Sunday, September 30, 2018
Our mother gave my splendid sister quite a pretty Christian name but about 30 years ago she married a very fine man who was a Mr Smith. And they are still together, wonder of wonders. And Smith is a very useful surname. When you give your name as Smith and people give you strange looks you can produce ID that completely authenticates you. But you are still almost as anonymous as if you had used a real false name ("real false name"?) Who in his right mind would even try to track down a particular Mrs Smith out of all the millions of Smiths worldwide? You might be traceable if you lived in Ulan Baator but that is about all. And with all due respect to Ulan Baator, not many Smiths would want to live there.
So to preserve their valuable anonymity I am going to refer only to "Mr & Mrs Smith" in my ramblings below.
I kitted up for my brief stay by packing my genuine Cabrelli wheeled bag. Cabrelli are mostly distributors of ladies' fancy handbags but they do luggage too. I was given mine but I rather like it. I don't like the hard angles of traditional suitcases
Anne and I arrived on the Tilt Train at Rockhampton station at about 6:45pm Friday 28th and were met by Mr & Mrs Smith. They had booked us in to a very flash motel so Anne and I just dropped our bags off there and we all went to dinner at a nearby Malaysian restaurant. It was rather flash as such restaurants go but the menu had us all a bit bamboozled. I have been in Malaysian restaurants before so I immediately suspected that the cook might be rather "creative", which is often not good. Anyway we ordered and found that the food was indeed "creative". But we got it down. I paid the "creative" bill.
But the company was good so the food was not an issue. I have seen the Smiths rarely over the years so getting to know them better seemed long overdue. We discovered fairly soon that our political views are not lightyears apart. The Smiths even had a good word to say about Mr Trump! You see why I am preserving their anonymity! We are actually something of a conservative family. Myself, my son and my brother rarely disagree on much in our extensive discussions. The twin studies tell us that Left/Right orientation is highly hereditary so that should not have been a surprise.
What the Smiths approve of in Mr Trump is mainly his opposition to political correctness. As Mr Smith said to me, "If I think a think why can't I say it?" And they also saw Trump's shaking up of the existing political system as being a very good thing.
Mr Smith is a technician by trade so is good with his hands. He enjoys putting mechanical things right. So even though he is now officially retired he still does stuff like that for its own satisfaction -- though he also is well paid for it. There are zillions of people knowledgeable in the arts but practical men are in short supply.
An interesting thing that I share with the Smiths is that we have both done rather a lot of real estate renovations and made good money doing so.
And their most recent project has been to build a really swish place for themselves to live in. The result is immaculate. It would even get approval in Amsterdam. From the outside it just looks like a simple and humble suburban home but once you get inside you find lots of rooms with every conceivable facility. And it has great views from the top story.
When they bought it, it was basically sound but a big mess -- a big enough mess to deter most buyers. So they got it for a very reasonable price. Then over a period of many months they got it right, doing a lot of the work themselves -- but getting in the experts where appropriate. They are justly proud of their result.
Mrs Smith has done many jobs over the years, including a spell at a meatworks where our father also worked. She liked the orderliness of how the place was run. You didn't know that an abbatoir could be orderly, did you? It hadn't occurred to me. Nowadays she is a senior teacher at a Primary school. She does not teach a regular class but fills in doing all sorts of jobs that keep the place running.
She is very critical of the Department of Education. She says that they are always issuing new instructions about things that should be taught -- thus taking time away from the regular curriculum. But the innovations tend to drift away after a while and the school gets back to doing the same things they always did. The bureaucrats can propose and instruct but it is the workers "at the coalface" who determine what is actually done. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose
The Smiths are very health conscious and avoid eating any food that might be a bit suspect. They are big on vegetarian food but are not fanatical about it. My indulgent lifestyle rather horrified them so I did mention to them that my last blood test showed me to have the internal organs of an 18-year-old. Even my blood sugar was dead centre. So my indulgent lifestyle hasn't hurt me yet. And seeing that Mrs Smith and I share 50% of our genes, what is OK for me is probably OK for her too. So I wonder whether that will move them towards a more relaxed diet in some way.
But they have me totally beaten in their fitness. They still walk miles on a daily basis and do things like cycling up hills!
On Saturday morning the Smiths took Anne and me on a tour of the region, seeing mountains and seascapes and localities etc. I was particularly impressed by the many old buildings from the Victorian and Edwardian eras that still stood in Rockhampton. Instead of tearing their beautiful old buildings down like a lot of fools elsewhere have done, the Rockhampton people have renovated most of their old buildings to look as good as new. That was a most pleasant surprise to an old sentimentalist like me
The thing I was most interested in seeing in the region was the immensely controversial Iwasaki resort at Yeppoon -- now known as the Capricorn resort. It is mostly dormant at the moment awaiting a refit but nothing has ever moved fast there. The extensive buildings are still all there but the grounds are not up to an immaculate standard at the moment. In one of the few parts of the resort that is still operating is the Japanese restaurant -- so the Smiths were kind enough to stop there even though Mrs Smith is very suspicious of Japanese food. I of course am a great fan of Japanese food.
I shouted lunch there and Mrs Smith decided on ordering the Japanese curry. I encouraged that by noting that Japanese curry is always delicious without being "hot". In the end she did seem to enjoy it. Anne and I had the pork Tonkatsu, which was as good as it comes. The restaurant was pretty packed when we arrived so many of the locals must share my opinion of the food there.
After lunch we went to have a look at Yeppoon, which I had heard of as a beach to which people from inland go for their holidays. So I expected a small village. I found however that it was a substantial town with lots of shops and facilities.
As it happened, Emu beach was nearby where Anne used at one time in the now distant past to go for holiday breaks. A friend of hers once owned a holiday house there. So she was interested to revisit the house and take some photos of it, which she did
All in all, the Smiths went to a lot of trouble to make our stay comfortable and interesting, which was much appreciated.
The Smiths also insisted on paying for our two nights at the motel. It was a large and imposing apartment motel which was very spacious and comfortable and with good views of the huge Fitzroy river.
It was however odd in having neither a minibar nor room service. Life us full of surprises.
On Saturday night neither Anne nor I felt like a big dinner after our Japanese lunch so we just had Angus burgers at a nearby steak house. And they were remarkably good.
We managed to get up at 6am the following Sunday morning to get a taxi back to the railway station. And the taxi driver was a chatty Australian, which was rather a blast from the past You mostly get Indians with limited English as drivers in Brisbane
I did not like the trip on the Tilt Train. Too slow and cramped. but I have expanded at length on that elsewhere.
The Tilt Train doesn't tilt any more. That's one of the most glaring proofs of how the super cautious bureaucrats at Queensland Rail have totally misused one of the few trains that they could have been proud of. It is one of the few bits of "modern" (it is 20 years old) technology that could have given passengers a modern journey time.
It chugs along at a speed averaging about 80 kmh versus the 160 kmh it is routinely capable of. It goes a little faster than the old "Sunlander" but the "Sunlander" was REALLY slow. You could have walked faster at some points on it
Do the sums yourself: The Tilt Train does the 615 km from Brisbane to Rockhampton in 7.5 hours -- which averages out at 82 kmh -- or 51 mph in the old money. Highway traffic goes faster than that. Allowing half an hour for stops still brings the average speed up to only 87 kmh
And that slow speed is why the train doesn't tilt any more. The whole point of Tilting technology is so it can go faster. The train does not have to slow down so much as it goes around curves. It leans into curves the way a motorbike would. But the Tilt Train goes so slowly around curves that it has no need to tilt. It handles curves in the track the same way the old "Sunlander" did -- by slowing to a crawl.
On my recent trip from Brisbane to Rockhampton, there were a few spots when the train showed something of what it can do and that was rather exciting but they never lasted for long.
Perhaps the most extraordinary example of excess bureaucratic caution was the way the train slowed to a crawl for an urban level crossing. With red lights flashing and a boom gate down, Queensland motorists can still cross rail tracks at will. In most of the world you risk your life by ignoring crossing warnings but not so in urban Queensland. The train goes so slowly that the driver could probably stop in time rather than run into you. The bureaucrats ensure that NOTHING will generate negative publicity for their train.
On my trip the train even came to a full stop for 15 minutes to deal with an ill passenger. I have no idea how that helped. I suspect regulations again.
So why are Queenslanders in the grip of bureaucrats who completely misuse their best asset? I suspect it goes back to the time when the Tilt Train did tilt. But it can only tilt so far. And in 2004 BOTH drivers were too busy noshing to slow the train down when it entered a curve. So they sent the train through a curve at twice the recommended speed. It of course crashed.
So what was clearly needed were computerized speed limiters. Queensland Rail in fact did install such a system but to be super cautious they just slowed the whole train down forever. A very bureaucratic and unintelligent response. They can now enjoy their coffee breaks without a care in the world.
I must however give credit where it is due. The food aboard is remarkably good for railway food. Their chef clearly knows what he is doing. The hot food came around hot and the cold food around came cold. And the prices are very reasonable, though the portions are rather small. And the food carts come around with great frequency, perhaps to take the minds of passengers off the painful progress of their train. I am guessing that the food supply is the only thing outsourced to private enterprise. What might upset international visitors, however, is that they only take cash. Remember that stuff? Credit cards are not accepted.
Friday, September 21, 2018
I listen to quite as lot of music on video -- mostly classical. And the piano is of course a big part of that. So it is a very pleasant discovery for me to come across a new artist -- new to me anyway. Up until recently my favourite pianist was Yuja Wang, a gift to us all from Beijing. I have just in the last few days got to hear the playing of Alice Sara Ott, from Germany. Her mother was Japanese so she is rather tiny in build but quite pretty.
I have heard quite a few pieces by her but the one that gets to me most is Beethoven's 3rd Piano concerto. Her timing is exquisite. Below she joins with the French national radio orchestra in Paris under a Finnish conductor.
Before her the pianist I was listening to most was Yuja Wang. She is quite amazing playing Schubert. I know the words and story for quite a few Schubert Lieder and listening to Wang play I could swear she has the words in her head too. Her playing exactly reflects the poem concerned. Below is an example of that most dramatic Lied Der Erlkoenig -- set to a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Who's riding so late where winds blow wild
It is the father grasping his child;
He holds the boy embraced in his arm,
He clasps him snugly, he keeps him warm.
"My son, why cover your face in such fear?"
"You see the elf-king, father?
He's near! The king of the elves with crown and train!"
"My son, the mist is on the plain."
'Sweet lad, o come and join me, do!
Such pretty games I will play with you;
On the shore gay flowers their color unfold,
My mother has many garments of gold.'
"My father, my father, and can you not hear
The promise the elf-king breathes in my ear?"
"Be calm, stay calm, my child, lie low:
In withered leaves the night-winds blow."
'Will you, sweet lad, come along with me?
My daughters shall care for you tenderly;
In the night my daughters their revelry keep,
They'll rock you and dance you and sing you to sleep.'
"My father, my father, o can you not trace
The elf-king's daughters in that gloomy place?"
"My son, my son, I see it clear
How grey the ancient willows appear."
'I love you, your comeliness charms me, my boy!
And if you're not willing, my force I'll employ.'
"Now father, now father, he's seizing my arm.
Elf-king has done me a cruel harm."
The father shudders, his ride is wild,
In his arms he's holding the groaning child,
Reaches the court with toil and dread. -
The child he held in his arms was dead.
And before that I was most often listening to Emil Gilels, a Ukrainian pianist from the Soviet era -- playing Beethoven's 5th concerto, "The Emperor". Its beauty still moves me to tears
Sunday, September 2, 2018
On Friday night Anne and I had our usual Friday night dinner at my place with some good Wagyu sausages on the menu. I made the salad and Anne did the cooking. Wine tends to give Anne a bit of congestion so I made her a Martini -- which she particularly likes -- while I had a can of Fourex Gold. I hear that I make a good Martini but I don't drink them myself. Adding a wormwood liquor to good Gin seems sacrilege to me.
Then on Saturday night it was the 13th anniversary of Anne and myself being together. So we had what we usually have for special occasions: Fried French (lamb) cutlets. I got some really nice ones -- big, lean and juicy -- from Woolworths for a largish sum and Anne brought over some Sydney rock oysters. We had the dinner at my place and I made up a big salad to go with it. I put a few pickled onions in the salad. Anne likes them but is a bit allergic to them. She ate them anyway. We had a bottle of a German "champagne" -- Henkel Trocken -- to wash it all down. It is Anne's favourite champagne and I like it too.
After the main meal we had some small Belgian chocolate desserts. And after that we listened to a CD of music from Vienna. It had some good arias from operetta in it so we both enjoyed it. It was a CD from a concert Anne went to in Vienna -- on one of her many trips to Europe
And on Sunday Joe gave me a Father's day dinner. He got some excellent Barramundi from a very good fish shop we have near us so I had a very enjoyable dinner of fish 'n chips, We talked about politics and Mr Trump as we usually do. I drank a can of Fourex Gold and Joe had whisky and Coke.
It was actually the second dinner we had had together that day as we also did our usual Sunday visit to the pie shop for a bacon & egg breakfast that morning.
I suspect that I see my son more often than most fathers do. He is sitting only a few yards from me as I write this in fact -- with both of us on our respective computers. The fact that we both have similar musical tastes and similar political opinions does help. On politics we are both deep into detail. We mentioned the Holodomor tonight for instance -- not something on everybody's horizon. Mostly, however we talk about American politics -- as that has most impact on the world.
I was pleased that Von sent me a Father's Day greeting. She and I have always got on especially well. When she was a little girl, I explained to everybody that she was a lady and had to be treated that way. Everybody more or less went along with that but Paul thought it was a bit of a racket.