Carmina Burana means “Songs from Beuern” in Latin. It is the name given to a manuscript of 254 poems and dramatic texts from 11th to 13th century. “Beuern” is short for Benediktbeuern. The collection found in 1803 in the Benedictine monastery of Benediktbeuern, is now housed in the Bavarian State Library in Munich.
These pieces are in most cases bawdy, irreverent, and satirical. Written by students and clergy, in Medieval Latin, a few are in Middle High German, and some with traces of Old French or Provençal.
Twenty-four poems in Carmina Burana were set to music by Carl Orff in 1936 and his composition quickly became popular and a staple piece of the classical music repertoire. Scores of film soundtracks including Lord of the Rings have used the opening and closing movement, “O Fortuna”.
The Sydney Symphony Orchestra launched its “Say it with Carmina” contest inviting Australians to come up with new lyrics.
Matthew Hodge is a father of three living in Sydney, Australia. He sent his entry an “An Ode to Sleep Deprived Parents and Terrorizing Toddlers” to the contest. Among the many entries submitted, including odes to the Pope, it was Hodge’s entry with its hilarious phrases such as, “Oh you terror, get down from there. Mummy’s getting cranky,” that received the most votes. He won the first prize.
The 200 members of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra somberly chanted phrases like “Where are your pants? What have you done with my purse?” with a straight face making Hodge’s words funnier.
Even if this musical offering from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra won’t make your chores and stress go away, it is sure to bring a smile on your face.
THE ODE TO SLEEP DEPRIVED PARENTS AND TERRORISING TODDLERS
O’ you terror! Get down from there! Mummy’s getting cranky…
Put my phone down. Where are your pants? What have you done with my purse? Don’t throw those blocks. What is that smell? Why do you look so happy? What’s in your mouth? Who ripped that book? Why won’t you just stop moving?
He’s on the chair! Just standing there! Wobbling like a drunk man. Where is my mug? What was that crash? Who let you in the kitchen? You’ve got a knife! Put it down now! Don’t wave it near your sister!
Put my phone down. Where are my apps? Who dialled triple zero?
Why won’t you sleep? Is it your teeth? I need another coffee! My head’s so sore! Look at the floor! Cleaning will take forever.
What’s wrong with you? What did I do? Why do you do this to me? I hope when you… Have some kids too… They drive you crazy!
The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 is now on in a section of the southern Indian Ocean known as the “Roaring Forties” where strong westerly winds generally blow between latitude 40° and 50°. The strong west-to-east air currents are induced by the combination of the Earth’s rotation and air being displaced from the Equator towards the South Pole, with just a few landmasses to act as windbreaks. The area is characterized by cold fronts that sweep east every four to five days, causing 13 to 30 feet (4 to 9 meters) pounding waves that churn the icy sea.
International Mobile Satellite Organization (Inmarsat) is a British satellite telecommunications company, offering global, mobile services. Inmarsat started playing an import role immediately after Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared.
One of Inmarsat’s satellites continued to pick up a series of automated hourly ‘pings’ from the missing aircraft which would normally be used to synchronize timing information even after the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), which would usually transmit the plane’s position, was switched off, suggesting the plane flew to the Indian Ocean.
By analyzing these pings, Inmarsat established that the aircraft continued to fly for at least five hours after the aircraft left Malaysian airspace and that it had flown along one of two ‘corridors’ – one arcing north and the other south. The plane was reportedly flying at a cruising height above 30,000 feet. See my article “Mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 – If Hijacked, Where Did It Go?“
Using complex mathematical processes, Inmarsat’s engineers analyzed the tiny shifts in the frequency of the pings from the missing aircraft and came up with a detailed Doppler effect model for the northern and southern paths and inferred the aircraft’s likely final location though their method had never been used before to investigate an air disaster.
Chris McLaughlin, senior vice-president of external affairs at Inmarsat said:
“We looked at the Doppler effect, which is the change in frequency due to the movement of a satellite in its orbit. What that then gave us was a predicted path for the northerly route and a predicted path the southerly route…
That’s never been done before; our engineers came up with it as a unique contribution… By yesterday they were able to definitively say that the plane had undoubtedly taken the southern route…
We worked out where the last ping was, and we knew that the plane must have run out of fuel before the next automated ping, but we didn’t know what speed the aircraft was flying at – we assumed about 450 knots. We can’t know when the fuel actually ran out, we can’t know whether the plane plunged or glided, and we can’t know whether the plane at the end of the time in the air was flying more slowly because it was on fumes.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, Inmarsat relayed their findings to the Malaysian officials and the British security and air-safety officials on March 12, 2014. But the Malaysian government concerned about corroborating the data and dealing with internal disagreements about how much information to release did not publicly acknowledge Inmarsat’s information until four days later. On Saturday, March 15, 2014, during a news conference, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak accepted for the first time that deliberate actions were involved in the disappearance of the aircraft. He said:
“Based on new satellite information, we can say with a high degree of certainty that the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) was disabled just before the aircraft reached the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Shortly afterwards, near the border between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control, the aircraft’s transponder was switched off.”
He added that the search effort was redirected from that day to focus on the areas the Inmarsat information described:
“From this point onwards, the Royal Malaysian Air Force primary radar showed that an aircraft which was believed – but not confirmed – to be MH370 did indeed turn back. It then flew in a westerly direction back over Peninsular Malaysia before turning north-west. Up until the point at which it left military primary radar coverage, these movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane.
Today, based on raw satellite data that was obtained from the satellite data service provider, we can confirm that the aircraft shown in the primary radar data was flight MH370. After much forensic work and deliberation, the F.A.A., N.T.S.B., A.A.I.B. and the Malaysian authorities, working separately on the same data, concur.
According to the new data, the last confirmed communication between the plane and the satellite was at 8:11 a.m. Malaysian time on Saturday 8th March. The investigations team is making further calculations which will indicate how far the aircraft may have flown after this last point of contact. This will help us to refine the search.
Due to the type of satellite data, we are unable to confirm the precise location of the plane when it last made contact with the satellite.
However, based on this new data, the aviation authorities of Malaysia and their international counterparts have determined that the plane’s last communication with the satellite was in one of two possible corridors: a northern corridor stretching approximately from the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to northern Thailand, or a southern corridor stretching approximately from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean. The investigation team is working to further refine the information.
In view of this latest development, the Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation into the crew and passengers on board. Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked, I wish to be very clear: we are still investigating all possibilities as to what caused MH370 to deviate from its original flight path.
This new satellite information has a significant impact on the nature and scope of the search operation. We are ending our operations in the South China Sea and reassessing the redeployment of our assets. We are working with the relevant countries to request all information relevant to the search, including radar data.
As the two new corridors involve many countries, the relevant foreign embassies have been invited to a briefing on the new information today by the Malaysian Foreign Ministry and the technical experts. I have also instructed the Foreign Ministry to provide a full briefing to foreign governments which had passengers on the plane. This morning, Malaysia Airlines has been informing the families of the passengers and crew of these new developments.”
On March 18, 2014, Australia and the US National Transportation Safety Board narrowed down the search area to just three per cent of the southern corridor by taking into consideration Inmarsat’s inference from the satellite pings, along with assumptions about the plane’s speed.
On Monday, March 24, 2014, Prime Minister Najib Razak said that according to Inmarsat the aircraft flew along the southern corridor and ended its journey in the middle of the southern Indian Ocean. He said:
“Based on new analysis… MH370 flew along the southern corridor and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean west of Perth… It is therefore, with deep sadness and regret, that I must inform you that according to this new data that flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.”
On the same day, Australian and Chinese search planes separately spotted a few objects in the southern Indian Ocean and alleged they were possible debris from the missing aircraft and reported the coordinates to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which is coordinating the multinational search, and also to the Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon, which is en route to the area. Half a dozen other Chinese ships along with 20 fishing vessels have been ordered to move toward the search zone.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the crew of an Australian P3 Orion plane had located and two objects in the search zone, but it was unclear if they were part of an aircraft. He said the first object was grey or green and circular, the second orange and rectangular. The crew was able to photograph the objects.
An Australian Navy supply ship, the HMAS Success, was on the scene on Monday trying to locate and retrieve the objects. However, according to AMSA, due to rough seas, the vessel left the search area early Tuesday morning since conducting the search in such conditions would be hazardous and pose a risk to crews.AMSA said the vessel is now in transit south of the search area until the sea calms down and if weather conditions permit the search would be resumed tomorrow, otherwise, if weather conditions continue to deteriorate it could be several days before the search is resumed.
Meanwhile, the United States prepared to move into the region a special device that can locate black boxes.
When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in an Australian country town, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value. Later, when the nurses were going through his meagre possessions, They found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.
One nurse took her copy to Melbourne. The old man’s sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas editions of magazines around the country and appearing in mags for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on his simple, but an eloquent poem.
And this old man, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this ‘anonymous’ poem winging across the Internet.
Cranky Old Man
What do you see nurses? What do you see? What are you thinking … when you’re looking at me? A cranky old man,.. not very wise, Uncertain of habit … with faraway eyes? Who dribbles his food … and makes no reply. When you say in a loud voice .’ I do wish you’d try!’ Who seems not to notice . . .the things that you do. And forever is losing . . . A sock or shoe? Who, resisting or not … lets you do as you will, With bathing and feeding . . . .The long day to fill? Is that what you’re thinking?. .Is that what you see? Then open your eyes, nurse .you’re not looking at me. I’ll tell you who I am . . . As I sit here so still, As I do at your bidding… as I eat at your will. I’m a small child of Ten…. with a father and mother, Brothers and sisters… who love one another A young boy of Sixteen . . . .. with wings on his feet Dreaming that soon now . . .. . . a lover he’ll meet. A groom soon at Twenty . . . ..my heart gives a leap. Remembering, the vows .. .. .that I promised to keep. At Twenty-Five, now . . . . .I have young of my own. Who need me to guide . . . And a secure happy home. A man of Thirty. .. My young now grown fast, Bound to each other . . .. With ties that should last. At Forty, my young sons … have grown and are gone, But my woman is beside me . . to see I don’t mourn. At Fifty, once more, .. …Babies play ’round my knee, Again, we know children . . . . My loved one and me. Dark days are upon me . . . . My wife is now dead. I look at the future . . . I shudder with dread. For my young are all rearing .. . . young of their own. And I think of the years . . . And the love that I’ve known. I’m now an old man . . . and nature is cruel. It’s jest to make old age . . . . . . . look like a fool. The body, it crumbles .. .. . grace and vigour, depart. There is now a stone . . . where I once had a heart. But inside this old carcass. A young man still dwells, And now and again . . . my battered heart swells I remember the joys . . . I remember the pain. And I’m loving and living . . . life over again. I think of the years, all too few . . .. gone too fast. And accept the stark fact . . . that nothing can last. So open your eyes, people… open and see. Not a cranky old man. Look closer . . . see… ME!
In the above post, the story that introduces the poem is fictional. In fact, the origin of the poem is not known for sure. The claim that the poem was found among the belongings of an elderly male resident of a geriatric ward of a nursing home in an Australian country town has not been proved nor was it found among the possessions of any other old man who died in a hospital in Florida, or in any other equally fictional hospital in the United States.
An American poet, David L. Griffith of Fort Worth, Texas, adapted the original poem known under various names, and called it: “Too Soon Old.”
What do you see, my friends, what do you see… what are you thinking when you’re looking at me?
A crabby old man, one not very wise, uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes. Who dribbles his food and makes no reply… when you say in a loud voice, “I wish you’d try?” Who seems not to notice the things that you do, and forever is losing a sock or shoe. Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will… with bathing and feeding, the long day to fill.
Is that what you’re thinking? Is that what you see? Then open your eyes my friends, you’re not looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still, as I live at your bidding, as I enjoy company at your will.
I’m a small child of ten with a father and mother, brothers and sisters, who love one another. A young boy of sixteen, a football in his hands and with wings on his feet, dreaming that soon now a lover he’ll meet. A marine soon at eighteen — my heart gives a leap, remembering the oath that I promised to keep. At twenty-five now, I have a platoon of my own, ‘who need me to guide them and secure a trip home. A man of thirty, my youth now going too fast, hopefully, bound to others with ties that should last. At fifty my daughter and sons have grown and are gone, and I have no one beside me to see I don’t mourn. At sixty no more babies play round my knee, again I know heartbreak, my loneliness and me. Dark days are upon me, my dreams are all dead; I look at the future, I shudder with dread. For my young are all rearing young of their own, and I think of the years and the love that I’ve known.
I’m now an old man and nature is cruel; ’tis jest to make old age look like a fool. The body, it crumbles, grace and vigor depart, there is now a stone where I once had a heart. But inside this old carcass a young man still dwells, and now and again my battered heart swells. I remember the joys, I remember the pain, and I’m loving and living life over again. I think of the years; all too few. Gone too fast, and accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, my friends, open and see, not a crabby old man; look closer — see ME!!
The currently circulating version of the poem called the “Cranky Old Man” is a variant of Griffith’s poem. It is also known as a “Crabby Old Man.”
The original poem itself has a long and somewhat perplexing history. It features an old woman as the protagonist rather than an old man and is set in the United Kingdom. Originating from a non-academic source, humbly vernacular in form, it has no obvious value beyond the immediate feelings it provokes on reading.
The poem has been included in various publications under different titles in the United Kingdom often accompanied by the claim that a copy of the original poem was found by the nursing staff among the belongings of an old woman named Kate who died in a hospital’s geriatric ward. Some versions claim that the hospital was located in Scotland. Others claim the hospital was in England or Wales.
The key contributory factors to this poem are the stories of its origins, stories which almost always accompany the poem wherever it appears and which, like the poem’s own words, is virtually unchanged since those early days such as:
The writer of this poem was unable to speak, although was seen to write from time to time. After her death, her locker was emptied, and this poem of her life was found. (Searle, 1973, p. 8).
and more recently:
Get the hankies ready…this one’ll get ya!
Crabbit old woman’s life has ended in a nursing home. While the nurse is packing her meagre possessions, she finds a poem written to the staff of the hospital by the apparently senile and mindless old lady. (Rexanne.com, 2005).
Another version of the origin of the poem says that it was found at Ashludie Hospital, Dundee; that copies were duplicated and distributed to all nurses in the hospital; that a young nurse at the hospital sent a copy to ‘Beacon House News’ at the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health’; and, that the author’s name was not known.
From time to time the mystery of the poem’s origins surfaces. For example, in 2003, an entry on Seniors Network UK, mentions ‘Mattie’s Poem’, with the story that
Mattie was a very dear family friend. She had been a very bright 90-year-old but her body was badly ravaged by time – she died in the Geriatric Ward of a hospital in Lanarkshire in Scotland.‘
According to credible reports Phyllis Mabel McCormack might have penned it in the early 1960s when she was a nurse at Sunnyside Hospital in Montrose, a coastal resort town and former royal burgh in Angus, Scotland. Originally entitled “Look Closer,” she wrote it for publication in the Sunnyside Chronicle, a magazine produced by the staff of Sunnyside Royal Hospital, Montrose, for circulation within the hospital. She submitted it anonymously as she felt it was critical of some of her colleagues.
In 2005, Joanna Bornat in her work “Empathy and stereotype: the work of a popular poem“, a report for ‘Perspectives on Dementia Care‘, 5th Annual Conference on Mental Health and Older, notes:
Amongst the responses to a small survey which I carried out in 1998 while researching attitudes to the poem was a cutting from the Daily Mail newspaper in which the son of Phyllis McCormack, whose name is often linked with the poem as its discoverer, explained:
My mother, Phyllis McCormack, wrote this poem in the early Sixties when she was a nurse at Sunnyside Hospital in Montrose.
Originally entitled Look Closer Nurse, the poem was written for a small magazine for Sunnyside only Phyllis was very shy and submitted her work anonymously.
A copy of the magazine was lent to a patient at Ashludie Hospital, Dundee, who copied it in her own handwriting and kept it in her bedside locker. When she died, the copy was found and submitted to the Sunday Post newspaper, attributed to the Ashludie patient.
Since my mother’s death in 1994 her work has travelled all over the world… – (Daily Mail, 12 March 1998).
Somehow this explanation rings true, though it immediately begs the question of how the origin story was constructed in the first place and whether the poem depends on an apparent myth for its continuing appeal. Encounters have been mixed as responses to the 1998 survey suggested.
These intriguingly mysterious origins greatly add to the poem’s effect. The story of a mute, unidentified and neglected woman creates pathos. It is a parable for ageing times with lessons about listening to our elders and empathy towards older people.
The poem is written in the voice of an old woman in a nursing home who is reflecting upon her life. Here is the original poem in full:
I have reproduced the original poem below entitled “Crabbit Old Woman.” In Scottish, Crabbit means “bad-tempered” or “grumpy”. It has also been known variously as “Kate“, “Look Closer“, “Look Closer Nurse“, “Open Your Eyes” and “What Do You See?“
Crabbit Old Woman
What do you see, nurses, what do you see?
Are you thinking when you are looking at me
A crabbit old woman, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes,
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice ‘I do wish you’d try’
Who seems not to notice the things that you do
And for ever is losing a stocking or shoe.
Who unresisting or not, lets you do as you will
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill
Is that what you are thinking, is that what you see,
Then open your eyes, nurses, you’re not looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
As I used at your bidding, as I eat at your will,
I am a small child of ten with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters who love one another,
A young girl of 16, with wings on her feet
Dreaming that soon now a lover she’ll meet;
A bride at 20, my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep
At 25, now I have young of my own
Who need me to build a secure, happy home;
A woman of 30, my young now grow fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last,
At 40, my young sons have grown and are gone;
But my man’s beside me to see I don’t mourn;
At 50, once more babies play around my knee.
Again we know children, my loved one and me
Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead,
I look at the future, I shudder with dread,
For my young are all rearing young of their own
And I think of the years and the love that I’ve known.
I’m an old woman now and nature is cruel
’tis her jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body it crumbles, grace and vigor depart,
There is now a stone where once was a heart
But inside this old carcass, a young girl still dwells
And now and again my battered heart swells
I remember the joys I remember the pain,
And I’m loving and living life over again.
I think of the years all too few – gone too fast,
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, nurses, open and see
Not a crabbit old women, look closer — see me.
Your Mobile number has WON you the sum of £750,000 from the UK Nokia cash offer send details for claim:Name,Age,Address, Tell: email@example.com
Sender: (no name) +918373934464 Received: 04:58:12pm 02-07-2013
This is another instance of a phone text (SMS) message that claims the recipient has won a bountiful sum of money in an online promotion or in an online lottery. Contrary to the claim there is no prize money and the lottery or promotion mentioned in these messages do not exist. In fact, the messages are just lures used by scammers to entice recipients into replying and getting personal information first and groom them to part with their hard-earned money.
According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), scams delivered via landline and mobile networks remained the preferred delivery method for scammers, with combined voice and text messages making up 56 per cent of reported scams. Unsolicited telephone calls accounted for $24 million in reported losses while fake SMS messages, such as the one I received yesterday, netted criminals $759,986. Online scams increased to represent over 35 per cent of all approaches.
“Scammers continue to find sophisticated methods to deliver scams, taking advantage of new technologies and communication methods to try and slip under your radar,” said Delia Rickard, deputy chair, ACCC. “Nowadays it can take just the click of a button to fall victim to a scam, so it is more important than ever that we practice safe techniques when communicating with other-whether online, on the phone, at one’s business or even at home.”
The United States Postal Inspection Service warns that there has been an increase in the number of seniors victimized by foreign lottery scams by phone and by regular mail such as this one. Many of these lottery scams reportedly originate in Nigeria or Jamaica. At times, callers/scammers will claim the victim owes fees and/or taxes to collect their winnings. The perpetrators of these scams have been known are extremely pushy. They may find photos of the victim’s home on Google Maps and scare seniors by making them believe that they are being stalked.
So, beware! We are in for another spate of mobile scams.
An educated person will go all the way to prove his point,
but an intelligent person knows when to retreat …
Recently, I came across a joke that dates back to the 1990s about a hotshot big city lawyer and the “three-kick rule of rural North Cowra.”
Cowra is a town in the Central West region of New South Wales, Australia in the Cowra Shire. When I scoured the net to find the originator of this popular joke, I found many authors had duplicated the gist of the story using various places for the origin of the “Three Kicks Rule“: Arizona, Louisiana, Texas, Montana, Minnesota, Tennessee and a lot of other places.
Here is the story that I read the first time:
A big city hotshot lawyer went duck hunting in rural North Cowra in the Central West region of New South Wales, Australia.
The first bird he shot fell on the other side of a fence into the field of a grouchy elderly farmer.
The farmer seated on his tractor spotted the lawyer climbing over the fence, and asked him what he was doing.
The lawyer responded, “The duck I shot fell in your field, and now I am going to retrieve it.”
The ill-tempered old farmer replied, “This is my property, and how can you jump over my fence?”
The irate lawyer said: “Do you know who I am?”
“I don’t care who you are. Get off my field,” shouted the farmer.
“I am one of the leading trial lawyers in Australia and, if you do not let me get that duck, I will sue you, take everything you own and leave you stranded on the road.”
The old farmer smiled and said: “You city slickers apparently don’t know how we settle disputes in North Cowra.”
“We settle small disputes like this with the ‘Three Kick Rule’.”
“What is the ‘Three Kick Rule‘?” the lawyer asked.
The Farmer replied, “Because the dispute occurs on my land, I get to go first. I kick you three times and then you kick me three times and so on back and forth until someone gives in.”
The lawyer quickly thought about the proposed ‘Three Kick Rule’ and thought he could easily take the old codger. So, he agreed to abide by the local custom.
The old farmer got down from his tractor and cautiously walked up to the lawyer. His first kick planted the toe of his heavy steel-toed work boot into the lawyer’s groin and dropped him to his knees.
His second kick to the midriff sent the lawyer reeling with his last meal spewing out of his mouth. The lawyer was on all fours when the farmer’s third kick to his rear end, sent him face-first into a fresh cow pie.
Summoning every bit of his will and remaining strength the lawyer managed to get on to his feet. Wiping his face with the arm of his jacket, he said: “Okay, you old fart. Now it’s my turn.”
(Now comes the part I love …)
The old farmer smiled and said: “Nah, I give up. You can have the duck.”
April 25th is a solemn day of remembrance here in NZ and in Australia. It marks the sacrifices made by members of ANZAC (the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) when they joined to fight alongside Britain in the first World War.
Young men flocked to join up having no earthly idea of what they were getting themselves into, but filled with a fervour “For King and Country.”
The first deployment of the ANZACS was at the Turkish peninsula of Gallipoli. The information the command received about the terrain and an under estimation of the Turkish forces led to a disaster. Nine months later the Allies withdrew leaving behind 46,000 dead.
“They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We shall remember them.” From Ode of Remembrance, taken from Laurence Binyon’s
“For the Fallen” first published in 1914.
This day is also commemorated in Turkey at Gallipoli where the cove has been renamed ANZAC Cove. Many ex-servicemen and their families travel to Turkey each year.
And Waltzing Matilda? This was the song played as the troops sailed out from Sydney, Australia at the start of that fateful enterprise. Click here to hear John Williams singing “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”.
I have written in more detail on this day both in 2011 and 2012. It is a sad commentary on the people of the world that even after this “War to End All Wars” we still send our young men and women out to be slaughtered by ‘the enemy’.
And now there are no more survivors from Gallipoli.
RIP all the fallen and
Last Gallipoli survivor from Australia
(died May 2002 aged 103)
Alfred Douglas Dibley Last Gallipoli survivor from New Zealand
(died 18 December 1997 aged 101)
Philipp Saumweber is creating a miracle in the barren Australian outback, growing tonnes of fresh food. So why has he fallen out with the pioneering environmentalist who invented the revolutionary system?
Desert blooms: Philipp Saumweber, the founder and CEO of Sundrop, with a tray of his “perfect” produce. Photograph: Jonathan Margolis for the Observer
The scrubby desert outside Port Augusta, three hours from Adelaide, is not the kind of countryside you see in Australian tourist brochures. The backdrop to an area of coal-fired power stations, lead smelting and mining, the coastal landscape is spiked with saltbush that can live on a trickle of brackish seawater seeping up through the arid soil. Poisonous king brown snakes, redback spiders, the odd kangaroo and emu are seen occasionally, flies constantly. When the local landowners who graze a few sheep here get a chance to sell some of this crummy real estate they jump at it, even for bottom dollar, because the only real natural resource in these parts is sunshine.
Which makes it all the more remarkable that a group of young brains from Europe, Asia and north America, led by a 33-year-old German former Goldman Sachs banker but inspired by a London theatre lighting engineer of 62, have bought a sizeable lump of this unpromising outback territory and built on it an experimental greenhouse which holds the seemingly realistic promise of solving the world’s food problems.
Indeed, the work that Sundrop Farms, as they call themselves, are doing in South Australia, and just starting up in Qatar, is beyond the experimental stage. They appear to have pulled off the ultimate something-from-nothing agricultural feat – using the sun to desalinate seawater for irrigation and to heat and cool greenhouses as required, and thence cheaply grow high-quality, pesticide-free vegetables year-round in commercial quantities.
So far, the company has grown tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers by the tonne, but the same, proven technology is now almost ready to be extended to magic out, as if from thin air, unlimited quantities of many more crops – and even protein foods such as fish and chicken – but still using no fresh water and close to zero fossil fuels. Salty seawater, it hardly needs explaining, is free in every way and abundant – rather too abundant these days, as our ice caps melt away.
So well has Sundrop’s 18-month project worked that investors and supermarket chains have lately been scurrying down to Port Augusta, making it hard to get a room in its few motels, or a table at the curry restaurant in the local pub. Academic agriculturalists, mainstream politicians and green activists are falling over each other to champion Sundrop. And the company’s scientists, entrepreneurs and investors are about to start building an £8m, 20-acre greenhouse – 40 times bigger than the current one – which will produce 2.8m kg of tomatoes and 1.2m kg of peppers a year for supermarkets now clamouring for an exclusive contract.
It’s an inspiring project, more important, it could be argued, than anything else going on in the world. Agriculture uses 60-80% of the planet’s scarce fresh water, so food production that uses none at all is nothing short of miraculous.
Blue-sky thinking: the 75m motorised parabolic mirror follows the sun all day, using its heat to generate energy for the Sundrop greenhouses. Photograph: Hat Margolis
Growing food in a desert, especially in a period of sustained drought, is a pretty counterintuitive idea and Sundrop’s horticultural breakthrough also ignores the principle that the best ideas are the simplest. Sundrop’s computerised growing system is easy to describe, but was complex to devise and trickier still to make economically viable.
A 75m line of motorised parabolic mirrors that follow the sun all day focuses its heat on a pipe containing a sealed-in supply of oil. The hot oil in turn heats nearby tanks of seawater pumped up from a few metres below ground – the shore is only 100m away. The oil brings the seawater up to 160C and steam from this drives turbines providing electricity. Some of the hot water from the process heats the greenhouse through the cold desert nights, while the rest is fed into a desalination plant that produces the 10,000 litres of fresh water a day needed to keep the plants happy. The water the grower gets is pure and ready for the perfect mix of nutrients to be added. The air in the greenhouse is kept humid and cool by trickling water over a wall of honeycombed cardboard evaporative pads through which air is driven by wind and fans. The system is hi-tech all the way; the greenhouse is in a remote spot, but the grower, a hyper-enthusiastic 27-year-old Canadian, Dave Pratt, can rather delightfully control all the growing conditions for his tonnes of crops from an iPhone app if he’s out on the town – or even home in Ontario.
It’s the kind of thing an enlightened futurologist might have imagined for the 21st century, and to enter Sundrop’s greenhouse from the desert outside, passing the array of sun-tracking solar parabolic mirrors that looks like something from a film set, is to feel you’ve arrived at a template for tomorrow-world. The warm, humid air laden with the scent of ripening tomatoes is in such contrast to the harsh landscape outside, where it tops a parched 40C for much of the year, that it feels as if the more brutal sides of both nature and economics are being benignly cheated. You can supply billions with healthy, cheap food, help save the planet and make a fortune? There has to be a catch.
There seems, however, to be only one significant person in the world who feels there is indeed a catch, and, a little bizarrely, that is the inventor of the technology, one Charlie Paton, the British lighting man mentioned earlier, who is currently to be found in his own experimental greenhouse, atop a three- storey former bakery at the London Fields end of Hackney, east London, feeling proud-ish, but not a little sour, about the way things have worked out 10,000 miles away in the desert between the Flinders mountains and the Spencer Gulf.
If you are of an ecological bent, Paton’s name may ring a bell. He is the multi-honoured founder of a veritable icon of the green world, a 21-year established family company called Seawater Greenhouse, originators of the idea of growing crops using only sunlight and seawater. Earlier this month, Paton was given the prestigious title Royal Designer for Industry by the Royal Society of Arts, and a few months earlier, Seawater Greenhouse won first prize in the best product category of the UK’s biggest climate-change awards scheme, Climate Week. If Sundrop Farms takes off worldwide, the charming and idealistic Charlie Paton could well be in line for a knighthood, even a Nobel Prize; the potential of his brainchild – the ability to grow infinite quantities of cheap, wholesome food in deserts – is that great.
There’s just one problem in all this. Although he and his family built the South Australia greenhouse with their own hands, Sundrop has abandoned pretty much every scrap of the ultra-simple Paton technology regarding it as “too Heath Robinson” and commercially hopeless. Some of the Patons’ home-made solar panels in wooden frames are still connected up and powering fans, but are falling apart. Nearly all the rest of their installation has been replaced with hi-tech kit which its spiritual father views with contempt. He dismisses Sundrop’s gleaming new £160,000 tracking mirrors from Germany and the thrumming Swiss desalination plant and heat-exchanging tanks as “bells and whistles” put in to impress investors. Sundrop and Seawater have parted company and Paton accuses them of abandoning sustainability in the interests of commercial greed. He is particularly distressed by the installation of a backup gas boiler to keep the crops safe if it’s cloudy for a few days.
But we will return to Charlie Paton later; sadly, perhaps, developments in the South Australian desert are now overshadowing the doubts and travails of their original inspiration. And they are quite some developments. “These guys have been bold and adventurous in having the audacity to think that they could do it,” says the head of Australia’s government-funded desalination research institute, Neil Palmer. “They are making food without risk, eliminating the problems caused not just by floods, frost, hail but by lack of water, too, which now becomes a non-issue. Plus, it stacks up economically and it’s infinitely scalable – there’s no shortage of sunshine or seawater here. It’s all very impressive.”
“The sky really is now the limit,” confirms Dutch water engineer Reinier Wolterbeek, Sundrop’s project manager. “For one thing, we are all young and very ambitious. That’s how we select new team members. And having shown to tough-minded horticulturalists, economists and supermarket buyers that what we can do works and makes commercial sense, there’s now the possibility of growing protein, too, in these closed, controlled greenhouse environments. And that means feeding the world, no less.”
An unexpected bonus of the Sundrop system is that the vegetables produced, while cropping year-round and satisfying the supermarkets’ demand for blemish-free aesthetic perfection, can also be effectively organic. It can’t be called organic (in Australia at least) because it’s grown “hydroponically” – not in soil – but it is wholly pesticide-free, a selling point the Australian supermarkets are seizing on, and apparently fed only benign nutrients. Sundrop is already being sold in local greengrocers in Port Augusta as an ethically and environmentally friendly high-end brand.
Because there’s no shortage of desert in which to site it, a Sundrop greenhouse can be built in isolation from others and be less prone to roving pests. Those that sneak in can be eliminated naturally. In this closeted micro-world, Dave Pratt with his trusty iPhone app is free to play God. Not only does Dave have a flight of in-house bees to do their stuff in the greenhouse (who also live a charmed life as they enjoy a perfect, Dave- controlled climate with no predators) but he also has at his command a platoon of “beneficial insects” called Orius, or pirate bugs. These kill crop-destroying pests called thrips, and do so – weirdly in nature – not for food but for, well, fun. So unless you feel for thrips, or believe food should only be grown in God’s own soil and subject to God’s own pestilences, Sundrop produce seems to be pure and ethical enough to satisfy all but the most eco-fussy.
Sundrop’s founder and CEO, on the other hand, is not at first glance an ecowarrior poster child. True, there are plenty of posh boys dabbling in ethical and organic farming, but on paper, Philipp Saumweber could be a comedy all-purpose hate figure. He is a wealthy, Gordonstoun-educated German with a Harvard MBA, immaculate manners, an American accent, Teutonic efficiency and a career that’s taken him from hedge-fund management to Goldman Sachs to joining his family’s Munich-based agricultural investment business. But, in the typical way stereotypes can let you down, apart from being a thoroughly nice, softly spoken and clearly visionary man, Saumweber has also made a brilliant but ailing idea work, turning a charmingly British, Amstrad-like technology into the horticultural equivalent of Apple.
Soon after becoming immersed in agriculture as a business, he says, he realised that it essentially involved “turning diesel into food and adding water”. Whether you were a tree-hugger or a number cruncher, Saumweber reasoned, this was not good. “So I began to get interested in the idea of saline agriculture. Fresh water is so scarce, yet we’re almost drowning in seawater. I spent a lot of time in libraries researching it, Charlie Paton’s name kept coming up, and that’s what started things. He’d been working on the technology since 1991, was smart and although his approach was obviously home-grown and none of his pilot projects had really worked – in fact they’d all been scrapped – he had something too promising to ignore.”
Despite having given Paton a large, undisclosed ex- gratia settlement when Sundrop and Seawater divorced in February – a sum Paton still says he was very happy with – Saumweber continues to be gracious about his former business partner, and says he wishes he was still on board, as he is a better propagandist and salesman for this ultimate sustainable technology than anyone else he’s met.
“What we liked about Charlie’s idea, as did the engineers we got in to assess Seawater Greenhouse, is that it addressed the water issue doubly by proposing a greenhouse which made water in an elegant way and linked this to a system to use seawater to cool the greenhouse,” Saumweber recounts.
“What we didn’t realise at the start, and I don’t think Charlie ever adjusted to fully, was that even in arid regions, you get cold days and a greenhouse will need heating – hence the gas boiler, which cuts in to produce heat and electricity when it gets cold or cloudy, but which upset Charlie so much because it meant we weren’t 100% zero-energy any longer. What Charlie overlooked is that you can grow anything without heat and cooling, but it will be blemished and misshapen and will be rejected by the supermarkets. If you don’t match their standards, you’re not paid. It would be ideal if that weren’t the case, but we can’t take on the challenge of changing human behaviour.
“So in the end, we had very different views on where the business should go. He’d found the perfect platform to keep tinkering and experimenting, while we just wanted to get into production. He’s a very nice man and I share a lot of his eco views, but it wasn’t possible to stay together.”
When you visit the agreeable Paton family in Hackney it becomes clear the gas-boiler incident out in the desert was far from the whole reason for the fallout with Sundrop. There was also a serious clash of styles. Saumweber is a banker by training and lives in prosperous west London, while the Patons are artistic and live part of the time in a forest clearing in Sussex in a wooden house without electricity. Charlie, an amateur and a tinkerer at heart, a highly knowledgeable polymath rather than a scientist, is also a proud man, whose intense blue eyes burn when he discusses how his invention has, in his view, been debased by the ambitious young men and women who moved it on to the next level.
The difference was essentially political, an idealist/ pragmatist schism not unlike an old Labour/New Labour split. The Patons – Charlie, his wife, jeweller and art school teacher Marlene McKibbin, son Adam, 25, a design engineer and daughter Alice, 26, a fine art graduate – are a tight, highly principled bunch who gather almost every day for a family lunch, like a wholemeal and Palestinian organic olive oil version of the Ewings of Southfork Ranch.
The Seawater Greenhouse method, which they are still promoting actively, involves no desalination plant, no gleaming solar mirrors and little by way of anything electronic. Everything in the Seawater Greenhouse vision is low-tech, cheap to start up and reliant on the subtle, gentle interaction of evaporation and condensation of seawater with wind, both natural and artificial, blown by fans powered by solar panels. If things go wrong and production is disrupted by a glitch in this model, you just persuade people to eat perfectly good but odd-looking produce – or harvest less and stand firm by your sustainable principles.
Although the concept is attractive and the philosophy will chime with many a green consumer, the Seawater Greenhouse installation is less elegant. Dave Pratt, fresh to the team from growing tomatoes in Canada, almost went straight back when he saw the kit Adam and Alice Paton had painstakingly put together. “It was like a construction by the Beverly Hillbillies,” Pratt says. “They had these 15,000 hand-made plastic pipes meant to work as heat exchangers, but they just dripped seawater on the plants, which was disastrous.”
Paton’s perspective on things is, naturally, a little different. “I did have a falling-out with Philipp,” he says. “It was a joint venture, but we disagreed on a number of things. Being a cautious investor, he called in consultants and horticulturalists, and one said if you don’t put in a gas boiler you’re going to lose money and get poor produce. I was persuaded about the need for some heating, but it could have been supplied by solar panels. It wasn’t such a big deal, perhaps, but it was a syndrome that ran through everything we did. Philipp is the king of the spreadsheet, and trying to make the numbers go black meant he just rushed everything. I’m all for the thing being profitable, but there are levels of greed I found a bit, well, not quite right. I wish him well, though, and if it’s fabulously successful, then fine.”
What next for the Patons, then? “Well, the settlement we got was enough to carry on fiddling about for some time. We’re excited about getting a new project going in Cape Verde [the island republic in the mid-Atlantic], where they produce no food at all and they seem interested. And we have talked about a project in Somaliland [the unofficial breakaway part of Somalia], but that would be difficult as there’s not even a hotel to stay in.”
Charlie Paton, although the acknowledged founder of the idea of growing unlimited food in impossible conditions, seems almost destined to join a British tradition of hobbyist geniuses who change the world working from garden sheds and workshops, but, because they aren’t commercial, and perhaps rather eschew professionalism, miss out on the final mile and the big payday.
“We will absolutely keep on at this in our own way,” he says, “but I don’t really feel that proprietary about it. The heart of the technology is actually a bit of soggy cardboard. You can’t patent or protect the idea of evaporative cooling. The idea of using seawater to do that absolutely was a major breakthrough, but again, you can’t patent it. The main thing is that it’s us that’s still picking up the plaudits, and I think that makes Philipp really angry.” sundropfarms.com; seawatergreenhouse.com
These photos have not been digitally enhanced – in fact, photographer Dr David Psaila said the water was an even more spectacular colour blue than that shown in these images, the Southern Courier reports.
“The organism responsible, Noctiluca Scintillans known as “night lantern” is very aptly named, as it will luminesce a bright blue when it is disturbed by waves,” he said.
The Chifley scientist said the red algae that crept along the east coast last week contained a chemical called luciferin which was a common protein found in bioluminescent animals.
.“It’s a chemical reaction that causes light,” he said. “It is often found in deep sea creatures and is the exact same chemical that causes fire flies to glow.”
Dr Psaila said although he had seen this effect before but never to this degree.
“The reason why they are probably not seeing it at other beaches is that those beaches would have a lot more lights around so its really hard to see whereas at Malabar – you see the waves rolling in and they are all blue,” he said.