Tuesday 30 November 2021

David Gulpilil has "gone to the Dreamtime"

- that was the way it has been reported. His name is there in the media. There are also photographs of him.

This may not seem anything other than ordinary or expected to most people but it is an indication of the way he lived his life - a life straddled between two cultures. It was not an easy life.

Many of the truly indigenous people of this country do not like to see the image of a deceased person or hear their name mentioned. It was David's own wish that both his image and his name be used. He was after all an actor. His image was going to be out there anyway. He knew it would be impossible to keep it from the world after his death. 

It was one of the many things that David had to negotiate throughout his life. He may have been a "film star" but he was also a man trying to be two things at the same time. He came from a remote aboriginal community and had gone through all the initiation rites of his tribe. He was also an actor who worked in film and television which was very much of the twentieth and twenty-first century. 

The first film of Storm Boy was probably the one which made his name. His acting in that is powerful and the second version of the film comes nowhere near his performance in that. He appeared in both the Crocodile Dundee films and films like Rabbit Proof Fence.

I first came across David when he was in a little trouble with the law. My late friend R..., introduced him to me. He was sitting in her kitchen being given her "Mum knows best" lecture - the sort that made us all squirm and feel awful that we had somehow let her down. David was squirming all right. He couldn't hide it. R.... was not pleased. She felt he had let everyone down. 

David had hastily stood up and pulled out a chair for me. R... had that sort of effect on any young male. He gave me an uncomfortable sort of look. I tried to give him a sympathetic sort of smile back only to be told by R... that he deserved his telling off. 

When she had finished R... gave us both a cold drink and we talked of other things as if nothing had happened. R... was like that. 

I didn't see David again for many years. I suppose I had not even thought of him. He was just one of many young people I met in R...'s kitchen. Then one day I was crossing the university oval in the nation's capital and I saw someone trying to throw a boomerang. Throwing a boomerang is a very difficult thing to do. I had seen one thrown as a child but I had never seen anyone trying to master the art. 

The thrower went to pick it up yet again, looked up and saw me. He smiled and called out, "Cat?"

He had remembered my name and in that instant I knew who he was.

"David!" I don't know how I remembered his name. I am not good at names.

It was good to see him again. He had still been in and out of trouble, mostly related to his issues with alcohol but he was making a name for himself by then. We sat on the grass and talked for a bit. He asked about R.... and told me what he had been doing.  He was in the nation's capital to take part in a workshop. His life was "up and down" - much the same as any actor. 

I didn't see him again but Middle Cat and one of my nephews met him when they both had parts in "Serenades".  He was, they said, easier to work with than many people. 

I wonder what it was really like for him though. He would not have fitted in comfortably anywhere but he had the imagination to fit in anywhere in his acting. It must have been a very difficult life.


Monday 29 November 2021

Today is the National Day in Myanmar

but the people of Myanmar have nothing to celebrate. The military is continuing to "rule" using violence.

I know many people think badly of Aung San Suu Kyi but in reality did she have any choice when she allowed the military the amount of power they had from the start? I doubt it. I suspect she hoped to change the way the country was run from within that - and she failed. The military proved too powerful.

The number of people trying to leave Myanmar for a safer life elsewhere continues.  There are ethnic divisions. It is a country with great resources - and immense poverty. Most of the world's refugees come from Myanmar, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Iraq and Venezuela. They all have resources that could be used for the benefit of those who live there. I have no idea how what should be done could be done. Certainly the military in Myanmar is not going to give up power easily. China will also do everything it can to ensure the military retains power there. It helps the Chinese themselves control a restless border.

I had a very close friend, now sadly deceased, who worked as a "dispatch" rider in what was then Burma during WWII. It was an incredibly dangerous job but he somehow survived. He found the local Burmese people friendly and supportive. He found those parts of the countryside not ravaged by war beautiful. And he found poverty, extreme poverty. Despite their poverty he found the local people willing to share what they had. It might have helped that he had done everything he could to learn a little of the language. Despite all the dangers, he left the country reluctantly. 

He later went and worked in the Sudan. It was another country which captured him. Again he found poverty but a willingness to share.When his contract ended there he did not want to leave any more than he had wanted to leave Myanmar. 

The situation in both countries is now far worse than it was when my friend was alive. Even then he felt that, despite all the claims to the contrary, there was something to be said for "colonial rule". He saw Zimbabwe disintegrating in what he called "post-colonial chaos". He didn't see it as a failure to train people to take over, rather as a desire for power among a few. He had no idea what the answer was or is.

I don't know either. I wonder what the people of Myanmar are thinking today. They should be able to feel pride in their country on their national day but too many of them will only feel despair.


Sunday 28 November 2021

Address books

are also historical records of a sort.

Ours needs updating - rather urgently. It was one of those tasks the Senior Cat started two years ago. He never finished it. Although he did not admit it to me I know he found the task too depressing. There were too many old friends who had "gone", businesses which were "no longer there" and places he would never go to again.

My mother kept the Christmas card list separately from the general list. There were people on that she only corresponded with at Christmas. She was of the generation where people did send one another cards. Her friends sent her cards too - often with lengthy, handwritten letters inside.

I have, over breakfast, just been through the address book. There are scratching outs all over the place. I crossed some more names off the list. I put question marks next to others - not only because they are no longer with us but because they have "downsized" or "moved into aged care". Yes, it is that sort of address book.

I send Christmas cards only to people I won't see - friends who live in other parts of the world and a few who live interstate. I made a list of those to whom I need/want to send cards. It is getting shorter. I was reminded yet again of my paternal grandfather's sad remark that he had "lived too long" because "all his friends had gone before (him)". The Senior Cat is feeling the same way. He is losing touch with the world outside the walls of the residence.

Part way through the list of addresses I saw the name of someone I only ever corresponded with at Christmas. She always sent page after handwritten page to me. We had only ever met a few times. Our first meeting was an accidental one in a second-hand bookshop in another state. I was looking for a book and she heard me asking about it. The shop did not have a copy but she had one and offered to loan it to me - a complete stranger. She was that sort of person. 

Last Christmas she sent me her usual long letter but the handwriting was not quite as firm as usual. In the letter she admitted she was not well. After checking she was still alive I sent her an extra letter in August this year but did not receive a response. This morning I reluctantly checked the death notices - and there was the notice from three weeks ago. I don't know any of her family. I never met them although I heard about them in her letters.

And I also heard about her "boys". She was the Matron in a boarding school for boys.  The death notice mentioned there would be a "memorial" service later. I hope they found a church big enough to hold all the "boys" who wanted to attend.

And I reluctantly crossed her name off in the book.


Saturday 27 November 2021

"What is it?"

A friend of ours held up a worn timber board.

"Is it any use?"

This is all part of slowly clearing out the Senior Cat's beloved shed.

"It's a Go board," I told the friend. 

He looked at me blankly and I explained, "It's a Japanese game of strategy. You place black or white pieces on the board at the points where the lines dissect and attempt to capture the other pieces."

He thought about this for a moment and then said, "A bit like chess?"

"Yes, but much harder."

He grimaced and asked if I wanted to keep the board. It needs mending. It was given to me in that condition. I have the "stones" inside - and yes, I do know where they are. 

I took the board from him and put it in the "to keep" pile but I have since discovered that you can buy just the board. It would be easier to do that. I might introduce the game to the Senior Cat's great-grandchildren next time I see them. Three of them know the basic chess moves.

I don't pretend I can play chess. I know the basic moves too - and that is about it.  I do think it is, like "bridge", probably a useful social skill. I know nothing about bridge. Card games do not appeal to me. I know one person who plays at competition level. C... is a very intelligent person and undoubtedly finds the skill involved to her liking. 

I put some mini-size board games in the activity packs for the kittens. They will play with them at their grandparents' home. My SIL is very good at encouraging that sort of thing - in a way that makes them think doing it is just as much fun as playing on a computer screen. 

We had a "games compendium" when my brother and I were kittens. It had Draughts (Checkers), Ludo, Chinese Checkers, and Snakes and Ladders in it. Our paternal grandfather marked the draught pieces so that we could also use them chess. Unfortunately we then moved much too far away for him to teach us. The Senior Cat does not know how to play chess and our mother thought it was a "waste of time".  I think this was because she had been forced to spend hours playing card games with her mother. Anything like that or related to it was of no interest to our mother.

But the Go board was a gift to me. It is an ancient, second hand one with stones that would be just as old if not older.  Such things are an alternative to the more solitary activity of reading - which all my great-nieces and nephew love. Playing games like that requires some social interaction. That's never a bad thing.


Friday 26 November 2021

Putting red bows on trees

is a sign that the silly season is upon us. 

Brother Cat has been here for not quite three days - not nearly long enough. (It would have been longer but for medical appointments for my beloved SIL.) He was the one who commented on the bows on the street trees. 

I don't know who started the trend of decorating the trees. It seems a bit pointless to me because, just at present, many trees around here are nicely dressed in jacaranda blossom. 

But, people add huge ribbons of red or green to the trees in front of their properties. One year a neighbour across the way decorated more than one tree - including ours. Other people decorate their houses with lights. Around the corner the motor bike rider always puts up his Santa riding a bike light on his carport roof.

I thought of this when our Prime Minister introduced a "religious freedom" bill into Parliament yesterday. No, that isn't quite as strange as it sounds. Two streets away there is a man I know who chose to exercise his right to "freedom of expression" at this time of the year.

Opposite him there lived a family who are members of the "Exclusive" Brethren - the strictest members of the Plymouth Brethren. These are the people who keep contacts with the rest of us to a bare minimum. They don't eat with others. They don't celebrate Christmas or birthdays or do many other things.

B... thought about this. He observed the children of the family looking at the other children in the street as they did all these things. He put up a few Christmas lights just so the children across the street could see them. 

He had a visit from a member of the Brethren asking him to take them down. The Brethren didn't want the children to see this sort of thing from their windows.  

B's reaction was to put up more lights. The next year he put up more. The year after that he put up still more. Four years later his house was a beacon for everyone in the district. The Brethren children secretly enjoyed the display. S..., the Brethren boy, told me quietly, "It's so great...Dad doesn't like it but I think Mum does actually but she'd never say." 

The family moved and B...'s failing health has prevented him doing crazy things like climbing on the roof to put up more lights. Last year there were almost no lights. This year B... told me that he was not putting up any lights. He carries a small oxygen bottle with him these days. 

As I went past the house yesterday I noticed some activity. His neighbour was in there - putting up some lights. B... was tying a bow to the street tree. I stopped for a moment.

"There are some new kids in the house opposite. I remembered the other kids who were there and told their Dad about it. He was horrified.  M... offered to put some lights up and their Dad is coming over on Saturday to put the star on the roof," he told me.  There were stars in his eyes as he said it. 

Thursday 25 November 2021

Is depression about

our increased tendency to live apart from other people? 

I haven't read the article but there was a "teaser" on Twitter about an article in the Telegraph apparently saying that "anti-depressants" are not the answer for less severe cases of depression.

Freud was of the opinion that mild depression was a "normal" thing to experience. I also remember Anna Freud (his daughter) talking about her work at the Maudsley Hospital and saying something like "we expect children to be happy all of the time and of course they aren't". 

I know someone who suffers from severe depression, so severe it can hospitalise her and render her incapable of doing anything. I also know people who say, "She could snap out of it if she tried." No, she can't. Nobody wants to feel that overwhelming feeling of misery.

I have of course said all of this before but I have been more conscious of it recently. People in two of the eastern states have been coming out of lock down but the rate of "mental illness" is not decreasing. It is as if lock downs have made people more aware of their isolation - even when they live in what should be a supportive environment of family.

The Senior Cat says he is "lucky" because he has visitors - and of course Middle Cat and I each go in and out several times a week too. Even so I am aware that there are times when he feels "down". I also find it entirely understandable. He is at the end of his life and unable to do the things he once loved to do. He would still prefer to be in the garden and in his shed. Giving the Senior Cat an "anti-depressant" is not the answer. It wouldn't work. He needs visitors. He needs intellectual stimulation. He really needs to be "out" more.

Tomorrow my brother has to go back to his home in another state but he is determined to get the Senior Cat into the car today. Then the plan is to take the Senior Cat for a quiet prowl around some old haunts and get him talking about good things he remembers. Middle Cat and I will follow it up in conversation later. The Senior Cat is looking forward to this. His reaction was, "Yes! Could we go and look at.... and... and perhaps....? I'd like to know if they are still there and how they have changed if they are." He doesn't expect things to remain the same.

There are other people in the same residence as the Senior Cat who are given "happy pills" each morning. One woman still spends most of her day lying on her bed doing nothing. She is physically more than able to care for herself but she seems to live from one cigarette to the next - something she is only permitted to have outside and while a staff member is with her. She won't join in activities. It has taken months but now she will respond to me asking, "Hello M... " and then making some sort of neutral comment. She needs an entirely different sort of environment - one which is much more supportive and stimulating.

And there is A...  A... rarely speaks. He has had a stroke. It has affected his hearing and his balance. He spends most of his day reading. The staff rarely try to communicate with him. They simply don't know how to do it and they don't have the extra time it would require. He's depressed too. All too often I see him just staring into space. I hand over some reading matter every so often. We use gestures with each other but he needs one-to-one help with communication - and the staff need to be trained to understand whatever he learns to use.  It won't happen. There isn't time.

We have, wrongly, grown to expect that sort of thing in residences like that. Now it is happening more and more in the wider community and that worries me even more.  

Even if I am largely happy in my own company I know I need to mix with the community sometimes. If I don't then I will lose the capacity to do that thing which sets as apart from other animals - communicate by using words. We need to communicate - and we are losing some of the ability to do us because we are isolating ourselves without even knowing we are doing it.


Wednesday 24 November 2021

Crossing the border between the states

used to be a simple affair.  You just kept travelling on most roads. In some places you would be stopped by the "fruit fly" quarantine station. Your vehicle would be checked for anything that should not be there and then you would continue on.

Not so yesterday. Brother Cat had already filled out more than one form and made more than one declaration. They had to queue. Their vaccination certificates were checked. Had they had a Covid19 test up to 72 hours earlier? Where were they going? How long would they be there? What was the purpose of the visit?

The trailer obviously convinced the policeman asking all these questions. Brother Cat and his partner were waved through. They phoned me and told me where they were and approximately what time they would arrive.

And arrive they did. I am always pleased to see my brother, very pleased. We were very close as children. Marriage and children of his own has changed that of course - in a good way. I am sorry he now lives so far away but I am happy that he had a good career and that he has children and grandchildren he can be proud of.  

This time though it was particularly good to see him because there are two purposes for his visit. One is to collect the remaining piece of machinery from the shed and add some timber to the load on the trailer. The other, and much more important purpose of the visit, is to see the Senior Cat. 

Although they talk frequently on the phone and my SIL makes wonderful and very professional DVDs of their activities and those of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren the Senior Cat needs the intimacy of real face-to-face conversation. He is finding it more and more difficult to hear and to see - his eyesight has never been good and even large print books are becoming too difficult to use. He cannot hear well enough to use audio-books. I sometimes read to him but, like me, he does not enjoy people reading to him. "The voice gets in the way of the words." 

So Brother Cat unloaded the trailer. They had a quick cup of tea to revive them and then went off to pay the first visit to the Senior Cat.  I will be interested to see what they say when they arrive here this morning.

And yesterday I dealt with one of the many little things that have had to be done since the Senior Cat moved. I changed his address on the electoral roll. He will still get his ballot papers here because he is now a "general postal voter" - a privilege of great age. I know that this time I, or someone else, will have to fill out his ballot papers at his direction. It will probably be me because he knows that I will do exactly as he asks - and do it without arguing. 

There are both state and federal elections next year - I hope he can vote in both. I also hope he might see Brother Cat again. None of those are a certainty but I am thankful he is still intellectually capable of appreciating those things.  

Tuesday 23 November 2021

I have a head full of useless information

- or at least it seems that way.

Several times recently I have caught the end of the "Mastermind" program in Downunder. I assume the format is similar to the program of the same name in Upover. Whatever, it is the part where people are asked the general knowledge questions. 

I can almost never answer the sports questions - but I have no interest in sport so this is hardly surprising. I also have a problem with anything relating to what I would call "modern popular culture". Things like "pop music" have simply passed me by. I have very little idea about the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the like. I know the names Cat Stevens (but I think he changed it)  and ABBA but I really know nothing about them.

I would fail miserably.

I am in awe of these people who front the cameras and try to answer the questions. I feel for those who find it hard and wonder how on earth those who can do manage to do it. My mind would go blank under pressure anyway.

We had quiz sessions at university - similar to the Mastermind general knowledge section - but I could never bring myself to participate. I would go along and listen. I would keep my score firmly to myself. No, I didn't disgrace myself but I was aware of big gaps in my general knowledge - even if I did know the capital of Bhutan (Thimphu) I didn't know the name of the first Beatles film. I am not sure which is more important...perhaps it has something to do with where you live?

Clearly though my "cultural literacy" is lacking because, although I had heard of them, I did not know just what the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were.  I am still not really sure. Perhaps though I know enough because the Raphael knitting pattern I wrote for a friend so she could make something for her grandson has turned out to be "just what I need". Phew! I may not know much but perhaps I know enough - sometimes. 


Monday 22 November 2021

Saying who we say we are

for the purpose of voting is surely just commonsense? 

A little while back in this blog I mentioned that there is a move to try and compel people to provide ID before they vote. This is being opposed by some. 

For those of you who are not familiar with the Downunder voting system I need to explain two things. 

First, we have a system of "compulsory voting". What this actually means is there is compulsory attendance at the ballot box. Nobody can actually force you to vote but you are required to accept the ballot papers and then return them. Between accepting them and returning them it is expected you will "mark" them - i.e. vote.

Second, because of this system we have an "electoral roll". The public form of this is a list of all the people in the electorate who have enrolled to vote. If you are a citizen then you are required to be on the electoral roll. The roll has your full name and your address - nothing more. There is a "silent" roll for people who may be at risk of harm or harassment.  

In order to be entered on to the electoral roll you need be a citizen and provide an appropriate form of ID - or be vouched for by  someone who is on the roll.

If you cannot get to a polling station you can have what is known as a "postal vote" - the papers will be posted to you and you can post them back or give them to someone you trust to take to a polling station. Someone on the electoral roll has to witness your signature on the envelope - and both are checked.

If you do go to a polling station then, at present, you can simply walk in and say "I am ...." You will then be asked if you have already voted in the election being held and then given the ballot papers. The name is then ruled off - something designed to prevent people from voting more than once.

It is a fairly simple system. There is room for voter fraud. 

I know something about this because some years ago I did some research into the problems people with disabilities had when trying to exercise their right to vote. In doing so I came across other groups who were also experiencing problems. 

How widespread the problems are is difficult to ascertain.  Some people were unaware that their right to make a choice was being taken from them. Others felt under pressure to "do as I was told" and some never voted at all. What happened was that somebody else would go to the polling station and say, "I am..." and that was all they needed to do in order to obtain the vote of another person.

This was happening not just to people with disabilities but to the very frail and elderly, to some people in ethnic communities - particularly the  women, and to others in difficult domestic circumstances. It was clear that the problems were more widespread than any government has wanted to admit. Having to produce any form of ID would have markedly reduced this problem.

So why don't people want a system where people are required to produce ID in order to exercise their right to vote? The argument that some people won't have ID is not something I can go along with. The number of people affected by that would be miniscule - because you needed ID in order to get on the roll in the first place.  The number of people who have their vote taken from them by others would be much higher. It might also cause some names to be removed from the roll - those of people who have died or are not competent to vote. 

This is not about people losing the right to vote. It is about people gaining the right to vote and to vote according to their own wishes. Those who oppose this move must believe it would benefit the party they support.


Sunday 21 November 2021

Activity packs for 3 to 11 years

old nieces, nephew and neighbours are something I have started to work on.

Brother Cat will, hopefully, be here late on Tuesday. He is travelling by car so he can take the interstate packs home. They still need to be filled with things that will travel.

The age range is also making things a little difficult. The three year old here is an active little girl - but still a girl and still not old enough to be given some of the things her six year old brother could have.

And at the other end of the age range the "almost twelve" year old (how dare I suggest she is "11") starts high school  next year. She won't want some of the things I will need to include for the younger ones.

I had a look on the internet at what other people might put in activity packs. As I suspected there were a lot of things which are too much like school. No, this is not about school! This is about having fun.

I have glue sticks, sellotape/sticky tape, washi tape, stickers, cardboard, origami paper, crayons,  envelopes, cards, some post cards, some price tickets (to decorate), some polymer clay in little packs (with instructions to get an adult to help "bake"  it), some seeds to plant in a cardboard cup (find out what grows from these seeds), some pocket size games, something which makes a noise (the adults will hate me for this but....) and some pocket size games. The three year old will need a ball instead of one of those because the pieces are too small. There are notebooks and there is paper.

And there has to be food. Yes, I know...but there has to be food. Okay I have done the reduced sugar jelly frogs and do the snack packs of chips really do that much harm...and yes, you do need mini-packs of "Smarties".   

I am trying to think of any other little things I might have missed. It is now that I miss MsW so much. She was still young enough to know what should go into the bags or, on her regular trips to the "cheap" shop for glue and cardboard, she would find something and tell me, "I think you should put that in too".  

So, help me please - what would you want in your activity pack if you were that age? 

Saturday 20 November 2021

"Can you still get tinned fruit in syrup?"

the man with the shopping list asked me and another person. He was standing there looking at the tinned (canned) fruit and looking rather bewildered.

"Shopping for your wife?" the other woman asked.

"Shopping for myself," he said.

"You'd be better off with a banana," she told him and walked on. 

He looked at me and I said, "The answer to the question is yes - sometimes. Most tinned fruit comes in fruit juice. Here - these come in pear juice. The pineapple comes in pineapple juice... is that the sort of thing you want?"

"I suppose so. I really don't know much about this sort of thing. I just think I should have something like this occasionally. Those tins are so big. Could you freeze some of it?"

"Yes, you can freeze this - and this - very successfully. If you do it in single size containers then it is even better." I saw his expression and added, "The single size containers are around in the next aisle and they are re-usable...cost a bit to start with but save money in the long run."

He gave me a rather uncertain sort of smile. 

I don't know what made me do it but I then added, "Is there anything else I can help with?"

And at that point his eyes filled with tears and, with difficulty, he told me that he had just seen to the entry of his wife into a unit for dementia patients. They had been "getting by" until then on other things and his limited ability to cook some things and on take away meals. Now he was on his own.He was trying to do what he thought was the right thing, the sort of thing his wife had done when she was able. He had no family here to help and their friends had gradually faded away as his wife's behaviour had become more and more unpredictable.

The aisle of a supermarket is no such place to be talking about such things or giving help apart from rather quickly. We moved on as I showed him where to find the single serve containers. I told him how the "deli" area will cut a cooked chicken in half so that he did not need to try and cook a chicken himself.  

We parted ways. I finished my shopping and picked up something from the chemist.  I passed the florist. He was there getting flowers for his wife. I went out and was packing my tricycle basket when he appeared again. As he passed me he held out a single flower with a piece of cellophane and a tiny bow to hold it in place.

"Thanks again. That was better than a banana," he told me.  

Friday 19 November 2021

No answer from local government

is only to be expected I suppose - but I will keep trying.

I wrote to my "local council" - the local government office - almost four weeks ago. I have since followed that up twice.

The question is a simple one. Is the road/lane/driveway (call it what you will) leading into the "court" opposite private or public property? If it is private property then there may be some restrictions on its use. If it is public property then any restrictions will be in accordance with the law regarding access roads.

My own training leads me to believe that the area is public property. If it is then there is nothing at all to stop the children from riding up and down.  All of them, as required by law, wear their helmets. Their bikes are maintained by their parents - with some "help" by those old enough to take some responsibility for such things. The area is flat, smooth and the number of cars using the space is minimal. There is always an adult present watching.

And no the children do not make a great deal of noise, nor are they there at unreasonable hours. 

All this has been explained to the council. All we need is a "yes" or a "no" answer. Apparently this is proving difficult. Why?

There is another piece in the paper this morning about a similar issue in another council area. The older children want a space in which they can ride their BMX bikes or their skateboards. Apparently the adults don't want to give up a tennis court (in an area endowed with an unusually large number of courts) or a sliver of land that surrounds an oval (and it is a long way from the oval boundary). Why? Don't they want the young to play outside, to exercise? 

I would much prefer to have some noise and children and teens getting some exercise than have them playing computer games or roaming the streets looking for something to do. It will shortly be even more essential in this street because the long summer holidays will be coming up and while I know that the children will, reluctantly, be attending "school holiday programs" they will have more time at home with grandparents too. They will want to be out and active at least some of the time.

What's better (1) staying inside and not getting exercise?

                      (2) riding in the street - and possibly getting hit by a car?

                     (3) riding in the safer area? Yes, falling off your bike and hurting yourself can occur there too but it might also teach you your limits

I think I will go with (3) so I will be on to the council yet again today. 

Thursday 18 November 2021

I am accidentally wearing

matching socks and polo shirt today.  I am not sure how this happened. I am also not sure how I have actually happened to notice this.

My usual clothing consists of jeans, socks, ankle boots and tops according to the season. Provided my clothes are clean and tidy I am not the sort of cat who fusses about them. I see no point. I work from home. I have worked from home for many years. There is no need to put on something special to go to work.

When I do need to go to a meeting I can change into something "better" - if I need to do so. Lately meetings have tended to be of the "Zoom"  variety.  It seems people do not dress for those in quite the same way. (One of my colleagues recently appeared in his night attire - understandably so. It was around two o'clock in the morning where he was and we all know one another well enough not to worry about that sort of thing.)

I suppose the habit of not spending a lot of money on clothes is one I picked up from my mother. She did not spend a lot of money on her clothes, indeed she made most of her own and ours. Recently I threw out several "around home" shirts she had made for the Senior Cat - threw out in the sense my BIL will now use them as rags when he is working in his shed. The things she made tended to last - and last. 

We actually complemented each other quite well in that respect. I would knit things. Mum would sew things. On one trip abroad my mother came home with a knitting kit. She had seen it in a shop window and, most unusually for her, decided that she liked it so much that she wanted it...but I had to knit it. It was knitted sideways and she had never attempted such a thing. It was also knitted in a variety of yarns - something else she had never attempted. I must admit that the finished garment suited her but it was something that, like almost everything else she owned, would not have suited me at all. We often clashed over that. I would make whatever she wanted me to make. She kept trying to get me to wear things I would never have felt comfortable in. It was the same with Middle Cat. 

When Middle Cat married, her MIL made clothes for her. P... had three daughters to dress as well. They knew what they wanted and the styles she made were much more modern and up to date. P.... might have only worn black or dark brown herself - she was very traditionally a married Greek woman in that sense - but she knew her daughters wanted to dress differently.  Our mother did not always approve. I sometimes wonder what she would now make of the way my nephew's partners dress. I wonder too what my grandmothers would make of these things.

I do notice these things of course - in a casual sort of way. But each morning I simply reach for clean socks and clean underwear and if the socks match the shirt that is a bonus. Let's face it how many people can see my socks at the same time as they can see my shirt? Does it matter unless I am going to a meeting?

Wednesday 17 November 2021

I was told I was "selfish"

yesterday. I don't think I am. I hope I'm not but apparently it is selfish of me to ask other people to think about getting vaccinated against the Covid19 virus.

Yes, I know we are all tired of hearing about this but I was a bit upset by the reaction I got when all I said was, "Well I hope people in the medical and teaching professions do get vaccinated. I hope they at least think about it."

Wrong thing to say. I was told off in no uncertain terms. I was told I was selfish and that I was only thinking of myself. 

"Just because you want to get back to what you think is normal," I was told.

Well yes, that would be nice. I don't like having to wear a mask when I am out and about. I don't like having to sign in everywhere I go. I suppose it is very selfish of me to find those things irritating. 

Oddly though I expect to have to go on doing those things for some time. I expect to have to go on doing it because other people have not been vaccinated. 

But even odder than that I am concerned about my young friends in the street - and all the other children like them in this state. They can't be vaccinated yet. It may be some time before this happens. Even then they may not be completely immune. I know it is very selfish of me to hope that none of them become ill. Or is it?

It is now mandatory for teachers in this state to be vaccinated. The very few who cannot be for medical reasons are exempt of course but there is no excuse for other teachers. The vaccines are available.  Surely if you really care about the students you teach and the standards of the profession in which you work you will get vaccinated? If you do care so little then should you be working with students at all?  

When I said this I was told, "Kids don't get that sick. It's just a bit of a cold for them. You all fuss too much."  

Am I fussing too much? I don't think I am. Our hold on life is far too fragile. I want my young friends to grow up and do something with their lives. If it takes vaccinations by all who can to achieve that then is itreally being selfish?


Tuesday 16 November 2021

Clearing out cupboards

is like slowly sifting through an archaeological site.

My parents moved into this house almost forty years ago. I know people who have lived in the same house much longer than that. There are even people whose families have lived in the same place for centuries. What they must sometimes find would be extraordinary. 

But this should have been relatively simple. The Senior Cat no longer needs suits or business shirts or ties or any of those "dress up" things. He was talking with concern about the needs of our incoming refugees from Afghanistan. Once he would have been volunteering his services to help with their English, repair furniture so that they could use it and so on. He cannot do those things now and we do not have the financial resources to provide much in the way of donations.

"Is there anything we don't need that they could really use?"  he asked me.

So I suggested I might give away some of the good clothing he was not using.  And of course that meant going carefully through it. I will not give away things that are not in good condition. It needs to be clean, pressed, ready to wear. There cannot be buttons missing or seams coming apart or anything but truly presentable. 

Since our mother died Middle Cat and I have always tried to keep the Senior Cat in some sort of clothing good order. He is not very interested in clothes. He loves his hand knitted socks - made by our good friend I... He keeps the tweed jacket his father made for him 76 years ago. (It has now been relined three times but good Harris Tweed lasts and he can still wear it.) His other clothing is of much less interest. 

In his residence he wears casual clothes. The last time he wore a collar and tie and his suit was to his grandson's wedding several years ago. Visits to the medical profession do not require a suit. 

So I went through the wardrobe and pulled out the business shirts. I inspected them and sorted them. His tie collection was never great but I have retained his clan tie and the clan tartan tie he wore in winter. The rest I rolled up and put in the bag. I doubt they will be of much use to anyone but there is someone at the charity shop who might turn them into something else altogether. I added other things. 

And I found things...like the pen he thought he had lost, a watch that doesn't work, a notebook, a packet of seeds, three "pocket" tricks, a mini pack of cards, and another pen-knife. In his drawers I found several packs of cards - of no use to anyone other than a magician (they are "doctored"). There were also some wooden puzzles he had not finished making - he had probably brought those inside to glue together. There are some board games and an incomplete set of dominoes - the rest must have gone into the magic trick he made for his friend P...

It was all interesting I suppose but I found it unsettling. Perhaps it is better to do some of that now and ask him where he wants the other things he is not using to go? I don't know.  

Monday 15 November 2021

One of my colleagues was beaten up

last Friday. I was only told about it this morning  when  he finally managed to get a message to those of us with whom he has been working.

Now all I have ever done is provide this man with communication boards when he has worked in some difficult and dangerous places. I have never met him but I have always admired his courage and his courtesy. He comes across as a very polite man. When he has asked me to do something it has always been asked in terms of "Would you have the time....?" or "I don't like to trouble you but...." and when I have done something he has always responded with things like, "Thank you. That's just what I needed." 

He is the sort of person I don't mind doing things for and for whom I will make the extra effort. Once in a while he has sent short group letters to all of us. He has told us more about his failures than his successes. We have been told about his many successes by other people.

He's a doctor. He is working in a part of the world I would not even want to visit. It is dangerous. Being a doctor hasn't protected him in the past but, until now, he has not been beaten up. He had a knife wielding lunatic try to stab him last year. The local people have tried to protect him ever since that happened. This incident though is about the politics of the country in which he works. He tries not to even speak about this. He never ventures an opinion. He tells the local people his job is to help - help everyone who might need his help.

So I am sitting here feeling more than a little shaken and concerned. We have lost aid workers before. We will lose aid workers in the future. It's a dangerous job and it can be a very, very dangerous job. This time though it feels just a little different because I have worked with this man for many years. He has given his life to working with people in one of the most dangerous countries in the world, a country which now seems to be spiraling out of control.

The message we had has suggested that he is being cared for by the local people but now they are telling him he is too old and too frail to continue working for them. They think he should "go home" because they don't want to be responsible for his death. The want him to stay because, without him, there will only be the two nurses he has trained. It is something he needs to think about. His permit to work there will expire again next year. Whether it will be renewed is something that is questionable.

But there is a sentence in his message that makes all this much more complex. 

"I don't know where home is any more."


Sunday 14 November 2021

The cost of COP26

is something I am trying not to think about. It was a "talk-fest" and I doubt that it has generated much, if any, good will among those responsible.

If the same amount of money had been spent on actually doing something it might not have appeared to make much difference but would it have done good? 

Anyone who knows me will know that I am a "plant more trees" person. I want to see the right sort of trees planted in the right sort of places. I want to see trees which will provide shelter (for all sorts of life), food, clothing, warmth, items we can use and more. I want trees that will root themselves in the landscape and be here hundreds and even thousands of years after we have gone. I want the giant sequoia trees to survive. I want the Huon pine trees to survive. I want the Amazon rainforest and the Daintree to expand again. I want to see the lakes that feed them fill. 

It could be done. I don't doubt that. There are people I know who are trying to farm both sustainably and responsibly. 

It is  very hard work.

I think that is a major part of the problem and we have not yet addressed that. Any form of agriculture, horticulture, or forestry, is very hard work. It requires long hours, hard labour and a commitment few are prepared to make. It is even harder to do it in a responsible manner. It is expensive too. 

We all want a "nice" and "comfortable" lifestyle but how many of us picking up vegetables in the supermarket or at the greengrocer consider what went into getting them there? If you drink milk have you thought about the dairy farmer who has to work every day of the year? 

We had some wild weather here recently. There was a very bad hailstorm. Some crops were ruined. People will complain about the price of goods going up - but what about the market gardeners who have lost their crops?

If the money spent on COP26 had been put into actually doing something all these people might have been helped further down the chain. There might have been more tree houses for the birds, insects for them to eat, and leaves for the animals. 

It might not have seemed like much at the time but it would have been a start. All those commitments and resolutions might sound good but it really is up to the rest of us.  

Saturday 13 November 2021

The abuse of statistics

is becoming so widespread I think we should be teaching children how to read them from infancy. Well, not quite perhaps but I do wonder what  can be done about it.

I remember that, as a mere kitten, there was an advertisement on our route into the city which said something like "eight out of ten dentists recommend (a certain toothpaste). The Senior Cat pointed out to me - when I had queried how they had found out this fascinating fact - that it did not say eight out of every ten dentists. I was very disappointed by this.

But since then I suppose I have read statistics with some caution. I have been even more cautious since doing the compulsory units in statistics at university. Oh  yes  I could apply a this test and a that test along with the best of them. Statistics appeared in my thesis - and then I made a major (and successful) argument against them. I listened to the Senior Lecturer in Statistics in the Psychology department talking to the Professor of Statistics in the Statistics department. I won't repeat what they said to each other here but they were bent on manipulating a process in order to get the desired result. It happens.

There are plenty of statistics around. We have had Covid statistics galore recently. Every night the news service I watch puts up the state-by-state statistics telling us the percentage of people who have been vaccinated and doubly vaccinated. I have some issues with those statistics. Are they factoring in the people who are unfortunate enough to want a vaccination but cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons? That's just one issue.

There are all the "climate change" statistics. Oh they can be manipulated in all sorts of ways. Don't mistake me I think climate change is a very very important issue. We only have this tiny little planet on which to live. We should be looking after it much more carefully than we are. But the statistics are being manipulated in ways which can leave a completely false impression - and doing so for purely political purposes. It might seem like a good idea but it can do more harm than good.

And this morning there was an article in our state newspaper. It suggested that public schools were doing better than private schools in  the NAPLAN tests. (NAPLAN tests are national assessments of whether a students is reaching certain benchmarks at intervals during their school life.) My immediate reaction was, "That's interesting - and very good if it is true. Then I read the article. Mmm... the public schools which are doing so well are the selective high schools. They should be doing well. They are getting some of the brightest students in the state, students who have special interests in things like science.

Of course to admit to anything like this would spoil the fun that some people have in trying to fool others. I think it was Disraeli who said, "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics." It might just be he was right about that. 

Friday 12 November 2021

People can be very helpful

and remarkably cheerful about it.

I ordered a book recently. It is only available in electronic format (grrrrrr) and yes, a download link came through. There is a limit of just one download on this particular item. 

I downloaded it while holding my breath and hoping the power did not fail. It didn't. Then I discovered that I could not save the file. I didn't know what to do. I consulted someone more expert than I am. He didn't know what the problem was either. 

It was extremely frustrating. There was material in the book I wanted to use. I had paid for the book too. 

Not very hopefully I sent a message off to the place I had ordered the book from. I explained the problem. I gave them all the information I thought they might need. I asked them what I had done to cause the problem - if they knew.  I wasn't really expecting an answer - it had been "that sort of day". What is more the company in question is on the other side of the world.

But no, about ten hours later there was a nice note from someone who sounded lovely, "Let's try again."

We hit a bump and the response was, "I have another trick in my book" and then "one second" and, "Now try again."

I pushed another "button" and there it was downloading. It finished downloading and this time I was able to save it. 

Now I can work from it - all because someone I didn't know and have never met believed me when I said I had a problem. It was the sort of response which makes me say, "I'll buy from them again if I need something."  It was the sort of response which makes the world a much nicer place.

And now I am purring gently. When I return from visiting the Senior Cat this morning I will be able to do what I need to do too. I can pass the favour done to me on to the next person. Isn't that the way things should work?  

Thursday 11 November 2021

Films derived from books

work only sometimes.  

Recently I had a bit of fun watching the sequel to "101 Dalmations" - fun because I watched it with two children who were happy to enjoy it for what it was. They cheered and booed in the right places and we talked about it afterwards. We made "spotty dogs" for their mother for when she came home and we did not dwell on why Cruella is such a dreadful character. They are a bit young for that.

Their mother gave me three DVDs to bring home with me. She asked me to watch them. I dutifully did this while I was doing other things that can be done while watching if I try hard enough. (I could not sit there and simply watch the film. I have to be doing something.)

The first one I watched was a modern version of the Secret Garden. It did not keep to the story line - a story line I never found very convincing anyway. I don't suppose I expected it to keep to the story line but it still bothered me. It just wasn't right. People don't survive burning buildings like that. I doubt even a child would find those scenes convincing. But, some people liked all that enough to make the film - and I was told it was "marvelous".

The second one I watched was a sort of sequel to this called "Return to the Secret Garden." The story line in that was not at all convincing either and the main character is much too good to be true. The fantasy and the romance were not the sort of thing I could see capturing the interest of a child.   I watched it to the end only because I was finishing something off and was too lazy to actually get up and press the "off" button. But this is me and there are undoubtedly people who "loved" the film. 

The third one was, if anything, worse. It was "The Secret of Moonacre" and was supposedly an adaptation of Elizabeth Goudge's marvellous novel "The little white horse". If you know it you will know that it is a book with a wonderful array of characters. It is a wonderful story and it well deserved the Carnegie Medal the author was awarded for it. 

The film is nothing like that. The story line is so far removed from the book that if your put the two plots side by side without adding any names then you might think the film plot sounded vaguely similar to something you had read - and that would be it. The wonderful Marmaduke Scarlett is made fun of in a way I found offensive. He is not a figure of fun in the book. Miss Heliotrope is made fun of too - and she is not a figure of fun either. In the book she is a governess of her day, a rather sad figure who is determined to do her best for her young charge. Sir Benjamin, Loveday, and Robin have all been changed into something they are not in the book - and the Parson doesn't even appear in the story.  And Maria herself? No, I did not find her convincing.

Perhaps I am just far too difficult to please but it seems to me that the book and the film should not even be mentioned in the same breath.

It is all rather sad. If this was a child's introduction to the book then they would surely be puzzled when they did read the book.  

I thought back to some other films for children that I have seen, films adapted from books or stories. The earliest I can remember is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. As a child I found that rather frightening. I've seen other Disney cartoon adaptations since then, some better than others.  I have seen films made from Downunder classics like Storm Boy, Let the Balloon Go, I can jump puddles, and Sun on the Stubble. Of those Storm Boy - the original one - was the best. I have not seen the remake and I am not sure I want to do that. 

And I have seen things like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, Mary Poppins, and of course the first Harry Potter.  None of them kept quite to the books but they were much closer than the three I watched over the last couple of weeks. 

What have I managed to learn from all this? The answer is probably, if I like the book don't watch the film because you will surely be disappointed Cat. I don't know whether I am hard to please or whether I have too much imagination or....something else? 

Wednesday 10 November 2021

Activity packs for children

are on my mind. I need to put some together. The age range now extends from three (going on four) to eleven (going on twelve). 

These are for the children in the street and my great nieces and nephew. My brother can take those back to them when he (hopefully) is allowed to enter the state at the end of the month. 

The youngest is easy to do. I have had some experience with things like paper, cardboard, glue sticks, stickers, envelopes and more. Little L... can have that sort of thing now. Her brother is more of a problem. He's a very active outside sort of child who isn't fond of school or anything on the printed page. I might provide paper, stickers and something he can make. 

I can still provide paper, cardboard, stickers, felt tipped pens and the like for some of them but the oldest needs much more of a challenge and so does the next in line. It was for that reason I was delighted to find some immensely complex dot-to-dot books in the local bookshop. They were on the "remainder" table and I put my paw out, looked at them and decided they would be "just the thing". It will take them a while to do them. 

I mentioned all this to one of the mothers when we were talking yesterday. Her usual reaction of "you don't have to give them anything" was immediately modified by"but they loved the last lot and it kept them out of my hair for so long". Well, yes. That's the whole idea. I hope I can still "think young enough" to know how much I would have liked something like that when I was young. We didn't have "stickers" - we had "transfers" instead - and there were no felt tip pens. What I do remember though is my paternal grandmother giving all of us small packets of pencils- with a sharpener, a colouring book, and a paper pad to draw on with our crayons. It was just the right thing for when it was too hot to do anything else. 

There was also the "John Bull printing set" with the stamp pad and the "back to front" letters. We made our own "thank you" cards that way. We could colour in the stamps with our pencils. It saved a lot of writing. Activity packs have multiple uses.

Tuesday 9 November 2021

What is going on with Auspost?

We used to have a rather extraordinary postal service but the last few years have left me wondering whether we even have one.

Let me start with some parcels which have gone missing. 

(1) the scarf I sent my sister-in-law for her birthday. It was a particularly pretty one- just her shade of blue - silk, screen printed. 

(2) an item I knitted as a sample for my friend P... It never arrived. I later saw it being worn by a complete stranger who told me she had bought it at a garage sale in another state.  

(3) a parcel sent to the United States to a very special friend M... who has done so much for us

And then there are the following:

(4) a parcel that didn't reach me but was returned to the sender with "not wanted" on it. It was apparently delivered to the wrong address because I most certainly did want the contents

(5) a parcel with two t-shirts which should have arrived here but never did - the t-shirts are unique.I'll know if I ever see them being worn by someone other than Middle Cat.

(6) a parcel containing a book that someone else must be reading

and, most recently,

(7) a parcel that should be on its way back to me because it was "the wrong address" - the only problem with this is that it was not the wrong address. Auspost delivered it to the wrong address - or their employees did. I have paid for a service which has not delivered but I won't get my money back.

Parcels can now arrive at any hour of the day or night. They are delivered by people who are clearly "contractors".  Some of them are clearly having difficulty in carrying out their duties. One of them tried to deliver something to this address which was intended for the units in the court across the street. When I explained he said, "Well, can't you take it there?"

Other mail is still only being delivered every second day. That was supposed to be a short term measure during the pandemic. It has continued. It causes delays. It gives people much shorter times to pay bills, respond to job offers and other things. 

Complain? You are told to "do it on-line". 

No, why should we. Not everyone can do that anyway. There is a postal service which is supposed to deliver - but isn't. 

Monday 8 November 2021

"You ex-smokers are all the same!"

the smoker growled at me. He was glaring too. 

Someone else's dog tied to the railing where I had parked my tricycle started to bark at the smoker.  It wasn't a nice bark and his tail wasn't wagging. 

The smoker went towards him with a "And you shut the.... up!" The dog growled.

"Bloody dangerous animal! What the f.... do people think...." 

"This is a non-smoking area," I said again, "And the dog isn't dangerous. He just doesn't like you."

"F.... ridiculous! I can smoke here if I bloody well want to." 

I knew I wasn't going to get any further. I looked at the dog. The dog looked at me. I put my hand out. He sniffed it and wagged his tail. Yes, we understood each other. No, I wasn't taking a risk. It is not the first time the dog and I have come across one another.

I have never smoked. I have never even tried to smoke a cigarette. If it is a non-smoking area then I believe I have every right to point it out, particularly as children sometimes wait with their dogs while a parent "pops in" to get a paper or one or two items. It's safe enough from the abduction point of view because there is a cafe adjacent from which there is a clear view. The problem is that it is not safe from those who still believe that smoking in a particular place is their right - even though it is a non-smoking area.

Cigarette smoke (and very little of it) leaves me with red eyes, a running nose, a feeling of not being able to breathe and more. I avoid it. I was never really able to tolerate it. I never felt comfortable around smokers. At university the Dean of Students in the Law faculty informed the staff member who supervised my honours thesis that he would see me in the library. "Cat, doesn't need to spend time in the fog in your office." I would never have said that but I might have politely asked if we could see each other outside if he wanted to go on smoking. He was at least a forty-a-day man - as was my Constitutional Law lecturer. My Trusts lecturer was not much better. They were highly intelligent men who could not kick the habit. It is a very addictive habit. Why start at all?

We could do more to reduce the rate of smoking. We could cease the sale of tobacco anywhere but the chemist and only have it available on prescription from there.  We could have a "licence" to smoke which would need to be produced on request.  Yes, those things would send smokers underground and to the black market - but it would probably reduce the rate of smoking. We could double the rate they pay for the Medicare levy and deny them any form of health insurance while telling them they will always be further down the list for treatment than a non-smoker. Yes, those things would cause cries of "not fair" but it might help too.

Why do smokers still believe they have rights not available to the rest of us?  I would much rather have dogs wagging their tails at me.

Sunday 7 November 2021

Going out to lunch

is not something I do very often. Going out to lunch at a rather posh restaurant is something I have done even less often.

It was my cousin's birthday yesterday. His partner phoned about ten days ago asking if I was free to go to lunch with them for T...'s birthday. The Senior Cat, Middle Cat and her partner were invited as well.

"We thought we'd try a place on the river bank," R... told me, "You are our guests."

I knew it was intended to be a special occasion in more ways than one.  They missed all the usual family occasions last year and the year before that because they normally live in London for nine months of the year.  Of course they have not been able to travel backwards and forwards as they usually do.

So, lunch. My BIL picked me up while Middle Cat went with the Senior Cat in the "access cab". (It is too difficult for him to get in and out of a car now.) We found the place without difficulty - along a quiet stretch of the "river" which runs through the city. The building has long glass windows and doors opening out on to a deck over the water. They were firmly closed yesterday because it was raining when we arrived but it was still lovely to watch the water and the young ducklings paddling furiously after their mother. 

Ah yes, a reserved table...we hope you will have a pleasant time... drinks? As none of us drink alcohol I think they might have been disappointed but they were too polite to show it. 

Menus were provided. The print was too small for the Senior Cat to read of course so I read it slowly to him. Some of the offerings left him bewildered. "Why can't they say what they mean?" he muttered softly to me. I have sometimes wondered the same thing. Does it taste different simply because French or Italian words are employed?

I wondered what size the servings would be. They are normally far too large. I could see a waiter carrying laden dishes to one table. The Senior Cat and I usually share something but this was not the sort of place where you could do that. Middle Cat said something quietly to the waiter who handled it beautifully by saying to the Senior Cat, "We offer a smaller serving size for lunch if you would like to try...." The Senior Cat was delighted. What came for him was just right.

On request our servings were also much more moderate in size. The restaurant doesn't actually do smaller servings but the chef was prepared to accommodate people who don't eat simply for the sake of eating. He wanted us to enjoy what he had prepared. We did. 

I could have fed all of us for the price of the dish I chose and that was far less than the more exotic items (such as "boar") on the menu - which we all ignored. I don't for a moment suppose we were charged any less but we cleared our plates. It made me feel a little less uncomfortable about the cost of it all. Perhaps it is something restaurants should try more often?



Saturday 6 November 2021

Islands need landing places

if you are going set foot on them. If you are going to live on them they need harbours or ports or other safe places to land. If at all possible those places must be available all  year round in all sorts of weather.

But there are also other sorts of ports - ports used for industrial purposes in this instance. 

There is currently a "parliamentary inquiry" going on into the circumstances surrounding the decision not to allow the building of a port to remove timber from the island I once lived on. I lived on that island a very long time ago. I lived in the centre of it and I saw very little of the port where the ferry landed. I went on the ferry just once. After that our family used the plane. It was a twenty minute trip by air but an overnight trip on the ferry.  If it was rough weather the ferry could not dock. If it was very rough weather the plane could not fly in either. In medical emergencies the local "crop duster" - a tiny light plane would be used instead...often landing on a dirt track nearest the scene of the incident.

Now there is an all weather airport and there are more sealed roads. The harbour where the ferry landed is still in use but the forestry people want another port, a port dedicated to their business. The islanders are opposed not to the port itself but to the location of the port. A decision was made to deny permission to build it there. There is a "conflict of interest" inquiry because the politician involved in making the decision is also the owner of land through which the timber lorries would travel. Her family has farmed the land there since the island was settled.

She claims that the decision was made on environmental grounds. There are also concerns about the impact on tourism, the island's other main source of income. The local mayor has backed her. He has made his case. The area is prone to flooding. It is ecologically sensitive and more.

It would be cheaper to build a port there than anywhere else. It makes economic sense. More than anything else this would be why the planning permission was sought. But is it worth the possible environmental damage for something that will be used, at most, for about ten weeks a year?

The island seemed a very remote place when we lived there. It was that very remoteness which made it beautiful in a wild sort of way. I have no desire to return to it now. The tourist industry has taken over and it would not be the same. 

There is something I hope has not changed too much. There is another port on the southern side of the island. When we lived on the island there was a bay with a long jetty where quite large vessels could dock. We went there several times. The school's staff picnic before the year started would always be held there. I remember my first sight of it. There is a long, long and gently curving, beach of very white sand. It stretches a very long way. There was nothing to see except the sand, the water and the low cliffs in one direction. In the other there were a few buildings and the long jetty. There would sometimes be a few small fishing boats and perhaps a much bigger vessel.

It always seemed a very long way from the rest of the world. Just a handful of people lived there all year round. They had no television reception. Radio reception was poor. It was as isolated as the light houses further along the coast.  

There was an email for me this morning. In it, as an aside, someone suggested that they could turn that area into the port the timber people want to build. Thankfully they won't. It would be entirely the wrong place. 

Friday 5 November 2021

Asking questions is a journalist's job

but only provided that the questions are used for legitimate purposes - such as obtaining information or querying the accuracy of information. 

Asking questions (and then using the answers) to simply stir up trouble is not a legitimate purpose. The journalist who asked President Macron the question as to whether  he thought Prime Minister Morrison had lied to him was simply stirring up trouble. There were other ways the topic could have been approached but this was done deliberately. It was done to further criticise the Downunder Prime Minister and show him as being as incompetent as possible.

The reason for all this? The most likely reason for all this is that he is not doing what is expected of him or, if he is, he is not doing it in the way which is expected of him. He isn't demanding the immediate end of all coal fired power stations and banning all coal mining. Of course if he did do that then he would be accused of wrecking the economy and not supporting "poor" countries which rely on coal fired power stations.  The Prime Minister is in a situation where he cannot win.

I wonder though if the journalist who asked the question really thought about what he was doing. What he has done is put at risk the livelihoods of many other people in this country who need to trade with the rest of the world. By deliberately inflaming the situation he has put trade negotiations at risk. He has, perhaps irreparably, harmed the economy. It might get the journalist a few minutes of fame and a pat on the back from the news service which employs him but if other contracts are cancelled then it does no good at all. The economic harm done by the question is likely to be immense. Is it legitimate to deliberately choose to ask questions designed to do that?

Thursday 4 November 2021

Why would you steal a child?

I am not talking about custody battles here. The reasons for taking away children in those circumstances are, sadly, all too clear. I don't know anyone involved in one of those situations who has felt that the outcome has been entirely satisfactory - not even when they have managed to get what they demanded.

No, this is about stealing a child who is in no way related to you.  Here in Downunder we have just had such a case with an unbelievable positive outcome. The child was found alive and well after eighteen days. It took a massive effort by many people. The full story is  something we may never know. I rather hope we don't ever find out because the child should be given every opportunity to simply return to her family and move on with her life. 

Unfortunately she will need to be interviewed. The police will need to try and discover what happened to her while she was locked away in a house by a man who has to be mentally ill. No sane person would try to do what he did. At four years of age she is considered competent to tell the police a great deal.

And yes, handled the right way a four year old will have the capacity to remember and tell a great deal. It won't be easy and it will require considerable skill to get accurate information from her.

I have been thinking of all this ever since she went missing. Any child who goes missing in that way reminds me of the man I once met. He was a the head of a small school in another country. He was taking a year away from teaching for two reasons. The second reason was to do a piece of research which is why he was at the same university. The first however was far more important. He needed "time out". 

The previous year he had gone to visit his mother. He usually spoke to her by phone a couple of times a week. She was not answering the phone and he was worried so, it being the weekend, he made the journey rather than worry the neighbour he could have called on. He found his mother sitting in her armchair. There was a cold cup of tea by her side. She had been dead for at least a day when he found her. That was a shock enough. What followed was worse.

There had to be an autopsy and in the course of that autopsy it was discovered that this woman had never had a child. That this woman was not his mother, could not have been his mother, left him shattered. There had never been the slightest hint that he was anything other than her biological son. 

There was nothing in any of the documents in the house to even acknowledge the state of affairs. Her will referred to him by name. There was nothing in it that acknowledged him as her son. His birth certificate was the next thing he checked. It turned out to be that of an infant who had died when less than a year old. The family was in no way related to him.

The emotional trauma this man was going through will stay with me for ever. He sat there and told the seminar group this story in an apparently calm manner but, at the end of it, his voice broke. He was so close to tears that I imagine everyone in the room felt uncomfortable.

"I don't know who I am," this man told us, "I am still trying to find out."

How could anyone deliberately do that?


Wednesday 3 November 2021

Diplomacy is "the patriotic art

of lying for one's country" according to the definition in the Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce. 

Like so many other definitions in that dictionary it has more than a grain of truth in it.  No doubt Bierce was aware of the other definition by Henry Wotton -

"An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country." (Wotton was on a mission to Augsburg in 1604 when he said that - and has probably been misquoted ever since.) 

That also has a grain of truth in it.

I have been thinking about both definitions for some days now. The diplomatic service is something I know a little about, not much but I do know a little. I know something about it because one of the Senior Cat's cousins ended his career being responsible for the diplomatic service in Downunder.  His "bible" on what should and should not be done and how it should or should not be done is still in use - and will probably continue to be used for some time to come. B... and his wife often had to entertain diverse groups of people. It wasn't easy.

I saw some of this at first hand on the occasions I was invited  to their home in the nation's capital. I was doing law at the university there at the time. B...'s wife, P.... would phone and say, "Cat, are you free? Do you have time to come and help?"

I knew what she meant. They invited me more than once simply to relax and enjoy myself but on other occasions it would be because there would be people, usually women, who needed to be entertained while the other guests networked. Some of the women, indeed many of them, were highly intelligent and able women in their own right. They often had careers of their own. Even so they expected to meet and talk with other people. B... knew I was not just studying but working on things which might interest them. 

And then there were the, thankfully much smaller, group of women who were much less interested in all of that. They were often bored  by the occasions their husbands had to attend.They did not have careers of their own. Some of them were women who had gone from school to "finishing school" and who had never been expected to work. They had servants to do everything for them in their home countries and regarded the lack of multiple servants in this country as an insult.  

P... could do amazing things with those women. She was able to pretend that their talk about the "difficulty of getting staff" and their children was the most fascinating thing in the world. She was the most convincing of liars as she listened, agreed, asked questions, admired and more.

I know I never succeeded in all that. I was happy to talk with women who were doctors, bankers, linguists, university lecturers, musicians, administrators and more.  I tried to be the same but it was much harder. P... would just smile at me and say, "Ah, but I have been doing this for many years."

I still wonder how she succeeded in doing what she did. How could she lie so successfully? She was a very honest woman in all other respects but she lied absolutely convincingly in those social situations. Apparently patriots learn to lie not just about their country but in support of it.  That really is an art.

Tuesday 2 November 2021

The Macron-Morrison "spat"

is disturbing but less surprising than it should be.

There is a man in the next street who works for the submarine people. I have known the family since they moved in. The boys were small then and they are both at university now. Their father is Danish. He's an engineer.

More than once over the last few years there have been concerns about the stability of his job. It has been of even more concern recently. 

M.... had serious concerns about the project he was working on. There were, he told me, multiple problems with the contract.

That's hardly surprising. Contracts as big and complex as that are always problematic. There will always be issues which need to be resolved.  Often they can be resolved with good will on both sides. This time it seems that the problems were too big. 

"The French aren't delivering," M...told me many months ago. He couldn't get on with his own work because there were so many delays in other places.

The French were awarded the contract over the Japanese and another consortium. I think most Downunderites were relieved the contract did not go to the Japanese. However much we may do business with them there is still a lingering distrust of the Japanese among many people, especially those in the older generation. Add the complexities of the language and the culture to the mix and a contract that big might well have been unworkable. I suspect most Dowunderites will never learn to say "konnichiwa" even if only some of them can "bon jour". 

But France and Downunder had a contract and, like any other contract, it needs to be filled. Contracts involve give and take. They are a two way thing. If someone is not fulfilling their side of the contract then penalties can apply. 

I can only presume that there were, as M.... suggested to me, good reasons for not going ahead. Of course it is a blow to French pride. Of course they see it as an insult. It is a blow to the French economy and much more. 

But it is also an insult to us, especially to everyone who has worked so hard and invested so much in the project.

The real problem lies with the people who did not keep to the terms of the contract. It lies with those who did not think it sufficiently important to keep them to those terms. If the project had been running in accordance with the contract even those touting the new AUKUS alliance would have had difficulty in demanding the contract be broken.

There are faults on both sides here. What is not helpful is the media trying to suggest that it is a rather childish and nasty argument between two men whose job it is to do the best they can for their countries.  The Downunder Prime Minister has come in for a great deal of criticism over this and undoubtedly he could have handled it better. The reality however is that he has not handled it quite as badly as the media would have us believe. There are many reasons to believe that there are multiple faults on both sides and that the working relationship was in danger of breaking down long before this.  On n'est jamais trahi que par les siens? 

Monday 1 November 2021

Climate change hypocrites

are after me again. I got bailed up by one yesterday. He has been very active lately. There have been letters to the paper, a loud presence on the air waves, critical comments in social media, some "protests" to attend. He is also furious that he was prevented from going to Rome and then to Glasgow.

I committed the sin of questioning his criticisms of me. I dared to point out that Downunder is actually doing quite well. I did say we could do better - but that was not enough for him. 

Yesterday I tried something else. I asked him, "You drive to work don't you? How are you finding the traffic along...." I named the main road into the city - the one I know he uses.


I was not interested in that. Instead I said, "I'm surprised you use the car. You could ride.You live on the bike route." 

His house is actually on the street which is the designated bike path into the city. He would need to ride about three kilometres to his place of work - where he sits at a desk all day.

He looked at me absolutely shocked. He couldn't possibly do that. He has a car parking space at work. All he needs to do....

And that perhaps is where the problems really start. I read with alarm the number of vehicles that President Biden has had flown in to Rome (and then presumably to Glasgow). I doubt any of them were necessary. I presume it is possible to hire vehicles in Europe, even the sort with additional security features. How many other leaders of nations are taking such measures. How many security personnel, media personnel and more are they taking with them? Do they really need all those other staff?

And then there are all the "climate protestors" - led by Greta Thunberg of course. Now, don't misunderstand me young Greta Thunberg has more than done her bit to raise awareness. On the whole she has tried to limit her carbon footprint as well but I wonder about all those who follow her around and who protest at talk fests like the G20 Summit and COP26. They are quick to complain about the number of trips Prince Charles has taken but how many have them have travelled to such protests when they could have protested in other ways? 

I am tired of being told by climate change hypocrites that we are doing so badly. We aren't really doing that badly. We have actually reached the targets we set and that they agreed we should set. We have even exceeded them. While we still need to do better, much better, we are trying to do it in a realistic and responsible way. Some of our loudest critics have not yet reached the same targets.  If they want us to continue to reach and exceed the targets set then they need to encourage not criticise.