Monday, July 30, 2007


Last Thursday Anne dragged me along to the main and very fine auditorium of the Brisbane Conservatorium for a performance of Humperdinck's "Jackie and Maggie" -- or Hansl und Gretl" as it was originally known. Why the name is never translated into English I will never know.

My taste in opera stops at Mozart but Anne is much more keen. Anyway, it was a reasonable performance. Though the fact that I have known the story since about age 3 deprived it of any drama. But who goes to opera for the unexpected these days?

There were only two sets in the production and the second set was regrettably "postmodern" -- with scrappy and irrelevant bits all over the place.

The audience was unmistakeably bourgeois -- no black faces but quite a sprinking of Asians. Asians fit in well with Western civilization -- unlike Africans and Muslims. And the age range was mostly 40+

The music was very successfully programmatic -- which is what one wants for opera. The dialogue was sung in English -- but with my being a bit deaf it might as well have been in Urdu. So the supertext was a lifesaver for comprehension -- though (as is often the case with opera) I don't think that the libretto added much. The music was the thing. And there are certainly some good bits in Humperdinck's score.

The baritone did an excellent job and I was rather pleased to see that the original devout Christian element in the libretto was retained -- not at all to be relied on in this day and age.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My son the academic

Yiddisher Mommas are well know for repeated references to "my son the doctor" but I have always thought that "my son the mathematician" rather trumped that. My son Joe has however now moved another rung up the ladder. Although he is only in his third year of his mathematics studies at university, he has just been given a job tutoring first-year students -- in statistics. So as far as I can see he is now officially an academic.

I spent a considerable part of my academic career teaching statistics to sociology students so we have another example of the old proverb that "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree".

The parallels between my life and Joe's get a bit eerie at times. As one example, he had his first car accident in almost the same place and in almost the same circumstances as my second car accident 40 years earlier.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Of lava lamps and old friends

Yesterday Jenny put on a dinner for our son Joe, who had his 20th birthday recently. He also got all 7s (the highest mark) in his mid-year university exams (all in mathematics) so celebrating that was part of the occasion too. For an academic to have such an academic son is of course most pleasing, if not entirely surprising. Aside from Joe, Jenny, myself and Nanna, the only other people in attendance were Jenny's eldest son Paul and his wife Susan. Paul is very close to Joe and has always been very supportive of him. Paul in turn got a lot of his ideas from me as he and I have always got on very well ever since I first met him when he was aged 7. We had a very jolly stepfather/stepson relationship. So now Joe gets some of my ideas via Paul, which I am of course very pleased about.

Paul tended to dominate the conversation, as he tends to do, but it made for a lively night. He kept us all busy discussing the ideas he put up. Paul's thinking seems to get more and more Right-wing as he gets older so the conversation was generally congenial to all present. Joe and I don't say much so somebody has to do the talking.

While I was there I borrowed a lava lamp off Nanna (Jenny's mother). Lava lamps were all the rage in the 60s but seem to be regarded with some hilarity these days. I wanted the lamp for a 60s evening I was having the next night -- an evening to mark a visit back to Australia by China Hand -- Alfred Croucher.

The 60s evening was a reunion of three of us who once shared a house at Glebe in Sydney many years ago. We got on very well at the time and have remained in sporadic contact ever since. We address one another by surname only. I address the other two as Croucher and Henningham and they address me as Ray, so how you define that sort of friendhip I have no idea. You just have to be part of such a friendship to understand it, I think. It is an unusually strong friendship. People who have been to school together or in the Army together often address one-another that way. It is sometimes referred to as a "muscular" friendship.

Anyway, when we shared a house we were all greatly enamoured of a comic book called "The wonderful world of Barry McKenzie", written by the inimitable Barry Humphries.

It is about an Australian naif in London and we found the characters in it very recognizable. So for our reunion I planned a few touches to take us back into the 60's -- the era in which the comic was set. And a lava lamp seemed appropriate. As well as that, I persuaded Anne to make a French Onion dip and horse doovers (hors d'oeuvres) on toothpicks -- both of which were very popular in the 60s but which are now regarded rather poorly.

Anyway, Henningham arived at my place in great form -- full of nonsense -- just as he was in the old days. His wife Helen drove him over to my place and looked in some distress. She is a very quiet person and Henningham normally follows suit. But when he is with his old friends, the old Henningham emerges -- so I suspect that Helen does her best to dissuade him from having much to do with his old friends. A visit to Brisbane from China, however, could not be passed over.

We went to a nearby Chinese restaurant for dinner -- one that has Beijing cuisine. Croucher says he likes to come to Australia to get all the Chinese food he cannot get in China! Chinese cooks do of course adapt their menus to local tastes.

Anyway, it was good to be back in the same company as many years ago and it felt very little different from how it always was. Time had not caused us to drift apart in attitudes etc. It was still the same old muscular friendship, quite undiminished by many years apart.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Happy birthday to me!

I crept one year further into my 60s recently. As she usually does, Jill gave me a birthday lunch.


Anne got to my place about 11am laden with presents and at about 11.30 I got the Humber out for the trip to River Hills. On the way the Humber overheated but we got to Jill's place well enough -- though with not much margin to spare, I fancy.

Jill gave us a "Christmas in July" lunch: Traditional Christmas fare at the seasonally appropriate time for it in Australia. We had some excellent turkey followed by plum pudding. Anne and Jill are both great chatters so I was relieved from saying much on my birthday -- which suited me well. Both ladies are experienced at doing all my talking for me so there was no problem.

Before departing, I filled up the radiator with water and that got us to Dieter's place in good order. Dieter is an old friend who lives just over the road from me. He is also a very experienced German mechanic so arrangements to repair the radiator were made immediately.

One of the presents Anne gave me was a CD of the Treorchy Male Voice choir -- a famous Welsh choir. Their rendition of Cwm Rhondda was superb -- as one might expect. Anne and I listened to the CD for a while before she departed for home. She was nursing her sister who has just had an eye operation -- so she had to get home by 5pm to apply eye drops on schedule.

The next day my ex-wife Jenny gave me a dinner. There were just Jenny, myself, our son Joe and Jenny's mother there and the menu was GA XAO XA OT (Vietnamese Lemon chicken). Very different from Chinese lemon chicken and one of my favourites. Recipe here. Joe and I had a good chat before and after the dinner and I told him a few anecdotes about Dr. Johnson. Dr Johnson's definition of a pie -- "any crust baked with something in it" -- is still hard to beat.

The next day Anne gave me a dinner consisting of Reuben sandwiches. You cannot buy them in Australia and I really like them so I don't get any of them unless some kind soul makes them up for me.

A quiet birthday but that is how I like it. Like the late Hans Eysenck, I talk a little but write a lot.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Drainage problems

I have had one man -- Dudley -- doing all my plumbing for 20 years or so. So when one of the drains blocked up I rang him immediately. He is always very good at coming over and fixing things promptly. He even came over at 9pm at night recently to fix a pipe that had sprung a leak.

This time, however, Dudley was interstate on a 4 week holiday. I waited for a week or so thinking that the drainage problem might not be too urgent and that Dudley could fix it when he got back. No go. The problem got worse. So I looked up the yellow pages and found a nearby plumber who had a very confident advertisement about his ability to fix drainage problems.

When I rang him he was apologetic about not being able to come immediately but said he could come the next morning. I said that was fine and he then gave me an approximate time that he would arrive. I was quite impressed by his efficient sound and surmised that his slight accent might be German.

When he arrived he went all around looking at lots of things and decided what he needed to do -- which was about the opposite of what I thought he needed to do. He seemed very confidfent so I just said: "You're the expert. Go to it".

He did some rather amazing and radical things but he was absolutely right. What he did worked. He had understood where the blockage lay in short order and my diagnosis had been way off.

By that time, however, I had worked out his accent. He is an Israeli. I had a bit of a chat with him about that and found out that he is in fact a sabra. But he felt there was too much evil in that part of the world and had moved to a quiet backwater here in Australia to get away from it all.

So all the Muslim nastiness got me a very clever plumber. "It's an ill wind...." And what he charged me was quite reasonable too.