I spent a recent weekend down the coast at Blairgowrie at my friend Julia's house. It was a typical wine and food affair ... she's a sensational cook ... with a few other people.
The real bugger of the weekend was the I was out of phone range for the duration.
The 3 company has a fair bit to answer for before I'd recommend it to anyone.
When I finally hit the freeway on the way home, my phone turned into a riot of messages.
It went on and on.
I pulled over to check whether there was anything important to address. There was and I called her.
But I also laughed out aloud when I read one from my eldest son, Liam, who lives in Vanuatu.
"I went to a dress-up party with no particular theme last night. I went as you. How cool is that?"
Now that's cool.
I had visions of jeans, a black T-shirt and cowboy boots ... yeah, he's pinched a couple of pairs of mine.
Not too sure what he did about the hair.
When words fail ...
Well, there was a shite-load (should that be a load of shite?) of this blog post written on ... about 2500 words ... and I reckon there was probably that much again to write to get to the end of what was a version of one of, without doubt, the great weekends.
I was feeling pretty kosher with what I'd done and was talking to a friend on the phone, having a glass of chardy and I decided to close the file and finish it the next night.
I hit the wrong button ... dunno what I hit (it should have been the roof), but I deleted the whole folder ... and no, I hadn't been saving as I went. I normally use Microsoft Word, which saves automatically (I think), and was doing it in Notepad. Big mistake. The whole thing went to God.
My friend said to hang up and work on the file, but I said I'd rather talk to her ... it's only words, and words are all I have to keep ...
The weekend really kicked off at lunchtime on a Thursday after finishing work at Crikey ... OK, a longish weekend, given that I also had Friday afternoon off after Crikey in the morning ... The Weekly Review on which I was acting-editor, had to be finished a day early (it's normally Thursday night) due to printing and wrapping requirements.
Thursday arvo was an opportunity to get fixed the toolboxes on the back of my Land Cruiser ute, which had been taken to with bolt cutters by some bastard/s who were no doubt interrupted before they finished the job. Consensus is, from the local cops, that they were after tradies' tools ... and there was nothing missing. All the tools were in the box that they didn't quite manage to open. And they weren't interested in the six or so fishing reels that were in the opened box.
I wandered around the neighbourhood, checking out welders who gave me a no-go, so I decided to do it myself and went to see my mate, Tony, at the local hardware shop. I bought the necessary bits and then had a brainwave ... there's heaps of business cards in the window of the shop. I figured I'd just get a local maintenance bloke to come and do it.
"What about Adrian, who's sitting there?" Tony said. I'd seen him around the neighbourhood, so I fronted him, put it to him and he said "let's look at the ute", which was around the corner.
He said that he'd do it there and then on the street, so he got his mate Lou, drove their fully equipped van next to the ute and did it. About 35 minutes later I was secure again.
"What do I owe you?" I asked. Twenty bucks came the strong reply. I said that was bullshit, no one does anything for 20 bucks, what about 50?
"If you want," he said.
Later that night it was off to Lina's wine bar to satisfy some craving for red meat, shared by a mate who has been a house guest for a couple of weeks while he does a job in the city (he lives down the coast and it's too far to commute). A few buckets of fine Chateau de Sours Bordeaux Rose (we swapped to cab sav after dinner) to wash down some eye fillet (two good sized medallions each) with olive tapenade, some greens and some pommes frites. The beef was sensational. Wine wasn't half bad either (I'm having a glass of the rose ... OK, maybe four ... as I write this).
Roll on Friday afternoon, when I was heading for a weekend away at Blairgowrie.
A COUPLE FOR THE ROAD
I went to the local bottleshop, Vintage Cellars (formerly Randall's) to get some wine to help through the weekend. I bought some Chateau de Secries Tavel Rose ... I had some French bubbles and some Passion Has Red Lips Cabernet Sauvignon at home ... and Cameron, the manager, said that I should try some Vin de Petanque de Librian, a cab sav.
"There are just 18 cases in the country ... I know what you like and you'll like this," he said.
OK, I grabbed a bottle and then thought, bugger it, if there's not much about, I should order a case. (I'm glad I did).
I raced home, threw some clothes into a bag (always I pack too much ... why the three pairs of socks and jocks, a second pair of jeans ... it went on and on?), securely packed the grog and pointed the car at Blairgowrie.
It was an easy run.
Pretty soon I was shooting the breeze with Julia, planning what to eat and drink the next day when she was to put her kitchen magic (she has it in spades) to the test.
I wrote the following account for Crikey.
The other night, I sat and stared at the Southern Cross. Beautiful it was too ... and no, not the Southern Cross tattooed on my left arm, which, despite my protestations in Crikey, has taken on something of a racist connotation.
No, this Cross was the real deal, directly overhead ... and I was in a bath.
Yep, a bath.
I was at the Peninsula Hot Springs on the Mornington Peninsula and it was about 8-8.30 on a Friday night. And it rates as the best (or close to it) 20 bucks I've spent in many a day ... OK, night.
I'd headed to this beautiful part of Victoria for a weekend of good food and wine and, after a great meal and a couple of glasses of red, my friend and I headed to the springs.
Twenty bucks each later, we were bound for the changing rooms ... a cautionary note here if you are shy and retiring. As far as I could see, there are men's, women's and family change rooms and I ended up in the family room (well I do have a family, although not with me, and anyway, the locker was there) and I was the only bloke getting his kit off while a collection of women and men
wandered through. No matter.
We hit the first pool (one of about 20) where the temperature was 36 degrees or so, an experience made all the more pleasant by the sound of what seemed like a million frogs engaged in choir practice (maybe it was a mating chant ... the atmosphere of the pools directs thoughts in that direction).
There was something ethereal about it.
The cold night air on warm, wet skin was exhilarating as we walked to the next pool where it was 40 degrees. There was steam rising, stars twinkling (although not me), the frogs were still in fine voice and there was a waterfall burbling in the distance.
The pools are filled with thermal mineral waters and, if you believe the blurb, are chock full of health-giving stuff that you normally see in jars in a chemist's shop. I'm a believer.
After an hour-and-a-half of pool hopping ... warmer, hotter, cooler, warmer, hotter ... OK you get the drift), we again headed to the change rooms where again I was the only bloke getting naked. In fact I was the only person getting changed. No matter.
By the time we again hit the car, I was aches-and-pain free big time.
The place also offers all sorts of healthy spa treatments, private baths, even accommodation. See www.peninsulahotsprings.com for all the details.
The Peninsula Hot Springs are open daily 7.30am until 10pm.
Post-bath it was some more welcoming reds with my friends (both women) and suddenly it was dessert time. It was 11.30 and time to tuck in to some fabulous lemon cake with cream and ice-cream (there goes the waist line), a couple more reds and then it was sleep time ... thank God that Julia's couch was long enough to cope with my long frame.
Sleep came easily ... and lasted until 7.30, which seemed like the ideal time for a drover's breakfast ... a piss, smoke, cup of tea and a quick look around (in that order).
I sat on the porch making mental notes about what to blog and how I could cope every morning in such a setting. The garden is really peaceful and conducive to good thoughts ... jonquils in bloom (there are also heaps of yellow and blue irises out there somewhere) Julia appeared as I started my second cuppa and suggested that it was time to take the dog for his morning constitutional at Merricks beach.
The sun was shining but it was freezing ... in fact cold enough to take up the offer of a spare beanie.
We needn't have bothered because the wind dropped at it was magnificent ... we were even chastised by some locals on the beach for compensating a tad (how much is a tad?) too much.
The beach was beautiful and it kinda cleared the cobwebs.
What really did the trick was a bacon, egg and cheese muffin and another cup of tea with some locals at a Blairgowrie cafe.
What shone through was a sense of community.
I heard one woman greet a chil: "Hello, how are you" It's so good to see you." It was heartfelt and uplifting.
A quick shopping trip, which included buying more wine, and we were ready for lunch ... bouillabaisse was the order of the day, with plenty of extras.
Julia pumped out a great fish stock (schnapper and flathead bones and heads) and piled in loads of flavourings. Mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery), fennel, some vermouth, saffron and plenty of other flavourings. I told her I'd publish her recipe, but some things are better left unsaid.
I could have just had the stock. It was a stunner.
While we (by this time there were four women and me) were waiting for the bouillabaisse, we made do with some runny brie, salmon rillet and olives ... oh, and the amazingly complementary French rose.
By the time she had added the flathead fillets, squid, prawns and mussels (I became a great mussel scrubber) to the pot (I also scrubbed lots of pots), the smell was amazing.
She served it with sourdough (with caraway) croutons that she'd baked in the oven ... she'd also made a spread of good quality mayo (I can't spell mayonnaise) with garlic and chilli. Spread it on the crouton and dip it into the soup. Jesus really did weep. The woman is a genius in the kitchen.
We ambled through the afternoon making do with Chateau de Secries Tavel Rose, French bubbles, Passion Has Red Lips Cabernet Sauvignon, Pepperjack shiraz, Chateau Tahbilk chardonnay, Pinocchio Sangiovese (easy to drink ... a cracker), Balnarring Vineyard Pinot Noir and Vasse Felix Cabernet Merlot.
The winelist didn't make doing the dishes an easy task but I coped admirably.
I was hard at it for quite a while ... OK, hard at it? I did what had to be done ... and the female conversation turned to rough, dishwasher's hands.
What's a single bloke to do. Head to my bag, grab some hand cream (a tube of L'Occitane) and give them all a sample, which went over well.
"You're a real contradiction," was the consensus. "A cowboy-booted rough nut who's full of surprises."
I took it as a compliment.
The rest of the afternoon and evening involved drinking wine and making sure there was plenty of wood for the fire.
Sleep eventually won the day ... OK, night ... and it was more comfy than the couch as I snaffled the spare bed (Julia's daughter Lauren is away on study duty in Japan).
I don't reckon I moved (not sure if I could have even if I'd wanted to) until another drover's breakfast beckoned.
Then it was time for the real breakfast ... bacon, a garlic mushroom omelet, some locally grown organic spinach and sourdough toast with marmalade. Oh, and a cuppa.
All too soon, it was time to hit the road and head home to do the domestics that I would normally have done. But not before I emptied Julia's fridge of a bunch of cavolo nero (black kale), assorted other greens, pumpkin, salmon rillet (I must remember to return the china bowl) and enough left-over bouillabaisse (hard to believe but it was better the second time around) to do dinner that night. Julia had emptied the fridge because she was off for a well-earned break with her boyfriend, Mark, in Queensland (he was already there) the next morning.
Weekends don't get much better.
ME IN A NUTSHELL
- 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.