Friday 23 December 2011


“I heard the bells on Christmas Day; their old familiar carols play, and wild and sweet the word repeat of peace on earth, good-will to men!” - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The year has just hurtled past and here we are greeting yet another Christmas Eve. The year has been a difficult one and one that will certainly be memorable to me personally as a very significant, red letter one… Still, I am forever optimistic, looking forward to the New Year, which will hopefully be a better one.

For Song Saturday today, a Christmas carol, the ever-popular “Carol of the Bells”. It was composed by the Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych with an English text created later by American composer Peter J. Wilhousky, who wrote lyrics entirely unrelated to the original ones. The carol is based on a folk chant known in Ukrainian as “Shchedryk”, which Leontovych has used as the basis of the carol. It is a haunting four note ostinato motif within the range of a minor third, which is thought to be of prehistoric origins.

Although the first version of the composition was composed in 1904, it first premiered in December 1916 performed by a student choral group at Kiev University. It was introduced to Western audiences by the Ukrainian National Chorus during its concert tour of Europe and the Americas, where it premiered in the United States on October 5, 1921 at Carnegie Hall. A copyrighted English text was created by Peter Wilhousky in the 1930s, and since then it has been performed and sung worldwide during the Christmas season.

*Merry Christmas to all readers of my blog,
may you have a happy, peaceful and restful day tomorrow,
close to those near and dear to you!*

Thursday 22 December 2011


Christmas in England: “For many of the islanders, this anniversary is memorable (apart from all religious significance) because it evokes a great slaughter of turkeys, geese and all kinds of game, a wholesale massacre of fat oxen, pigs and sheep; they envisage garlands of black puddings, sausages and saveloys... mountains of plum-puddings and oven-fulls of mince-pies...  On that day no one in England may go hungry... This is a family gathering, and on every table the same menu is prepared. A joint of beef, a turkey or goose, which is usually the pièce de résistance, accompanied by a ham, sausages and game; then follow the inevitable plum-pudding and the famous mince pies.” - Alfred Suzanne

Christmas in Australia is a Summer Christmas, with temperatures often up in the mid- to high-30˚C mark. This seems to preclude traditional Christmas fare on the Christmas lunch/dinner menu (although there are a few die-hard traditionalists that do the full roast stuffed turkey, roast pork, ham, Christmas cake and hot steamed pudding bit with flaming brandy sauce). Christmas fare has adapted to the climate and season and there many options for cool summery salads, cuts of cold meats, cheeses, assorted seafood, barbeques, ice cream cakes, pavlovas and cool fruit salads.

Here are a few Australian Christmas menus to give you an idea of our Christmas fare:

Watermelon ice with malibu & coconut milk
Barbecued prawns with papaya & chilli relish
Fennel & coriander fish cutlets
Asian greens & tofu salad
Pink grapefruit & endive salad
Grilled vegetables with almond & wasabi dressing
Mango & coconut slice with palm sugar cream

Oysters with ponzu, mignonette sauce and gazpacho salsa
Balmain bug and prawn salad with saffron vinaigrette
Barbecued whole salmon with cracked wheat stuffing and coriander cream
Barbecued fontina and herb polenta fingers
Green leaf salad with lime and macadamia dressing
Soft pavlova roll with liqueur mascarpone and berry compote

Barbecued lime & mint chicken skewers
Oysters with chilli and bacon
Prawns with caper tartare
Barbecued stuffed pork loin
Lemon & oregano lamb racks
Barbecued corn with chilli-herb butter
Prosciutto, green bean & pumpkin salad
Roasted capsicum salad
Cranberry & champagne granita with berries

As you can see, the accent is on informality, with the food to be prepared quickly and to be preferably consumed outdoors: At the beach, in a park, in the backyard, or in a garden. All suited to the glorious summer weather and the heat! Here is the recipe for a Christmas Cake Ice Cream:

Christmas Cake Ice Cream
2 L vanilla ice cream
200 g sultanas
125 g pitted prunes
125 g glace cherries
60 g mixed peel
125 mL rum
160 g toasted almonds
100 g block of dark chocolate, broken up into small pieces
300 mL cream

1. Leave the ice cream out on the bench to get really soft while you prepare the other ingredients.
2. Chop up the chocolate, nuts and fruit into small pieces of roughly the same size, keeping the fruit to one side.
3. Place all of the fruit into a saucepan on medium heat and add the rum.
4. Heat gently for a few minutes so that the fruit begins to soak up the alcohol, then set aside to cool down.
5. Stir the cream into the ice cream, mixing well.
6. Add in everything else and place into a bombe container to freeze overnight.
7. Unmould to serve and decorate with some molten chocolate if desired.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday 21 December 2011


“Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods” - C.S. Lewis

Today the Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast Day of the Great Martyr Anastasia, the “Deliverer from Potions”, also Anastasia the Healer or Anastasia of Sirmium. She was martyred in Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia), and is known by the Greek term Φαρμακολύτρια (Pharmakolytria = deliverer from potions), since she has long been venerated by the church as a healer and exorcist. The name Anastasia is from Ανάστασις (Anástasis = Resurrection).

Anastasia was from Rome, daughter of a pagan father, Praepextatus and a Christian mother, Fausta and flourished around 280 AD. She was beautiful, virtuous and her family very wealthy. Her mother instructed her in the faith of Christ. After her mother’s death, her father gave her in marriage to a pagan named Publius Patricius. He subjected his wife to beatings and would keep her as a slave in the house. She only endured these torments for a short time as Publius drowned early in their marriage.

As a young widow, she never remarried and secretly dedicated her time to the poor, the sick and those in prisons by serving their needs daily. She would wash their wounds and especially console them during their anguish. Through her intercessions and prayers, she healed many from the effects of potions, poisons, spells and other harmful substances. This is how she received the honorific appellation “Deliverer from Potions”.

Words of her deeds and miracles spread throughout the area and her fame brought about her arrest under Diocletian’s persecutions. She was tortured and endured many torments and was eventually put to death by fire in the year 290. In the fifth century the relics of the saint were transferred to Constantinople, where a church was built and dedicated to her. This was the church where St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ was brought to be cured from his foolishness. St. Anastasia appeared to him in a dream and encouraged him to continue his ascetic life. Later the saints’ head and one of her hands were transferred to the Monastery of St. Anastasia the Pharmokolytria, in Chalkidiki, Greece.

Anastasia is a well-beloved saint in the Orthodox calendar and many women are named in this saint’s honour.


“The goal of every culture is to decay through over-civilization; the factors of decadence, -- luxury, skepticism, weariness and superstition, -- are constant. The civilization of one epoch becomes the manure of the next.” - Cyril Connolly

We live in a decadent era, poised ill-balanced on the cusp of dramatic changes that will alter forever the world as we know it. We are careening towards the end of days as they were for a very long time and the huge change that will result in a relatively short time will leave many behind in disbelief as they attempt to hang onto shreds of lives familiar and comfortable old ways. This is not to be. We must move with the times and adapt to the changing environment or else be forced into extinction like some-ill-adapted organism that cannot cope in the new environment.

What is causing this? Well, a multitude of factors: The global financial crisis; the huge economies of the world finally imploding under the stress of unsustainable business practices based on greed and inequity; globalisation as a forced single solution to all the problems that it has created of itself; political systems that have become irrelevant as people move on and their lives change; people moving away from centuries-old traditions; relationships that were held dear suddenly vanishing into obscurity; loss of restraint; lack of understanding and erosion of the core elements of such concepts as honour, shame, friendship, charity, altruism, faith, community, conscience, humanity…

Money rules supreme and consumerism drives all to make more money at whatever cost. All for sale, all having a price. To have lots of money excuses a multitude of sins that is almost inevitably associated with gaining it. Fame, fortune, world recognition of people whose only claim to fame is that they are recognisable as celebrities. Parasites of society that contribute nothing to it, yet reap the benefits conferred by a population that adulates them and raises them to their positions of prominence.

The latest depravity that made headlines around the world was an affront to humanity and a complete shamelessness to assure the perpetrators fame and fortune was the gross “reality TV” spectacle from Holland. Two television presenters that consumed each other’s flesh in a effort to shock and titillate a jaded public that is forever searching for mindless cheap thrills. This was a pointless and ignoble attempt to boost the revenue of the TV channel they worked for and of course line their own pockets with the filthy lucre. That surgeons took part in this stunt, removing the flesh of the presenters under anaesthesia is all the more abhorrent and shakes our belief in the medical profession as “saviours of humanity”.

World-wide notoriety was assured as people watched on vicariously and yet another taboo was broken down. We seem to be running out of taboos, what shall we do when we have completely reduced ourselves to the level of beastliness? What new perversions must we think of in order to keep the public ever tuned in? What new sordid acts will be shown, what obscenities must we suffer in order to elevate the next performer their five minutes of fame and fortune?

Can such a civilisation survive? How can we expect to advance as a species if we assent to such acts of barbarity and condones behaviours that demolish the morals of centuries? What will be the result? The law of the jungle, complete anarchy, a world in which arbitrary strength of the moment rules: I have a gun and I make the rules. I can kill you and therefore I am above law, above society, above everything that can restrain my behaviour as a sentient human being.

Millions of small acts of dissolution, millions of little acts of decadence, millions of trifling acts of intemperance that all together add up to massive losses of our essential civilised humanity. We are regressing and we are degenerating. We shall fall and then hopefully we can rise up again. Ah, we do live in interesting times…

Tuesday 20 December 2011


“Humor is just another defense against the universe.” - Mel Brooks

It’s been a little sad for me lately given all that has happened with my friend being diagnosed with cancer and the visits to the hospital and so on. I’ve also had a look at my recent Magpies and they have been rather melancholy and glum! I looked at the image and felt something heavy and lugubrious welling up from the cellars of inspiration. However, you’ll be relieved to know I’ve locked the cellar door and went up to the attic instead, where all the happy hoppers reside and came up with something humorous that matched the slightly altered image, with apologies to Mr Friedlander…

Here is my contribution for this week’s Magpie Tales:

The French Hat

“Imogen, dear, that hat you wear will never do
We’re going to the cinema you know!”
“Oh, yes, of course it will and don't you stew,
It’s French, so elegant, so ‘comme-il-faut’…”

“Imogen, those behind us shall grumble and complain,
We’ll never hear the end of it, I feel…”
“Oh, shush! A chic and wee chapeau, makes me feel urbane,
Besides, it’s such a delicate shade of teal!”

“Imogen, dear, I am sure you know what is best,
But I fret that we shall spoil our outing…”
“Tut-tut, Henry you are such a bore, desist and rest;
All’s well there will be no loutish shouting!”

So off they went, he short and fat, she lean and tall,
The hat balanced precariously on coiffed beehive.
They sat right up the front and in the centre of the hall,
She high, while Henry shrank and hoped all to survive.

“Down with your blasted hat, up front I cannot see!
Take off the darned contraption and let us enjoy the flick!”
“Oh, Henry an appalling place! Oh, goodness, me!
I feel as though I could get up and give that man a kick…”

“Oh Imogen, dearest love I knew it all along, that hat
Will cause much trouble, strife and discontent!”
“Henry get up and be a man! Don’t let fools treat you like a mat!
Use violence if you must, that lout’s no gent!”

“Down, down! Off with that tatty blue thing up front!”
“Henry, stop hiding, up you get we shall leave!
This is no place for people of quality; Oh, such affront!”
“Imogen, dear, indeed! The ones who go won't grieve!”

So off they went, he glum and fat, she proud and tall,
The hat still held precariously on coiffed beehive.
She killed with dagger eyes the youth, whose catcall
Forced their exit; but hat was held high, joyously alive.

Sunday 18 December 2011


“I did not know how to reach him, how to catch up with him... The land of tears is so mysterious.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

At the weekend we watched a film we had seen several years ago, as I wanted to see it again, being quite topical in terms of my friend who was diagnosed with cancer, about whom I blogged some days ago. It was the 1991 Randa Haines drama “The Doctor”, starring William Hurt, Christine Lahti and Elizabeth Perkins. The screenplay by Robert Caswell is based on the book “A Taste of My Own Medicine” by Ed Rosenbaum, which I recommended to all of my medical students to read when I was teaching.

William Hurt plays Dr Jack McKee who is an arrogant, rich, self-satisfied surgeon on top of the world. He and his colleagues, Dr Eli Blumfield (Adam Arkin) and Dr Kaplan (Mandy Patimkin) are all successful surgeons who hold lucrative posts and perform miracles with their scalpels every day in the operating theatres of a large teaching hospital. Dr Jack’s motto is: “Get in, fix it, and get out”. He completely lacks human warmth and his empathy for the patients he treats is close to zero. He and his colleagues are hardly likeable characters even though we know their job is to save lives of patients with life-threatening disease.

When Dr Jack develops a cancer in his throat, he changes from his position of power as doctor to the very vulnerable position of patient. He all of the sudden has to face the same impersonal treatment from his colleagues that he too shortly before doled out to his own patients. An early scene in the film involves Dr Abbot (Wendy Crewson) the ENT/throat surgeon who diagnoses his cancer, and she is cold, distant and clinical, making Dr Jack angry. He tells her she is not treating her patients with any compassion or empathy. She responds by telling him her patients are basically an assembly line. Hurt is humbled as he realises that his treatment of his own patients was identical to Dr. Abbot’s, as we have seen in an opening scene where he makes a cutting remark to a breast cancer patient.

With his cancer diagnosed, Dr Jack realises that his career has alienated him from his family and he is virtually a stranger to his wife (Christine Lahti) and child. Dr Jack’s awakening as human being and the relationship he builds with another cancer patient evinces from his wife changing feelings: Sympathy vs anger, jealousy vs feeling excluded, love vs hate, and a subplot is the marital discord that further troubles Dr Jack’s conscience, as he knows he is the one responsible for it. His support in the face of fellow cancer sufferer June Ellis (Elizabeth Perkins) is a saving grace, but at the same time another challenge he has to deal with as she highlights for him the abject dependency a patient has on their treating doctor. It is often said that doctors are the worst patients, and this comes out of the fact that they can experience the ultimate fear of their disease and its consequences, considering that they have the medical knowledge and experience of it.

The film is directed faultlessly by Randa Haines, who gives the film a sense of poignancy and sensitivity where in other hands it could have easily turned into mawkish sentimentality. Haines is not afraid to deal with the emotional awkwardness faced by Dr Jack and his clique and she knows exactly where she steers this movie emotionally. She concludes it strongly and movingly.

All actors play extremely well – Hurt in the leading role especially, showing a transformation that is believable and genuine. Elizabeth Perkins is superficially fragile but one can detect within her the tower of strength that Dr Jack can depend on in order to handle his own crisis. Christine Lahti manages to carry off with aplomb a difficult role that is emotionally flighty and changeable and the film could have become even more powerful if the “marital discord” scenes had been given a little bit more depth.

Overall, this film is a powerful, accessible, realistic and believable fable that criticises not the one man – Dr Jack – but rather the whole medical fraternity who while showing professionalism, emotional restraint and self-protective behaviours when dealing with patients, also have to be human and empathetic and see sickness through the perspective of the very vulnerable, confused, frightened, alienated and despondent person that every patient becomes when facing disease and the concept of their own mortality.