Saturday 26 June 2010


“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me), It's always our self we find in the sea.” - e.e. cummings

A lovely evening tonight… While the rain fell and the wind blew outside it was nice to be cuddling inside with my love who has returned to me after a long absence. One of the joys of long absences is the return…

A beautiful Greek song tonight sung by the singer Calliope Vetta, with music by Yannis K. Ioannou. It is called “On the Libyan Sea” and is a dreamy song about sea voyages (and an allegory of our life's journey).

On the Libyan Sea

“And thus slowly we shall travel
On the south seas;
Like wild birds that migrate
To warmer climates.

In the sunshine we shall get lost
As the olive trees slip by;
And we hide in sea caves,
To build our nests.

In the Libyan Sea August gets drunk
With two moons lighting us
On the wind’s open window
Time takes us on a promenade…”

Friday 25 June 2010


“Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.” - Doug Larson

It will be a long winter this year… The temperature plummeted this evening and the rain fell. As I made my way home in the dark, in the crowded train I considered the very full day. It was another busy one where lots was achieved. We had the auditors around for the week and this afternoon they finished up. It was a relatively good report they gave and in the afternoon we celebrated by having drinks in the staff room. The feeling was one of camaraderie and the team spirit was high.

As it was my turn to cook tonight, I made these bacon pies. Easy and well suited for a winter’s evening. And we all need a cholesterol fix every now and then! At least there was plenty of green salad and red wine to accompany the meal and fresh tartly sweet mandarins for dessert!



•    2 tsp olive oil
•    350 g rindless shortcut bacon
•    3 sheets frozen shortcrust pastry, thawed
•    12 eggs
•    Salt
•    Freshly ground pepper
•    Ground nutmeg
•    1 egg, lightly beaten


•    Preheat oven to 200°C.
•    Heat oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat.
•    Cook the bacon in batches for 2 minutes on each side until cooked. Drain on paper towels and set aside to cool.
•    Cut out 6 x 12 cm rounds and 6 x 9 cm rounds of pastry. Line 6 pie dishes with the large pastry rounds. Lay half the bacon over each pastry base, then crack 2 eggs into each. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and stir so the yolks are broken up. Lay the remaining bacon over the eggs.
•    Brush edges of pastry with the beaten egg. Place the remaining small rounds over the filling, seal and trim edges. Brush with egg. Slits the pastry to create vents in a swirling effect in a circle.
•    Reduce oven temperature to 180°C. Bake the pies for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Thursday 24 June 2010


“Brains are an asset, if you hide them.” - Mae West

A historic day for Australia today as Julia Gillard has become our first female Prime Minister, and our 27th overall. The leadership tussle which began extremely acutely yesterday was all but over this morning as there were scrimmages for votes in the caucus, with Gillard reputedly managing to obtain about 70 of the total 115 votes. Kevin Rudd became aware of this overwhelming support for Julia Gillard and to avoid a humiliating defeat in a vote, stood down and let Gillard assume the leadership of the Labour Party. Rudd has been prime minister for just two years and suffered the indignity of not being allowed to the chance to seek re-election. It is only the third time in 40 years of Australian politics that a sitting prime minister has been removed without election.

As far as our immediate neighbourhood is concerned, New Zealand was more progressive and had voted in a female prime minister 11 years ago. Other countries in the world were ahead of both Australia and New Zealand, also. So it is no surprise that Australia was bound to have its first female prime minister sooner rather than later. I doubt that Gillard will push a feminist agenda, but I think there will some sensitivity to women’s issues, such as equal pay for equal work, equity in political and social positions as well as more support for women who wish to pursue careers. The country's first female Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, performed the swearing-in ceremony at Government House in Canberra this afternoon.

Julia Eileen Gillard was born on the 29th September 1961 in Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, Wales in 1961 where her father was a coal miner. She has a sister, Alison, who is three years older. After Gillard suffered from bronchopneumonia as a child, her parents were advised it would aid her recovery to live in a warmer climate. The family chose to migrate to Australia in 1966, settling in Adelaide. She attended school and then graduated from Adelaide University. She led the Australian Union of Students and then joined the Labour Party, and entered State politics in Victoria, becoming chief of staff to the then leader of the State Opposition, John Brumby. After success in that role she moved to Federal politics and became Shadow Minister for Population and Immigration between 2001–03 and Shadow Minister for Health between 2003–06. She then assumed the position of Deputy Leader of the Opposition (2006) and Deputy Prime Minister between 2007-10. In this last role she was also Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations

A new era of political leadership in Australia has begun especially given Ms Gillard’s personal circumstances, which are quite exceptional in terms of other politicians who project a family-oriented image. Gillard is not married but has a partner, Tim Mathieson, a hairdresser. She does not have any children. Gillard said through a spokeswoman that she was a “non-practising Baptist” and “not religious”. The Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott, a Catholic and conservative, a typical politician, quite clean-cut family man, will no doubt use this difference on the campaign trail.

Gillard was promoted to the position of Shadow Health Minister in July 2003 and after this the government moved the then Workplace Relations Minister, Tony Abbott, into the health portfolio. The rivalry between Abbott and Gillard often attracted attention from the media. Gillard is a highly regarded debater and her performances during parliamentary question time have had her dubbed the best parliamentary performer on the Labour side. We shall see some wonderful pyrotechnics in parliament between Gillard and Abbott, without any doubt!

Wednesday 23 June 2010


“Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts.” - Percy Bysshe Shelley

When one listens to music the experience is so very much different to when one plays it on a solo instrument or in an orchestra. Even more different is when one composes the music. One hears it differently in one’s head, and it evokes different sets of emotions that one tries to exteriorise. This is so unlike purely listening to music when one simply interiorises the feelings of the creators of music. Even the most facile music has birth pangs that can be quite painful for even the most gifted of composers.

As someone who has listened, played and composed music, the most painful of memories seem to generate the most powerful music. An interpreter can all too easily get lost in the technicalities of the work and concentrate in giving a faultless performance, however, if the feelings of the composer are not approached, the emotional impact of the resultant sounds can be lost.


How easy it is for you to sing!
You play the lyre like an angel,
Trills, happy intervals and major scales!
But these black notes, how mournful on the page,
What agony they hide, what pain, what effort…
They’re blackbirds, portents of death
Sitting like they are on five stretched wires.

Each note’s a wound made with sharp knife,
And you run through them without thought
Lightly skipping up the arpeggios,
Descending effortlessly the glissandos,
And think not for a moment
Of the poor composer’s
Creative torment.

Tuesday 22 June 2010


“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” - G.K. Chesterton

It is the anniversary of the birth of Henry Rider Haggard today (1856–1925). He was an English novelist and Victorian writer of African frontier adventure novels like “King Solomon’s Mines” (1885) and the sequel “Allan Quatermain” (1887). The phrase “She-who-must-be-obeyed” comes from a character in Haggard’s 1887 book “She”. I first discovered Haggard in my early teens when we were living in a small country town and I was a regular visitor of the public library. I found a treasure trove of all of Haggard’s novels in a corner and read them all with great alacrity after sampling the first one. It was real gung-ho, boy’s adventure stuff that any teen with an active imagination would enjoy and I still remember the pleasure of reading those novels – trashy but good!

When he was a young man, Haggard spent several years in South Africa as a functionary of the British government, and Africa became the prime setting of many of the adventure stories he wrote later. Haggard was living in Britain when he published “King Solomon’s Mines” in 1885. He reportedly wrote the entire novel in six weeks after making a friendly wager with his brother that he could write a better story than Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”.

The book was a huge success, and over the next 40 years Haggard wrote dozens of similarly exotic short stories and novels, including “Allan Quatermain” (1887), “She” (1887), “Cleopatra” (1889), “Nada the Lily” (1892), “Montezuma’s Daughter” (1893), “The Ghost Kings” (1908) and “Belshazzar” (published posthumously in 1930). The Haggard style featured a variable but dependable blend of hidden treasures and ancient artifacts, jungle beasts, creepy ghouls and mystical spirits, lost civilisations, and big-hearted, gun-packing gentlemen adventurers. Does all of this ring a bell? Can you recognise elements of the Indiana Jones series of films? They are in a similar style and I am sure that George Lucas would certainly have read Haggard too!

Haggard also developed a serious interest in social and agricultural reform; he wrote “The Poor and the Land” in 1905 and was appointed a special commissioner for the Colonial Office the same year. He was knighted in 1912 and made a Knight Commander (K.B.E.) in 1919. His autobiography “The Days of My Life” was published in 1926, the year after his death.

While Haggard’s novels portray many of the stereotypes associated with colonialism, they are unusual for the degree of sympathy with which the native populations are portrayed. Africans often play heroic roles in the novels, although the protagonists are typically, though not invariably, European. This is something that made me appreciate this author further, especially as during my teens there were stirrings of social activism, increased political awareness, appreciation of the evils of racism and discrimination…

However, don’t get me wrong, this is prime escapist fiction, pure and simple. It does not pretend to be high literature, but for its genre, it is very good.

Monday 21 June 2010


“Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognises genius.” - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I was in Brisbane again for work for the day and it has been another very long, exhausting day. Waking up at 3:30 a.m. even for an early riser like me takes an extra bit of effort and by the time I got home at 10:00 p.m. it is a very long day. Fortunately, the day proved to be very productive and the Audit we had is progressing well. On Thursday and Friday, it will continue on our Melbourne campus, and about eight months of preparation will finally conclude.

At the weekend we watched an excellent, although intense 2006 German film by Chris Kraus called “Four Minutes”. It was one of those films that could prove to be extremely depressing and uninvolving, but instead it was one which was very engaging and interesting, although still quite challenging and sad. The plot is set in a German women’s prison in contemporary times. Jenny is a teenager who is confined there as a convicted murderess. She is psychologically disturbed and extremely violent. It turns out that amongst all of the other things that have plagued her young life she has also been raped by her father, as well as betrayed by her boyfriend.

Jenny is a remarkably gifted pianist, to the extent that she could be a concert pianist. However, she has not practiced for many months and her violent nature means that she constantly damages her hands through affrays with her fellow inmates. Enter Frau Traude who is a prison worker that attempts to rehabilitate the prisoners through music. Through her efforts she manages to get a new piano for the prison and she begins to give lessons to inmates. By chance she recognises Jenny’s genius and convinces her to be coached in order to enter a competition for pianists.

An instant struggle for dominance arises between Frau Traude and Jenny, but Jenny finally accepts her offer and begins to practice. Things are not easy for the pair as various events some contemporary, some from Frau Traude’s past during the Second World War, unhinge the fragile truce between them and bring the film to an overwhelmingly emotional conclusion.

This is a difficult film to watch in terms of the many distressing and provocative topics it dealt with. It was one where one sympathised with the hapless Jenny on the one hand, but at the same time felt repelled by her violent reactions and her inability to relate even to the people who wanted to help her. On reflection, there weren’t too many of those, and even Frau Traude’s reasons for wanting to help Jenny are ambivalent at best. Frau Traude herself is a difficult character to relate to. He manner is repellent and attractive at the same time, while her interaction with Jenny makes us question her motives, especially after we learn of her past.

The warden of the prison is quite a repellent character as is Jenny’s father who appears halfway through the film as a pathetic addendum to the storyline.

The film is a story of hope in the midst of adversity, of the liberating and soul-purifying effect of music and the redemption that the cultivation of talent can have even in the most unfavourable of circumstances. Jenny’s attempt to express her struggle for freedom and personal absolution in the “negro music” that Frau Traude detests and eschews is a powerful message of self-assertion and liberation within the confines of the prison environment. At the same time Jenny is desperate for Frau Traude’s approval and recognition of the effort she is making to be the concert pianist that Frau Traude always wanted to be but was unable to be.

The final scene is an amazing piece of cinema and a dramatic conclusion full of power and is so satisfying for the viewers, after the emotional roller coaster ride they have endured through the film. Needless to say that the music in the soundtrack is well worth listening to. The performances were exceptional, the direction understated and masterly, while the editing and production standards very high.

A highly recommended movie, although a difficult one to watch!

Sunday 20 June 2010


“A man’s age is something impressive, it sums up his life: Maturity reached slowly and against many obstacles, illnesses cured, griefs and despairs overcome, and unconscious risks taken; maturity formed through so many desires, hopes, regrets, forgotten things, loves. A man’s age represents a fine cargo of experiences and memories.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix (1780 – 1867) was one of the most important of the French Romantic painters. Delacroix’s use of expressive brushstrokes and his study of the optical effects of colour set the groundwork for the Impressionists, while his passion for the exotic inspired the artists of the Symbolist movement.

Also a fine lithographer, Delacroix illustrated various works of William Shakespeare, the Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott, and the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In contrast to the Neoclassical perfectionism of his chief rival Ingres, Delacroix took for his inspiration the art of Rubens and painters of the Venetian Renaissance, with a strong emphasis on colour and movement rather than clarity of outline and carefully modelled forms.

Dramatic and romantic content characterised the central themes of his maturity, and although aware of the classical models of Greek and Roman art, he chose to travel in North Africa, in search of the exotic. Friend and spiritual heir to Théodore Géricault, Delacroix was also inspired by Byron, with whom he shared a strong identification with the forces of nature, in often violent action.

However, Delacroix was given neither to sentimentality nor bombast, and his Romanticism was that of an individualist. In the words of Baudelaire: “Delacroix was passionately in love with passion, but coldly determined to express passion as clearly as possible.”

Here is his “Sea from the Heights of Dieppe” from ca 1852. A golden light suffuses the work and the cloudy sky allows some of the blue to show, which appears hopeful and pure. The flotilla of small boats rides the waves and the craft of the foreground has set sail to join them. To the right the inky darkness of the sea hints at the approaching night – the artist was 72 years old when he painted this. One could mistake this for a work by an impressionist painter. It is one of my favourite works of his.