Thursday, 13 December 2012

My Best Books of 2012

This turns out to be ten of my favourite books for this year but keeping it down to ten was difficult!  By "favourite",  I think I mean ones that are most memorable and ones that please me to have now read.  Some were hard reads while others were entertainment.

I've tried to rank the books in order of favouritism, which is no easy task.  Bill Gammage's book has a head start because it's a physical book, with sixty pages of colour plates - when I saw them I had to buy it.  Except for Coorinna, which I bought in a second-hand bookstore, the others are all ebooks, some of which I've edited (eg from PDF files) to make them ebook readable, a new hobby of mine.

Anyway, here goes:-

1.  Bill Gammage:  The Biggest Estate on Earth (2012)

Subtitle: How Aborigines Made Australia.  The result of ten years of research and field studies, this book explores the concept (and proves!) that when whites came in 1788 they were confronted by a "managed landscape" (they saw parks!), mosaics of cleared land maintained over thousands of years by the locals.  In 1788, there was no such thing as "wilderness"!  This books vastly extends our knowledge of pre-1788 Australia and I love it.

2.  Ken Kesey:  Sometimes a Great Notion  (1964) 

A worthy  successor to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  Tells the story of a family of loggers in Oregon who attempt to defy the union to get their logs downriver to the mill.  Narrated by several of the characters, sometimes more than one at once!  A good writer!

3. Jared Diamond:  Guns, Germs and Steel  (1997)

This book won the Pulitzer prize.  Diamond explores the reasons that human societies developed the way they did  and why for example, Spaniards conquered the Aztecs rather than the other way round.  He shows that the reasons are due to geographical advantages enjoyed by Eurasians, nothing to do with genes.  I was very impressed by his arguments.

4. Kate Grenville  The Secret River (2005)

The theme of villain transported to the convict colony and his/her subsequent life has been done to death, yet this book explores in a new way the dispossession of Aborigines as white settlers attempted to make a go of the new life.  I liked the descriptions of life on the water for a seaman, both in England and Australia.  The gamut of attitudes to the native inhabitants of Australia is also well-explored and reminds me of Thea Astley.

5. Erle Wilson:  Coorinna  (1953)

I read this book when I was at school, but having no memory of the story, it was great to read it again (and find it in the fantastic bookshop in Fish Creek!).  As in some of Jack London's best-known work, Wilson anthropomorphizes an animal, in this case a Tasmanian tiger, and dramatises its life from birth to death.  The author is completely familiar with the Tasmanian bush, describing the flora and fauna in loving detail, as well as life before cars and tourists.

6. Patrick White:  The Hanging Garden  (2012)
This is really the start of a novel that was never completed.  It explores the relationship between two refugees, a girl and boy during World War Two, temporarily given sanctuary in a Sydney harbour property with a wild garden.  It has familiar White themes such as the girl's Greek background.  There is no significant plot but the characters are beautifully drawn and revealed.  It is a joy to find the surprises in White's prose which can take the mind in completely new directions.


7. Michael Shermer:  The Believing Brain  (2011)

Shermer is the president of the American Skeptics and  a psychologist and science historian (as well as an accomplished long-distance cyclist!).  He has studied why people believe "strange" things and has brought some of his previous writing together in The Believing Brain  as well as introducing the neuro-science involved in how people arrive at beliefs.  He shows how evolution has shaped the way we  seek patterns in all our dealings and then ascribe meaning to those patterns in order to make sense of the world.  A good read but spoilt a bit by lots of sidetracking.

8. Marcus Clarke:  Australian Tales of the Bush  (1896)

After he arrived from England Clarke became a writer for the Melbourne Argus in 1867, aged 21, but he tired of the urban life and went to live on a property north of Stawell.  He was a failure as a jackeroo but successful in sending stories of the bush life back to Melbourne for publication.  This is a collection of those stories, giving great insight into the rural, small-town life, and full of movement and colour.  Stories range from "Pretty Dick" in which a child is lost and perishes in the bush, to "How the Circus came to Bullocktown". A great reflection on Clarke's formative years.

9. John Grisham: A Painted House  (2001)

Grisham's novel is set on an eighty-acre cotton farm during the 1952 season of cotton picking and told by a narrator who was seven at the time of the novel.  The characters are the family who run the farm, a group of Mexicans hired to pick cotton, and a group of "hill people" who come down from the Ozarks each year for the picking.  The descriptions are masterly, detailing the oppressive summer weather, the backbreaking work in the rows of cotton, piling on the old truck to go into town on the weekend.  A good yarn that obviously reflects Grisham's childhood.

10. Charles Darwin:  The Autobiography of Charles Darwin  (1887)

This text was written by Darwin for his wife and children, and was edited and published after his death by Darwin's son.  It mainly describes his childhood, education and early influences.  He spent time at Edinburgh University from the age of sixteen and then Cambridge when it was determined he would not be a doctor but rather a clergyman, meant to study the classics.  His early influences were the scientific men and societies at these establishments, and his love of collecting, in particular, beetles.  Darwin suggests that he was not an innovator or original thinker but relied on methodical and painstaking hard work in conducting analysis of his collections.
Now that I've completed this post, I realise there are another dozen books that could have made the list, but ain't that the way?

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

My Best Music of 2012

   Here's my favourite new (for me) albums for 2012.  It doesn't necessarily reflect what I'm most listening to because I always love to listen to old favourites- new is not always best.  However it shows what I've been enthusiastic about in the last twelve months.  There are notable albums I've got this year that didn't make the cut, from new classical guitarists like MiloÅ¡ Karadaglić to old jazz icons like clarinettist Johnny Dodds or bluesmen like Jerry "Boogie" McCain who died this year.

   The WOMAD festival in Adelaide in March had a lot of influence.  I did some research, downloaded music off the internet and knew what I wanted to see when we got there.  Generally, I wasn't disappointed and there were some great surprises!

   Anyway, here's ten albums that I'm happy to listen to any day of the week, in no particular order:- 

1.  Glenn Gould -  Goldberg Variations (1955)
The 1955 recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations made the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould instantly famous.  His 1981 re-recording (a year before he died) is also of interest but doesn't have the daring of the original.  This record goes for 38 minutes; the 1981 version when he was older and wiser goes for 55 minutes ( I love them both).

2.  Nana Mouskouri - Athina (1984). 
I loved her TV shows when accompanied by the Athenians with their harmonies and Greek musicianship featuring guitar and bouzouki.  However, her recordings were commercial crap until I discovered this album which reflects her roots and the Greek musicianship.  Folk songs such as "Yalo Yalo" make the album.

3.  Diabate and Sissoko - New Ancient Strings (1997) 
The Malian fathers of Toumani Diabate and Ballake Sissoko recorded Ancient Strings in 1970, so this is a tribute by the kora player Diabate and his accompanist.  I think I got this album from Ian in NSW - thanks, it's very laid back.

4.  Jinja Safari - Locked by Land (2012). 
They were supposed to bring out a new album this year but this is a compilation of the EPs (which I had) and some bonus tracks.  Anyway, we saw them live at Womadelaide - teenage magnets with an electric performance, and great musicians.

5.  Dobet Gnahore - Home Made (2012). 
I bought an album (Djekpa La You) of this African performer after seeing her live at Womadelaide but was disappointed by the overproduction compared to the tracks I'd previously collected off the internet.  These had only her voice and guitar accompanied by female backing vocals and percussion.  I compiled the seven tracks into this "album".

6.  Shivkumar Sharma And Hariprasad Chaurasia -Rasdhara (1999).  We were very impressed and privileged to see Shivkumar Sharma at Womadelaide playing his satoor (like the hammered dulcimer).
I found this record where he is accompanied by the famed flute player - it's a great combination!  These two played together in 1967 (Call of the Valley) but this shows their experience.

7.  Anda Union - The Wind Horse (2011).  I bought this album after watching the Mongolian acoustic group's set twice (or was it three times?) at Womadelaide.  The combination of throat singing, stringed instruments and pure exuberance was exhilarating to say the least.  They effortlessly captured the rhythm and feel of horses in the Mongolian landscape.

8.  Nick Drake - Pink Moon (1972).  I also have his first album Five Leaves Left (1969) but the 1972 effort shows better songwriting and features only voice and guitar which is more poignant.  I'd never heard of Drake until recently but think this is me in the bedroom (so do others apparently!).

9.  Le Trio Joubran - Asfar (2011).  I already had their 2005 album Randana but after seeing them at Womadelaide got this and love the simple subtlety.  My initial thought at their concert was that they were doing "party tricks" for the westerners but this is probably too harsh.  It's hard to fault the record.

10. Keith Jarrett - The Koln Concert (1975).  I'm amazed to find that I've only this year discovered the best-selling solo jazz album ever and the best-selling piano album.  For this I thank ABC Classic FM who played a track earlier in the year.  I particularly love the first track which runs for 26 minutes and draws the listener into the whole experience.  I'll leave it to others to conjecture whether he made it up as he went along (just kidding)!
I resisted the temptation to include more than 10 albums!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Christmas Letter 2012

    This is a bit like our annual report card - sent with Christmas cards to most of the people to whom we send Christmas cards - published here for posterity (?). 

   Greetings and best wishes for the Christmas season!  We hope you are enjoying your celebrations and will have a wonderful year in 2013.

   In the era of Twitter and Facebook, the concept of a letter printed on ordinary paper and posted with a stamp is all a bit "last year", but I intend to persevere in a spirit of "making contact by any means is better than none at all"!

   The year was mostly taken up with visits to hospital for treatment.  In mid-year, the treatment became ineffective (some cancer cells mutate and resist the drugs) and I switched to a clinical trial which required weekly visits to the Frankston Private Hospital for a fortnightly infusion of a whole cocktail of drugs for about five hours and a shorter treatment in the off-week.  That has now finished after twelve weeks, the PICC line is removed and no infuser bottles to bring home (and sleep with!).  Bliss!  As part of the trial, I'm still on weekly maintenance treatment for as long as it is effective.  Side effects have been manageable except that numb tingly fingers and feet have been with me since I had oxaliplatin in the first half of last year - I'm still waiting for it to go away and let me lead a more normal life.

   One project we got out of the way this year was to get all our old 8mm films converted to DVD.  A bloke down at Tyabb did them for us and he did a great job.  It was fun to see again the old movies of family life when I was single, and ones of our kids when they were little.  I've also scanned all of our slide collection and put them onto USB memory sticks that can be plugged straight into the TV for viewing.  At present I'm in the process of scanning all the photos in our photo albums for the same purpose.  While it's nice to thumb the pages of an album, it's also great to see them as a slide show on the TV.  An added incentive was that many photos needed to be removed from albums that were deteriorating badly and put into new ones.

   Doortje and I have done our bit to keep the arts and entertainment industry afloat.  During the year we've been to WOMAD in Adelaide as well as music festivals at Frankston, Mordialloc and the Aboriginal arts festival at Federation Square in Melbourne.  For the latter we stayed in a motel in Southbank near the river and enjoyed three days of such performers as Dan Sultan and Archie Roach as well as great restaurant meals and generally living it up.

   In March we went to Womadelaide.  We drove over and stayed a week in a motel close to the Botanic Park venue.  Staying in the same motel were Alan and Kim from Darwin,  Peter and June from Tweed Heads and for part of the time, Jan and Ebony from Port Pirie.  We spent an evening before the festival with John and Sue, so it was a real family affair and we had a great time.  We were able to walk into the CBD for meals, as well as to the festival, although I had my bike for the latter, riding being easier on my feet than walking.  We saw some great performers - some favourites were Jinja Safari, Dirty Three, Tinariwen, Anda Union, Dobet Gnahore and the Pigram Brothers, but there were heaps!

   In June, we even went to the opera in downtown Frankston.  We saw Bizet's Carmen at the Arts Centre and enjoyed it very much.  The orchestra was only a dozen or so and complemented the voices of the Melbourne Opera very well.

   We made several trips during the year to a variety of interesting places.  Early in the year we stayed a few nights at Jill Redwood's b&b cottage at Goongerah.  We had booked to go there in 2010 but didn't make it when ill-health intervened.  Then Helmy and Perran asked us to join them there so we did.  Goongerah is a very secluded, peaceful place amongst the mountains and forest on the Brodribb River.


   During the winter we stayed in a holiday house on the side of the hill at Walkerville with spectacular views of Waratah Bay and Wilson's Promontory.  The weather wasn't great but we had a fire and were able to get out for walks occasionally.  Just to sit and look at the view (and parrots!) was wonderful.  We had a similar experience at Metung when Perran's parents, Rob and Anna, left their house empty and invited us to use it.  The house is set in the bush on Box's Creek which runs into Bancroft Bay at Metung.  It's a beautiful house - a feature is the breakfast nook which was perfect for sitting in the winter sun.

   Another trip we did between treatments was to spend five nights at Tooleybuc in NSW.  What's at Tooleybuc?  Nothing, really!  It simply had the property of being not far from Swan Hill, where I tried to book on what was a long weekend with the annual race meeting being a feature.  "Not even the locals like to spend five nights in a row in Tooleybuc!"  It has a sporting club and hotel (we had two evening meals in each and could walk to both), about 250 people, and a bridge across the Murray.  We enjoyed relaxing and exploring in every direction.  Except for the first afternoon, we gave Swan Hill a miss!

   The kids are all doing well.  Daniel continues to make trips to China with his work.  Monika's mother and step-father, Gunhild and Kjell, were here from Sweden at the beginning of the year and we spent a bit of time with them.  Monika's daughter, Wendy, was married in September - the weather was beaut, which is surprising!  Wendy and Jakob seem very happy and make a great couple.  William came home from Sweden in time for the wedding after being in Africa and Europe for about eighteen months.  Ronja, now fourteen and in her second year of high school, changed schools at the beginning of the year and is now going to Frankston High, which has an excellent reputation, and she is very happy with the change.

   Helmy and Perran and the boys have been in Denmark since July.  Perran has six months sabbatical leave and is doing some research at the university in Odense.  Harvey is going to school and Theo to pre-school but language has been a bit of a problem.  Helmy has been doing some laboratory work at the uni.  They all got bikes when they arrived there and have no car.  The most recent photos show the first snow of the season.  We're looking forward to them being home in January.

   Jac and Pat's kids are growing up too fast.  Mason is now thirteen and Sullivan is five, with the girls in between - Amelia nine and Nara seven.  In September, all six of them flew to Europe for a holiday in Paris and to visit the Odense relatives.  We took them to the airport and after hanging around for a while, Sully asked "Mum, are we in Paris now?"  Anyway, they had a great time, not least going up the Eiffel tower.  Mason started high school this year and is an enthusiastic cricketer, while Millie is into basketball.  I think Jac's cakemaking and decorating has taken a back seat to crochet which she is keen on.  We celebrated her fortieth birthday in May (I wrote a song which the grandkids all performed).

   Since Helm's family went to Denmark we've started using Skype to keep in contact.  Doortje loves it!  Harvey and Theo are able to show us their latest Lego models and school stuff.  We should have started long ago with Andrew and Sarah in Alice Springs because we don't see them often.

   Andrew and Sarah, apart from their bush trips to Aboriginal communities in Pitjantjatjara country, have recently been busy rehearsing their two-person show in preparation for the Darwin season of three shows which they performed a couple of weeks ago.  Those we know who went, including Alan and Kim, say it was very successful, and Andrew and Sarah were happy with the effort they put in.  They've also been to remote communities in the Top End, including Maningrida in November.

   Enough!  You can find more detail and photos on my Flickr site and blog page:

lots of love,
(and generally signed by Doortje and, possibly, Rob)

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Cancer Treatment

Diary of Cancer Treatment


Aug 04             Saw Jenni Koch, my GP, re irregularity (but no pain or bleeding), referred to Dr Dinh.

Aug 30             Dr Dinh, gastroenterologist at Mornington, arranged colonoscopy.

Sept 08            Colonoscopy and biopsy at Springvale.  Rectal tumour, suspected malignant.

Sept 13            Confirmed malignant.  CT scan to reveal extent, plus blood tests.

Sept 15            Jenni Koch explained treatment, involving never-ending appointments, etc.

Sept 23            Mr Tilan Beneragama, surgeon of Mornington.  Large tumour, stage 4 metastasis, spread to lymph glands and spots in lungs, treatment still possible.

Sept 27            MRI scan at Frankston Private.

Sept 28            Oncologist, Dr Vinod Ganju.  Aggressive cancer but responds to treatment, more tests ordered inc PET scan to gauge spread and indicate chemo treatment of stage 4 metastasis.

Oct 06             Dr George Quong, radiation oncologist, to supervise radiation to reduce tumour size before operation by Mr Beneragama.

Oct 07             PET scan at Moorabbin.

Oct 08             At Frankston Hospital, tattoos applied to torso for aiming radiation beam.

Oct 12             Ganju confirmed PET scan showed cancer presence in bloodstream and 3 lung spots.

Oct 19             At Frankston Hospital, PICC line inserted in right arm and infuser bottle of  Fluorouracil  attached (chemo to assist radiation).  First radiation treatment.

Oct 20             Radiation continues 5 days per week at Frankston Private, chemo infuser and PICC dressing changed weekly at Frankston Public chemo unit.  Weekly appointment with Dr Quong and fortnightly with Dr Ganju at Frankston Private.

Nov 24            Saw Mr Tilan Beneragama.  Operation fixed for Jan 24, allowing for recovery from chemo and radiation (and family holiday at Skene's Creek).

Nov 26            Last radiation treatment.  PICC removed.

Dec 16             CT scan shows tumour has shrunk nicely for operation.


Jan 04              Pre-op session with stoma nurse, dietitian, theatre doctor, anaesthetist.

Jan 24              Admitted 7.00am. operation at 9.30am, returned to ward at 2.30pm.  Mr Beneragama happy with result, got all tumour and lymph nodes, no spread to prostate, etc, created stoma.

Feb 02             Home after bowel movement and all-clear from stoma nurse.

Feb 03             Stoma nurse visit, all OK.

Mar 11             Scan and PICC line inserted prior to chemo.

Mar 16             Frankston Public chemo unit - chemo treatment, hardcore to treat lung growths, inc oxaliplatin, which produces nausea and peripheral neuropathy.

Mar 17             Sore bum.  A pinhole caused by old stitch working its way out.  Beneragama removed with tweezers as in rabbit from hat.  Soon healed.

Mar 18             Chemo bottle removed after 2 days, treatment fortnightly.

July 11             Completed heavy chemo.  Shows lung growths have shrunk, cancer markers in blood down from 11.5 to 1.6.  No spread elsewhere, so onto milder treatment.  Fingers and feet beginning to show effects of oxaliplatin, tingling, numbness, loss of nerve endings.
Aug                  Continue new treatment of Evastin infusion at Frankston Public Chemo unit once every three weeks plus Xeloda tablets for two weeks then one week off.

Aug 31             Dr Ganju happy lungs spots are small.

Sept 07            Mr Beneragama review.  Sensation of mass between cheeks is normal, scar tissue settling down over time, allow 12 months.

Nov                 Review of chemo treatment, all OK.

Dec                  Ditto


 Jan 30             Dr Ganju review.  Cancer marker test 3, up from 2 but anything under 5 is good.  Continue with Evastin and Xeloda.  Nexium for nausea or reflux when required.

Feb                  Mr Beneragama check up.  All OK.

March              Stoma nurse.  Have hernia protrusion affecting the fit of bags, ie smell occurs.

April 23            Stopped treatment. Dr Ganju says current chemo no longer working, cancer has become resistant.  Proposed clinical trial of new regime, administered at Frankston Private, but all free.

May 01            Biopsy taken of lung tumour by Dr Stuckey to determine type for trial.  Very painful.

May 02            Met Albert Goickman, nurse running Gain C trial - will mean lots of weekly treatments, appointments, paper work, etc.

May 23            First treatment of trial, cetuximab to be administered weekly.

May 28            PICC line inserted by Dr Stuckey ready for main treatment.

May 30            Main treatment, fortnightly, of cetuximab, fluoruracil, leucovarin, irinotecan plus anti-nausea etc by drip in PICC line (collectively called Folfiri), plus take-home bottle of fu5 for 2 days.  See Dr Ganju every fortnight for review.  Parking at Frankston Private much easier than at Public!

June 04            Side effects - dry, pealing skin, some nausea but controllable.

June 18            Review with Dr Simone Steel.  All OK.  Antibiotics to prevent skin infections, vitamin B6 to aid nerve reconstruction in fingers and feet, moisturiser for skin.

June 27            No Folfiri due to white blood cell count below 1.5 (now 1.3).  Cetuximab only.

July 09             Review with Dr Ganju.  Reduce strength of drugs to ensure white blood cell count stays OK.

July 23             Bad reflux.  Daily nexium and pantoprazole, also gaviscon liquid.  Three days following big treatment, pill count is 9 in am and 7 in pm!

Aug 09             Saw stoma nurse re bag fit.  New bags plus hernia belt to use as required.

Aug 22             Seventh  cycle.

Aug 30             Scan, ECG and blood for review.

Sept 05            8th cycle.  Review OK, will continue trial till 12th cycle.

Oct 24             12th cycle - last one of chemical trial using Folfiri.  Weekly cetuximab will continue as part of the trial, at least for time being.

Nov 07             Had PICC line removed as cetuximab can be infused safely through a temporary canula in the back of the hand or wrist.  Treatment only takes 60-90 minutes instead of most of the day.

Nov 14             Dr Ganju happy with things - lung spots have stabilised and he feels cetuximab may keep it all in check (some people go for a year or more on cetuximab on its own).  Only pernicious side effect is skin peeling like the aftermath of sunburn but continuous.

* underlined dates show start and end of treatments

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Detective Quiz

How Well Do You Know Your Detectives?

I'm not a fan of crime novels about rich people who sit around in country mansions screaming "The butler did it!", but I do enjoy the occasional good mystery, particularly if set in my own country with realistic people and plot.  This year I enjoyed Richard Flanagan's The Unknown Terrorist, which is not strictly a "mystery" novel, I suppose.
Anyway, in looking for novels that I might enjoy, I've come across familiar and not-so-familiar authors and been able to compile the following puzzle, which features a list of twenty authors who have each written a series of books about a central character, usually a detective.  Unfortunately for you the "heroes" have been jumbled up!

1.  Can you unjumble the list and match authors with their heroes?
2.  Do you know which of the heroes are NOT detectives (private or otherwise)?
3.  Do you know how many (and which) authors are Australian?

Good Luck!  Feel free to leave comments!

The Authors                                         The "heroes"
1.  Arthur Conan Doyle…                    …Maigret
2.  Kerry Greenwood…                        …The Saint
3.  Peter Temple…                               …Hamish MacBeth
4.  Dorothy Sayers…                            …Adam Dalgliesh
5.  Garry Disher…                                …Charlie Chan
6.  Agatha Christie…                            …Father Brown
7.  Arthur Upfield…                             …Raffles
8.  Mickey Spillane…                          …Sherlock Holmes
9.  E W Hornung…                              . . Miss Marple
10. Georges Simenon…                       …Phryne Fisher         
11. Earl Derr Biggers…                       …Dr Thorndike
12. Peter Corris…                                …Lord Peter Wimsey
13. G K Chesterton…                          …Les Norton
14. Jon Cleary…                                  …Murray Whelan
15. Leslie Charteris…                          …Cliff Hardy
16. P D James…                                   …Hal Challis
17. R Austin Freeman…                      …Napoleon Bonaparte
18. Shane Maloney…                          …Jack Irish
19. M C Beaton…                               …Mike Hammer
20. Robert G Barrett…                        …Scobie Malone

NB  For me "hero" in this context (ie central character) is a term that includes "heroine" and makes it redundant.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Salt and Pepper

One of the great pleasures in life, not to be overestimated, is that of grinding fresh peppercorns and rock salt onto a delicious meal, made all the more delicious by the addition of those condiments.  The pleasure is increased exponentially when the grinders actually work.

There are many things in life that wear out in a gradual process that is surreptitious and inexorable.  Examples include car parts.  If you use a car every day, the brake linings wear out in such a way that you never notice the ever-increasing extra effort required on the brake pedal, and you never consciously think that something should be done about it, since you haven't really noticed the gradual worsening.  It's only a before and after comparison that makes you realise how bad they were, and the effort you were making.

Such has been the case with our salt and pepper grinders over the past couple of years.  We once had a set of wooden grinders of second-class quality that were wearing out as fast as they could from day one.  They were replaced by a glass set, but again with cheap plastic grinding surfaces.  (I assumed that was the way of things). 

As the salt grinder wore out it was stuck in the cupboard and replaced with Saxa ready-to-pour.  Shock!  Horror!  The pepper grinder had long been replaced by a Master Foods mini-grinder off the supermarket shelf.  Recently I determined that the salt grinder should be resurrected, regardless of how it performed, because nothing compares with decent rock salt freshly ground.

However, using the salt grinder was excruciating.  A lot of energy was required for not much grinding.  The only way to see if any ground salt was actually produced was to hold it against a dark background.  The grinder had to be shaken, tipped sideways and then upright again to have any hope of success.  Turning the top likewise required a variety of back and forward techniques in the hope that something would work.

Eventually, I decided enough was enough - we should go shopping for new grinders!  Hang the expense and the misuse of scarce resources.  A time comes when some things are no longer viable and must be sacrificed.

We started in Big W, observing that grinders do seem to all have plastic grinding surfaces these days, so that I imagined we should have been replacing our grinders every six months or so to maintain some semblance of efficacy.  Rather than rush in, however, we thought to ask someone in a specialty shop.  What would the Rolls Royce of grinders be like, I wondered.

The result is that we now have a fantastic pair of grinders and no more expensive than the Big W ones.  The brand is Maxwell and Williams, which doesn't mean anything to me, but they are beautifully made.  The salt grinder has "ceramic mechanism" stamped on its grinding surface, and the pepper grinder says "carbon steel".

The best thing, though, is that with a couple of fingers twisting the knob no more than ten degrees a shower of salt or pepper can be produced with almost no effort.  What a contrast with the old salt grinder.  The grinding is fine and thorough.  I can't believe that this has happened!

There is a moral to the story, of course, but I don't think it needs to be spelled out!

PS  In exactly the same vein,  there was nothing wrong with my sawtooth bread knife, worked quite well I thought, until Jac and Pat gave me for Fathers' Day a beaut scalloped edge new one.  It is amazingly sharp and cuts like the bread is butter!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

John Grisham

I'm not bovvered if no-one reads this, but I haven't written a book review on my blog yet and I feel like doing one, so here goes.

I've just this year discovered the American writer, John Grisham, who published his first novel in 1989 and has since become well-known in the "legal thriller" genre after publishing in 1991 The Firm which sold in the millions.

I haven't read any of the long string of thrillers yet but have read A Painted House from 2001,  Ford County (2009), Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer (2010) and now I've just finished that first novel from 1989, A Time to Kill.

Grisham, ten years younger than me, was brought up in small-town Mississippi and practised law for ten years until the success of The Firm.  He is currently writing for teenagers, having produced three Theodore Boone books from 2010 to 2012.  These are in fact "legal thriller" genre for kids, the hero being a thirteen year old son of lawyer parents.  Theodore has unreal access to the small-town court, inside information on cases and takes time off from school to solve a case.  I wasn't that impressed with the first novel despite the hero being named Theo and riding a bike to school.  I won’t bother with the other two, but then I'm not a teenager.

What really turned me on to Grisham was Ford County, a collection of seven short stories set in a Mississippi county forty miles south of Tupelo (where Elvis grew up) and and not far from the Tennessee border and Memphis.  These stories are earthy, rooted in the small-town life of main street surrounded by rural back roads and cotton farms.  The people are poor, redneck and overcome by institutionalised racism, although despite this some of Grisham's characters are specifically not racist, and it seems that while unwritten rules are followed, racial harmony and even friendship are possible.

The two stories in the collection that stand out for me are the first, Blood Drive and the last, Funny BoyBlood Drive describes the road trip of three young men who drive from Clanton, the small town of Ford County that features in the stories, to Memphis to donate blood to their relation who's been injured in a workplace accident.  It's an entertaining farce, told with fine detail and a sense of the ridiculous.  Funny Boy, on the other hand, tells of an AIDS sufferer, a member of one of the rich, old white families of Clanton, who returns from California to die in his home town.  The story describes the prejudice against Adrian Keane, how he is rejected by his own family, has to be taken in by a black woman in the negro shanty town, and the consequences of this for both of them.  This story stirs emotions in the reader regarding human behaviour, both the highs and lows.

My favourite among these Grisham books is A Painted House, set on an eighty-acre cotton farm during the 1952 season of cotton picking and told by a narrator who was seven at the time of the novel.  It is essentially about the family who run the farm, Pappy and his wife, their son and daughter-in-law, and Luke, the seven-year-old; these are joined by a group of ten Mexicans who are hired to pick cotton and live in the barn during the picking, and a group of seven "hill people" who come down from the Ozarks each year for the picking and have tents to pitch in the farmyard.  The descriptions are masterly, detailing the oppressive summer weather, the backbreaking work in the rows of cotton, riding the tractor to the "lower forty".  The relations between the three groups on the farm contribute to plenty of adventures, which are told with sympathy and full understanding of the nuances involved.

The first book Grisham wrote, A Time to Kill, is set in Clanton, Ford County, and introduces a recurring theme- the central village square with courthouse, lawyers' offices and plenty of cafes where the lawyer hero can eat breakfast and interact with many of the characters. 

I can only assume this book is not "legal thriller" because we know "who dunnit" from the start.  However there is lots of build up of tension and anticipation of how the court case, the central focus of the plot, will turn out.  It concerns the rape of a negro girl by two white men, and explores how the legal system in this small town would operate and the populace would react if the races in the case were reversed.  Again, there's lots of action, and a great deal about the race relations that exist in the district, as well as much about behind-the-scenes workings of the judicial system.  I read the book in as few sessions as possible to find out what would happen next.

A Time to Kill is not a great book.  In terms of writing quality, maybe I'd relate it Stephen King - a good yarn well told with plenty of authentic detail and not to be forgotten; whereas A Painted House, which I much prefer, has more of Grisham's heart and soul in it and makes me think of John Steinbeck or William Faulkner.  In all these books, the writing is direct and uncomplicated, a pleasure to read. There's no doubt that John Grisham is worthy of attention.                                                     

Monday, 17 September 2012


   While Rob and Anna were visiting Helmy, Perran, Harvey and Theo in Denmark, they made their house at Metung available and we were lucky enough to be able to spend four nights there.  It's a beautiful house in a beautiful setting.

Rob has made extensive alterations to the original house.  The "bay windows" on the left of this pic, as well as the deck, have been extended to get the winter sun.

 From the inside, the same windows.  We had breakfast each morning in this space, with winter sun streaming in from the north-east.  The windows are all double-glazed.

Doortje is in the new kitchen, with beautiful old polished timber bench tops and lots of clever ideas that Rob came up with.  Note all the home grown fruit!

 I was very impressed that the original parts of the house still have their pressed metal ceilings, as seen in this pic taken in the main sitting room.

The main bedroom is almost all new with ensuite etc, but the original ceiling still features and it was very luxurious to wake up each morning to this view!

The original kitchen fireplace now used as a wine rack.  Rob's model Prius and boat can be seen on the shelf.

Rob has done an amazing amount of work in the garden, including these enclosures for berries and vegetables, and lots of citrus fruit which Doortje is sampling.

Here is a corner of the courtyard that overlooks the paddock and eucalyptus forest.

The courtyard fence incorporates this niche with cello - the house has several reminders that it's occupied by a serious cello player.

This wattle in the front yard was in full flower!

This is one of the major places outdoors to contemplate the view, a deck below the house having a view of the lake in the distance.

At the bottom of the hill is Box's Creek and Rob and Anna's boat mooring, a very tranquil place to be, with not another soul around.

We realised as soon as we got back to Frankston how quiet it had been for the previous five days and what a peaceful place to spend time.  Thanks, Rob and Anna, for the opportunity!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Commenters' Essential List

Anyone who reads the comments that accompany blogs, online news articles, etc, can not help noticing the recurring language that is the stock-in-trade of commenters.  I've decided to compile a list of the top 10 examples of expressions that the commenters use without having a clue what they mean but somehow the use bolsters the otherwise meagre argument.

* ironically
* elephant in the room (as in "That poor little elephant, Nuclear, is still standing around in the room going "Pick me, pick me".)
* emperor has no clothes  (do they know the Aesop's fable and its moral?)
* strawman
* ad hominem
* rusted-on (as in supporters of political parties)
* no brainer
* troll
* disingenuous (usually spelt wrong, but a current buzz word)
* luvvies (I think it means left-wing, as in latte etc)
* tribalism (new buzz word)

As is now iconically traditional with my top 10s, there are eleven.  Feel free to make contributions to the list, in the comments below!  Be a commenter!

Thursday, 23 August 2012


During the past couple of weeks I've been scanning lots of print photos from Doortje's collection of photos albums, to create slide shows we can watch on the TV, and disseminate among the kids etc.  Some of the albums had sticky pages and the photos were glued to them so needed to be rescued.  Many of the old photos were fragments which Doortje had reduced with scissors to fit them in, some as small as 20mm square - they were a challenge to scan, but in most cases the digital image is easier to view, although many are quite blurred.

Below is a selection of photos of Doortje, all taken in Gippsland in the 1960s and earlier, except for the last two, taken in the NT.

 Around two years old so taken about the time Doortje came to Australia in 1949.

 Doortje was seven when this was taken for her first communion in 1954.

 Dutch ribbon in her hair, very fashionable at the time, before hair clips.

 Uniform of St Joseph's convent in Maffra.

Taken at the Tinamba farm with Frank around 1958 or 59.

A bit later than the previous pic, again at Tinamba.

Taken in 1963 or a Year 11 school trip to Brisbane.

The height of winter fashion at the Tinamba farm.

Also taken at Tinamba, around seventeen years old.

In the school uniform of Our Lady of Sion, Sale, in year 12.

Done up to the nines for a nurses' dance in Melbourne around 1967.

 Possibly taken at the new house on the Pearsondale farm around 1967.

Doortje is the wild one in this nurses' graduation photo of 1968.

One of my favourites, taken in Ti Tree in 1978 when I was doing developing and printing.

Had to include myself!  Taken in Alice in 1981 with tripod and timer.