Friday 6 November 2015


“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” - Martin Luther

We had some apples languishing in the fridge this week and they had “apple cake” written all over them. The following recipe was given to us by an acquaintance we made when we visited Alsace many years ago. I remember it was rather amusing when we started discussing the origin of the recipe and there was no final decision made whether it was French or German...

Apple Cake

1 cup self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter (softened)
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tablespoons brandy
2 sweet apples (Fuji or Golden Delicious), peeled, cored and cut into 1 cm cubes 
Icing sugar for sprinkling on cake (optional)


Preheat the oven to 180°C. Spray a 25 cm spring-form cake pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Sift the flour and baking powder.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and brandy. Don’t worry if the batter looks grainy. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until just combined. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the chopped apples.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle evenly with an extra 1 tablespoon of sugar.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the cake is lightly golden and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool until just warm. Run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the spring-form pan. Using a fine sieve, dust with icing sugar (if desired).
Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

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Thursday 5 November 2015


“Better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all.” 
- St. Augustine

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born on August 28, 1749, in Frankfurt am Main in Germany and died on March 22, 1832, in Weimar. He was a German poet, novelist, playwright, and natural philosopher, the greatest figure of the German Romantic period and of German literature as a whole. Goethe was perhaps the last European to attempt the mastery and many-sidedness of the great Renaissance personalities: Critic, journalist, painter, theatre manager, statesman, educationalist, natural philosopher. His writings on science alone fill about 14 volumes. In poetry he displayed a command of a unique variety of theme and style; in fiction he ranged from fairy tales, to shorter novels and novellas. In the theatre, from historical, political, or psychological plays in prose through blank-verse drama to his Faust, one of the masterpieces of modern literature.

He achieved in his 82 years a great wisdom yet to the end of his life he retained a willingness to let himself be shaken by love or sorrow. His masterpiece “Faust” was completed a few months before his death, and he bequeathed it with irony to the critics of posterity to discover its faults. Its final lines, “Das Ewig-Weibliche/Zieht uns hinan” (“Eternal Womanhead/Leads us on high”), summarises his own philosophy, with Woman being the ultimate ideal, man’s energiser and source of creative force and life.

Here is one of Goethe’s short poems today, that has as its theme the universal and ever relevant topic that of love and the tyranny of distance between lovers.

Nearness of the Beloved

I think of you when from the sea the shimmer
Of sunlight streams;
I think of you when on the brook the dimmer
Moon casts her beams.

I see your face when on the distant highway
Dust whirls and flakes,
In deepest night when on the mountain byway
The traveller quakes.

I hear your voice when, dully roaring, yonder
Waves rise and spill;
Listening, in silent woods I often wander
When all is still.

I walk with you, though miles from you divide me;
Yet you are are near!
The sun goes down, soon stars will shine to guide me.
Would you were here!
                           Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Poetry about the pain of being apart from one’s beloved is certainly something that has inspired poets throughout the ages. Loving and being apart seems to be an ever-repeated and universal theme.

Wednesday 4 November 2015


“We live in the age of the refugee, the age of the exile.” - Ariel Dorfman

This week, Poets United has as its theme “Tranquillity”. In a world becoming increasingly more violent, more agitated, more unstable, to find tranquillity may be well nigh impossible for the majority of people around the globe. Over the last few months, the shocking news of an escalating refugee crisis in Europe illustrates the point only too graphically.

Vast numbers of refugees have made their way across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2015, sparking a crisis as countries struggle to cope with the influx, and creating division in the European Union over how best to deal with resettling people. More than 750,000 migrants are estimated to have arrived by sea so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), but exact numbers are unclear as some may have passed through borders undetected.

Although not all of those arriving claim asylum, over half a million have done so. Germany continues to be the most popular destination for migrants arriving in Europe. It has received the highest number of new asylum applications, with almost 222,000 by the end of August. Hungary has moved into second place, as more migrants have tried to make the journey overland through Greece and the Western Balkans. It had 96,350 applications by the end of July.

The Aegean Sea crossing has seen the deaths of more than 3,000 people this year, but the route is still one of the most popular for refugees trying to cross into the European Union, as the eastern Greek island of Lesbos is only a few hours away from Turkey, where many Syrian refugees are coming from. The majority of people who take boats across the Aegean are using smugglers, whom they have often paid up to 2,000 euros each.


When the bombs fell and our homes destroyed
In ghastly, fiery infernos,
We screamed, we cried, we ran away
And sought tranquillity.

When soldiers shot at us, and partisans shot back,
In deadly, deafening crossfire,
We crept low, and hoped to flee
And sought tranquillity.

When climbing into trucks, thrown in together,
In fusty, airless, stinking compartments,
We held our breaths and swallowed our tears,
And sought tranquillity.

When thankfully we boarded illegal, leaky boats
In tossing seas and wind-swept treacherous waters,
We held onto each other and prayed to God,
And sought tranquillity.

When on doors locked we knocked, and met closed borders,
In icy weather, while hunger gripped our belly,
We gritted our teeth, survived against all odds
And sought tranquillity.

We search for a safe haven, a home to call our own,
Somewhere to raise our children without fear;
We need a sunny place where we can smile again,
And seek tranquillity.

And in the depths of winter, while one by one we die,
In dark grey fields of war we perish, in perilous journeys we expire.
A cold, bleak, callous indifference kills us all
And in our death we find, at long last,

Tuesday 3 November 2015


“The highest result of education is tolerance.” - Helen Keller

On this planet we are blessed with a diversity that has ensured the survival of life in one form or another for millennia upon millennia. It is this diversity that allows evolution and survival. It is this diversity that ensures adaptation to adverse environments. There is no surer way to die out as a species than to be uniform and unchangeable. Rigidity and inflexibility, in a biological sense, will sooner or later cause extinction.

Human beings have managed over the ages of life on planet earth to reach a position of domination over all of the other life forms, such that the fate of all other species on this planet depends on our whims and fancies, our activities and behaviour. We pride ourselves on being rational, thinking creatures and yet we destroy our planet systematically, wipe out thousands of species of living things each year. As if that weren’t enough, internecine hostility within our own species, threatens humanity itself on many fronts.

Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. Tolerance is harmony in difference. We view tolerance as a way of thinking and feeling (most importantly though, of acting) that gives us peace in our individuality, respect for those unlike us, the wisdom to discern humane values and the courage to act upon them. An adoption of tolerance by a diverse community equips its members with skills necessary to live together peacefully.

Ethnic conflicts, human rights violations, intolerance, nationalism and racism are, together with low environmental awareness, main threats to stability of the present world. Globalisation and growing multiculturalism in nation states bring such issues to the attention of many policy makers as well as impacting on the life of ordinary people. Teachers may play a very progressive role in the process of combating intolerance and racism and can articulate the bottom-up policies for social change. Individuals and community groups can foster an attitude of tolerance – tolerance depends on all of us for its active implementation.

tolerance |ˈtäl(ə)rəns| noun

1 the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with : the tolerance of corruption | an advocate of religious tolerance.
the capacity to endure continued subjection to something, esp. a drug, transplant, antigen, or environmental conditions, without adverse reaction : the desert camel shows the greatest tolerance to dehydration | species were grouped according to pollution tolerance | various species of diatoms display different tolerances to acid.
diminution in the body's response to a drug after continued use.
2 an allowable amount of variation of a specified quantity, esp. in the dimensions of a machine or part : 250 parts in his cars were made to tolerances of one thousandth of an inch.

ORIGIN late Middle English (denoting the action of bearing hardship, or the ability to bear pain and hardship): via Old French from Latin tolerantia, from tolerare.


“Society exists for the benefit of its members, not the members for the benefit of society.” Herbert Spencer

On November 5 it is Guy Fawkes Day in the UK and this commemorates the foiled attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament by a group of dissidents. The conspiracy intended to blow up the English Parliament and King James I in 1605, the day set for the king to open Parliament. The anniversary was named after Guy Fawkes, the most famous of the conspirators. The assassination of the king and the overthrow of his government was to be the beginning of a great uprising of English Catholics, who were distressed by the increased severity of penal laws against the practice of their religion.

The conspirators, who began plotting early in 1604, expanded their number to a point where secrecy was impossible. The conspirators included Robert Catesby, John Wright, and Thomas Winter, the originators, Christopher Wright, Robert Winter, Robert Keyes, Guy Fawkes (a soldier who had been serving in Flanders), Thomas Percy, John Grant, Sir Everard Digby, Francis Tresham, Ambrose Rookwood, and Thomas Bates. Percy hired a cellar under the House of Lords, in which 36 barrels of gunpowder, overlaid with iron bars and firewood, were secretly stored.

The conspiracy was brought to light through a mysterious letter received by Lord Monteagle, a brother-in-law of Tresham, on October 26, urging him not to attend Parliament on the opening day. The 1st earl of Salisbury and others, to whom the plot was made known, took steps leading to the discovery of the materials and the arrest of Fawkes as he entered the cellar. Other conspirators, overtaken in flight or seized afterward, were killed outright, imprisoned, or executed. Among those executed was Henry Garnett, the superior of the English Jesuits, who had known of the conspiracy.

The plot provoked increased hostility against all English Catholics and led to an increase in the harshness of laws against them. Guy Fawkes Day, November 5, is still celebrated in England with fireworks and bonfires, on which effigies of the conspirator are burned.

Please to remember The Fifth of November,

Gunpowder treason and plot;
I see no reason Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

‘Twas God’s mercy to be sent

To save our King and Parliament
Three score barrels laid below,
For old England’s overthrow

With a lighted candle,

with a lighted match
Boom, boom to let him in.
    Anonymous Hertfordshire Rhyme

Quite aptly for today, I am considering a film that was inspired in part by this historical event, but which also looks towards the future and creates one of the most convincing filmic dystopias and asks several questions that relate to our present-day society. The film is James McTeigue’s “V for Vendetta” and its screenplay is an adaptation of Alan Moore/David Lloyd's graphic novel. Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry and John Hurt have been wonderfully cast and do a sterling job in playing out this tale of the fight for freedom and justice against cruelty and corruption.

There are elements of Orwell’s “1984”, Leroux’s “Phantom of the Opera” and superhero dramas such as “Batman” and “Spiderman” in this movie, but there is also an underlying serious political/social message in it. Its plot takes place in the future, when Britain is under totalitarian rule and is rife with prejudice against minorities, unfair punishments and the cries of tortured dissidents in captivity. In the mist of this nightmarish background, one man known as “V” dares to stand up to the government and is labelled by it as a “terrorist”. One night V rescues a young woman called Evey Hammond and an unlikely bond between the two emerges which results with Evey becoming V’s friend and helper.

V has a passion for justice, but he is also bitter and nurses his own personal hatred for the government as he was treated unjustly in the past. November the 5th is the day V and his followers will stand up to the government once and for all. The government is represented by Detective Finch who tries to track down V. Finch’s search leads him to discover much about V’s background, but also confronted by increasing evidence of tyranny and oppression, he begins to question whether or not he is on the right side.

Important questions arise upon viewing this film. Is V a hero or a terrorist? Are his actions justified or should the violence he espouses be condemned? “V for Vendetta” is a movie that looks scathingly at present-day politics. One cannot fail to see that President Bush is the model for Stutler. The news media and their coverage of V’s activities are inspired by on the propaganda machines at the disposal of today’s politicians, with V’s actions put on par with those of suicide bombers and underground train attacks. Does “terrorism” become “freedom-fighting”?

A totalitarian oppressor in power who utilises torture, unjust rule, (a reign of terror, in fact) is not likely to arouse our sympathies, whereas V, who is presented as the “terrorist” is much more likely to appear to be the “hero”. This is a disturbing and chilling film because it presents the reality of today and yesterday as the “Status quo” that our children will inherit in the future. If you haven’t seen this movie, I strongly recommend that you see it. It is dark, thought-provoking, and quite entertaining. I have not read the original graphic novel it is based on, and I realise that the film has created characters that are rather exaggerated, but the message is quite powerful and for me, well-conveyed in the film medium.

Monday 2 November 2015


"The art of becoming wise is the art of knowing what to overlook." - William James

For Art Sunday, the art of Léon Bakst who spent most of his life working in the world of costume and stage design. Léon Bakst (born February 8, 1866, St. Petersburg, Russia - died December 28, 1924, Paris, France) was the pseudonym of Lev Samoylovich Rosenberg. He was a Russian artist who revolutionised theatrical design in both scenery and costume.

Bakst attended the Imperial Academy of Arts at St. Petersburg but was expelled after painting a “Pietà” that was deemed to be too-realistic. He went to Paris to complete his studies and returned to Russia where he became a court painter. He was a co-founder with Sergey Diaghilev of the journal Mir Iskusstva (“World of Art”) in 1899. Bakst began to design scenery in 1900, first at the Hermitage court theatre and then at the imperial theatres. In 1906 he went to Paris, where he began designing stage sets and costumes for Diaghilev’s newly formed ballet company, the Ballets Russes.

The first Diaghilev ballet for which he designed décor was Cléopâtre (1909), and he was chief set designer thereafter, working on the ballets Scheherazade and Carnaval (both 1910), Le Spectre de la Rose and Narcisse (both 1911), L’Après-midi d’un Faune and Daphnis et Chloé (both 1912), and Les Papillons (1914).

Bakst achieved international fame with his sets and costumes, in which he combined bold, innovative designs and richly sumptuous colours. His attention to minutely refined details conveyed an atmosphere of picturesque, exotic Orientalism, well-suited to the works he designed. In 1919 Bakst settled permanently in Paris. His designs for a London production of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty in 1921 are regarded as his greatest work.

Scheherazade is of course a retelling of the famous story of the Arabian Nights and the stirring, exotic music of Rimsky Korsakov (1844-1908) provided the artistic stimulus that Bakst required in order to produce some opulently magnificent oriental costumes and sets for this ballet (1910). Two costumes shown here: The “Blue Sultana” and an “Odalisque”.