Wednesday 31 January 2024

Being a nun

must be very different now. 

I went to visit a very elderly nun yesterday. It was her birthday and I had made a card for her - a card with a great many quotations on it. 

Now I have just looked at the last two sentences again and thought, "How extraordinary is that?" 

The very fact that I should even know a nun, let alone know her well enough to give her a card for her birthday, is something I would not once have contemplated. Here I was pedalling in to the convent, another nun gave me a cheerful wave. "We gave her a morning tea!"

I had thought they might so I had timed my visit for after that. I did not want to go in the afternoon. B... likes to have a "snooze" in the afternoons. It isn't an indulgence at her age. It is a necessity. 

At the back door, where almost everyone goes in now, I was about to knock when yet another (elderly) nun came along and said, "She's just back but do come in. I know she will be pleased to see you."

One of the outside carers who comes in to help her shower and dress was there and said, "I'll tell B.... you are here. She's in her bedroom."

I followed her in and, on seeing me, B..'s face lit up with her wonderful smile. She has one of those smiles that starts at her eyes as she sees you and then spreads to the rest of her face. It's a real smile.  "Cat!"

I kissed her, said the usual birthday things, and handed over the card. She may be 95 but she can still read without glasses and she is still very mentally alert. "Oh, I like this...and this..." she told me as she read some of the quotations aloud. Then she put it down and we chatted for a few minutes. I knew she would be tired as she is physically frail. It meant not staying for long so I soon left her and went to find P... in their kitchen. She was tidying away plates and mugs. We hugged as we usually do but I didn't stay much longer. There were other things I needed to do.

"Come down soon," P... told me, "B... would love a proper chat."'

She knows I will come too but I pedalled off thinking how different things were. As a mere kitten I could not have imagined any of this. Nuns were "Catholics" and we Presbyterians did not mix with them. At school we thought the "Catholic kids" were strange and did strange things. My mother didn't care for Catholics at all. The Senior Cat was much more accepting. His father went out of his way to support a close by orphanage the nuns struggled to run. (It was considered absolutely extraordinary when several of them attended my grandfather's funeral. They stood, dressed in their black habits, at the back and left immediately the service was over but it still caused a lot of comment throughout the community.)

B...'s bedroom is not much tidier than mine. She may not have as many books in it but she does have a full bookshelf of her books. She has a small television set, her "comfortable chair" and other belongings. It is "ordinary" I suppose. P...'s bedroom is much the same...perhaps a little tidier. Neither of them own a habit now. If the occasion requires it they have plain skirts and jackets that look a bit formal...the sort of thing I would wear into court if it was not acceptable for me to wear trousers. 

The Senior Cat, having had more than one cup of tea in their kitchen, said of their home, "Some of it is a bit austere - or is it just a bit tidier?"   I suspect the latter. Perhaps they don't have quite as much as many people but they are comfortable.

It is as it should be now. Yes, they are still devout. They believe things I do not believe. I believe things they do not believe or perhaps even understand.  I respect their beliefs and they respect mine. We do more than "get along with each other" however. We are friends - and that is as it should be too.   

Tuesday 30 January 2024

Challenging a will?

Sigh.... those of you who are regular readers will know there is the Black Cat in my life. 

The Black Cat is my youngest sibling....the family problem, the black sheep. She is an alcoholic (although apparently "dry" at the moment). She has married twice and had multiple other men in her life. Fortunately there were never any children.

My parents bailed her out over and over again. It was always going to be "the last time" but of course it never was. Over the years she has had more than her share...and now she wants more still.

The Senior Cat knew what she was like but tried to show "unconditional love" at all times. She knew and took advantage of that. He was not however completely foolish. His will states that her share is "in trust". He simply did not trust her with anything apart from small sums of money...those added up to hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands and more over the years. She was given things - fridges, washing machines and microwave ovens. Our mother bought her clothes and bed linen more than once.

All of it has disappeared over the years. She now rents a tiny house in another state and lives on a "disability pension" which is about to become an "age pension". The disability pension was given to her following accidents caused by her own inebriation.

Her behaviour and demands over the years have had a massive impact on the rest of us. As the child who was not married and who did not have a family to support Brother Cat, Middle Cat and I made the decision that I would be the one who would have to return home, stay at home and care for our parents when it was no longer safe for my parents to be alone. At that time the Black Cat's second husband was not just being violent towards her but had threatened violence to our parents. The police were involved and they were advised to keep everything locked and to take extreme care when out and about. Social welfare from alcohol and drug addiction services were involved and advised them to have someone else living on the property - me. Over and over again there were issues and problems. For our safety she spent some time in a women's shelter. That cost the Senior Cat hours of "volunteering" in the shelter doing maintenance work as well as regular donations because he felt he should. I am still involved in now caring for the nuns who cared for her.

The Black Cat appeared at our mother's funeral so inebriated she could not stand upright without support.  She told the rest of us we didn't love Mum because we were not weeping the way she was. There was worse to come and, despite not wanting to speak to her, the Senior Cat went on supporting her.  

The Senior Cat never again trusted the Black Cat. Who can blame him for that? She moved to another state. He would always phone her at the same time on a Sunday afternoon. Sometimes she would not answer his call. There would always be an excuse of some sort but he knew they were excuses. On the occasions she called him and I answered the call she would simply say, "Get Dad". He would say, "I wonder how much she wants this time."

And now she is challenging the way the Senior Cat finally said, "Any more I give you from this date, apart from Christmas and birthday presents will come out of your share of my estate." No, it isn't fair. I need more than the rest of you. Cat's been living rent free and the others have houses. I haven't got anything." No, I was not living rent free. I have always paid half of the household expenses and contributed in other ways as well as caring for our parents. The others have had other expenses, families to consider.

I know it will be sorted out in the end but it may well come at a huge cost to the rest of us. Challenging a will can be dangerous - but not always for the person who challenges it. 

Monday 29 January 2024

So where is the aid money going?

Most readers of this blog will be aware of the current furor over the United Nations Relief and Works Agency funding for people in Palestine being suspended. It was suspended because some staff are alleged to have been involved in the Hamas attack on Israel which has led to the current fighting.

There is of course alarm over this and demands for the funding to be restored. There are the claims that "the people of Gaza" are not responsible and should not suffer because of the actions of Hamas. The rights and wrongs of the situation can be argued in many ways. Much of the argument will be influenced by whichever side on which sympathies lie.

But there is something else that needs to be addressed and that is the fact that the provision of aid is not what it appears to be. It is not simply people handing out food and water and tents to people who have had to flee violence or a natural disaster. It is highly political. The provision of aid is used as a tool for power. Aid will go where it is seen to be likely to do the most political good even when it appears to be going where it is most needed. Aid will also free up what other money there is in order to continue a conflict. Those arms used by fighters have to be paid for...and aid money helps to pay for arms. 

Refugee organisations working in conflict zones are not full of nice, caring people who are doing the work because they have some sort of social conscience. It may seem that way but many of those who work for such organisations do it simply because it is a job. They do it because they are getting paid to do it and often, especially in local terms, being paid well. 

Yes of course there are people who work for those organisations who are passionate about what they are doing. They do it for the best of reasons and often at great personal cost. The reality however is that many more do it simply because the work is there and needs to be done. It may appeal to a sense of adventure in some who come in from outside. They know it will look good on their cv's further down the track. It is better to do this than join a "foreign legion" or be a mercenary. 

Aid work still needs to be done. Millions of people would die without the help given by aid organisations but we do need to consider that providing aid also provides arms in conflict zones. It can and is used to further political ambitions in any complex humanitarian emergency. Of course we need to go on giving but we also need to be aware. 

Sunday 28 January 2024

The aisles of the hardware store

were crowded yesterday. No, there wasn't a sale on. It was "Saturday busy in summer" according to the student at the checkout desk.

This hardware store is big, very big. The aisles go from one to twenty-something. I gave up counting. 

Actually I had done the sensible thing and "looked it up online" before I went. Yes, they had what I needed in the "tools" section in aisle twelve. 

Getting to aisle twelve was a journey in itself. Then I was face with a long row of "tools". These were "small tools". I went on. I mean how hard could it be to find what I wanted? At least I did not need to go past the "large tools" section...or look at the prices. 

Even the price of "small tools" seemed large to me. Perhaps it is all those different sizes? 

I prowled on slowly. It is possible I was getting in the way as I searched for what I needed. "Aisle twelve" the website said. That was all very well but where in aisle twelve? Ah, wait a moment. I do know a screwdriver when I see they are the "bits" for the electric sort. No, they are not the right sort. I do know the difference between a straight and a Phillips head sort and those are much too large anyway. Hold everything! I found them! Eureka! 

I took the plastic encased packet off the shelf and examined it. Yes, this was what I needed and yes the price was what had been advertised on the website. Around me I was aware of the male half of the species examining other things. One of them moved out of the way with a surprised, "Got what you wanted then?"

"Yes," I told him with my best Cheshire like smile and disappeared to the check out - the one for "only tools". I paid for the packet. 

I was about to leave when it occurred to me that, as they also sell gardening items (and plants), I might as well get the other thing that had almost run out. Was it worth prowling another long aisle - if I could find the right one? It is quite a pedal to and from the place and I have better things to do with my time than go twice.  I went hunting. I was determined to do this without asking for help.  Aisle eighteen or nineteen - something like that - and along I went.

And at the point I had to ask for help. Oh yes, I found what I wanted. The trouble with being a short cat is that you do sometimes need to ask for help. I inquired of a tall gentleman passing.

"You seem to know what you want. I saw you in small tools," he said with the sort of smile that told me we were both thinking the same thing. We chatted as we waited in line at the next checkout (not "small tools" this time.) 

I didn't tell him the screwdriver set was not for me because I do know how to use a screwdriver. 

Saturday 27 January 2024

Do we need a national day?

It was Downunder's national holiday yesterday. It should have been a time of "celebration". Instead much of the news last night was given over to the "protest" rallies, gatherings and marches. Much was made of the fact that it is "a day of mourning" for some. Pro-Palestinian protestors joined in with those protesting about  "colonisation" and more.

Oh yes, there was a little piece by the Prime Minister about what a great country we live in. There was a news item about those who have become the 2024 Downunderites of the Year too. But, that was about it. There was far more about the 0.003% of the population who were protesting and mourning.

I actually spent most of yesterday, a public holiday, working. It often happens. I was lucky last year I managed to get Christmas Day off to be with family.  I worked on all the other public holidays, not eight hours (or more) but I still did some work.  There was nothing unusual in that. It no longer bothers me.

I see myself as a citizen of the world, not of any one country. I am not a flag waving patriot. I have never been that.

What concerns me is the level of bitterness and anger that the national day here generates. All too often it comes from people whose own ancestors were responsible for the actions they are now protesting against. Some of their ancestors were the people who came here in the 18thC and committed what these people like to call "genocide". These are the ancestors who get dismissed. Only their "indigenous" ancestors are of any importance when these protests are taking place.

My own ancestors came from Scotland in the 19thC. They were crofters, teachers, seafarers, cartographers, engineers, farmers and more. They were not rich. They worked hard, very hard. I am grateful I belong to such a clan. 

We are not responsible for what happened in the past and I do not see why I should be continually told how bad colonisation has been for this country. Was it really? The idea that those who inhabited the country before white settlement led a comfortable, peaceful, prosperous existence is simply wrong. The lives they lived were precarious. They were not comfortable. They were brutal. The old and the sick were left behind to die when nomadic people moved on. Domestic violence was rife. There were constant clashes between tribes. There were no permanent settlements and, despite Pascoe's claims to the contrary, there was no farming. People were hunter-gatherers. The wheel had not been invented and people could not read or write. 

All this is ignored by the protestors who claim that the land was stolen, that there is a need for reparations and a treaty and "truth telling". Yes, of course there was wrong doing when the first convict settlers arrived but they did not deliberately bring "measles infested blankets" to commit "genocide".  Even if they had done so the following generations, those not born at the time, cannot be held responsible for what happened in the past. 

We don't need a national day at all in a so called "multi-cultural" society. We most certainly don't need it if it feeds the "anger" of those who say they resent history.

Friday 26 January 2024

"So you don't want to be a teacher?"

I can hear the question being asked now. 

Remember when we used to play "School"? Someone would be "the teacher" and the rest of us would have to do what we were told. There would be "lessons" and we would get "told off" if we did something wrong. Brother Cat and I had "slates" which produced the most ghastly "squeaks" - akin to nails being scraped down blackboards. We would do "sums" and "spelling" on the slates.

In our family of course it was scarcely surprising to find children playing the "School" game. Our parents were teachers. We heard a lot about "teaching" and what went on in the classrooms they and others worked in. 

And three out of the four kittens in the family went into teaching - and then left.  All of us say that we would not choose teaching as a profession now. It is possible that, given other choices, we would not have chosen teaching then. It was "just one of those things". Teaching gave us a "qualification" and the possibility of a job. We did "diplomas", not "degrees". Even then "diplomas" were exceptions. Only twelve of the students I started with did that third "diploma" year. Others went out on "certificates" after just two years. Now you do a "degree" and it can take four or more years. 

I am not sure teachers are actually any better trained in the art of teaching. The young teaching students who come to me do not seem to know any more than I did at the end of my three year diploma. It might even be said that some of them know less. Their heads have been filled with things like "equal rights" and "gender fluidity" but a basic lesson plan is something with which they struggle.

Think of all the other problems young teachers now need to face. Think of all the administration they are required to do, the special needs children in their classes, the behaviour problems they face (parents as well as students) and the constant threat of sexual allegations being made. Remember too that, at least in this state, almost all the positions are now "contract" positions so that every couple of years you need to reapply for your job. In between you are being watched and assessed by administrators, parents, students and the wider community. The pay is poor compared with many other jobs and the hours are much longer. Now you are also expected to be available mornings, evenings and weekends. It is not the "cushy" job many who have never taught believe it to be. 

I can understand young people not wanting to take up teaching. I especially understand young men not wanting to take up teaching - even more so in the early years. That there are just two hundred and twenty boys who applied this year down from three hundred and eighteen in 2018 may be "alarming" but it is not "surprising". What is more I would guess that at least some of those applicants applied because "it's something to do" and the ATAR score needed was low. Are they passionate about teaching? I doubt it. 

Is it time to rethink what is demanded of teachers and change the way in which they work? I would say "yes" but I suspect those with ambitions to indoctrinate the young rather than educate them will say "no".  

Thursday 25 January 2024

Tax cuts or paying tax?

Oh so there is "outrage" over the "stage 3" tax cuts. Some people are going to get "more" and others will get "less" than they expected.

Except that nobody is actually going to be "better off".  Yes, that's right. Nobody is going to be better off.  

I certainly won't be. I don't earn enough to be better off. You see prices have risen well in excess of my income. The same is true for everyone I know. 

The government might be telling us that some people will be better off but in reality they are still going to be behind where they were several years ago. This is the result of "bracket creep", people moving from one level of taxation to the next.

But it is more than that. Anyone unfortunate enough to need multiple, expensive medication will be able to explain this. In 2023 the "safety-net", the point at which you start to pay a lower amount for some medications, was around $530. In 2024 it will be around $560. That $30 extra may not seem like much to many people but what it has done is ensure that you are not paying "less" for medication as the government recently tried to suggest. You will be paying more because the price of your medication has also risen. Overall it will have risen by more than $30 for the year.  

I had to work it out for an elderly person recently. He is on multiple medications - nothing unusual for a man of 94 - and he will reach the safety net. After that we worked out he will have to pay an extra $348 a year but the government has told him that "medicines are now cheaper".  

As we were watching the children in the street yesterday another neighbour told me, "We might get another $800 a year out of these tax cuts but the cost of running the car is going to increase by that much let alone the price of food...and don't start on the electricity bills! We are not going to be better off whatever spin the government puts on it." 

No, there are no tax cuts. We will still be paying more tax. We are one of the highest taxing countries in the world.  Our tax system is one of the most complex. We pay taxes at local, state and federal level - and don't forget the GST. We have a "Tax Act" that is so complex it is printed in more than one volume and nobody pretends to understand it in full. 

The only thing to come out of the announcement made yesterday is, if you listen carefully, "You will be paying at least the same amount of tax but we are trying to make it look as if we are giving some of it back." 

Wednesday 24 January 2024

Just who is "aboriginal"?

Is it time we actually faced this question? 

In Downunder it is sufficient to claim you are "aboriginal" on a form and have someone else who is also "aboriginal" to accept you as such. There is no need to provide any information about your forebears. It is assumed you are telling the truth.

In a neighbouring state there are demands for the leader of the opposition in the state parliament to apologise, do another back flip and support a "treaty" with "aboriginal" peoples or resign. 

Fair enough? Perhaps not. The first back flip came about after the failure of the referendum and on seeing the state's proposals. In other words the opposition has decided to leave the matter well alone until people change their minds and more work is done. 

Of course this is not good enough for those who are demanding a "treaty".  They are demanding the apology. One man in particular is demanding an apology and getting a good deal of publicity as he does so. He is being described as "an elder" and a "leader".  Really?

I went searching for some information. Ah, yes! He does apparently have an "aboriginal" ancestor. One of his great-great grandfather's is documented as being one but this gentleman from the past was also a collaborator rather than a victim of any sort of white supremacy. Still, it seems that this is enough.  Our present "victim" is able to ignore all his well documented Scots ancestry and claim his one-sixteenth "aboriginal" heritage makes him an elder and a leader.

Does it? He seems to be making his living by being "aboriginal". He has been part of a "first people's assembly" and was very active during the lead up to the referendum. What is more is the government of the day appears to listen to him - and people like him.

Is this a good thing though? How can a man with just one-sixteenth heritage really know so much more when compared with my friend M... or the three women who recently came to visit me? How much does this man really know about the language and culture of the tribe he claims to come from and why is it so much more important than the other fifteen-sixteenths? Why is he allowed, indeed encouraged, to deny the greater part of his heritage? Why is he a "victim"?

We need another definition of just who can claim to be "aboriginal", especially if there are special benefits attached. 

(For the record, my great-grandparents were Scots...and, while I am immensely proud of the fact, there are no special benefits attached to that.)


Tuesday 23 January 2024

"I want to be a wharfie!"

one of the local dog walkers told me as he was walking briskly past this morning. He knew that I knew what he meant.

The "maritime union" men are out on strike. They only get paid $170,000 a year for sitting in an air-conditioned cabin moving containers from ship to shore. It's tough work but someone has to do it.

I once taught in a school where a good many of the children had fathers who were old fashioned "wharfies". Things were changing but at least some of them had started work on the wharves when they still had to load ships manually. These men were known for being rough, tough and loud. 

They rarely appeared at the school. Their wives came instead. If something needed repair a father might appear to do something temporary until the "public buildings man" appeared.  That would be it. Nevertheless these fathers were generally capable of repairs.

They earned a good wage even back then. They were buying their own homes. They had good cars, a boat for fishing when their work was done, and a caravan for "going on holiday". Their children had bikes to ride to and from school. As teachers of their children we could only dream of such riches. 

Work on the wharves has become more and more mechanised. The advent of container shipping changed so much about the actual way it was done. The numbers of men needed decreased but, with some hiccups, it was done largely through attrition. New jobs on the wharves are rare and they still get handed down through the tight network of the union. Union membership may not be compulsory under the law but they have still made it so. 

If you happen to be one of the fortunate families involved in the business then you will do well....but apparently not well enough. There are people I know who take on far greater responsibilities in their everyday lives who do not get paid anything like the wharfies get paid. Their working conditions are nothing like that of the wharfies. They really keep our country running. They control and drive the transport. They feed the country. They keep the power on and the country clean.  Some of them earn as little as a quarter of what a wharfie gets.

There was a time when wharfies had a tough job and they no doubt deserved their pay. I doubt they earn those inflated figures now but they can hold the country to ransom.  It must be nice work...if you can get it. 

Monday 22 January 2024

What would you do with half a million?

Half a million dollars that is. I could use that sort of money. It would be very, very useful right now.

It is going to cost us this, as taxpayers, for the Prime Minister to fly all the Members and the Senators of the Labor party back to Canberra for a meeting...a meeting about the "cost of living crisis". He wants some ideas!

I suppose, being a simple sort of cat, I am not sufficiently politically aware to realise that this is, apparently, how it is done. Apparently you do not need to go to an election with ideas and policies. They can wait until you have been in office almost two years...and you may not even need to have any then. You can simply make it look as if you are having ideas.

I am guessing there might be one outcome of this "meeting". It will be a decision to do away with the promised round of tax cuts. This was a promise made by the previous government and the present government made it a "promise" to retain those cuts. It was a big election winner in their book. "Vote for us and you can still keep the tax cuts. You will be even better off than before. We are going to cut the cost of living."  They also promised that we would reach those "renewable energy targets" and that "power will be cheaper".

None of this has happened of course. There have been all sorts of excuses but perhaps people are beginning to realise that, as a country, we really are in financial trouble. The recent referendum on an indigenous voice to parliament cost not half a million dollars but half a billion dollars...and counting. That money could have been saved if the government had listened. If they really wanted to have a referendum on the issue it could have waited until election time and the cost could at least have been dramatically reduced as polling stations would have to be open and staffed anyway.  

There is also no way that "renewable" energy will be "cheaper" than other forms. Oh, the arguments all seem to be there. We are told it will mean we are doing our bit to save the planet, that wind and sun are free. The reality is otherwise. Solar panels still have to be manufactured - but not here. Wind turbines still have to me manufactured - but not here. We need places to put them - often on good farm land because you need to get the power to the people. The "big batteries" do not store enough power to be useful - less than a day's supply for a small city.  We can't use nuclear power of course - even if other countries do. Despite this I suspect there will be a push for "more renewables to lower the cost of living". 

It will all look as if the government is doing something, the "right" thing. It will be made to look as if they really do "care" about us. More money might be handed out to "working parents" so they can keep their children in "child care" but grandparents will also be expected to pick up more of the work either by remaining in work, going back to work or caring for the grandchildren. There will be talk of raising the retiring age again - perhaps to 70 - and getting employers to put an even greater contribution into superannuation schemes. (Of course the superannuation schemes will need to be those approved by the unions and run by them.)

There will be talk of "pay rises" for the workers...and how to ensure they don't add to inflation. You can also be sure that there will be a discussion about how to get people to spend all those savings they currently have squirreled that the problem of paying their own way in old age is passed on to the next generation.

I can think of something that won't be discussed though. They will not be discussing how to lower our standard of living to a more affordable level. That would be seen as political suicide...and staying in power is more important than anything else.  

Sunday 21 January 2024

Buying a new phone

has proved to be an interesting experience. 

Youngest Nephew, who knows far more about those things than the rest of us put together, did some research for me. I have followed his advice. I am now in possession of something that the Younger Generations would probably not want to know about. 

It is a phone you just "flip" to open and answer...and, even more importantly, it is small enough to fit into a pocket. The flip top means I cannot "accidentally" make a call while pedalling along. It also appears to work in a much more logical way.

Next-to-youngest Nephew appeared yesterday and took the SIM card out of the old phone, transferred it to the new phone and, between us, we did things. We tested it and it seems to work. Now I need to wait for Middle Cat to make one of her many calls to me.  

What was interesting however that Nephew who was helping me admitted he was not quite sure how an old (in his words "ancient") dial telephone worked. He had seen one of course but he had never used one. We talked about computers too. He has grown up with computers. His father was working with them before they were commonplace. They have had computers in the house for as long as Y... can remember. (There are at least five, perhaps more.) Y...uses one without really thinking about. Internet access is something he just accepts. The idea that you might need to go to the library to get all your information is something he thinks of as very odd indeed. As for the idea of an encyclopaedia in many volumes where you might be able to look for "anything"? He just laughed.

I remember those old "Arthur Mee" volumes. My mother and her brother had them. If I remember correctly they were given to them by a cousin of their mother. As children my brother and I read them but we knew that they were very dated even then. My maternal grandfather "invested" in another fancy set. They sat there unopened and unused unless we children happened to be there...and we read them as a means of escape from having to make conversation with adults we did not like. 

I tried to explain the idea of an encyclopaedia to Nephew. Oh yes, he understood.  "But Aunty Cat how did they choose what to put in there? Even the internet doesn't have everything and that is huge." 

I thought about this again as I put the little phone on to "charge". If I went on to a much more expensive "phone plan" I could access the internet on a small black box which has some buttons. There would be so much more information at a paw pat or two than there was in all those volumes and even the "internet" doesn't have everything. I wonder what is coming next. 

Saturday 20 January 2024

It's not cricket!

Or is it cricket?

There is wailing and gnashing of teeth. This is all because there was apparently a "Test Match"  which, shock and horror, began on a Wednesday and was over on a Friday. There was no weekend cricket and thus no " weekend hospitality " or chance to go to the cricket on a Saturday or Sunday. People in the industry are complaining about losing a lot of money, cricket tragics are up in arms. There is fury at the governing body.

Hmmm...I am waiting for a phone call from Cousin M.... He is the true blue sports fan of the clan. For years he would, completely out of the blue, call the Senior Cat and say, "What's the score?" The Senior Cat would say, "For what?" Cousin M... would say, "The cricket" or, in winter, "the footy". The Senior Cat never had any idea. He was not in the least bit interested. Cousin M... once took the Senior Cat to a football match but it was a bit of a disaster. The Senior Cat took all the teasing as it was intended, a bit of good fun.

But, they never went to a cricket match together. Cricket was and is too important in the eyes of Cousin M...  If cricket was a religion it would be the highest of high church, the most sacred rites of all. "The footy" is important, very important but it is low church compared with cricket in the eyes of Cousin M....  We would be told about "balls", "overs", "wickets" and "runs" in all their glorious detail. Cousin M... even had the audacity to once try and show me how to hold a cricket bat. 

I know almost nothing about cricket but I know more about it than I know about any other game apart from softball. Softball I was forced to know something about - and I have forgotten almost everything I once had to learn - but cricket is different. I have actually played cricket - at least, I have played a form of cricket.

I remember those wonderful occasions back in the dark ages of my teens when I would spend ten days in the summer at what was then horrendously called "The Crippled Children's Camp". I would go as a Guide along with fifty-nine other Guides (all in their teens) and there would be sixty children and a half dozen or so adults.  We camped and we did all sorts of things like ride the police horses and go to the farm.

But the highlight of the week was the Ashes Match against whichever team Sir Donald Bradman had managed to snag for the day. The team would come up to the campsite in the hills. They would show some of the more able children how to hold a bat or bowl a ball. They would have lunch among the children. Then, in the afternoon, there would be "the match". 

"You're bowling for ...." I would be told by the adult half of the captaincy. That was considered completely fair because some of the children could not even hold a ball and my ability to throw a ball straight was (and is) not exactly up to test standard. We would "play cricket" on the rough pitch in the hot summer sun. There would be runs made and people would be "in" and "out". At the end of it the tin cup (with "the Ashes" printed on Dymo tape and stuck to one side) would be solemnly presented to the child half of the captaincy and then there would be "proper afternoon tea".

And yes, my one achievement in the field of sport was made on that cricket pitch. I have spoken of it elsewhere. There is no need to repeat the story. What is important is that this was cricket, real cricket. This was a game, a real game...and the memories have lasted a lifetime for all of us involved. 

Cousin M... does not understand this...and neither do all those "fans" bewailing the lack of weekend cricket.  

Friday 19 January 2024

Housing for seven children

and their mother? Their mother is single. She has left an abusive relationship and she is on a "10yr wait list" for public housing. Those responsible for that wait list told her that because she had a car and a tent she had "a roof over her head".

This was one of the "human interest" stories in the paper this morning. I had also seen it yesterday online.  In a second piece on the "housing crisis" there was a statement that there were also 80,000 empty houses in the state on Census night. Really? 

If that figure is true then there is something else wrong here. I know a little about the rental market. The first is that, having no rental history as such, I would have no chance of getting a rental - even if I was able to pay the inflated prices being demanded by some landlords. The second is that landlords who do try to do the right thing are being penalised over and over again.

When Middle Cat was working she was self-employed. She was putting money aside for her retirement in the form of an investment in property. It was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, indeed what she was advised to do.  Her husband will have superannuation but it won't be a lot. He is a professional person but he gets paid less than a plumber or an electrician while taking even more responsibility than they do. They are going to need the extra money Middle Cat put aside.

But, own a rental property now and the government is increasing the cost of doing so to the point where there is no income from it at present. If they sold it they would sell at a loss because of the capital gains tax. They cannot increase the rent but all the charges they must pay on the property have gone up. When they set the rent the rules were different and they tried to do the right thing by setting it at a very reasonable rate - on the low side - because it meant housing a family. My BIL does most of the maintenance because paying anyone to do it would be another drain on their finances. The interest rate on the mortgage has gone up and up.

Does it pay? No. It may not even pay in the long term. This may be why there are so many empty houses around. The government is making it too difficult for them to be used. People don't want to risk tenants doing damage and losing even more money. They don't want the worry of not being able to remove someone who is not paying the rent. They don't want the worry of not being able to pay all the other associated expenses while trying to keep to all the rules the three levels of government are imposing on them. 

I know there will be someone out there who will say of the woman seeking accommodation for herself and her children, "Well she shouldn't have had seven kids and she should have tried to make her marriage work." My response to that is, "Well she does have seven children and she has had the courage to leave an abusive relationship. Do you really want the children living in a tent?"

As regular readers of this blog know I am looking for something smaller but despite the strenuous efforts of myself and others I have not yet found something accessible which I can afford. When I do find something then this house should be available for a family. I think the young ones in this street would welcome seven more into their gang.  

Thursday 18 January 2024

Love your local library please!

We have had some hot weather of late and our local library has had more people in there than usual. Yes, it also happens to still be school holidays so there were plenty of children around.

The same thing will no doubt happen once the temperature once again heats up over the weekend and into next week. There will be harassed parents, grandparents and other carers who will head to the library for at least a short time. They will heave sighs of relief as they walk into a cool space and see their charges rush off to the parts of the library which cater to them. There will be at least a few minutes of quiet before they need to help with choosing picture books for the youngest and "a book about..." for the next youngest and telling those who headed for the "teens" section they can or cannot borrow something.

All this will be done around adults reading newspapers, books or magazines. There might be more than one person working on the part-done jigsaw puzzle that is always on the high table in the centre of the shelves...between the M shelf and 700's. In the small carrels on the side there will be people working on their lap tops. At one end there will be people using the public computers or doing some photocopying. You can get water, tea or coffee.  You might find three or four people huddled in a corner and talking to each other, planning an event. 

Look across the passage and the meeting rooms might be full of people playing chess or Scrabble, planning an event, interviewing people, learning French, building robots or just about anything else. (We even have a knitting and crochet group.)

The library gets used. It gets used a lot. Once school begins again there will be groups of children in there for all sorts of events.

I imagine most people who have just read all this will think this is what libraries should be about. Why then did someone tell me yesterday, "We don't really need libraries any more. Most people can use computers. You don't need books. You can read them online if you want to. People who want to go somewhere cool can go to the shopping centre."

Really? Using a computer is nothing like using a book. Yes, I can look for almost limitless information - not always information I want - but it is there on the computer. What is not there is the ease of skimming the page with a finger to find something, flipping back to the index or tearing an envelope into pieces in order to find that page again. I don't want to go into the shopping centre and be forced to buy an unwanted drink so I can sit there in a "cool" but noisy spot where people will expect conversation rather than reading.

I am sitting at a computer right now in order to write this. I suppose I could take my laptop to the shopping centre. I could take a book too but someone would soon interrupt. It is nothing like visiting the library. It is nothing like being surrounded by a comfort of books.  

Wednesday 17 January 2024

Yemen is one of the

poorest and least developed countries in the world. Around half the population faces severe food insecurity. Only half the adult population is considered to be "literate" (and the reality is that many of those are barely literate). There has been internal conflict for over a decade and the situation is getting worse.

So the Houthis, who are fighting the elected government, are somehow managing to fire rockets onto ships which are legitimately passing through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea towards the Suez Canal? They are doing this as well as fighting an internal war? 

They are of course. Any ship attempting to pass through the area is seen as a legitimate target because any of them might be "supporting" Israel. It matters not if they are carrying grain for the use of the Palestinians. The Houthis know better. It is all being done to support Israel and that has to stop. Any government which shows any support for Israel must be stopped. If you do not adhere to the type of Islam the Houthis support then you are "friend" of Israel and you are an enemy of Yemen.

Really? The support for the Houthis is coming from Iran - from the "leaders" of Iran. It is coming from the people who are attempting to control the everyday citizens of Iran, who have seen the "morality" police installed, who bar any form of dissent. Yemen's rapidly dwindling oil supplies do not bring in the sort of income that can feed the population of Yemen let alone buy the sort of weapons the Houthis are using. 

I had an unwanted visitor yesterday. Despite the heat he turned up at the front door trying to sell me the idea that the Houthis were justified in what they were doing. (He was trying to sell me a lot of other very dangerous nonsense as well - in the form of "research". I had been warned of his impending visit and decided to take a bit of time finding out just what he was doing.) 

I knew I was not going to change his opinion but I made sure he knew that I know a little more about the Law of the Sea than he does.  No, I am not an expert by any means. I actually know very little but I do know something and I do know the Red Sea does not "belong to Yemen" and that shipping must be allowed to pass freely through the Gulf of Aden. I told him I knew he was "deliberately spreading misinformation". 

This man is young. He genuinely believes what he says. He has been carefully and thoroughly indoctrinated by others. It is disturbing to realise how much damage he might do.

After he had gone I called the person who had sent him to me and we discussed the situation. It is up to the other person to decide whether to take any further action but at very least this young man needs to be watched more closely. There are probably many more like him in Yemen. Their likely limited literacy skills will make it even easier for others to tell them what to think...and they will pass it on to those who have no literacy skills at all. 

No doubt they would even have an answer if they hit and destroyed a load of grain on a ship bound for Sanaa.  

Tuesday 16 January 2024

Motherhood is not work

and men work harder than women? There was a comment to this effect on Twitter/X yesterday. I beg to disagree very strongly indeed.

We seem to be at a point where women are actually expected to work harder than men in order to be considered "equal". They are expected to do the childbearing and the greater amount of parenting - and also "go to work". 

There is this curious idea that being at home with the child(ren) is not work. There also seems to be a suggestion that cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing and all the other household chores are not "work". That they must be done is not taken into consideration.  That these things can also be quite heavy physical work is also ignored.

"I have to go back to work. My career depends on it," is something we hear from a worried and harassed and exhausted looking young mother. Motherhood is not seen as a worthwhile career on its own. It also seems that employing people "part-time" is much more expensive so going to work for a limited number of hours is not an option for many. 

Perhaps we need to make it easier for employers to employ people part time or at times which are mutually convenient without a greater cost to either party? Do we need to question the "I need to keep my career in order to be considered a successful and worthwhile human being" idea? Is it time to have a discussion about the work involved in being a mother, a partner, a housekeeper and much more? If women do want the "intellectual stimulation" of going to work do we need to start finding ways of them actually doing that and keeping up with their parenting responsibilities?

I cared for my parents and worked at a job which was often much more than forty hours a week. It was demanding but I did not have to take children to and from school, sport, music lessons, birthday parties and the like.  I am not a mother doing all of that and also worrying about an elderly parent no longer able to properly care for themselves. I no longer wonder at grandparents being asked to fill the role of carers outside school hours, when children are ill and more. It is all too likely that more mothers would not cope without that help.

The idea that "men work harder than women" is ridiculous. Insisting "women need to go back to work" seems, at least in some instances, a way of making sure women work harder than men.    

Monday 15 January 2024

Making a child welcome

should come without hesitation.

I certainly hope I did not hesitate yesterday. The other children in the street had been tearing up and down on their various wheeled modes of transport. The oldest of them had been keeping an eye on the traffic as had one of the parents clearing weeds from outside the front fence. 

I had not been out at all but the front door was open to let in some fresh air after the heat of the day before. A bit later things quietened down in the street and then I heard the sound of footsteps running down the path to the front door. It banged open and the house was suddenly invaded by the young army. They had not bothered to knock. Welcome was simply assumed.

"We brought you our new friend," they told me, "His name is ... and his is other name is Jewish."

They pushed the "new friend" in front - a boy who looked about eight or nine. He turned out to be "almost nine" and he looked very nervously at me.

"I'll go away if you don't want me here," he told me softly.

My heart seemed to stop for a moment and then I said, "But I do want you here. If you are friends with the rest of the gang then you must be my friend too."

Relief seemed to go through him like a large wave. We smiled at each other. It was the end of the conversation because the others had things to tell me and I was trying to listen to at least three of them telling me things at the same time.

A few minutes later they had all gone again. They were back on the street playing some game, including the newcomer. 

I thought it meant nothing to them but T.... came back about ten minutes later and sat watching me as I was sorting things on the table. I wondered if he wanted to ask me something but it is better not to ask sometimes. 

As it was he talked about something else and then got up to leave. At the door he looked back and said, "I knew you'd be all right about him." 

I took that as a huge compliment.  

Sunday 14 January 2024

Hells Angels have a rule

book - apparently.

There is a fascinating article about the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club in the paper this morning. What is so fascinating is that their "rule book" would suggest that they are not the criminals we view them as being. They have rules!

Really? One of those rules is "no heroin"...and I think that one is highly unlikely. They are not supposed to "fight dirty"...and I think that one is highly unlikely. They are not supposed to take another man's woman...also unlikely. 

In this state it is illegal for three or more members of "proscribed organisation" to be seen together in public. It is just one of the ways in which the government has legislated in order to make it much more difficult for a group like the Hells Angels to exist. In reality of course it sends them "underground" and makes them more attractive to a certain sort of person. It also means that the police deliberately target "known associates" at events like funerals. Perhaps they are concerned that these "bikies" will plan a robbery or an arson attack while they are there. I don't know.

I have met several members of a motorcycle gang. I am not sure which of the "bikie" gangs they belonged to but it would not have been the Hells Angels. These "bad boys" were rough, tough and had almost certainly had their run ins with the law. They had long hair, leathers and the obligatory tattoos. Their speech included a good many Anglo-Saxon words when they thought I was not listening.

There were three of them. They were "mates". This was 2002 and they wanted to go to Indonesia and "help" after the tsunami. One of them had got in touch with me through someone who knew someone who thought... you know the sort of thing. To say I was alarmed would be to put it mildly. Three "bikies" head to a part of the world which was a disaster zone? They would have no idea! I was quite convinced about that until I met them.  We met in the open. I was too wary to do otherwise.

I immediately guessed they had cleaned themselves up to meet me. Their t-shirts were clean, their jeans pressed and their boots polished. The one who was their spokesman put a list down on the table in the coffee shop we met in and said something like, "We don't know much but we figure we have to take all our own gear and food and the like."

That was a start. They apparently had thought about it. What were they going to do? One of them had been to the place once before. "There's a little bit of a hospital or was. We reckon we can do another one using the wrecked stuff and some more.  Reckon it will take a couple of weeks to put something basic up for them."

There was a lot more to it than that of course. All they wanted from me was a communication board so they could talk to the locals who did not have any English. They were making contacts, getting permits and they were determined to go.

They did go. When they arrived they were not made very welcome but a day or two of simply "getting on with it" and showing they did not need anything from the locals soon had people offering to help them. They built a tiny hospital while they were there in the way the local village people wanted and helped with a school building being used as a shelter before they had to return to their own jobs.

I did not hear from them of course. I did not expect to hear from them. It was someone else entirely who told me they had actually done something so valuable. 

Rough, tough, covered in tattoos and language to match... they looked and sounded like the last people to go and genuinely help but they did. They repeated the exercise some years later in another area. I knew about that only because there was another request for help in communicating with the local people. 

I wonder what the police make of those three. I haven't heard from them again but it would be interesting to know. 

Saturday 13 January 2024

Caring for someone else's child

is an even greater responsibility than caring for you own, yes? 

I do not have children of my own but I did have the long term responsibility for one - the Whirlwind. There were times when I felt very anxious about it and yet she was an abnormally well-behaved child who was not prone to do silly or naughty things. (No, she was no perfect but she was a "good" child.) Still, there were times when she wanted to do things that had me holding my breath and hoping she wouldn't fall off or fall over. I was always anxious about her cutting or burning herself in the kitchen or taking her toes off with the axe if she decided they needed more kindling for their barbecue. When she could ride a bike there was the new worry of hoping she would be oh so careful on the road. It seemed there was always something to be "just a bit anxious" about. 

But I also loved doing it. I miss doing it. I will probably always miss doing it. She was my responsibility and she returned that responsibility by being responsible - and full of love. Still it was a bigger responsibility for me than it was for her father because she was his child, not my child. I had a responsibility towards him as well as her.

The Senior Cat would sometimes go over to the school his grandsons attended. He would then bring the boys here and they would do their homework and perhaps do some "work" with him in the shed. He worried about them using hammers, nails, screw drivers, any sort of cutting device. Their mother, Middle Cat, would sigh and tell him not to be a "worry wart" but, love it though he did, he used to say, "But it is a bigger responsibility now than it was when you were that age." He was right.

There are four teenagers missing at the moment. They are "exchange students" - here to go to school from another country, an Asian one. Their host families are frantic with worry. The police are not telling us much. They are trying to say, "they have just gone off" and "we'll find them". Perhaps they have just gone off and they will be found. I hope so but I also know that their host families will be feeling the way I felt, the way the Senior Cat felt. My parents would never allow any of us to try for one of the Rotary exchange scholarships. I almost certainly would not have got one anyway but my brother and Middle Cat might well have done. No, we couldn't because our parents said it was too great a responsibility to ask of any other parents. 

I can understand that now. My parents were teachers. As teachers they were "in loco parentis" at school - and sometimes beyond that. Caring for someone else's child is a responsibility. I hope they find those teenagers and that they are safe. I also hope that, if they have "just gone off", those teens will learn about the responsibility of caring for someone else's child.   


Friday 12 January 2024

Why have a "national" day?

I am wondering what all my friends in Upover and Elsewhere will make of this. It seems Downunder should not be "celebrating" its national holiday on 26 January.  

We are being told it is a "day of mourning" for some. We are being told we need to recognise the "genocide" which occurred following white settlement. We are also being told we need to recognise how badly off the "blacks" in Downunder still are. Now they add how racist we are because we failed to vote special racial recognition into the Constitution.

Citizenship ceremonies are no longer held in many places on that day.  Our local council won't be holding one because the current Mayor believes it is inappropriate to hold one on such a divisive day. Two of the three supermarkets are refusing to sell any of the flags, cups, plates, cards, silly hats, t-shirts and other merchandise associated with the day "because it means different things to different people". The decision not to do this has been praised by a few who believe it will win them political kudos but has left most people puzzled. 

You see these are the same supermarkets who now have hot-cross buns for sale without apparently caring that Easter might upset those who find Christianity offensive. They expect us to "celebrate" Halloween too. There is plenty of cheap throw-away merchandise available for those things - but not for our national day. No, it might offend a tiny minority who say they find it racist and offensive and a cause to mourn.

Late yesterday I was reading some material sent to me by a colleague interstate. She was asking me what I thought of an "Aunty" who claims to be indigenous and was trying to lay claim to a location which is currently under the control of others. I looked the "Aunty" up. She has a string of offences for trespass and other matters. She makes her living by claiming to be a member of a tribe once located in that area. I say "claim" because her appearance suggests that her ancestors were European and that any indigenous heritage is barely there.  Naturally she finds our national day "offensive".

I wonder what makes people come to this point. Why do they find such things so offensive? If the three very dark skinned "indigenous" women who came to afternoon tea not so long ago don't find it offensive why do those with much less heritage find it offensive? What are they hoping to achieve?

I won't be flying any flags or going to any barbecues or indeed doing anything else. I never have and almost certainly never will. It is not the sort of thing I enjoy at any time. I think our national anthem sounds like a dirge. It raises no passion in me. I do not feel any particular "pride" or otherwise and I most certainly do not wish to boast about it. 

But, other people feel differently. If we have a national day  and they wish to celebrate it then they should be free to do so. It is not up to the local supermarket to tell them they cannot  celebrate their national day any more than the local supermarket can tell us we must buy Halloween masks or hot cross buns.  

Thursday 11 January 2024

How to forecast the weather

in one easy lesson?

Ask an elderly farmer. He will probably look at the sky, turn his head into the breeze (if there is one) and then tell you, "May be fine" or "May be rain coming up" or "Another scorcher".  He will probably be right.

There are, rightly, complaints at present about how inaccurate the BoM has been. The BoM being the Bureau of Meteorology. There are, rightly, complaints about the continuing string of "forecasts" that deal with global warming and long range El Nino, La Nina forecasts. They may or may not be accurate but they do not deal with "What is the weather going to be like tomorrow?" or "What is the likely forecast for the wedding at the end of the month?"

I do not know much about how weather is forecast but surely it is possible in this day and age to tell us with reasonable accuracy that it will be fine or that it will rain tomorrow - and what the temperature is likely to be within two or three degrees of accuracy.  We need this because we have largely lost the ability to work it out for ourselves.

My mother could do it with more accuracy than the BoM. She would look out the window in the morning and tell us, "Take your raincoats" or "You'll need a jumper today" (sweater to those of you in North America). Of course she was caught out more than once but we usually listened to her because she was usually right - certainly far more right than wrong. 

It was not unusual to hear our mother talking to a farmer about the likely weather forecast. They would discuss rainfall, heat, cold, the likelihood of a storm and whether the wind was likely to do any damage.  We listened because, somehow, they knew.

It seems younger farmers have lost that skill. They rely on the BoM and if the BoM is getting it wrong then it can have disastrous financial consequences. The price of meat will plummet in rain or go sky-high in drought. The price of tomatoes will go through the roof of the storm damaged glasshouses in which they grow and the cherries will split, the apricots will cook in the unexpected heat. It may not be possible to change the weather but measures can be taken to guard against the worst of the likely damage - if we know in advance.

The idea of foretelling the future is never something I have been comfortable with but if they can learn to foretell the weather with a greater degree of accuracy it might help. I just hope they have it wrong again and that we won't have the coming week of high temperatures.  

Wednesday 10 January 2024

They closed the "mental hospital"

and told us everyone would be better off. They told us that this was more caring and dignified and that the patients would be better cared for in a "supportive environment out in the community". They told us there would be "small group houses with twenty-four hour care" and they even dared to suggest that care would be professional. They promised us the money was there to do this. They even told us that running the big institutions was far more expensive than this kinder in the community care.

I have noted some changes in our local community recently. It is possible I am wrong but I suspect that some of our regular "care in the community" clients have been moved on and we have several others in their place. 

Why do I suspect this? Because I have not seen some of the regulars and I have seen several people who are obviously housed in these places. 

How do I know this? Because "care in the community" seems to mean sending the residents out after they have had their morning medication and barring them from returning until it is meal time again. Some of these people sit in the park or walk around. They behave in odd ways. Other people avoid them. A few of them frequent the library and the staff find ways of handling them which I admire. It's not the role of the librarians to deal with the mentally ill on a day to day basis.

That these people are not being properly cared for is obvious. It was over 30'C the other day and there was one of the newcomers wandering up the street Middle Cat lives on. This girl was so thin as to be anorexic. She was wearing a very short skirt, a skimpy top, flip-flops and a heavy black anorak. All of her clothing was filthy and she was far from clean. As I watched her cross the street (rather anxiously because she did not look for traffic and a car was coming) she saw another resident of a group house and backed away from him.  They obviously knew one another. 

He has always seemed harmless to me. He is also unkempt to a degree which suggests serious neglect on the part of anyone who is in charge of him. He wanders the shopping centre and consumes large quantities of cheap fizzy drinks. The staff in the supermarket know him and try to handle his inability to give them the correct money or receive the change. Security has sent him out more than once - not because he is doing any harm but simply because they feel he should not be there. I have never seen him wearing anything but flip-flops on his feet even in winter.

These people are not being cared for at all. They are simply being housed in the cheapest possible way. They are not being provided with any meaningful activities or any sort of therapy. All that is being done is to heavily medicate them so they can barely function. Then they are sent out for the day - all day, every day. 

There was trouble yesterday when one of the men stood on the tracks at a local railway station. The train was there. It had apparently started to move off but had to stop again because he had just been standing there staring at it. The driver must have realised and called for assistance. As I waited to cross (the boom gates were down) two members of the police force were removing him. The train left and I went on but I wondered how the police would cope with the incident. It may be their role - but it isn't their responsibility. We should not have closed the places that gave some of these people structure to their lives and something to do during the day.  

Tuesday 9 January 2024

$500 for six minutes

or that is what it feels like.

The "valuer" who came yesterday was here for just six minutes - to value the house. I timed him because I had another appointment.

I had already fitted in with his "request" for a time and then a change of time. He arrived at the front door, ignored the bell and banged loudly instead. 

When I answered it he looked me up and down and said, "I'm the valuer. Are there any dogs?"

I said "No" and rather wished there was a vicious Rottweiler on the premises. He already had me feeling uncomfortable.

No, he did not want me to accompany him through the house. He preferred to do it alone. I left him to it. There was nothing worth stealing and all he was carrying was a fancy mobile phone which obviously doubled as a camera and notebook.

He went through the house, out the back door and around the house. I waited to hear if he would open the door to the workshop or the garden shed. It would have been possible to hear him do both. He did not. I observed. He did not even walk to the far end of the yard. 

He came back in, took a picture of the view out of the front window and said, "I'm off now."

Before I could say anything he had gone out the front door. I looked at my watch. If I am generous with my timing he was on the premises for six minutes.

After that he sat in his top of the range and very fancy Mercedes with personalised number plates. He was talking on the phone. I doubt he was dictating into it because at one point he seemed to find something amusing enough to laugh.

Perhaps he is really a very nice person who was having a bad day. I don't know. I just didn't feel comfortable with him - and that was before I found out about the Mercedes and the personalised number plates.  He was one of those people I felt uneasy about from the moment he banged so aggressively on the front door. His abrupt manner did not help.

I thought of the time and trouble taken by the first real estate agent who came to look at the property. Yes, she was a former patient of Middle Cat. Yes, she wanted to be able to sell the property one day. I know that it was all part of her job to be pleasant but I also believe she was genuinely interested. There was a young male real estate agent who, like others, was offering a "free valuation". He had been talking to the neighbours and I watched him with their dog. It took to him and he was playing fetch with it while he spoke to them. I felt quite at ease with him. Both of them left detailed reports when I told them that yes the place would be on the market in the future. I know most of the information is available to them due to online resources but they also took into account all the bookshelves and they went into the sheds and looked around. They asked questions. 

I will be interested to see what sort of report the valuer writes. Will it be detailed? I don't see how it can be. Will it be as sparse as his office accommodation? I looked at that when I checked on him before we agreed to have him visit. His "office" is in a row of shops and shared with other businesses. My guess is he owns all the businesses. I wonder if he charges them for valuations as well? 

Monday 8 January 2024

Tidying the house ready

for the "valuer" to come this morning has kept me occupied for the last few days.  This has to be done for the purposes of probate, something which is almost complete.

While recognising the necessity for all this to be done I am not impressed by the way in which it has been done. It should have been done soon after the death of the Senior Cat. It is now nearly two years and a matter of some urgency because the law states it must be done within two years of a death.  We have not been able to do anything to the property in that time unless it was deemed "essential". 

At the same time land values have gone up dramatically. Many people might welcome that but, in our particular circumstances, it is going to make matters much more difficult. It is going to be further complicated by the fact that, two doors down, permission has just been granted to knock down an old "war service" house and put up a "two storey" dwelling - but that will actually mean two dwellings on the same land. 

Over the past twelve months we have had real estate people knocking at the door trying to get us on their books. We have had several of them come in and "value" the place themselves. There was one of Middle Cat's former patients, someone she knows and trusts. There was someone I knew who happened to hear I was looking for something smaller. I would trust him to try and get the best price he could - simply so he could sell me something else. Middle Cat and I met a young couple who work together in the real estate business. They have a good sales record in the business. 

What is interesting is that they all came back to us with a figure which was about the same. The figures often widely vary. These were well within our own estimate - and way below what the council claims when it charges rates. 

But, the "official valuation" has to take place. I was told to make sure the place was "tidy" and I was told when they would be coming. If it was not convenient "we might be able to change that". I thought, "Just let's get it over and done with." 

I also looked up the company which does the valuations and found the person I expect to see this morning. The company is run under his name. It doesn't seem to employ more than three people - one of them the "office" person who may well be working remotely.  

I also looked at the price being charged. I asked the young person in the office how long the "valuation" would take. "About half an hour" I was told. Mmm....$500 for that. Yes, I know the valuer has to travel here and back (but I was told today because "he will be in the area") and this is a standard package house about which there will be a lot of information available already. The valuer will do no more than cast an eye over the outside and walk through the house to check for anything unusual. If he is the professional he claims he is then he will write a report in minutes using some sort of pro-forma device. 

I have already informed our contact in the executor company that Brother Cat, Middle Cat and I want to be advised as a matter of urgency if the "value" is above a certain amount. It is unlikely this man will give me one today but I hope he is prompt.

And no, I haven't finished tidying up. Yesterday my youngest nephew, here from interstate, called me just after 8am and suggested going out for "brunch". I had consumed a slice of toast by then but decided another would be a good idea. I no longer care whether the place is "tidy" or not. I estimate the "valuer" is going to get $500 for two hours of work which is far more than I could charge for something far more specialised even if I had to pay all the overheads. 

And I am also wondering what he will make of all the bookcases - all full. It is said their presence "devalues" a house. I will await the valuer's reaction to them with interest.   

Sunday 7 January 2024

"He's having an affair!"


The recent story about Prince-about-to-be-king Frederik of Denmark annoyed me. Here was the media making a big thing about someone doing something that was none of our business to begin with - and might just be absolutely innocent.

It was juicy stuff for the media of course. Someone who would one day be the king of Denmark was seen with a woman who was not his wife. He apparently spent the night with her! Shock! Horror! 

There was no evidence any of it was true except that they had apparently been seen together publicly and without the prince's wife. Soon the rumour mills were grinding twenty-four hours a day. There were analyses. Photos were produced as "proof" and "anonymous" sources were quoted. The abdication of the Queen in favour of her allegedly philandering son was presented as further "proof"  and the public has lapped it all up.

In reality it is much more likely that the Prince and socialite are "just friends" as she says they are. Like everyone else a Prince is surely allowed to have friends? And, while the abdication may have seemed timed to suggest it was a way of keeping the Prince under control, the reality is much more likely to be that it has been months in the planning and due to the health of the Queen. We have been told she had "back surgery".

I thought of all this again this morning when there was another story in the paper about an Anglican bishop and his bride. The Anglican bishop in question was once the curate at the church my parents attended for many years. Prior to entering the priesthood he was a sub-mariner, a disciplined man. When I knew him he was married to a woman who was pleasant but ineffectual. Instead of being what has been described to me as a "committees, tea and cucumber sandwiches" sort of person the parish was giving her a lot of support. They had four children. I knew the children and they were "nice" and "lively".  Tragedy struck when, after a short illness, one of the children died. The funeral is an occasion which will remain forever in my mind because I went up to the church and, while the service was taking place, I stood in the kitchen keeping an eye on the urns and trying to comfort one of the men from the funeral director's firm. He had a son that age and the occasion proved too much for him. 

I wonder what people would have made of me with my arms around that stranger as he wept on my shoulder?

I wonder too at the insensitivity and the lack of Christianity in those who have demanded that the Bishop now stand down because, his first marriage having failed, he has remarried. When there is a loss of a child marriages often do fail. Bishops are human. They are not saints. Yes, perhaps the newly wed couple should have announced their intention to marry but they had the right to marry. They say there was nothing improper about their relationship prior to marriage. That may well be the case too because he man I knew was a very disciplined man.

No, the real reason is much more likely to be that the heavily conservative elements in the diocese in question are opposed to women in the priesthood and the Bishop's second wife is a priest.

I know several women priests. They all seem to be more than competent and able to me. We all know that it was the social circumstances of the day which caused the "disciples" to be male rather than female. We also know that women have ministered for thousands of years.

Is it just possible that some of those "wicked" women are not wicked at all. They are simply caring for others?


Saturday 6 January 2024

I am mourning the loss

of my old statistics lecturer.

I had a card from another of my old lecturers this week telling me of his death. He was 90 so it was "not unexpected" but, damn it, it was. I had not seen him for years but I remember him as a much younger man.

I also remember him as a kind man. He was indeed very kind to me, even this time last year he wrote an email to me reminding me of something in our shared past, something forty years back. He remembered me as a student but took an interest in what I had done as an "adult".

I am no mathematician. I loathed statistics. I still loathe statistics. Where possible I avoid using them. I distrust them. J.... could never teach me to love them. 

My distrust of statistics stems not from my dislike of maths but from a conversation I overheard in the basement canteen of the university. The then Professor of Statistics was sitting there in earnest conversation with the Senior Lecturer in Statistics from the department (Psychology and Child Development). I heard one of them say to the other, "But if we use this test rather than that one we can get a positive result."  I heard no more than that. They must have realised they could be overheard by not just me but anyone else with even just ordinary hearing. They lowered their voices and went on scratching out figures on scraps of paper. (This was in the days before phones which do everything.)

I had to study statistics the SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) was something we all needed to know - forwards, backwards, up, down, around, in and out. I used it. I dutifully put statistics into my thesis with the help of yet another statistician. I worked with another one to set up a cataloguing system for the collection of psychological test material.

But none of them were like J... who took us slowly, carefully and steadily through the basics. He answered questions and patiently explained again when I was confused as to why that "sum of squares" was so important at that point in the equation. I managed to get through the course. We smiled at one another in relief and went on to more important things like his organ playing and his love of classical music, especially opera. 

When I returned to university to do yet another degree in an entirely different field I tutored in order to support myself. I found myself tutoring students in basic statistics. There was an entire group of them. They were another generation altogether. They had grown up with fancy calculators and they were being taught in an entirely different way. Yes, they could go through the processes required but they did not have the understanding we needed to have because their calculators would do it all for them. All they needed to do was put the figures in.

I also discovered that there were lecturers in the law school who had no idea about statistics. There was the occasion on which something came up in a case we were discussing in a group tutorial and the tutor asked me something afterwards. I found myself drawing a Bell curve on the blackboard (yes, it was that long ago!) and explaining how they were used. It is likely the tutor found it more interesting than I did because I had to repeat the explanation to two more tutors in the same subject the following day. 

But statistics are something I avoid if I can. I occasionally need to use a simple "Chi-square" or "ANOVA" but that is about the limit of my abilities now. 

J... remained amused rather than bemused by my dislike of statistics. He was of the opinion that I would "get there anyway" - and I have. What I did not do was "get there" to see him one last time. Too many people have gone from that part of my life. There are two left - and I want to see them before it is too late.    

Friday 5 January 2024

If you want to govern the country

then surely you should "have a plan"?

Our Prime Minister went to the election saying he had a plan, that his party had a plan. He said there was plan for this and a plan for that. He promised cheaper power bills, higher wages and much more. 

He did what every other politician before him has done. He has done what every other politician has done too. He has failed.

What makes him stand out is the way he has blamed everyone except himself, his party or his policies. He has been able to do this because of the global situation. He has blamed the war in Ukraine, the trade relations with China, the weather, global warming, the need to transition to renewable energy and more. He is telling us that the problem is external not internal. 

Two governors of the Reserve Bank have disagreed with him. He failed to renew the appointment of one because that one oversaw interest rate rises that were trying to rein in inflation. He is now trying not to listen to the new appointee when she says the problem is "homegrown" and not international.

In his last speech on the topic he has told us what he is going to do. He is going off to the Department of Finance and Treasury to get some ideas. Really? 

He should have gone there before the election. He should have continued to consult with them and still be consulting with them. Mind you he may not like what he is told. It is unlikely we will like what they are likely to say. 

Looking around at the amount of money being spent over Christmas and New Year I know one response from Finance and Treasury would be, "People need to lower their expectations about their standard of living. They need to spend less on non-essentials."

No government ever wants to tell people that. It would be a brave government which did. But, there should have been other plans. Even this union based government should have had plans, should have been saying no to excessive pay rises for some - including themselves. 

One of the neighbours asked me how I would spend half a billion dollars - the cost of the failed referendum on an indigenous voice to parliament. I suggested that perhaps we could start with some lessons in basic household economics but I am not sure whether it would work.  Being "economically responsible" is not easy.



Thursday 4 January 2024

No more mobile phones

anywhere! How would we cope? The internet is down! How can we work?

There is an article in this morning's paper about the banning of mobile phones in schools and the subsequent improvement in behaviour. There has apparently been a "thirty percent drop" in bad behaviour and an increase in achievement because of the ban. 

I don't know how they measured this - or even if it could be measured. It reminded me yet again of the way a former young neighbour told the Senior Cat about what she and her friends did in their lunch hours. What it amounted to was "we sit there in a row and play on our phones".  The Senior Cat did not say anything to her but he did say something to me, "No wonder they complain about being bored." 

Yes, games or short videos or other such activities are mind numbing I suspect. It is no way to learn about getting on with other people or reading their body language.

It is no secret that I detest mobile phones, even while I can appreciate their value in emergency situations. I just don't like being always available wherever I am. I don't like the way other people expect me to be that available. There are times when I want to be able to talk to someone face to face knowing I won't be interrupted. 

We are still trying to sort out the mobile phone situation for me. I am currently trying to use the phone the Senior Cat had in the nursing home. I now appreciate how difficult he must have found it. It is one of the most difficult and complicated things I have come across. "But you just swipe it to answer it," Middle Cat keeps telling me "You will learn to use it". 

No, I won't. I have discovered that "just swiping it" does not always work. It should but it doesn't. There is something wrong and it is not because I have wet paws or the screen is dirty or some other issue. It is the phone itself.  I also want to be able to make a phone call and I want to do it without going through the rigmarole which is apparently essential. The "touch" screen is not good either. A friend called in recently and borrowed it to make a call home to her husband because hers was not working. "I don't know how in the heck you can use it Cat!" she told me in frustration. We got there in the end but it is ridiculous.

Brother Cat tells me I need a phone which does more than make and receive calls. Really? I know he uses his for everything you can think of except making a cup of tea. He would use it for that if he could find a way of doing it.  If his phone fails he is in trouble of course.

I think I would prefer to avoid trouble. Perhaps some of the teens have discovered that too.

Wednesday 3 January 2024

Going to the dentist

has to be one of my least favourite activities. I go because I know I must. I go on a regular basis.  My old dentist "retired". I am getting used to a new one. None of this helps.

This time around the plan was for Middle Cat to pick me up and leave me to be tortured while she went to do something else. Of course that did not happen because she is still recovering from yet more back surgery. I went by tricycle and train instead. 

It is rather a long time since I have done that and it was an interesting experience. This is the long summer break for schools. Would there be children around?

No, the train was not exactly full of children - or anyone else. It had one of those carriages designed to carry a lot of bikes but, going into the city, it was almost empty. There were just two other bikes on the train. It was late enough the train had already done at least two "down and up" trips into the hills. The bike riders would already have gone "down" (which is, confusingly, up into the hills). They would be riding around the bike paths in the park or risking their lives coming down the steep winding road into the suburbs. 

I went on into the city. It seemed to be unusually full of people sitting outdoors drinking and eating. It was too late for breakfast and too early for lunch. Not many of them looked as if they were having "meetings" over coffee. They were too young to be "retired" and too old to be "students". This puzzled me. Were they all "on holiday"?

I went to the dentist where we discussed Japanese education rather than dentistry. (Her nephew wants to go to university in Japan.) She gave me news I did not really want to hear although the actual work won't be done for six months. I left with the words, " You can't eat for an hour."  

I pedalled back to the station along a route which should have been quieter but it also seemed to have people doing the same sort of thing as I had observed before. This puzzles me. There has been a lot of discussion about the cost of living and how the various coffee shops in the city are suffering because people have less to spend and more of them are working from home.

Perhaps yesterday was different for some reason but it was the day after New Year's Day. I thought people would be back at work. Is there a group of wealthy, indolent people who can spend their mornings drinking coffee outside the cafes in the mornings? What do they do for lunch, in the afternoons? Do they eat out at night? I tried to imagine them as a group of aliens who think they can learn about us while they sit there.

At my local station it was a relief to see all the bike riding boys (sorry, they were all boys) waiting to climb aboard the train. One of them yelled "Hiya Cat! as the doors opened. They parted to let me through and I pedalled off feeling as if life might be getting back to normal. It didn't feel like that in the city and when I went into the shopping centre to pick up milk and bread everything seemed to be just as usual.

Maybe they really were aliens in the city?