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.