Old folk at lunch

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The bright side



I tend to be a rather cheerful positive person, not out of deliberate policy but because I was born that way. My mother was a very self-confident person.

So I see some positives out of my recent surgical travails.  By dint of taking regular doses of two powerful antibiotics, I seem to have defeated my recent infections.  I am now in no pain and am enjoying my life again.

And one of the compensations of being ill is that Anne came and made me a lot of good traditional British/Australian dinners -- which I enjoyed greatly.  Last night I got corned-beef with roasted veggies -- which was great!  I like my ethnic foods!

And may I mention that in the midst of my surgical travails, Joe and Kate have announced their engagement!  He proposed to her whilst they were both up the top of the Eiffel tower in gay Paree.  That seems amazingly romantic to me.  Apparently when Joe first asked, Kate said, "What?"  But Joe persisted.  What a fine, traditional man!

Anyway I have now seen the ring. It is a colored stone, basically, with a few bits surrounding.  The stone is Tanazanite -- a stone recently discovered in Tanzania (in Africa).  It is purple so looks like Amethyst.  Amethyst was a  very popular jewel in the ancient world.   They bought it from an "Antique Jewellery" place,  Let's not mention that Tanzanite was discovered only in the 1960s.

The important thing is that Kate likes it.

Friday, March 3, 2017

A trying couple of days



I had a wog last week which had just cleared up when I went in for surgery this week. Skin cancers pop up on me rather regularly.  And the ones that look like expanding have to be killed some way -- by freezing or excision.  I had a rather pesky crop recently.  So this time getting rid of them took two days -- at an overall cost of $7,000.00.  So that is going to restrict my spending in other directions.  The time could come when I am spending all my spare cash on surgery.  I will however look at options for cheaper treatment.

Included this time was a Moh's procedure -- where the extent of the cancer is not clear so they have to keep cutting until the microscope gives the all clear.  It's never pleasant.  It is so time consuming that they don't stitch you up same day.  You have to go home with a gaping wound that they stitch up the next day. Wednesday's procedure  removed a big cancer on my chest plus a smaller one nearby.

So on Thursday, Anne drove me out to Northwest private hospital for both the Moh's repair and an excision on my ankle.  The ankle excision was expected to be a bit big, requiring a skin graft to put it back together. They have good grafting facilities at Northwest.  And as it turned out, the gap created by the Moh's procedure also required a graft.  So I came home very patched up.

As expected, I had to be very careful about walking in order not to flex too much the graft on my ankle. So I bought some crutches to get around on for a few days.

An unforeseen problem is that the big graft on my chest seems to have got infected. I always seem to have some nasty skin bugs -- Staphylococcus Aureus or "Golden Staph" -- on my skin waiting to pounce on a surgical site so I have been subjected to infections of wounds for some years now.  On a couple of occasions I have had to go into hospital and be put on a Vancomycin drip for a couple of days.  So that may be coming up again.

In the meanwhile I am on high doses of both Clindamycin and Dicloxacillin in an endeavour to close down the infection.  But I am in a rather bad way for a while: I have a rather painful chest wound that stings me when I move and I can't walk any distance.  Fortunately Anne has moved in to look after me. She is doing well.  She is a nurse by profession. But it will be a few days yet before I can move about freely.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

"Privilege" again



A major obsession on the Left at the moment -- particularly in the universities --  is "white privilege"  It is alleged that  just being born white gives you privileges not available to others.  And whites are supposed to feel shamed and humbled about that and -- ideally -- give all their money to non-whites.  It is part of the general and quite deranged  attack on mainstream people that caused many Americans to become totally disgusted with the Obama/Clinton Left.  They were ready to vote for ANYBODY who would stop the rot.  So Donald Trump got the job, despite his hair and many other faults.

I pointed out recently that the "white privilege" concept is racist -- very similar to Hitler's  thinking about Jews.  In both cases we see hostility to people purely on the basis of their race.

So let me relate a true story about a privileged person I know.  L. is an elderly Jewish man who recently had a bad turn.  An ambulance was called to take him to hospital. When they were loading him on board, they asked him which hospital he wanted to go to. Brisbane has some big centrally located government hospitals plus a lot of excellent private hospitals scattered about. L. said to take him to WXY, a highly regarded private hospital with about 500 beds.

But after about 15 minutes the ambulance had still not driven off.  The ambulancemen said that it was a very busy time with a lot of hospitals "on bypass" (full up) -- and WXY was one of those on bypass.  So the ambulancemen had been ringing around to find a hospital with an available bed.  L. said not to bother with that.  Just ring hospital WXY and tell them whom you have got on board.  The ambulancemen did that and L. was promptly whisked to his preferred hospital.  He was taken in where others were not.

So was that Jewish privilege?  Many people would leap to that conclusion.  And Jews are often generous donors to all sorts of charitable causes. So that could have been it.  It might have reflected gratitude to a donor.  But that was not it at all.

Even though he is in his '80s and has had a stroke, L. has that restless energy we so often see in Ashkenazi (Western) Jews.  After his stroke he could have just stayed at home all day and watched TV.  He likes watching football on TV so that would have had some appeal.

But that was just alien to him.  He wanted to be active and to contribute something to others.  So he became a hospital visitor.  With his own recent experience of stroke he felt sympathy for people lying in bed all day waiting to get better.  So, by arrangement with the WXY hospital, he would spend days just walking around the wards and looking for people who felt like a chat.  He is himself a cheery, flexible, positive person who is a good listener so he brightened the days of many.

So you see why everybody at the WXY hospital knew him, appreciated him and leapt to help him when he needed it.  The "privilege" he had is the privilege of being a good man.  He EARNED his privilege.  He is just a good natured conservative man who likes to contribute to the society in which he lives.

And so it is with most privilege.  What you do to earn privilege can vary greatly. You can even inherit it. But privilege is not random and is not assigned just by something as incidental as the color of your skin.  There are many trailer park denizens -- poor people -- who just get by from week to week even though they are white.  Where is their privilege?  It doesn't exist because they have done nothing to earn it.  Just being white earns you nothing


Monday, February 27, 2017

My meatloaf was yea-yore


When Joe was 3, he decided that it was unfair that Jenny and I made up all the words so he too invented a word: yea-yore . It meant completely no-good.  Anything he did not like or want was yea-yore.

It seemed to me to be the only word adequate to describe a meatloaf I made last Friday evening.  I should not have been too surprised by the result as I am no cook but I had nonetheless had hopes.  In theory, what I cooked should have been good.  But it was a bit like global warming theory.  The predictions from the theory were not borne out in practice.

The problem had been that Anne is at the moment on a very restrictive "plain food" diet to fix her indigestion. So I decided that I would make a meatloaf that included only ingredients that were on her "OK" list.  So I went on to the net and found there about 1,000 recipes, all of which included at least four yummy ingredients that Anne cannot at the moment have.  So I decided to use just stuff she can have: The famous "Mixed herbs", grated carrot, eggs etc.

After an hour in the oven, the result was completely tasteless and not even a good texture.  It was definitely yea-yore.  It quite cast me down.  I am used to eating good food so to find that my own creation was yea-yore rather depressed my spirits.  The best I can say of it is that it fed us and did not make us sick, so I suppose that is something.  Lesson learned: Always work to a recipe from someone who really is a cook.

I also cooked for myself the next night and the night after so I cooked bacon & eggs on both occasions to restore my faith that I can cook something. Bacon & eggs is hard to ruin.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ya gotta laugh



I went into Dan Murphy's today to buy a few things.  One was Henkel Trocken.  I could not find it anywhere.  So I asked.  It was in the Australian sparkling wine section. It is in fact produced in Germany.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Lunch with Jill and Lewis


Jill and I normally help celebrate one another's birthdays.  Usually I shout a dinner in February for Jill's birthday and she cooks me a dinner in July for my birthday.  Somehow or other, however, we got it the other way around this year, with Jill cooking Anne and me a dinner in connection with her birthday.

We have something of a tradition that Jill cooks us pasta with seafood and a creamy sauce.  She does it well and I always look forward to it.  This year the seafood consisted of lots of small prawns, which went down well.  I get a bit freaked if I have to peel large prawns.  I generally get someone else to do it for me. The pasta was either tagliatelle or fettucine.  I can't tell the difference between those two.

Jill and Lewis go on a lot of cruises and Anne does too so most of the conversation revolved around foreign parts, particularly South America.  Mr Trump however did of course get a mention.  Can any dinner conversations avoid a mention of Mr Trump these days?  Jill noted that on one of her recent cruises most of the American passengers were very enthusiastic about Mr Trump.

Lewis noted that Australia's Pauline Hanson has similar ideas about Muslim immigration. He rather embarrassed himself at one stage with his criticism of such immigration.  But Lewis is Jewish so he has excellent reason to be critical.  Muslim scripture, particularly the hadiths, does after all tell Muslims to kill Jews!  And Mohammed himself wiped out Jewish communities.

From the Pharaohs to Mohammed to Hitler, Jews have certainly not has it easy, to put it mildly.  Among both religious Jews and Christians there is a view that the long survival of Jews against all odds is a sign of divine intervention.  I can see the logic of that.

In recent years Anne and I have got rather bushed in driving to and from  Jill's place.  Anne drives and the GPS system that came with her Toyota is a bit brain-damaged. So this year she turned it off and let me give directions. There have however been a lot of changes in the roads since I used to drive out that way so I feared that I would misdirect us.  As it happened, however, we got it all right both going and coming back. It was actually pretty simple.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

A breakfast with Joe and Kate



Joe and I usually have a late and relaxed breakfast together at a certain pie shop on Sunday morning. Today Kate came along, looking very mysterious behind "navigator" dark glasses. The glasses did  highlight her alabaster skin, though.  See how sexist I am, talking only about her appearance?  But most ladies, including Kate, take great care over their appearance so to notice it is, in my old-fashioned view, merely gallant.  But I suppose gallantry is bad these days too.

We talked a bit about diet as Joe announced that he has recently lost 5 kilos.  He came back from holidays with a distinct "spare tyre" so that was an achievement.

We also of course mentioned Mr Trump and I pointed out that his rather confused speech delivery may be no bad thing.  It is eerily reminiscent of "Sir Joh", a distinguished Queenslander but a very small footnote in the history of the world.  But it is a very informative footnote.  Sir Joh also had a messy speech delivery that the elite all dismissed as being beyond  comprehension.  Journalists and others claimed it was just impossible to understand what he was saying.  But Joh was a farmer and he spoke like a farmer, not like an educated man. And ordinary farmers and working people generally understood him just fine.  He kept getting their vote and ended up running Queensland for nearly 20 years -- from 1968 to 1987. So who was the fool?


The Honourable Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, KCMG

Trump comes from the opposite end of the socio-economic scale but he has always had a hands-on attitude to his building projects and has often been on site talking to the workers doing the building.  So it would seem that his conversations with them have led to him gaining not only respect for them and their views but also some of their speech patterns.

So he really does sound a lot like Sir Joh so should easily get a second term in office.  I don't think Kate had ever heard of Sir Joh and Joe would not have known much either so I was glad to give them a bit of fun history.  In the day I was myself a member of Joh's political party and always voted for him.  So I am a sort of living political antique.  These days I vote for Pauline.  In the circumstances I am sure that many Leftists would conclude that I must have got my Ph.D. out of a cornflakes packet.

Another thing we talked about over breakfast was the similarities between Joe and myself. Joe is a very different person from me but the fact that we share 50% of our genes does make itself known at times. It is perhaps most notable in the similarity of our political views. We both rather like Mr Trump, for instance. NO-ONE upsets applecarts like Mr Trump! He is a true radical. Mr Trump is so entertaining that if he didn't exist we would have had to invent him.

Another similarity is that Joe and I both tend to sit down in something of a yoga position. We do it unconsciously. It just seems most comfortable.

The similarity I mentioned today is how both of us are "no fuss" people.  We don't sweat the small things.  When things go wrong we just carry on regardless without swearing and cursing and leaping about.  I gave a couple of recent instances of Joe being Mr. Cool in that way.

Another similarity is that we both like the complex music of J.S. Bach.  As it happens, the Bach Klavier concerto was playing on the car radio as we drove to breakfast and we both enjoyed it greatly.  I suggested that a liking for Bach might be related to a liking for order, as Bach's music is very orderly with its fugues and counterpoint generally.

And I extended that to being good at computer programming.  Computer code is VERY orderly.  Just get one comma out of place and the program bombs.  And I was very good at FORTRAN coding in my day. I used to say that I could write FORTRAN in my sleep. It was not a literal claim but  my dreams would sometimes feature FORTRAN code.  Joe trumped that, however, by claiming that he really CAN write "C" in his sleep.  He writes a lot of it so maybe he can.

Because Kate has recently taken her honours degree in psychology, I went on to talk to her a little about a liking for order.  Traditionally in personality psychology it is deplored as being "Fascist", with tolerance of ambiguity being praised in its stead.  I pointed out that seeking for order in the universe it what scientists do so deploring that is a bit nutty.  Some people (e.g. autistics) have an excessive need for order but to condemn a liking for order generally is incoherent.

A degree of orderliness that Joe and I share is great punctuality but I noted that I saw punctuality as being mainly a courtesy and Joe agreed with that.

And our bacon and eggs was good too.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Saint's day was appropriately observed


Valentine's day was on Tuesday this week but Anne had choir practice on both Tuesday and Wednesady so observances were postponed until Friday.  Flowers, funny card, chocolates and a dinner were all delivered.  We went to the Kafe Meze for Greek food.  It was a while since we had been there so we were a bit put out to find that the easy parking over the road had been abolished.  But we did find a spot round the corner near a supermarket car park.  The supermarket used to be Jack the Slasher many moons ago but I am not sure what it is now.  Coles, I think.

Below is the docket showing what we had.  We could have given the Pastourma a miss but the rest was as good as usual.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

A good letter gets results



I have always found it easy to write and as a result I write a lot of letters, mostly by snail mail.  So when I see something happening that I don't like, I don't just bitch about it.  I send a letter to whomever is likely to be able to fix it.  And it will be no surprise that I have written to the big bosses of banks quite a lot.  As I think everyone reading this will know, banks can be very frustrating

One thing that has been bothering me a bit lately is the way Australian banks keep closing branches or downgrading the services that they offer from a branch.

For a while there was a sort of mini-branch of the Commonwealth babnk right next to where I often go for brunch so that was very convenient.  I rather liked the looks of one of the female tellers they had there too. Even we oldies can admire from afar.

But it was of course too good to last.  The tellers were abolished and you were expected to do everything through a sort of super-ATM they had installed.  There were however still some staff there to help people who could not do what they wanted with the ATMs.

So recently I walked in with a big cheque that I wanted to deposit.  But the place was full of customers waiting for personal service.  So I decided to give up and visit a real branch the next day.  But where was there a real branch? It is not easy to look up.  They have a list of branches online but some of them have been abolished and there is no way of knowing what services the remaining ones offer.  In a couple of cases there were phone numbers I could ring but when I rang I got only an answering machine that had no answers that I wanted to hear.

What to do?  I also have an account at the Bank of Qld. and I have never had to wait long there.  So I went in to my nearest branch, found two tellers behind the desk and only one person ahead of me.  So I deposited my cheque, was given a printed receipt and walked out happy.  Because of their poor services, the Commonwealth missed out on getting my money despite considerable efforts on my part to give it to them.  Amazing.

So I wrote a letter.  Here it is:

28 December, 2016

TO:
Ian Narev
CEO
CBA

Dear Mr. Narev,

As a CBA shareholder and a customer I am appalled at how your standards of customer service have slipped.

I went into your recently downgraded Buranda branch today and found a big queue-up of people waiting for personal service.   I had a big cheque to deposit that I was not willing to entrust to your machines. I left rather than wait. Please reinstate its former status

I then went online to find an alternative branch near me.  I wanted to find one that had full service.  There were several possibilities.  But the phone nos. for them were not provided.  So I went through the rigamarole of calling your general number.  When I was eventually put through to the branches, however, all I got were answering machines that were as uninformative as your website.

After all the hassle I deposited my cheque with another bank.

Why can't you have more contact details available online?  Are you afraid your customers might talk to you? Can't you get it into your bald head that customer service matters?

In the absence of an accommodating reply from you, I will raise the matter at the next AGM.

I got a reply from someone called Emma Taylor who did little more than restate her bank's policies.  So I wrote another letter.  Here it is:

Dear Ms Taylor

Thank you for your letter of 19th.

I am disappointed that Mr Narev did not see fit to reply to my letter in person.  A year or so ago I wrote to Richard Goyder of Wesfarmers and got back from him a courteous handwritten note.  Perhaps Mr Narev has more dissatisfied customers than Mr Goyder has.

I have found your reply in which you do little more than restate the bank's policies quite unsatisfactory.  So I still have comments that I wish to address to Mr. Narev.  The following is for Mr Narev's eyes only:

Dear Mr Narev,

I am sure you find as revolting as I do the old stereotype of the fat Jewish banker smoking a cigar, wearing a top hat and looking contemptuously down his long nose at the simple people whom he exploits.

So why in G-d's name are you doing your best to validate that image?  You are Jewish, you are head of Australia's largest bank and you treat your customers with contempt by making it as hard as possible for them to contact you and your officers.

WHY do you not have on your website a phone number for each branch?  You are constantly changing your branches and what each branch does, so people need to enquire in advance to ascertain what services are available at a branch they intend to visit.

I myself some months ago was going to be in the Stone's Corner area so looked up your webpage and found the Stones Corner branch listed as fully functional.  It was not. I made the trip there to find it closed down.

So if it is such an enormous problem to provide phone nos., could you at least keep your website up to date with the level of service offered at each  branch?   It is surely an elementary courtesy.

And it might even be good business to upgrade your services.  The extra costs could result in happier customers who do more business with your bank.

In the absence of a reply from you, I am inclined to post a copy of this letter on the net.

Yours sorrowfully,

Dr John Ray

There was no reply.  BUT, today I had another large refund cheque to deposit.  So after my brunch I wandered in to the nearby Commonwealth branch that had given me problems previously.  Hey Presto!  Big change! A teller's counter had sprung up again, everybody in the branch was being helped and there was a lady standing at the teller's counter waiting to help me.  Very different!  Exactly what I had asked for!  Even though Mr Narev was too grand to reply to me, someone somewhere in the bank must have sprung into action. My letters got results.

A Leftist would of course have found my reference to Mr Narev's origins to be RACIST!  Even though I was writing with the intention of helping Jews.  I have in fact been a great supporter of Israel since I was a kid.  My immersion in the Bible made it permanently clear to me that Israel is the proper home of the Jews.

Some extended background on my thinking about that is here


Sunday, February 12, 2017

An Australian breakfast and a Szechuan dinner


Joe got back from overseas yesterday (Saturday) and took the airtrain straight to my place.  We didn't talk much as he was jetlagged and had a lot to do but he arranged for us to resume our customary Sunday brunches at the pie shop.  We both like the bacon & egg breakfast there.

So we had that this morning and, as usual, had quite a long chat.  This time substantially about Mr Trump.  Mr Trump must be the world's most discussed person at the moment.  Joe and I both like Mr Trump though we can of course understand the reasons why many people do not.  Regardless of his hair and other personal flaws, we think his policies are mostly about right.

Trump is certainly the most amazing politician in that he is doing exactly what he said he would do and what he was voted in to do.  Has there ever been another politician like that?

We also talked about Real Estate.  Joe wants to get his name on something as soon as possible and both he and Kate are saving up at a good rate so should be able to buy jointly a Brisbane house in the not too distant future.  As I know Brisbane Real Estate very well I was able to help Joe think through the various options involved.  He is pretty firm that he wants to buy a house and not an apartment. I agreed with him on that.  I nearly always bought houses before I went into the stockmarket instead.

Joe's idea is to continue living at my place and let his house out.  He gets free accommodation and utilities at my place and he now has a small one bedroom apartment for himself and Kate so he can save money in comfort that way.  I am of course pleased to have him under my roof as long as he wants.

And I know that just about every spare penny will go into savings.  Joe has a very Scottish attitude to money. He makes sure he gets best value from everything he buys.  But what he regards as good value can be surprising.

In Edinburgh he spent about $100 on two big and HEAVY books he saw in a book shop.  They were a detailed history of a computer game company.  Joe has been big on computer games since he was 2 so the purchase was not entirely surprising.  The surprising thing is that, rather than mailing such heavy things back to Australia, he carted them all around Europe with him and has already read every page of them: A true eccentric.  But since I too have many eccentricities I am delighted to have an eccentric son.  I have a large brass Hindu idol in the entryway to my house so that is a warning of eccentricity ahead.

As we were finishing up breakfast, Joe mentioned that Kate had not had a chance to talk to me since they got back to Brisbane and suggested that the three of us might have dinner together.  So this evening we did that.  We went to the Memorized Place, a strangely-named Chinese restaurant that has excellent Szechuan food -- and waiters with a very limited comprehension of English.  So ordering is always quite a trial but the food is worth it.

I had satay lamb and Kate had BBQ Pork with plum sauce.  I forget what Joe had.  The food was good as usual.  We talked again about Real Estate and the future generally.  We avoided talking about the entertaining Mr Trump as Kate is still in the grip of a university education.

I was told of a forthcoming event that I am not allowed to mention yet but it involves the Eiffel Tower.  Gustave Eiffel can have had no idea of how entertaining his tower would be. It's basically a bridge turned on its ear.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Two good dinners


I have for around 30 years now attended an Australia day (26th) BBQ with relatives on my mother's side of the family.  We are all pretty old by now however so enthusiasm for the event has waned.  This year even my brother chose to attend the public celebrations at Southbank.  So Anne arranged something for me.

She invited her sister June and Ralph (widower of Anne's late sister Merle) over to her place to join us that evening in a sausage BBQ.  I provided the sausages and a bottle of Seaview brut champagne, my favoured champagne for many years.

In the event Anne decided not to fire up her BBQ and cooked the snags in her frypan.  We had them with a chopped salad, a potato bake and white asparagus. Anne put fresh basil in her salad, which really made it. We had mini-lamingtons for dessert, which was good ethnic Australian.

It was good to see Ralph in good spirits and ready to chat.  The death of Merle was a big blow to him but he is getting over it.

I forget what we talked about but Mr Trump undoubtedly got a mention or two.

Then the next day (27th) an event that I arranged last November came to fruition.  I shouted a dinner that evening for two people I was in the army with -- Rod H. and Peter H.  Peter bought his wife Lana along and Anne also came along.

We had the dinner in the Sunny Doll, a favourite Japanese haunt of mine. I began the evening with two toasts, one to the Queen, which is traditional, and one to our former army unit:  21 Psych.  If you can't toast your old army unit what can you toast?  The wine I contributed was Henkel trocken, a German champagne.

The food was brilliant as usual and we talked mainly about old times.  Since we are all in our '70s that had to happen.  We did have a rather jolly chat about Mr Trump at one stage, though.  As usual the ladies mostly talked to one another.  Anne found she shared a lot of interests with Lana.

We shared among 5 people so everybody got to taste a range of dishes. The Omu rice and the Wagyu beef Don were particularly appreciated. The docket below shows what we had but I think they left something off.  They have done that before.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A birthday and a scan



It was Anne's birthday recently so I always let her say where we should dine that night.  This year she chose what I normally choose for my birthday and what we normally choose for any special occasion: Fried French (lamb) cutlets with a good salad and other accompaniments.  I supplied a total of 17 cutlets, of which only 3 were left over. We had it on my much-praised verandah, among the gentle breezes but with no sightings of possums this time.

We had one of my "Greek" (no lettuce) salads, including feta cheese, Manzanilla olives and avocado.  For starters Anne brought along Sydney rock oysters -- which are the tastiest oysters in my view. We had them natural.  It is in my view sacrilege to put sauces on Sydney rock oysters. And for dessert we had cheesecake.  To wash it all down we had a bottle of Henkel Trocken, a German "champagne".  I recommend it. I think it beats Moet and Veuve Cliquot.

It probably seems like a rather simple meal for a special day but we really like it.

And I have just got the results of my latest scan.  Being a cautious old guy, I get lots of scans for possible health problems, none of which, fortunately, have revealed anything much wrong so far.

My latest scan was motivated by the fact that Chris Brand, who is the same age as I am and who also likes his "wee dram", is at the moment hospitalized with cirrhosis of the liver.  I thought therefore that someone should have a good look at my liver in case I need to cut back my gin consumption.  And below is the result: ZERO cirrhosis.  I average 4 gins a night so I guess I am just lucky.  I am rather proud of my heroic liver, in fact. It's even got a "smooth hepatic contour"! Beat that!  Who else do you know who has got a good-looking liver?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Carpet and I


When I was growing up in the tropical North, nobody had carpet on the floor.  We had lino (linoleum; Congoleum) on the floor.  Lino was cool, somehow.  On really hot days, people would lie down on the lino to keep cool.

So my first encounter with carpet was down in Sydney, when I acquired an offcut of Westminster carpet. If you don't know Westminster carpet you have missed something.  It was indestructible. Nothing seemed to harm it.  And that was appreciated for a while.  It was widely laid in the '60s and '70s.  But it came in plain colours only.  No patterns. So after living with the stuff for 10 years and having it look as new as when it was laid, people got very bored with it.  They ripped it up and threw away perfectly good carpet. After a few years, I also ended up abandoning my offcut somewhere. It is still available but probably not from your local carpet shop. I believe you can get some patterns in it these days.

In Sydney I became quite an expert on carpet. Joy and I owned 22 flats (apartments) between us so we had a lot of tenants.  And tenants are hard on carpet.  So I was replacing a carpet somewhere pretty often.  So to cut costs I would go to carpet auctions and buy it by the roll.  A roll of carpet is HEAVY.  Special forklifts are needed to move it.  But somehow I managed.  And I would hire layers to cut and lay it.  Layers are a bit of a breed of their own but we got on one way or another.

My next bit of amusement was when I needed carpet for the anteroom of my present house.  Carpet is expensive stuff but I needed only a small piece so I went to a shop that sold secondhand carpet.  When carpet is ripped up, it mostly goes into a landfill but some shops save a few good bits.  The bit I got looks like an Axminster, a very expensive carpet. It is all browns and golds in floral patterns.  I like it.  But it is in fact not an Axminster at all.  It is a bit of rubberback (a cheap carpet) that has lost its rubber.  But it acts like an Axminster.  It has been down about 20 years now and still looks as good as ever.

My most recent adventure was when Anne decided to change the carpet in her living room.  She had a nice plain oatmeal colour down.  I believe that The Lodge in Canberra was once laid with carpet in an oatmeal colour.  But it stains rather readily and is hard to keep clean so Anne was tired of it. So she went around the shops and found something she liked.  I however insisted on seeing what she had chosen.  It was a mid-brown and looked like poop.  So I went around the shops with her to look at other options.  To my amazement ALL the options were shades of poop.  It must be a fashion.  The only thing floral I could find was Axminster.  So I bought that for her.  It cost $1,000 more than poopy carpet but was well worth in it in my opinion. There's a sample of it below



People all seem to like it but one of Anne's sons referred to it as "granny carpet", which I suppose it is.

And another carpet experience was only nominally with carpet.  It is really a rug.  But people do call handmade rugs carpets so I guess I can too.  The floors in my house are all polished boards so, perversely I suppose, I have lot of rugs down. There are three "Persian" (handmade) carpets and three Belgian cottons (machine-made).

And there is an interesting story about one of them.  A friend was throwing it out as it had been badly treated and was all stained and dirty.  I am however something of a salvor.  I don't like seeing useful stuff being thrown out. "Waste not, want not", as my old Presbyterian mother used to say. And this was a large and heavy carpet so must have been worth a lot once.  So I collected it and managed to talk to a dry-cleaning man and persuade him to do a run of his drycleaning machine with just my carpet in it.  So I ended up with a carpet that was both clean and stripped of any oil and grease.  Sadly, however, there were still stains on it so it didn't look clean.  So I just put it away.

Recently, however, I decided to put it on my verandah.  But it got very dirty again and the sun faded it a bit.  So I got a man with a truck-mounted cleaning machine over to clean it up.  I thought that with lots of detergent, lots of warm water and the big brushes of his scrubbing machine he might get my carpet cleaner than the dry-cleaning man did. He got the carpet smelling as fresh as a daisy but there were still stains there. So I now have it laid at the foot of my bed.

And if this were England, having an old and worn Oriental carpet down might not be bad at all.  An eccentricity of upper class people in England and to some extent in America is that they like having old things around.  And they regard fitted carpet as common.  You mainly have old oriental (Persian, Baluchi etc) rugs down on your floors.

I inadvertently verified that once when I was first in England and rather unaware of the myriad social rules there.  That unawareness actually got me a girlfriend from the aristocracy -- a lady who can trace her ancestry back 1,000 years.  No Englishmen of common origins would have dared approach her but I did.  And she was a very nice girl and we got on well.

But one day when I was in her apartment at Holland Park, I remarked that someone had given her a pretty tatty carpet. It was of course an old Oriental rug.  She just smiled and said nothing.  We had a nice time anyway.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Barley


A new taste sensation!  Last night I had a dinner that I had never tasted before.  I have been eating out off and on since I was 16 and I am now 73 so it is rare to find a dinner that is new to me.  I have eaten much from all the world's cuisines.  I have had Chinese food in Hong Kong, Philippine food in the Philippines, Mexican food in Mexico, South African food in South Africa, French food in France, Indian food in India and Indian food in England (don't mention English food).  And during my 15 years in Sydney just about all the world's foods were available right there anyway. So I was surprised to encounter a taste I had not had before

It all began when I somehow noted that people in Northern Europe grow and eat a lot of barley.  I had never had anything made from barley.  So I bought some. And I wandered around the net looking for barley recipes.  I found one that looked promising.  But it looked a bit complicated for me to make so I put off making it.  Eventually I told Anne that I was going to cook some barley for our next dinner.  She was amused.  She was even more amused when she saw the recipe.  "You'll never make that!", she said. She knows that most of my cookery is just heating up something already prepared by the chefs at Woolworths.

So in the kindness of her heart Anne offered to make it for me.  There was clearly a lot of time and work in the recipe so I gladly accepted her offer.

And I have just had the result.  It was very good.  On the plate it looked rather like savoury mince but the taste was quite different:  Not a strong taste; a subtle taste but very more-ish.  I am going to be asking Anne for more of it.  I got the recipe off the barley organization so I imagine I might be getting some free barley soon if Google leads them to this post.

The recipe is below.  Anne used pork mince and cut up the mushrooms finely. The recipe says "cooked barley" without explanation so Anne soaked it in for half a day and then boiled it until it was soft.   Anne was surprised about the amount of salt but it was OK.  Despite what the food freaks say, salt is good for you.

Barley Mushroom Stroganoff

Family favorite with a twist.

1 pound lean ground turkey, chicken
or beef
2 teaspoons olive oil
3/4 cup chopped onion
8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon chicken seasoning base
2 cups low-fat sour cream
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
2 cups cooked pearl barley*
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Spray large skillet with non-stick cooking
spray; heat over medium heat. Add ground
turkey; crumble and cook until turkey is no
longer pink. Remove from pan and drain.
Pour off liquid from pan. Add olive oil,
onion and mushrooms; saut‚ 4 to 5 minutes,
stirring occasionally. Season with oregano,
salt and pepper. Cook 4 more minutes. Stir
in water and chicken seasoning. Blend
together sour cream and flour. Stir in sour
cream mixture, cooked barley and meat.
Continue to cook over low heat until heated
through. Garnish with parsley, if desired,
and serve.

Makes 8 servings.


Monday, January 9, 2017

Something nice


The female voice in song can be a most exciting thing. And none better than the voice of beautiful Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins below.  It reduces me to tears. She sings it in the original Italian.  Italy has given us much. The best known performance of the song is a duet between Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli at the Piazza dei cavalieri in Pisa but Jenkins has a much more powerful voice.  She is, incidentally, a Christian.



The words and translation are here.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

My new kettle




What is the difference between a kettle and a jug?  It seems to me that a jug has the handle at the side and a kettle has a handle at the top.

I have a perfectly good plastic jug that boils water in an exemplary manner and has never given trouble in many years of use.  So why did I buy the kettle above?  Because I liked its retro looks.

But how well does it work?  It's not quite as convenient as the jug because its water level indicator is hard to read.  You have to jiggle the kettle to see it.  It's easier to keep an eye on the water level as you fill the kettle. That's certainly retro!

The brand is Ambiano but that is an Aldi house brand.  Most designer kettles are up around the $200 mark in price so getting this one for $30 seemed very Aldi.

Something that struck me as soon as I got the kettle home was the booklet that came with it.  It may be the most defensive booklet I have ever seen.  It was full of all sorts of conceivable warnings and claims of no responsibility for this and that.

And I think I now know why.  I have googled Ambiano products and there are quite a lot of complaints about them.  They are obviously trouble-prone.  But the one I have does not seem to have been complained about so here's hoping!

My prediction about a possible problem?  The handle will come off!  I don't like the look of how it is fastened.  That will of course make the kettle unusable.

Friday, January 6, 2017

And a good time was had by all



We somehow didn't see George over the Christmas period and Anne and I both always find George interesting to talk to.  He often has something different and interesting to say.  And he was around a lot somehow when I was helping to bring up kids -- so I was missing his cheerful face.  Any family dinner or party I host always includes an invitation to George.  He feels like part of the family.

So sometime around New Year I arranged to host a dinner for both George and Ken.  George and Ken came out to Australia on the boat together so seem in my mind to be some sort of a pair.  They certainly get on well.  So tonight we got together --- including Anne and Maureen -- at my favourite dinner haunt:  The Sunny Doll Japanese restaurant at Buranda.  Meeting at 6:30.

Ken very kindly picked up Anne and myself on the way to the restaurant as he had noticed that I don't like driving these days.  His newish VW car has all sorts of knobs and buttons in it that do things so that was interesting.  The roof was a bit low for my 5'10" frame though. That's the penalty for sportiness, probably.

George got lost trying to find the restaurant.  I told him it was next to Woolworths but "next" was a bit too imprecise apparently, and George at first picked the wrong Japanese restaurant.  There are three of them at Buranda for some strange reason.  So we initially thought he had forgotten but none of us had his mobile no.  Anyway, he arrived just as I was ordering so that was no problem.

When we were arriving, I said to Maureen that she must have been well to come along.  But she denied it.  Maureen is always ill.  She was pretty lively and alert at the dinner though.  She is on some sort of restrictive diet so chose prawn tempura for her dinner because it fitted in with her diet somehow.  She tried bits of the other dishes on the table though so the diet must be flexible.

I brought along a bottle of Wolf Blass "champagne" for drinks and we had a variety of dishes, chicken karaage, chicken teriyaki, omurice, vegetable tempura, Wagyu beef etc.  The grilled Wagyu beef was unbelievable: a symphony in tenderness and taste.  I think it is the best steak I have ever had.  But I rarely eat steak so may not be a good judge.

Ken did his usual job of cleaning up the leftovers.  I like to see that.  "Waste not, want not" was a motto when I was growing up.  A lot of Westerners at Japanese dinners just eat the meat and leave a lot of the beautifully-cooked rice.  But between myself and Ken just about all the rice went down this time.

After the dinner we repaired to my verandah for tea, coffee and Arnott's Premier chocolate chip cookies.  I always buy them for either Ken or Paul as both of them vacuum them up.  If both Ken and Paul are there, the whole packet gets rapidly dispatched.  Anne very kindly got us all our teas and coffees.  She only does that for people she likes.

And during the evening the major topic of conversation was probably the world's most popular topic at the moment:  Mr Trump.  I did my little bit to campaign for Mr Trump, of course, so all conversations about Mr Trump are pleasant to me.  When people are unenthusiastic about him, I assure them that most people find fault with him -- even those who support him -- but his policies have so much appeal to many of us that we overlook his faults.  "Let him who is without fault cast the first stone", anyway (To paraphrase John 8:7).  That Trump offers peace with Russia is alone enough to recommend him in my view.  Any war with Russia would be just too dreadful.

Anyway, Ken thought Trump's policies were just common sense, which I agreed with.  George was more doubtful.  He was against Mr Trump during the campaign but has warmed to him after he won the election.  The ladies just left politics to the men, in the traditional way.

So we wrapped up about 9:30 after much good food and much good conversation.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Pie technology


Australians are great lovers of meat (steak) pies. and of course we prefer freshly baked ones -- at around $4 each.

But in most supermarkets you can get a pack of 4 pies for $4.  So what are THEY  like?

An odd feature of them is that they are microwave friendly.  Heat up a freshly baked pie in the microwave and the pastry comes out soggy.  But put one or two of your $1 pies into a microwave for 4 minutes and they come out about right.  By contrast, put a $1 pie in a conventional oven and they come out with "cast-iron" shells.

So the great discovery about frozen supermarket pies is the exact opposite to the wisdom about fresh pies.  Microwave them! In the microwave, the crust softens and makes a perfectly nice pie.  Not a great pie but pleasant enough.

I have had a couple recently accompanied by a few pickles: Cucumbers, Manzanilla stuffed olives and cocktail onions.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year!



I saw in the new year in what seems to me to be a very good style.  I had a naked woman beside me in my bed and a glass of gin on my bedside table.  Can you beat that?

And where I live is close to Brisbane's Southbank so I could hear the Feuerwerk  -- fireworks -- from my bed - even if I couldn't see any of it.

But I think that once you have seen one fireworks you have seen them all. Yes. I know. I have no soul.

As she returned to her bedroom, Anne wished me a happy new year.  I replied in Latin: "et tu" (you too).  But Latin is a European language so it probably made some sense to her.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ancestry



Because they seem to live in an eternal present, I would be surprised if many Leftists were proud of their ancestors.  I am proud of mine -- mainly because I know a fair bit about them.

Most people start taking an interest in their genealogy in their '60s.  I started in my early '40s.  And because a lot of Australians survive into their '90s, a lot of my older relatives were still there, plugging on.  And the people they remembered lived long lives too.  So living memory was able to take me back a long way -- to my great-great grandmother, who arrived in Australia in the hold of a wooden convict ship in the 1840s and who lived into her '90s.

And from what I heard, my father and his father  were typical of the breed: Quiet, hard-working, uncomplaining men who never made a splash but did hard things for the benefit of their families.

My father was a timber contractor ("lumberjack") and his father and grandfather were bullockies. ("teamsters"). As a kid, I watched my father cut down big forest trees with just an axe and a crosscut saw.  There were no chainsaws then.

And if you want to know what bullockies were like, Henry Lawson's poem "The Teams" is both graphic and accurate.  It is my favourite poem.  My grandfather, "Jack", never went to school as he was working a bullock team by the time he was 10. He was however taught at home how to read and write.


My grandfather's team

Jack Ray's father was Frank Ray.  His obit in The Cairns Post of 28 February 1910 describes him as the first carrier (bullocky) on the Palmer [river goldfield] up Cooktown way. The was no road to the Palmer in those days so it is an abiding mystery how he got his bullocks up there.

A couple of small, illustrative details: I remember my grandfather, "Jack", well.  He got a small splinter of steel in his eye in an accident.  He didn't trust doctors so he just squinted for the rest of his life.  In his time, distrusting doctors was probably wise.

And my father's cousin, old Alex Fletcher, tended to get skin cancers, as I do.  But he was a farmer living a long way from town so he just put his hot soldering iron onto the cancers to cure them.  I blanch when I think about it.  But he had it all thought out and explained to me how he did it.  If you admire hardiness, how could you not be proud of such men?  Once upon a time men were men and were in no doubt about how to do it.

The Australian pioneers worked hard to wrench a modern and highly civilized society out of a harsh natural environment -- and I am proud that my ancestors were among them.  My only sadness is that  I am not worthy of them.  I am a degenerate compared to them.

An amusing coda:  My father was far from dumb but the only way he knew to put bread on the table was by hard manual work.  He was  born in 1915 and that was how it was for most people in that era.  So because I spent so much time reading books and not doing outdoor things, my father thought I would never amount to much. He had a vivid way of putting that which I won't relate.  But when he heard how much money I was making from teaching at a major Australian university, he sat bolt upright with surprise and immediately reversed his opinion of his eldest son!


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christmas


On Saturday,  Christmas eve,  Anne was staying home to make last minute preparations for going down the coast to join her family on Christmas day.  So I emailed Jenny on Friday to see what she was doing on Christmas eve.  She had nothing planned so offered to cook me a Christmas eve dinner, which I accepted with alacrity.  Jenny makes very good dinners.  I took over my usual Tyrrells Verdelho.

Jenny in fact cooked me one of my favourites:  real Wiener Schnitzel -- veal Schnitzel.  You mostly see chicken Schnitzel these days.  So that went down well with salad etc.  As I do, Jenny puts feta cheese in her salads and I noted how well Feta went with the Schnitzel.  Something to remember.

And on Christmas day Jenny drove herself, Nanna and me down to Suz's place for the family get-together.  We arrived about 11am, with heaps of presents. Jenny had been a very busy shopper.

An interesting pre-dinner feature was a big box of prawns that Timmy had brought over.  The only seafood I eat is fish'n chips but a lot of the others bogged in.

The main feature of the dinner was a big ham cooked masterfully by Russ on his big BBQ.  With salad and various odds and ends, of course.  Suz had made us some bread rolls in her bread-making machine that came out like damper.  So we had a bit of a laugh with Suz over her insistence that they were bread rolls.  They went down anyway.

Tracy, Simon, their children and their dogs were in attendance.  It was nice to meet Ted, a big Labradoodle with cream-coloured curls for hair.  He looked like a sheep and was very good-natured.  He had come all the way from Woomera with Tracy and Simon in their car.  Dogs love cars but I thought the doggy smell might get a big much on such a long trip.  Ted looked beautiful but he smelt like a dog.

I talked mainly with Simon and Ken.  And what did we talk about?   A worldwide topic of conversation at the moment:  Mr Trump!  Mr Trump is a risky topic these days  as there are many criticisms of him.  But we managed to have a congenial conversation about him nonetheless, probably because we are all on the conservative side of the fence.

Simon was fairly critical of Mr Trump at first but I pointed out some of the things Trump has going for him and Simon did end up conceding that Trump would probably do some good.  I asked Ken what did he think of the claim that Trump is a misogynist? Ken said:  "No more than any other man" -- which was pretty realistic answer, I think.

We had our usual mystery presents game, which got everybody involved.  I ended up with a dashboard camera, which is probably a good thing, but I do so little driving these days that I will probably give it to Joe.  Not that he does a lot of driving.  He WALKS amazing distances.

A few people were drinking beer but no-one got noticeably affected by it.  We are a pretty sober lot.  I avoid drinking during the day because I drink a fair bit at night.

Then on Christmas night, Anne came over and we had ham and mustard sandwiches at about 8pm -- using leftover ham from the lunchtime ham.  It's always the best ham of the year.

Monday was of course Boxing day so Anne stayed over at my place all day.  For breakfast we jointly cooked up some bacon and eggs for breakfast, with some savoury mince thrown in.  I had the mince already cooked and in the fridge.  So it helped make a good breakfast.

Then for dinner Anne cooked up some good sausages I had in the freezer -- beef and pork sausages.  They cooked up very well, a humble but most enjoyable dinner.  And we had some very small Christmas puddings with cream as a dessert.

And on Tuesday morning, we had the last of the Christmas ham for breakfast -- as ham and mustard sandwiches.  Anne then left to prepare for a trip to Stanthorpe with some friends.