Thursday, 11 February 2016

"Clothes make the man"

- or so it would seem - but only sometimes.
Gillian Philip was, rightly, complaining about the way women who want to eat on their own are treated in restaurants. It seems men who want to eat on their own do face difficulties - but perhaps not as many.
I was reminded though of an incident that occurred some years ago now. One of my occasional roles is to act as "amicus curiae" in court - a person who goes in to sit with someone and assist them through the court proceedings. I  usually tell people I am there in a "communication assistance" role. 
There are standards of dress in court. The people who work there don't wear jeans and t-shirts or paint splattered overalls. There was a time when women did not, under any circumstances, wear trousers in the courtroom. I can remember hearing a judge say to a  barrister who dared to turn up in a bright red suit, "I cannot see you..."
I used to wear a navy blue suit into court. It was about as sober as it is possible to get and it could pass muster from the Magistrates' Court to the Supreme Court and Federal Court and - on one memorable occasion - the High Court. 
It was on that last occasion that I had been invited out to lunch with a very senior member of the legal profession. As it takes me rather longer to get somewhere than most people I, at her suggestion, set out and arrived at the place we were eating at. I went in.I said we had a reservation - in her name.
I was asked to wait outside. I know now I should have insisted on being seated. I didn't. I was too stunned. The third person who was meeting with us arrived at that point and was also too stunned to protest. We stood there looking at one another and then went outside into the chill of a Canberra winter's day. The senior member of the legal profession arrived and, naturally, asked why we were standing there. We told her.
She marched in and came out a minute or so later clearly fuming. We went to another place around the corner. Could they fit three people in? Yes, no problem. 
We ate lunch. We discussed the case we were meeting about. The senior member of the legal profession was calmer when we left... but the incident got around the legal profession. They boycotted the other place. As many of them used it at the time it must have had an impact on the business. The owner grovelled. I was offered a free meal there. 
I declined politely. I was not going to bother to dress up for them.


Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Finding the right words

is difficult. Someone I "know" via social networks lost her father very recently. I feel for her.
He was a little older than my own father, the Senior Cat. He was also, like the Senior Cat, a very special person in her life. Now she needs to write a eulogy for him.
Like me her life revolves around words. She's a literary agent - an outstandingly good one by all accounts. It doesn't make writing the eulogy any easier. 
I have participated in the writing of eulogies for members of the family. My brother wrote our mother's eulogy. It was short. She was a "I don't want you to talk about me" sort of person.We agreed on what should go in it. 
When my sister's MIL died they asked me to help. None of them are the sort of people who write anything. The only one of them who reads books is my BIL and he said, "I don't read that sort of thing". So we talked and, eventually, they found the right words.
I wrote one for my uncle because his son couldn't do it. Coming half way across the world for his father's funeral while not well himself was too much for him. My father didn't want to do it either. So, I found the right words - at least people said they were the right words.
I wrote the eulogy for my closest friend. It was like trying to write the eulogy for a sister. I couldn't read it. I knew I would break down. The celebrant read it. I tried to make people laugh because that is what my friend would have wanted. Trying to make people laugh when you want to weep is so hard -  but, somehow, I found the words.
And I wrote the eulogy for another friend, someone I had never met in person. She lived on the other side of the world. We had first "met" in a professional capacity and then, over the years, we became friends. She had never married, lived alone, worked long hours and I sometimes wondered how many friends she had. She knew she was dying and planned her own funeral service. She asked me to write the eulogy. "I don't want to know what you say. Just make it simple and send it to the funeral director."
I didn't want to do that at all. How could I when I had never actually spoken to her. All we had ever exchanged were words via the internet. I knew I was going to miss her desperately but was I the right person to this? Surely not? I protested and the response came back, "Please Cat, I want you to do this."
So, I did it. I found the words. I sent it off. One of her colleagues wrote to me after the very large funeral and was kind enough to say they were the right words and "so like her". 
I wonder about this. It's hard. It's very hard. You weep. You think you can't do it. seems you can find the right words when you love someone.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

I am trying to remain calm but I am angry

- very angry indeed.
There was a report in the media some time ago. It claimed that a five year old had been raped at the detention centre on Nauru. At first it hinted that a local Naruan might be responsible. Then there was a bit of a backtrack and it was "possibly" someone in the refugee camp. There were demands that the child was removed, that all children were removed. Claims were made about how dangerous the refugee camp was, how bad the facilities and food were - and more.
The media loved this. It was headline material. They reported it all in detail. It was presented as fact. Yes, we had to believe this. We had to believe what was being said by a particular member of the Senate  - the one who has made a name for herself saying how dreadful it is to keep people in detention. It caused what appeared to be a groundswell of people opposed to the bi-partisan policy of off-shore processing. Yes, a good thing you might say.

I don't want  people in detention. In particular, I don't want children in detention. But I also don't want to be lied to. And I knew we were being lied to by the media.
It is perhaps particularly difficult for me because my job sometimes gives me access to information other people don't have. It is even more difficult because I can't always share it - even though I would like to do so.  I had heard that the situation on Nauru was not quite as dire as the media was making out. I heard whispers that the story about the alleged rape victim was perhaps not quite accurate. I wasn't allowed to say anything of course - and I didn't know enough to say anything anyway.
Now the media is no longer allowed on Nauru except by invitation and the payment of a hefty visa fee. There are good reasons for that - and they are not the reasons they keep suggesting.  
Today, in a Senate hearing someone finally said that the victim did not exist. There was no five  year old rape victim. Yes, there had been an incident. A boy, more than twice that age had apparently made a complaint about a boy two years older than himself. There had been "skin-to-skin" contact. Yes, it was likely inappropriate behaviour - perhaps the first homosexual fumblings of adolescence? We will never know.
The point of all this however is that the story has done great harm. It has harmed those directly involved. It has, now that it has been found to be a lie, done harm to the cause of refugees. There is, despite the "LetThemStay" campaign, a backlash against asylum seekers. There is a greater readiness to disbelieve their claims - and much more besides.
It also means that the media is no longer welcome in places like Nauru. They can no longer be trusted. They have shown they won't tell an honest, truthful and balanced story. They will concentrate on the negatives, embroider them where possible and, if necessary, fabricate a story. It means people are not being informed - and that the media can go on reporting the "information" given them by people who have other agendas.
But there is another group which has also suffered because of this story - those who have been raped. To learn that someone has fabricated a story about rape for their own political purposes must be devastating for many rape victims.  I am too angry to say more.
I am fuming about this. Perhaps I shouldn't be. I know enough about the media and the way in which it works to know that "truth" is not what matters. It is the "story" which matters. It seems it doesn't matter how much harm that does. It will make a politician, some advocates, and some journalists feel important for a bit.
How can they sleep at night?

Monday, 8 February 2016

Apparently it is wrong to ask for help.

Some of you will be aware that I have recently been undertaking a rather large task - that of reorganising the library of  knitting guild.
It is not, as libraries go, that large. It has around five hundred books.
It has still been a big job. All we had before was an out of date list of books. I kept adding to that. I had roughly divided the books into categories - something the previous "librarian"  had not done. She was a lovely person with, as she freely admitted to me, "no library skills". Now she is no longer with us I feel free to do more.
I knew more needed to be done. We have younger members now and they use the library more than the older members. They are also more computer literate, more likely to find information and more likely to ask, "Have we got a book about?"
I know the stock well. I am familiar with the content of the books. It is my job to know these things.
It is also my job to organise the library, a means of finding the information it contains, a borrowing system, the acquisition of new books etc. 
I don't mind doing these things. It is my contribution to the group. If you belong to a  group you should contribute in some way. I can't do "door duty" as other responsibilities mean I can never get there early enough. I can't do kitchen  duty because it means carrying thinks that can be dropped and broken or which leave liquids across the floor.  So, I do the library.
People do door duty in twos. They do kitchen duty in two or more. Several people will put away the chairs and trestle tables.
So, why won't people help with the library? Now I hasten to add that I did get some wonderful help from four people - one of them the man who is the "key-holder" for the hall and who never borrows a book - for a day when we did a lot of the work on reorganising the library.
But I needed a bit more help than that. There was a job I simply couldn't do myself. I changed the borrowing system to make it easier for everyone to know what was in and what was out. It is a little old-fashioned as we don't have the capacity to have a computer based system but it will work. It means writing a card for each book. 
That's around five hundred cards that need to be written.  They need to be written legibly. 
I tried to make it simple. I bought a box of cards. I bought pens. I  printed off the catalogue. 
At the meeting, after talking to the President, I got up and asked for some help. Would some volunteers please take a sheet and help by printing the name of the book on the card? The books can then go in envelopes stuck in the back of the book.
I explained it was a job I could not do myself. I can sign my name but I rarely write anything else. I don't have the necessary manual dexterity to write well. I'd love to be a calligrapher but I'm not and nothing is going to make me into one. 
Yes, I got some volunteers - people who know me well and knew that the request was made of necessity, not laziness.
But someone close by where I was standing muttered, "If you can't do it yourself then don't ask us."
I wondered if I had misheard but it seems not. She complained I couldn't do the job "properly". Did she want to do the job herself? No, she is "too busy". It "just needs someone who can do the job properly". 
I am still not sure what this means  but apparently it is wrong to ask for help. 
My thanks to those who volunteered anyway. I really appreciated it.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

I am not sure where to start this

because I know there is a very high probability I will be misunderstood.
Let me make it quite clear from the start that I do not approve of children being kept in immigration detention.
But I have a problem. I also don't approve of children being used as some of these children are being used. They are being used in multiple ways.
Adults use them in an attempt to get asylum. Yes, they do. The argument of course is "why would you put children at risk unless there was a greater danger somewhere else?"
Parents do, rightly, want to get them as far as possible from  those things. I'd want to do it too.
But to put children in harm's way after they have reached a place of safety simply because it is not the place where you want to be? 
For a while the policy of the Australian government was to move not just an injured or ill person from an off-shore detention centre to the mainland but their family with them. The result of that policy was almost predictable. People would self-harm in the hope of being moved and taking their families with them - or they would harm other family members in the hope of the family being moved. It was a perfectly understandable thing to do.  Once the policy was stopped and just the individual was brought then the level of self-harm dropped to almost nothing.
Now new ways have to be found by those looking for entry into Australia and by those who support them. We now have reports of "highly traumatised" children. I don't doubt for a moment that there are highly traumatised children in detention and they most certainly should not be there. I do question some of the means being  used to try and get them out.
There are claims of sexual abuse and bullying and more. On Nauru the claims are that it is the local people who are guilty of these things. There is never any suggestion that there is any trouble among the asylum seekers. 
 Those seeking asylum come from a wide range of backgrounds. In their home countries some of them are fighting one another. I doubt it is all peace and harmony in the centre. 
Yes, some of them are severely traumatised individuals - but does that really excuse all wrongdoing? I think not. Women and children are treated differently in some cultures and some of the men will continue to treat them that way wherever they are. This is not a result of people being in detention. It's a result of where they come from and the undeniable fact that some of those seeking asylum are individuals who are fleeing punishment for crimes committed in their home countries. 
And then there are the drawings we are being shown, drawing allegedly done by children in asylum. Along with those drawings are the pleas for help. More than one highly experienced person has questioned whether all those drawings and pleas come from children. How many have been done without any prompting?
Of course children will draw their experiences, even without being asked to do so. Some of the pictures I have seen and others have seen have however almost certainly not been drawn by children. They have been drawn by adults who are attempting to make them look like drawings from children. Some of the messages have been written by adults. Sometimes some of those messages have been copied by children. 
Again, children are being used. They are being used by "family" and "friends"  and also by advocates. It is all being done with an aim of getting the adults into Australia and then keeping them there.
I don't blame them for an instant. In their circumstances I would probably try the same thing myself.  It still doesn't make it right to use children in this way. It is also wrong to try and garner public sympathy on the basis of lies. 
Perhaps I am just too cynical. Perhaps I am too ready to believe that it would be politically inconvenient for too many people on all sides if the facts were to be reported in a calm and compassionate manner.
I just wish everyone would stop using children. Children are people. Children are younger human  beings. They are not the property of their parents or advocates or governments or anyone else. Treating them that way is doing great harm.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

"I've been diagnosed with Alzheimer's,"

the Senior Cat's closest friend told him yesterday.
It did not surprise me. I have been expecting this news. The signs were there some time ago. He would "forget" things. He would go off to do something on their small hills property and come back without having done it. He gets confused over something simple like making a phone call. When he talks to the Senior Cat there are silences - as if he has wandered off into a different place. 
A man who has always been able to use words with great skill he has now lost the ability to tell a joke and sometimes forgets a word.
The Senior Cat has known him for more than sixty years. They taught in the same school early on and then supported each other through their similar careers. 
He is the godfather of my youngest sister. 
Many years ago I babysat every Tuesday evening so that he could go to a lecture and his wife could go to orchestra practice. Like the Senior Cat and many others of that era they had to finish their degrees the hard way - part time and at their own expense. Over the years I have also remained close to them. 
They came here as migrants so their friends are their extended "family".
They live just a little too far away for us to get to them easily. He has stopped driving. His wife only likes to drive locally. They also live outside the closest town. It's time to move and they know it but they can't afford to move to the sort of accommodation they really need - where they would get the support they need. 
It is times like this I would like to be "rich" - rich in the sense that I  had enough disposable income to be able to quietly buy the sort of accommodation they need and anonymously offer them the  chance to move. I'd like to be able to afford the taxi fares so that the Senior Cat could go and visit his friend.
It's not going to happen of course so I will do the next best thing - if his  wife needs to phone me and just talk, I'll try to be there.  And I'll try to listen to her and the Senior Cat as they remember what it was like when the Senior Cat's friend cannot remember.

Friday, 5 February 2016

There were three schools in "lockdown"

or evacuation yesterday - the result of "bomb threats".
Similar things have happened in two other states of Downunder in the past week.
When it happens police know that it is almost certainly a  hoax but they can't take the risk. They have to act. 
It's an immense waste of time and resources. It causes immense anxiety for all involved and it's exhausting for staff, students and parents. It is designed to be as disruptive as possible.
It's simple, too simple. It can be done long distance. Someone on the other side of the world can use an untraceable mobile phone and just announce there is a bomb. It costs them very little.
The mother of a child in one of the schools involved asked me, "What do these people get out of it? They can't see what is happening."
No, they can't. I told her I suspect that "these people" are not young idiots out to have fun. They are more likely sophisticated individuals who have planned the attacks rather carefully. Certainly the targets were interesting, one of them was  the "International"  High School, another was the High School in the CBD and another a school attached to one of the universities. They were not random targets.
It's a version of crying "Wolf! Wolf!". Those involved know that nobody will be prepared to take the risk of not investigating, of not taking the maximum precautions. 
It doesn't matter to the people who plan these attacks that they can't see what is going on. That isn't the issue as far as they are concerned. Their purpose is to cause disruption and anxiety. In all likelihood those involved are associated with places where real bomb threats are a daily occurrence. They may not live there but their sympathies may well lie there.
It is going to be very, very difficult to find these people. It is going to be even harder to stop them. They will have passed the baton on to the next person before the authorities reach them.
I would like to find them, lock them inside a building with multiple complex ticking parcels in hard to reach places and put them through the anxiety.
You see, one of the children is already too anxious about going to school because her school in another country was attacked.