Saturday 28 June 2014


“The essence of the beautiful is unity in variety.” - Felix Mendelssohn

The ‘Hebrides Overture’, written by the 20 year-old Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, was inspired by his visit to Fingal’s Cave when he was touring Scotland. He sent a letter to his sister Fanny describing his impression of the cave and along with it an autograph of the first several bars of the overture written on 2 staves. Fingal’s Cave is a sea cave on the uninhabited island of Staffa, in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, part of a National Nature Reserve owned by the National Trust for Scotland. It became known as Fingal's Cave after the eponymous hero of an epic poem by 18th-century Scots poet-historian James Macpherson.

The cave is formed entirely from hexagonally jointed basalt columns within a Paleocene lava flow, similar in structure to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland and those of nearby Ulva. In all these cases, cooling on the upper and lower surfaces of the solidified lava resulted in contraction and fracturing, starting in a blocky tetragonal pattern and transitioning to a regular hexagonal fracture pattern with fractures perpendicular to the cooling surfaces. Similar hexagonal fracture patterns are found in desiccation cracks in mud where contraction is due to loss of water instead of cooling. Its size and naturally arched roof, and the eerie sounds produced by the echoes of waves, give it the atmosphere of a natural cathedral. The cave’s Gaelic name, An Uaimh Bhinn, means “the melodious cave”.

The first section of the overture explores the cave’s ambience and eerie darkness. The following section where the orchestra plays tutti gives the impression of a raging ocean. The development section introduces a new theme which is very lyrical and in a cantabile style. The recapitulation reintroduces the original theme with some variations and new orchestral colors and the use of a marcato rhythm and is finally followed by a great climax, which is well prepared for in advance and very anticipated. The climax is played tutti in a raging fortissimo with many lines going in different directions but nonetheless balanced perfectly in terms of tone and harmony. Such a dramatic climax calls for a quiet ending where the strings continue to play a couple of pizzicato notes after the rest of the orchestra goes silent.

Friday 27 June 2014


“People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.” - Anton Chekhov

We are in the midst of the first bout of really wintry weather this year in Melbourne. It’s weather like this that needs a warm, nutritious and energy packed breakfast. Quinoa (pronounced Keen-wah) is a highly nutritious gluten-free grain. This ancient grain contains more protein than any other grain, with a good balance of all 8 essential amino acids, making it a good choice for vegetarians. Quinoa is also high in fibre and has a low-GI, beneficial for keeping blood sugar levels stable. Quinoa is an ideal grain for diabetics. Quinoa is one of the most nutrient rich grains around, being a good source of iron, needed to transport oxygen around the body, B vitamins for energy, calcium and magnesium for healthy nervous system function, and vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant.

Quinoa Porridge
1 cup quinoa
3 cups water
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch ground cloves
1 tbsp toasted sunflower seeds
1 tbsp crushed, toasted almonds
2 tbsp currants
1 tbsp sultanas
1/2 cup shredded coconut
Honey to serve
Other nuts and fresh fruit as desired

Put the water in a saucepan with a lid and put the spices in it. Add the quinoa and simmer for 10 minutes. Test to see if cooked, and simmer more if needed. Stir though the fruit, seeds and nuts. Remove from heat and put the lid on for a few minutes before serving. Serve with honey, fresh fruit and nuts so that each person can put what they like on their porridge according to their taste.

Please add your Food Friday blog post below:

Thursday 26 June 2014


“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I... I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost

I saw some young beggars on the City streets these last few days and the image has stayed with me, as I am trying to come to terms with what I can only describe as a great waste. The faces of the young beggars sitting on the sidewalk while the laughing crowd went by them oblivious to their misery is a haunting image and the big question mark of “why?” remains with me. A society such as ours is not one that should allow such an existence. We have a tax system that is designed to support people who are unemployed, down and out and dependent on the welfare of the state. If nothing else good can be said about our Government’s unemployment benefit payments is that they help to preserve some human dignity and allow the unemployed to survive until they find another job. Numerous welfare payment ensure that youth, homeless, single mothers, wards of the state and numerous other down-and-outers are supported and do have to rely on begging for their existence.

I have travelled widely and in some countries begging is way of life. Numerous people have begging as their full time job and this is forced upon them as the state cannot and will not support citizens who are living on the brink, so to speak. The horrific images of mutilated children begging, full well knowing that their own parents have maimed them in order for them to be able to beg, brings a sickening realisation that all is not well with the world as our politicians in this and other Western countries want us to believe.

But in Australia of the 21st century, to see so many beggars on the City streets I cannot comprehend. What ails our society so that able-bodied, intelligent, young people are reduced to this pitiful existence? What a terrible waste! How can we cure a cancer like this so that we can achieve all that we are capable of? Is it such a big thing to ask that we become aware of our potential as thinking, rational, logical people? Can this realisation of our potential cure the apathy with which we look at and not see these latent possibilities thrown away?

Why should so many children, for this is what they are, run away from home? Why so many homeless? Why so many people succumbing to drugs and alcohol, a life of misery and crime? Why so much violence and so much selfishness that destroys their respect for their fellow human beings? Why so much pursuit of animal pleasures and satisfaction of the base instincts, without any thought of things of a higher sphere? I see it constantly in my students. So many of them come to few classes, and even to those unwillingly. They ask what will be in the examination so they can “study” for it. Knowledge for its own sake has become an onerous burden. Even if one tries to teach them what is vitally important, they may turn up their nose at it and say it is too much, it is irrelevant or it is too hard.

What rots the mind of our children and eats into their brains converting them into empty pretty shells that luxuriate only in the gratification of their pretty flesh? Why so much emphasis on the body beautiful, the image, the casing, such that we are now making everyone a nicely wrapped package that contains nothing of value? So much superficiality and emptiness… Is it all about money? Is that what we have made our lives equate to?

Civil unrest in Southeast Asia. Nuclear concerns in Iran. More bombings and rebel warfare in Iraq. A gathering storm in African countries. Whenever we turn on the radio or the TV, log onto the internet a new crisis or tragedy is reported. Is it so surprising that people here seem to have become inured to it all? Reports of thousands of deaths are listened to dispassionately, and so long as they are a safe distance away from us, they do not matter.

Meanwhile, the world keeps turning for us, the music stations keep broadcasting our favourite songs, the “reality” TV shows embroil us in their vicarious existence: Petty arguments, thinly veiled pornography and trivial outbursts of the manufactured authenticity of their situations acted out by the plastic people that are selected to be made into the mirrors of our society. We go out and entertain ourselves – to the theatre, the restaurants, the football games, the discos and the bars. As long as there is enough money to get us by… And some more money to buy our designer clothes… Some more for our latest technological gadgetry, and some more for the next installment of our new model car? How beautiful our little insulated existence! Can a civilisation such as this survive?

Wednesday 25 June 2014


“Do not go gently into that good night but rage, rage against the dying of the light.” - Dylan Thomas

Poetry Jam this week has chosen the following topic: “ALONE! This week I would like everyone to think about “alone”. What does it mean to be alone? How do you feel when you are alone? Is “alone” the same as “lonely”? What do you like to do when you are alone? Reflect on an alone-time you have had in the past.” Here is my contribution:


I wear my solitude like an old shirt,
Faded, almost threadbare,
But still possessing the comfort
Born of long habit.

I taste my solitary ways like a dragée,
Whose sugar coating beguiles
Unwary taste buds, till the
Enclosed almond turns bitter.

Alone, I hear my heart beating
Amplified like raindrops on tin roof,
Or an expert solo drummer,
Executing a cadenza.

My singularity is perfume of violets,
Intense and overwhelming;
But so soon evanescent:
The scented becoming scentless.

Why is loneliness such a dreadful
And unwelcome guest, when
For so long, solitude has been one’s
Most faithful companion?

Tuesday 24 June 2014


“We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink.”  – Epicurus

It has become apparent from recently released data that Australia is one of the most obese nations on earth. The problem of obesity in children in particular, has caused an epidemic of childhood-onset type II diabetes mellitus. This has led to some legislation being introduced that attempts to control the food available to children in school cafeterias. Much of the problem resides at home, of course, and if children do not learn to eat well at home, controlling the school canteen will be only a minor component.

Despite massive amounts of money being spent on advertising on TV, newspapers and magazines, the message about healthy eating and obesity is not getting through to the general public and we as a nation are continuing to get fatter and fatter. Nutritionists try to drive home the point about simple rules regarding food, but the public are voting with their forks and keep on ordering take away meals. They are an easy solution, after all.

The “bad” foods we eat increase our risk of developing coronary heart disease (and heart attacks), high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, constipation, large bowel cancer, lung cancer, stomach and pancreatic cancer, liver disease, brain damage, strokes, breast cancer, osteoporosis, anaemia, and many other disorders.

So what are some simple rules about good eating habits? The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia has collected an enormous amount of data, reviewed numerous international publications and has received recommendations from invited experts and nutritionists in order to arrive at concise and easy to understand guidelines. In a nutshell, these are the “Ten Commandments” of good nutrition:

1) Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious fresh foods.
2) Eat plenty of whole grain cereals and multigrain, wholemeal breads.
3) Eat lots of fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruits and lots of dishes with legumes: Beans, lentils, soya products, chick peas, split peas, etc.
4) Eat a diet low in fats, especially saturated fats.
5) Maintain a healthy weight by balancing food intake with a sensible exercise plan.
6) If you drink alcohol, avoid spirits and drink responsibly, with moderation (1-2 glasses of wine a day), with a “dry” day in between “drinking” days.
7) Eat sugar and sugar-containing foods in moderation.
8) Choose low salt foods and use added salt sparingly.
9) Encourage and support breastfeeding of infants.
10) Eat foods rich in calcium and rich in iron, especially if you are female.

As is obvious from the decalogue above, one may be a vegetarian or a meat eater and still adhere to the above rules. Lean meat is considered by many nutritionists to be an integral part of our diet, but many people nowadays are avoiding meat for a variety of reasons. This is acceptable and as long as a nutritionist is consulted, even vegans may enjoy good health and suffer no deficiencies of nutrients, even if they take no dietary supplements.

Eat well, be more active, live a healthier life, live longer and enjoy it more!

Monday 23 June 2014


“Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us. Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.” - Andy Rooney

We watched a delightful film at the weekend, which surprised us pleasantly as we were expecting something a little different. It was the 2011 Mike Pavone film “That’s What I Am”, starring Ed Harris, Chase Ellison, Molly Parker, Alexander Walters and Amy Madigan. It is a coming-of-age story set in 1965 that follows 12-year-old Andy Nichol (Chase Ellison), a bright student who, like most kids his age, will do anything to avoid conflict for fear of suffering overwhelming ridicule and punishment from his junior high school peers. His gifted teacher, Mr Simon (Ed Harris), will allow Andy to grow and realise his potential through the difficult times.

The screenplay was written by the director and it has a genuineness about it, that which comes from relating personal experiences. It may be based on autobiographical details, which is also aided by the first person narrative that is used throughout the film as though a novel is being read – this in fact may be the only obvious fault of the film. Otherwise this was an engaging and winsome movie that was extremely watchable and made several points about tolerance, peaceful coexistence and realising one’s potential through doing what comes naturally and utilising one’s own talents.

The plot centres on Andy, a cool young kid who is paired off with “Big G” (Alexander Walters), a social outcast, to do a project for class. Although this seems to be a mismatch, Mr Simon (Ed Harris), their charismatic teacher can see the potential of both kids and is banking on both of them developing their characters positively through the interaction. We expected the film to develop the theme of the unlikely friendship, but this is only used to focus on other issues in the 1960s. Many of these issues are accepted today as norms but back then they were new, and hence fearful. The movie mixes humour with the dark themes, and there are some poignant twists that make one’s eye moisten.

The acting is very good all round, and Ed Harris is excellent in what is after all a supporting role. The schoolkids are what make the film and all of these young actors do a great job. Also well acted are the roles of the school principal and the parents of the children. The music, costumes, sets and cinematography are all great and they support the action with a real, believable window into the 1960s.

We enjoyed this movie a lot and would recommend it to everyone who wishes to relax and enjoy a film that makes a powerful statement about growing up and making the world a better place through tolerance, compassion and utilisation of one’s talents and abilities. It is akin to the “Wonder Years” and if you enjoyed that, you will certainly enjoy this movie as well.

Sunday 22 June 2014


“The strongest man on earth is he who stands most alone.” - Henrik Ibsen

For Art Sunday today, a bit of an odd fish: Caspar David Friedrich, born September 5, 1774, in Greifswald, Germany and died May 7, 1840, Dresden, Saxony. Friedrich was a pioneer early 19th-century German Romantic painter. His vast, mysterious landscapes and seascapes symbolised man’s helplessness against the forces of nature and did much to establish the idea of the sublime as a central issue in the Romantic movement.

Friedrich studied from 1794 to 1798 in Copenhagen, but was largely self-taught. Settling at Dresden, he became a member of an artistic and literary circle that included the painter Philipp Otto Runge and the writers Ludwig Tieck and Novalis. His drawings in sepia, executed in his neat early style, won Goethe’s approval and a prize from the Weimar Art Society in 1805.

His first important oil painting, “The Cross in the Mountains” (c. 1807), established his mature style, characterised by an intense sense of isolation, and was an attempt to replace the traditional symbology of religious painting with one drawn from nature. Other symbolic landscapes, such as “Shipwreck in the Ice” (1822), reveal his fatalism and obsession with death. In 1824 he was made professor of the Dresden academy. For a long time his work was forgotten; but it was revived when the 20th century recognised its own existential isolation in his work.

“Autumn Moon”, above, is perhaps Friedrich’s most famous painting and epitomises his thematic choices, his technique and “look”. I have always found this painting tranquil, yet at the same time disquieting. There is an air of mystery as well as repose, but also a sense impending action as the mysterious figures contemplating the moon may at any time begin to move towards the depths of the landscape. The viewer participates in the communion of the figures with nature. Fascination with the moon ran high among the German Romantics, who regarded the motif as an object of pious contemplation.

Romanticism was an attitude or intellectual orientation that characterised many works of literature, painting, music, architecture, criticism, and historiography in Western civilisation over a period from the late 18th to the mid-19th century. Romanticism can be seen as a rejection of the precepts of order, calm, harmony, balance, idealisation, and rationality that typified Classicism in general and late 18th-century Neoclassicism in particular. It was also to some extent a reaction against the Enlightenment and against 18th-century rationalism and physical materialism in general.

Romanticism emphasised the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental. Among the characteristic attitudes of Romanticism were the following: A deepened appreciation of the beauties of nature; a general exaltation of emotion over reason and of the senses over intellect; a turning in upon the self and a heightened examination of human personality and its moods and mental potentialities; a preoccupation with the genius, the hero, and the exceptional figure in general, and a focus on his passions and inner struggles; a new view of the artist as a supremely individual creator, whose creative spirit is more important than strict adherence to formal rules and traditional procedures.