Tuesday 31 October 2023

"Where does Hamas get all that money

and are their leaders really billionaires?"

It's a question I heard yesterday and I have heard similar questions before. No doubt I will hear similar questions again.

I can take a reasonably well educated guess at the answers to that. Hamas controls the Gaza strip and will continue to do so even if they claim "free and fair" elections have been held. They control what goes into Gaza. I am not talking about the humanitarian aid which goes into Gaza but the other goods which go in, mostly through the network of underground tunnels starting in the Sinai. 

Gazan residents pay highly inflated prices for these goods. They are also heavily taxed in other ways. The taxes are largely used to support Hamas, not the Gazan residents.  

The other source of income for Hamas is donations, particularly from countries like Iran and Qatar. Hamas uses some of this income to invest in real estate projects in places like Saudi Arabia and Syria as well Iran and Qatar. It is estimated they have an income of at least one billion American dollars a year because of all this. 

The leaders of Hamas, men like Khaled Meshaal and Ismael Haniyeh, are said to be billionaires. I have no idea whether that is true but there is evidence they live very comfortable lives far away from Gaza. They appear to be able to do this when it seems the unemployment rate in Gaza is above 30% and more than 60% of the population lives below the poverty line. Hamas is thought to be almost as wealthy as the Islamic State terrorist group - and both groups are far wealthier than something like the Taliban.

Of course keeping people in poverty and blaming the existence of Israel for their plight is a good way of stirring up resentment and trouble. It ensures there are always people ready to "fight" for what they have been told is theirs. The residents of Gaza actually have a very diverse ancestral heritage. They are by no means any sort of homogenous group of Muslims who were displaced to make way for the state of Israel.  It is much more complex than that.

We get a sort of greatly simplified version from the news sources available to us. The questions being asked are not something I can answer from first hand knowledge but I do know two things. One is that Hamas is not using the money they get for the benefit of the people of Gaza and the other is that the leaders of Hamas do not put their own lives, or those of their families, at risk by living there. 

Monday 30 October 2023

The people who make us laugh

often seem to be some of the unhappiest people there are.

Now I admit that I had not even heard of Matthew Perry or watched an episode of something called "Friends" but it seems a lot of people did. I am simply aware, from yesterday's news, that a man is dead. He is a man who apparently made a lot of people laugh.

It is not easy to make people laugh. It may look easy but it is not easy. I know this from first hand observation. 

The Senior Cat loved to make people laugh. It was one of the reasons one of his hobbies was "magic" or "conjuring". He liked to entertain people. It was not about "showing off". It was about making them laugh or going "how did you do that!"  

This was why he liked to encourage young people to do "tricks" and tell funny stories. Even in his last days in the nursing home he was teaching the ten year old son of one of the staff to do simple conjuring tricks. He taught hundreds of children over the years. His grandchildren and  great-grandchildren can all do conjuring tricks to entertain others, to divert people from anxiety and to bring about some smiles. Along with the trick goes the "patter" - the story, the words that help to divert your attention from the sleight of hand. Those stories require practice, a lot of practice. 

The Senior Cat wrote his own patter of course. He would give me the outline of what he intended to use. I would criticise, help him take things out and put other things in. He would work with his fellow magicians on ideas. As he was not trying to make a living from it he was more than willing to help those who were. There were some "big" names in the entertainment industry who sought his help to make their apparatus and they would involve him in their patter because there would be design features they wanted to emphasise as part of it. 

I thought of these people when I heard yesterday's story. They were not generally people who made me laugh. Life for them was a very serious business, is a very serious business. Several of them are as well known as Tony Hancock was to his generation or Robin Williams is to mine. They are under constant pressure to introduce something new, something which will make the rest of us laugh. They need to get not just the words right but the delivery right - that all important "timing", the thing which marks out so many actors.

The Senior Cat was not the best of magicians. He knew that. He liked to do it but it was not the only thing he wanted to do. It was much more important for him to help others do it. He had a great admiration for those who were willing to put the many lonely hours of practice in to make others laugh. 

When we watch the best performing we tend to forget all this. It isn't easy for them to make it easy for us to laugh.  

Sunday 29 October 2023

Halloween was unknown

to me as a kitten. We never "celebrated" it.  There were no masks or costumes or ghosts or cotton wool "fog" or cardboard cut outs of devils in front gardens. Children did not go "trick and treating".  

If anyone had done any of the "Halloween things" we would just have been confused.  We most certainly would not have been allowed to knock on doors demanding chocolate or Halloween related sweets.

I came out of knitting group at the library yesterday to find that the area outside had a scatter of Halloween related lollies on the ground. D..., the person with me, and I both wondered what the parents had been doing to allow the child(ren) to leave such a sticky mess there. It looked horrible, smelt horrible and was potentially a danger. We cleared it up as best we could and put the mess into the bin in the park. I wondered if the same imps were going to go "trick and treating".

"The problem is that their friends now do it and they want to," one of the mothers in the street told me as we discussed the problem later. She doesn't mind her children having chocolate occasionally but the whole Halloween thing is something she could do without. We both know that it is simply a commercial enterprise here. There is no "tradition". It has been imported from elsewhere. 

There is a sort of unspoken rule here that unless you are "invited" by means of decorations or a sign you do not knock on a door. Not too many people offer that invitation. It does not solve the problem altogether. Older children, especially those who are in their early teens can cause strife for those they think might be likely victims.

I try to accommodate without an invitation by putting a small bowl of chocolate "frogs" at the front door with a sign. It will say something like "the witch is working on another chocolate spell - help yourselves".  A few frogs will disappear. I have never had someone take all of them and I have never had any trouble. The remainder go to the library for the students doing last minute exam revision.  (The library also provides tea/coffee/cold water...and the occasional listening ear.) 

But the whole Halloween thing is something I find I don't like. I know it is supposed to be a bit of fun but it is really a "celebration" of evil. It isn't about "All Saints" or "All Hallows" or honouring the dead. It seems to be nothing more than a commercial enterprise designed to get people to spend money - and children to eat too much chocolate. 

 "Am I allowed to put frogs in their summer activity packs?" I asked the mother to whom I had been talking.

"Oh, yes as long as they are only the chocolate sort," she said. We smiled at each other. 

I must start work on activity pack spells.  

Saturday 28 October 2023

The proposed "Misinformation and disinformation" bill

is wrong. This is the  proposed Communications Legislation Amendment (Combating Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill which gives the Communications and Media Authority increased powers of censorship to "combat misinformation and disinformation".

It sounds good in one way. It would be good to think there would be ways of getting rid of information which is harmful but it won't work like that.  It is much more likely it will negatively impact what we like to call "freedom of expression" and the free flow of opinion. It is much more likely it will be used by government to prevent information being available.

The recent referendum would almost certainly have passed if the legislation had been in place. The "no" side would not have been able to raise the issues they did. This would not have been because they were "misinformed" or "misinforming" or because they were using "disinformation" but because the government could have used the proposed law to suggest they were doing that. The "no" arguments did not suit the government's agenda. In other words the government could use the legislation to censor anything which went against their agenda.

They could also use it to censor opinion pieces about topics like climate change and renewable energy, vaccinations, race relations, proposed developments in sensitive areas of any kind and much more. The "but we won't do that" protests are ridiculous. Any government would use it in that way, especially if it meant retaining power. Indeed the proposed legislation actually excludes the government from being subject to all this.

I don't like any of that but there is something else that concerns me even more. It seems to me that all this is going to have an enormous impact on the free flow of actual information. We are going to be less well informed as a result. We are going to be less informed in a country which requires attendance at the ballot box. Misinformation and disinformation will still be there but people will be more ready to believe it. They will believe it because we will now be told that we are rid of such things. There will be "underground" sources of information, especially from cranks and crackpots who find their way around the legislation. There will not be the opinion pieces in the press and other media. Columnists will not be free to express their views in quite the same way.

Of course all of that may come as a relief to some. They will no longer need to think at all. They will simply need to be told. As for those of us who try to write a blog....  

Friday 27 October 2023

We were talking about the death penalty

yesterday. The subject arose because of the latest mass shooting in the United States, something which distressed everyone I was with.

There are varying views on the death penalty within the group. Some people see it as the ultimate punishment, others see it as the easy way out for the perpetrator. There are two people in the group who say they would welcome the return of the death penalty here but the rest of us are opposed to it. 

And I shocked all but one of them (who already knew) by saying that the last person to face the death penalty in England was not the man who actually pulled the trigger. The man who did that was too young when he committed the offence to face the death penalty. He served his sentence and was then sent off to live in another country under another name. Apparently he has committed no further offences. Had he been a few months older he would have died. The other man did die although he had not actually murdered anyone. (He encouraged the other man to pull the trigger.) Right or wrong? I will leave that up to you.

What I will say is that I am opposed to the death penalty for several reasons. It seems to me that the death penalty is also murder. The death penalty does not prevent murder. Mistakes can be made. You can release an innocent person from prison but not from death.

The perpetrators of mass murder are not normal. They may well know what they are doing is wrong. They may know what the consequences will be. They go ahead and do it anyway. We may never know why.  It does not give us the right to take their life and what if that apparently incontrovertible evidence is proven wrong?

The worst mass shooting in this country brought about a major change to the laws around gun ownership. The Prime Minister who oversaw that change did the right thing. There have been some loosenings of the laws since then but it is time to tighten them again. It won't prevent familicide or the mentally ill driving vehicles into crowds. It does reduce the likelihood of people shooting strangers at random.  

We are fortunate our Constitution does not give us the "right to bear arms". 

Thursday 26 October 2023

"Security guards in schools?

This is not the Bronx or Brixton!"

I overheard that outraged comment on the train yesterday. Someone was having a conversation on his mobile phone. I could not hear the person at the other end. It was probably just as well.

Yes, we do have security guards in some schools here. We should not need them but we do. There are schools I would not wish to visit now at all. 

I was once going in and out of secondary schools all over the metropolitan area. They varied greatly. There were some where discipline was definitely a challenge but nobody had yet employed a security guard. Cigarettes were a problem and there was a little bit of "weed" in some schools but the students did not use them openly. Now they deal drugs in some primary schools. Why?

"School," I am told, "Is boring."

Even the children in this street, still in primary school, tell me that school is boring. They are all intelligent, indeed four of them are above average in ability and achievement, but they still find school "boring".  I have tried to find out why but they don't seem able to tell me. I see two of them in the library at least once a week. When they are there "finding stuff" they seem very able and enthusiastic but their mother, a paediatrician, is concerned at the way they expect school to be exciting. They expect to be entertained there.

I wonder when it all changed. We did not expect to be entertained at school. We just knew we had to be there and that we were expected to learn what was put in front of us. 

The Senior Cat used to tell the story of one of the boys asking how learning something was going to help him milk the cows. The Senior Cat's response was,"It won't; but it might help you if you decide you don't want to milk the cows." That was an end to the matter. The boy went on learning. I doubt that answer would help now. Something has changed.

I am unlikely to ever visit New York so the Bronx will remain an unknown to me. When I lived in London I went in and out of Brixton on a regular basis even though some people warned me it was not safe. I suspect I would still go back during the daylight hours but with perhaps more caution than before. I am not sure I want to go into a school where there is a security guard. 

Wednesday 25 October 2023

A four day week is

not a week at all.  The latest push by the union movement to have at least some people on a "four day week" is going to end in tears.

I am so tired of people not being "available". It is no longer possible to predict whether someone will be at work or not - well, it feels that way.  The "flexi-day" and the "work from home" days and more make it hard enough. 

"I am working from home today and I haven't got access to that information, " I am told. How in the heck are you doing your job then?

"He's not in the office today," someone tells me, "I think he's taking a flexi-day."

"No, I don't know anything about that. She usually takes some time out about now."

I have heard all those excuses and many more when I am waiting for decisions to be made. These are decisions which will allow me and people who actually want to work or need to work get on with the job. Unlike the people we are trying to contact we do not have the luxury of such flexible working arrangements. 

Now unions are  apparently suggesting that some people only need to work four days a week. They could work a little longer day and a little harder but they could fit five days work into four days.

No, they could not. It won't work. There will be people who will try it and find they need to have the work phone switched on anyway. This is what has happened to my BIL. He is owed more weeks of leave than he is strictly allowed to accumulate. He tried to take a day off recently to attend to something else urgent but his "day off" resulted in almost as much time spent working from home after his appointment. His working life is made much more difficult because his company is an international one and he needs to talk to people in different time zones. Adding a four day week to that anywhere else in the mix would mean even longer hours for him.

Do some people believe they can do their jobs effectively for just four days of the week and have "three days off"? The reality is that many of them won't actually get that day off anyway. Those that do won't use it for any real purpose even though they may intend to do just that.  You disagree? I think human nature will see to it that less gets done.

It would actually be much easier if most people went back to working regular hours. It might actually make life easier for people on essential shift work, especially medical shift work. It doesn't mean that people cannot work shorter hours to fit in with the school run or job share to fit in other responsibilities. It is consistency which is needed.  We might then know where people are and that they are doing the job they are paid to do. 


Tuesday 24 October 2023

A highly offensive phone call

was not what I needed yesterday afternoon. Part of the morning had been devoted to one of those medical examinations only females have to endure. I was not interested in anything other than something to eat and a much needed mug of tea.

But it was a local number so I answered the call. "This is P...." the person at the other end told me. I know two people by this name but I did not recognise the voice. 

"I'm calling from a Christian group in E.... " E.... is a local suburb and it was possible that they were calling about someone I knew. I was wary though as "Christian group" is not the way most people would describe their church groups. They would tell me they were from a particular church.

It was still possible that someone might need some help though so I was polite and said, "I don't know who you are."  If they were a friend or acquaintance of someone I knew then they would surely identify themselves? Instead I got a "Oh, this is P.... I am calling you because we want to share a Bible message..."

"Hold it right there," I told her, "I could be a regular church goer somewhere or Jewish or Muslim."


"I find this offensive. Please don't call again." I hung up.

There was no return call. I did not really think there would be one then. I made another call to someone I do know and told them what had happened.

"Yes, the same group who contacted us. J.... went along with it to try and find out more. Did he tell you they were looking for money?"

I had seen her husband in the library several days ago. He was telling me about this. They may well be a legitimate group in the sense that they exist and actually do what they claim to do but they also want money, a lot of money. If you belong to the group you "double tithe" and twenty per cent of anyone's income is a lot. 

I have known a number of people who have double tithed. Whether it made them happy I do not know - but I doubt it. I know many other people who give what they can afford to church or charity. They seem happy and I know I could rely on many of them to go out of their way to help someone in need. Not one of them would make the sort of phone call I had just received.

I wonder what the person making the phone call to me would have done if I had made a call to her asking her to give money or take in someone who needed a bed for the night. It is possible she may have done these things but I suspect it might have had strings attached, "Yes, if they come to our church" or "They will need to come to Bible study."

Some weeks ago a friend from a local church phoned me and asked, "You don't happen to have any toothpaste or soap do you? I've run out of our supplies here and I am doing up a box to take round to a mum who needs some help."

I knew exactly what this person was talking about. The  toothpaste and soap would be going into a box of essentials for a woman in need due to abuse or illness.

"Yes, come on round," I told her. 

It was the sort of thing I don't mind being asked about in the least. I keep a small supply of likely necessities for that very purpose. It is there for what the Senior Cat called "practical Christianity". He believed in that and taught us all to believe in it too.



Monday 23 October 2023

Don't take the children

with you. I will repeat that. Don't take the children with you. 

Ir may sound like an exciting adventure but no responsible parent should be taking their children into a war zone.What on earth are they thinking of?

There is a piece in today's paper, apparently from just such a child. He's in Gaza and he wants to come home. Possibly his parents did consider it was "safe enough" when they first went but they need to be out now and getting foreigners out is hard enough. Getting dual passport holders out is even harder. It is not a matter of turning up at an airport and demanding a seat on a plane.

"You know something about that Cat?"  Yes, I do. 

One of the unspoken rules of aid work is that you don't take your children with you. Aid work is not a holiday. It is often dangerous, very dangerous. Going into a war zone is even more dangerous. Of course it is. The people who do it are often mad or bad or fanatical or even willing to lose their lives for a cause. 

I have no contact with those who go in to fight. That's not my job. I am there for the person trying to save the dam or rebuild the bridge or save the heritage listed building from further damage. I am there for the doctor going in to train the locals to do a piece of surgery or the electrician supervising the connection of the hospital power plant. These are people going in for a short time. They will do their job and then leave again. Not one of them would consider taking their children or their partners with them. They are there to do a task and then leave again.

You need to be fit and healthy to do aid work, especially in a war zone. You need to be ready and able to get out with no notice at all. If someone says "run" then you need to "run". You need to be prepared for the lack of food and water and sleep deprivation. There is no eight hour day. You work until you are ready to drop and then you sleep where you can and how you can until someone prods you awake because it is their turn on the patch of floor you have been sleeping on. That's a good night. On a bad night you have been woken more than once by bombs and screams and the wails of mothers who have lost their children. That last sound has to be one of the most devastating of all.

Why would you take any child into that situation? Perhaps the father in this instance thought it would be "safe enough" but he should have known better. Yes, he wanted to see other members of his family. I can understand that but the risk was enormous. Yes, he took his own family before the situation exploded into the current violence but he still knew it was going to be dangerous. Gaza is one of the most dangerous places on the planet. 

I feel for the children but their father is a fool. If you must go, don't take the children with you.

Sunday 22 October 2023

Writing a curriculum vitae

is something I have not done for quite a while now. I am never likely to do it again. Phew!

I loathed writing them. Somehow I never seemed to be able to use one I had already written. The position I was applying for always seemed to demand something different. I am not naturally the sort of person who likes to boast and a "cv" is really about saying, "Hey, this is what I am good at. Employ me!"

Nephew Cat was asking for help last night. He has to renew his medical registration again. It is a battle every year. He hates doing it. He delays doing it. The forms go in late. They want new information every time...and there is the dreaded "cv".  

Things have to go in chronological order I remind him.

"But it doesn't make sense if I do it that way!" he wails. 

"And you need to tell them about..." I say

"But it isn't relevant!" he snarls.

This is the ever so patient doctor. He is good with patients, very good. He can elicit information that they didn't realise they could tell him but getting information from him is like getting water from the sand in a desert. You need to dig very deep indeed.

I have to admit I sympathise. I know what sort of thing they are looking for. He knows it too. He wants to be able to do something that requires very careful consideration on his part and on the part of the registration board. The board does not take decisions lightly. 

We talk some more and then I tell him, "Send it through as an email to me or your mother when you think you are finished and I'll read it."

He agrees to do that. I press the "end" button on the phone and go back to filling out a form for myself. It amounts to a sort of "cv" I suppose. It irritates me no end that the people at the other end are asking for this information before I can simply "volunteer" to help one of the doctors in their hospital go and do something somewhere else. I would be surprised if someone actually reads it. My guess is they won't. It will just go into a file somewhere.

It makes me wonder how thoroughly some of these "life stories" get read. Looking at some people who are asking for all this information I suspect they are not read at all. If someone had asked for theirs and read it before they were given the position they would not be employed in that role.


Saturday 21 October 2023

My 98 years old godfather

has recently moved into aged care. He has gone reluctantly but aware it is the only solution to the problems around his safety.

Yesterday Middle Cat and I went to visit him in his new abode. It was the first time we had been able to go. 

"He should be in his room," we were told. We went to look. No, he was not there. The room is light enough and big enough perhaps but it is rather bare. This was just after two in the afternoon and the bed had not been made. One of the reasons for him moving in was because he fell making his bed at home. He is no longer permitted to make his own bed. The staff are supposed to do it for him.

"Oh, he's gone down to the concert," someone else told us when we asked. She took us down to the "concert". I was thinking my godfather must hate all this. He has been quite deaf since he came home from "the war" - WWII.

We found him sitting there in the group trying to look interested as someone played a ukulele and tried to get people to sing. I went up quietly and stood next to him. He looked up and his whole demeanor changed. "Get me out of here," he told me quietly after we had hugged and kissed.

We got him "out of (t)here" into a much quieter area and talked...and talked...and talked. He didn't complain. He has accepted his fate reluctantly but he does not like unmade beds ("they would never have allowed that in the navy") or "concerts" ("not my sort of music at all"). He would like "someone here I could actually have a conversation with" and "a proper cup of tea now and then in here".

I knew exactly what he meant about the last thing. He loved to sit at our kitchen table with the Senior Cat. The teapot would be there between them. In it would be tea made with loose tea and rainwater. The pot would have been warmed beforehand. My godfather liked tea the way it is made here. Tea made with a tea bag and "just hot water" is not tea at all. 

I can't provide that for him but I produced the packet of chocolate covered biscuits just before we left. He doesn't have diabetes or any other dietary restrictions and he is almost too thin. He likes those biscuits. I would always send him home with the remainder of the packet and something he could heat in his microwave oven. He gave me a smile, "I knew you wouldn't forget the biscuits...now go and put the kettle on and drink that tea for me."

I'll buy another pack before we go again. His daughter has told me there is a new variety he might like to try.


Friday 20 October 2023

Our road toll has

gone up this year. There have been more than the usual number of concerns expressed about this. There have not been any solutions offered. People are just being asked to "slow down" and "be more careful".

I am not good in traffic. I don't like cars or travelling in them. It has something to do with my inability to judge speed and distance as easily as most people seem to be able to do. I may be quite wrong in thinking the way I do about behaviour in traffic. Tell me what you think.

Years ago now, in another lifetime, I also did some research in the area of children, road accidents and the law. In doing that work I also talked to many children. I asked them a lot of questions. Some of the relevant work went into the thesis I wrote but a lot of what I discovered did not.

I discovered that children did not move around in traffic nearly as much as I did when I was young. I pedalled my tricycle around a quiet country community long before I went to school. We all did. It was considered "safe". We crossed roads and went up rough tracks. We knew to look for cars and the people driving them knew to look for us. There was not a lot of traffic.

When we moved to the city there was still much less traffic than there is now. Not everyone owned a car. People walked. Children walked once they were too big for the "pusher" or they rode tricycles and then bicycles. We went to school on foot or by pedal power - and in all sorts of weather. Where necessary we learned to use buses and trains. There were conductors on them who saw our safety as part of their job.

Out of school hours and at weekends we were on our wheels and exploring the community in which we lived. Cricket and football were played in the streets with one of us (usually me) designated to watch for cars.  Drivers watched us too. They expected us to be out and about. The volume of traffic was much lower.

There was less of all this when I did that research. There was still some but not nearly as much. Children were being put into cars because it was considered to be "safer". They were not walking or pedalling in the way we did. Now there is even less of that. The children in this street all get taken to school in cars. Parents no longer "have time" to get them to walk to school and you do not send them alone in the way we were sent alone. Parents who did that would now be charged with "neglect" or worse.

I may be wrong, quite wrong, but I believe that this "always in the car" mode of transport is contributing to the problem. Children who do not grow up moving around independently no longer have the traffic experience they need. I suspect it is something which takes years to learn. 

Of course there are also other issues.  Boys still take more risks than girls. They still use their bikes as toys as well as modes of transport. Girls still tend to use their bikes in order to go somewhere rather than simply "ride around". They all see more "speed" than they once did. Everything from the Tour de France to the Bathurst 500 is televised. Modern cars, for all their safety features, are designed to travel more rapidly than before. Speed is a major cause of accidents, as is the use of modern technology.

But I still think the lack of experience in traffic is a contributing factor to the road toll. You may disagree.


Thursday 19 October 2023

We have lost an aid worker

in Gaza. It is the thing the rest of us knew would almost certainly happen sooner rather than later.

He went in to help with an issue unrelated to the current conflict, one which also has a major impact on the lives of people living there. I cannot say any more about what he was doing there.

I never met him. Our brief contact was limited to a request for some communication assistance. It was nothing more than some additional words to make himself understood. All I did was pass his request on with the symbols to the person who provides the vocabulary. He was on his way to help try and sort the problem out when he was killed. 

The only information we have is that he was killed by "militants". They apparently shot him and the two engineers with him as they were travelling to the site. It was killing for the sake of killing. They were nowhere near the border with Israel. There was no reason to suppose they were doing anything other than something to assist.

Hamas has apparently said they were there to do the opposite of what they were doing, that they had to be taken out.  In reality it is more likely that Hamas saw it as an opportunity, something they could use to suggest that Israel intends only harm. The harder they can make the lives of Palestinians then the more they can make them believe Israel is responsible.

Hamas is not concerned with the people of Palestine or anywhere else. It is concerned with control, with power over people. 

A good, decent man has been killed along with two other men who were almost certainly good and decent people too. "But this is happening all the time," you tell me. Yes, it is. It isn't the first time and, sadly, it won't be the last. What's different this time is that someone I had the briefest of contact with was involved. That makes it personal.  

RIP S.... You went in knowing it would be dangerous. I am thankful you did not leave a family behind but you did leave friends. They will miss you.

Wednesday 18 October 2023

Paul McCartney is in town

and I have not seen him. I do not expect to see him. I most certainly have not bought a ticket to go to his concert. If I was given one I would pass it on to someone who would appreciate it much more than I would.

His presence here brings back memories of another tour he made, a tour made when "the Beatles" were at the height of their popularity. It seems such a long time ago now.

I was in high school at the time, one of the more than one I attended. This one was an all girls school. I was a "new kid" again. I felt lost and lonely in the big city school. I had a class teacher who made it quite clear she did not want me there which made me feel even more unhappy.

There were a lot of things I didn't understand and a lot of things I didn't know. One of those things was who these "Beatles" were. Out in the country there must have been other students who knew but they did not talk about it at school. Their morning music was more likely Beethoven or Bach or Berlioz. Their fathers would have the radio on a classical music station while they milked the cows - for the cows. Cows actually seem to like classical music. 

So there I was in a class of fifty-three girls all of whom seemed to be talking about these Beatles. They all seemed to have their own Beatle. Even the girls from the strict religious sect who wore their long hair in plaits and headbands and did not eat with anyone else seemed to know about these Beatles.

I kept my mouth shut for a while. I felt even more ignorant and foolish as well as miserable. I kept my head down and tried to work. In front of everyone else the class teacher, who was also the English teacher, actually threw my homework back at me and told me my writing was "too untidy to read". She told me I should go back to Grade One and learn to write. It reduced me to tears although I tried not to show it.  There was a shocked silence in the classroom but I was sure the other girls were on her side, not mine.

I was wrong. They were on my side. Two of them asked me to sit with them at lunch time.  They were talking about these Beatles. Which one did I like the most they wanted to know. I remember taking a deep breath and admitting I didn't know anything about them. I told them about the cows and the classical music. They were as puzzled by that as I was by the Beatles. 

The Beatles arrived. The school kept a close watch on everyone. Nobody was going to be allowed to skive off school to try and see them arrive. Our Latin teacher, a woman near retirement age, brought an alarm clock into class and set it to the time they were supposed to be landing at the airport. It was enough.

Later a lot of the girls joined the crowd outside the hotel the Beatles were supposedly staying in. I caught the bus and did my homework. Crowds suited me no more then they do now. Some of them went to the concert. They were the envy of the rest of the school. Most of the girls of course could not afford to go even in the unlikely event of parental permission.

It was a little later in the term when the girls were whispering among themselves and looking at me. I wondered what I had done wrong now. They had been nice to me lately. I still wasn't happy there but it was mostly due to the class teacher.  

I had not done anything wrong. What the girls had done was take up a collection between them. They had bought me a ticket to see the Beatles film they were all, apart from the girls from the religious sect, going to see. They had organised it with the warden of the hostel I was staying in to have one the parents pick me up and return me to her care. All of it had been done without telling me anything. 

We went to the film. I didn't actually like it very much but I pretended I liked it as much as they did. The film didn't matter, what mattered was that the girls had cared enough to include me. 

If I had that spare ticket I would want to give it to the girl who got up and said, "Cat, we want you to come too. Here's the ticket."

I would like a block of tickets to give them - and hope they still liked "the Beatles".  

Tuesday 17 October 2023

Peace blanket

I had an unexpected email from someone I do not know recently. In it R.... told me how she had found a book in a charity shop. The book contains a story by me. 

It is the true story of how I knitted the above "blanket". I made it after "9/11" or the appalling destruction of the World Trade Centre. It is "cot blanket" size but, after a suggestion from the Senior Cat, I turned it into something which could be hung on a wall and there it is, not on my wall but on a wall somewhere else. Let me explain.

My "Little Sister", the mother of my goddaughter, was living in New York at the time. Her husband might easily have been in the WTC at the time. I was desperately worried for her, her family and everyone else caught up in the event. I knew people here who were equally concerned for people they knew. 

This was one of those major but rare events where I was not busy at work trying to help those people who really help. Nobody needed any communication assistance. It was all happening in a place where English was spoken. That alone made it almost unbelievable.

The Senior Cat retreated to his beloved shed. He couldn't handle the situation at all. He ceased watching the evening news service and never watched it again. I had to watch of course but I kept my watching to a bare minimum. I needed a project, something to take my thoughts in a positive direction. 

And so I set out to knit the above blanket. I had to design it first and I wanted to involve other people. I put out a request for people to give me their words for "peace". Yes, I could easily have found them for myself. There were more than enough dictionaries in the house at the time but I wanted to involve other people. I did involve other people.

I deliberately used blue and white - the colours of the Israeli flag. I also used the Blissymbol for "peace".  It is a combination symbol of "opposite" and "war". If you look carefully at the photograph above you can see the crossed swords which mean "war" next to the symbol for "opposite".  The man who created that symbol, Charles Bliss, was a former prisoner of war. 

I knitted that blanket on buses and trains and in many other places. When people asked me what I was making I told them. I asked them to add stitches to it. The youngest was a boy of about three, the oldest was a very old woman indeed. I remember a bus driver putting in stitches, a priest, a boy with purple hair and many others. Those who could knit would often put in more than one stitch in the plain or simple rounds.

When I had finished it off it went on display at a small museum, at a craft fair and then at the local library. The library raffled it off. A local woman won it and hung it in her own home until she moved and no longer had room for it. She contacted me and asked me to use it again. Yes, it is somewhere else now, on another wall. I hope the people who have it can feel the concern that so many people put into it. 

(The book is "KnitLit:Sweaters and their stories" by Linda Roghaar and Molly Wolf. Harmony; 1st edition (2002) 

 ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0609808249 ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0609808)


Monday 16 October 2023

"Reconciliation is not dead

and "racism" is more in your mind than is actually the case." Yesterday I said that to a very radical acquaintance of mine when she stopped to speak to me. I often see her walking her dog. We met because the dog got loose one day. I managed to grab it when it bounded up to me. His owner appeared to be grateful but, although I try to be polite, I feel uncomfortable in her presence. Her politics, about which she is very outspoken, are not my politics. 

Yesterday she told me, "Reconciliation is dead. People in this country are just f.... racists. It should have been "Yes" with a b... landslide. All those "No" voters have just trashed our international reputation."

I don't agree but all I said, as quietly and as calmly as I could in the face of the onslaught, was "Reconciliation is not dead and racism is more in your mind than is actually the case."

Of course we have "racists" in this country but the vast majority of people I know are more than willing to respect others on equal terms even when they need special consideration or assistance. They may hold private opinions about "aboriginals", "Arabs", "Jews", "Christians", "lesbians and homosexuals", "the blind", "the deaf" or "people with Down Syndrome" or any other group but they will be polite when they meet them. They will even go out of their way to help them.  

The referendum did not fail because of "racism". It failed for other reasons. It was the wrong question. It was also done without the necessary education, respect and detail people felt they needed. People did not want to be lectured by "leaders" of industry, "celebrities" and other "names". Requests to be told "How will this work?" were not met. They were asked to put too much trust in a government that may still be ahead in the opinion polls but won't be there forever.  

We need to stop looking back. We need to cease fuelling the fires of grievance. What matters now is not what happened in the past but what will happen in the future. What matters now is respect.


Sunday 15 October 2023

We were asked the wrong referendum question

and it was that which brought about failure. It was not "racism" which caused people to reject the "Voice to Parliament" proposal.

The electorate I live in came very close to saying "yes". It would have overwhelmingly said "yes" to acknowledging indigenous people in the Constitution. 

How do I know that? I don't of course but the conversations right around me indicated very strong support for recognition. There seems to have been very strong support for recognition, for acknowledging there were people here before white settlement. It would not have been hard to get that over the high hurdle of a majority of people in a majority of the states, the hurdle needed for constitutional change. 

There will be more questions asked now about the way we need to go in order to change the Constitution in this country. Did the men (and they were all men) who wrote our Constitution get it wrong or did they get it right when they put that requirement before change in? I think they got it right. It is very difficult to change our Constitution and I believe it should be. It is a document which has served us well for one hundred and twenty-two years. We may well want to rewrite it in the future but, until then, we need to abide by what it says. Make a good argument for change as we did in 1967 and people will support it.

There was no good argument for change here. We were looking at the wrong idea. We were not looking at recognition. We should have been looking at recognition. Recognition alone would have offered so much. 

It was a small but powerful activist group who wanted a big change. They wanted more than we were prepared to give them. They were "inner city activists" who claimed to be speaking on behalf of all indigenous people. Clearly they were not. They wanted all this to lead to "truth telling", "reparations", "a treaty" and more. Indigenous  people I know are much more concerned with housing, health, education and employment and the cost of living - the same concerns as all of us.

Perhaps this is a discussion we needed to have. Perhaps now the vote is over we will be able to get on with the business of "closing the gap" but it is going to take work.  In making their demands for their grievances to be met these activists have caused so much harm. I hope it is not irreparable harm.

Saturday 14 October 2023

Voting day

and I do not need to go off in the drizzle to vote. I have already voted. I voted at the same time as someone who had the right to vote early because she needed some assistance. 

That person asked me to accompany her and give her the minimal assistance she needed. I did not try to influence her vote in any way. It is not my role to do that. It would be wrong.  

It was also good to be able to cast that early vote. I could then say calmly to people, "I have already voted."  They then knew that there would be no point in trying to get me to change my mind - one way or the other.

I have since provided more assistance for people who require more help. Some have voted "yes" and some have voted "no" to the question being asked. It was my responsibility to make sure I did exactly as they asked. Only one person could not see the ballot paper but he wanted me to help because he likes to keep his voting intentions from the rest of his family. I have provided assistance for him before and I have never told anyone how he votes. It is his affair. My silence is his right and my responsibility.

I was questioned about this yesterday. "Aren't you tempted to fill it out the way you want to vote?"

The answer is "no". I am not tempted. I have never been tempted. I have been helping people with disabilities vote for more than thirty years and I have always done as they asked. That is what I am there to do. It is my responsibility to see they are not disenfranchised. One year there was an unusually long ballot paper at federal level. Our preferential voting system requires you to "vote above the line" or "fill in every box below the line". If you vote above the line you do as your party of first choice wants and most people do that. 

I had to assist two people who were voting below the line. It took a lot of time but I did not try to dissuade them in any way. They had thought about their choice and it was their right to have that choice on the ballot paper. I remember when my late friend J... had finished indicating his choices to me he smiled and, with extreme difficulty, he managed to raise a thumb. I knew he was voting for someone he actually knew. It was important to him. 

If I am again called on to assist I will do as those who need assistance want. If they choose something I strongly disagree with I will try not to even show what I think. I am there simply to do as they want. It is their vote, not mine.


Friday 13 October 2023

There is no right to protest

in a violent or abusive manner. There is no right to do harm to others if you disagree with them. 

I have never been one to "protest". The idea of heading off to join a crowd of other people and chant slogans has never appealed to me. I am a timid sort of cat. Crowds, even friendly crowds, do not appeal to me. The thought of a potentially disruptive crowd alarms me and the thought of a crowd that could end in violence terrifies me. 

My preferred form of protest is a letter. I will spend time over a letter, perhaps as much time as someone who has gone to protest. My letter writing has produced results too. I have been invited to meet and talk with people I might otherwise never have met. I have seen action taken when there is a problem.

I was in my early teens when I complained to my local MP about something. (He happened to be visiting the Senior Cat at the time. I did not go out of my way to do this.) He looked at me and asked, "Do you really think that? Would you write me a letter so I can show other people?" 

I wrote the letter. I remember the Senior Cat reading my first attempt and making some suggestions but I wrote the letter myself. It wasn't the best of letters. I didn't get what I thought we should get for the school but plans were changed because, in my letter, there was evidence a problem needed to be addressed. The MP knew that the problem existed but he was smart enough to involve one of his young constituents. No doubt it just meant he could say, "Look, even the young people are aware of the problem." 

What he didn't know then (and I didn't know either) was that it set me on the letter writing path. I had a lot to learn about letter writing but learn I did. 

Over the years I managed to learn that protesting by letter writing is far more effective than going off to "protest" outside parliament or elsewhere. I am never going to glue myself to the road or hurl paint at buildings. I don't need to do that. I can write letters.

Other people know I write letters. I will help them write letters. I have helped people write letters even when I strongly disagree with what they are saying. It's their letter, not mine. I tell them, "Keep it short, no more than a page." I tell them "State the problem. Suggest a reasonable solution." 

There is much more to it than that of course but it is a start. It is why there is a letter on my desk right now asking me if I can call someone's secretary today and arrange a time for a meeting. I am confident that meeting will produce a result.

In writing a letter I am committing my thoughts to paper. It requires me to be careful and considerate and courteous. I cannot abuse someone or threaten someone. I may not get the same "adrenalin kick" that those going to a protest get but I can still be heard. It might even be that I am more likely to be heard.

Thursday 12 October 2023

The Referendum is not

over yet. It won't be over until the polls close on Saturday, until the last person has made a decision. 

After that comes the counting. Then, whichever way it goes, there will be the discussions and the analyses and the finger pointing. There will be tears and shouts of rage too no doubt. 

This has to be the most divisive campaign in the history of this country. It is the campaign which has had to deal with social media as well as the media and the politicians. It has been run like an election campaign although it was not intended to be an election campaign. 

There are things which have been said which should never have been said and things that have been left unsaid. There has been "misinformation" and "disinformation" - and there have been outright and highly recognisable lies. 

I have tried sifting through all the information I can find. I have looked at the sources of that information. I have read professional legal opinions and simple letters to the editor and many articles in between.While I try to inform myself before each election I found myself more concerned about this than any actual election.

Changing our Constitution is no small matter. I was too young to vote in the 1967 Referendum which brought the change which included everyone in the Constitution.  I do remember my paternal grandfather getting up to speak in church. As a Presbyterian elder he had some authority in his community and he spoke in favour of the change. He never talked about politics. He did not see that move as political, simply inclusive. 

I think the present issue would trouble him deeply. He would have tried to inform himself. There was no social media then. My grandparents did not even have a television set and rarely listened to the radio. There were no glossy fliers in letterboxes. It was the newspapers which informed him then.

All the "information" we get now is a distraction. It is not informing us at all.  

Wednesday 11 October 2023

Multiculturalism is not working

and it is time to stop believing it does. 

Downunder is supposed to be "the most successful multicultural country in the world". We supposedly live in a "diverse and harmonious" country too.

I think yesterday showed otherwise and there is likely more to come. What happened outside the Opera House was unacceptable. What some others had to say about it was unacceptable. Yes, there is a right to protest in this country but that right does not include the right to do harm.  Harm was done yesterday. What was said was unacceptable.

While I was worrying about friends in Israel, about people who tell me things like they are "safe but not okay"  there were people "celebrating" the harm being done. They were celebrating death and destruction. They were celebrating mass murder. Why? They want to see an end to Israel.

Our smallest state is about 68,000km square. Israel is about 22,000km square. The Gaza strip, at around 360km square, is about half the size of our nation's capital. They are not big places. 

The Gaza strip is one of the most densely populated places on earth - deliberately so. It has been described to me as "one of the most valuable pieces of land terrorists could hope for. They hold their own hostage."  The person telling me that was an aid worker. 

Of course there are problems in those places, problems which deeply concern many people.They concern me. Those problems do not give me the right to go out into the streets of this country shouting vile words against others. They do not give me the right to threaten violence or revenge. I find it appalling that some "Greens" politicians actively support these protests and have actually condemned the government and opposition for raising their voices in concern at what is going on. It is alarming to find that police are not intervening when threats are made. The idea that this is in any way something to do with being a "multicultural" society is something I do not understand at all. 

I have no problem with families continuing some cultural traditions in their own homes. Middle Cat married into the Greek-Cypriot community. They have their own traditions, although less so now than before. The women now dress differently, Greek is not spoken as widely as it once was and the children do not attend religious services on a weekly basis, if at all. There is less animosity towards the Turks than there was in my childhood. Greek-Cypriots here would like to see Cyprus united again but they would oppose violence in order to achieve it.  

The difference between all this and the tensions between Muslims and Jews is stark. I have friends on both sides. None of them support violence. They go to mosque and synagogue. They are teaching their children to do the same but what is sometimes said in those places concerns them.  In the library recently one of the mothers told me, "We no longer go to Friday prayers. My husband is afraid our sons might become radicalised."  It made me wonder what was being said there.  

In our supposedly "multicultural" country the imam has the freedom to "guide" his congregation to support the present violence. That can take precedence over peaceful co-existence here but not all imams condone violence. In the synagogue, a place I have been to more than once, I have heard the rabbi trying not to condemn violence while still trying to support his own flock. For both groups what is going on half a world away is as important, if not more so, than what is going on here. There will be exhortations to condemn inside both groups by those who live here but love elsewhere.  If this is how "multiculturalism" works then it is not working at all.


Tuesday 10 October 2023

The Referendum 2023 is

 having a negative impact on all of us. We all know it even if not everyone is prepared to admit it. It is also a cause of concern for the safety of some.

Yesterday I went to a "group" house for several people with disabilities. This had been arranged some time ago. All five residents were going to be home and I was going there to help them fill out their voting papers. 

I know four of these people but the fifth resident was new to me. There was just one "carer" on duty when I arrived although there should be two. The carer is someone I know slightly and she actually looked relieved to see me.

"Yes, I've got their papers. I took them home with me because N... (one of the carers) was going to do it for them but I don't trust him."

I would not trust N... either. He isn't the sort of person to be given a caring role where vulnerable people are concerned. He also has some very radical beliefs.  

I take the envelopes for the postal votes from her but I can see there is something else. I wait but she still hesitates so I ask, "Is there something else bothering you?"

She sighs and says, "Look I don't want to stop anyone getting a vote but T.... I don't she should have a vote. I don't think she understands."

"I'll see what I think. We can send the form in blank if I can't get an answer from her. "

The carer looks relieved. One of the men I have gone to help tells me the same thing. He is intelligent but physically fragile. This will almost certainly be the last time he votes. He is now on oxygen all the time. Talking exhausts him but he tells me this. We have known one another since he was a small boy. 

"N... would have used our votes," he tells me. I don't doubt it. N... would see nothing wrong in that. He would believe everyone should vote the way he intends to vote.

I fill out four forms according to their wishes. I witness their attempts to write their names on the envelope - all done with varying degrees of success. Then I go to the fifth person who is in her wheelchair out in the sun. She is awake but looks blankly at me. I explain who I am and why I am there. There is no response so I try again. I talk in the simplest possible terms about making a choice. I try asking some simple questions she can answer by indicating "yes" or "no". There is still no response. The carer has come out. She has done the right thing and is standing well back as I talk. I ask her to ask the same questions. There is still no response.

"It's always like this. If she doesn't like the food she just turns her head away. She never answers anything."

I decide to send in a blank form and add a message saying that this person is not able to make a decision.  

"Thanks Cat," the carer tells me and I take the forms off and post them on the way home.

N.... phones me that night. He is furious. How dare I "interfere"? How dare I not let T.... vote? 

"You mean how dare I not let you have T...'s vote?" I ask. 

"I'm reporting you for this," he threatens me.

I wish he would but he won't - because I know who they would believe. I wonder how many other times this will happen in a vote that is dividing the nation.

Monday 9 October 2023

I have friends in Israel

and it is a country I would like to visit but never will. It would be good to see those places I was told about in Sunday School and, later, in high school.

But, it isn't safe. I am not going to put myself at risk and perhaps put others at risk because I cannot do an Olympic dash from trouble. It is not a safe country. It has never been a safe country.

The events of the last two days have left me feeling more than merely "anxious". I am deeply concerned for my friends there. I have not heard from them and they are people who would send out group messages telling people, "We are safe." There have been no such messages. 

I don't know what the answer is to the tragedy which is Palestine-Israel. What I do know is that many ordinary people on both sides of the conflict simply want to get on with their daily lives without having to constantly be on guard. They don't want their children involved in the conflict. They have their own ideas about how the situation should be resolved but know that others will not allow that to happen. As mothers they try to teach their children that violence will get you nowhere and know that their teenage children will get called to do military service on one side or trained to fight on the other. 

The two families I am thinking of have been friends for many years. One of them has a profoundly disabled son, now an adult. He needs constant care and attention. He is not unintelligent but he is not able to speak and uses a communication board. I helped to set it up many years ago. It was at another time when the conflict was severe. Even being seen talking to one another was dangerous then. The speech pathologist who took the risk of helping is a brave woman. She was heavily criticised at the time. Now retired she has remained in touch with her "other family". To her they are simply a family in need of help. 

It would be so good to think that friendships like that could stop the bloodshed. They won't. There are very powerful voices fuelling the violence. The violence is being driven by beliefs that cannot be shifted. It is being passed on from one generation to the next. How do you stop that? 

I just hope my friends are safe.


Sunday 8 October 2023

The " secret ballot" is

there for a purpose. It is intended to allow us to vote the way we want to vote. Most people are able to go into the privacy of one of those little cardboard shelters and mark their ballot papers the way they wish. 

Despite that we have people intent on conducting "opinion" polls. They try to predict the outcome of an election or some other campaign or gauge the mood of the population.

So, currently we have "Nelson". Nelson is a Kombi van. He has been hauled into service because "Daisy" (another Kombi van) refused to participate. She said she was too old and simply refused to move. 

I don't blame her. Nelson cannot possibly do the job either. He has been to some places where many people simply won't talk about their voting intentions. It would be unwise to do so. 

If you live in a small community people may well be able to guess your voting intentions. Intentions will be under discussion but that does not mean you want to share them with a couple of strangers from the big smoke. Nelson's minders are from the big smoke and they are asking the questions. 

They started out in a small town, barely a blip on the map, which was apparently chosen because it is "halfway across the continent". Conveniently it also happens to be the place where the nuclear waste dump was intended to be. The proposal to use a site out of town failed because an Aboriginal group protested. I know someone who lived most of her life there before moving to the city to be near her children. She doubted the locals would say too much to a couple of strangers. They didn't.

They moved on to a very "union" oriented town. People there are not going to speak their mind either...and they didn't. In the third place they must not have asked for names because none are mentioned. People were a little more forthcoming but not a lot.

Now Nelson is struggling back to the city. He is supposed to wait like a weary horse while his two riders ask more people about their voting intentions. I doubt they will get much in the way of worthwhile information. 

It's a publicity stunt of course but it does raise questions about the real value of polls. There have sometimes been phone calls from polling companies on the old "land line" here. The Senior Cat and I always refused (and I still refuse) to answer. We just politely say, "We don't answer that sort of question over the phone." It is not private. They can match the number with a name.  

I wonder how many other people refuse. Those "undecided" people in the current polling might well have made a decision. They simply don't want everyone to know.  

Saturday 7 October 2023

Going to vote is difficult

enough without having to contend with the people who stand just outside trying to tell you how to vote.

It is time to stop this happening. If you do not know what you are going to do when you head to the polling booth then you are not being a responsible voter. 

I went to vote yesterday. I went with an elderly acquaintance J... Her daughter had contacted me and asked me to help. J... is visually impaired. She can see well enough to manage many things but the voting paper is black on a pale green and she needed help. Would I go with her? 

Of course I did. It was a good way to get my own need to vote out of the way at the same time. I went to see her at the appointed time and she made a cup of tea and had a chat before we set out. She knew how she wanted to vote. Her daughter, who is in another state, had read material to her. She had talked with some of the Aboriginal people she once worked with in the north of this state. J... was making an informed choice.

So we headed off around to the polling station. It is where she goes to church and she is familiar with all that.

"All you need to do is put your finger where the box is," she told me, "I can write it in myself then."

"I'll close my eyes too," I told her, "Then I won't see what you are doing."

She laughed because I already knew which way she intended to vote.

Outside the church hall there were "Yes" and "No" people waiting to accost us. At election times I tell all of them, "Thank you I know how I intend to vote." I do too. I try to be an informed voter. I wondered what they would do faced with two obviously disabled people. 

One side rushed up to us with their printed material and tried to force it on us even though it was evident J.... would not be able to read it. They were women, one older and two younger. 

The other side, three older men, did not offer J... anything. One of them simply asked, "Do you know where to go? Straight ahead, not left."

Yes, we knew where to go. It was nice to be asked. The person who asked is not permitted to enter the building while campaigning. Given the opportunity however I thought he might have escorted J... He would have thought it might be necessary.

Inside there were no problems at all. I was asked if I had voted. No? Did I want to do it then? Yes. It would save me coming back. I did as J... asked and put my finger next to the box. Yes, she had the pencil in the right place. I looked back at the other people in the hall as she wrote her answer. I then wrote mine. We put our papers in the box marked with our electorate and went out. 

I made sure J... was safely across the road and she bid me goodbye. No, she didn't need help to go home along the familiar street and I would not insult her by offering. I went off to visit a very elderly nun and her somewhat younger house companion, another nun. We talked about voting and agreed that you need to know how you are going to vote before you turn up at the polling station. The people who push leaflets at you are not going to get me or J... or the nuns to change their minds at the last moment.