Friday 25 September 2015


“The line between greatness and obscurity is very, very small.” - Peabo Bryson

There are so many composers of the past of whom we know very little and whose works have vanished into oblivion. Every now and then some manuscript turns up and performers may discover this new music, which delights listeners. I have been fascinated these past few months with such composers and have heard some really marvellous music treading less known paths and cutting away undergrowth to discover new listening grounds. Such is the case with the composer today in Music Saturday.

Johann Friedrich Ruhe (1699 - 1776) was a German composer and concertmaster of the Baroque period. He and his music have been almost completely forgotten, and we know very little about his life also.

He was born in Halberstadt in the year 1699, and nothing more is known of him until his adulthood when we know he resided at the courts of Wolfenbüttel as a member of the court orchestra in Braunschweig and Halberstadt, where he served as concertmaster. In 1734 he took the appointment of cantor at the cathedral in Magdeburg, where he died in 1776. It is amazing to learn that even though he actively participated in the musical life of the city for over 40 years, after his death he has been delegated to obscurity.

An autograph of his suite for viola da gamba and cello, and sonatas for viola da gamba and basso continuo are his only known works today. These scores are preserved at the Thuringian State Archives (Thüringischen Staatsarchives) in Greiz. . It is unclear how and when the manuscript was sent to the archive and the date of composition is not known. The works seem to be in the style of transition between the late baroque and early classical periods.

In any case, the works are delightful to listen to and we have to thank dedicated performers like the violist da gamba Sándor Szászvárosi for bringing such gems to our ears. The CD is available from Hungaroton.



“It’s easy to impress me. I don't need a fancy party to be happy. Just good friends, good food, and good laughs. I'm happy. I'm satisfied. I'm content.” - Maria Sharapova

This is a recipe we often make when we have guests and it is good to have with some drinks or alternatively as an entrée. You may substitute sautéed mushrooms for the ham if you desire.

Ham and Cheese Filo Tarts
6 sheets filo pastry
50g butter, melted
1 and 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
150 g sliced ham, finely chopped
1 and 1/2 cups finely grated tasty cheese
1/2 cup cooked spinach
1 teaspoon dry mustard
4 eggs
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 200°C. Cut the filo sheets in half lengthways. Cut each filo strip into thirds to make squares. Brush the filo with butter and layer sheets into 4 stacks. Line four 10cm fluted tart tins with removable bases with the pastry stacks. Place on an oven tray. Bake in oven for 5 minutes until crisp but not golden remove from oven.
Heat oil in a small non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add onion. Cook for 3 minutes, or until soft. Set aside to cool.
Combine onion, spinach, ham and cheese. Divide between pastry shells.
Combine mustard, eggs and milk in a jug. Whisk with a fork. Pour over ham mixture.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until puffed and golden. Serve immediately.

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Thursday 24 September 2015


“Personality has power to uplift, power to depress, power to curse, and power to bless.” - Paul Harris

Every now and then I like to take an online test on personality, psychometrics, IQ, general knowledge, mathematical ability, etc. I find these kinds of tests fun and occasionally they can be useful as a means of getting to know myself a little better. Overall, they tend to be for my amusement only and occasionally they are a great source of amusement as they so far out of what I consider to be “myself”.

Here is one, called “16 Personalities” that offers a fairly simple, quick test that can give you your Myers-Briggs Type indicator. The Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is an introspective self-report questionnaire designed to indicate psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions. The MBTI was constructed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers.

The test is based on the typological theory proposed by Carl Jung who had speculated that there are four principal psychological functions by which humans experience the world – sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking – and that one of these four functions is dominant for a person most of the time. The MBTI was constructed for normal populations and emphasises the value of naturally occurring differences. “The underlying assumption of the MBTI is that we all have specific preferences in the way we construe our experiences, and these preferences underlie our interests, needs, values, and motivation.” Although popular in the business sector, the MBTI exhibits significant psychometric deficiencies, notably including poor validity and reliability.

Taking this test today, I found that I ended up as an “Assertive, Diplomatic Campaigner, ENFP”. Several years ago, when I had taken a similar test I was a “Nurturing, Idealistic Teacher ENFJ”. I guess I can find parts of myself  that are congruent with characteristics of both of these types (which are not too dissimilar), but there are also aspects of both types that are a little foreign to me. A bit like reading one’s horoscope [smirk]…

Wednesday 23 September 2015


“Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.” - William Jennings Bryan

The theme for Poets United this week is “Choice”. I have often written poems inspired by the concept of “choice” and I believe most people think about the “what ifs” and the “I wish I had done x instead of y…”. Here is my poem:

The Wrong Choice

My life a wealth of choices offers
And clamouring voices will ring out:
“Choose me, choose me…”

While pondering on the best path to take,
The wild cacophony will confuse:
“Pick me, pick me…”

What should I do, where should I go,
And which will I listen to when they cry:
“Select me, select me…”

The tyranny of endless choice confounds,
The multitude of possibilities will baffle:
“Opt for me, opt for me…”

I look within me and I find the strength
To do what I, and only I, believe is right;
I muster all my confidence and choose
What I think is best and should be done.

And if my choice is wrong,
There is within me determination, courage, resolve
To stop, scrape clean my tablet,
And with hard-won experience,
Go back and this time choose right.

Tuesday 22 September 2015


“The most fatal disease of friendship is gradual decay, or dislike hourly increased by causes too slender for complaint, and too numerous for removal.” - Samuel Johnson

friend |frend| noun
A person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.
• a person who acts as a supporter of a cause, organisation, or country by giving financial or other help: Join the Friends of Guilford Free Library.
• a person who is not an enemy or who is on the same side: She was unsure whether he was friend or foe.
• a familiar or helpful thing: He settled for that old friend the compensation grant.
• (often as a polite form of address or in ironic reference) an acquaintance or a stranger one comes across: My friends, let me introduce myself.
• (Friend) a member of the Religious Society of Friends; a Quaker.
verb [ trans. ] archaic or poetic/literary
befriend (someone).
• add (someone) to a list of friends or contacts associated with a weblog or electronic list: I am friended by 29 people who I have not friended back.

be (or make) friends with: Be (or become) on good or affectionate terms with (someone).
a friend at court: A person in a position to use their influence on one's behalf.
a friend in need is a friend indeed (proverb): A person who helps at a difficult time is a truly reliable person.
friends in high places: People in senior positions who are able and willing to use their influence on one's behalf.
friendless |ˌfrɛn(d)ləs| adjective
ORIGIN Old English frēond, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch vriend and German Freund, from an Indo-European root meaning ‘to love,’ shared by free.

I was reading an old letter from a friend yesterday and I was impressed by the depth of feeling expressed in it. I sat back and thought carefully about my present relationship with this person. - And the term “waning” came into my mind, which I remembered as one of the things that I had been taught about in my old psychology classes about relationships.

Friendship according to the psychologists can be “nascent” – being born; “active” – in its most developed part; and lastly “waning” – petering out as the road parts for the two former friends. Obviously this differentiation will be different for each of our friendships and it can stop at any stage. A nascent friendship will often go no further as we get to know the person we are befriending and not like what we see (or vice-versa!), Or an active friendship may last the rest of our lives. It's the waning aspect that puzzled me yesterday, especially considering the depth of friendship that I had shared with the writer of the letter.

Trying to apply the theory behind human relationships that I learnt in psychology into the practicality of my own life is something that I have never actively tried to do. I have always seemed to know instinctively what “felt” right at the time and have acted accordingly, and thankfully I have not made many decisions that I have subsequently regretted

But this old letter brought to the fore an often recurring theme in my experience and I guess it must be the same in other people’s experience also… We befriend someone and for some time we may share so much, but then inexplicably, the relationship “wanes” and may completely disappear into nothing but a memory. Why? I analysed the relationship I had with this person and could find no fault with what I had done. After a couple of unanswered emails, one assumes that the person no longer wishes to continue communicating.

Is it the times we live in? Is it to do with people’s expectations of one another person nowadays? Is it to do with the sort of person that each of us attracts? Is it ennui, do we tire of that person that we thought so engaging not that long ago?

Monday 21 September 2015


“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” - Albert Einstein

September 21st is the Autumnal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere and the Vernal Equinox for us in the Southern Hemisphere. It heralds the official arrival of Autumn and Spring respectively. Equinox implies equal periods of light and darkness on this day, with (at the appropriate latitude, 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night from sunrise to sunset).

Each year the International Day of Peace is observed around the world also on 21st September. The United Nations General Assembly has declared this as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples. The theme of this year’s commemoration is “Partnerships for Peace – Dignity for All” which aims to highlight the importance of all segments of society to work together to strive for peace.

The International Day of Peace was established in 1981 by resolution 36/67PDF document of the United Nations General Assembly to coincide with its opening session, which was held annually on the third Tuesday of September. The first Peace Day was observed in September 1982.

As it is Movie Monday today, I’d like to review a classic film that has its theme war, and delivers a strong anti-war, pro-peace message. It is Mike Nichols’ 1970 film “Catch-22” starring Alan Arkin, Martin Balsam, Richard Benjamin, Art Garfunkel, Jon Voigt, Orson Welles, and Bob Newhart. Everyone conversant with English knows and probably often uses the phrase “catch-22” to describe a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions. Many people who use this phrase may not know its origin. It is the title of a brilliant satirical novel, “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller that mocks war, the military, and politics. The movie is based on this novel and it is an excellent book-to-film adaptation.

The plot concerns Yossarian (Alan Arkin), a bombardier who realises the impossibility of ever completing the required number of bombing missions to be rotated out of harm’s way. This is because his commanding officers (Balsam and Henry) are constantly upping the number of missions required once anyone gets close to that number. Yossarian decides his best bet is to try for a medical disqualification for flight under the grounds that it’s insane to fly these missions, and since he’s flying them, he must be insane. But the flight surgeon (Jack Gilford) declares anyone who realises the insanity of the situation must, by definition, be sane, and therefore must continue to fly – Catch-22!

I read the novel in the second form of High School and then watched the movie a couple of years after it was made. I enjoyed both immensely then, and since then have re-read the novel and watched the film recently, as an adult. The enjoyment has increased, as (obviously) has my understanding of both.

The movie shines in terms of film-making: The wonderful cinematography (shot in widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1), the sharp editing, the crisp sound, the great pacing, the excellent casting, the flawless acting, the incredibly complex staging of many scenes: all done to perfection. Mike Nichols has directed relatively few movies, but his list of titles is impressive: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, “The Graduate”, “Carnal Knowledge”, “The Day of the Dolphin”, “Biloxi Blues”, etc.

"Catch-22" is very funny and tragic at the same time. The script and dialogue are witty and intelligent, and the theme is clear without needing to be shoved into the viewers’ face. Comparing this anti-war film with some recent similar films can only make one wax even more lyrical about “Catch-22”. Anyone who has had anything to do with the military, I think, can appreciate the insanity depicted and the futility and terrible waste that war is. You must watch this film and read the book if you have not done so!

Sunday 20 September 2015


“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.” - John F. Kennedy

We are visiting Canberra for the weekend to see “Floriade”, the great Spring exhibition of flowers. We also took the opportunity to visit some favourite old haunts, including the National Gallery of Australia, the Canberra Museum and Gallery and the foreshore of Lake Burley Griffin.

The National Gallery of Australia (NGA; originally the Australian National Gallery) is the national art museum of Australia as well as the largest art museum in the country, holding more than 166,000 works of art. It was established in 1967 by the Australian government as a national public art museum.

Tom Roberts, a famous Australian artist, had lobbied various Australian prime ministers, starting with the first, Edmund Barton, to create a National Gallery. Prime Minister Andrew Fisher accepted the idea in 1910, and the following year Parliament established a bipartisan committee of six political leaders—the Historic Memorials Committee. The Committee decided that the government should collect portraits of Australian governors-general, parliamentary leaders and the principal “fathers” of federation to be painted by Australian artists. This led to the establishment of what became known as the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board (CAAB), which was responsible for art acquisitions until 1973.

From 1912, the building of a permanent building to house the collection in Canberra was the major priority of the CAAB. However, this period included two World Wars and a Depression and governments always considered they had more pressing priorities, including building the initial infrastructure of Canberra and Old Parliament House in the 1920s and the rapid expansion of Canberra and the building of government offices, Lake Burley Griffin and the National Library of Australia in the 1950s and early 1960s. Finally in 1965 the CAAB was able to persuade Prime Minister Robert Menzies to take the steps necessary to establish the gallery. On 1 November 1967, Prime Minister Harold Holt formally announced that the Government would construct the building.

In 1968, Colin Madigan of Edwards Madigan Torzillo and Partners won the competition for the design, even though no design could be finalised, as the final site was now in doubt. In 1971, the Government selected a 17 hectare site on the eastern side of the proposed National Place, between King Edward Terrace and for the Gallery. Even though it was now unlikely that the lakeside Parliament House would proceed, a raised National Place (to hide parking stations) surrounded by national institutions and government offices was still planned. Madigan's brief included the Gallery, a building for the High Court of Australia and the precinct around them, linking to the raised National Place at the centre of the Land Axis of the Parliamentary Triangle, which then led to the National Library on the western side.

The construction of the building commenced in 1973, with the unveiling of a plaque by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, and it was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1982, during the premiership of Whitlam’s successor, Malcolm Fraser. The building cost $82 million. The National Gallery building is in the late 20th-century Brutalist style. It is characterised by angular masses and raw concrete surfaces and is surrounded by a series of sculpture gardens planted with Australian native plants and trees. The geometry of the building is based on a triangle, most obviously manifested for visitors in the coffered ceiling grids and tiles of the principal floor. This geometry flows throughout the building, and is reflected in the triangular stair towers, columns and building elements.

The building is principally constructed of reinforced bush hammered concrete, which was also originally the interior wall surface. More recently, the interior walls have been covered with painted wood, to allow for increased flexibility in the display of artworks. The building has 23,000 m2 of floor space. The Gallery has been extended twice, the first of which was the building of new temporary exhibition galleries on the eastern side of the building in 1997, to house large-scale temporary exhibitions, which was designed by Andrew Andersons of PTW Architects. This extension includes a sculptural garden, designed by Fiona Hall. The 2006 enhancement project and new entrance was complemented by a large Australian Garden designed by Adrian McGregor of McGregor Coxall Landscape Architecture and Urban Design.

Just like the city it is found in, the Gallery is not an inviting place. Canberra is an artificial city and it is not built on the human scale. It is designed to be monumental, but it is a monument without memories, a rather cold and sterile place, a city that still struggles to find an identity. To be a pedestrian in Canberra is to be damned - this City was not designed for pedestrians. To get from place to place of interest one needs to drive (through empty space for a lot of the time) and negotiate roundabouts of gigantic proportions.

There are some significant art works in the Gallery, but there is also a lot of dross masquerading as modern art. There is a marked lack of European art prior to the 19th century so if one were to rely solely on this Gallery’s exhibits for one’s art education, it would be a very shallow education indeed. The National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne is an infinitely richer gallery and one that has a collection that is better balanced (even though it may have less works in total than the NGA). Despite its shortcomings, a visit to Canberra would be inadequate without a visit to NGA…