Monday, 22 September 2014

There are new powers being proposed

for ASIO (the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation for those of you in Upover) and the police, powers to reduce the threat of a terrorist attack Downunder.
I have contemplated this long and hard and I still cannot understand the need for these powers.  Although I believe we probably do need them Downunder should never have reached that point.
It is not nice to think you are being spied on but the reality is that we are all spied on in one way or another. It is almost impossible for the average individual to disappear completely.
It was once much easier to disappear. You left your place of residence and moved to another one giving yourself another name and, unless you were very unlucky and seen by someone who knew you in the previous location, that was it. Well, it was little more complex than that but it could be done.
Now it is a different story. You can be found in all sorts of ways and often at great speed. If there is a photograph of you it can be posted on line around the world in a matter of seconds.
If you keep your name it is even easier - or it should be. Certainly those who have access to the electoral roll can find you unless you are a "silent" voter (which only means your name does not appear on the roll available to all members of the public). If your financial records or motor vehicle registration (for your licence to drive) are available then still more can be discovered. If you have a "rewards" card at the supermarket or a "loyalty" card anywhere else then they will know precisely what you bought and when you bought it. They can target marketing that way - or they think they can. (I know a grandfather who bought a tin of infant milk formula for his daughter's infant son and suddenly found himself the recipient of advertising about baby items.)
So, yes spying will occur. Most of us lead fairly ordinary lives and it should not worry us - but there is something a little worrying about it all. No, I won't have a "rewards" card thanks very much.
And so it goes on.
Right now I feel as if I am spying on my friend. I have been going slowly through her address book for the people she knew in other parts of the world, often people we both knew. They need to know. When we were discussing the arrangements she wanted some months ago she asked me to do this but it still feels wrong.  I have been checking those addresses on line through telephone directories. And that alone makes people who live in one place alarmingly easy to find. 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

I have been getting an irritating message

on my Blogger homepage to say that I am "not currently following any blogs". Quite apart from being incorrect the message is, according to the page, at least six months old. (I suspect it is even older than that.) I am following some blogs.
I admit that I am not following all the blogs in the list but that is because it appears those bloggers, who had looked as if they might have something interesting to say, have gone silent. Some blogs ceased several years ago. It makes me wonder whether "blogging" has gone out of fashion? Perhaps it has.
I am sure that there are internet fashions just as there are fashions in everything else.
I was reminded of this because another good friend C..., a nun who runs a place for unaccompanied children (refugees without an adult to care for them) reminded me of when the friend whose affairs I have been handling tried to make a birthday cake.
C... had never had a birthday cake. It was not part of her culture but there we all were at university together and E.... decided that C... needed a birthday cake. E was not, as I mentioned earlier, a cook of any sort but she thought she could manage a packet of cake mix. After she had bought it she realised she did not have a cake tin and, as we were all living in a hall of residence,  there was no oven either. 
She was not deterred. She would, she informed us, cook it in an electric frying pan. Remember them? I suppose they might still be around but I have not seen one in a long time. I told her I did not think that would work but she was determined to try.
E... mixed the batter and poured it straight into the frying pan. Disaster. It was made worse by the fact that she had not even greased the pan. We cleaned up the mess and all went out to the bakery in Conduit Street instead.
No, not practical my friend but she could laugh at herself. If she had written a blog I am sure it would have been full of such things.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

So Scotland won't be an "independent"

country. It is however full of very independent people and "independence" may yet come. Certainly the United Kingdom is going to change. It will have to.
I have mixed feelings about the result, particularly as I know people who fought for a "yes" and I respect their views and understanding of the situation in the country.
There were implications for Downunder that few people were even aware of. As they won't be happening I won't go into them here but, on balance, I think I am relieved they will not be happening.
A columnist here wrote an article asking what would happen if this state tried to declare independence. It is an interesting thought, especially given our geographical location - the middle of the country.
The state to the west of us has sometimes threatened to secede. The state to the north-east of us has sometimes threatened to secede - or break into a northern and southern state. A late friend of mine actually wrote his honours thesis on the issue. It, rightly, did not come to any conclusion but much of what he said there was reflected in the debate over Scottish independence.
There is one issue that he did not need to consider and that was language. Downunder has only one official language - English.
Scotland of course, and quite rightly, uses two - English and Scots Gaelic.
It is language which, more than anything else, makes a nation. Language is power. It is why so many regimes will try to stamp out the use of minority languages.
When I was at law school I submitted a proposal to write my final paper in Jurisprudence on language planning. It was a proposal which was hesitantly received - and had finally to be approved by the Professor as the lecturer in question felt it was an unsuitable topic. There was not thought to be enough in it. (If I may boast - the paper gained top marks.)
So, one of the things I hope will come out of the vote in Scotland is a renewed determination to keep what, for many, is a dying language. Gaelic does not have to be a dying language. It is a rich language and it has a magnificent literary heritage. It is also the language of my ancestors and, as the saying goes, 
       "Cha bhi fios aire math an tobair gus an trĂ igh e."
(The value of the well is not known until it runs dry.)
Don't let the well of language run dry. Revive that language because, without it, you will lose your identity.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Her favourite colour was

blue but she had no colour sense and, unless I was there to stop her, would buy acid yellow or lime green tops that did not in the least suit her almost albino colouring. Her preferred mode of dress was trousers and t-shirts and the cardigans and vests I knitted for her. The only time she wore dresses on a regular basis was when she taught in PNG. There she wore the same style of dress as the local women. I found one of those dresses in the wardrobe yesterday. It was the only dress she owned.
She was interested in food but she could not cook. I suspect, although she never said it, that she considered the process a waste of her time - however interesting the product might be. 
Oh yes, the product? She called me one Friday evening in London.
"Want to go to Oxford tomorrow?" she asked me.
"Why?"
"I've found this place which sells mead. I have always wanted to try mead. You can go to the Bodleian afterwards."
Oh, right. She knew what would entice me there. We went to Oxford. We got lost. The place that sold mead was closed. We went to the Bodleian instead - but for much too short a time.
We went to exhibitions she found and to an open air performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Regent's Park.
I stayed on in London when she went back Downunder. We wrote weekly letters to each other - something that continued until I returned. Then there were the weekly phone calls - and sometimes a call in between. For the last few years it has been contact every few days as she needed more help.
Academia was her natural home. She was happiest when talking ideas, imparting ideas and learning new things. Among her papers there is her doctorate in physics, a master's in philosophy, her  undergraduate degree in science and her post-graduate teaching qualification as well as her qualifications in German, Chinese and Indonesian. She spoke some French and Pidgin. When she retired from her job at university she took up Latin and had done a short course in Ancient Greek. She talked enthusiastically about doing MOOCs and perhaps teaching English to some of the young casual staff in the nursing home. It never happened.
Yes, of course it would have been good if it had happened. It didn't but, until a week before her death, my friend thought into the future. That matters.
I am grateful that something urged me to make the effort to see her the day before she died. Her death came, as death often does, in the early hours of the day. There was nobody there - but I hope she knew I had been the day before.


Thursday, 18 September 2014

I have been pondering "hell

on earth". How to describe it?
I had to go to the bank for my friend yesterday. We have sold her little "unit" in order to help pay for the nursing home fees. "Settlement" (the final payment) occurred last Friday but it takes the bank three days to clear a transfer of that size. The money went into a non-interest bearing workaday account and it had to be transferred into something that will bring in interest but be accessible as there is a loan to be paid back.
There were three possibilities. I wanted her to make the decision between two as the third, the one I knew she wanted, was not possible in her particular circumstances.
I tried to phone my friend. She was not answering the phone. I kept trying. I phoned the main office at the nursing home. They put me through to the "nurses' station" on her wing. Yes, they had heard her phone ringing but said, "She can't reach it. If you wait we will pass it to her."
I thought that was odd. We have set things up so that she can answer the phone whether she is in her bed or in her chair. When I saw her last Thursday she was not well but said she thought she would be fine.
I could hear the nurse who answered the phone saying to her, "It's your friend. She wants to speak to you. No, how do you hold it to your ear?" I thought that was odd and then there was a sort of grunt.
I could get nothing but grunts. I persisted and eventually there was something that might have been a "yes" at the other end. I left it at that. I made the decision I thought was best and went to the bank to deal with the paper work. Then I pedalled off to see what was up with my friend.
Yes, in bed. She was dozing. I woke her as gently as I could. She opened her eyes. There was another of those grunts. She looked at me without another sound. Her eyes were not normal - hysteria or a cerebral episode or a combination of both? I don't know.
I told her what I had done with the transfer. I tried to tell her as if we were having a normal conversation. I don't know whether she took it in or not.
She closed her eyes and I left her. I left her and contemplated hell on earth - not being able to communicate at all.
The Middle Cat and I will go and visit today. She can speak the language of the medical staff and find out what, if anything, they  know. We need to remind them we have guardianship powers - and if my friend is in hell on earth then she needs us to be there for her.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Give some people the smallest amount of power

and some of them will abuse it.
I had to go to the Showground yesterday. It was the day we dismantle the display and hand back the exhibits to the competitors.
I had to be there before eight in the morning and I was. I was also wearing the compulsory yellow safety vest - something not necessary a couple of years ago but now "essential". I had my label. It was very obvious that I had come there to do a job. The official (not a member of the Showground staff but an OHS official) did not want to let me in.
And I most certainly was not allowed to ride my tricycle in although there was not a large vehicle in sight - the reason given for not allowing me in.
I explained politely that I had come in this way when we setting up prior to the Show.
"Not through my entrance," I was told. Notice that possessive "my"?
As I was expected to be available at a certain time I gave the OHS official a look and said,
"Thank you for your concern. I will find another entrance."
"You won't get in anywhere."
It was said gleefully.
I knew there would be at least four entrances open yesterday morning. I had just tried to use the one closest to the railway station - the obvious one.
I went on around to the next entrance. There was another OHS official there. He was chatting cheerfully to a couple of workers piling equipment into the back of a van.
He saw me and waved me through with the words, "Mind how you go."
The law does allow me to ride in and I could have argued with the first individual but it was not worth the confrontation. It would just make it difficult for everyone else who wanted to enter for the rest of the day. I recognise this sort of officialdom. They enjoy their power - and should never have been given it. 
I have to admit though - I was very tempted to ride out through that entrance when I left.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The small matter of sub-titles

came up in the Clan Cat house last night.
The Senior Cat watches very little television - even less than I do. I watch the first part (non-sport) of the international news service and that is about it. We both watch a small documentary programme when it is not supplanted by more sport. The Senior Cat refuses to watch the news anymore. I don't blame him. Most of it is miserable sort of stuff.
But there was a short science item that he happened to stop and watch on his way through the room. I had to turn the sound up and then, as usual, "interpret" what someone with poor speech had said. Yes, the person was mumbling.
The Senior Cat is rather deaf these days. He refuses to wear hearing aids. He can hear me. He can hear most individual people. He can manage in some group situations. He tried hearing aids and they irritated him more than they helped. I can understand that. I had children at school who would sometimes pull them out. They were not being naughty. They just wanted the relief of not wearing them for a bit.
I could have turned the sub-titling on but that irritates the Senior Cat too. He knows it can't be so but he wants the text in full. Sub-titles for that are not the same as the sub-titles when something is interpreted from another language but neither is "complete". Most people speak far more quickly than other people can type in text - or read it!
We get quite a few sub-titles on our Special Broadcasting Service. It is supposed to be our multi-cultural broadcaster. It actually runs programmes in dozens of different languages. They also use sub-titles for some news items - often when interviewing someone who is speaking another language. I imagine it is faster and easier than finding someone to speak a translation.
It doesn't bother me. I am often just listening and looking at some knitting. If I know the context I can often understand enough of a European language to make sense of the item. It is not that I have the ability to speak multiple languages. I don't. It is because English sounding words appear in almost everything. Listen carefully and you will hear them.
Reading the subtitles irritates me for another reason - the translation will often be inaccurate. Yes, it is intended to give the general meaning of what someone is saying but it will give the general story rather than the words. What the speaker is saying may have a different meaning altogether.
And all this makes me wonder, over and over again, about words and meanings and what we lose in translation - and how easily we misunderstand each other.