Wednesday 31 August 2022

Paying bills online

is something I refuse to do. I actually refuse to do any banking over the internet. 

"It's perfectly safe Cat!" people keep telling me.

No, it isn't. Even with "two-step verification" it is not safe - or not safe enough for me.  If I want to buy something then I put the money into what I call a "one-off" account and use that. 

Yes, I know I could do something similar in order to pay one of the utilities bills but why should I? I know that sometimes I get charged a little extra but I have a receipt if I pay a bill at the Post Office...just as I always insist on a receipt in the supermarket.

I pay bills on time. I budget to do that. I also do that because I expect to be able to use the service for which I am paying. It seems to me however that this does not necessarily work in reverse.

Not so long ago I went into the bank. The bank teller actually complained about the way she had to serve me. "You should be doing all this online," she told me. When I told her I didn't do internet banking she told me, "Well you should. You will need to do it one day."

Perhaps I will but there are going to need to be greater levels of security than there are now. It is alarming just how much information a "hacker" can get. 

Just over two weeks ago an actual bank phoned me. The person at the other end introduced herself properly, asked me if I was comfortable about talking to her and quoted the letter I had sent to the bank. I told her that I would not give her any personal information but she told me enough that I was convinced the call was legitimate. We briefly discussed the issue in question and that was that. Last Friday I missed a call. It appeared as a text message. The name she had given me was the same. The matter she was referring to was the same. It all seemed legitimate. There were two phone numbers in the message, the source and the number I was supposed to ring to speak to her again. 

Something however seemed off to me. I thought the matter had been concluded. Why was the bank contacting me again? I didn't make the call. I looked up the reverse telephone directory on the net. The numbers did not match up with the names I should have been given. I did not call back. I have not heard any more.

Now I am left wondering whether the person I first talked to was a legitimate employee of the bank. If not, how did they get the information in the letter? They could not access an account through that as I do not have an account with that bank. Nevertheless I am concerned. If even a letter followed by a simple conversation that did not include any more than the bare minimum of information can result in a suspicious text message then why should I trust internet banking? 

Tuesday 30 August 2022

The "Voice to Parliament"

is still not being debated in the way I hoped it might be. I know it is unlikely to happen but I am still hoping that there will be a sensible, calm debate on this issue.

The Prime Minister is clearly not happy with the idea of allowing a debate. It seems he believes we should all simply vote "yes" without knowing anything more than the wording of the proposed change to the Constitution. 

It is a much more complex issue than that.

Instead the Prime Minister brought in a former basketball player from America. Shaquille O'Neal may well be a very pleasant and interesting person. I know nothing about him. I had never heard of him until the Prime Minister insisted on bringing him to "support the Voice to Parliament".  No, I do not follow American basketball - or any sort of American sport. 

I know other people do but was this appropriate? Why was the Prime Minister using a man who, however well regarded, is not even a representative of the First Nations people in his own country? What does it tell us this proposal is about?

Constitutional law is a very complex thing. It formed two compulsory units in my legal training and I know we barely touched the surface. Constitutional change in this country is difficult to achieve. It requires two majorities, a majority of the people and a majority of the states.  

Since Federation there have been forty-four attempts to change something and only eight of them have succeeded. Of these there was one in 1967 which allowed the Federal Government to make special laws with respect to "aboriginal people" and that did succeed.

So why now do we need a special Voice to parliament for one group? I'll come back to the issue as I gather more information from people who know more about these things and from those it is intended to benefit.

Let it be said here though that the desire of some to debate it and perhaps even eventually oppose it should not be seen as "racist". It may be something much more complicated than that.  Our Constitution may appear simple but it is a very, very complex document. 

Monday 29 August 2022

Hannah Hauxwell

is a name which will be known to many people in the United Kingdom, particularly those who come from Yorkshire.  

She is not nearly as well known out here but I was given a book about her many years ago. I would like to have met her. I would like to have spent a morning or afternoon with her on her Birk Hatt farm and seen it as she saw it - not perhaps in winter but in spring, summer or autumn. She was 91 when she died around four years ago, rather remarkable given her years of hard physical labour in such an unforgiving environment in winter.

Recently I was given the three DVD collection about her extraordinary and lonely life on the farm, a life with only the barest essentials, her eventual move to a village, and her eventual trip to Europe.

As I watched those DVDs (while working on other things as usual) I also thought about all the pioneering women here. A few days ago a friend gave me a copy of a cook book I mentioned some time ago on this blog. It has snippets of history from the women whose recipes they were. All of them were pioneers in their way. They went out to farms on an island after living in a communal camp. They had to deal with cold in winter - but not snow. They also had to deal with extreme heat, snakes,  other wildlife, fire and more. 

Unlike Hannah they were married, mostly with children. In some ways that would have made it easier, in others harder. 

But even they had it easy compared with the woman who once lived in this street. She came out here from Germany after the war. Her husband worked on the railway line which stretches across the continent. They lived in one of the loneliest sidings, often just the two of them. Their "house" was nothing more than a few bits of corrugated iron and some hessian bags. Their supplies came via the "Tea and Sugar" - the train that took supplies to many such settlements along the way.

Then there were the early women of this state who first  lived in tents and then wattle and daub huts before any permanent buildings were erected.

Hannah would probably have found their lives interesting. I regret I never thought to write to her, to send her a copy of one or other a book she might well have found interesting because, yes, she did read. 

I have been thinking of all this as we are being asked to admire this woman or that for doing something which seems to be special. Yes, it often is special and they have worked very hard. I often think well of them - but I also think highly of those women who did so much alone.  

Sunday 28 August 2022

Those environmentally friendly electric vehicles

may not be as good as we are being led to believe. There are people who already think along those lines but I was given a little lesson in batteries yesterday.

Let me start by saying I do not own a car. I have never owned a car. I avoid travelling in them when I can. I use the pedal power of my paws where I can. 

The increasing number of electric vehicles on the road might be good for the environment - back to that in a moment - but one of them nearly ran me down yesterday. I was on the road instead of the footpath because there were two cars and a workman's van parked across the footpath After looking carefully behind me I  turned into the very short street I live in. There was nothing there at all, not even in the distance. I then had to do a right hand turn into the driveway of the house. I looked behind me again and found a silent black panther like vehicle was, at most, a metre behind me. That is far too close for comfort. On the dry surface of the road with the surrounding noise a car had been able to come up behind me almost silently after pulling out from the curb at the beginning of the street. 

The driver thought it was funny. I did not. It was a stupid, dangerous thing to do.

 This is one of the downsides of electric vehicles and I know there is talk of making some sort of noise emitter compulsory. Surely such a thing is essential, especially if people live somewhere prone to foggy days?

And then there is the issue of just how environmentally friendly these cars actually are. It was the batteries which were explained to me after one of the neighbours came to check I had not been frightened out of my wits. He and his partner were looking at electric vehicles. His partner is a very intelligent woman and she had been doing a little research.  I don't know if she is right or not but I'd be inclined to listen to her as her homework is usually thorough on other matters.  

The batteries for electric vehicles contain lithium, cobalt, nickel, and copper. All of those things have to be mined, processed for transport, transported, then processed again. Along with graphite, aluminium, steel and plastic - which also require mining and processing - you finally get the battery. I wonder how much energy goes into this. I wonder what the actual environmental benefits are? I know there isn't an endless supply of any of these things. What happens when the lithium runs out? Is there something to replace it, or cobalt, or nickel?

It is no good saying "but solar power is renewable" - it isn't without the things that make the panels and....

I need to think about all this...because I am not sure we have the answers yet. 

Saturday 27 August 2022

What the previous Prime Minister

of Downunder did was foolish but it was not illegal. What the present Prime Minister is doing is not merely foolish but vindictive.

It may also verge on the edges of illegal as he is ignoring the advice given him by the Solicitor-General. The Solicitor-General would have sought advice from the best Constitutional lawyers and that was the outcome. Was Sec. 64 of the Constitution breached? No? Then nothing can be done about it.  

Yes, what the previous Prime Minister did in quietly appointing himself to multiple ministerial positions during the pandemic was unconventional, foolish and suggestive of a lack of trust in his team. It was not illegal. It has been done before and if other people had been concentrating on their jobs instead of panicking about the pandemic then it would not have happened. The Ministers themselves should have been more alert and asking , "Why were you at Government House today Prime Minister?" 

That the media apparently knew nothing is absolutely ridiculous. It is simply not possible, unless the Prime Minister went through a back gate in an unmarked car driven by someone sworn to secrecy, for a visit to have gone unnoticed. Perhaps he went in at the dead of night? I don't think so.

Having a major inquiry now, one headed by a retired High Court judge, suggests this is nothing more than a vindictive act on the part of the present Prime Minister.  Calls for the previous Prime Minister to resign from his position in parliament are also nothing short of vindictive.  He may have been foolish and shown an apparent lack of trust in his team but, I will repeat this again, he did nothing illegal. 

Under a different electoral system this man would likely still be Prime Minister. The party he was leading actually had more first preference votes. It  is simply the compulsory nature of the preferential voting which can lead to unexpected and unwanted results. It is a system which can destabilise democracy but the major parties believe it works in their favour and thus wish to retain it - for now. In the past the lack of social media probably did allow the system to work that way. That is no longer true and we now have a system where a party like  the Greens, who have only a small number of votes overall, can have just a few members but the power to make great demands.

The inquiry which is to be held must therefore be seen for what it is - a distraction designed to take away the focus on the present government's lack of progress, their failure to even begin implementing the policies they went to the election with. We have yet more "inquires", "consultations", "round tables" and "Royal Commissions" being held by  a party which has had years to prepare to govern and are now showing they are still not ready.

What they are apparently not prepared to allow debate about is any change to the Constitution. That "Voice to Parliament" is not the simple measure they claim it to be.  I am seeking advice from my indigenous friends as well as the constitutional experts about that one.


Friday 26 August 2022

Judging knitting and crochet

is not a simple task. I do not envy the lovely person who comes to do it at our annual state Show. 

Faced with a seemingly Everest high pile of entries she had an apparently endless number of decisions to make. Sometimes it was easy and  at other times much more difficult. 

How do you make a choice between two items you think are of equal quality? Yes, it is difficult. The judge is very good at that. Listening to what she has to say is something we can all learn from.

I have always hated marking essays and other projects my students have worked on.  There are occasions on which I have felt students have not done enough work or really do not know enough to pass. It should be easy then - but it isn't. 

It is even harder when a student is "borderline" - do I pass or fail? Do I give a credit or a pass, a distinction or a credit? What do I do when I know who has written the paper and know they have worked particularly hard? What about the student who I know puts in minimum effort and is borderline? 

At least in judging the knitting and crochet at the Show the entries sit there anonymously. There are no names on the cards. Those are on a second set of cards elsewhere - cards which will be affixed at a later time in the day. These are not "life and death" or "career changing" decisions. Handicrafts at the Show are intended for everyone and most people enter simply because they believe they have made something worth displaying.

And those things generally are worth displaying. There were some really lovely pieces again this year. We all oohed and aahed over some and laughed at the amazing crocheted "stag's head" and wanted to hug the little toy dachshund or cuddle into one blanket in particular - and even eat the crocheted fruit and vegetables. 

It was exhausting. I had done my share of the judging in an entirely different area earlier. It's a much smaller area but I knew I was still making decisions which would give a thrill or disappoint. It's a responsibility.

And will I do it again next year? If they want me - and it seems they might - then yes, I suppose I will. What I really want is for people to be willing to show others what they have made - and encourage more people to do the same.


Thursday 25 August 2022

Board games

need to be played with other people. I have played a few in my time - mostly with young friends. 

When I was a mere kitten my maternal grandmother had a "games compendium". It was old fashioned even then. I don't remember all the games in it but, if we were "very good", we were permitted to play Ludo or Snakes and Ladders,  and Chinese checkers. There was also a chess board but no chess men. We played "draughts" instead with pieces she had cut from cereal boxes and paper. 

As we had a chess board at home with proper draught pieces we rarely used the latter. We played the other games more out of a sense of duty than anything else. We were supposed to "like" them although in reality we found them rather dull compared with the somewhat greater complexities of draughts and dominoes. 

And then, at some point, our grandmother splashed out and bought first a "Monopoly" set...and then a Scrabble set. We were now expected to sit and play with her whenever we visited. 

Monopoly was interesting enough the first few times we played it but we knew our grandmother was cheating. That made the game no fun at all. We complained. Of course we were told off for this, indeed punished for it. Quite why my grandmother felt such a strong need to win puzzled me back then. As an adult and knowing something of her history I find it a little easier to understand but, as children, we were simply expected to accept something we had been told was wrong.

It was much harder for our grandmother to cheat at Scrabble. She would try to tell us that a word existed, that it was simply a word we did not know. If we could not find it in the dictionary...? Well not all words were in the dictionary.  Our parents put a stop to that - and that put a stop to the games of Scrabble with our grandmother. 

Our paternal grandmother played Bridge and probably some other card games. She knew about "noughts and crosses" and "draughts" but we were expected to play them with each other - not with her. She was always busy doing something else. Nevertheless she found time to teach us "kitchen things" and "garden things" and other "useful things". (Brother Cat can sew as well as woodwork because of her efforts.)  

Our paternal grandfather knew the basics of chess and showed me the moves but he did not really have time for that sort of thing. He had no time for card games or any other sort of board game. If he had been that way inclined I think he might have enjoyed something like "Go". It would need to have been that level of complexity to challenge him.

Yesterday there was an email to me late in the afternoon. A friend asked me if I could still find the link to a game I had once given her for her two children. I tried to remember what it was and she was rather vague about it but told me it was a board game they had been able to make for themselves and she thought it might have been "Japanese and sort of like X's and O's". In the end I suggested "Look up "Four Field Kono" - it's Korean".

If you are curious look it up - and don't be fooled. It is more challenging than you might think.


Wednesday 24 August 2022

A dinosaur, an owl and an octopus

all sat there looking at me - along with dolls, teddy bears, unicorns, "gonks", and other largely soft, cuddly and colourful characters. There were two humans standing next to me as well.

We were silent for a moment as we contemplated the work some people are prepared to put in simply to give something to charity - in this case the Women's and Children's Hospital. Yesterday was the first time in three years we had been able to have the pleasure of looking at things like that.

Yes, "the Show is back". Our annual Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society show was cancelled two years in a row because of the pandemic. The cancellation has added to the financial woes of the farmers and other rural people in the state so this year will be especially important - even with some restrictions still in place. The daily limit on numbers is of concern but necessary.

And most of the old team were back yesterday or will be there tomorrow.  Sadly the person who would have been helping me yesterday was not there as she is going through a rough time with chemotherapy. There was a new person there in her place. This was someone I had met just two weeks ago as she came looking for help at a knitting and crochet group I look after at our local library. It just seems to prove that the city I live in is not that big! She certainly proved herself useful and has fitted in well. I hope she will be back next year. 

There were changes to the way we do things too. It has all gone "high tech" and people's entries get scanned as they come in. Yes, easier than dealing with piles of paper work!

But the entries came in steadily as before - yesterday was "handicrafts for others" (my special concern), ceramics (careful!), egg artistry (we leave that to the egg artists themselves), dressmaking, costumes, embroidery, and millinery. A few people who are also entering in other classes later in the week brought in woodwork, metalwork, paper crafts, and the like. There were tiny items and much larger items. 

I went up and down the trestle tables putting things in the right places ready to be judged and did my own silent and strictly to myself judging of the things laid out. It is not exactly a "game" I play but rather a way of trying to improve my ability to help with the judging in any area should it be necessary. For the most part the judges are people who are very, very skilled in their area. They know about colour and design, form and purpose, the workmanship and much more. Over the years I have been there I have been able to learn a great deal on top of the short certificate course I undertook some years ago. 

But we are not, for the most part, judging professional people. We are judging people who do these things because for the sheer pleasure of making something - and doing the very best they can. In the past we have given prizes to an item that does have flaws. This might be because there are very few entries in that particular class or because there is something else very special about it. Many of the judges will find the time to write a few words on the back of the cards attached to the items if there is something which warrants it. It all helps to encourage people to try again.

I genuinely feel immensely privileged to be part of all this. I know many people look on it as "old-fashioned" and "something from the past". They would even suggest the entire Show is like that. It isn't. There is a sense of community there.

And people care about each other. I gave in and took the Senior Cat's walker with me yesterday. It gave me more mobility and I could be more useful but it also meant I wasn't going to make the hike to almost the other side of the grounds to get my lunch (provided). Not a problem though because someone brought my sandwich back for me. I had taken some lunch with me but it is typical of the team that more than one of them thought to make sure I had something to eat. They really are a great group to work with and I am a very lucky cat!

Tuesday 23 August 2022

Residential institutions for people with disabilities

are supposedly a thing of the past in this country. Instead we have what are supposed to be nice "homely" house size units with small groups of living in them.

It doesn't work. It should work but it doesn't work. 

The idea sounds great in theory. It is an idea along the same lines as making sure that children with disabilities, any sort of disabilities at all, go to the same schools as anyone else. That doesn't work either.

No, before you start telling me I am wrong and that it is a matter of resources and educating everyone else and that "they" have a "right" to be treated the same way as everyone else, let me explain.

I know something about "special" schools. I taught in three (in one I was also the unofficial head)  and I had a great deal more to do with three more. They were not perfect places but all of them had something very positive to offer the children and young people who attended them. 

And one of them was outstanding. It took in a range of children with widely differing physical and intellectual capabilities...and that was what was emphasised - capabilities. There were children who were barely able to learn, children who were profoundly deaf, others who were hard of hearing, others with sight impairments and children with complex learning needs. All of them had some degree of brain injury. It was a very challenging place.

I was talking to a former student of the school yesterday. He was trying to remember the name of a former student, one much lower down the school than he was. 

"He did very well. I am sure he went to university but I can't remember his name and I wondered if you could?"

Yes, I could - because I tutored him at university. We looked him up on line, found a contact for him - which the other student wanted. This morning there was an email from both of them. One to thank me for helping him find his contact and the other simply to say "hello".

There were two doctorates arising out of that school (one in mathematics and the other in psychology). There are at least five other university graduates and others with other qualifications. Many of the students went on to paid employment of one sort or another. One of them worked in a library for many years. I went to her retirement party - and the place was crowded because so many of the students at the university library she worked in liked her enough to want to say "goodbye an good luck". Another went off to Europe, stayed with extended family for a bit and then travelled alone through at least eleven countries even though he uses crutches and speaks nothing but English and a little of the language of his immigrant parents.

There are other students I could talk about. All but a few have done well. But the school still got closed. It was considered that children were better off "mainstreamed". The former students do not agree. Some of them went off to mainstream secondary schools but all of them say they were better prepared because of their first school. It gave them on site physiotherapy, speech therapy, and more. There were very small classes where teachers understood that they might learn in ways that were rather different and that they needed to do it at their own pace.

Those who cannot live alone are reliant on family and friends to help. Many of them are reaching an age where some sort of residential care is becoming necessary. They, rightly, resent the need to consider the "group houses" in the community where they might need to live with people who have other needs which make them less compatible companions.

"We need a place for us," my contact from yesterday told me. 

He's right...likeness can attract and one size does not fit all.

Monday 22 August 2022

No debate allowed

and if you dare to disagree...

I am so tired of "woke" culture. It is not fit for purpose.  It is no longer possible to debate any issue of importance or question any stance which is not the "accepted norm" without being accused of being "wrong", "racist", "homophobic", "anti-trans" or a "climate denier". 

We are also bringing up a generation of children who are not even able to think there might be legitimate alternative views because they are not being informed about them.  They are simply being told "people who think like that are wrong".

There  is a need to debate some issues. I know I will want to comment on the proposed "indigenous Voice to parliament". A same-sex couple I know (who read this blog) would like me to raise some issues of concern to them - issues which might surprise some people. Yes, I do have serious concerns about the current "transgender issue" - and they are shared by other people I know. I also believe climate change needs to be debated - because we have to live on this planet.

Tomorrow I will be back, after two years of no-show, working at the state's Showground. I will be back with a wonderful group of people I know will have missed this as much as I have. For two consecutive years we did not have the state's annual agricultural and horticultural Show. The pandemic put a stop to it. Even this year numbers will be limited but it can go ahead unless there is a last minute disaster of some sort. 

I can prowl off to the big hall where the handicrafts and cookery are displayed. I can marvel at the entries as they come in - and there always are things to wonder at - and I can help with all the work that goes towards judging and displaying the entries. Later in September we will dismantle all this and pass entries back to their owners. It is hard work but it can also be good fun. Most of working there know one another. We don't necessarily know each other well as, for most of us, we only come together at Show time but we have a common interest in making and doing. 

I know we will talk about how something has been made, how well colours have been put together, where a pattern might have come from, whether that might be the work of someone who has entered before... and much more. It is all a refreshing change from the seemingly endless debate of depressing world issues.

We do need to debate the big issues though - really debate them. We need the many sides of some issues to be presented to us. Most important of all we need to think these through - and teach children  to think them through. Without doing that we cannot make informed decisions.

I had a brief letter in this morning's state newspaper. Unusually a sentence was edited out. I had asked a question the letters editor of the day obviously did not like. It is a question which needs to be asked though so I will ask it here, "Are journalists asleep at the wheel?" Come on, we need informed debate.  

Sunday 21 August 2022

No loans for diesel

or petrol cars?

This is what one of the major banks in Downunder has announced in the requirement for everyone to use electric vehicles. It is yet another move in the "43% reduction in emissions" target. 

Apparently two states will be exempt from the requirement - for now. One has a very sparse population over a large area. The other has similar features and a larger indigenous population.  

It seems those involved are at least being realistic about this....but is everyone else?

A friend of the Senior Cat is devoted to the electric vehicle cause. He has spent years working on them. His wife almost divorced him over the time he spent at one of the universities working with people there. (In the end she just shrugged and went to computer programming classes instead. They now lead fairly separate lives in the same house.) 

But N.... is still devoted to the cause. He tried to enthuse the Senior Cat - with little success. For the Senior Cat a car was merely a means of getting from one place to another in a convenient fashion. The Senior Cat also believed in bicycles - and rode one to and from the schools he worked at here in the city.  When he finally gave up his licence to drive he still rode a "gopher" or "scooter". That was battery powered but it was the closest he came to wanting an electric vehicle. 

More than one person has offered to put a motor on my trike. I have resisted strongly. It is my exercise machine. I need exercise. More things can go wrong.

But these electric vehicles? I wonder whether they are really as environmentally friendly as they are claimed to be. They need to be made. The manufacture of anything is not yet environmentally friendly although I suppose it might come to a point where factories are powered by solar panels and batteries...but you still have to manufacture the panels and the batteries.

Solar panels do not have an unlimited life-span. There are environmental issues in the making and, later, disposing of them. The batteries need lithium - and the world's supply of that is limited and likely to become another issue over which people will go to war. 

And in this country people sometimes travel vast distances. Are we going to have charging stations available every hundred kilometres or so. Yes, they say there are cars that can travel 300km or more on a single charge but is that the case in this climate and under the likely conditions?  Will people be willing to risk running out of charge on a remote highway when they can take a container of petrol for the old fashioned sort of vehicle. More than once, someone has been able to give a stranger enough fuel to help? Do they have portable charging stations? 

And how long will it take to recharge on a long journey? The "rest break" might be a good thing but impatience to be on the way will also be an issue.  What happens out on the farm? What happens in the remote areas of a sheep or cattle station? (You could need more than 300km in a day in some of those places.)

A blanket ban on loans for diesel or petrol vehicles is not going to work. They might well be fine. They may work but people are not going to take the risk yet - if ever.  

What they might be prepared to do is drive diesel and petrol and plant trees and other vegetation to neutralise the impact. Everyone would benefit from that.

Saturday 20 August 2022

The water main in our street

burst yesterday.  

I could hear the water rushing and went out to see if there was water flowing somewhere on our premises - to be greeted with the sight of  very muddy brown water flowing rapidly down the street. 

There were workmen across the way. They are putting in a new fence for the neighbours and I called out to them. They just shrugged. Then one of the neighbours immediately opposite arrived from taking his children to school and asked me, "Have you reported it?" 

"No, I've only just come out to see what was going on. I was about to go and do it. They haven't done it either."

"I'll do it," he told me and pulled out his very fancy mobile phone, found the number and did it. 

We stood there surveying all the water going to waste. "You'd think those two would have done it straightaway," B... told me with a glance at the workmen. He was as impressed as I was - in other words, not at all.

Water is precious in this country. We live on the driest continent on earth. Far too many Downunderites do not realise this. They are far too casual about our water resources. Yes, we have had some floods recently but vast areas of this country are desert like in nature. For as long as I can remember I have advocated planting more trees, the right trees in the right places. If we did that for even just a decade we could do more to reduce our "emissions" than all the other "plans" combined. Of course this requires the sort of planning and input apparently beyond the capacity of any government or environmental group. 

But to simply go on working while water flows rapidly down the street?

Fortunately the response was reasonably quick. I heard the heavy repair vehicles arriving a short time later. A little later I saw them as I pedalled off along the footpath - fortunately still relatively dry. Coming back from a meeting some time later the repair crew was still hard at it. I used some rain water and one of the workmen came in and took some more. No they didn't want a cup of tea but they did want to wash their hands before using their own thermos flasks. I left them to it.

It was finally repaired late in the afternoon and, apart from some bumps and thumps down the pipes as the water started to flow through again, all seems to be well. We were fortunate that the aging system was able to be repaired that quickly.

I do wonder about those workmen though...they could have saved thousands of litres of precious water by reporting it immediately.  

Friday 19 August 2022

Pain relief in childbirth

is something I personally know nothing about because I never had children. 

I do know my mother had four with no pain relief. It would have been against her "Christian Science" principles to accept any form of pain relief or indeed any intervention during child birth at all. (As a result she nearly died when the Black Cat was born and did have an emergency procedure following the delivery.) It was the same for almost all women of her generation. In many rural areas women gave birth at home, mostly with the help of the nearest woman (who might be many miles away) but sometimes with no assistance at all

Apparently about half of all women now give birth using "laughing gas" - nitrous oxide".  It apparently makes one of the most excruciating times known only to females more bearable. There are women who give birth quickly and apparently easily of course but I suspect that, for most, it is very difficult.  I certainly don't envy those who have experienced it.

And now there is apparently a debate going on about whether the use of "laughing gas" should cease - on the grounds that it is "bad for the environment".  There are some who are demanding that women be given opioid drugs to relieve pain instead. This would apparently be "better for the environment". (Yes, there have been some concerns that there can be an increased risk of Covid with the use of aerosols but the arguments about nitrous oxide are related to climate change not the possible spread of a virus.)

I really cannot comment on the medical side but I find it a ridiculous argument with respect to the environment and the welfare of the mothers of new born babies. To the best of my knowledge nitrous oxide is not addictive. Opioid drugs are addictive and it takes very little for some people to become addicted. Is this really preferable to a miniscule amount of the "wrong" gas entering the atmosphere?

I'd like an informed opinion about this from those who really know about these things. As an uninformed cat however I think I would be inclined to come down on the side of using nitrous oxide and planting more trees. 

Thursday 18 August 2022

The "cashless welfare card"

was brought in to try and help some of  the people who need it most. For those of you in Elsewhere it  is a debit card which allows people to spend their money on the things they need but not things like alcohol or gambling.

It has always been the subject of debate. There are people who believe it has helped to pay the bills and put food on the table. Some say it has reduced alcohol consumption and domestic violence. Others say that those who use it simply find ways around the restrictions and that, because many on it are "indigenous", it is racist. 

There is also a belief it is expensive to administer and demeaning for those who are on it. Those demanding its abolition say there are "better" ways to handle the problems which cause the need for some sort of intervention.

Research has apparently shown that many of those who use it do not want to lose it. The majority are women with children, often children of school going age or younger. Many of them live in remote communities where the price of food is greater than it is in the cities and the price of good food is often out of reach.

If you can get multiple bottles of alcohol for the price of one lettuce  then you are not likely to choose the lettuce. When a can of beer costs less than an apple you will get the beer. It won't matter if your children aren't eating. That alone suggests there is a need for the card.

The new government wants to be rid of it though. They say they are looking into it, that they are listening to the community, and more. In reality they are listening to those whose employment depends on the ongoing problems in the communities where the card is most used.  They want to bring in "education programs" and "counselling" and "other ways" of "dealing with the problems". We are told that these things will "help people help themselves" and "give them dignity" and "provide real independence".

My good friend M... disagrees. He does not want to see the end of the welfare card. As an indigenous man who worked all his life in social welfare he has seen more than his fair share of the need for something like this. He also tells me that many indigenous people have welcomed the card, that it actually gives them greater control over their lives and an increased standard of living.  School attendance has improved too.

"Why does the government want to take that away?" he asks in despair.   

I think I know - and so does he. Taking it away will actually allow increased intervention, interference, and control. 

"We don't need a Voice in parliament Cat," M... told me yesterday when he phoned to get some help for someone, "Those things have been tried. They fail and they fail because people don't listen. The last thing we need is something in the Constitution which causes permanent deafness." 


Wednesday 17 August 2022

Downunder's previous Prime Minister

is in trouble for "secretly" swearing himself in as Minister for This and Minister for That during the pandemic. We already had Ministers for This and That so this is being touted as a "Trump-like power grab". 

The present government is naturally making claims about the actions being illegal and it wants an investigation. The media has pounced on the politician they love to hate and are making some wild claims about it all.

Constitutional lawyers are being rather more cautious and suggesting that section 64 of the Constitution may not actually have been  breached.  This is the section which states  "Sec 64. Ministers of State. The Governor-General may appoint officers to administer such departments of State of the Commonwealth as the Governor-General in Council may establish. Such officers shall hold office during the pleasure of the Governor-General". 

They could be right or they could be wrong. If the matter ends up in the High Court we may find out. 

My own feeling is that it would have been much better for the previous Prime Minister not to do what he did and that it would have been much much better not to do it apparently so secretively. It does make it appear that he might have been attempting a power grab.

In all this however we need to remember that the Covid19 pandemic was also in the midst of a pandemic of hysteria. Governments all over the world were not sure what to do, how to cope, who to ask, where to go and more. 

Downunder was no different. Mistakes were made. There was always the possibility that one crucial government minister was going to be too ill to function. Having a back up available must have seemed like a sensible option. 

Were these actions really taken in secret or did people simply not communicate? Were they the actions of someone who did not trust his Ministers to do their job or were they the actions of someone who was trying to run the country in the face of a relentless campaign of criticism from the then Opposition and the media?  

The then Prime Minister was in a no-win situation. Had he made his actions public then the media would have had a field day - quite possibly to the point where it would have been impossible for decisions to be taken.  Our Commonwealth Public Service is not known for willing cooperation with that particular side of politics. As many of those "public servants" have happily pointed out to me there are ways of delaying decision making and delaying action which can add a great deal to ensuring a government is considered incompetent. "Yes Minister" is closer to real life than many would like to believe.

There are calls for the previous Prime Minister to resign. There are similar calls for the Governor-General to resign as well. Nobody seems to be asking the obvious questions. One of these is surely whether decisions were made as a result of these appointments which were deliberately designed to cause harm? 

Until that question is answered then those criticising would seem to be doing it for reasons of personality not purpose. 

Tuesday 16 August 2022

Climate change causes obesity

in children? 

A colleague sent me a link to a research paper  in a journal devoted to climate issues and asked me what I thought of the study. I have not been able to read it because it is behind a paywall but I was able to read the conclusion. 

This said, in rather dramatic fashion, that climate change was a major cause of childhood obesity. It went on to say that it was simply getting too hot for children to play outside.

Really? While I was  pedalling out in some decidedly cool (but not really  cold) air  yesterday I thought about this - and I find it difficult to believe.

As a child I spent more time outside than inside. My siblings did too. All the children we knew were the same. If the weather was fine and it was light then we were expected to be outside. What is more we were expected to be outside entertaining ourselves unsupervised. We played in our back yards and gardens when small and graduated to each others yards and the streets around us. 

Adults undoubtedly kept an eye on us from a distance as they went about their business but they didn't interfere. On the very rare occasions we needed help then one of us would go and find it. We made up our games, climbed trees and made tree houses, broke the occasional window with a ball (and had to pay for the damage with our pocket money), and ran street races on our trikes, bikes, and scooters. If  it got really hot then we ended up in the shade of trees playing with marbles and "knucklebones" or reading books and comics. We drank water by cupping our grubby hands under the garden tap and occasionally had the special treat of cordial given us by a mother who was feeling sympathetic about the heat. There was no television, no internet, no screen time of any sort except for those lucky enough to be allowed to go to "Saturday afternoon pictures". For those several hundred children in the district would pile into the local picture theatre for a program that was designed to keep children coming back. It had a cartoon, a short documentary, the episode of a serial, and the main feature - often "cowboys and Indians". My brother and I were only allowed to go once - quite possibly because there was no other adult available to "mind" us. 

I suppose there must have been some inactive and overweight children but they were few and far between. It certainly wasn't an epidemic and it certainly wasn't the weather which caused the problem.

I doubt it is the weather now. It is much more likely to be that children are not allowed to play in their own yards unsupervised and that they spend far more time in sedentary occupations. It has more to do with parents being "time-poor" because they both work and there is nobody at home to watch out. I was the only adult at home in our short street for a short while yesterday. That's rare but it does happen and it would not be conducive to allowing children to roam unsupervised. 

I think it is also likely that it has something to do with parents being afraid of being reported for abuse and neglect and any number of other things. They are afraid of perverts who might be roaming the streets and that their child is not learning the essential skill of kicking the football and being on the winning team. There are no longer enough adults willing to take on the work of running Cubs and Brownies, Scouts and Guides, marching girls, and cadets. Those that do face the constant risk of being accused of sexual misconduct - sometimes from those children who are smart enough to realise that   this is a good way to get back at someone who has simply disciplined them. 

When the local council was renewing the "play" area in a nearby park there was a suggestion that perhaps it could be turned into an "adventure" playground. The suggestion was turned down. It was considered too dangerous. Children might get hurt.

It seems to me they are getting hurt anyway.


Monday 15 August 2022

Reading the "classics"

is not something everyone wants to do - nor should they be required to do so. 

Reading the classics of children's literature is often a matter of "must" rather than "want" because a book will be a "set" book in school.  Then there are the well meaning adults who still hand over "classics" as birthday and Christmas presents or school prizes. 

I can remember being given "Black Beauty". Now I know this is still a book loved by some young "hippomaniacs" and that they will still read the Pullein-Thompson sisters, Ruby Ferguson and like authors. I was never a fan of "horse stories" as we knew them in my kittenhood. I tried to read them because it was what so many others of my age were reading but I was not interested. I was not really interested in "ballet stories" either. Although I enjoyed Noel Streatfeild's books like Ballet Shoes I was not as interested in the ballet aspect as the way the three girls found a way of contributing to the family finances and how they were educated.  Even then though it all seemed a little strange I suppose. I knew it was not the way something would happen to any child of my age.  

It was this I thought of when someone mentioned that she was reading "Stig of the Dump" (Clive King) with her son - and finding it rather dull.  Stig of the Dump was considered to be something of a breakthrough book when I first read it.  It was one of those books that, a few years later, I ensured was in a school library. It is now considered to be a "classic" and still put on "set" books lists. At the time it probably was read by many children. It would have been read along with books like "The Borrowers" and then "Tom's Midnight Garden". 

They were all good books, perhaps outstanding books. The question though is, "Are they what is read now?" The answer to that  I think is that tastes have perhaps changed. Children know more about the world. Other things are being published. 

It is possible to see this looking down a list of Carnegie Medal winners. The more recent winners tend to be much darker. 

I try to read each one as it is announced but there have been some I have not enjoyed at all. I still feel that Kevin Brooks book "The Bunker Diary"  is not the sort of book I would encourage a young person to read. 

Over the years I have collected earlier children's literature - from the fifties, sixties and seventies of last century. I have made it available to local children who like to read. They can pick and choose as they please. I don't ask them to tell me what they think about the books they read although they sometimes tell me. The Whirlwind and her friends read a great many of them. The boys who live nearby read less but still read quite a number of them.  

The interesting thing is that, despite an outstandingly good library nearby which has an excellent children's section, all these children and now young people kept coming back to borrow more from me.

Yes,  I have worried about losing books I treasure but I also hear in my mind that young girl in the library as she looked up at me and said, 

    "I'm sick of AIDS and death and divorce. I just want a good adventure story."

Perhaps that is why some "classic" books are still being read?

"But Cat, you must have that one! I want to read it!" has been a wonderful thing to hear.  I have failed my young borrowers too often. 

But there are some wonderful books being written for them now...and I enjoy reading them. 

Sunday 14 August 2022

Death threats

need to be taken seriously. 

No, I do not mean the "I'll kill you" words that are sometimes uttered in frustration and anger - the sort of thing almost everyone has said at some time or another without meaning harm. That is not a death threat. Real death threats mean just that. There is the intention to do harm. 

I was asked yesterday whether a "fatwa" is a death threat. No, it isn't. It is a ruling by an Islamic legal scholar. It may contain a statement about what is seen to be the appropriate punishment for someone who is perceived to have broken Islamic law. It is not a death threat in itself.  A fatwa is not considered mandatory by many Muslim scholars. It can depend on the circumstances in which it was issued.

That said, the appropriate punishment for Salman Rushdie for writing "The Satanic Verses" was said to be death.  The fatwa was issued by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 and it has remained to this day.

It will be interesting to see what Muslim scholars say about the appalling attack on Rushdie. Will they support his attacker? 

I have been thinking about this and, while death threats for a difference of opinion in this country are rare, I wonder whether there isn't a sort of "fatwa" culture around some of the most outspoken woke activists here. They make a statement about an issue or a person and their disciples blindly follow and do their bidding. Anyone who questions these statements is then subject to a fatwa of sorts. They must be criticised and then ostracised. For these "scholars" there is no room for debate in the religions of climate, sexuality, or race. They consider themselves to be right and any dissent must be stamped out.  

The Senior Cat used to tell the story of seeing a member of staff at the university run an angry line through the page of a student essay and say of a certain academic theory, "This will not do." Needless to say the Senior Cat was not impressed. He enjoyed civilised debate and was open to at least listening to other ideas. Not so some academics.

This has gone so far that some of our universities are now openly telling students which line of thinking must be followed. Fail to follow that and you will fail. They are also telling students what must be studied and how they must react to it.  Naturally this occurs more in the so-called "arts" rather than the sciences but it does occur across all areas of learning. 

Universities were once places of inquiry and  for the debate of ideas. They were for learning, not just for future employment but for the challenges of new ideas. 

It seems to me there is a death threat to the human race if we do not allow this.

Saturday 13 August 2022

Would you like to teach in Downunder?

Apparently they are now actively looking for teachers to come and work in Downunder. 

I am not surprised - but I am disturbed. 

When the Senior Cat trained as a teacher he went to teacher training college for two years. At the end of that time, having passed the necessary exams, he was given a "certificate" and sent off to a single teacher school in a very remote part of the state. (You were "bonded" to the Education Department and they could send you anywhere they pleased.) The Senior Cat "boarded" at "the pub" - the only accommodation available. As a teetotal and very naive-about-outback-life city boy it was a steep learning curve.

Twelve months later they moved him on to another remote (but not quite so remote) school. There he lived with a farming family. His bedroom and working space was a lean-to wooden room with a hessian "curtain" down the middle. He shared it with a very old man who had some disgusting habits. Again, it was a single teacher school. 

My mother began her teaching career in much the same way although for her it was at least a two teacher school and the nearest "town" of some size was only four miles away. She shared a bedroom with one of the girls she was teaching in the small forestry settlement.

Later my parents were sent to a two teacher school in another very remote part of the state. We went with them. There was no electricity and no running water when we arrived. The school had almost nothing in the way of resources. It was a lonely, difficult posting for them - and we children were not much happier. Teachers were seen as also being preachers, marriage guidance counsellors, financial advisors and much more. They were not seen as part of the community even when they were expected to join in the activities of it.

There were any number of other teachers who had similar postings. The young women would often make the mistake of marrying a local farming lad. Yes, they may have been fond of one another but it was a marriage made out of loneliness more often than love.

There are still some very remote schools in the state, particularly those for indigenous students, but they tend to have more teachers and they have many more resources now. Still, "country service" is still not always popular.  

And teaching has become more difficult. It was never easy but now the role of teachers has changed. They are expected to do far more than teach. Good teachers will work sixty or seventy hours a week. When I was teaching and working in school libraries I got away with a working week of around fifty hours. The pay was not good but it was enough to live on and, if you liked the work, it was good because you had permanent employment. 

That is no longer the case. Teachers are on contract, often for no more than twelve months at a time. You need to be constantly concerned about your future employment prospects. You need to be willing to go anywhere in the state at a moment's notice. (In reality there is likely to be some notification but you still need to be prepared to move if you want to be employed.) The hours are long and the pay is not good.

Above all teachers are taking on all sorts of responsibilities for the social and emotional welfare and awareness of the children they teach. They are expected to adhere to politically correct guidelines about climate change, global warming, race relations, religious observances (or the lack thereof), gender issues and much more. Most of these were ideas nobody had given much - if any - thought to when my parents began teaching. For them it was looking after the surrounding environment and being respectful of each other. My generation was perhaps more environmentally aware but we were not concerned with race relations or gender equality or differences - you just jolly well respected everyone else no matter who they were, how they behaved, or what they believed.

There is probably still some fun to be had in the classroom. Don't let me put you off. However if anyone offers me a return to the classroom I won't be taking it up. The responsibility is simply too great.


Friday 12 August 2022

Gender affirming hysterectomies

on young girls?

I had an interesting question put to me yesterday. Someone asked, "Cat, would you make up a communication board for someone who wanted to perform gender affirming hysterectomies on young girls?" 

The question left me stunned. I doubt I know any doctor - and I know a few - who would even contemplate doing such a thing.  I have not actually asked any of them but I do not believe any of them would contemplate performing anything but essential surgery on a child. 

I find it not just difficult but impossible to understand why anyone would allow a young girl with no health issues to go through surgery that would deliberately prevent her from having children. If that same young girl wants to make a similar decision as an adult then it should surely only be made after extensive counselling?

The idea that a young girl who changes her ideas on an almost daily or weekly basis is capable of such a decision appalls me. Children change their ideas about clothes, the opposite sex, careers, food, friends, clothes and just about everything else - and they do it frequently. It is all part of growing up.  

The idea that they can make an informed decision about the most radical change possible, a change from which there is no going back, is surely ridiculous?  Do they really have the emotional maturity and life experience to make such a decision? And what of the adults who say they are there to support them in these decisions? Have they also been counselled?

I don't ever remember wanting to be a boy but Middle Cat went through that phase. She played football in a guernsey and secondhand boots. She climbed trees and rode her bike at break neck speed in races against the boys.  At one point the Senior Cat told her she had to return all the marbles she had won in a game of "immies" - because she had beaten all the boys in the school.  And Middle Cat constantly told us she wanted to be a boy.  

As I have said elsewhere in this blog she would now likely be "encouraged" to change sex instead of which she is a happily married mother of two. Middle Cat is not perhaps "feminine". She almost always wears trousers and knows more about internal combustion engines than many people - but she does not want to be a man. 

I have provided communication assistance for people in many different circumstances and with many different outlooks on life. I have not always liked them and I most certainly have not always agreed with their politics. What they have all had in common however is that what they were about to go and do was something that was positive. They were going to build hospitals, perform surgery, repair bridges and buildings, build a road, build a dam, plant the beginnings of a forest and much more. They were also going to teach others how to do these things.  I have always tried not to judge them on their politics but on their humanity.

I do know there are people who feel an overwhelming desire to go through the long and difficult "transgender" process. Even when they do the results are not always satisfying. Relationships are not the same. They can face a life time of doubt. So why would we even contemplate this for a child or an adolescent?

My response to the question was, "I would have to ask them to go away and think about what they were really doing." I know it would not be an answer as such for some people but the idea of what they might be prepared to do appalls me.

Thursday 11 August 2022

Acute pancreatitis

is something I would not wish on anyone. I certainly hope I never have to go through it myself.

I mentioned in an earlier post that our good friend P... is in hospital with this...and the doctors are now trying the measure of "last resort".

P...., who is one of the least demanding people I know, phoned me early yesterday morning and asked if I could possibly come in to see her later in the morning.

"They say I am deteriorating. I am supposed to have a procedure. It was supposed to happen yesterday," she told me in short breathless gasps through the oxygen she is now on, "I didn't have anything to eat or drink yesterday and now I can't have anything today."

I put two and two together and was almost certain I knew what they were planning on doing. I told P... I would, despite the pouring rain, be in there. She knows I don't drive and she would not have asked if she had not felt a real need for me to be there.

Then I phoned Middle Cat and told her that P... had rung and said, "I think they are going to try and put in a nasogastric tube if she can tolerate it."

"Mmm....not surprised," Middle Cat said, "I'll pick you up and we can both go in and I'll talk her through what will happen."

Middle Cat knows about these things. As a physiotherapist she has come across many things. Nasogastric tubes are not new to her.

I then left a message for D... the priest at the Senior Cat's church. Knowing it would mean a lot to P... I asked him if he would send out a message to a group at the church. The response was quick and positive. If he goes in to visit another patient today he might also call in to see P...   It is good to see Catholics and Anglicans getting together over something like this.

Middle Cat and I went back to the hospital. There have been all sorts of restrictions on visiting because of Covid19 but we did not have to show vaccination certificates. We were not required to be close family. The single passing staff member just said quietly, "Stay as long as you can."

It was worth the effort. P... had already seen her sister that morning, brought in by her niece. "It was lovely that they came," she told us, "But I can ask questions now."

So Middle Cat explained what they were intending to do later yesterday afternoon and how they would do it.  She went through it slowly and carefully. 

P... listened and then said, "Thank you. I thought it might be something like that. Now tell me how your eldest is getting on."

Nobody mentioned "last resort". There wasn't any need for that. It was enough for P... that she understood what was happening. After that she apparently felt free to do what she has always done - concentrate on the needs of others. 


Wednesday 10 August 2022

Is this really equality?

There is a piece in this morning's paper criticising a senior member of our police force for querying whether it is right for a transgender player to get the best on field award in a football match. 

Apparently the police "person" has said that querying this is not "transphobic" it is simply science. There is also a comment to the effect that, in making one person feel comfortable, perhaps it is making many other people feel uncomfortable.

I don't know the person who said this. I don't know the transgender player. I was not at the football match. It will therefore be said by some that I should not comment at all.

I am going to say something. I am tired of being told what I can and cannot say by people who believe they are right and I am wrong about any number of things. It seems that, if I no longer hold the "politically correct" view about something I do not have the right to comment.

What happened to civilised debate? What happened to an exchange of ideas? 

This is happening even in our universities. An exam paper in one university actually informed students that answers which did not adhere to the politically correct view would be failed.  Another university requires all students to complete a unit in what they say is "indigenous studies". In reality it requires students to complete a unit in political correctness. Yet a third university is failing students who do not write essays adhering to a politically correct line of thinking. Even stating that there might be an alternative point of view is not acceptable.

I will be interested to see how far the media is going to go in allowing a genuine debate about the proposed "Voice to Parliament" in this country. My guess is that it won't allow much. It will be seen as much too dangerous, as racist, as divisive. Even those indigenous people who are opposed to it will be silenced by non-indigenous people who believe they alone know what is right. If we, as a nation, fail to pass the referendum on the issue will we branded as racist or seen as really wanting to include everyone? 

I wonder how many other people miss the robust (and largely civilised) debates we once had around universities and in the media? Do we miss discussing "issues" with friends and colleagues or are we keeping quiet for fear of upsetting people?

Would it be wrong of me to suggest that "equality" does not mean we all need to think and behave in the same way?

Tuesday 9 August 2022

The age of criminal responsibility

in this state is ten years. It varies across the country. 

Now there is talk of raising it to fourteen years in this state. The Greens are actually demanding it be done. 

Their view is that ten year old children do not really know the difference between "right" and "wrong". They are arguing children should not have to face court for the offences they have committed until they are fourteen. 

This is the same party who want to give sixteen year old adolescents the vote. Not old enough to face the consequences of your actions until you are fourteen but old enough to vote two years later?

I am opposed to these things. Many other people I know are also opposed. I am also concerned that the Greens may succeed in getting what they want. They may have very few seats in parliament but they wield a lot of power - far too much power. It is one of the consequences of our voting system...a not very democratic one.

Knowing right from wrong is something that develops long before age fourteen, indeed before age ten. It is quite possible for a three year old to know the toy they have snatched does not belong to them and that there will be consequences if it is not handed back. Why should it be any different for a ten year old?

It  used to be considered that up until around ten years of age children were guided in the more abstract ideas of "right" and "wrong" by their parents. Now it is more likely that they will be guided by childcare workers and teachers because many parents have at least partially abrogated their parenting responsibilities. Ideas about right and wrong and "fairness" and much more are supposedly being instilled in the very young from the time they are verbal. 

I have not done any searching but my guess is that children now have a better understanding of what is considered right and wrong at a lower rather than a higher age. It may not suggest we should actually lower the age of criminal responsibility. It does suggest that we might consider retaining it at ten.

Criminal records of children are closed. There is even the possibility that no conviction would be recorded at all. I don't think the idea of "reformatories" are at all helpful. They should be the absolute last result for those actually convicted of the most violent of crimes. 

What we do need are ways of curtailing the freedom of some young offenders. We need to ensure they are not roaming the streets late at night and more. That's hard.

We also need much more serious consequences for the adults who involve children in their own criminal activities. The adult who uses the child as a drug courier needs to be dealt with even more harshly than other drug dealers.

Raising the age of criminal responsibility may just increase the problems. Those who abuse children in this way will simply have longer to train them. If they don't have to face the consequences until fourteen or more then it may simply be too late for even more of them.


Monday 8 August 2022

Critically endangered crafts

that we cannot afford to lose?

A very interesting website popped up in my in box yesterday, "Cat, have you seen this?"

I think I did once see it in passing but I had not stopped to look. Yesterday I did and it alarmed me.  

It was a list compiled by the Heritage Crafts Association in the UK. They have apparently been making this list since 2017 and it consists of information about "extinct", "critically endangered" and "endangered" crafts. There is another list that says "currently viable" but it is obvious they are concerned about such things.

The lists apply to the UK and some of the crafts on there are very definitely UK crafts - such as Highlands and Islands thatching, Fair Isle strawback chair making, and Devon stave basket making. 

The reason the list was sent to me however was because "Shetland Lace knitting" was also on the list.  That startled me for a moment and then I realised the list was about those who work in these areas for their living. And yes, it alarmed me that there is probably just one person left who makes those extraordinary lace shawls from "cobweb" yarn - yarn so fine that it looks like sewing thread and a full size shawl really can be pulled through a wedding ring. 

I have knitted - even designed - Shetland shawls but I have never attempted anything that fine. I never will. It is far beyond my manual dexterity capacities. I have studied the construction of these things and I have researched the history of them. There are other enthusiasts with whom I communicate on a fairly regular basis. All of us are also concerned about keeping the art alive and the art of other things such as gansey making, Fair Isle knitting, Aran knitting and so on alive. 

There are plenty of groups on the internet for people who are simply interested in such things. For those of us who are very serious about such things the internet is one way of communicating with each other.

But more is needed than that. I looked at the things I am particularly interested in of course but there are other things that matter to everyone - things like "scientific glass working" (the making of specific glass materials for laboratories and other places) and "surgical instrument making". (No, all those precision instruments used by surgeons are not made entirely by machine, some are not made that way at all.)

My maternal grandfather was a "precision engineer". He made things to measurements so fine they could not be seen with the naked eye. It is the only thing for which I ever admired him.Years after his death we were still getting telephone calls (having kept their number) as to whether he could repair something or make something. He made one off instruments for surgeons and a small machine which is still in use at one of the hospitals - replacing it would now cost far more than the hospital can afford. People with his skills were in short supply even in the 1970's and 80's - twenty years after his death. There is no professional person in this city now who can do what he did. It did not pay well then, now it would be impossible to make a living that way. People would simply not be prepared to pay. 

And that is the problem of course. There are skills involved and the end results are more than simply "romantic shawls" or "comfy chairs that keep the drafts off your back" they are glass containers for research projects and instruments for a heart surgeon and much more. 

There are simply limits to what machines can do and what we can program computers to tell machines to do. Making things with our hands is something we all need to do. We also need to pay people to do these things. I am not wasting my time when I teach a child to knit - that child may end up learning to make the instrument that saves my life. 

Sunday 7 August 2022

RIP Judith Durham

but please not her voice.

I put up a memory on Facebook yesterday - of hearing Judith Durham sing. It was just one short moment. I never went to a concert when the Seekers were at the height of their fame in the sixties. Our family didn't do that sort of thing. There was no money for anything like that and we would not even have thought of it. 

As a family though we liked the Seekers. We might not know or understand groups like the Beatles but we understood and appreciated the Seekers. In school J..., our maths and music teacher, taught us some of the songs. We sang them at a school concert one year.  (There was no charge for parents to attend so I assume the performance rights issue was covered.)

My siblings, all of whom were learning to play instruments, could all play versions of this song or that. The other students at the school would get Brother Cat to play them in lunch hours when it was raining too hard to be outside. It was that sort of rural school and that sort of music.

Forward a few years and I was at a conference for trainee teachers. It was being held in a building at a university which had a concert hall attached. I have forgotten exactly what was being discussed but tempers had become rather heated in one session. I know I was feeling rather uncomfortable about being around people who really were not getting along with one another. We broke for one of those inevitable tea breaks but the atmosphere was still rather tense among some of the group.  

Then, quite suddenly, there was a voice singing solo and unaccompanied in the concert hall. I can remember standing there quite still but watching the other people in the room. People stopped talking. They stopped drinking their tea and coffee.  Other people stopped walking across the university grounds as the sound soared out of the open windows of the concert hall.

All too soon the voice stopped and there was that brief silent moment of appreciation before people clapped. The person next to me said quietly, "What a voice!"

Even now I consider myself fortunate to have heard that moment. At the end of it the tension within the group I was with had almost gone. People were more prepared to be reasonable, to listen to one another. It was one of those times when music, just a small amount of music, can do so much. 

It was Judith Durham singing "Turn, turn, turn".


Saturday 6 August 2022

Building a hospital without a kitchen

was never going to be a good idea. Just how foolish has been made obvious to me yet again.

I was at the supermarket when it opened this morning because P... of the midnight phone call called to apologise yesterday. She obviously feels very badly about waking me in the middle of the night. (Her niece A... informed her of what she had done. I did not and would not have done but A... thought she needed to know.) 

P.... is also very frustrated. She is a very intelligent, sensible sort of person. She is well aware of what she should and should not eat and, unlike many of us, manages to stay pretty much within her diet. 

But hospital food? It comes in from outside caterers and it seems that individual diets cannot be catered for - at least to the extent they need to be. I remember what the Senior Cat was given when he was there with the 'flu. We both had the strain that was not covered by the vaccine but I was crawling in to see him because the food he was being given was so bad he did not want to eat at all. The Senior Cat was not fussy but it was too much for him when faced with tough meat and rock hard grey potato wrapped in cellophane. 

P... needs an almost fat free diet right now. She keeps it very low fat at the best of times but right now it is essential. 

"I don't know what it was meant to be but it was greasy," she told me of the meal she had been given an hour or so earlier. The other meal was a sandwich in a plastic container, a bread roll and a cup of tea.

And then she told me something that really shocked me. "The dietician came in at two o'clock this morning and suggested that I get someone to bring me in something from home."

No, she was not mistaken. The dietician came to see her at 2am. The dietician suggested someone outside the hospital which is supposed to be caring for her bring in food for her. 

I am well aware that bringing in food is common in some parts of the world. There are no facilities at all in some places. Family have to do what they can to help. In parts of Africa and Asia for example I would accept that - as necessary but not acceptable. 

In this country it is not acceptable but I promptly said, "Middle Cat and I will bring something in." P... barely argued with me. She wants to go home.  Her 94yr old housemate has gone into respite for a fortnight and the other nuns on the premises will see she is okay once she is home but right now she needs good food. 

I have made her a clear soup and some no-fat chicken stew. It is about to go into six small microwave containers. Someone can heat it up for her. Middle Cat is getting some of the right sort of fruit.

Who on earth thought that building a hospital without a kitchen was acceptable? Why on earth does a dietician have to work in the middle of the night? There is something very wrong here. 

Friday 5 August 2022

War over Taiwan

remains a real possibility - or so we are being told.

My immediate neighbours on one side are Taiwanese. R... has been here for many years. How he managed to get residency and for what purpose remains something of a mystery. He has never informed me and of course I have never asked. 

From what little he has said I gather that he was in some trouble back there - not criminal, but possibly political. He brought both his children out here to live with him when they were about to start high school. 

It was his wife, H...., who stayed in Taiwan. She was a teacher there. H...came out here about seven years ago. She does not really speak English. The Senior Cat and I offered R... to help her with English but the offer was never taken up. I feel for H... Almost certainly she has to be very, very lonely here.

Earlier this year R... came in to see me with some questions about passports and visas and the like. They were planning a trip back to Taiwan. I saw H... over the fence a few days later and managed to make her understand I was asking if she was looking forward to going back. She nodded enthusiastically. There was no doubt she was looking forward to it. 

It still hasn't happened. R... thinks it might not happen now. It is not Covid considerations this time but the potential for the situation between China and Taiwan to escalate into a war over the territory.

This is a ridiculous situation of course. It has been a ridiculous situation for years. If, as China claims, Taiwan is part of China then it is nonsense for the Chinese not to do what they have done in Hong Kong. Why put up with a "self-governing" region that has consistently declared itself to be independent? 

Why does almost every other country make the same claim?

H... is very disappointed of course. Of late she has been even quieter than usual. She keeps her head down and scarcely leaves the house. I know - from our awkward, stilted, limited conversations - that she is increasingly anxious about the situation.

I suspect it is very convenient for China to have that point of tension for now. It isn't about ruling Taiwan. It is about ruling the rest of the world. Do what we want and we will leave Taiwan alone. It is bullying. It is a sort of blackmail and it seems other countries are giving in to it.

That is why Pelosi's visit was so dangerous.  

Thursday 4 August 2022

A midnight phone call

is never good news and this one came at about twenty past. I was asleep but the phone woke me. A wrong number....or something more serious? 

The phone kept ringing as I crawled out of bed and went to answer it. No, I don't keep a phone on a bedside table. 

It was one of the rare occasions on which I wish I did. It was my friend P..., the nun. P... was confused and frightened but had somehow managed to phone me.  

I didn't know it at first because her housemate B... had not thought to let me know but P.... was in hospital with a very severe bout of pancreatitis. At that time of night she was alone in a hospital room and not sure where she was. 

"I'm frightened.I'm confused. I can't stand up. I feel as if I have had a stroke," she told me, "Can you ask someone to come?"

As I had been woken from sleep I was not at my most alert but I recognised the signs of acute pancreatitis.  It's a horrible, horrible condition that can not only cause severe pain but it can cause serious side effects like depression and confusion. I had better not continue to try and explain because I am not a medical doctor. Please just accept that this can happen and it was happening to P... .

I told her I would phone the hospital there and then and get someone to check on her. She thanked me and hung up. 

I set about trying to do just that. It was not as easy as it should have been. 

Of course the hospital she is currently in is the new one and the phone number has changed. I couldn't find the new one in our personal phone book. No, not under R... for Royal... and not under H... for hospital. I found the almost impossible to read local phone directory. That only had the old one in there - although the directory itself is only two years old and the hospital is older than that. In desperation though I tried the old number. If that didn't work I would try something else.

Ah! A recorded message with the new number. Of course the pen I was trying to use didn't work properly but I tried twice and managed to take it down. I phoned the number. 

At that time of night you can be lucky. I was only "on hold" for less than a minute. I gave my name and explained the situation. The voice at the other end was kind and sympathetic, "Oh yes, she is definitely here. I'll put you through to the ward."

And there was another quiet, sensible voice. I gave my name and explained the situation. 

"I'll go and check," the voice told me. 

"Thank you," I told her.

"No, thank you for letting us know."

I crawled back into bed. I did not go properly back to sleep. I am  a very tired cat today...but I am grateful that P... could phone me in her confusion and that there were people at the other end who cared and could go to her.  

Wednesday 3 August 2022

Separating conjoined twins

would be difficult enough but to be involved from half a world away is, as one of those on the team from Great Ormond Street Hospital put it "man on Mars stuff". 

It has to be the most extraordinary and disciplined sort of surgery there is. It is complex. It is dangerous. It requires hours of training for a specific operation. It requires discipline.

I have occasionally been very peripherally involved in surgical procedures. My role has been simple really. All I had to do was provide a "communication board" - something which has allowed people who speak different languages to communicate with each other. This has sometimes been needed in more remote parts of the world where interpreters are thin on the ground and, even if available, they may not have the necessary vocabulary. 

Every time I have been asked to do this I have been in awe of what some people will attempt to do. I have had operations described where a wire coat hanger, a pocket knife and a strand of nylon like fibre from a climbing rope have been used to save someone's life. Yes, the person survived. 

We are so used to the idea that surgery only takes place in sterile circumstances. In reality it can take place under the most appalling conditions - and people do survive. 

A friend who is a keen surfer and works at GOSH emailed me about something else yesterday and I asked, "What was the mood like there?" His response was, "Concerned but when it was over it was almost like catching that elusive wave."  

Let's hope the two little boys survive and are able to enjoy relatively normal lives...and that they go out and catch the wave.