Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New year's eve

Jenny very kindly put on a party in her BBQ area at her place for a few of us even though she was not feeling very well.  It was basically for the twins with family plus Nanna, Anne and myself.

Simon did most of the cooking and made some kofta for us, which was very good.   Anne brought along a bowl of Liptauer for the occasion, which was much appreciated as a dip.  I asked Simon how come he does the cooking in his house and he replied that Von was so limited that he HAD to learn.  Apparently he was not much of a cook before meeting Von.

The kids had a great time running around Jenny's back yard with Dusty in particular being a ball of energy.

At one stage the ladies were upstairs so I had the two young fathers to myself.  I used the occasion to propagandize them about the importance of fathers to daughters -- something that is not always realized.  But I am sure that both Simon and Russ love their daughters anyway so I probably did not need to speak.  Von said later that Hannah is a Daddy's Girl and Russ involves himself very actively with his children so both girls should have it all.

At the end of the evening, I took Von upstairs and announced that I was going to tell her a secret.  She said she is good at keeping secrets.  There will be much curiosity about what the secret is but I doubt that it will leak out -- though I think she will have to tell her husband  -- but he doesn't say anything anyway (OK, I'm exaggerating -- a little).  It's just a fun thing.


Anne stayed at my place overnight and helped us to welcome in the new year with a good breakfast the next morning.  It was fried pork chipolata sausages with plenty of fried onion, a fried egg and fried tomato -- plus toast of course.  It was a traditional English breakfast in other words.  Though I think she fried it all in olive oil.  I don't keep a fat pot.  Fat pots have far from died out in ethnic British circles but they are on the wane.

So the breakfast was delicious and much enjoyed despite it being everything that the food freaks deplore.  I have always ignored all food fads anyway but the latest thinking is that fat is good for you so I think I have the last laugh one way or the other.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A double celebration

For lunch today I went to a small do put on by one of Anne's nephews principally for his immediate family. Not much happened except that two little girls aged about 2 or 3 ran around all the time.  They had such a good time that it was a delight to see.

And the lady with the legs was there.  Her father was some improbable height so her long legs were to be expected.  And I was pleased that she obviously knows that they look good  -- as even at family occasions she keeps them well displayed.  She wore a very short skirt today.  She is, however, a perfectly amiable young lady.

And tonight I went over to Jenny's place for a BBQ.  Paul, Joe  and Von were meant to be the principal guests but Paul felt too knackered to come.  He has had a very active Christmas.  So present were Von, Simon, Hannah, Joe, Nanna, Jenny and myself.  We had it in Jenny's backyard.

Jenny cooked up a variety of BBQ meats plus lots of extras.  One lot of extras that I particularly liked were some sliced mangoes.

As I have become something of a cook myself in recent months, I noticed something that I might not otherwise have done.  I noticed that Jenny had given us a profusion of fried onion to go with our meat.  I deduced that Jenny must  have cut up a lot of onions to give us that.  So I said to her: "You must have cut up three onions for that".  She replied:  "Yes.  Three big ones".  Jenny enjoys cooking so she clearly has learnt important stuff.  And the importance of fried onions is hard to overstate

Joe did various gymnastics in the yard to entertain Hannah and that really got Hannah in.  She tried to imitate what Joe did.  She got pretty wound up.

I gave Joe a 75X telescope as a Christmas present.  I felt I should have given him one as a boy so I hope he still has some boy in him.  They were all planning to look at the sky through it when I left.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Christmas that was

My Christmas celebrations began last Sunday with a visit to a Christmas carols service at Wynnum Presbyterian church, where Anne's sister Merle goes.

The selection of carols was excellent and they were well performed.  My only beef was that the minister inserted a long and boring sermon into the middle of it.  The sermon was about trust in God and may in fact have been well-tailored to the young people in the congregation but was too repetitious and old-hat for me.  Anne didn't like the sermon much either.

They also however put on a supper afterward which had quite good food -- including some Sushi.  I was going to say something clever to the minister about his narthex but, being old,  I couldn't quite  remember such a hard word.  So I made a comment about his transept which he didn't reply to at all.  Maybe he was wise.

And today, Christmas day, was a big gathering of the clan at Paul's place.  Anne and I arrived in my 50-year-old Humber Super Snipe at about noon.  Susan did a great job glazing the big ham and there was all sorts of other food.  Somebody forgot the bread, though.  I was sitting opposite Tracy's Simon at table which was lucky as he always has interesting things to say.

Being a bit crass, I said at one stage:  "Simon is being very well mannered, eating his drumstick with a knife and fork".  Simon shot straight back with a smile "British officer".  And indeed he is, though he is in the Australian armed forces these days.

He started out in the Royal Navy at age 16. Transfers from the Australian armed forces to the British ones and vice versa don't seem to be much trouble.  The similarities in practice are large.

As evidence of that look at the two pix below.  One is the redoubtable Capt. Mainwaring from "Dad's Army" set in WWII and the other is of me in Australia back in the 60's.  We are wearing the same uniform, now superseded I believe.  It was called "Battle Dress" and was nice and cosy for the cool English climate.

And Simon is no chocolate soldier.  Australia deployed him to Afghanistan 2 or 3 times.  There was some comment about it being bad to wear uniforms but since both Simon and I have worn our  country's uniform we didn't agree with that at all.

Simon, Ken and I talked quite a bit about ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.  Simon sees a lot of continuity between those times and now.

We didn't talk much about modern times, though I mentioned the tragic sinking of the Royal Oak at Scapa Flow during WWII. So many drowned children!   The commander of the base at Scapa Flow had made the most urgent representations to navy HQ about the harbour not being safe against submarine penetration and urging more barriers.  The navy ignored him.  So when a sub got in and sank the Royal Oak, who did the navy blame for the loss?  If you know anything about the British armed forces, the answer is obvious:  The commander of the base at Scapa Flow

We discussed various religions for a while and we all agreed that Warmism is a religious cult.

Paul has recently revived his swimming pool and all the kids had a good time in it.  The kids got heaps of presents.

Anne and I were both pretty tired by about 4pm so we left at that stage.   After I took Anne home I went home and had a big nap but I was back up again in time for the Queen's Christmas message.  I actually missed a couple of minutes of it as someone had switched off the power switch at the side of the TV.  It took me a while to figure that out.  There have been some little fiddle fingers in that room recently.


I took some nice big slices of ham home from the party  (I bought the ham in the first place) so next morning I made up some big ham & mustard sandwiches, picked up Anne and went to North Wynnum to have  breakfast by the sea.  Anne bought a thermos for the tea. It was very quiet and we had great breezes so we really enjoyed it.

It was a bit of a drama buying fresh bread for the sandwiches as most of the bakeries were closed.  I finally got a very fresh loaf from a Chinese bakery at Tingalpa.

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Everybody likes dosas and we have a good dosa restaurant near me so any excuse is a good excuse for dosas.  As I have done before, I took Von and Co. to the dosa restaurant as part of their welcome back to Brisbane.

It was a jolly occasion much taken up with the kids -- Matthew and Hannah particularly.  Those two walked to the restaurant from their mother's car holding hands!  Matthew is definitely in love -- and with such a good-looking girl to love you can understand it.

Hannah as usual acquitted herself well with the dosa  -- getting into it like an old pro.  Part of the attraction of dosas is the fun of figuring out how to eat them.  The ones we get are enormous.

After the dosas we went back to my sitting room and just relaxed over cups of tea.  I had choc chip biscuits as usual for Paul but he didn't get as many this time.  Others got into them as well.  At my place the kids provided most of the entertainment too.  Hannah and Matthew rediscovered the way my house is good for running around in circles.

Von was nicely dressed in a full skirt and a summery top but she always looks good anyway.  When she was a little girl Jenny and I used to say that she would look good in a paper bag.  Vonnie greatly disliked that saying as she thought that we might one day actually dress her in a paper bag!  I had the privilege of driving  Von from  the restaurant to my place in my Humber Super Snipe.  As Von remarked, it was a revival of the many drives I took her on when she was a girl.

The lovers

Thursday, December 19, 2013


This time of the year is of course a big time for socializing and I have got into that too

On Tuesday, Joe and I had lunch at the Phams.  We mainly talked about what he expects to be doing next year and talked about his interest in becoming a romantic novelist.  He has lots of options now that his Ph.D. studies seem to have ground to a halt.

On Wednesday (yesterday) Von & Simon moved from Ken's place to Paul's.  They don't like to impose on any one person for long.  Susan let me know about it and we arranged for me to come over that night for a chat.  Susan fed us some very good spring rolls.  We mainly discussed family matters but it was a good night.

Paul was a bit louder than usual.  I suspect he had been doing a bit of Christmas drinking.  But he keeps us talking, which is all to the good.  I talked to Von a fair bit.  We had a bit of a laugh about her food intake.  She is as slim as can be but Hoovers up any food around the place  -- just like Paul and Ken.  A lot of women would like to know how she does it.

Another thing we discussed: Jenny told Von recently that even when she was a little girl she said she wanted to marry a man who does the cooking.  Von has done exactly that, of course.  Being beautiful has its privileges.  But Von does most of the childminding and a lot of gardening. Their garden feeds them to a significant extent.

We also discussed that when the twins were around 10 or 11, they both wanted to "marry" me.  Jenny used to say: "But he's married to me".  But Suz would just wave that off. It was a fun time.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A "Welcome Home" dinner

For the first time in about 3 years we have both Joe and Von back with us for Xmas so I put on one of my usual dinners at my local Indian restaurant.  There must have been about 20 of us there, counting the littlies.

Dusty nearly made his escape at one point but I caught him in time.  He likes wandering about by himself. Hannah was there looking every inch a lady,  just like her mother was when she was a girl.  Hannah has got real model looks.  She just looks good all the time.  And still only aged 3!  Von had dressed her in a very fashionable-looking sundress.  Despite looking rather delicate, however, Hannah got into some hot curry in her usual way.  She has liked hot curry right from when she was very little.

The kids ran around shrieking a lot, which the family all liked to hear but I don't know how the restaurant staff found  it.  But I have been taking large parties there for around 10 years so I always get an appreciative welcome.

Paul was there without Susan as Matthew was crook so she had to stay home to look after him.  We sent her a takeaway curry so she would not miss out too much.

I talked mainly to Ken, Paul and Joe as usual and I conveyed to Ken Anne's appreciation of his taste in books. She reads whatever Ken gives or recommends to her.  Anne herself is still convalescing so could not come.  Nanna was missing too.  Apparently loud family gatherings have got a bit much for her.  At age 89 that is not too surprising.

On some occasions, a big gathering around a long table can be a bit restrictive in whom you can talk to but that is not the case with our gatherings.  We all know one-another of old so people swap seats and generally move around a lot.  George in particular must have got to talk to just about everyone.  George and kids are essential to a good family dinner in my opinion.

I lent the Toyota Echo to Von & Simon so I will be getting around in my big green Humber Super Snipe for a couple of weeks.  It goes quite well but is a bit awkward to park.  Joe is driving the Toyota Starlet so all 3 of my cars are actually in use for once.  I am a great fan of Toyota but it's the Humber that gets the admiration from others.  It is 50 years old so that accounts for a lot.

Some pix of the travellers below:

Lady Von and Miss 4

Joe, flanked by John and Hannah

Despite all the  glassware on the table, it was not a bibulous occasion.  Our family dos never are. Drunkenness would be boring.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A lunch and a birthday party

Last Thursday, Joe and I had a lunch together at the Phams.  He is just back from Canberra so we covered a lot of ground.  He has not made much progress with doing his Ph.D. and is now considering other options.  I have always thought that he had a greater talent at literary things rather than mathematics and that seems to be emerging.  He gave me a novel to read that he has just written.  I don't know much about the genre concerned but in my view it should be a goer.  A mainstream publisher would be unlikely to take it but the self-publishing options are good these days.  I also encouraged him to revive the novel he wrote in his early teens.

And today, Sunday, was the birthday party for little Sahara.  I gave Sahara a large pink soft toy of Peppa the pig which was immediately cuddled.  Sahara is now FOUR!  -- a great age.

There was a good rollup but I mainly talked to Simon and to Joe. I tried to interest various people in a discussion of Evangelii gaudium (The latest Papal document) but only Simon was interested.

Little Dusty looked gorgeous in a Hawaiian shirt and cowboy boots while Matthew had a well-fitting Hawaiian shirt on too.

The birthday girl plus dear little Dusty and devoted father Russ

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A recovered memory!

I have a very poor memory of my own past  -- which is why I write a lot down.  I have a particularly poor memory for my earliest life.  But I have just now for some reason remembered something from when I was about 3 or 4.  I think it is my earliest memory.

At that time there were a lot of advertiserments in the newspapers and magazines which just showed the head of a lady  -- presumably advertising hats, cosmetics, soap etc.  They showed what sculptors call a "bust" of a lady -- a cut-off figure.

These used to upset me,. I used to cry over  these "broken ladies".  My mother used to try to explain it to me and she must have eventually succeeded.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Confessions of a clever clogs

"Clever clogs" is a derogatory British term for someone who escapes difficult situations with style or who keeps getting things right.  If you know anything about England you will not be surprised to hear that such people are hated and despised.  For good or ill, however, I have always been a clever clogs.  I regard that with a little pride but mostly with amusement -- so I thought I would note down some of the episodes in case they amuse one or two other people.

It all started in Grade 2.  Our "English" lessons consisted of the class repeatedly reading a story out of our school reading book until every pupil knew and understood every word in it.  And we could eventually all do that.  One kid would read one sentence and the next kid would follow with the next sentence and so on.

Then one day the teacher did a dastardly thing.  She asked us to close our reading books and tell the story as usual.  And all the kids could do that  -- except for me.  I had no idea what the next sentence was.  To the slack-jawed amazement of the other pupils, I was mightily praised for that.  The teacher realized that I was the only one who had actually been reading.  All the other pupils had simply been memorizing the story.

I was treated very warily by the other pupils from that point on. They clearly saw me as some sort of alien and mostly avoided me.  But I had never known anything else so it bothered me not a whit.  I was after all having a lot of fun reading.  For many years I used to borrow and read 2 to 3 books a week from the local library.

Then there was Grade 3. An episode there that lingers is when the teacher read out the "Little boy blue" poem.  I burst into tears at such a sad poem  -- again to the slack-jawed amazement of the other pupils.  I was the only kid that had understood the poem.  The teacher was much upset at my upset and we heard no more of that poem thereafter.

Something that occurred throughout primary school at that time were frequent spelling tests.  The teacher would read out words and we would have to write them down in correct spelling.  I of course always got 10 out of 10 for that, which again saw me looked at askance by the other pupils.  And when a new word popped up in our  reading, I always knew what it meant  -- which led to my primary school nickname of "The Walking Dictionary"

Another memory of those days was when we were doing parsing.  Yes:   Grade school kids at that time learnt grammatical parsing.  It is not even taught in High School these days I gather.  Anyway there came a day when the teacher (Mr. Madden) had a trick question for us.  He asked us to parse the word "Please!".  Slack jaws all round of course and even I had to think about it for a few seconds.  I promptly popped my hand up and said:  "Verb with subject and object understood".  I remember the teacher looking at me with some disgust. No-one was supposed to be able to answer that.  But he gave me an early mark anyway.

Something that only I knew about at the time concerned our school reading books.  At the beginning of each year we were all issued with a book that formed the basis for all that year's English lessons.  We would spend the whole year ploughing though about a quarter of the stories and poems in the book, trying to make sure that each pupil understood them.

I enjoyed the stories in our reading books and to this day consider them well-chosen.  They were mostly moral and sentimental stories and I still think well of morality and sentiment.

So from about  Grade 4 on I would sit down and read right through the reading book from cover to cover as soon as it was issued. I would do four times the year's work in one day, in other words.  Quite disgusting, of course.  I would even read through the prefaces and introductions, a strange habit I have to this day.

That did make lessons rather boring but I would amuse myself by always knowing the answers to the teachers' questions.  It would get to the point where the teacher would say:  "Yes, John. We know that you know but does anyone else know?"  He would then look around hopefully but often find all the other pupils with heads down.  So then he would call on me.  So I entertained myself in my own way.

I was also an occasional pesky question-answerer in High school.

One one occasion we were looking at an excerpt from Joseph Conrad that mentioned the "throbbing" of a ship's engine.  Our English teacher (Fastiere) asked what was meant by that.  I popped my hand up and said (approximately):  "That would be the triple expansion steam cycle at work".  Fastiere responded hastily: "Yes, yes, reciprocating engines".  The marine triple expansion cycle probably used by the engines at that time was apparently well beyond his ken so he rapidly changed the subject.

In High School, a much wider range of subjects was covered than in primary school.  So my general knowledge came more to the fore there. Again I always seemed to have all the answers and again it was noticed, so that my High School nickname was "The Walking Encyclopedia".

Throughout my schooling I encountered IQ tests fairly often.  We seemed to get one about once a year.  They were as fashionable then as they are unfashionable now.  The most predictive part of a IQ test is the vocabulary scale:  A list of words in increasing order of rarity --  where you have to pick the correct meaning for each one.  The last word on the list is so rare that only oddballs are expected to know it.  But I always got all of them right without effort.

Then one day I got a shock.  The final word on the list was one I had never seen before: "Inchoate".  And the derivation wasn't obvious either.  But I knew how English compounds are formed and I knew the use and meaning of the common English prefixes and suffixes.  So after a minute or two under my gaze the word emerged as meaning something like "unformed". So I ticked the answer "just beginning", which was of course right.

Note that I got the answer not from luck or a guess but as  a deduction from a prior body of knowledge.  That is how a clever  clogs works.  He doesn't know everything.  Nobody does.  But he has a set of strategies that enable him to figure out the right answer from the knowledge that he does have.

That was very evident in the mathematics questions of an IQ test.  I consider myself hopeless at maths but I did pretty well on the maths questions in IQ tests.  Why?  because most of the questions were just sequence detection tasks, which require only the simplest of strategies to work out.  Numbers are much simpler than people.

My best feat in High School, however, was completely unintentional.  The final junior German exam came up and, in my chronic absentmindedness, I forgot it was on.  I was however, something of a favorite of my German teacher (Leonard Gavrishchuk) so he sent another kid around to my place on a pushbike to remind me.  So I got on my pushbike to school and walked in half way through a 3 hour exam.  I imagine Gavrishchuk had to pull a few strings to get me admitted at all at such a late juncture.  Anyway, I finished with half an hour to spare.  I knew the answers so just had to write them down,  And I ended up getting an "A" for my answers, of course.  I still chuckle to myself about it.

But it gets worse.  I taught myself for the Senior exam  -- as an evening student.  Evening students were supposed to take three years to do it but I did it in one year.  I initially studied 4 subjects but later learned that you got judged on your best 4 subjects so it was advisable to sit 5 subjects.  So, just 4 months before the exam I started to study Italian.  I had not studied Italian before.  So in 4 months  as an evening student I did 4 years of full-time work.  I got a "B"! It was a crazy thing to attempt but I knew my strengths by then.

I think I will stop at that stage, though my Master's degree was amusing -- and I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation in 6 weeks.  It normally takes years.  My clever cloggery has never faltered.

A critic might say that if I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation in 6 weeks, it must have been pretty lightweight.  It was not.  I got about 10 academic journal articles out of it  -- which is about as good as you get.

But a germane question that somebody might reasonably ask at this stage  is:  "If you are so clever, how come you can't figure out your mobile phone?"  The question is a good one and the answer is a sad one.

I have become like a bacterium that has become resistant to  certain medications after prolonged exposure to them.  I wrote my first computer program in 1967.  That was at a time when there was no "off the shelf" software.  You had to write your own. And within a couple of years I was writing quite complex statistical analysis programs -- 5-dimensional matrices, anyone?  I ran the programs on university mainframes.  There were no personal computers then.

So I have participated in the tech revolution much longer than most people.  And I have got tired of having to learn how to work new stuff all the time.  I have learnt how to work dozens of electronic and electrical gadgets and most of that knowlege is now  useless -- as old gadgets are replaced by new ones.  So I just refuse to put in any effort to learn how to work new gadgets any more. I don't want my brain  cluttered with any more knowledge that will soon be obsolete.  Maybe I am just old.