Wednesday, 3 September 2014


“I wish I had invented blue jeans. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity - all I hope for in my clothes.” - Yves Saint Laurent

This week Poetry Jam has the theme of “Jeans” and the challenge is: This week write a poem about jeans: someone who looks good in jeans, tattered jeans, jeans that you have to lie down to button up, comfortable jeans, stinky jeans…”
Here is my contribution:

Faded Blue Jeans

Your blue jeans (dark indigo),
Always made me smile;
For they meant fun in the sun,
Worn without make-up
And little pretence
Of anything comme-il-faut.

Your blue jeans (ultramarine),
Had given me many smiles –
How happy we had been, by the sea…
Well-worn, and softened,
Surviving many washes,
Jeans and the comfort of déshabillé.

Your blue jeans (light as the sky),
How I loved you in them,
Happy, contented, laughing.
Worn always with the intent
Of doing nothing,
With an agenda of sans-souci.

Your blue jeans (badly faded),
Discovered in the depths of our wardrobe
Forgotten there intentionally.
No longer worn,
For you are long dead,
And they too, dyed in a couleur fugace.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014


“As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices: Take it or leave it.” - Buddy Hackett

For many years I was naïve enough to believe that providing Food Aid to nations that were impoverished and had large malnourished populations, was a noble and worthy cause. I know that one sixth of humanity goes to bed hungry at night, even in non-famine, non-emergency situations. I would try to do my little bit to help and donated money so that food from our surplus could be dispatched to these people. The situation in some of these developing countries has now become a chronic dependence on the rich, developed nations of Europe, America and Australasia for continuing handouts of food. This has led to a culture of “food dumping” by the multinational agricultural companies.

Let me differentiate immediately between emergency famine relief and the term “food dumping”. The former is a humanitarian action designed to provide food quickly in order to save lives in the short term – the latter is a calculated, long-term provision of food to a third-world country, such that its own agriculture and self-sufficiency is stifled.  The USA is one of the world’s largest “dumpers” (60%, in fact!) with wheat, maize, soybean, rice and cotton being the major crops dumped. The dumping of the surplus agricultural production for free (or at a very low price) to poorer nations means that the farmers from such countries cannot compete and are driven out of jobs, further slanting the “market share” to the favour of the larger producers such as the US and Europe. A clear-cut case of commercial opportunism lies at the heart of the matter.

The other concern is that food aid to the poorer nations is contaminated with genetically modified foods. No controls exist for this and a person living in Africa on the poverty line is unlikely to request a genetic analysis of the food they have been given free to feed their starving family. These poor people of course, may have the option to buy locally produced food, which in many cases is fully organic. However, the price of this local food is outrageously expensive.

In order to provide a long-term solution, aid must not only provide stimulation of local food production but also provide the support needed for the local economy to develop and help people to get out of the slough of poverty they live in. Canada, a large provider of food aid, has decided to use half its food aid budget to provide buy food locally in developing countries, rather than dump its own. This encourages local economies, rather than destroy them. Needless to say that my food aid dollar now goes towards initiatives that provide help to agricultural and industrial initiatives, rather than “food dumping”.

And some more sobering facts on poverty:
• Half the world — nearly three billion people — live on less than two dollars a day.
• The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the poorest 48 nations (i.e. a quarter of the world’s countries) is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people combined.
• Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
• Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen.
• 1 billion children live in poverty (1 in 2 children in the world). 640 million live without adequate shelter, 400 million have no access to safe water, 270 million have no access to health services. 10.6 million died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (or roughly 29,000 children per day).

How can I help?
United Nations World Food Programme

The image is: Kathe Kollwitz’s – "Poverty" (1893-94); Etching and drypoint - Statliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden

Monday, 1 September 2014


“Am I a man dreaming I am a butterfly, or am I butterfly dreaming I am a man?” – Zhuangzi (Chuang-tzu)

I am considering the films of French Director Claude Lelouch for this Movie Monday. This was sparked off by watching two of his movies lately. One I had not seen before “And Now Ladies and Gentlemen” (2002), which was a rather tame romantic/adventure story a pleasant enough, inoffensive, hodge-podge potboiler that I wouldn’t recommend too highly; and “Viva La Vie!” (Long Live Life! 1984) that I had watched in 1984 and then again yesterday afternoon on DVD. It is the latter film that I shall review, although with caution…

Claude Lelouch was born on October 30th, 1937 in Paris, France, the son of an Algerian-Jewish confectioner. He began his career in the mid-1950s, making his first short documentary films and billing himself as a “cinereporter”. In 1960, he formed “Les Films 13 Productions”, where he produced over two hundred “Scopiotones” (short musical films designed for jukebox use), much like the “Soundies” made in the USA in the 1940s and 1950s.

Lelouch produced, directed, wrote and acted in his first full length film, “The Right of Man”, in 1960. However, his fame was assured with his first international hit, “Un Homme et Une Femme” (A Man and a Woman, 1966), which captivated audiences with its simple plot, its warmth and sympathetic treatment of a contemporary topic. The film caused the critics dismay as they tried to find hidden meaning in this rather simple, old-fashioned romance. When for example, Lelouch was asked for the subtextual purpose of shifting between black-and-white and colour in some scenes of the film, he explained that he’d run out of money towards the end of production and couldn’t afford colour film stock…

When “A Man and a Woman” won a Palm d'Or at Cannes and a Grand Prix award, Lelouch was briefly the most popular and influential director in Europe. His subsequent films dealt often with the relationship between sex and crime, or sex and politics, or crime and politics. This made him a perfect commercial filmmaker and his box office successes attested to the fact. In the 1970s and 1980s, Lelouch seemed to run out of ideas and attempted to repeat his past successes. Films like “And Now My Love” (1974), “Another Man, Another Chance” (1977), “Live for Life” (1984) and “A Man and a Woman 10 Years Later” (1986) were variations of “A Man and a Woman”.

And now to the film “Viva La Vie!” (1984). This is very much an 80s film with an emphasis on the threat of nuclear war. The commencing sequence shows people running panic-stricken towards nuclear fallout shelters in a generic megalopolis. Claude Lelouch is then being interviewed on radio, the director of the film pleads with viewers not to disclose the plot of the movie after leaving the projection room. This is a very lame device calculated to increase controversy surrounding the movie and get more people to go watch it, hopefully increasing takings at the box-office.

The film is uncharacteristic of Lelouch, best classed as belonging to the thriller/science fiction genre. Lelouch himself claims that the movie is essentially a story revolving around the relationship of a man and a woman, thus making even this film quite lelouchian, according to the director himself. I’ll try not to give too much away, in my outline of the plot (succumbing to M. Lelouch’s plea), even though this would suggest that the film has more substance than it does – it hasn’t.

During a period of international tension and crisis amongst the nuclear powers of the world, a very rich, successful businessman and a budding actress vanish at precisely the same time and in similar circumstances. Three days later they reappear, remembering nothing of their experience, but apparently traumatised. After they are admitted to hospital, they vanish again, only to reappear in the Sahara Desert a few days later with identical curious wounds and stitches on their head and with a message of peace and tolerance. Who is sending the message? What is it all about? What is real and what is a dream? Who is who and what is the relationship between the people we are shown?

Sunday, 31 August 2014


“It is the eye of ignorance that assigns a fixed and unchangeable colour to every object; beware of this stumbling block.” - Paul Gauguin

For Art Sunday today, one my favourites: Paul (Eugène, Henri) Gauguin, bon June 7th, 1848, Paris, and died May 8th, 1903, Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia. He was one of the leading French painters of the Postimpressionist period, whose development of an original and conceptual method of representation was a ground-breaking step for 20th-century art. After spending a short period with Vincent van Gogh in Arles (1888), Gauguin increasingly abandoned imitative art for expressiveness through colour. From 1891 he lived and worked in Tahiti and elsewhere in the South Pacific. His masterpieces include the early ‘Vision After the Sermon’ (1888) and ‘Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?’ (1897-98).

Although his art was to lie elsewhere, Gauguin began his painting surrounded by Impressionists. His artistic sensibility was deeply influenced by his experience of the first Impressionist exhibition, and he himself participated in those of 1880, 1881 and 1882. The son of a French journalist and a Peruvian Creole, whose mother had been a writer and a follower of Saint-Simon, he was brought up in Lima, joined the merchant navy in 1865, and in 1872 began a successful career as a stockbroker in Paris.

In 1874 he saw the first Impressionist exhibition, which completely entranced him and confirmed his desire to become a painter. He spent some 17,000 francs on works by Manet, Monet, Sisley, Pissarro, Renoir and Guillaumin. Pissarro took a special interest in his attempts at painting, emphasizing that he should “…look for the nature that suits your temperament.”, and in 1876 Gauguin had a landscape in the style of Pissarro accepted at the Salon. In the meantime Pissarro had introduced him to Cézanne, for whose works he conceived a great respect -so much so that the older man began to fear that he would steal his “sensations”. All three worked together for some time at Pontoise, where Pissarro and Gauguin drew pencil sketches of each other (Cabinet des Dessins, Louvre).

In 1883-84 the bank that employed him got into difficulties and Gauguin was able to paint every day. He settled for a while in Rouen, partly because Paris was too expensive for a man with five children, partly because he thought it would be full of wealthy patrons who might buy his works. Rouen proved a disappointment, and he joined his wife Mette and children, who had gone back to Denmark, where she had been born. His experience of Denmark was not a happy one and, having returned to Paris, he went to paint in Pont-Aven, a well-known resort for artists.

Here, he stopped working exclusively out-of-doors, as Pissarro had taught him, and generally began to adopt a more independent line. His meeting with van Gogh, the influence of Seurat, the doctrines of Signac, and a rediscovery of the merits of Degas (especially in his pastels) all combined with his own streak of megalomania to produce a style that had little in common with the thoughtful lyricism of the work of his erstwhile mentor Pissarro. Monet confessed to a liking of his ‘Jacob Wrestling with the Angel’ (1888; National Gallery of Scotland), which he saw at the exhibition Gauguin organised in 1891 to finance his projected excursion to places where he could live on “ecstasy, calmness and art”; the proceeds amounted to 10,000 francs, some of it coming from Degas, who bought several paintings. There were still evident in these new works traces of pure Impressionism, and of the very clear influence of Cézanne (as in the ‘Portrait of Marie Lagadu’, 1890; Art Institute of Chicago) - a fact pointed up by a Cézanne still life owned by Gauguin which is shown behind her - but basically this period marked the parting of the ways between Gauguin and Impressionism.

Gauguin’s art has all the appearance of an abandonment of civilisation, of a search for new ways of life, more primitive, more real and more sincere. His break away from a solid middle-class world, leaving family, children and job, his refusal to accept easy glory and easy gain are the best-known aspects of Gauguin’s fascinating life and personality. The painting above, ‘Two women on the beach’, was painted in 1891, shortly after Gauguin’s arrival in Tahiti. During his first stay there (he was to leave in 1893, only to return in 1895 and remain until his death), Gauguin discovered primitive art, with its flat forms and the violent colours belonging to an untamed nature. And then, with absolute sincerity, he transferred them onto canvas.

Gauguin’s Tahitian women, the bright violent colours of the clear Pacific sun, the tropical landscape and the unashamed sensuality of his compositions appealed to the French public, who were always on the lookout for the exotic, the sensual and the novel. It is these Tahitian canvases that established him as one of the most famous of the post-impressionists in the art scene and as one of the great artists of the world.

“Painting is the most beautiful of all arts. In it, all sensations are condensed; contemplating it, everyone can create a story at the will of his imagination and-with a single glance-have his soul invaded by the most profound recollections; no effort of memory, everything is summed up in one instant. -A complete art which sums up all the others and completes them. -Like music, it acts on the soul through the intermediary of the senses: Harmonious colours correspond to the harmonies of sounds. But in painting a unity is obtained which is not possible in music, where the accords follow one another, so that the judgment experiences a continuous fatigue if it wants to reunite the end with the beginning. The ear is actually a sense inferior to the eye. The hearing can only grasp a single sound at a time, whereas the sight takes in everything and simultaneously simplifies it at will.”
(‘Notes Synthetiques’, by Paul Gauguin From the manuscript, c. 1888)

Saturday, 30 August 2014


“Italy, and the spring and first love all together should suffice to make the gloomiest person happy.” - Bertrand Russell

Music Saturday today features Felix Mendelssohn’s (1809-1847) Symphony No 4, in A major, the “Italian”. It is played by the La Scala Philharmonic directed by Gustavo Dudamel. This is an orchestral symphony written by German composer Felix Mendelssohn. The work has its origins, like the composer’s Scottish Symphony and the orchestral overture The Hebrides (“Fingal’s Cave”), in the tour of Europe which occupied Mendelssohn from 1829 to 1831.

The inspiration for the symphony is the colour and atmosphere of Italy, where Mendelssohn made sketches but left the work incomplete: “This is Italy! And now has begun what I have always thought to be the supreme joy in life. And I am loving it. Today was so rich that now, in the evening, I must collect myself a little, and so I am writing to you to thank you, dear parents, for having given me all this happiness.”

In February he wrote from Rome to his sister Fanny: “The ‘Italian’ symphony is making great progress. It will be the jolliest piece I have ever done, especially the last movement. I have not found anything for the slow movement yet, and I think that I will save that for Naples.” The Italian Symphony was finished in Berlin, 13 March 1833, in response to an invitation for a symphony from the London (now Royal) Philharmonic Society. Mendelssohn conducted the first performance himself in London on 13 May 1833, at a London Philharmonic Society concert.

The symphony’s success, and Mendelssohn’s popularity, influenced the course of British music for the rest of the century. However, Mendelssohn remained unsatisfied with the composition, which cost him, he said, some of the bitterest moments of his career; he revised it in 1837 and even planned to write alternate versions of the second, third, and fourth movements. He never published the symphony, which only appeared in print in 1851, after his death.

The piece is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings. It is in four movements: 1) Allegro vivace; 2) Andante con moto; 3) Con moto moderato; 4) Saltarello: Presto. The joyful first movement, in sonata form, is followed by an impression in D minor of a religious procession the composer witnessed in Naples. The third movement is a minuet in which French Horns are introduced in the trio, while the final movement (which is in the minor key throughout) incorporates dance figurations from the Roman saltarello and the Neapolitan tarantella. It is among the first large multi-movement works to begin in a major key and end in the tonic minor, another example being Brahms’s first piano trio. A typical performance lasts about half an hour.

Friday, 29 August 2014


“Parsley - the jewel of herbs, both in the pot and on the plate.” - Albert Stockli

Parsley is growing luxuriously in our garden at the moment and yesterday we made some tabbouleh (Arabic: تبولة‎ tabūlah; also tabouleh or tab(b)ouli – a word derived from “seasoning”). This is a Levantine vegetarian dish (sometimes considered a salad) traditionally made of tomatoes, finely chopped parsley, mint, and onion, and seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. Bulgur is usually added to the dish; some variations add garlic or lettuce, or use couscous instead of bulgur. It is important to have more herbs than bulgur (unlike shop-bought tabbouleh, which is more bulgur than herbs!).

Tabbouleh Salad

25g bulgur wheat
2 large, ripe tomatoes
1 large bunch fresh flatleaf parsley, leaves only, washed, dried, finely chopped
1 small bunch fresh mint leaves, washed, dried, finely chopped
2 large spring onions, cleaned, finely chopped
2-3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt, freshly ground pepper
4 Middle Eastern flatbreads to serve


Place the bulgur wheat into a small bowl and cover with 50ml of boiling water. Stir, then set aside for 30 minutes, or until the bulgur wheat has absorbed all of the water.
Cut out the green stalks from the tomatoes and make a small cross at each of the bases. Place the tomatoes into a separate bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside for 30 seconds, then drain away the water.
When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel and discard the skins. Cut the tomatoes into quarters, discard the seeds and dice the flesh. Transfer the diced tomatoes to a serving bowl.
Add the parsley, mint and onion to the tomatoes and mix well until combined.
When the bulgur wheat has absorbed all of the water, fluff it using a fork until the grains are separated. Add the bulgur wheat to the tomato mixture.
Drizzle over the lemon juice and olive oil and season, to taste, with salt. Mix well to coat the ingredients in the liquid.
To serve, divide the tabbouleh equally among four serving plates. Place one grilled flatbread alongside each.

Please share your recipe ideas below using the Mr Linky tool:

Thursday, 28 August 2014


“Child labor and poverty are inevitably bound together and if you continue to use the labor of children as the treatment for the social disease of poverty, you will have both poverty and child labor to the end of time.” - Grace Abbott

In the late 19th century and early 20th, child labour was not only common but an accepted part of life in even industrialised, Western nations such as Britain, USA, Australia and many more. The world painted by Charles Dickens in his novels, where small children were exploited by a cruel society brought home chillingly the everyday reality for many of his readers who were amongst the privileged and well-to-do. The upper crust of New York and Chicago in the early 20th century lived their elegant lives and were oblivious to the plight of the children in the factories, mines and sweat shops that provided them with their wealth. The struggling farmers, drovers and other itinerants and their families in the Outback in Australia, were far from the mind of the comfortably well-off city dwellers in Sydney and Melbourne in earlier days.

We may think that child labour is part of history and that we do not have to contend with such a problem this day and age. However, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has estimated that 250 million children between the ages of five and fourteen work in developing countries—at least 120 million on a full time basis. Sixty-one percent of these are in Asia, 32 percent in Africa, and 7 percent in Latin America. Most working children in rural areas are found in agriculture; many children work as domestics; urban children work in trade and services, with fewer in manufacturing and construction.

The problem is most acute in the countries where the economy, social services and political systems are such that force many people to live below the poverty line. Poor families will rely on the work of their children for survival. In such situations, it is often that the children who work provide the only source of income… Child labour is often hidden away because it is not in the industrial sector, but rather in agriculture, in the household, in cottage industries or within the urban informal circle. Long-term survival and well-being of a family will often dictate the course of action to take and this, in the short term means forcing the children to work, sometimes at an age as young as 5 or 6 years.

Childhood is a magical time that should be full of love, innocence, happy memories and a family that nurtures, educates and supports. How many millions of children in the world are denied this right? Think of how our lifestyle in the West is encouraging child labour. The cheap imported products on our shelves are often produced in the sweatshops of developing countries where children may have been forced to work in order to survive. We can help and support these children in a different way, rather than by buying these products that perpetuate the problem.

Some historical information may be found here, where the British experience between 1750 and 1850 is outlined. Child labour in the USA between 1908 and 1912 is documented here. The UNICEF page is informative but also extremely distressing. The International Labour organisation has an excellent subsite devoted to child labour with strategies for the eradication of child labour. And as far as helping individually to stamp this out, World Vision has a rescue plan that may be sponsored.

Be aware, care and do your little bit to help!