Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Book review: Protestants: The Faith that Made the Modern World, Alec Ryrie (2017)

The author is an Anglican minister but there is no hint of triumphalism in this brilliant historical work, one that takes the reader from the modern origins of Protestantism in the 16th century up to our times. Ryrie was born in the UK and graduated from Oxford Uni but grew up in the US.

There is the occasional mention of the Lollards and the Hussites but nothing substantial, whereas for Luther and Zwingli and Calvin there is a complete exegesis based on original sources. There are 20 pages of notes as well as an index.

Ryrie is a clever writer, it should be said, who is aware of how the reader is feeling at different points in the narrative and who inserts divagations at points apropos in order to provide a rich and rewarding experience. While complex, the book is not difficult. This combination of factors is an index of Ryrie’s skill.

While the facts are comprehensive it is the building of a story that sustains the reader who spends time with this book. It tells a story that has a remarkable origin and that continues to sustain both people and polis wherever it is practiced. Again: no triumphalism. Rather, an awareness of the protean nature of the project, one that occupies and rewards the people involved in it wherever they may live and whatever their roles.

While Ryrie’s main point about this form of religious practice is centred, in his mind, on a love affair with God, it also has other characteristics: the tendency of Protestants to both cleave to the word of the Bible and to splinter into groups. The way that this plays out at different times helps the reader to understand identity politics, which Ryrie (possibly optimistically) sees as another offshoot of Protestantism.

He takes the reader from the homeland of Protestantism in continental Europe, to the United States of America, to Korea and China and places beyond. His task is massive but stylistically he’s up to the challenge. A very good book indeed.

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Dream journal: Twenty-six

This is the twenty-sixth in a series of posts chronicling dreams I have had. As usual, the date shown is the date the dream was captured. This is usually the morning after the night the dream took place. You can’t wait very long before capturing a dream because it soon disappears from memory.

27 April

Had a nap after lunch and dreamt I was in mum and dad’s house looking after granny. Mum and dad had died but granny was still alive. There were two staircases made of wood, one on each side of an entranceway going outside to a verandah. A cousin was there with her daughter, and an aunt – not the mother of the cousin – was there as well. In the dream the two women were, strangely, about the same age.

Someone had put carpets on the top steps of the staircases and I asked if they could be taken away as I was having trouble walking down to the dining room-kitchen area at the bottom of the flights. There were banisters set in the wall, and I descended with my left hand on a wooden banister, carefully balancing on the steep flight of stairs, worried lest I tumble down to the bottom and hurt myself. Each time I got down to the bottom safely, I felt relieved and grateful.

A friend was there as well and he was watching something on Netflix. There was a bookshop display cabinet with a mechanism to enable it to turn, and it had lots of copies of children’s books on it. With my hand I turned it round looking at the multiple copies of each book it contained, most of which were small and had hard covers, and wondered why mum had bought so many and how much the bookcase had cost. “Who are the books for?” I asked myself, then remembered the children I had seen playing in the house.

In the pool off the back garden, on which the verandah looked out, was a cat trapped in wrapping paper that had come from a posted parcel. The cat was white and it was making a fuss in the water. I told my friend to get it out of the pool, and he did so quickly evidently fearful, like me, that some misadventure could befall the creature.

28 April

Dreamt I was in Tokyo and trying to get back to my family’s house in Yokohama. At the time of the dream I was in Tokyo City, about an hour away, by train, from my destination. I was inside a large train station servicing multiple intersecting commuter lines, one of which would take me to northern Yokohama and another to the Yokohama central business district, and one of which would take me to Shinjuku. IRL there is one station that would fit this description – Shibuya – which I used for my daily commute when I lived in Yokohama.

As I was walking in the dream along the platform, having gotten off one train, I was talking with an older American woman who, it became clear to me, lived in the area where the station I was in had its street exits. I was describing to the woman about a potato that you grate in order to make a sort of paste. Or slime; we had been talking about food made from slime, including a kind of jelly. To illustrate the food I’d mentioned I used my hands to depict the grater as I couldn’t remember the name of the utensil. The word “grater” eluded me so I made circular motions with my right hand, its fingers pinched loosely as though holding a narrow tuber, and used my left hand’s fingers to pretend to hold a utensil, as though I were rubbing the potato against it in a circular motion. IRL the name of this dish is “tororo” and it was a favourite of mine when I lived in Japan between 1992 and 2001.

As we kept going I realised that if I didn’t catch another train I would have to get out on the street and catch a taxi which, I accurately estimated, would cost a lot more money than it would cost to go by train. I left the woman and turned back, searching for a passage to take me to a platform where I could board a train going in the general direction I desired. 

I looked, occasionally, to the walls and ceilings of the spaces I found myself in. They were inlaid with a mosaic made up of complex networks of lines and dots and words representing the network of tunnels, tracks, and stations I was inside. The words were linked to the dots by shapes like the chocks you use to keep an aircraft immobile while it is on the ground; triangles but with the longest side made of a curve, as in a graph. 

I didn’t know where I was but knew, at least, that I was inside one of the indicated stations. Endeavouring to get to my destination I walked up and down flights of steps, under overpasses, into tunnels and out again, always looking for the right place to stand and wait for a train to arrive. The stairways had concrete banisters that were covered with yellow tiles. 

Eventually, I came to what I thought was the right platform and stood there in front of a train with its doors open but I didn’t, for some reason, board the train. Instead, I started talking with a homeless man who had a dog on the platform. The dog was friendly but I was wary. It was a tan Labrador. The man had some kind of mark on his face; under his left eye I could see what appeared to be a bruise or birthmark.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Book review: The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters, Laura Thompson (2015)

I was bored out of my brain watching TV, since my home contents has been packed up due to the fact that I’m moving house, and so I walked to Glebe and bought some books, this being one of them. It turned out to be a good choice as my state of mind – feeling a little vulnerable and uncertain due to the change underway – consoned with traces of anxiety the book communicates.


It’s difficult to write a biography about six women like the Mitford sisters because of their connections with Nazism, but Thompson has done us a great service by indulging in her personal fascination with her subjects. This is a magnificent biography.

It’s a thorough exposé of a period of time so different from today but, also, so similar in many respects, not the least of which is the reason for notoriety of the women under examination. The fact that so much is known about them, due to the survival of a large number of private letters and also due to the existence of published works of fiction (and memoir), adds richness to Thompson’s account.

She had to become acquainted with some of the darkest parts of history in order to write it. I applaud her gumption and recognise the worth of her approach, which mingles the personal with the public in a thrilling manner. The way the sisters related to their parents, to each other, to significant others, and to the public provides a view that is at the same time microscopic and broad. 

The title is stripped back and modern, matching the subject matter. Reading the book it’s actually easy to see why some of the Mitford sisters responded to the call of the siren, but I wonder if Thompson might not have realised how nihilism made them liable to succumb to fascism and Communism in the absence of other, equally rewarding, inputs. Nancy, who went on to become a successful novelist, seems to have remained least liable to respond positively to the lure of the political extremism that animated the era, though even she did so at some points. 

Jessica went the other way from Unity and Diana, and became a Communist. And while Thompson remarks from time to time how difficult it is, now, for us to understand people living then – almost a century ago now – she is reticent about going the next step and making proclamations that might explain why some of these youthful sisters (and, indeed, their parents) cleaved so strongly to fascism. In my mind it certainly had something to do with youth, but it was more complex than that, and I alluded to some of the things that were in action at the time in a review of another book, which I read in May

Again, it’s germane for me to say that Thompson has done us all a favour at the same time as she indulged her own fascination with these women. I strongly recommend this book to people who are curious about the 1930s or to people who want to understand more about our own times, with its violent public sphere and extreme views.

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Grocery shopping list for July 2020

This post is the nineteenth in a series and the fifth with rona. 

3 July

Drove to Woolworths and bought (see receipt below) taramosalata, marinaded goat’s cheese, onions, linguine, a sultana butter cake, flavoured mineral water (no-sugar), and – whoops-a-daisy! – a bottle of tonic water.


5 July

Went to the convenience store and bought eggs, milk, and sliced chicken breast. Then popped in at the bottle shop and bought two six-packs of Carlton Zero.

6 July

Drove to Woolies and bought fillet steak, a barramundi fillet, smoked hake fillets, bread, an oakleaf lettuce, bean salad, “spiced cauliflower and winter veg,” and blueberries. 

This trip to the supermarket was my first one in the RAV4 and, with the roof racks on, as headroom is sufficient, I had no dramas going into the carpark. Standing under the store next to the car, I eventually worked out how to open the rear door, which works by touch (not using the remote control). After a few false starts the door opened. 

7 July

Walked to the pharmacy and popped in at Coles while in the arcade to buy (see receipt below) some no-sugar flavoured mineral water. It was dearer than I usually pay at Woolworths, though Woolies’ price for this (from my point of view) essential item seems to change from day to day.


On this day I had a conversation on Twitter with @GayCarBoys about my contretemps with the rear door. “It took me 5 minutes to work out how to open the rear door!” (Actually it was more like 30 seconds.) He answered: “Was the button not working?” “I had to learn by doing,” I replied. “The sales guy gave me a 30 minute rundown of features when I picked the car up, but some things weren't covered ...” He replied: “TBH they really don't have time to. I reckon there is a business in showing people how to work their gizmos ;)” 

I couldn’t actually accurately recall how long the explanation took that Ryan gave me in the auto retailer’s showroom, but it took forever. A RAV4 has so many features, and the way it talks with the driver’s phone is astounding (I feel like a Boomer in the Geeks 2 U ad).

9 July

Went to the pharmacy and then the tailor’s (to pick up dry cleaning) and on the way home popped in at Woolies and picked up (see receipt below) sliced pastrami, sliced ham, “spiced cauliflower and winter veg”, couscous with pumpkin, tomato soup, lamb soup, and lentil soup.


11 July 

Went to the convenience store and bought milk.

12 July

Drove to Officeworks and on the way home popped in at Woolworths and bought (see receipt below) sliced chicken breast, sliced ham, raisin butter cake, carrot cake, chillies, tomatoes, and flavoured mineral water (no-sugar).


14 July 

Went to the tailor’s and to the pharmacy and while out used Woolworths to buy (see receipt below) bean salad, lentil salad, Tim Tams, and flavoured mineral water (no-sugar).


Later drove to Officeworks and bought (see receipt below) a bottle of hand sanitiser for visitors to the apartment, which I’d decided to sell.


16 July

Drove to Woolworths and bought eggs, bread, milk, a saucepan (because I’d forgotten to put one aside prior to the move), pastrami, a cos lettuce, and flavoured mineral water (no-sugar).

17 July

Went to Bunnings and bought (see receipt below) Stanley knife blades and cleaning liquid. This gear was to get tape off my apartment window. The stuff had been used to hold up a pillow case designed to keep the sun out of my eyes while I sat at the computer in the early mornings but now, with the sale, it had become an eyesore. 


18 July

Drove to Woolies and bought (see receipt below) instant oats, apples, blueberries, Tim Tams, and flavoured mineral water (no-sugar).


In the evening went to the Feather and Bone Butchery website and put in an order (see confirmation screen clip, below) to be delivered.


20 July

Went to Woolies and bought (see receipt below) a perch fillet, salmon steaks, smoked hake fillets, lentil salad, couscous with pumpkin, tomato soup, taramosalata, a sultana butter cake, and two bottles of Schweppes “Agrum” no-sugar drink.


I’d taken an email from Feather and Bone Butchery out of the spam folder in the morning and at 12.06pm Nevil called me on the phone as the intercom, he said, wasn’t working. I went down and met him and carried the box upstairs, then repackaged everything for freezing, finishing at 12.23pm. I called the building manager’s office to log an error notice for the equipment and they said someone would probably come out the same day, or the next, to fix it.

In the afternoon I went to the bottle shop and bought two six-packs of Carlton Zero. While out I popped in at the convenience store and bought biscuits (Caramel Crowns, and Mint Slice) and a packet of chips.

22 July

Went to Woolies and bought sliced pastrami, sliced ham, apples, blueberries, lamb soup, chicken noodle soup, hummus with harissa, Tim Tams, and flavoured mineral water (no-sugar).

23 July

Walked to Woolies and bought (see receipt below) “spiced roasted cauliflower and winter veg”, sundried tomatoes, d’affinois cheese, bhuja, Tim Tams, and mouthwash.


24 July

Went to Woolworths and bought lentil salad, bread, milk, biscuits (Chocolate Gaiety, Caramel Crowns), and no-sugar flavoured mineral water.

25 July

Walked to Glebe to buy books and while there stopped at Harris Farm Markets and bought (see receipt below) harira (tomato, lentil and chickpea) soup, chicken and white bean soup, Hungarian salami, Danish salami, Maffra “Riverslea” red cheddar, blue cheese, blueberries, and lentil chips.


26 July

Went to Woolworths and bought Jatz crackers and no-sugar mineral water.

27 July

Drove to Lakemba (to buy a shirt); while there I popped in at a grocer’s and got a container of spiced, fried fish, a container of beef and potato biryani, and a container of chicken tawa (which involves pieces of an animal being cooked on a “tawa”, or round frying pan with, according to Google, “fresh tomatoes, onions chillies and a range of spices”; it is popular in India and Pakistan).

28 July

Had a local appointment and on the way home stopped at Woolies and bought hummus with harissa, taramosalata, apples, blueberries, bean salad, cauliflower soup, beetroot soup, a sultana butter cake, and some Caramel Crowns (a type of biscuit).

29 July

Had some errands to do with the car so, while out, I popped in at Coles and bought (see receipt below) paper towels, instant oats, and flavoured mineral water (no-sugar).