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

29.10.16

The Cup Day Holiday Part Two: Yasmiijn draws the sweep.

On Friday morning before the Melbourne Cup weekend, there had been furious jockeying between the creative staff to win the Cup Eve Monday off as a holiday. Creative director Jason had a kind of reverse-Solomon moment in preventing inter-staff jealousy by awarding the bonus Monday to himself (as he had in the past three years).

Meanwhile, everyone had been called into the boardroom for drawing of the annual Melbourne Cup sweep, which Yasmiijn de Reverien was to draw. Jason has recently appointed her as his new personal assistant, a job title he changed to 'creative co-ordinator' to deflect any suggestion of inferiority, servitude, misogyny, sexism etc. Yasmiijn's employment was greeted with scepticism from the rest of the creative department; and raised eyebrows from management, but Jason insisted he be allowed to staff his own department without interference.

Yasmiijn has flame red hair and is wearing a silky thing that looks like it was woven by butterflies. It is probably a dress. To say she is wearing it is probably overstating the case. Rather, she is in its general vicinity. It floats and sighs with her every movement.

Although Yasmiijn's name suggests Dutch East Indies and French extraction, her grandparents were migrant waterside workers from Glasgow, and her original name was Cheryl Hodgebottom. Cheryl changed her first name to Yasmiijn when she turned twenty-one, giving it a double 'i' and a 'j' for some European intrigue. However, the new name didn't really work with Hodgebottom, so a year later she changed her surname by deed poll to de Reverien, which everyone seemed to agree was an improvement. Yasmiijn was hence able to hide her original no-nonsense anglo-scottish character behind an exotic persona.

*

JASON HAS ASKED YASMIIJN TO HANDLE THE MELBOURNE CUP DRAW, WHICH IS USUALLY THE KIND OF THING THAT IS RUN BY THE PRODUCTION DEPARTMENT, OR A JUNIOR ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE, OR THE AGENCY MD – IN OTHER WORDS, PEOPLE WITH NOTHING MUCH TO DO ALL DAY. MAYBE JASON HAS NOTHING MUCH TO DO ALL DAY, OR JUST WANTS TO BE THE CENTRE OF ATTENTION.

JASON: There's fifteen thousand riding on this which the agency has so kindly tipped in from its media graft proceeds ...

(HE WINKS AT ANNETTE, MEDIA BUYING CHIEF)

ANNETTE: If only, Jason.

JASON: Rubbish, Annette. How do you think Harold Mitchell bought a cattle station? And of the fifteen thousand, ten for the winner, two for second and third; and, as usual, a grand for last just to keep it interesting.

YASMIIJN HAS PLACED ALL THE HORSE NAMES (WHICH SHE HAS CUT OUT FROM RACE FIVE IN THE FORM GUIDE) AND STAFF NAMES INTO TWO DIFFERENT BOXES AND IS ABOUT TO START DRAWING THEM.

SHE REACHES DEEP INTO THE FIRST BOX, DRAWS OUT A TINY PIECE OF PAPER AND READS THE NAME WITH A FURROWED BROW.

And the first horse to be drawn is ... (LOOKS AGAIN AT THE HORSE'S NAME TO DOUBLE CHECK THE PRONUNCIATION) ... Lucretia's Dream!

THEN SHE REACHES INTO THE BOX OF STAFF NAMES, AND UP COMES A TINY PIECE OF PAPER IN HER FINE, LONG-NAILED FINGERS.

YASMIIJN (SMILES AS HER EYES FLASH AROUND THE ROOM LOOKING FOR THE PERSON WHOSE NAME SHE HAS DRAWN): And Lucretia's Dream has been drawn by ... Annette! Congratulations, Annette!

ANNETTE, THE MEDIA BUYER, IS OF MEDIUM HEIGHT WITH DARK HAIR AND RED LIPS. SHE WEARS AN EXPENSIVE TAILORED TWO-PIECE TWEED SUIT, ITALIAN SHOES AND INTERESTING JEWELLERY.

YASMIIJN REACHES AROUND TO THE WHITEBOARD AND PLACES THE PIECES OF PAPER UNDER MAGNETS AT THE TOP OF TWO NEAT COLUMNS HEADED 'HUMAN' AND 'HORSE'. THE WORD 'HUMAN' INSTEAD OF 'DRAWER' IS JASON'S IRONIC ANIMISTIC TOUCH; BUT BOB THE CLEANER, AS THE AGENCY ARBITER OF COMMON SENSE, CALLS IT BULLSHIT.

YASMIIJN TURNS BACK TO THE BOXES AND STARTS TO DRAW THE NEXT HORSE. INTO THE BOX GOES HER LITHE FRECKLED BARE ARM. SHE LEANS A LITTLE LOWER. SEVERAL PEOPLE, NOT ALL OF WHOM ARE MEN, ALMOST VISIBLY WINCE IN A KIND OF SUPPRESSED EMOTION WHICH COULD BE ADMIRATION OR COULD BE JEALOUSY OR COULD BE SOMETHING ELSE LESS INNOCENT OR COULD BE THEIR HEAD ABOUT TO EXPLODE, FOR THAT MATTER.

YASMIIJN (LOOKS AROUND AND BEAMS): Massimo? It's you. And your horse is: Zelad Marcos!

MASSIMO (PRINT BUYER, GUFFAWS LIKE ONE): You beauty! Zelad Marcos! (TURNS TO ONE OF HIS MATES) What are its odds? (MATE SHRUGS. HE'S NEVER HEARD OF IT. BUT THERE IS A MURMUR OF SOMETHING AT THE BACK OF THE ROOM)

YASMIIJN DRAWS AGAIN (COQUETTISHLY): Leon! You this time! And your horse is ... Maurizio's Apparition!

THE MURMURS GROW AROUND THE ROOM, AND A VOICE SPEAKS FROM THE BACK. IT IS ...

ZIGGY: Hang on, Yasmiijn ... there's no horse called Maurizio's Apparition running in the Cup.

GRAM (WHO WAS NAMED AFTER A ROCK STAR THAT NO-ONE REMEMBERS ANY MORE SO HE HAS TO CONTINUALLY EXPLAIN THAT HE IS NOT A UNIT OF WEIGHT): Nor is there a horse called Zelad Marcos, Jason.

GRAM POINTEDLY ASKS JASON, RATHER THAN YASMIIJN, TO EXPLAIN.

JASON (RED-FACED): Ah, Yasmiijn, you cut out the horses. What's going on?

YASMIIJN: I cut them out from the form guide you gave me, Jason. Race Five. It's still on your table ...

JASON DISAPPEARS INTO HIS OFFICE AND EMERGES AGAIN WITH THE REMAINS OF A CHOPPED UP FORM GUIDE.

JASON (STARING AT THE SHARDS OF PAPER): Ah, Yasmiijn ... this isn't the Melbourne Cup field ... you cut out race five from tonight's Harold Park trots.

TITTERS SPREAD AROUND THE BOARDROOM WITH THE OCCASIONAL GUFFAW, DIRECTED AT JASON. MEANWHILE YASMIIJN BITES HER LIP AND GIVES A SAD LITTLE SIGH. SOMETIMES WHE WISHES SHE HAD KEPT HER OLD 'CHERYL' PERSONA, BECAUSE THEN SHE COULD HAVE TURNED TO JASON AND TOLD HIM TO FUCK OFF AND DRAW HIS OWN STUPID CUP SWEEP, A RESPONSE HE SO RICHLY DESERVES. BUT SHE DOESN'T. SHE FEIGNS MOCK SELF-EFFACEMENT, CUTS OUT THE CORRECT RACE, AND REDRAWS THE SWEEP.

*

ON CUP DAY, YASMIIJN'S HORSE WINS AND SHE PICKS UP THE TEN GRAND. JASON'S HORSE IS INJURED DURING THE RACE AND IS PUT DOWN BEHIND A SCREEN ON THE TRACK. YASMIIJN FAILS TO LOCATE JASON IN THE MARQUEE AND ABSCONDS WITH A DUBAI-BASED HORSE-OWNING SHEIK WHO NEVER FINDS OUT HER NAME WAS CHERYL.

27.10.16

Cup Day Holiday, Part One: Jason takes Monday off.

Warning: offensive language, sexist stereotypes, threatened violence and more. Section 18C would not survive a morning in a robust advertising agency. In a place like this, a 'trigger warning' is when you walk through the front door. The following story is true. Some names have been changed.

IT IS THE FRIDAY BEFORE THE MELBOURNE CUP. ACROSS THE CITY, THOUSANDS OF EMPLOYEES GALLOP TO THE MANAGING DIRECTOR'S OFFICE (OR IN THIS CASE, THE CREATIVE DIRECTOR'S PENTHOUSE-LIKE SPACE COMPLETE WITH LEATHER SOFAS AND TWO BRETT WHITELEYS) TO ASK FOR THE MONDAY OFF, MAKING IT A FOUR-DAY WEEKEND.

JASON IS THE CREATIVE DIRECTOR AT BLAKE, BROWNING, BURNS. WITH HIM IN HIS PALATIAL OFFICE ARE ART DIRECTOR ART (YES, ART. ART IS SHORT FOR ARTHUR. IF YOU ARE YOUNGER THAN FORTY YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW THIS BECAUSE THERE HAVE BEEN NO ARTHURS BORN IN THE LAST THIRTY YEARS, EXCEPT THIS PARTICULAR ART, WHO IS 26) AND JAKE, A WRITER.

JASON: I'm not coming in Monday, so you guys will have to take the IronTown brief.

ART (MOCK OBSEQUIOUS): That's fine, Jase. We'll look after it. Have a great four-day weekend. You deserve it after all your great work this week.

(INSIDE, HE THINKS: 'FUCK YOU, JASON, YOU FAT LAZY PRICK, YOU DO THIS TO US EVERY SINGLE YEAR.')

JAKE: Yeah, enjoy your four-day weekend, Jason. Are you going to the Cup?

(SLIGHT PAUSE)

By the way, I thought Ziggy and Gram were taking the IronTown brief.

JASON: Yes, of course I'm going to the Cup. I'm in the TRV corporate marquee with Yasmiijn. And yes, Ziggy and Gram were to work on the IronTown campaign, but the COFF campaign for organic cocoa tofu has come back and Ziggy and Gram have to redo it.

ART: Oh, why?

JASON: The COFF* people rejected the concept. They thought an animated soy bean and coco bean going to bed together might offend their key demographic.

JAKE: What, don't self-obsessed vegan hippies who eat only non-genetically-modified wilting things grown on communes and picked under moonlight ever have sex?

JASON: I'm sure they do, Jake, although it would probably be better if they didn’t. Either way, you guys will have to do the campaign for IronTown's new range of roofing nails.

ART: Thanks, Jase. Ive always wanted to work on a roof nail account. And it's a shame about the bean idea. I loved the idea of beans having sex with each other and producing little choco-soy beans. It was sooooo cute. Reminded me of the that sixties song, 'Melting Pot'.

JASON: Don't be sarcastic, Art. And that was actually the intended soundtrack:

(HE SINGS)

" ... keep it stirring for a hundred years or more ... turn out coffee coloured people by the score."

(HE COUGHS)

And Art, just be thankful you're not a roof tiler or you'd have to do a lot more than come up with a campaign for roofing nails; you'd have to get up on the fucking roof and nail them in yourself.

ART: Might be a lot less stressful than this business, Jase.

THE LOUDSPEAKER INTERRUPTS

Would everyone (crackle crackle) into the (inaudible crackle again) for the Melbourne Cup (crackle crackle).

JASON: That speaker has been playing up for more than a year. Incredible. We're producing billion dollar campaigns for multinational companies but we can't fix a speaker in our own roof. One day the building will burn down, and they won't be able to tell us to evacuate, and we'll all burn to death because of a single broken speaker needing one tradesman with a screwdriver to fix.

THEY ALL TROOP INTO THE BOARDROOM

TO BE CONTINUED

*Completely Organic Food Favourites Pty Ltd.

21.10.16

Winning post.

A cold wind blasted up from the south and the sky was steel grey. I was walking through a patchwork of emerald green paddocks where I once walked as a child with my parents, picking mushrooms. The mushrooms still pop up occasionally but these days the fields are given over to another purpose.

I walked along a fence line and saw a horse standing in the cold air in the middle of the paddock. I came closer. The horse seemed to be on a slight lean. It was old. Its eye was on me. It picked up its hooves and ambled over. I walked slowly along, outside the fence. The horse followed me a little way, and then its attention was drawn by another horse in the corner of the field.

I came to a gate. On it a sign read: Fields of Omagh. Suddenly I heard a thunderclap. It sounded like 30,000 people screaming, willing a horse past a finishing post on a tight, curved racecourse track. Then silence.

Another paddock. Another old horse. Another sign: Might and Power. The noise and vision this time was a much larger crowd, a louder noise, a longer track, an interminable distance, a horse well in front, just in front, a short half head ... Silence.

I walked on. It was like a dream. More senior steeds. They came out of their middle distances like ghosts, some grey, hobbling. Some shared fields. Two were nipping each other in play as I watched.

Once millions of eyes had been on these creatures; now just mine. More signs. Brew. Chief de Beers. Maluckyday. Rogan Josh. Paris Lane. Zipping. (Zipping! Four Sandown Classics on the gallop!)

*

You can book a guided tour and they tell you about the horses. Going on your own is better. In a sports-mad city like Melbourne, this is a religious experience. Not 'quasi-': this is the real thing. Decades of winners standing stolidly in the fields, you, the grey sky, and no sound except the gentle pad of an approaching horse; and if you're lucky, a deep, muffled cough that was once a triumphant whinny.

15.10.16

Knockin' on the Institute's Door.

From a news report:
But others called the academy’s decision misguided and questioned whether songwriting, however brilliant, rises to the level of literature.
And can you believe they're still smarting from the time he picked up an electric guitar?

14.10.16

World's most out-of-the-way cricket ground.

I was researching a long-defunct 1960s cricket team called the Northern Cricketers.

The Northern Cricketers were a social side who played on Sundays at Holbrook Reserve, West Brunswick. The ground was at the westernmost point of the suburb, perched on a horseshoe bend of the Moonee Ponds Creek, so that a good stroke over cover would land in that part of Moonee Ponds immediately south of Moonee Valley Racecourse. Just a short way south of the ground is the Essendon Hockey Club and Ormond Park, home of the Moonee Valley FC, once known as the Fog, as anyone familiar with that low-lying area would know, especially on those cold autumn evenings at the start of footy season.

OK, the place is dripping with sporting history.

I didn't know if Holbrook Reserve still existed. So I investigated. A glance at the map showed that it looked to be almost obliterated by the Tullamarine freeway, which was built in the early 1970s. However, the ground survived, and I found it. The freeway is its east boundary, and it is so close you can touch it. I stood there at square leg wondering how many balls have smashed windscreens heading to the airport in the intervening years.

Holbrook Reserve has a nominal street address - 8 Jewell Crescent - but that's like saying Ronald Ryan's last address was Champ Street, Coburg. It kind of was but kind of wasn't.

I got to Holbrook Reserve by finding Jewell Crescent near the start of Dean St, or the end of Brunswick Rd, take your pick. Then I drove down Jewell Crescent to what appeared to be a dead end. On closer look, it wasn't. I turned left into a virtual drainway under the Tullmarine Freeway, and crunched over some gravel in the darkness, on a very narrow concrete lip parallel with the Moonee Ponds creek. It would be easy to slip into the creek here. I wondered how many cricketers cars ended up in the fast-flowing channel after a few beers on game day over the years.

I managed to safely negotiate this frightening piece of below-freeway infrastructure, and emerged blinking into the midday sun shining on a hidden field, like a crop circle in a vast industrial estate.

Around the perimeter was a circumference of daisy-spotted grass, a coin-in-the-slot barbecue, and a pavilion. That was all. It was the quintessential Australian cricket ground.

When I arrived, the roller had just finished and was loading back up onto the truck. The pitch looked perfect, with that pale green tone that contrasts so beautifully with the deep green of the surrounding grass.

*

I suggested to my old running friends that they take a run up the Moonee Ponds creek walking path, cross over at Brunswick Road, and add in a lap of Holbrook Reserve.

7.10.16

Charity begins at home.

Late morning. I was on the phone to yet another 1800 number listening to yet another 'menu'.

If you want to give money, press one: you're first. To increase your monthly direct-debit donation, press two: we'll be with you in a millisecond. To hear a heart-warming story about a dog who would have died except for someone's $50 donation, press three. If you have no heart, hang up now.

It was the twenty-fifth 'charity' I'd called that day. They call themselves charities, but they are collection agency call centres for non-government organisations.

*

She averages a dozen request-for-money letters a week. I help her collect them from the letterbox, because she can barely reach it nowadays. She is in her late eighties and elderly widows are gold for the charity sector.

Hence the torrent of mail. The fronts of the envelopes have faces with big, sad eyes and short headlines which telegraph the next death sentence that could be delayed or stayed via a quick reply, with money.

I explained to her how they work, but she didn't quite understand. Of course, she has been giving money to one or two genuine benevolent organisations for many years. For example, the Columban Missions who produce the iconic (literally) annual calendar that has graced the kitchen wall of every Melbourne Catholic household for decades (apart from those who have long since abandoned the church and embraced agnosticism or atheism or jedi or asatru or whatever - until they have children, of course, and then they come knocking on the presbytery door to get their kids into the school. "Yes, of course we go to Mass!")

*

I was on another call and having gotten through to a person, I repeated my request.

"I'd like to remove a name from your mailing list, please," I said, patiently, waiting to see what reaction I would get this time.

Sometimes they ask 'why?', in contravention of the Australian Direct Marketing Code of Ethics. I've worked in this business - indirectly, in an advisory capacity - so I know what they are allowed to say. If someone requests a name to be removed from a mailing list used for the purposes of raising funds, the relevant body may not query the request or put up any barrier, such as asking why. Particularly 'why?' in an aggressive tone. They are allowed to ask your identity.

But this particular person, a well-spoken and friendly woman who sounded in her forties, did not ask why.

Not only did she not ask why, she also told me she would inform the list broker.

*

The list broker is the person who buys and sells your mother.

By paying an NGO a large amount of money, he is able to gain unlimited access to the details of their entire mailing list.

He can then sell these details to other interested parties.

Of course, the NGO quite often initiates the process. After extensive data collection, any organisation holds a valuable and unique asset which is worth a great deal of money.

It is worth a great deal of money because what every fund-raising organisation wants is - in their own jargon - "pre-qualified prospects". In other words, people on the list are more likely to donate again because they are already confirmed donors. And you can request to buy a list demographically tailored to your own business; for example, 60-plus widows with eastern suburbs addresses. Plenty of money and nothing to spend it on apart from getting the tennis court swept and the chimneys cleaned. Send 10,000 of those with a request for a minimum donation of $50 clothed in a brochure dripping with emotional-blackmail and pictures of sad, dark eyes with the heartbreaking bits in the text double-underlined, and you'll - even with a reply rate of a conservative 50% - net $250,000 for one mail shot.

*

If you see a reassuring statement somewhere, you think it exists everywhere. But it doesn't. "We will not pass on your details to any third party" does not exist with many organisations. Some make you tick a box about the size of an ant's head if you "wish not to receive correspondence from charities in whose work you may be interested". Couched in those terms, ticking the box seems a little mean-spirited.

But "whose work you may be interested in" is an altruistic disguise of its literal meaning, which is: "Thank you for not ticking the box! By not doing so you are allowing us to sell your details to a list broker who will then on-sell it to other organisations for a lot of money! Thank you again!"

*

The friendly lady was telling me she would inform the list broker that the name was to be removed from his entire list, as it was not authorised by the individual donor. That's pro-active. She's probably a revolutionary, white-anting the charity industry from the inside.