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.


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


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

oodnadatta track

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


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, May 30, 2011

Flower power ... a good way to go

Sounds like a small thing, I know, but jeez, flowers in the house make such a difference.
I managed to haul my sorry arse to my favourite flower supplier at the market on Sunday and got the usual four bunches … sometimes it’s more, never less …
I kind of take them for granted (OK not really) but they are always here.
I bought some chrysanthemums (some yellow ones and some purple ones), some white snapdragons and some red carnations.
When I staggered into the bathroom just before seven (I like to think I recognise one seven o’clock a day and it’s not the first one) they gave me a real lift … damned fine things they are. Then again when I wandered through home before starting my arvo gig, I was sitting at the dining room table typing and got a real buzz out of the chrysanthemums … there’s a kind of peaceful but colourful thing happening with them.
When I’m cooking tonight, I reckon I may get the same hit from the snapdragons in the kitchen. Or perhaps the bottle filled with speargrass.
The last batch of chrysanthemums and orchids I bought lasted for nearly three weeks (it helps to change the water occasionally). They’re a really cheap way of putting a bit of good cheer into the house … and it’s not a poncy thing to buy flowers (OK, it would be if you were buying yourself red roses) when you’re a single, badly dressed, unkempt bloke. Quite the contrary. Most women (and there are lots … come on fellas, get in there and buy) who are buying them (flowers, not single blokes … then again, what would I know?) say something to me or at least have a pleasant smile. And that can only be a good thing. OK, it is a good thing.


Can anyone explain to me the ways of the internet? Cop this … I have an Optus landline, Optus cable TV and an Optus wireless stick modem … essentially I’m an all-Optus house.
Why then is it so that I can’t (OK, it’s very rarely) get internet reception. I rang the Optus help line a while ago, explained the situation and the very helpful woman put some tests into place.
She suggested I close down my laptop and reboot it. Too easy. I told her that I had reconnected to the interweb thing (she was monitoring my machine) and she said: “No you’re not connected as far as I can tell. There’s no signal.” So I asked the obvious question. “Why do you keep charging me in that case?” She laughed, but I’ve gone way beyond laughter. There are times when it can take 10-30 minutes to get a connection.
Her only suggestion was that I take the modem into an Optus shop and get them to run a test on it. Good theory, but I haven’t done it yet.
Last time I took delivery of a new Optus modem, it simply didn’t work. I took it to the Optus shop and got them to test it (yep I took my laptop with me). It didn’t work, they told me. Perhaps the bloke had done a degree in stating the obvious. I did, however, take with me a Telstra modem that I had used when I travelled far and wide around Australia. Plugged it in and, surprise, surprise, I got perfect reception on a Telstra modem in an Optus shop.
“Sure, it looks as if we’ll have to replace the modem,” the bloke said. All good then?
Well, no. “Sorry but it’ll take about seven or so working days to have it delivered,” he said. “No it won’t,” I countered, “Just get one from stock. I do kind of need the thing for work and I’m not prepared to be without (as much as I hate it) the internet.”
Can’t be done was the official response.
Talk about being between a rock and a hard place.
As I went to post this blog entry, I connected to the network and I noticed a security scan message. It read: We cannot check your security status now because your PC is not connected to the internet or the security scan is temporarily unavailable. Please connect to the internet and click retry, or try again later. Yeah, right. Then a message saying, in essence, cannot find your security scanner. Make sure the path or internet address is correct.
Yeah, right again.
Do I take the modem in for a check or do I just suffer with internet speeds (a term I use loosely) that would shame Cliff Young (to the younger among you, he shuffled his way to winning the Sydney-Melbourne ultra-run a million years ago)?
Any suggestions? And no, I can’t break the Optus agreement without succumbing to some hefty out-of-pocket expenses. Or can I?


Crikey has moved offices from the seventh floor of the building down to the sixth floor.
It’s a pretty flash departure. All white and bright, windows (with real views) and the brightest lighting in history a great office all round.
And the bonus? Coming down a floor means that we don’t have to travel as far to work. It’s just a little time saved, mind, but every little bit helps when we’re dealing in times mean extra time under the doona.


And in the best news of the week so far, Cold Chisel was in the studio today (day one) to put down its new album. Glory be.
While on the subject of CDs, this week it's a must to spend a night putting my CD collection into alphabetical order. Sounds anal, I know, but I'm sick of not finding the music I want to hear when I want to hear it.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cello, mussells and then some

Chris Howlett may sound like someone who plays on the half-back flank for Richmond, but he is actually a cello player par excellence. And at Lina’s wine bar on Sunday night he nailed his time with his bow … hope that’s what you call the stick thing associated with the cello … and got the troops into a musical frame of mind.
He laid on us Bach’s cello concertos … and explained each movement and the why and wherefore of each … it’s sorta like an upmarket guitar break … just so we knew where the hell he was going with everything.
There’s something about listening to someone who can really play the thing they purport to play … and it gets to the point where you get quite emotional about listening … that’s the way it was with Chris.
It’s always made easier, of course, with some wine and food. In my case, it was some French rose and a plate of mussels in white wine sauce with a touch of chilli, tomatoes and parsley … with lots of baguette slices to soak up the sauce.
For mine, it was never enough chilli and I went to the kitchen to tell the chef that next time, perhaps, a tad more chilli would be in order. “Just make a point of coming in and telling me,” he said, “I’ll fix it.”
Mind, a dozen or so mussels is never gonna satisfy the hunger of the large unit that I am … which is why I ordered a cheese platter … a runny, rind-centric cheese, a blue and a hard cheddar-like offering … with some quince paste, grapes, and some fig concoction … and crackers … that filled the gap.
It was about this time that the rose turned into an Australian wine, one that didn’t quite live up to the French version earlier, but no worry. It was OK.
Also about this time, Ben, the manager of the bar decided to sing. He’s done some stuff with Opera Australia …. and as the saying goes … he can play or sing.
Ben has a voice to die for …. he laid on us “Till I hear you sing, Love never dies”, an Andrew Lloyd Webber thing, that brought the house down. What a voice … what a bar manager. Ben, you can play.
A couple of drawings on the paper tablecloth later … OK, it’s to impress the people sitting at the table … they’re cartoon characters that I have down pat (not the people at the table, mind) … it was time to pull the pin, after all it’s a Sunday night and tomorrow is a school day.
For what it’s worth, Chris Howlett is playing with the Melbourne Piano Trio (with Ji Won Kim on violin and Hoang Pham on piano) on June 7 for the Australian National Academy of Music at South Melbourne Town Hall. There’s a wine tasting of Sanguine Estate at 7.15 before the recital at 8pm. The program includes Beethoven Trio in D major Op 70, No.1 Dvorak Trio No.3 Op 65 in F minor and the world premiere of Paul Dean’s Fractured Moments. Tickets are $35 for adults and $25 for concession at m-tix.com.au.
There are worse ways to spend a night, trust me.

Misogyny ... apparently the joke's on me

The week at work ended with a bang of sorts and a lesson or two learnt (nah, bugger it, I already knew, it just reinforced things).
Seems that in these (bullshit) politically correct times, a bloke isn’t allowed to make a joke about a woman or women, lest he be tagged a misogynist. What a croc. To whit, this email I received from a long-standing friend, which put it in context:
“Sometimes one is encouraged about the future when one sees something like this.
“Specifically, there is an annual contest at the University of Arkansas calling for the most appropriate definition of a contemporary term.
“This year's term was: “Political Correctness”.
“The winner wrote:
“Political correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a piece of shit by the clean end.”
I had made a couple of light-hearted remarks, one about the prime minister and another about women’s tennis (talking of crocs). The bottom line is that I or anyone shouldn’t be seriously judgmental about anyone, but to make a joke … by definition something said to cause laughter; a witticism; a ridiculous thing, is different. It’s a joke for Christ’s sake. It’s not serious.
And then they trotted out the misogynist line.
“I love women,” I protested. “Yes, but in the Sam Newman manner doesn’t count” was the response.
Jesus wept. The crocs rolled on.
No one seems to complain when I (or anyone) jokes about a bloke but that seems that’s kosher. Or AFL. I often say that it’s a shit game and no one ever sees that as me slamming men and their sporting endeavours.
It’s no different as far as I can tell. It’s still a joke.
What has the world come to when you can’t have a crack about someone, male or female … even something self-deprecating as in “I’m an old bastard with shit dress sense” (is truth a defence or do I need to take myself to HR?)… without being labelled by some blinkered person/s with an agenda to push. Am I suddenly a paid-up member of some misanthropic society? Well no. I love women. I love men (and not in the Elton John way). I love people. Even some pets and most plants. Old cigarette tins too. Door knobs, fire engines, tents, forks, dictionaries … yeah, there’s probably a list of things I love. I also have a soft spot for a bit of humour … it makes the world go around … be it close to the bone or whatever. I love to laugh.
The people who gave me the misogynist tag went, I know, to several things during the recent comedy festival. I can’t imagine either of them yelling “misogynist bastard” during the shows. They were probably laughing (I hope anyway).
Lighten up people, have a laugh when there’s one on offer, but stand together shoulder to shoulder when there’s a serious issue that affects some or all of us. We’re all in this together.
Let’s fight for equality for everyone full stop. I’m with you. As I’ve written in The Age op-ed pages, there are too many schisms in society already. Let’s close ’em up and get on with it. (I’ve posted the full piece after this post.)
The last word on it. I read last Thursday a fantastic Mouthing Off column about Virginia Trioli’s take Slutwalk. The Weekly Review hits the streets today and I reckon Virginia's column should be mandatory reading for everyone.
After work, I dragged my allegedly misogynist arse home to meet the man who was coming to service/check my smoke alarms
... all good … grabbed a quick chat with my son, Liam, in Vanuatu, and the decided to get out of town for the night, bound for my brother’s place on the Bellarine Peninsula. They have a fantastic native plant nursery at Curlewis.
A quick call to see whether they needed anything brought down (other than some wine although bro Phillip doesn’t drink) was the first thing to do. Had a chat with my sister-in-law, Alexis, and I offered to cook dinner is she was OK with it. “You can cook any time you like,” she said. Done.
I made a detour to the South Melbourne Market and hit the Oriental grocery shop to buy goodies to make some aromatic soup with shredded chicken, green vegetables, egg noodles and vegetable dumplings (see the recipe below).
The trip down provided a first. I stopped at just one red light (in Geelong) for the whole trip. I love cooking at their place because they have a six-burner stove top … a new set of sharp knives helped heaps too.
It’s always good to spend time with family ... God knows, there aren't too many of my family left ... shooting the breeze about what’s going on in their lives and yours. They have plenty going on, what with the business, the (possible) move back to the Grampians, the comings and goings of their three daughters … me, well mine’s kind of a closed book.
It was dinner for four … Shannon, eldest daughter Lisa’s boyfriend was there … and there were no complaints. There were no complaints either about the Heathcote shiraz or the Goulburn Valley cab-sav, which sustained us through a night of chats before the need for being under a doona became a priority.
It’s always great in the morning there (after a couple of buckets of tea and a smoke) to wander around the nursery sussing out new stuff and chatting to customers. Middle daughter Katherine also works there. She’s a treasure (they all are) and one of the most natural people you could ever wish to talk with. Knows her plants too.
They’ve added a range of bush tucker plants to the mix, which are selling well. Kate gave me a lemon myrtle and a mountain pepper to take home. They’ll be a good incentive to get back into the garden and fire up the collection of edible stuff I grow, given that my weekends at the moment are free (read expensive but solo). The lemon myrtle is, well, lemony in the extreme, while the leaves of the mountain pepper are sensationally peppery. Can’t wait to try them in a recipe.
I also snaffled a few jars of goodies … Outback Lemon Sauce (lemon myrtle), Davidson’s Plum Sauce (indigenous Davidson’s plums) and Mallee Desert Lime Sauce (desert limes) … again, I can’t wait to try them.
As always, it’s all too soon the time to head back to the big smoke to do the stuff that needs to be done … whatever that is.
Not a lot was the verdict other than to get something for dinner, which turned out to be a great one-pot dish.
Spaghetti with a lemon sauce and asparagus. Too easy.
All you need is the rind and juice from one lemon, plenty of olive oil, plenty of freshly grated aged parmigiano reggiano, some green and some white asparagus and baby spinach.
While the pasta is boiling (in lots of salted water), you get the rind and juice from the lemon, the olive oil (as much as you reckon but no too much … enough to coat the pasta) and the reggiano into a bowl and mix it until it looks creamy. About two minutes or so before the pasta is ready, snap the woody bits from the asparagus spears and cut it into about three-centimetre bits and throw it into the water with the pasta. Done.
Drain the pasta, put it back into the pot, throw in a handful of spinach and the creamy mix and stir it through the pasta. Some finely chopped parsley doesn’t hurt, grate some more parmigiano reggiano onto it, break off a decent chunk of the fresh baguette and enjoy. A Clare Valley riesling (I bought a case during the afternoon) made for a memorable meal … all in about 10 minutes.
There’s still enough baguette left for a decent bruschetta for lunch the next day, just the thing to sustain me before I head out for a night of chamber music at Lina’s wine bar. Two cellos, two violins and decent food and wine … sounds like a good plan.
I know it’ll get me Bach time and again.

And for the record, my Age op-ed piece on feminism.

We don't need feminism to fight inequity

Michael Vaughan
December 11, 2007

Society needs fewer schisms, not the imagining of more.

OH, PLEASE, Karen Murphy (Opinion, 4/12), the revolution is over. For heaven's sake, give feminism, that hoary old chestnut (or should that be whorey, given your attack on women?) a rest.

If I may, I'd like to run over a few salient points.

In mourning the death of feminism, you said: "In fact, I feel like a slave released from a plantation after the American Civil War, who struggles to adjust to freedom, only to see my fellow slaves creep back into servitude."

As far as I am aware, men, yes men, were and are also victims of societal slavery.

On you go: "More and more Australian women are marching with eyes wide open back into slavery, holding up their slender arms to receive the shackles that some of us tried to remove, and taking their daughters with them."

Perhaps it was an oversight, but some probably have sons, not to mention fat arms. Still, it's good to know that they are willingly going back to what I assume is some sort of domesticity with their eyes wide open. Seems they are interested in getting on with their lives and not interested in being unnecessarily labelled.

Then you trotted out the theory that capitalism is behind it all: "… the notion that earning money is without a moral component. But it goes deeper than that, as if we have all been sold the emperor's new clothes of sexual glamour. No, ladies, it's not glamorous, it's just naked."

Ah, well, I'll be damned, suddenly they're ladies.

And then your bullet points, and by my reckoning a lot were blanks, where you tell of those you hold to account.

■All the lap dancers, strippers, topless barmaids and well-educated prostitutes who do it for the money.

Men are dancers, strippers, topless for many reasons, and some, possibly well-educated, although I can't state it as categorically as you, work as prostitutes.

■ Women participating in pornography. Men degrade themselves, too.

■ Women who post tawdry "raunch" photos of themselves on the internet.

Yes, men too.

■ Women who model in degrading advertisements who do it for the money.

Again, men do it for the same reason, although you may have forgotten to mention ego.

■ Women who have cosmetic surgery just when their faces are becoming interesting, and breast enhancements to make themselves desirable.

Ditto men.

■ Women who claim they have Brazilian waxes for themselves.

A full (should that be fool?) body wax is not uncommon among men.

■ Women who refuse to have an argument with their male partners over the sharing of household duties.

You made that up. And who, apart from you, says all women have male partners?

■ Women who have caesareans so their vaginas remain tight.

I'll concede that one.

■ Women who claim stiletto heels are comfortable.

I don't know any woman who has ever claimed that.

■ Mothers who give their daughters make-up or hair dye before they turn 10.

Fathers give their sons hair gel. My eldest son uses my mud pack night mask as well.

■ All the women who participate in soft-porn music clips.

Don't forget the men.

■ All the women who do pole dancing instead of a non-sexual gym work-out.

Name three. By your reckoning, push-ups must be a very risque form of exercise.

■ All the female sports stars that strip to raise money.

I believe sportsmen have done this. And it's "who", not "that".

You say that women don't say no to this sexualisation because the boys won't like them if they do.

Boys? How patronising can you get, unless you meant to say girls? It's men, males.

Ms Murphy, you've obviously taken the time to watch (look at, scan, ogle or admire — your call) all of the things you mention. How else would you be authoritative enough to comment? All in the name of research, eh?

But unlike you, I'm not after what seems to me a cheap shot.

Yes, I agree women don't have their rightful wage parity with (can I mention us again?) men, and, yes, women are still over-represented in a low-paying, casualised workforce, although a tour of any number of workplaces may reveal that men do menial, badly paid work, too.

And while it's a good idea to have standards on what our kids can and cannot watch/read, there's also the responsibility of parents, teachers and mentors to ensure that impressionable kids grow up respecting those around them.

Oh, did I mention that my boss is a woman? That she's unafraid to give me the rounds of the kitchen (although I know I spend more time in there than she does). I respect her for that, because I know where I stand in an excellent working relationship. But I digress.

I grew up when it was OK for a man to introduce his wife as Mrs John Smith. My father demanded his tea on the table at 5.30, and heaven help my mother if it was late, or the dessert wasn't to his standards. Physical violence was on the menu and played many a part in my nightmarish early years.

It inspired me to think of and treat women as they deserve — as equals.

So, let's work together and forget the crap. God knows (I've heard she does) that there are already too many schisms in society.

Resurrecting the call to feminist arms the way you did is driving another wedge where it's just not needed.

It was a disservice to women … and men.

Michael Vaughan is a staff journalist.

Tries, a fight and a bite or two

The state-of-origin game was all it was meant to be … OK, that means that Queensland won. The company to watch wasn’t half bad either … Dog and Lethal from Crikey and the lovely Nat (Lethal’s girlfriend), and Connsu and Fullsu from The Age. Lots of beers, wines and some excellent pizzas. We used the local pizza shop, Crust, and had its two Italian sausage version, a garlic prawn (the prawns are really a decent size), a Moroccan lamb and a garlic and cheese. The choices obviously agreed with the troops … it was four empty boxes consigned to the bin.
Because I’m a creature of habit (sometimes), after a few Peronis I opted for some Ladies Who Shoot their Lunch chardonnay, hardly the sort of tipple that goes with the grunt and biffo that is rugby league, but at $29 a bottle, worth every cent. Strangely, there were still a couple of bottles of red left untouched by the masses.
Keeping with the sporting theme, I have talked boxing (I’m a fan) a fair bit since the passing of the great Lionel Rose and related to a mate what was almost my only claim to sporting fame … OK, there have been a few, in my mind at least, and I may get a few on the board at some stage and try not to sound like too much of a wanker.
Some time in the’80s (I reckon it was between marriages, so I was single, which makes it legit to talk about here), I hit the CBD for a feed and a few glasses of wine with friends before heading to the Melbourne Town Hall for an (I think) Australian title fight featuring Lionel’s cousin Graeme Brooke. I reckon I may still have a flyer for the fight somewhere in what I laughably call my archives.
Brooke was an accomplished gloveman, so it was a good thing to have ringside seats and see him in action up close and personal. I somehow managed to be coerced into being the timekeeper for the main event, which, while making me a tad nervous, was pretty cool anyway.
The ring announcer, Howard Leigh, was a good mate of mine. Howard still wears the brightest jackets in history … it was kind of his trade mark.
Anyway, before the Brooke fight, here’s Howard, centre ring, introducing various celebrities and former champs and other pugs to the crowd.
Suddenly, he said something like “And here at ringside is Mick Vaughan, the former heavyweight champion of La Trobe Street (a reference to my start in newspapers as a copy boy at Truth).”
I shit myself, but stood and raised both arms triumphantly and waved to the applauding crowd. Yeah, thanks Howard. No, really, thanks Howard. Needless to say, I also felt pretty safe in the event of any shenanigans that may eventuate. After all, who was ever going to have a crack at a former heavyweight champ? None did.
Brooke won the fight after I managed to get the three minutes right for each of the 10 rounds.
Through Howard at various times I managed to meet a couple of world champs … Barry Michael and John Famechon (my boxing hero) and somewhere I even have George Foreman’s autograph.
I still have a huge video library of some really famous fights and fighters. There are 66 professionally produced tapes and I’d happily part with them for a suitable cash donation (I’ll even throw in a VCR).
My favourite night at the fights (ringside at a Kostya Tzsu world title fight at Docklands Stadium notwithstanding), however, was in’69 at a Festival Hall TV Ringside card.
A six-rounder before the main event was between Hillary Connolly and Nick Neophitou (trained by Arthur Laurie at Fawner from memory) and they belted the living suitcase out of each other for the entire fight, although there wasn’t a drop of blood evident. It was a draw and the crowd showered the ring with money, but not before Connolly copped a coin just over his eye and opened him up. First blood. The fight I think won the TV Ringside fight of the year. It was a cracker.
So too was the main event between a rough and ready Brendon Jackson and a stocky fella called Johnny Infante.
The fought three times for a win each and a draw.
The first (a draw) was the main event that night. Jackson was unorthodox in that he was prepared to try most things to win.
At about halfway through the fight, they got into a clinch from which the ref was having trouble separating them.
He needn’t have worried. Infante exploded out of the clinch and screamed at the referee “He bit me.” Yep, Jackson was a precursor to Mike Tyson … he sunk the choppers … mouthguard notwithstanding … into Infante’s shoulder.
A bite? That’s a segue into having a feed with my youngest son, Joel, the night after origin.
It was great to catch up … I was having a beer when he arrived (OK I really felt like one).
We took a wander to Basillico just up the road from my house … we’d both decided on a chicken parma, he because he loves ’em and me because it’s hangover/comfort food. Yeah, the hangover was lingering from the night before. It was OK (the food) but the service could do with a bit of a spark. There weren’t too many in for the night … but it was still too slow. It didn’t, however, affect the conversation, which, with Joel, is always great. Even a thread about one of his …let’s call her an admirer … who is even following me on Twitter just to see if she can pick up something about Joel. Strange days indeed.
And you’ve gotta love a son (he neither drinks or smokes) who suggests, when it’s time to leave the restaurant, that we should head to the local wine bar for a nightcap or two. I know he enjoys the people at the venue, but he also knows his old man, who likes a nightcap or two.
And so it was. But all to soon it was time for him to hit the road home and do a few zeds … he works ridiculous hours.
And given the excesses of the week, it was time for the old man to do the zed thing too.
And so it was.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A re-bottled champain rip-off

When a local pub charges through the nose for its house wine on a Saturday night, it’s not normally somewhere that’s likely to attract me back, unless it’s the desperation stakes and everywhere else is closed. So be it. I’ll walk the extra few blocks … it’s easier going rather than coming home sometimes, but that’s another story … to find a quiet pub that sells decent plonk at a reasonable price. Good food helps, too.
But I was told a disturbing story that has sealed the issue once and for all.
The sister of a mate was at a noisy local a week or so ago and she ordered a glass of the house bubbles. Can’t recall whether I was told what she paid for it, but I’m guessing it was top dollar.
Anyway, she got her glass and headed back to join her friends.
One sip was all it took. It was off. Gone to God. Not even suitable for dousing a stove-top fire.
She went back to the bar and politely said to the barman: “Sorry, but this is off.” And handed the glass to the said barman.
Get this … he had a mouthful from her glass and indignantly said: “No it’s not. It’s all right.”
“No, it’s off,” she persisted. “Can I have a fresh glass from a newly opened bottle?”
The debate went to and fro until the barman finally relented and opened a new bottle and poured her a glass.
She thanked the barman and was about to return to her friends when he picked up the “off” bottle and she watched in horror as he topped up the fresh bottle with it.
Surely a joint that charges like a bank hell bent on bleeding us for ATM fees … isn’t that all of them? … can cover spoilage and send the offending piss (that’s what it was) to a new life at the bottom of the sink.

Q&A leaves questions unanswered

After I blogged last night (thanks to the Charlotte Sound pinot for the assistance) I headed for the sanctuary of the couch and a bit of teev.
Why, I don’t know, I opted for Q&A still has me flummoxed. Don’t like the show much although the Jones fella is OK … but it seems to be a conversation must at work each Tuesday morning and it’s (sometimes) good to have an input.
I suffered through it and the suffering stayed with me until the morning when I hooked into the interweb thing and posted the Crikey word of the day. (Check out @mickthesub1 on Twitter each morning if you can be buggered.)
I thought I may as well have a crack at Q&A, so I tweeted “suffered thru Q&A last night. boring, contrived. i'd forgotten what shouting '60s-'70s rallies were like. good reason not to watch next week”.
I dunno whether it made me feel better … OK it did. It’s always good to get that sort of crap off your chest early before you get on with the real issues of the day.
Got some support too, suggesting that “Writers believing they were saving lives with their moral superiority, err sorry we have doctors to do that!”
I was feeling liberated on the way to work. I’d inadvertently left my phone at home. Shit it’s a good feeling, and besides, it was just too far to walk back to get it.
Then the first story I did for the morning at Crikey was a behind-the-scenes look at Q&A. I felt vindicated, although the executive producer poured some cold water on the yarn.
It was still a win for me.

Try, try and try again

Talking of wins, tomorrow night it will be good to get back into the swing of a night with some mates, some pizzas and some decent plonk or whatever and the best footy played anywhere in the country … Collingwood versus Adelaide at the weekend notwithstanding … when Queensland takes on New South Wales in state-of-origin one. I’ll be donning the Maroons shirt.
And flying the flag. I’m still keen to see just which team Age footy legend Rohan Connolly supports … one way or the other it could lead to some heated conversations … probably one-way because young Connolly is the most passionate supporter of anything that I’ve ever met.

In one ear and straight out the other

I watched and listened a bit this morning to a Gillard presser. I know it’s wrong in every way to be judgmental, but listening to the politically-dead-PM-walking (and talking) is something (I imagine) akin to an aural laxative. I'm not particularly enamored sometimes of either side of the political spectrum, but there is just something lacking in the Ranga-In-Chief's delivery.
Anyway, bugger this, it’s time for some crusty bread and some slow-cooked beef and vegetable casserole. At least that won’t go straight through.
I hope, anyway.

A wine to whine about

Oh, and some last-minute breaking news ... the fantastic chablis I ordered after tasting it last Wednesday night is not on. There's not a bottle to be had anywhere. The advice is to wait for next year's vintage.
Double sheesh.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What's my beef? Well, it's certainly not the wine/s by a long shot


It must be time for another small tram whinge (OK, the tram was big). I’ll fess up to having the odd McDonald’s, usually after a prolonged morning/afternoon/evening/day/week/month on the singing syrup. It doesn’t happen all that often … the Maccas bit that is … but what better way to face a Monday, I thought, than to do it on the back of an alcohol-free Sunday … lots of water, decent food … I was feelin’ OK. Until I squeezed onto the No.96 bound for the city. Someone close to me (that didn’t narrow the field any) had just eaten/inhaled/scoffed a Maccas beef product and the smell was … Jesus, it was almost nauseating … not a pleasant thing for a five-minute tram trip that seemed to take a hour. Maybe I was way off the mark and someone had stood in something on the way to the station … but I’m still going for Maccas theory. And bugger me (should that be burger me?), I managed to get the Hungry Jack’s quinella on the return trip, courtesy of some uniformed school kids. The lack of a crowd made it just bearable.


Wine, in a shock twist, seems to be at the forefront of things of late. Ben Thomas, the most-excellent wine writer for The Weekly Review (www.theweeklyreview.com) weighed in last week with a most welcome tweet, advising me that he had doubled up on some All Saints Rutherglen Muscat and “if you call by the office, I have a bottle for you”. I haven’t yet tried it … I’m having a good old standby as I write this … a Charlotte Sound pinot noir (from Marlborough) … but try it I will when the occasion presents. Follow Ben at @senorthomas on twitter. And get online at www.theweeklyreview.com to check Ben’s archives. This week’s column is headed “Life is a cabernet, old chum”, and has some excellent cabernet sauvignon words and recommendations including Ben’s food matches. For the record, I work as chief subeditor for The Weekly Review. A subeditor is one of those people that The Age doesn’t need apparently, something I can relate to after taking a redundancy package from the paper after almost 20 years, depending on whether you believe me or the tight-arsed bean counters at the said Age.
But I digress.
The Weekly Review is without question the best, friendliest office in which I have ever worked. Big call, I know, but it’s on the money.
How many people get to work in an office where, amazing (read the best) camaraderie aside, someone cooks lunch every day? Not too many is my bet. The Weekly Review editor (no name, it’s a modesty thing) every day sends me a text message at my other job (I work at Crikey, too), saying simply “Lunch here”. If it’s not the editor in the kitchen cooking, it’s the IT boys whipping up anything from a roast chicken and vegetables to soup to kebabs to steaks to a barbecue mixed grille to pasta, salads, chilli beans, stir fries, whatever, (again no names … I know Damien is really private). Damo can cook (and he loves chillis), big time. And it doesn’t hurt to mention that today he gave me a bottle of Tre Viti, a crisp white produced by food legend Stefano de Pieri in Mildura. It’s a blend of Monscato Giallo, Grego Di Turo and Malvasia and is for drinking in the short term. Oh, and thanks gang, for the birthday cake, even if you had to borrow my lighter for the candles (sorry that it ran out of flint and you had to look further afield).
Seems everyone kicked in a fiver ages ago to get a Weekly Review pantry started and we pay the said fiver each day to keep up supplies. Today, for the record, was Damo’s spag bol and it was a cracker, with some crusty bread on the side.
I did manage to keep off the cigars for a whole week which was no mean feat (yes, I even jogged and did some of that other exercise stuff), given that there was wine consumption aplenty. But the rails apparently were something to come off.
I went to a farewell dinner for the staff at Randall’s (it’s been sold to Coles), more particularly a send-off for Nico, a smooth Italian operator who knows about wine, works the crowd and is an all-round good guy, who is being lost to this country, which is a shame. I wandered into Randall’s to grab a bottle of something (it was BYO at Basillico next door) and on the staff recommendation, opted for what I thought was a half-decent bottle of shiraz. I knew I was in trouble when one of the guys said to me: “Did you bring this shit?” He was half kidding, of course, but on the money. We had that night a dozen or so wines, each one a cracker, and one was the best thing that has ever passed my lips, Grange notwithstanding. I’m still waiting for a list (the memory plays tricks) but have been promised that the list will be delivered … and yes, I will post it. Suffice to say that it was a French chablis and my God, what a wine. I’ve ordered a bottle of it (OK, it’s about $145 a throw so I’m not buying multiples here) and I’m waiting patiently. When and with whom to drink it is going to be the biggest dilemma. Maybe it’ll now be a solo job (and that’s not a soft drink reference).
I was scheduled to be taken out for a birthday dinner a couple of days later (an ideal opportunity to try it), but that went pear-shaped after a yum cha at Shark Fin in the city and a break at the hairdresser’s to have some of the excessive grey removed from my head-top thatch. Thank you, Sheridan, for another splendid job. With the best laid plans of behaving, it went off the rails courtesy of a French rose … in multiples. And it was a never-to-be-repeated birthday dinner. Sad, that, in the extreme.
Birthday eve had suddenly gone from scorched almonds to boiled lollies … although there was the lure of an early-afternoon wine tasting at Randall’s the next day … Nico’s dozen they called it. And what a dozen. But not before a trip to the market to get some goodies to line the stomach. The weekend choice was a slow-cooked casserole (made with aged Black Angus beef at about $18 a kilo and a tonne of vegetables). I got it onto the stove top, gave it a run for its money and then deposited the cast-iron pot into the oven for up to four hours. Worked a treat … still is. Suddenly I was Randall’s bound.
OK, the list of wines:
2010 Boschendal Chenin Blanc
Waterdon Riesling 2009
2008 Fontaine-Gagnard Chassagne ‘Les Vergers’
2008 Fontaine-Gagnard Chassagne ‘Clos des Murees’ (both down to $105 from $125)
2007 Simon Bize Bourgogne Blanc
2008 Faugeres ‘Les Fusionets’
2008 Acoustic
2008 Sempar Duro (seems I remember the conversation suggesting that the name means something like “always hard” in Italian … OK I’ll go with that. Thanks Lou.)
2007 Dugat Gevrey-Chambertin (on special at $120, down from $160)
2008 Clos St Jean Chateauneufdupape
2007 Jasmin Cote-Rotie ($75, down form $130)
And then there was Nico’s mystery wine, carefully decanted and described by him as something akin to a cleanskin.
Not even close.
It was a 2001 Giuuseppe Quintqarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore.
Sweet mother of Jesus. Nuff said, other than it was amazing.
All of the wines are available at Randall’s just in case anyone’s keen on the idea of emulating a wonderful Saturday afternoon.
Given that dinner was a thing of the past, what better thing to do when returning home than opening a refreshing bottle of Grande Cuvee 1531 Aimery Cremant de Limoux bubbles? It worked a treat, as did the bottle of chardy later in the evening. Oh, and the slow-cooked beef casserole. Yeah, it was a big day and the perfect prelude to spending my birthday alone. Them’s the breaks. Phone calls from my kids and my ex-wife (one of ‘em) helped cheer me up … so did a quick visit from my youngest son, Joel (he was on his way to work, dealing poker at Crown). Thanks mate, I appreciate it and am looking forward to dinner on Thursday night.
Single life? Do what you gotta do, when you gotta do it.
Oh, and it’s why Sunday was the first alcohol-free one in a long time.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Subeditors? Substantial savings? Get ya hand off it, Fairfax

A piece I wrote this week for Crikey

Crikey grumpy old man and sub Mick Vaughan writes:

Subeditors in the news? You betcha. Here’s the bottom line: subeditors rarely make mistakes, they sometimes miss other people’s and, generally when that happens, the sub is usually first in line for a kick in the arse -- rarely the reporter. The reason is, of course, that the sub has the responsibility of the last look at a story before the overall-clad brigade (or is it white, corporate dustcoats these days?) hits the button in the automated press room.

In the old days, proof readers used to be the next-to-last eyes before that profession (and, yes, it was a profession) was given short shrift and their job was absorbed into the subs' repertoire.

Subs' repertoire, you ask? Let’s get down to it. Newspaper subeditors (a desk of a chief, deputy, checksub/s and downtable bods) are variously the arbiters of good taste; they read, refine and edit copy often to make more/some sense, correct spelling, house style, punctuation and grammar, check facts, raise legal issues, design and lay out pages, hassle photographers to get pictures, crop the said pictures*, liaise with artists/designers, check with reporters to clarify facts, write precedes, breakout quotes, witty captions and often excellent headlines, read and correct proofs, mentor staff (especially juniors -- we used to call them cadets), hassle people to get things done within deadline (OK that's really the grumpy chief job), answer questions from people too lazy to get off their arse to check for themselves, grab a bite to eat at their desks, drink lots of really shit newspaper office coffee, (in the old days) smoke too much and enjoy a beer after the shift ... and love the whole damned thing. There was always a tangible sense of pride in all subs as they left the building after a shift, a copy of that day’s paper tucked under their arm.

That’s a huge, vital skill set that Fairfax, in one fell swoop, is planning to eliminate from its ranks, a move that will be counter-productive to the Fairfax dream of The Age again becoming a quality broadsheet. Pagemasters, the industry’s equivalent of the $2 Shop (OK, that's harsh), will be charged with the task of making it so and, with the word on the street indicating that the company has a pay ceiling for subs of 60 large, it is hardly a guaranteed, gilt-edged incentive for the ex-Age staffers. Imagine the many soon-to-become-former Fairfax subs getting by on maybe half of their usual salary.

There isn’t a reporter alive, at Fairfax, News Limited or even at the Barcoo Independent (if it’s still going), whose arse hasn’t been saved by a vigilant sub.

I have an ex-Fairfax mate (a lot actually, I’m one too -- I haven’t yet met one departed staff member who hasn’t kicked goals after departing the penny-pinching factory that is Fairfax: God knows I got screwed, but that’s another story) who spent four days rewriting, massaging and checking a huge yarn that went on to win a Walkley. With all the fanfare associated with such a prestigious win, the reporter took the money and ran (all right, he waddled) without so much as an acknowledgement of the sub’s by-then priceless work. Not so much as a beer or even a thank you.

But that’s the deal, really. Subs are backroom staff who, best three headlines at the Walkley or Quills aside, get three-fifths of five-eighths of f-ck all praise from anyone other than their editors. Journalism, sadly, these days is a personality-focused profession … it’s all about the byline and often larger-than-life accompanying dinkus picture.

The subs’ desk usually is like a happy workshop, one where ideas and banter are bounced around the table, jokes are cracked (usually good-natured and often at a colleague’s expense) and where the camaraderie leads to the great ideas that become reality and contribute to enhancing and maintaining the once-cherished integrity of the masthead.

One evening (as chief sub) and right on deadline, The Age sports editor asked me to change something I considered could wait. "Can we do it for the first edition?" he asked. "No," I replied, "we’re up against it. There are still pages to go. It’s not that important." "Really, I’d like to make the change," he insisted. "Mate," I said, "what part of f-ck off don’t you understand? We’ll do it for the second edition." We did. We laughed. Camaraderie at its finest.

I can recall in a previous life at The Sunday Age happy workshop (before Steve Harris changed it to the seventh day of The Age, something for which I'll never forgive him) when my best mate and I, due to finish at midnight on a Friday, sat until 2am (that’s four unpaid man hours -- and yes, we were having a beer … all right, three) to get one headline to say something that we thought was deserving of the story. We did it. I can’t remember what it said, but I know it was bloody good.

Not as good as the one I once wrote for a column piece about Martina Hingis falling off a horse in Melbourne during her time here for the Australian Open. Reckon it said something like: "Cunning Hingis licks her wounds". Still wonder why it never got a run. OK, not really.

That sort of commitment, even love, of the product doesn’t cut it in today’s newsroom.

Mic Looby, on The Drum, and Mel Campbell, on New Matilda, and former Fairfax subeditor Charles Maddison in Crikey on Thursday, each wrote excellent, straight-up summations of why the Fairfax folly is in fact folly. But I think the final word belongs to @SimonThomsen on Twitter on Thursday, who nailed the latest in a long list of Fairfax acts of stupidity: "What do you call a newspaper without subeditors? A blog."

*A Sunday Age sports editor of my acquaintance, unhappy with his requested photo, once put it to the chief photographer: "Did he actually get out of the car to take this … or was it a f-ckin' drive-by shooting?"

*Follow @mickthesub1 on Twitter

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


It’d be nice to say that things have been a bit on the quiet side in terms of the better things in life … OK, that’s good company, good food and wine … but they have been quiet. At least fore the past two days they have. Alcohol-free in fact … eight and a half hours sleep a night and I’m unsure of what to make of it ... OK, the body is rebelling because it’s not sure why it is rested, sober and still well fed.
It was a move that came out of some sort of necessity after a weekend of monumental proportions, given that I’d had kids in the house again for a few days and nights and to say that there was some wine … all right, bourbon, scotch beers and other stuff … consumed is like saying that it’s a fairly long drive around Australia.
I’d forgotten just how well I slept when they are about, not. One, with girlfriend in tow, ambles/staggers/reels through the front door any time between midnight and four, while the sober one (read black sheep of the family) rocks in at six. I’m a parent. I hear them no matter how tired I am.
The Vanuatu arm of the family (Liam) and his girlfriend (Mara … she’s a Canadian personal trainer and probably the fittest person in my house since I was 84 kilograms what seems a lifetime ago) enjoyed their stay in freezing Melbourne … it was in the 20s every day, yet I have a picture of him in jeans, jumper, robe and a pair of ugg boots. Joel, my youngest, also stayed … the boys are very close … and he’s a dealer. I love saying that to people who cast a quizzical eye at me. OK, he deals poker at the casino and loves it. Like I said, he doesn’t drink or smoke, is nearly always sensible and he sings in a band that is putting together an album (more when the details become apparent to anyone outside their often-noisy house).
Given his mother’s and my penchant for the odd snifter of something, it’s nothing but praise for him turning out the way he did, even if he’s one of the world’s great night owls.
I had a feeling that the visit would go pear-shaped the night the Vanuatu express hit town. Seems he’d been bumped up to first class (he knows lots of the airline staff over there) and subsequently there was the bottomless glass of red (and, he claims, really good food), something for which I think he has a degree/masters/doctorate. Maybe he’s just a natural who has been well taught by his father. He was met at the airport by his girlfriend and a mate (I was at home drinking wine … of course I was) although to this day, he doesn’t remember it. It wasn’t apparently the red that did it, more like the beers he had with mates at the airport before he flew out of Port Vila. Yeah, right. He finally emerged through immigration minus his footwear, which he’d left on the plane. Then there was the problem of getting his luggage, which had been confiscated/misplaced/whatever by Customs to whom he’d been “cheeky”.
After an entrance like that, little wonder we could but drink the duty-free scotch until the need for sleep enveloped us all … earlier than I had anticipated. No going out for us lot.
What followed were days (even mornings sometimes) when the need for a fermented mouthwash was the order of the day. Lunches, dinners, snacks, all washed down with something. And the Dominican Republic cigars (how good are they?). Thank God the Limerick in South Melbourne was open for lunch on Good Friday.
Sunday was a family gathering, mother (and her husband), father, sons. I went market shopping in the morning to buy laksa ingredients and to restock the flower vases in the house. Oh yeah, I bought wine too. It was still AM but we lifted the stopper on a bottle before heading to a local pub for a long Sunday lunch/afternoon tea/pre-dinner drinks extravaganza.
Luckily, after a few post-lunch drinks, I spent three hours or so on the phone to a friend, something that got me back onto the straight and narrow (Yeah, like that’s ever happened).
Joel through it all was designated driver, confidante, level-headed influence and all-round good guy. Thanks mate, well played.
It all culminated in a farewell dinner with a few (there were eight of us at Lina’s wine bar) at the farewell dinner. I love Liam lots, but I wasn’t all that unhappy to see him into an airport-bound cab after a lifting, filling bowl of the old man’s laksa to sustain them on their trip back to paradise. Oh, and given that footwear was in short supply, I cost me an (old) pair of snakeskin boots, which will no doubt grace many a social occasion in Port Vila.
The next two days were spent, after working my arse off at Crikey and at The Weekly Review, after which it was combing the house for remnants of bodies, crockery, the odd ladle, cutlery, food scraps, a waitress or two, sunglasses, wine glasses, empty cigarette packets, corks, empty lighters, socks (yeah, he borrowed mine. Of course he did), bottles (99 per cent empty), hay bales (no a lot surprises me), restaurant menus, plastic bags, duty-free receipts, aluminium cigar tubes and sundry other stuff. Oh, and the pile (think Ayers Rock dimensions) of towels, bed sheets, doona cover, pillow cases, socks and whatever else needed washing.
It was almost good to be back at work after the Easter break. OK, it was good to be back at work … earning some dough seemed like a good thing given that the debit card behaved like it had a personal trainer. It did little else but work out ¬¬-- a bit like my liver really.
Work won the week. I enjoyed the lack of pressure to gaze into the bottom of a glass, at least until last Saturday, when I caught up with a friend who has a penchant for Japanese food.
A quiet sip of the most excellent Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch chardonnay was the order of the evening before making a beeline to EIS, the contemporary Japanese restaurant almost at the end of the street.
Again it was the degustation menu … and what value it is. I’ve been to this place four times and each time it has been wonderful. Did I mention that it was good? Eight courses, five matching wines (including fantastic, yeasty French bubbles to start) for $105 a head. The best beef tartare I’ve eaten by a country mile. Oyster shooter in mint vodka with coriander and chilli. My God. Scallop with cucumber, pesto and fish roe. Tuna nori roll, beef sushi (can you call it sushi?). Miso-infused lamb cutlets; pumpkin soup with king prawns and truffle paste; unctuous eel with steamed rice and green tea. I couldn’t make it through the blueberry crepe to end. Done and dusted I was. My friend, however, went the distance. And the wines. Bubbles, Mo Mo sauv blanc, Geelong region pinot, some cab sauv and Japanese plum wine with desert. It was all we could do to finish the “Ladies” when we got back to my place before tackling some excellent South Australian riesling.
Talk (and wine) plus music was the order of the evening and we pulled an all-nighter. Sleep came easily.
It wasn’t a great preparation for a Sunday night out, but that was always the plan.
My friend, Andrew McUtchen (see andrewmcutchen.com.au) was playing at Lina’s (see link elsewhere on this blog) at six on Sunday night. Given that I’d recommended him for a gig or two meant that, regardless of my liver, grey appearance (I’m not talkin’ hair here) and general lack of demeanor and dress sense, I had to be there, but I wouldn’t have missed it for quids.
This bloke has talent in spades. At the last dinner party I had, Andrew put on a show to remember. Consensus was by all there to be the best night ever.
He went beyond that at Lina’s. I recall saying to him after his first set that his voice was better than I’d ever heard it.
“I woke up a bit dry in the throat this morning, but it’s come good,” he said.
Good? This bloke is a major, major talent. He sang stuff by a few people (including an excellent INXS cover and I recall him mentioning Leonard Cohen) but most importantly, he did Andrew McUtchen songs. Genius.
Suss them out and buy his albums. Listen and discover your new favourite singer/songwriter.
All too soon the gig was over. So was I, after 8-10 glasses of most excellent French rose and a piadina to soak up some of it, I had to put out the bins and enjoy some Zs. Lots. I did.
Hence, the two days alcohol free, although as I write this, some NZ sauv blanc is doing its thing.
Roll on work tomorrow, if only for the fact that it’s when I submit my invoice for services rendered.
Oh, and what a good sight it was this morning, walking along the promenade alongside the casino and heading for the office. There was a bloke, oblivious to those around him, reading as he walked.
Checking Twitter or Facebook on an iPad or his phone?
Nah, he had a book on the go.
All power to ya, fella.