Thursday, 23 October 2014

"Can you come and

have a look at this?" the Senior Cat asked me.
He doesn't often interrupt me if I am at the computer so I assumed it was important.
He had begun work on what will be a bigger project than he expected. A neighbour had asked him whether he could "fix" a sideboard she had bought. The Senior Cat hates to say "no" so he agreed but, as is often the case, this is full of unexpected problems.
The object in question probably dates from the 1930's. (I did some on line research and found some of very similar design dating from that era.) It is, to put it mildly, not well made.
The Senior Cat showed me what was bothering him. Was he right? I got right down to look at it in a way he could not. Unfortunately he was right, indeed it looked worse from where I could see it. I could see the same long split in the timber at a crucial point. It will need urgent attention.
And then I looked at the drawers. There are three. The Senior Cat had taken them out and put them to one side.
"The drawers are pretty awful too," I told him.
He had not actually looked at them. I showed him. The runners are so worn that they actually cave in. The backs are coming away. He groaned.
We spent more time going over the object. I am not by any means a woodworker although living with the Senior Cat has taught me something. The timber which was used has shrunk. There are gaps where there should not be gaps. The back is a piece of cheap, cracked plywood which is breaking off at the edges. Inside someone has covered two shelves with cheap brown plastic which is intended to look like timber but looks like - well cheap brown plastic.
The neighbour did not buy it as a piece of antique furniture but she still paid a hefty price for it in a second hand furniture store. She liked the look of it. If you like that sort of thing then yes, it is pleasing to look at from a distance and it would make a nice addition to a room decorated in that style.
The Senior Cat asked me if she could return it and get her money back. Unfortunately the answer is no. A smart dealer might give her a few dollars for it but the second hand dealer must have heaved a sigh of relief when it went out the door.
Last night the Senior Cat explained all this. Did she still want him to do anything with it.
Yes, she is in love with it. Please would he do whatever he could with it.
It's the sort of challenge he still loves. I'll leave him to his wood dust and glue and slivers of timber to repair the cracks - and hope she lovingly dusts it when it is done.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

So our former Prime Minister

Gough Whitlam has died. He was 98.
I met him on a number of occasions. No, I do not normally hob-nob with Prime Ministers - although I have met some. I met Mr Whitlam because of Mrs Whitlam or, as she told me "Margaret, because that is who I am".
I quite liked Margaret. I met her first at a Writers' Week. We also had other interests, largely literary, in common. She was immensely supportive of International Literacy Year. It was her efforts behind the scenes that saw the Whitlam era spending on school libraries. Whitlam was not nearly as keen or interested in spending money on libraries. I doubt many Prime Ministers are.
Margaret was very forthright. If she didn't like something then you knew about it. Other people told me I was fortunate that she had "decided to like me". We never talked politics but I suspect she knew that my approach to politics was not hers - or indeed anybody else's approach. 
Whitlam could be equally forthright and he was liable to ask questions. The questions would not require an answer but rather a confirmation that the person being questioned shared the same view as Whitlam himself. If you didn't that tended to be an end to the conversation - unless Margaret was around. Yes, Whitlam was arrogant. I did not like him.
The media is currently full of what a wonderful Prime Minister he was. He wasn't.
Oh yes, he withdrew Australian troops from Vietnam - but he would have done what the previous government had done and sent them there in the first place.
He is also said to have set up the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and started indigenous Australians on the road to "land rights". The reality is that, while these things happened under his watch, the previous government was already moving in the same direction. It was the previous government which had called the 1967 referendum - the one in which Australians voted overwhelmingly to include indigenous Australians in the census. (Contrary to popular belief they already had the right to vote but were not required to attend the ballot box.)
It is said that Whitlam dismantled the White Australia Policy - the policy which restricted but did not completely forbid the migration of other ethnic groups to Australia. Again, this is incorrect. It was the previous government which brought in the Migration Act of 1966 which effectively ended the policy. 
Whitlam is also said to have begun diplomatic relations with Asia, particularly China. He was one of the first high-level Australians to visit the country and relations were formalised under him but again the reality is that moves had been made in that direction. There was already a great deal of activity going on but it was low key because of a general concern in the community about "Communism".  Whitlam did it with an arrogance that nearly wrecked the careful diplomacy.
His government introduced Medibank, our national health system and cut out university fees. Both those things, seemingly sound and fair in principle, have proved unsustainable. It was his own side of politics which reintroduced university fees and increased the now Medicare levy.
Whitlam was said to be a supporter of the arts. His wife did far more. She supported the purchase of Jackson Pollock's "Blue Poles" - a controversial addition to the Australian National Gallery. Perhaps it helped in that it got people talking about the arts - but the purchase was not well received by many in the arts community. 
Whitlam was said to be a supporter of women's rights. It was Margaret who pushed this from behind the scenes. She demanded equal treatment for herself and expected it to be given to other women. Whitlam himself was less than enthusiastic in private.
And Whitlam reduced the voting age to eighteen. It was a cynical move. He believed that the overwhelming majority of 18-21 year old citizens now able to vote would vote Labor and thus ensure that Labor remained in power.
His government was filled with scandal but it was his secret attempt to raise $8 billion through an outside agent, one Mr Khemlani, that eventually brought about the circumstances for his dismissal. The Senate blocked supply because the country was facing bankruptcy. Whitlam and his government had simply been introducing "reforms" without the money to pay for them.
If, instead of being dismissed on November 11 1975, Whitlam had gone to an election he would have lost. His dismissal allowed him to be seen as a martyr. It allowed him, and Labor, to "maintain the rage". The reality is that it was an incompetent government that put in place populist ideas without the means to pay for them.
"Gough doesn't understand money," Margaret once told me when he came looking for money to buy something to drink. He had, apparently, come out without his wallet. She was right.
It made me wonder what their conversational life was like. I suspect it was "robust".

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Rolling Stones are in town

and a great deal of fuss is being made about their presence.
They were, I believe, supposed to be here earlier in the year - something to do with the re-opening of the city's central oval. I was not interested in the re-opening of the oval. I have never been to a football or cricket match there. (Yes, I know - I am a sports' heathen!)
I am not terribly interested in the Rolling Stones either. I know who they are - something which had to be explained to a friend of the Senior Cat. (The Senior Cat - who detests "pop" music - actually managed to explain that himself. I won't say the description was particularly accurate but it did give his friend the general idea. I was proud of the Senior Cat.)
Would I recognise a song by the Rolling Stones? Um... I think "Ruby Tuesday" was one of theirs. And that is about it. I know. Appalling. Dreadful. Disgraceful.
Now, ask me about the Beatles? I can, I think, name "the Fab Four" and perhaps a half a dozen of their songs...I might even recognise more.
That has nothing to do with being wildly fond of the Beatles. I wasn't. I grew up in a family where my parents did not allow that sort of music to be played. We grew up with Gilbert & Sullivan (whistled out of tune by the Senior Cat), Mozart and Bach, English folk songs and Wesleyan hymns. I just had more to do with people who liked the Beatles and they tried to "educate" me.
But people are currently hanging around the establishment the Rolling Stones are apparently staying in and trying to catch a glimpse. Why?
I remember the year the Beatles came to Adelaide and it seemed "everyone" (except me) was trying to catch a glimpse of them too. (The alarm clock went off in Latin lesson at the presumed moment of their touch down on the tarmac. We knew better than to be absent at the great moment.) I couldn't understand the fuss. I still don't understand.
I once shared a lift with a very, very VIP. He came in on the floor after me. There were just the two of us. He looked at me in a resigned sort of way as if to say, "Here we go again. I suppose I'll have to...."
He has a reputation for being very polite and pleasant to everyone - including his staff.  I took a risk. With a smile I said, "It's all right. I don't know who you are if you don't want me to."
He actually laughed and we had a brief and perfectly pleasant conversation about something entirely different - but not the weather.
I met him again later, in another context altogether. Someone was about to formally introduce me but he stopped them and said, "Thank you. We've already met."
He didn't explain where and neither did I. Out of all the thousands of people he had met in his lifetime he remembered a brief and very ordinary conversation in a lift.
I suspect that this is what celebrities sometimes crave - a little bit of "ordinary". It seems "ordinary" can sometimes be "extraordinary" - and I won't be hanging around for a glimpse of Mick Jagger.

Monday, 20 October 2014

There has been an interesting contribution

posted to another blog site over the weekend. It raised the question of whether it is possible to feel "ashamed" as a nation.
It brought back memories of one of the actions that angered me most about one of our former Prime Ministers. Kevin Rudd presumed to give an apology on behalf of others to indigenous Australians for the treatment they had received. It was seen as a great moment in the history of Australia.
For me it was anything but a great moment. I cringed. The way many, indeed most, indigenous Australians were treated (and often are still treated) was wrong. I don't deny that but Mr Rudd had no business apologising for it. He should not have said "sorry". Some indigenous friends found it insulting. They felt Mr Rudd should simply acknowledged that the past was, by our current standards, wrong and then said every effort would be made to do better. Yes, as the saying goes, the past is another country and things were done differently there. We can acknowledge that and, if we were wise, we would learn from the experience of others.
As adults we are presumed to know the likely consequences of our actions and we have to take responsibility for them. We cannot take responsibility for a past over which we had no control. We can disagree but we cannot feel an emotion on their behalf or on a nation's behalf. Emotions are personal things. I believe they are what we feel. We can empathise with others and sympathise with others of course but I also don't believe we can apologise for others over whom we have no control.
So can a "nation" feel "ashamed"?  No. People within it can but a nation is an idea not a person and people differ on every subject under the sun.
I might be wrong of course. I am undoubtedly wrong about a lot of things.


Sunday, 19 October 2014

I succumbed to more

book buying yesterday...but this time I promise you that the books are presents for small humans. Small humans need books.
The day before yesterday I had the totally delicious experience of snuggling up with the youngest granddaughter of the neighbour who acted as Florence Nightingale when I sliced my thumb. We read a picture book together. "three and more than a half" and already passionate about books and words. On the days that her grandparents care for her she gets at least a half a dozen books read to her but, given half a chance, she will come over to me and ask me to read with her.
Her grandparents read to her. They do it well too. Her grandfather is particularly good at making the appropriate noises in the appropriate places. Her grandmother talks about the pictures and helps her to read them.
But A... is getting ready to read. She almost knows the letters of the alphabet. She can read her own name. She can read her sister's name. She recognises several other words without hesitation. And so, if we read a book, we read it together. I let her choose the pace and try to make sense of those strange squiggles on the page. I let her tell me about the pictures because reading the pictures is an important part of reading the story. I'll tell her that a word like "elephant" is one she knows already. I have to judge whether she needs me to tell her, guide her, encourage her or let her go her own way.
     "You're reading her, aren't you?" her mother commented when she came to find us all.
Yes, I suppose I am reading a small human. It's a difficult task. I don't always get it right either. She will tell me, "I do so know that word!" Oops!
But reading her is like reading a good book. Her plotting is unexpected and exciting and I want to go on reading.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

I have no idea how to

prune a citrus tree - or indeed any other tree. I don't know how to prune a rose bush either.
I am told the rose bushes don't matter much. You just lop them at the likely looking points. Yes, I know "experts" who make their living out of pruning rose bushes will not agree. I was however given that information by someone very senior in a large, rose growing society. He assured me we could not kill off the roses that easily. It's true. The rose bushes are still alive.
The lavender bushes are still alive too. I hacked out some dead wood last year and they seem to be flourishing. The French lavender is a mass of colour. The English lavender is looking as if it might be too.
But, the citrus trees. We have an elderly grapefruit tree. It lives next to the side fence. That is probably a rather warm spot for it. Then there is the lemon tree we had to rescue and another lemon tree (small) which was given to me. We have an orange tree (also small) and a cumquat tree. We don't eat the cumquats but we do use the fruit supplied by the others.
And yesterday a friend of the Senior Cat, former teacher and now retired priest, turned up. He chopped pieces off the grapefruit tree and the larger lemon tree and then told the Senior Cat,
"They need to be painted."
Painted? I thought the Senior Cat was joking when he told me this but apparently not. The trees are going to be painted. Their trunks are going to get a coat of white paint - so that the heat from the metal fence will be reflected.
I never thought of tree trunks as naked.

Friday, 17 October 2014

I managed to do something

very foolish yesterday. I sliced my thumb open while cutting some cucumber.
Of course I was the only cat in the house at the time. There was blood everywhere - except on the cucumber.
I managed to grab a tissue and get myself to the bathroom where I gave the wound a thorough wash and sprayed it with antiseptic. It kept dripping. I tried to keep pressure on it while I took out the pesky little sticky strips that seem to stick everywhere but the place you want them to go.
Eventually I managed to get a strip on that at least stopped the blood dripping. It did not look good but the floors no longer looked as if murder had been committed.
I managed to finish getting lunch for the Senior Cat. I even managed to finish making the Christmas cakes and put them in the oven. The sticky strip was keeping things under control but I was not a happy cat.
And then a neighbour called in. The Senior Cat is doing something for her. I asked,
"How squeamish are you?"
"Try me and see if I faint," was her reply.
I explained. She looked. Then, with all the experienced efficiency of motherhood she removed the strip and applied two more just where they needed to be applied. It was neat and tidy. There was no blood seeping through the little pad. My thumb felt much more comfortable.
The Senior Cat said, "I could have done that for you."
No, he couldn't - although I greatly appreciate his willingness to try. He is not good with sticky strips. I know. I have watched.
I thought about this later. I can never remember my mother doing this for any of us. I am sure she did not do it. If we needed a sticky strip she was not foolish enough to deny it but she would pass the packet over and tell us to do it ourselves - or do it to each other. I can remember neighbours doing it for me when I was a pre-school kitten.
The neighbour who helped me yesterday is a particularly nice person, helpful without being intrusive. In the nicest possible way she made me feel like a kitten again. Everyone should feel like that sometimes.