Monday, February 28, 2011

Two departures

Vonnie, Simon and Hannah are departing soon for the Shaky Isles. And they are going via Christchurch! So I organized a big family sendoff dinner at my usual Indian restaurant on Saturday night. There were 21 people plus three babies present, including George, who was in excellent spirits.

I managed to get in a bit of a chat with Von about baby matters but found, rather as I expected, that she was already thinking along the same lines. She is a very sensible young woman and we have always got on well.

The occasion was also supposed to be a sendoff for Joe but something came up and he had to leave on Saturday morning so missed the big family dinner. He actually drove down to Canberra in his Toyota Corolla, much to the disquiet of his mother and me.

I did however manage to corral him for a Friday night curry dinner on my verandah. There were only six of us for that dinner (including Paul, Sue, Anne and Jenny) but it was quite a fun dinner with lots of chat.

I spilt rather a lot of curry on the tablecloth at one stage, which greatly amused Joe. His sense of humour has not changed since he was 2. At that age, his favourite joke was: "The boy fell in the mud".

Joe told us quite a bit about his exploratory trip to Canberra and the ANU, including his encounter with the endemic socialism there. His exploratory trip (by air) was to enrol and to arrange accomodation; and he did manage to get college accomodation.

He will be starting his Ph.D. studies anew at the ANU school of mathematics, the first two years being mainly involved in courses and reading, with the writing of his dissertation (using partial differential equations) left to the third year. So he should have plenty of time to enjoy the student life, which I am pleased about.

Update March 1

Joe had a relatively uneventful trip and arrived safe and sound in Canberra.

I forgot to mention something amusing about the dinner:

Suzy and Lena had a highchair and a pram to accomodate their babies at the dinner but Von had neither. Little Hannah was passed around like a parcel all night. She is a very placid baby so everyone who wanted a cuddle could get one. She was very popular.

Update 2

I hear that Joe has done a bit of quizzing of the many socialists at ANU. A bit unwise perhaps but it interested him to see how little thought many of them put into their beliefs.

Something that happened at his sendoff dinner was amusing. He said that he always orders the same thing at Indian restaurants. This was greeted with some surprise so he explained that when he found something he liked he couldn't see the point of ordering something that he might not like. Various people then said to him: "That's what John says", which is of course true. I doubt that he has ever heard me say that so it is another example of the power of genetics. He is not like me at all in appearance and personality but other similarities are numerous.

Update 3

Some pictures from the sendoff dinner:

Bottlescape: (champagne and water) with Jenny, Pam and Anne (L to R) in the background

A good photo of Russell and Sahara

Paul's Susan with Hannah and Timmy

Monday, February 14, 2011

Celebrating the day of a delisted saint

St. Valentine's day is named after about 14 early Christian martyrs named Valentine. Valentine was a popular name in those days. The holy day was established by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD. The saint himself, however was deleted from the Roman calendar of saints in 1969 by Pope Paul VI.

I bought Anne a big lot of small red carnations for the day, which I thought looked nice. Red roses were sold out by the time I got there. Anne seemed to be pleased with the offering.

We then went to the Kafe Meze for a Greek dinner. The Kafe Meze is a bit upmarket so is not usually busy but it sure was busy today: Glammed up ladies and nervous-looking men everywhere. The Kafe Meze looks small from the street but has been very extensively done up and goes back a long way so it can accomodate a lot of people. And it did exactly that tonight.

I have been there several times before so I recognize the owner. He was looking in very good spirits tonight! To give him his due however he had prepared well with lots of staff on hand and also pitched in himself to wait on customers etc. So our dinners arrived reasonably promptly and were superb. At one stage I asked him (as he was passing by) for more keftedes. He replied, "Of course!" -- as if that request were the most natural thing in all the world -- which it of course was on that occasion. His keftedes are normally good but tonight they were a pitch of perfection. And I wasn't drinking while I was there so that is a sober judgment! I didn't want to drink and drive so Anne and I waited to get home before we cracked a bottle of champagne.

We also had some dessert at home. Anne knows that I like plum pudding so she had brought some of that over -- with custard. We had dessert on the front verandah -- enjoying a cool breeze while watching the possums leaping about in the Mulberry tree outside.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Kammerphilharmonie Köln

Last night Anne and I went to St. John's cathedral for a concert by the Kammerphilharmonie Köln. As the name, implies, it is a chamber orchestra from Cologne, Germany. Having a chamber orchestra in such a large venue is slightly odd but the acoustics at St. John's are on the brilliant side -- all that bare stone -- so it worked well.

The program was (with one exception) some classical favourites by Bach, Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, Mozart and Handel. That was obviously popular -- as the whole of the nave of the cathedral and most of the transept was taken up by the audience. And St. John's is a large cathedral.

There were about 10 musicians on hand but not all were on stage at the same time. Who appeared depended on the piece. As is common with chamber groups there was no conductor. The finale of an excellent concert was Handel's beautiful "Ombra mai fu" (a largo from the opera "Xerxes"). It was well sung in Italian by the soprano. It's probably as well that it was in Italian as it actually a song in praise of a tree!

For me an interesting question was what has become of Volker Hartung? The occasion at St. John's had all the hallmarks of one of his ventures but he was not mentioned in the program notes nor is he mentioned on the orchestra's site.

When it was run as the Junge Philharmonie Köln he was the founder and director but something seems to have changed in 2003, when the new name was adopted. Was there a parting of the ways or has he simply retired behind the scenes? Maybe he has just gone on to other challenges. He seems to work as a professor of conducting and chamber music in Singapore these days: A long way from Köln for a Kölner!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Termite toast

This could well invite great opprobrium from Greenies and nature-lovers generally but I have just destroyed another termite infestation in my house so I am not feeling too kindly towards termites at the moment.

Fortunately the structural timbers in an "Old Queenslander" house are hardwood, which termites find a bit hard on their little jaws -- so infestations tend to do no serious structural damage in such houses. So the various attacks on my house don't take much to repair.

Anyway, the point about this post is to pass on a bit of old bush wisdom that I learnt many years ago from my father: Termite mounds (in the bush) burn. So if you knock the top off one and light it up, you have a very good damped fire for making toast. Just throw some bread on and you will soon have some of the tastiest toast you have ever eaten. It has a unique flavour. Though I guess it could depend a bit on what wood they have been eating.

So there is ONE good thing that comes from having termites around.

While I am talking about termites maybe I should dispense some termite wisdom. I am an old termite warrior from way back so I have seen a lot.

When most people are told that they have termites in their house they basically run screaming. And if the house is a modern brick veneer that is about all that they can reasonably do. The structural timbers in a modern house are pine -- which is a very soft wood. Termites go through it like a buzzsaw and soon your walls are flapping in the breeze. And at that point all you can usually do is pull the house down and start again.

In an older house, however, it will be only the softwood (floors, walls etc.) that is destroyed. The hardwood framework will have been attacked but not enough to reduce drastically its load-bearing capacity. Hardwood is amazing stuff. So you poison the termites and nail new floorboards or wallboards onto your framework and you are as good as new again. It just costs you a bit of timber and a couple of days work by a carpenter or handyman.

But most people don't know that so run screaming from old houses too. And that is how I bought my house for a tenth of what it is now worth. It had a whole bedroom floor eaten out by termites when I bought it. The floor concerned was just a couple of inches above the ground, however, so I just got a rubbish man to cart it away and poured concrete where it had been. I'd like to see the termites try their jaws on that!

But in my experience you never get rid of termites and I have had at least half a dozen infestations in the last 20 years or so. To me it's just routine maintenance to deal with them.

Pest control people always try to talk you into spending thousands of dollars on putting a poison "barrier" around your house to prevent future infestations but that is just malarkey. There are at least 3 reasons why such barriers don't work:

1). The termites are inside it already;

2). The chemicals these days are pissweak. They degrade in around 12 months so don't bother the termites for long. If the Greenies would allow us to use Dieldrin instead, however, there might be some point in it. Dieldrin never seems to degrade from what I can see. We used it for years but it is now "carcinogenic", they say.

3). Most flying ants are termites so they can fly right inside your property without having to burrow through any soil. I get an annual flight of them.

And pest control people are mostly a laugh anyway. On a couple of occasions I have had them tell me that one of my properties is "clear", only for me to say: "Put your listening gadget here". "Oh yeah"! they then say. They miss a lot. They are good at pumping Termidor into an existing infestation and killing it -- but not much else.

There are a few people who try to evade termites by building steel-framed houses. I mustn't laugh! You need to be pretty noise-tolerant to live in a steel house. Steel expands and contracts according to the temperature -- something that timber does not do. And it makes a lot of noise as it expands and contracts: pops and creaks and groans etc. Some steel houses "sing". There's no "get out of jail free" card with termites. You just have to be vigilant.

There's always the old double brick construction method, of course. Nothing for termites to eat there. But you have to be on very stable ground and your dampcourse has to hold up. Once that fails you have rising damp -- and that is VERY hard to defeat. Been there. Done that.

Speaking of Dieldrin, I had a great pest control guy years ago whom I used to get to spray my houses for pests such as cockroaches. I suspect that he must have collared a good supply of Dieldrin before it was banned because he would first spray my houses with the "safe" chemicals (safe for bugs too) and if that did not work completely he would come back and spray some of "the good stuff" around -- which always worked like a charm. But he did die of cancer in his mid-50s ...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A grand imperial conclave

With Anne, I attended today my very first Grand Imperial Conclave of the Knights of the Red Cross of Constantine -- at my local masonic hall. The occasion was the enthronement of a most illustrious grand sovereign. That is he above. You would think they would give him a crown, wouldn't you? He's a very nice guy actually. The local masons have chosen well.

It was a very elaborate ceremonial carried out very well. We also had a modest lunch afterward. I was slightly surprised at how Christian the whole occasion was. Pomp and circumstance has been associated with religion for a very long time so the Masons are bearers of an old tradition in that regard.

I enjoyed the old hymns ("Onward Christian soldiers"; "When I survey the wondrous cross") and was also pleased to hear both the Australian national anthem and the Royal anthem rendered well. We had a loyal toast during lunch too, as is appropriate in a monarchy, which Australia is.

They had a beadle-cum-M.C. running the show who was very impressive: Stern and stentorian but with a keen sense of humour that burst out from time to time. I asked him if he was an ex-army man but he said not. He would have made a great RSM

Freemasonry is not my cup of tea but I wish them well. I am sure they are a positive influence. There was a lot of joy in the gathering I saw. Anne liked the fact that the men were all spiffingly turned-out -- in formal white jackets etc.

I myself do in fact own a grey tailsuit, complete with dickey-fronted shirt, white waistcoat and white tie but I can't fit into it these days. At age 67 I am still a growing boy -- but not in the right direction, unfortunately.


I wonder if I should mention a VERY small point about the lunch:

For drinks we were offered: light beer, Lemonade, Golden Circle Sarsaparilla and Ballantynes's Scotch whisky. Being an old Queenslander from way back, I chose Sarsaparilla. So I am slightly embarrassed to say that I toasted the Queen in Sarsaparilla! I have never liked drinking alcohol during the day and Sars is a real Queensland drink. It is only in recent decades that you have been able to get it in Southern states. Americans would recognize it as a form of root beer.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"And well we weren esed atte beste"

That's the English of 600 years ago.

Being old can be rather disturbing. It alerts you to what is possible. And one thing I know to be possible is that one can in country schools of no distinction gain an infinitely better education than one gets in just about ANY school today. I know that because I had such an education.

My education at Innisfail State Rural School and Cairns High School left me with an awareness of Homer, Chaucer, Robert Burns, Tennyson, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, G.M. Hopkins and many others. It even introduced me to Schubert Lieder, Dvorak, Bach and that marvellous prewar tenor Josef Schmidt. I doubt that even Eton does as much these days. Yet all those things remain with me and give me pleasure. Even the Latin I learnt then has often been helpful.

And note that some of the authors were distinctly "difficult". What is a "daimen icker in a thrave"? To understand one of the most famous Burns poems you need to know that it means "a single ear in a sheaf". And we learnt that. And to this day I celebrate the birthday of Robert Burns every year.

The Chaucer quote at the head of this post did pose some difficulty, however, The teacher didn't know what it meant and nor could I figure it out at that age. Some time in recent years it has become clear to me what it means, however, and it is of course very simple. It means "And well we were eased, at the best". The Tabard was obviously a very good inn on the way to Canterbury 600 years ago. It would be a rare schoolboy today who knows of that journey, however.

And if the greats of English literature and classical music seem irrelevant, let me also note that I learnt enough physics by age 16 to see immediately (many years later) what a hoax the global warming scare is. One only has to know the melting point of ice to see that.

Would you believe that when Warmists talk about recent temperature changes, they are talking about changes in terms of tenths and even hundredths of one degree? Just look at the calibrations on any of their graphs.

How such tiny changes are ever going to melt the VERY cold Antarctic boggles the imagination