Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Australia day

Australia day is always a hectic time for me. Anne has her birthday on 23rd. I have the Burns night on 25th and then Australia day on 26th. Anne's birthday is no problem. I just take her to the Hilton Smorgasbord or Siggy's -- both of which are very upmarket places to dine. It was the Hilton this year as Anne is devoted to the excellent oysters that they always have there. But Burns Night is a BIG occasion and at lunch on the very next day I have to be recovered enough to attend the annual reunion of the C** clan -- my relatives on my mother's side. There are heaps of us all over the place but even the Brisbane contingent is substantial and we have been having a BBQ lunch together on Australia day for many years.

This year it was, as usual, at the home of my very pleasant brother Christopher. One could not ask for a nicer brother and he lives a mere 10 minutes drive from me but I still see him only once or twice a year. Such is the way of many Australian families. It is to overcome that tendency to disconnection that we all make a point of getting together on Australia day.

I was this year as always impressed by Peter, my cousin once removed. He is a fellow academic but I am still always impressed by the breadth of his knowledge. There seems to be no topic you can raise on which he does not have a useful contribution. He, Joe and I spent some time discussing battles of WWI and WWII and such things. Peter is married to a Chinese lady and has a most detailed knowledge of Chinese matters. He also has most attractive Eurasian children who were there with us. Joe's girlfriend is also of the Han so the Chinese influence is well into the family. Being Sinophilic myself, I am entirely pleased about that. I see the Han as a civilizing influence.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Scottish "seder"

Last night I celebrated, together with family and friends, the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns. And we did almost all of the customs that are associated with a Burns night. The Scots have customs and rules for most things and a Burns Night is certainly no exception to that. There just ARE certain things you do on a Burns night and I think all 25 of us present enjoyed carrying out the customs concerned. Even people who are not normally particular fans of the monarchy, for instance, were glad to join loudly in the loyal toast ("God save the Queen").

The extensive customs involved reminded me in a way of a Jewish passover seder. A seder in its present form shows strong Hellenistic influences so is probably around 2,000 years old whereas a Burns night is only around 200 years old but they are both examples of enduring and complex traditions that are greatly enjoyed by the participants. And although I have the utmost repect for the Orthodox haggadah that we used at the seder I attended last year, I think the poems of Robbie Burns also have a powerful and didactic effect. And maybe might last just as long.

It saddens me a little, however, that, as with Jewry, there has been a loss of culture among us descendants of the British diaspora. Most people these days don't even know how to respond to the loyal toast. The response to "God save the Queen" is of course simply "The Queen" but lots of people don't seem to know that.

I struggled into the kilt for the occasion and led the proceedings. Present were mostly the "old gang" of family members who seem to meet for one reason or another every month or two. But in addition to that we had two visitors from Scotland and two visitors from Sydney. From Scotland came Ken's sister Pat and her daughter Anna. From Sydney came my old friend Mel Dickson and his wife Diana. Mel is Dunedin-born so still can do an approach to a Scottish accent -- so he very kindly read some of the poems for us all. He also gave a brilliant "Address to the Lassies" that amused us all.

Anne did a great job of cooking the haggis, tatties and neeps and she even did some cabbage as well -- at my particular request. I think she does great cabbage and great neeps. It was all good peasant food, but very well done.

We had clootie dumpling as the dessert but I corrupted that custom a bit by having custard with it instead of sugar. After that we had the nearest I could find to "Dunlop" cheese accompanied by either oatcakes or salty biscuits.

The occasion was very kindly hosted at Daisy Hill by my stepson Paul, as I can only fit 7 or 8 people at my place.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

BBQ for visitors from England

A "BBQ for visitors from England" is quite a common social occasion in Australia. Emigration to Australia from England has been going on continuously for the last 200 years and it is still big today. So many English-born people live in Australia but like to keep up with friends and relatives back "home". It also works the other way. Most Australians seem to visit England some time -- mainly in their youth -- and some settle in England. So some of the "visitors from England" are actually Australian-born and coming home to touch base with relatives and old friends.

Ken's sister Pat and her daughter have recently arrived in Australia for a few weeks. She is English-born but lives in Scotland these days. So we had a welcoming BBQ for her last Saturday -- with just about all "the gang" present -- 20+ people I guess. It was at Simon's place and Simon once again did us proud with his cookery (kebabs, sausages, drumsticks etc) but left the desserts to the ladies.

I talked mainly with Ken, Simon and Joe as I normally do. I also talked a bit to Paul about the stockmarket and tried to give him a longer perspective on it. I was pleased to see that Paul and Sue have overcome their differences. Sue was looking more glamorous than ever. I previously told Paul that he was mad to fall out with such a nice-looking and nice-natured wife and he seems to have taken that to heart. I think everyone took Sue's side in the matter, as a matter of fact.

Much future activity soon: Annes's birthday at the Hilton Friday night, Burns Night Sunday night with 20+ guests and the Austalia day BBQ with my mother's relatives on Monday lunchtime. I will be worn out at the end of all that.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A VERY quiet new year's eve

All that happened at my place was that Anne came over and cooked us an excellent lamb roast & veg. for dinner. Very traditional. She also provided some good Tasmanian triple cream cambembert for appetisers. Less traditional. We washed it down with a bottle of Moet & Chandon champagne from the Hexagon.

After that we just lay about and listened to classical music for a while and then at 8.30 turned on ABC TV to watch the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. It is filmed in Scotland in September, I think, but the ABC always broadcast it here on new year's eve. I think it is an instinct that you have to have something Scottish on new year's eve, an instinct that I entirely approve of. So watching the tattoo here on TV at that time is rather traditional too. You have to like pipe music to really appreciate it though. I was pleased to see that an Indian military band was part of it this year. And there were Gurkhas too!

But I still think that the Scottish regiments in full Highland dress are the most magnificently attired military men. There is no other uniform that comes close to it, in my view. The terribly plain uniforms that the German army wear these days are something of a tragedy in my view. Bring back the Pickelhaube!

Just before the new year broke Anne and I retired to the verandah and waited for all the noise (fireworks etc.) that would greet the new year. We toasted the new year in with the remainder of the Moet.


Being a literary sort of character, I do lapse into obscure language at times. But being a born pedagogue, I also feel impelled to explain things. So what is that business above about a hexagon? It is just a common French synonym for France (strictly, metropolitan France). Look at a map of France and you should see why.