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

7.8.18

The Glass Building, Part Three.

Having spent what feels like most of the day - in fact, it has quite literally been most of the day – trying to get to a meeting, Kate, Hamish and Vijay walk into a meeting room on the eighty-eighth floor accompanied by client Charles, who handles a six million dollar account for multinational pharmaceutical company Alchemy.

Six people – Blake Browning Burns media buyers – who are sitting around the table, stand up as they enter. A screen hangs down ominously at one end of the table. (The BBB media department operates out of a separate office to BBB creatives.)

CHARLES (TO KATE): I thought we'd double up on the presentation by bringing your media experts in to present their recommendations. I know you won't mind.

KATE (SMILES A LITTLE TOO EARNESTLY): That's fine, Charles. I'd like to present creative as you know but why don't we get media out of the way first – and then they can leave.

VIJAY (TO HAMISH): Not subtle, is she? There goes another hour. Why does it take six media people to present a chart with a bunch of ticks on it?

HAMISH (TO VIJAY): I don't know. Bunch of idiots wearing Ben Sherman suits, square glasses and carrying shoulder bags. And that's just the blokes. Or is it the women? I can't remember.

HANDSHAKES ALL ROUND, THEN THAT POINTLESS EXCHANGE OF BUSINESS CARDS ALL OF WHICH WILL END UP IN THE BIN WITH THE TAKE-AWAY COFFEE CUPS

CHARLES (HOLDS UP A HAND): Thanks, everyone. We'll get the meeting started when John Silvester arrives. He's Alchemy's worldwide head of new product initiatives and he's visiting Australia this week from the UK. He'll be here shortly.

HAMISH (TO VIJAY): We could be here all day.

TWENTY MINUTES OF SMALL TALK LATER, A VERY SHORT MAN ENTERS THE ROOM. IT IS JOHN SILVESTER. HIS OVERALL SHORTNESS IS ACCENTUATED BY THE FACT THAT HIS LEGS ARE PROPORTIONATELY SHORTER THAN HIS TRUNK, SO WHEN HE COMES INTO THE ROOM HE LOOKS LIKE A SUITCOAT ON A SKATEBOARD.

JOHN SILVESTER: Hi, everyone. I'm John Silvester, worldwide head of new product initiatives and I'm visiting ...

CHARLES (SMILING, AND POSSIBLY A LITTLE TOO ABRUPT) Yes, I've already introduced you, John.

JOHN (PUZZLED AS TO HOW YOU CAN INTRODUCE SOMEONE BEFORE THEY HAVE ENTERED THE ROOM): You did? Thanks.

JOHN SILVESTER CLIMBS UP ONTO A CHAIR

JOHN SILVESTER: OK, let's get started. Let's see the creative.

CHARLES: Ah, John ... the media department have come along today as well, so I thought we might run through their strategy first.

THE MEDIA PEOPLE SWITCH ON THEIR POWERPOINT AND START GIVING A VACUOUS PRESENTATION ABOUT TARGET MARKETS, INTERRUPTING EACH OTHER FREQUENTLY. AFTER ABOUT HALF AN HOUR OF THIS, ONE OF THEM STARTS SUMMING UP.

NIGEL: We think your market is ready for the product and we see a great potential success amongst Rich Over-Achieving Doubles (ROADs), Suburban Hipsters In Trucks (SHITs), Singles With Squillionaire Incomes and No Kids (SWINKs), Family-Oriented High Earning Working Parent-Syndrome Pre-Nesters With a Predilection for Buying Expensive But Useless Items to Flaunt Their Lifestyle (FOHEWPSPNWPBEBUIFTLs), and Gender Neutral Bureaucrat Couples With Six Figure Incomes and No Kids (GNBCWSFINKs).

NIGEL PAUSES FOR EFFECT, WITH A STUPID SMILE ON HIS FACE, THEN CONTINUES.

NIGEL: We've undertaken painstaking research into the intricacies of their lifestyles; how they fit into the overall demographic of the population breakdown vis-à-vis the disposable income matrix (DIM) as it impacts on whole-market activity (WMA); and analysed each segment's values, aspirations and intentions – their VAIs. Furthermore ...

JOHN SILVESTER (INTERRUPTING): So what does all that shit mean? And, to get to the point, since you're the media buyers, where are we running the ads?

CHARLES (GLANCES AT JOHN SILVESTER): John, the guys have done extremely well, don't you think? All that market segmentation must take a lot of very painstaking research.

NIGEL STANDS THERE, STILL GRINNING, LIKE A COCKER SPANIEL WAITING FOR A TREAT.

VIJAY (TO HAMISH): This could get interesting.

HAMISH: It already is. Nigel is a complete button.

VIJAY: A what?

HAMISH: Button. Knob. Idiot.

THERE IS A SUDDEN AWKWARD PAUSE AS JOHN SILVESTER LOOKS AROUND THE ROOM WITH A BELLIGERENCE OF EXPRESSION THAT ONLY SHORT, POWERFUL MEN CAN ACHIEVE. BEFORE HE SPEAKS YOU COULD HEAR A PIN DROP.

JOHN SILVESTER: There's one thing I've learned in forty-five years in business, Charles.

It's a famous line - possibly an infamous one - and everyone thinks a politician said it first. But the little known fact is, the politician stole it from a very famous, very crusty old businessman.

It goes something like this: You can fool some of the people some of the time, you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool most of the people all of the time. Or some shit like that ...

VIJAY (UNABLE TO SUPPRESS A LAUGH): Hah!

THE YOUNGER MINDS IN THE ROOM HAVE NO IDEA WHAT JOHN SILVESTER IS TALKING ABOUT. THE MEDIA PEOPLE ARE STONY-FACED. JOHN SILVESTER PLOUGHS ON

... the actual words don't matter. You know what they meant. It's like that 'sucker born every minute' line from last century, or 'known unknowns' from last decade. Mix them up and they're largely all the same. They're aphorisms dressed up as insight. Catchphrases dressed up as perceptions. Slogans dressed up as revelations.

ANOTHER PAUSE

They're all shit, of course. But the fact is, most of them contain at least a tiny grain of truth. Somewhere.

HE TAKES A DRINK OF WATER FROM THE GLASS AT HIS ELBOW

And the grain of truth in the first line I quoted is that, en masse, people have been forever blinded by fake science, fooled by magic tricks.

HE LOOKS DIRECTLY AT NIGEL

... but not forever!

And if all that acronym shit meant anything at all, someone would have bottled it and sold it. But they never did.

So you people have to keep inventing new ones every couple of years, just to keep on fooling clients into parting with ever more millions.

ANOTHER PAUSE AS JOHN LOOKS AROUND AT THE HAGGARD FACES BEFORE HIM

I briefed you to book some media to publicise a new product. What you did instead is spend my money to come up with $50,000 worth of hocus pocus not worthy of a kindergarten clown juggling skittles in front of a bunch of four-year-olds.

HE TURNS TO CHARLES

Charles, you should know better than to call your media department's work 'painstaking research'.

On the contrary, it is content in search of a context ... garbage in search of a bin ... brainpower in search of a purpose.

In other words, a gigantic waste of money.

My money.

JOHN SILVESTER PAUSES AND STANDS UP

I am calling this meeting to an end as I have a flight to catch.

But one announcement before I go.

As of now, Blake Browning Burns is sacked.

HE WALKS OUT OF THE ROOM. THE DOOR SLAMS BEHIND HIM

KATE (FACE WHITE AS SNOW): It was those last two acronyms, Nigel. They would never catch on.

THE DOOR CRASHES OPEN AGAIN. IT IS JUNE PUSHING THE TEA TROLLEY

JUNE: All out. I have to clean up for the next meeting.

2.8.18

The Glass Building, Part Two.

Kate, Hamish and Vijay are visiting a major client at its CBD glass tower headquarters to present a new campaign. After being brusquely issued with ID like cows being branded, having an argument about nothing in particular and sitting around in an uncomfortable waiting area, they had to hurriedly reschedule the meeting because Vijay the writer had forgotten the scripts - even though, technically, it was Kate the account manager's responsibility.

Four hours later, Kate, Hamish and Vijay endure the reception charade again.

After about fifteen minutes a young blonde-haired man wearing a pinstripe suit and a red tie bustles across the acres of marble, gushing 'Hi! So glad you could make it!' which, given the rescheduling, sounds sarcastic, but you can never tell with clients.

It is Charles, vice-president of marketing, international consumables, supermarket lines, drygoods, major brands and house brands. Yes, that is his title. Despite the designation, Charles is just another corporate drone who puts together boring powerpoint presentations, hangs out in the kitchen over-snacking on biscuits and wastes much of the day on Facebook. What makes him important to the agency is that he also happens to control a six million dollar budget.


KATE: Great to see you, Charles! Sorry we had to reschedule. The writer forgot the scripts.

CHARLES: Yes, they often do that. All that creativity and then they forget the most basic things. Come on up!

They walk to a bank of twenty elevators, ten along each side. One arrives – the one at the far end - and opens with a ding. They head towards it, but it shuts and departs. Another ding, another walk, another door shuts in their face. After about five minutes of this nonsense they capture a lift. The ride to the eighty-ninth floor is interrupted about thirty times by office workers with armfuls of files getting in at one level and out at the next.

CHARLES: I don't know why they don't just organise people to work on their own level.

KATE: They could use the stairs.

CHARLES: Are you kidding? Then they'd be too exhausted to go to the gym after work.

KATE: Says it all about modern life, really. Ignore the stairs at work and then go and pay hundreds of dollars to get onto a stair machine in some gym and stare at a wall for an hour while you sweat.

The four finally arrive at the eighty-ninth floor, trooping out of the elevator and along a corridor to double glass doors activated by an intercom. Charles picks up the phone, hits 9, and delivers the secret security phrase which is 'Can you open the door please?' The door emits a click, and they go through, eventually arriving at another door titled 'The Darling Downs Room'. Another sign on the door reads: 'Please observe all safety precautions and seating protocols when holding meetings in this room. Please remove all takeaway coffee cups from this room after meetings. Please unplug and remove all computers and projection equipment after meetings. Maximum room capacity 20 persons. Additional chairs available from services: call 1321. For fire warden call 1432. Telephone and internet available in this room: call I.T. services on 4352.'

Beneath that, another sign reads: 'Room booked'.


CHARLES: Damn. The room's already booked. We'll have to go to another meeting room. There's one on eighty-eight.

KATE (PASTED-ON ACCOUNT SERVICE SMILE NO LONGER REACHES HER BLUE EYES): That's OK. I love walking around large buildings all afternoon.

VIJAY (QUIETLY, TO HAMISH): I love advertising. I love clients. I love meetings. I love it when account service people get angry.

HAMISH: Shut the fuck up, Vijay.

THEY GO BACK TO THE ELEVATORS.

31.7.18

The Glass Building, Part One.

Three executives from advertising agency Blake Browning Burns are calling on their client, a major corporate giant in the food manufacturing industry at its headquarters, a modern glass building about a mile high in the CBD.

They are Kate, account manager; Hamish, art director and Vijay, copywriter. They get out of their cab in front of the building, walk fifty steps up to the building's forbidding facade, and enter through sliding glass doors big enough to let in a jumbo jet. They trek across a solid marble floor towards a reception desk the size of a battle ship, Kate's high heels clicking in a disturbingly echoey manner.


KATE: We're here to see Charles. (TO HAMISH AND VIJAY) I'll sign in for you two. Take a tag.

VOICE BEHIND THE DESK (YOU CAN ONLY SEE THE VERY TOP OF A HEAD. IT IS BLONDE): Sign in before you proceed, thank you.

KATE SIGNS THEM IN.

HAMISH: Thanks, Kate. Vijay, have you ever wondered why the reception desks in these buildings are always taller than the people who sit behind them?

VIJAY: No. Maybe it's for security.

HAMISH: Security? But they can't see us either, stupid.

VIJAY: They don't need to see us, Hamish. That's what the security cameras are for. It's also why the security guys all stand around out the front smoking. And don't call me stupid. You're the art director.

HAMISH: You're stupid because you're a know-all, Vijay. You don't get it when someone makes a throwaway comment. You take it too seriously and then explain everything as if everyone else is an imbecile.

KATE: Oh, for Christ's sake, would you guys kill the small talk? Here, put these on.

They attach their ID tags and wait to be told to go and sit on the post-modern steel blocks posing as waiting chairs in a far corner.

RECEPTIONIST, WHO IS PROBABLY POINTING: Take a seat, thank you. Over there.

THEY CLICK ACROSS THE FLOOR TO THE CHAIRS.

HAMISH: See? She just said 'over there', which probably means she's pointing; but how would we know in which direction? We can't even see her. It's lucky we've been here before, or we'd probably walk outside again and sit in the gutter.

VIJAY: You could just open your eyes and have a look, Hamish. Speaking of gutters, how was your weekend?

HAMISH: I spend my weekends in very high class establishments, I'll have you know, Vijay. I can't help it if gamblers and dancers choose to go there as well.

VIJAY: If that's high class, I'm the sultan of Brunei.

HAMISH: I thought you were anyway.

KATE: Would you guys give up? You're like a standup routine without the comedy. Let's sit here and go through the boards. Did you bring the scripts, Vijay?

VIJAY (AFTER A PAUSE): No. Kate, weren't you running off copies? I emailed them to you.

ANOTHER PAUSE

KATE: You're the writer.

HAMISH: Technically, Kate, account service is responsible for arranging scripts, storyboards and any other presentation materials.

KATE: OK. I'll postpone. I'll see if they can do it after lunch.

THEY BEGIN THE LONG WALK BACK TO THE RECEPTION DESK

18.7.18

Cheesy, creamy potato in four steps.

1. Peel half a dozen potatoes and cut them into thick rounds, like half-size ice hockey pucks.

2. Boil the potatoes until they soften slightly but won't yet break up.

3. Drain and place them in a heavy baking dish, and pour 500ml of thickened cream over the top. Now add three cups of grated cheese. I used a pack of that pre-grated tri-cheese which is mozzarella, parmesan and something else. (Why can I never think of the third name in trios/trilogies/triplets etc? Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and ... what?)

4. Season and bake in a hot oven twenty minutes to half an hour or until the cheesy, creamy aroma overwhelms you.

27.6.18

No sunsets yet for Ray and the band.

Sir Ray Davies, writer of "Waterloo Sunset" said The Kinks will record again.

A Scottish newspaper in 2001 said "Waterloo Sunset" was 'regarded by many as the apogee of the swinging sixties' - but the many are not defined.

A music writer described it as "the most beautiful song in the English language" - but there's a chance he liked a Peruvian or a Latvian song better.

Pete Townsend said it was 'divine ... a masterpiece'. Effusive praise from a contemporary.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine called it 'possibly the most beautiful song of the rock and roll era' - but what of other eras? For example, "After the Ball" was written in 1891 and is one of the most hauntingly beautiful and tragic songs of all time*.

Then along came Rhett Miller.

He declared "Waterloo Sunset" to be 'the greatest song ever written by a human being'.

The case rests.


*"After the Ball" written by Charles Harris tells the story of a child who asks her uncle why he never married. He tells her that when he was a young man, he saw his girl kissing another man at a ball. She tried to explain, but he wouldn't listen to her, and never married anyone else. Years went by. The woman died, and he received a letter from her brother explaining that he had been the man kissing her at the ball.

19.6.18

"Spice flavour exploding on a wave of fragrant steam ..."

How to stuff a capsicum.

Slice a couple of onions and fry them in ghee or oil in a heavy pan (it must have a tight-fitting lid) until translucent.

Grind a quarter teaspoon each of cardamom, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper. Or just shake them out of your spice containers. It's all the same, really. Some people can taste the difference, but would you really want them to go on about it at your dinner party after a hard day?

When onion is fragrant, transparent and begging you to sample it, add spices and stir for a minute or two.

Now tip in a cup each of basmati rice and rinsed red lentils, and carefully add three and a half cups of boiling water.

Finally, add two teaspoons of salt. Stir. Place the lid on the pan. Turn down heat very low.

Lift the pan twenty minutes later. Done. The spice flavour will explode on a wave of fragrant steam, and the rice will have ballooned.

In the intervening twenty minutes, cut the tops off three red capsicums, and remove seeds and pith.

When rice and lentil mixture is done, stuff the capsicums with it. (The above quantities will yield more than enough mixture.)

Replace the capsicum tops and place them in a baking dish, which should be of a size that roughly holds their tops in place.

Add a good dash of chilli powder to a jar of tomato puree and warm it through, adding a dash of water. Now pour this into the baking dish so that it almost covers the capsicums. Think of hippos in a pond. You can just see their backs.

Bake until capsicums soften, about an hour. Adjust fluid if your oven is particularly hot.

Serve with yogurt; a salad of tomato, mint, basil, and spring onion; some sweet lime pickle; and some warm fenugreek naan.

15.6.18

Tricked.

I was out walking with my father one day when I was about five years old, and I saw a shop that had a sign outside which said coin laundry. I asked my father if they washed money in there, and he said yes.

We lived near two racecourses, Moonee Valley and Flemington. There were always large trucks ferrying horses in and out. Some the trucks bore the words Caution Horses. I asked my father what caution horses were. He told me they were a special breed of horse that was never flustered and helped calm the more high-spirited racehorses before races.

Then there were churches. They all had their own sign. Anglican Church, Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church, Catholic Church, Baptist Church. One day I saw a sign near a church on a particularly busy road. It said Silence Church.

I asked my father. He told me the people who went to the church were never allowed to speak. Ever. I had a horror of that building, a drab grey timber construction in Epsom Road Ascot Vale housing sad mute people while outside, normal people carried on their lives laughing and talking.

13.6.18

Family grown up.

On 12 June 1968, the movie Rosemary's Baby premiered in the USA.

On the same day, Mary Rose's baby premiered in Australia. He was the youngest of seven. (I was fourth of the septet, of which six remain*.) In those days mothers and babies stayed in the hospital for almost a week, after which some had the luxury of a further week at Mountfield, a rambling Victorian monastery in Canterbury owned by the Grey Sisters, who provided assistance for new mothers in quiet, peaceful surrounds and plied them with food while their babies were bathed and dressed and generally fussed over. New mothers? My mother probably didn't tell them she already had six children. (Although the nuns did look twice at us when Dad turned up with the other six of us to visit.)

The new baby turned 50 yesterday. It seems like no time.

*The one who passed.

5.6.18

Conferenceville.

We were meant to be having a conference this coming long weekend, an organisational 'catch-up' at an 'eco-resort' near the mountains.

I've been there before. They bus you up to the mountains; and when you arrive, you dump your bags in the economy-style rooms which have no views out of the window because of the trees (the place is 'eco' because it is in the middle of a forest), and then they herd you into a huge conference room and lock and bolt the door. You can't escape until 6.30 at night, when they herd you out of the conference room and into the dining hall where they serve sustainable dinners made from fair-trade vegan ingredients.

'Catch-up'? What a stupid name. We 'catch up' every weekday. And sometimes on weekends. It's all we ever fucking do. I see the stupid art director I work with more than my wife or my kids. Which is not right. Because my art director is not as smart as my kids, and not as pretty as my wife.

And what the hell is it about holding conferences at an 'eco-resort', then spending two whole days sitting in a brown-carpeted hall looking at a bunch of power point presentations with pointless arrows and graphs showing how much money the organisation didn't make this year?

Why not just send around a memo saying, 'We're tanking. You're fired.' Or 'We made a profit. Thanks. There will be a Christmas party.' But spare us the two-hour power point presentations charting the profit/loss/job cost report/EBIT statements etc etc, ad nauseam.

Anyway, today an email arrived. It was from the MD:
Due to unforeseen circumstances, our conference at Seven Sanctimonies Eco Resort will have to be deferred.
You could just about hear the mental high-fives going on around the office.

That word 'deferred' is interesting. Generally, things that get deferred never get rescheduled, do they? There is a God! The God of Protecting Innocent People from Conference Hell.

The email went on:
Seven Sanctimonies Eco Resort is unavailable due to a fire earlier this week, when a wok caught fire in the kitchen, burning down the resort and destroying much of the adjoining forest. An alternative venue will be sought and booked for Grand Final weekend, as that weekend has good availability at short notice.
I'm handing in my resignation tomorrow.

4.6.18

Fast Food #4: chicken curry in a hurry.

The only slow bit is the overnight marination but you can leave it out at a pinch.

*

Slice four chicken breasts and place in a large bowl along with three tablespoons of peanut oil, a tablespoon each of cumin powder and chili powder, six finely chopped garlic cloves, a tablespoon of soy and a dash of white pepper. Toss to thoroughly coat chicken pieces.

Marinate overnight.

Wok-fry chicken in a tablespoon of oil.

Meanwhile, boil rice and lightly boil a head of broccoli, chopped into florets, and when semi-soft, finish off in a sesame-seed oiled pan with a dash each of fish sauce and soy, and a clove of chopped garlic.

Serve on rice with broccoli on the side.

29.5.18

Cold weather food.

It was a mild autumn. Everyone frowns, nods sagely and calls it global warming or climate change, but it used to be known as Indian summer, which was a lot more romantic, but you don't get to talk about starving polar bears and it is also probably racist. Conversation is a minefield these days. No wonder people give up.

Either way, it's cold now. Heavy, rich, dense food is back.

Let's hit the curry jar.

I picked up three capsicums from that fruit shop in Sydney Road that keeps changing its name, the one next to Chemist Warehouse. I took them home and wondered what to do with them. It was a cold day so I thought I'd bake them with something.

*

This was easy.

In a large pot, I fried a chopped onion in oil, then browned 500 grams of beef mince in the same pot. Then I threw in a tablespoon of hot curry powder and stirred it through, added a cup of water, a teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper. I let it simmer an hour or two and then removed it from the stove to cool down.

I chopped the tops off the three capsicums, stuffed them with the curried mince, put the tops back on, and placed them neatly in a casserole so that their lids would stay on.

Then I added a cup of rice around the capsicums and poured over two cups of boiling water.

Into the oven, and an hour later, the house was filled with enticing curry aromas and dinner was served.






24.5.18

Half forward flank.



Ha! And you thought only the boys played football. Wrong! Here is Alexandra displaying perfect ball drop (although the dropping arm has swung around a bit too far) and good follow-through.

Look out, boys.

18.5.18

Doubting Thomas. Or at least his suits.

The following opening sentence fell out of a writer's keyboard like an overweight sprinter out of the blocks, staggered through its middle em-dashed clause, and then crashed into a non-sequitured ditch, where it lay bleeding until its writer put it out of its misery, by writing the next sentence.
Tom Wolfe, who died Monday, was — as even those of us who did not share his politics and often deplored his taste and even doubted the fashion wisdom of all the white suits have to admit — one of the central makers of modern American prose.
Let's translate, taking out a couple of 'evens':

White suits, unsavoury politics and bad taste aside, he was pretty good at writing. As if the former even matter.