Old folk at lunch

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Another idiotic credit-card mailout



This one from AMP (an Australian insurer and finance company) and the ever-hopeful American Express



Mr Vilaysack was a tenant of mine about four years ago. Shortly after he left, I received a number of enquiries about his whereabouts from the police and others. He did not however leave a forwarding address.

When I received the letter containing the above missive, I opened it in case it contained information of assistance to the police.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Darby and Joe



Michael Darby is one of Australia's great characters. For some years, an old Dennis fire-engine was his personal means of transport around Sydney. He is also an old friend of mine. He spends great energies on politics -- very much at the conservative end of it -- but he also has great talent as an exponent of Australian poetry -- particularly bush poetry.

Bush poetry tends to be narrative poetry set in the country areas of Australia and Michael himself has written some excellent poems in that genre -- helped by a genuine love of the bush and bush people.

But what he is particularly known for is RECITING Australian poetry. He does so -- often in a stentorian voice -- with great verve and panache. He really brings it to life. He has memorized an amazing number of both well-known and lesser-known Australian poems and delivers them with great gusto whenever he is at all encouraged to do so.

My own favourite poem is an Australian one: "The Teams", by Henry Lawson. It is about bullockies (teamsters -- men who used bullock teams to move heavy loads in the early days). The fact that my own grandfather and great-grandfather were bullockies no doubt has something to do with that. When Lawson describes bullockies he knows what he is talking about. I recognize in his descriptions my own ancestors.

And, of course, I have a great love of English poetry generally -- from Chaucer on. I know some pretty good German poetry too -- particularly those set by Schubert as Lieder.

So I was quite horrified when I discovered in his final year of High School that my son Joe had virtually had his literary heritage stolen from him. I had always assumed that his courses at the private school I sent him to would have introduced him to the great classics of English and Australian poetry. Instead, he had been introduced only to poems by politically correct people -- very minor literary figures such as black poetess Kath Walker. Joe had not even heard the NAMES of greats such as Wordsworth and Coleridge.

Ever since I have therefore been trying to make up that gap in my son's education. Fortunately, he does enjoy the poems I read to him when the occasion offers. He is however too deeply engaged in his studies of mathematics at university for that to happen often.

Last night, however, was the first day after the end of his mid-year exams so I took the opportunity to organize a poetry night for him. I flew Michael Darby up from Sydney and Anne cooked us all an old-fashioned Australian dinner of corned beef with three veg. Anne makes an excellent white sauce -- which is in my view essential to a corned beef dinner. Joe, his girlfriend Sam, Anne, myself, Michael and two old friends who are also old friends of Michael -- Jill and Lewis -- made up the party.

Michael started reciting even before the dinner was served, during the courses, in between the course and afterwards. He was in great form and gave us a wonderful experience both with old favourites ("Clancy of the Overflow", "The man from Ironbark" etc.) and other poems we did not know -- including some excellent poems of his own. He gave us a lot of A.B. Paterson and Henry Lawson but at my request he also gave us a lot of C.J. Dennis. Paterson and Lawson are not likely soon to be forgotten but I think Dennis is in some danger of that. Yet he is in a way the most Australian of the three.

I had found a nicely-bound anthology of C.J. Dennis poems so I asked Michael to autograph it and then gave it to Joe as a memento of the occasion. It was a most successful night.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bach, Joe and Frederik



I am feeling in a somewhat reflective mood today. I usually am but today the mood is strong enough to motivate me to write some of it down. I think I might have a touch of the flu!

A couple of Sundays ago, Pam Priest, piano teacher to my son Joe, put on a concert given by her students. The standard of such concerts will be well-known to most parents who have ever attended one: Pretty awful. But one has to go to hear one's own progeny, whom one hopes will not be among the awful ones.

As it turned out there were some genuinely good performances. My son Joe did the full version of that old favourite Fuer Elise by Beethoven. Despite it being loved to death and hence done to death I always enjoy hearing it and Joe did a good job of it. It has a large expressive range and deserves not to be dismissed as a "beginner's" piece, as it usually is. Joe has been learning piano since age 4 (he is now 19) but he doesn't do music exams. He just plays for his own satisfaction.

Afterwards Joe and I were discussing what he was working on and he said something about learning one of the Bach Preludes from Das wohltempierte Klavier. I said that maybe he should try one of the fugues too but remarked that they were of course very complex and difficult. I further remarked that they were very good, nonetheless, at least in my opinion.

Joe replied. Yes. "They are wonderful". That might seem like a minor remark but "wonderful" is exactly the word I use to describe music that moves me deeply -- and Bach moves me most of all -- so that remark from Joe did my heart good. It told me: "There's my boy". It told me that in important ways we are emotionally alike. And in the end it is emotions that matter. Nobody is more devoted to rationality than I am but in the end rationality is the servant, not the master.

Now on to Frederik: Frederik is a tall, slim dignified Dutchman aged about 60 who runs a small cafe where I sometimes breakfast. I went there today for breakfast. He had a lot of customers and only himself to serve them all. His wife was busy in the kitchen cooking -- where she does a first-class job. But despite the throng of breakfasters and others, Frederik served them all with reasonable promptness. To do so he had to move like greased lightning and never stop for an instant. But he did so and did so with dignity and civility.

I could not help reflecting: "How Dutch". The Dutch tend to have enormous self-confidence but it is normally justified. It can border on arrogance and the Dutch are not universally liked because of that. I like the Dutch and respect Dutch attributes greatly, however, and a Dutchman once told me that I myself would make a good Dutchman so that may tell you something. I did, by the way, regard that remark as a considerable compliment.

Anyway, Frederik did a job requiring enormous speed, energy and efficiency -- and did it with panache. I could not help reflecting how hopeless an Aborigine would have been in the same circumstances. I know Aborignies well from long experience in various settings and, although there are things about them that I respect, speed and efficiency are definitely not among their typical attributes. I did once see an Aborigine woman moving fast and it was such a memorable experience that I am afraid I turned and stared just to make sure it really was an Aborigine I was seeing. She clearly had some white genes in her but that is not uncommon in Aborigines these days.

There are good and bad people in all racial groups and I always do my best to judge each person as an individual but anybody who says that all races are the same is talking through his/her anus.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Canon Jones



An old friend of mine has just been made a canon in the Anglican Church of Australia. I have known him since he was a theological student so I think his rise onto the clouds of glory deserves to be marked. He is in the centre of the photo below -- resplendent in an antique cope: