Tuesday 28 February 2023

The quality of the teaching?

There is an article in this morning's paper which is talking about the number of hours spent at school and the "ranking" of our schools in the international education system.  We don't do disastrously but we don't do particularly well either.

School is where children "go to work" - or so we try and tell ourselves. I wonder though how true that really is. In reality I think children expect school to be "fun". They expect to be entertained.

During the Covid19 "lock down" periods I was made even more aware of this.  I know several children and teens for whom not going to school was a relief. It was not because they don't like going to school. They do like going to school. It was not because they were trying to get out of doing any work. It was because they could, as one of them put it, "just get on and do it".

I knew just what he meant. There seems to be a lot of time wasted at school. It's inevitable. You change lessons? You need to do this even if you are not ready to let go of the subject matter just then. You understand the point the teacher is making? You want to move on but the teacher is reinforcing the point or making it again because someone else does not understand. The subject matter is something you have studied before and you don't want to do it again? Too bad.

A friend of mine did not go to school until she was thirteen. Until then she was "home-schooled" - not by choice but necessity. She was fortunate enough to have a number of well qualified adults taking an interest in her education. They also taught her to work in a very disciplined way. She was so far ahead of her peer group she could have gone to university but knew she was much too young to do so successfully. Her greatest concern at school was how much time was wasted. It frustrated her. "I could do more in two hours of prep than they did all day" she once complained to me. 

There was always tension between her and her teachers too. "I had to learn not to ask questions in class," she told me, "There was no time for the sort of thing I wanted to know."

And that is surely where the best teaching comes in. It is where the teacher can handle students like A.... and also the students who are there simply because they must be there and, whatever the teacher tries, refuse to be motivated.

We used to have something called "demonstration schools" here. They were ordinary "infant" and "primary" schools where teachers who were considered to be exceptional in one way or another had student teachers placed in their classrooms. As students we were expected to learn by observing them. The Senior Cat taught in one for two years before being promoted as the head of a small school of his own. We sometimes talked about what happened in those schools and whether they had anything to offer.  As the child of two teachers, both of whom ended up as heads of very big and very difficult schools, I know I found out more from them. 

I also had an unlikely example. My paternal grandmother had three years of schooling. She should have had more but her father did not approve of education for girls. He wanted her working on their farm. Despite that Grandma was one of the best teachers I have ever come across. She knew how much information to give me, how to tell me what I needed to know, when to make me work it out for myself. I remember sitting at her kitchen table with a book when I can only have been three. Without knowing anything about phonics she was asking me to "sound out the word". The quality of her teaching exceeded that of many of the trained teachers I have come across since.

I don't know if there are "natural born teachers" but I think there might be - and we need to find them.


Monday 27 February 2023

We don't want a Prime Minister

who spends his time marching in a "gay pride" march.

Why did he do it? The Prime Minister is not gay. He was married. He has a son. He now has a girlfriend who partners him to official as well as unofficial events.

Our Beloved Leader claims he was doing it in "support of diversity". What absolute nonsense. He was doing it for the publicity it was going to bring him - publicity he hoped would be positive. As he is still a darling of much of the media it was reported in mostly positive terms.

There was perhaps as much said about his appearance at this march as there was about his brief visit to a certain town in the middle of the continent. It took up almost as much of his time.

There is something wrong here. I suspect it is a diversionary tactic. "Let me show you how accepting I am of anyone who is that little bit different....and did you know that I was brought up in public housing by a single mother?"

That last story is just that, a story. He forgets to add he went to a fee paying school and had a lot of support most children in that situation do not have.

Someone who really cared would have spent much more time in that town in the middle of the continent. They would have toured the streets at night on foot and seen the real situation for themselves. They would have been listening to the local women when they told him not to do away with that cashless debit card.

Our Beloved Leader is investing so much into issues like "the Voice" and "climate change", "Net Zero", "sustainability" and more. He can't afford to fail or his years as Prime Minister will be seen as a failure. He has done so much travel on the international stage he even has been named "Airbus Albo".  

Friends overseas find this man puzzling. Who is he? The Prime Minister. Yes, but who is he? What is he trying to do? What does he want? He's just a little man isn't he? He's not a statesman.

No, he's not a statesman. They don't march in carnival marches like that.  

Sunday 26 February 2023

Ice cream for breakfast?

There were several very hot days last week and I ate the ice cream left over from having some young guests earlier in the week. I like ice cream and it was good.

But, what if I ate it for breakfast? Would it taste the same? The thought came to me as I washed out the container ready to put it in the recycle bin.

Breakfast and ice cream? I really cannot see myself doing that. I don't know why. It just seems wrong.

As I thought about this I thought about my BIL. Middle Cat has informed me more than once that her beloved spouse eats things like cold left over pizza for breakfast. Pizza? Pizza for breakfast? Cold pizza for breakfast? I think not. The idea of cold pizza is bad enough. I am not fond of the sort of pizza he likes at the best of times. 

He has also been known to eat "left over Chinese" (cooked by Middle Cat) or to grab the remainder of the cornbread (made by Yours Truly) on the way out the door if he is running late. 

There are days when he goes without breakfast - or so he tells us. No doubt the little cafe near his workplace gets a call as he reaches the point where he can still pick up a bun. He doesn't buy their coffee. They have a "proper coffee" machine in the office.

Middle Cat and I have things like toast and/or cereal for breakfast. We might add a piece of fruit. It depends on what is around.

But ice cream? No. It seems wrong. I thought back to medieval breakfasts.  Most people only ate two meals a day back then - and the first one was often just rye bread and ale. There might be a slice of cheese thrown in if your were lucky. It was apparently not until the Victorian era that people began to eat a heavy meal early in the day.  I think I prefer the idea of cereal or toast. I have been known to eat an egg if I know lunch is not likely to happen but that might happen twice in the year.

But ice cream? No. I want ice cream in one of those silly little cones. I want it so I can lick it daintily in the way a properly brought up cat should. I want to do it in a way in which I can appreciate each lick. You cannot do that at breakfast time. There is the rest of the day there telling you,"Come on, get a move on. There are things to be done."

No, ice cream is for later in the day. It is best eaten sitting with a friend or with a book. 

And yes it was plain vanilla this time. 

Saturday 25 February 2023

Is it really "racist" to ask

who will be able to be a member of the "Voice to Parliament" if the referendum is successful?

I would have thought this was a very obvious question to be asking. Apparently I am wrong and even to suggest it should be asked is apparently "racist". 

Why? Is the question as easy to answer as "are you eighteen years of age, do you have a birth certificate to prove it, and does society accept you as being that age because of those things?" Those are surely the "working criteria" to decide whether someone has the right to vote.  The "working criteria" for deciding whether someone is aboriginal are,

  • being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent
  • identifying as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person
  • being accepted as such by the community in which you live, or formerly lived.
All of these things must apply.

If it is just as easy to answer the question "are you aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander?" then perhaps we don't have a problem. But I think we do have a problem. My friend M..., who clearly is aboriginal, thinks we have a problem too. Nobody would suggest he is not aboriginal. His ancestry is actually particularly well documented. I have seen photographs of his great-grandparents. They must have been rather extraordinary people because they made the most of the opportunities offered to them. They got an education. They had jobs. They appear on old electoral rolls and insisted their children and grandchildren did the same. M.... is, rightly, very proud of them. "We have some problems but our family has done pretty well," he will tell you.

But he has issues with people who claim to be aboriginal with just one great-grandparent or even just one great-great-grandparent who can be shown to be aboriginal. Yes, they have some aboriginal ancestry. Yes,they can be proud of it. No, he says, they can't claim to be "aboriginal". They can walk down the street and nobody has any idea what their background is. They do not, for all they claim otherwise, face negative discrimination but, all too often, they seek positive discrimination. If there is some advantage to be had then they will claim it as their right, indeed others will encourage them to claim it. Almost every form we fill out now asks the question, "Do you identify as..." or something similar. 

It is easy to answer "yes" to that question. Nobody is going to check. It is rare to get your ancestry checked. There are too many reasons given as to why that can't be done - lack of birth certificates and lack of information about those birth certificates does genuinely make it difficult in many cases. And if you tell people you are aboriginal? Won't they just accept it so that you can pass the third part of the test as well? 

This is how some very dubious claims have been made. Even when it has been shown there is no evidence to support a claim of being "aboriginal" some people will continue to claim they are and others will go on accepting it. People like Bruce Pascoe have everything to lose - and so does the institution which employs him.  

What really worries me is that the lack of a much more rigorous application of identity is actually doing harm to the people who need help the most. There are too many "urban aboriginal activists" who have no understanding of the real issues of those who live in remote communities.  Many have never visited a remote community. They should not be in a position of being able to claim they can speak for people whose life experience is so different. M... has lived all his life in this capital city and says he can't speak for them either. 

Don't we need to rethink this?





Friday 24 February 2023

Whose superannuation is it?

In Downunder "superannuation" is the system which requires workers to put a minimum amount into a fund to support their needs in retirement. The employer is also required to put in a minimum amount. 

At present workers can put in more if they wish. They can also take some out for things like a home loan deposit.

The Senior Cat was part of a generous superannuation scheme which has long since ceased to exist. The present scheme is much less generous but it still has the same sort of purpose.

I have some superannuation. I paid what I could into a "self-managed" fund.  There was no employer contribution required because I "failed" the then compulsory medical examination. In reality I was probably a great deal healthier than all those who smoked and drank alcohol but any disability was a convenient way of ruling people out.  

Most people think of their superannuation savings as almost sacred. You want as much there as you can get for retirement. 

Or do you? The present government went to the election saying there would be no changes to superannuation funding and the way it works. Some people have been adding more, trying to do the responsible thing. There are also some tax benefits.

But now the government wants to change that. They want to take away the tax benefit. Why be allowed to pay less tax if you are doing the responsible thing and saving for your retirement? Yes, you might cost the government less when you retire but they need the money now. It can be used for the benefit of other people they tell us. It can be put into programs like housing which will benefit everyone. 

It is also seen as a way of directing people into the superannuation funds managed by and for the union movement. There will be benefits in belonging to some funds rather than others. It won't happen? It will. There have been advertising campaigns "encouraging" people to do just this.

And should governments, governments of any persuasion, be allowed to use our superannuation funds for their benefit? Because it is for their benefit. If they are seen to be doing "positive" things with our money won't we re-elect them?

I might be happier about this if governments didn't waste so much money. As it is I would prefer they didn't touch the money I have invested. I need it too.

Thursday 23 February 2023

Do we need to test four year old children?

There is a suggestion in this morning's paper that we should be testing four year olds to see if they have the necessary skills to start school. Yes, it is a good thing if they have some basic skills such as sitting still for a story, listening to it, engaging in an activity related to it. It is good if they can build something with wooden blocks, recognise their name on a peg, hold a pencil or crayon and draw something or even write their name. It is even better if they can relate well to adults and other children and tell them about something they are doing or have done. Of course there are all sorts of skills children need before they go to school. 

But do we really need national testing? It won't end up being about the basics. It will be about whether the child has reached all the "necessary" or even "essential" milestones. It will have parents worried their child is not meeting those. It will put pressure on nurseries, preschools and kindergartens. More and more time will be taken up with teaching those things regarded as necessary. There will be league tables for two year olds before we know it.  Japan already worries about those things. Children are under pressure to perform to get into the right kindergarten to get into the right school in order to.... and so it goes on. I have taught Japanese students at university. They have told me about these things.

I could read long before I went to school. I wanted to read. My parents were also in the position of knowing how best to help me do what I wanted to do. I was fortunate. Most children do not have parents who can do that. Now it is even more likely they will not have the time. When both parents go to work there is very little time for the sort of education children of my generation got. We found out about counting in places like the kitchen when our mothers were cooking. Someone, usually our mother, read a bedtime story. Mine were  read to me by the Senior Cat who put his finger under each word so I could follow the strange squiggles. My mother printed words and stuck them on all sorts of things. There were lists of words on our refrigerator. I was surrounded by words. 

Now a child can have a little screen to interact with instead. How often have I seen a three year old sitting in the child seat of the shopping trolley. Is the parent talking to the child about what they are buying and why? No, the child is playing with a mobile phone or like device. How many times have I heard, "It keeps him quiet and I can get on with it"?

Perhaps instead of testing four year olds we should be testing the parents. We should be making sure they are actually helping their children get ready for the big things in life, things like starting school. If they say they "haven't got time for all that" then perhaps we need to help them find time? 

I don't want preschool league tables. I don't want children who have been taught a lot of woke ideas and who all think the same.  It may be nice to have a beginner class who can all do the same thing at the same level at the same time but is it really a good thing? If they are at different levels they might learn something even more important - to help one another. 

Wednesday 22 February 2023

Is weekly boarding one answer?

I was roundly told off for this idea yesterday so I am going to put it to those of you who are foolish enough to read this blog.

There are apparently a good many children in remote communities who wag school. They spend their days getting into trouble instead. The youngest sometimes don't get to school because parents don't manage to get them ready to go. Those who are perhaps old enough to get themselves there simply don't want to go.  Various rewards for school attendance have been tried. In at least one community they can use a purpose built swimming pool if they have been at school. That works up to a point.

But there are children for whom even getting to school is an effort. There may be a school bus but who wants to ride in a hot bus to go an do something they don't much like? In some places there is no bus. In the smallest communities school might be one room, at the most two and you are expected to walk there - not far perhaps but any distance can be too great if you don't want to be at school.

And in the remote community I was talking about yesterday, the one on the outskirts of Alice Springs? It is a forty-five minute walk to the bus stop and then the bus. The children simply aren't going to do that. 

So, why not weekly boarding? At school during the week and at home at weekends? Would it work? I put the suggestion forward and was howled down. This was no better than what had occurred under the old "Stolen Generation".  (The alleged forced removal of children in order to provide an education.) 

But would that really be the case? Imagine small group houses where indigenous children were under the care of an indigenous person or persons from Monday to Friday. They would be taken to and from school in the same way as other children. At night someone would be responsible for seeing they were not wandering the community unsupervised. Weekends would be spent at home with family.

No, it is not ideal but is it really such a silly idea? If it ensures the child is at least attending school isn't that desirable? It wouldn't remove a child from family completely and might be welcomed by many parents. The idea that their parents don't care is ridiculous. Of course they care, particularly the mothers. 

If what we are doing now is not working - and in many places it is not - then is there something wrong with trying another approach? It would not be cheap but then having someone on welfare for the rest of their life is not cheap either. 

Tuesday 21 February 2023

Third world living in a first world country?

There is a story in this morning's paper about the community in Irrkerlantye. It is a tiny place outside Alice Springs. The fifteen to twenty people there live in "third world" conditions. 

It certainly looks wrong, especially in a first world country. The people there live in tin sheds. They have no running water, sewage or electricity.  In summer it is much too hot. In winter it is much too cold. All this is of course by modern standards, standards of what is now acceptable. Prior to white settlement the situation was far worse.

Curiously I was talking to someone not so long ago about something similar. Years ago I taught a child from Uluru. She was boarding in the city. Her parents worked at "the Rock". They were good, hard working people who did the best they could in often difficult circumstances. Their immense respect for the local indigenous people was obvious. They did their best to work with them. I remember their concern at the way in which external forces were working against the best interests of the local people. 

It sounded good. It went along the lines of "we want to preserve the culture and the language" and "we want to respect the rights of the local people" and "we want to acknowledge the original owners". All of this is very laudable - and it prevents things from being done.

While it may sound as if things are being done there are sometimes consequences. People no longer come to climb "the Rock". It has been out of bounds for some years now. We were told that this was for cultural reasons and the dangers involved. The reality? The local people didn't climb it because there was no reason to climb it. They simply don't see any purpose in doing so. The formation and the surrounding area do have great spiritual significance. I know there are places around the base of Uluru I would not enter without invitation. It would be like walking into a mosque, synagogue or temple and participating in a service without invitation. 

But hundreds of thousands of people did climb Uluru. Most of them who did were, as they saw it, respectful. They did no more damage than feet do anywhere else. They did not leave graffiti or garbage. In doing so they also brought in money and employment to the local community. They would stay overnight. They were learning at least something about the local people and their culture, beliefs and customs. It was something indigenous people were, rightly, proud of being able to do.

But the balance has changed. The person I was talking to tells me it is very different now. It's a commercial venture for some but, for the local people, it is not the same any more. I am left wondering what price we are paying for "preserving language and culture".

Monday 20 February 2023

Changing the language in Roald Dahl

is wrong.

I know there will be a lot of people who will disagree with me but I find it arrogant. 

This is not about "editing". It is changing what the author intended to say. Yes, it might be something which is no longer acceptable but that is beside the point. 

Would we paint over aspects of a Rembrandt to suit modern day views about sexuality? If not, then why should we allow ourselves to do the equivalent to the literature for children? Do we sanitise everything with political correctness in the hope that children will never know the things that are supposed to be so abhorrent? Is ignorance really the best teacher in these matters?

I met Roald Dahl once. (He asked me some questions about kangaroos I couldn't answer. It meant they didn't go into something he was writing. I was rather sorry about that.) He was at a conference about children's literature and he actually talked about the changing nature of children's books. I remember him using "Little Black Sambo" as an example of what would no longer be published but which of course had been and was acceptable at the time. I very much doubt he would have approved any move to change the language in his own books.

The idea that if we don't use that sort of language with children and don't allow them access to it they won't use it is simply wrong. Children will find other ways to do it. It will be there on the internet and they will find it. For some it will be there in the books their parents have kept. I have kept books for children with ideas that are unacceptable, books which are banned in some states in America and questioned even here. Do we really want to stop children reading Judy Blume and Madeleine L'Engle? That is to name just two who talk about very different things but are equally controversial.  We can't indoctrinate children into "politically correct thinking" and trying to hide the ideas of "fat" and "ugly" won't work either. Isn't it better to let Matilda win?

I am much more concerned about some of those so called "influencers" and the vile language of some "rappers".  My great-nephew was voted in as school captain for this year. He turned his campaign speech into what he called a rap performance. He didn't use any bad language or anything offensive at all. He didn't need to but he knows about those things. He has heard them and he finds them offensive because he knows about them. If he had simply been told they were wrong or come across them with no knowledge of them then his reaction would likely be very different. 

If there is a "bad" or "wrong" version of a book and children hear of it then they will want to seek it out. It will be the "forbidden" fruit - and they are likely to want to eat it.



Sunday 19 February 2023

Solar panels anyone?

We actually do have some solar panels on the roof. The Senior Cat had them installed some years ago now. 

At the time his late godson worked in the business. I don't know what the arrangement was. It would have been legal because the Senior Cat was always absolutely adamant that everything he did had to be according to the law. I suspect his godson simply didn't make any sort of profit on the transaction and perhaps thought it might bring in some business in return. 

I still doubt we have seen any sort of profit in return. Our electricity bills were still high, although not as high as those of many other people. Ours related to trying to keep the Senior Cat comfortable. He loathed the heat and, despite multiple woolly layers, felt the cold. Spring and autumn were his favourite times of the year. The temperatures were likely to be more to his liking. 

I am happy with these too. The last few electricity bills have been lower because it has to be excessively hot or excessively cold before I can bring myself to turn heating or cooling on.  

That said, those bills are still high in my view. I see almost no return for the "investment" in solar panels. It was $7.84 for the last quarter. Soon there will be no return at all.  

Other people are saying similar things. They have done what they believed was the right thing. They installed the panels believing they would at least pay for themselves and help the environment at the same time. In reality the cost has not been covered and there are now serious questions about just how environmentally friendly the panels actually are. 

Our very left wing local government is now telling people they can get "free" solar panels if they do not already have them. What this really means of course is that we pay for these through our council rates. Not everyone who wants them is going to get them because there simply isn't enough money to do it - and those of us who have already done it are subsidising those who have not. 

I expected all this sort of thing. What I did not expect was yet more phone calls from companies who supply solar panels. They seem to call at least once a day. The "do not call register" apparently does not apply to them. They are "environmentally responsible" and "environmentally friendly". If we already have solar panels they need to be "checked" and "cleaned" and "maintained". 

My BIL, an electrical engineer, will check theirs and ours in the coming weeks. I am fortunate he can because, without that, these solar panels would cost even more than they have.   We won't make a profit. That was not the point of installing them. It would however be nice to think we had broken even rather than paid even more for our electricity.


Saturday 18 February 2023

There were nine people at the funeral

unless you wish to count the celebrant and the people from the funeral director's establishment. Then there would be twelve.

Two of the people present had never met the deceased person. They had simply come with their partners, people who had known the deceased at school. 

So, perhaps there really just seven in a way? 

I knew there would not be many but I had written a eulogy anyway. Those who had made the effort to come deserved that much even if, apart from me and the neighbour who came to represent the other people in the units in which the deceased lived, they had not seen or spoken to her in over eight years. 

That had been her choice, not theirs. Pt.., whom I know through the world of art and craft, is one of the warmest and kindest people I know. Pt... would have had P.... to meals, at other family gatherings, at Christmas and the like. P.... never wanted to go.  When her sister was alive it meant E.... did not go either. E..., being an entirely different sort of person, wanted to go but P.... could not bring herself to do it.

Despite that Pt....provided the flowers for the coffin. They were lovely. For all their lack of contact Pt.... knew exactly what P.... would have liked. The colours were very restrained. There was nothing showy about the arrangement but it had all the more impact because of that....and natives last so long.  P.... would have approved that. 

I sat with Pt... and the two of her children who were able to be there. They are adults of course. We sat in the front row and stared at the screen with P...'s photograph. Behind me, in the back row, I was conscious of P...'s long time male companion. They had not seen one another in over twenty years but, when I found him after some detective work on the internet, he had said he wanted to be there. He is a lovely man, an intellectual match for P.... but the relationship failed. P.... was never ready to commit herself.

I thought of all this. I told myself it was better than the funeral Middle Cat had to attend some years ago. That had been the priest, Middle Cat and her husband and someone none of them knew. They never found out exactly who the stranger was. He obviously knew the deceased but avoided answering questions. 

At least P.... had more than that but I thought of people who might have come but did not. Perhaps they could not get there.  I wondered if they had ever shared those sometimes almost silent cups of strong black coffee on her part and tea on mine. Were they comfortable with her need for so little conversation? Did they consider themselves to be her friends? Somehow I doubt it. 

I am left wondering about this need to farewell the deceased. Why do we do it?  

Friday 17 February 2023

Writers' week or Politics' week?

When our Festival of Arts began it was held every second year, not every year. There was also a week devoted to writers, people who had published books, people who reviewed them, editors, publishers and others in the book trade. 

I was fourteen when I first prowled quietly along even though I was "not published" and maybe "not even really a writer" I was made welcome, very welcome. Some of it was due to going along to help Judith Wright. Judith was a national treasure even then. People thought a lot of her. She was highly intelligent and very well informed. She was also very deaf. She made no secret of this. Back then hearing aids were clumsy affairs and the batteries for hers sat on her chest in a box about the size of cigarette packet. 

Judith wanted me there to help her follow discussions and conversations so that she could also participate in them. It was a very big ask of a very shy, very young, very immature teenager. It was also an incredibly steep learning curve. 

Over more than one Writers' Week I was introduced to writers I would never otherwise have met, people who were household names. I heard them discuss. I heard them argue. Occasionally the arguments would get a little heated but, for the most part, the discussions were civil. They were mostly about the writers' craft and reading. There was one session which probably taught me more in an hour than I would later try to learn in an entire term in teacher training college. I was hauled along to pubs and plied with lemon squash because I was too young to drink alcohol - and later discovered I have a genuine allergy to it. I went on picnics and school visits and an amazing "Persian BBQ".  And even now there are writers I met then with whom I exchange Christmas greetings and the occasional letter. They gave me a massive amount of support for International Literacy Year and they have gone on supporting me.

And it is all this which makes me now so uncomfortable to see the way Writers' Week has shifted. Yes, it probably did need to change focus from "writer" to "reader" but the focus has become a political rather than creative. There have been sessions for more one previous Prime Minister and more than one other politician to talk about politics. A look back over the last few festivals, now annual events, shows that these people come more from the left side of politics than the right. Does that matter? Perhaps they just write more books. There have been other highly controversial writers too. Again they are almost always left of centre, often far left.  Does that matter? Perhaps they are just writing material more worthy of presentation and discussion. I don't know.

What I do know is that this year it is unlikely I will even bother to sit very often in the small room off the library so I can watch and listen to some of the sessions by video-link. I really have had my fill of politics. There are more than 40,000 dead in the earthquake zone and that number is still rising. There are still people without food, water, shelter and more. They are just some of the people in this world who need help. I do not want to listen to those who tweet support for the invasion of Ukraine and who cannot see there are two sides to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.  I do not want to listen to people who tell me that I am responsible for the actions of people who lived long before I was born and that I must now pay reparations for those actions. No, I am not closing my mind to those things. I just don't choose to continually flay myself.

I hope I know it is more important to do some more work so that others can go and help those who need help. Writing something deliberately controversial, deliberately upsetting is not something I ever want to do - and I am not sure I want to read anything like that right now.  Yes of course reading should challenge our ideas at times. We should seek out new ideas and other points of view. That is one thing but listening to what amounts to hate of us and others is not that.

Thursday 16 February 2023

The First Minister of Scotland

has resigned? No, I am not surprised. It was almost inevitable. The going was getting tough. 

And there was also that not so small issue of "gender" which was surely part of her "decision to resign". I don't doubt that she was told, "It's time to go but we will allow you to resign rather than push you." I also have no doubt that the "gender" issue was part of the reason for the pressure to resign.

In the past week I have come across two people who have left roles because of the "gender" issue. One resigned and the other was told they were no longer welcome.

The resignation came as a shock to many people. The person in question had discussed it with me and with someone else. This person has, over the years, been the treasurer, the secretary, the vice-president, the president and more. He has put thousands and thousands of hours into an organisation I have also supported. There were changes a couple of years back. We all accepted that this was necessary, indeed were glad some younger voices were taking over. Twelve months ago one new person was voted on to the committee. I was concerned at the time because this person was so outspoken and so ready to "tell the rest of you what to do".  When we referred to this person as "she" or "her" we were told that this was not correct. This person was "gender neutral" and we "had to respect that".  We tried even though it was alien to everyone else and the membership at large. It simply is not that sort of organisation. There are much more important issues to be concerned about. Nevertheless a vote was taken and the membership agreed to accommodate this one person.

And now there have been four more resignations from the committee over working with this person. I have just sent an email declining to be nominated for the committee. I have been there, done that, taken my turn...and I could not work with the "gender neutral" person. It may even be the end of the organisation which has done a great deal of good. One person demanding their "rights" has done this. Are they "rights" or are they something else? 

In the other case the woman in question has simply refused to bow to demands she should begin each meeting in a way she finds offensive. Given her background it is perhaps even highly offensive. She offered to resign but this was apparently not acceptable. Instead she has been told she is no longer welcome even in the group in question. It has left her feeling bewildered and very hurt. 

"I wasn't asking them not to do it if that's what they want. I was just saying I couldn't do it," she told me over a cup of tea yesterday. I helped her draft a letter but we both know it almost certainly will not be read out to the membership.

But it seems this is where "political correctness" is now leading us. It is leading us from the main road, along secondary roads and down unsealed roads to dirt tracks filled with potholes. I am not sure the journey is comfortable or the end goal desirable. 

Wednesday 15 February 2023

Mail deliveries are becoming

more and more erratic around here. Yesterday there were no deliveries at all in this street. It is a short street and I suppose it is possible that nobody had any mail but it does seem unlikely.

During the Covid lock down periods, and for some time after that, the mail was only delivered every second day. That meant we had three deliveries one week and two the next. People managed but there were some serious delays. Now the postal service is complaining it cannot make a profit, even while reducing services and increasing prices. It is all a far cry from the days in which there were eleven deliveries a week. 

My maternal grandmother was a great writer of letters and she expected letters in return. If we were staying with her for any reason it was our duty to "listen for the post man" and tell her he had blown his whistle at her letter box. We were not permitted to get the letters ourselves of course. That was something only she was allowed to do. At the time we thought that was not fair. We were allowed to do it at our paternal grandmother's home so why not with her as well? 

The reason for that did not become clear until we were much older and we understood that she was probably looking for evidence our grandfather had "another girlfriend". He also ran his precision tool engineering business at the same address so his business mail went into the letter box as well. This was the excuse that was given to us but the reality was different. 

I sometimes wonder what the postman made of it all. If "Nana" heard him coming she would go and wait at the letter box until he reached her. There was almost always more than one piece of mail. 

If my grandfather was still alive and still working then there would be a computer and business would be done that way. He would probably have it all heavily password protected too. Mail deliveries for his business would be of the parcels and small packets kind.

It is of course this sort thing which has caused a dramatic drop in mail deliveries. With so much less to deliver there are no longer any deliveries on Saturdays and week day deliveries only occur once a day - if they occur that often. 

Yes, the postal worker is supposed to deliver five days a week. Still, more than once, people have noticed that there are days of heavier deliveries and days of no deliveries at all. Perhaps we are wrong but I sometimes wonder whether the postal worker simply does part of the round and then goes off to do something else. Parcels can arrive on Saturdays or even Sundays because the parcel delivery people often do have other jobs. Delivering parcels is just a second job for many. It seems we have to wait.

And it is not just parcels. I had an email from someone late yesterday to say that the documents I sent her fifteen days ago had finally arrived. She lives seventeen kilometres from here and neither of us has a car so I used that old fashioned "snail mail". 

"I could walk faster than that and they don't even blow a whistle any more!" she told me in disgust. No, they don't. It is really quite distressing. 

Tuesday 14 February 2023

The government does not listen

even to their own.

It is a well known fact around our nation's capital that the national "public service" has a great many employees who tend to support the left side of politics.  That means that the current government generally has nothing to worry about when it comes to implementing government policies. It also means the rest of us do have something to worry about, especially if there are problems with those policies. There is no balance there. Balance can be good. It can help to develop policies which will work for the benefit of everyone.

Anyone who lives in Downunder will be aware of "temporary protection visas" - those documents which allow people from places where there is upheaval, persecution, war, a natural disaster and more to seek temporary protection here.  TPV's as they are commonly known are a very useful tool. They can provide much needed short term protection.

But they also need to be controlled. They were never intended to last, as some have, for twenty years or more. They were really only intended to last for two or, at most, three years. Like many other things they have become something else.

They were also supposed to be a disincentive to people entering the country illegally. Yes, it is possible for a genuine refugee to enter another country illegally. Strictly a  refugee is supposed to seek shelter in the first country in which it is possible to seek safe haven. That does not mean anyone can pick and choose a country of their choice. 

And of course this does mean that some countries will get more refugees than others. It is a system which was designed long ago. It was designed with the idea that if people ended up in neighbouring countries pressure would be applied to deal with the problems. 

Of course it has not worked that way. Now the current Downunder government is attempting to do away with TPV's for about 20,000 holders. They also want to provide a range of benefits for these people. It sounds humane. It sounds good. Many people who support refugees will support the idea. It's a "vote winner".

But there is a question which needs to be asked, "Do we give people who have broken international law and our laws the right to remain? Do we give them the right to remain even when they have been offered asylum in a third country?"

At least one person seeking asylum here has refused to be resettled in three other countries, New Zealand, Canada and America all offered asylum. It was rejected.  There are others who have refused resettlement in other countries. Rather like those who keep trying to cross the Channel only one country will do.

Refugees I know, and I know more than a few, are generally grateful just to be somewhere safer than before. Our national public service knows that too but they are still giving in to the pressures being applied by people who can see there is political gain in the situation.  They have been warned that people smugglers will try even harder than before. They know people will lose their lives at sea. They know that the majority who come this way are young men. Do they ever wonder why this is so?

I wonder whether it really does not worry them. Do they still believe they will be seen as more compassionate, more caring?  

The government has been advised against this move. Why aren't they listening? 

Monday 13 February 2023

"Truth telling about our history"

is always going to be a contentious issue.  Proust, among others, recognised this when he said, "Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were". 

I thought of this yesterday when someone said, "But we rounded up all the aborigines in Tasmania and killed them". 

No, we did not. Actual documents show we did not. If we look at the recorded deaths of aboriginal people in Tasmania between 1803-1847 there are around 118 of these which can be associated with violence between aborigines and the colonists. The number of deaths by violence among colonists is much higher.  

There was an active policy of good intent and good will by the government of the day. One of the three main causes of death in the aboriginal population were the diseases brought in by colonists.  There was nothing "intentional" about this. The idea that aboriginals were deliberately given "measles infested blankets" is simply not true.  They simply did not have the immunity against those diseases that many colonists had. 

The other two main causes of death was aboriginal violence against their own women and inter-tribal violence.  It is of course much more pleasant to think of aboriginal people as treating women with respect and enjoying peaceful relations with neighbouring tribes. The reality is otherwise but it is much more convenient to forget any sort of violence unless it occurred between aborigines and colonists. 

There has recently been a television series about "the frontier wars". It tried to talk about "massacres" and "wars" and "genocide". While the past may not be anything to be proud of there is no evidence of these things. Yes, people were killed but there is no evidence to suggest that colonists were "hunting" aboriginals and laying themselves open to charges of murder.  Words like "massacre", "war" and "genocide" are emotive words being used for other purposes. The idea that teaching this as some sort of accurate history which will bring people together is something I find difficult to accept. It seems much more likely to cause division.  

The idea that there are many direct descendants of the original inhabitants of Tasmania still "fighting" colonists for the return of land they once owned is equally false.   Nevertheless this is the way in which these issues are portrayed, not just by those demanding a "Voice" to parliament but by the media.  What they claim to be a means of "coming together" and "understanding" is actually a means of division. Similar claims are being made all over the country. These claims are about power and politics rather than people.

Of course whatever past we acknowledge won't be the actual past but we can come closer to the truth than many people want to recognise. The past can be inconvenient, especially when it is being used to try and shape the present.


Sunday 12 February 2023

"Gay pride" marches should cease

and rainbow flags should not be flown from official buildings.

I am sorry. I know this will upset some people but I firmly believe that sexuality should be a private affair. It is not something to flaunt and turn into some sort of circus event.

Gay pride marches had a point when they were a protest against the horrific idea that loving someone of the same sex was a criminal act. Thankfully, very thankfully, we have gone beyond that idea. In this country the plebiscite on "same sex marriage" passed quite easily.  We didn't need the plebiscite. It should just have happened.

There is no longer any need for such protest marches. Not everyone agrees with the idea of same sex relationships but legislation is there to try and stop discrimination. It is no different from race, equal opportunity and disability discrimination legislation. We do not have "race pride" marches, "equal opportunity" marches or "disability discrimination" marches.  So why should there be "gay pride" marches?  

Especially with respect to race and disability there are people who live with discrimination every day. With respect to race their "difference" is visible. For many people with a disability the difference can also be visible. There are no marches for them. They face rejection and rudeness and they are expected to take it without complaint. There is nobody clapping and cheering for them on the sidelines of a march celebrating their differences.

There are many, many people who will participate in the "gay pride" march in which our Prime Minister is planning to march. Many of the participants will go out and about every day without anyone even being aware of their sexual preferences. So, why the fuss? 

And why is the Prime Minister actually going to march in the event? If the event must be held and he wishes to attend then surely it is more appropriate to appear as a spectator? The Prime Minister is not gay.  

Not one of the gay couples I know has ever even watched a "gay pride" march. One couple always tries to find a theatre event to attend when these are being held. As R... put it to me, "We don't need that sort of thing."

No, we don't. The money being spent would be better spent on other things.  

Saturday 11 February 2023

Planning a funeral service

is never easy. Even if the person for whom the funeral is being held has left some guidelines it can be hard. If it is a loved family member it can be very difficult indeed. We all know those things.

But yesterday I went to a meeting to plan a funeral for someone who will have very few mourners and in a way that was even more difficult. I was her sister's friend rather than her friend. I was doing it for her sister and her sister has been gone for more than eight years.

I met the funeral director with two people I did not know. They came from the solicitor's office. They had other responsibilities but they had contacted me as "the one person we could find she might have called a friend". 

Was I? I don't know. I did try to keep my promise to her sister that I would watch out for her but if friendship is marked by time spent together then there was very little of that. 

Did I know her? Well yes of course I did in the sense that we would acknowledge each other and exchange more than simply "hello". I knew something about her taste in literature and music, that she liked her pot plants and something about her medical history. At the same time I don't feel I ever really knew her. She was just that sort of person.

I have written the eulogy for P... because there is nobody else to do it. In many ways it was much easier than writing the one for her sister.  

Her sister was a scientist, a physicist. I am most definitely not a scientist. I endured science at school. At university I saw psychology as more of an art than a science. That E... and I should have been such close friends always puzzles me a little. I should surely have been much closer to P...

P... was a reader, particularly the classics. She loved music - classical and opera. I read too. I read a lot but if I am reading to relax then I will perhaps read a "whodunnit" and P... would have read Proust. I normally work in silence. I don't want anything distracting me. P... would have opera playing quietly in the background. She knew a great deal more about plants than I do because she had the only sort of garden possible if you live in a block of units. Hers was composed entirely of pots outside her back door.

The funeral director was saying something about "songs" and I shook my head. He is young and pleasant but it was clear his taste in music did not extend to Richard Strauss and "The four last songs". I had to explain that these last more than two minutes.  I don't particularly care for them but that is not the point. This is about her, not anyone else. 

I know one of her favourite poems - and it happens to be one of mine too. It is "Usk" by TS Eliot and I think perhaps that could be read. It is not very long and how often do people hear poetry these days? 

We worked the way through the paper work and discussed these things. It isn't all up to me. I was there to suggest what might represent her. We talked about flowers for the coffin. I looked at the catalogue from the firm the funeral directors use and shook my head. They were not her style at all. I suggested I talk to a local florist I know instead. P... knew her. She would have far more idea of what was suitable. 

And so, on my way home, I stopped to talk to the florist. She listened and said, "Yes, I know...and thank goodness' it isn't roses with the 14th coming up. We have to charge $10 for each rose at present."

No, we will have something much more to P...'s liking, to her memory.  The flowers won't be big or showy. They will be quiet and as restrained as she was.  We will try to make the whole event that way. It is what she would have wanted. 

Friday 10 February 2023

Openly indoctrinating children in school

is apparently now more important than teaching them to read, write and think for themselves.

I am old enough to remember something we called "religious instruction".  It was a once a week session taught by well meaning people who came into the schools as volunteers. In the most junior areas of the schools they tried to teach a simple Bible story and talk to the children about being kind to one another. 

For the most part these sessions were not a success because of discipline problems. It is odd how even the most well behaved of children could play up for these people. 

Eventually of course this religious instruction was done away with as our society became more and more "multi-cultural". Schools could not cater for Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs and so on. Instead teachers were expected to teach "something about the various religions". 

That hasn't worked either. Any teaching about Christianity was considered to be wrong - unless you went to a fee paying church school. Christian ideals about "love one another" have given away to "respect" for this or that. Even "gender fluidity" is now taught in preschool - and woe betide the parent who objects to that. 

And now teachers are being told they must teach their students about "the Voice" to parliament. The referendum has not yet been held but the Federal government is so determined to push ahead with the issue they want it taught in school. The statement that these sessions will just be "information" sessions is of course ridiculous. What will be taught is the "yes" side of the campaign. There will be no room for the "no" side, indeed no room for debate at all. It would be a very brave teacher who did actually allow any sort of debate. 

There are very few issues, if any, which are not worthy of debate. The "I am right and you are wrong" approach is not one we were ever permitted to have in this family. As mere kittens we would find ourselves involved in debates around the meal table. It was often because one of us had made a statement and the Senior Cat had challenged it. He would show us that there was another way of thinking about it - even when he agreed with what we were saying. Surely that was a good thing? 

Simply teaching children something is "right" or "correct" is not enough. There is more than one side to the "Voice" debate, indeed there are many sides. The Prime Minister's "it's the right thing to do" needs to be challenged because it is future generations who will live with the consequences of the decision which is made.  

Thursday 9 February 2023

"If they don't have the vocabulary

then how can you explain something?" asked the frustrated mother of an even more frustrated small boy. 

How indeed? I left her to sort out her furious young child but it is a problem I have been thinking about in a different way. 

My long essay for Jurisprudence at law school was on "Language planning, multiculturalism and bureaucratic law making." I shudder now that I even dared to think I could say much about the topic in the space of the 10,000 words which were the absolute upper limit allowed. It is the sort of topic which needs a book, not a short thesis. I was younger then and arrogant enough to think I could say something worthwhile.

I wrote it a very long time ago. I know a lot more about the topic now than I knew then but I still do not know nearly enough. It's a big topic.

It has come up again recently but in a rather different sort of way. One of the senators in our federal parliament who identifies as indigenous was saying that aboriginal people in this country did not need a Voice. They needed people to listen. 

I think Senator Price might be correct. There are so many voices and they will not come together as one Voice if the referendum is successful. There are too many competing interests here. Like the charity sector they are getting more and more splintered as people feel their particular concern is not being heard. 

But there are bigger concerns too. There are the voices which are determined to impose on others the ideas they believe are "right". All too often these are ideas which will make them dependent rather than independent.

We have schools in this country which are devoted to teaching aboriginal children in what is supposedly their "mother tongue". They are there to "help children retain their culture and identity as well as their language" - or so it is claimed. 

But are they really doing that? Of course they aren't. "Culture" and "identity" are not static things. Unless we completely isolate children in these schools from the outside world they are going to find out about everything from sausages to space suits and beer to baseball. They will need words to understand these things and that means their language has to change. It has to accept vast numbers of loan words. Unless it does this it will die.

And that in itself is not sufficient for a child from one of those of schools.  In this country they need to learn English, in another they might need to learn Chinese or Swahili, Arabic or Spanish. And yes it can mean that they will not be able to use the language which is presumed to be their first language. It is not good to lose a language because it also means that a culture and a way of thinking can be lost. The world is a poorer place when that happens. But it will happen and to restrict a child's education in order to retain something simply because it seems desirable to a few is surely wrong? If aboriginal people are saying their children's education is lacking - and some are - then surely we need to be listening?

Wednesday 8 February 2023

Talking to children

is something I seem to do often. I don't know why. It just happens.  On most occasions it is rather mundane but sometimes the experience is memorable.Yesterday there was one of those anything but mundane occasions, especially since it occurred while waiting in the queue at the bank. The little girl was the sort of child you can't help smiling at because she was so well behaved.

Her mother was writing a long text message on her phone. The little girl kept looking at me from behind her mother's knees.  Eventually I pulled down the mask I was wearing and smiled at her properly. That sent her hiding still further and then, slowly, looking out at me.

This was not just a game she was playing. She was obviously curious about me, perhaps because I still had my bike helmet on. (It looks more like the hat of a French legionnaire than anything else.) I said "hello" and she didn't respond but she kept coming back for another look.

Her mother stopped writing the message but she didn't send it. Instead she looked at me. She gave me a rather wary smile too so, from behind the mask, I said, "She keeps looking at me."

And then her mother indicated she herself was deaf, profoundly deaf. I could see the weary resignation in her face that this was likely the end of all conversation so I pulled the mask down and repeated the words. I signed them as I did.  My ability to sign anything is very limited. I have forgotten so much of it but I did my best and she obviously understood. Her smile said far more than her attempt to respond in a way I would understand. I signed "hello" to the child after the mother had signed to her that it was acceptable to talk to me and did she want to say "hello". The response to that was to hide her head in her mother's knees. Her mother and I smiled at each other.

But her mother was still looking at me in a sort of bewildered delight.  She told me her daughter was learning both sign language and to speak. I said and signed it was "good" and "know both".  

And then it was her turn to see a teller. As she held out the phone with the message she had written on it she indicated that, if he did not understand her, perhaps he could ask me to help. It was my turn to see the other teller and I went about my business there. The teller I spoke to is someone I know slightly. She wanted to know if I could really use sign language. I shook my head and said, "Only a very small amount. If that woman really does want some help I doubt I could do it but I would try."

I would try too however difficult it was. I didn't need to do it but we left the bank together. The little girl waved a shy goodbye but her mother signed, "Thank you for talking to her."

It was a pleasure.  

Tuesday 7 February 2023

There is a Level Four emergency

situation in Turkey. The advice is "do NOT travel there".

A few minutes ago I was talking to one of the early morning dog walkers in this district. He said, "You look tired."

"I am tired. I was up until almost two this morning updating some communication boards for several people going to Turkey."

"Who in the hell is going to Turkey? I wouldn't go near the place even without a bloody earthquake," he said robustly.

"These are very experienced trauma doctors," I told him, "They have done this sort of thing before. They just need a bit of help communicating with the local people."

He thought about it for a moment, shrugged and said, "Mad."

No, they aren't "mad". They know what sort of situation they are going into because they have done it before. All of them actually speak a little Turkish, not enough to be completely independent but enough to be of some real use. All I was doing was helping them update some vocabulary they might need. Turkish is not an easy language and I needed help as much as they did. One of my many willing contacts had in fact already sent me a message telling me they would need some help. She had asked me to be ready to help almost as soon as the earthquake struck. It's the way things work now.

We did it. I had a quick look at the state newspaper before I started this. News of the earthquake is hidden away on page eighteen. There is very little information there. Even last night's television news had very little detail. Of course we don't want to dwell on negative things and I loathe the way some things are sensationalised but this....? People do need to know more. Our Turkish community may not be that large. Our Syrian community may not be that large but there will be people in both who have families "back home" who will be directly impacted.  They need to know people care. 

That double page spread about a gang related murder trial could have been replaced with something about the earthquake...and about how people could help. 

Monday 6 February 2023

The "weather balloon" which was brought down

over the ocean yesterday will no doubt be shown to be what it really was when the United States officials investigate the debris. I will reserve judgment on it until then.

But the story brought back to mind a book once given to Brother Cat. I think he still has it. It was a book taken from the Oscar winning short film, "The Red Balloon". The Senior Cat brought it back from the city after being away there at a conference. He took his parents to see the film and copies of the book were on sale at the venue. They bought it for my brother.

Later my brother and I saw the film. We were in our teens by then and it was shown one night before something much more "grown up". Both of us thought "The Red Balloon" was a much better film. It was a delight - and remains so.

I was never very fond of balloons as a child. They rarely appeared in our house. When I was a very small kitten I would scream and sob if someone deliberately popped a balloon near me. Why I reacted like that I have no idea. Now I merely tolerate balloons. 

When we lived in a remote area the entire school once went on one of those "educational excursions" to a town (village in UK terms) which had a "weather station". We were shown over it with all the fascinating instruments that measured things like temperature and wind speed. There were those amazing magic machines which drew the wiggly red and black graphs and much more. The meteorologist who was showing us all this also inflated a "weather balloon" and sent it off. The balloon was black and must have been some sort of heavy duty one. I know one of the boys asked, "But what if it gets lost or goes bang?" The answer was something like, "We send up another balloon."

Now weather forecasting relies more on satellites than balloons. We relied on our mother. She was rather like most farmers. Now I look at the forecast in the mornings...and wonder how accurate it will be. I don't rely on balloons or satellites.

I wonder though if our lives are not rather like balloons at times. Perhaps we bounce gently along in the air until a gust of wind comes along. Then we might hit something. If we are fortunate we don't go bang. We survive. On other occasions the air might come out slowly. We need to be repaired or we need to be pumped full of air again so we can again go bouncing gently along. Eventually we perish and cannot be filled again....but we can see a lot before then. That little Red Balloon knew what it was doing. 


Sunday 5 February 2023

"When your partner dies

they take with them your future" says Richard Coles in his book "The madness of grief."

Perhaps when a parent dies they take with them your past, or at least much of it. I am trying to work that out.

The Senior Cat would have been 100 today. Yesterday someone mentioned that to me and asked, "Why do you call him the Senior Cat when you write about him?" 

I managed to smile at that. It brought back a good memory. For many years I was my father's daughter or my grandfather's granddaughter. You know the sort of thing I mean I am sure.You are introduced as "this is J's daughter" or "this is B's granddaughter".  It can happen even now. In our family it was particularly so. The Senior Cat was "the teacher" or "the headmaster" or "the person who took the service on Sunday" or who was the person in some other role. Our paternal grandfather was known for other reasons but in a similar way. They were highly respected. We kittens were expected to live up to the standards they set.

And then, some years ago now, someone did the complete opposite. I was at an event at which I had been on a panel of speakers. The Senior Cat had come in to the venue to pick me up so we could both go somewhere else. As we were trying to leave one of the writers present said to another, "And this is her father." It was the other way around.

"Yes, I am the Senior Cat," he said as he shook hands...and that was it. He has been the Senior Cat ever since. 

He loved cats. Somehow we all became cats...my brother is "Brother Cat", one sister is "Middle Cat" being the middle one of three girls, the youngest is the "Black Cat" because of the trouble she has caused.  Our mother was no longer alive. I am sure she would have been "Mother Cat" but "Father Cat" was not right for the Senior Cat. He always managed to retain some of that childish wonder about the world and find joy in it.

When we had two cats of our own I came home one afternoon to find the Senior Cat lying on the floor. There was nothing wrong except it was a very hot day and that was the coolest place to be. The Senior Cat just wanted a few minutes rest on coming in from essential garden work.  One of the cats was sitting on the Senior Cat's chest and the two of them were talking to each other. He was murmuring nice words to the cat and the cat was responding with small "purrups". They understood one another very well indeed. It was a very Senior Cat sort of moment. 

I miss moments like that more than I miss any of the major events in our lives.  

Saturday 4 February 2023

Being in isolation

has always seemed to me to be a dreadful thing. 

I don't mind being "alone" but the idea of being "isolated" and "lonely" are rather different. If I am "alone" and I have chosen to be that way then there are generally things that need to be done or that I want to do without interruption. It might be that I simply want the companionship of a book rather than people for a while. This is almost certainly the way it is for everyone. 

I know I don't seek company out in the way some people do. I don't engage people in unnecessary conversation simply for the sake of having someone with whom I can talk. It is very rare for me to "have coffee" with someone in the shopping centre unless it is planned beforehand. It is equally rare for me to visit them unannounced. If I do then it is usually because there is something I need to give them.  The "lock down" period we had at the beginning of the worst of the Covid situation did not unduly bother me. Of course I had the Senior Cat at home then but we went about things separately as much as we did together.  I think this is how we managed to live so well together.

But I have been giving this idea of "isolation" a good deal of thought over the past week or so because it has become increasingly obvious how isolated my friend's sister was.   I have been asked to work with her executor (simply the solicitor who has her will) to arrange a funeral, I contacted a male friend she had many years ago.  I met him once he seemed very pleasant. Remarkably I remembered his given name and where he had worked. As he was an academic there was a possibility I might find him still there - and he was. When I saw the surname I was able to recall it as correct.

I contacted him and he has been very helpful. I remembered him as a gentleman and he still comes across that way. It is clear he still had feelings for her although there had been no communication between them for over thirty years. But P... refused to marry him and the relationship broke up. I can see now it is around then P... began to isolate herself. Yes, her father was still alive and she was caring for him - although not living with him as I was with the Senior Cat. I knew her father and he was not a demanding man, indeed kept trying to get her to "do things".  There was something else there though, something that must have caused her to withdraw from the world. We will probably never know what it was but it saddens me to think that someone who was so obviously intelligent became so isolated and uncertain. She never seemed very happy or confident. 

In the way of such things though I think I might suggest we say a little about the good things in her life and leave her neighbours, who have expressed a wish to be there, with something positive. Oddly I will miss her. We were not really friends but, as my friend's sister, I felt responsible.