Monday, March 31, 2008

Cumberland sausage

Anne cooked us up a Cumberland sausage for our dinner last night -- which we washed down with a bottle of Australian red. As you can see above, a Cumberland sausage is a rather large item: One sausage is dinner for two. I vaguely remember having a Cumberland sausage in a restaurant in London over 30 years ago but I had forgotten what I thought of it. Being a sausage enthusiast, however, I was keen to refresh my memory.

The one we got for last night was from Sid, the brilliant British butcher from whom we also get our haggis. Sid's shop is in an out-of-the way place just South of Brisbane but he has lot of customers who know quality when they come across it and are prepared to go that extra mile to get it.

I was very pleased with how the dinner turned out. The sausage definitely had a different texture to the usual sausage. A Cumberland sausage is supposed to be at least 80% meat (pork) and with no colouring or preservatives added. There are of course various recipes for it but Sid's recipe was, as expected, excellent. We had the sausage with a salad, though I gather that peas and fried onions would have been more traditional.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Some photos from Easter Sunday

25 March, 2008

Some photos from Easter Sunday

Courtesy of Paul's wife Sue. At least SOMEONE brought a camera this time!

Jenny, mother of the three below. I don't know where Joe was. He must have been hiding.

Paul in his tennis shirt

Suzie looking more prim and less blonde than she really is

Vonnie in her pretty blouse

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A good Easter Sunday

This year, Easter Sunday coincided closely with two family birthdays (of Paul and Russell) so we had a big bash to celebrate both birthdays and Easter together. There was no church involved however as there are no religious people in the family -- a common thing in Australia.

We had the do at Paul's place -- which is a large house in a quiet suburb with both a tennis court and a swimming pool. The pool was not used but the tennis court was. It was a lunch with the food impressively catered by Paul's wife Sue, assisted significantly by the twinny Suzie. The weather was warm and sunny -- very different from England's Easter -- so we mostly sat outdoors under a big sunshade. We had a visitor from England present who must have been very glad he was here and not there. They are having a very cold and wet winter over there at the moment -- all due to "global warming" supposedly.

I had a talk with both Paul and his twin sisters, Suzie and Vonnie, about babies -- making clear that it was about time they had some. The girls will be turning thirty next month. The girls were onboard with what I said but Paul was not at all keen. Anyway, I was glad I raised it as I now feel that I have done my duty in pointing them to where wise priorities lie.

I spent a lot of time talking to my son Joe too. We talked mainly about things that were rejected in their day but which became accepted later. The great example of that for me is that the composer of the most popular opera of all time -- "Carmen" -- died thinking his opera was a flop. Poor old George Bizet!

One of the kids present had dental bands on his teeth and that inspired me to mention to Joe the "grills" that young American blacks often wear. Blacks saw that rich white kids often had orthodontic bands on their teeth but almost never had them themselves. So they started wearing a blinged-up version of dental bands as a sign of high style. When I had told Joe about the phenomenon his comment on it sounded just like the sort of thing that I would say. He had himself had orthodontic treatment at the appropriate age so the idea of someone voluntarily putting ironmongery in his mouth did not impress him.

I also mentioned something he had not known: That when there was a literacy and numeracy test done on all the kids at his primary school some years back, the highest literacy scorer was not -- as one would expect -- a 7th grader but rather a pesky little 5th grader. And the pesky little 5th grader concerned was Joe. He seemed a bit embarrassed to hear that. But, like me, he is good at academic things.

I used the word "bling" above, which shows how often I read American websites. It is quite a recent term and originated among American blacks. It refers to any shiny personal decoration, such as the ostentatious and extensive jewelery worn by many American blacks on social occasions. "Grills" are usually shiny and can have gemstones of some sort set into them.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

An interesting Good Friday

Although I am no longer a believer, I greatly appreciate the Protestant Christian traditions into which I grew up and which formed a big part of my teenage years. So I still like to honour the holiest days of the year -- Easter and Christmas -- by going to church.

In recent years I have oscillated between going to the Cathedral (Anglican) and my old church (Ann St Presbyterian). I feel very comfortable at Ann St but the Cathedral has magnificence going for it. As well as for services I also go to the Cathdral (St. John's) for classical concerts two or three times a year so it too has become a very familiar place to me.

This year, however, the Easter services at both were a bit pesky. Ann St had moved their service from 9am to 8am and the Cathedral service was at noon: Too early and too late for me. So Ann and I decided to go to the local Lutheran, which had a 9am service.

I had never been to a Lutheran service so I was slightly surprised to find that it was a little "high": Rather like an Anglican service. The first intimation of that was that the pulpit was off to the side and the altar was central. And the organ was in a loft at the back. The more common Protestant configuration is for the pulpit to be central with the organ behind it -- expressing the twin importance of the word and of music. And the Lutheran minister was dressed in a long white robe! And the service included a lot of responses: Almost unknown in Presbyterian churches.

Another thing I noted was how well organized the Communion was. People went forward and left in batches and each batch got a little address from the minister as well as the tokens. The usher who organized the batches did so without a word being uttered: Just a bit of eye contact, nods etc. It was rather a good demonstration of how much culture we share that he was able to do it all in silence.

And it was very pleasing to see that the congregation was not all elderly. There quite a few young families with their children. Even some little blondie babies! That the minister is also young may have something to do with that.

I was slightly disappointed that we had only three hymns but the ones we had were good and appropriate. We had, as usual, "There is a green hill far away". That hymn always moves me by its simple faith and devotion. But memories of it go back to my childhood so maybe sentimentality has something to do with that.

There is a green hill far away,
outside a city wall,
where our dear Lord was crucified
who died to save us all.

We may not know, we cannot tell,
what pains he had to bear,
but we believe it was for us
he hung and suffered there.

He died that we might be forgiven,
he died to make us good,
that we might go at last to heaven,
saved by his precious blood.

There was no other good enough
to pay the price of sin,
he only could unlock the gate
of heaven and let us in.

O dearly, dearly has he loved!
And we must love him too,
and trust in his redeeming blood,
and try his works to do.

But there were three things that quite amazed me: There was no collection and the minister did not attend at the front of the church to shake hands with the congregation as they were leaving. And we sang the hymns sitting down! Is there no end to novelty?

Anne was quite pleased with the service. She still seems to have some residual beliefs. She seems to have the old Calvinist belief that "It was all planned out before we were born". I remember my mother and my aunties saying the same. It is a perfectly scriptural belief (Ephesians 1:5-12) and is even honoured (Article 17) in the 39 "Articles of Religion" of the C of E -- albeit in a cagey sort of a way. One does not hear that belief preached in the pulpits these days but it lives on in the families and among the people. It seems to be a comforting belief but I myself have never subscribed to it at any time.

A shared cultural background is quite an important thing. Anne and I have it in spades. For instance, not only is her background mainly Presbyterian but she and I are former regulars at exactly the same Presbyterian church -- Ann St., Brisbane:

So, although I have never been even slightly impressed by Calvinist predestination doctrine, it is nonetheless part of my background from childhood on and Anne's attachment to that thinking is therefore a positive rather than a negative for me. It feels familiar and "at home". Though I do tend to be a little amused by it. But I was amused when my mother said it too.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A big family dinner last night

I am a member of long standing in a family that is a family only in a rather loose sense. Everybody in it is related to someone else in it but not to everyone in it -- if that makes sense. Even that summary is a bit inadequate as we would tend to regard George as part of the family even though he is not related to anyone in it! Anyway we often get together and always enjoy doing so -- and have done so for many years. Some of the "kids" in the family are now in their late 20s and early 30s!

And I think we found last night how many people are in the family these days: 22. That is how many turned up last night. The occasion was a sendoff for Simon: an airforce member of the family who is being deployed to the Gulf this week as part of the Iraq/Afghanistan hostilities. I am actually no real kin to Simon at all but he and I have always got on well at various past family gatherings so I was delighted to have the privilege of hosting his sendoff. Having some military background myself, I was the first to appreciate that his deployment was a significant occasion that should be appropriately marked.

I invited everyone to dine at my expense at my local Indian restaurant -- which is first class. I can host only a few people at my own house and the Indians are such good cooks that it would be hard to imagine better food anyway. As is often the case, I spent much of the time at table talking to my son Joe and stepson Paul. I sat at the head of the table and had the two young men on either side of me. The three of us get on very well. Anne sat with the ladies at the other end of the table.

My stepson Paul was bemoaning the fact that he had lost $100,00 on the stockmarket over the last month or so. I assured him that I had lost $300,000 and I wasn't worrying so I think that helped him a bit. Joe said that he is just not looking at the market these days -- which is reasonable. It is just a waiting game for wise investors at this stage. Only fools sell during a downturn -- but there always seem to be plenty of them. I have BOUGHT a couple of small parcels, myself.

Joe has been eating good Indian food for most of his life, off and on, as his mother Jenny is an excellent cook who does even the most complicated Indian dishes well. So my local Indian restaurant is also Joe's favourite restaurant. Somewhere along the line he has picked up a taste for lassi -- so he always orders that for a drink -- rather to the bemusement of other Anglo-Saxons present.

Ken (Paul's father) also joined "the men" at my end of the table, as he usually does. He and Paul disagreed about just about everything during the course of the evening, as they usually do, but it made for a lively discussion. I get on very well with both Paul and his father, myself. Paul and Ken work together in their computer business so their constant wrangling doesn't seem to do any harm. There is zero animosity between them and lots of trust. They just can never convince one-another of anything!

Speeches were mercifully short. At the beginning I spoke for about two minutes leading up to a toast to Simon and later on Simon spoke with similar merciful brevity. He will be away for 6 months and it is already clear that he will miss his wife and children badly whilst away -- but having so many people turn up to wish him well before his departure will no doubt help a little.

I have often remarked that our frequent family gatherings have given my son Joe a typical Italian upbringing. None of us are in fact Italian but I have always thought that the Italians could teach us a lot about how to live. And frequent big family gatherings around a long dining table are a traditional feature of Italian life. And Joe has grown up in exactly that sort of environment. Forza Italia!.

I have never been to Italy but the place where I grew up (Innisfail) was 50% an Australian country town and 50% a Mediterranean village -- and Italians have always impressed me as top quality people. They have their foibles -- like anyone else -- but their virtues (hard-working, good humoured, hospitable, family-oriented people and only a little bit crooked) greatly outweigh their vices in my opinion. But I like Indians too so maybe I am a bit of a Pollyanna. I have certainly been accused of that. I definitely do have the gift of contentment, something unknown to the political Left. I can get bothered by things at times but it is a rarity. I don't let anyone push me around, though. I am pretty good at pushing back.