Friday 29 August 2014


“Italy, and the spring and first love all together should suffice to make the gloomiest person happy.” - Bertrand Russell

Music Saturday today features Felix Mendelssohn’s (1809-1847) Symphony No 4, in A major, the “Italian”. It is played by the La Scala Philharmonic directed by Gustavo Dudamel. This is an orchestral symphony written by German composer Felix Mendelssohn. The work has its origins, like the composer’s Scottish Symphony and the orchestral overture The Hebrides (“Fingal’s Cave”), in the tour of Europe which occupied Mendelssohn from 1829 to 1831.

The inspiration for the symphony is the colour and atmosphere of Italy, where Mendelssohn made sketches but left the work incomplete: “This is Italy! And now has begun what I have always thought to be the supreme joy in life. And I am loving it. Today was so rich that now, in the evening, I must collect myself a little, and so I am writing to you to thank you, dear parents, for having given me all this happiness.”

In February he wrote from Rome to his sister Fanny: “The ‘Italian’ symphony is making great progress. It will be the jolliest piece I have ever done, especially the last movement. I have not found anything for the slow movement yet, and I think that I will save that for Naples.” The Italian Symphony was finished in Berlin, 13 March 1833, in response to an invitation for a symphony from the London (now Royal) Philharmonic Society. Mendelssohn conducted the first performance himself in London on 13 May 1833, at a London Philharmonic Society concert.

The symphony’s success, and Mendelssohn’s popularity, influenced the course of British music for the rest of the century. However, Mendelssohn remained unsatisfied with the composition, which cost him, he said, some of the bitterest moments of his career; he revised it in 1837 and even planned to write alternate versions of the second, third, and fourth movements. He never published the symphony, which only appeared in print in 1851, after his death.

The piece is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings. It is in four movements: 1) Allegro vivace; 2) Andante con moto; 3) Con moto moderato; 4) Saltarello: Presto. The joyful first movement, in sonata form, is followed by an impression in D minor of a religious procession the composer witnessed in Naples. The third movement is a minuet in which French Horns are introduced in the trio, while the final movement (which is in the minor key throughout) incorporates dance figurations from the Roman saltarello and the Neapolitan tarantella. It is among the first large multi-movement works to begin in a major key and end in the tonic minor, another example being Brahms’s first piano trio. A typical performance lasts about half an hour.

Thursday 28 August 2014


“Parsley - the jewel of herbs, both in the pot and on the plate.” - Albert Stockli

Parsley is growing luxuriously in our garden at the moment and yesterday we made some tabbouleh (Arabic: تبولة‎ tabūlah; also tabouleh or tab(b)ouli – a word derived from “seasoning”). This is a Levantine vegetarian dish (sometimes considered a salad) traditionally made of tomatoes, finely chopped parsley, mint, and onion, and seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. Bulgur is usually added to the dish; some variations add garlic or lettuce, or use couscous instead of bulgur. It is important to have more herbs than bulgur (unlike shop-bought tabbouleh, which is more bulgur than herbs!).

Tabbouleh Salad

25g bulgur wheat
2 large, ripe tomatoes
1 large bunch fresh flatleaf parsley, leaves only, washed, dried, finely chopped
1 small bunch fresh mint leaves, washed, dried, finely chopped
2 large spring onions, cleaned, finely chopped
2-3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt, freshly ground pepper
4 Middle Eastern flatbreads to serve


Place the bulgur wheat into a small bowl and cover with 50ml of boiling water. Stir, then set aside for 30 minutes, or until the bulgur wheat has absorbed all of the water.
Cut out the green stalks from the tomatoes and make a small cross at each of the bases. Place the tomatoes into a separate bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside for 30 seconds, then drain away the water.
When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel and discard the skins. Cut the tomatoes into quarters, discard the seeds and dice the flesh. Transfer the diced tomatoes to a serving bowl.
Add the parsley, mint and onion to the tomatoes and mix well until combined.
When the bulgur wheat has absorbed all of the water, fluff it using a fork until the grains are separated. Add the bulgur wheat to the tomato mixture.
Drizzle over the lemon juice and olive oil and season, to taste, with salt. Mix well to coat the ingredients in the liquid.
To serve, divide the tabbouleh equally among four serving plates. Place one grilled flatbread alongside each.

Please share your recipe ideas below using the Mr Linky tool:

Wednesday 27 August 2014


“Child labor and poverty are inevitably bound together and if you continue to use the labor of children as the treatment for the social disease of poverty, you will have both poverty and child labor to the end of time.” - Grace Abbott

In the late 19th century and early 20th, child labour was not only common but an accepted part of life in even industrialised, Western nations such as Britain, USA, Australia and many more. The world painted by Charles Dickens in his novels, where small children were exploited by a cruel society brought home chillingly the everyday reality for many of his readers who were amongst the privileged and well-to-do. The upper crust of New York and Chicago in the early 20th century lived their elegant lives and were oblivious to the plight of the children in the factories, mines and sweat shops that provided them with their wealth. The struggling farmers, drovers and other itinerants and their families in the Outback in Australia, were far from the mind of the comfortably well-off city dwellers in Sydney and Melbourne in earlier days.

We may think that child labour is part of history and that we do not have to contend with such a problem this day and age. However, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has estimated that 250 million children between the ages of five and fourteen work in developing countries—at least 120 million on a full time basis. Sixty-one percent of these are in Asia, 32 percent in Africa, and 7 percent in Latin America. Most working children in rural areas are found in agriculture; many children work as domestics; urban children work in trade and services, with fewer in manufacturing and construction.

The problem is most acute in the countries where the economy, social services and political systems are such that force many people to live below the poverty line. Poor families will rely on the work of their children for survival. In such situations, it is often that the children who work provide the only source of income… Child labour is often hidden away because it is not in the industrial sector, but rather in agriculture, in the household, in cottage industries or within the urban informal circle. Long-term survival and well-being of a family will often dictate the course of action to take and this, in the short term means forcing the children to work, sometimes at an age as young as 5 or 6 years.

Childhood is a magical time that should be full of love, innocence, happy memories and a family that nurtures, educates and supports. How many millions of children in the world are denied this right? Think of how our lifestyle in the West is encouraging child labour. The cheap imported products on our shelves are often produced in the sweatshops of developing countries where children may have been forced to work in order to survive. We can help and support these children in a different way, rather than by buying these products that perpetuate the problem.

Some historical information may be found here, where the British experience between 1750 and 1850 is outlined. Child labour in the USA between 1908 and 1912 is documented here. The UNICEF page is informative but also extremely distressing. The International Labour organisation has an excellent subsite devoted to child labour with strategies for the eradication of child labour. And as far as helping individually to stamp this out, World Vision has a rescue plan that may be sponsored.

Be aware, care and do your little bit to help!


“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” - AlbertEinstein

This week PoetryJam has as a theme “Back to School”:

“Think about what the first day of school evokes for you. Do you have sweet or bitter memories? Does one particular year stand out? Why? Are your children or grandchildren going back soon? What is or was it like to accompany them on their very first day?”

Here is my contribution.

First School Day

The first few drops of rain
On sun-baked soil have a special smell –
Turmeric mixed with soft green moss,
And a freshness, a vitality, an electricity,
The discharge of a spark of static.

The first school day
In a newly-cleaned classroom has a special smell:
Freshly-sharpened pencil (cedar), sharp ink,
And the subtler aroma of new schoolbooks,
Wide-open on desktops.

The walls full of maps and posters
Strange photographs, alphabet cards, art;
A brave new world to explore,
A wondrous adventure waiting to happen
And new friends to share it with.

The wide-open eyes, filling with images;
New sounds, new tasks, a new order of things.
The crest-fallen look of grim realisation
That you are not alone and not-so-special anymore,
A rose unique and solitary
Suddenly immersed within an endless rose-garden…

The golden afternoon, warm autumn sunshine,
And the walk back home –
A young mind bursting at the seams,
A blessed fatigue of brain and body;
But all to be made good simply, easily, quickly
With a glass of milk and cookies…

Tuesday 26 August 2014


“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” - W. Edwards Deming

Australia has had a perennial problem with rabbits ever since these exotic animals were introduced to our country by Englishman Thomas Austin in October 1859 on his property, Barwon Park (near Winchelsea in Victoria) for hunting. While he was a resident in England Austin dedicated many of his weekends to rabbit shooting. Upon arriving in Australia, which had no native rabbit population, Austin asked his nephew in England to send him 24 grey rabbits, five hares, 72 partridges and some sparrows so that he could continue his hobby in Australia by creating a local population of the species.

Rabbits are extremely prolific breeders, and spread rapidly across the southern parts of the continent. Australia had ideal conditions for a rabbit population explosion, reaching plague proportions in the early 20th century and devastating the local terrain, competing effectively with local species and causing widespread crop damage. That said, it is not surprising that most Australians do not regard rabbits with a great deal of sympathy.

Having said this, I am now going to talk about a book that has rabbits as its heroes and one of the enemies of the population described in the book is myxomatosis, the terrible viral disease that was introduced into Australia to curtail the rabbit population. The book is Richard Adams’ “Watership Down”. You may think that I am talking about a children’s book all about fluffy bunnies running around being cute, à-la-Beatrix Potter. However, this is very much a book that has a definite message and is directed as much towards adults as well as children, having several levels on which it can be engaged.

The rabbit is an animal well-beloved of children and many adults in Europe, and the English countryside in which the novel is set provides a perfect foil for this story. Adams in an interview once, described how he created rabbit stories to entertain his children, and from these stories, his novel was born. The author was a civil servant with the British Department of the Environment, and he was greatly interested in nature and concerned about environmental issues. These concerns are strongly apparent in the book, which tells the story of a group of rabbits who are forced from their home by a real estate development.

Adams wrote the novel unaware of the conventions of length, age range, level of difficulty and acceptable subject matter in the genre of juvenile publishing at that time. It was rejected by publishing houses seven times – the world of children’s book publishing was not prepared for a book of such originality and unconventional plot. It was first published by the small publishing firm of Rex Collings, who admired the manuscript because it did not fit the formula. Although only published in a first edition of 2,500 in 1972, it was initially hailed as a children’s classic and progressed to large sales.

When the book was published in the USA, it became an adult and world-wide bestseller, selling over a million copies in record time. In 1985 Penguin Books declared it second in their list of all time bestsellers with sales figures of 5 million, second only to “Animal Farm”, but ahead of “The Canterbury Tales” and “The Odyssey”. It transformed the way people regarded rabbits (“cuddly bunnies”), by presenting them as heroic warriors who fought savagely for dominance, and who were described with a degree of biological realism unheard of in children’s fiction. The animals defaecated (“passed hraka”), sought mates and conceived young. Even the rabbit equivalent of a miscarriage, the reabsorption of young, is described in the book.

In the 1970s there were violent riots and protests in the UK when myxomatosis, an almost always fatal and painful disease, was introduced to the English countryside to cull the number of rabbits, which farmers said were a pest to their crops. The disease is particularly inhumane as it causes an agonising blindness and dissolves parts of the brain and other organs and causes all manner of secondary effects, including pneumonia. All future re-introductions were banned when some of the ‘exterminators’ were killed by animal rights activists whilst trying to infest a rabbit warren. The book’s environmental concerns and sympathy for animal rights found a fertile ground in people’s growing “green consciousness”.

Adams went to write more books, “Shardik”, “The Plague Dogs”, “The Girl in a Swing”, “Maia” and “Traveller”, which have been major bestsellers in spite of hostile criticism by literary reviewers. “Watership Down” has continued to be a big favourite with the public, and in 2003, the BBC held a public vote for the top 100 books of all time, with “Watership Down” coming in the top 30. It is worth reading and it is a book that is quite memorable as an analogy of our human society, in the way that Orwell’s “Animal Farm” is, in a way.

The book was made into an animated feature film by Martin Rosen in 1978 (

Sunday 24 August 2014


“Money cannot buy peace of mind. It cannot heal ruptured relationships, or build meaning into a life that has none.” - Richard M. DeVos

For Movie Monday, today an Australian film made in my home city, Melbourne. The film is Robert Connolly’s “Three Dollars” (2005). It is based on Elliot Perlman’s novel of the same name, which I haven’t read, but which I was motivated by the film to read and hopefully will be doing so shortly. The film stars David Wenham, Frances O’ Connor, Sarah Wynter, Robert Menzies, David Roberts and Joanna Hunt-Prokhovnik. The film was recommended to me by a friend who described it as “really good and thought-provoking – an intelligent film about modern-day problems and choices we each make in our lives”.

The plot involves Eddie (David Wenham), who is a typical “good guy” in his thirties, living in a large City (Melbourne but could be any other large Western city). He is a public servant in a government environmental testing agency as a chemical engineer. His latest assignment is to investigate soil samples, in what looks to be a lovely country spot, so that a large residential development can go ahead. Eddie’s wife, Tanya, is an academic and they have a young child, the adorable (and scene-stealing!) Abby. They also have a mortgage, problems relating to long-term financial security, career development, relationship stability and generally coping with the small and large problems of the modern-day urban lifestyle. The main premise of the plot is how much pressure a modern-day “nice guy” (who wants to do the right thing by his conscience and his integrity) can take before he succumbs to the temptation of corruption. Will he, won’t he?

I found the film a little tedious. Overlong, with too many details that weakened the plot and many scenes that diluted the central theme and distracted the viewer. For the first 90 minutes of the film (and it is 118 minutes long) there is little that happens and the humdrum details of everyday life are stretched out to the point of making one yawn. There is some distracting flash-back/flash-forward nonsense that is meant to enhance the plot, but that also was a distractor rather than adding to the artistic merit of the film or serving to build up to the climax. It is becoming an annoying habit with novelists and film-makers to do this flashing back and forth in order to “build tension”, but the device so often falls flat on its face…

Much is made of the “three dollars” of the title, and the three coins turn up in various scenes, but I found this a lame ruse, and ultimately devoid of the huge significance given to it by the writer/director.  The tagline of the film is “It’s about change…” – an obvious pun and as far as puns go a weak one. Director Connolly says of the film; “it’s an epic story of an ordinary man”. Hardly epic, and Eddie is not too ordinary by modern urban standards…

Now for the good points. The acting was well done on most counts and as I mentioned earlier young Abby was played extremely well by Joanna Hunt-Prokhovnik. There is a cute scene, homage to Hitchcock’s “North By Northwest” and I liked seeing my hometown on the big screen. With a bit of re-editing and lots more film on the cutting room floor, this movie could be improved dramatically. If you have not seen the film I won’t spoil it for you, but for those who have seen it, don't you think that the beginning of the film really weakens its whole plot development?