Saturday, January 27, 2007

A busy week

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.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

More photos

A couple more photos of my new living room

A workstation for the laptop below:

The futon and the Persian rug below:

The Tantalus below:

The new sideboard/drinks cabinet below. Probably made in the 1950s:

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

New Year

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.