Saturday 1 August 2009


“Modesty is that feeling by which honorable shame acquires a valuable and lasting authority.” - Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero)

On this day, Lady Godiva is said to have ridden naked through the streets of Coventry in the 11th century. She was pleading with her husband (Leofric, Earl of Mercia) to relieve the poor people’s plight by cutting their taxes. He, exasperated by her constant admonition, promised to do so only if she, well known for modesty, would ride through the city streets, naked. Godiva took up the challenge, her long flaxen hair her only covering during her ride. It is recorded that she went unobserved, the city folk remaining locked inside in gratitude. Incidentally, “peeping Tom” as an idiom is explained by a certain Tom of Coventry who secretly peeped at Godiva and was struck blind. Godiva’s husband kept his end of the bargain and chastened, he helped the poor of the town. Sporadically, on this day, Coventry has paraded a young woman (sometimes clothed, others naked!) through its streets.

John Collier, an English Victorian Neoclassical painter and writer (born 27 January 1850 - died 11 April 1934) has painted this subject (1898) and I present it to you for Art Sunday today. He was the younger son of Sir Robert Perret Collier (a distinguished lawyer and MP), and was educated at Eton. After being introduced to Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (a well known-artist of the Preraphaelite group), he studied at the Slade School of Art, London, under Edward Poynter. He then moved to Paris where he studied under Jean-Paul Laurens and then went to Munich.

Collier sent a steady stream of portraits and subject pictures to the Royal Academy from 1870 until the end of his life. As a portrait painter he emulated the mature work of John Everett Millais, but his glowering statesmen and confident captains of industry are reminiscent more of the dourness of Frank Holl's portraits. Collier also revealed a much lighter side, especially in his theatrical portraits. The best of these is Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Ellen Terry and Madge Kendal in 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' (1904), which evokes the gaiety and lavish exuberance of the Edwardian stage. His contemporary fame rested on such works as the Prodigal Daughter (exhibited RA 1903) and a Fallen Idol (exhibited RA 1913); recording the tragedies of modern life, these works were felt to be equivocal and were called 'problem pictures', although Collier claimed that their meanings were perfectly clear.

Despite his rather unexciting and flat use of paint, Collier’s strong and surprising sense of colour created a disconcerting realism in both mood and appearance, and his writings on art encourage the strictest and most literal imitation of nature.


“When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk: he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it; the basest horn of his hoof is more musical than the pipe of Hermes.” - William Shakespeare, Henry V

The first day of August in the Southern hemisphere is regarded as the universal birthday of all horses. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is on January 1st. Most registries here in Australia make August 1st the official birthday for all horses to simplify record keeping and to help keep classes even for competitions. For example, for thoroughbred race horses, if a horse is born on July 31st, then for racing purposes, it would turn 2-years-old 366 days after it was born. A horse born on August 1st could wait another year before having to compete in the same races. So, the game for thoroughbred horse owners is to make sure that their foals are born after August 1st, but as close to that date as possible. Horses born closer to the deadline often have a development edge over other horses. This is especially important for some of the big races like the Kentucky Derby, which is restricted to 3-year-old horses.

Of course, there are also mistakes and some foals don’t get reported to the registries on time. If a farm foals a baby in late July, there’s a big incentive to cheat a bit and wait a week or so to report that it’s been born on August 1st.

Here is a “Gallop” from the operetta “Orpheus in the Underworld”, a comic take on the tragic myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. This piece is also called the “Infernal Can Can” as it is danced by demons in the Underworld. However, for me it has always had horsey overtones!

And seeing we are talking about galloping horses, you can’t go past some good galloping music like the second part of Rossini’s “Wiliam Tell” Overture (or the Lone Ranger theme, if you are less classically inclined!).

And as the Lone Ranger has taken us galloping to the USA, how about watching some horseracing at the “Camptown Races”?

So, to all horses today, Happy Birthday!

Thursday 30 July 2009


“Twill make old women young and fresh,
Create new motions of the flesh.
And cause them long for you know what,
If they but taste of chocolate.
” - James S. Wadworth

For the last day of July, which also happens to be Food Friday, I give you a recipe that was sent to me by a friend. I must confess that we have not tried it out. If you decide to try it, be prepared for it to be a flop, or who know it may turn out to be the best chocolate mud cake you have ever eaten! If any of you do try it out, please tell the rest of us if it’s all that it purports to be!


4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
A small splash of vanilla extract and your favourite tipple
1 large coffee mug

Add dry ingredients to your largest mug and mix well.
Add the egg and mix thoroughly.
Pour in the milk and oil and mix well.
Add the chocolate chips (if using), vanilla extract and a drop or two of your favourite tipple, then mix again.
Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts (high power setting).
The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed!
Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired.
EAT! (this can serve 2 if you want to feel slightly more virtuous).

If you’re feeling very very naughty, cover liberally in Bailey's Irish Cream, or smother with ice cream!
And why is this the fastest mud cake recipe in the world? Because now you are only 5 minutes away from chocolate cake at any time of the day or night!
Have a great weekend!


“Murder most foul, as in the best it is, But this most foul, strange, and unnatural.” - William Shakespeare

The news story that’s presently making me shudder is the case of Darlene Haynes, the 23-year-old Massachusetts pregnant woman who found dead in her apartment with her fetus cut out of her womb and taken away. This is one of the most gruesome of murders that I have heard about for some time and once again it makes me question the kind of civilisation we are evolving (devolving?) into. It brought to mind the horrors of the fall of the Roman Empire and the inhumanity and savagery that characterised the degeneration of what was the most advanced society of its time.

Apparently the dead woman (who also had another child, a one-year-old daughter – who is well and with relatives) had been having problems with her 24-year-old boyfriend. Neighbours have just come out of the woodwork (claiming their 5 minutes of fame…) to say that the couple had been screaming, shouting and crying from the dead woman’s apartment, but no-one had “wanted to get involved”. Yet another of our society’s signs of chronic illness…

When I bring the scene of the young woman’s death in my imagination, I shudder. The killer murdering her and then slitting open her belly to tear out the fetus is something that is grossly monstrous and wildly inhuman. The baby could have survived, but one wonders whether the murderer would have wanted it to live. The thought that such people live amongst us is a sobering one. Society is silently complicit in that it allows more and more criminal activity in our midst. Punishments for even serious crimes may remain particularly lenient and even for heinous crimes such as the one we are considering here, the sentence in terms of years in gaol is considerably reduced after a few months inside…

Where as a society have we gone wrong? How can we stand such inhumanity? How can we hope that rehabilitation will occur in gaol? There, crime abounds also. Drug use is rife, violence, even murder, is a common occurrence. What punishment is deserving of the murderer describe here? Can such a person be ever rehabilitated? And the corporal punishment question raises its ugly head once again. But what to do in such cases of heinous crimes?

“It is the deed that teaches, not the name we give it. Murder and capital punishment are not opposites that cancel one another, but similars that breed their kind.” - George Bernard Shaw

heinous |ˈhānəs| adjective
(of a person or wrongful act, esp. a crime) utterly odious or wicked: A battery of heinous crimes.
heinously |ˈheɪnəsli| adverb
heinousness |ˈheɪnəsnəs| noun
ORIGIN late Middle English: from Old French haineus, from hair ‘to hate,’ of Germanic origin.

Jacqui BB hosts Word Thursday

Wednesday 29 July 2009


“In youth the days are short and the years are long; in old age the years are short and the days long.” - Nikita Ivanovich Panin

I was reading some of the journals I had written a few decades ago (how writing that sentence made me feel so old!). Amongst the angst of youth, the dreadful pronouncements of immaturity, the zeal of inexperience and the earnestness of my teens, it was interesting to find some glimpses of insight, and seeds of wisdom, sown randomly amongst the incunabula. It was amusing and melancholy; nostalgic and sad; humorous and embarrassing, all rolled together to form a rather strange feeling of uncomfortable familiarity, but also of the unknown. My youthful thoughts were staring at me through a glass of time far removed and a place not of here. I could see the younger me within the mirror of my mind and I was enclosing within me several incarnations, nested in each other like a Russian doll. Ah, those old journals are like a time machine, and oh, so revealing!

Here is a poem, coming from a time long ago and from a place faraway. It was written in Greek, but translated now into English, putting that extra twist of time/space travel on the spiral of my life…


There, banshees shriek
Liars, murderers abound.
There, eyes’ crystals dull,
Dreams fantasies are killed,
Sweet memories are deadened.
There, bright, exotic faeries
Rejoice in rainbow orgies,
Sinners, transgressors of all sorts
Congregate, cry, waving arms
Like dancing skeletons.

There, pink flesh will undergo
Sterility, necrosis, sepsis.
Mind dies a slow death
And thought begins to limp,
As brain is injured and is doomed to die,
Unprotected to the wounds dealt
By time’s bloody sickle.

There, skulls gape and cackle
Because they find their sorry state
Witches with purple nails
File them into pointed talons
And the rasping sound
Cuts my heart to shreds.
Wild ogre women,
Shred yellow breasts;
Shed scales from scurfy skin
And vomit up their entrails.

There! I want to go there,
To that chilling and magic world.
But just before I cross the wretched threshold,
I must pause, look back,
For I’m leaving behind a place of innocence
To where there is no return…

Jacqui BB hosts Poetry Wednesday

Monday 27 July 2009


“It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.” - Oscar Wilde

Have you ever started reading a book and even from the first chapter you start losing interest, each sentence drags and the words fall heavily on your eyes like lead plummeting into water? Have you persevered, reading phrase by painful phrase trying desperately to suppress yawns? Have you made yourself persist like doing penance, promising yourself little rewards like a chocolate bar if you finish reading the chapter? I certainly have and have doggedly gone on trying to finish the damn thing, even though I can predict that the ending will certainly not be any better than the beginning…

There are books that we open and find hard to put down once we start reading the first few paragraphs. Some books are like long deep draughts of water down a parched throat. Some books light our way like a burning brand in the middle of the night. Others provide nutrition for our souls, our heart, our emotions. But there are also books that we carry on our backs like a heavy load, like a millstone around our neck. The latter kind of book we sometimes read out of obligation, at other times because it comes highly recommended, or maybe it is one that we read to fulfil some requirement of our education. In other cases it is because we may have bought it or borrowed it from the library and we feel that it would be a “waste” not to read it…

Well, if you have found yourselves in this situation, rejoice! A certain French author by the name of Daniel Pennac has come to our rescue! He has formulated a “Readers’ Bill of Rights”, which will save us precious time, reduce guilt and safeguard our choice to seek alternative reading matter that will be far more enjoyable! So form now on, if you find your attention slipping from reading that boring book, if you start yawning or napping instead of turning pages, if you read and re-read the same sentence over and over, remember your rights:

Daniel Pennac’s Reader’s Bill of Rights

1. The right to not read
2. The right to skip pages
3. The right to not finish
4. The right to reread
5. The right to read anything
6. The right to escapism
7. The right to read anywhere
8. The right to browse
9. The right to read out loud
10. The right to not defend your tastes

Happy reading!


“The magic of first love is our ignorance that it can ever end.” - Benjamin Disraeli

I had a day trip to Brisbane today, so it was an early morning start and then after a full day of meetings and tying up of some loose ends, it was an evening flight back home. It does take it out of one, going up and down on the same day, but at least one is able to sleep in one’s own bed again. The weather in Brisbane was fine and sunny reaching a very pleasant top of 23˚C. The subtropical winter of Brisbane is very mild and explains why many retirees choose to live in the North.

At the weekend we watched a pleasant 2005 Italian comedy directed by Giovanni Veronesi, “Manual of Love”. This is no Oscar-winning movie and it has no pretensions of being particularly intellectual or deep. This, I think, is an advantage and explains why it did so well at the box-office in Italy. It trots along at a good pace, has some endearing characters in it and generally the acting is very good. The plot revolves around four interlocked stories, linked together by the theme of love. The four episodes are titled: Falling in Love; The Crisis; The Betrayal; and The Abandonment. They outline four possible scenarios in a love story and while one could take a very cynical view of such a theme, the director handles the stories sensitively and with good humour.

Linking the stories are modest amounts of narrative, where one of the characters is recording CD tracks of “The Manual of Love”, a self-help book which is referred to throughout the four stories. Once again, this narrative device could prove to be intrusive and disruptive to the flow of the plot, but it is done with restraint and complements the action on the screen. The four phases of love depicted are presented as possibilities, rather than inevitabilities and the viewer is left to fill in some the gaps in quite a gratifying way.

This film apparently did not travel well, even though in Italy it was quite a hit. I think it may have disappointed critics who expected deeper meanings, steamier situations and more drama mixed with the comedy. We found it unpretentious and quite enjoyable. It is a film that is light and amusing with some quite memorable scenes. Rather than belly-laughs, it delivers giggles and there are some poignant moments in it also.

Even though I would not recommend that you go out of your way to find it and watch it at any cost, my advice is that if you come across it, then by all means watch it, and enjoy it as the light-weight, bit of fluff it is. It is of course in Italian with English subtitles, which can put some English speakers off, but we are quite used to subtitles and don’t mind them at all (in fact, we even have them on with some English language films as often the diction and sound recording aren’t the best! Subtitle options are another of the advantages of DVDs).

Sunday 26 July 2009


“We say that the hour of death cannot be forecast, but when we say this we imagine that hour as placed in an obscure and distant future. It never occurs to us that it has any connection with the day already begun or that death could arrive this same afternoon, this afternoon which is so certain and which has every hour filled in advance.” - Marcel Proust

For Art Sunday today, Mary Evelyn De Morgan, née Pickering, who was a late-Victorian artist living and working in a period marked by enormous changes. Born mid-century in an England ruled over by Queen Victoria, she lived to see a series of changes climaxing in 1914 with the collapse of established world order. It was amidst this atmosphere of increasing uncertainty and anxiety that De Morgan came to maturity and developed her personal and artistic philosophies. Throughout her career as a painter, she used literary allusion and allegory to express her strongly held views on contemporary spiritual, social and moral issues.

She was born in London the daughter of upper-middle class parents and the niece of Rodhamn Spencer-Stanhope. She joined the ranks of the later Pre-Raphaelites who took their inspiration from the more romantic paintings of Rossetti and Burne-Jones. Her early ambition to paint was discouraged by her parents but later she was permitted to become a student at the Slade School and in due course to study in Italy, in Rome and in Florence. As a young woman she exhibited Ariadne in Naxos at the first Exhibition of the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877.

Her mature style, which is distinguished by a precision of detail and a fondness for mythological subjects, was derived in part from her first artistic mentor, Roddam Spencer- Stanhope, with whom she frequently painted and visited with following his permanent departure for Tuscany in 1880. She was also much influenced by Edward Burne-Jones who was a close friend of hers. Her painting was admired by a circle of fellow-artists. Evelyn Pickering married the potter William De Morgan in 1887 and lived with him in London until his death in 1917. She died two years later.

The painting above is “Earthbound” of 1897. It belongs to the suite of allegorical subjects and with typical Victorian, heavy-handed, moralistic imagery the message is clear “you can’t take it with you, no matter who you are…” The freed spirit flying upwards into the light of the upper right is not encumbered with riches or high position. The king clinging to his riches is earthbound and does not respond easily to the call of the angel of death. Nevertheless, once his time is nigh, no matter how tightly he grasps his gold, it will not save him, but perhaps it may drag him downward to the depths of Tartarus rather than upward into the heavens.