Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Registration discs on cars

were ditched by the state government several years ago. This morning there is a piece in the paper about the way in which $2m a week is being collected in fines from people who fail to remember to register their vehicles - or perhaps hope they will get away with it.
There is also the reminder that this means they don't have third party insurance either - that insurance which covers them for the harm they might do to someone else.
The Senior Cat will have something to say about all this when he prowls out and reads the item over his muesli. He forgot once. There was some excuse for this but it frightened him.
The usual renewal notice failed to arrive in the mail. That in itself was not an excuse but it was also about the time his wife was dying and he could think of little else. Then, after her death, there was another major upheaval and then another. He was overwhelmed by far more paperwork than is usual even after a death and there were other issues as well. The car (he was still driving at the time) was not registered. He simply didn't notice.
Then one morning I went out to put something in the car for him to take to someone else and I noticed that the registration disc said "10" (for October)  and here it was "11". I went back inside and queried if he had forgotten to put the new disc on. 
It was probably just as well he was sitting down because he went pale.
      "I don't think I've paid the registration. I can't remember doing it."
He left his breakfast and frantically searched the paper work. No, he hadn't paid it. As soon as he could he walked (because sixteen years ago he could still do this) to the local registration office. He was so upset he asked to speak to the manager and confessed what he had done. He waited for wrath to fall on him, a hefty fine perhaps. 
The manager sat him down in his office and fetched the necessary paperwork himself. He didn't utter one cross word. He merely told the Senior Cat, "I did the same thing myself in much the same circumstances. Just pay it now."
I have no doubt that the Senior Cat's agitation was so obviously genuine that the manager was not going to add to it. All the same the Senior Cat knows he was fortunate, very fortunate. If there had been an accident he wouldn't have been covered and the financial consequences could have been very, very serious. 
The Senior Cat tells other people what happened but, as he points out, it was because I noticed the registration disc said one month and not another we discovered that the problem existed. 
Those registration discs are pesky little things to stick on and remove each year but they are an excellent reminder. 

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

"Being alive is a privilege"

is a "tweet" I have just seen from authorJoanne Harris  - in conversation with Matt Haig, another author.
And yes, yes, yes! Being alive is a privilege. Let's treat it with respect.
There is an appalling front page story in our state newspaper this morning. I knew about it last night. It kept me awake. A mother and two young children have been murdered. The woman's partner has been charged. It happened in one of the most outer, almost rural, suburbs of the city I live in. 
Now people are asking how and why and what could have been done to prevent it. The same questions are asked every time. Being alive is a privilege. Will their immediate neighbours think of that this morning or will they just wallow in the shock and awfulness of it all? I suspect the latter.
Almost every morning my mail box will have at least one, often more than one, story of disaster. There are the stories we all read in the press or hear in the media and there are the stories which don't make it that far. These are the sad, individual cases where people, particularly women and children and the very old are caught up in wars not of their own making, which they don't understand or support. They just want to get on with their lives. They know that being alive is a privilege. So many people around them have died that finding themselves alive in the morning is something that some of them wonder at. There is the dread of trying to get through another day and yet, underneath it all, there is that small thing, that very small thing, called "hope" and they know they have to nurture it.
The Senior Cat had a friend visiting yesterday. This man asked me why I was still bothering to work. Wasn't, he wanted to know, looking after the Senior Cat enough? My answer was no, it isn't. While I know there is a child out there who wants to be alive and needs help to communicate that fact then I have a responsibility to help.
Because, being alive is a privilege. It is also a responsibility. 

Monday, 30 May 2016

Dress code

is another of those curious things I have had to contemplate of late.
There was a piece in the Guardian about a teacher not wearing a tie and being told to do so. Right or wrong? 
The Senior Cat doesn't like "dressing up" these days. He rarely wears a tie. It is an interesting departure from the teacher and then headmaster who went to school each day in a suit and tie. He even wore a tie out in remote rural areas. He did remove his jacket in extremely hot weather but he still wore a suit to school. It was expected of teachers back then. 
When I was in teacher training college the boys were expected to wear ties and the girls were not permitted to wear trousers. The girls in fact were expected to wear shoes with heels and stockings too. I had to get "special permission" to wear the only footwear I can manage. It was, perhaps, a slightly ridiculous situation in college but it was not a ridiculous situation out in schools back then. Teachers still wore ties and skirts.
My brother wears a tie to work. My brother-in-law wears a tie to work. My nephews wear ties sometimes. It depends on what they are doing. They keep ties in their desks in case they are needed. If they aren't meeting the public they are not required to wear ties. If, as in the case of one, he is in the lab then he doesn't wear one. They know when they need to do it. 
It's about showing they care about their appearance and about respect for others. It is like having clean hair, clean shoes and clean fingernails. It is about wearing trousers that have been washed or dry-cleaned and pressed. It is about changing your shirt at least once a day. 
Ties do seem odd articles of attire - and not particularly comfortable ones. The Whirlwind still has to wear a tie as part of school uniform in winter. She thinks it is "stupid" and yes, it probably is - but she does it anyway. Ask her whether she thinks "uniform" is "stupid" however and she will tell you "no" - because everyone wears the same thing and she doesn't need to think about what to wear or compete with anyone else. 
School uniforms are more common than not here. Most students wear them. Some schools have a much stricter dress code than others. 
I can only assume that goes for teachers as well. More than once I have observed groups of students out and about on, presumably, a school excursion. I have noted the adults with them. Most teachers wear name badges so it is easy to identify them. I have noted that the male teachers who wear ties appear to have much better discipline than the male teachers who wear t-shirts and ripped jeans.
I might be wrong but it seems that wearing a tie can make a difference. 

Sunday, 29 May 2016

I would like all unaccompanied children

to have a safe place, a home, adults who care for them, food, clothing, education and the opportunity to be children.
But, and there is a but, they have to be unaccompanied children. I know there was an outcry when the UK government recently voted against allowing entry to unaccompanied refugee children. I was upset too - because I want all children to have a safe place. There are far too many children without a safe place and it makes me angry - very very angry.
Children don't start wars. They aren't politicians or religious clerics or outspoken fools. They learn from these people but children don't start out that way. A two year old doesn't know about religious and ethnic differences. A ten year old is learning fast. They will already have some very set ideas.
Getting people to change their opinions is notoriously difficult. Even when they appear to have changed them it takes very little to revert back to their previous beliefs.  Psychological experiments have shown this but groups like the Jesuits knew it long ago. Grab them young and you have them for life even if they appear to have changed their views.
And this is one of the things that bothers me about the unaccompanied children we are all being asked  to take in. Many of them are not children at all. They are teenagers, male teenagers. They are being used by adults. Some are being sent by desperate parents in the hope that a son will make it safely to a country which will feed, clothe, house and educate him. I don't blame them in the slightest. I am sure I would do the same.
Others are being sent in the hope that it will keep them out of further trouble. They have been running wild in countries in turmoil. They are law breakers. In peace time these teens might have been no more difficult than most teens but turmoil has allowed them to go much further.
Some are being used as an "advance ticket". People hope that if a "child" gets in to their  country of choice then the rest of the family will be able to follow. Again, all too often it's a measure of desperation.
Almost all of these are teenage males.
And then there are other children, real children without any adult to be responsible for them. Sometimes a mother of other children will watch out for them in a limited way or let them sleep under the same piece of plastic sheeting and share the limited food supply with them. It's asking a lot though when you are desperate to make sure your own children are safe and survive.
There are more of these children than we are ever told about. Mothers will sometimes lie about a child being theirs if they believe that saying otherwise will put a child in further danger - and then need to abandon them later.
Children get separated from their families too. Some run away from violent and abusive homes. Others have tried to care for adults who are ill, injured or insane.  All too often it is the girls who are doing this - and caring for younger siblings. 
War is incredibly messy as well as frightening. It doesn't treat people fairly. Some people make it and others don't.  Anyone with any empathy at all surely cheered loudly when Noujain Mustaffa finally saw her brother in Germany. It was a "feel good" story among all some of the most distressing news  of the time.
I was asked yesterday how I would choose which unaccompanied children to bring in first if we can't bring them all in. It's a question I cannot answer. When I am faced with two or more equally urgent pieces of work my general gut response is to go with what will be of the most benefit to a child but to choose between children is something I cannot answer. I want to say "all". All I can think of saying is "start with the youngest and, from there, those who have the least and try to reach a point where we have provided for all of them".
I just wish it could work like that but I know it doesn't, won't and can't. I just want them all to be safe.


Saturday, 28 May 2016

"Thank you" letters

should be written promptly and sincerely. 
We were invited out recently and, the following day, we sent a thank you card because our hosts had made a very special effort. We had enjoyed ourselves. It made sense to make the effort to thank them properly.
The Senior Cat, being a very well brought up kitten and then cat, is meticulous about thanking people - and he means it. My siblings and I have been taught to do the same. 
Many years ago Middle Cat  was part of a national sports team. They were away and won whatever match they were playing. They were celebrating but Middle Cat went quietly around to everyone and obtained a small donation - to thank their coach. They gave some recognition to her as they were leaving the bus for the last time. It still irritates Middle Cat that nobody else thought of it. The Captain of the team should have organised it.
I once took a small group of children to meet an author. We had gone to see him rather than him come to see us. He had a busy job as the head of a teacher training college and he had mobility issues. He spent more than an hour with the group and provided them with very, to them , grown up tea and biscuits. They talked about the visit for weeks afterwards but it was the following day when they said to me, "We have to say thank you again." When I asked which one of them was going to write the letter they looked at one another and then told me they were all going to write individual letters - and they did. He remarked on it to me later - "they really meant it". Yes, you can tell.
As a kitten I was told thanking people, even for help I didn't need, was especially important, "because one day you might really need some help and people won't want to help you". I know the same philosophy applied in a school for children with physical disabilities. I also know that, like me, they learned there are ways to decline help politely but sincerely thank the person offering it.
It's the sincerity which is so important. I had a "thank you" letter recently - except that it wasn't really a thank you letter at all. It was written three months after the events had occurred. It dripped with insincerity. It was perhaps one of the most insulting letters I have ever received. It would have been better if the writers of the letter had said nothing at all. I know that the letter was written under duress but that made it no easier to read and I can't accept the sentiments expressed in it. Far from reassuring me that I had contributed something worthwhile it has raised all sorts of questions in my mind. No, I am not being over-sensitive. I showed another member of the group the letter I had received and her reaction was, if anything, even stronger than mine. "Why," she wanted to know, "did they bother to write that when they obviously don't mean a word of it?"
Why indeed. The only thing that saved me from complete despair over the situation was other people going out of their way to thank me long before the letter was sent. I don't doubt they were genuine.
Thanks must be measured and appropriate and prompt.

Friday, 27 May 2016

The Toy LIbrary

in our local council area is well used it seems but I wonder how it keeps going.
I know something about toy libraries. I worked with someone else to set up the first ever toy library in this state. That is more years ago than I care to remember. Back then it was not intended as a general lending library for all children. Instead it was a highly specialised library for children with disabilities. The toys were chosen accordingly.
Toy libraries spread in this state from that first library. They extended further into the "special education" sector and then into the pre-school area. 
Our neighbours used the toy library for their children. As their father said, "It gave the boys an opportunity to play with things we could not afford to buy. It also gave us an opportunity to see what we could afford to buy that they would really use."
Oh yes, it is a good idea. 
But when toy libraries started out here there was, as always, a limited amount of money and we sought help from people who could make the sort of toys the people  using the library needed and wanted.
The Senior Cat made some over weekends. He made samples for other weekend carpenters to copy. He made sturdy wooden blocks and "posting" boxes. He made simple wooden puzzles. Other people in his woodworking group did the same. 
The children responded to these things. They were designed to suit them, designed to suit small hands, unsteady hands, with bright vegetable dyes that could be seen by those with poor eyesight. The pieces were all approved sizes - that could not possibly be swallowed. They were shapes that children could not hurt themselves on. 
All the toys had "play value" too. The puzzles had associated books - simple picture books. There were cassette tapes (well yes, it was rather a long time ago) of music and story. 
While we were clearing out the shed we came across seven more puzzles. The Senior Cat had put them away. They were samples. They had never been used. They were in perfect condition. What to do with them?
I gave one to someone I thought might be able to use it and I took the rest off to the Toy Library although I had a sneaking suspicion they might not want them.  Well, they did want them but they were not allowed to take them for the library.
No, the quality had not changed. The needs of the children have not changed. The staff I showed them to thought they were wonderful. They would have loved to have them  but "occupational health and safety" now demands that only commercially made toys with a manufacturer's label and number and....well you get the picture don't you? 
They did take them - to sell. They will buy something for the library with the money the donation raises.
     "I wish we could keep them," the senior toy librarian told me, "They are so much nicer than the ones we have."
I pedalled away thinking of the group of men in "The Men's Shed" who do woodwork, men who would be all too happy to make toys for such places - men who would like to feel "useful". 
But, somewhere in the last few years, someone has made a decision that it is no longer "safe" to have good, solid, home-made toys. It is better to have flimsy plastic which can be "cleaned" and thrown away after a year or so. 
My great nieces are still playing with the blocks I played with when I was a very small kitten and the eldest tells me that her children will play with them too. The Senior Cat made those.
Isn't that they way children should play? 

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Making a cup of tea

should be done properly. Tea must be treated with respect.
Every Wednesday afternoon during the school term a friend calls in and has a pot of tea - yes, one of those small pots but all of it. It is the pot I use for the Senior Cat as well but she can drink the entire pot by then.
She has spent the time before that teaching knitting at a church craft group in the hills behind us. They have an "urn" on. It does not, according to her, make good tea.  I am certain she is right.
The Senior Cat  has certain requirements with respect to tea making. He likes China rather than Indian. He does not like exotic teas like Russian Caravan or Lapsang Souchong. He likes plain teas like English Breakfast. He disapproves strongly of tea bags. 
According to the Senior Cat tea must be made with rain water, not our city's tap water. The water must boil freshly in the kettle. The pot must be warmed.
I do all these things automatically. 
We once lived in a very remote corner of the state. There was no rainwater tank attached to the house when we arrived. (The house was "new" but it was also a badly put together fibro-asbestos one.) The Senior Cat informed the then Public Buildings Department that a tank was needed - urgently. It might rain. Actually it did rain that year.
Meanwhile there was a tank at the school. It was for drinking water only. I don't think there was a child in that small school who would have wasted any water.  The tap water, from a reservoir nearly two hundred miles away, was undrinkable in summer and not really drinkable in winter...but people did make tea with it. It tasted salty.
Visitors would arrive at the school and look for a cup of tea made with rainwater. 
We moved on to other places. There were tanks. I wouldn't like to count the number of times I was told at the end of the school day, "When you get back to the house put the kettle on." There was the afternoon when the wood burning stove in the kitchen was not alight and I had to set it going again as well as go outside and turn the gas bottle on - something we normally only used in the height of summer. The school inspector would be over shortly for a cup of tea! (He was very nice about waiting a few more minutes but I was terrified I hadn't been fast enough.)
But yesterday our friend W... came for her pot of tea. She can, if necessary, find her own way around the kitchen. I know she likes "proper" tea. Like the Senior Cat she likes it made with loose tea and freshly boiling water.
And for her, and the Senior Cat, tea comes in a cup with a saucer and a teaspoon for the Senior Cat.  (He has sugar.) I am always reminded of my paternal grandparents. I am reminded of the way my grandfather made my grandmother "breakfast in bed" - a tray of tea and toast, with butter and marmalade, and the tiny vase with the single bloom of something from the garden. When he broke the handles off the cups, which he did on occasion, he would go and buy a completely new cup, saucer and plate trio from the shop several doors down the road they lived on.  He taught me about  tea made with love.
I am a little less fussy. All those years living in institutions and working in schools and universities have made me appreciate that even getting something like that to drink is a bonus. I have left mugs in all sorts of places - mugs with handles I can hold easily. I went back to one place recently and I was offered tea. 
          "It's all right Cat. We still have your mug."
And yes, there it was. It was still in the cupboard. Nobody else had used it. It was still labelled with my name after three and a bit years.
Tea needs the right mug too.