66 shades of grey

66 shades of grey
66 shades of grey ... this pic of me was shot by Kim, of Kim Thomsen's Photography at Daly Waters in the Northern Territory. Kim just wandered over and asked whether it was OK to get some character shots.

cross

cross
The cross is in front of the church in Karumba and it seems TV antennas have a greater reach for the sky.

Shark

Shark
I went fishing out of Nhulunbuy on the Gulf of Carpentaria. We anchored in a bay about 10 hours from Nhulunbuy and went ashore. This poor fella had been snared in the locals' overnight net and then had a run-in with the resident 14-foot saltwater croc - named Nike by the local indigenous fellas - and came off second best.

the rock

the rock
Uluru

oodnadatta track

oodnadatta track
What a tough place to live ... this is out on the Oodnadatta Track

ME IN A NUTSHELL

My photo
G’day, I’m Michael and I have two fantastic grown-up kids. I’m a jeans and singlet/T-shirt, cowboy boot, tattoos sort of fella, who knows a bit about this and sometimes a lot about that. I'll have a crack at most things, although having a relationship? ... well that ship has sailed. I'm past my use-by date anyway, so I'm gonna make it all about me and surviving life as I know it ... or make it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

NOTHIN' PLANNED WAS A GOOD PLACE TO BE ... STILL IS

So, what’s the best thing about having the first weekend in five at home? Well, it starts with lunch, albeit a late one, on Friday arvo with old friends (OK they’re not old, but you know where I’m comin’ from) and new.
My mate (no names, cos I don’t know if he or they would be comfortable with me using them), his new girlfriend and his son (whom I last saw as a babe in arms at a wedding) who is three and particularly inquisitive, all came to town for a catch-up.
We went to a restaurant around the corner from my place … it’s called Kamel and it’s a good place because the food is always good. Middle Eastern in the main (and the mains too for that matter) and the prices are reasonable.
We had the courtyard to ourselves (always a good thing) and the bloke who runs it, as he was delivering the menus, asked me: “You still living over the back?” “Yep,” I said. “Oh I just wondered because we’ve moved,” he said.
I reckon I spent a lot of time chatting to the youngster and I can’t remember recently enjoying it more. I know I thought to myself the next day that it was a pity that I wasn’t as relaxed or knowledgeable with my own kids … not that I ignored them … and they’ve grown into fine young men … it was just that I always seemed to be working or whatever. We played with phone cameras, bits of bark, I explained about how he should go to a nursery and buy some seeds and start growing leaves (he doesn’t particularly like eating green leaves) … we did a lot and talked a lot of stuff. Even to grabbing various scented leaves from gardens and sussing out the smells. I felt almost dad-like. It was a good feeling.
All too soon the troops were on their way and I was on my couch, pondering the idea of whether I should attend a work function at the local pub.
Although I had two glasses of wine with lunch, a quiet night at home was in order … and anyway, I’m not a fan in any way of the pub nearest to my house. Last time I was in there on a Sunday night for a couple of quiet glasses of wine on the way home from dinner, it was nine bucks a glass for the house wine, which was just OK. Jesus wept. Little wonder the joint thrives on wannabes wanting to be … seen, perhaps with their favourite footballer or whatever.
That was a long-winded way of saying that I stayed at home.
Any anyway, Saturday was to be a day of the great housework extravaganza, given that I hadn’t cleaned anything other than my teeth for the past five weeks. (OK, that’s not entirely true, I did shower every day.)
I did, however, have a bottle of chardonnay (Kelpie Bridge) and a couple of beers just to keep the faith.
Needless to say, that helped me wake on Saturday with a slightly more fuzzed feeling than I was intending.
Three cups of tea, some Twittering, some Facebook checks and email checks and then I marched into the bathroom, armed with cloths, sponges and scourers of all types, disinfectant, glass cleaner, spot cleaner and a huge desire to get the job done. Shouldn’t take long, I thought, after all it’s not the biggest bathroom the world has seen.
An hour and 45 minutes later, sweat pissing from my brow (any most other places best left unsaid), the bathroom was in better nick than me.
I scrubbed the vanity top, cleaned the mirror, cleaned walls, I used an old toothbrush to scrub around the base of the taps, scrubbed the bath to within an inch of its life, same for the dunny … and then, on hands an knees (this is not going anywhere rude), with a scourer I scrubbed the tiled floor.
I also managed to wash everything I own (that needed washing anyway) and did a dishwasher load as well and put the clothes and dishes anyway ... in separate places, of course.
One last cup of tea, a chat on the phone to the ex and mother of my children, and I was done … like a dinner.
Speaking of dinner, I grabbed a quick shower and made a bolt for the South Melbourne Market to buy same. While I was there I had a call from a friend who wanted to catch up for a drink.
Who says no to a friend? Not this little black duck, and anyway, it had been too long between drinks for us.
I offered to cook dinner, which was a good thing. I opted for a mainly vegetable pasta dish that would later do the trick.
I also stocked up on plenty of fresh flowers for the house. The tuber roses are ruling the roost at the moment. I can just about smell them from anywhere in the house.
The couch won the afternoon battle of “should I vacuum, should I not?” and I even managed a nana nap, which held me in good stead for a stint at the stove with a couple of beers, then far too many glasses of wine … there was rose and sparkling shiraz … and the usual attempts to solve everyone’s personal woes (OK, woes is a bit strong) and several of the world’s major dilemmas.
It’s a tough gig and it got the better of us, so we retired to the safety of Lina’s Wine Bar for a few that turned into quite a few. For someone who was intending to do nothing for the weekend, it was quite a busy time one way and another. It’s always good to see the girl’s behind the bar at Lina’s, good souls one and all.
Dunno what time we left (it was dark), but Sunday morning was also fuzzier than planned, again not the ideal preparation for the rest of the cleaning.
What to do?
Nothing won … by the length of the straight. Just a snack or four during the day (when I was hungry) and plenty of water until it was beer o’clock, which was soon followed by pinot noir o’clock. A very fine brew it was … a 2008 Storm Bridge from the Yarra Valley.
Finally, I got through a whole day, talked to no one (I did chat quickly to son Liam, who was busy getting set for a cyclone that night … last week it was cyclone Mick hitting Vanuatu … by putting up the shutters and getting lots of food, water, grog and cigs to tide him over. He said they were expecting winds up to 200 clicks), did nothing except eat and drink … and loved it, which all helped to make Monday morning a little fuzzier than planned. Are you picking up a theme here?
If there is a worse experience than the Monday morning alarm, then I don’t wanna know about it.
But by the time I was erect (OK, that’s just upright and out of bed) and quietly dealing with a huge cup of tea, I decided that I was in a good place on a lot of levels. I’d been reading some Tweets and following Deepak Chopra (I’m still searching for someone called six-pack but can’t find anyone yet) and he always (well most times) seems to come up with something good. Whatever it was at the weekend, it worked for me. Like I said, I was in a good place.
When I got off the tram on the way to the office, my space was good … with the exception of those inconsiderate bastards on bikes who don’t give a rodent’s rectum about pedestrians, but that’s a story for another day … and I wandered along singing early Elvis to myself (the iPod was a full tilt as it usually is in the mornings. Rock’n’roll is good for the soul) when an Italian man on the footbridge over the Yarra motioned to me to stop. I dragged out the earplugs to see what was up. “Aren’t you cold, look at you?” he asked with an almost quizzical half-smiling look of alarm on his face (he was wearing a hefty parka, I guess because it was about 13-14 degrees). “Nah,” I said (I was wearing a bluer singlet, my usual office uniform), “It’s a beautiful day. In fact, every days is a beautiful day,” I said, smiling hard back at him.
Shit, I was in a good place, eh?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I RECKON THAT RICHARD BRANSON OWES ME $5.50



Top: the boys getting the great film screen to the operational stage ... they really are an arty bunch, eh? ... and it looked more like an abstract painting than a screen after some overnight rain.

Indeed, it was the beginning of a party, the day not yet beyond three o’clock, but the sun was over the yard arm somewhere in the world. And anyway, swigging Jack from the bottle has a calming effect on all concerned. It certainly helped Liam to find his voice again and certainly got me kick-started. Not that I needed too much by this time. Eight hours of travel, bugger-all sleep and a family surprise will do that to a fella.
Liam and I shot the breeze, and breezed the shots, catching up on each other’s news … not that there was a lot to catch up on because we tend to talk on the phone at least once a week … and started pouring beers from the keg he’d set up on the back verandah.
Michelle, Liam’s girlfriend wandered in about this time, and looked quite shocked to see me … I mean, Jesus, she’d seen me before. What was the fuss about? OK, just kidding, it was good to see her again. She’d been in town buying all manner of food to feed the no-doubt hungry masses that were to descend on the place later.
A few beers in and people started to wander in. Matt, the plumber who was talking to Liam on the phone when I arrived, was first (I think). Matty’s a big unit and a good fella. His biceps were voted the best guns at the Denilliquin Ute Muster when the three of us were there some time in September. Then Patto, a Scot who genuinely stops a drop going stale, although he said he’d cut back (apparently true). He’s a terrific bloke, too, and easier to understand than some other Scots of my acquaintance (sorry David).
Then three locals -- Ni Vans to the uninitiated and blokes who work for Liam -- wandered in and they were ready for a beer.
Johnnie Bangalulu, a fit-looking unit with a huge smile, was someone I’d been keen to meet since I’d first heard of him the last time I was in country.
Johnnie was so enamoured of Cathy Freeman’s performance in the Sydney Olympics that he named his daughter (born not long after the Games … Olympics that is, not Johnnie’s) Cathyfreeman Bangalulu. Yep, that’s right, Cathyfreeman is one word. He is such a proud man about it as well.
The three of them set about erecting a giant screen in the garden, so we could show lots of music videos and generally blow away the neighbourhood.
Pretty soon there was AC/DC footage, Rolling Stones, Woodstock, all manner of other music entertaining anyone within about a five-kilometre radius.
It all gets a bit hazy at this stage, nothing at all to do with a lack of sleep, an abundance of beer and bourbon and generally the excitement of it all. Well OK, a bit then.
I do remember being stretched out on the day bed, bourbon in hand, texting THE One just to let her know that I was where I was … i.e. Vanuatu. Bragging, showing off? Nah, not really. Now I’ve been to Vanuatu twice in the past eight or so weeks and, surprise, surprise (OK, not really to anyone who knows me), she’s the only one I ever contact when I’m there. She was the only one I talked to on New Year’s Eve. Perhaps I’ll have to revise her title to THE Only One.
Reckon it was about this time that the bogan bits started to take front and centre. Arm wrestling for starters. Everyone had a crack and, suffice to say, I’m still undefeated, although later on I did stop a couple of decent swings when the odd scuffle became the order of the day (OK, the night). I’ve still got the bruises (plenty) to prove it.
Plenty of food arriving from the barbecue was a good way of interrupting the more physical nonsense. The beef industry in Vanuatu is an absolute cracker (there is no dairy) … beef, and it’s really good, and it’s cheaper than fish. Go figure, given that Vanuatu is all islands and the Pacific is bloody big and teeming with fish.
The food-induced lull afforded me the chance to meet lots of good people … Jeremy, the land valuer, who is harder to understand sober than he is when he’s had a few … or a lot. It’s almost a line-ball though. I have no idea what he said at any time, sober or pissed.
Ben (I think) was another. He’s the general manger of the Vanuatu Aroma something company. It specialises in essential oils of all sorts. In fact, he gave me a couple of vials of frankincense (was he a wise man or did I look like Jesus? Neither is my bet). It was only later when I was waiting for the cute drug dog to do its thing over my bag at Customs in Sydney Airport that I thought: “Shit, I hope that really was frankincense.” What was I thinking, taking two small vials of stuff I didn’t know, back in my bag? Truth is, I wasn’t thinking at all. Surprise parties will do that to you. Anyway, I gave one to Amber at Crikey as a present.
Ben has a glass eye and loves to shift it around in its socket. It really is quite disconcerting to be talking to two eyes, then one and a white. Even sober I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it. I’m glad I wasn’t around when he lost his glass eye … and also the spare at home. Funny man though, a really decent fella.
Then there was Kath, about 5’9” in the old money, blonde, about 40 and single. Again I was stretched out on the day bed, bourbon nestled comfortably on my chest, and I suggested she join me for a chat. She did. What a good woman. We sat there talking food and wine … she teaches young chefs at the local hospitality school. I had a three-course lunch and wines at the school the first time I went to Vanuatu. It’s an excellent initiative. Good to see the kids really having a crack at the hospitality caper. There are certainly some places in Port Vila that could use some of what they’re taught. She seemed genuinely surprised that a bourbon-swilling bogan such as me actually knew something about the fruit of the vine. Little did she know that my all-time favourite wine is actually the next one. But that’s another story. Maybe she knew, but just kept it to herself. She was one of the local expat women that the boys thought would be an ideal partner for me when I eventually get there to live.
There were lots of other chats, including a 6’3” woman who has some sort of strange nickname (better left unsaid), some dancing in the rain … yeah, it seems to rain a lot there … some singing, drinking, eating. Drinking, eating, singing, it really was party city. I did somehow manage to lost both of my earrings during the night. The main one was a silver axe given to me by an ex a long time ago. Perhaps it was someone or something telling me that it was time to go bare-earred after all these years. Earrings aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.
The last thing I remember was sitting outside with Liam and someone else, dunno who, drinking … all I know is that there were three of us … and that the time was in single digits (when the small hand was on little numbers … OK, I have no idea what time it was other than to say that I’d probably been up for 24 hours and that the singing syrup was kicking in big time).
I don’t remember my head making contact with the pillow (a fist or two earlier I do definitely remember), but sleep really came very easily, although it ended all too abruptly. I wandered back out into the sunshine-lit scene of the previous night’s crime. Yep, it was a crime scene and I had been a party to the crime … glasses and shit everywhere, but that’s what parties are all about. It was 9.45. I made a couple of cups of tea, drank some water and then realised that I had set the phone incorrectly and that it was really 8.45. Little wonder I felt like shit.
I resisted the temptation to finish off the last shot or two of bourbon … I had to drive home from the airport later in the day.
The kids surfaced an hour or so later and there was lots of head shaking, lots of muttering “never again”, and lots of water being consumed.
Again we shot the breeze, although there were no shots this time. The last couple of available hours just flew by and all of a sudden it was time to head for the airport and get the flock outta there.
As we pulled into an airport parking space, I realised that I had left my phone on the kitchen bench back at the house. Michelle did the return journey while Liam and I sat there feeling sorry for ourselves. “Shit I have a headache” was the most-played song while we sat there, drinking Fanta (it really is a great hangover cure, if not the greatest). I grabbed a bottle of water from a shop just to tide me over. The girl behind the counter said: “Are you really Liam’s dad?” He knows people, that boy. Michelle made it back just in time to give me the phone before it was hugs all around and I was gone, through to airport security for the third (or was it the fourth?) time in two days.
This time, they decided that my deodorant was a threat (not nearly as much as not using it) and I had to leave it behind. I wasn’t happy, I fought, but they were steadfast. “Your deodorant cannot board this flight.” “It has been through so many X-rays, mate, to get here. I’m almost attached to it,” I pleaded. No dice.
Soon, I was back in seat 15C … I’d had it the previous two flights … buckling up my seatbelt when the Virgin flight attendant, Tritip, smiled at me and said: “Did you really just go for one night?” “Yep, was my son’s birthday and it was a surprise trip,” I said. She smiled her beautiful smile. “That’s fantastic,” she said. I remember thinking on the flight out of Brisbane: “Jeez, that girl has a gorgeous smile.” It’s true.
Even though I felt like I could throw up at any time, I decided to have a crack and the ham, cheese and semi-dried tomatoes wrap … great value (not) at $8 and a thing that was one of those enhanced water things that is supposed to fire up your metabolism, grow hair, trim your nails, cure bad breath, exfoliate your heels and make your feet smell better. At $4 it seemed like a good thing. Well, it was wet.
The wrap, which was two days before its expiry date kicked in (proudly made in New Zealand), was notable for its lack of semi-dried tomatoes (note the plural). Mine had one, with just a scrap (probably about a dollar’s worth by Virgin standards) in one half. It did, however, do its job. The water thing, too. My feet do smell a lot better.
I tried again to sleep my way to Sydney … no dice, but it seemed to fly (time that is … and the plane) and in no time I was wandering through the last of the duty-free shops (I resisted) before clearing Customs and heading to the domestic terminal for the final leg of the weekend odyssey.

It was then I discovered that I had to catch a bus to the domestic terminal. “Do you have a voucher?” asked the driver. “No.” “That’ll be $5.50 thanks,” he said. Shit, Branson’s screwed me again, I thought as the bus headed towards my penultimate stop. I paid Virgin top dollar to get me from Melbourne to Vanuatu, then Vanuatu to Melbourne and I didn’t expect to shell out any more of my hard-earned on extra travel fares. Those bastards didn’t give me a voucher. Bastards, I reiterated (a few times actually).
Finally, after a two-hour wait, during which I spoke to THE One, the Melbourne-bound air conveyance was ready to have its arse dragged off the runway into the night sky. As I went through the check-in, I was told I had to get a new seat allocation. Yep, I had been allocated seat 1F (I paid up-front for the more tall-friendly seats) but I was being bumped back into a row-five seat. There you go again, Branson, screwing me and my knees, which would be knocking against the seat in front of me. In the tunnel I had the bejesus scared out of my by a girl dropping her suitcase on the way to board the plane. “You scared the shit out of me,” I said to her. She smiled. I reckon I could have been a little less rude, but it was a shock in my hungover state. Maybe. Maybe not. She muttered something I didn’t catch. Anyway, I settled into row five and, bugger me, the pretty, suitcase-dropping girl said: “I’m sitting with you.” I helped put her case into the locker, settled into my seat, closed my eyes and tried again to maybe sleep for an hour, rather than chat.
We did exchange pleasantries once the plane had hit terra firma in God’s own city. Had she have been THE One, I probably would have talked all the way home.
Empty seats beside me on the way out. Empty hopes on the way home.
Go figure.

Monday, February 14, 2011

HOW ABOUT A WEEKEND IN VANUATU? YEAH, WHY NOT

After three weekends away in a row, the fourth was planned, again at my brother’s place to sort out some more camping gear.
But, I thought, I’ll defer it a few hours and head to my favourite place for a drink … that would be Lina’s in Albert Park.
After all, it had been a week or so since I’d been there and, let’s be honest here, if there’s not a reference or seven to Lina’s on every bank statement, it’s time to check the obituraries to see if I’m in there.
It was also a time to start thinking outside the square … that’s something everyone should do, although not if you play full-back in the AFL. They always have to think inside the square.
But, I digress.
Back to outside-the-square land and the elimination of the shabby, not-so-chic suburban hippie look. First, a shave … yep, before the weekend, before going out, a shave. And put the singlet in mothballs, boy, it’s time to wear a white shirt, hanging out over the jeans, sleeves rolled up just so and a pair of snakeskin boots (no yellow Crocs for this little black duck). Oh, and a splash of Egoiste (it’s Chanel and it’s my favourite after-shave).
Yep, there I was outside the square and I quite liked it. People I see regularly at Lina’s pretty much had a second look to make sure it was me, you know, dressed up. Might start to make it more of a regular thing
Anyway, a few drinks in with a mate and there I was talking about my son Liam’s plans for a party on Saturday to celebrate his birthday. He lives in Vanuatu and has been there for a bit over three years. He told me that he’d organised a big screen to be put up in his yard (it’s a big tract of land), borrowed the concert sound system from the biggest hotel in town, and had organised a couple of kegs and invited lots of people. On Facebook, he said something like “Come and be a bogan with me.”
My mate said to me, “Why don’t you go? Give him a surprise.” I didn’t take too long to convince that it may not be a bad thing. A weekend in Vanuatu … after all, it had been oh, 5-6 weeks since I’d been there. My friend tried to check the bookings on his phone, but to no avail, so, full of bonhomie and not too much wine (yet) I trotted home (OK a slow walk, but you get the picture) to get aboard the interweb thing to get aboard a plane.
I tried Air Vanuatu, which is far and away the best airline going there, not just because its prices are comparable to the other one (OK, it’s Virgin’s Pacific Blue). Oh, and it has bugger all to do with the fact that Air Vanuatu is a full service airline … you know the deal, hot food, endless glass of wine (it was red for me) … whereas on Virgin I’m pretty sure that if the cabin depressurised the bastards would produce the credit card machine and charge you by the breath. I’m still waiting for the invoice to arrive for the safety demonstrations. Harsh criticism, but fair. But more (a lot more) of that later.
I tried Virgin and got onto a very helpful, cheerful Kiwi girl called Mary, who totally got me sorted right down to the seat allocation in the emergency row aisles (of course you have to pay for that even if you are, like me, 6’3” in the old money and a large unit to boot).
Mary was a cracker.
So I was booked to fly out of Tullamarine at 6am on Saturday, bound for Brisbane and then Port Vila, where I was scheduled to arrive at about 2pm. All that was available was a return flight 24 hours later, from Port Vila to Sydney and then home. Done.
Now given that I was going to have to be up before four the next morning, I did what any self-respecting person would do. I went straight back to Lina’s for a drink and to give my mate the good news. He’d gone, so I phoned him and he did what any self-respecting person would do … he came back for a drink. There we were at the bar having a couple and he said: “What do you reckon about me going, too. Then he phoned his good woman and asked her if she’d like to come as well. Unfortunately she couldn’t quite get her head around the spontaneity of the whole thing, and besides, they had made arrangements to do things on the Saturday.
I know that if I had someone in my life at the moment, I would have booked two tickets. Alas. And it was quite symbolic, I reckon, that I had an empty seat alongside me on two (or was it three?) of the four flights I took at the weekend.
Anyway, I slept like a log until three on Saturday morning and I finally struggled out of the cot just before four and bounded (OK, that’s just not true, I really just trudged) into the shower after which I was bright-eyed and bushy tailed (OK, that’s not true either. I’m just trying to get the excitement level up, after all, here I am going to bloody Vanuatu for a weekend party. Jesus, come on will you, fire up). Anyway, packing took about 96 seconds (all I has way a one-bag carry-on … I’m surprised they didn’t charge for that as well. Maybe the bill is in the mail) and I was out the door, into the car and bound for the long-term car park at Tulla, about 17 minutes away given the early hour and the absence of traffic. With the car securely dropped off in section B, I hit the shuttle bus to the terminal, checked in and everything was in travel mode … except the need for breakfast, which was no doubt still waging some sort of war with the wines of the previous night. Anyway, the food options at the airport at that hour aren’t exactly what Victoria Street is to a good Vietnamese feed. Anyway, I thought, I’ll get something on the plane. Yeah, right.
Anyway, I went through the domestic security check twice (it’s hard to commit to sitting any longer than you have to at the departure gate) without hiccups. No nasties in the bag, no traces of explosive material (I think I was scanned three times for the weekend), no worries.
Finally, boarding time and pretty soon the pilot dragged the plane’s arse into the air and there I was off to a party.
I tried every which way to sleep, but it was no good. You know what they say about reading or watching horror stories before bedtime. Well, I read V-licious, the Virgin in-flight food and drinks list. That did it for me. So I tossed and I turned all the way to Brisbane, thinking the whole time about the delicious (their word, I seem to remember) cheese and tomato sandwich or the Pringles or the …
At least Virgin had done the right thing and given me a train voucher to transfer me from the domestic terminal to the international one.
Given that I had a couple of hours to kill, I thought a sandwich and a big cup of tea would kick-start what was always going to be a very long day.
A chicken, avocado, lettuce and (as it turned out) red onion sandwich and a small bucket of tea were the prescribed methods of kick-starting. The avocado turned out to be avocado dip, but hey, it was the airport and it was Queensland. Yep, they’re different, eh? The tea was good but.
I even thought I’d buy a newspaper to kill some time, but I thought, you want to kill some time, not your spirit, so I gave the Courier Mail and the Gold Coast Bulletin short shrift.
Anyway, the time went quickly enough … I was now fully awake and able to watch it speed along. Before I knew it another pilot had dragged a plane’s arse into the air and I was about four hours away from having a drink with my son.
I tried valiantly to get some shut-eye, but no dice. A toss here, a turn there. Nah, I just cannot seem to sleep on planes. On a floor and under the table in my dining room, yeah, in a chair in the middle of a Queensland rainforest, yeah, but not on planes.
Anyway, with about an hour to go before hitting the tarmac (I hoped it would be gentle), I ordered a can of Bundy and Coke (see bogan reference earlier and a tube of Pringles. Well the Bundy was eight bucks and the tube (well, actually it was a stunted version of the sort of thing you normally get when you but such things) of Pringles was four bucks ... for 40 grams. Spuds are about $4 a kilogram to put it into perspective.
Now I’m not averse to shelling out my hard-earned if it’s a worthy cause … a glass or two of good vino, a nice cheese, a helping hand to any one of the homeless people who ask for a quid, a bunch of flowers, whatever … but four bucks for the potato chips. Shit, Richard Branson, little wonder you’re a gazillionaire. My flabber would be gasted in there were any more than 40 chips in the little tube and (I was never good at maths) that works out to about 10 cents a chip. Virgin, my arse, you’ve been screwing people for years. Ten cents a chip. Jesus wept. Bundy was good but.
Anyway more of an attack on Branson later … and no this isn’t a tall-poppy thing. I admire him for all that he’s done … except maybe for the 10 cents a chip thing.
Land ho. (The ho thing is an old pirate thing, not a reference to land-based women with dodgy morals.) And a pretty smooth landing it was in Port Vila, on time as well. So with my bag over my shoulder and two litres of duty-free Jack and a carton of fags for the young fella (I don’t smoke) in my hand, I cleared Customs and quickly jumped into a cab. “To Ellouk (I think that’s the spelling) my good man and don’t spare the horses. I’m here for a party.”
I reckon I could have Driven there … it all looked familiar. Yeah, there’s the first nakamahl I ever went to here. Ah, the casino where I dropped dough … ah, the nightclub where I spent New Year’s Eve … the market … port road (yep, there was a cruise ship in), the Indian grocery that isn’t, ah, there’s the entrance to La Lagon. “This is fine for me. How much do I owe you?”
“Twenty seven thousand (vatu),” he said. I gave him 30,000 and bid him farewell through the bag over my shoulder and walked through the gates at Liam’s house, half expecting the dogs Angus and Stu to greet me or at least see something going on in the yard. No sign of anyone although I could hear Liam’s voice from inside the house. I broke the seal on a litre of Jack, walked through the back door into the house, caught his eye (he was lying on his bed and talking on the phone).
“I heard there’s a fuckin’ party on (revisit earlier bogan reference please),” I said. “I’ve gotta go,” he said to Matt, his plumber mate on the phone, “My old man’s here. Shit.”
A big hug or three later and a swig each of the nectar that it Jack straight from the bottle (see bogan reference again), he said: “Fuck. I can’t speak. You’re the best man ever. I’m speechless. I’m tearin’ up.”
Yep, it was a good surprise.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

HERE, THERE AND WHEREVER


I’m on some sort of streak (no, not the kind I’d brag about to my mates in the pub ... actually I wouldn't do that anyway) at the moment … the weekend coming up (February 12) will be my fourth in a row that I have spent out of town. And what a diverse set of trips they’ve been.
My mate Sean has bought a fantastic dairy farm near Neerrim South and there has always been an open invitation, so another mate, Hanks, and myself set sail for the wilds of Gippsland. Sean was hosting a party for his daughter Zoe’s birthday and what a sensational idea it was. He had organised a local cheesemaker, Carol (reckon she made it clear more than once that she was single), to give Zoe and her classmates from Melbourne a lesson in making their own cheese.
Hanks and I offered to help with the party set-up, but insisted that Sean (or someone, anyone) drive us to the Noojee pub for the duration of the party and that we were picked up later when the kids had headed back to Melbourne. A done deal.
It was easy unpacking Carol’s cheese-making stuff (which included hats with girls’ names embroidered on them, aprons and containers of all sorts and more milk than I’ve seen in a long time), setting up the tables, hanging birthday streamers, while Sean organised a barbie to be on the money by the time the 20 or so girls’ bus got there. Hungry kids? Are there any other kind? Thirsty adults? Yep, Hanks and I made do with a pre-lunch bottle of white while the kids tucked into their chicken wings and bangers ‘n stuff.
It seemed like no time at all (it really wasn’t) that we were at the bottom of the bottle of white and on the way to the Noojee pub as the girls got themselves elbow-deep in cheese.
The boozer at Noojee looks to be a bit of a haven for bike riders (not push bikes), which is always a good sign. It’s like watching out, I reckon, for lots of trucks parked at a roadhouse.
What a great setting it is (I haven’t been to Noojee in a million years), with a huge deck overlooking the beautiful river at the bottom of the block. Apparently the kookaburras come in every now and then and settle on the deck rails for a feed … no chips mind, the pub has special stuff that is good for the birds’ digestive systems.
The chicken parma was the order of the day. I said to the barmaid: “Have you got a wine list?” “No, love, what do you want? Red or white?”
Wet was my first thought. We agreed on a chardie (can’t remember what it said on the label, which is a shame because it was an OK drink … certainly not the worst I’ve ever had by a long stretch).
The barmaid said to the boss: “How much is this to drink in?” “Thirteen bucks.”
That’ll do us, we said, and she plonked the bottle into an ice-bucket. It did us to the tune of four bottles. That was some afternoon’s work … five bottles of vino between the two of us, during which we solved several of the world’s problems, organised the dismissal of the prime minister and probably several other things. I also had a couple of beers with Mick, the publican, over a couple of games of pool (yeah, I played like shit or maybe Mick was just so much better than me. Yeah, that’s probably it.). I asked Mick about the chances of camping on the pub’s land down by the river.
“Just call me and let me know when,” he said. How good is that? Yep, I’m gonna give that pub my custom.
Gotta say that sleep did come easy in my swag back at the farm (fresh air is such a good option … Sean did offer a bed … thanks but no thanks) after so many tipples. Oh, and the parma did the job too.
There’s something really good about having tea and toast for brekkie in a farm house … real tea in a terrific teapot. Yeah.
The plan for the day? Why, the Neerim District Agricultural Show, of course. And how good was it when we (three adults and two kids) got in on a family pass.
There was lots of good stuff … the mandatory ute competition (don't you love the sticker on the ute in the picture at the top), wood chopping, animals, gold prospectors, horse jumping, dog trials, old farm machinery, some new stuff too, water pumps, showbags, a (rather good) country and western band (I can’t believe I wrote that), food stalls selling doughnuts, bacon and egg sandwiches, hamburgers, chips, whatever. Oh, and cups of tea and a lot of people in big hats.
It brought back some good memories, carrying Phoebe (Sean’s youngest) around to give the old man’s back a break. Been a long time since I’ve done that … or for that matter taken a 12-year-old (Zoe) shopping for showbags while her old man chowed down on a sandwich and a coffee. Good fun though. I enjoy hangin’ with kids sometimes because they’re just so uncomplicated, although my niece’s daughter cracked it with me the other day when I told her (in a nice way) to stop digging holes. Them’s the breaks.
After the show it was back to the farm and to download the photos and videos of the weekend for Sean.
I reckon the cheese-making party idea is such a winner for the kids and that Carol could make an absolute career out of doing shows for kids or schools or whatever. They made mozzarella, haloumi and ricotta, which they got to take home. Oh, and the kids also got certificates for their cheese-making deeds. I’ll suss out Sean to get some sort of link (computer link that is) to Carol and post it here or somewhere.
I didn’t get a certificate, but did leave with some fond memories of a great weekend … Sean’s a good bloke and his kids are great fun.
The one thing to do on the way home was to buy a kilo or so of the biggest, plumpest, sweetest cherries from a roadside stall I’d seen on the way up there.
They were sensational. Was talking about them with my friend Sue, who suggested I make some cherry soup. It’s on the agenda for a dinner party I’m having in a couple of weeks, which will also feature good friend Andrew and his guitar. He did his thing at a dinner party a while ago … he’s a fantastic player and singer. I talked to him about it a couple of days ago and he’s ready for it.
The following weekend was a real hottie (first time in a while I’ve had anything to do with a hottie of any sort) and I headed to my friend Julia’s house at Balnarring for a big Saturday lunch. Just love her house and the garden. I hadn’t seen her for a while (too long) or her daughter Lauren, who seems to have grown about a foot and a half (in the old money). Mind you, Julia’s on the plus side of six feet.
Doyley (she’s really Caroline and she imports Italian leather stuff and has a shop on Bay Street, Port Melbourne) and her man Eammon (his is one big unit … a former rugby player) were also there, along with some neighbours (whose names I forget. OK, there was wine involved) who lobbed and were fed. Oh, and there were also kids and dogs roaming the place. They came and ate sometimes … when they were hungry, I guess. Lunch was in the garden. Julia is such a crash-hot cook … I’ve had lots of meals at her place … she’s a gun in the kitchen. If anyone can pull off a roast on a 40-degree day it’s Julia … and she did.
One of the best days I’ve had in a long time, drinking buckets of really good wine, eating super food … a couple of delicious roasted chooks and vegetables of all sorts (including purple carrots) and gravy to die for … pick, pick, picking away on the remnants of lunch until it was time for the summer pudding and clotted cream. Oh yeah.
As the afternoon turned to dark, the debates got stronger the more the empties appeared. Among them were Kelpie Bridge chardonnay, Chateau Tahbilk cabernet-sauvignon, Bress sparkling shiraz (a favourite of mine) … can’t remember the others, just that there were lots. Funny about that. Turned out though that sleep came really easily. Funny about that too.
I’ve had breakfast at Sweethearts, I’ve had breakfast in Paris, in Venice, in Wantirna, yep I’ve had a few here and there, but breakfast at Julia’s was right up there with the best. Crisp bacon, eggs, slow-roasted freshly made fritters (grated zucchini, sweet potato, onion and fresh sweet corn bound with an egg) and sautéed tomatoes and basil picked from Julia’s fantastic vegie garden minutes before we ate. Throw in some tea and three sorts of bread toasted, jams, honey … Jesus, the woman is a gem. It was also time to catch up with her man Foges, who had got back late the night before from Sydney.
There’s just one thing to do after a breakfast like that.
Retail therapy. Julia and I headed out to do some antique browsing and, or course, to buy some wine.
I managed to buy an old shovel for the rack (and what a nice rack it is) on the back of my ute, I also got a cleaver, a fishing reel and bought Julia a garden book (although she doesn’t need help in the department) and an old-style egg beater. She’d been looking for one for a while.
Then we headed to Green Olive at Red Hill to buy some of the Kelpie Bridge chardie that we’d had at lunch the day before. Olive stuff seems to be the company’s main interest but shit, it does a good job on the wine. We each bought a case (at a very reasonable price) and I also got some cold-pressed extra virgin oil infused with wild lime. It’s a gem.
Julia suggested that soon, when Foges is away covering Formula One in Europe that I should come down and stay for a week and that we should do the wineries. It’s a done deal.
I’ve had lunch with her a few times at various restaurants/wineries in that neck of the woods and, if my memory serves me correctly, we both did a cooking class of sorts with Donna Hay at a winery down there years ago. T’Gallant is my favourite in the area … for food (one of the great lunches) and wine. I reckon its pinot gris is wonderful.
So, Ms Merrington, when you get a break from your foodie stuff (yeah, she works in the TV food world) let’s hit the wineries for a week.
The following weekend was the weekend of the big wet. I was on Geelong Road heading out of town when it hit … it was the most severe rain I can remember. Seems everyone (almost) pulled off the road and waited for it to pass. I was in my Landcruiser ute, which handled it all pretty well … OK, I cut the speed to just 30.
I was bound for my brother’s plant nursery at Curlewis (it’s for sale), where my camper trailer is stored. Felt the need to sort through all my camping stuff (and make some room at home in my storage area). A bit of rationalisation, given that I have shitloads (that’s a technical expression) of gear.
Typically, my sister-in-law Alexis and I drank too much wine on the Friday night, although we did power up in the kitchen with some roasted chicken, home-grown spuds in sour cream and freshly picked mint, and a salad with all manner of stuff in it and a mustard-based dressing. Angus (from the ABC TV garden show) and my brother Phil were impressed, no doubt with our culinary performance.
Sorting through all my gear on Saturday did nothing more than give me itchy feet. I also managed to order a bit I need for the Landcruiser, which will mean returning the following weekend.
A Saturday arvo nana nap was the order of the day before the blokes came back from a plant recce somewhere in the wilds of Torquay and then we headed out to dinner at a small place in Drysdale.
I had battered flathead fillets that, when I pressed a knife against them, made the oil seep from the batter. It wasn’t a good look. It tasted OK though. Which is more than can be said for the dessert, which was, I was told, a lemon and lime tart. It was commercially made, had virtually no taste of lemon, and the lime component was (can you believe this?) lime cordial (syrup) displayed in lines on the plate. Enough. I couldn’t finish it.
I so want to get back out on the road. That feeling was just emphasised when a mate rang me the other day from just south of Darwin. I’ve met up with him a few places around Australia. We talked for about 30 minutes. He’s just about to head west of Darwin. That’s the direction of the Kimberley, where I spent just eight days looking around.
I will return, now that I have no ties here. Oh, that’s right, I don’t do ties, I’m a singlet bloke.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

HAIR … A CUT ABOVE …





I remember the musical in the 1960s … Hair … I always remember that my old man liked the soundtrack because of the risqué elements to it. “Masturbation can be fun”, etc, was one of the lyrics I seem to remember. He thought that was so cool. And of course the nudity in the stage show. Yeah, it was rude for the time. But at the same time, hair, in one form or another, has been an integral part of my life.
I remember the old man making me return to the barber to “get that bloody haircut finished” after I’d had it cut. Shit, he was a hard task master. How embarrassing is that? A 15-year-old going back to the barber on a Saturday morning to get a second haircut? “Sorry, my dad said I had to have more cut off.”
And don’t get me started about the time a girl, a cute blond hairdresser upon whom I had some sort of designs (OK, I wanted to shag her), straightened my hair via a perm. I remember walking home that afternoon, hair cascading over and beyond my ears. It was long for the times. My grumpy arse old man made sure I was at the barber’s at the earliest after school on the Monday. I went from scorched almonds to boiled lollies really quickly.
Once it started to grow again, I worked out that if I pulled one of my mum’s old stockings over my head (I never let the ladders put me off) for the time that I slept, it would be longer and straighter in the morning. Try keepin’ that a secret from the olds. But that’s what I did … for a few years as well.
Dunno if I should brag about this … OK, bugger it, I’m bragging … Rupert Murdoch once said to me (I was a copy boy at Truth, which was owned at the time by the good Mr Murdoch … and there are quite a few stories from there for another time, perhaps later on this blog when the ideas become a bit slow) “Boy, get a haircut”, and stop wearing cowboy boots to the office. Me and Rupert, on the same page.
Mind you, I didn’t bow to either of his wishes. Wore the hair long/longish/ridiculously long/whatever for a long, long time. If I somehow work out how to scan pictures (wait, I believe you need a scanner for that. Scratch that idea), maybe I can post a couple of days-gone-by hairstyles. There have been some big afro styles, others that lack in style, and some that, OK, they are beyond description.
I tried the blonde thing a couple of times in the ’80s. Reckon I was married at the time. In fact, once in the mid-80s I did the whole makeover as a PR stunt for the Sunday Observer … massage, manicure, spa (with a lovely PR girl called Karen Cromarty, as I recall), sauna, haircut, facial, whatever, at a place on Elizabeth Street in the city. It was called Joseph of Italy and I turned up there wearing jeans and a blue singlet (I have the photos to prove it … a photographer mate snapped me at every stage of the procedure) and finished up at my work local … the Station Hotel in Prahran, wearing a three-piece suit and looking a million dollars. OK, maybe $7.48. But at least I felt good.
I’ve maintained the ’60s hair thing ever since. When I travelled around Oz in 2009, I went all up two and a half years without seeing a hairdresser’s scissors. Jesus, people in Albert Park started to call me Willie Nelson after I made it back home. Bastards.
Mind you, it was hairbands/bandanas that were de rigeur in my life, right up until I had some sort of epiphany in the late part of last year.
I started having haircuts about every 4-6 weeks.
I have used the same hairdresser since 1975. Chris (he used to own CJ’s in Prahran, a suburb in which I worked for 20 years) has been the only person to cut my hair in all that time. He even cut the hair of both my kids. I always laughed when he would greet me (or introduce me to the other customers in the salon) with something along the lines of “This is Michael, a typical, dirty rotten heterosexual.” Chris is a good man.
But last week I sort of deserted him.
I was in the office (of the second job I do at The Weekly Review in Port Melbourne) and I started to chat to James who writes a hairdressing/look after yourself/style piece each week.
He’s chipped me a couple of time about the expanse that is/has been my hair. And there is always lots of grey. OK, I found a dark one the other day … that’s the truth. Out of the blue, I asked him what I should do about putting a bit of colour back into the mane. He was quick on the uptake and suggested that I come to his salon and get some half highlights done.
“Done,” I said, “I’ll be there.”
And I was at the appointed time on a Friday afternoon.
The salon, Rakis on Collins, is at 178 Collins Street (city) on the second floor (It has been going for 27 years). It’s a building where I reckon the lift is almost older than me. No matter, though, we can both (me and the lift) still get it up there. (Not sure that was a necessary comment, but since I stopped smoking, I can easily make the second floor. It’s a stairs thing. Hope you believe that.)
My appointment was with Sheridan, a gorgeous late-20s woman who really knew her thing.
All the while, staff were buzzing about offering me tea or coffee, refilling my water glass, bringing me magazines, chatting (they all knew my name) and making me feel comfortable. I’ve had worse service in some high-priced restaurants. All power to James’s staff.
I had foils to eliminate some of the grey I’d collected over the years. It was the first time in ages that I’d succumbed to the vanity thing … and it won’t be the last. Sheridan was a knockout, especially the way she went about the hair business. Little wonder James recommended her.
As an experience, I enjoyed my time in the salon and I’m more than happy with the result, although James and I are still debating the merits of the product he insisted putting in my hair after Sheridan had done her thing.
“James,” I said, “I just don’t do that greasy shit in my hair. If it means frizz, so be it.”
He’s not giving up, suggesting that he is moving on and so should I.
Yeah, right.
Me, moving on?
Next thing you know, I’ll be making another appointment.
And just for the record, thus far, I have stuck in a couple of shots from my hirsute past … the afro (note the sleeves cut out of the T-shirt) of the ’70s, the denim-inspired afro of the ’80s (with the then mandatory packet of Drum in the pocket) and again in the ’90s (yep, a denim vest and I still have it although it doesn’t get outside the wardrobe too much) at a Thanksgiving dinner at Palos Verdes, overlooking Catalina Island. Oh, and the one at the top is the new “less-grey” version of the shorter locks … although that’s not gonna last. Reckon I might be on a barber’s strike.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

NO-SMOKING ZONE, JUST A SMIRKING ZONE

At one time or another, I have been a smoker for a lot of years. I learnt, thanks to my old man who smoked Phillip Morris Plain, to enjoy (OK, that’s a mind thing … it’s not really enjoyable) cigarettes without filters … I was a Camel Plain man for so many years, lapsing occasionally into rolling my own before, and then for a long, long time, becoming a Marlboro Red man when they were 16s (hardened smokers will know what that means).
After recently spending 10 months on the road and living in a tent (OK, it was a flash tent, some would call it a camper trailer), I was a rollies bloke again and until a couple of weeks ago, was smoking two 50-gram packets of Champion Ruby a week.
OK, so I had trouble making it up anything more than four stairs (yeah, my age may have contributed) and I thought, bugger this, I’m stopping the fags.
I’ve done the hypnosis thing a few times over the years … it seems that I’m a good subject … and it always works, usually for a good while. There always seems to be dodgy circumstances that get me back on them (fags, not stairs) … I hung out with a woman who smoked (on so many levels) and didn’t succumb to the smokes until we were at one of our many break-up stages.
Anyway, that’s a long-winded way of saying that a couple of weeks ago I went to see Angelo, the hypnotist, and I’m travelling beautifully.
The secret to making it work is that you have to want to give ’em away, unlike my son’s ex-girlfriend, who smoked on the way home from Angelo’s office after a session.
I wanted to quit.
I drove to Angelo’s place, armed with the last of my tobacco, my lighter and a bottle of water.
After a quick chat with Angelo, I threw my tobacco and lighter into the large basket in his room (it’s full of fag packs and lighters) and settled into arguably the most comfortable chair my bum has ever been near.
Away he went, talking in his (they seemed familiar) dulcet tones, extolling the virtues of the Winkler method (no, it’s nothing to do with the Fonz), a method developed by someone years ago and one that works.
Angelo took me to new levels of relaxation. I know I fell asleep (for just seconds) three times during our session and that each time I woke, it was because of the almost surreal voice from somewhere in the distance.
Truly, I was aware of my head … nothing else, no hands, feet, legs, body for that matter … it was a total form of relaxation and concentration on what Angelo was saying.
I haven’t experienced that form of calm since I smoked some amazing shit during the ’60s … there I was standing under a waterfall, totally at peace with the world, when the man in the North Carlton deli asked me whether I wanted something and why was I staring so intently at his fridge …
But I digress.
I walked out of Angelo’s place $250 lighter in the pocket (it’s $200 a head if there are two people), but sure that that would be the only mention of lighter again in my life.
I quit. I’m more motivated, I don’t snack to compensate for lack of smokes, I drink lots of water, I’ve stopped coughing in the mornings and, oh yeah, I don’t stink. Well not in a stale tobacco way anyway.
And already, food tastes better, wine tastes better and I reckon I’m good for at least 11 stairs already. Now if I can only find a non-smoking woman.
Angelo can be contacted here.