Modest Expectations – Blumenthal & Hawley

Wednesday, 10pm. Bit sad.

If Mary Fowler progresses and Sam Kerr maintains her place at the apex of the game then we’ll have a formidable attack for the 2027 Cup, the venue of which will be announced on 17th May next year. Four bids are being considered:

  • Germany, Netherlands, Belgium
  • United States, Mexico
  • Brazil
  • South Africa

But it’s a bit early to speculate on that while understandably defeat hurts. Time to concentrate on Sweden in two days’ time for the game to determine the bronze medal.

Finally, an Olympic gold medal in Paris in next year would be some compensation.

As Tony Armstrong said to this youngish side “Maintain the Rage!”  Well at least metaphorically.

Matilda Day

Well done Matildas!  Seeded 13th, and yes, home ground advantage; but beaten by the Poms, seeded fourth. Probably the Poms were a better team – cagey and robust. Nevertheless, we had our chances.

It is thus a very appropriate time, Prime Minister, if you had the courage. Why not replace the King’s Birthday with Matilda Day to celebrate Australian women including their sporting achievements? A good time to institute such a change, given that it is not even Charles’ real birthday, and if you stand back, you would realise how ludicrous it is for us to celebrate the mythical birthday of an ageing Pom, who has no relevance to modern Australia, apart from being the representative of colonial overlords, whose ancestors help drive my family out of Ireland or would have left them to starve. I’m sure that I am not the only Australian to feel the same way.

If you would ask the Australian people whether they thought a public holiday to continue to celebrate somebody who would have done King George III of 1788 fame proud, or what the Matildas represent, I am sure they would choose Matilda Day.

And if that doesn’t convince us of our Prime Minister’s judgment, perhaps his interviewer-of-choice in the UK, Piers Morgan’s comments might jolt him into ditching his obsequious attitude to the British:

England’s fabulous Lionesses crush Australia’s wilting Matildas 3-1 in their own back yard to reach the Women’s World Cup Final … sweet revenge for the Jonny Bairstow Ashes runout debacle. Congrats ladies – you’ve made your country proud! Morgan wrote.

Matched only by England’s guttersnipe, Stokes’ tweets. Bitch about cricket all you like, no matter how unwarranted without checking your own MCC rules, but what have the Matildas done to deserve your disgusting commentary other than play hard and accept the result graciously.

Did you guys enjoy Sam Kerr being kicked in the face?

Those two should witness the demonstration of grace – the Matildas.

Humbug Valley

I had not travelled up the New England Highway for some years before last week. I remember travelling up the highway first in May 1956. My father believed, as my mother had died two months before, that it would be therapeutic to get away from Melbourne and go to Brisbane. It was the last capital city I needed to visit to complete the set, if Darwin had not to be included. In any event I had travelled with my parents on The Ghan to Alice Springs five years before. This had left Queensland the only State or Territory that I had yet to visit, but in the intervening years my mother had become very ill.

It was a time when John Landy had the whole country in a fervour as he tried to break the four-minute mile. I remember when we were driving up the Highway, we passed a car, which was stopped. We noted its driver as we were, listening to the crackle of the broadcast. It was obvious that both of us were listening to John Landy running. Why else would this stranger be jumping up like a dervish while acknowledging what he assumed to be a kindred spirit as we honked our car’s horn? I can’t remember what time Landy did in this race.

On this occasion last week we were headed to stay with an old friend and his partner, who live in Toowoomba, and we stopped overnight in Armidale, where I first visited for a university student meeting in 1960.  It was a tense time then, because the University of Melbourne student body had seceded from The National Union of Australian University of Students (the Australian Nation Union of Students title was thought to be very inappropriate – but not by all!) the year before I became President of the University of Melbourne SRC.

The reason for the secession has been lost in the mists of time, but coming in to land, those mists were still there, hanging around the airport. The campus of the University reflected the youth of the University as a separate entity from its parent University of Sydney in 1954. It was a dismal place.  Little money had been spent on it. There was mud everywhere and wood planks had been put down to assist the attendees in negotiating the mud. I remember that nevertheless there were several falls from insecure planks. As for the meeting, the outcome was relatively positive although Sydney University, with Michael Kirby to the fore, was implacably opposed to our readmission.

Anyway, these anecdotes are by-the-by. The New England Highway resembles the Hume Highway of the 1960s in being two lanes passing through every little village, with restricted speeding.  The only exception was Scone where, given the overall lousy standard of the bitumen, we found here a smooth stretch. I presumed the Scone bypass was relatively new, and on checking, it was completed three years ago. To finish this picture, there are occasional overtaking lanes but very few rest areas, and travelling north these always seem to be on the other side of the road.

What has changed? It is the volume of traffic, and now the trucks are Leviathans. The number of coal trucks confirms that we are in the land of the climate change denialists. Then the coal trains passing through reinforce this view. The Hunter Valley is littered with coal mining activity, sneering at climate change. As the prospect of a world consumed by fires ramps up, it will even reach the coal executives high in their office tower buildings from where admittedly the view of the Coal Fires could be beautifully apocalyptic.

Once Hunter, now Humbug, Valley (can’t close the mines – what about the jobs!) I would suggest there will be many more jobs for firefighters trying to put out the flames. Passing yet another rumbling overladen coal truck just keeps reminding us that public policy in this country is a travesty. Yet we are letting the politicians, who should be rectifying it, get away with doing nothing, thus effectively complicit in the murder of our planet.


Traveling through the Hunter Valley reminded us of the time we spent a weekend for four, courtesy of British Airways at Belltrees. Belltrees is the home of the White family, from which the noted author Patrick White was spawned. The White family have owned an extensive tract of land in the Upper Hunter region of New South Wales since 1831, and in the process of acquisition acquired all the water rights. Wealth and White have been synonymous there, in a property which once occupied 56,000 hectares at its biggest, but now is a relatively modest 9,000 hectares.

Belltrees Homestead

We stayed in one of the cottages in the grounds of the 52-room Federation mansion, where we were greeted with afternoon tea, followed in the evening by an excellent traditional meal with Hunter wines, Tyrrells as I remember them. The next day exploring the grounds, we had a picnic lunch, and drove up to Ellerston, the Packer property in the lee of the forested Barrington Tops. Very select, well-guarded, high Cyclone wire fence encircling the property, where Packer even then had multiple polo fields hidden away in his 28,000-hectare property. A large helicopter could be seen, like the Royal Standard over Buckingham Palace, suggesting in this case, Packer was in residence.

That visit to Belltrees was probably in the early nineties, and I was talking to a friend who knows the value of property in that area. He had looked at parcels of land being carved from the estate and put up for sale.  This slice of the property was sold, but still a substantial amount remains, despite the remaining White owners investing into polo rather than farming.

I thought then it was another world, but Sydney is ringed by settlement where pioneering families still abound, where their presence is muted, as “old money” still exists and has not been gradually whittled away over the generations. I believe polo is one such “whittling indulgence”.

Just Love that Ibacus peronii 

Ibacus peronii

Nambucca Heads is one of those coastal, or more correctly riverine communities, which have grown over the years from being a fishing village to being a place where people have built holiday homes, and more recently by those retiring and moving to these townships – the sea change.  With this evolution the housing just resembles any other metropolitan suburb or township, but 500 km from Sydney. The housing stock is no different. Houses with the narrow eaves, energy inefficient, timber framed, brick veneer or cement construction with a vestigial garden, plonked down to remind one that all individuality in such towns is increasingly being lost.

But not quite. In a quiet spot on the Nambucca River away from the major hub is Davis Seafood. This unprepossessing shopfront has a sign which highlights that you can buy fish and “air fried chips”. Small notices above the door state “flake”, “blackfish” and “mullet”. They also announced that they sold crustacea – mud crab and Balmain bug.

Well, it was not very promising. There was neither flake nor blackfish available. The mullet had been sold out. It was one of those places where the day’s catch was sold – until there was no more. As for mud crabs, they were not available in August – rule of thumb, mud crabs are only available in the months that have the letter “R” in their title.

However, there were Balmain bugs, freshly caught, freshly cooked. They were small. Nevertheless, they tasted as I have never tasted one before. Reminiscent of lobster, but more delicate and where one could taste the brine. Absolutely sublime.

That was not all. there were whiting fillets available for the fish and chips – it may not have been wrapped in newspaper, but it was that authentic taste that I remembered from my childhood. Nostalgia may have clouded this enthusiastic reminder of the fish and chips of yore.  In my fish files, the Balmain bugs were the best I ever tasted.  Ironically, we live in the Sydney suburb where the Bugs, Ibaci peronii, were common; but sadly, no more.

 Vegemite on the Moonie

This past weekend we stayed with John and Hillary plus Poppy, her Dalmatian. As a side comment, I do not care much for dogs; but I must say these hounds with their black spotted coat have a noble appearance. I could see these carriage dogs bounding alongside the coach protecting the travellers from the attacks of wild animals or highwaymen with the temerity to not yield to these regal canines.

John Kibble has been a friend of mine for nearly 40 years. He was a Queensland medical graduate with a deep-seated affinity for the Darling Downs and has owned cattle properties across Queensland as well being in the forefront of promoting day surgery.

Below is a poem, which I wrote some years ago. The fact we still had a blue Saab then gives some indication how long ago this subject of the poem occurred. John had invited us to the Flinton races. Flinton itself is a population speck about 100 kilometres east of St George, a place for growing melons (the major grower was a man called Moon and his melon harvest known as “moon rocks” – although we were informed that he now grows onions – “onimoons” doesn’t have the same ring.)

However, the race meeting coincided with heavy rain, so heavy that the races were cancelled, but nevertheless John had invited us to stay at his property through which the Moonie River ran. We were to go on to St George, and the Moonie was due to bring a “banker”. If that occurred, we would not be able to ford the River and this meant a sixty kilometre detour.

Therefore, the ballad below relates what happened when we crossed the Moonie River that age ago when “ute” was still a word. Read on:

Squares and Spanish Moss

Savannah is one of those Southern United States cities where the Spanish moss hangs from the trees, the magnolias bloom, azaleas abound in spring and where the arterial Savannah River still has paddle steamers contributing to that nostalgic belief of courtly southern etiquette, with the whole city built around squares. Although the city was not razed by the Northern Army during the Civil War, the ghosts of men in grey uniforms and women in bonnet, shawl and crinoline still wander the streets with their jolly loyal black attendants, caricatures, perhaps called Aunt Jemima and Uncle Remus.

We had stopped off in Savannah, taking a break from our railway trip from Miami to New York. Once the train would back up into the city centre, but now as we waited to leave Savannah late at night, I watched those who were waiting like us for the Amtrak, white and African American groups, huddling against the cold. I had this product of fertile imagination of what an ideal place for a terrorist attack – an isolated shed aka railway station late in the evening.  Fertile, but it is not my usual reaction when I have been in such locations. Eventually the train came.  It was late.

But back to the beginning. Even though it was early winter, we wanted to walk the Squares of this city in Georgia, starting at the River and then proceeding away in a roughly centrifugal manner. Each of the squares had its own identity.

Monterey Square is probably the most well-known of all the Squares, because of its association with John Berendt’s non-fictional novel “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”. Although it did not win the Pulitzer Prize, it has become of the most popular novel of its type, being on the best-seller list for over four years after its publication in 1994 and the subsequent 1997 Clint Eastwood film, in which Jack Thompson is featured as the savvy trial lawyer, Sonny Seiler, who defended Jim Williams in his trial for the murder of Danny Hansford, his sexual partner. Sordid is one word which comes as one wanders through this licentious Berendt swamp but is it compelling reading!

Johnny Mercer

In that Square there is also a house built by an ancestor of Johnny Mercer, the song writer, who wrote many famous songs, including one of my favourites, Moon River. We stayed in the Hyatt Avia Hotel on Ellis Square facing the Market, where there was an almost life size statue of Johnny Mercer leaning on a fire hydrant reading a newspaper. It had been vandalised and remained partially covered.

Savannah, at the time we walked around the city, had 23 Squares although others had been mapped out and been lost with time. The Squares nevertheless defined the people who lived around them. This bred an individuality in each of these Squares.

For instance, there is Chippewa Square named for the 1814 victory of the United States near Niagara. This was one of the battles in the 1812 War, which showed that the United States army could match it with a seasoned British military force fresh from its victories in the Napoleonic Wars. The US army was under the command of General Jacob Brown. But the statue in the Square is that of a stout General Oglethorpe with sword unsheathed, as he faces south, repelling the Spanish presumably.

General James Oglethorpe founded Savannah in 1733 as a bulwark against Spanish incursions into the British Carolinas and as a potential port for raw material export. In this case the crop was cotton, bolstered by black slavery to ensure the growth of Savannah as a significant port.

Nevertheless, Chippewa Square has modern notoriety, as it was where Tom Hanks as Forest Gump was filmed on a park bench waiting for a bus. I could not find the spot.

Although there is an Oglethorpe Square, where the Moravians settled with their musical skill and ability to craft musical instruments, the first two Squares created were Johnson and Telfer Squares, all lined up near the river. These squares in winter were not the most attractive but were areas where the first churches were built and generally had religious associations.  John Wesley later, as a young clergyman, came to Savannah and preached there.

Chippewa Square

As it was winter, it was not the time to visit Savannah if you wanted to smell the flowers. These Squares were thus stripped of their colour and were reliant on their structure, the architecture, the configuration – whether the central point was fountain or statue. Each Square has its own distinct history.

What did we take away from Savannah? A black felt rat with pink inner ears. This rat had been left over from Halloween. Having read Berendt’s novel, I could not think of anything more appropriate than the acquisition of such a dark forbidding creature. Savannah, after all, epitomises that Baudelaire axiom about at the heart of intense beauty that evil can permeate the environs.

Mouse Whisper

Seen on the back of a caravan being towed by a 4WD vehicle in northern NSW, “Adventure before Dementia”.

A brutal warning not to delay travel and acquisition of new experiences before it is too late. People say glibly 70 is the new 50. Somewhere in the seventies, this gap closes (if it ever existed) and by the age of 80, 80 is 80, I am assured.

We mice do not have to worry. Getting to seven years is not the new five.

Modest Expectations – Kingaroy

Arachibutyrophobia is the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth.

Kingaroy is the peanut growing centre of Australia. The terracotta soil is apparently excellent for the cultivation of the underground peanut, and my wife in a spirit of horticultural patriotism only buys Kingaroy peanuts.

Now Kingaroy is in Queensland and is famous for being the home for Joh Bjelke Petersen, part of a Danish Lutheran family. His grandfather, Georg and grandmother, Caroline, migrated from Southern Jutland initially to Hobart. One of their children, was Carl Georg, who became a Lutheran pastor, married Maren, another Danish immigrant, and departed to New Zealand. Joh was born here in Dannevirke in 1911.

This township was founded by Norwegian and Danish immigrants, who were brought to New Zealand by the government in 1872 to cut down the forest which covered much of southern Hawke’s Bay and then to farm the cleared land.

Carl was sickly and the family migrated back to Australia and settled in Kingaroy, established a farm and the association between Joh and the Peanut was born. One of the many Joh quirks was that he spoke Danish fluently, but when he eventually went back to Denmark, his heavily guttural rural dialect made him very difficult even for the Danes to understand. They were not the only ones, especially when he reverted to English.

I only met Joh once when, of all people, John Button, the puckish Labor senator introduced me at a reception in King’s Hall. What struck me was how dead his eyes were. Even people with the perceived deadest of eyes like Greg Norman could not compete with Joh’s level of deadness.

I have worked around Queensland, and for a period a close friend of mine worked in Kingaroy and invited us to visit.

The legacy of that visit long term was the purchase of a collared T-shirt which had been deliberately “dyed” with the soil. Over the years, the colour has faded, but I have never had to use the sachet of Kingaroy soil which came with it, to “re-dye” it. I heard that the wives of the peanut farmers always claimed that their husbands brought the soil to bed, and for those who did not wear pyjamas, it was red sheets in the sunrise.

One of the bonuses of Kingaroy is that the Bunya Mountains are close by. These Mountains are an isolated segment of the Great Dividing Range. When you drive into these mountains as we did, we entered a brooding, mist enshrouded forest area, which remains subtropical yet cooler due the thickness of the forest cover and the fact that the roads climb to nearly 1,000 metres.

Bunya pines are a member of the Araucaria family. They used to be much more widespread than they are now. One of the few remaining areas is the Bunya Mountains, the remains of an extinct volcano, ostensibly 30 million years old, where the Bunyas grow well in moist basalt soil.

Bunya Pines grow up to 50m tall, and in summer are potentially dangerous, because they have this unpredictable knack of ‘bombing’ with their nut. These nuts can weigh up to 10 kgs, so being hit with one of these is potentially lethal if one is unfortunate enough to be standing under that Bunya. Despite the dire warning, it is difficult to find any record of a person who has actually died by Bunya cone.

While we were in the Mountains, we bought five Bunya saplings. Why? When I thought about it later, I rationalised that we would nurture them and then give them away. The concept of growing five trees with the potential to grow to fifty metres in a suburban garden was more than daunting – it verged on madness. It reminded me of the story I once heard, perhaps apocryphal, of some deranged inner suburban arborist, who planted twenty-four lemon gums in a postage stamp courtyard. As a result, so much water was sucked up by the eucalypts, that all the walls of the houses lining the square were cracked.

Thus, we did not plant any of them in the garden, kept them in pots. As they grew larger and larger we offered one to our gardener, who gave it a more suitable home on his country property. We also gave one each to the sons, and kept two. One is stacked in a small pot, like a Chinese woman strapped in tiny shoes, yet has continued to grow against all the odds. We put it out in the lane, on the grounds that it would be taken and given a better home than the one we could give it. It is still there defiantly growing.  Its sibling is growing slowly but robustly in the garden, still in a pot.

Time to go back into the land of the Bunya. The nuts are edible, and I once picked up a cone in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens, and the cone began to unravel into a strings of these nuts. I threw the nuts away. It was the Age of Bush Tucker ignorance.

Lobster – I have Tasted Everywhere, Man!

I have had many wonderful meals of lobster, which have been taken from the sea where they live a salty existence. I write that to distinguish them from crayfish, which are freshwater.

The few times I cooked lobsters, I gave them a merciful death by drowning them in freshwater. Takes time, but I feel more at ease than the horrendous practice of throwing them into boiling water or shoving a long knife up their spine.

One of the privileges of being an Australian is the number of places around the continent where lobster is available – as a rule of thumb, lobster is available in any month which contains the letter “r”.

There are two types of Australian lobsters, the western rock lobster and the more widespread southern rock lobster. The place where we have gorged on western lobster was on the Abrolhos, the long coral reef, which lies off the Western Australia coast.

These lobsters undergo a synchronised moult in late spring, when they change their normal red shell colour to a creamy-white or pale pink. The lobsters are then known as ‘whites’, until they return to their normal red colour at the next moult a few months later.  The lobsters harvested in the ocean near the Abrolhos tend to be smaller, but a fresh lobster is a fresh lobster.

Give me your lobster …

The southern rock lobsters leave their signature along the Limestone Coast of South Australia, and we once ate a lobster purchased from a seafood factory, beautifully cooked. We went down to the foreshore with the lobster and chips. There is something about eating seafood overlooking the Southern Ocean, especially if you love sea gulls.

Then, the next lobster port of call is the Victorian township of Port Fairy, where we once had a country cottage.  Before the days of tagging, one could go down to the fishing boat and buy a lobster directly off the boat.

Finally, there is Tasmania where, from the early days of travelling there, lobster was always available. There was a woman who even grew them in tanks. On one occasion she provided one for us free. For a time, as with Port Fairy, you could go down to the Strahan harbourside where lobster was readily available from a shop on the quay.

Then there were none. Why?  Most of the catch was exported to China or ended up in high-priced local restaurants around Australia. When China banned the import of Australian lobster, for a brief period there was a glut.

Just after alighting from the plane in Hobart, one had barely left the airport before being enticed by signs on the caravan of “freshly cooked” lobster. On that visit, lobster availability was more evident than even in the days when lobsters were not tagged.

Needless to say, the underground lobster trail to Asia has re-started with intermediate stages before the ultimate Chinese destination being in places such as Singapore to conceal the Australian nature of this cretaceous contraband. As a result, the price of lobster has risen as the local supply dwindles.

But in the meantime, I have developed an allergy to lobster.

Bisque Funder

John Funder is a remarkable polymath in his own write. He and I met in first year medicine, both children swaddled in the cloth of private male schooling, both sons of doctors. He was a Xavier lad; I wasn’t. Xavier taught ancient Greek; he was well steeped in the classical; he was a glittering research scientist. As for myself, I did Latin reasonably up to year 12 and obtained a mediocre PhD in researching angiotensin I & II.

Funder was and will always be my cynosure of “perceived relevance”. Whenever he came into my life, I always knew I was going through a phase of “faux-influential” – somebody worthy of being recognised, if not courted. One of those times occurred in 1973, when he was working in Hamburger’s Laboratory in Paris. No, this was not the scientific arm of McDonalds nor was it the crucible of “French fries” science.

Jean Hamburger (OM-boo-yeh) in fact was no joke. He was an eminent renal immunologist, whose pioneering work facilitated renal transplantation; and he even coined the word “nephrology” to describe the discipline of renal medicine and naturally was père de la néphrologie.

Funder, as was his wont, was thus living in Paris. It was early summer and as part of his overseas trip, Snedden had included Paris in his itinerary. The Department had booked him into the Hotel Georges V on the Champs Elysees. The suite which was allocated to Snedden was modestly luxurious and overlooked the Champs Elysees rather than the antique plumbing, which was my view from one of the rooms at the back, presumably once part of the servants’ quarters. I always remembered how spare it was, considering what it must have cost the Australian Government.

One evening, Snedden went off on a prior engagement with one of his banker mates, and I was left to my own devices for dinner. The telephone rang. It was Funder, who had tracked me down to the Hotel. As I was about to dine on my own, I invited him over to join me for dinner.

Bring on the bisque

Funder took over the menu. His intention was that the meal would do justice to the fact that he was in the Georges V, a scientist on a meagre salary who deserved the best the Georges V could provide. I was not particularly well, and a week later I was seeing a Harley Street specialist, who drained my ear of pus.

But what I remember was Funder introducing me to lobster bisque. The bisque was luxuriant and there seemed to be litres of it. But I excused myself early; Funder delicately left me with the bill. I have had bisque since, but never in Paris on the Champs Elysees – nor with John Funder.

The Book Lender

My love of books had started as my father gradually built up his collection of Penguin books. I never asked him what fascinated him about these books, but as he collected them, from an early age I was surrounded by these colourful paperbacks, beginning with the children’s series called Puffin. There were even Baby Puffin books, but I bypassed this first step on the literature ladder.

Allen Lane, the founder of these paperbacks, had always said that the Penguin book was there to entertain and the subsequent Pelican line to instruct. Lane labelled his various types of books after birds beginning with “P”. Why? Well, he took the bird idea from a line of German books published by one Albatross Press.

My wife suggested that this segment of my life be recorded for posterity. I was in a junior school and it was just after World War II, and the library in the school was full of those daring-do books which seemed to be reminiscences of men who had fought in the Boer War or were generally putting “those native chaps” back in their place.  These books were daunting to pick up let alone read, encased as they were in extravagant hard covers.

My mother banned me from having comics, although I remember a period where I managed to obtain Bosun & Choclit, which provided a diet of  both ageism and racism in a jocular form, an ideal socialising force for us bambini, I don’t think.

I remember buying my first Champion, an English “boy story paper” at the newsagency at Flinders Street station, and my mother relented.  Then for some years I regaled myself with stories about Rockfist Rogan, a World War II air ace, Colwyn Dane, a “tec”, Danny of the Dazzlers, a football team which seemed to be modelled on Arsenal, with feeder teams such as the Glimmers to construct a hierarchy of teams based on luminosity. There was the obligatory school hero, Ginger Nutt, “the boy who took the Biscuit”.

I became steeped in Pommy argot, learning for instance that dribbling was not necessarily of sialic origin. These stories shielded one from reality; a shadow may pass across the storyline but always the stories ended in the sunlight. Life was a jolly jape, where success came to the eponymous heroes.

There were two streams of books that were popular. One was the Biggles books, with his sidekicks, Algy, Worrall and Gimlet. The others were the Swallows and Amazons series of Arthur Ransome, children’s adventures mainly on Cumbria lakes and the Norfolk Broads.

I am not sure how it started but somebody asked me for the book I was reading, and I lent it him. It was the last I saw of the book. But then I had many books, which included some that had been written with children about 8 or 9 years old in mind. I decided to set up my own lending library, and soon I was doing a roaring trade in lending my books out at threepence, tuppence or a penny. I might have asked for sixpence for the better book. I recorded each transaction in a notebook, and my classmates were remarkably honest in returning the books.

But such an enterprise only had a limited life expectancy. One day, when I was finalising a transaction on the stairs, the principal walked by and asked me what I was doing. I told him. Then he asked me to come to his office.

At a school where the sons of successful business persons roamed, I was forbidden to carry out any more trade. It was just not the done thing, you know, to earn money by exploiting my fellow classmates.  He was very nice about it, but he could not have his pupils participate in trade. Heaven could wait!

In the meantime, I have accumulated books my whole life, without ever setting up a bookshop.

For the better class of book

Haven’t I Seen You before?

Genetics put them together, and epigenetics and microbiome pulls them apart. – Dr Esteller

According to one study, the likelihood of two people sharing the exact facial features is less than 1 in 1 trillion. Put another way, there is only a one in 135 chance that a single pair of doppelgängers exists on our planet of more than 7 billion people. Yet another source says that there are six people in the world, who can be mistaken for you, excluding twins and triplets.

One Canadian photographer, François Brunelle, who happened to be a doppelgänger for Rowan Atkinson was intrigued with this whole area. He photographed an extensive portfolio of doppelgängers. Looking through his photographs, they are stunning even given that being a photographer, he would have photographed the pairs in the most favourable light.

Last year, Dr. Esteller, a Spanish scientist reported on research where he recruited 32 pairs of lookalikes from Mr. Brunelle’s photographs to take DNA tests and complete questionnaires about their lifestyles. The researchers used facial recognition software to quantify the similarities between the participants’ faces. Sixteen of those 32 pairs achieved similar overall scores to identical twins analysed by the same software. The researchers then compared the DNA of these 16 pairs of doppelgängers to see if their DNA was as similar as their faces.

Dr Esteller found that the 16 pairs who were “true” doppelgängers, sharing significantly more of their genes than the other 16 pairs that the software deemed less similar. It all came down to the more they were alike, the more they share important parts of the genome.

However, DNA alone doesn’t tell the whole story of our makeup. The epigenome, the lived experiences, and those of our ancestors, influence which of our genes are switched on or off. Then there is one’s microbiome, the microscopic accompaniment made up mostly of bacteria and viruses, which is further influenced by our environment.  Thus, while the doppelgängers’ genomes were similar, their epigenomes and microbiomes were different – working in the opposite direction to the genome.

Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Vertigo, released when I was a late teenager, impressed me by the element of shock, where the one character portrayed by Kim Novak is the lookalike of herself, and where she is forced to re-enact events which had gone before – and emphasises that when the concept is artificially fused, there is a certain madness.  Jimmy Stewart does madness very well as he seeks to break the fusion apart.

Thus, this area has always fascinated me – the more so when I was said to resemble Elton John. I remember a time when Elton John was touring Australia and sustained a leg injury which put him in a wheelchair. One of my associates at the time said: “Put Jack in a wheelchair with a cowboy hat and nightclubs, here we come!”

It was the time when Elton was about to marry a woman, but even so I suspect it would have been quite a ride, if we had gone through with the wheelchair tour through a confused world of gender identity.

The first time I realised that he was my look-alike was back in 1972 when two young women at a work barbecue started looking at me and then began whispering and giggling.  At that stage, I had never heard of Elton John. But somebody showed me a record cover, and the similarity was immediately recognisable. When you are both mesomorph with heavy legs, wear glasses and have at certain angles, a similarity in features, then does that make one a lookalike – a sosie – a doppelgänger – a double? It may.

With me, it has never been more than a quirk, occasionally a conversation piece – but the confounding variable is lifestyle and, with time, nobody could be a genuine doppelgänger for such a unique personality as John – certainly not a retired guy called Jack without the same array of wigs. I really conform to the research findings about environmental push-back.

Mouse Whisper

There were two celebrities who looked alike. In a restaurant, one approached his doppelgänger, and before he could say anything, the first looked him up and down slowly, and said “My, you are a handsome fellow!” and without further ado got up and left.