Saturday 10 November 2007


Yulahu has issued a challenge that is based on some photographs she has taken in the Römerplatz, one of which photographs, is shown above. She said:
“Copy one of my photos to your blog, and write a story...than let me know about it.” Here is my entry:


Siberia is frigidly cold in winter. Come to think of it, Siberia is cold in summer too. The warmth in our hearts has to make up for the lack of heat of our pallid sun. That, and a drop of vodka now and then – more then than now. It was always hard to scratch out a living from the gelid earth, but now it had become even more difficult – perestroika, glasnost and the mafia, too…

To put bread on the family table is my responsibility and my wife’s eyes, they too had taken some of the ice from the frozen earth outside as my efforts to feed us were becoming more ineffectual. The silence of my children and their empty bellies a wordless accusation more effective than loud shouts and cries.

The decision to leave our homeland was difficult. But the colourful images on the foreign magazines were so enticing, the flickering blue light of the TV screen a mesmerising temptation, the promise of a better life so tangible, so easily attainable, it all seemed so easy! A voyage of thousands of kilometres, countless dangers, endless sacrifices. The warmth of our hearts saved us from the coldness of the wintry enmity of the people along the way.

We had to survive and all we had was each other. How else could we have managed to end up here? Here where the streets were meant to be paved with gold. Here where laughter was to be heard in every street corner. Where life was bright and warm and colourful like the images in the magazines… The life of an illegal immigrant is not an easy one. If one has a family, then it becomes even harder. Hard like Siberian earth, no matter where one is, even if one is in laughter-filled Römerplatz.

No jobs, life is not a colour magazine, even here. People may smile sunnily, but their hearts are cold. The autumn sun still so pleasantly warm, in Römerplatz, but to eke out a living here is as hard as in Siberia. To put bread on the family table is my responsibility and the only way to do it is to make the laughter louder, to make the mirth more widespread, to entertain, amuse, divert these carefree people. I apply my make-up and freeze on my dais on Römerplatz. The children dance and sing sad Russian songs, my wife plays the balalaika. The dogs do their tricks – how people laugh! I smile and bow deeply each time a coin hits the cold metal of the box in front of me. Ridi pagliaccio!

Our hearts are still warm as a cold night falls and the thousand coloured lights of the Römerplatz illuminate it like a fairy tale that my babushka used to tell me. Bread will be put on our table once again tonight. Our feet drag on the cobblestones and still, all that we have is each other. It is enough.

Friday 9 November 2007


India has been described as the “Land of Festivals” and this is certainly true as with its rich cultural traditions, its colourful pantheon and the numerous holy days and feasts to be celebrated, it is rare that a festival is not taking place in one or more places throughout the subcontinent each and every day of the year. Hinduism is one of the world’s most ancient religions and its 800 million adherents are most devout and involved in preserving their rich heritage over the centuries.

Diwali is the Hindu “festival of lights” and is the best known of Hindu festivals and certainly the most joyous and brightest. As autumn brings dark skies and shortening days, hundreds of lights illuminate homes throughout India, with families celebrating throughout the country and in foreign lands where Hindus have migrated with visits, gifts, and feasts. Diwali lasts for five days, beginning on the 14th day of the dark half of the Hindu calendar month of Asvina. (every Hindu month is divided into a light half, when the moon waxes, and a dark half, when it wanes.) By Gregorian calendar reckoning, Diwali falls in October or November - in 2007, it began on November 9.

In Sanskrit deepavali means “row of lights” and Diwali, the name of the festival is derived from this etymology. Traditionally, Diwali celebrates the joyous homecoming of Lord Rama (hero of the epic poem the Ramayana), after 14 years in exile. When Lord Rama and his wife Sita returned to rule their country, their people lit the way with small oil lamps called “diye”. During Diwali, this type of lamp shine in rows along homes and temples, adorning windowsills, staircases, and parapets—or glow from little boats that float down rivers. Colourful candles are lit alongside diye, while fireworks light up the night sky.

Although the Rama tradition is widespread, in some parts of India, Diwali honours the marriage of the goddess Lakshmi and the god Vishnu; in others it commemorates the triumph of Lord Krishna over the demon Naraka. While for most Hindus the worship of Lakshmi is a focus of Diwali, Hindus in Bengal honour the fearsome goddess Kali. Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of wisdom, is also widely honoured, as are other gods and goddesses.

Homes are freshly cleaned and decorated with fresh flowers to welcome the days of Diwali. Many families draw a colourful “rangoli”, a decorative pattern made in rice flour, at the entrance of their home. Friends, family, and neighbours visit to share feasts and festivities as well as little treats such as “khil” (rice puffs) and “patashe” (sugar disks). “Puja”, worshipping of deities, takes place at home and at temples with prayers and other offerings.

Diwali also marks the beginning of a new financial year. Households and businesses begin new accounting in new ledgers, which are often decorated with images of Lakshmi. The goddess of fortune, she is the main deity honoured during Diwali. The celebrations probably have their roots in ancient harvest festivals.

Happy Diwali to all my Hindu friends here on 360! In honour of the festival, here is a beautiful song from the film “Devdas” starring the stunningly beautiful Aishwarya Rai. The song is “Silsila Yeh Chahat Ka” with music by Ismail Darbar and lyrics by Nusrat Badr.


When it’s my turn to cook and I’m not in the mood to faff around in the kitchen, I cheat. I use what is around in the fridge, the freezer, the pantry and throw things together as quickly as possible trying to make something that is easy, but also hopefully palatable not only edible. This quiche-of-sorts came about because I did not have the time, inclination or any flour in the cupboard to make quiche pastry. However, what I did have on hand was cream, eggs, cheese and various leftovers in the fridge!

• 1 cup grated cheese (emmenthal, cheddar, tasty, gouda, whatever)
• 4 large eggs
• 1 cup cream
• 1 cup milk
• Pinch of salt, freshly ground pepper, nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
• 1 cup cooked spinach, or sautéed mushrooms, or ham, or asparagus, whatever
• Sliced bread, with crusts removed (feed them to the ducks or make croutons)
• Unsalted butter, melted

Use a pastry brush to paint the melted butter on the bread, covering well both sides. Line a 25 cm pyrex quiche dish with the bread, covering it completely and allowing no gaps. This can be fun, like an edible jig-saw puzzle. Beat the whole eggs, add the salt and seasonings, the cream, milk, cheese and finally the vegetables or ham. Pour into the case and bake in a moderate oven for 30-40 minutes or until cooked and golden on top.
Serve with a freshly cut green salad and some nice dry wine.

By the by, although quiche is now a classic French dish, it originated in Germany, in the medieval kingdom of Lothringen, under German rule, and which the French later renamed Lorraine. The word ‘quiche’ is from the German ‘Kuchen’, meaning cake. 

The original ‘quiche Lorraine’ was an open pie with a filling consisting of an egg and cream custard with smoked bacon. It was only later that cheese was added to the quiche Lorraine. Add onions and you have quiche Alsacienne.

The bottom crust was originally made from bread dough, but that has long since evolved into a short-crust or puff pastry crust. 

Quiche became popular in England sometime after the Second World War, and in the U.S. during the 1950's. Because of its primarily vegetarian ingredients, it was considered a somehow ‘unmanly’ dish, - “real men don’t eat quiche.” Today, one can find many varieties of quiche, from the original quiche Lorraine, to ones with broccoli, mushrooms, ham and/or seafood (primarily shellfish). Quiche can be served as an entrée, for lunch, breakfast or an evening snack.

The weekend is almost upon us, enjoy it!

Wednesday 7 November 2007


We have a Federal election looming over our heads in the near future and the politicians have been busy drugging us with their sickeningly hypnotic oratory once again. Even our Prime Minister, who is noted for his arrogance and conceit has watered down his usually bombastic and self-centred pronouncements. He wishes to be elected again and break some sort of record as the most re-elected or longest serving PM, I think… Well, he has quite a record to break with Robert Menzies chalking up 2 years, 4 months, 4 days in his first term (26 April 1939 - 29 August 1941) and 16 years, 1 month, 8 days in his second term (19 December 1949 - 26 January 1966). Mr Howard has been in office for 11 years so far, and I think that most Australian believe that this is quite enough…

The most recent mortgage interest rate rises (the latest of several over the past few years) have caused Mr Howard to “apologise” to the Australian people, the face exhibiting distress and the crocodilian tears flowing as he was saying “sorry” – what a surprise! This is the same man who promised in his 2004 election campaign (rather foolishly, as he does not control the Reserve Bank, which is the authority that raises or lowers interest rates) that interest rates would not rise during his government’s latest term. This is the same man who said last time the rates rose that it was something that had to happen and was not apologetic about it (it wasn’t election time then and also, Mr Howard is not a man who is known for his apologies, as our aboriginal population will confirm).

As a result, many Australian families who are struggling to keep up with their house mortgage payments will experience increasing hardship. The rates rose on March 2nd 2006 to 5.50%, then to 5.75% on May 3rd 2006, to 6.00% on August 2nd, 2006 and again on November 8th 2006 to 6.25%. Another rate rise on August 8th 2007 took the rate to 6.50% and the latest interest rate rise has now taken the mortgage rate to 6.75%. More rate rises are tipped for the near future, sometime between February and March next year.

Meanwhile, the opposition is making much noise about the interest rate rises and is getting as much political ammunition out of it as possible, but the fact is that the bulk of struggling families will have to put up with increasing house repayments and deterioration of their quality of living. I am sick of the mud-slinging and vituperative attacks on both sides. I am thoroughly disgusted by the false smiles in their public appearances and yes they still go to shopping centres and kiss the babies! I would have thought that sort of thing was banned nowadays. To think that we shall be subjected to the bickering until November 24th is worrying, to say the least.

And yet, I always go and vote, I try to select candidates that will represent me and my values rather than vote for political parties, often realising that my vote is “wasted” by not voting the “party ticket”. However, I am more comfortable with that than voting blindly for representatives that my conscience will not support. As John Lennon said: “You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.” The Greens often have reasonable and forward-looking candidates, so my support has gone to these underdogs often in the past, but I have also voted for independents, whose activities and ideas I sympathise with.

What I will not vote for is a candidate that supports wars in foreign lands so as to strengthen our and our allies’ economies. My vote will not go to candidates that attempt to scare people into voting for them by waving the red rag of “terrorism” and “homeland security” in front of us. I will not support someone who is narrow minded, parochial and aggressively nationalistic. Mr Downer’s (our foreign minister’s) outburst a couple of days ago is an amazing sample of our present government’s ideas about Australia, its multicultural population and its relationship with the world:

“Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has accused Labor leader Kevin Rudd of being a show-off who can't hold himself back from breaking into Chinese. Mr Rudd, a former diplomat who speaks fluent Mandarin, used his language skills during an interview on a Chinese TV station yesterday. Mr Downer said there was no need for the Labor leader to do the interview in Mandarin.
‘He likes to show off, and you get that a bit with certain people in life,’ the minister told ABC Radio today. ‘I'm familiar with those types of people who like to show-off but I don't think, realistically, there are a lot of votes in the People's Republic of China for Kevin Rudd to win.’
Mr Downer says Mr Rudd is not the only person in Australia who can speak another language.
‘There are thousands upon thousands of Australians, there are tens of thousands of Australians, who can speak foreign languages and most of them don't bother to show-off about it,’ he said.”

Is this an Australian minister of the 21st century speaking or is it someone of the xenophobic 50s? I find it appalling! I would rather have a multilingual, cultured, educated and urbane man representing my country as prime minister, rather than a nationalistic, blinkered, jingoist who will support outmoded and backward looking strategies and whose foreign policy is that of lap-dog to its master.

My word of the day is a dirty word, it’s a four-letter word of eight letters:

politics |ˈpäləˌtiks| plural noun [usu. treated as sing. ]
The activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, esp. the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power: The Communist Party was a major force in French politics | Thereafter he dropped out of active politics.
• The activities of governments concerning the political relations between countries: In the conduct of global politics, economic status must be backed by military capacity.
• The academic study of government and the state: [as adj. ] A politics lecturer.
• Activities within an organization that are aimed at improving someone's status or position and are typically considered to be devious or divisive: Yet another discussion of office politics and personalities.
• A particular set of political beliefs or principles: People do not buy this newspaper purely for its politics.
• (Often the politics of) the assumptions or principles relating to or inherent in a sphere, theory, or thing, esp. when concerned with power and status in a society: The politics of gender.
ORIGIN late Middle English : from Old French politique ‘political,’ via Latin from Greek politikos, from politēs ‘citizen,’ from polis ‘city.’

I’ll get off my soap box now and remember, don’t believe everything you’re told, mostly it’s untrue (especially if it comes from the mouth of a politician)!

Tuesday 6 November 2007


It’s poetry Wednesday, hosted by Sans Souci!
Here is a poem I wrote a few months ago, and of which I was reminded after observing a scene on the way to work this morning.


Slice through the torpid flesh
With blade sharp shining;
Unwind the thread that leads deep underskin.
Explore interior cellular winding passages
Until you find the beast within residing.

You need to sharply think, be sly,
So as to slay the monster in the labyrinth;
The labrys raised and ready poised,
The brutish head to cut without delay, no pity.

Once beast is killed, once body is freed,
The maze’s secrets will be yours.
Clarity, wisdom, perception, care,
As soul lies bared and reason rules the day.

But then the bloodied double-axe will seem
Not so much a heroic implement of deliverance,
As an assassin’s vile weapon stained by the blood of passion -
And passion’s execution is a wasted crime.
Rust stains on the stainless steel of conscience will appear.

*A labrys is a double axe that was used in Minoan rituals. The labyrinth is literally "the house of the double axe".


Today is Melbourne Cup Day here in my home city. At 3.00 pm, on the first Tuesday in November, Australians everywhere stop for one of the world's most famous horse races - the Melbourne Cup. If you cannot be in Flemington Racecourse to watch the Cup live, you can listen to the race call on radio, or watch the race on TV. Even those who don't usually bet, try their luck with a small bet or entry into a “sweep” (a lottery in which each ticket-holder is matched with a randomly drawn horse).

Since 1877, Melbourne Cup Day has been a public holiday for Melbourne, and crowds have flocked to Flemington. By 11.00 am the grandstand is packed to its 7,000 capacity, and by 3.00 pm, many tens of thousands of people usually gather around the racecourse. The party atmosphere often means that champagne and canapés, huge hats and racetrack fashions overshadow the business of horse racing. American writer Mark Twain said of a visit to the Melbourne Cup in 1895:
“Nowhere in the world have I encountered a festival of people that has such a magnificent appeal to the whole nation. The Cup astonishes me.”

The first Melbourne Cup was run in 1861 at Flemington Racecourse and was won by Archer, a horse from Nowra, New South Wales, beating the local favourite, Mormon. The prize was a gold watch and £170. Dismissed by the bookies, Archer took a lot of money away from Melbourne, refuelling interstate rivalry and adding to the excitement of the Cup. Australia's most famous racehorse, Phar Lap, combined great stamina and speed. He was foaled in New Zealand in 1926 by Night Raid out of Entreaty and he grew to 17 hands. Over his career he won more than £65,000 in prize money and won 37 of his 51 starts. From September 1929 he was the favourite in all but one of his races. Phar Lap became the darling of Australian race crowds during the Great Depression of the 1930s - winning all four days of the 1930 Flemington Spring Carnival including the Melbourne Cup carrying 62.5 kg. Phar Lap is the only horse to have started favourite in three successive Melbourne Cups. He came third in 1929, won the race in 1930 and ran eighth in 1931.

The Melbourne Cup is one of the world's most challenging horse races and one of the richest (total prize money for 2005 - $AU5.1 million), and is the highlight of the Spring Racing Carnival. The race is run over 3,200 metres and is a handicapped race. This means that the better the horse is, the more weight it has to carry in the race. The distance and the handicap ensure that the Melbourne Cup is a horse race in which the occasional punter has as good a chance of picking the winner as those who follow the form. It is a day when all Australians are considered to have an equal chance on the turf as well as on the lawn. This year, the place getters of the Cup were:
First: Efficient
Second: Purple Moon
Third: Mahler

I am not a gambler and I do not bet on the Cup, although I do enter the sweep at work. I don’t recall ever having won the sweep, and seeing I don’t follow the form the only thing that I enjoy in the Cup is watching the magnificent animals in peak condition race. Horses are beautiful creatures and when they gallop they are a poem in motion. Even though we did not go to the races, nor did we gamble, we had a lovely day at home with a delicious lunch, champagne and enjoyed the wonderful weather in the garden that was full of blooming roses. I hope you had a win if you bet on the Cup!

Sunday 4 November 2007


“Society exists for the benefit of its members, not the members for the benefit of society.” Herbert Spencer.

Today is Guy Fawkes Day in the UK and this commemorates the foiled attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament by a group of dissidents. The conspiracy intended to blow up the English Parliament and King James I in 1605, the day set for the king to open Parliament. The anniversary was named after Guy Fawkes, the most famous of the conspirators.

The assassination of the king and the overthrow of his government was to be the beginning of a great uprising of English Catholics, who were distressed by the increased severity of penal laws against the practice of their religion. The conspirators, who began plotting early in 1604, expanded their number to a point where secrecy was impossible. The conspirators included Robert Catesby, John Wright, and Thomas Winter, the originators, Christopher Wright, Robert Winter, Robert Keyes,Guy Fawkes (a soldier who had been serving in Flanders), Thomas Percy, John Grant, Sir Everard Digby, Francis Tresham, Ambrose Rookwood, and Thomas Bates.

Percy hired a cellar under the House of Lords, in which 36 barrels of gunpowder, overlaid with iron bars and firewood, were secretly stored. The conspiracy was brought to light through a mysterious letter received by Lord Monteagle, a brother-in-law of Tresham, on October 26, urging him not to attend Parliament on the opening day. The 1st earl of Salisbury and others, to whom the plot was made known, took steps leading to the discovery of the materials and the arrest of Fawkes as he entered the cellar. Other conspirators, overtaken in flight or seized afterward, were killed outright, imprisoned, or executed.

Among those executed was Henry Garnett, the superior of the English Jesuits, who had known of the conspiracy. The plot provoked increased hostility against all English Catholics and led to an increase in the harshness of laws against them. Guy Fawkes Day, November 5, is still celebrated in England with fireworks and bonfires, on which effigies of the conspirator are burned.

Please to remember
The Fifth of November,

Gunpowder treason and plot;

I see no reason

Why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.

‘Twas God’s mercy to be sent

To save our King and Parliament

Three score barrels laid below,

For old England’s overthrow

With a lighted candle, with a lighted match

Boom, boom to let him in.

Anonymous Hertfordshire Rhyme

Quite aptly for today, I am considering a film that was inspired in part by this historical event, but which also looks towards the future and creates one of the most convincing filmic dystopias and asks several questions that relate to our present-day society. The film is James McTeigue’s “V for Vendetta” (2005) and its screenplay is an adaptation of Alan Moore/David Lloyd's graphic novel. Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry and John Hurt have been wonderfully cast and do a sterling job in playing out this tale of the fight for freedom and justice against cruelty and corruption. There are elements of Orwell’s “1984”, Leroux’s “Phantom of the Opera” and superhero dramas such as “Batman” and “Spiderman” in this movie, but there is also an underlying serious political/social message in it.

Its plot takes place in the future, when Britain is under totalitarian rule and is rife with prejudice against minorities, unfair punishments and the cries of tortured dissidents in captivity. In the mist of this nightmarish background, one man known as “V” dares to stand up to the government and is labelled by it as a “terrorist”. One night V rescues a young woman called Evey Hammond and an unlikely bond between the two emerges which results with Evey becoming V’s friend and helper. V has a passion for justice, but he is also bitter and nurses his own personal hatred for the government as he was treated unjustly in the past. November the 5th is the day V and his followers will stand up to the government once and for all. The government is represented by Detective Finch who tries to track down V. Finch’s search leads him to discover much about V’s background, but also confronted by increasing evidence of tyranny and oppression, he begins to question whether or not he is on the right side.

Important questions arise upon viewing this film. Is V a hero or a terrorist? Are his actions justified or should the violence he espouses be condemned? “V for Vendetta” is a movie that looks scathingly at present-day politics. One cannot fail to see that President Bush is the model for Stutler. The news media and their coverage of V’s activities are inspired by on the propaganda machines at the disposal of today’s politicians, with V’s actions put on par with those of suicide bombers and underground train attacks. Does “terrorism” become “freedom-fighting”? A totalitarian oppressor in power who utilises torture, unjust rule, (a reign of terror, in fact) is not likely to arouse our sympathies, whereas V, who is presented as the “terrorist” is much more likely to appear to be the “hero”. This is a disturbing and chilling film because it presents the reality of today and yesterday as the “Status quo” that our children will inherit in the future.

If you haven’t seen this movie, I strongly recommend that you see it. It is dark, thought-provoking, and quite entertaining. I have not read the original graphic novel it is based on, and I realize that the film has created characters that are rather exaggerated, but the message is quite powerful and for me, well-conveyed in the film medium.

If you are taking part in Movie Monday, please leave a comment on my 360 blog!