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, January 28, 2013

Healthy (sort of) is as healthy does

The olive jam had another day out at the office today (yeah, how good is it to work on public holidays?) when, being the good bloke I am, I took lunch for the handful of troops there.
It meant shopping at the market on Saturday … there’s a surprise … and a trip to see, Tony, my favourite opera-singing butcher. I swung on by his shop, had a chat with him and his wife (they renewed their wedding vows the weekend before) and said to him: “Mate, can you put a pork fillet through the coarse mincer and dice another into about a two-centimetre dice.” “No worries, big fella, they’ll be ready when you get back.”
Then I hit the organic fruit and veg shop and grabbed some fantastic tomatoes, some rocket, a cucumber, some unbelievable seedless red grapes (sweet beyond sweet) and a big fat nashi. Then it was on to the deli for a wedge of Edam, a dozen slices of prosciutto and a jar of pickled red capsicum, a trip to the nut shop (there are quite a few that qualify as nut shops but just one that sells nuts). A chicken breast at the chicken shop (it was one big mother) and that was the end of the food shopping.
No trip to the market is ever complete without a trip to Swords wine shop to chat with my mate, Dave, who had Ticket Booth Sideshow Pale Ale on tasting. I tasted (yeah, there’s a surprise), but I opted for another bottle of Trappistes Rocheforte 10, which I tried the weekend before. Again it was my weekend treat. (See the previous blog entry. Nothing has changed; it’s still the best beer I’ve tasted.) I also grabbed a bottle of Dave’s Full Fare blend of arneis, savagnin and riesling blend, still a bloody cracker summer wine.
Hunger had kicked in. I reckon it had a fair bit to do with not having a proper dinner the night before … it’s not as if I didn’t eat, but a couple of barbecued snags on bread, a couple of beers and a two of small (OK that’s crap, they were large) buckets of vodka and lychee cocktails a meal does not make. It was the end-of-week get-together at the office. Oh, there was also a date with a bottle of 2004 Date Bros durif after the office.
But back to the hunger. Lunch became a salad of some organic tomatoes, cucumber, chic peas and some tuna in olive oil. Three minutes to prepare … and it was a life saver.
 Post-lunch it was time to prepare the first part of lunch for the troops, a pork and chicken breast terrine with pistachios.
The terrine is shit easy: put the pork fillets into a bowl, add two tablespoons of Cognac (it was Camus Borderies XO, a family-owned vineyard said to be the smallest and rarest of all Cognac growths … I was tempted to have a snifter but it was a bit early in the day), some freshly grated nutmeg, a big handful of pistachios and the chicken breast (whole). Give everything a good mix for a few minutes and then cover it with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight.
The next day involved the market again for some bits and pieces, including a six-pack of the Ticket Booth Sideshow Pale Ale. It’s a beauty dominated by hops. I just love it. I also managed afterwards to do the domestics … stripping the bed, washing the sheets and a full load of towels. I also found time to clean the kitchen benches and scrub the bath. Christ, I need a cleaner.
Time then to cook the terrine. I usually pick four decent sage leaves and arrange them in the bottom of the terrine dish (a nice girly touch) and then line the dish with prosciutto and then layer the pork mince and chunks, then the whole chicken breast and then the remaining pork and fold the prosciutto over the top (which is really the bottom). I usually cook it in a preheated oven (in a water bath) at 180 for two hours. The rule of thumb is that when the juices are running clear, it should be cooked. Once it is, let it cool, weigh it down with a couple of cans of something (it was chic peas for me) and refrigerate it overnight.
After a picky dinner of cheese, dips and bread Sunday night, I made one of my toughest life decisions. I’m still hurting, but that’s not a story for here. I rode my emotions instead with another 2004 Date Bros durif.
Monday dawned with a heavy heart and a heavy head, but there was lunch to prepare and that involved grabbing a couple of crusty baguettes on the way to the office.
Lunch was terrine, pickled capsicum, a rocket, nashi and parmesan salad, olive jam, grapes, Edam, bread, olive jam and some ham and cheese that I found in the office fridge. Tick, tick, tick. My friend Sue brought her new juicer (she calls it Juicy Lucy) to the office with heaps of watermelon, carrot and apple, so it was a mega-healthy lunch all round. And yeah, wanker that I am, the olive jam again was a hit. One of the guys said that if he gave me the money, would I make some for him.
Maybe there’s a business opportunity there.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Olive jam, Shakespeare and a French woman who really went off

It’s now official ... I can make jam … and not the usual variety.
At Christmas, someone gave me a jar of olive jam, something that spent (as it turns out) far too long in the cupboard.
I dragged it out about three weeks ago when lunch was a cheese and fruit platter and had a crack (OK, and some crackers too). It was bloody good ... and it got me thinking, I could make that.
And make it I did, but not before a bit of research. Anyway what did I have to lose, other than my reputation because I mouthed off to friends about it and promised them all a taste or two? Mind you, my friend Anna, who runs a stall at the South Melbourne Market, was convinced that you can’t make jam out of olives. “I’m Greek,” she said, “I’ve eaten olives all my life. You just don’t make jam with them.”
I had a huge jar of Kalamata olives in the fridge and the other ingredients with the exception of some fat green olives and a large green apple. Oh, and some preserving jars, which I bought at the kitchenware shop in the market. Yeah, the woman there gave me a discount. Shit, I love the market
The recipe I used, and there are plenty on the interweb thing, was on the Yahoo Answers site. Needless to say, I didn’t adhere to the measurements … I just reckoned that if it looked about enough of this or that, it’d be OK. While it was cooking, I baked the jars in the oven to sterilise them.
The recipe:
2 cups drained and pitted Kalamata olives (packed)
1 cup drained and pitted high-quality green olives (packed)1 1/3 cup sugar1 1/3 cup water1 organic lemon1 large green apple, peeled, cored and diced1/3 cup mild honeyPut the olives in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil for one minute. Drain completely. Repeat this process two more times - this should take enough salt out of the olives so that they're only mildly salty. Set the olives aside and rinse out the saucepan. Add the sugar and 1 1/3 cups water to the saucepan and swirl to combine. Cut a couple of strips of zest from the lemon and drop them in the sugar water. Slice the lemon up very thinly (don't worry about the seeds), and add the slices to the pan as well. Bring this to a simmer over medium heat and let it cook for about 8-10 minutes, or until it's reduced to about a cup of liquid. Pour this through a strainer into a bowl, pressing on the lemon solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Return the liquid to the pan, adding the diced apple, honey and olives. Bring to a simmer again and cook, stirring occasionally, just until the apples are soft and everything is very thick - about another 10-15 minutes (you can add water if it seems to be getting too thick). Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. With an immersion blender or a normal blender, process the entire mixture until it is velvety-smooth. It should be quite a jammy consistency already; if it's runny you can continue to cook it a little bit more, but keep in mind it will thicken as it cools. Transfer to jars and refrigerate.

Well bugger me, once it was cool enough to taste, I tasted. Bingo. It worked a treat and what a treat it was.


I headed off on Wednesday night to see a production of Romeo and Juliet in the Royal Botanic Gardens. Me and culture? God, that’s a bit of a shock to the system, eh?
I’d been given a couple of freebie tickets and after my first choice (on so many levels) as a partner said she wouldn’t go, I asked my friend Elizabeth at our office. I call her Bette, which probably annoys the bejesus out of her, but I reckon she’s too decent person to say so. And she agreed top pick me up and what’s more, she snaffled a parking spot … they were as rare as rocking horse shit on the night … about 80 metres from the entrance. How good is she? Two others from the office, Maria and Jo, were also going, so we decided on a picnic of sorts, which included the public debut (well, it was the theatre) of my olive jam.
As usual, I packed enough stuff to sink a ship … a tea-towel, a stopper to reseal bubbles (should there be any left, and there was. More on the stopper later), a cheese knife, a small bottle to use as an ashtray, a rubbish bag, disposable plates and cutlery (gifts from my friend Anna at the market), plastic Champagne flutes and a wine chiller (yeah, if you’re gonna do it, do it properly). Oh, and there was some food: to wit, a roast chicken, a slab of  Le Delice de Bourgogne triple brie, described at SamCooks.com as “a thick, unctuous cheese with incredible mouthfeel and a nutty, slightly barnyardy quality”. I would have just said it’s a mouth orgasm, mind, but no matter. There was also some blue cheese, some truffled goat’s cheese, some Edam, breadsticks, lots of water crackers, dips, figs, grapes and the olive jam.
Maria brought French bubbles (as did I along with some sparkling mineral water) and a picnic rug. We snaffled four low chairs, got ourselves settled and got into it.
One of the cast was doing the warm-up comedy thing (why Shakespeare needed a warm-up man was beyond me … still is) and he asked the crowd whether there were any single fellas in the audience. Silly bastard me stuck up a hand, expecting that there’d be a few, but I was it. Seems everyone had a partner but me. The bloke came over to me and really endeared himself (not) by saying something like: “Well, no wonder you’re single, try having a shave. But there are a couple of single women down the front.” I said: Why bother, I’m here with three. And maybe you could clean your shoes some time.” Smart arse. Him, not me (OK maybe a bit).
I’m not sure why there was dialogue that included a reference to Facebook, among other things, slipped into the performance, plus a song or two, but that’s what they did. I reckon that if old Billy was still pushing a pen now, he would be on Facebook in a flash to give it the thumbs down. No matter.
It was a fun night … the play went down OK but perhaps not as well as the Le Delice and the olive jam.
Bette dropped me off at home (what a woman) and I had a chat to son Joel while I put away the leftovers. I also decided to put away the two thirds of a bottle of bubbles (it’s called Madame Coco).
The Balgownie Estate stopper was doing its thing until, as I placed a flute on the kitchen bench, it went off like nothing I’ve ever seen or heard and about 40 centimetres from my head … it hit a double steamer hanging above the bench. The noise and speed at which it happened scared the shit out of Joel and me.  I’ve got no doubt it would have at least knocked me out or even killed me if it hit me on the right spot. Yeah, the doctor was right when he said that drink can kill or at least do serious damage.
No harm was done and after a few glasses, I decided to have the last one in bed … it was a nicely decadent way to end a pleasant day.
For the record, I found this extract on the site of Sunshine Creek, a wine shop in Camberwell:
Madame Coco is a very spiffy little number from Fourth Wave Wine. It’s well packaged, well priced, well made and well easy to quaff. It’s a blanc de blancs sparkling white wine grown in France’s Aude Valley. It’s made with chardonnay (50%) and chenin blanc mostly, though there are some small inputs from other high acid white varieties. It spends 12 months on lees. It’s made properly – methode traditionelle – none of this tank-gassed-fermented business. If you go through a bit of sparkling wine, you’re pretty much mad not to jump onto this. It’s French, it’s bubbly, it’s under $20 and it’s a whole lot of fun. In many ways, there’s no need to say anything more. It’s musky and lemony, alive with fluffy bubbles and flavoursome enough. I know it’s a blanc de blancs but I saw some Turkish delight characters in it; though that said, I drank a bit too much of this a bit too quickly, so maybe my judgement was impaired. It’s that kind of wine. Buy. - Campbell Mattinson  www.winefront.com.au
I’m with Campbell, it goes off. Give it a try.


I’m always happy when it farmers’ market day (it’s usually the third Saturday in the month).  And so it was this morning … and another fruitful (OK, I didn’t buy fruit) trip.
The bounty made it worthwhile: the organic pistachio man had run out of chilli pistachios, so I had to make do with natural, the garlic string (about eight or so heads), the organic falafel mix (an extra box for my friend Ange), some olive sourdough bread, some beetroot relish (I told the woman stallholder about my olive jam and she’s planning to make some), some goat sausages, some chilli chocolate and the best chai going.
One down, one more market trip to go … and this time I grabbed a parking spot at the door.
I was armed with some tasting packs of my olive jam, one for Anna and another for my friend, Dave, at Swords Wines.
First stop, Anna. “Shit, that’s beautiful,” she said, “but it’s not jam. Really.”
Yes it is, I told her. We agreed to disagree and she headed off to get a baguette so she could get stuck into it.
Next stop, Dave. “That’s really good,” he said, “really good. You have to send me the recipe. And I have to get you some onion jam from a shop near my house. You’ll love it.” Done. I headed off for some food shopping and told Dave I’d be back.
I went to my favourite deli (the one with the cheese room) and bought a slab of Le Delice, a couple of dips, some baklava and a couple of small(ish) savoury tarts. Tick. A fresh baguette was next stop. Given that there were plenty of goodies at home, dinner tonight for Joel and I was going to be a damned fine platter of bits and pieces. Tick again.
The next stop was back to see Dave at Swords. He’s had a case of 2004 Date Brothers durif put away for me for a while. It’s the last of it that he’ll get. Dave always has something to taste and today it was a special beer (Dave tweets as @vulgarbeerman and he know his stuff).
Trappistes Rochefort 10, a  Belgian strong dark ale-style beer brewed by Brasserie de Rochefort in Rochefort, was the taster of choice. The Trappistes website says: “Enjoy it, drink a second glass, and a third for special occasions, but never more”. There’s good reason for that: it’s a whopping 11.3 per cent.  
One website suggests: “Dark colour, full and very impressive taste. Strong plum, raisin, and black currant palate, with ascending notes of vinousness and other complexities.
For mine, and you’re probably not going to find any tasting notes that say this, but seriously, this beer is as smooth as a cat pissing on velvet. It’s quite the best beer I’ve had since, well, since God’s dog was a pup.
And just as I was enjoying it, I got a phone call from my brother to ask where I was. “At home, typing some stuff for my blog,” I said to him. He countered with: “Do you know where I am?” “Where?” And my heart sank when he said: “At Lisa’s wedding (his daughter).” No, I explained (or tried to), Joel and I talked about it this morning … it’s next weekend. “Have a look at your invitation.” I said: “But I wrote it in my diary … the 26th.” And I had. I looked at the invitation … yeah, the 19th.  If that doesn’t make me the biggest shit uncle there is, then I don’t know what would. Sorry, Lisa. So sorry.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Snorkelling and the fin

Angus and Liam ... they are never too far apart.

While I was in Vanuatu, I locked Angus, the dog, inside when Liam headed off to the local shop, waited for about 10 minutes and then let him out. Straight away, he went to check whether the ute was there and then bolted out the gate and up the road with my seriously hungover self in pursuit.
The bugger didn’t stop running for about a kilometre, something that really cleared my head. It not great for him to be out roaming because there are lots of dogs in the area, not a great thing when you’re, like Angus, a wuss who’s fond of picking a fight.
Out the front of Liam’s house, there’s a veritable seafood supermarket. There are steps cut into the cliff that lead to the rock shelf that is the introduction to the ocean.

It’s about 40 metres wide at low tide and it’s safe to walk out to its edge ... locals armed with a bamboo pole and a piece of string often fish there and catch stuff ...  although it’s always on the alert for a rogue wave.
There’s a deep blue hole just before the drop-off, which, Liam says, is teeming with fish. He’s a keen snorkeller and has a spear gun and also a long, hand-held spear, so his plans are for plenty of fish on the menu.
He rang me the other morning to tell me about his latest sojourn into the deep blue. “I went out with Matty (he’s a plumber and champion bloke) to see what was going on. We had a look around the blue hole and then headed out beyond the rock ledge into about 80 feet of water. It was much further out than I’d ever been before.
“I made a dive, had a look around, and as I came back to the surface, something hit my fin really hard. I shit myself.
“I spun around and all I could think of was heading in. It was bloody Angus. Bastard can’t bear to be away from me for five minutes.
“There he was paddling for all it was worth in 80 feet of water.” It’s true, Angus hates it when the boss is out of sight.


Liam’s iPhone has been giving him grief for a while, a bad thing given that’s it’s really his work computer.
It finally gave up the ghost just before I left. We tried everything … no go. I decided to bring it back with me in the hope that I could get it fixed and shunt it back to him before he starts work again next Tuesday. His boss, Ryan, is in Melbourne until this arvo, so no problem.
First and foremost, I was astonished to find that there are just four Apple shops in Melbourne, but no matter, I went online and made an appointment at Chadstone shopping centre.
I arrived there in plenty of time to find a parking spot (yeah, like that was ever gonna happen). I finally went in to one of the car parks, worried the whole time about the height restriction.
As I eased the LandCruiser under the height bar, I was relieved when the cab made it through, but then the bar on the back hit it. Shit, too late to turn back (there were cars behind me) so I drove through, looking for a spot, all the while shitting myself because I reckon I had less than 10 centimetres clearance. I crawled along in first gear, all the while with visions of getting stuck on a light fitting or whatever and having to be surgically removed.
I was relieved to get out of there (of course there were no spots) and I drove what seemed like two laps of the shopping centre and still couldn’t find a spot.
 I gave up and headed for the Maccas down the road. I’d walk back. Yeah, that was gonna be good … it was just 40 degrees.
I got to Apple about five minutes early, made my presence known, and waited. Pretty soon, young Tom said g’day and took the phone away for some diagnostics. He was back about 10 minutes later and the news wasn’t good.
“It’s got a fake screen, there are some screws missing inside, it’s out of warranty and the battery is done,” he said. Damn, it was beyond fixing. What to do?
Tom headed off for a chat with his manager and came back with a smile.
“Despite all the problems, we’ve decided to replace it … for a fee of $229,” he said. “Done,” I said, “that’s fantastic.”
It’s not hard to see why Apple is so successful. For a big company, the service is a cracker.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The end of the hols, in the Van, the hypnotist and a bite (or two) to drink

Yep, it came to pass that before I went on holiday, I went to the hypnotist to quit smoking.
I always say to Angelo (I’ve seen him four times) as I leave his house, “Mate, I never want to see you again.” And so I did.
I went there with my friend, Gaynor (she drove, what a woman), and we did a dual session. Again, I went deeper than Jacques Cousteau, sometimes being shaken from my almost slumber by the sound of Ange’s voice, which seemed to be coming from somewhere in another suburb.
It was a great session although Gaynor I guess didn’t plumb the depths that I did. But it worked, or did it?
I did the only sensible thing after Gaynor dropped me at home.
I went for a drink (OK, quite a few drinks) and I hung with a couple of smokers. No problems.
The next morning, hangover notwithstanding, my joie de vivre had hit a level that I hadn’t experienced for a while … and it was good. I threw around a few weights (it’s part of the look better in summer campaign) the next morning, something that got easier by the day … and night.
About the only downside of being a non-smoker is listening to people who say things such as “Oh, you’ve given up before. You’ll be back on them soon”. What is it with these people? Haven’t they heard of a thing called positivity? Jesus wept, these people go through life being negative and with a glass half-empty philosophy (my glass is almost always full).
Another positive thing about being smoke-free is that after 5-6 weeks of not buying tobacco (yeah, I roll ’em), I’m in profit … that is, I’ve covered the cost of the hypnotist.
Yet another positive is the increased energy levels. My son, Joel, got home one night and there I was, halfway through a bottle of red, standing in the hall and pumping iron. “I gotta burn some energy,” I said to him. He just shook his head knowingly.


I was supposed to burn some energy (OK I made that up) in the lead-up to Christmas at a gathering of friends for our (almost) annual croquet match in the gardens around the corner from home.
It’s usually a pretty toffy affair (OK, I made that up too). We have cucumber sandwiches, a bucket (no, true , we buy a stainless-steel bucket) full of Pimm’s with lemonade and dry ginger ale (see the perfect Pimm’s recipe elsewhere on this blog) and my mate, Hanks, brings his most-excellent Henry Buck’s croquet set.
The lawns, by the way, are better suited to playing a five iron rather than wielding a croquet mallet. I even remembered to bring a folding chair … God knows, it was going to be so hard to get perpendicular from the ground given that I was nursing a hangover big enough to photograph … and a bottle of Freixenet Cordon Negro, aka Spanish cava.
I actually opened it before I left home and poured it into a crystal flute for the walk to the gardens (I’d taken all the stuff like tables, chair and grog earlier in the back of my ute). Reckon I cut a dashing figure (OK, that’s stretching the truth) as I walked through the Albert Park village sipping from a crystal flute.
Dunno what it is about the strange looks I got. Don’t those people have any class? I mean, haven’t they ever seen a man, dressed in jeans, cowboy boots and a green satin shirt with puffy sleeves and huge lapels (I had the shirt made from my wedding in 1980, so it’s not a Seinfeld reference) and sipping bubbly as he walks?
OK, I wore the shirt as a bit of a joke, but I’m just happy that it still fits.
It was a great day, with the trophies presented later at Lina’s wine bar, where I prepared in an appropriate way to ensure that my hangover the next day was of the proportions of the previous. It was (OK, maybe a tad worse). Reckon my tongue resembled Ghandi’s sandal.


The rest of the Vanuatu trip (see earlier post) was a cracker. Liam and I spent most of our time just hangin’. It was good to be in his space.
We didn’t go out to dinner at all and only went out to lunch twice in the week and then only because we had to get supplies from Port Vila.
There something kinda cool about being in a house where, when you hit the kitchen in the morning, there’s a crab in the sink … there was another that had taken refuge on top of the door, not a good place to be when the door is opened. Sorry about that.
Speaking of crabs, there were a few coconut crabs wandering the garden at night, which augurs well for the season.

The biggest that we saw (and yes, it was cookable size) was a female laden with eggs, so she was never gonna see the inside of a pot.
One thing that amazed me was the absence of bird life ... I mean, not so much as a seagull, which is not a bad thing, just a motley collection of mynahs. I mentioned it to Liam, who said: “Yeah, the locals eat ’em. They eat just about everything. They even eat stonefish.” Right.
Seeing Port Vila in its best light was from a vantage point on a hill overlooking the harbour enjoying a shell of kava in a nakamal. The view of the sun setting was worth the price of admission.
A true Nakamal is where the men from a village gather to drink kava after work. Traditional nakamals are a men-only and many islands, such as Tanna, still do not allowing women or children even close to a nakamal.
Tanna, by the way, is the island from where Liam’s gardener and security man, Sampson, originates. He’s a great kid (he’s 19) who has landed on his feet. He lives in the self-contained cottage at the entrance to Liam’s house. Sampson gets a decent quid for his week’s work, a house and a mobile phone.
Security is paramount, given that some villagers reckon that shopping is as simple as going to someone’s house and helping yourself, so the phone is important should anything untoward happen at the house.
Getting out of Port Vila was the hardest part of the trip.
And as promised, I met up with the bozo from the flight in. He was with someone who was a friend of Liam’s, so having a chat was compulsory.
It seemed, that true to his word on the way over, he hit the grog. He spent six hours in the sun one day, drinking until he fell asleep and he ended up redder than a trade union meeting. Ha.
After a final farewell to Liam (yeah, I teared up. Always do), I hit security and about 3.20 and headed for the duty-free shops. The plane was due to leave at 4.10 so I should have had just enough time for shopping and a final smoke (yeah, I started again over there) before I took up my emergency aisle seat (Air Vanuatu is so good to me).
Alas, the plane was running a bit behind schedule and, the announcer said, would be touching down at 4.10 instead of leaving then. Shit. There was a humongous thunder storm doing its thing and the plane didn’t land until 4.30. That meant a 5.30 departure after refuelling and loading. Shit, shit.
I had just enough smokes to see me out … there is an outdoor smoking lounge at Vila and it was actually cooler out there than it was in the terminal. And that meant that the formerly sunburnt bozo made regular appearances. He was at his aircraft reassuring best when the plane finally landed.
Yeah, he went again with the Qantas reject line, but qualified it with: “She’s a good bus, but. They just serviced her here and used a plane borrowed from Air Hawaii.” I guess he meant Hawaiian Airlines, but who’s quibbling?
Finally we boarded and I was sitting next to a couple who had a sail boat that they kept in Vanuatu. I’d met them in the smokers’ lounge. Nice people, but Jesus, did they enjoy a drink.
Now, I’ve been known to stop a drop going stale (yeah, I have a crack) but they were full on in taking advantage of Air Van’s excellent service. Think scotch on the rocks, scotch and Coke, Kahlua and milk, Bailey’s and milk, red wine, all in multiples and not necessarily in that order. It was a pretty handy four-hour session. Me, I had just two glasses of red. Christ, I can be a sanctimonious bastard sometimes.
Still, it was good to hit Melbourne, have a final smoke before grabbing a cab (he was a mega-friendly driver) home in time for a debrief with Joel, who was busy watering the garden when I got there. It was good to see him.


I got back to the rough and tumble that is life.
Finally, I’ve got my camper trailer stored close to home, which means weekends away. See http://mickontheroad.blogspot.com.au/ for my adventures with the trailer.
Now all I have to do is sell the Subaru Forrester (yeah, one car is enough and I prefer the LandCruiser ute. If anyone is interested, it was first registered in December 2005 and has done just 48,000-odd clicks, bugger all, and it’s the full luxury pack. If you’re halfway interested, drop me a line in the comments section on the blog.


In the lead-up to the festive season (OK, that’s crap, it’s the festive season 12 months a year at my joint), there has been more than the odd good drop pass the lips.
I grabbed a few bottles of 2009 Seppelt Chalambar shiraz. It’s cracker drinking … spicy, smooth and a blend of Grampians and Bendigo grapes and weighs in at 13.5%. The label says it’s elegant. I’ll go with that.
My favourite tipple at the moment is 2009 M. Chapoutier Belleruche Cotes du Rhone Grenache-syrah. I snaffled a case a little while ago (there another on order). It takes smooth to a whole new level.
Among others, there have been:
• 2011 Paul Mas cab-sav (13.5%)
• 2011 Paul Mas chardonnay (13.5%)
• 2008 Balgownie Estate sparkling shiraz
• Mountain Goat Before The Dawn black Indian pale ale
• A fantastic (my second favourite drink at the moment) blend from Swords Wines’ Full Fare label – ameis (spelt amies on the label), savagnin, riesling grapes come together for something that wouldn’t be out of place on any French or Italian dinner table. It’s fresh, with citrus, apricot and floral notes with a touch of minerality. Super drinking and 12.5%.
• 2011 Mitchell Harris mataro, grenache, shiraz from the Pyrenees. There’s a bit of raspberry, earthy and peppery flavour about it. I’m pretty sure there have been plenty of others, but that maybe a story for another day.
And there’s more than a few good ones in the drink-next queue.


Alas, it’s back to work in three days. OK, no alas.
I’m looking forward to starting a new contract as deputy editor of The Weekly Review … http://www.theweeklyreview.com.au/ … in new offices that are even closer to home (think walking distance). I had a look at our new digs yesterday.
Bring it on.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Holiday on and a bozo takes to the air

Flying with Air Vanuatu is, as I’ve said a few times before on this blog, one of life’s great flying pleasures. I rocked up to check-in the other night (it was a 10 o’clock direct flight out of Melbourne) and the beaming girl, after the usual “did you pack your own bags, brush your teeth, wash behind your ears and use deodorant, etc”, said: “Right, I think I have one more emergency aisle seat left. You’re a big man, you’ll need it.” Praise be. I mentioned that I’d asked for one when I was booking and she told me that they like to see the people first. Guess they don’t want any short arses getting comfortable in the tall person’s rightful domain. Just the fact that she offered it was worth the price of admission. And talking of price, there was no charge, unlike Virgin, which I reckon would charge rental on a life jacket or a cleaning fee for using an oxygen mask should anything untoward happen. I probably shouldn’t even mention those things. It may give Mr Branson ideas, and anyway, I reckon he still owes me five bucks from my one flight with his mob (See Richard Branson owes me a fiver somewhere else on the page). By the time we’d ditched terra firma and settled into the right height, speed and whatever else pilots need to do to get the show on the road, it was time for the staff to offer libation (and a small packet of manioc chips. Really tasty things but the name is a little too close to maniac for me). The girl got to me first (I was on the centre aisle) and said: “Would you like a drink, sir?” The bozo sitting next to me jumped straight in and said “Yeah, red wine and scotch on ice for me mate”. No please, no thank you, no patience. She politely gave me a glass of red and then attended to the others. Just as she was about to push off, my left-hand man held up his glass and said: “I’ll have another one.” Oh, I thought, this is gonna be good. And it was. By the time the meals came around, he’d had (I think) four drinks. Our little emergency-aisle crew all opted for the beef tenderloin and mash, with vegies, caramelised onions, a good salad, some chocolate cake and a partridge in a pear tree. The beef was very good. The boys next to me went one better: One said: “I went to a steak restaurant in Lilydale last week and paid 42 bucks for a steak that wasn’t this good.” Yeah, right. They managed a couple more drinks during the meal. By the time the meal trays were cleared away, the bozo next door tapped my arm (I was listening to music on my iPod to drown out the noise of his infuriating doof-doof collection, complete with hand actions, pumping, etc) said: “Wanna go the tall it.” Right. I got up to let him out for the first of three trips designed to make room for some more red wine. Again, no please, no thank you. Once he got settled into his seat, he buzzed for service. The stewardess arrived quickly and said: “Yes sir.” His only response was “Red wine”. It was about this time that we hit some mild turbulence and bozo weighed in: “There’s turbulence. It always happens,” he said knowingly. “Anyway, this plane’s too small. I reckon it’s a Qantas reject.” That’s worth knowing, I thought, glad we got that sorted. Then his mate chimed in. “It’s $4 for spirits all day on Sunday at the joint we’re stayin’ at.” Bozo responded with: “You gonna sit in the pool and drink all arvo.” When his mate signalled the affirmative, bozo gave out with an emphatic “Grouse.” It wasn’t until we were about 10 minutes out of Port Vila that bozo said something that didn’t include the words dunny or wine. “How long ya staying?” he asked. I told him seven nights and he said: “Great. We’ll probably catch up with you on the flight home.” I told him how great (that should read grate) that would be and how he should have a terrific break, by which time the good skipper had done the right thing and put the bus down on the bitumen. Gladly, it was into the heat and humidity and that tropical airport smell of diesel that is Port Vila, even at two in the morning. After clearing Customs, it was another joyful reunion with my son, Liam, who had been in Melbourne two days before for a friend’s wedding. We did the honourable thing and threw my gear into the back of his ute (think Mel Gibson and the truck he used to pull down the South African embassy in the film Lethal Weapon 3, or was it Lethal Weapon 11?) and made a beeline for his new digs, about 20 minutes out of Port Vila. The house is on Devil’s Point Road in downtown Bakura … and about the last 4-5 or so kilometres are on the dirt, a task that didn’t trouble the ute. Mind you, I thought that sitting on 40 it seemed to be making short work of the trip. It was only then that I realised it’s a Ford Yank tank and the speedo is in miles per hour. It was hard to get a feel for the house and its surroundings … OK, it was dark … other than that it’s on a decent chunk of land (it’s an acre). I threw my bag into the room that was to be home for the next seven days and then divvied up the duty free goodies … to wit, a couple of litres of vodka, a 250mm lens for Liam’s new camera and a new pocket-sized speaker for my I Pod. It’s probably inappropriate at this time to mention my supply of L’Occitane hand cream. Oh, and there were the three good reds that I’d packed in my main luggage … a 2005 Clonakilla shiraz-merlot, a 2005 Bobbie Burns shiraz and a 1977 Taltarni cab-sav. Well, who wants to get caught short when it comes to good reds? The next step was a given. It was after 3am, which meant that it was at least beer o’clock. We settled on the back porch to catch up on each other’s comings and goings, the whole time serenaded by the waves crashing into the cliff face that is the edge of the property about 30 metres from the door. Beer o’clock soon became French cab sav o’clock and by about 4.30 daybreak had started to do its thing. We each got our cameras and started taking pot shots of the beautiful new day. As the sun got up and about, the view that unfolded was a cracker … looking back across the water to Port Vila. So was the rest (read the house and surrounds) of what hopefully will be (it depends on the bank) the new Chateau Liam. He’s planning to buy it and do it up. The bones of the house are really good … four bedrooms, a big living area, a small cottage at the front of the block, a decent back verandah, an infinity pool that is right at the edge of the cliff, a deck (at the cliff edge) with built-in barbecue and a tennis court … but it’s been vacant for about a year and has been let go a bit although it’s very liveable. Just the sort of challenge needed for a young builder. The holiday was always going to be pretty much a house-bound deal … lots of time eating, drinking, soaking up the amazing views, spending time with Liam’s girlfriend, Dan, and her kids Emmy and Tahlia and the occasional trip into town for necessities. Day one late in the afternoon was to attend the company’s Christmas party held at the storage yard. There was kava aplenty, lots of beers and the makeshift barbecue was doing a roaring trade in bits of chicken. There are about 60 NiVans working for the company and I reckon I’ve met most of them before. Gabby, a big unit, walked up to me straight away and said: “Good to see you, mate, shit you’ve put on some weight.” Yeah, thanks Gabby. The boys made short work of the drinks while they were getting their final pays for the year, The woman who does the pays was obviously in Christmas mode because she missed a few. Liam, to his eternal credit, dipped into his wallet to make sure each of the boys got their right whack. And it was a decent quid he had to shell out. After the pays, most of the workers took the time to make a short speech, each one a great lesson in humility, despite the overindulgence in kava and beer. It was all heartfelt – such as “Thanks, boss, for everything this year. Without your support, there would have been no food on the table for my family.” As the light faded, we headed home for a dinner of tuna steaks and salad, a few beers and most of a litre of vodka. We were both a bit shabby by the time midnight rolled around, so we headed to the pool for a refresher. It worked, because the next morning it was clear heads all round. Day two involved driving into Vila to the biggest supermarket in town, aka Bon Marche. Given that it was Christmas Eve eve, the crowd there was thicker than a Collingwood supporter. No, really. OK, maybe a Man U supporter. I reckon most of Port Vila was there shopping for last-minute stuff. Those who weren’t were on the road stuck in the shit fight that is traffic in the capital. We were shopping for the next two days and there were some friends, Katie and Alex and their kids, as well as Dan and the girls coming for lunch. I got an idea of the cost of living in these parts. Because had let all his cash go the night before paying the workers whose pays were mixed up, I flashed the plastic. It was 36,000-odd vatu plus another 2100 for three packets of Winnie Blues on the way out. By the way, the exchange rate is roughly 100 vatu to the dollar. You do the maths. Mind you, the start of lunch was a more-than splendid affair on the deck beside the pool to start. Lots of olives, artichokes, onions, and three of the best cheeses I’ve had … a huge slab of not-quite-runny blue, some very runny triple brie and another, the name of which escapes me. Also, we had some grapes, beetroot pickle (delicious) and lots of crackers. Some Tuskers (the local beer) helped the cause no end. Lunch was meant to be chicken salad and fresh tuna salad, but it seemed everyone was so cheesed out that they became dinner, by which time we opened the Bobbie Burns, which was, as usual, a bloody fine drink. It was great to meet new people and catch up on their world … they live on the harbour in Port Vila and came there via Melbourne, to where they came via the UK. Is it my imagination, or does the torrential rain (which is falling as I write) really flatten out the ocean? Yes, I think it does. And it’s certainly topping up the pool. Not that it has taken away from the view. And there’s that wonderful smell of rain and greenery in the air. Ah, the tropics.


There’s an indoor sport in Vanuatu that I never tire of watching. Nothing untoward, mind. It’s watching the geckos on the walls and ceiling in the lounge room … and their never-ending task of keeping down the bug population. These little fellas … they’re about 6-8 inches in the old money … scurry along the walls to within a couple of inches of a moth or whatever and stop. ‘Spose they figure that the bugs just can’t see them. And then the lurch forward and make the catch. It’s seriously good sport ... all that’s missing is an excited commentator. Gone, got him. The other good sport in these parts is watching Liam’s dog, Angus, a really intelligent fella who likes to push the envelope and get himself into trouble. He knows all the rules but just can’t help himself. Even when he’s in the back of the ute, it’s one bark for pedestrians and cars, two barks for a four-wheel-drive and maybe three for a bus. There are lots of crab holes in the lawn and Gus likes to stick his nose down there to try to catch them. “I’m just waiting for the yelp,” said Liam. Occasionally, Gus will try his hand at digging them out. Still no luck while I’ve been here. His other great sporting pursuit is, at low tide, wandering down the steps cut into the cliff and trying his luck fishing in the rock pools on the expansive rock ledge below. He wanders from pool to pool, sometimes getting excited because he’s spotted something trapped in there. Dunno whether he’s actually managed to land anything yet, but he gets full marks for perseverance.