Thursday, December 31, 2009


These memoirs could be seen as somewhat misnamed. Since they concern current events, perhaps they could better be called "contemporary archives" (with apologies to the worthy Keesing project) rather than memoirs. Anyway, I have lately started to put up a few small recollections from years past so perhaps this blog will acquire some real memoirs from time to time.

The latest recollection was sparked by the scholarly edition of Beowulf that Joe gave me for Christmas. Beowulf is of course the most famous text in Old English but I take an interest in Middle English too. And that emerged in a rather fun way some years ago when I was doing a bit of work for a market researcher named Mark Troy.

At one stage I asked him where he wanted me to put some papers. He said: "Right here, on the table". BUT: He did not pronounce "table" in the usual way. He pronounced it as "Tarbla". Now most people would have thought that he was either a bit mad or having a joke but I immediately recognized what was going on. He was using the correct pronounciation -- the correct pronounciation of 600 years ago.

I said: "That's a Middle English pronunciation" -- and he confirmed that it was. So I immediately launched into:

'Whan that April with hir showres soote
The droughte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veine in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;'


Mark joined in and we must have recited together roughly the first 100 lines of the "Prologue" -- all in the correct Middle English pronunciation, of course. It gave us both great pleasure and satisfaction to do so but there was another guy in the room: Mark's business partner. And he looked at us with evident alarm. He apparently thought we had been seized by some sort of folie a deux (shared madness). He seemed relieved when Mark explained the matter.

Anyway, it was a great pleasure to come across a fellow Chaucerian. There can't be many of them in Brisbane.

Sahara Rohde

Just 3 weeks old, the daughter of Susan and Russell. It looks like Russell is bathing her in the sink! I was at their place for Christmas lunch but Sahara slept right through it.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas day

I think I have had a rather good Christmas day. Anne and I had just croissants and coffee for breakfast. Alarmingly French. Anne gave me a blue-striped shirt as a present, which I quite like. I wore it to the 9:30 service at the Metropolitical Cathedral of St John the Divine.

We got there rather early but there was already little seating left in the nave. I however have a particular spot just off the nave which I like -- on some plastic chairs (which are much more comfortable than the pews) so Anne and I had a good view of the proceedings. And they definitely kept the show on the road with lots of things happening one after another.

The censer was energetically deployed but no bells! Very slack. They had a rather good-looking beadle, though: A young blonde woman. Rather a change from the usual elderly gents. The sermon was given by a woman, which was of course repugnant to my fundamentalist background. But I am rather deaf these days so I didn't understand a word she said, which I found satisfactory. I just sat admiring the stained glass. And the hymns were good of course.

Anne was less impressed by the service than I was. Her Presbyterian rejection of "Popery" is probably stronger than mine.

I then went off to a small family lunch. The big family do was last night, which was very lively. The lunch was excellent with ham, large prawn kebabs, calamari etc. cooked on the BBQ by our host Russell, husband of my stepdaughter Susan. Russell is a genial soul but I don't know him all that well as yet so I did at one stage ask him a question that I thought would get at least an untroublesome answer. I asked him: "Do you like steam trains?". He replied "I LOVE steam trains". So we had a good chat about that for a while. I am something of a steam fanatic too. I wonder if it's only conservatives who like steam trains? Could be something in that.

I also had a bit of a chat with Joe about 5-dimensional matrices and such things. I am very pleased to have a son who is also a born academic. His Christmas present to me was a very academic one: An excellent edition of Beowulf, with the original Old English text and a poetic translation by Seamus Heaney. He knows I take an interest in Beowulf and have even been known to recite bits of it in the original Anglo-Saxon. But only an academic would do that.

Speaking of the Anglo-Saxons, as I sit amid the great Gothic stone cavern of St John's cathedral, it does give me some feeling of unity with my Anglo-Saxon ancestors. I realize that Gothic architecture is Norman rather than Anglo-Saxon but Gothic churches were originally built to recreate the awe of being amid the great forests of primeval Europe so my impression is an accurate one in its way. The Gothic architects have successfully transmitted their message to me.

I still have the order of service for Christmas in front of me and I wonder how many people noticed how discordant it was in a way. We went straight from the aggressive Hebrew triumphalism of Psalm 97 to the humble "justified by grace" of Titus chapter 3. But people are so used to the accepting the message of both the Old Testament and the New that few would notice any discordance, I think.

Anne is now back from her family Christmas lunch so we will shortly have a late -- and light -- evening meal of ham and mustard sandwiches, with a cup of tea.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The three sisters

Anne put on a High Tea at 5pm yesterday for her two sisters -- June and Merle -- plus respective partners: myself, Colin and Ralph. Colin and Ralph are both real gents but I did my best to set them a bad example.

I recently shouted Anne and June an afternoon tea at the Ritz in London and that seems to have been the inspiration for the occasion. Anne did up a big dish of sandwiches to start: Some dinky cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches -- which were delicious -- plus some slightly less dinky ham sandiches which were also delicious. Anne wasn't very sandwichy when I met her but she is now.

I provided the champagne, both alcoholic and non. We were all Presbyterians in one way or another so the non-alcoholic option was strongly indicated. As I was driving I was a "non" man myself on the occasion.

After the sandwiches we moved on to the scones -- with whipped cream and jam. Actually, it wasn't all jam. In a very Australian touch, June had bought along some "cocky's joy" (golden syrup), which several people chose to have on their scones. You usually have cocky's joy on damper, of course.

And then there was the iced sponge cake with passionfruit filling. And then there was the fruit plate plus fruit cake plus coconut ice. So a filling time was had by all.

It turned out that I was the only one who had received a Christmas card from Kevin Rudd, which was rather ironical. See below:

Barnaby Joyce was well spoken of, however. But mostly we reminisced about old times, as befits our vintage -- sponge cakes cooked in wood stoves, headless chooks and all that sort of thing. Colin seemed to think we we lucky to be done with such times, however.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Latest picture of the babe

I hear that Suze is managing to breastfeed, and Sahara is sleeping well still -- and that she is a delightful baby! She's got dark hair at the moment but that could well change.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Having the last word

Paul enjoyed my little story below about having the last word with an obtuse Toyota dealership so I thought I might mention another little story from many years ago that he might enjoy. The recollection just popped into my head proably because of the Toyota matter.

It would have been in the '70s. I wrote a letter to some Jewish guy of central European origin. I think he was a real estate agent but I completely forget what the letter was about -- but it was a critical letter. Anyway, he simply tore up my letter into small pieces and sent the pieces back to me in an envelope. Rather a good reply, really.

What I said must have really made him simmer, though, because next day he sent me a letter criticizing me. So what did I do? I tore up HIS letter into small pieces and sent it back to him! He should have quit while he was ahead. I heard no more from him.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Lazy Toyota dealer

The master keys of Toyota Echo cars have a design fault. They break after a few years. And since they have electronics in them, you have to go to a Toyota dealer to get them replaced. So when mine broke recently I took it in to the Woolloongabba dealer near me. Since the key was 5 years old, I also asked for the battery in it to be replaced.

When I came to collect it, however, the new key was still not working. They said that they were out of batteries and had just put my old battery back in. So the battery was probably flat and that was why the key was still not working. Yet they asked me to pay for it! They asked me to pay for a key that was not working. I said that I would pay them only when they got it working.

They then said I could not take the car until I paid. I asked to see the manager etc and while they were distracted, I got into the car and drove off anyway. If people try to push me around, I push back.

Lo and behold! Half an hour later I got a phone call. They now had the needed new battery and asked me to come back and have it fitted. And that did fix the key. I then paid. But if I had not bucked, I would still be waiting for it. It turns out that there is a shop right over the road from them that sells the batteries concerned. They were just too lazy to do a 3 minute walk. I don't think their Tokyo headquarters would be impressed.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A telegram

Mostly these memoirs concern what has happened in my life in the current year. I am getting old now, however, so the past occasionally comes back to me too. I have no idea what prompted it, but one rather fun memory that has just come back to me concerns a telegram. Who remembers telegrams? Only old-timers like me, I guess. They had their uses. Teasing telegrams on the occasion of a wedding were common. Reading the telegrams was a ritual at most wedding receptions in those far-off days.

I once sent a VERY romantic telegram to a wholly estimable lady in those long bygone days. And, as it was romantic, I sent it in the language of love -- Italian -- much to the puzzlement of the post-office worker who took it for transmission. I didn't look or sound at all like a "wog". I still remember the wording:

"Ogn anno divengono piu chiaro le fiamme inestinguabele di amore per te".

It's probably not very good Italian but anybody who can translate it might conclude that I have an otherwise unknown side to me. Only Italians say such things. If I were English, I would not be able to say it at all -- even in Italian.

The recipient was a student of French so she could work out what it meant. French and Italian are both modern versions of Latin, though Italian is closer to the original. Amusing that the usual paradigm word for the first conjugation in Latin is "amo" ("I love"): Amo, amas, amat, amamus amatis, amant. I am rather pleased that I still remember that conjugation. Can I ever forget it? Probably not. I learnt it over 50 years ago.

It's a few years now since I have heard from the lady concerned but I know where she is. She is a happily married lady these days.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A new baby

A tiny, perfect, but very fragile bundle entered the world just before 2pm today. My stepdaughter Susan gave birth to Sahara Grace, who weighed in at just under 6lb., which is fine for a female baby. I have not yet heard why Sahara was chosen as the Christian name but no doubt I will in due course.

She is a good baby and I was given the privilege of holding her for a little while today. Many years of love and care will one day make her into a beautiful young woman. Such is the miracle of life.

There was something of a low-key family party going on when I arrived at the bedside and Ken and I got into one of our usual conversations. Ken was positive about our new Federal conservative leader (Tony Abbott) and was most pleased that Abbott had managed to block the proposed Warmist laws in our Senate. He was also well up on "Climategate".