Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Christmas started on Christmas eve for me. My ex-wife Jenny very kindly invited Anne and me to a slap-up Christmas eve dinner with wonderful turkey and ham. Our son Joe and his girlfriend plus Nanna (Jenny's mother) made up the party.
Then on the day itself there was a big family gathering over brunch consisting of 24 people -- including a military member about to be deployed to the Middle East -- fortunately only to Qatar. But there were only two children present. Very sad.
Then in the evening Anne came over and we watched the Queen's speech, had ham and bagels (strange combination) to eat and finished up listening to Christmas carols.
And I am pretty tired writing this just after 11pm.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Big day today. I went to my son's graduation ceremony for his B.Sc. in mathematics. As UQ is a "sandstone" (big old) university I hoped that the ceremony would be fairly traditional -- and it was: Black academic gowns, trencher caps and silk hoods for all graduands. And they played the last part of the San Saens organ symphony as the graduands filed in. Then came boring speeches of course. And the graduates filed out to the strains of "Gaudeamus".
A non-traditional feature was however that some of the young women graduating showed a rather fetching amount of bosom. Fashion at work. I was a little disappointed that most of the male graduates did not wear ties -- except for the Asians of course. And almost all the young women had long hair! Pleasing.
And there were many Asians there. The Applied Science graduands were almost all Asians. The person announcing the names made a right hash of the Asian names -- including an inability to pronounce "Nguyen" (pronounced "naWIN"). Since Nguyen is as common a name among Viets as "Jones" is among those of British descent, I thought that was rather crass. The university was politically correct enough to include in the ceremony a totally irrelevant speech by some Aboriginal woman about indigenous this and indigenous that but making an actual effort to have foreign names pronounced well on an important occasion was far too hard. The intellectual decline of the universities under Leftist influence gets ever worse.
Then at dinner time we had a family dinner to celebrate the graduation. We went to an Indian restaurant that my son and I both like. And it did us proud with excellent food as usual. There were 16 of us there -- including my son's godfather: Prof. John Henningham. It was a most congenial occasion with much chatting among those present. Henningham (we are old friends so address and refer to one-another by surname only) at one stage asked my son: "And do you share your father's ideology" -- getting a firm "Yes" as the answer.
I of course "shouted" for everyone -- for the very reasonable total of $305.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
The end of year social activities are hotting up. Tonight we had the Xmas concert for our Westside Music Circle. I am pleased to say it included a lot of Bach. The quality of the performances was rather uneven but that it the risk you take with amateur activities.
The star of the evening was undoubtedly a brilliant Russian violinist named Attilla. Yes. I am not making that up. His first name really is Attilla. He actually looks Turkish rather than Russian so I was not surprised to see that he was born one of the Muslim countries of the old USSR. Even so, he clearly has come in contact with Christianity. He quoted John 3:16 with some feeling at one stage. He is quite a character.
His pianist was a very slim and very capable Chinese girl with the surname of Chan. There are a lot of Chans in Australia these days and I would not be surprised if there are more good pianists in Australia named Chan than there are good pianists named Jones. We have certainly had a lot of very capable Chinese pianists play for us at our group.
The supper afterwards was first class as usual and I made something of a glutton of myself as usual.
Anne and I drove to and from the concert in the Humber so that was part of the pleasure of the evening for me too. Cruising along to the quiet rumble of the Humber motor really pleases me for reasons which I cannot completely analyze. That it feels like a trip into the past is certainly one part of it.
Sunday, December 2, 2007
We will be having a dinner at an Indian restaurant for quite a few people on the day of Joe's graduation (12th) but we also had a small dinner tonight just to celebrate the good marks Joe got in the final year of his B.Sc. He got seven 7s -- which is as good as you can get. He did quite a spread of mathematics subjects during his degree but he has now narrowed down his interests to partial differential equations.
The dinner was prepared and hosted by Jenny -- Joe's mother -- and the other people present were Joe, his girlfriend Sam, myself and Anne. Jenny did some very good steak with sauce bearnaise and I contributed a bottle of 2001 Grange.
I gave Joe a copy of the 1250 to 1918 Oxford Book of English Verse as a graduation present. They have obviously reprinted the 1918 edition due to popular demand as there have been two editions subsequent to the 1918 one. I was very pleased to be able to get a new copy of the famous edition -- though I did have to import it from England.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
I cannot resist a little note of satisfaction here about the results my son has just got in his university examinations for the final year of his B.Sc. All his subjects were in mathematics and he got 7s (the maximum possible mark) in all subjects. He will be heading for his doctorate in mathematics now. I am sure it is very evil of me to say so (according to Leftists anyway) but it is a great satisfaction to have a very bright son. His mother is over the moon too. Neither of us have ever "pushed" him in any way. He is just a natural-born academic. I can't imagine where he gets that from! Since IQ is not genetically inherited (according to Leftists) it must just be a random event! I will be going to his graduation ceremony in a couple of weeks. I wonder if I should wear my doctoral robes?
We will be having a small family celebration of the occasion this Sunday -- at which I will of course be opening a bottle of Penfold's Grange.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
A busy day yesterday: An election and a concert. I voted at about 11am. My local polling place was VERY well-staffed and well managed. I was in and out in 10 minutes -- unlike the way many Americans have had to line up for hours in their previous Federal elections.
There were of course separate ballot papers for the Senate and the lower house and the fact that the two ballot papers are very different in size means that it is almost impossible to get the two mixed up. Nonetheless there was a lady standing by the ballot boxes to see that everybody put their paper in the right box. Very good for absent-minded people like me!
I gave my Senate vote to Pauline, of course. Her policy of restricting Muslim immigration is the only sensible one for any Western nation, in my opinion. She only got about a quarter of the votes she needed for a Senate seat, however, so I think she has had her day.
That night Anne and I went to a performance of Handel's "Messiah" at St. John's Cathedral. It is on every year and I rarely miss it. Being a great stone cathedral, St John's is of course a marvellous venue for it. The performance was put on by the Bach Society, of which I was once a member. I knew a few people in the choir. The singers were all good. We even had a good tenor! (Massingham). The orchestral forces were a bit under-strength, though. Only one bassonist! I don't know what they would have done if she had called in sick!
Because I was steeped in the Bible in my teens, I recognized and understood the scriptural quotations that form the libretto so it was rather like meeting old friends again for me. When, for instance, I heard "even so in Christ shall all be made alive", and "The trumpet shall sound", I was thinking: "1 Corinthians 15". It was a great evening. The aria that was ringing in my head afterwards was, unsurprisingly, "The trumpet shall sound". It is quite marvellous and joyous music that does great justice to the faith and words of St. Paul.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Last Saturday I organized another poetry night for my son Joe -- this time to introduce him to some of the great English poetry that his High School education had ignored. Last poetry night covered great Australian poems. We again centred the night around dinner. Anne cooked us some excellent roast pork and a date pudding for dessert. As well as Joe and his girlfriend Sam we had Jill and Lewis there plus Anne and myself. To do the reciting we had Paul Sherman, who is active in Brisbane theatre.
Paul spent a lot of time reminiscing about his own past theatrical activities rather than reciting poetry but Joe seemed to find it interesting. It was an introduction to a world outside his own experience.
We did however read or recite a lot of well-known poetry: Quite a lot of Shakespeare plus Tennyson, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Blake, G.M. Hopkins, Leigh Hunt and even some Chaucer. Being a keen Chaucerian, I would not have let the night pass without some Chaucer. I recited the Chaucer in Middle English and Joe seems to have enjoyed that. Sam was out of the room when I recited it so Joe got me to do it again later for her benefit.
I will plug the hole that his school left in my son's cultural education yet! Happily, Joe seems very pleased to be introduced to such things. There is such a huge wealth of enjoyable English poetry, however, that I imagine I might have to have a lot more poetry nights before I am happy that Joe has had the opportunity of hearing all the poems that I love.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
I wrote nothing for this blog in Oct. 07 but the following post from my AUSTRALIAN POLITICS blog in October 07 had a considerable element of personal commentary in it so perhaps deserves a place here
Bishop: Anglicans must abandon Anglicanism in order to save it
Or something like that. Decoding theologians is hard work. The take-home message below seems to be that the Sydney diocese is divisive and a big problem and it should give up its old-fashioned adherence to the Bible. The Sydney diocese is the only one that is true to the heavily evangelical principles of the Church of England's original 39 "Articles of religion" of 1563. It is also the only diocese that is flourishing and growing. Just that one diocese accounts for a third of Australia's churchgoing Anglicans. So how come it is the problem? Is it not the other dioceses -- which are fading away -- that are the problem?
Tribalistic tendencies are preventing the Anglican Church of Australia from presenting a united front to the nation and only a comprehensive "makeover" will render it a viable force. Warning of the potential for "anarchy" and highlighting the "political naivety" of church leaders, bishop and scholar Tom Frame says market research is needed [Good Lord! Market research to dictate what is taught!! How pathetic can an alleged Christian get? A real Christian would look to the teachings of Christ] to improve the denomination's profile and boost creative planning.
Bishop Frame, director of St Mark's National Theological Centre in Canberra, has set out his thoughts on the future of the church in a book, Anglicans in Australia, released as final preparations are made for the three-yearly general synod, which begins in Canberra on Saturday. "Both clergy and laity have a poor understanding of Anglicanism, and in many places commitment to the church is weak and faltering," Bishop Frame writes. Highly critical of the in-fighting between the church factions - evangelical, liberal and Anglo-Catholic - Bishop Frame says Anglicans "need to develop and retain a clear focus on the world and its redemption rather than focusing on the church and its structures".
Anglicans are the second-largest group of Christians in the country after the Catholics. According to last year's census, there are 3.7 million adherents. But attendance has been slipping for years and latest national attendance figures, from the National Life Survey of 2001, show 178,000 attend weekly. [less than 5%] Archbishop Peter Jensen's Sydney diocese is a notable exception to the trend.
Bishop Frame's Anglicans in Australia is a history of the church, and while he does not offer a plan for wholesale reform, he casts forward to the likely fate of the institution if trends persist. "I believe that in a generation's time, the Anglican Church of Australia will continue to exist as a national entity, although it will remain internally fractured by theological differences entrenched in diocesan identities." One of these is the ascendance of the evangelical viewpoint, which emphasises the authority of the Bible above all else, including the church traditions of Anglicanism.
But he warns Sydney will face an identity crisis when its leadership finds "the abandonment of Anglican structures and customs leaves little in church life that is distinctly or demonstrably Anglican. Ecclesiastical anarchy and theological incoherence is a distinct possibility." [Adherence to the 39 articles is "abandonment of Anglican structures and customs"??? Pure projection. It is the "modernizers" who have "abandoned Anglican structures and customs"]
Below are some of the great old 39 articles that have defined Anglicanism since 1563. They remain a pretty good statement of evangelical Christianity to this day. The Christian message doesn't need changing. It is hypocritical bishops who need to embrace it. They are just men in dresses otherwise -- or "whited sepulchres" [whitewashed tombs] as Christ vividly called their equivalents in his day:
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.
The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.
General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of Princes. And when they be gathered together, (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God,) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture.
The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping, and Adoration as well of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God. ["fond" at the time meant roughly "insane"]
It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church, to have publick Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments in a tongue not understanded of the people.
The Riches and Goods of Christians are not common, as touching the right, title, and possession of the same, as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast. Notwithstanding, every man ought, of such things as he possesseth, liberally to give alms to the poor, according to his ability.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Gareth Young has invited essays on "What England means to me" which he posts here. Below is my submission.
Most unusually for an Australian, I agree with Andrew Ian Dodge about English beer. Australians are used to German-style beer only (Lager) so it was an enormously pleasant experience for me to discover the English alternative: Real Ale. It is over 20 years since I have been in England but I still have fond memories of Ruddles County in particular.
I grew up on English books. I was born in the 1940s and just about the only children's books available in Australia at that time were imported from England. Additionally, the writers seemed mostly to be from the higher social strata of English society so the boys' books that I read were mostly about life in English Public Schools (now usually called "independent" schools to allay confusions among Americans). So there I was in small-town tropical Australia among crocodiles, sharks, deadly snakes and insects reading about crocuses and nightingales. And schoolboy cries of "cave" and "pax" had to be understood too. Fortunately Latin was still taught in my local High School at that time so I eventually understood where those cries came from.
And while I always felt that "bounders" and "cads" were excellent terms of disapprobation, it was the man "who goes too far" who best summed up Englishness for me. It was a not uncommon term of disapprobation in my boys' books and was a particularly final dismissal of anyone. To this day I still think it embodies a central English value and one that I still heartily agree with -- although I suspect that I myself may "go too far" on occasions. The concept is of course that there is a broad range of behaviour that can be tolerated but that there are nonetheless important limits that must not be transgressed. It is both a celebration of tolerance and a condemnation of "anything goes". It means that there ARE important standards that are needed for civility and that some things CANNOT wisely be tolerated.
Does that England still exist? I rather doubt it. Pockets of it no doubt remain but the relentless grinding-down of people by an educational system that transmits as little as it can from the past has left only instinct to guide Brits in that direction these days. I fervently hope that the instinct is strong but I am not optimistic.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
I have always found the novels of Patrick White ponderous and unreadable. I only ever got a third of the way through "Voss" -- Even though the story of Ludwig Leichhardt should have been very interesting.
I was therefore delighted to find these two quotes about White:
A. D. Hope desribed White's prose style as 'pretentious and illiterate verbal sludge'.
Hal Porter described White's autobiographical Flaws In The Glass as 'high-camp mysticism and low-camp waspishness'.
To my mind, you just have to look at a photo of White to see what a miserable and nasty piece of goods he was.
(Quotes via Peter Nicholson)
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
I have always thought highly of Paul Brandon, my local bootmaker. He is very cheerful, friendly, hard-working and obliging and he undertook without hesitation the task of fitting longer straps to my kilt when I needed that done -- so I was pleased that the local Brisbane paper did a small spread on him in their Saturday colour magazine. I reproduce the story (by TRENT DALTON) and accompanying photo below. The story does portray him well.
Paul Brandon, 53, cobbler, Stones Corner
In 1969 I picked up a Saturday newspaper that was advertising three apprenticeships - one for a printer, a butcher and a shoemaker. I thought shoemaking sounded alright. It was better than school, anyway. I went to work for the Queensland Co-operative Boot Society making steel-caps, but I've made everything from dance pumps to firemen's boots and school shoes to stilettos.
In the '70s, I was one of the first people to make raised sandals out of layered rubber. I've since learned key-cutting and engraving. I learned engraving from the best in the business. This bloke, no word of a lie, could engrave The Lord's Prayer on a threepenny coin.
I've got five tools: my London hammer, my pinchers, my scissors, my drag knife and my knife. With those five tools I can fix anything. About 70 per cent of my business is women's heels. They'll wear out, but the lady won't want to throw the shoes out because they go with a pretty outfit. I can fix a heel in five minutes. That's my bread and butter.
It's a good life and I do alright out of it, let me tell you. I get on with everyone. I treat everyone well. Keep your words sweet because you never know when you'll have to eat 'em.
I have three kids, a daughter and two sons. I'm always repairing the daughter's shoes. She's a wild child, goes through a stack of shoes. My eldest boy, Sean, died when he was 19. I lost him to leukaemia. I miss him so much. It's five years gone, last month. Seany was a builder. He was diagnosed when he was 15 and went into remission after four months. Then, when he was 19, it came back with a vengeance. I still don't know why it happened. One day I might find out. My little baby. We'll be together again.
It's all good. Gee, I get some good tips here. I had a $40 tip once. This bloke used to work out in the mines, mining emeralds. He wanted to hide his stones in the mining campsites because he didn't want anybody stealing them. He had a pair of Cuban-heeled cowboy boots. I took the heels off, hollowed them out and put a little lip in there for a hiding spot. I charged him $60 for it. He handed me $100 and said keep the change. Come to think of it, actually, he might have been a drug smuggler.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Another meeting of our Westside music group last night -- at Rosemary's place at Pullenvale.
Rosemary is Austrian and her house looks very German to my eyes. Part of her decor is some mediaeval armour set in an illuminated niche. I happened to sit right in front of the niche so was inspired shortly after I arrived to get up and put the Pikelhaube (spiked helmet) on. I have plenty of the old Germanic genes in me so thought I had a certain entitlement to wear it. The helmet was meant for tall blue-eyed people with fair skin and I am certainly one of those. Anyway, Anne later commented that I looked the part in it. I put it on only for a few minutes, however. I am sure Rosemary would not have wanted me to go around wearing her decor.
Rosemary was looking good. She is about my age but Germans and the Dutch seem to wear better than Anglo-Celts. They often look much younger than they are to our eyes.
The concert was good, finishing with a rousing rendition of Chopin's Military Polonaise -- played with obvious enjoyment by a Chinese lady. I think she got every last decibel possible out of the Steinway.
We always have some Asians at our concerts. The Han Chinese fit very easily into Western civilization and appreciation of (and skill at) classical music is certainly part of that. The 21st century will undoubtedly be the century of China but the Chinese adopt Western practices so readily that it should nonetheless be a century of very substantial cultural continuity. I hear that there are even more than a 100 million Chinese Christians these days.
Tirsha, the secretary of the Brisbane Skeptics Association was there. I knew her from having given a couple of talks to the Skeptics so we were both rather surprised to encounter one-another in a different context. During the supper after the concert I had a bit of a chat with her about things skeptical.
Sunday, August 5, 2007
We had a dinner to celebrate Joe's rise into the ranks of academe last night. Joe wanted it kept small so there were only 7 of us: Joe, myself, Anne, Jenny, Nanna, Paul and Sue. Nanna is 83 and still going well so Joe has inherited some good longevity genes there, one would think.
Joe is only tutoring at this stage but part time work should come his way regularly from now on and when a full-time vacancy comes up he will have inside running for it. Universities are bureaucracies so whether people feel at ease with you is a big factor in getting jobs and getting promotion -- and someone you know does therefore have the inside running against any outsider.
For the occasion, we went to an Indian restaurant where I dine regularly. The food was tops, as ever. Both Joe and I are keen on Indian food.
I now have something of a "mission accomplished" feeling. With Joe ensconced in academe, I feel I can do no more for him as far as his career is concerned -- though if he encounters personal problems at any time I expect to be able to help him -- as I always have been able to do in the past on those rare occasions when he has mentioned problems to me.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Last Thursday Anne dragged me along to the main and very fine auditorium of the Brisbane Conservatorium for a performance of Humperdinck's "Jackie and Maggie" -- or Hansl und Gretl" as it was originally known. Why the name is never translated into English I will never know.
My taste in opera stops at Mozart but Anne is much more keen. Anyway, it was a reasonable performance. Though the fact that I have known the story since about age 3 deprived it of any drama. But who goes to opera for the unexpected these days?
There were only two sets in the production and the second set was regrettably "postmodern" -- with scrappy and irrelevant bits all over the place.
The audience was unmistakeably bourgeois -- no black faces but quite a sprinking of Asians. Asians fit in well with Western civilization -- unlike Africans and Muslims. And the age range was mostly 40+
The music was very successfully programmatic -- which is what one wants for opera. The dialogue was sung in English -- but with my being a bit deaf it might as well have been in Urdu. So the supertext was a lifesaver for comprehension -- though (as is often the case with opera) I don't think that the libretto added much. The music was the thing. And there are certainly some good bits in Humperdinck's score.
The baritone did an excellent job and I was rather pleased to see that the original devout Christian element in the libretto was retained -- not at all to be relied on in this day and age.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Yiddisher Mommas are well know for repeated references to "my son the doctor" but I have always thought that "my son the mathematician" rather trumped that. My son Joe has however now moved another rung up the ladder. Although he is only in his third year of his mathematics studies at university, he has just been given a job tutoring first-year students -- in statistics. So as far as I can see he is now officially an academic.
I spent a considerable part of my academic career teaching statistics to sociology students so we have another example of the old proverb that "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree".
The parallels between my life and Joe's get a bit eerie at times. As one example, he had his first car accident in almost the same place and in almost the same circumstances as my second car accident 40 years earlier.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Yesterday Jenny put on a dinner for our son Joe, who had his 20th birthday recently. He also got all 7s (the highest mark) in his mid-year university exams (all in mathematics) so celebrating that was part of the occasion too. For an academic to have such an academic son is of course most pleasing, if not entirely surprising. Aside from Joe, Jenny, myself and Nanna, the only other people in attendance were Jenny's eldest son Paul and his wife Susan. Paul is very close to Joe and has always been very supportive of him. Paul in turn got a lot of his ideas from me as he and I have always got on very well ever since I first met him when he was aged 7. We had a very jolly stepfather/stepson relationship. So now Joe gets some of my ideas via Paul, which I am of course very pleased about.
Paul tended to dominate the conversation, as he tends to do, but it made for a lively night. He kept us all busy discussing the ideas he put up. Paul's thinking seems to get more and more Right-wing as he gets older so the conversation was generally congenial to all present. Joe and I don't say much so somebody has to do the talking.
While I was there I borrowed a lava lamp off Nanna (Jenny's mother). Lava lamps were all the rage in the 60s but seem to be regarded with some hilarity these days. I wanted the lamp for a 60s evening I was having the next night -- an evening to mark a visit back to Australia by China Hand -- Alfred Croucher.
The 60s evening was a reunion of three of us who once shared a house at Glebe in Sydney many years ago. We got on very well at the time and have remained in sporadic contact ever since. We address one another by surname only. I address the other two as Croucher and Henningham and they address me as Ray, so how you define that sort of friendhip I have no idea. You just have to be part of such a friendship to understand it, I think. It is an unusually strong friendship. People who have been to school together or in the Army together often address one-another that way. It is sometimes referred to as a "muscular" friendship.
Anyway, when we shared a house we were all greatly enamoured of a comic book called "The wonderful world of Barry McKenzie", written by the inimitable Barry Humphries. It is about an Australian naif in London and we found the characters in it very recognizable. So for our reunion I planned a few touches to take us back into the 60's -- the era in which the comic was set. And a lava lamp seemed appropriate. As well as that, I persuaded Anne to make a French Onion dip and horse doovers (hors d'oeuvres) on toothpicks -- both of which were very popular in the 60s but which are now regarded rather poorly.
Anyway, Henningham arived at my place in great form -- full of nonsense -- just as he was in the old days. His wife Helen drove him over to my place and looked in some distress. She is a very quiet person and Henningham normally follows suit. But when he is with his old friends, the old Henningham emerges -- so I suspect that Helen does her best to dissuade him from having much to do with his old friends. A visit to Brisbane from China, however, could not be passed over.
We went to a nearby Chinese restaurant for dinner -- one that has Beijing cuisine. Croucher says he likes to come to Australia to get all the Chinese food he cannot get in China! Chinese cooks do of course adapt their menus to local tastes.
Anyway, it was good to be back in the same company as many years ago and it felt very little different from how it always was. Time had not caused us to drift apart in attitudes etc. It was still the same old muscular friendship, quite undiminished by many years apart.
Friday, July 20, 2007
I crept one year further into my 60s recently. As she usually does, Jill gave me a birthday lunch. Anne got to my place about 11am laden with presents and at about 11.30 I got the Humber out for the trip to River Hills. On the way the Humber overheated but we got to Jill's place well enough -- though with not much margin to spare, I fancy.
Jill gave us a "Christmas in July" lunch: Traditional Christmas fare at the seasonally appropriate time for it in Australia. We had some excellent turkey followed by plum pudding. Anne and Jill are both great chatters so I was relieved from saying much on my birthday -- which suited me well. Both ladies are experienced at doing all my talking for me so there was no problem.
Before departing, I filled up the radiator with water and that got us to Dieter's place in good order. Dieter is an old friend who lives just over the road from me. He is also a very experienced German mechanic so arrangements to repair the radiator were made immediately.
One of the presents Anne gave me was a CD of the Treorchy Male Voice choir -- a famous Welsh choir. Their rendition of Cwm Rhondda was superb -- as one might expect. Anne and I listened to the CD for a while before she departed for home. She was nursing her sister who has just had an eye operation -- so she had to get home by 5pm to apply eye drops on schedule.
The next day my ex-wife Jenny gave me a dinner. There were just Jenny, myself, our son Joe and Jenny's mother there and the menu was GA XAO XA OT (Vietnamese Lemon chicken). Very different from Chinese lemon chicken and one of my favourites. Recipe here. Joe and I had a good chat before and after the dinner and I told him a few anecdotes about Dr. Johnson. Dr Johnson's definition of a pie -- "any crust baked with something in it" -- is still hard to beat.
The next day Anne gave me a dinner consisting of Reuben sandwiches. You cannot buy them in Australia and I really like them so I don't get any of them unless some kind soul makes them up for me.
A quiet birthday but that is how I like it. Like the late Hans Eysenck, I talk a little but write a lot.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
I have had one man -- Dudley -- doing all my plumbing for 20 years or so. So when one of the drains blocked up I rang him immediately. He is always very good at coming over and fixing things promptly. He even came over at 9pm at night recently to fix a pipe that had sprung a leak.
This time, however, Dudley was interstate on a 4 week holiday. I waited for a week or so thinking that the drainage problem might not be too urgent and that Dudley could fix it when he got back. No go. The problem got worse. So I looked up the yellow pages and found a nearby plumber who had a very confident advertisement about his ability to fix drainage problems.
When I rang him he was apologetic about not being able to come immediately but said he could come the next morning. I said that was fine and he then gave me an approximate time that he would arrive. I was quite impressed by his efficient sound and surmised that his slight accent might be German.
When he arrived he went all around looking at lots of things and decided what he needed to do -- which was about the opposite of what I thought he needed to do. He seemed very confidfent so I just said: "You're the expert. Go to it".
He did some rather amazing and radical things but he was absolutely right. What he did worked. He had understood where the blockage lay in short order and my diagnosis had been way off.
By that time, however, I had worked out his accent. He is an Israeli. I had a bit of a chat with him about that and found out that he is in fact a sabra. But he felt there was too much evil in that part of the world and had moved to a quiet backwater here in Australia to get away from it all.
So all the Muslim nastiness got me a very clever plumber. "It's an ill wind...." And what he charged me was quite reasonable too.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
This one from AMP (an Australian insurer and finance company) and the ever-hopeful American Express
Mr Vilaysack was a tenant of mine about four years ago. Shortly after he left, I received a number of enquiries about his whereabouts from the police and others. He did not however leave a forwarding address.
When I received the letter containing the above missive, I opened it in case it contained information of assistance to the police.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Michael Darby is one of Australia's great characters. For some years, an old Dennis fire-engine was his personal means of transport around Sydney. He is also an old friend of mine. He spends great energies on politics -- very much at the conservative end of it -- but he also has great talent as an exponent of Australian poetry -- particularly bush poetry.
Bush poetry tends to be narrative poetry set in the country areas of Australia and Michael himself has written some excellent poems in that genre -- helped by a genuine love of the bush and bush people.
But what he is particularly known for is RECITING Australian poetry. He does so -- often in a stentorian voice -- with great verve and panache. He really brings it to life. He has memorized an amazing number of both well-known and lesser-known Australian poems and delivers them with great gusto whenever he is at all encouraged to do so.
My own favourite poem is an Australian one: "The Teams", by Henry Lawson. It is about bullockies (teamsters -- men who used bullock teams to move heavy loads in the early days). The fact that my own grandfather and great-grandfather were bullockies no doubt has something to do with that. When Lawson describes bullockies he knows what he is talking about. I recognize in his descriptions my own ancestors.
And, of course, I have a great love of English poetry generally -- from Chaucer on. I know some pretty good German poetry too -- particularly those set by Schubert as Lieder.
So I was quite horrified when I discovered in his final year of High School that my son Joe had virtually had his literary heritage stolen from him. I had always assumed that his courses at the private school I sent him to would have introduced him to the great classics of English and Australian poetry. Instead, he had been introduced only to poems by politically correct people -- very minor literary figures such as black poetess Kath Walker. Joe had not even heard the NAMES of greats such as Wordsworth and Coleridge.
Ever since I have therefore been trying to make up that gap in my son's education. Fortunately, he does enjoy the poems I read to him when the occasion offers. He is however too deeply engaged in his studies of mathematics at university for that to happen often.
Last night, however, was the first day after the end of his mid-year exams so I took the opportunity to organize a poetry night for him. I flew Michael Darby up from Sydney and Anne cooked us all an old-fashioned Australian dinner of corned beef with three veg. Anne makes an excellent white sauce -- which is in my view essential to a corned beef dinner. Joe, his girlfriend Sam, Anne, myself, Michael and two old friends who are also old friends of Michael -- Jill and Lewis -- made up the party.
Michael started reciting even before the dinner was served, during the courses, in between the course and afterwards. He was in great form and gave us a wonderful experience both with old favourites ("Clancy of the Overflow", "The man from Ironbark" etc.) and other poems we did not know -- including some excellent poems of his own. He gave us a lot of A.B. Paterson and Henry Lawson but at my request he also gave us a lot of C.J. Dennis. Paterson and Lawson are not likely soon to be forgotten but I think Dennis is in some danger of that. Yet he is in a way the most Australian of the three.
I had found a nicely-bound anthology of C.J. Dennis poems so I asked Michael to autograph it and then gave it to Joe as a memento of the occasion. It was a most successful night.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
I am feeling in a somewhat reflective mood today. I usually am but today the mood is strong enough to motivate me to write some of it down. I think I might have a touch of the flu!
A couple of Sundays ago, Pam Priest, piano teacher to my son Joe, put on a concert given by her students. The standard of such concerts will be well-known to most parents who have ever attended one: Pretty awful. But one has to go to hear one's own progeny, whom one hopes will not be among the awful ones.
As it turned out there were some genuinely good performances. My son Joe did the full version of that old favourite Fuer Elise by Beethoven. Despite it being loved to death and hence done to death I always enjoy hearing it and Joe did a good job of it. It has a large expressive range and deserves not to be dismissed as a "beginner's" piece, as it usually is. Joe has been learning piano since age 4 (he is now 19) but he doesn't do music exams. He just plays for his own satisfaction.
Afterwards Joe and I were discussing what he was working on and he said something about learning one of the Bach Preludes from Das wohltempierte Klavier. I said that maybe he should try one of the fugues too but remarked that they were of course very complex and difficult. I further remarked that they were very good, nonetheless, at least in my opinion.
Joe replied. Yes. "They are wonderful". That might seem like a minor remark but "wonderful" is exactly the word I use to describe music that moves me deeply -- and Bach moves me most of all -- so that remark from Joe did my heart good. It told me: "There's my boy". It told me that in important ways we are emotionally alike. And in the end it is emotions that matter. Nobody is more devoted to rationality than I am but in the end rationality is the servant, not the master.
Now on to Frederik: Frederik is a tall, slim dignified Dutchman aged about 60 who runs a small cafe where I sometimes breakfast. I went there today for breakfast. He had a lot of customers and only himself to serve them all. His wife was busy in the kitchen cooking -- where she does a first-class job. But despite the throng of breakfasters and others, Frederik served them all with reasonable promptness. To do so he had to move like greased lightning and never stop for an instant. But he did so and did so with dignity and civility.
I could not help reflecting: "How Dutch". The Dutch tend to have enormous self-confidence but it is normally justified. It can border on arrogance and the Dutch are not universally liked because of that. I like the Dutch and respect Dutch attributes greatly, however, and a Dutchman once told me that I myself would make a good Dutchman so that may tell you something. I did, by the way, regard that remark as a considerable compliment.
Anyway, Frederik did a job requiring enormous speed, energy and efficiency -- and did it with panache. I could not help reflecting how hopeless an Aborigine would have been in the same circumstances. I know Aborignies well from long experience in various settings and, although there are things about them that I respect, speed and efficiency are definitely not among their typical attributes. I did once see an Aborigine woman moving fast and it was such a memorable experience that I am afraid I turned and stared just to make sure it really was an Aborigine I was seeing. She clearly had some white genes in her but that is not uncommon in Aborigines these days.
There are good and bad people in all racial groups and I always do my best to judge each person as an individual but anybody who says that all races are the same is talking through his/her anus.
Friday, June 1, 2007
An old friend of mine has just been made a canon in the Anglican Church of Australia. I have known him since he was a theological student so I think his rise onto the clouds of glory deserves to be marked. He is in the centre of the photo below -- resplendent in an antique cope:
Sunday, May 13, 2007
As I usually do on Mothers' Day, I took some goodies over to Jenny's place for lunch. It was a small occasion. Those present were only Jenny, our son Joe, myself and Nanna (Jenny's mother). I think Jenny was a bit disappointed that neither of her daughters came over. She did however go over to her son Paul's place later in the afternoon -- presumably for afternoon tea.
I bought some Kingaroy double cream brie for the feast which turned out to be particularly good and some double-smoked Champagne ham also went down well. Jenny provided Pavlova for dessert. Pavlova is a great Australian favourite and this one was one of the best.
I had a fairly long chat with my son Joe after lunch. We discussed his mathematics studies (he is now in 3rd year) and religion, among other things. I was pleased that he has decided to go straight through to his Ph.D. at UQ. I was however surprised that, at a very large university, he is one of only a handful of students who are concentrating exclusively on mathematics. Given that there is a need for mathematicians in all sorts of places, he should always be in demand.
I am still mildly surprised to have a mathematician for a son. Joe is eerily like me in all sorts of ways but mathematics was always my least favourite subject -- though I did teach statistics at university level at one stage.
Like me, Joe still has an interest in religion but his beliefs seem to be minimal. We mainly discussed church history.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Anne recently spent three weeks on a vacation in the USA. She spent a week of it in NYC -- mainly visiting the art galleries and making one trip to the Met -- to see Turandot, I think.
Before she left, I told her she must try some Reuben sandwiches. I am a great fan of them but they are virtually unknown in Australia. I very foolishly however forgot to tell her to try bagels and lox ("lox" is the Yiddish form of the German "Lachs", meaning salmon -- smoked salmon in this case). Bagels and Lox is of course a great Jewish treat and where else would you try it if not in NYC?
So Anne missed out on a gastronomic experience, something she does not at all like doing. I therefore had to make up something here for her. I have got Reuben sandwiches pretty right. The key, as always, is good ingredients. So Anne tracked down some bagels she liked and I made up the bagels with lox and THICK soft Philly cream cheese for our evening meal tonight. It was of course wonderful but VERY fattening. Anne was amazed when I told her that some Jewish ladies have bagels and lox as simply a snack rather than as a main meal.
The bagels I have had in the USA always had salt on top but that is unknown here so we had bagels with Poppy seeds on top.
You see what an uneventful life I have when I think a sandwich is worth writing about! Uneventful is how I like it.
I also forgot to tell Anne about the soup Nazi but I don't plan to emulate him.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Australia's day of remembrance for our war dead: Australia's most solemn day. Commemoration began at dawn, as it traditionally does. A small excerpt from a news report below:
Thousands of people have braved a wet morning around the nation to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country at the Anzac Day dawn service. Masses assembled at the Cenotaph at Martin Place in Sydney just before 4.30am (AEST) for the ceremony to mark the ill-fated landing at Gallipoli 92 years ago. War veterans were in attendance, but the early morning crowd was a predominantly young one.
Naval Commander of Australia, Rear Admiral Davyd Thomas, said the Anzac story resonated with so many Australians because it was about ordinary people. .. "The wonderful thing about the Anzac story is that it's not a story that glorifies war. "It's a story about ordinary people struggling to overcome their fears and frailties but achieving extraordinary things."
He urged the crowd to direct their thoughts to the approximately 3500 Australian servicemen and women deployed in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Israel, Lebanon, East Timor and the Solomon Islands. "The Anzac tradition continues through them," he said. "Many of them were in harm's way this morning. Their service is still selfless, the mateship is as deep, the teamwork just as vital."
The early morning crowd stretched over three blocks and spilled into nearby streets, while a large screen was used to broadcast events at the Cenotaph for those who couldn't get close enough.... At 4.50am (AEST), a lone bugler sounded the last post. It was followed by a minute's silence during which the only sound that could be heard was the pattering of falling rain.
I cannot resist noting that the "drought" was yet again in evidence
Friday, March 9, 2007
Anne and I occasionally eat out for breakfast and we know some great places for that -- the Cafe Zagreb, K&Ks, Pommes teashop etc. Everybody like a change, though, so this week we tried two of the eateries associated with Mt. Coot-Tha -- Brisbane's mid-city scenic mountain.
We first tried the restaurant in the Botanical Gardens at the bottom of the mountain. The view out onto a large duckpond with lots of bamboo in the background was very pleasant and the food -- a smorgasbord with a good range of options -- was quite good but the coffee was terrible. So strike that one out.
Today we tried the Cafe at the summit of the mountain. Again the view was great and the food was fine but this time the coffee was REALLY bad. Nescafe would have been better. So strike that one out too.
While we were there, however, we did enjoy seeing the scrub turkeys walking in and out of the cafe. They are much smaller than the turkeys bred for eating but look good. They are a protected specieas and there a lot of them wandering around throughout Brisbane's Western suburbs. They are common in the Mt Coot-Tha reserve and the ones around the cafe have obviously become quite tame.
My father used to eat them in the old days when he was working out in the bush. To him they were just another chook to be killed and eaten. This was in the days when you had to kill your own chicken if you wanted to eat one. I saw him do so a few times. He said that the scrub turkeys are pretty tough (chewy), though.
A consolation for the coffee disappointments is that J.P. Chenet has now come to Brisbane. They are the world's largest-selling French wine so if I were the usual Leftist snob I would have to say how bad their wine is. But, being a contemptible plebeian, I have to say that I quite like the sauvignon blanc particularly. It goes down very easily.
Australia produces such a lot of high quality wine at low prices that overseas wines are mainly sold here as a curiosity so I had never heard of J.P. Chenet. But I saw one of their distinctive bottles in a local liquor shop and thought it worth a try. I am glad I did. It is incredibly cheap. It is "on special" at $7. The cheapest Australian white is usually $5 and I mostly pay over $10 when I buy white wine. Those Chenet people sure are clever guys. Maybe EU subsidies help.
The sauvignon blanc is from Gascony. The English have been importing Gascon wine for over 400 years so I suppose it was time some got to Australia. I gather that Gascony is not one of the prestigious French wine districts, though.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
This week included Valentine's day so I had something to live up to. Last Valentine's day I bought Anne a 2kg (about 4lb) box of Greek Turkish Delight. Anne is very fond of Turkish Delight and the slightly lemony flavour of the stuff I bought her last year was such a big hit that she spun the box out for about 6 months before it was all eaten. I very rarely make much of a hit when I buy presents so I was of course pleased to hit the jackpot with that one.
But where would I buy Greek Turkish Delight this year? The lot I bought last year was a one-off. I did however manage to find some Turkish Delight made in Turkey but I doubted that I would hit the jackpot twice. So I bought a couple of lots of chocolates for her as well. So overall I think I did OK.
To top up I also took her next day to a nearby Japanese smorgasbord for dinner. It was immaculate and perfect in the usual Japanese way with a great variety of food so we both enjoyed it. I was rather surprised at how many young Anglo-Australians were there. It is not a cheap place so Japanese quality is obviously much appreciated.
And Jill also has her birthday next Monday so on Saturday Anne and I took Jill and Lewis to the Hilton Buffet for a birthday dinner. It too was pretty well patronized despite the very steep price. I think the Hilton keeps putting its price up until the customers come in just the right numbers -- popular but not crowded. There is an expression for that in economics which I could have told you in the far-off days when I was an economics teacher but my old brain refuses to co-operate at the moment ("marginal pricing"?). Anyway, I certainly appreciate the quiet decorum and first-class food of the Hilton.
I put on pre-dinner drinks on my verandah before we left for the Hilton in order to introduce Jill and Lewis to a favourite wine of mine -- Tyrrells Verdelho. Verdelho as most vintners make it is nothing special but Tyrrells make something really good out of it. I despise wine-talk so I will not try to describe the flavour.
Then when we got back from the Hilton, we retired to my newly refurbished living room for port and coffee. The port was actually a liquer Tokay, which has a really grapey taste. Liquer versions of Tokay and Muscat are the only fortified wines I drink at the moment.
Friday, January 26, 2007
I normally live a very quiet life -- which is how I like it. I have done lots of things and been lots of places in my life but I am a born academic anyway so it suits me these days to spend my remaining years doing very little more than reading, thinking and writing.
But I do have some social life and this was a week for it. On Tuesday Anne had her birthday so I took her to the smogasbord at the Hilton. The Hilton seems to be my idea of a special dinner. I eat out several times a week so dining out itself is not a big deal. The quality, variety and unlimited quantity at the Hilton, however, is special. Another thing I like about the Hilton is that it is quiet. There is no house music, it seems to be too expensive for the loudmouths and the floor is carpeted -- all of which means that one can enjoy one's dinner in relative peace. It is not at all "vibrant", thankfully.
This year the cook had put out a lot of little hors d'oeuvres in little ceramic trays. I have only a vague idea of what was in most of them but they were delicious and I had several! As always, however, I enjoyed the fresh oysters most. The Hilton seems to make a point of getting in only the best and a Sydney Rock Oyster is very good any way -- as almost any Sydney person will tell you. They are smaller than some but make up for it in taste.
As my waistline has expanded in recent years, I had to get the straps lengthened on my kilt recently so I decided to make the Hilton outing a trial run for the modified garb. It is a good thing that I did. The modified kilt was fine but I had forgotten to get the straps on my sporran lengthened so could not get that on. So I went to the Hilton purseless. Anne however took her purse so I gave her credit card, keys etc to carry. As I live only about 10 minutes drive from central Brisbane, we took a cab to and from the dinner. It is nice not to have to bother about parking. I was impressed to note that Brisbane cabbies take credit card payments these days.
And I got the straps on my sporran lengthened the next day!
And Thursday was 25th, the birthday of Robert Burns so, as I usually do, I organized a small Burns Night celebration in honour of the poet. People with Scottish connections mark January 25th. worldwide and I am a genuine fan of Burns so Burns Night is often the only social gathering I host for the entire year.
I am not social enough to host a large gathering these days so I invited only two couples along. Jill is an old friend of mine and her partner these days, Lewis, is a real gent so they were one of the couples. The other was my stepson Paul and his wife Sue. Paul is a real livewire and we have always got on well. As he often does, Paul expressed during the dinner his appreciation of my role in his upbringing. His own father is a perfectly pleasant and kindly man but, as sometimes happens, Paul has always got on better with his stepfather than with his father.
I would have invited my own son and his mother along to the dinner but Joe has glandular fever at the moment and I didn't want anyone to catch that -- having once had it myself. And Jenny is on a gluten-free diet these days so she would not have been able to eat the haggis.
Because it was only a small gathering, I did not do most of the ceremonies customary for a Burns Night. We met mainly to eat some haggis and read a few of the poems. We got the haggis from a man who specializes in making them and he also supplied the clootie dumpling for dessert. Jill made the cockaleekie soup and Anne did a brilliant job of cooking the neeps (Swedes, a type of turnip). Neeps are basically very humble fare but Anne knows how to make them into quality food.
Paul and Sue brought along some freshly-cooked scones (what Americans call biscuits) so with oatcakes and "Dunlop" cheese after the dessert and scones (with cream and jam) to accompany the coffee it was a five-course meal.
I could not get any genuine Dunlop cheese and I have never in fact tasted the real thing but I got what I thought was the nearest thing available locally. I gather that it is a light type of cheddar cheese (definitely not rubbery). We can get English, Swedish, German, French and Norwegian cheese in Brisbane but no Scottish cheese. Dunlop cheese is named after the Scottish village where it was first made.
Since I was going to be wearing ethnic (Highland) dress, I told Lewis, who is Jewish, that I wanted him to wear his full sabbath garb. The big hat and coat favoured by Orthodox Jews look very impressive to my eyes. But he is not religious so he didn't have any! He did however bring along his kippah so we managed to induce him to wear that for a while. Jill is very philo-Semitic so I imagine that he was not allowed out of the house without his kippah in his pocket. Jill likes Jews for the same reason that I do -- the combination of brains, drive and culture that is so frequently found among them.
Addressing the Haggis
Anyway, it was a good night. The haggis was properly addressed (See above) and enjoyed, a bottle of Johnny Walker was drunk and some famous poems were read out to much appreciation. Paul is a real livewire so he even out-talked Jill, which takes some doing. Lewis had some fun stories to tell too, but Anne, Sue and I mainly listened. That is normal for me and for Sue but not for Anne. She did however have a fair bit to do getting the food ready etc. so that would have been part of it. Jill disappeared into the kitchen a few times, however, so I imagine that a proper quota of lady-talk was got in.
Hee! hee! I imagine that the paragraph above will rile any feminists reading it! Both Jill and Anne have some feminist views but are ladies first of all. If it mollifies any feelings, I did set the table, organize the pipe music, serve the haggis and read the poems. I always set the table with very old-fashioned cutlery when I have guests -- EPNS silver and bone-handled knives. It just looks better to me that way.
Self, Anne and Jill
The assembled company
And the day after Burns night is of course Australia Day -- celebrating the arrival of the first white settlers here. And on Australia day my relatives on my mother's side have for many years had the good Australian custom of getting together for a BBQ. It is almost the only time in the year that I see relatives but it is always an occasion I enjoy. It is always a particular pleasure to see the kids -- few though they be these days. The "kids" who used to be brought along by their parents are now grown up -- but most still come along anyway. Fortunately, some now have kids of their own.
I had my usual chat with Peter, my cousin once removed and with my brother Christopher. Peter is a former AOG clergyman who lost the faith and is now an academic. He is however a great loss to the ministry as he takes a great interest in other people and would be a great pastor.
As is often the case, I mainly talked about guns with my brother. I learnt that he now has SIX machineguns -- all legally -- and he has a most impressive armoury generally. We discussed why collectors have great difficulty getting hold of the OMC (Owen Machine Carbine or "Owen Gun"). I had not realized that the Owen was an Australian invention. I thought it was a great weapon when I was trained on it in the 60s during my days in the Australian Army Reserve (CMF as it then was). The party was held at my brother's place and when I arrived all the men were downstairs in the armoury admiring the weapon collection. I rather liked the look of the Bren gun. As I was not in the infantry, I did not get to fire the Bren while I was in the army.
My son Joe was there too and we talked a bit about his idea of becoming an actuary. It requires many years of post-degree study so I tried to persuade him that being an academic would be an easier life. This is his third year at university and he is again doing all mathematics subjects.
Saturday, January 13, 2007
Monday, January 1, 2007
I had a very quiet New Year's eve -- which is rather how I like it. With all the drunks on the road, it seems best to stay home. Anne was minding her grandson so that her son and his wife could have the night out and I stayed at home and blogged. A blogger's work is never done, of course.
New years day was different, however. Anne came over and made us a slap-up brunch consisting of bacon, eggs, tomato, mushrooms and haloumi cheese. And she brought a loaf of very good fresh bread with her as well to have instead of toast. With real butter it made a very nice change. I do use margarine sometimes but I prefer all my food to be "real". I avoid anything that says it is "light" or "low" etc.
Later on in the morning, I got the Humber out and we took a thermos down to Wynnum to have a cup of tea by the water. On the way back, however, one tyre blew out so I had to change it despite the fact that I had never even checked to see if the Humber had the tools needed. Fortunately it did and I was able to work out how to do the change despite a few Humber peculiarities. Being an old guy helps as I have changed tyres on many different cars over the years and so know most of the variations on how a car is jacked up etc. Anne was rather surprised to see me prising a little green circle out of the bodywork, though.
At night Anne cooked up a dinner of roast pork which also went down very well -- helped by some good Australian champagne. We won't mention the crackling, though. For dessert we had rhubarb and yoghurt -- combining two of my favourite foods.