Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Handel and the Skeptics

On Saturday night Anne and I went to St John's Cathedral to hear Handel's Messiah. It was a bit early this year. It is usually in December. As usual, it was put on by the Bach Society. The Bach choir always puts out a good sound despite most of the members being fairly elderly and the soloists were excellent this year. I enjoyed every minute of it. I go to it most years. The photo below is one internal view of St. John's -- with the current architect, Michael Kennedy, in the foreground.

Anne and I had decided to wait until after the performance to have dinner but the performance went from 7.30 to 10.30 so a lot of restaurants had closed by the time we got to Southbank -- which is probably Brisbane's busiest restaurant precinct. We eventually found a Chinese that was open, however, and their food was excellent. I had Satay chicken.

On Monday night I gave a talk on global warming to a meeting of the Brisbane Skeptics. There were about 50 in the audience. There appeared to be a few who already were skeptical about global warming so I hope I added a few more of those attending to the ranks of the global warming skeptics. I think there were quite a few who went away still true-believers, however. Skepticism has its limits. My talk seemed generally well-received. I described environmentalism as a return to mankind's original religion of nature worship and said that global-warming belief is so counterfactual as to prove that environmentalism is a religion.

I did not prepare my talk. Even when I was a university lecturer with an auditorium of 1,000 students in front of me I never prepared anything either. I have always felt that if you have to prepare a lecture you don't know your subject well enough. And speaking extempore always engages the audience more. There is nothing more boring than having a lecture read to you. To speak well extempore you have to be the type to whom public speaking gives no jitters at all, however.

On Tuesday night, I went out to Anne's place for dinner and she cooked us some good roast turkey in her recently acquired Schlemmertopf. I stopped at the big bottleshop on the way over and found some South African pinotage which I grabbed. South African pinotage can be very good. This one was a Nederburg, however, and had too much tannin in the aftertaste. KWV does a better job.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Gruene Veltliner

I went out to Anne's place for dinner on Tuesday and stopped by at the big liquor barn near there. They have quite a few overseas wines in stock and among them I spotted some Gruene Veltliner (Domain Wachau). I knew at once that it was a well-known Austrian wine but had never tasted it so I bought a bottle.

We opened it for dinner and, much to my surprise, it was a dry wine -- much like an Australian Hunter valley Semillion or Riesling. I had expected it to be fruity -- as German wines are. The rules must be different in Germany and Austria. It was a pleasant drink, though.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Darby and Mozart

Rather a good weekend just past. The biggest highlights: dining with Michael Darby and another Mozart concert.

Anne and I dined at the Stone's Corner Thai on Thursday evening and we were pleased to see that they have developed a good clientele. They make excellent food and people obviously come back when they discover that. I always have the Penang curry myself. When we first started going there they were pretty empty as they are in a rather out-of-the-way place but they were pretty busy there last Thursday.

On Friday morning we Humbered out to Wynnum and breakfasted at Pommes Teashop -- and heard that the Immigration Dept. is reconsidering its order for them to return to Britain -- which is hopeful news. We both had the English Breakfast, rather unoriginally.

On Saturday night Michael Darby was up from Sydney so Anne and I dined with him and a lady-friend at Ahmet's Turkish restaurant at Southbank. Michael seems to get larger every time I see him. Like me, he spends too much time sitting in front of a computer. True to form, Michael recited some Australian poetry for us -- from C.J. Dennis. He is very good at that. It was a delight to see him. He is such an original.

On Sunday Anne was singing in a choir that was doing an all-Mozart programme at a suburban church in Chermside so I went along. I was glad I did. The programme was a bit odd: The Vespers interspersed with operatic arias. That worked well though. The glorious arias from Figaro etc. brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion.

Monday, November 13, 2006

In praise of Janacek

Leos Janacek is not everyone's cup of tea -- to put it mildly. He was a very innovative classical composer who has a following only among very musical people. Probably only a minority of even classical music fanciers like his work. But I and several of my friends DO like Janacek.

One of the unsung virtues of Janacek is that he has a powerful room-clearing effect. Years ago, when certain friends and I used to give parties, we would sometimes get sick of our guests and wish that they would go home. It is a not-unknown problem -- one for which many people find no easy solution. But Janacek is a solution! When we got tired of our guests, we just took the popular music off the stereo and put on Janacek. We would be alone in 5 minutes after that! People would even leave things behind in their desperation to escape Janacek!

I recently had reason to re-use the Janacek effect. Some young people moved into the house next door to me. And like most young people, they like popular music and they like it loud -- music which I do not like at all. I at first tried the polite thing and went next door asking them to keep the volume down. That did not work. So I deployed Janacek.

Now if they turn their music up I give them a few minutes of Janacek's Lachian dances. If that does not work, I bring out the heavy cannon -- the Janacek Sinfonietta -- with its very discordant-sounding opening fanfare on the brass. The first time I did that, they went out. They could not bear it. Now they just take the hint and turn their music off.

I guess I'm a mean old guy but what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If they can play their choice of music as loudly as they like, so can I. And I do.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

I get a living room

Although I live in a large old traditional Queensland house with 9 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms I don't use all of it myself. I have lived in quite limited accommodation for most of my life so, although I like large houses, I don't really know what to do with them. Filling them with kids was great fun at one stage of my life but that period is now long gone. So I normally let out my unused bedrooms to overseas students -- mostly from India.

Even so, I have for my own use 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, dining room, library, anteroom and verandah. So I thought I was treating myself fairly well. Anne has however told me often that I also need a living room so I have just converted one of the larger bedrooms that had become vacant into a new living room.

It is a largish room of about 4 meters square with a big East-facing window that gets the morning sunlight so is basically quite pleasant. It did however have an old carpet down so I bit the bullet, ripped the carpet up and had the timber floor underneath sanded and coated. The floor needed a bit of rehabilitation before the sandman came but at least no boards needed replacing. Anne and I just had to get all the staples, tacks, nails etc. out. I have done that sort of work on floors often over the years so it was not intrinsically difficult but was a bit onerous for an old guy like me.

Anyway, the sandman came on Thursday and for $440 I now have a gleamingly beautiful timber floor of slash pine. They used good timber for floors in the old days when my house was built.

I am furnishing it a bit sparingly. I have bought a brown velvet futon (sofa-bed) to sit on and also have a good single TV chair. Other than that I intend to have in the room only a TV, a coffee table and a computer desk. I am also on the lookout for an attractive traditional oriental rug ("Persian carpet") for the floor but I may get a Belgian cotton (machine-made) version rather than a hand-woven one. It will depend on what I see that I like. The Belgian ones are so cheap that it is embarrassing so I think I will look first at the Asian ones.