Tuesday, December 29, 2015

An early New Year's eve

Anne will be away bushwalking on New Year's eve so we brought our celebration forward to today.

Anne brought along some fresh Sydney rock oysters as she usually does for special dinners. They are small but very tasty.

We had our favourite main course: Lots of lamb cutlets with plenty of salt and fried onions -- plus salad and bread.  I guess it seems humble but it suits us.

It may surprise some but lamb is a rather dear meat in Australia these days.  Not many families can have it routinely.  There is a lot of demand for the bodies of our dear little woolly creatures from overseas, which jacks up the price.

Von and Simon live in NZ sheep country and they in fact produce lambs with some regularity.  So they can always have all the lamb they want as long as they can explain to little Hannah where all the dear little lambs have gone.  Not easy!

Simon told me where NZ sheepmeat mostly goes but all that I can remember is that mutton mostly goes to India.  What the main markets for hogget and lamb are I forget -- but I think the Middle East is big somewhere there.

We had a bottle of St. Henri shiraz with it.  St. Henri used to be regarded as the second best wine from Penfolds after Grange. That may not still be so.  It is a fairly expensive drop but nowhere near as dear as Grange. It used to be a lighter wine than Grange and it still is but it is much closer to Grange these days.  Anyway, it went down well

We finished off with some Christmas pudding and cream.

Then we took a trip to the Mozarthaus in Salzburg to take in an excellent performance of one of the world's most famous comic operas, Così fan tutte.  We went there via my big screen and a two-DVD set I have recently acquired.  You see more on DVD than you would by going there physically anyway.

As anybody who knows the show will tell you, it was was 200 minutes of silliness,  but amusing silliness.  It was the 2013 performance that I have.  I did not know any of the singers but it was a good production all round:  Minimal sets but lots of wonderful Mozart music.

BTW:  People who know no Italian sometimes pronounce the name of the show as if it were "Cosy fan tutte".  It is not.  The squiggle on top of the i tells you that the final syllable is accented.  It is an "ee" sound. Italian almost always stresses the penultimate syllable but, like all natural languages, it has some irregularities.


Von found the useful chart below about where our lambs go. The big consumer is Europe, followed by Japan. Makes sense. There's lots of well-off people there. Australia and New Zealand may sell into different markets, however.

Friday, December 25, 2015

A good Christmas

On Xmas eve Jenny put on a sausage sizzle for 6 of us: Herself & Nanna, Joe and Kate and Anne and myself.  The sausages were allegedly by Heston Blumenthal but the degree of his involvement must be speculative.  They were good anyway.  Sausages are one of my favorite foods.  And we had a good Pavlova for dessert.

So Kate had a real family occasion for Xmas even though she was away from her own family.  There were 3 generations present, including a 91 year old grandma.

Jenny had presents under her tree for us all and Anne brought along some presents too. I just handed out cheques of a sufficient amount to buy something pretty good.  They seemed well received.  Nanna said she is going to spend her cheque on a "nice" new watch.

Joe got a game called "5 second rule" which we all later played. To progress in the game you have to answer simple questions very rapidly.  My brain has slowed down in my old age so I was hopeless at it.  Kate was the youngest present and she won it.

And on Xmas day Joe drove us out to Suzy & Russell's place -- our frequent venue for family occasions.  We had cheeses for morning tea including one that was vegetarian -- made from tofu or some such!  I didn't try it. Lunch was mainly the product of a big and nicely cooked ham, with accompaniments, of course.  There was no food-freakery about our Xmas fare.  It  was totally "incorrect" according to a lot of modern notions but we all just bogged in to it all.  Timmy had brought along some creations based on Tim Tams that seemed likely to cause instant diabetes!

I talked mainly to Jenny, Ken and our Squadron Leader.  He really is a Squadron Leader -- back in Brisbane for the holidays.  Not being an airforce type, I always have to ask him if he is a Squadron Leader or a Wing Commander but he informed me that Wing Commander is way too high up for him.  He doesn't fly aircraft but he does supervise them.  We had a big debate at one stage over whether fantasy fiction is good fiction.  Ken and I thought not and Kate weighed in with a defence of Harry Potter.

We talked a fair bit about global warming at one stage, which we all find hilarious.  Kate was not aware of the facts about it so Joe, Ken and I explained it all to her.  As a psychology graduate, she is familiar with the concept of statistical significance so was surprised to hear that the differences between average global temperatures for recent years have not been statistically significant.

In that case, a scientist should report that global temperatures have been flat for nearly 20 years -- with no warming whatsoever.  As Kate said in proper philosophy of science terms, the null hypothesis should have been accepted. The media however always report the tiny differences -- usually in one hundredths of one degree -- as showing that the recent year has been the "warmest".  Sadly, most people believe it.  Tiny random fluctuations are held to prove something.

I actually spent most of Xmas eve writing a small essay about global warming and I made some other points to Kate that are the same as the last two paragraphs of that essay.

So it was a day of interesting and fun discussions.

For the kids there was a water balloon fight in which some of the adults joined too.  That was obviously the biggest fun of the day. There were three littlies present: Dusty, Sahara and Ava-Marie.  Little Ava-Marie has turned out to be a very pretty little girl.

We arrived at about 10 o'clock and left at about 3 o'clock. As soon as I got home I had a big nap.

At around 7pm Anne arrived at my place after being at her son's place for most of the day.  We watched the Queen's Xmas message and then had our usual Christmas night supper: ham sandwiches.  I always buy the ham for our Christmas lunch so get to take a few  offcuts with me when I leave to go home. So it makes very nice ham sandwiches later on

I liked the Queen's Christmas message.  I was pleased that she quoted chap. 1 of the Gospel of John, a most interesting chapter that I have studied at great length.  I can even recite some of it in the original Greek!  The gnostic elements in it make it interesting.

I am rather pleased to see that the Queen, who is Head of the Church of England, is actually a Christian.  As she said in her 2014 message: "For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life."


And Anne and I carried on our gastronomic adventures into Boxing day.  For breakfast Anne made us some chipolata sausages and beans with fried onions and and a fried egg.  Plus toast off course.  It is undoubtedly humble food but I enjoyed it.  It is food of my own ethnicity and I am happy about that.

And that night was a Saturday night, which is my sandwich night.  I don't like going out on Saturday night among all the drunks so I eat at home and use the time to indulge myself with another of my likes: Sandwiches.

And the bread you use for sandwiches does matter.  For some reason unknown to me the far-and-away best white bread in Brisbane comes from Chinese bakers. So I went to the brilliant Chinese bakery at  the Woolloongabba Fiveways and got a loaf of it for my sandwich night.

We still had some ham off the bone left over from Christmas so we had ham sandwiches without any pickles or anything else on them.  And that was great.

The Chinese also make brilliant meat pies, rather surprisingly, so when I was there I saw some of them winking crustily at me in the display cabinet so had to buy one of them too.  Anne and I had half of it each.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A welcome visit

I was pleased today to receive a visit from Martin C**, a relative on my mother's side.  As far as I can figure he is my second cousin.  And he looked in good form.  He is a good-looking blue-eyed and good humoured man in the prime of his life.  He even has hair. I have some but he has more.

I got my brother to come along as he is the one who is up with our family genealogy.  Martin has done heaps in that direction so I needed help with that.

I was amused to find that Martin is like most of my relatives -- very conservative,  I am not going to dob him in but what once was said of Syngman Rhee (who was he?) is roughly true of Martin: "He is so far Right that he is almost out of sight".  My brother and my son are similar so Martin was in congenial company.  It's a pity he does not live in Brisbane normally. He would be a fun guest on many occasions.  I would like to hear him talk to some Leftists.  They wouldn't believe their ears.

He lives in the far North, where I come from. And views such as his or mine are perfectly mainstream there. I suspect that my surviving sister, Mrs. Smith (Yes. That really is her name), might think that way too. I know she loathes Arabs. She lived in Saudi for a couple of years, while her husband was working there, so experienced first-hand the disgusting way Arabs treat women.

Martin very kindly brought with him a selection of the photographic treasures he has discovered.  Below is one of old Paulina, when she was working as a maid in England.  She was my great-grandmother on my mother's side.

Another very rare picture below -- of old Joe, Paulina's husband. We have quite a few pictures of him but this is unique.  It shows him as a boy with HIS father.

Note the sharp shoes on the father. And note his confident stance. A man of fashion? My father was "a bit of a lair" in his youth

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


I like hummus so when I was in Woolworths recently I asked an employee where where I could find some.  She promptly directed me  to the appropriate place on the shelves.  And I found there a number of offerings. And the one I bought was excellent.

But, being an old guy, I could not help reflecting on how differently my enquiry might have been received one or two decades ago.  I would have got: "Hummus?  What's that? We don't stock it".

How times have changed -- for the better.

I look forward to hearing of Von's experience with hummus.  Do they have it in the shaky isles?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Le nozze di Figaro

I have just finished watching on DVD a 2006 French performance, sung in the original Italian with English subtitles, of "The Marriage of Figaro" by Mozart.  It is one of the most famous operas of all time so I am perfectly sure that I can say nothing original about it -- except perhaps to say that I still prefer Viennese operetta. Operetta is shorter and wittier.  But Mozart's wonderful music makes up for everything, of course.  The overture is one of my favourite pieces.

So what I want to do now is just to leave a few notes here for my own future reference about the cast of the performance I saw. I might at first note something amusing, however.  Apparently there was an IKEA in the 18th century!  The opening scene is of Figaro putting bits of a disassembled bed together!  In the original libretto he is just measuring up the room at that point so the producers of this show obviously had a little joke.

Pietro Spagnoli as the Count was very Italian, rather like a Mafia Don, so definitely well-cast.  Luca Pisaroni as Figaro is actually Venezuelan-born but probably from Italian parents.  He grew up in Italy, anyway. He gave a very strong performance.

Well-known German soprano Annette Dasch was strikingly pretty as the Countess.  She is quite tall too, taller than everyone else in the cast aside from Figaro -- and she seems about the same height as him.  And we see at one point that she is wearing FLAT shoes!

Her looks rather show up the gaunt-looking Welsh soprano Rosemary Joshua as Susanna, though Susanna was very well played.  Joshua is very experienced in that role. Maybe Joshua was on a very severe diet at the time. I gather she was born in 1970 or thereabouts so should not have been noticeably aged in 2006.

I disliked Austrian mezzo Angelika Kirchschlager as Cherubino. She is probably a fine woman but I thought she was very unconvincing in the role.  But I detest trouser roles anyway.  The part was originally written for a male so why not stick with that?  I appear to be quite out of tune with the times in that matter, though.  There is actually a currently fashionable feminist claim that men can play women's roles and women can play men's roles and it makes no difference.  As far as I can see, the difference is in fact highly visible.  It is just not good casting.

Looking into the ethnicity of opera singers is a little hobby of mine.  I like to guess what they are on first encountering a singer, even though I mostly get it wrong.  So Sophie Pondjiclis as Marcellina quite puzzled me. At times she looked very Italian but at others did not.  So I looked her up.  She is Greek.  So that rather solved it.  Greeks can be as explosive as Italians but don't do it as often.  That is as I have seen it, anyway.

Some of the info above was a little hard to get. Most of the singers are not well-known.  I very often in such searches find that I can get the info I want from sites in German only.  There is just nothing in English.

When looking up Pondjiclis there was nothing useful in English so I got the info off a non-English site.  I assumed that I was reading German but when I looked closely I saw it was in French, a language I have never studied. The foreigners begin at Calais, you know, to bowdlerize an old expression.

But, if I know roughly what the text is about, I find I can follow most European languages.  I remember reading a scientific paper in  Romanian once!  With only two major exceptions, European languages are all related, so the Latin, Italian and German I have studied open up other European languages fairly easily.

There are online quite a lot of excerpts from this performance, particularly of the arias sung  by Annette Dasch.  Below are two. Both have English subtitles.  The first is "Dove sono i bei momenti":

And we also have "Che soave zeffiretto"

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A small health crisis

I don't make a habit of recording my fortunately rare ailments but being an old guy, I am inclined to mention the badder ones. I got a severe attack of diverticulitis on Saturday morning (Nov. 28).  I was pretty sure what it was as I was found to have diverticuli many years ago and have had the very occasional attack since.  In the past I have always "cured" them by simple steps such as going on a liquid diet for a day or two.

This attack was a very painful one, however, and was, as such, pretty disabling.  So I thought it could be something more serious than inflamed diverticuli.  I therefore took myself off to my usual private hospital and had a CAT scan, as one does.

The service at the hospital was first class as usual.  I saw a very good duty doctor and was in the scanner not much longer than 30 minutes after I had walked in the door.  Try to get that promptness of treatment from a public hospital!  It cost me a net $160 to walk in the door but after that my health insurance covered everything.

The scan confirmed diverticulitis so I was given a couple of intravenous infusions of antibiotics and sent on my way with a scrip for Augmentin, the current drug of choice for diverticulitis. The Dr wanted to admit me but I have had enough of hospitals, even the ones that are first class.  But the infusions I got did seem to reduce the problem to a degree so I felt my choice was reasonable anyhow.

When I took the Augmentin tablet that night, however, it gave me terrible nausea, a known side-effect.  I was chucking for about 6 hours.  So the cure was marginally worse than the disease.  So on Sunday and Monday I took nothing at all, in my usual way.  I am no pill-popper. At age 72 I take nothing routinely, which is apparently rather rare

But the problem was still grumbling away to some extent first thing this morning so I went and saw my GP at mid-morning. He agreed that Augmentin can be a problem.  He said he can't take it either, as it gives him diarrhoea.  It's a clever drug but not right for everyone.  So the Flagyl and Keflex I got from my GP have had some use now with good results already appearing.  I should be right pretty soon.

Anne was very helpful while I was really ill, doing what she could for me.  I am still keeping to fairly mushy food at the moment so I got her to feed me some scrambled eggs for my tea tonight.  She makes excellent scrambled eggs so they went down very well.