Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

24.3.16

Spaghetti with avocado and mushrooms.

In a large pot, cook pasta. When almost done, place a dozen florets of broccoli and a dozen green beans into the same pot. Simmer three minutes. Add a dozen snow peas. Wait a minute, then drain the lot.

Meanwhile, heat some garlic in olive oil in another pan. Add a splash of white wine, some cracked black pepper, a dozen sliced button mushrooms and an avocado sliced into segments. Cook until mushrooms are almost soft, then add half a cup of cream, or more to taste. Reduce.

Arrange pasta and green vegetables in bowls, pour over mushroom, avocado and cream sauce.

21.3.16

The tyranny of virtue: my diversity's bigger than your diversity.

Consulting firm Deloitte explains its 'diversity' policy:
The approach to innovation leverages diversity and inclusion of people regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, faith or disability.
So far so good. One of everything, like the child in the lolly shop. But consultants Deloitte should have consulted their mates over at PwC:
PwC senior executive Mark Allaby stood down from the board of the Australian Christian Lobby this month because his ACL work was in conflict with the values of the corporation for which he worked.
A firm of business consultants decides its values trump those of a religious organisation? Now I've heard everything. Diversity-ridden PwC rationalises the decision:
"When it comes to employee participation on external boards, if a conflict arises between an employee's board role and the best interests of PwC, we would request that the employee step down from that board," a PwC spokesman said of the matter.
The spokesman does not disclose how PwC regards the governing board of a religious organisation as a potential 'conflict' with PwC; nor how its much-vaunted diversity policy is suddenly subordinate to its 'best interests'. However, a clue can be found in PwC's website:
PwC have a focus on five dimensions of diversity - gender, cultural background, disability, and sexual orientation and generational (sic).
No mention of faith.

At half-time, it's a close game. Deloitte, six diversities; PwC five. Anything can happen in the second half. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, reporter Rick Morton nails the game:
PwC and a host of other corporate giants in Australia are paid-up members of ACON's Pride in Diversity program, which is a bit like the RSPCA free-range egg inspection racket: a fee for approval arrangement. Corporations can pay Pride in Diversity an annual membership rate starting from $2600 (plus GST) for small businesses ... ranging to $8600 for the biggest clients. Gold members ... donate an extra $5000 on top of these rates. ... There is no auditing ...

16.3.16

Vinyls records mentioned in two successive posts.

Somewhere in this tangled web, someone asked which music albums had, to quote, 'stayed with you'.

Now, I think the expression 'stayed with you' was intended to mean 'stayed in your consciousness'; in other words, your all-time favourites. But the figurative interpretation meant you could bend the list to please your peers. They can't physically look into your record cabinet.

So I decided to take the expression literally. I once owned hundreds of LP records, but over the years they dwindled in number. Of the remaining, some I will never throw out; others are rubbish and I should have binned them years ago.

Here are ten albums that have stayed with me: literally.

1. Running Down the Road by Arlo Guthrie. Famous for being the son of Woodie and his cult 23-minute hit 'Alice's Restaurant', Arlo Guthrie's 1969 release ticked all the boxes for post-flower-power motorcycle-riding hippies. The record belonged to my sister, and I kept it for safe-keeping after her death in 1981.
2016 rating: like riding a Triumph Trophy motorcycle without a helmet.

2. The Seekers by the Seekers. The first album by Australia's pet pop group, now in their dotage but still performing, zombie-like, at farewell performances. My father bought this album of folk standards in 1965 and I rescued (as in, stole) it from a pile of 1980s pop rubbish that my mother kept buying from op shops and adding to her overcrowded record drawer. (Smokey, anyone? Yep, my mother dragged home a 1979 Smokey album in 2001.) Pre-fame, the Seekers produced uncannily beautiful music. One listen to Judith Durham’s voice on 'All My Trials' and you'll never be a Seekers cynic again. 'Georgy Girl' might be the signature hit, but the Seekers' mainstream hits pale in comparison to this pre-flower power treasure.
2016 rating: the Sidney Myer Music Bowl lives.

3. Harvest by Neil Young. Every time I bought a record, I wrote the date inside the cover. This one reads 1 December 1973. 'A Man Needs a Maid' and 'There's a World' were recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra under David Meecham at Barking Town Hall, London. Rock combined with swirling orchestral arrangements had lasted decades and this was almost the end of the era, probably due to cost. Disco and its bastard child, bad electronic music, was a grim, cheap shadow just over the horizon.
2016 rating: old man take a look at your life.

4. Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield. Purchased 14 January 1974. Serial no. V20001, monochrome twins on label. The Piltdown man is Mike screaming onto sped-up tape which was then mixed at normal speed.
2016 rating: out-progged the prog rockers.

5. Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. Purchased 12 December 1974 from Brashs, Elizabeth Street. Back cover: "This Quadraphonic record is produced by the SQ system which permits the reproduction of sound from four separate channels when a special SQ decoder is used in association with suitable amplifiers and four loudspeakers."
2016 rating: matter of fact, it's all dark.

6. For Little Ones by Donovan. Produced by Mickie Most. A 1967 album virtually lost to the world, possibly because its title makes it sound like a children's record. Inside the psychedelic artwork are twelve all-acoustic tracks by Donovan based on folk, myth and fairy tale. An extraordinarily good album, regarded by some as his best work.
2016 rating: summer of love.

7. Peer Gynt Suite/From Holberg’s Days/Wedding Day at Troldhaugen by Greig. Bamberg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Wilhelm Schuchter. Purchased 1974. First of many World Record Club purchases and the only one I kept. Price, $2.97 postage included. Getting these, and others, in the mail was a joy. I'd arrive home from school, rip open the flat cardboard parcel and discover classical music on my white Kenwood stereogram in my own room.
2016 rating: pining for the fjords.

8. 1984 Grand Final by the Captain and the Major. Yes, in the days before vision, radio stations sold their call of the game on LP vinyl. This was the pre-McAvaney era when commentators were 'callers' and never over-dramatised the action. There is barely a raised voice in the most dramatic of last quarters when Jack Dyer and Ian Major describe the action as Essendon, under a glowering sky, destroy 19 years of heartbreaking loss - and the Hawks - in thirty minutes of possibly the best football ever heard.
2016 rating: 3KZ is football.

9. Romper Room by unattributed. No idea how this soundtrack of a children's television program came into my possession. There is no mention of author, presenter, singer or musicians on the cover, but the character Mr Do Bee has a registered trademark next to his name. A worldwide franchise, television stations bought the rights and produced it with their own talent. It pre-dated Sesame Street in its sanctimonious altruism. The cover notes: Romper Room provides education in the home ... The idea was to make learning seem like play and make playing a way to learn. Tracks include 'Bend and Stretch', 'The Punching Clown Song', 'Punchinello', 'Punch Ball' and 'Galloping to Romper Room'. My little sister used to watch the program and had a Mr Do Bee hand puppet.
2016 rating: punch drunk.

10. Nashville Skyline by Bob Dylan. From the days when Bob sounded less like a frog and more like ... Arlo Guthrie. 'I Threw It All Away' is a lost masterpiece now known only to Dylan fans. Johnny Cash sings on 'Girl From the North Country'.
2016 rating: lay lady lay.

11.3.16

A shorter history of alternative medicine.

One day in 1982 I picked up a heavy table at work and my life changed.

It wasn't the weight; it was the spread. The table was six feet long. I had it overhead, but it moved. I tried to move with it, but my feet held the ground and something shifted in my back. I thought someone had shot me.

They used to call it a slipped disc. An uncle of mine in the 1960s had a 'slipped disc' and couldn't walk. The term was graphic: it made me think he had a lopsided 45rpm record inside his torso.

I carried the virtual bullet around in my back for ten long agony-filled weeks. Doctors gave me painkillers. A chiropractor fussed delicately over my back with spindly fingers and then, without warning, folded me in two; the biggest mood swing I have ever experienced in a medical specialist, if that's what chiropractors are. Nothing worked.

It was worst after sitting. If you have back trouble, throw out your chairs. The chair is to the back sufferer what the wheel was to a medieval London felon. It will break you.

Time went by. I racked up the medical visits. I saw someone in Caulfield who put a metal gadget like a miniature car jack under my back, propped little wedges like door-stoppers adjacent to L5 and L6, and then released the jack. Part of my spine would suddenly drop half an inch or so.

I moved on to a chiropractor in Moonee Ponds. He was good. We used to have great chats. He told me he was always going off to chiropractors' conferences. I visited him for so long that I saw him through three phases. He learnt these at the conferences. His first phase was standard chiropractic, so he just worked on my back. In his next phase, he believed everything came from the feet, so he adjusted my ankles. The last time I saw him he was into Zoroastrianism and chanted while treating me. My back pain outlasted all these phases.

Years later I moved house and found another chiropractor. The first one hadn't bothered with x-rays, but the new one wanted to know what was going on in there. He pinned the x-rays on the light box with great drama and pointed to the murky bits of the image with a long stick, nodding tellingly. What a shock. It was a mess. I was surprised I could even walk. But the chiropractor had the answer: he put me down for two visits a week for twelve weeks, dropping to once a week after that.

Later, a running coach recommended an osteopath. The osteopath was a long way away. But that was good. It made every journey a pilgrimage. When you go a long way for a cure, it helps you believe. I had to go to East Kew, or Far Kew as it is known colloquially. It was a lovely practice, with flowers and soft music and new magazines and comfortable chairs in the waiting room. The osteopath had a certificate on his surgery wall saying he was immediate past president of the osteopath's society, so that meant he was good. It was certainly hard to get an appointment. Most of his clients were well-dressed East Kew ladies of that typical affluent upper middle class demographic. I wondered how they did their backs. It probably wasn't through lifting heavy tables, but that was none of my business. The things you think of when sitting in a waiting room.

The osteopath's technique was to open up energy paths. They were blocked through my ankles, right hip and right knee. How he knew, I have no idea. But he knew. In the past, I had had injuries to those precise locations. A broken right ankle, several severe sprains of the left, right hip damaged in a heavy fall, and bad knees. He got the energy flowing like the Merri Creek after a deluge.

I should point out here the pain was not continuous or even continual. It was random, and separated by periods of good health in which I lived normally, lifted heavy objects, broke up old driveways, dug up tree stumps, and competed in national level athletics. Back pain episodes were never triggered by major physical trauma, but a small movement like twisting slightly to adjust a picture on a wall, that kind of thing.

One cash-strapped day at the height of the GFC, my back popped out when I bent over to pick up a piece of Lego.

I did a calculation and decided I couldn't afford to go to the osteo that week. Or the next week. I would get through this episode without a pilgrimage.

A week later, when my back was considerably better without intervention, I did another calculation. I arrived at $60,000. It's not really that much when you consider that was almost thirty years' worth. $20,000 a decade. $2,000 a year. $1,000 every six months; an average of about two chiropractor, physio or osteopath visits a month, cost-averaging the fee from $40 to the current $100.

But still, I could have bought a house with it then.

I decided to adopt a new strategy, not that I now had any real choice. I would go cold turkey.

I haven't seen a chiropractor for six years. Back pain episode frequency has gradually diminished, and the recovery periods are getting shorter. I had long been aware that the kind of x-rays that showed the 'damage' in my back all those years ago will also reveal similar 'damage' in people with no symptoms. Conversely, x-rays of those with symptoms may not show any evidence of injury. So we can forget that piece of outright patient recruiting.

But it seems it goes further. The other day I was jogging (on grass - only ever on grass these days - at St Bernard's oval) with some running friends. One, a GP, was telling me she had been present at a physiotherapists' conference at which a delegate had given a speech suggesting that in some circumstances physiotherapy actually delayed recovery in some patients experiencing back pain. Apparently, the speech brought the house down. And not in a nice way.