Saturday, 1 January 2011


“There is a courtesy of the heart; 
it is allied to love. From its 
springs the purest courtesy in the outward behaviour.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

New Year’s Day today and a lazy, restful day full of things one should do that are enjoyable, happy and pleasant, thus being assured that one’s New Year will be likewise. A day of leisure, and fun, music, entertainment, walks, drives, good food and wine, compatible company and all things bright and beautiful.

This is also the day of the New Year’s Resolution, whatever it may be worth! How many people make them and break them even before the first month of the New Year is out… I tend to eschew New Year’s Resolutions as they often reek of selfishness. Instead I remind myself each New Year’s Day, that when I can, I shall try and benefit as many people as possible this coming year. It is a wonderful thing if we can stop every now and then and consider what we can do to make life a little better for our fellow humans on this earth.

It doesn’t take much to help someone out. It needn’t be time-consuming, premeditated, or expensive. It doesn’t take much commitment nor strength of character, it doesn’t require endless devotion, nor savage self-sacrifice. A smile, a kind word, a white lie, or even sometimes just being able to check one’s tongue – to say nothing instead of something harsh or unkind. A helping hand, a donation, some volunteer work, being nice to a stranger is enough every now and then. Checking one’s anger, being considerate, remembering that other people have feelings, personalities, dreams, emotions and desires. Being able to treat other people as we would like to be treated ourselves. Showing common courtesy, respect, nobility of character, being ethical and honest will surely be beneficial to all around us and cause our life to be better too…

How hard it is to do all of these things, and yet if only we all but tried, how better our world be! A resolution for the New Year that is not a hollow congregation of egocentric words is much harder to make, I agree. A personal resolution for the benefit of others may be something quite novel to many people and perhaps because of its novelty worthy of being tried out?

As it is also Song Saturday today, here is an apt song, the classic “People”. Originally sung by Barbra Streisand, here is one of my favourite jazz singers, Nancy Wilson making it her own. It’s from her 1964 album “How Glad am I”

Thursday, 30 December 2010


“Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man.” - Benjamin Franklin

Loquats (Eryobotrya japonica) are in season now. These are delicate, beautiful and tasty fruits that you would rarely find at your greengrocer or the market. They bruise easily and they don’t have a long shelf-life. Therefore they are not particularly marketable and thus not planted in plantations for profit. The best way to enjoy them is to plant a tree in your garden, if you are lucky enough to have one. The tree is a beautiful, evergreen, specimen tree and its blossoms are wonderfully fragrant. The fruit is juicy, tart and sweet and have a subtle, delicate aroma that is quite unique.

We had a wonderful early dinner tonight with our house guests. The theme was seafood: Vol au vent with smoked oysters and taramosalata, caviar on blinis, smoked salmon with a lemon and dill sauce, prawns with mayonnaise and capers, crab meat and lobster salad. All washed down with champagne! A lovely dinner and quite filling – our guests were quite impressed! The perfect dessert was a delicate loquat and Kiwi fruit salad:

•    15 large loquats
•    2 Kiwi fruits
•    2 peaches
•    2 nectarines
•    1 lime, juiced
•    1 orange, juiced
•    2 tbs sugar (optional)
•    Cherries (pipped) if available

Peel and slice the loquats into a bowl you have placed the citrus juice and sugar. Discard the loquat seeds. Peel the Kiwi fruit and cut them longwise into quarters. Slice each quarter and add to the salad. Peel the nectarines and peaches and slice into the salad. Add the cherries and mix well. Refrigerate and serve with double cream or ice cream.

Tonight we are staying in and greeting the New Year in with a night of card playing, music and the cutting of the traditional Greek St Basil’s cake, which we made earlier today.

Happy New Year to everyone!


“Be obscure clearly.” - E.B. White

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I enjoy solving cryptic crosswords and Julia asked what they were. A fair enough question from an American as cryptics are a particularly British type of crossword that is also popular in Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, though not often seen in the USA. There, I believe, they are called “British Crosswords”. A cryptic crossword is widely considered to be the ultimate challenge for lovers of word-play, pun and word puzzles. They are entertaining, highly addictive and quite amusing if set well. They can be devilishly hard to solve (depending on the setter and assumed depth of knowledge of the solver), but so satisfying to crack!

Firstly let’s have our word of the day, this being Thesaurus Thursday:

cryptic |ˈkriptik| adjective
1 Having a meaning that is mysterious or obscure: He found his boss's utterances too cryptic.
• (Of a crossword) having difficult clues that indicate the solutions indirectly.
2 Zoology (of coloration or markings) serving to camouflage an animal in its natural environment.
cryptically |-ik(ə)lē| adverb
ORIGIN early 17th century: From late Latin crypticus, from Greek kruptikos, from kruptos ‘hidden.’ Sense 2 dates from the late 19th century.

The clues in cryptic crossword puzzles are just like that: Mysterious, hidden, obscure and camouflaged! To understand what the clue asks for one has to read them in a very devious way. What the clue appears to be defining on the surface is designed as a distraction and is almost never what it really means – quite often in fact the clue appears extremely strange, funny or preposterous. However, the clue will always tell you what the answer is (usually more than once!), even if you have to wring your brain to read the clue in the way that it tells you to.

All cryptic clues have a definition and this definition is almost always at one end or another of the clue. Finding where it starts and finishes is part of the challenge. A cryptic clue usually has another part as well, called the subsidiary indication. This also leads you to the word but it does so using wordplay or some sort of puzzle, anagram or pun. When reading the subsidiary indication words may mean the letters that make them up, other words that mean the same thing or they may refer to an operation (word surgery!) that you do on the other words to spell out the answer.

Here are some examples of cryptic clues arranged in the various classes they fall in:

1. Anagram Clues
This is a fairly straightforward device where the subsidiary clue contains the letters of the answer and an indication that the letters should be rearranged or are not presently in the right order. A correct rearrangement gives the solution, for example:
Dress suiting a saint (8)

Answer: IGNATIUS. “Dress” (as a verb) indicates an anagram. Letters of “a suiting” provide IGNATIUS (a saint = the clue proper).

There are many possible anagram indicators: e.g. Change, confuse, arrange, disturb, crazy, unwell, mad, scrambled, unusual, designed, shaken, etc.

2. Straight Cryptic Clues
This is an unusual clue that doesn’t have a subsidiary indication and it’s compete in itself. Its strangeness comes from reading the definition in a peculiar way. For example:
Accommodation that’s barred for flappers (4-4)

The intended answer is BIRD-CAGE. Here “barred” doesn’t mean prohibited but having bars and flappers refers to things that flap i.e. birds with wings.

Look for unconventional ways of using words in this type of clue. For example the word “flower” in a cryptic clue can mean a “river” (that flows, hence a flower), as well as the more conventional meaning of a “bloom”.

A late bloomer? (7, 8)
Answer: EVENING PRIMROSE. The answer here is a pun with an obscure meaning for Bloom-er (one that blooms - a flower).

3. Double Definition Clues
In these, the subsidiary indication is replaced by a second definition. Often these clues are short, perhaps two or three words. Here is an example:
Horse pistol (4)

Answer: COLT

Another example:
Put up with a wild animal (4)

Answer: BEAR

4. Charade Clues
In charade clues, two or more words run together to form the solution. Indicators are often not necessary but joining words like “with”, “follows”, “behind”, “after” are likely. E.g.
The French shelter is hidden (6)

Answer: LATENT (= La, which “the” in French; and tent = shelter; Latent, being hidden)

Another example:
So motivated, 500 torn apart (6)

Answer: DRIVEN (= D is Roman numeral 500 + “riven” = torn apart, all forming “driven” = motivated)

5. Container Clues
In these clues the letters of one word are inserted into another. Letters or words are placed inside other words. Indicators: “within”, “in”, “around”, “about”, “contained”, “held”, “inside”, “retain”, “keeps”, “into”, “outside”, “around”, “without”, “crossing”, “sheltering”, “is eaten by”. For Example:
Shrink from phone in church (6)

Answer: CRINGE. (CE = Church [of England]. RING = phone. RING into CE gives CRINGE).

6. Hidden Word Clues
In these clues, the answer is staring at you, with correct spelling, directly within the clue. e.g.
Delia's pickle contains jelly (5)

Answer: ASPIC (DeliA’S PICkle = contains jelly!)

Occasionally the answer is hidden backwards in amongst the letters, with an indicator like “back” or “up” or “flipped” or “returned” or something similar. E.g.
Sketcher went up to get reward (6)
Answer: DRAWER. (“reward” went up [reversed] gives DRAWER; note that in this case a drawer is someone who sketches, not something that you keep your underwear in!).

7. Homophone Clues
Here the subsidiary indication tells you about a word that sounds the same as the answer. E.g.
Not even one sister heard (4)

Answer: NONE (“None” [not even one] is a homophone of NUN [“sister”])

Location of vision we hear (4)

Answer: SITE (“SITE” is a homophone of “SIGHT [vision]).

Homophone indicators include “say”, “it’s said”, “reportedly”, “one hears”, “on the radio” etc.

8. Reversals
The reverse of part of the clue provides the definition. Indicators for this are the words “back”, “reflected”, “turned”, “going up” or “uprising” (down clue), “west” or “left” (across clue). For example:
Show contempt perhaps - gratuities sent back (4)

Answer: SPIT (To SPIT may show contempt [hence, “perhaps”]; and TIPS backward spells the answer)

Mistake that puts school children back (4-2)

Answer: SLIP-UP. (Definition is “mistake” and when “PUPILS” is substituted for “school children” and the letters reversed get the answer).

9. Deletions
Here letters are removed from a longer word, to give the answer. E.g.
Swimmer in underwear abandoning the lake (4)

Answer is: LING (a type of fish defined by “swimmer”). To solve the subsidiary indication you need to substitute LINGERIE for “underwear” and remove (“abandon”) the letters ERIE, the name of one the great lakes.

Other forms of deletion include removing the first, last or middle letters. Indicators include words like “short”, “topless”, “headless”, “endless”, “hollow”, “heartless” etc.
Senior is more daring, losing head (5)

Answer: OLDER (BOLDER = more daring, losing head “B”).

10. Initial, Final, Alternating and other letter clues
First letter or letters provide the solution. Indicated by “first”, “prime”, “lead”, “head”, “top”. Note similiarly “last”, “ultimate”, “final” can refer to the last letter. For example:
A number flew in. Very entertaining, initially (4).

Answer: FIVE (which is “a number”, given by the initial letters of Flew In Very Entertaining)

In the next example, we take the odd letters to form the solution:
Observe odd characters in scene (3)

Answer: SEE (Odd letters of ScEnE)

11. Word Play and Literal Meaning clue
An unusual type of clue where the whole clue is both the definition and the word play. It is often indicated (but not always) by an exclamation mark. For example:
Field entered by sportsmen ultimately! (5)
Answer: ARENA (AREA = field. N = sportsmeN ultimately [last letter]. AREA “entered by” N = ARENA [definition is whole clue]).

12. Combinations of types
Cryptic crosswords would be fairly straightforward if setters made cryptic crosswords so simple that all clues correspond to one of the above types. More often than not, more than one of the above techniques are combined in a single clue to make the subsidiary indication even more challenging. The clue solver can deal with these just as easily with a bit of experience. E.g.
Laugh at round ends? It’s tough (4)

Answer: HARD (This is a combination of a charade and a deletion of the middle letters. HARD, is defined by ‘tough’. “Laugh” is substituted for HA, “ends” says one should take the end letters of “RounD”’ and throw the rest away and ‘at’ says the two should go together to spell HARD).
It’s indecent to let little Albert roam around inside (6)

Answer: AMORAL (This is a combination of an anagram and a container. AMORAL defined, as ‘indecent’) is a combination of AL and ROAM, anagrammed.

13. Miscellaneous Clues
There are numerous other rare things that setters sometimes do. In these cases extra imagination is needed to find the answer.
Rookie wears glasses to the toilet (3)

Answer: LOO. (L = rookie (Learner) with OO, which looks like glasses. L + OO = LOO = toilet).

Bird with the French name (5)
Answer: TITLE (TIT = bird with LE = “the” in French. TIT + LE = TITLE = “Name”).

Advance in either direction (3, 2)

Answer: PUT UP (A palindrome meaning “advance”).
Palindromes may be indicated by phases such as “either way”, “going side to side”, “up and down”, “both ways”.

kcul? (8,2,7)

Answer: REVERSAL OF FORTUNE (“kcul” is “LUCK” spelt backwards!).

tew? (6,4)

Answer: RISING DAMP (“tew” is “WET” spelt backwards!).

Here are some Cryptic Crosswords you can find online:

Have fun solving these!

Tuesday, 28 December 2010


“I would not exchange my leisure hours for all the wealth in the world.” - Comte de Mirabeau

Another perfect Summer day again, with beautiful weather and the holiday mood firmly imprinted on everyone’s mind. After this long, long winter and cold, gray Spring, this Summer day today was a gift, given us just for the holidays. We had another lazy day, going out for a walk, this time to the Yarra River, past our local shopping strip and across the main road. The shops were mostly open, although it was gratifying to see some with a “closed” sign hanging on their door. I am all for limited shopping hours. A weekend is a weekend. Let the shopkeepers also enjoy it. Let the shop assistants enjoy it. Christmas is Christmas, holidays are holidays, let the shops remain closed.

We have been converted into a society of consumers, all of us blindly shopping till we drop at all hours of the day and night, weekdays and weekends, on working days and on holidays. We feel withdrawal symptoms as soon as we are unable to run into a shop and buy, buy, buy useless things that wreck our lives. We turn to the internet where we are assured of being able to consume, buy and spend 24 hours a day, 365 days a year… Enough is enough! The best things in life are free, they cannot be bought.

Free, like this perfect summer day today, a priceless gem of a day. A day of rest and relaxation, with sun and light breeze, with blooming flowers and buzzing of bees and the flitting by of dragonflies. Of a walk down to the riverside, where the water flowed slowly as if dancing a stately sarabande. Where the people laughed and shouted, ate and drank, spent time with friends and family, fed the ducks, kicked a ball, went out boating on the water. A day like the canvas of an impressionist, worthy of being taken and pressed between the pages of a memory book.

A Summer Day

At last, the warming rays have bleached the day
The skies are blue, with wisps of summer cloud;
The gentle breeze makes leaves dance and play,
While dragonflies dart about the blossoms proud.

The river slowly flows and water sparkles, shines
The crowds loll about the grassy shores, with laughter
Drinking, picnicking, toasting beneath the shady pines;
Relaxing, dozing, counting dreams for a long time after.

The day is perfect: Warm, lazy tender, balmy, sweet
Our time of rest inviting idleness, persiflage and banter.
Enjoy this gem of a day, take it as given, a rarest treat;
For summer’s over soon, as horses - gone in crazy canter.

Monday, 27 December 2010


“He enjoys true leisure who has time to improve his soul’s estate.” - Henry David Thoreau

We had a wonderfully lazy day today, which was helped by the glorious weather. First thing in the morning a big breakfast with a couple of mugs of freshly made caffé latte and then we went out into the garden, sat down and I solved the cryptic crossword that I downloaded from the electronic copy of “The Age”. Cryptic crosswords are a great way to keep one’s mind sharp and alert. The crazy clues are fun and a well set cryptic can also be highly amusing. The ones in “The Age” are really good usually, with a more challenging crossword on Fridays.

We then decided to take advantage of the weather and walked to Darebin Parklands that are about a 10-minute walk from home. The Parklands are a wonderful urban park around the Darebin Creek, which wends its way through native bushland to empty into the Yarra River, which is about 1300 m away. The weather was perfect for a walk, and we started at about 10:30 in the morning and came back home at about 1:00 pm. There were quite a few people around, but certainly not crowded. Because of the recent rains, the vegetation was lush and the water in the creek was at a respectable level.

We came back home and had lunch and watched a movie. Then it was time to go away and read a little. Later, I played some music, checked the emails and worked on my computer for a while. Dinnertime soon came and we had a light vegetarian dinner made with our garden vegetables. After dinner, it’s time to watch a little TV, or listen to some music, or read…

Oh, I love the holidays!

Sunday, 26 December 2010

1-2-3-4-5-6! IT'S MOVIE TIME!

“Although for some people cinema means something superficial and glamorous, it is something else. I think it is the mirror of the world.” - Jeanne Moreau

With the holidays in full swing and the weather not exactly conducive to outdoor activities, we watched several movies and some TV over these last few days. I’ll do brief reviews of films we watched over the past two or so weeks. Some were excellent, some good and some not so good at all!

“The Informant!” (2009) Directed by Steven Soderbergh, with Matt Damon, Melanie Lynskey, Scott Bakula, Tom Papa, Kirk Schmidt. 5/10
This was a boring, uninvolving movie that had no suspense, humour, action or surprises. The characters were uninspiring and failed to evoke sympathy on any level. The story (which was true, apparently), involved corporate America’s dirty deeds in international price fixing of food additives. Just reading the plot line and going over it in my mind, I don’t know what possessed me to get this movie to watch? Maybe Steven Soderbergh and Matt Damon? What a waste of talent! Give this one a miss, unless the international lysine market and corn syrup industrial wars turn you on…

“Hot Fuzz” (2007) Directed by Edgar Wright, with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Timothy Dalton, Jim Broadbent, Paul Freeman. 8/10
This was an excellent British farce about he trials and tribulations of a high achieving London police officer who is too good and is showing up his peers as inadequate. For this reason he is transferred to a picturesque English village where no crime occurs, just terrible accidents! There are lots of laughs in this movie, a bit of gore and violence, but it is a send-up! Very enjoyable!

“The Kingdom” (2007) Directed by Peter Berg, with Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Ashraf Barhom, Ali Suliman, Jason Bateman, Kyle Chandler. 7/10
A terrorist attack in an American housing compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia results in scores of murdered families but also the demise of the spy, Francis Manner. An FBI agent, Ronald Fleury, blackmails the Saudi Arabian consul to get five days of investigation on location. He travels with agents Grant Sykes, Janet Mayes and Adam Leavitt to avenge their friend and try to find the parties responsible for the bombing. The agents face enormous difficulties in their investigation, but they are supported by Colonel Faris Al Ghazi that advises the team how to act in the unfamiliar environment. A good action movie with some graphic footage – not for the faint-hearted!

“Tremors” (1990) Directed by Ron Underwood, with Kevin Bacon, Earl Ward, Reba McEntire, Michael Gross, Finn Carter. 6.5/10
This was a comedy horror movie that did not take itself seriously for one minute. Hence its success. Underground giant wormy thingies terrorise an isolated township in the middle of nowhere and the handful of residents have to band together to overcome the terror. A bit of fun, with quite a few giggles…

“Con Air” (1997) Directed by Simon West, with Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovich, Ving Rhames. 6.5/10
Cage plays Cameron Poe, a highly decorated US ranger, who is convicted of manslaughter after protecting his wife in a drunken brawl. After eight years, he is being paroled and is being sent home to his wife and daughter. Unfortunately, he to be a passenger on the Jailbird, which is a high security airplane that is also transporting some of society’s most vicious murderers to Feltham Penitentiary, Lousiana’s highest maximum security prison. A surprising escape is made on board the plane as the convicts seize control of the plane, and head it towards Las Vegas. The officials on the ground want to blow it out of the sky, but there is an alternative! Typical dick flick, well done, with quite a bit of action. Violent and bloody…

“Inkheart” (2008) Directed by Iain Softley, with Brendan Fraser, Andy Serkis, Eliza Bennett, Helen Mirren, Sienna Guillory. 7.5/10
A typical fantasy movie, which you should like if you also liked Harry Potter, the Narnia movies, The Lordfo the Rings, etc. I don’t particularly like Brenda Fraser, but he does a good job in this as Mortimer “Mo” Folchart who is raising his thirteen year old daughter Meggie alone after the disappearance of his wife Resa. He is an antique book restorer and travels with Meggie to find an old book called “Inkheart” in antique bookshops in Europe. When he is approached by a weird man called Dustfinger, she overhears him calling her father “Silvertongue”. Meggie discovers later that he has the ability of bringing characters out of the books to the real world. They escape from Dustfinger heading to Italy to Meggie’s aunt Elinor Loredan’s manor, where the men of the evil Capricorn abduct them with the intention of forcing Mo to bring the powerful Shadow to Earth. It’s a tale of good versus evil with special effects galore and a cute storyline.


“I love everything that's old, - old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine” - Oliver Goldsmith

For Art Sunday today, a seasonal (well at least for the Northern Hemisphere!) painting by Jane Wooster Scott. It is a canvas named: “A Song for the Season”.

Wooster Scott is an American naïve artist who paints nostalgic scenes of turn-of-century, early 20th century America. She lives in Los Angeles and despite her modern surroundings and sophistication, she has chosen to turn back the hands of time in her paintings, because of her love for early Americana, but more importantly for the values inherent in society then.  She says that “…people were more honorable then. Their word was their bond. The pace was slower and more time was given to the appreciation of beauty. People loved their country and they were proud of the fact…”

Of course nostalgia paints everything with charming colours, however, one can agree that in those bygone times, people were friendlier, families were more united and tied together, it was safer and cleaner and there were less pressures and stress. One could walk safely at night, front doors were not locked and car keys were left in the ignition.

The artist travels widely in the USA, takes many photographs from which she is inspired to build composite scenes, taking great pains with composition, colour schemes and balance. Her own childhood memories and emotions, her thoughts and values are reflected in her canvases.

She has exhibited widely for nearly two decades now in Los Angeles and New York, and most of her shows have been completely sold out on opening night. Many politicians, actors, singers and industrialists collect her work. Paintings of hers hang in the American Embassy in Canberra, Australia, as well as being part of the permanent White House collection in Washington DC.