Saturday 19 December 2009


“Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.” - German Proverb

The closer we get to Christmas the more frenetic the pace and the more things to do. People, cars, congestion, traffic, no parking, frayed tempers, and the endless shopping…

For Song Saturday, a classic song by Arleta, a Greek songstress and composer. She started singing in the 1960s, coming to prominence with a group of singers that identified themselves as the “New Wave”. Here is one of her songs, “The Wolf”.

The Wolf - Arleta

It’s twelve o’clock
It’s the time of madmen;
I’ll meet you somewhere
I’ll find you some place…

In their cells, people
Sleep lightly, leaving
The empty streets
Free for playing chasey.

It’s midnight
It’s the time of madmen;
If you hear hoarse laughter,
Draw the blind closed.

Wolf, O, my good wolf
Are you here, Mr Wolf?
I am coming out of my lair
And I follow you.

Wolf, O, my good wolf
Are you here, Mr Wolf?
You’re my only hope.
And I follow you!

My beautiful little lamb,
What are you doing in the street?
We’re all tangled up
In its own rules.

The stars grow teeth,
Claws are sprouting on the street,
While the mad night
Plays cops and robbers.

When darkness falls,
The wolf roams the square,
Of the lost city
Searching for his prey.

All the little lambs locked up,
The key is made of sugar.
Some lonely park benches,
Bushes and silence.

Wolf, O, my good wolf
Are you there, Mr Wolf?
It’s your wild side
That moves me…

It’s midnight
It’s the time of madmen;
When darkness blooms.
It’s twelve o’ clock,
It’s the time of madmen;
I’ll meet you somewhere
I’ll find you some place…

Αρλέτα - Ο Λύκος

Είναι δώδεκα η ώρα
Είν' η ώρα των τρελών
Κάπου θα σε συναντήσω
Κάπου θα σε βρω

Στα κελιά τους οι ανθρώποι
ύπνο κάνουν ελαφρό
Ειν΄ ελεύθεροι οι δρόμοι
για κυνηγητό

Είναι δώδεκα η ώρα
Είν' ώρα των τρελών
βραχνό γέλιο αν ακούσεις
κλείσε το ρολό

Λύκε -λύκε μου καλέ μου
Λύκε -λύκε μου είσ' εδώ
Βγαίνω από τη φωλιά μου
και σε κυνηγώ

Λύκε -λύκε μου καλέ μου
Λύκε -λύκε μου είσ' εδώ
Είσαι η μόνη μου ελπίδα
Και σ' ακολουθώ

Όμορφο μου προβατάκι
Τι γυρεύεις μες το δρόμο
Είμαστε' όλοι μπερδεμένοι
Στο δικό του νόμο

Δόντια βγάζουνε τα αστέρια
Νύχια φύτρωσαν στους δρόμους
Ξέφρενη η νύχτα παίζει
κλέφτες κι αστυνόμους

Όταν πέφτει το σκοτάδι
Βγαίνει ο λύκος στην πλατεία
Στη χαμένη πολιτεία
Και ζητά τροφή

Κλειδωμένα είναι τα αρνάκια
Ζαχαρένιο το κλειδί
Κάτι απόμερα παγκάκια
Θάμνοι και σιωπή

Λύκε -- λύκε μου καλέ μου
Λύκε- λύκε είσαι εκεί
Είν η άγρια πλευρά σου
που με συγκινεί.

Thursday 17 December 2009


“No party is any fun unless seasoned with folly.” - Desiderius Erasmus

Today was my last day at work before the Christmas/New Year holidays. I shall be having a little break and try to relax, as this year has been long and hard. Back to work on the 4th of January. The day was quite pleasant as for morning tea we had our Kris Kringle. We all drew lots to choose the person we had to get a gift for and the rules stated that (a) we did not spend more than $10 on the gift; (b) we remained anonymous and; (c) the gift started with the same letter that name of the person started with. I drew the name of a very nice part-time lecturer whose name started with “T”. The choice was simple: A personal tea set (a tea mug, a tea infuser and a bag of tea) – very good deal for $9.99!

Then I had to rush through quite a great deal of work, had a couple of meetings, answered ten million emails, discussed a few issues with staff, went through some urgent matters with my PA and all in time for a Christmas party at the Alfred Hospital. I am involved in a research project there at the cardiothoracic surgery unit and they had a function in one of the newly opened restaurants in Prahran (The Terrace Bistro and Bar). This was a good ending to the year as the group was small and the atmosphere very relaxed. We had a few drinks, some very nice tapas and a very leisurely conversation. A surprise was meeting one of my students from a few years back who came back form private practice to do a research PhD at the Hospital. She was very happy to see me and was still very complimentary of my lectures in pathology when she was a student. This was rather touching and brought some fond memories for me…

I’ll try and do as little to do with work as possible during the break and hopefully I’ll be able to spend some time at home, do things that please me, maybe we’ll go on a road trip after Christmas…

Now seeing it’s Food Friday, I’ll talk a little about food. Those of you that read my blog, know that at weekends we like to sit and watch a movie sometime during the weekend. If it s around lunchtime, we usually lunch on a big bowl of home-made popcorn. We dislike the instant microwave variety and pop our own in a popcorn maker and season it in a special way. The secret of the taste is the mixture of herbs and spices we use to flavour it. Here is the secret: Take a large clean plastic bag and put in it salt, pepper, curry powder, a variety of dried herbs, mustard powder, ground dried ginger, paprika, etc (whatever herb or spice you fancy). Then put into the bag your popped corn. Twist the bag closed and shake the pop corn well. Add about half a cup of olive oil into the bag and after twisting closed again, shake the bag well so that the pop corn is well-coated with the herbs, spices and oil. Put into a bowl and if desired reheat in a microwave for a minute. Enjoy!

Have a good weekend!

Wednesday 16 December 2009


“Man is a creature who lives not upon bread alone, but primarily by catchwords.” - Robert Louis Stevenson

I am reading a book by Tony Thorne at the moment called: “Shoot the Puppy”, with the subtitle: “A Survival Guide to the Curious Jargon of Modern Life”. It was first published by Penguin in 2006 and is still available. The title and subtitle say it all, and it is an amusing book that attempts to navigate the unwary reader through the “ever-growing heap of bizarre (sometimes downright silly) contemporary jargon from around the English-speaking world and explains where it comes from, who uses it and what it really means.”

In its most positive sense, “jargon”, is a type of professional, efficient shorthand. The word “jargon” can be traced to 14th century Old French, but the actual origin is unknown. “Jargon” is perhaps derived from the 14th century term for “twittering or warbling of birds,” which in turn has the root ‘garg’ from which also stem such words as “gargle,” and “gurgle.” The original meaning was “to make a twittering noise or sound, but by modern standards, it has three uses. One current or modern definition of jargon is “an outlandish, technical language of a particular profession, group, or trade.” Another meaning is “unintelligible writing or talk.” Yet another definition is “specific dialects resulting from a mixture of several languages.” Since the recurring problem with jargon is that only a few people may understand the actual terminology used by different groups, this may explain its origin from “twittering” which, of course, would be misunderstood by most people. However, a “jargonaut”, one who studies jargon, may claim that jargon was invented simply as a professional shorthand, developed out of convenience rather than intentional trickiness.

“Slang”, a word often confused with “jargon” is defined as “an informal vocabulary composed of invented words, arbitrarily changed words, or extravagant figures of speech.” Slang is a compilation of words that have been labelled as “unruly, unrefined, and illogical.” The word “Slang” derived, according to most etymologists, obscurely. The general consensus it that it is related to the standard word “sling” as used in archaic expressions such as “to sling one’s jaw,” meaning to “speak rowdily or insultingly.” Others believe it to be a derivation from the French word for language, “langue.” Quite often, the slang of specific groups (eg. of the underworld) may have been invented or elaborated upon so as to obscure meaning, except to the initiated.

Here are examples of jargon versus slang to describe a “black eye”:
Medical jargon: Unilateral periorbital haematoma;
Slang: A “shiner”.

Now back to the book: What does “to shoot the puppy” mean? Well, I’ll let the author explain in his own words in this extract from the book:

shoot the puppy
meaning: to dare to do the unthinkable

Desperate measures are needed: “There's nothing else for it, we're going to have to shoot the puppy!” This latest bizword was nominated by correspondent David Murray, who described the context in which the phrase is used: “Only the true leader has the strength to challenge ideas which are emotionally sensitive… and do what nobody else has the heart to do.” So shooting the puppy is all about ultra-macho decision-making, several steps beyond “grasping the nettle” or “biting the bullet”. In a corporate climate where down-sizing has become capsizing (“capping” staff numbers until there’s no one left to steer the ship) and right-sizing has given way to downclosing, the idea is often invoked negatively: “I’m not going to be the one to shoot the puppy; we’d better hire in a consultant to recommend the restructuring.”

Of course the phrase has overtones of irony, satirizing the ruthlessness with which business decisions have to be made, but it started out as a satire on another institution; the American television game show. Back in the early 1980s US television producer Chuck Barns used to muse about how far the public would be prepared to go if tempted by greed or fame. He fantasized the ultimate television entertainment in which an audience would be presented with a small child holding a puppy and be offered money to shoot the animal live on air. The host would gradually reduce the amount of cash on offer to see who would do it just to appear on television. Barris, incidentally, may have been inspired by an even earlier magazine cover for National Lampoon, in which a pistol is held to a puppy's head with the caption, “Buy this magazine or die dog gets it.” Maybe Barris’s black satire doesn’t any longer seem so far-fetched, and in a virtual way it has come true. There’s now a video game from called “Just Shoot the Thing!” which allows you to take out your frustrations by scanning in your own targets - boss, client, product, etc. - which can then be shot at.

An alternative version of our phrase, shoot the dog, was used by singer George Michael as the title of a widely banned anti-Iraq War single attacking George W Bush and Tony Blair. Michael was probably alluding also to Wag the Dog (the movie satirizing war-mongering politicians) and to one of my other favourite clichés, "Don't shoot the messenger."


“Summer has set in with its usual severity.” - Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The sun beat down in the city today and the predicted temperature maximum of 39˚C was reached by early afternoon. This very hot day came out of the blue, but thankfully tomorrow we are going back to a more manageable 25˚C maximum after a cool change that will come through overnight. Most people weren’t coping too well in the heat, but when I went out the sun felt quite pleasant and I was luxuriating in the summer’s fervid embrace.

The Summer’s Breath

The sun beats down melting the asphalt
The heat haze rising in shape-shifting undulations.
The crowd uneasy, ratty, dazed, scurries short-temperedly,
Looking for shade and cooling draughts, repose.

The city suffocates and breathless, dries up, languishes,
The buildings seemingly turning to wax, melting;
The cars inch along, like portable broiling ovens,
Roasting their occupants that sit basting in sweat.

The Summer’s breath like a dragon’s fiery exhalation;
The sun lashes down, scorching naked flesh.
The air, now still, now twisting in a windy down-draught,
Sears, burns and turns green blades of grass to dried hay.

My heart burns too, and mirrors summer sun,
My skin so cool, in some weird example of relativity;
My lips, though dry and parched, seek cooling kiss,
That will like ice, refresh, relieve, revive.

I take the early train and seek chilled recourse
In lover’s ardent embrace that annuls the heat outside.

Jacqui BB hosts Poetry Wednesday. Visit her blog for more poems...

Tuesday 15 December 2009


“Do not value money for any more nor any less than its worth; it is a good servant but a bad master.” - Alexandre Dumas fils

For today’s blog I am climbing on my soapbox. This will be a rant, and you are warned to stop reading now as I will be raving on about one of my pet hates: Banks and bankers! Unless you are a banker or have hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in bank stocks, I think you may have some gripes that are similar to mine… If this is the case, read on. If you are a banker or an investor, this is not the blog for you, go away!

How often have you gone to a bank and several minutes later after negotiating some transaction you feel your blood pressure rising and the arteries in your brow pulsating? How often have you gone from teller, to customer service officer, to the Section Head and finally to Branch Manager, getting more and more upset after each encounter? How often is it that you have to maintain a point of view (perfectly reasonable and logical) only to have to be forced to abandon because it “doesn’t adhere to bank policy”? And how often is it that you go in to have those cryptic “bank charges” that appear on your account statement deciphered? As far as interest goes, let’s not go there - banks have highway robbery down to a fine art (and it’s all legal).

Bankers are good at making money for themselves and sometimes for their banks (and shareholders), but they are a social liability. A new study published by The New Economics Foundation in the UK has found that bankers are a drain on society. In fact, it estimated that for every $1 a banker creates in terms of value to society, he effectively takes $7 from society -from us! The study rated jobs on how much they help or hinder society through the social, economic and environmental effects of their work. Using these criteria, the study concludes that the view of “bankers creating wealth that eventually trickles down to others” is no longer correct.

Instead, the study says, the actions of high-earning investment bankers had damaging social effects. It was mainly through the actions of these bankers that the global financial system was brought to the brink of collapse, causing jobs to be lost and increasing public debt. The report says that advertising executives and tax accountants also destroy more of society’s wealth as they go about creating their own. They are not only all overpaid, but they are overpaid at the expense of others. The “others” being you and me!

In contrast, lowly-paid workers such as hospital cleaners, waste recyclers and childcare workers are far more valuable. Childcare workers, for example, free up potential wealth for society by helping parents to keep on working generating about $9.50 for every $1 they are paid. Waste recycling workers who promote recycling, reducing carbon emissions and goods being thrown into landfill, generate about $12 for every $1 they earn. Is it a surprise that the Foundation recommended that there needed to be a “fundamental rethink of pay scales”?

Last week there was a tremendous public outcry when Westpac, one of our “successful” banks launched the infamous “banana” advertising campaign to justify its increase of bank charge and interest rates. The bank was embarrassed to the nth degree as the ill-fated advertisement received damning reviews and immense customer backlash:

The patronising tone, the ill-used analogy, the thinly-veiled sarcasm as greed was camouflaged as magnanimous social care are all truly sickening. The bank raised its rates to keep the bankers living in the style they are accustomed to. Pure and simple, no bananas enter the equation at all.

That’s it, rant over, getting down from my soapbox!

Sunday 13 December 2009


“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” - Elizabeth Stone

Yesterday we went for a drive as it was Sunday and we wanted to get out of the house. The weather has been rather cool and wet (which we have been appreciating, don’t get me wrong!), but it has been forcing us indoors more than the season would merit. In any case, the outing was quite a disappointment as the shops looked rather dowdy, the people rushing hither and thither like headless chickens and the atmosphere of Christmas-motivated consumerism quite depressing. Even the decorations were more tinselly than usual and the piped Christmas music a token gesture.

We came back home and sat down to see a movie. It proved to be a good one, which I had heard about but had never actually seen. It was Clint Eastwood’s 1993 “A Perfect World”. It was once again a harrowing movie, but one with a great deal of feeling and one which stays in one’s mind. Clint Eastwood has mellowed in his middle years and old age into an excellent director and in this film where he both directs and acts he does an excellent job.

The plot concerns two prison escapees who barely tolerate one another and want to stick together just enough so as to as to get away from the prison. After escaping, they kidnap a little boy from a single mother who is a Jehovah’s Witness and has three young children to raise. The film has less violence and blood than one would expect from such an outline, but because the violence is sparingly used, it jars one’s sensibilities even more. Butch, played very well by Kevin Kostner, is not a “good guy”, but he is not the worst man either, as he himself says. The boy Phillip (played by TJ Lowther), has been brought up to follow their family’s religion, which forbids him to celebrate Halloween, Christmas, participating in parties, and pretty much any fun common for children of his age. A relationship develops between Butch and Phillip, Phillip seeing in Butch the father he needs, while Butch sees in Phillip himself as a youngster and the son he has never had.

Clint Eastwood plays relatively minor role (Chief Red Garnett - a Texas Ranger who's in charge of Butch’s capture). Laura Dern plays Sally Gerber, a criminologist the Governor forces upon Red has a supporting role, highlighting the male chauvinist attitudes of 1960s Texas. Their function in the script is like a Greek chorus, supplying further information about Butch’s past and commenting on the action. They both do a good job, but the film belongs to Costner, easily one the best roles of his career.

The direction and character development are fantastic, and once again the viewer is led into having ambivalent feelings towards the anti-hero – Butch. One ht one hand, his past with the two murders he has committed repels us, his kidnapping of the boy and his encouragement of the boy to break the law is hardly an attractive part of his character, but one cannot help but feel a warming sympathy towards, especially as we learn more about his background.

The film which is over two hours long doesn’t pall at all and it maintains a good pace, with an easy unfolding of the story, each scene revealing a little more about the complex relationships that are inherent in the plot. The ending of the movie is one of the most tense and sad ones I have seen for a little while and the actors are all excellent in what must have been a particularly taxing one, emotionally. John Lee Hancock, who wrote the script has done a fine job and he is no novice, having several other films in his oeuvre, as writer, director and producer.

See this film, it’s a good one. I’d like your opinion of it if you have seen it.


“Great art picks up where nature ends.” - Marc Chagall

For Art Sunday today, Marc Chagall (1887-1985).  He was born in Vitebsk, Byelorussia to a poor Hassidic family. The eldest of nine children, he studied first in a heder before moving to a secular Russian school, where he began to display his artistic talent. With his mother's support, and despite his father's disapproval, Chagall pursued his interest in art, going to St. Petersburg in 1907 to study art with Leon Bakst. Influenced by contemporary Russian painting, Chagall's distinctive, child-like style, often centring on images from his childhood, began to emerge.

From 1910 to 1914, Chagall lived in Paris, and there absorbed the works of the leading cubist, surrealist, and fauvist painters. It was during this period that Chagall painted some of his most famous paintings of the Jewish shtetl or village, and developed the features that became recognizable trademarks of his art. Strong, and often bright, colours portray the world with a dreamlike, non-realistic simplicity, and the fusion of fantasy, religion, and nostalgia infuses his work with a joyous quality. Animals, workmen, lovers, and musicians populate his figures; the “fiddler on the roof” recurs frequently, often hovering within another scene. Chagall's work of this period displays the influence of contemporary French painting, but his style remains independent of any one school of art. He exhibited regularly in the Salon des Independants.

In 1914, before the outbreak of World War I, Chagall held a one-man show in Berlin, exhibiting work dominated by Jewish images and personages. During the war, he resided in Russia, and in 1917, endorsing the revolution, he was appointed Commissar for Fine Arts in Vitebsk and then director of the newly established Free Academy of Art. The Bolshevik authorities, however, frowned upon Chagall's style of art as too modern, and in 1922, Chagall left Russia, settling in France one year later. He lived there permanently except for the years 1941—1948 when, fleeing France during World War II, he resided in the United States. Chagall's horror over the Nazi rise to power is expressed in works depicting Jewish martyrs and Jewish refugees.

In addition to images of the Hassidic world, Chagall's paintings are inspired by themes from the Bible. His fascination with the Bible culminated in a series of over 100 etchings illustrating the Bible, many of which incorporate elements from Jewish folklore and from religious life in Vitebsk. Chagall's other illustrations include works by Gogol, La Fontaine, Y. L. Peretz, and his autobiographical Ma Vie (1931; My Life 1960) and Chagall by Chagall (1979).

Chagall painted with a variety of media, such as oils, water colours, and gouaches. His work also expanded to other forms of art, including ceramics, mosaics, and stained glass. Among his most famous building decorations are the ceiling of the Opera House in Paris, murals at the New York Metropolitan Opera, a glass window at the United Nations, and decorations at the Vatican. Israel, which Chagall first visited in 1931 for the opening of the Tel Aviv Art Museum, is likewise endowed with some of Chagall's work, most notably the twelve stained glass windows at Hadassah Hospital and wall decorations at the Knesset.

Chagall received many prizes and much recognition for his work. He was also one of very few artists to exhibit work at the Louvre in their lifetime.

In 1963 Chagall was commissioned to paint the new ceiling for the Paris Opera (illustrated above), a majestic 19th-century building and national monument. André Malraux, France's Minister of Culture wanted something unique and decided Chagall would be the ideal artist. However, this choice of artist led to controversy: some objected to having a Russian Jew decorate a French national monument; others took exception to the ceiling of the historic building being painted by a modern artist. Some magazines wrote condescending articles about Chagall and Malraux.