Saturday 7 February 2009


“Your own property is concerned when your neighbor's house is on fire.” - Horace

The heat has been stifling today, with Melbourne recording its hottest-ever February day, with the temperature in the city reaching 46 degrees Celsius at 2:27 pm. I was driving into the City at 4:30 pm and even with the air conditioning going at full blast, it was warm in the car. The City skyline was half-obscured by a beige pall of dust, and the hot wind lashed the trees mercilessly.

Fires are burning across Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales, with tens of thousands of fire fighters on stand-by across all three states. The fire in Bunyip State Park is within a few kilometres of major transmission lines that feed power to our city and we are wondering if we shall have electricity through the night. Meanwhile, many townships are being evacuated, some houses lost in the flames, others strangely spared…

A strange apocalyptic feeling as I was driving through the deserted streets with the dead leaves being whipped up by the wind, the dust laden air, the hazy atmosphere, the sickly yellow-brown light and the all-consuming heat. The music that came into mind was Verdi’s “Dies Irae” from his Requiem:

Dies irae, dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla,
Teste David cum Sibylla.

Day of wrath, day that
will dissolve the world into burning coals,
as David bore witness with the Sibyl…

A cool change was to come through this evening, but it fizzled with a few scattered drops of rain and with the temperature remaining at 30 degrees Celsius. Unless a stronger change comes through overnight, I doubt whether we shall have the cooler day predicted for tomorrow. I am looking out through my window at the moment and the wind has died down. The moon almost full is overhead and a strange smell of dust and heat makes this summer a terrible one.

Here is Karl Jenkins’ “Song of Tears”.

I hope you are having better luck with the weather in your part of the world.
Enjoy your weekend…

Friday 6 February 2009


“May the holes in your net be no larger than the fish in it.” - Irish Blessing

I have just returned from Adelaide where I was for work and flying home on the plane, the arid, sere landscape of our landscape here in Victoria was obvious in its most extreme and awesome extent. Tomorrow we are expecting a temperature of 43˚C and then another hot day on Sunday before cooler weather arrives next week. We may have had a long winter last year and a cool summer to begin with in December, but we are certainly feeling the heat now. Adelaide usually has weather hotter than Melbourne but the landscape seemed slightly less dry than here, mainly because of the bore water many people access and the irrigation from the Murray and Torrens Rivers.

During my stay in Adelaide I had an excellent meal in a little café, which comprised of an old Australian (and British) standard, “Fish-and-Chips”. The good part about it was that the fish was very fresh and was King George whiting (this is a rather expensive fish that is usually served in the better restaurants) rather than the “Flake”, “Cod”, “Butterfish”, etc (served in most fish-and-chipperies). Here is some information about this delectable fish, taken from the Fish Victoria site.

The scientific name for this fish is Sillaginodes punctata and it can be fished in most temperate waters around Australia, with good catches in Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia and New South Wales. One can have a hard time finding this fish in the markets as it is snapped up by the restauranteurs, on account of it being the largest and best tasting of the whiting family, easily filetted and easily cooked. And of course, this means that usually when one wants to eat it, one has to go out and have it rather than cooking it for oneself at home.

For a sea-girt nation like Britain (and Australia, of course), the popularity of “Fish-and-chips” is hardly surprising. Fish tends to be a staple food of these sea-girt and sea-going nations. The popularity of the potato ever since it came from the New World is also hardly surprising, given its nutritiousness and ease of cultivation. The happy combination of chipped potatoes and battered fish all fried in fat is perhaps the thing that the British should be thanked for, but this is disputed and the Germans, Scandinavians and the Irish claim the dish as their own also.

The eating of “Fish-and-chips” is widespread in Australia, especially so on Fridays, a relic of the fasting days when people used to take any notice of them. The meal was traditionally wrapped in newspaper at the shop, but nowadays, white butcher’s paper is substituted. Vinegar and plenty of salt are served with the meal, although nowadays the gourmet influence dictates an accompaniment of Tartare sauce and lemon. The animal fat that the fish and chips were fried in has now been substituted by vegetable oil, much to the disgust of the purists, but the cholesterol spectre has been to blame for this and most people are chastened by its mention…

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday 5 February 2009


“A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.” - Benjamin Franklin

Jan Elle, through Jacqui has completed a meme that relates to seven weird facts about oneself. The rules are that:
1) You link to the blog of the person where you saw this meme last; 2) You write your list of seven weird facts about yourself; 3) You tag seven other people on your list to do this meme and link to their blogs; 4) Let each person that you have tagged know by leaving a comment on their blog…
So here goes:

Fact 1: Although I am of Greek origin I absolutely detest and loathe black olives and feta cheese. I have never eaten them and if they are present in food, I avoid the food like the plague. Apparently this occurred even in my infancy, and weirder still, my paternal grandfather had the same aversion to these two foodstuffs. Even weirder is the fact that I love all other kinds of cheese and I will eat green olives! Go figure…
Fact 2: I adore variety. In all things. For example when I am asked “how do you take your coffee?”, I answer that firstly, I will not always have coffee, sometimes I like tea; and even when I do have coffee, sometimes I like a heavily sweetened cappuccino, other times the strongest double espresso without any sugar. Did I say that I may also order a Greek coffee or a Viennese coffee, or a macchiato or an affogato?

Fact 3: I only need about 5 hours sleep a night. Sleeping in for me at the weekend generally means I sleep for 5 and half hours… I think that when I die I’ll sleep for a very long time, so why waste time sleeping when I am alive?

Fact 4: I am a very patient man, usually very forgiving, tactful, tolerant and willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. I tend to forgive easily, turn a blind eye and generally take things lightly. However, if I find that I am taken advantage of or if people try to diddle me, I can blow up like a volcano. “Beware the ire of a patient man”, they say and it’s certainly true in my case.

Fact 5: I am a technology junkie! I love new gadgets, electronic wizardry, new inventions, wonderful new devices and innovative bits of seemingly magical technology.

Fact 6: I love old things, especially old maps, old books, old paintings, drawings, letters, notes, photographs. I could spend a lot of time in antique shops looking for these things, or simply looking at them. It’s heaven when I chance upon an exhibition of old illuminated manuscripts – I love them!

Fact 7: I am generally quite punctual and deliver on time, however, I have a great many projects going all at the same time, so very often I leave things till the last minute. Oddly the quality doesn’t suffer. It has caused some consternation with other people in my teams, though…

I’ll follow Jan Elle’s example and will not nominate specific people to complete this meme, but rather leave it to you, the readers to do this meme, should you choose to do so…

Also, seeing it’s Word Thursday, here is what meme means and where it’s derived from:

meme |mēm| noun Biology
An element of a culture or system of behaviour that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by non-genetic means, especially by imitation.
memetic |mēˈmetik; mə-| adjective
ORIGIN 1970s: from Greek mimēma ‘that which is imitated,’ on the pattern of gene.

Wednesday 4 February 2009


“It is not marriage that fails; it is people that fail. All that marriage does is to show people up.” - Harry Emerson Fosdick

I spoke to a friend I hadn’t heard from for quite a few months, today. Life had caused us to drift apart from the time we were at University, but I had been in touch with him on and off throughout the years, had been to his wedding, had met his family, his lovely two children. The marriage had definitely been a love match and the pair was one that gave the impression of a marriage made in heaven. He said to me that he was getting a divorce. I was rather surprised as I thought they were a couple that would age together, still in love in their gray years…

I asked him what had brought them to splitting apart. Had there been affairs? Another man another woman? Did they experience difficulties of any kind? He though a while and in his silence over the telephone I could hear the cogs of his brain turning, engaging, slipping into gears, finally causing him to whisper quietly, somewhat at a loss:
“Well, you know, nothing happened… Nothing happened, anymore. It kind of fizzled out, it died a slow death, not with a bang but with a whimper…”

How many of us develop a relationship and tie a knot around it firmly, securely, seemingly to last forever. And yet in how many cases that knot is severed, or carefully cut… In how many cases one of the partners deftly slips out of it, stealthily, with an imperceptible facility … And in how many cases the knot simply frays, the silken rope fades, ages, turns to dust and crumbles, as it did in this case! The words uttered quietly by my friend inspired me to write this poem:

As Time Passes

As time passes, I remember how:
We used to share a single bed
And laugh as we squeezed so close together
That our breaths would synchronise;
And our hearts would beat in syntony,
As each heartbeat would fall into the other.

As time passes, I remember how:
Our hands would clasp each other
And through the sense of touch our souls
Would mingle through the skin;
And our chemistries would share reactions
In the test tubes of our sweaty palms.

As time passes, I remember how:
We would share a simple meal
And the food was made delicious
As we poured happiness on it –
Better than the richest sauce,
Our joy, a condiment better than the rarest spice.

As time passes, I remember how:
Our lips would thirst for kisses ceaselessly
And our mingling breaths would communicate
Our innermost desires, our thoughts, our hopes…
Our eyes, though closed, would clearly
See into the depths of each other’s soul.

Now, we share the broad expanse of a large bed
And touching is rarely anything but accidental.

Now, our hands may hold each other every once in a while,
But our dry palms are arid places for the excursions of our souls.

Now, every meal a rich repast: Caviar, champagne…
But we may as well be eating cardboard.

Now, our lips are locked closed, imprisoning our souls,
And our eyes wide open, barely acknowledge each other’s presence
When circumstances would have us pretend to kiss…

Tuesday 3 February 2009


“To speak and to speak well are two things. A fool may talk, but a wise man speaks.” - Ben Jonson

The last couple of days I have been taking part in an Academic Retreat. This is a type of mini-conference where academic staff of our institution come together from our campuses all over Australia and discuss important topics. We have presenters who lead the discussion, various hands-on activities, group workshops and also some social activities that facilitate team-building and help the staff to get to know one another. These sorts of activities can be a great waste of time or alternatively one of the best ways to identify current issues, develop strategic plans, achieve results and effect changes in an organisation.

I am glad to say that our retreat was an example of the latter. It was on the general theme of “Assessment in Higher Education” with special emphasis on some specific topics. I was very pleased with the way that things panned out, the great majority of our presenters were very effective and their talks were inspiring, generated a lot of discussion, and were very much outcomes focused.

One of the most satisfying things that I saw happening during the two days of the retreat was the degree of open communication that was occurring between colleagues who are normally separated by great geographical distances. As always of course, meeting someone face to face is much more conducive to that special communication which just isn’t there when one is emailing, talking on the phone or even when video-conferencing. Even people who had some axes to grind or were not getting along on the best of terms were on their best behaviour and made an effort to collaborate and exchange a friendly word.

Last night we all had dinner together and a drink, with much convivial conversation, which surprisingly elaborated on the discussions of the day session, rather than on pleasantries and witty repartee. These dinner exchanges inspired my session this morning where I was able to address some of the issues raised by the attendees at the dinner, much to their satisfaction. One always can be at an advantageous position if one takes the time to stop talking and actively listen to what others are saying.

We were able to conclude this day’s session by considering various issues raised, discussing them and constituting three working parties which would look at the three most important topics and over the next few weeks meet in order to resolve the problems that we identified as being fundamental with our processes. It was quite a satisfying two days and all staff that took part found their time well spent. I ended up rather hoarse and a bit of a sore throat as I had done much talking and it has been quite a bit of time since I was lecturing for a few hours on end…

What are your experiences of work conferences and retreats? Good bad or indifferent?

Monday 2 February 2009


“To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” - William Shakespeare

Abbas Kiarostami is an Iranian director who shot to world-wide prominence in the 90s after his films reached the West through the arthouse circuit, culminating with the award of the Palme D’ Or in the Cannes Film Festival in 1997 with his film “Taste of Cherry”. I had not seen any of this director’s film and this last weekend we watched two. “Taste of Cherry” and his 2002 film, “Ten”. Kiarostami has received rave reviews and movie critics adore his movie-making which they see as succeeding Godard’s and Bergman’s. We were looking forward to watching his movies and I was rather glad to have got hold of a triple pack, “Taste of Cherry” (1997), “The Wind will Carry Us” (1999) and “Ten” (2002).

It was not a good experience… Firstly, let me say that Mr Kiarostami has a car fetish. Secondly, he likes improvised scripts and dialogues, thirdly, he loves long shots where nothing happens and the viewer’s mind begins to wander to more interesting things that have nothing to do with whatever doesn’t happen on the screen. The other thing that the audience is meant to applaud is his “honesty” and his consideration of the “profundity of everyday existence”, the “allegory of his sparse plots” and the “innovative direction”. Alas, then, I am philistine… Both of the films we watched were boring, self-indulgent and annoyingly trite, which were inflated to epic proportions through cheap devices.

Firstly, “Ten” as we watched this first. A young divorced woman, taxi-driver, has ten encounters in her taxi. The curious thing is that none of them seem to be paying passengers. The camera is static and the angles boring (this is meant to be arty) and the conversations mildly vexing to highly annoying. The characters are highly unlikeable and the window that the film opens into their lives, one wishes it had remained shut. The son of the taxi driver is a spoiled brat, the woman herself is phlegmatically selfish and her passengers are insipid or commonplace. The film is meant to be a snapshot of the life of common women in Tehran, but it comes across as tedious and uninvolving. There is no courage nor wit, no humour nor true depth of feeling (even in the scenes where tearful women confess broken hearts and broken relationships). The director is clinical and far removed from his subjects and the film displays as much pathos as a rotting potato on a compost heap.

Nevertheless, this was a somewhat palatable film and one that one could give the benefit of the doubt to. All directors have flops, so surely the masterpiece “Taste of Cherry” had to vindicate the director’s excellent credentials and surely it would worthy of the Palme D’ Or it won at Cannes, right? WRONG! There is a Greek proverb that says: “When you go to the place where reputedly there are lots of cherries, take with you a small basket”… Nowhere was this more apt than in this boring film “Taste of Cherry” where a trite pseudophilosophy is milked for all it’s worth.

Let me put it this way, if you like Paulo Coehlo, you’ll probably like this film. It’s the same appeal to the universal triteness that is phony and manufactured to pander to the new age sensibilities of a reactionary counter-culture and pseudo-intellectual crowd who couldn’t be bothered to read real philosophy but rather wanted predigested, processed junk soul food for their mind. These are the brash and audacious amongst us who have the audacity to clothe the Emmpero in imaginary rich vestments. We all geegaw, oooh and aaah, admiring the non-existent rich clothes until the innocent child walks by and speaks the honest truth: “The Emperor has no clothes on…”.

The film is about the meaning of life (I think). A suicidal man drives around trying to get someone to bury him after he commits suicide. Incessant driving around a dusty and deserted hilly terrain is interspersed with tiresome dialogue where he seemingly tries to proposition other men by offering them money to “do a little something” for him. The director thinks he has achieved a major coup when he reveals to us the man is looking of someone to bury him when he is dead. First the man tries to get a quarry worker to help him, but the man threatens to hit him (these are the working classes, and the refusal is meant to represent that work is not that which keeps alive). Next he meets a young soldier who also refuses the promise of money on completion of the interment (this meant to signify the strength of the armed forces and how they don’t hold the answer of existence). Next comes a seminarian (who represents religion and this too fails to answer the key question). Finally a man who works in a natural history museum agrees to help the man, but all the while tries to discourage him by telling him that the taste of cherry is worth remaining alive for. This is nature and nature alone holds the key to our existence and has the power to preserve our life.

Really tedious stuff, said before, filmed before, written about before and so much better than this. We felt so cheated by this film, especially by the ending (if you think what I described is bad, just wait till you see the ending!). A waste of a precious 90 minutes of our lives. See this film at your peril. If you are an arthouse snob, it will make your day. If you are an ordinary person, an educated layperson, a thinking person, a well-read person, you will probably see through this artifice and join me in crying out: “It’s not silken ribbons, but rather strands of seaweed” Mr Kiarostami is trying to peddle to us.

I’ll rest my case with an interview with the director himself:

Sunday 1 February 2009


“Moonlight is sculpture.” - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Art Sunday today is devoted to an early, unrepresentative work of a great British artist, William Turner (1775–1851). This is his “Fishermen at Sea” of 1796 (Oil on canvas. Tate Gallery, London, UK). Turner is better known for his later works with their rich and ethereal swathes of colour and brilliant light. This painting is quite the opposite – a night scene illuminated by the full moon, which is reflected by a stormy sea in which a couple of fishing boats are battling the waves.

Turner captures the romantic spirit admirably, and the “sturm und drang” which is implicit in the term “romanticism” is exemplified by this work. It is a not great painting by any means, and it could be mistaken for any one painted by his talented contemporaries who specialised in such gothic visions. However, I like it and it is not infrequently that the trite and commonplace touches us in ways that high art may fail to do so.

Turner was only fourteen years old when he was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools. He started his career by painting watercolours and producing mezzotints under the strong influence of John Robert Cozen's work. Then, in 1796, he launched into oil painting, working in the neoclassical manner of Richard Wilson and Nicolas with results that found wide acclaim. He exhibited his first picture Fishermen at Sea (1796) in the Royal Academy exhibition in 1796. He was elected an Associate in 1799 and in 1802 a full member of the Royal Academy. Turner was one of the most prolific painters of his time. He traveled extensively in England, Scotland and Ireland, and also on the Continent (France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy).

What do you make of this painting? I’m curious to know.