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.