Monday, February 25, 2008

Busy weekend with Kipling and Humbers

Last night I had another poetry night for my son Joe. He was robbed of 99% of his literary heritage by the Left-dominated school system of today so I do my best to restore to him that which was lost. Fortunately, he is very much like me and so enjoys our excursions into great poetry.

Last night the theme was British heroic and patriotic poetry -- something which gives a window into a now mostly vanished value system, but a value system that was immensely powerful, influentual and transformative in its time.

The occasion was a dinner held mostly on the verandah of my big old "Queenslander" house. It was a very hot day yesterday (it reached the century in Fahrenheit terms) but the verandah is very good at catching a breeze (which is what verandahs were designed to do) so we were perfectly comfortable. Present were myself and Joe, Anne, Jill and Lewis. Jill's 70th birthday had been a couple of days before so it was also a birthday celebration.

The dinner comprised mainly some excellent "family" pies from "Muzza", our local genius pastrycook. Americans think of pies as a dessert but in Australia a pie contains meat (usually small pieces of beef) -- and in this case tomato and onion as well. And for dessert we had a quite wonderful trifle that Anne made out of an old recipe book she has. I will put the recipe up on my recipe blog when I get time. And after dinner we cut a birthday cake for Jill, of course.

The poems I read out at various junctures through the dinner were: "Breathes there the man, with soul so dead" by Sir Walter Scott, "This England", From Richard II Act 2 scene 1 by William Shakespeare, St. Crispen's Day Speech from "Henry V" by William Shakespeare, "Vitai Lampada" by Sir Henry Newbolt, "He fell among thieves" by Sir Henry Newbolt, "The White Man's Burden" by Rudyard Kipling, "Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "Boadicea" by Cowper and "The Soldier" by Rupert Brooke.

As I read Kipling's poem, I could not help noticing how relevant it is today, so I wrote the following for my main blog:

One does occasionally hear the term "The white man's burden" as a mocking reference to the claim that the British and other empires were good for the native peoples whom they dominated. I wonder how many people are aware that the term was originally the name of a poem and that the poet was Indian-born British poet Rudyard Kipling? Some, no doubt. But I would not at all be surprised to hear that NOBODY reading this was aware that the poem concerned was inspired by the deeds of a famous American "Progressive". Let me explain:

Right into the 1960's, the American Left (e.g. JFK) was patriotic and nationalistic. Nowadays they mostly make only a shallow pretense of patriotism. Getting the votes of minorities is their desperate aim these days and glorifying America does not serve that aim very well. And with Obama, even the pretense seems to be fading.

And the most nationalistic icon of the American Left in history was undoubtedly TR (Theodore Roosevelt), founder of the "Progressive" party. TR was the first Fascist leader of the 20th century -- where Fascism is conceived of as Leftism plus nationalism. He glorified war as a purifying force for the nation, built lots of battleships and invaded and took over three countries. And on the home front he attacked big business. Fascist enough? His conquests were in fact in the last few years of the 19th century but his Presidency of the USA continued into the early 20th century.

The British empire had however never been Fascist. It was run by conservatives most of the time and when the Left came to power they were much more inclined to wind it down than expand it. And, as the saying goes, the empire was mostly acquired "in a fit of absence of mind". It was not acquired as the result of any deliberate expansionist policy but rather as the byproduct of pursuing other objectives -- such as containment of the French. And if anyone doubts the humane impulse that formed British policy of the time, just reflect that it was in 1807 that Britain became the first major country to abolish slavery. And, unlike Abraham Lincoln many years later, the British both attacked it outside their own domain and abolished it at home. Lincoln's war "against slavery" was fought while permitting slavery in the North! Lincoln's war was really a power-motivated war with slavery as a thin pretext.

And India is an excellent example of the non-imperialistic origin of the British empire. The British first came to India as the representatives of a private company, the British East India company, and the aim was trade, not conquest. The company encountered various attacks on its operations, however, so gradually built up a private army to defend itself (perhaps a bit like the security guards employed by Halliburton in Iraq today). And when Indian princelings took on the company in battle, the company tended to win -- meaning that it eventually had large parts of India under its private control. At that stage, the British government got a bit concerned that the company was not treating the natives well and took over the company's military and rulership operations. So the British government in a sense "inherited" India rather than invading and conquering it. The history I have just given does of course simplify much for the sake of brevity but that is the essence of it.

And the humane thinking (mostly of Christian origin) behind British policy is spelled out in Kipling's poem. Kipling saw the British as having a civilizing mission and saw that mission as one of replacing savage values with humane and Christian ones. And he persuaded himself that TR had such values too. He wrote his poem as a commentary on the American takeover of the Philippines. He saw America as joining Britain in the mission of civilizing savages.

And what he wrote was very prophetic. And it was good prophecy because it was based on experience -- British imperial experience. He prophesied that the gift of liberty and humaneness that America would give to other nations would not be appreciated and would instead lead to resentment of America. And that was long before the liberation of France from the Nazis and the liberation of Iraq from Saddam! Here are some excerpts from a wonderful and idealistic poem that is now almost always misrepresented:

Take up the White Man's burden--
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;

By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another's profit,
And work another's gain.

Take up the White Man's burden--
The savage wars of peace--
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;

And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man's burden--
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard--

That's amazingly good prophecy by my lights. Very wicked of him to mention skin color judged by today's hysterical political standards but Britain and America WERE largely white countries at the time, and still are.

And this morning I drove my 1963 Humber Super Snipe to the static display of the Rootes Group car club by the seaside at Wynnum. There was even a 1908 Humber on display there, which was marvellous. A pic of my Humber below:

I have now put up on my Recipe blog the recipe for Anne's superb trifle.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Jai Hind!

As anybody who knows me well by now will be aware, I am very pro-Indian. I imagine that anyone who likes Indian food as much as I do would HAVE to be pro-Indian but I may be wrong about that.

Anyway I have lots of Indian tenants occupying the spare rooms in my big house and as one moves out another one magically appears. I gather that there are not many landlords who welcome brown men so my fame as someone who PREFERS Indian tenants has spread a little.

Anyway, I was discussing just such a transition with two of my Indian tenants yesterday and the cheerful Pavan Kumar remarked how easy it was for me to get my preferred Indian tenants. Now, my knowledge of Hindi is almost entirely non-existent but I did know one expression. In reply I said: "Jai Hind" ("triumph to Hindustan" -- an Indian patriotic expression) -- which got a quite delighted response. And that pleased me too.

It's not the first time that my scraps of foreign languages have come in handy. Shortly after Patrick Heaven (a fellow academic psychologist) emigrated from South Africa, we were both at a party on a boat in Sydney harbour when Patrick said: "Lekker party". I replied in Afrikaans: "Baie lekker" (very nice). Patrick was much moved to hear his native language in a place where he never expected to hear it. He replied: "Don't say that. You'll make me cry". Emigrant South Africans do tend to miss their home terribly. But it's the wise ones who no longer live there.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The laser again

It is a couple of years since my last visit to the laser but last Monday I had to go again. When my skin cancers get too big for excision or freezing, the laser is the last option before a graft.

So about three weeks ago I rang the best dermatological surgeon in Brisbane -- Russell Hills -- and made an appointment to see him a few days later. He agreed that it was laser time and booked me in for the procedure a couple of weeks later. If I had gone through the public hospital system, I would still be waiting for a consultation and the procedure itself would be a year or more off.

As I have had so much dermatological surgery over the years I am a connoisseur of it so when I say that Russell is the best, I am in a position to know. His excisions and joinups are so fine that they heal with maximum rapidity -- which is the main thing from my viewpoint. That skill does however make him much in demand by ladies for their facelifts etc. You can't see the scars where Russell has been.

Anyway I arrived at Northwest Private Hospital at the appointed time in the late afternoon and went through all the introductory bureaucratic procedures that are mandatory these days. I was however at the end of the day's listings so I was the victim of all the prior medical misadventures of the day. Russell's anaesthetist had been much held up by unforeseen circumstances on his morning list (surgery that was more complicated than foreseen and which therefore went on much longer than planned) so I was two hours late going into theatre. Russell came out personally to apologize and explain to me shortly after I arrived, however, so I kept my cool about that. Being treated with courtesy makes a big difference to my responses.

And in theatre I was given only locals at my request so I was awake and alert there. And I had the odd chat and joke with Russell and the nurses while my lesions were being attended to. It was very civilized.

So Brisbane private medicine is a dream as far as treatment of patients is concerned. I guess not all patients are on first-name terms with their surgeon but it can happen for repeat customers like me.

But there is a but. It costs a lot. Not nearly as much as in America but a lot by Australian standards. Russell charges $140 for a consultation versus $40 for a GP consultation and he charged a $850 co-payment for the laser work. The hospital charges were all covered by my insurance.

So if you get an education, work hard and save your money instead of spending it all on beer and cigarettes, you can get the first-class medical service in your declining years that everyone aspires to. I did and I do.

As I sat down to write this little memoir, I was listening to "Goodbye" (from "The White Horse Inn"). Most pleasant.

There is a small picture of the white horse referred to here

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Seoul and the good saint V

As far as I can see, there are a number of customs that one observes on St Valentine's day. The lady will expect:


And you are lucky to get away with leaving any of those out. I did leave one out this year: Flowers. So the other elements had to be good. And I think they were. For a present I got Anne a big box of a particular Turkish Delight from Greece that she really likes --

-- and also promised her that I would buy her a ring with a sky-blue stone in it the next day.

For dinner I took her to a local Korean restaurant. I am a great fan of Korean food. It is always an excellent restaurant and is notable for the variety of side dishes that come with your Bul Gogi (or whatever main course you order)

So I arrived there last night with Anne in good confidence of a first-class dinner -- only to find that they were "under renovation". I made quite a grimace when they told me that, however, so they took us in anyway -- as they did have "friends and family" dining there despite being "closed".

And the meals were great -- an even bigger variety of dishes than usual! And there were quite a lot of Koreans present. We could almost have been in Seoul.

But the crazy thing was that they wanted to give us it all for free! Their taking us in was entirely an act of grace! I did of course leave some money anyway but it was all a most interesting experience -- and Anne loved it! She likes things that are out of the routine.

Long live the Republic of Korea!

And while we were in the restaurant I did see a rather extreme example of the "yellow peril" at work. In Australian history, "Yellow peril" refers to a fear of Asian immigration but I am using it in a sense common among American college women: Lots of Asian ladies rather fancy big burly Caucasian men. And with their characteristic patience and politeness they often get what they want. So Caucasian college women do sometimes feel that all the good men have been lassooed by clever little Asian ladies -- the "yellow peril".

And one couple near Anne and myself were a rather extreme example of that. The Asian lady would have been about 5' tall and slightly built while the fair-skinned blue-eyed Caucasian guy was about 6'2" and solidly built. And the lady seemed distinctly bright and cheerful! The guy looked a bit confused though.

And my own son (strongly-built, 6' tall and blue-eyed) also finds that a lady of Asian ancestry fills the bill! I have posted earlier about that but I might note here that I entirely approve of competition!


We went into "Monty's" (Brisbanes's biggest pawnshop) the next day and found a ring with a large rectangular-cut sky-blue topaz in it so Anne got lucky. I had told her that I would only buy her a ring if I could find one with a sky-blue stone in it. But by going to Monty I maximized the chances of success -- as they have a huge range of rings from all eras.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Ethan is out of his humidicrib!

I have not mentioned this before as I find it all a bit upsetting -- even though it affects me only very indirectly.

Anne's grandson Ethan was recently born prematurely at 1.7 kg -- about half full-term weight. In these days of very insightful care, however, that is a fairly good weight for a premmie and no long-term ill-effects can reasonably be expected.

And it is indeed going well. He has continued to gain weight and he has progressed first out of intensive care and now out of his humidicrib. Everybody involved is of course overjoyed. I suppose I am a sentimental old fool but even I shed a tear of joy over it.

Mid-March Update: Ethan has done well and was 2.5kg at his due delivery date -- which compares well with a normal delivery weight of around 3kg. His brother is small so 2.5 kg is probably right for him.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Christmas letters

When people send out Christmas cards they often include a report of their doings in the year concerned. It is a valuable way of keeping in touch.

I have always been a bit slack about sending out Christmas cards -- mostly leaving it to the ladies in my life. When it became clear that permanence among the ladies in my life was not to be relied upon, however, I did lurch into sending out some Christmas cards on my own account. And I DID eventually get around to including some sort of bulletin with each one.

From 1996 to 2002 I included a printed letter with each card and in 2004 and 2005 I put up an internet file which I referred people to. From 2006 on I have simply referred people to my personal blog right here.

It has occurred to me, however, that I could make my personal blog more comprehensive by posting backdated copies of my old Christmas communications on it. So I have now done that. You can access them here

Don't ask me what happened in 2003. I have no record of it. If anybody does, please tell me.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Anne's birthday

Anne's birthday was actually over a week ago but she had a family do on the day so we postponed our celebration until last night. I took her to Siggy's, an upmarket restaurant in a beautiful old Victorian building that now forms part of the Stamford Plaza hotel in central Brisbane. It has the most marvellous winding staircase in solid polished timber. And the decor of the restaurant generally is very much in keeping with a high Victorian theme. For my taste it is probably the most beautiful restaurant I have seen.

The cuisine is French and international there, which I normally do not enjoy much. I like ethnic food. But they did have chateaubriand on the menu -- which I DO like. I guess it is ethnic French. You rarely see it on menus anywhere these days so I had to have it. At $120.00 for the dish it was not economy dining, however. But that feeds two, of course.

A small problem is that it takes 40 minutes to cook and I am a fair candidate for the world's most impatient person so we went for a walk after we had ordered -- by arrangement with the Maitre d' of course. The staff were in fact most obliging at accomodating my various requests, which is what one SHOULD get in an upmarket restaurant but which is nonetheless not always the case. They had a LOT of staff there too, which was probably one reason why we got such prompt and obliging service. Before I set out I had in fact gritted my teeth in expectation of the usual tardy service that one gets from French and international restaurants but there was nothing but the best service at Siggy's.

Below is a cartoonist's view of the snobby service one often gets in French restaurants:

Anyway, while our meal was cooking, we went for a walk in the nearby Queen's park -- a Victorian establishment again -- better known as the Old Botanic Gardens. It runs alongside the river so is very scenic and Anne in particular really enjoyed that part of our outing.

And the meal when we finally got it was first class. The sauce Bearnaise was a little more vinegary than I am used to but it was fine. Neither of us actually finished the meal as the fillet was a very large one. So we had no room for desserts, which was a bit sad.

While we were eating, another couple walked in who amused me slightly. The gent was wearing a suit, which is a bit unusual on a Friday night and almost certainly means that he is a salesman. And a salesman in that restaurant would almost certainly be using his expense account. The lady with him was very well-groomed, tallish, very slim and with a very large and well-displayed bosom. So you can see the transaction there: Boob job gets you taken to fine restaurants. I hope he got what he wanted afterwards. He almost certainly did as Siggy's is very impressive -- as was the bosom.

After we got home, we opened a bottle of Veuve Cliquot and drank the lot. A very pleasant night.

And this morning we had croissants for breakfast -- with Syrian apricot jam ["jam" = "jelly" in American parlance]. The Syrians put the kernels out of the seed in the jam, which gives it a stronger taste. I think the Austrians do that too.

But I like my own ethnic food too -- and there is nothing more ethnically Australian than Vegemite -- so I followed the croissants with a couple of pieces of toast with VEGEMITE on them. The English understand Vegemite because their Marmite is a close relative of it -- but it remains a profound mystery to most Americans. Even when they try it, they hate it. But here mothers put it on babies' tongues -- so it is profoundly entrenched here. And I love all of my Australian heritage.