Saturday, 29 January 2011


“In Egypt today most people are concerned with getting bread to eat. Only some of the educated understand how democracy works.” - Naguib Mahfouz

Well it was a beautiful summer’s day today in Melbourne, hot but not scorching, a breeze blowing now and then. We had a morning full of chores, but then visited the library and took it easy for while there. In the afternoon, when things started to get a little warmer we sat inside, where it was cool and watched a movie. Went out to dinner tonight ad the night finished relatively early.

The riots in Tunisia and Egypt are occupying a great deal of prime news time. The situation in Egypt especially seems to have reached a critical point. I read with amazement that the country had turned off its internet yesterday, something that I thought was impossible to do, but apparently yes, it did happen through the government putting pressure on the handful of internet provider companies that supply the whole country with its internet access. This is a half-baked attempt to quash dissent and anti-government feeling being expressed through social media and internet-enabled communication services… The truth will out one way or another and there surely must be more than one satellite phones capable of internet access connections.

Things are not good worldwide, and these latest riots are part of the disgruntlement and agitation that is evident around many countries throughout the world. Fortunately here in Australia, things are good and I am grateful for this.

As a special tribute to the Egyptian people tonight, I offer you a wonderful piece of music. It is a collaborative effort between Egyptian and Turkish musicians and called “Kolaymi?”, meaning, “Is it easy?” in Turkish. It is by Omar Faruk Tekbilek, taken from the Album “Omar Faruk Tekbilek & Brian Keane - Beyond The Sky” (1992).

Friday, 28 January 2011


“Let not the sands of time get in your lunch.” - Tony Hendra

Despite the holiday midweek, this was a difficult and busy week with much happening and long hours at work, as if to make up for the “lost” working day. In any case the weekend is nearly here and I look forward to some rest and relaxation. I’ll try to do the least work possible and enjoy the break. Sunday promises to be a scorcher with a forecast maximum of 40˚C so the best place to be is somewhere cool and shady!

I have been trying to have a bit more of a healthful diet, as well as increase the amount of exercise I regularly do. As the years advance, it’s so easy to put on weight especially if one likes good food and drink. Nevertheless, there are so many tasty, healthful, fresh and slimming food options out there now that it’s a shame not to take advantage of them. And one feels so good once the kilos begin to be shed.

I wrote about the benefits of a good breakfast last week so today I’ll write something about a good lunch. In Australia, where we work right through the day (unlike, say, in Mediterranean countries where a post-lunch siesta is the norm, followed by more work), lunch is often a rushed affair, with fast, unhealthy food more than likely the norm. Many people that pack a lunch from home end up eating sandwiches, which depending on the filling can be quite nasty. Others eat out and are tempted by pizza, fried food, chips and all sorts of other take-away horrors that are consumed quickly and on the run, or at our desk. Very few people will have the good option of a protein-rich staple supplemented by complex carbohydrates, fresh vegetables, with lots of fluid, preferably in the form of cool water or green unsweetened tea. Preferably, these will be consumed somewhere away from the workplace, giving us the opportunity for some exercise before and after lunch.

One of the first things to try and reduce in the lunch menu are butter, margarine, oils and all sorts of other fats. One can use substitutes. For example, why not try spreading your multigrain bread with some nice, ripe, mashed avocado? Cholesterol-free olive oil, used sparingly is another good substitute. Avoid mayonnaise, bought salad dressings, ready-made sauces and spreads of all kinds. Cheese can be packed full of fats and calories, although it may taste heavenly – eat sparingly! Cottage cheese is another matter, but its taste (or lack of) is another matter too…

Here are some interesting and healthful lunch suggestions for a whole week:

On Sunday night, put some chopped zucchini, capsicum, mushrooms and strips of chicken breast into a roasting tin. Lightly spray them with olive oil, season with paprika and ground pepper. Put in the oven on low heat until the chicken is well cooked and the vegetables are tender. Put in the refrigerator overnight. On Monday morning, pack the chicken and vegetables into a container and take to work with a wholemeal bread (or tortilla) wrap and a handful of ready-washed salad leaves. Assemble your wrap at lunchtime, just before you eat it so that it’s not soggy and tastes fresh – delicious!

Spinach, beetroot greens and rocket salad with red peppers, red onion, tinned tuna and a balsamic dressing. The salad ingredients are packed in a container and taken to work sot hat they can be quickly assembled at lunchtime. The salad dressing is made at home and put in a bottle to keep in the fridge at work. It is made with extra-virgin olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar, freshly ground black pepper, a little salt. You can also add lime juice, some Dijon mustard or herbs such as oregano or thyme. You can drink some iced green tea with this.

Wednesday: Roast beef sandwich on rye bread with rocket leaves and horseradish. You can buy pre-sliced roast beef at your delicatessen or if so inclined make it at home (last night’s dinner leftovers, perhaps?). The horseradish sauce is shop-bought (unless you are really into this cooking thing and make your own too!), while rocket is now widely available, in an organic version too. You can supplement this lunch with a piece of fresh fruit, or prepared fruit chunks or some fruit juice.

Couscous mixed with chopped vegetables and fresh herbs. If you have never had couscous, you are missing out on an interesting and healthful food. It is full of the goodness of grain, especially if you buy the wholemeal version, and it takes only a few minutes to cook. You can really please yourself with what you mix in it, but try a variety of raw or cooked vegetables, chopped avocado, walnuts or beans and stir in plenty of fresh herbs. Low-fat yogurt can accompany this meal – either in its savoury form on the side of the meal or the sweet form, to be had as a “dessert”.

Friday: Lentil tomato stew with onions and bay leaves. This is a dish that you have to make the day before, but it keeps well in the refrigerator and you can have two or three meals out of it. Use 2 cups of lentils (rinsed and picked over), 1.5 cups of crushed tomatoes (you can use canned ones), 4 tablespoons olive oil, 6 cloves garlic – sliced, 1 teaspoon salt, 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin; 1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage, pepper, 2 bay leaves, 2 onions, halved and thinly sliced. To prepare: Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, and cook or until softened. Stir in the lentils, tomatoes, salt, cumin, sage, pepper, and add 4 cups of water, bringing to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, add the bay leaves, cover and cook for 35 minutes or until the lentils are tender.

Homemade vegetable soup with crusty multigrain bread. Fresh fruit salad with low-fat Greek yogurt. All sorts of vegetables can be made into soup and you can follow your whimsy and taste. For example, for spicy parsnip soup, fry chopped onions, spring onions and garlic in a little oil until brown. Add chopped parsnips, potatoes and a spoonful of mixed spices. Add a pint of vegetable stock and cook until vegetables are soft. Blend until smooth and stir in a tablespoon of tahini paste before serving.

Sunday - Option1: Jacket potato with cottage cheese and chives with a large green salad. A cereal bar, if desired. Pierce a washed potato all over and put in the microwave on high heat for ten to twelve minutes, depending on its size. Skewer through to ensure it’s cooked all the way through. Score into quarters and serve with creamed cottage cheese (or low fat sour cream), fresh chopped chives and salad on the side.

Sunday Option2:
Poached or scrambled egg on wholemeal toast with grilled field mushrooms and tomato. A fruit smoothie to round off lunch - try blending up a banana, berries and some pineapple with a little orange juice.

You get my drift with these menus. As you can see the recipes have a low content of fat, a fair amount of protein, lots of fibre and fresh vegetables/fruit, small quantities of cheese, milk, eggs, with very low simple carbohydrate and processed food content. Such a diet, combined with some exercise will do wonders for your health and reduce your weight.

Thursday, 27 January 2011


“You should treat all disasters as if they were trivialities but never treat a triviality as if it were a disaster” - Quentin Crisp

I was struck by a news item a few days ago that was reported widely, not the least by newspaper that I read on the train every evening as I come home.  The title was sensationalist enough - “Sun to Shine at Double”, but the body if the article continued in the same vein: “The earth could soon have a second sun, at least for a week or two.” This article turned out to be a reference to Betelgeuse, one of the brightest stars in the night sky and a giant red sun in the constellation of Orion. This aging sun is on the verge of exploding into a supernova, which will light up the night sky as if we had a sun shining and in daytime, it will look as though we are being illuminated by two suns…

All this even if Betelgeuse is 640 light years away from (so we are at a safe distance and we won’t bear the brunt of the explosion, don’t worry!). However, in cosmic terms we have a ringside seat, hence the awe-inspiring display. Well, I was wowed by this! To think that SOON we would have this spectacle to witness was amazing! However, as I kept reading I was slightly disappointed. Yes, sure enough Betelgeuse could turn into a supernova soon, as soon as this year, but in cosmic terms “soon” could also mean any time over the next million years. What a let down!

This was a wonderful bit of yellow press reportage where a comment by Brad Carter, Physics senior lecturer at the University of Southern Queensland was taken out of context and sensationalised. Well, it worked! It grabbed my attention. What the good professor Carter said was that Betelgeuse is a very old star running out of nuclear fuel in its centre. When the fuel runs out, the sun will collapse in on itself initiating some complex nuclear reaction that will lead to a massive explosion, with incredible amounts of energy and light produced. Hence the spectacular light show for several weeks.

No doubt helping in the sensationalism of the new item was the name of the star, Betelgeuse – identified with the devil, and also the doomsday predictions of the “ending of time” in 2012, in accordance with the Mayan calendar prophecy. People love a good disaster story and things don’t get more disastrous than time ending and the “Devil Star” exploding in our own cosmic back yard. However, I won’t be losing sleep over this and certainly will not be holding my breath till there two suns in the sky!

supernova |ˈsoōpərˌnōvə| noun ( pl. -novae |-ˌnōvē| or -novas ) Astronomy
A star that suddenly increases greatly in brightness because of a catastrophic explosion that ejects most of its mass.
ORIGIN late 19th century: From Latin, super-, from super ‘above, beyond.’ and feminine of novus ‘new’ (because such stars were thought to be newly formed).

Tuesday, 25 January 2011


“Our true nationality is mankind.” - H. G. Wells

Happy Australia Day to all my Australian friends! This is a day for all Australians to celebrate the things we love about our country. It is a time to celebrate our freedom – as individuals and as a nation. It is important for us to be grateful for our lifestyle and culture; our land and its beauty. We go out to beaches, forests, and the outback. We acknowledge our history and Indigenous past, while taking stock of and our opportunities and looking forward with optimism to the future. There are many opportunities to celebrate and commemorate this special day: From the smallest barbeque with friends right up to the thousand-strong People’s March down Swanston Street. This is the day where we take pride in our country and reflect on who we are as a nation.

Melbourne, like all state capital cities has a full Australia Day program, which is designed to be as fun, as family friendly and whenever possible free. There are events and activities beginning on Thursday 21st January and running right through to the fireworks on the evening of 26th January. Traditionally on Australia Day, there are “Big Breakfasts” organised in various venues. For example, the Australian Unity Big Brekkie in Queen’s Hall, Parliament House, and the RACV Big Brekkie in the Alexandra Gardens. The Australia Day Treasure Hunt in the Fitzroy Gardens is another popular event for young and old alike.

Ceremonial occasions like the Raising of the Flag, where the Victorian Premier and Governor, and the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, outside the Town Hall on Swanston Street participate in the official Flag Raising ceremony are de rigueur. There is also the Shrine of Remembrance 21-Gun Salute, as well as Open Day at Government House. An aerial display by the “Roulettes”, the Royal Australian Air Force’s elite formation aerobatic display team is another high point (pun intended! :-). The day finishes with another tradition: The Fireworks display at Federation Square, by the banks of the Yarra River.

As it is Poetry Wednesday, here is a poem by a great Australian poet:


I have grown past hate and bitterness,
I see the world as one;
But though I can no longer hate,
My son is still my son.

All men at God's round table sit,
and all men must be fed;
But this loaf in my hand,
This loaf is my son's bread.

Dame Mary Gilmore (1865 - 1962)
Mary Gilmore was born near Goulburn, NSW. She became a teacher and a writer and was editor of the women’s pages of the Australian Worker newspaper for 23 years.  In 1886, Gilmore went to Paraguay in South America to join a group of Australians who planned to set up a new colony where everyone would be equal and would work together. This colony was not successful.

After some years, Gilmore came back to Australia with her husband. She spent the rest of her life writing, doing her editing work and fighting for people who needed help. These included Aboriginal people, children who were forced to work in factories and shearers who were being underpaid. She also fought hard for women’s rights.

In 1937 she was made Dame Mary Gilmore by King George VI. A suburb of Canberra is named after her and her picture is on the $10 note (along with Henry Lawson the only 2 Australian writers to be featured) and on a few of Australia’s stamps.  Dame Mary Gilmore was Australia’s “grand old lady of letters”. She authored over twenty books and was the subject of a controversial Dobell portrait.


“If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in the struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

The taxi driver got up early that morning. Times were tough and his young family needed more and more support. His son was just starting school, his daughter needed new books for her classes. His parents were ailing and medicines were getting more and more expensive. His mother-in-law needed a cataract operation and the taxi payments had to be kept up. His wife had lost her job only last week… He wasn’t one to complain. His doctoral degree in physics was useless at the moment and with work scarce, driving a taxi was an honest option. He should be thankful, others weren’t so lucky. Yes, all considered, he was one of the lucky ones, able to put bread on the family table. Times were tough but his family had never gone hungry yet…

As he was driving through the dark morning winter streets he was glad to pick up even the short distance fares, thankful for every little bit that helped him live with dignity and provide for his family. He drove, always on the lookout for the familiar raised arm beckoning him to stop. People got in, he drove them to their destination and his daily takings kept increasing. If only he could get a couple of good fares, he might even get enough today to buy all the textbooks his daughter needed. A woman clutching a large suitcase stopped him near the old square. He stopped and got out into the biting cold to help her stow her baggage in the boot. She was young and dressed in black, the winter clothing wrapped tightly around her, her head covered with a black hat, a scarf wound tightly around her neck and lower face. She was deathly pale and her eyes dark and intense – bottomless abysses.

She sat in the back and bundled herself tightly against the closed door. Her voice was quiet and the accent thick as she directed him to the airport. He nodded, happy for this unexpected boon. This was going to be an excellent fare. His young son would have a new uniform. He smiled pleasantly at her through the rear view mirror and tried to make small talk. Her gaze was distant, her eyes glazed over with tears that would not flow. She waved absently at him and murmured something incomprehensible.

He respected her silence and nodded, keeping quiet himself. Still, he could not keep from smiling as he thought of the good day he was having today. His family would not want while he was there for them. And he would do anything to keep them fed, warm and well provided for. The traffic was building up as they approached the airport. The woman spoke again and directed him to the entrance she wanted. Cautiously, he drove through the chaotic traffic and mindful of the other taxis, stopped at the taxi rank. The woman paid him and refused her plentiful change, which he gratefully accepted.

Ever helpful he sprang out opened the door for her and took the suitcase out of the boot. He offered to carry it inside for the woman – the least he could do for the large tip she had given him. She shook her head and grabbed at the suitcase. It was relatively heavy and he, ever chivalrous waved her away, telling her effusively that it was no bother. She looked around them worried and when she saw that their altercation was attracting attention, she grudgingly allowed him to carry the suitcase inside the terminal.

The explosion rocked the terminal building and the people were mowed down. There was fire and smoke, flying bits of debris and deadly metal, nails, and blood and body parts. Screaming and panic followed, alarms rang. The taxi driver died instantaneously, happy, his last thoughts with his family and the good fare – his last. The woman in black died shouting something in her language, full of passion and conviction. Many died in the blink of an eye. So many were injured. All of them innocent, many possibly even agreeing in principle with the woman in black’s convictions.

When the police knocked on the apartment door where the taxi driver and his family lived, his wife answered the door. Her pitiful wails were heard around the building and the aged parents could only sob uncontrollably on and on.

In memoriam of all the innocent people who died in Moscow’s Airport today. Violence may give someone a short victory, but defeat inevitably follows in its wake and it is utter and self-destructive, ultimately.

Monday, 24 January 2011


“We have rudiments of reverence for the human body, but we consider as nothing the rape of the human mind.” - Eric Hoffer

Last Saturday we watched the second of the Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy, director Daniel Alfredson’s 2009 movie of “The Girl who Played with Fire”. We had already watched the raw and powerful first film “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and when this second movie appeared on the video shop shelves we were keen to watch it also. The Swedes have a tradition in movie making, internationalised and widely applauded through the work of Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007). There is also a rich tradition in literature, with August Strindberg (1849-1912), Selma Lagerlöf (1858-1940), Hjalmar Bergman (1883-1931) and Pär Lagervist (1891-1974) being some of the shining lights. The success of the Millennium Trilogy as books and then as films therefore, is no surprise.

The books of Stieg Larsson (1954-2004) may not be of Nobel Prize standard (as represented by the Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1909, Selma Lagerlöf, for example) but they have been very popular and if nothing else are extremely powerful documents against violence towards women. Larsson, was disgusted by sexual violence this being because he witnessed the gang rape of a young girl when he was 15. He never forgave himself for failing to help the girl, whose name was Lisbeth – like the young heroine of his books, herself a rape victim. These books are written as testament to the real Lisbeth’s ordeal and as Larsson’s redemption for his weakness or cowardice.

The story picks up straight after the end of the first film in the series, when Lisbeth Salander returns to Sweden after spending a year abroad. She calls on her court-appointed guardian to remind him of his promise to submit satisfactory reports on her behaviour. Mikael Blomkvist continues as an editor of Millennium magazine and the journalists there are onto a major story about prostitution and trafficking of women from Eastern Europe. When the investigative journalist and his girlfriend working on that story are brutally killed, the police announce that Lisbeth is their prime suspect. Lisbeth and Mikael work independently trying to find out who is really behind the murders. They not only learn the identity of the culprits but also some of Lisbeth’s own family secrets.

I think we enjoyed the first movie better, although this one also had quite a lot of action and surprises. It did give the feeling, however, of repetitiveness and wasn’t quite as engaging as the previous movie. There were quite a few bridging flashback sequences from the previous movie and overall I felt that this second I the series was a weaker one than the first. Nevertheless, we watched it with interest and we were entertained, although once again there was much violence and bloodshed (although not as confronting as in the first movie – maybe it’s a bad sign: Are we getting immune to it all?).

Overall, a good film with plenty of incident, action, memorable characters. Mikael Spreitz makes a formidable villain and both Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace do an excellent job of playing the main characters, Mikael and Lisbeth. The cinematography, music and editing are of good standard and the film flows well. Recommended, but if given a choice I would go for the first installment, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. See my review of this movie here.

Sunday, 23 January 2011


“Where we love is home,
home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr

Today was a hot summer’s day in Melbourne and we had a relatively lazy day. In the morning we visited an elderly friend who is struggling to take care of herself and took her some things including some shopping and frozen meals. She was pleased for the visit more than anything else and we were also happy to have caught up with her. We had a very pleasant lunch and then in the afternoon, read a little and cleaned up our studies. The evening meal was very pleasant and then watched a documentary on TV about life on a remote island – very interesting.

For Art Sunday today, a painting by a famous, popular and dearly loved – but also controversial – Australian artist, Pro Hart. Pro Hart (Kevin Charles) M.B.E. 1976, was born in Broken Hill, NSW, in 1928 and showed early promise in art choosing to illustrate his school essays in preference to writing them. Purely self-taught with no formal art training, Pro Hart, painted in a unique manner and his paintings contributed to the “Australian style” which began to emerge over the decades 60s and 70s.

He was first discovered in 1962 by an Adelaide gallery director and as a result of his first exhibition the Pro Hart legend was born. Pro had a highly individualistic semi-primitive style, depicting scenes typical of the Australian outback. As well as landscapes he has made studies of insects, miners at work, flowers, and cities. His work is widely known and collected both nationally and internationally. He is represented, amongst others, in collections such as Lyndon Johnson (ex-president USA), HRH Prince Phillip (London), Qantas Airways (Hong Kong).

Pro Hart has been the recipient of many awards including Member of the British Empire 1976, and Honorary Life Membership to the Societé Internationale Artistique (England) 1982. Pro Hart sadly died on 28th March 2006 but his art lives on.

The painting above is typical of Por Hart’s Australian everyday life and is entitled “The Sausage Sizzle”. It is a painting that hangs on the wall of one of our friends and I admire it every time we visit. It is a lively, colourful work that has a uniquely Australian flavour and it subject mater and colours are enough to make every Australian home-scik if he were overseas for a little while and they saw this painting…