Tuesday 30 April 2024

The "mobile phones in schools"

debate has heated up again and there are now demands for a blanket ban on having them in all schools across the country.

I know people who will agree and people who will disagree with this. Given that almost every student has access to a screen during class time I will simply go on wondering whether students really need a mobile phone during the school day. 

We managed without them of course. They did not exist when I was at school. I remember seeing one of the first mobile phones. The person who had it worked at the airport and it was part of her work role. We did not believe they would be popular simply because it was so big. 

My current mobile phone fits into a small pocket, almost like a fob pocket, on the style of jeans I prefer.  There are mobile phones which are smaller still but this is the smallest my clumsy paws can manage.  Nevertheless it is still small and I wonder how a ban would work when such small items exist. Perhaps it would take confiscation and detention to work? I don't know.

Recently a neighbour kept a child home for two days because he had to take some medication. He was well enough to attend school but the school policy did not allow someone to administer it to him. He could not leave it at the school office and then get it for himself because that again was asking the school to take responsibility for it. He was not permitted to take it and administer it to himself because "he might forget". 

A mobile phone might have allowed a parent to call and remind him but the school still did not want to take the responsibility for seeing medication was taken. In this case the child would have taken the medication without fuss. He did precisely that at home. He set the alarm clock and took it. A parent was watching out (while working from home) but he took the responsibility for himself. Some children are like that - but not all.  He did his schoolwork alone for two days before the recent school holidays. "I could just have taken the phone and Mum or Dad could have rung me to check," was his comment.

Mobile phones have their uses in those situations. I suspect they are not needed for the rest of the time, that students may be better off without them. There are screens for school work in all classrooms in this country. Actually talking face-to-face might have other advantages in the playground. I am wondering if it might help improve social interactions later in life too.  

Monday 29 April 2024

Four straight rows facing the

blackboard is the way it was when I was a kitten in school. It was that way when I taught in primary schools too.

By the time my parents left the education system there were all sorts of experiments going on. Children were sitting in circles, in groups, in "formations" and more. Desks were no more. They sat at tables. Much had changed...and the Senior Cat predicted they would go back to more traditional methods when they realised some of these things did not work.

My nephews and niece had a mix of traditional and "new".  The Whirlwind started out with "new" and found herself having to turn around to look at the teacher. She hated it and complained. The first two years of her school life in a state school were not happy years. The school was very much involved with "modern" methods.  Age seven and considered just old enough to board at school from Monday to Friday (and knowing that Daddy had no choice in the matter and therefore neither did she) she went to a much more traditional school - and loved it. "School is so much more fun now. I can learn things!" I remember it because I collected her that first Friday. She did not look back in her learning.

My nephews and niece all preferred the more traditional approach to learning. All of them have been to university and obtained good degrees, indeed more than one degree on the part of two of them. They all learned study skills - admittedly helped in the latter by the Senior Cat who believed such things could be taught. They are now trying to teach those to their children. They have searched for and found schools which are a little more traditional in their approach.

But those schools are hard to found. T.... across the road complained to me over the weekend that "the other kids are too noisy". I have seen and heard his classroom. It is full of visual distractions and it is noisy...at least noisy if you are a serious student who wants to get things done. Perhaps some children can work in that environment but I rather doubt they do their best there.

It seems that there is enough doubt about all this and the discipline issues which go with the more "free" style of learning that the state Education Department has finally come to realise that children do need discipline and a quiet environment in which to work. If the teacher is actually teaching then the children need to be facing the teacher - not twisted around to try and listen and thus learn. All this along with entering a classroom quietly and moving in an orderly way from one place to another is to be taught again. 

Some "educators" are apparently horrified that this is going to be departmental policy. My guess is that most teachers are going to be relieved that they can have different behavioural expectations. Do this in the classroom and between classes and perhaps what happens in the school yard will also change.

And if we change our expectations of children's behaviour at school will it also mean that what happens when they are adults will also change. Will we return to being a bit more thoughtful about those around us and how we react to them? 

Sunday 28 April 2024

The importance of music

in our lives is not to be underestimated. Why then would anyone do something which might jeopardise the training of future musicians?

This state has a "conservatorium" of music - the Elder Conservatorium. It is the oldest tertiary institution of music in the country. It has a world wide reputation for excellence.  It is NOT suited to being amalgamated with the "Centre for the Performing Arts" proposed by the amalgamation of two universities in this state. 

It is not suitable because when "performing arts" happen it will be theatre that wins. Music, real music, will be lost. Oh there will be music of course but I know it will not be the same.

It takes years to train as a musician...and you can never stop learning. When I was a mere kitten I remember reading the life story of Eileen Joyce - "Prelude" by CH Abrahall if I remember correctly. I may be wrong. What I do know I am right about is that it talked about the thousands of hours Joyce spent at the piano...alone. She worked at her craft...alone. She worked at it in order that the craft would also become an art. From the time I read that book I became aware that music at the professional level requires dedication as well as skill. 

I cannot play a musical instrument. I do not have the necessary manual dexterity to do that. I cannot even sing in tune. (One of the Professors in the Music School at another university hearing me singing something to another student as an example once told me, quite kindly, "there is no E-flat in the last bar." What he really meant was "Be quiet Cat, you cannot sing.") It doesn't mean I know nothing about music. I can read music up to a point - I would struggle with an orchestral score. I can "hear" music when someone explains something to me. Even that much has been "work" of a sort so how much more does a musician need to do.

It is no secret I do not care for the current "popular" music. I do not much care for a lot of the music which was around when I was growing up. It has much to do with the fact it was never played in our house - even by two of my three siblings. I heard them working away at piano practice and more. Middle Cat can play the flute and classical guitar. Brother Cat plays piano, trumpet and saxophone. Our mother, who was definitely "musical", would supervise from a distance until they surpassed her actual knowledge. There would not have been much time to listen to "pop" music and it was better fun to be making up new words for Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. 

Despite such things I do know something about the popular music of my generation. I can recognise most Beatles tunes and the names of many of the musicians of the day are familiar. I'd still do badly on a quiz I suspect but the knowledge is there. It is part of my cultural literacy. What would have happened if there had been just a centre of some sort for the performing arts not just here but elsewhere? Would they simply have turned inward and not given young musicians on their way up something more to aspire to? If you go past "the Con" as it is affectionately known you can hear people at work. I hear scales being played and sung, a single note being played over and over again and I know musicians are striving towards something they see as perfection.

I also know, for all the loneliness of the hours put in at work on their own instruments, there is also the joy and the thrill of getting together and bringing all that work together. One of my slightly more ridiculous unfulfilled desires has been to conduct an orchestra. I would be absolutely hopeless but the idea of being able to bring a group of musicians together in that way is something that must surely be both frustrating and satisfying? 

Even if we cannot play or sing we need music in our lives. It is particularly important for mathematicians and scientists of all sorts. They need the discipline and creativity which music provides in order to achieve those things in their own working lives.

We cannot allow "the Con" to be subsumed into something else. We need it.  

Saturday 27 April 2024

An "explainectomy"?

No, it is not my word. I wish it was. It is clever. 

It comes from Emma Darwin's excellent writing blog."This Itch of Writing" on Substack.

She was using it for another purpose but I like the word. It would be a particularly good word for doctors to learn and use - especially with the young. 

We really do sometimes need things to be explained to us. We need them explained in simple, factual terms. It seems to me our world is full of words but so much of it is opinion and not fact. It is all too often opinion presented as fact. It can actually be difficult to find facts. Facts should be accurate of course - and that's the problem. There are increasing difficulties in finding actual facts.

Yesterday I saw the mother of a profoundly disabled girl. K.... can do absolutely nothing for herself. She has severe intellectual and physical disabilities. Her father died several years ago and her mother is carrying on alone. K.... is "in care" only because her mother, now in her eighties, cannot physically handle her. I have known them both for around forty years. K... has never improved in all that time, indeed the situation is now worse. She is fed through a tube. Recently she has developed some pressure sores. There are other issues too. 

I was not shocked when her mother told me, "I wish K... would die before me. I'd miss her dreadfully but I worry so much about what will happen to her when I am not here to watch out for her."

K... is loved. If I think about it I have to be honest and say I am also fond of K...  Why? Because, despite everything, K... is apparently happy. She smiles a lot - genuine smiles where her eyes light up if you talk to her. She laughs if you say something silly. It is difficult to tell how much she understands but I know it is more than most people believe. We can have a "conversation" of sorts. I can tell her simple things and know she understands. 

K... needs more "explainectomies" in her world. I have seen her carers give her basic physical care while talking to someone else. They will take her for an "outing" to the local shops but the outing is for them, not for her. If she sees me her face will light up but the "carers" don't always want to stop even for a moment. They have no time for any sort of explanation to her...and often no time for me either. Perhaps I am a threat to them. 

K... needs facts in her world. It is a small, limited world but it is her world. Things should be explained to her. They need to be explained in simple language and by simple actions - explained so she feels safe and secure.  Her carers, apart from her mother, need training in "explainectomies". 

Friday 26 April 2024

So we are short of doctors but

you are not allowed to hire any more?

In an almost suburb south of here there is a medical clinic which is in actual danger of closing although it is clearly needed. It may close because it cannot get doctors. It cannot get doctors because the government is restricting the employment of them.

It is a ridiculous situation. Young, inexperienced GPs have, rightly, to work alongside more experienced staff for a period of time. Yes, things have changed. Being a GP now takes the same length of time as the training for any speciality. Medicine has changed. 

It may have changed for the better in many ways. I am not that sort of doctor. I don't know. I do know that we need doctors and I am grateful they have access to an enormous range of information from other sources. Young doctors come in with new knowledge but they do not have experience. They need it and the government has recognised that. 

So the government has restricted where they can work to begin with but they have also restricted the number of fully qualified doctors who can work elsewhere. Hiring experienced doctors from abroad is also not something you can do if you are not in a designated area. The problem is that populations and areas change and some of those designated areas have not changed for a long time. 

If I pedal half a kilometre to the main road going one way I could go to four medical clinics spread out over a kilometre to a main road going another way. Cross over the road and I can go to at least another three. I can go in another direction and find more. If I went to the almost suburb in the south it would be a very different story. I say "almost suburb" because there is still a gap between the present suburbs and the area in question. When I was a mere kitten this area was "country". This was farming land and the population was much smaller. That has changed - but the designation of the area has not. The Minister in question could change the designation but has not.

 Now we are being told that there is some sort of "review" going on. Someone will be paid to be doing that "review". I suggest all it would take would be to look at some statistics available from sources that even a school student could find. They would soon find the area needs more resources.

The question then is whether we should poach more doctors from abroad. I suspect we would find doctors are needed in other places as well and we should not be poaching them. 

The answer is not simple but actually preventing more being hired because an area is designated as one thing rather than another seems rather foolish to me.  

Thursday 25 April 2024

It is ANZAC Day and my

godfather is still alive and can remember his war experiences - remember them all too clearly.

Nearly eighty years after the end of WWII those events are still impacting the people who experienced them. They may be a dwindling number but they lived through horrors I cannot even begin to imagine.

Yes, I know we have had wars since then. There are wars going on now. I keep working because people keep fighting as well as because of natural disasters. I only do less work than I once did because other people and technology have taken over from me.  My godfather and his mates had no access to anything like that.

If my godfather had been captured by the Japanese, and he might easily have been, he would not have survived. He is a tall, skinny man. He has always been like that. The work on the Burma railway would have killed him very quickly because he already had the beginnings of the back condition which has caused him to wear a "corset" for the rest of his life. His hearing was impacted too. 

My godfather came home and went back to work. Eventually he changed jobs because he could no longer do the physical work involved in his specialist one. He ended up in a very responsible position and was very successful at it. Now a widower with two children he has perhaps had what some people would call a "happy" life.  Maybe it could at least be said he has been content with his lot but there are moments.

I know there will be moments today. He is about to turn one hundred. His son will get him somewhere today so he can reflect quietly. He no longer goes to any of the Dawn services. We no longer have the little moment in our street. The people involved have moved on. The children here are too young for such emotional occasions.

So I went elsewhere for my godfather. It was chilly but I put on an extra layer and pedalled off in the "not quite light" knowing that any passing police patrol would know where I was going and why. I was on the footpaths and had the light on the trike. There was a police car parked near the venue I attended. One of them was there leaning against the vehicle. He was talking quietly into his phone. He stopped as I came up looking for somewhere safe to leave the trike. 

"Lock it to this," he said, indicating a "no parking" post. He took the chain and the lock to do it for me. For a short time it seems this was a parking area. 

"Thanks for coming," he told me softly. I am guessing he knew people who are now parked somewhere else - forever. 

Wednesday 24 April 2024

So what is "free speech" and does it

actually matter?

There is yet more in today's paper about the demand of our government to the owner of X (Twitter). 

"Remove that footage or face a fine!" the government is declaring. "It is violent. It is extremist. It will do harm."

The footage in question was, up to a certain point in the clip, aired on national television. It had gone around the world many times, been shared many more times before the government acted. By then it was simply too late to do anything about it.

Rightly or wrongly the owner of X challenged the move. There is now a major problem where there could have been a minor one. The government has moved itself into a position where it is actually saying, "We control social media, not you. We can decide what people will see." 

I have absolutely no issue at all with people being prosecuted for posting violent, extremist, racist or other vile footage. We should come down on them hard and fast. Whether we can control and demand the owner of X for it however is another story.  Is it something which would give a government control of what we see? Would it allow them to censor "misinformation" they do not want us to see?

It is possible it could. Under sec. 51(v) of our Constitution the government has the power to make laws about "postal, telegraphic, telephonic, and other like services". That certainly covers the internet. Imagine having the power to control the internet. The government does in North Korea. Most people there know very little about the outside world and they are not permitted to travel either. It is one of the many ways in which the government keeps such tight control over the population.

No, we won't go that far but the government is seeking to control what we see and hear. They are anxious, or so they claim, to prevent the spread of "misinformation". That can all too easily mean anything they disagree with or anything that might harm their control over us. 

I don't know anyone who disagrees with the idea that the climate is changing but I do know people who disagree with the ideas about why it is changing. Even people who agree will disagree with how it should be handled. But then comes something interesting. Ask people what the biggest problem is and those words "carbon emissions" will come up over and over again. We have to be "carbon neutral" we are told. Someone I know who works in a very senior capacity in environment, a trained scientist, told me not so long ago that carbon emissions make up 0.04 of the atmosphere - and we actually need at least 0.03 of those in order to survive. In other words it is not the problem we make it out to be. There are problems but they are not the problems we are being told about. It is convenient for the government to let us go on believing this though because they have invested vast sums of money in telling us this. This is in no way to deny we need to do something about the environment - and do it quickly - but it may be that carbon emissions are not the main source of the problems we face.  Misinformation from the government and other sources will allow us to go on believing otherwise. It may be that we are also being misled about other problems because of what the government wants us to know.

I may be very misinformed. I am almost certainly misinformed about a lot of things but I do not want to be further misinformed because the government has control of what I can and cannot see. Violence and real harm can be dealt with in other ways.  

Tuesday 23 April 2024

Walking on water or

in this case on the bed of a lake. 

We have just been told yet another place in the state is now out of bounds. We cannot enter it without permission from the indigenous owners of it because it is "sacred". 

This is a recent development. The area in question has long been a major tourist attraction but visits to it will now be controlled by the "local indigenous owners". 

Let me go back to when my family was living south of the lake. The lake is, for most of the time, a salt pan. If there is sufficient rain there will be water in the salt pan. (The water is not drinkable.) 

We went to look at it. It was long trek over what was little more than a dirt track. The idea that it might be a tourist attraction at the time was something we did not even consider. The Senior Cat simply thought we should see it, as a salt pan. 

I remember standing there with the faintly pink salt feeling all crunchy under me. Mum, rightly, made us wear our solid school footwear. The salt is hard on skin. It can cut you. I remember the eldest boy of the family we went with rubbing his finger along the salt and getting a "burn" mark. He said it stung "like crazy". 

When it is dry the glare from the sun on the salt is intense. It seems to smother you. The whole area is almost always dry. It is not friendly country. I did not like being there however "interesting" I might have been supposed to find it. 

Donald Campbell broke the last wheel driven land speed record on that same lake a couple of years later. It was almost certainly the most likely place to break it. When we were there you could look out across the lake. It's big. It covers an area of over 9,000km sq.  If you stood where we were standing the other side is over the horizon but it is really nothing more than a shallow depression below sea level far inland.

It has now become a "sacred" place that you can only visit it if guided (at a cost) by the local "indigenous" owners - the Arabana people.  One of these indigenous owners was interviewed on the news last night. If I had passed her in the street I would not have recognised her as "indigenous". This morning my friend M... left me a message asking if I had seen the clip. His tribal grouping comes from further south. He does not claim to know anything about the Arabana tribe but he made the comment, "Interesting it now has such cultural significance when money can be made out of it."

There have been some visiting restrictions for a number of years but, until now, they have simply been for safety reasons. I suspect there should be restrictions for safety reasons - particularly if there is a wet season. Whether there should be for "cultural" reasons is something I am much less certain about. 

There has been a backlash over this. It is not the first "sacred site" where people claiming to be members of a local indigenous tribe have sort to restrict access to an area. Access will sometimes be granted if money changes hands. Parks and wildlife reserves are gradually being taken over. Perhaps that can be a good thing where truly indigenous people take over and know their own land and how to manage it. More and more often though I doubt how much indigenous heritage some of the activists have and how valid some of their demands are. Do we really go on denying 97% of the population access to areas in order to appease the 3% who claim to be indigenous? In reality it is far less than 3% who make these demands and others in the group seem not to even understand what the fuss is about. They no longer follow a traditional lifestyle. The folklore of their past has been diluted by present knowledge. 

It seems to me that there is a very small group of people who are intent on using their assumed cultural heritage for other purposes. What concerns me is that we could actually lose it all as they pursue their demands to stay still and not move on.  The idea of standing at the edge of that dry, slightly pink and salty lake forever does not appeal to me.


Monday 22 April 2024

Free speech or something else?

I am wondering whether I will get kicked off X for posting this. Will there be a knock at the door because the government has decided I am a danger to society and need to be put away?

More seriously, is social media really out of control? I doubt it can be stopped now. The lid is well and truly off the container and the contents are spilling out. We can now comment to everyone on things we could just mention only to people we actually saw during the day. Is it any wonder Elon Musk is ignoring the government's attempt to make him take down what is considered to be "violent" footage of the stabbing of a priest.

It was vile. It should be taken down. The problem however is a little bit more complex than the media and the government have been suggesting. Yes, you could try and take it down - but by the time those responsible for taking such material down it has already been seen. It has been seen and shared again...and again...and again. It will also be shared in slightly different ways which makes it even harder to ensure it gets removed. I am not sure it can even be removed completely. I doubt it is a simple matter of just pressing a "delete" button. If it was we could have an army of volunteers removing such material...or could we? 

You see it is my opinion (and undoubtedly the opinion of almost anyone who reads this) that we do not need to see little video clips of priests being attacked.  Someone else obviously felt differently. They filmed the event and then posted it...and it spread from there. They may even have manipulated the images they posted. I will never know. Other people obviously thought the clip was worth "reposting" and suddenly the whole thing was out of hand. 

Is there software which would prevent such actions or do people somewhere have to go through the millions of posts and remove the images? Can you just remove the first post and thereby make it impossible to keep passing it on? I don't know.

Even if it is possible I doubt that removing such material is easy. Yes, we need to try. If we do however then we also need to ensure that mainstream media cannot post such material either....and there we start to have a problem. It is called "censorship" because it is a very, very small step from demanding that something actually harmful is taken down to demanding something be taken down because it harms the government of the day. 

We need to do something about the problem but it is going to be much harder than demanding Mr Musk and others simply use the delete button.  

Sunday 21 April 2024

Going to live in another country

by choice is one thing. Going to live in another country because you must is something else.

An acquaintance of mine is about to move to America. It is a work choice for him. His wife has shrugged her shoulders and taken the line, "I married him. I go with him. I think it will be interesting."

No, it won't be forever. It will be for several years. They regard it as something of an adventure. 

There are three children. None of them want to go. The eldest is fifteen and he is implacably opposed to the move. He has his friends here of course but he has also been mature enough to realise that his education will be disrupted. Yes, there are undoubtedly good schools in America but he has been aiming on a course here which is very, very difficult to get into and a disruption like this will affect his chances. His grandparents were telling me about this yesterday. We discussed whether they should be offering to give him a home while his parents are away or whether he should perhaps board at school. (He could.) His sister wants to stay too. She is a child who, although popular enough, has only a few friends. The idea of a new school in another country "where everyone is already friends" does not appeal. I can understand that too. The youngest child is in the last year of the primary school. When I met him at the home of his grandparents he told me quietly, "I don't want to go either. It's okay for Mum and Dad because they are grown ups."

Their parents say it will be a good experience for them. They will experience another culture, a different education system, make new friends and much more. Perhaps. I don't know. 

It made me think of all the children who have been uprooted and forced to live somewhere else...forever. Their parents have migrated, willingly and unwillingly. The children have had to follow. Sometimes children have even had to go alone. 

Middle Cat's late father-in-law was just fifteen when he left Cyprus and came here. He came alone. He did not speak English. For him it was the opportunity of a lifetime. He wanted to do it. He was ambitious...and he did well. Over the years he brought out his siblings and then his parents, sponsoring each one of them in turn. It was hard work but they saw this country as one worthy of moving to permanently. I know many other people like them. 

I also know people for whom the move was too much. They have gone "home". Not so long ago I helped clear the house of an elderly woman who went "home" to the Netherlands after many years living here. She had no family here but there was family there. The family ties were stronger for her. 

Middle Cat asked me later where I would live given the choice. I don't know. It's difficult. It is not easy to answer the question of "where is home?" Is it family, friends or a place? 

Saturday 20 April 2024

National service needs to be

reinstated - and it needs to be compulsory.

I know that won't be a popular idea with some people but I am watching with some alarm two young people who are taking a "gap year" and doing absolutely nothing with it. One of them does have a few hours work now and then. The other is still doing nothing at all. He is spending his days out on his skateboard with a few mates. His parents seem to just accept this state of affairs.  

National service might just pull both of them into line and give them a purpose in life. National service might actually provide them with a way of contributing something.

I mentioned this to a neighbour who was watching the children tear up and down the street on their bikes and boards. This particular neighbour did a stint in the army. He doesn't like the idea of pushing people into military national service but, like me, he thinks a year in some form of national service between school and university is a very good idea. It could even be two years where a teen has no idea what they want to do with their lives and they have no qualifications.

What is wrong with expecting young people to contribute something? Do we really want bored teens hanging around with nothing to do? Isn't that how the worst trouble starts? 

Yes, I know there are teens who have worked incredibly hard through school. They have put their all into getting the results they get. Yes, they need a holiday because everyone needs a holiday sometimes. But do they need an entire year (plus several months) before they start again?

We didn't have gap years of course. They were unknown when I was that young. (It was an awfully long time ago now.) We couldn't "defer" either. You went on with your studies or you went to work. It was not nearly as easy to get any sort of unemployment benefits either. Things have changed. The current system is possibly too lenient but it may also be more realistic. All sorts of jobs once available to school leavers with few or even no qualifications have gone. It seems to me that reason is reason enough alone to introduce a form of national service which would provide, at very least, basic skills for some. This may be nothing more than the basic skill of turning up to work on time and following instructions but it would be a good skill to learn. 

And yes, I would include both sexes in national service. Why not? It seems to me that almost anything would be better than watching the two young people I know becoming more and more dissatisfied and bored with life. They are coming to believe that the world owes them a living...and it doesn't.  

Friday 19 April 2024

When did "school formals"

become a "thing"? 

There was nothing like that when I was at school. Out in rural areas the oldest boys would often leave school as soon as their last exam was over. They would be wanted back on the farm to help with the harvest or some other urgent work. Many of them still do it. The only boys left would be those from the "roving population" - the sons of the teachers, the bank manager, the policeman and so on.  The girls might stay a bit longer. The last week of the school year was generally not one in which a lot of schoolwork got done. I spent my last year in a rural school doing a stock take of the school library, ensuring that everything was returned and much more. It was a job which needed to be done. I had a helper but it was my responsibility. 

If anyone had suggested we have a "school formal" with the girls dressed in evening gowns and the boys in suits we would have laughed. We had "school socials" where there was some dancing. At one school it was only "square dancing" because the Seventh Day Adventists objected to ballroom dancing. Everywhere else it was ball room dancing. If that sounds strange it was considered the place where you managed to learn the basics before heading off to the Saturday night "footy dances". Those venerable occasions consisted of "Mrs B...." playing the piano and "T..." on the drums. Occasionally "P...." might play a piano accordion. People danced waltzes, the Military Twostep and the Gay Gordons.  It was considered "good fun" and a bit of exercise.

What people did not do was dress in ball gowns. I have never owned anything remotely resembling a ball gown. I went to school socials in a cotton dress in summer and a woollen skirt in winter...and so did every other girl. There was the occasional ball and then the debutantes would wear their "deb dresses" but the rest of us did not wear anything more fancy than we wore to church on Sundays.

Now it seems that girls need evening dresses. They visit a hair dresser and a nail salon. Boys need suits and bowties. They go to the even in a "limo".  This can happen even in areas where money is tight. It's a big event.  Why? 

I mention this because one school here has announced that such events will no longer be part of the school year for them. I imagine there were many parents who breathed a sigh of relief when that announcement was made.  It really is not the "rite of passage" it has been made out to be. I was convinced of that when there was a complaint from someone who hires out the gowns some of the girls wear. She was saying that if other schools followed the first one then she would go out of business and that hairdressers would lose money.  If ever there was an admission that these things have been developed in order to make money then surely that is one? 

I see absolutely nothing wrong with telling the students to organise an event within a budget. It might just be possible to do something for far less but participate more and have much more fun. After all most city kids don't need to go out and drive a combine harvester when their last exam is over.   

Thursday 18 April 2024

Over on Substack

Emma Darwin has started a thread about rereading books from childhood. She has said she is concerned about rereading "Charlotte Sometimes" (Penelope Farmer), wondering whether she will still feel something for it.  She remembers it with "deep scariness". I can understand that. I was a bit older than her when I read it but it is a very unsettling book. There is a copy somewhere on my bookshelves. The fact that I am not absolutely certain just where suggests that it is a book I too would hesitate to reread, at least for now. (There are too many other unsettling things in my life at present.)

But Emma's thread started me thinking about the books I have reread as an adult. Was I disappointed in them? I have to confess here that I have a reasonable collection of children's books published post WWII up until around 1975 and some more besides. I collected them deliberately because they were disappearing from library shelves and I felt some of them at least would be worth keeping. Among those are books I have reread and still enjoyed.

I still love "The Woolpack" by Cynthia Harnett. Yes, there is a lot of history in that book and that might be a major attraction for me now as it was when I first read it. At the same time Nicholas is a real boy, keen on getting away from his lessons if he can. He is starting to grow up. His mother is - shall we say "conscious of her position" as a wealthy merchant's wife. There are all the little details of Nicholas's betrothal and more. Nicholas and his friends are resourceful and determined. It is a good book on more than one level. The Senior Cat read it when he first gave it to me as a child and would sometimes suggest I encourage a child to read it. It is that sort of book. What's not to like in rereading that?

I have reread "The Little White Horse" (Elizabeth Goudge) too. A couple of years ago I, at the insistence of others, sat and squirmed through the film version. The film version was appalling. The story line was like a different story altogether. There was absolutely none of the "magic" in it. The characters seemed like entirely different people. I rarely like film adaptations anyway but if I had been a child and come across the film before the book then I may not have wanted to read the book. That would have been a waste because it is a good book, a very good book. 

Neither of those books are available at the local library. I am glad I have copies and that I have copies of other books by Cynthia Harnett and Elizabeth Goudge. I could go on talking about other authors who mean something to me, authors like Elinor Lyon (what's not to like when you find your own name in a book?) Yes, I know her books well. They were very popular with the Whirlwind and her school friends. I wrote "not quite sequels" for them to read as well. 

It was not just Emma's thread which started me thinking about this. This week I borrowed a Marjory Allingham from our library. I had to go into the Large Print area to find one because the books there tend to be of less recent publication. The reason I wanted to read one was that someone I know has started a "club" on her knitting site which also involves the books. I have no intention of joining the club but I know people will be talking about the books as well as knitting. My education in crime fiction (which I confess to loving) had a gap in it. I had never read an Allingham. I am reading it at present and I will finish it but I doubt I will ever bother with another. So far it is predictable, although perhaps not quite so predictable as a Christie. It is not a book I would reread. I would return to the books of my childhood long before that. 

Wednesday 17 April 2024

A day without water...or trains

There was a printed slip in the letter box a couple of days ago, an official slip. It was from the people who are responsible for our water supply. There will be no water between 9am and 6pm they tell us. At present it is 7:40am. I have had a shower and done a load of washing. So far it has been a "normal" day. 

I am nevertheless glad there are multiple rainwater tanks on the property. It was one of the first things the Senior Cat did after building the house in 1984.  One of our then neighbours looked askance as the tanks were delivered and then fitted to various collection points. 

"What," he demanded to know, "Do you need all that for?" 

The Senior Cat smiled and just said, "The garden."  It was for more than that though. It was for just such situations as today. There will be water if anyone needs it. That is unlikely. The old neighbour has long gone but the new neighbours all took the advice of the Senior Cat. They have added rainwater tanks to their properties. It makes sense in a hot, dry climate where houses are built on "Bay of Biscay" type soil.  Gardens are important here - or at least some greenery around the house. It keeps the soil stable and prevents houses from cracking - or at least cracking to the point of needing repair. Not all the older houses have been as fortunate as we have. 

In summers past we would take the "grey water" out and pour it on the lawn. I have stopped doing that now. It was very hard work and my rear paws are not as mobile as they once were. As I am the only person here the rain water does the job for the most part. My neighbours on one side have an elaborate (and expensive) sprinkler system which is supposed to save water. I have no desire for any such thing. It seems to me J...is forever needing to fiddle with the box that controls it. I have a system too. It consists of two hoses. One of those hoses is connected to the biggest tank. The biggest tank is currently almost full because we had some unexpected heavy showers recently.

But, water supply or not, I was planning on going out to do a number of things today...and now there are no trains. I don't get far unless there is a train - on which I can take the trike. I rearranged my life and considered a trip to the library (where there will be water) and muttered something to Middle Cat. Her response was, "We should have a day out. I have to take the clock to be repaired and the only person who knows about such things is in T.... It would make a nice trip. We can get some lunch at the bakery there."

The bakery is well known. A trip to T... sounds good. I can sit and knit while Middle Cat drives and we can have something "wicked" at the bakery for lunch. Maybe we should have days without water (and trains) more often.


Tuesday 16 April 2024

Closing the "mental hospitals"

was done to save money. It was thought it could be done when the then new anti-psychotic drugs became available. They were going to be the wonder drugs which would allow people to live "normal" lives. All people had to do was keep taking them and everything was going to be okay...except that it has not worked out that way.

The man who committed the horrific act in the suburban shopping centre allegedly had a history of mental illness. What he was thinking at the time we will never know but is there a chance the whole incident could have been prevented if he had been taking some sort of prescribed medication? Did he need to be in what we used to call "a mental hospital" - a psychiatric institution of some sort?

There are several "group houses" in this area. They are supposedly there for the benefit of people who have psychiatric illnesses, people who need a bit more help in coping with the everyday world.  If someone asked me whether they "work" my answer would be a firm "no". The residents of these group houses wander the streets for the better part of the day. Some of them come into the library, others wander into the shopping centre. There don't appear to be any programs or activities designed for them. The library staff cope as best they can when there is an "incident". The shopping centre staff sometimes provide a free drink in order to get them outside again, away from shoppers who feel uncomfortable in the presence of people who are often unwashed and definitely strange. 

For some time one of the female residents would come to the knitting group at the library. We did what we could to accommodate her. I actually admire the way in which our group worked hard to try and make her feel welcome. She thought she could knit and she had some idea but it was a mess. I and another member would try and give her some discreet help but she would get agitated if it was "wrong".  More often than not she would "forget" to come. She really only appeared if she happened to see us there and had, for some reason, packed her knitting into her bag.  We have not seen her for almost two years now. I have no idea what has happened to her. Perhaps she will simply turn up one day? It does bother me though. I wonder what has happened to her. Have they moved her somewhere else? Did she lash out and injure someone.

And there is the man who buys the big bottles of cheap soft drink and then sits outside the shopping centre rocking backwards and forwards. Someone tried to move him on one day and intervened. It was a silly thing to do I suppose but I told them he was not "drunk". The person trying to move him on looked at me in disgust and strode off - but at least he left. The mentally ill man just looked at me and went back to drinking something orange coloured as he rocked backwards and forwards. He still comes in each morning for the same bottle of drink. There was genuine concern for him the day it was not available on the shelf but one of the senior staff poured tins of the same cheap drink into a bottle and gave it to him that way. It was a small act of kindness but it also prevented an incident. This man is non-verbal. If something goes wrong in his world he cannot defend himself. 

I wonder whether someone like our "knitter" or our "soft drink" man would be better off in a facility where they had activities designed for them. What would happen if they had to get up in the morning and someone ensured they had a shower as well as taking their medication? What would happen if they had to do some gardening or they were taken on a hike into the hills to collect rubbish? What would happen if they were given any sort of activity at all? 

It might be cheaper (although I doubt that) to have them "housed in the community" or would it be more dignified if they were actually cared for? Would it also have stopped the tragedy of those stabbings?  

Monday 15 April 2024

Colleagues in Israel, Syria,

Jordan, Turkiye and Iraq all contacted me yesterday. They all wanted one thing - to know if I had heard from anyone else. Were they all right? Had anyone heard from our colleagues in Gaza? 

I answered all the queries as best I could and sat there thinking about it. I have not heard anything from anyone in Gaza for several weeks. My good friend and colleague Z... had been contacted by someone I did some work for, someone who has the almost impossible job of trying to distribute the aid which does get through. That was it. 

All the others who had contacted me were people who have worked as volunteers in those complex humanitarian emergencies which seem to plague the region. Some of them are professionals trying to help other professionals. Some of them are tradespeople trying to rebuild areas. Some of them are in roles that try to see the free flow of such assistance and much more. None of it is easy.

The interesting thing yesterday was their concern for each other. It was triggered by Iran's barrage of missiles and drones into Israel. When a neighbouring country starts to use your air-space it can have the exact opposite effect of garnering any support. The two Jordanian colleagues were clearly very upset by this and indicated that there was no support among those they know for Iran's actions. The picture I get is that the Iranian government is not popular in Jordan. I might be wrong but my colleagues are educated people. They have worked with Israelis for many years. Some regard each other as friends. 

In Israel itself there are Jews and Arabs working together. They seem to regard their colleagues as friends. Their children know one another, sometimes play together. It is all very different from the picture the news media portrays. Yesterday I wondered again at what the "average" person on both sides of the conflict really thinks. How many of them would do what two families I know have done and support the others through illness and the death of family members? How many of them teach their children to "love not hate", that Palestinians need to have (at very least) a place to call home but that what Hamas did in October last year is wrong?

I answered all the queries as best I could. I sent messages on where I could. I deleted information that might cause concern. I put things into careful words - the sort of unofficial code that everyone understands when even expressing concern can lead to trouble. I curled up on my sleeping mat last night and worried. Had I been careful enough?

This morning in my work email in box there were responses. All of them were positive. Everyone was relieved to know that their colleagues were still alive and still working even if communication is difficult right now. 

At the very end there was a message from Z... It didn't use any words at all. It was simply a "smiley". Yes, we can smile for a moment even amid the horror of it all.   

Sunday 14 April 2024

Six dead and more critical

is not the sort of news anyone wants to hear. 

I tried not to panic yesterday because a family member could easily have been in the shopping centre where the incident occurred. Having heard nothing I assumed that person was safe but I knew others had not been so fortunate. It was all a little "too close to home" as they say. It was not the sort of thing we expect to happen in this country either. This is "not that sort of country" - or is it?

Quite possibly the person who committed this act was mentally ill. We will never know for certain what he was thinking because he is dead. It may be that this is better for all concerned. It is still going to cost a great deal of time and resources to investigate. There is the cost of the emotional and physical trauma for those directly involved and the emotional trauma of those peripherally involved. The financial cost will be high too but it is the other costs that really matter.

Those costs will go on for years. If the nine month old baby survives she is going to grow up without a mother - and that is a life sentence. I wonder what makes someone attack a mother and child, people they do not know...and I think of this happening in other places because there are people who are fighting for supremacy and control without any care for the individuals who stand in their way.

I am wondering too how the policewoman who shot and killed the perpetrator feels this morning. Yes, it is something she was trained to do but it would never have been something she really expected to do. She now has to live with the fact she has taken the life of another human being in an ordinary suburban shopping centre. Her action was to shoot and her reaction was to start CPR on the same person. The latter says a great deal about what sort of person she is likely to be. I hope she gets a lot of support from now on. She is going to need it...and telling her she is a "hero" is not the sort of support she needs.

No, we don't expect anything "like that" to occur here and it is wrong. It is also wrong it is happening in other places. I want people to think before they act - and they won't. 

Saturday 13 April 2024

Some of you are going to disagree

with this but I am going to say it anyway. We do need some special schools.

This morning's paper has a story about a child who was given "time out" for an entire day because he fought with another child in the classroom. His mother is up in arms about it. The school principal has been "counselled". The media is suggesting it was "inappropriate". I could go on. 

I do not know the circumstances so I cannot comment. However I have just been having one of those quick conversations with a local dog walker. He had read the article before I had and wanted my opinion. I was cautious about responding but he was not cautious about his own views. His grandson is in the same class as another very disruptive child. 

"My daughter says the kid is autistic. If he is then he needs to be somewhere else. It's not fair on the other kids."

I know this man's daughter and I have heard about the problem from her. I have seen the child in question, although not in the classroom. I have seen him more than once in the shopping centre with his mother. Yes, he is a problem. His behaviour is bizarre. In a classroom it would be very, very distracting for everyone. His teacher is doing an amazing job coping with it for short periods each day. The rest of the time it seems he is "wandering" around the room interfering with what the other children are doing or he is "one-on-one" with a teacher aide who is really there for three classes, two of which have children with other very special needs. 

There is no other school placement available for this child. There is no "special" class, unit or school available. It is all too easy to say he is "better off" in a regular mainstream classroom surrounded by children who behave "normally", that he needs to be there for his own benefit. The question surely has to be "what about everyone else?"

Even if this child is given one-on-one attention all day what if he is still shouting and lashing out? Is a mainstream classroom really the right place for him? Does he find the situation as confronting as others find it having him there? Is this what it is like for the child who was given "time out" all day?

School is a very different place from the schools I attended and even the schools I worked in. Education methods have changed dramatically since then. I am not sure they have necessarily changed for the best. Countries where methods are more "traditional" do seem to have higher levels of achievement - and I am not referring just to places like China. It might just be that the way schools are functioning now simply does not suit all children, that there are children who find the situation simply overwhelming and that those who would once have found it hard to function in a regular classroom now find it impossible. I know I could not work in classrooms I have seen in recent years. They seem noisy and chaotic to me. If what is going on inside your head is noisy and chaotic too this must make it worse.

Would providing a small, well regulated and quiet learning space actually be a better thing for some of these children? Would it be better even if it isolated them from the mainstream and treated them as "special"?


Friday 12 April 2024

Talking to strangers

is something we are taught not to do as children - and rightly so. It is also something most of us do not do as adults. 

I am prompted to write this because someone I know has just written she has been "breaking all the rules" and talking to people on London transport. The encounters were apparently good ones too. 

It reminded me of an incident several days ago. I was in the Post Office. It was the first really cool day for a very long time. I was actually wearing a heavy cotton jacket. The girl behind the counter said something about the fact that it was "so cold" and that she "might put the heating on tonight". Someone else joined in. I know the staff in the post office quite well - well enough for us to know each other's names - so I said, "Softies!" They laughed and a complete stranger joined in with, "Well I live in the hills and it is colder up there so I turned my heating on last night."

We all looked at him. He gave a cheerful grin and said, "Well, that's my story and I am sticking to it."  

All this was simply cheerful, friendly chat but I left the Post Office thinking that there is not a lot of that sort of thing any more. People don't talk to one another as much as they did. I wondered yet again whether it has something to do with the fact that many people get in their cars to go somewhere. They don't walk. They don't catch public transport. Now they also have the added distraction of their mobile phone screen. It is all a perfect excuse not to talk to other people.

I am going to get my 'flu vaccination this morning and I am almost certain that I will go into a silent waiting area. That might be understandable in a medical setting but it seems to be the same in the wider community. What happened in the Post Office seems to be rare and I think we all felt better for it.

Middle Cat seems to be able to talk to anyone anywhere. My friend G... is much the same. They can get a life history from anyone in no time at all. Much as I like listening to other people I cannot bring myself to start a conversation in that way - or ask the questions which will keep it going. 

I will respond to other people though. I am not going to stand and stare straight ahead. My phone screen holds no attractions for me.  I am never going to drive a car. I should have more conversations than I do. What is going on? Are we losing the art of conversation?

Thursday 11 April 2024

The Tickle v Giggle case

is one which all women need to be aware of and I am concerned that it is not being given the coverage it should be given. It is a case which will be pivotal in determining whether those born female have the right to female only spaces or whether those born male have the right to use them if they are transgender. In short the court is being asked the question "what is a woman?"

It is a big question. It is a very important question. It is a question of whether biological identity or gender identity should prevail. 

It is well known that the author of the Harry Potter books, JK Rowling, has been criticised for saying that traditionally women's only spaces should remain that way. It may be that she is right.  I have had a little to do with one of the women's shelters here in this state and I would say that allowing any biological male in there as a client would be extremely distressing to the biological females seeking shelter there. The Senior Cat did maintenance work there on a voluntary basis for over a decade. Before his death he was aware of the way Rowling was being criticised and he was upset, indeed very upset, by it. "Don't people realise how vulnerable these women are? Don't they realise how hard it has been for them to get there? The last thing they need is their safe space being invaded."  

When accused of "invading their space" himself he would just shrug and smile. After the first few weeks word got around that he was a "safe" person. The message was handed on to new arrivals. He never had any trouble. He was there simply to do small maintenance tasks. The women accepted that. It is quite different from going into a group expecting to be accepted as a female whatever the reality.

The problem here is that, in 2013, the government amended the "sex discrimination act". They removed the biological definitions of "man" and "woman" and allowed discrimination to be based on the gender identity of a person instead. The end result has meant that women actually have less protection than they had before 2013. Ten years later this has finally come to court. It should never have come to court. There were others who were aware of the problem but did nothing about it. They put their heads in the gender sand and hoped it would go away. It is legislation which could have and should have been written differently. 

The decision in this case will have far reaching implications - not just here but perhaps elsewhere as well. We need to be aware of what is going on.

Wednesday 10 April 2024

Are we being too sensitive?

Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis will know that I had a slight altercation with a car the other day. The driver called me a "f...spastic bitch" and drove on before anyone managed to get his number. I was shaken but not injured. 

I have also recovered although I am perhaps being even more cautious than normal but now I am wondering what would have happened if he had stopped, if I had been injured, if... there are a number of possible scenarios. What would I have done if he had stopped and checked? Would I simply have said, "Could you please be more careful?" Would I perhaps have shouted at him? 

People can do unexpected things when they have been frightened. The reaction is sometimes anger. I can understand that. 

It is not the same as the sort of behaviour currently being reported in the press. This is not the same as the apparent "anger" of the mother who removed her children from a school because one of the children was given detention for refusing to stand for the national anthem. It is not the same as being angry because a local council decides to consult the community about an issue.  It is not the same as being angry about being denied entry to a women's group because the group does not consider you to be a woman. All those things have appeared in the media over the past twenty four hours, along with some other issues. 

I am a person who waits to be invited to visit, to join in a conversation, to participate in something. I am sure there are other people like me. We look on those people who seem so confident about their welcome with envy. 

I know why I am like this too. My parents never went visiting without an invitation. They rarely invited people into our home. It was seen as something you did not do. As children we never stayed for "sleepovers". They were much less common than they are now but we would likely not have been permitted to go because it would have meant returning the invitation. There were also the added difficulties of my physical limitations - not to be talked about or even mentioned and brushed off by my mother if anyone dared to mention them. I had to leave home and go to the other side of the world for a time to get away from that.

All this was not about being "too sensitive" it was about the way I was being brought up. I think this is what worries me now. We are being led to believe we should be "sensitive" about all sorts of things, that we should not "offend" other people by behaviour which was once considered simply impolite or insensitive or even normal. We are being asked to accept that a young child is now offended by a national anthem. The anthem is not offensive in itself. They even changed the words to make it more "inclusive". That child has been taught to be offended.The person who does not want public consultation about an issue is afraid of being "offended" if others do not agree with the stance she has taken. 

So what does it really mean to be "offended" or "denied" or "hurt" or "traumatised"? Are we really teaching children they need to be "sensitive" about such things or are we teaching them something else?  It will be interesting to see which way the Tickle v Giggle case goes.


Tuesday 9 April 2024

No, social media is not to blame

even though it may be convenient to blame it.

An acquaintance of mine was complaining about social media yesterday. She was blaming her son's broken ankle on social media.

"If he hadn't seen that damn video he wouldn't have thought of trying something so stupid!" she fumed, "Now I'm going to have to cart him everywhere for months."

T.... has broken his ankle in multiple places. He has had surgery. It is pinned and screwed together. The surgeon has warned them there is a very long road ahead to recovery and that he "won't be playing football again". 

He was on his skateboard fooling with friends. He was doing what all teenage boys do in such situations. They had all watched something on a video clip that one of them had found...and they had all tried the manouvre.  They had all failed. It was T.... who came off worst. His mates had dealt with the situation sensibly and efficiently. They are not a bad bunch of kids. I know them slightly. They will acknowledge me as they skate past at speeds that scare me even while I recognise their need for speed, their need to take risks.

T...'s mother actually seems more worried about her own inconvenience than the potential problems for her own son. I can understand that having to take him to and from school when, at fifteen, he has been going alone is an inconvenience for her - except that his grandfather will probably do the job. I suspect T... has mates who will see to it that he gets there and back in other ways as well. She will no doubt equally resent his need for physiotherapy later and the trips to and from the surgeon and others. According to her it is all the fault of social media, of that video clip.

It is easy to blame social media for the accident. Perhaps she is right and the boys would not have tried doing what they were doing if they had not seen it there. It seems to me though that they might just as easily have seen it on television or during a film. They might have heard about it from others or seen someone they did not know do whatever it was they were trying to do. 

If it is there on a screen they are likely to watch it but simply suggesting that everything dangerous, harmful or hateful be taken down is not going to solve the problem. It is rather like suggesting that the graffiti at the railway station be taken down. It is removed frequently...and just as frequently it reappears. The young (and not so young) graffiti artists consider it a game. They spend hours refining their "tags". The idea they might be caught just adds to the "thrill" of doing it.  Making it an offence to sell spray cans of paint to the young just added a layer of challenge to the offenders. I suspect trying to remove anything and everything that could be deemed harmful, dangerous, offensive and hateful from social media would be the same. We can try but it won't work.

Yes of course there are limits but social media in itself is not to blame. It is the people who put that sort of material there who are to blame...perhaps we should be doing more about removing their access to social media? 

Monday 8 April 2024

Yes, you do stand for the national anthem

if that is what you are told to do at school. You do stand for it out in the community too.

There is a story in the paper this morning about a mother who has apparently removed her children from a small, fee paying Christian school. The reason? Her daughter was given a lunchtime detention for refusing to stand for the national anthem during a school assembly. The woman claims the national anthem is a distress trigger for her child because she is aboriginal.

The school says there is more to the story than that. I have no doubt there is. I also wonder where the child got the idea the national anthem was supposed to be distressing for her but not for other children.

I personally dislike the national anthem. I think it sounds like a dirge. I feel no stirrings of pride when I hear it. That said I will stand for it if I am expected to stand for it. I will stand for the national anthems of other countries as well if that is what is required of me. If I am asked to remove my shoes before entering a place of worship I will. During a religious service I will do as is expected of me even if I do not believe in what is taking place. This, and other things, are simply good manners. 

My nephews here went to a Catholic junior school. The reason they went was not because they were Catholic but because it happened to be nearby and their parents considered it was a better school than the nearby state primary school. In that they were probably right. It was a small, caring school where the older children really did watch out for the younger children. The teaching may not have been outstanding but it was as good as it was in the state school. It was the "family" atmosphere that mattered to Middle Cat and her partner. Middle Cat's partner was brought up in a Greek Orthodox household so the religious nature of the school was not that different. If there were differences they handled it. There were other children in the school from other faiths. The school handled it all in different ways but every child went to morning assembly and was expected to stand for the national anthem and be quiet during morning prayers. It was part of being a student there. It was not a matter of belief. My nephews knew full well that the kid with the turban did not believe what they believed but they would have been shocked if J.... had not stood for the national anthem. 

The mother in the present story seems to believe that the rights of her child should override the rights of everyone else and that good manners do not apply. She has apparently removed her children from the school. Will she remove them from the next school too? What is she teaching her child? Will it harm them or help them?


Sunday 7 April 2024

Yes, you can go to work

and no you will not get that cushy "disability support pension" you had your eye on. You will not endlessly get the "unemployment benefit" either. 

I know someone who has just gleefully informed me that they will be "pension age" in a few weeks. "That means I won't have to worry about all those stupid courses they kept sending me on," he told me.

This man has managed to avoid work almost all his life. He has had occasionally had a few months work here or there or elsewhere. He left school without any qualifications. He "injured" himself at the only job he ever got - on the production line in a factory. He was on a disability support pension for a while after that, then a part pension when he was told he was able to work for some hours per week. He has been sent on one low level course after another. He managed not to complete any of them so he remained unqualified. He was sent to "volunteer" at a charity shop and, although the manager is one of the most patient people I know, he was asked to leave. Now he will get a full pension with rent assistance. He will spend his days "watching the telly", playing cards and drinking with a mate who is in much the same position as himself.  It surely is a wasted life but he does not see it this way.

I cannot help contrasting him with the disabled woman who works in a local business. She is also on a disability support pension and she struggles to cope with her role at times but it is something she does with a real sense of being useful. It might just be for a few hours a week but she knows she needs that work. Her workmates are alert to her needs and will give her a little extra time when she needs it. "But you could just get the pension," is something people have discovered you do not say to her.

Yes, it might be a matter of personality and attitude. That said I still see no reason why the first person should be in a position to "work the system" when the second person does everything to avoid it. 

I am therefore increasingly concerned by the increasing numbers of children accessing NDIS payments. Some of them will genuinely need help but do we really have a country in which ten percent of boys and around seven percent of girls need to do this? Something has gone wrong somewhere. 

What is going to happen to these children when they leave school? If they had something they did not really need and had it for nothing at school are they going to expect the same as adults?  It may be that some of them will...and that won't be good for any of us.   

Saturday 6 April 2024

Too many people?

There was a much larger than usual inflow of people than usual into Downunder over the last twelve months. Now there are demands to reduce migration.

Downunder was made what it is today on migrants and this was not just the first settlers.  They may have done the initial hard work, some of them reluctantly, but they were followed by others. There are people who like to acknowledge their ancestors came here as convicts, others who like to acknowledge their more recent ancestors came here after WWI and then more still after WWII. Then, when policy changed and more Asians were allowed to live here we had an influx of Vietnamese and smaller groups from countries like Cambodia, Tibet, Nepal and the like. Even more recently we have had people from Africa, often people who have been through extreme trauma before arriving here.

It has changed this country and most would say it has changed it for the better. There is a great deal made out of saying things like it is the most successful multi-cultural country in the world.  

Now though questions are being asked. How many more people can we accept? There are genuine concerns about this. It may look to the rest of the world as if we have vast spaces which could be filled and that we should be taking in ever increasing numbers. We can't do that.  

We can't do it because we don't have the resources to do it. Water is a huge problem in this country. It is a problem now and it will be an even greater problem in the future. It is probably the biggest problem of all. 

There are other problems too. People need to be housed and fed. We need the infrastructure which will allow this to happen, which will allow people to move around, receive an education and medical services, which will give them employment and so much more. The city I live in has a dire shortage of housing. It is being hampered by planning regulations and the belief that everyone has the right to a single dwelling unit on their own plot of land. Nobody wants to live next to a "high rise" - even one that is just three or four levels high. This is happening while we have people living in cars, in tents in the parklands and on the street.

We need to change our expectations about how we are going to live in the future. I need ground floor accommodation or a very reliable lift because climbing stairs will eventually be beyond me. It doesn't mean I am also going to be lucky enough to end my life in a place where nobody is living above me. I will need to be even more quiet and thoughtful of my neighbours in such a place. Others do not want to face such restrictions.

I thought of this when I read an "indigenous" group is trying to prevent a housing development going ahead because it is on "their land" and it has "cultural significance" and it will "disturb" their ancestors. They want open spaces to be retained not for the benefit of all but for themselves. There are already areas we cannot enter in this country and they are determined there will be more. It will be interesting to see who wins this "battle". It may well be that there are already too many people. 

Friday 5 April 2024

I came close to being killed yesterday

and no, I am not exaggerating. I was on the road. I had no choice but to be pedalling my trusty trike on the road. The footpath was blocked by a tradesman's vehicle. 

On the other side of the road there were three of those enormous vehicles that pump concrete into building sites and a pump across that footpath. That hazard also had to be avoided.

It is a corner I cannot avoid and one I am always particularly cautious about. I looked both ways went down the closest driveway and planned to move back on to the footpath after I had navigated past the tradesman's vehicle. It was all perfectly reasonable and it should have been safe. I was even halfway to my destination when someone came around the corner far too quickly. He was doing more than the speed limit. He was clearly ignoring the notices which had been placed informing people work was taking place.  

Next thing I found myself in the gutter. No, I was not injured. There was no damage to the trike. I managed to swerve just in time and wobbled off instead. 

Instead of stopping to see if I had come to any harm the driver yelled, "You stupid f.... spastic bitch! Get off the f.... road."  He then sped on. Two of the workmen came over to make sure I was all right. Neither had managed to get his number plate and neither had I.

I wish I could say I saw the driver a little later, preferably being held up by the police as they wait in one of their preferred locations to nab people who fail to stop at a nearby stop sign. No, there was nobody there. 

One of the problems with this incident however is that I did not hear the car behind me until it was almost too late. It was one of the new electric vehicles. Yes, they may be much quieter. It may seem nice in our noise polluted cities to have these allegedly green dream machines. It is nice they do not pollute the atmosphere with carbon emissions or noise emissions but it is also dangerous if you are not aware. Had the driver been going at even no more than the speed limit it would have been much safer for everyone at any time.When he was breaking the speed limit in the circumstances around him it was dangerous. He got away with it so he will almost try again - and blame me. 

I thanked the workmen and pedalled cautiously on. I reached the library and had to sit there for a moment before going in. When I went in I must still have looked a bit shaken because one of the staff asked, "Are you okay Cat?" That question actually made me feel much better.   

Thursday 4 April 2024

Children do not need to know

about bestiality or any number of other things it now seems they are being confronted with in school.

Two things prompt me to write this, or perhaps three. The first is the report in this morning's paper of a "respectful relationships" session held at a state school in which bestiality was talked about along side with LGBTQIA+ relationships. Parents were not even informed the session was taking place - but students had to attend it. The second is a report I had from a child of my acquaintance that he was punished when he described a child he did not know to his teacher. "I said he had hair that was like the colour of a carrot and she told me I was very rude and we deserved it if he wasn't being nice but I didn't say it to him. I said it to her because I didn't know his name." 

Like being told the Easter Bunny does not exist it seems that there are issues of which I am not aware but that young people need to be taught.  Let it be said here that if I was the head of a school I would not be running any sort of "respectful relationships" sessions without the consent of the parents, indeed I would not be running any at all unless I was required to do just that. The reason for this would be that I would expect children to respect each other and the other people in their lives.  

If a child came to me and reported a serious incident involving another child and described the child as having carrot coloured hair I would say, "I can understand why you are describing him in that way but it isn't considered to be very polite. Let's find out what his name is before we talk to him." 

Am I wrong in suggesting that making an issue of these things is making matters worse?  We have a situation here where someone who is apparently the "e-safety Commissioner" is taking Elon Musk to court because his X or Twitter platform allowed someone in Canada to make a negative comment about someone here. The person here took exception to the comment and complained. X has blocked the comment here in compliance with the law but that apparently was not good enough. X is now challenging it and, while I think far more needs to be done about bullying and hate speech on social media, I hope X wins.  The comment in question is critical but it does not fit the definition of hate speech and the person who complained has caused far more harm than the person who made it (and who continues to advocate for the safety of children). Simply being a person with a particular characteristic does not give you the right to be offended by all statements about your status. It becomes an offense when it is done with malicious intent or an intention to do actual harm. It does not make you immune from criticism.  Children do not need to be taught that some groups with a particular status or characteristic are more deserving of respect than others. They simply need to be taught about respect.

Wednesday 3 April 2024

Food is used as a weapon

of war - and it is a very effective one.

I was talking to someone yesterday. It was just after the death of the aid workers in Gaza had been confirmed. We both felt upset but the person I was talking with was far more shocked than I was.  

"But their vehicle was marked as aid. They were delivering food. It is what everyone keeps talking about. They keep saying they need a ceasefire to do it. All they have to do then is open the border and let them in or just drop it from the air."

I took a deep breath and wondered if there was any point in trying to explain. It is not that simple.

Hamas is using food as a weapon. Hamas controls the distribution of food. Aid agencies do not control the distribution of food in Gaza or anywhere else. They can only negotiate the distribution of food and even that is uncertain.

The distribution of food in complex humanitarian emergencies (and the situation in Gaza is a complex humanitarian emergency) is not a simple matter of "everyone line up and you will get a fair share". It depends on all sorts of things. I have lost count of how many times I have been asked to help aid workers try and communicate food distribution information. I have also lost count of how many times I have been told something went wrong.

Dropping food parcels from the air sounds easy but it is one of the most inefficient means of sending in food aid. What doesn't get lost or damaged in the process will get picked up by the strongest, the most able and the most powerful. They will then decide who gets what is available. Many people will miss out. Those who do get some of what is available will owe a debt. It will not be a debt to the aid agencies involved. It will be a debt to those who have the food. 

Getting food through border crossings is no easier although it may be a little more certain. In the instance of Gaza the Israeli army can try and prevent more weapons and more ammunition entering Gaza by inspecting what goes in. That is still far from certain. It is time consuming and expensive. Aid does not flow freely through any crossing. Opening up more crossings won't prevent those problems.

The other big problem once the aid is in is the way in which it is distributed. No, the aid agencies do not have control over that. In this case Hamas does. They know where they want the aid to go. It may look as if the aid agencies are in control. It may sound as if they are in control. They are not in control. If Hamas does not want any food aid to be distributed at certain points then they will prevent it.  At those points they will, despite all appearances, be the ones to decide who gets aid.  Those who accept aid from agencies are in debt to Hamas. They will do as Hamas wants, as Hamas decides. This debt will last long after any "ceasefire" is over.  It does not matter how hard aid agencies try to control the situation they simply cannot do it. 

If you are parents and your children our starving then you will do as those really in power order - do it in order to try and save your children. Food is a weapon of war. 

Tuesday 2 April 2024

April Fools' Day jokes are only

jokes if they are genuinely funny and do not harm other people. 

I actually avoided hearing or seeing anything yesterday. I hibernated. It was a relief. This morning I caught up.

There have been some funny ones in the past...like a neighbouring state announcing they were going to divide time into ten New Hours instead of the current twenty-four.  This time around the "pickle flavoured lamingtons" are amusing. 

What I find less amusing is the claim that a drone with a 250ml cup of water can put out a fire in the hills and that there are plans to build a monorail between two heavily populated areas of the city. Perhaps they are funny to some but, to me, they make fun of serious problems. 

The Senior Cat, who loved telling jokes and all sorts of genuine humour, never encouraged such "jokes" at school. I cannot remember our teachers trying any on us. It is unlikely they were told not to do it. They just did not see the need to do it.

Now I wonder if "April Fools' Day" is less popular than it might once have been because some have had their "fun" by making fun of issues which have actually harmed some people. If you have experienced a bush fire then jokes about them do not seem particularly funny. 

It was funny when my mother told a neighbour that we had just bought a second new car. We had actually bought a new to us car some weeks before. Mum had managed to get her grandsons a model of the same type of car. Mum had J... convinced for a short time and then they both laughed. 

That was not the case when someone else I know told someone she had just had a baby and appeared to be carrying one wrapped in a cotton blanket. The "baby" was one of those "reborn" dolls which I detest. The problem with this was the fact that someone she was about to proudly display this to had just lost a baby in the last stages of her pregnancy and this woman knew it. To say it was insensitive and "not funny" would be an understatement. 

It makes me wonder what "humour" actually is. I do know it is not about making fun of people in ways which exploits their weaknesses or distress.  I am happy to leave the "jokes" to other people. 

Monday 1 April 2024

A bone marrow transplant is for life

if it is successful. 

I don't know that much about them but I do know they are an important, indeed vital, part of modern medicine. I have grappled to understand them and the vocabulary which surrounds them to help medical professionals do aid work. I have heard doctors and researchers talk about the need for them.

At the back of my mind at all times has been the thought of the patients who need them. This morning's paper really brought the need for such transplants home.  A family here has young twin boys, their only children, and both the children need bone marrow transplants to survive. The boys have something called "hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis" or "HLH" for short.  It is an inflammatory disease and very, very painful. 

The family and their medical team are looking for a donor, a donor who matches the needs of their boys. They only need one donor because the boys are "identical" twins.  Obviously the point of the story is to try and find a healthy, matching donor - one between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. I hope they do...and that is all I can really do. I am too old to go in and say, "Am I a match?" I don't have millions to donate to research about that and so many other things.  

And then I started thinking about other things. This is a story in the paper, a paper a lot of people will not read. The word needs to be spread. Doctors need to start talking to patients who could be potential donors. The media needs to do more to inform the general population about how to go about registering and what is involved. Employers need to tell their staff, "If you are a potential donor then you get paid time off to donate." The government needs to do much more about widening the potential donor register. 

All those things are not that expensive in themselves. The process to save two young lives is much, much more expensive but it is also something we cannot put a price on.

If you are reading this then, wherever you live, please put the word out to the healthy young. It may not save the life of these twins, although hopefully it might, but it may save other lives.  

  hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH)