Saturday 19 November 2011


“Into each life some rain must fall.” - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

A rainy day today, gray and wet. What better song for Song Saturday than Uriah Heep’s beautiful 1972 ballad “Rain”?

Although I believe I do like Notis Sfakianakis’ cover version better:

Friday 18 November 2011


“I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” - Albert Einstein

I was in Adelaide for the day attending a very interesting conference on eLearning in education. It made for a very long day, waking up at 4:00 a.m., commuting to Adelaide on the Airbus, working all day and then commuting back home to get here at 10:00 p.m. Still, I am now home and will sleep in my own bed, rather than staying in a hotel overnight – which is not good and I avoid as much as possible! The conference went well and there some engaging presentations, many knowledgeable people attending, good opportunities for networking as well as much to do regarding catching up with all the latest technology and the way it is being used in education.

At lunchtime we had a fantastic spread of food, which had the added benefit of it being quite healthful and nutritious. There were rolls, focaccia and bread, as well a variety of fillings for people to assemble their own sandwiches. There were salads, a large variety of fruits, cheeses, delicatessen goodies like ham, roast beef, salami slices, and many sandwich filings like mashed avocado, bean sprouts, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber slices, capsicum, shredded cabbage, beetroot, etc, etc. The food was fresh and looked fantastic. Besides which everyone could please themselves and make their own sandwiches just as they liked them. It was a delicious lunch and very much appreciated by the conference attendees.

A sandwich can be very good nutritionally and be as healthful as we wish to make it. As long as we don’t keep piling on the butter, mayonnaise and other sauces, and we ensure there are lots of fresh vegetables in it, then it works well as a power food. Especially so if the bread used is high in fibre and contains multiple grains.

The weather in Adelaide today was extremely hot, the mercury rising to the high 30s. Fortunately, we were in an air-conditioned venue, which made it very pleasant. In Melbourne it was also hot, but the temperature was not as high. However, in the evening there was a storm again in Melbourne. Fortunately, it was all over by the time I got back and bar a few bumps and jumps in the plane as we were coming back, we had good flying.

Thursday 17 November 2011


“Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty.” - Plato

November 17th is a sombre anniversary for Greeks, but one which is also filled with positive emotions and one that makes every Greek remember that Greece was the cradle of democracy and political freedom. The day marks the Athens Polytechnic uprising of 1973, which was a massive public demonstration of rejection of the Greek military junta of 1967-1974 by the people of Athens. The uprising began on November 14, 1973, escalated to an open anti-junta, anti-US and anti-imperialist revolt and ended in bloodshed in the early morning of November 17 after a series of events starting with a tank crashing through the gates of the Athens Polytechnic. This was an unthinkable and barbaric act performed by an oppressive military junta struggling to maintain power.

Since April 21st, 1967 Greece was under the dictatorial rule of the military, a regime which abolished civil rights, dissolved political parties and exiled, imprisoned and tortured politicians and citizens based on their political beliefs. At the time my family and I were living in Athens and even though I was a child I remember the events of April 21st, 1967 clearly as they were branded in my mind. They were events after all events that forced my family to leave our homeland and relatives and to seek political refuge in Australia. But that’s another long story and not of relevance to this.

In 1973 George Papadopoulos, the junta leader, in his magnanimity had allowed a “liberalisation” process of his hateful regime, which included the release of political prisoners and the partial lifting of censorship, as well as promises of a new constitution and new elections for a return to civilian rule. This allowed some previously outlawed groups and opposition elements. including Socialists, the opportunity to undertake political action against the junta.

In its attempt to control every aspect of politics, the junta had interfered with student syndication since 1967, by banning student elections in universities, forcibly drafting students and imposing non-elected student union leaders in the national students’ union. These actions eventually created strong anti-junta sentiments among students. This is exemplified by many protests, such as that of Geology student Kostas Georgakis who committed suicide in 1970 in Genoa, Italy as an ultimate act of protest against the junta.

The first massive public action against the junta came from students on February 21st, 1973, when law students went on strike and barricaded themselves inside the buildings of the Faculty of Law in the university of Athens in the centre of Athens, demanding the repealling of the law that imposed forceful drafting of “subversive youths”, a fate that had been suffered by 88 of their peers who had been forcefully drafted. The police were ordered to intervene and many students were subjected to police brutality. The events at the Law School are often cited as the prelude to the Polytechnic uprising. The student uprising of November 17th was also inspired by the youth movements of the sixties, notably the events of May 1968 in France.

On November 14, 1973 students at the Athens Polytechnic (Πολυτεχνείον) went on strike and started protesting against the junta or “Regime of the Colonels” as it was also known. As the authorities stood by, the students, calling themselves the “Free Besieged” (Ελεύθεροι Πολιορκημένοι, an overt reference to the poem by Greek national poet Dionysios Solomos inspired by the Ottoman siege of Missolonghi), barricaded themselves in the Polytechnic. They set up a radio station using laboratory equipment that repeatedly broadcast messages of revolt and freedom across Athens: “Here is Polytechneion! People of Greece, the Polytechneion is the flag bearer of our struggle and your struggle, our common struggle against the dictatorship and for democracy!”

Maria Damanaki (later an elected member of the democratic parliament), was one of the major broadcasters. Within hours, thousands of ordinary people, workers and youths joined the students, protesting inside and outside of the Polytechnic. In the early hours of November 17, 1973, the transitional government led by Spyros Markezinis who was collaborating with Papadopoulos panicked, ordering a tank to crash through the gates of the Athens Polytechnic in order to quell what had been until then a peaceful demonstration. Soon after that, Spyros Markezinis himself had the humiliating task to request Papadopoulos to re-impose martial law.

Prior to the attack, the city electricity had been interrupted, and the Polytechnic area was only lit by the campus lights, powered by the university generators. An AMX 30 Tank crashed the rail gate of the Athens Polytechnic at around 03:00am. In unclear footage clandestinely filmed by a Dutch journalist, the tank is shown bringing down the main steel entrance to the campus to which people were clinging. Documentary evidence also survives, in recordings of the Polytechnic radio transmissions from the occupied premises.

In these recording a young man’s desperate voice is heard asking the soldiers, whom he calls “brothers in arms”, to disobey the military orders and not to fight their unarmed “brothers” whose only crime was to protest against the junta. The voice carries on to an emotional outbreak, where the Greek National Anthem is recited, until the tank enters the Polytechnic, at which time transmission ceases. These are hair-raising documentaries that break one’s heart as they are watched and listened to.

The records of the trials held following the collapse of the Junta document the circumstances of the deaths of scores of civilians during the uprising, and although the number of dead has not been contested by historical research, it remains a subject of political controversy. In addition, hundreds of civilians were left injured or maimed during the events. On November 25, 1973, Brigadier General Dimitrios Ioannides used the events as a pretext to stage a countercoup that overthrew Papadopoulos, and put a dramatic end to Papadopoulos and Markezinis’ attempt for a transition to democratic rule. Ioannidis arrested Markezinis, cancelled the elections, and fully reinstated martial law. His regime in turn crumbled in July 1974, after the coup against Makarios III, instigated by Cypriot Nikos Sampson in contact with the Greek junta of Ioannidis, led to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus.

Ioannides' involvement in inciting unit commanders of the security forces to commit criminal acts during the Athens Polytechnic uprising was noted in the indictment presented to the court by the prosecutor during the Greek junta trials and in his subsequent conviction in the Polytechneion trial where he was found to have been morally responsible for the events.

The events of July 1974 in Cyprus caused the military regime to crumble and ushered in the era of “Metapolitefsi”. Constantine Karamanlis was invited back to Greece from France where he was self-exiled, was appointed Prime Minister of Greece alongside President Phaedon Gizikis. Parliamentary democracy was thus restored, and the Greek legislative elections of 1974 were the first free elections held in a decade.

November 17 is currently observed as a holiday in Greece for all educational establishments; commemorative services are held and students attend school only for these, while some schools and all universities stay closed during the day. The central location for the commemoration is the campus of the Polytechnic. The campus is closed on the 15th (the day the students first occupied the campus on 1973). Students and politicians lay wreaths on a monument within the Polytechnic.

The student uprising is hailed by many as a brave act of resistance against the military dictatorship, and therefore as a symbol of popular resistance to tyranny. It show that Greeks respond valiantly to extreme events in times of crisis and can sacrifice themselves in order to defend the ideas of freedom and democracy, to demand basic human rights and to reclaim dignity and a better life for themselves. In these times of crisis that Greece is experiencing now, the Polytechnic Uprising anniversary has a special significance as an idea and an ideal.

junta |ˈho͝ontə, ˈjəntə| noun
1 A military or political group that rules a country after taking power by force: The country's ruling military junta.
2 historical A deliberative or administrative council in Spain or Portugal.
ORIGIN early 17th cent. ( sense 2): from Spanish and Portuguese, from Latin juncta, feminine past participle of jungere ‘to join.’

Tuesday 15 November 2011


“I have learned silence from the talkative, tolerance from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strangely, I am ungrateful to these teachers” - Kahlil Gibran

Today we celebrate the International Day for Tolerance, which was created by Resolution 51/95, where the UN General Assembly invited Member States to observe the Day on November 16th each year. Activities are planned, which are directed towards educational institutions and the broader public. The day was created to provide an opportunity for everyone within the global community to rededicate their commitment to and responsibility in encouraging tolerance, respect, and cooperation among different cultures and people.

Tolerance is to deliberately allow to occur something of which one disapproves, such as social, ethnic, sexual, or religious practices. It means that we may not agree or like what we are allowing to happen, but we are willing to accept the differences between ourselves and others who are different from us. This attitude is especially important on the social level, allowing us to live our life free from racial and ethnic prejudice, embracing the willingness to live and let live non-judgmentally. Tolerance of course, does not refer to condoning illegal activities or allowing acts to occur that will physically harm individuals or psychologically damage them.

Tolerance is something that many people find hard to practise and even the most liberal and tolerant amongst us may occasionally catch ourselves lapsing into an attitude that reeks of some deep-seated prejudice that we may have long-battled to eradicate from within ourselves. Such is the nature of humans, the “us and them” mentality. This harks back to our caveman roots and the battle of survival where one had to stick together within one’s clan and protect the interests of the tribe, as this equated with survival. We have since become civilised but the caveman within still manages to overcome our refined, polished and über-socialised selves.

Religious intolerance is one of the prime causes of worldwide hostility. It is unfortunate that religious feeling, which deals with the higher spiritual matters is responsible for the blood-letting and the destruction that still occurs on a massive scale around the planet. Racism is another cause of widespread hatred and the pages of history are full of the blood stains of the various types of racial and ethnic cleansing that intolerance begets. And of course there are many other causes for intolerance, sexual, gender-based, social, political, intellectual and more…

On days like today we can reflect on how we can best create a society where there is a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from our own. Our differences make us stronger and more adaptable, better able to embroider fully and colourfully our social fabric. It is important for each of us to think about how we can use our differences as invitations rather than barriers. As the Day of Tolerance comes to a close, we should be able to think back and be satisfied that we have done something to open a channel of communication with someone from a culture or background other than our own. If we didn’t do anything today, what can we do tomorrow?

Tolerance is the foundation for mutual respect among people and communities, and is vital for building a single global society around shared values. It is a virtue and a quality, it is a way of life, it is a virtuous path, but above all, tolerance is an act – the act of reaching out to others and seeing differences not as barriers, but as invitations for dialogue and understanding.

Monday 14 November 2011


“Youth is easily deceived, because it is quick to hope.” - Aristotle

I was in the train yesterday, coming home after a full day at work. A group of teenagers in school uniform came in and stood next to me, I seated and reading the paper. They were full of exuberance and verve, laughing and exchanging pleasantries, mock insults, telling jokes. I looked at them and half-smiled into the newsprint, remembering my own school years a little nostalgically. But nostalgia is a poor judge of circumstance as it often looks at the past through rose-tinted lenses and the unpleasant memories magically disappear…

I observed the group of students and became aware that their manner was a little forced, there was a tension in their interaction. Their eyes were full of insecurity, their body language showing unease, their voices mirthful yet all too anxious, and their stance betraying their nervousness. A young man with a face full of pimples who constantly brought his hand to his face, as if to shield his spots self-consciously. A girl with braces was afraid to smile lest the dental equipment showed too much and a rather plump boy did not dare say anything, lest he draw attention to himself. A handsome young man was too much aware of his prodigious height and his back was humped as he tried to bring himself down to the level of his interlocutors. A flat-chested girl crossing her arms in front of her breasts, hoping to hide their non-existence.

Youth: How often we yearn for it and when older we forget the ferocity of adolescence, the anguish of early adulthood, the insecurity of that transient period when we shift from youth to adulthood. What to do with our life, what path to choose, how to establish ourselves in this strange new world of adults that we so yearned to enter. And when with the wonderful key of our coming-of-age we open the door that leads into this marvellous new universe, how terrifying it all is!

Today’s Magpie Tales reminded me of this experience. The woman surrounded by chairs finds herself in a plenitude of parallel universes, with a superabundance of seemingly identical choices, but if the wrong choice is made the life ahead will be bitter, the right choice assuring a better outcome. Once again pardon my whim of tampering with Magpie’s image, but I had to belabour my point and drive home the meaning behind my rather sibylline pome today.


There is a gravid moment,
An expectation
Full of prospects,
An endless row of possibilities.

There is a hope,
A skein of wishes
Plaited into the loose pigtails
Of youth yearning to grow up.

There is excitement,
A wild elation
But also apprehension,
As the road ahead is hidden, treacherous.

There is insistence,
A compulsion to choose
But also diffidence –
For a wrong choice will be regretted…

There is much offered,
A plethora of promises;
Each choice must be weighed
And compared with its companions.

A seat selected tends to bind,
The wood sprouting viscid tentacles,
Imprisoning unwary limbs:
Once seated, one may soar – or stay put, unseated.


“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” - Oscar Wilde

We watched an interesting and enjoyable film at the weekend, Richard Eyre’s 2004 “Stage Beauty”. This is an English costume drama based on Jeffrey Hatcher’s play “Compleat Female Stage Beauty”. The playwright wrote the screenplay and must have enjoyed transposing his play to the medium of film as the script was most cinematic and did not lose its bite, as plays often do when transported to the silver screen. The film starred several unknown actors (to us at least), the only exception being Ben Chaplin, whom we had seen before in a couple of movies. Nevertheless, they did a very good job, especially the leads, Billy Crudup and Claire Danes playing the restoration actors Kynaston and Maria-alias-Margaret Hughes.

The plot centres on the theatre in England during the reign of Charles II (reigned 1660 to 1685). At that time, by law, all female roles of all plays were to be portrayed by male actors. Acting then was an elaborate and highly artificial art where actors relied on gestures and affectations that would be laughable today in a serious drama, and only at home in the hammed up world of pantomime. The leading figure of that theatrical world was Ned Kynaston who was the most famous Desdemona of his time. In the film, this actor is the darling of all London, but is idolised by his dressing assistant, Maria. Maria is a woman who desires to be an actress but she is not allowed to be as it was illegal. Such is her desire to act that she goes to a second rate company that puts on plays in a pub and emerges as Margaret Hughes, an illicit actress in her own right who will challenge Kynaston’s Desdemona and makes that character, her signature role as well.

The fascination of the film is that it is based on fact, both Kynaston and Hughes were real people who lived in that tumultuous era. Charles II and Nell Gwynn, his mistress, (played with gusto by Rupert Everett and Zoe Tapper respectively) do exemplify the licentious abandon of the Restoration and one can imagine them becoming personally involved in the brou-ha-ha surrounding the Kynaston vs Hughes battle. Samuel Pepys, the diarist, makes an appearance and is played with suitable mousiness by Hugh Bonneville. What makes the film enjoyable is the artistic license taken by the playwright, who weaves his threads of fiction through the threads of fact to create “fact-ion”. There are numerous anachronisms throughout the movie, but one can be forgiving, given the fact that it is such a good story.

The film, despite its levity (it is an amusing “romantic comedy” of sorts), tackles several important topics: Female equality, the concept of sex and gender, sexuality and transvestism, professionalism versus amateurism in art. It also asks the question what it means to be an actor and to what extent one is willing to go in order to achieve one’s dream. Even though many of these questions that the film poses remain as subplots, the matters are raised and the intelligent viewer will look beyond the often farcical triviality of the plot in order to ruminate upon the answers to these questions.

Eyre’s direction is tight and professional and he manages to balance his movie on the razor’s edge between farce and pathos. The cinematography is quite sumptuous and one is transported convincingly to 17th century London. The costumes, settings and even the CGI of some of the aerial shots of Old London are quite spectacular. Overall, this is a fine period piece, which deserved to do much better at the box office than it did. IMDB informs me that the gross takings in the USA were a very modest $776,691 between 10th October 2004 and 28th November 2004!

This is a very worthwhile film to watch and we recommend it most highly. It is amusing and light-hearted, but it does have a bite too, quite a sting in its tail – the last scene in which Desdemona and Othello are acted out by the rivals Hughes and Kynaston is quite remarkable – although not in keeping with the times portrayed!