Saturday, 31 March 2012


“We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another.” - Lucretius
A quarter of the year is already over! How time flies and how our lives seem to rush, like the station lights seen from a speeding express train as it flits by in the underground. The city never sleeps and the cars never stop, more of them every day, every night. Clock hands flit around the dial as though they are on fast forward.

Time to sit back and spend some time slowing down and seeking serenity this Saturday night… Here is a wonderful song from the great Italian singer-songwriter, Franco Battiato. It is his “Ombra Della Luce” (The Shadow of Light).

Rescue me from opposing forces,
At night in my sleep when I’m not aware,
When my path is uncertain,
And never leave me,
Never let me down…

This post is part of the Saturday Sareenity meme.

Thursday, 29 March 2012


“Autumn’s the mellow time.” - William Allingham
We have had a lovely autumn day, fine and warm, sunny and very pleasant. The people in the street seemed relaxed, happy that it was Friday. This evening it’s still very mild but as the sun goes down the temperature also falls, ensuring that we have a cool night that will make for a good sleep. We are enjoying the bounties of Autumn: The last well-ripened tomatoes, grapes, apples, plums and other stone fruit, new season’s nuts. What better way to celebrate the autumn weather and the harvest than with an Apple Butterscotch Tart?

Apple Butterscotch Tart

3 sheets frozen shortcrust pastry, thawed
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup golden syrup
30g butter
1⁄3 cup plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
10 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, sliced
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 tsp caster sugar

Grease a 20cm springform pan. Cut 1 sheet of pastry into 4 strips, lengthways. Place a strip along each edge of second pastry sheet, pressing lightly to join, to make one large square. Ease prepared pastry into pan, pressing into base. Trim edges. Prick pastry with fork and chill for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, place brown sugar, golden syrup and butter in a large saucepan. Stir on low heat until melted and smooth. Simmer for 2 minutes.
Place flour and spices in a large bowl. Add apple, toss to coat. Add to syrup. Stir to coat.
Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until apples are just tender.
Preheat oven to 180°C or 160°C fan. Line shell with non-stick baking paper. Fill with rice or pie shells. Blind bake for 15 minutes. Remove rice (or shells) and paper, bake for a further 5 minutes.
Spoon apples into pastry shell. Using a 4 cm round cutter, cut about 30 rounds from remaining pastry. Starting from the outside edge of the pie, arrange rounds, overlapping slightly, over apple filling. Brush pastry lightly with beaten egg and sprinkle over caster sugar. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden and crisp. Serve the apple tart in wedges with vanilla ice-cream.

Bon Appétit!

This post is part of the Food Friday meme.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012


“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” - Winston Churchill
 I had some rather bad news again today, as another friend of mine was just diagnosed with cancer. I guess this is to be expected in my age group as most cancers tend to cluster around middle age at the time of diagnosis. The most cancers are diagnosed in individuals around the age of 55 years. As most of my friends and colleagues are approaching this age, it is to be expected that some of them will be unlucky enough to develop a cancer. This is especially true living in a country like Australia where, 1 in 2 Australians will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85. Cancer is a leading cause of illness and death in Australia: An estimated 114,000 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in Australia in 2010 and more than 43,000 people are estimated to have died from cancer in 2010. Nearly 15,000 more people die each year from cancer than 30 years ago, this is due mainly to population growth and ageing.

However, the good news is that the death rate from cancer (number of deaths per 100,000 people) has fallen by 16%. More than 60% of cancer patients will survive for more than five years after diagnosis. The survival rate for many common cancers has increased by 30 per cent in the past two decades. This is due to earlier and more accurate diagnosis, better forms of treatment and increased supportive and adjunctive care for patients.

The most common cancers in Australia (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers, which are very common and easily cured) are cancers of the prostate, colorectal (bowel), breast, melanoma and lung cancer. Around 434,000 people are treated for one or more non-melanoma skin cancers, with 448 people dying in 2007. Cancer costs more than $3.8 billion in direct health system costs (7.2%). $378 million was spent on cancer research in 2000-01, 22% of all health research expenditure in Australia.

As far the individual is concerned of course, these statistics are of little importance and the foremost thought in the sufferer’s mind is: “I have cancer and it might kill me”. A large part of the management of cancer patients has to centre around educating them about their disease and mitigating the fear that they feel. Nowadays, many cancers can be completely cured provided they are diagnosed early and treated appropriately at this early stage.

One of the more common forms of cancer, breast carcinoma, has shown a remarkable improvement in its prognosis over the last 20-30 years. A breast cancer patient’s prognosis depends on the type and stage of cancer as well as their age and general health at the time of diagnosis. If the cancer is limited to the breast, 98% of patients will be alive five years after diagnosis (this figure excludes those who die from other diseases or causes). If the cancer has spread to the regional lymph nodes the five year relative survival drops to 83%. These survival rates are considerably better than the survival rates of some other non-cancerous diseases (for example, Hepatitis C).

I talked to my friend and provided as much support as I could. I encouraged and motivated as much as possible, but most importantly I listened. Allowing a person to unload is often all that need be done in order to lift the burden they carry and to comfort the person. I shall meet my friend face-to-face of course, over the next couple days and be there to give as much reassurance and solace as possible…


“Of all acts of man repentance is the most divine. The greatest of all faults is to be conscious of none.” - Thomas Carlyle

This week, the Greek Orthodox faithful are celebrating the fifth week of Lent, and the liturgical services are reaching their peak in terms of their length and their injunctions to the faithful to repent and ensure the salvation of their soul. Today is the liturgy of the Mégas Kanón (Μέγας Κανών), or “Great Canon”, which is chanted in churches in the vespers of the Wednesday. The Great Canon was composed by St Andrew of Crete and is also known as the Canon of Repentance, as it is a lengthy penitential canon composed in the seventh century AD.

The Great Canon is so called as it consisted originally of 250 troparia, the number of the verses of the nine odes of the Bible. St Andrew wrote a troparion for each verse. Usually Canons have around 30 troparia, about four troparia for each ode. In later times, other hymnologists added to the Great Canon in honour of St Andrew and St Mary the Egyptian, so that today the Great Canon comprises 280 troparia.

The Great Canon is outstanding in its extremely broad use of images and subjects taken both from the Old and New Testaments. As the Canon progresses, the congregation encounters many biblical examples of sin and repentance. The Bible speaks of some individuals in a positive light, and about others in a negative one: The penitents are expected to emulate the positive examples of sanctity and repentance, and to learn from and avoid the negative examples of sin, fallen nature and pride. However, one of the most notable aspects of the Canon is that it attempts to portray the Biblical images in a very personal way easily approachable by every penitent. The Canon is written in such a way that the faithful can find it easy to identify themselves with many people and events found in the Bible.

St Andrew has composed this long Canon such that each one of us is prepared for death. It is in a form of a long and mournful dialogue with his soul. He considers death and sees that the Day of Judgment is fast approaching. He considers his past life, all his deeds, good and bad and the acknowledgment of his sins overwhelms him. The consideration of his life when compared with the personages of the Bible find it lacking in the qualities and actions of the good, and he identifies more with the sinners and the bad. He feels immense guilt and wishes of redemption in order to be able to stand in front of his maker. The only option for him is to repent and be genuinely penitent over his past sins. The last part of the Canon is a heart-felt conversation of the sinner with his blemished soul, where he calls upon it to rise from the blackness and be awakened from its sleep:

My soul, my soul, arise!
Why are you sleeping?
The end is drawing near,
And you will be confounded.
Awake, then, and be watchful,
That Christ our God may spare you,
He Who is present everywhere
And fills all things.

The full text of the Great Canon in English can be found here..

Monday, 26 March 2012


“Death is a part of all our lives. Whether we like it or not, it is bound to happen. Instead of avoiding thinking about it, it is better to understand its meaning. We all have the same body, the same human flesh, and therefore we will all die. There is a big difference, of course, between natural death and accidental death, but basically death will come sooner or later. If from the beginning your attitude is ‘Yes, death is part of our lives’, then it may be easier to face.” - Dalai Lama
Today I had a meeting in the City and right after it I chanced upon the State Funeral of Jim Stynes. This was happening in St Paul’s Cathedral and the police had cordoned off the intersection, stopping all traffic and putting in barriers to manage the large crowd of mourners who had assembled there. It was a solemn and quiet occasion, with the crowds looking genuinely involved and distressed. It was something difficult to ignore and it was even more difficult not to become involved in it. Even tourists who had no idea who Jim Stynes was, stood and watched with interest. I had three people (two with American accents) ask me whose funeral it was. Fortunately, I had my pocket camera with me and I was able to take some photographs of the event, which you can find posted on my photography blog here.

James "Jim" Stynes (Jimbo) OAM (born 23 April 1966) was an Irish former professional Australian Rules footballer who was more recently a businessman, philanthropist, writer, youth worker, qualified teacher and Chairman of Melbourne Football Club since 2008. Jim Stynes was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 2009 and demonstrated great courage by fighting his cancer ever since, and inspired others to do the same.

Born in Dublin, Stynes was brought from Ireland to Australia in the mid 1980s as part of a Ron Barassi inspired program to recruit Irish footballers for the Melbourne Football Club. Described as “Australia’s most successful sporting experiment”, he played his first senior game in 1987 and retired 264 games later in 1998. Jim Stynes devoted his life to helping young Australians. In 1994, he co-founded The Reach Foundation with film director Paul Currie. The Reach Foundation is a non-profit, non-denominational organisation which is committed to supporting young people between 8 -18 years. The aim of Reach is to support young people on their journey to find their own truth, and to follow their dreams.

Reach achieves this by creating a “safe space” for groups of young people to develop trust, openness and the freedom to express their concerns, perceptions, fears and aspirations and to recognise that they are not alone. Reach and Stynes worked together to encourage teenagers to realise their potential and discover their purpose through being made to feel valued and special in a positive and supportive learning environment. Stynes’ professional interest in human behaviour and youth initiative programs over the past 16 years took him all over Australia, America and Ireland.

Jim has received numerous awards for his work with Reach and in the community including Melbournian of the Year (2010), Order of Australia and Churchill Fellowship (2007), and Victorian of the Year (2001 and 2003). On the football field, Stynes entire AFL career was played with the Melbourne Football Club as a ruckman. He is an official legend of the club, being a member of its Team of the Century. His honours include the 1991 Brownlow Medal and four Melbourne Football Club Best & Fairest awards (1991, 1994, 1995, 1997), equalling the club record. His most extraordinary achievement was playing an AFL record-breaking 244 consecutive games between Round 17 1987 and Round 4 1998. Jim was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame in 2003.

In 2004, Stynes’ business life led him with business partner and friend Hugh Ellis to form Pelican and Penguin Childcare. Childcare was a great fit for Jim who saw a unique opportunity when he became concerned over the quality of care provided by some of the larger childcare chains. Beginning with one childcare centre, the pair expanded their business throughout Victoria and Queensland. In September 2010, the inspirational “Every Heart Beats True - The Jim Stynes Story” was released premiering on Channel Nine nationally. The documentary communicated Stynes’ remarkable story.

On 2nd July 2009, Stynes informed the public in a press conference that he had developed cancer. A lump in his back was shown to be melanoma and tests revealed that his cancer had metastasised. He made it clear that he was not stepping down from his role as President of the Melbourne Football Club but instead was taking a break to seek treatment. On 4th April 2010 it was revealed that his condition had worsened and three days later he had surgery for brain metastases. Stynes continued to work during his treatment and participated in the filming of a television documentary about his life and his battle with cancer. Stynes died at his St Kilda home on 20th March 2012, aged 45. He will be cremated, and his ashes scattered at a “treasured spot” he chose before he died. Stynes tackled his cancer in the same courageous manner that he handled all other major challenges in his life. He dealt with the debilitating treatments with fortitude and forbearance and as well as dealing with his own disease, he inspired other sufferers with cancer to fight with all their strength.

Melbourne Football Club players, wearing the club blazers that Stynes had presented to them only days before he died, formed a guard of honour as the hearse drove down Swanston St. In a ceremony that celebrated Stynes’ life, tears mixed with laughter as family and friends remembered the man who came from Ireland as a teenager and left his mark on AFL. The crowd applauded as the hearse was driven to the MCG, where a private wake will be held for family and friends in the Jim Stynes room.

The following poem was read during the funeral service and is fitting for a man who gave so much to so many and inspired even more with his full and fulfilling life. Vale, Jim Stynes…

Do not Stand at my Grave and Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

Mary Elizabeth Frye – 1932

Sunday, 25 March 2012


“The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven, not man’s” - Mark Twain
Last weekend we watched the 2011 Australian movie, “Red Dog” directed by Kriv Stenders and starring Josh Lucas, Rachael Taylor and Keisha Castle-Hughes. The film is based on a true story. Louis de Bernières first wrote a novel based on this story and this was adapted by Daniel Taplitz into the screenplay of the film. The film is basically a feel-good, entertaining feature that has some moments of poignancy. Ultimately, one would call it an offbeat romantic comedy set in the 1970s in Western Australia’s dry and red Pilbara district where iron ore is mined around the town of Dampier.

The plot revolves around episodes in flashback about how a stray dog (“Red Dog”) stays in the mining town and changes the lives of everyone. It starts off when a trucker drives into town and stops at a bar for a cold beer. He finds the bar deserted and in a back room two men holding a dog down, with a third man about to pull the trigger. He is startled and intervenes, putting the men’s plans askew. They all sit down for a beer and slowly and episodically we learn the story of Red Dog, as the townsfolk come into the bar to pay tribute to the dog.

Directed in a no-nonsense, tongue in cheek way by Kriv Stenders, the film has lots of quirky characters and funny situations, without really being forced or contrived. Unlike the Hollywood dog-story-potboiler, “Red Dog” goes against most genre conventions and surprises pleasantly, even the most jaded viewer. There is pathos to provide emotional depth, but the rough and tumble lifestyle of the miners always grounds the viewer into the earthy humour that is such a characteristic of the Australian character, even in the direst adversity.

There is a romantic sub-plot and this occurs between the two leads, John (Josh Lucas) and Nancy (Rachael Taylor) – the American drifter who settles in his mining bus-driving job and the upcoming career woman who starts at the bottom as a secretary. Red Dog adopts John as his owner and this forms the crux of the plot as the various characters negotiate the vicissitudes of fortune. All actors played well, even the ones with the small supporting roles and one could sense that both cast and crew had lots of fun making this film. But “Koko” who plays Red Dog is the real star of the movie and he deserves every bone he was given (and every steak he stole)!

The film explores the themes of loyalty, friendship, isolation, community, love and hardship. It is a wonderful family movie that entertains, amuses and tugs at the heartstrings in turn. It has the qualities of a good, old Australian “yarn” – a story related to one’s friends, which invariably is supposed to be a true-blue story, but which nevertheless is embellished more or less according to the skills of the storyteller. And this is what the film is about, an Australian yarn. Although Red Dog existed (see:, there is no doubt that the story has been peppered liberally with stuff of legend and invented anecdote. A good author has to construct some sort of narrative around the facts and for a movie, the plot has to adhere to certain cinematic conventions. “Red Dog” is not a documentary, it’s a movie, and highly entertaining one at that. Go watch it!


“Some partake of the bounty of the Lord’s favour, which never runs out, while others receive only a handful. Some sit upon thrones as kings, and enjoy constant pleasures, while others must beg for charity.” - Sri Guru Granth Sahib
 For Art Sunday today I am continuing the autumnal theme with a superb painting by Jan Davidszoon De Heem (1606-1684). He was the most important and influential of Dutch still life painters from about 1640 onwards. The painting here, “Still life with Fruit” (ca 1645) is representative of this artist and belongs to an iconographic style called Pronkstilleven (“sumptuous still life”), which he invented. It soon became very popular with the affluent merchants and aristocrats who reveled in the Netherlands’ trading bonanza in the Dutch East Indies. Many of the prosperous middle classes could afford the luxuries of life depicted in these paintings, and their homes were decorated with exotica and expensive furniture and draperies, as well as beautiful oil paintings that were produced in abundance by the many artists of the time.

This popular style of painting enlivened the rooms of many a Dutch home and underlined the owners’ wealth, if there were any doubt in the visitors’ mind. De Heem’s technical brilliance gives the work a seductive realism and the sumptuous scene makes one’s mouth water. Excepting the unseasonal cherries (but what painter could resist putting them in for effect?) all of the luscious fruits depicted are from the rich harvest of Autumn. This is a truly magnificent still life of the time, where the bounty of the earth and the generosity of providence are duly celebrated.

De Heem’s remarkable talent had gained him a considerable reputation and he was very well off himself. He could hardly satisfy the demand of the public for his work. His sons worked together with him in his workshop on the commissions for new paintings. He retouched their work and put his signature on the paintings. Apart from his three sons, he had several apprentices: Michiel Verstylen, Alexander Coosemans, Thomas de Klerck, Lenaert Rougghe, Theodor Aenvanck, Andries Benedetti, Elias van den Broeck, Jacob Marrel, Hendrik Schoock and Abraham Mignon who continued his work.

This painting can be admired in the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.