Saturday 9 August 2014


“I can find God in nature, in animals, in birds and the environment.” - Pat Buckley

Thomas Bewick (ca 11 August 1753 – 8 November 1828) was an English engraver and natural history author. Early in his career he took on all kinds of work such as engraving cutlery, making the wood blocks for advertisements, and illustrating children’s books. Gradually he turned to illustrating, writing and publishing his own books, gaining an adult audience for the fine illustrations in ‘A History of Quadrupeds’.

His career began when he was apprenticed to engraver Ralph Beilby in Newcastle upon Tyne. He became a partner in the business and eventually took it over. Apprentices whom Bewick trained include John Anderson, Luke Clennell, and William Harvey, who in their turn became well known as painters and engravers. Bewick is best known for his ‘A History of British Birds’, which is admired today mainly for its wood engravings, especially the small, sharply observed, and often humorous vignettes known as tail-pieces.

He notably illustrated editions of ‘Aesop’s Fables’ throughout his life. He is credited with popularising a technical innovation in the printing of illustrations using wood. He adopted metal-engraving tools to cut hard boxwood across the grain, producing printing blocks that could be integrated with metal type, but were much more durable than traditional woodcuts. The result was high quality illustration at a low price.

Bewick sometimes used his fingerprint as a form of signature, (accompanied by the words “Thomas Bewick his mark”), as well as engraving it in one of his tail-pieces as if it had clouded the tiny image of a rustic scene with a cottage by mistake. Uglow notes one critic’s suggestion that Bewick may have meant we are looking at the scene through a playfully smudged window, as well as drawing our attention to Bewick, the maker. Adrian Searle, writing in The Guardian, describes the tiny work as “A visual equivalent to the sorts of authorial gags Laurence Sterne played in Tristram Shandy, it is a marvellous, timeless, magical joke.”

Bewick’s fame, already nationwide across Britain for his Birds, grew during the nineteenth century. The critic John Ruskin compared the subtlety of his drawing to that of Holbein, J. M. W. Turner, and Paolo Veronese writing that the way Bewick had engraved the feathers of his birds was “...the most masterly thing ever done in woodcutting”, and he became associated with children’s reading thanks to a reference in the first chapter of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. His fame faded as illustration became more widespread and more mechanical, but twentieth-century artists such as Gwen Raverat (née Darwin) continued to admire his skill, and artists such as Paul Nash and Eric Ravilious have been described as reminiscent of Bewick.

Bewick’s illustrated books, admired since they first appeared, gave him some celebrity in his own lifetime. His ‘Memoir’, published a generation after his death, brought about a new interest and a widening respect which has continued to grow ever since. The attraction to his contemporaries of Bewick’s observations lay in their accuracy and amusement. Two centuries later these qualities are still recognised; but so, too, is the wealth and rarity of the historical information they have to offer.

Friday 8 August 2014


“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” - George S. Patton

Today I woke up to the sad news of Peter Sculthorpe’s death. Peter Joshua Sculthorpe AO OBE (29 April 1929 – 8 August 2014) was an Australian composer. Much of his music resulted from an interest in the music of Australia’s neighbours as well as from the impulse to bring together aspects of native Australian music with that of the heritage of the West.

He was known primarily for his orchestral and chamber music, such as ‘Kakadu’ (1988) and ‘Earth Cry’ (1986), which evoke the sounds and feeling of the Australian bushland and outback. He also wrote 17 string quartets, using unusual timbral effects, works for piano, and two operas. He stated that he wanted his music to make people feel better and happier for having listened to it. He typically avoided the dense, atonal techniques of many of his contemporary composers. His work was often distinguished by its distinctive use of percussion.

Here, appropriately is his 'Memento Mori' (1993) for Orchestra, performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Judd.
“It is a piece imbued with a religious aura, rooted in a particular landscape. barren, mysterious Easter Island, with its enormous, brooding, enigmatic statues. And it is full of tunes, most notably the ancient plainchant Dies irae, which has been used by many classical composers but seldom with the blend of reverence and coloristic effectiveness Sculthorpe has achieved. It was marvellously effective music, innovative in sound but listener friendly.” - Joseph McLellan, The Washington Post


“You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food.” - Paul Prudhomme

For Food Friday this week, a savoury cake my grandmother used to make and which we usually had when guests were visiting. Although this is her recipe (updated with inclusion of self-raising flour – she used plain flour and baking powder), somehow her cake was better than the one we make. It must have been the love she added when she was making it!

Savoury Cake
4 large eggs
200 g butter
1 can evaporated milk
400 g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
1/2 tsp ground mace
(1/2 cup sautéd button mushroom cut in small pieces – optional)
300 g grated sharp cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Beat the eggs in a the mixer bowl at high speed for 2-3 minutes. Add the softened butter and continue beating for another one minute.
Lower the mixer speed and add the herbs, and the milk little by little alternately with the flour. When mixed well, stop beating and stir through the grated cheese (and mushrooms, tossed in a little flour, if using).
Butter a 23 cm baking pan and pour the mixture in.
Bake in pre-warmed oven at 180˚C for about 50 minutes, until golden brown and when a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

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Wednesday 6 August 2014


“Nothing is more precious than independence and liberty.” - Ho Chi Minh

On August 7, Colombia celebrates Boyacá Day (Independence Day), while the Ivory Coast celebrates its Republic Day.

It is the anniversary of the birth of:
Constantius II, Roman emperor (317);
Carl Ritter, geographer (1779);
Mata Hari, spy (1876);
Louis Leakey, anthropologist (1903);
Ralph Bunche, Nobel Peace Prize (1950) laureate, statesman (1904);
B. J. Thomas, singer (1942);
Loni Anderson, actress (1944);
Greg Chappell, cricketer (1948);
Alberto Salazar, Marathon man (1958).

Sainfoin, Onobrychis viciifolia, is the birthday plant for today. It symbolises trust in God and in the language of flowers it speaks the words: “You confuse me”.  The common name of the plant is derived from the French and means “holy hay”. A legend relates how when Christ was born, his head rested on some hay and this immediately sprouted pink flowers, becoming sainfoin.

The Battle of Boyacá in Colombia, then known as New Granada, was the battle in which Colombia acquired its definitive independence from Spanish Monarchy, although fighting with royalist forces would continue for years. Brigadier Generals Francisco de Paula Santander and José Antonio Anzoátegui led a combined republican army of Colombians and Venezuelans, complemented by the British Legion, to defeat in two hours a Royalist Colombian-Venezuelan forces led by Spanish Colonels José María Barreiro and Francisco Jiménez.

Simón Bolívar credited the victory to the British Legion declaring that “those soldier liberators are the men who deserve these laurels” when offered laurels after the victory.The battle occurred 150 km from Bogotá in the Andes Mountains, in a place known as Casa de Teja, close to a bridge over the Teatinos River and 3 roads heading to Samaca, Motavita and Tunja, an area which is now part of the Boyacá Department.

Viceroy Juan de Samano was informed of the defeat and managed to escape and flee to Spain, which brought to an end the reign of the Spanish Empire in northern Latin America. In commemoration of this battle, August 7 is a national holiday in Colombia. On this date every 4 years the elected President of Colombia is proclaimed in the Casa de Nariño. Bogotá starts the usual celebrations one day in advance in commemoration of the foundation of the city, on August 6, 1538.

Tuesday 5 August 2014


“Little things seem nothing, but they give peace, like those meadow flowers which individually seem odourless but all together perfume the air.” - Georges Bernanos

This week’s Poetry Jam topic is homegrown, homemade, home baked, homespun, home brewed or home cooked. For me “home” equates with peace and quiet, the content of routine and the little joys that most of us tend to overlook because we are accustomed to them and take for granted.

Reading the news lately with so many wars being fought around the globe, reminds how lucky we are to be living in a country at peace, being able to enjoy all of these little things that make our house a happy home. Here is my offering with a hope that peace will soon come to those people. Especially relevant on this Hiroshima Day…


It is the laughter of children playing outside my window,
The smell of baking in the kitchen and the larder full.
It is the hurrying steps of a returning labourer,
Content with a full day’s work, eager to come home.

It is the fields that bloom, the grain ripening in the sun,
The cows dozing as they chew their cud.
It is my love in her summer dress reading her book
Under the shade of a green-leaf tree.

It is the sound of music drifting down the empty street
As dancing couples whirl in the town hall.
It is the two adolescents that kiss beneath a full moon
While the crickets chirp in approbation.

It is the careless saunter late at night,
The lights left on inside the house, burning like beacons.
It is the sound of airplane engines in the sky,
Stirring only thoughts of distant exotic places and carefree holidays.

It is a rusty rifle driven into the earth to support a growing vine,
An old soldier’s helmet, now home to a budding flower.
It is the surety of watching your children surviving you,
The swelling pregnant belly and the double-joy of grandchildren.

Peace: It is a quietude and a celebration of the commonplace,
An all-increasing accumulation of small delights that add up to bliss.
Peace, it is a multiplicity of contentments and a realisation
Of what humankind has the capability of being.

(The painting above is by Australian Artist Frederick McCubbin: “Winter Evening, Hawthorn” – 1886)

Monday 4 August 2014


“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” - Albert Einstein

August 6th is Hiroshima Day, the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb named ‘Little Boy’ on Hiroshima by ‘Enola Gay’, a Boeing B-29 bomber, at 8:15 in the morning of Monday, August 6, 1945. After being released, the bomb took about a minute to reach the point of explosion, an altitude of 61 metres above the building that is today called the ‘A-Bomb Dome.’ The explosion is described by the crew of Enola Gay:

“A bright light filled the plane,” said Lt. Col. Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb. “We turned back to look at Hiroshima. The city was hidden by that awful cloud...boiling up, mushrooming.” For a moment, no one spoke. Then everyone was talking. “Look at that! Look at that! Look at that!” exclaimed the co-pilot, Robert Lewis, pounding on Tibbets’s shoulder. Lewis said he could taste atomic fission; it tasted like lead. Then he turned away to write in his journal. “My God,” he asked himself, “what have we done?” 

‘Little Boy’ created an enormous amount of energy in terms of air pressure and heat. In addition, it generated a significant amount of radiation (gamma rays and neutrons) that subsequently caused devastating human injuries. The people who saw ‘Little Boy’ describe it thus: “We saw another sun in the sky when it exploded.” The heat and the light from the explosion of ‘Little Boy’ were far greater than any bomb they had ever seen before. When the heat wave reached ground level it vapourised everything before it, including people, for several hundred metres around the hypocentre.

The strong wind generated by the bomb destroyed most of the houses and buildings within a 2.5 km radius. When the wind reached the mountains, it was reflected and on the way back again hit the people in the city centre. The radiation generated by the bomb, not only killed people within days of acute radiation poisoning, but also caused long-term problems to those affected. Many people became sterile, others had genetic problems, which caused the birth of malformed babies or babies that were stillborn.

It is believed that more than 140,000 people died by the end of the year in the Hiroshima region. They were citizens including students, soldiers and many Koreans who worked in factories within the city. The total number of people who have died as a result of the bomb is estimated to be 200,000.

Just three days after the bomb was dropped to Hiroshima, the second atomic bomb called ‘Fat Man’ was dropped on Nagasaki. Though the amount of energy generated by the bomb dropped on Nagasaki was significantly greater than that of ‘Little Boy’, the damage to the city was less than that in Hiroshima due to the geographic situation of the city. It is estimated that approximately 70,000 people in Nagasaki died by the end of the year because of the bombing.

The watch in the illustration above belonged to Kengo Futagawa (59-years-old at the time) who was crossing the Kannon Bridge (1.6 km from the hypocenter) by bicycle on his way to do fire prevention work. He jumped into the river, terribly burned. He returned home, but died on August 22, 1945.

Every year, in Hiroshima, Japan, people float lanterns with prayers, thoughts, and messages of peace down the rivers in commemoration of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. This is my message of hope and peace, sent electronically to Hiroshima and to every other part of the world where human beings that still possess a shred of humanity exist. May the spark of this lantern light a fire in your heart worldwide so that the conflagration may condemn war and the atrocities committed in its name.

Sunday 3 August 2014


“Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump; you may be freeing him from being a camel.” - Gilbert K. Chesterton

Yesterday we watched an Australian film by Mojgan Ghadem, called “Serenades” (2001). It stars Alice Haines, Aden Young, Sinisa Copic, Bille Brown, David Gulpilil and Nick Lathouris. It is set in the late 1800s in the forbidding desert of Central Australia. At that time, camels imported from overseas were the major form of desert transport. To look after them and deal with the business of the transport, a host of Afghan cameleers also came to our shores. These men were used to the desert conditions and camel handling, so they were highly successful in running these camel caravans in the Outback. No women came with the Afghans and this created all sorts of social issues.

The film examines such an issue. On a Christian mission at the edge of the desert, an Afghan cameleer purchases a night with an Australian aboriginal woman by giving her father a pistol to pay for her favours. A girl is born of this one night encounter; a girl whose parents are an Aboriginal mother and an Afghan father. She grows to become a dark skinned, green eyed, beauty. This film is the story of Jila who walks on the razor’s edge of cultures and attempts to balance her life despite a great number of odds against her. She has to deal with conflicting religions, male domination, social stigmatisation and the awakening of love.

The cast do a wonderful job in portraying the emotions of the clashes between the cultures, particularly Alice Haines as Jila and Aden Young as Johann. It is a love story set in an anguished background. It is tenderly directed by Mojgan Khadem. In the words of the publicity for the film: “This is a story of Jila. Conceived against her mother’s will, born between two worlds, abandoned by love, cheated by death, removed from her faith and from her place. Given no choice, no say. All her life men decided how she would live, what she would dream, who she would worship, who she would marry. Yet no husband or lover could comprehend the depth of her passion. No Christian or Muslim could fathom her spirit. Only the landscape could give her comfort. Only the music could serenade her soul.”

The film is earnestly and sensitively made, although it does tend to look a little unpolished here and there. The story unfolds with facility, giving the viewer a great deal of satisfaction. One of the highlights for me was the beautiful music by Davood A. Tabrizi, which set the scene marvellously. If you have a chance, do try and see this film, which despite its shortcomings is a good one to watch.


"What moves men of genius, or rather what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough." – Eugene Delacroix

For Art Sunday let’s look at a Renaissance painter and one that represents this period par excellence! Sandro Botticelli (born 1445, Florence and died May 17, 1510), whose real name is Alessandro Di Mariano Filipepi, one of the greatest painters of the Florentine Renaissance. The name that he is known by is derived from his elder brother Giovanni, a pawnbroker who was called Il Botticello (“The Little Barrel”). There is a biography of Botticelli’s life with insights into his character in the famous book of artists’ lives by Giorgio Vasari. Botticelli’s father was a tanner who apprenticed Sandro to a goldsmith after his schooling was finished. But since Sandro preferred painting, his father then placed him under Fra Filippo Lippi, who was one of the most admired Florentine masters.

By 1470 Botticelli was already established in Florence as an independent master with his own workshop. Absorbed in his art, he never married, and he lived with his family. About 1478–81 Botticelli entered his artistic maturity. Botticelli worked in all the genres of Florentine art: Devotional paintings for the church and nobility; historical and mythological works, allegorical works and portraits, mainly for the families of his influential patrons.

“The Adoration of the Magi” (c. 1473; National Gallery, London) displays Botticelli’s mastery of composition, colour balance, perspective and resolution of the problems imposed upon him by his patrons, who had to be included in the painting taking the part of the Magi and their retinue. On the extreme right, the young man with the long ochre gown looking at us though the centuries is Sandro Botticelli himself.

He painted altarpieces in fresco and on panel, tondi (circular paintings), panel pictures, and small devotional triptychs. Florentine tondi were often large, richly framed paintings, and Botticelli produced major works in this format. His complete mastery of the tondo format is evident in this “The Madonna of the Pomegranate” (c. 1487; Uffizi), one of his most beautiful paintings in the devotional theme.

It is a great pity, that much of Botticelli’s secular work is lost: From a working life of some 40 years, only eight examples by him survive in an already well-established genre, the portrait. He came under the patronage of rich Florentine families, especially so the Medici. As well portraits, he painted large format paintings as commissions on the occasions of important marriages. A chamber was usually prepared for the newly married couple in the family palace of the groom, and paintings were mounted within it. The themes of such paintings were either romantic, exalting love and lovers, or exemplary, depicting heroines of virtuous fame. Among the greatest examples of this type are four of Botticellis most famous works:
The “Primavera” (c. 1477–78; Uffizi - shown above);
 “Pallas and the Centaur” (c. 1485; Uffizi),
 “Venus and Mars” (c. 1485; National Gallery, London), and;
 “The Birth of Venus” (c. 1485; Uffizi).

The “Primavera,” or “Allegory of Spring,” and “The Birth of Venus” were painted for the villa of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici at Castello. The “Pallas and the Centaur” (c. 1485; Uffizi), is one of my favourites. The theme is the taming of male lust (personified by the half-animal/half-human centaur) by female chastity symbolised by Pallas Athene (the goddess of chastisty and wisdom).

All four of these panel paintings have been variously interpreted by modern scholarship. The figures certainly do not enact a known myth but rather are used allegorically to illustrate various aspects of love: In the “Primavera,” its kindling and its fruition in marriage; in “Pallas,” the subjugation of male lust by female chastity; in “Venus and Mars,” a celebration of woman’s calm triumph after man’s sexual exhaustion; and in “The Birth of Venus,” the birth of love in the world.

Upon his death in 1510 Botticelli was buried in the Ognissanti cemetery. About 50 paintings survive that are either wholly or partly from his own hand. The Uffizi Gallery's magnificent collection of his works includes many of his masterpieces.