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

31.8.16

The New Retail Account, Part One: Clyde Ulster Arrives.

CLYDE P. ULSTER WAS A SANDY-HAIRED FAT MAN WHO HAD A RED FACE AND WORE A SUIT THAT WAS TOO BIG, BECAUSE HE THOUGHT IT WOULD MAKE HIM LOOK SMALLER. IT DIDN'T. CLYDE P. ULSTER LOOKED LIKE AN ELEPHANT IN A COLLAPSED CIRCUS TENT.

MR ULSTER STARTED WORKING AT ADVERTISING AGENCY BLAKE BROWNING BURNS ONE WINTER. HE APPEARED LIKE SO MANY CONSULTANTS DO - HE TURNED UP EVERY NOW AND THEN UNANNOUNCED; AND BEFORE WE KNEW IT, HE PART OF THE PLACE, BORING US TO DEATH AT FRIDAY NIGHT DRINKS AND LAUGHING TOO LOUD AT THE MD'S JOKES.

CLYDE DROVE A TWENTY-YEAR-OLD NAVY BLUE MERCEDES 400SEL WHICH WAS COVERED IN DUST AND HAD A BACK SEAT FULL OF JUNK UP TO THE WINDOW SILLS. THE JUNK INCLUDED PLASTIC-BOUND INCH-THICK PRINT-OUTS OF POWERPOINT PRESENTATIONS, YELLOWING AND DOG-EARED. THAT MEANT CLYDE P. ULSTER HAD EITHER EXACTLY THE WRONG ATTITUDE ABOUT POWERPOINT PRESENTATIONS, OR EXACTLY THE RIGHT ONE. I COULDN'T FIGURE OUT WHICH. THE REST OF THE JUNK INCLUDED RETAIL BUSINESS TENDER DOCUMENTS WITH GARISH COVERS FEATURING BAR CHARTS AND SALES GRAPHS.

CLYDE P. ULSTER WAS A RETAIL ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE.

*

WAYNE (MD) TO A PACKED FRIDAY MORNING ALL-STAFF MEETING: I'm sure everyone has met Clyde. Clyde is this country's foremost expert in retail advertising. Clyde knows more about retail than any individual in the advertising industry. Clyde knows how retail ticks in this country. He knows the psychology behind retail. He knows what the housewife buys, why she buys it, when she buys it and who told her to.

DEAD SILENCE.

Clyde knows the housewife like not even her husband knows her.

A FEW TITTERS.

Clyde, say a few words.

CLYDE P. ULSTER (STANDS UP): Aaah, thanks Wayne. My reputation precedeth me, obviously. (LAUGHS UPROARIOUSLY, BUT NO-ONE ELSE DOES, SO HE STOPS.) No doubt many of you have seen me around the place, often in the photocopying room; and wondered exactly what I have been doing. I'll tell you.

But before I tell you, let me fill you in on just a little of the history of retail advertising in this country.

HE SHIFTS HIS STANCE AND GAZES INTO THE MIDDLE DISTANCE.

ALMOST AN HOUR LATER, THE FEW PEOPLE REMAINING IN THE BOARDROOM GIVE HIM WARM APPLAUSE. BECAUSE HE HAS FINISHED.

CLYDE (BEAMING): Any questions?

FROM THE BACK OF THE ROOM: Yeah. Can we go to lunch now?

CLYDE (MISSES THE SARCASM): Sure. I know just the place.

*

BACK IN THE CREATIVE DEPARTMENT. DECLAN, COPYWRITER, AND JESS, ART DIRECTOR, ARE DECIDING WHETHER TO WORK ON AN URGENT PRESS AD OR GO TO LUNCH. THEY DECIDE THE PRESS AD ISN'T ALL THAT URGENT. THEY EXIT AND CROSS THE ROAD TO SARATOGA'S CAFE, AN ORDINARY LUNCH SPOT WITH PRETENSIONS TO GREATNESS.

JESS (STARING AT THE SPECIALS BOARD): I'll have the angel hair pasta with crab meat, chili and ginger.

DECLAN: Sounds disgusting, Jess. I can't decide between the Caesar salad or the vegetarian foccaccia.

JESS: You've got no imagination, Deccy. I mean, come on, Caesar salad? Some tired cos, a few burnt bits of bacon and a slop of mayonnaise?

DECLAN: No, the Caesar is actually good here. They assemble it on the spot rather than dredging it from a cold bain marie like most places up and down St Kilda Road. What did you think of Clyde?

JESS: Fattest bore in advertising. That's two great achievements straight away. He's supposed to be landing a big retail client.

DECLAN: It better be good. I'm sick of working on industrial boltcutters, cat enemas, pest extermination chemicals and carpet glue.

JESS: You're never satisfied, Declan. That carpet glue campaign was actually quite creative.

DECLAN: Yes, but because it was x rated, it never actually ran.

JESS: Yeah. Well, carpet glue. It kind of suggests the obvious. Anyway, who cares it never ran? It still cleaned up at awards night.

DECLAN: I know. That's crazy. You don't need to actually run an ad to enter it in awards.

JESS: Of course not. But then, award judges don't go around checking minor details like whether an ad has run or not.

DECLAN: No. In fact, they don't go around checking any details at all. They spend three weeks in Cannes snorting white dust and then pointing a shaking finger at a board like pin the tail on the donkey. It's their reward for being gurus of the industry. And old and fat and almost dead.

JESS: You'll be like that one day, Dec; and then you'll be glad of a little chemically-induced stress relief.

DECLAN: No, I won't, Jess. Because I won't be in the industry any more. I'll be retired. It completely escapes me why people want to continue working twelve hour days into their late fifties. I've known creative directors who don't know their own children's names because they never see them except on weekends.

JESS: Speaking of creative directors, here comes Leopard.

(JESS CALLS OUT TO LEOPARD)

Hey, Leonard - I mean Leopard - any idea of what big-name retail account Clyde is bringing in? We want to know whether we should practice drawing fridges, ladies' fashions, cans of baked beans or circular saws.

LEOPARD: Jess, you couldn't draw any of those if your life depended on it. So why bother worrying?

JESS: Thanks for the vote of confidence in your top team, Leopard. And I'm not worried, I'm just mildly interested.

LEOPARD: Well, I don't know. I haven't spoken at length to the fat windbag. Although I did see some case studies from some of the traditional fashion houses of Europe and the US when he dropped his folder in the boardroom and everything fell out.

JESS: David Jones? Myer? Henry Buck's?

LEOPARD: We'll see.

HE GAZES AWAY. HE KNOWS.

26.8.16

Nuts and brassicas.

Yeah, I had to read it twice as well. Some headlines do that to you.

Pasta with walnuts and broccoli.

Something to do with flavour or texture or both. Nuts go with members of the brassica family and if you underscore that pairing with something warm and bland and homely, like traditional home-made pasta, and bind it with a compatible fat - cream or cheese or both - you have the makings of a great dish.

Hence the following:

Cook the pasta. Rigatoni is my fallback when discrete components appear in the sauce, but for this I used farfalle, usually incorrectly translated as bowties for the obvious reason, but when you know it means butterflies, you will never again look upon a pack of them in a shop as an item of men's clothing.

Meanwhile, cook a finely chopped onion and a clove of garlic in some olive oil in a shallow non-stick pan. Then add half a cup of white wine, the same amount of cream, and a shower of walnuts. Stir and reduce.

When the pasta is almost cooked, throw in enough broccoli florets to populate each serving dish with about half a dozen. When just tender, drain the lot. Place in serving bowls, pour over walnut cream sauce. Add crumbled blue cheese if desired.

*

Serve the old-fashioned way saying Grace before Meals, if anyone remembers that, and add a prayer for those poor souls trapped under crumbled fourteenth-century buildings in Italy.

19.8.16

The Flight, Part Two.

WAYNE, A JADED ADVERTISING AGENCY MD, IS ON A LONG DISTANCE FLIGHT WITH AGENCY ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE, TRENT, WHOSE OVER-EARNEST RAMBLINGS ABOUT THE UPCOMING BUSINESS PITCH ARE KEEPING WAYNE AWAKE DESPITE HAVING RELIEVED THE PLANE OF ITS SINGLE MALT WHISKY STOCKS. TRENT WANTS TO REVIEW THE PITCH (TO INTERNATIONAL EQUESTRIONAGE, A BETTING 'INTELLIGENCE' COMPANY) DESPITE IT BEING THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.

SUDDENLY THE PLANE HITS TURBULENCE. TRENT HITS THE ROOF AND THEN BECOMES AS MAUDLIN AS A DRUNK IN A EUGENE O'NEILL PLAY.

TRENT: You need a holiday Wayne. Why don't you take this weekend off?

WAYNE: What's a weekend?

TRENT (DOESN'T GET SARCASM): It's the days in between Friday and Monday when other people relax, have long leisurely breakfasts, go and play golf, and play with their children.

WAYNE (DOWNING THE LATEST SCOTCH AND GETTING TEARY AND MOROSE):
Oh. I must have one soon then. I've got children, you know.

(PAUSE)

I wonder what their names are.

TRENT (ALSO DOESN'T GET RHETORICAL SADNESS): Rosie and Lachlan, Wayne.

WAYNE: What pretty names, Trent. I wonder who thought of them.

TRENT: Probably your wife, Wayne.

(PAUSE)

WAYNE: Probably.

(PAUSE)

I wonder what her name is.

TRENT: Now you're being ridiculous, Wayne.

WAYNE (RATIONAL AGAIN, HAVING APPEASED HIS SORROW): No I'm not. I can't remember my own fucking name half the time, why should I remember my wife's?

TRENT: Oh, because you married her?

And your childrens' names because they're your children. You know, what you thought were the most important things in your life.

Once.

(LONG PAUSE. WAYNE REACHES MECHANICALLY FOR HIS GLASS WHICH IS NOW EMPTY)

WAYNE: Trent, one minute you're the world's greatest up-and-coming advertising executive, and the next minute you sound like a freakin' new age personal relationship columnist.

You know, people who solve the problems of world-wide recession, massive unemployment, terrorism, splintering economies and El Nino by saying read more bunny books to your kids. Great.

TRENT: Sorry, Wayne.

WAYNE: That's all right.

WRETCHEDNESS HITS AGAIN. HE STARTS TO CRY.

TRENT: What's the matter now, Wayne?

WAYNE (SNIFFLING): Nothing.

I just remembered the bunny book I had as a kid.

TRENT (SHAKES HIS HEAD): Christ. Lost the plot.

WAYNE (ALMOST TO HIMSELF): I loved that book.

I took it to bed every night. (SOBS) The bunny's name was Bobby and when he got lost in the forest I cried until he was saved by a badger called Stanley.

Now all I get to read is fucking inflight magazines full of ads for $200 business shirts and $10,000 watches and articles about carbon-neutral spa resorts in rainforests where you get to eat organic watercress. For breakfast.

TRENT: Yep. You definitely need a holiday Wayne.

WAYNE (SUDDENLY RALLIES, CALLS DOWN THE AISLE): Ah, hostess? Or stewardess or whatever your fuckin' job title is ... have we got time for another scotch before we crash?

May as well drink it.

It'll only go to waste.

TRENT IS FINALLY SILENCED.

WAYNE FALLS ASLEEP WITHOUT ANOTHER SCOTCH.

THE PLANE EVENTUALLY LANDS WITHOUT INCIDENT, TRENT WAKES WAYNE AND THEY CATCH A CAB TO THEIR HOTEL.

NEXT MORNING, TRENT'S LAPTOP MALFUNCTIONS DURING THE PRESENTATION, HE IS UNABLE TO PRESENT THE POWERPOINT SHOW, AND HAS TO REVERT TO USING HUMAN LANGUAGE SKILLS TO OUTLINE THE AGENCY'S CREATIVE PLANS.

EQUESTRIONAGE'S MD IS IMPRESSED, SAYING: 'I SACKED THE LAST AGENCY BECAUSE THEY SHOWED ME ONE TOO MANY POWERPOINT PRESENTATIONS. YOU'VE GOT THE ACCOUNT, GUYS!'

ON THE WAY OUT, WAYNE TELLS TRENT, 'I TOLD YOU SO.'

TRENT IS COMPLETELY SILENT FOR THE ENTIRE RETURN FLIGHT. THE PLANE LANDS IN MELBOURNE, AND AS THEY WALK THROUGH THE TERMINAL, TRENT THROWS HIS LAPTOP IN A DUMPSTER.

11.8.16

The Flight, Part One.

Rated R: adult themes, strong language, threats of violence, extreme sexism, etc. etc. In other words, a perfectly normal conversation between mature adults in the pre-'You Can't Say That!' era.

ON AN AEROPLANE SOMEWHERE. IT IS LATE AT NIGHT, POSSIBLY EVEN EARLY IN THE MORNING. THE BLACKNESS OUT THE WINDOW GIVES NO CLUE.

WAYNE AND TRENT - OF ADVERTISING AGENCY BLAKE, BROWNING, BURNS - ARE IN ADJOINING SEATS FLYING TO A FAR DISTANT LOCATION WHERE THEY ARE TO PRESENT A NEW BUSINESS PITCH TO A MAJOR CORPORATION WHICH PRODUCES HIGHLY SECRET SOFTWARE USED BY INTERNATIONAL GAMBLING INTELLIGENCE PROVIDERS FOR THE HORSERACING INDUSTRY.

WAYNE, 41, IS AGENCY MANAGING DIRECTOR AND HAS SEEN IT ALL. HE KNOWS THE TRICKS AND CAN PICK BULLSHIT AT A HUNDRED YARDS. HE HAS BEEN AROUND LONG ENOUGH TO KNOW THAT THE ENTIRE ADVERTISING INDUSTRY IS A GAME PEOPLE INDULGE THEMSELVES IN TO PREVENT BOREDOM. WAYNE IS SEMICOMATOSE AFTER SEVERAL EXTREMELY ENJOYABLE SINGLE MALTS.

TRENT, 28, IS A TRIGGER-HAPPY ACCOUNT MANAGER AT B, B, B AND IS ON THE WAY UP. HE IS VERY CLIENT-FRIENDLY, VERY AMBITIOUS, AND NOT ALL THAT CLEVER. TRENT IS WIDE AWAKE.

TRENT (TAPS WAYNE ON THE ARM): Wayne, what exactly do you really think about the presentation, in your heart of hearts? Do you think we can improve it? I think maybe there are some parts of it that could be even better. I want to get the 'wow!' factor into it. Do you think should we run through it again right now? (HE STARTS TO REACH INTO THE OVERHEAD LOCKER FOR HIS BRIEFCASE)

WAYNE (OPENS HIS EYES SLIGHTLY): Trent, do you realise what time it is? And what time zone we're in?

TRENT: No, Wayne, I always lose track of time when I'm flying.

WAYNE: You haven't flown enough then. Plus, we can improve the presentation by forgetting about it for half an hour while I get some sleep.

TRENT (IGNORES HIM): Do you think it's punchy enough? Don't forget International Equestrialage is going straight into another pitch afterwards. They need to have ours engraved on their memories. We need to go out with a real bang. Do you reckon it's big enough, exciting enough ...

WAYNE (EYES CLOSED AGAIN): Yeah.

TRENT: Are you sure, Wayne?

WAYNE (BEING VERY PATIENT, THE SINGLE MALTS ARE KICKING IN): Yeah.

TRENT: What about the graphics?

WAYNE (MAYBE GETTING A TOUCH IRRITABLE): What about the graphics, Trent?

TRENT: Can we make them work any harder? Let's just have another look while we've got time.

WAYNE (EYES FULLY OPEN NOW): I was already dreaming about graphics - very nice graphics - without wanting to actually look at yours for the thousandth time, Trent.

TRENT (STILL DOESN'T GET THE HINT): I really think it's a great opportunity for the agency, Wayne. Accounts like this don't fall out of the sky.

THE PLANE HITS TURBULENCE

WAYNE (JOLTED OUT OF NEAR SLUMBER): Jesus! I know they don't fall out of the sky, Trent. I ought to, I've been in the business for twenty years.

PAUSE - MORE TURBULENCE; 'FASTEN SEATBELT' SIGN COMES ON

But I think we're about to fall out of the fuckin' sky though Trent, so will you do me a favour and just shut up about the friggin' presentation for ten minutes while I try and get some rest before we either land or crash?

Either way I'll need my strength, either for climbing out of the burning wreckage, or else for coping with a three hour presentation consisting of some totally boring marketing executive delivering yet another mundane marketing plan, several media executives discussing television ratings in regional areas of outback Queensland and a hundred completely unintelligible flow charts on PowerPoint.

Come to think of it, I think I'd prefer the first option quite frankly. (CALLS TO AIR STEWARDESS WHO IS PASSING)

Hostess, would you ask the pilot to crash this plane immediately. But before you do that, bring me another single malt. Life's too short to drink blended whisky.

HOSTESS (HAS A SENSE OF HUMOUR, UNLIKE WAYNE RIGHT NOW): Certainly sir, another Macallan coming up. And don't call me hostess. I'm an air stewardess or a cabin attendant. The choice is yours. However, I don’t think the pilot will accede to your request to crash the plane. It's just had its annual service. (SHE MOVES TOWARDS THE GALLEY)

WAYNE (TURNS TO TRENT; MANAGES A GRIM CHUCKLE THAT SOUNDS MORE LIKE A HACKING COUGH): Did you hear that Trent? Did you hear that? With a sense of humour like that she should be in advertising, not spending her life handing out mind-numbing alcoholic substances at 30,000 feet to jaded executives!

TRENT (SUDDENLY SYMPATHETIC WITH WAYNE): You totally need a holiday Wayne. Why don't you take this weekend off?

WAYNE: What's a weekend?

TO BE CONTINUED