Saturday 17 September 2011


“Many men are melancholy by hearing music, but it is a pleasing melancholy that it causeth; and therefore to such as are discontent, in woe, fear, sorrow, or dejected, it is a most present remedy” - Robert Burton

A very busy day in the garden today with lots done, but extremely tiring… Every muscle and bone in my body is aching and I nearly ripped a nail off on my right hand (very painful!). The results are work the effort, “no pain, no gain as they say”. And the day slowly wound down to an evening of wind a couple of short showers, and suddenly it was night. A melancholy feeling has taken hold of me tonight and I can't seem to shake it off. So, instead of going against it, I am going with its flow and immersing myself in it.

What better music for this dark, liquid, blue journey than Anna Moffo singing Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise” with the American Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski in what is now a classic recording of this gem. Enjoy this melancholy music, that makes of sadness a pleasure.

Friday 16 September 2011


“Asparagus inspires gentle thoughts.” - Charles Lamb

The day was long, full and exhausting today. A couple of “heavy” meetings that went for hours, a one-to-one conversation with a “difficult” staff member and as well as that all of the usual, “routine” bits and pieces of every-day business. When I got home I was quite tired, having put in a 12-hour day. Fortunately, this does not happen every day, but it seems to have increased in frequency of late.

It was good to get home and relax, enjoy a home-cooked meal and exchange some pleasant conversation on everything and anything except work. Springtime brings with it many delicacies and one of these is the tasty and nutritious asparagus (Asparagus officinalis). Widely cultivated for its tender, succulent, edible shoots, asparagus began to be cultivated more than 2,000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean region. Its unique, distinctive, herbaceous flavour assures the popularity of fresh asparagus, which has stood the test of time. Spring signals the start of the asparagus season and a time when we can take advantage of its health-giving properties.

Asparagus is packed with nutritional goodness, with not only useful vitamins and minerals, but also dietary fibre and cancer-fighting components. It provides the complement of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, biotin and vitamin B6, all of these vitamins helping enzymes do their job in the normal metabolism of the body. B group vitamins help the body convert fuel from the diet, such as carbohydrate, into energy. With sufficient B vitamins it is easier for us to be active and get the best out of each day. One B vitamin is folate, and asparagus is rich in this, meaning that the vegetable is excellent to consume in pregnancy for a healthy baby. Adequate folate is also associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. One serve of asparagus (about 4 spears) provides over 20% of the folate we need daily.

One serve of asparagus, provides a quarter of our daily needs of vitamin C, which acts as an antioxidant and helps in the absorption of iron in the diet. Iron is a very important mineral for healthy blood. Although asparagus provides only a modest amount of iron, being high in vitamin C, the body is better able to absorb the iron that asparagus provides. Asparagus has also plenty of potassium and virtually no sodium. A diet high in potassium and low in sodium (salt), helps keep a steady heartbeat and healthy blood pressure.

Asparagus provides some powerful antioxidants, such as rutin, carotenoids (e.g. beta-carotene), flavonoids, vitamin C, saponins and glutathione, all helping to keep our bodies healthy, reducing the risk of cancer and slowing the ageing process. Asparagus is low in kilojoules, without fat or cholesterol, while providing fibre. That makes it a must for any diet, including a weight loss diet.

Green asparagus is the main variety grown in Australia, but there are also white and purple asparagus varieties, that can dress up a dish quite spectacularly. Although asparagus is easy to cook it is difficult to grow. The asparagus plant is unpredictable in its growth and rather whimsical in the way that it may crop. It is fragile and tender, vulnerable to frost, hail, heat and wind, which bends the spears and, under extreme conditions causes “sand blasting” of the tender spears. The growing, harvesting and packing of asparagus are extremely labour intensive processes and once harvested, asparagus is a highly perishable product. This is reflected in its price, making it a relatively expensive vegetable.

We had a delightful asparagus omelette tonight, which was a delicious, filling yet quite light meal.

Asparagus Omelette
4-5 asparagus spears per person
4 medium eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little ground mace
1 tbsp clarified butter
3/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
Chopped fresh chives


  • Prepare asparagus by snapping the woody ends off.
  • Blanch the spears in boiling water for 3–4 minutes or until tender.
  • Refresh briefly under cold water and cut into bite sized pieces.
  • Whisk eggs together with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper and mace.
  • Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Add butter, allow to melt then pour the egg mix into the pan, spread evenly and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the base has set.
  • Place the asparagus on half of the omelette with grated cheese and chopped fresh chives.
  • Fold remaining half over the asparagus side.
  • Finish under a grill or in a hot oven and serve straight away, with a fresh green salad.

Wednesday 14 September 2011


“He who sows the ground with care and diligence acquires a greater stock of religious merit than he could gain by the repetition of ten thousand prayers” – Zoroaster

Zoroaster (Zarathustra in Avestan) was a Persian sage who lived around 1400-1200 B.C. He is recognised as the prophet that developed a way of life and belief, and a religion known as Zoroastrianism. He is also credited with the authorship of the Yasna Haptanghaiti and the Gathas, which are hymns that form the liturgical core of Zoroastrianism.

The gods of the Persians in Zoroaster’s time were many. Zoroaster reformed the polytheistic beliefs of the Persians when he perceived that many of these deities worshipped were unworthy of adoration, being evil in character, hostile to all good. His teaching in regards to this was: “If the gods do something shameful, they are not gods.” Although Zoroastrianism is not a monotheistic faith, its highest deity is Ahura Mazda. Ahura Mazda is described as the most frequently invoked deity in the Yasna and is the creator and upholder of Arta (truth). Ahura Mazda is an omniscient, but not an omnipotent god. This god is thought to eventually destroy evil. Ahura Mazda’s evil counterpart is Angra Mainyu (Ahriman), the “bad spirit” and the creator of evil who will be destroyed before frashokereti (the destruction of evil).

Zoroaster taught that water (apo, aban) and fire (atar, adar) are agents of ritual purity, and the associated purification ceremonies are considered the basis of the ritual life of Zoroastrianism. Both water and fire are considered life-sustaining, and both water and fire are represented within the precinct of a fire temple. Zoroastrians usually pray in the presence of some form of fire, and the final rite of the principal act of worship constitutes a “strengthening of the waters”. Fire is considered a medium through which spiritual insight and wisdom is gained, and water is considered the source of that wisdom. Earth is also sacred as it is fruitful and gives man his bread.

In Zoroastrian tradition, life is a temporary state in which a mortal is expected to actively participate in the continuing battle between truth and falsehood. Prior to being born, the soul (urvan) of an individual is still united with its guardian spirit (fravashi), of which there are very many, and which have existed since Mazda created the universe. During life, the fravashi acts as a guardian and protector. On the fourth day after death, the soul is reunited with its fravashi, in which the experiences of life in the material world are collected for the continuing battle in the spiritual world.

In Zoroastrian scripture and tradition, a corpse is a host for decay (druj). Scripture stipulates the safe disposal of the dead in a manner such that a corpse does not pollute the “good” elements of creation, i.e. earth fire and water. This is the doctrinal basis of the traditional practice of “ritual exposure” of the corpse, most commonly identified with the so-called “Towers of Silence”. The practice of ritual exposure is only practised by Zoroastrian Parsi communities in India, where it is not illegal, and where traditionally vultures and other scavenger birds have disposed of the corpse. Other Zoroastrian communities either cremate their dead, or bury them in graves that are cased with lime mortar.

Zoroaster’s disciples were a nomadic people, speaking a tongue ancestral to modern Farsi, who moved south into present-day Iran. The state faith of successive Persian empires, Zoroastrianism was brought to India in 936 AD by refugees fleeing persecution by Arab Muslim conquerors. On the round-the-world trip chronicled in his book Following the Equator, Mark Twain stopped off in Bombay (now known as Mumbai) and, as part of the standard tourist circuit, he was taken to the “Towers of Silence”, where the Parsi community brought their dead. He wrote: “On lofty ground, in the midst of a paradise of tropical foliage and flowers, remote from the world and its turmoil and noise, they stood. The vultures were there. They stood close together in a great circle all around the rim of a massive low tower - waiting; stood as motionless as sculptured ornaments, and indeed almost deceived one into the belief that that was what they were.”

The scavenger birds that Twain saw are almost all gone now. The vultures have vanished from Mumbai, and populations of three vulture species have dropped all over the Indian subcontinent. This has had profound consequences for public health, as well as for Parsi funerary practices. Biologists identified an anti-inflammatory drug called diclofenac sodium (widely used in veterinary as well as human medicine) being the cause of the birds’ demise, as it accumulates in their bodies.

The solution for the Parsis of Mumbai (numbering 40,000 of India’s total number of 70,000) is to build a giant aviary, six stories high and bigger than football field in which scavenger birds like vultures will be bred in order to be used for the “sky burials” above the “Towers of Silence” – a sacred hilltop where the Parsi corpses are exposed since the 17th century.

Parsi |pärˈsē, ˈpärsē|(also Parsee) noun
An adherent of Zoroastrianism, esp. a descendant of those Zoroastrians who fled to India from Muslim persecution in Persia during the 7th–8th centuries.
ORIGIN from Persian pārsī ‘Persian,’ from pārs ‘Persia.’

In the illustration, some Sassanian relief work at Tagh-e-Bostan near Kermanshah, Iran, showing the Investiture of Ardashir II (r. 379-383) (centre) by the supreme God Ahuramazda (right) with Mithras (left) standing upon a lotus. Trampled beneath the feet of Ahura-Mazda and Ardashir II is an unidentified defeated enemy. Note the object being held by Mithras. This may be some sort of diadem or even a ceremonial broadsword, as Mithras appears to be engaged in some sort of “knighting”of Ardahsir II as he receives the “Farr” (Divine Glory) diadem from Ahura-Mazda.

Tuesday 13 September 2011


“Out of her favour, where I am in love.” - William Shakespeare

A grim picture with a terrible title for this week’s Magpie Tales challenge: Andrew Wyeth’s “The Revenant” painted in 1949. An apt choice perhaps for the sad anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy. However, as soon as I saw it, my mind filled in the lower left of the painting where the man’s hand was cut off. What was he holding? A flower of course, for whom? I needed to fill in more, and I did. A tale of forbidden love, deceit, discovery and punishment. A love that transcends death and haunts the revenants…

The Revenants

The moon how loud she howls tonight
As she-wolf glares with shining eyes;
The pallid flowers glow with a deathly light
By graveside growing, under leaden skies.

The dead man shifts in his sleep and wakes
As midnight strikes the witching hour;
He lifts his bony hands and legs he shakes
His face skeletal, grey, unsmiling, dour.

The wind in nearby pond reflections shatters
In sparkling waters fracturing the moon;
In murky depths the moonlight quickly scatters,
To vivify the drowned woman of the lagoon.

She turns, she swims, her red hair tosses
And swiftly upwards she floats and rises,
Picking the hyacinths, and the dank mosses
A chaplet for to make and adorn her guises.

The full moon’s shrill cries she hearkened
Just as the wolf’s red-eyed glare he espied;
And as clouds waft and moonlight’s darkened,
A monthly rendezvous they tenderly abide.

He leaves the grave, she quits the lake,
They run to cross the barren churchyard;
A meeting to relieve eternal heartache
A few moments ease for two souls scarred.

They fall into each other’s cold embrace
And momentarily caress and sweetly kiss;
Is it the lake’s water on her bony face,
Or is it tears welling from her heart’s abyss?

The star-crossed lovers gaze at each other
With thirsty eyes whose love’s unquenched;
Their endless kisses, airless lungs smother
Their fingers tangled, in each other’s clenched.

The moon she starts from clouds to peer,
The magic’s broken it’s time again to part.
The wolves stand by motionless and leer,
As lovers cleave, again to break their heart.

He to the sepulchre goes, she to the pool,
And in his hands clasps a withered flower;
Their fate unhappy and their lot so cruel,
The face of destiny on them does glower.

She languished married to a lord, whom she deceived;
He dared to claim her, and both the lord’s wrath received…

Monday 12 September 2011


“Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy the mad daughter of a wise mother. These daughters have too long dominated the earth.” – Voltaire

Today is Tuesday the 13th, a very unlucky day according to Greek tradition, just as Friday 13th is considered the unlucky day in other cultures. The reason is historical and harks back to events going back centuries. In ancient times, Tuesday was sacred to Mars, the god of war (dies Martis being Tuesday in Latin – “day of Mars”). Mars wasn’t the nicest of gods and he was disliked not only by mortals but also by his fellow gods and goddesses. Hence Tuesday was shunned for initiating projects and for doing anything that required a degree of luck, with people deferring important decisions until later in the week – Friday for example, (dies Veneris being Friday in Latin – “day of Venus”), which was dedicated to the much more genial and well-liked goddess, Venus.

Greeks shun Tuesday as unlucky because of another reason. It was a Tuesday on the 29th May 1453 when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks. This was a black and ill-starred day and subsequent to this sad and sorry event, people did not celebrate anything on Tuesdays, nor did they receive visitors at home. It re-enforced the ancient tradition of Tuesday considered an unlucky day. However, Tuesday 13th is also considered unlucky in Romania and some areas of Spain and Latin America (called “martes trece” there). The reasoning behind the unluckiness of Tuesday 13th in this later group of countries is linked to the belief that the biblical confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel ostensibly happened on a Tuesday, the 13th!

The number 13 has been considered unlucky for millennia. Ancient Persians believed the twelve constellations in the Zodiac controlled the months of the year, and each ruled the earth for a thousand years, at the end of which the sky and earth collapsed in chaos. Therefore, the number 13 is identified with chaos and is the reason why Persians leave their houses to avoid bad luck on the thirteenth day of the Persian Calendar, a tradition called Sizdah Bedar.

In Christian tradition the people sitting at the Last Supper were 13, with Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus being the dreaded unlucky one identified with this number. The number 13 is a prime number, which comes after the “beautiful” number 12. Twelve is considered perfect in many ways as it can be divided evenly by 2, 3, 4 and 6. It has been widely used in “sacred” groupings, for example: 12 months of the year, 12 disciples of Christ, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 zodiac signs, 12 labours of Hercules, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 days of Christmas, 12 Great Feasts of Orthodoxy, 12 Imams – legitimate successors of the prophet Muhammad, 12 adepts in a Wiccan coven, 12 Jyotirlingas (manifestations of God Shiva) in Hindu Shaivism, etc. it is clear that the extra number added to the perfect twelve mars the total with 13 being considered inauspicious (keep in mind that Tarot card number 13 is Death!).

Superstition is an irrational thing, although the human mind may invent a thousand “reasonable” explanations to explicate common superstitions. Some people even today are extremely superstitious and will go to great lengths in order to avoid whatever the superstition they believe in dictates. Others are oblivious to such nonsense and will ignore or be completely unaware of any such unfounded beliefs. Others still, will purposefully go out of their way to flout superstitions, which demonstrates perhaps another type of unreasonable belief…

Sunday 11 September 2011


“Historical sense and poetic sense should not, in the end, be contradictory, for if poetry is the little myth we make, history is the big myth we live, and in our living, constantly remake.” – Robert Penn Warren

We watched a very interesting film at the weekend, made all the more absorbing as it was about a real political figure and actual events surrounding his life. It was the 2006 Kevin MacDonald film “The Last King of Scotland” which was based on the events of the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin’s brutal regime as seen by his Scottish personal physician during the 1970s. It was another of these films that we had got because it was on special and we had thought would be good viewing. In this instance, we were proven right and we enjoyed watching this movie, even though it was quite violent and confronting. Being old enough to remember the events in the news at the time they were happening also helped engage us and overall, we were absorbed by it during the whole 121 minutes of its duration.

For his portrayal of Idi Amin in this film, Forest Whitaker won the Academy Award for Best Actor, a BAFTA, the Screen Actors’ Guild Award for Best Actor (Drama), and a Golden Globe. He does a phenomenal acting job and the film is his in terms of carrying off the acting laurels. James McAvoy plays the role of a young, recently graduated Scottish doctor who travels on a whim to Uganda as a means of escaping from his domineering father and secondarily to do some medical work in a developing country. His role is a fictional one (coming from Giles Foden’s novel of the same name on which the movie is based), but the character has been incorporated into the actual events seamlessly. He plays the role well and with gusto, supporting Forest Whitaker ably. Gillian Anderson, David Oyelowo, Kerry Washington and Simon McBurney also play their supporting roles with panache and are every convincing.

The film manages to capture the madness of the man who was responsible for over 300,000 deaths in Uganda during his rule and there is an almost documentary feel to the movie. It has an excellent music score with some local African song and music, but also some unlikely renditions of Scottish songs and popular hits “African-style”. The cinematography is taut and sparse, lingering on critical key scenes as it should in order to heighten their dramatic impact. One got the immediacy of a newsreel, but with quite good touches of good cinema that involved the viewer and kept the interest up. The documentary feel of the film is heightened by some actual footage that has been incorporated into the film (once again quite seamlessly and unobtrusively), which contribute to the authentic feel of the movie.

The transformation of Dr Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) character from a devil-may-care, free-thinking, shallow, adventure-loving, womaniser, to a scared, concerned, and enlightened person who becomes aware of the damage he has done to countless people is a strong narrative counterpoint to the portrayal of Amin initially as Uganda’s saviour and then the country’s torturing and murderous jailer. His instability of mind and his increasing brutality are introduced gradually until at the end of the movie one is horrified by the image of the dictator who sheds the blood of his countrymen quite nonchalantly.

We recommend this film, with one reservation. The use of “faction” (fictionalised fact) by contemporary novelists has produced some very compelling work, such as the novel on which this film is based. There is some caution to be exercised in this type of literature (and the work derived form it), however, as confessing to write “faction”, writers exonerate themselves from any real obligation to the truth. They can altering or invent events to suit their own purposes and give a false impression of history. Invented characters like that of Dr Garrigan can prove to be particularly tenacious in our collective consciousness and may assume a life of their own, especialy as people are more likely to see this film rather than read history books or examine the primary sources that relate to the life of Idi Amin.

Our post-literate society encourages us subscribe to the mentality of: “If you believe it, then it’s true”. We can throw overboard rules of evidence, the search for authentic documentary sources, the naked truth surrounding events (however dull and boring they may be sometimes) with disastrous consequences. When fictionalising history, whether in novels, in films or on television, we can fall into a trap and raise a new generation that will believe anything that popular media will feed it, holus-bolus. As a literary invention the character of Dr Garrigan is compelling, as a factionalised persona, he blunts the truth and can obscure the appreciation of historical actuality by a lazy audience.

An interesting article on faction by ‘The Guardian’ journalist Anthony Beevor can be found here and makes for quite interesting reading.


"Light of Peace will End All Wars" - Children aged 6-9 years
“When I say that terrorism is war against civilisation, I may be met by the objection that terrorists are often idealists pursuing worthy ultimate aims – national or regional independence, and so forth. I do not accept this argument. I cannot agree that a terrorist can ever be an idealist, or that the objects sought can ever justify terrorism. The impact of terrorism, not merely on individual nations, but on humanity as a whole, is intrinsically evil, necessarily evil and wholly evil.” - Benjamin Netanyahu

9th September, 2011. Ten years after the horrific acts of terrorism in the USA. A sad anniversary, so Art Sunday today is devoted to the theme of war and peace and multicultural tolerance and is painted by Pakistani children. Pakistan like many other developing countries has a large number of children belonging to the lower socio-economic group. Children from the privileged class have art in their schools but the underprivileged children have no opportunity of experiencing the joy of painting. Funkor Childart Centre, reaches out to such children and gives them the opportunity for self-expression through art.

Funkor Child Art Centre is a part of Initiative for Rural & Sustainable Development (IRSD) a registered (Reg:RS/ICT/145,dated Islamabad 1992 Societies ACT), private non- profit , non political voluntary organisation. Funkor uses the medium of art and books to extend children’s outlook and awareness of the concepts of environment and heritage protection, human rights, equality, tolerance and peace. Funkor is committed to promoting art among children and generating healthy and creative activities for children from a broad spectrum of society.

Art and book reading is a luxury not many children can afford in Pakistan. Art activities and book reading sessions are non-existent in schools for the children from the lower income group. The majority of underprivileged children art is a luxury they cannot afford and going to libraries is a rarity. Funkor Childart Center was founded in Islamabad, in 2002  by artist and children’s writer Fauzia Minallah , to organise workshops and events for children who rarely get a chance of experiencing the joy of painting and book reading.

The paintings here are part of a mural done to foster peace, tolerance and brotherhood amongst all people around the world. If we cannot save the world, maybe our children can…

"Multicultural Harmony" by Sara 10 years, Zehra 12 years, Ayla 11 Years

"Stop War" by Children aged 9-12 years