Wednesday 31 May 2023

No, you may not call me that.

The bank called me yesterday. The person at the other end did introduce herself before asking whether they could speak to me. There were at least two things wrong with this.

There is a note on my file at the bank that I am NOT to be phoned unless there is an emergency - and then I will phone them back. This was not an emergency. It actually had nothing to do with my account - and everything to do with a further reduction in "customer service".

The second thing? This was the one that really infuriated me. The caller, a very young sounding female, addressed me by a diminutive of my given name, one by which I am not known even by friends. It is a diminutive more appropriate for a very small child. 

The caller did not know me, had never met me, had never spoken to me before. She knew nothing about me and she chose to be what can only be considered "extremely familiar". 

I know we have gone from the old "Mr/Mrs/Miss" titles to the use of given names. I tolerate that although I am old fashioned enough to believe it is not appropriate in all circumstances. 

I corrected the caller. I did it politely but through gritted teeth. I am not a two year old. I can be polite. She still used the same diminutive three times more in the same conversation. Perhaps I should not feel that way but I found it highly offensive. 

In this country people with certain positions don't always use the titles they would once have used. I call my doctor by her given name and she calls me by mine. There are people she calls by their title and surname and they call her "doctor". The difference is in the relationship between us. She has called on my services as well as me calling on hers. I call my dentist by her full given name - at her invitation - and she calls me by my full given name.

At our local library the staff wear name tags, the names they prefer to be known by. That is what I call them. They call me by my given name. (Yes, I know them all well enough for them to know me!) They never call me by a childish diminutive.

Recently I had to get a document witnessed by a Justice of the Peace. I had never met that JP. He called me by my professional title and surname. I called him Mr.... It was the right thing to do in a formal situation. His given name is apparently "David" but I would not have called him that and most definitely not "Dave" or "Davey".

In my early years at school I didn't even know the given names of my teachers. It was only in later years, and often only because the Senior Cat was the headmaster, that I knew their given names. I still addressed them as Mr/Mrs/Miss at school. Outside school hours I did, at their invitation, address some of them by their given names but only out of the hearing of other students.

At law school we had one staff member, a highly respected professor, who called all students by their title and surname. He did this in the lecture theatre. His attitude was "get used to it. This is what happens in court."  In my last year there I did, at his invitation, call him by his given name and he mine but he was no longer going to teach me. I was a "mature age" student who had been doing some tutoring by then.

But, all too often, people just use a given name without a thought as to whether it is appropriate. I don't want, as happened recently, to be addressed as "Doctor, Doctor Professor..." but I don't want to be called "Kitty" either.  

Tuesday 30 May 2023

Well done or over praised?

 I have wondered about this for a long time so the article in this morning's paper saying that perhaps it is not a good idea to constantly praise children was of more than usual interest to me.

It seems to me that children are naturally competitive. It also seems to me there is very little point in trying to hide the fact some children are better than others at doing some things, perhaps even most things.

As a kitten in the early years of school we had "Friday tests". They were based on what we had done and supposedly managed to learn during the week. We had "mental", "arithmetic", "spelling", "composition" and a sort of general knowledge test. Our handwriting skills were also marked. I could get ten out of ten for mental and spelling, twenty for arithmetic and seventeen or eighteen for composition (nobody ever got twenty) ...and then come down with a bump with zero or two or three for handwriting. It never seemed fair to me when I had tried my hardest. I still went on trying for everything else though because, even with such low marks for writing I was somewhere at the top of the class.  I didn't dare be anywhere else. It was what was expected of me. I was expected to work at everything and I was expected to do well. Getting "full marks" for mental, spelling and arithmetic was expected of those of us who were thought able to do it. Getting high marks everything else was also expected of us. 

We all knew who had done well and who had not done well. I don't remember the teachers actually telling us that "Jo" had "come top". Even at the end of the first and second terms when reports went home to our parents nothing much was said apart from perhaps a "well done" or "your parents will be pleased". At the end of the year we all knew of course because there would be "speech day" and the prize giving ceremony - prizes for the children who had come "top" and "first". It was always an aggregate of the marks though so I never managed to get a first prize or even a second. Handwriting always let me down.

"It's all right," the others would tell me, "We think you should have got first."  Even the boy clutching his cheap version of a "classic" novel told me this. Other children can be just as kind as they are cruel. We didn't need the constant praise of a teacher.

Now it seems to be different. I notice even the parents in this street seem to constantly praise their children. The most intelligent of the children have been known to give their parents what I call "the look" when praised for something that is what should simply be expected of them.

There are times to praise and not to praise. I remember saying "that's really good" to a child who had similar problems to my own. She looked at me in disgust and said, "No. It isn't." I didn't tell her it was rude because I knew how she was judging herself and that it was against every "normal" child. Instead I said, "Yes, it is really well done for you. You put a lot of effort in and did the best you could do and that's what I meant. Okay now?" She gave me a smile and went back to work. 

It taught me something though. Constant praise is meaningless. Don't just throw it away.

Monday 29 May 2023

Can't get your child into daycare?

Why do you want to get your child into daycare?

Apparently one of the main reasons for putting your child into daycare is so you can go back to work. 

"I need to go back to work. We need the money." I am wondering how often I have heard that excuse.

Yes, it is an excuse. Sending your child to be looked after by other people because you "need" to go back to work is something that "needs" to be looked at more closely.

There is one mother in this street who did not go back to work at all. Her twin daughters went to a local day care centre for several hours a week. They went so that they could meet other children, join in the activities and develop some skills. She used the time they were there to do the major weekly shop and get some housework done. It was hard work but it gave her time to do other things with the two girls. D... did it that way out of a conviction that, while the girls were not old enough to go to school, the best place for them was at home and learning.

Not all parents can do that. Not all parents want to do that. The argument though that both parents need to go to work because they "need the money" is something else.  Yes, I do know there are families who are genuinely struggling financially.  What worries me is that some of them have not really thought about the cost of both parents going back to work when they really don't need to.

If you are not in a profession with a career structure and you don't need to maintain your professional qualifications you might well be in a role where you are not earning a lot anyway. Sending your child to daycare is an expensive business. Is the cost of sending your child there, often five days a week, so high that you end up "earning" very little? There will be very little after you have paid for the associated costs of going to work. All too often there is the second car - the "old banger" which costs more to run that it at first seems. There are other expenses too. Not everyone has "Granny" to rely when then child is sick either.

I think we need to think more about the actual economics of daycare. We tend to say and think it is a good thing. It is said to be the "right" thing to do. 

All the children in the street have been to daycare, preschool, kindergarten and a combination of these things. Only two of them went full time. It is those two children who do not mix with the other children in the street. They are never outside playing the way the others are. I know there are multiple reasons for this but they are also the children who seem the least able to entertain themselves. I have talked to their parents. I know what they do in their limited free time at home. They are both intelligent children but they are not as able to hold a conversation with an adult. I know that too because all the other children in the street will stop and tell me things. If I ask them something they can answer and keep the conversation going. 

I am wondering if the other two are so used to being told what to do and even what to think they simply cannot do these things. They have, so far, spent their lives being controlled by adults. The other children all have at least some freedom to work things out for themselves.

When it stopped raining yesterday there was a knocking on the front door. I opened it up to four young faces. Could they use our driveway (which slopes gently downwards) to try doing "u-turns" on their scooters and skateboards? 

"Go for it!" I told them. They were off, up and down the street and into this driveway and one belonging to their families. There were shouts and laughter and, when one of them fell, concern. She was picked up and scrutinised and then put back on her scooter. They were off again. One of the fathers was watching from across the street. He wandered over to me and we watched together.

"Isn't it great? This is the best time of day," he told me. I couldn't agree more.  

Sunday 28 May 2023

"Raping" a ten year old

at school?  I was "talking" to a complete stranger in the library yesterday.  I had been peacefully reading a completely different article in another paper I don't get when I heard her trying to hold back tears. It had been an automatic reaction to look at her. She shook her head and pointed to the short article.

Three eleven year old boys had reportedly held down a ten year old girl "in the rape position" and one had proceeded to "beat her up" and threaten to "rape her properly" if she didn't provide them with pornographic pictures of herself. She refused. The boys have apparently been trying this for some time but she was more vulnerable than most.

I had seen the article on line and felt more than disturbed. I felt angry and sick.  The main perpetrator reportedly was suspended for five days. The others for a day. That was it. The girl has apparently received some "counselling". 

What in the heck is going on? At that age we didn't even know about such things. We might know something about "how babies are made" if our parents had decided to tell us but that was about all we knew. Now children seem to know far more than that - and they are all too often abusing that knowledge. 

This doesn't start in secondary school like it did for us. It is starting in preschool years when children are also being taught about all sorts of same-sex and transgender issues. I only knew something vague about homosexuality because, for several years, we lived next door to a male couple. My mother wouldn't let us even talk to them. Such a relationship was illegal back then. From my vague memory of them the couple in question was, as is the usual case, very kind and completely harmless. I am very glad such relationships are no longer illegal.

But do three and four year old children who have only a general idea that there are "boys" and that there are "girls" really need to know so much more? I am not suggesting we should hide these things from them as my mother and others of her generation did. What I am suggesting is that we need to drastically reduce the emphasis on all sorts of issues around gender and sex. Children need to know that there are behaviours all right minded people consider abhorrent. Do they need to know so much that eleven year old boys can demand pornographic material from a ten year old? Do they need to know that and then get away with a short holiday from school?

I nodded mutely at the other woman. We looked at one another and then she walked rapidly off. I saw her wiping her eyes as she went through the doors. The story had obviously distressed her even more than it had distressed me. I wondered what had happened to her in the past.

I went off to knitting group but I didn't say anything. I couldn't. Perhaps I should have. I still feel angry and upset and just a bit sick. 

Saturday 27 May 2023

An "unbirthday" lunch

was on the menu yesterday. 

My aunt and I have birthdays five days apart in the "holiday" part of the year. Neither of us much care for celebrations, especially of the party sort.

She phoned me earlier in the week and said, "I'm taking you out to lunch..."

We settled on Thursday and then, because of the weather, delayed it until Friday. We went to a quiet cafe with a menu which suits both of us. It isn't fancy and the service might perhaps be faster but the staff are pleasant and friendly. 

And we exchanged presents. I am now the owner of yet another knitting book, a very nice one. What is more I could honestly tell her, "No darling. It's lovely and I don't have it." 

I gave her another small shawl she can fling around her shoulders while sitting. These days her arthritis is bothering her more than it once did and she often wants something like that. I made it last year and it was one of the things I won a prize for in the state's annual show. It is covered in leaves and flowers and I suggested she might like to use it when she is sitting in her garden drinking tea. 

"No, I am going to keep it in the car. That way if I feel cool everyone can see it when I get out."

It was a typical response from her. I love her for that sort of thing as well as herself. 

It also made me think about the business of giving presents. Hers are always chosen with thought and care. If I had told her, and she would have wanted to know, I already had the book she would have returned it and found me something else. In the past I have had some other amazing books from her.  She is a very, very generous person. Middle Cat often gets gardening related things because they both have a love of gardening. Again, they are presents chosen with thought and care.

I love to give people things I know they want or, as I did yesterday, something I have made. It's important to me too. I recently sent someone I know a 90th birthday card. I made it. It has ninety quotations on it. I could just have taken any ninety from my extensive collection but I tried to choose words I thought she would enjoy reading. Her return note to me was a delight to read.

This morning I am going to send my aunt a note. I will tell her again that I like my "unbirthday" book and how much I enjoyed having lunch with her. It doesn't matter if she only lives about a kilometre from here. She will get a letter in her mail box - and I hope I can take her out for an "unbirthday" lunch again later in the year.  

Friday 26 May 2023

100 Greatest Children's Books?

Yes of course I was sent the list - by more than one person who thought I might find it "interesting". Yes, it was interesting.

I think the list came from something like "The Times" - somewhere with at least a reasonable reputation at least. They apparently asked people in more than one country for their choices and then put them together somehow. No, I don't know how it was done.

The question to me of course was, "How many of these have you read Cat?"  

I ran my paw down the list and decided it was easier, much easier to work out how many I had not read.  Out of a hundred I had read eighty-six - not enough, but not too bad I suppose. 

But there were some things missing. "The Little White Horse" (Elizabeth Goudge) was not on the list. "The Woolpack" (Cynthia Harnett) was not there, nor was something like "The Eagle of the Ninth" (Rosemary Sutcliff). Joan Aiken, CS Lewis, KM Peyton, Margot Benary, Erich Kastner and Elfrida Vipont are not mentioned either.  They would all be on my list for one reason or another, along with many others.

It made me realise once again just how impossible such lists are. You can never please everyone. Favourite books will always be missing.

I do think though they should not have allowed any author to be mentioned more than once. It might have allowed a few of my favourites to be mentioned.

You can choose ten books...what would you choose? 

Thursday 25 May 2023

Not doing the job?

One of the regular columnists in our state newspaper has a long, complaining piece that our former Prime Minister is "not doing his job". He's "only spoken in parliament three times this year".

It is well known that this particular columnist also dislikes (to put it gently) the same side of politics. She has had scathing things to say before about the former Prime Minister. 

Some of them may have been justified but is this justified? It would be very difficult to be a former Prime Minister and then find yourself sitting on the back benches in parliament. Does it really mean you are not doing your job? Does it really mean you are on "gardening leave"?

For some years our local federal representative was a doctor. He was criticised strongly for also working as a doctor during that time. What many people didn't realise is that he was of course keeping up the minimum number of hours he needed in order to maintain his registration as a doctor. He knew that he might lose his seat at any election. He had married and had two young children. He was trying to do the responsible thing for everyone concerned. 

I knew this man, still know him. At the time he was concerned about the way people were viewing his double strand of work. It was very hard work but it also had a positive advantage. He was seeing patients and it gave him a wonderful opportunity to listen to people who might never otherwise have dared to even approach their "local politician".  He was taking their concerns back to the party room and back to parliament. He never said a lot there but, behind the scenes, he was doing more than many others.

I have met many politicians of all persuasions over the years. Yes, there are lazy politicians just as there are lazy people in any other work role. At the same time I have managed to learn not to equate "quiet" with lacking in influence or not doing their job. I would go so far as to say that some of the noisier politicians don't actually do the job of representing their electorate. If you are the Prime Minister you certainly won't be doing that. There is no time for that even if you are a Minister. Your electorate staff will do those things for you - if you are lucky. (In reality they will often call in muggins they know about and get advice from them about how to deal with a problem. The muggins in question may even end up dictating a letter for the electorate staff to type up and the politician to sign.) 

So, is our former Prime Minister not doing his job? Should he resign and cause an expensive by-election? I don't know because I don't know him but it may be that he is doing his job. The columnist in question knows this too of course. She is stirring things up in the hope there will be stronger sentiment against him. She wants the expensive and potentially damaging by-election to become a reality. that democracy?

Wednesday 24 May 2023

Raising money for charity

is something I wrote about yesterday. This morning there is a long article about a "charity ball" held to raise funds for our Royal Flying Doctor Service.

For those of you who don't know about the RFDS I will need to explain. It is a flight based medical service to the "Outback". It is a charity, an air retrieval service which saves lives and does much more besides.

The RFDS has a special place in the lives of our family because my paternal grandfather knew John Flynn, the doctor who set the first service up in 1922. The Senior Cat remembered meeting him and hearing him speak in church.  Grandpa was a staunch supporter of Flynn's work and we all grew up being told how essential it was and still is.

I live on the smallest continent or largest island on the planet. There are vast areas of it which are very sparsely populated. There are places with no medical services at all and others with very few. To get to even limited medical help can be hours away by roads which are nothing more than rough tracks. In an emergency that simply doesn't work. Help needs to get there faster than that.

For a while I was seeing a doctor who had spent some years as an RFDS doctor. He moved on from there to the city practice but then moved on to something more challenging. He always wanted to know more about Flynn. The Senior Cat tried to dredge up memories but did not know enough to satisfy this man. We talked about emergencies he had attended and emergencies we knew about. 

The "Outback" is an extraordinary place. It is filled with extraordinary people and some of them do extra-extraordinary things at times. We knew a doctor who operated on the  heart of a man on the side of an unsealed road under artificial light at night.  The man he operated on survived to tell the story - and it was the RFDS which flew him out as soon as it was light enough to find them. That is something which occurred over seventy years ago. The service was still relatively sparse then. 

Now the service has 79 aircraft and has flown almost twenty-nine million kilometres. It has provided much more than urgent medical retrieval. There are medical and dental clinics dotted around the country. "Telehealth" or "zoom" like services make it much easier for someone to get advice and for a trained person to judge whether there is a need to call in that all important air retrieval service immediately. Every remote station has a medical chest set up by the RFDS which allows a doctor to tell someone exactly what needs to be used and how to use it. Refills are brought in by air on a regular basis. 

When we started the project for the Wildlife Network and I was designing the squares for the blanket I wanted to include one for the RFDS. Each of the squares on the blanket represented something of importance to this country and the RFDS one was particularly important to me. The Senior Cat suggested it. 

The design nearly defeated me. I am not familiar with planes in that sort of way. Then I remembered a book I own. It is called "The tap dancing lizard". It is a book of knitting charts designed by Catherine Cartwright-Jones. I did some research and found her on-line. I sent her a message, told her what we planned to do. It was an almost perfect size. It could be used as what we knitters call "intarsia" or as "knit-purl".  Could we use her chart? She was delighted to think it could be put to such positive use.

And so, there is a plane for the RFDS on the blanket. As I knitted it I thought of all those lives that service has saved. I am grateful the Senior Cat saw the finished blanket and that his eyesight was just good enough to outline the plane on it. I remember him saying he was glad I had managed to get that one in. I am too.


Tuesday 23 May 2023

There has been another death on Mt Everest

and Middle Cat and I were pondering why people want to do such things.

In this case the motivation apparently had two strands. There was "the raise money for charity" strand and there was the "I want to show the world I can do this after I had an accident" strand. 

It's an expensive way to raise money for charity. I always wonder at those who attempt major physical feats but who need a support team in order to do it. Even if the support team are volunteers too there are expenses. Often they are not. Very little of the money raised goes to the actual work the charity does. 

It might raise awareness for the charity, at least for a short time, but how much good does it really do? I don't know. I suspect it is much less than we are led to believe in all those television interviews and newspaper articles. 

The other motivation is an oddity. Sir Edmund Hillary is said to have been asked why he wanted to climb Mt Everest and responded with the words, "Because it's there."  That may well be true. Some humans seem to be motivated by "this is difficult" or "this may be impossible". 

There are a number of things I have done that many people told me could not be done. I managed to learn to knit. It took a couple of years and more dropped and accidentally jerked off the needles stitches than I care to think about. My paternal grandmother kept putting them back on and never once said to me, "Do you want to give up?" when other people told me, "Why don't you try something else?" I wanted to learn to knit. I can knit. I've won prizes for knitting. I've published patterns. I've taught other people. I did it. It was only yesterday I really thought about it again - because someone from this state died climbing Mt Everest. 

I wanted to go to university. I had to do it in a very roundabout way and, once there, I did it in a very back-to-front sort of way.  It was something I desperately wanted to do. I wanted to prove to myself and everyone else I could do it. 

I felt the same way about International Literacy Year. It had to happen. If it had not happened when it did I would still be working on it. It was just something I knew I needed to do.

I am not always motivated to do something. There are times when I can't be bothered with something or I am not interested. I have been asked, "What motivated you to do x or y or z?" I really don't know. There is something inside me which says, "I need to do this to be able to live with myself or at least know I have done the very best I could." 

To do anything else would be a bit like going to Base Camp at Mt Everest, looking up and deciding it was all a bit too difficult. If I did that I would have failed and wasted the opportunity. There is something else I would like to do might not be possible but I want to try.

Monday 22 May 2023

Do we need a national Handknitters' Guild?

This is a serious question and, if you live in Downunder, I would greatly appreciate it if you could comment below. 

I try not to put names in here but my good friend Prudence Mapstone has put up a post on Facebook saying yet another craft magazine had gone. It is one of many that have disappeared since the advent of the internet and on-line groups. In response someone said that it might mean more people join the national Crochet Guild. 

Mmm...maybe they will. It might be a very good thing if they did. We need organisations like that more than ever before.

Why? Because there is a limit to what on-line can do. Oh there are all sorts of "crafting communities" on-line. Some of them don't amount to much at all but others are caring and supportive and will give advice and encouragement. That's a very good thing and probably saved the sanity of more than one of us during the pandemic.

But those things can only go so far. The internet itself can only go so far. Yes, there are all those appalling to absolutely amazing videos on line too. They can be really good if you have a problem and you need to get something done.  They can show you all sorts of tips and tricks. You often don't have to pay to access the information - apart from your computer and internet connection of course.

You might even be able to head off to a meeting of your local guild or craft group. Someone might be able to help you there. You might be able to find out where to buy yarn and needles from a group like that. You might meet someone with similar crafting interests and problems. 

But there is something missing from all this. The magazines have gone. There are almost none left. It is no longer possible for them to compete with the internet. They are no longer left lying around for people to pick up and peruse. Their content has changed too. Now they are a vehicle for fancy yarns and "fashionable" patterns with a limited life span. They are there for the thick, quick knits...or they were. It is one reason why Knitters' magazine failed. Now XRX has gone altogether - and I never did get to go to a Stitches event. It might have been instructive. 

Events like that require huge amounts of planning and organisation. They are costly to run.

In Downunder we have a very small population spread over a wide area. There are craft shows. I have been fortunate enough to work at more than one in my capital city. It has taught me an enormous amount and I was very grateful for the opportunity. There was never a lot of yarn at those events though and knitters didn't get much of a look in. 

Perhaps it is because knitting is not a fast craft? I think it is more popular than the organisers of those events realise. I think more could be done to promote the craft at such events. Yes, the guild here will often be present but is that enough?

Do we need a national voice? Do we need an organisation which can actually support the craft and lobby for more resources and more events? Could we develop a national certificate course? Could we bring people together more often? We might never run to an annual conference but what about one every few years? 

That sort of thing could only be done with a national body? Is it worth thinking about? It would be a lot of work? Is the craft worth it?

Sunday 21 May 2023

Dumping rubbish

in someone else's property is generally not considered to be right - but I have just done it.

Yes, I admit this. I also think I did the right thing.

All this past week there have been two empty rubbish bins left out across the road. They should have been taken in last Tuesday...the day the bins were emptied. Instead, they have sat there filling with a little water from the rain because the lids were left hanging open.  

It is possible that the people who used the bins may have moved out. The bins belong on the property occupied by what we call "units" - small attached dwellings on communally owned land. There are a number of them in the "court" opposite and the owners have to bring their bins out to the street to be emptied. 

On more than one occasion there are bins left longer than they should be. I suppose it is a nuisance to bring a bin a 100m down to the street to get it emptied but the waste lorries don't go down to the end of the court. So, bins out in the street please. The rest of us manage to take ours in. I often find mine have been brought in almost immediately by a kind neighbour. It is something I appreciate.

This morning though I looked out and saw the other bins were still there. Their lids were still open. It was drizzling again. Right! I was taking advantage of this because Middle Cat's partner had been around yesterday. He had cut up something we needed to be rid of and we could not fit it all in the bin. He left it neatly piled up for "next time". 

I took the neat pile over to the other bin. I emptied out the water. I put the neat pile in the other bin. I closed the lid. It is ready for collection on Tuesday. It should not be put out until Monday night but I really don't care very much. I really think it is highly unlikely anybody is going to mind. If they do mind they won't know it is me. Yes, I know. I am a very naughty cat but isn't it better to get rid of rubbish if you can? 

Saturday 20 May 2023

Being kidnapped

is not exciting. It is terrifying. All those books you have read about people being kidnapped and wooing their captors or escaping are far from reality.

Rather than days or weeks it can take years of negotiation to get people released when they are held by determined people. Even actually paying a ransom is no guarantee.

I confess I don't know anyone who has actually been kidnapped. I hope I never meet anyone who has been through such a traumatic experience. In my line of work it was always possible I would meet someone who would go on to be kidnapped. 

I have met someone who was held at gunpoint and forced to operate on a man who had a gunshot wound. The man was what we blithely label a "terrorist" and the doctor who did the work had no choice. "I am a doctor. It is my job to save lives. I also wanted to live. They might not have let me live but I had no choice."

They let him live - and they let the local people return to his clinic. When his term was up he did not try to get the new "government" of Afghanistan to extend his right to stay in the country. He left.  He felt he could do no more.

Being an aid worker is a tough job. Most of the hundreds of people I have worked with over the years have been out in the field for very short periods of time. They go to do very specific jobs. They are not like the long term people who work for organisations like Médecins Sans Frontières. MSF staff are often risking their lives in the most dangerous places in the world. They don't head back to a comfortable hotel at the end of a working day. They snatch sleep on the ground in a tent if they are lucky. They don't get enough to eat. There aren't enough supplies for them to do their jobs properly and, believe it or not, they are not always welcome. The same goes for those who are "missionaries". 

There are some, like eighty-eight year old Dr Kenneth Elliott, who spend years doing what needs to be done. He has just been released after seven years of delicate negotiations. Those negotiations could have gone wrong at any time. I don't know what the terms of his release were or whether any ransom was paid. I have no doubt that he was required to do some work for his captors.

It is going to be a long, slow road to recovery for Dr Elliott - if he does recover. The media is saying he is "in good health". I have been told, "He's okay but...." I hope for his sake, his family's sake and the sake of his colleagues in that part of the world he really is. They are on a high at the moment but it could easily come crashing down.

It is people like Dr Elliott who are really keeping peace in the world. It is the people who go out and actually help, not the diplomats who have to "rescue" them, that are doing the most good. 

Friday 19 May 2023

Extinction Rebellion needs to be

made extinct.

I am sorry. I have had enough. When someone I know is trying to reach their place of work, a hospital, and having real problems doing so because an "activist" is dangling from a bridge leading to it I am left fuming. When someone trying to earn a living by running a cafe loses thousands of dollars because an "activist" has decided to "paint" the walls of the building with graffiti I am disgusted.

There has been too much of this lately. These "activists" are not the rent-a-crowd young either. They are much older people who should know far better what the other consequences of their actions are.

Parliament has apparently responded by rushing through laws which dramatically increase the penalties. That won't work. Some of these people no longer go to work. Yes, some of them are that old.

They say they are concerned for the environment, that they are worried about global warming. They want us to stop using fossil fuels and rely on "renewables".

Well, I have news for them. Their "protective" clothing was made from fossil fuels. Their "renewable" energy isn't going to save the planet.

What will save the planet is something that nobody seems prepared to discuss. It's the hard option, the option that will require a lot of thought and hard physical labour. It's the need to regrow that green canopy, the right green canopy. The right green canopy in the right places is what will reduce the global temperature. It will feed us, clothe us and house us. Everyone will benefit.

These so-called activists who disrupt morning traffic and prevent others from getting to work or earning a living need to be set to work growing the green canopy.

Thursday 18 May 2023

Children need to read

and they need time to read.

Has anyone else wondered if "poor reading skills" in children might also be associated with children being "time poor"? We talk about "time poor" adults, particularly mothers, but are some children also time poor?

I was, inevitably, talking to a mother yesterday. She was following up an article in the paper. S... was saying that her children are not doing as well as she would like in reading.

"We have strict limits on screen time," she told me. In her household this is probably true. There are books in the house too. I have seen them.

"What else are they doing?" I asked. 

"Well J... is doing soccer and swimming and Little Athletics and piano and he goes to the computer programming class... and B....does soccer and swimming and ballet and piano and her acting class...that's all. Oh and they both go to youth group of course."

That's all? Those two children alone are doing something each afternoon after school. They also have homework and there are the usual "play dates" and birthday parties. J...and B... are still in primary school. Their lives are crowded with activities. Add even a small amount of screen time to that and where is the time for reading. 

B...would actually like more reading time. She has told me this herself. If the book she is reading is particularly engaging she will sometimes go on with it in preference to playing games on the computer. J... prefers shooting down aliens.

I feel worried for children like this. They don't have enough time in their lives to do something like read? Their parents both go to work and they can "afford" all these activities...or can they? It can't be cheap and it takes time.

Of course there are children who read more than others. Our local library is testament to that. Some children do go out with arms full of books but there are too many others being told, "Just two. You won't have time to read more than that." I have heard parents and grandparents actually say this. 

Reading is a skill like any other. It needs practice. It needs time. Is it time to give children time to read? 

Wednesday 17 May 2023

Plumbing problems

occurred last night. I was being a good little cat and making sure that everything had been washed up before I prowled off....and the water did not drain from the sink. 

There was an ominous gurgling sound and then it backed up a little and refused to drain. Ugh! 

Did I call an emergency plumber there and then? I checked the water elsewhere in the house but all seemed well. No, do it in the morning because emergency services are very expensive and I did have water. (This is where big rain water tanks come into their own.)

This morning I went on line, found a "local" plumber and filled out the form putting in "today" rather than "ASAP it's an emergency". And yes, they did get back to me on the phone within the three minutes they said they would in the on line statement. Fine.

But the boy at the other end works in a "call centre". I suspect he actually works from home. He warned me the call could be "monitored for training purposes" - well yes, he needs some training. No, I was not going to give him any card details over the phone. He tried to insist. I still said no. "I don't give out that information over the phone," I told him. They didn't need it. There was no call out fee involved according to the website. 

Was he going to refuse to take the booking? He asked someone else. Then he made the booking rather inefficiently. He took the same information three times.

I wondered what the rest of the service would be like. I cleared the little cupboard under the sink in case the plumber needed to get into it. I was told "within the hour".

And yes, about twenty minutes later D... arrived. He was friendly and efficient. He looked at the sink and underneath. He filled the sink - and the water flowed out perfectly. He smiled at me and said, "No, I believe you. We need to waste a bit of water and fill the sink again. You turn the tap off when it is full and I will have a look outside. Pull the plug when I tell you."

I did that. The gurgling noise was back. He went out into the street and I heard him hammering away. He was looking into the pipe which flows into the street. I groaned inwardly because there could be a problem there. If there was it would be very expensive to deal with and I was worrying about paying him on the spot as they said I would need to do it that way.

No. He came back inside grinning and said, "It's your lucky day. The problem is out in the street. It is SA Water's problem. I'll give them a call for you and tell them. They have to be here within twelve hours. You can use your water but don't use too much at any one time."

All that was to the good but it was the next words which were the real relief, "It won't cost you anything." Well it does of course because we pay a water and sewerage connection like anyone else but it wasn't a huge upfront cost.


Tuesday 16 May 2023

"Welcome to Country" and

"Acknowledgment of Country" are two different things. They are both recent "traditions". 

The Welcome is I suppose a way of saying, "Hello, please enter." It is supposed to make people feel welcome on Aboriginal land, on the land they say has been taken from them by white settlement. It is also supposed to be a reminder that they still consider it to be their land.

Then there is the Acknowledgment - the words spoken at the beginning of a meeting or written somewhere on a page. They are words which supposedly acknowledge that the country on which the event or action has taken place belongs to those who inhabited the area before white settlement.

As I have just said both these things are recent "traditions". There is nothing to suggest that these things have been going on for the past 60,000 years as some people like to suggest. There seem to have been some formal exchanges between aboriginal people of different tribal groups prior to white settlement. These were not about "welcoming" or "acknowledging" other groups but about safety and security, especially the safety and security of those whose territory was being entered. Questions would apparently be asked about possible blood relationships and the purpose of entry. If the answers were not acceptable then retreat or fighting could occur. 

What we have now is something very different. I went to a meeting yesterday morning. It was held in a government office. There were eleven of us present. The "Chairperson" started the meeting with an Acknowledgment of Country even though nobody in the room identifies as aboriginal. After the meeting was over someone else informed me that there has been a "directive from on high" that all meetings must now start that way. 

It was meaningless. The words were spoken rapidly. Two people were getting lap tops set up and three were fiddling with papers.  Perhaps we should all have been more "respectful" and thought about the words being spoken but it was never going to happen. There are more and more people who are opposed to the increasing number of occasions on which such words are spoken. 

At the same time as this sort of thing is being demanded of us we are also being informed that "The Lord's Prayer" will no longer be used at the beginning of council meetings or in parliament. Perhaps this does represent the reality that we are now a predominantly multi-faith/atheist society - not that I have heard any objections from my multi faith and atheist friends. Many of them however do object to the use of words of Acknowledgment.

One reason for this is simple and it needs to be acknowledged too. Many of those choosing to identify as aboriginal have very little in the way of aboriginal ancestry. Their own ancestors are as responsible, often more responsible, for the past injustices than those of many others.

I am fortunate in my ancestors who migrated here. They appear to have always acted in good faith and with good intentions. They taught the next generations to do the same thing. Not everyone can say that. Even so, I am not responsible for what they did or said. The constant reminders are like rubbing a sore spot and making it worse.

Monday 15 May 2023

Doubling the parking fee

in the CBD of this city is not going to encourage more people to come into it and it is not going to encourage people to return to work in the office.

Middle Cat's partner long ago gave up taking his vehicle to work on days he knew he would not need it. Even with a designated parking place he dislikes the waste of time involved in traffic. Middle Cat would drop him off before she took the two boys to school - a school not within safe walking distance. That ceased when the boys ceased needing "Mum" to take them to school.  Middle Cat would then drop him at his parents place first thing in the morning. He kept his pushbike there and would ride in to work. It took less time to ride on the bike path than it did to take the car.

When he moved to another job he went on riding his bike on the days he could. He has a designated parking space on the days he needs it (he shares it with other staff on a "need" basis) but if that ever changed his firm would have to reconsider their arrangements. Yes, he knows he is one of the lucky ones. 

I know a lot of people who don't actually need their cars during the day but they drive to walk. It's so easy. They simply walk out the door of the house in the morning, get in their car and go. They don't do it because they need to drop their children off at school or because they are going to the gym after work. They simply like being able to sit in their car and drive to work. They are also prepared to pay the parking fees and use their work time to move their cars around if there are set limits in the area. 

Of course there have been parking issues before now but the last few years seem to have increased them. Now people are also saying they don't want to use public transport "because of Covid". (And what about the Common Cold and Influenza? They have been a danger for years before Covid.)

The City Council (which sets the fees) is saying the extra money is needed for repair work not done during Covid. Perhaps it is. I know nothing about that. Certainly there are likely to be some problems if nothing has been done for three years.

Doubling the price of parking is going to hit the genuinely less mobile hard. The Council is going to have to face some anger over that. What interests me however is how long the almost certain upsurge among the more mobile in the use of public transport will last. How long is it going to take some people to revert to their habits of convenience? 

Sunday 14 May 2023

A banned book?

Apparently a picture of a "witch" taking a bath is pornographic and will distress the young so much it will have a negative effect lasting a lifetime. At least it will if the child happens to live in Florida. 

"Guess What?" by Mem Fox was published in 1988 but it has apparently taken this long to discover the dreadful and shocking effect that the book can have on young children. 

The author is not amused - and neither are some other people. Fox of course is the author of "Possum Magic" which seems to sell quite well in America. This is despite the fact that the Vegemite sandwiches central to the story are probably not widely consumed there. Perhaps it could be banned too because it "isn't likely to be understood"?

There were apparently over one hundred and seventy books for children banned in a recent cull by educators in Florida and this was just one of them. Anything considered violent or pornographic has been removed. 

I have no objection to genuine violence or pornography being removed. I don't want children to be subjected to those things any more than I want to subject myself to those things. But, there is nothing wrong with taking a bath in a completely non-sexual way is there?

Going to these extremes is not helping anyone. Children see far worse on television and in advertising every day. Here they will see police with guns and in America they will see many more people with guns. Do all parents in Florida manage to keep the mass shootings there from their children? I know some will try but children have ways of learning about such things.

Children will see some people in shopping centres with very revealing clothing. They will see beach scenes which are much more suggestive than the witch taking a bath.

A long time ago now, in another lifetime, I was a school librarian for a short time. It was a wonderful job being able to introduce children to books. At that time there was talk in this state of possibly banning a book by Jill Paton-Walsh. "The Dolphin Crossing" is a book about war - and death. It was in some libraries and not others. I bought a copy for the school library. I talked to the "Mother's Club" about doing so first. I told them what the book was about and I suggested that if we banned it the children would simply find other ways of reading it. I suggested that we would simply require the children to get permission from a parent to read it. There were no objections to buying the book and no parent objected to their child reading it. The "top reading team" (advanced readers who met in the library) all read it. We discussed it and we discussed how those sort of issues were handled in books. They all read Serrallier's "The silver sword" and Holm's "I am David" as well. We talked about the different ways issues in those books are handled. 

And I remember one of the boys saying to me at the end of my time in that school, "Those books helped me to start growing up."

That surely has to be a good thing. Isn't it one of those things we want books to do?

Saturday 13 May 2023

The housing crisis

is apparently well and truly on us - or perhaps beyond us. The present government is having problems getting their "affordable housing package" through parliament. 

They are being blocked by the Opposition for some valid economic reasons and by the Greens for not spending a lot more and putting a freeze on rents.

I am in the middle of all this looking for a smaller and more affordable place to live so that a family can take over this home. It seems to be the morally right thing to do.

That said, I do want more than one room in which to live. Perhaps this is selfish of me, especially in the current crisis. But, I am an elderly cat and I am also a fairly solitary one. I like a little space in which to move and I like to pursue some quiet crafts - writing, knitting and the like. I do not care for noise. I cannot work against noise, even "musical" noise. 

Middle Cat and I keep prowling and hunting. Something will turn up of course. It may not be exactly to my liking but I am not expecting anything perfect. I just want it to happen before the executor of the Senior Cat's estate tells me, "Out! Now!" That I might be "homeless" will be of no interest to them. That I might, had it not been for the Black Cat, have had a life interest in the house is not something they can consider.

All this of course is nothing when considering those who are living in cars - some with children - or run down caravans. It means nothing when considering those who were flooded out or burnt out or have lost jobs through no fault of their own and now find themselves out on the street. 

Despite all this the government is planning on bringing in more "migrants" - enough to equate again with the size of this city over just four years. We are being told that this is "essential for economic growth" and that it is "targeted, skilled migration". 

Really? There is very little in the latest "Budget" to cover the training of people here - and yes, I do know that it can take time to train people. The last time we had a government of this persuasion they did what the union movement asked for rather than what the business community told them they needed to do to grow the economy. This time they seem to be simply saying, "Oh well, we will just get people from other countries." 

It sounds so simple but it isn't that simple. These people are needed in more remote areas. There are almost no other support services for migrants in those areas - and it is too expensive to provide them. We do things differently here so support is needed. 

Yes, we should be opening up this country to people who need somewhere to live. We should be training people to return to their own countries and develop lives there. We should not simply be poaching people from other countries. That is wrong. It is lazy.

It is time to spend a lot more on education and training - the sort of education and training that business rather than "government policy" is demanding. Governments don't necessarily know what is good for the economy. 

Friday 12 May 2023

Closing another bank

branch has finally happened. It is not closing completely. It is simply closing to the customers who need it the most.

I do need to go to the bank occasionally. There are times when I actually need some real money. I pay P... who cleans the floors in cash - I know what you are thinking but does she have a "square reader" or other device. No. It is the only way we can do it without a great deal more hassle. I also pay S.... who mows the lawn that way. He has sat at our kitchen table and added the money I pay him to his accounts. Once he actually asked me to look at something in his accounts. Yes, he is declaring what I pay him - although neither of believe that giving him something to drink also needs to be declared. I pay the other S... who does the heavy gardening for me in cash too...and I know that goes straight to a church charity I approve of as it cares for women escaping domestic violence. 

So, yes I sometimes need real money for that and other things. I imagine there are other people who need real money for similar things. There are also a very large number of people in the area who are very elderly and still use cash for everything they can - or they get their children or people like me to sort things out for them. At the other end there is a large cluster of people in social housing who are really struggling financially and prefer to use cash rather than risk the potential embarrassment of a card not working in the supermarket. 

So, the bank branch is closing to all these customers. It is closing to small businesses who want to deposit cash, get cash for change and just about everything else. 

What is it there for? I asked the question when they gave me the information. "Oh for business advice and home loans - things like that." 

This information was flung out casually along with the suggestion I could handle all my financial affairs over the internet and never go to the bank at all. If I want "cash" I can go to an ATM they told me. 

No, I can't do that either. There are two teller machines in the local shopping centre. One is often not working. It has run out of cash. The other is a privately run ATM that charges $2:50 for every transaction. I refuse to use that ATM and the first one, run by a group of banks doesn't cater for my particular needs. It doesn't cater for the needs of a lot of those who try to use it.

I can find other ways to solve the issues the closure of this service will cause but there are many other people who are going to be left bewildered and vulnerable. The old man going out of the bank at the same time as me looked at me and said, "If I have money in my hand I know exactly how much I have and how much I can spend. If I have one of those card things I have to keep writing it down. That's wrong."

Yes, it is wrong.  

Thursday 11 May 2023

Lost languages or

changing the name of a rubbish dump because it is "insulting" to the original inhabitants of the area sounds like a reasonable thing to do doesn't it? Our local council thinks so anyway.

I am not so sure myself. We are reaching the point of ridiculous when demands are being made on multiple fronts to "recognise" and "acknowledge" and "accept" and "observe" and "uphold" in relation to "aboriginal", "native", "tribal" and "indigenous" affairs. 

The local council is going to change the name of the area in which the local rubbish dump is situated. The demand was apparently made by some "local aboriginal elders" who "speak the language".

I am not sure who these people are. Nobody speaks the aboriginal language that was spoken when the first white settlers arrived. That was lost long ago. All that remains are a few words. It is very likely even those may not be recognised by those who spoke the language two hundred years ago.

Yes, language changes. We all know that. In this instance however the language has been lost. Claims to have "revived" it are simply false. There is no way it can have been revived or rescued or even reinvented. It has gone. Those who claim to speak it now are speaking a language which has not been reinvented but invented. It has been created from other indigenous languages and by borrowing words from European languages - mostly English. It is not a language in everyday use. It never will be. At best it might be a sort of ceremonial language.  It is not in daily use because it does not meet the needs of anyone living in twenty-first century urban communities. 

Those making the demand for change may well have some aboriginal heritage but they would not be considered "aboriginal" by many aboriginal people in remote areas. These are people who may be able to trace their ancestry back to one or perhaps two aboriginal ancestors some generations back. I know of one woman who claims to be a "proud K.... woman". Her family tree shows one aboriginal woman, her great-great-great grandmother. Every other person was a white settler from Ireland, Holland and Malta as well as Chinese-Malay. She ignores all the latter in favour of the former and is "active" in trying to "preserve (her) culture". 

Perhaps it is a good thing she takes such a great interest in these things. It may well help to preserve some genuinely important and fascinating history. Unfortunately making claims that cannot be backed up by hard evidence and making demands as a result of those claims is not preserving anything. It is destroying what little remains. 

Wednesday 10 May 2023

The Budget is "back in the black"?


It isn't of course. There has been some very creative accounting done by the Federal Government in an attempt to make us believe that there is a (tiny) surplus. 

Now they will tell us how good they are at "managing the economy" and how dreadful the previous government was at doing the same thing. This happens at every change of government.

I was talking to the person who comes to clean the floors for me. (Middle Cat insists it is not safe for me to try doing this myself so P... helps for a short time once a fortnight.) P... was bemoaning the fact the child care allowance for single mothers had been raised up from children of eight years of age to children of fourteen years of age. We both agreed that there are mothers who need that help but her step-daughter-in-law is not one of them. Her step-DIL has been "working the system" for years. It will now be another eight years before she needs to start looking for work. By then it is likely she will never get paid employment. 

She has had five children by four different fathers. The children have somehow been nicely spaced out so that she has never had to look for work. Her children have been "too young" and she has no qualifications. 

Until this budget she was "doing a course" one day a week while her youngest child was at school. It was supposed to prepare her for work as a "carer". P...'s comment was, "She can't care for herself so how can she care for others?" But we are both concerned that here is someone who has managed to never obtain gainful employment.

P... lost a son several years ago. He had a major epileptic seizure at night. It was a genuine tragedy. He was a hard working young man who, despite the epilepsy, was holding down a full time job. Yes, it was a nuisance not being able to hold a licence to drive but it didn't stop him working. He had no time for his step-sister's behaviour. P...'s daughter works during school hours. 

Both the children saw their mother work, and work hard, after their father died. P...has no formal qualifications. She is a cleaner and she does the job well. She needs to do it well because she also cleans dental surgeries - where thoroughness is an absolute essential. P... tells me there is "plenty of work out there" and that she could, if she needed to do it, work even more hours a week. 

P...and her second husband are not in debt apart from their small mortgage. They have worked for this. "If we want something then we save for it", P... says.  If she was younger and they had school age children then she would do more cleaning to help pay for the cost of caring for them. They worry about his daughter, someone they almost never see because he won't simply give her money to lead an indolent lifestyle.

There are many low income families out there for whom the budget might bring some temporary relief but the measures are not going to solve the problems. They are likely to create more. The budget is not "back in the black" at all. It is heading deeper into the red and we are all going to pay for it in the end.

Tuesday 9 May 2023

"But I'm offering you a 25% discount!"

the voice at the other end of the phone tells me, "I'm not selling anything, just offering you the discount."

Er, sorry but you are trying to sell me something. In doing so you are also breaking the law. 

A plus side to Covid - if there was a plus side at all - was that there were not nearly as many of those infuriating telemarketing calls. This household went on to the "DNC" (Do Not Call) register as soon as possible. 

Of course we would still get calls. There were businesses that tried to tell us we were on their registers and that they could call because of that. There were others who claimed to be "charities" - and genuine charities are exempt. Political parties are exempt too. 

The Senior Cat, generally a most patient and polite individual, would give the non-legitimate callers very short shrift. He hated being interrupted by something like that when he was in the middle of doing something else. I would tell him, "Don't hurry to the phone. If they know you they will wait. If they don't know you then it doesn't matter."

And still they would ring. Some of them would persist. I have lost count of the times we have been told that our internet connection is going to be lost. The Senior Cat's response to that would be a puzzled, "But there is no computer in here." (Perfectly true - there was no computer in that room.) He never bought anything from Amazon or ever gave out his credit card number over the phone. 

So the "discount" people? They wanted to talk to "Mr or Mrs..." The voice sounded well educated Chinese. The voice even gave the name of the firm for whom they were supposedly working. I recognised it. My parents actually went on a short tour to a remote area with the same company - about thirty years ago. They had never had any contact since. 

Something about all this did not feel right. It wasn't just that I thought it had to be a scam. I looked the company up on line. Yes, they were still in business. I emailed them and told them we had been contacted. I said I found it unlikely they were contacting anyone from so far back but perhaps they should be aware that, as they would have known, both the recipients of their "offer" would be centenarians. 

There was panic at the other end. They contacted me. There might have been contact details because they kept records for "about ten years" but this was far longer than that. . Someone else had just contacted them wanting to take up the discount offer - an offer which of course does not exist. Fortunately the other person had been cautious enough to check by calling them back on another phone. I was thanked. If I ever wanted to book a trip with them they would give me a small discount in appreciation.

I left it at that. I have no desire to go on any holiday they offer but the short trip my parents took was well run and they still get good reviews on line. 

But, as I have just said, something didn't feel right. I knew it was a scam but they were not just scamming me, they were scamming a legitimate business. Someone had somehow managed to get hold of old business records and were using them for their own illegal purposes. 

Telemarketing can be a vicious criminal activity.  

Monday 8 May 2023

"Mass shooting"

are words that I never want to hear or read but hear and read far too often.

There was yet another one in the United States over the weekend. That makes around two hundred there this year alone. We are just over a third of the way through the year and they have had two hundred. All those deaths don't even take into consideration the number of people who have died by gunfire in the United States.

Such things are rare here and rare in the United Kingdom. I thought of this as I watched the news last night and saw the enormous crowds of people gathered for the Coronation not just in London but in other places as well. Whether the anti-monarchy "republican" protestors should or should not have been arrested is a matter for debate but there is one thing we can be almost certain of and that is they were not carrying guns. There would have been almost nobody in the crowd carrying a weapon of any sort. 

There will always be people who carry weapons illegally as well as legally in this country and there. Violence doesn't solve problems. It creates problems. The idea that "guns don't kill people" is nonsense. No, of course they don't kill people in themselves. They are inanimate objects. It is the use to which they are put which is the problem, a massive problem. There is the potential for those inanimate objects to do the worst harm of all in the wrong hands. Nobody should believe they need a gun for "protection". 

It was cold last night, not icy cold but cold enough that I snuggled under a lap blanket made by a friend of mine. She made it for the Senior Cat and I have inherited it. Her son was an ambulance officer for many years. Eventually he had to cease work. He could no longer take the trauma he saw so often. The last case he attended did involve violence, great violence and not all of those involved in the "incident" survived. 

It is not just those immediately involved in something like a "mass shooting" who are affected by it. It is the "bystanders" and the "first responders" and the people who have to clear the damage and deal with the long process of "justice" who are affected. There is no "justice" in all of this.

I am so extraordinarily fortunate I live in a place where people do not carry guns by right. 

Sunday 7 May 2023

There is a time and a place for protest

and yesterday was not one of them.

Whatever we may or may not feel about monarchical systems of government, the expense of a coronation and pomp and ceremony yesterday was not the time or the place to demand the overturn of a system of government. Like it or not the system works. 

It works because the monarch has no power to govern. 

I was not going to bother watching the Coronation. Television is something which, apart from a part of the international news service, I bother to watch. But yesterday several people asked me if I was going to watch, said they would be interested in what I thought of the service itself and more. I had already turned down an invitation to go to a "Coronation Dinner" as the necessary arrangements would have been awkward for all concerned. Would I watch it then? Yes, I could do other things at the same time. Yes, I would tell them what I thought of it.

The BBC does a brilliant job of such occasions. Past experience has told them where to put the cameras and how to use them. Their commentators are well informed and generally as unobtrusive as it is possible to be when they are required to also explain what is going on. It was a different story here. Not only did the news service use the occasion to push for a "republic" again but one of the young reporters referred to the Emperor of Japan as "the King of Japan". 

But the service itself? Perhaps it really was what the monarchy is or should be about. It was inclusive and inclusive in ways that mattered. I don't in the least care whether there is a wood chip from the "true cross" embedded in another cross but the gesture from the Pope was extraordinary and intended to bring in Catholics from all over the world...and there are still a lot of them. It brought in Jews and Muslims and Hindus and others. 

And it was designed to acknowledge not power because there is none. It was designed to acknowledge service, not just the responsibilities of the person at the centre of it but the responsibility we all have to "serve", to care for each other. I imagine there will be many priests, pastors and ministers who have something to say about that today. 

It would be good if the Prime Minister of Downunder and others in similar positions took heed of what the Archbishop Welby had to say about "service".  The expense of the Coronation would be justified if that alone occurred.

The "Republicans" attempting to protest yesterday did their cause no good. Their movement is about power not service. 

Saturday 6 May 2023

Taking someone else's place

on any post-school course is something that should not be allowed. 

I am not talking about "cheating" here. This is done in a legal way but it is something which should not be allowed to happen.

I am talking about some of those "perpetual students" and others who do courses but never finish them in order to avoid going to work. They take up places which could be given to other students who are genuinely interested in finding work.

I have come across two such people in the past month. One has sought help from me. The other person has not.

One person is a person with a great many IT skills but he has never completed a qualification. He had been on unemployment benefits of one sort or another for more than twenty years. More than once he has been sent to a further education establishment to do a course which would lead to employment. He has always managed not to complete the course. He will do something like "fail" a unit more times than he is permitted to do the exam. It is very unlikely he does this consciously. It simply happens. Put that aside and he does do a lot of good for others. He will help them with all their computer issues. He will help them design their websites and much more. Sometimes he gets paid something and sometimes he simply does it because it gives him something to do. He is often very busy indeed helping other people.

We talked about this for a long time. Did he want a job? In the end we came to the conclusion he is afraid of finding a job. He is afraid of failing - and so he fails. I suspect even if he did find a job he would fail now. He is afraid of taking that much responsibility for himself. He needs help but not the sort of help I can give him. It is likely he will just go on living a very simple life on unemployment benefits until he reaches age pension age. His government "case" workers will send him off to do another course. They will "warn" him and more. He will take up a place on a course that someone else could use and possibly benefit from but the law requires that he be given a "chance" to prove himself.

No, I do not know what the answer is.

The other person has a "work history" of sorts. It is very patchy. This person left school and went to a "business college" where she was supposedly studying shorthand and typing and office skills. It should have led to good employment but she did not complete the course. Since then she has moved within states and across states. She has worked in a saddlery, in shops, as a cleaner and in aged care. None of the positions have lasted long because she has a history of alcohol problems and minor drug use. In between she has been on unemployment benefits and "done" courses that were supposed to lead to permanent employment. 

She is now 66 and out of work again. This time she has been enrolled in yet another "nursing" course at a university. (Yes, for some people this could lead to a degree. I know two people who are actually trying to get qualifications this way. One of them left school "sooner than I should have" and the other "had to leave because Dad was dying and we needed some money". Both of them recognise they need to get a qualification and their motivation to do the course is high.) But the 66yr old? For all she talks about being "enrolled" it is in just one unit. It is only part of the requirement for one subject. This is the bare minimum to satisfy the requirements of being a "student" in a priority area. It is going to require very little effort on her part. She does not have to pay any fees.

Next January this person will be eligible for the age pension. She will be transferred to that. Any further study will involve her paying fees - and that is not going to happen.

I am all too well aware of the need for people to do more than "finish school" now. They need qualifications for almost all forms of even the most basic employment. But is it right to have someone who will get the age pension in less than twelve months take a place that could be given to someone who actually has at least some years of working life ahead of them?

Friday 5 May 2023

Is "they" and "them" more important

than "he" and "she" and making sure the people who elected you to parliament are fed and housed?

It is almost unbelievable but state parliament has apparently sent out a message to local councils informing them of the need to change all their legislation into "gender neutral" language. Apparently even saying of a dog walker that the dog is "under his or her control" is no longer acceptable. It also has to be done at the expense of the local council.

Have you now taken that deep breath and let it out slowly? Right. Here we are in a situation where we are apparently going to cut back on rubbish collection to "save money". We are in a situation where some roads and footpaths are in urgent need of attention and where access for people with disabilities still has not been addressed. There are many other issues which need to be addressed too, important issues. 

Apparently all these things are less important than the pronoun problem. All those words which indicate "gender" apparently need to be wiped out. Why?

I have a number of "baby name" books in my personal library. I have never had a child. I have never named a baby. I am never likely to do either of those things. The reason for having them has been quite different.

I have often had contact with people who do not have given names with which I am familiar. They do not use "Christian" names as we once said in documents. I have actually needed to know what sex someone is so that I know how to address them - politely.  I could of course just do something like address them by the male honorific which appears to be appropriate from their location on the planet and that is not necessarily foolproof. I could also address them by what I guess is their given name and that is also problematic as well as being downright rude in many instances. 

I usually don't know the people I am corresponding with and I am never likely to meet them. Some of them hold positions of great respect in their own communities. They don't address me by my given name and I would not address them by theirs. I have been addressed by many names but it is only here that people address me by my given name without having had any previous contact with me. I almost always sign letters and documents with my initials. I do it in an effort to make people I don't know abusing my given name. Why should I have to put up with people failing to spell my name correctly, indeed not even getting it right, just because someone has decided that "clients" should be addressed by their given names? No, it isn't "friendly". It is rude. It is especially rude when they sign their letters something like "J.Jones" or "B.Smith" (and my apologies to all who are actually a Jones or a Smith) and I still don't know whether they are male or female, nor can I call them by their given name because they have not told me.

There are an increasing number of forms which do not give people the option to state how they wish to be addressed by strangers they have not met and are not likely to meet. We also have an increasing number of people from countries in the Middle East, in Africa and parts of Asia. Their names can be very different and their use of those names can also be very different. I make a point of finding out how to use their names.

It is a problem which keeps coming back to me. I recently met a man from Poland. He told me his name was "Mario". I thought that sounded a little strange and he must have guessed that from my expression because he added, "It's actually "Marius" but people here keep saying "Mario"."  We agreed I would call him "Marius" and he would use my given name too. We both smiled at the letter which had just arrived for me addressed "Doctor Doctor Professor" but we didn't laugh. The person writing it was being polite and correct in their culture. The idea of addressing me by my given name or as "Ms" would have shocked the writer of that letter. It is not the way they address people they do not know.

It is worth the effort of getting the spelling of names correct, the pronunciation correct and using the appropriate honorific. It's polite. "Friendly" isn't necessarily polite.


Thursday 4 May 2023

We are the most over-governed country

in the world. Downunder has a population far less than that of California. California would fit many times over into Downunder. 

We have a three tier system of government. There is our Federal Government in the nation's capital. There are State and Territory governments for each separate state and territory and there is local council or shire government.

This state has a population of 1.7m people and we have both a state government and no less than sixty-eight councils. These councils are supposed to deal with things like rates, local roads, rubbish and community services like libraries and parks. The cost is enormous.

What is more what is legal in one council may not be legal in another. There are widely differing rules on the management of domestic animals and wildlife - not that the domestic animals or wildlife know this of course. Even some residents are not sure which council area they are in or what the rules, regulations and by-laws state. There is also the issue that what applies here in the city does not necessarily work in a more remote area.

It is assumed we know the law. The law is often "common-sense written down". It is why we do things like keep to one side of the road rather than the other. It is when it becomes a little less certain we run into trouble. Common-sense tells me you do not leave a five year old alone in a public place or expect them to go into facilities they don't know alone because you don't have the right to enter them. 

Yes, it is that public toilet issue again. The council with the five year old rule cannot possibly be applying it. Most people would not even be aware of it. It is not common-sense any more - if it ever was. It is time for state wide rules to apply. 

It is time to be rid of one level of government altogether and there might be more money for "parent facilities".  

Wednesday 3 May 2023

Vegemite is 100 years old

or so one of my young neighbours informed me. 

"We talked about it at school and everyone eats Vegemite even our teacher."

Yes, Vegemite. Almost everyone I know eats Vegemite. Vegemite is a peculiarly Downunder thing...or it used to be. It is the only thing I missed in all the years I spent living in London. It was only as I was leaving that I was told "Of course it is available in Harrod's." I suppose if I had thought about it I would have realised it but I did not frequent the food hall of that particular shop.  

But what is Vegemite you ask? Vegemite is part of the national diet. It is as important as the bread, toast and biscuits it is spread on. 

Vegemite is a yeast extract. It is made from leftover brewer's yeast extract. It contains several B vitamins and folate - essential things in a balanced diet. It comes in the form of a very dark brown, almost black paste. It is sticky and salty. Very little is needed on a slice of bread or toast - about a quarter of a teaspoon is enough in our family.

As children we had Vegemite sandwiches to take to school. Many children did. Vegemite sandwiches were cheap and we did not have much in the way of money. (They were the cheapest in the school canteen too. Many of the children I taught ordered those.)

We consumed toast and Vegemite for breakfast. Our after school snack was often a "weetbix" ("weetabix" or similar) with more Vegemite. It was another cheap but tasty snack.

But we started much younger than that. My mother made "rusks" - dried out fingers of bread - and spread very small quantities of Vegemite on those to give some flavour and comfort a teething child. We were fed tiny pieces of bread and Vegemite when we were too small to do it ourselves but wanted more. 

As we grew older toast and Vegemite was comfort food as well. If we were recovering from illness it was our paternal grandmother who gave us "toast and Vegemite" cut into "soldiers". We dunked Vegemite soldiers into our boiled eggs. At Grandma's place we ate cheese and Vegemite sandwiches and homegrown tomato and Vegemite sandwiches. 

Middle Cat and her husband took a camping trip to Europe for their honeymoon - and took a jar of Vegemite with them. My cousin went off to work in London and took the first jar with him "just in case..." My eldest nephew did the same. Friends have packed jars into suitcases for their children.

They have experimented with Vegemite over the years. There is a mixture of cheese and Vegemite. There is now Vegemite for Bolognese and "low salt Vegemite" and "gluten-free Vegemite. 

I have never tried any of these variations. When I finish one small jar my paw goes out for another small jar. I don't need a big jar. It takes a while for one cat to get through a small jar. Even when the Senior Cat was here we only had the middle size jar. It lasts a long time. 

Dieticians may scream at the salt content but Downunderites are going to go on eating it. Vegemite is part of the national diet. It is as essential as pasta is to Italians - and there are even recipes for pasta and pizza which use Vegemite.  

Tuesday 2 May 2023

Clearing a house

is a long slow process, especially a house which has as many books and papers as this one does.

I spent yesterday afternoon going through boxes of papers belonging to the Senior Cat. He was a very active person in his "retirement". Others obviously believed he could run a good meeting because he was the president of more than one organisation and the secretary of at least two for a while. 

Almost all of this was before emails became so easy to send. He didn't like email correspondence. He typed his letters. We used to tease him about his typing. We told him he used the "Columbus method" - discover and land. Still, the letters were there. I recognised my own words in them all too often. He would tell me that he needed to write to someone about a specific matter and what he wanted to say. I would stand there and dictate something to him. "Go and play around with that," I would tell him. Often he would just leave it as it was, only rarely going back to add something else. He had too many other things to do to spend time composing himself. 

There were other things too. I found pamphlets about organic gardening from his time with the Soil Association. There were newsletters from Neighbourhood Watch, notes from Church council and synod meetings, minutes from meetings of his conjuring ring, notes on study skills and the English notes he used when teaching us. There were the diaries he kept while travelling - nobody can read them because they are written in his unique brand of shorthand. (He started to learn a version of Pitman's but it rapidly deteriorated into something only he could read - sometimes.) 

I went through it all because one must. There might be something there that is of some real value is always the thought. I did save a few things of interest to the family. I saved the wills belonging to his parents. They will go into the clan archive. I saved enough to be evidence of his involvement for the same purpose. It may never be used but it will be there if someone in the generations who follow want to do more to the family "tree". 

The rest has gone into the recycle bin. I know there is no point in keeping it but... that "plop" into the bin made my heart plummet too.  My mother put out all her papers before she died. We begged her not to throw her diaries out but she did. She threw out almost everything belonging to herself. We have a couple of photographs but all her papers are gone. It is almost as if she didn't want to exist after her death. 

It has been hard to go through the Senior Cat's papers but I am grateful I could because there are so many good reminders there.

Monday 1 May 2023

Going to a house auction

is not an exciting experience.

Middle Cat and I went to the auction of a "unit" we were interested in yesterday. We had explored it thoroughly the week before. We had asked a lot of questions. 

Middle Cat knows a great deal more about these things than I do. Her partner's family has had to deal with these things over the years. They bought their own home through auction some years ago. They have an investment property (Middle Cat's "superannuation") which they also bought the same way. 

I am hunting for somewhere smaller to live of course and this is what all this was about. I have prowled through some totally unsuitable places for an ageing cat. No, I won't buy a place on an upper floor without a lift. I don't want steps in odd places. I do want a stove in the kitchen. I need a little bit of space please - for mobility reasons as much as anything else.

The place we looked at would have been ideal in many respects and I could have lived with the drawbacks. I am genuinely trying not to be unrealistic in my expectations. 

The "price range" was well within my target but Middle Cat and I had reservations. It was going to go for more than that. Still, we went and added ourselves to the list of those who would be bidding. We had a firm limit. 

There were not as many bidders as we expected. Perhaps the weather (it was raining) had put some people off? I don't know. 

Eventually the auction started. Nobody seemed to want to put in a reasonable starting bid. Someone did offer something so low that the auctioneer, not unreasonably, immediately started at a much higher price. Middle Cat put in a bid at lower than we could afford but still reasonable. The auctioneer actually looked relieved that someone was starting. Someone added another very slowly. Then Middle Cat went to our limit knowing we would not get it. The auctioneer knew that too. He went on. He went away and phoned the vendor. No, the bid was not acceptable.

In the end it was "passed in". We stopped to talk to the other serious bidders. They were disappointed of course, as were we. The auctioneer also seemed to believe the vendor was being unrealistic. But the young couple we spoke to told us they had been to another auction the day before. 

I knew the property they were talking about. (It was not accessible for me. You would need a car for a number of reasons.) The property had been advertised at a very low $385,000. They young couple had been keen for that reason even though there were some drawbacks - transport issues being one of them. It went for $780,000. 

Apparently there was a battle between two buyers keen to get it. That's all very well but I imagine the successful bidder must now be wondering why they were foolish enough to pay around $300,000 more than Middle Cat and the real estate agent we spoke to thought the place would fetch.

Perhaps I really am fortunate not to have to worry about such things. I have a limit. I cannot go beyond that because I am too old a cat to get a loan and have no way of paying one off.