Saturday 24 July 2010


“It’s so curious: One can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer... And everything collapses.” - Colette

For Song Saturday a sad and sweet adagio by Albinoni. No, not THE adagio by Albinoni which is so very well known (and not by Albinoni in any case – it was composed by Remo Giazzotto in 1958).

Here is a genuine Albinoni adagio, a short second movement from his Oboe Concerto in C Major, opus 9, No 5. It is a delicious morsel, short and poignant containing within it distilled the essence of sorrow and melancholy, but so sweet!

Friday 23 July 2010


“Antisthenes says that in a certain faraway land the cold is so intense that words freeze as soon as they are uttered, and after some time then thaw and become audible, so that words spoken in winter go unheard until the next summer…” – Plutarch

It’s still cold and wet here Downunder and we are staying inside with the heater on and lovely warm winter food to keep us going. It’s time for baking and frying and stewing all those rich, hot dishes that are packed with energy and taste wonderful. I can feel my cholesterol going up just thinking about them! However, we are also having lots of citrus, lemons and grapefruit, mandarins, tangelos and oranges. They supply the vitamins and the fibre, but also boost the metabolism of fats.

Tonight we are having a Quick Chicken Pot Pie. Easy to prepare with a supermarket roast chicken, although you could roast your own if you are a purist!

Quick Chicken Pot Pie

•    1 ready bought supermarket roast chicken, boned and cut into small pieces
•    2 medium peeled potatoes, cut into 2 cm chunks
•    3 medium carrots, cut into 2 cm chunks
•    2 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch chunks
•    1 leek, cut into 1 cm rings
•    1 large onion, diced
•    8 fresh mushrooms, quartered
•    2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
•    3 tablespoons olive oil
•    1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
•    1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
•    1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
•    1/2 teaspoon dried sage
•    1 cup peas
•    Salt and pepper to taste
•    4 cups chicken broth
•    1 shot glass of dry sherry
•    6 tablespoons butter
•    6 tablespoons plain flour
•    1 egg yolk
•    1/2 cup cream
•    2 sheets frozen puff pastry

•    Toss the potatoes, onion, carrots, leek, celery, mushrooms with olive oil, parsley and herbs. Place in a roasting pan and bake at 190° for 35-40 minutes stirring occasionally until the vegetables are cooked.
•    Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and set aside with the peas. Pour pan juices into a measuring cup. Spoon away the fat from the juice, reserving the fat. Add the juices and sherry to the chicken broth. Measure out the fat and add enough butter to make 6 tablespoons.
•    Put the roasting pan on the stove over medium heat. Pour in the 6 tablespoons of fat and butter, when it’s melted add the flour and stir to make a roux. Cook the roux till lightly browned, add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Simmer the gravy for at least 15 minutes or till it is the consistency of heavy cream.
•    Mix the chicken pieces with the baked vegetables, peas, add the gravy.
•    Heat oven to 200°. Choose four 350 mL ovenproof ramekins or a two-litre casserole.
•    Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Roll it out till it is 3 mm. thick. Cut out the pastry for each bowl leaving the pastry a little larger than the top of the dish.
•    Divide the chicken mixture, vegetables, and gravy among the dishes. Place the dough on top, pressing along the edge of the dish to seal.
•    Combine 1 egg yolk and 1/2 cup cream. Brush the mixture onto the top of the pastry with a pastry brush. Put the pies on a baking sheet to catch any drips. Bake on the centre rack in the oven for 40-50 minutes or till the crust is thoroughly browned and puffed.

Thursday 22 July 2010


“All of us who are concerned for peace and triumph of reason and justice must be keenly aware how small an influence reason and honest good will exert upon events in the political field.” - Albert Einstein

We have a federal election looming ahead, all set for August 21st. The electoral rolls have closed already and our politicians have started the usual circuses and sideshows: Making statements, giving interviews, suddenly becoming oh-so-visible around their electorates, kissing babies, pressing the flesh. It’s all so predictable and so distasteful…

And then of course we have the debate! The Labor Party, currently led by Julia Gillard, and the Liberal Party, currently led by Tony Abbott, are the two main parties in Australia. The smaller National Party is led by Warren Truss. In the 150-member Australian House of Representatives, Labor won government with 83 seats, with the coalition on 65 seats (55 Liberal and 10 National), with two seats held by independents. The Australian Greens won 8 per cent of the 2007 vote, and the Family First Party won 2 per cent, but neither party won any seats in the lower house.

The debate will take place on Sunday night and already concern has been voiced about the one debate granted by Julia Gillard versus the three requested, and also the refusal to allow other parties to be represented. So we shall have to be content with the two leaders of the two major parties to do battle (not only with one another, but with the popular programs they are pitted against on TV)! The leader rating is polled at about 57% for Gillard versus 27% for Abbott, presently. They represent the left and right wings of politics respectively (although both of them are so close in their policies and both are so pro-capitalist, that they really differ little from one another).

The character of the leaders will also be a consideration at the polls, as will their personal life and religious beliefs. Officially, Australia is a secular state, but in many groups of the population religious feelings run high and religious groups can be very influential. Ms Gillard is a declared atheist and a single, childless woman, “living in sin” with her partner, while Mr Abbott is a good Catholic, married with children and a fine exemplar of all that a good politician should have in the family and character stakes. We also now have the added bonus of a woman versus man battle. The electorate will decide on whether they really want the PM that was thrust upon them when the party room slaughtered our elected PM, Kevin Rudd a few weeks ago to put Ms Gillard in his place. He is still tight-lipped about it all and on the campaign trail in his own electorate on the quiet…

The campaign has been rather lacklustre so far, but there is till time for things to spice up, for scurrilous comments, blows below the belt and for all sorts of skullduggery. In the last election I voted for one of the smaller parties that seemed to have a conscience, had a policy on sustainability and conservation, was fair in its approach to social issues and was represented by a candidate in my electorate that I knew and respected. Alas, he was not elected and the party was only elected to the Senate not the House of Representatives. Some people may think that my vote was wasted, I believe not as my conscience was quiet. I suspect that I shall make a similar decision this election. Hence the spiel of the major parties will not interest me much, as after all it is much of a muchness dictated by the spin doctors and the professional policy writers upon study of the latest trends in the population.

Election 2010? Wake me when it is over, please…

debate |diˈbāt| noun
A formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.
• An argument about a particular subject, esp. one in which many people are involved : The national debate on abortion | There has been much debate about prices.
verb [ trans. ]
Argue about (a subject), esp. in a formal manner: The board debated his proposal | The date when people first entered America is hotly debated.
• [with clause ] Consider a possible course of action in one's mind before reaching a decision: He debated whether he should leave the matter alone or speak to her.
Be open to debate: Be unproven; require further discussion.
Under debate: Being discussed or disputed.
debater noun
ORIGIN: Middle English : via Old French from Latin dis- (expressing reversal) + battere ‘to fight.’

Tuesday 20 July 2010


“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.” - James Oppenheim

I was reflecting on the meaning of happiness today. It is such a relative state and people the world over will define it differently depending on their circumstances, their current needs and wants, their experiences and their stage of life. Happiness may simply be health to a sick person, or finding a soulmate to someone who has been alone for years and years. More prosaically, having food and water may be happiness to someone who is dying of hunger; living in a home with a loving family may be happiness for an orphan in a state institution; or peace to an unfortunate citizen of a war-ravaged country.

The following poem written in gratitude of the happiness I enjoy on a daily basis and which I often don’t reflect upon. I often don’t appreciate, or recognize or acknowledge. We engineer our own happiness by considering our own good fortune…


The simple joy of winter sunshine,
Drying the rain-soaked earth.
The warmth of freshly-laundered clothes,
The dryness of shoes without holes in their soles.

The knowledge that a light will be on at home
When I return there after work.
A greeting, a kiss, a smile when back,
And the glow of being loved and loving in return.

The satisfaction of knowing that a sprain
Is the extent of my ill-health.
The smell of a simple tasty meal on my table,
Its appetising sauce the fact that it was cooked with love.

That I turn on the tap and have running water,
That I have warmth in my home in winter.
The knowledge that when I listen to the news
All bad news will be from far away.

The simple contentment of the ripe oranges
Hanging golden on the tree in my winter garden.
The fresh flowers in the vase,
The music that I can play when I want to.

My job, my friends, my colleagues, my associates,
All of my life, so gratefully being lived.
The tears that flow, being tears of joy
Compassion, sympathy, not of sadness…


“The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” - Sydney J. Harris

I am in Adelaide today for work. We have had a site visit and an audit, which went very well. This meant that I was inside all day, preparing material, briefing and debriefing people, being interviewed, providing information, gathering data and other materials that they had requested and generally looking after the whole process. Fortunately at the end of the day all was well, but now I am exhausted.

It did not help that last Sunday I sprained my ankle rather badly which had become swollen and has been bandaged since then. Having spent the whole day running hither and thither, did not work healing wonders for it and I can feel it throbbing now. At least I did not break a bone and that’s the main consideration, sprains will heal relatively quickly.

The weather was cool and rainy today so at least, being confined indoors had its advantages. I enjoyed the day although it was hectic and it was good to work with my colleagues as members of a team in order to bring about the successful completion of a project. That’s what teamwork is all about, depending on your team-mates and being depended upon by them yourself. The sum is greater than each of the component parts…

My grandfather had favourite fable of Aesop that he used to recount to me:
“An old man on the point of death summoned his sons around him to give them some parting advice. He ordered his servants to bring to him a bundle of sticks, and said to his eldest son: “Break it.” The son strained and strained, but with all his efforts was unable to break the bundle. The other sons also tried, but none of them was successful. “Untie the bundle,” said the father, “and each of you take a stick.” When they had done so, he called out to them: “Now, break,” and each stick was easily broken. “You see my meaning,” said their father, “Union gives strength.”

I also told the tale to my team of colleague at one stage and I was surprised that none of them had heard it before. When I mentioned it was one of Aesop’s fables, blank stares in my direction ensued. None had heard of the famed fabulist. I admit, they were younger than me, but my point is, there’s something very wrong with our education system.

Another busy day tomorrow, with the continuation of our staff workshop that I had to abandon today in order to visit Adelaide. Busy, busy, busy. All work and no play makes Nicholas a dull boy…

Monday 19 July 2010


“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” - William Congreve

We saw a wonderful French film at the weekend, Christophe Barratier’s 2004 film “The Choristers”. It was a very understated, simple film,  told quietly and with restraint, yet it dealt with some potent issues and packed quite a punch in the end. The film was nominated for the Oscars as “Best Foreign Language Film” for 2005, but lost to “Tsotsi”.

The story is set in 1949 France, in a small provincial town where in the outskirts there is a boarding school for “problem children”. The principal Monsieur Rachin, is an strict disciplinarian whose policy for the school is “action – reaction”. Any misdemeanour is quickly followed by harsh punishment. His approach antagonises the young inmates even more and this causes ever more new problems.

On January 15, 1949 M. Clément Mathieu arrives at the school, to assume duties as a supervisor. He is a middle-aged man who is struggling to find his place in the sun after a series of failures. Although he finds the boys an unruly bunch, Mathieu sees the adverse effects of the “action – reaction” policy, and clashes with Rachin, while undermining the policy.

Slowly, Mathieu's fairness and his love for the students does have a positive effect on a group of them. Mathieu approaches the headmaster to obtain permission to start a choir in the school. His move is a courageous one for him as a failed musician, as well as for the initially reluctant and “tough” students. During his efforts, Mathieu comes close to two different students for two different reasons. Pépinot, a sad little boy, who is withdrawn and is constantly awaiting for his father to visit, and Pierre Morhange, an older student, who is introverted, but likely to burst out periodically in episodes of subversiveness (“the devil with the face of an angel” as the other teachers describe him). However, Morhange also has a love of music and is truly talented as well.

The film is very engaging and enjoyable, with many poignant and memorable scenes. The acting is excellent, especially the children who give magnificent performance. An integral part of the film is the beautiful music, which won several awards for Bruno Coulais, the composer. I highly recommend this movie which is an absolute delight.

Sunday 18 July 2010


“One of the best things about paintings is their silence - which prompts reflection and random reverie.” - Mark Stevens

For Art Sunday today a painting I love not for its foreground, but for its background. It is Jan Brueghel the Elder’s (1568-1625) “Large Fish Market” of 1603 presently in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. Jan Brueghel was the youngest son of the brilliant and idiosyncratic Pieter Brueghel. His older brother, Pieter II, is mainly known as a copyist of his father's works, but perhaps because his father died when he was an infant, Jan developed a very different style. He was a skilled landscapist and still-life painter, often collaborating with other artists when there was a need to put figures into the foreground of a scene.

This particular painting is extremely busy and contains an inordinate amount of detail. The foreground is awash with people and fish, animals, bits and pieces. One is at a loss to try and determine where to look first. Many small details are picaresque or humorous, some poignant others amusing. The pullulating mass of humanity at the market attracts the eye and then repels. The glory of the picture is in the middle and background where a seascape to the left and a cityscape to the right attract the eye with their mystery.

The glorious ultramarine tones of the distant mountains and sky contrast with the warm yellow of the sunlight to the left and once again one immersed in the details of ships, buildings, distant figures. There is an invitation to escape into this window into the past and discover the hidden mysteries of the alleys and laneways, climb the steps of the fortress, seek out some distant rooftop and gaze out into the sea and the ships of the harbour.

Because of his fondness of certain subjects and glowing enamel paint, Jan Brueghel was given the nickname “Velvet” or “Flower” Brueghel. Besides historical scenes, paradisiacal images of animals, and genre scenes, he was above all a painter of landscape and of flower pieces. Brueghel was well-to-do and respected, owning several houses in Antwerp as well as a considerable art collection. His sons and grandsons continued the family artistic tradition.