Monday, December 26, 2011

A magnificent Christmas occasion

Four of us got to the sung Eucharist at St. John's cathedral in good time this morning. We arrived early so got good seats. It was a great celebration.

A snippet of the ecclesiastical procession, led by Archbishop Aspinall

The opening hymn was that great hymn of faith: "O come all ye faithful". With a mighty organ located high up near the stone-vaulted ceiling and a big congregation lustily singing, the performance was as impressive a beginning to the service as one could wish. And the ecclesiastical procession with its various crosses, banners, vestments etc was so long that it lasted almost until the end of the hymn. Practically everyone associated with the cathedral must have been present and robed up.

Just about everything that could be done in an Anglican service was done, including a good bit of Anglican chant, which I rather like. It has a sort of eerie and timeless feel to it for me. I imagine that they did something similar in the temples of Isis and Osiris in ancient Egypt.

The censer was deployed energetically on several occasions, so much so that the transept was almost filled with smoke at one stage. Quite strangely however, I heard no bells during the service. "Bells and smells" normally go together. Joe reckoned that the guy with the censer seemed to be having the most fun

Even though I had my hearing aids in, I could not understand a word of the sermon. The PA system at the cathedral is rather amazingly bad. Anne however tells me that it was about relationships and such things -- but with no mention of the wonders of the incarnation. VERY C of E!

But we got to sing a lot of the great traditional hymns so that was the best part. Being an atheist, I don't participate in the prayers but I can't resist the hymns. They are a wonderful testimony to the faith that built Western civilization.

After the service Joe and Cianne took tea with me for a while, while Anne had to zoom off to get to lunch with her children.

Jenny put on a lunch for just 5 of us at 1pm, which was very traditional: turkey, ham etc. It was good of her to do both a Christmas eve party and a Christmas day lunch.

Anne came back to my place for Christmas night. After big lunches we were not very hungry so I made us some ham and pickle sandwiches on toast for dinner -- using leftover ham from lunch. That is my usual Christmas night fare.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas eve

Jenny put on a party for a small group of us on Christmas eve. Present were Anne and myself, Jenny and Nanna, Joe and Cianne, Jill and Lewis plus twinny Susan, Russ and Sahara. We also Skyped in our NZ connection. Paul and Susan are visiting there for a month or so.

I used the netbook for skyping with a wireless connection so we were able to pass it around so everybody could have a chat with our NZ family members. Lewis was much impressed to see that video phones are now a reality.

Jenny cooked up cevapi and chicken kebabs for us which went down well. There was a present or two for everyone under Jenny's tree so distributing and opening the presents was a big, amusing and chaotic occasion as usual. Nanna knitted me a tea cosy for my big brown teapot but I at first thought it was a beanie and wore it for a while until someone wised me up.

Sahara has gained a lot of confidence lately and no longer seems scared of me.

If I can get up early enough, my Christmas day plans call for a visit to St. John's cathedral for the sung eucharist at 9:30 am. They do a good show there, including an ecclesiastical procession, but I can't remember whether they do "bells and smells" as well. My son has said he wants to go in order to introduce the arcana of the Church of England to his Korean girlfriend, even though all three of us are unbelievers. I took him there a few times when he was a kid and he enjoyed it. Both of us particularly like the Christmas hymns. And a great stone neo-Gothic cathedral is a remarkable environment. Definitely the best show in town on Christmas day.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A small laugh

Despite my atheism I have rather a lot of religious artifacts in my home.

As people walk in in the door they see a Thai Buddha plus a small image of India's Ganesha

My Indian residents warmly approve of the latter of course

And among the many things on my bedside table is a Presbyterian hymn book. And I even have a copy of the old (Tridentine) Roman Missal. And the book of Common Prayer with Hymns Ancient and Modern, of course.

Beat that!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Saharah's birthday

The desert girl had a slightly belated birthday celebration today. I believe her actual birthday was on 5th. I was there on the day of her birth but my typical male-pattern memory is not good for such information.

Anyway we had a good time both with chats and observing the birthday girl. It was all rather amusing. My gift was very well received. Jenny bought it and she has a talent for such things. I just pay for it. Many years after our divorce Jenny still has my credit card. If that is not an amicable divorce I would like to know what was!

So my gift to Saharah was a toy musical choo choo train. She definitely liked it.

Sadly, Joe's gift of a soft toy in the form of a giraffe got thrown back at him! Two-year olds are not big on social graces!

Anyway Russell cooked up a storm on his BBQ and I greatly enjoyed the resultant sausages. I don't claim the mantle as a sausage connoisseur but I am certainly a sausage enthusiast.

Ken and I spent a fair bit of time chatting as usual but I was a bit ahead of him in knowing what was meant on our childhood toy trainsets by "LNER". Ken got part of it -- to give him his due -- but I was pleased to decipher it as "London and North Eastern Railway"

Very trivial fun, I guess, but much enjoyed nonetheless.

The birthday girl gets help from Dad

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


I went into Woolworths to buy Christmas cards yesterday. I am not fanatical about it as I am an atheist but I like to buy Christian-themed cards out of respect for the Christian basis of the holiday. But although Woolworths had a big range of cards I could find none with Christian themes. Pretty poor for Australia's biggest retailer!

So I went to the Indian shop next door where I occasionally see the owner reading a nicely-bound copy of the Bhagavad Gita in Hindi. Sure enough he had packs of cards with Christian themes. So he got my business.

A sad day when it takes a Hindu to show what tolerance is like! Why on earth would Woolworths be so bigoted against Christianity? Who is going to be offended by them including a few cards with Christian themes in their range?

Australia is not a religious country but there are still a lot of committed Christians about so they would find the Woolworths offering unsatisfactory and would go to (say) a newsagent to buy their cards. So bigotry is also bad business, as it usually is.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dosas for lunch

I took Joe and his Korean lady to our local South Indian restaurant today to introduce him to dosas.

The waiter knew what my order would be without my needing to say it: Three Masala dosas. And they were as good as usual. They were quite a big meal actually. All three of us had a bit of a battle to finish them. Joe was favourably impressed.

We went back to my place for tea on the verandah afterwards when we discussed quite a few things about Korea. I have rather a soft spot for Koreans, seeing that about 20% of them are Presbyterians -- which is my old religion.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Joe arrives back in Brisbane

Paul will be in NZ for Christmas so he wanted to give Joe an early Christmas dinner to make up for that. So Joe landed in Brisbane at 5pm and at 6pm Paul and Susan had a dinner laid on for him.

It was actually an American dinner. When Paul and Susan were in NY I directed them to the various different types of American sandwiches and they now share my conviction that America is the home of sandwiches. So the dinner principally consisted of Reuben sandwiches and Cuban sandwiches, which were much enjoyed. In Australia there are no diners where you can walk in and order such things so they have to be home-made. And Susan is a talented cook so she did very well.

And for dessert she made an excellent apple pie by following an American recipe she got off the internet.

We had the usual lively conversations about many things. Paul always makes sure of that! He loved the story about how I helped to sabotage Arthur Calwell's Brisbane election meeting.

Joe had his Korean girlfriend with him. He brought her up to Brisbane from Canberra for a month. Fortunately she speaks quite good English -- rare in Koreans. She was a bit shy but that was not surprising in the circumstances. Finding herself in the middle of boisterous family conversations must have been a bit of a shock.

She must have been surprised to find she was amid a family of Kim Chee lovers. Kim Chee is a sort of pickled cabbage that is massively popular in Korea but is little known elsewhere and not to everyone's taste. Paul, Joe and the twins grew up with it however, as both Jenny and I like it so we always had it on the table when Korean food was served, which was fairly often.

I was pleased to hear that Joe is taking an active part in university life -- joining the Kabuki play etc. Some fathers would disapprove of "fun" activities at university in fear that their kid might not be taking their studies seriously enough but with Joe it is the other way around. There is no risk of him not working hard on his studies but in his undergrad days he seemed to take little part in university life. I have often told him that your university days are a time to have fun.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Hannah's 1st

Hannah had her first birthday yesterday and most of the family were in NZ to help celebrate it. So I suggested that the rest of us join them via Skype while having our own party here in Brisbane.

So Paul, Susan and I went to Russell and Suzy's place bearing various party foods and had lunch there, with Suzy making some very good sausage rolls and also giving us some home-made chicken burgers.

Von knew we would be meeting at around 12 noon so rang us on Skype just a bit after that time. So we had a party going on at both ends of the Skype connection. We could see their party and they could see ours. The audio was a bit poor though so conversations were a bit restricted.

The NZ end had only one baby present but we had three: Matthew, Dusty and Sahara. So there was a lot of baby talk. But I can talk babies pretty well so that was fine by me. Inevitably the conversation got on to when I used to mind Paul and the twins when they were kids so there were some laughs there.

Paul is holding Dusty and I am helping Matthew to sit up

Sunday, November 27, 2011

"Red Pepper" dinners

In my quiet semi-bachelor life I am a regular consumer of microwave dinners. You can get some reasonable ones these days and it beats cooking or going out all the time. Though I also like a Grand Angus from McDonald's occasionally.

A couple of months ago Woolworths started stocking a new line called "Red Pepper" dinners and they were something of a revelation. They offered S.E. Asian dinners of restaurant quality. So I kept a good supply of them in my freezer. The chicken laksa and chicken biriani were particularly good.

But then Woolworths STOPPED stocking them. So when I was on my last packet, I put my magnifiers on and read all the small print on the packet.

I discovered why they were so good. They are made in Thailand! And Thai food is almost always first rate.

I then discovered an email address for the local importer on the packet. So last night I sent him off an email asking if there was anywhere else I could buy them.

Even though it was a Saturday night I got an email back in half an hour from a gentleman with a very Indian-sounding name. He promised that he would speak to Woolworths about it and offer to restock them. I hope he succeeds. Indians know how to do business.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

My will

Yesterday (Thurs) Anne and I had Paul and Susan over for curry on my verandah. Though it was Susan who ordered and picked up the curry -- as she usually does. I just pay for it.

This time however Susan had to leave her baby behind! Matthew was however well looked after as Anne gave him a bottle while Susan was away. Anne has great experience with kids so is very good with Matthew.

Paul was full of beans as usual and we had a good discussion about what conservatism and morality is all about. Both Paul and I are instinctive conservatives but Paul likes to formulate things so we had a good talk about conservatism. What I told him is spelled out at length here.

We eventually got to talk about my will and Paul was fully onboard with what I aim at to achieve with my will. I want him to be Joey's watchdog -- both to advise Joe about spending my legacy and bark at anybody who criticizes Joey's decisions -- and Paul is a natural for that. I have to laugh at the thought of anybody criticizing Joe in Paul's presence: They would get an earful!

We also talked a bit about old times and a few good laughs came out of that.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Viet chicken

On Monday, Jenny had me over to her place so we could discuss my will. She is executor at the moment.

She made us some original Vietnamese lemon chicken for dinner which was exceptionally good -- as it usually is. Another "family" recipe -- nothing like Chinese lemon chicken, good though that can be. And we washed it down with a bottle of J.P. Chenet Sauvignon blanc. French wine is a bit weaker than Oz wine so it is better for drinking and driving.

Jenny's old friend Kim was staying with her but did not take part in the dinner.

We discussed how I wanted my money used after I am gone and there was a harmony of thinking there. I am not putting any formal instructions in my will. I am relying on others being similarly motivated to myself.

Cynics will laugh but my bet is that I would have the last laugh if I were still around.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Some recent baby pix

Suzy with Rara and Dusty

Rara and Dusty

Babe in a basket

Matthew in his baby chair

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cup day

The 151st race of the Melbourne cup was run today. Cup day is undoubtedly Australia'a greatest day of celebration. Cynics also call it Australia's only honest horse race. It is certainly true that outsiders often "get up" at the Melbourne cup. And so it was today with the favourite not even making it into the top three.

I went into a couple of sweeps but the horses I drew might as well not have existed. Sweeps are the most honest gamble there is as there is no third party to take a "cut". So even an old Presbyterian like me can justify joining in.

Joe was held up from returning to Canberra by the Qantas lockout so he took the opportunity of extending his stay by a few days -- and came and joined me to watch the cup on TV. He had never even heard of sweeps before so I helped improve his education about cup matters.

I did invite Paul to come and watch too but after more than a week of social occasions connected with Vonnie's visit, he felt he had to get back to business. He must have found that hard.

It was of course an amazing race with an incredible finish. The winning horse -- Dunaden, a French entry -- literally won by a nostril. In the days before photo finishes it would have been announced as a tie. The stipes* had to use extreme magnification to separate Dunaden from English horse Red Cadeaux.

The victory lands Dunaden's Qatari owner Sheik Fahad al Thani $3.6 million plus a trophy worth $175,000.

I was mildly surprised that there was no Royalty present -- as the Royal Family are a very horsy lot. Princess Diana attended the 1985 Melbourne cup, for instance. Perhaps the fact that the Queen had just left our shores a few days ago had something to do with no other Royals being present.

But Her Majesty was well represented by her vicereine, our Governor General, Quentin Bryce. She gave a very patriotic speech which pleased me greatly. Australians do have a lot to celebrate -- all founded on the hard work and good sense of our forebears of course. Some of those forebears were my ancestors so I know how hard they worked and what they took on.

In his miserable carping book, Donald Horne said that Australia is a "lucky" country. But luck had nothing to do with it. It is true that Australia has considerable natural resources, but so do Africa and South America -- and it would be a brave soul who would call them lucky. No. Australians today owe their enviable lifestyle to the dogged British and Irish people who settled this country for most of the first 200 years of its recorded history

I didn't tune in early enough to follow the other great race of the day: The "Fashions on the Field" contest. But I caught a bit of it on video. I thought the winner, Sarah Schofield, was an odd choice -- a rather plain outfit -- but what do I know about fashion? She is herself a fashion designer so I guess expertise in such arcane matters won out. There is a video here in which she appears about half way. And a still picture below:

* "stipendiary stewards"

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A busy weekend

Yesterday (Friday) Jenny had Von and Simon plus Anne and myself over for dinner -- with Vietnamese lemon chicken on the menu. It gave us all a chance to hear a bit more from Von while she was here.

We covered quite a bit of ground -- going back to when Von was a kid as well as talking about New Zealand in the present. Von was interested to hear the decision processes that went into the choice of her name. Apparently most people call her Yvonne. It is only family who shorten it.

Then this evening (Saturday) was the BIG Christmas in October party with 20 people attending. I held it in my thickly turfed backyard under party flares. I had two 6' trestle tables with foldup legs this time and they worked very well -- used in conjunction with the two tables that are normally downstairs. George seemed to have had his own chair this time -- seeing he fell out of one of mine last time!

We all wanted to try NZ cheesy rolls so Vonnie's Simon quite heroically made 120 of them for us-- and they were universally agreed to be very good. We also had pizza and champagne to enliven the occasion but the rolls were the special thing. The ladies all brought along goodies too so there were plenty of leftovers as usual. It was all as bit chaotic but that just added to the interest. You don't want to be too organized for a family get-together.

We had three toasts: One to our NZ visitors, a sendoff toast to Simon who is shortly deploying to Afghastiland and a toast to the newest arrival, Dustin Eddie who was all of 8 days old.

Simon is going over with the RAAF to help drop bombs on ragheads from a remotely-piloted vehicle. As such he is in a base and not in much danger of being shot at unless someone in the Afghan National Army goes berserk -- which is not unknown. So we were glad to be able to wish him the best of luck and tell him we looked forward to him coming back home safe and sound

Joe flew up from Canberra for the day and Suzie managed to get along for a while despite still being in some discomfort after her recent childbirth. The only one missing was Tim, who had a big Halloween party going on at his place that he could not get out of.

Hannah was a bit disturbed by the crowd at one stage so Von took her up to my second bathroom again and that settled her! The magic bathroom with the big shiny key!

We heard that Vonnie's Simon is taking on a new job when he gets back to NZ -- as a shepherd! Apparently he will be driving around the sheep paddock on an ATV watching the sheep and putting back on their feet ones that have fallen over! Strange things happen in NZ! From computer guru to shepherd is quite a career change too! I told Von that she would be the shepherdess from now on! From being a business high-flyer to being the fulltime carer of one daughter, one lamb and two dogs is rather a change for her too.

Von spent some time with Suzy every day that she was here from what I gather -- giving her twin both moral and practical support after the birth. So that was a bonus for both of them. Twins being together at such a time has a rightness about it -- as being there is just as important as anything said to one-another. And Von said that Suzy is already feeling in better spirits now that the childbirth problems are fading.

We had five babies/toddlers at the party so that pleased me. A family party with no children present is a sad thing in my opinion.

Joey and Nanna were there

George must have told Paul a VERY funny joke

A comment from Paul on the night:

Time passed quickly and before we knew it the night was over. It was great to catch up with everyone and do a special send off for uncle Simon who will be away for 5 months doing his military service for the country. Hats off to him spending so much time away from the family for the greater good.


A very sad update to my warning about the danger Simon faces in Afghanistan. The very next morning I read:

Three Australian soldiers killed, seven wounded by rogue Afghan soldier

THE Chief of the Australian Defence Force has expressed his deep sorrow after the deaths of three Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. The three soldiers were shot during a parade yesterday morning. Seven other Australians were wounded and an Afghan interpreter was killed.

The lone gunman - an Afghan national soldier - was shot and killed as the Australians returned fire. The dead - a corporal, captain and lance corporal - were members of the Mentoring Task Force in southern Afghanistan.

Of the three, the corporal and lance corporal were on their first deployment to Afghanistan while the captain was on a second tour. The corporal and the captain had earlier this year taken part in flood and cyclone relief operations in Queensland.

Of the wounded, General Hurley said one soldier was being treated for life threatening wounds, four had serious wounds, and the other two had minor wounds.


Sunday, October 23, 2011


At lunchtime today (Sunday) I took advantage of Von and Simon being in Brisbane to introduce them to that South Indian staple -- dosas. The guy who runs the restaurant concerned makes great dosas but speaks a very Indian version of English so I don't understand him and he doesn't understand me. He is a man of goodwill, however, so we generally get something like what we order. And all his dosas are good anyway.

I am still not sure what we got but we all enjoyed them anyway. As well as Von and Simon and Anne and myself, Paul and Susan were there too -- not forgetting two very important little people: Hannah and Matthew.

After lunch we adjourned to my place for tea and coffee and chatted on until about 5pm. It was good to spend some time with Von and discuss life in NZ with her.

A slightly surprising thing is that Vonnie's Simon joined in the conversation to a considerable extent. Simon is famous as the strong silent one. But we WERE talking about New Zealand so that is THE topic to get him talking (He grew up there). Paul and I normally talk to him about computers -- in deference to his great knowledge on that subject -- but it was good to have another topic come up that Simon was happy to talk about. That he has talked his wife into moving from sub-tropical Queensland to sub-Arctic New Zealand probably indicates that although his words may be few they are very well-considered.

We also spent some time talking about when Paul, Suzy and Von were kids and having a laugh about the crazy things we did together then.

My sitting room has a small ensuite bathroom running off it -- containing just a bath and a handbasin. And Hannah loved that bathroom. She must have crawled the full length of it about 50 times. I felt rather sorry that I couldn't donate the bathroom concerned for Von to take back to NZ!

Matthew mostly did his usual trick -- sleeping -- but he displayed a good set of lungs when he got hungry!

With Von at the Dosa restaurant

Hannah in the bathroom

Anne was very good with Matthew

Hannah the tongue. She's a little charmer

Friday, October 21, 2011

Another birth!

To Suzy and Russell was delivered a son early this morning and both mother and child are well, though Suzy looked pretty exhausted when I saw her that afternoon, of course. Paul's comment on that is perhaps worth quoting: "When we saw sister Susan in hospital, I must say my heart went out to my exhausted-looking very pale faced sister". Suzy is of course a treasure to us all so we all want the best for her. Anne, being both a midwife and a 3-times mother herself, was able to tell me exactly what Suzy would have been feeling so it is something of a pity that all the attention prevented Suzy from just going to sleep and gradually sleeping it all off. But the wonder of a brand new human being who will become well-known as an individual to us all will not be denied, of course.

The delivery was induced 2 weeks early because of Suzy's blood pressure but the boy still arrived in the world at a healthy 7lb.

That's the 5th birth in the family in less than 2 years. And I foresee more in the not too distant future.

Von, with her usual uncanny ability at getting right anything she is interested in, arrived from New Zealand just a couple of hours after the birth. She had very much wanted to be there to give moral support to her twin and to see the baby. Suzy has moral and practical support from Russell and all the family but twins are close in a way that the rest of us only vaguely understand. It would not have felt right for them to be apart at that time.

Ken was at the Gold Coast airport to greet Von, Simon and Hannah as they arrived, with Paul and Sue turning up shortly afterward.

So it was a day for arrivals.

The boy himself: Dustin Eddie -- all of 1 day old. Sure to be known as "Dusty"

Happy Hannah. She's got her mother's happy nature

Matthew: happy with his plug in -- and a great pic of Susan

I got to hold Matthew for a while but he slept right through it -- perhaps fortunately

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Westside Music Circle again

A welcome revival yesterday (Sunday). We had some very competent musicians and we even had some Bach! And our pianist was an old white guy for a change. We always have good ol' Marjorie of course but our other pianists are usually Chinese

Jill was a bit crocked with her left arm in a sling but she still managed to get her hair into a long looped-back plait, which I though looked very pretty -- but I always have had a weakness for blonde plaits on women.

The supper was as good as usual and I made significant inroads into it as usual.

I was a bit concerned about the cooling systyem in the Humber but I had topped up the radiator before we left and it worked perfectly. One forgets that in the old days radiators had to be topped up from time to time.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Matthew update

Matthew is now 5 weeks old and my prediction that he will be tall is already being borne out. Paul says he is already unusually "long".

Something Paul said in his latest email is something that ALL single people should heed:
We look back at life before children (B.C) and although it wasn’t that long ago in physical time, it already feels like a completely DIFFERENT life!! An emptier life…. Something was definitely missing and now we know what it was … Susan and I are of course very close but turning the 2 of us into 3 has been a whole new, enlightening experience!

Some photos below:

Matthew with his gorgeous mother

The hat boy. Like father like son. I remember Paul when he was a kid going to bed with his hat on

UPDATE: Now the full truth can be told. After checking with Paul to see that it would not embarrass him, I can reveal that I recall him as a kid going to bed with TWO hats on!

And things haven't changed much. See below when Paul on a recent occasion was again wearing two hats. If you look closely, you can see that he is wearing a cap with a sombrero over the top of it

Die Wiener Philharmoniker

The heading above translates as "The Vienna Philharmonic" and it is one of the great orchestras of the world. You have to wait years in Vienna to get tickets to its performances so when they decided to tour Australia, Anne and I had to go along.

I was originally going to wear cords to the concert but Anne was most unhappy about me wearing such humble garb to such an expensive occasion so yesterday we went in to "down-low" Lowes at Mt. Gravatt where I bought myself a "Made in China" bag o' fruit. It was actually in charcoal grey with a chalk stripe, which was exactly what I wanted -- so Lowes can be surprising. But fancy China having taken over the ready-to-wear market for men's business suits!

So we toddled off to the concert earlier tonight with Anne in her Best Black and me in my Chinese suit. I hope it didn't LOOK Chinese. It seemed a reasonable sort of fabric but I dare not ask what fabric. Anne was pleased with the look of it so that was the aim of the exercise.

And the concert was worth all it cost. The highlight in my view was the opening work: Schubert's well-known and much loved "Unfinished". It is something of a favourite of mine so I was in a good position to judge the performance and it was far and away the most sensitive version I have ever heard. Quite wonderful.

The second work was Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn, which is essentially a series of Lieder, so I was cross with myself for not having prepared for the performance by reviewing the text at home first. It's a lot better if you know what the guy is singing about.

I wonder if I should say something about the name: Des Knaben Wunderhorn? It is quite commonly left untranslated and if it is translated, it is generally rendered as "Youth's magic horn". But that is not what it means at all. If it meant that it would be Des Jugends Wunderhorn. The literal translation is: "The boy's magic horn". So I think by now you can see the problem.

The third work was Beethoven's 8th so that was good from the opening moment on of course. The conductor was Christoph Eschenbach, whom I had never heard of but he studied under Karajan apparently and certainly knew his trade.

He and the orchestra got a standing ovation at the end of the programme so they played us an encore from Strauss: Die schoene blaue Donau if I am not mistaken. A very lively version it was too.

A great feast of Austrian music. And to my great satisfaction, the conductor didn't say a word. He just conducted. I hate it when conductors blather on beforehand. I go for the music and if that doesn't speak for itself it's not good music.

But I am still rather stunned that I was able to hear a small part of the greatest music ever composed in Vienna performed right here in Brisbane by Vienna's greatest orchestra. Their performance of the "Unfinished" is still ringing in my head. The whole concert was a 3-hour one but it seemed like half that time to me -- so engrossing was the music

The concert hall at QPAC is very impressive. It has recently been done up with very extensive and successful attention to the acoustics. So I felt glad to be part of a civilization that provides so magnificently for its people even in a small city like Brisbane.

There was a full house too, mostly mature to elderly as usual but with a surprising number of young people too.


Anne made me porridge for breakfast next morning, followed by croissants with apricot jam. Wotta gal! I have always liked my porridge but men of my generation don't cook.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A new arrival in New Zealand

Vonnie is now the proud "mother" of a lamb. She's definitely adapting well to New Zealand at that rate.

Hannah is now 10 months old so she will grow up with sheep!

I wonder if Von knows the great poem by William Blake about lambs. I am sure she would agree with his feelings if not his theology:

Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed,
By the stream and o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I'll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I'll tell thee.
He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild;
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are called by His name.
Little Lamb, God bless thee!
Little Lamb, God bless thee!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Seeking Lord Ganesha

Lord Ganesha is a rather striking chap so I thought it would be fun to have one in the hallway of my house.

Joe was in town this week to see his new nephew and we had lunch together today and after lunch we went off in search of a large and colourful Ganesha. It's often said that fathers and sons should do things together but I don't think seeking out Ganesha is quite what people have in mind when they say that.

Joe and I in fact spent a couple of hours chatting about this and that. I was pleased by his breadth of knowledge about all sorts of things. At one stage I told him a bit about the army and how much I had enjoyed my time in the army and he seemed a bit interested in that. But I had just decided the night before that I wanted a Ganesha and there is an Indian shop just around the corner from where we had lunch at "Vinces's place" in Buranda so I thought the purchase would be just an incidental matter.

Sadly however the Indian shop had only very small Ganeshas and I wanted a big and striking one. So they directed me to an amazing shop out at Mt Gravatt that sold ALL things Indian, including Ganeshas. So Joe and I went there. Sadly again, however, their Ganeshas were also too small for me but, being good at business, the lady in charge phoned somebody else who had Ganeshas and arranged for them to bring their Ganeshas to the shop.

So Joe and I wandered around the shop looking at the merchandise until these Ganeshas arrived. We got tired of walking around after a while so we both sat down on a goods trolley that we found. It was situated in front of a display of statuary so we spent about a quarter of an hour sitting down together staring at a great array of painted Hindu idols! A quite mad father/son activity.

The other Ganeshas arrived eventually but alas, they too were only half the size I wanted. They were about 18" high while I was looking for one at least 3' high. So it looked like I was going to be left Ganeshaless. I did however find a small copper Ganesha suitable for pinning on the wall so I bought that.

Joe with his nephew, Matthew

Monday, September 19, 2011

A nice mother/daughter photo from NZ

It looks like little blue eyes is going to inherit Von's lustrous brown hair too

The lost art of raising your hat

I am JUST old enough to remember the days when gentlemen raised their hat to ladies. It was a thoroughly commendable mark of respect, a respect that seems much less in evidence these days.

Men still do wear hats: Usually big straw hats to keep the sun off. But for some reason those hats are never raised.

I do however have an old-style grey felt hat that in my view makes me look like a 1930s gangster. So I do sometimes wear it for fun.

The other day I was walking along the street and saw a man ahead from me who was also wearing an old-style hat. He was also wearing a suit so may have been a property valuer or someone else a bit grand.

As I passed him I said: "Another man with a hat", and raised my hat to him. He was greatly pleased, wished me all the best and so on.

So such a small mark of respect can be very pleasing. How sad that we mostly seem to have lost it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Amazing case: Single mother sues slimy cop -- and wins

She represented herself in court against a range of top legal brains and beat them all

I have in front of me a copy of the District Court judgment of today's date in the matter of Eaves v. Donnelly in which Renee Eaves was awarded the sum of $93,000 against Barry John Donnelly and the State of Queensland.

Ms Eaves is a very attractive blonde model from whom (I surmise) constable Donnelly wanted sex. He apparently was such a low character that he thought he could coerce her into it. She did not oblige him.

So he launched a campaign of harassment against her, secure in the assumption that a dumb blonde could never do anything to touch a Queensland cop.

He arrested her repeatedly on trumped up charges, all of which were thrown out when they came to court.

It was then that Renee showed her steel. She was NOT just a pretty face but a woman determined to get justice against the scum concerned.

And she stuck at it for years. She of course complained to the CMC -- where police investigate police -- and they rejected her complaint.

She then began to get media coverage of the matter, hoping that would shake some action loose. It didn't but it stressed out the cop. He went on stress leave for a year and then resigned.

But Renee still felt that the police had to be held to account -- to discourage oppression of other women by police. So she launched a damages claim in the District Court, where she showed she is not only a steely blonde but a smart one. She repeatedly cross-examined successfully.

During her long battle to get into the District Court, however, Renee ran out of money. Everything about the law is expensive and her means were slender. She in fact ran out just before the matter was due to come up so it looked as if her long battle was going to be for nought.

At that point I stepped in and paid her legal costs from that point on. I had never even met her but I have had a loathing against scum police ever since the extraordinary Barry Mannix case -- where the corrupt police got off Scot-free.

The real villain in this case, however is not the scum cop but rather the police service and the CMC who did nothing to pull him into line or attempt to make amends for his deeds. Except for the extraordinary courage of Ms Eaves, the guilt of the cop in the matter would never have been established.

And in the end it is the taxpayer who will pay -- well over $100,000 all up when legal costs are included.

I didn't actually meet her until the case was over -- when she brought around a copy of the judgment for me.

Media reports here and here. More background here

Saturday, September 10, 2011

High Tea

I organized a High Tea at 4pm today to welcome the newest arrival in the family: Matthew son of Paul and Susan, presently only 16 days old. Matthew didn't notice, however. He slept through the whole thing. He looked very healthy and has already added half a kilo to his birthweight.

Present were Paul, Susan, Jenny, Nanna, Ken, Maureen, Suzy, Russell, Sahara, George, Tracy my brother Chris with his wife Kym and son James and also gun geneologist Jan with her husband Keith.

Paul also skyped Vonnie in from New Zealand using my netbook. The audio was surprisingly good for such a humble device and at one stage when we heard a baby cry we looked around to see who it was. It was Hannah in New Zealand!

I bought a big heap of very fancy scones and Jenny came over early to make up the cucumber sandwiches according to the Ritz recipe. They seemed to be a great hit. Those guys at the Ritz know a thing or two. I myself scored and cut up the cucumbers prior to Jenny's arrival and marinated them in white vinegar for about an hour. It took a whole bottle but white vinegar is only about $1 a bottle so that was neither here nor there.

Ken was impressed at the use of vinegar. He said that was customary in his home back in England but very rare in Australia. He took the sandwich leftovers home with him! There was a lot of everything left over as I had bought so many scones and the ladies had all brought good stuff too. So most people went home with some of the goodies as I didn't want anything left uneaten.

We were originally going to have the do in my backyard but it was very windy so we stayed upstairs with the food laid out as a buffet and just mingled, which probably suited people better anyway. I have a long living/dining area so accomodating 16 guests buffet-style was no great problem.

Anne was away at a conference connected to her work so she missed a party she would have enjoyed. Jenny stepped in however and not only made the sandwiches but also whipped the cream and made the tea. I just wandered around looking vague.


There was of course a huge buzz of conversation at the do but I have only the vaguest notion of what was said. I observed that Chris had a good conversation with Paul and Ken; that Jan and Kym had a long conversation and that Susan and Tracy talked a lot.

For my part, the most interesting chat was with Susan, discussing ancestry. Her grandfather on her mother's side was apparently a tall American -- which explains why Susan's mother is so tall. Her mother is from the Philippines and had a Filipina mother but is much taller than the average Filipina. Filipinas are normally about 5' tall but Susan's mother is about 5'8" tall.

And Susan is 6' tall, the same height as her Dutch father. So she clearly got "tallness" genes from both sides of her ancestry. And she has a few freckles to boot. So she looks European. If you had to guess, you would think she was Northern Italian, At 6' tall she would NEVER be taken for a Filipina.

The main interest of all that is how tall Matthew will be. He is already adding weight fast so is quite likely to be even taller than his 6' tall mother. Sons are normally taller than their mothers.

The sleeping boy with his great-grandmother

Some of the food on offer -- including some very fancy scones on my 3-tier cakestand. That black, white and blue rectangle in the background is Vonnie, via Skype. It is great that she can still take part in our social occasions. I tried to feed her a cucumber sandwich via Skype but it wouldn't go through for some reason!

And Sahara was a little Scot!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Axe wielding mugger in Belconnen robs Joey

ACT Policing is seeking witnesses to an aggravated robbery in Belconnen last night (Monday, September 5).

Around 10.30pm, a 24-year-old man was talking on his mobile phone while standing next to his vehicle on Hennessy Street in Belconnen. While on the phone he was approached by a man who demanded cash.

The victim initially refused to give any cash to the man, until the man produced a small axe.

The victim handed over money and his mobile phone to the man, who was last seen running along Hennessy Street towards College Street. The victim was not injured during the aggravated robbery.

The man is described as Caucasian in appearance, aged between 20 to 30 years old, approximately 183cm (6’) tall with a stocky build. He was wearing a dark coloured hoodie jumper, navy tracksuits pants and a black baseball cap.

Police are appealing for anyone who was near Hennessey Street in Belconnen around 10.30pm last night, or may have seen a man matching the above description to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000


Monday, September 5, 2011

Fathers' day

Fathers' day seems to be celebrated on different dates in different countries but today was Fathers' day in Australia. On such an occasion particular attention centred on the newest family member: 10 day old Matthew, seen below looking very relaxed in the arms of his Dutch grandfather.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

My hospital adventure

I got a good Father's Day present today: I got out of hospital.

I had a Moh's procedure (multi-stage surgery) for a couple of cancers on my face on Wednesday and Thursday and already on Thursday there was noticeable swelling on my forehead.

The swelling had got really bad by Friday morning. There was so much of it that I could not see out of my right eye. So I rang the surgeon about 9am and reported the problem. He told me to come in immediately, which I did. Lucky he is a private doctor, I guess. You would be lucky to see a public hospital doctor so promptly, I would think.

He said that an infection had obviously got into one of the wounds and gave me steroids and a strong antibiotic (clindamycin capsules) to fix it. Around 4am that day he rang me to see how it was going. I told him that the swelling was beginning to encroach on my Left eye too -- so the problem was getting worse rather than better.

He said that it looked like a hospital stay so that I could get intravenous infusions of an extra-strong antibiotic. First however he rang and checked with another doctor he knows who specializes in infectious diseases. That doctor confirmed the diagnosis and indicated treatment.

So about 4:30pm I got into a taxi for the Wesley -- generally regarded as the best (private) hospital in town. Shortly after arriving I was put on a Lincomycin drip and admitted.

I am no fan of hospitals but the staff at Wesley were all that could be desired. It really is a first-class operation. So I endured it through Friday and Saturday night, permanently hooked up to a drip.

The swelling steadily subsided and by Sunday morning I was pretty much back to normal so got myself discharged. I am just hoping now that I don't have a relapse.

I gather that my health insurance will cover 100% of my stay at the Wesley but there are sure to be some ancillary costs somewhere.

About an hour after I got out, I took Anne to a local South Indian restaurant for lunch and ordered a masala dosa. After hospital food I needed something that good and it was good indeed. I could easily become addicted to dosas.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Babe in a cocoon

Susan is very "crafty". She is like the perfect wife described in Proverbs chapter 31 in the Bible. So when she saw a baby cocoon in one of her crochet books, she made Matthew one. He seems to be comfortable in it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A babe is born

And all is well. Susan delivered her husband Paul a 7lb baby boy: Matthew Clifford. Both names being ancestral, as is traditional.

Paul ensured that his son was born at a private hospital with an expert obstetrician present and it is a good thing that he did. There were two serious complications to the birth that could have been dangerous or even fatal without immediate expert attention. The baby had that attention so came to no harm.

He was born with the cord around his neck and that is far too often fatal. Jenny's mother lost a baby that way. He also had what is technically termed a "meconium" problem: Meaning that the baby passes feces into the amniotic fluid before he is born and can either ingest or inhale some of that.

When Joe was born there was that problem but Joe neither ingested nor inhaled any of it so was unharmed. Inhaling it is however a very serious problem that can lead to serious disability or death. And it is only in the last few years that a good method has evolved for the obstetrician to deal with and fix the problem before any harm is done.

Knowing what had happened with Joe, I alerted Paul to the problem and he raised it with the obstetrician so that the problem could be immediately dealt with. And it was a good thing that he did. The baby DID have a meconium problem and at the last moment ingested some of it. But the obstetrician promptly sucked it out again and the babe is already fine.

So since Joe and Matthew both had that problem it would seem to come from Jenny's side -- meaning that all her children from now on should be alert for that problem and should have an obstetrician present at the birth who is prepared for it and aware of the latest method.

Matthew is a very lucky boy -- with the luck that comes from foresight.

Just hours after the birth

Bub with mother

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bacon butties

I must be entering my second childhood, as Shakespeare would have it. For roughly the last 35 years I have been buying multigrain bread (invented long ago by the Germans as Vollkorn bread) with the view that it was an improvement over the white bread of my youth. But lately I have reverted to white bread.

To me white bread seems to go well in making up a bacon butty. I get a couple of slices of short-cut bacom, whizz them in the microwave for about 30 seconds and slap them between a couple of well-buttered slices of white bread. That has been my late supper for a little while now - "late" as in around midnight.

Although eminently satisfactory, that is of course a very simple repast so I call it a "butty", in honour of a famous food item well known North of Watford -- where chip butties seem to be a mainstay. I have never had a chip butty and they seem to be just about unknown in Australia but I think my repast has similar stark simplicity.

The "u" in butty is pronounced as in "bully" -- from "butter" as pronounced in both Northern England and Germany. Germans in fact would call the same thing a "Butterbrot", where "Brot" is bread.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Not all change is for the better

As any old fogey (such as myself) will tell you.

A rather crazy instance of that which has finally intruded into my consciousness is that my modern 3-in-1 printer only takes about a quire of paper at a time.

Whereas in the "good old days" of continuous stationery you would go through about 4 reams before you had to add paper. It's a big difference and the limited feed of my current printer does sometimes catch me out because of that

I guess I have old habits that die hard

(For those who have forgotten their school lessons: 24 sheets = 1 quire; 20 quires = 1 ream)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Poetry night

It has recently become clear to me that Paul is at least as sentimental as I am: He has a real feeling for things of the past. So I thought that he would enjoy it if I introduced him to canonical English poetry -- which, sadly, is almost totally neglected in the schools these days.

So we got together for a curry dinner at my place, with Susan and Anne very kindly going to fetch the curry for us from my usual curry place.

The canon is of course enormous -- probably best defined by Arthur Quiller Couch's 1912 "Oxford book of English verse" -- which OUP have recently brought back into print after futile efforts to revise it -- sadly for the rare book trade.

So what I tried to do was pick out just a few personal favourites: Wordsworth's Daffodils; Donne's Death; Coleridge's Ancient Mariner; Grey's Elegy; Hunt's Abou ben Adhem; Blakes's Tiger etc. -- and of course the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

It was almost entirely new to Paul and Susan but they both got a heap out of it and I enjoyed reading it to the assembled company. A relevant picture below. Note my Namatjiras in the background!

At my request Susan made us a Spotted Dick for dessert, and produced a gourmet version of it, of course. Last time I heard Paul was on his third helping! Those who know Paul will not be surprised by that.

Videos here

Ode to a tablecloth

This is undoubtedly a bit mad but I thought I should mention the role of my "miracle tablecloth" in our dinners at my place. It is a very fancy white lacy tablecloth made of some synthetic material of Chinese origin. And it is IMPERVIOUS to curry stains -- which can be pretty serious stains. And by the time of my poetry night everybody was quite used to it. So while there were quite a few curry spills onto the tablecloth on the night, nobody paid that any heed. They knew that I just toss the cloth in the washing machine and it comes out as bright as ever. Susan tried to buy one like it but could not so it is a bit of a rarity.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Joe's 24th

Yesterday evening was a celebration of Joe's 24th birthday. He came up from Canberra for the weekend. The dinner was for 7pm but a few of us accumulated at my place beforehand. That gathering was a very typical one for us: With everybody clustered around computers. That was mainly because we wanted to Skype Vonnie into the dinner from New Zealand and we had to set up Skype on a laptop to do it.

It took quite a while but between Paul and Joe we eventually got it done. Paul's Susan also sat down and helped with some aspect of the process at one stage. Anne and I however remained bystanders, even though it was Anne's laptop that we set it up on. Her laptop was the only one with a wireless connection to the net.

There were 15 of us at dinner. I had invited more but some were out of town and some had other commitments. And the person who probably talked most to everybody was Von -- via Skype from New Zealand. She (or the laptop) got passed all around the table. It was a pleasure for both her and us to have her present despite the physical distance between us.

We had the dinner at my local curry house as usual and their food and service was first class as usual. I had my usual Balti lamb and Joe had his usual chicken Korma. We both like to stick to knowns.

Joe said a few words to the gathering, remarking that whenever he was down in Canberra and thinking about his family he always thought of us sitting around a long table in that restaurant.

The birthday boy with his Nanna

Ken and Maureen with grand-daughter

Paul with his gorgeous wife

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Praise for the South of the South Island

From Lady Von in deepest New Zealand

It seems the locals are finding us amusing as we are having so much fun in this small quiet country town. I can't even count on my hands how many times I have been asked "Why did you move to Lumsden of all places?" Many of the locals don't realise what they have here because they have been so spoilt with their lifestyle for so long. Here is a list of why Lumsden:

* 4 distinctive seasons including snow to enjoy and look forward to

* No traffic to worry about

* 3 Towns and 1 City only an hours drive away in each direction to go shopping

* Cheap seafood and great tasting food that is cheap

* Many places to go fishing

* Cheap and tasty Beer and even tastier Wine

* Endless activities for the kids to enjoy

* Endless activities for the adults to enjoy, skiing, Bushwalking, Duck shooting (if you are in to that)

* Spectacular views wherever we look

* Friendly strangers who take the time while walking past our house to pick up our wheelie bin that fell over accidently when the bin man came and place it neatly back at the fence.

Usually I don't need to give the locals the full list before I start to see a small smirk appear on their face when they realise I am right.

I don't dislike Brisbane where I grew up, I have fond memories of my childhood with warm summer days spent swimming and the smell of the summer storms, I just don't feel excited by it anymore.

In New Zealand I am like a child discoving life again and all the glorious small little things that the locals take for granted are a great joy to us and we can't help but show our excitement.

Enjoying a snowfall

The fireplace

Dressups with Hannah

Monday, July 18, 2011

Pasta marinara

As she usually does, Jill gave me a Sunday lunch for my birthday, with Anne and Lewis also present. And she served up some excellent pasta marinara followed by pavlova, one of my favourite desserts.

Mainly through sheer determination, Lewis has made a great recovery from his stroke and can now drive again.

It was the first time I had been to Jill's new place at Middle Park since she moved in. She downsized from her Riverhills place but has still got a very gracious home. We had lunch on the patio with lots of greenery around so it was very pleasant.

Lewis's sense of humour was obviously not damaged by his stroke as he gave me a rather remarkable object for a birthday present. So it was a rather light-hearted lunch with the only serious bits being the expected excoriation of Julia Gillard.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Thai food

My birthday celebrations today were a little different. NANNA organized a dinner for me at her local Thai restaurant. And the big crowd at the restaurant told you all you needed to know about the food. My judgment that it was first class was clearly shared by many others. I had pork with garlic and pepper.

And how many men get a dinner given to them by their 87-year old mother in law? I think it shows Nanna's good nature at least. Nanna also gave me a present in the form of a cushion with a wool cover on it that she had crocheted herself. It was in the very attractive soft colours that you only get with wool.

Paul, Susan, Jenny and Anne were also there and Paul in his usual way kept us all on our toes with his thoughts about the world and life in general. He really has an enquiring mind and is always looking for rules and regularities in life that explain why things are as they are.

We also talked a fair bit about politics as we have done ever since the last couple of elections. We were all agreed that Julia Gillard is on the wrong track and speculated about the likelihood of her getting her carbon tax through parliament. I pointed out that is far from a done deal and even speculated that the Greenies might jack up at the last moment -- as they did for Kevvy's ETS. Julia's poll ratings are so low that it seems clear that her party will want to dump her before the next election -- but probably only just before the next election.

After dinner we went back to Jenny's place for tea and coffee and I talked about how kids these days have been robbed of their cultural heritage by today's schools. As Paul is particularly sentimental, that has been a big loss for him so we agreed that he and I would get together more regularly so I could do something to introduce him to the literature -- particularly the great poets -- of the past.

Paul thinks Vonnie is pretty sentimental too so we might skype her in on any such meetings if she wants to be there.

We also talked about religion and how most people do have some religious beliefs -- so people who have been brought up as atheists -- as Paul and the twins were -- have missed out on a significant part of what it means to be human. That is of course an irrecoverable loss but Paul is determined that his kids will have the chance of that experience. He wants to send them along to Sunday school from an early age so they grow up at least knowing what religion is all about.

I suppose it shows how well we all get along as a family that we spent most of the night talking perfectly amicably about the two things you are NOT supposed to talk about: Religion and politics.


Thanks to kind friends, my birthday celebrations generally stretch over a week. This year, however, they are all clustered on this weekend.

Tonight it was just Anne and I dining together with Anne having prepared some of my favourite foods.

We had some large South Australian oysters from the shell to start and then we went on to haggis with neeps and tatties, washed down with a bottle of my usual Seaview champagne. As usual, Anne did the neeps to perfection. And for dessert? Rhubarb crumble. Heaven!

As a present, Anne bought me a deafie's phone -- one where you can turn the volume up. It is sure to be useful as my hearing aids are not up to much -- even though I paid $7,000 for them!

I was also pleased to get quite a lot of birthday good wishes via Facebook and email

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hannah's first snow

It's getting cold over there in the shaky Isles but Hannah likes it

After growing up in sub-tropical Brisbane, Paul, Von and Suz have always found snow exciting and Hannah inherits that

In Brisbane at the moment you can walk around in undergarments only in the middle of the day -- and that's midwinter

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


I am normally pretty buoyant in mood and not much bothers me. Anybody reading these memoir notes should detect a fair bit of jocularity at times. But I can be bothered sometimes. And today was one of those times.

I have had an awful lot of surgical procedures to get rid of skin cancers lately and today I had two more bad bits excised. I was not looking forward to it. A lot of excisions don't bother me if they are in places that are not too awkward but both today were awkward so it all felt a bit too much when I woke up this morning.

Fortunately, my appointment was for 10:30am so I didn't have a lot of time to dwell on it before I went in. My mood has gradually improved during the day but both wounds are a bit sore so I am not expecting a very comfortable night tonight.

I have already made a booking for the next lot of surgery in 3 weeks time. Hopefully I might have a bit of a break after that.

During my younger days I did set aside money for a "rainy day" so it helps a lot that I can now afford top flight private medical care. And it is a judgment on the "free" government hospital system that there are private hospitals all over the place in Brisbane. Around 40% of Australians have private health insurance so can afford to use private hospitals. One of the best private hospitals is only ten minutes drive from where I live (the Wesley) and that is where I go.

Afer many years of it, I have become something of a connoisseur of plastic surgery -- an unenviable distinction! And the man I go to is in my judgment the best in town. And others must think so too as his fees are three times higher than the government-approved fees.

Such fees do however have one effect that is very helpful to me. His waiting list is very short. I can get an appointment at very short notice. And that is exactly what you need when you are battling cancer. Some of my skin cancers are fairly aggressive so getting them excised within weeks rather than months of their appearing does potentially mean the difference between life and death. And getting rid of them promptly certainly improves my comfort levels.

So when I arrived at the surgery today I was in a first class environment receiving not only expert treatment but also very polite, cheerful and considerate treatment. After having been there many times before I know the staff there pretty well and felt I was among friends. So that helped my mood considerably.

And not being bound by bureaucratic rules and procedures helped too. I had an appointment for only one excision today but another growth had popped up only days ago and was bothering me so I asked the surgeon to get it out too -- which he promptly did.

The importance of a common culture

This very small note is a reflection on something that happened over an excellent Yugoslav dinner that Anne made me at her place tonight. Not only were the cevapi cooked to perfection but Anne had even managed to get hold of some kaimak, which is VERY hard to find in Brisbane. But cevapi without kaimak are incomplete, of course.

We usually go to Vince's place for breakfast once a week and Vince's offerings are bad news for slimmers. They would tempt anyone off the strait (not straight) and narrow path of dietary virtue.

We were talking about this when Anne remarked that she particularly liked one of Vince's humbler offerings: Savoury mince. And it is certainly true that Vince's chefs do a better savoury mince than your mother ever cooked. Anne watches her weight to some extent however (I watch mine too but do nothing about it. I just watch) so she remarked that Vince's savoury mince is rather a big meal and she hesitates to order it for that reason.

I responded: "You don't have to eat it all, you know". As the one who pays for it I am in a good position to make that comment.

Anne however looked at me in shock. She explained that in her upbringing everybody ate EVERYTHING on their plate. We then both had a laugh about that and remarked how old habits and customs have a lot of influence.

And, as it happens, I well understood the rules under which Anne was operating. When I grew up, "waste not; want not" was the watchword too. Though I was always described by my mother as having "hollow legs" (i.e. a big appetite) so I always ate up everything anyway (except liver).

But the point of this short meditation is that Anne and I have a common culture: Queensland country town under Protestant influence. And that common culture eases our interactions constantly. To use a rather trite modern phrase we really do know where each other "is coming from".

And it's interesting that our backgrounds are not formally identical. Anne's mother was a Salvationist and her father came from a Gospel Hall background. And my background is of course Presbyterian. At the time Anne and I were growing up, however, a general Protestant culture and theology had emerged -- so people switched between churches without much thought for denomination. The Salvation Army, for instance, was very heavily against alcohol and gambling but so were Methodists and Presbyterians.

And Anne was true to her Salvation Army background in that she did for some time in her youth sing on street corners with the Army, in the now far-off days when they still did that. And I of course regard that phase as a mark of great distinction in her life history. I have great admiration for the Sallies. So despite superficial dissimilarities, our core culture is just about identical. So we understand one-another to a far greater degree than we would without that common background, even though neither of us is religious these days.

And culture can trump theology sometimes. These days you will not hear the doctrine of predestination preached from any pulpit that I am aware of. Yet it is a perfectly scriptural doctrine. See Ephesians chapter 1.

But although the doctrine is treated with some embarrassment by the clergy these days, it lives on unabated among the people of the church. I remember both my mother and my aunties saying to me: "It was all planned out before we were born, John".

So when Anne says of something "It was meant to be", what I hear is not any doctrinal statement but rather an assurance that I am among my own people.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A baby shower

Susan is well along in her pregnancy now and all looks to be going well so she and Paul put on a baby shower this afternoon at their Daisy Hill place -- and they did get showered with many things for the baby -- including a toy Dalek which Paul seemed inclined to keep for himself.

Susan is a talented and hard working cook so the spread she put on was legendary. I think I tried most things but my favourite was the Pavlova. Maureen would understand that.

There was a friend of Susan's there who had her little 18 months old boy with her. He and I hit it off very well and his mother looked a bit worried that she might lose him at one stage. He kept coming back for more games and eventually sat on my knee for a fair bit.

The coming back for more reminded me of certain other children who used to come back saying: "Come on John, More John, More"

And, wonder of wonders, I won the door prize. I normally don't win anything. But that might be because I don't go in for much.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Songs of yesteryear

Anne remarked recently that a lot of the songs we enjoy listening to would be unknown to the young people of today and we both thought what a pity that was.

I decided that I could at least introduce Paul and Susan to such songs so that at least they would have some of the pleasure that we oldies find in the songs that we have grown to treasure over the years.

So I arranged one of my "educational" nights again -- this time not devoted to anything serious but simply to playing some old favourite songs which Paul and Susan mostly had not heard.

We started off with a curry dinner on the verandah as usual and then adjourned to my computer for 10 minutes so I could play us two videos: George Formby singing "When I'm cleaning winders" and Joni Mitchell singing "Both sides now". Formby is still a very funny man and Joni's phrasing of her own song makes it a great work of art.

After that we moved to the sitting room for music off CDs. We started off with the incomparable Paul Robeson singing Ol' Man River and went on from there -- not forgetting Peter Dawson's brilliant rendition of The Floral Dance.

Some other songs that we played were Men of Harlech, the Holy City, The Battle Hymn of the Republic and How Great Thou Art. So it got a bit religious but I am a great fan of religious music. The fact that I was once very religious myself no doubt plays some part in that. And as William Booth said: "Why should the Devil have all the good tunes?"

At Anne's request I put on the hilarious "Blue Bird of Happiness". It is actually a quite wise song but lugubriously overstated. I was pleased to see that Susan had a smile on her face for a lot of it. She obviously saw the funny side of it.

Susan also provided an impressive confection for dessert, as she usually does, so that rounded off a very pleasant evening.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A small but congenial gathering

In conjunction with her birthday, Jenny had a few of us over to her place for a dinner on Saturday night. Present were Jenny & Nanna, Paul & Susan and Anne and myself.

The food was good and varied and Paul in his usual outspoken manner livened us all up. He is mightily stirred up about coal seam gas at the moment. He has shares in it but the Greenies are obstructing it. That has certainly pushed his views even further in a Rightward direction.

I put up a couple of quiz questions which some people got right but nobody guessed the pronunciation of Mungindi, an outback Australian town. Nanna even got the pronunciation of Tucson right. It probably shows how many cowboy movies she has seen.

News of Joe was of course sought so we were pleased to hear that Paul had been in touch. Paul thinks the world of Joe. Paul sometimes comes across as a bit abrasive but he has a very good heart. We expect to see Joe back in Brisbane on the weekend after his birthday.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A close encounter with a surgical laser

Owing to my extensive iatrogenic skin cancer, I require the services of the medical profession rather frequently. My GP (JQ) freezes off the more minor bits and my dermatological surgeon (RH) tackles the nastier bits. I have seen both of them such a lot that I am now on quite friendly terms with both.

Usually, whatever needs to be done can be done locally in the doctor's rooms but there are some bad bits that can only be tackled by a surgical laser -- and today was such a day. Accessing the laser is a big deal, however. You have to undergo all the checks, quizzes and tests prescribed by the hospital where it is located.

So I rocked up at N.W. Private hospital on time for admission at 4:30pm and went through their process. And despite the complexity of it all I was not kept waiting for more than minutes at any stage. I passed through the hands of about 6 people before I got to theatre but they had plenty of staff to attend to whatever was required. Brisbane private hospitals are like that: Immaculate and efficient with very attentive patient care. All covered by my private health insurance.

But when I finally got into theatre at about 6:30pm it was still a relief to see the friendly faces of RH and his head nurse. With the roar and clatter of a laser drilling at your face, it is a comfort to be sure that you are in competent hands. It was done under local so we actually chatted a fair bit during the procedure, as usual.

An amusing aspect of the chatter and banter was when it was noticed that I was (coincidentally) wearing maroon undershorts. Maroon is the colour of the Queensland team in the State of Origin football matches and the Queensland team had just won, as they usually do. So I was regarded as a fellow supporter of the team. And, as in most places, football is a big deal and support for the local team makes you a proper person. So I emerged with somewhat undeserved credit. I mentioned however that all four of my grandparents were born in Queensland so I got additional respect for that.

I was home by 7:30 and Anne made us an excellent dinner of lamb cutlets and salad, which we washed down with a bottle of Tyrell's excellent Verdelho, though I had only one glass, in consideration of post-operative requirements.

And despite that rather large bite out of my day, I still put all my blogs up as usual. You can't keep a good blogger down, even if he does have a few raw patches on his face and body. I was however not in pain at any stage so that helped.

Monday, May 23, 2011

An amusing night

I rarely comment on the dinners for two that Anne and I have together but tonight has to be an exception. Anne had an invisible cabbage and burnt the majority of the sausages (though not badly) and I knocked over a glass of wine, breaking it and spilling the contents onto my lap. So a good time was had by all, with lots of laughs!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Lamb cutlets

How many lamb cutlets should one cook up as a meal for two? My answer: 16

I am sure that is far more than is usually contemplated as they are rather dear these days, but I follow my own rules.

I find them delicious but they are individually so small that I have steadily upped the amount that I order. Note that a much esteemed French dish -- rack of lamb -- consists of only FOUR cutlets.

So tonight Anne cooked up 16 cutlets, of which I had just over half. And with a good salad, French dressing on the salad and a bread roll (thickly spread with REAL butter), I actually thought that I ate a dinner tonight that was as good a dinner as anybody else in the world was eating!

You might guess that I like French cutlets! They must of course be cooked medium to medium rare and need plenty of salt on them.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Royal wedding

At some expense, Anne has bought a thick special issue of a women's magazine entirely devoted to colour pictures and information about the recent wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Spending time with an old Monarchist like me clearly has a corrupting influence! I entirely approve, of course. Courtesy of London's Daily Mail, I keep myself well-informed about the Royal family.

Anne liked Camilla's hat. And if you don't know who Camilla is you are just not with it at all, at all.

I myself thought that the best outfit of the occasion was the dress uniform of the Blues and Royals worn by Prince Harry.

(Prince Harry wore the Blues and Royals officer’s uniform in Dismounted Review Order, with a Forage Cap. He also chose not to wear a sword though the uniform did have sword slings)

The dress uniforms of the British military are in general rather splendid -- in keeping with the record of success of British arms.

And the Royal family are a military family so have every right to wear British military uniforms -- which they frequently do on formal occasions.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mothers' day

Paul and his Susan put on an excellent brunch for Jenny and Nanna at their place and invited me along too.

Susan excelled herself by putting on a breakfast that had it all: bacon, black pudding, scrambed egg, chipolatas, blueberry pancakes and potato cakes. She also had a banana and nut sauce for the pancakes and icecream too. Quite remarkable and inventive. She is quite a cook. And in consideration of Jenny it was all gluten-free too. Neither Nanna nor I would try the black pudding though.

As Nanna will soon turn 87, we discussed a bit what people used to eat in her day and noted how she has arrived at her age in reasonable health despite having a diet for most of her life that would give food freaks the horrors. All meat in those days was fried in dripping (beef fat) so they got a heavy dose of fat practically EVERY DAY! These days only oldies even know what dripping is.

I was also interested to hear that Jenny's father was a successful fisherman during the Depression, so that helped them to survive the hard times fairly well. Fish in those days was mostly cooked in dripping too -- and the custom of covering it with batter made sure you got an extra heavy dose of animal fat! Batter soaks up fat.

We chatted quite a bit about politics -- with Ms Gillard's latest brainwave of sending illegal immigrants to Malaysia evoking many groans.

We asked around for news of Joe and I was able to provide a little. We all respect that this is his time for independence, though. We were all very pleased to note that his "addiction" is not to tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, heroin, cocaine or "speed" but rather to -- wait for it -- Milk! Many parents would envy that!

I drove the Humber out but was by myself as Anne was being entertained by one of her sons.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Hannah is now 5 months old

There's nothing cuter than a baby in a beanie!

Von has fond memories of the time when we all lived at Riverstone Rd. in Gordonvale. I think it shows that even at an early age she had good taste as I myself regard that house as the best I have ever owned.

She made some reference to it in her most recent email. We had a really good crop of lemons on the lemon tree at the time and I thought that maybe we should make lemonade from them. We did and then I had the idea that maybe we should do the American thing and get the girls to sell lemonade by the side of the road. So we set the girls up with a card table and some folding chairs by the side of the road with a sign offering lemonade for a dollar a cup (or was it 50c?)

That was a great hit. People driving past would see these two pretty little girls selling lemonade and would come to a screeching halt to buy some. They had never seen such a thing before so stopped mainly out of curiosity, I imagine. Even the local cop stopped to buy some. Riverstone Rd is the main road into Gordonvale so they had plenty of passing trade.

Everyone was of course very nice to them and they got to keep the money as well! So they had a lot of fun.

And Von remembers that episode with great fondness. One of my eccentric ideas has become a treasured memory for her. She has now planted a lemon tree so her daughter will one day be able to do the same.

UPDATE: Von advises as follows: "The Lemonade was 50c a glass and Susan and I saved the money we earned from the stand to spend at some show if I remember correctly. We used the little vegemite glasses, do you remember them?"

I do indeed remember Vegemite glasses: Once ubiquitous and always absurd. A purely Australian folly, I think. They were a sort of plague that you couldn't avoid.

UPDATE 2: Suzy has emailed me to say that the lemonade stand is one of her fondest memories from childhood too so I am glad that I thought to put the story online. At the time, I thought the idea up as a bit of fun, never dreaming that it would leave such a lasting impression

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Susans and the Simons

Having two Susans and 2 or 3 Simons in the family is a bit of a problem. In both speaking and in writing how do we know which one we are referring to? Context eventually bails us out of course but it would be nice to have more clarity from the beginning.

The Simons are easy: There's Vonnie's Simon, Tracy's Simon and George's Simon (though we haven't seen that Simon for a while).

But the Susans seem to be insoluble. "Paul's Susan" is not too bad but Paul does after all have two Susans: His wife and his sister. But that is not really a problem. When we say "Paul's Susan" everybody understands that the Susan concerned is his wife.

So how to we refer to Paul's sister? We could say "Russell's Susan" but that would not feel right as she was "our" Susan long before she was Russell's. Not that there is any disrespect to Russell in that. His devotion to Suzy is all we could ask. Suzy is precious to all her family so her having a husband who also regards her that way is a great relief. So we could refer to her by her married surname but who uses surnames in referring to family members?

The only other option is referrring to her as "Twinny Susan" and that sounds a bit wet. Definitely an insoluble problem. I think I usually refer to her as "Suzy" but not everyone else does or wishes to.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Dinner with Kenneth and Maureen

We arrived at Kuraby at 5pm after a bit of demon driving through the peak-hour traffic and as we walked in the door Ken was playing mood music on his new electric goanna. It certainly sounded good. Maybe acoustic pianos will become obsolete soon.

Maureen dished up an incredible spread with various appetizers and lots of different dishes for the main course. And everything was excellent. And I got a reward for always mentioning how good Maureen's pavlovas are. She made a super-duper layered one for dessert.

At one stage we were discussing old cars and houses -- which Ken sees little point in and I remarked that he was just not sentimental. Ken said: "Yes, I am". Whereupon Maureen shouted out from the kitchen: "You are not"! So Ken got a bit undermined there. But he retained his good cheer.

I can't remember much of what else we talked about but I think we covered a lot of ground.

At one stage Ken got Von and Paul on Skype from NZ so we heard a live account of their canoe adventure.

Towards the end of the evening we got talking about Pauline Hanson and racism -- in complete defiance of the old advice never to discuss religion and politics on social occasions. But Ken and I know one-another of old so we retained good cheer despite Ken having the usual view about Pauline while Anne and I think well of her.

Ken seemed at first to be in favour of "affirmative action" but my claim that it was racist seemed to moderate his views somewhat. Not your everyday dinner-table topic! But Ken is good natured and knows that I am pretty ornery so I think he just enjoyed the back and forth: Which is more mature than a lot of people could manage.

I pushed my luck with the beverages a bit, having champagne, Merlot and Cointreau. But I got home without police challenge so all was well. I took the Echo as I had surgery on my hand yesterday and it was still a bit sore. The Humber has very heavy steering so that was out of the question with a sore hand.


Another very small incident which may nonetheless be worth recording was when I very "incorrectly" remarked: "When I see reports of people younger than me dying, I tend to feel rather pleased". Maureen was in the kitchen area at the time but I got a big smile from her in response to that. I imagine that she enjoyed the "incorrectness" and frankness of it.

The older you get the more you feel pleased at your survival, I think. Almost the very first thing nonagenarians say to you is: "I'm 90, you know!" There are a lot of nonagenarians in Australia so I have heard it often. Anne's mother is still alive at 93.

Update 2

After Paul had related on Skype how their canoe had got out of control and tossed both him and Von into the freezing river water, Ken chimed in with an admonition that they should have been wearing life jackets. That went down like a lead balloon with Paul -- as I could tell from his silence in response. Father and son there do NOT see eye to eye in most things. I had some sympathy for Ken on that occasion, however. Hearing that two of your children had nearly drowned has got to be stressful.

Unless I have been directly asked for advice, I don't think I ever tell Paul or Joe to do anything. I just offer information about what the consequences of any course of action are likely to be and leave them to integrate that into their own thinking however they may. I have never been disappointed at the result of that.

And I never really need to say anything to Von. She always makes good decisions. Or I think so anyway.

Good new and bad news from NZ

The good news is a great photo of Hannah being fed solids for the first time. She seems to be saying, "Wow! This is great stuff".

The bad news is that Paul and Von nearly killed themselves in a canoeing accident. They ended up OK though.