Monday, 25 May 2015

We were unexpectedly

invited to afternoon tea yesterday. Former neighbours invited us. When they lived here we would feed their dog and cat and water the garden if they were away for a weekend. They returned the favours with other help. We talked occasionally and met her parents, his brother and so on. Even the children's birthday parties did not disrupt the street. We still miss them.
They have not moved far. They have moved into a new and much more modern house. The kitchen in it has been designed for her work as a cook providing a number of local businesses with all sorts of delicacies. 
Oh yes, going to afternoon tea there is a treat! It was simple but very pleasant indeed.
But, as we were talking, we both agreed that something has happened to morning coffee and afternoon tea. It doesn't often happen in the same way - at least, it doesn't often happen among her generation or mine. Perhaps older people still do it?
You know what I mean don't you? You set the table properly with matching plates and cups and saucers - never mugs. You make "proper" coffee - not instant. You make tea in a teapot - with loose tea and not tea bags. You make scones and cake and put out some home-made biscuits. The milk comes in a jug and the sugar has a spoon all to itself.
The Senior Cat likes a cup and saucer - he has milk and sugar in his tea and it gives him somewhere to put his teaspoon. He likes loose tea in his little pot. It's easy enough. I don't mind.
But the milk comes in the "crystal"(plastic) milk jug in the normal way. We use mugs and the biscuits, if we eat them at all, come from the supermarket. That all seems pretty normal in the houses I have been in over the years.
And people go "out for coffee". They meet friends in a local cafe and they drink coffee and eat cakes or biscuits with fancy names.
Our erstwhile neighbour saw this happening and she has found outlets for a small range of home made goodies. They sell. The prices still shock her and, as she says, she and I would never pay those prices for a biscuit or a piece of cake. But, some people do.
Somebody else boils the water, makes the fancy coffee, serves it and does the washing up. Oh yes, it is nice.
But, there is something missing from it all. It is not the same. 
As we were leaving I was given a cake recipe she had been talking about. I almost never bake cake. We simply don't eat it but she would like me to try this one. I must.
Then I can invite someone to proper afternoon tea.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Is this Eurovision

thing actually important? 
There has been an even bigger fuss about it in Downunder this year. The reason for this is that Downunder, despite not being part of Europe, had an entrant in it. Please don't ask me how Downunder suddenly became part of Eurovision. I don't know. I suspect that (a) money and (b) (media) politics were part of it. 
I had actually heard of Guy Sebastian. For a cat with no interest in "pop" music this  is not the achievement it would appear to be. You see Guy Sebastian originally came from my part of Downunder.  
At the time he made his "debut" on the national stage he was a member of a charismatic, fundamentalist church on the other side of the city. On Sundays they attracted large crowds of young people for what amounted to a free rock/pop concert. Yes, the "message" was there too but the music is, I suspect, what brought many of them in. It would be interesting to know how many of them still go to church - or whether they have been replaced by other young people.  Here's hoping that, even if they no longer go to church, some of the good in the message that came with the music has stayed with them.
But, I digress. Guy Sebastian was part of that group. There was/is a television show called "Australian Idol". I don't know much about it except that people vote in it. 
Before that happens however there are auditions. I do know about these because, the year Guy Sebastian entered, my nephews did as well. It was the first year of the event. They went along to the auditions for the experience, to find out what they could learn and to see if they get a song on air. They achieved all these things.  It was as far as they went.
I happened to meet one of the judges a couple of years later. I had no idea who he was but he made a point of seeking me out at another function and introducing himself. 
"I just want you to know," he told me, "that your nephews are very, very good. They were better than the winner but we thought they were too young."
Then he asked me, "Would you mind telling me what they are doing now?"
I told him they were both at university but they were still doing gigs. He nodded and said, "That's good. It means we made the right decision."
Yes, it was the right decision. My nephews would not have had the same voting power behind them. Guy Sebastian had a massive support group who mobilised even more support. I assume he also has talent but I don't presume to understand his sort of music - or that of my nephews. Those contests are about politics and people and being able to market yourself and gain the support. They may require some talent but they are not - as far as I can see  - about talent.
I am also glad for other reasons. We now have two caring, professional, and personable young men in the family. If they lived in the same state they would still do gigs together and give the money to charity. They won't make millions. Guy Sebastian might but I think my nephews will be more satisfied with their current careers.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

I have just finished making

a vest. It has been knitted out of yarn left me by a friend. When she died she asked that her "stash" be given to me.
She was not the sort of person to acquire vast quantities of anything but yes, like most knitters, she had more than she had used or was likely to use. What she did get was often beautiful.
I gave some of it to others. I gave it to friends who knit who would appreciate what they were going to use. I have seen almost all of it knitted up and I know it would give her pleasure to see how it has been used.
And I have used some of it myself. There was some Japanese yarn there. Much of the "Noro" yarn is coveted by knitters. It is a yarn company whose products I have mixed feelings about.
Much of their yarn contains silk. I always feel guilty about the process of making silk fibre. I remember trying to care for silkworms as a child. There was always that anxious hunt for mulberry leaves. I could never have tried to make the thread.
But, being Japanese, silk is often used. That's understandable. 
Perhaps that is why there are often knots in their balls and skeins. I don't know. This may not concern Japanese knitters. It does bother Western ones. There are frequent complaints about knots on knitting pages. 
Then there is the type of yarn. Many of the varieties are "bulky" or "chunky". I am certain people look at a pattern and think, "That will be quick to make."
Perhaps it is for some people but I do not find knitting at the tension (or gauge as they say in North America) of 3 or 4 stitches to an inch particularly easy or satisfying. Some of the other yarns are textured  or loosely plied. Some of them are single ply and that twists awkwardly as you knit. Oh yes, problems.
The end result though can often be interesting. It can feel good. I don't know how well the garments wear. I suspect there may be problems. It is clear that these are not intended to be the sort of hardworking and everyday garment that one wears while doing the gardening. They are fashion items. 
A visitor saw the vest when it was nearly done. She is not a knitter and she asked me, "How did you get the colours to go like that?"
I explained that   this was the way the yarn was dyed. It is dyed in long, long stretches of colour. It can produce a striped effect. Admittedly I had juggled the balls of yarn so that the two fronts "match". The colours this time went from almost black through to pale blue and pale green. There is brown, darker green and darker blue there as well. 
It all sounds strange but perhaps one of the things that interests me most about the yarn I have just used is that mix of colours. It is not a mix that I would have contemplated - but it works. There have been other mixes I have seen. Again, I would not contemplate them in the normal way but they do work. 
It is something I have been able to learn from using something new. I will write a pattern now and I will pass the vest on to my friend Prudence so that other people can try different colour combinations. 
I hope they learn as much as I did.

Friday, 22 May 2015

The "silence of churches"

was the topic of a piece by columnist Andrew Bolt in the Downunder media yesterday. I am waiting for some reactions to it.
Bolt is a controversial columnist and often stirs strong reactions. 
There was nothing in this morning's state paper. People were too busy complaining about the rise in the Emergency Services Levy - some  with some interesting mathematics attached.
But Bolt does not mind stirring the pot and there must surely be some reaction. Why don't the churches speak out more about the persecution of their fellow Christians?
The Senior Cat and I have discussed the question of why people don't go to church. It is an interesting one.
When I was a kitten many more people did go to church. I was baptised  into the Presbyterian church wearing the christening gown made by my great-grandmother. It was an "occasion" - not that I remember it. I do remember the subsequent christenings of my siblings and my cousins - all in the same christening gown. I suppose people who never went to church turned up for the occasion, just as they do even now. (The Senior Cat, who does still go to church, assures me this is the case.)
Perhaps things changed back in the sixties when the pubs were allowed to open on Sundays. Sport began to be played on Sundays. Some shops were allowed to open on Sundays. There were more families where both parents went to work so other things were done on Sundays. 
But does the declining church going population explain the silence? Because yes, at very least, the voice of the church is muted. 
I don't think it is the declining population - although that may have something to do with it. I think it is something different. 
I think the media has much to do with it. The very thing that should make it easy for churches to speak out about the things they should be speaking out about has effectively silenced them. 
Headlines about sexual abuse - a subject which is of the utmost seriousness - and corruption within some sections of the Christian community have tainted everyone. The good work being done by many has been ignored by the alleged and actual behaviour of a few. 
Yes, it's the way the media works. The good cannot be acknowledged along with the bad. If someone does speak out then  it is not going to make the sustained headlines that the alleged or actual vile misbehaviour of someone else will make. As Bolt pointed out sections of the media are not even going to acknowledge those doing the persecution and killings are targetting Christians. 
There is also a fear of offending Muslims. Will it lead to a terror attack? Remember the Charlie Hebdo affair - and more? That the vast majority of Muslims are ordinary people going about their ordinary business in exactly the same way as anyone  else is not a message the media finds convenient to portray.
So are the churches silent? My view is that they don't say nearly enough. Failing to speak out is surely like Peter denying Christ? 
Perhaps it is time for them to overcome their fear - the fear of retaliation, of legal action and abusive headlines - and speak out more. 
I doubt they will do it though - any more than I am likely to go to church.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Emergency Services Levy

has risen yet again. 
The state government is trotting out the tired excuse that the Federal Government "cuts" to health and education are the reason. It has used the same excuse to justify cuts to other services.
At the same time it has run an expensive "information" campaign telling us about this.
The reality is that there were no "cuts". There was actually an increase in funding. What happened was that the state did not get what the outgoing Federal government promised it would get - if it won the election. The state's treasurer was relying on that money. He shouldn't have done that. The election went to the other side.
The state was bankrupt before that. It is in a worse state now.
I will leave it at that.
The other question is, who should pay for the emergency services? It is not, as someone tried to suggest to me, a simple matter of  "user pays". You don't stop fighting a fire because it has reached the edge of the property or stop stacking sandbags half way down the street. If the tree falls next door but lands on your roof then you want some help don't you? And if your neighbour's fire sets off toxic fumes which bring on an asthma attack in your child as well as his then you want to be able to call an ambulance don't you?
So  yes, we pay an Emergency Services Levy. I don't object to the general idea of one. I do however object to the Treasurer lying about why it has been increased so much. 
It is of course politically expedient to lie about it. "Why not if I can get away with it" seems to be the order of the day. 
It costs money to prop up an unstable government. Our local MP is costing the government nearly $9m over four years. He's the fourteenth minister in a tiny state government. Yes, fourteenth. He has an electorate office - although he is only there about half a day a week. People don't use it very often. He has a fancy office in the CBD and the staff to match. He's not a member of the party in power but he will cost even more when he retires at the next election on his parliamentary pension at ministerial rate - something he is almost certain to do.
The money that one man is costing the government to do a job which could and should have been handled by others would be enough to negate the need for such a hefty rise. It is just a pity the next election is not until 2018. People will have forgotten by then - and you can be sure that they are not going to be reminded. 
There is no money in the bank. Reading the cat hairs tells me that the ESL is simply going to rise still further. 
I just hope we don't need to call on them because they are still underfunded.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

I shocked someone yesterday

by saying that the answer to the "refugee crisis" was not to allow everyone who wanted to come here simply to come. It isn't.
This woman holds a position of some power but she has a rather simplistic view of the world.
I asked her, "Where do you draw the line?"
Her answer was, "You don't care about refugees."
Well hold it right there. I do care about refugees. I care passionately about people who, if they return to the place they called "home", will be in genuine danger of persecution and death. 
Refugees are not migrants - or, if  they are "migrants" then they are unwilling migrants. They don't want to be in the situation they are in. Almost all of them would prefer to be going about their daily lives, earning a living, eating meals with their families, having their children go to school, being able to chat with friends, and much more. They would also like to be able to do it in safety. They would like to do it without facing anything more than the dangers everyone everywhere faces.
Migrants are people who want to move. Yes of course they are searching for a "better" life. I don't blame them in the slightest when they see others with more than themselves. It is natural to feel envy. Many of them come from places with appalling living conditions. 
It is those living conditions which have to change. Migration is not the answer. 
Those who try to migrate tend to be younger and fitter. Many of them are the more intelligent but poorly educated, or those who believe their skills will get them a good job even though they lack formal qualifications. 
Their own countries need those people. They need to be there to change their countries. We need to take more of them as students and give them the extra skills and training that will allow living conditions in their own countries to improve. Somehow we need to  help them be rid of the dictators and despots and religious masters who rule some of those countries. 
I don't know how we do that but I do believe that simply allowing people to migrate is not the answer.  Migrants are taking places refugees need. 
There will be refugees who can never go "home" but they should be accepted on the understanding that everyone is working towards a solution to the problems that sent them fleeing. There should be an understanding that, just as many of them want, they will be able to go home one day.  We need to ensure that they can use their time in their host country learning and/or maintaining the skills needed to rebuild their lives on their return.
But we aren't doing that sort of thing. We grudgingly allow migrants in and leave the refugees in camps and at sea. We say we can't interfere in the internal affairs of other countries while placing sanctions on them that hurt the poor. 
We allow some countries to do nothing and others to do little and yet others to do far more. 
I think my question about drawing a line is a valid one. There is no easy answer to it. It won't be a straight line but that doesn't mean the question should not be asked. We need to think about it so that those most in need are those who get the help. 
That is not what is happening right now. If you are Rohingya and out on the Andaman sea right now I could weep for you.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

North-South Link - faster, faster....

no traffic lights for a very long distance will make your journey faster and easier.
The Downunder city I live in is built along a narrow strip of coastal plain. It makes the city long and thin. People cover considerable distances to get to work each day. They move in and out of the CBD. Most public transport "interchanges" still take place in the CBD too. There are some in the outlying areas but they tend to relate to reaching transport that will get you to the CBD. 
Most people drive cars. Many families own more than one car.
We don't have a car. It makes us a little strange but the Senior Cat stopped driving some years ago. I never managed to learn. It would not be safe. 
Pedalling out in the rain I sometimes think it would be nice to be in a car. Waiting for public transport I think it would be nice. I long ago organised my life around taxis at night.
So the coverage in this morning's paper of the planned "link" between north and south with the idea of being able to travel a very long distance without encountering a traffic light did not impress me. Parts of this link have already been built. It will make the city's residents even more car dependent. 
There are other things wrong with it too. They still don't have the main railway line, the one which carries goods, in the right place. It still comes through the hills behind us. It runs next to the suburban line (a different gauge). The government has been warned many times about the need to change the route. It is simply unacceptable to have many wagons of dangerous goods travelling through bushfire prone country. It will take a disaster before they listen though - and they may not listen even then. 
But, people apparently need to get from north to south and from south to north - and they need to do it fast. 
There is a need for speed - or so they tell me. Oh yes, a few people might live at one end and work at the other. 
But could somebody please tell me what everyone else is going to do with all that extra time?