Saturday, 9 January 2010


“Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts.” -Percy Bysshe Shelley

And in this case, it is Vladimir Davidovich Ashkenazy, playing the adagio from the Piano Concerto No.23 in A major K 488 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart…

Thursday, 7 January 2010


“Nothing is more miserable than man, of all upon the earth that breathes and creeps.” - Homer, Iliad

This evening I am feeling very flat. In fact more than flat. Melancholy, disappointed, sad, dismayed, distressed. The reason? Nothing and everything. A combination of many things over the last few days. Disappointment with people – family friends, colleagues. Disenchantment with work (some issues that have been brewing for some time and have just come to a head). The post-holiday flatness and return to work. The sudden change of weather and the unexpected sapping heat…

I’ll keep this brief tonight and after searching through my recipe book, I attach this feel-good, utterly decadent and sweet recipe. This is comfort food at its worst (best?) designed to drive away these blues I’m feeling…

Dark Chocolate Bavarois

Ingredients (serves four)

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup caster sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 2 teaspoons gelatine
  • 185 g molten dark chocolate
  • 1 cup thickened cream

  • 100 g grated white chocolate
  • 3/4 cup thickened cream
  • 1/4 cup of liqueur (Baileys, e.g.)


•    Beat egg yolks with the sugar until light and creamy.
•    Scrape out the contents of the vanilla bean and put into the milk with the husk. Slowly bring milk to the boil and strain, pouring the milk little by little over egg mixture without stopping the mixer.
•    Return mixture to saucepan over low heat stir constantly until mixture thickens slightly (about 3 minutes) to a custard-like consistency.
•    Dissolve gelatine in 1/4 cup water over double broiler
•    Remove custard from heat, stir in gelatine and melted dark chocolate.
•    Cool for 10 minutes.
•    Beat cream until soft peaks form, fold into chocolate mixture. .lightly grease and flour four one-cup capacity mini moulds, pour in the mixture and refrigerate until set.
•    To make the sauce, combine chocolate and extra cream in a medium saucepan, stir over low heat until combined.
•    Cool to room temperature.
•    Ease bavarois out of moulds and pour the sauce over the top and serve.

If you visit this blog regularly and have never commented, how about saying “hello”? There are an awful lot of lurkers out there…

Have a good weekend.


“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

The birth of a baby is the everyday miracle that we often take for granted, especially if it doesn’t involve us personally. If a baby arrives in the family, we all become acutely aware of this magical mystery and we look upon the new arrival with eyes of wonder and thankfulness. Wonder about this brand new life that has been created, thankfulness that all has gone well and that the new baby is healthy and strong.

In my line of work it is too often that I see things going wrong and some complication of the pregnancy or another problem, which can occur genetically or is acquired causes congenital disease in the baby. The effects of this are devastating enough, but if something is gravely wrong, then the baby can die and this has catastrophic consequences for the parents. A celebration turns into mourning and the happiness of the birth becomes the untold sadness of a baby’s death. In the past infant mortality was so high, that a woman expected to see most of her children die in babyhood or infancy. Nowadays, we regard deaths of babies as a rare and unfortunate occurrence, so unusual that when it occurs it ravages the family.

The other common occurrence in the past, which fortunately has been curbed now is the high mortality of the mother around the time of delivery. Puerperal fever, uncontrollable haemorrhage, all manners of infections, eclampsia, were just some of the problems confronting a pregnant woman. In the past, it was not unusual for many young mothers to succumb to one of these deadly diseases.

On the matter of babies born with serious disorders, medicine has advanced enough in order to deal effectively with these congenital diseases. For example, most congenital heart disease is now treated effectively. For others, however, the problem remains. Down’s syndrome is one of these, where we do precious little to treat the multiplicity of disorders that arise later in the life of that individual.

Therapeutic abortion is something that many couples will consider if a test has shown that the woman is carrying a child with a serious disease. Other couples will not only never consider such an abortion, but the woman will not even get tested during the course of the pregnancy. Their philosophy is: “Any baby is a good baby, it deserves to live as long as it does.” We have friends whose child has Down’s syndrome. Although there have been problems, they love their child and they receive much love back from him. When I see the simple joy in that child’s eyes and a soul without any trace of deceit, duplicity, evil or dishonesty, I wonder if we have things right…

Which brings me to the subject of wanted versus unwanted pregnancies. How many women are there out there who want to become pregnant and they cannot? At least as many as those who are pregnant and have no wish to be. Abortion or giving up the newborn for adoption are the options for this latter case. For the former, in vitro technology and fertility treatments of all sorts can sometimes help. If no help can result in a pregnancy then adoption is an option. But how difficult this has become in countries like ours! But that’s another topic.

miracle |ˈmirikəl| noun
A surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency: The miracle of rising from the grave.
• A highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences: It was a miracle that more people hadn't been killed or injured [as adj. ]: A miracle drug.
• An amazing product or achievement, or an outstanding example of something: A machine which was a miracle of design.
ORIGIN Middle English: via Old French from Latin miraculum ‘object of wonder,’ from mirari ‘to wonder,’ from mirus ‘wonderful.’

Wednesday, 6 January 2010


“Prayers go up and blessings come down.” – Yiddish Proverb

Today is the Feast Day of the Epiphany. The Epiphany (also called Theophany = manifestation of God) celebrates three important events in the Christian calendar.  The first is the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem and the adoration of the Christ Child; the second is the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist; the third the miracle at Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine, when there was no more wine for the guests at the wedding Jesus was invited to.  In the Western churches, the adoration of the Magi is the most important of these celebrations while in Eastern churches, Christ’s baptism is the most important.  The word “epiphania” in Greek means “manifestation” and refers to the appearance of the Christ child to the Magi. The winter jasmine (yellow jasmine), Jasminum nudiflorum, is a flower symbolic of the Epiphany and is also an attribute of the Virgin Mary.

In Greece this Feast Day of Christ’s baptism is celebrated with brilliance and there is a traditional blessing of the waters. There is an early morning liturgy in church, which is bedecked with greenery. The priest followed by the congregation then makes his way to a body of water (typically the sea, but it can also be a lake or a river, or even a swimming pool) in order to bless the waters in commemoration of Christ’s baptism in the River Jordan. The priest chants the blessing and throws a cross into the water. Young swimmers dive into the water to retrieve the cross. The person who brings back the cross to the priest kisses his hand, receives his blessing and a religious gift (in the past it used to be a gold cross to wear on a chain around the neck).

The priest has also blessed a large basin of water, which becomes “holy water” (ayiasmos), which is distributed to the faithful to take back home in order to bless the house. Whoever has fasted for three days before this blessing may drink three gulps of the “holy water” which will protect them from disease and evil. The fast is then broken at lunchtime and traditionally roast pork with celery and leeks is eaten on this day. Here is the Greek Carol of the Epiphany.

Κάλαντα Φώτων

Σήμερα τα Φώτα κι ο φωτισμός,
Η χαρά μεγάλη κι ο αγιασμός.

Κάτω στον Ιορδάνη, τον ποταμό,
Κάθεται η Κυρά μας, η Παναγιά.
Όργανο βαστάει και κερί κρατεί
Και τον Άϊ Γιάννη παρακαλεί:

“Άϊ Γιάννη αφέντη και βαπτιστή,
Βάπτισε κι εμένα, Θεού παιδί.
Ν’ ανέβω επάνω στον ουρανό
Να μαζέψω ρόδα και λίβανο.”

Καλημέρα, καλημέρα,
Καλή σου μέρ’ αφέντη με την κυρά!

Greek Epiphany Carol

Today is the Epiphany and the enlightenment,
Great joys of blessing and the Holy Water.

Down by the Jordan River,
Sits Our Lady, the Virgin Mary,
Holding a lute and a lit candle,
And She asks St John the Baptist:

“St John, Master and Baptist,
Baptise me as well, a child of God.
So that I may rise up to Heaven
And pick roses and incense.”

A good day, a good day,
A good day to you Master, and to the Mistress too!

Monday, 4 January 2010


“No party is any fun unless seasoned with folly.” - Desiderius Erasmus

You have all heard about the Twelve Days of Christmas, but many of you may not know what this actually signifies. Contrary to much popular belief, these are not the twelve days before Christmas (the days before Christmas are the days of Advent), but in most of the Western Churches are the twelve days from Christmas until the beginning of Epiphany, on January 6th. The 12 day count begins from December 25th until January 5th. In some traditions, the first day of Christmas begins on the evening of December 25th with the following day considered the First Day of Christmas (December 26th). In these traditions, the twelve days begin December 26 and include Epiphany on January 6.

The Christmas Carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” may be regarded as a nonsense children’s song, but its origins are religious and instructional:

The First Day – December 25: A Partridge in a Pear Tree
The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, whose birthday we celebrate on December 25, the first day of Christmas. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, recalling the expression of Christ’s sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered you under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but you would not have it so…’ (Luke 13:34)

The Second Day – December 26: Two Turtle Doves
The Old and New Testaments, which together bear witness to God's self-revelation in history and the creation of a people to tell the Story of God to the world.

The Third Day – December 27: Three French Hens
The Three Theological Virtues: 1. Faith, 2. Hope, and 3. Love (1 Corinthians 13:13)

The Fourth Day – December 28: Four Calling Birds
The Four Gospels: 1. Matthew, 2. Mark, 3. Luke, and 4. John, which proclaim the Good News of God's reconciliation of the world to Himself in Jesus Christ.

The Fifth Day – December 29: Five Gold Rings

The first Five Books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch: 1. Genesis, 2. Exodus, 3. Leviticus, 4. Numbers, and 5. Deuteronomy, which gives the history of humanity's sinful failure and God’s response of grace in the creation of a people to be a light to the world.

The Sixth Day – December 30: Six Geese A-laying
The six days of creation that confesses God as Creator and Sustainer of the world (Genesis 1).

The Seventh Day – December 31: Seven Swans A-swimming
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: 1. Prophecy, 2. Ministry, 3. Teaching, 4. Exhortation, 5. Giving, 6. Leading, and 7. Compassion (Romans 12:6-8; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:8-11)

The Eighth Day – January 1: Eight Maids A-milking
The eight Beatitudes: 1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, 2. Blessed are those who mourn, 3. Blessed are the meek, 4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 5. Blessed are the merciful, 6. Blessed are the pure in heart, 7. Blessed are the peacemakers, 8. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. (Matthew 5:3-10)

The Ninth Day – January 2: Nine Ladies Dancing
The nine Fruit of the Holy Spirit: 1. Love, 2. Joy, 3. Peace, 4. Patience, 5. Kindness, 6. Generosity, 7. Faithfulness, 8. Gentleness, and 9. Self-control. (Galatians 5:22)

The Tenth Day – January 3: Ten Lords A-leaping
The ten commandments: 1. You shall have no other gods before me; 2. Do not make an idol; 3. Do not take God's name in vain; 4. Remember the Sabbath Day; 5. Honour your father and mother; 6. Do not murder; 7. Do not commit adultery; 8. Do not steal; 9. Do not bear false witness; 10. Do not covet. (Exodus 20:1-17)

The Eleventh Day – January 4: Eleven Pipers Piping
The eleven Faithful Apostles: 1. Simon Peter, 2. Andrew, 3. James, 4. John, 5. Philip, 6. Bartholomew, 7. Matthew, 8. Thomas, 9. James bar Alphaeus, 10. Simon the Zealot, 11. Judas bar James. (Luke 6:14-16). The list does not include the twelfth disciple, Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders and the Romans.

The Twelfth Day – January 5: Twelve Drummers Drumming
The twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed: 1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. 2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. 3/ He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. 4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. 5. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 6. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 7. I believe in the Holy Spirit, 8. the holy catholic Church, 9. the communion of saints, 10. the forgiveness of sins, 11. the resurrection of the body, 12. and life everlasting.

Tonight is the Twelfth Night, and tradition has it that Christmas celebrations are to end today and decorations must be taken down on this day.  However, a sprig of holly should be retained in the house to protect the occupants against lightning.  Twelfth Night celebrations were once very popular and traditionally, this night was one of the merriest in the Christmas season.  Twelfth Night parties were held everywhere, ostensibly to celebrate the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem, however, many of the traditions surrounding the Night’s celebrations were pagan in origin (see Shakespeare’s play: “Twelfth Night”).

A Twelfth Night cake was baked for the occasion of the celebrations and a single bean was hidden in it.  The person who found it in his piece became the Bean King for the Night.  This tradition hails back to the Roman Saturnalia where a King was chosen by lot.  The bean was a sacred seed in ancient times. A pea was sometimes baked in a second cake in order to choose a Twelfth Night Queen, also.  These cakes have now merged with the tradition of the Christmas Cake and the Christmas Pudding (the latter which may contain the silver sixpence to determine the lucky one amongst its consumers: Compare this with the Vasilopitta [see my blog on January 1st]).

At the Twelfth Night party, it was customary to draw cards, on which were represented certain stock pantomime-like characters, exemplifying humorous national traits, for example, Farmer Mangelwurzel, François Parlez-Vous and Patrick O’Tater.  People had to act out the part of their chosen character and also submit to the humorous “commands” of the Bean King. Whenever the king raised his glass, the others did the same, shouting out “The king drinks!” Guessing games, riddle-solving, fortune telling, play-acting and miming were some of the things to amuse the party guests. Much laughter, good humour, fine food and drink were expended on these occasions.

In Jan Steen's 1668 painting of the Twelfth Night above, men, women and children form a cheerful crowd around the dining table, some in the fashionable middle-class dress of the day, while some are wearing different household utensils on their heads. Wearing the king's crown is a boy who stands on a small table, being helped to drain his glass by an elderly woman beside him. The jester, identified by the inscribed scrap of paper in his cap, is on his feet in front of the table, providing a rhythmical accompaniment with an earthenware pot and a small stick. On the far left, an older man with a metal funnel on his head has made a fiddle and bow from a ladle and a roasting spit, while someone else at the back is playing a real violin. On the opposite side, clearly keeping their distance, is a more genteel group gathered around a preacher and taking no part in the merriment. The painter and his wife, however, have joined in the disorderly celebration, being seated at table in the middle of the painting.

Sunday, 3 January 2010


“Do not do an immoral thing for moral reasons.” - Thomas Hardy

My first day back at work today was very busy with meetings, lots of correspondence and emails to attend to, as well as catching up with all the staff. In the morning, I planned to get in extra early, so at 6:20 am, I was at the train station, only to find out that my train had been delayed for 15 minutes. I ended up getting in at work at 7:05 am, about my usual time even when I get the next scheduled train. The joys of our privatised public transport system…

Last weekend we watched an excellent movie. This was the 1993 James Ivory drama “The Remains of the Day”, starring Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Christopher Reeve and Hugh Grant. It is based on a novel by Japanese/British novelist, Kazuo Ishiguro. “The Remains of the Day” (1989) is the third published novel of Ishiguro and is one of the most highly-regarded post-war British novels. It won the Booker Prize in 1989 for Best Fiction, and ranks in the Sunday Times list of the 100 greatest novels. The film is an excellent adaptation of the novel with the leads amazingly well cast and giving a recital of their considerable acting abilities. Anthony Hopkins in particular, is exceptional in this film.

This is gently flowing, lilting movie with little action or incident, yet it is amazingly involving and there are some strong undercurrents of bottled up emotion, as well as a philosophical consideration of ethics, as seen from different viewpoints. Personal morality is also explored and there are also developed strong themes of racism and class inequality. Ishiguro has written a remarkably English novel that captures the spirit of the time and place of pre-second World War England, with some amazingly astute characterisations of the people of a vanishing species. The author, although born in Japan was raised and educated in England and has understood his adopted country exceedingly well, as his novel shows.

The story concerns James Stevens, an English butler, who dedicates his life to the loyal service of Lord Darlington (who is sketched out in increasing detail in flashbacks). The novel begins with Stevens receiving a letter from an ex-colleague Miss Kenton, previously the Housekeeper at Lord Darlington’s estate, describing her married life, which Stevens believes hints at her unhappy marriage. The receipt of the letter allows Stevens the opportunity to revisit this once-cherished relationship, if only under the pretext of possible re-employment of Mrs Benn (as Miss Kenton now is) at the Estate. Stevens’ new employer is a wealthy American (Mr. Farraday) who encourages Stevens to borrow a car to take a well-earned break, a “motoring trip”. On his trip to meet Mrs Benn, Stevens has the opportunity to reflect on his unmoving loyalty to Lord Darlington, the meaning of the term “dignity”, and even his relationship with his now deceased father. Ultimately Stevens is forced to ponder the true nature of his relationship with Miss Kenton during their time together at the Estate. As the film progresses, we become aware of Miss Kenton's one-time love for Stevens, and his for her.

Working together during the years leading up to the Second World War, Stevens and Miss Kenton fail to admit their true feelings. All of their recollected conversations show a professional friendship, which came close but was never given the opportunity to cross the line into romance. Miss Kenton, it later emerges, has been married for over 20 years and therefore is no longer Miss Kenton but has become Mrs. Benn. She admits to occasionally wondering what her life with Stevens might have been like, has come to love her husband, and is looking forward to the birth of their first grandchild. Stevens muses over lost opportunities, both with Miss Kenton and with his long-time employer, Lord Darlington. At the end of the film, Stevens focuses on the “remains of his day”, which has a multiplicity of meanings:  His future service with Mr. Farraday; the evening of his life and the wreckage he has made of it; the last vestiges of England’s grand houses – the estates in one of which Stevens serves; and the remains of the British Empire, once great, but at the time of Stevens’ writing of the letter, on the verge of complete and utter collapse…

Stevens comes to realise also that perhaps his utter and unquestioning loyalty to his master, Lord Darlington may have been misguided as his master had actively cultivated ties with the Nazi cause. This is an understated moral and ethical dilemma that Stevens was always aware of but actively ignored under a veneer of faultless service to a master he considered to be fair, benign, noble and above all else, a gentleman. His wish to be the perfect butler, the perfect “gentleman’s gentleman” has supervened and has quashed his responsibility to himself as a human being.

This is an excellent film, which is a good adaptation of an excellent novel. See it or read the novel, or both!