say, "Well why that and not for children?" My answer to that is that seniors have generally earned it. They have worked. They have paid taxes. There are good reasons to do it. It means people can afford to go out which is good for their mental and physical well being. It means that some people will stop using their cars when they should no longer be driving."  

In other words it is not the same issue at all. Children should not be taught to expect something for nothing.  

Friday 8 October 2021

Do I employ a "servant"?

It's a legitimate question I suppose.

Several years ago the Senior Cat ended up in hospital for three nights. I spent most of that time lying down and trying to get the energy to scrub the bathroom and wash the floors. I always did those things when he was not at home - and do them in a way which meant that neither of us had to walk on wet, slippery floors. It was a safety issue.

We both had the strain of influenza which was not fully covered by our annual 'flu vaccination. Without that vaccination the Senior Cat would not have survived and I would probably have been ill for much longer.

Middle Cat stepped in and sent over the woman who does her heavy cleaning. Middle Cat's sister-in-law had sent the same person over to her when Middle Cat had major back surgery. 

P... has stayed with us. I realised that, hard as I tried, I just could not do the job as well as P... does it. She is younger, fitter and physically much more able. 

P...comes to me for two hours once a fortnight and, for a ridiculously small sum of money she does the bathroom and the floors and then gives me whatever  help I might need. We are gradually ridding the house of some of the detritus accumulated over nearly forty years. Last week we cleared a cupboard that had not been touched since my mother died twenty one years ago.  We found some rubber stamps my mother had used for card making. I handed them over to P... and asked, "Do you think .... and ... could use those?" I was referring to her grandchildren who love cardboard, glue, stickers and more. 

"Oh yes, why not? They'll love them." We went on through the cupboard. I handed over some more things for her grandchildren. I put things aside for the local charity shop. I found a book that needs to go back to the owner! There was fabric that I have passed on to someone who makes things for charity. We put some things back although I know I might  get rid of those as well.  

I looked at the little pile I had given P... and said, "I hope you don't feel as if I am off loading junk on to you."

"No, the kids will love that stuff. It's so useful."

I am glad of that because what I give her for cleaning the bathroom and the floors is, in my mind, so little. She won't accept more - and I would struggle to pay it anyway - but that still doesn't make it seem right. I could do it myself but I couldn't do it as well. P... also cleans a dental surgery. She has high standards, very high standards. She is one of those genuine "treasures" that people talk about.

But is she a "servant"? I suppose she is in a way but to me she is also a friend. She is someone I would be happy to  "have coffee" with in fact. 

Someone else I know is looking for someone to clean her house. She can't keep a cleaner. It doesn't surprise me. There are four teenage children in it. I have been there twice and on both occasions it was chaotic. I thought we were untidy until I visited them. This woman also has an unfortunate manner. She would treat someone like P... as a servant to be ordered around. I just couldn't do that. P... has all the work she wants and if she ever decides she no longer wants to help me then I will accept it. I hope she will help at least until I need to move from here...and that we can go on being friendly as well.  

Thursday 7 October 2021

What do you dress the baby in?

A friend came to lunch yesterday and I gave her two lengths of very fine silk fabric. They had been given to me the previous day to pass on to someone who makes "angel gowns" - tiny items of clothing for deceased babies. 

I have never seen the finished items but I have reason to believe they are made with great skill, great care - and love. They matter to her and they matter to those to whom they are given.

I have seen other such items. One I saw was actually embroidered at the neckline with exquisite little flowers. Another had a tiny length of lace at the neck. 

There are people who will say "why bother?"  Do they not know that the parents are grieving? 

At the state's annual show the Handicrafts section has a class called "Memory Boxes". They are donated and then passed on to the Women's and Children's hospital here. One year we had a box donated that was covered in fabric. The whole thing had been made by hand with tiny stitches. It must have taken many hours to make. The woman who made it had lost a child herself. It had been many years before but I saw her eyes fill with tears as she mentioned the child who did not survive. 

My paternal grandmother lost more than one child. The Senior Cat knew nothing of this until after her death. It simply wasn't mentioned to him or his brother. I knew because my grandmother and I had talked about it when another relative lost a child. My grandmother had made the tiny white garment in which the child was buried. Although she seemed calm enough at the time my grandmother must have been in emotional turmoil as she made it. 

Yes, why bother? It seems to me that it is incredibly important to bother about such things. Parents, especially mothers, need this support - because it is support. It says, "Someone cares enough about your grief to spend some time making something special for you."

MsW's form teacher contacted me yesterday. The school's governing council has met and they have agreed that another tree should be planted in her memory. It will be placed in the "quiet corner" of the school grounds. It is a tiny memory gown too.

Wednesday 6 October 2021

Border closures

are playing havoc with our lives and our economy. Downunder has been almost completely shut off from the rest of the world for over eighteen months now. 

There have also been internal border closures - between the states. My brother and his partner, both fully vaccinated, are not allowed to visit the Senior Cat (or me and Middle Cat).  Phone calls are not the same but at least they have been frequent, at least twice a week. My nephew cannot come from another state even though he is also fully vaccinated.

All this has made Downunderites a little more aware of the rest of the world - and aware of how small our population really is. We have about 25.7m people altogether. Compare that with California which has around 39.6m people.  At the last census one state here had 251,396 people another had just over 500,000. 

And each of these states has a separate state government. There was once a good reason for each state to have its own separate government. Before Federation (1901) the vast distances made it difficult to communicate easily and rapidly. Local people had to make decisions about local matters and they often had to do it quickly. Now you can pick up a phone and talk to someone without delay. (Okay it might not be the person you hoped to talk to but you can still get a message to them very quickly.) There is technology which allows us to have meetings where we can see each other without even being in the same room.

It would surely make good sense to be rid of state governments and state borders - or would it? I can understand people feeling attached to "their" state - even though I feel no particular attachment to the one I live in. I don't feel any particular attachment to the country I live in. I suppose my working life has been too focussed on the international community for that. 

My preference would be for a national government with regional councils or shires for very local matters. I really don't see the need for a state parliament (with an upper as well as a lower house) for a quarter or a half a million people. It would surely save a lot of money.

Tuesday 5 October 2021