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.