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

27.6.19

Tolkien. Not Theoden, Peregrine Took, or Treebeard.

Having lost his father at three and his mother at twelve, the breach of a close familial circle would always weight heavily on J. R. R. Tolkien. It is the theme of Tolkien, the movie.

The young Tolkien is placed in foster care under a Catholic priest who later bans his girlfriend Edith, insisting the student go up to Oxford. There, Tolkien bonds with three fellow poets, the quartet calling themselves the Tea Club and Barrovian Society (TCBS). The scenes of their poetry meetings at the Barrow are realistic and are devoid of the slow-motion filmic tics and posh-Brit characterisations typical of the genre.

War ensues. The company is burst asunder. In scenes of blood and death in the Somme, an injured, fevered Tolkien staggers through mud and gore in a fruitless search for two of the members of TCBS. Delirious, he thinks he hears the voice of one who is already dead calling desperately. As soldiers and horses are cut down and fire burns and blood pools into small dams of red, walled by the dead and dying, a horse momentarily transfigures into a black rider, and a tongue of fire resembles a shadowy dragon, its eyes embers.

But these scenes that fleetingly telegraph Tolkien's fictional characters amidst the fire and the craters of death are too subtle; too little for the film critics, clearly dulled by a hammering popular culture that wants a juvenile heavy-handedness and overt literality that kills any sense of foreboding or anticipation.

Suffering trench fever, Tolkien is repatriated to England, where Edith is waiting. The film ends with Tolkien's pen poised over paper, about to write the words you know he will write:
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
Herald Sun reviewer Leigh Paatsch, under the headline 'Flawed of the Rings', complains that the cinema patron got " ... no bang for (his) Middle Earth buck ...". He should have noticed that the film's title is Tolkien, not The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, nor The Return of the King. Those films tell those stories.

Dome Karukoki's revelatory direction brings the sense of family and fellowship - we call it mateship - to the fore; the creation of bonds, the loss of them due to chance or evil; the horrors that live alongside human dignity; and at last, the theory as old as humanity itself: that good triumphs over evil.

Usually.

13.6.19

Lunch in a northern town.

The sun was out but a cool late-autumn breeze was just enough to put jackets on the golfers scuttling down out of the green hills and heading greenwards. I locked the cabin and pointed the car south, back alongside the river through shopless Kelso, tiny timber houses either side of the road, and past the dock at Beauty Point where the estuary is still deep enough for a 100-berth marina.

A right turn just before Beaconsfield brought some low mountains into the middle distance. We wandered through high farmland and tree plantations that were partly-logged, leaving mohawks of forest on otherwise bald hills. Then the road went around a high spot and after a long curve, a mountain moved out of the way to reveal the sea down below. A town appeared, crouching on a long low hill that faced the water.

Ulverstone sat in the sun doing nothing as we approached. The road went through several roundabouts full of no cars, and suddenly we were in the main street. Unusually for a coastal town, it wasn't beachfront, but arched instead east to west over a kind of plateau, with a southern backdrop of lurking dark hills, and giving a high view over terraced roads winding down to the sea. I u-turned the car, parked facing east in the shade of the northern verandahs of a row of shops, and looked for somewhere to eat.

*

Growing children don't like smashed avocado on grain bread. The volume just isn't enough. It's a simple matter of fuel. Nor are they satisfied with those rolled-up flat bread things with rocket leaves inside. So we went into a café that looked like it did volume, or something approaching a reasonable return on investment, a term that the inner city stock market investor often forgets when it comes to lunchtime. The waitress had a smoker's voice and an appreciation of customer appetite. She would know: later, after the boys had eaten themselves silly, she told me with a wistful note in her voice that her own boys had grown up, in their twenties now, gone away from home.

The burgers were the size of the plates so the chips had to have their own bowl. A few kinds of sauce bottles were on the table with salt, pepper, vinegar, I forget what else. Toasted sandwiches landed on the table 1980s style, a wicker basket holding eight points yielding red, pink and pale yellow melting middles. Ham, cheese, tomato. There is only one toasted sandwich filling. All the rest are phonies. Scrambled eggs on toast fed about four of us and we ordered something else that I've also forgotten. I had a coffee first, extra strong, the first of the day. It woke me up. I must have got here somehow.

We were at a front table in one corner, overlooking the street. A clutch of Japanese tourists was about three shops away when two scouts shot out, reached the café and stared in. One gazed at the menu inside the window and then the main phalanx arrived and they had a debate. Mid-conference, some dissidents broke away and kept going. The rest crossed the road, except for a middle-aged man wearing a white baseball cap who pushed open the door, took up a seat in a corner, ordered, and dined alone. Close by was an older woman who looked like a regular, conversing throughout with an unseen person behind a screen to the kitchen.

*

The burgers had been followed by 1960s-era sundaes the size of submarines. Later, the teen and two pre-teens slumped in the car, spent. They would doze through the next stage of the journey, moving with the curves like larger versions of the caged love birds on the back seat behind Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor in The Birds.

The road out of Ulverstone swept around for endless afternoon silent miles, dodging more hills. Villages slid past with English names. But they're not English. Northern Tasmania is loggers, farmers, footballers, truck-drivers, miners, grocers.

*

Deloraine is a vision set in middle north forest and farm, a diamond in the pale sun, a country town that used to be farm central and church bells ringing out on Sundays. I drove through it once years ago and the main street that cascades down from west to east was all hay bales and live sheep in the back of utes. These days the road sign at the entrance to the town reads Creative Community.

I rolled down the cascade and pulled into the pocket park at the bottom end, near where the old railway that used to haul logs and hessian bags full of everything crosses the river. The three in the back of the car roused themselves out of post-gluttony sloth, and one of them mentioned snacks while looking into the westering sun, figuring it was around afternoon tea time. He was right. I left them and their mother in the park stretching their legs and wandered back up the hill to where an IGA supermarket was set back behind a butcher shop and an RSL club: '$12 steaks' on a sandwich board out front. Halfway up the hill was a cluster of cafés and new age craft shops. They used to be called haberdasheries, shelves running the length of the store and up to the ceiling holding enough wool to knit jumpers for ten armies. Now they sell aromatic candles and rugs that have already been crocheted and coloured rocks that glow. Inside the cafés the customers frowned at their devices, perfect coffees in front of them, with sharp grey haircuts, geometric earrings and lipstick as red as the Stop Adani signs in the windows.

*

Late in the afternoon, back in Green's Beach, the golfers were going back into their doors in the hill like tired hobbits going home to Hobbiton after a day of fighting orcs.

*

Gloria's Cafe
31 Reibey Street
Ulverstone, Tasmania


Kitchen Hand rating: forget Hungry Jacks, the burgers are better here. Or whatever their slogan is.