Monday, 25 July 2016

I have yet to use the "self-service"

check-out in the supermarkets I shop in. 
I can remember when the first self-service one went in to the bigger of the two supermarkets in the local shopping centre.  It was, as you would expect, rather chaotic. It wasn't something people knew much about. The only people who did were those lucky souls who had travelled overseas to places where, apparently, such things are common. 
I didn't like the idea then - and I don't like the idea now. It is not just that I am worried I might get something wrong or accidentally fail to scan something or set an alarm off or...well, you know the sort of thing I mean. 
It's the human side which bothers me. I have taken the trouble to learn the names of the check out operators in the supermarket I  usually shop in. Most of them are students. It is store policy to employ students who need jobs - and some of them really do need jobs.  It was years ago I met the first of these students. She was doing psychology. I read an essay for her. Word got around and another student...and then another... they don't always want help they sometimes just want to talk to someone about their workload or about how good it feels to have finished an assignment. It has led to me doing some formal co-supervising and the occasional informal tutoring.
I saw one of the students in another shop the other day. She stopped and chatted for a brief moment. I occasionally see them out and about in the local area. I usually get a cheerful smile or a wave or, if they are behind me, a "Hi Cat!"
As they move on to other things they seem to tell the new student taking over who I am. "You're the one who...." Yes.
When my very close friend died - almost two years ago now  - one of the girls who works in the greengrocer heard about it. She came out from behind the cash register and gave me a hug. The man who owns the business was going past as I paid for my things. He put a hand on my shoulder as he passed. In the supermarket one of the regular staff, a girl with many problems and one many people avoid, said to me, "I heard about your friend. I'm so sorry." She meant it too. 
Yes, it's a normal, busy suburban shopping centre of moderate size. Yes, it's supposed to be one of those anonymous places where nobody knows you. And yes, I know that I stand out in the crowd because I don't bother to take my cycling helmet off and I need a walking stick. I know too that I get pointed out as "the person who writes to the paper".  Even with those things though I could choose to be anonymous. I could ignore people but, even though I would sometimes like to do just that, I won't. It's rude.
I don't suppose everyone else has the same sort of experience when they go shopping, even some of those who have been shopping there longer than I have. 
The odd thing though is that it hasn't taken a lot of effort on my part. It has just been what I consider to be "normal" conversation with the person who has served me.
A machine can never do that.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

"I taught myself

by watching videos on the internet," she tells us.
My guess is that the newcomer is probably about thirteen or fourteen. She has the most wonderful ebony skin and her hair must have taken hours and hours to plait. Her dark eyes are a little bit anxious and that somehow makes her even more beautiful. She has just asked seven strange adults, "Is this the knitting club? Can I join?" 
I wish our eleven year old member was not in Russia right now. That would surely have made it easier but the newcomer has asked anyway.  
Oh yes. We are happy to have her. Her name is? She gives us a name which, for me, instantly identifies her as Sudanese. Her little sister looks in shyly and her name is also definitely Sudanese. They are a most attractive pair of girls to look at. Her sister shakes her head and backs out to find some library books instead.
Someone gets another chair. The newcomer produces needles and yarn and wants to know what to knit. We explain that everyone is working on their own projects. She seems a little startled by that but sits down next to me. We talk her through what she might do with what she has with her.  A little overwhelmed she agrees to everything but someone gives her a spare ball of yarn and, with an idea, she casts on a few stitches carefully. I watch but don't interfere even though she looks a little awkward. My guess, confirmed a moment later, is that she has taught herself to knit "continental" style. That's fine. There is one other person there who knits that way. She knits a few rows. We ask her a few questions - not too many. I don't want to frighten her away. After those few rows I ask her how she is getting on. She shows me. Her knitting is a little loose but it is even and I suspect she will, if she persists, be a good knitter.  She tells me her friends don't knit  - but they like the end results. 
I want to encourage this girl, just as I want to encourage our other little friend and the other girls before that. I know there will be school and other activities which will get in the way but I want them to say of something they are wearing or using, "I made it myself." 
I admire her persistence at teaching herself to knit by watching videos on the internet too. 
But, most of all, I want her to feel welcome in a group of like minded people. I hope, hope, hope that our other young one will be back next meeting. 

Saturday, 23 July 2016

So you want a longer school day?

Really?  And, presumably, a fifty-two week school year to go with it. The grandparents can care for your little darlings while you go away on holiday of course.
Excuse my sarcasm. I was talking to my aunt yesterday. My aunt is not that much older than me. She married a man twenty  years older than herself. Because of the age difference they made a conscious decision not to have children. It isn't something she regrets.
She was telling me her sister, a little older still, was exhausted because she  had been caring for her grandchildren during the school holidays.  I have also noted the exhaustion on the faces of local grandparents who have had the responsibility of their grandchildren over the past two weeks. 
It happens every holiday. During term time, unless a child is sick, grandparents get at least part of the day free of school age children. Some are unfortunate enough to have preschool age children to care for on a regular basis but "at least the others are at school" - as has been put to me more than once.
Grandparents may appreciate a longer school day if it means less dropping children off at school, less picking them up, less taking them to this class or that sport, or less supervision of homework. I don't doubt though that they would still be expected to be "available".
The real beneficiaries of a longer school day would be parents. This was obvious from the responses to some sort of survey which was done and reported in the state newspaper this morning. Most parents surveyed would apparently like at least an eight hour school day. What they would like to see the school doing in that time - provide supervision of homework, languages, music, art, drama, sport, and other supervised activities -  suggests they want to abrogate their parental responsibilities. There was mention of how it would be less of a financial burden too.
I have never been a fan of "homework" - especially the hours that some senior students need, or feel the need, to do. By no means all adults take work home with them. Those that do are usually in the professions or positions of much higher responsibility.  Languages, music, art, drama, and sport should all be part of the normal school day. There are claims of course that these can no longer be fitted in because there is too much else to teach.  It seems children now need to know about a range of other technical and social issues - such as "coding" and the "rights" of minority groups. Yes, computer programming is undoubtedly important - for some. My guess though is that, like the more advanced forms of maths, most students will forget it the moment they leave school unless their jobs demand it. As for the rights of minority groups I suspect that instead of making an issue of particular groups in society we would do well to start out by teaching the very real need to respect others and respect differences in others.  Do that and other issues become far less of a "problem" than they are now. Unfortunately that's unlikely to happen.
So perhaps we are moving inevitably in the direction of a longer school day, a day when children will see less of their parents. We are also moving in the direction of a day where almost every waking moment will be supervised by an adult, where children make no decisions about how they use their time.
When the next generation is unable to work unsupervised and is unable to use their initiative what will happen? Will we then realise that all this is as much about adult convenience as child learning and safety?

Friday, 22 July 2016

"What is Pokeman?"

the Senior Cat asked. He was reading the paper and there was a report of someone breaking an arm playing the "game".
"It's a computer game," I told him.
He looked even more puzzled so I added, "Only this time you are supposed to go  out and "catch" things."
That is also about the limit of my knowledge. I am not terribly interested. I have never played a computer game. I have watched my nephews - when young - play some. I have watched the Whirlwind - but she gave up on them after a couple of years. I have seen other children with them.
When I was at law school I lived in a student hall of residence where I also tutored other students. There were several "game" machines - the forerunner to the present computer games I suppose. From memory you put money in a slot and then proceeded to try and race around a track passing other racing cars or "killed" aliens or something of a similar nature. 
These machines were available twenty-four hours a day and they had sound effects. The newMaster of the college tried, without success, to get the students to leave them alone between midnight and six am. There were still students who wanted to play with them at two and three in the morning.  
I suppose it was all part of growing up. Most of the students were living away from home for the first time in their lives. I was one of the go-to people for advice about everything from how to cite a reference to how to wash socks. Once in a while I would try and gently suggest that someone who had not finished an essay on time might actually write the essay instead of playing one of the games. These students were always males. Very few females played these games on a regular basis.  I don't know if they ever played them night after night. I doubt it.
The prevalence of these games seems to have exploded with the 
 advent of personal screen based devices. It seems as the devices get smaller and more powerful then more people, of both sexes, are playing them. It is an attraction I simply don't understand. 
I asked the Whirlwind what she thought of them the other day. She was silent for a bit and then said,
      "I suppose if you have to do it with other people it could be okay for a little while but I'd rather really DO something."
I don't imagine she will be trying to get into a police station to catch something, walking off the edge of a cliff while watching the screen, or falling out of a tree because there is "something" there.
The Senior Cat didn't follow my explanation at all. He just shrugged and went on to read something else. He would rather "do" something too. 
But I had to smile because last night I asked him, "Do you want toast or cheesies with your soup?" His answer was, "Okay." He was looking at a (woodworking) video on his I-pad.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

"It's not all right to say that,"

they are telling someone called Sonia Kruger. She is apparently some sort of media personality and she spoke out against accepting more Muslim migrants into Downunder.
I don't watch that sort of "chat" television so I didn't see it. (I am not terribly interested in watching anything. I watch the first half hour of an international news service in English and sometimes catch up with the news in other languages on our SBS service - by "reading the visuals - if I think it is necessary.) Perhaps I should watch more.
It seems that Ms Kruger expressed a concern that more Muslim migration was something that could mean more violence, more terrorist attacks, more demands that the rest of us change our way of life to suit Muslims. The media, the Race Discrimination Commissioner, politicians and more did not like this. They did not like it at all. She was daring to express a concern which should not be expressed at all. 
There have been loud calls to criticise her, even condemn her, for violence against her, for her to be sacked from her job and more. In short many influential people have reacted in just such a way to suggest that yes, there is something to be concerned about. It is something we should all be concerned about.
It doesn't matter whether Ms Kruger is right or wrong. She was expressing an opinion - and from all accounts it was not expressed in an angry, violent or unreasonable way. Rather, it was expressed as a genuine concern for the welfare of her own children and the sort of country they will grow up in. It's a point of view. It's a point of view which is considered by some people to be "politically incorrect"  but it is still a point of view. I know too that it is a point of view that is held by a great many other people. It is one reason why Pauline Hanson's "One Nation" party obtained so many votes at the last election. People are concerned. 
People are looking at Europe and asking, "Is this going to happen here too?"
It's a reasonable question. It's a reasonable question but it seems it is wrong to debate it.
That is wrong. It is wrong because if we don't debate such issues openly and honestly then people are going to remain ill informed. There will be more people who believe that "all Muslims are terrorists" and thus avoid all Muslims and allow the myths surrounding them to fester and grow.
I know what it's like. I sometimes get odd looks when I talk to hijab wearing friends. I was once told of my friend J.... "you shouldn't talk to her". The comment came from an otherwise perfectly ordinary, sensible person who happens to go to church. He simply doesn't understand and he doesn't want to understand. It's not something you debate in his book. 
That scares me more than someone saying we should restrict the number of Muslims coming into the country.  Could we talk about the issue please - talk about it without condemning people?  

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

"A.... died this morning...

a friend said. She had phoned me yesterday afternoon to say her husband had died that morning.
His death was expected - but not so quickly. He had Motor Neuron Disease and it was progressing rapidly. He didn't want to live.
Our friend has been calling in each Wednesday afternoon for a cup of tea after teaching a knitting class. She has been concerned for the Senior Cat and we have been concerned for her and for her husband. We have have been following the progress of his illness, letting her talk when she needed to talk and trying to be there when she needed to talk. 
I didn't mind the time it took in the least. I'd do it all over again. She needed someone because,  however calm she sounded, living with something like this is an enormous strain on everyone concerned. Perhaps I have too much imagination but I was anxious for both of them. He was spending a good deal of his day staring into space. He was depressed - and who would not be depressed? He knew what the prognosis was and that nothing could change it. Waiting to die like that, knowing you are simply going to get worse and worse must be terrifying.
Last week he told the doctor he did not want to go on taking the only drug available. All it does is slow the progress of the disease - and prolong the agony if you don't want to go on living. He didn't want to go on living. 
He could still move around. He could still speak, although only in a whisper. He could read, play chess and do a few more simple things. In the normal way of things he might have lived longer but perhaps he had made up his mind to go. He kept telling his wife, "Don't bother..." to do this and that and something else. He didn't want to bother his son or his brother. He didn't want them to visit. He didn't want to do anything. 
They had just started palliative care for him at home and perhaps that was it. Perhaps the growing indignity of dependency was too great to bear.
Several years ago a friend of mine who uses a wheelchair fell out of it and broke both arms. It meant weeks in hospital and rehabilitation simply because she could not do anything for herself - when she is used to doing many things for herself. It was hard but she knew there would be an end to it. She bore it with suppressed fury at herself and a resigned smile for her visitors. On one occasion though she actually said to me, "This terrifies me. How did J.... cope with everyone doing everything for him all the time?" J... was a friend who was physically dependent on others for everything - and
he had a brilliant mind.
For my friend's husband though there would not be an end to it - except in death.  I wonder therefore when she found him lying across the bed rather than along it he had not chosen to go. 
When she spoke to me she sounded upset but also calm. It was, she said, the way he wanted to go - now, and quietly in his sleep. 
I am glad for him - and sad for her.  

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

"Organised chaos"?

Over on the "Awfully Big Blog Adventure" Linda Strachan has a post about being organised when you are busy - I'll describe it that way for simplicity's sake.
It reminded me of something and someone I hadn't thought of for a while. It reminded me of my main doctoral supervisor. He would sometimes run in from his home in North London, a distance of several miles. When he arrived he would sit down at his desk, grab the pad that always sat there and a pen and he would write a list of the things he wanted to do that day. It always started with the same two words. When he had finished writing the list he would cross the first item off. It was of course "make list".  He used to laugh at himself for doing it and tell people "at least I know I have achieved one thing today". 
I don't often write lists but I do make a lot of them - in my head. I plan the way I am going to do things when I am out and about - so that I don't need to backtrack. I do put things in a diary.
And we have a wall calendar. Every year in around about November I start to draw up another wall calendar. I do them on what I think is called "A2" size light cardboard. I stick the days of the week across the top and the months down the side after I have ruled all the necessary lines in. Then I fill in all the dates. I put in various birthdays and anything which is done on a regular basis. If there are any appointments already there for next year I add those.
All this is largely for the benefit of the Senior Cat. My mother made these calendars before I did. Hers looked infinitely more professional with her beautiful "infant school" printing that we could all read with ease. I typed the days and months up and they are in a computer file. I just print of a copy, cut it up and stick it on. The dates I do write in. They are just legible. The Senior Cat offered to do them once - and once only. I ended up finishing the job for him. He hates writing anything. 
At the beginning of the year the calendar looks a little bare. By the end of the year it is full of all sorts of things. We can look backwards and forwards. We can see the entire year at once. Are we free on that date? When does the Senior Cat see the doctor? Who is coming on the 8th or the 22nd or whatever other date. When is that bill due? 
I wonder whether I will make a calendar like that when it is just me? Will I sit down and write "make calendar" and then cross it off? Will it allow me to live in organised chaos?