SOME MEMOIRS -- by John Ray
Some occasional personal notes from a quiet life...

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Old folk at lunch

As Oscar Wilde may have said: "Life is too important to be taken seriously". But the Hagakure had the idea too: "Matters of great concern should be treated lightly"


25 December, 2011

A magnificent Christmas occasion

A snippet of the ecclesiastical procession, led by Archbishop Aspinall

Four of us got to the sung Eucharist at St. John's cathedral in good time this morning. We arrived early so got good seats. It was a great celebration.

The opening hymn was that great hymn of faith: "O come all ye faithful". With a mighty organ located high up near the stone-vaulted ceiling and a big congregation lustily singing, the performance was as impressive a beginning to the service as one could wish. And the ecclesiatical procession with its various crosses, banners, vestments etc was so long that it lasted almost until the end of the hymn. Practically everyone associated with the cathedral must have been present and robed up.

Just about everything that could be done in an Anglican service was done, including a good bit of Anglican chant, which I rather like. It has a sort of eerie and timeless feel to it for me. I imagine that they did something similar in the temples of Isis and Osiris in ancient Egypt.

The censer was deployed energetically on several occasions, so much so that the transept was almost filled with smoke at one stage. Quite strangely however, I heard no bells during the service. "Bells and smells" normally go together. Joe reckoned that the guy with the censer seemed to be having the most fun

Even though I had my hearing aids in, I could not understand a word of the sermon. The PA system at the cathedral is rather amazingly bad. Anne however tells me that it was about relationships and such things -- but with no mention of the wonders of the incarnation. VERY C of E!

But we got to sing a lot of the great traditional hymns so that was the best part. Being an atheist, I don't participate in the prayers but I can't resist the hymns. They are a wonderful testimony to the faith that built Western civilization.

After the service Joe and Cianne took tea with me for a while, while Anne had to zoom off to get to lunch with her children.

Jenny put on a lunch for just 5 of us at 1pm, which was very traditional: turkey, ham etc. It was good of her to do both a Christmas eve party and a Christmas day lunch.

Anne came back to my place for Christmas night. After big lunches we were not very hungry so I made us some ham and pickle sandwiches on toast for dinner -- using leftover ham from lunch. That is my usual Christmas night fare.

24 December, 2011

Christmas eve

Jenny put on a party for a small group of us on Christmas eve. Present were Anne and myself, Jenny and Nanna, Joe and Cianne, Jill and Lewis plus twinny Susan, Russ and Sahara. We also Skyped in our NZ connection. Paul and Susan are visiting there for a month or so.

I used the netbook for skyping with a wireless connection so we were able to pass it around so everybody could have a chat with our NZ family members. Lewis was much impressed to see that video phones are now a reality.

Jenny cooked up cevapi and chicken kebabs for us which went down well. There was a present or two for everyone under Jenny's tree so distributing and opening the presents was a big, amusing and chaotic occasion as usual. Nanna knitted me a tea cosy for my big brown teapot but I at first thought it was a beanie and wore it for a while until someone wised me up.

Sahara has gained a lot of confidence lately and no longer seems scared of me.

If I can get up early enough, my Christmas day plans call for a visit to St. John's cathedral for the sung eucharist at 9:30 am. They do a good show there, including an ecclesiastical procession, but I can't remember whether they do "bells and smells" as well. My son has said he wants to go in order to introduce the arcana of the Church of England to his Korean girlfriend, even though all three of us are unbelievers. I took him there a few times when he was a kid and he enjoyed it. Both of us particularly like the Christmas hymns. And a great stone neo-Gothic cathedral is a remarkable environment. Definitely the best show in town on Christmas day.

22 Dec 2011

A small laugh

Despite my atheism I have rather a lot of religious artifacts in my home.

As people walk in in the door they see a Thai Buddha plus a small image of India's Ganesha

My Indian residents warmly approve of the latter of course

And among the many things on my bedside table is a Presbyterian hymn book. And I even have a copy of the old (Tridentine) Roman Missal. And the book of Common Prayer with Hymns Ancient and Modern, of course.

Beat that!

10 December 2011

Saharah's birthday

The desert girl had a slightly belated birthday celebration today. I believe her actual birthday was on 5th. I was there on the day of her birth but my typical male-pattern memory is not good for such information.

Anyway we had a good time both with chats and observing the birthday girl. It was all rather amusing. My gift was very well received. Jenny bought it and she has a talent for such things. I just pay for it. Many years after our divorce Jenny still has my credit card. If that is not an amicable divorce I would like to know what was!

So my gift to Saharah was a toy musical choo choo train. She definitely liked it.

Sadly, Joe's gift of a soft toy in the form of a giraffe got thrown back at him! Two-year olds are not big on social graces!

Anyway Russell cooked up a storm on his BBQ and I greatly enjoyed the resultant sausages. I don't claim the mantle as a sausage connoisseur but I am certainly a sausage enthusiast.

Ken and I spent a fair bit of time chatting as usual but I was a bit ahead of him in knowing what was meant on our childhood toy trainsets by "LNER". Ken got part of it -- to give him his due -- but I was pleased to decipher it as "London and North Eastern Railway"

Very trivial fun, I guess, but much enjoyed nonetheless.

The birthday girl gets help from Dad

6 December, 2011


I went into Woolworths to buy Christmas cards yesterday. I am not fanatical about it as I am an atheist but I like to buy Christian-themed cards out of respect for the Christian basis of the holiday. But although Woolworths had a big range of cards I could find none with Christian themes. Pretty poor for Australia's biggest retailer!

So I went to the Indian shop next door where I occasionally see the owner reading a nicely-bound copy of the Bhagavad Gita in Hindi. Sure enough he had packs of cards with Christian themes. So he got my business.

A sad day when it takes a Hindu to show what tolerance is like! Why on earth would Woolworths be so bigoted against Christianity? Who is going to be offended by them including a few cards with Christian themes in their range?

Australia is not a religious country but there are still a lot of committed Christians about so they would find the Woolworths offering unsatisfactory and would go to (say) a newsagent to buy their cards. So bigotry is also bad business, as it usually is.

4 December, 2011

Dosas for lunch

I took Joe and his Korean lady to our local South Indian restaurant today to introduce him to dosas.

The waiter knew what my order would be without my needing to say it: Three Masala dosas. And they were as good as usual. They were quite a big meal actually. All three of us had a bit of a battle to finish them. Joe was favourably impressed.

We went back to my place for tea on the verandah afterwards when we discussed quite a few things about Korea. I have rather a soft spot for Koreans, seeing that about 20% of them are Presbyterians -- which is my old religion.

3 December, 2011

Joe arrives back in Brisbane

Paul will be in NZ for Christmas so he wanted to give Joe an early Christmas dinner to make up for that. So Joe landed in Brisbane at 5pm and at 6pm Paul and Susan had a dinner laid on for him.

It was actually an American dinner. When Paul and Susan were in NY I directed them to the various different types of American sandwiches and they now share my conviction that America is the home of sandwiches. So the dinner principally consisted of Reuben sandwiches and Cuban sandwiches, which were much enjoyed. In Australia there are no diners where you can walk in and order such things so they have to be home-made. And Susan is a talented cook so she did very well.

And for dessert she made an excellent apple pie by following an American recipe she got off the internet.

We had the usual lively conversations about many things. Paul always makes sure of that! He loved the story about how I helped to sabotage Arthur Calwell's Brisbane election meeting.

Joe had his Korean girlfriend with him. He brought her up to Brisbane from Canberra for a month. Fortunately she speaks quite good English -- rare in Koreans. She was a bit shy but that was not surprising in the circumstances. Finding herself in the middle of boisterous family conversations must have been a bit of a shock.

She must have been surprised to find she was amid a family of Kim Chee lovers. Kim Chee is a sort of pickled cabbage that is massively popular in Korea but is little known elsewhere and not to everyone's taste. Paul, Joe and the twins grew up with it however, as both Jenny and I like it so we always had it on the table when Korean food was served, which was fairly often.

I was pleased to hear that Joe is taking an active part in university life -- joining the Kabuki play etc. Some fathers would disapprove of "fun" activities at university in fear that their kid might not be taking their studies seriously enough but with Joe it is the other way around. There is no risk of him not working hard on his studies but in his undergrad days he seemed to take little part in university life. I have often told him that your university days are a time to have fun.

2 December, 2011

Hannah's 1st

Hannah had her first birthday yesterday and most of the family were in NZ to help celebrate it. So I suggested that the rest of us join them via Skype while having our own party here in Brisbane.

So Paul, Susan and I went to Russell and Suzy's place bearing various party foods and had lunch there, with Suzy making some very good sausage rolls and also giving us some home-made chicken burgers.

Von knew we would be meeting at around 12 noon so rang us on Skype just a bit after that time. So we had a party going on at both ends of the Skype connection. We could see their party and they could see ours. The audio was a bit poor though so conversations were a bit restricted.

The NZ end had only one baby present but we had three: Matthew, Dusty and Sahara. So there was a lot of baby talk. But I can talk babies pretty well so that was fine by me. Inevitably the conversation got on to when I used to mind Paul and the twins when they were kids so there were some laughs there.

Paul is holding Dusty and I am helping Matthew to sit up

27 November 2011

"Red Pepper" dinners

In my quiet semi-bachelor life I am a regular consumer of microwave dinners. You can get some reasonable ones these days and it beats cooking or going out all the time. Though I also like a Grand Angus from McDonald's occasionally.

A couple of months ago Woolworths started stocking a new line called "Red Pepper" dinners and they were something of a revelation. They offered S.E. Asian dinners of restaurant quality. So I kept a good supply of them in my freezer. The chicken laksa and chicken biriani were particularly good.

But then Woolworths STOPPED stocking them. So when I was on my last packet, I put my magnifiers on and read all the small print on the packet.

I discovered why they were so good. They are made in Thailand! And Thai food is almost always first rate.

I then discovered an email address for the local importer on the packet. So last night I sent him off an email asking if there was anywhere else I could buy them.

Even though it was a Saturday night I got an email back in half an hour from a gentleman with a very Indian-sounding name. He promised that he would speak to Woolworths about it and offer to restock them. I hope he succeeds. Indians know how to do business.

18 November, 2011

My will

Yesterday (Thurs) Anne and I had Paul and Susan over for curry on my verandah. Though it was Susan who ordered and picked up the curry -- as she usually does. I just pay for it.

This time however Susan had to leave her baby behind! Matthew was however well looked after as Anne gave him a bottle while Susan was away. Anne has great experience with kids so is very good with Matthew.

Paul was full of beans as usual and we had a good discussion about what conservatism and morality is all about. Both Paul and I are instinctive conservatives but Paul likes to formulate things so we had a good talk about conservatism. What I told him is spelled out at length here.

We eventually got to talk about my will and Paul was fully onboard with what I aim at to achieve with my will. I want him to be Joey's watchdog -- both to advise Joe about spending my legacy and bark at anybody who criticizes Joey's decisions -- and Paul is a natural for that. I have to laugh at the thought of anybody criticizing Joe in Paul's presence: They would get an earful!

We also talked a bit about old times and a few good laughs came out of that.

16 November, 2011

Viet chicken

On Monday, Jenny had me over to her place so we could discuss my will. She is executor at the moment.

She made us some original Vietnamese lemon chicken for dinner which was exceptionally good -- as it usually is. Another "family" recipe -- nothing like Chinese lemon chicken, good though that can be.

Recipe for GA XAO XA OT (Vietnamese Lemon chicken) here

And we washed it down with a bottle of J.P. Chenet Sauvignon blanc. French wine is a bit weaker than Oz wine so it is better for drinking and driving.

Jenny's old friend Kim was staying with her but did not take part in the dinner.

We discussed how I wanted my money used after I am gone and there was a harmony of thinking there. I am not putting any formal instructions in my will. I am relying on others being similarly motivated to myself.

Cynics will laugh but my bet is that I would have the last laugh if I were still around.

5 November, 2011

Some recent baby pix

Suzy with Rara and Dusty

Rara and Dusty

Babe in a basket

Matthew in his baby chair

1 November, 2011

Cup day

The 151st race of the Melbourne cup was run today. Cup day is undoubtedly Australia'a greatest day of celebration. Cynics also call it Australia's only honest horse race. It is certainly true that outsiders often "get up" at the Melbourne cup. And so it was today with the favourite not even making it into the top three.

I went into a couple of sweeps but the horses I drew might as well not have existed. Sweeps are the most honest gamble there is as there is no third party to take a "cut". So even an old Presbyterian like me can justify joining in.

Joe was held up from returning to Canberra by the Qantas lockout so he took the opportunity of extending his stay by a few days -- and came and joined me to watch the cup on TV. He had never even heard of sweeps before so I helped improve his education about cup matters.

I did invite Paul to come and watch too but after more than a week of social occasions connected with Vonnie's visit, he felt he had to get back to business. He must have found that hard.

It was of course an amazing race with an incredible finish. The winning horse -- Dunaden, a French entry -- literally won by a nostril. In the days before photo finishes it would have been announced as a tie. The stipes* had to use extreme magnification to separate Dunaden from English horse Red Cadeaux.

The victory lands Dunaden's Qatari owner Sheik Fahad al Thani $3.6 million plus a trophy worth $175,000.

I was mildly surprised that there was no Royalty present -- as the Royal Family are a very horsy lot. Princess Diana attended the 1985 Melbourne cup, for instance. Perhaps the fact that the Queen had just left our shores a few days ago had something to do with no other Royals being present.

But Her Majesty was well represented by her vicereine, our Governor General, Quentin Bryce. She gave a very patriotic speech which pleased me greatly. Australians do have a lot to celebrate -- all founded on the hard work and good sense of our forebears of course. Some of those forebears were my ancestors so I know how hard they worked and what they took on.

In his miserable carping book, Donald Horne said that Australia is a "lucky" country. But luck had nothing to do with it. It is true that Australia has considerable natural resources, but so do Africa and South America -- and it would be a brave soul who would call them lucky. No. Australians today owe their enviable lifestyle to the dogged British and Irish people who settled this country for most of the first 200 years of its recorded history

I didn't tune in early enough to follow the other great race of the day: The "Fashions on the Field" contest. But I caught a bit of it on video. I thought the winner, Sarah Schofield, was an odd choice -- a rather plain outfit -- but what do I know about fashion? She is herself a fashion designer so I guess expertise in such arcane matters won out. There is a video here in which she appears about half way. And a still picture below:

* "stipendiary stewards"

29 October, 2011

A busy weekend

Yesterday (Friday) Jenny had Von and Simon plus Anne and myself over for dinner -- with Vietnamese lemon chicken on the menu. It gave us all a chance to hear a bit more from Von while she was here.

We covered quite a bit of ground -- going back to when Von was a kid as well as talking about New Zealand in the present. Von was interested to hear the decision processes that went into the choice of her name. Apparently most people call her Yvonne. It is only family who shorten it.

Then this evening (Saturday) was the BIG Christmas in October party with 20 people attending. I held it in my thickly turfed backyard under party flares. I had two 6' trestle tables with foldup legs this time and they worked very well -- used in conjunction with the two tables that are normally downstairs. George seemed to have had his own chair this time -- seeing he fell out of one of mine last time!

We all wanted to try NZ cheesy rolls so Vonnie's Simon quite heroically made 120 of them for us-- and they were universally agreed to be very good. We also had pizza and champagne to enliven the occasion but the rolls were the special thing. The ladies all brought along goodies too so there were plenty of leftovers as usual. It was all as bit chaotic but that just added to the interest. You don't want to be too organized for a family get-together.

We had three toasts: One to our NZ visitors, a sendoff toast to Simon who is shortly deploying to Afghastiland and a toast to the newest arrival, Dustin Eddie who was all of 8 days old.

Simon is going over with the RAAF to help drop bombs on ragheads from a remotely-piloted vehicle. As such he is in a base and not in much danger of being shot at unless someone in the Afghan National Army goes berserk -- which is not unknown. So we were glad to be able to wish him the best of luck and tell him we looked forward to him coming back home safe and sound

Joe flew up from Canberra for the day and Suzie managed to get along for a while despite still being in some discomfort after her recent childbirth. The only one missing was Tim, who had a big Halloween party going on at his place that he could not get out of.

Hannah was a bit disturbed by the crowd at one stage so Von took her up to my second bathroom again and that settled her! The magic bathroom with the big shiny key!

We heard that Vonnie's Simon is taking on a new job when he gets back to NZ -- as a shepherd! Apparently he will be driving around the sheep paddock on an ATV watching the sheep and putting back on their feet ones that have fallen over! Strange things happen in NZ! From computer guru to shepherd is quite a career change too! I told Von that she would be the shepherdess from now on! From being a business high-flyer to being the fulltime carer of one daughter, one lamb and two dogs is rather a change for her too.

Von spent some time with Suzy every day that she was here from what I gather -- giving her twin both moral and practical support after the birth. So that was a bonus for both of them. Twins being together at such a time has a rightness about it -- as being there is just as important as anything said to one-another. And Von said that Suzy is already feeling in better spirits now that the childbirth problems are fading.

We had five babies/toddlers at the party so that pleased me. A family party with no children present is a sad thing in my opinion.

Joey and Nanna were there

George must have told Paul a VERY funny joke

A comment from Paul on the night:

Time passed quickly and before we knew it the night was over. It was great to catch up with everyone and do a special send off for uncle Simon who will be away for 5 months doing his military service for the country. Hats off to him spending so much time away from the family for the greater good.


A very sad update to my warning about the danger Simon faces in Afghanistan. The very next morning I read:
Three Australian soldiers killed, seven wounded by rogue Afghan soldier

THE Chief of the Australian Defence Force has expressed his deep sorrow after the deaths of three Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. The three soldiers were shot during a parade yesterday morning. Seven other Australians were wounded and an Afghan interpreter was killed.

The lone gunman - an Afghan national soldier - was shot and killed as the Australians returned fire. The dead - a corporal, captain and lance corporal - were members of the Mentoring Task Force in southern Afghanistan.

Of the three, the corporal and lance corporal were on their first deployment to Afghanistan while the captain was on a second tour. The corporal and the captain had earlier this year taken part in flood and cyclone relief operations in Queensland.

Of the wounded, General Hurley said one soldier was being treated for life threatening wounds, four had serious wounds, and the other two had minor wounds.


23 October, 2011


At lunchtime today (Sunday) I took advantage of Von and Simon being in Brisbane to introduce them to that South Indian staple -- dosas. The guy who runs the restaurant concerned makes great dosas but speaks a very Indian version of English so I don't understand him and he doesn't understand me. He is a man of goodwill, however, so we generally get something like what we order. And all his dosas are good anyway.

I am still not sure what we got but we all enjoyed them anyway. As well as Von and Simon and Anne and myself, Paul and Susan were there too -- not forgetting two very important little people: Hannah and Matthew.

After lunch we adjourned to my place for tea and coffee and chatted on until about 5pm. It was good to spend some time with Von and discuss life in NZ with her.

A slightly surprising thing is that Vonnie's Simon joined in the conversation to a considerable extent. Simon is famous as the strong silent one. But we WERE talking about New Zealand so that is THE topic to get him talking (He grew up there). Paul and I normally talk to him about computers -- in deference to his great knowledge on that subject -- but it was good to have another topic come up that Simon was happy to talk about. That he has talked his wife into moving from sub-tropical Queensland to sub-Arctic New Zealand probably indicates that although his words may be few they are very well-considered.

We also spent some time talking about when Paul, Suzy and Von were kids and having a laugh about the crazy things we did together then.

My sitting room has a small ensuite bathroom running off it -- containing just a bath and a handbasin. And Hannah loved that bathroom. She must have crawled the full length of it about 50 times. I felt rather sorry that I couldn't donate the bathroom concerned for Von to take back to NZ!

Matthew mostly did his usual trick -- sleeping -- but he displayed a good set of lungs when he got hungry!

With Von at the Dosa restaurant

Hannah in the bathroom

Anne was very good with Matthew

Hannah the tongue. She's a little charmer

21 October, 2011

Another birth!

To Suzy and Russell was delivered a son early this morning and both mother and child are well, though Suzy looked pretty exhausted, of course. The delivery was induced 2 weeks early because of Suzy's blood pressure but the boy still arrived in the world at a healthy 7lb.

That's the 5th birth in the family in less than 2 years. And I foresee more in the not too distant future.

Von, with her usual uncanny ability at getting right anything she is interested in, arrived from New Zealand just a couple of hours after the birth. She had very much wanted to be there to give moral support to her twin and to see the baby. Suzy has moral and practical support from Russell and all the family but twins are close in a way that the rest of us only vaguely understand. It would not have felt right for them to be apart at that time.

Ken was at the Gold Coast airport to greet Von, Simon and Hannah as they arrived, with Paul and Sue turning up shortly afterward.

So it was a day for arrivals.

The boy himself: Dustin Eddie -- all of 1 day old. Sure to be known as "Dusty"

Happy Hannah. She's got her mother's happy nature

Matthew: happy with his plug in -- and a great pic of Susan

I got to hold Matthew for a while but he slept right through it -- perhaps fortunately

10 October, 2011

The Westside Music Circle again

A welcome revival yesterday (Sunday). We had some very competent musicians and we even had some Bach! And our pianist was an old white guy for a change. We always have good ol' Marjorie of course but our other pianists are usually Chinese

Jill was a bit crocked with her left arm in a sling but she still managed to get her hair into a long looped-back plait, which I though looked very pretty -- but I always have had a weakness for blonde plaits on women.

The supper was as good as usual and I made significant inroads into it as usual.

I was a bit concerned about the cooling systyem in the Humber but I had topped up the radiator before we left and it worked perfectly. One forgets that in the old days radiators had to be topped up from time to time.

3 October, 2011

Matthew update

Matthew is now 5 weeks old and my prediction that he will be tall is already being borne out. Paul says he is already unusually "long".

Something Paul said in his latest email is something that ALL single people should heed:
We look back at life before children (B.C) and although it wasn’t that long ago in physical time, it already feels like a completely DIFFERENT life!! An emptier life…. Something was definitely missing and now we know what it was … Susan and I are of course very close but turning the 2 of us into 3 has been a whole new, enlightening experience!

Some photos below:

Matthew with his gorgeous mother

The hat boy. Like father like son. I remember Paul when he was a kid going to bed with his hat on

UPDATE: Now the full truth can be told. After checking with Paul to see that it would not embarrass him, I can reveal that I recall him as a kid going to bed with TWO hats on!

And things haven't changed much. See below when Paul on a recent occasion was again wearing two hats. If you look closely, you can see that he is wearing a cap with a sombrero over the top of it

2 October, 2011

Die Wiener Philharmoniker

The heading above translates as "The Vienna Philharmonic" and it is one of the great orchestras of the world. You have to wait years in Vienna to get tickets to its performances so when they decided to tour Australia, Anne and I had to go along.

I was originally going to wear cords to the concert but Anne was most unhappy about me wearing such humble garb to such an expensive occasion so yesterday we went in to "down-low" Lowes at Mt. Gravatt where I bought myself a "Made in China" bag o' fruit. It was actually in charcoal grey with a chalk stripe, which was exactly what I wanted -- so Lowes can be surprising. But fancy China having taken over the ready-to-wear market for men's business suits!

So we toddled off to the concert earlier tonight with Anne in her Best Black and me in my Chinese suit. I hope it didn't LOOK Chinese. It seemed a reasonable sort of fabric but I dare not ask what fabric. Anne was pleased with the look of it so that was the aim of the exercise.

And the concert was worth all it cost. The highlight in my view was the opening work: Schubert's well-known and much loved "Unfinished". It is something of a favourite of mine so I was in a good position to judge the performance and it was far and away the most sensitive version I have ever heard. Quite wonderful.

The second work was Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn, which is essentially a series of Lieder, so I was cross with myself for not having prepared for the performance by reviewing the text at home first. It's a lot better if you know what the guy is singing about.

I wonder if I should say something about the name: Des Knaben Wunderhorn? It is quite commonly left untranslated and if it is translated, it is generally rendered as "Youth's magic horn". But that is not what it means at all. If it meant that it would be Des Jugends Wunderhorn. The literal translation is: "The boy's magic horn". So I think by now you can see the problem.

The third work was Beethoven's 8th so that was good from the opening moment on of course. The conductor was Christoph Eschenbach, whom I had never heard of but he studied under Karajan apparently and certainly knew his trade.

He and the orchestra got a standing ovation at the end of the programme so they played us an encore from Strauss: Die schoene blaue Donau if I am not mistaken. A very lively version it was too.

A great feast of Austrian music. And to my great satisfaction, the conductor didn't say a word. He just conducted. I hate it when conductors blather on beforehand. I go for the music and if that doesn't speak for itself it's not good music.

But I am still rather stunned that I was able to hear a small part of the greatest music ever composed in Vienna performed right here in Brisbane by Vienna's greatest orchestra. Their performance of the "Unfinished" is still ringing in my head. The whole concert was a 3-hour one but it seemed like half that time to me -- so engrossing was the music

The concert hall at QPAC is very impressive. It has recently been done up with very extensive and successful attention to the acoustics. So I felt glad to be part of a civilization that provides so magnificently for its people even in a small city like Brisbane.

There was a full house too, mostly mature to elderly as usual but with a surprising number of young people too.


Anne made me porridge for breakfast next morning, followed by croissants with apricot jam. Wotta gal! I have always liked my porridge but men of my generation don't cook.

1 October, 2011

A new arrival in New Zealand

Vonnie is now the proud "mother" of a lamb. She's definitely adapting well to New Zealand at that rate.

Hannah is now 10 months old so she will grow up with sheep!

I wonder if Von knows the great poem by William Blake about lambs. I am sure she would agree with his feelings if not his theology:

Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed,
By the stream and o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I'll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I'll tell thee.
He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild;
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are called by His name.
Little Lamb, God bless thee!
Little Lamb, God bless thee!

23 September

Seeking Lord Ganesha

Lord Ganesha is a rather striking chap so I thought it would be fun to have one in the hallway of my house.

Joe was in town this week to see his new nephew and we had lunch together today and after lunch we went off in search of a large and colourful Ganesha. It's often said that fathers and sons should do things together but I don't think seeking out Ganesha is quite what people have in mind when they say that.

Joe and I in fact spent a couple of hours chatting about this and that. I was pleased by his breadth of knowledge about all sorts of things. At one stage I told him a bit about the army and how much I had enjoyed my time in the army and he seemed a bit interested in that. But I had just decided the night before that I wanted a Ganesha and there is an Indian shop just around the corner from where we had lunch at "Vinces's place" in Buranda so I thought the purchase would be just an incidental matter.

Sadly however the Indian shop had only very small Ganeshas and I wanted a big and striking one. So they directed me to an amazing shop out at Mt Gravatt that sold ALL things Indian, including Ganeshas. So Joe and I went there. Sadly again, however, their Ganeshas were also too small for me but, being good at business, the lady in charge phoned somebody else who had Ganeshas and arranged for them to bring their Ganeshas to the shop.

So Joe and I wandered around the shop looking at the merchandise until these Ganeshas arrived. We got tired of walking around after a while so we both sat down on a goods trolley that we found. It was situated in front of a display of statuary so we spent about a quarter of an hour sitting down together staring at a great array of painted Hindu idols! A quite mad father/son activity.

The other Ganeshas arrived eventually but alas, they too were only half the size I wanted. They were about 18" high while I was looking for one at least 3' high. So it looked like I was going to be left Ganeshaless. I did however find a small copper Ganesha suitable for pinning on the wall so I bought that.

Joe with his nephew, Matthew

19 September, 2011

A nice mother/daughter photo from NZ

It looks like little blue eyes is going to inherit Von's lustrous brown hair too

18 September, 2011

The lost art of raising your hat

I am JUST old enough to remember the days when gentlemen raised their hat to ladies. It was a thoroughly commendable mark of respect, a respect that seems much less in evidence these days.

Men still do wear hats: Usually big straw hats to keep the sun off. But for some reason those hats are never raised.

I do however have an old-style grey felt hat that in my view makes me look like a 1930s gangster. So I do sometimes wear it for fun.

The other day I was walking along the street and saw a man ahead from me who was also wearing an old-style hat. He was also wearing a suit so may have been a property valuer or someone else a bit grand.

As I passed him I said: "Another man with a hat", and raised my hat to him. He was greatly pleased, wished me all the best and so on.

So such a small mark of respect can be very pleasing. How sad that we mostly seem to have lost it.

15 September, 2011

Amazing case: Single mother sues slimy cop -- and wins

She represented herself in court against a range of top legal brains and beat them all

I have in front of me a copy of the District Court judgment of today's date in the matter of Eaves v. Donnelly in which Renee Eaves was awarded the sum of $93,000 against Barry John Donnelly and the State of Queensland.

Ms Eaves is a very attractive blonde model from whom (I surmise) constable Donnelly wanted sex. He apparently was such a low character that he thought he could coerce her into it. She did not oblige him.

So he launched a campaign of harassment against her, secure in the assumption that a dumb blonde could never do anything to touch a Queensland cop.

He arrested her repeatedly on trumped up charges, all of which were thrown out when they came to court.

It was then that Renee showed her steel. She was NOT just a pretty face but a woman determined to get justice against the scum concerned.

And she stuck at it for years. She of course complained to the CMC -- where police investigate police -- and they rejected her complaint.

She then began to get media coverage of the matter, hoping that would shake some action loose. It didn't but it stressed out the cop. He went on stress leave for a year and then resigned.

But Renee still felt that the police had to be held to account -- to discourage oppression of other women by police. So she launched a damages claim in the District Court, where she showed she is not only a steely blonde but a smart one. She repeatedly cross-examined successfully.

During her long battle to get into the District Court, however, Renee ran out of money. Everything about the law is expensive and her means were slender. She in fact ran out just before the matter was due to come up so it looked as if her long battle was going to be for nought.

At that point I stepped in and paid her legal costs from that point on. I had never even met her but I have had a loathing against scum police ever since the extraordinary Barry Mannix case -- where the corrupt police got off Scot-free.

The real villain in this case, however is not the scum cop but rather the police service and the CMC who did nothing to pull him into line or attempt to make amends for his deeds. Except for the extraordinary courage of Ms Eaves, the guilt of the cop in the matter would never have been established.

And in the end it is the taxpayer who will pay -- well over $100,000 all up when legal costs are included.

I didn't actually meet her until the case was over -- when she brought around a copy of the judgment for me.

Media reports here and here. More background here

10 September, 2011

High Tea

I organized a High Tea at 4pm today to welcome the newest arrival in the family: Matthew son of Paul and Susan, presently only 16 days old. Matthew didn't notice, however. He slept through the whole thing. He looked very healthy and has already added half a kilo to his birthweight.

Present were Paul, Susan, Jenny, Nanna, Ken, Maureen, Suzy, Russell, Sahara, George, Tracy my brother Chris with his wife Kym and son James and also gun geneologist Jan with her husband Keith.

Paul also skyped Vonnie in from New Zealand using my netbook. The audio was surprisingly good for such a humble device and at one stage when we heard a baby cry we looked around to see who it was. It was Hannah in New Zealand!

I bought a big heap of very fancy scones and Jenny came over early to make up the cucumber sandwiches according to the Ritz recipe. They seemed to be a great hit. Those guys at the Ritz know a thing or two. I myself scored and cut up the cucumbers prior to Jenny's arrival and marinated them in white vinegar for about an hour. It took a whole bottle but white vinegar is only about $1 a bottle so that was neither here nor there.

Ken was impressed at the use of vinegar. He said that was customary in his home back in England but very rare in Australia. He took the sandwich leftovers home with him! There was a lot of everything left over as I had bought so many scones and the ladies had all brought good stuff too. So most people went home with some of the goodies as I didn't want anything left uneaten.

We were originally going to have the do in my backyard but it was very windy so we stayed upstairs with the food laid out as a buffet and just mingled, which probably suited people better anyway. I have a long living/dining area so accomodating 16 guests buffet-style was no great problem.

Anne was away at a conference connected to her work so she missed a party she would have enjoyed. Jenny stepped in however and not only made the sandwiches but also whipped the cream and made the tea. I just wandered around looking vague.


There was of course a huge buzz of conversation at the do but I have only the vaguest notion of what was said. I observed that Chris had a good conversation with Paul and Ken; that Jan and Kym had a long conversation and that Susan and Tracy talked a lot.

For my part, the most interesting chat was with Susan, discussing ancestry. Her grandfather on her mother's side was apparently a tall American -- which explains why Susan's mother is so tall. Her mother is from the Philippines and had a Filipina mother but is much taller than the average Filipina. Filipinas are normally about 5' tall but Susan's mother is about 5'8" tall.

And Susan is 6' tall, the same height as her Dutch father. So she clearly got "tallness" genes from both sides of her ancestry. And she has a few freckles to boot. So she looks European. If you had to guess, you would think she was Northern Italian, At 6' tall she would NEVER be taken for a Filipina.

The main interest of all that is how tall Matthew will be. He is already adding weight fast so is quite likely to be even taller than his 6' tall mother. Sons are normally taller than their mothers.

The sleeping boy with his great-grandmother

Some of the food on offer -- including some very fancy scones on my 3-tier cakestand. That black, white and blue rectangle in the background is Vonnie, via Skype. It is great that she can still take part in our social occasions. I tried to feed her a cucumber sandwich via Skype but it wouldn't go through for some reason!

And Sahara was a little Scot!

6 September, 2011

Axe wielding mugger in Belconnen robs Joey

ACT Policing is seeking witnesses to an aggravated robbery in Belconnen last night (Monday, September 5).

Around 10.30pm, a 24-year-old man was talking on his mobile phone while standing next to his vehicle on Hennessy Street in Belconnen. While on the phone he was approached by a man who demanded cash.

The victim initially refused to give any cash to the man, until the man produced a small axe.

The victim handed over money and his mobile phone to the man, who was last seen running along Hennessy Street towards College Street. The victim was not injured during the aggravated robbery.

The man is described as Caucasian in appearance, aged between 20 to 30 years old, approximately 183cm (6’) tall with a stocky build. He was wearing a dark coloured hoodie jumper, navy tracksuits pants and a black baseball cap.

Police are appealing for anyone who was near Hennessey Street in Belconnen around 10.30pm last night, or may have seen a man matching the above description to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000


I gather that the police did eventually catch the villain

4 September, 2011

Fathers' day

Fathers' day seems to be celebrated on different dates in different countries but today was Fathers' day in Australia. On such an occasion particular attention centred on the newest family member: 10 day old Matthew, seen below looking very relaxed in the arms of his Dutch grandfather.

My hospital adventure

I got a good Father's Day present today: I got out of hospital.

I had a Moh's procedure (multi-stage surgery) for a couple of cancers on my face on Wednesday and Thursday and already on Thursday there was noticeable swelling on my forehead.

The swelling had got really bad by Friday morning. There was so much of it that I could not see out of my right eye. So I rang the surgeon about 9am and reported the problem. He told me to come in immediately, which I did. Lucky he is a private doctor, I guess. You would be lucky to see a public hospital doctor so promptly, I would think.

He said that an infection had obviously got into one of the wounds and gave me steroids and a strong antibiotic (clindamycin capsules) to fix it. Around 4am that day he rang me to see how it was going. I told him that the swelling was beginning to encroach on my Left eye too -- so the problem was getting worse rather than better.

He said that it looked like a hospital stay so that I could get intravenous infusions of an extra-strong antibiotic. First however he rang and checked with another doctor he knows who specializes in infectious diseases. That doctor confirmed the diagnosis and indicated treatment.

So about 4:30pm I got into a taxi for the Wesley -- generally regarded as the best (private) hospital in town. Shortly after arriving I was put on a Lincomycin drip and admitted.

I am no fan of hospitals but the staff at Wesley were all that could be desired. It really is a first-class operation. So I endured it through Friday and Saturday night, permanently hooked up to a drip.

The swelling steadily subsided and by Sunday morning I was pretty much back to normal so got myself discharged. I am just hoping now that I don't have a relapse.

I gather that my health insurance will cover 100% of my stay at the Wesley but there are sure to be some ancillary costs somewhere.

About an hour after I got out, I took Anne to a local South Indian restaurant for lunch and ordered a masala dosa. After hospital food I needed something that good and it was good indeed. I could easily become addicted to dosas.

31 August

Babe in a cocoon

Susan is very "crafty". She is like the perfect wife described in Proverbs chapter 31 in the Bible. So when she saw a baby cocoon in one of her crochet books, she made Matthew one. He seems to be comfortable in it.

25 August, 2011

A babe is born

And all is well. Susan delivered her husband Paul a 7lb baby boy: Matthew Clifford. Both names being ancestral, as is traditional.

Paul ensured that his son was born at a private hospital with an expert obstetrician present and it is a good thing that he did. There were two serious complications to the birth that could have been dangerous or even fatal without immediate expert attention. The baby had that attention so came to no harm.

He was born with the cord around his neck and that is far too often fatal. Jenny's mother lost a baby that way. He also had what is technically termed a "meconium" problem: Meaning that the baby passes feces into the amniotic fluid before he is born and can either ingest or inhale some of that.

When Joe was born there was that problem but Joe neither ingested nor inhaled any of it so was unharmed. Inhaling it is however a very serious problem that can lead to serious disability or death. And it is only in the last few years that a good method has evolved for the obstetrician to deal with and fix the problem before any harm is done.

Knowing what had happened with Joe, I alerted Paul to the problem and he raised it with the obstetrician so that the problem could be immediately dealt with. And it was a good thing that he did. The baby DID have a meconium problem and at the last moment ingested some of it. But the obstetrician promptly sucked it out again and the babe is already fine.

So since Joe and Matthew both had that problem it would seem to come from Jenny's side -- meaning that all her children from now on should be alert for that problem and should have an obstetrician present at the birth who is prepared for it and aware of the latest method.

Matthew is a very lucky boy -- with the luck that comes from foresight.

Just hours after the birth

Bub with mother

20 August, 2011

Bacon butties

I must be entering my second childhood, as Shakespeare would have it. For roughly the last 35 years I have been buying multigrain bread (invented long ago by the Germans as Vollkorn bread) with the view that it was an improvement over the white bread of my youth. But lately I have reverted to white bread.

To me white bread seems to go well in making up a bacon butty. I get a couple of slices of short-cut bacon, whizz them in the microwave for about 30 seconds and slap them between a couple of well-buttered slices of white bread. That has been my late supper for a little while now - "late" as in around midnight.

Although eminently satisfactory, that is of course a very simple repast so I call it a "butty", in honour of a famous food item well known North of Watford -- where chip butties seem to be a mainstay. I have never had a chip butty and they seem to be just about unknown in Australia but I think my repast has similar stark simplicity.

The "u" in butty is pronounced as in "bully" -- from "butter" as pronounced in both Northern England and Germany. Germans in fact would call the same thing a "Butterbrot", where "Brot" is bread.

13 August, 2011

Not all change is for the better

As any old fogey (such as myself) will tell you.

A rather crazy instance of that which has finally intruded into my consciousness is that my modern 3-in-1 printer only takes about a quire of paper at a time.

Whereas in the "good old days" of continuous stationery you would go through about 4 reams before you had to add paper. It's a big difference and the limited feed of my current printer does sometimes catch me out because of that

I guess I have old habits that die hard

(For those who have forgotten their school lessons: 24 sheets = 1 quire; 20 quires = 1 ream)

7 August, 2011

Poetry night

It has recently become clear to me that Paul is at least as sentimental as I am: He has a real feeling for things of the past. So I thought that he would enjoy it if I introduced him to canonical English poetry -- which, sadly, is almost totally neglected in the schools these days.

So we got together for a curry dinner at my place, with Susan and Anne very kindly going to fetch the curry for us from my usual curry place.

The canon is of course enormous -- probably best defined by Arthur Quiller Couch's 1912 "Oxford book of English verse" -- which OUP have recently brought back into print after futile efforts to revise it -- sadly for the rare book trade.

So what I tried to do was pick out just a few personal favourites: Wordsworth's Daffodils; Donne's Death; Coleridge's Ancient Mariner; Grey's Elegy; Hunt's Abou ben Adhem; Blakes's Tiger etc. -- and of course the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

It was almost entirely new to Paul and Susan but they both got a heap out of it and I enjoyed reading it to the assembled company. A relevant picture below. Note my Namatjiras in the background!

At my request Susan made us a Spotted Dick for dessert, and produced a gourmet version of it, of course. Last time I heard Paul was on his third helping! Those who know Paul will not be surprised by that.

Videos here

Ode to a tablecloth

This is undoubtedly a bit mad but I thought I should mention the role of my "miracle tablecloth" in our dinners at my place. It is a very fancy white lacy tablecloth made of some synthetic material of Chinese origin. And it is IMPERVIOUS to curry stains -- which can be pretty serious stains. And by the time of my poetry night everybody was quite used to it. So while there were quite a few curry spills onto the tablecloth on the night, nobody paid that any heed. They knew that I just toss the cloth in the washing machine and it comes out as bright as ever. Susan tried to buy one like it but could not so it is a bit of a rarity.

24 July, 2011

Joe's 24th

Yesterday evening was a celebration of Joe's 24th birthday. He came up from Canberra for the weekend. The dinner was for 7pm but a few of us accumulated at my place beforehand. That gathering was a very typical one for us: With everybody clustered around computers. That was mainly because we wanted to Skype Vonnie into the dinner from New Zealand and we had to set up Skype on a laptop to do it.

It took quite a while but between Paul and Joe we eventually got it done. Paul's Susan also sat down and helped with some aspect of the process at one stage. Anne and I however remained bystanders, even though it was Anne's laptop that we set it up on. Her laptop was the only one with a wireless connection to the net.

There were 15 of us at dinner. I had invited more but some were out of town and some had other commitments. And the person who probably talked most to everybody was Von -- via Skype from New Zealand. She (or the laptop) got passed all around the table. It was a pleasure for both her and us to have her present despite the physical distance between us.

We had the dinner at my local curry house as usual and their food and service was first class as usual. I had my usual Balti lamb and Joe had his usual chicken Korma. We both like to stick to knowns.

Joe said a few words to the gathering, remarking that whenever he was down in Canberra and thinking about his family he always thought of us sitting around a long table in that restaurant.

The birthday boy with his Nanna

Ken and Maureen with grand-daughter

Paul with his gorgeous wife

20 July

Praise for the South of the South Island

From Lady Von in deepest New Zealand

It seems the locals are finding us amusing as we are having so much fun in this small quiet country town. I can't even count on my hands how many times I have been asked "Why did you move to Lumsden of all places?" Many of the locals don't realise what they have here because they have been so spoilt with their lifestyle for so long. Here is a list of why Lumsden:

* 4 distinctive seasons including snow to enjoy and look forward to

* No traffic to worry about

* 3 Towns and 1 City only an hours drive away in each direction to go shopping

* Cheap seafood and great tasting food that is cheap

* Many places to go fishing

* Cheap and tasty Beer and even tastier Wine

* Endless activities for the kids to enjoy

* Endless activities for the adults to enjoy, skiing, Bushwalking, Duck shooting (if you are in to that)

* Spectacular views wherever we look

* Friendly strangers who take the time while walking past our house to pick up our wheelie bin that fell over accidently when the bin man came and place it neatly back at the fence.

Usually I don't need to give the locals the full list before I start to see a small smirk appear on their face when they realise I am right.

I don't dislike Brisbane where I grew up, I have fond memories of my childhood with warm summer days spent swimming and the smell of the summer storms, I just don't feel excited by it anymore.

In New Zealand I am like a child discoving life again and all the glorious small little things that the locals take for granted are a great joy to us and we can't help but show our excitement.

Enjoying a snowfall

The fireplace

Dressups with Hannah

17 July

Pasta marinara

As she usually does, Jill gave me a Sunday lunch for my birthday, with Anne and Lewis also present. And she served up some excellent pasta marinara followed by pavlova, one of my favourite desserts.

Mainly through sheer determination, Lewis has made a great recovery from his stroke and can now drive again.

It was the first time I had been to Jill's new place at Middle Park since she moved in. She downsized from her Riverhills place but has still got a very gracious home. We had lunch on the patio with lots of greenery around so it was very pleasant.

Lewis's sense of humour was obviously not damaged by his stroke as he gave me a rather remarkable object for a birthday present. So it was a rather light-hearted lunch with the only serious bits being the expected excoriation of Julia Gillard.

16 July

Thai food

My birthday celebrations today were a little different. NANNA organized a dinner for me at her local Thai restaurant. And the big crowd at the restaurant told you all you needed to know about the food. My judgment that it was first class was clearly shared by many others. I had pork with garlic and pepper.

And how many men get a dinner given to them by their 87-year old mother in law? I think it shows Nanna's good nature at least. Nanna also gave me a present in the form of a cushion with a wool cover on it that she had crocheted herself. It was in the very attractive soft colours that you only get with wool.

Paul, Susan, Jenny and Anne were also there and Paul in his usual way kept us all on our toes with his thoughts about the world and life in general. He really has an enquiring mind and is always looking for rules and regularities in life that explain why things are as they are.

We also talked a fair bit about politics as we have done ever since the last couple of elections. We were all agreed that Julia Gillard is on the wrong track and speculated about the likelihood of her getting her carbon tax through parliament. I pointed out that is far from a done deal and even speculated that the Greenies might jack up at the last moment -- as they did for Kevvy's ETS. Julia's poll ratings are so low that it seems clear that her party will want to dump her before the next election -- but probably only just before the next election.

After dinner we went back to Jenny's place for tea and coffee and I talked about how kids these days have been robbed of their cultural heritage by today's schools. As Paul is particularly sentimental, that has been a big loss for him so we agreed that he and I would get together more regularly so I could do something to introduce him to the literature -- particularly the great poets -- of the past.

Paul thinks Vonnie is pretty sentimental too so we might skype her in on any such meetings if she wants to be there.

We also talked about religion and how most people do have some religious beliefs -- so people who have been brought up as atheists -- as Paul and the twins were -- have missed out on a significant part of what it means to be human. That is of course an irrecoverable loss but Paul is determined that his kids will have the chance of that experience. He wants to send them along to Sunday school from an early age so they grow up at least knowing what religion is all about.

I suppose it shows how well we all get along as a family that we spent most of the night talking perfectly amicably about the two things you are NOT supposed to talk about: Religion and politics.

15 July, 2011


Thanks to kind friends, my birthday celebrations generally stretch over a week. This year, however, they are all clustered on this weekend.

Tonight it was just Anne and I dining together with Anne having prepared some of my favourite foods.

We had some large South Australian oysters from the shell to start and then we went on to haggis with neeps and tatties, washed down with a bottle of my usual Seaview champagne. As usual, Anne did the neeps to perfection. And for dessert? Rhubarb crumble. Heaven!

As a present, Anne bought me a deafie's phone -- one where you can turn the volume up. It is sure to be useful as my hearing aids are not up to much -- even though I paid $7,000 for them!

I was also pleased to get quite a lot of birthday good wishes via Facebook and email

9 July, 2011

Hannah's first snow

It's getting cold over there in the shaky Isles but Hannah likes it

After growing up in sub-tropical Brisbane, Paul, Von and Suz have always found snow exciting and Hannah inherits that

In Brisbane at the moment you can walk around in undergarments only in the middle of the day -- and that's midwinter

6 July, 2011


I am normally pretty buoyant in mood and not much bothers me. Anybody reading these memoir notes should detect a fair bit of jocularity at times. But I can be bothered sometimes. And today was one of those times.

I have had an awful lot of surgical procedures to get rid of skin cancers lately and today I had two more bad bits excised. I was not looking forward to it. A lot of excisions don't bother me if they are in places that are not too awkward but both today were awkward so it all felt a bit too much when I woke up this morning.

Fortunately, my appointment was for 10:30am so I didn't have a lot of time to dwell on it before I went in. My mood has gradually improved during the day but both wounds are a bit sore so I am not expecting a very comfortable night tonight.

I have already made a booking for the next lot of surgery in 3 weeks time. Hopefully I might have a bit of a break after that.

During my younger days I did set aside money for a "rainy day" so it helps a lot that I can now afford top flight private medical care. And it is a jugment on the "free" government hospital system that there are private hospitals all over the place in Brisbane. Around 40% of Australians have private health insurance so can afford to use private hospitals. One of the best private hospitals is only ten minutes drive from where I live (the Wesley) and that is where I go.

Afer many years of it, I have become something of a connoisseur of plastic surgery -- an unenviable distinction! And the man I go to is in my judgment the best in town. And others must think so too as his fees are three times higher than the government-approved fees.

Such fees do however have one effect that is very helpful to me. His waiting list is very short. I can get an appointment at very short notice. And that is exactly what you need when you are battling cancer. Some of my skin cancers are fairly aggressive so getting them excised within weeks rather than months of their appearing does potentially mean the difference between life and death. And getting rid of them promptly certainly improves my comfort levels.

So when I arrived at the surgery today I was in a first class environment receiving not only expert treatment but also very polite, cheerful and considerate treatment. After having been there many times before I know the staff there pretty well and felt I was among friends. So that helped my mood considerably.

And not being bound by bureaucratic rules and procedures helped too. I had an appointment for only one excision today but another growth had popped up only days ago and was bothering me so I asked the surgeon to get it out too -- which he promptly did.

5 July, 2011

The importance of a common culture

This very small note is a reflection on something that happened over an excellent Yugoslav dinner that Anne made me at her place tonight. Not only were the cevapi cooked to perfection but Anne had even managed to get hold of some kaimak, which is VERY hard to find in Brisbane. But cevapi without kaimak are incomplete, of course.

We usually go to Vince's place for breakfast once a week and Vince's offerings are bad news for slimmers. They would tempt anyone off the strait (not straight) and narrow path of dietary virtue.

We were talking about this when Anne remarked that she particularly liked one of Vince's humbler offerings: Savoury mince. And it is certainly true that Vince's chefs do a better savoury mince than your mother ever cooked. Anne watches her weight to some extent however (I watch mine too but do nothing about it. I just watch) so she remarked that Vince's savoury mince is rather a big meal and she hesitates to order it for that reason.

I responded: "You don't have to eat it all, you know". As the one who pays for it I am in a good position to make that comment.

Anne however looked at me in shock. She explained that in her upbringing everybody ate EVERYTHING on their plate. We then both had a laugh about that and remarked how old habits and customs have a lot of influence.

And, as it happens, I well understood the rules under which Anne was operating. When I grew up, "waste not; want not" was the watchword too. Though I was always described by my mother as having "hollow legs" (i.e. a big appetite) so I always ate up everything anyway (except liver).

But the point of this short meditation is that Anne and I have a common culture: Queensland country town under Protestant influence. And that common culture eases our interactions constantly. To use a rather trite modern phrase we really do know where each other "is coming from".

And it's interesting that our backgrounds are not formally identical. Anne's mother was a Salvationist and her father came from a Gospel Hall background. And my background is of course Presbyterian. At the time Anne and I were growing up, however, a general Protestant culture and theology had emerged -- so people switched between churches without much thought for denomination. The Salvation Army, for instance, was very heavily against alcohol and gambling but so were Methodists and Presbyterians.

And Anne was true to her Salvation Army background in that she did for some time in her youth sing on street corners with the Army, in the now far-off days when they still did that. And I of course regard that phase as a mark of great distinction in her life history. I have great admiration for the Sallies. So despite superficial dissimilarities, our core culture is just about identical. So we understand one-another to a far greater degree than we would without that common background, even though neither of us is religious these days.

And culture can trump theology sometimes. These days you will not hear the doctrine of predestination preached from any pulpit that I am aware of. Yet it is a perfectly scriptural doctrine. See Ephesians chapter 1.

But although the doctrine is treated with some embarrassment by the clergy these days, it lives on unabated among the people of the church. I remember both my mother and my aunties saying to me: "It was all planned out before we were born, John".

So when Anne says of something "It was meant to be", what I hear is not any doctrinal statement but rather an assurance that I am among my own people.

19 June, 2011

A baby shower

Susan is well along in her pregnancy now and all looks to be going well so she and Paul put on a baby shower this afternoon at their Daisy Hill place -- and they did get showered with many things for the baby -- including a toy Dalek which Paul seemed inclined to keep for himself.

Susan is a talented and hard working cook so the spread she put on was legendary. I think I tried most things but my favourite was the Pavlova. Maureen would understand that.

There was a friend of Susan's there who had her little 18 months old boy with her. He and I hit it off very well and his mother looked a bit worried that she might lose him at one stage. He kept coming back for more games and eventually sat on my knee for a fair bit.

The coming back for more reminded me of certain other children who used to come back saying: "Come on John, More John, More"

And, wonder of wonders, I won the door prize. I normally don't win anything. But that might be because I don't go in for much.

4 June, 2011

Songs of yesteryear

Anne remarked recently that a lot of the songs we enjoy listening to would be unknown to the young people of today and we both thought what a pity that was.

I decided that I could at least introduce Paul and Susan to such songs so that at least they would have some of the pleasure that we oldies find in the songs that we have grown to treasure over the years.

So I arranged one of my "educational" nights again -- this time not devoted to anything serious but simply to playing some old favourite songs which Paul and Susan mostly had not heard.

We started off with a curry dinner on the verandah as usual and then adjourned to my computer for 10 minutes so I could play us two videos: George Formby singing "When I'm cleaning winders" and Joni Mitchell singing "Both sides now". Formby is still a very funny man and Joni's phrasing of her own song makes it a great work of art.

After that we moved to the sitting room for music off CDs. We started off with the incomparable Paul Robeson singing Ol' Man River and went on from there -- not forgetting Peter Dawson's brilliant rendition of The Floral Dance.

Some other songs that we played were Men of Harlech, the Holy City, The Battle Hymn of the Republic and How Great Thou Art. So it got a bit religious but I am a great fan of religious music. The fact that I was once very religious myself no doubt plays some part in that. And as William Booth said: "Why should the Devil have all the good tunes?"

At Anne's request I put on the hilarious "Blue Bird of Happiness". It is actually a quite wise song but lugubriously overstated. I was pleased to see that Susan had a smile on her face for a lot of it. She obviously saw the funny side of it.

Susan also provided an impressive confection for dessert, as she usually does, so that rounded off a very pleasant evening.

29 May, 2010

A small but congenial gathering

In conjunction with her birthday, Jenny had a few of us over to her place for a dinner on Saturday night. Present were Jenny & Nanna, Paul & Susan and Anne and myself.

The food was good and varied and Paul in his usual outspoken manner livened us all up. He is mightily stirred up about coal seam gas at the moment. He has shares in it but the Greenies are obstructing it. That has certainly pushed his views even further in a Rightward direction.

I put up a couple of quiz questions which some people got right but nobody guessed the pronunciation of Mungindi, an outback Australian town. Nanna even got the pronunciation of Tucson right. It probably shows how many cowboy movies she has seen.

News of Joe was of course sought so we were pleased to hear that Paul had been in touch. Paul thinks the world of Joe. Paul sometimes comes across as a bit abrasive but he has a very good heart. We expect to see Joe back in Brisbane on the weekend after his birthday.

26 May, 2011

A close encounter with a surgical laser

Owing to my extensive iatrogenic skin cancer, I require the services of the medical profession rather frequently. My GP (JQ) freezes off the more minor bits and my dermatological surgeon (RH) tackles the nastier bits. I have seen both of them such a lot that I am now on quite friendly terms with both.

Usually, whatever needs to be done can be done locally in the doctor's rooms but there are some bad bits that can only be tackled by a surgical laser -- and today was such a day. Accessing the laser is a big deal, however. You have to undergo all the checks, quizzes and tests prescribed by the hospital where it is located.

So I rocked up at N.W. Private hospital on time for admission at 4:30pm and went through their process. And despite the complexity of it all I was not kept waiting for more than minutes at any stage. I passed through the hands of about 6 people before I got to theatre but they had plenty of staff to attend to whatever was required. Brisbane private hospitals are like that: Immaculate and efficient with very attentive patient care. All covered by my private health insurance.

But when I finally got into theatre at about 6:30pm it was still a relief to see the friendly faces of RH and his head nurse. With the roar and clatter of a laser drilling at your face, it is a comfort to be sure that you are in competent hands. It was done under local so we actually chatted a fair bit during the procedure, as usual.

An amusing aspect of the chatter and banter was when it was noticed that I was (coincidentally) wearing maroon undershorts. Maroon is the colour of the Queensland team in the State of Origin football matches and the Queensland team had just won, as they usually do. So I was regarded as a fellow supporter of the team. And, as in most places, football is a big deal and support for the local team makes you a proper person. So I emerged with somewhat undeserved credit. I mentioned however that all four of my grandparents were born in Queensland so I got additional respect for that.

I was home by 7:30 and Anne made us an excellent dinner of lamb cutlets and salad, which we washed down with a bottle of Tyrell's excellent Verdelho, though I had only one glass, in consideration of post-operative requirements.

And despite that rather large bite out of my day, I still put all my blogs up as usual. You can't keep a good blogger down, even if he does have a few raw patches on his face and body. I was however not in pain at any stage so that helped.

22 May, 2011

An amusing night

I rarely comment on the dinners for two that Anne and I have together but tonight has to be an exception. Anne had an invisible cabbage and burnt the majority of the sausages (though not badly) and I knocked over a glass of wine, breaking it and spilling the contents onto my lap. So a good time was had by all, with lots of laughs!

13 May, 2011

Lamb cutlets

How many lamb cutlets should one cook up as a meal for two? My answer: 16

I am sure that is far more than is usually contemplated as they are rather dear these days, but I follow my own rules.

I find them delicious but they are individually so small that I have steadily upped the amount that I order. Note that a much esteemed French dish -- rack of lamb -- consists of only FOUR cutlets.

So tonight Anne cooked up 16 cutlets, of which I had just over half. And with a good salad, French dressing on the salad and a bread roll (thickly spread with REAL butter), I actually thought that I ate a dinner tonight that was as good a dinner as anybody else in the world was eating!

You might guess that I like French cutlets! They must of course be cooked medium to medium rare and need plenty of salt on them.

11 May, 2011

The Royal wedding

At some expense, Anne has bought a thick special issue of a women's magazine entirely devoted to colour pictures and information about the recent wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Spending time with an old Monarchist like me clearly has a corrupting influence! I entirely approve, of course. Courtesy of London's Daily Mail, I keep myself well-informed about the Royal family.

Anne liked Camilla's hat. And if you don't know who Camilla is you are just not with it at all, at all.

I myself thought that the best outfit of the occasion was the dress uniform of the Blues and Royals worn by Prince Harry.

(Prince Harry wore the Blues and Royals officer’s uniform in Dismounted Review Order, with a Forage Cap. He also chose not to wear a sword though the uniform did have sword slings)

The dress uniforms of the British military are in general rather splendid -- in keeping with the record of success of British arms.

And the Royal family are a military family so have every right to wear British military uniforms -- which they frequently do on formal occasions.

8 May 2011

Mothers' day

Paul and his Susan put on an excellent brunch for Jenny and Nanna at their place and invited me along too.

Susan excelled herself by putting on a breakfast that had it all: bacon, black pudding, scrambled egg, chipolatas, blueberry pancakes and potato cakes. She also had a banana and nut sauce for the pancakes and icecream too. Quite remarkable and inventive. She is quite a cook. And in consideration of Jenny it was all gluten-free too. Neither Nanna nor I would try the black pudding though.

As Nanna will soon turn 87, we discussed a bit what people used to eat in her day and noted how she has arrived at her age in reasonable health despite having a diet for most of her life that would give food freaks the horrors. All meat in those days was fried in dripping (beef fat) so they got a heavy dose of fat practically EVERY DAY! These days only oldies even know what dripping is.

I was also interested to hear that Jenny's father was a successful fisherman during the Depression, so that helped them to survive the hard times fairly well. Fish in those days was mostly cooked in dripping too -- and the custom of covering it with batter made sure you got an extra heavy dose of animal fat! Batter soaks up fat.

We chatted quite a bit about politics -- with Ms Gillard's latest brainwave of sending illegal immigrants to Malaysia evoking many groans.

We asked around for news of Joe and I was able to provide a little. We all respect that this is his time for independence, though. We were all very pleased to note that his "addiction" is not to tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, heroin, cocaine or "speed" but rather to -- wait for it -- Milk! Many parents would envy that!

I drove the Humber out but was by myself as Anne was being entertained by one of her sons.

6 May, 2011

Hannah is now 5 months old

There's nothing cuter than a baby in a beanie!

Von has fond memories of the time when we all lived at Riverstone Rd. in Gordonvale. I think it shows that even at an early age she had good taste as I myself regard that house as the best I have ever owned.

She made some reference to it in her most recent email. We had a really good crop of lemons on the lemon tree at the time and I thought that maybe we should make lemonade from them. We did and then I had the idea that maybe we should do the American thing and get the girls to sell lemonade by the side of the road. So we set the girls up with a card table and some folding chairs by the side of the road with a sign offering lemonade for a dollar a cup (or was it 50c?)

That was a great hit. People driving past would see these two pretty little girls selling lemonade and would come to a screeching halt to buy some. They had never seen such a thing before so stopped mainly out of curiosity, I imagine. Even the local cop stopped to buy some. Riverstone Rd is the main road into Gordonvale so they had plenty of passing trade.

Everyone was of course very nice to them and they got to keep the money as well! So they had a lot of fun.

And Von remembers that episode with great fondness. One of my eccentric ideas has become a treasured memory for her. She has now planted a lemon tree so her daughter will one day be able to do the same.

UPDATE: Von advises as follows: "The Lemonade was 50c a glass and Susan and I saved the money we earned from the stand to spend at some show if I remember correctly. We used the little vegemite glasses, do you remember them?"

I do indeed remember Vegemite glasses: Once ubiquitous and always absurd. A purely Australian folly, I think. They were a sort of plague that you couldn't avoid.

UPDATE 2: Suzy has emailed me to say that the lemonade stand is one of her fondest memories from childhood too so I am glad that I thought to put the story online. At the time, I thought the idea up as a bit of fun, never dreaming that it would leave such a lasting impression

4 May, 2011

The Susans and the Simons

Having two Susans and 2 or 3 Simons in the family is a bit of a problem. In both speaking and in writing how do we know which one we are referring to? Context eventually bails us out of course but it would be nice to have more clarity from the beginning.

The Simons are easy: There's Vonnie's Simon, Tracy's Simon and George's Simon (though we haven't seen that Simon for a while).

But the Susans seem to be insoluble. "Paul's Susan" is not too bad but Paul does after all have two Susans: His wife and his sister. But that is not really a problem. When we say "Paul's Susan" everybody understands that the Susan concerned is his wife.

So how to we refer to Paul's sister? We could say "Russell's Susan" but that would not feel right as she was "our" Susan long before she was Russell's. Not that there is any disrespect to Russell in that. His devotion to Suzy is all we could ask. Suzy is precious to all her family so her having a husband who also regards her that way is a great relief. So we could refer to her by her married surname but who uses surnames in referring to family members?

The only other option is referrring to her as "Twinny Susan" and that sounds a bit wet. Definitely an insoluble problem. I think I usually refer to her as "Suzy" but not everyone else does or wishes to.

28 April, 2011

Dinner with Kenneth and Maureen

We arrived at Kuraby at 5pm after a bit of demon driving through the peak-hour traffic and as we walked in the door Ken was playing mood music on his new electric goanna. It certainly sounded good. Maybe acoustic pianos will become obsolete soon.

Maureen dished up an incredible spread with various appetizers and lots of different dishes for the main course. And everything was excellent. And I got a reward for always mentioning how good Maureen's pavlovas are. She made a super-duper layered one for dessert.

At one stage we were discussing old cars and houses -- which Ken sees little point in and I remarked that he was just not sentimental. Ken said: "Yes, I am". Whereupon Maureen shouted out from the kitchen: "You are not"! So Ken got a bit undermined there. But he retained his good cheer.

I can't remember much of what else we talked about but I think we covered a lot of ground.

At one stage Ken got Von and Paul on Skype from NZ so we heard a live account of their canoe adventure.

Towards the end of the evening we got talking about Pauline Hanson and racism -- in complete defiance of the old advice never to discuss religion and politics on social occasions. But Ken and I know one-another of old so we retained good cheer despite Ken having the usual view about Pauline while Anne and I think well of her.

Ken seemed at first to be in favour of "affirmative action" but my claim that it was racist seemed to moderate his views somewhat. Not your everyday dinner-table topic! But Ken is good natured and knows that I am pretty ornery so I think he just enjoyed the back and forth: Which is more mature than a lot of people could manage.

I pushed my luck with the beverages a bit, having champagne, Merlot and Cointreau. But I got home without police challenge so all was well. I took the Echo as I had surgery on my hand yesterday and it was still a bit sore. The Humber has very heavy steering so that was out of the question with a sore hand.


Another very small incident which may nonetheless be worth recording was when I very "incorrectly" remarked: "When I see reports of people younger than me dying, I tend to feel rather pleased". Maureen was in the kitchen area at the time but I got a big smile from her in response to that. I imagine that she enjoyed the "incorrectness" and frankness of it.

The older you get the more you feel pleased at your survival, I think. Almost the very first thing nonagenarians say to you is: "I'm 90, you know!" There are a lot of nonagenarians in Australia so I have heard it often. Anne's mother is still alive at 93.

Update 2

After Paul had related on Skype how their canoe had got out of control and tossed both him and Von into the freezing river water, Ken chimed in with an admonition that they should have been wearing life jackets. That went down like a lead balloon with Paul -- as I could tell from his silence in response. Father and son there do NOT see eye to eye in most things. I had some sympathy for Ken on that occasion, however. Hearing that two of your children had nearly drowned has got to be stressful.

Unless I have been directly asked for advice, I don't think I ever tell Paul or Joe to do anything. I just offer information about what the consequences of any course of action are likely to be and leave them to integrate that into their own thinking however they may. I have never been disappointed at the result of that.

And I never really need to say anything to Von. She always makes good decisions. Or I think so anyway.

Good new and bad news from NZ

The good news is a great photo of Hannah being fed solids for the first time. She seems to be saying, "Wow! This is great stuff".

The bad news is that Paul and Von nearly killed themselves in a canoeing accident. They ended up OK though.

26 April, 2011

Paul is in New Zealand

He and Sue helped Von to celebrate her birthday. Paul is once again greatly enthused about the unspoiled and very scenic natural environment in the South Island. The pic below is from a trip they all did on lake Te Anau.

Apparently, they didn't have an appropriate beanie for Hannah so Sue whipped one up out of some red and white wool she was given. And very attractive it looks. Sue is the perfect wife.

Von looks happier than ever in the photo. She has good reason to be. And I like her hat too!

25 April, 2011

Suzy's birthday

About a week ago, I had heard nothing about a birthday celebration for Suzy and wondered what was happening. Suzy said that it felt "weird" celebrating her birthday for the first time without her twin present so she herself had arranged nothing. And Ken is apparently birthdayed out so has declared that he is not celebrating any birthdays any more.

So I immediately offered to put on something for her at short notice. I arranged for an afternoon tea on my verandah. Jenny and Nanna also came along of course. My verandah gets a good breeze and is always a popular spot for a small gathering. Present were Suzy and Russ, Anne and myself plus Jenny, Nanna and, of course Sahara, who was the star of the occasion. She is 17 months now and walks quite well but she is scared stiff of me! Being shy is normal enough at that age, of course.

When everybody was seated I brought out my 3-tier cakestand absolutely loaded down with big pumpkin scones and huge lamingtons -- so that immediately made a good impression. I offered rosella jam to go with the scones. So it was an all-Australian offering on ANZAC day.

A most enthusiastic consumer of the lamington offering was Sahara. She grabbed handfulls off one and scoffed them down at a great rate. Apparently she had never had a lamington before so she showed she is a born Australian. Very appropriate on ANZAC day.

I asked Suzy about how Sahara was going with her landmarks and talked a lot about her current pregnancy but beyond that I cannot remember what we all talked about. Lots of things, I think. As usual, it was a jolly occasion, though.

24 April, 2011

A busy Easter

With two Easter activities already behind me I had another one tonight. Anne likes to put on a dinner for her two sisters around this time and that happened tonight. Two mere males in the persons of myself and Ralph were also invited.

I talked to Ralph for a bit about Byzantium as his Masonic order is the Red Cross of Constantine and Byzantium is one of my enthusiasms in history.

Then we sat down to an excellent dinner of roast lamb. We were all Presbyterians of one sort or another at table so a lot of the discussion revolved around church matters. That might sound very dull but it was not at all. We had quite a jolly time in fact.

Anne had brought home with her a copy of "New Directions", a Presbyterian church newspaper that was handed to her at the Good Friday service -- and that was something of a hit. I think everyone had a look at it.

We were all rather surprised to read that the church now has its own theological college in Queensland. In the past a lot of our ministers have come from Scotland.

I was pleased to read in the paper that Archie McNicol had been given a good sendoff. He "demitted his charge" (retired) earlier this year due to ill health. He had been the minister at Ann St. for about 10 years and I always had a good impression of him

23 April, 2011

The great tribe of Rays

I have no idea of the actual numbers but at a guess I must have about a thousand relatives in Queensland and more interstate. And that is just on my father's side! Much the same would be true on my mother's side.

The Ray family are so numerous because we go back to the convicts. The convict couple had a big family and their kids had big families and their kids ... Even in my own family I was one of four.

I am of course completely out of touch with most of my fellow descendants of the convict couple but every now and again someone in the family takes an interest in genealogy and a few contacts are established.

My third cousin Jan Bemrose is one of those. She is a very smart lady who has done an immense amount of work on the family genealogy and she eventually tracked me down as well. Most conveniently, she lives only about half an hour's drive from where I do so I arranged to meet her today over an afternoon tea at my place. I got my brother Chris along as well. It was a very lively afternon with lots of reminiscences, information and stories being exchanged -- and lots of laughs. We seemed to have quite a lot in common too.

And Anne made some excellent cucumber sandwiches to go with our tea. I also managed to get the local baker to make us some pumpkin scones, which are an old Queensland favourite. And to fill the top level of my three-tier cakestand I made something that could hardly be more Australian: A bully beef sandwich.

I cut it into quarters and each person's quarter seemed to go down well. It was a rather mad thing to serve at an afternoon tea but I wanted some real Australiana to go with our discussions of the old timers in our past. And it seems that both Jan and I actually LIKE bully beef!

We have arranged to meet again.

22 April, 2011

I made it!

Although I have been an atheist for nearly 50 years now, I still like to pop in to my old church once or twice a year -- particularly on Good Friday and at Christmas. Getting out of bed in time is the big problem, however. Easter services tend to start early and I get out of bed late.

Today however Anne woke me up at 8:15 for the 9am service at Ann St. Presbyterian so I got going as quickly as I could and arrived blearily but in good time at church.

The Ann St. church stayed out of the "Uniting church" when that takeover was on. The "Uniters" are pretty wishy-washy these days but the continuing Presbyterians remain old-style. So when Anne and I attended there this morning it was the Gospel of salvation only that I heard. To preach anything else on Good Friday would be very peculiar Christianity indeed. And it was the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Queensland that we had preaching.

He was an enthusiastic and learned preacher but shouted a bit too much for my liking: Rather un-Presbyterian I thought. But as he "heads" the whole church in Queensland, I guess he knows better than I do about that.

Our old minister retired recently because of ill health and I missed him. I liked old Archie McNicol. He was a tall and dignified Scot.

When I go to church I feel reconnected with my past and my ancestors -- and conservatives generally do tend to like their connections with other people. Leftists are more into criticizing other people.

Anne says she just goes for the music but I think there is more to it than that. It is her old church too and she does her best to get me along whenever she thinks I might be amenable to it. I never have to twist her arm.

We had a lady in a big hat sitting up the front so I presume it was Penelope Wensley. Having two State governors in a row support that church must mean something but I am still figuring out what. Quentin Bryce used to turn up in a big hat too.

So it was a pleasant morning and Anne cooked me up a good breakfast afterwards of scrambled eggs and Haloumi with toast.

19 April, 2011

A greeting from a NZ babe

You can tell she's a NZ babe by the rugging up. It's already snowing on the mountains where young Hannah is (below).

Here in Brisbane some trees are stiil flowering and the days are warm. And it's STILL raining!

17 April, 2011

It's autumn in the shaky isles

Some recent photos from Lady Von

Invercargill beach looks a bit muddy to me but locals like the fact that you can drive on it

Von is a bit worried about the impending winter but her good cheer (and some good house heating) will carry her through

16 April, 2011

A mustard taste test

I have run wine tastings and whisky tastings in my time but a mustard taste test must be something of a departure.

I organized one last Thursday night with just Anne and myself as judges. The aim was to decide what mustard went best with Pastrami on rye. I got in some light rye bread and Crown lager to wash it down and made up four sandwiches. I cut the sandwiches in half so Anne and I would have the same.

Each of course had a different mustard on it and all had plenty of butter on them. There were: Dijon mustard, English mustard, wholegrain mustard and mustard pickles.

For me it was a tossup between wholegrain mustard and mustard pickles but Anne was firmly in favour of wholegrain mustard

I already use Pastrami in Reuben sandwiches. Maybe I should try Pastrami with Russian dressing next. I have never seen Russian dressing in the shops here but I have ketchup, mayonnaise and horseradish on hand so I should be able to make up my own. There are various recipes for Russian dressing on the net but I have found a simple one:

1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup (4 Tbsp) chili sauce, cocktail sauce or ketchup
1 Tbsp drained horseradish
1 tsp minced onion

With a bit of coleslaw it could be good

11 April, 2011

Went down to the St. James Infirmary...

Whoops! Wrong song. My sense of humour will be the death of me one day

Last night was a meeting of the Westside Music Circle, which I have been attending for around 10 years.

We had a violist who rather made me sit up. I didn't realize how low a viola could go. He even played one of the Bach cello suites on it. Marjorie, the human pianola (she can play anything) was in good form too and I particularly liked some Schumann that she played.

The old gang were there, including of course Jill and Lewis.

Anne gave me an excellent meat pie to eat before we set out which was a rather civilizing influence. I normally make rather a pig of myself at the supper afterwards but the pie filled me up rather a lot so I was more restrained than usual. I did try one of each of the sandwiches on offer, however.

I was a bit dubious about the Humber as I suspected that the battery was on the blink. It performed faultlessly, however.

9 April, 2011

More news from Lady Von

Von is always a happy lady but she seems even happier in her new abode. An excerpt:

During the picturesque drive [to Queenstown] it dawned on me that we really are living in paradise... I have never felt like this about anywhere I have ever visited or lived until now, I have fallen in love with this place.

It is amazing how much the sun can make a cold temperature feel warm, it was only 14 degrees but the sun made it feel like 25 degrees and we could easily walk around without a jumper on.

We also visited Arrowtown yesterday which is near Queenstown and is famous for the Autumn colour in the leaves and the whole town has restored the original old buildings so the town has a lot of character not to mention GOLD. Yes, you can still find gold in the river that runs through Arrowtown. There are still many rivers where gold can be found in NZ but commercial mining of gold has been banned to preserve the natural environment.

Some pics of Von's new environment

1 April, 2011

The New Zealand news

A picture of Von's humble home

And an excerpt from her latest email that would make big city dwellers worldwide envious:
"Another thing I want to mention was about our garbage collection. Our wheelie bin is collected each Thursday morning and Simon and I managed to fill it to the brim with the lid poking up over the top.

We unfortunately slept in on Thursday and didn't get the bin out in time so it wasn't collected. We thought we would just leave it there anyway and deal with the rubbish later.

At about 4pm that afternoon the rubbish truck sped past then noticed our bin and reversed back to our house and emptied it!! We were amazed! How nice. We really are living in the country when you get service like that."

26 March, 2011

Earth day

Anne and I celebrated Earth day in appropriate style. Everybody was supposed to turn all their lights out at 8:30 pm.

So at 8.30pm I turned on every light in the house and Anne served up our dinner on my verandah. We had Forfar Bridies from Syd's, with salad, and they were of course excellent. We washed them down with some Wynn's Coonawarra Shiraz

I live within earshot of "The Gabba", one of the holy grounds of cricket. They had a well-attended (judging by the roars of the crowd) football match there last night. It was of course held under huge floodlights. And they certainly were not turned off at 8.30pm. Thank goodness for sporting Australians.

21 March, 2011

Some pictures from scenic Lumsden

With Von and Hannah

The beach looks very English -- but it is a river beach, not a seaside beach. I note that Von is warmly dressed while I have the airconditioning on! A difference between the shaky isles and Brisbane of course.

20 March, 2011

Paul's birthday

Paul has his birthday this week so I put on a small birthday dinner for him tonight at my place. We managed to fit 9 people onto my small front verandah but that meant that we were close enough for everybody to hear one-another.

Present were Paul & Sue, Anne & myself, Ken & Maureen, Jenny, Nanna and Timmy. So the lad had his mother, father, grandmother and his old stepfather all present. Not that he's really a lad anymore. He is a man in his 30s. But all the relationships seem to be much as they always were.

It was good to have Timmy present. I always enjoy telling stories about what he did when he was a kid. Fortunately, he seems to enjoy the stories too.

We had curry as usual for the main course and an impressive range of desserts brought by the ladies. Paul managed -- just -- to blow his candles out and ate heartily as usual. Paul and Ken are both great eaters so there was no curry left over but I was rather pleased that there was half a Pavlova left. It is in my fridge at the moment but will not last long. Maureen made the Pavolova as usual.

I can't remember what we talked about: Mostly politics, I think. Though we did spend some time talking about the Royal succession. Australia is a monarchy and who will reign is a topic most Australians have an opinion about. I favour Prince Charles and I think Paul agreed.

Before everybody went home, I sang them a song! It was an old Australian favourite -- "Click go the shears" -- which almost no Australians understand these days. You have to know:

Why the shears go click?
What is a blow (not what you think)?
What is a ringer (nothing to do with bells)?
What is a snagger (not a sausage maker)?
What is a "bare bellied yo"?

I explained it all and everybody seemed to enjoy that little bit of Australiana. Ken was the only one to know any of the answers and he is a Pom!

Self flanked by Anne and Paul

The gathering, with Paul's gorgeous and pregnant wife Sue on the far left. Sue helps me to take lids off things! And does many other kind deeds

19 March, 2011

Abraham's bag factory and Gearco

My first job in Brisbane in 1964 was as a clerk at Abraham's bag factory out at Rocklea. I bought an old Army B.S.A. 500cc motorbike (for ten pounds) to get to and from work. I loved that bike: Manual advance/retard and all. It was a couple of months before I discovered that it had a fourth gear! Tram tracks are very dangerous to bikes and I once slipped on them and came off in the middle of Ipswich Rd. I was lucky not to be run over.

I eventually wrote the bike off in another accident in which I broke my leg. Where I came from that was almost a rite of passage for young men. I went back to my parents' home in 308 Mulgrave Rd in Cairns while I recuperated. It was then that I took the picture of Roxanne as a little girl that now hangs on my wall. She always was the good-looking one.

I stayed at the bag factory for only a few months but had some educational experiences there. I was a stock clerk so was sort-of half way between the office-workers and the factory workers, most of whom were female. I kept factory hours, however -- starting at 7am. The office workers started at 9am. It was my introduction to class distinctions and was all very new to me at the time. I was struck by how the factory girls seemed to live in a different mental world to me. I hardly understood them at all. My head at that time was full of writers from Thucydides to Ruskin and that would have been greeted with great derision had I mentioned it.

I was at one stage given the chance of driving the forklift but a veil of silence over that is probably best.

There were a couple of freemasons working in the factory and that was new to me too. The factory foreman -- a very important man named Henry Trenerry -- was a Mason and there was another guy too. The manager was a former salesman named Garlick. It was my introduction to the idea that salesman often become managers.

The factory made bags (paper sacks) for one of the sandminers on Stradbroke Island and Henry had to ring them up at times. I still remember their phone no.: "Dunwich 16".

I cannot remember why I left Abrahams but I imagine that I got bored with it.

I then went to work for Harry Beanham (usually resident in Sydney but he visited his interstate shops occasionally) at Gearco in the city. The job was to run a business selling second hand factory machinery and some new machinery: Mostly to do with lathes and other machine tools. I found it interesting.

Harry was in partnership with another bloke (Bob Naesmith) selling new and secondhand photographic gear. I ran my side of the shop and the other side of the shop was run by George Smith and Mrs Staer. I had for many years a SLR Pentax camera I acquired from the other side of the shop when it came in second-hand.

I made my mark in Harry's mind by being a very successful seller of diehead chasers. There was a complexity to them that interested me. He eventually sent his total stock of them up to Brisbane for me to sell. Don't ask what they are. You don't need to know. Mechanical engineers know already.

5 March, 2011

Jill's birthday

I very naughtily forgot Jill's birthday recently but she forgave me when I offered to take her and Lewis to the Kafe Meze as a late offering. So we went there tonight.

The Kafe Meze has a large array of excellent appetizers so I ordered a selection of 7 or 8 different ones as the meal for us all. The Kafe Meze is set up for that.

That was very well received as we had a mini-banquet of very tasty dishes (the food on them was good too). As usual, the keftedes were much praised but the Taramasalata was much enjoyed too, as it usually is. I believe I also had the privilege of introducing Jill to Haloumi, slightly to my surprise. A Greek meal is not complete without Tarama and Haloumi.

Anne and I had a sort of parfait for dessert while Jill and Lewis played it safe with Baklava. The parfait was comprised of walnuts, yoghurt and honey, a combination new to me -- though yoghurt is very Greek of course. In fact, the first time I ever tasted yoghurt was at the Innisfail Greek club, where I was taken by the inimitable Panagiotis Kokkinidis. Isn't that a marvellously Greek name? Anyway, I enjoyed the parfait.

I was glad that I booked in advance as the customers kept pouring in to the restaurant. A majority of them seemed to be young too. It clearly is in fashion with the youth for their weekend outings at the moment. The restaurant is a big one but when I went to pay the bill, there seemed to be no vacant tables anywhere. The restaurant is not a cheap one so I guess quality counts.


I cannot leave mention of Panagiotis Kokkinidis without paying some tribute to him. I have a photo of myself with him when I was about 16. He was a very happy man. His happiness was part and parcel of the fact that he was a God-filled man. You get men like that in all Christian denominations and in Jewry. His utter faith in his Lord gave him a degree of happiness and confidence that most of the rest of us can only aspire to.

Last I heard of him he was doing some sort of missionary work in Vietnam. That would be just like Taki (his nickname). His faith would carry him through all sorts of situations that would daunt other people. Compared to him I see myself as "Thy poor earthbound companion and fellow mortal", as Burns put it.

An amusing thing about Taki is that he looked very Greek and yet had somehow acquired a good command of Italian. So when Italians heard Italian words coming out of this very Greek face they tended not to believe it. That of course amused Taki. I know of it because he told me. I can vouch for the fact that he spoke Italian and looked very Greek and the rest I can imagine.

The world has been a better place for having Panagiotis Kokkinidis Kokkinidis in it. I hope his Lord has been kind to him in the 50 years since I last saw him.

2 March, 2011

Australia's surprising origins

Australia started out as a military dictatorship. That sounds like a bad start but the military concerned was subservient to the parliament of England so it was fairly humane and permissive by the standards of its day. But most Australians know that (I hope).

What is perhaps more surprising is what a modern place Sydney was in its earliest days. Stories surrounding my two convict ancestors help illustrate that:

From Sydney's newspaper of the day ("The Australian" -- particularly the issue of 30.7.1828) we learn that when the convict ship carrying my male ancestor arrived in Sydney harbour, there was smallpox on board.

So what did they do? Just say a prayer and disembark everybody straight away? No. The illness was immediately notified to the appropriate authorities. The ship was then sent to Neutral Bay in quarantine and the Sydney population warned. Thousands of people had cowpox vaccinations as a result. After official investigations, the ship was eventually allowed to disembark on August 5th at Spring Cove. Pretty modern! Precautionary vaccinations in 1828.

So Sydney was a pretty sophisticated place by 1828. A "visiting English gentleman" writing in "The Australian" of 13 August 1828 under the pseudonym "Delta" was surprised to find Sydney comprised of substantial brick and stone buildings instead of the mud huts and log cabins he had expected. He found it "a bustling, elegant and extensive city" with shops as good as London's but with much cleaner air. So the convicts had built well in their first 40 years.

A subsequent writer in "The Australian" found "Delta's" encomium a bit exaggerated but did nonetheless still see Sydney as a place with opportunities that might well entice emigrants from England.

And when my female ancestor from those days was being transported to Australia in 1840, the convict ship departed from Kingstown, about 12 kilometres south of Dublin city centre in Ireland , and now called Dún Laoghaire (or Dunleary). So how did she get from Dublin to the port? By steam train! The railway from Dublin to Kingstown opened for business in 1834 and terminated near the West Pier. So Australia started out as the offshoot of the most advanced country of its day. And it has always been a "modern" country. Around the year 1900 it was by some accounts the richest country in the world.

27 February, 2010

Two departures

Vonnie, Simon and Hannah are departing soon for the Shaky Isles. And they are going via Christchurch! So I organized a big family sendoff dinner at my usual Indian restaurant on Saturday night. There were 21 people plus three babies present, including George, who was in excellent spirits.

I managed to get in a bit of a chat with Von about baby matters but found, rather as I expected, that she was already thinking along the same lines. She is a very sensible young woman and we have always got on well.

The occasion was also supposed to be a sendoff for Joe but something came up and he had to leave on Saturday morning so missed the big family dinner. He actually drove down to Canberra in his Toyota Corolla, much to the disquiet of his mother and me.

I did however manage to corral him for a Friday night curry dinner on my verandah. There were only six of us for that dinner (including Paul, Sue, Anne and Jenny) but it was quite a fun dinner with lots of chat.

I spilt rather a lot of curry on the tablecloth at one stage, which greatly amused Joe. His sense of humour has not changed since he was 2. At that age, his favourite joke was: "The boy fell in the mud".

Joe told us quite a bit about his exploratory trip to Canberra and the ANU, including his encounter with the endemic socialism there. His exploratory trip (by air) was to enrol and to arrange accomodation; and he did manage to get college accomodation.

He will be starting his Ph.D. studies anew at the ANU school of mathematics, the first two years being mainly involved in courses and reading, with the writing of his dissertation (using partial differential equations) left to the third year. So he should have plenty of time to enjoy the student life, which I am pleased about.

Update March 1

Joe had a relatively uneventful trip and arrived safe and sound in Canberra.

I forgot to mention something amusing about the dinner:

Suzy and Lena had a highchair and a pram to accomodate their babies at the dinner but Von had neither. Little Hannah was passed around like a parcel all night. She is a very placid baby so everyone who wanted a cuddle could get one. She was very popular.

Update 2

I hear that Joe has done a bit of quizzing of the many socialists at ANU. A bit unwise perhaps but it interested him to see how little thought many of them put into their beliefs.

Something that happened at his sendoff dinner was amusing. He said that he always orders the same thing at Indian restaurants. This was greeted with some surprise so he explained that when he found something he liked he couldn't see the point of ordering something that he might not like. Various people then said to him: "That's what John says", which is of course true. I doubt that he has ever heard me say that so it is another example of the power of genetics. He is not like me at all in appearance and personality but other similarities are numerous.

Update 3

Some pictures from the sendoff dinner:

Bottlescape: (champagne and water) with Jenny, Pam and Anne (L to R) in the background

A good photo of Russell and Sahara

Paul's Susan with Hannah and Timmy

12 February, 2011

Celebrating the day of a delisted saint

St. Valentine's day is named after about 14 early Christian martyrs named Valentine. Valentine was a popular name in those days. The holy day was established by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD. The saint himself, however was deleted from the Roman calendar of saints in 1969 by Pope Paul VI.

I bought Anne a big lot of small red carnations for the day, which I thought looked nice. Red roses were sold out by the time I got there. Anne seemed to be pleased with the offering.

We then went to the Kafe Meze for a Greek dinner. The Kafe Meze is a bit upmarket so is not usually busy but it sure was busy today: Glammed up ladies and nervous-looking men everywhere. The Kafe Meze looks small from the street but has been very extensively done up and goes back a long way so it can accomodate a lot of people. And it did exactly that tonight.

I have been there several times before so I recognize the owner. He was looking in very good spirits tonight! To give him his due however he had prepared well with lots of staff on hand and also pitched in himself to wait on customers etc. So our dinners arrived reasonably promptly and were superb. At one stage I asked him (as he was passing by) for more keftedes. He replied, "Of course!" -- as if that request were the most natural thing in all the world -- which it of course was on that occasion. His keftedes are normally good but tonight they were a pitch of perfection. And I wasn't drinking while I was there so that is a sober judgment! I didn't want to drink and drive so Anne and I waited to get home before we cracked a bottle of champagne.

We also had some dessert at home. Anne knows that I like plum pudding so she had brought some of that over -- with custard. We had dessert on the front verandah -- enjoying a cool breeze while watching the possums leaping about in the Mulberry tree outside.

11 February, 2011

Kammerphilharmonie Köln

Last night Anne and I went to St. John's cathedral for a concert by the Kammerphilharmonie Köln. As the name, implies, it is a chamber orchestra from Cologne, Germany. Having a chamber orchestra in such a large venue is slightly odd but the acoustics at St. John's are on the brilliant side -- all that bare stone -- so it worked well.

The program was (with one exception) some classical favourites by Bach, Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, Mozart and Handel. That was obviously popular -- as the whole of the nave of the cathedral and most of the transept was taken up by the audience. And St. John's is a large cathedral.

There were about 10 musicians on hand but not all were on stage at the same time. Who appeared depended on the piece. As is common with chamber groups there was no conductor. The finale of an excellent concert was Handel's beautiful "Ombra mai fu" (a largo from the opera "Xerxes"). It was well sung in Italian by the soprano. It's probably as well that it was in Italian as it actually a song in praise of a tree!

For me an interesting question was what has become of Volker Hartung? The occasion at St. John's had all the hallmarks of one of his ventures but he was not mentioned in the program notes nor is he mentioned on the orchestra's site.

When it was run as the Junge Philharmonie Köln he was the founder and director but something seems to have changed in 2003, when the new name was adopted. Was there a parting of the ways or has he simply retired behind the scenes? Maybe he has just gone on to other challenges. He seems to work as a professor of conducting and chamber music in Singapore these days: A long way from Köln for a Kölner!

8 February, 2011

Termite toast

This could well invite great opprobrium from Greenies and nature-lovers generally but I have just destroyed another termite infestation in my house so I am not feeling too kindly towards termites at the moment.

Fortunately the structural timbers in an "Old Queenslander" house are hardwood, which termites find a bit hard on their little jaws -- so infestations tend to do no serious structural damage in such houses. So the various attacks on my house don't take much to repair.

Anyway, the point about this post is to pass on a bit of old bush wisdom that I learnt many years ago from my father: Termite mounds (in the bush) burn. So if you knock the top off one and light it up, you have a very good damped fire for making toast. Just throw some bread on and you will soon have some of the tastiest toast you have ever eaten. It has a unique flavour. Though I guess it could depend a bit on what wood they have been eating.

So there is ONE good thing that comes from having termites around.

While I am talking about termites maybe I should dispense some termite wisdom. I am an old termite warrior from way back so I have seen a lot.

When most people are told that they have termites in their house they basically run screaming. And if the house is a modern brick veneer that is about all that they can reasonably do. The structural timbers in a modern house are pine -- which is a very soft wood. Termites go through it like a buzzsaw and soon your walls are flapping in the breeze. And at that point all you can usually do is pull the house down and start again.

In an older house, however, it will be only the softwood (floors, walls etc.) that is destroyed. The hardwood framework will have been attacked but not enough to reduce drastically its load-bearing capacity. Hardwood is amazing stuff. So you poison the termites and nail new floorboards or wallboards onto your framework and you are as good as new again. It just costs you a bit of timber and a couple of days work by a carpenter or handyman.

But most people don't know that so run screaming from old houses too. And that is how I bought my house for a tenth of what it is now worth. It had a whole bedroom floor eaten out by termites when I bought it. The floor concerned was just a couple of inches above the ground, however, so I just got a rubbish man to cart it away and poured concrete where it had been. I'd like to see the termites try their jaws on that!

But in my experience you never get rid of termites and I have had at least half a dozen infestations in the last 20 years or so. To me it's just routine maintenance to deal with them.

Pest control people always try to talk you into spending thousands of dollars on putting a poison "barrier" around your house to prevent future infestations but that is just malarkey. There are at least 3 reasons why such barriers don't work:

1). The termites are inside it already;

2). The chemicals these days are pissweak. They degrade in around 12 months so don't bother the termites for long. If the Greenies would allow us to use Dieldrin instead, however, there might be some point in it. Dieldrin never seems to degrade from what I can see. We used it for years but it is now "carcinogenic", they say.

3). Most flying ants are termites so they can fly right inside your property without having to burrow through any soil. I get an annual flight of them.

And pest control people are mostly a laugh anyway. On a couple of occasions I have had them tell me that one of my properties is "clear", only for me to say: "Put your listening gadget here". "Oh yeah"! they then say. They miss a lot. They are good at pumping Termidor into an existing infestation and killing it -- but not much else.

There are a few people who try to evade termites by building steel-framed houses. I mustn't laugh! You need to be pretty noise-tolerant to live in a steel house. Steel expands and contracts according to the temperature -- something that timber does not do. And it makes a lot of noise as it expands and contracts: pops and creaks and groans etc. Some steel houses "sing". There's no "get out of jail free" card with termites. You just have to be vigilant.

There's always the old double brick construction method, of course. Nothing for termites to eat there. But you have to be on very stable ground and your dampcourse has to hold up. Once that fails you have rising damp -- and that is VERY hard to defeat. Been there. Done that.

Speaking of Dieldrin, I had a great pest control guy years ago whom I used to get to spray my houses for pests such as cockroaches. I suspect that he must have collared a good supply of Dieldrin before it was banned because he would first spray my houses with the "safe" chemicals (safe for bugs too) and if that did not work completely he would come back and spray some of "the good stuff" around -- which always worked like a charm. But he did die of cancer in his mid-50s ...

5 February, 2011

A grand imperial conclave

With Anne, I attended today my very first Grand Imperial Conclave of the Knights of the Red Cross of Constantine -- at my local masonic hall. The occasion was the enthronement of a most illustrious grand sovereign. That is he above. You would think they would give him a crown, wouldn't you? He's a very nice guy actually. The local masons have chosen well.

It was a very elaborate ceremonial carried out very well. We also had a modest lunch afterward. I was slightly surprised at how Christian the whole occasion was. Pomp and circumstance has been associated with religion for a very long time so the Masons are bearers of an old tradition in that regard.

I enjoyed the old hymns ("Onward Christian soldiers"; "When I survey the wondrous cross") and was also pleased to hear both the Australian national anthem and the Royal anthem rendered well. We had a loyal toast during lunch too, as is appropriate in a monarchy, which Australia is.

They had a beadle-cum-M.C. running the show who was very impressive: Stern and stentorian but with a keen sense of humour that burst out from time to time. I asked him if he was an ex-army man but he said not. He would have made a great RSM

Freemasonry is not my cup of tea but I wish them well. I am sure they are a positive influence. There was a lot of joy in the gathering I saw. Anne liked the fact that the men were all spiffingly turned-out -- in formal white jackets etc.

I myself do in fact own a grey tailsuit, complete with dickey-fronted shirt, white waistcoat and white tie but I can't fit into it these days. At age 67 I am still a growing boy -- but not in the right direction, unfortunately.


I wonder if I should mention a VERY small point about the lunch:

For drinks we were offered: light beer, Lemonade, Golden Circle Sarsaparilla and Ballantynes's Scotch whisky. Being an old Queenslander from way back, I chose Sarsaparilla. So I am slightly embarrassed to say that I toasted the Queen in Sarsaparilla! I have never liked drinking alcohol during the day and Sars is a real Queensland drink. It is only in recent decades that you have been able to get it in Southern states. Americans would recognize it as a form of root beer.

1 February, 2011

"And well we weren esed atte beste"

That's the English of 600 years ago.

Being old can be rather disturbing. It alerts you to what is possible. And one thing I know to be possible is that one can in country schools of no distinction gain an infinitely better education than one gets in just about ANY school today. I know that because I had such an education.

My education at Innisfail State Rural School and Cairns High School left me with an awareness of Homer, Chaucer, Robert Burns, Tennyson, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, G.M. Hopkins and many others. It even introduced me to Schubert Lieder, Dvorak, Bach and that marvellous prewar tenor Josef Schmidt. I doubt that even Eton does as much these days. Yet all those things remain with me and give me pleasure. Even the Latin I learnt then has often been helpful.

And note that some of the authors were distinctly "difficult". What is a "daimen icker in a thrave"? To understand one of the most famous Burns poems you need to know that it means "a single ear in a sheaf". And we learnt that. And to this day I celebrate the birthday of Robert Burns every year.

The Chaucer quote at the head of this post did pose some difficulty, however, The teacher didn't know what it meant and nor could I figure it out at that age. Some time in recent years it has become clear to me what it means, however, and it is of course very simple. It means "And well we were eased, at the best". The Tabard was obviously a very good inn on the way to Canterbury 600 years ago. It would be a rare schoolboy today who knows of that journey, however.

And if the greats of English literature and classical music seem irrelevant, let me also note that I learnt enough physics by age 16 to see immediately (many years later) what a hoax the global warming scare is. One only has to know the melting point of ice to see that.

Would you believe that when Warmists talk about recent temperature changes, they are talking about changes in terms of tenths and even hundredths of one degree? Just look at the calibrations on any of their graphs.

How such tiny changes are ever going to melt the VERY cold Antarctic boggles the imagination

30 January, 2011

Secret men's business and philosophy

Tonight was one of the occasional "educational" nights I put on for Paul and Joe. The topic was analytical philosophy but while Anne and Sue were away picking up the curry, I also went through some secret men's business with Paul and Joe. I took them through my old house and gave them the names for all the fittings in it. I identified for them:

A nightlatch plus its tongue and keeper
A batten holder and a surface switch
A padbolt and a barrel bolt
A breadloaf handrail, stringer, treads and a Newell post
A bargeboard, guttering and a hosecock
A bibcock, Fiddian hosecock and a pillar cock
A mortice lock, an Edwardian rimlock and a Victorian rimlock
An architrave, a picture rail, a casement sash
A cabin hook, a telescopic casement stay and a Whitspur
French windows

And if you don't know what all those things are, neither did they. They both made a great effort to remember it all though. It was a revelation to them how many everday things they did not know the names for.

Then we went on to philosophy. I trotted them very quickly through the major questions: What is mind, cause, knowledge etc.

I spent a bit of time on moral philosophy as that is an issue of some general interest. I pointed out that the idea of an objective or discoverable right and wrong has big problems but went on to trace the idea to the fact that we are all born with certain moral instincts and that those instincts have evolved to enable us to function as part of a group. It is those moral instincts that are the location for some ideas of non-arbitrary rights and wrongs. More on that here.

We had a very lively discussion and both Paul and Joe were thoroughly involved with the questions concerned.

Sue provided an excellent Schwarzwalderkirschentorte for dessert and everyone ended up full of curry, cake and complicated thoughts.

27 January, 2011

A gorgeous lady in pink

Baby Hannah at 8 weeks old

26 January, 2011

Australia Day today

It commemorates the arrival of the first white settlers in Australia in 1788 and has become an increasingly popular celebration. As the Left-run schools have robbed Australians of their history, the few shreds that remain in people's consciousness are seized on eagerly. The same goes for Anzac Day, which goes from strength to strength.

My family on my mother's side have for many years celebrated the day in a good Aussie way -- with a family get-together over a BBQ lunch. It was held today, as usual, at my brother's place and I enjoyed the lively conversation as usual. The occasion was "dry". We had no need of alcohol to make us sociable. On my way there and back, I saw quite a few cars with Australian flags on them -- something that is a phenomenon of recent years only.

I was pleased that two young relatives at present in high school expressed a considerable interest in history and knew quite a bit about it. They were scornful of how it it taught in the schools and expressed regret that so little British history is taught -- on the grounds that British history is both more interesting and more important. And the very vivacious girl (Michelle) who expressed that most strongly is half-Chinese!

I heard sounds of partying from a couple of places near me during the day so my relatives were not alone in making good use of the holiday.

25 January, 2011

Burns Night

All around the world people celebrate the birthday of Scotland's greatest poet on 25th January, and I have been doing that since sometime in the '70s. There is no other poet who attacts that devotion but if you have got any of the sentimental Celt in you, you just have to read his most famous poems to see why.

I had just a small gathering, as my entertaining area is quite small. It is a verandah that gets lots of good breezes, important in the midst of a sub-tropical summer. I had over my son and stepson (Joe and Paul), plus old friends Jill and Lewis. Paul's admirable wife plus Anne and myself completed the party.

I managed to get some very fresh neeps (Swedes) for the dinner this year and Anne is good at cooking them anyway so that really helped the dinner. I got the haggis from "Syd's Pies" as usual and it was excellent as usual. Syd is a brilliant cook. Paul was particularly enthusiastic about the haggis and proved it by eating up all the leftovers.

We had three desserts: Tablet, some very light shortbread and clootie dumpling. Anne did a great rum sauce to go with the clootie dumpling.

As usual I skipped a few of the customs but we did most of them. Saying Grace and the loyal toast are a bit old-fashioned these days so I made sure I did both of those customs. The Grace was of course the Selkirk Grace and a toast to the Queen is entirely appropriate in Australia, considering that she is Australia's Head of State.

I flew the saltire of St. Andrew from my flagpole in honour of the day and wore the kilt. In recognition of the climate, I teamed the kilt with an Hawaiian shirt!

The conversation was largely about politics. Luckily we are all on the conservative side of that divide. I did at one stage tell the remarkable story of Tsutomu Yamaguchi and pointed out how thoroughly it undermines the conventional hysteria about ionizing radiation.

And it was a very traditional Scottish occasion in that the men just sat around and pontificated while the women did all the work! I try to give my son Joe a good example!

About to carve the haggis

Two views of dessert time

24 January, 2011

Anne's birthday

I gave Anne a new laptop computer for her birthday as the old one she was using was too slow to handle a wireless broadband connection properly.

Getting Telstra's system to recognize the new computer was very much the battle I expected however. I installed the connection up until the point where Telstra's system demanded a password. Crash! No password worked.

Anne spent about two hours on the phone to the Telstra helpline before she could get connected. It was such a marathon effort that she flattened the battery of the cordless phone she was using along the way. It was fully charged when she began.

Anyway Anne has a lot of patience (she puts up with me!) so she was a bit exhausted at the end of it but pleased with her new computer. It was "as slick as a chick", she said.

That evening we went to a local Thai for dinner, where the food is always first class.

19 January, 2011

A frog

I gather that all the rain we have had in Brisbane in the last few months has been good for the amphibian population.

When I was at Anne's place last night, we left the front door open. And as we were sitting on the settee not far from the door, a small green frog came hop, hop, hop into the room through the door. His body would have been less than an inch long but he did hops about six times that distance.

Anne freaked, of course. She is pretty pro-life but things that hop unnerve her. So I had to shepherd the little fellow out the door again. After he landed on the mat outside the door he stopped there for quite a while, no doubt to recover from the terror of being chased by a huge monster.

I thought he was gorgeous and Anne did too -- once he was outside. I rather marvelled that in that tiny body were heart, lungs, liver, kidney, stomach, bowel, mouth, tongue, eyes, nose etc, just like us, roughly. If I were still a Christian, I would probably have said:

O Lord my God, When I in awestruck wonder
Behold -- the world that thou hast made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout The universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Savior God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art
Then sings my soul, My Savior God, to Thee
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

16 January, 2011

The wonders of the internet

I put up a post nearly a year ago about a memory of a childhood poem -- a memory from when I was in second grade. I re-run that post below and add to it some excellent feedback I got in the comments box of the original post.
When I was a kid -- in grade 2, I think -- I remember the teacher reading out a story about a "Little blue boy". It was a sad story and I cried. I was the only one who did, probably because I was the only one who understood. The teacher was upset that I was upset and that story was never referred to again.

I recollect only the title of the story and none of its content so I wondered if I could find it on the net. Unfortunately that name seems to go with lots of different stories but I think I may have found the one I was looking for. It is apparently an old English Lullaby!

The little toy dog is covered with dust,
But sturdy and staunch he stands;
The little tin soldier is red with rust,
And the musket moulds in his hands.
Time was when the little toy dog was new,
And the soldier was passing fair;
And that was the time when our little Boy Blue
Kissed them and put them there.

“‘Now, don’t you go till I come,’ he said,
‘And don’t you make any noise.’
So toddling off to his trundle-bed
He dreamt of his pretty toys;
And as he was dreaming, an angel song
Awakened our little Boy Blue–
Oh! the years are many, the years are long,
But the little toy friends are true.

“Aye, faithful to little Boy Blue they stand,
Each in the same old place–
Awaiting the touch of a little hand,
The smile of a little face;
And they wonder as waiting the long years through
In the dust of that little chair,
What has become of our little Boy Blue,
Since he kissed them and put them there.”
And below is the comment I got from a lady who obviously had similar feelings to mine:

"My mother used to recite this poem to us when we were children and all of us cried every time. She had learned it as a child to recite on a children’s Saturday morning radio show out of Chicago in the 1920's. It’s actually a poem written by Eugene Field sometime in the late 1800's about the death of his young son.

According to the story he and his wife were having dinner with friends when he suddenly left the table, went to his study and wrote this piece then and there. I’m 70 years old now and I still remember every word and I still cry. I’m glad to know it had as much impact on other children decades later".

14 January, 2011

Uncle Bill

We always knew my mother's brother was a bit of a rogue but the report below fleshes it out a little:

From: The Cairns Post, Thursday 3 May 1928:




The public portion of the Supreme Court this morning was crowded, probably on account of the retrial of Williams and Mclaughlan. The calendar of cases had a surprise collapse in that five of the eight accused pleaded guilty, one was found not guilty and two were remanded until Monday. Tomorrow morning, Chief Justice Blair will preside.


William Elliott C**, Rupert Emanuel Hoggett (alias Jack Williams) and Thomas Flynn were charged with having stolen in company on January 14, 1928, at Townsville, from Kwai Hing with actual violence the sum of 5 pounds. They were also charged with having on January 21 at Townsville assaulted with violence, Mary Ann Revesgard with intent to steal.

Each pleaded guilty.

Hoggett was sentenced to 12 months, In the case of Flynn, His Honor stated he would take into consideration that he was 17 years of age. He was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment, the sentence to be suspended upon his entering into his own recognisance of 50 pounds to come up for sentence during that time if called upon.

In regard to C**, his Honor said be had no power to sentence him, but if he had he would have been given the same treatment as Flynn

As he was under 17 years of age, he came under the State Children's Department and would be sentenced to the custody of the department.
Thanks to Marty for sending me the above info

13 January, 2011

The floods

There sure has been a lot of flooding in Brisbane yesterday and today. Only a few unlucky people had their houses go right under, however.

My house is situated half way up a hill and there is no flooding near here anyway -- so my life has not been disrupted at all. In fact I have been unusually well looked after. Both Anne and her sister June have moved into my place until everything is back to normal -- so I have been getting some good breakfasts and dinners.

5 January, 2011

A holy missile

Anybody who knows me well will be aware that I am quite sentimental. Anne is too. Most people become at least somewhat sentimental as they get older but not everyone does. Both Anne and I have/had mothers who are/were not at all sentimental. If something was no longer in use it would be thrown out, regardless of what history or associations it might have.

So I am somewhat sad that I have in my possession something that I think would be a sentimental treasure to some family. It is a nicely bound Roman Missal from the days when the Catholic church still had the Tridentine (Latin) mass. I bought it at a flea market some years ago.

Inside the front cover is inscribed: "To Joyce Allen, November, 1934" and at the bottom of the page is written: "Remember in your prayers sometimes the giver". Then on the next page is written: "To Janek, from Joyce, 1953"

It is clearly a much-used volume and has between its pages a lot of holy pictures with Polish writing on them so Janek clearly used it.

There are however three pictures with English writing on them. There is one commemorating the Jubliee of ordination of Father A.J. Hogan P.P. at St Stehens's Cathedral in 1961 and another marking the ordination of a Brian Thomas Taylor in 1963. Then the last picture has on the back "From your loving sister Anna, Brisbane, 17.6.1962.

If it were something from my family I would regard it as a great treasure so I would gladly hand it to any member of the family concerned who wanted it. I imagine that someone like my mother threw it out but there are probably other members of the family who are more sentimental.

I can't see any chance of my tracing the family concerned, however, so at least it will remain respected in my possession.

4 January, 2011

Happy mother and babe

Von and Hannah

2 January, 2011


There have been only two occasions when I have been tailgated and on both occasions I dealt with it effectively.

The first was on Victoria road in Sydney. I tapped my brakes and then drove on. That made the guy behind look foolish so he then passed me and came to a stop immediately in front of me. He then got out of his car to abuse me and I got out to push back. I told him that tailgating was a dangerous and illegal practice. This pulled him up a bit and when he saw that I had a witness in my car -- Nola Holland -- he backed away and drove off

The second occasion was on the Southeast freeway in Brisbane. I was going at the precise speed signed when a car came up close behind me. I gradually eased off my speed until I was doing about 40kmh

At that stage the car behind passed me, stopped in front of me and the driver got out. He was a cop. I pointed out however that he had been tailgating me, which was a dangeous and illegal practice, and that there was no minimum speed. At that point, he became somewhat more humble. In a last ditch effort, however, he said that he would have to talk to his sergeant about it. I said he should and that was the end of it

The law has subsequently been changed so that there now is an offence of "obstructive driving" and I sometimes wonder if I had a hand in that.

I don't foresee it but if ever I were driving on a major highway and some great truck began to tailgate me (there was a recent report of that in Victoria), I could be inclined to jam on the anchors and cause a huge crash. I would probably die in the aftermath but I might cause a truckie or two to think twice before bombing himself out with ephedrine. Better an old guy like me dying than some young family. And there have been plenty of reports of young families dying in collisions with trucks.

Most likely, however, I would just slow down, as I have in the past. I've got the strong nerves needed for that

1 January, 2011

New Year

As usual, New Year's eve was a quiet one for me -- which is how I like it. Anne has her nonagenarian mother visiting so Anne arranged a small dinner party -- including her sisters June and Merle, plus Merle's husband Ralph and myself. It was a 6pm start, with the good ol' French onion dip to begin the prodeedings. We also had some Riccadonna to start out. A bit too sweet for me.

Anne cooked us some excellent Moussaka for the occasion and we watched the Edinburgh Military Tattoo on TV afterwards. It was this year dubbed the ROYAL Edinburgh Military Tattoo on the apparent grounds that King Abdullah of Jordan was in attendance

The Tattoo contains a fair bit of light entertainment these days which in my view detracts from the dignity of the occasion. But I enjoyed all the piping, particularly the tunes I recognized, of course. There was a good moment when the crowd joined in singing "The Flower of Scotland". Scots are sentimental people and the memory of all their young men lost in Scotland's many wars moves them deeply.

O flower of Scotland
When will we see your like again
That fought and died for
Your wee bit hill and glen
And stood against him
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again

The Highland regiments are of course the world's most splendidly attired soldiers so it was good to see them still going strong. Collapsing most of them into the Royal Regiment of Scotland was regrettable though. The historic Black Watch (once the senior Scottish regiment) is since 2006 now just a battalion within the RRS. That dastardly Labour government!

I noted that all the men in Highland units seemed to be wearing spats, in a rather delightful but still impressive anachronism. Spats were fashionable in the '20s and '30s. Mussolini even wore them. Anyway, I decided that I should look into getting spats to wear with my Highland outfit.

I didn't stay to drink the new year in but went home at about 9pm.

This morning I was frustrated that my usual breakfast/brunch place was closed so I took a drive to West End -- not far away. I found a small Greek Taverna open (The Greek New Year is at a different time to ours) called the Kafe Meze (meaning "The entree cafe", I think). I was delighted to see that they had keftedes on the menu, which I hadn't had for years. They came as a meal accompanied by haloumi, Greek salad and flat bread -- and were excellent. I will go there again some time.

Not far from where I was sitting was a table of three middle-aged Greek guys Greeking away (passionately debating some unknown topic in Greek) -- rather as they once did in the days of Pericles, I imagine.

(That last comment will endear me to any Greek who happens to read this. Modern Greeks are very emphatic about their direct descent from the ancient Greeks -- though I gather that it is Athens rather than Sparta that they idealize).

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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

Brief bio

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.

Dramatis Personae

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!


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