Paddock Soup

30 Jun

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This photo shows the bouncer from the Port Macquarie Bowls Club pretending to chuck out my grandfather, Jack Weeks. It’s clearly a set-up shot but there’s a few details I like. The list of club dignitaries, the christmas tinsel that has yet to be put away and Poppy’s terrifying forearm and cocked fist. If you needed holes punched in concrete, he was the man for the job.
Jack and his wife Ivy enjoyed their later years in ‘Port’ having moved from Yass where my mum grew up. He’d been with the 18th Field Ambulance stationed in New Guinea during the war and worked for the Main Roads Department when he got home.
Over the years, we enjoyed the regular arrival of things that, literally, fell off the back of trucks although we wished he hadn’t brought home the huge haul of hotel-grade bogroll that crackled like greaseproof paper.
The old bloke ‘babysat’ my brother Mush and I whenever we spent the weekend in Yass. This meant him being repeatedly paged by the scottish doorman at the Soldier’s Club and handing over more coins for us to feed into the pinball machines at the disreputable ‘Fireball Club’ around the corner. This arrangement was kept as a private matter between the three of us and allowed him more beer time with his cronies.
When Nanny’s stove needed firewood, we’d go out to neighbouring farms and help stack the wood Poppy cut. She’d make us a thermos of soup and because we worked out in the paddock, it was called Paddock Soup.

Take 2 litres of water and bring to the boil in a large pot. Add 500 grams of bacon bones and simmer for 90 minutes. Remove bones from the pot and strip the meat, chop meat roughly and give the bones to the dog. Return the meat to the pot, adding a large finely diced carrot, 2 sticks of diced celery, a diced swede or 2 parsnips, a chopped potato, a diced onion, a few pinches of black pepper and 200 grams of rinsed pearl barley. Add 5 tablespoons of Worcestershire or ‘black’ sauce and simmer until barley is completely soft. Add handful of washed and finely chopped parsley. Season to taste.

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Macgowan and Me

7 Jun

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It’s January 30th, 1988 and in room 612 of the Brisbane Parkroyal, shenanigans are afoot. My old band Weddings,Parties,Anything and the Pogues have just done the last gig of a national tour and the hotel manager has gamely promised that if we leave the cocktail bar and return to our rooms, drinks will be delivered. Being a man of his word, room service staff are busy bringing trays of tropical cocktails. I have no idea who’s paying. The mood is convivial, a guitar’s getting passed around and t-shirts and other possessions are being exchanged.
Suddenly, Shane Macgowan’s infallible drug radar goes off and he weaves his way to the bathroom. Mick Thomas, my band’s singer, runs through the Hunters and Collectors classic ‘Throw your arms around me’ while folk-rock lynchpin Terry Woods listens glassy-eyed assuring Mick that they will, despite the song’s lyric, meet again.
Shane enters the bathroom to find Brian and Angus, our Glaswegian roadies, unfolding a foil package.
‘ Woss thaat? ‘ demands Shane.
‘ It’s speed ‘ the brothers reply in unison. Shane snatches up the foil and in a great wheezing gulp inhales all of the powder into his nose and mouth, pauses for a moment then turns and leaves emitting his Muttley-from-Wacky-Races laugh.
Shane returns to the singalong where Mick’s going down well until he begins to sing ‘Spanish Bombs’ by The Clash. At the time, Joe Strummer was being mooted as Shane’s eager understudy should ill health make him unable to go on tour.
‘ I fuckin’ hate the Clash ‘ is Shane’s neat summation of his feelings on the subject. Spider, Shane’s apparent closest pal, gets the shits and demands Shane sing a song if he finds the current choices wearisome.
‘ I WILL sing a song ‘ Shane states and takes the guitar to perform, in his singular voice, a version of Sam Cooke’s ‘Saturday night at the Movies’.
There’s no topping that and thankfully another tray of fruity tequila drinks arrives.

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Pan-roasted salmon and vine-ripened tomatoes

15 May

Where I work, one of the ‘specials’ is advertised as ‘pan-roasted’ salmon. Talk about culinary innovation. Roasting in, of all things, a pan! What next! I should try it. My attempts with a plastic bucket never came out that well.
There’s also an ad on tram stops lately for instant soup flavoured with ‘vine ripened tomatoes’. All tomatoes are ripened on a vine. Even in these heady modern times, no tomato grows to ripeness floating in a vat of nutrient solution or via molecular assembly in a cyclotron. Really, they do talk some crap.

The Most Hated Man In Melbourne

10 May

A couple of years ago, I was working as a bouncer when an enormous pile of shit fell on me. For a while, my friends looked at me differently and I became a bitter and chippy loner. Let me explain.

A series of nasty dust-ups in the lap-dance district led to the tabloids calling for tighter laws regarding security. For some reason, the focus fell on live music venues and became absurdly heavy-handed. Any licenced venue with music being performed live was obliged to have two security guards in attendance 30 minutes before and after the music’s maddening spell was released. A tiny 10-table tapas bar with an aged flamenco guitarist? Two beefy lads. A Brunswick St boite being serenaded by this week’s Missy Higgins soundalike? Mr Knuckles and his mate.

I’d been moonlighting in the ‘security industry’ for a few years as I liked bossing people around, smoking cigarettes and shooting the shit. Few positions offer all 3 perks. With few exceptions, my colleagues were stoic, funny, cool in a crisis and resigned to the gig. It’s a job you fall to, not aspire to and ‘bouncer’ is such a harsh term. I preferred the title ‘manners consultant’ or ‘courtesy coach’.
An old friend of mine ran a pub where live music had played 6 nights a week for the past 20 years. For the first time, due to the new laws, he was obliged to employ 2 guards. Knowing I had my licence and had a long association with Melbourne music, something he oddly felt ensured a sympathy for the fellow muso, he wanted me for the job. A nearby pub, also with decades of gigs behind it and a small but dedicated ‘scene’, had decided they were not prepared to go on, their reason being the prohibitive costs of the bouncers and surveillance cameras now required.

So for the first time, my mate’s pub, let’s call it the ‘Moloch’, had a monkey with a badge on the door and the monkey was me.

I’d heard the story of the shooting and the fringe dwellers of the underworld who drank there. I was quickly introduced to the retired bank robber whose slangy conversation I loved. There was a TAB in the back bar and between disappointments on the track and alcoholism, there were some desperate and moody types. As well as minding the door, I was processing bets, bussying and taking deliveries of pallet-loads of piss for the drive-through bottleshop.

As the Moloch was felt to be the type of place most threatened by the legislation, it became the conference room and meeting place for a grassroots political campaign to revoke the laws. Places like the Moloch, it was reckoned, that didn’t charge for gigs would be wiped out and live music itself was at risk of extinction. Well-minded folk were passing around petitions each night. I declined to sign anything aimed at getting me the sack and the line was drawn. I’d become a collaborator with the enemy, the dark forces who would snatch the flute from a wood-elf’s lips. What the fuck?? It was a crazy time for me and a trying time for friendships.

A great mate from the community radio station chose the word ‘thugs’ to describe my colleagues and I. A guy who I refused entry for being pissed shoved his way in, saying it was ‘his’ pub. In my attempts to, as we say, ‘escort him from the premises’, a ‘scuffle ensued’. He spent the rest of the night tossing empty beer kegs around the street until his mum drove in from the country to pick him up, admonishing me for tearing his ‘Christmas’ shirt. Attempts to enforce the new rules were met with disbelief and derision, the management offered scant support, the ‘locals’ ran the show and I was on my own. At a gig to promote the campaign, a version of ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ was performed, the singer rising to a self-righteous fury as he screamed ‘ Hey! Dickhead! Leave our pubs alone! ‘. I skulked through the happy crowd, pissed off and wearing a security badge and an unconvincing smile.

Then, just to up the voltage, it was rumoured the Tote was being closed.

The Tote held the title of THE rock pub, in the legendary league of the Punters Club and Sydney’s Hopetoun and Sandringham Hotels. Through canny booking and well-archived and displayed artifacts, the Tote was untouchable in the cool stakes. Entering the front bar was a full-immersion experience, a multi-media museum to itself. I’d had my fun there over the years but when a place sells a range of merch, it’s Planet Hollywood. Now the Tote was involved, the most simplistic of choices was presented. It was Rock ‘n’ Roll VS The Man.

It was a weird and lonely time. What was touted as a focused attack on small venues and bands was, to my mind, just clumsy blanket legislation. The Government wanted to be seen to be addressing public safety issues although the aim was well wide of the mark. 20,000 people marched on State Parliament, photos suggest it was a great catch-up and a lark. People I love and admire like Paul Kelly, Jon Von Goes and Quincy McLean spoke and a great time was had. A celebration and timely reminder of Melbourne’s vibrant and well-supported live music culture. I wasn’t there. I was on the door of a gig where a bunch of superannuated boogie men played the Groundhog Day Blues to a familiarity-drugged front bar. This, I suppose, was the vibrant Melbourne music culture there’d been such a fuss about.

Finally, the Moloch was awarded a break from the two-bouncer rule and I got the arse. Facebook lit up with congratulations at my sacking and I, furious and feeling cheated, replied with a flurry of obscenities. I was 47 years old and unemployed.

So now what? Two years later?

The Tote re-opened within weeks. I haven’t been back in. The Moloch remains, like nothing happened. Despite my ill-feelings attached to the place, there are things about it that are precious and admirable. Friendships have mended. I’m not working as a bouncer at the moment, but am almost sure I will again someday.

My take on it is that live music is a weed. You kill it here, it pops up over there. The same Eeyores said it was all over when the Hoey closed..and the Punters..and, however briefly, The Tote.

Imagine, for a moment, you were taking over the lease of a much-loved but recently off-form rock pub. Mightn’t you call your break for a re-paint and clean-up something else? Might you not exploit the tribalism of Melbourne’s music fans by suggesting a now-or-never clash to the death with the suits? Could it revitalise the brand?

Standing around outside a pub all night in the cold, you wonder about stuff like that.

Goin’ dahn the markit

4 May

Having the day to myself, I figured I’d hit the Preston Market and show you some of its treasures. Anyone who knows me knows how much I dig Vietnamese food so I got to T’s Vietnamese Specialties and ordered the two things I can confidently pronounce in their tricky language; Cafe Da and Bo La Lop. [ please forgive my lack of correct punctuation and imperfect spelling, Vietnamese cannot be correctly rendered on a western keyboard ]. These little beauties are beef mince, laced with garlic, lemongrass and chilli, wrapped in Betel leaf, brushed with spring onion-infused oil and chargrilled. You’ll be burping pleasant memories and finding succulent shreds of lemongrass between your teeth all day. The gift that keeps on giving.The ideal accompaniment is Cafe Da.

My brother once rang me, bubbling with malicious glee, to tell me my favourite morning pick-me-up had a sinister coprophagic secret. He claimed the reason I’d been unable to identify the subtle ‘something’ that made unique that which was basically a black iced coffee was what he termed ‘The Weasel Factor’.

He went on, unable to conceal his joy, to tell me ‘special weasels’ were fed coffee beans which passed, undigested, through the dear animal’s alimentary tract and collected to make the drink I’d been unwittingly enjoying for years. He’d seen it on the telly, he assured me.

The veracity of his theory I cannot confirm. He is, and will admit he is, an inveterate stoner.

Whether weasel-processed or not, the beans are dark-roasted, ground and put through a simple and elegant aluminium drip filter and served over ice cubes with way too much sugar unless you stipulate otherwise.Don’t order a second one if you plan on sleeping that night.I fancied making a ‘cucina povera’ styled soup with bacon bones, cavelo nero and black-eyed peas. I bought half a kilo of bacon bones which included what can best be described as a pig’s foot. As I write, the bones and brotherless trotter are bubbling away merrily in the stock pot. If I can strip the meat before the family spot the grisly evidence, all will be well. The house smells wonderful.

20120504-153031.jpgI thought some Reggiano would finish the dish perfectly so to the deli. I always choose the one that offers free cheese tastings and left with a good lump of Reggiano, a piece of Auricchio Dolce Piccante and most of the samples.

20120504-153502.jpgOn the way out I passed the takeaway joint that amongst the usual chiko rolls, chicken ‘tenders’ and forgotten and dried out hamburgers offers something I’ve never seen elsewhere. Pork crackling sandwiches with gravy. I had one once and despite my cardiologist’s strongest warning may one day have another. Salty, crunchy, sticky crackling with Gravox on white bread. If you ever want one, it’s there.

Rewriting history with Photoshop

3 May

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Chopper Comics

3 May