Friday, July 19, 2019

The arrival

It was difficult to get our New Zealand families over for our birthday month because of clashes with school times for the kids. So they couldn't get here for everything. But they prioritized Joe's birthday. And on Thursday night they arrived with Jenny and me to welcome them: Von, Suz, Hannah and Dusty. Sahara got left behind in Invercargill in the care of her father for some reason.   Ken picked them up from the airport and transported them to Jenny's place.  Maureen was there too

Von was looking gorgeous as usual -- in her woolly singlet -- and even Suz had made an effort at dressing up, something she is not much inclined to do. Von was in great form  -- as happy as a lark -- and Hannah was full of beans too.  Dusty was quite serious at age 7.  Hannah has grown quite tall and quite confident at age 8 and was full of feminine mannerisms as she talked.  She is already the lady you would expect of Von's daughter. At one stage she said -- to general surprise -- that she likes flies.  Ken then said that he did too.  It's amazing what can be genetically transmitted.

Hannah is a very lucky girl in this day and age.  Because she and her mother are so alike, she has a mother who understands her readily plus she has a father at home who adores her.  You don't get much better than that and it's becoming rare these days.

A lot of the talk was about New Zealand and the trip over -- to fill in our Brisbane people about the other lives in New Zealand.  Von, Suz and their kids seem to be regular New Zealanders now.

Fortunately they do not seem to have acquired the strange New Zealand accent so far.  The Kiwis are the only English language group to have lost an entire vowel.  Cockneys have lost a consonant -- Theta -- but losing consonants is fairly common.  Only the Kiwis have lost a vowel.  They replace the short i sound with the grunt vowel.

An amusing story was about their reception by the immigration authorities when they arrived in Brisbane.  Apparently the officer asked the girls whether they were they closely related.  Dusty piped up saying they were twins.  He was ignored even though he was right.  No surprise that he was ignored though. The  girls  never did look at all alike and these days the differences seems to have grown.

I got  a few expressions of sympathy about my prostate diagnosis and they all seemed to be surprised that the treatment was so simple.

The arrival was at dinner time so Jenny put on spag bol for us all plus a big bowl of salad. Jenny timed it well as we sat down shortly after the twins arrived.

On previous visits to Brisbane by the twins, we have made a point of going to a nearby restaurant that did good dosas, a South Indian offering.  Such vists were much enjoyed.  Sadly, that restaurant went under recently and there is nobody else nearby that does dosas.

The Dapur Dahlia has however acquired similar popularity with people I know so I wanted to get the twins to experience them as well.  So I took them there, plus Jenny and their kids on Friday night (tonight).

The first dinner to arrive was for Dusty. It was a nice wire basket full of chips plus some chicken nuggets.  As soon as I saw it, I said, "I want Dusty's dinner".  The others agreed with me. It was quite a big lot of chips so we all had a few to taste.  There were still tons left for Dusty and he did in fact polish them all off.

Suz and I had Nasi Goreng Pattaya (below) but I forget what the others had. It is basically fried rice with chicken plus an omelette on top.

We talked about various family matters and reminiscences.  Von was still upset over a memory from wayback.  This was at Gordonvale where we often took our dinners down to the Gazebo to have. One night we were having spaghetti and all took our plates of it down to the gazebo.  On the way, Von's dinner slipped off the plate onto the ground so became uneatable. Spaghetti is very slippery stuff so it was not really Von's fault but she was understandably upset at the time.  And she is still mourning that lost plate of spaghetti.

Once again, everybody spontaneously commented how good the food was so it did turn out to be a good replacement for the dosa place. Hannah got a full-size meal but ate only about half of it so Von wanted to doggy bag it.  The restaurant accommodates that but to do so sells you a nice container for a small sum.  The container has Dapur Dahlia written on it in large letters.  Knowing how Von collects mementoes I am betting that that container will be going back to New Zealand.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The celebrations continue

On Monday, Joe was off work in the morning to allow him to deal with some bureaucratic matters so we had breakfast together at our favorite coffee lounge.  Bacon and eggs for both of us.  I forget what we talked about but it would probably be about Mr Trump's latest tweets.

Then that night Anne made me a dinner with things I particularly like:  Sydney rock oysters to start followed by meatloaf and finished by fruitcake.  She made the meatloaf and cake according to her own recipes.  And both worked out very well.  We washed it down with a bottle of Henkel Trocken, a German "champagne" Anne likes.

And on Tuesday, yesterday, I hosted a big dinner for close family and friends at the Dapur Dahlia, a Malaysian restaurant I often go to these days.  They are particularly good for hosting a group.  Their tables for two are largeish and can easily be pushed together to make one long table.  There were 11 of us so we needed that.  And people always make appreciative comments about the food.

I made a special request for Geoff to come down from his perch in the near North for the dinner as it was a long time since I had seen him.  I used to see him about monthly when he was my handyman.  So I wanted to hear how he was going these days.  We had a good chat and he did seem to be in better form now that he has retired.  Some stresses have been taken off him.

George was there as he always is when I am doing the invitations.  Lewis and Jill were also there and Lewis had never met George so Lewis asked a lot of questions to figure how George fitted in to the family.  Lewis has still got a keen and enquiring mind even in his advanced years.

At one stage I was talking to a couple of people and pointing out how much of their religion the Muslims had stolen off the Jews -- even down to "Allah" being originally a Hebrew word (Eloah in Hebrew).  Lewis looked a bit uncomfortable about that but he knows I am a fanatical supporter of Israel so he was probably wondering about the attitudes of other people there.  For me Israel can do no wrong and I put my money where my mouth is by occasional donations to Israeli charities.  Israel has to spend so much on its defence that the government does not have much to spend on welfare work.

Anne spent a lot of time talking to my brother and his wife Kym. I put up some teases to Kym about Aborigines to which she responded well.  She does welfare work with Aborigines. I talked a bit with my brother about motorbikes, getting the latest on English motorbikes, an interest we share.

Joe spent a lot of time talking to Lewis which he enjoyed and when I asked him afterwards how he found the dinner he said it was "fun".

Kate was her usual social self and talked mostly to Jenny.

I had pretty well healed up after my Friday surgery so could enjoy the occasion.  I talked to George and Jill and most of the people there.  At one stage, I announced to Jill in my usual cheerful way that I had recently been diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer and Jill remarked that she had never heard me complain about anything, which may be true  My instinct is to look at the positive.

Everybody liked the food as usual. It was both filling and tasty. I provided a couple of bottles of Seaview champagne to help wash it all down.  Below is the docket as a memento of what we had.  The overall cost was embarrassingly small. I actually could have paid it in cash

Figure that lot out!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Cold calls

Almost every day around mid-afternoon I get a junk phone call --   Sometimes on my mobile, sometimes on my landline;  Most are are polite, some are threatening;  Some know my name, most do not; some claim to be official from the tax office or the telephone company and others have all sorts of introductions.

I can usually decide within 5 seconds that the call is a scam and simply hang up immediately without saying a word.  I guess that is impolite of me but I have no qualms about being impolite to crooks.

The interesting thing is that -- as far I can remember -- all the callers have had a strong foreign accent. Being a bit deaf I don't understand foreign accents well at the best of times so that alerts me from the first word they say.  So they are optimistic.  For best results they should put someone who is a native speaker of Australian English on the line. That would be more likely to get attention.  So they are all evidently just small-time crooks from somewhere abroad taking their chances.

I understand foreign accents over the phone so badly that I really have little idea what they are saying.  So I am occasionally in doubt about the call.  I think it might be legit.  So in those cases I am perfectly frank.  I tell them that I cannot understand a word they are saying so get a native speaker of Australian English to call me back.

They rarely go quietly.  They keep jabbering.  So I then hang up.  Occasionally, that frustrates them so much that they keep calling back -- often in angry voices. Having their pronunciation condemned seems to frustrate them more than losing the call.   Which amuses me. Once again I hang up as soon as I decide the call is a scam.  Some call back a few times.  They are determined that their English will be understood.  But it isn't.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

An excision and a dinner

On Friday I visited my usual skin clinic for an excision on my left temple.  I normally go there just for biopsies and cryotherapy. So this was a first. The lady doctor -- Sandy -- who normally attends to me did the excision. Most of my excisions in recent times have been done by Russell, a brilliant plastic surgeon who gets exemplary results, so I was a bit concerned about how well Sandy would go.

She was meticulous and it went very well:  No subsequent pain and no inflammation. The result was in part because it was an easy job with enough loose skin at the site for an easy post-excision joinup.  If it had been a tricky job needing flaps etc I would have gone to the plastic surgeon.

And Sandy's post-op care was extraordinarily good.  She gave me her personal mobile no. and said I could call her at any time if I had any concerns about the excision.  And she said she would home visit me if there were any serious problems.  And the morning after the procedure she rang me personally to see how I was. 

I actually took advantage of that to ask if I could come in to have the dressings minimized as the existing ones were itchy. She agreed and within 20 minutes she was attending to me.  I had no idea that such a level of service was possible.  She says she usually does about four surgeries a day so she is just a very capable lady. And she is a great communicator too. I would recommend her to anybody with bad skin bits.  She is only a little thing but is 100% quality.

So my recovery was very rapid and by Sunday I had only steristrips on the wound.  I was already hardly aware of it.  Which was a good thing because I could enjoy my dinner that evening without distraction. 

And my dinner was a special one.  July is birthday season for Joe, me and Nanna.  So as usual, Joe and Kate cooked me a seasonal dinner to have on our verandah.  It was a dinner of devilled sausages.  As I am something of a sausage freak it was a very well-chosen offering.  It was greatly enjoyed.  I supplied Seaview champagne as usual

Most ladies have a special dinner they do for special occasions so I think Kate could well use that dinner as her special.  Now that she is a married lady she will probably be doing a bit of entertaining.

It was a good opportunity for me to have some relaxed chats with Kate.  As Kate has recently got her psych degree, we talked a lot about issues in education and the parlous state of academic research in the social sciences and medicine.  The replication crisis has shaken a lot of people -- though I personally thought it was long overdue.  The glaring holes in most research in those fields were obvious to me from wayback.  I even had a lot of critique articles published which said so. Journal editors don't like publishing critiques so I was obviously making strong points.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

An interesting day

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a large table-height sideboard  from Buranda Vinnies.  It was a very attractive piece with lots of drawers etc.   Anne liked it.  About a week ago a similar one popped up in Stones Corner Vinnies.  This one was normal sideboard height but was otherwise a little smaller.  But it also looked good.  So I bought it for Anne but left it to Anne to arrange delivery.

And it arrived today. So when I turned up at Anne's place at 7pm there it was.  Anne had done some big furniture rearrangements to fit it in to her living room but it did fit in very well.  She was of course rather worn out at that stage so I took her to dinner at nearby Tingalpa.

When we arrived at Tingalpa we noticed that the Japanese restaurant had been much done up so decided to try it.  What I ordered and what we got seemed very different but it was very tasty nonetheless.  We will return.

After the meal we went for a short walk to see what else was new at Tingalpa.  A Thai restaurant had some leaflets out the front so I took one and sat down to read it.

I sat on one of the flimsy stools that the restaurant supplies.  Both the stool and I fell over.  I must have sat further back on it than I should.  So I ended up flat on my back on the concrete floor.  As the stool was only about 18" off the floor I didn't have far to fall so did not injure myself.  Old fellas like me should NOT fall over, however. We tend to break things.  My fall must have been much observed because people leaped up and came from all over to help me.  I needed it as at my age I have difficulty getting off the floor by myself. 

So it was good to see how many kind people were there. I don't think I have sunk to the level of Blanche in "Streetcar named Desire", though.

Friday, July 5, 2019

A pre-birthday dinner with Lana and Peter H.

July is birthday month for me.  It is my birthday plus there are two other family birthdays. And there can be more than one celebration of a birthday. So this July is shaping up as busy too. So I thought I might fit in a dinner with Peter early on in the month. So I took us to the Dapur Dahlia Malaysian restaurant again tonight.

I get a feeling of real satisfaction from Dapur Dahlia dinners.  Their dinners all seem to have a lot of rice so that may be at work.  Rice is very filling.  About 2 billion people find it so anyway.

Anne and Lana spent a lot of time talking, including discussion of the role of soy sauce in cooking.  Both ladies have their own uses for it.  Peter and I talked about many things, including about his eminent father whom I knew from his writings. We both studied psych at UQ in our student days at about the same time so some reminiscences about that also cropped up.

A pleasing discovery was that Lana is a keen Chaucerian.  We joined in a recitation of some lines from the Canterbury Tales for a short while. We used the original Middle English pronunciation.  It just does not work otherwise. We both share a keen appreciation of Chaucer.  It is a pity that people are put off getting to known him by the very old form of English he used.

The food was as good as expected but a surprise was when Peter ordered a dessert. It was a sort of Malayan trifle -- only with about twice as many ingredients as a normal trifle.  It is called Ice Kacang.  There is a description of it on the menu.  Peter gave me a taste of it and it was Yum!

So it was a good dinner all round.  As a memento of it I reproduce the docket, showing what we had.

I cannot resist mentioning something very few people realize about Chaucer. He lived during England's Plantagenet dynasty about 600 years ago. At that time most writing was done in Latin or Norman French. So when he chose to write in the English of his day, he largely had to invent his own spelling. So he simply wrote down the sounds he heard. So Middle English was phonetically spelled, unlike modern English. And, to a remarkable extent, we still use Chaucer's spelling, even though the pronunciation has changed. So in our English word "knight", both the K and the GH were originally sounded, not silent as they are today. We still write English largely as it sounded 600 years ago. Chaucer was very largely the founder of English spelling.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

An after effect

The usual treatment for prostate cancer these days is injections of a testosterone antagonist -- degarelix in my case.  You get an initial high dose followed  by much lower doses at one month intervals

I had the initial dose in the form of two injections on Wednesday 26th.  Within hours the injection sites had become very painful and I was much inhibited from getting about as most movement was painful.  It is only now on Sunday that the pain has abated to a trivial level.  I expected the healing to be almost overnight but that was not to be

Apparently some pain is normal but I suspect that the nurse who did the injections did not do it quite right. One injection was much more painful than the other. I will ask my GP to supervise it next time.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Savings (frugality) is the key to having money when you need it

I mentioned some days ago the importance of putting money aside in your youth for a rainy day in your latter years. There is a lot of medical rain in your latter years and medical rain can be particularly expensive.  So I thought I might set down some notes about what I did to put money aside.

I have been frugal from childhood.  Frugality was preached to me at my Presbyterian Sunday school and I took to it like a duck to water. So as a kid I saved my 2/- per week pocket money rather than spending it on confectionery  -- which is what most of my peers did.  Though I would always buy the latest "Phantom" comics. But every now and again, my mother would borrow the money in my money box to buy family needs.  How poor can you be when you have to borrow the money in your kid's money box in order to put dinner on the table? My mother's purchases were almost all from convenience stores so she just did not have a frugal mind.

So I have always lived simply and very economically, which has left me in a very comfortable situation in my old age.

The high point of my frugality came during my student days, when I lived on skim milk plus a few vitamins for around six months.  I bought the skim milk from the local dairy factory in the form of a 56lb paper sack of dried skim milk, which was almost a give-away product at that time but was very nutritious all the same.  So in modern terms my food bill was something like $5 per week.  It was ridiculously small.  As the recipient of a government scholarship to go to university I had a small living allowance and I saved virtually the whole of my allowance at that time -- and also remained in perfect health.

With my savings much reinforced, I gave that up after a while,  and moved back on to a more normal but still economical diet featuring a lot of cheese sandwiches.  I still like a slab of cheese on a fresh bread roll. Did you know that a dollop of plum jam on top of the cheese in your cheese sandwich really lifts it?  Plum jam has always been the cheapest jam.

There are many ways you can have a good and healthy diet for a small cost -- with anything featuring eggs being high on the list.  A 3-egg omelette makes a very good breakfast, with the eggs costing you a total of around one dollar only. And oats for making porridge are also very cheap. I still like a nice plate of porridge on occasions.  And you can often get day-old bread for a song.  It makes great toast.

These days my frugality consists of buying most of my groceries as "specials" and "markdowns" from my local supermarket.  And I buy most of my alcohol in the form of Vodka, which is generally the cheapest of spirits. And if I eat out, I eat at ethnic restaurants, which often give me amazingly good dinners for a very modest price.

And I am not seized with the vice of old age:  Travel.  Travel can be very expensive but I did all I want of that when I was younger and highly paid.

So I now spend very little on myself and give about half of my income away to friends, relatives and conservative causes.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

An unusually interesting two days

Over the years I have had quite a few tests to see if I have prostate cancer -- and all have come back negative.  I suspected that it had finally got me now that I am 75, however.  I am in the middle of the age range where it is most usually detected.  So Thursday last I went and saw my GP, who ordered some tests for me.  I had the blood test that day plus an ultrasound on Friday. And on Monday I had another scan, a PET scan (nuclear medicine) which lights up your insides.  Nothing to do with cats and dogs.

It was a bit pesky to have the test on Monday as that was the day I had already booked my car in with the panelbeater to get some minor dings fixed up.  And another complication was that I had dropped in to Vinnies on the Saturday and spotted a large and beautiful TV cabinet with umpteen drawers etc.  It was a very fine piece of furniture going for a song.  So I could not resist.  I bought it. So I had to organize for it to be picked up and taken to my place on Monday or Tuesday.

So on Monday I had to take my car in for two days, have a very lengthy PET scan, do all my usual activities and host my usual Monday night dinner for Jenny, Joe and Kate.  We went to the Sunny Doll, which was up to its usual high standard.

And then Tuesday was even busier.  I had to wait for the carriers to deliver my cabinet from Vinnies to start with.  When that had arrived and been put in place, I went off for a late breakfast and a trip to Woolies at Buranda.  Early that afternoon the car was ready so I had to go and pick that up.  Then at 3:30 I had my appointment with the urologist.

He seemed a rather gloomy man and I suspect I know why.  He had to tell me that I had prostate cancer which had already metastasized and was therefore beyond surgical cure.  He probably gets some bad reactions when he tells people that sort of thing.  I was however mentally prepared for that so had no emotional reaction at all -- and simply had an interesting conversation with him about the matter.  He was much warmer to me by the time I left.

Anyway, the treatment for the problem is simply a monthly injection of a testosterone antagonist, which should keep me going at least until I am 80 -- by which time I will be happy to bow out.

Anne came over in the evening to find out how I had gone and was surprised to find me in perfectly good cheer, given the diagnosis.  I have always been hard to bother. I then went and got us dinner in the form of Barramudi n chips from a nearby place which does fish n chips superbly.  We had it on my verandah.  I even got out the fish knives for it -- which I usually forget. We washed it down with German "champagne" -- Henkel Trocken,  Anne's favourite.

So in one day, I received and set up furniture, went out for a cooked breakfast, shopped at Woolworths, picked up my car from the panelbeater, had a medical consultation, did my usual blogging, and had a dinner with the lady in my life.  Busy!

The PET scan was quite expensive ($700+) so I was a little surprised that neither Medicare nor my private insurance gave me anything back from it.  I understand why, however.  Most men do get prostate cancer eventually so paying for a PET scan for them all would break the bank.  Once again there is no substitute for putting money aside in your youth for a rainy day.  Medical rain can be particularly expensive.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Mr Halloumi again

Halloumi is not his actual name. It is just a version that amuses me. I last wrote about him here on 28 December last year.  He  has a shocking driving record but does not like that to be publicly known. He is battling uphill over that one, though.  If you google his unusual surname, the first three hits that come up are all about his driving record and his troubles with officialdom resulting from that.

He is probably a bit of a poor thing.  He has given me a number of indications that he is not very bright and it seems to be part of that that he needs to drive expensive sports cars at excessive speeds.  It's his way of showing what a big man he is. He has an ego need that repeatedly puts him in conflict with the law.

Anyway, I once reproduced on one of my blogs a news report about his amazingly bad driving record. He has been described as the worst driver in the state, due to the number of tickets he has received. He has been disqualified for many years

Some years after I reproduced the newspaper article about him, however, he discovered my copy of it and was hellbent on getting me to take it down. He was very aggressive about it. I described the outcome of that in my previous post  Various negotiations produced a satisfactory compromise.

Just this month, however, I heard from him again.  Some other blogger who does not reveal his identity had also become amused at the antics of Mr Halloumi and had copied one of my pages about him -- a page which I had subsequently modified to be less upsetting to Mr Halloumi.

Mr Halloumi had just come across the copied page and assumed that I was responsible for it.  That I had written it but someone else had copied and posted it without my knowledge was too difficult for him to load. It was obviously not one of my blogs but he was too dim to see that.  I never copyright anything I write so if someone copies what I write I take no notice of it.

Anyway, Mr Hallomi was in a rage about his discovery of the copied page so sent me an email as follows:

"Mate your a liar & a keyboard coward hiding behind a computer thinking your safe & insulated... This is the last warning before I jump on a plane & visit you at your redneck shack ... 24hours to remove your garbage."

An only slightly veiled threat!  He was dumb enough to threaten me over something over which I had no control!  Epic folly.

Anyway, I eventually managed to explain to him what the situation was and he has now gone off to Google in the hope that they will take it down for him.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

More protection for "Old Queenslander" houses in Brisbane

I originally wrote the notes below for my "Australian Politics" blog -- as a comment on the news item below.  But I thought they had a place here as well

There can be conflicts between stability and economic efficiency and it is sometimes important to prioritize stability.  Money is not everything. People do value stability.  Change can be too much.  So a balance is needed.  And Brisbane people do value their reassuring streetscapes of old wooden houses.  They want them to stay

For many born-Queenslanders such as I am, those houses have a warm and comfortable feeling whereas a modern brick house seems cold and lifeless.  Hard to say why but there's probably more to it than familiarity.  Timber is from a living thing so that may have some influence.

I have spent a lot of time and money restoring old Queensland houses and when I walk into an empty one of them I can feel all the families who have lived there before.  I can almost hear the children playing. Its a feeling of continuity with other people like myself in the past. It feels right.

I suppose I am a sentimental old fool but I am far from alone.  There is already in Brisbane a total ban on demolishing any pre-war house

A ban on townhouses and apartment blocks in Brisbane’s character suburbs could come into effect before the end of the financial year, after the state government gave the green light for public consultation.

In September last year, the council requested state government's approval to amend the council’s City Plan 2014, in a bid to prevent apartment blocks and townhouses from being built on blocks larger than 3000 square metres in low-density residential zoned suburbs.

On Wednesday evening, Infrastructure and Planning Minister Cameron Dick gave Brisbane City Council the go-ahead to progress to public consultation.

He said council was required to consult with the community on the proposed amendments for 20 business days.

“Once the council has completed the consultation they will be required to submit the proposed amendments, including feedback received during the consultation period, for my approval to proceed to adoption,” he said.

“It is now up to the council to consult with the community to test the adequacy of the proposed amendment with the broader community and industry.” The ban would last for two years, if approved.

Brisbane lord mayor Adrian Schrinner welcomed the government's tick of approval for council to progress its plans to halt "cookie-cutter townhouses".

“I am committed to building the infrastructure our city needs, while protecting the liveability of our suburbs and that is exactly what this proposed major amendment can achieve,” Cr Schrinner said.

“Brisbane is growing, but Council is committed to maintaining the character of our suburbs and ensuring any development fits in with the existing surroundings.

The opening of public consultation comes as nearly 6000 properties around Coorparoo have been rezoned to character residential under Brisbane City Council’s latest neighbourhood plan.

The rezoning means more properties will be protected to retain the typical Queensland house from being demolished or altered significantly.


Saturday, June 8, 2019

I hollered for a Marshall

The battery in my Toyota Echo was sounding a bit feeble a couple of days ago so I went into Beaurepaires on Ipswich Rd -- which I drive past everyday -- and asked did they test batteries.  The clod at the desk said "Yes we do but the machine is broken".  No further comment that he would take my number and ring me when the machine was fixed.  I would have accepted that. So I turned on my heel and left without another word. The battery was definitely low so I would probably have bought a new one from him if he had shown any interest in business.

So then I went to the local Repco outlet, who are big on all things cars. The bloke said a new battery would be $209.  But I haggled him down to $160.  I then asked how much to fit it as at 75 I am getting a bit old to do that.  He said that they don't fit batteries.  So again I turned on my heel and left without another word.

The only other nearby battery place was Marshalls at Greenslopes so I drove to their depot.  The bloke there attended to me promptly and in a friendly manner and quoted me $160 plus $15 to fit the battery.  I said: "Let's do it now" and he did. I walked out of there after no more than 10 minutes a happy man with a new battery under the bonnet. And he had the $$$ that the previous businesses had seen walk out. And even the price was right.

That's about the usual score for Australian businesses.  Only about a third know and care what they're doing. See here and here for previous examples

Something I didn't know is that Marshall is actually an Australian company, not American at all. Something else I didn't know is that Marshall can help with a lot more than batteries

To quote them:

Why keep paying for traditional Roadside Assistance membership every year, when you don't need to? Marshall has revolutionised traditional roadside assistance programs with its new 'Pay to Use Roadside Rescue' service! THAT MEANS NO MEMBERSHIP OR ROADSIDE JOINING FEES!

Who knows when one of those unforeseen breakdown situations may occur? Maybe you have a flat battery, locked your keys in the car or have run out of fuel? Simply 'Holler For A Marshall'

Flat or damaged tyre? We will come to you and change over your flat or damaged tyre with your vehicles spare, saving you the hassle of doing it yourself.

Locked your keys inside your vehicle? Don't worry, Marshall can access most standard vehicles to retrieve your keys.

Friday, June 7, 2019

A trip to Persia

Well, not quite but nearly.

Ann and I have always thought that the Persians are the past masters of how to grill meat.  You would think that there is no great skill to it but there is.  I have no idea of how they do it but the result the Persians get is superb.

So when I noticed that a new Persian restaurant had opened up on the main road at Stone's Corner I had to try it.  It's called the Taste of Saffron and it's in 55 Old Cleveland Rd., opposite the charcoal chicken place

Anne and I had the platter for 2, which included kebabs, salad and chips, served with a variety of rice seasoned with saffron, dill and barberries.  It was a big meal but we got through it -- just.  And it was everything we expected it to be.  You don't know how good grilled meat can be until you have tried the Persian product.

I thought initially that the restaurant might  be "dry", as befits a Muslim establishment, but there were some people there drinking. so they were definitely "bad" Muslims -- maybe refugees from the Ayatollahs.  They had some of the iconography of the ancient Persians up in places so that could well be.  Maybe if I had shouted out "Make America Great Again" I might have been cheered.  In the best Britiah style I did not want to "make a scene", however.

And there were a lot of robust-looking Iranians in the room -- about 20 of them, male and female -- who all seemed to know one-another -- all part of some club, perhaps.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Living on the dole

Yesterday, in response to calls to raise Centrelink unemployment payments by $75 a week I wrote briefly:

In my youth I lived on the dole for a time.  It was then  £2/7/6 pw., if that notation means anything to anybody these days. Equal to $70.00 these days. I lived well and even saved money on it.  But I spent nothing on beer and cigarettes and I ate exclusively at home.  I could even afford an egg or two with my breakfast porridge.  Eggs, porridge and milk are very cheap to this day and form a very solid  foundation for a day's nourishment. And you can generally get day-old bread for a song. Good for toast. I don't think it is hard at all if one is not spoilt by uncompromising expectations

My comments that in my youth I lived on an unemployment dole of $70.00 pw evoked some incredulity. The current dole in Australia is $200 more than that. Why the difference?

For a start, I initially gave the actual dole I received: £2/7/6.  I then used the Reserve Bank's online calculator to translate £2/7/6 in 1960 to current dollars.  And $70 was the answer.  The Reserve bank calculator was based on official price indices so is a very scholarly figure which makes allowances for just about anything  that might distort the answers that it gives.  So I think we might have to live with the fact that I really did live on that little.

So how?  A revealing part of the answer is that before I went on the dole I had a job as a junior clerk -- in which I was paid around £6 pw So ALL young sprouts at that time had to live on very little by modern standards.  I was 17 in 1960.

Note the age factor.  As a junior I did not get the full dole.  The full dole was the equivalent of about $100 pw in terms of current purchasing power. But it's still not much, is it?

So how come?  I am afraid the explanation is pretty simple.  We ALL were a lot poorer 60 years ago.  The vast influence of international capitalism has been incredibly enriching for us all over time.  Back in 1960 we did have a lot of the things that people now do but we had to work a lot longer for them.  We did for instance have motor cars but only the well-off had new ones. My father never had a new car in his life.

Eating out was almost unknown but most people could afford a square meal at home at dinner time.  But it was a VERY square meal. Day after day, month after month and year after year it consisted of the same thing: Meat and 3 veg.  Australia has great herds of beef cattle so even working class people could often afford steak a lot of the time but when that failed there were always sausages or minced beef. And it was amazing what you could do with mince. The 3 veg. that came with the meat ALWAYS included some form of potatoes (usually boiled) plus a selection of boiled beans, cabbage and carrots. If you were a bit fancy you might get cauliflower.

So EVERYBODY lived very economically in those days. They had to.  But there were also people who were really poor -- people who spent half their money on beer and cigarettes mainly.  They had to live the way I did: feeding themselves mainly off milk, porridge, eggs and day-old bread with plum jam on it.  Day-old bread was generally available for half price or less and made very good toast.  And you bought plum jam in big tins to keep the price down. Most houses had a substantial backyard where you could grow most of your fruit and vegetables if you were thrifty.

Food aside, unemployment was less than 2%.  You could get on a steam train and go interstate to visit family and friends at vacation time. There was always the family car for local trips. The newspapers had lots of interesting news, particularly from overseas. You could hear all the latest songs on the radio. The ladies could buy pretty dresses occasionally and even in small towns there were several bars where one could drink cold beer after a hard day's work.  What else is there?  So it wasn't too bad, all told. And there was a lot less obesity!

What I have writen above is a very abbreviated account  of working class life in Australia in 1960 but I think it still has the lesson in it that unemployed people today have lots of scope to cut back rather than raiding the taxpayer for money that will keep them in the style that they aspire to.

And there are some unwise people for whom no dole would ever be enough.  There is a story here of a "struggling" Sydney single mother who spends two thirds of her dole on rent.  And where does she live?  On Sydney's prestigious and very expensive North Shore.  And she feels hard done by! I lived in a small Queensland farming town when I was on the dole. For people with "expectations", that would not do at all at all, of course

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Portuguese custard tarts

Perhaps the second most acclaimed feature of Portugal (the first is Fado) is their custard tarts.  They make a mean custard tart and they know it.  And nobody else seems able to cook such tarts as well.

So famous are they that they have come to the attention of Australian Woolworths, the country's largest supermarket. And I am very glad of that.  They import genuine custard tarts directly from Portugal to put onto their bakery shelves.  They import pastries from nearly a world away:  A remarkable example of our global village. 

Coles do it too.  I have no idea if they import from Portugal but they got into trouble about six years ago for importing some bakery products from Belgium without declaring its origin properly. And IGA was importing most of its bread from Switzerland! Amazing!  Genuine Swiss bread from your local small supermarket!  The Common Agriculture Policy of the EU must make wheat flour very cheap over there. Switzerland isn't in the EU but the EU probably supplies them.

Anyway, what seems to happens where I am is that Woolworths imports big boxes of fully made-up tarts in a frozen state and just reheats them in one of their big ovens.  I am pretty sure that the tarts even come via airfreight.  They are made with puff pastry so are very light. Woolworths sell them in boxes of four for $7.00 so even the price is right.  I buy them most days.  Anne avoids most sweet things for the sake of her waistline (Yes. A lady in her '70s has a waist.  Most women of that age are either dumplings or skeletons) but even she succumbs to Portuguese custard tarts!  They are super Yummy.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Permissive parenting -- some recollections

I grew up in the age of Dr Spock, a widely respected American pediatrician who preached permissive parenting.  He saw permissivenessas being as much a moral issue as a practical one.  His influence was particularly strong in the '60s, which was a time to question all values, so the Biblical advice -- "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes" (Proverbs 13:24) -- was regarded widely as impossibly obsolete.

And for Spock and other reasons I was a beneficiary of permissive  thinking. I have no recollection of my parents ever saying No to me in fact. Dr Spock later changed his mind and decided that some parental guidelines were needed but it was all too late for  generations of kids. But permissiveness suited me.  I had a very untroubled childhood.

I was sent to Presbyterian Sunday school from about age 7 -- which I greatly enjoyed --  so I accepted the rather Puritanical wisdom that was preached to me there. And those were pretty safe guidelines. I am pretty sure I am a born Puritan, in fact. I was teetotal until I was about 28. But I like my gin these days. I was 17 in 1960 but the unhealthy substances that people poured into themselves in that era had no appeal for me. I have never even smoked tobacco, in fact.

Let me give two examples of the permissiveness of my parents:

My youngest sister at age 3 was the most gorgeous little blonde-haired tot you can imagine.  And she was plenty verbal by that stage. If my parents told her to do something she did not want to do, she would reply in a loud voice:  "I don't wanna".  No-one ever seemed to have an answer to that!  So she went her own way.  She is now a happily married lady with 3 adult daughters.  I think she was born with Puritan instincts too. On some occasions in her youth, she had 3 jobs at once.

Then there is my brother.  He had a very simple trick.  If ever he wanted to do something from which he might be deflected, he would say "I gotto do this" -- where "this" was very variable.  My parents would then let him do whatever he had "got" to do.

My son had an easy time too. I am an instinctive libertarian so he got no aggravation from me, to put it in a rather Cockney way. I would even defend his wishes to his mother!  His mother was basically a "No nonsense" lady with her first three kids.  Her eldest son thought -- and still thinks -- that his mother was a bit of a tyrant.  He had a way of expressing that view on one occasion that I had better not record, in fact.  She was of course a perfectly loving mother and has four high-functioning adult children these days.  And they all love their mother!

But his mother could see so much of me in my son that she was pretty permissive with him when he wanted to wander off in a direction she would normally question.  He was for instance allowed to spend a lot of time playing computer games.  But a boy who has a father who was a computer programmer would do that, wouldn't he?  He is now a well-paid IT professional with good friends of long standing so he didn't come to any harm either.  What he wanted to do was right for him. That he has spent just about all his life in front of a computer screen could be a health problem but he knows that and does dieting and exercise regularly.  He is in really good shape, in fact.

So I think a lot depends on the kid.  Permissiveness won't always work but it should always be the first approach.

Monday, May 27, 2019

A template drama

Most bloggers use a ready-written piece of software called a template to do various things for them -- such as specify different colours in different places on the blog and inserting paragraph breaks when converting a piece of text into html.

I was doing a bit of updating (inserting "lost" links and graphics) on this blog last night when disaster struck.  I accidentally hit some really dastardly key combination which made about half of this blog invisible.  I don't know what the key combination was and I am not game to attempt recreating it

At any event, the problem probably lay somewhere in the template so I reloaded it.  That did not fix anything.  So I thought:  There's many thousands of templates on the net.  I will just grab and load a new one.  So I had a look at the current offering from and did find one I liked.  I loaded it and everything looked fine.  The "lost" posts all came back.

Then I noticed something:  There were no dates given for any post.  I had a blog full of  maybe a thousand undated posts.  That was of course hopeless.  So I tried another half a dozen different templates.  I was time consuming but I found in the end that they all had that fault. None of them would display any dates.  So I gave up that approach.

It did make me wonder if the dates were still anywhere there in the basic html code for the blog.  I looked at that and  the dates were still there.  So it seemed that the templates just could not read the dates for some reason.  One explanation occurred to me.  The alternative templates I had been loading were all recently constructed.  My damaged template, by contrast was quite old -- from 2004.

So it seemed likely that my old template had been storing dates in a format not now allowed.  So I would need to find another old template for the dates to appear.  But where would I find one of those?  Nobody bothers with old templates now.  All the ones available are fairly new compositions.  Fortunately, I had an ace.  The template I use on all my other blogs is also quite old.  I loaded that template into this blog and all problems disappeared.  The blog now looks different but the content is the same.

The whole problem-solving challenge did however really wind me up -- so I didn't get to sleep until 2am in the morning

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Another Easter down -- 2019

I started my Easter a little early this year, on the Sunday before Good Friday -- Palm Sunday, on April 14.  On that evening I hosted a family dinner -- for Joe, myself and brother Christopher.  I host such all-male dinners around 3 times a year. We also had along my friend Graham, who flew up from Victoria for the dinner.  I get him up for each of our dinners so we call him an honorary Ray.

I cooked up a big English curry (mild with sultanas in it) which seemed to go down well. And my usual Seaview Brut champagne washed it down.

After our dinners we have a show and tell.  Christopher is a gun collector and Graham is a sword collector so we always have weaponry to look at and discuss -- which suits a men's meeting.  Graham brought along two British army cavalry swords and Christopher brought along three revolvers.  The revolvers were from the period of the American Wild West (which was wild only in the movies) so were particularly interesting.  The oldest one was a pre-cartridge model. I was interested in acquiring a Gladius replica and Christopher thinks he can get me one.

Graham flies back down South on the Monday after our Sunday dinners so we seem to have developed a tradition of having an early bacon & egg breakfast that morning.  Graham does most of the cooking.  An early breakfast gets him to the airport in plenty of time.

Then on Good Friday I made Anne and myself a non-meat dinner in honor of the day.  It was not very good.  I heated up some vegetarian hamburger patties which were allegedly Moroccan. Best forgotten.

Easter Saturday made up for it, however.  Jenny made us one of her excellent BBQ lunches with beef sausages and home-made kebabs.  I rarely drink during the day so just had ginger beer with the food. Present were Joe, Anne and myself.  Kate was with her family in Canberra

On Easter Sunday, Joe and I had our usual Sunday bacon & egg breakfast at the Yeronga pie shop.  We generally spend an hour or more there discussing politics. Mr Trump is always diverting.

On Easter Monday I breakfasted at the Gold Leaf coffee shop -- which is a tiny place run by some Vietnamese ladies.  Their food is first class.  I had eggs Benedict plus a couple of spring rolls

Today was of course Anzac day and Anne's friends the Moores kindly invited us over for a lunch. Julia made a very good fish cake dinner.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The saga of the chair -- update

One would think that getting hold of a comfortable office chair would be a simple matter, but it can in fact be a problem. I sit in front of my computer for around 12 hours a day so I am rather aware of the chairs I sit in whilst doing so.

Many years ago at the Rocklea markets I bought a quite simple office chair that had apparently been sold off by some government department.  And we know that governments always buy the best. It is only the mug taxpayer who is paying.

And this chair was very good.  It was upholstered in a fetching shade of maroon and was generally referred to as "the red chair".  And I sat in that chair with the greatest of ease for around 20 years.  It did however over the years become rather grotty so when something in the steel chassis snapped and gave the chair a lean, I decided that it was time to bid the red chair goodbye.  I put it out the front and it disappeared.

That was a great mistake.  I have never since found a chair as good as the red chair.  To replace it I first went to Lifeline to inspect their offering of chairs and found one that seemed good -- costing me about $25.  But it just was not comfortable enough so I looked around suppliers of new office chairs and found that sums of around $1,000 were being asked for a lot of them.  No way!

So I eventually ended up at Officeworks.  You would think that they would have a good range of office chairs on sale and they do -- mostly for around $200 -- made in China.  So I bought one -- a "Bathurst" chair.  And it was really good, just what I wanted. But after about 9 months something came adrift inside it and it developed a distinct lean.  So I took it back.  Officeworks is one of Mr Goyder's tentacles and he seems to have drilled it into all 200,000 of his employees that they must be cheerful, pleasant and helpful at all times.  And they are.  So I had no difficulty at swapping the degraded chair for another one.  But I was not of course going to risk a second Bathurst chair.  So I chose a slightly more up-market one and paid the difference.

But within a year, its casters seized up. They ceased to cast, if that is what casters do.  So instead of the chair rolling it could only be dragged.  That did considerable damage to my polished board floor, which later cost me quite a bit to fix, so I took that chair back too -- and chose yet another one.

And the third chair wasn't bad -- though not as good as the Bathurst chair -- but it too failed eventually.  After 11 months it started refusing to stay up.  I would be sitting in front of my computer typing away and suddenly finding that I was sinking down floorwards whilst doing so.  I could only take so much of that so went back to Officeworks with that chair too.  It was quite a heavy thing so Joe came with me and carried it.  I suspect that he did more than carry the chair for me.  Being tall, taciturn and well-built with short hair, he might have been mistaken for my bodyguard or some such.  He wouldn't have looked like someone you would want to argue with!

Anyway, I was treated with good cheer and came away with another chair of the same model as the one that had sunk.

Unsurprisingly, that chair failed too.  One of its arms broke right off. But this time I had difficulty returning it.  So I wrote to Mr Richard Goyder, CEO of Wesfarmers, who own Officeworks:

24 September, 2017

Dear Mr Goyder,

As a long-term Wesfarmers shareholder, I have always taken a keen interest in the business and have written to you a couple of times before over policy matters.  I have been very impressed by your courteous responses.

I am writing this time over what seems to me to be a surprising refund policy at Officeworks.  As you will be aware, the ACCC recently levied large fines on some retailers over their illegal refund policies.  So I was surprised today when I took in a faulty armchair for a refund to be told that I could get only a credit note, not a cash refund.  My information is that a customer is always entitled to a cash refund for defective goods.

Being a cautious person I paid for an extended 2-year warranty when I bought the chair on 19/10/2015 for $190 and I still have all the relevant paperwork. So when the seat started to fall apart recently, I concluded that I was entitled to a full refund.

So I took it in today and was then told that I had to ring a number to get the return authorized and even then only a credit note would be issued.  As I needed a new chair immediately, I bought another one there and then for cash.  So a credit note would  be useless to me.

Please instruct Officeworks at Woolloongabba to give me a cash refund of $190.  They already have the chair and I have the sales receipt ready for inspection.

Yours faithfully,

Dr John Ray

I emailed that letter on the Sunday night and got a phone call Monday lunch time telling me the cash was waiting for me!

But that chair failed too.  So on 18 April, 2019, Joe and I were back at officeworks with another defective chair.  It was a very good chair but it had started to sink down with me in it.  It would not stay at the right height relative to my desk

The man we spoke to was courteous but I had to press him a little.  In the end I found another chair that seemed good, listed for $159.  He allowed me $99 credit on the returned chair and I agreed to pay the $60 gap.  Watch this space in a year's time!

It's a strange way to do business -- to make chairs that last only about a year

Monday, April 1, 2019

What does this mean?

"Its musculoskeletal system was originally adapted for terrestrial bipedal saltation but over its evolution its system has been built for arboreal locomotion"

If you can tell me what it means without googling it I will shout you a curry.

It's an example of scientific text.  Sometimes such text is needed for precision but the above text means something really simple

With my background in Latin I understood it immediately but such a background is rare these days

Words and names from Latin and Greek are very common in scientific text

Here's one name that was a common spelling test when I was a kid.  Very few could remember the spelling of it or even the pronunciation.  It is "ornithorhynchus".  It simply means "bird nose".  Can you guess what it is?

UPDATE: It's a quokka. Saltation is from saltare, the Latin word for "jump". It now climbs instead of jumping

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Breuer chairs and I

It all began with bentwood. Around a century ago, people discovered that when you put wood in a steamer, you could bend it into all sorts of shapes without it splintering.  A practical use of that was to make lightweight chairs.  And bentwood chairs were very fashionable in the early 20th century

But what should you use for the seat? To keep the chair light rattan was a popular option. British colonialists came across it in Malaya where the rattan plant grows prolifically -- and it is light but strong -- so woven rattan was well known at the time, as you see above. So rattan was also favoured for the seat of Breuer chairs when they arrived

Breuer is the German word for brewer so the chairs are also called brewer chairs.  They come from the Bauhaus architectual movement of Germany in the 1920s and 30s -- self-consciously innovative.  And they are in fact a bit mad.  Innovativeness that leads to no back support!

Aside from looking rather stylish, they are very light: Strong  steel tubing plus Rattan seats and backrest.  So they have some practicality.  They looked very fragile however so the vogue for them did not last long.

Anyhow they had some revival in Australia about 30 years ago.  And I bought 8 of them!

As with bentwood chairs before them, however, the seat of the Breuer chairs tended to fail, with a big hole left in the middle.  And that is the reason why if you see any bentwood chairs around these days you will see that the seat has been covered with a layer of 3-ply -- not elegant any more but at least usable

I did not pay a lot for my Breuer chairs however -- they came in a flatpack -- so when they failed I did not bother to save them but just threw them out.  And I was down to 3 of them left when a tenant moved out of one of my properties and left another 3 behind.  They too had obviously concluded that they were not much good. So I now had 6 Breuer chairs again.

They continued to fail however and I continued to throw them out. But I also found a couple at charity shops so restocked a little there.

When I was down to 5 chairs however, I had a rethink.  As lightweight chairs they were rather handy and they looked rather interesting so I decided to do what the earlier generation had done with their bentwood chairs.  When I was growing up, ALL the bentwood chairs I saw had had their seats repaired with plywood. So I stopped throwing my Breuer chairs out and repaired their seats with plywood.  And I even have two with the original seats.

And when the council had one of their rubbish disposal weeks recently, I spied a complete set of them put out by the side of the road.  So I took them in.  That lot however has upholstered seats so that may be why they lasted better.  So why did the owners chuck them out?  Maybe they thought the upholstered seats were looking a bit fragile.  I guess I will find out.

But, anyway, after about 30 years, I once again have 8 Breuer chairs.