In Defence of 'Old Age'

What’s to know about life?

We arrive ‘mewling and puking in our mothers’ arms’, (according to the Bard); we crawl to our choices and decisions; hopefully stay alive, well and happy in spite of, or because of them… and shuffle our way towards our final wave goodbye. 

What’s not to love?

I hadn’t really thought about old age until recently... yesterday, to be precise:

“How old are you?” asked the child on the street as I passed her by.
“Now let me see” I replied, “I’m seventy five but soon I’ll be…
“Seventy six” she pronounced solemnly, and with the piercing observation of youth, went on: 
“Does that mean you’re going to die soon?” 

Without even allowing the tiniest gasp to escape from my already tightening throat, I continued bravely.
“Of course not… I’m not even old yet!” She looked at me, quizzically, summing me up.
“You look old... so when will you be old?” I had to think. 
“I’ll let you know... next time I see you, promise” I said with a wan smile and marched off rather faster than befitted my new status.

Once home, of course I reached out for my old pal Shakespeare and his familiar 7 Ages of Man…  where each ‘age’ plays a part. It’s a melancholy piece and was no comfort at all - each age dragging ominously into the next with no clear guidance as to when one should start and another finish. No comfort to know that eventually one’s voice would ‘whistle in his sound’ before ‘second childishness’ took over and then ‘mere oblivion. Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.’

I don’t remember the first age, no matter how many uncles told me I was a cute baby and my life seems to have been an endless replaying of the 2nd, the age of childhood - at least in spirit if not in actions!

But I do remember the disappointment of expectation as I entered my teens.

Waking up on my 13th birthday I steadied myself, sat rigidly upright in bed and waited for the explosion that I’d been assured by well-meaning friends was about to hit. But nothing happened. Nothing had changed. Nil. Zippo. And I instantly became very suspicious of numbers and advice and resolved to be governed by feel... not by man-made time!

Still with no clear answer for my new little friend as to when I should see myself as old, I turned to the 2011 Census where 3 million people resident in Australia were classified as ‘older’.  I certainly became much better informed reading its 5year groupings and classifications: race, ethnicity, religion, culture, gender, education, marital status, death rates and disability but I have to say I was no better placed to give an answer.

Turning to news reports in both print and digital media, I gathered an image of old age which - in spite of its extraordinary diversity and circumstances - seemed to revolve around grey hair, slowness of gait & behind the wheel and… wait for it… Bingo!

Suddenly I could see a Courtroom. 
“Next case” yells the Bench Clerk and a Big Square Grey Metal Box shuffles to the Stand. It’s labelled and where a label’s fallen off one can see cruel names etched deep into its very side. Parts of the Box are sparkly bright, others rusty, worn; mould-like disease has gathered in one corner and one foot moves much faster than the other.

“Name?” says the Magistrate.
“Old Age” the Box replies.
“What’s your business here?"
“A Judicial Review of my Status, m’Lud."
“How old are you?” the Magistrate barks.
“I don’t know, Sir… not sure when I came into being!"
“Then I’d say you’re VERY old.”

The Box looks up defiantly. 
“You are young, Sir… how can you possibly know what I am like or what I can do, not ever having visited? Come look inside!”

And sure enough, as he stared into that Big Grey Square Metal Box, the Magistrate saw something so overwhelmingly powerful, so undeniably real that he stepped back, shaken and astonished. For here were stories; stories heroic, tragic, comical, devastatingly beautiful and sad; stories that covered lifetimes of loneliness, passion, rejection, sacrifice and pain; stories so joyful yet some so cruel and stark, some so full of mistakes that all the accumulated wisdom and accomplishment could barely make amends: so many stories; yet not one the same. And it was for this very uniqueness that the Magistrate returned slowly, thoughtfully to his Bench.

“I see the wisdom in your words... it calls for no reflection here: I award your Right to Review. Let us challenge the passing of man-made time! Release the shackles!"

Then turning to all present he wove a childhood vow into the spoken word:

“Judge not the holders of these stories in the closing chapters of their lives. Send them not away as if to feel ashamed of passing years and all they did therein. Encourage them in all they seek to do in waning time and let them skip or linger as nature will allow. Cherish their worth… then let them go… warmth and affection ringing in their ears for a job done as best as they knew how. And celebrate them… for all their differences… as those before them, with such expectation, welcomed them.”

And with that same warmth and affection and the resolution of my 13th birthday soaring through my heart, I sought out my little friend on the street.

“I’ve an answer for you” I blurted out excitedly.
Her eyes widened.
“You know when you’re going to be old?”
And I smiled. 
“No, dear child, that, I'll probably never know! But as long as you take care of this" I answered, handing her a small grey, metal box "my ‘knowing’…  doesn’t matter at all.”

Funny as it sounds - Humility May Just Win The Election.


Thursday 23 May 2013

I’m writing this after being deeply moved by the people of Regents Park, Sydney who made up the audience of the Gillard Government Community Cabinet meeting last night.

I ought to be studying… and I guess, in a way I AM. Studying people – a lifelong habit after many hours of acting classes in the late 50s with the incomparable Wal Cherry.

What struck me last night was the difference between the way questions were both framed and asked in this meeting as opposed to some of the questions in other shows on TV such as… well yes… QandA. The questions came across as questions that people genuinely wanted answered – rather than, as is sometimes the case, demonstrating the unique wit of the questioner or a gotcha-trap for a brief moment of television notoriety.

The answer to why this difference was so apparent came to me before the question bubbled to the surface of my consciousness. And it came in just two words… respect and humility.

Respect! Where HAVE you been in the lead up to this election?

Well – there it was last night in the hall of the Regents Park Christian School for all to witness. I was taken aback. Respect is not something I’ve grown accustomed to seeing of late – particularly for the office of Prime Minister, let alone the Prime Minister herself – both from sections of our politicians, broadcasters and journalists to members of the general public. This is not hard to understand when one sees the influence from a Print and TV Media monopoly that is, itself devoid of any respect for our democracy and would choose to tell us who the next incumbents should be. Whether we personally like or dislike the person holding the office of Prime Minister, we cannot allow it to affect the respect we have for that office or our democratic system that ultimately chooses who shall hold it.

You could argue that the audience last night was hand-picked to be positive and receptive to the Government but I defy anyone to tell me that that necessarily guarantees respect. Respect was there however, beautifully obvious – often manifesting itself simply by the addressing of Julia Gillard as ‘Prime Minister’.

And then of course, there was the humility.

Humility! Funny word isn’t it. So close to ‘humiliation’ yet couldn’t be further from its meaning. But it was there too and quite evident from everyone involved.

My Dad taught me about humility. Raised in abject poverty as a child then rescued by family into extreme wealth, this set the scene for him to have a well-balanced view of the world and its people. He was intelligent enough to go to University and study dentistry; athletic enough to be a Country Regional Champion in many sports and raise a son (my brother) to reach Olympic standards – but overwhelmingly he was a ‘people person’ with a perfectly simple understanding of who he was. He could relate to the poorest in the socio-economic scale or the wealthiest from the Toorak suburb of Melbourne but as far as I could ever tell, not once did he deviate from his firm opinion that humility was the key to being a worthwhile human being.

Not so much do I see this in many parts of society today that still cling to the idea of entitlement; the idea that being born into a position of wealth is the measurement of your quality, giving you a natural superiority and right to the largest slice of the pie whether you own it or not.

And what comes with this sense of entitlement?  Far too often we see deluded, raised-in-wealth-or-privilege souls become impoverished of a sense of human decency and kindness. Utterly divorced from the reality of other people’s lives and needs, they use a tactic of ‘Aspirational Taunting’ early in life – a ‘look at me, you could be as important and useful a human being as I am if you follow me and do as I say’ to accompany much of what they do. And this in many ways is the first step to bullying – a subject I am as qualified to discuss as the next person who has ever been a victim.

Look at the prevailing attitude by so many to refugees/Asylum Seekers – fellow human beings often terrified, traumatised, homeless, bereft of all human comfort or reward.

Look at the attitude to disability, poverty, inequity, difference and see how much humility or respect you can find in any argument from those of the ‘elite’ of society (influencing their would-be followers ) who choose to use their wealth as their hallmark of quality. Sadly you will more likely see and hear contempt or apathy or superiority as the privileged foot comes down on the neck of deprivation.

Well – I for one was moved to tears last night and the tears removed the scales from my vision.  Maybe, just maybe – a sense of decency towards our fellow human beings is making its way back. Maybe, just maybe more of us are starting to see that our successful future lies within the sharing of our wealth and power and expertise with our children and future generations; ensuring that they receive the best education this country can give them; the greatest health and technology support systems we can devise and a fair and equitable distribution of the wealth of natural resources (apart from the children themselves) we have in our midst.

And maybe, just maybe we’re also seeing how much more powerful it is - and how much more it contributes to our society - to be a compassionate, respectful individual, than one full of privilege with little respect, humility or understanding of the true worth of human life.

Politicians of all persuasions trying to win the September 2013 Election would be well advised to take heed of the humility they saw on display last night.

Citizen Journalism

Nancy Cato’s hopes for the Royal Commission into Institutional sexual abuse of children

In Nancy Cato on April 29, 2013 at 11:52 AM
Royal Commission
Created by Alan Moir
By Nancy Cato
April 29, 2013
This is my final attempt to face my demons, or at least some of them. It’s only taken 37 years.
In 1976 as a young mother with a newborn babe – my third child – I read a story of a shocking case of Child Abuse; it told of a father shaking his baby and throwing her against a wall after molesting her.
It traumatised me – still does – my hands are shaking as I recount this story. I‘ve been in denial for many years and because I wish to make a positive contribution to the scourge of  Child Abuse that’s in out midst (as I tried to do in my early television days) I must face it.
My catalyst is the recently appointed Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse. At its first hearing on 3 April 2013 Justice McClellan AM, the chair for the Royal Commission, acknowledged that there had been harm committed against children that has caused lasting damage.
It’s a start.
I will admit that I’ve been further stung into action by the recent suggestion from a well-known radio broadcaster that a young girl may have herself  provoked the sexual attack she suffered.
This piece is dedicated to victims of Child Abuse wherever you may be, no matter your age or circumstances. It was not easy to write, albeit fantasised and is probably less easy to read – and for that I do apologise. I hope some of you will persevere to the end.
It is not aimed at any one Institution, person, place or thing… but rather, we ourselves; this society that would seem to want to protect its borders more fiercely than its children.

Sometimes, when opening up my eyes – not always from the deep of sleep, but still more like the realm of reality than waking time incurs – I see things that I ought not see, disturbing scenes such as the one before me now.
My hands are guided to these keys and yet I cannot write. The screen – clouded with a mist of grey – has mesmerised my eyes but in the distance I make out a group of children playing in a park. The images draw near and then to my distress I see that what I thought was play is nothing of the kind. Each child avoids another’s gaze and stands alone as if in haunted states of disarray. They’re all in grey attire, mostly rags – toddlers, others every age to nearing teens and one with a baby in her arms. A closer look shows why there is no tumbling fun, no shrieks of laughter reaching out to catch a friend; for in each face, the eyes have lost the shine of children’s play – replaced by hopelessness itself.
A young girl comes into view. She’s not in rags but dressed incongruously in a pink confection of party dress; brand new yet stained and torn. She looks distressed and shuffles awkwardly towards me.  Reaching out – she can’t be more than six years old – her fingers touch the screen and with her small face quite close to mine, whispers, “Can you help us?”
“What’s the matter?” I reply, forgetting I’m addressing someone on a screen.
“It’ll be here soon. It keeps on….” and then she stops, looking around fearfully.
“What is it? What are you afraid of? What keeps…..”
“Come with me,” she says, cutting me off with such urgency I somehow find myself in the mist, following her. She leads me to a small lane where several cottages sit awkwardly as though embarrassed by their neglect. We enter one and she throws open the door to a small room and I draw back as I see a man with a tiny baby.
“He can’t see you’, says the girl and I shudder as I see the man shake the baby violently,  screaming at it. To my shame – knowing what’s going to happen next – I turn and run out the door through the mist. I run as hard as I can but seem to make no progress, then, remembering the girl I turn back and see her huddled on the ground. It’s the same girl but now as though Time has steered off course, she appears to be only two or three years old. She starts to whimper then gives way to throated cries that rock her little body back and forth. “Don’t let him Mummy…please…no dress.”
I reach out to comfort her but the grey mist darkens and something is pulling me backwards. Petrified I shall not reach my own Time Zone again I scream out to her: “Tell someone; tell someone what is happening” – and the screen then turns to black.
I cannot get this image from my mind and try to press the button OFF – but destiny will not allow and takes me to another scene.
A Market Square.
It’s bright and colourful – full of crowds of happy, eager folk searching for that bargain they must have; stall-holders are hustling their tricks of trade that make the bargains look ‘just so’ – and dogs and youngsters on the ground share spoils of lovers’ inattention to their meals. Many of the adults (eclectic, ethnic mix and each from every state and stage of being) have children in their care; some ‘mewling and puking’ in their mothers’ arms and others looking joyfully from shoulders high at siblings pulled along by brawny hands.
It’s one such child that breaks free now – dancing vivaciously towards me, twirling with the energy that only childhood brings. She looks straight at me behind the glass…so sweet of smile and nimble of limb I am beguiled, till with a jolt I recognise the dress and see her as the one that only moments ago, it seems, was pleading for my help.
“My name’s Douglas,” she giggles without pause. “Daddy thought I’d be a boy.”
“Is everything all right?” I whisper, the earlier scenes still vivid in my mind. “Where are the others?”
“Daddy’s taking me to buy a dress,” she offers as if she hasn’t heard, but something catches in her eyes and she adds, “I try to be good”. Her attention is suddenly drawn to a sound behind her and she whirls around with startled cry as a man pushes through the crowd to reach her, his face contorted, angry, yelling “Get back here Douglas” He grabs her roughly, pulling her arm as she tries to reach out to me, her little body shakes with fear – and I scream “tell somebody”. But the now familiar dark grey mist comes down and Douglas disappears.
Unnerved and weeping unashamedly, I see the Market Place erupt as ugliness descends and children run in all directions through the stalls. They hide their eyes whilst elders brawl; they hear attacks of every kind with kicks and punches flying blind upon the weak; they hear their sisters’ cries; and when an altar boy comes crashing down a priest resplendent in his robes enjoys the feast. They hear some men and women – both in drunken rage or lustful ecstasy from pill or juicy potion – wield their pickets and their glass until they find their children to assault; the children cannot watch the glint of unsheathed knives whilst knowing other weapons will appear, and as they run they see all adult reason cease – trampled to the ground wherein lies dignity in tears.
I search for Douglas in the crowd ashamed I’ve somehow let her down, and wonder from which year it is. Or is it time gone by…or not yet past?
I try to slam the lid on this distressing scene, and only cease as suddenlya hush precedes a violent, crashing sound that opens panic’s doors on this the open Market Place, and people try to flee the solid walls that now surround.
“Order!” screams a voice so full of power the masses freeze and fall down where they are and look about with fearful dread. As well they might: They’re in a Court of Law.
“All stand!” the voice commands, and as the people rise – tentative, dazed – a Judge appears and takes his lofty chair. I see this is no usual Court of Law. There is no gown or wig, yet on this Judge’s head an outsized hat resides with faded tag assuring there is Justice. The Prosecutor, to the right, stands tall – Opinion, flamboyant on his gown and yet another word I partly see, lies hidden ‘tween the folds. He nods approval to the crowd, acknowledging its sudden recognition and support. There’s no Attorney for Accused although a robe with no apparent label idly lies across a table to the left.
“Bring in the Prisoner!”
I expect to see a member of the rabble from outside brought in to justice – but no, a tiny child is roughly handed up then pushed into the dock. She is but six years old, so slight of limb and wide of eye, one thinks of frightened horses in a crowd. With sickening jolt I see her clear. Tis Douglas, self-same child in party dress of pink-now-turned-to-grey; the one who turned to me for help. A tut of disapproval struts around within the room and further murmurings take hold – erupting as a shrieking chorus to the tune “Again?”
Judge: Silence! What is the charge against this child?
Opinion: Provocation, Your Honour! The charge is Provocation!
Judge: Proceed with Opening Remarks.
Opinion: My Lord! The accused, this wretched child, will masquerade as virtue if set free. It will amount to nought but falsely bring my clients – all great men apart from one or two – to shame. “He did me wrong,” she squeals in girlish way; “…he put his hand and other parts that hurt, inside of me…” What vicious lies are these that pour out from her mouth? She has no status or no right to be parading thus, pretending virtue as her meme when all along she is intent with guile. Look upon her face; so well she knows what she is at; her very countenance betrays the protests of her type. See how she thrusts her tender breasts towards us now; see her hold her genitals just so…provoking with each stroke? Her doe-like eyes say “I’m the Victim here, please look on me”. My God, Your Honour, please be clear on who the Victims are in this sad case. Within my clients’ hearts, that’s where the suffering truly lies. A few good men that needs must give up worldly freedom and reveal their whereabouts for life, ridiculed and reviled and labelled paedophiles no less, when all they did was give her what she craved. My clients all are ordinary folk and Dignitaries and VIPs; Charities and men beholden to the Church. ‘Twas she who let it happen truth be told, provoked them, led them on. I shall display good cause to prove this charge of Provocation right; that she and all her ilk should be incarcerated till they grow – in true humility – befitting of their sex.
Until such time, deserve they nought but fullness of contempt.
Horrified and outraged by this speech, I yell out… but the Courtroom fades to black.
I imagine this will bring my nightmare to a close…but no…it is the wretched park again. As though the children see me now, they slowly shuffle forward one by one. There isn’t one you could call whole. Faces gaunt, expressionless, they’re hungry, cold, neglected and forlorn. The beatings and the blame have done their work, their labels clearly marked ‘Clumsy’ ‘Hopeless’ ‘Wicked’ and the like. The trauma’s clear. They give no indication that they know what Love could be, and only then I realize that I see the future of mankind.
They stand in line before me now, silent, waiting, as if they know I wish to speak yet know not what to say.
A lad of very tender years approaches and I see he has a stick to hold him steady as he stands. “Douglas told us what you said,” he falters, “She’s gone to tell – but some of us have no one…”
Against the power of instinct – as though the Pipes of Pan are tuning in to childhood’s needs and forcing me to face their pain, I shut my eyes and hold my breath and whisper, “Then tell…me.” And as the horror tales take shape with stumbling words and stutterings, the colour comes to cheeks and life to limb, the whispers turn to rushing sounds that shout down fears of those who have no voice; they tell me all and finding each a brother/sisterhood they turn and form a circle all together that no force will ever break.
Judge: Is there no one here to help defend this child?
I note the unclaimed robe no longer lies upon the table to the left. A figure stands before the judge and though it’s hidden by the hood – with sinking heart and fearful dread – I recognise the face to be my own.
Judge: Are you representing this child? What are your credentials?
Procrastination: Credentials I have none Your Honour! I’m here to put my silence to an end and beg your leave to stand this child down from the dock. She’s not the guilty one.
Opinion: Objection! She has no idea…
Judge: Overruled! You speak on this young child’s behalf – on whose authority?
Procrastination: It is the Voice of Childhood spurs me on.
Judge: You may proceed.
Procrastination: Your Honour! It’s famous voices on the air, and ones that moan and toll the Bell who say that children are to blame. Outdated, boorish, sexist yet, they give no reason for the charge except to save the souls of wealthy friends on high.
Opinion: Objection! There is no…
Judge: Let her speak.
Procrastination: It is the child who is the Victim here. Abused and yet Accused? ‘Tis many should be standing in that Dock for crimes against the children. It will come.
Voice from crowd: You’re a Liar. All lies. Opinion tells it how it is.
Judge: Order! No intervention from the courtroom is allowed. It seems contempt is freely here today.
Procrastination: Opinion, were it not for your most blinkered sense of what is right – this child and children would now stand free as equals, midst the sphere of Innocence.
A babe is born and from that second on perfection starts its swift decline, but till such time the child should take responsibility in full we must support its care. Who dares to blame the children for perversion gone astray when mindless cruelty or lust lie hidden in a robe?
This child, just six years from the womb is held here to be trialled – no reason for her guilt. Look at her! Her innocence is clear. There is no understanding yet of man-made guile to lure the passion of desire or stir up anger in the adult breast. This child no more knows this than why the flowers bloom or puppies chew. She yearns for Love that will be bludgeoned shortly from her heart – or nurtured to embrace the joy of life. You do not know the harm you wreak upon the child. While bruises heal and bones will mend, her life will be a constant, joyless dread.
Responsibility for this lies deep within your Court. I beg you hear the children’s plea.
Opinion: Enough of this preamble…I call on Witnesses Contempt!
Judge: Witnesses? Plural do you say? Good sir, you call but one.
Opinion: I beg indulgence of the Court: so many hold this child in deep contempt we thought it best to show en masse, the error of her ways. I call them ALL before you now.
Procrastination: Objection Your Honour. He cannot bring a crowd of people to the stand. ‘Tis HE who shows contempt.
Judge: Order! Order!
Procrastination: Children! Bring in the Guilty One!
Judge: Be seated, all of you. ORDER! ORDER!
But look! It is too late. Confusion reigns as witnesses advance towards the Stand and hurl abusive words towards the child. Some lunge as if to do her harm and she recoils as though she knows them well. Then suddenly a thunderous noise fills all the space and lights go out. A hush descends and from outside, the children’s voices can be heard – all loud and clear and strong.
A spread of light pervades the Court as doors fling open and the Children from the Park advance and sing “The Guilty One is here”. They’re in procession-form and Douglas rushes from the Dock to meet them at the head. Before them is a heaving, glutinous mass, like jelly from a mould, that – rolled by eager hands – is pushed into the Dock. The mist that once was grey – diluted now – still hovers, just above.
Opinion’s witnesses retreat and whimper to their seats to fearfully look on as this same mass begins to shake and wail its innocence to all. Transparent, one can see inside: in shapes of promises and threats and disempowering neglect, a blubbering mess of children’s dreams floats helplessly around; the running sores and scalding burns slide freely down the broken limbs and verbal curses roll around amongst cut lips and fresh-bruised flesh.
It moans, this mass that once was free; but captive now it roars its predatorial song and tries to reach the children, lurching forth – forgetting that with Love’s restraint – it can no longer feed the appetite that never seemed to end.
Procrastination: You see before you now this treacherous fool devoid of all disguise. Deprived of meals depravity prepares…it cannot live to prey upon the young. Let’s keep it so. For in the children’s hands the Future lies as surely as our own demise Lies hovering in the wind.
As if a camera films the room in motion slow, the mist and light recede and people try to be upright and look about. The heaving mass has disappeared and in its place the children all stand free. Small adult groups approach with open arms while others view the scene – a look of shameful horror on their brows, their heads bowed low, aware of this their final chance.
Some priests are on their knees: while others seek to be above the shame and sneak out with a crowd of likewise guilty folk that do not wish to face the blame. Their turn will come!
But will enlightenment hold sway should Child Abuse come knocking just once more?
The Judge departs; the Prosecutor throws his robes upon the bench and shakes his head in disbelief as clients walk away. I see his second label clearly now peep slyly from the folds. I trust you see it too.
The Voice of Childhood calls and leads the laughing children to the door. But Douglas turns and takes me by the hand. We run together through the park and down the little lane, and as we turn into the gate, the cottage in such disrepair before is showing signs of pride and care. The little bedroom door is open wide and tears fall as I see Douglas, woman now, attending to her babe with crooning song.
The whole screen fades to black and I can feel retreating demons. Warmth returns to fingers keen to write, of what?
Ah! Yes!
My gratitude for the beauty, grace and innocence of the Child.

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Dear Mr Woolies...from Nancy

Sunday 14 April 2013

Dear Mr Woolies,

Yes -  I know that’s not your real name but mine isn’t Lissen either – and that’s what your Manager kept calling me when he bawled me out recently.

“Lissen” he hissed…and he hissed it quite a few times which is pretty funny when you think about it – him trying to determine if I really WERE a deaf (and dear) little old lady – and all.

But I digress…

A few days ago one of your stores disgraced itself (for the first time? I have to ask.) It refused entry to a woman who obviously needed (and had) a properly-vested Assistance Dog with her. That’s illegal.

To salve your conscience and make her humiliation go away (Haha!) you threw to a Charity, a few of the dollars you make… (Aussie family businesses spring to mind.) And then it’s HiHo! and off we go to play on our very own Pokies and do WooliesWheelies on our considerable pieces of land and even better - see how much more cheap milk we can squeeze out of the teats of the few cows that remain in this country. Have I got it right?

But I digress…again!

The thing is, Mr Woolies…I got so angry I threw a tweet out on Friday night to the Twitter Cyber Space – you know, that 5th Estate called Social Media?


I may just as well have thrown my nifty little iPhone right into one of your BBQ'd chickens. Talk about MeltDown. Boy! If I hadn’t felt loved before, I certainly do now. Because, Mr Woolies…the 5th Estate is all about reaching out to people – REAL people…you know the ones? The ones that CARE about other people; the ones that by and large are not purple in the face from gobbling and stashing too many dollars under their tongues. (Heavens are you friends with Rupe and…gulp…Gina?)

Anyways! My tweet simply pointed out that you had kicked me and my dog out of a store also.

Thousands of people have read that Tweet now, Mr Woolies and I haven’t yet identified one that isn’t angry, shocked and ashamed of you. One, Andrew Elder, a wondrously intelligent blogger I’m cheeky enough to call a friend, suggested I write to you and invoke my little Granddaughters’ wrath upon your head. But somehow I think, on this one, I have to stand up for myself and all of the dear souls who cope with disability each and every day of their lives.

Here are the facts:

1.      Deaf since birth, aged 73 and living alone, I rely heavily on my Assistance Dog, Gilly who is worth MILLIONS (to me)
2.     I trained Gilly myself because I really do understand - after 73 years of owning and training  dogs and being deaf - what it is I need
3.     We’ve just moved to a new location by the sea
4.    One of your stores is walking distance from us
5.     Recently I went to this store
6.     I’ve always known that it’s required by law for Assistance Dogs to be identified by a vest that says ‘Trained by….’ or some such so I’ve NEVER tried to take Gilly inside a store. He doesn’t have such a vest
7.     However as this was my first trip to your store and I’m acutely conscious that Gilly is an extremely attractive little dog and has already survived one kidnap event, I tied him up as close to the entrance as possible
8.     Then I approached one of your staff whose job it is to stand at the entrance to direct people
9.     I asked her if she would mind just keeping an eye on Gilly now and then as I’m extremely dependent upon him and it’s pretty easy to slip a dog lead – if you’re of a mind to do that
10.  Well…talk about Mother Teresa…without hesitation she said, “Look if he’s an Assistance Dog, take him inside”
11.     I said “Are you sure?  I trained him myself and he doesn’t have a vest”
12.   “No, that’s fine” she said. “Take him in”
13.   So I did
14.  We had a great time
15.   Gilly didn’t pee on anything or molest the meat in the deli and certainly didn’t bite anyone on the bum
16.   Mind you…he did lead me to the Dog Biscuits…just like a kid knows where the Lollies are
17.   Anyway…I’d filled up my basket (No cheap milk though)… when this man came rushing up…right into my face (Latham’s handshake comes to mind)
18.   “Lissen” he said. “I don’t know that you’re deaf. You can’t have that dog in here. You’ll have to get out”
19.   “But…but” I protested. “Your staff INVITED us in”
20. “Then they were WRONG” he hissed. “You’re talking normally…how am I supposed to know if you’re deaf or not?”
21.   Now by this time, a crowd had gathered
22.  I can lip-read
23.  “Oerr” they said. Has she been caught shop-lifting?”
24. “Lissen” said the man who I now realized was the Manager. “Go and get a vest from the Lions” and he took out his phone as if to ring them on the spot.
25.  “Oerr” said the crowd. “He’s ringing the cops.”
26.  I’d had enough so I told the Manager I was leaving
27.  “Lissen” he said. “You can take take your goods…just pay for them on the way out
28.  He did NOT like the fact that I tipped everything out on to the counter and left, humiliated but with dignity intact
30. I must point out that the female staff were also much distressed
29.  I shall never return

The thing is, Mr Woolies, that you have every right to take the letter of the law into your own hands …but you have NO right to try to take a person’s dignity away.

I DID ring the Lions and they said they couldn’t provide me with a vest for Gilly because they didn’t train him. I understand. It’d be just terrible for the Lions if my Spoodle (Poodle/Cocker Spaniel X) Gilly started acting like a trained-to-kill mastiff of some kind.

And yes, I know that I could get some legal dog-trainer-company-whatever to assess him and provide a vest. But hey! I’m old and Gilly’s 6 and in his middle years. How do I get them to understand that THESE are the things my dog does for me?

·      When my alarm goes off he puts his paw on my face…until I tell him to sod off (nicely)
·      When the milkman comes from AussieFarmersDirect around midnight, he runs back and forth to let me know that the lovely man with the light on his head has put my goods on my doorstep
·      He tells me if someone I haven’t noticed, is trying to speak to me
·      If a cyclist rushes up behind me, he pulls me off the path
·      He tells me when an email has arrived and when the postman comes
·      He identifies the ambulance and the firetrucks and sings along with them too
·      In fact he knows each and every sound I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT
·      But he also reminds me that I must appreciate I have my sight and there are beautiful things to see, like bark on the trees and the sand blowing in the wind and the moon and rock pools teeming with innocent life
·      He helps me forget that you reminded me that when I was a child I was bullied by boys with sticks as the ‘little kid who cannot hear’
·      He licks my hand when I get a bit sad…over…people like you. The ones that foster this bullying and greed in an ever-growing, uncaring climate-change of cruelty and inhumanity to fellow man.

No, Mr Woolies, I won’t be coming back to give you a second chance. My forebears started a grocery chain called Moran & Cato many years ago. It was built on sound business principles of quality and turnover and nothing over 2/6d. But most importantly of all, it was built on Customer Service and compassion for those in need.

The irony is, Mr Woolies that the true wealth in this country is in its people - like those who flew to my defence.

You would be well served to start looking after them…  as well as you look after yourself.