Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Stray thoughts about my life

I am aged 64 now. My father died at 65. I would be surprised if I had more than another 10 years above ground. So perhaps it is a time for me to look back and review a few things occasionally.

I have undoubtedly had a charmed life. To detail it would be to boast. But I have regrets too. The chief regret is that I have had only one child. My son is however all that a father could ask. He is tall, well-built, socially pleasant and already an academic like me. And he has blue eyes. Since both his mother and I have blue eyes that was a slam dunk.

Having had a lot to do in my life with persons of the female persuasion, I have looked close-up into a lot of blue eyes and I am firmly of the view that blue eyes are the most beautiful -- totally "incorrect" though that view now is. Mind you, I am no fanatic about the matter. I am so pro-Indian that my house is full of them, and almost all Indians have dark eyes, of course.

Because I always speak frankly about race, I am sure lots of people have me tagged as a racist but you show me any anti-racist (let alone a white racist!) who has as many brown men living in his house as I have in mine! I am thinking of renaming my house as "Jai Hind", in fact, so Google that! I have long wanted to go and live in India but family reasons rule that out, of course. When I am in India I feel that this is real life -- that this is in some way how it ought to be. And I am talking there about the attitudes of the people, not their poverty. Lots of people of British ancestry do get that sort of feeling when they go to India. But I have it both ways to some extent. If I cannot go to India, I can have India come to me! And the clatter of spoken Hindi is now always about me.

And because I have explained to him how to make money on the stockmarket, my son should have a financially comfortable future. What millions of people would like to know my son just got told casually one morning by his father. As a certain wise Jew once said: "To him that hath, more will be given him".

I do of course have a few minor regrets as well as the major one I have been talking about in a rambling way. One of the minor regrets is the fact that I have not been given a D.Sc. It is not a regret that I go to bed thinking about, of course, but I HAVE had over 200 papers published in the scientific journals so I am qualified for one. But the D.Sc. (Doctor of Science) is an HONORARY degree. You only get it for being a good guy in some way. And I am NOT that. I keep saying things that upset the applecart -- even if they are also true things.

So,if I ever do get a D.Sc., it will be posthumous. That will do ME no good at all but it might serve to highlight my writings. I am a graduate of the University of Queensland, the University of Sydney and Macquarie University so those are the institutions that COULD award me a D.Sc.

Immediately after writing the above I re-read one of my favourite Bible passages: Ecclesiastes chapters 1 and 2 -- just to make sure I did not lose perspective.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Busy, busy

I see myself as something of a hermit these days but the people around me get me out of my cave rather often. Anne is a going-out girl so she gets me to the occasional classical concert and I take her out to dinner once or twice a week. But family connections get me out a lot too.

But the last 24 hours have been really hectic by my standards -- caused by the confluence of two dates: The birthday of Robert Burns on 25th January in 1759 and the arrival of the first white settlers in Australia on 26th January, 1788. Both anniversaries are much celebrated and I celebrate them too.

Last night Anne and I put on a small Burns night for Jill, Lewis (old friends) Joe and Sam (my son and his girlfriend). We did most of the customs: Saying the Burns grace, bringing in the haggis to pipe music followed by the Scotch whisky. reading the Burns ode to the haggis with knife raised and stabbing the haggis at the appropriate point in the poem -- followed by a toast to the haggis.

And the haggis we had was really good -- not at all something to be dubious about. After the meal I read out a speech to the Immortal Memory followed by a toast and then we read a few more of the poems. I even went through the mouse poem and explained what all the strange words meant.

We also had three desserts: Clootie dumpling with cream, tablet and shortbread. If you don't know what tablet is, you haven't lived. It's not remotely pharmaceutical. It's a sort of fudge.


And today I went to a family gathering. For many years my relatives on my mother's side have had a family get-together over a BBQ lunch on Australia Day. It was a bit smaller this year but I enjoyed it as ever.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A distinguished birthday

I attended a birthday celebration for Anne's mother today. There must have been about 40 people there for a lunch. Anne is in her 60s and her mother has just turned 90. Her mother is still mentally alert and articulate but just in the last year or so has had to adopt use of a walking frame. Some good genes there.

The function was at Beerwah RSL club and was very efficiently catered. The meal was a traditional Australian lunch -- a piece of roast chicken, a big slice of ham and a salad. The salad comprised lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumber and pickled beetroot but there was no dressing on it. I gave my piece of beetroot to Anne. Dessert was apple pie or Pavlova.

There were quite a few short and affectionate speeches -- in which it was repeatedly noted what a demon housekeeper and outstanding cook of lemon meringue pie Doris (Anne's mother) always was. She did seem to enjoy the occasion and answered back a few times during the speeches.

Bill, Doris's husband, was there. He is even older than Doris and also cannot get around well but he was still the perfect gentleman that he has always been. He is not a gentleman in any formal sense. He spent his working life in sawmills. But, as my father was, he is a natural gentleman. A lot of the old "bushies" (forest workers, country people) were. Apologies for the lame translation of "bushie". It is yet another part of Australian English that just does not yield well to translation.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The attractiveness of simplicity

I recently bought myself a fairly average new sound system -- consisting of the usual stereo speakers, AM/FM tuner, cassette deck, and multi-disk CD player. It cost me $300 and works very well.

Today I also bought myself a radio, with mono sound and one small speaker. I also paid $300 for it. Why? Am I crazy? Maybe I am. But I bought it because of what it did NOT have. I am sick and tired of sound and video systems that come with a remote control with about 50 buttons on it -- buttons that I never seem to be able to work without consulting a manual.

My Kloss Model One (Pic above. Kloss is its designer), on the other hand is blessedly simple: One knob for tuning, one knob for volume and another knob for on/off and band choice -- very much like the radios I used as a boy many years ago. Only three blessed knobs -- that I can work immediately, perfectly and easily almost without thinking about it.

A bit odd that you have to pay a lot for less these days but it is worth it to me. And it does have remarkably good sound. It is now my kitchen radio.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A good New Year

My new year's eve celebrations were very quiet, as they usually are. I don't want to be out on the roads with all the drunks about so I stay safely at home. Sounds boring, I know, but it suits my rather reclusive lifestyle.

Anne came over at 7pm and I prepared my version of an antipasto for our dinner -- a version that would have raised eyebrows in Italy. I put in it giardiniera (of course), pickled cucumbers, cocktail onions, feta, stuffed olives, fresh tomato, chopped ham and chopped roast pork. The chopped roast pork went remarkably well with the other ingredients. And instead of using the antipasto as a prelude to pasta, we just had the antipasto with toast. Very eccentric!

For drinkies I opened a bottle of Veuve Cliquot (non-vintage). I tried a bottle of vintage Veuve Cliquot recently and it was off. French wines do go off rather a lot I am afraid. But the non-vintage version does not stay in the bottle for very long so is a better bet for being OK. Veuve Cliquot (non-vintage) is in fact my favourite champers but an Australian version called Seaview Brut is nearly as good in my opinion and costs just one tenth of the price so I usually buy Seaview. I can afford to drink anything I like but that old Presbyterian "Waste not, want not" gospel is too deep in my bones for me to disregard it often.

After dinner we spent most of the time listening to Scottish music -- as the Scots really know how to celebrate new year. One of the things we put on was a tape of "Andy Stewart's Hogmanay" -- as I do most years. And as lots of people once did. It's probably a bit sad to be listening to a tape of someone else's party instead of having one yourself but it felt fine nonetheless. And the sentimental Scottish songs were great. I even got out my Glengarry (Scottish cap) and wore it for most of the evening. A token gesture is better than no gesture, maybe.

And for breakfast this morning Anne cooked us another international meal: Porridge followed by croissants. I always enjoy a bit of porridge and it was of course the Scottish connection again.

An amusing story about porridge: It was long prison food in Britain but prisons now replace it with a prepackaged meal. Prisoners are now served up a 27p pack, containing cereal, bread, jam, tea or coffee and UHT milk. The inmates don't like it but can and do go to the prison shop and purchase "Ready Brek" (a type of smooth porridge) with their own money to get their porridge fix. It sounds like an urban myth but I understand it completely