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

4.4.20

The Long Walk.

The following figures are quoted by Dr John Lee, recently retired professor of pathology and former NHS (UK) consultant pathologist, in last week's Spectator: since September 2019, there have been 38 million infections, 390,000 hospitalisations and 23,000 deaths in the US – from flu.

On the other side of the world, in a small riverside town which was once Australia's largest trading port and is now a sleepy arcadian village where old paddle boats still steam around the river bends, a grandmother, completely recovered from CV, went shopping and 'received vile abuse', according to a newspaper. She was photographed and her image placed online – wild west 'wanted dead or alive' style – and someone wrote the comment "I hope you die you bitch".

Meanwhile, a ban has been placed on solitary – or any other kind, but solitary is the key word here – fishing. Nor can you go camping, away in the high country, far from the madding crowd, far from shrieking, hysterical women and men. Hysterical is the only word for the state's premier who with a straight face said, "no fishing trip ... is worth someone's life." The sheer inanity, indeed insanity of that statement was ignored by the state opposition leader who could manage only a pathetic rejoinder that "more clarity was needed around the rules". The poor distressed timorous little man was obviously fearful that any stronger statement would expose him to the hysteria of the mob.

Earlier in the week the same premier banned people in relationships – i.e, wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends – from visiting their partners residing at another address. More madness from a mad man. He was backed by his police minister, the robot with the little-girl voice. It took a health bureaucrat to overturn the idiocy later in the day.

The last day of good weather was Wednesday. OK, I'll go for a walk. A Raymond Chandler walk:
I walked. I walked. I walked. ... They built the Pyramids and got tired of them and pulled them down and ground the stone up to make concrete for Boulder Dam and they built that and brought the water to the Sunny Southland and used it to have a flood with. I walked all through it. ...
William came with me. He has shown signs from early years. We walked to Carlton once for lunch when he was nine. No complaints. On Wednesday we set out at eleven and headed due east, through North Coburg parklands where the great yellow film brand once had its Australian plant and where the film for 67 billion Australian holiday snaps originated. Now Kodak is gone and the land is sub-divided and people sit in their grey apartments and take another 67 billion photos, this time not as picturesque. We crossed Edgar's creek where mothers were out in small groups, straggles of children performing non-essential play as children will do; and we strode on into West Preston – or is it Reservoir? – and hit St George's Road, the wide boulevard that shoots directly north like an arrow, and where I once walked northwards as a teenager to the brand new athletics track at Edwardes Park on mythical Saturday afternoons that somehow had the golden glow of teenage optimism. This time we turned south, the teenager beside me the same age I was then. Here, St George's Road splits into two roadways with a wide grassed strip in between and a walking path down the middle and palm trees stretching along each side. We walked. The sun was hot. "L.A.," he said nodding at the palm trees. The concrete path stretched away down to the city skyline and I could imagine bikinied roller skaters emerging out of the distance but maybe that was just a clichéd image and anyway this was getting to be Northcote and they don't dress like that there. "Yes," I answered. "The palms. Or the wide pathways." Cyclists were passing in both directions now and there were more walkers than you would usually see on a Wednesday. We walked. We stopped at one of those pocket parks where a bridge passed over a small pond and some seats were shaded by trees. We sat on one of the benches and ate and drank and then resumed. The road went on, and the palms turned to some kind of deciduous tree that I couldn't work out, small-leaved and medium-sized. They would be bare in winter, but now we were in almost full shade. Then after a long time the road forked. "Here's the turn," I said. We crossed the road to the west side and walked along the path southwards until a small break indicated another pathway, which led down a long slope below the road level to where Merri Creek was a picture of reflected sun and curves and reeds. People, riding or walking, were blinking at each other as if to say who knew a week ago that Merri Creek on a Wednesday would find us here? There was plenty of space; no-one was on top of each other, and small groups were parked away in the grassy verges illegally eating lunch out of picnic baskets, or silently listening to something on headphones or just sitting. We walked. Moreland Zebras, Brunswick velodrome, CERES. We passed a woman with two small children on tricycles. One child said I don't want to go to CERES. I heard his mother reply, we're not, it's closed anyway, we're just going past it. And the child replied, but I don't want to go past it either! This was day or day two.

We walked. The sun beat down. Thornbury on one side, Brunswick the other, then Coburg and the old suburban farm that they never got to shut down and where they still grow crops that you can buy. Then over the new bridge that was built a few years ago when the old one kept getting washed away in Merri Creek’s frequent floodings. Gaffney Street, then up the hill overlooking the old Pentridge prison now full of grey apartments, and across Sydney Road and the railway line, and home. Three hours. Twenty kilometres.

He passed the test. Must be heredity. I had an uncle who walked. I don't mean walked to the post office. He crossed mountains, that kind of thing. He moved to New Zealand when I was a kid, but when I was sixteen I joined the same Melbourne bushwalking club of which he had been a member. They remembered him. He still walks in New Zealand, over 80 now. They call it tramping over there.

28.3.20

Cannery Go: teaching the twenty-first century world to eat out of a tin.

I started this blog in 2003 to record recipes, mostly ones that I had 'improvised' to put it mildly. The URL was ironic, because I was not a great cook. I'm OK now, can get around most recipes. I still don't like show-off, look-at-me recipes or meals, and I have never watched a reality cooking show on TV, and I'm not going to start now. However I did watch cooking shows produced by people who incorporated some kind of geographical context in their shows such as Mildura's Stefano di Pieri. A couple of the British chefs were good such as the straightforward Delia Smith and Scot Nick Nairn, while Antonio Carluccio's show was one of my weekly favourites. But the best cooking show of all time, in my opinion, was Two Fat Ladies. Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson said what they thought and didn't give a toss what anyone else thought. Refreshing, entertaining and mature. Anyone wanting a look into a more freewheeling era with fewer cultural or verbal strictures would do well to dig up this series from the Google mine. (While you're there, get the 1980s Minder series as well. Best TV show ever. Nothing to do with food, of course, but a lot of drinking goes on between the fights.)

So across the seventeen years of this weblog I have posted several hundred improvised or sheer made-up recipes: below are some. I don't remember half of them and I don't have an index: I just typed 'cupboard' into the blog search bar.

This post from 2004 involved a can of beans and a few other random ingredients.

Eight years later, I delved into the cupboard of a hoarder and devised a recipe based around sardines.

From 2007, another recipe assembling sardines with assorted random ingredients from the cupboard. I suspect sardines are going to be popular over the next few months. Maybe as popular as the 1960s when we had them at least once a week in school lunches. Anyone seen a child eat a sardine sandwich in the past few decades?

Then, from 2013, a midnight snack conundrum: a can of diced tomatoes and yet more beans.

Where do beans come from? Have they upscaled production in bean plantations and canneries around the world? What if we run out of steel cans? Or labels? Or beans?

There is suddenly a lot of time to ponder all these important questions.

26.3.20

Another kind of crown.

And so we wind back the clock, past the GFC, the Y2K non-bug, the '87 crash, that '70s stagflation thing, the early '60s credit crunch, post-war austerity, two world wars with a depression in the middle, and a Boer war; and we crash land on page 245 of Martin Boyd’s The Cardboard Crown, where we find ourselves in the middle of the 1890s depression which, as always, followed a boom.

Arthur is giving a party to welcome his relative Alice back from England. He notes:
Nobody talked of anything but the financial crisis.
Later, Alice, whose diary is the basis for the novel, records:
'31 December. Dimanche. ... Went with Austin to the new cathedral. I do not like it ... hard, striped and confused ... No repose for the eye anywhere. They should whitewash it and hang up some good tapestries as at Arles. It needs softening. Sermon on the financial difficulty and trouble of this past year.'
Then the narrator:
As she listened to this financial sermon in the new striped cathedral, did she find it was the heart and not the eye for which there was no repose, and did she try to imagine that she was in the Duomo at Milan, or in Santa Croce, or in St. Peter's where the cardinal walked in procession in his petunia cope, and Aubrey waited outside between the colonnade and the fountains?
Aubrey is a shattered dream, left behind in Italy. Like a painted-over masterpiece slowly exposed by an art restorer, The Cardboard Crown peels back eighty years of a family’s history revealing tragedy on tragedy. Alice has married into the Langtons, whose ancestral home in England is kept up even though the family has settled in Australia, so that the family is torn between hemispheres. In England, at their ancestral Waterpark home:
... for two or three months (they) were intensely happy, driving together along the steep and shadowed lanes to sit among the ruins of Farleigh or pick wild flowers along the road to Longleat. In the evening they must often have walked out after dinner, and crossed the lawn to the stream and murmured there together in quiet voices which blended with the sounds of the twilight, the mourning of the small gnats, the splash of a trout rising, or the last twitter of a bird, while all around them was the drowsy beauty of the English summer meadows, the scenes and scents of home.
Then back in Australia:
There are in the country outside Melbourne little cottages built of bark and tin, whitewashed, with vines along their walls, and the fowls pecking at the hard earth under the fig tree, where one feels the disguised Ulysses might have asked for shelter and a bowl of goat's milk, while one cannot possibly imagine him calling at Waterpark, with its far greater antiquity. But this may be partly due to the feeling one has in the Australian countryside, that it has known the morning of the world.
Alice's diaries, conversations with relatives, and retold family mythology are Boyd's sources. Each is an opaque cloud that fleetingly opens up as it moves across the reader's line of vision before vaporising out of view. Boyd is even, evocative, poetic, almost allegorical; his long perfectly weighted sentences are commuted into precise phrases that convey the passage and decay of time by their very construction.

Rather than committing the artifice of sitting a literary quote smugly on its own page before the start of the narrative, Boyd drops Marcel Proust into the start of chapter one, making it the reasonable consideration of the narrator instead of an author's pomposity:
'When we have passed a certain age, the soul of the child that we were, and the souls of the dead from whom we spring, come and bestow upon us in handfuls their treasures and their calamities'. The realisation that I had reached this age came upon me one night in 1949. It was after midnight, and I was driving through pouring rain from a dinner party in Toorak up to Westhill, my home in the country, thirty miles from Melbourne. My thoughts were accompanied by the dreary whining of the windscreen wiper, and occasionally and dangerously interrupted by the blinding lights of a timber lorry, driven presumably by a drunkard of a criminal.
No family saga/chronicle/history/narrative clichés do this book justice. Tragedy occurs over and over, but the author understood that the emotional response is the reader's job, not to be plastered onto the page by the author.

*

Alice, based on a real person, was of that generation whose sons would be decimated in the Great War. Those who survived would face Spanish flu which would claim more than the war’s toll. Alice's such bereaved contemporaries would then, in middle to late age, witness another depression and might still be alive to see yet another son-crunching world conflict. Those real-life Alices who made it that far would surely have wondered if the course of evolution could withstand the wastage of a couple of generations' worth of the finest and best young men. The question remains today. The twentieth century was as savage a destroyer of life as any time in human history. Have those who were left – the men who stayed behind – lived up to their brothers' ideals, or determination, or courage? After all, we are only twenty years into the subsequent century. A lot of leaders look like vacillating, arm-waving emoticons jumping to salute the latest public mood swing; without resolve, without strength, without historical perspective, without an original thought, without a clue.

Perhaps civilisation had been mortally wounded in some rain-soaked field in France in 1916.

*

The Cardboard Crown by Martin Boyd
1952 Cresset Press London

*

Kitchen Hand instant summary: The Cardboard Crown should be read by every Australian high school student; but good luck if you can find a copy.

19.3.20

The Jargon Virus.

The big autumn wet (most March rain since 1929 – and that fell in the first few days) ended and a longer period of warm sunny days came in. I went to bed, the smell of new cut grass and lavender stealing in the open window and the long stems of the rose bushes – almost up to the eaves – tapping against the house in the night air. The night was mild and I pushed down one blanket.

It must have been well after midnight when I woke. I pulled up the other blanket. Near dawn, I woke again. This time I was cold, so I got out of bed and put on a warm top. In the morning I dressed warmer than the temperature – 26 celsius – warranted. I felt like I wasn't there. I felt weak. The day passed in a kind of surreal light as if I was watching it but not in it.

That night was cooler but this time, towards morning, I threw the blankets off. I wasn't cold any more. I was hot. I sweated. That day I stayed home.

The doctor had two questions:

- Have you been overseas?

- No. Not ever.

- Not ever?

- Correct. Life got in the way.

- Never mind. It's all ahead of you, when the airlines fly again. If they fly again. Have you been in contact with anyone with the virus?

- How would I know? I've been to about seven crowded supermarkets looking unsuccessfully for a number of items necessary for the effective functioning of life in a civilised society such as hygiene; so who knows who I've been in contact with?

- No. I meant that you know has the virus.

- Then no.

OK, that was three questions but the middle one was just conversation. He continued:

- Then no test.

- No test?

- No.

- Then how would I know?

- You don't and you won't. The test is for people who have a higher likelihood of getting the virus, and the criteria are you have been overseas or you have had contact with someone with the virus already. So go home.

- Do I (to use as ugly a piece of jargon as 'social distancing') self-isolate?

- No. You already said you've been hanging around supermarkets too much so what would be the point?

The next day, the third, I was a well man again, well enough to face up to coffee. That is always a sign. You are sick when you can't face a strong coffee.

*

Everything was cancelled. Football training, athletics, the cricket awards night, girl guides. The lot. Society stopped in its tracks. Isolationism is the new mantra, despite doc's suggestion. Bureaucrats said 'don't panic' (as if they had to spend half a day visiting multiple supermarkets to obtain supplies for their children.) Then they – or at least the prime minister, which is the same thing, as bureaucrats write his speeches and he just reads them with a kind of deprecating smirk – said this could last six months. That other idiot, the Victorian chief health officer, last week said 'don't panic, but stock up for a fortnight just in case'. That sent them out in their millions hunting down supplies. He's an idiot not for his medical expertise which I am sure is adequate but for the sheer stupidity of that statement.

On Tuesday evening when normally the thump and cry of football training would echo across Raeburn reserve and the two boys would work up teenage appetites, I took them and their sister instead to Williamstown beach where they waded in the still silvery water under an overcast sky and a blanket of heavy humid air. The sun sank, and out on the water, a cruise ship sat shiftily, as if waiting. Another was closer in. They looked like Chandler's the Royal Crown and the Montecito from Farewell My Lovely, but they were far deadlier. They were waiting to dock at Station Pier with their noxious payload.

10.3.20

The Paper Chase.

I read John Wyndham's science fiction novels in 1972 across the long mild winter in the wooden building that housed Four Gold. The library had purchased new Penguin copies with newly designed covers combining clean negative images over 1970s-style fluoro backgrounds and now, decades later, I looked for them again for the boys, who are now the age I was then.

I ordered new copies from Pictures and Pages. The publisher is still Penguin, but the cover art is new, each book themed with effete-looking (SOED def. 3) youths with pale faces, doe eyes and sensitive lips. One has a bird sitting on his head (The Midwich Cuckoos), one lichen growing on his face (Trouble with Lichen) and one sits in a deck chair on the seabed (The Kraken Wakes). What on earth was the publisher's brief to the cover artist?

While I'm on the subject, the print and paper quality of these books is appalling. The type almost bleeds into the rough paper, on which you can see flecks of darker fibre, which is not good for someone who has PVD in his eyes. A hint to the poor paper quality can be found opposite the title page: greenpenguin.co.uk. Further:
'This book is made from Forest Stewardship Council™ certified paper'.
If you really want to save the planet, try to find the originals, second-hand. They'll be easier to read.

I ate the books alive in 1972, but I'd forgotten the plot details. When the new books arrived, I read the blurbs:

' ... a mysterious silver object appears (in a sleepy village) and all the inhabitants fall unconscious. ... A day later the object is gone and everyone awakes unharmed, except ... ';

'It started with fireballs raining down from the sky and crashing into the oceans' deeps. Then ships began sinking mysteriously and later "sea tanks" emerged from the deep to claim people ...';

' ... a scintillating story of the power wielded by science in our lives and asks: how much trust should we place in those we appoint to be its guardians?';

' ... everyone (in the world) ... (is) blinded by a meteor shower ... civilisation (is) in chaos, ... huge, venomous plants able to "walk", feeding on human flesh ... '.

It all came flooding back to me. The tiresome dreariness of 1972's Form Four Gold - epitomised by Brother Heslin's appalling biblical studies classes - had an antidote. I could escape via sport only on Wednesday afternoons when the thump and cry of football games echoed across Fairbairn Park beside the river but back in the classroom, hunched in the far left corner of the back row, I could read a John Wyndham novel any time, any day, hidden behind some vile textbook.

*

I gave the boys their books, and that night I dreamed a terrifying new virus had circled the world hidden inside mankind's most common symptom: the cough. Whether the slightest clearing of a throat to the heaviest smoker's hack, no-one knew who carried the virus. Borders were closed, panic followed and overnight, toilet paper disappeared from supermarket shelves, leading to a shortage of a vitally essential material:

Forest Stewardship Council™ certified paper made from responsible sources.

26.2.20

The Talk of the Town: real life Eustace Tilley found in ineffectual marketing department. Part Two (or possibly three) of an occasional series.

Of course, it was an extraordinary coincidence that I had been a witness to both the Coles' home brand launch in Tooronga and to the northern suburbs store manager's acid comment about the brand on the other side of town.

O (the literary 'O') yes! It was a long way from Tooronga to Pascoe Vale; so far distant that never had it been heard that any person from that hilltop eyrie looking imperiously across Gardiner's Creek (and no less a freeway than the Monash) had ever come to visit, or even pass through, that flat square of a suburb stretching itself taut from Hadfield's cream-brick nightmare in the north to hippy North Brunswick in the south, and North Coburg in the east before dropping off a western cliff at Gaffney Street into the muck of Moonee Ponds Creek and the murk of that other freeway, the Tullamarine; which is not to say it hadn't happened – but who, and when, and where, and why – was as lost in the unrecorded minutiae of life in a city of five million as a wedding ring tossed into Port Philip Bay.

Except me. I lived there, that is to say, in that stretched handkerchief of post-war houses and suburban football grounds and streets named after English counties – 'Essex Street' – not the aforementioned dowager of a suburb in between stuffy, blue-rinse Camberwell and toffy Toorak.

This is probably an exaggeration. An art director daughter of an agency principal (she couldn't draw) I worked with once said she'd never been to Sunshine (a western suburb), but that an uncle of hers had driven through it once – like you'd remember being on the first manned flight to the moon, or your cousin was on death row once. It doesn't matter. The point is that there was a deep gulf between the simpering, social climbing inner eastern private school Brighton-accented class that ran the marketing departments of large corporates, and the northern suburbs supermarket workers who stood outside smoking in the darkness in between shifts and could nail the truth of something in five well-chosen words. This puzzle has never been solved, or explained: that the latter class can (note: can) be articulate bordering on terse, and instantly dismissive of obvious stupidity; while the private school educatarchy (yes, no such word but there should be) has a natural tendency to produce verbal sludge, whether typed into their keyboards or spoken out loud, albeit in well-rounded modulated tones. Those long drawn out vowels are hell to listen to. They could also convince themselves that black was white. You'll Love Coles.

This particular bunch of grapes was led by a dandy who wore very good dark blue suits and who preened and surrounded himself with mainly female acolytes. He also liked to have imported newspapers and magazines delivered to his office, rather than to his home. On one particular occasion when I was in the same building doing some kind of rudimentary – it could not have been anything else – writing, I actually saw him become cross if not angry because someone had borrowed one. Where's my New Yorker magazine? he thundered. Who took it? Like there were two members of the look-at-me intelligentsia on the same floor. As if. He wore glasses, and was tall and thin. Hell, if he had broken his specs in two and peered through one half he was Eustace Tilley! Coincidences like this don't occur daily.

His acolytes had that accent, and they swished around headquarters in a cloud of fine white linen/cotton/whatever and bobbed haircuts, and wore dangerous-looking earrings and red pumps, and carried important-looking folders into meetings and frowned. They all frowned, because it made you look intelligent instead of vacant.

Then the wheel/circle/name your mixed metaphor turned. Ian McLeod, the hard nut Scot retailer was brought in from the UK to fix Coles. He was briefed on its state. People did not like the Coles 'shopping experience', they told him. He arrived in Australia, visited one of the stores, and was confronted with a shelf holding seven thousand cans bearing the logo: You'll Love Coles. His words echoed the prescient reaction of that store manager out in the suburbs several months earlier:

You've gotta be fuckin' joking.


The story got back to Tooronga about five minutes later. People froze. It was comical. I was there. It was like in those cartoons where a character gets rooted to the spot, and then it cracks all over, and then it falls to the ground in bits.


15.2.20

The Can of Beans.

ABOUT A DECADE AGO. IN THE BOARDROOM OF A MAJOR NATIONAL SUPERMARKET CHAIN, TWENTY MARKETING PEOPLE (AND ME AS A FREELANCE WRITER ON AN IN-HOUSE VISIT) ARE SITTING AROUND A MASSIVE TABLE. THE CHIEF MARKETING EXECUTIVE HAD BRIEFED THE COMPANY'S ADVERTISING AGENCY TO COME UP WITH A NEW NAME FOR ITS HOUSE BRAND LINE OF GROCERIES AND WAS MIFFED WHEN THE AGENCY FAILED TO PRODUCE AN EXTENSIVE POWERPOINT PRESENTATION, PRESENTING ITS NAMING IDEAS ON TRADITIONAL PHYSICAL BOARDS INSTEAD. THE SUPERMARKET CHAIN, IN A FIT OF PIQUE, HAS DECIDED TO SPURN ITS AGENCY AND PRODUCE THE IN-HOUSE BRAND ITSELF.

SMILING MARKETING PERSON NAMED PAMELA (FIFTIES, BOBBED FAKE-BLONDE HAIRCUT, RED LIPSTICK, EARRINGS TO MATCH, CHAIN OF CHUNKY RED STONES, SLEEVELESS WHITE LINEN DRESS, RED HEELS): Thanks, everyone. I'm glad you could all make it this morning. It's an important day in the annals of supermarket retailing in this country. And an important day in the history of great brands, because today we are commencing Australia-wide domination for a brand new brand. (SHE LAUGHS) Brand new brand. Get it?

BORED TITTERS FROM THOSE ACTUALLY LISTENING.

SMILING MARKETING PERSON CONTINUES: As you know, we asked our advertising agency to present on this momentous challenge to the future of our industry and to come up with names and pack designs for this iconic new house brand.

DOOR BANGS OPEN, ANOTHER THREE MARKETING PEOPLE ENTER WITH COFFEE CUPS IN HAND.

SMILING MARKETING PERSON CONTINUES, SMILE UNDISTURBED: Oh, good morning: I was just explaining some of the history of the development of our new initiative in the packaged goods area ...

THE INTERRUPTERS SIT DOWN NOISILY.

SMILING MARKETING PERSON: ... and how we briefed our very expensive advertising agency on directions for the new brand name and packaging design and how they presented their concept ...

SHE SHAKES HER HEAD AND TRAILS OFF BEFORE CONTINUING.

... on boards! Can you believe that? I still can't. I mean, what is PowerPoint for? The launch of a new in-house product for a major national supermarket chain deserves at the very least a two-hour PowerPoint presentation with what, fifty pages of development, strategy and creative execution?

A BORED MARKETING EXECUTIVE SITTING AT THE TABLE: Maybe they figured it was just a 99 cent can of beans.

SMILING MARKETING PERSON (STOPS SMILING MOMENTARILY): It's not about the beans, Tony. It's about the prestige of a major national supermarket chain. Mere suppliers need to recognise our importance. I expect nothing less.

TONY: But some suppliers are actually quite good at efficiency and perhaps don't see the need to spend three hours and an endless PowerPoint presentation to introduce a new name for ...

SMILING MARKETING PERSON (NOW NOT SMILING AGAIN): Efficiency? Efficiency? What's efficiency got to do with it?

TONY: Well, it's just that some of the agencies I've worked with (prior to joining this company) no longer believe in complex and colourful but ultimately vapid technology for its own sake; and have gone back to the simplicity of presenting concepts on tactile boards that artists have actually created.

SMILING MARKETING PERSON: Not here they don't. And anyway, we're efficient: we've eliminated several hundred suppliers to our supermarkets in our inexorable drive to world house-brand domination. That's efficiency. Imagine not having to deal with all those suppliers.

SHE HITS A BUTTON AND THE SCREEN LIGHTS UP. SHE CONTINUES: And so we thanked the agency very much, saw them to the door, slammed it behind them and decided to come up with a new house brand name ourselves. After all, we know ourselves best, don't we?

SHE LOOKS AROUND ENQUIRINGLY AT THE GATHERED MARKETING DEPARTMENT, SOME OF WHOM ARE LISTENING.

SMILING MARKETING PERSON: So we invested great time and major resources in researching the history of our house brands. First there was Embassy. That was too '60s and nationalistic. Then there was Farmland. That was too childish and unbelievable and anyway, Woolworths owns the Fresh Food people and has farmers in its ads. I can't think why.

And after much deliberation, I am very glad to say (SHUFFLING THROUGH A FEW MORE PPT PAGES OF MEANINGLESS GRAPHS AND SQUIGGLES AND CLICHES) that we have been able to come up with a name so exceedingly memorable that people will not fail to take it to their hearts and never buy a proprietary brand again.

A name that reflects the beloved position our very own company holds in the hearts of every Australian.

A name that might ultimately grace products in every aisle of every one of our stores across this great nation of ours.

SHE CLICKS ONTO THE REVEAL SHOT, WHICH SHOWS THE NEW NAME IN THREE COLOURS:

You'll Love Coles.

THE BOARDROOM ERUPTS INTO DESULTORY APPLAUSE FROM ABOUT THREE PEOPLE. THE REST JUST STARE.

SMILING MARKETING PERSON: You'll Love Coles! Isn't it wonderful! Because people do! They love us! They love our clean, well-stocked stores, they love our friendly service, they love the way our staff treat them, they love everything about us! And they will love that they will now be able to buy their favourite product under our very own name! Heinz, SPC, Kraft - who needs them?

SHE PAUSES FOR BREATH

And we will love the extra margin and not having to deal with brand managers.

THEY EXIT AND GO TO LUNCH IN THE HEAD OFFICE CAFETERIA THE SIZE OF A FOOTBALL STADIUM THAT SERVES BAD COFFEE AND CELLOPHANE-WRAPPED SALAD ROLLS THAT ARE ALREADY LIMP AND MOIST.

TWO MONTHS LATER.

LATE ONE EVENING. AFTER A LONG DAY WRITING TENDERS FOR A NATIONAL OFFICE SUPPLIES CLIENT, I AM PICKING UP SOME GROCERIES FOR DINNER IN MY LOCAL SUPERMARKET IN THE NORTHERN SUBURBS. WORKERS ARE STACKING SHELVES WITH NEW YOU'LL LOVE COLES BAKED BEANS. THE STORE MANAGER WALKS PAST.

STORE MANAGER: Great name, isn't it? I wonder which head office genius came up with that.

HE PAUSES. THE SHELF STACKERS LOOK AT HIM, PICKING UP IMMEDIATELY ON HIS SARCASM.

STORE MANAGER: Because people don't love Coles at all. They fucking hate Coles.

SUDDENLY ONE OF THE STACKS COLLAPSES, AND EIGHT HUNDRED CANS OF YOU'LL LOVE COLES REDUCED-SALT BAKED BEANS COME CRASHING DOWN.

STORE MANAGER: Says it all, really.

13.2.20

The Girl From San Carlos de Bariloche.

IT WAS EVENING AFTER A LONG DAY'S SHOOT IN THE HILLS BEHIND THE LAKESIDE CITY OF SAN CARLOS BARILOCHE, CIRCA 1992. THE LAST RAYS OF THE SUN HAD TURNED THE RED TERRACOTTA ROOF TO BURNING ORANGE AND THE WHITE WALLS TO GOLD. BEYOND THE HOUSE, SOME EUCALYPTS WERE SWAYING GENTLY IN THE WARM EVENING BREEZE AND THEIR BARE, LITHE GOLDEN LIMBS WERE AS SENSUOUS AS ANY FEMALE'S. WELL NOT QUITE, BUT ALMOST. YES, EUCALYPTS.

I WAS TOYING WITH A DRINK AND LUSTING AFTER THE DELICIOUS AROMA OF PRIME ARGENTINIAN BEEF ROASTING ON THE BARBECUE. SOME KIND OF BOSSA NOVA MUSIC DRIFTED OUT OF THE HOUSE AND CAME ON THE WARM BREEZE, LIKE SAND BEING SHAKEN IN A GLASS BOTTLE.

SHE WAS SITTING ON THE CHAIR OPPOSITE. HER EYES WERE PROBABLY DARK BROWN, BUT THEY FLASHED BLACK AND SOMETHING ELSE. MAYBE LIGHTNING. HER HAIR WAS SO BLACK IT SHONE ALMOST BLUE IN THE DARKENING SHADOWS. SHE WAS WEARING A SIMPLE SLEEVELESS COTTON DRESS, A RED FLORAL PRINT OVER CREAM. HER SKIN WAS SEVERAL SHADES DEEPER THAN THE CREAM BUT PROBABLY TEN TIMES CREAMIER. AS SHE SPOKE I WATCHED HER LIPS STRUGGLE OVER THE UNFAMILIAR, HARSH ENGLISH CONSONANT AND VOWEL FORMATIONS.

THE GIRL FROM SAN CARLOS DE BARILOCHE: So what ees copywriter? (HER LIPS HAD PARTICULAR TROUBLE WITH THE LAST WORD, ALTERNATIVELY POUTING AND STRETCHING IN THAT OVER-EXPRESSIVE LATIN WAY.)

ME: Huh? Oh. Copywriters write ads. Technically, the text is called copy, hence copywriter.

THE GIRL FROM SAN CARLOS DE BARILOCHE: I thought eet was sometheeng to do with protecting 'copyright'. My Engleesh ... (THE LIPS AGAIN - OVER THE WHITE TEETH)

ME (TAKING A SIP OF MY RED WINE, AN ARGENTINIAN SOMETHING OR OTHER): Huh - copyright. As if! There's almost no copyright in advertising. Everyone just steals everyone else's ideas. No, nothing to do with copyright. Although the confusion is perfectly understandable. And it's not your lack of English, I get that kind of thing at home all the time. People who don't work in advertising think copywriters are like patent attorneys or something.

THE GIRL FROM SAN CARLOS DE BARILOCHE: (SHE SHIFTS HERSELF AND RE-SETTLES IN HER CHAIR AND THE SIMPLE DRESS SHIFTS WITH HER AND I KIND OF DON'T NOTICE WHAT SHE SAYS): So you write ideas for advertising, that ees it?

ME: Um, what? Oh, yes. Although it is sometimes very difficult to concentrate ...

LATER, THE BARBECUE IS SERVED. THE GIRL FROM SAN CARLOS DE BARILOCHE EATS WITH GUSTO, WITHOUT INHIBITION OR PRETENCE. SHE HAS THE ASSURED SELF-CONFIDENCE THAT WOMEN OFTEN LACK WHEN EATING IN PUBLIC. OF COURSE, SHE IS PERFECTLY WELL-MANNERED, BUT HER SELF-ASSURANCE MEANS THAT ONE WOULD FORGIVE HER IF SHE WERE TO PICK UP A BONE IN HER BARE HANDS, LUSTILY CHEW THE MEAT OFF IT, AND THEN THROW IT INTO THE DARKENING SHRUBBERY AT THE EDGE OF OUR LITTLE OUTDOOR DINING ALCOVE. SHE DOESN'T, OF COURSE. HER RIGHT HAND GRASPS HER KNIFE, AND AS SHE CUTS HER STEAK, SHE SWAYS GENTLY.

I FORGET WHAT HAPPENED NEXT.

10.2.20

An ordinary writer would have called it 'What a Tangled Webb We Weave'.

Then, that book again; the one by the sun-drenched pool in Deniliquin that made time stand still, even as the sky became a blue bruise and twenty cent coin raindrops fell flat on the ground.

A Jimmy Webb song cannot be explained. You either get it or you don't. The Temptations (according to the story) knocked back 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix' because it didn't have a chorus. You may as well knock back a Mozart clarinet concerto because it doesn't have a flute. When Glen Campbell got to 1975 and sang 'Rhinestone Cowboy' I wondered whether Campbell had changed, or it was just that I had grown up. He'd moved on from Jimmy Webb songs. There was air around the earlier lyrics that just wasn't there any more.

Someone once described 'Witchita Lineman' as the first existential country song. No-one has ever properly defined 'existentialim' beyond a kind of 'shut-up and enjoy the scenery' kind of non-philosophical theory espoused by 1960s pseudo-French bon vivants who liked books with no plot. And yes, I had to read Camus at high school. In French. Existentialism is waiting around for something to happen that never does. My French teacher didn't turn up most of the time. There were two of us in the class; me and a kid called Amin. He was Algerian or Morrocan or something. We waited around for the teacher half that year. I spent winter Wednesday nights taking the tram into the Alliance Francais in Flemington Road and conversing in French with blonde girls from private schools; 'En hiver nous allons skier à Falls Creek.' Two hours of that and then onto the lonely cold shaky tram up Mt Alexander Road again at 11 o'clock on sleety Wednesday winter nights.

Jimmy wrote this book like he wrote his songs. Chorus-less time-shifting earthquakes of language that work like his songs worked, even though some people didn't get them.

At the end of the day - in both senses - you write for yourself, or you write for no-one. Ain't that the truth.

The book ends in the early seventies with Jimmy Webb coming out of a bender: he moved in Harry Nilsson/John Lennon circles.

Some time later he touches a piano and remembers what it is again.

*

The Cake and the Rain
Jimmy Webb
St Martins' Press 2017






31.1.20

Walking map.

I was out walking in the early afternoon sunshine just like the song said (see Noel Coward, Leon Russell or Joe Cocker). It was a sultry afternoon, about 40 degrees. The streets were empty. It was just too hot.

I was heading west on a wide, quiet street on the better side of the railway line, where the 1950s yellow brick houses sit behind neat gardens and lawns and stretch out in rows over the hill, undisturbed by the box apartments that are turning the suburb into a grey and black monotone closer to the railway station.

As I came to a crossroad, a ute came around and pulled up and the driver leaned out and yelled something to me. He was red-faced and lost. Old but not elderly, some kind of a tradesman, and looking like he was looking for something. Pardon? I said. He named a street. I pointed. I know most of the streets around here. I stepped onto the road, went up to the car window. Have you got a Melways? I said.

He had better than that. He had a phone. I pointed again, but this time at the phone. He already had the suburb on screen. Look. It's there, I said. I know, he said. But how do you get there? He looked away from the phone and at the street.

OK. Let's stop right there. He knew where he was, and where he was going, because the phone told him. But he didn't know how to get there. There was already a blue line on the map. All he had to do was follow it. But his head was back in real geography, not its virtual replica.

This is a new spin on an old problem. In the days before digital, people would sometimes ask me how to get to a place, for example, my house, and I would direct them to the street directory page and cross reference. Yes, they would sometimes say. I know where it is. But how do you get there? You will have to read the map and work out a route, I would suggest if they were reasonably intelligent. If they were not, I would get a brightly coloured marker and deface the directory. Follow that, I would add.

With digital, no-one would have to read a complex map any more, I figured, because you can enlarge it.

I had to tell the man in the ute which road to take, and which after that.

It was like that old Irish joke where the visitor asks directions from a local: Well take you first left, right? Then take the second right and bear to your left. It's right in front of you on the left.

He roared off with a wave. I continued on my walk.




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.