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

17.10.18

Let's just revise that description of the flavour of Langhorne Creek shiraz.

How long does red wine last, opened?

I had opened the bottle, a very rich, purplish-black Langhorne Creek shiraz of 14%-alcohol strength, only a day or two earlier, and I had left it unfinished, stored in a dark cupboard. I had forgotten to replace the screwcap, which was sitting by its side. The bottle had just over a glass left. It should be fine, I thought to myself.

I decanted it slowly into the glass and there was still an inch left.

*

I cooked the steak, flipped and turned it so that the grill marks made perfect squares. Ninety seconds each side. Rare. The potatoes were already done, as were the asparagus and the fried onions and the pepper sauce. I served it up and sat at the big round table in the kitchen of the beach house where I can eat and read at the same time. I had been going through some old online newspapers from the 1940s researching a job I'm working on. (It's taking longer than it should, because I keep finding interesting items in the old newspapers unrelated to the task at hand.)

*

I drank. I ate. I read. The wine was still good. No reason why it shouldn't be. Langhorne Creek reds have a combined aroma of melting chocolate and berries when you squash them between your fingers and I also detected a very faint astringency that I hadn't noticed the previous evening. I attributed this to its 24 hours exposure to the air with the cap not being on.

I finished the steak and decided to finish the red wine. I tipped the bottle of black inkiness and as I did, a black something went into the glass. Sediment. The mark of a really good red wine. Those cheap reds come out of steel barrels, but this was matured in French casks. I kept pouring. This time a larger piece of black.

Christ almighty!

It wasn't sediment.

It was a cockroach.

The smaller, first, piece was its head. Or one of its legs. Or an antenna.

I had drunk a glass of cockroach wine.

Or at least, cockroach-infused wine.

What do you do? I'm not the hysterical type, nor do I disgorge. I just stood there wondering whether I should anyway.

Then the secondary thought waves came crowding in.

One: how stupid I had been not to make sure the cap had been screwed back on the bottle.

Two: cockroaches can climb glass bottles.

And then three: was the cockroach dead or just dead drunk?

That one really did my head in.

*

But what really disturbed me was that I should never have allowed this whole episode to have occurred, due to a precedent in this house some years ago.


10.10.18

Roo-hubris.

Monday. North Melbourne fails to poach star players:
"After missing out on (Josh) Kelly's prized signature a year ago, North (Melbourne) will ... try to tempt the slick left-foot midfielder to Arden St once again with one of the game's richest long-term deals. The Kangaroos are desperate to land a big-name midfield recruit after missing out of Richmond's Dustin Martin, Collingwood's Adam Treloar and Jordan De Goey, and Sydney's Isaac Heeney." (Jay Clark, Herald Sun)
Tuesday: North declares North is a winner because no other team got them:
"Losing out on Andrew Gaff was not a 'kick in the guts' for North Melbourne, according to chairman Ben Buckley. ... 'I don't buy they rejected North, they just chose to stay in an environment which was very dear to them ... if they had chosen to go, they would've chosen to come to us and that's a very positive thing.' " (Mark Robinson, Herald Sun)
Keep trying to buy a flag, Roos - like 1975. That's the Shinboner spirit.

*

My late grandfather, Tom O'Brien, was North's longest-serving continual member, stumping up membership fees up every year from the 1920s until the day he died in 2003. Through the middle decades of the twentieth century he witnessed some of the toughest home-grown players never to win a flag. Many of them worked at the Newmarket saleyards and abattoir, hence the Shinboner name. When North finally grabbed a flag in 1975 he was happy but ambivalent. North had bought their way to the top after luring Barry Davis, Doug Wade, John Rantall, Brent Croswell and Malcolm Blight from other clubs with offers they couldn't refuse.

"At last we've got a premiership flag flying over Arden Street," he said. "A shame it wasn't won by North Melbourne."

"Yes," I said. "Can we have our captain back now?"

I was an Essendon fan as a kid. Seeing Barry Davis in pale blue and white just looked wrong.

8.10.18

Two in five minutes.

Haven't seen one for a couple of years - snakes. Jumped over one when running along the Merri Creek path a few years ago. Couldn't stop in time; it wriggled across the path as I ran past and it reared up at me but missed.

This weekend I drove over one (didn't hit it) when driving into the Gunnamatta surf beach car park. A few minutes later, I walked up the path towards the beach and a brown snake crept out. I nearly stepped on it. The children had run ahead and were on the beach. If I've seen two snakes in five minutes the place must be crawling with them.

25.9.18

The casting session part two: Can't anyone throw a basketball?

Blake Browning Burns is holding a casting session for a television commercial at the studio of Rodney Jay Films. On arriving, Paul, the agency copywriter, has driven his sports car through the cyclorama wall at one end of the studio. He and Rodney Jay, the producer/director, are trading insults while they wait for the extras to arrive. The person to be cast will have to pretend to be a basketball player and throw a goal.

PAUL: By the way, is there going to be any casting done today or are we going to just trash talk each other until it's time to go home? Because if we are, I'd rather be doing it over lunch. Being insulted makes me hungry for some reason.

RODNEY (LOOKS AT HIS WATCH): Katja's got some tall extras coming in for the basketball scene. If we get one who can do it and looks half OK we might even be able to slip away for lunch ....

PAUL: Tall? Was that all? I said he had to be able to shoot a goal.

RODNEY: Well, we'll see ...

Half an hour later. Some models, extras and bit-part actors from a casting agency are milling about in the reception area waiting to audition. Paul and Rodney are waiting in a corner of the studio where a makeshift basketball ring has been rigged up.

KATJA (PRODUCTION ASSISTANT): Ready? I'll send them in one by one.

The first extra enters. He is a tall gangly hipster type with a red beard.

RODNEY (THROWS A BASKETBALL TO HIM): OK, you know what you have to do. Show us your stuff, dude. Like, work that ball, man!

PAUL: He probably speaks English, Rodney. Just because he has to play basketball in the ad doesn't mean you have to talk to him like a deranged homeboy.

The hipster tries to throw the basketball. He looks like an arthritic grandmother lobbing a dirty tea towel into a linen basket.

RODNEY: Great! Next. (ASIDE - TO PAUL) What is the advertising industry's current obsession with dopey-looking red-bearded blokes? I briefed the casting agency specifically to send no stereotypes, and the first one to walk on set is the hipster from central casting.

PAUL: Literally.

Another half hour passes. No-one has been able to do anything with the ball that looks remotely convincing despite Rodney's coaching.

PAUL: Is it that fucking hard? These bit-part actors are all the same. They're OK in a crowd of sixty thousand but they can't act to save themselves, let alone do something like throw a ball with any degree of conviction.

RODNEY: There's one more.

PAUL: I'll brief this one, Rodney. You're too soft. Call yourself a director? You pussyfoot around too much. They need proper direction.

The last extra enters.

PAUL (HOLDS THE BALL UP, SPEAKS TO THE ACTOR): See this? Know what it is? It's a basketball. Big tall men play a game with it. What I want you to do today is take this basketball and throw it ... just like this ...

He demonstrates, throwing the ball against the wall so that it will rebound. Except it doesn't; it deflects on a corner and flies off a a crazy angle.

PAUL: Well, not exactly like that. But you know what I mean.

He fetches the ball and hands it to the actor.

Do you think you can manage that? Because if you can't ...

He lets the question hang in the air like a threat. The actor reaches out for the ball and Paul pulls it away from him, teasing.

... you don't get the gig!

Now he hands it over. The actor just glares, then he takes the ball; quietly, slowly. Then he stands off to the left a little way, maybe five paces, and raises the ball slowly, still glaring at Paul.

He holds the ball in the air with two hands. Then his supporting hand disappears and the ball stays in the air. It is resting on one finger. It is not even spinning. Then nothing seems to happen and the ball is spinning. Nobody saw him spin it. Then he stops spinning it and suddenly he leaps sideways and the ball disappears somewhere near his legs, bounces unseen, staccato on the floor, and reappears somewhere around his head. The ball darts around like it's on a string, around the actor's body and against the wall. He dribbles it to the far end of the studio and with one flick of the wrist curls the ball thirty metres towards the basketball ring, into which it drops. The extra catches the ball directly on the rebound and finishes by slamming the ball at Paul. It hits him square on the chest. His script clipboard flies out of his hands, and he flies backwards and lands on the floor. Somehow, the ball magically ends up back in the actor's hands without seeming to have left them. He tosses the ball lightly to Rodney Jay, turns on his heels, and walks off set.

Katja enters.


KATJA: Hi guys, how did the audition go? By the way, that last guy wasn't just a bit-part actor. He's an American basketballer travelling in Australia in the off-season and trying out for local acting roles. And what's up with you, Paul?

20.9.18

18.9.18

The casting session, part one: Copywriter crashes the set.

A casting session for a bit-part actor in a television commercial is being held at Rodney Jay Films, a converted warehouse which encompasses an open-ended film studio. The studio is used to park the crew's vehicles when shooting is not taking place. It has white walls which curve around to the floor to avoid shadows and create a seamless background during film shoots. This is known as a cyc (cyclorama) background.

Lighting cables snake around odd bits of furniture and chairs. In one corner of the cyc, a table is scattered with scripts, unwashed cups and a plate of cold, tired toasted sandwiches.

Rodney Jay is sitting at the table with a cigarette stuck in his mouth when a red sports car drives blithely into the studio through the barn door, parks too close to the cyc wall, and its rapier-like nose impales the set with a splintering crash of plywood.


PAUL (COPYWRITER WITH AGENCY BLAKE BROWNING BURNS; GETS OUT OF THE CAR AND SLAMS THE DOOR): Where did that fucking wall come from? I didn't even see it.

RODNEY JAY (SHAKES HIS HEAD SADLY AS IF IN SILENT AGREEMENT WITH MOST OF THE INDUSTRY ABOUT THE STUPIDITY OF ADVERTISING COPYWRITERS): Don't worry, Paul. It's like an optical illusion. You have to park further away from the wall than you think. We'll fix it. I'll call the carpenter. Don't worry about it.

PAUL: Just put it on the bill, Rodney.

RODNEY (SLIGHTLY SARCASTIC): Along with dinner at the Flower Drum, the five lunches we had last week and our 'location search' trip to Alice Springs. Is there actually any money left to make an ad?

PAUL: (LAUGHS): There's always money left, Rodney.

RODNEY: You wouldn't be saying that if it was your own money, Paul.

PAUL: But it's not, Rodney. And if it was, I wouldn't be using you.

RODNEY (A BLANK STARE FOR THREE SECONDS WHILE HE TRIES TO WORK OUT IF IT WAS AN INSULT OR A COMPLIMENT): Is that an insult or a compliment, Paul?

PAUL: I'm not sure myself, Rodney. Because I still haven't decided whether I like you or not. Even after five lunches.

RODNEY: Sounds like something my wife said once.

PAUL: See, that proves it.

RODNEY: Proves what?

PAUL: That you're a Jekyll and Hyde character? That your wife and I are indecisive? I don't know. And why are we having this conversation?

RODNEY: Because you drove through my fucking studio wall, that's why.

PAUL: Well if you're going to have an optical illusion for a car park it serves you right. I told you to put it on the bill.

RODNEY: And by the way, if you didn't drive such a low pointy car you could probably see out of it better.

PAUL: Are you calling me short now?

RODNEY: No, I'm calling you a wanker for driving a sports car. Nothing to do with your height.

PAUL: I like sports cars. What is it about people thinking people who drive sportscars are wankers? Or worse?

RODNEY: It's just a vague unfair generalisation that happens to be completely true in your case.

PAUL: Well, guess what, Rodney. My other car is a Volvo. Would I suddenly stop being a wanker if I drove in here in my Volvo instead? Or would you call me some other stupid name?

RODNEY: Not sure. Try it and see. Just don't drive it through the scenery. And why have you got both a sportscar and a Volvo? Why don't you split the difference and drive a Lexus?

PAUL: I had a Toyota Avalon once. That was similar. But I always wondered why they named it after an airport. Or a singer.

RODNEY: Or a Bryan Ferry song.

TO BE CONTINUED

17.9.18

Romantic dinner.

1. The meal

Chop three medium onions finely and fry on low heat in half butter and half olive oil - about a tablespoonful of each - until transparent.

Add a cup of white wine and the juice of a lemon. Grate some nutmeg into the onions (or nutmeg powder if you haven't a nutmeg) and add salt and pepper. Keep the heat low and cook the onions until the fluid is reduced and the onions are shimmering.

Remove onions. Using the same pan, quickly fry thin slices of floured calves' liver, adding a little more butter and olive oil if necessary. A few minutes either side is adequate depending on thickness.

Place fried liver on the onions and serve with spinach and polenta or baked scalloped potatoes.

As the onions in the recipe melt down with the lemon juice, wine and nutmeg, the resulting aroma will have your neighbours at the door if you're not careful. You don't want your neighbours over tonight. Lock the door from the inside before you start. Call the dish Fegato Alla Veneziana if you wish but it is just calves' liver with onions to me.

2. The song.

What a Difference a Day Makes, by Dinah Washington. No-one on earth has ever tired of this song.

14.9.18

Three intellectual giants discuss the subject of the week.

George Orwell, 1947:
... the answer can only lie in a sort of mass hypnosis, or 'epidemic suggestion'. ... one is not dealing with a reasoned opinion but with something akin to religious faith. Throughout history, says Tolstoy, there has been an endless series of these 'epidemic suggestions' ... over which the whole world grew violently excited for no sufficient reason. There are also sudden short-lived crazes for new political and philosophical theories, ... especially in literary circles ...
Paul Monk, 2018:
The problem with social media is that prairie fires of moral outrage and tribalistic sentiment keep sweeping through it. ... as in the present case, the atmosphere is reminiscent of the cultural revolution in Mao Zedong’s China, with mobs denouncing ...
Maureen of Craigieburn, Herald Sun letters, Friday:
To all the critics: get over yourselves.

10.9.18

How to improve your next roast.

Beetroot and horseradish cream.

Peel and grate a beetroot. Chop a small onion finely. Mix the two in a bowl with a dressing of olive oil, red wine vinegar and lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Fold a tablespoon or two of horseradish cream and the same amount of sour cream through the beetroot and onion mixture.

Spoon generously onto thick slices of well-done rib roast, or porterhouse steak ... or roasted potatoes ... or in corned beef sandwiches on sourdough ...

5.9.18

Reasons to leave advertising: #1 and #2 of about 65 million.

Reason 1

No-one briefs jobs any more.

They send emails. You cannot stack emails in an in-tray. So you forget what you're supposed to do by the time six million other emails have arrived. And, no, don't tell me to print the fucking email. I don't have an in-tray six million emails deep.

Reason 2

No-one debriefs jobs any more. They send emails. The other day, I received an email with the following message:

Good morning writer

The client has now read through the copy and has supplied feedback as follows:

Headlines to be more visually eye catching. Re-visit the copy contents as some of it is not factually correct. The client has supplied a couple of PPT presentations containing lots of info re the product.

Signed

Idiot account director.

The idiot account director just signed his death warrant.

How do you write a visually eye-catching headline? I wouldn't know. I'm just a writer. Get the art director to use a different typeface. Or something.

As for the factually incorrect copy contents, the factuality or non-factuality all came out of the idiot account director's brief. How would I know if the spline of an end-bolt in the circulating ball of a universal-jointed rocket axle's cross-member is one-eighth of an inch thick or two-eights?

To add insult to injury, the idiot account director attached NOT ONE but TWO powerpoint presentations for me to waste three days delving into, in order for me to do his dirty work and extrapolate (is that a word?) some information of guaranteed factually-correct status as proven in laboratory tests.

Did I do it? Of course I didn't.

I emailed him right back and said if your head was as loose as this debrief it would be rolling around on the ground and I would kick it from here to Venus.

He laughed. They always laugh. I could hear him in his cupboard-like office just down the corridor.

He said he would get back to me with the facts, but that was three days ago.

Maybe there are no facts at all associated with this particular product. What happens when there are no facts?

Now I'm getting frightened as well as angry, in a weird metaphysical or philosophic kind of way, like Kant or Descartes or Hegel thinking about something impossible and frowning wisely at the same time and getting paid to do it.

That's it. I'll become a philosopher.

Philosophers never get sent emails from account service people. Or do they?

29.8.18

Chicken parmigiana without the deep frying.

Cut a couple of large chicken breast fillets laterally into slices about the thickness of a slice of bread. Intersperse the cut chicken with slices of ham. Place fillets into an oiled baking pan that holds them snugly so the slices don't slide around.

Cover fillets with your preferred napoli sauce, topping up with a little water if necessary. Top with grated tasty cheese and parmesan on top of that. Plenty of cheese.

Sprinkle parsley over. Cover baking dish with foil. Bake 20-30 minutes. Chicken should be moist but not pink.

Serve with baked potatoes and steamed broccoli.

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