Saturday, 14 May 2011


“The flesh endures the storms of the present alone, the mind those of the past and future as well as the present” - Epicurus

Saturday is a pleasant interlude between what will prove to be some very taxing weeks. Tomorrow I have to attend the graduation ceremony in Adelaide and then on Monday, I’m off to Brisbane for an appointment in the Government Department involved with regulation of the tertiary education sector. Then some important meetings back in Melbourne next week, before I fly up to Brisbane again on Friday for the graduation ceremony there, and then form there flying to directly to Perth to present at national conference. Busy times indeed!

This evening was very special as we went out to dinner with some friends. Good company made up for the overly pretentious food so overall we enjoyed it much. As Epicurus says, “We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink, for dining alone is leading the life of a lion or wolf.”

I am in an ebullient mood, so for music Saturday, one of the most ebullient of pieces by the great Johann Sebastian Bach. Here is the first movement from the Brandenburg Concerto No.3 (BWV 1048), Allegro Moderato. It is wonderfully performed by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra.

Friday, 13 May 2011


“One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” - Luciano Pavarotti

I had a very busy day at work today, even though it was only a half-day at the office. In the afternoon we had our graduation in Melbourne and it turned to be quite an occasion at the Melbourne Town Hall, with many students, family and friends attending as well as a very sizeable turn out in terms of the academic staff. All of this despite a very cold, wet and miserable day. It meant that it was a 14-hour working day as I start very early, but the latter half was also quite enjoyable as it was devoted to a ceremonial occasion.

The graduation ceremony was organized extremely well and the venue was magnificent. We are very thankful for the rich finds in the Victorian goldfields of the 19th century as they were the reason for Melbourne’s prosperity and construction at that time of such magnificent public buildings as the Town Hall.

After the graduation we had a cocktail party for the graduates and their families with drinks and finger food, which allowed us to circulate and talk to them. There were overwhelmingly positive remarks and good feedback about he function and it was good to see some of the students I know and meet with their families, including some international students from such far away places as the Seychelles, the Sudan and Indonesia.

Afterwards, a small group of us were hosted to dinner by our CEO and we went to the Da Hu Peking Duck Restaurant in Melbourne’s Chinatown. While this is not one of the best Chinese Restaurants in Melbourne, it offers some reliable dishes and it truly does the specialty duck well. We had a juicy, tender duck with crispy skin served in the traditional way. We enjoyed that very much and the dinner was very pleasant.

Peking Duck is a famous duck dish from Beijing that has a history of centuries, beng prepared in China since the imperial era. It is a signature recipe renowned the world over and is considered one of China’s national dishes.  The duck is prized for the thin, crispy skin and succulent flavoured flesh, sliced in front of the diners by the cook. Ducks bred specially for the dish are slaughtered after 65 days and seasoned before being roasted in a closed or hung oven. The meat is eaten wrapped in paper-thin pancakes with spring onions, julienne cucumber and hoisin sauce. The two most notable restaurants in Beijing which serve this delicacy are Quanjude and Bianyifang, two centuries-old establishments which have become household names.

Thursday, 12 May 2011


“The trained nurse has become one of the great blessings of humanity, taking a place beside the physician and the priest.” - William Osler

It is International Nurses’ Day today celebrated around the world every May 12, the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. Florence Nightingale is famous for her nursing work during the Crimean War (1854-1856). She changed the face of nursing from a mostly untrained job to a highly skilled and well-respected medical profession with very important responsibilities. Florence Nightingale was born in Florence, Italy on 12 May 1820 and the city she was born in provided her family with inspiration for her first name.

Her father, William Nightingale, was a wealthy landowner. Florence was brought up in Derbyshire (where she spent her summers) and Hampshire (where she spent her winters). At the time when Florence was born, many girls did not receive any type of education except how to run a household and how to be good hostess. Florence was very lucky because her father believed that all women should receive an education. He taught Florence and her sister a variety of subjects ranging from science and mathematics to history and philosophy.

As Florence grew up she developed an interest in helping others. She cared for sick pets and servants whenever she had the chance.  At seventeen years of age, she believed her calling in life was “to do something toward lifting the load of suffering from the helpless and miserable.” At first her parents refused to allow her to become a nurse because, at that time, it was not thought to be a suitable profession for a well-educated woman of her social class. But Florence persisted and eventually her father gave his permission and Florence went to Europe in 1849 to study the European hospital system. In 1850, she travelled to Alexandria, Egypt and began studying nursing at the Institute of Saint Vincent de Paul. In 1851, aged thirty-one, Florence went to Germany to train to become a nurse. In 1853 she came back to England and sufficiently trained she was running the Hospital for Gentlewomen in London as a superintendent.

In 1854 Florence Nightingale was asked to go to Turkey to manage the nursing of British soldiers wounded in the Crimean War (1854-1856). She travelled to Scutari (the location where the wounded and ill soldiers of the Crimean War were taken) to help the wounded soldiers. In Scutari, she found the hospital conditions to be appalling. Many of the wounded were unwashed and were sleeping in overcrowded, dirty rooms without blankets or decent food. In these conditions diseases such as typhus, cholera and dysentery spread quickly. As a result, the death rate amongst wounded soldiers was very high. Most soldiers died from infections and disease (only one in six died from their war wounds; the other five in six died from infections and disease).

Florence and her nurses changed these conditions. They set up a kitchen, fed the wounded from their own supplies, dug latrines for sanitation, and asked for help from the wives of the wounded. They were then able to properly care for the ill and wounded and the death rate among the soldiers dropped.  Florence was very dedicated to her job. She would often visit the soldiers at night when every one was asleep just to make sure they were at ease. She was then referred to as “The Lady of the Lamp” because she hardly took time off to sleep. Florence became a true hero to the soldiers and everyone back home in England.

While at Scutari, Nightingale collected data and systematised record-keeping. She was able to use the data effectively as a tool for improving city and military hospitals. Nightingale’s calculations of the mortality rate showed that with an improvement of sanitary methods, deaths would decrease. Nightingale took her statistical data and represented them graphically. She invented polar-area charts, where the statistic being represented is proportional to the area of a wedge in a circular diagram.

Nightingale’s personality is well documented. She rebelled against the idle, sheltered existence of her family her entire life. She achieved a leading position in a world dominated by men, driving and directing her male coworkers as hard as she did herself. She often complained that women were selfish, and she had no time for the growing women’s rights movement. But she also developed an idea of spiritual (relating to or affecting the spirit) motherhood and saw herself as the mother of the men of the British army (“my children” as she called them) whom she had saved. Florence Nightingale never really recovered from the physical strain of the Crimean War. After 1861 she rarely left her home and was confined to her bed much of the time. She died on August 13, 1910, in London, England.

International Nurses’ Day is celebrated every day by the International Council of Nurses, which commemorates this important day each year with the production and distribution of the International Nurses’ Day Kit. The theme for 2011 is: “Closing the Gap: Increasing Access and Equity”.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


“Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.” -  Plato

An unexpected, very special lunch date today and despite the miserable autumn day, a radiant warmness in my heart! It is this heat that dictated this poem today…

Walking in the Rain

The pattern of copper leaves on wet, gray sidewalk
A jigsaw in disarray –
The broken image of a season of discontent.
Sharp claws of cold scratch my face
While rain falls relentlessly
The river merging imperceptibly with the wet air.

I walk determined, ignoring my wet trouser legs,
Shivering even under layers of clothes
That fail to insulate me, leave me exposed
To late autumn weather;
The thought of you warms my core
And your sunny smile remembered moves me forward.

A sudden wind gust catches umbrellas
Turning them inside out, upside down,
And their owners struggle to discipline them.
The rain keeps falling
As I keep walking, each step takes me
Closer to you, my warm and cosy haven.

A homeless man wrapped in a dirty blanket
Sleeps fitfully as the rain soaks him
His wet hat failing to acknowledge the sound of my coin
Falling in its empty depths.
You are my home and no rain will keep me away
From your snug embrace.

I am soaked now but I can see your door,
All lit up brightly, a beacon in the gloom;
I smile, oblivious to the icy, biting wind
That only fans my ardour more,
This stolen hour just after midday
On a cold, wet, gray – but oh, so beautiful – day!


“The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one.” - Oscar Wilde

I got up frightfully early today, not because of any special reason, but simply because I had had enough sleep. When I was a young lad, I was a sleepyhead. After puberty I started to sleep less and in my late twenties I needed only about six hours sleep a night. Nowadays I seem to only need about four or five. It is a good deep sleep that seems to refresh and relax me sufficiently. This regime also allows me to get a lot more done, in terms of both work and leisure. When I shall die I shall sleep for a long time indeed, so I am grateful that most of my living time is awake time!

The temperature at the station (where I caught the earlier train) was 3˚C and frost made the stairs of the overpass treacherous. Casting my eyes heavenwards I was rewarded with a view of three bright planets above the eastern horizon. Mercury (how rare to see this one so clearly!), Venus and Jupiter all resplendent, with Mars lagging behind them a little, closer to the horizon. Low in the sky of the east, dawn was breaking with the firmament turning a paler dark blue where it touched the earth. The bright yellow streetlights gave the landscape a surrealistic feel and the deserted streets littered with autumn leaves contributed to this.

When I got to work, our maintenance man told me that the heating system was not working and that we would have to endure the cold not only today, but until it was fixed sometime later this week. Just as well I had a small heater in my room that warmed it slightly! It meant that my ears could defrost. Tomorrow morning I shall wear my woollen beanie – surely a sign of getting old! Whenever I felt particularly cold today, at my desk, in the conference room, outside, I turned my thoughts to the couple of homeless people I saw huddled outside the station, wrapped in dirty blankets and obviously feeling much colder during the night than I had ever felt. Everything is relative, with discomfort and hardship being an apt example here.

Nevertheless, the day was a busy one, with lots achieved, despite the two meetings that I had to attend. Maybe the coldness of the building contributed to mental acuity! Punish the flesh and exercise the mind… My immediate boss, who also to happens to be the CEO was visiting the campus today and we had a long chat about all sorts of things. I get on well with her and as well as working well together we often have a laugh or two. She is a seasoned businesswoman and her experience has stood her in good stead when dealing with some urgent issues that she inherited from her predecessor.

We have the graduation ceremony coming up here in Melbourne on Friday and then I’m off to the graduation ceremony in Adelaide on Sunday. Then first thing on Monday morning, off to Brisbane for a meeting at the Department of Education. Later on this month, to Brisbane and Perth again. Travelling for work does get tiring very quickly and day trips over such long distances can be exhausting, but I’d rather sleep in my own bed than in a hotel room.

Monday, 9 May 2011


“The men and women who have the right ideals are those who have the courage to strive for the happiness which comes only with labor and effort and self-sacrifice, and those whose joy in life springs in part from power of work and sense of duty.” - Theodore Roosevelt

We watched a standard, formulaic Hollywood film at the weekend, but strangely enough we did rather enjoyed it. It was the 2006 Andrew Davis film, “The Guardian” starring Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Sela Ward and Melissa Sagemiller. Now let me clarify what I mean by a “formulaic” film. The prime elements of the story were based on conflict between an older teacher and a younger student, with a struggle to succeed in the face of adversity, the courage of maintaining sight of one’s goals and the determination to achieve them, as well as a theme of self-sacrifice, which had to overcome pride and selfishness. Add a couple of subplots for romantic interest and surround the whole with spectacular scenery, great cinematography and good direction and you have a typical Hollywood production aiming for box-office success.

The film borrows from previous such films of which there are plentiful examples: “Top Gun”, An Officer and A Gentleman”, “GI Jane”, “Pearl Harbor”, etc, etc… Central to this particular story are the sea and the US Coast Guard. More specifically, the rescue swimmers of the Coast Guard, who risk their lives on a daily basis to save those who are endangered when their vessels capsize. At 139 minutes, the film is a tad too long and there could have been a bit more celluloid on the cutting room to make it tighter. At one stage we thought the film was about to finish (on a bright note, but no, it just kept going…). Some additional character development would not have gone astray.

The plot in a nutshell is this: An experienced but ageing rescue swimmer (Costner) with the US Coast Guard in Kodiak, Alaska, takes part in a rescue mission that goes horribly wrong, and his whole team is killed, he being the only survivor. At the same time his wife (Ward) has decided she wants a divorce as she has become sick of competing with his real love – his job. He is given the choice of retiring or of becoming an instructor at the Coast Guard training facility in Louisiana. He takes the teaching position with more than a couple of misgivings. He moves in and makes changes not only to the curriculum and teaching methods, but he begins to fail promising young students without a second thought, basing his decisions on his experience. At the academy, he meets a young man (Kutcher) with unlimited potential, but with a psychological problem that holds him back from functioning as a member of the team. The two develop an adversarial relationship that prevents them from functioning well. Thrown into the midst of the story is the young student’s romance with a local girl (Sagemiller). As the film progresses the instructor and the student find that they share much and finally success crowns both the teacher’s and the student’s efforts. When the two of them return to Kodiak to work side by side on rescue missions, trouble develops again…

The film has plenty of action scenes and there is a host of special effects that support the plot. Most of these parts of the film are extremely well done and help to drive action forward. The film sags when the romantic interests intrude and when there are too many repetitive elements (e.g. the training scenes). The film could have become corny, but it saves itself from that by a whisker. Both Costner and Kuchner act well, but the top honours go to Costner. Ward and Sagemiller are there for decorative purposes, one feels, and I would have preferred a little more depth of character shown in the depiction of these two women.

There are some poignant scenes designed to pull on the heart strings, some half-hearted attempts at humour, but overall this is a classic dick flick, designed to inspire and educate. It is a prime vehicle for US Coast Guard recruitment campaigns and it does tend to mythologise a little the dangerous and risky work of rescue swimmers. These are heroes who have to make difficult decisions in the face of adversity, while trying to save lives, hopefully not by squandering their own. Foolhardiness is shown more than once in the film and its consequences are sobering.

We mostly enjoyed the film and would recommend it for viewing, if it falls in your lap. I wouldn’t go to any great lengths to search for it and watch it, unless you have a special interest in this type of work. Our greatest objection to it in retrospect was that it was rather too shallow, while trying to be deep. At the time it didn’t feel that way, it was more on reflection that it appeared that way. Probably not a good idea to watch the film if you get seasick easily or if you are thalassophobic!

Sunday, 8 May 2011


“My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.” - George Washington

Mothers’ Day in Melbourne started out being cool and gray. There was rain predicted for later so it was a nice day for a sleep-in and a hot breakfast. The giving of gifts and flowers then followed and we later went out and visited a Sunday market, which despite the weather was absolutely full of people. Pots of chrysanthemums and bunches of flowers were being sold everywhere and tables of bric-a-brac, china, books and DVDs as well as the inevitable slippers had big signs advertising that all of these items were indeed a “perfect Mothers’ Day gift that your Mum will adore!”… At about lunchtime the rain started to fall and we went back home. We watched a movie and then had a quiet afternoon. In the evening I did some work and then read a little. There went the Sunday…

For Mothers’ Day one cannot go past Mary Cassatt as a special featured artist for this day. Cassatt was an American painter and printmaker who exhibited with the Impressionists. She was born on May 22, 1844, in Allegheny City, now part of Pittsburg, and died June 14, 1926, Château de Beaufresne, near Paris, France. She lived in Europe for five years as a young girl. Late in the USA, she was tutored privately in art in Philadelphia and attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1861–65, but she preferred learning on her own and in 1866 travelled to Europe to study. Her first major showing was at the Paris Salon of 1872; four more annual Salon exhibitions followed.

In 1874 Cassatt chose Paris as her permanent home and established her studio there. She shared with the Impressionists an interest in experiment and in using bright colours inspired by the out-of-doors. Edgar Degas became her friend; his style and that of Gustave Courbet inspired her own. Degas was known to admire her drawing especially, and at his request she exhibited with the Impressionists in 1879 and joined them in shows in 1880, 1881, and 1886. Like Degas, Cassatt showed great mastery of drawing, and both artists preferred unposed asymmetrical compositions. Cassatt also was innovative and inventive in exploiting the medium of pastels.

Initially, Cassatt was a figure painter whose subjects were groups of women drinking tea or on outings with friends. After the great exhibition of Japanese prints held in Paris in 1890, she brought out her series of 10 coloured prints, in which the influence of the Japanese masters Utamaro and Toyokuni is apparent. In these etchings, combining aquatint, dry point, and soft ground, she brought her printmaking technique to perfection. Her emphasis shifted from form to line and pattern. Soon after 1900 her eyesight began to fail, and by 1914 she had ceased working. The principal motif of her mature and perhaps most familiar period is mothers caring for small children. The painting above "Breakfast in Bed" of 1897 (Huntington Library and Art Collection) typifies this genre of her painting.

Cassatt urged her wealthy American friends and relatives to buy Impressionist paintings, and in this way, more than through her own works, she exerted a lasting influence on American taste. She was largely responsible for selecting the works that make up the H.O. Havemeyer Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.