Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fennel is Fabulous

I admit to an ingrained prejudice against this vegetable. Anything that grows wild alongside the roads and walkways can't be that good. Plus it tastes of aniseed and I detest liquorice. So for the last 40 years I have ignored the enormous stands in Wattleup, Spearwood and Bibra Lake.

Last week Kevin visited some friends and Marina offered sliced raw fennel as a snack. He loved it - but then, he also loves liquorice. I remained unimpressed when he raved about it.

Then I read a piece in some paper or magazine that promoted braised fennel. Still unimpressed.

However, on my weekly visit to the vegetable market down the hill, I spied fennel at a really cheap price - 3 bulbs for $1 - so I bought some. I brought it home and Kevin sliced some up for a snack. I didn't like it at all, and he wasn't that enthusiastic about consuming the rest on his own. I could have dumped the remainder in the compost, but my Scottish ancestry kicked in.

Google has umpteen recipes for fennel. I ended up doing my own version as usual. Dinner tonight was great. Lamb cutlets, rice cooked in chicken stock, green beans and braised fennel.

I loved the fennel. I am now a convert and like most newly converted I want everyone to share my revelation.

Here is my recipe for braised fennel.

3 (well 2-1/2 tonight because of the bit Kevin had cut off) smallish bulbs fennel
2 cloves garlic
6 spring onions
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 Tbs butter
1/4 c verjuice

Chop the onions and garlic. Slice the fennel horizontally in thin slices. Strip the leaves from the thyme stalks.
Melt the butter in a frypan on low heat. Soften onions and garlic.
Increase heat, add sliced fennel and thyme leaves and toss till mixture starts to brown.
Lower heat to lowest point, cover pan and cook for 15-20 minutes.
Remove lid, add verjuice and increase heat, stirring till liquid evaporates and mixture is slightly caramelised.

YUM!! We may now take a spade on our next walk at Bibra Lake.

I still don't like liquorice though.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Mr Rudd's education plans

The Prime Minister has made a few grandiose statements about his education policy. One of the statements suggest that the government would sack Principals of non-performing schools.

I have seen a few non-performing schools and I am sure the Principals are not the main factor in this non-performance. Principals can, of course, inspire staff and students and I did see this at a large high school I worked at for 12 years. The students at this high school; approximately 2,000 in number, were from middle class to wealthy families. Many Asian immigrants moved into the school catchment area to be eligible for their kids to attend.

That being said, there are schools which have a cohort of students largely sitting out their time of compulsory education. It is PC not to admit that less wealthy areas do have a population that is not craving higher education. Several schools spring to mind and there is often a 'them versus us' attitude between staff and students.

We sent our kids to government schools and by and large they had a good education. I am a strong supporter of government schools and have always thought that private schools have two bob each way. If a child mucks up at a private school, he or she can be expelled and have to return to the government school system. It is almost impossible for a rude or violent student to be expelled from a government school.

Today I visited a large private girls' school to collect a couple of computers from their IT people. I was impressed; very impressed. Presbyterian Ladies College in Peppermint Grove is set in Perth's most affluent suburb with fine buildings and facilities. As I walked around the campus I noticed young ladies in very proper school uniform walking quietly around in a dignified manner; their uniforms not dishevelled. The staff I met seemed free of the constant need to discipline students.
Government schools have uniforms, but most of the time the wearing of them is compromised by adding baggy trousers etc.

I would have liked to spend a couple of years teaching there. That being said I enjoyed immensely my 12 years at Willetton Senior High and many ex-students keep in touch with 'the old fart Lock .'

Written by Kevin, using Joan's account

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

the born loser

Just lately I am thinking that I qualify for the born loser badge. I still haven't set up my DVD recorder to transfer old BetaCord tapes to DVD. My cousin who is a Techo has had an unsuccessful attempt to do it and gave up.

I saw a analogue to digital converter for sale on eBay and bought it for $85.00. It arrived yesterday and bugger me that also won't work as it should. After three or four hours of fiddling I managed to record sound and motion, but it was scrambled and heavily pixelated. Fortunately the bloke who had it up for auction made an immediate refund and I posted it back to his Melbourne address this morning.

The next move with the DVD recorder is to take it into the big Sony store near us and let them see if it is just me or there really is something wrong with it. Times like these....and only times like these, I wish we had a 15 year old grandson.

Our daughter Helen wishes to remain at her current school next year, but as she hasn't gained permanency yet her boss cannot do anything to help. Appointments are made from Silver City (education HQ). She rang the District Office and someone there said that her boss can recommend her. Conflicting opinions! Helen is putting the heavies on me to ring a colleague in Staffing to find out what the real story is. Neil taught as the same high school with me...or did I teach with him? Anyway, I should be able to get some info from the horse's mouth. A progress report later.

Kevin wrote this post, not Joan.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


I have been putting off phoning a friend who is dying in a Queensland hospice. I wrote him a letter, but not had the courage to speak with him until today. Other colleagues from my Papua New Guinea teaching days assured me that he is in good spirits and enjoys a chat.

When I rang him he was indeed in good spirits and told me of his daily visitors and phone calls from all over Australia. He mentioned that he had intended to visit W.A. again this September, but wont be able to make it. He has made a list of contacts for his friends to ring upon his departure. Very organised is Bob. I will ring weekly for a short chat.

Our son, under the influence of 'medication' gave a front guard a bit of a scrape on Joan's car. I took it to our tame panelbeater to get a 'cashy' done. He quoted me $350 folding money for the job. I figured I would make an insurance claim and only pay the $100 excess. It turns out that after a previous dingle the insurance company upped the excess to $400, so we went ahead with the 'cashy' and all is as new again. Might look into changing companies.
A before and after
My 'upside down' tomatoes are doing well. I planted two varieties; cherry tomatoes and some Grosse Lisse. The cherry tomatoes are growing much faster than the Grosse Lisse. Go small people! My brother wants to know how to cook an upside-down tomato.??

Another group of Papua New Guinea colleagues is returning to PNG for a look see in a couple of weeks. PNG is an expensive place to visit and Port Moresby, the capital, has the reputation of being the most dangerous city in the world. See here. Haven't they heard of Baghdad? I declined an offer to accompany them as they were to spend some time in the highlands. I was mostly on the coast when I/we taught there and the highlands is also 'wild west' country with lots of AK47s and holdups, rape and murders are common place. Not for me.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Grumpy old people

Over the last few days I have noticed that there are a few grumps amongst my family and friends. Most of the time there is reason to be a bit offside about things and sometimes a bit of yelling is a good release of pent up frustrations.

I have a friend who has problems with supermarkets and their specials. He claims that advertised specials are not available when he fronts up to buy them even in the early mornings. He says that the specials (promotions by the suppliers) are out the back, but not displayed on shelves until the special offers are over, thus reaping profits at the expense of customers. He often lets them know about it too. Loudly!

My wife Joan, normally unruffled by supermarkets, came home cranky because Woolworths were relaying ( a ruse to get shoppers to see different products whilst searching ) their shelves. Nobody knew where the beef stock was and they weren't too helpful with suggestions. She says she walked each aisle at least 3 times. I guess that's what self-serve is about.

Brother Graham took his motor scooter battery back to the supplier under warranty and was told that as he hadn't used the scooter for 4 wintry weeks the warranty was void. Say what!? He rang the agent supplying the battery who through a few questions deduced that the scooter was made in China (isn't everything?) and that was the reason it didn't make it past 11 months. The battery itself was made in Taiwan. Graham was more than a bit vocal.

Another friend doesn't like being in supermarket checkout queues when there are other registers without checkout chicks working and tells them so.

I, myself, did a somewhat stupid thing today and roundly cursed myself. I have been bidding on eBay for a number of laptops for a teacher's daughter. They were all from the same seller and I carefully read the description of all but the one I won. Leading up to the finish of the auction I reread the details of the one it seemed that I had a good chance of winning.....'Condition Poor'. I won it and will have to refurbish it and resell it. I might lose a bit of money. Bugger!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Upside down tomatoes

I have been preparing for spring, planting tomatoes, silver beet etc. Our house guest, Jennifer, is from the U.S. state of Oregon and suggested that upside down tomatoes could work for me. They seem to be the latest fad in the states.

The idea is that some sort of receptacle; in my case an old hanging planter pot, has holes in the bottom and seedlings point down. The claimed advantages are that they do not need to be staked, creepy crawlies can't get at them and that the crop is at eye level. Sounds reasonable!
They aren't protected from fruit fly and other flying bugs.

I bought some Grosse Lisse seedlings and teased the foliage through the holes in the bottom, filled it with good compost and hung it on a roof gutter to see what would transpire. This morning the seedlings are recovering from the transplanting and rough handling. I am concerned for these tomatoes though. Nature has dictated that they should emerge from the soil and head towards the sun and I am turning their life upside down. Will the roots grow up instead of down?? Will they have a mental breakdown and turn into a vegie?

Old wheel barrows are good planters for the winter as they can be moved around to get the best sun. For the Silver Beet and Bok Choi the white cabbage moth is the enemy. My father used a badminton racquet to dispatch his cabbage moths.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Birthday bash

Haddon has hit the magic 70. There was a time when, fighting the prostate cancer, he thought he wasn't going to make it. But here he is with the prospect of quite a few years left. His chemo has reduced his PSA to around 6 and we hope that continuing doses will bring it down to normal. The Chemo has not been kind to him. Hair loss and toes and finger nails ravaged.
The Birthday Boy

It was a nice sunny day in his Baliesque back yard....a panama hat sort of day with plenty of food and drinks. Luckily we cadged a ride home.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Georgian conflict

The Sudetenland

Older readers and historians probably know a bit about the Sudetenland: a part of Germany annexed to Czechoslovakia with a large German speaking population mostly loyal to the Mother Country. Hitler used that loyalty to force Britain & France to agree to turn a blind eye to his repossession. Along with the territory regained, Czechoslovakia lost most of its mountain defensive positions and when Adolph later invaded Czechoslovakia the Czechs had little defence opportunities.

The current situation in Georgia where an independent Georgia has a couple of provinces with largely Russian citizens wanting to be back with Mother Russia parallels the Sudetenland.

The nice western-looking President of Georgia, Mikheil Saaskashvili apparently decided to give the separatist in the provinces of South Ossetia and Abkahasia a bit of a pasting . Silly man; he should have read up on his history. Of course the Russians retaliated and Pres quickly called for a cease fire and talks. Georgia has the ‘support’ of the U.S. but I doubt that they want to try their military against the Russians.. Let’s hope George doesn’t do more than a bit of bluster.

I am predicting that the Russians will want to do a ‘Sudetenland’ on those two Georgian provinces.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The look-see in my digestive tract went well. I have a small Hiatus Hernia at the entrance to my stomach which is not a real problem. Joan drove me home from the hospital and I was very tired and had a nice two hour nap. Today I am still tired, but figure that tomorrow should see me back to normal. The anaesthetist told me that he was giving me two small doses of anaesthetics. He said that after the Gastroscopy he would talk to me and give me the second shot before the Endoscopy. I did wake up and a nurse was at my side and she informed me that it was all over: missed that second conversation somewhere.

I don't know how it happened but I am back collecting computers for an overseas project. The workshop is filling up with older Macs which are suitable for the English language programme I am installing. As people hear what I am doing they offer their machines up. Many have been superseded and reside in a back shed. The only cost involved in these oldies is a P Ram battery at about $10., although I imagine these batteries in Thailand will be considerably cheaper. The P Ram (PRAM) battery controls things like time and date and such things as printer selection. The battery is not terribly important if you are not concerned about date and time and can manually select a printer each time you wish to print.
At the moment I have 11 Macs in the shed with another three promised.

Something that I can't work out is how I have amassed a heap of power cables from computers. If you need a jug cord come over and take a pick.

Today I had a phone call from the TEAC agent in Perth. The software update to enable our set-top box to receive channel 9 was ready. A $5 fuel trip and a 15 minute wait and it was all fixed. I am still amazed that there has not been a press report about channel 9 changing their broadcast settings and thus shutting out hundreds of people trying to watch their broadcast in Digital TV.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Colonoscopy and Gastroscopy

I am booked in tomorrow at SJOG Hospital at Murdoch for both a Colonoscopy and a Gastroscopy; which means that doc is going to have a look down and up inside me. I have had them before and they have not been unpleasant; in fact I find it amazing that as the anaesthetist slips a little needle in the back of my hand and I ask him 'how long will I be out' he explains that it was all over an hour ago.

Just a few minutes ago Joan read the instructions ( I thought I had done that already) and it seems that I shouldn't have been eating any solids over the last 24 hours as well as no milk, milk products,pips or seeds,stock cubes and food colouring. Oops.

The worst part about this procedure is the clean-out. There is a foul tasting brew to be drunk causing diarrhoea. For me I start this evening at 6pm by drinking a litre of this stuff, then another litre at 7pm and then another litre at 7am tomorrow morning. If the discharge is not clear yellow I take another litre at 8am. I am due at the hospital at 12.30pm well and truly flushed out.

The reason for this procedure is that my father died of a secondary cancer of the liver which originated in his bowel.

8.25pm Update. I have almost downed two litres of the muck and watched Joan devour a lovely Thai chicken curry whilst I fast. She is drinking her third glass of Bubbly (Binge Drinker!) as I make dashes to the toilet. Not sure what is going to happen at bed time. Oops time to dash again. Promise to wash my hands thoroughly before typing more.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Nightclub violence

I talked with my cousin Val today. She was very upset because her grandson had been viciously attacked in Northbridge and is to have surgery to reconstruct his cheekbones and insert plates into his skull. He was attending a 21st birthday party at a function room above a nightclub in Northbridge. He is 18, doesn't drink and gets bored pretty easily when others around him get a bit intoxicated. He and a couple of his mates left early and upon hitting the footpath encountered a group of young blokes blocking the path. They attempted to move through the mob and were abused and he was king hit from behind and went down on his knees. A second blow put him on the ground and a few kicks to the head did all the damage. Fortuitously a couple of the boys in blue were only about 50 yards away and arrested two blokes for GBH. Grandson spent some time in hospital.

The mates of the attackers claimed that they didn't start the whole thing and so Crime Stoppers and the police asked Channel 7 to do an interview to see if more witnesses could be found. As it happens, several witnesses phoned Crime Stoppers and there was no need to screen the interview. The cops believe they have enough evidence to win in court.

Currently running on TV is a dramatised Public Service Announcement about such incidents. New legislation is being drafted to come down heavily on 'One Punch' deaths of which there have been a number over the last few years. Fortunately at age 68, my clubbing days are over.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Fremantle Boys High School

Today we drove to Mosman Park to join a group of friends celebrating John’s birthday. He seemed to enjoy the company, probably without really knowing what we were all there for. The weather was nice and sunny and warm for this time of the year and everyone enjoyed a good get together. As with all these get-togethers, the guest of honour is usually secondary to the interaction of his/her guests.

Driving back along Stirling Highway we passed what was the Fremantle Boys North Fremantle Annexe. I was sent there in Year Eight along with a couple of hundred other drongos of the tested non academic herd.

The annexe was a tough school. Most of the staff considered the student body the enemy and dished out harsh punishment like a reform school. That was pretty well the norm then. Quite a few of the teachers were returned servicemen and I wonder whether they did much in the way of formal teacher training.

My form teacher, George Elliot, was nicer than most of them and, as was the case then, taught sitting down at a desk. He had a very flowery signature which was usually accompanied by a mark out of ten for whatever we were doing. He liked me and I usually scored above 5/10. On Friday during the last period of the day he would attempt to read to the class from Beau Geste. Unfortunately as soon as he started to read he would fall asleep and then the lads would act up. I can’t remember when exactly he started to read to us, but I do remember that he never finished the novel.
The Italian boys usually brought Rosella sauce bottles of homemade wine for the Friday reading and had a tipple, passing the bottle around. Others were not so restrained and publicly fondled themselves. We were not to be the doctors and lawyers of W.A.

The Art teacher was Mr Freutus who spent almost all the year teaching us Der Flet Vash.
The Phys Ed teacher was a bastard who kneed kids savagely when he thought they deserved it. The English master was very gentle and these days I’m sure unkind students would muse over his sexual preferences. All the boys would go to Manual Arts at a technical centre in East Fremantle for one day a week where we would learn to use a three pound jack plane and a try square and marking knife. No machinery for kids then. In the blacksmith shop, boys would wait until Mr Smith left the workshop and plunge their red hot metal work into the oil bath to see if a firestorm would result: usually just filling the workshop with thick white smoke.
Fremantle Boys' High School est. 16 October Fti cinema.

In year 9, we all moved into Fremantle Boys High School to make room for another lot of losers. In Freo we had to come to grips with a new lot of teachers...sort out how you should act in their class and what they would punish you for. The Science master, Dickie Borman, was similar to his cousin, Reichsminister Martin Borman and dished out punishment at random. In his science lab, students were seated on timber lab stools. These wooden stools were designed by Dickie (I’m sure) so that the adipose tissue on ones backside formed a small but obvious roll of flesh that presented itself to Dickie’s cane as walked around the lab. A sudden yelp signalled a Dickie strike. For more serious misdemeanors Dickie took you into his inner sanctum and gave you a good caning on the hands. Over the door of his store room was a notice saying 'lose faith all ye who enter here'.

Friday afternoon was sport time where students went to various nearby ovals where teachers waited for them. I recall biking it to North Fremantle oval for my dose of footy and being only one of three kids to turn up. The teacher gave us a card stamped with the school logo telling us to make sure we brought the card with us to school on Monday. Monday saw all the card holders dismissed from the assembly and the rest of the mob numbering probably 150 kids getting 6 of the best from an overworked staff.

It was not politic to brag about not being caned. That could be very detrimental to the shape of your nose. Just lie doggo and keep mum about it all.

After Year 9 I left that esteemed establishment and did a Pre Apprenticeship course at Fremantle Technical School before getting a placement at the State Engineering Works as an apprentice turner-machinist.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Olympics

Australia's Olympians have arrived in Beijing and will probably grab a pile of gold medals during the games. Surely other nations must be wondering how a nation of around 20 million can do so well.

ABC television had a segment last week showing how Australian scientists at the Australian Institute of Sport are helping with expertise and lots of government money. Back in the cold war days we were bitching that the eastern bloc had government run training camps to win gold. Times have changed.

Swimmer Felicity Galvez says that she missed out on a spot in the Australian swim team because Speedo couldn't find her the magic costume LZR because of her diminutive size. These swim suits retail at around $A900.00. This must give wealthy nations an unfair advantage over poor nations. I cannot imagine East Timor being able to rustle up a scientist let alone LZR suits for its swim team. I am pretty sure East Timor won't be competing these games.

This sounds like I know a bit about the Olympics...not so. I look at the Olympics as a platform for nationalism. It has always been so.

Howard is a friend who taught in Papua New Guinea at the same time as I did in the early 1960s. We caught up last year after 46 years when I visited him and his wife in Brisbane. He has Parkinsons disease and when I told him about my brother-in-law having the deep brain stimulation operation he was most interested, He rang a couple of days ago to tell me the operation to insert the electrodes into his brain was imminent. He was seeking assurance that bro-in-law's operation was successful. I explained that although the severe dyskinesia was now almost completely gone, his obsession to fix things that didn't need fixing was still there. Howard admitted that he also had an obsession, that of spending money especially on travel and his wife has had to hide credit cards and the cheque book. He knows what he is doing is dumb, but can't help himself.

Another colleague of Howard and me is Bob who also lives in Brisbane. When I visited last September, Bob was doing well after treatment for the Jack Dancer. It seems that he has had a major relapse and is in a hospice with only weeks to live. I have his phone number and postal address at the hospice but am hesitant to call and don't know what I could write in these circumstances.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


I am quite unsympathetic for people who invest in a scheme that looks too good to be true.

Firepower was such a scheme. The company promised motorists huge increases in fuel economy with great benefits to the world's environment all achieved by dropping a pill in your fuel tank. People of my age, 68, would have read of similar scams in the U.S. from the 30s on.

The owner of the now defunct company has done a runner and the $80,000,000 seduced out of investors and sports stars has all gone...somewhere. The promoter is apparently a charismatic bloke who managed to get himself in photo opportunity shoots with presidents, pollies and sports stars. There was a lot of spin about the company with stories about the Russian rail system and military entering into a deal with Firepower.

A number of prominent Western Australians look like getting in the poo after financial advisers tipped them off to a good thing and they bought shares at 1c and sold them anywhere between 35c and $1.40. Sounds like salting the mine.

Back in the 1950s water/alcohol injection was popular mainly because it enjoyed success in the P51 fighter aircraft. It involved a venturi system sucking a water/alcohol mixture into the carburetor once the engine was running and warm. The water/alcohol system was turned off before one arrived at ones destination and the car finished up running on petrol. People claimed benefits, but it didn't get off the ground like the P51.

There should be an Investors' Bible with a bold heading of... If it Looks Too Good to be True...It Probably Is.