Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Burns Night/Australia Day
I have a very quiet social life -- which is how I like it. My social events are almost entirely with old friends and family. So a social event about once a month is pretty right for me, and that is usually about how it works out. But there is one time of the year that throws all that into a cocked hat. On Saturday it was Anne's birthday; last night (Monday) was Burns night and today (Tuesday) was Australia Day. Nothing will ever make me a party animal but the last few days were about as close to that as I get.
For Anne's birthday, I took her to a Tunisian/French restaurant. I had discovered in advance that they had Merguez available so my menu choice was foreordained. Ask almost any French person whether Merguez are good sausages or not. It's rare to find them on the menu in Brisbane but I know a butcher who makes them so I do get to have them from time to time. Anne had some sort of lamb shank which she said was very good. The restaurant is La Kasbah at Woolloongabba, which is actually walking distance from where I live. It's a bit on the expensive side so that meant that it was not crowded, which I liked. But everything was well-done so it's a good place to go for a "special" dinner. They have somehow been left out of the phone book so the number is 33917439, if anyone wants it.
Then last night was Burns night, which I always celebrate. It was only for six of us this time. The best entertaining area at my place is small and Anne doesn't like cooking for multitudes. Present were Anne and myself; my son Joe with his gf. Samantha and my old friends Jill and Lewis. Lewis had a stroke over a year ago so doesn't get about very easily these days but a Burns Night is still one of his priorities. I don't think I have ever had anyone refuse an invitation to a Burns Night, in fact -- unless they were overseas or something.
We followed most of the usual customs, with Scotch and water being the only beverages on offer. Anne and Samantha shamed the men present by being the only ones to drink their Scotch neat. The rest of us cowards put cold water in it. My haggis supplier was up to his usual high standard and Anne says that it was better than the haggis she recently had in Scotland.
One of the Burns Night customs is of course the loyal toast and I have been rather aghast in recent years to find that lots of people no longer know how to respond to it. So I always tell people in advance these days that when I say "God save the Queen!", the appropriate reply is simply "The Queen!"
And for dessert we had a small variation. I normally supply clootie dumpling but this time we had apple and rhubarb pie. It seems mainly to be a Scottish idea to add rhubarb to an apple pie but the result leaves ordinary apple pie for dead in my opinion. And after the pie there was tablet, which is not remotely pharmaceutical.
We read some of the poems of course but I also had an old LP with a lot of the Burns poems put to music and very competently sung by a Scottish tenor -- so that was a bit of an improvement on our usual enjoyment of the poems.
And today was Australia day. Commemorating the landing of the first white settlers in Australia, it is a national holiday that is becoming increasingly popular. Lots of cars are driving around today with Australian flags on them, which never used to happen. I suspect that it is a backlash against all the multicultural preaching that floods the schools and the media.
My relatives on my mother's side have for many years marked the day with a family get-together over a BBQ lunch and we did so again today. I spent a fair bit of time talking to Peter, my cousin once-removed. He is an academic like me and very well-informed about most things, but particularly China. He married a Han Chinese lady and his Eurasian daughter, Michelle, was there today, as she usually is. She is still in High School but growing up fast and it was a pleasure to see how bright, confident, articulate and animated she is. With good looks as well, she will go far.
Peter was one of the earlier examples of a tall Caucasian man grabbed by a Chinese lady -- something that is now very common in Australia. Chinese ladies tend to like tall Caucasian men and when they want something they get it. I said that to Peter and he said: "They sure do!" With a daughter like Michelle, however, he has every reason to be pleased with his decisions.
My son Joe has a commendable modesty. When someone remarked that Joe is now on staff at university, Peter asked him "In what capacity?" Joe replied "duster cleaner". It was a joke of course and taken as such but a bit of self-deprecation always goes over well. He is in fact classed as being a faculty member solely because he is a Ph.D. student. He receives a well-paid scholarship while he is studying that is very competive. Many apply but few are chosen. So he has no financial pressures or worries. He is still frugal, however. He tells me that he often has porridge for breakfast "because it is cheap". I was like that when I was young too so heredity strikes again. It is a good warranty that he will always have a comfortable life.
My cousin Shirley is the family genealogist and she brought along a lot of photos of relatives that I have not met, which was interesting. The number of relatives I have in my home State of Queensland is quite amazing. There were a lot of big families in the past whose children also had big families and I come from one of them.
The do was held at my brother Christopher's place, as it usually is. He is always a quiet but genial host. There were probably around 20 of us there all told.
I flew the saltire of St Andrew from my flagpole on 25th for Burns night and the Australian flag today.
A small addendum
I told Michelle that she was my cousin twice removed, which both interested and amused her. So she then asked how she was related to my son Joe. As quick as a flash he answered: "Second cousin once removed". These geneological terms are a bit of a brain-buster for most of us in modern Western society but I think he had it right. For any geneological maven who wants to figure it out, Peter is the son of my cousin Lexie.
A small reflection on the complexities and perversities of modern-day life
As I have mentioned above, I have a LOT of blood kin (people to whom I am genetically-related) -- a number best expressed by the statistical term "n". And that is only on my mother's side. My father's ancestors were equally prolific. And I think well of them all. But I only ever see a small minority of them -- the Australia day crowd. But I do associate quite a lot with another "family" -- in which I have only one blood kin -- my son Joe -- though he himself is blood kin with 5 others in the family concerned. It's all perfectly congenial and well-understood by all -- but not at all traditional