Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Christmas presents

in this house are relatively simple. We usually buy each other a book we know the other person wants to read. It will be non-fiction of one sort or another.
I bought the Senior Cat a video cassette tape one year. It was non-fiction too, an instruction manual for woodwork. He used it a lot - before the tape player died and he passed the tape and the small machine in question on to someone else.
I still have some of the Christmas books I was given as a child. I might have kept all of them but my mother gave away many of our things during more than one move. It was less for her to pack and unpack. There must have been something about that process she loathed. It may have been something to do with the fact that she moved so many times in her unhappy childhood. The process probably reminded her of that.  Some of my books disappeared along with my adored train set, the doll's pram we used to give the cats rides in and the doll's house my father made me which kept turning into the railway station for the train. No, I was not a child who played with dolls.
My mother gave us things we actually needed for Christmas - mostly clothes to replace those that  were too small or had worn out. She made most of those herself - apart from the "business" shirts the Senior Cat wore.
Now we give one another the books or something we need. Middle Cat asked me not so long ago whether there was anything I needed. Yes, a new cover for the helmet I wear when pedalling out on the roads. The old one has a hole in it.  I can be pretty certain that will appear as a present from her and my brother-in-law. It will be a "useful" thing. 
I know there are people we know who look askance at this sort of gift giving. They think we should be more creative. After all, they say, "It's Christmas. It should be fun."
But Christmas is our acknowledgment of the birthday of someone else. The gifts we give each other are not for our birthdays but an acknowledgment of someone else's birthday. There is no need for them to be lavish. They should simply be a reminder that we care about each other.
After all what could a baby do with all that gold and frankincense and myrrh?


Tuesday, 12 December 2017

The dog had fleas!

There was a howling, yapping, yipping and very unhappy dog outside the supermarket...tied up just where I park the trusty trike. 
I eyed it off with caution. It came up to me with tail wagging as hard as it could go without actually falling off. A human! A human who might talk to me.
I looked carefully. Mmm...a male of the species. I looked him in the eye and, when he tried to jump up on me I said sternly, "Sit!"
He sat and put his head on one side. Hopeful? Anxious? 
"No, I am not your human," I said, "I am not taking you for a walk. Your behaviour is attracting the wrong sort of attention."
I locked the trike to the railing, took my things and moved off. There was another outraged and very unhappy noise. It was ear piercing, a high pitched yip, yip, yip.  How dare I leave him on his own!
So I looked back again and said, "Sit! Be quiet!"
He sat. He stopped yipping - at least for a moment.
Someone coming along looked at me and then at the dog.
"No, it isn't my dog," I said in self-defence.
"I thought it must be. I can't get our dog to do that!"
I went in through the glass sliding doors just as someone else was coming out. They gave me a slightly odd look.
Then, as I was no more than three metres inside the door a voice said,
     "Excuse me - how did you get my dog to do that?"
I looked back. It was the man who had given me the slightly odd look. 
     "I have no idea," I told him, "I just told him and expected he would do it."
     "Oh - well thanks anyway."
Now I might be wrong but it seems to me that the dog has managed to learn to sit on command - although I doubt it would stay quiet as it was anxious. The other thing was that yes, I expected he would do it if he knew what to do when I gave the command.  I wonder whether his owner actually expects the same thing? 
Some people would say it was not a good thing that the dog was obedient for me  - even if only momentarily. It bothers me more than a little that the only had apparently only managed to get part way with the training. I firmly believe that dogs, like children, are happier when they know what the boundaries are. (Cats are a different story. They self-regulate for the most part.)
But the unhappy animal got back at me anyway for not staying and providing comfort and reassurance. It had fleas - and I was bitten.

Monday, 11 December 2017

A young man died

in a street brawl yesterday. His death occurred in the early hours  in an area of the city which is known for "nightclubs", crowds, noise, drugs, excessive alcohol consumption and - violence.
His family is undoubtedly in shock, devastated at what has happened on what was supposed to be a fun night out. The family of at least one other young man is also undoubtedly in shock, devastated that their son and perhaps sibling is in custody facing a manslaughter charge - in all likelihood out of a punch landed in alcoholic rage.
I have never understood what the attraction of a night out "clubbing" is about. Perhaps it has something to do that I don't drink alcohol. (I am allergic. It makes me feel itchy all over, rather like being covered with mosquito or flea bites in every possible place.) I don't like crowds. (I am short and not too steady on my rear paws at the best of times.) I don't like noise. (Our house is largely silent except at meal times.) I have never tried  illegal drugs. (I don't like taking the prescribed sort.) And violence of any sort frightens me. 
Yes, I know. I am a wimp. I am not a party cat at all. Is it really fun to do the things that go on along that strip at night? Why would you want to be out all night? 
Don't get me wrong. I can understand wanting to go out with friends and have a good time. I can even understand having a drink or two if you are that way inclined. I can understand enjoying that sort of music if it is to your taste. I don't understand going on beyond the point to where those things are no longer fun.
The Senior Cat has not yet seen the paper this morning. I know what his reaction will be. At the age of those young people his Saturday evenings were made up mostly of PFA (Presbyterian Fellowship Association) activities in the undercroft of the church. There would be things like folk dancing if someone could be persuaded to play the piano or a fiddle. There would be community singing. They would rehearse the play or the musical they put on each year. Occasionally they would go to the pictures as a group - and eat "choc-ices" in the interval. 
At that age my brother was rehearsing theatre productions, taking a girl to the pictures or going night-fishing with friends. If the Festival of Arts was on he might have gone to a free live concert. He can remember vividly the couple of events he paid to go to. He just didn't have much money for that sort of thing.
The last thing the Senior Cat and my brother were doing was wandering the streets in an alcoholic haze. My brother's mates didn't do it either. Yes, the "drinking age" was 21 then - but plenty of people were able to access it earlier than that.  Most of them just didn't feel any need to access alcohol.
I have no idea what the answer is. I don't think anyone else knows either. People say it wouldn't help to raise the age at which alcohol can be legally consumed and the many venues young people attend want the opening hours extended still further. They are a powerful lobby. The claims they make about their contribution to employment and the economy - whether true or not - make it unlikely that anything will change.
So, a young man has lost his life. Another is in custody. The  young man in custody lived not too far from here if the report is correct. I just wish he had, like the boy around the corner from here, spent the evening with his mates fixing Christmas lights to the roof of a house. 
If the laughter was anything to go by they were having fun too.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Just what have you done Mr Trump?

I wonder if you have any idea?
Even my Jewish-Israeli friends are wondering why you did it. Yes, they do see Jerusalem as the capital but they are wondering why you would act in a way which jeopardises that.
The harm done by the move is hard to comprehend. The United States of America is supposed to be a world leader.  The leadership sees itself as being at the negotiating table whenever there is a major world crisis.  It claims all sorts of moral authority and leadership. One move by one President has knocked down years of work.
As an outsider I suppose I see the "two state solution" as being the only viable solution. What would be absolutely marvellous in my book would be for the Israelis and the Palestinians to make peace, share Jerusalem and show the rest of the world how it can be done. I also know the chances of that happening are so remote that it is unlikely to happen in my lifetime. I know too that people have to keep trying. Israelis and Palestinians feel very differently about the issue. I even have colleagues on both sides of the debate who are friends with each other while having opposing points of view about what the solutions are. This time though they are equally appalled. They say they expected the transfer of the embassy would go ahead. It is the manner in which it was done which has caused them so much alarm.
Yes, Mr Trump is keeping a campaign promise. I can only assume that there was money involved.  He must have been told how much harm his act would cause.
There were questions being asked last night on our news SBS news service about Mr Trump's fitness for office. And yes, I would have to question it too. He's erratic. His use of social media is downright dangerous. His taunts are childish. He isn't listening to advice. And yes, he is the President of another country and I don't suppose I should be criticising him. That said - he frightens me.
I have no fondness for any current federal or state politician here. There are one or two who I believe are genuinely trying to do a good job. I may not agree with everything they say or do and I wouldn't necessarily want to vote for at least one of them but at least he's trying. Another has worked incredibly hard and been willing to listen to good advice but may not get back in. It was a fluke of the electoral system last time. It's an uphill battle all the way for them.
In the end it will be the well known faces and the familiar names which get elected.  They may not be the best people to run the country but the most able generally choose not to do the job. And at least our lot haven't got their finger hovering over a nuclear button.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

"She wants to replace herself with herself,"

I was told by a neighbour.  She had just told me that one of the Senators who was caught up in the dual citizenship/Section 44 of the Constitution debacle is actually trying to do this. 
What this former Senator is now arguing is that because she has now renounced her British citizenship she should be eligible to be included in the recount. I don't think the High Court will come at that one as she was ineligible to be on that ballot paper in the first place. The former Senator is trying to argue that the candidate now most likely to win is no longer a member of the party concerned and therefore would not represent the will of the people.
It's an interesting argument. Do people vote for the party or the person? 
I suspect it is often the person. 
But the business of "resignation" is something else. You can resign or you can offer to resign. There is a big difference between the two things. The former Senator could have offered to resign. Instead, she resigned. It would not have made much difference to the outcome perhaps but it might have made a difference to the arguments she is now trying to use.
I can see where the Senator is coming from, "I didn't mean to resign. I didn't want to resign. You have to reappoint me. It was my job. Now I am unemployed." Yes, it sounds like "splitting hairs" but the reality is that an actual resignation is not the same thing as an offer to resign. The latter should always be discussed. Others - in this case the High Court - should be informed and given the opportunity to say something. It's the democratic way of doing things.
It isn't a nice situation to be in. It will be interesting to see which way the High Court goes. I suspect it will be "no, you were ineligible". After all, there was a very strict interpretation of sec.44 before and every reason to suppose there will be a similar strict interpretation now. 
But had she merely offered to resign and perhaps stood aside while a decision was made perhaps the court could have found a way around it. We will probably never know.



Friday, 8 December 2017

A "shoulder replacement"

is one of those things which was almost unheard of outside the medical profession when I was a kitten. I did a little research to discover that attempts were made to do it back in the 1890's. 
Given the state of surgery back then I doubt there was a great deal of success and people must have been desperate to try  it.
Middle Cat is going in for a "replacement" today. The Senior Cat is, of course, worrying himself sick about it. I can understand this. Two years ago we nearly lost Middle Cat because of a post surgery infection. He is worried the same thing will happen again. 
Middle Cat has had more surgery than I care to think about - most of it related to old sports injuries. It hasn't been fun. 
There's not a lot I can do to help either. Her husband is perfectly capable of looking after himself and prefers to do just that. Today I will post a parcel for her. I will also check on the cats when he goes back to work after the weekend. (There are two and they are indoor cats who will probably run riot in her absence as they need to be played with for reasons of exercise and entertainment. I won't have time to play but I will make sure their litter trays have been changed and that they haven't spread food across the floor in the space where they get fed.) 
      "Why is she having it done so close to Christmas?" someone asked me yesterday.
      "The sooner the better," I said. Yes, she has private health cover and that has allowed it to happen sooner rather than later. Even as a "public" patient though it would be happening about now. If it doesn't happen soon then the problem will be far worse than it already is and could seriously disable her. She knows that and the surgeon knows that. 
A friend of 82 had something similar done recently. Her shoulder was damaged in a fall some years back. Three and a half months later things have improved dramatically for her. It isn't  perfect but it is so much better than it was before that she feels as if she can continue to live alone. It wasn't affecting just her shoulder but her lifestyle. She couldn't walk to the shops because she couldn't push
her shopping "trolley". Now she can. It means she exercises again.
For Middle Cat it should mean driving without pain and being able to sleep at night without waking when turning on her shoulder. 
All that should help her general health as well.
And all this has made me think of those long waiting lists - years long sometimes - before people access such surgery. If it makes this much difference to their ability to "do" then there is a very real need to get things done earlier. There is a need to get things done before the situation gets so  bad that the damage is so great the process is less effective than it might have been. It needs to be done while people are younger and more able to regain strength and agility.
The Senior Cat muttered to me the other day, "I'm wearing out."
It's true. He is. But, he had both shoulders "done" about fifteen years back. It let him go on gardening and working in the shed for longer than he might have. He would have "worn out" some years ago if he hadn't been able to stay active. He might still be alive but he wouldn't have been living.
So, for anyone else going through a "replacement" of some sort today, I'm thinking of you all. Go from being alive to living again.  

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Someone got very angry with me

a few weeks ago.  It was a completely unexpected blistering and furious reaction to a genuine question on my part. It was perhaps the "diatribe" of which they had accused me.
At the time I was almost too stunned to do anything. Eventually I tried to defend myself. Then, realising it was probably just making matters worse, I  backed off.  It isn't someone I know well. I don't like or dislike her particularly as I don't really know her. I did think it was probably out of character and I did wonder if something else was wrong. 
Then, much more recently, I learned this same person is ill. It was mentioned to me by chance. I'm glad it was mentioned  because I suspect that, as much as anything else, I just happened to be the "someone" this person used to try and cope with the fear, anger and frustration the diagnosis must have brought about. 
Middle Cat has told me off more than once for avoiding arguments, for not "defending myself." Apparently I am not "assertive" enough and I "give in" too easily. (Mind you, try it with her and I get told I need to take her advice and do as I am told.)
I will admit I have a strong aversion to arguments. I do "back off" and I do avoid the sort of arguments that might lead to harm. (I am also more than happy to "argue" about something if I am interested in the topic.)
So I'll admit I hesitated but I did, and still do, feel genuinely concerned for the person who is ill, so I sent her an email just wishing her the best possible outcome. I wasn't sure if it would be ignored or I would get a blistering reply. At least I would have tried. I actually got a "thank you". Nothing else but it was more than enough. It made me almost certain that my belief about the possibility there was something else wrong was correct.
If I had "defended" myself and become angry then it might not have been possible to say anything. There would have been one less tiny piece of support for someone going through a very difficult time. Rather than respond in kind it was better to let someone know I am concerned for them.
I've been thinking a lot about this. There was a television program here recently. I didn't see it but it was called "Look me in the eye" and apparently involved bringing together people who were estranged and asking them to do no more than sit there and look directly at one another. I don't know what the results were but the trailers suggested that, at least for some, the process worked.
I think though that what it takes most of the time is nothing more than for one person to reach out - and the other to accept.
I'll put the kettle on too. 

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

TAFE of Technical And Further

Education is in the news. Suddenly people at the top have resigned or been sacked. Questions are being asked about the standards  being set...and more.
This state  used to have something we called "Technical high schools". UK readers will know the sort of thing I mean. They were rather like the old "Secondary Modern" schools there. And, rather like England we went to "giving everyone an equal chance" and made all schools high schools (Comprehensives). 
The technical high schools actually suited a lot of students, particularly those who were not "academic". Yes, I know what the arguments against them are - and I agree with some of them.
What it did mean though was that TAFE institutions became, or should have become, much more important. That's where students could then learn to become plumbers, carpenters, motor mechanics, electricians, cooks, carers, and much more. It is where you did certificates and, in some cases, diplomas. In recent years there have been new courses to reflect the 21st C for people like computer technicians and hospitality workers. 
It should be a thriving education where students are competing to get in because the employment rate at the end of a course in an area where workers are wanted is often high.
But one of the local electricians found he was having to teach his apprentice what he should have been learning at TAFE. One of the local cafe owners recently complained to me that the young employee who had finished the relevant course at TAFE had "no idea"  how to do the job. Apparently everyone on the course had passed.
I know someone who did a long string of TAFE courses. She never quite finished any of them  but they allowed her to be a permanent student rather than go out and find work. Eventually, after almost sixteen years, she ran out of courses she was "interested" in. Someone in the system should have insisted on her finishing something - or not returning as a student. Someone else did courses he was interested in - but they were not likely to lead to his employment. That was obvious but he was allowed to continue for more than eight years.  I don't doubt there are other students like those two.
But there are other students who go there and finish what they might have done at school but were, perhaps, too immature to do at the time or because they had to "drop out" because of pregnancy or a family crisis. There are more who finish their courses. They have worked hard at them and managed to learn a lot. Many of them will make good employees.
TAFE education is vital. It  should be teaching the technical skills we all rely on.  If it is failing then it is a very serious issue indeed. We need to get over the idea that working with our hands is somehow "worth less". It isn't. 
We can't have engineers, scientists and surgeons unless we also have plumbers and electricians and the people who help feed, clothe and house us all. Why aren't we appreciating their great value?

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

I am trying to save this blog

and I am not sure how to go about it. 
The problem is that it is, until Friday, being written from my old email address. I cannot work out how to change the author email or get myself as a new author on the blog by "inviting" myself with a new email address.
I thought I had followed the logical sounding instructions I was directed to but that has not worked. It is one of the many problems I have faced in trying to move from one internet service provider to another.   
Yes, I can understand why an ISP would not want to make it easy. They don't want to lose customers - except that this time they did. They told me they couldn't provide the service and they have terminated the contract.  
It has meant hours of work for actual work purposes. All the "fun" side has had to come second as I let work colleagues know - often one at a time for security reasons - that I am changing ISPs and that we sometimes have to go through a number of hoops in order to reconnect. (I have filled out more forms than I care to think about.) It hasn't left a lot of time for the blog or for my limited social life on social media.
The blog bit worries me. I haven't got time to prowl through from the start and save the posts that even I would like to keep - there are a few. Decani, the only Cathedral Cat who can read, is too busy getting the cathedral ready for Christmas to help. 
This post will, according to the "stats" be post number 3,298. I have probably written far too many words.
I will prowl off to the library this morning and see if an entirely different computer will allow me to log in separately and allow me to add my name under a different email. Logically this should be able to happen as the "address" will be different. Whether this will be acceptable logic to a computer system is something else. 
If anyone has any ideas about this then please let me know. It should be simple - but it isn't.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Domestic and urban history

came at me two ways yesterday. There was a very interesting note on social media by Anne Rooney about Boswell and his expenses. These included the cost of eating his dinner in the "house of a good family". That answered a question I had sometimes wondered about  - the way in which some people got their main meal if they didn't go to a tavern. 
The other was an equally interesting comment by someone on this blog. She was regretting not keeping a note of the changing of ownership in the local shops.
I have sometimes thought about this in another way - although I haven't actually regretted not noting it. There is however something I have often thought about it. 
My journeys to the shops, the post office, the bank, the local library and the local railway station all take me along the same route. I have been doing the same journey for thirty-three years now - ever since my parents moved into this house. Of course I went away and came back over that time. I spent only university vacations here - or time between moves - until my mother died and I moved in with the Senior Cat. (I love him to bits but he was quite incapable of caring for himself even then.) Since then I have done the trip on an almost daily basis.
I have observed many changes. Houses have been pulled down and usually two have been built in their places. Other houses have been renovated.  Some of the older residents have died or gone into nursing homes. Others who were younger and more able have become frail and now leave their prescriptions for me to collect from the letter boxes. Pets have gone and new pets have taken their place. Children who were mere babies and toddlers now come back to see their parents with babies and toddlers of their own. Trees have grown and gardens have changed. There are now Christmas lights in the house where the Exclusive Brethren family once lived. The new family from India has settled into their house on the street next to the railway line and put up some Christmas decorations - because their children want to join in.
And yes the shopping centre has changed too. There was a fire there and part of it was demolished completely. The owner took the opportunity to remove some businesses and put in some more "up-market" shops. I don't know how they make a living. I still miss going past the place where one small shop was and having the sole worker in it say to me, "Cat can you possibly..." and I would get her some milk or "mind the shop" while she dashed to the toilet or the bank. On the very rare occasions I bought anything there I would be given a small discount in return for my help. The useful men's clothing and underwear shops have gone but the bookshop moved location and is bigger these days. There have been groups meeting in there ever since, knitting, embroidery, book and young writers' groups which add immensely to the value locals place on the shop.
The post office has moved location twice. I no longer have to struggle to reach the top box when I empty C...'s box because he and Miss W are away.
The library was extended - and now it is going to be extended again. 
And nobody sells tickets at the railway station any more. At least  that looks the same. It's heritage listed.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Calendar...wall calendar...

and "Please may I have your steel ruler?"
I reminded the Senior Cat of this some days ago...there is now a little  piece of paper at his place at the breakfast table. 
I cannot make the new calendar without it. The only other ruler is a mere 30cms in length The steel one, the one he uses in the shed is 100cms long. 
Yes, it is more than time to draw up next year's wall calendar. There are already appointment cards - for the Senior Cat - littering the refrigerator. They need to be on a wall calendar. That way we will (hopefully) both know when he is due to be somewhere. That way things won't be double booked.
     "What colour do you want?" I asked the Senior Cat the other day. There were three pieces of cardboard available. One was pale blue - not a good colour in my view. One was lime green - which I had planned to use for something else. One was bright yellow - the same colour as before. It shows things up well - which is what the Senior Cat needs.
He looked at them and then said,  "I suppose it had better be yellow again."
I did not argue. My mother used to change the colour each year. We had everything from bright pink to purple, grey to pale blue, yellow, orange and more when she drew up the calendar. Some were easier to see than others.  
My mother always seemed to draw the whole thing up in the blink of an eyelid. It takes me several days to do it - on and off. I have to do it standing at the dining room table....mark the lines off, trim off the excess cardboard to fit the space on the cupboard it gets stuck to, rule the lines, stick on the months and days of the week, and fill in the numbers for the dates. Of course my mother did all this in her beautiful "infant school" printing. Mine is barely legible.
After that the various birthdays that need to be remembered go in and the regular items go in. This time there is a wedding to add. The appointments and anything else of importance should all be there for the Senior Cat to see.
I looked at this year's calendar. It is not as full as it  has been some years. Most of it appears to be medical appointments for the Senior Cat. That's not surprising. Things have changed.
I found a very old calendar the other day. It was a very strange feeling to look at it. When my mother was alive there really wasn't enough space. Most of the items on the calendar were things she would be doing. The Senior Cat came after that. I was working of course - but I had moved in knowing that even then they weren't coping because of another very stressful issue.
I should have kept all those calendars as a record of what was going on. The Senior Cat writes a diary - in his own illegible mix of "shorthand" and abbreviations - but he can't read the entries himself so we won't be able to read them either.
And somewhere - unless the Senior Cat has thrown them out - there are some diaries my mother kept. I hope he hasn't thrown them out because I will be interested to see what she has to say about that time in our lives. She wrote a brief "autobiography" for Middle Cat to have but it says almost nothing at all.
The wall calendars tell us much more.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

No paper

has yet appeared on the front lawn this morning. 
The Senior Cat has grumbled mildly and found something else to read at the breakfast table. (This is why it takes him a good hour to eat breakfast. As I simply leave him to breakfast alone it does not bother me.) 
But, no paper? I know there are people who never get a newspaper. Some of them "get all the news (they) need" on line or via television. Others don't even bother with that. 
Middle Cat reads ours - from back to front. She starts with the big sports section and only makes her way to other things if she has time.
The Senior Cat starts at the front and ignores anything to do with sport. (He also wonders how he produced the sports mad Middle Cat.) 
I can read the paper as thoroughly as I need to in the very short time it takes me to eat my breakfast. I don't bother with the sports section at all. There is very little international news in the state newspaper. If I want information then I head on line to a variety of other newspapers and news sites. If I need information then someone  out there is likely to tell me.
I know newspapers are declining rapidly in power and influence. We had three state wide papers when I was a kitten. There were also at least two regional papers of importance. They too have diminished almost to the point of being no more. 
I remember the local MP in one place telling my father about the plans for a new national newspaper.  Yes, it happened. Back then it was an exciting new development in the delivery of news. Now it too struggles to survive. 
I still miss the British newspapers I used to read. The university based accommodation I lived in got a variety. I could read at least three each day - in much the way I now read the state paper. I read the headlines, I looked a little further - and finished the article if it was of interest to me. I  ignored the sport - and relied on other people telling me who was winning the cricket. I had a mix of left, right and middle point of views. It was interesting and sometimes useful.
But I think the real decline of newspapers began with something else. I blame the packaging companies and the health inspectors. They insisted on those throw away cups and containers - with that horrid plastic lining.
Nobody wraps fish and chips in butcher's paper and newspaper any more.


Friday, 1 December 2017

"What's it made from?"

our neighbour asked. He was looking suspiciously at something his wife had just bought for him.
      "Cotton and something," she told him, "There's a label in there. It's 65% cotton. I couldn't get pure cotton."
He heaved a sigh and went off to try the item on. She looked at me and said, "He's back in the Dark Ages. He thinks you can still buy pure cotton shirts without paying the earth for them."
I remember those shirts. My grandfathers wore them. My father wore them. 
They were always white because their occupations dictated they wore white shirts. My paternal grandfather wore a suit  he had made himself. My father wore a suit his father had made. In extremely hot weather they might remove the suit jacket. My grandfather wore a waist coat as well - and a watch on a chain.
And  the shirts were white.
They had detachable collars. 
My paternal grandmother starched those collars to within an inch of their lives. It was one of the many things she taught me to do too.
Grandpa had other shirts of course...the gardening, fishing, and cleaning the car sorts of shirts. I really don't remember them well apart from the fact that I think they were blue and had stripes. He never wore those with his suits. The Senior Cat didn't either.
These days the Senior Cat still prefers white shirts - "So I know what goes with what." But, he has other shirts. They are mostly in a disgraceful state but he keeps telling me "there's a bit of wear in them yet" - along with the "bit of wear" in the "gardening" garments my mother made him more than twenty (or even thirty) years ago.
His shirts do tend to be a mixture of polyester and cotton. I know he would like pure cotton too. I wouldn't even mind ironing them for him but he agrees it wouldn't be worth five times the price - even if I could find them. 
My neighbour feels differently. She detests ironing to the point where her husband irons his own shirts. He claims to like doing it.
But I do wonder what they would both make of the other shirt I remember my grandfather having.
It was very fine linen. It had fuller sleeves and it was worn with a jabot. Grandpa only wore it very, very occasionally. He wore it with a kilt of course - a kilt in the family tartan which had been hand sewn by his grandmother.
I never had to deal with that. I am thankful about that too. My grandmother found ironing that linen one a real trial. 
But I could still starch a detachable collar if asked to do so.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

We are running out of volunteers

it seems.
There is yet another small piece in today's paper about the lack of volunteer fire fighters. It should have been a front page headline.
We need volunteer fire fighters. 
It's a dangerous job. It's horribly uncomfortable too. It requires skill. The people who do it need to be trained. Time needs to be devoted to that. Money is needed for equipment. I could go on.
Our state government does not seem to appreciate this. They certainly seem unwilling to face just how serious the situation is. Oh yes, they set up the "Emergency Services Levy" - a tax on everyone to fund these services. 
The problem is that the money isn't going where it should be going.
I am not sure how the state government thinks a major outbreak of fire in the hills behind us would actually be fought.
And then the government is also complaining that there aren't enough volunteers in other areas either. That's hardly surprising. They have made it much more difficult to volunteer now. It isn't just the "police checks". Most people don't mind those - although paying for them is an issue. There are the other issues. There is the compulsory "OHS" training - occupational health and safety training.  One of the workers at a local charity shop complained that a "young thing in her 20's came and told us to wash our hands after handling the clothes that came in". It isn't something the volunteers do anyway they do it thoroughly. The woman in charge also makes sure that the facilities are kept particularly clean. As she said to me, "You never know where things are coming from."
And there are the insurance issues. The cost of insurance keeps rising and, if nothing else, you need public liability insurance.
I am occasionally called in to give assistance with paperwork or help in writing a letter. Now the manager is worried that someone who is coming to inspect might say something and try to stop her using me in that way. No, the police check is not an issue. What is an issue is that they aren't supposed to provide that sort of help anymore. A person needs to be sent on somewhere else. 
Actually that's the last thing they need. They need help there and then. They might well not go on to the next place. It all gets too hard.
Of course there is a need to ensure that people are safe and trained to do the job but there is also a need for commonsense and the ability to call in someone who can do the job.
If people are willing to go out and risk their lives fighting fires and if women well over the age of 80 are still willing to give up a day a week and do an excellent job in the local charity shop then the government needs to be saying "thank you" rather than making it more difficult.
You see, when the volunteers run out it is going to cost everyone more.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Tea - the making thereof

but not the Japanese "tea ceremony".
I know almost nothing about the Japanese "tea ceremony" apart from that it is apparently long and complex and takes years to master.
I know a little about making tea however. I have made thousands of pots of tea in my life. 
The Senior Cat has tea mid-morning and mid-afternoon - and sometimes at other times. A friend has tea whenever she arrives. My automatic reaction to W...'s arrival is to put the kettle on. Other people turn up expecting tea too.
I thought I could make tea until I was at university in London. There I came across S.... Her family owned, and presumably still do, half the shares in a very large tea estate. The brand is a household name. 
S... knew about tea. Every so often she would head off to some point in London and get her own, specially blended variety. She would bring back other varieties for people to try too.
And she taught me how to make tea - all the while complaining about the lack of rain water with which to make it.
Tea starts with having the pot ready to use - no use trying to get it after the kettle has boiled.  
Tea is made with loose tea - never a tea bag.
The kettle is filled with cold water that has never been heated before. It is preferable to use rain water.
You bring the water to the point where it is almost - but not quite - boiling. 
You warm the pot quickly by pouring in just a little water and swirling it around.
You add tea according to the number drinking it and the strength you require as well as the variety of tea. (There are no rules about this. You learn these things as you go.)
You pour on the amount of water you require. The tea should actually "fizz" slightly if the water is just at boiling point. This means the oxygen is being released and this will enhance the flavour of the tea.
You allow the tea to "steep" - but not for too long. Again, the time depends on the variety and the strength you require.
If you take milk S...'s view was that it came after the pouring of the tea. Ditto sugar.
I am not sure why anyone would want sugar in tea - except for cases of shock.
I won't claim to be an expert but I know "non-tea drinkers" who will say,
    "Oh if Cat's making tea with rainwater then I'd like some".
Middle Cat disagrees with all this. She was taught to make tea by a Fijian-Chinese woman who says the water should never boil. The Senior Cat says this is nonsense and the above method is the only way tea should be made.
Tea with water boiled in the microwave is an abomination which should never be allowed.
All I know is that tea made the way described above tastes much better than tea made with a tea bag with water from an urn.
You may disagree - and if you know another way to make tea that tastes like tea should then please let me know.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

The election campaign has

This state goes to the polls next March. It's a fixed term government so the date has been fixed since the last election.
I don't like the idea of fixed terms. Certainty? Yes, that's a good thing. Getting rid of a government which is not performing or has done something improper or illegal? Apparently impossible.
The present government needs a shake up. Although it is claiming "underdog" status sources tell me they are still "very confident" they can retain power, especially since the planned return of a political identity.
But it isn't just that. 
We have the state's Education Minister holding out for more funding. She is claiming that the state is "losing" around $230m in funding. Actually we aren't. The money was never there in the first place. Of course she would like it. No doubt everyone in the state would like it but it was never more than a "perhaps" and then only "if" many people agreed to many things. 
In politics of course that makes no difference. You simply tell the voters the naughty federal government is diddling the state out of a lot of money. Yes, people will believe it. It doesn't matter which flavour of state or federal government you are talking about - or even if they are both left or both right (or central) - it is something which can be used as an election issue.
And then there is the "big" announcement in this morning's paper. This involves the major development of a tourist attraction to make it "world class".  At present it is an interesting but small wildlife park. The plan is to turn it into something big and glitzy - hotel, shopping mall and more, complete with cable car and tree top walkway.  
Maybe. There have been other big plans announced before. There is a zoo outside the city which is at the site of what was supposed to be a "satellite city". The city has never eventuated - possibly because people don't want to travel that far to work in the city or the surrounding suburbs. It may happen when the land runs out down here or it might not.
I can think of two major problems with the announcement made in this morning's paper. One of them probably, almost certainly, applies to the satellite city. That's water. A lot of people require a lot of water. Where would you get it from? We already tend to have water restrictions in summer because the dams in the hills don't hold enough for the increasing numbers of backyard pools being built. The other problem with the proposed wildlife park development is the location. It's in an area where a fire could be disastrous. Trying to get a lot of people out very quickly could be extremely difficult - if not impossible.
So, it might sound good if you like that sort of thing but I think there might need to be a lot more homework done.
Oh well, I guess it's part of the election campaign.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Taking a gap year

is still considered "controversial". 
   "It's like a year long holiday" and "they get out of the work habit". Then there is "they can't afford to be a year behind everyone else" and "maths students should never take a year out" or "if they are really serious then they will just get on with it " and "it looks bad on a c.v. - employers don't like that sort of thing".
Ms W has a close friend whose older brother has just finished school. He should do well...and he is off on a gap year. He's going to Italy - which is where his grandparents came from - and he is going to "brush up" his Italian and get to know his extended family and work at the vineyards they own. When he comes back he plans to go to university.
His parents support the idea but they have been criticised for doing so. His sister, Ms W's friend, told me that, even with plans in place, his parents are being told that he shouldn't do it. He should go straight to university. I saw his mother briefly when she came to pick her daughter up and she raised her eyes to the sky and said,
     "We think it might be very good for him. He wants to go. He's going."
I said, "It's a plane journey away - and if you can't trust your cousins who can you trust."
She smiled and said,
       "It's just as well they have grown up."
Yes, I've heard a tale or two about their escapades when young.
But I thought of all that this morning when I saw a small piece in the paper where a large proportion of university graduates are saying their degrees were "a waste of time". They are not using the knowledge gained. 
It makes me wonder yet again whether a "gap year" should be compulsory for everyone.  (If it really is a problem with maths students then make arrangements accordingly.) I certainly think language students should head off for a year and live in the country of the language or languages they will be studying. It would undoubtedly raise their level of understanding of the language. Almost any other choice of career will benefit from learning to get along with a greater variety of people and experiencing new ideas and places even within your own country. A gap year working abroad will help you grow up - fast. 
There was a girl living not far from us who was "just fed up with study". Her results were excellent but it had been very hard work for her. She told me, "I can't just keep it up for another four years. I need a break."
Against the wishes of her family she did take one. She used the money she had saved from her part time job, bought a plane ticket and headed off to Europe and a job working with a family. The first job did not work out. She actually feared for her safety. It almost made her head home but the agency she had applied to took her worries seriously - indeed very seriously - and they offered her another position. She didn't look back then. The family was busy and often chaotic. She was the one who had to organise and remind and get things done.  They didn't want her to leave and they still keep in touch. 
     "It was the best thing I could have done," she told me on her return. 
Her brother backpacked through Europe doing menial jobs a couple of years later and decided not to go to university at the end of it. It took him some years to decide what he wanted to do and he is now doing a degree part time in an entirely different field from his original likely choice. "The first idea would have been a big mistake," he once told me.
I know not everyone can do it - and not everyone wants to. Not everyone will have a positive experience or learn something from it either. Perhaps though it would be wise to make it the expected thing. If someone decides they don't want to go to university at the end of it then is that necessarily a bad thing?   

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Transport or no transport?

I have just been reading about someone else's transport worries. Her local station is under thread of imminent closure. She uses a wheelchair and the train service is essential.
Some time back our line was closed for a long period. The interstate gauge and the local gauge are different and the government decided to "put this right". What it meant was making one line a dedicated interstate line and leaving the other line as the local line. It made the local line a "single track working". They used it as an excuse to close several stations. 
When I was a kitten the train went a lot further up into the hills. It was, among other things, a fun day out for us. There was a lot to see on the trip. The line was well used. I suppose fewer people had cars and the "freeway" did not exist. Now people can belt up and down the freeway and prefer to travel in their cars.
That's all very well but for those of us who rely on public transport in any form it can be a disaster. The only form of local public transport I can use are the trains. I need to take my trike with me and I am not permitted to take it on the buses. It is classed as a "bike" rather than a "mobility aid". 
It means I don't go far unless Middle Cat acts as a sort of taxi service or someone is willing to pick me up. I am not comfortable about asking people to do that unless I can do something in return. No,  they shouldn't have to do it.
I fall between the cracks when it comes to eligibility for taxi vouchers too.
And, if they close a station, then I either have to ride further - or I just can't get there. I'm one of the lucky ones in that respect. For my friend it will be even more of a problem. Pushing herself to the next station along the line  just isn't an option.
There is very little sympathy around for this sort of thing. It's "well get a taxi then". Hold it right there. Taxis are expensive and "access" cabs are particularly unreliable because there simply aren't enough of them - especially at the times they are most likely to be needed. 
Tell people that and there is a shrug of the shoulders and they say, "Well, don't go anywhere then."
When someone points out that they need to get to a medical appointment there is, "Well, I suppose you do need to do that."
But if you want to go to a social event then forget it. "Look it's too bad you can't go but you can't expect to get help for something like that."
And the other day Middle Cat had to take me somewhere so that I could provide some communication assistance for someone at a medical appointment. She happened to mention this to a doctor and say that taxi vouchers for that sort of thing might help. The response was, "Perhaps she just needs to cut back on her charitable work."
But it wasn't charitable work. It was an essential service for the other person. Someone had to provide it. It allowed a doctor to provide a service in almost the same amount of time as he would to any other patient. There would have been no question about a profoundly deaf person taking an interpreter along so why should the needs of a person who uses another means of communication be ignored? And why should transport be such an issue? 
Transport issues can severely restrict a person's capacity to be employed but they can also impact on every other aspect of their lives. And yes, your resident cat is feeling grouchy and growling again. Am I being unreasonable?

Saturday, 25 November 2017

We have no phone

at present. 
Well, we have no "land" line.
Phones in this household are a complex issue. The Senior Cat has a mobile phone.  I have a mobile phone - sort of. We also have a phone which runs through the VOIP system.
We have the latter because the Senior Cat finds that easy to use. He refers to it as "the land line". He still thinks of it as being like the old copper network. It works the same way in that he can make a call by dialling in a number - at least, by pressing the keys. He is happiest doing that. 
Most of his friends seem to be happy doing that too. 
Let's face it. It's an age related issue as much as anything else. 
When the Senior Cat was a mere kitten by no means everyone even had a phone. People wrote letters or walked around to see someone who lived close enough. Now they text or phone or get in the car.
A phone call  when the Senior Cat was young was made with some thought. It wasn't a casual thing. Anything outside the immediate area was a "long-distance" call and charged in units of three minutes.
Where I was born my parents had no phone. There was nothing available.  The Senior Cat and two other staff could see out the windows of their classrooms up the hill to where our house was. When my arrival was imminent my parents arranged that my mother would hang a sheet out of the front window and my father had permission to drop everything and rush up the hill to take her to hospital. A phone would have made things much easier. What is more it would have gone through a manual exchange and the person in the post office part of the local general store would have informed the hospital as well as the Senior Cat. As it was I arrived late and school holidays had begun. 
But, as a kitten, I knew about manual exchanges. We went off to the  bush again when I was mid-way through primary school. We went to a tiny place where everyone knew everyone - and everyone's business.  
We didn't have a household phone but there was one at the school - in the classroom the Senior Cat taught us in. It would sometimes ring in the middle of a lesson.  We would sit still and quiet while the Senior Cat answered it.  The local postmaster - who ran yet another general store as well - would only call in lesson time if it was urgent or long distance. At other times he would take messages and then pass them on.
We went to other places with manual exchanges too - manual exchanges and "party" lines where more than one family had to use the same line. You couldn't keep much secret and you never said anything you wanted to be kept confidential. The Education Office staff sometimes had to be reminded of that. The Senior Cat was acutely aware of it. My brother and I were permitted to answer the phone if it rang late in the afternoon and we were still in the classroom after school was out but we were under very strict instructions about how to do it. 
Now everyone seems to be connected all the time. I have been avoiding the mobile phone issue. I hate the idea. I have a pre-dinosaur model which only gets turned on if I am out. Only Middle Cat and the Senior Cat have my number. It has been there only for emergencies.
Now it seems that I need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the world of always being available to everyone because the "land line" hasn't been working. It will probably be available after someone comes to look at things this morning. The house has been quiet without any calls coming in. 
I know that access to a phone is a safety issue now - but there is something to be said for the quiet of no phone calls.

Friday, 24 November 2017

The Foreign Pollcy White Paper

came out yesterday.
I put in a submission when public submissions were called for. It wasn't something I intended to do but a colleague emailed me and asked me to "say something about the languages issue".
Right. I could have said a lot. I said very little. From experience I know it is better to say very little - and have those you are addressing actually read it.They might even remember what you said.
What I had to say could be summed up as follows:
(1) We are not a linguistically able nation. 
(2) We have concentrated on teaching Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian in the belief that these are the languages we need for trading purposes
(3) We have failed to recognise the need for other regional languages and languages of global importance.
(3) There is a need for much greater linguistic ability and diversity if we are to even maintain our place in the world. Without increasing it we will fail.
Many Downunderites are monolingual. In a sense I am monolingual. I can use a few social phrases in many languages. If I have a dictionary to hand I can struggle and put a sentence together in a few. I know something (but not nearly enough) about many more languages - even, again with a dictionary, read some of them. What I can't do is speak another language fluently. I never had the opportunity to learn a language at school - apart from Latin. (I only did three years of Latin... it barely got me past the first declension.) 
All that came about  because I went to rural "area" schools until the last year of school. Languages were not taught in them then. The teachers were simply not available. 
Even then I was reading about other languages. Different ways of saying things fascinated me. It still does. I have gone on reading about language and languages. What all this has taught me is the importance of knowing at least two languages. I became increasingly conscious that throughout Western Europe almost everyone speaks at least two languages, sometimes three or more. 
When I write a communication board for someone who comes from Denmark or Sweden, Holland, Belgium or the like I often get told, "Do it in English and...." whatever language they are going to be surrounded in out in the field. They know that if it is in English instead of Norwegian or German or Italian or something then more people will almost certainly be able to use it.
I also know that, while English may be seen as the "universal" language by many, it isn't the only language on the planet. Too many native English speakers tend to be arrogant about this. They tend to assume that "everyone" speaks English or should be able to speak English.
So, I put my short submission in. Did they read it? Did they take note? There's a hint there that they might have noticed it. I suppose that's something. 
But I am still worried about my lack of linguistic ability - and that of so many others.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

"Zimbabwe's a mess"

he told me, "And it isn't going to get any better."
We were waiting in the Post Office queue and it gave this man, a former farmer there, the chance to tell me what he thought.
He lived in the country when it was still called Rhodesia. He left when the talks about independence began. 
     "I can see what's going to happen," he told me years ago. I remember the conversation well. He had just sold the family farm - for something less than it was worth even then - and got out.
He's a decent man. He tried to treat his employees well. They were probably rather better housed, fed and educated than many. He saw to it that the children went to school and that medical attention was available. If the correspondence he still gets is any indication then yes, they liked him. 
But, he didn't feel he could stay. He left when the terms of then Rhodesia's independence were being negotiated.
     "I don't trust Mugabe," he said.
I know that not everyone agreed with him. They saw independence as the great opportunity. The country was in good shape. They could make a go of it.
I remember telling this man about the history lesson I had been given in school, the one in which our teacher had told us, "Put your books away. I am going to tell you what is going to happen in Rhodesia." 
Our teacher was absolutely right. He predicted the descent into chaos. This man reminded me of this yesterday.
He doesn't see the situation as improving either. Yes, there is now going to be a change of leader but will he be any better? He doubts it. 
     "Things may look as if they will improve for a bit but they won't. Emmerson Mnangagwa is not to be trusted. He was one of Mugabe's men for years. He is guilty of ordering many deaths. Morgan Tsvangirai can't do the job. He's not strong enough. He doesn't have enough tribal support. I don't think he's well enough either."
It's a gloomy view to say the least. It may well also be a very accurate one. 
      "So Zimbabwe was better off under colonial rule?" someone else asked as we moved forward closer to the counter.
       "It was different," came the response.
His turn came and he went to the counter. I looked at the other man who had spoken. He's a man of fairly radical views who will tell you he is "far left". I know he would have been trying to pick an argument.
      "I suppose you think he's right," he said - still eager for an argument.
I started to move towards the counter as someone else put their things in their bag and said,
      "Zimbabwe has sixteen official languages. That's bound to make for communication problems."
Behind me I heard, 
       "F..... hell, no wonder they can't talk to one another."
 Of course it isn't the only problem - but I am sure it doesn't help.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Animals do have emotions

and they do feel pain.
Apparently there was a vote in the UK parliament recently which denied these facts.
A couple of days ago I observed something very interesting. I was out with the rest of the family and we went to a venue which has, among other things, two alpacas on the property. They were just sitting there when we arrived. They looked at us and at the other visitors from behind the fence of their enclosure. They were I suppose "interested". At very least they were "aware". 
Some time later a small child, playing around as small children do, got herself caught on a low tree branch and couldn't get free.  There was some almost immediate and panicky crying.
The two alpacas were up in an instant. They rushed to the fence and stood there watching until an adult came along and freed the child. Then they went and sat down again in their former positions but they watched the child. Wherever she went their heads turned  - until she was finally led off for lunch.
I was reminded of another interesting event in this house. When two of my nephews were aged around perhaps not quite four and not quite two a former neighbour came in. He loathed cats. My nephews were playing on the floor and the cats had been nowhere in sight. On the appearance of the neighbour suddenly there were two cats between him and my nephews. He went to crouch down and talk to the older boy. No way! The fur of both cats was up. They hissed and crouched ready to spring at him. 
He had the sense to back off. 
We didn't think too much of it at the time. It was just a freak coincidence - or so we thought. But, the behaviour persisted. That neighbour could not get anywhere near the two small boys if the cats were around - and they seemed to know when he was there. 
When the Senior Cat was recovering from surgery the same cats spent hours apparently just asleep in the same room. It wasn't somewhere they normally slept. When he recovered they went back to their usual spots. 
There are thousands upon thousands of similar incidents which have been well documented.  All of them suggest some sort of thought processes and "awareness" rather than simply "being".
I have no idea what those alpacas or the cats were "thinking" - and I suspect their thoughts and memories are in images rather than words but I believe quite strongly that to suggest other animals cannot feel pain or a range of emotions is absolutely mistaken on our part.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Magic show!

"Grandpa's going to do magic!"
"He's going to make it disappear...and then maybe come back again."
"How did you do that?"
"Will you show me?"
Yes, the Senior Cat showed them some simple tricks - a "magic show" with five simple tricks.. He doesn't do much these days. He has given most of his apparatus to much younger magicians - one of whom is now making his (somewhat precarious) living from it. He has taught a lot of young people some of the art of conjuring.
And the kittens are fascinated, almost over-awed. He taught the oldest two a simple trick to do. The third girl can almost do it too. She will get some more help from "Grandad" - her grandfather rather than her great-grandfather. 
At least one of those "tricks" has been around since Roman times. It may be even older than that. It is a sleight of hand that still fools people. The Senior Cat has always tried to teach it - and other tricks - in a positive, fun way. We both know that some of those things have been abused - used to fool people into doing something like parting with money or valuables.
This morning the Senior Cat prowled out to breakfast and said, "I'm really, really going to miss them." 
Yes they head back to their home state this morning. We won't see them for another year. 
And then the Senior Cat also said, "I wonder how B.... is getting on."
He taught B... some conjuring tricks many years ago. B... lives in Israel now. He did his military service in Israel too. We saw a BBC video clip of him out on patrol. What the BBC didn't show and what B... didn't mention was the small "pocket tricks" in one of his pockets. When things got tense, when young Palestinians were throwing rocks B.... would bring out the tricks and do them.
They would stop throwing rocks to watch. He would offer to teach offer probably not often taken up but it was there.
I wonder how B... is getting on too. He's a grown man now.
Does he do "magic" with his children? Will they bring their children and grandchildren to be taught how to "make something disappear and maybe come back again"? 
Perhaps it's a useful life skill. 

Monday, 20 November 2017

AC/DC is not my sort of

music but I at least know they were a rock band. The death of lead member of the band, Malcolm Young, was widely publicised here. He was considered to be a "local lad" and the manner of his going, dementia, was cruel. 
    "I thought only old people got dementia," Ms W told me. I had to explain otherwise.
She thought about this and then said, "That's really horrible. He probably lived a really crazy sort of life doing that stuff but he didn't hurt anyone."
No, as far as I know, he didn't. I wonder what sort of rumours are currently flying around about  what caused his dementia. If someone from the medical profession was asked they would almost certainly say they didn't know. That won't stop the on-line "experts" telling the rest of us.
I thought of that this morning as I read about the concern over the large number of suppression orders being made by our courts. I am not opposed to suppression orders. My view is that all cases should be subject to a suppression order. 
That view usually raises eyebrows but our courts are open. Anyone can walk in and listen to what is going on in the magistrates' court, the District Court, or the Supreme Court. You can, if you so wish, head off to the High Court.  I have been in all those places. What goes on in them is rarely exciting. Much of it is extremely tedious. It is very rarely the way television series portray it. I did once hear a joke made but it was a very, very rare thing - and both parties to the matter were in consensus as to what the outcome should be in the case. The Children's Court is, rightly, closed. Once, in a long while, courts will hear something "in chambers" or "in camera" - privately.
That might be done to protect a victim or a witness. It is not something a magistrate or judge does lightly. 
They don't make suppression orders lightly either. There have to be good reasons - and one of those reasons is the way things are reported. Professional journalists are normally responsible about such things - but not always. Selling news, particularly a big story, is more important than the rights of victims - and even the alleged perpetrators have rights.
People's lives have been ruined by the salacious reporting of cases in the past. They are even more easily ruined now by the unending commentary on social media. 
This sort of behaviour is starting to have flow on consequences into other areas. Recently I made a genuine attempt to get more information from someone. Rather than answer my questions I got a furious response accusing me of criticising - the last thing I was trying to do. People are taking offence where no offence is intended.
We might be saying more but we aren't communicating. 

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Activity packs!

"I remember. You did it before."
The eldest kitten purred and found the one with her name on it. She and her brother were here a little before the others. 
"Come on!" she told her brother handing his over.
"Did you say 'thank you'," their mother asked.
"Thank you!"
They went into the other half of our living area and yes, the boy still upended his on to the floor while she started to pull things out.
The other three little kittens arrived about twenty minutes later. They saw what was happening. Anxious looks. Were they getting  something like that as well?
    "If you look by the door  you will find three more bags with your names on them, " I tell the eldest.
Huge grins - and no need to prompt a thank you. 
They all sit there looking at what is inside the bags. Biscuits! It doesn't matter that the mother of the girls has stopped at the bakery on the way.  Of course they can eat savoury twists AND biscuits.
Oooh chocolate frogs too!
How do you make this? The eldest is looking at the simple origami cat and dog face instructions. She has just turned eight. The seven year old from the other family looks at her in disgust and says, "Read the instructions."  The seven year old then proceeds to make one and shows the eight year old how to do it. The three little girls from one family do a lot more craft work than the other two. I help the five year old do it while Miss Three watches and then Miss Three insists on doing it too - and she does it with the appropriate amount of assistance. She rushes off to show her father who, being an excellent father, is genuinely interested. 
They ate things. They drank orange juice and water. They found more little things. 
    "There's a sharpener for the pencils." (I had included a tiny packet of 12 pencils about one third the length of the usual pencil.)
Miss Three had not come across a good sturdy eraser before. Her mother showed her  how to use it. Miss Three wrote "P" - her initial - and rubbed it out and then did it again and again. 
Eventually we gathered everything up and replaced what had not already been eaten in their bags. They went off to where they are staying for the next three nights.
Quiet descended. The Senior Cat went to sleep. I cleared up the dishes, their plastic cups ("you kept them from last time") and the various cups, saucers and mugs used by the adults. I swept the floor.
Later we went to join them for a barbecue. They had been to the "jumping pillow" and into the swimming pool. Now they were making "invitations" for the rest of us. The pencils were in use. The drawing paper was in use. There were cats and dogs - somewhat lopsided animals - scattered around "watching us do some more".
Today they are going somewhere else. Tomorrow we hope to take them to an adventure playground...and the Senior Cat is going to show them some "magic tricks".
And we still need to blow soap bubbles with the little party bubble kit I found in the cheap shop....if I have any breath left! 

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Allen and Unwin have cancelled

the publication of a book. The news appeared in our state newspaper yesterday.
Delays in getting a book out happen all the time. All sorts of things can go wrong but withdrawing a book from publication is much less common. 
If the reason for failing to publish it is true then we have a major problem. The problem does not surprise me.  I have been aware of it for some time. I was just unaware of how far it had gone.
The book has been written by a professor at one of the state's universities. It concerns the "silent" influence of China on the affairs of this country - and the demands they are making in so many areas.
China is of course a very powerful country. The size of the population and the way that population is controlled make it even more powerful. You don't dissent in China. You don't criticise either.
And that makes it much easier for them to control dissent and criticism outside the country too. Those in authority can say, "Look, everyone here is happy. They like the way things are done. Don't criticise us."
And then they can say, "And if you do criticise us then we will take legal action and there will be consequences. We will win because we are much more powerful than you."
They most certainly don't want people to know how they really do business.
Not so long ago a friend here told me that her son, who set up a major business in China - a business which employs hundreds of local people and is very profitable for their local economy - was recently told, "Don't go back to China. You'll be arrested."
Our government won't let him return. They say it is too dangerous. No, he hasn't done anything wrong. He has obeyed all the relevant laws, paid all the relevant taxes and more. So, what's the problem?
It's simple. He hasn't paid the bribes.
There are still contracts to be met. Threats are still being made but he is a free man of sorts - unless he goes back to China.
It's just one of the many examples of how business ventures in China have gone sour for others. It seems many people have simply paid the bribes - and go on paying bribes. They don't see a choice. 
I have also had tertiary colleagues here and elsewhere complain about the pressure put on them to award higher marks to students from China - and some other countries. I have seen the work of more than one "government funded" student - the sons and daughters of high ranking officials - who were given higher grades than they deserved. I have seen them given passes when they should have been failed.
     "No, we can't fail him," is something I have heard too many times. 
But now it seems that the "influence" is ever more pervasive. It affects other parts of life as well. A look on the supermarket shelves will see "made in China" and "product of China". The Senior Cat is one of the most tolerant people I know. He has welcomed people of all backgrounds and faiths and beliefs into our home. He has been to China. He still tells me, "Don't buy food sourced from China." He knows how much of the food there is produced and he doesn't want any of us to risk our health. Still it is hard when major supermarket chains are obtaining more and more of their "home brand" products from China. Yes, they may be cheaper but are the associated risks worth the cut in price?
 I know, through my work, that some of our news is filtered by Chinese interests. There are things we are simply not being told. That's not good either. No country should be able to influence the news service of another country in that way. 
China's buying power is still immense. They are buying influence. "If you want to do business with us then you will..."
 If a major publishing house has cancelled a book critical of Chinese influence on our society then we should be worried. I don't know whether the book is good or bad, fair or not. I haven't read it. I may never get to read it. Of course I am now curious about what it says and I know other people will be too.
It also means that other publishing companies are going to be wary of publishing anything critical of China. They will look at Allen and Unwin and think, "No."
I wonder what the late Judy Unwin, a woman I liked very much, would have had to say about the way the old family firm had caved in. I suspect she would not have been at all impressed. 
If the Chinese had simply allowed publication and then come out with a rebuttal of the claims made in it they would have done themselves far less harm.

Friday, 17 November 2017

"We need urgent communication assistance

this morning," I was told. 
For once it wasn't an advocacy group but the police. They had my name as "someone who should be able to help". 
      "Can you tell me anything else now?" I asked
      "Yes, we have a victim of a crime here but we are having problems because he can't communicate. They've taken some sort of thing which helps him to talk. He has a card with your name on it."
They give me his name., I don't swear. I want to.
      "He won't even have a drink," I was told.
      "He needs a straw," I said, "Please tell him I'll be on the next train."
I left a hurried message on the table for the Senior Cat. He was out with Middle Cat. I caught the next train with no time to spare.
I arrived feeling hot - and furious. 
I don't know this man that well. He was educated at home and then at one of the fee paying schools. I know his sister rather better but I know she's away at a conference right now.   He looks up and recognises me with the sort of relief that  almost makes me terrified - and angrier than ever. I have to help this battered and bruised and abused man communicate because - I learn this - two young thugs have taken not just his ability to communicate but his dignity from him..
Yes, someone had provided him with a straw in a mug of tea that looks strong enough to stand without the mug. It's the second lot of tea.
He still looks awful.
      "'re diabetic too aren't you?" 
He looks "yes" at the ceiling. 
      "Do you need something to eat?"
He looks "yes" at the ceiling again.
Someone goes to find something he can eat - a problem in itself as he can't chew a biscuit.
       "Are you still working at....?" I ask. Today is the day he goes in if he is. He has professional qualifications and works for the same firm as his sister.
He indicates yes again and  I get someone to ring his place of work and tell them what has happened. 
    "Your boss is in a meeting. He'll be over as soon as he can," he is told. I know he will come too.
And then we go through the slow process of getting information from D.  The two police officers want to ask open-ended questions. Without a communication device D...can only answer "yes" or "no" by looking up at the ceiling or down at the floor. I explain this and say, "D... is perfectly capable of explaining what happened if you give him time. "
     "Just go ahead then and we'll listen."
They decide this after some discussion. It isn't the way they work at all. They are used to being able to control the questions.
So I start at what I hope is the beginning. I have to frame each question so he can answer yes or no or follow his eyes when I get one of the policemen to write three words on three separate pieces of paper.  
The two policemen ask the occasional question - frustratingly still open-ended - and they ask me, not him although I say, "Ask him". The story comes out. It seems to take forever.
D...gets himself to work one day a week in his electric wheelchair. It's a major achievement for him. On other days he works at home via his computer set up. He normally has his communication device and also an old style communication board I helped to make him many years ago  which has been updated by his sister over the years. Neither are easy for him to use but they are a good deal more dignified than not being able to indicate more than "yes" and "no".  His boss arrives a bit over an hour later. It takes almost another hour before D... puts his thumbprint on his statement and his boss takes him off - to work. No, he is NOT going to miss going to work whatever has happened and however late it is. There's an important meeting this afternoon and he (thinks) he needs to be there.
They were still searching for two boys in their early teens when I left the station.
I came home and emailed a temporary and very basic board to his boss. The message came back, "Printed, laminated...D...says email later. Thanks very much from all of us here."
And later I had an email from D... all it said was, "thanks cat love  d"
It might not seem much to the rest of the world but he managed to type that with badly bruised fingers holding the stick he uses to hit the keys. 
The rest of us could learn a lot from him.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

The Country Women's Association

is much more than a "gaggle of gossiping women" and the person who described them as such to me yesterday was told that. 
I was polite because the man who said this is a city dweller. He may not have come across the CWA - but he has eaten their scones. 
I happen to know he is fond of scones. His wife makes scones each weekend. He has demanded them - in the nicest possible way - from her ever since they both retired almost four years ago. He wants them home made and with home made jam and cream. 
His wife tells me, "He appreciates my cooking."
So he should. I have been the recipient of her Christmas biscuits on more than one occasion. Those wonderful buttery morsels don't do my waistline any good at all.  
And she makes a good scone I believe. 
I am not particularly fond of scones. I rarely make them. If I do I tend to use the CWA scone mix. I know. I'm lazy. It also happens to be an excellent scone mix. A lot of people use it.
Using the scone mix saves time. It also means that the scones are likely to be a success - something I can't always claim when I mix my own.
And there is another very, very good reason to use it. Money raised in selling it goes to a fund to help people in rural areas - people in real need. Out there in small communities where people know one another and a family member is suffering abuse or illness or bereavement then others will know. Not so long ago the CWA members in a small community used some of their funds to supply the materials to repair the building the local fire truck is housed in. The men went in and repaired it - and morning tea (with scones) was supplied by the CWA. Everyone benefits from something like that. 
So it was with serious alarm that I read that one of the big supermarket chains was going to withdraw the product from its shelves. They weren't prepared to pay more for the product although the company which makes it has been hit with a 50% increase in costs recently. They were asking for a 7% increase in what the supermarket chain was paying. No, we will only pay the old price they were told.
There has, rightly, been a community backlash. It will be interesting to see who wins this one. The CWA should win - but if the supermarket chain has a "home brand" scone mix waiting in the wings they won't.  
Fortunately other places will continue to stock the scone mix - if the company can afford to go on making it.
They had better because that is the mix that gets used each weekend to make those scones.