Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 16 — good Facebook day

I refer there to yesterday, which was quite productive in my Facebook world of real-life friends, relations and ex-students, as well as what in pre-internet days we might have called pen-pals. The next entry of two will catch up on more of that.

But first the good news: my toothache seems to have gone.

And then the bad news: NSW (Greater Sydney in particular) is far from out of the woods when it comes to the Delta strain.

And in The Gong:

Finally, a photo of Sydney in 1901 from the National Library Archives was posted in the Old Sydney Album on Facebook. “George Street, near the corner of Market Street, Sydney 1901. Federation Celebrations.” I gave it a modest colouring:

My note on that:

I remember around 1953-1955 my grandfather Roy Christison telling me about being in the city during these 1901 celebrations, when the country Australia formally came into being. Indeed I think he was in Centennial Park for the great proclamation.

To me then that seemed SO long ago — but now I reflect that 1970 is back in time from now a similar distance — or the election of Gough Whitlam, for example! Yes, I am my own grandpa!

Indeed indeed!

And this was back in 1971 — not that I was in this place, but the vibe I recall from FIFTY years ago. Went to a folk concert at the Jamberoo pub sometime around then though.

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 4 — talk to a Rabbit

Not just any rabbit. This rabbit: At the end of December 2002 Mister Rabbit drove me out to Sutherland… Mister Rabbit wondered whether I would be writing up our day in Sutherland (and Sans Souci) beyond what I had to say on the day… Mr Rabbit was 20 at the time, and had his say as well:

We passed my father’s old school, which has a great view (“The Catholics know how to buy land”), and the place of N’s early religion, which looked, I thought, not unlike a scout hall. And then an unexpected surprise: N’s childhood home, which he hadn’t been inside since 1952, was completely empty (on account of being ready for auction), and its front door was wide open. We ventured in and had a good look around. N pointed out the many structural changes, including the removal of fireplaces; thankfully, the house itself can’t be knocked down: built in c. 1913, it is heritage. It is, however, being encroached upon by medium density housing, of which there is much in Sutherland these days. But if I had a spare $400,000 in the bank, I’d buy the house tomorrow. N was glowing afterwards, and I was very happy too.

Only $400,000? You would need maybe THREE TIMES that these days, Rabbit!

Anyway, after an absence Rabbit has reappeared on Facebook. He is no longer 20 just as I am now much nearer 80! He is also a very experienced High School English teacher — indeed Head of English somewhere in the Blue Mountains, where he currently lives.

Our latest conversation was conducted via Facebook comments. I had posted a link to the following quite disturbing story in The Guardian, which certainly raises interesting ethical and aesthetic issues.

Björn Andrésen was just 15 when he walked straight into the lion’s den, being cast as Tadzio, the sailor-suited object of desire in Luchino Visconti’s film Death in Venice. Its release in 1971 made him not merely a star but an instant icon – the embodiment of pristine youthful beauty. Sitting alone in Stockholm today at the age of 66, he looks more like Gandalf with his white beard and his gaunt face framed by shoulder-length white locks. His eyes twinkle as alluringly as ever but he’s no pussycat. Asked what he would say to Visconti if he were here now, he doesn’t pause. “Fuck off,” he says.

No one who sees The Most Beautiful Boy in the World, a new documentary about Andrésen’s turbulent and tragic past, will be surprised by that answer. Visconti, he tells me, “didn’t give a fuck” about his feelings. He wasn’t alone in that. “I’ve never seen so many fascists and assholes as there are in film and theatre,” says Andrésen. “Luchino was the sort of cultural predator who would sacrifice anything or anyone for the work.”…

The Rabbit began:

Rabbit: haven’t seen the film but recently listened to the audiobook.

Neil James Whitfield: The book is very good.

Rabbit: It is. Shorter than I had realised too.
Neil James Whitfield: The movie is magnificent too — it is reading what it did to the boy playing Tadzio that gives me pause.

Rabbit: the Polish boy was played by a Swede?

At which point I posted the music from the movie.

Rabbit: well I think I will watch it during this lockdown

Neil James Whitfield: So I am rereading “Death in Venice” right now as it is in my eBook library.

Rabbit: The theme of pestilence seems relevant.

Neil James Whitfield: Parts of the last chapter seem very relevant. Yes, I have finished it now. That final paragraph really is something.

Rabbit: well I just watched the film. It’s quite something. They nailed the casting of Tadzio.

Neil James Whitfield: Yes, I was absolutely speechless when I first saw it — and I hadn’t read the book at that stage. The boy really IS Tadzio, and Dirk Bogarde is very good too. The cinematography, the music, everything — all so good. That’s why that Guardian article really does raise interesting questions.

Rabbit: visually such a beautiful film. [Referring to my comment.] Yes very true. I want to watch the new film about the boy actor and also other films with Bogarde who I don’t know much about.

Neil James Whitfield: Wikipedia as usual is a good intro — Bogarde was in some great films and had a very interesting life. What Wikipedia says about his sexuality is very true.

Rabbit: the film Victim is on YouTube and I’ll start with that.

Not all Facebook time is wasted!

Nor is listening to great music and viewing great movies a waste of time. Thanks, YouTube! Not so long ago we could not have had this pleasure.

NOTE: I am replacing the final video I had earlier as I see its maker has produced something even better, and more relevant to The Guardian article.

A Shire native/internet friend, teacher moments, music and Sydney Boys High

This begins with Covid vaccination and Adrian Phoon, who long after I had left lived in his young days in the same street in Caringbah South where I once lived back when I was teaching at Cronulla High.

…the house on Willarong Point. Not that we had a yacht, but there was a boat house at the bottom of the garden where I used to sit and read, and in the water just close to shore swim around with scuba and face mask seeing what was what… We rented the house for a year — house sitting really — and it was probably the most beautiful place we ever lived in The Shire. Oddly, Adrian Phoon hales from somewhere rather close…

Shire Childhood…

Adrian was a blogger a few years back, and that is how we first met. We have subsequently met in real life, when I was living in Surry Hills. Adrian has recently been involved with quite a number of things — see this story from The Guardian for one of them.

So on Facebook two days back Adrian revealed he was now fully vaccinated, after which came a longish congratulatory thread from friends, including me. But there was another point of interest in it for me, which is the first teacher moment:

The “masticate” thing always went well with my teenage students, as I explained Latinate style. I would say my mother encouraged me to masticate thoroughly at least three times a day…. You probably get it….

“Osculate” went down well too…

It did not take long for me to discover what Daniel has been up to. I think it was 1998 when he was in my Year 11 class. I have not seen him since,

This led me to recall my blog post from August 2020 “Facebook — more Sydney High chats and memories.”

Soon after posting those to Facebook I happened upon a brilliant musician in his twenties. I had never heard of him, but listening hooked me. He has toured the USA, Asia (including China), Europe… And I had never heard of him. Not surprising I suppose as at 77 I am not up on the latest music. Anyway, here he is with other musicians in the US just pre-COVID.

Plini. Did the HSC in 2009. My last year (aside from a few later brief gigs such as marking Trial HSC English) was 2005. He was in Year 7 then, and his mother on staff. Now I find articles about him such as: “Perfection is kind of ridiculous” – a [2017] interview with Plini on a Hungarian music site!

Here is a more recent interview:

And a final performance:

Very different styles of music of course. And it does all make me feel rather old — as I will be very conscious of this month, as you will know if you read this blog regularly! (Some do!)

June 2006 really surprises me — 2

Believe it or not I do not spend all my days combing my archives, but with the new month I first checked that I did have a June 2006 archive and then, having found it, surprised myself! So this is the second of up to 3 reposts! I may add in some pics…

Crash-tackling the stereotype

Some of you remember my fifteen minutes of fame in 2002. There had been mutterings around The Mine about “Asians” and “coaching” (cheating?) and not playing Rugby…

How amused I was then last night to get an email from one of my (“Asian”) coachees to say he couldn’t attend this week as he would be playing Rugby League in The Shire.

He’s an athlete too.

As time goes by… Meeting Madam and a Buddhist.

It has been a week for running into people, one way or another. Delenio will know who I mean when I mention that I saw G, a former colleague, especially in many a GPS debate, a couple of days ago. He looks different, healthy and very friendly. He’s pretty much done with teaching and is very much into Buddhism these days. He hadn’t heard about my becoming involved with South Sydney Uniting Church, but could relate to the need for a spiritual home. He certainly seems to have found his, and that is great.

By the way, I do not put great store on the exclusive truth claims of any religion, including my own; as soon as religions seriously go down that track you can be sure they are wrong. But that’s a matter for another day.

Tonight I saw Madam in Elizabeth Street, and this will mean most to The Rabbit, after whom she asked. She was pleased to hear about the English teaching. She is still doing some catering, she tells me, has some Japanese students staying with her, and is enjoying the freedom of not running a cafe. She seems to be over her Bulgarian period. (Mind you, I liked him.)

Her cafe was a bit like Rick’s. If smaller. Much smaller. And there was no piano. But it was as much a haven for all kinds of refugees as Rick’s ever was. I am sure The Rabbit remembers it with as much affection as I do.

Ah, Cafe Max. I haven’t really taken to its replacement.

Cafe Max – Madam and Dimmi 2003

Rick’s Cafe Casablanca

I really love the movie Casablanca, which is the same age as I am, or pretty close…

And now it appears, so I saw on ABC’s Foreign Correspondent tonight, that an American named Kathy Kriger has brought it to life in the city the movie celebrated. It looks great, and the Rick’s Cafe website is just a delight. She has a blog too: Salon Privé.

Welcome to my Salon Privé and please take a seat at the table. This is a dinner conversation and all the usual subjects are welcome: politics, food, music, film, design, religion, travel, drink, business, gossip, shopping…ok, even sports. So make sure your glass is topped up, and let’s start the meal…

Do yourself a favour: go there online like me or, if you are very lucky, in actuality. Looks like a great idea beautifully done.

I found this suitably humbling…

I have said quite a bit about refugees and asylum seekers at various times: those links search my Big Archive. But I was suitably humbled by MyScribbles writing about June 20: World Refugee Day.

June 20 was the World Refugee Day. Did anyone notice it? Despite being an Afghan refugee and a member of the largest single refugee group in the world, I didn’t notice it come and go. Although I do not believe in the symbolic efficacy of the day, I do believe that if such days are marked properly with awareness programs, a real change can be brought about in the lives of refugees.

I believe that in an overwhelming number of cases, people become refugees when the profits of a multinational corporation are at stake or when a number of immoral, corrupt leaders play dirty politics on the international arena. However, I also strongly believe in the power of the collaborative strength of the human beings as an agent for real change. Therefore, when a day such as this is used to educate the general public and urge them to take action, it can have a real impact on the lives of the refugee population of the world…

I am not going to improve on this teenager’s statement. Visit his page and read the rest.


MyScribbles’ Refugee Day entry was read aloud at this morning’s service at South Sydney Uniting Church. Vlad had also alluded at some length in his reflection to The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003).

If you go to MyScribbles and read his previous entry, No Radical Islam, Only Radicalized Muslims, you will find a statement that may cause you to do a double-take:

The creation of Al-Qaeda by the United States was a step in the direction of creating one such group. Al-Qaeda not only interpreted Islam militantly, but also used it to radicalize and inspire many Muslims to join them.

But he does have a point. As Wikipedia says:

Sources differ on the origin of the name. Robin Cook, the late British member of Parliament and former foreign secretary, wrote in 2005 that “Al-Qaida, literally ‘the database’, was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians.” [1] Supporting this most likely origin of the name, Dr. Saad Al-Fagih, a surgeon at Peshawar (where the recruiting happened) explained that creation of the computer database (Al-Qaeda) was necessary to fix problems associated with a lack of documentation about the fighters who were recruited. [2] Some others have said that the name means simply the base as well as claiming that the organization chose its own name.[3][4]

The origins of al-Qaeda can be traced to a few weeks after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, when a cadre of non-Afghani, Arab Muslim fighters joined the largely United States and Pakistan-funded Afghan mujāhidīn anti-Russian resistance movement (a guerrilla war against Soviet occupation forces and the Soviet-backed Afghan government). Osama bin Laden, a member of a prominent Saudi Arabian business family, led an informal grouping which became a leading fundraiser and recruitment agency for the Afghan cause in Muslim countries; it channelled Islamic fighters to the conflict, distributed money and provided logistical skills and resources to both fighting forces and Afghan refugees.

See also “What is al-Qaeda?” by Jason Burke, and Burke’s book Al-Qaeda: the True Story of Radical Islam (Penguin, rev ed. 2004). The first edition (Tauris, 2003) was called Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror.

Congratulations to my young Afghan friend

On my WordPress dashboard I just noted:

Fastest Growing blogs

1. MyScribbles: Write-ups of an Afghan
2. THEOcracy
3. hot BODS’ abode
4. The Rambling Men
5. Canucklehead
6. Evolving Trends
7. Brechi Reborn

Well done!

See also from this year How 15 years ago my blog reached into Afghanistan and encouraged at least one teenager…

Post Script

In the previous post in talking about Lord Malcolm and Lillian Crombie, I linked to the page I posted at the time of Malcolm’s death, 1 June 2007. Looking at it again I noticed among the many comments this one:

 MyScribbles: Write-ups of an Afghan Says:
June 16, 2007 at 3:54 am May he rest in peace. I offer my condolences to his family and friends.He must be feeling proud of having friends like you who remember him and pay such nice and sincere tributes to him after his passing away.

Stats obsession for month’s end

So this being the end of the month I do look at the various stats. May 2021 has been pretty similar to April in terms of average visits per day, but since the day is yet young I will delay noting that until later, when I will add a bit to this post.

Meanwhile, having blogged about blogging a couple of days back, I thought an overview would be nice. A blog certainly gets around! The best information I have that covers all my blogs, including English/ESL, comes from that flag counter thing you can see in the sidebar. It has been spying on my readers since October 2008. Here is what it has found.

By “this site” it means all the sites on which I have placed it.

As a map:

Not much of the world where someone (or a bot) has not had a look at something I posted!

On THIS blog WordPress offers this, going back to 2013.

Nothing from Saudi Arabia, notice! Or North Korea. But the Great Firewall of China has been breached more than once. 35 times in fact.

On Saudi Arabia: “Internet access in Saudi Arabia is broadly available in the main cities via ASDL and fibre. 4G is also becoming increasingly popular. The internet is highly censored so you should always pay close attention to how you behave and interact online.”

On North Korea: “Internet access is available in North Korea, but is only permitted with special authorization. It is primarily used for government purposes, and also by foreigners.” 

So in May 2021

This blog averaged 42 visits a day, compared with 39 last month but 50 in March. That 50 is the best this year. 68 in September 2014 is the best ever.

The most visited posts in May 2021 were, with those posted in May highlighted: