Biographical Log of Michael Furstner - Page 102
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Sunday & Monday, July 26 & 27 2009
The Tour de France has come to an end. It has been an exciting race this year. The
Spaniard Contadore won the race, with Andy Schlecht from Luxembourg 2nd and
the seven times Tour winner Lance Armstrong (USA) in 3rd place, at age 37 and after
having been out of professional racing for 4 years.
Cavendish, the English sprinter from the Island of Man won the final sprint on the
Champs Elysee, making it 6 personal wins in this year's Tour, an unprecedented record.
While the riders do their final laps through the center of Paris, each time crossing the
Place de la Concorde I can not help thinking back to around 50 years ago : one late
evening in 1959 (or 1960) when I myself was racing across this famous square in a race not on a
normal bike but on a tandem, and to the considerable surprise of the Parisians in
passing cars. Here is the story :
In our student club in Leiden we had a sort of competition
with students of the University of Groningen, some 220 km away in the Northern most
Province of the Netherlands. Every now and then two students from our University Club would
race non stop on a tandem from Leiden to the Club ("Societeit") in Groningen. The arriving
pair would be celebrated by their hosts and instantly become members of the
Société Tandemique. Now that the tandem was located in Groningen it
required two students from that University to ride it back to Leiden again. And so it went
on at regular intervals back and forth.
My fellow Geological student Toni Brandts and his friend Gijs Kolemans Bijnen
had done this trip and were therefore Société Tandemique members. One night
in Societeit Minerva (our University student club building) I challenged Toni to a
race, not over such a puny distance to Groningen but on a real race to Paris 500 km to
our South. Toni immediately accepted the challenge. He would ride the Tandemique tandem
with Gijs while I would ride with my room mate (Jhr.) Jaap van der Goes van Naters
on a hired tandem.
Jaap and I immediately started to prepare ourselves for this race
with push ups every morning and walks and runs in the evening. We hired a tandem from a
bike shop in Apeldoorn (near Jaap's home address) and for practice rode it from there 120
km via Amsterdam to Leiden. On the Amsterdam to Leiden leg we were caught in a strong snow
storm which really tested us to the limit.
We had decided to start our race at midnight from Minerva, but at the appointed date
and time Gijs was suddenly called away for an emergency. In an instant our Club mate
Joop Plantenga (later to marry my cousin Albertien Dokkum) agreed to take up
the vacant spot, so without delay the four of us set off to Paris.
Jaap and I had both
brought our recorders and while crossing the bridge over the Rhine river at 2 AM were caught
by the Police while playing duets on our instruments driving without hands at the steering
handles. Hearing our story they laughingly let us go on our marry way. Around mid day we
had progressed to near Brussels where lots of roadwork was going on in preparation of the
Word Exhibition there, so we had to de mount and walk our tandems through a considerable
stretch of soft sand of the broken up road.
At nightfall we reached the bottom of a large hill on top of which was the Belgium/French
border. At the Belgium border post we were received with considerable hostility because we
had failed to switch on our bicycle lights while going up the heavy climb. With our hands
behind our necks we were frisked and had to unpack all our belongings. Toni who, in fluent
French, uttered a few juicy comments about this to the guards did not improve the
proceedings either. Finally we were allowed to go on and, in great contrast, were welcomed by very friendly
officials at the French border post.
We stopped at the first French village (Maubeuge) after the border and settled for the night in a
cosy small hotel where we enjoyed a good meal. Jaap and Joop (both Law students) were
rather done in from the long trip and went straight to bed. But Toni and I, much tougher of course
being Geology students (so we told each other repeatedly) went into town to explore
several watering holes.
Next day we continued our journey. It was a pleasant day and we
made good progress despite a few break downs.
As we had helped and waited for each other with these bicycle repairs we decided to cross the Paris City
border (at 10 PM) side by side, making the race a honourable draw.
Racing with the two tandems across the Place de la Concorde caused surprises by
passing motorists and we finally arrived at a tiny Pension in the Rue St André
des Arts (just off the Boule Mich) which had enough room to park our bikes. Elated by
our journey we could not sleep but roamed around the city all night finally having a late
dinner (or early breakfast ?) at the Halles.
All four of us had brought our
tails to go to the Opera, but this was unfortunately closed the days we were there.
After a few days in Paris Toni and Joop returned to Holland by train, taking both tandems
with them, while Jaap and I hitch hiked our way back home. All in all a most memorable
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Tuesday, July 28 2009
It is quite windy at the Mango farm at present, but not unpleasant with clear blue sky and
a warming sun. I am staying up late until 2 or 3, watching TV, reading books and get up
late in the morning after 9 or even 10 o'clock.
Writing about my education last week I did not give the
impression that I learnt only little at the other institutions, but we so easily overlook
and take for granted the most important life long skills we learnt at Primary
So, what have I learnt from the other institutions that remained useful or
added value throughout my later life ?
At High School that have undoubtedly been the foreign language subjects. In
Holland at the time the three foreign languages, French, German and English, were
compulsory for every student and included in the final Matriculation exams. Through a
lack of opportunity to speak it my French, to my great regret, has been largely faded away,
but my English is, although not perfect, quite OK and my German is passable. Dutch, my
mother tongue, remains good of course.
I have quoted Charlemagne earlier in this Blog who said
that "To posses another language is to posses another soul",
and this is undoubtedly true. It adds an extra dimension to one's life.
Anglophile countries, UK, USA, NZ and Australia learning a foreign language is low on most
students priority list and not a compulsory subject. This is a great pity, not to say gross
education error, especially for Australia where our future is so closely tied up with
countries like neighbouring Indonesia and important trading partners like Japan, China and
India. I strongly believe that at least one foreign language should become compulsory at
High school in this country.
The single most important aspect of my study of Geology at University was
that it provided the means to leave Europe and emigrate to Australia. But most of the
Geological skills I had to use in my profession I usually acquired on the job itself.
Partly this was because most of my work was in the new field of geotechnical engineering.
It is generally assumed that at Uni one learns the skills of logical thinking and
scientific analysis, but certainly in my case these were natural talents I have had (and
have been rather good at) all my life.
Foremost student life provided for me
the wonderful social environment in which I grew up and developed as a human
individual towards maturity. It were the two environments, the Students Corps of
which I became an "active" member and my long summers in the countrysides of Northern
Spain where I did my Geological fieldwork, which made major and lifelong impressions
on my identity.
My National service followed right after the completion of my University studies and after 6 weeks basic training I was selected for training at the SROA (School for Reserve Officers in the Artillery). Here I went through 6 months of the most intense study and training I had ever had in my life so far, which in itself was quite beneficial as my University had been a peace of cake requiring minimal effort.
The practical skills I learnt here were on the whole not relevant to civil life, but there was one skill I developped which has been one of the most important ones I have used throughout the rest of my life : making decisions. At the Officers school I came to realise that making decisions is a percentage game.
No single human being can ever be right all the time. Some of your decisions will be right, others wrong. But the more relaxed you become about making decisions, and the more you make them, the higher the percentage becomes of your decisions that are right. Many people go through their entire life without ever waking up to this most essential truth.
Enough for today. I will leave the comments on my music education intil tomorrow.
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Wednesday, July 29 2009
(diary, education, music)
To continue where I left off yesterday : my military SROA
training was pretty hard and under more pressure (after every 2 months we had a full
week of exams, if you failed it was immediately back to the ranks), but my music study, which
commenced some 18 years later (in October 1983), was decidedly more difficult. Why ?
Two main reasons.
Firstly learning to play an instrument and to
improvise requires the development and seamless coordination of three separate
(1) motorical and coordination skills of the body (instrumental
(2) learning a new
language (music notation) and
(3) absorbing mentally a large dictionary of scales and chords
to a level of instant recall (improvisation).
I had never before been placed
before such a complex multilevel challenge throughout my educational experiences.
Secondly I was learning these skills from age 46, which made it much more
difficult, although by no means impossible, to acquire such expertise compared to say a
young person who starts within the first 10 or 15 years of his/her life. As a result
I found myself at the Adelaide Jazz college at a considerable disadvantage, as almost all
students were young and had all between 7 and 12 years of practice and playing experience
behind them while I was virtually starting from scratch.
For the very first time in my life I was confronted with something I wanted to learn
instead of had to, like always before. This alone already was a reward in
The long term benefits for me from these 6 years of rigorously sustained dedicated study
(which in fact in a sense continues, as for all musicians, to the present day) continue to
this very day.
As a strong introvert I have always been a "mind person", with scant
regard for my body. But the physical development of the muscles within my hand palms
in order to create a clear resonant sound on the piano, the flexibility of reshaping
the openings of my throat and mouth to produce a wonderful tone on my baritone sax,
and above all the aural development (of ear and mind) to actually be able to hear
and identify (in terms of scales, arpeggios, etc.) what is going on in a piece of
music, have been rewards which fulfill me with enormous satisfaction.
In other words,
I have developed my mind and body in specific areas beyond and above the level of the
average normal human being. To be more precise : above the level of my own body and
mind if I had not gone through this process of study.
After some 15 years of regular playing and passionate teaching I have now reached a
point of "been there, done that". I am and always have been a personality too restless and
impatient to stay within one area forever. I could never be labeled as just a musician,
or a scientists. I am something more complex or perhaps something more simple : I am me.
So I have moved on from music, my saxophones are in storage and I play my keyboard now
perhaps only once or twice a week for a short spell. But my achievements in this area are still with me
and will remain a source of joy and satisfaction for the rest of my life.
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Thursday & Friday, July 30 & 31 2009
(diary, Nevil Shute)
This week the battery of my mobile phone ("handi" they call them in Germany) was clearly on
its last legs. Every time it recharged within 5 minutes, but then was exhausted within a
few minutes of use too.
I make and receive very few phone calls, averaging less than
one a week, but I use it three or four times each day to go online, pick up my emails,
update my Blog. So I am always nervous when that little lifeline gives the ghost. I have
found in the past that it can be difficult to get a replacement battery. The Telcos always
"have them on back order" as they explain, a mere excuse for not stocking batteries at all.
But I am in luck this time, Battery World in Coconut Grove (Darwin suburb) have
their own brand in stock which fits onto mine. The only problem being that my phone is
silver and the battery (which also acts as a back cover of my mobile) is black. Well, that makes
it easy to recognise it is mine anyway. So I am good for another 18 months or so with this
mobile. By then I will most likely have another phone anyway.
When in Palmerston for lunch these days I often stop by at the Library. It is a very nice
meeting place and many sit at its bistro for lunch or a cup of coffee, overlooking the
small grassy park. The Library has a "hot spot" with free online access (1 hour each day
for Library members), and many members take advantage of that. For me too it is a good back
up when for one reason or another I can not get online through my mobile.
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evenings the Library remains open until 8 PM, and fits in with the local market with food
stalls all around it. A lovely setting.
As I browse through the Library I spot a book which turns my mind back almost 50 years.
A town like Alice by the English author Nevil
When I read it at the time I instantly wanted to go to Australia. I can't
remember whether I had any thoughts about coming here before it, but the book definitely
cliched my decision, and his other books set in Australia, In the Wet and On
the Beach (made into a famous film in 1959) confirmed
It was not until 1980 I believe that I actually had my
first visit to "the Alice" (Alice Springs), just a short touch down by plane on the Airport en route to
Cairns, and I was appalled by the drunken aborigines, stumbling around and lying half
unconscious on the grass around the grounds there.
Later, in 2002, when I visited the Alice
for a week (while my son Jeroen was setting up a business branch there) my impression of the
town improved considerably, but the aboriginal problem remains very severe there. Almost
weekly they find a dead aborigine in the dry river bed of the Tod River there, murdered by
one of his mates, an unending story.
Nevertheless Nevil Shute's books got us to this wonderful country (he too ended up living
here), and that is all that matters. I am now reading another novel of his, Most
Secret (set during WW2 in England and France) and just can't put it down. I had
forgotten what an absolutely marvelous story teller he is.
Copyright © 2009 Michael Furstner