Saturday 4 July 2009


“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.” - Thomas Paine

Happy Fourth of July!

Today, as it is Independence Day for the USA, something appropriate. A march by John Philip Sousa, the famous “Stars and Stripes Forever”. This is one of my favourite Souza marches, especially the lyrical second part beginning at 1:10.

And to stay in an American mood, today is also the birthday of Stephen Foster (1826 – 1864), the “Father of American music” and composer of many classic songs such as “Oh, Susannah!”, “Old Folks at Home”, Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair”, “Camptown Races”, etc. Here is a lovely lullaby, “Beautiful Dreamer”, sung by another great Roy Orbison:

Enjoy your weekend!

Friday 3 July 2009


“If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.” - Carl Sagan

When I was visiting the USA several years ago, I was invited to dinner at a colleague’s house. The family was delightful and the dinner very good. However, what stuck in my mind was the excellent apple pie, which was definitely home made and the pride of the hostess (with good reason too)! She was even kind enough to supply the recipe:

American Apple Pie
• 3/4 cup butter
• 5 tablespoons cold water
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon salt

• 6 large new season apples
• Juice of 1/2 lemon
• 4 tbsp. apple cider
• 3/4 cup sugar
• 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
• 1/2 tsp ground cloves
• 6 tbsp. blanched, toasted almonds
• 1 tbsp. sugar
• 1/3 cup heavy cream
• 1 egg yolk
• 2 tbsp. milk or cream

1. Peel, core and slice the apples. Put in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice. Toss the apples with the cider, sugar, cinnamon and cloves. Let stand for up to an hour, tossing from time to time.

2. Preheat oven to 200°C. Place butter, water, flour and salt in food processor bowl. Process just until dough clumps together - about 5 seconds. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a 6-inch pancake. Center one pancake inside a 25 x 30 cm plastic bag. Sprinkle a few drops of water on the countertop to hold the plastic bag in place. Smooth out the bag and begin rolling the pastry from the center out in alternating directions to form an even circle. After every few strokes, lift the top surface of the bag from the dough and smooth it down again flip the bag over and lift the other surface and smooth it down. Continue this "roll, lift, flip" pattern until your circle of dough is about two cm wider than the rim of your 25 cm pie pan. Loosen both sides of the plastic bag from the dough and slide the pie pan upside-down into the bag and center it over the circle of dough. Turn the pan and bag over so the dough rests in the pan and slide the pan and dough from the bag. Gently press the pastry into the pan and trim the edges about one cm beyond the rim.

3. Sprinkle the almond-sugar mixture over the bottom of the shell. Keep the rest of the dough chilled until ready to use.

4. Transfer the apples to the pie shell, mounding them higher in the centre and leaving the sugary liquid behind in the bowl. Add the heavy cream to this liquid and beat until it is slightly thickened. Pour the mixture over the apples to coat them.

5. Put the remaining dough pancake inside the bag and roll it out using the same "roll, lift, flip" routine. When the top crust is rolled, cut the bag on 3 sides and peel off the top sheet of plastic. Use the remaining sheet of plastic to turn the top crust over the filling, center it, then peel off the plastic. Trim the top crust to once cm beyond the edge of the pie pan. Fold the top edge under the bottom crust and flute. Make several slashes in the top to allow steam to escape. Brush with the egg yolk beaten with the milk to form a glaze.

6. Bake for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 175°C, and bake for 50 more minutes or until the crust is golden. If the edge darkens too much during the baking, cover it with foil, leaving the center open, and continue baking. Cool and serve with ice cream, if desired. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday 2 July 2009


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

Seeing that Yahoo 360 is soon closing, and the bloggers here are looking for a new home, it is apt that I share with you an interesting snippet of news I read in the newspaper today. “Twitter” is the new rage, it seems, and is threatening “Facebook” in supremacy. This is no surprise as we live a society where communication seems to be in a process of ever-shrinking dimensions. The “140 character message limit” of Twitter constitutes a “tweet” and is perfectly suited to the SMS, telegraph-like brevity of the communication of the modern person. Our ancestors once communicated effectively with short grunts, so why not us? Let’s get back to our roots…

Twitter and Facebook, Yahoo 360 and Blogger, MySpace and Multiply, just to mention a few of these social networking sites, are big business. There is much money to be made wherever people congregate in large numbers and that goes for the virtual community, not only the real one. Hence the big competition in the popularity stakes and the extreme marketing associated with each of these platforms for ascendancy. Alas for some, popularity (ever fickle), has by-passed them and hence the decadence of Yahoo 360 that we have witnessed lately.

Seeing that Twitter is the new wunderkind on the block, is it a surprise that various para-service industries have sprung up to cater to the advertising needs of the twitterer market? Brisbane-based company uSocial has launched a service that allows twitterers to buy “packages of followers” if they can’t attract any of their own. For only $87 you can purchase 1,000 followers and for $3497 you can buy the maximum of 100,000 followers!

So how is that? You can buy yourself admirers! You can purchase your own fan club! So when you write: “I am now thinking of going out for a stroll because it’s a nice day here in Melbourne, and I feel like a leisurely walk.” (122 characters), your fan club can know about it and rejoice in your excellent thought so pithily communicated. The world must know of course about such important events in your life.

Humour aside, if a company buys 100,000 followers on Twitter and keeps bombarding them with advertising, it’s well worth the $3497 investment. Another uSocial service puts paying customers’ websites on the prestigious front pages of social networking sites such as Digg, Buzz and StumbleUpon. Another revolves around positions of prominence for your company in search engine results. What did I tell you before? It’s big business!

Meanwhile, keep on blogging!

confabulate |kənˈfabyəˌlāt| verb [ intrans. ]
1 [formal] Engage in conversation; talk : She could be heard on the telephone confabulating with someone.
2 [Psychiatry] Fabricate imaginary experiences as compensation for loss of memory.
confabulation |-ˌfabyəˈlā sh ən| noun
confabulatory |-ləˌtôrē| adjective
ORIGIN early 17th century: From Latin confabulat- ‘chatted together,’ from the verb confabulari, from con- ‘together’ + fabulari (from fabula ‘fable’ ).

Jacqui BB is hosting Word Thursday

Wednesday 1 July 2009


“The greater absurdities are, the more strongly they evince the falsity of that supposition from whence they flow.” – Francis Atterbury

How easy it is to delude ourselves. We are eager to substantiate our dreams, see our hopes bear fruit, yearn to realise our desires. How often we can succumb to the sweet insistence of a spurious but so attractive premise! We are our own accomplice in the duplicity of the feelings that we manufacture to make our fantasy an actuality. Alas, the virtual reality that we concoct is so flimsy that it seldom fails to survive the probity of logic and fails the test of time…

False Pretences

Drowning in your sea of insinuations
Clutching the bright straws of your gaze
(How duplicitous those eyes!)
I may as well try to capture
A sunbeam in an attempt to save me
From an inevitable death.

I lie, you lie, we lie
And in the midst of all of our lies
There is a truth, so richly dressed;
She looks at us, beaming innocently
Because we cannot tell her apart
From our naked lies.

Too late to turn back now,
We’ve missed our chance
We’ve bypassed the turn-off
Of that saving grace of the detour…
On false pretences, we career on,
And like lemmings, we shall plummet to our death.

This is a poem that I wrote several years ago when sweet lies were so easy to consume. Lies always hide poison beneath their pastel-coloured sugary coating…

Jacqui BB hosts Poetry Wednesday

Tuesday 30 June 2009


“Without labor nothing prospers.” - Sophocles

The sunflower, Helianthus annuus, is today’s birthday flower. The generic name means sunflower in Greek and it has been a symbol of the sun in many cultures including the Incas (the plant is native to the Americas). It symbolises adoration, affection, infatuation, glory, false riches, constancy and gratitude. In the language of flowers it means: “You are splendid”.

The birthday of:
John Gay, poet and playwright (1685);
Baron von Mueller, Melbourne Botanic Gardens founder (1825);
Stanley Spencer, artist (1891);
Harold (Joseph) Laski, politician (1893);
Walter Ulbricht, statesman (1893);
Czeslaw Milosz, Nobel laureate (1980) author (1911);
Ruskin Spear, artist (1911);
Lena Horne, singer (1917);
Buddy (Bernard) Rich, drummer (1917);
Susan Hayward (Edythe Marrener), actress (1918);
Tony Hatch, pianist (1939);
Mike Tyson, pugilist (1966).

At around about this time, the people of Appleton in England ceremoniously “Bawm the Thorn”, that is they decorate an ancient hawthorn tree growing in the middle of town. A procession marches to the tree and everyone bedecks its branches with ribbons, flags, banners and flowers. The children then proceed to dance around it. It is thought this ceremony is a remnant of the pagan tree-worship rituals.

Monday 29 June 2009


“In war, truth is the first casualty.” – Aeschylus

While it was a very busy Weekend, during which I worked mainly on my book, we found time to watch a really good Dutch film last night. It was Paul Verhoeven’s “Zwartboek” (The Black Book) of 2006. It starred Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman, Halina Reijn and Waldemar Kobus. It was a slickly made, excellent production with a satisfying story and was extremely well-acted and well-directed. Its long duration (about 145 minutes) was hardly noticeable as the story kept you involved and the images were engaging. Hard to believe that the film was made with a moderate budget, about $20 million. I guess Paul Verhoeven is a well-seasoned director (think “Total Recall”, “Basic Instinct” and “Showgirls”) and he knows how to spin a good yarn.

The film is based on a real story, which makes it all the more appealing, but also chillingly disturbing. It is set in Nazi-occupied Holland towards the end of World War II. The film centres around a young Jewish woman named Rachel, who is forced to assume the identity of a Dutchwoman called Ellis so as to save her life. She dyes her hair blond and pretends to be a singer in order to avenge the death of her family. She joins the Dutch resistance and through an odyssey of determination and sheer luck she manages to survive. There a few twists and turns to the plot (some quite predictable), but the overall package is impressive. It is an old-fashioned film, one that you can sink your teeth into.

There are several poignant moments and an unexpected love story, especially given the way the film starts. Carice van Houten, the Dutch star who plays Rachel/Ellis is luminous and charismatic in her role and Verhoeven maximises her acting talents and she gives a winning performance. Her character has to adapt to many different emotional states and contrasting situations and van Houten is able to carry them through without blinking an eyelid in an effortless and utterly believable way.

The film makes a statement about war and drives home the point that all is not black and white. There are no “good guys and bad guys”, the line is fuzzy. Heroes are not born they are made, and circumstances can often force them to become the hunted instead of the hunters. The film succeeds because it upsets many conventions and the viewer’s interest is maintained because of the subtle interplay of concealed emotions between the characters. What is not immediately obvious is what makes the film interesting. I would happily see it again in the future, as I am sure that I would enjoy it again.

There is a great deal of violence and nudity in the film, but these are features that are not intrusive, they are an integral part of the story. It is a powerful and life affirming film, although there are several instances when Verhoeven seems to take a cynical view of humanity and doubts its ability to survive long term…

Sunday 28 June 2009


“I have had dreams, and I have had nightmares. I overcame the nightmares because of my dreams.” - Dr. Jonas Salk

For Art Sunday today, a bit of an odd bird, Henry Fuseli, a Swiss-born British Romantic Painter (1741-1825). As well as a painter he was a draughtsman, and writer on art, one of the outstanding figures of the Romantic movement. He was the son of a portrait painter, Johann Caspar Füssli (1707-82), but he originally trained as a priest; he took holy orders in 1761, but never practised. In 1765 he came to London at the suggestion of the British Ambassador in Berlin, who had been impressed by his drawings. Reynolds encouraged him to study painting, and he spent the years 1770-78 in Italy, engrossed in the study of Michelangelo, whose elevated style he sought to emulate for the rest of his life.

On his return to England, he exhibited highly imaginative works such as “The Nightmare” (1781), the picture that secured his reputation when it was shown at the Royal Academy in 1782 and whish is seen above. This is in the Detroit Institute of Art, but there is another version of this work in the Goethe-museum, in Frankfurt). It is an unforgettable image of a woman in the throes of a violently erotic dream. The painting shows how far ahead of his time Fuseli was in exploring the murky areas of the psyche where sex and fear meet. His fascination with the horrifying and fantastic also comes out in many of his literary subjects, which formed a major part of his output; he painted several works for Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery, and in 1799 he followed this example by opening a Milton Gallery in Pall Mall with an exhibition of forty-seven of his own paintings.

Fuseli was a much respected and influential figure in his lifetime, but his work was generally neglected for about a century after his death until the Expressionists and Surrealists saw in him a kindred spirit. His work can be clumsy and overblown, but at its best has something of the imaginative intensity of his friend Blake, who described Fuseli as “The only man that e'er I knew / who did not make me almost spew”. Fuseli's extensive writings on art include “Lectures on Painting” (1801) and a translation of Winckelmann's “Reflections on the Painting and Sculpture of the Greeks” (1765).

Enjoy your week!