Friday, 18 January 2008


“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Tomorrow I’m leaving for a work related trip to Singapore for a week. I am attending a couple of symposia and also I a presenting at a medical conference at the University of Singapore. Singapore is the Switzerland of Asia and I always enjoy visiting. Although most Westerners are familiar with the Orchard Rd area where the major shopping malls are, Singapore is not just Orchard Rd and there a numerous nooks and crannies where one may discover all sorts of surprising cultural and natural beauty spots. More of that from my travel blogs next week.

Here in Melbourne we are having a nicely wet Saturday. It is so good to see the rain falling down, even though it is not heavy. Anything that comes down to refresh our gardens is welcome! Despite the wet weather we had our regulation hour-long walk, which today was prolonged to 90 minutes. At 6:30 am the overnight rain had stopped and everything was wonderfully wet and freshly washed, with a glorious wet earth smell on top of which the aroma of Eucalyptus and lemon-scented gums added a fragrant note. The streets were deserted and only the odd car was passing by every 5 minutes or so. The temperature was relatively high, so the climactic conditions were reminiscent of the tropics.

To start one’s day with a brisk walk does wonders for one’s health. New studies show that even a 30-minute brisk walk 6 days a week is enough to trim waistlines (when combined with a healthy diet, of course) and to prevent the so-called “metabolic syndrome” associated with obesity, diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure and heart disease risk. One should aim to walk at least about 20 km a week so as to gain significant health benefits. If you are a jogger, doing about 30 km a week, you reduce your metabolic syndrome risks even more.

Interestingly enough, these studies show that people who do short bursts of very vigorous exercise (e.g. in a gym), do not improve their risk of developing metabolic syndrome, especially if these periods of exercise are performed occasionally (i.e. ever two or three days). The other risks that very vigorous exercise and running carry is the musculoskeletal system disease risk. For example, runners can damage their joints and develop osteoarthritis earlier and more severely than those who exercise gently, e.g. walking.

Seeing I’ve talked about walking today and it is Song Saturday, how about a walking song? Here is Tchaikovsky’s “Andante Cantabile” from his String Quartet In D Major, Op. 11, arranged for the Rastrelli Cello Quartet. Andante means a “walking pace” in music and “Cantabile” implies that the piece should be played in a singing manner. Truly beautiful interpretation here, enjoy!


"A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins." - Laurie Colwin

Friday is the day that I usually talk about food and tonight is devoted to purslane, Portulaca oleracea, as it is the birthday plant for this day. The generic name is derived from the Latin “milk-carrying” relating to the milky sap that exudes from the cut stem of some species. The plant has been used as a salad plant for centuries and the famous French soup, potage bonne femme is made with purslane and sorrel. The herb strewn around one’s bed was supposed to protect the sleeper from death by lightning or by gunpowder. Astrologically it is a herb of the moon. The plant symbolises loquacity and its consumption in quantity supposedly makes one verbose.

4 ripe tomatoes
2 Lebanese cucumbers (baby cucumbers)
1 handful of roughly chopped fresh, washed purslane (pick only the young, flowerless tops)
1 medium sized onion
1 small sweet green capsicum
some chunks of cheese (blue vein is nice or you may like a cheddar better)
pickled capers, dried oregano, salt and pepper
1/2 cupful olive oil
1/3 cupful of balsamic vinegar

Scald the 3 tomatoes and peel them. Chop into segments in a salad bowl. Peel the cucumbers and cut into slices, mixing with the tomatoes. Add the purslane, the finely chopped onion, herbs, the seasonings and capers. Mix well. In a small bowl mix the oil with the vinegar and grate into it the remaining tomato. Pour this dressing over the salad and mix again. Garnish with finely sliced green capsicum and the chunks of cheese.

This was our dinner tonight and all of the ingredients (well, almost as we don’t make our own cheese and oil!) were from our back garden! Each person had their own plate and it was accompanied by Italian foccacia bread that we toasted. It is so nice to dunk the chunks of bread into the salad juices and by the end of the meal the plates are so clean they almost need no washing! ;-) A surprisingly filling and nutritious meal that is also so good for you. Research suggests that consuming vinegar or lemon juice with meals is good for lowering blood lipid levels.

Despite the drought, our back garden is doing very well with the reclaimed water we use. We have tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, salad greens, purslane, eggplants, green beans and all of these in amongst the rose bushes and other flowers! Summer is a good time to be planting and enjoying vegetables.

Bon Appétit!

Thursday, 17 January 2008


"A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers but borrowed from his children. - J.J. Audubon

A series of fortuitous coincidences has resulted in this rather unlikely scenario being enacted in our front yard this morning. Yes, we were laying carpet on the front lawn this morning – isn’t it easier to vacuum the carpet than mow the lawn? Only joking. It all has to do with our drought, of course and the imperative need to conserve our dwindling resources. In the colonial days when our climate here Southern Australia was much different (a lot wetter for one), the British immigrants who arrived wanted to shape this country into a slice of their homeland. So the native plants were uprooted, land was levelled, rivers diverted and huge plantings of European trees were effected on great expanses of manicured lawns. Ashes and beeches, oaks and elms…

We still try and preserve the great historic plantings in Melbourne’s large public parks and gardens, avenues and boulevards (Melbourne still has a healthy elm population, while in Europe, Dutch elm disease has decimated the trees), however, in house gardens it’s a different story. In the recent couple of decades our weather has progressively deteriorated and it is seldom one sees a green lawn. We can only water our gardens two days a week and even that between 6:00-8:00 am. Lawns are not to be watered and people are encouraged to plant native gardens, which tend to require very little water. We recycle quite a lot of our water and more and more people are putting in rainwater tanks.

Now, how did we end up carpeting our lawn? A colleague at work was asking if anybody wanted some river pebbles that he was getting rid of. I immediately put my hand, up as this little windfall of pebbles had given me ideas. On our morning walk, we then spotted the carpet and the rest is history. No more mowing, no watering and it will have a Zen-like effect (I hope) whenever I contemplate it.

The word of the day is apt:

conservation |ˌkänsərˈvā sh ən| noun
the action of conserving something, in particular
• preservation, protection, or restoration of the natural environment, natural ecosystems, vegetation, and wildlife.
• preservation, repair, and prevention of deterioration of archaeological, historical, and cultural sites and artifacts.
• prevention of excessive or wasteful use of a resource.
• Physics the principle by which the total value of a physical quantity (such as energy, mass, or linear or angular momentum) remains constant in a system.

conservational |- sh ənl| |ˈkɑnsərˈveɪʃnəl| |ˈkɑnsərˈveɪʃənl| adjective
ORIGIN late Middle English (in the general sense [conserving, preservation] ): from Latin conservatio(n-), from the verb conservare.

Recycle, reuse, reinvent!

Tuesday, 15 January 2008


“A great many people now reading and writing would be better employed keeping rabbits.” – Edith Sitwell

For amusement and entertainment, how can we go wrong if we were to choose Dame Edith Sitwell’s poetry? I am in need of some frivolity at the moment, so here is my choice for Poetry Tuesday, still wonderfully hosted by Sans Souci!

Edith Sitwell (1907-1964) was an amazing proponent of the English poetic avant garde in the first half of the 20th century, a champion of modernity who revelled in shocking and courting her readers, with clever tactics designed to push the boundaries of poetry. Her (per)verse writings succeeded in angering traditionalists of the time, but nowadays we regard them with as much pleasure as she had in putting them to paper.

Aubade (1923)

Jane, Jane,
Tall as a crane,
The morning light creaks down again;
Comb your cockscomb-ragged hair,
Jane, Jane, come down the stair.
Each dull blunt wooden stalactite
Of rain creaks, hardened by the light,
Sounding like an overtone
From some lonely world unknown.
But the creaking empty light
Will never harden into sight,
Will never penetrate your brain
With overtones like the blunt rain.
The light would show (if it could harden)
Eternities of kitchen garden,
Cockscomb flowers that none will pluck,
And wooden flowers that ‘gin to cluck.
In the kitchen you must light
Flames as staring, red and white,
As carrots or as turnips shining
Where the cold dawn light lies whining.
Cockscomb hair on the cold wind
Hangs limp, turns the milk’s weak mind…
Jane, Jane,
Tall as a crane,
The morning light creaks down again!

Dame Edith Sitwell
From Bucolic Comedies | 1923

The Fan (1923)

Lovely Semiramis
Closes her slanting eyes:
Dead is she long ago.
From her fan, sliding slow,
Parrot-bright fire’s feathers,
Gilded as June weathers,
Plumes bright and shrill as grass
Twinkle down; as they pass
Through the green glooms in Hell
Fruits with a tuneful smell,
Grapes like an emerald rain,
Where the full moon has lain,
Greengages bright as grass,
Melons as cold as glass,
Piled on each gilded booth,
Feel their cheeks growing smooth.
Apes in plumed head-dresses
Whence the bright heat hisses,—
Nubian faces, sly
Pursing mouth, slanting eye,
Feel the Arabian
Winds floating from the fan.

Dame Edith Sitwell

Edith Louisa Sitwell was born in 1887 to an aristocratic family and she spent most of her childhood at her parents' home Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire. The first child and only daughter of an unhappy marriage, Edith never gained the respect and compassion that her brothers Osbert (born in 1892) and Sacheverell (born in 1897) experienced from their parents. She was educated at home and began writing poetry when she was about twenty, but the major change in her life came when she moved to London in 1914 to share a flat with Helen Rootham, her former governess.

Through her poetry, Sitwell challenged prevailing twentieth century British attitudes concerning literature and poetry. Sitwell's satiric poetry contradicted the bucolic, Georgian poetry of the day. In 1915, Sitwell published her first collection “The Mother and Other Poems”, although her role as editor of Wheels, an anthology of contemporary works published in 1916, gained her the most notoriety. She also used her poetic talents to oppose England's role in the first World War, and wrote politically dissident poetry at the end of World War II, specifically, "Still Falls the Rain" from Street Songs (1942), about bombing raids in London, and "Three Poems of the Atomic Age," based on the bombing of Hiroshima.

Not only was Sitwell a talented political poet, but she was a talented performer as well. Allanah Harper, founder of Echanges, described Edith Sitwell during a performance writing "she began to recite and a window opened onto an enchanted world. Each vowel and consonant flowed and she seemed to weave her poetry in the air. The world became heightened and transformed until I could see a whole landscape there behind her eyes." Sitwell's melodic voice coupled with highly syncopated lyrics lead to the success of her most famous work “Façade” (1922). Intended to be performed, instead of silently read, the poems of Façade focused on the sound and effect of chosen words instead of their meaning. The poems in Gold Coast Customs (1929) capitalized on rhythm just as in “Façade”, but they demonstrated a political seriousness absent from the previous work.

During the mid-1920s, Sitwell and her roommate Helen Rootham traveled frequently to Paris to visit Helen's sister Evelyn Weil. In Paris, Sitwell found a city filled with creativity and artistic talents, some of whom became influential friends, including Gertrude Stein. Sitwell enjoyed Gertrude's work and championed the modernist poet's 1926 Oxford and Cambridge lectures which effectively raised Gertrude's literary profile in Britain. It was in Gertrude's salon that Sitwell met the surrealist painter Pavel Tchelitchew, with whom she would enter perhaps her most important, yet often unfulfilling, relationship.

To Pavel Tchelitchew, a Russian émigré and artist, she was both a patron and muse. Unfortunately for Sitwell, Pavel's interest in her was purely intellectual, and possibly financial. The charming, passionate, and sometimes moody Pavel directed his amorous attention to the young American pianist, Allen Tanner, and eventually to Charles Henri Ford. Despite her difficulties with Pavel and her roommate Helen Rootham, whose ill-health and demanding nature caused much of Sitwell's anxiety, Sitwell managed to compile “The English Eccentrics” (1933) and the controversial “Aspects of Modern Poetry” (1934).

Sitwell's relationships with other literary figures were much less hostile than her relationship with Pavel. She became patron to other authors, including Dylan Thomas, was close friends with poets H. D. (Hilda Doolittle) and Bryher, and became the goddaughter of Evelyn Waugh and Roy Campbell after her conversion to Catholicism in 1955.

In the 1930s Sitwell shifted her literary efforts from poetry toward prose after the success of her well-received historical biography “Alexander Pope” (1930). Sitwell's other historical biographies, “Victoria of England” (1936), “Fanfare for Elizabeth” (1946), and its sequel “The Queens and the Hive” (1962), are some of her best known works of prose. “I Live under a Black Sun” (1937), her only published novel, came out the year her mother died.

During the early 1950s, Edith Sitwell received numerous honours. Four honorary doctorates from Leeds, Durham, Oxford, and Sheffield universities were bestowed upon her. In 1954, she was made Dame Commander of the British Empire in the Queen's birthday honours list.

Failing health and troubles with Osbert's lover David Horner forced Sitwell to move away from her childhood home in Renishaw and spend the final years of her life in a small flat and, later, a Queen Anne style cottage she called "Bryher House" in Hempstead. During her later years, with the help of her personal assistant Elizabeth Salter, Edith published her final volume of poetry “The Outcasts” (1962) and the sequel to “Fanfare for Elizabeth”, “The Queens and the Hive” (1962). Sitwell died in 1964 and her autobiography “Taken Care Of” was published posthumously in 1965.

Monday, 14 January 2008


"Murder may pass unpunish'd for a time, But tardy justice will o'ertake the crime." - John Dryden

I am currently reading an excellent novel by author Frances Fyfield, called: “Undercurrents”. The author is a criminal lawyer who lives and practices in London, where many of her books are set. She is the author of more than seven suspense novels, including “Shadow Play” and “Without Consent”. “Undercurrents” is a rich psychological drama and concerns a shy and retiring American Henry Evans who twenty years after seeing Francesca, the woman of his life leave on a bus while they were both backpacking through India, wishes he had asked her not to leave. Only after the bus left did Henry realize he truly loved Francesca Chisholm, and his mad dash after the departing bus was in vain. All his life, Henry reminisces, he has been wisely running away from events and objects as well as people. As the story opens, Henry is in the English coastal town of Warbling seeking Francesca, where he learns she is in prison for the murder of her child.

This is a very low-key start to an emotional thriller, which grabs one attention and fires one’s imagination. The language is rich and fruity like a moist, spicy cake studded with raisins and the pace begins at a relaxed, slow amble but gains momentum as the horror that Henry is confronted with reveals itself. Here is a short extract from Chapter 1:

“Outside the station, the wind tore at his coat like a mauling dog. The rain skittered in the eddies of wind to scratch at his face and hat. His suitcase was ballast, lifting from his shoulder and leading him in a sideways-sloping spring across the carpark. It defied the mild sense of triumph he had felt in alighting from the train at all, beating the challenge of the antiquated door as the carriage lurched to a halt in front of a sign so obscure he could scarcely read it. warbling, a name like a dowdy bird. Doctor Henry Evans, poetry-loving scientist, with impeccable transatlantic credentials and comfortable North American lifestyle, felt himself unfairly fooled by the weather and did not enjoy the sensation of being outwitted. He congratulated himself briefly at the same time for that level of preparation which was his own hallmark. He had purchased a map; he had listened carefully to telephone instructions and he knew precisely where he was going.

Rain, spitting at him with renewed vigor. You can't miss it, squire. Straight down the road by the station until you reach the sea; turn left. Big hotel, squire. Nelson stayed there long before they built the pier. Henry had enjoyed the train, dirty though it was. At least he could open the window and breathe. He hated to be inside those capsules of transport where he had no control.

And he craved his first sight of the sea. His was a landlocked heart, in love with gentle ocean sounds. He could see it in his mind's eye, calm and dark, moody with moonlight and full of inspiration. The shops on his route were small and, in the shuttered darkness, less than quaint. He noticed a deserted cinema with posters of films he thought he might have seen a decade since, a forlorn wine bar with single occupant, the closed premises of a post office apparently doubling as a pharmacy and a florist's without flowers, but apart from a couple of illuminated signs, the only significant lights were the Belisha beacons where the road dipped into a pedestrian crossing before rising toward the sea. The yellow globes winked at a lone woman who waited as if needing some extra sign which would give her license to cross an empty road. She was followed at a distance by a big, black dog, which did not seem to belong. Henry nodded and said hi. There was no response, reminding him of another feature about the natives he had encountered so far. They were not so much rude as preoccupied at any given time. They would not ignore the outstretched hand if you waved it right in front of their faces, but any gesture not initiated by themselves required repetition before gaining acknowledgment. They were not unfriendly, he decided bravely, simply undemonstrative and destined to lead him into a deliberate and useful heartiness through the means of their natural reserve. You have to learn to come out of your shell, Henry. No one else is going to winkle you out. He was trying to remember what a winkle was…”

Rather than me spending more time telling you something about the book, why not read what the author herself has to say about this novel?

Happy reading!


“Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.” – Alfred Hitchcock

Jean Anouilh (1910-1987) is a famous French playwright, whose works range from high drama to absurdist farce. His long career spanned several decades and his creative diversity shuns categorisation, although he partly adopted Sartre's existentialist views. Anouilh hated publicity, and was reclusive fro nearly all his life. In his plays, a common theme is an unsuccessful protagonist whose idealism and intransigence is in conflict with the world of compromise and corruption. His play “Becket” of 1959 is typical of this type of drama and remains one of his most well-known.

It is not surprising perhaps, that this play was filmed in 1964 and Peter Glenville’s film "Becket" has become a classic. We saw this movie at the weekend in a (relatively) newly released DVD and my childhood memories of the wonderful pageantry of the film were proven to be accurate, but now I was able to concentrate more on the biting wit of the dialogue, the pathos of the two unsuccessful protagonists and the theme of friendship versus duty.

The film is firmly based on historical figures, depicting the relationship between Henry II of England (1133 – 1189 AD) and his Chancellor (and later Archbishop of Canterbury) Thomas à Becket (ca 1120 – 1170 AD). However, the playwright (and subsequently the screenplay writer) have taken certain liberties with history in order to make for a more dramatic plot and a more highly charged conflict between things spiritual and things temporal. For example, in the movie Becket is depicted as a Saxon, whereas history proves him to have been a Norman, similar to Henry. The play shows us Henry and Becket to be almost the same age, whereas history tells us that they had as much as a 15 year difference of age between them. Nevertheless, the point of this play (and movie) is not teach us history, but rather to examine the complex relationship between two powerful historical figures and to explore the substance of friendship in the upper echelons of society, where other allegiances may interfere with it. Authority of the state and church (which may often be at cross-purposes) is also examined and “honour to God” is a major theme. This conflict between State and Church represents the seeds of discord between renegade England and the Papal authority of Roman Catholicism, a discord which bore the fruit of the schism in Henry VIII’s reign and his subsequent creation of the Church of England.

E.M. Forster says that "If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country." This is an interesting quotation in the context of this film as Henry views Thomas à Becket firstly as a friend and then as a courtier. Becket, however, can sacrifice many things in his pursuit of faith and submission to God. Therein lies the conflict, which Anouilh capitalises on in order to create an intriguing drama and a magnificent stage piece that transfers to film admirably. This film is in many ways a forgotten masterpiece and I rather hope that its restoration and re-release in DVD format will give it a new audience and the acclaim it deserves.

The two leads, Peter O'Toole as King Henry II and Richard Burton as his best friend turned adversary, Becket give magnificent performances and are a pleasure to watch. A relatively young John Gielgud has an interesting cameo as King Louis VII of France and Pamela Brown gives a restrained performance as Henry’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine who is depicted as a bitter, vindictive and sharp-tongued woman. The rest of the performances are equally good and the sets and costumes although very 60s (I cringe when I see lamé fabric used in period movies, ti just looks so fake!) do bring to mind the spirit of the time. The music is wonderful and it introduced to me in my early adolescence the beauty of Gregorian chant.

It was a pleasure to watch this movie again 30 years later and I would recommend it most highly to anyone who likes films with substance, great dialogue, good performances (a little theatrical, to be sure) and wonderful atmosphere. The themes explored are a major attraction of the film, and as I mentioned before conflict on many levels and its unhappy resolution creates anxiety for the viewer because he or she identifies with it on many levels.

Sunday, 13 January 2008


“Always be ready to speak your mind and a base man will avoid you.” - William Blake

A Poison Tree

This poem was published in Songs of Experience in 1794

I was angry with my friend:

I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe:

I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears,

Night and morning with my tears;

And I sunned it with smiles,

And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,

Till it bore an apple bright;

And my foe beheld it shine,

And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole

When the night had veil'd the pole:

In the morning glad I see

My foe outstretch'd beneath the tree.

William Blake (November 28, 1757 – August 12, 1827)