Sunday 31 July 2022

Auslan interpreters

are far less common in this country than they should be. Even when they should be available there are problems with using them.

Auslan is the language of many deaf people. It is a language in its own right. It is not "just English using your hands" as someone put it to me yesterday. I know. I can use a tiny amount of Auslan...and I mean a tiny amount.

I am not good at it. I usually resort to finger spelling with the occasional sign thrown in. People I know in the deaf community are remarkably patient with me.  They have given me my own "name sign" (naturally it includes "cat") and they shake their heads over my inability to express myself in signs. On the whole we get along just fine.

Yesterday I was stopped by a couple I don't know at all. They had seen me signing to someone in the supermarket - just responding to a where to find something. They wanted to know whether it was "just English using your hands".  I had to explain that the grammar, particularly the syntax, is different.

It was then that they asked me about the request by one of the new Senators to have his maiden speech in parliament translated into Auslan. The request was denied - on the grounds that a "stranger" was not allowed on the floor of the house. (There didn't seem to be the same difficulty with another Senate member feeding her baby in  the same place although the baby was also a "stranger" for that purpose.)

It would also have been expensive - interpreting does not come cheaply. It is a very skilled business - even more so than interpreting from one spoken language to another.  I have always suspected that one of the reasons for demanding that deaf children learn to lip read and use English - however badly - is because of the difficulty and expense of providing interpreters.  

The best interpreters I know are those who have grown up bilingual - in an Auslan/English world. I am also of the personal belief that Auslan should be far more widely used and far more available. All too often we see signing taking place in other countries when it is not available here. There was some done during the first phases of the Covid pandemic but it seems to have ceased. Occasionally it is done for other emergencies. Apart from that the deaf are expected to rely on English subtitles on television - subtitles which often go far too rapidly for them to read.

A profoundly deaf Canadian friend is bewildered by the lack of services here. While she needs to rely on her husband here because of the differences she says she has far more resources in Canada...and even there those are not enough. Here it seems we have not even reached the basic right of knowing what our representatives in Parliament have to say on our behalf.

Saturday 30 July 2022

Running late or on time?

Apparently one of the curious side effects of Covid19 is that people are running "fashionably" late, or just late. It is said that this is something to do with people being at home more often, having to work from home, not going out to other events as much - and more.

I have been aware of this. I have arranged to meet someone in order to do something with them or for them - and they are late. Someone will tell me that they will call me with a decision that affects me at a certain time - and they don't do it until the following day. I might even need to follow something up because they are so late - and that can be embarrassing for both of us.

We are all late sometimes, unavoidably late. We can also be a few minutes late...say two or three minutes. That's probably acceptable because there can be the days when you get every red light or the phone rings as you are going out the door and it could be the person you are about to meet.

When I was doing my teacher training I was working as a junior housemistress in a boarding school for girls. Punctuality when I was on duty was essential. There were four junior housemistresses and we all missed being on time once - in my case a phone call from my mother demanding I do something. We would, rightly, be reprimanded - because the safety of others was our responsibility. 

I was never on duty on Tuesday nights because I babysat elsewhere those nights. They were family friends and K..., knowing I needed the money, was paying me a small sum to do it. It wasn't much but it helped. It was the money that paid for my bus fares to and from teacher training college. K...'s wife B... was a person who was (and still is) chronically late for everything. K...would tell her they needed to be somewhere half an hour before they actually had to be there in an attempt to get her there somewhere close to the time set. I could never work out what it was that delayed B... She always seemed to be busy, always in a rush. 

In this family Middle Cat is also chronically late. My youngest nephew once stated something that has become a family joke, "There is ordinary time. There is Greek time. There is Mum time." (Middle Cat is married to the son of Greek-Cypriot migrants.) Middle Cat gets sidetracked. She talks to people - a lot. If we need to go somewhere together and we need to be on time I always suggest leaving much sooner than would normally be necessary. My brother calls this "doing a K...".

I am not perfect of course. Who is? I try to be organised but it doesn't always work. I do try very hard to be on time. I would rather spend fifteen minutes hidden around a corner than arrive five minutes late. Inevitably though I can be late like anyone else. Creeping into a meeting which has already started however is something I find cringe worthy.

Being deliberately late because it is somehow "fashionable" seems just plain rude to me.


Friday 29 July 2022

Saying the Lord's Prayer

at the start of each parliamentary day is a tradition which goes back over a almost the first days of the federal parliament in this country.

At the time the vast majority of members, possibly all, would have been church going Christians. It was something that was accepted as right and proper.

Our society has changed since then but, rather than lessen the need for that prayer, I believe it has increased the need for it. It needs to be there.

I say that as someone who does not go to church but who believes in the basic principles of Christianity - most of all that of unconditional love for others even when I hate what they do or say.

The new President of the Senate in our federal parliament wants to do away with the prayer because she is an atheist.  Note that this is what she wants. It has not been brought up for discussion and there has not been a vote on the matter. It is her personal opinion.

Now not all Senators are Christians or even believers in something else but I am aware that even some of those who are not find that small ritual important. I have discussed this with more than one Senator over the years. Two of them, on opposite sides of the political divide, told me that the saying of the Lord's Prayer was an important part of the day for many of them.

For them it was not a matter of belief as much as a matter of reflection. It was the moment in the day when they ceased to think about the problems and the moment when they caught their breath and prepared their minds for the day ahead.

Parliament is not a spiritual place and it is all the more important to have that brief reminder of why people are really there - that they are there to care about other people, their constituents, the wider community and the country as a whole. It is all too easy to lose sight of that when shouting across the chamber at another member or objecting to something in debate.

The present President took on the role knowing what was expected of her. If she feels uncomfortable about leading the Senate in this then she can ask for changes to be made so  for someone else to do it. (The present standing orders state the President "shall" do it.) Like those other Senators who are not Christians she can use the time to reflect on the reason she was elected to the Senate and what her responsibilities are. Some of those who are not Christians may be Jewish or Muslim, Buddhist or of some other faith. They are also asked by those who elected them to use that time in reflection.

The Senate also uses what is known in this country as an "acknowledgment" - a statement "recognising the traditional owners of the land" on which the building sits. It refers to a specific tribal group and is seen by some tribal groups as inclusive but others as exclusive. Refusing to recognise the acknowledgment is generally regarded as "racist". 

There is however a difference between the Lord's Prayer and the acknowledgment. If you look at what the Lord's Prayer is saying it is talking about inclusion not exclusion and asking us to love not hate. It's actually a very powerful set of ideas and a tough ask for everyone whatever their faith or lack of it. 

I suggest the President of the Senate needs to face up to that...and her responsibilities. 


Thursday 28 July 2022

Wearing a "pride" jersey

or a rugby jersey with "pride" stripes across it or not wearing it is now apparently a matter for some heated debate. Why? How have we reached such a divisive place?

One of the interstate rugby teams apparently had a new jersey designed with "rainbow pride" stripes across the chest to "support the LGBTQI plus" community. Apparently the players were not "fully consulted" about this. As a result seven of them from a "culturally different" background who are "committed Christians" have sat out a match in protest.  The "gesture" goes against their beliefs.

It would be really good if their stance put a stop to the whole of this ridiculous business of "supporting" this "community". I recognise it probably won't and that I am likely to get heavily criticised for my own stance on this issue.

Let me state here. My only cousin is married to his male partner. I love them both. T...'s partner is someone I like being with because he is wonderful company. The same goes for my good friends R.... and his partner. They are great company. I know other "gay" men. I know "lesbian" women and I know other people who are "sexually different". None of them flaunt their sexuality. That is not to say they are not open about it. They are. They just do not feel the need to display their sexuality to others at all times and in all places.

The way in which so much is being made of gay, lesbian and trans sexuality in the media is actually something which they either have no interest in or they feel a little uncomfortable about. For all of them their sexuality is a private affair.  It has nothing to do with "equality" or "support" from the rest of the community. They have welcomed some changes to their legal rights in respect to such things as being acknowledged as "family" and "inheritance" but they don't go to "pride" marches or "gay bars". T...and his partner have been a couple for forty-one years. R...and his partner have also been a couple for many many years. They feel no need to go on marches. They do not want the rest of the community to "support" them in this way. They simply want to be accepted as a couple for legal purposes and social events. 

To me that is the way it should be. If two people of the same sex want to live together then that is fine with me. It's not my choice to make. It is theirs. It is doing no harm to others. They are the people who have the right to decide. The continued insistence on emphasising the need not to "exclude" them is actually making an issue where, for most people, there is no issue. 

It doesn't stop them playing rugby or any other sport. If they are excluded from employment on those grounds then there are laws to deal with that sort of thing. Equally if they are prevented from attending the funeral of their partner's mother because their employer refuses to grant leave or they are told that "only family" can visit or them in hospital  or that they cannot inherit when their partner dies intestate then there are laws to deal with this sort of thing.

While it might give people a nice feel-good sort of buzz there is no need for "rainbow flags"  to be flown on local government buildings. Are "gay pride marches" really still a protest movement or are they a "look at me I am different" statement? Of the forty or more people I know who do not have a mainstream sexual orientation none of them has ever been on a march. They have apparently never felt the need to go. To the best of my knowledge they do not even watch the televised marches.  

There are the sports and other events for all manner of disabilities and "human interest" stories in the media. People with disabilities actually form a far greater percentage of the population  than those who have a "different" sexual orientation. There are laws which are supposed to prevent negative discrimination and, perhaps, encourage positive discrimination. The reality however is  that many people with disabilities face some form of discrimination on a daily basis. Despite that and despite endeavouring to speak out they do not get the almost daily news coverage that the LGBTQI plus community gets. Nobody suggests wearing a "disabled pride"jersey in their support.

If people want to wear "pride" jerseys that's okay with me - just don't criticise those who decide not to do it. Their reasons for not doing it might just have more to do with inclusion than exclusion.

Wednesday 27 July 2022

Should universities and medical schools merge

and simply become bigger  or should they specialise more than they now do? That is the question for this state.

We have three universities in this state. I would say that this is one too many and that they also need to specialise more than they do.

There are two medical schools, two law schools, three education schools and so it goes on. This is for a state with a population of about 1.8m people. It is ridiculous and continues to get more ridiculous. There are things we don't teach we should be teaching. There are things we are cutting because there aren't the students or staff to support it in more than one place. There are other things we are removing and which will almost certainly never return. Students are being told that they can no longer study these things. They won't lead to employment or they are not considered as important as those things deemed to be "politically correct". 

The two medical schools take quite different approaches. One is still traditional with a "lectures and placements" approach. The other is a more "hands on from the start" approach.  There are arguments for and against both these approaches. 

Middle Cat did her physiotherapy training under the former approach but, being of a particularly inquisitive and inquiring mind, she also approached the other university and somehow obtained permission to attend the dissection sessions the trainee doctors were doing. My doctor nephew did his training under the second scheme and now has real concerns about the things he did not get taught. A friend not far from here has concerns about the practical work because she trained under the former scheme. 

There is probably a need for more balance - theory and practice. I suspect a would be doctor is rather like a would be lawyer. You can learn quite a lot about the body or about the law but actually putting it into practice is quite a different story. Perhaps if I ever get to talk to a coroner about such things I will get an answer to that one.

But I thought about all this again yesterday when a young student in his last year at school asked me for some help. He is aiming for medical school and, unless something disastrous prevents it, he should get there.  The interesting thing however is that he won't be training here. He was not given a provisional acceptance in either place. He does have a provisional acceptance in other places and I suspect he will be in the position of having to make a choice. When he does it might well be a choice that will see him live outside this state for the rest of his life. We are going to lose a potentially excellent doctor, a boy who is fascinated by the way our bodies work. 

"If I get there it will be interesting but I don't know anyone else who is applying to any of those places. That will mean starting all over again in lots of ways."

Yes, that's a problem. We are wasting resources by duplicating courses. If the courses were more flexible but confined to one place would that help? Would it allow us to teach other things that need to be taught instead of cutting them out altogether? 

What's a university for? Is it really just to prepare future workers? Or is there something still to be said for actually getting an education? 

Tuesday 26 July 2022

Dismantling the ABCC

(that is the Downunder Building and Construction Commission for those of you who live Elsewhere) is going to be a disaster.

It is the Commission which, as the name suggests, oversees the building industry. It took years to get this independent statutory authority up and running and the building industry has been much the better for it.

Of course the Commission has had ups and downs but it has been there to increase the cooperation and understanding between all those involved in the building and construction industries as well as ensure compliance with the law.  Over the years the ABCC has saved billions. It has seen a far higher degree of compliance with safety regulations. Days lost through strikes have been reduced.

The union movement was never happy with the ABCC. Some heavy penalties have been handed out to more militant unions for illegal and threatening behaviour. One of the most recent in this state was a  $189,000 penalty for a premeditated picket that had nothing to do with occupational health and safety. It was a commercial matter.

It is of course the union movement which wants to be rid of the ABCC. They are hoping the demise of the ABCC will allow them to once again have the upper hand and that they will then be able to dictate to employers.

In doing so I wonder who they really believe they are helping. It certainly won't be the employers. Employers are regarded as the enemy here. And the workers? Well, for all they might say about "better wages and conditions", it isn't the workers. The extra ten minutes here or two dollars there isn't the issue here. 

This is about power, a lot of power. It is about being able to stop a big building site and bring those responsible for it to ransom. It is an attempt to bring back compulsory union membership on building sites and much more. 

The new government has already reduced the effectiveness of the ABCC by removing regulations that do not require legislation. It does not bode well for the building and construction industry. 

I am left wondering what else the building and construction union bosses are using against the government.

Monday 25 July 2022

Looking down from high places

is not something with which I cope well. To be really honest I don't cope with it at all sometimes.

The author Matthew Frank (If I Should Die) posted a photograph on Twitter yesterday of his smug face as he ascended the Calgary Tower.  He was 160m up and there was a glass floor underneath him. (I do like you Matthew but how could you do this to me! If you want to torture someone in your next book - force them to do something like this.) 

Even looking at the picture made me feel dizzy. I never want to go up to the top of that or the top of the Empire State building or any of the other tall buildings of the world.

I could so NOT do this. My rear paws would simply give way beneath me. I would not be able to stay upright. I would feel so dizzy I would fall over. Believe me. I do not do heights. I just can't.

This is not simply fear on my part. I do have some issues with balance. I don't travel well. Ascending and descending in a plane and being on open water are also things I find very difficult. The latter infuriates me as I love the sea. As a kitten I did not like the playground or fun fairs for similar reasons. If you wanted to punish me put me on a swing and push it.

I remember the Calgary Tower however with some pleasure for other reasons entirely. I spent three days in Calgary just as school went back one year. When there I stayed with my late friend E... She was a school principal. 

The plan was that I would arrive on that E... and I would have time to catch up and one of her just retired friends was going to give me a guided tour of the area over the area the day after school started. It could not be the day school started because the newly retired school principal was joining some others in what was apparently a traditional breakfast in the revolving restaurant at the top of the Calgary Tower. E...had pointed this out to me on our way to her home from the airport. 

"Not something you want to do Cat?" she asked and I shuddered. She just laughed and told me more about what they had planned for me.

In the end though none of it happened. The following morning I was getting ready to do what E... had suggested I do when the phone rang in the house. E... was already at her first day at school so I answered it. It was E... herself. One of her teachers had been rushed to hospital with appendicitis.  Was I willing to come over and mind her class until a substitute could be found?

I spent the rest of my stay in Calgary in school. It was interesting because things were done differently there. It meant I never saw any of the tourist sites. I didn't manage to look up or down the promised mountains - and I think I could have coped with that. It also meant E...'s friend could not, as she had kindly planned without consulting us, take me up the Calgary Tower.  It was a close thing. I really don't care for looking down from high places.


Sunday 24 July 2022

So childcare fees have gone up again

 and if you want to keep your local doctor in a small country town then be prepared to pay more too?

I am actually far more concerned about the latter than the former. Childcare is actually cheap at $131 a day on average. Paying "the gap" in order to see the doctor is much less of course but it could save your life or the life of someone you love.

I know paying for child care seems incredibly expensive - and yes it is if you have a child in care for five full days a week. This is why so many people also use the Grandparent Care centres. The enormous financial contribution made by grandparents to the upbringing of the young is not generally acknowledged. It should be. 

We also give very little thought in general to the amount it costs to have and bring up children. Every family in this street has given some thought to it and stopped at two children. They argue things like "they will have each other if something happens to us", "it's not good for children to be an only child" and so on but they also state that the cost has been an issue. When both parents work and there are no grandparents to call on then child care is seen as the alternative. 

You wouldn't get good in-home child care from a non-family member who expected to be paid for $130 a day. There would be all the other expenses of employing someone on a regular basis as well as all the other factors to consider.  So paying that $130 is actually pretty cheap - and it doesn't last forever. Children eventually go to school. Many families get rebates too. If they didn't it wouldn't pay them to go to work.  It is other taxpayers who are helping them out.

So why do people expect to be able to go and see their doctor and have that doctor "bulk bill" so that the patient has to pay nothing? The idea that the Medicare levy pays for this is of course what people are mistakenly thinking. It doesn't. Children don't pay the levy, pensioners don't, those on other social-welfare benefits don't. The more you earn the more you pay too. 

I do not go to the doctor unless I know I must. Visits to the doctor are for genuine medical issues, annual 'flu jabs and the things I cannot do for myself such as the renewal of prescriptions. I don't go because I am sneezing (and that was the pollen count).  Yes, I am fortunate in that I have enough intelligence to know the difference between a headache and a brain tumour. 

The former will probably disappear with a couple of pain killers - if I even need that. I need to see the doctor when such symptoms persist. I know that not everyone knows about such things. Of course I get anxious. They get anxious and even frightened. It may be that they also need to see the doctor.  The problem however has been that too many people have been demanding to see a doctor and get antibiotics for the common cold - and not pay for the privilege.

I really am less concerned about childcare fees though. Not being able to see a doctor when we need to could end up being very very expensive indeed. It's why we need doctors in rural areas - and we all have to be prepared to help pay for them.

Friday 22 July 2022

Sealing wax - but not string.

My paternal grandfather kept a stick of red sealing wax in the top drawer of his desk, the desk my brother now uses.  I remember watching him seal letters with a dab of it and an impression from a brass seal. 

The letters were I suspect business letters, letters with cheques, legal documents and the like. I know that letters he wrote to his cousins in Caithness were not sealed in that way.  My grandmother never used it in my presence, indeed probably did not use it at all. I suppose they also received letters with those sort of seals although I do not recall seeing any. 

The seal my grandfather used was his personal seal, made for him no doubt by one of the many skilled craftsmen in and around the port in which he had his business. A cousin has it now. 

Occasionally my grandfather would seal a larger packet of papers as well but I cannot remember him sealing a parcel tied in string that way. Parcels simply got tied with the right sort of seafaring knots Grandpa had grown up seeing, then learning and using. Other things got tied with knots too - and the knots that Grandpa tied did not come undone until they were supposed to come undone, if at all. 

I know you could buy sealing wax at the big stationery shop in the city. That shop has long since gone. We children found it fascinating. It was also the place which supplied all the schools in the state with pencils, our old dip pens (and the boxes of nibs), boxes of crayons, coloured pencils, brown "kraft" paper and packs of both matte and shiny coloured squares of paper. There were filing cards in white, blue, green and pink, and paper pads as well as school notebooks. Even now when I go into the major stationery hub near our state showground I think back to that other and much smaller shop. 

The other attraction for us was the collection of children's books upstairs - waiting to be bought by school libraries across the state. Our parents would order the school prizes from there. The woman who ran that section knew a great deal about children's literature. She would always ha When the shop eventually closed she obtained a job with the school library service and I managed to learn even more from her.  

But the sealing wax was sold downstairs. It came in a long, flat grey box with strange marks on the outside. The strange marks of course were what I later recognised as Chinese characters...the old fashioned sort rather than the modern simplified characters. Inside the box were the long sticks of red sealing wax - Chinese red. The company which supplied them had probably been supplying stationery stores around the years ever since the British went to China...and before that. I never saw sealing wax in any other colour although I believe blue sealing wax was sometimes used on court documents. 

Now you can buy sealing wax in many colours. You can buy made to order brass seals for stamping it in many designs. It is used mostly for paper crafts. I recently ordered some and a seal like a bee to give to Middle Cat for her birthday. (It is all right she does not read this blog.) I know she will get pleasure out of making small cards from it.

Middle Cat is not old enough to remember our grandfather using the sealing wax but Brother Cat and I can remember it. We can remember watching in fascination as the wax dropped slowly on to the envelope in exactly the right spot and then our grandfather gently placing the seal in the middle of the soft wax. 

I think I need to show this to the children in the street in the summer. It might even be better fun to let them use a seal.  

Union donations

are back in the news and I am wondering again about the way in which the most powerful unions handle their affairs.

When I began as a teacher there was a union for the education sector. It wasn't actually called a union. It was the Institute of Teachers in this state. The fees were minimal. 

There was no compulsion to belong although most people did. They belonged because it did what most people thought it should do. It was there to provide ongoing education services. It ran conferences and training sessions. It helped individual teachers with issues over things like location and promotion. (In this state you could be sent anywhere to teach and the state has some pretty remote places as our family knew all too well.)

The Senior Cat and other school principals were heavily involved. They saw the union as a means of actually increasing professional training and encouraging young teachers to try new things. 

Within the union there were small "associations" of people who taught in the same area -  infants, primary, secondary, maths, science, music, school libraries and "special education" were all part of the larger organisation.  I participated in and helped to run conferences for my fellow teachers working in school libraries and special educational areas. The "union" was seen as an active and valuable addition to professional development. It was not viewed as being any sort of political entity at all. The voting patterns within it would have been many and varied.

I don't know exactly when all that changed although I can guess it was with the election of one particular and very outspoken member of it. This happened while I was away on the other side of the world. I allowed my membership to lapse and never rejoined the union. It was no longer a place in which I felt comfortable. It had become a militant organisation which was making demands which could not be met. 

The Senior Cat and many of his fellow principals also let their membership lapse. They saw the changes and felt that the union was no longer there for the benefit of  members. Instead it was there for the benefit of a few who had their eyes on other prizes, political careers and the adrenalin buzz of confrontation. 

These people will tell you that they have achieved a lot. They will tell you about "reduced class sizes" and "increased pay and conditions" and "support services" but they do not seem to have a lot to say about "professional development". They do not seem to mourn the loss of places like "the Reading Centre" or the "School Libraries Branch" or the downgrading of the wonderful science resources. 

I am left wondering just what the present union is really there for - and whether what we once thought it was for was not the right thing at all. 

Thursday 21 July 2022

Closed - no action?

More is emerging about the case of the child who died from malnutrition. Now claims are being made that the child, indeed the family, were well known to social welfare agencies - but nothing was done. The resources were not there.

Really? It seems extraordinary to me that children should be left in a place where the male partner stabbed the female multiple times. His case may have been "downgraded" from attempted murder to "grevious bodily harm" but he was obviously a danger. His partner took him back.

I know - that seems unbelievable but it happens. It happens more often than we like to acknowledge.  I don't understand the psychology behind this but I have known women who still believe it is "all my fault" even after they have finally broken away.  Even when they do not believe this they can still feel at least partially responsible for what has happened. It can have a devastating effect on children - even more so than being removed from the family.  

In the current case the child also had a medical condition which required a particular diet but was clearly not getting that diet. I suspect it will be shown that the mother was incapable of providing it and maintaining it. If, as said earlier in court, she "lacks insight" it is all too possible that she is also "lacking in education". Feeding multiple children in her circumstances would not have been easy anyway. What would she know about nutrition? In all likelihood she knows very little about nutrition. A child with special dietary needs would have been too much for her to handle. 

I have been in to the supermarkets in those areas. The items available there differ from the items available here. While I sometimes despair of what is available here there is nothing like the same amount of "cheap" packet and tinned meals - meals that require very little preparation and sometimes none at all. The lovely person who does the heavy cleaning for Middle Cat and who comes once a fortnight to wash the floors here (for a miniscule sum but won't accept more) also shops while she is here.  She does it because she is aware and conscious of dietary needs and says, "I can get things here I can't get out there. It actually saves money in the long run." Yes, but she has the intelligence and the ability to cook large amounts and freeze meals and knows how to budget. 

If we are going to maintain the policy of keeping mothers and children together whatever else is going on then we need to be teaching these things in school - and then monitoring at risk families to see these things actually occur. It is not what school should really be about. Ideally you learn these things at home or, as I did, from a grandparent or other relative. But what is best? Learning about other "social issues" or learning not to become one yourself? 

Wednesday 20 July 2022

Dying of malnutrition

in this country is unacceptable...and yet we have had the death of a six year old from just that cause in recent days. 

Now there is to be an "inquiry" and "questions are being asked" and the media is making much of what really is a "tragic situation". It is one I find sickening it disturbs me so much.

I wonder whether the "inquiry" will actually bring about any changes to the way our child welfare services operate. Will social workers change the way they work? Will parents who neglect their children be given yet more "chances" or will they be actually required to show they have made some positive changes to the way they are parenting? Will parents who don't make those changes actually be monitored much more closely  or even have their children removed? 

The real question in all this has to be, "What is best for the child?"

There is a notion that parents - at least mothers - and children should not be separated except in the most dire of circumstances. We gave up the idea of  "orphanages" a long time ago. Given what we now know about them that may well have been a good thing. Now we try "foster care" and "group houses". Those things have proved problematic as well. 

There have been instances of sexual abuse when the wrong sort of person has tried to become a foster carer. There have also been plenty of accusations of sexual abuse by confused, angry children who simply "want to go home" to their abusive parents.  It may not be because they want to live with the abusive parent but because it is familiar - and often does not have the rules which foster parents try to apply. Foster parents who do the work properly will often be out of pocket as there is no money for the things these children often need.

Group houses may not work either. They require multiple adults to staff them - adults who need to work very closely together to an agreed set of rules. There can be very disturbed children in those places, children who need constant watching and who will run off at a moment's notice. The pay for this sort of work is so poor few people want to do it...and the same funding issues apply for the things that children may need.

In the current case the mother is said to have "no insight" into her own behaviour. Apparently she still maintains a relationship with her partner, a violent man who once stabbed her multiple times. 

At present the siblings of the deceased child have been removed from the house while the inquiry takes place. Once it is over it is likely they will be returned to the "care" of their mother. There may well also be a strong bond between them. No doubt there will be claims that the mother is in need of help in learning how to care for her children and that the children should be returned to her as quickly as possible. 

I am puzzling, indeed worrying, over all this. I know that this is not the only family like this. In my teaching days I came across more than one highly dysfunctional family. I came across children more than one member of staff felt would be better off living in a different environment. I taught one who "stole" from his alcoholic mother - stole the money she "earned" as a prostitute - so that he and his sibling could eat. The social worker assigned to their "case" told me there was nothing she could do about the situation. It seemed odd to me when I was helping this child make a shopping list just so that he and his sibling were eating something. (He managed to stay out of trouble by joining the navy at the earliest possible time but his younger sibling committed suicide.)

I wonder about "social workers" and what sort of training they get. I wonder when they tell me there is nothing they can do about a situation. I also wonder what powers, if any, they do have. It seems they have very few. Is this fair on children who have to endure living in these situations? Are we really thinking about the children when decisions are made to leave children in situations where they are at risk? Or are we perhaps afraid we might be accused of "stealing" children as we have been in the past - even when the children were removed for their own safety? Surely we need to do what is really best for the child - not just what popular psychology and the media tell us is best?

I don't know the answers to any of this. It just makes me want to weep that a six year old isn't going to get a chance to grow up and, perhaps like the boy I knew, join the navy.

Tuesday 19 July 2022

How to keep cool in a heat wave

The heat wave is continuing in the northern hemisphere ...while we shiver here in Downunder. 

Yes, unbelievable though it may seem our forecast temperature is for 12'C today - and that is "rather chilly" for this part of the world. It was distinctly frigid overnight. 

When it is like this it is a little difficult to remember those summer days of high temperatures - days when the mercury reached 48'C and 49'C. I am trying to remember the days when the temperature did not dip below 39'C overnight. Ugh! We had no air conditioning and my mother cooked on a wood burning stove - the standard issue "Metters No5" (a sort of poor relation to the Aga - very poor.) That sent the temperature in the kitchen to well over 50'C.  Yes, my mother cooked meals because salad vegetables were simply no available. We lived on an almost constant diet of mutton, potatoes, pumpkin and packet peas. The latter had to be re-hydrated. If we had been to a nearby town there were carrots and perhaps beans. Frozen vegetables were unknown.

We did have a small kerosene refrigerator. That was used to keep the meat cool and the day's supply of milk made up from powder. If there had been any butter available at the general store that was put in there too.

The most important part of the refrigerator as far as we children were concerned was the ice tray. This was a tiny compartment where our mother froze water in small cubes using two metal trays. They fitted on top of one another and could just be fitted in. In the height of summer these were constantly being refilled. Being allowed to have one cube in our plastic mugs of water was a treat. 

There was also the hessian/jute water bag hanging on the back verandah. That also had to be filled at regular intervals.

In school the Senior Cat did his best to teach us something but there were afternoons when he would tell us to put our heads down on the desks and he would read to us. The temperature would have crept to 45'C or more.

Mum would put wet towels over the old wooden clothes horse which stood in the door way. If there was any chance at all of a breeze then it was hoped these might help to cool the house down a bit. The house itself being made of fibro-asbestos sheeting and not an ounce of insulation heated rapidly.

My two sisters spent hours playing in the bathtub. Mum would put a few inches of water in the bottom. When the water had cooled down enough for them to get in they would put all the toys that could get wet in there and attempt to stay cool. (Our water came in an "inch" pipe across the top of the ground. In summer it was too hot to put your hands under the cold water tap. You had to wait for it to cool down.)

My brother and I were considered to be too old to play in the bath tub. We were given old flannels and told not to waste water. That was permission to wet the flannel each time it dried out and wave it around until it was cool then we would wipe our faces and the back of our necks.

Our parents prepared lessons. The Senior Cat was studying for his degree. I wonder if he ever managed to find out what the Latin for "heat wave" is?

Back in the city where there was electricity at the flick of a switch my maternal grandparents had fans. Their electricity bills must have been high as they seemed to be on constantly. 

My paternal grandmother had a tiny black personal fan which she would turn on for a short time when she sat down for her after lunch "rest". She would read or, if the heat was not too unbearable, she would sew. My grandfather used nothing but would often "take a dip" at the nearby beach twice a day. 

There was just one good thing about heat waves as far as my brother and I were concerned...we were allowed to read. We would sit on the back verandah with our books and slowly turn the pages into some other world. Descriptions of winter, of snow, of ice, of wind and rain were a delight. We kept cool in our heads.  

Monday 18 July 2022

Boot camp anyone?

There is an article by our "almost retired" columnist in the paper this morning. 

He  is the last of the journalists in this state to have been trained by my late English teacher. When he ceases writing even the occasional columns he now writes the standards will plummet to even greater depths.  Journalism has changed. Now we can "news" almost instantly. If something dramatic happens it can be around the world in minutes not months. And yes of course that influences the way we think about things and the way we behave.

Is that what was behind, far behind, the way the young boy on the scooter was behaving when he crashed into the journalist? The journalist was pondering on this and the benefits or otherwise of "boot camps".  Are they a good thing or not? He puts the question and suggests the answer is "no". We have to find other ways of sorting out the problems posed by out of control young people.

My nephews went to a fee paying school. Their parents told them, "This is your inheritance. You are getting it now. Use it wisely."  It  was only because they were at a school like that they had an experience most teens never get. They were sent off in small groups into a national park with the bare minimum and they had to survive for just a few days. It was the middle of winter when they did this. The experience was generally a salutary one for boys from largely privileged backgrounds. No state school would have been prepared to take the risks involved in doing this and I am not sure if their school still does this.

My nephews coped with the experience quite well. They had been on plenty of camping trips with their parents. While they had not "roughed" it in quite the same way they did know something about lighting fires and cooking over them. They had some other practical skills as well.  Their groups survived the experience without harm. Indeed in all the time they were there the school only had one injury and the boys coped with that without further incident.

Of course the school was doing it to "build character" and find out who the likely leaders were going to be in later school years. They had staff out there ready to help in an emergency. The boys had been instructed in what they had to do in order to get help if they needed it. 

This was before mobile phones were common. There would have been no signal coverage where they went. (It is still poor in that area.) The boys had to rely on themselves.

They went on other camps while they were there but those camps were supervised by adults. My nephews do not remember a great deal about these. They were "just school camps" but "the trekking one" was different. At that time they did learn a great deal - about themselves and about each other. 

All this involves risk taking of course. It isn't the sort of thing we are willing to do most of the time. We are frightened someone might be injured. We are even more frightened someone might sue. 

Do these things affect the way we know other people and how we interact with them? I think it does. I wonder if some "boot camp survival skills" would help?

Sunday 17 July 2022

The shape of jam jars


I did not make marmalade last year. There was no point. I eat very little of it. The Senior Cat ate it on his breakfast toast but of course he was no longer here to eat it. Everyone else I know seemed to have a glut of it and was offering me some instead. 

Other people are still giving me jam jars. I accept those because they can be useful for other things.

But the shape matters. If I want to store things in a jam jar. It has to be right size and the right shape for the purpose. 

There is a French brand of jam you can buy in the supermarkets here. It is, as bought jam goes, rather nice I suppose. It is certainly popular. The problem is that it comes in tall, skinny jars. How do you get the jam out?  Once the jam is gone how do you wash the jar? What do you fill it with after that? How do you get out whatever you have filled it with when you want it? 

Then there are the jars used by the local firm  in the hills behind us. These are slightly shorter. They are a little wider. They contain about the same amount of jam. Yes, a little easier to get really clean I suppose. I have reused those from time to time. It's a nice quantity to give away too.

And there are those jars from my childhood - on the very rare occasions my mother made anything like that. (Spare fruit in our house was rare and, if there was some, it was bottled in the old Vacola jars.) Those jars are still the same. The sides slope gently upwards and they are relatively easy to clean. The top is wide enough to fit many things in. (A friend used to make a batch of brandied cumquats every year and used these...not quite my "thing" I fear but no doubt a good use for them.) I use the same jars to store beads and buttons and other small things.

The best jars though are the marmalade jars from "that place" in the UK. You can actually buy the marmalade here in the supermarket... orange or lime. There are two varieties of orange, one of which is labelled "sweet" - and thus to be avoided by me. 

Those jars are not too tall. The top is wide and the spoon goes in neatly. You can get all the marmalade out with very little effort. The jars look plump and homely. 

The jars are perfect for reuse. In these I can store more buttons, more beads, more stray ends of pencils and crayons, the mini-clothes pegs and much more. 

Lining them up filled with these things is just as satisfying as making a batch of marmalade or jam. These jars are the perfect shape.  Shape matters in a jam jar. 

Saturday 16 July 2022

"I had a gun pointed at me yesterday"

 the writer was shaken but alive and able to get a message out. I was shaken too.

Let me explain. When you see those "human interest" reports on the news about Médecins Sans Frontières  you see the "nice" pictures of them working with the severely malnourished infants or the critically ill toddlers with malaria or.... well you know the sort of thing I mean. You do not see the worst of it by any means.

The MSF is an extraordinary service and it needs far more recognition than it gets. I admire those who go out under the MSF. They often go into some of the most dangerous places in the world. They risk their lives in order to save the lives of other people. They are the lucky ones. There are other MSF people and other volunteers who don't have those sort of working conditions. No, I am not exaggerating. There are worse working conditions than that.

The man who had the gun pointed at him is a doctor. He has been living in a "tent" - a piece of plastic over the lower branch of a dead tree. He sleeps on a piece of matting. His belongings are locked into a small steel cabinet chained to the tree. The medical supplies, such as they are, have been locked into another cabinet in the tiny "hut" in which he sees his patients. They come, often walking for some days, to see  what he can do for them.All too often there is very little he can do. 

Once a month someone flies in with more medical supplies, food for him and precious clean water. He lives on tins of beans and tuna and dry biscuits.  The villagers can give him nothing because they have nothing to give.

There is always danger. Although he speaks a little of the local language he has to rely on his two "interpreters" and that is not always accurate or easy. There are cultural issues which sometimes make it very difficult to help the women.

Yesterday a woman died in childbirth. There was nothing he could have done to prevent it but this time she was the wife of an important man from some distance away. Her husband was the man with the gun. He was ready to shoot believing that the doctor had not done his best, had not worked the miracle it would have taken. The local men overpowered him as a shot missed. They took his gun. They sat him down and talked to him. Then they had the doctor talk to him. He was still angry, very angry. He sat for hours watching the doctor at work and trying to do his best for some of the poorest people on the planet.

The men of the village now take it in turns to sleep near the doctor to try and keep him safe. His tour of duty will be over at the end of next month. When he leaves there will not be a doctor.

He will leave behind two ill-equipped "nurses" with the minimal medical training he has been able to give them. It's not enough but he needs to move on.

Friday 15 July 2022

Yes Minister?

"It was a decision inherited from the previous government." 

"The previous government made a decision and we can't reverse it." "We can't do anything about it." "No, it isn't possible." "You know we inherited a trillion dollar debt from the previous government." "We have to cut back on spending." "It can't be done." "We made a commitment but...." and "Things are much worse..."

Oh what glorious excuses not to do anything. We have heard these excuses before of course. They are brought out one way or another after every election. 

This time however the new government is in a spot of bother - a big blotch of bother perhaps. They were unusually supportive of some of the measures they now want to ditch. It also means that they are withdrawing support from some of the most vulnerable members of society.

There were the free Rapid Antigen Tests for some. Not everyone has taken advantage of those. Others have obtained the "ten free every three months" because they really did need them. A few have stockpiled them or allowed family members to use them.  A RAT may not be that accurate but it can be a valuable indicator. It might keep one person home and prevent them from infecting twenty or more other people with a more infectious strain who might then infect.... and so it goes on. If just one of those people ends up in hospital then anything saved on taking away the free RAT tests is lost. 

There was the $750 payment for a casual worker who does not get sick leave. This could mean the difference between paying the rent and being homeless. I am not talking about the "little woman earning a bit of pin money in the fancy shop" as someone so nastily put it. I am talking about W... who works a few hours a week in the local supermarket to get the extra she needs to keep a roof over her head and pay for her medication. I am talking about J.... who also works there and is desperate to keep the job because he gives all of it to his widowed mother to help with his two younger siblings, one of whom has been very ill. And yes, there will be plenty of other W...'s and J...'s around as well as those who are employed as "full time casuals". 

Yes, there is work around right now. Not all of it is accessible of course. J... is also doing a university degree. He can't simply move interstate and take up a menial job there - although he considered it when things were really desperate. But if you are not well and you go to work because you can't afford not to go to work then it is possible that you do have Covid or the 'flu or some other nasty illness which you can pass on thereby causing more financial damage to others as well. 

The pandemic has cost everyone a lot. We have lost a way of life we will almost certainly never get back. We keep being told "we need to learn to live with the virus" and that is true. Somehow we have to pay off the debt and pay for the future.

I know very little about economics but a sort of commonsense suggests that spending $750 to save $75,000 or even far more might be a good idea. The previous government was planning on phasing out these payments and schemes and other payments and schemes too. They were monitoring the situation. The new government was supportive of all this, indeed demanding some of these things be done. Now they are in government and they are under pressure to spend billions more on "climate change", "security" and more. And now they are saying they cannot keep the lavish promises they made during the election campaign. I wonder why. It might be a good idea to keep people from getting ill so they can go on working. Yes Minister?


Thursday 14 July 2022

Wearing a mask is not

mandatory in most places here. You still need them in "high risk" settings like aged care and on public transport but elsewhere...?

I am still using masks. I will go on using them for a while yet. We are reaching another "Covid" peak - a winter one. People are getting both Covid and "the 'flu". Not everyone is bothering to get vaccinated against either or both.

I had to go into the Post Office yesterday and even the staff were no longer wearing masks. Yes, they are behind "glass" barriers now but is that really sufficient? 

I also picked up an item from the dry cleaners. The woman in there was not wearing a mask. I went past the dental surgery. It is possible to see the two reception people - neither was wearing a mask. The girl in the bookshop was wearing one but I had no need to go in there anyway. 

I prowled slowly on and observed. The vast majority of people were not wearing masks. It seems they no longer believe they are necessary. Mask wearing is being discarded along with the belief there is any need for a rapid antigen test.

The price of a box of disposable masks has dropped too.  A while back I bought a pack from a company in China. They are not quite as soft as the supermarket brand. They were also about the same price. The doctor who lives across the street thinks the Chinese ones are actually much better value though because of the way they are made and the way they fit. We agreed that mask wearing is more common in China. You see people on news footage there and they are wearing masks. Presumably this is out of a desire not to infect others or be infected.

Masks are not going to prevent all infection of course but they can reduce the rate of transmission. Reducing the rate of transmission is just as important. It can reduce the overall numbers of infection quite dramatically. That seems important to me.

During the recent election campaign the new government, then in opposition, was telling us how important it was to wear masks, to have access to the RATs, and get vaccinations up to date. Now they are in government masks are no longer compulsory in most settings. I haven't been on a train lately but a friend says even there most people are not using them despite the requirement to do so.  Access to RATs  is being reduced and the free tests for vulnerable groups is being cut altogether. Some of the vaccination hubs are being closed too. The locations of others may make it very difficult for some people to access them.

Yes, we have to "learn to live" with this virus but taking some basic precautions while it is still so prevalent is surely sensible?

I think I will be using a mask in some settings for a while yet. Perhaps I could draw smiley faces on them?


Wednesday 13 July 2022

How much would you pay for

a "woolly" scarf?

I was going past a "home wares" shop yesterday. It sells an even greater variety of things than it once did. Just inside the door there was a stand with some items of clothing hanging to it. One of the items was a pink scarf that looked as if it had been crocheted. 

I was not in the least bit interested in buying it of course. I don't like pink, I don't wear woolly scarves in this climate, and it looked - uncomfortable. 

It also looked as if it might have been handmade because it was made from very thick yarn. It is what knitters who know about these things might call "pencil roving" I suppose but the thickness was about that of my thumb. (I have quite small front paws but that still makes for very thick yarn.) 

I had clean paws so I touched the scarf cautiously. Mmm... there was possibly some wool in it but it was definitely very little wool. (I looked at the label. It didn't tell me much. My paws know wool when I feel it.)

Then I looked at the price.... $129.50.

I put my paws firmly back on the shopping trolley and went off thinking about this. The scarf would have taken a moderately skilled crocheter a couple of hours to make. I don't know what that yarn cost of course but it was not likely to have been as much as all that.

If the scarf sells then it is the shop which will make the profit. The person who made the scarf might get a few dollars. 

It is of course a similar story with so many hand crafted items. The Senior Cat often made wooden pens. They were simple affairs but he understood ergonomics and they were pleasant to hold. He gave them as "thank you" gifts to people. He knew other people who made more ornate pens and sold them but he never felt the need to do that. He made other things too, the conjuring apparatus, bowls, boxes, and toys. All the time he did this people would say, "Why don't you sell this sort of thing to...." and they would name a local shop. The Senior Cat would smile and tell them he wasn't interested. He didn't want to put himself under the pressure of "must do this" and he also knew he would not be paid for the effort that would go into it.

My guess is that the scarf I saw yesterday would - at very most - have cost the shop around $10-15 to stock. As a "hand made" item it is being sold for far more. I can knit and crochet and I am fortunate in that I could make myself something like this.   But, if you cannot do it yourself how much would you be prepared to pay? More importantly, who are you really paying?


Tuesday 12 July 2022

On not "celebrating" what divides us

but perhaps thinking more about what unites us.

The "right wing" commentator Andrew Bolt often irritates me to the point where I would like the opportunity to confront him and say, "Now listen here Mr Bolt there IS another side to the argument...."

I also know some people would like to say a lot more to him. But yesterday he had a point, a good point to make. He was arguing that we should concentrate more on what unites us rather than what divides us.  

I hope I am not "racist" but I am concerned by the seemingly endless "welcome to country" statements, the "acknowledgment that we are meeting on....  land" and so on. The reason for my concern is not because I don't think those things are important. They are important but I believe they should also be reserved for special occasions. They are not there to be treated as a day-to-day thing. They should be associated with events which themselves have some relevance to what is going on. They are words which should mean something, not simply something that is recited at the beginning of a meeting because that is what has been decided is politically correct.

When I went, by invitation, to the funeral of my very close friend R... I was the only "white" person there. (There were several people from other cultures there.) There was no fuss about the funeral taking place on Kaurna land and no "welcome to country". Her son M... briefly acknowledged the people who had travelled from remote locations to be there but it was done in a way that might have been done anywhere. R...'s family saw no need of these things even though it was a farewell. The only acknowledgment of her indigenous descent came when her cousin said a short prayer in the language of their ancestors. That had a much more powerful impact on me than any fuss the family might have made. 

Now though I listen to people who like to believe that there are no differences between the sexes saying things like, "T.... is the first woman to...." and "N.... is the only man...." or, even worse, "J.... is the first black woman..."

As someone else I know said yesterday, "Does this matter?" If you don't believe there is any difference between the sexes why are you saying "first woman" and why on earth would you want to say "first black woman"? If you want to acknowledge someone for their achievements would it not be better to say, "T....has become...." or "J... has succeeded in obtaining the position of because of her skills in..."? 

If I had lived in the territory where one of the new Senators in our parliament lives I would have voted for her. I would have voted for her because of what she has to say and the way she says it. I hope she is an influence for good in parliament. Yes, she happens to be an indigenous person but she has been among the few to point out how varied indigenous people are. The idea that all indigenous people are the same is ridiculous. Emphasising race or someone's gender really isn't helping anyone. We need to acknowledge people for what they have achieved by their own efforts.

Monday 11 July 2022

Our relations with China have

taken a turn for the better - if you believe the Chinese.

The Foreign Minister in the new Downunder government is of course of Chinese heritage even if she was born in Malaysia. Maybe that helps too.

But let's be quite clear about it. What really helps is that China sees the new government as being much closer to China in terms of ideology. They also perceive the new government to be weaker and more malleable.

That may or may not be the case. It hasn't really been tested yet but I have been told that this is what China wants to believe. They consider the new government to have "values closer to ours".  They also believe "it will be easier for them to understand how to do business". That is of course how to do business on Chinese terms. It is not the same as doing business with America or France or Finland...or just about anywhere else - including some countries in Asia. 

I know of more than one person here who has business interests in China - and wish they didn't need them. They do business with China because they must. The Chinese market is enormous but if they could find another market as big they would go there instead. There are simply too many difficulties doing business with China. Not only do they have to go through all the stated rules - and they are many - they have to go through all the unstated rules. There are laws about where and when and how things must happen and who you need to go through and what permissions must be obtained from which departments. All that is understandable to a degree but it is also complex. As someone once put it to me "the rules about the length of a banana for the European Union are nothing compared with the size of a mere label in China" - and yes, they are just about as silly as that bit of nonsense. 

But it is the unwritten law which is so much harder to understand. It is about things like not approaching the wrong official or the wrong person within a company. It is about "paying" someone - and how much you pay them. Do you pay them again if you do business again or is that a one-off? If the delay occurs at their end then are you responsible for the "fine" or is the Chinese company which causes the delay responsible? (You can however be pretty sure you will be held responsible.) 

The Chinese believe they have the upper hand in all this. They actually do have the upper hand in many ways. Breaking a contract with someone outside China is not seen as a breach of the law but rather as smart business practice. It isn't something done inside the country so much but, if they can find a way of doing it elsewhere, this is the way it is done. They genuinely see no problem with it. It has been this way ever since China did business with the rest of the world. 

I am sure our new Foreign Minister is aware of this but she is not going to say it. Her argument will be that we need to do business with China - and we do. 

So relations will change perhaps - on the surface. Those here attempting to do business there will be relieved that things are back to "normal". In reality nothing much will have changed. The new government will have to tread carefully so as not to make matters any worse than they are now. Chinese officialdom will take instant advantage of any weakness.

Doing business with China is not easy - but it is a very big market.


Sunday 10 July 2022

Teaching men to knit

is not the same as teaching women. I am sorry if some of you think there are no differences between the sexes but I find there are. Perhaps it is what societal expectations have been reinforced in them or perhaps it is something else but there are differences.

I went to a sort of "knit-a-thon" yesterday. My good friend L... suggested it and offered to transport me in both directions. I thought about Covid19 issues and then I thought about masks and hand sanitiser. Then I about just getting out and doing something for the fun of it and to help others. When did I last do something like that? Another good friend W... was also going. I was in for this!

I have been out of course - although cautiously - and I have have enjoyed myself. I have also been out to help others - and so I should. This event looked likely to combine the two.  What is more it was in support of a group of people I feel strongly about - the "deaf-blind". I looked at L...'s invitation and I thought of the man I met briefly at the last Show. He had come with his friend and interpreter. His interpreter had asked if this man could actually "see" our knitting by touching it. Of course we let him and what we were making was signed to him using the alphabet of the deaf-blind. I remember asking if I could say something to him and, guessing, I managed to say hello and ask him if he thought what we were doing was good. I also remember that slightly longer than usual grip on my fingers as he responded, his delight that someone else had "spoken" to him in a way he understood. It was sheer guesswork and good luck that I had managed to tell him anything intelligible. Even now I wonder what he got out of a visit to the Show which is, for most people, an intense aural/visual experience. 

It was that as much as anything which made me decide this was an event well worth attending. It was too.

The event was run as a sort of competition - seeing who could knit the most squares from the wool available between 11am and 3pm. There was a short lunch break. There were other "events" during the day too. 

I am not a fast knitter.  There was no way I was going to knit more squares than anyone else. So, knowing there were going to be some new knitters there, I offered to help as well. I knew that would be as interesting - and it was. There were four male knitters there. Three were perfectly able to get on without help from me. The fourth male told me he had once tried in primary school - and that would have been more than twenty years before. His partner was also there and she was also a bit uncertain. I showed her how to cast on. Once that was done she could manage the knit stitch. The male and I then got together. He's an engineer by profession. That was useful to know. He had been watching me help his partner. He tried not too successfully to cast on. After four unsuccessful attempts we decided I would cast on his twenty stitches. After that he was much more confident. I think what worked was me explaining in great detail not only how the individual stitches are constructed but how they relate to each other. This seemed to suit his engineering brain.

"Got it!" he told me. Well, not quite but he was well on the way. I kept telling him, "Under, over, through and onto the other needle" for a bit. But yes, the relationship between the stitch on one row and the stitch on the row above and below is what he needed to know. He was thinking in single stitch units. It is the way I would expect my BIL to react and he is also an engineer. 

By the end of the afternoon's knitting he had done about eight rows. It didn't look much but it was really a lot. He had achieved a real skill. "I'm going to make sure I finish this square" he told me. 

It wasn't tidy but J... who will have the unenviable task of putting all those mismatched squares together told him, "And I will use it."

I came home with some of the yarn J....had wound off for people to knit their squares with and I will get a couple of people to help. They are very competent knitters. If I see the finished blanket though I will be looking for a square made by a newbie who used his engineering skills to understand the process.

Perhaps it was the engineering skills - but I often observe males doing things and I think they do approach things differently.

Saturday 9 July 2022

Is volunteering out of fashion

or can some of those who would be willing to volunteer really unable to do it?

There is a short article in this morning's paper saying that the rising price of petrol is causing some people to withdraw from volunteering. They can no longer afford the petrol which once allowed them to collect and deliver items like food and clothing or attend activities for vulnerable children.

I am fortunate in that my volunteering can be done from home or I can pedal to the venues concerned. I make time for these things even though there are times when I would much prefer to be doing something else. It's important to do those things.

I was genuinely shocked when our GP suggested I "don't bother" because I had to get up very early one morning. Rather than accept I was helping someone on the other side of the world prepare for their volunteer role she seemed to think that sort of thing didn't matter. It does matter - to me, to the person I was helping and to the people who were going to be helped.

I also know that the woman who manages the local charity shop often has difficulty filling the roster. B.... knows that I would help if I could but her attitude is, "Cat, I call on you for other things. I know you do other things. There are people out there who could give up a few hours but don't." Yes, it would be very difficult for me to commit to a regular time each week. Even now my life can be chaotic when there is an emergency somewhere in the world. I am trying to cut back on that because we are going to need other people to do what I do. This has nothing to do with me not wanting to do the work. It's because I won't be around for ever. 

There are a lot of other people who currently volunteer and they won't be around forever either. The state's annual "Show" will have two new people as Convenors because the rules of the organisation state that other people doing this unpaid job must retire at 75. It is going to be up to those of us who volunteer with them to show them the ropes. It wasn't easy finding people who could commit the amount of time required either. 

Maybe I am wrong but I think we need to teach people what volunteering is actually about. Our society would not run nearly as well as it does without the people who do volunteer. The largest social welfare organisation outside government depends almost entirely on volunteers, so do several more. Once it used to be a matter of simply turning up and saying, "I'd like to help." Now there are police checks (which have to be paid for) and compulsory training in "occupational health and safety" and all sorts of  other hurdles. Many people "can't be bothered" with all this. Others simply do not have the time, especially in households where both parents work. 

But if we have to start to pay people to fill the roles that volunteers have been filling it is going to be very expensive and not just in financial terms. The thing with volunteering is not just the job itself but the people who are doing the same job and the companionship they have to offer.  Our society is going to be much poorer when we lose all that - and we almost certainly will without a little more education about volunteering.

Friday 8 July 2022

The rights of the British Monarch

are limited and seemingly lacking in any power.

The situation in Westminster was inevitably under discussion yesterday and somebody asked me, as the only person with any legal training in the room, "Can't the Queen just sack Johnson?"

The answer to that is  both "No" and "Yes". I know. It's confusing. I had to try and remember what Walter Bagehot had to say on the issue. Back in the late nineteenth century Bagehot wrote a book about the English Constitution and in that he stated the British Monarch did have rights but they were limited. 

The Monarch, he stated, has the right to be "consulted", "to encourage" and "to warn".  What does that mean?

In order to answer that we also need to look at something called "the Lascelles principles". They were only brought to play in the middle of the twentieth century. They gave the Monarch the right to refuse a request to dissolve parliament if one of three conditions was met.

The first of these was whether the parliament of the day was still "vital, viable, and capable of doing its job". The second was if a general election would be detrimental to the national economy. The third and perhaps the most interesting was if the monarch of the day could "rely on finding another prime minister who could govern for a reasonable period with a working majority in the House of Commons". 

When the UK government went for a short period to "fixed term" elections it was thought those principles no longer applied. Now that fixed term elections are no longer in place those principles are presumed to be applicable again.

So, where does that leave the Monarch? I think we go back to Bagehot. What he says would appear to be correct. It means the Monarch has both no power and ultimate power - and that is not the contradiction it would appear to be. 

British Prime Ministers traditionally meet with their Monarchs on a weekly basis. In the normal way the meetings take place at Buckingham Palace - the "office" if you like. What takes place in those meetings is supposed to remain largely private and confidential.  It would be a foolhardy Prime Minister indeed who breached that convention. It is what allows the Monarch to question and to give advice.

The present Queen Elizabeth is very, very well informed about the British Constitution. My Constitutional Law lecturer, the late Leslie Zines,  was no Monarchist but he once told us that she was one of the best constitutional lawyers he knew of. Her Majesty has acquired an enormous amount of knowledge over the years and she has used it. That is only right.

The Queen can seek advice herself of course. That is the role of the Privy Council. 

But could Her Majesty simply call in the Prime Minister and say, "You are sacked." No. There are past Prime Ministers she has not cared for in the least. Meetings with them were undoubtedly uncomfortable for both but she would not have sacked them. It is quite possible she would have hauled them into line with words of warning about their behaviour but she could not tell them "You're sacked". If Parliament was about to do something illegal or dangerous then the Prime Minister would be commanded to attend a meeting. He or she would be warned. The Monarch would already have consulted the Privy Council and the Prime Minister would be advised of the outcome of the Privy Council meeting. It would be a foolhardy Prime Minister who ignored that warning. If a Prime Minister attempted to do something following that it is very, very unlikely it would get up in Parliament. 

Despite the belief of many to the contrary Her Majesty had no role in the "Dismissal" here of the Whitlam government in 1975. The Governor-General has much the same powers as the Monarch and they were used to prevent an illegal act - governing without supply. Supply was being blocked in the Senate because Whitlam was proposing to borrow money in breach of the law at the time. Much is made of the way all this was done and the Governor-General was clearly out of his depth and the role of the High Court was brought into question. It gave the "republicans" ammunition too. In reality however Whitlam and his government were going to break the law and had to go. Our democratic system turned to a general election. If the people had wanted Whitlam to retain his position he could have been re-elected. 

The same  is true in the United Kingdom. Their Prime Minister will eventually have to face the electorate.It is the people who decide in the end. Perhaps it is that which really makes the Monarch powerful.

Thursday 7 July 2022

It has flooded again

and this is for the third time in twelve months.

Brother Cat actually lives high enough not to be inundated with water but the bridge he and his partner would normally travel over has all but disappeared. They are marooned. 

"It's fine Cat," he told me when he could finally get a call through, "We have enough food and we are just staying at home. I'll go and help if they need me when it is time to clear up."

He will probably be called on to do some repairs or organise a team to do repairs somewhere. It's the sort of thing he is good at.

There are quite a lot of other older people where he lives who can do that sort of thing. They chose to live in a semi-rural community knowing that they would need to be able to give each other that sort of support. 

Brother Cat has picked up many skills over the years. He has carpentry and metalworking skills. He can plan projects in an orderly manner, knows what needs to be brought in to complete something and more. He built an extension to one property years ago. He then converted another. This last move has seen him build a room which serves as his workshop and his partner's editing room. 

I have no doubt there are other people in the district who have done similar things. Downunderites have a reputation for this sort of thing. I have come across some amazing people who have built all manner of things here and in other parts of the world. 

There were the four young men who were given a choice by the magistrate almost forty years ago. They could go off to a very developing country overseas and help to build a hospital or they could go to a detention centre for four times the six months he proposed. It was a radical move. It sent shock waves through the system. They agreed to go and help build the hospital...and never came back. There were schools to be built, another hospital...and so it went on. The magistrate is dead. The "boys" have been back but they never stayed long. I don't know where they are now.

There were the "bikies" who left for a country devastated by an earthquake. I was worried almost sick by what they were planning. They were going to repair a hospital they told me. I told them they needed to take their own shelter, their own food, their own tools and more. That was fine. They were vaguely aware of that but they sought advice...and the small hospital got repaired. A few other buildings were made habitable before they ran out of holiday time. They did a similar thing several years later in another country but on the second occasion their bosses gave them extra leave and they stayed a little longer.

There have been other apparently equally "mad" and "crazy idiots" who have done such essential tasks over the years. Working like that doesn't suit everyone. Not everyone is prepared to accept the dangers and difficulties or the privations of such roles. It is not the "adventure" that many people believe. It isn't "fun". It can be very, very traumatic. It is very hard work.

There are things that could be done to mitigate flooding in the affected areas. The "Greens" may not like it but there is a need to be realistic and, properly handled, the end result will benefit the environment in which people need to live. In the meantime they will need to rely on those volunteers.

Wednesday 6 July 2022

How to save money

according to the state newspaper.

There was the usual article this morning about interest rates rising again and how families are "doing it tough". Then there was a list of things people might be able to cut back on in order to find the extra money to cover the cost of the mortgage rate rise.

It was the last I read with some bewilderment. I know there are people who are "doing it tough". There are families where people really are struggling to pay the rent or (if they are lucky) the mortgage, pay the bills and feed the family. 

But this list? It started with Uber Eats for a family of four once a fortnight - don't do it and apparently you could save $2600. Well actually the local fish and chip shop has a deal where, if you pick it up, you can get a very good meal to feed four people - for around half that price.

The next item on the list was something called F45 membership. I had to look that one up. It is some sort of "fitness" club - cost $3380. It would be cheaper to buy a decent pair of trainer-shoes and go for a brisk walk with your partner. Of course it won't give you the same sort of "feel good" feeling and you might need to find other ways to do some of the weight lifting and the like. It could be done though and that would be a hefty saving.

Then there were movie tickets and snacks once a fortnight (presumably this is alternated with the Uber Eats) $2132. Alcohol to consume at home - $2064.  Buying lunch Monday to Friday - $3380. Pub dinners (schnitzel and a pint) once a week - $3640. Holiday for two for five nights in Thailand - $3157 (and  yes, before you ask, I know people who do this and leave their children with the grandparents). Then there was "early bird" parking in the CBD Monday to Friday for $4940 and the pedi-manicure and eyebrow wax and tint once a month at $1500.

There was only one other thing on the list and that was health insurance at around $2757 for six months for two.

I have health insurance. It would be irresponsible not to have health insurance - especially at my age. If I need treatment and get it a little more quickly I may actually save the government money in the long run. It is the only thing on that list that is essential for me to have. 

I don't have any desire to have the rest of the things on the list. I do have the very rare "takeaway" meal with family - almost always from the fish and chip shop because it is good value and good food.  I don't have to worry about alcohol - being allergic at least has the advantage of also saving money.  Anything else on the list is also a choice rather than a requirement. There is the rare "coffee" with Middle Cat or a friend. 

If other people choose to do those things that's fine with me. It is good even in that it helps to employ still more people. Some people do only one of those things, others more. But I wonder how many people do the things that were mentioned as often as that? How many people do those things without thinking? My BIL takes his own lunch. His office has a microwave oven for the six of them to use. They can all have something hot if they want it but he is the only one who uses it on a regular basis. One of the other staff will sometimes reheat the soup he has bought in it. I am afraid I am sufficiently parsimonious that I would, like my BIL, be using it on a much more regular basis.

But all this is what people choose to do. They have the right to choose too. Perhaps I really am a bit odd but I think I'd rather do these things less often and pay the rent more easily or pay off the mortgage more quickly.


Tuesday 5 July 2022

Another mass shooting

in the United States and it isn't even appearing in my Twitter feed for some reason. Have we really become so inured to these events that they no longer have any meaning at all? 

That frightens me. When my goddaughter was young she was not permitted to watch the news. This wasn't a decision of her parents - although they concurred - it was a decision of the school she attended. It was a fee paying school with a lot of very wealthy families, the children of household names and more. Parents often appeared in news items and, until the girls reached the Senior school (at age eleven) the school asked that girls not be exposed to such news items on television. They were not isolated from the news but how it was presented was kept under control. 

I know there are arguments for and against this stance but I do wonder how children really perceive such appalling events. Does it seem real? I know children get upset, very upset, when their teachers talk about issues like climate change and other more controversial topics. It is apparently desirable to teach the young about some things but not others - and to make sure they only get taught the "correct" way of thinking about them.

Do we shield children from knowing that there has been another mass shooting in a country a long way from here? Or do we tell them and try to make them understand that this is the reason we try to limit gun ownership in this country? 

We aren't immune. There are those here who would do the same if they had access to similar weapons  and something happened to set them off on that destructive path. I know someone who worked in a bank. There was a hold up in the bank and a gun was pointed directly at her. A shot was fired in the same hold up - although not at her. She never went back to work there. To this day she cannot enter a bank or a post office - both places where a similar incident might occur. Her life has never been the same. 

We get "warned" about footage in the international news service I half watch. There is more than one reason to be doing something else while the news is being read. I have no desire to see the death and destruction which is all too common. For the most part I listen. If there are subtitles I might need to look up but, for the most part, I will guess at what is being said. (Those subtitles are often only an approximation anyway.) 

The Senior Cat ceased to deliberately watch or listen to the news in the last few years of his life. He felt there was nothing he could do any more and such things distressed him. He would see or hear things in passing and was still concerned but he chose not to dwell on such things. He knew I sometimes had (and still have) no choice because my job involves helping those who have some of the most difficult and challenging jobs on the planet. That doesn't mean I need to dwell on issues I can do nothing about. It does mean that I must do what I can.

I can do nothing about the latest mass shooting in another country but I can be concerned for those involved. Is that enough? I will worry for myself if it ever comes to the point where I say, "This is nothing to do with me."  It is always something to do with me.