Saturday 10 July 2010


“Death is a delightful hiding place for weary men.” – Herodotus

A delicious song from Song Saturday from the pen of Hector Berlioz, being inspired by William Shaekespeare. It is “La Mort d’ Ophélie” – Ophelia’s Death, his opus 18/2, sung perfectly by Cecilia Bartoli and accompanied faultlessly and sensitively by Myung-Whun Chung on the piano.

“There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death…”

Friday 9 July 2010


“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts!” - James Beard

I love the smell of fresh bread baking in the oven and there’s nothing like having a slice of it hot out of the oven with lashings of butter melting over it. Fortunately, nowadays we have the convenience of dried yeast, warm places for it to rise even on the coldest winter day and a reliable oven that will bake it evenly and thoroughly. The following recipe is one we use often and it is remarkably easy to make this bread, even without using any machinery, mixers, bread makers and the like.



•    Melted butter, for greasing and brushing
•    250g plain white flour
•    250g plain wholemeal flour
•    2 tsp (7g/1 sachet) dried yeast
•    1.5 tsp salt
•    375mls (1 1/2 cups) lukewarm water
•    ½ cup oil
•    Extra water, for brushing
•    1 tsp poppy seeds, for sprinkling (optional)

1.    Brush a 10 x 20cm loaf pan with the melted butter to lightly grease. Measure all your ingredients.
2.    Place the plain flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl and mix well to combine. Make a well in the centre and add the lukewarm water and oil to the dry ingredients and mix well.
3.    Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
4.    Shape the dough into a ball. Brush a large bowl with the melted butter to grease. Place the dough into the bowl and turn it over to lightly coat the dough surface with the butter. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and then place it in a warm, draught-free place to allow the dough to rise.
5.    Leave the dough to prove until it is double its size, between 45-75 minutes at 30˚C. When the dough is ready, it will retain a finger imprint when lightly pressed.
6.    Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down in the centre with your fist and knead on a lightly floured surface again for 2-3 minutes or until smooth and elastic and returned to its original size.
7.    Preheat oven to 200°C.
8.    Divide the dough into 2 equal portions and shape each into a smooth round. Place the portions of dough side by side in the greased loaf pan. Brush lightly with the melted butter. Stand the pan in a warm, draught-free place, as before, for about 30 minutes or until the dough has risen about 1cm about the top of the pan.
9.    Gently brush the loaf with a little water and then sprinkle with the poppy seeds if desired. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes or until golden and cooked through.
10.    Turn the loaf immediately onto a wire rack and allow to cool.
11.    Once cool, store the loaf in a well-ventilated place at room temperature.

Thursday 8 July 2010


“History is philosophy teaching by examples.” - Thucydides

I am preparing seven lectures that I shall record for our online learning students. I had forgotten the greatly stimulating intellectual activity this is, since I took up my new job exactly two-and-a-half years ago. As my work currently involves no actual teaching but more higher adminstrative, strategic and executive duties, it is rather refreshing to be invited to do these lectures. However, the problem is that I am continuing with all of my other tasks while preparing these lectures, which as is usual with me I have left till the last minute. Nevertheless, the lectures will be done and done well, even if they are got ready at the eleventh hour.

The subject is the historical development of medicine worldwide with the views of healing and health to be placed into social and philosophical context. It is a fascinating subject and my lectures look at two distinct periods: Prehistory to 3,000 BC worldwide for two lectures, and then the remaining five lectures on the development of Western medicine from its origins in Mesopotamia and Egypt to the 18th century. I am trying to make these lectures as engaging as possible and include much visual material as well as “case studies” illustrating how people lived, got sick and got better (or not!). My colleagues are preparing and delivering the remaining lectures that look at ancient China, India, Australasia and Europe from the 19th century until now. It will be a wonderful coverage and a good introduction to the students’ study of health.

One problem that constantly besets an educator is how to cover enormous quantities of material in the short time allowed for teaching. One has to be broad and all-encompassing, while at the same brief and germane. It takes a special skill to omit much and still keep the essential in what one present to students. One must stimulate and engage, tease and lead, interest and pique curiosity so that the student is tempted to go and read more afterwards. The job of the teacher is stimulate the students’ mind and to light the fire of the thirst for knowledge. Learning then becomes the job of the student.

While preparing these lectures, I am lost in byways of peripheral material that I read for my own interest, become fascinated by tangential information and learn much myself. How much there is discover, to learn and enjoy, while teaching others! I became fascinated by the prehistory and history of the Americas and learned much about the Inuit, the Amerindians, the Olmecs, Mayas, Aztecs and Incas. It is surprising how similar views of health and disease are worldwide when one goes back to several thousand years before today.

The slow development of supernatural ideas into empiricism, to philosophical considerations to the scientific approach is quite intriguing and the way the different cultures have coped with these changing perspectives at quite different rates is worthy of great study. The more one investigates a topic the more one learns the more one realizes the truth behind Socrates’ famous dictum: “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.”

Knowledge is easy enough to acquire if one has time and expends some of this time in active study. The trouble is to learn enough and be able to use it with one’s experience, soundness of action, and good judgment so that is becomes wisdom…

knowledge |ˈnälij| noun
1 Facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject: A thirst for knowledge | Her considerable knowledge of antiques.
• What is known in a particular field or in total; facts and information: The transmission of knowledge.
• Philosophy True, justified belief; certain understanding, as opposed to opinion.
2 Awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation: The program had been developed without his knowledge | He denied all knowledge of the overnight incidents.
Relating to organised information stored electronically or digitally: The knowledge economy.
come to one’s knowledge: Become known to one.
To ( the best of) my knowledge 1 so far as I know. 2 as I know for certain.
ORIGIN: Middle English (originally as a verb in the sense [acknowledge, recognise,] later as a noun): from an Old English compound based on cnāwan [recognize, identify] of Germanic origin; from an Indo-European root shared by Latin (g)noscere, Greek gignōskein.

Tuesday 6 July 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

A family friend is well into her 80s and lives alone. She has a son, but he has his own family and lives in another suburb, although he and his family visit her often. We often drop in too, as do some other of her other friends. In the last few months she is getting more forgetful, confuses words and may be in the early stages of dementia. Her health is otherwise good, but what a difference the decline of the brain makes on the ability to live a rich and fulfilling life. I think if ever I were to become demented I would want a rapid end as it would not be me anymore. If the brain deteriorates, then everything is over, what makes us a unique and individual person disappears. This poem is written for her on this wintry night…

Winter Twilight

A grey afternoon and leaden sky
Dies down into silvery twilight,
As the sun slips away in the west
And the last ray tinged with green, flashes.

My room dark, cold and empty
Waiting for night with resignation,
While I touch familiar things
Searching for reassurance.

Silence as the road becomes deserted
The birds long since roosted for the night.
The ticking of a clock, a rustle of wind,
My mind turning over thoughts restlessly.

The cloudy sky covers moon and stars
And kills all hopeful signs of morning.
The light still out, I watch the darkness
Creep around me, night falling hard.

Winter is long and harsh this year,
Spring thoughts hard to conjure up,
As years weigh heavily on my back
And warmth is only found by the fireside...

Monday 5 July 2010


“Get a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live.” - Mark Twain

I was going to work this morning and was nearly run down by a bicycle that was careening down the footpath. As readers of this blog know, I go to work early and at 7:00 am it is still dark. This fellow on the bike not only did not have his light on, but he also did not wear a helmet, was wearing dark clothing and was using the footpath to ride on even though there was perfectly good bicycle lane on the side of the road. As if to add insult to injury he started cursing me as he rode away (still on the footpath). Well I was clearly in the wrong, wasn’t I? Here I was, a pedestrian on the footpath getting in the way of a mad cyclist with no headlight who was riding like a bat out of hell on the footpath…

I am all for encouraging bicycle use in the city and I applaud all those people who are conscientious enough to be environmentally aware and use a bike instead of a car or public transport. When I was living in Holland, I used a bicycle constantly and it was a very efficient mode of transport (it’s great for keeping fit too!). However, lately the cyclists of Melbourne are getting very aggressive and uppity. Firstly, they need to wear the latest slinky gear (not always of high visibility) and ride race cycles that cost a small fortune and are not suited to commuter use. Secondly they have this “holier-than-thou” attitude that immediately turns me off and I am tempted to tell them that I ride a V8 fuel-guzzling tank to work and down the milk bar to buy milk instead of walking (well, I don’t, but I feel like inflaming their sensibilities). Thirdly, they so often break the law: Riding in the dark without adequate head- and tail-lights or reflective clothing; without a helmet; against red lights; on footpaths; abusing pedestrians, etc, etc.

I have yet to observe a police officer stopping a cyclist and giving them a ticket, although I have witnessed cyclists doing silly things on city streets in full view of traffic police. No doubt, cyclists also get tickets and fines, but I am not aware of any cyclist who has been fined. Some of my colleagues at work and some family friends regularly ride bicycles and I am glad to say that they are safe riders. So yes, there are good, law-abiding and safe cyclists out there. However, there are also the morons that give bicycle riding a bad name.

One may ask me, why don’t you ride a bicycle in Melbourne since you rode one in Holland? Well, I would, if I thought it was safe to do so. I am extremely wary of even thinking about riding a bicycle, as the car and truck drivers on Melbourne roads are not bicycle aware. Getting on a bicycle and confronting traffic at peak hour is taking your life into your own hands. There are some bike lanes on streets, but they are frequently obstructed or not well marked, or not observed by cars. One hears so frequently of cyclists getting struck down, injured or killed. In my previous job, a colleague was injured seriously when struck down by a truck who had not “seen him”.

So where does the solution to the problem lie? The state should ensure that bike riders are safe on our streets. Having safe and highly visible bicycle lanes is the way the Dutch have solved this problem. Cycling in Holland is both safe and enjoyable. Better road rules as they relate to cycling should be legislated and their enforcement carried out strictly. Cyclists should be licensed perhaps, in a similar way that car drivers and motorcyclists are licensed. Safe riding of bicycles should be enforced by traffic police and hefty fines should be given to law breakers. These and more measures in a similar vein would not only encourage more people to use bicycles, but it would also make it safer for cyclists and other road users to ride and drive on our roads. Not to mention walking in footpaths!

My views on cycling, approximate Elizabeth West’s when she says: “When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments. Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man. And (unlike subsequent inventions for man’s convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became. Here, for once, was a product of man’s brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or irritation to others. Progress should have stopped when man invented the bicycle.”

Well, a touch of hyperbole never hurt anybody!

Sunday 4 July 2010


“If time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must be the greatest prodigality.” - Benjamin Franklin

We watched a really trashy movie at the weekend and I can’t make up my mind whether it was a complete waste of time or whether we were entertained. I’d be inclined to say the former… The film was the 2003 Lawrence Kasdan adaptation of Stephen King’s “Dreamcatcher”. If you know nothing about this book or movie, it is an odd bird, part thriller, part sci-fi, part fantasy, part drama, part I-don’t-know-what. Although the production values are typically Hollywood and one can see that a lot of money was spent on the movie, the basic storyline is bilge that has been trawled up from the depths of bathos.

The title relates to the Ojibway American Indian tradition, who would tie sinew strands in a web around a small round or tear-shaped frame and hang this “dreamcatcher” as a charm to protect sleeping children from nightmares. Their legend relates that the bad dreams will get caught in the web, while good dreams will pass through it. Traditionally, Native American dreamcatchers are small (only a few centimetres across) and made of bent wood and sinew string with a feather hanging from the netting. Nowadays, they are made larger, with sturdier string and more decorations, obviously meant to last longer and appeal to the market.

The significance of the dreamcatcher in the film is obscure but trust me, that is not the only thing that is obscure. There is much pop culture and urban myth wound up in the plot but also lots of contemporary (colourful) language and the recurrent SSDD acronym that (innocent me) had to look up (not having read the novel). The acronym sets the tone for the movie and stands for “Same Shit Different Day”. Wow, that’s deep!

The plot centres on four childhood friends, Jonesy, Pete, Beaver and Henry who are now grown up and have kept close because of a special power they share – they can read minds. Once a year, they go on a hunting trip to the Jefferson Tract in winter. They find a sick man wandering through the forest in the middle of a blizzard. The man has red marks on his face and a bloated belly. And then the aliens come in! The man is harbouring an alien life form in his innards. A paramilitary force led by a slightly crazy veteran soldier (Morgan Freeman! How did he ever sign up for this movie) attempts to quarantine the area. It runs out that this commander has long experience with alien invasions and will stop at nothing to destroy the aliens (even kill a few hundred or thousands of civilians if he must). The four friends have to stop the aliens and the mad commander before they die themselves. Oh, and there is Duddits who is an intellectually disabled child with special powers who has a special bond with the four friends. Will they save the world and destroy the aliens? You have three guesses!

The alien life forms are quite horrid things with a complex life-cycle, but they are egg laying and go through a nasty larval phase with the adult forms not looking terribly beautiful either. This is a B grade (maybe F grade?) movie, which we nevertheless watched to the end. However, it left a bad aftertaste in ones mouth and yes, it was a bit of a waste of time. Watch only if you are really desperate…


“Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.” - Albert Camus

Happy Fourth of July to my American friends and readers of this blog in the USA. Seeing it is the Independence Day of the USA, I have chosen an American artist for this Art Sunday: Francis Davis Millet (1846-1912) who was born at Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, on the 3rd of November 1846. He was a drummer boy with the Union forces in the Civil War and he graduated from Harvard College in 1869. In 1871 Millet entered the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp, where he studied under Van Lerius and De Keyser. In 1873 he was made secretary of the Massachusetts commission to the Vienna Exposition. During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 he was correspondent of the London “Daily News” and “Graphic”, and of the New York Herald.

On his return he was made a member from the United States of the International Art Jury at the Paris Exposition of 1878. He was director of decorations at the Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893, and in 1898 he went to Manila as war correspondent for “The Times” and for “Harper’s Weekly”. In 1880 he became a member of the Society of American Artists, and in 1885 was elected to full membership in the National Academy of Design, New York, and was for one term its vice-president. He also became a member of the American Water Color Society and of the Institute of Painters in Oil Colours, London.

As a decorative artist his work may be seen at Trinity Church, Boston; the Bank of Pittsburgh; and the Capitol at St Paul, Minnesota. His pictures are in many public collections: among them are: “A Cosy Corner” in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; “At the Inn” in the Union League Club, New York; and “Between Two Fires” in the Tate Gallery, London. He also wrote essays and short stories, and an English version of Tolstoy's “Sebastopol” (1887); and among his publications are “The Danube” (1891), Capillary Crime and Other Stories (1892), and “Expedition to the Philippines” (1899).

Francis Davis Millet was lost on the Titanic in 1912, where he valiantly tried to save the lives of as many of his fellow passengers as he could. He gave his own life preserver to another passenger.

Millet’s paintings are typical of the Academic style and he handles paint with studiousness while his draughtsmanship is meticulous. His themes are historical, genre paintings, and sometimes portraits. He often makes a humorous or wry comment with his subjects and overall he has been accused of being the maker of “too pretty a picture”. Nevertheless, he handles light well and there is a delicacy in his work that delights many. The painting above is his “At the Inn”, which is typical of his style.