Old folk at lunch

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"The pirates of Penzance" as satire

And some surprising political implications

If the above title sounds very much like the title for a Ph.D. dissertation I suppose my academic background is to blame for that.  Unlike a Ph.D. dissertation, however, all I want to set down here are a few comments.

I first saw "Pirates" when I took my (then) teenage son to see a well-reviewed production of it here in Brisbane.  I am not at all a Gilbert & Sullivan devotee -- the profundity of Bach is my musical home -- but I know the G&S works as classics of entertainment. So I felt that I should help along my son's musical education.  I remember another occasion in that connection.  In his early teens I recommended Stravinsky to him but he said that he didn't like Stravinsky.  I said to him:  "Don't worry. You will". He came to me some years later and said:  "John, you were right.  I do like Stravinsky".

Anyway, you see far more of any Singspiel on DVD than you do in a theatre audience so I recently acquired a DVD of "Pirates". And, watching it, I did see that it had elements of satire. "Pirates" is not of course satire an sich.  It is simply the madcap humour of W.S. Gilbert ably abetted by the great musical abilities of Arthur Sullivan. I see it as a forerunner of other madcap British comedies such as those of  Mr. Bean,  the Goons and the Pythons.

What differentiates comedy and satire is of course that satire is humour targeted at someone as a form of criticism.  It is deliberately didactic.  But straight comedy can teach lessons too, if only in an incidental way.  And I see some of that in "Pirates".  Perhaps a surprising one that I see is in the song of the "modern major general", now a widely treasured bit of fun.  What Gilbert was doing in that song was referring to something that no Leftist would believe: That  British military officers  were and are often quite scholarly in various ways.  That's not at all universal but not infrequent either.  Even an RSM will often be a man of unexpected depths.  The Sergeant Major of my old army unit  was/is in fact a fan of Bach and Palestrina (nothing to do with Palestine).   And the only Wing Commander (airforce) I know is a voracious reader with a wide knowledge of history.

Captain Cook, the 18th century British discoverer of much in the Pacific is a very good example of a scholarly military man.  His discovery of the cure for scurvy alone ranks him as a distinguished scientist and his practice of quarantine was exemplary for the times.

But a much less well known but quite commendable 18th century military man with scientific interests was Watkin Tench,  an officer in His Majesty's Marine Forces.  He was posted to the new British colony in Australia in its very earliest days, then a hardship posting.  You could lose your life just getting there and back.  So he was no elite soldier and was actually from a rather humble background.  His interest was meteorology and he brought with him the latest Fahrenheit thermometer. He kept a meteorological diary that included  observations from his thermometer taken four times daily in a sheltered spot -- exemplary practice even today.

And his record of the Sydney summer of 1790 is particularly interesting.  It was very hot.  There were even bats and birds falling out of the trees from the heat.  And his thermometer readings tell us exactly how hot.  So we have both readings from a scientific instrument and behavioural observations that validate the readings:  Very hard to question.  And the solidity of his data is very useful in exposing the liars of Australia's current Bureau of Meteorology.  They have got the virus of Warmism in their heads and are always claiming that Australia in whole or in part is currently experiencing a "hottest" year.  And they exploit the fact that Sydney does occasionally have some very hot summers.  But Tench's data show that such summers go back a long way in Sydney  and hence cannot be attrributed to nonsense about the current CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. The only additions to atmospheric CO2 from the Australia of Tench's days would have been the product of breathing by various living creatures.  There was not even any reticulated electricity anywhere in Australia or anywhere else at that time.

So in the famous song of the modern Major General, Gilbert was simply doing an amusing exaggeration of a real phenomenon, a military man with scientific interests, probably one better known to the British public when Gilbert wrote around 100 years ago.

I actually find prophetic Gilbert's treatment of the police ("When the foeman bares his steel").  The police have always been greatly  respected in Britain -- though that must have eroded in the last two decades -- but Gilbert defies that.  He makes fun of the police and portrays them as cowards.  As a portrayal of modern British police forces that would not be too far astray.  Did Gilbert have some experience of police to lead him to the derogatory view he took of them? I suspect it. In Strange Justice and Political Correctness Watch you will certainly find a wealth of instances of reprehensible behavior by the British police of today.

And the other police song ("A Policeman's Lot Is not a Happy One") is also very modern, expressing sympathy for offenders and a reluctance to arrest them.  Gilbert is actually a rather good prophet.  Warmists eat your heart out!

And the pirate King's assertion that "compared with respectability, piracy is comparatively honest" is also refeshingly cynical.  Commenters on modern-day "crony capitalism" in America will nod approval. And the decision of the daughters to "talk about the weather" rather than pry is quintessentially British. And the homage to Queen Victoria was also an appropriate contemporary reference but greatly exaggerated, of course.  It too could be seen as mocking by a modern audience

And I must pay tribute to the performance (in the production I have) to the singing of Linda Ronstadt.  Better known as a popular singer she is also a superb soprano and greatly ornaments the role of the Major General's daughter Mabel.

Linda Ronstadt as Mabel

FOOTNOTE:  I use the German word Singspiel above because there is no equivalent in English.  It means a "sung play" and refers to any musical performance (from Mozart's Zauberfloete ("Magic Flute") to Benatzky's beloved Im Weissen Roessl ("White Horse Inn")) that includes both spoken and sung dialogue.  A Hollywood musical such as "Showboat" is also a Singspiel.  English has a horde of words borrowed from other languages so it seems regrettable that a useful word like Singspiel has not been borrowed too.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


"Salzkammergut" has a rather harsh sound, does it not?  In the correct German pronunciation it sounds ever harsher!

But I have recently been watching a DVD of "Im weissen Roessl" (in German with English subtitles), usually translated as "The  White Horse Inn".  It is set in the Salzkammergut and I think most people at the end of the performance would have developed a resolution that one day they too must see the Salzkammergut.

The literal meaning is "Salt office estate" -- a name that goes back to medieval times when salt was very valuable.  And the Salzkammergut included a salt mine.  There was even a fort built to protect the mine -- a fort called "Salt Fort", or, in German Salzburg.  That fort has given its name to the town near it, now better known as the birthplace of Mozart.

So the Salzkammergut was originally the area of Austria that came under the jurisdiction of the Salt Office, the Austrian  government department dealing with all matters salty.  It is not usually translated literally however.  It is usually rendered into English as "The Austrian Lake District" and it does have a great reputation for beauty.  The salt mine is only a small part of the story now.  It is now a tourist attraction.

A view of Hallstatt in the Salzkammergut

UPDATE: I am now trying to learn the chorus from the theme song of "Im weissen Roessl" but getting new rhymes into old heads is hard:

Im "Weissen Rössl" am Wolfgangsee,
Da steht das Glück vor der Tür,
und ruft dir zu: "Guten Morgen,
tritt ein und vergiß deine Sorgen!"

And here is the whole Salzkammergut song:

1. Im Salzkammergut da kann man gut lustig sein
Im Salzkammergut, da kammer gut lustig sein
Wenn die Musi spielt, holdrio.
Im Salzkammergut, da kammer gut lustig sein,
So wie nirgendwo, holdrio.

Es blüht der Holunder
Den ganzen Sommer mitunter,
Jedoch die Liebe,
Die blüht s' ganze Jahr.
Im Salzkammergut, da kammer gut lustig sein,
Ja, das war schon immer so, holdrio.

2. Die ganze Welt ist Himmelblau
Die ganze Welt ist himmelblau
Wenn ich in Deine Augen schau'
Und ich frag dabei: Bist auch Du so treu
Wie das Blau, wie das Blau Deiner Augen

Ein Blick nur in Dein Angesicht
Und ringsum blüht Vergissmeinnicht
Ja, die ganze Welt machst Du süsse Frau
So blau, so blau, so blau

3. Es muss was Wunderbares sein
Es muss was wunderbares sein
von Dir geliebt zu werden
denn meine Liebe, die ist Dein
so lang ich leb auf Erden

Ich kann nichts schöneres mir denken
als Dir mein Herz zu schenken
wenn Du mir Dein's dafür gibst
und mir sagst, dass auch Du mich liebst.

4. Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein
Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein,
voll Blütenduft und voll Sonnenschein.
Wenn beim ersten du ich mich an dich schmieg,
braucht mein Herz dazu süsse Walzermusik.

Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein,
der süss berauscht, wie Champagnerwein.
Und das Lied, das dir sagt, ich bin dein
kann doch nur ein Walzer sein,
kann doch nur ein Walzer sein.
Und das Lied, das dir sagt, ich bin dein,
kann doch nur ein Liebeswalzer sein.

5. Im weissen Rössl am Wolfgangsee
Im weissen Rössl am Wolfgangsee
da steht das Glück vor der Tür,
und ruft dir zu: "Guten Morgen,
tritt ein und vergiss deine Sorgen!"

Und musst du dann einmal fort von hier,
und tut der Abschied dir weh;
denn dein Herz, das hast du verloren
im "Weissen Rössl" am See!

Just a sampling of the operetta (not the version I have but well done:  Wait for the final chorale

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Jill's birthday

As we usually do, Anne and I recently took Jill to the Kafe Meze in celebration of her 39th birthday.  I am not much of a gentleman but even I do not divulge the actual age of a lady.

As usual, I ordered a dinner of four small courses: Tarama, Haloumi, Keftedes and real Greek salad.  Real Greek salad does not include lettuce.  And it was good as usual. An amusing thing I noted was a warning that the Keftedes are not gluten free. Keftedes are supposed to be Greek meatballs but the ones at the Kafe Meze undoubtedly have a lot of bread in them.  They are very tasty, though.

A topic of interest to us all was weight loss.  As soon as I arrived, Lewis said to me "Your diet's not working".  He was more correct than he knew.  I have in fact lost 11 kilos since I started but my weight has plateaued for a long time at around 112 kilos (17 stone, 8 lb).  As I am 5'10" that is not good.  Hopefully, progress will resume however.  I was 14 stone for many years. Lewis and Jill have both been dieting and Lewis in particular looked very slim.  I think he has almost lost too much weight, in fact.

The proprietor of the restaurant is a real Greek.  I have known a lot of Greeks over the years and, although it is "incorrect" to "stereotype" people these days, I think there are some characteristics which one often finds among Greeks.  In particular, they only work if they have to.  Getting money in some way other than working for it is their ideal.

And the proprietor of the Kafe Meze is pretty typical.  He is a pleasant person and when the place is really busy he will get up and do cooking, waitering, cashiering and anything needed.  But most of the time he sits around having coffee with his mates. In Greece, the "kaffenion' (coffee shop) fills the niche occupied by bars and pubs in the Anglo-Celtic world.  Greek males sit around there having endless debates about politics while somebody else does the work.

And I suspect the proprietor is realistic about Greeks too:  He seems to have no Greek staff.  He always has at least some East Asians waitering.  And the Chinese waitress who looked after our table was very Chinese too.  As I think most Australians know, the best service you get in a restaurant is in a Chinese restaurant.  As well as great cooks, Chinese are great waiters, providing very attentive service. So the Chinese waitress at the Kafe Meze whisked away any dishes we had finished with almost immediately  -- just as she would have done in a Chinese restaurant!

So I think the Kafe Meze is a rare ideal:  Greek food and Chinese service.  Australia has done well to have those two ethnic groups well represented here.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The end of an era?

The era concerned is quite trivial in the great scheme of things but since I participated in it daily for a while, I thought I might note it

Woolworths and Coles have been having a price war on milk and bread but that seems to have ended.  So for a while I had my breakfast with the help of a one litre carton of long-life milk which cost me only 95c per carton.

Now, however the 95c "own brand" milk no longer appears on the shelves at Woolworths.  And, curiously, there is only one brand of real milk available -- Devondale at $1.39 per carton.  All the other milk is high or low on something -- or with or without something. What Devondale did to earn exclusivity evokes suspicion -- sacrifice their firstborn or some such, I imagine.

There still is a cheap option, however.  Devondale offer a 2 litre carton of real milk for $2.  Joe and I have decided we will buy that one.

Below is the now lost 95c carton.

UPDATE: It's back!  But for how long?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A saint's day

Catholics have a lot of saint's days but the only one which is near universal is based on the life of a saint whose very existence is dubious: St Valentine.

Now I have been on this earth long enough to know the correct ritual for Valentine's day.  Required are card, flowers and chocolate for your lady -- or you are in the poo.  If you know what perfume she likes that can trump the chocolates and even if you don't, Chanel no 5 is a pretty good bet.  It us such a classic that she will like it even if it is not her favourite.

Anne has however always been vague about what perfume she likes so I have always stuck to fancy chocolates of some kind.  This year, however, I broke out.  Anne likes things to be "different"  rather a lot.  So I gave her a fancy tin of Anzac biscuits in lieu of chocolates.  And that did seem to go down  well, though not swimmingly. She likes fancy tins so I expect that it will have delayed action satisfaction.

That night we went to the New Sing Sing for dinner.  We had Peking duck, which was as good as usual. I have always said that only the Chinese can cook duck successfully and I am still of that view.  The Clansmen of late lamented memory could do it well but they are no more. It is a very fancy meal and surprisingly filling.  We took some of it home and Anne had it for breakfast next morning.

And on the second day Anne and I also had lunch together -- ham sandwiches in my "garden".  My garden consists of a stretch of failing lawn overshadowed by eight huge crepe myrtle trees.  They form a bower over the land which creates a rather nice arboreal environment.  We both had pickles on our ham sandwiches but Anne loves pickles so what she made for herself was more a pickle and ham sandwich.  There was a lot more pickle than ham on it.

And February is  rainy season in Brisbane so we knew that we were risking wet bottoms in taking our lunch into the garden.  But Anne wanted a picnic lunch so we did.  And, half way through our lunch the rain came down.  The crepe myrtles did however form something of a canopy over us so we didn't get too wet.  Neither of us were inclined to flee the rain.  We enjoyed it instead.  Sitting together on a stool while the rain came down on a leafy arbor seemed quite pleasant, in fact.

I was reminded of my childhood when an American "crooner" called Johnny Ray was fashionable.  The fact that I had a similar name was seen as amusing by many but it was all water off a duck's back to me.  I did however become aware that one of his "hit" songs was "Just a walking in the rain" and I have in fact never been much bothered by walking in the rain so I suppose nature imitated art (as Oscar Wilde often said).  More relevant however is the fact that I grew up in Innisfail, where they get around seven YARDS of rain per year.  Innisfail people can't afford to be bothered by rain.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Mystery object

When I was browsing in our local Japanese shop today, I noticed in their stock something that I did not understand at all.  It was a solid chromium steel bar, about a foot long and a quarter of an inch square.  I asked the sales clerk what it was but all I could elicit was that it had something to do with calligraphy.  So I bought it anyway.  The brand name on the packet said BUNGU and that does have something to do  with Japanese office supplies, I gather.  All the other writing was in Japanese however so what the object is I still do not know. I am hoping that someone will tell me what the characters in the pic below say.  The pic is of the packet that the bar came in.

Mystery solved. It is a Japanese calligraphy paperweight

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Obsolete technology

Technology and I go back a long way.  In my teens in the '50s I even had and used a wind-up gramophone.  The spring had a habit of breaking, unfortunately.  After that I rotated the records with my finger. It was my introduction to music of various sorts but the record I particularly remember was "Florrie Forde's Old Time Medley" -- songs from about a century ago.  I inherited a store of old 78rpm records from my grandfather.

Florrie Forde was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1876. She sang there until she was noticed by an Englishman who took her back to England with him. In England she became a hit in the music halls and made over 700 recordings on Edison records and wax cylinders.

By some miracle there is a video of her online singing exactly the songs I remember: The Lassie from Lancashire; Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?; Down at the Old Bull and Bush etc.  I think they would still have a broad appeal today.  See here

But the technology I want to talk about at the moment is VHS video recordings.  I used VCRs just about from the outset, starting with a very clever (too clever) Phillips system that kept breaking down.  So I soon moved to VHS machines.  They broke down eventually too so I must have owned about half a dozen of them over the years.  I still have two.

And I have a large number of tapes for them -- most of which have something worth keeping on them.  But I have about 6 tapes which would have been my "float", with nothing worth keeping on them.  And since high definition TV came to Australia there is nothing now which I can use my old tapes for.  Should I throw them out?  I am fairly slow to throw things out so I have another idea.

There must be other people like me who have kept some tapes that they particularly liked. So, because I have two VCRs, I could copy other people's tapes onto my "float" tapes and thus get a use out of them.  So if anybody reading this does have such tapes and would be willing to lend them to me I would be appreciative.  I am particularly after history programs, opera and ballet.

My bedside audio-visual setup, with VCR mounted at eye-level on a rather swish shelf

Its not terribly obvious from the picture above but my sound system includes twin tapedecks for audio cassettes.  How obsolete can you get?

A larger version of the picture is here

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Will magnetic media create a black hole in the history of late 20th century creativity?

Apologies for that portentous heading but it does express a fear I have.  Let me explain.  Magnetic media came into their own during the late 20th century.  First there were open reel tape-recorders for sound; then there cassette tapes for sound; then there were floppy disks for computer software, including games; then there were VHS video recorders for a full audio-visual experience.  But all those are now obsolete.  They were an advance for their times but have now been superseded by DVDs etc.

None of that would be any great problem except for one thing:  Magnetic media degrade over time.  That was recently brought home to me when I got out one of my old VCRs and set it up to play some video tapes of two Mozart operas that had been recorded about a quarter of a century ago.  They were a professional production so should have been of good quality.  Unfortunately they were only good in parts, as the curate said.  At their best they reproduced about as well as a DVD but in other parts there was a lot of flicker, "snow" etc.  And it was not the player that was at fault.  More recent recordings were fine.

Yet the performances were good ones that deserved to be preserved. And, probably because they were great works by a very famous composer, they ARE now available on DVD (See here and here). But what of less famous works by less famous composers and performers? They must be on the brink of being lost forever. I think that is a great pity. Hopefully, all of the best of late 20th century creativity will be transferred to optical format before it is too late but I am pessimistic about most of it.

Interestingly, not all old audio-visual technology is so fragile.  Sound and vision recorded on movie film is pretty long lasting, as is music recorded on the old black vinyl LPs.

Hard disks are also of course magnetic media but disk failure is frequent enough for most people to keep backups of everything -- so data on them is less likely to be irretrievably lost. I back up my more recent files onto DVDs several times a year.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The armchair critic strikes again

The notes below may be of some interest to others but they are not intended to influence anyone.  They are just a reminder to me of some things I have been thinking recently.

I have always had music beside my bed but I have recently added a DVD setup so I can watch videos of opera and ballet in bed. So I am not so much an armchair critic as a bedborne one!

I usually go to bed at a routine time even though I am not yet fully tired.  That means I do have time to listen to music or watch things on video.  I have drinkies until Tanqueray carries me off to the land of nod.  Tanqueray was also the Queen Mother's favoured drop and she lived to be 101.  So let the health freaks get their heads around that one!

Two DVDs I watched recently were Australian performances of Madama Buttlerfly by Puccini and Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky.

I did not like the Puccini at all.  It was an extreme example of a "modern" staging -- set outdoors in some Sydney park.  I loathe anachronistic settings.  The sets and costumes are meant to help you get the story but guys in modern business suits walking around a Sydney park told me nothing.  It might have helped if there were English subtitles but there were not.  And Puccini's music is no good.  With Handel and Mozart the music is engaging throughout but Puccini's music is mostly pedestrian. He does some great arias but they are rare. I am afraid that I am not big on 19th century opera at all.  Opera/oratorio for me mostly stretches from Monteverdi to Mozart.  But in the 20th century Philip Glass also does well at times.

Swan Lake was much better.  It is amazing how well choreographers can convey a story without words.  The sets were rather minimalist but fitted in well enough.  And Tchaikovsky's music is of course always superb.  Once again the men were mostly in modern suits rather than in the 19th century garb that Tchaikovsky would have envisioned but it was not too distracting in the circumstances.

When people comment on Swan Lake they mostly comment on the dancing, not the story.  Yet the story is an engaging one.  It is the old old story of a married man and the "other" woman.  I rather related to that for reasons that are probably too indelicate to discuss.  I have been cheerfully monogamous for most of my life but there were other episodes in times past.  And I rather liked the "other" woman in the ballet.  I would have had her.

But there was some fabulous dancing.  I didn't realize the heights to which Australian dancers could rise. I found the asylum scene in Act 2 disturbing.  Knowing of the real life abuses in psychiatric institutions it was a bit too real for me.  And the exaggerated wimples on the nuns were both amusing and yet appropriate somehow.  Kudos to the costume department.

The scene when the newly-wed wife catches her husband kissing the other woman amused me.  In response to being caught the danseur does the strangest dance in order to get himself out of the situation.  It reminded me of John Cleese in the Ministry of Silly Walks.  It rather cracked me up.  I imagine it was supposed to portray his agony of soul or some such but I could not take it seriously at all.

But definitely a credit-worthy production overall.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Will feminism produce great works of art?

DVDs are a wonderful thing.  I have a DVD recording a  performance at the Mariinsky theater in St Petersburg of the great ballet "Firebird".  The company is the Ballet Russes. I am far from a balletomane but the  wonderful music of Igor Stravinsky  gets me in every time.  And the reconstructed choreography of Michel Fokine is of course excellent too. It is no wonder that Firebird has a prominent place in the classical ballet repertoire.

And I couldn't help noticing that the chief ballerina (The Firebird) got thrown around an awful lot by the chief male dancer.  It was done with enormous athleticism and grace but there was no doubt who was the dominant character in the scenes concerned.  And it struck me that feminists would almost certainly find that repugnant -- with words like "patriarchy" and "inequality" popping into their addled brains.  Perhaps they think the ballerina should have thrown the larger male dancer about!

But Firebird is not alone in its representation of male/female roles.  A traditional representation of such roles is virtually universal in opera and in classical ballet.  So, having seen what artistic wonders traditional thinking can bring forth can we expect such art to emerge from feminist attitudes?  Feminism has been around since the likes of Emmeline Pankhurst and her girls over a century ago but I know of nothing notable that has emerged so far.  The only possible candidate appears to be the disgusting Vagina Monologues and they seem to be notable only for their crudity.

So my proposed answer to the question in my heading is a blunt "No".  Most prominent feminists are radicals and seem quite deranged most of the time. They seem to have no beauty in their souls.  And they don't care about women anyway.  They ignore the terrible plight of most women in Muslim lands and content themselves with nitpicking criticisms of everyday speech in their own country.

Fortunately most women are not feminists.  They believe in things like equal pay for equal work  but have little in common with the fountains of rage and hatred who are the radical feminists.  So what I have written above is in no way critical of women generally. I have been married four times so I clearly think women are pretty good.  And plenty of ladies find my views acceptable -- particularly ladies around my own age.

Some desultory notes on the Mariinsky performance of Firebird:

As I have previously mentioned elsewhere, in all stage shows I like authenticity in the staging.  I can put up with modern minimalist staging but when directors of the performance try to be "creative" and invent very strange sets, costumes, backdrops etc. I dislike it greatly.  So I was most pleased that this performance endeavoured to re-create the original Diaghilev staging.

And at risk of enormous political incorrectness, I might perhaps note that, this being Russia, all the performers were very white -- which did of course echo the original. There is a great push to get blacks into everything these days but to revise in some way an original great artistic creation is to me just stupid.  The lily-whiteness of the skins was part of the artistic effect.

I am breathless with admiration for the dancing of (Firebird) Ekaterina Kondaurova.  She is unbelievably light on her feet. She almost defies gravity.

Ballerinas tell me that the male dancers are no good to them.  They are mostly homosexual.  So ballet is to a significant extent a homosexual art.  I have on various occasions been critical of homosexual assertiveness.  So does that lessen my regard for ballet?

I regard it as irrelevant.  I judge art by what I see and hear and  have no animus at all towards individuals who have the homosexual  disorder. I feel rather sorry for them in fact.  My late sister was homosexual and there have almost always been homosexuals in my social circle.  There were two homosexuals at a dinner I hosted recently and their presence was welcomed both by myself and everyone else there.  I certainly would not say that "some of my best friends" are homosexuals but all those I know are perfectly pleasant people.

I was sad to hear of the premature death (from AIDS) of prominent homosexual Michael Cass, with whom I got on rather well. He taught at Uni NSW Sociology, where I also did.  People who know Brisbane will not be surprised to hear that he was a former Nudgee boy.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Crepe Myrtles

I am a long way from being a nature-lover, most scenery bores me, I am not house-proud and I am no gardener.  BUT: some things in the natural world do get through to me, and my Crepe Myrtles are one such.

Brisbane people love their tropical and sub-tropical flowering trees: Crepe Myrtles, Jacarandas and Poincianas -- plus some lesser species.  They are everywhere in Brisbane.  And from childhood on I have always liked Crepe Myrtles.  So 12 years ago I had eight of them planted along almost the full length of my back fence -- some in the original crepe myrtle colour, which is lavender, and some in both white and in shocking pink.

They are now very tall trees and in full blossom at the moment.  So I have in my back yard what amounts to an enormous floral bouquet  -- a 17 meter (55 ft) wide display of massed blossom.  It is quite spectacular and and immediately invites photography.  But how do you photograph something 17 meters wide?  And if you do manage it, is there any sense in squeezing such a display into a photo a few inches wide? I doubt that there is but I have made an attempt anyway.  Below is a photo of just the central portion of the display, taken with a wide-angle lens.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A 70th

Anne is not embarrassed by her age so I guess I can mention that the dinner I shouted last night at the New Sing Sing Chinese restaurant in Buranda was a 70th birthday celebration for her.

She arrived in a black dress adorned by a big red stole and with her hair fresh from the hairdresser.  She brought her sister Merle and Merle's husband Ralph with her.  Both are in poor health so drive only locally.  Sister June was also there despite an attack of shingles.  All three of Anne's sons turned up with partners and Byron of course brought along his two delightful little sons.  I like to see children at a family gathering.

I ordered Dim Sims all round to get us started and everyone chose for themselves thereafter.  I also supplied 3 bottles of champagne for toasting purposes and they all eventually went down.  Everyone seemed pleased with their dinner. I had BBQ pork with plum sauce and vegetables.  Anne had some prawn dish.  Her daughter in law Bonnie brought along a chocolate birthday cake to the restaurant which we enjoyed in the usual way. 

I gave Anne her presents the night before and also made her -- at her request -- a Martini, which she liked.  I don't like them at all but I can make them -- stirred, not shaken.  One of the presents I gave her was a Japanese lady's insulated shopping bag.  She immediately thought of good uses for it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

My past

It is surely supremely obvious that a memoirs blog should be concerned with memories.  And I have been doing a bit of remembering recently.

Some of my memories are quite sad:  Half of the persons I have known are dead. The death of  the very vital Chris Tame, for instance, I find hard to cope with.  And rather a lot of others.

But I have recently found that reaching back into my past can be very rewarding.  I recently re-established contact with Jason M.  -- from about 20 years ago in my past.  And Jason is undoubtedlty a gem of a man.

So I wonder a little about those I went to school with. I got on rather well with several of my fellow students at Cairns State High. I think I got on best with Peter Cook, Graeme Stevens and Geoffrey O'Callaghan.  But how do you contact a Peter Cook via Google?  The comedian of  that name overwhelms you.  More hope with Graeme (if that is the spelling.  Graham?) and I know his family ran Lake Placid at the time.

And what about Loren Gane  -- known by some as "Gane with the lame tame crane".  He was a bit of an outsider but I got on well with him.  He lived in Pruett  (Prewett?) lane at the time.  And last I heard he studied for a Th.L. at the St. Francis Anglican seminary at Milton and got into some trouble.

Even fellow students I did not gell with at the time would be interesting to contact --"Marble", for instance, (Keith Crosland).

Another old friend I would like to get in contact with is Michael Crowley of Tasmania, a fellow psychology student at Uni Syd in 1968. Michael is a very caring man but got into trouble over an affair with a lady aged just 15. A year later he would have been in the clear.  So I hold nothing against him.  He and I both had affairs with the redoubtable Mavis K.  And he married an ex-girlfriend of mine, the delightful Elizabeth T.!

Maybe Google will get these comments to some useful place.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Contra Glyndebourne

For those who are unaware of it, Glyndebourne is a prestigious opera house in the lush South of England.  It is prestigious not only for good performances but is also socially prestigious.  A visit to Glyndebourne is part of the London "season" -- or what is left of it.

As I normally live on the other side of the globe from it, I have myself been there only once -- accompanied by the beauteous Susan  B. and her rather overweight dog Sally. Not quite sure what we did with the dog during the performance.  Left it in the car I guess. England is not a hot place so that would have done no harm.  That was back in the '70s when hysteria about hot cars had not yet been invented.

If I were in England again, however, I doubt that I would revisit Glyndebourne.  I have been watching a set of DVDs of a 2005 performance of Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne and there is virtually nothing about the staging that I agree with.  The music was fine and the singers talented but the director of the performance was obviously under the spell of the deplorable modern urge to be "creative" about the staging.  And, sadly, his/her creativity was so impoverished that he mistook anachronism for originality.  He put into an opera set in ancient Egypt revolvers, modern dress, blimps etc.  There was zero attempt to present the life and times of Caesar and Cleopatra authentically.

Not for me I am afraid.

And, sadly, there was an excellent chance to be original that was missed.  When Handel wrote the opera, castrati were all the rage so the songs of the major male figures were given in a high key that only women and counter-tenors can now reach.  So Caesar was played by a woman in order to be faithful to the notes as written by Handel.  But a female Caesar is frankly ridiculous.  Now that the fashion for castrati is long gone, it would surely have been desirable to drop the male parts down an octave or two and have men in men's parts.

Can do better Glyndebourne. Maybe they could re-run the opera (minus the anachronisms of course) with Caesar as a bass and the other males as baritones. That alone would generate great excitement, I fancy

From the opening scene

I would be remiss if I did not record my appreciation of the performances by Christopher Maltman and Danielle de Niese in the opera. Maltman is multi-talented. He is a singer who is also an accomplished acrobat! And he acts well too. His representation of Achilla represents a military man well. It takes a man to portray a man!

And the unfailing energy of Australian singer Danielle de Niese as Cleopatra is also impressive. She is a mixed-race ("Burgher") Sri Lankan by ancestry but was born and bred in Australia.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A visitor from China

The Sinophilic man has run out of teaching jobs in China at the moment so is back home in beautiful downtown Kirrawee (in Sydney).  He has however enlivened his enforced soujourn away  from his adopted land by making a trip up to Brisbane to visit friends and relatives.

We go back a long way so I shouted him both a lunch and a dinner -- at two Japanese eaterys.  His Sinophilia is large and encompassing however so the Japanese theme was well received.  They all look the same, you know.  It also gave him a chance to try out his scraps of Japanese language on the serving staff, no doubt to their bemusement.

The first visit was yesterday (Tuesday) to the Mos burger  outlet at Sunnybank.  It's a Japanese fast food (but not very fast) joint which makes excellent hamburgers -- hamburgers unlike anything of Western origin.  They really have umami.

Also present were the entrepreneurial man plus associated ladies.  The Wagyu burgers were praised all-round.  We had peach tea to wash it down which was also a surprise to my guests -- but again very well-received.  A hamburger lunch CAN be greatly enjoyed.  The conversation was mostly jocular but the decline of Roman civilization was also discussed -- Carthage, seafaring Germans and all

The entrepreneurial man is the one with the monkish pate

Then tonight I shouted a visit to the Sunny Doll, where I usually dine of an evening.  Present on this occasion were the three men only -- women were not invited so secret men's business could be discussed.  At the Mos burger place I had ordered for everyone but this time everyone ordered for themselves. I stuck to my usual order but the others had varieties of raw fish.  The entrepreneurial man had at one time spent a year in Japan so actually managed to place his order in Japanese, rather to the amusement of the waitress.

The conversation was again mostly jocular but doubts about the historicity of Mohammed were raised.

After the dinner we repaired to my place for a blast from the past -- a bottle of Barossa Pearl, to the amusement of my guests.  They drank it with no signs of pain, however

Entrees on the table.  Pork Gyoza in my case and suspicious-looking fish elsewhere

I thought it would be amusing to post the docket I got at the end of the dinner.

It shows an embarrassingly cheap dinner but I am not easily embarrassed.  In my  long experience, the quality and price of  restaurant dinners tend to be inversely correlated -- with the Sunny Doll being an extreme example of that.

Note from the docket what the Sinophilic man had as his main course:  Flied Lice. Considering he was at  a very capable Japanese restaurant, how Sinophilic can you get?

The last two entries were for tea. I seem to have got my peach tea (iced) for free

Friday, January 2, 2015

Crimond and curd

When I end up in hospital, I always go to the Wesley,  Brisbane's most highly esteemed private hospital. My health insurance is generous.  And the default dinner there is meat & 3 veg. I always look at it with amusement.  It is as if my mother were still alive.  Some people are lucky enough to have a mother still alive when they are in their 60s and even 70s.  I am not one of those -- but my mother's cookery was traditional  -- probably healthy but very boring.  So I always try something different from that when I can. But for my first night in hospital, I eat it with good grace.

So I was pleased that something I acquired recently was a taste sensation: Passionfruit and mango curd.  I thought I was really onto something out of the usual.  But when I looked at the label, that thought was crushed.  It was a supermarket's own brand.  I had bought it from Woolworths so I should have known.

But the point is that house brands are usually of very popular lines.  So LOTS of people must like and buy that curd.  I may have made a discovery for me but it was evidently not much of a discovery in general.  So it was brought home to me that even in food I have a lot to learn.  I may know about kumara chips and doda burfees but something as simple and delicious as a fruit curd had eluded me.

And what has curd got to do with Crimond?  Nothing.  Both were simply things I was looking into at the same time.

The most esteemed Psalm would have to be Psalm 23:  "The Lord is my shepherd ...".  It is a wonderful psalm that has been set to music many times.  Bach even did a superb version.  But it is not only the music but also the words that changes. Hebrew poetry does not come out as poetry when you translate it directly into English.  So you have to rejig the words in some way to make the psalm singable in English.

I was not fully aware of that.  I was aware that the version in the Anglican prayer book was different from the version in the King James Bible but assumed that everybody used the prayer book version.  I could not have been more wrong.  I keep both books on my table in front of me so I checked.  The prayer book version is TOTALLY unsingable and the King James version is not much better.

So where do we get the version in our hymn books?  We get it from Crimond.  Crimond is a small town in Northern Scotland where the religion is pretty fundamentalist, meaning that they take the Bible, including the psalms, pretty seriously.  I was once one of them so I like them for that.  And they have their own Scottish psalter (book of psalms in singable form): The Scottish Psalter of 1650, to be precise.  And the words of psalm 23 in that book were set to music by a young Scotswoman who lived in Crimond. It proved a very popular setting so the tune we all now sing is known as Crimond.  Below are the words concerned:

The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want.
He maketh me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.

My soul He doth restore again;
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness,
Even for His own Name's sake.

Yea, though I walk in death's dark vale,
Yet will I fear none ill;
For Thou art with me; and Thy rod
And staff me comfort still.

My table Thou hast furnished
In presence of my foes;
My head Thou dost with oil anoint,
And my cup overflows.

Goodness and mercy all my life
Shall surely follow me;
And in God's house forevermore
My dwelling place shall be.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New year's eve

When people asked me what I was going to be doing on New year's eve, they seemed to find my reply rather pitiable.  I would say that Anne was going to come over and cook me a nice dinner.  So I want to say why my new year's eve was a little better than you might think

Anne did come over and cook me some nice "Italian" meatballs with salad -- to which I added Beerenberg "Diane" sauce.  Before that, however we had horse doovers of fruity cheese and Kenny's Kumara chips -- "diretta importata da" New Zealand.  Von brought them over for me last time she was here and I kept them for a special occasion.  They are potato crisps made from sweet potatoes and are much more flavorful than the standard crisps.  They are very more-ish.

For much of the rest of the evening Anne and I listened to a medley of music -- some classical and some traditional.  We particularly enjoyed "Westering home", a joyous Scottish song with strongly marked rhythms.  We got out the lyrics and sang along.  "Westering" is a Scottish word meaning "travelling Westward".  Islay is of course roughly due West of Glasgow.  They distil good Scotch there, including Laphroaig ($179.00 per bottle from my local discounter)

Drinking Laphroaig at Islay

And when midnight came I was listening to "Nimrod" from Elgar's Enigma variations.  Most people probably find it rather boring but if you have any sensitivity to classical music, I think it will transfix you.  It does me.  There is a video here of a Greek orchestra playing Nimrod which shows a violinist who really "gets" it.

Mind you, the version of Nimrod that I was listening to was performed by the band of H.M. Royal Marines -- a most distinguished military corps (Mr Obama once pronounced "corps" as if it were spelled "corpse".  What a clown!  It is of course pronounced as "core") -- so had a touch of the triumphant as well as being elegiac.  And given that Elgar was notable as a  composer of triumphant music, I think that the performance I was listening to was at least odds on to be closest to Elgar's intentions.

It is a crescendo of sorts so starts very quietly but it was in full flight when midnight struck. So I felt that Nimrod was a very good way indeed of celebrating the advent of  a new year.  I was tempted to call it musical fireworks but, like most 20th century English classical music, it is wistful rather than assertive -- but emotionally powerful despite that.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Do Presbyterian churches have campaniles?

I had never considered that important question until today.

I was at lunch with Anne and her two sisters.  And we all are culturally Presbyterian.

Anne and her sisters customarily have a Christmas get-together in between Xmas and New Year.  The day itself is reserved for other family committments.  Anne, for instance, went to TWO different occasions organized by two of her sons.  And I of course had a nice nap at Suz & Russell's place on the big day.

So we were gathered around the table at Anne's place eating some excellent coq au vin that Anne had prepared as a Xmas lunch.  Because Presbyterianism is hostile to alcohol, however, Anne had subsituted for the "Vin".  Instead she used stock, onions etc and the result was first class.  It actually had umami in my view. Which is high praise.  I haunt Japanese restaurants because of their mastery of umami.  And I did in fact that very night visit the "Sunny Doll" for my fix of Chicken Teriyaki Don.

But anyway Merle noted that they do have a bell-tower at the Presbo church she goes to at Wynnum -- but she also remarked that they just play recorded stuff from it.  Shameful!  A bell tower should have bells in it!   But then Anne remarked that our Ann St church has no campanile at all and hence no bells.

So my conclusion is that the old "Wee free" tradition (as at Ann St) is hostile to bells but maybe Church of Scotland is more flexible.  Old questions of theology and exegesis still have some influence.  I am delighted to know about that stuff.

I really like Wee Free (Free Church of Scotland) ways so I guess I am a born Puritan.  And in some ways I still live a Puritan life.  I live simply and give most of my money away, for instance. I have long ago given up teetotalling, however.

And when I used to go to the Ann St Church regularly (back in the 60s) I noted that there was a substantial British Israel sentiment in the congregation.  So when I hear Parry's magnificent setting of Blake's incomparable "Jerusalem". I know what that's all about.

Has the human imagination ever produced more magnificent and more memorable words than these?

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England's pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green & pleasant Land

And yet those wonderful words stem from a now-obscure and always way-out religious doctrine.  There can be no doubt that religion can create great art -- arguably the greatest art of all.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Job lives

The book of Job (pronounced "Jobe") in the Bible tells us about a Godly man who enjoys great prosperity until the Lord strikes him down with various plagues.  Why did the Lord do that?  To test Job's faith.  Job survives the test, never cursing God but remaining devout through all his trials and tribulations.  As a reward the Lord restores Job's health and prosperity and makes him more prosperous than ever.  It's an important story for Christians with many lessons in it.  It tells them not to question God even when misfortune strikes,  It assures us that good times will come again.

I think of Job when I think of Von.  Von was born wise and has made a string of good decisions that has given her an idyllic life in NZ.  So what has happened?  The Lord has struck her down with a minor but disabling ailment that she has not been able to throw off yet. No doubt she will throw it off in time but, like the story of Job, it tells us not to envy anyone because no-one knows what the future holds.  And Job tells Von not to despair and that good times will return.  I hope that is of some comfort to her.

Von was brought up with no religion in her life but there are some important truths in religion.  Although I have been an unbeliever for all of my adult life, I still get a lot out of reading my Bible.  Everybody should read at least the Gospels.  They are simple stories of great events that have resounded down the ages.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A banner weekend

Except that it was not a weekend.  But the festive season is like that. On Christmas Eve, Anne cooked me lamb cutlets with salad. A favourite meal. Then on Boxing Day night she cooked me T-bone steaks with Diane sauce  -- which is the best BBQ sauce you have ever tasted.  It's a bottled sauce made by Beerenberg in South Australia so you might be able to get it from Woolworths.  It's a definite gastronomic discovery.

The next day (Saturday 27th) we had big traditional breakfasts at  the Phams in Buranda, followed by very rich Punjabi Doda Burfis  from a local Indian grocer for lunch.  The grocery is a big one so we had a walk around looking with wonder  at their multitudinous but totally unfamiliar products.  I bought some chutney and some South Indian pickles to try out.

We then went to the local Aldi to pick up a few things that I needed but we of course ended up coming away with a lot more than that.  Aldi is like that. That evening we visited the New Sing Sing -- a nearby high quality Chinese/Vietnamese  restaurant -- for supper.  It was good, as usual.  I had lemongrass chicken, as I usually do, and Anne had Chicken Chow Mein with added cashews

I had the pickles on my lunchtime ham sandwich today.  It was not my idea of pickles so I will keep it as an accompaniment to curry.  It definitely has the taste of India

Doda Burfi slices

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas day

Today Christians celebrate something very implausible -- the incarnation -- when the great God over all poured himself into the body of a baby and subsequently lived a life as a normal human being.  It takes a lot to believe that and the whole thing was a matter of great dispute among the early Christians. Jesus himself did after all say: "My Father is greater than I" (John 14:28).

But along came Athanasius' Egyptian doctrine of the Trinity to quell disputes and to make some  sense of it all:  The doctrine of three persons in the one God. It's not a doctrine mentioned anywhere in Christian scripture  -- as I often point out -- but perhaps it is needed to make sense of the implausible.  That we cannot hope to understand Godhead is after all a reasonable claim.

Partly at urging from Anne, I attended a service at my local branch of the Church of England yesterday evening: Holy Trinity Anglican Church Woolloongabba.  It's a nice-looking church, and well-maintained

To my amazement, the church was full with a good cross-section of people . I rather liked that as I see Christianity as a civilizing influence.  I thought initially that most came simply for the Xmas carols  -- which were promised and delivered -- but it seems I was wrong.  It was a Communion service and almost all of the congregation went forward to get the biscuit.

Rev. Paschke's  sermon was pedestrian, with God "rolling up his sleeves" rather a lot  -- an image I could not get with at all.  But one expects an Anglican sermon to be inoffensive junk.  I just went there for the carols.

Given my very fundamentalist early life, there was a lot more Popery in the service than I liked but I guess that I am a bit of a dinosaur there.  "Popery" is probably condemned only in Northern Ireland these days

Anyway, after the service, which finished about 8pm, Anne made me a dinner of grilled lamb cutlets and salad, one of my favourite foods.

And for lunch today I went out to the family gathering at Suz & Russell's place.  Because so many of us were interstate or abroad, there were only 9 adults and 2 littlies present but it was still a pleasant occasion. The littlies certainly made up in volume for what they lacked in numbers, with Dusty in particular giving an exhibition of  perpetual motion.

I woke up earlier than usual (for me) so went straight out to the house.  I was the first to arrive at around 8am.  Suz had declared it an open house so that was OK, though.  I was the first  to arrive. It gave me the chance of a few chats with Russ.  My early rising did catch up with me, however,  I napped on a verandah couch for most of the time between morning tea and lunch.

We had lots of morning-tea food followed at lunchtime by a big leg of ham which was well cooked by Russell, with potato salad.  For the morning-tea finger food, Davey brought along some "piggies in blankets" -- small sausages wrapped in puff pastry -- which I particularly liked.  I think I had at least 6 of them.  Puff pastry and sausages are both definite weaknesses of mine.  And for dessert we had one of Maureen's excellent pavlovas.   I talked mainly with Russell and Jenny.

Secret Santa got me 7 bottles of Clayton's, which must have involved a bit of scouting around.  I drink a lot of it so it will soon go down.  It's a surprisingly satisfying drink, though now very much out of fashion. Davey helped by carrying it downstairs for me.  Suz & Russell's house is built on very sloping ground and that seems to have required a rather long and steep entry staircase.  The position of the house is very good, however.  It has native bush on one side so we ate our food looking out at a native Australian forest of gum trees.  Like most Australians, I like our gum trees.

I was the Secret Santa for Jenny but in my usual way I forgot to bring the present with me.  Everyone is used to me being "Mr Forgetful", however, so no-one was surprised.  Jenny will drop in  to my place to pick it up when she is next over my way.

We also played our usual present-grabbing game -- out of which I got a bottle of red wine that looks good.

Some amusing bits:

We had all recently seen two very widely circulated videos which show you how to fold a shirt and how to fold a Japanese present.

Maureen  is a folder from way back so said that her method was very similar to the Japanese method -- which Ken, being Ken, immediately disagreed with.  Maureen was not oppressed, though.  She promptly handed Ken some paper and told him to show how it should be done.  Ken had a short attempt and them gave up.  He declared  that you can know when a thing is wrong even if you yourself do not know the right way.  That produced some hilarity, though it is of course correct.

Then Davey put his foot in it.  He is inclined to large claims so  he claimed that he could do the shirt folding.  Again Maureen put him on the  spot.  She found a kiddy shirt and told him to fold it.  Dave did not do well initially but eventually got a result that we passed. We had a lot of laughs

A restorative nap after early rising

And there was a Christmas across the water in NZ too.  And lots of us sent presents in acknowledgement.  Von has a big pictorial recollection of it on her blog but I thought I might put up a pic of the presents I sent over.  They arrived in a parcel on Christmas Eve so that was good timing. Jenny packed and posted it for me.  There is a colourful trowel for Hannah's garden activities, plus a moneybox in the form of an old pillarbox plus a kiddy-size dustpan and brush.  Hannah likes to have her own things.