April Fool?

April 13, 2014

I am trying to extend my cooking repertoire. Even if I kill myself rather than keep working until 70, there are too many meals left before the occasion is likely to arise to keep eating just the same stuff, however delicious.

But it is all such a lot of trouble. Sometimes it takes me a while to get going.

I saw a recipe for Romesco Sauce. I was intrigued. I didn’t have all the ingredients. One of them was sherry.

There is no longer any Australian sherry: it is all (in fine print) “Fortified wine” and (in large print) “Cream” “Dry” “Sweet” etc. The real stuff starts at about $27: I’m not going to cook with that. I bought a local tipple.

It turned out I was wrong. Exoterically, sherry vinegar, rather than sherry, was called for. I’m not going to make a special trip to DJs or The Expensive Ingredient for that: doubtless it will be priced commensurately with sherry. I see other recipes call for red wine vinegar and that’s what I shall use.

I went back on the net and found the recipe. It has been adapted by Richard Cornish from a recipe by the man from El Bulli. There is a note at the end:

CORRECTION: The recipe for romesco sauce from Ferran Adria’s The Family Meal Family Cooking reprinted by Good Food on April 1 seems to contain an error. The original recipe calls for 420ml of sherry vinegar. We recommend a more suitable amount to be 40ml. This has been changed in the text.

420/”about 40″ looks suspiciously like one-and-a-half ounces. What’s the bet that Richard Cornish’s adaptation was mostly simply a matter of converting the measurements to metric which came out wrong by a factor of 10?

That would be pretty disappointing if you’d roasted a few capsicums and a tomato, processed them together with hazelnuts (which you’d also cooked) and some breadcrumbs and some fresh thyme and finally splashed out on/with 420 mls of sherry vinegar.

Lucky I was a bit slow on the uptake.

In the meantime, I confess we have drunk the “sherry.”

Eugene Onegin

March 25, 2014

Last night with D to Eugene Onegin. That’s “Youjean” according to the foyer announcement.

This is a coproduction between Opera Australia and a few other companies and Covent Garden, where it was the first offering of Kasper Holten, Danish wunderkind and now director of opera there.

The production has a “concept,” the action is seen in regretful retrospect by the older Tatyana and Onegin as they are at the time of their meeting again as depicted in the final two scenes.

The most obvious aspect of this is that two dancers embody the younger selves – not all the time (which makes it a bit confusing) but at certain key moments at which they are regarded by their older, singing, selves. I suspect an impetus for this may have been the age of the singers in the Covent Garden production: an impetus which was lacking given that Nicole Car, as Tatyana, certainly had no need of a younger double, and Dalibor Jenis, as Onegin (whose age is less important) scarcely called for one either.

The main such key moments are Tatyana’s letter scene and Onegin’s duel with Lensky. In my confusion I probably missed and have since forgotten some others. At the end, when the older Onegin and Tatyana muse on what might have been, we see the dancers as the young lovers who never were.

For me that sort of worked for the duel scene, distracted for the letter scene, and worked well if a little obviously for the final non-reminiscence of what might have been.

Another aspect was the accumulation on the stage of properties as signs of memory – starting with (I may be wrong: there are two letters in the opera and at the outset you do not have all the wit to attend to all the clues) Onegin’s letter to Tatyana when he meets her years later, and culminating with Lensky’s body after he is killed.

A further aspect is the set: a kind of wall pierced by doorways which are sometimes closed, in Tatyana’s letter scene covered by curtains (onto which the letter is projected) and otherwise opened to reveal various back-projections and other scenic effects. This was handsome and effective. In the SOH (where the stage has reasonable depth but little width) that reduced the actual area of live stage, but given that this is largely a domestic drama (it isn’t really a grand opera, rather 7 scenes from a famous poem), that’s quite fitting.

To my untutored eye, the projected text of Tatyana’s letter seemed to be in Russian – not that I’m an expert in Cyrillic handwriting or anything, but I didn’t recognise a single French word. OK, I’m untutored in both languages, but at least I’ve read libretti in French (though otherwise it’s Café au lait grande tasse, Nescafé?).

According to Pushkin (Chapter III verse XXVI – Charles Johnston’s translation here) Tatyana wrote in French.

Probably dictated principally by the need for Lensky to remain on the stage once shot, the traditional 3 acts division of the 7 scenes (1-3, 4-5, 6-7) was redistributed into 2 acts (1-4, 5-7). The famous Polonaise which normally opens the ball at the beginning of Act III Scene 1 (the sixth scene) became an interlude with a balletic sequence depicting Onegin on his travels where, it seems, he may have sought the kindness of strangers, or at least, beautiful women in nighties. That’s a cheap phrase on my behalf because actually I thought this was an effective way of joining the dots and allowing for the regrouping of the scenes.

After all this, I’ve run out of energy to give an account of the music. Suffice to say (most of this has been said elsewhere) that it was a triumph for Nicole Car, and that Dalibor Jenis as Onegin was a calibre of singer we rarely see (he has a strange vocal mannerism at up to about mf just above the bass stave but when at full throttle he his fearless right to the top). James Egglestone (Lensky) doesn’t always make a beautiful sound, and in striving for volume (eg: in the quartet at the end of scene 4) he sometimes chopped up the phrases into syllables, but I thought he was much better than when I last saw him in Butterfly and he was dramatically convincing.

Kanen Breen pulled off yet another genuinely funny (not always the case in opera) comic turn as Monsieur Triquet.

But most of all, it is Tchaikovsky’s music which is evocative and beautiful. The orchestra under the extremely dynamic (I love how he crouches to the ground for orchestral pianos) Guillaume Tourniaire rose to the occasion, especially the winds. Julian Smiles, guesting as principal cello (OA simultaneously fielded another orchestra for Butterfly on the Harbour) had some fine moments, even if he didn’t always manage to bring the rest of the section with him and there were also similar moments of “leaderitis” in the first violins. The exhilarating climax of Tatyana’s letter scene moved me to tears.

Ethical dillemma

March 21, 2014

The other night, travelling on an evening train, I flipped idly through one of the many copies of MX magazine other commuters had thoughtfully or thoughtlessly left behind them.

An advertisement caught my eye.  I must necessarily quote it from memory as I thoughtlessly likewise left my copy behind when I got off the train.

Are you over 18? Are you a user of cannabis? Do you want an app to monitor and manage your cannabis use? Contact [UNSW contact details given] and we can provide you with one.

There was a bit more about the study that this was for and the app in question.  I must stress that this is only a paraphrase.

Fortunately, I was able to find out more when I got home.

The potential of mobile health to transform health service delivery across the globe has not yet been realised, partly due to the lack of evidence for its efficacy and cost-effectiveness. Among other notable gaps is a lack of trials on smartphone applications (apps) for substance use, including the most commonly abused illegal drug – cannabis. Mobile phones have unparalleled ability to support behaviour change in the natural environment. Given that Australia has the second highest smartphone penetration in the world and that 42% of Australians in drug treatment are concerned about their cannabis use, Australia is well positioned to be at the forefront of building the evidence base for mobile health for treating cannabis use.

And so an app has been developed and is being trialled. These are the claimed benefits:

Seeking treatment for cannabis use can be difficult due to accessibility issues and stigmatisation concerns. The availability of an evidence-based app for reducing or quitting cannabis may encourage treatment seeking among individuals who would otherwise not receive treatment.

“Evidence based” might be great for medicine and for science, but it has a different ring when you are talking about people committing a crime, which drug use still is. Just what attention has been paid at the ethical vetting part of this project’s design to the hazard to which it exposes participants?

Of course, we’re not talking recording a murder in the Belanglo forest, but we are still in a state where at any railway station or bus stop you can be bailed up by police dog squads. Let’s just imagine the dog sits in front of some hapless project participant, but no drugs are found on their person. What’s to stop the police checking their APP and taking things a bit further? And that’s just one scenario of many that come to mind.

I just hope that participants in this project are given ample warnings of the risks that are involved in creating a journal of their offences of any sort. It’s hard to see how the app could not, one way or another, involve something like that.

Eternity Playhouse

March 17, 2014

On Sunday with D as well as H and K (staying with us from Shanghai) to the new Eternity Playhouse to the last night of the Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s production of the musical “Falsettos.”

I wanted to see the theatre, which is a refitting of the Baptist Tabernacle on a corner of Burton and Palmer streets in Darlinghurst following its purchase by Sydney City Council. The conversion has been done by squeezing the foyer and bar underneath the tiered seating of the theatre. That is in 8 rows of 25 (or so) seats each row. A few of the original features and signs of the original floor line have been retained.

The one aspect of the conversion where you feel the constraint of the site is the toilets, which have been inserted as almost (shipping-)container-like boxes into this space. The provision is just adequate for the Gents but I’m not sure about the Ladies – a lot of space is taken up by the disabled access toilet. The stairway access to the theatre is a bit steep and takes a while to get everybody in. There is a lift for the less mobile.

I saw Falsettos ten years ago at the New Theatre. It is a stitching-together of two off-Broadway musicals. The first half, first produced in 1981, is set in 1979 and depicts the central character, Marvin, leaving his wife and son to be with his new lover, Whizzer. By the end his wife has married his psychiatrist and Whizzer has left him.

The second half picks up the story 2 years later with the arrival of the terrible disease. It was first produced in 1990. The two were then joined together in 1992 and became a long-running hit.

The whole show is pretty much (apart from just a few announcements of titles and the odd spoken punch line) through composed.

To me the bite of the musical is the poignant position of a generation which found freedom or at least new ways of living, only to face, suddenly, this terrible scourge. That’s something I can remember: so far the show doesn’t seem dated, at least to me, as mere “AIDS drama” though perhaps this production played down some of the traditional paraphernalia of such dramas.

In this production a lot was highly stylised. In the first half, where the characters were all similarly dressed and the songs flew thick and fast, I found it hard to get into the actors as characters rather than people singing songs. They didn’t feel particularly Jewish or of their time.

In the second half the story tugged more at my heart strings and I found myself tearing up a bit, even though this production spared us the more realistic hospital death that I remember the New Theatre production included. The actor simply walked off.

My one regret with the production was that, perhaps inevitably, a band – even a “teeny tiny band” of the lyrics, was reduced to just a piano. That really was a big job for the pianist – he played practically all the time for the whole show. He did an excellent job even if sometimes (because we had words to catch) he was maybe a little loud: this is the perennial question and anxiety for pianists. I can’t begin to say (even if, obviously, I am beginning now) how refreshing it was to hear an entirely acoustic show.

The tickets were $43 each. As live entertainment dollars go, that was definitely a bargain.

Grosse fugue

March 17, 2014

On Saturday night to the Australia Ensemble (@UNSW).

The first half was relatively slight. A flute quartet by CPE Bach and an arrangement of the Faure’s Dolly Suite by Ian Munro for (alto, according to the program note, which I read later – this passed me by when I was watching which is a bit inattentive of me) flute/piccolo and bass clarinet.

I really liked the “quartet” – played in fact by a trio – Geoffrey Collins on flute and Irina Morozova on violin; Ian Munro on piano subsumed both the original keyboard part and the continuo. It was a very agreeable work. What really struck me was a unanimity of style between all three players (just what was missing in last year’s JS Bach). Collins played a wooden flute.

Ian Munro’s arrangement of the Dolly Suite was more problematic. This odd instrumental figuration was obviously chosen with Collins and Catherine McCorkill, the ensemble’s regular clarinettist, in mind. The choice of a bass clarinet rather than an ordinary clarinet was presumably intended to free up the piano from perpetual custody of the bass line, but the lesser flexibility of the bass clarinet in its lower range limited the realisation of some of the original figuration.

As I have mentioned before, Catherine McCorkill has a distinctive playing style. Sadly, McCorkill has been out of action now for over a year after sustaining an injury playing in Salome at the end of 2012. McCorkill was replaced for this concert by Sue Newsome, who makes something of a specialty of the bass clarinet.

In his note on the arrangement, Ian Munro wrote:

Because of the fact that Cathy’s lovely music has been ringing in my head now for over a decade, and the esteem in which I hold her, and because of the difficult times she has been facing recently, I would like to offer this arrangement of Dolly to her in dedication, from a grateful and affectionate friend and colleague.

It will be scant comfort, and I apologise if it is a bit ungracious to Ms Newsome to make this observation, but I think this arrangement might have worked better if Cathy had been there, restored to her full powers. It must be a very difficult time for a musician to be unable to play for such a long period and I really hope McCorkill is able to make a recovery soon.

The second half was the serious music: Beethoven’s string quartet Op 130 played with the originally concluding Grosse Fugue.

“Serious music” – that’s a funny idea, isn’t it? It must mean something, if only because one can conceive of comic or light music. It’s definitely an idea which latches into that cluster of quasi-religious approaches to music which emerged in the nineteenth century and where the cult of Beethoven played a role. The late string quartets are a locus classicus of this. They have a reputation as being “difficult.”

I confess that for me that reputation cast a slightly portentous shadow over my reception of the work, and I felt also the players’ performance. Theirs was an almost onerous responsibility. How could they discharge the sacrament? I relaxed as things lightened up in the second and third movements and perhaps by some variation of the sympathetic fallacy I thought they did too.

We had a very long pause before the fifth, slow, movement, which then went straight into the fugue so that😃 these two movements together felt like the really serious bit of the communion. The fugue was totally engrossing – pushing right at the limits of permissible dynamics and tone (especially on Dene Olding’s part) but all worth it. Exhilarating.

Very talented

March 15, 2014

On Monday to the SSO’s “International Pianists in Recital” series at Angel Place to see Alexander Gavrylyuk in recital.

Gavrylyuk is “international” in an unusual way. Rather like those sportsmen who are suddenly drafted into a new nationality, he was one of a group of young (teenaged) Ukrainian pianists who came to Australia in the 1990s to study at the Australian Institute of Music with their teacher, who was imported with them – something of a coup at the time for Warren Thompson, the Svengali of the Sydney Piano Competition and then juror-about-the-world. A number of them have since enjoyed success in international competitions and made careers for themselves.

It is difficult to imagine, from outside, what kind of a hothouse upbringing this must have been. Practically every waking hour must have been spent practising, if not at home, then at the Steinway showroom of Theme and Variations where they were practically a fixture. Undoubtedly, Gavrylyuk has a phenomenal technique in the “Russian school” virtuoso tradition.

As the packed-to-the-rafters (though with some gaps down in subscriber-ville) Angel Place demonstrated, Gavrylyuk has an almost Helfgottian following.

The program was:

SCHUMANN Kinderszenen
MOZART Piano Sonata in C, K330
LISZT Lacrymosa from Mozart’s Requiem
LISZT Tarantella from Venezia e Napoli, S162
[interval]
PROKOFIEV Sonata No.6 (War Sonata 1)

The Schumann is not, in terms of its absolute technical demands, difficult. Surely every and any pianist has played its pieces and knows them well. The challenge is interpretative – including to meet each such pianist’s preconceptions. Of course there is scope for a better pianist to play them better, but there is also a risk of over-interpretation, of winching the pieces up to meet demands which they do not really make.

Gavrylyuk showed a marvellous technical capacity but much of it involved giving the right hand melody a pellucid dominance whilst only just allowing the lower parts to be heard. This struck me as strange for Schumann: his knotty contrapuntalism is at the heart of his music and this was often suppressed to the point of near inaudibility. There were exceptions: I liked his bringing out of the inner passing note on which the transition back from fast to slow in “Pleading child” hinges. Conversely some of the big moments just became a blur (the end of the Knight of the Rocking Horse, for example). Despite the many felicities, what I took away from the performance was an unease about the suitability of this set as a vehicle for this type of concert performance.

The Mozart sonata was likewise characterised by an exquisitely controlled but to me frustrating devotion to the right-hand line. Where was the contrapunctal infrastructure? We were in music-box territory. To me this was Kugel-Mozart.

The Liszt transcription of the Lacrimosa from the Requiem left the chocolates behind. I thought it was a good transition to Tarantella which was to come, even if things got too big too quickly and Gavrylyuk did not join Liszt in observing the rests in the choral parts for “Qua resurget ex favilla.”

The Tarantella was the first-half closer. It was stronger in the mad frenzied bits than in the cantabile section, where I felt that Gavrylyuk, by favouring “the tune,” missed the charm of its parallel-sixths accompaniment (for purposes of identification rather than comparison see Kissin at about 3 minutes in here and again at 3.45 etc).

The Tarantella brought many in the audience to their feet. “I’ll certainly have to practise more!” I overheard a young pianist say to his friend in the aisle-egress crush, before inviting her to his recital next month. I doubt if a month’s practice would do the job.

Gavrylyuk gave a fiery performance of the Prokofiev. It didn’t quite match my preconceptions – sure the piece is fiery, but Prokofiev is also a “cool” composer. I found the whole thing too manic. I would have preferred a bit more mezzo forte (a dynamic point which Gavrylyuk seems to pass through very quickly) or even forte, and at least a few crescendi at an angle (figuratively speaking) of less than 60 degrees. The Allegretto, in particular, didn’t really gell for me.

That wasn’t the general view. The audience loved it, with a standing ovation again.

As we were getting ready to do battle to get out of the hall (always an ordeal at Angel Place) I asked my neighbour at these concerts, an older woman with a rather reserved aspect but obviously a seasoned concert-goer (we both take the front fire-escape to avoid the worst of the foyer crush), how she liked the concert. “He’s very talented,” she replied.

Carless to Canberra

March 13, 2014

P1070660

Last weekend, still not having bought a car, I took the train to Canberra.

The above picture is not from that trip. It is of the light refreshment served in the Eurostar which I took from London to Brussels just after Christmas last year, from which I changed to an ICE to Stuttgart. Because it cost only 10 euros extra, I took that trip first class – hence the luxury. For the rest of my German jaunt I took trains of all sorts – ICEs on the longer inter-regional legs, and more local regional trains, as well as, of course S-Bahns, U-Bahns and (exotic for one from Sydney) trolley-buses and trams.

Before that, my last long-distance train trips were last July and August in China, on their high-speed network out of Shanghai and some rather slower and older sleepers in Yunnan province between Kunming and Lijiang.

It is a few years since I took the train to Canberra. When I moved there to be a public servant after I first graduated and in the first six months before I bought a car, I made a few weekend escapes back to civilization in Sydney.

That was the days of old-school rail travel. Sometimes there was a dining car and indeed I remember quite a civilized conversation with an English traveller as we looped around Bungendore to Goulburn at the beginning of an afternoon trip to Sydney. Even more memorable is one Easter-Tuesday trip back to Canberra, the train packed with standing passengers loaded up with Royal Easter Show souvenirs. There was no food for sale on the train which ran increasingly late. Somewhere after Goulburn the lights failed. I think I almost caused a riot in the crowded and moonlit (it was Easter) carriage, as, when the train stopped at Tarago (it is a single track: there was a procedure involving a kind of key which had to deployed here to prevent any chance of a collision) at about 1 am I opened my thermos which, before leaving Sydney, I had stocked with some hot tinned soup supplemented with a few sausages from the Central.

In those days the trip regularly took about 5 and a half hours. Later, with the XPT, there were slightly quicker services. I caught these occasionally when, by then back in Sydney, I went to visit my father who had moved to Canberra.

Train travel in Europe is expensive. In Germany you can secure substantially cheaper tickets which are on sale up to 3 days before your date of travel and they can be even cheaper if you invest in a Bahncard (Deutsche Bahn routinely offers short term trial-offers which are worth taking up if you are a foreigner, though it is wise to inform them in time that you will not be taking the automatic conversion into an annual card). You can also travel more cheaply if you are able to or prepared to confine your travel to slower trains. Nevertheless, my poorer friends told me that the trains were too expensive and there the underclass is now relegated to long-distance buses.

In Australia, it is the other way round. A lot of that is because trains, rather than buses, offer the best concessions to welfare recipients including old age pensioners and seniors. That certainly accounted for most of my fellow travellers when I boarded the train at Central on Saturday morning, leavened by a few slightly ABC-audience types (amongst which I suppose I might count myself) and some overseas tourists who may have known no better.

After my European experience, the train was a shock. The XPT (I have now learnt) was replaced on the Canberra line in about 1990 and possibly I have even travelled in the Xplorer class train on this line before. They are a train where each carriage has a diesel engine.

Due to depart at 6.57, a few minutes later we crawled out of Central and were shortly after told this was because there was a problem with the brakes. We stopped for about 10 minutes at Eveleigh for the mechanics to attend to this. After a few slow test runs, we were on our way.

I ordered the most luxurious item on offer in the buffet car: a spinach frittata on bacon which we were told would take 40 minutes to prepare because it was cooked to order. As the meal other than the accompanying croissant arrived still wrapped in plastic, I’m still wondering why it needed so long. Alcohol was on display but any hope of a soothing ale was dashed: alcohol would not be sold until after noon. By then, hopefully, we would have arrived in Canberra.

Fortunately, the carriage was far from full, so I had two seats to make myself comfortable. Comfort was compromised by the extraordinarily noisy motor and the rough ride and carriage squeaks and shakes. I don’t know how much of this was the line and how much of it was the state of the rolling stock, but it brought me back from my European memories with a jolt. Later I was able to find a quieter spot further back in the carriage and further from the engines, but that quietness was only relative: I kept ear-plugs in.

The train split in two at Goulburn: the back half (also with its own buffet – talk about a loss-leader) headed off to the Riverina. By then the train had filled up a bit more with the Canberra-bound from country stations not served by the Canberra-Sydney buses.

We arrived about 20-minutes late. I boldly went out to catch a local bus in the general direction of Belconnen – that’s where it said it was going and my father’s, where I was headed, is at Belconnen’s western edge.

What a mistake. First of all, the bus stop at the railway station is utterly unprepared for any tourist visitors. No information is displayed; the driver spent about 10 minutes explaining to the woman at the head of the queue what bus she should take. Then he had to explain to a few others how they might get to the National Gallery. The options he suggested involved either about a 2km walk from his closest stop, or a trip into Civic and a bus back.

We finally set off on a route which took in practically every possible intervening suburb: a loop through Russell and Campbell, then through Civic, Braddon, Lyneham and over the ridge to Bruce, the National Hockey Stadium, Canberra University – you name it, we went there before I finally got off about 1.5 hours later at a stop with the glorious name “opposite Westfield.”

Public transport in Canberra on the weekend is dire. There are few services, and each service except for the main services between the various hubs (Belconnen-Civic-Woden, for example) is put on a circuitous route through every imaginable suburb to provide the maximum coverage. Unable to face the second leg of this, and mindful that I had only limited time to see my father before the evening routine would require I depart, I took a taxi for the last leg.

Door to door time = about 7.5 hours – it would have well been over 8 if I had waited for the bus.

Overnight I borrowed my father’s car to go to and from my motel.

On Sunday, I walked out of my father’s house (this felt odd), took the Canberra local bus to Civic (two buses took about an hour) and then a bus back to Sydney. I couldn’t face the train again and if you don’t have a car, Kingston, where the train goes from, is a decidedly out of the way place to get to. Door-to-door – about 6 hours.

Free kick

March 7, 2014

Mrs Mickle was a music teacher at Orange High School.

Apparently she was much-loved by her students, or at least some of them.  In 2012, when the then principal of the school, Mrs Angus, was retiring, some of them proposed that on the occasion of the principal’s retirement function the school’s music centre be named the “Mrs Mickle Music Centre.”

Just pausing there: that is in my opinion an entirely ridiculous suggestion.  Not because Mrs Mickle was or was not an excellent teacher, but because she was still teaching at the school and had some years of teaching left. It’s not clear why the retirement (actually only retirement as principal after 7 years at Orange High) of Mrs Angus should be the occasion of this announcement. What was the perceived link?

Andrew Farley, who had left the school a year before, seems to have disagreed with the idea.  There may have been some history here, because his father had previously been teacher in charge of music and arts at the school and had left the school in 2008, at which time Mrs Mickle had taken over his position on an acting basis.

Andrew vented his feelings on twitter and facebook.  Mrs Angus, who apparently spent time on a regular basis dealing with issues arising from social media coverage of her school, saw what he had written. She drew it to the attention of Mrs Mickle.

Mrs Mickle engaged lawyers.  They wrote a letter to Mr Farley late in November.  At first he did not respond, but after a second letter sent on 12 December, he replied on 20 December 2012:

“All comments referred to by you have been removed from my social media pages.”

which appears to have been the case, and

“I apologise unreservedly to Mrs Mickle for any hurt or upset caused to her by statements made on my social media page.”

You might think that would have been an end to it, apart from the question of paying Mrs Mickle’s lawyers.

But it was too late. Mrs Mickle was on the law-path. She sued Mr Farley for defamation in the District Court.

Unfortunately for Mr Farley, that led to a bit of a change of heart. He filed a defence of justification – that is that what he said, or some of it. was true. That is a rash thing to do: if you do that you undo all the reduction of damages which might have followed from an apology, and also risk having aggravated damages found against you.

That’s the thing about an apology. It’s only of use if you give up defending anything you said. You might say that the test of the sincerity of the apology is just that, but like a plea of guilty, then you just have to wait for the plaintiff to do what he or she wants to get vindication and even, quite possibly, just a little bit of retribution. And in defamation there will be the defamed person’s lawyers, often with contingency fee agreements, riding shotgun on the bandwagon.

You can choose not to defend what you said, but defend your right to say it in the circumstances. This is a defence of privilege – either absolute as in the well-known parliamentary privilege, for example (or when giving evidence in court or reporting court proceedings) or qualified privilege. The difference, put simply, is when the privilege is qualified it must not be abused – you have to act reasonably and not maliciously. So, for example, you can report reasonable suspicions to the police, but not maliciously make something outrageous up because you want to get someone in trouble.

There is a procedure where a person who has defamed someone may make an “offer to make amends” which could be a total defence. But it was too late for that. That must be done within 4 weeks of a complaint being made. People who have said something rash or angry in a social context frequently do not realise how seriously the law is going to take what they have done and are rarely sufficiently legally advised at the outset to take advantage of that.

Mr Farley withdrew his defence of justification, and replaced it with a defence of qualified privilege. We don’t know exactly what the basis for it was, but it was struck out by Judge Olsson in October 2013 and the matter set down for trial on assessment of damages in November, which is when it came before Judge Elkaim.

By this time, Mr Farley had had enough. Who knows, he probably had run out of money for legal representation. It probably didn’t seem worth spending another $20,000 or more to be on a hiding to nothing. He did not turn up to the hearing.

Maybe that was a calculated gamble. But it gave Mrs Mickle and her lawyers a free kick against him.

Mrs Mickle gave evidence. One thing that particularly upset her was the suggestion that she may have had something to do with Mr Farley’s father’s departure from the school.

Mrs Angus also gave evidence. She is one person who may well have had something to do with the circumstances of Mr Farley’s father’s departure. She attested to Mrs Mickle’s excellence as a teacher, amongst other things.

Judge Elkaim awarded Mrs Mickle $85,000 ordinary damages and $20,000 aggravated damages. There will also be an order for costs and presumably costs orders had already been made as a result of the striking out of the defence. That was in November.

This month, after a story appeared in the press about the decision, his judgment was published on the internet.

It’s an unusual judgment, because unlike most defamation judgments the matter complained about was not included in the judgment. So we really have absolutely no means of seeing for ourselves on what basis the figure of $85,000 was plucked from the air. And a few other free kicks also went through to the keeper (OK: that metaphor is mixed and in fact positively wrong.)

That included a kick against Mr Farley’s father, described by the judge as having “left the school in 2008 in order to attend to personal issues.” The judge said there was “absolutely no evidence” to support Mr Farley’s apparent belief as to something different and in particular any involvement by Mrs Mickle in this. Of course there wasn’t.

His Honour said:

The plaintiff has said, and I accept, that all of the imputations that are set out in the Statement of Claim are untrue.

How could he have found otherwise? Defamatory imputations unless defended are presumed to be untrue.

Judge Elkaim also remarked that Mr Farley had never been taught by Mrs Mickle. I suppose the point of that was to explain why whatever bad thing Mr Farley said about Mrs Mickle cannot have had any proper foundation or motivation which would amount to a qualified privilege. Judge Olsson had already decided that, so Judge Elkaim’s observation was otiose.

In a country high school I doubt you need to be in a teacher’s class to have some knowledge and idea of the teacher and a music teacher is likely to have a more public profile than merely to her direct students. But there was nobody there to suggest otherwise.

Exemplary justice has been done. Mr Farley may well elect to go bankrupt (update: he has done so). If he is still a student, he could serve out his bankruptcy without making much of a contribution towards his debts. He would afterwards have a bad credit rating which he will need to explain every time he tries to get a loan. If so, Mrs Mickle may get something, but mostly only vindication. Who knows on what basis her lawyers are to be paid, if at all.

Car buying

March 5, 2014

pian_cheat-chinese-character

The week before last, in a moment of (not uncharacteristic) impatience and inattentiveness
D drove into the back of another car. It was in stop-start traffic. Ironically, he says he was looking at a damaged car on the side of the road when he failed to notice that the car in front had stopped moving.

No one was hurt, but the other car was much more robust than my little VW Golf, which crumpled up at the front. The driver’s side front lights were broken, the front bumper parts smashed, you couldn’t open the bonnet without tools and the driver’s door only opened with a most tremendous crack.

It’s a 14 year old car and registration was due in mid-March.

In moments like this, we turn to Av, husband of my old friend U, for advice. He is an avid buyer and seller and do-er up of second-hand cars. (Last year U had the first new and first comprehensively-insured car of her life, only because it came with a lease deal from Av’s work.) “Put it up on Gumtree. Ask for $600 and accept $500,” he said. He took a few pictures with his mobile phone and posted the ad for us. I went to Elektra.

We sold it on Sunday morning for $500 to the first callers, who’d driven all the way from Penrith. We didn’t tell them about the various things that were wrong with the car – the occasional tendency to stall, the cantankerous electric windows and central locking, the funny smell like ironing that we’ve recently noticed. When they asked, we just got a bit vague and simply said “It’s an old car.” I had had it for 11 years.

The nominal buyer was a young woman born in 1995. It may really have been being bought for the younger of the two men who came with her, who had forgotten his licence. As the older man handed over the money I half-joked that it would just about do for my scheduled trip to the dentist the next day. He replied “You don’t want to know about my teeth.” As he laughed a bit I could see just enough of one tooth to see that he was probably right. He looked a bit rough, but that was just appearance: D remarked after they left, they were very polite and in fact quite well-spoken.

We hoped they got back to Penrith without the car coming to the attention of the police and that they would still be happy with the bargain when they got to know the car better.

Now I’m out to buy a car myself. I haven’t got far. Amongst other things, it’s hard to buy a car once you haven’t got one. It makes it especially difficult to seek out private sellers. On the Saturday when Av came round, D asked Av if he could recommend any trustworthy car dealer. Av just laughed.

In a way it’s the situation rather than the person. True honesty would require a dealer to volunteer defects in the car being sold.

I can’t be bothered searching out all the cases, but when you study contract law you realise that a lot of the cases about warranties and misrepresentations in the nineteenth century and earlier are about people buying horses. It seems that horse dealers had the same reputation as used car dealers have today: after all, they were selling something quite expensive and necessary with a history known to the seller which could be critical.

In the meantime, I have resumed my Chinese studies, more in an attempt not to forget than to improve. The character above is one which I revisited recently.

As is well known, Chinese characters contain idiolects. Commonly, one part of the character represents the sound of the word (which may itself include some clue as to its original meaning) and another part of the character bears some relationship to the meaning. In the character above, the right hand side is the clue to the sound. The left hand side is therefore the clue to the meaning: it means “horse.”

The word means “cheat.”

Nightsafed!

March 1, 2014

I have not been riding my bike so often recently, for various reasons.  I quite often take the train home and that is quite often late in the evening.

On Friday night, I caught a train from Wynyard just after 11pm.  I was reading something as I got up from one of the few seats at the rear end of the platform and only realised that the last carriage, which I was headed for, was locked with the lights off when a fellow passenger pointed that out.  I went to the second last carriage.

There we were greeted by two rather truculent policemen who, without any explanation, ordered us to move to the next carriage, the third from the end.

The explanation came from the announcement by the guard over the PA: “This train has been nightsafed.”

As far as I can see, what that means is that they reduce the number of carriages so that, as the train continues its route to the outer suburbs, it is easier for the police to patrol.

How much difference does 6 make to 8 carriages?

Aside from the unwelcome presence of grumpy and bossy police, what it meant for us (those of us going to the relatively closer stations) was that the 6 carriages instead of 8 were uncomfortably crowded and seemed rowdier than usual as a result.


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