SOME MEMOIRS -- by John Ray
Some occasional personal notes from a quiet life...
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Old folk at lunch
MOTTO: As Oscar Wilde might have said: Life is too important to be taken seriously
31 December 2009
Baby Sahara with mother, grandmother and great-grandmother -- on Christmas day
30 December 2009
Just 3 weeks old, the daughter of Susan and Russell. It looks like Russell is bathing her in the sink! I was at their place for Christmas lunch but Sahara slept right through it.
These memoirs could be seen as somewhat misnamed. Since they concern current events, perhaps they could better be called "contemporary archives" (with apologies to the worthy Keesing project) rather than memoirs. Anyway, I have lately started to put up a few small recollections from years past so perhaps this blog will acquire some real memoirs from time to time.
The latest recollection was sparked by the scholarly edition of Beowulf that Joe gave me for Christmas. Beowulf is of course the most famous text in Old English but I take an interest in Middle English too. And that emerged in a rather fun way some years ago when I was doing a bit of work for a market researcher named Mark Troy.
At one stage I asked him where he wanted me to put some papers. He said: "Right here, on the table". BUT: He did not pronounce "table" in the usual way. He pronounced it as "Tarbla". Now most people would have thought that he was either a bit mad or having a joke but I immediately recognized what was going on. He was using the correct pronounciation -- the correct pronounciation of 600 years ago.
I said: "That's a Middle English pronunciation" -- and he confirmed that it was. So I immediately launched into:
'Whan that April with hir showres soote
The droughte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veine in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;'
Mark joined in and we must have recited together roughly the first 100 lines of the "Prologue" -- all in the correct Middle English pronunciation, of course. It gave us both great pleasure and satisfaction to do so but there was another guy in the room: Mark's business partner. And he looked at us with evident alarm. He apparently thought we had been seized by some sort of folie a deux (shared madness). He seemed relieved when Mark explained the matter.
Anyway, it was a great pleasure to come across a fellow Chaucerian. There can't be many of them in Brisbane.
25 December, 2009
I think I have had a rather good Christmas day. Anne and I had just croissants and coffee for breakfast. Alarmingly French. Anne gave me a blue-striped shirt as a present, which I quite like. I wore it to the 9:30 service at the Metropolitical Cathedral of St John the Divine. We got there rather early but there was already little seating left in the nave. I however have a particular spot just off the nave which I like -- on some plastic chairs (which are much more comfortable than the pews) so Anne and I had a good view of the proceedings. And they definitely kept the show on the road with lots of things happening one after another.
The censer was energetically deployed but no bells! Very slack. They had a rather good-looking beadle, though: A young blonde woman. Rather a change from the usual elderly gents. The sermon was given by a woman, which was of course repugnant to my fundamentalist background. But I am rather deaf these days so I didn't understand a word she said, which I found satisfactory. I just sat admiring the stained glass. And the hymns were good of course.
Anne was less impressed by the service than I was. Her Presbyterian rejection of "Popery" is probably stronger than mine.
I then went off to a small family lunch. The big family do was last night, which was very lively. The lunch was excellent with ham, large prawn kebabs, calamari etc. cooked on the BBQ by our host Russell, husband of my stepdaughter Susan. Russell is a genial soul but I don't know him all that well as yet so I did at one stage ask him a question that I thought would get at least an untroublesome answer. I asked him: "Do you like steam trains?". He replied "I LOVE steam trains". So we had a good chat about that for a while. I am something of a steam fanatic too. I wonder if it's only conservatives who like steam trains? Could be something in that.
I also had a bit of a chat with Joe about 5-dimensional matrices and such things. I am very pleased to have a son who is also a born academic. His Christmas present to me was a very academic one: An excellent edition of Beowulf, with the original Old English text and a poetic translation by Seamus Heaney. He knows I take an interest in Beowulf and have even been known to recite bits of it in the original Anglo-Saxon. But only an academic would do that.
Speaking of the Anglo-Saxons, as I sit amid the great Gothic stone cavern of St John's cathedral, it does give me some feeling of unity with my Anglo-Saxon ancestors. I realize that Gothic architecture is Norman rather than Anglo-Saxon but Gothic churches were originally built to recreate the awe of being amid the great forests of primeval Europe so my impression is an accurate one in its way. The Gothic architects have successfully transmitted their message to me.
I still have the order of service for Christmas in front of me and I wonder how many people noticed how discordant it was in a way. We went straight from the aggressive Hebrew triumphalism of Psalm 97 to the humble "justified by grace" of Titus chapter 3. But people are so used to the accepting the message of both the Old Testament and the New that few would notice any discordance, I think.
Anne is now back from her family Christmas lunch so we will shortly have a late -- and light -- evening meal of ham and mustard sandwiches, with a cup of tea.
19 December, 2009
The three sisters
Anne put on a High Tea at 5pm yesterday for her two sisters -- June and Merle -- plus respective partners: myself, Colin and Ralph. Colin and Ralph are both real gents but I did my best to set them a bad example.
I recently shouted Anne and June an afternoon tea at the Ritz in London and that seems to have been the inspiration for the occasion. Anne did up a big dish of sandwiches to start: Some dinky cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches -- which were delicious -- plus some slightly less dinky ham sandiches which were also delicious. Anne wasn't very sandwichy when I met her but she is now.
I provided the champagne, both alcoholic and non. We were all Presbyterians in one way or another so the non-alcoholic option was strongly indicated. As I was driving I was a "non" man myself on the occasion.
After the sandwiches we moved on to the scones -- with whipped cream and jam. Actually, it wasn't all jam. In a very Australian touch, June had bought along some "cocky's joy" (golden syrup), which several people chose to have on their scones. You usually have cocky's joy on damper, of course.
And then there was the iced sponge cake with passionfruit filling. And then there was the fruit plate plus fruit cake plus coconut ice. So a filling time was had by all.
It turned out that I was the only one who had received a Christmas card from Kevin Rudd, which was rather ironical. See below:
Barnaby Joyce was well spoken of, however. But mostly we reminisced about old times, as befits our vintage -- sponge cakes cooked in wood stoves, headless chooks and all that sort of thing. Colin seemed to think we we lucky to be done with such times, however.
16 December, 2009
Latest picture of the babe
I hear that Suze is managing to breastfeed, and Sahara is sleeping well still -- and that she is a delightful baby! She's got dark hair at the moment but that could well change.
14 December, 2009
Having the last word
Paul enjoyed my little story below about having the last word with an obtuse Toyota dealership so I thought I might mention another little story from many years ago that he might enjoy. The recollection just popped into my head proably because of the Toyota matter.
It would have been in the '70s. I wrote a letter to some Jewish guy of central European origin. I think he was a real estate agent but I completely forget what the letter was about -- but it was a critical letter. Anyway, he simply tore up my letter into small pieces and sent the pieces back to me in an envelope. Rather a good reply, really.
What I said must have really made him simmer, though, because next day he sent me a letter criticizing me. So what did I do? I tore up HIS letter into small pieces and sent it back to him! He should have quit while he was ahead. I heard no more from him.
11 December, 2009
Lazy Toyota dealer
The master keys of Toyota Echo cars have a design fault. They break after a few years. And since they have electronics in them, you have to go to a Toyota dealer to get them replaced. So when mine broke recently I took it in to the Woolloongabba dealer near me. Since the key was 5 years old, I also asked for the battery in it to be replaced.
When I came to collect it, however, the new key was still not working. They said that they were out of batteries and had just put my old battery back in. So the battery was probably flat and that was why the key was still not working. Yet they asked me to pay for it! They asked me to pay for a key that was not working. I said that I would pay them only when they got it working.
They then said I could not take the car until I paid. I asked to see the manager etc and while they were distracted, I got into the car and drove off anyway. If people try to push me around, I push back.
Lo and behold! Half an hour later I got a phone call. They now had the needed new battery and asked me to come back and have it fitted. And that did fix the key. I then paid. But if I had not bucked, I would still be waiting for it. It turns out that there is a shop right over the road from them that sells the batteries concerned. They were just too lazy to do a 3 minute walk. I don't think their Tokyo headquarters would be impressed.
10 December, 2009
Mostly these memoirs concern what has happened in my life in the current year. I am getting old now, however, so the past occasionally comes back to me too. I have no idea what prompted it, but one rather fun memory that has just come back to me concerns a telegram. Who remembers telegrams? Only old-timers like me, I guess. They had their uses. Teasing telegrams on the occasion of a wedding were common. Reading the telegrams was a ritual at most wedding receptions in those far-off days.
I once sent a VERY romantic telegram to a wholly estimable lady in those long bygone days. And, as it was romantic, I sent it in the language of love -- Italian -- much to the puzzlement of the post-office worker who took it for transmission. I didn't look or sound at all like a "wog". I still remember the wording:
"Ogn anno divengono piu chiaro le fiamme inestinguabele di amore per te".
It's probably not very good Italian but anybody who can translate it might conclude that I have an otherwise unknown side to me. Only Italians say such things. If I were English, I would not be able to say it at all -- even in Italian.
The recipient was a student of French so she could work out what it meant. French and Italian are both modern versions of Latin, though Italian is closer to the original. Amusing that the usual paradigm word for the first conjugation in Latin is "amo" ("I love"): Amo, amas, amat, amamus amatis, amant. I am rather pleased that I still remember that conjugation. Can I ever forget it? Probably not. I learnt it over 50 years ago.
It's a few years now since I have heard from the lady concerned but I know where she is. She is a happily married lady these days.
7 December, 2009
Mother and day-old daughter
5 December, 2009
A new baby
A tiny, perfect, but very fragile bundle entered the world just before 2pm today. My stepdaughter Susan gave birth to Sahara Grace, who weighed in at just under 6lb., which is fine for a female baby. I have not yet heard why Sahara was chosen as the Christian name but no doubt I will in due course.
She is a good baby and I was given the privilege of holding her for a little while today. Many years of love and care will one day make her into a beautiful young woman. Such is the miracle of life.
There was something of a low-key family party going on when I arrived at the bedside and Ken and I got into one of our usual conversations. Ken was positive about our new Federal conservative leader (Tony Abbott) and was most pleased that Abbott had managed to block the proposed Warmist laws in our Senate. He was also well up on "Climategate".
29 November, 2009
An aria to remember
I have once again been listening to my DVDs of the Glyndebourne Giulio Cesare. As always, I particularly enjoy Cleopatra's triumphant aria towards the end of the opera. It is probably not one of the "great" soprano arias but it is certainly one of the longest. And with Handel composing it is superb as well as long. And the Glynebourne performance is sung by an Australian lady! The immediate and huge applause that comes at the end of the aria is amply justified.
As I write this I am listening to the energetic and marvellous brass fanfare that introduces the end of the opera. Quite incredible! It brings tears to my foolish eyes.
I have of course been to Glyndebourne myself but the DVDs are nearly as good as being there.
28 November, 2009
Murray Fastiere and my academic past
Paul's recent questions about my early life have brought a few things to the front of my mind so I thought I might scribble some of them down.
Let me start by saying that I am no good at most things. I am hopeless at all sports -- even chess! And I cannot even open a can of something without cutting myself around 50% of the time. And, any time I pick up tools to do something in the carpentry line or the like, I always hurt myself.
But, as is common, I do have one thing that I am good at: Academic tasks in my case. The first intimation of that was in my Innisfail Primary school, where I was known as the "walking dictionary". I ALWAYS got 10 out of 10 on spelling tests and always knew the meaning of any new word that came up in our reading.
Then in junior High School in Cairns I was known as the "Walking encyclopedia" -- because I always knew the answers to any questions that teachers threw at us. One example of that was when we were reading something about ships (probably by Conrad) and "thudding" engines were mentioned. The teacher, Murray Fastiere, asked us what that was about. The rest of the class kept their heads down and their eyes on their books but I popped my hand up. I said: "Probably triple expansion engines". I was a smart bastard already by then.
Fastiere hastily said: "Yes, yes, reciprocating engines". He was a man of culture so I imagine that he knew nothing of the triple expansion cycle in marine steam engines.
I liked him. He wore a yellow sleeveless jumper and green pants when no-one else at that time did. I have been a devotee of sleeveless jumpers ever since. He spoke with what I thought was an Australian accent but it could have been a Home Counties accent -- as an educated Australian accent and a Home Counties accent are quite close. But from the surname he probably had a French father and he did often mention to us that he was a pupil of Marcel Dupre. NOBODY in Cairns knew what that meant! But he was in fact a good organist so Dupre obviously did him some good. He introduced me to Bach, and I can never forget that. I hope some day some relative of his reads this (via Google) and asks me about him before I die.
But I also got on well with my Ukrainian teacher of German, Leonard Gavrishchuk. His favourite saying was: "You must be precise" -- accompanied by an upraised thumb! I was probably something of a star pupil of his. So when the Junior German exam came around and I forgot to turn up, he sent a kid around on a pushbike to remind me. So I promptly got on my own pushbike -- dressed only in khaki shorts and an old singlet -- and arrived 1.30 hours late for a 3 hour exam. But I still finished with half an hour to spare! I knew the answers. I just had to write them down. And I eventually got an "A" in the exam concerned, of course.
But I did not go straight on to my senior studies. I worked for a few years. But in the end I decided that I needed to do my Senior (Matric) exam so I did it in one year in Brisbane as an evening student -- teaching myself for 4 out of 5 subjects. Evening students were supposed to take 3 years so I again did an academic task in a third of the time. One of the 5 subjects (Italian) I took up only 4 months before the exam depite not having done it for Junior. So I did 4 years work in 4 months as well as having a full-time job. In the circumstances, I think I can be excused for getting only a "B" in the exam. I clearly had a lot of self-confidence even to undertake such a task but it was clearly warranted confidence. I already knew well how easy academic tasks were for me. I also remember owning and regularly wearing a green suit -- complete with a rather furry green felt hat -- in that year.
After that I did my B.A. (hons) at UQ in the minimum 4 years even though the first two years I did as an evening student. Then I went on to do my Masters at U Syd -- where evening students were required to take 3 years. Guess what? I enrolled as a day student (even though I had a full-time job) and did it in ONE year -- that magical third of the time again. I remember that I used to turn up to seminars in a natty brown suit with 3 covered buttons -- which rather stunned everyone. I don't think I wore my green felt hat with it at that time, though! My input to the seminars was always well-informed and frequent, however, so I was treated with respect, garb regardless. Doing an M.A. in one year did not really stretch me, however, so I enrolled in Introductory Economics at Uni NSW as well. I passed but I forget the grade.
And when my Ph.D. at Macquarie came around I could really have beat the band if allowed. I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation in 6 weeks towards the end of my first year there -- but I had to wait the minimum 2 years to apply for the degree. And I eventually got around 10 published academic journal out of that dissertation, so that was unusually strong proof of quality in it. A Harvard doctorate takes around 10 years on average but I doubt that many of them generate as many journal articles
I often wonder why Harvard Ph.D.s take so long. Maybe it is to ensure quality and thus protect the Harvard reputation. It might also be some sort of flow-on from the destroyed standards of American High Schools. Harvard have never acknowledged it officially to my knowledge but around a quarter of their freshers have to undergo remedial mathematics and English classes before they go on to their university studies proper. And Harvard get the pick of the crop from America's High schools! An American High School diploma these days is roughly equivalent to a Primary School pass of yesteryear.
And academic journal articles were where I did best of all. In my heyday, I was getting them published at around one a fortnight. The academic average is around one a year. And I was up against the handicap that most of my articles drew conclusions that ran contrary to the accepted wisdom. So they had to be of a very high standard to surmount that barrier!
So if I am not a born academic, no-one is. Maybe we are all good at something.
25 November, 2009
An oratorio and a beard
Last Friday I went, as I usually do, to the annual performance of Handel's "Messiah" put on by the Bach society here in Brisbane at the magnificent Cathedral church of St John the Divine. If ever a building suited the music .... St John's is a sandstone cathedral in the Gothic style, said to be modelled loosely on Salisbury cathedral in England. It is rather marvellous to be in a such a vast stone cavern but an Italian would look around and wonder when the real work was due to begin. In the Northern European style, the walls are mostly bare and there is very little ornamentation or colour of any kind. It is an Anglican cathedral so the sermons are never much but the music is often good and they do a good ecclesiastical procession.
Anyway, the music was great as usual and I am still singing snatches of the "Messiah" to myself. Anne accompanied me, much to her satisfaction. She is a "going out" lady and she can never get me to go out enough so she appreciates the rare occasions when I do so.
Then last Monday Jenny put on a small "Bon voyage" dinner for Paul and Sue. They are off on a two-month overseas holiday, mostly in America, I gathered. They will be in NYC for Christmas so I told them to go to the Episcopalian Cathedral on Christmas morning. Neither of them are religious but nor are the Episcopalians -- but they should enjoy the show.
Jenny gave us Korean egg-rolled pork for dinner -- a family favourite -- complete with Kim Chee and Japanese ginger. Yum! No matter how much egg-rolled pork Jenny makes, there is never any left over!
We talked a bit about the various diet myths and Paul quizzed me a bit about my early life. So it was something of an evening of reminiscences. Joe updated me on how his Ph.D. studies in mathematics are going, which I like to hear. He seems to be forging ahead and quite engrossed in his reading. I think he is just as much a born academic as I am.
But the highlight of the evening was to inspect Joe's newly grown beard. He has been shaving it off ever since it started to grow so we had no prior idea of what it would be like. And it is red! He is a genuine "bluebeard". I was quite delighted. There is red hair on Jenny's side as well as on mine so we were rather hoping that he would be a redhead before he was born but that was not to be. Being a blond is pretty aspirational anyway. Women spend a lot of money going blonde. So although I wanted a "bluey" as a son, a 6' tall "bluebeard" is just as good, if not better. My father had red hair and was always known as "bluey".
18 November, 2009
A soprano worth listening to
Although there are some marvellous arias for sopranos, I usually find contraltos much more pleasant to listen to. My favourite contralto aria is "Quae moerebat et dolebat" from the Pergolesi "Stabat Mater" (See here for a beautiful rendition of it as a duet -- in the setting of a beautiful Italian church).
But last night Anne and I were listening to "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi" sung by Australian soprano Yvonne Kenny and I was rather mesmerized by her performance. Such a strong pure voice.
I couldn't find a video online of her singing it but to give you an idea of the song, there is a video here of a very attractive Norwegian soprano singing it.
14 November, 2009
Paul and Joe
As everybody who knows both of us knows, my stepson Paul and I get on exceptionally well and always have done so. He is constantly falling out with his father -- and even his mother is disapproving of him from time to time -- but he and I just keep on getting on. Even into his 20s he would ask my advice on various things and would sometimes even take it! Pretty much every father's dream, I think. Why?
You can analyse feelings until the cows come home and not really get anywhere but I thought it might be worthwhile to note down a few stray thoughts anyway.
An obvious thing is that Paul and I are both very assertive. Very few people try to push us around but if they do we push back. And yet that is only a broad similarity. I am in general not much of a talker and Paul is very voluble so we are assertive in somewhat different ways. There were certainly some occasions, though, in Paul's childhood, when he saw me being assertive in some way and he recalls those occasions with great delight to this day. It helped legitimate his own instinct to be assertive. Since both his parents are unassertive, he needed a model that was more appropriate to how he himself felt.
I think another helpful factor is that I am not very judgmental in general. So where others would condemn Paul in some way, I just accept it. He is very much an individual so does tend to do some things that are outside the normal envelope from time to time but I do that too so I see his point of view and don't criticize him.
And I think that is one reason why I am just about the only person Paul listens to. It has been amusing over the years that people who want to persuade Paul of something have often asked me to speak to Paul about the matter. They realize that I am the only one who might influence him. Sometimes I do raise such matters with him and sometimes I just say that Paul has his own way and there is nothing wrong with it.
One thing that is definitely involved is the fact that Paul's religion/hobby is money. He has always been a lover of money and will do lots to get it. And he saw from early on that I was rather good at getting money so I earned his respect in terms of what was/is his highest value. So when we discussed things, my view was always treated with respect.
And we did discuss lots of things when he was a kid. And he seems to have found those discussions helpful. What I told him was congenial to his own instincts.
And I mentioned previously that it has now become clear that Paul and I are both great sentimentalists with an appreciation of the past. But that has emerged only in recent years. Paul and I got on very well before that was evident.
So in the end I can only say that there are important personality similarities between us and we get on for that reason. But just what those similarities are is probably best left for others to say.
A small caveat: Paul is in general a very positive thinker (And I think I am too) so, although he and his father used to fight like cat and dog when Paul was younger, Paul has in recent years developed a more positive view of his father. He sees things in Ken that he disagrees with or disapproves of but he sees a good side too and appreciates some of the things that Ken has done
I probably should mention that my own son, Joe, and I also seem to get on perfectly well and I have been able to help him on various occasions too. Joe has been Mr Independence ever since he could crawl, however, so he seeks my advice and assistance only when he has really hit a rock. But I am perfectly happy that he does that. What would upset me is if he had hit a rock and NOT sought my assistance. And, being very independent myself, I am certainly not going to complain about having an independent son.
And I think that the fact that both Joe and I are born academics means that I can help him in a quite old-fashioned way. In times past it was common for fathers to pass on a trade to their sons and various bits of specialized knowledge would be passed on as part of that. As it happens, Joe seems to do all the basics needed for success at university quite off his own bat but I probably reinforce his ideas in some ways about that and add a few ideas here and there. I certainly know what he is talking about when we discuss academic matters and you need a fellow academic for that.
There is a comments facility on this blog so anybody else with thoughts on the subject can add them. I did of course consult both Joe and Paul before posting this but my comments are my own.
8 November, 2009
A good time was had by all
Or so it seemed, anyway. Last night I put on a champagne, pizza and memories do for the 6 "kids" (all of whom are now in their 20s or 30s) plus those who helped bring them up plus current partners. So a small family do ended up with 17 people present around a long set of tables -- rather Italian in fact. But we have always had a lot of family occasions like that. The kids probably don't know it but in some ways they had a typical Italian upbringing -- though none of us are in fact Italian.
I had 10 pizzas delivered from the local Pizza Hut so all I had to do was make sure that I had plenty of my favourite Seaview champagne in the fridge. Jeff came over the day before to mow the lawn, set up the party flares etc. And the ladies brought desserts along, including some yummy trifle.
The theme of the evening was for everybody to tell stories about the funny bits they remembered from the 6 respective childhoods -- with Paul and myself taking the lead. I hope the partners present found it at least interesting and maybe enlightening. Those who were present at the time in which the stories were set certainly enjoyed it all. I was sitting opposite Lady Von for most of the evening and I could see that she enjoyed it from beginning to end. I think Timmy really enjoyed it too -- seeing he was in a lot of the stories concerned. I had lots of jokes and silly games with the kids when they were little but my "Two cents for blood" game was probably the funniest and Tim was usually the central character in that game, though he took it very seriously at the time.
Ken came well prepared with a small collection of things that the kids had written when they were young -- including a love-letter from Davey to Vonnie that praised her to the skies. I had thought that Ken was too unsentimental to keep such things but I obviously misjudged him. Ken really liked the idea of a family-tales night and several other people said to me what a good idea it was too.
We had the do in my recently returfed backyard with 6 party flares for illumination. Fortunately, the rain held off. Paul and his Susan seemed to be taking a lot of video shots so some of the stories should now be preserved indefinitely. I think one of the reasons why Paul and I get on so well is that we are both great sentimentalists. We appreciate the past. That also of course makes us both conservative politically.
I forgot some of the stories I should have told and others probably did too so I am thinking about having another such night some time in the new year in which everybody will be encouraged to make notes in advance of things that they remember. There might even be some "favourite" stories that people like hearing again.
3 November, 2009
A complex world
All conservatives agree that the world is a complex place that is very resistant to summarization. But sometimes it is also complex enough to be amusing.
A couple of weeks ago I arranged for my son Joe and me to have dinner together so I could point out to him a few things he should know about England -- on the safe assumption that he will go there someday.
I left him to choose the restaurant but he is (like me) very pro-Asian so he drove us out to Sunnybank Hills, which is almost entirely inhabited by people with straight and very black hair, good skin, patient attitudes and narrow eyes. It was almost like being in Asia. We were definitely the odd ones out.
Joe wanted to get us into a very good Japanese restaurant that he knows but there was a long queue of the said black-haired people waiting to get in to it so we went to a nearby Korean restaurant instead - where the food was of course first class.
So the mildly amusing thing is that we discussed England over Korean food amid East Asians! No roast beef or spotted dick in sight!
I did of course mention to Joe the importance of real ale and the inadvisability of shell-suits! I may even have mentioned the significance of Watford to him.
31 October, 2009
What would you think of a man who went around the place singing to himself snatches from a cantata written by an obscure 17th century German composer? You would probably think him quite mad but in your kinder moments you might say: "An eccentric; probably an academic". I am that person and I am a born academic (I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation in 6 weeks; some people take that many years) so I hope I can be excused. The words that are stuck in my head at the moment are: "Und deine Fusstapfen triefen von Fett". I must have sung them to myself a hundred times in the last few days. The words are so crazy that I dare not translate them but they are in fact a quotation from the Psalms. What makes them good is the music that Vincent Luebeck has set to them.
All of which comes about because I have been playing lately one of my favourite cantatas: Gott wie dein Name by Vincent Luebeck. Luebeck was 11 years older than J.S. Bach and more famous than Bach in his day. And at his best Luebeck is as good as Bach. And I mention all that because I have just discovered that people have begun to put up some Luebeck works on YouTube. A good example below for those who like that sort of thing:
Note the extensive use of pedals. Pedals usually access the largest pipes.
28 October, 2009
An unusually good morning
In my view I have a generally pleasant and easy life but every now and again, one day is better than most and today is such a day.
I woke up a bit before nine after a good night's sleep and sat down to do the the day's updates on my Immigration Watch blog -- which is my custom for that time of the day. Instead of having to look for interesting news in that field, however, I found two press releases in my inbox which I liked so I posted them without further ado.
I then went in to the long-departed Mr Stone's Corner for a haircut from my usual barber. I was in the chair within 10 minutes of arriving and had a good chat with the barber while he was civilizing my appearance. I have been going to him for years now so I was in familiar teritory, which I like.
I then went to the Cafe down the road for a bacon and egg breakfast as they always do a good one. While I was sitting there waiting for it to arrive, my brother Christopher walked past. I waved and he came and sat down for a chat. We talked a bit about the latest follies of the global Warmists and about family matters too, of course. I am pretty conservative but Chris could be described as "so far right he is almost out of sight". He is a very pleasant person, however, with lots of friends. I was pleased to hear that his business is doing well, despite the economic doldrums.
I then went over the road to see Paul Brandon, the local bootmaker, a lovely man. I had a very small clock that needed new batteries and he does clock and watch batteries. He showed me that the clock in fact took AAA batteries so did not need his services. He was of course perfectly pleasant about it.
I then took a stroll through a nearby bookstore and saw a book that would be good for a preschooler. I bought it to give to Suzy's baby at some future time.
When I got home the council roadgang were still fixing up the guttering and footpath in my street and the foreman came over to check how their work had affected my ability to get my big Humber in and out of my garage. It was courteous of him to ask. I assured him that access was now better than ever and he told me that they would bring over some special concrete tomorrow to fix up a small part of my driveway that adjoined the work in the street. It was an appreciated courtesy.
So after that start, I am looking forward to the rest of the day.
7 October, 2009
I imagine that there must be a few people who come by this blog who share my love of Baroque music. So for them some news: I have just discovered the music of Zelenka, a Czech contemporary of Bach whom Bach thought highly of. I am listening to one of his Kyrie Eleisons as I write this. It is marvellous. What a wonder that the Baroque period is still yielding up forgotten treasures for us! I have also just heard on the radio one of his oratorios: "Penitents at the tomb of the Redeemer". It grabbed me immediately.
6 October, 2009
Those Chinese ladies strike again
The Han make a big impression wherever they go and the Chinese ladies are certainly doing their bit. In both Australia and the USA they tend to snap up Caucasian men (particularly the taller ones) and thus leave the Caucasian women rather high and dry.
The latest example in my life of that was last Sunday, when Davey and Olivia had a combined engagement-party/baby shower. Olivia is pregant and both parents are happy about it. Olivia is a 3rd year psych student and Davey is a spare parts interpreter. Davey and Joe were great mates during their childhoods but are not so close these days as Joe's great patience has led him into academe whereas Davey's tendency to lack of patience has led him away from such pursuits.
But both have felt the Asian influence. Joey's Sam is half Han and Olivia is wholly so. Her father is a restaurateur, unsurprisingly.
And the party included a LOT of Olivia's friends and relatives: Stylish Chinese ladies to a woman, all very fashionably dressed. And that means sexy these days. So I had to be cautious where I looked. I did not talk to any of them but I admired them from afar.
As usual at family gatherings, I spent most of my time talking to 3 people: Joe, Paul and Ken. This time I spent quite a lot of time talking to Joe. As we are both academics, we mostly discussed academic matters. It seems that, like me, Joe is fast at doing academic things. At that rate the prospects for him getting lots of publications are good. Like father, like son.
I don't think anybody in the family takes it amiss when I don't talk to them a lot, though. They know me of old and would probably be amazed if I was any different. I help various family members out financially from time to time and in all of human history putting your money where your mouth is has always been a pretty good proof of goodwill.
Paul and Suzy have both been slimming in recent months and I think Paul has overdone it a bit. He was as skinny as a rake on Sunday. Still, he has bad bones so taking the weight off them is probably a very good move. I tried to talk Paul's Suzy out of taking any more weight off. She always looks good regardless.
We had the do at Oxley's on the river and, somewhat to my surprise, the food was very good. Their shish kebabs were outstanding.
Suzy Rohde nee Johnson (Lady fun) was there looking very pregnant and she has sent me a lot of good pics from the occasion so I am putting up some below:
The happy couple
The 3 brothers
Jenny and Nanna
The gorgeous Von was there with her very smart but very quiet Dutchman
6 Sept 2009
I always look forward to Fathers' day as Jenny always gives me a very nice lunch on that day. And she did again today, with lots of fresh bread rolls, various cheeses, cold meats, avocado etc.
It was a little sad today, however. Joe's girlfriend Sam gets upset on Fathers' day because it brings to mind her own late father, whom she greatly misses. So Joe arrived a little late after spending some time with her to comfort her. She was invited to come to the do at Jenny's place but was too upset to come.
So there were just Jenny and I, Anne, Nanna and Joe present. We had the do on Jenny's back deck, which is a very pleasant environment.
19 August, 2009
A Grumble about Glyndebourne
Glyndebourne is of course the pinnacle of the opera experience in England and I myself went down to Glyndebourne once -- in 1977 accompanied by the beauteous Susan Brooks and wearing a suit kindly lent to me by the quietly affable Hyman Katz of Baker st. I go to opera/ballet for the music, however. Opera libretti are usually absurd and I cheerfully accept that.
Anne and I have recently finished watching the three DVDs of Giulio Cesare which she bought at Glynebourne while she was there recently. Handel's music is of course superb and the singers and orchestra did full justice to it. But the staging was somewhere between absurd and obnoxious. I suppose it was inevitable but Glynedbourne has fallen victim to the cancerous modern conceit that the producer of a show has every liberty to show his HIS creativity in how he presents the play/opera. And he usually shows how creative he is NOT.
The clot concerned in this case seemed to think that having airships and steamships in the background of an opera set in ancient Egypt was somehow clever -- not to mention the revolvers, rifles, sunglasses, cocktail dresses and pith helmets. Why is deliberate anachronism clever? I have no idea.
And particularly in Act 3 a lot of the arias were sung with the actors lying on the ground. How is that for moronic choreography? Most of the live audience would have been able to see nothing at such times.
Glyndebourne is of course known for Mozart performances and Mozart operas are mostly in the opera buffa genre. And such operas can perfectly well be staged in modern settings. I think Glyndebourne should either stick to Mozart or avoid anachronisms. That does not seem to me to be a particularly hard choice.
As for me, I now play the DVDs with the video off. The staging is just a distraction from Handel's marvellous music. And Cleopatra's long triumphant aria towards the end of Act 3 is particularly superb (Track 19 if you have the DVD).
31 July, 2009
A small bouquet for the wallopers
There are a lot of goons and drongoes in the Queensland police "service" but there are some decent people too
Last night I was pulled up for a breath test and the lady cop with the test kit took one look at me, smiled, said "I think you're OK", and waved me through without testing.
I was stone cold sober, neatly dressed and had Anne with me so I suppose we just looked like an elderly couple out for the night -- which we were. So the lady cop got it right and behaved to a higher standard than duty required. I congratulate her.
A couple of months ago another lady cop stopped and helped me change a tyre, as I was in fact having a spot of bother with it. And she was most pleasant too.
If only all police were of that quality!
27 July, 2009
I have a shocking memory and I undoubtedly forget things that I should have noted.
But this blog has a comments section in which people can add things that I forgot to mention
26 July, 2009
A birthday and a graduation
Joe recently had a birthday and not long after graduated from the University of Queensland with First Class Honours in Mathematics. I could not be more pleased. Having a son who is tall, good-looking, nice natured and brilliant is hard to beat! And his only artificial euphoriant is computer games. Though I believe he does have a weakness for iced coffee also.
At his request, his birthday dinner was low key, with just myself, Jenny, Nanna, Anne, Joe himself and his old friend from school -- Andy -- invited. Jenny managed to seat us all in her living room and cooked us egg-rolled pork with rice and Kim Chee -- a dish of Korean origin which is a great favourite in the family. Samantha had an open-book exam to do that night so could not come. Andy is a most personable young man. He is Han Chinese and was dux of the school when Joe was there. I hear that he is quite tough, too, which rather surprised me. I didn't associate that with charm and politeness. After dinner more family members were invited over for the cutting of the cake and coffee afterwards: Suzy, Paul and Von with respective partners.
The graduation ceremony was for the Science Faculty only and about half the graduands would have been of Han origin. The Arts faculty graduation would be where you would see a majority of Anglo-Celts. When Joe stepped forward to be handed his degree, it was something of a notable break. After a parade of small Chinese, there was this 6' tall blond getting a degree! There were apparently quite a few bright sparks in the Maths Dept., as you might expect. One of Joe's fellow students there was awarded student of the year for the entire faculty! So Joe has been keeping august company. He has already started work on his Ph.D. programme.
We had a VERY small celebratory dinner for him on the night of his graduation: Joe, Sam, Jenny, Anne and myself. There was a special reason for keeping that dinner small. I opened a 16-year-old bottle of Grange to have with dinner -- at a cost of $600 for one 26 oz. bottle. I suppose that there might have been better uses for $600 but how often does one have a son graduate with First Class Honours in Mathematics? Jenny made us some excellent steak with Bearnaise sauce to go with the wine. Grange goes best with French cuisine.
Joe tells me that academic publications in mathematics are dominated by the Han, regardless of which country they may be writing from. The most recent recipients of the Fields medal included Terry Tao, an Australian-born Chinese, partly for work in PDEs, which is Joe's interest. And journals actually published in China are important sources of advancement in mathematical thinking too, apparently. With Chinese friends, a Chinese supervisor and a half-Chinese girlfriend, however, Joe is already in the right company for that. But he is seriously thinking of learning Mandarin as a long-term project. In the meantime, his very pleasant Chinese supervisor will be there to alert him to any developments in Chinese journals that he may need to know about.
18 July, 2009
A wedding and a birthday
My gorgeous stepdaughter Suzie was married a little while ago but I have just got hold of a DVD of wedding pictures with n pictures on it. Joe has done a fair bit of statistics so he will understand my usage of "n". So how does one choose from n pictures? Arbitrarily. I reproduce just two above. The old geezer lurking under the panama is I and below that is a picture of the happy couple. See my blog note of Feb 9th for more details
This week was my birthday week. Jill invited Anne and me over for lunch on Sunday 12th. and produced an excellent roast dinner. True to my British heritage, I always appreciate a roast. The dessert was Pavolva, however, a great Australian specialty and favourite.
On Wednesday Anne came over and cooked me some of my favourite foods -- including cabbage. Liking cabbage is about as humble a taste as one can have but Anne does it very well. And she brought over a big dish of apple crumble, another of my favourites. I am afraid that there was very little left in that dish by the time I got to bed.
As a birthday present, Anne gave me a 3 DVD set of Handel's Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar) which recorded a live Glyndebourne performance and which she had bought at the Glyndebourne shop while she was there. I had already emailed her about how wonderful the Glyndebourne performance of that opera was so I was delighted to have it. It is great to hear the richly deserved applause after the spectacular bits -- such as the long aria towards the end of Act 3. I have so far managed only to listen to it (several times). Seeing it as well as hearing it could well be a bit overwhelming for me.
Joe was also over on Wednesday to work on a project we are doing. I have converted my old Windows computer back to a DOS computer, with the aim of making it a museum for the old DOS software -- particularly games -- that we used to play around with back in the pre-Windows era. I had forgotten a lot about how to set up a DOS machine but I finally got everything running.
And yesterday, Friday, Jenny made the "kids" (now all in their 20s and 30s) and I (plus relevant partners) that prince of Indian dishes: A Dhansak -- complete with Parsee pillau, green chutney and an excellent raita. It was a great party, with the kids and I swapping memories of the days when I was helping to bring them up. There was much hilarity between us back then and it was probably nearly as hilarious remembering it all. I had completely forgotten some of the jokes I played on them back then but they remembered heaps!
17 July, 2009
A good toon
The cartoon below sums up one reason why I usually avoid fancy restaurants and eat ethnic instead. I like waiters just to take my order promptly and answer questions if asked. Waiters who want to talk and talk just give me the pip. I imagine that chatty waiters suit some people but they don't suit me. I would much rather talk to the person I came there with.
5 July, 2009
Hair washing and a moment of enlightenment
Where I grew up in tropical Australia, very few people had what the rest of the world call a bath. For us, to "have a bath" meant to take a shower. What other people called a bath, we called a "plunge" and many houses had no such thing. And in hot weather (which it almost always was), taking a shower at both morning and evening was common. And the shower head was large and positioned right overhead for maximum cooling and cleaning.
Since I have moved to more Southern parts, however, I have always been disgruntled to find that, instead of being overhead, the shower rose is fitted so that it shoots water at you from roughly eye level or not much higher.
So when I had a shower recess put up in my bathroom recently (I previously had just a shower over the bath -- which posed hazards of slipping and falling over), I instructed the plumber to put the shower head high up and overhead -- which he did.
I was pointing out this achievement to Anne when she said she didn't like it. It meant that she would always get her hair wet. So I finally got it. Those pesky low-down showers are for the convenience of women. I imagine that most men are like me and don't mind getting their hair wet. I don't feel properly bathed unless I have washed my hair, in fact. But I can see that long hair and expensive hairdos might require protection at times.
29 June, 2009
Die Judenfrage and religious identity
I originally wrote the post below for my DISSECTING LEFTISM blog but I think it has a place here too. "Die Judenfrage" is German for "The Jewish Question" and is an expression used by both Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler so there was an element of historical awareness in the title I chose. It was actually a bit of a tease. Most people seeing the title would have expected something antisemitic in what I wrote -- but, as you will see, they would have been disappointed
Most Jews must be heartily sick of being forever singled out for discussion and scrutiny but it seems that it was ever so and ever will be. And in my utter folly, I am once again going to voice a few thoughts on one of the most hotly contested topics among Jews: Who is a Jew?
My present thoughts arise from the "wise" British judges who recently decided that Jews are a race. Since there are Jews of all races -- including black ones -- that is arrant nonsense. Yet it is also partly true -- in that various genetic studies have shown that many Jews do still have in them some Middle Eastern genes. So for Jews as a whole it is true that Israel is their ancestral home as well as their religious home.
Nonetheless, it seems clear that Jews are a religion, not a race. And the test of that, it seems to me, is that Jews do accept converts. Try converting yourself into another race: It can't be done.
But many Jews are atheists or something close to it, so how can Jewry be a religion? The easy answer to that from an Orthodox viewpoint (with which I am broadly sympathetic) is that being Jewish is not a matter of belief but of practice. A Jew is someone who follows Jewish law (halacha). What you believe is very secondary. Deeds speak louder than words. Christianity is belief based but Judaism is practice based.
But there is also a much simpler answer: MOST religion is hereditary. And those who inherit it are often not zealous practitioners of it. My late father, for instance, always put his religion down on official forms as "C of E" ("Church of England") and had no hesitation in doing so. He in fact seemed rather proud of it. Yet in all the time I knew him, he never once set foot inside an Anglican church.
So why cannot Jews be the same? Even if you are not religious, you can still have a religious identity.
Because I am an atheist, I never bothered with getting my son Christened but I considered that a knowledge of Christianity was an important element of his cultural heritage so I sent him to a Catholic school -- in the view that Catholics still had enough cultural self-confidence to teach the Christian basics. And they did. And my son greatly enjoyed his religion lessons -- as I hoped he would.
When he was aged 9 however, he said that he wanted to become a Catholic, which of course I was delighted to arrange. So he was baptised and subsequently had his confirmation lessons and was confirmed. These days many years later his beliefs seem to be as skeptical as mine -- which I also expected -- so what motivated his desire to become a Catholic? He wanted to have a religious identity. There was no pressure on him but he was greatly impressed by some very faith-filled people in the church and he wanted to identify with that. And I imagine that he still puts himself down on forms as "Catholic".
So a religious identity can be quite a significant thing for many people, not only Jews. It is a part of belonging -- and that is a very basic human need. Jews in a way are lucky there. No matter what their beliefs are, they still know that there is always one place where they belong, if they ever want to acknowledge it.
Once or twice a year I still attend my local Presbyterian church (at Easter etc.) and I certainly feel that I belong there. I feel at home with all aspects of it. My mother was a Presbyterian of sorts so that was where I was sent as a kid for Sunday School -- and that has stayed with me even though I no longer believe. So, again, one can have and value a religious identity even if one's beliefs have very little to do with it.
And the lady in my life -- Anne -- is only very vaguely religious but her background religion is Presbyterian and there are many habits of mind she has which I know well from my own family, and with which I am therefore very much at ease. Sometimes when she speaks, I hear my mother and my aunties speaking too. She has a Presbyterian mind, or a Presbyterian way of thinking -- perhaps Presbyterian assumptions. I think that in a similar way, most Jews probably have a Jewish mind too. Attitudes and habits of thought may in fact be the most important parts of a religious heritasge.
I am sure that everything I have said above will be mumbo jumbo to most Leftists but, if so, that is their loss.
Another poetry night
I arranged one of my occasional poetry nights for my son Joe on Saturday night. There were 7 of us: Joe and Samantha, Anne and myself, Jill and Lewis and Joe's mother Jenny.
It was great to see how well Lewis has recovered from his stroke. He got up and down my front stairs all by himself and seemed as mentally alert as ever.
Haggis was on the menu for the dinner but Jenny can't eat haggis because of her gluten allergy so she got French (lamb) cutlets. As lamb is now dearer than lobster in Brisbane, some of the others present may have envied her. The haggis was however praised as usual. Anne had haggis a couple of times in Scotland during her recent trip and she said that the haggis I buy is better than what they sell in Scotland.
I ran the after dinner poetry a little differently this time. Instead of whole poems, I just printed out short excerpts of a lot of favourite poems and had us all recite them together. I thought that that would embed them in Joe's mind a little better. I also then got him to read out the first verse himself. My reasoning is that reading a poem once is not the main pleasure of it. It is KNOWING the poem that pleases most.
If any of my Indian tenants were nearby they must have wondered at these strange chants emanating from my dining room. They probably put it down to a worship service for some god. In India there are all sorts of gods, of course. We even tried to sing some of the poems for which we knew tunes but the result was pretty discordant. That would have added to the weirdness to any Indian listeners, I imagine. The poem we had most success in singing together was, rather strangely, the Eton boating song.
We had a big range among the poets -- from Chaucer to G.M. Hopkins -- but we had two poems each from Blake and Tennyson.
25 June, 2009
Pictured above are a couple of "Blitz" trucks in mint condition. There were a number of variations of them. You see above, for instance, that they came in both 6-wheel and 4-wheel versions. They were made in Canada by both Ford and Chevrolet during WWII as part of the huge Canadian contribution to the war effort. Male Canadians and Britons in those days were men, not the whining mice that most seem to have become under Leftist influence in the postwar era.
Unlike his father, my father did not use a bullock-team to "snig" (drag) the log along a bush track to its destination. He used a Blitz. A Blitz was originally designed to negotiate the often difficult terrain leading up to battlefields and it therefore had both 4WD and a double-reduction gearbox. It was slow but tough and versatile and could go almost anywhere -- which made it ideal for forest work after the war. And it was immensely popular after the war. They were all over the place in country areas. They were often used as tow-trucks. The picture below is an indication of how many there were before they all eventually wore out.
What I would like to know is how they originated. They were apparently designed in Britain but look like no other British vehicle. My suspicion is that the design was a copy of an Opel Blitz of the period. Opel is/was the German tentacle of GM. So I suspect that the British just copied a successful German design. I have however not been able to find a picture of the Opel Blitz of that period.
The name "Blitz" certainly suggests a German origin. "Blitz" is the German word for lightning. On the other hand, maybe the name is simply ironical: Whatever else the Blitz was, it was certainly not fast.
There must be a million collectors of military vehicles worldwide and a Blitz in good condition would certainly be most prized in such circles so I hope at least one collector reads this and is able to give me the history behind the "Blitz".
18 June 2009
The traveller returns
Anne got back from OS on Sunday so we had a small celebration on Monday night featuring a bottle of Moet etc. She got to see lots of places, mostly in Britain and Ireland but also in France. She went over to France on the Eurostar and found it very cramped. It amused me when she told me that the Parisians she met were friendly. Everyone else says otherwise. But Anne is herself exceptionally friendly so it just shows that if you you yourself are friendly, most other people will be friendly too. In other words, Anne's experience in Paris was a reflection of how she is rather than how Parisians generally are.
She did get down to Glyndebourne, and up to the RSC at Stratford, both of which she loved, of course. The opera she went to at Covent garden was some modern rubbish, however. She found the Louvre very crowded and that detracted from her time there. She also got up to Orkney and saw Scapa Flow, which I somewhat envy. Much history there. And the people on Orkney were friendly too, of course. And she met some friendly people on her way to Glyndebourne as well! That must be as unusual as finding friendly people in Paris.
She also took afternoon tea at the Ritz, which she had to book long before she left Australia. Even with five sittings, it is enormously popular, despite the price. It is so dear that I shouted her and her sister, June. June went over about half-way through Anne's trip to keep her company at Glyndebourne etc. And they both loved the experience of what is probably the world's most famous afternoon tea.
6 June, 2009
Dinner and a thesis
Jenny very kindly made me a dinner of Tonkatsu last night. It went very well with Hoisin sauce, Japanese ginger and steamed rice. Having a Chinese sauce with Japanese food is a bit odd but I have always liked that combination.
Joe gave me a copy of his honours thesis, which he hands in very soon. It is in mathematics so it is all Greek to me (literally!) but the general layout and English expression in it seemed very good. I am in no doubt that he will get a First. And UQ is a "sandstone" University so that means something.
Below is a page from his thesis. If you can make anything out of it you are better than I am!
28 May, 2009
A birthday and an email
Yesterday was Jenny's birthday so I took her to a good Indian restaurant at Mt Gravatt that we both like. Jenny updated me on all the family gossip and I was rather surprised that there is another pregnancy in the family -- a Chinese girl. Anyway the baby is much welcomed by the couple concerned so that is the main thing. I gave Jenny a cheque for her birthday and arranged to send Suzy a cheque so that she can have her confinement in a private hospital.
I am also going to put up here an email that I like from a distinguished French scientist. I get emails passed on to me at times and this one was not addressed to me so I am not going to put it on any of my science blogs but I just had to post it somewhere. The writer is a leading expert on the relationships between disease and climate and the "THIS!" that he is commenting on is a quite ignorant article on that topic which recently appeared in "The Times" of London. The "Times" article rather hilariously claimed that global warming would cause huge amounts of illness, just as cholera once did. The email seems to me very French, particularly the last sentence:I have just returned from Singapore. I am nauseated!
13 hours flight was expected, but one hour starting 0545h waiting for Customs Officers to stop arguing about something (will they strike?), another hour waiting for the back-up of baggages they caused (no baggage-handlers anywhere to be seen), and two hours getting home because of transport strike.
And now THIS!
The main article is a rehash of a similar load of garbage unloaded in 1996, plus (identical wording) other writings of the past, including, I suspect, IPCC. Same drivers too.
They have cherry picked without remorse.
What the hell can we do? I am flabbergasted that this can go on, and on, and on.
I have huge response to my article in Malaria Journal:
Yet these peddlers of garbage quote a 1998 model by two activists whose work is ridiculed by those of us who work in this field.
Mothers' day and swimming pools
I usually go over to Jenny's place on Mothers' day for lunch but today was a bit different. Jenny put on a BBQ using her new BBQ area. And the food was good of course. The twins were there plus Paul and his Suzy and Von had her Simon. Russell was off sick, which some of us attributed to swine flu! Joe, I and Nanna made up the party. I am sure Jenny was pleased to have all 4 of her children present.
Twinny Suzy's pregnancy was much discussed. Dec. 16 is the due date but she already has scans. Fortunately she is not having twins. Being herself a twin, descended from a long line of twins, it was a peril. She is quite a small person so it would have been hard for her if she had twins. I already notice a change in her. She seems more level-headed or something.
Paul expressed great enjoyment of the computer shop memoirs that I put up recently (April 27 below) so I promised him that I would also put up a small account I wrote at the time time when I tried to buy an above-ground swimming pool for my house at Faversham St. -- a pool that Paul remembers favourably and which is where Joe fell in twice when he was a toddler. On both occasions I had my eye glued on Joe so I fished him out within seconds and he came to no harm.
My purchasing expedition:
Most pool shops at the time were located not far from one-another -- on the Southside where a lot of new housing construction was taking place. And being long experienced with shopping in Australia (and hence VERY cynical), I took my Yellow Pages (business directory) with me on my expedition.
I was not bargain-hunting and I was not looking for anything unusual: An ideal customer, one would think. What I wanted was an 18' circular pool (pools still seem to be sized in feet) but the first shop I walked into said that they only stocked the 15' size. I left them to it.
The second pool shop I walked into was staffed by a woman who said her husband was away that day and she could not give me any prices. I left her to it as well.
The third pool shop I walked into had one salesperson there and a queue of about eight people lined up to buy chlorine etc. I figured that it would take around half an hour before I even got to state what I wanted so I left that lot to it as well.
The fourth shop I walked into did sell the size I wanted, served me promptly, had one installed out the back to show me what it looked like and could arrange installation next week. I therefore presented my Bankcard and they were promptly $2,000 richer. $2,000 in those days (about 20 years ago) would be equivalent to around $4,000 now.
But what about those other three shops that had seen the same $2,000 walk in the door and promptly walk out again? When businesses spend millions on advertising to get a customer through the door, what can they possibly have been thinking of to be (apparently) completely unconcerned about a "big ticket" buyer walking in and then promptly walking out again? Why was only one out of four firms able to show basic competence at what they were doing?
I am sorry to say it but I think it's just Australia -- as my computer shop memoirs also tend to show
8 May, 2009
Wow! It's unusual that I put up on this blog anything from the media but some excerpts I found yesterday from Handel's opera Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar) really bowled me over. See below:
Sheer soaring genius! Anne is going to Glyndebourne this year so I hope it is Giulio Cesare that she sees.
Having a counter tenor depict one of the greatest military geniuses of the ancient world is terminally weird but it works -- thanks mainly to Handel's music, I think
6 May, 2009
Biriani, sutures and dead people
Today I get the sutures out of my ear resulting from my last cancer excision a week ago. Healing has been very good. Getting cancer on your ear is a bit pesky but my regular plastic surgeon was well up to the challenge.
Jenny has been looking after me to to some extent while Anne is away in Britain and she made me a GREAT Indian biriani last Saturday. I had the leftovers for tea on Sunday too. A biriani is a very fancy curry and rice.
I was thinking of Anne just now and an amusing exchange between us came to mind. She comes from a very similar background to mine so I speak broad Australian with her, using all the brilliant old Australian slang that I love. You CANNOT express yourself as vividly in standard English as you can in Australian slang. I also have attitudes that were mostly mainstream when and where I grew up -- in North Queensland in the '40s and 50's. So I asked her once whom I most reminded her of -- thinking that she might name other Queensland old-timers such as her wonderful old nonagenarian stepfather, Bill. She named a number of people -- all of whom were DEAD! I am definitely a dinosaur.
One of the great ironies about Australian slang is that it is no longer understood by many young Australians, who have their own slang, mostly of American origin, I think. It survives among working class people and country people pretty well, however, but where it survives best of all is among Australia's outcasts: The Aborigines (blacks). A lot of their language is from yesteryear. As they are in a sense the most Australian of Australians, it is somehow fitting that their English is the most Australian too
29 April, 2009
I noticed that ton katsu seems to have vanished from the offerings at my local Japanese sushi train. The place changed hands a year or two ago so that could explain it. Anyway, when I arrived there this evening, I asked the proprietress if I could order some. Rather to my confusion, she had no clue what I was talking about. But she asked the head chef, who is fairly elderly, and he knew all about it so I got a nice plate of it after all.
I suppose that it proves what Japs sometimes say: That ton katsu is actually a German dish. I suppose it is. It is just crumbed pork basically. But it is a popular menu option in lots of Japanese restaurants. Koreans also have it but they call it don kats.
When Paul was about 11, Jenny said she would cook him anything he liked for his birthday dinner and he immediately nominated tonkatsu. Clearly not a lad brought up on traditional British meals of meat and 3 veg. -- as I was. Though my mother made a good dish of spaghetti on occasions. When Jenny cooks tonkatsu I like to have it with hoi sin sauce -- a Chinese sauce so not at all authentic -- but I like it anyway. I got a bit of Japanese mustard with my tonkatsu tonight, which I treated with great respect. Japanese mustard can be VERY "hot".
Jenny cooked lots of exotic food for me when we were together. I remember when Joey was about one, he had green poos, as babies sometimes do. So Jenny took him to the mothercraft nurse. The nurse asked Jenny: "You haven't been feeding him anything unusual, have you?" Jenny said No but she said she was thinking: "Only a bit of larb moo". Larb moo is Thai minced pork, a dish we all liked. Anyway, Joey came to no harm.
I had some more plastic surgery today. My appointment was for 8:30am and I was on the table by 8:45am and eating breakfast at my usual Italian restaurant by 10am so that is the sort of efficiency I like. The dermo said that the wound came together well after the cancer was excised so healing should be rapid. Private medicine sure beats public medicine but it does cost a bomb. Still, I worked hard during my youth at one of the world's most unpopular and stressful tasks -- landlording -- so I can afford some extras in my later years.
28 April, 2009
On Saturday Joe and I had dinner together at the local Chinese. The ambience there is 1960s cafe but Joe liked that, somewhat to my surprise. I am glad he is not a snob. We talked about secret men's business, mostly concerning human relationships, and I was pleased that he already had fully on board most of the things I think important in that department. Largely because of a natural modesty, his social skills are in fact of a very high order and I predict that he will one day be Head of School in a university mathematics department somewhere.
Then last night (Monday) Jenny made me some egg-rolled pork, a little-known Korean dish that I particularly like and which she does well. Russell and Suzy were also there and we had some interesting discussions. At most family dinners I spend most of the time talking to Ken, Paul or Joe about men's business so I was not at all up to date with all that is going on in the family. So it was a good chance to catch up with that with Jenny and Susan to talk to. Women keep up with all the personal comings and goings far better than most men do.
Russell seems to me to have good attitudes and values from a traditional Australian perspective. I am sure he will make a first-class father when that time comes. And he's got a rather loud voice too, which suits an old deafy like me.
27 April, 2009
Australian computer shops
I put the following post up on my Australian Politics blog but it occurs to me that I should put it up here too. I reproduce below a small memoir I wrote in the late 1990s about computer shops. Joey tells me that many such shops are just the same these days so I think the memoir still has relevance
Computer people are generally held to be pretty bright but my experience with computer shops has left me wondering.
For instance: Around 1990 I had been told that Amiga computers have very good software for helping pre-schoolers to learn to read and write etc. So I tried to buy an Amiga for my then three-year-old son, didn't I? Naturally, as computers are complicated things, I wanted to see the use of the software demonstrated before I bought. So I went into the computer shop of one of our better Department stores (Grace Bros. in Sydney) and asked for a demonstration. I found that they could indeed demonstrate two teenage-type games to me. They could not, however, demonstrate anything else as "We cannot open the packs".
So I sought out a specialist computer store didn't I? Now I already had an IBM-type computer so I knew this was not likely to be a joyous experience. I seem to be invisible in such shops. As far as I can see, in computer shops everyone always seems to be on the phone and customers in the shop can just go hang. And those phone conversations are long. They just seem to be so much more interesting than the boring business of actually selling to a customer.
So I walked into a rather big example of such a shop at what should have been a quiet time of the week in the hope that maybe there would be one person there who was on the ball. But no, I turned out to be invisible again. This time, however, the worm turned. I wandered out the back to what seemed to be the boss's office and asked the man there (who was, of course, on the phone), "Is anybody selling here?" His response? "Just wait out the front and someone will serve you". I said, "But I have already been waiting for some time and no-one has said anything to me." His reply? "What do you want?" I said, "I want to buy an Amiga." "Don't sell them", he then said and returned to his phone call with evident relief. He did not want to be bothered with a piddling $1,400 sale, did he? (At that time the average male gross wage would have been about $350 per week).
So next I went to a small computer shop in the hope that a small firm might be keener. Again, of course, I was invisible until I asked someone if anyone was selling here but I did then get some attention. Yes, he did sell software for pre-schoolers and the Amiga was indeed ideal for that but he had no software for pre-schoolers at all in stock at the moment so try him again next week. So by that stage I still had not managed to buy an Amiga.
Eventually I found a small retailer with a heavy foreign accent who was so keen that he offered the lowest prices AND even delivered the Amiga 500 to me at home. He actually travelled for over an hour through Sydney traffic from his shop at Campbelltown (outer Sydney) to Lewisham (Inner Western Sydney) to make the sale. Funny that he was foreign! (Northern Italian, it turned out).
Now let me tell what happened when I first decided to buy an Atari ST computer: I knew virtually nothing about Ataris but I did already have a 286 (i.e. an Intel machine) and an Amiga so I knew a bit about computers generally. One thing I certainly knew was that the big expense with computers is not the machine but the software. So when I rang up the main computer firm that dealt in Ataris (United Computers) to enquire about Atari prices, one thing I wanted to know was how easily I could get public domain software for Ataris. I was put on to the firm's apparent Atari "expert" to discuss this.
I said that I knew that some Bulletin boards had Atari software and asked how I could get such software onto Atari disks. If I downloaded it on my IBM machine would the Atari read my IBM disks? If not, would I have to buy an Atari modem program to download the Atari files direct onto Atari disks? I was told: NO you will need to buy an expensive program to enable an Atari to read IBM disks; and: YES you will need to buy an expensive Atari program in order to use your Atari for modem work.
Both these answers were of course bare-faced lies. Ataris read IBM disks as easily as they read their own and the commonly-used Atari modem programs, like Amiga and IBM modem programs, are mostly in the public domain or shareware. Anyway, their lies just ended up costing them business. I concluded that since the software was going to cost me such a lot I had better economize on buying the machine. So I bought a secondhand Atari rather than a new one and United Computers lost a sale.
The same firm also sold Amigas and on a later occasion quoted me outrageous prices for Amiga disk drives -- around twice what other people were charging. They also tried to sell me a box of high-density 3.5" disks for $55 -- then normally available for $20 and later available for $10 or less. Needless to say, on both occasions I walked out of the shop with my money still in my pocket!
And what about the time I tried to buy a complicated piece of software off them? They tried to demonstrate it for me but could not get it to work. I offered to buy it anyway on condition that I be allowed to return it for refund if nobody I knew could get it to work either. They refused my offer! "But you could just copy it and then return it", they said. Maybe. But the fact that the software concerned was on CD-ROM should be mentioned. The CD was going to cost miles less than a hard drive of similar capacity would have cost me. Anyway, I once again walked out with my money still in my pocket.
And then there was the time I got a secondhand copy of the game "Dungeon Master". As it was copy-protected, it had not been backed up but had just been used straight out of the box. The original buyer did the right thing and relied on the retailer to provide any backup needed. By the time I got the game, however, it had died, so I took the disk, box and manual to United Computers and asked for backup service. They undertook to provide this at a charge of $5. Quite reasonable -- at first. I then waited -- and waited -- and waited.
After two months or so I gave up, asked for the stuff back, obtained a Blitzcopy cable and re-copied the game courtesy of another owner of it. United's excuse for the delay? "The game was out of production and our supplier had to write to America for a copy". But if this begins to sound half reasonable remember that Dungeon Master was at the time arguably the most popular computer game ever. Could they really not find another copy of such a game? They were obviously not even trying. They sure knew how to encourage software piracy! Or didn't they WANT to sell software?
I mentioned above how when you walk into almost any computer shop all the staff are on the phone. Occasionally there is a receptionist there who knows nothing about computers and whose only function is to ask you to wait but that is about as good as you get. The only exceptions seem to be when the shop is run by Asians. When you walk into one of their shops you find them on the phone too but they immediately say something which must be the Cantonese (or Urdu) equivalent of, "A customer has just walked in. I will call you back." They then get up and serve you promptly.
The only way I ever found of getting reasonably prompt attention from non-Asian computer shop staff was to say, "Excuse me. I want to buy a 486". Since the 486 was at the time the top-of-the-line IBM-type machine and cost accordingly, they then put the phone down and paid some attention to me. It was amusing to see their faces when I told them that I did not really want to buy a 486 but just said that as it seemed to be the only way of getting served.
Mind you, with firms like United Computers (who of course eventually went broke) even that trick may not work. I know someone (Jason Marianoff) who once went in there to ask seriously about buying an Amiga 3000 (the top-line Amiga at the time). The staff were too busy playing a computer game to answer his questions properly! He too left their premises without putting his hand in his pocket. He then went into business on his own account as an Amiga retailer and did such a superb job at it that he ended up as the only surviving Amiga retailer in Brisbane.
So computer firms at least should think about the company they keep. If they want to sell machines they would do well to cease relying on lackadaisical and typically Australian firms like United and try instead to sign up a few small Asian retailers. They would sell a lot more gear that way. Why? Because charging like the Light Brigade puts everyone except pretentious people off and pretentious people buy Apple Macs anyway. And NOBODY -- pretentious or not -- likes to be treated like a bad smell when they go to buy something. And if a potential customer DOES get treated like a bad smell, it is very easy for him/her to go elsewhere and buy a rival product instead.
And then there was the time I wanted to get a computer monitor cable copied by a firm that specialized in such work (Qld Connectors and Cables). The firm did the job and got it wrong. The copy cable did not work -- for a rather obvious reason. Rather than listen to me when I politely asked to tell them where they had got it wrong and how to fix it, they insisted on giving me my money back instead. They would rather lose money than listen to a customer! Customers who complained, no matter how politely or with how much justification were just not to be dealt with any further. Rather British, really, but quite incredible by Japanese or American standards.
And it is not even as if the service the firm concerned was offering was anywhere near irreplaceable. Anybody can buy all the connectors they need from a Tandy or Dick Smith store and then solder them on to a bit of cable themselves if they want to. It takes little skill and less brains when all you have to do is copy the example in front of you.
Another offended shopkeeper was in a way even more amusing. I wanted to replace my 486 with a machine running a Celeron chip in late 1998. I found the cheapest Celeron being advertised in the paper (by a firm called Global Computers) and rang up and ordered one. When I arrived I asked to test the machine to see that it worked, only to find that the computer was nowhere near ready for use. All they had done was put it together. They had not even formatted the hard drive. So I had to partition and format it myself (warned by past experience with computer shops, I "just happened" to have a DOS boot disk in my pocket) plus set up access to the the CD drive plus set up the soundcard -- all of which took me about 20 minutes while the salesman just sat on his behind staring into space.
At the end I found that the sound did not work and pointed this out. He asked his technician about it and was told that a special piece of software would be needed to get the sound running. I asked if he would like my phone number so he could let me know when the sound was running. He did not seem to want to be bothered so I just walked out the door with my cash still in my pocket. As I walked out he said: "Thanks for wasting my time". He was angry with me because I would not buy an inoperable machine!
So I then rang someone I had long known ("Game Dude") and asked him for a quote. He charged $1321 -- about $200 cheaper than what the moron was charging. And when I went to Game Dude he had everything all set up. I just had to walk in, test it and hand over the cash! Shopping around can make an amazing difference. Game Dude was of course an owner/operator of his business.
Australia contrasts greatly with Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, the retailer seems to think that it is his/her job to ensure that you walk out with less money in your pocket than when you walked in. And he/she does what it takes to bring that about. He/she actually makes an effort either to give you what you want or convince you that you want something else. The retailer actually gives the impression that he/she wants to make a sale! There are no invisible customers in Hong Kong.
But Hong Kong capitalism is closer to us than you might think. When I took my train to work in Sydney of a morning (in 1990), it was not uncommon for around half the faces in the carriage to be Asian. And that is already beginning to show up in the shops. And everyone knows what it is like in a Chinese restaurant. You no sooner sit down than there is a menu in front of you. You have no sooner made your selection and closed your menu than there is someone by your elbow waiting to take your order. In other restaurants it can take half an hour just to get a menu! I wonder why I mostly eat out in Asian restaurants?
At any event, it has already happened in Britain. Polite brown people from the Indian sub-continent of Asia now seem to run almost all the small businesses in Britain -- from laundrettes and grocery shops to Post Offices, small hotels and electrical goods shops. Australia's Asians might come from a different part of Asia but they will do a similar justly deserved takeover in due course. "Old Australian" businessmen will just end up at the beach and on the dole, where they generally seem to belong -- modern-day Pacific islanders. Australia is, after all, the largest Pacific island.
25 April, 2009
The twinny birthday
Today is ANZAC day but, as usual, I was too lazy to go to any of the services.
Last night was a birthday dinner for the twins, Susan and Vonnie. It was held at the Calamvale hotel and the food was surprisingly good. It must be what the English call a "gastropub". I was sitting next to Paul and he regaled everyone within earshot with some of his treasured memories: Which consisted mainly of assertive things I had done in his presence when he was growing up. I don't put up with being pushed around. I push back. And Paul greatly admires that. I had in fact forgotten most of the episodes he recalled. He is himself quite assertive and says he learnt it all from me but he obviously had it in him as well. Anyway, he got a stepfather who really suited him and we have always got on very well.
Speaking of assertiveness, Von really surprised me. Our dinners were rather slow in arriving so when a few people mentioned that, Von got straight up and went and sorted it out. She is so ladylike that I would have expected her to get someone else to do it. She did after all have her assertive brother Paul there and her husband sitting beside her. So there is a bit of assertiveness in Von too. She is a highly-paid lady these days so she probably needs a bit of assertiveness there.
I mentioned my surprise to Suzy and said that when they were kids, she always spoke for both Von and herself. Suzy commented: "I still do". Twins do however have a great understanding of one-another -- even fraternal twins as Von and Suzy are. Suzy is wearing her hair very long these days and it is a beautiful blonde so I was very pleased to see it opposite me at the table.
I have now arranged to have dinner with Joey tonight and Jenny is going to cook me some egg-rolled pork on Monday. Yum!
Anne is overseas in London at the moment and I have just got an email from her that gave me a bellylaugh. Anne is a bit of a foodie and I don't think she really believed all the things that people have told her about how bad English food can be. Now she knows. I reproduce the description of her first breakfast at her hotel:
"The breakfast served was a surprise, really close to being inedible. Hard boiled eggs, pale scrambled eggs, baked beans (mostly sauce) and cold meat similar to the tasteless stuff you see in Coles (which I can't recall the name for............maybe "ham delight"), cold tasteless coffee and toast finished it off"
23 April, 2009
For St. George and merrie England!
Today is St. George's day, the national day of England (not Britain. Britain includes Scotland and Wales) so I have just hoisted the flag of St George from my flagpole. It has mostly in the past not been much celebrated in England but, thanks in part to Boris Johnson, the "Turkish" Mayor of London, it will be this year. Boris is a great joker. He does have some distant Turkish ancestry (Turkish Jewish if I remember rightly) but even his grandfather was an RAF bomber pilot in WWII and he himself went to Eton and Oxford.
Anne flew out to London for 7 weeks holiday yesterday and I have heard of no aircraft crashes so I assume she got there safely. But did her luggage get there too? Always doubtful when you are using Heathrow airport. There have been cases where people's luggage arrived at their holiday destination only after they had returned home!
19 April, 2009
De rerum novarum
Sorry to misappropriate the name of a Papal encyclical for my heading above but today WAS a day of new things for me. We had our Westside classical music gathering tonight and one of the performers brought along a real live Basset Horn and played it. Mozart is the only composer who wrote much for the Basset Horn and it fell into disuse soon thereafter -- so very few people even had much idea of what it was until recently. Someone found some originals in an old castle somewhere, though, and it has now been revived -- with fingering the same as for a clarinet. It was the first time I had seen one. It looks like a small sax but has a surprisingly bass range. The guy who bought it along is a clarinettist and he played us some Mozart on it.
The second surprise was that we had a young composer among us who played us some of his music. That would normally be a trigger for some big groans but this guy was surprisingly good. I actually enjoyed some recently-written music tonight! His conventions were of the 19th century, however -- not the raucous screeching that usually passes for modern music. One hopes that the agonized substitute for music that characterized the 20th century died with that century. I speak of MOST 20th century music however. Exceptions like Philip Glass and Joaquin Rodrigo were of course brilliant.
And the third but much more minor surprise was that our usual Asian contingent comprised this time a violinist and a cellist. A Jewish violinist and an Chinese pianist would be our more usual pattern.
10 April, 2009
Good Friday today
Well. I made it to the service at my old church: Ann St Presbyterian. Good Friday is a major religious occasion for Christians in Australia, with Easter Sunday secondary. I gather that it is the other way around in some countries. So I got up at 8am and managed to be at the 9am commencement of the service with time to spare. The church is only 10 minutes drive from where I live so that helps. Anne came along too as it happens to be her old church too. It was a communion service so went on a bit longer than usual. It felt good to be back among the sort of people "from whence I sprang". And it was good to hear a Scottish accent from the pulpit too. I feel sorry for Leftists who don't appreciate such things. It must be very unpleasant to be angry with the world about you all the time. I certainly don't think the world is perfect but I don't hate it. I just enjoy getting on with my own life in my own way.
The congregation was mostly Caucasian with only a few Asians present. The Koreans who used to attend have now built their own church. The pews at Ann St were still pretty full though. The minister, Archie McNicol, is one of the old school who is not afraid to mention "The machinations of the Devil" and such things so it is real religion that gets preached there and not conventional bromides. I noticed that the long prayer included a supplication for the conversion of the Jews. Traditional of course. But I would have been happier if it had also included a prayer for the safety of the Jews.
The reading was from John Chapter 19 and I was struck by the great lengths Pilate went to NOT to crucify Jesus, but the Pharisees were relentless and finally accused him of disloyalty to Caesar -- which Pilate of course could not risk. Many of the claimants on righteousness today -- Warmists, Leftists, obesity warriors etc. -- are just as nasty and hostile in my view.
The service ended with the hymn "Rugged Cross" -- one of my top favourites.
There is occasionally a furore when secularists or Anglicans (but I repeat myself) remove the crucifix from some church or chapel. We had an example of that very recently in Australia. They would be perplexed how to attack Ann St. Presbyterian, though -- because it has neither cross nor crucifix in it. That is because it is an old "Wee Free" (Free Church of Scotland) church and its Scottish fundamentalist builders weren't going to have any "graven images" in it -- and CERTAINLY no "idolatry". With all the polished wood in it, the interior is still a beautiful one, though. See below. I feel immensely at home there.
A small addendum
The former Governor of Queensland, Quentin Bryce, was a supporter of the Ann St. church and it appears that the present Governor, Penny Wensley, has stepped into her shoes in that respect too. I believe I saw Her Excellency at the service. She is certainly going to be present at the Anzac Day service at Ann St., just ahead. Anzac day is Australia's most solemn day of commemoration. Penelope Wensley is a Queensland-born career diplomat so her appointment as Governor is appropriate.
Unlike the USA, a Governor in Australia is an appointed office rather than an elected one. The governor represents and inherits the powers of the Monarch, which are large, though they are very rarely exercised. I am sure that many Americans wish at times that there was someone who could dismiss their government if it got too uppity. At both the State and the Federal level, that power does exist in Australia. Monarchy has its advantages.
2 April, 2009
These memoirs are a pretty idiosyncratic affair. I make no attempt to keep them systematic in any way. My life is a very routine one -- which is how I like it -- so the the major events in it tend to be family occasions and my encounters with the medical profession -- surgeries to remove (iatrogenic) skin cancer, mainly. I had a CT scan of my head recently and I am rather pleased to say that they found nothing wrong with it!
So something as simple as a sandwich can be a major event for me. And last Tuesday Anne made an excellent Reuben sandwich for me. I discovered Reuben sandwiches on my trips to the USA and -- lover of sandwiches that I am -- the unavailability of Reuben sandwiches in Australia has always been a great regret to me. But last Tuesday Anne had cooked up some pickled pork that she thought would go well on a Reuben sandwich -- and so it did. She made it with Jarlsberg cheese -- which is a sort of Swiss cheese (from Norway!) -- plus the usual sauerkraut and thousand-island dressing -- and it was great!
I have also got her to try her hand at Philly cheesesteak sandwiches -- which she does for me on rare occasions with good results. If I were younger I would fly us both to Philly to try Geno's version but I am afraid that it is too late in my life for that. I have started to mention Denver (Western) sandwiches to her but no results yet.
Yes. I know that pork of any kind is the LAST thing you should have on a Reuben sandwich. I am sure that a Jew dies somewhere every time you do (To quote a famous joke) but it tasted good anyway
28 March, 2009
My son the white van man
Yiddisher Mommas are famous for referring to "my son the doctor" -- though I imagine that that was mainly an older generation of Yiddisher Mommas at work. Perhaps it has to be "My son the Professor" these days.
So the fact that my son is a white van man would no doubt be looked upon with pity by some. In fact it would be looked on with speechlessness in much of English society. "White van man" is the euphemism for the working class in England these days. And under them in the hierarchy are "chavs" -- loud young people who may or may not work but who are flashy rather than bright -- an important distinction.
So I was much amused to be told by my son last night that he has some part-time work delivering computers that people have bought from his brother's business. And he delivers them in a white van! He does it only to earn some pocket money while working towards his doctorate in Mathematics so I suspect that I might still be able to hold my head high in the company of Yiddisher Mommas. The Yiddisher Mommas I have known have always been perfectly pleasant to me so I did not really have any doubts about that. Though one of them did refer to me as "the doctor", so draw your own conclusions about that!
This all transpired at a birthday dinner for my stepson Paul -- his 33rd. There was the usual big family dinner around a long table for the occasion -- this time at an excellent Indian restaurant at Mt Gravatt. My son Joe lives with his mother so I see him mainly on family occasions but they are frequent so not much is lost.
I was pleased that Joe seems well set in his academic career path now. He finds the work he does easy and is enthusiastic about it so getting a doctorate in it should be plain sailing. His supervisor is Chinese and the Chinese in general do seem to have a higher mathematical aptitude than the rest of us so Joe was understandably talking about learning Mandarin. I warned him about how hard that would be. Joe has however always got on well with Chinese people so I think a visit to China is on the cards for him some time in the future.
22 February, 2009
Avoid the Camerata of St John's
Last night Anne and I went to a concert given by the Camerata of St John's at their home base in the cathedral. It was awful. The concert was called "Four seasons" and of course featured the Vivaldi work of that name. Before we got to the Vivaldi, however, we had to endure some screeching modern crap, which put me in a bad mood for the Vivaldi, which is hard to do.
And to cap it all, there was an interminable amount of talk injected into all the proceedings. I go to a concert to hear music, not to listen to some idiot's "artistic" ramblings. They even had the yap in between the different "seasons" of the Vivaldi. What an insult to think they could improve on the music of Vivaldi! It must be the least enjoyable rendition of Vivaldi that I have ever heard.
It was my own fault for going, however. I should have checked the full programme beforehand. I just thought that any concert featuring "Le quattro stagioni" had to be good. I was wrong. Trying to be positive, the best I can say for the performances is that they were energetic.
14 February, 2009
A saint's day observed
Once it was only Catholics who celebrated saints' days but now lots of us do: St Valentine seems to be going from strength to strength. I think I did my bit: red roses, a card, a present and a dinner prepared with my own fair hand for Anne.
I actually prepared a big antipasto for our dinner: Something we both like. It had giardiniera, olives, feta, sweet pickled cucumber slices, tinned mackerel and tinned salmon in it. It went down well. We washed it down with a bottle of Moet.
I even wore an Hawaiian shirt for the dinner, which seemed to please Anne. My usual taste in shirts these days is predictably conservative -- whites and pale blues -- but Anne is keen on colour.
We were going to take the dinner to a riverside park to eat but rain supervened so we had it on my verandah.
After dinner we listened to the great music of old Vienna in the form of a medley of Strauss walzes
13 February, 2009
A small point of information
What I write on this blog is purely what I observe and recollect. I make no claim that it is a full and objective account of anything. Given my memory it is undoubtedly a most incomplete account of anything it describes. But there is some remedy for that inadequacy: This blog has a comments facility. So any reader can at any time add their own thoughts and views to supplement mine.
11 February, 2009
Burns nights of yesteryear
"Marty", a relative of mine on my mother's side, enjoyed my account here of my recent Burns night. He sent a copy to an old friend of his of Scottish heritage. His friend reminisces as follows:"When I was a member of the pipe band in Cairns we used to celebrate Burns Night in the upstairs ballroom of the RSL on the esplanade.I think it does take talent to cook haggis well. The haggis I get is cooked by a local Scots cook and is excellent.
Staying true to custom the haggis was piped in cut and distributed, toasts were given, we all got pissed and had a bloody good time.
I was never and still am not keen on haggis I likened the taste to damp sawdust but to stay true to the cause managed to eat a wee bit.
I remember reading about some bloke taking a haggis through customs in Spain, I think it was, and the Spanish customs listed it as fertilizer and they wouldn't have been far wrong.
We never turned out in full Highland dress even on Burns night, it was too bl**dy hot.
The pipe band used to be invited to just about everything that was going in Cairns and surprisingly even in summer the kilt, being made of wool, was pretty cool to wear. I still get the gear on in November when Linda and I go to the Highland gathering in Nambour.
That Andy Stewart clip bought back memories, Linda and I went and saw him at the civic center in Cairns and there was a bloke called John McDonald playing a piano accordion, I could have sat and listened to him all night. My old man used to play accordion and he was pretty bl**dy good but he was not in this bloke's class."
9 February, 2009
A sympathetic caricature
I like the work of conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG and do what I can to promote it. As a thank-you Zeg has done the caricarure of me with my son Joe below. I think it is great.
And, yes: I DID wear the kilt to Susie's wedding.
Susan Vanessa Johnson got married last Saturday. Ceremonies were supposed to start at 1:30pm, which is when I arrived, and ended around 10pm. Susie is my stepdaughter and I helped to bring her up. And she was always a happy little girl so we had lots of fun together while she was a kid. So although she is now 30, there has always remained a feeling of closeness between us. When she was little, I used to call her "Lady Fun" and her happy nature is still there today.
I think her love of fun may have partly been why she got dressed for her wedding in a very fine but rather traditional off-white wedding dress, complete with train, which tripped a few people up a couple of times. She looked gorgeous.
The ceremony was a garden one, in one of Brisbane's many parks. It was conducted by newly-minted marriage celebrant, Simon Bartlett, her uncle by marriage. The words of the ceremony were mainly written by Susan and her husband Russell, as is often the way these days. And the words chosen were very fine words of dedication and by the end of the ceremony Simon seemed a bit choked up. All the family love Susan and Simon clearly has a sentimental streak. I am a great sentimentalist too and it takes one to know one. Susie too was obviously a bit overcome by all the goodwill directed her way.
After the wedding, we went to the Mt Gravatt bowls club for the reception. From 4 to 7pm the idea was that we would all play lawn bowls, as the family is a very games-oriented one. I am no gamer, however, so I spent most of that time talking secret men's business with my son Joe. It was good to have the chance of such a long chat.
The dinner started at 7pm and least said soonest mended about the cuisine. There were various speeches, including a speech of utter dedication to Susie from Russell. I think we all felt that Susie was in exactly the sort of good hands we would wish at the end of it. Ken, Susie's father, was even induced to make a speech, which was generally well-done, despite Ken's well-known aversion to public speaking. I think I may have been the only one to get Ken's best joke, however, which was hilarious.
I then gave a little talk about a couple of the amusing events from Susie's childhood and then the night gradually transformed into dancing of various kinds. Susie came and got me on my feet so I had the privilege of dancing with the bride.
Being an old traditionalist, I felt a certain gap in that there were no religious blessings on the couple at any time but the family is such a non-religious one that it was really no surprise. As an atheist myself, I could hardly step into the breach.
I have no doubt that any readers not steeped in Australian culture would have been a little puzzled by my reference above to "secret men's business". It is of course a joke and refers to Aboriginal customs. Google "secret women's business" to get an idea of what it is all about.
1 February, 2009
The Asian influence
As a conservative, I treat people primarily as individuals, regardless of any group to which they may or may not belong. I leave obsession with race and class to Leftists. From Marx up until shortly after the Hitlerian catastrophe, Leftists were very pro-racist. Now they are very anti-racist but the obsession with race remains. They seem unable to treat people as individuals and can only talk about people in terms of broad and very oversimplified categories.
But as well as being a conservative I am also a sociologist. An Australian government (NSW) paid me a lot of money over a 12 year period to teach it. And as they are nearly all Leftists, what is the chief interest of sociologists? Race and class! So I still mull those topics over in my head quite a lot -- with always in mind the one piece of wisdom I remember from my mother's incessant chatter: "There's good and bad in the lot".
I am, for instance, very pro-Indian; I think that Indians tend to have admirable characteristics. And being the forthright sort of person I am, I put my money where my mouth is and have mostly Indian sharers living with me in my large house. Usually, I even fly the flag of the Republic of India from the flagpole at the front of my house and have been known to greet Indians living here with Jai Hind ("Long live Hindustan")! And that orientation serves me well in that I am very satisfied with the people that I have living with me. But I have also kicked two Indians out. Even though I think Indians are mostly fine people there are some pesky ones too and I have no trouble treating them accordingly. There is good and bad in Indians too.
So on to my thoughts about East Asians and the Han Chinese in particular. I have probably commented on this to a boring extent already but I never cease to be amazed at how well Australians of Asian and British ancestry get on together in Australia. One sees Anglo/Asian couples around the place all the time: Older Australian men with Filipinas and younger Anglo-Australian men with Chinese ladies.
And I myself am quite Sinophilic as well as Indophilic. It is in a way fortunate that I am as I have two old friends who now live in China with Chinese wives. And another old friend has a Japanese lady in his life. I myself however have never got involved with East Asian women, though I did once have an Indian girlfriend. My son however has a girlfriend with Han ancestry and has Chinese friends as well. There are all sorts of background differences and some genetic differences between Anglo-Australians and Chinese but at the individual level there is also often a great appreciation of one another. One can only applaud that. And my conclusion is that the differences between East Asians and Anglo-Celts are complementary: Each has strengths where the other has weaknesses and vice versa. But I might tread on toes all round if I went further into that thought.
The present revival of this theme in my thinking was provoked by a visit from China by one of my old friends, Croucher. He arrived in Brisbane yesterday with his Chinese wife and his two very impressive Eurasian sons. So we all went to dinner together with the Henninghams. Henningham, Croucher and I have a friendship that goes back many years. We always refer to one another by surname only, indicating a sort of jolly friendship, I suppose.
Perhaps in need of a change off Chinese food, Croucher wanted some Middle-Eastern food. So we went to a Turkish restaurant near where I live. Parking around there there is either very difficult or very expensive so I crammed us all into my 1963 Humber Super Snipe and delivered everybody to the door of the restaurant in that. The Humber has bench seats front and back so can transport more people than many modern cars.
I was feeling a bit depressed due to my upcoming minor surgery but fortunately everyone else was in good form with nonsense being talked for most of the night. We did however have occasional serious moments in which we agreed, for instance, that global warming was a great steaming heap of ... Henningham, Croucher and I constantly talk bantering nonsense to one another in emails -- which we greatly enjoy doing -- but it was best of all to do so in person, of course. All three of us are academics so there is also occasionally some academic talk between us but not much.
But it is still a little surprising to me that wherever I go there is a Han presence -- a presence that seems to be completely harmonious. At the classical music group I go to there are almost always Chinese performers giving renditions of Western classsical music to a very high standard; and at the recent annual gathering of my relatives on my mother's side there was also a Han presence: A cousin once removed is married to a Chinese lady and has attractive Eurasian children. I actually now have relatives with Han ancestry!
So if only all minorities fitted in as well here as the East Asians do! Australia is indeed lucky that its largest visible minority is East Asian -- people whom I see as generally patient, clever, flexible individuals who work hard and contribute greatly to the community as a whole. They are not saints (though their rate of crime is very low) but they do seem to fit in with the rest of us remarkably well. And anyone who values social ease and harmony will value that.
27 January, 2009
Australia day is always a hectic time for me. Anne has her birthday on 23rd. I have the Burns night on 25th and then Australia day on 26th. Anne's birthday is no problem. I just take her to the Hilton Smorgasbord or Siggy's -- both of which are very upmarket places to dine. It was the Hilton this year as Anne is devoted to the excellent oysters that they always have there. But Burns Night is a BIG occasion and at lunch on the very next day I have to be recovered enough to attend the annual reunion of the C** clan -- my relatives on my mother's side. There are heaps of us all over the place but even the Brisbane contingent is substantial and we have been having a BBQ lunch together on Australia day for many years.
This year it was, as usual, at the home of my very pleasant brother Christopher. One could not ask for a nicer brother and he lives a mere 10 minutes drive from me but I still see him only once or twice a year. Such is the way of many Australian families. It is to overcome that tendency to disconnection that we all make a point of getting together on Australia day.
I was this year as always impressed by Peter, my cousin once removed. He is a fellow academic but I am still always impressed by the breadth of his knowledge. There seems to be no topic you can raise on which he does not have a useful contribution. He, Joe and I spent some time discussing battles of WWI and WWII and such things. Peter is married to a Chinese lady and has a most detailed knowledge of Chinese matters. He also has most attractive Eurasian children who were there with us. Joe's girlfriend is also of the Han so the Chinese influence is well into the family. Being Sinophilic myself, I am entirely pleased about that. I see the Han as a civilizing influence.
26 January, 2009
A Scottish "seder"
Last night I celebrated, together with family and friends, the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns. And we did almost all of the customs that are associated with a Burns night. The Scots have customs and rules for most things and a Burns Night is certainly no exception to that. There just ARE certain things you do on a Burns night and I think all 25 of us present enjoyed carrying out the customs concerned. Even people who are not normally particular fans of the monarchy, for instance, were glad to join loudly in the loyal toast ("God save the Queen").
The extensive customs involved reminded me in a way of a Jewish passover seder. A seder in its present form shows strong Hellenistic influences so is probably around 2,000 years old whereas a Burns night is only around 200 years old but they are both examples of enduring and complex traditions that are greatly enjoyed by the participants. And although I have the utmost repect for the Orthodox haggadah that we used at the seder I attended last year, I think the poems of Robbie Burns also have a powerful and didactic effect. And maybe might last just as long.
It saddens me a little, however, that, as with Jewry, there has been a loss of culture among us decendants of the British diaspora. Most people these days don't even know how to respond to the loyal toast. The response to "God save the Queen" is of course simply "The Queen" but lots of people don't seem to know that.
I struggled into the kilt for the occasion and led the proceedings. Present were mostly the "old gang" of family members who seem to meet for one reason or another every month or two. But in addition to that we had two visitors from Scotland and two visitors from Sydney. From Scotland came Ken's sister Pat and her daughter Anna. From Sydney came my old friend Mel Dickson and his wife Diana. Mel is Dunedin-born so still can do an approach to a Scottish accent -- so he very kindly read some of the poems for us all. He also gave a brilliant "Address to the Lassies" that amused us all.
Anne did a great job of cooking the haggis, tatties and neeps and she even did some cabbage as well -- at my particular request. I think she does great cabbage and great neeps. It was all good peasant food, but very well done.
We had clootie dumpling as the dessert but I corrupted that custom a bit by having custard with it instead of sugar. After that we had the nearest I could find to "Dunlop" cheese accompanied by either oatcakes or salty biscuits.
The occasion was very kindly hosted at Daisy Hill by my stepson Paul, as I can only fit 7 or 8 people at my place.
21 January, 2009
BBQ for visitors from England
A "BBQ for visitors from England" is quite a common social occasion in Australia. Emigration to Australia from England has been going on continuously for the last 200 years and it is still big today. So many English-born people live in Australia but like to keep up with friends and relatives back "home". It also works the other way. Most Australians seem to visit England some time -- mainly in their youth -- and some settle in England. So some of the "visitors from England" are actually Australian-born and coming home to touch base with relatives and old friends.
Ken's sister Pat and her daughter have recently arrived in Australia for a few weeks. She is English-born but lives in Scotland these days. So we had a welcoming BBQ for her last Saturday -- with just about all "the gang" present -- 20+ people I guess. It was at Simon's place and Simon once again did us proud with his cookery (kebabs, sausages, drumsticks etc) but left the desserts to the ladies.
I talked mainly with Ken, Simon and Joe as I normally do. I also talked a bit to Paul about the stockmarket and tried to give him a longer perspective on it. I was pleased to see that Paul and Sue have overcome their differences. Sue was looking more glamorous than ever. I previously told Paul that he was mad to fall out with such a nice-looking and nice-natured wife and he seems to have taken that to heart. I think everyone took Sue's side in the matter, as a matter of fact.
Much future activity soon: Annes's birthday at the Hilton Friday night, Burns Night Sunday night with 20+ guests and the Austalia day BBQ with my mother's relatives on Monday lunchtime. I will be worn out at the end of all that.
2 January, 2009
A VERY quiet new year's eve
All that happened at my place was that Anne came over and cooked us an excellent lamb roast & veg. for dinner. Very traditional. She also provided some good Tasmanian triple cream cambembert for appetisers. Less traditional. We washed it down with a bottle of Moet & Chandon champagne from the Hexagon.
After that we just lay about and listened to classical music for a while and then at 8.30 turned on ABC TV to watch the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. It is filmed in Scotland in September, I think, but the ABC always broadcast it here on new year's eve. I think it is an instinct that you have to have something Scottish on new year's eve, an instinct that I entirely approve of. So watching the tattoo here on TV at that time is rather traditional too. You have to like pipe music to really appreciate it though. I was pleased to see that an Indian military band was part of it this year. And there were Gurkhas too!
But I still think that the Scottish regiments in full Highland dress are the most magnificently attired military men. There is no other uniform that comes close to it, in my view. The terribly plain uniforms that the German army wear these days are something of a tragedy in my view. Bring back the Pickelhaube!
Just before the new year broke Anne and I retired to the verandah and waited for all the noise (fireworks etc.) that would greet the new year. We toasted the new year in with the remainder of the Moet.
Being a literary sort of character, I do lapse into obscure language at times. But being a born pedagogue, I also feel impelled to explain things. So what is that business above about a hexagon? It is just a common French synonym for France (strictly, metropolitan France). Look at a map of France and you should see why.
For current posts on this blog, see here. For 2008 posts, see here.
What would I like to be remembered about me long after I am dead and gone?
I would like it to be remembered that I too often experienced one of life's greatest pleasures: The first mouthful of cold beer on a warm day.
That pleasure will last as long as human beings are human beings, I believe
I am less certain about Bach. The last thing that people will remember about me long after I have gone will probably be: "He liked Bach". Will J.S. Bach continue to inspire people for a thousand years more? I think so. But beyond that I am not sure.
As Oscar Wilde might have said: Life is too important to be taken seriously
My full name is Dr. John Joseph RAY. I am a former university teacher aged 68 at the time of writing in late 2011. I was born of Australian pioneer stock in 1943 at Innisfail in the State of Queensland in Australia. After an early education at Innisfail State Rural School and Cairns State High School, I taught myself for matriculation. I took my B.A. in Psychology from the University of Queensland in Brisbane. I then moved to Sydney (in New South Wales, Australia) and took my M.A. in psychology from the University of Sydney in 1969 and my Ph.D. from the School of Behavioural Sciences at Macquarie University in 1974. I first tutored in psychology at Macquarie University and then taught sociology at the University of NSW. I am Australian born of working class origins and British ancestry. My doctorate is in psychology but I taught mainly sociology in my 14 years as a university teacher. In High Schools I taught economics. I have taught in both traditional and "progressive" (low discipline) High Schools.
Jenny is the first wife of Ken and the third wife of John
Maureen is the second wife of Ken
Paul and the twins (Vonnie and Suzy) are the children of Jenny and Ken
Joe is the child of Jenny and John
Timmy and Davey are the children of Ken and Maureen
Paul is married to Susan
Matthew is the son of Paul and Susan
Twinny Suzy is married to Russell
Von is married to Simon
Tracy is Ken's sister
Tracy is married to Simon (another Simon)
Hannah is the daughter of Von and Simon
Sahara and Dusty are the children of Twinny Suzy and Russell
George came out on the boat to Australia with Ken
George has a son named Simon (The 3rd. Simon)
Jill and Lewis are old friends of John
Anne is the lady in John's life these days
Anne has sisters named Merle and June. Merle is married to Ralph
Anne's sons are Byron, Nigel and Warren
Byron has two sons named Koen and Ethan and a wife named Bonnie
My brother is Christopher (married to Kim) and my surviving sister is Roxanne (married to Stefan)
Quite simple really!