Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Petting Who?

First Published in The Skinny, 1 November, 2009

After a few hours of joyful motoring you might remember to let Oscar the trusty black Labrador-X out to do what dogs do, but here’s the thing – around here, pets take on many forms.

You might, for instance, think that letting Oscar harass whatever native fauna comes within striking distance is an expression of his inner hunter, but beware the critter’s handler as every wombat, koala and drop-bear in the vicinity has an exclusive contract with the ABC documentary department.

Likewise if Oscar, by some miracle, catches anything rodent-esque then prepare for a visit from an irate secretary of the shire Ferret Fanciers Association or, even worse, local punk rockers who torture their tree-changer parents for removing them from the mean streets by keeping a wide selection of pet rats.

And Oscar had better not try his paw at being a pig-dog on that little porker waddling merrily down the main street, as that wee hog is not a refugee from the local abattoir but Grunty, beloved pet of the famous film star who bought the big house on the hill on a whim five years ago and who is rumoured to be Eastering there sometime next decade.

Oscar might have trouble making friends with the other local canines as they are either too busy earning their keep out in the fields or are too pedigree to recognise a mutt like Oscar due to their innate feelings of superiority and/or inbred blindness but cats are, surprisingly, more fair game.

Not, you understand, so much the slumberous furball asleep in the front window of Krystal’s World of Windchimes, but the more ferocious beasts that dwell wild in the undergrowth, but keep a sharp eye on Oscar when he returns to the car to make sure he is Oscar and not the feral black panther that just ate him.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Vino! Vino Everywhere – Drops Too Good To Drink!

First Published in The Skinny, October 1, 2009

When motoring in Bordeaux one naturally gets a hankering for a 1945 Chateau Latour, but as one could not expect a driving holiday in the Macedon Ranges to deliver such delights one feels one might amuse the urban sophisticates back home with an ironic bottle of the local plonk. One might imagine wines that make Chevron Anti-Freeze taste like Chateau Mouton-Rothschild shouldn’t be hard to find in rural Australia, but here’s the thing – one needs to know where to look.

The shed at the end of the lane off the Old Somewhere–Somewhere Else Road sits beside a sign wearily proclaiming ‘Wine fore Sail’, but instead of the expected teeth-clencher of a salad dressing you will encounter a medley of oak, leather and elderberries augmented by notes of honey and chocolate for which you would gladly sell your grandmother. ‘Si’, ‘says Guiseppe, ‘But you should taste the good stuff!’

Aha! The front bar of the pub! The house red is guaranteed to strip paint! ‘Well, sport’ said the tattooed hulk behind the bar, ‘some say this Cabernet Savignon’s bouquet eclipses the 1900 Margaux while this Merlot, in my opinion, has more clout than a ’90 Petrus and…

What about that falling-down roadside General Store? Surely that must have a sampling of something-to-be-avoided among the spuds? ‘Sorry’ says the guv’nor ‘but since Guiseppe won the Chardonnay-du-Monde, well…

You could try Un Bistro, but as that only deals with the finest wines of the regions – Guiseppe can only dream of getting his produce in there – head for the gleaming glass and marble edifice atop the distant hill amid the rolling sea of vines. This grand winery specializes in the floor cleaner of your assumptions – in fact, you are the very reason it is there, so the locals can keep the good stuff.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Ales Ain't Ales...

First Published in The Skinny, September 1, 2009

The rustic surroundings that are so very thrilling to all who drive among them can raise a bit of beer lust around midday but, given that your designated driver issues have been amicably resolved for the day, here’s the thing – the level of inebriation acquired very much depends on the establishment in which one imbibes.

The Edwardian ‘Family Hotel’ features a fierce matriarch with all the bonhomie of a Temperance Society secretary who will kill, with a glance, all those who attempt to take two beers at luncheon.

Or avoid being decapitated by the silver platters held aloft by a jeté of ex-ballet students named Felicity at the newly renovated Georgian inn and you will find a bar festooned with every ale from Alaska to Zimbabwe, but your partaking will be impaired by the amount of time taken to choose one and the size of the mortgage required to buy it.

Meanwhile, the chances of getting even slightly tipsy at that pub down a side street off another side street are negligible as not even the locals know that it’s there and so it makes up for lost revenue by serving a heady blend of stale Carlton Draught and tap water.

Or there is a young people’s idle hours alehouse just on the edge of town full of good food and good humour that is a guaranteed good time if, however, you don’t mind waiting until everywhere else is shut for the good time to start.

That leaves the micro-breweries nestled out there in the leafy undergrowth run by fanatics who will keep you riveted to the spot both with stories of specific gravities, the extract point of American six-row malt and a selection of their product – beer strong enough to immobilize livestock.

Or maybe you would prefer wine…?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Don't Drink To Drive – Drive To Drink!

First published in The Skinny, August 1, 2009

Motoring is thirty work and some people, known colloquially as ‘bloody idiots’, have been known to combine both driving and drinking with tragic results, but here’s the thing - careful organization of one’s holiday schedule can result in long and happy lunches washed down with gallons of guilt-free libations.

For a start, don’t put your hand up for the morning drive shift as, come midday, you will be sitting at a table with a holiday partner who has nothing but hour upon hour of bone-rottingly dull countryside before them and who is thus not likely to let you loose on the local firewater while they maintain a Buddhist-like temperance.

But on no account volunteer for the pm stretch, as this will not only condemn you to eight hours of clear-headed sobriety but also an afternoon of dealing with the obnoxious drunk in the passenger seat who took advantage of both your kind nature and Un Bistrot’s small but effective wine list.

Doing all your driving at night is an option that would leave both of you free for lunch if you weren’t both sleeping off a long night’s drive but as the foliage, and the proprietor of Un Bistrot, are not at their best at 3 am, this solution is not thought to deliver the most efficient of vacation outcomes.

This leaves three options – stay home and look out of the window (although that choice is now somewhat moot), join the ranks of the bloody idiots and never get home at all or buy a property, move in and holiday away for the rest of your naturals – Un Bistrot is apparently available.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In The Mood For Food Interlude!

First published in The Skinny, July 1, 2009

Motoring is an exhausting exercise. Whizzing past all those cows may well set off a longing for lunch, but you might worry about the fact that rural and regional Australia appears to have fewer Cordon Blue chefs per square metre than more urban environs, on account of the fields and all, but fine food is actually available everywhere.

Unfortunately, so is not-so-fair and downright foul, but here’s the thing – there is no way of knowing who is serving what. In what constitutes random chaos dining theory, there is no rule of thumb to judging the quality of the food by the size of plate, no guide to eating by the standard of exterior décor, as nothing is what it seems unless it is. Culinary delights can emanate from the grandest recycled Italianate mansion, or the most forlorn, age-weary weatherboard shack teetering on the roadside of the sleepiest Ranges hamlet.

For instance, that severely starched bright young thing manning the ivory tablecloths and fresh flowers of ‘Un Bistrot’, the little place next door to Krystal’s World Of Wind Chimes, may well set before you a blob of pasta e funghi nestled upon a white plate with the diameter of a bike wheel and costing the GDP of Poland, but was it lovingly constructed from fresh Alba truffles unearthed before dawn by hand-reared pigs? Or liberated from the back of the freezer section at Safeway? Whatever it is, there’s every chance that the pub over the road will serve the exact same thing.

Likewise, either establishment would be equally happy to purvey the finest sautéed beefsteak steeped in a reduction of roux, pan juices and stock, gently wrapped in a light filo pastry and snuggled in a ripe tomato jus, but so would the bakery next to the post office because everyone loves a good meat pie and sauce.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Purge The Urge To Merge!

First Published in The Skinny! – June 1, 2009

While riding along in your automobile and admiring the stunning autumn tones, thoughts might turn to wardrobe choices for frolicking in the fall foliage.

It is always important to blend with your surroundings, but here’s the thing – selecting suitable attire is not quite the walk in the national park that it may appear to be, so take note of these forest fashion fabulosities and faux pas!

Steer clear of combat/camouflage ensembles as being mistaken for a tree in some parts of rural and regional Australia can have potentially lethal consequences, and don’t for a moment consider being seen dead in Driza-bones™, garments only ever seen on the backs of visiting international despots – they’re just sooo APEC! To really to look local during a negative weather event try covering your head with the highly endangered Plastic Shopping Bag®; it’s easy on the wallet with a rumpled, just-out-of-bed look no yokel can afford to be without!

Gumboots? Oops! A bit tree-changer, no? To avoid being mistaken for the proprietor of Krystal’s World Of Wind Chimes, stomp across the service station forecourt like you mean it in that factory floor favourite floor now found on every farm, the indestructibly industrial Blunstones© that say ‘YES!’ to me!

Another tip – if garment has a label that reads ‘Country Road’ don’t even think about wearing it while walking down a road in the country – for true pastoral pizzazz, try labels like ‘K-Mart™’ or the more upmarket ‘Target®’ for more of a ‘field’ feel!

And when it comes to ensembles, on no account address any stray son-of-the-soil wearing Moleskin® jeans, a light blue Oxford™ shirt, an Akubra© hat lest they pin you down to demand more government spending and the cancellation of the North-South pipe project.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Instrumentally flawed.

First Published in The Skinny – May 1, 2009

When motoring ‘neath the leafed canopies of rural Victoria one might be tempted to burst into song, or at least stop at a wayside inn to hear rough-hewn farmhands produce the Range’s idiosyncratic musical stylings, but here’s the thing – in order to know when one is in the presence of the real thing one must know what to listen for.

Avoid anything to do with acoustic guitars as these are only good for tiresome drones about lurve gone wrong and as props for video clips – their timid plunkings are not within the range of a human hearing so for a truly authentic regional aural experience look for nice, shiny electric guitars, the pointier the better.

Beware also the double bass, a monster which sounds like a fart in a bath and is only ever heaved around by ex-urban luddites possessed of the notion that ‘Country music’ is played by those that live there – the locals wisely leave these behemoths in the back rooms of the deserted Antique Shoppes that are the instruments’ natural habitat and opt instead for the more 20th Century five and six string solid bodied numbers capable of 9.5 on the Richter Scale.

Steel or side guitars of any persuasion are to be avoided at all costs unless utilized in the performance of Rose Tattoo’s ‘Bad Boy For Love’ or similar and anyone spotted singing with their finger in their ear should be given a wide swerve in case they start singing unaccompanied bush ballad. If, however, said performer is merely reacting to the feedback of the 3,000,000,000 watt Public Address system traditionally used for staging such provincial entertainments then you’re in the right place, because the country is not a little bit country – it’s whole lot of a lot rock ‘n’ roll.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Show’s On The Road!

First Published in The Skinny, April 1, 2009

Motoring holidays are a popular pastime but drivers, unable to enjoy the view lest they become part of it, often miss out. Other joys such as catching a glimpse of the local fauna are also denied them, but here’s the thing – there are plenty of wildlife to be observed by watching the road ahead.

The common-or-garden four-wheel drive, Toyotas Maximus, is an imported species now domesticated and found only in captivity. Although sightings of it in its once native habitat are not rare, its size belies a nervous disposition that means it never sets tyre off-road and prefers instead to hunt in the vicinity of inner-city kindergartens.

The humble Ute (Utilitus Blokeus Minimius) is a species which comes in two sub-genus, the mud-splattered wreck Utilitus Grottyus and sophisticated speed machine Utilitus Wankerus, but only one is truly indigenous. The Grottyus blends into its surroundings to disguise the fact that it is only up from the city on the weekends and public holidays while the Wankerus, whose tray will never hold a bail of hay, lives in larger rural communities to prey on bottle shops and burger restaurants.

Seldom seen, however, is Insectus Japanus – this hotted-up 4-cylinder vehicle is heard, yes, but seldom seen, as it travels at a velocity beyond the range of human vision. Although a creature of the city, the Insectus has adapted well to the rural environment where the open roads, hairpins bends and blind corners tests all other road users to their limits.

Lastly there is the 3 kph behemoth that stops you from getting to winery before tea known as the tractor (Rusticus Colossus), although it is debatable as to whether it is a genuine hick or an ironic tree-changer trying just too damn hard.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dark Chatter

First published in The Skinny, March 1, 2009

Trips to the country generally require interaction with a local yokel, and whether they’ve been here for eight generations or eight days the Victorian bumpkin can always be relied upon to be civil. However, here’s the thing – this cordiality masks a mindset characterized by obsequiousness, hostility, mistrust and megalomania.

The question ‘What can I do for you?’ drips with servility but it is really a philosophical black hole, an infinitely expanding hypothetical that is not quite expected when simply trying to purchase a decorative stained-glass wind-chime. What, indeed, CAN be done for you? I have always settled, in these circumstances, for having my house painted but the choices are infinite.

Or you might face the more direct but no less perplexing ‘Are you right?’ an inquiry that assumes that truth is absolute and that you must pronounce your degree of correctness if you are ever going to escape with that fine example of Goldfields handicraft. Or is Krystal attempting to discuss party politics? Do Liberal voters not get to buy souvenirs of the Macedon Ranges?

Then Krystal attempts to put you on his mailing list, saying ‘What was your name?’ and thus revealing that he thinks you are either a fugitive from justice or aware of your many past lives. What was your name before you joined the Witness Protection Program? Or when you were an Egyptian Sun God?

Then, just as you are leaving, Krystal mutters ‘Have a nice day’, an order that encumbers you with an onerous burden. What if you can’t? What if you don’t want to? And what gives Krystal the right to put the onus on you? If Krystal wants you to ‘have a nice day’ then maybe he and his ilk shouldn’t constantly barrage you with treacherous platitudes guaranteed to ruin it.

Wild Means Mild – Plain Means Pain

First Published in The Skinny – 01/02/09

The Australian bush is littered with a wide range of fauna; possums, wombats, animal liberationists and serial killers all roam the great outdoors, but here’s the thing – an animal’s name is in inverse proportion to it’s its propensity to kill, the rule of thumb being that the more benign the moniker, the more excruciating your death.

It has been suggested that the Brown Snake or Red Back Spider are so-called due to the fact that the early pioneers were apt to live somewhat in the moment and upon encountering, say, a snake that is brown or a spider whose back is red, stating the bleeding obvious is a far as they would get before joining the holy choir invisible. However, it is alternatively argued that these names have a deeper resonance and that the Stone Fish is named after a person’s state of animation following interaction with one, while the Box Jellyfish is so titled for the receptacle an interactor would be placed in.

Either way, steer clear of anything with an overly non-descript, poly-functional or downright practical title like Funnel or Salt Water, as its appetite for destruction will be on a par with the serial killer who just bought you a beer, the quite type who keeps to himself but who possesses the capacity to inflict death whenever the fancy takes him.

No, stick to the more colourful Kangaroo or Koala who are programmed to merely endanger the local flora and whose nutritional requirements and general levels of malevolence are no greater than the animal liberationist who so passionately handed you a leaflet – a tad grumpy but a threat to nothing more than a salad sandwich.

Tree-Changed But Well Arranged.

First published in The Skinny – 01/12/08

Isn’t it lovely, the countryside? As you holiday in bucolic splendour, the scuttle and scurry of the local fauna, the glorious spectacle of the native flora, the cute little tumbled-down shacks that draw the eye of the more seasoned home renovator, the kilometer upon kilometer upon dusty, parched kilometer of serenity and surprisingly fine coffee served at every turn are enough to make you want to leave your inner-city nook far behind forever, but here’s the thing – you have be qualified.

The hardy souls that live and work in rural and regional Victoria are highly trained individuals; for example, that lone figure traipsing across the field is not a farmer – it’s a set designer with a Melbourne University Fine Arts Degree on her way to make sure the rotting timbers of that fixer-upper are artfully arranged just so.

And the crusty old characters you met at the pub last night? NIDA graduates using their expensive educations to convince you, the idle motorist, that rusticity prevails throughout the land – as soon as you left the bar they all started critiquing their performances – ‘I felt very centered, Nigel’ – and writing tomorrow’s skit about mending the vicar’s roof.

The native-born yokels have shifted to the cities where their talents for eradicating trees, building brick veneer bungalows and generally being practical are far more appreciated, but for those doomed to scratch a living out of the arts, well, they have to go where the work is, and this is why it is now possible to buy a decent ‘latte even in rural Victoria’s most god-forsaken ditch – the Victorian government’s Culture and Heritage Preservation grants may mean the difference between life and death, but there are some things former residents of Fitzroy just will not go without.