Friday, December 28, 2018

"Firm but Fair"

Being Firm but Fair is often recommended as the best way of handling conflict situations and a rather amusing example of that working well arose in my life recently.

Around 5 years ago a certain businessman had his business licence taken off him because he was an exceptionally bad driver, much given to speeding.  Most of us have had speeding tickets etc so we probably see minor traffic offences as forgiveable -- so a lot of people would have thought that the punishment was a bit excessive. One of the journalists for News Corp. appears to have thought so too so he wrote it up as a news report.

The businessman protested that the government had treated him unfairly and a report of his protests also appeared shortly thereafter in which he defended his driving

I thought the initial report was interesting too so reproduced it on one of my blogs at the time.  I did not bother with the follow-up article however. And there the matter rested until this December -- when I got a very aggressive email from the businessman concerned demanding that I delete my online copy of the initial report as he had already got the newspaper to delete their report.  It was quite a threatening and unpleasant letter.

A wiser person might have begun his email in a classically polite English way as something like this:

"Apologies for bothering you but I wonder if you would mind ..."

Given my largely English culture I would of course respond well to something like that.  I do normally respond favourably to any requests about my blog posts.

Anyway, there are various ways to respond to threats and some are more devious than others.  So I did exactly as he asked and deleted my copy of the original article.  I went further however.  I replaced it with the article in which he defended himself -- an article which of course repeated all the original criticisms!  That article was still online at its original source so there was nothing he could say about that -- and he didn't

I was still not finished with him, however, so I put up a recent (December)  article on the matter which included the original government report about him.  That was still online too if you were good at digging into government reports

He was of course upset and apologized for his earlier rough approach to me. In English/Australian culture apologies are a big deal so in response to his apology I deleted my recent article.  I think I was firm but fair.

And guess what?  He and I now seem to be pretty matey.  "Firm but fair" works well.  It would be too much to say that I have converted an enemy into a friend but the change is in that direction.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A good Christmas and a bad Boxing Day

Jenny hosted a few of us at her place for Christmas, Joe, Kate, myself and Nanna.  We started at 12 noon and in her usual way Jenny did us proud with all sorts of good things to eat.  Ham and a chook were the main features plus all sorts of veggies and additives. I brought along a bottle of Seaview champagne and Joe and Kate did their bit by coming over early to help set things up.

We had it in Nanna's apartment because Nanna was not up to getting up the stairs after her recent two heart attacks.  It was the highlight of the occasion to see her still in reasonable form at 94.  The two people present who had Nannas's genes in them must  have been much encouraged by that.

We started off by opening presents under the Christmas tree.  Kate got lots of things to do with cats and I got booze -- both of which reflected certain realities.

Sadly, I wasn't feeling very bright so could not do justice to the food.  But the brain was still working so I was able to inject a number of different topics into the dinner table conversation.  One that was of great interest to Kate and Joe was the place in history of Jon Burge, a notorious Chicago police chief recently deceased.  Joe was rightly horrified and outraged at what Burge had done but I suggested some ameliorating circumstances.  I am putting up an expanded version of that discussion on Thursday (27th.) on Dissecting Leftism

The trifle -- one of my favourite desserts

So after a few hours I went home for a nap and Anne arrived a bit before 6pm after having spent most of the day with her sons.  We were of course not up to having much to eat for dinner after a big lunch so we had our Sunday evening dinner in the form of leftover ham with mustard on sandwiches.

I got Anne for Christmas a number of things that I hoped would be useful, chief of which was a silver gravy boat by Rodd, big-time Australian silversmiths since the '30s.  I believe some of their stuff ranks as collectibles these days.  One of the things Anne got me was a cocktail shaker.  I make her a Martini occasionally but have always stirred the mix rather than shaking it.

And that night the family nearly lost me.  At around midnight I began making multiple trips to the toilet.  And the trips were all ones where I passed lots of blood.  After 7 such trips I had to consider that I might be a goner.  My good natural clotting ability cut in at that point however and the bleeding from my bowel stopped.  But for that clotting ability I might not be here to write this.

As soon as the bleeding seemed to have stopped, therefore, I got Anne to drive me in to my usual private hospital -- where I was very promptly seen to. I have a history of diverticulitis  -- so severe diverticulitis was the provisional diagnosis -- later confirmed by a scan.  Getting a CAT scan at 2am in the morning of Boxing Day was pretty good going but that is the sort of service we get from at least some Brisbane private hospitals.  And thanks to my health insurance, it will not cost me a cent.

So I was admitted to the hospital for the rest of the morning without incident and was seen by a gastroenterologist about lunch time -- who discharged me.  My body had basically done the job of curing the problem and all the hospital had to do was diagnose and watch over me until I was sure I was in the clear.  Had the bleeding resumed, they would have had to operate.  So that was a very bad Boxing Day.

I got some pics from the twins in NZ however and they clearly had a much less troubled time.  One of the presents I bought the kids (via Von) was a Garden Tennis set, which was apparently a great hit with the kids.  Pic below.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Why a great Protestant hymn breaks my heart

I don't know if I will be able to convey what is after all a feeling but I cannot listen to the original version of the great Lutheran hymn "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" (A mighty fortress is our God) without being upset.

The hymn is now best known in the marvellous setting by J.S. Bach -- a supreme work of musical art -- so we usually overlook the original hymn.  Both the original work and the Bach setting are works expressing Christian triumph over evil and adversity  but in the original version you get a feeling for what Christians of hundreds of years ago had to triumph over. 

The world they lived in was full of tragedy, hardship and disaster  and they attributed it all to demons and the Devil himself.  To them the Devil was real and powerful and present in their lives. They saw his cruel deeds all about them on a daily basis -- in sickness and death and disaster.  There are few things, if any, more upsetting than the death of a child but they had to endure such deaths often.

So what the hymn conveys to me is both how awful their lives were and how their Christian faith gave them the heart to power on.  Their faith was their only rock, their only comfort. They had no power to combat the evils around them. It cuts me up that they had so little power over their lives when we have so much.  Their survival truly is a wonder.

But I have said as much as I can.  Just listen to the starkly simple words of a very simple hymn and feel for those poor people.

The words:

As students of foreign languages always tell you, you cannot adequately translate a poem and that is certainly so here.  The song is even more powerful in the original German:  Simple punchy words

The words: "Gut, Ehr, Kind und Weib: lass fahren dahin" are not well translated above.  They say that your possessions, your honour, your child and your wife can all be lost but the Devil still has not triumphed. What tragedies they had to expect!

And now listen to the wonderful things Bach did with that ultra-simple hymn:

Bach had joy in the Christian triumph over the Devil

Footnote:  The images in the video are of various castles in the German lands

Sunday, December 9, 2018


I should not be writing about this topic at all.  As an Australian, I don't have the fine-tuned perception of accents that Brits do.  They can tell all sorts of things about a person from their accent -- and just about none of it is good.

There is only one accent that is prestigious in Britain: RP -- the accent of the upper and upper middle class in the home counties -- also the accent of the "public" (private) schools.

Broadly, there are only two Australian accents -- educated and broad.  And neither of them opens  or closes  doors.  You can do well with either -- though an educated accent is by far most common among the movers and shakers of Australian society.

We even had a very popular Prime Minister -- Bob Hawke -- who changed his accent from educated to broad during his entire time in office.  To some amusement he changed back to his native accent as soon as he lost office.  Can  you imagine present British PM Theresa May adopting a Cockney accent? It is literally unimaginable.

In Australia, all British accents are perceived as British but none of them are perceived as of higher or lower status.  We just don't get or value the class distinctions that they index.  You can speak Cockney or RP and you will be treated just the same in Australia.

I presume that my accent was originally broad but many years in the educational system have left me with an educated accent. And an educated Australian accent is remarkably close to RP. So when I spent a Sabbatical year in Britain in 1977, I found myself in unexpected "Good" company.  I had a degree of social acceptance that most Brits would envy.  I was routinely told that my accent was "soft" -- meaning that although I was not one of the top people, I was close enough

All that came back to me recently when I was talking to a distinguished member of Australia's armed forces. He was British born but some years ago had transferred from a British unit to an Australian one. And his career has taken off after the switch.  He was a native of one of Britain's regions so was not a native speaker of RP.  He had of course -- like all people of ambition in Britain -- modified his accent in the direction of RP but his original accent was still detectable.  And if I could detect that 100% of Brits would be able to.  So I hypothesize that his move to Australia was a wise one.  His accent would have held his career back if he had remained in Britain

So despite my very limited awareness of British accents, I was brought up short by something he said in a recent conversation with me.  He pronounced the word "master" as "masster", where I speak it as "marster".  I literally did not understand him for a while.  We had the situation where I was using and expecting a near RP pronunciation where he was using a regional accent.  A strange thing to happen in Australia.  And except for my observer's interest in accents I would not have realized what was going on.  Like just about all Australians I deplore Britain's class distinctions but they are an influential  reality. We do well not to have them here.

So a Brit migrating to Australia can cast off the burden of an unprestigious accent. As long as he can be understood (not always guaranteed) he will be treated like any other person.

But not all Brits want to be liberated from their background.  I know a very well-presented lady from England's North who has been in Australia for a long time.  She apparently speaks prestigious versions of two European languages -- but is still detectably "Northern" in English speech.  And she recently expressed to me contempt for the "posh" people of the South.   The British class system runs deep.

But a truly sorry tale is what happens when a Scot moves to London -- as many do for the greater opportunities there.

A Scots accent in London is completely hilarious so to get by at all in London a Scot has to change his accent.  And many do produce a passable version of RP. But the Scots are very proud of all things Scottish so when a Scot living in London goes home he risks great contempt and contumely if any hint of his London accent creeps into his speech.  It cannot be easy

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Musical discoveries

In idle moments I prowl the net looking for bits of musical entertainment.  And in doing so, I occasionally come across performers who are new to me.  And some of them are very good.  Walter Berry's rendition of the great Mache dich mein Herze rein from Bach's Matthew Passion is absolutely the best I have heard.  His bass baritone voice is as good as you get.

The Bach song is very devout. Rough translation:

Make thyself pure, my heart,
I will myself entomb Jesus.
For he shall henceforth be in me
For ever and ever
Take his sweet rest.
World, begone, let Jesus in!

Another recent discovery is Stepan Hauser, from Croatia.  He seems to have single-handedly revived interest in the cello as a solo instrument. The great power of the cello is very engrossing and emotionally moving so it deserves more prominence. The great champion of the cello for a time was Jacqueline du Pré but, sadly, she is now long gone -- so it is good to see a successor emerging

And it was in a duet with Hauser that I discovered American violinist Caroline Campbell.  One expects lady violinists to look rather dowdy but Campbell in the opposite.  She is a real glamor girl  -- who also happens to be mistress of the violin while also being a most expressive interpreter of what she plays.  Watching her play is very easy on the eye.

Below are some more videos, first  a popular duet between Hauser and Campbell.  They play the popular song "Return to Sorrento", which just about everyone should be able to get with

"Torna a Surriento" is a Neapolitan song composed in 1902 by Italian musician Ernesto De Curtis to words by his brother, the poet and painter Giambattista De Curtis.

English translation ("Come Back to Sorrento")

Look at the sea, how beautiful it is,
it inspires so many emotions,
like you do with the people you look at,
who you make to dream while they are still awake.
Look at this garden
and the scent of these oranges,
such a fine perfume,
it goes straight into your heart,
And you say: "I am leaving, goodbye."
You go away from this heart of mine,
away from this land of love,
And you have the heart not to come back.
But do not go away,
do not give me this pain.
Come back to Surriento,
let me live!

Then there is a duet in which Hauser and Campbell do a Hungarian Csardas -- which starts out slow and ends very fast.  They both handle even the fastest notes effortlessly and with great panache.

I think this performance might be my favourite classical music performance. Both players really live the music and in addition to the lady being both an excellent artist and a good humoured person she is such a dish.  We men are allowed to admire the female form.  The human race would rapidly grind to a halt if we did not.

The venue for the performance appears to be the Arena Pula in Croatia, the best preserved Roman amphitheatre

There are some good pictures of Campbell in a variety of settings here

And just to show that Hauser takes his cello everywhere:

Note those heels! Lola Astanova is an Uzbek from Tashkent and when you are an Uzbek, you need a gimmick to get attention. She has succeeded. And she is a genuinely gifted pianist as well

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Kaimak, a discovery

When I lived in Sydney, I would usually have Yugoslav food about once a week. I would usually order pola pola -- half Raznici and half Cevapcici.  The Cevapcici -- a type of meatball -- were particularly good.  So I was dismayed when I came to Brisbane and  found NO Yugoslav restaurants.

But you can occasionally buy from a continental smallgoods shop or Woolworths trays of cevapi -- skinless sausages -- which you can cook up yourself. Cevapi and Cevapcici see to be just different shapes of the same thing.  So all was well. I could cook up my own Cevapi, and I do.

But all was not quite well.  With cevaps you always have Kaimak, a type of sour cream.  And ordinary sour cream is NOT as good as Kaimak.  A cevap meal is always good and tasty but it is not the same without Kaimak.  And there seemed to be no solution to that.  So I just had to do without Kaimak

But Lo!  I have disovered a product that is very much like Kaimak.  And it will certainly do me in lieu of Kaimak.  It is a product of Bulla, a private Victorian dairy company.  It is called "Spreadable Feta with Greek style garlic and herbs". It comes in small tubs and also makes a nice dip with cracker biscuits.  Woolworths have it.

Let me be clear (as 0bama used to say when he wasn't) I DON'T think the Bulla product is as good as Kaimak but I think it is the best substitute for those of us living in the benighted depths of the Anglosphere

Monday, December 3, 2018

Memories of a young person

When he was one he devised big toe power to drive his ride-on toy on the polished boards of the verandah at Gordonvale. It was the only part of him that would reach.

When he was a few months older he insisted on correct daily ritual -- a morning outing between 9am and 10am.  It was our custom but if we were a bit slow he would complain.  He liked his outing.

One one of those outings he saw a small novelty plastic Big Mac in a supermarket.  He pointed to it and said "Gamisch" -- which was as near to "sandwich" as he could get.  He categorized it observantly

When we came home from the outing, he could only crawl but was confident that he could crawl up the long flight of steps to the backdoor of our house.  We let him go part way but baby knees on dressed hardwood could have suffered.  But he was Mr Independence so always objected when we picked him up and carried him up those steps

His pronunciation developed slowly so at age 2 he used to sing in his beautiful little silvery voice "Twinkle twinkle little car".  He disliked me singing as I drove, however, so used to shout at me "Don't ding a dong"

In Brisbane he was fascinated by the ritual of opening and closing the gate when we got home from an outing.  He recognized a ritual again so if we were slow to close the gate he would point and order, "Close the Glate".  He went missing on one occasion and was found nearby in someone else's yard trying to close their "Glate"

At a party George used some sauce from a bottle but did not replace the lid.  The little 18 months old enforcer of correct ritual pointed to it and said several times "lid on".

At about that time he used to call Ken "Daddy" -- because all the other kids did.  Ken loved it and used to refer to him as "My sixth child" with a big smile.  Maureen, however hated it.  I just thought it was understandable and did not interfere.  I think it was Suz who eventually explained it all to him.

On one occasion he was sitting on the floor trying to get his own knickers on -- not an easy task. It was then that he uttered his first full and correct sentence.  He said: "Don't help".  So his independent nature came out in his very first sentence

When at home I would usually just wear shorts.  So when I was going to go out, he would again detect a ritual.  As soon as I started putting a shirt on he would point to my hat -- the next thing I would do.  As soon as I picked up my hat he would point to where I kept my keys, thus completing the ritual.

Once when he was 3, he came storming into the  loungeroom, threw himself down on the sofa and raged "I can't always win". He had been used to educational games which require only patience and had just tried a commercial "Shoot-em-up" and lost.  His tears lasted only 10 minutes, however. One of the girls showed him how to get "unlimery" (unlimited) lives. He has been playing games ever since

Also when he was 3 I  tried to correct his pronunciation.  I said: "It's not "nake".  It's "snake".  He was unimpressed. He replied "naker, naker, naker".

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Talking to Suz

Jenny had arranged some time ago to put on a small dinner in which I would have a chance for a good chat with Suz -- and so it was on Friday. I had got over the worst of my cold but was still obviously affected.  So I just sat in a corner while Suz was seated nearby and we caught up.  I was keen to hear of her life in a sub-arctic place. She has a great capacity for love and happiness, however, so nothing seemed to be bothering her.

I was however aware of what a rough time she had had in her teens so knew that her happiness could not be taken for granted.  Fortunately a man who really appreciated her came along and gave us back the happy person we had always known.  We all owe a great debt to Russ.

The evening was complicated by the fact that Nanna had had a heart attack just days ago.  So Jenny was spending most of her time at the hospital.  She therefore had no energy to cook so made the dinner a pizza and champagne night, which I shouted.  But the pizza -- from Pizza Capers -- was excellent and varied so we all ate well.

Nanna is apparently on the mend so Jeff came down to make changes to her bathroom needed for her reduced capacities. It was good to see him. He has now got a funny hat.

It was great to see the children.  Sahara has developed into quite a pretty girl and Dusty is looking good too.  Both were full of beans and laughter.  They have inherited their mother's nature. I was impressed that Sahara really likes her maths lessons.  That is a bit of a rarity for a girl but it is early yet to make much of it.  She is in 4th grade.  She is still a very girly girl and firm that she is a princess.  Since she has the looks to go with that she may well go further with that than with maths.  The great thing with both kids, however, is that both seemed to be brimming over with good health and vitality.



Anyway, I did get to have a good chat with Suz, which was the aim.

When we got home Anne made me a nice cup of tea, which went down well in my woggy condition. I then introduced her to my sub-woofer, trying it out with Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, a work using a lot of bass.  It performed faultlessly, to the pleasure of both of us. Below is the work concerned.

The organist is the late Hannes Kästner on the great cathedral organ of St. Steven at Passau in Bavaria. The German lands are truly the lands of music.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

A cold and a sub-woofer

I arrived back from the wedding on Sunday afternoon in good health. By nightfall, however, I was a bit sniffly and on Monday I had a very runny nose and most of the symptoms of a cold.  I applied my stock of medicines to it but by Tuesday I was so congested that I had lost my voice.

Anne is however having her kitchen revamped this week and Tuesday is an evening we usually dine together so I felt obliged to cook the dinner that day.  It wasn't difficult. I tipped 500g of beef mince into my crockpot followed by a bottle of Taylor's readymade curry sauce -- and 3 hours later we sat down to a very good curry -- albeit a silent one on my part

During the day, however, I had been looking for something among my great stores of "stuff" and had came across something I had forgotten that I owned: A sound-system for a computer featuring a "sub woofer".  The normal sound systems you get for a computer  these days are very good but tend to be a bit weak in the bass. Woofers cure that.

Next day I was feeling a fair bit better and decided to use my woofer.  That meant disentangling my existing speakers from all the cables that infest the back of a computer but I sat down and did it.  But then I found that my woofer system lacked the cable to connect it to the computer.  I had a pretty good idea of what the cable was, however, so got my son to pick one up from Jaycar.  He did and it worked!  So  I now have Hi Fi music from my computer

So when I went to bed that night I put on the whole of Bach's Passio secundum Matthaeum.  They were much more comfortable with Latin in Bach's day so we call it the "Matthew Passion".  So I was woofed to sleep.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The mystery of the vanishing neck

The real title of this post should be:  "My son gets married".  I tried to suggest to him that marriage is a bad idea but the fact that I have myself been married four times put me in a very weak position to argue that.

But his bride is a fine woman so my prophecy is that they will stay together -- unlikely though that is in the modern world.  She is a woman of sterling character and my son admires that in her even though they have different musical tastes and she tends towards the political Left.  She is quite open to reason however so that is the main thing.  She is a friendly and sociable person so that helps a lot too.  She and my son met when he approached her in a university cafeteria while she was eating a banana! One imagines he thought she did it well!

She has a first degree in psychology  and expects to enter a higher degree soon.  Her most amazing exploit has been to get a job in psychology.  She wrote around 200 applications before she got that job so that showed dogged determination.  Only a minority of psychology graduates ever get a job in it.

The wedding was on Saturday at her parents' property South of Canberra.  Anne and I flew into Canberra on a Friday Tiger Air flight as I liked their departure times around midday. We flew on a crowded A320 is an all-economy configuration.  And the Tiger Air configuration is what one might call a Japanese configuration -- only comfortable for very short people.  I had noticed however that they have some "bulkhead" seats that offer more legroom so booked them.

When I arrived however I was booted out of those seats and given seats where my knees were against the seat in front.  One of my knees is a bit gammy so I was pretty annoyed about that. Nobody had told me that bulkhead seats were for the young and fit and I am undoubtedly decrepit. People in bulkhead seats on Tiger have to be able to help other passengers escape during any emergency. Had I known of that restriction, I would have flown on another airline that had more varied options.

Anyhow the flight from Brisbane to Canberra was only 100 minutes so I survived in a very grumpy mood.

We were picked up at the airport by the mother of the bride, which was very kind of her as she lives quite a long way out of town.  Accommodation had been arranged for us at a place I had never heard of -- a satellite city to Canberra called Tuggeranong.  It was about a 20 minute drive South of Canberra. We stayed at an apartment hotel there, which was very high quality.

We arrived at the hotel a bit after lunchtime seeking a late lunch as we had shied away from Tiger food. Most places seemed to have gone into siesta mode by that time however but good old Coffee Club was open and we both ordered the unusual "Bacon & Avo Flat Grill" there, which was surprisingly good and served promptly.  Coffee Clubs are all franchises, however, so other outlets will be different.

Our Friday night stay was comfortable assisted by some TV and some gin.  We had twin beds as Anne and I have different sleeping times.

We didn't stray far on Saturday morning -- wedding day -- as we were due to be picked up at 11 by a kindly local couple.  So we again hit the Coffee Club and were lucky to get a seat.  An elderly couple got up from their seat especially to give it to us.  We both had the Big Breakfast menu option which was excellent. Neither of us got through it all

We arrived at the wedding venue rather early so had a good opportunity for chats.  I was particularly pleased to have some chats with Von.  She and I have always been pretty much on the same wavelength but I don't see her so much now she lives in the Shaky Isles.  She looked after me in some ways on the wedding day as I don't get around very easily these days.

We all eventually ended up outdoors where the wedding was to be held.  Von had kindly set up a seat for me under a tree as my skin cancer gives me a great aversion to direct sunlight.  Ken arrived after a while and we ended up chatting a lot while we waited, which we often do.

The actual wedding was reasonably formal in that the celebrant had arranged some very romantic wedding vows, which the bride giggled at on one occasion -- possibly out of nervousness.  Now here is an odd thing:  I liked the bride's makeup!  Brides often do great things with makeup but this was a modest affair as the bride has generally good skin and features anyway. So what this makeup did was to accentuate the bride's brilliant blue eyes.

I am definitely a fan of blue eyes.  Before political correctness set in, Germans used to say that blue eyes are treu, and I think there is something in that, but mainly I just think blue eyes are beautiful -- like blue gems in a face.  So I married four blue-eyed women.  But all my family are blue-eyed so maybe I an entitled to that eccentricity.  Some people close to me have brown eyes, I might add.

There was lots of photography going on  -- many amateur efforts supplementing professional efforts.  And that is when we come to the vanishing neck!  Look at the photo below.  Anne has a perfectly normal neck but I have no neck at all!  Where has it gone?  If anybody has a suggestion about where it might be, please let me know.

And my geriatric self with my youthful son

The happy couple

After the wedding came the dinner, which was varied and well done.  It was held indoors with 50 diners so there was something of a roar of conversation -- which left both Anne and me out of it to some extent as we both suffer from old age hearing loss.  I had Von sitting right next to me so I was able to converse with her.  Suz was sitting opposite Von and was obviously in good and happy form -- the Suz we all knew from when she was growing up.

At one stage she did something characteristic of her loving heart.  The dinner was a buffet but she was seated next to Ken when she brought her plate back to the table.  Ken saw that she had bread as part of her dinner and asked where she found it.  She told him and he went to get up and find it.  Suz, however, immediately put her piece of bread on Ken's plate so he would not have to get up, which he didn't! What a good daughter she is to him!

I also managed to have a good chat to Simon, which I often do.  He has just got a Masters degree in defence studies so we discussed his dissertation. It emerged that his thinking on self-interest versus morality led him to a conclusion of which one of Mr Trump's policies is an example.  I announced a little loudly that Simon agrees with Mr Trump, which was potentially embarrassing to him -- but my sense of humour sometimes gets away from me.  He took it in good part however.  With a smile he said that he had been called many things in his life but that was the lowest yet. I suspect that he does see some virtue in Mr Trump. Mr Trump is an endless source of entertainment to me.

And after the dinner came the bridal dance.  My son had heroically learnt how to do a version of it.  It was not quite a Floral Dance but it fulfilled custom.  It started to rain as the dance wound up so maybe that said something.

Anyway, another kind lady drove us home to our hotel and I was able to introduce Anne that night to Tanqueray gin plus Cascade tonic water.  The water was a sophisticated one with a lot more than quinine in it so it enables a very good cold and fizzy highball.  Anne is always suspicious of my food and drinking explorations but liked that one.

Next morning, Sunday, Tuggeranong was as silent as the grave but we found a Chinese cafe opening at 8am nearby called the Milligram.  I had a Reuben sandwich and Anne had basic bacon and eggs.  And both were good

There was a bus station right next to our hotel so we then got a bus into Canberra and another bus to the airport,  The seating in the bus was again "Japanese".  The flight home departed a bit late but was otherwise uneventful.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A visit from Paul

Paul arrived in Brisbane from Scotland a couple of weeks ago. He now has a business in Scotland but Brisbane is still home to him as he grew up here and still has friends and family here. With a bit of financial help from me he makes the long trek out here every year, bringing one of his three little children. This year he brought his 3 year old daughter Primrose.

He brought with him three bottles of "Silent Pool" gin plus some cans of a British tonic water called "Fever Tree", both of which are very dear here but top quality.  Britain is the home of gin -- and tonic water (containing quinine) has been a very common additive to gin since colonial times, when it warded off malaria. Paul and I are both gin drinkers so it was good to get a new perspective on what is available.

I was most impressed by both the gin and the tonic water but was a bit unimpressed by their price here so I looked for alternatives that would deliver a similar taste in combination. 

And I found one that worked for me anyway. Cascade Brewery is a brewery established in 1824 in South Hobart, Tasmania and is the oldest continually operating brewery in Australia. As well as beer, the site also produces a range of non-alcoholic products. And their tonic water is a sophisticated product, with much more in it than just quinine.  So I paired that with my usual Tanqueray gin and found that the combination was pretty much what I was after. The tonic came in small cans so a finger of gin plus a can of cold tonic made a very nice highball

Some of us had never met Primrose so that was eagerly awaited.  And she did turn out to be quite a character.  She is actually rather aggressive but I suspect that that is mostly because Paul is very indulgent with her.  Jenny had little trouble reining her in and her mother no doubt does the same in Scotland. She climbs over Paul a lot so she clearly is a "Daddy's girl".  Having had such a bond with her father will help her confidence throughout her life.  She will always know that she can be loved.

Breakfasting with Primrose

At the end of the day (to be rather cliched) I suspect that Primrose is born aggressive.  Personality generally is mostly inherited. So it looks like she got most of her personality off Paul, not her ladylike mother. Paul is very assertive. I am too, which Paul has always related well to.  Paul has channeled his assertiveness into productive ways so Primrose in adulthood should do the same.

Paul had an active schedule of visits while he was here but he and I managed to fit in two or three breakfasts together and I also got to see him at the various family activities arranged for him, including some of Jenny's excellent dinners.  He had a big private chat with Joe on one occasion which reflected how highly they think of one-another.  Joe does not say much when he is part of a group. I used to be like that and I still can be sometimes.

Paul and I had one breakfast together without Primrose present when we got to cover a lot of issues, both family and political. Unlike his usual style, Paul mostly listened when I offered my observations and explanations.  Paul always listens to me and we have always talked a lot.

Von arrived a couple of days before Paul left as she wanted to meet Primrose.  Jenny had on a big chicken dinner for her arrival and I was pleased when Von swept into the room looking gorgeous all in black and gave me a big hug.  Von and I have never chatted a lot but have always liked being around one-another, sometimes quite silently.  She knows that I understand her and I know that she knows.

The last actual function of Paul's stay was a BBQ at Ken's place on Saturday.  Ken doesn't do much hospitality that I know of these days but his eldest son was an obvious exception. Timmy was there too with his attractive fiancee so I took the opportunity to tell funny stories about what Timmy said and did when he was little: Including the famous "two cents for blood" stories.   He was a great little kid in the day.  Fortunately he is good humored so I don't think my stories bothered him.  It may have helped his fiancee to understand him better, however.

Paul's flight out was tonight so a few of us went over to Jenny's place to take one last opportunity to talk with him and see Primrose.  Jenny made us some excellent ham sandwiches for lunch.  Joe, Kate and Von were there.  Over lunch we spent a lot of time talking about old times, when we were all a lot younger. 

I gave Paul a very small going away present: A can of "Cascade" tonic water.  He might be able to get it in Britain.  Australian beers are very widely available there.

Monday, November 5, 2018

I get a dagger and a sword

We had tonight one of the dinners for male friends and family that I put on about 3 times a year.  I cook for the dinners concerned so a certain bravery is required to attend.  I usually cook some form of mince and tonight I made chili con carne, which generally works well with help of certain sachets

As usual I got Graham up from Victoria for the dinner and it was mainly my doing that I was able to get Paul along too.  Present were Paul, Graham, Joe and myself.

It was a great evening with lots of well-informed comments about American politics.  Mr Trump was the center of attention, of course and we wondered about how iconoclastic he is.

Joe had given me a bottle  of a single malt -- Laphroiag -- for my birthday so I decided to give everyone a "wee dram", using my collection of port glasses.  And Graham had brought with him some Irish beer.  So we were able to honour the Scottish custom of whisky with a beer chaser.  Graham was particularly impressed by the Laphroaig

But the highlight of the evening for me was my acquisition of a sword and a dagger. The Sword was a 1909 British cavalry sword in amazingly original condition, including the leather straps. Graham bought it for a large sum at a militaria show at my request.

But the dagger was amazing too.  I had owned for many years a rusty old dagger that had seen better days.  Graham undertook to rehabilitate it last time he was here  and brought it up with him tonight.  It was a work of art.  Graham is a very able craftsman.  I think it is the best present I have ever been given.  He made a new handle for it out of a deer antler and added brasswork.  A picture below.

Saturday, October 27, 2018


Molechex is one of many independent skin cancer clinics in Brisbane.  If you knew the incidence of skin cancer in Queensland you would understand why.  A lot of Queenslanders have Irish and Scottish ancestors and the effect of tropical and subtropical sun beaming down on fair Celtic skin is not a happy one.

One of Queensland's more eminent doctors -- also known as "Dr. Jazz" -- has opened two such clinics under the Molechex brand. One of them is a few minutes walk from where I normally do my shopping.  So given my frequent skin cancer problems it was inevitable that I would walk in to that clinic one day.

I first walked in when I had an extremely aggressive cancer pop up on my forehead.  It was rather painful and growing rapidly. In the circumstances I wanted it removed pronto.  But both of the surgeons I would normally go to had significant waiting lists so it looked like I would have a 2 week wait.  So I looked online at the appointments available at Molechex.  The SCC (for such it was) was still quite small so I thought I might be able to get rid of it without full-scale surgery.

And I got an appointment there next day.  And Dr Sandra there was a good communicator so got me to try a shave biopsy -- where she basically just scraped the cancer off my forehead, with cautery (diathermy) following. 

Sandra Steele

It worked.  The cancer vanished and I healed rapidly.  The pathology report showed that the cancer was not fully excised -- which I expected in the circumstances -- but what the biopsy didn't kill the cautery probably did.  So I was completely cured of that one.

And, like most such clinics, it is a bulk-biller, which means that the Federal government pays for everything.  I didn't have to put my hand in my pocket at all.  And I didn't even have to pay car-parking fees -- as the supermarket carpark next door is free.  I have paid vast sums over the years in getting my cancers removed so that was a refreshing change.

And the financial benefits were not the only ones.  Dr. Sandra has a vibrating device that she placed on my forehead that completely cancelled out the pain of getting a local anaesthetic injected. So my procedure was quick, successful, convenient, free and painless!  Beat that!

Since then I have been back three more times to get little pimply things removed and, wonder of wonders, the pathology report came back in all cases as SCCs "completely excised".  For such a simple and convenient procedure to attain complete excision is something of a wonder -- but the tumors concerned were very small so that would have been a factor.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Unexpected kindness

It is a very long time since I carried a wallet.  I had one in my teens when a motorbike was my means of transport but it kept falling out of my back pocket when I rode so I thought that was a bad idea.  I would lose not only my money but the various other items one carries in a wallet.  So ever since I have simply kept my money loosely in a trouser pocket.

That was not a perfect solution either.  In pulling money out of my pocket I would sometimes drop some.  Mostly I noticed and picked it up and for the rest of the time, other people would kindly alert me to what happened and would even sometimes run after me to return it. I have always been rather surprised and pleased at how kind Australians usually are to one another.  And I of course do what I can in that way too.

But I don't always get the money back so I am pretty alert about dropping it.  I tend to look down at my feet before I leave any place where I have taken out money.  But we all get a bit careless or distracted at times and I did drop about $200 in $50 notes recently.

It was at my favourite pie shop and I must have been a bit high at the prospect of eating one of their exceptional curry pies.  They are Vietnamese there and they know all there is to know about baking.  After buying my pie I hopped into my car parked close by  and drove off without noticing that I had lost anything.

But the pieshop staff had noticed and were going to pick it up and hold it for me.  I am a regular customer so that was reasonable.  Before they could come around the counter, however, someone else picked it up and put it in his pocket.  The staff said to him that the money was not his but he said "It is now" and walked off.  The staff were not in a position to run after him and tackle him so the thief got away with it.

He would have seen that I am elderly so for all he knew he was ripping of a pensioner's money for the week -- which makes him a very low type.  He is clearly one of the small percentage of the population who cause all the problems.

The manager told me all that when I came in to the shop next day for another pie -- and he seemed embarrassed by it.  They gave me my pie free that day.

This morning, however, they told me that they felt so bad about the whole thing that they were going to give me my pies free for the next two weeks.  I was inclined to refuse as I am not poor but that would have been churlish so I simply thanked them very much. They did not need to treat me so kindly but it is a credit to them that they did.  If you are ever anywhere near Fortitude Valley in Brisbane, drop into the Central Brunswick Bakery and buy something.  You will not regret it

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Leftism is largely inborn. Is bureaucracy too?

All the twin studies how strong heritability for Left/Right political orientation.  Leftists are born dissatisfied and conservatives are born contented.  And Leftists love bureaucracy.  They can hardly get enough of it.  As V.I. Lenin remarked: "Account must be taken of every single article, every pound of grain, because what socialism implies above all is keeping account of everything".  So is there also an inherited bureaucratic instinct?  Something I encountered recently inclined me towards that belief.

A little background:  I have a pinup on my bedroom wall.  It is a picture of the Queen.  No doubt many would say that I must be a poor thing to have the Queen as my pinup but it is a large and beautifully done portrait so I think it could be called a pinup.

And I am an unapologetic monarchist.  I believe that a constitutional monarchy is the best form of government,  Americans have to wait 4 years before they can get rid of an unpopular  President but, in a monarchy on Westminster lines, parliament can boot out at will any Prime Minister who has lost popularity --which the Australian parliament has done rather a lot of in recent years. So it suits my views that I have a picture of Her Majesty and Prince Philip on my wall.

But I have acquired that picture only recently.  There is an Australian tradition that Federal politicians can give out free pictures of Her Majesty to their constituents.  So I wrote to my local Federal MP, Terri Butler, member for Griffith, and requested one.  She represents the Labor Party so I was slightly surprised that she wrote back to me and agreed.  I had to pick the picture up from her electorate office but that was not far away from me so off I went.

When I arrived and rang the bell a large sandy-hired young man appeared. When I made my request he said; "We haven't received any correspondence about this".  I said, "I wrote to Parliament house".  He said "Did you get a letter from Terri Butler about this?"  I said I had.  "Have you got it with you" -- "No". "Where is it?" -- "At home".  And he went on generally in a rather circular way about having authorization to give me the picture.  I inherit a rather short temper from my father however so I very soon started to shout and bang on the counter.  That dislodged him and he gave me the picture.

As the  pictures are freely given out, there was absolutely no need for any bureaucracy but this employee of the Labor party dreamed some up anyway.  He appears to have a bureaucratic temperament.  I suspect it was inherited -- JR

Monday, October 1, 2018

Mr and Mrs Smith of Rockhampton

Our mother gave my splendid sister quite a pretty Christian name but about 30 years ago she married a very fine man who was a Mr Smith. And they are still together, wonder of wonders. And Smith is a very useful surname. When you give your name as Smith and people give you strange looks you can produce ID that completely authenticates you.  But you are still almost as anonymous as if you had used a real false name ("real false name"?) Who in his right mind would even try to track down a particular Mrs Smith out of all the millions of Smiths worldwide?  You might be traceable if you lived in Ulan Baator but that is about all.  And with all due respect to Ulan Baator, not many Smiths would want to live there.

So to preserve their valuable anonymity I am going to refer only to "Mr & Mrs Smith" in my ramblings below.

I kitted up for my brief stay by packing my genuine Cabrelli wheeled bag.  Cabrelli are mostly distributors of ladies' fancy handbags but they do luggage too. I was given mine but I rather like it.  I don't like the hard angles of traditional suitcases

Anne and I arrived on the Tilt Train at Rockhampton station at about 6:45pm Friday 28th and were met by Mr & Mrs Smith.  They had booked us in to a very flash motel so Anne and I just dropped our bags off there and we all went to dinner at a nearby Malaysian restaurant.  It was rather flash as such restaurants go but the menu had us all a bit bamboozled. I have been in Malaysian restaurants before so I immediately suspected that the cook might be rather "creative", which is often not good.  Anyway we ordered and found that the food was indeed "creative". But we got it down. I paid the "creative" bill.

But the company was good so the food was not an issue.  I have seen the Smiths rarely over the years so getting to know them better seemed long overdue.  We discovered fairly soon that our political views are not lightyears apart.  The Smiths even had a good word to say about Mr Trump!  You see why I am preserving their anonymity!  We are actually something of a conservative family. Myself, my son and my brother rarely disagree on much in our extensive discussions. The twin studies tell us that Left/Right orientation is highly hereditary so that should not have been a surprise.

What the Smiths approve of in Mr Trump is mainly his opposition to political correctness.  As Mr Smith said to me, "If I think a think why can't I say it?"  And they also saw Trump's shaking up of the existing political system as being a very good thing.

Mr Smith is a technician by trade so is good with his hands.  He enjoys putting mechanical things right.  So even though he is now officially retired he still does stuff like that for its own satisfaction -- though he also is well paid for it.  There are zillions of people knowledgeable in the arts but practical men are in short supply.

An interesting thing that I share with the Smiths is that we have both done rather a lot of real estate renovations and made good money doing so.

And their most recent project has been to build a really swish place for themselves to live in.  The result is immaculate.  It would even get approval in Amsterdam.  From the outside it just looks like a simple and humble suburban home but once you get inside you find lots of rooms with every conceivable facility. And it has great views from the top story.

When they bought it, it was basically sound but a big mess -- a big enough mess to deter most buyers.  So they got it for a very reasonable price. Then over a period of many months they got it right, doing a lot of the work themselves  -- but getting in the experts where appropriate.  They are justly proud of their result.

Mrs Smith has done many jobs over the years, including a spell at a meatworks where our father also worked.  She liked the orderliness of how the place was run. You didn't know that an abbatoir could be orderly, did you?  It hadn't occurred to me. Nowadays she is a senior teacher at a Primary school.  She does not teach a regular class but fills in doing all sorts of jobs that keep the place running.

She is very critical of the Department of Education.  She says that they are always issuing new instructions about things that should be taught -- thus taking time away from the regular curriculum.  But the innovations tend to drift away after a while and the school gets back to doing the same things they always did. The bureaucrats can propose and instruct but it is the workers "at the coalface" who determine what is actually done. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

The Smiths are very health conscious and avoid eating any food  that might be a bit suspect. They are big on vegetarian food but are not fanatical about it. My indulgent lifestyle rather horrified them so I did mention to them that my last blood test showed me to have the internal organs of an 18-year-old.  Even my blood sugar was dead centre. So my indulgent lifestyle hasn't hurt me yet.  And seeing that Mrs Smith and I share 50% of our genes, what is OK for me is probably OK for her too. So I wonder whether that will move them towards a more relaxed diet in some way.

But they have me totally beaten in their fitness.  They still walk miles on a daily basis and do things like cycling up hills!

On Saturday morning the Smiths took Anne and me on a tour of the region, seeing mountains and seascapes and localities etc. I was particularly impressed by the many old buildings from the Victorian and Edwardian eras that still stood in Rockhampton. Instead of tearing their beautiful old buildings down like a lot of fools elsewhere have done, the Rockhampton people have renovated most of their old buildings to look as good as new.  That was a most pleasant surprise to an old sentimentalist like me

The thing I was most interested in seeing in the region was the immensely controversial Iwasaki resort at Yeppoon  -- now known as the Capricorn resort. It is mostly dormant at the moment awaiting a refit but nothing has ever moved fast there.  The extensive buildings are still all there but the grounds are not up to an immaculate standard at the moment.  In one of the few parts of the resort that is still operating is the Japanese restaurant -- so the Smiths were kind enough to stop there even though Mrs Smith is very suspicious of Japanese food. I of course am a great fan of Japanese food.

I shouted lunch there and Mrs Smith decided on ordering the Japanese curry.  I encouraged that by noting that Japanese curry is always delicious without being "hot".  In the end she did seem to enjoy it. Anne and I had the pork Tonkatsu, which was as good as it comes.  The restaurant was pretty packed when we arrived so many of the locals must share my opinion of the food there.

After lunch we went to have a look at Yeppoon, which I had heard of as a beach to which people from inland go for their holidays.  So I expected a small village. I found however that it was a substantial town with lots of shops and facilities.

As it happened, Emu beach was nearby where Anne used at one time in the now distant past to go for holiday breaks. A friend of hers once owned a holiday house there.  So she was interested to revisit the house and take some photos of it, which she did

All in all, the Smiths went to a lot of trouble to make our stay comfortable and interesting, which was much appreciated.

The Smiths also insisted on paying for our two nights at the motel. It was a large and imposing apartment motel which was very spacious and comfortable and with good views of the huge Fitzroy river.

It was however odd in having neither a minibar nor room service.  Life is full of surprises.

On Saturday night neither Anne nor I felt like a big dinner after our Japanese lunch so we just had Angus burgers at a nearby steak house.  And they were remarkably good.

We managed to get up at 6am the following Sunday morning to get a taxi back to the railway station. And the taxi driver was a chatty Australian, which was rather a blast from the past  You mostly get Indians with limited English as drivers in Brisbane

I did not like the trip on the Tilt Train. Too slow and cramped.  but I have expanded at length on that elsewhere.

The Tilt Train has been nobbled

The Tilt Train doesn't tilt any more. That's one of the most glaring proofs of how the super cautious bureaucrats at Queensland Rail have totally misused one of the few trains  that they could have been proud of.  It is one of the few bits of "modern" (it is 20 years old) technology that could have given passengers a  modern journey time.

It chugs along at a speed averaging about 80 kmh versus the 160 kmh it is routinely capable of. It goes a little  faster than the old "Sunlander" but the "Sunlander" was REALLY slow.  You could have walked faster at some points on it

Do the sums yourself:  The Tilt Train does the 615 km from Brisbane to Rockhampton in 7.5 hours -- which averages out at 82 kmh -- or 51 mph in the old money. Highway traffic goes faster than that. Allowing half an hour for stops still brings the average speed up to only 87 kmh

And that slow speed is why the train doesn't tilt any more.  The whole point of Tilting technology is so it can go faster.  The train does not have to slow down so much as it goes around curves.  It leans into curves the way a motorbike would.  But the Tilt Train goes so slowly around curves that it has no need to tilt. It handles  curves in the track the same way the old "Sunlander" did -- by slowing to a crawl.

On my recent trip from Brisbane to Rockhampton, there were a few spots when the train showed something of what it can do and that was rather exciting but they never lasted for long.

Perhaps the most extraordinary example of excess bureaucratic caution was the way the train slowed to a crawl for an urban  level crossing.  With red lights flashing and a boom gate down, Queensland motorists can still cross rail tracks at will.  In most of the world you risk your life by ignoring crossing warnings but not so in urban Queensland.  The train goes so slowly that the driver could probably stop in time rather than run into you. The bureaucrats  ensure that NOTHING will generate negative publicity for their train.

On my trip the train even came to a full stop for 15 minutes to deal with an ill passenger.  I have no idea how that helped.  I suspect regulations again.

So why are Queenslanders in the grip of bureaucrats who completely misuse their best asset?  I suspect it goes back to the time when the Tilt Train did tilt.  But it can only tilt so far.  And in 2004 BOTH drivers were too busy noshing to slow the train down when it entered a curve.  So they sent the train through a curve at twice the recommended speed.  It of course crashed.

So what was clearly needed were computerized speed limiters.  Queensland Rail in fact did install such a system but to be super cautious they just slowed the whole train down forever.  A very bureaucratic and unintelligent response.  They can now enjoy their coffee breaks without a care in the world.

I must however give credit where it is due.  The food aboard is remarkably good for railway food. Their chef clearly knows what he is doing. The hot food came around hot and the cold food around came cold.  And the prices are very reasonable, though the portions are rather small. And the food carts come around with great frequency, perhaps to take the minds of passengers off the painful progress of their train.  I am guessing that the food supply is the only thing outsourced to private enterprise. What might upset international visitors, however, is that they only take cash.  Remember that stuff?  Credit cards are not accepted.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

A new favourite pianist

I listen to quite as lot of music on video -- mostly classical.  And the piano is of course a big part of that.  So it is a very pleasant discovery for me to come across a new artist -- new to me anyway.  Up until recently my favourite pianist was Yuja Wang, a gift to us all from Beijing.  I have just in the last few days got to hear the playing of Alice Sara Ott, from Germany.  Her mother was Japanese so she is rather tiny in build but quite pretty. 

I have heard quite a few pieces by her but the one that gets to me most is Beethoven's 3rd Piano concerto.  Her timing is exquisite.  Below she joins with the French national radio orchestra in Paris under a Finnish conductor.

Before her the pianist I was listening to most was Yuja Wang.  She is quite amazing playing Schubert.  I know the words and story for quite a few Schubert Lieder and listening to Wang play I could swear she has the words in her head too.  Her playing exactly reflects the poem concerned.  Below is an example of that most dramatic Lied Der Erlkoenig -- set to a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The Erl-King

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Who's riding so late where winds blow wild
It is the father grasping his child;
He holds the boy embraced in his arm,
He clasps him snugly, he keeps him warm.

"My son, why cover your face in such fear?"
"You see the elf-king, father?
He's near! The king of the elves with crown and train!"
"My son, the mist is on the plain."

'Sweet lad, o come and join me, do!
Such pretty games I will play with you;
On the shore gay flowers their color unfold,
My mother has many garments of gold.'

"My father, my father, and can you not hear
The promise the elf-king breathes in my ear?"
"Be calm, stay calm, my child, lie low:
In withered leaves the night-winds blow."

'Will you, sweet lad, come along with me?
My daughters shall care for you tenderly;
In the night my daughters their revelry keep,
They'll rock you and dance you and sing you to sleep.'

"My father, my father, o can you not trace
The elf-king's daughters in that gloomy place?"
"My son, my son, I see it clear
How grey the ancient willows appear."

'I love you, your comeliness charms me, my boy!
And if you're not willing, my force I'll employ.'
"Now father, now father, he's seizing my arm.
Elf-king has done me a cruel harm."

The father shudders, his ride is wild,
In his arms he's holding the groaning child,
Reaches the court with toil and dread. -
The child he held in his arms was dead.

And before that I was most often listening to Emil Gilels, a Ukrainian pianist from the Soviet era -- playing Beethoven's 5th concerto, "The Emperor".  Its beauty  still moves me to tears

Sunday, September 2, 2018

A weekend of dinners

On Friday night Anne and I had our usual Friday night dinner at my place with some good Wagyu sausages on the menu.  I made the salad and Anne did the cooking. Wine tends to give Anne a bit of congestion so I made her a Martini -- which she particularly likes -- while I had a can of Fourex Gold.  I hear that I make a good Martini but I don't drink them myself. Adding a wormwood liquor to good Gin seems sacrilege to me.

Then on Saturday  night it was the 13th anniversary of Anne and myself being together.  So we had what we usually have for special occasions:  Fried French (lamb) cutlets.  I got some really nice ones --  big, lean and juicy -- from Woolworths for a largish sum and Anne brought over some Sydney rock oysters.  We had the dinner at my place and I made up a big salad to go with it.  I put a few pickled onions in the salad.  Anne likes them but is a bit allergic to them.  She ate them anyway.  We had a bottle of a German "champagne" -- Henkel Trocken -- to wash it all down.  It is Anne's favourite champagne and I like it too.

After the main meal we had some small Belgian chocolate desserts.  And after that we listened to a CD of music from Vienna.  It had some good arias from operetta in it so we both enjoyed it.  It was a CD from a concert Anne went to in Vienna -- on one of her many trips to Europe

And on Sunday Joe gave me a Father's day dinner.  He got some excellent Barramundi from a very good fish shop we have near us so I had a very enjoyable dinner of fish 'n chips,  We talked about politics and Mr Trump as we usually do. I drank a can of Fourex Gold and Joe had whisky and Coke.

It was actually the second dinner we had had together that day as we also did our usual Sunday visit to the pie shop for a bacon & egg breakfast that morning. 

I suspect that I see my son more often than most fathers do.  He is sitting only a few yards from me as I write this in fact -- with both of us on our respective computers.  The fact that we both have similar musical tastes and similar political opinions does help.  On politics we are both deep into detail.  We mentioned the Holodomor tonight for instance -- not something on everybody's horizon.  Mostly, however we talk about American politics -- as that has most impact on the world.

I was pleased that Von sent me a Father's Day greeting.  She and I have always got on especially well.  When she was a little girl, I explained to everybody that she was a lady and had to be treated that way.  Everybody more or less went along with that but Paul thought it was a bit of a racket.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Dutchmen and electricians

I seem to have had Nederlanders among my social contacts almost all of my life. Right now one of Anne's sons is married to a Dutch girl and Von's husband is of recent Dutch descent.

When I was just 16 and freshly out of High School (Junior) I got a job as a clerk in the Queensland Department of Public Works, Cairns depot. John Dudgeon from my class also got a job there.  And a fellow clerk was Eddie Gobel, a Dutchman.  He was pleased when he heard that both of us newbies liked classical music.  Europeans are often into high culture whereas Australians rarely are.  So he invited us both to his place for an afternoon of music. And one thing I remember is that he got out recordings of Caruso on his collection of old 12 inch 78 rpm records.  I had never heard of Caruso at that point so I was glad to hear him singing all the old operatic potboilers.  Eddie was quite a bit older than me so is probably no longer with us.

The next Dutchman I remember is John G., a fellow Mensa member.  John was quite good looking and charming so it was a great frustration to the ladies that he was queer. I got on perfectly well with him and we co-operated in keeping Sydney Mensa going.

Then there was Will V., A Nederlander and a computer guru. He was particularly knowledgeable about Atari ST games computers. If I had trouble with any of mine he would always be able to fix it. One of his oddities was that it was difficult to get a serious word out of him. He found everything amusing. He clearly had a high IQ and such people do usually find a lot that is amusing in the word about them. The world is largely tailored to suit the average person and high IQ people tend to find a lot of that foolish.

Then there was Tom B., an electrician.  I was doing a lot of house renovations in Brisbane at the time and Tom was a cheerful chap who was very co-operative with me in getting wiring done.  I remember one time when I had just bought a century-old timber house and I sent Tom up the manhole to connect something. He was a tall skinny guy so negotiated manholes well. He came down shortly thereafter with a handful of my wiring in his hand and told me that it all needed re-doing.  I could have been a bit cross about that but I was in fact amused.  He was just being Dutch and insisting on doing everything properly.  So I just said:  "Well, you'd better get on with it then, Tom". As it was an old house there wasn't much wiring to replace anyhow.

And there was an interesting episode much later.  Tom had by that time got the shakes and had to retire. But I had a small emergency.  The kitchen light downstairs had failed, including the light fitting. So I rang Tom to see if I could get him over straight away.  As a retired man he would have the time and the job was a simple one.  He just asked me what he should bring and I said "just a batten holder", which he probably had on his truck anyway.  He arrived within about an hour of my calling and did the job with no trouble.  How often can you get an electrician that quickly?

So Tom could not do most of the jobs I needed at that time so I got another electrician called Ken T. He was very good, including not charging a callout fee. An unusual thing about him is that he was a Jewish convert. There are probably a lot of Jewish electricians in Israel but no others in Australia that I know of. But he eventually had a heart attack and had to retire too.

But my luck has held and I have recently found a very good electrician called Ralph. He recently took on a very tricky job for me and stuck to his quote even when it was more difficult than it seemed and he ran over time. I will definitely be calling him again.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

An anniversary!

Peter, an old friend from my army days, invited me to his 50th wedding anniversary -- a rare occasion these days, I think.

It was a very geriatric occasion with people complaining about their knees and struggling to stand up so I was at home.  Peter himself was however quite sprightly.  He does exercising and comes from long lived stock.  There were also some of the younger generation there, including some nice looking blonde ladies -- the best looking of whom was Peter's daughter.  And there was the next generation there too -- a few lively little kids whom I enjoyed seeing -- including one or two of Peter's grandchildren.

I spent quite a lot of time talking to Peter -- about building, about our children, about his collection of old radios etc.  As often happens when I meet with people I knew many years ago, Peter told me about one of my past capers from the '60s that I had myself completely forgotten --  my giving an IQ test to some women at a party if I got it correctly.  So my interest in IQ tests goes back a long way. They say that if you can remember the '60s you were not there -- so that may be a partial explanation for my memory lapses.

The party was held in Peter's nice old 1950's house, the era of which I could tell as soon as I walked into it.  Each decade seems to have its own style in houses and the 1950's style was very comfortable, like its era.  Those of us who can remember it can get rather nostalgic about the '50s.  Can you believe 2% unemployment?  The current style in houses is post-modernist, which I rather loathe.

Peter must have bought his dining chairs at the same time as his house as they too were 1950s -- like a couple I have, with the curved back.  But Peter obviously bought quality as they were still in very impressive condition. They were wooden chairs but noticeably lighter than previous ones, partly because of their 5-ply back.

There was quite a lot of food coming around all the time but there was one lot of food set out for the kids, including that classic Australian party food --  little cheerio sausages to be dipped in tomato sauce.  It seemed however to be the adults who got into it.  I was one

I arrived at around 2pm and left about 4.30 pm.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

More birthday observations

Anne has returned from one of her many trips to Europe only recently.  She sometimes starts what she has to say at the moment with:  "When I was in Budapest ..."  So it was that we had a birthday dinner together tonight.

She brought me a small chocolate cake from the famous Hotel Sacher in Vienna. An image of the box it came in above. The Sacher Torte is regarded by many as the pinnacle of chocolate cakes. Anne also brought me from her travels a one-litre bottle of Cointreau, which I quite like. I like all the orange-flavoured liquers, though I drink all liquers only rarely. My favourite is Van der Hum from South Africa but you can't get it in Brisbane.

I very much like  meatloaf but you can't often buy it in the supermarkets so when I saw one for sale about six months ago I promptly bought it and put it away in my trusty freezer to come out for a birthday dinner. And today was the day I took it out.  I was also going to help the celebration with my remaining bottle of Barossa Pearl but Anne had a cold so didn't feel like drinking.  Anyway the meatloaf was as good as expected and Anne did some vegies to go with it which went well.

In lieu of wine, I had a small dram of Laphroiag with my dinner, which went surprisingly well with the meatloaf.  I recommend it. I guess it's a bit shameful but I diluted my dram with some of my favourite bottled water.  I mentioned to Anne that single malts generally have a peaty taste -- to which she replied rather sharply:  "I don't know.  I've never eaten peat".  That gave me a laugh and I pointed out that it was the smell being referred to.

For desserts we had some good blueberries together with Street's Blue Ribbon, which went down very well indeed.  It's up there with trifle and Pavlova now as a favourite dessert. Blueberries are another great North American contribution to our diet.  They have been grown in Australia only recently.

And we ended with nips of Cointreau.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A birthday

My birthday was this month but I have had only three small celebrations of it so far.  Last Sunday, Joe and I went together to the Dutton Pk. fish shop and took our purchases back to eat on my verandah.  Joe enjoyed a beefburger and I had some excellent Barramundi.

Joe had given me earlier that day a bottle of Laphroaig, a single malt from Islay.  So after dinner we had a toast in that.  I had mine with soda and Joe had it on the rocks.  For once he did not have his spirits with Coke.  He is a fan of Coke zero and drinks a lot of it.

I forget what we talked about but Mr Trump would have figured largely.  Joe and I talk so often  -- usually about politics -- that one occasion blurs into another.

Then on Monday, Jenny gave me one of her splendid dinners.  It was an old favorite:  Vietnamese lemon chicken, quite unlike Chinese lemon chicken. And as always Jenny provided various accompaniments to go with it, rice etc.  And for desserts she brought out a big Pavlova, also a favourite of mine.  I noticed that Nanna liked it too.

Kate took a lively part in the conversation, with queries of Joe and myself about various aspects of our very conservative thinking. Jenny was a bit scornful of Mr. Trump, which is easily understood, but I think she might not have taken full account of the fact that both her sons are very favourably disposed towards  Mr Trump.

There were also quite a few reminiscences of old times, particularly of Joes's toddlerhood.  "My beautiful train" got quite a mention.

Then on Tuesday morning the electrician came.  It was not part of my birthday but it was nonetheless pleasing to get our dodgy power points and switches replaced.  Joe took the morning off to be in on the electrical work so after the electrician had gone Joe and I went to the Phams and had bacon & egg brunches.  And, as it happened, Irene was  in for breakfast there too.  So I introduced her to Joe.

Then on Wednesday, Kate made me a dinner on my verandah of Tacos with beef filling and a few other things.  And afterward we had some pudding delivered to our door

This time we talked a lot about penology, with particular reference to domestic violence, Kate's interest.  I said that you have to look at violence overall and that there is no other way to stop violence, domestic or otherwise, except keeping the bad guys locked up once you catch them.  Kate actually agreed with that.  I have written on that at some length recently

We then talked a bit about psychopathy.  I mentioned that one of my papers on that topic had been well-received.

And I don't think we mentioned Mr Trump once.  Joe and I had however reviewed the Trump/Putin summit that morning.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

More secret men's business

Once again four of us gathered on my verandah at 6pm.  Graham was up from Victoria -- with my brother, my son and myself making up the numbers.  And we didn't mention Mr Trump once! But there were some mentions of generic politics -- i.e. not naming any particular politicians but generalizing about Left and Right.

They all got the usual dish that I cook for such occasions: Savoury mince beef with noodles and veges all cooked up together  in  my big electric frypan. Thanks to a certain flavour sachet that I use, it all turns out reliably tasty.  We also had a good dessert sent along by my brother's wife.  It was liquid chocolate with marshmallows etc to dip in it.  Unusual but good.

As usual, my brother brought along some militaria from his collection for us look at and talk about. One thing was a WWII German "coal scuttle" steel helmet.  It was probably the best of the WWII helmets from most perspectives but it was HEAVY. I guess it was just coincidence but when I put it on my head the old 1950's wooden chair I was sitting on collapsed under me.

Anne used to complain about that chair being wonky so she was clearly right.  It was made at a time when the fashion in chairs was moving to tubular steel frames so was not as strongly made as the older wooden chairs -- of which I have some excellent examples.  So I will replace it rather than trying to fix it.  Anyway, the collapse amused everybody. Lucky there were no Leftists present so I didn't have any sympathy to ward off

My contribution to the "show and tell" was a couple of old daggers, one of which was just a modern Bowie knife, totally unused since I brought it 40 years ago from "Cathay Disposals" in Sydney -- so still shiny.  The second dagger looked more impressive but was very rusty -- so Graham kindly offered to work on polishing it up and sharpening it up -- though it was already fairly sharp on both its upper and lower blades despite the rust.

A couple of the other things my brother brought along were also from WWII, a pocket knife and a belt-buckle that both bore the motto Meine Ehre Heisst Treue, so they were artifacts of the Schutz Staffeln.  The literal meaning of the motto is "My honour is called trueness", which is pretty obscure in English.  I have had various stabs at translating it into idiomatic English but it is not easy.  The big difficulty is Treue.  I have previously struggled with its translation in connection with my interest in operetta. It is cognate with the English "True" and does have some similarity of meaning but the meaning is wider in German.  It means roughly faithfulness, trustworthiness, loyalty. In the popular culture of the German-speaking lands before WWII, blue eyes were seen as a sign of Treue --  You could rely on a person with blue eyes.  Blue eyes were described that way in both Im weissen Roessl and Die Lustige Witwe, Viennese operettas.

So after all that what is my favoured translation of the motto?  The ADL translates it as ""My Honor Is Loyalty', which is pretty good but I prefer "It's my honour to be known as loyal" or, less literally but more idiomatically, "I am proud to be loyal".  The loyalty was of course both military and political, loyalty to the corps and to the national leader (Fuehrer)

I am aware that some people are critical of an interest in militaria, but seeing I am a former Sergeant in the Australian army, I might perhaps be forgiven that interest.

Another interest that has only minority support these days is hunting. The days when Bach could write Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd ("Hunting is the thing I like best") are no more.  The opening words of the first soprano aria  of the cantata really rub it in: Jagen ist die Lust der Götter ("Hunting is the pleasure of the gods"). So I can only hope that my brother might be forgiven for being a hunter.  He is the chairman (No. NOT a chair or a chairperson) of a gun club. So an interest in hunting flows easily from that.

He told us about a recent foray to shoot kangaroos. Kangaroos breed prolifically in their native land and are even seen sometimes in the suburbs (I have seen them), as well as in the vast "Outback". They are therefore a troublesome competitor for feed with cattle and sheep -- two of Australia's major industries.  So the Australian government issues permits each year for the culling of around half a million kangaroos nationwide. So hunting kangaroos is a work of national benefit. We all regretted the fact that bureaucracy makes it nigh impossible to save the excellent meat from slaughtered kangaroos for human consumption. It is a wicked waste.

We covered a lot of other topics too. We spoke of Freemasonry, Byzantium and "Greek fire", trial by combat etc.  But the highlight of the evening -- something that will be remembered when all else is forgotten -- was my chair collapsing under me!

We finished up at about 9pm

Friday, June 29, 2018

Mid-year catchup

Lunched today with two old friends from my army days -- Rod H. and Peter H. I hosted them at the Sunny Doll -- where we had Bento boxes, which were good, as usual.  I think we all ate up most of our rice.  I was pleased about that as a lot of people seem not to realize that the rice IS the meal from a Japanese viewpoint.  Meat etc. is a garnish.

The conversation ranged widely but because we are all old and falling apart medical matters figured largely.  I was pleased to see that Rod walked in without a walking stick. Some healing of some dodgy ligaments has taken place, it appears.

Peter gave us the story of his recent trip to a ham radio convention in America.  Most of the story was about the difficulties he had dealing with American airlines and how he overcame them.

I provided a huge dose of cynicism about  conventional medical wisdom -- talking about the poor evidence in favour of statins, PSA tests etc.  Peter and Rod both seemed pretty appalled when I told them about the replication crisis -- where most repeats of major papers in psychology and medicine were found not to give the same results.

We also mentioned briefly that most forbidden topic of race and IQ, with particular reference to the Queensland test -- something produced by people we know. It was a clever idea but didn't deliver the results hoped for.  As we are all old we are a bit out of tune with political correctness.  Things that were normal to us in our youth are now taken as deeply wicked. We tend not to agree.

There were only a few people in the restaurant when we arrived at 12 noon and none when we left at about 1:30.  They gave us some free samples of watermelon after a while so I took that as a signal that they wanted to shut up shop for the lunch period. Expecting lunchers after 1:30 would have been unrealistic

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Carmen Gorska Putynska

Carmen Gorska Putynska, PhD student, School of Civil Engineering, University of Qld

Carmen was featured in the glossy University of Qld. propaganda periodical called "Contact".  As a graduate of U.Q. I get it mailed to me.

She was featured as part of an assembly of women students who were doing well:  Feminist propaganda, in short.

For once however I found something I liked in it.  The picture above first struck me. She has the good looks which are alarmingly common in Polish women.

In addition to my male chauvinist porcine nature, however I was struck by something else.  It is in the first line of the article below.  How improbable is that? Is it just foolish boasting?  I don't think so.

It made me think of her as a kindred spirit, in fact. I did similar things.  I taught Senior High school geography when my highest qualification was Junior school geography and I taught honors level High School economics when my highest qualification was university freshman economics. And I got a B in Senior High school Italian after studying it for only 4 months instead of the usual 4 years. So I don't think her claims are impossible at all. Some of us are born lucky.

The article below is obviously truncated so I looked for a longer version of it but could find none.  I was however able to fill out a few details

“I started tutoring for $10 an hour at age 14, and by 15 was tutoring students older than me in subjects I hadn’t yet taken myself.”

Carmen is a PhD student studying Self-extinguishment of Cross Laminated Timber and it’s potential uses in large structures.

Carmen obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering, specialized in bridges and underground constructions, in 2013 in Poland, at Technological University of Poznań. Then, she was awarded with the “Erasmus Mundus Scholarship” and accepted in the “International Master of Fire Safety Engineering” program. That opportunity gave her the chance to study in UK, Belgium, and Sweden, offering her the access to the discipline of Fire Safety Engineering.

Carmen didn’t have a traditional tertiary trajectory, after excelling in high school she received a fully funded scholarship to study Civil Engineering at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia.

“I was one of 10 females among 200 males, all the professor were male, and the male students were not really inclusive with the female students. Feeling isolated I was unable to ask for help, worried about being judged, and I completely failed my first year.”

A charming interview with her below:


Friday, June 22, 2018

"Trim Taut & Terrific"

Have you used that expression?  I use it to describe (say) an athletic young woman.  But if you Google it you will find it as a description of a lot of things.  So where does that phrase come from?  I know but seeing nobody else seem to know, I thought I had better put it online.

Back in the 60's, when a lot of people went rather mad (I was there!), there was a washing machine manufacturer in South Australia called Lightburn. Eventually however they got bored with making washing machines and had dreams of making a motor car. And they did -- using their washing machine factory for the purpose. It was called the Lightburn Zeta.  It seems to have been inspired by East Germany's Trabant. Maybe Mr Lightburn was a Communist. About 400 of them were made

Any way the Zeta gave the Trabant a run for its money for flimsiness.  Though it was at least mainly made of steel rather than the plastic of the Trabant.  It was very small and powered by two stroke motors, presumably bought in from some motorbike manufacturer.  But it was a very light vehicle so a motorbike motor could push it along.

It's most amazing feature was that it had no reverse gear.  To reverse it you had to stop the motor and then start it again.  So that gave you four reverse gears. I did tell you this was the 60s!

Anyway, there was really only one good thing about it: The advertising slogan. Somehow their advertising agency had a stroke of inspiration and described the Zeta as everyhing it was not: "Trim Taut & Terrific".  And that then took off as a description of many things

Even the Wikipedia entry on the Zeta does not know of its slogan so it is sort of lucky that it has stuck in my aged brain -- probably because I thought it was hilarious from the beginning.

I would add the information to the Wikipedia entry except that they always wipe everything I put up.  They have got a whole team of "editors' who seem to spend all their time wiping entries they regard as "unsuitable".  I will probably add this post to my personal Wikipedia.  My personal Wikipedia has lot of information about operetta that is not elsewhere available in English but it was still not good enough for Wikipedia

A final note:  You will find here a description of something that is said to be "Trim Taut & Terrific" but also "small, but perfectly formed".  That is a rather weird  combination. "Small, but perfectly formed" was originally a description of Alexander the Great -- a Greek King from about 300 BC