Monday, 22 October 2012

Now a two-cat household once more.

For most of the year this has been, at least to some extent, a three-cat household.  The chap on the left turned up in March, at first just hanging around and looking plaintively in the window at us, but eventually very actively trying to move in.  Since I already have two cats, a third cat was really not an option.  A third cat that was semi-feral and an intact Tom was definitely not a good idea in a household with two neutered males.  As a result I tried to discourage him  from coming in and when that didn't work, I started trying to rehome him.   

I contacted our local branch of the Cats Protection League for advice and was told that unfortunately they have a fairly long waiting list for rehoming, especially for adult cats in no immediate danger, which was the case with this guy.   They provided me with a supply of paper collars, which I put my phone number on, in the hope that if he did live somewhere they would contact me.  No one responded.  A quick visit to the vet confirmed that he was not microchipped, un-neutered and in good health, if a bit skinny.  I treated him for fleas and ticks and wormed him, then let him go again.

It turns out he was not only quite determined to move in with me (and mark his territory accordingly - I can recommend Urine Off) he was also trying to move into another house three doors along - but with three cats they could not take him on either.  My neighbour found him upstairs, curled up on her spare bed looking like he owned the place.  Likewise, he once tried to climb up on my bed to sleep in the middle of the night - to the surprise of both me and my other cats, who were already there.  He's clearly a cat who has known a home at some point.

Over the summer he continued to hang around and I provided a bowl of food at the back doorstep when I saw him.  So that we had no more marking issues and to provide my own cats with some peace, I kept the cat flat closed.  A few weeks ago the Cats Protection League called me back to say they had a space available and inevitably he was nowhere to be seen for several weeks.  Last Monday morning, however, he was waiting at the back doorstep with my two, asking to be fed.

So this week, I have taken my life (or at least my soft furnishings) into my hand and left the catflap open again for the first time since spring.  Sure enough we started getting through a lot more food again, so on Friday night I left the catflap so that the cats could get in, but not out.  Yesterday at lunchtime I was sitting at the table when our friend here sauntered out from under the futon in the family room.  Here he is looking a bit annoyed at having discovered he couldn't get out (I'd also just treated him for fleas and ticks, which was easier than it is with one of my permanent cats).

He spent the rest of Saturday locked in the bathroom, to keep him in and away from the others (and there was nothing he could mark in there).  He had food, water and an old rug tucked by the radiator.  On Sunday morning he happily climbed into the carrier when I put him in front of it (again, not like my own cats!) and I took him off to the wonderfully appropriately named town of Fishcross.  He's settled into Cats Protection League's rehoming centre there, and they'll make sure he has his vaccinations, is neutered and get him back to health.

We never named him, so yesterday he acquired the name Barney.  It's appropriate in a way - I've just about had a barney with one of the neighbours over feeding him a couple of times!  It's been worth it, he'll need someone with a bit of patience, but he shows all the signs of wanting to be someone's pet.  Hopefully he will have a home sometime soon.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Maps. And Volcanoes

I've always been a bit in love with maps.  As a child I used to spend holidays away with my grandparents on their yacht (no, we're not that posh, it was a cramped sailing yacht with really basic facilities) and I remember spending hours looking at the charts with my grandfather.  I still credit him with instilling a near infallible sense of direction in me.  I could navigate with a chart by the age of 8, yet somehow the maps and charts part of the Girl Guide syllabus prevented me getting my silver award at 12, but that was because our leader couldn't assess it.  But I digress.

Last week I took a night off from studying to go to a talk by Mike Parker, who used to present Radio 4's On the Map (which I wish they would repeat).  The topic was national identity and mapping, which obviously links into the independence debate which is raging here at the moment.  It was a really entertaining talk and as a result I have bought Mike's book, Map Addict: a tale of obsession, fudge and the Ordnance Survey.  He even used a few of my favourite maps.  If he's speaking near you, I recommend him, although I suspect the subject matter was tailored to a Scottish audience.

Inevitably it got me thinking about my favourite maps and I have finally decided what to do with the vast bare wall of my hall.  Maps.  First up was one I have been looking for for ages.  As it happened I was telling my friend Morag (another Scottish-Kiwi) about it as we waited for Mike's talk and googled it on my phone.  There it was at the National Library of Australia - I'd been looking for it in NZ libraries and archives.  I now have a poster sized one ready to go on my wall.  It's German geologist Ferdinand von Hochstetter's map of the volcanoes of the Auckland Isthmus.   Drawn in 1859, the map shows the extent of all the cones, craters and lava flows of the Auckland field before they were quarried and built on.

It's a fairly frightening thought that almost a million people now live in the area covered by the map (the city now extends further to the north and west, away from the volcanic field.  That's the city centre in the middle and I grew up near the three crater lakes/basins on the northern shore of the northern of the two harbours.

The Auckland Volcanic Field consists of at least 50 volcanoes, either as cones or craters, and it's monogenetic, meaning each volcano usually erupts once (they did find a second eruption site in the Panmure basin, which is the large basin to the right of the centre of the map, a few years ago).    The most recent eruption was only 600 or so year ago and created Rangitoto the large island at the top of the map.  It was apparently bigger than all the previous eruptions put together.

The Auckland volcanic field is active, just dormant.

Oh and thumbs down to the University of Edinburgh, for closing the accessible entrance to the building Mike's lecture was held in.

Friday, 12 October 2012

The Open University

One of my current time sinks and the reason I haven't been the world's most prolific blogger is that I have been doing an MA in Social Sciences via the Open University. The OU, as it's known, is a rather wonderful institution which was set up to enable those who missed out on higher education first time round a chance to study at home. It was immortalised in the film Educating Rita and one of its famous alumni is the British comedian Lenny Henry. In the early years, it used a mix of printed materials and middle of the night TV  broadcasts. The latter have largely been replaced by DVDs and online resources but their TV and radio presence remains in the many excellent programmes they co-produce for BBC TV and radio.

 Having had a fairly directionless experience of higher education (three and a half years of study, mostly in Scandinavian Studies, at three different universities and an FE College), I enrolled as an OU student in 2002 and started my first course in early 2003. Five years on, I graduated with BSc in Social Sciences with Social Policy with first class honours. It was a turbulent five years - my older son was born and then died that first year and the small Scottish boy came along in my third year.  Here we are at my graduation in 2008.   He'd just recovered from chicken pox and we both needed haircuts.

I'd caught the OU bug and 18 months later I signed up for the MA in Social Sciences.  It's been a bit tougher than the BSc  The work is more challenging, of course and life through some more curve-balls at me (in a case of history does repeat, my mother died, four months into the first course), but here I am, something approximating two-thirds of the way through.  Perhaps a bit more.  I've passed three courses and have the exam for the fourth on Monday.

My last course is a double credit one, so it will complete the MA.  It's Understanding Children's Development and Learning - officially part of the MA in Education and a bit of a new topic but the materials I have so far look very interesting and hopefully it will be useful to me at work.  My current course has been a bit of a hectic one - three assessments due within 8 weeks over the summer holidays, so the slightly slower pace of an 11 month long course (6 assessments including the final one - no exam) is a bit of a relief.

One of the things that I like about the OU is that there are intermediate qualifications along the way.  I've already gathered up a Post Graduate Certificate and if I pass the exam on Monday I'll have the Post Graduate Diploma in Social Sciences.  I can't quite figure out if the last course will give me a PG Cert in Education (as well as counting towards the MA) but if I do one more course, I will definitely qualify for a PG Diploma in Education.

But I won't be doing that.  No, I won't.  This is it.  No more studying.  I'll be glad to get my life back.

Although, some undergrad modules, just for fun, might appeal.  Maybe some French.  Or history.

Be warned.  The OU is addictive.

Now, I'd better get on with studying and stop procrastinating!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Those breast cancer "awareness raising" memes

It's that time of year again and the breast cancer memes are coming out. Your shoe size, the colour of your bra or how long it takes to do your hair are not going to raise anything other than a snigger. If you want to raise awareness of breast cancer, link to something informative, that increases women's knowledge of the signs of breast cancer (or other cancers). 

I'm going to start with this ad by Elaine C Smith which is running on Scottish TV at the moment. The message is to look for more than a lump - and that's a very important one. Oh and for non-Scots, she says "three kids later ones", not freaky...

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Technology is getting disabled people back into work

This article on the BBC News website was brought to my attention by a friend who has fairly serious ME. My first reaction was anger, a sort of slightly pent up anger that has been brewing all summer. The Paralympics presented me with very mixed feelings. The achievements of the athletes are phenomenal, just as those of their Olympian compatriots are. What angered me, though, was that they perpetuated a discourse on disability that focuses on a narrow range of disabilities and that much of the coverage of people like Oscar Pistorius also focuses on the way technology can "eliminate" disability. I'm a fan of technology and it helps a lot but no expensive titanium wheelchair will help if, for example, you turn up to an event to discover the only accessible access to the building has been locked up because it's past 6pm so the only access is via 20 steps. Yes, this happened to me last week at a major Scottish university. Presumably all disabled students should be tucked up in their beds, rather than attending the lectures taking place that night. If I see that picture of Pistorius and the wee girl with blades, with the "the only disability is a bad attitude" quote, I may become homicidal. The guy at the start of this article elicits the same reactions. His hi-tech legs did not get him back into work - they got him back rock climbing (which was how he lost his original legs) which is all well and good but he was clearly an extremely athletic person with or without his lower legs. I'm glad technology can help disabled people - I'm very much hoping that one day someone will come up with something that will help me. My Orthopedic Consultant sent me away with "the good news they are doing clever things with carbon fibre, so that might be an option soon". But I am very much aware that not all disabilities can be overcome with technology. The article improves as it goes on. The section at the end, which does mention the ways attitudes to disabled employees need to be overcome, makes some good points, but it still focuses on ways disabled people need to use technology to navigate the workplace, not ways that the workplace can become more accessible to disabled people.