Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

23.1.20

Coffee-coloured steeples by the score*.

The sun didn't set on Tuesday night; it disappeared behind clouds of dust. The sky was a variegated colour or shade or tone or whatever you want to call it of the kind of brown often referred to as 'beige', 'camel', 'taupe', 'fawn', or 'mushroom'. Actually no - it was coffee: a much better name than any of the other five.

The coffee sky was backlit by the westering golden sun and it glowed and looked like an enormous painted set for some epic western movie. The variegated coffee was dust from north-west Victoria, probably around the Hattah-Kulkyne national park, being blown south-east towards the city.

It rained during the night and next morning everything was coffee-coloured. Cars, fences, even the local church steeple had turned coffee. It was not dust; it had no real grain to it. Anything heavier had fallen on its several hundred kilometre airborne journey. It was just powder. Coffee powder.


*Apologies to Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook.

17.1.20

Ed River Valley.

The cabin was in a caravan park located just outside town, on the edge of the Edward River, an anabranch of the Murray River. You wouldn't miss the caravan park. It was on the main highway a few hundred metres before it curved across the bridge into town.

We had left the big smoke - which was literally the big smoke - early on an intensely hot Wednesday, but it wasn't that bad. Melbourne having 'the worst air quality in the world' was hyperbole.

The smoke seemed to disperse as we moved north on the Hume Highway, turning off past Seymour via Shepparton; but that night there was still a brilliant red moon, the red of the desert, not the coppery glow you would expect of a smoky atmosphere.

The cabin was perched on the edge of a valley which ran alongside the caravan park, a dry watercourse which must have been some other sub-branch of the river. The land is flat all around here so the water wanders where it will. If it is there. The day wore on. I found refuge from the heat next to the pool with a book, while the children submarined and broke the surface endlessly. The book made time stand still.
That year everyone in the family seemed to guess the Grammy award judges' nominations. My sister bought the Beatles' Sgt Peppers, a bright red carnival of an album with strange music hall songs with a kick. One day I turned on the radio and heard a song that went for seven minutes and had a link that sounded like the theme from a detective series and lyrics that were sad but elusive. A few days later my father brought home Macarthur Park. No-one knew what Richard Harris was singing about. I guessed it was some personal tragedy. Not everything has to be 'I really think you're groovy/let's go out to a movie' or 'you're my pride and joy et cetera'. Macarthur Park changed everything. The Beatles lengthened Hey Jude because of Macarthur Park.
Late afternoon, still hot, and clouds were gathering. Above the splash and thwack of children throwing each other and themselves into water, I heard the distant rumbling of other monsters: thunder. Dinner? There was a hotel just down the road from the caravan park. I had already figured out that we could walk down to the caravan park's main entrance and then follow the road a few hundred metres. Or we could go as the crow flies: directly across from our cabin (number 10), over the dry watercourse, and into the hotel property from behind. That would save a few hundred metres but be a much more interesting route.

We were halfway across the watercourse when the sky opened up. How appropriate: getting wet in the middle of a river. We ran. We got to the porch of the hotel soaked, but that would evaporate in seconds in the oppressive heat.

The hotel, a cream-painted long, low affair lurking behind a shady verandah with a few blown-over sandwich-board signs here and there and a blinking LED 'open' sign in the window of the front bar, sat back from the highway behind a large dustbowl of a carpark. If you were coming by road you could simply drive in and roll to a stop anywhere in the dust. Three or four utes and a truck had done just that and stood at different angles according to their point of entry; or possibly their intended exit. The whole place obviously had no pretensions to any kind of decor or culinary fad; it was just a country pub.

From inside, where we were now, the whole thing looked like the view from the interior of the roadside café in the scene from Duel, in which Dennis Weaver tries to find refuge only to discover that his unseen pursuer could have been one of the characters sitting at the bar. He kept looking outside across the same dustbowl carpark towards the highway wondering where his adversary was.

There was only one customer at this bar and the bistro, called the Red Room, was empty. The man behind the bar came and propped open the door directly from the bistro to the exterior. 'Bit of air,' he smiled. The rain had stopped and a kind of post-rain vapour came in and tried to cool us. I read the menu. The room was roughly red decored; ceiling and bits of wall and chair panels, and possibly the carpet, and unlit fat red candles 1970s style on the tables, of which there were about ten for four or six. We sat at one of the tables for six at the front with a view of both the bar and the exterior. Trucks snarled by. The highway steamed. Drinks first. Then food. Order and pay at the bar, said the sign. I paid at the bar and, twenty minutes later, the chef came out from a rear door in the Red Room and checked a detail of one of the orders and went back in again, and another ten minutes later out he came with the meals. $10 blackboard special, steak with chips and salad. Children’s special roast. 'Thai' beef salad. $15 blackboard special kebab. Bowl of wedges with chilli sauce and sour cream. The steak was medium rare porterhouse, as good as it gets. Steak can only be so good. Over $40 and you're paying for the decor. The chips were crisp and the 'Thai' salad was huge slices meat that was pink on the inside and slightly charred on the outside and done in some kind of fragrant marinade that tasted hot and cooling at the same time, and the whole thing sat on a forest of green and red. It would have fed six diners at an inner city 'Thai' place. The kebab was two barbells of juicy lamb on a bed of edible vegetation.

Something changed in the room, which was already mostly red. Outside, the lowering sun was leaching orange, which bounced off the sky and shot through the windows, and everyone's face took on a deeper glow. I thought they were just enjoying their meals. The placed looked like a tangerine dream spaceship ride from a 1950s sci-fi movie, or was that the wine talking?

Later, from out of the kitchen emerged some plates bearing steamships of chocolate and date pudding sailing valiantly through oceans of melting ice cream. We left the table and threw darts in the bar while an interstate cricket game burbled on the TV behind the dance floor. Yes, a dance floor in the bar. Old parquetry that had seen better years, scratched and worn from several generations of drunk patrons.

We fixed up the bill and went back to the cabin via the watercourse. It was dry again.

*

Edward River Hotel
6 Davidson St, Deniliquin, New South Wales 2710
Kitchen Hand rating: 5 stars. This kind of place does not exist south of the imaginary line separating the outback and the rest of Australia.




11.1.20

Steel or wood?

Timber is better than steel or concrete:
French architects want the roof of the fire-ravaged Notre-Dame Cathedral to be rebuilt in wood and not in metal or concrete. One of the heads of the country's biggest architects' body said reconstructing the roof in anything other than the original wood would be a mistake. The intervention by Eric Wirth of the Guild of French Architects comes amid controversy over French President Emmanuel Macron's wish for the spire of the 13th-century monument to be given a "contemporary" touch. ... "The most modern and ecological material today is wood," Wirth said Wednesday, which, as well as being more fire-resistant than the alternatives, also traps carbon, he insisted. ... "The cathedral has been there for 800 years. Had it been built in concrete or steel it would not still be there," he added. "Even with all the (chemical) protection treatments, given the intensity of the blaze... the steel would have held for half an hour and then it would have twisted, pulling on the walls and everything would have collapsed."
On the other side of the world, Dr Jeremy Sternson would probably agree:
Fires had devastated the area the year before Dr Sternson and his wife, Melissa Dowling, bought the property, so when they built a new home in 2009, it was designed to be fire resistant. It was basically a modern, corrugated iron version of a heritage bush hut with strong steel beams. ... The couple were warned a few cypress pine poles included in the design could be risky. But when the blaze hit on Saturday, the steel beams melted and the wooden poles stood strong, a quirk of fire that can't be easily understood.


2.1.20

Beasts of Burdon.

I got through the book in a couple of hot afternoons in a chair in the shade, slightly cooled by a south-westerly off Bass Strait.

Eric Burdon might not have been all that easy to get along with. He all but admits it in Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood. He makes band decisions on the run, is often drunk or drugged, and lands in prison or goes bust more than once in the course of three hundred pages of the misadventures of a Geordie. He gets himself into trouble on just about every page. Or other people do.

There is little chronology. The chapters wriggle over the decades like the squirming, dying notes of 'House of the Rising Sun'. The book is essentially a series of anecdotes told in Geordie conversational. Burdon may be the least rock-star-like rock star in existence given the tone of the book. He doesn't even talk much about his songs, let alone rhapsodise. This is a good thing. Burdon is no bore pinioning the reader with the minutiae of recording sessions, or endless chronologies of the chart success of his songs. Mostly he talks about the disasters; the record company executives; the hangers-on and the shysters; the girlfriends and the drugs; his guilt over the death of Jimi Hendrix; and the Golds and the Goldsteins promising the earth and ripping him off blind.

And riding Harleys with Steve McQueen in the desert behind Los Angeles.

The whole thing works, like someone's flickering Super 8 projector spilling out long-forgotten random sections of memory onto a white cotton sheet stuck on a wall in a beach house on a long hot summer night.

One night Linda McCartney introduces Burdon to Nina Simone, the 'the strongest, the baddest' of the female stars of the time. Burdon is reluctant, but McCartney takes him backstage after Simone's show.
She was a tigress. Her eyes flashed as she looked me up and down and spat out a curse: 'So you're the honkey motherfucker that stole my song and got a hit out of it.' ... Apparently she'd heard my version of 'Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood'. I was thunderstruck. Lost for words – and beginning to think that I should have fled this scene long before. But after a silence, I came back at her: 'Hey, listen, if you will admit that the work sung in your set this evening probably belongs to the bones of some unfortunate buried in an unmarked grave in Angola State Penitentiary – then I'll admit that your rendition inspired us to record the song. Besides, the Animals having a hit with it has paved the way for you in Europe. They're waiting for you. You'll find out when you get there.' ... She turned in her seat and slowly stood up. ... 'My name's Nina Simone.' 'Eric Burdon,' I said. 'Well, pleased to meet you. Sit down.' ... Suddenly everyone in the room could breathe again.
Cultural appropriation dealt with in a few short sentences, the two singers become friends. Later, Burdon becomes Simone's minder in London as 'everyone else was too unnerved ... .'

Towards the end of the book, in a transcendent, dreamlike chapter that still manages to retain its no-nonsense Geordie conversational tone, Burdon is invited to a party at the original House of the Rising Sun. On a hot, rainy New Orleans night, he stands outside looking in:
I looked back towards the main room of the house one floor up. Distinguished party guests stood inside under a crystal chandelier with drinks in their hands, talking, moving through the room. ... The place was coming alive for me. I imagined the human traffic that came through this place two centuries before ...
Later, he escapes the dinner and wanders alone through the old ex-brothel, glass of wine in his hand.
The house was talking to me. The walls were breathing. I smiled to myself as I walked. Almost every night since I was twenty years old, I had sung a song about this very house, and now that I had found it I was happy to discover that it was a place of beauty. ... Soon, the party drew to a close and the guests were departing. I hung back, breathing in the Louisiana night.
Conversational? Prose poetry.

*

Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood by Eric Burdon with J. Marshall Craig
Five Mile Press, Rowville Australia, 2003 (First published USA 2001)

*

Instant Kitchen Hand review: Understated Geordie masterpiece. Find a copy and read it. (Published in the early 2000s, the cover of my second-hand copy boasted the period-style 'Includes bonus collectable CD'. Mine was missing. Someone kept the CD and threw out the book? Why?)

*

Answer to quiz question in previous post: the Vox Continental organ.

31.12.19

Burning a hedge the safe way.

The property falls away to the west resulting in views of incredible sunsets on hot summer nights (and nights in winter, for that matter, when the sun has wheeled right around 45 degrees north).

The plunging garden is terraced; twelve years ago I planted a plumbago hedge of four plants along 18 feet of ornamental lattice guarding a drop of ten feet to a garden bed below. The hedge was to prevent two small boys climbing on the lattice and risk falling, should the ornamental lattice give way.

No longer required. The boys are teenagers now. The plumbago had done its job. Over the dozen years, it had grown to twelve feet in height and had moved out about 18 feet from the fenceline. That's what? 12' x 18' x 18' in volume? Whatever.

The point is I had to clear it. Plumbago produces a magnificent green façade with stunning lilac foliage in late spring and is totally gorgeous all year round.

But beauty is skin deep. That eighteen square foot of volume behind the green and lilac was a jungle of stiff, dead, sharp sticks. Unlike soft foliage, you can't neatly press this material into a waste bin. Once you could burn it in an incinerator. No longer.

Over at city hall, the bureaucrats – who once used to be wardens of the ratepayer's interests – have become green zealots drunk on the ballooning rates they exact; and are now on a national inter-council race to outdo each other in virtue-signalling and social engineering. Between flying flags of various embattled third world countries, sectional interests, and aggrieved minorities, they decided small landowners may not 'burn off'. It is not 'good for the environment'.

The peninsula is a narrow strip of ti-tree and, during Christmas holidays, half the population of Victoria. A slight exaggeration, but you get the idea. I could walk across Mornington Peninsula from Point Leo to Arthur's Seat in under two hours. Jamming a huge population into a small isthmus of combustible land will one day be fatal when fire inevitably visits its hell on the place. There are two main roads out. Both were impassable at any speed with the Christmas exodus back to Melbourne on Sunday. I sat tolerantly in the traffic with Solomon Burke in the CD player, sounding like a cross between Barry White and Errol Brown but no-one's ever heard of him. If traffic is that bad in normal conditions, imagine what would happen should fire break out. You might as well try to swim across the rip to Queenscliff and end up being dragged into Bass Strait and certain death by drowning, sharks or being run over by a container ship from China.

The plumbago was just one of many clearing jobs on the property this year. I probably emptied 30 large green waste bins full of soft foliage. Now multiply my property's clearance rate by the tens of thousands of properties whose owners may no longer responsibly burn, and have not quite gotten around to clearing – often because the cost and effort of chopping, compacting and carting large volumes of material are just too much. Imagine the inevitable build-up of combustible material. Many property holders are often not even permanently resident. Further, ti-tree lines the streets and grows over the roadways peninsula-wide. It's a perfect storm waiting to happen.

So I got rid of my plumbago the intelligent, common sense way.

I burned it.

It took five separate burnings on clear days with a light breeze to disperse any smoke. But the sticks were so dry there was none. Each load went up in a whoompf of flame that shot ten feet in the air, burned instantly, and died down in minutes leaving hardly any ash. That's as clean a disposal technique as you can get. I watched each load burn and knew how big the flames would have been had the whole intact hedge gone up at once.

Fools and cheats and swindlers are abroad. And I mean abroad in the classic sense of widespread; not overseas. They're in your local town hall. Oh, and of course they are overseas as well half the time. Climate conferences paid for by you.

*

That was three months ago, when spring weather was mild and I could safely clear the place for summer. Now it was 38 degrees in the shade, where I sat with a drink and a book: Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, by Eric Burdon.

Quiz question: which instrument defined the 1960s? The Who's smashed guitar? Hendrix's burned one? Keith Moon's drum? Leon Russell's piano? Dylan's harmonica?




23.12.19

A Shorter History of Christmas.

2009 - the Kookaburra.

2007 - the Golf Course.

Merry Christmas.

19.12.19

How blue was my valley.

The British election was decided early on Friday in the former mining region of Blyth Valley on England's Northumberland coast. ... the Conservatives took a seat held by Labour since its creation in 1950. ... And then the Conservatives took Workington, another deep red seat held by Labour for 97 of the last 100 years.... And then Don Valley fell too, and on it went, the red wall crumbling brick by red brick. ... There won't be any celebrations at The Guardian ... where its election eve editorial announced ... Jeremy Corbyn deserved to win because ... he was "progressive". That a major newspaper could endorse Corbyn, a diehard socialist who campaigned on policies so deeply regressive, tells you the danger of Corbyn's ideas lingering in the soppy brains and bleeding hearts of people who have university degrees but little common sense.
(The Weekend Australian, 14 December.)

Spectator Lowlife columnist, the late Jeffrey Bernard, once wrote something along the lines of you could call down a Yorkshire mine and up would pop a spin bowler.

Now it seems a Tory voter would jump out. If they still had mines, of course.

The left is angry: it doesn't like elections any more:
Movements need parties: revolutionary parties. ... A revolutionary party isn't about helping candidates win elections, which are scheduled regularly and frequently in most capitalist societies. A revolutionary party is about helping ... win revolutions.
University lecturers on sabbatical v. unemployed ex-miners? Bring it on.

11.12.19

The original Picnic at Hanging Rock.

I'm in a room with no windows, sitting at a large table covered with old books and weathered archives, under a single burning globe. I've been here for three years. The world might have ceased to exist, except that I know it hasn't, because I go home occasionally. Hello, children.

I'm hauling bits of history into the present, like dragging two grand pianos bearing donkeys behind me. Buñuel knew what he was talking about in that scene, but especially the eye-slicing bit. Un Chien Andalou, an Andalusian dog. Radio theatre. 1976. Roll it, Syd. Syd was the grey-coated elderly projectionist, and the call to action was from Doug Ling, the world's only film buff who was not an insufferable intellectual. My mind is wandering. Back to the yellowing papers.

Now I'm in 1902 reading an account published in the November edition of sporting newspaper the Australian Cyclist, about an overnight trip by the North Suburban Cycling Club to Gisborne, from where its members will travel by drag (coach and horses) to a local geographic feature:
Next morning we were away on a drag picnic to Hanging Rock, our host being at his best when fingering the ribbons of a four-in-hand or unicorn team. The drive was thoroughly enjoyed, proceeding as it did in the Black Forest and Woodend, right around to the further side of Mount Macedon. After an al fresco lunch ... we started to climb the Rock, which a local word painter has described as "A mount of castellated rocks, forming an imposing and solitary monument, standing in the middle of a plain, and towering 350 feet high. A ... path to the pinnacle (from which a strikingly beautiful view of a diversified expanse of scenery for miles around may be obtained) lies through winding paths and natural arches formed by this wonderful conglomerate of rocks". After tea and a lounge on carpet-like grass the drive back, with the shades of evening falling over the mountain, was enjoyed.
Hang on a minute. A bell was ringing in my head. That extract was the actual November 1902 clipping from the Australian Cyclist, as glued into the Club's original 1898-1910 guardbook, treasured and protected so well by custodians of the North Suburban Club for well over a century.

The bell in my head was still ringing and kept ringing until I figured out why. Now read on:
The covered drag from Hussey's Livery Stables at Lower Macedon, drawn by five splendid bay horses, was already drawn up ... with Mr Hussey on the box. ... the scraggy stringybark forest lined the road on either side ... The road took a slight turn, there was a fresher green amongst the dun-coloured foliage ... . A glimpse of Mt Macedon ... the road ... turns sharply away to the right a little way out of the township of Woodend ... directly ahead, the grey volcanic mass rose up slabbed and pinnacled like a fortress ... Lunch had been set out on large white tablecloths ... shaded from the heat of the sun by two or three spreading gums ... billycans of tea ... sunny slopes and shadowed forest ... leaves, flowers and grasses glowed and trembled under the canopy of light ...
Not exactly the same, but not exactly a million miles away either. That second extract is from the novel (or did it really happen? - the author is vague on the point) Picnic at Hanging Rock, written by Joan Lindsay in 1967.

5.12.19

Changing of the guard.

It stood sentinel in the back garden for endless seasons. Its central pillar had the strength of a battleship's flagpole and its four radial struts could have been deck railings from the same craft. They used to build clotheslines to last.

Silent for decades, it occasionally emitted a low industrial whine when a breeze might set it turning lazily, which I fixed with a squirt of oil in its main shaft's intake valve. You couldn't wind it up or down any more because its winder had seized up years ago.

Eventually it developed a slight list, to the north-west, after the drought of 2010 broke. I thought the extra water had allowed movement in the subterranean concrete block in which it was set.

Eventually the slight list became a noticeable slant, and by earlier this year, it was like a sinking steamship in its death throes. I dug down to the concrete block, but three inches below the surface of the earth the mast was a brown, flaky mess. Rust. At 40 degrees from perpendicular it could break and fall at any time and hit someone. So I put five decades of sterling service out of its wilting misery. I pushed it over. The ring-bark of rust gave way with a slow, crunching death rattle and the clothesline sank to the ground. I lifted it to remove the struts. It weighed a ton. They say a fly on a wall could tell a few tales; but a clothesline, having borne changing fashions since the flower power era, must have seen it all.

I went to Bunnings. They have those fold-up clotheslines made from plastic and powder-coated aluminium guaranteed to hold five wet handkerchiefs, a running singlet and a pair of football socks. Try putting a set of queen-size flannelette sheets, six bath towels and two pairs of denim jeans on one and you may as well lay them on the ground to dry because that's where they'll be.

So I rang a place in Fairfield, the old industrial part up near Preston. After a while someone answered. Yes, they installed heavy-duty clotheslines, the someone said. Yes, they had them on display. Yes, they were open now. I drove over, parked in busy Grange Road and went into the showroom, which was a large shed with two clotheslines and the kind of dimly-lit office full of old chairs and a table strewn with paper junk you find in every factory and warehouse in the world.

The clothes-line man came out the following week with a bunch of steel poles and a bag of cement on the back of a truck. A couple of hours later four shiny struts were turning lazily in the sunshine, just like the old one. Give it twenty-four hours to set before you load it up, the man said, and drove away with the old rusted battleship, in pieces, on the back of the truck.

I gave it forty-eight, just to be sure.

*

Cooper's Clotheslines
174 Grange Road, Fairfield


21.11.19

Want to know about evil? Don't ask a vicar.

If the Bible is too long, read The Third Beast instead. All your answers about what is moral, what is immoral, and what is evil, in 158 short violent angry pages.

Wait a minute. This gritty British crime novel is blurbed as 'the ultimate novel of bloody revenge'. Revenge Biblical? Hardly. But then, maybe.
She was only a little girl, really. When she was done up in her school uniform, with her white ankle socks and all, she looked about ten years of age.
The first-person unnamed narrator is the girl's uncle. He runs a breaker's yard in grimy 1970s unemployed pre-Thatcher Britain. He breaks cars and sells the bits to poverty-stricken Triumph Dolomite, Morris Minor or Ford Escort drivers. Occasionally he might get a Jag.
When she was a little girl, she was always down at the scrapyard in the nice weather. There was an old Riley I kept for her, as a playhouse. She'd line all her dolls upon the back seat, you know the way little children do, sitting them up straight and telling them all how to behave. And then she'd get behind the wheel and 'drive' them down to the seaside. ... I'd have battled a starving lion then, to stop her being hurt ...
And now she's thirteen. And they - four of them - have taken her into 'a freezing muddy field' and thrown her onto the ground.

Stop right there.

If you do stop right there, that is already grounds for exacting revenge on four thugs who have assaulted a thirteen-year-old girl.

But the thugs don't stop. But this book is not salacious or prurient.
I can't even bear to think of the rest. ... there might be some little pervert somewhere might get a thrill out of it, hearing about a young girl being gang-raped.
So the author, Peter Loughran, jump-cuts to the courtroom where the thugs get off on technicality, slick lawyers and sharp suits. On the way out, the mother of one of the thugs spits in Laura's mother's face. Evil runs in the family.

Slowly Laura recovers, 'recover' being a hopelessly inadequate word. Rather, she continues to live. Her uncle fixes a camper van that some Australian tourists have dumped at his scrapyard, and he takes his wife, sister and Laura to the Isle of Wight for a seaside holiday.
She started behaving like a little kid again, you know, making sand castles and digging trenches in the beach so the sea could fill them up, that sort of thing.
These descriptions of the lonely minutiae of a child's life counterpoint the cold naked anger that seeps through the novel, over the injustice of a young life having its future ripped away by four semi-humans.

Anger is the moral bedrock of the book. How could a sane person forgive the barbarity of a fellow adult who has defiled a child? The concept of forgiveness withers like a pop-psychologist's explanation of the peace to be found in 'letting go'. There's no letting go here. The narrator knows it's not about him, it's about Laura. Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life, the forgotten Biblical quote; the prodigal brother of the lazy cliched 'forgiveness' meme spouted by tea-ed-up vicars the world over.
I'd sit and watch her playing and I'd think, 'I'm glad I topped those bastards – I'd do the same thing again if I had to' ...
So he's laid down his life and killed three of the four so far, against the odds and at immense risk of detection.

Where does this place him in the moral universe? And anyway, who's to decide? Rather than kill the guilty, some 'cultures' kill or abandon their defiled victim female relatives instead. That's barbarity: turbo-charged with savagery.

The Third Beast
Peter Loughran
Grafton, 1987



12.11.19

The midnight truck.

It was a warm night. I was two blocks into my six-block return walk, Helen by my side, and the streets were empty. (Helen is a failed greyhound staying with us for a few weeks. Failed as in racing, not as in being a greyhound. At being a greyhound she is quite competent.)

Nothing in the air tonight except the occasional muffled ramp of a distant tram in Sydney Road and the soft rush of a city train on the down line.

This neighbourhood was built in the 1940s for artisans and tradesmen who wanted to work where they lived. House blocks combined a residence with a small factory or workshop: cup of tea in the morning and five minutes later you're planing a piece of mountain ash or cutting some leather for a car seat. There are still several small factories, a couple of old warehouses with car parts hanging from dark ceilings like carcasses in butchers' shops, a bird boarding house that used to be something else, and a couple of print factories that clatter by day and fall silent by night.

Some of the houses even have their aging original owners, while others are being reclaimed from decades-long disuse. In recent years home buyers have moved in from suburbs where prices are nudging a million dollars, and here they regard the semi-industrial 'vibe' - as they call it – as hip.

Helen and I walked on. We turned a corner. The largest factory came into view. It used to make cheese. It had hummed for forty-odd years. Milk obtained from fat Jerseys on Gippsland hillsides had been trucked in by night in large mirrored-silver McColl's tankers.

But the new home buyers did not want the factory near their new houses. The funky industrial 'vibe' turned out to be an attitude, an affectation. It was phony. Perhaps they did not like cheese factories. Or factories period. Or cheese period. I don't know. You can't second-guess anyone's motivations. You can ask them, but even then you don't know if what they tell you is the truth.

So the funky industrial 'vibe' people got up petitions and signed letters and stuck exclamation-marked posters on their retro gateposts – CHEESE OUT! NOW! NO FACTORIES FOR NOCO! NO MORE MIDNIGHT TRUCKS! – and got themselves on the cover of the local paper standing outside the factory blocking their ears, their children pulling Edvard Munch faces. Some white-gumbooted cheese factory employees could be seen standing glumly in the background – 'What am I going to do after working in a cheese factory for forty years? Make coffees in hipster cafes?' – but the blocked-ear mob won the argument when the factory closed down for good in February this year. In the end it wasn't the protests, but because the owner decided to rationalise manufacturing into a regional plant; but the vibe people nevertheless chalked themselves up a moral victory. So much for locavores. You can lead a milk truck to a hipster but you can't make him drink.

We were halfway past the abandoned factory on the opposite side of the street, passing two of the original-resident houses. They were next to each other. I've seen the owners in their two respective front gardens; stooped, aged, gloved, secateur-wielding. The first house had a six-foot brick wall at the front. I peered over it. Fifty or maybe a hundred rose bushes were rioting in their own special patch of sunlight. Yellows, reds, whites, pinks; bushes and standards. The woman was there now. She didn't see me. She was doing something with an old battered watering can. The second house had a low fence and a cossetted 1980s car in the drive and a garden full of ornamentals kept on a tight leash; staked and tied-up peonies and foxgloves and tall daisies, topiaried this and that; rosemary, lavender, small flowering shrubs. I've seen the old man tying up his plants. He always looks like he's arresting a bunch of pretty criminals.

We walked on. Why, why, why? I said to Helen. Why were the old couple content to live across the road from a factory for forty years, when the new arrivals a block or two away were onto its case after five minutes? Why did the old people not take part in the protest with the vibe people? After all, they were right across the road. They'd be affected most by the midnight truck. Maybe they had worked there.

Helen didn't answer.



6.11.19

First Tuesday in November.

The TAB was deserted at 9.30 a.m. "Everyone bets on their phone," she told me when I got home. Of course.

*

Cup Day lunch: home-made chicken burgers in the sun at the new table in the garden, with roses as good as Flemington's (Queen Elizabeth climber planted last year is now in full bloom and six feet tall with a bullet). The burgers were very simple; nothing to it. Hardly needs a recipe:

Toast burger buns very lightly.

Grill or fry crumbed (breadcrumbs, garlic, herbs of choice, salt, pepper) chicken fillets until just done.

Ample shredded iceberg lettuce as a bed for the chicken on bottom bun spread with mayonnaise (peri-peri or aioli). More mayonnaise flecked with finely chopped white onion under top bun. Serve.

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Alexandra had chosen Vow and Declare, who lost the race with fifty metres to go after leading bravely; and then, incredibly, took off again and got his nose in front.

Then, on the replay, the second horse's crazy diagonal charge across the track in the last fifty metres incited three words from Thomas (or was it William?): "Insane Nascar driver!"

There was always going to be an appeal. Frankie Dettori's Cup Day blasts through the field, once again crashing and burning, are becoming legendary. Second to fourth; third to second; fourth to third.

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Craig Williams must be heading for a broadcast career after retirement if his post-race interviews were anything to go on.

- "How does it feel to win Australia's most famous horse race?"

- "He did all the work; I just got to sit on him."


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In the old days the afternoon Herald would be spread on the kitchen table by 6 o'clock (via grey Herald Sun delivery van and Hoffman's Road newsagent) and there in screen-dotted black and white print, lit by late Spring sunshine creeping in the western kitchen window, lay the photo of the winner at the post with block headlines and reverse-print arrowed labels over the heads of each horse.

No evening paper any more and nothing on TV. I took the boys across town, east on Bell Street to Heidelberg, south past the walled gardens of East Ivanhoe, and then along Whitehorse Road to genteel Balwyn's Palace cinema: Balloon, the story of two families' escape from GDR - across the border into Bavaria. Every teenager should see it. Why? A few reasons.




1.11.19

Beatles vs Australia.

A five-Test series: Kitchen Hand pits five Beatles recordings against cover versions recorded by a selection of Australian artists. Who will win the Ashes?

1. Bad Boy

The Larry Williams (Dizzy Miss Lizzy, Slow Down etc) classic put to the test by the Beatles in full flight, versus the Twilights' uncanny harmonies.

The Beatles: A crowd favourite, John Lennon's voice tends to a slight raspiness when he really gets going while Ringo lets fly on the hi-hat or tambourine or whatever brass it is he's belting away on. A classic rock'n roller. But can it beat the Twilights?

The Twilights: Glen Shorrock doesn't rasp like John Lennon and doesn't scream but it's still a visceral vocal job. The drums thunder with that millisecond off-beat accuracy that makes any song as tight as a ... well, drum if no other comparison comes to mind. By the way, don't judge this song by its ridiculous YouTube black and white clip in which Shorrock was forced by some idiot director to jerk about like a multi-armed Indian dancing god.

Verdict: The Twilights by a short hi-hat.

2. Eleanor Rigby

Bleak experimental rock combining social commentary with four violins, two violas, and two cellos. Can four suburban bogans (Zoot) rise to the challenge?

The Beatles: A song about lonely people with clever village observations and disarmingly attractive harmonies with string octet: but what does it all mean?

Zoot: At the end of the 1960s Zoot were messing about on stage when they launched into Eleanor Rigby, turning it into a hard rock number. It worked and they released it as a single in 1971, complete with clumps of 1970s-style electric guitar conjunctions. Darryl Cotton, Beeb Birtles, Rick Brewer and Rick Springfield brought the English village to Australian beer barns. But who was listening to the words?

Verdict: Zoot by 96 decibels.

3. Baby It's You

Bacharach and David's hit given the slow rock treatment by the Fab Four, up against ... an Australian TV compere??????

The Beatles: Backing sha-la-la-las open and run through the song and John Lennon uh-ohs the conjunctions and a nice acoustic break brings the whole thing sailing home like the QEII. (Not a patch on the album's title song Please Please Me which, incredibly, remains one of the best recordings the Beatles ever made thanks to its utterly maniacal delivery.)

Jeff Phillips: TV pop show host decides to get in on the act. Snigger. Wait, what are those horns? And that orchestral backing? And that break? Phillips has turned this song's sha-la-la-la poppiness into some kind of ethereal daydream. Jeff who?

Verdict: Jeff Phillips by a horn section.

4. Dear Prudence

Once upon a time in India, John Lennon noticed that one of the party was too shy to come out of the house. He wrote this song for her.

The Beatles: Sitting around meditating on fame and taking drugs can lead to the creation of songs with interesting lyrics. This is not one of them. The sun is up/the sky is blue/it's beautiful/and so are you. Of course, that does the song a disservice. It's one the Beatles' best.

Doug Parkinson: A visual if not vocal cross between Issey Dye and Cleo Laine, Doug Parkinson had - has - the voice of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. With his band In Focus, he took Dear Prudence and turned it into a monster slow rock ballad that made John Lennon sound weedy in comparison. Mountainous backing and a mega-production inspired by bands such as Blood, Sweat and Tears. Iconic Australian production.

Verdict: Doug Parkinson by an Afro.

5. Help!

Catchy single from the 1965 album of the same name, and title of the world's first 153-minute music video.

The Beatles: Not the best song on the album by a long shot but performed with the Beatles' usual precocious crowd-pleasing harmonies.

John Farnham with Little River Band: In the early 1980s LRB decided to replace Glenn Shorrock with John Farnham, possibly because they realised that 1980s music was largely rubbish and they had to accommodate the market. Together, they took Help! and turned the up-tempo Beatles tune into a turgid stadium ballad sounding like a thousand yowling cats, or Michael Bolton.

Verdict: Beatles knock Farnham out of the park. LRB were so embarrassed they reinstated Glenn Shorrock. Farnham went on to record Whispering Jack.

There you have it: Australia defeats the Beatles 4-1 as judged by an impartial panel of one.


26.10.19

The cusp of crispness: poetry on a plate.

I keep seeing the expression 'comfort food'. Isn't all food 'comfort food'? No. Comfort food is food that (a) makes you feel good when you're eating it; and (b) allows you to think about something else while you are eating. Anyone who continually talks about what they are eating is not eating comfort food.

Pasta carbonara is a prime example, like lamb shanks, or beef goulash, or shepherd's pie, or loaded mashed potato.

I've been making carbonara for years; went through a phase of ordering pasta carbonara on hot summer Fridays for lunch inside darkened Ti Amo in the 1990s, anticipating the efforts needed on Saturdays. Carbonara-loading. Sitting up at the bar, pasta on an oval plate, heavy on the bacon, rings of buttered pasta dura to mop up the cheesy residue, astringent coffee afterwards. Unbeatable.

Pasta carbonara.

Bacon or just about any variety of salted, cured meat is fine. Anyone insisting on guanciale is forgetting rule (b) above. If you have to think about it, it's not comfort food. Likewise parmesan, parmigiano, etc. Pecorino might be genuine but any of the hard cheeses will suffice. Pasta is also your choice.

Let's go with spaghetti.

Cut the bacon into small strips about an inch long. Ti Amo always used streaky bacon so that each strip was bacon-fat-bacon.

Combine a couple of eggs with half a cup of grated cheese and a shake of white pepper. I use the whole egg because separating the eggs is a task not worth it for the supposed benefit of genuineness.

Cook bacon until on the cusp of crispness but not crisp. Anticipation is everything.

Cook and drain the pasta to al dente or however you prefer it. Transfer pasta to pan with just-cooked bacon; pour egg and cheese mixture over and stir gently to combine until eggs have just set. Now shower over a small handful of chopped parsley including some stalks. Not genuine. But I like the added crunch and burst of herbal flavour the parsley adds.

More white pepper if desired.

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And tomorrow we might not be together
I'm no prophet and I don't know nature's ways
So I'll try and see into your eyes right now
And stay right here 'cause these are the good old days


'Anticipation' - Carly Simon, 1971