Saturday 31 October 2009


“There are times when fear is good. It must keep its watchful place at the heart's controls.” – Aeschylus

It’s Halloween tonight and quite fittingly in Melbourne we have had an electrical storm with lots of lightning and thunder and finally rain. The sky is clearing now and the almost full moon is peeking out through the clouds now and then. It’s time for the ghoulies and ghosties to come out…

Here is a poem I wrote last year for the occasion:


It’s a dark, scary night
Halloween is tonight –
All the ghoulies are out
All the ghosties about…

With a crick and a crack
And a tap on my back
I’m trembling and shaking,
A-fearing and quaking.

It’s a night of the fey
Take care not to stray,
All the witches do sport
All the fiends do cavort.

With a quick step I tread
With a bat on my head:
It’s shrieking and squeaking
And victims is seeking.

It’s the dark, stormy night
Of the hag and the sprite –
All the zombies parade,
All the children afraid.

With a shudder and shake
Until dawn wide awake,
I’m quietly abiding
In the dark hiding.

It’s the night full of screams
And of horrible dreams –
All the spectres take flight
All the banshees delight.

With a sob and a sigh
With a throb and a cry,
I’m shuddering, shivering
Queasily quivering
It’s Halloween!

And quite aptly, here is something Monsieur St Saëns composed for tonight:

Friday 30 October 2009


“We are all dietetic sinners; only a small percent of what we eat nourishes us; the balance goes to waste and loss of energy.” - William Osler

OK, you’ve been reading my Food Friday blog and you know that often I talk about healthful food and what constitutes a good diet. It is indisputable that what we eat, how much of it we eat and when we eat it influences our health. An old proverb says: “Whosoever was the father of a disease, an ill diet was the mother” and it is certainly true. Gurpareet Bains, a UK nutritionist and chef, claims he has cooked up the “world’s healthiest meal”. It harks back to his Indian heritage and it is a chicken curry that is packed with the goodness of “superfoods”. A “superfood” is one that is full of goodness, in terms of healthful ingredients, anti-cancer components, antioxidants, vitamins, trace elements, etc.

Bains suggests that his recipe for the ultimate superfood dish, which should be eaten once a week, would stave off cancers, malnutrition, obesity and even Alzheimer’s disease. The dish contains natural antioxidants (preventing cellular damage and ageing), antifungals (against dangerous fungi that produce toxins), antivirals (to counteract infections with viruses like the common cold, flu, gastroenteritis viruses), antibacterials (to fight bacteria like salmonella), analgesics (to combat pain) and antineoplastic agents (to prevent cancer). The dish is packed with Indian spices, known to have superfood properties. Add to that blueberries and goji berries, yoghurt and garlic, onions, carrot and ginger and there is your superfood. In fact, Bains’ catch phrase is: “Superfoods + Superspices = Indian Superfood”.

In addition to all the good nutritive properties and healthful effects, his superfood recipe is also economical, able to be produced at $5.00 per serving. Now, all that remains is for me to reveal to you the recipe, with Gurpareet Bains’ blessing:

Chicken Curry with Blueberries and Goji Berry Pilau
Ingredients – Chicken Curry

500 g chicken breast, diced
500 g natural Greek low-fat yoghurt
200 g blueberries
3 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp grated ginger
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
3/4 tsp salt
20 g fresh coriander, chopped

Ingredients – Rice pilau

1 cup Basmati rice
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, sliced
1 grated carrot
50 g goji berries
A handful of peas
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt


• Blend the chopped coriander, blueberries, ginger and salt with the yoghurt and set aside.
• Place the olive oil in a pan and het the garlic until it turns golden brown.
• Add the turmeric, heat for 20 seconds, and add the chilli powder and cinnamon, heating another 20 seconds.
• Stir in the chicken pieces and sear thoroughly, stirring thoroughly. Slowly pour in the yoghurt mixture and simmer for 10 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally.
• Mix in the garam masala and garnish with extra coriander leaves.

• For the pilau, heat the oil and fry the cumin seeds for about 3 minutes or until they “pop”.
• Add the onion until golden brown and then stir in the turmeric, heating for 20 seconds.
• Add the carrot and cook for two minutes.
• Place this onion mixture, rice salt and 1 and 3/4 cups of boiling water in a microwaveable bowl and mix with a fork.
• Microwave for 4 minutes, mix and heat for a further 4 minutes.
• Stir again, cover and cook for another 4 minutes.
• Add the goji berries, peas and let stand covered for 10 minutes.
• Fluff with a fork and serve with the curry.

Bains’ Indian Superfood recipe book is due to be published by Absolute Press, March 2010.

Thursday 29 October 2009


“Talking is like playing on the harp; there is as much in laying the hands on the strings to stop their vibration as in twanging them to bring out their music.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes

Where would be in today’s world without social networking on the internet? It has become a part of most people lives and has created some wonderful opportunities to connect with people in distant places whom otherwise you may never have known existed. I remember when I was a child I used to have a penfriend for a little while. While it lasted it was a good experience, but how difficult it was to maintain that type of relationship when one relied on snailmail to communicate! Also, being forced to do it in a language that was not my own (English) while I was learning it, made it all the more difficult. Nevertheless, I think it sowed the seeds of my future social networking and my blogging…

The choice of social networking platforms nowadays is an embarrassment of riches. It seems that everywhere one turns on the net one is able to find a platform for connecting with family, friends, neighbours, acquaintances, but also of course, perfect (or imperfect!) strangers. I remember my first attempt at blogging on 23/3/06 on the now defunct Yahoo 360, and I quote this first blog in full:

“My first day of blogging, this being the beginning of a southern autumn and northern spring. According to the Roman Catholic calendar, this is St Niza's feast day while the Greek Orthodox calendar would fete St Nikon and his 199 Students (rather remiss of him not find another one and make it an even 200 students!). Reading at the moment: "Ripe for the Picking" by Annie Hawes. An amusing journal of an Englishwoman's experiences in Liguria, northern Italy. Today is World Meteorology Day, rather fitting for Australia, as we have just had the terrible effects of cyclone Larry to contend with up in northern Queensland and getting ready for the next one - cyclone Wati. This morning I listened to an old favourite of mine, Couperin’s “Les Barricades Mystérieuses”. Very hypnotic music, highly ornamented and forward-moving. A puzzling title especially as the music seems to be so vivacious and has no trace of hesitation as one would imagine from the “barricades” of the title – perhaps thence the mystery!”

A little unsure of myself, wary of putting my thoughts out there on the web in public view for everyone to read and comment on, the blogging experience was an interesting enough one for me to continue with and maintain daily for nearly three-and-a-half years. I have met (virtually) some wonderful people and have been learning so much! I have broadened my mind and have kept in contact with some friends in distant places. Since the days of my first blogging on Yahoo 360, I have experimented with a few other platforms and also maintain a blog at work, which deals with matters related to my job. Yahoo 360 died, and after trying both Multiply and Blogger I chose the latter. It was good to see some of my Yahoo 360 friends join me, but a little sad to lose some others who either gave up blogging or moved to another platform.

Facebook and Twitter became THE places to do one’s social networking for a while, but both of these extremely popular platforms are now becoming shunned by a new breed of internetters, who have become known as “refuseniks”. These people are seen by the Facebookers as a little up themselves and emotionally manipulative, or even snobbish. However, the new breed of social networkers regard Facebook and Twitter as “old hat’ and also much too controlled by “Big Brother”. The unsavoury interference of the Facebook administrators in the membership and content, the leakage of users’ private information, the misuse of the platform, and the sheer pushiness of the thing put me right off straight away. Even though nowadays not having a Facebook page is like not having a mobile phone or email, I must confess that yes, I am not only a Nick, but I am also a Refusenik!

refusenik |riˈfyoōznik| noun
1 A person in the former Soviet Union who was refused permission to emigrate, in particular, a Jew forbidden to emigrate to Israel.
2 A person who refuses to follow orders or obey the law, esp. as a protest.
3 A person who refuses to follow popular trends and buckle under peer pressure.
ORIGIN 1970s: from refuse (Middle English: from Old French refuser, probably an alteration of Latin recusare ‘to refuse,’ influenced by refutare ‘refute.’) + -nik (from Russian (on the pattern of (sput)nik) and Yiddish).

(Incidentally if sheet music isn’t your thing and you would rather hear the Couperin piece referred to above, here it is, courtesy of YouTube).

Jacqui BB is hosting Word Thursday!

Wednesday 28 October 2009


“As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well used brings happy death.” - Leonardo da Vinci

A friend in Europe has been battling cancer for several years now and despite her valiant efforts and the best medical care, she is fast losing the last battle. Her cheerfulness, her optimism, her positivity and selfless sacrifice in the face of a certain death make her a very special human being. Her emails even now, have been full of humour, wry observation and a resignation to death that is only seen in people who know how to live, and have lived a full life. I was devastated when I learnt how little she has to live and if she sees Christmas and the New Year through, she will be doing well.

We chatted on the phone several times in the past couple of weeks and her irrepressible energy and her good humour, that were hallmarks of her winsome personality, unfortunately were somewhat reduced. Peaceful forbearance has replaced her indomitable fortitude, but her courage still shines on strong and unquenchable. We love her very much and we are with her every precious day that is left to her. Her family and friends are there nearby to support her and spend these last few weeks with her.

This poem I wrote for you, Jean…

The Last Autumn

Autumn comes to me for the last time
With only Winter to look forward to, now;
No more the blush of Springs,
Nor the Summers’ laughter.

The flowers, singing birds, blue skies,
Are now only a souvenir,
Preserved in the watercolours
Of the painting on my wall.

Love peters out, flesh withers,
My graying hair, no longer dyed.
And you beside me, remind me
Of the golden days gone by.

Winter ahead, rain in my eyes,
Snow in my hair, cold in my heart.
My fingers bare twigs, clutch at
Fleeting memories of healthy youth.

Jacqui BB hosts Poetry Wednesday...

Tuesday 27 October 2009


“When I say that terrorism is war against civilisation, I may be met by the objection that terrorists are often idealists pursuing worthy ultimate aims - national or regional independence, and so forth. I do not accept this argument. I cannot agree that a terrorist can ever be an idealist, or that the objects sought can ever justify terrorism. The impact of terrorism, not merely on individual nations, but on humanity as a whole, is intrinsically evil, necessarily evil and wholly evil.” – Benjamin Netanyahu

The death toll in Sunday's twin suicide bombing in Baghdad has risen to 155, making these attacks the deadliest in the country in the past two years. According to Iraq’s Ministry of the Interior, those killed in the bombings included 24 children who were on a bus leaving a daycare centre. About 540 people were also wounded in Sunday’s attacks, which took place almost simultaneously on Sunday morning near the heavily-fortified Green Zone, Baghdad's administrative centre. Once again the outcry within Iraq and also internationally, has been heard around the world, with condemnation of the attacks being almost universal.

Imagine putting your daughter in a school bus in the morning and sending her off to the daycare centre. Imagine the thoughts that go through your mind when you hear that there has been a bombing near the school your child attends. Imagine the heart-rending news relayed to you that, yes, one of the 24 of the children killed was yours. What political or ideological reason will appease the devastation that such a parent feels before this situation?

Imagine the young wife waiting for her husband to come back from work at the Ministry of Justice. The table is set, a celebration is planned. She has wonderful news to tell him – she is pregnant! Instead of him returning home she receives the news he has been killed in the bombing. What religious or revolutionary justification will assuage her loss? How can she not hate the perpertrators, even if before this she was sympathetic to their cause?

Imagine your mother, your brother, your aunt, or your cousin walking peacefully on the sidewalk outside the building of the bombing. All they carry is a shopping bag full of fresh fruit and vegetables, happy that they had got a bargain at the market. Their last thoughts are with their family before they are annihilated by the blast. As their surviving relative, what explanation would satisfy you that they had to die, as innocent victims of an attack that they did not even understand?

And imagine yourself as a survivor of the bomb blast. To have lost a limb, or to have been blinded, or made deaf, or to be completely incapacitated henceforth and be completely reliant on other people for even your most basic needs. What can the doers of such terrible deeds tell you to satisfy your injuries? How can they justify such actions against a human being and a compatriot?

Terrorism by its very nature strikes at the weakest and most unprotected. It is a cowardly act of blackmailers and monsters not bound by any sense of honour or morals. The Al-Qaeda has been blamed for these bombings, as have the supporters of former President Saddam Hussein. Whoever was responsible, it is quite likely that they were Iraqis. Iraqis that chose to cold-bloodedly murder their own people in a struggle of power. A senseless battle for supremacy in order to subjugate their fellows and enforce upon them a religious sect that is loathsome to them, to control their thoughts, their behaviour, their actions. This is not how stable states develop. This is not how leaders make their people love them. This is not how the international community respects and affords your country all the courtesies of a fellow sovereign state.

This is not the end of the bombings. Unfortunately, many more will follow. The withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq will ensure that the power vacuum will need to be filled. As with any struggle for power, there will be victims. More and more of them.

Monday 26 October 2009


“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life's realities.” - Theodore Geisel

At the weekend we managed to see a movie in between all sorts of goings-on, not the least of which was re-landscaping the front nature strip. We took out all of the dying and weedy lawn and after quite a considerable effort of digging, cultivating, breaking the clayey clods, managed to get it level and all dug up, ready for planting a feature ground cover of Mondo grass. This will have the combined benefits of not needing mowing, not much watering at all, and looking quite good. I can hardly move today, though, every muscle in my body seems to ache! But it was worth it and I am sure it will look stunning!

The movie we saw was “The Chronicles of Narnia – Prince Caspian”, the second movie in the series, directed by Andrew Adamson and made in 2008. The Narnia series of books by C.S. Lewis were a favourite of mine when I was a child and I have re-read them in adulthood (mindful during the second reading of the Christian undertones, which were lost to me during my childhood reading). The books remain, deservedly, a set of classic children’s novels and the present series of movies is a wonderful adaptation of the novels. The first in the series “The Chronicles of Narnia – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” was very well done, and I think this second instalment was also extremely well adapted to the film medium. The Fox studios have now rescued plans for the third instalment in the series: “Voyage Of The Dawn Treader”, which will be released in about a year’s time. All of these films of course need to be shot fairly promptly one after the other as the same child actors need be used to preserve continuity.

One of the most stunning aspects of this film is the location that was used to set the action during the first half hour. As the children are transported from war-torn London to the paradisiacal setting of Narnia, the ruins of Cair Paravel looking out onto the sea provide the director with opportunity to set the scene at Cathedral Cove, Hahei, Coromandel, New Zealand. This is a spectacular, unspoilt location of great beauty that truly transports one to another world – perfect for the fairy tale land of Narnia. Other scenic spots abound in the movie and as well as New Zealand, Slovakia and the Czech Republic feature.

I seem to be assuming that everyone knows the story, or that everyone has read the books. But for those who haven’t, the books relate to a magical parallel universe, where in a land called Narnia, a godlike lion (Aslan) rules with fairness and love, while mortals ordinary and extraordinary (including all sorts of mythological creatures like fauns, centaurs, minotaurs, taking animals, dwarfs, etc) live exciting adventure-filled lives. A group of four English siblings, the Pevensie children are drawn into Narnia to help the locals resolve some of the strife they get into.

The children play well, just as they did in the first film and Caspian (Ben Barnes), whom I initially disliked, as the film progressed I warmed up to. The special effects are quite spectacular and the creatures (talking animals, centaurs, fauns, Minotaurs, walking trees, etc) very well done. The romance between Caspian and Susan was an introduced innovation for the film as there was no hint of it in the book and doesn’t really work, but one realises that yes, the ages are such that hormones must be raging and the eyes do wander… I disliked the song at the end of the movie – quite inappropriate and obviously put there for an extra bit of revenue raising (marketing and franchising and merchandising is worth billions nowadays, isn’t it?).

Overall we enjoyed the film. There was fantasy and emotion, a moral, humour and beauty. Well worth seeing it, if you haven’t but even more so, well worth reading the set of seven books that make up the series.

Sunday 25 October 2009


“A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.” - Albert Camus

Art Sunday today hosts a French painter of the 17th century, Eustache Le Sueur (1617-1655). He was a painter known for his religious pictures in the style of the French classical Baroque. Le Sueur was one of the founders and first professors of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. Le Sueur studied under the painter Simon Vouet and was admitted at an early age into the guild of master painters. Some paintings reproduced in tapestry brought him notice, and his reputation was further enhanced by a series of decorations for the Hôtel Lambert that he left uncompleted. He painted many pictures for churches and convents, among the most important being “St. Paul Preaching at Ephesus” (now in the Louvre), and his famous series of 22 paintings of the “Life of St. Bruno”, executed in the cloister of the Chartreux. Le Sueur was stylistically dominated by the art of Nicolas Poussin, Raphael, and Vouet. He had a graceful facility in drawing and was always restrained in composition by a fastidious taste.

Most of Le Sueur’s works have been engraved, and this is because his work lent itself readily to the engraver’s art, for he was a good draughtsman. He had a truly delicate perception of varied shades of grave and elevated sentiment, and possessed the power to render them. His graceful facility in composition was always restrained by a very fine taste, but his works often fail to please completely, because, producing so much, he had too frequent recourse to conventional types, and partly because he rarely saw colour except with the cold quality proper to the school of Vouet.

He was long considered the 'French Raphael' and the equal of Nicolas Poussin and Charles Le Brun. His reputation reached its zenith in the first half of the 19th century, but since then it has been in decline, largely as a result of the simplified and saccharine image of the man and his art created by Romantic writers and painters. Nevertheless, more recent recognition of the complexity of his art has resulted in a new interest in him and in his place in the evolution of French painting in the 17th century. Despite the almost total absence of signed and dated works, the chronology of Le Sueur's oeuvre can be established with the aid of a few surviving contracts, dated engravings after his paintings and the list of works published by Le Comte in 1700.

The painting above is called “A Gathering of Friends” and was painted between 1640 and 1642. It is an informal picture, of a genre quite uncharacteristic of Le Sueur’s usual mythological or religious paintings. The artist was surely painting a group of his own friends and there is indication in the painting that these are fellow painters, literati, musicians and other artists. The composition is lively and complex and each of the sitters displays quite a lot of his personality through his interaction with the painter (and hence the viewer). The central figure looks at us unflinchingly and with a contemplative air. The well-dressed gentleman on the right draws a drape, seemingly inviting more guests to the gathering. The musician and the man with the dog are absorbed in what they do as are the men with the fruit in the background. The artist on the left looks at us with interest and occupies a position well-suited to a self-portrait. It is one of my favourite Le Sueur paintings.