Saturday 5 June 2010


“I think the environment should be put in the category of our national security. Defense of our resources is just as important as defense abroad. Otherwise what is there to defend?” - Robert Redford

A special piece of music for World Environment Day, which is today. It is Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No 6 in F major, “The Pastoral”, Op. 68. It is one of the most easily accessible of Beethoven’s orchestral works as it follows a program. Beethoven's own full title for the work was “Pastoral Symphony, or Recollections of Country Life”. It was composed in the same time period and dedicated to the same people as the more famous Fifth symphony. However, the two works have many differences. The “Pastoral” is known as a “characteristic” symphony and Beethoven publicly declared the piece’s “extramusical” purpose: It is an expression of nature. His affinity for nature and his love for walks through the country outside Vienna were captured in the Sixth, as well as in the notes scribbled on sketches of the symphony.

Here is the first movement:

Thursday 3 June 2010


“The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.” - John Berger

We are lucky in Australia compared to many places around the world. I am grateful for having a job, a house to live in, food on the table every day, being able to lead an existence that has dignity, comfort and safety. I realise that many people have nothing of these and their very existence is threatened daily. It is an indisputable fact that millions around the world starve, have no clean fresh water to use, the lives of many are threatened, or indeed taken, by warfare or terrorist action. Thinking of this every day can chasten one somewhat and when confronting those few have-nots that we come into contact with in our everyday life, our help becomes spontaneous and genuine. There are several beggars on the streets of the city that I see daily, some professional (you can tell by the designer sneakers and the mobile phones they use), some genuine down-and-outers.

Organisations such as the Salvation Army, the Smith Family, Anglicare and St Vincent De Paul Society are active in Australia and there is never a shortage of people that need help and rely on the resources of these charities in order to survive. It is a given that our problem here in Australia is minimal compared to other parts of the world, but I was shocked to learn that in Melbourne, there are about 400,000 people who do not have food on their table every day and rely on the kindness of charities to provide them with their daily bread…

This is quite a frightening statistic, especially considering that three million tonnes of food are thrown out each year in Australia! That’s 136 kg of food wasted per year, for every person living in Australia! Research by The Australia Institute shows that Australians throw away about $5.2 billion worth of food every year. This includes $1.1 billion of fruit and vegetables. The Institute estimates that the average Australian household throws away $616 worth of food per annum. This is frightening, considering so many people around the world starve to death every year and so many in Australia go hungry every day.

I have become aware of a campaign in Melbourne that attempts to right some of these wrongs and feed the hungry in our city. The Feed Melbourne Campaign is a means of raising funds and receiving food donations. Donations can be received online, but also at any Woolworths supermarket or by phone at (03) 9008 0685. It is a fantastic way of helping those people who are genuinely in need of help and whose tables are bare every day.

Another great initiative for feeding the hungry in Melbourne is Fare Share. This group attempts to limit the wastage of food and reclaim some of the good food that would normally be thrown out. The services that Fare Share provides, is the supply of free, tasty, nutritious meals to the hungry and the homeless using donated food not needed by markets, caterers, and retailers around Melbourne. This charity group does a great deal in order to reduce food wastage and feed the hungry, frequently organising special campaigns, functions and fund-raising drives.

One of the fund-raising events to be held this month is being organised by the m.a.d.woman group, which specialises in campaigns to improve our world. These include corporate social responsibility, public relations, communication, cause-related marketing, events and strategic philanthropic advice. It involves a special dinner where single men donate money in order to attend a dinner on 24th June. m.a.d.woman and Fare Share are hosting the largest Single Volunteers event to date as part of the Feed Melbourne campaign - a campaign to raise $1 million to help charities collect, store and distribute food to Victorians who are doing it tough (see illustration above).

Food Friday today has been about feeding the hungry, which can be found right next to us, even if we live in a rich, industrialised, Western, first world country… We only need to open our eyes and hearts in order to become aware of this problem and help in its solution in every way we can.


“We live longer than our forefathers; but we suffer more from a thousand artificial anxieties and cares. They fatigued only the muscles, we exhaust the finer strength of the nerves.” - Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

Are we going mad collectively? Has our society reached such a level of stress and distress, that we are being driven insane by the massive shocks that assail us every day? Have we lost the ability to cope and are we being driven crazy? The more I listen to the news, the more convinced I become that this is indeed the case with more and more those around us losing touch with the reality that is so traumatic, that they become demented.

The latest news out of one of England’s most beautiful places, the Lake District, is an example of this.  The 52-year-old man, cab driver, who killed 12 people and injured at least 26 others as he drove around for three-and-a-half hours, surely must have snapped! The man is a divorced father of two and was described by shocked friends and family as a quiet, “regular” guy. Yet, this ordinary person purposefully drove around the tranquil countryside of Cumbria and indiscriminately shot people he didn’t know: An elderly shopper whom he beckoned to approach him before shooting her in cold blood; a father of two in his 30s, gunned down as he trimmed a hedge; and a 64-year-old grandfather who unluckily was riding his bike past the cab driver’s taxi.

But it gets worse! The man is believed to have been driven to execute his terrible rampage after he and his twin brother had a bitter row over his mother’s will. He shot his twin brother and then executed a solicitor who had been advising the family. He then went to kill some of his colleagues, taxi drivers with whom he had argued previously. The deadly carnage ended in even more blood as finally the unhinged cabbie shot himself fatally in remote woodland. Police were initially concerned that the man had also killed his mother, but she was found alive and is now being taken of by family.

How much pent-up hatred must have been festering inside this man for so long! How the lure of filthy lucre must have corrupted his logic, drowned any sense of morality, destroyed any sense of love or even sense of duty and respect towards his own family! How I pity the poor mother who now has to deal with the death of her twin sons, but also the knowledge that one had succumbed to fratricide and then to suicide after a bloody spree which killed so many and destroyed so many lives. It would be understandable is she were to go mad herself…

We live in an increasingly toxic society, surrounded by daily occurrences that subject us to countless tensions, engender anxiety, cause endless strain. We are constantly assailed by messages through the mass media that try to convince us that consumerism means happiness and that money can buy everything and everyone. We accumulate anger, frustration, dissatisfaction, disappointment, we bottle up our negativity and discontent. If we fail to develop mechanisms to resist this onslaught, the spring snaps and breaks. We move into an uncontrolled cycle of insanity that may end in violence – against others, against ourselves.

How can we prevent it? Is it possible to prevent it? Of course it is. There are so many people around us who live in the same environment as those who become unhinged and manage to live balanced and contented lives. I mentioned in yesterday’s blog that although I have a demanding job with many challenges, much responsibility and many stressors, I manage to remain free of stress and function well. How do I do it?

Firstly, one must be able to think coolly, control emotions positively and channel one’s energy away from negativity. One must have a sense of the spiritual. There must be creativity and humour in one’s life. People who work hard must learn to relax and play hard as well. Here are some pointers:
  • If you have no control over something, stop trying to alter it, check it or curb it. Rather accept that you cannot change it and move on. This can generate an enormous sense of peace and liberation.
  • Stop and reflect on situations that stress you. Take deep breaths, calm yourself down and remove your thoughts from the situation that is causing you angst. 
  • Meditation and yoga are another step in the right direction and if you can get into these, you will find that serenity will enter your life.
  • Regular exercise can also have a positive de-stressing effect.
  • Take the initiative to have a mental health day. We need a day like that every now and then to restore and renew our mind and soul. Don’t feel guilty, remember this is for your mental health and you are taking care of yourself.
  • Pamper yourself. Take a warm bath. Get a massage!
  • Read a good book that will allow you to enter another world and escape. Relax and let your imagination run riot.
  • Play! With your kids, play with your friends or your partner, but play!! You are never too old.
  • And last, but perhaps most important of all, laugh…

stress |stres| noun
1 pressure or tension exerted on a material object: The distribution of stress is uniform across the bar.
• the degree of this measured in units of force per unit area.
2 a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances: He's obviously under a lot of stress | [in combination] stress-related illnesses.
• something that causes such a state: The stresses and strains of public life.
3 particular emphasis or importance: He has started to lay greater stress on the government's role in industry.
• emphasis given to a particular syllable or word in speech, typically through a combination of relatively greater loudness, higher pitch, and longer duration: Normally, the stress falls on the first syllable.

1 [ reporting verb ] give particular emphasis or importance to (a point, statement, or idea) made in speech or writing : [ trans. ] They stressed the need for reform | [with clause ] She was anxious to stress that her daughter's safety was her only concern | [with direct speech ] “I want it done very, very neatly,” she stressed.
• [ trans. ] give emphasis to (a syllable or word) when pronouncing it.
2 [ trans. ] subject to pressure or tension: This type of workout does stress the shoulder and knee joints.
3 [ trans. ] cause mental or emotional strain or tension in: I avoid many of the things that used to stress me before | [as adj. ] ( stressed) She should see a doctor if she is feeling particularly stressed out.
• [ intrans. ] informal become tense or anxious; worry: Don't stress—there's plenty of time to get a grip on the situation.

stressless adjective
stressor |-ər| noun (in senses 2 and 3 of the verb) .
ORIGIN Middle English (denoting hardship or force exerted on a person for the purpose of compulsion): Shortening of distress , or partly from Old French estresse ‘narrowness, oppression,’ based on Latin strictus ‘drawn tight’.

Tuesday 1 June 2010


“The purpose of life is not to be happy - but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you have lived at all.” - Leo Rosten

I enjoy my work and find that on most days I am challenged, amused, satisfied and I have fun. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the sheer volume of matters that I have to be aware of, deal with, resolve, comment on, initiate, check on, conclude, sign off on, etc. Not so frequently I am irritated, annoyed, perplexed or puzzled. However, I manage to be relaxed and not stress out, but that is not so much because of the nature of the job but because of my own character traits. Some of my colleagues with less responsibility than me manage to be in a state of constant stress. I don’t know how they cope because such a high level of stress can have dire physiological effects, not only negative emotional and psychological ones.

For Poetry Wednesday today, I’d like to give you a famous poem by Rudyard Kipling, which I first read when I was a child, growing up in Greece in translation. I have since enjoyed many times in the original and its simple construction and rich texture always complements well its message.

Rudyard Kipling

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Monday 31 May 2010


“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show.” - Andrew Wyeth

It’s the first day of Winter here in Australia and the weather has been very pleasant. Cool and sunny, but with the good news that our water reservoirs are at 32.7% (592.9 billion litres) full, compared with 26.5% (469.3 billion litres) at the same time last year. We are hoping for more good rains over winter and spring to keep those dams full! I had a very busy day at work today, full of meetings, hundreds of emails, phone calls and letters. At least much was achieved!

As one of my friends celebrated a birthday today (another crazy Gemini!), this is dedicated to all people celebrating a birthday today. And you are in good company with some of the other birthday boys and girls on this day:
  • Henry Francis Lyte, hymn writer (1793);
  • Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot, physicist (1796);
  • Brigham Young, Mormon prophet (1801);
  • Mikhail Glinka, Russian composer (1804);
  • John Edward Masefield, poet (1878);
  • John Drinkwater, poet/playwright (1882);
  • Frank Whittle, jet engine inventor (1907);
  • Marilyn Monroe (Norma Jean Baker), actress (1926);
  • Andy Griffith, actor (1926);
  • Bob Monkhouse, comedian (1928);
  • Pat Boone, singer (1934);
  • Gerald Scarfe, cartoonist (1936);
  • Colleen McCullough, Australian author (1938);
  • Robert Powell, actor (1944);
  • Frederica von Stade, opera singer (1945);
  • Jonathan Pryce, actor (1946);
  • Jason Donovan, Australian entertainer (1968).

The plant for today’s birthdays is the marjoram, Origanum majorana.  The name is derived from the Greek and means “joy of the mountain”.  Astrologically it under the dominion of Mercury and it symbolises blushing shyness.  The ancient Greeks crowned married couples with marjoram, as they believed that Aphrodite had blessed the herb and the pleasant fragrance was the result of the goddess’s touch.

Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804–1857) one of today’s birthday boys, was the first of the nationalistic school of Russian composers. His operas “A Life for the Czar” (1836) and “Russlan and Ludmilla” (1842) introduced a characteristically Russian style into the language of music. He influenced many other composers, not only Russians but also many of the other Slavs. The exuberant overture of “Russlan and Ludmilla” is a gem amongst classical music. Here it is!

St Elmo (also known as St Erasmus), whose feast day it is today, was a bishop from Syria who was martyred by having his intestines drawn out through a slit in his belly with a capstan or windlass.  He is often invoked, therefore, against all sorts of intestinal disorders and bellyaches.  Because a capstan was used, he is also one of the patron saints of sailors.  The term “St Elmo’s Fire” describes the electrical discharges that are seen around ships during storms and are thought of by sailors to be a sign of the Saint’s protective presence.


“I can't sit around and wait for the telephone to ring.” – Tony Curtis

I rather dislike talking on the telephone. More so on the mobile phone (“cellular phone” for our American cousins). I much prefer to talk to people face to face and interact with them using more than verbal language, and being able to interpret their meaning not only form their words, but from their gestures, facial expressions and body language. Having said all of that, I am very reliant on the telephone for my work, where I see it as tool (and to a lesser extent I rely on the phone for communicating with family). Yes, I do have a mobile phone and I do use it, but not as much as many other people do – at least no so much for making telephone calls on, as today’s mobile phones can do so much more than making telephone calls (I bet there are some that make coffee too!).

Now what has all of that got to do with Movie Monday, you may ask. Well, last weekend we watched the 2004 David R. Ellis film “Cellular”. The movie is a B-grade thriller, but very entertaining and unpretentious. As well as being gripping and tense it also had a good injection of humour that relieved some of the tension, and broached a serious topic (I won’t spoil it for you, in case you wish to watch it). The film stars Kim Basinger who does a good job of being the terrorised but gutsy biology teacher and mum whose life is not only turned upside down, but whose life and that of her family is being threatened in what appears to be a senseless abduction. Chris Evans does a good job of playing the young ingénu who has to help the hapless woman.

The plot centres on Ryan (Evans), a selfish young man, who receives a call on his mobile phone from Jessica (Basinger), a woman who says she's been kidnapped, and knows she will be killed soon, along with her husband and son who the kidnappers have captured next. The communication used is a broken phone that the woman uses to call someone at random. Ryan is the one and after becoming convinced of the woman’s sincerity he decides to help her.

The film is based on a story by Larry Cohen, who also wrote the 2002 film “Phone Booth”, once again on a similar theme, with the telephone in a phone booth being central to the plot. You will enjoy this lightweight film if you like thrillers, although there s considerable violence in this film – more implicit than explicit.

The film highlights the extent on which we rely on technology not only for our everyday communication, but also in an emergency (not to mention the coffee-making!).

Sunday 30 May 2010


“We are not only less reasonable and less decent in our dreams... we are also more intelligent, wiser and capable of better judgment when we are asleep than when we are awake.” - Erich Fromm

We went to the Art Gallery today where there is a special exhibition of Australian artist Rupert Bunny’s works. Rupert Bunny (1864-1947), was one of the most successful expatriate artists of his generation. It is probably true that no other Australian achieved the critical acclaim nor enjoyed the artistic affiliations, which Bunny experienced in Paris in the decades around the turn of the century. He was a gifted colourist and a fine draughtsman, with a strong interest in rhythmic composition. He drew his inspiration from a range of late century tendencies, most particularly Symbolism with its affinity to the life of the imagination.

Bunny painted very individual statements from such influences, in imaginative tableaux which range from magnificent Salon-endorsed mythological fancies, to vibrant decorative allegories and the Belle Epoque paintings of Parisian leisure for which he is most widely celebrated. The exhibition we saw was “Rupert Bunny: Artist in Paris”, at the Ian Potter Centre of the National Gallery of Victoria at Federation Square. It traces Bunny’s extraordinary life and art, from Melbourne to Paris and back again. It is an exhibition organised by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and is the first major exhibition of Bunny’s work since 1991 and includes over one hundred paintings, drawings and monotypes, some of which have never been seen before in Australia.

Illustrated above, is “A summer morning” c. 1897. It is a delightful pastel-coloured painting with dream-like atmospheric figures, so beloved of the artist. The quasi-mythological composition of women and swans could be well placed in antiquity, or just yesterday. The sheerness of the fabrics and the transparency of the water play with the luminosity of the ivory-like flesh, while the aqua tones of the water complement well the pinkness of the dresses. Such dreamy scenes established the reputation of the artist, while his voluptuous female figures earned the patronage of society gentlemen who delighted in this genre for their dark dens.