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

20.2.18

Monday.

A satire.

I rocked into work about 9.40 a.m. just as several earlier arrivals were exiting for morning coffee at one of the dozens of cafes down the street. Years ago people made coffee from the urn in the kitchen in twenty seconds. Now they disappear for forty-five minutes and come back with six takeaway plastic-topped cardboard coffee cups set into a cardboard carrier the size of an aircraft carrier. Productivity Commission, anyone?

After chatting with that strange breed of office workers who are always in the kitchen, I finally reached my office around 10 a.m. and commenced the twenty-first century white collar drudgery of 'checking my emails'. Naturally, I deleted most including the stupid jokes and idiot cat pictures, etc, that the cretin from the studio keeps emailing to all staff. I replied to one or two of the work-related ones in as few words as possible, and without a sign-off line. Having done with the office emails, out-of-office bouncebacks and meeting requests/confirmations/cancellations/on-hold-until-further-notices, I checked out the news headlines. Peace. (My peace, that is, not the world headlines.)

The silence was broken by the sudden ringing of the office phone. Yes. The office phone. The phone still sits there, one in each office, primeval mechanical monsters like dodos in a museum. But they are not museum pieces. Every now and then they ring, a strange insistent metallic ringing sound like the siren of a hostile 1950s flying saucer with rivets. I picked it up. You don't have to do anything with old phones; you just pick them up and talk. No buttons, no swiping, no nothing. On the line was an account executive who was sitting twenty metres away in a cubicle. He was either too lazy to walk, or too afraid to present himself in my office in person. I heard a quarter of his voice in the earpiece and the other quarter as echo from down the corridor. He wanted to brief a project. I told him to come in straight after lunch, say 3 p.m. or thereabouts.

Then I did the morning's work. The first job was to write the words for the back of one of those postcards you find in hipster cafes. The card was advertising a new low rate for a bank's credit card. The front had a picture of a cracked coffee cup sitting in a pool of leaking coffee. For the back, I wrote: 'Tired of paying too much interest on your credit card? Switch today, get a lower interest rate, and you'll no longer have to watch your money leaking away. Terms and conditions apply. Fees and charges apply. See website for details. Check the PDS before deciding if this product is right for you. Rates are correct at time of printing and may change without notice.'

It took me two and a half minutes. I billed two hours. The place has to make money. I can't help it if I work fast. I should have been a racing car driver. Or a lawyer.

Just before lunch, a junior suit dropped into my office begging for advice on wording for a sentence in a 10cm x 2 column correction notice ad which he had tried to write himself. I fixed it for him, and warned him to never again try to write any copy no matter how minor. He wandered off with his revised ad, thinking he had had an audience with a genius.

Lunch was at 12.30; yes, early, but I had earned it. I went down in the lift with the usual bunch of couriers, some of them with their bikes actually in the lift, to stop them being stolen. Despite the wave of tempting curry aromas from the Indian cafes that dominated the streetscape, I picked up some sushi and a cup of miso soup from a shop the size of a shoebox in a tiny arcade off the main street.

The place was deserted when I got back. I ate at my desk reading the Drudge Report. At 1.30 p.m. the office was still empty, so I thought I'd go for a walk. It was early autumn and the city was warm. It was the season for office girls to be wearing sleeveless dresses and bare legs like Carnaby Street in the flower power era; but they also had headphones clamped to their ears, or were staring into devices like zombies. This is not what the swinging sixties in London looked like. I went into a second hand bookshop.

Half an hour later I was engrossed in a book about antique military aircraft. I got back to the office at 2.30 p.m. and starting writing an ad about an energy company's dual-fuel discount offer. It took about twelve minutes. I was completely knackered now. I should have been a train driver or a quantity surveyor or something less stressful. I started an online crossword in one of the online British newspapers, and was interrupted by the suit who had made the 3 p.m. appointment. I told him to come back in fifteen minutes. Inconsiderate prick.

He walked in again at 3.30 p.m. with a smile on his face. Why the grin, I asked. He told me he had just organised a meeting with a client, and that he had invited me along to meet Mr Canino, the client’s MD. Then he told me the meeting was 9 a.m. tomorrow morning.

In Bayswater. This was payback.

8.2.18

Kavali Fried Chicken - finger lickin' good.

Process the following:

One tablespoon each chili and coriander powder
One teaspoon each turmeric, fenugreek leaves, peppercorns, and salt
5 green cardomom pods
1 black cardomom pod
1 piece star anise
2 cloves garlic
1 inch peeled ginger
1 inch cinnamon
1 clove
1 pinch asafoetida
1 grate of nutmeg
Half a teaspoon of sugar
Three-quarters of a cup of vinegar

Once processed, fold one cup of yogurt through the resulting mixture.

Joint one chicken.

Coat the chicken pieces with the spicy yogurt mixture, pressing it under skin or into slashes.

Place chicken a large covered dish and store in fridge at least a couple of hours and preferably overnight.

Barbecue time: place chicken pieces on grill. Cooking time is dependent on grill, weather conditions, wind direction, etc etc.

Sprinkle cumin seeds over the chicken and serve with plain basmati rice with a salad of tomato, cucumber, coriander, white onion on the side and wedges of lemon to squeeze.

1.2.18

Steak sandwich making: Tim Blair gets a fail.

Chronic sarcastist Tim Blair's article in Monday's Daily Telegraph was titled The Greatest Steak Sandwich Ever Built. OK, the sub-editor writes the headlines, but it is still misleading, in the sense that someone might try his recipe and find it wanting.

Tim discovers:
... the missing ingredient was brute force.
But what steak to use?
I've always been confounded by steak selection. Choose a substantial quality cut and it'll be too unwieldy for sandwich use. Pick something cheaper, thinner and meaner and you’ll endure a terrible chewing challenge. The trick is to find a small, thick cut and then bash it thin.
I presume he means fillet. But this no way to treat it:
... commence whaling upon it with your steak mallet. I use a half-kilo bruiser liberated from my in-laws' old restaurant. There is no meat it cannot beat.
Wrong, Tim. A steak mallet is designed to break down the fibres of cheaper cuts of steak. It will turn fillet into steak tartare, or roadkill that has gone under a Kenworth cab-over. So your in-laws passed off chuck steak as porterhouse?
Prior to this, get two bacon slices going on a non-stick pan. D'Orsogna's rindless streaky bacon is ideal. Then, as the bacon is crisping up, drop an egg on there. Pierce the yolk and try to keep everything sandwich-sized.
Don't worry about keeping everything sandwich-sized. Cutting it to fit is easier.
By now, after all that pounding, your steak should have increased in circumference from 25cm or so to about 65cm. It will also be flatter than electric car sales. Don't worry if it appears too large. Contraction during grilling will draw it down to bread slice dimensions.
And it will be beef jerky. Now, the pan:
No non-stick pan can achieve the heat required for serious steak work. I use a cast iron skillet that is old enough to vote ... Get the skillet smoking hot and throw on your steak. It'll cook in no time.
This is good advice.
Meanwhile, toast the bread slices. Wholegrain has greater torsional rigidity than white, and toasting further increases the sandwich’s eventual structural integrity.
Wholemeal is steak sandwich heresy, Tim. Coles $2 house brand white is perfect. It holds the sandwich but doesn't get in the way. Now for the salad:
On one toasted and buttered slice, place whatever salad components you desire. A basic lettuce/tomato/green pepper combination is all most people need, but maybe you're a bit SBS when it comes to these things. Shallots and watercress it is, then.
Don't know where he gets the watercress from. That's just ridiculous. You wouldn't even taste it and as far as I can guess, cress has no crunch. (Shallots are spring onions in Melbourne.) Now we learn the dreadful truth about Tim Blair and beetroot:
Now, I'm pro-beetroot in almost every circumstance, but it has no place here. Liquid is the enemy of the steak sandwich, and beetroot, for all its fine properties, is essentially crimson water. Besides, you're already pushing it with all that salad nonsense.
Tim the traitor. After boosting beetroot for years, Tim Blair drops the ball when it really counts. Have you heard of paper towels, Tim? Lay the beetroot on paper towels until they suck up all that 'crimson water'.
Top with bacon, egg, maybe some onion ...
Maybe some onion? A steak sandwich without lots of onion - fried or sliced rings - or even better, both is like Punch without Judy.
You will know if all is well when you cut it. Too much resistance indicates a catastrophic grilling failure. ... But if the blade glides through as it should, prepare for the optimal steak sandwich experience. Enjoy.
I knew he was going to forget the pineapple. The acid sweetness of pineapple is the flavour alchemy that turns an ordinary steak sandwich into the comfort food of the gods.

30.1.18

Food in fiction: an occasional series.

The expensive French restaurants in New York are nearly all east of Fifth Avenue. In most of them, depending on what wine he drinks and whether or not he orders cognac with his coffee, a man and his date can spend the equivalent of the U.S. legal weekly minimum wage in an evening, or the price of a case of good Scotch or a TV set or the complete recorded works of Beethoven or a ticket to a political fund-raising ball. It is possible that in the last instance, the restaurant dinner is the better bargain; but the price is still rather steep. And for this reason, and for the benefit of impoverished lovers of French cooking and for bona-fide Frenchmen stuck in New York in average-paying jobs, the unfashionable area on the West Side has seen a mushrooming of moderately priced French restaurants. Some of them approach a good Paris bistro; others are only slightly better than the restaurants on Second and Third avenues that cater to the skid-row derelicts, with the day's bargains chalked on the windows - 'Stewed Pigs Heart and Beans, 95 cents'. The difference is in the language - 'Coeur de porc à la mode d'Angers garni' - written in purple ink on a menu, and third-rate Algerian wine, transported in tankers and tank trucks to Burgundy communes and there bottled and labeled. Though still far below the condottiere of the East Side in imaginative price inflation, the West Side restaurateur of this sort still gathers in his six hundred percent profit.
Steve Bowman has been fired from his newspaper job for drinking instead of investigating. He is subsequently and mysteriously offered $25,000 to search for the son of Jethro Parker, the man who owns the town and everything in it; double if he succeeds. Resisting the urge to drink the retainer, Bowman hits the trail accompanied by gourmet meals, willing accomplices, guns, Nazis, betrayal, Etienne, Solange ... and Ann Hathaway.

To Hell For Half-a-Crown
James Cross
Constable, London 1967

Kitchen Hand's summary: The other side of the Summer of Love

12.1.18

Chargrilled.

We spent New Year's Day at a lunchtime barbecue hosted by friends at their country house outside Maldon. It was a hot, windy day and the wind was whipping the dust up. Gold dust. I read recently there is more previously-unobtainable gold under the ground in Victoria than has ever been dug up, and that technology is now becoming available to get it. We talked about the gold but it was too hot to start digging.

Eventually our host switched on the grill. It was about one o'clock. The girls were playing in the butter house (the old churn plinth is still there) and the boys were tearing up and down the four acres, having been told not to go in the long grass.

We were still talking about gold. More goldfields prospectors died from snake bite than any other cause of death aside from dysentery. Imagine finding gold and then being bitten to death by a snake. Horrible. Then the other diggers might fight over your gold, leaving your body to bloat in the sun. Perhaps they would be held up by bush rangers on their way back to Melbourne. And then, in their turn, the bush rangers might fight over the gold, or be shot by police.

The barbecue was going well. Chicken wings, sausages, beef patties. The grill was sizzling, flames greedily lapping at the fats and juices falling from the meat.

The conversation went on. Four billion years the gold lay under the ground. Four billion years! Then, having been dug up one day in the 1860s, it has four owners - or more - in quick succession. Conclude what you like about that. Or nothing. It is the kind of factoid that sanctimonious ministers love to get their chops on. The root of all evil.

Speaking of chops, the flames were getting higher. The meat was cooking. It was char grilling. It was ready. We called the boys and the girls. Enjoy your genders, children. They aren't going to last, if some moronic bureaucrats get their way.

The flames were too high. Our host turned off the gas. Nothing. Still too high. The barbecue was beneath a tree. It could catch. He shut the lid. The flames burned harder, licking out from underneath and up the sides. I looked around the back of the barbecue. It was not an enclosed grill. Oxygen was free to shoot up from below, fanning the flames.

Now the lid was melting. It was not cast iron, but some kind of thin alloy. It wasn't meant to withstand heat generated independently of the gas jets. Our host went inside the house, taking the children in case the gas bottles should explode, and he came back out with a red cylinder. He released the safety catch and pointed the nozzle. Poof! The flames were replaced by dense black smoke. The meat was black. The dog would get it later.

We ate the salads. There was still more than enough food to go around. Nobody went hungry. But it was a shame about the barbecue. We talked about the fire.

Warm vegetable salad with toasted pine nuts.

Boil a dozen halved small potatoes, washed well but unpeeled, until almost soft.

Slice a dozen cherry or similar tomatoes in two.

Chop a red onion into rings. Grill a large red capsicum until blackened, then cool, peel, cut into strips, place on a dish and coat in olive oil.

Drop a dozen or so each of green beans, asparagus and snow peas into boiling water, cook for a minute or two and then plunge them into cold running water so they stay bright green.

Toast some pine nuts.

Place potatoes and tomatoes in a large salad bowl, add capsicum strips, asparagus, beans, onion rings and snow peas. Add a generous handful of marinated black olives. Add cubes of fetta cheese. Finish off with a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts.

*

Without looking at the melted wreck, I supposed that the drainage channels had become blocked. The host thought for a while, and then said that the only modification he had made to the barbecue was to add sand in the bottom, under the grill, to soak up the fat.

9.1.18

Craven gets carried away.

In a boardroom high in a tall building in a big city. Through the window of the tall building can be seen scores of other tall buildings full of thousands of people doing important work useful to society in myriad ways, just like the people in this building; in fact, just like in this very boardroom.

If you were to look out the window and downwards, you would see ants walking around. The ants are people. These people are not doing any important work useful to society yet - except for the lunch delivery people - but they are on their way to do so, such as working in government departments or robbing a bank.

Guy, a copywriter, and Rob, an art director, are not staring out the window. They are sitting at the boardroom table looking at Craven, an advertising account director. Craven has a piece of paper in his hand and his gaze is directed at it. The piece of paper is a television script. Language warning.


CRAVEN: Guys, this is not a TV commercial, it's a fucking Raymond Chandler novel.

GUY (BELLIGERENTLY): Who's asking you, Craven?

CRAVEN: Well, you gave me the script, didn't you?

GUY: It's not that I don't value your opinion, Craven, it's just that this is a creatively-driven agency and when creative asks the account guy What do you think?, it doesn't mean Feel free to offer gratuitous derogatory comments, it means We're just letting you read it as a privilege before go and sell it and don't give me that devil's advocate bullshit that every account service idiot in the world trots out with boring regularity just for the sake of being hypercritical.

CRAVEN IS ABOUT TO SAY SOMETHING, BUT SAYS SOMETHING ELSE INSTEAD: Well, thanks for giving me the privilege of letting me read your novel outline.

ROB: Great. We resist the idea of putting two clients in one ad, but you insist it's the way of the future and a great opportunity for unexpected scripting, so we write the fucking thing against our better judgement, and now you object. And they call creative people fickle.

CRAVEN: I'm not objecting, it just reads like an episode of Murder Inc. There are more characters than a Charles Dickens novel. You've got a retired military type who suffers accidental death possibly aided by a servant being derelict in his duty, a mother-in-law locked away in a nursing home for dementia sufferers, a greedy but stupid son, and a daughter-in-law who is prepared to murder for an instant inheritance. And that's just on first reading. You've probably got a couple of crooked casino operators and a cop on the take in there as well.

GUY: Craven, if you're going to blend snail bait and superannuation, you need a story. That is, if you want an interesting ad that people will actually watch. Otherwise change the snail bait to garden fertiliser and we can just have a print ad with a still shot of Buffalo Finance and a packet of fertiliser and a line that says Two Ways to Grow.

CRAVEN (LAUGHS OUT LOUD): Hey! That's good! I like it!

GUY: No, it's not good, Craven, it was sarcasm. You hate my ads and love my sarcasm. One of us is in the wrong business.

CRAVEN: It was good sarcasm, though, Guy. And we ARE both in the right business. Bank tellers don't have this much fun. Maybe restaurant reviewers or dog walkers or film stars or hookers. But no-one out there.

HE WAVES OUT THE WINDOW TOWARDS THE TALL BUILDINGS. A HELICOPTER BUZZES OVERHEAD AND DISAPPEARS TO THE RIGHT OF THE WINDOW. HE CONTINUES ...

But I'm not objecting to the concept, guys, I was just thinking ...

ROB: What, Craven?

CRAVEN (GAZING OUT THE WINDOW AS IF IN A TRANCE): I was just thinking ...

GUY AND ROB STIR RESTIVELY IN THEIR SEATS.

CRAVEN SNAPS BACK TO THE PRESENT AND SPEAKS IN A BUSINESSLIKE MANNER: Now don't jump down my throat. You know how the brief was originally a thirty second commercial but now it's a sixty?

(TAKES A DEEP BREATH)

Well, the way you've written it has made me think we can make it work even harder. That very last scene. Guys, you might be aware we have a fairly new client, Brewer's Fine Stationery. Well, they carry a range of upmarket deskware, one item of which is an extremely elegant rapier-like envelope opener. It's designed like a Malay Kris, which is one of the sharpest and deadliest knives in the world.

VERY PREGNANT PAUSE, THEN CRAVEN CONTINUES, WITH A BIG, WIDE, ENCOURAGING SMILE

What say we put Brewer's in the ad as well, with a third end super that says Nothing Cuts Like a Brewer's?

HIS SUGGESTION HANGS IN THE AIR LIKE A ... LIKE A SOMETHING THAT HANGS IN THE AIR AND STINKS, MAYBE THE ROTTING CARCASS OF A SHEEP.

GUY (QUIETLY AND WITH GREAT CONTROL): Craven, you cannot advertise an envelope opener on television by suggesting that you stab someone to death with it.

CRAVEN (OFFENDED): Well, you just did in your script.

GUY: It was just a plot detail, not the featured product, Craven.

CRAVEN: Well, you killed off the old man with snail bait.

ROB: That was different, Craven. That was accidental death by misadventure. It wasn't murder.

CRAVEN (UNDETERRED): He still died from the product. He still died during the ad.

SLIGHT PAUSE

All right then, it was just a thought. I'm just trying to help. It could mean an extra fifty grand plus media commission worth up to $500,000 just for the price of adding a super ...

ANOTHER PAUSE, CAUSED BY THE SUDDEN ALLURE OF DOLLAR SIGNS. CRAVEN CONTINUES WITH ADDED URGENCY

Then there's our picture framing client, Art Corners. With all that swanky furniture in the penthouse it would tie in nicely with the theme. What about You Can Frame Anything with an Art Corners Frame. Or their gilt mirror range: Look into our Mirrors. If the son had had a mirror in the right spot he could have seen her reach for the knife.

ROB: And then what, Craven?

CRAVEN: He could have reached under the sofa for his Luger and shot her dead before she stabbed him.

GUY: No, Craven.

CRAVEN: Then what about our pool construction client, Blue Water Inc - Drown Yourself in Sheer Luxury?

ROB: No, Craven ...

CRAVEN: Fantastic Faux Furs for the stole she's wearing? There’s Nothing as Genuine as a Fantastic Faux Fur!

ROB: He's on a roll.

Suddenly the helicopter returns back into view hovering exactly at the height of their floor level. It does a sudden bank towards the building and ... no, that would be in extremely bad taste.

In fact, the story ends as they so often do. They go to lunch. On the way down, the elevator stops at about thirty floors and public servants and insurance call centre staff get in. Some are wearing sweat-stained shirts, cardigans and bush-walking shoes and have those security scapula-like things around their necks telling them what their names are so they don't forget. Others are wearing holed running singlets and thirty-year-old stinking worn-out running shoes. At last, the elevator grinds to a halt at street level.

Craven, Guy and Rob get out last, holding their breath until they can light up and get some fresh smoke into their lungs to replace the fetid elevator air.


CRAVEN (GASPING): I love advertising.

GUY (LIGHTING UP): So do I. (COUGHS) And everyone in it.

ROB: Me too. We might have our arguments, but at least we don't have to wear those leotard things or whatever they are called.

CRAVEN: Lanyards.


4.1.18

"It's hard to believe the Stones have been around for ten whole years." - beach reading for the jaded mind.

I lay on the sand in the dappled shade of a ti-tree and picked up the book and started reading it. I finished it two hours later. Not bad for 214 pages, plus appendix, plus index.

When I read history I like to read it incomplete; as in the history, not the book. Rock Revolution stops dead in 1976 because that is when it was published. It is all the more interesting for that, as you get a mid-seventies view of what rock music was - but, more importantly, what it was becoming. The headline above is a quote from Chapter 5, 'The Rolling Stones: Ecstasy and Evil'.

The book is a collection of essays from Creem magazine which proclaims it 'is not intended to be a rock'n'roll textbook', alluding to some of the obtuse music writing that was around even then. Lester Bangs contributes several articles, concluding in the above-quoted chapter
'that the Stones' tour in the summer of '75 ... boded well for the future of the Stones and (implicitly) for the future of rock'n roll itself. Because as that band goes, so goes the music as an entity and all the rest of us.'
Bangs would never know the Stones would defy the flame-out trajectory of so many others. Contributor Dave Marsh, however, is still around. In one of several chapters in Rock Revolution he proclaims Aretha Franklin 'the best pop singer pop music has ever produced'. Can't argue with that forty years later.

Rock Revolution includes some entertaining typos and errors, including:
'(Pink Floyd's) best-selling album "The Dark Side of the Moon" even included a very bluesy song with (for the Floyd) a startlingly traditional structure called "Monday" which became their first hit single in the USA'.
Then it refers to David Bowie's 1973 album release as 'Pinpus'.

Finally: on the cusp of a dreadful mid-seventies music trend, Dave Marsh was wary:
'... soul ... is the heart of rock, and like rock'n roll, it is an enormous phenomenon, the best popular music the world has ever known. Or it has been. Many have qualms about the latest soul trend: disco. ... records oriented for disco are not easy to listen to. They are made for the feet and not the ears. ... disco remains a question mark - is it worthwhile as music, or merely as an adjunct to the latest dance craze? Time tells.'
Time told. Then it got worse. The eighties arrived.

*
Rock Revolution: From Elvis to Elton. The Story of Rock And Roll.
Popular Library, 1976

2.1.18

The New Advertising Breakthrough. Part Five: Craven reads the script.

Account Director Craven is the first to arrive in the office after the Christmas break. He unlocks his office and steps towards his ship-sized desk before noticing a folded piece of paper that has been pushed under the door. He stoops to pick it up. A scribbled note on the outside reads: I think you'll find we haven't let you down. R. & G.

Craven takes the paper to his desk, unfolds it and starts to read. It is a script for the proposed television commercial featuring two clients. Changing his mind, Craven stands up and crosses to his luxurious sofa, sits back and puts his feet up. He is still the only person in the quiet agency. Far down below can be heard the faraway drone of the traffic.

THE SCRIPT

WE OPEN ON A BEAUTIFULLY MANICURED LAWN IN FRONT OF A MASSIVE NEO-COLONIAL MANSION THAT PROBABLY HAS ONLY ABOUT EIGHTY ROOMS. THE LAWN STRETCHES AWAY TO INFINITY WHERE IT IS EDGED WITH MASSIVE EXOTIC GARDEN BEDS. THIS SPECIAL PARADISE IS COSSETTED FROM THE OUTSIDE WORLD BY A TEN-FOOT WALL THAT SURROUNDS THE ENTIRE PROPERTY BROKEN ONLY BY A MASSIVE SENTRIED GATE AT THE END OF A LONG GRAVELLED DRIVE.

A GENTLE PAN REVEALS AN IMMACULATELY DRESSED COUPLE SITTING AT A STUNNING IRON AND GLASS OUTDOOR TABLE-AND-CHAIR ARRANGEMENT IN FRONT OF A VAST SWIMMING POOL OF BLUE WATER THAT TWINKLES HAPPILY IN THE SUNSHINE. THE COUPLE - GENERAL AND MRS FROGATT - ARE IN THEIR LATE SIXTIES. GENERAL FROGATT IS TOYING WITH A DRINK. HE PUTS THE DRINK DOWN AND SPEAKS TO CAMERA.

GENERAL FROGATT: I made my money the old fashioned way. But Buffalo Finance trebled it, and all I have to do in life now (HE GESTURES TO THE GARDEN BEDS) is kill the snails. Everything else is taken care of.

WE SEE THAT THERE IS A PACK OF SNAIL-GO ON THE TABLE. CLOSE-UP ON SOME SAMPLE PELLETS IN A LITTLE DISH NEXT TO THE PACK.

AS HE IS SPEAKING, A UNIFORMED SERVANT HAS APPEARED LIKE AN APPARITION AND PLACES A TRAY BEFORE THE COUPLE. HE POURS TEA INTO TWO DELICATE CHINA CUPS, PLACES THEM BEFORE GENERAL AND MRS FROGATT ALONG WITH A CHINA SUGAR BOWL AND A SMALL JUG. HE THEN DISAPPEARS AS SILENTLY AS HE HAD APPEARED.

GENERAL FROGATT (ASIDE): Thank you, Ramos.

TO CAMERA: Since my wife contracted Alzheimer's Disease, my Buffalo Retirement plan has continued to fund her medical expenses without compromising my lifestyle.

MRS FROGATT INTERRUPTS, CROAKING WITH DIFFICULTY: One lump or two, dear?

GENERAL FROGATT (AS IF REPROVING HER FORGETFULNESS): Two, dear. We have been married forty-five years, you know.

INSTEAD OF LUMPS OF SUGAR, MRS FROGATT TAKES TWO SNAIL-GO PELLETS BY MISTAKE, PLACES THEM IN HIS CUP, STIRS THE TEA AND PASSES IT TO HIM. HE TAKES A SIP AND FALLS DOWN DEAD.

WIPE TO A TEN-MILLION-DOLLAR PENTHOUSE IN THE CITY, CRAMMED WITH SWANKY FURNITURE, RICH FABRICS, EXPENSIVE PAINTINGS AND GILT MIRRORS. WAY DOWN BELOW, CITY LIGHTS TWINKLE.

A MAN AND A WOMAN IN THEIR LATE THIRTIES, CHARLES AND CARMEN, ARE RELAXING ON A VAST, RICHLY UPHOLSTERED SOFA. ON A TABLE BEHIND THEM IS A FAMILY PORTRAIT OF GENERAL AND MRS FROGATT - CHARLES' MOTHER AND FATHER - TAKEN IN HAPPIER TIMES.

CHARLES SPEAKS WONDERINGLY, WITH THE RELIEVED SMILE OF SOMEONE WHO HAS WON THE LOTTERY, LOST THEIR TICKET AND THEN FOUND IT AGAIN: Daddy could have hung on for years, you know.

CARMEN PASSES A HAND IN FRONT OF HER FACE MOCK-DRAMATICALLY: Oh God, what a dreadful thought! But now, we'll never have to work again. Thank God for Snail-Go.

CHARLES: And thank God for dementia! Now Mummy's happily drooling away in a nursing home without power of attorney, so Daddy's cash is all ours, and growing at Buffalo's average 4.9% p.a. over the last ten years!

CARMEN (WHO NOW HAS A GREEN TINGE OF SOMETHING IN HER EYES THAT COULD BE ECSTASY BUT COULD BE SOMETHING ELSE. SHE TURNS TO CHARLES): Oh darling, take me in your arms!

WHAT CHARLES DOESN'T SEE IS THAT, AS HER ARMS CLOSE AROUND HIM, SHE REACHES TO THE SOFA TABLE AT THE REAR AND GRASPS SOMETHING FROM BEHIND THE PORTRAIT.

THE SOMETHING FROM BEHIND THE PORTRAIT GLINTS AND IS VERY LONG AND VERY SHARP. SHE TIGHTENS HER CLOSED ARMS AROUND CHARLES' NECK AND FALLS ON HIM, HEAVILY. HIS NECK IS IMPALED ON THE ICE PICK.

FADE TO BLACK.

VOICEOVER: Just like this commercial, life's unpredictable. So be prepared.

FADE UP FIRST GRAPHIC, WHITE LETTERS ON A BLACK BACKGROUND:
Buffalo Finance. Get rich.

FIRST GRAPHIC WIPES TO SECOND GRAPHIC:
Snail-Go. Just a few pellets and they're gone.

*

Craven is staring, apparently at nothing. The script is still in his hand. He has failed to notice his door has opened and someone has entered his office. The he notices, and the script falls out of his grasp and flutters to the floor.

20.12.17

Crackers.

One year, a long time ago now, probably around 2012 or '13, I went to a Christmas Day lunch that was something out of a decor magazine, or maybe a foodie magazine.

It was a perfect day and long outdoor tables stretched out beneath the dappled shade of some gently swaying trees, and were covered in expensive Christmas-themed paper, with tapered candles, quality cutlery and delicate long-stemmed glassware. It was midday. Fairy lights twinkled from the trees like electric snow. Soft Christmas music drifted across the scene from some obscured speaker. Drinks came first, just to get the appetite going, and were served by a natural pool. ('By' meaning next to.) Occasional tables were scattered about the setting and bore platters of savouries that kept you from starving before the turkey came out.

There was only one small problem. Clouds were threatening. If it were to start raining, the entire scene, as big as a movie set, would have to be moved inside. The hosts kept coming in and out of the house and looking alternately at the clouds or the radar on their devices, as if one or the other were going to give a definitive answer on whether it would rain or not. This prevented them from progressing the actual lunch.

Time went by. Two o'clock came. The ceramic bowls on the occasional tables that had contained dips, including one of a deliciously tangy and garlicky skordalia*, had been wiped clean with artisanal crostini, no doubt baked by some 98-year-old grandmother in a rustic oven somewhere in Italy. The guests had also amused themselves by pulling gold-wrapped David Jones crackers ($39.99 for six, and you need about a hundred: that's - what - about $680?) to reveal one upper-class paper hat and one simpering dad-joke per cracker. Some raindrops fell.

The hosts came out again, pointed at the sky, and murmured, "The radar says it is not raining, but they are raindrops, aren't they?"

This time the guests, having eaten all the savouries, joined the discussion and stared at the sky and at the radar on their own devices, wondering why there should be raindrops when the radar said there shouldn't; and whether everyone should go inside - or not - and a kind of decision paralysis fell over the gathered crowd, except for the children, who were playing cricket.

The hosts were on the point of moving the whole shit-fight inside anyway when the raindrops suddenly stopped, so they went back in the house and re-commenced making the gravy or stirring some pot or other.

Lunch was served at four o'clock. Everyone was starving. A fine drizzle started falling about twenty minutes into the meal. It was too late to move. Dye started leaching from the upper-class paper hats onto foreheads. Very pale dye - no vulgar lurid colours at $39.99 a pack.

*SKORDALIA

If you don't like the flavour of potato, change it! This garlic-flavoured, smooth-textured substance works a treat as a dip with genuine Italian crostini if you are attending an upper-class Christmas party, or you can drag a few Saladas through it or just eat it by the spoonful if you're at a barbecue in Werribee. (Just watch out for home invaders in the latter case.)

Whip several boiled potatoes until smooth with up to eight pureed garlic cloves (or chop them finely), a few tablespoons each of olive oil and lemon juice and a dash of white vinegar. Add plenty of salt and cracked pepper. I always throw in some chopped parsley as it adds a bit of crunch and eye appeal. Proportions in this recipe are deliberately vague; in general terms the more garlic the better, and the texture has to be spoonable. Adjust fluids accordingly.

18.12.17

The New Advertising Breakthrough. Scene Four: The Second Client.

Craven has tried to convince the creative team that two clients in one ad is a good idea. He has asked them to adapt their Buffalo Finance concept to accommodate a second client, and the creative team are nervously waiting to find out which client they have to work into their concept.

GUY: Who's the second client, Craven? Or haven't you lined one up yet?

CRAVEN: Yes, I have spoken to another major advertiser who is happy to share a spot with Buffalo Finance.

ROB: Let me guess: Fenestre Investments? Financing your next investment with Buffalo would work.

CRAVEN: No, it's not them.

GUY: The new Sniper launch? Cars and finance are always a good mix.

CRAVEN: No.

GUY: What about Orange Residential Development Corp?

CRAVEN: No.

ROB: Is it Upton Furnishings?

CRAVEN: No.

GUY: Well who the fuck is it then?

CRAVEN PAUSES FOR DRAMATIC EFFECT, THEN ANSWERS DEADPAN:

Snail-Go.

GUY & ROB TOGETHER: Whaaat????

CRAVEN (STILL DEADPAN): Snail-Go. Plus I've screwed extra money out of both of them so you can write a 60 instead of a 30.

ROB: You are insane, Craven.

CRAVEN: Stop telling me I'm insane, Rob. You've told me about five times this morning. Apart from working in advertising, I am quite normal. And what's wrong with Snail-Go? Buffalo Finance and Snail-Go snail bait is a perfect fit.

SLIGHT PAUSE IN WHICH GUY AND ROB STARE BLANKLY AT CRAVEN.

Well, it will be when you write a script that ties them together! I can see it now – the contrast of subject matter, the differentiated nuance in the storyline, the twist in the tail, the something unexpected.

ANOTHER PAUSE

The very fact that there are two very different industry groupings in one sixty second commercial means you have unlimited scope for scripting excitement and situational drama. In fact, it's better than having two clients from a similar industry sector.

THE TEAM CAN NO LONGER ARGUE WITH CRAVEN'S WEIRD BUT STRANGELY COMPELLING LOGIC, SO THEY RESORT YET AGAIN TO PERSONAL ABUSE.

ROB: You are a raving lunatic, Craven, do you know that?

CRAVEN: There's no need for personal insults, Rob. Although, being in account service, I'm completely impervious to it.

GUY: No, what you're impervious to is common sense, Craven. You cannot put snail-bait and superannuation plans in the same commercial. You just can't.

CRAVEN: I thought you creative people were innovative.

GUY: No, Craven, we're not innovative. 'Innovative' is a stupid word bureaucrats and boring business people use when they put two colours, five typefaces and a pie chart in the same power point frame.

HE PAUSES TO CATCH HIS BREATH BEFORE DELIVERING A WITHERING SPRAY TO CRAVEN

'Creative' is a completely different concept. Creativity is a mindset. It's knowing how to awaken people's interest. How to engage them. How to entertain. How to hold someone's attention when the subject matter would not normally do so of itself. Creativity is taking people away to some place they thought they would never visit. Making them wonder and yearn and luxuriate and ponder and imagine. Making people smile when they wouldn't normally smile. Making them cry when they wouldn't normally cry.

CRAVEN (YAWNS): You're making me yawn when I wouldn't normally yawn, Rob, so maybe you're right. You're creative. Big fucking deal. Now go and write a script for Buffalo Finance and Snail-Go.

CRAVEN PICKS UP HIS MANILA FOLDER AND STANDS UP

If you guys can't hold someone's attention with personal finance and snail bait in one spot you shouldn't be in advertising.

GUY AND ROB RISE THREATENINGLY. THEY WANT TO KILL HIM. CRAVEN IGNORES THEM AND LOOKS AT HIS WATCH.

CRAVEN: Shit, is that the time? I thought I was getting hungry. Want some lunch? Let's go over the road to Angelo's. I feel like a Caesar salad.

GUY AND ROB STARE AT HIM AND THEN LOOK AT EACH OTHER. SUDDENLY A HUGE MORAL BATTLE IS RAGING IN THEIR MINDS: PRINCIPLES? OR LUNCH? THE BATTLE RAGES FOR ABOUT HALF A SECOND.

ROB AND GUY TOGETHER: Lunch! Great! Let's go!

TO BE CONTINUED

15.12.17

Cannelloni stuffed with two cheeses and spinach.

Cannelloni from scratch? Couldn't be easier, as long as you have a piping bag.

Fry half an onion until translucent. Boil and drain 50g frozen spinach.

Add 500g fresh ricotta, 70g of parmesan cheese, the drained spinach and a tablespoon of butter to the cooked onion. Stir to combine over low heat for about a minute.

Make besciamella: melt 60g butter in a pot, add 60g flour, a dash of nutmeg and 500ml heated milk (don't boil) and mix to blend until flour is absorbed.

Make tomato sauce: fry half an onion, add a jar of passata and a third volume again of water, add some finely chopped fresh basil and parsley, a shake of salt and a teaspoon of sugar. Simmer to reduce slightly.

Pipe cheese mixture into instant cannelloni tubes. You cannot force it in with a spoon, by suction, by gravity or any other way. I found out the hard way and then I went out and bought a pack of disposable piping bags for a couple of dollars at Mediterranean Wholesalers*.

Line a baking dish with a smear of besciamella, add the cannelloni tubes, pour over the rest of the besciamella, then pour over tomato sauce. Bake 30-40 minutes in a moderate oven.

*The store's motto 'why pay boutique prices south of the Yarra' is one of the truest advertising lines in existence. It is a no-nonsense place with a huge stock selection, a customer count that includes more Italian grandmothers than Brunswick hipsters, and a cafe serving inexpensive pastries and other treats.

13.12.17

The New Advertising Breakthrough. Scene Three: Buffalo Finance agrees to take part.

Craven is trying to convince the creative team that his radical plan to change the face of advertising will work. He even has some clients in mind who, he says, are prepared to share a spot in order to reduce the cost of television advertising.

GUY: Instead of jamming two clients in one thirty second spot, you could just run a fifteen second spot for each client, Craven. Have you thought of that?

CRAVEN: Well you could, of course, Guy; but then you also have the possibility of placing two clients in each fifteen-second spot as well. Bear in mind the production cost savings. Two clients, one production. Plus, we can charge each client more than half the production cost so we make extra there as well. Moreover, we feel that the longer on-screen exposure will more than compensate for the fact that two clients are sharing the time.

ROB: It's still nuts, Craven.

PAUSE

And you're a crook if you're using it to expand the margins.

CRAVEN: Crap, Rob. It's called making money. Whatever it takes. Why don't you take the blinkers off? Open your eyes to the possibilities.

As I mentioned, Buffalo Finance are already happy to do it. Their commercial will be the first Shared Airtime commercial off the rank. They have agreed to split the cost of both production and airtime with another company. As an edgy client, they want to dissociate themselves from normal, traditional, boring financial services advertising, and they feel that this new initiative will help them break the mould.

GUY (OFFENDED): The script we've already written for them isn't boring or traditional, Craven. Now you want to go and fuck it up by sticking another client in it. It'll be like having Jackie Chan doing kung fu in the middle of The Sound of Music. Or a bunch of orcs chasing six hobbits along a mountain pass in The Italian Job followed by Gandalf driving a Ferrari.

CRAVEN (LAUGHS UPROARIOUSLY): HA! EXACTLY! You've nailed it, Guy! That is exactly what it will be like! And people will love it! They'll sit up and take notice! They'll look for the difference! And compared to that, normal single-client commercials will all look totally boring! Like your instant soup spot – who's going to sit through that shit when you already know it's about soup and nothing else?

ROB: It's not our fault that spot was boring, Craven, as you very well know. And it wasn't boring because it only had one client in it - it was boring because Harrison Soups is the single most boring client in the world. You know we wanted to film the soup spot on Everest using that guy who lost his legs to frostbite but still scaled it on prosthetic legs. We wanted to show him drinking soup on top of the mountain and warming himself up. You know that, Craven. But nooooooo – the client rejected the idea and wanted to shoot it in someone's kitchen like every other soup commercial. They wrote that commercial, Craven, we didn't.

CRAVEN (UNFLAPPABLE): There was a certain budgetary issue involved, Guy. Helicopters and Sherpas don't come cheap, let alone airfares to Nepal. Anyway, getting back to Buffalo Finance ...

GUY: What do we do with the script we've already written for them?

CRAVEN: The Mick Jagger testimonial one? You have complete freedom to adapt it or come up with an entirely new concept.

ROB: Have you another client in mind, Craven? And has it a similar positioning in the marketplace, a shared target market, a synergy of styles? Is it going to be compatible in one commercial with the staid, sober Buffalo Finance, Craven?

CRAVEN: Yes, I do have another client in mind, Rob. And of course there will be synergies. You'll invent them! After all, you're the creative geniuses!


TO BE CONTINUED.

11.12.17

The Man Who Invented the Sentimental Novel.

On an unseasonally hot day in October 1965, I was taken to see a movie at the Paris Cinema in Bourke Street, Melbourne. In the film, The Sound of Music, Christopher Plummer played Captain von Trapp, and was later scathing about the movie.

Last week I saw Plummer play Ebenezer Scrooge in The Man Who Invented Christmas, this time at Village Airport West, which was a field of thistle with Vickers Viscounts flying over it in 1965. Right now is the time of year when Christmas-themed movies hit the cinemas, but The Man Who Invented Christmas is not really about Christmas. It is about Charles Dickens' struggle to write a book following two 'failures' after several hits. It should have been titled Famous Novelist Suffers Writer's Block for 104 Gripping Minutes, but that would not have helped box office sales.

Dickens is struggling to pay the bills, his agent is getting nervous, he is continually interrupted by family members, and his destitute father comes to stay. Then he sacks the most pleasant person in the movie, the Irish maid. Stupid Charles Dickens. His characters come alive and sit around in his studio insulting him while he is trying to write about them. There are flashbacks to his childhood when he was abandoned by his father and consigned to the workhouse.

Dickens finally succeeds writing a quickie in six weeks (what writer's block?) and A Christmas Carol never goes out of print (nor do the two 'failures').

No writer should miss The Man Who Invented Christmas.

6.12.17

The New Advertising Breakthrough. Scene Two: Craven's TV audience rant.

Craven, the account man at advertising agency Blake Browning Burns, has been working in secret with the strategy planners to develop a new concept in advertising - two clients sharing one television commercial.

He is briefing the creative team in the small meeting room known as 'The Cupboard'. The creative team are not impressed and, after June the tea lady interrupts, the argument resumes. Language warning.


GUY: That is fucking INSANE, Craven.

ROB: Totally nuts. It can't work.

GUY: That's the stupidest idea I've heard since ... your last stupid idea.

ROB: For example, the clients would fight over owning the end frame.

GUY: Yeah. And whose typeface would you use?

ROB: And what about logos?

CRAVEN: Pfffffft! Minor details, guys. We have huge fights about all that shit now. An extra client in the ad isn't going to make a huge difference.

GUY: Apart from that, where are you going to find two clients who want to go into one commercial?

CRAVEN (EXPECTING THIS SCEPTICISM FROM CREATIVE, AFTER ALL IT'S THEIR NATURE TO BE SCEPTICAL):

Easy. You just put the proposal to each client, ask if they'd like to be part of the biggest thing to hit advertising since broadcasting began, and they're already eating out of your hand.

GUY: Whose idea was this, Craven?

CRAVEN (A SLIGHTLY NERVOUS PAUSE): Ah, it was mine, Guy. Why?

ROB: This 'concept' could single-handedly destroy the advertising industry as we know it, Craven. You know that, don't you?

CRAVEN: That's crap. I'm not going to destroy it, Rob, I'm going to re-invent it. The advertising industry is a dinosaur at the moment. It's populated by creatives who look so cutting-edge it's not funny - primped up little fast boys dressed like edgy homies, wired to the gills with technology and spouting jargon like there's no tomorrow ... but what do they actually come up with?

PAUSES FOR DRAMATIC EFFECT

Thirty second commercials for half-dead brands running on free-to-air television that nobody watches, that's what.

ANOTHER PAUSE

You know what, guys? The mantra of the thirty or sixty second television commercial being top of the hierarchy is bullshit. It's not even yesterday's thinking. It's 1960s thinking. 1950s, even. Have you seen daytime TV lately? It used to be watched by housewives in the days when they stayed home and spent their time productively making their lives better by sitting around watching TV in between drinking sherry and screwing the milkman. Now the only women at home are single mothers who haven't got any money, and if they have it's stolen, and then they just spend it all at the casino or on drugs. Goodbye, daytime packaged goods advertising. Yet you guys still come up with cheesy shit portraying cosy households sitting around drinking instant packet soup because no-one's got any time to cook any more. The mother's a lawyer and the father's an idiot and the kids are in childcare. And media still runs it on daytime TV.

ANOTHER PAUSE

That's like Ford continuing to make the Model T.

CRAVEN GATHERS HIS BREATH

It's the same at night: everyone's either online or not home. And if they're home they haven't got the TV on. Or if they have got the TV on, they're drunk. Or if they're not drunk, they're channel surfing during the ads. And if they're not channel surfing during the ads, that means they can't move. And if they can't move, that means they're ninety-five year old patients with dementia in a nursing home ... and that dribble running down their chin onto their laps isn't because they're salivating at your instant soup commercial, it's because they can't help it.

See? The industry as we know it with cutesy little commercials on prime time TV is stuffed, Guy. Totally stuffed. There's no audience any more. So we have to think outside the square.

ANOTHER LONG PAUSE

GUY: Thinking outside the square is one thing, Craven, but you're thinking outside the entire Venn Diagram. You're in another dimension. You're on another planet and it's not even in our solar system. Probably not even in our galaxy.

TO BE CONTINUED