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.

Friday, December 30, 2011

A moving experience and then some

There’s something intrinsically comforting about waking to the view over the valley in Bellevue at seven in the morning.
My first task for the day was to put on the kettle, walk onto the verandah, roll a gasper and survey the said view and it never ceases to inspire. God, I’m lucky to be here.
The distant call of Jeffrey the pig is a gentle, soothing reminder that not everyone is enjoying what I am. The porker is hungry … OK, he’s never not hungry … and I return to the kitchen to grab his bowl, laden with the excesses of last night’s meal, which was a cracker.
It’s a beautiful feeling, that grass under the feet, the sweetness of the warm, humid air as I walked to Jeffrey’s pen with his bounty … he kinda jumps up, both front legs extended, against the mesh that keeps him prisoner, chatting all the time and saying what I imagine in pigspeak equates to “C’mon you slow bastard. Make good with the food.”
This porcine vacuum cleaner moves around the bits and pieces … pigs obviously have a priority for what tastes good first up in the day. Ah, fruit … that’s a good palate cleanser. Perhaps he’s just arranging it into courses. Who knows how a pig thinks.
Back to the kitchen to rinse the bowl and make a cuppa.
Life’s good.
Sitting at the table on the verandah, cuppa at the ready, rolling the second smoke and then …
What’s this then? Involuntary movement. I started gently to move this way, then that. Am I pissed from the night before? Surely not. No, I was sober(ish) when I went to bed.
Nah, the involuntary movement is not only affecting me, the cars to my left are gently swaying like palms in a gentle breeze.
Well, well, it’s my first earthquake. It lasted for about five, maybe seven seconds. What a bizarre feeling … not altogether unpleasant, a little bit exciting. Maybe it’s the anticipation that it may last longer. Dunno, but it was a great, and certainly different, way to start the day.
Yesterday was a cruising sort of day, lounging around … Liam resited the water tank, played guitar for a while, whatever, until later in the day when it was time to take the kids into town for a swim, get some food for the night’s meal and replenish the beer supply.
Everyone piled into the ute and we made a beeline for the Chantilly resort. We commandeered a table not too far from the pool and ordered some drinks. I got the impression that Liam and Dan go here a bit because Liam was undecided about what to drink. The barman said “come back here and have a look”. Not necessary because he was already halfway there.
While Dan and Em swam, we just kicked back and solved a few more of the world’s problems and then we decamped, dropped Dan at her office to pick up some stuff and then we hit Bon Marche.
Suitably armed with all the necessaries (including travellers for the trip home) for the night’s dinner and beyond, we headed home and hit the kitchen.
While my pastry was defrosting (I was cooking a lemon tart) I was the designated potato peeler. Pretty soon, the pastry was in the oven, the curd mix was ready and waiting and it was beer o’clock again.
Em got busy creating shapes (she got a cooking set for Christmas) with the leftover pastry until she had a tray of them ready for the oven.
Finally Patto and Virginia arrive in time for a feed of baked yellowfin tuna, wasabi mash and a humungous salad of fruit, veg and whatever else looked good i.e. everything.
Dinner was a cracker, the lemon tart too. So too the conversation and laughter that followed the feed. All too soon, it was time for some zeds to prepare to get on a roll for the next day.
I just didn’t realise that the roll would come in the form it did.
Yep, the Earth moved for me.
Tomorrow we're doing a lap of the island.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

You wouldn't read about it. OK, you would

There are two newspapers in Port Vila, the Vanuatu Daily Post and The Vanuatu Independent. They both do their jobs well.
The Independent runs a lot of stories in Bislama, a fascinating language that’s easier to understand in the written form. When the locals speak, most times it’s a bit fast fort me to understand. Liam’s good … he did a course not long after he arrived.
The papers concentrate on local issues, but give coverage of what’s going on in the world … i.e. North Korea etc. There’s also a page in each designated for wacky world news and plenty of sport.
In the Post there’s a gossip and rumour column called “Mi harem se” which I guess means I hear and see ‘em.
A couple are worth sharing.
“Mi harem se the dame large breasted woman is really a blonde in disguise as she opened her front doot to let out her dog, stark naked and was shocked to see her staff member standing there closely examining his boss’ anitomy (sic). She shrieked and slammed the door. The employee was last seen getting psychiatric assistance for shock and nerves as his boss was not a natural redhead as thought.”
Or how about:
“Mi harem se an expat businessman was followed everywhere in the Grand Hotel by two security guards after a tipoff that he was in the secret society of Xmas ball grabbers. He still managed to steal a bauble when they were distracted.”
“Mi harem se the new Shakers nightclub is now selling great food over the bar including the cheapest burgers, hotdogs and pizzas in town. Great for lining the stomach so you can drink more.”
I did though like my horoscope in the Independent.
To whit: “Travelling somewhere different and connecting with people from faraway places could be your ticket to romance this week.
We’ll see.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Honeymoon, pride, honesty, the village people and other stuff

The view for the verandah at Dan's house.

There’s gotta be few things as good as sitting on a verandah at a super house, surrounded by beautiful gardens, perched high on a hill in beautiful downtown Bellevue, Port Vila.
There’s a view that cascades across a green, green valley to the distant, mist-shrouded mountains (OK tallish hills then). There are three sleeping dogs (it’s best to let them lie), music and an occasional rooster crowing in the background, a bird noise or three, a pig (Jeffrey) sometimes yelling in pigspeak that, if it’s not out of the question, he’d like more to eat, and a breeze that’s having a pleasant cooling effect on what is, in a shock twist, a hangover.
It’s day one (although I flew in on Thursday night) of what will affectionately be known as “Adventures in Vaughanuatu”.
I snagged a great cab driver to get to Tullamarine, although he must be the only Indian in the world who prefers AFL to cricket. Yeah, he did have tickets for the Boxing Day Test.
An early check-in for the overweight bag (and yep, I did get an emergency aisle seat) left me with two hours before lift-off. Just enough time for a less-than-good fruit salad … it cost seven bucks for not a lot, but it was cool and fresh … and a couple of last-minute smokes before giving the duty free a workout. Reckon at the airport I always smoke the last one right down, knowing that it’s gonna be five hours before the next.
Customs was a breeze, although I’ve never understood what makes my boots go off with the metal detector. Like, the studded belt with the silver buckle I can understand.
“Please take off the boots.” They’re a pain in the arse to get off without my bootjack (a timber device that allows me to slip ‘em off in a trice, however long that’s meant to be) but it can to pass. I passed through the metal detector again and I passed the test.
I emerged the other side of duty free with a litre of Jack, a litre of Pimm’s and five pouches of Old Holborn tobacco, which was a snip at less than $8 a pouch (usually it’s $33 for one). I was annoyed that they had run out of papers. No matter, I had enough to get me through.
There was nought left to do but sit at the appointed gate, read a book, glance at the clock and count down the minutes. Watching a clock is like watching a kettle … it never boils. But boil I did when the departure time was amended from 2pm to 2.30. No announcement, no reason, just a change to the electronic scoreboard … no way it wasn’t going to be a point deduction for Air Vanuatu. Surely it’s incumbent on the people in control there to keep the punters in the loop.
Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), boarding didn’t start until 2.18 … again no announcement … and it wasn’t until 3.15 that the pilot finally dropped it down a cog, floored it and the rubber finally left the tarmac.
What was planned to be a 6pm arrival became some time after seven. Yeah, thanks for not a lot.
In some strange quirk of fate, once airborne the announcements then came thick and fast … yep, flying time would be three hours and nearly 50 minutes, drinks and then a full lunch would be served. At last they were filling in and about to fill up the punters.
The drinks came soon enough (I had chardy) as did the miniscule packet of potato chips, which had a smell that took me back to the early teens years at the Royal Melbourne Show. I couldn’t quite get a handle on what exactly it was, but it surely transported me to somewhere else. Good feeling, that.
I try hard not to judge, but it was four hours of mostly screaming, bawling kids … some running up and down the aisle … punctuated by some really ordinary airline food (I was told that Air Van had changed caterers and it showed). The wine was OK. I reckon it’s the first time on a plane ride that I’ve actually been kicked in the head, courtesy of a screaming youngster being carried up the aisle by his less-than-careful parent, a man whose (I presume) wife didn’t smile for the entire trip. She would have given George Costanza’s mother, Estelle, a run for her money. Not so much as a tee hee. And yeah, I was snoozing at the time of the head kick. Again, thanks for that.
Finally it was touchdown just after seven.
Walking down the stairs from the plane, the air was thick, smelled of diesel and it was humid. It was foreign but somehow very familiar. I guess it should be given that it’s my fourth trip here.
Getting through the first Immigration check was quick (it seems to go for forever, but it doesn’t), my overweight case made an early appearance and I hit the Customs section. This was the first time in Vanuatu that there has been any check of my stuff. My laptop case was opened, my camera case too and the duty free checked to make sure I wasn’t bending the rules. I wasn’t.
“So, what’s in your suitcase?”
“Just clothes, chocolates, shoes toiletries, a kitchen knife set, a book, odds and ends and some music DVDs.”
I was hoping he wouldn’t want to open it because I had a skateboard securely strapped to it and it would take forever to get the bloody thing open.
“What sort of music?”
“What’s that?”
“Uh oh,” I thought.
And then he said: “OK, you have a great stay in Vanuatu.”
Out the door and into a big hug with Dan, a truly wonderful woman. Then Liam, a truly wonderful son.
Shit, it was good to see them … and, it was cigarette o’clock. It was a great first meeting with Dan and a great reunion with Liam.
And we did what I was expecting to do … we headed straight for a bar.
“Patto is singing at Baywatch. Are you up for it.”
“Shit yeah.”
Pretty soon we were breasting the bar at Baywatch and listening to Patto, Stuart and David serve up some excellent covers. Greeting Patto (I hadn’t seen him since February) when he’d finished his set was like meeting a long, lost brother. He’s a Scot, a big unit and he hugs like a bear.
It was a sea of meeting people, beers going down like ninepins … a great way to start the holiday. Then the beer hit a flat spot. They were having trouble with their pipes, so we did what any sensible people would do … we switched to bourbon.
Pretty soon enough was enough (does anyone know how much that is?) and we were in the ute bound for Bellevue.
A couple of bottles of white, some nibbles and catch-up/what’s up chat was enough to make sleep come easily, but not before stretching out on the bed and starring at the stars.
It seems as if there’s a constant show on through that window. The next morning on the flyscreen it was a small chameleon getting shitty and determined to have a small spider for breakfast … and the spider was having none of it. Up, down, across and back again. What a super way to wake up, hangover notwithstanding.
It was lots of tea, a smoke or three (OK maybe five) and sitting staring at the aforementioned view, before Dan took me on a tour of the garden (it’s a hectare plot) … oh, and to officially meet Jeffrey, who made a meal of the leftover crackers from the night before and a huge paw-paw (think Sherrin size here). He almost inhaled it in no time at all.
The back of the block is really heavily treed up the slope … and it’s really beautiful.

As you come down the slope there are fruits of all sorts … mango, avocado, custard apple, passionfruit, paw-paw, tree peanuts, pineapples … it goes on. There are also pumpkins, tomatoes, herbs of all sorts … there’s even a huge cocoon of spider webs, housing plenty of inmates, that the gardener is under strict instructions to keep intact.
Dan said that it was almost a case of accidental self-sufficiency, and that she’d had a story published about it. If I can ever get hooked up to the interweb thing, I’ll find a link.
Breakfast loomed large and Liam took over the kitchen. You’ve heard of the three egg omelette … well he went for the three-pot omelette with lots of ham and tomato. Speaking of lots of ham, Dan and Liam bought one for Christmas. It’s about the size of a small house … and so it should be. It cost about 300 bucks. Tastes good but.
After breakfast there’s not a whole lot to do other than hit the bed on the verandah and have a nap before Liam and I head to town to get a few supplies.
Post-nap, and armed with a couple of Tusker travellers, we pointed the ute at Port Vila and headed down a road that makes the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley look like a billiards table (more on roads in another post).
The traffic in downtown Port Vila was like it always is … a shit fight, but we managed to get a parking spot near the bank and after the banking was done, we bumped into Patto and his girlfriend Virginia, who’d been doing the last of their Christmas shopping. He was still a bit ginger, courtesy of too many bourbons the night before.
After a quick chat we headed to Bon Marche (supermarket) to stock up on some vino, beers, lemonade and dry ginger and cucumbers (for the Pimm’s).
French wine was the order of the day, with a bottle of Domaine Ventenac, a de Pennautier Syrah, a bottle of a de Pennautier cab sav and a case of Tusker (the local beer). Job done for about 100 bucks. Nothing left to do but to open the Tuskers, grab a couple of travellers and head home via a small but good bakery where it’s actually decent bread. Just what the doc ordered … wholemeal toasties with (of course) ham, cheese and tomato, the perfect prelude to an early-arvo nap. I woke about an hour later and Dan and Liam were having Pimm’s. He walked to the freezer, and grabbed on for me … “here’s one I prepared earlier.”
Ah, Pimm’s No.1 Cup, the most heavenly drink on Earth. Liam and I shot the breeze while Dan had a nap … her daughters Tahlia and Emmogen were flying in on the midnight special. To give her some breathing space (she was getting pretty toey), we boys headed to the local nukamal, run by Cathy and Abel for some kava and a beer and a chat with some of the locals (Liam knows, it seems, most people on the island … OK not all, but it’s a lot). It’s a weird place … there are tracks going every which way and a central bar where Cathy was sitting, waving a banana frond over some freshly cooked beef, snags and sundry other stuff. “They’re still hot,” she said to Liam who has the appetite of a small nation. He was into it.
We chatted with the local ex pats and solved a few of the world’s problems (especially the media), enjoyed a couple of shells of kava and a few beers before heading home to wrap the last of the Christmas presents, a task that was pleasantly interrupted by Patto and Virginia, who arrived with Christmas pressies (including a soccer ball for Jeffrey) and a thirst for bourbon.
If this is what my holiday is about, I like it. Oh, and my phone has no service and there is limited internet.


Dan’s girls’ plane got in an hour late on the 23rd … at 1am on the 24th actually, a pretty tough gig for the girls. They didn’t go to bed until 3am, not the ideal preparation for Christmas Eve, but they did it well.
Liam and I went out to Mele to pick up a wide screen TV, which was to be part of the girls’ Wii Christmas package.
We wandered out on to Devil’s Point road where there is a security station … apparently there were a couple of murders out that was a while back, so the residents set up the manned boom gate.
It’s mostly ex-pats who live out there. The joint we went to is a pretty cool set-up. Private beach, a surf ski moored at the private jetty, a couple of sea kayaks all ready to check out things such as the pod of dolphins that we can see not too far offshore.
After a quick chat with the woman, who is selling all her stuff and moving back to Oz (why?), we loaded the TV and sundry other black boxes, a kilometre and a half of cords, and we hit the road.
Cruising back towards town, Liam jumped on the phone, said g’day to someone and told him we’d be there is a couple of minutes. (Everyone talks on the phone here while they are driving … they drink too and don’t wear seat belts … well they aren’t fitted in the back of utes … reckon the coppers are tolerant because the roads are so, so bad, it’s impossible to speed, hence I’m not sure there is a road toll. Yes, I’ve just read in one of the local papers that the year’s toll is three.)
We turned in to the Mele village … there are about 10,000 locals living there (that’s not counting the pig and dog populations) … it’s a maze of dusty, bumpy tracks that all looked the same to me. We twisted and turned and finally pulled up at Johnny Bangalulu’s place. Johnny’s a great bloke … we had a great time when I last saw him in February … and I got to meet his family, including his daughter Cathyfreeman. Yep, that’s right, it’s one word. She was named after Johnny became enamoured of Cathy Freeman’s performance at the Sydney Olympics.

We shared some smokes, a chat and then pointed the ute towards home although we did have to treat a huge pig as a roundabout just down the track from Johnny’s place.
We stopped on the way out of Mele so I could take some photographs of the black sand beach. My god, it was beautiful.


Christmas Eve was time for the girls, Em and Tahlia, to open a few early presents and get cranked up for the main event in the morning.
We did the full Christmas thing for dinner. Roast turkey with all the trimmings. It’s the first time I’ve ever stuffed a turkey. Dan and I kind of made it up as we went along, but in the end (that’s a turkey arse joke) the stuffing was excellent, as was everything on our plates.
Unusually, the girls slept in a Christmas morning, but it wasn’t long before the house was a sea of wrapping paper.
I did well … a whiter than white pig’s tusk mounted in silver (it was made by a local) to wear around my neck and a bottle of New Zealand pinot to put down my neck.
Then it was time for the Christmas Day activities. Nothing to do but pack the ute with everything … lots of food, grog, floaties, boogie board, Eskys, baskets of clothes changes , whatever … and head to Honeymoon Beach to join about a dozen families for some celebrations, which included lots of floating in the shallows, Tusker in hand, and enjoying the sunshine.
Everyone brought food and lunch was a smorgasbord … it was all there including the ubiquitous ham.
It was the sort of day that Christmas Day should be, including the beach, good people, good food, lots of beer and wine … and for me, a long sleep.
I woke to a long chat with a wild man called Jim, a nomad who was just cruising by on his motorcycle. He’s live all over the world and has some great stories to tell.
Pretty soon it was time to flee, so we pointed the ute towards Bellevue. Seems the ute is well versed in the ways of the world here. It only travelled as far as the local nukamal (yes, it was open on Christmas Day). It’s the closest to home and is a well landscaped block, with lots of table and chairs, a couple of thatched bamboo huts and a bar.
Dan caught up with some Ni-Vans she hadn’t seen for a long time … they were happy to see her. They storied on for ages and just before we left, they gave her a beautiful hand-woven basket as a gift.
Patto arrived solo … his girlfriend Ginnie had jagged a night shift at the casino where she works … and Kelvin and his girlfriend made it a crowd, a good one but. Through it all, we managed a few shells of kava and some beers, the kids had a great time just tooling around before we headed to home base to kick back and watch a White Stripes movie, via a projector to a big screen set up on the verandah.
We were running low on beers and Liam, Patto and I headed into town and cruised around to see if we could call in a favour at several resorts by borrowing a case of Tusker (we’d return one in the morning)
We interrupted the search to go to a nukamal that overlooks the Port Vila harbour. A shell and a beer later we were on the search again.
We got some and headed home. It’s the first time that kava has ever affected me. I had what’s known as kava legs. It’s kinda like a case of the feet refusing to do their duty.


I really love the pride of the N-Vans. They are as friendly as all get-out and love their country.
I was standing beside the ute the other day having a smoke while waiting for Liam to get something from the shop.
A bloke called Steve walked up to me, held out his hand, and shot the breeze with me. He worked at the jail as a corrections officer (he was a major) and it was just great to chat with him.
A couple of days later, Liam got a call from Amy, an electrician who works for him. He needed some money. We cruised to pick him up (he travelled in the tray of the ute) and head for the bank.
When Amy got his Christmas pay and bonus, Liam told him that he would hold it for him so he didn’t blow it and find himself short. They met occasionally so Amy could get a drip feed of what he wanted. Five thousand vatu here and there just to get him by.
This time he needed it all to pay the rent and go food shopping.
While Liam was in the Bank, Amy and I had a smoke and a chat.
“I really love this place,” I said to him.
“Thank you,” he said in a beautiful, heartfelt and proud response.
Ah, you can’t beat pride like that.
Liam lobbed with Amy’s dough, told him to count it to make sure of the amount and in a touching display of honesty, he said: “That’s five thousand too much.”
Given that five grand is about a third of a week’s wages, it was a big call.
He then looked at me and said: “He’s a good man, Liam, we need people like him in Vanuatu.”
I met up again a couple of days later with Gabby, who also works for Liam.
The greeting was a cracker. Although he couldn’t remember my name, his face exploded into an almost complete smile … he has one front tooth missing … and he said: “Ah the old man.” He’s one lovely bloke.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Life's a beach and then some

The countdown to Vanuatu is well and truly on … four more sleeps until I climb aboard the big silver, airless tube, eat some very good airline food (no, fair dinkum, the tucker they served last time I flew Air Vanuatu was the best mile-high grub I’ve ever had), the endless bottle of red (ya gotta love that) and finally catch up with “picaninny blong me”. That’s Bislama for my son, Liam.
There are more than 100 Ni-Vanuatu tribes, each with their own culture and language. Estimates of the local languages spoken in Vanuatu vary between 105 and 115.
Any wonder that’s it’s rated as the happiest place on Earth. Just hearing Bislama or reading the various signs around Port Vila makes me smile a lot.
For instance, did you know that Bislama for “bra” is “basket blong titi”? Now you do.
For 15 days and nights, it’s going to be a hard slog given Liam’s message of last week: “We’ve got nothing planned other than to eat (this is definitely going to be a seafood summer as we’ve got a deal with some of the boys that we slip them a 50 every week and they go out and catch us crabs, lobster, squid, fish, etc) sleep, beach, fire, outdoors, sleep, eat and maybe more sleep… Hence the no need to steer, just cruise …” Talking of cruising, the plan for New Year’s Eve is to take a yacht to an island not too far away (it’s uninhabited) and cook some seafood on the beach, wash it down with something good and see in the New Year before sleeping on the beach.
Sounds tough. Eh?
The really tough thing will be not seeing my other son, Joel, for his birthday, which falls on New Year’s Eve. While I’m having dinner with him on Tuesday night, it’s not quite the same as being there with him on his special day. No doubt we’ll toast him on the night.


My good mate, Ben Logan, has snaffled the gig of a lifetime.
He’s a tenor who has done work with Opera Australia … he has a fantastic voice … and he sent me a message earlier in the week to tell me that he’s got the nod to sing Advance Australia Fair (solo) for the start of the Boxing Day Test.
Maybe 90-odd thousand people is a pretty fair audience. I’m sure he’ll nail it for them.
Ben’s company, Logan Musical Events, is producing a series of opera and music theatre concerts in China late in the new year.
On the agenda is the famous Bizet Opera, Carmen , and another concert of classics, such as My Fair Lady, Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables.
The Australian Concert Orchestra will make its international debut and be joined by some of Australia’s best singers from Opera Australia, Victorian Opera and the Ten Tenors.
Ben, who did concerts in China late last year, is also negotiating with David Helfgott to be part of the concert series.
Have a look at Ben’s website at http://3-au.com/loganmusicalevents.com.au/
… he’s got a pretty good thing happening … he can organise almost anything musical.
China looms large and I’m looking forward to it.
Oh, did I mention that I’m going too?
Yeah, I’m gonna be the security element, which basically means that I get to wear a black T-shirt to the opera … I have to look the part. Me, an opera bouncer … who’d have thought it?


Given that it’s the silly season, it hasn’t disappointed.
It started a week ago, while I was vacuuming of all things … I had what I best can describe as a life-changing epiphany. It was a very personal thing but it has put me in a wonderful place from which I haven’t detoured (and won’t).
Monday was a hoot at The Weekly Review contributors party at The Carlisle Bar in St Kilda. It was great to catch up with the troops who make working there such a good thing.
I spent to good deal of time having some great exchanges with Rachel Berger, who is funny in the extreme and a bloody nice person to boot (and no, that’s not rhyming slang for anything).
Tuesday was a catch-up for drinks with friends.
Wednesday was lunch with some former and current buddies from The Age … a great afternoon at the Saint & Rogue in the city.
It was good to catch up with some people I haven’t seen for a long time, including Chris (he has a gig at the ABC these days). He sent me an email the next day and it’s one that needs to be shared.
“Sign in my mother's fav coffee shop (wheelchair accessible): ‘Men are like tiles. Lay them right first time and you can walk over them for ever’."
What are the odds that the author was a woman?
Thursday night was the Crikey Christmas party at the Olsen Hotel in South Yarra. The Crikes and Crikettes always put on a good show, which kicked off with a bus to get us all to the venue.
It was a warm night made all the better by being on an open-air terrace (yeah, we could smoke) by the pool.
Everyone got a present (yep, Private Media knows how to look after its staff), there was plenty of good wine (the chardy was excellent), finger food doing its thing and bloody good company.
And I reckon I may have been first onto the dance floor … will wonders never cease?
Friday was the Crikey contributors lunch … but I pulled the pin, given that my liver was trying to punch its way out of my body. Truth was though, that I just had/have shitloads to do to get organised for the trip away.
And the liver didn’t get a complete break. Dinner on Friday was smoked ocean trout, goat’s fetta, greens and good sourdough and a bottle of Dona Pateuno Alvarinho, a cracker wine from Portugal.
Alvarinho is an aromatic crisp, dry, young wine with excellent balance. There’s a bit of citrus happening and maybe some honeysuckle. There’s no oak used in production. And while it’s not exactly a snip at 30-odd bucks, it’s a bloody good drink.
I also had a sniff around some Domaine Marcel Deiss Alsace 2010, which is a super drink, and also some Ceretto Zonchera Barolo 2007, which is a super-duper drink. The Barolo is a special-occasion drink at about $75 a bottle that’s gonna be on the table for the first special occasion I have in the new year, whatever it may be.


I follow Jane Barnes (Jimmy’s missus) on Twitter and the other day she tweeted a site that’s made up of helpful hints.
There are a lot of things on it that don’t make the grade for me, but there’s a couple at least that do, not the least being how to fold fitted sheets.
Crikey deputy editor Jason (aka the town crier on Twitter) apparently cannot fold fitted sheets. Who can? Well on http://www.thedailybuzz.com.au/2011/11/25-clever-ideas_household-tips_storage-ideas/#.TurBR6cyk4O.twitter , there’s a step-by-step guide. Get to it, Whits.


And just to prove a point, yesterday I washed my car for the first time in about two years. It was looking like a Guinness Book of Records entry for the world's biggest collection of cobwebs. I also managed to (sort of) wash my jeans in the process.
Now the car looks a picture. So there.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

That's what mates are for

Picture this: there I was, sitting in our South Melbourne office doing our last magazine of the year. Man, that’s a relief … don’t get me wrong, I love The Weekly Review … but like I said, it’s the last for the year.
Anyway, the call goes out: anyone want to come and be part of a marketing photo shoot at Claypots (at the South Melbourne Market)?
Well, yeah, a break from the desk would be good, I thought and, bugger it, I’ll have a beer while I’m there.
Thank heavens for EB, our editor. “Get going,” she said.
So six of us took a walk.
We all settled at the bar, waiting for the photographer to strut his stuff. The ever-present waiting staff took drinks orders. “Sure, I’ll have a glass of white.”
Renan, the owner (he’s a champion bloke), barked orders to the kitchen staff. “Get cooking.”
And cook they did as the snapper (yeah, there was snapper on the menu too) started to do his thing.
While he was snapping away, we were snacking away on grilled octopus, grilled prawns, grilled squid, Moreton Bay bugs and a whole fish (not too sure what it was).
Then the waitress brought a couple of ice buckets with chilled bottles of white.
Jesus, it really beat working. All too soon, the photographer had what he wanted, we’d been well fed, and after a second glass of wine, it was time to go back to the bump and grind at the office.
“You want to stay and have a few?” Renan asked me. “Sorry mate, but the office calls. What about the Elvis night on Thursday?”
“Sure,” he said, “I’ll look forward to seeing you here.”
Mateship (thanks Damo) is a great thing when the surprise is as good as this one.


And speaking of the market, last Saturday I did something I’ve never done before.
I went to my usual fruit and veg shop to get some stuff for a salad … a lettuce, some wine-ripened tomatoes, one zucchini and one pear.
I went to the cash-only checkout. The young girl operating the till just didn’t want to be there. There wasn’t a please or a thank you anywhere to be heard.
The woman in front of me in the queue handed her a $50 note. I watched in horror as the checkout chick struggled to get enough change … she’d almost run out of coins and, being the lazy bitch she was, handed the woman almost $2 worth of five cent pieces. The woman looked at me and just rolled her eyes (that’s not the first time that’s happened to me, but usually it’s for other reasons).
My turn. The tomatoes were $5, the lettuce $2 and apparently the one zucchini and one pear totalled $5.30. “I said to the girl: “Are you sure that’s right?”
“Yeah,” she said. I handed her a twenty and this time she rolled her eyes. Again, a handful of small coins and a $5 note, which she just dropped on the bench.
“Thanks for not a lot,” I said to her as the woman behind me in the queue rolled her eyes.
I went and bought some pork and chicken and pistachios for the terrine I was going to make, and I thought: “Bugger it, this is about principle.”
So I headed back to the fruit shop and queued again. When I finally got to the checkout, it was with a woman to whom I chat every time I’m there.
“I’ve already paid for this … that girl at the end charged me $12.30 … how much should it be?” I asked politely.
“She’s a bitch, all the youngies are,” she said, “it should have been $8.60,” she said as she rolled her eyes. “Go and tell the owner. He’ll fix it for you.”
I explained to him that, yeah, I shop here most times and I expect better treatment than that meted out by the out-of-sorts youngster. He rolled his eyes.
I went with him as he went to the head of the queue. “Can you refund this man’s change and then take a break,” he said as the woman, now behind me in the queue, rolled her eyes. The checkout chick was without eye roll … she just fixed me with a steely “you bastard” glare.
The woman second in the queue in fact worked out for the girl just how much change it should be. It was almost eye-rolling material for me as the checkout chick decided she had to go and get change. She almost had to be cajoled by the new checkout chick to do it.
“Just get the change,” she said to the unmoving girl, as she too (no, fair dinkum) rolled her eyes.
I don’t usually quibble about a couple of bucks, but this time I took exception to being treated like she was doing me a favour.
There was just one thing to do after that. A beer and a smoke at Claypots (the woman behind the counter just smiled … not an eye roll to be seen) and then head home to start the terrine (The recipe is already at the bottom of the blog somewhere).
By the way, I reckon the terrine was excellent. I took half to the office to share … the troops were complimentary.
In fact, no one rolled their eyes.

Monday, December 5, 2011


It has been a while since I’ve put pen to paper, as it were.
It wasn't helped yesterday when my email account was hacked. It took yonks to again retrieve the suspended account. Apologies to everyone who got some sort of shit email.
Hackers should be shot with shit balls. End of story.
It has not been because I haven’t wanted to write something, just the end-of-the-year blues … aka I really need a holiday because I’ve read more stuff this year for work than any year in memory, which, not doubt due to the excellence and quantity of the year’s wine, is on the way out.
There have, however, been some things indicative of just what a good life it is.
To whit, the fresh wasabi saga. I gave my friend Sue a chunk and she being the good woman that she is, reciprocated the next day with my lunch of a crusty baguette stuffed with home-cooked eye fillet, ribboned zucchini and corn salad and fresh wasabi.
Like I said, she’s a good woman.
I also tried the wasabi with some smoked ocean trout and while it did overpower – to a degree – the flavour of the fish, it was good. And for me, the smoked ocean trout is as much about texture (it’s better than smoked salmon for that reason) and married with Meredith goat’s fetta and avocado … and some greens from the garden … it was a winner.
I went sans wasabi with another smoked ocean trout thing and substituted some black caviar. OK, it was Danish, but while I was preparing the meal, I was eating the caviar by the spoonful. Shit it’s good.
My two smoked ocean trout meals were washed down with some Sword’s chenin blanc, a great pairing. I’ve made a real mess of the case I bought, so the time is right to grab another. Reckon I’ll drink it right through summer.
It was a big seafood week. On Thursday night, I had crispy-skinned barramundi with cured king salmon on the side, some crème fraiche, capers and baby herbs, which I washed down with an Australian rose that was a bit thin on the ground. I switched to tempranillo, which somehow sustained me for the rest of the night.


As I said earlier, I really need a holiday. I’ve been tossing up what to do … the two most popular ideas were to hit Vanuatu or perhaps go bush (I said bush, not butch) and give the LandCruiser and camper trailer a bit of a hit-out.
Vanuatu won.
I got an email from my son, Liam, suggesting 10 reasons that should be enough to swing my thoughts.
They included:
1) I’m here and on holiday … So if you were to come here, we’d both be here. Have you noticed that here rhymes beer, cheer, beach gear, no need to steer etc…

2) We’ve got nothing planned other than to eat (this is definitely going to be a seafood summer as we’ve got a deal with some of the boys that we slip them a 50 every week and they go out and catch us crabs, lobster, squid, fish, etc), sleep, beach, fire, outdoors, sleep, eat and maybe more sleep… Hence the no need to steer, just cruise …
4) Given that most of our activities come directly from nature (lobsters and mangoes and sand and sun) and your accommodation is covered, you will spend less than if you were to stay home …
5) Andy is away and staying in his place will be a 40-year-old old Canadian woman named Carol, who could take your interest …
6) As I write I’m sitting looking over the Bellevue hills (the view is probably around 150 square kilometres of a combination of cattle-filled paddocks and dense bushland set before the Mele mountain range), there’s a lizard walking past, dogs asleep at my feet, a Jeffery (his pet pig) grunting for attention in the distance, classical music playing in the background on a luscious hectare plot with one of the most wonderful established gardens, full of every fruit and flower you can imagine (have you ever tried a Brazilian cherry?). On top of which there’s not a hint of civilisation to be heard …
7) On the balcony where I’m sitting there’s a pool table, dart board, ping-pong table and a set of speakers hooked up to a pretty serious system … When it’s time to play, it’s a good place to do so …
8) Although I mentioned no need to steer, Paul will be in Fiji and has let me have his tinny with motor and all the trimmings … Fishing anyone …? Island hopping anyone …?
10) And most of all, we’ll get to hang out … I miss that cause I love you and there needs to be much more of it …
What do you think???
I didn’t think too long. I booked today. I’m outta here on December 22 and staying until January 5, Tattslotto notwithstanding this week or next.
Oh, and I did edit the top 10. Some was a bit on the personal side.
And the other good news is that my youngest son, Joel, will house-sit for me and water the garden.
It’s a win-win, especially given that he works shit hours and having a place to crash in the wee hours without the need to drive for 45 minutes is a bonus for him.


I went on Friday night to the opening of Crikey lunatic First Dog On The Moon’s exhibition at Platform Seven in the Degraves Street subway.
There was a decent crowd and a more-than-decent speech by Julian Burnside to open the exhibition.
The artwork is all crackerjack … watch out for the eyes on the Jesus character … Dog has nailed it … as he has with everything there.
Do yourself a favour and check it out. You probably won’t get a free beer or wine as we did (thanks Dog), but you’ll have no regrets.
He’s a very clever Dog, except when it come to dates. December 4 really was December 2.
And afterwards, I fled to the Saint and Rogue bar in Little Collins Street to catch up with some friends, where pinot grigio was the order of the day (OK night).
It was great to catch up but it wasn’t to last long into the night. That was left for Lina’s wine bar, but that’s another story.


My friend, Sue, also gave me a bottle of magnetic nail polish, direct from Europe.
It’s the first time in a while that I have pained a nail (well mine anyway … and I did only one).
It’s a charcoal type of colour and the deal is that once you’ve applied a thick coat, you hover the magnetic bottle cap over the nail to move particles and create a pattern. I did the pinky on my left hand and it was, well, it sucked.
My friends at Crikey, Amber and Sophie, gave it a go. Amber nailed it with tiger-like stripes.
Reckon I may have another try once I finish typing this lot. Oh, and Sophie’s just went.


I’ve just had a crack at another Sword’s special, this time a blend of shiraz, Grenache and Mataro.
It sells for about 12 bucks a bottle and is worth the price of admission.
It’s got chocolate, liquorice and spice on the nose and is really soft, but lasts in the mouth. I could get used to it.
I also went halvies in a case of WTF Shiraz from Trevor Jones in the Barossa. By the way, WTF stands for wisdom, tenacity and focus. I haven’t decided whether it’s a WTF (read other version) wine yet, but will give it a crack later.


Age writer Malcolm Knox got fair up my frock with his description of New Zealander Dean Brownlie’s batting.
“He has no discernible talent other than staying in and making runs. Clearly unconvinced that he belonged in this arena, the Australians spent the first innings trying to intimidate him with short-pitched bowling.
Because he has no tickets on himself, playing with neither backlift nor frills, he didn't take the insult personally. Gary Kirsten and Justin Langer made great careers from never hitting a ball out of the middle of the bat, and NZ's prototype of this kind was the wonderfully annoying Andrew Jones, who averaged 43 against disbelieving Australian attacks.”
Malcolm, you and I must have seen vastly different Test matches.
Justin Langer was a gun.
Read the full story here.


The Most Humiliating Newspaper Ever Invented
This looks like a joke, but apparently it's real? Check out http://gawker.com/5863606. It’s hard to disagree with the headline.


OK, I can kind of relate to this diagram tweeted by David Campbell, a son of my hero Jimmy Barnes.