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

5.12.18

If this doesn't melt your ice caps nothing will.

The Herald Sun, among other newspapers, reports on an intergalactic collision:
A collision between two massive black holes generated ripples in time and space and formed another black hole, 80 times bigger than the sun, according to a new discovery by Australian and international scientists.
When? Yesterday? It doesn't say. But caution is advised:
In total, four black hole collisions have been detected ... "These were from four different binary black hole systems smashing together and radiating strong gravitational waves out into space," ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering's Professor Susan Scott said.
And I was worried about snakes. But look out, there's more to come:
... a third observational run by LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) next year would add to the identification of 10 black-hole mergers and one neutron star collision.
Just to be on the safe side, I'm digging a bunker in the backyard this weekend.
Meanwhile, check out these black holes at the Town Hall on December 22. Beware! Black Holes sounds like Link Wray meets the Hondells with a bit of Johnny Duncan and His Bluegrass Boys thrown in. Twang!

22.11.18

Banking Royal Commission steals ten-year-old script.

Forget Rowena Orr v. Catherine Livingstone. I wrote the Banking Royal Commission script ten years ago. If the bankers had had any balls at all (and I'm talking about the blokes) the exchanges would have proceeded along the following lines (from the link above):
BANKER: Fine. It was a question. Thanks for clearing that up. Now I’ll answer it.

Firstly, as I said earlier, I'm no seer. Nor am I a morals crusader, a nanny, a pastor, a household budgetary advisor, a schoolteacher of mathematics, an economics lecturer, a logician or a homespun philosopher. I'm a banker, even if the title is misleading today. Banks used to bank money, now they just it shovel it out the front door to passersby, who sometimes give it back, with interest. Sometimes. Maybe a bit less so lately.

But I haven't the time, the inclination, the necessity nor even the legal capability of assessing a borrower's home life, spending habits, financial intentions or any one of a number of other indicators of fiscal health beyond the current very limited criteria, all of which are government regulator-mandated, might I add.

HE TAKES A BREATH

Qualms? You know what? If you want that kind of banker you're forty years too late. Once upon a time I could upbraid a borrower for daring to walk into my office without cowering in fear. Or for not wearing the suit he wore to church on Sunday. And if I felt mean that day, I could leave him languishing in an outer-room waiting chair for two hours with no magazine racks full of Property Investor or BRW Rich 500 or water fountain or Cafe Bar machine to keep him amused and he'd be all the more grateful when I finally decided to let him in.

In those days, for every loan I approved after long and serious contemplation, I'd knock back five after no contemplation at all. Plus, just try getting your wife to apply for a loan forty years ago and see how far she got.

ANOTHER PAUSE

OK, you're shocked. Nowadays everyone think everyone should be able to get everything they want, including debt, and as much of it as you want. Sure. But you can't have it both ways. The upside was, forty years ago you needed a thing called a substantial deposit, which demonstrated not just a propensity for saving but also provided a better borrowing-to-assets ratio. A cushion. Now it's 100% in the loan. Even more if you want to renovate or tour the world for six months or buy two cars or four boats or six franchises. As well as a deposit, you also needed another thing, called a job. These days it's different. I'm the one who has to dress up for a loan interview. The customer keeps me waiting. And the government tells me I have to loan funds to everyone without fear or favour or the Equal Opportunity Board gets a knock on the door.

Fine. I'll lend to anyone. But don't come after me when the whole house of cards finally collapses.

16.11.18

Double White: a psychedelic trip back in time to 1968.

One day a long time ago, when I was 12, two white objects arrived on the same day at the house where I lived.

The first white object.

The first white object was a piece of glossy white-coated cardboard folded into a perfect square. It was a record album. The title of the album - The Beatles - was embossed into the cover. My older sister brought it home. She liked things like that. She had often brought home similar objects, but the others had been brightly coloured.

We went into the white room and she folded out the cardboard square, took out the first disc and placed it on the record-player, which was a small grey box with a single speaker in its detachable lid.

The sound of a jet taking off came out of the mono speaker. Later there were onions, noise, raccoons, murder, sex in public, crying guitars, guns, pigs and playground equipment which an American madman later misunderstood to be something else.

I sat in the white room and listened to this jumble when a soft humming noise grew louder from outside the white room. It sounded like a flying saucer from a 1950s movie: a hum with an overdubbed soft whine.

The second white object.

The soft whining hum was the second white object, a 1968 Toyota Corona.

The Toyota Corona drove - yes, drove, or at least was driven - into the driveway of my house as I was listening to side 3, track four of The Beatles. It rolled to a stop outside the window of the white room, and its dazzling white exterior threw reflections onto the ceiling of the room where I sat listening. I turned off the record player and went outside into blinding sunshine.

The car had rolled to a stop halfway up the long drive. Two people got out. They were Uncle Joe and Auntie Irene, who lived in Ivanhoe. (Uncle Joe and Auntie Irene were not related to us, but my mother had adopted a vast collection of upper class friends as proxy relatives, so we called them 'auntie' and 'uncle' to validate the proxiness, if there is such a word.)

The brand new white Corona had a blue vinyl interior, a radio, carpet, two side mirrors, and an aggressive nose that slanted forward from bonnet to bumper. The motoring media called the car the 'shovel-nosed Corona'. It was a Farina design, so car snobs were finally able to buy a Japanese car without losing social cachet. 'It's Italian-styled!'

What the critics said.

Of The Beatles, The Observer's Tony Palmer wrote the album 'should surely see the last vestiges of cultural snobbery and bourgeois prejudice swept away in a deluge of joyful music making'.

Of the Corona, motoring writer George Glenroy wrote 'this car sweeps away the Euro-centric snobbery of the upwardly mobile motorist in a symphony of Farina-designed Japanese mastercraft'. (Did Tony Palmer moonlight as a motoring writer?)

Of The Beatles, NYT's Richard Goldstein considered the album 'a major success' and 'far more imaginative' than Sgt. Pepper or Magical Mystery Tour due to the band's improved songwriting and their relying less on the studio tricks of those earlier works.

Of the Corona, The News motor columnist Derek Excel wrote 'with less reliance on the Jap. gimmickry of earlier models the Corona looks to be a major success'. Was Goldstein Excel? Or indeed, was Excel Goldstein?

Derek Jewell described The Beatles in the Sunday Times as 'the best thing in pop since Sgt. Pepper ... Musically, there is beauty, horror, surprise, chaos, order. And that is the world; and that is what The Beatles are on about. Created by, creating for, their age.'

Of the Corona, The Driver and Car's L. P. R. Turnright described the Japanese mid-size car as 'the best thing to arrive on the motoring scene since the Mini ... there is balance, power, safety, driving pleasure, roominess, frugality and luxury. That is today's motoring world. Created by, and for, the age.' (Was Jewell the same person as Turnright?)

Rolling Stone called The Beatles 'the history and synthesis of Western music'.

The Practical Driver announced the Corona as 'confirmation that Japanese have synthesised the best aspects of European and American motoring'. (RS's Jann Wenner ... surely not?)

That these astonishingly similar reviews should have been published about the very same two white objects that arrived at 57 Deakin Street, West Essendon, Victoria, Australia, World, within an hour of each other in late 1968 is a mystery at which we can only marvel, a cosmic coincidence of utter incalculability. But then this:

Wenner (Rolling Stone) said that (the Beatles) were allowed to appropriate other styles and traditions into rock music because their ability and identity were 'so strong that they make it uniquely theirs, and uniquely the Beatles. They are so good that they not only expand the idiom, but they are also able to penetrate it and take it further.'

Charles Le Plastriere in Auto Moderne wrote that 'in taking the best of our own European designs and mixing these with British craftsmanship and the consumer appeal of the American marques, Toyota has perfected the mass market car. The Corona is so good, it will expand the market for a mid-size car'.

*

I look at you all see the love there that's sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps


13.11.18

The salad.

My father didn't cook but he made his special salad sometimes and it was huge and served in one of those fat rounded highly-polished blond-wood bowls that were big in the 1960s. The salad had tomato and celery and onion and a few other ingredients that I can't remember but it was sweet and acid and crunchy at the same time, and he said he got the recipe from somewhere, if you could call it a recipe, and I presumed it was from one of the cafes. He sold crockery to the hospitality industry but in those days it was mainly hotels; they had the bulk of the business, which is why on the backs of those 1960s hotel cups and saucers you often see the words 'vitrified hotel china' and sometimes the brand 'John Dynon & Sons'.

Years later I sat at the bar in Pellegrini's looking at the curling photographs either side of the yellowed mirror behind the waiters. It was 1976. A timber menu board with scalloped edges hung overhead at the end of the room and what was on it had never changed and it never would. In front of me behind the bar in the chilled display case were cakes; almond apple sponge and orange cake and butter cake and some kind of grainy chocolate cake, and further down the bar in another part of the chiller case there were salads, and there was the salad my father used to make. He got it from Pellegrini's when Leo Pellegrini was running the place. Leo had retired two years earlier and taking over was a showy young bloke sporting a cravat which was already out of date but worn by colourful individuals like Don Scott.

Another decade and a half went by. The city was still traversable. I crossed it daily dropping my oldest child at St Kevin's and then returning to the city for a coffee and cheese roll breakfast with the papers at Pellegrini's. It was a three-way order. I told the cravat-wearing waiter in English, he shouted it to the kitchen in Italian, the woman in the kitchen brought it out and repeated the order as a question, and I said yes and ate the cheese roll and had another coffee, and then I walked out the front to my car and drove away. Every day for three years.

Then another big jump in years, almost twenty. Two small boys sat either side of me in the same spot, maybe the same chair, and we looked at the curling photographs. See that bloke with the waiter, I said. Kevin Sheedy. Taken a few years ago. See that other bloke in the black and white photograph? Elvis Presley. It was around lunchtime. We had pasta and I had coffee and the boys had those frozen watermelon things, granita, but I finished them because they were not sweet enough. We had cake.

That was a few years ago, and that was the last time I saw the man with the cravat.

Thanks to Mark Knight for the image.

1.11.18

Pod cast.

The broad beans were good this year and gave plenty of fat beans of the same soft grey they used to paint Bentleys with.

We got the children to pick them and pod them because that is what children's fingers are supposed to do. Also they don't have devices anyway. They put the beans in a bowl on the table and threw the pods on the floor to be swept up later.

Then we cooked them.

Pasta shells with broad beans, cauliflower and walnuts.

Boil two cups of broad beans until they turn bright green and swell. Drain the beans and return them to the pan with some olive oil, a finely chopped clove of garlic, the juice of half a lemon and some ground pepper. Fry on low heat for a few minutes.

Cook your pasta shells and add some cauliflower florets towards the end.

Meanwhile, warm some halved walnuts in a pan ensuring they don't burn but just develop a nice deep tan. Then drain the pasta and cauliflower, toss the walnuts through, and top with the beans along with any retained lemon juice and garlic. Add crumbled blue cheese which goes sensationally with walnuts. For the kids, stick to parmesan if they won't face up to blue cheese.

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.