Saturday 4 August 2012


“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a spring day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” - John Lubbock

Each little routine of a Saturday morning at home, how delightful it is! Each blessed chore, each morning ritual, each ordinary moment, how grateful we should be for them all… The smell of cooking in the kitchen, the sun shining through the clouds, the violets blooming in the garden and the people whom we love and who love us just being around us. Days of peace, noontime rest, freshly baked bread, the small homely comforts, how beautiful they are…

As the evening falls, the lights come on, it is a night of calm and serenity. As the moon rises, and as it plays hide and seek with the clouds, how wonderful it all is. The touch of a soft hand, the kiss of the one we love, how special it is. How little do we sit and think about it all, how little do we appreciate each of these small perfect moments that we enjoy freely and which are denied to so many around the world…

A beautiful Saturday, a perfect day!

Friday 3 August 2012


“Rice is born in water and must die in wine.” - Italian Proverb

It has a been a tiring few days of travel, meetings, presentations and talks in Brisbane. It was wonderful to come home on Friday night and even though it was cold and rainy in Melbourne, it is home and it felt lovely. Especially so walking in form the cold outside into a warm house where the delicious cooking smells pervaded the kitchen. Nothing like a hearty risotto on cold winter’s night to warm you up!

Risotto Milanese

1 litre chicken stock
Pinch saffron threads
1 and 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 and 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup frozen peas
bunch of asparagus spears, chopped and blanched
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
30g butter, chopped
Shaved parmesan cheese, to serve

Place the stock and saffron in a saucepan. Cover. Bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low. Simmer until needed.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until softened. Add rice. Cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Add the wine and bring to the boil. Boil for 1 to 2 minutes or until wine is reduced by half.
Add 1/3 cup stock to rice mixture. Cook, stirring, until stock has absorbed. Repeat with remaining stock, adding 1/3 cup at a time, until all liquid has absorbed and rice is tender and creamy, adding peas and asparagus to rice mixture with final 1/3 cup stock.
Cook for 5 minutes or until the peas and asparagus are heated through. Remove from heat. Stir in cheese and butter. Season with salt and pepper. Serve topped with shaved cheese.

This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Wednesday 1 August 2012


“Freedom of inquiry, freedom of discussion, and freedom of teaching - without these a university cannot exist” - Robert Maynard Hutchins 

The weather in Brisbane has been glorious. Sunny, warm and fine with at least some opportunity in between meetings to walk around a little and enjoy the sunshine. This is the benefit of a subtropical Brisbane winter compared to our cold, wet and gray Melbourne one. However, it is quite nice for a week or two but I still prefer the definite Winter weather and the distinction of the seasons we get in the more Southern latitudes of Melbourne.

I have been extremely busy with work and with the visits to various campuses of Universities here in Brisbane. At least, the meetings have been interesting and I have met with some very intelligent academics and have had some useful discussions. All is going very well...

Griffith University is where I am spending most of my time, and this is a public research university in the southeastern region of the Australian state of Queensland. The university has five satellite campuses located in the Gold Coast, Logan City and in the Brisbane suburbs of Mount Gravatt, Nathan and South Bank. Current total enrollment is approximately 43,000 with 4,000 full-time equivalent staff. Griffith University offers undergraduate and postgraduate degrees across ten discipline areas including Arts, Education, Business, Health, Law, Engineering, Information Technology, Environment, Music and Visual Arts.

In 1965, 174 hectares of natural bushland at Nathan were set aside for a new University campus. Initially the site was to be part of the University of Queensland which was experiencing strong demand in humanities and social sciences. However, by 1970, a new institution was being suggested, this to be independent of the University of Queensland. The university was formally founded in 1971 and opened its doors in 1975 to 451 students in four schools: Australian Environmental Studies, Humanities, Modern Asian Studies and Science.

The University started with its Nathan campus, and several of its campuses are distinctive for their nature-based settings within large urban agglomerations. Buildings were designed to fit into the environment by following the slope of the land and by using architectural means of cooling. The library building was designed by Robin Gibson and won the first national award for library design. The clusters of buildings, sports facilities, bushland reserves and recreational areas are connected by integrated networks of walking paths.

The university was distinguished by its “problem-based” rather than disciplinary approach to course design and research. The University is named after the former Premier of Queensland, and High Court of Australia justice, Sir Samuel Walker Griffith, who was also the principal author of the Australian constitution. The QS World University Rankings places Griffith in the 291st place amongst universities in the world.

Tuesday 31 July 2012


“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” - Marcel

I am travelling to Brisbane for the rest of the week for work and have been very busily trying to get as much done as I can before I leave. It is always difficult to fit travel into an already busy schedule, especially if it turns out to be more than a day trip, as it is in this case. The only thing that I look forward to is that Brisbane is enjoying much better weather than Melbourne at the moment, with predicted top temperatures in the low twenties, as opposed to the low to mid-teens in Melbourne! I doubt whether I will time to enjoy the weather or sunbathe, but nevertheless it may be very pleasant to try and walk in the sun for a little while if it can be managed!

Monday 30 July 2012


“Being Prime Minister is a lonely job. In a sense, it ought to be: You cannot lead from the crowd. But with Denis there I was never alone. What a man. What a husband. What a friend.” – Margaret Thatcher

Old age can be a terrible thing if one’s health is compromised. More so of course if dementia sets in and one cannot enjoy one’s final years with full control of one’s mental faculties. This is particularly heart-breaking for individuals who have lived by their wits and have been an intellectual for all their lives. Not only is it confusing and exceedingly distressing for the elderly person in the process of becoming demented, but even more so is it harrowing for the friends and family who see the decline and experience the fading away of the persona of the individual they once knew, into a neutral, living, vacuous shell of the person they once were.

These and many more related thoughts were going through our mind during watching the movie we saw at the weekend, and afterwards, as we discussed it. It was the 2011 Phyllida Lloyd film “The Iron Lady”, starring Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent and Richard E. Grant with a screenplay by Abi Morgan. This is a famous and somewhat controversial film of the rise and decline of Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female Prime Minister, notorious during the 1980s.

Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, LG, OM, PC, FRS, née Roberts (born 13 October 1925) is a British politician and the longest-serving (1979–1990) Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of the 20th century, and the only woman ever to have held the post. A Soviet journalist nicknamed her the “Iron Lady”, which later became associated with her uncompromising politics and leadership style – hence the name of the film. As prime minister, she implemented conservative policies that have come to be known as “Thatcherism”.

Thatcherism introduced a series of political and economic initiatives to reverse what Thatcher perceived as Britain’s precipitous national decline. Her political philosophy and economic policies emphasised deregulation (particularly of the financial sector), flexible labour markets, the privatisation of state-owned companies, and reducing the power and influence of trade unions. Thatcher’s popularity during her first years in office waned amid recession and high unemployment, until economic recovery and the 1982 Falklands War brought a resurgence of support, resulting in her re-election in 1983. Thatcher was re-elected for a third term in 1987, but her Community Charge (popularly referred to as “poll tax”) was widely unpopular and her views on the European Community were not shared by others in her Cabinet. She resigned as Prime Minister and party leader in November 1990, after Michael Heseltine launched a challenge to her leadership. Her withdrawal from politics saw her remaining active as a public figure for a number of years.

Thatcher’s husband, Sir Denis Thatcher died on 26 June 2003 and was cremated on 3 July. She had paid tribute to him in “The Downing Street Years”, writing of their life-long devotion t one another. After collapsing at a House of Lords dinner, Thatcher was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital in central London on 7 March 2008 for tests. Her daughter Carol has recounted how she was first struck by her mother's dementia when she muddled the Falklands conflict with the Yugoslav wars; she has also recalled the pain of needing to tell her mother repeatedly that Denis Thatcher was dead…

The film concentrates on the everyday life of an elderly, dementing Margaret Thatcher who talks to the imagined presence of her recently deceased husband as she struggles to come to terms with his death. All the while, scenes from her past life, from girlhood to British prime minister, intervene. Intervene is the right word as the flashback style of storytelling used is jarring, intrusive and distracting. The scenes from young adulthood and the moments of Thatcher in action are too far and few between to really make the impact they should have. One can see that this is the screenwriter’s way of getting the viewer to understand Thatcher’s mental state as she is dementing - dementia involves an immediate and profound loss of recent memory, but as the individual goes backwards in time, the more distant memories are the ones retained the longest and most vividly. However, it is an annoying device after the first few scenes. The sporadic flashbacks among the more elongated stretches of following the elderly and mentally fragile Thatcher makes for a flawed film. Some stories are so interesting and involving that they need no device to be told. A nice beginning, middle and end suffices.

The film won a slew of awards, including two Oscars, one for Meryl Streep (deservedly) as best actress in a leading role and one for best achievement in make-up. Streep’s performance is remarkable, with accent, facial expressions and appearance being utterly convincing. She once again displays the fine gamut of her acting abilities and one can be totally transported by her into the life of Thatcher. Jim Broadbent as Denis Thatcher also does a fine job in the supporting role, and there is a host of other excellent supporting actors.

Overall, we were glad to watch the movie, despite its flaws. It was interesting from the point of view of a portrait of a person undergoing dementia and thus it paints a rather sympathetic portrait of Margaret Thatcher as the human being, without being too controversial. Its focus is squarely on Thatcher’s later years in decline rather than her active years as Prime Minister. I guess one should watch a documentary or two, in order to see the latter. It reminded us of the other famous film of British conservatism, “The Queen” with Helen Mirren (see my review here). There may be many who object to the film, seeing it as an invasion of Thatcher’s privacy and her supporters may indicate that the snippets of Thatcher in action are not too sympathetic to “Thatcherism”. However, this is not a political film nor is it a documentary. It is a biopic about an elderly woman who had an active and intellectual mind trying to cope with the loss of her mental faculties. As such, it is a good movie.

Sunday 29 July 2012


“Which painting in the National Gallery would I save if there was a fire? The one nearest the door, of course.” - George Bernard Shaw
Gerrit Dou was a Dutch artist, born in 1613 in Leiden, The Netherlands, and died in 1675 in Leiden. Dou’s father was a glass engraver and he gave his son his first painting lessons. The young Gerrit was then apprenticed to a distinguished printmaker and glass painter, receiving additional formal artistic training from the Leiden glaziers’ guild. At fifteen he was appointed to the enviable position of apprentice in Rembrandt’s studio, where he studied for six years.

After Rembrandt left Leiden in 1631, his influence on Dou waned. Dou continued to paint on wood in a small scale but adopted cooler colours and a more highly refined technique characteristic of the fijnschilders (fine painters), a group of Leiden artists who painted small, highly finished pictures. Portraits in impasto gave way to domestic genre subjects, enamel-smooth and rich in accessory details. Dou became one of the highest paid artists in the Netherlands and the founder of the Leiden painters’ guild. Royal patrons from all over Europe sought him out. King Charles II of England even offered him the post of court painter, which he refused. Despite his international reputation, Dou scarcely left his native Leiden.

Dou was greatly praised during his lifetime because of his carefully realistic portrayal of nature and the visual illusions and the common occurrence of trompe l’oeil effects in his works. Dou’s paintings expressed the “paragone debate” around his time. The paragone debate was an ongoing competition between painting, sculpture and poetry about which of them was most capable in representing nature. The discussion was especially heated in Leiden, as the painters wanted to obtain the rights of a guild from the town council, in order to have laws enacted for their economic protection.

The “Sleeping Dog” of 1650, is an oil on panel work, 16.5 cm x 21.6 cm. It is in the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection. It is typical of the work of Gerrit Dou, with a detailed, finely crafted depiction of the subject matter – in this case, a seemingly run-of-mill domestic scene. A dog sleeps besides a basket, an earthenware container, a bunch of sticks and a pair of clogs. The objects are chosen to highlight and contrast a variety of textures and colours, the soft pale fur of the dog, the glazed pottery, the rough sticks and the woven wickerwork. The artistry and skill of the painter is consummate and the composition wonderful.

However, the work can also be interpreted using the symbolism of the objects. The dog as a symbol of faithfulness and guardianship, the pot and basket as symbols of industry and domesticity, the bunch of sticks as a symbol of strength and the clogs implying intimacy. One may draw whatever conclusions one wants from this assemblage of objects and the things they symbolise, something like: If one lets one’s guard down (sleeping dog) and strays from the everyday chores of life (pot and basket) that are the basis of virtuous life giving one strength of character (sticks) one may fall victim to one’s sexual passions (a common symbol in the 17th century was the removal of slippers as evidence of succumbing to sexual passion or immorality). One may hazard all sorts of other interpretations or simply enjoy the scene for what is superficially appears – a sleeping dog, and perhaps we should just let sleeping dogs lie!