Category Archives: Travel

Cruisin’

She came up to me and stood beside me at the open portal up on Deck 9. It was during that half hour or so, out there in Sydney, as the sun sets, when the cityscape is coated with that burnished glow so beloved of artists and camera pointers. She was slim, dressed in black leisure wear with a blonde bob – thirty to forty-ish I suspect. She asked if she could share the open window with me. I stepped back as she pointed her hand held device out of it, towards the towers surrounding Circular Quay, snapping away. She then turned and asked, ‘How good is this? How glorious is that sight out there?’ And, as she turned to leave me, she gave me a smile of such wattage it lit up her face to transform it into something as golden as the glow the sun was bequeathing to the Emerald city that evening. ‘You have a great cruise now,’ were her parting words.

I kept an eye out for her during the course of our eleven night sojourn across the South Pacific. We were off to an island country that once was a condominium, shared by the imperial powers of the UK and France, as well as to an island still officially part of the latter. I never spotted the lady at the portal again though. Perhaps, as dusk morphed into night on that first day, she really wasn’t there at all.

But I did. I had a great cruise. It wasn’t the life changing affair that 2011’s had been, with the Pacific Pearl, as the Carnival Spirit was a different beast entirely. It was bigger, noisier, with a decidedly more varied demographic than the more sedate, intimate and stress-killing affair that was the Pearl. But you couldn’t knock the plus features and experiences of the Spirit. It heralds itself, not as the ‘love boat’, but as the ‘fun boat’ and it delivered. On it too much occurred to write it all up in diary form, but stuff happens – so what follows are some snapshots of the good (by a mile in the majority) and the not so good of life afloat on our cruising city of a ship.

The Beautiful
I’d read that it was over-rated. I assure you, it isn’t. The Ile des Pins (Isle of Pines) is sublime. It was our first land destination since leaving Oz and it is a real show stopper. The second, Mystery Island, may be the stereotypical tropical paradise but, at the southern tip of New Caledonia, these pine clad islands floating in the azure are something else. You’ve probably seen the pictures, so I won’t set about describing their beauty here, but sailing in and actually landing on one beats all the net images hands down. And just possibly I do not have the words to conjure up a depiction of what I saw there to give them their due. They were beyond beautiful.

The Red Frog pub was one of my favourite places on board, particularly when the house bands were thumping out their classic beats to much gyrating and singing along. I really liked standing, for a seat was often hard to find, sipping on a generous ale and watching the dancers – and there were some great movers amongst them. Many were more vintage than I, but still put together some cool rock ‘n’ roll moves on the dance floor. There were some talented guys revving up the night in that venue, particularly a band from Manila and a Liverpudlian duo. On one night my lovely Leigh and her lovely Mum joined me at a hard won table. Before they arrived, I had noticed an elegant lady, possibly in her seventies, sitting alone nearby. In the breaks I was soon caught up in the doings of Leigh’s adventures that day, but when I turned back to to the septuagenarian across the way, I noticed that the woman had been joined by another – obviously her partner as his hand rested on hers. The music from the aforementioned pair from Liverpool cranked up again with a set of tunes from decades past – all well known by the punters who could well remember those same decades. At one stage they slowed it down and started harmonising on Elvis’ ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’. I turned to the couple and observed them deep in a passionate kiss; a very, very deep pash. In their minds, no doubt, they had been taken back to when the King was at his peak and they were young and in love. Back then, they would have thought, like all of us, that they’d be forever young. And for a short time, in the Red Frog that night, they were. It was a beautiful thing to behold – discreetly.

On the big stage of Pharaoh’s Palace, the liner’s vast auditorium, the singer/dancers and dancer/singers performed most evenings. At a meet and greet session we learnt that nobody in the Carnival Company’s entertainment troupes could be just one or the other – they had to be skilled in both. They belted out tunes from pop history to flashy choreography and certainly were energetic even if, for some, their performances didn’t last long enough – generally because the masses watching were having such a good time with it all. I attended on several occasions and on the first I espied her. Now, just in case you think I am totally fixated on the fairer gender on board, just wait. She was perched on the edge of her seat, very erect, her brunette tresses piled on her head. She was dressed in slinky black, her gorgeous face heavily made up and she was mouthing the lyrics to every song. It seemed to me that, in her heavily mascaraed eyes, she was up there herself on that stage, being part of the show. I found she was almost as stimulating to look at as the dazzling scenes on said stage. The following night, to my delight, she was in the same row as my lady and I, just a few seats away. This time her lips were still violently rouged in red, but now her hair was down to her waist, covering an uncovered back. There was the same tense posture, the same mesmerised look as she she fully focused on the lads and lasses under the disco lights, frenetically entertaining us all. I gawped at her over and over as she, in turn, mesmerised me. But then, slowly, the realisation dawned. She wasn’t a she. She was a she/he. Waking up to this didn’t in any way shake me. It probably made her even more fascinating. I never saw her after that – perhaps during daylight hours she wandered the ship in her boy guise. Perhaps, like a wanton vampire, she only came out at night. She was beautiful – and that’s all that matters in the end.

Until this voyage I hadn’t experienced anything quite like it. Of course, over my long years, I’d observed many a sunset, but never one when the whole horizon was consumed by the briny meeting the sky. On the second eve of our travels afloat I watched one such vibrant display of nature from the balcony of our cabin. It seemed the blood red sun was being sucked down by the Pacific – right down into Davy Jones’ domain. Amongst my humble image making there are some sunset shots from later in the voyage. But neither I, nor, I suggest, even far more proficient camerasmiths would be capable of doing justice to those dazzlements. Nothing beats the naked eye. It was simply and marvellously beautiful.

There were many more beautiful moments. Take the drop-kick looking teen, all cap on backwards with long, stringy and greasy hair, who poked his acned face into the cruise-ship’s piano lounge, took a look at the chartreuse warbling there and was quickly on his way. Patently this was not his scene, or so it seemed. Surprisingly, he was back a few minutes later, his mother held by the hand. For the rest of the evening they were together, singing along to the songs they obviously both knew by heart.

But by far and away the most wonderful person on that boat sailing to and from the tropics was my beautiful Leigh. Many, many times during the voyage I was thankful that she was with me, enjoying what we saw. She is bliss to travel with. I hope I have many, many more years of doing so. She is just so giving towards those around her; just so understandingly generous towards me, the luckiest fella on the planet.

The Not So Beautiful
We’ll call them the entitled ones. The first dip-stick on the list we’ll call Basil. I kid you not, he, both in looks and demeanour, was the dead spit of John Cleese in ‘Fawlty Towers’ mode. Now I first encountered him in the Chippendale Library on Deck 3. This was one of the few places of refuge in a noisy environment, a haven I would go in the early mornings while Leigh and her Mum made ready for their day up in our well appointed cabin. I’d write, read or simply watch the sea passing by. I was always joined by other like-minded people – some doing as I, a few meditating and one guy worked hard most mornings on architectural plans. Now you’d think the words ‘library’ and ‘please be quiet’ would mean something. Not so for Basil. In he promenaded, his wife in trail, together with another couple. He strode to a sofa, the one that backed on to where I was engaged with my latest novel. He had decided this was the ideal place for a chat – but, as it turned out, he did most of the yakking as he was obviously the alpha-male. He pontificated on the weather, the cruise so far (mainly negative), his plans for the day and curiously, his admiration for Tom Gleeson’s new ABC show, Hard Quiz. I’d imagine he’d be a keen fan of Tom’s put-downs of the lesser mortals attempting to win the night’s cup. It was impossible to concentrate on anything but his booming voice. Despite the vast array of locations around the vessel, designed for the purpose, he and his acolytes were engaged in, it was where I was starting my day with hoped-for quietude he chose. In the end he won. I got up and left. You see, he’d paid his money and was entitled to sit anywhere he deemed appropriate.

I came across him later in the trip. Again I was reading, this time in the Fountain Lounge on Deck 2. Yes, now he chose well. It was a place for sitting and chewing the fat, but it was a quiet afternoon all the same. He sat down with his missus and proceeded to expound on all the inadequacies of, for him, this cruising life. His wife contributed very little. Along to the coffee bar opposite came a gaggle of teens to partake of some liquid sustenance. To say they were skylarking would be to overstate the case, but they were loudish. I noticed they ordered politely from the lovely baristas serving at the best place to go for coffee on the Spirit. But obviously they had interrupted Basil’s train of thought. He hadn’t paid his money for this. He was entitled to have a place where such interjection of clamour should not occur. He stood up, bellowed at the youngsters, screeching ‘Where do you lot think you are? You’re not in some suburban pub now you know.’ The kids turned, stunned expressions on their countenances, mouthing, ‘Who, us?’
‘Yes you lot.’ came the stentorian reply. ‘Now off you go, the lot of you.’
And go they did, their tails between their legs, their fun blunted. He sat down with a harrumph. He’d won again. His wife, though, promptly got up and left. Apart from glaring, at one stage, to a family nearby with an upset baby, he spent the rest of the time I was there staring into space. I wonder who had really won.

The tucker on board was plentiful, varied and tasty. For those that liked that sort of thing there was high end gourmand-style available for a fee, but the no excess charge formal dining room was there as well, vastly spread out over two levels. It even had a singing waiter on its staff, as we found out when we witnessed, along with hundreds of others, a proposal (she said yes – her beau must have been pretty certain given his audience). The waiter had an angelic voice. He would be very worthy of a gig on, well, ‘The Voice’. Breakfasts in the Empire Room were a joy – the salmon bagels, yum! But we mainly stuck to the array of food stations up on Deck 9. You could only call them modern day trenchers, the vast plates there with which we could could select and tuck into our selected grub – and there’s the rub. Because some felt they were entitled, as they had paid for the privilege, these peons would return to their tables with veritable pyramids of fare. Mostly it was far too much for the average human to consume in one sitting, nevertheless they shovelled it in. Most unedifying – and the wastage was phenomenal. It was not uncommon to find such gargantuan meals hardly touched. I can only imagine what the largely third world attendants must think of us, despite their smiles and graciousness.

Here’s one example. It may have been an emergency, but it sure didn’t look like it from where I was sitting. A family grouping of three had obviously been to the hamburger station, returning with the lot between their split buns, as well as a large array of sides. They sat down and had taken a mere nibble of each before a mobile summoned them to somewhere else. Off they trooped, leaving their meal on the tables. After all, they could come back at any time to replenish their appetites. They were entitled. They’d paid their dosh. The poor lass cleaning up the uneaten remains just sadly shook her head.

Trivia competitions were a load of fun, played out for laughs as much as anything. The ones to do with music were rollicking affairs, the participants joining in, chorusing along, with gusto and good humour. That is, except for the big ginger American guy and his small entourage. No, trivia events were not a matter to be trifled with. They were serious business. He was out to win and nothing would stand in his way. One of his colleagues had a trusty i-pad, or something similar, with her at all times and seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time during contests tapping away at it. Naturally he won gold – gold being a cheap medal on a ribbon – at most competitions – and he attended them all, four or five a day. He’d obnoxiously query the host’s answers, interrupt if he felt the questions weren’t precise enough and indulge in much fist pumping when he won through at the end. He did his level best to turn what should have been a fun interlude into something of Olympic proportions in which, yet again, Americans can show their superiority to all-comers. I was so proud of my beautiful Leigh in winning two gold against such a, excuse the language, dick.

It’s difficult to fault what we received for our money. The ship’s staff were delightful and it was fun for me checking out their country of origin and chatting with them. There were some who stood out, such as the vibrant Fillipino attendant who gave us the heads up about avoiding the duty free on board. Instead we should stock up, as many did big time, on shore. All the musicians and performers were approachable and our deck steward, I Made – yep, that’s his name – was just a joy. He’s Balinese so enough said – just a pity, as he says, that he cannot find work on his island so has to take such long contracts away from his family. We loved him – him and the towel animals he left in our cabin daily. I suppose the only real negative I found was, given that it was a cruise to tropical islands, why is it that the air conditioning on the public decks transformed them into a temperature akin what I had left behind in Hobs. I took several pairs of shorts along with me but only wore one sparingly such were the Arctic conditions. I also think it went in someway to contributing to the lurgie many picked up on board, including Leigh’s dear Mum. Not cool at all Carnival.

My Kind of Town
Now and again you just find a place that feels right – that you’d love to spend longer in. Perhaps, in your dreams, you may like a second home in. As much as I’m content being by the river, there are a few locations I’d consider. My second home in Bridport is one. So was Byron before it was ‘discovered’. Port Douglas, from the last cruise, is definitely a contender too, as was Ubud from our Bali sojourn. And now there’s Port Vila. I just felt at home in its laid-back vibe. We based ourselves at the Beach Shack, a local, island style. Here we supped on Vanuatu’s finest, Tusker beer, making regular forays out to the nearby shops. There were bargains to be had at the much recommended duty-free next door (Burnie’s Hellyer Road whiskey, around $90 a pop at home, here was a mere $32). There were the vivacious Vanuatuans around the streets, giving lovely smiles of welcome, saying hello. The shop assistants, when making a sale, were just wonderful. All in all it was bliss to be there. At one stage I took my beer out the back of the Shack to a small terrace overlooking the foreshore. I sat down and watched the passing parade of children, in their school uniforms, on their way home. Many yelled out a greeting to me or waved. Some laughed at the crazy tourists who were sitting inside drinking when they could be outside promenading, as they were. I took their advice myself and set off towards the town’s centre. En route I saw numerous kids in the water, enjoying the 28 degrees as I was. In a younger time I might have considered joining them, PV is the only world capital with coral in its port. Couples were taking the air, arm in arm, the women attired in tropical florals. When I reached the market I was amazed by the produce – the taro laid out on the ground, the brightly hued flowers for sale and the vast dining space at the rear. In it the customers were dining off big trenchers too, just as on the Spirit. Their fare was mainly vegetarian in nature, from what I could deduce, but I bet the hundreds of them under canvas that day wouldn’t have left a scrap. Port Vila is on my bucket list to return to.

Earwiggin’
I couldn’t believe it. A strident American female voice at the pizza station – ‘I’ll have a Hawaiian please, only hold the pineapple.’ Hawaiian. Without pineapple. What would be the point?
Three days in, up on Serenity, where the pods (private sunbathing baskets) were, a flustered twenty-ish lass goes rushing back to the one she and her mates were sharing. ‘Guess what guys? We’ve already spent all our money. All of it! I’ve just checked!‘ Howls of abject horror greeted her announcement. Of course cruising can be a trap for the unwary and how it can all mount up. The booze, the pokies, the shops. If you are not careful it might ruin the whole affair. One tip worth remembering is that the shops often have sales, with very generous markdowns, during the last days afloat.
Two admittedly quite plain (sorry) young ladies examining their photos by the franchise for taking of and developing them – ‘Geez Elaine, we’re not very photogenic, are we?’
‘No Doreen, we’re certainly not. And what’s worse is we are four days in and we haven’t hooked a gentleman yet?’ Maybe they did by cruise end. I hope so, anyway, if that was their aim.

Sydney On Return
There were highlights, too, on our return to our port of departure, although the start wasn’t all that auspicious. On arrival Leigh was informed that our booked hotel had no rooms awaiting us. There was a glitch in the way their website had been set up. They knew they had a problem with it but had done nothing about to remedy the fault so it cost us our accommodation. Thankfully the wonderful people at Travelodge rescued us and we were set up in style at their Wentworth Avenue (27-33) hostelry. It turned out we liked the position in Surrey Hills too, a few bocks from World Square and the Museum station, for the rail network, was a short walk away. Across the road from it was an amazing pub, at least when you went upstairs, where we dined out first night back. Hotel Harry (40-44 Wentworth Ave) is incredibly popular at weekends, but during the week is quieter and the upstairs dining rooms are real eye-openers – a different world in each. I had a most interesting time at the National Maritime Museum (Darling Harbour), wandering around its exhibits, including the warships out the front. The main reason for taking the light rail around there was to view ‘The Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016’ on show. On my last day I saw the local equivalent, ‘The Ausrtralian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year’ at our country’s oldest museum, the Australian (1 William Street). Both were totally worth it – a double whammy. I am a fan of the work of Margaret Preston and she was on show at the Art Gallery of NSW (Art Gallery Road), along with her contemporaries Grace Cossington Smith and Georgia O’Keeffe. It was a treat. Whilst there I also took in a retrospective of the work of Mervyn Bishop, our most prolific indigenous photographer, famous for that moment between Whitlam and Vincent Lingiari. Another delight was Jenny Watson’s oeuvre at the Museum of Contemporary Art (140 George Street), down in the Rocks. I bought up big on postcards of her rendering of a young Nick Cave. After all that I was in need of some liquid refreshment and I was lucky enough to score an outside table at the Endeavour Tap House (39-43 Argyle St, The Rocks) where the informative bar-tender told me I’d soon be partaking of a creamy American-style dark brewed on the premises. It was a delicious, much needed pick-me-up and the bar’s well worth a pit stop in that historic part of Sydney. And if you want a wild ride, take the Manly ferry on a rough day as I did. Exhilarating.

The Turnip Head Affair
That’s what she called me, my wonderful lady, in lovely, affectionate jest. I was making ready to go out with my usual lack of commitment to the finer details when Leigh spotted the unkempt nature of what remains of my my cranial thatch. She reckoned what it looked like reminded her of that much maligned vegetable and told me so. I attended to the problem and we were still laughing about the likeness of my noggin to the legume as we entered the elevator to take us down to the ground floor of our hotel and out into the night. In the lift was a young Sydney metro-sexual, very nattily attired, who seemed bemused by our hilarity. I informed him of the atrocious fun the love of my life was having at my expense and he cracked a wide smile. He gave my head the once over and informed the provider of the harsh judgement that he reckoned I still had a few worthy tufts on top. Well that caused my my beloved Leigh to further crack up. It was reflective of the good humour we met in Sydney. Another example was our welcoming host at Gazzi, a lunch venue for us on World Square (Shop 10.28), up for as much repartee as we could muster. There were two marvellous taxi drivers who transported us to the airport at various stages The first was a Ghanian who told us the giggle-inducing tale of how the coppers go about catching criminals in his homeland – by hiring taxis. We concluded that was a win-win situation for all concerned, except for the would-be felons, who were charged for the police transport as well as their crimes. Should be tried here I reckon. The black South African, of Scottish descent, who had my fare a few days later, engaged me with his philosophical views on life. From a doctor back in RSA to a taxi driver in Oz, he reckoned life couldn’t be better.

Memories – Yes, I retain many fine memories of my time on the Carnival Spirit in the company of Leigh, Pat, Phil and Julie whilst on the boat – and of my stay in our most populous city. But there was special one the Sunday morning before I was about to fly home. I was meandering around Hyde Park, snapping away when, up ahead, I espied the Shrine of Remembrance. I made my way inside this art deco edifice and faced the eternal flame. For a quiet moment or two I communed with my father – long gone but still missed. A perfect ending.

Carnival Spirit on-line = https://www.carnival.com.au/cruise-ships/carnival-spirit.

 

Tram Mayhem – Melbourne Vignettes – Winter '17

‘Come here Sahs! Come here quickly. There has been an incident. An incident on this very tram. This very tram, Sah! My tram in fact. I am very distressed. Very distressed but I will be all right. I will be okay. Come on …come in, if you please, Sahs.’

Always a joy travelling around on Melbourne’s trams – but sometimes things can go awry. But we’ll be back to this incident later.

I shouldn’t have been ear-wigging – I really shouldn’t, but the following conversation tickled my fancy. And, being packed into a No.11, making slow progress up Collins, it was hard not to overhear as the pair were pressed up against me. But he, well, he was more than pressed up against the young lady in question. He, of swarthy Med/Middle Eastern appearance, was decked out in full St Kilda regalia, obviously off to Etihad Stadium to witness the Saints demolition of an inexplicably lacklustre Tigers outfit later that night. She was a slim brunette, dressed in mufti, white-bread white in contrast to her partner – but obviously infatuated by him. They fondled, they caressed, they gently pashed with, as he nibbled her on earlobes, it going something like this after a quick reference, between nibbles, to his hand-held device.
‘Guess what, Babe. GWS have just drawn with the Hawks!’
‘Sweet – well that’s, like, rad. Really rad.’
Yeah Babe – it might even be some sort of record, having two draws in a row (It wasn’t. Carlton also did it back in 1921). How incredible is that?’
‘Amazing. That’s, like, just so amazing.’
You could tell she wasn’t really interested, but she was trying for his sake, in between planting sweet kisses all over his face. But, well, there’s nothing like the romance of tram travel to warm the cockles, but more about adventures on the city’s transport system later.

Van Gogh, to be honest, despite being the main focus of the trip, was something of a let down. Through a variety of events the trip was later in the year than I intended, it coincided with Victorian school hols and the exhibition at the NGV St Kilda Rd was in its last days. Taking all this into account, my goal was to be there on the dot of ten, opening time according to the gallery’s web-site. I achieved that, only to find people had been pouring in for a good hour – special opening times you see. Poop. Hundreds, thousands maybe, were lining up and once eventually in, it was difficult to get close to any of the works. It would have been fascinating and engrossing had there been less of a throng, so I contented myself taking pictures of those who could peer at the sad master’s works. So many starry, starry nighters were determined not to miss out that the only consolation for me was that the line up was even longer as I exited the show.

Making up for that was the excellent Aardman exhibition at ACMI – Wallace & Gromit and Friends. As well, there was the examination of the world of creepy-crawlies at the Melbourne Museum, Bug Lab. Looking at the enthralled faces of the children of all ages viewing these, I cannot but highly recommend both to anyone travelling to Yarra City, with kiddies, in the near future. The pair of attractions sure bought out the inner kid in me. The creators of the first, with their claymation, have set a new standard for the entertainment of young and old alike – and the display at Fed Square was brilliant in conveying their artistry. I took in the atmospheric images of the controversial Bill Henson, also at the NGV I, as well as the retro photographic installations of Patrick Pound at its Federation Square mate. I also did my usual trip up Swanston Street to take in the interesting offerings at the Ian Potter Gallery, University of Melbourne.

It was such a treat spending time with my beautiful sister Frith and gorgeous niece Peta. I took the former to a couple of my favourite haunts around the market at South Melbourne. We basked in the balmy winter sunshine to the tasty soft-bunned delights of the Goodegg (303 Coventry Street). Be warned, here the hipster coffee is only trendily luke warm, but the tucker made up for it. I took Frith to the duck shop, Licorice Home (8 Union Street – off Coventry). There was an array of cute and cheap wooded animals on display but sis went for the ducks, as you would. She came away with three. Peta drove us with zing and elan through the ‘burbs to ‘Little Saigon’, in Richmond, where I thoroughly relished my prawn rolls and stewed duck soup at Than Ha2 (120 Victoria Street). It was jam-packed with an ethnic cross section of Melburnians enjoying it’s fare – intestine soup anybody?

I wonder if some think that the taggers’ overlays make it a more authentic experience – to me it’s just plain ruinous. Hosier Lane is always a must on any trip over to Yarra City, sitting as it does opposite Fed Square, between Flinders Street and Lane. There are invariably new and beguiling-to-the-eye street art to be found on each occasion – but this time the taggers seemed to have outdone themselves in defacing those works with any semblance of artistic merit. I can’t comprehend the logic. Do those perpetrating it need to stake out their territory like a dog? Do they do it to big note to their ilk? If my opinion is shared and given this lane-way is in the epicentre of the arts precinct, drawing hundreds each day to snap away with camera and mobiles, surely, for the city’s reputation, something needs to be done. A night-watchman perhaps? Now that wouldn’t be too much of an impost on the rate payers there, would it?

The Kino (45 Collins St) brings to the CBD the best of the new releases, both from Hollywood and the world of art house. In 2017 it is celebrating its thirtieth year of doing so, so late Saturday arvo I had the choice of sitting in a pub over a few ales watching the footy or taking in a film. I chose the latter, with a couple of beers at the Kino’s bar either side of ‘My Cousin Rachel’. With Rachel Weisz as the cousin, she’s the older woman who first marries a young man’s ailing guardian and then, after his demise, presumably sets her sights on his ward (Sam Caflin). She’s after his inheritance, no doubt. But is this temptress all she’s cut out to be? Sam’s character falls for her big time and is soon handing over the dosh, but in the end does not know quite what to believe about her. Does he make the right call before it’s all too late? Set in Poldark country, it possesses the same vibe as the tele series, is based on a Daphne du Maurier novel and is directed by Roger Michell. I did not regret my choice.

Now the trams. The plaintive cries I started this account with were part of the first of several happenings that occurred to me journeying the network over my four day stay. The plea for assistance came from the driver of the one taking me out to visit Brother Jim in Camberwell. Pulling up to a stop, this agitated driver leapt out of his compartment and yelled his complaint to two approaching safety-vested fellows about to board. One of these took control of the tram, the other sat the poor guy down a couple of seats ahead of me. He kept repeating that he’d be all right, but he obviously had had a scare sometime prior to my embarkation. I presume the burly person sitting next to him was a counsellor or an official sent to debrief. I couldn’t hear much of the conversation, but nurses and pharmaceuticals were mentioned. At one stage the bigger fellow chuckled, only to be rebuked by the smaller stating that clearly, for him, it was not a matter for laughter. I suppose it is a credit to the poor driver that he had continued on his journey given his distressed state without any hint of something amiss, at least to this passenger. Yarra Trams, the next morning, presented me with a breakfast bar as a way of apologising for my trip along St Kilda Road being interrupted by roadworks – very thoughtful of them. Two nights in a row journeys on the three-carriaged No 96 were diverted, this due to bingles between trams and pedestrians, both requiring the attention of first responders and road blockages. Then, travelling down Fitzroy Street one night, back to my home away from home in the world’s most liveable city (personally I wouldn’t swap Hobs for it), the Cosmopolitan Hotel, I heard a tapping on the tram’s window whilst it was still in motion. I turned and looked into an anguished male face, thirty-odd in years I’d say, peering back in at me mouthing, ‘Let me in. Let me in.’ Now, even if I’d wanted to, I could not have opened doors programmed not to do so until a stop had been reached. As I turned away, the conveyance suddenly shuddered to a halt between said stops, the driver alighted and the tram-surfer disappeared. But what beats me is how he managed to cling on. There is a narrow running board outside, under the doors, but on the sleek chassis nothing I could discern could have given any purchase for one of his hands, allowing the other to tap frantically. Quickly our driver re-entered unperturbed at events and we continues our trip, but the mystery plagued my mind for the rest of my stay.

But all too soon that was over and I was jetting my way back to home. After we touched down, a few seats ahead of me, I heard a little cherub ask, ‘Have we landed in Bali Mum?’
‘No, darling, I did explain. Tasmania is an island, just as Bali is. Don’t you remember? I didn’t say we were going back there. I’m sorry sweetheart. I though you understood.’
‘Oh dear, Mum. I thought we were going to Bali.’
I hope Tassie didn’t disappoint the little one too much.

Trailer for ‘My Cousin Rachel’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2n_KOgXMSyA

Ordeal Wendy? Shopping's a Joy

I reckon you’ve got it all wrong. Go on-line to shop! What a travesty. How boring. And where was it, in her tale of woe, that Wendy was doing ‘real world’ shopping? It’s obviously Melbourne, as trams are mentioned – and if it was in one of those big generic malls like Chadstone or Highpoint, well perhaps that’s just what happens. Then too, it could also be a gender thing. And, as for trying stuff on – well I do admit I’ve never done that across in Yarra City.

But, yep, I personally do love shopping in Melbourne, Wendy. When over I do a bit of it in the CBD – shopping for my granddaughter in Myers children’s wear or moseying around the Emporium or in the little shops in Degraves Street, for instance. And in those I’ve never had an experience such as you have described, Ms Squires. Maybe it’s because I’m an old fella often shopping for little Tess – and hopefully soon for Olivia – that I always end up having chats to the lovely sales assistants behind the counters therein. They, in my experience, are always attentive, particularly if I have issues working out clothing sizes.

But mostly my shopping expeditions take me elsewhere. Once upon a time it would be mainly up on Smith or Brunswick Street. If I’m in Melbourne on a Saturday, I often wend my way to the Rose Street Market just off the latter. It’s a great destination for a browse and again, often a bit of conversation with a stallholder. Of a Sunday the same can be had at the Arts Centre Market, along St Kilda Road, just across Princess Bridge from Flinders Street Station.

These days, though, my favourite area is Coventry/Claredon Streets around the South Melbourne Markets. SMM is the best of the traditional markets in town, I reckon. But those two streets also contain plenty of interesting and largely non-generic retailers as well. And gee, I’ve had some great exchanges with the shop-owners in that part of the world. There’s more of a languor about shopping there that isn’t present in the guts of town, or along the other strips. With the latest crossing I bought greeting cards, soap and some clothing for Tess at the Markets and at each place had chats. The lovely Suki McMasters beamed a glorious smile at me when I purchased cards at her outlet and then praised the quality of her designs. Another aspect of these markets that I love and makes me just a little envious of Melburnians is the astounding fresh fruit and vegies on display, not to mention the seafood, meat, small goods, beer, wine, pasta and so it goes on.

Across the road, on Coventry, as well as numerous wateringholes for coffee or something cold and refreshing, is perhaps the best chocolate shop (Bibelot) in the city, together with a great bookshop. And nearby is Paperpoint (259 Coventry), a cornucopia of all things paper. None of the ubiquitous Hallmark here. On one of the streets running off this South Melbourne strand is a shop specialising in, amongst other items, wooden ducks. At $5 and $10 a pop, depending on size, I had often wondered why they were so much cheaper there than the up to $50 price tags I’d seen elsewhere. I had the question answered this time around as it seems each duck has a slight imperfection. No matter, Tessa loves hers anyway. I proudly showed the proprietor of the delightful place a pic on my phone of said girl carrying her precious duck on a Hobart street and as you do, we started to chinwag. She was a lady of a certain age, but ageless in her beauty, with it turning out that, back in the day, she was a Qantas air-hostess. What’s more, she was regularly on the Fokker Friendships flying the Strait from Tullamarine to Wynyard. I possibly flew with her many a time.

Claredon Street has a Kikki K and my beautiful, writerly daughter always appreciates something from this chain in the way of ‘…award winning… stylish gifts, stationery and functional organising tools in Scandinavian designs.’ Their product is not available in Hobart yet. In my most recent sojourn, further down the street, in an alleyway, I found ‘Made in Japan’ (1-7 Wynyard Street). It was full of inexpensive oriental items and I had fun selecting something to take back with me as another gift for Tessa. The young (to me) man behind the counter had a very hipster countenance and spoke in barely a whisper. When he found out I was from Hobs he became quite animated. He wanted to chat about Mona – as so many do. He hadn’t been, but was desperate to and had many questions to ask of me. I wished I could have purchased more at his fine emporium, which also had a cafe and cooking school on its premises, but fragility and luggage restrictions prevented me. I’ll be back.

I am saddened one of may favourite columnists for the Age saw as her only option to take to shopping on-line. In the ether there’d be none of the tactility of handling the product you are trying to decide on – that being one of the delights of ‘real’ browsing rather than looking at an image of it. And of course, with on-line, where is the scope for engaging in chat – and maybe receiving a wondrous smile to be on your way with. To me, no item arriving ‘…in a box so gorgeous I will keep it, lined with tissue paper and a lovely card thanking me for my business…’ can replace that. No, Wendy Squires, it takes all the romance out of one of life pleasures.

The Wendy Squires column for Fairfax  = http://www.smh.com.au/comment/this-week-i-went-shopping-and-didnt-buy-a-single-thing-20170216-guemh2.html

Her Name is Sally – Melbourne Vignettes – Summer '17

She stood out – boy, did she stand out on the Skybus that morning. I thought she could be a modelling goddess from Vogue magazine or something, the way that woman stood out. Sheathed in a figure hugging, dazzling ultra-short white dress, she was accessorised by a rich red lipstick and heels of the same hue. Later, I was to notice the sparkle in her eyes and fingernails alternately painted bright red and blue. She flicked her mane of shimmering brunette tresses as she elegantly stepped on board and entered into conversation with the driver. What a contrast she was to the dun-attired backpackers, excited Asians and dowdy pensioners like myself. The fact that she toted not a skerrick of baggage was the reason for our exuberant Brit driver’s interest in her as he reached out his hand to place more cases in the luggage bay, only to find she was lacking in that regard. She obviously offered a satisfactory explanation as he shrugged, smiled and waved her on to find a seat. The one she found was next to me.

I said g’day as she settled in, but she was soon transfixed by her mobile in one hand and the Skybus timetable in the other. As the journey continued on towards Southern Cross, seeing increasing concern on her face and hearing a great deal of displeased sighing, I eventually asked if there was a problem – if I could assist her in what was obviously perplexing her.

She rolled her eyes and explained her predicament to me. The tale of woe went that she had just deposited her hire car at Tullamarine and was now travelling back into the city to spend her last day in Australia. This explained her lack of suitcases as she had checked into her accommodation the previous evening. Now she had to arrange for her departure from the city, at four the next morning, to catch an early flight home. The problem involved her hotel being in South Yarra and she was trying to work out if Skybus’ courtesy pickup service operated in the wee small hours. I explained to her that, in any case, the service was only provided for CBD hotels and surely it would be simpler to catch a cab into Southern Cross or out to the airport. My suggestion bought on more eye-rolling before she proceeded to huff that taxis were far too expensive in this country to even consider that option. She felt she had no alternative but to come up with a plan B.

She spoke perfect English, but heavily accented so, as is my wont, I asked of her provenance. Turned out she was from Luxembourg, but home these days was Japan where she worked for a law firm. She was also studying political science, so therefore, or so she claimed, she was just a poor student. She smiled broadly when I stated that, not only had I studied politics when I went to uni way back when, but once upon a time had also visited her home country. She asked about Japan, but alas I had to say I had never been there, but I had heard it was expensive. She agreed, but added Tokyo was not as overpriced as Australia.

She had flown to our country on very short notice, on a deal too good to pass up. She had hired a car in Brisbane and driven the coastal route south. Sadly, she sighed, she had seen hardly anything she had hurriedly planned; yet again because everything was far too pricey. But, she said, our nature was fantastic and despite our expensiveness, she could not wait for a return visit. Of course I encouraged her to come to Tassie next time. I then asked what she planned to do on her last day here. She put her head back and laughed. ‘I plan to shop and shop and shop.’ She then sought my advice about where to go. I said South Yarra itself was meant to have some stylish shops and then there was the Mall. She did not look the type of girl who was into inner-suburban strip shopping. Nor was she dressed for Skybus. She looked a million dollars and would seemingly be more suited to limousine transportation to get around. When we rolled into Southern Cross we disembarked the bus together. I gave her directions as to where to go, shook her hand and was rewarded by a glorious parting smile that would last me through the day. But I did scratch my old noggin at her – a plan to shop till she dropped, but not enough funds for a taxi!!!
*****
With the Luxembourg lady my summer trip to Yarra City was off to an interesting start and although I’d really much rather be going there as a couple with my lovely lady than on my tod, I nevertheless enjoy being out and about in the city to which the founding fathers once gave the name of Bearbrass.

My digs for the few days was again the Cosmopolitan, down on Carlisle Street, St Kilda. It is a welcoming place with a friendly staff, none more so than the vivacious blonde who greeted me that morning. Sadly her utterances, once she opened her mouth, didn’t match her lovely face as it was quickly evident she hailed from the Americas. How that accent can sometimes grate – as if we Aussies can talk. I’m always a little wary of asking the obvious question for fear of offending a Canadian, but I needn’t have worried for the lass was from Chicago. I soon discerned she had followed a man to Australia and was as in love with him as she was with our country. She adored Melbourne and we briefly discussed her aim to come to Tassie, as well as a show I had watched in recent times, set in the ‘Windy City’ – ‘The Boss’. Hearing that it starred one of her favourites, Kelsey Grammer, she was immediately interested. As she passed over the plastic to my room I received another winning smile to light up my visit.

What a contrast this gorgeous counter staff employee of the Continental was to the Yank I encountered on the No86 later in the trip. She was working her phone, she was largish and decidedly sweaty in the close confines of the tram on a warm day. She was loud, so loud, with her drawl capable of cutting glass. The tram carriage was left in no uncertain terms as to just how important a personage she was. She was obviously sorting out an IT issue at wherever she worked or consulted to, it being essential that the whole throng of those around her knew all about it as well. What she was saying, in between expletives, was indecipherable – some sort of computerese us lower life forms had no hope of comprehending. There was much looking to the heavens amongst my fellow passengers – but eventually we had the last laugh as our verbal torture was about to end. As the rattler rounded the corner into Spring Street she, all of a sudden, let out a screech ”I’m going in the wrong f****g direction.’ and proceeded to hurl herself up the tram, still working her digital device, no doubt to demand the driver stop at her earliest convenience. But I was not finished with the denizens from Trumpland.

On my final morning, a couple entered where I was pleasantly breakfasting, the Goodegg (303 Coventry St, South Melbourne, across the road from the Markets). I’d read about this establishment in an Age food review (it had rated highly) so I had decided to give it a burl. My bacon and egg in a bun was lovely – so much so I wished later I had tried something more adventurous. Next time. The male portion of the couple was stereotypically hipster, complete with sculpted beard and bun. The girl – obviously their spokesperson, as presumably such a mundane task as placing the order would be beneath hipster-guy – immediately established they too were from across the Pacific. They took the table next to mine. When our Kiwi barista bought over their coffees and egg-based brekkie delights he inquired where they were from. I was able to earwig in on an interesting conversation. It turns out they were from NYC and the reason they were in Oz was because of coffee. She reported they frequented the Aussie themed coffee houses of Brooklyn, the Village, Soho and so on, falling in love with our brews and therefore they decided to come to Melbourne. Now any hipster knows our nation’s second city is the coffee capital of the globe, right? The bearded one did open up when the subject of blends was raised. In the best tradition of his breed he was incredibly knowledgeable on the topic – and his enthusiasm for what we do with the humble brown bean here was quite engaging. So there you go. The media hype about our flat whites taking over the planet might have some veracity after all.

There were other meetings with overseas guests to our country – the Italian couple from Lucca who had just spent six months living at Margaret River WA before driving across the Nullarbor to Adelaide and Yarra City, for instance. They were soon to head back to Tuscany. They reckoned that the next trip would encompass Queensland and Tassie. They had loved us – they badly wanted to come back for more. There was an ebullient Canadian from Winnipeg whom I discovered at the Luna Park tram stop, wearing a Tassie t-shirt. I engaged him in conversation and found out he was a frequent visitor. He’d loved his time on our island on a previous sojourn and reckoned Mona was the best art gallery he’d seen anywhere, period. Then, on the No96, I sat next to a UK couple who were soon chatting to me about Brexit, Trump and our immigration policy. This Sussex pair, about my age, couldn’t believe that a big, wide nation such as ours would send a few thousand poor souls, fleeing oppression, to off shore islands to have to indefinitely survive mental and physical issues without hope. I could but only agree with them.

*****
‘Clever bugger, isn’t he,’ I quipped to the guy standing next to me, similarly gobsmacked, staring at the beauteous array of art work afore us in a garishly marvellous display at the NGV. David Hockney’s phantasmagorically alluring digital presentations took one’s breath away. It was hand on heart, one of the best exhibitions I’ve seen in all my time of going across the Strait to view showings in art galleries around the country, staring at visual marvels created by the human mind directing the human hand. So if you are in Melbourne’s orb before this brilliant extravaganza closes, do attempt to see it.

I also attended the Viktor and Rolf flight of fancy at the same establishment. This pair of fashion designers produce supposedly wearable artwork, many pieces of which would be impossible to disport anywhere but on a catwalk they’re so unwieldy. I did particularly like the dolls attired in their fabric masterpieces. Interesting was the protest art of Los Angeles’ Sister Cora and various Australian practitioners of poster work, to make a point, at the Ian Potter. I always enjoy my tram ride to the top end of Swanston to visit this gallery at the Uni of Melbourne. Back towards the city centre, at the State Library of Victoria, was a retrospective look back over the forty years of Triple R, Melbourne’s community radio station and the nursery for many of today’s popular culture icons. Good stuff it was too.
*****
And that’s an appropriate segue to my next yarn, which I presume to be entirely true. I’ll let you be the judge. However, if inappropriate language does offend, it may be better to skip this and move on to the next vignette. Now this occurred, not on Triple R, but Triple M. My usual place on the dial, to accompany me through the wee small hours, is ABC Local – but try as I might I could not locate it across the water, that is, Melbourne’s version thereof. MMM’s music was less intrusive than most other stations I tried in frustration and more to the point, so were its ads. The overnight slot was called the ‘Nightshift’ and featured Mark and his sidekick Jess as the hosts, they being my pre-dawn companions for the three nights of my stay.

I woke the first night to a segment that must have been about ‘the sacrifices we make for love’, with callers recounting tales of their own experience or of those they knew. This one, the one that caused me to guffaw repeatedly under the Continental’s doona, was from a bloke that swore black and blue he wasn’t telling porkies – and it went something like this. And you have been warned.

Caller: ‘Well I reckon this female friend of mine made the greatest sacrifice for love that you’ll ever hear about.’
Host Mark: ‘And that was?’
‘Well, she took her hubby’s name.’
‘That’s no different to many brides, is it? Women still take their partner’s name.’
‘Not if you have a name like his, you don’t’
‘Oh come on. It couldn’t be that bad. What was it?’
‘Well you’d better give a language warning before I say it.’
‘You already have. Come on, our listeners are a broad-minded lot.’
‘They had better be. You sure you are ready for this?’
‘Yep. Let’s have it.’
‘His name was Softakok.’
Silence – then, ‘You can’t be serious. What – it can’t be. Come on – you’re joking. Spell it’
‘It’s spelt as it sounds. S O F T A…..’
More silence – then, ‘That can’t be right – Jess… Jess – please stop laughing, Jess!’
‘I’ll swear again that it is.’
‘Are they still together, the Softakoks?’
‘They are.’
‘Jess! Jess! Please stop it. Stop laughing and help me out here. And tell me (laughter) tell me (uncontrollable laughter……. then) Tell me, are there any Softakok offspring?’ (More hysterical laughter, before…)
‘There are, three.’
Another breakout of uproarious hooting from the hosts. Even when Mark thought he had it together again he was struggling to get the next question out, asking, between splutters, as to where the caller was ringing from.
‘The Newcastle area’
‘And tell me. Are there … Jess, for the last time, please stop laughing. Are there, to your knowledge, a long line of…. Jess, get it under control…. a long line of Softakoks in the Newcastle region?”
‘Not to my knowledge, no sir – no more Softakoks to my knowledge.’
‘Jess, Jess….take over please. Jess. Jess…… I’ve lost it….. Jess…’
There’s silence on the radio for a period before Mark comes back on, seemingly on top of his mirth.
‘Oh dear. Oh dear. Jess, you were absolutely no help to me there. Well there you have it listeners. Quite a tale – and I can relate to those poor kids. Mine have had enough trouble at school too with their surname, poor darlings.’

My radio companion from the Nightshift was Mark Bona. I wonder if his wife also made the ultimate sacrifice to take his name?
*****
I am blessed to have three gorgeous nieces – Jacqui, Emma and Peta – and I love having contact with all three, as their vivacity lights up my life, along with that of my own beautiful, writerly daughter. Going over the Strait often pleasantly means meeting up with Peta, who is lucky enough to reside in St Kilda, a short walk from the Continental. It’s another reason I like staying there. We have taken to meeting at Soul Sister (73 Acland), which serves ‘…global vegan and vegetarian food in an airy space with exposed brick walls and rattan light shades.’ – or so says my mobile phone descriptor. I might add that the tucker there is delicious.

Peta has many strings to her bow but these days teaches dance – her involvement in that industry in earlier times having taken her around the world. She had just recently returned from her honeymoon in Vietnam, so we had much to talk about. Somehow the subject of Heide came up – a site I’ve longed to visit as the story of John and Sunday Reed has intrigued me for decades. However the notion of using first a train and then a bus to get there by public transport has always put me off. Dear Peta took to her hand held device and after a bit of tapping, exclaimed, ‘That’s easy! I’ll take you there.’ Turns out hubby Troy’s family lives in that neck of the woods, so she knows the area quite well. Something more to look forward to on a future excursion across the Strait. As I said, I am blessed to have Peta in my life.

Peta also recommended the local night market, held each Thursday evening, in St Kilda, through the summer. I took her advice. There was a goodly array of stalls selling a mixture of clothing and art, but the highlight was the array of food vans. It took me a while to choose, but eventually my taste buds took me to one selling marinated lamb salads. Again, delicious.
*****
Her name is Sally. She comes from Seoul. Sally, of course, has a Korean name which she also gave me but, at my age, unless I write something like that down, it readily escapes my mind. Sally is a waitress at Toscani’s (107 Acland) and I like the lasagna there. I hang out for lasagna and have yet to discover a restaurant in Hobs where I can partake of a tasty, well cooked one – although I perhaps haven’t overly stretched myself to find one. The supermarket variety seems runny and tasteless compared to what Toscani’s and several other Melbourne establishments dish up.

It was around seven when I walked in and Sally had already laboured through a long day, fronting up at eight that morning for the breakfast crowd – and she had several hours still to go. But, even so late in her day, she still had a smile for me as she welcomed me in. Gee, I hope they are paying her a reasonable rate for the hours she puts in. I’d met Sally before on last year’s winter trip, being her only customer that chilsome evening – so we had quite a chat then. She was a little busier this latest night, but she reckoned that, overall, the crowds were less than the previous summer. People just weren’t coming in the same numbers to St Kilda these days, she felt. I quipped that it was because they were all heading to Hobart instead. I knew that some of the other inner city strips were struggling and thought it would be a pity if Acland Street and surrounds went that way as well.

I recalled from the last occasion that Sally had an ambition to save and return home to start up an eatery in her homeland, so we discussed that for a while – she is certainly working her butt off to attain her goal. Sally loves Australia, particularly Melbourne, she relates, as it is so relaxed and friendly compared to other places in her experience. She says she feels so free here. She regaled me with a recent trip she had made to Adelaide and Kangaroo Island – on the latter she saw penguins for the first time and she enthused that they were just the cutest things.

Sally is just lovely – she made my night. I do hope our country will continue to always be so positive an experience for the Sally’s of this world. There is much scoffing about Melbourne being ranked as our planet’s most liveable city, but listening to Sally rave about the place, as the sun set over St Kilda, I might well believe it.

Melbourne Vignettes '16 – 02 – It Was Don, Wasn't It?

Yes, the more I think about it, I am sure it was definitely him. That it was Don.

She was hovering. Every time I looked she had crept a little closer. I began to speculate as to why she was there – but I’ll never know the answer to that. Flying out of the state that Saturday morning I realised I was in the company of minor celebrity. In the boarding lounge, such as it is at Hobart (supposedly) International Airport, the special people had been called to the plane first. Parading past my seat were Luke Darcy, Cameron Ling and Richo. They’d been in town for the big Friday night game at Blundstone Arena, the first AFL encounter under lights at the local venue. I watched out for Sam Lane, but sadly she was no where to be seen. The previous evening I had tuned in, somewhat bemused, as the Rooboys gave the Tigers a right royal shellacking at Blundstone. On Saturday eve, in my hotel room, I watched similar happen to Essendon at the hands of Freo over in the West, so the Channel Seven commentary team was in for a big day in the air. Following them out onto the tarmac came Damien Hardwick, members of his coaching team and a handful of young men I took to be players, although none of their recognised stars. Once boarded, a couple of rows down from me, I could see midfield stoppage coach, Brendon Lade, in his seat, his knees up around his chin. The confined space in cattle class is not obviously designed for giant former ruckmen.

Damien_Hardwick

It was at the luggage collection bay I first spotted her. She was dressed head to toe in Blues regalia and her eyes were firmly fixed on Dimma. It only took a glance to tell that she was in some way intellectually impaired. I was also, to some extent, hovering as I legitimately waited to pick up my case. I am ashamed to say I was engaging in a little ear-wigging too. Their emphatic loss from the night before was naturally the prime subject matter of the Tiges’ management members surrounding me, one on his mobile telling how the previous evening in Hobs all that could go wrong went wrong. Watching on tele it certainly appeared that only one team had come to play – the other, the ones with the yellow stripe, found that, in the freezing air, it was all a little too hard. Sorry Richmond supporters.

But now my mind was on the girl and not on the Richmond Football Club’s woes as she edged even closer to the group around that team’s coach. They all looked pretty gloomy that morning at Tullamarine. Eventually she must have decided she had been waiting long enough for the important question she had to ask Hardwick. She was now close enough to reach in and tap him on the shoulder – which she did. Her query, which she was fit to burst to ask, consisted of just two words.

I watched on with interest as I felt his response to her could tell me a great deal about Dimma the man. He was certainly a positive and affable fellow in his television persona – but I suspected this was not the best of days to be interrupting a debriefing. Those two words? Simply, ‘Where’s Jack?’

Of course, those of us enamoured with the game, would immediately know she was referring to Jack Riewoldt. He’s one of the stars of the team, a quixotic and charismatic figure. Hardwick turned and faced the girl, did not smile, but politely, without embellishment, told her that he wasn’t on their flight. He waited to see if she had anything else to inquire. She did – ‘Is he coming soon?’

Dimma responded that he thought that was the case, but couldn’t guarantee it. He then turned from her to resume his conversation with his acolytes. There was no reference to the girl as she moved off, satisfied, if perhaps disappointed, with his answer. He certainly did not make any derogatory comments about her to those in attendance. To my mind he handled the situation perfectly. He was respectful of her and gave her his time – as fleeting as it may have been. He certainly lost no brownie points from me as a result of the exchange. As to why such a fervent Carlton supporter was hanging around at that time of morning is intriguing. Perhaps that is what she does – checks out the teams returning from interstate games to catch a glimpse of her heroes. It wouldn’t be the Blues that day as they had a home match. Good on her I reckoned – she wanted Jack and she was brave enough to find out from the top man as to whether she’d be in luck.

And she sang to me. Just briefly, but she did sing to me. I was meandering around the ‘Henry Talbot:1960s Fashion Photographer’ exhibition at the NGV Australia when I arrived at a certain photograph at the same time as a tall statuesque blonde, pushing an infant in a pram, together with another woman who was around my age. The image we were all focusing on was entitled ‘Billy and Jackie’. I immediately recognised the male model involved but heard the younger woman ask the elder one ‘Who are they Mum? You knew everyone in Melbourne back in those times.’
The answer, ‘Don’t be silly darling. I didn’t. And I have no idea who they are.’ – and they proceeded to move off. That was too much for me so I piped up and informed them the bloke was Billy Thorpe. The mother turned around and came back. She peered again at the image and extolled, ‘Of course it is. How could I have missed that face. Look at him. He was so young back then.’
I replied something to the effect that we all were so much younger then. She smiled at me and started singing, just quietly, so that her daughter didn’t hear, a few bars of ‘Forever Young’, grinned once more and headed in the direction of her familial companions. It was a lovely moment that will stay with me. Back in the sixties we were all going to be forever young. It didn’t happen.

talbot billy

There were other encounters and sightings. Travelling in on the Skybus from the airport that same Saturday morning I found myself opposite a woman from Salt Lake City, very excited to be in Oz, with her two teenage children. We started chatting – turns out that after four days in Melbourne she was flying south to visit her cousin in, of all places, Dodges Ferry. She hadn’t been to Tassie before and had many questions to ask. I sat next to a couple at the footy. The poor woman. She was a Collingwood supporter but spent her time listening to her hubby raucously cheer on the Doggies when she wasn’t fetching him beers to keep him well lubricated. When he disappeared at half time we started chatting. She was a librarian from Canberra and we talked books until the game and hubby were ready to resume. On my final night, seeking out a proper sit down meal rather than take-away, I happened on Toscani’s in Acland Street, near my hotel. Italian, I partook of a delicious lasagne served by its sole waitress, a delightful young Korean who, at 27, thought she was quite old. I wish. It was a very quiet Monday eve and we got to talking. She was keen to know about my island and she told me of her future hopes – to become a permanent citizen of our country and to set up a restaurant specialising in the tucker of her home country. We chatted so much my pasta treat had decidedly cooled by the time I got to it. Best of all, she gifted me with dozens of radiant smiles. There were dreams of limitless possibility in her eyes. Let’s hope that our country will continue to be a place where that is always possible.

I continued my love affair with the trams of Yarra City. I had an adventure in taking the 109 to Kew to visit a friend recovering from a health issue. Brother Jim was on the mend and maintaining his sense of humour despite what life has thrown at him recently. This mode of transport is a great way of encountering people and getting a feel for the multicultural nature of our second city. There was the German tourist sitting opposite on one journey who was obviously not on the best of terms with his travelling companion. He was furrowing his brow over a map so I inquired if I could be of assistance. Turns out the reason for his frustration was that his wife was not satisfied with the standard of our big two Aussie supermarkets and had demanded that he take her to an Aldi which, being European, was obviously far superior. He was peeved that so much time had to be taken out of their time in Melbourne to hunt one down out in the suburbs. His parting words to me were, with a nod to his missus – ‘Once a German, always a German.’ Then, on another ride, there were two beautiful young ladies standing a short way from me, lost in each other’s presence, gently caressing and cuddling. We have come of age in such matters as there was no staring; no one batted an eyelid. If only I could say the same of some of our Neanderthal politicians.

I attended two very close and pulsating games of AFL, viewed several fine exhibitions (200 Years of Australian Fashion at the NGV definitely worth catching) and went shopping. My pointing of the camera was mostly in abeyance due to the weather, but one morning I took an early morning perambulation along the St Kilda foreshore and delighted in that milky light off the water that sometimes can be caught around the bay. I hope my resulting images did it justice.

DON WALKER - IMG 1

And, the more I think of it, I am positive it was him. My lovely lady and I love to celebrity spot and one of her best was sharing an elevator with Mark Seymour of Hunters and Collectors fame. Well, I was about to enter the lift at my Carlisle Street hostelry when I had to step back for a figure departing. As he emerged he looked up at me. I realised instantly that I recognised him. It was the quiff of hair that gave it away. So distinctive – it had to be him. Don Walker, of Cold Chisel fame – the man who has written so many of their iconic anthems. As good as Mark Seymour? Could be – if only I was completely sure.

Elbow Room

As is my wont on trips to Yarra City, I went all snap-happy with my camera. And I did manage to produce a couple I was quite happy with. But the image from the five days in Melbourne that stands out for me wasn’t taken with my reasonably expensive apparatus, but by my daughter on her mobile phone. I do wonder if the days of cameras, like mine, are numbered. It seems what I can do with it she can do as well, if not better, on her phone. I’ve even noticed that UTAS is now offering an associate degree in arts, teaching, amongst other aspects, ‘…how to get the most out of…mobile phones (and) tablets…’ for photography. But that’s an aside. The image in question was taken at the end of a most pleasant restaurant experience on Fitzroy Street’s Elbow Room.

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In culinary terms, this trip to Melbourne saw some firsts for me, which probably indicates how in the Dark Ages, food wise, I am. I was introduced to edamame beans, tapas, Singapore noodles and fajitas. The beans and tapas, I found, were much to my liking in their deliciousness. As for the noodles, I’ve since discovered they’re amongst my lovely lady’s favourite dishes. She has had some unfortunate experiences with ordering them at local eateries so no longer does, so I have resolved to have a go at making the dish myself – fingers crossed. And at the Elbow Room I ordered something I’d never heard of prior to that night – fajitas.
Perhaps if you’re as ignorant of these as I was, here’s Wikipedia on that new (for me) delight:-
A fajita is a term found in Tex-Mex cuisine, commonly referring to any grilled meat usually served as a taco on a flour or corn tortilla. The term originally referred to the cut of beef used in the dish which is known as skirt steak. Popular meats today also include chicken, pork, shrimp, and all cuts of beef. In restaurants, the meat is usually cooked with onions and bell peppers. Popular condiments are shredded lettuce, sour cream, guacamole, cheese, and tomato. The northern Mexican variant of the dish name is arrachera. The first culinary evidence of the fajitas with the cut of meat, the cooking style (directly on a campfire or on a grill), and the Spanish nickname goes back as far as the 1930s in the ranch lands of South and West Texas. During cattle roundups, cows were butchered regularly to feed the hands. Throwaway items such as the hide, the head, the entrails, and meat trimmings, such as the skirt, were given to the Mexican cowboys called vaqueros as part of their pay. Hearty border dishes like barbacoa de cabeza (head barbecue), menudo (tripe stew), and fajitas or arracheras (grilled skirt steak) have their roots in this practice. Considering the limited number of skirts per carcass and the fact the meat wasn’t available commercially, the fajita tradition remained regional and relatively obscure for many years, probably only familiar to vaqueros, butchers, and their families. The food was popularised by various businesses such as Ninfa’s in Houston, the Hyatt Regency in Austin and numerous restaurants in San Antonio. In southern Arizona the term was unknown except as a cut of meat until the 1990s when Mexican fast food restaurants started using the word in their marketing. In recent years, fajitas have become popular at American casual dining restaurants as well as in home cooking. In many restaurants, the fajita meat is brought to the table sizzling loudly on a metal platter or skillet, with the tortillas and condiments.
So I’m not sure how authentic the beef variety were at the Elbow Room that balmy Melbourne eve, but they had a zing that was spot on, were satisfyingly filling and made me wish I was a local so I could go back for more.
So how come the Elbow Room with the plethora of choices to be had around where we were staying? Well here’s its web-site descriptor:-
The Elbow Room is a fashionable restaurant/cafe/bar nestled between the palm trees at 19 Fitzroy Street, just metres From St Kilda Beach. Relax in the weekend St Kilda sunshine on our comfy outdoor timber furniture with an antipasto and a glass of wine or cold beer. Sip cocktails from our extensive list whilst watching the sun go down across the bay. Step inside our restaurant and find a candle lit, ambient space. Let our friendly staff guide you through our large menu and enjoy affordable, modern Australian cuisine.
The Elbow Room offers a great selection of local seafood, steaks, and fresh salads, with our menu identifying a number of vegetarian, celiac and gluten free options. The restaurant is fully licensed, stocked with a wide range of wines, spirits and cocktails.
Here are some comments from satisfied customers:-
Steve D – Fitzroy – I heard about the Elbow Room from my neighbour. I gave it a go and was very happy I did. If you want great food in a relaxed environment, then book now.
Lisa T – Bundoora – We were on holidays in Melbourne during November and we visited lots of restaurants. The last one we visited was the Elbow Room, wish it was the first! We’ll be back again some day.
Simon R – London – To be honest, I thought it was just going to be another night out with OK meals and lousy service. How wrong was I. Plates were full and staff were so kind I could’ve stayed there all night. Give it try, you won’t be disappointed
Mary L – Flemington – I took my business clients to the Elbow Room and we all had a wonderful time. I am happy to report we negotiated a new deal over a fine bottle of red. Good work guys!

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I was staying in St Kilda with the little North Hobart family. Before venturing out each evening Kate and Leigh-lad would work their hand apparatus, scouting the vicintiy in search of a venue for our evening meal together. One or the other must of hit on the Elbow Room and we were soon heading down Fitzroy Street at a quick clip. Many other prospective diners were parading up and down, also on the hunt for a great spot for tucker, but Kate expressed satisfaction with the menu as displayed on the frontage of the Elbow Room, nodded her pretty head towards us and in we sauntered. Outside there were some diners in place, but in the interior we were the first arrivals. The night was still young and if the restaurant was up to scratch we knew others would follow, as they did in a steady stream during our time there. We were soon seated comfortably with a smiling waiter happily chatting away to us as he distributed menus and organised drinks. Our Tessa was in her element. Detailed discussion had ensued about her order during which she was an extremely active participant, considering all proffered options with due seriousness before she made a final verdict. When our food arrived we found it generous in quantity and tasty on the palate. After consumption, Tiges too gave it all her imprimatur of approval. Of course, having our young miss with us added to the pleasure – as I would have expected having shared previous dining experiences with her.

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And the photograph? Sadly I only came in on the tail end of its occurrence. Our meal had wound down so Katie went up to the counter across the way to settle the bill. Tess reckoned she needed to part of that action and followed in her wake. She clamoured up on one of the tall bar stools, craning her neck to see what was going on and to examine all the very interesting stuff that was actually behind the counter. It was the guy taking our monies who asked permission to actually lift her up onto the bar so she could have a better view of her surroundings. Then the lovely fellow set about explaining to her what he did in his role as bartender/barista, much to the fascination of Tiges. This, for Kate, was a photo opportunity not to be missed and the image was duly captured.

I know I am hopelessly biased when it comes to my granddaughter, but for me the image is not so much about her but more the blue-shirted bloke who took time away from his duties to make the night of a little girl. She was so eager to have knowledge about the workings of his vocational world – and he cheerily complied.

All this was symptomatic of the random acts of kindness Tessa met with from working Melburnians during her adventurings in the city. Of course they all couldn’t be caught on camera in the manner of the Elbow Room that night. It was just a mini-moment, but with all the harshness there is out there in the big picture, it tells what a lovely place the world of ordinary folk can be. But being so attuned to that little presence in his vicinity, the guy behind the bar the evening of the Elbow Room was anything but ordinary.

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To check-out the Elbow Room’s menu = http://www.elbowroomstkilda.com/

Melbourne Vignettes – Luna Park and an Addled Canadian

She was tiny and she was exquisite. She was dressed appropriately – head scarf covering her hair and with long concealing attire to her feet. She spotted me observing her. I smiled and she smiled back. Her already beautiful face glowed. Beside her he noticed. He instinctively moved in protectively, but without laying a finger on her. When he saw the recipient of her favour was an old fellow he relaxed, just nodded and moved away from her. He was a huge guy – rugby player huge. He wore a black singlet, shorts and thongs. Tattoos and muscles abounded. Brother? Husband? I had no idea – but the contrast between the two was striking. She seemed a happy soul, comfortable in her skin – if one can deduce as much in a fleeting moment. I imagine she was delighted to be in such a place on such a glorious day – as I was.
And Luna Park was, to me, such a pleasant surprise. I expected a run down, down-at-heel crumbling amusement arcade affair – a throwback to the days when entertainment for the masses took a simpler form. Yes, it had obviously seen better times, but there was something very beguiling about its retro feel. I had merely come to watch so there was consideration for that as no entrance fee was required from me. On this Sunday it was busy, but certainly not crowded. And it appeared to me that on that day the place formed a microcosm of what our country is all about. From the well-heeled, judged on dress, to the hipster and bogan; with every skin hue imaginable being represented. Many languages could be discerned. Best of all, laughter abounded.
I was also there to watch a little girl in action. At an age when fear is unknown, Tessa Tiger was up for anything. She ran and rode the rides and ran some more. It was unbridled glee – those blue eyes sparkled with the fun of it all. Later, exhausted from all that exhilaration, after it was all over, she had fallen asleep on her mother’s shoulder before even the exit was reached. Her Poppy had been entranced by the wonder of her small frame going for it.
But amazing me as well were the Amazons of the roller coaster. These were the lasses who rode the brake as the ancient ‘car’ whizzed its way, albeit creakily, around the perimeter high above as I sat in the sun. They stood tall in their naff purple uniforms, these girls. Seated beneath them the punters screamed for all they were worth. The two that particularly appealed had long pony-tails protruding from their equally naff caps. As their conveyance started each downward thrust they’d brace themselves, move the brake-stick forward into position and down they would ride, long hair flowing behind them in the updraught created. They sort of reminded me of those maidens in bygone days who rode the wings of bi-plans in aviation stunts. I thought these purple princesses were almost as magnificent as my magnificent almost four-year old granddaughter.
So, dear reader, if there is at some stage a possibility of visiting this St Kilda icon with your kiddies – or, even better, grandchildren, do not demur. To see it all through their small persons is priceless.

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It was warm and sweaty during my five days in Yarra City, first down in Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, then later up by Bourke Street Mall. And I had a ball. I’d read Fitzroy Street was dying commercially, but the nights we were there it seemed vibrant and alive. The pubs, restaurants and cafes along the thoroughfare were full and doing great business. Katie chose the eateries we graced and each, in their own way, were purlers. Her old man enjoyed her selections immensely. One introduced me to tapas – United Kitchen (2/52 Fitzroy), another to Tex-Mex fajitas (Elbow Room, 19 Fitzroy). I’m yet to be convinced that I am a tapas type of guy, but both these tucker outlets presented delicious fare. And then my beautiful daughter suggested I try the latest legume sensation, edamame beans. I could become addicted.
Whilst on food, while I was there the Age, in its food guide, listed its top ten fish-‘n’-chips outlets in the city – and one was very central so easy for me to access and sample. Tank (Level 3, The Emporium, 287 Lonsdale) lived up to its description in that august former broadsheet:-
Melbourne’s best fish and chips 2016 – Sophia Levin – February 9, 2016
Tank Fish & Chips
Don’t be fooled by the paleness of this beer batter; it’s quite possibly Melbourne’s best. It’s the crunchiest casing of them all but the seasoning, reminiscent of Arnott’s Barbecue Shapes, is what will win you over. It’s peppered all over the thin, golden chips and flawless potato cake ($1.20), along with a sprinkling of deep-fried parsley. Expect two moist pieces of the fish of the day in the Old School Fish N’ Chips pack ($11, usually blue grenadier). Both stores are also beautifully designed, a collection of blue Victorian tiles juxtaposed against neon.
Emporium food court, 287 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne CBD, 03 9020 4342; also at 149-151 Lygon Street, Carlton, 03 9040 2124
And everywhere she put in an appearance the little one charmed. One of the Elbow Room guys introduced her to the art of bar-tending and a waitress at an Acland Street pit stop presented her with a free milk shake because of her ability to place an order at so young an age. A lovely matronly ‘witch’ at Spellbox (Shop 7, Royal Arcade) let her wish so many spells I didn’t think we’d ever convince our darling to depart the wonderful small realm of her imagination.

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There was much else to rave about during my five days in a city that once in its past was threatened with the name Bearbrass (apparently a mis-rendering of Birrarung, meaning ‘river of mists’ in the language of the Wurundjeri people). I suitably experienced the Andy Warhol/Ai Weiwei Experience at the NGV St Kilda Road – well worth the effort if you’re in that neck of the woods before it closes April 24th. With Tess I was gobsmacked by the denizens of watery environments at Melbourne Aquarium. Alone, I found myself saddened by Melbourne Museum’s World War One exhibition, but later delighted by the Lunar Festival at Victoria Harbour in front of Etihad Stadium. At the latter, on the cusp of Chinese New Year, I took the 86 into Docklands and observed all the Asian culinary delights on offer in the pop-up stalls. I made my selection and retired to the water’s edge where several pretty young ladies plied me with pale ale. There, beside the briny, I contemplated how good life is. T’was bliss.

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As always when travelling to places known and unknown, there are the people one meets along the way. There had been a collective search, unsuccessful, to find a Kikki K (a Typo clone) outlet. When time was less pressing and I was solo, I came across one on the third level of The Emporium. I entered and was immediately greeted by an effusive, effervescent, enthusiastic and obviously bored sales assistant who plied me with her charm and practically demanded to know my complete personal history. This Melbourne belle was a delight and I enjoyed my time perusing her wares – and spent a few bob too I might add. There was the French family I met at Tullamarine waiting to travel to this lovely isle – the dad, the only one speaking English, about to take up a secondment to the Antarctic Division at Kingston. He plied me with questions, seemed impressed with the fact I knew a little of France and I entertained his two very fractious kiddies with mobile images of my son’s fishing exploits. But the corker of all my fleeting meetings was the encounter with the addled Canadian. She was from deepest Saskatchewan and we were seated opposite on the No16, returning to the city. When I took my place she smiled and said hello. I noticed her accent and away we went. She was attractive in that wholesome American way, in her mid-thirties I would guess, had two children back home and was up for a chat. She told me her flight out was horrendous – she’d never been on a plane before and had no intention repeating the experience. I wondered, then, how she planned to return – tramp steamer perhaps? She had never seen a train nor a tram prior to this Melbourne excursion. She was staying only two days before three in Adelaide to see a friend. Then she was returning home to a snowy winter – somehow. After booking into to her CBD hostelry she noticed, on a map, that there was a beach – St Kilda I presume – that didn’t look too far from the city, thought a dip would refresh her after her nightmare up in the air and resolved she’d perambulate down to the strand. She had no idea of the distance involved, nor the impact of the summer heat in Oz. She soon realised she’d bitten off more than she could chew and hopped on a tram to return to the city and presumably a plan B. Only trouble was she became discombobulated by the fact that the roads here operate in opposite fashion to those back in the land of the maple leaf and she found she was again heading towards the bay rather than away from it. She figured it out and was on her way home when she regaled me with the statement that we sure live in a confusing country. Addled Canadian was all very bemused by her own travails, was in good cheer despite them and she seemed unfazed by the fact she had already wasted one-fifth of her stay Downunder. She gave me a lovely smile as she disembarked at Flinders Street to thank me for the sympathy I expressed at her woes.

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During my stay I impressed myself by adding a few more tram routes to those already travelled on. I spent my last morning happily pointing my camera around Gertrude Street. And, as icing on the cake, I caught up with old mates Carolyn and Brother James, as well as soon to be married niece Peta and her beau Troy. But being with Tessa – well that was simply the best and hopefully, it will be not the last time I’ll travel in her company by a long shot.

Ai Weiwei/Andy Warhol exhibition NGV = http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/andy-warhol-ai-wei-wei/

United Kitchen website = http://www.unitedkitchen.com.au/

Elbow Room website = http://www.elbowroomstkilda.com/

BJ and the Scallop Pies

BJ came and stayed awhile. Initially he was a salve to my loneliness as I had missed my lovely lady too much in recent times. We made it a habit to go out and about each day, sampling Hobartian fare and buying up a modicum of its wares. We watched the cricket on the tele, delighted in the adventures of Matthew Evans and his manly mates as they circumnavigated Tassie on DVD and we chatted. With both having had longish lives we had stories to tell – and possibly retell as BJ has camped in the blue room on previous occasions, soothed by the river just across the way. And then Leigh returned to double the joy.

BJ is a monk. Previously, before the knowing of this kindliest of men, I saw such an existence as his quite exotic, foreign and somewhat ascetic. With the knowing of BJ; the tales he tells of it – well, my notions have changed. He passes his years wrapped in adventure and happiness. He possesses a bounteous love of his God and the characters that also inhabit his rich and rewarding life. Like myself, he is also in love with the trams of Melbourne and possesses a copious knowledge of their routes and destinations. He is also friends with my gorgeous daughter. And our little Tessa is besotted with him.

In turn, BJ is besotted with Tasmania’s culinary delight – the curried scallop pie. So together we two, sometimes three, amigos set out to find the best of the delicacy that our city, as well as its environs, has to offer. The quest took us far and wide.

According to the good monk, the not so humble pie has to have:-
1. Good pastry, flaky and golden.
2. A curry gravy that is smooth and not glutinous.
3. Tender scallops – nothing worse than over-cooked ones.

We started our search at the little Frenchified patisserie in Claremont’s Village Shopping Centre and concluded it at Franklin’s Petty Sessions Café. In between were offerings from the Bakery in Salamanca Square, the Magnolia Café in Moonah as well as from purportedly the home of the scallop pie, if somewhat incongruously, the Ross Bakery. At the latter, the sky was foreboding over the village, the wind icily chill for late spring so it was perhaps this pie that was the most welcome of those that were sampled – but was it the best? For a time there BJ thought it had won the day, but he had yet to taste that offered by the eatery on the Huon River. At Petty Sessions the proud waitress, who was a great spruiker for her establishment, beamed as my friend pronounced it was the superior treat – the best to be had to date. According to our peruser of fine pies the pastry top was superb, the curry as smooth as could be and the accompanying relish the perfect adornment. Just quietly, my warm duck salad went down a treat as well.

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BJ claims that, when he attempts to describe the joys of the Tassie creation to his big island associates, he receives reactions ranging from a shaking of the head in bemusement to outright open-mouthed aghastment akin to one’s first reaction on hearing of the existence of Adelaide’s pie floater. And he has even rung a radio station to defend our little pie’s honour after a shock jock had dared to diss it to the world; to decry that it was such a travesty it must be urban myth. Yet word is spreading. Droves of mainlanders are seeking these crusty temptations out in the alleyways of Hobs and the surrounding byways.

But BJ’s time with us was not just centred, food wise, on the pie. The crumbed variety of the shellfish at the Crown Inn, Pontville also received his accolades as did the generous scallop kebabs at the Island Markets. Outside of the molluscs, with the ploughman’s lunch at the Coal River Farm, Cambridge Road our roving gourmand rediscovered the seductive runny thrills of our local brie. Above Granton, at Stefano Lubiana’s new osteria, our man tried a rustic lunch of smokily home-cured deli meats and fruit loaf – it was as delicious as it was engagingly arranged on the plate. We celebrated that evening with a bubbly from the establishment purchased at the cellar door – it was divine. Oh! And yours truly would like to mention a pie too – of the delicious wallaby variety to be had at New Norfolk’s Patchwork Café.

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‘Why does he have to go home, Mummy? Why?’ asked the little one with trembling chin. Indeed why? Now a day later it feels that part of the furniture is missing. There’s a hole there that will take a time to fill. Whether it’s the berating of the Kiwis in their callousness for aiming at an injured bowlers broken foot, the praise heaped on the more humble fare offered by our abode’s two chief cooks, the pleasure taken by the many ‘likes’ he receives on FB for a culinary snap or his delight at the overly inquisitive nature of MONA’s resident duck, BJ, we are missing you. Your visitation was thoroughly enjoyed by all. And the lasagne and paella BJ? Heavenly.

Come February the little family, accompanied by a grey ageing grandfatherly figure, will journey to the city across the water and we will meet up again with Brother James. Your scribe is hoping for a few extra days of travel on some of those tram routes, yet to be investigated, in the knowledgeable one’s company. Brother Jim is my Leigh’s cousin and my valued friend. We know it’ll be another year or so till he visits our shores to continue his search for the holy grail of scallop pies. He will again bring to us so much love. And he brings with him the goodness of a true man of his calling.

Cookie of Hahndorf

Bill Nietzsche was sitting back in a favourite recliner – one he’d bought over from the old place when he and Dora had downsized – there was no way he was going to be parted with it. Downsized – another new word he had picked up from the younger people about town – many who’d done exactly that to move to this idyll in the Hills. Of course, with Bill being well into his eighties now, most he encountered on his daily perambulation were indeed younger than he. There were other expressions he had only come across in recent times – ‘having a tree change’ or ‘going down the Fleurieu for a sea-change’. He thought how curious it was that language changed with each new generation. Even some of his oldest mates had said those last words as they packed up to be closer to the briny. That’s not for him. He reckoned the summers were too hot down there and he was too ancient to be immersing himself in salty water – even if he was an old sea salt. When they’d ‘downsized’ it’d been to only around the corner. Their old abode had been down in the gully by the river – now they were in some units, right in town. They had help come in at regular intervals to support them, especially now as Dora was largely confined to a wheel chair. He still managed her okay, but he could see it wouldn’t be too long before she was beyond him. That didn’t bear pondering on too heavily. He preferred to be positive – upbeat.

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He did enjoy his decades by the river though – something so soothing are his memories about that. It was really only a creek, the Onkaparinga, with a few big water holes at various spots. When he was a lad it was where all the kids dashed to after school on summer afternoons. It was where, later, he courted his Thelma. She was a striking looking young filly back then. He went on to love her dearly till her death some dozen or so years past. They had a passionate romance before he decided he needed to see the world. That was simple to do back then. He just went down to Port Adelaide and found a job on a freighter. In the end he didn’t see that much more than the galleys of a number of ships, but it was a good life. Thelma swore she’d be still waiting for him once he got the wanderlust out of his system. She was true to her word. He’d had a few adventures in several ports around the world with the womenfolk, but Thelma’s constant letters soon enough reminded him that he could do no better than the lass who was waiting back home. A Lutheran wedding followed. He had sown his wild seeds – his married life had been bliss. But going to sea gave him the nickname he’s lived with all these years. Most wouldn’t know his birth name at all. To all in the town he was Cookie.

He hooked up with Dora soon after Thelma passed away. It seemed sensible. He’d known her for yonks. Her hubby and he had been good mates, but he’d died back in the nineties. He and Dora had never been intimate. Too old for hanky-panky, they’d agreed. He thought it would sully his memory of Thelma, so he was happy with that. Dora was a kindly, mothering soul. He’d had a few comfortable years with her before her health had deteriorated and they realised maintaining the old place was beyond them. Now she can’t leave the unit under her own steam, but she seems happy enough. She still has her books – loves to read in their little court-yard when it’s not too warm, or too chilly. Occasionally he wheels her out, down to the main drag, but that takes it out of him these days.

He likes the evenings here. His chair has its back to the television. He reckons it isn’t worth watching these days with all those ads. Dora has a stack of favourite shows. He likes the ABC but wouldn’t get a look in in any case. No, he was content to look down John’s Lane from his window perch. He thinks, snoozes and remembers. He partakes of a few ales in doing so and figures life is, all in all, still worth the effort

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The help had been in earlier – showered Dora and tidied up a bit. She’d sprayed some stuff around the place that smelt of pine needles. It took him back to his time in Scandinavia and a blonde he’d come to know there – the only one that in any way could have been a match for Thelma. Still, it turns out she’d been quite easy with a few other sailors too when they’d come into port, so he’d thought better of it at the time. He’d wondered what life would have been like had he’d taken the plunge with her. He liked Stockholm – cool, friendly, good beer and that blonde. She spoke English hardly at all, but they figured it out well enough. Thinking about her makes Cookie ache just a little for the love-making he had with her, but more so in spades with Thelma. When she wrapped herself around Bill ‘Cookie’ Nietzsche, all was right with the world.

‘As for this day,’ he mused, ‘well this particular day has been pretty plurry good. Fitzy, from the Gulf Brewery around in Main Street, had called in with a couple of six packs of his brews – gratis of course. I normally just drink Coopers, but his are pretty spot on too. He calls it craft beer and reckons craft beers are all the rage now down in the flash restaurants in Adelaide. I wouldn’t know, but if they’re anything like Fitzy’s, they’re on a winner. The brewer came up from the city a few years back to tap into the tourist trade. My two lads had built his shop. When he said he wanted to know about the history of Hahndorf, well they introduced him to me. I reckon I’ve missed my vocation. I should have been one of them tourist guides. I’ve heard a couple of them spruiking about the place around at the Academy, where the tours start from. They don’t do a bad job, know their stuff, but they haven’t the passion for the place. To them it’s just a way to earn a crust. I’ve lived thorough much of what they drone on about. Yep, I’d be pretty good I reckon.

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Like with that couple I was talking to today. I bumped into them out the front of the German Arms. Used to be a great pub once, but its gone all ‘Bavarian’ to cash in on the dopey mugs who wouldn’t know a real German pub if they fell over it. Anyway, these two were looking up into the rafters of the Arms’ veranda. There was a mass of pigeons up there squabbling around, making a hell of a racket. Told them what I thought of the bloody pigeons. I said I’d been on to the council for years about them. They’re just vermin. No earthly good. Anyway I got chatting to this couple, as I do. They asked about myself and how long I’d been in Hahndorf. Well, they were like lambs to the slaughter. I gave them the whole shebang. She seemed interested – he had a fancy camera around his neck and he soon wandered across to the Pioneer Gardens and started snapping away over there. To give the council their due, the Gardens do look a treat these days – but the idiots didn’t allow enough room for the buses to manoeuvre around. They come up from the old people’s homes down on the plain. The old dears have a bit of a walk to use them fancy new loos. And don’t get me started on the blessed speed bumps they seem intent on placing every few hundred yards down the main drag – and those senseless roundabouts. Dear me!

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Anyway, her hubby, or partner, or whatever, seemed happy enough pointing his camera here, there and everywhere so I took the opportunity to tell her about us Nietzsches of the Hills. I told her how my people came out on the original boat bringing religious refugees fleeing persecution in East Prussia, way back in the 1830’s. The ‘Zebra’ she was. I spoke of its Captain – a fella called Hahn after who the town is named. ‘Dorf’ means town, I informed her. What a good man that bloke was. Went out of his way and arranged all this land up here for the settlers. Most would of just dumped them dockside and gone about their business. Not Captain Hahn. He is revered in these parts. Course it was a fair old hike down to the markets on the plain, but they were tough buggers back then – especially the women and kids. It was a hard life for my ancestors. As a result of it all this place is still the most German town in the country, even if many of the old families have dispersed since then – off on a sea-change. Silly fools I reckon. When I was a lad it was all timber getting and agriculture. Now, in summer, you can’t move in the place for blighters who want their fill of sausage, sauerkraut and beer. But it keeps the place viable I reckon and blood oath, I’ve had some good chats over the years as a result. One thing I do like doing is having a yak.

Cookie of Hahndorf was quite taken by the woman he was chatting to. He reckoned she was somewhere in her early fifties and she was just lovely. Reminded him of his Thelma. She had a dazzling smile and was obviously up for a chinwag as well. He could tell she was a people person – her fellow not so much. He confided in her that since he’d moved to Johns Lane these morning walks of his were the highlight of his day, especially if he met up with someone like her. That gave her a good laugh, he reflected.

ale two

Reckon she was a bit of all right,’ Cookie, in turn, chuckled to himself. ‘Once upon a time I would have turned her head too – but not these days. I told her of my dodgy ticker, part of the reason we had to give away our home by the river. About how I’d had a couple of ops already. The lovely lady told me she had been a theatre nurse back in Tassie and we had quite a discussion about that. I told her about my seafaring days – how once I’d finished to come back to Thelma I took up in the family business. We’d been builders for several generations and my old dad was still alive back then. He was also a Bill, – lots of other Bill Nietzsches around then too – he employed my two brothers and later myself. I reckon we would have built about half the homes around these parts, I chewed her ear. We worked all the way up the old highway, from down in Bridgewater right to Mount Barker itself. When tourism really took off we gained a nice little earner tarting up the shop-fronts on Main Street. Most of the old retailers had been long gone and their shops left empty, but now the place is thriving. I’m too old now, of course, but every so often my lads will pick up Dora and myself, take us around, showing us what they’re working on at the minute. They are proud of their commitment to standards, just as I was back in my day. Some of these cowboys that run around town doing stuff on the cheap makes you want to weep. Their work, in the end, always lets them down. There’s no substitute for quality.

The lady then told me about her old place by the Derwent in Hobart – how much she and – well I think she said Steve – love it, how much she’d done to it over the years. She seemed just so interested in all I had to say. I was enjoying myself. A woman like her – well I could have stayed on that corner and yarned the morning away – but her fellow seemed anxious to move on. I said my farewells and started to head off. But he stopped me, reached out his hand and shook mine. I gave him points for that. And judging by the affection he showed in taking her hand in his as they walked off, I also reckon he knows full well how lucky he is to have someone in his life like her. Oh dear, she reminded me so much of Thelma. Gawd, if I am not careful I’ll get a little maudlin here. But she did make my day.’

Old Cookie of Hahndorf took another sip of Fitzy’s fancy beer and closed his eyes. The tele was humming away softly in the background when he woke with a start. He looked around and could see Dora was contentedly dozing. He started thinking of his plans for the new day tomorrow. He’d saunter off to the news-agency, as he usually did, around nine-ish, to pick up his papers. It was a bit of a struggle for him these days, but knew he had to exercise and he never knew who he might meet en route that’d be up for a chat. He thought of the warmth of the day just past – how summer was on the way. Then sometimes there would be days just too hot for him away from the unit. He reckoned if he could make it and felt okay in himself the next day he might wander up to the ice-creamery and have a kransky for brekkie. They did the best sausages in town by a long shot, did Gio and his daughter. They ran the little eatery. Italians cooking German tucker – what next? Plus, if he wasn’t busy, Gio would give him all the gossip going on around the place. Kept his ear to the ground, did Gio – and his daughter was a sweetheart. Why she hadn’t been picked up by some fellow by now was a mystery to him. If he wasn’t quite up for the longer walk he’d head to Herbees, as was his usual practice. He couldn’t make it up the front steps any more so he’d go to the back door and in through the living quarters. It was run by a lovely Vietnamese family these days. Again, if it was quiet the mum or one of the daughters would sit down with him for a coffee. On these days he usually had it on the house. He loved the eggs and salmon they dished up. It was his regular order. They were lovely, those women – reminded him of a girl, once upon a time, who was especially good to him when he docked in a certain spot up the Mekong years and years ago. One thing, he’d had a few adventures, a few trysts that kept him warm at night thinking about them. Cookie likes learning of the life in Vietnam before the war from the mother, as well as hearing what the girls were up to. Both have boyfriends down in the city and were never in the cafe at the weekends, so he didn’t bother going in then when the place was usually full to the gunnels. Of a week it wasn’t so all hands on deck. These foreigners are all good for the place, Cookie reckons – makes his blood boil what Abbott and his mates are doing to the poor beggars who try to get here these days. The country seems to have lost its heart.

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Yep,’ thought Cookie, ‘the place is full of people from all over the world who now call the town and its surrounds home. Some of the original families, like himself, still remain, but these blow-ins make life just so much more interesting. And meeting that Tassie lass, having Fitzy deliver around those ales, hearing the parrots in the trees, having my boys bring the grandkids around – well you wouldn’t be dead for quids. Now there’s a couple of pretty new sheilas working in the Menz choccy shop, so I am told on reliable authority. Might just wander up there on the morrow too. Reckon Dora could do with a treat.’

The Gulf Brewery = http://www.gulfbrewery.com.au/

Menz Chocolates = http://robernmenz.com.au/about_us/store_details

Herbees Garden Cafe = https://www.facebook.com/pages/HERBEES-CAFE/250343621673705

Ye Olde Ice-creamery (for Kranskies) = http://www.yelp.com.au/biz/ye-olde-icecreamery-hahndorf

Melbourne Musings – a Tale of Two Hamburgians

Let’s call him Horst. He was a bright, lively, lithe young man who was the sole soul behind the counter of the Crocs retail outlet down in the basement of the new Emporium complex. This aggregation of shops is to be found in the stead of the old Little Bourke Street Myers. As a retail venue it was recommended to us by our mate Brother Jim as a must see for our recent visit to Yarra City. For my tastes, initially, it looked too upmarket, but Darling Loving Partner was keen to visit its shiny interior. And inside, to my delight, we did find a cornucopia of delights.

SONY DSCSummer Crocs Display

Apart from a few old favourites, the centre of Old Bearbrass has held little appeal for me in terms of its offerings for shopping, particularly now as Hobs has had for some time its own JBs. It’s full of the same global franchises to be found in any capital on the planet. No, this shopper has always preferred the more eclectic appeal of the strips such as Acland, Smith, Brunswick and Clarendon/Coventry for his retail kicks. But once inside the Emporium that changed. Sure the same generics were there, but it, together with the accompanying Strand, seemed both less pretentious and frenetic than its rivals, two qualities off-putting for me. We were soon spending money. We were also impressed with the fit-out that has occurred across the road in the old GPO to accommodate the behemoth that is the Swedish experience H and M – worth taking in for the visuals and the accommodating pricing.

But back to the Emporium where the Croc Shop really caught my eye – mainly because of the display of unCroc-like sandals on show. Soon DLP was in there trying on summery foot attire. And this is where Horst came into the frame. Once DLP had made her choice, she and Horst teamed up to work their considerable combined charm on me. ‘Come on, you know you love them,’ they cajoled in unison. I have been a recent convert to the comforts of Crocs so, once a generous discount was on offer, I was putty in their hands. DLP purchased a pair featuring real leather for me.
She is so generous my love.

As you do, because the little outlet was hardly flushed with customers, we got to chatting with Horst. He hailed from Hamburg, was studying in Oz and very homesick – seemingly at odds with his professed urge to get out of Germany for a while. He was enjoying Melbourne, but reckoned Byron was the place to be for him. He was underwhelmed by his visit to Tassie -‘down there the people don’t talk to you.’ he opined. Eventually other potential victims to his talents entered and we made our departure, delighted with our purchases and that we’d come across such a charming chap.

Let’s call her Helga. She was bright, lively and lithe. She served us our tucker at Clover and Rye, an eatery on Bridge Road (410) in Richmond, again recommended by Brother Jim. And a fine recommendation it was too. I’d read that this area, a haven for DFOs, was struggling. But on a Friday eve the restaurants in this sector of it seemed to be thriving. In the case of Clover and Rye, its popularity was certainly because of its very fine fare. The paella delivered to me by the fair Helga was ace. DLP and Brother Jim were similarly complimentary about their chosen dishes. And the lovely Helga was certainly an attractive asset to the place as well. She was in the early throes of working her way around Oz and was looking forward to experiencing my island’s wilderness. But first she had to earn some dosh to make that possible – thus her presence attending to our culinary needs. She’d been to Sydney already and found the Emerald City very much to her liking – but as for Melbourne? So far it wasn’t too positive. She was underwhelmed by her time in the city on the brown river- ‘Here the people don’t talk to you.’ she opined. Then she let slip she was also from a certain German city – and DLP’s eyes lit up.

SONY DSCHelga (left) with colleagues

My wonderful lady couldn’t help herself. She described, in most alluring fashion, a certain young man we had met in the bowels of the Emporium and hinted that maybe the fair Helga should seek him out. DLP was matchmaking. When Helga asked her to repeat exactly where Horst was to be found, DLP knew she was on to a possibility.

Of course we’ll never know if that will actually happen – whether she will take the Number 48 into the city and seek him out. But my DLP is content in the knowledge that there is a remote chance of two Hamburgians finding happy ever-afters thanks to her assistance.

Staff at Clover and Rye with ‘Helga’ on the Left

DLP chose the city on the Yarra rather than the city on the Harbour for our pre-Christmas excursion to the Mainland. She’s grown to appreciate its attributes in recent times, plus there was the chance to catch up with some of her mates – Brother Jim and Judy. The former took us to his Hawthorn (pity he’s Collingwood through and through) community and we were privileged to view his stupendous place of worship. It was quite gobsmacking. Later we dined with him again at our regular haunt, the Spaghetti Tree (59 Bourke). For me it has just great lasagne served in a lusty amount. This Saturday night the place was pumping. Yes, the music was a little loud, but at least it references the classics rather than thumpa-thumpa.

Our other dining experience was Tsindos (197 Lonsdale) and in deference to DLP, I will not go into too much detail about the attractive elan of our Cypriot-Pakistani waiter – except to say he was outstanding in attentiveness given the place was extremely busy. The fare here was also great. My mixed grill was almost heaven. DLP’s calamari was indeed so.

I did enjoy this trip across the Strait. As well as luxuriating in DLP’s presence at my side, our hostelry in Little Bourke Street, the Mercure, was adequate. The room came with a great view down the guts of China Town and that was a plus. The twin exhibitions of Jean Paul Gaultier and David Shrigley, at the NGV St Kilda Road, were both ultra-impressive for very different reasons. They are well worth a visit if Melbourne is a destination over the festive season. Acland Cakes (97) tempted DLP with one of its luscious treats and we discovered a very fine pub in our wanderings along Smith Street, the Grace Darling (114). If a visit to the South Melbourne Markets is on your itinerary when next in that part of the world, try breakfasting across the road from it at the retro Bunyip Café (313 Coventry).

For DLP and I it was a hectic four days in Yarra City. We were both relatively stuffed on our return. We are starting to know the importance of pacing ourselves but, that being said, I can’t wait to get back there in ’15. And maybe, just maybe, ’15 will be a very romantic year for Helga and Horst.SONY DSC

The new Melbourne Emporium  = http://www.emporiummelbourne.com.au/?gclid=CPDl7M-elMICFRYIvAod3RUAZA

Clover and Rye = http://www.cloverandrye.com.au/

The Grace Darling = http://thegracedarlinghotel.com.au/

The Bunyip Cafe = https://www.facebook.com/BunyipCafe

The Spaghetti Tree = http://www.spaghettitree.com.au/