Friday, December 28, 2012

Pics from NZ

In the belief that some of the many  beautiful pics Von sends us from NZ might gain appreciation outside the family, I occasionally put some up on Facebook accompanied by my comments. Here are the latest:

My comments:  Little lambs are cuddly.  And they inspired one of the greatest poems in English -- by Blake.  But in no time at all you have a large SHEEP instead

My comments:  A little Dutch girl with her Dutch grandfather.  She's eating peas fresh from the garden.  In New Zealand.  Such a kind face. No wonder she loves her "Poppy".

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


I got up too late to go to church.  Had a leisurely breakfast of croissants and jam with Anne instead.  I am rather nonplussed at how early most of the Christmas church sevices are.  There is a rather nice Anglican church just one block away from where I live but their Christmas service is at 7am!  Whom are they kidding?  At least it is 9:30am at the cathedral.  When I used to be a regular at Presbyterian services in the '60s, the morning service began at 11am!  Much more civilized.

I got to the family Christmas do at Paul's place at about noon and talked mainly to Joe.

The lunch was ham plus roast lamb plus roast chicken, all of which were good.

After lunch Paul skyped Vonnie in from NZ and we all had a chat with her. I missed seeing her at the do on 23rd.  Practically all the family were there except her.  So it was good to catch up.  I discovered that I had bought Hannah a bicycle with trainer wheels for Christmas, which she really liked.  I just tell people (mainly Jenny) to buy whatever they think fit as presents from me and I just pay, which is a very satisfactory arrangement for all concerned.  I have selected some great gifts that way!

The biggest excitement for the day (aside from seeing Von) was the dessert:  Trifle PLUS  Pavlova -- two of my favourites.

I found Timmy lying flat on the floor of the billiards room at one stage.  I think he had been bending the elbow a bit much.  But otherwise everybody just sat around talking.  It was a relaxing and congenial party rather than an eventful one.

About 3pm Joe and I left for my place and we had chats over a  cup of tea on my verandah -- discussing "secret men's business".  I was pleased that he seems to have no money problems.  He lives on his scholarship income without difficulty.  I have always been that way too.  We also discovered a few more parallels between our lives -- things that I did when I was younger and similar things that he has done recently.

Joe has taken a great interest in diet, health and fitness in recent times so he told me a bit more about that.  He seems to be  putting it into practice in a reasonable way.  He certainly looks fit.

Hannah on her new bike

Monday, December 24, 2012

Big Christmas lunch

Suz and Russell put on a traditional Christmas lunch today that also featured what has become a family tradition:  A secret Santa event plus a mystery present event.  Everybody brings along a wrapped $10 present for the latter event and people draw lots to select a present one after the other.   And presents can be claimed from  previous lot-drawers, which is always a high-spirited event.

And after that we had the kiddy present event, where only the little ones got presents.  For that I gave Sahara a "First Bible", which was a rather kiddy-proof collection of illustrated Bible stories.  Susan reminded me that I had given her a book of Bible stories when we sent her to the Catholic schoool in Gordonvale -- which she had good memories of.  So Saharah's "First Bible" got a good welcome.

Russ cooked some good ham and roast pork and after the present hi-jinks we had a variety of dessert offerings.  I plumped for the trifle as usual.

Simon was seated across from me at the dinner table with Joe and Paul also in close proximity.  Simon's British background makes him surprisingly politically correct for a military man so we had an interesting discusion when we somehow got into mention of Africans.  I made some observation about the high rates of African crime and Simon asked me to what I attributed that. I replied that it was ancestral, which agitated Simon a bit.  He had been told all his life that it was "poverty" that lay behind disruptive black behaviour and saw that attribution as a moral issue:  To see any ancestral influence was immoral.

I replied along the D.P. Moynihan lines that you are entitled to your own opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts  -- pointing out that every African population everywhere was poor and crime-ridden, regardless of the quite varied social and government arrangements under which they live.  So that can be seen as a problem regardless of your opinion of its genesis.

Someone had apparently told Simon that Brazil was an example of a society without racial frictions depite its large African and mestizo population -- but I pointed out that wealth and poverty are highly correlated with skin colour there too, with blacks at the bottom, mestizos in the middle and whites running things. That seemed to wrap things up for Simon

I am quite sorry that I appear to have distressed him but "facts are chiels that winna ding", as the Scots say.  And facts have the last say as far as I am concerned.  Paul was quite pleased that I just presented the facts in a calm and dispassionate way as he sees no moral issues in the matter either.

The festive table

Ava Marie was looking pretty in her red frock

Everybody loves Dusty but there's no love like mother love

Friday, December 21, 2012

Dinner with Joe

Joe mostly lives in Canberra so opportunities for us to get together for a chat are few.  Last night, however,  I shouted him a dinner at my usual Greek restaurant, including beer.  I think it is the first time I have had a beer with my son so that is a bit of a landmark.

He arrived at my place about 5:30 pm so before we left I took the opportunity to play him my latest audio discovery:  An immaculate performance of Beethoven's piano concerto no. 5 with Emil Gilels as soloist.  It reduced me to tears (of joy) when first I heard it.

Fortunately, Joe likes classical music too.  Here is another audio treasure I must also play him some time soon.  An amazing performance of Bedrich Smetana's "Vltava" by two Japanese ladies.

Amazing what you can do with a Steinway.  Joe is himself a pianist so he may have a particular appreciation of both above works.

Anyway, Joe told me a lot about his life in Canberra over dinner, which  I was interested to hear.  I offered various words of advice at different stages but, as usual, he had already arrived at similar conclusions by himself.  He and I are quite different in personality and appearance but the mental similarities are considerable.

After dinner we went back to my place and had a cup of tea with some Smetana selections playing in the background.  Joe asked me quite a bit about my recollections of times past and there were a few laughs in that!  I myself find it rather amazing that I wore platform heels in the 70s!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Christening

Matthew is now a Catholic.  Neither Paul nor Susan are religious but Susan was brought up a Catholic so liked the idea of her son  following in her footsteps.  I also pointed out to Paul that religion can be helpful at giving direction to young people so, despite his own lack of background, Paul was quite happy to give Matthew that identity.  Ken has always been basically anti-religious but even he came along to the ceremony.  So Matthew had all four grandparents along to witness his introduction into the church.

Joe acted as godfather and a Filipina lady who is Susan's stepmother acted as godmother.  Both were very pleased to do so.  Joe became a Catholic by choice and religion was his best subject at school! Like a lot of Catholics he is pretty "lapsed" these days, however.

Matthew is only one-and-a-bit years old but he's more the size of an average two year old.  Having a 6' tall mother is responsible for a lot of that.  So when his godmother was holding him during the blessing, it was a bit amusing.  Like almost all Filipinas she is a little lady of only about 5' tall and Matthew looked quite a lump for her to be carrying.

The church at Kedron was quite nice.  It was modern without being too modern -- something that only Catholics seem to be able to carry off in their church designs.  Modern Protestant churches usually look horrible to me.  I like some old-fashioned dignity in a church building.

The service was conducted by a young priest from Vietnam.  There is such a lack of vocations in Australia that the church is now very dependent on clergy from overseas.

Matthew didn't much like getting the chrism put on his forehead but he liked the font.  He managed to get his hand in and have a bit of a splash at one point.  The priest poured quite a bit of water on his head (affusion), slightly to my surprise.  Most Protestants just give you a sprinkling (aspersion), I think (Baptists excepted, of course).

I gave Matthew about a dozen old boy's books as a baptismal present.  Paul wants him to be a reader and the old books have plenty of good yarns in them.  They are the sort of books I read as a boy.

After the service, we adjourned to Susan's father's place for a BBQ, where we got plenty of good food and had lots of chats. With Joe in town we wanted to hear from him and it was a good occasion to do so.  Joe has put himself on a "Paleo" diet and it seems to suit him.  There is no fat on him.  He also does gym, boxing, weightlifting etc so he is in very good shape physically.  Unusual for a mathematician, I think.

Someone asked me today about the difference between a Christening and a baptism.  And the answer is that "Christening" is the popular term for what happens when you take your kid to get baptised.  But a Christening actually includes two rites (a rite is a church ceremony):  The rite of Chrismation and the rite of Baptism.  Chrismation is when the kid gets the holy axle-grease spread on his forehead.  So most people are not aware of it but there is a difference in meaning between the two terms.

Receiving the affusion (He got a taste of the holy water)

With parents and Godparents

A strong likeness between Matthew and his maternal grandmother

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A third car

At my stage in life, I don't like driving very much but I have somehow become the owner of 3 cars.  I have had the Echo since 2005 and that is what I mainly drive but I also have my 1963 Humber Super Snipe for Sunday driving

Anne has however just bought a new car -- a Corolla -- and the car dealer offered her only $500 for her 1998 Toyota Starlet, which rather upset her as she has found it a very good car.  So I upped the offer and bought it off her instead.  Fixing minor problems, re-registering it and insuring it however cost me a bit too  -- but not as much as I expected.

But in the end I think I got a good car very cheaply and have set it aside for Joe to drive whenever he is in Brisbane.  By my count that is 4 cars I have given him but the first two were on their last legs.  He never asks for things but he has an indulgent father.  It doesn't seem to have spoilt him.

Anyway, arranging the insurance and changing the registration took Anne and me most of the morning, which I had predicted  but certainly did not enjoy.  There must be a simpler way!  It's amazing the questions insurance companies ask and everybody knows about the long lines of people waiting to talk to government car registration agencies.

Joe, Anne and I had lunch together at my usual haunt before I handed over the car and Joe filled us in a bit about his life in the ACT.

Tonight I shouted Anne a dinner at a restaurant we like to make up for all the aggravation during the day.  They have very cold beer there, which drags me in rather often now that it is summer.  One of the food items I ordered was Nachos.  It came with a pink topping comprised of sweet chilli sauce combined with sour cream.  It tasted great!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A welcome home

Anne put on a lunch for the weary travellers just returned from the USA and UK -- Paul, Susan and Matthew

Anne made  some very good ham sandwiches to her own recipe which went down rapidly -- and she followed that up with some mini-Pavlovas topped with mango, cream etc.

We talked mainly about the big trip and Paul seemed to like Scotland best of all the places he visited.  We also talked about British public schools and the possibility of Matthew being sent to one in due course.

Matthew had of course forgotten me completely so seemed a bit scared of me at first but he soon got over that.  He had great fun with a pink balloon which entertained us all.  He sure is a little livewire.

But that was not the end of the day's social activities.  That night Joe rang me to say that officialdom required my birth certificate as part of his application for a passport.  I think they dream up these things just to make life difficult for people.  There was no such requirement for around 100 years so why now?

Anyway I scrabbled around and found a copy of the certificate and ran it over to Joe at Jenny's place.  And while I was there we all had a cup of tea and discussed family trusts, real estate, divorce etc.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dr Cotter, the local doctor during my childhood in Innisfail

Probably the greatest misfortune of my life occurred at a time when I was totally unaware of it.

I have frequently-occurring skin cancers, far more frequent than anything my parents ever had.  White people growing up in the tropics do tend to suffer a lot from skin cancer  -- mostly BCCs and SCCs -- as fair skin of Northern European origin (particularly Irish skin) is not at all suited to the direct sunlight of the tropics. The grey skies of England, Scotland and Ireland are its natural habitat.

But my frequency of BCCs and SCCs is extreme.  I have at least  half a dozen procedures a year to zap the worst of them.

So how come?  How come I get them so badly?  The answer is rather clear.  In about the first two thirds of the 20th century lots of kids were given low doses of arsenic for various reasons.  One such preparation was "Bell's compound" cough syrup.  It appears to have originated in the USA but was very popular for a while in Queensland.  And its legacy years later, for those who had a lot of it, is arsenic-weakened skin that frequently degenerates into  cancer.

And I had a lot of upper respiratory ailments as a kids, largely due, I think, to the fact that I have a deflected septum.  I was not in fact given Bell's compound but rather Dr Cotter's own "pink mixture" which would appear to have reflected the popular wisdom of the day about the utility of arsenic in combating coughs and colds.  So the fact that I had a LOT of it has come back to haunt me.  The toxicity of everything is in the dose so for most people the arsenic probably did no harm.  It's only when arsenic builds up that the harm occurs.

So Doctor Cotter unwittingly harmed me.  He died in 1972 so it is too late to remonstrate with him now and he was in fact a distinguished medical scientist in his day.  He was in fact responsible for eliminating Weil's disease from the sugarcane industry. Seeing my father was a canecutter for a while Dr Cotter may well have also done me a great favour.  The biography of Timothy John Patrick Cotter  is here.  He was of Irish Catholic origins and an opponent of government-run healthcare.  As the bio notes, he was an early adopter of sulfonamides  and I do remember his prescription of "M&Bs"

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Why don't all Greenies move to New Zealand?

I put this up on one of my daily blogs (Greenie Watch) but I thought perhaps it had a place here too:

New Zealand has a-plenty the sort of clean Green life that Greenies claim they want while also being a modern country where you can drink the water and speak English to everyone.  An excerpt from a private blog written by a mother who has moved to a small town in New Zealand:

"The vege garden is another place my and Simon's time disappears into -- as we plant, weed & fertilise our pretty vast garden in the hope of having a large enough crop so we always have access to fresh organic veges whenever we like.  It is an amazingly liberating feeling to have control of our food sources and we are learning more and more everyday about what it means to be a vege and fruit gardener.  Also stay tuned as my Roses have just started to flower.. They are BEAUTIFUL!!

Last Monday the Playcentre organised a trip to a farm which is owned by one of the Playcentre families.  The farm was HUGE and on arrival we all met and drove up to the cow milking shed.  We had a tour then headed to a paddock which contained some pigs and also a herd of calves.  There were great hay piles to climb and we enjoyed watching the calves being fed by a big trailer full of milk covered in teats for the calves to suckle.  We then had some morning tea near the farm houses and then fed some lambs.  Once that was done we headed to the farm owner's house and enjoyed a sausage sizzle and the kids played together in the large back yard and tennis court.  We also had a celebration for one of the boys who is turning 5 which means  he starts school.  Kids start school on their 5th birthday in New Zealand which I feel is a nice way to transition the kids into school."

And the little two-year old girl in the family loves the lambs her family has adopted (Below)

I don't think Greenies know what they want

Monday, December 3, 2012

Lunch with Joe

Joe arrived back in Brisbane yesterday so we had lunch together today.  I  wanted to tell him a few things that you only learn from experience about Ph.D. studies, so that he could cruise through his.  I also wanted to sort out a few things about my will and was pleased that Joe looked forward to inheriting the Humber.  We also talked about me selling my present house  as I should be able to make a better job of that than Paul and Joe would after my death.  So it was mainly a fairly serious conversation.

We lunched at my usual brunch haunt in Buranda