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.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Surprise right on thong

The bearings in my clothes dryer have seen better days (a bit like me really … yeah I’ve occasionally lost my bearings, too) and I’m kind of between the devil and the deep-blue sea. I can’t be bothered getting it repaired because I’m outta here sooner rather than later and it would probably mean one less case of wine I could have on the road, given what the repair would likely cost.
But I nonetheless use it now and then when the weather isn’t conducive to drying stuff in the sunshine. OK, it grinds sometimes, sometimes not (a bit like me really).
So it was last weekend. Liam and I had done all of our washing (and there was plenty of it) and he offered to take it to the laundrette up the street to use the dryers.
No big deal.
He buggered off with the load of clothes and I did the only sensible thing; I opened a bottle of wine.
Pretty soon he was back with everything dry. Unusually, I had a fit of “put the washing away immediately” despite the lure of the wine and the chance to do it later.
As I was sorting through it (I took my glass of wine with me anyway), I thought “This isn’t mine”. It was a very feminine-looking, multi-coloured thong (Playboy label).
“Is there something you want to tell me?” I asked Liam. “Or did one of your friends leave this behind [not that it would cover a behind]?”
“Nah,” he said, “nothing to do with me.”
Just imagine a bloke in a relationship doing the washing and getting home with a mystery thong. I’m not sure that he wouldn’t be deep in the shit.
“Nothing to do with me” reminded me of a time that I loaned my company car (yeah, those were the days) to a bloke in our office. He had it for a while (OK, I got a replacement car) and when he returned it, my wife (about a week later) found a very flash pair of women’s shoes under the front passenger seat.
I got the third degree, not to mention the fourth and fifth degrees, and pleaded my innocence … well, I was innocent, but she wasn’t happy.
I challenged the bloke who borrowed the car and he said: “Nothin’ to do with me. I’ve never seen them.” Yeah, I thought, thanks for that, you bastard. He went on to become coach of a national league soccer team and win a title (I’d given him a few titles, none of them complimentary). I went on to divorce. I’m pretty sure the shoes didn’t play a part in that but you never know.
The moral of the story is: be tidy. Don’t leave shit around. You just never know who you may get into trouble.

We had a quiet dinner last week: an intimate gathering of 35 friends at Old Kingdom restaurant in Fitzroy.
OK, I reckon it is the noisiest restaurant I’ve been in … it rivalled but then went way beyond Nobu on the noise level register (there’s a yarn about Nobu somewhere on the blog).
And it looked like a pisspot’s convention. I’m reliably assured that there were 72 bottles of wine at our three tables.
There were spring rolls and prawn crackers aplenty before the main event. The deal with the main meal was that it started with Peking duck, then stir-fried duck, then duck soup with tofu and veg bits. Oh, and there were plates of greens, bowls of ribs and something else I can’t remember.
Our table of 10 got through five ducks, carved at the table, a pile of pancakes and spring onions and cucumber and seemingly a litre of sauce. Liam has the appetite of three men and it did him in. It was one of the few occasions I’ve ever seen him knock back food.
It was the first time in a while that I’ve caught up with my friend Andrew McUtchen (do a Google search for his website and have a listen to some of his music), who has featured a few times on this blog … he’s a great singer, songwriter, athlete, feature writer and soon-to-be first-time dad … and, among other things, he’s also a great bloke.
He let it slip that he’s soon off to New York.
“I’m there for 48 hours,” he said, “to interview Roger Federer.”
“You’re what?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said, “I get to spend a day with him.”
Tough gig, that. I hope he gets to have a hit with him. Knowing Andrew’s sporting prowess, it wouldn’t surprise me if he takes the odd game off the champ. I’m looking forward to the story.

I was recently at the market buying goodies to make a huge feed of my favourite winter warmer, laksa.
Now, I’m a regular at this particular market stall and the service (and certainly the produce) is good.
After a couple of laps of the shelves, I was done and, with a basket full of goodies, headed off to pay.
There was the girl who usually serves me (she’s always up for a chat) … she was on her haunches, busily smearing lip balm all over her mouth. She stood up and said: “Sorry about that. I’m ready.”
You may be ready, I thought to myself, but I’m not ready to have you handling my food until you’ve at least washed your hands or at least put on some latex gloves.
She smiled. I said: “Nah, I’ll do another lap of the shop … there’s always something else to buy.” And then I headed to the other till, operated by her mother, who, as far as I could tell, hadn’t been applying lip balm or scratching her arse or whatever.

Liam and I did a shopping trip on Friday night to stock up the pantry with a bulk buy of cans of diced tomatoes, bottles of passata, a few hundred teabags, six kilograms of dried pasta, a case of bourbon and Coke cans and, among other things, a four-kilogram slab of pork belly, which we planned to have for dinner last night.
Saturday dawned too early (yeah, I was up before seven) and I got through the domestics before heading off for an appointment with the hairdresser (he gets the shits when I call him a barber).
“So, what’s the deal?” he asked, “Are we actually cutting any off this time?”
Given that my last trip there was to get the colour ramped up (no cutting), I said to him: “Right, it’s time for a haircut.” His eyes lit up.
He happily hacked away for a while and then said: “That’s it. That’s just enough off. I’m done.”
Not so fast, Muchamba (Seinfeld fans will get that), “get those scissors back and cut some more”.
“I don’t want you pissed off with me. How much more should I cut.”
“Thin the sides out, cut it so you can see my ears, take some more off the back, but leave the rat’s tail,” I said.
It’s the first time in about 18 months that I’ve had short hair, but I kinda like it. Don’t know how I’ll cope with the frostbite on my ears, but it’ll grow. Liam has been enlisted to put some beads into the rat’s tail over the weekend. Once a hippie, always a hippie … that’s me.  
The young fella took on kitchen duties last night for the pork extravaganza. He prepared lots of vegies to roast, including two full heads of garlic and just half of the pork … still, that’s two kilograms of beast.
We’d eased our way through a bottle of Mr Mick Tempranillo (reckon it’s not named after me but what the hell) as a warm-up before I opened a bottle of 2000 Penfolds Bin 389 to let it breathe for an hour or so.

Soon, it was pork o’clock. Sweet mother of Jesus. How good was this beast?
We each tucked into a huge plate of goodies and surprise, surprise, I cleaned my plate, unlike Liam.
We were both sitting there, belts undone, and moaning.
“It’s the nearest you can get to OD-ing on food,” said Liam. “It’s kind of like the dog that’s broken into the feed bag and emptied it.”

The Bin 389 (it sells for about 80 or so bucks … it had been in my wine cupboard for a while) was a cracker.
Wine Spectator said: “ Starts out dark and dense, but quickly finds a sense of elegance that lets the pepper-and-liquorice-scented blackberry and cherry flavours come sailing through, echoing beautifully on the firm, fine-grained finish.”
I certainly got the pepper and liquorice, but also a nice hint of leather (not an unpleasant thing) … OK, I’m not a wine wanker. This was a bloody good drop and a great way to end the night.

A mate recently sent this to me. It needs to be shared.
New Zealand officials have released a list of baby names put forward by parents that were rejected because they were too bizarre or offensive, including "Lucifer" and "Mafia No Fear".
The list of 77 names reveals one child was set to be called "Anal" before the Department of Internal Affairs vetoed the proposal, while another narrowly avoided being dubbed "." or full stop.
Other names on the list included "4Real", "V8", and "Queen Victoria".
In some cases, parents appeared to have lost any inspiration for coming up with a moniker for their offspring, wanting to call the latest addition to the family simply "2nd", "3rd" or "5th".
The department's rules forbid any name that might imply a child holds an official title or rank, so "King", "Duke" and "Princess" were among those that had been turned down most since 2001.
"Justice" was the most popular, having been rejected 62 times, although "Justus" and "Juztice" also failed to gain official approval.
In 2008, New Zealand's family court ordered that a nine-year-old girl whose parents had called her "Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii" should have her name changed because it was embarrassing and "makes a fool of the child".
At the time, judge Rob Murfitt criticised parents who gave their children bizarre names, citing examples such as "Number 16 Bus Shelter", "Midnight Chardonnay" and twins called "Benson" and "Hedges".

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The photographer who sapped my joie de vivre

Liam and I recently had breakfast with the mother of my children and her husband at a café around the corner from home. It was a beautiful clear sunny day (singlet weather for me although most around me were rugged up) and the coffee was doing its thing before the bacon and eggs made their appearance.
We were just shooting the breeze, having a quiet cigarette (yeah, all four of us smoke) when I watched a bloke set up a camera on a tripod, point it at us and start to snap away. No, no, I thought, at least come and ask permission.
Up I got and marched over to him, standing as tall and puffed up as I could muster, and said: “What’s the story, mate? I don’t like the fact that you’re taking pictures of us.” He said: “It’s OK, I work for the council. I’ve been told to blur all the faces anyway.”
“No, it’s not OK. I don’t give a fat rat’s arse that you work for the council or are gonna blur the faces. Just stop pointing that thing at us.” “I’m almost finished,” he said. “No,” I said, feeling my joie de vivre draining rapidly, “you are finished.”
Our waitress, Pru, suggested that I should let him do his thing. “Settle down, Michael,” she said. But I fired back: “No. Don’t people understand that it’s manners to ask? Don’t people understand that they may appear in some council initiative, linking them to something that they’re opposed to? Don’t people understand that there may be people who don’t want their whereabouts out there, blurred face notwithstanding? It’s not that hard.”
The bacon and eggs were good.    

It was a comeback of sorts this week when I headed to my favourite bar, Lina’s, for a bite to drink with some friends I haven’t seen for a couple of years. It’s also probably three weeks since I’ve been to Lina’s, which has gotta be a record.
My friends Jules and Diane and their teenage kids Flynn, Ollie and Gina (I haven’t seen them since they were little tackers … there’s still a picture of the family on my fridge) were in Melbourne for a family wedding. Another friend, Libby, and my son, Liam, rounded out the numbers.
We set out to diminish Lina’s supply with a couple of bottles of Bowen Estate shiraz, along with some Stefano Lubiana Tasmanian pinot and M. Chapoutier  Côtes-du-Rhône grenache syrah.  Yeah, it was good to be back.
The food did its thing as well. Piadinas and bowls of fries with garlicky aioli kept the kids quiet for a short time (young Flynn, 16, has a huge appetite … reckon he’d join the Taliban if it made its own smallgoods) before we put Raf, the chef, to the test. Eye fillet steaks (I had mine served rare, when it almost still had a pulse), beef daube, penne with broccoli and chilli were the mains, with sautéed silverbeet with fetta and pine nuts, more fries and cauliflower segments crumbed and flash fried, were on the side. Chef Raf, he’s a good mate, was on song.
And what better way to finish a meal than with a cheese platter that included, among others, Le Delice triple French brie.
It was a great catch-up with Jules (he owns a nickel mine in South America), who let drop a couple of revelations. “Early days, when I was a geology student I used to hang with a few musos, Stevie Wright [of the Easybeats] in particular. I even went water skiing with the boys from AC/DC.” My flabber was gasted. “I even spent an afternoon with Tiny Tim, who very proudly showed me a picture of Miss Vicky, who later became his wife.”  
Just when you think you know someone, he drops something like that into the conversation.
As the visitors headed for the burbs to prepare for the wedding, Liam, a friend Danielle, and I had one more M. Chapoutier  Côtes-du-Rhône grenache syrah for the road, before I grabbed a bottle of same to take home as company for a few hours of watching the cricket from England.
Like Australia, I collapsed not too long after.

My friend, Jane, made good her word last week, and delivered to me a container of her homemade granola, complete with a lovely ribbon around the container.
It was just brilliant. I’ll see during the week and get her recipe and post it here somewhere. It’s to die for with some natural yoghurt.
And on the subject of gifts, my friend Dave from Swords Wines, gave me a bottle of really tasty onion jam. A woman with a shop near his home makes it. Every time cheese gets front and centre at my place (and that’s regularly), so does the onion jam.

Given that my son, Liam, has such a voracious appetite, keeping the freezer stocked is becoming increasingly difficult.
I spent a whole afternoon, making litres of vegetable soup (with a bit of slow-cooked beef as company in it) and a huge pot of spag bol sauce. I gave the container supply a good workout and finally ended with 20 meals in the freezer, not that I expect it to last any length of time. It’s off to the market again (when I finish this post) to restock.

I saw my tattooed homeless mate again the other day near my office. He was sitting on a bench in the sunshine having a takeaway coffee.
I had a rummage through my pocket and got a few bucks in change to give him. His face lit up and he said: “Thanks Paul.” OK, so now I’m either Roy, Ray or Paul. Then he said: “When I get my social service money next week, I’ll by a couple of scratch lottery tickets. If I win something, I’ll give you some.” Then my face lit up.
He’s got a warm side … perhaps if the locals, who ignore him because of his facial tattoos, got to know him, they’d take better care of him.
Me? I’m just waiting for my next name installment.

After a shitty day at the office (and there aren’t too many. It’s a great place to work), I usually head home – it’s about seven minutes from the office – and ease a cork out of a bottle of red. A sort of stress buster, if you will.
Last Wednesday (it had been a rare shitty day), instead of the vino, I grabbed a mate, Kris, and headed to the local driving range, bought a bucket of 100 balls and, armed with a one wood, a five iron and a pitching wedge, I distressed in the best possible way. Along the way I hit quite a few shockers (it’s been a few months since I picked up a club), but especially with the wood, I creamed a few right up the guts.
Exercise, a bottle of water and some fresh air (OK, it was bloody well freezing), and I could get used to it on a weekly basis.

Sunday, July 7, 2013


I’ve got this thing going with one of the homeless blokes I see around my neighbourhood. I collect all my change and when the bag has about 10 bucks or so in it, I look out for him and give him the dough.
He kinda gets frowned upon by the locals because, no doubt, they are put off by his many facial tattoos, but he’s a really good bloke.
Recently I gave him a bag of coins: his face lit up and he said: “Thanks, Roy.”
I said “I’m Michael”, to which he responded, “Nah, Roy’s easier.”
A couple of days later, he was walking along the other side of the street and when he saw me, he shouted: “G’day Ray.”  Roy, Ray? What’s a name between mates anyway?
Now I’m not desperate for a drink (although if you read on, you may have a different opinion), but this thing is for those people who are … desperate, that is.
The website says: The Winerack is every girl’s best friend. Turn an A cup into double Ds and sport you favourite beverage for yourself and your friends. Go to http://www.thebeerbelly.com/The_Winerack_Small_p/200-007.htm and see what the hell it’s all about. Oh, there’s also a beer belly for blokes.
A few blokes in our office recently farewelled a mate who is now enjoying the delights of Paris (he’s probably in England by now) … lucky bastard, although I’m not sure that he’ll be all that enamoured of the shopping that his wife will no doubt foist upon him.  I shouldn’t have said that because there was no luck involved; he worked bloody hard for it. Good luck to him.
For the farewell lunch, we went just around the corner from the office to suss out Bellota, a new establishment next door to the Prince Wine Store.
Good move.
We were in and out within an hour (yeah, we had lots of work to do), but it was an eye-opener. The food was terrific and the service was even better.
Minute steaks for four, veal for one and a shared bottle of tempranillo got us there, although the trip along the way included water bottles constantly being topped up, and the same with the bread basket … no need to ask, it just happened, as it should. The steaks were great and the veal (my mate asked for the recipe) was super. It was on the must-revisit list for me.
And revisit I did a week or so later when I had planned a catch-up dinner  with my friend, Jane (she of @winematters on Twitter), a wine writer with The Age, wine judge and all-round good person.
Jane was meeting a supplier there and planned to be through by about six, which was about the time I finished work. Done.
I arrived at 6.04 and she was already ensconced with the staff, who had just finished their shifts, all of them enjoying the fruit of the vine.
I started to chat with the staff and one of the waiting staff said: “Welcome back. You were here last week with four friends … four steaks and a veal.” It was a serious display of knowing the business, as was the wine suggestion from the waitress: “Try the 2010 Charvin  Cotes du Rhone Le Poute. It’s a very good drink.” Bingo. I did more than once.
We each opted for a simple dish … pork schnitzel, with a small salad and a clump of browned potato cubes … and simple turned into simply fabulous.  The meat was as near to perfect as it could be; in fact everything on the plate was great. You’ve gotta love a place that does the simple things really well.
One of the best things about the place is that it’s part of the Prince Wine Store (it’s next door) and you can go in there, select the wine you want, and take it back into the restaurant. That means that the wine list is 3000 strong.
The owner (sorry, I forget the name) explained that there are also plans to do takeaways  from the fantastic selection of charcuterie in display. Bar snacks are $5-$12; tasting plates $8-$28; mains $10-$26 and; desserts $10. It’s open Tuesday to Saturday from 11am-late
It’s at 181 Bank Street, South Melbourne.  Go to it, it’s fantastic.
Some things are best left alone and done at home (OK, a lot of things are best at home).
I caught a tram to work the other morning and took up my usual spot standing just behind the driver’s cabin. (It’s just a five-stop trip, so there’s no point in sitting.)
A woman got aboard at the next stop and sat opposite me. Quickly, she retrieved a small mirror and some tweezers from her bag, and she started to pluck the hairs on her chin, grimacing each time she extracted one. She made me grimace too.
Like I said, some things are not meant to be done on a tram.
I had a crack at dinner with someone a couple of weeks ago and, although it’s winter, took a summery approach to the food.
I reckon there aren’t too many better ways to start a meal than with some freshly shucked South Australian oysters … natural, of course, with just a lemon wedge or two.
They were washed down with a bottle of Pierre Peters Cuvee de Reserve Brut NV, described by The Age Good Wine Guide as the best non-vintage Champagne.
Or perhaps this will explain a bit more thoroughly:
“More than 15 years of reserve wines are kept on hand for blending. There’s a lot to like about this wine even before you open the bottle: family estate, grand cru vineyards and a DIAM cork. And there’s a lot more after you do! The bouquet is enticing with its linden blossom, lime zest and lemon flesh aromas. A pure, fresh and vinous palate is like biting into a chardonnay grape from an ultra-cool vineyard (in every sense). This is about as primary as NV champagne comes; it’s all about the finesse, fruit and minerality of Le Mesnil (two-thirds of the blend), without an iota of interruption from any form of winery-infused character or dosage. An enticingly refreshing aperitif style, and a bargain!”  (94) TYSON STELZER, The Champagne Guide 2011
Nuff said. There was still a drop or two left for the second course: ceviche, made with some terrifically fresh snapper fillets (There’s a recipe that I follow somewhere on the blog).
Then, some fat tiger prawns, served in a brioche bun with some kewpie mayonnaise and some homemade, finely sliced pickled shallots (I used verjuice and some raw sugar … kinda made it up as I went along) and some organic rocket. Some of my favourite Greywacke pinot gris was a great friend to the prawns, as was the Margan (Hunter Valley) 2010 Botrytis Semillon with the triple French brie and creamy French blue.
If that was a great feed in winter, then roll on summer cos I’ll be doing it again.
My son, Liam eats about four meals a day, which is why I spent all of yesterday afternoon cooking: to wit, about six litres of mainly vegetable soup (there’s some slow-cooked beef steak in there as well), and about 20 serves of bolognaise sauce (yeah, there’s plenty of veg in it, too) … to stock the freezer, although given his capacity to eat, it won’t last much beyond a week.
Last week, I offered to cook dinner with a difference … i.e. he’d not tried this recipe before. I made what I reckon is one of the world’s simplest dishes; spaghetti with butter, lots of cracked black pepper (about a level tablespoon), broad-leaf parsley and some three-year-old Parmigiano Reggiano. While the pasta is boiling, microwave a shiteload of butter with the pepper, then add the parsley and grated cheese and stir it through. Dinner in just seven minutes. That’s as tough as it gets. What it did get was the thumbs up from my resident eating machine.
I don’t reckon I need too much incentive to leave the city for good, which is what I’m gonna do anyway, sooner rather than later.
But last week, another reason emerged to reinforce it.
My son’s car, which was parked at the front gate, was broken into … the bastard/bastards literally ripped the dash apart to get the sound system out. They also nicked the GPS, a $300 jacket, a backpack, which was hidden under the seat (it was his emergency pack, with a first-aid kit, among other things, in it. Liam reported it to the local cops, but I said to him: “There’s bugger all they can do. I don’t reckon they have the time to follow-up on things such as this.”
But follow up they did. The next night, the forensic squad from the next suburb dropped by to dust for prints and whatever else they do.
They were great blokes, who stayed and chatted for about half an hour. Liam let it all hang out when he told them that he probably wouldn’t be responsible for his actions if he’d caught them in the act. The police were very understanding
Speaking of cars, both of us are getting new ones. I’ve decided to sell the LandCruiser and get a tricked-up HiLux twin cab ute. They’re tough (you couldn’t kill it with an axe) and there’s a bit of luxury about the i.e. infinitely more comfortable than the Cruiser … and there’s room for passengers.
It’ll be just the trick for the long haul.
I spoke last night to my mate, Perrie, who is currently working at a campground somewhere between Catherine and Kununurra. I’ve met him all over the country and stay in regular touch. He did little to diminish my desire to get out there again … only this time it’ll be in a brand new car. Roll on the departure.
I’ve stopped more than the odd drop going stale of late. It’s a bloody long list of tipples that I've tried lately. Oh, and this is what the dining room table looked like at nine this morning as I was researching:
2011 Fat & Skinny Rose
2011 Stanton & Killeen Durif
2011 Cofield Provincial Parcel Durif
2007 Anderson Durif
2010 Kendall-Jackson Zinfandel
2010 Bailey’s of Glenrowan Petite Sirah
2010 Mount Avoca Chardonnay
2011 Yalumba Merlot
2010 Estella Cab-Sav
2011 Mandala Pinot Gris
2012 Deakin Estate Merlot
2012 Brown Brothers Tempranillo
2009 Deen De Bortoli Petit Verdot
2010 Seppelt Sparkling Shiraz
2010 Saint-Esprit Cotes-Du-Rhone
2011 Maycas del Limari Resereve Pinot Noir
2010 Terre a Terre Cab-Sav
2012 Jaraman Shiraz
2010 Estella Shiraz
2010 Campbells Durif
2011 Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre  Merlot
2009 Lake Breeze Langhorne Creek Cab-Sav
Dandelion Vineyards Shiraz
2010 Shingleback The Gate Shiraz
2008 Gemtree Obsidian Shiraz
2012 St Leonards Durif
2008 Scion Durif
I learnt a lesson with one of the above wines (not gonna say which one). I had written ages ago about poncy wine writers referring to “the smell of fresh cowpat” and I finally found it. It was not a good thing … it was the sole smell and taste of the wine. It was Brettanomyces or "Brett aromas" and, frankly, it tasted and smelt like shit.
You can throw in some fabulous beer and the absolute standouts include  Mountain Goat Cross Breed limited edition, Boris Russian Imperial Stout from the Feral Brewing Company and Ass Kicker Smoked Porter Ale. The Ass Kicker, from San Jose, is aged for 90 days in bourbon barrels, and is a mouthful of smoky chocolate and caramel. It’s a kick-arse 8.9 per cent and even though it’s about 20 bucks for a long-neck, it’s worth the price of admission.