Friday, December 26, 2008

A double Christmas

Our big family Christmases normally happen on Christmas day. While the "kids" (now all in their 30s) were young, the day started early in the morning (some time between 6am and 7am) as the kids were unleashed on a pile of presents under the tree. After the present distribution, people would either sit around talking, play games or go back to sleep until the big lunch. In more recent times, however, just a lunch after midday has been the custom followed by a swappable mystery present game that everyone plays.

This year, however, we went European and had our big occasion on Christmas eve rather on Christmas day. It was at Simon's big new house out in the boondocks (boondocks from my viewpoint. I have long been a central city dweller). Anne and I Humbered out there. Showing how versatile members of the military can be, Simon cooked up a big and first-class traditional Christmas dinner for us (around 20 people) all by himself on his big new stove.

The house had been designed by Simon to accommodate entertaining and its 9ft wide verandahs were certainly good for that. It was a very hot day but the verandahs were cool. As usual, I talked mainly with Paul, Joe, Simon and Ken but I did get in brief chats with Von and Suz. Von is doing amazingly well. She gets a very high salary and owns three houses. Having a practical streak plus being both nice-looking and happy-natured has certainly delivered the goods for her. I was pleased to see that both girls are still wearing their hair long too. It looked great on both of them.

Joe has been working on his honours thesis lately and is finding no problems with it. He hopes to finish it by March and hopes to get employment in the actuarial field some time next year. He has certainly been consistent in his wish to become an actuary. Academe seems to be only a second preference for him. His mathematics degree is of course a good starting point for actuarial work but he told me that his knowledge of the stockmarket is helpful in interviews too. So my setting him up to get stockmarket experience has had an unexpected side-benefit. I gave him the usual large cheque for Christmas for him to invest. I want him to make most of his investment mistakes before I die, when he has to take over my portfolio.

After the mystery present game, which was very raucous and jocular and must have taken an hour or more, we got our Secret Santa presents. Paul was my secret Santa. Because I sometimes used to give him trick presents when he was a kid, he gave me a trick present this time. The present was ostensibly a circular saw in a circular-saw cardboard box -- even though my Secret Santa request had been for a towel and a sheet. But I rather spoilt the game by neither commenting on the apparent present nor opening the box. Paul however, pushed to get me to open the box and it did after all contain a towel and sheet.

Cake and desserts came after the present exchanges and Simon got me into a discussion of ethics and meta-ethics over dessert! As part of that I suggested that there are some things we can be certain of and "Global warming is crap" would be one example of that. There was no disagreement. I am always a bit surprised by how many global warming skeptics I encounter -- even people in relatively humble occupations. Suzy's husband-to-be, Russel, is a rigger (assistant to a crane driver) but even he could tell you all about ice-cores and such things and why they disprove global warming. I am inclined to think that only an intellectual could be stupid enough to believe in it.

Anyway, Jenny knew that I am a creature of habit and would miss my usual Christmas lunch so she put on an excellent lunch next day just for me, her, Joe and Nanna. Anne was elsewhere attending her own Christmas lunch. We had a small present exchange first and Joe got a Nintendo Wii games machine out of it, which he was really pleased about. They really are an amazing advance on the old games machines that I remember. The dinner itself included two types of kebab, both of which tasted as good as they smelled.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

An interesting morning

Anne is a neophiliac. She likes each day to be new and different. And I am an old stick-in-the mud. I prefer everything to be the same day after day. But reality somehow suits us both.

Yesterday morning we started out taking my ironing to Flo, which I do about every 2 weeks. But this time I managed to give Flo (a pensioner) a $50 note as a Xmas present -- despite some resistance from her. I mentioned that to Anne and she of course approved.

On our way back from Flo, I nearly ran into a police car, which no doubt jangled Anne a bit. But it was one of those ambiguous merging situations so the cops did not pull me up.

Then we went to Vincenzo's for breakfast and Anne decided to try the vegetarian breakfast. She nearly starved. She even ate up all her toast for want of much else. They should have included some potatoes with it. I of course had the bacon and egg breakfast that I always have there -- day in and day out.

Afterwards we called into the hot bread shop and bought a rather sinful bun of some sort with icing and walnuts and mixed fruit on top. Anne said she did not want anything but I knew she would have some of mine.

I noticed as we were leaving the shopping centre that I was almost out of petrol -- another excitement -- but we made it to a service station in time.

Then we went to the huge Garden City shopping mall so that I could visit Lowes and buy myself a pair of shorts. Which I did in a rather grumpy way. I am a reluctant clothes shopper these days. Another departure from routine anyway.

Then we visited the local Lifeline (thrift shop) and I bought a pretty little butter dish I saw there.

Then we went home and had a cup of tea (with the bun I bought earlier) on the verandah amid a very pleasant breeze. And while were were there we tried to figure out -- to much hilarity -- the big set of very strange fibre-optic Xmas lights that I had bought recently. We rather failed at putting them up so I rang Jeff and gave the problem to him. He very obligingly agreed to come over next Sunday and put them up.

So Anne certainly got a lot of the non-routine events that she likes.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Humbers and Music

The Humber club had its annual Christmas lunch on Sunday -- at "Botanix", of Wellington Pt. So Anne and I Humbered out there. It was infernally difficult to find but we did find it eventually. It is a really big place with a garden shop etc. as well as the restaurant.

And the head chef there must have been quite a whizz. There were lots of diners but the dinners kept pouring out of the kitchen and they all looked good. Our dinners arrived quite promptly and were excellent. The steamed pudding was particularly good.

But the highlight of the occasion for me was seeing TWO Type 2 Humbers parked side by side. They looked magnificent.

My Humber is a type 4. It has nothing on the gravitas of a Type 2.

Then that night we Humbered out to the Xmas do of the Westside Music Circle at Pullenvale. The quality of the music was as usual a bit uneven -- something to be expected from an amateur organization. I used to run it myself so I know. It was uneven when I ran it too. There was some awful modern violin music and some quite inspiring Vivaldi.

But the star of the evening was undoubtedly a brilliant Russian violinist named Attilla. Yes. I am not making that up. His first name really is Attilla. He actually looks Turkish rather than Russian so I was not surprised to see that he was born in one of the Muslim countries of the old USSR. He honoured us with his presence at our Xmas do last year too. As well as being a born fiddler he is a great entertainer who sees fun in everything. He will go far.

The crowd was probably our best yet. About 40 at a guess. I talked mainly to Jill and Lewis. I seem to have corrupted Lewis. He was wearing shorts for the first time. He knew I would be.

Monday, December 8, 2008


An old but shambling friend of mine has condemned these memoirs as far too boring. I agree. I like a quiet life so they SHOULD be boring. He has however suggested that I liven this site up by adding some poetry to it. That is of course a challenge to which I am somewhat susceptible. Quoting poetry by someone else on a personal blog does however seem to have hairs on it so I thought I might put up a short poem of my own. I wrote some poetry back in the '60s which I now think very little of but the one below may be a bit of fun:


Fine was the knight of old with fatal mace.
That fighting breed has left a lasting trace
On our ancient, ever nascent British race
Expressed in business, battle or the chase.
When pressed we know we'll always set the pace,
Be commerce, fighting or any endeavour the race.
Our heritage we never could debase
By any act that e'er could bring disgrace
So let us present crises far outface
Try not our steps long past now to retrace
With glories past, "Alertness now" replace.
For a fighting future minds and hearts strong brace
That we may turn to all a happy face
Successful still and pressing on apace.

It is of course a technically boastful (and peculiar) sonnet but it does convey that I was then, as now, pleased by my origins.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A small dinner

A small dinner tonight to celebrate Joe's successful completion of a 4th year at university. We went to our usual Indian destination and the food was as good as ever.

I left the guest list to Joe and he simply invited all his close blood kin only, plus their partners. So I think there were only 11 at table.

Paul was his usual ebullient self despite his recent split with Susan and mainly talked about the stockmarket. He has been going to AGMs lately and finds them amusing.

Joe seemed confident that his next year at university will be a doddle. He took it a bit easy this year by doing courses only so next year he has to do a thesis only to get his honours degree. And he already has it part written.

Monday, December 1, 2008

St Andrew's day

I mentioned elsewhere recently that St Andrew's day (Nov. 30) is Scotland's national day and am pleased to report that Anne and I did do something towards celebrating it last night. I flew the saltire of St. Andrew from my flagpole that day and we had Forfar Bridies (from Sid's) for our evening meal and listened to Scottish music both then and afterward. And the songs we listened to were the in the main the old favourites that are so deeply felt among the Scots -- Scottish Soldier, My Ain folk, Loch Lomond, Skye boat song, Scots wha hae etc. etc.

I have spoken a little lately of how conservatives have few inhibitions about group loyalties (such as patriotism) and mentioned the Eton Boating Song as an instance of how such loyalties can be deeply felt. And I also noted at the time that loyalty or a feeling of connectedness to your own group does not necessarily imply contempt for other groups or a wish to dominate them. And the Eton Boating Song exemplified that well. And so does the Scottish song I put up recently elsewhere. Although it is called "Scotland the Brave", it again contains no aggression or hostility towards others. It just talks about Scottish people and the beloved Scottish landscape. But it is still capable of bringing tears to Scottish eyes. The feelings it conveys are intensely felt.

So I am going to press the point a little further by putting up here the words of another beloved Scottish song: Scottish Soldier. I am sure that any Leftist would immediatey assume that such a song must be glorying in the crushing, dominating and extermination of other people. But it does none of that. As a song about a soldier it does indeed refer with pride to his distinguished military past but the song is not about that at all. Once again it is about his memories of his own country whilst serving abroad and how his dying wish to be buried in Scotland was honoured.

Scottish Soldier

1). There was a soldier, a Scottish soldier
Who wandered far away and soldiered far away
There was none bolder, with good broad shoulders,
He fought in many a fray and fought and won
He's seen the glory, he's told the story
Of battles glorious and deeds victorious
But now he's sighing his heart is crying
To leave these green hills of Tyrol.

Chorus: Because these green hills are not highland hills
Or the Islands hills their not my lands hills,
As fair as these green foreign hills may be
They are not the hills of home.

2). And now this soldier, this Scottish soldier,
Who wandered far away and soldiered far away
Sees leaves are falling, and death is calling
And he will fade away, on that dark land
He called his piper, his trusty piper
And bade him sound away, a pibroch sad to play
Upon a hillside but Scottish hillside
Not on these green hills of Tyrol


3). And now this soldier this Scottish soldier
Who wanders far no more, and soldiers far no more
Now on a hillside, a Scottish hillside
You'll see a piper play this soldier home
He's seen the glory, he's told the story
Of battles glorious and deeds victorious
But he will cease now, he is at peace now
Far from these green hills of Tyrol


In case I seem to be just blowing smoke in saying above that Leftists tend to see patriotism as implying hostility towards others, I might mention that there is a very large academic literature in psychology which assumes exactly that -- starting with the work of Adorno et al. (1950) on "ethnocentrism". I might also mention that my own survey research into exactly that question repeatedly showed exactly what I have asserted above -- that patriotism does NOT in general imply hostilty towards others. See e.g. here.

Reference: Adorno,T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. & Sanford, R.N. (1950). The authoritarian personality New York: Harper.

St. Andrew's Day

As most Scots will be aware, today (30th) is St. Andrew's Day. Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and St. Andrew's Day is Scotland's official national day, although Burns' Night is more widely and lavishly celebrated. It is a "bank holiday" in Scotland. So I have just hoisted the Saltire of St. Andrew on the flagpole at the front of my house. I encourage others with Scottish loyalties to do likewise. I am also hoping that I will be having something Scottish for dinner tonight. I seem to be out of haggis but I do have some Forfar Bridies in my freezer -- to be had with tatties, of course.

Below is one of the great Scottish patriotic songs. Play the music, read the words and sing along:


1). Hark when the night is falling,
Hear! hear the pipes are calling,
Loudly and proudly calling,
Down thro' the glen.
There where the hills are sleeping,
Now feel the blood a-leaping,
High as the spirits of the old Highland men.

Chorus: Towering in gallant fame,
Scotland my mountain hame,
High may your proud standards gloriously wave,
Land of my high endeavour,
Land of the shining river,
Land of my heart for ever,
Scotland the brave.

2). High in the misty Highlands
Out by the purple islands,
Brave are the hearts that beat
Beneath Scottish skies.
Wild are the winds to meet you,
Staunch are the friends that greet you,
Kind as the love that shines from fair maidens' eyes.


3). Far off in sunlit places
Sad are the Scottish faces,
Yearning to feel the kiss
Of sweet Scottish rain.
Where the tropics are beaming
Love sets the heart a-dreaming,
Longing and dreaming for the hameland again.


4). Hot as a burning ember, (This verse is not always sung)
Flaming in bleak December
Burning within the hearts
Of clansmen afar!
Calling to home and fire,
Calling the sweet desire,
Shining a light that beckons from every star!


Monday, November 17, 2008

Another poetry night

I got Michael Darby up from Sydney again last night; This time to help expand Joe's awareness of English poetry. Anne was down in Sydney at a conference connected to her work so Jenny came in and cooked us our dinner: Roast lamb followed by trifle. And a very good dinner it was. The menu was designed to fit in with the English theme and I also flew the flag of St George from my flagpole.

Dinner started at 7pm on time but it was a close run thing as Michael got here only about 5 minutes before that. Joe, Sam, Jill and Lewis made up the party. Jill and Michael are old friends.

I have recently had a few minor renovations done so my place was at its best for the occasion. As I usually do, I set the table with EPNS silver and bone-handled knives: Genuine living in the past! I opened the proceedings with a champagne toast: "For St George and merrie England".

Much poetry was read and recited, including a lot of old favourites: Tennyson, Shelley, Shakespeare, Coleridge, Hopkins etc. As the years go by I become more and more impressed by Tennyson. I helped out by doing some of the readings but I get hoarse very quickly these days so I was pretty croaky by the end of the night and retired exhausted at about 10pm. Michael was his usual stentorian self during his readings and recitations and Jenny stayed on chatting to him until about 11pm.

The table conversation was rather rabidly conservative. Lewis and Michael both tore into Australia's Leftists with Jill and I just occasionally chiming in with a few similar remarks. It must have been a contrast for Joe when compared with what he hears in the university environment. Since Joe's own views tend conservative, I think he would have found it refreshing.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Some meandering Sunday morning thoughts

Most of what I put up on my blogs is written by others. I suppose I am lucky that I do regularly find stuff that I agree with or find interesting. Every now and again, however, I do put up something that is entirely written by me and today is one of those occasions. And, seeing it is a quiet, relaxed Sunday morning, I am just going to meander a bit.

I was just listening to the superb "Sea pictures" by Sir Edward Elgar (pic above). I am lucky to have a CD on which Dame Janet Baker is the contralto and she does a superb job. The poems Elgar chose to set were drawn from quite obscure poets for the most part and my favourite song is "Where corals lie" -- written by a little-known Scotsman. I was born where corals lie (by the sea in tropical Queensland) so maybe that has a little to do with it. Following "Corals", however, is a song which is set to a poem ("Swimmer") by Adam Lindsay Gordon, a highly esteemed Australian poet. And that sparked the thought that I should have a poetry evening for the more profound Australian poets. I have already had an evening for the Australian balladeers -- Lawson, Paterson, Dennis etc -- at which the inimitable Michael Darby starred, but, much as I love the balladeers, they are not the whole of what Oz poetry has to offer. Writers like Gordon, Kenneth Slessor etc are also in my view outstanding.

Michael Darby is coming up from Sydney in a week's time to give us his renditions of English poetrty so I am somewhat inclined to give him the job of introducing my son to the more profound Australian poets as well. And I may do that. I put on a poetry evening at my place once or twice a year to help fill in the gaps in my son's education. He went right through High School without even hearing the names of such greats as Wordsworth and Coleridge.

On the other hand, is it not a little broad to look at a whole class of poets? Poets are intensely individual. So should I not also have an evening devoted to a particular poet? In one sense I do that every year of course -- on January 25 when I have a Burns Night -- a ritualized celebration of the birth of Robert Burns -- and next year I even have an old Kiwi friend coming up to help with the festivities who does a reasonable Scottish accent. I gather that his Dunedin origins account for that. So I will dragoon him into reading most of the poems.

But in my strange way, there is also a religious poet whom I very much like: Gerard Manley Hopkins. See the icon above (an icon of the pre-computer sort). And I am not alone in that liking. There are actually Hopkins literary festivals in some places. I could of course have an evening devoted to Hopkins in which I did all the reading. There are plenty of his poens that attract my enthusiasm. But while my poetry nights are mainly for the benefit of my son, I like to get a little extra out of them myself as well. So I would rather like to have a Hopkins enthusiast to do the honours. And the obvious enthusiast would have to be a Jesuit -- which is what Hopkins was. But does the Society of Jesus even exist in Brisbane? I suppose it might. I will have to look into it.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Army men marry nurses

It's not always so by a long chalk but there is a lot of it nonetheless. So how come? I think it is in a way a good answer to the common Leftist accusation that the military are "murderers". Talk about the pot calling the electric kettle African-American! Nurses are those who succour the sick. Why would such people want to associate with soldiers if soldiers really were "murderers"?

It's even true in my own life. My military career was of no moment to anybody but me -- but I did enjoy it greatly and I am still proud to identify myself as an Army man. I was in a professional corps rather than being one of the guys at the cutting edge -- in the infantry, sappers etc. -- but nonetheless I have had rather a lot to do with nurses. I even married one. And the lady in my life these days is also a nurse.

It's really no mystery. Both occupations bring you into sharp contact with real life. Both occupations are incompatible with illusions. Stupid theories tend to get detonated by harsh reality.

It's interesting how nurses speak of their choice of occupation as "going nursing". It's not "doing nursing" or "becoming a nurse". It is a vocation. It is a venture into a way of life. And the armed services are like that too. Both occupations are very demanding, in their own way, and both often subjugate their own needs to a higher cause.

So from all that is it any surprise that both military men and nurses tend to be conservative?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A small reflection about the relationship between England and Australia

Most Americans feel proud, pleased and blessed to be born in America. And rightly so. Australians and the English feel similarly and for similar reasons. But from the large and constant stream of English immigrants arriving in Australia, one gathers that a lot of the English like some sunshine with their English heritage. And there is more than sunshine to it. I remember a recent arrival in Australia who hailed from Yorkshire saying to me that Australia is "Yorkshire with brass", where "brass" is Northern slang for money. He was oversimplifying but there was a lot of truth in what he said nonetheless. The ties between England and Australia are a lot closer than either side will normally admit. Australians speak derisively of the English (calling them "Poms") and the English speak derisively of Australians (calling them "colonials").

But it remains true that both nationalities feel very much at home in the others' country. And I am probably a rather extreme example of that. When I was growing up in Australia in the 1950s, I grew up into a society that was very Anglophilic. Many Australian-born people still copied their parents' usage and referred to England as "home". And we had a Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) who described himself as "British to his bootstraps". And I remember crying -- aged about 9 -- when it was announced that the King had died. An even stronger influence than all that, however, stemmed from the fact that I was a great book reader from an early age. And most if not all boys' books available were written and published in England for the English. So I grew up in a mental world that was half-English: Which was a very good start on understanding English thinking.

So when I first arrived in England in 1977 I found a few peculiarities but in general had no social difficulties -- which is saying something if you know the intricacies of English social rules. I imagine that I did transgress in various ways from time to time -- but never enough to be a bother. In fact my high level of social acceptance would have been the envy of many Englishmen. I was materially assisted in that by the fact that an educated Australian accent is quite close to RP ("Oxford" English) and accent is enormously important in England. Any Australian accent is in fact closer to RP than are many regional English accents. So I was often told in England that I had a "soft" accent -- meaning that although detectably Australian it was not beyond the pale in in the Home Counties. My conservative politics tend to go down well in the Home Counties too.

An amusing effect of this close but usually denied affinity is the way that some Australian women have constructed for themselves a version of English "society". In England there really is such a thing as "society" -- basically the English aristocracy. The Australian version is of course self-selected rather than genetically selected but they do a moderately good job of imitating the English original. And part of that is that they do a rather good job of imitating the speech of the English original. I remember one example vividly. When I was talking on the phone to Laurie, she sounded to me just like Margaret, who is an English lady I know who really is a born member of the English aristocracy.

So who was Laurie? She was the daughter of my father's accountant. In other words we both grew up in a small Australian country town -- going to school in bare feet in a tropical environment -- an environment beset by such perils as taipan snakes, funnelweb spiders, box jellyfish, finger cherries and crocodiles, rather than the more pleasant English phenomena of crocuses, daffodils, cuckoos and skylarks. From that humble beginning, however, Laurie had acquired all the language, mannerisms and values of the English aristocracy. And I imagine that she did so without ever visiting England.

It reminds me of something that someone wrote (probably Andrew Ian Dodge -- an Anglophilic American, now deceased) when I first started putting up my "Eye on Britain" blog. He said that this is a blog about England from an outsider's point of view -- but the author really isn't an outsider because he is an Australian. Very insightful.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A small personal note about company shares

I gather that for most employed people the financial crisis has had negligible effects. I am however one of the investor class. As a retired man, I live almost entirely on the proceeds of my stockmarket investments. And about half of those investments are in Australian bank stocks. So I am in big trouble, right?

Not at all. One reason why I invested heavily in banks was that Australian banks had big meltdowns at the time of the Hawke/Keating deregulation a couple of decades ago. Most of the State banks went broke and even Westpac (then the biggest bank) tottered a bit. And that all happened because of incautious lending to the "entrepreneurs" of the day. So I figured that the banks had learned their lesson and were not likely to risk any recurrence of that. And I was right. The Australian banks are in good shape. They were and are still making profits and sub-prime loans have not been a significant problem in Australia. The bank share prices are way down but as long as the dividends keep coming, why should I worry about that? The new high is always higher than the old high so the share prices will bounce back in due course.

And September/October is dividend time so I have had a good cash inflow recently. I like to keep a fair bit of cash on hand to fund the various gifts and donations that I give out from time to time. My own needs are minimal. I mostly give direct to the intended beneficiary. Giving to charitable organizations usually just supports a herd of parasites. Most of what you give to Big Charity pays for "administration". The only exceptions I make are that I do give to the Salvation Army and to Legacy (an organization that looks after the wives and children of military men who did not come home). The fact that I have some army background is probably sufficient explanation for the latter and it explains a lot of the former too. Many old soldiers will tell you how good the Sallies have been in wartime. And I do have a soft spot for real Christians.

Even so, I recently found that I did have about $10,000 that I had no obvious use for so I BOUGHT SOME MORE SHARES. Why everybody is not doing so rather escapes me. Prices are very rarely as low as they are at the moment. It is a great time to buy cheap.

All of which, in my view, shows one benefit of managing your own money rather than giving it to someone else to manage. I can ride out the share price downturn because I don't need to sell anything. But superannuation funds and the like are always having to sell in order to fulfill their obligations to people who have reached retiring age. So they are selling at a huge loss, which drags down the funds available to everybody on their books. Not smart!

So my recommendation is just buy blue-chip stocks in your own name as a way of saving for retirement. 

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Four stray thoughts from a quiet Sunday morning

1). It seems that the Gramscian surge through the educational system has left young Americans with virtually no knowledge of the foundation of their country. So it is only the old guys these days that know anything about that. I wonder if even the old guys know enough, however. How many people know, for instance, how "created equal" got into the Declaration of Independence? It sounds emabarrassingly socialist, does it not? And how come Jefferson, who admired Christ but didn't think Christ was God (which makes me a Jeffersonian, I guess) put something so religious into the Declaration? Did Jefferson just have a brainwave one day, write it all down and everyone promptly said "Great"?

I think you can guess the answer. The Declaration was the endpoint of a LOT of debate and controversy. The original draft had "born free" where Jefferson put "created equal". So why the change? "Born free" sounds a heap better to me: Conservative rather than socialist. The Jeffersonian version was in fact a stroke of genius. The slave States would NOT allow "born free", as that would be a clear condemnation of their own practices. So a compromise would have to be found that kept the South onside. Various clumsy compromise wordings were tried but Jefferson's version was greeted as a triumph. It was vague enough to suit everybody and sounded really good.

One book that gives a very detailed account, with documentation, of the whole pre-Declaration discussions is Slave Nation but the authors are Left-leaning so they get carried away in the end and claim that the revolution was fought to defend slavery! Balance seems to be just too hard for Leftists. The fact that a right to "liberty" was included in the next sentence of the Declaration doesn't seem to give them any trouble at all. It didn't give the slaveowners any trouble either. Strange company they find themselves in.

2). I am amazed that so many stockmarket investors are being so foolish at the moment. Selling when the market is way down is just about the most foolish thing imaginable. Yet people seem to be doing it in droves. My portfolio is down by a third in value but if I had any loose cash I would be buying now, not selling. The new high is always higher than the old high. You just have to be a bit patient. And my dividends are still coming in much as usual so why should I worry?

3). Australian banks have been only marginally affected by the financial crisis. Australia has a large minority population too but most of ours are Han Chinese. And I doubt that any Chinese has ever walked away from a mortgage. They just work harder. I am a great fan of the Han! My son has similar views -- as you will see from the photo of him below:

OK. I guess it is a bit gratuitous to put up a picture of my son but if a father cannot be proud of his son, it's not much of a life, is it?

4). Did you know that there are no Chinese in China (sort of)? "China" means the land of the Chin and the Chin dynasty is long gone. Chinese usually refer to their country as "The middle kingdom" and the majority race in China is the Han (Yes. China has minorities too). But you find Han people throughout Asia: Thailand, Malaysia etc. There are even Chinese restaurants in India! I went to one there once.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Maureen's birthday

A small and informal lunch yesterday at Ken's place for the occasion. We have had so many big family occasions (at which the women do most of the work) in recent times that Maureen wanted something very low-key for her birthday. So it was a "bring your own lunch" occasion. Present were Ken, Maureen, Paul, Sue, Jenny, Joe and myself.

Sue brought along for her lunch a meat pie with peas and mashed potatoes. Despite her being statuesque and 6' tall, she is a quarter Filipino in ancestry -- but her choice of lunch revealed that she is also 100% Australian. Perhaps it is only her exceptionally pleasant nature that is her Filipino heritage.

The birthday cake was a Pavolva with lots of fruit on top which went down very well. Sad that it is only in Australia that the virtues of Pavlova are well-known.

We talked mainly about the stockmarket. Paul is selling all his real estate with the intention of putting the money into shares -- as shares are very cheap at the moment. I think that is a very wise move but since I suggested it, I would, wouldn't I?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

More surgery: Gak!

About two weeks ago I decided that a couple of my skin cancers were getting a bit obstreperous so I called my usual dermatologist cum plastic surgeon, the excellent Dr Russell Hills. He is the most expensive in town but also the best. And I speak as a connoisseur of plastic surgery -- with many years of experience. Anyway, I got an appointment for a consultation with him after only a week's wait and I was on the surgery table a week after that -- last Wednesday. A large contrast with the months of waiting I would have had through our local "free" hospital system. With cancers, waiting long periods is not wise.

I had two procedures, one of which was a rather large curette and diathermy on the middle of my forehead. So the next day my face was so swollen with edematous swelling that I had some difficulty seeing out of my eyes. I kept on blogging regardless however.

When Anne came over that night (Thursday) I was no way fit to dine out so Anne scrabbled around in my freezer and found a dozen or so French cutlets, a great favourite of mine. She grilled them up and served them with rice and baked beans. That may seem like an odd combination but rice and beans are in fact the staple of Mexican cuisine so it all worked very well.

Then for breakfast on Friday she dug out a medium size cheese and steak pie by "Muzza", our local genius pastrycook. So I dined and breakfasted very well thanks to Anne, which did help my spirits. I am not easily ground down but I was not feeling the brightest with my surgical aftermaths.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ken's birthday

A big family rollup for lunch at his place last Sunday. Anne and I Humbered there. Everyone was there as far as I can remember. "The men" (Ken, myself, Joe and Paul) mostly talked about the financial upheavals in America and the effect on our stockmarket but, as usual, I don't know what everybody else talked about. Though Lady Von got some praise for going into real-estate rather than the stockmarket.

Paul was the picture of gloom because he had put $100,00 into Suncorp at $11 per share or thereabouts and seen it sink to $7. I tried to tell him that his thinking was too short-term and that it would all bounce back in due course but I don't think he was much consoled. I bought Suncorp at around $18 from memory and I'm not worried.

Maureen had bought some excellent sausages for the BBQ and Anne had made one of her great trifles so at least the food was good.

I talked to Joe a bit and told him not to swim in rivers because you can get swept away! How banal can you get? I also however gave him a CD with the Sibelius musette on it so that should be a good memorial of the occasion.

He still seems set on being an actuary -- which is rather amusing because most people don't know what the hell that is! But as a mathematics graduate he is definitely allowed to do strange things!

I also talked a bit to Simon, who was just back from Qatar. He was amazed at what a dismal place Qatar is and definitely glad to be home with his lovely wife and family after 6 months away.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Fathers' Day

Yesterday was Fathers' Day in Australia and Jenny gave me a lunch to mark the occasion -- as she usually does. This time she gave me a BBQ lunch featuring cevapi, which she knows I like.

And the lunch was good from the first smell. Present were Jenny, myself, Joe and Nanna.

We were both pleased that Joe got into the cevapi. Given the large similarities between him and me, that was rather to be expected but the reason we were pleased is that he normally will not eat sausages and cevapi are a type of sausage. So he just likes GOOD sausages!

Jenny has just had a visit of a few days from Nola and they went to all sorts of entertainment together, as usual. Jenny and Nola get on exceptionally well together and have done so for many years so I asked Jenny why she thought that was. She thought that she and Nola have similar attitudes and values but I would have not have thought that was terribly obvious. But feelings cannot be easily analysed anyway. One thing for sure: Both Jenny and Nola like FUN! And both view the world with a rather cynical and skeptical eye.

Nola is very irreverent and headstrong. One one occasion she was at a rather formal dinner party and they were going around the table saying who their best friend was. When it came to Nola's turn she said her best friend was her vibrator! She definitely does not like pomposity and pretence! It's probably the Irish in her as she is of Irish descent.

I brought with me to the lunch three copies of Dragon Cave, an old Amiga game that is one of Nanna's favourites. Nanna may be a lady in her 80s but she does like computer games. She has worn out several copies of Dragon Cave. It is a sokoban game.

After lunch, Joe and I looked on the computer for an audio clip of "Musette" by Sibelius. Joe did not know it and I knew he would like it. He did.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Piano and singers

Joe's music teacher put on a concert of her students at 4pm yesterday. Joe was the last on the program and played an unusual piece of Mozart's (Fantasy in C minor) very well. I have been paying for music lessons for him for 17 years now -- since he was 4 -- so I am pleased that it has all paid off.

I have just got to thinking what a diverse lot my favourite singers are: Josef Schmidt, Peter Dawson and Paul Robeson -- a Romanian Jewish tenor, an Australian bass baritone and a black American bass.

I absolutely love "Heut' ist der schoenste Tag in meinem Leben", a joyous love song by Schmidt.

And for Dawson, of course, THE song is "Floral dance".

There is an unusual history behind Floral dance. It was actually written by a woman for a woman and it makes slightly more sense in that form. Yet it was Dawson who revised it for a male voice and made it famous.

For the incredibly versatile Paul Robeson a favourite song is harder to pick but Ol' Man River is hard to beat.

So what do they have in common? Nothing as far as I can see. I just like their voices but don't ask me why. Though one thing that they have in common, sadly, is that they are all dead.

Since the Schmidt song is in German, I thought I might translate it -- so others can appreciate what it is all about. It is a literal translation rather than a poetic one. I have been doing poetic translations from German since I was 15 but they take more time and work::

Heut Ist Der Schoenste Tag In Meinem Leben


Heut ist der schoenste Tag in meinem Leben, ]
Today is the most beautiful day in my life
Ich fuehl zum ersten Mal, ich bin verliebt.
I feel for the first time, I am in love
Ich moechte diesen Tag fuer keinen geben
I would not swap this day for any other
Es ist ein Wunder, dass es sowas gibt.
It is a wonder that such a thing could exist
Heut will ich mit keinem tauschen
Today would I exchange with no other
Wer's auch ist und wer's auch immer sei,
Who ever else is like that may it ever be
Heut will ich mich berauschen,
Today I wish to intoxicate myself
Morgen ist's vielleicht vorbei.
Tomorrow it may be gone
Heut ist der schoensten Tag in meinem Leben
Today is the most beautiful day in my life
Heut ist der schoenste Tag im Monat Mai.
Today is the most beautiful day in the month of May

Wo ich bin und wo ich gehe,
Where I am and where I go
Ist das Glueck in meiner Naehe,
Isd the luck of what surrounds me
Heute singen alle Geiqen,
Today all fiddles sing
Fuer Dich und fuer mich.
For you and for me
Heute denk ich nicht an Morgen,
Today I don't think of tomorrow
Heute gibt es keine Sorgen,
Today there are no worries
Heut ist alle Tage Sonntag,
Today is an eternal Sunday
Fuer dich und fuer mich.
For you and for me


Auf die Woche folgt der Sonntag
After the week Sunday follows
Auf den Sonntaq folgt der Montag,
After Sunday comes Monday
Auf die Sonne folgt der Regen,
After the sun comes the rain
So ist das zumeist.
So it is in general
Auf die Trauer folgt die Freude,
After sadness comes joy
Und die Liebe fuer uns beide,
And love for us two
Und wer so wie wir verliebt ist,
And so for anybody in love like us
Der weiss was das heisst.
Who knows what that is



I have done a bit more work on the translation and the version below should be just barely singable


Now is the best time in all my life
I feel for the first time I am in love
I wouldn't give this day for any other
It is a wonder that such a thing could be
I won't swap this day with anyone else
Who ever it is or whoever it may be
Today I want to be drunk with it
For tomorrow it may be gone
Now is the best time in all my life
Now is the best time in the month of May

Verse 1

Where I am and where I go
Luck is in my neighbourhood
Today all fiddles are singing
For you and for me
Today there is no tomorrow
Today there are no worries
Today all days are Sunday
For you and for me

Verse 2

After the week comes Sunday
After Sunday comes Monday
After the sun comes the rain
So it mostly is
After sadness comes joy
And love for us two
And anyone else in love
Knows what that means

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The travails of a new mobile phone

I understand the above toon perfectly. I have recently got myself a new mobile phone that seems to be able do everything except cook your breakfast. Figuring out how to get it to do any of those things is a big problem, however. I have figured out how to get the FM radio in it working and, after much trial and error, I can work the camera. I can't figure out how to do anything with the pictures, however and I can't stop the keybord from locking every time the phone goes into idle mode. But I can make and receive calls! Its number at the moment is 0488603058 but I am going to transfer my old SIM card into it when I get the thing more or less figured out.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Food for thought

I guess I must be a sentimental old fool. I read recently a story in "The Times" which I cannot get out of my head. I have posted it on Paralipomena. It is about a man who was adopted out as a baby but who finally traced his birth mother when he was 41. Such stories are usually emotional but you read such stories often so what was unusual about this story? The striking thing is in the very last sentence -- a sentence that is at once totally crazy and totally right. I am sure that the sort of self-obsessed person we often find on the political Left would think nothing of it but it brings tears to my old eyes. If you choose to read it, do read the whole story first. Peeking at the last sentence first may well deprive it of much of its impact.

A recent post on Wicked Thoughts has got some memorable entries in it too. It is from Monday, August 25, 2008 and is headed: What Love means to a 4-8 year old....

Monday, August 11, 2008

More music

Westside Music Group again last night. Congenial as usual. No Asian pianists this time. Instead we had a 13 year old girl with a big mane of blonde hair who played some difficult Mozart and Bartok with enormous confidence and skill. Her mother was with her -- another South African-born lady with still a trace of the accent. Our violinist was however Jewish, so tradition was maintained. She played some Cesar Franck with the sort of enormous intensity that one rather expects of Jewish violinists. So we had first class piano and first class violin.

There was also a large female opera singer who was very competent but her voice was just a bit reedy for me. And a classical guitarist finished the evening for us in a very pleasant way. Anne is a singer -- a good soprano -- so she was rather critical of our operatic lady. When you are in the trade you notice the fine points, I guess.

We had a good crowd. Rosemary's big living room was full -- 20 or more people all told. It was a freezing night so everybody was rugged up. One lady arrived carrying a crocheted blanket and another lady wore a big white beanie. There was a fire going in the fireplace but the room was too open for that to make much difference. Brisbane houses are built for warm weather, not the cold. But we do have a few rather wintry nights. Last night was 60 degrees F or 16 degrees C. So "freezing" is all relative.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Good taste in Tonga

After the new king was crowned in Tonga yesterday, he drove off aboard a 1950's Humber Super Snipe

Story of the coronation here.

Anne is very patient

Anne and I went clothing shopping yesterday. Anne has proper lady thoughts about men dressing nicely but she has on her hands one of the world's worst sartorial disasters. I sallied out dressed in pilled-up old trackies and slippers with breakfast spilt on them. Now that I am just an old pensioner I am worse than ever.

We went to the huge shopping centre at Garden City. We went to both Lowes and Big W and ended up buying 5 shirts and two boxer short undies for me. Getting stuff for "big men" was no mean feat however.

But I guess I have some advantages. Anne had the night before expressed a wish to have a CD of "that Gregorian chant from that German monastery". And within 24 hours she had in her possession a CD of the music from the Stift Heiligen Kreuz (Institution of the Holy Cross -- a Cistercian monastery in the Vienna woods of Austria). It is indeed marvellous music.

There was an ABC shop on the way back from Lowes and I managed to find the relevant CD there.

The Stift Heiligen Kreuz has been honoured by a visit from the Holy Father

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Schwarto and Queensland police indifference to car theft

Rob Schwarten is a long-standing Labor party member of the Queensland parliament who has served in various ministries. He has a reputation for being aggressive -- even physically intimidating. So I was amused to receive from him a letter that was typically Schwarto -- a sort of verbal punch. Before I show you the letter, however, I need to tell you what led up to it:

In a nutshell: My car was stolen and the Queensland police showed not the slightest interest in apprehending the thief or thieves, despite the ID of one of them being handed to them on a plate.

More detail: Someone reported my abandoned car to the Redcliffe police about a week after it was stolen; the Redcliffe police checked their reports of stolen cars and notified me accordingly.

When I got the car back, most of the contents that I had in it were missing. This bothered me greatly as some of the contents were of considerable value to me. On checking through what remained, however, I found a library card belonging to someone I had never heard of. It was for a library in the Redcliffe area. It seemed clear to me that one of the thieves had inadvertently dropped it while they were in the car. Eureka! Just trace the person and I might get my stuff back!

So I took the card to my nearest cop-shop -- at Dutton Park. I was greeted at the counter by a dickless Tracy by the name of Turgeon. I told her my story, she listened and said she would look into it. I had no sooner stepped outside the building before I realized however that she had not taken a single note or asked for any details, let alone fill out a proper report.

I went back in and urged details upon her -- registration number, dates etc. She grabbed a torn-off scrap of paper and jotted a few things down. That was it. I left in great doubt about whether I had been taken seriously.

So I followed the matter up in the following weeks and months. In the course of that I was told two things by various police persons:

1). The card could have been dropped by anyone so was no proof of anything. Police logic, I presume. They seemed to think that I might have been driving around with people unknown to me in my car.

2). The person on the card had been checked and found to have no "form" (no criminal record) so there was no point in pursuing them. More police logic. How one ever gets form in the first place under those circumstances was never expained.

I was of course not remotely impressed by those pearls of wisdom but they came from more than one police officer, including a rather senior one. It stood out like dog's balls that the Queensland police were not remotely interested in catching car thieves -- unless of course you could catch them at the end of an exciting high-speed chase. No wonder Queensland has the highest rate of car theft in Australia. If you don't catch the baddies they will continue doing it.

So I started writing to the politicians in order to get some action. I got some very ill-considered replies from them too but it emerged that by that time the ID card had been "lost" and they could not therefore investigate the matter even if they wanted to.

That was quite appalling. There are of course strict police rules about the recording and preservation of material evidence and those regulations had obviously been ignored. It's not much of a guess to conclude that the Virgin Turgeon threw it straight into the bin, in fact.

I asked for disciplinary measures to be taken and Inspector Volk of Dutton Pk. station assured me that they had. For all I know that was just hot air, however. Clearly, Constable Turgeon had simply been following informal police rules.

I was rather stumped at that point but eventually made what was probably the only move left to me: Sue for compensation for my loss of car contents. I accordingly wrote to the Minister in charge of police with a claim for $500 in compensation for the loss of car contents that police negligence had prevented me from recovering. I got the usual ill-considered reply -- presumably written by a junior ministerial assistant. So I wrote again to point that out.

It was then that I got my amusing letter from Schwarto:
Judy Spence MP
Member for Mount Gravatt

Office of the
Minister for Police and
Corrective Services

Ref: 5627 F6 GM

23 May, 2008

Dear Dr Ray

Thank you for your further letter of 19 March 2008 concerning your dealings with police regarding the theft of your motor vehicle and property stolen from the vehicle.

I note you have received several replies from the Honourable Judy Spence MP since 2006 regarding associated issues.

While I have noted your further comments, as the Acting Minister for Police I am unable to intervene in any particular police investigation or operational decision, or interfere in the Police Service's handling of any particular complaint against its officers.

In the circumstances, your correspondence has been forwarded to the Police Service for consideration and you should take up direct with the Service on any further issues of concern.

Neither Ms Spence nor I am can assist you further in this matter and therefore do not intend corresponding with you in future on this issue.

Yours sincerely
Robert Schwarten MP
Acting Minister for Police, Corrective Services and Sport

He appears to think he can shut me up!

No further correspondence from the Police Service has arrived in the two months since Schwarto wrote so I suppose that an action against the Constable in the Small Claims tribunal will have to be my next step.

I have put this post and most of the letters I wrote on the matter up on a special blog called "Queensland Police Negligence". You will see there that I even wrote to the body that is supposed to act on complaints against the police but that they simply referred the complaint back to the police -- as they usually do.

What I would most like to see at this stage is a public enquiry resulting in visible disciplinary action against the police officers primarily responsible for the unofficial policy of not investigating car stealing.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

An interesting night -- with cheesesteak

I have always been impressed by what I hear about the way Philadelphians are devoted to Cheesesteak sandwiches. Being pretty cheesy myself, I have always thought that they sound yummy. Sadly, however, they are unknown in Australia (to my knowledge) and a trip to Philadelphia is not on my horizon so I had to find another way of getting to try one.

So I gathered together various screeds about them and a couple of videos about how to make them and did my best to get Anne to create one from those sources. I bought the Provolone cheese for starters. Provolone too is little known in Brisbane but fortunately there is a large Italian deli only a few minutes drive from my place so that was easy.

Last night Anne got inspired enough to have a go at making some -- and they were deLISH! In principle they are pretty basic -- good steak sliced or diced, provolone plus onions in a bread roll. But the cook still needs to have talent to get it right -- and Anne did. You would be hard put to get a better meal in a good restaurant.

Later Anne and I were talking about religion and she made some derisive reference to it but I pointed out that she was herself a good Calvinist. As with me, her background is Presbyterian and Presbyterians are the representatives of Calvinsm (predestination) in the English-speaking world. I tried to get her to see that there was some alternative to predestinarian thinking -- such as Lutheran salvation by faith -- but it was uphill. She informed me that she never has got on well with Lutherans anyhow. She definitely has a Presbyterian brain. Fortunately, I am very much at home with that. My mother and aunties were the same.

Anne reminded me of something that had rather passed me by. The Governor of Queensland, Quentin Bryce, who is soon to become Governor General of Australia (both largely ceremonial posts but very prestigious nonetheless), is an active member of Ann St Presbyterian church -- which for both Anne and me is our old church -- and one which we still like to go to occasionally.

Quentin Bryce is a feminist lady in various ways so I had always been pretty dubious about her. Feminists can be pretty nasty. So my opinion of Her Excellency rose enormously when I realized her church affiliation. Ann St is a pretty old-fashioned gospel-oriented church so it is not the church you go to for social show. She would have gone to the Cathedral if that had been her aim. She may have a Presbyterian brain too.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Some fun times

The weekend started out early on Thursday. In an event somewhat reminiscent of a potlatch, Anne and I gave one-another blankets that day. I gave her a cotton blanket and she gave me a woollen blanket. As astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington once said: "Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine"! That applies to life on earth too.

We dined at home on some very good fish 'n chips from a nearby fish-shop that night, accompanied by some J.P. Chenet sauvignon blanc -- our favourite fish wine.

And Saturday went well with Anne cooking us some roast pork -- one of my favourites

And Sunday was the 21st for my son Joe. We had the celebration as a dinner at our usual Indian restaurant at Stone's Corner. There were 22 people present, partly Joe's friends but mostly family. Paul was full of beans as usual and livened everybody up. The rest of us are a pretty quiet lot so Paul is a great help.

The cake was a rich chocolate cake with profiteroles on top. Ken's slice did not come with any profiteroles, however, so he protested and got a special plate of them. Paul thought his curry was not hot (as in spicy) enough so he got another one which really burned him up! Joe seemed to enjoy it all, which was of course the main idea.

Joe did not know the old "21 today" song so I sang it for him and presented him with a huge antique brass key during it.

The 21 year old with Sam and empty champagne glass:

Cake topped with profiteroles:

Jill and Lewis were there:

That fat guy paid the bill:

Joe and Paul with Nanna:

Paul with the photographer:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

An eventful day

Eventful by the standards of my quiet life anyway.

Not long ago I had a flagpole installed at the front of my house and since then I have bought various flags to fly from it to suit various occasions. The fact that my morning drive takes me past one of Brisbane's two chief flag suppliers has something to do with that.

Anyway, I decided yesterday that I would like to fly the English flag in honour of my English ancestors so I dropped in at the flag place and asked for one. A printed flag there retails for $44 so price is no big deal. They only had a sewn St George flag in stock, however, which is much dearer. So they sold me the sewn one at the wholesale price of $80. There are benefits in being a regular customer -- but being a regular customer at a flag factory is undoubtedly eccentric.

Note that I said the English flag and not the Union Jack. The Union Jack is the flag of the United Kingdom. The St George flag is the flag of England. Since devolution, flying the English flag has become popular in England, even though the lower echelons of British officialdom sometimes describe that as "racist"! Thank goodness British officialdom does not speak for all Englishmen (or even the majority of Englishmen in this case). I suppose some blighted souls would also describe the historic toast "To St George and merrie England" as racist too. Schoolkids in England have even been punished by teachers for flying the English flag!

The English flag is also often flown by Englishmen who object to the non-solution of the "West Lothian question" and I am entirely in sympathy with that protest, so I was glad to have the proud and historic red cross of St George flying over my house yesterday.

And in the afternoon, Paul came over to deliver my new UPS (uninterruptible power supply). We do have momentary interruptions of power supply here at night fairly often and there is talk of strikes from electricity unionists so I definitely need a UPS.

While he was here Paul also installed a DVD burner in my computer and installed the AVG viruschecker -- which he recommends. I have always found viruscheckers more trouble than they are worth so I hope this one turns out better.

Then in the evening Jenny had Anne and me over for a paella. There are very few restaurants in Brisbane where you can get a paella and Jenny's home-cooked paellas are as good as they come so it was much enjoyed. I took over a bottle of Veuve Cliquot to aid the deliberations and we had an excellent pavlova for dessert.

And today I have just had the termite man over. The house is under fairly heavy attack from termites at the moment so we have to do what we can to kill them. We are using Termidor this time. You never get rid of them entirely, however, so you just have to put occasional repairs down to maintenance.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sunday lunch

14 July, 2008

Jill gave a small party of us lunch yesterday. Present at her place were: Jill, Lewis, myself, Anne, Henningham, Helen, Jenny, Joe and Sam. Jenny, Joe, myself, Anne and Sam Humbered out to River Hills. Jill likes my verb "Humbered". But when you have a 1963 Humber Super Snipe Series IV, you do such things.

A snipe is a waterbird and it always amuses me the way the English name lots of things after waterbirds: boats, cars, locomotives. Who has not heard of the Mallard and Bittern steam trains? How can a steam locomotive be like a duck? Search me!

The lunch was on Jill's large patio, surrounded by garden. Jill's garden has grown up tall and lush so it was a very pleasant setting. Jill made us some tagliatelle with seafood, which everybody liked. And pavlova for dessert -- one of Australia's few notable contributions to cuisine.

Henningham was in his best jovial form so it was a very relaxed occasion.

As part of the festivities we did a small play that I wrote especially for the occasion. Henningham is an amateur thespian so he got the part of the old man. I got a round of applause for writing it and it does seem to have amused those present. It was rightly noted that the play was very cynical, however. You can read it here or here

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Vin ordinaire report

After the fuss that the do-gooders kicked up about it, I thought I should try some of Dan Murphy's $2 wine. I bought a couple of bottles yesterday -- a shiraz and a chardonnay. Anne made us quite a nice moussaka for dinner (recipe here) so I opened the shiraz first. I am afraid that it was tres ordinaire -- with a definite barnyard taste. I tipped most of it down the sink.

So then I opened the chardonnay and was surprised to find it perfectly passable, with quite a pleasant fresh taste. I would not be embarrassed to serve it to guests. I don't plan to buy any more of it as I am rather fixated at the moment on Tyrrells verdelho and Taylors Promised Land unwooded chardonnay but if anybody is a bit short of the shekels these days, stocking up on the chardonnay would not be a bad decision -- though tastes do differ so try it for yourself first. Maybe I just got a rare good bottle.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


My sister Jack (Jacqueline Margaret Ray aka Ward) died this morning of the family illness -- breast cancer. Her death was expected and her female companion was with her until the end.

She was only 2 years younger than me but we were not close. I had seen her only once in the last quarter century -- at my brother's wedding.

She leaves no children.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A McGonagall night

Ever since I was introduced to him many years ago by my friend Mel Dickson, I have been a great fan of that great Scottish poet William Topaz McGonagall, who is widely regarded as the world's worst poet. He is so bad, however, that he rises to genius at what he does. His poetry is so bad that it is hilarious. A reading of McGonagall is one of life's greatest amusements, in my view. The laughs never stop coming.

So I was delighted that I was able to enlist Mel to come up to Brisbane from his home in Sydney and give us an evening of McGonagall readings last night. Mel is from the Dunedin area of New Zealand originally so can do a reasonable Scottish accent. He also has a fancy for the theatre so does well-dramatized readings. I flew the saltire of St. Andrew from my flagpole in honour of the occasion.

The occasion was particularly for the benefit of my son Joe. It was one of the occasional poetry readings that I arrange for him to introduce him to the literature that he should have encountered at school. I doubt that McGonagall has ever been on any school curriculum but he should be.

Present were Joe, Jenny, Mel, myself, Anne, Jill and Lewis. We started at around 7pm with dinner. In honour of McGonagall's origins, we tried to make the dinner Scottish. So we had a mainstream Scottish meal: "Mince and tatties" (ground beef and mashed potatoes). It's pretty plain food basically but Anne managed to make it very passable. And it was followed by a dessert that any Scot would approve of: Trifle. Why is trifle Scottish? Because it originated as a way of "using up" old cake. Anne makes a trifle heavy with apricots which is absolutely delicious. The recipe is on my recipe blog.

I was delighted to note that Joey "got" McGonagall immediately. I think he had at least as many laughs during the evening as I did. Joe seems to have a keen sense of the ridiculous, which is what you need for McGonagall. I presented him with a McGonagall "encyclopedia" as a memento of the occasion. It was the second time that I have flown someone up from Sydney to entertain Joe with poetry so I think I am well ahead in my fatherly responsibilities. He is at present busy with a literature review of non-linear partial differential equations so it certainly provided a contrast for him.

It was also good to see Mel again after many years and we had some good chats. Amusing that it took McGonagall to get us back together. Mel is the retired head of the electron microscope laboratory at the University of NSW.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My backyard

Anne took a few pics of my backyard a week or three ago. The cassia is particularly pretty in autumn. And even the old wooden chair looks good in an autumn context!

Click HERE for a larger image of the chair pic

Monday, June 16, 2008

More Music

Another meeting of our Westside Music Group last night. Held in a very new and rather grand house out in the wilds of Pullenvale. Pullenvale is where people go for "acreage" (large) blocks of land. I had trouble finding it and went within a hairsbreadth of crashing my car at one stage. I was wise enough to go in the Echo rather than in the Humber, however, so that helped. The Echo is a lot better at U-turns and narrow roadways.

Our host was an Anglo-Australian but his wife was Indian (Sri-Lankan Sinhalese more precisely). That's quite an unusual combination. Little East-Asian ladies with burly Anglo-Australian men is quite a common combination but Indians seem quite endogamous. And it was the lady who is the musical one, apparently. They were both very pleasant and hospitable anyway.

The gathering was larger than usual but still mostly elderly. There was one lady who must have been somewhere in her 40's but who had kept a very good figure and was very attractively dressed. I wondered a little about that but all was explained the minute I spoke to her: A clear South African accent. South African ladies are VERY particular about their appearance. She was a good pianist anyway. She is a music teacher and did a few duets (four-handed pieces) on the piano with one of her students. It was a very good sound.

Unsurprisingly, our violinist looked very Jewish. I don't know if he was but there is a look that is Jewish even if lots of Jews don't look like that! The number of blue-eyed Jews I know (two of whom were present last night) tells me that Jews have long been less endogamous than their religion would seem to require. Perhaps it all goes back to the story of Ruth.

And we were honoured to have Brisbane's best-known violinist in the audience: Spiros Rantos. I was rather amazed that he was allowed to get away without playing, however. Even born-fiddlers need to listen sometimes, I guess.

And our main pianist was a little Chinese lady, though Australian-born, I think. She was very good. It was great to hear Mozart pouring out from those clever little Asian fingers. It is quite a wonder the way East Asians have taken to Western classical music. Most of the pianists at our concerts seem to be Chinese. Australia is lucky to have had so many high-quality Han immigrants (The Han are the majority race of China but they are also often found in other parts of Asia).

Sunday, June 8, 2008

More Birthdays

Another family birthday yesterday. A combined do for four family members who have birthdays at roughly the same time: Jenny, Davey, Tracy and Paul's Sue.

We gathered at Paul's place, as we often do, and had a lunch together. It was not a BBQ, for once. It was buffet style but all the food came from the kitchen.

Tracy's Simon was there -- on a week's furlough from his deployment in the Gulf. So Simon, Ken and I spent most of the time talking about the war over there -- and military matters generally. Simon did have some interesting stories. He sees a lot from his vantage position as an air-traffic controller.

There were a lot of Paul's Sue's relatives there, which was a change. The disagreements there seem to have been resolved. It was the first time that I had met her mother.

I had a bit of a chat to Joe about how universities work but I think he is already well ahead of me in his ability to deal with the system there.

I also had a chat with the Croesus of the family, Lady Von (Jenny's daughter Yvonne). Von and I were very close when she was a kid and we still enjoy a chat. She has just made a mint on selling her old house and now has two houses -- one in Brisbane and one in N.Z. And she is buying another one in N.Z. as well. She has also just been promoted at work, with an extra $20,000 a year. She is now an adviser of some sort. Not bad considering the poor marks she got at high school. But she has plenty of brains for things she is interested in. And she is good natured and good looking as well! So it's not surprising that she has had a pretty easy run through life so far.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Father knows best?

Not always! But I think that there is nonetheless widespread agreement that sons need their fathers. Some hormonally-challenged feminists and Lesbians (two considerably overlapping categories) disagree but I don't think that evidence is one of their concerns.

Joe has always been mega-independant -- ever since he could crawl. He would screech if we went to carry him up a flight of stairs that he thought he could crawl up. And his first-known sentence was "Don't help", when he was trying to do something and having trouble with it. In the psychology textbooks there is a lot about independance-training and thoughts about how to foster independance in kids. Joe needed no such training. It was in his genes. I have always been very independant too (guess where Joe got it from?) so I entirely approve of Joe's independant traits. Some might find independance in a one-year-old rather strange but I thought it was great. And that independance has continued to this day. Joe wants to make his own way in the world and solve his own problems. Those are traits that were important in his pioneer ancestors and ones that show that he is a true descendant of those strong men of yore.

So it is rare for Joe to bring any of his problems to me -- less than once a year. But when he does I have always so far been able to solve those problems for him. The fact that he and I are similar in many ways obviously facilitates that. And we are even both academics so I can have both personal experience and work experience to draw on in any advice I offer.

Last Saturday Joe had got quite upset over some problems he had been having with his honours mathematics course at university. Partly at his mother's urging, he did however eventually ring me about it and in a few minutes I was able to put him on the right track. I could not of course tell him anything about mathematics but I could tell him how to deal with the situation. So I was able to relieve his mind immediately and get him acting adaptively. He did roughly as I suggested and with his own hard work and positive personality came out of it all with flags flying (as it were).

I have never criticized him and have always been able to help him so I think in that situation that even Mr Independence will in future allow me to help whenever he comes across really big problems.

So yes: Boys may not NEED their fathers but fathers can nonetheless make a big difference --- even where very independant sons are concerned.

Monday, May 26, 2008

A "mystery breakfast"

On Sunday I invited a few people over to my place for a "mystery breakfast". The mystery was what the breakfast was for. There was apparently a lot of speculation over what it could be. As soon as everybody had arrived, however, I announced the answer. It was held for two reasons: 1) As a birthday bash for Jenny, who turns (somewhere in her '50s) on Tuesday. 2). To celebrate my restoration (at absurd expense) of most of the windows in my old house to their original form. The house originally had casement windows throughout but someone before I bought the house had replaced some of the casements with sliding aluminium windows -- which was very out of keeping with a 1930s style "Queenslander" house.

There are two common traditional patterns in Queensland for the coloured glass in the quarterlights of casement windows: One with all amber and another with alternating red and green. I put all amber down one side of my house and red/green across the front, as I like both patterns. For the benefit of any non-Queenslanders who come by here, below is an illustration of some casements without any colours in their quarterlights.

In attendance at the breakfast were Jenny, Anne, Ken, Maureen, Jill, Lewis, Henningham and Helen.

Anne prepared a marvellous Bircher muesli for starters and we also had lots of cold meats and bread in the Northern European style. We ate out on the verandah with a bright winter sun shining in. It was very pleasant. Several of the people present had recently been on visits to Austria and central Europe so a lot of the conversation centred on that -- and on travel generally.

Below is a picture of the verandah. As you can see, I have not yet defeated ALL the aluminium windows in my house. Festina lente

A little joke I had centred around a black octagonal dinner plate that I had found downstairs. It had apparently been left behind by a departing tenant. I happened to know that Jill had an octagonal dinner set which she very much liked so as soon as she arrived I presented her with her own special black octagonal dinner plate for her to use during the breakfast. She got the joke immediately and I afterwards insisted that she take the plate home with her to add to her collection.

Some of the people present seemed very favourably impressed by my amber-quartered casements and Helen particularly liked all the brass and copper fittings I have on both my windows and my doors. I was rather glad about that as I had Jeff over the day before to do various cleanup jobs, with buffing up all the brass being a big part of that. Ken in his usual way thought that all my casements, brassware etc was a lot of nonsense. Ken has always strongly favoured new things over old things. De gustibus non disputandum est.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A rare family photo

The photo below is (left to right) of my niece Katie, my brother Christopher and my sister Roxanne. My sister Jacqueline was also in the original photo but she is terminally ill with the family illness (breast cancer) and not looking good at all so I think I am being respectful in cropping her out of the photo below. Katie is the daughter of Roxanne.

Taken a few weeks ago

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A pleasant morning

Anne came over early and made us a breakfast of cevapi and eggs. Then we went to church. It must be over a year since I had been to Ann St Presbyterian and I like to visit there once in a while. For both Anne and me it is our old church and I get a good feeling when I go there. Ann St is Brisbane's street of churches. The magnificent Anglican cathedral is there plus two Presbyterian churches, one Methodist church, the Salvation Army City citadel and a rather grand Masonic hall.

Ann St Presbyterian church would puzzle a Catholic. It is completely unornamented inside -- no "graven images", as befits an old "Wee Free" church. It does however have the most beautiful woodwork throughout.

And it was quite full! The old church was still gathering people to it. It obviously has good outreach activities. And there was even a baptism of a little baby. Very pleasing to see. One hears a lot about empty churches these days but ones that stick to preaching the gospel of God's love still do well. There were people of all ages present, but with a weighting towards grey heads.

The minister gave a good sermon, recounting the story of Jonah and pointing out its implications. Mr McNicol is from Edinburgh and I greatly enjoyed hearing his Scottish accent as he spoke. The word "church" comes out as something like "churruch" to Australian ears. He is a tall, dignified but friendly man and suits the church perfectly in my view.

After the service we came home and had a cup of tea on the verandah.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A busy weekend

Anne came over on Thursday evening and we went to the "Mado" Turkish restaurant at Southbank.

I had a sucucluk pide there (something like an Italian calzone) as I usually do and Anne also had a pide. Excellent food. It's getting hard to park the car near there though so we had a walk as well -- which pleased Anne.

Anne stayed overnight and next morning we took a trip to Austria for breakfast -- to the K& K Konditorei at Sinnamon Park. We Humbered out there. It really is like a slice of Austria -- but set in a backstreet of a Brisbane suburb. They even sell Almdudler (A herbal lemonade imported from Austria). I had the Bauern Groestl, as I often do, and Anne had a Kransky with Sauerkraut, Roesti and bread. And we both had two cups of their excellent coffee -- which was a bit over the odds for both of us.

Then on Saturday Anne's sister Merle had a celebration of her 50th wedding anniversary. It was a dinner held in the hall of the Carina Presbyterian church -- an awful big soulless modern place. Not the sort of Presbyterian church hall I was used to at all. Merle and her husband Ralph do however go regularly to that church so it must have something -- good outreach, I gather.

The occasion was in fact a very Presbyterian one: low-key but friendly. Definitely no wild singing and dancing. We did however at one stage have some harp music! It wasn't a Western concert harp so I think it must have been some sort of Korean harp. The lady playing it (Yes. It was a lady. Why are almost all harpists female?) was Korean. You meet Koreans anywhere you go among Australian Presbyterians these days. Why? Because there are now far more Presbyterians in Korea than in Scotland! The main reason Presbyterian missionaries were so successful in Korea is that they were not Japanese. Koreans loathe the Japanese and all their works and do their best to differentiate themselves from the Japanese. Another feature of the evening was a slideshow of family snaps, which everyone enjoyed.

There were four generations of the family present, which was impressive. Anne's 90 year old mother was there as were Anne's two little grandsons. Baby Ethan was looking healthy, which was very heartening. His premature birth was very stressful for all involved but he seems to have suffered no harm from it -- due in part no doubt to the excellent care he got at Brisbane's Mater Private Hospital.

The food was predictable (roast etc.) but pleasant enough. There was of course no alcohol in evidence and we did start the dinner with one of Merle's sons saying grace. I imagine that some people might have found the occasion boring but I felt on familiar and comfortable ground there. I am rather pleased that Anne has revived my Presbyterian connections to some extent. Our similar background is very congenial.

Then Sunday was of course Mothers' Day. As I usually do, I took some good lunchy things over to Jenny's place. She's not my mother but she is the mother of my son. My mother passed away long ago. Jenny's mother is however still hale and hearty in her 80s and she was present at the lunch. Others present were Paul, Joe and Samantha. It was a very pleasant lunch. My contribution was prosciutto, terrine, antipasto and some King Island cheese.

Then for dinner Anne came over again and made us some Reuben sandwiches -- using some Dutch Leerdammer cheese -- a Dutch version of Swiss cheese. And I still managed to keep up my usual blog output through all that!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Red hair and another seder recollection

A VERY late arrival (about halfway through the seder) at my table was what I took to be a mother/son couple. The son was a serious but polite young man who arrived wearing what the Scots would call "trews": pants with a sort of loud tartan check in them. I gather that he was a rock musician of some sort (I know nothing about popular music. I am a Bach man). I am searching for the right word to describe the impression I got of him: "Eccentric" comes close but only in a way that is in my experience rather to be expected of pop musicians. I was for a time involved in selling music computers (Atari STs) so I got to see a lot of pop musicians at that time. And they do rather seem to live in a world not much influenced by convention.

He had VERY red hair which he wore VERY long -- and a short red beard to go with it. And his skin was VERY fair -- the sort of light-red colour that I recollect my father as having. My father was also a redhead. So how was this unusual person greeted by those present? He was greeted with great affection by many people. They had obviously known him for some time and loved him for the individual that he is.

I was greatly impressed by that. I too value individuality greatly and tend to find eccentrics most interesting. And I am MOST biased in favour of red hair. My first girlfriend was a redhead; The first lady I lived with was a redhead and two of the four ladies I married were redheads. And it gives me great joy to see redheaded children -- which I often do in the places that I frequent. I am most pleased with my son the mathematician (Yiddisher Mommas stereotypically like to refer to "My son the doctor" but I have a feeling that "My son the mathematician" trumps that) but there is a tiny twinge of regret that he is a blond rather than a redhead. There is red hair on his mother's side as well as on mine so it could have been.... I don't really know why I am mentioning these things but why not?


Just a few notes for any overseas readers

Australia's main national day today, when we remember members of our families who died in the many wars where Australian troops have lent a hand to other people far away across the sea. And in one case -- the war with Japan -- we were actually threatened ourselves.

In WWII, the Japanese were stopped in their advance through New Guinea towards Australia by the CMF -- the "weekend warriors" of whom I was myself once a part. There are few weekend warriors any more. I myself served full-time for part of my enlistment and half of the American army in Iraq is made up of reservists. The CMF is now referred to simply as the "Reserves".

Commemoration of Anzac day traditionally includes attendance at an interdenominational "Dawn service" -- held at dawn to commemorate the time when the original Anzacs landed at Gallipoli. After that there is a huge march through the city featuring "ex-diggers" (former members of the military) and their relatives. It is a long time since I have attended the service or watched the march but my heart nonetheless goes out to the families who have lost loved-ones. Perhaps fortunately, the relatives I lost were distant ones whom I never knew personally.

But this evening I will do one very Australian thing: I will attend a family BBQ to celebrate a birthday. The picture above is from Brisbane's shrine of remembrance. It is most pleasing to note that the commemoration seems to get bigger every year -- with many young people involved.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Pesach seder (Passover celebration)

I went to my first seder last night. It was with a local Conservative congregation so there was lots of Hebrew chanted and sung -- and we used an Orthodox haggadah (order of service). I enjoyed it. It was a relaxed and happy occasion, as it should be. We even had some very pleasant Israelis present.

The haggadah was read out loud by various people during the seder and it was mostly read in English. During the reading I was at one stage called on without warning to read a paragraph, which I was of course delighted to do and immediately did. I actually took an active part in the seder rather than being a total visitor. It is lucky I was following what was being read, though!

Will I attend another seder one day? Perhaps. I am not religious so that is a counterindication. But I enjoy Biblical exegesis (rigorous interpretation) so if an opportunity came up to attend one in very scholarly company I would be keen. I have only a Christian knowledge of the Torah so I would appreciate a deeper discussion of it. But there are no Yeshivot (Jewish Bible schools) in Brisbane so I am not holding my breath.

I would be particularly interested in an exegesis of Exodus 12: 43-49. On the face of it, the Lubavitchers have got it right and the seder should be restricted to Jews only. But, as with all good law, there is a loophole: verse 48. I would fail the loophole myself but there other cases where defining the exception would be interesting.

I think that I should in closing express my great appreciation of the inimitable Garek Fish, who led the Beit Knesset Shalom congregation through the seder ceremonies with thoroughly admirable gusto.

A note about the shul (synogogue) that I went to: Like Christianity, Judaism is very fractious, with all sorts of sects. Beit Knesset Shalom is nominally a Progressive shul but is apparently at the most conservative end of that definition. They had a breakaway or threatened breakaway a little while back from a group of members who thought they were not progressive enough.

Interesting that the usual word used for a synagogue is "shul", which really means "school". It is a small hint of the intellectual orientation of Judaism.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Seder attendance arranged

I have long had a considerable correspondence with Jewish readers of my various blogs so I was quietly confident that my Jewish readers would do what they could to facilitate my wish to attend a seder. And that is why I reported online my difficulties with the local Lubavitchers. I have no quarrel with the chabad movement at all and wish all Lubavitchers well but their rules did prevent me from fulfilling my wish to attend a highly traditional seder with them. I am in fact rather glad to find a religious group that resists secularization of its rules.

One of my Jewish readers even went to the extent of emailing the Brisbane chabad leader and arguing my case with him. But that did not work of course. Another reader suggested some local reform congregations that might be more accomodating and I have now been accepted as a guest by the Beit Knesset Shalom congregation on 19th. I am of course completely delighted.

An amusing footnote, though. The congregation concerned has a seder for Ashkenazim ("Western" Jews) on 19th and a seder for Sephardim on 20th. It is only the seder for Ashkenazim that is open to non-Jews.

A busy weekend

On Saturday night, Anne and I were invited to dinner by my stepson Paul and his wife. Ever since he was a kid, Paul and I have always enjoyed a chat -- and dinner is a good occasion for it, of course. Paul is rather serious-minded and thinks a lot about the best way to live and behave so the fact that he has a psychologist for a stepfather is a useful coincidence. He always seems to find my viewpoint interesting, anyway. He can see that life has gone well for me so likes to draw what lessons he can from that.

Paul has very good memories of when he was a child living in my house. And he showed that by remarking that he would like to buy the house that we lived in at that time. It is a rather magnificent 6-bedroom "Old Queenslander" (traditional Brisbane timber house) with two large iron-lace verandahs -- so that is an understandable aspiration. The house I live in now is bigger but not quite as traditional.

Sue is a great cook so we had a feast. She served her own home-made calzoni as an entree followed by a sumptuous lasagna. She must have been in an Italian mood. And we had a very rich chocolate cake to follow.

Throughout the dinner we had the music of Philip Glass booming out -- which Paul and I both particularly like. I hope the neighbours liked it too!

And on Sunday we had another meeting of our Westside music group. Particularly notable was a Rachmaninoff piano and violin concerto. The third movement in particular had everyone transfixed. The violinist was a young guy who I believe was Jewish -- another brilliant Jewish violinist! Anne and I drove out to the Pullenvale venue in the Humber, which to my simple mind added to the occasion.