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!