Big Bash And Happenstance

5th February 2019.

Big Bash witnessed

For someone who opts for public transport the spun out closure of the Frankston Line had me huff-puffing at the resultant PR. The blooming nerve. “Metro sincerely apologises for any inconvenience caused.” Words now empty as the missus and my time-worn renter. Little did Metro know the true nature of aggro its tinkering of sleepers, ballast and whatnot had had on us. Though happenstance can ignite effing and blinding, by sheer self control I capped a sailor’s gob. The day’s Herald Sun, however, got a scrunch.

Finding Pad-Toes the garden gecko gawping across the threshold, I offered consolation. For his inexplicable loss – the latter part of the tail. “Look on the bright side, wee fella. You’ve got off lightly,” I soothed.

A week ago, hidden in the unruly lawn, the spotted turtle-dove had sun-basked. Peacefully. ‘Coo, de-grass’ offered itself. A naff word play on ‘coup de gras’. Instead I tapped: The grass is high as a galah’s eye. Then closing the laptop lid I left the device amidst my desk clutter. I’d be back to the topic of backyard angst later. After a rare business meeting. In CBD. For which, due to a rare lack of trains, I took the car. Leaving the house an abandoned look.

At a cramped pavement table outside an anodyne laneway cafe near Flinders Street Station the Gippsland high-flyer chuckled prettily about cute echidnas and catching yabbies. An awkward distraction from her having no real project budget and me flatly unwilling to do owt for nowt. The tweetup fruitless, the coffee on her, I wended back home.

Where, from the leafy alder tree, the small bird’s long, tinkling staccato, a piping, turned to explosive twittering. Wary of what had got up the spinebill’s fine, curved bill I looked to the ajar front door. And saw the wood splinters, the confetti of paint scabs and a kaput latch. A big bash for sure. One separate to the Aussie professional Twenty20 cricket circus meandering towards a conclusion with its Hurricanes and Renegades.

Inside, violation. Seismic. Berserk Vikings couldn’t have done a better job on Lindisfarne. Nor the marmalising Mongols in Xi Xia. My knees went wobbly. My chest tightened. I dialled triple zero. For police rather than ambulance. Though it was a close call. Then I rang the missus at work.

“Shit,” she quavered. “How bad?”

“First glance? Passports-all laptops-art tablet-all external hard drives-so past fifteen years of my life-TV-CDs-Have I said passports?-your driving licence-camera with the Queenstown and Tuscany pics-bank cards-credit cards-your jewellery-your handbags-wallet-purse-the Caribbean dollars-euros-smart phone-UK dumb phone-the tequila-the Baileys—in fact, every liqueur-and-my-pair-of-trainers. Can you believe that? My trainers! Like the bloody Watsonia fox’s joined a robber mob.”

Oh my, oh my, how the media love that particular Reynard. The suburban vulpes vulpes had air time on 7 News and Channel Nine, and tabloid column inches, for sneak-nabbing Melburnian footwear. Two-legged thieves, however, remain unmentionably small beer. 

Shoe thief

Bare to the waist due to the heated arvo my pot-tummed neighbour Bruce popped round. Wonderful of him. A talking witness. With helpful info for Crime Scene officers Senior Constable Adele and Leading Senior Constable Trevor: “Saw a green car pulled into the drive. I know it was green because I’ve been a motor mechanic for forty years.” So not much to go on really. 

“Anything else?” asked Adele.

“A bloke got out and shouted.”

“What did he shout?” Trevor’s turn.

“Can’t remember.”

“Anything else?” Adele again.

“Heard a noise. Thought nothing of it.”

Adela turned to me. “Don’t take it personally… the break-in. You’re our third today.” 

Or to put it another way, the home nest of the missus and I was but one the 4,742 reported Bayside heartbreakers within the twelve months.

My restless thoughts in that twilight time between sleep and wakefulness said no self-respecting fox however oddball could cause such sadness. Except in a hen house. And I fret on who out there in Viceland is aware that ‘the grass is high as a galah’s eye’.

A passing train makes its rhythmic ta-ta-ta-dum. ‘Sincere apologises,’ my ar…dvark. Least the city’s Renegades remain sporting Big Bashers, from which without passports there’s no escaping.

 

Illustrations & text © 2019 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood

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Grub For Stardom

2nd January 2019.

A Romanian Melburnian New Year

New Year’s Day the missus and I were good to go. Wine, a bottle of honey-coloured Cothari, 2011. Romanian. Rare. Check. Flowers, a traditional gift for the lady of the house. Check. The bowl of my homemade salată boeuf: spuds, carrots, celeriac and Scotch fillet all boiled and diced tiny, a splat of mustard, squeeze of lemon, salt, pepper, then the whole shebang folded into mayo. Pertinent black olive decoration. Check. Triple check.

Salată boeuf

The Sachelaru’s invite to a celebratory barbecue allows me to bridge the gap between 2018 and ’19. Simply. By coupling cricket prattle to Romania’s entry to the forthcoming Eurovision Song Contest. Food the common denominator.

So for starters, Adelaide, New Year’s Eve. Strikers versus Sydney Thunder. Where the commentary box broadcasted crickle-crackles. A cellophane wrapper struggled with. “Tuffers, what ya doin’? You’re annoying the nation.” Stalwart Aussie sportscaster Michael Slater’s voice.

“Mmmm-mmm…crickle-crackle… eatin’ a meat pie. Smelled good. It’s my first in the country,” came Tuffer’s reply.

“Can’t you be more discrete?” sighed Slater.

Had to hand it to on-mic guest Phil Tufnell. He the ‘Norf’ Londoner, victor of ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here’ 2003, of 121 slow left arm Test wickets and of Test Match Special – on which hour upon hour all sorts gets scoffed on air. Crickle-crackle… “Oooh, good shot that man!”

Mind you, until yesterday Tuffers was a name unbeknown to cricket loather Vaseli Sachelaru; ‘Billy’ to his pals. A chap flabbergasted I’d been to Chisinau more times than to the Dandenongs. Grown from Moldovan soil, Billy’s organic. Clever. Ham-handed. Kind. A conscientious bricklayer who, in a Melbourne spreading like Vegemite, is blithely busy. In a backyard carbon perfumed by arterial traffic he’s orderly, albeit a squirrel. Around a sward of lawn large brick stacks hide behind a row of pot plants, a third of a sedan car (the boot end) sits amid tidy tub gubbins and plank piles, dust sheets cover a cement mixer and two old bicycles, and lush tomatoes grow in ranks, proud as a Roman parade. A sneaky galah made a snap inspection.

Wearing floppy sun hat, apron and thongs, wreathed in barbie smoke, swigging esky chilled Martell Cognac, having plied me with the same, Billy harrumphed at the pie anecdote. To gobble the mass-produced, the processed? Crazy! An easy call when top quality fare, from the local Russian shop apparently, sizzled in its assorted bloods and fats.

‘Billy’

Cor blimey, Billy so loves his grub. Loves preparing it. Loves cooking it. Cherishes others eating it. The weight of a wholesome diet learned from his mum. His upbringing humble. In Iasi. The Romanian Moldovan city. Where Billy’s mum slammed canned beans, canned anything, as anathema. The family had fresh: garden veg, the pig kept for slaughter, a hang-dried calf’s bingy curdling into cașcaval cheese, of course, mămăligă, the staple maize-flour yellow porridge, and, for New Year, cozonac, a walnut-filled, Swiss roll in look, slightly sweet, yeast-raised baked egg bread.

Life’s lack was in opportunity. Such was communism.

Back then, newspaper broadsheets telling little of the Western world were hung daily from park railings. True, oddly, they still are. None though reported Billy missing in 1984. He hadn’t kissed Tina his wife, a nurse, goodbye. Didn’t even say he was off. Left her in the dark. Best that way. Couldn’t put her at risk. The gamble was his alone. Caution thrown to the winds he swam the chancy Danube. On the opposite bank, Yugoslavia.

Railing news in Iasi

Billy the refugee, crawled ashore, dabbed dry his dashing moustache. Romania escaped, the world was his oyster. Australia opened welcoming arms. Come ’86 Tina joined him in Melbourne, through proper channels the right to reunite with a loved one claimed. Ecstatically.

Soon, hey presto, kids. A pair. Their son Cip (pronounced ‘Chip’), an engineering geek, is short for Ciprian in honour of Ciprian Porumbescu, the C19th composer of patriotic tear-jerk music. Stupca, the village where the maestro jotted his crotchets and quavers, had honoured him early 1950s. With a name change. It too became Ciprian Porumbescu.

Ciprian Porumbescu

Their daughter, Billy and Tina had christened Loredana. Testament of whose talent hangs in the hallway. An oil painting. Large. Loredana as Nutcracker. The romantic tutu a colour profusion. The pose, elegance encapsulated. Her ballet school’s rare talent. Her leg strength down to mămăligă, of that Tina’s positive. But pooph to ballet. Loredana chose to follow her heart rather than her head.

From early teens she had began writing her own songs. The lyrics mature. Too mature for her years wise music wallahs said. Nothing remotely akin to Porumbescu’s Pe-al nostru steag e scris Unire (‘Unity is Written on Our Flag’), mind. A word change here or there was suggested. Nay, insisted upon. But my goodness the precocious lass had potential. Singing lessons followed.

And similar to Stupca fancying a new name, so did Loredana: Xonia. Purely for the professional stage. She being well under 18 Billy and Tina signed a record contract on her behalf. A precaution. Sensible as it turned out. What with her performing the top and tail of the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. Obviously, there was also the international beauty contest. And the acting. Appearances in ‘Neighbours’ and ‘SeaChange’ to mention a couple. Then America. Tina flew with her. Loredana learning hip-hop at the Hollywood Pop Academy seemed important. Afterwards came the careful navigation toward world stardom.

‘Xonia’

Billy’s ‘stache though has long gone. From off the barbie he tonged me a lamb chop. “Try,” he said. “Tell me if it’s any good. Has to be a juicy inside.” Squeak, the family half-pint terrier, tail-wagged. Keenly interested. “Hot-hot-hot!” I said, “…but bloody fabulous.” Wags turned audacious. Eyes, heart-melt. The chop bone earned the moment Billy’s phone rang. Loredana calling from Bucharest. Time off from laying down some new hit or being the focus of loveliness in an expensive music video. And soon she’ll think about rehearsing. Gearing up. Has to. May will usher in her biggest ever audience. One of millions. In Tel Aviv and simultaneously across the world.

Be sure Billy, Tina and Cip will be watching. From their Melbourne sofa. Rooting for her. Their fingers crossed. Xonia is to sing Romania’s entry in 2019’s Eurovision Song Contest. The song’s title? ‘Discrete’. Damned ironic, that. “She can’t win,” Tina confided sadly to the missus and me. “The winner’s already been decided. It’s a fix.” Tut-tut.

Billy holding his phone away from my sticky meat-fat fingers I wished his now twenty-nine-year-old lass ‘La Multi Ani’ (‘Happy New Year’). Which by now it was for her judging where infant January’s hot sun hovered in the blue arvo Melburnian sky.

“Where on earth did Loredana get her stamina?” I asked Billy. “Same place that helped me across the Danube. Never from a pie!” He laughed. I returned to my Cognac. Quickly to feel a mite wobbly. Next time the missus and I came over we too would dive into the mămăligă. Billy and Tina both promised it in what has already become a promising year.

Squeak, meanwhile, had a celebration of his own. A panting, backyard lap of honour. For ridding Billy’s tomatoes of the pesky galah. His prize, a share of the cozonac. Perish the thought another family star could miss out on opportunity. It wasn’t just Tuffers hogging the limelight.

 

Illustration & text © 2109 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Woolloomooloo Whim and One Track Mind

21st December 2018.

Ghan watch

Even in this season of goodwill Son-of Calcutta has the habit to call me when he’s grumpy. A state brought on more often than not, I humbly suggest, by Ms Neotpolirovannyy’s antics. She is, after all, ’Y’. His blues bedevilled other half. Today, Aussie ‘National Gravy Day’ as it happens, in a week where Richmond’s ‘Whaling Wall’ became pertinent after God almighty cloudbursts – the thirty-millilitres in ten-minutes sort that floats local motors and risks Santa’s reindeer a paddle – SOC was livid. Tight-lipped about his reason, he did let slip Y had gone astray.

Whaling Wall

Streets for paddlers

Caprice had had her tag along with TP, her gay Chinese best friend and like-minded nightly Pokemon addict, to his Sydney IT conference. After leaving at sparrow’s fart – in TP’s electric powered Tesla that had never before departed Port Melbourne – the notion of a doable hoot kind of evolved. At a destination charger a cricket’s hop from Woolloomooloo a further whim kicked-in. To postpone her coexistence with Melbourne’s meteorology. TP hissy-huffed four extra days off work. And bingo.  Y’s promise of “Home again twenty-four hours tops” shredded to the four winds. Her plan, cunning. To lie pool-side and bake. On the Sunshine Coast. TP chauffeuring her up the Legendary (aka Shocking) Pacific Coast highway. That was six days ago.

SOC was up for self-therapy. Of the foodie kind. I suggested nothing too exciting. Just something to tear me away from backyard weeding for an hour or three. A seasonal turkey pie somewhere, perhaps. “As you say, a late pie luncheon or such like,” was SOC’s reply.

“Oooh goody-gumdrops, bounce-bounce, wag-wag et cetera,” said I, despite our wallets being mothy-limp. Mine due to the artist within me. SOC’s due to his judicious cent-pinching: Biryani takeaways cut back, Tommy Bahama shirt racks unvisited, vintage wines non-sipped, and any holiday, well, pooph. The sufferance taken on the nose to abet a carefully-saved-tax-instalment-set-aside.

Ergo, Horace, SOC’s veteran Holden, ticked over, stationary at grey, mundane Glenhuntly level crossing. While the lights flashed red SOC and I thumb-twiddled, agreeing to go Dutch in what lay along the strip just beyond the slug-slow rumbling trains.

Grey, mundane Glenhuntly level crossing

Passed the halal butchers, and glued to a large Indian grocery, sat Quality Cafe. A cheapy-cheap veggie joint where the menu’s clear as mud and a dosa comes lengthy as The Ghan. Although perhaps the latter is a tad of an exaggeration given ‘The Ghan’ – a dusty red loco and carriages white stencilled with a cameleer riding the obvious – is damn near a kilometre in extent.

The Ghan

Named tongue-in-cheek after the lone fare, an Afghani, alighted the lone sleeping car in 1920s bupkis Quorn to pray toward Mecca, and now cited as the world’s longest passenger train, its lone driver can benefit from a one track mind. For the two thousand nine hundred and ninety-seven kilometres from bottom to top, Adelaide to Darwin, The Ghan ‘choos’ straight-straight-straight through nothingness. Wonderful then, the iconic train’s daylight progress, the red dirt, the spinifex, the tumbleweeds and Oodna-bloody-datta, could be digested from a popcorn smattered snug sofa.

Verily, ‘The Ghan’ TV documentary got edited into two versions. And is soon up for repetition. ‘Slow Summer TV’ is very much in vogue. Viewing choice: Three hours. Or seventeen. Last outing, the Aussie public took to Twitter: “My wife just waved to a car. I had to remind her she’s not on the train”, and “This is f***ing ART.” Fancying a challenge the missus and I had borne six hours. Enough for us to have run from Hadrian’s wall to our good old Somerset sanctuary.

So help me, there’s tedium enough stuck waiting for Glenthuntly’s tarrying trains. Questions itching at the back of my mind pelted to the front. “SOC?”

“Yeah?”

“If eggs are eggs doesn’t your sweetness’s odyssey have a longer journey time than The Ghan’s?”

“S’pose, yeah. Spying with her little eye something beginning with ‘R’, round robin’s probably four thousand kays. Knackering. Without her phone charger it defies the imagination.”

“Those pool-side rays. She soak any up?”

“Yep. A couple of hours. She’s on her way back. Little sunshine in Sunshine. Did tell her, zilch to see there. Concrete, high rise and murderous traffic. That’s it? Well no. There’re scary lizards. Bluebottle jellyfish. Colonies of them. Or famished beedy-eyed sharks. Surf’s not for the faint-hearted. Anyway, TP’s got to be at work in the morning.”

Scary lizard

“So where’s Y now?”

“Hmm. To me ‘stop and charge’ sounds like a summons suffered once every ninety minutes. So, Dubbo gaol, hopefully.” SOC smirked. Evilly.

“Not very Christmas spirited of you, sir. What if Y’s parked in front of ‘The Ghan’ doc, even the short? Might put her off future romps.”

“Mate, after the journey of boredom she’s been on watching ‘The Ghan’ will be riveting as ‘Game of Thrones’ or akin to finding Squirtle. Can’t see her going far again. EVER! Not for a tan. Nope-nope-nope.”

I breathed in deeply then landed the doozy. “Um, now Y’s joined Burke and Wills in the Hall of Fame and sent Elon Musk over the moon, where did she get the dosh?”

SOC’s mug went alarmingly puce. “Drained my tax cash. Cleaned it out. On the q.t.. Sodding jingle-bells, eh?”

“Shittle-shite. Shall we stick to discussing paneer cube sizes and curried French beans?”

“Yep.”

With that the crossing barriers rose. So onward a mere few metres to the place that defies description. Where Horace waited patiently. SOC settled for Thali. His idea the bargainous set menu embracing an array of small tinny cups filled with spicy guessables – plus rice and chapatis for galumptious gravy mopping – served upon a round tin tray. While riffling for stray bucks it began once more to pour.

Horace waiting patiently

Doubtful if Ms Neotpolirovannyy would yet feel a drop. Guess any compass point from Woolloomooloo Straya’s blooming huge. I was happy enough to leave SOC to await a trouble shared.

 

Illustrations & text © 2018 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Boozy Pie and Clucking Kangaroo

15th December 2018.

A big week

Leash slipped on the street pavement the cute tot in a sunhat crawled across the patch lawn of Guernsey’s farmhouse. To pluck a dandelion. “Sorry! Sorry!” beg-pardoned the mite’s flustered carer. Gran most likely. “Welcome! Welcome!” said I. “Thank you, thank you!” said the woman in tug-swoop-up retreat.

This, perhaps, the day’s smallest happening in this excessive island would’ve bypassed me had the Adelaide Oval’s exciting first Test not concluded and, set on making a boozy steak pie (coping’s default), I hadn’t been popping out to the handy bottle-o. The micro-brewery ‘Grape and Grain Liquor Cellars’ opposite Moorabbin station.

My objective: pale ale. In particular the hairy-named ‘Colin I Think I’m Gonna Need A Liver Transplant’. The bevvy’s makers Stern & Bull put me mind of Knickers, a humungous WA bovine. Friesian looking. A veritable eighth, or maybe ninth, world wonder.

Measured at the beefy shoulder, Knickers is tall as Aussie quick Pat Cummins. That’s six-foot four of bull made newsworthy by grant of a lifelong reprieve. From becoming tongue and oxtail. And everything edible in-between. Him cited too mammoth for the abattoir happily my pie would be Knickers free.

Knickers the bull

High-tailing it to the hop I spotted Raj jigging. Joyously. In the shadows of his spice store. Cricket can do that to a man. Even the most retiring.

At the bottle-o door I bumped into another mislaid pom. BB. Short for Bradford Bob. He clutched a goodly drop of local ‘Stump Sitter’. “Ey up! ‘Ow do?… Ee Ko-lie’s champion, know what I mean?” said BB laying-on his best Yorkshire, tapping his nose and grinning at his own bon mot.

“Ee by gum, I do,” I aped. The wiggling, histrionic Virat Kohli had led India to its first triumph in a Test series-opener in Straya. Better still it was the Blue Tigers’ first Test win in the land of the Baggy Green since 2008.

Back then, another WA-er, Justin ‘Alfie’ Langer was skippering Somerset and handing me plenty to help fill a book*. Adopted as a county treasure he rooted in rustic Hatch Beauchamp where beer has sensible names like ‘Tawny Owl’ and ‘Commando Hoofing’.

A far cry, indeed, from today’s Alfie: Aussie team coach, ensuring his charges behave sportingly instead of carrying on ‘like pork chops’, and humbled by the new Perth Stadium’s Justin Langer stand, able to seat the yokel population of Hatch Beauchamp many times over. I guess the fella has profound relief denying his fancy to run for office as a Liberal.

For Virat Kohli, on the other hand, despite Adelaide’s squeaky 31-run margin, wins don’t come much huger, and is topped by a further ego-booster: the first Asian skip to wrap up Tests against Australia, England and South Africa on hostile soils.

“Cheers to the conquering one, BB. But the bristly Virat maybe prefers you pronounce his patronymic ‘Coley’, like our much missed sustainable fish. We should toast him with ‘bubbles’ rather than beer,” I joshed.

“Leave pushing the boat out to Raj, our denizen bundle of happiness. Him and squillions of nesh Indians back home celebrating in the winter fog.”

“In India?”

“Nah, Bradford mostly.”

Bradford

“Ah, the Brexit fog,” I said. “Think how lucky we are. This side of the world. Away from that chill codswallop. Poor old Mrs May caught between a rock and a hard place: Gibraltar and Northern Ireland. Not a bad description of either, says I.”

“And nowt but fishy policies. Us Brits are all at sea.”

“Bloody-minded Theresa definitely is. The PM’s a slot-in as Captain Ahab. Brexit’s her Moby Dick. Oh golly, yes. Hang on…” I directed BB in a minute of Safari tiddling on his clever phone.. A search of Herman Melville’s turgid tale came up trumps. “There you go: ‘Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.’”

“Ha-bloody-ha. Reckon it’s Boris the Chump’s mess to tidy. Jeez, him and his coin toss. Heads side with Quitlings. Tails, Remoaners. Numpty.”

“True, my friendly Tyke. More chance of fracking under Big Ben than sorting Brexit. Bojo’s the biggest bounder there is, now Roger went and bit the Alice Springs dust.”

BB frowned. “Roger?”

“The clucking kangaroo. Yep, gone bung. Twelve he was. A middling innings.” Just shy of 90-kilograms Roger had been bumper ginormous. ‘The Rock’ of Roo-dom. In height he could’ve looked the Adelaide Strikers beanpole bowler Billy Stanlake in the eye and agreed whether it be cloudy while they contemplated Knickers – oh, and Cummins and his lofty teammate pacers Starc and Hazlewood – beneath their noses. “Read the clucks-clucks were his alpha way of warning ‘Steer clear of my harem of lovelies’. A hearty Brexit ‘bukark-buk-buk’, I doubt though.”

“As it happens, I did know about the muscly celebrity. Watched Roger on social media when he was viral. Saved off the highway as a joey from his flat-packed mum’s pouch. Grew up to crush metal buckets with his paws. Intimidating.”

“So can the missus be, if I don’t show my face soon.” I chuckled.

“Tarra, then,” said BB.

“Tarra,” said I.

While cricket loving Indians to Mrs May merrily continued having a whale of a time so would I. Making that boozy ale pie. Fair play to the Colin tongue-twister. Without need to cut the bull, totted up it’s become a massive week. Boundless fun.

 

Illustrations & text © 2018 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

 

*‘Another Somerset Century’ by Charles Wood (2013, Halsgrove) ISBN 9780857042149.

Seasonal Substitutes

8th December 2018.

Street dazzles

Hankering for an icy Euro-Yule this wilting pom can hear the night tinkle of a solstice bell. The mog with the tinsel collar’s abroad. Mousing. Other timely hints – perhaps the thrumming cicada racket and the purple blossoming jacarandas – have Ricky and Izzy at the end of the street draining the Victoria grid. Their weatherboard home and garden festooned and twinkling. Coloured lights, blinking stars and plastic dazzle trees all reflect in Hobnails the brushtail possum’s peepers.

I’ve no wish to sound pernickety during these heated days of festive cheer, however I do tend to wallow in the traditional. Like shopping malls resounding to ‘The Fairytale of New York’ or ‘Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer’ rather than some dude wearing a Nazi-style hat and a gas mask whanging harsh chords on an electric axe, offering passers-by heavy metal lessons.

Heavy metal Yule

Such ruckus aside, Melbourne’s seasonal efforts are most admirable. But there’s always a ‘but’. And today the ‘but’ has been huge from the moment, clutching a Evian water and cheese heavy shopping basket, I emerged from behind a Woolworths display of Aussie festive trees that imitate car wash brushes. Clocking me, Chirpy Pete, stocky in employee carrot-nosed snowman T-shirt, took a time-out from rough-chucking bags of spuds. “Hey brother (in a figurative manner of greeting), wish these were heads of management!”

“Those Sebagos make a good substitute, eh?”

We’d grinned conspiratorially before I wandered out into the thirty-eight degrees, in which the shrieks of parrot-kind were interpretable as bush fire warnings, and went in search of both city and the missus. We’d agreed to share in an annual Melburnian custom. Us and an estimated million and a half others.

On CBD’s Bourke Street, a sweaty puddle of swaying Santa-hatted office party wassailers giving ‘Good King Wenceslas’ hell didn’t seem as incongruous as a certain individual being passed-off as ‘Carroll’s’ at Christmas. Behind a pane of shop front glass, a nattily dressed animatronic critter in waistcoat and tie sagged hunched at the Mad Hatter’s table. Because of it the lengthy street queue gawking at the beautiful-gorgeous Myer ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Christmas window display hit a small bottleneck.

The cause: a bratling aged about seven or eight pointing between Hatter and March Hare. She chewed her bottom-lip out of indecision. “What is it, mum? An anteater?”

“Love, I don’t know… Going by its pointy Piglet ears, could be an aardvark.”

“Mhmm-mhmm. Nose is too funny.”

Wonderland’s Dormouse…

… in Tea Party reflection

Next in line the missus and me couldn’t help but overhear plus notice the bratling had a point. “How about an armadillo?” I suggested.

“Ssh. You and and your armadillos,” the missus chided. “Our new neighbour’s mega nine-candle Happy Chanukah menorah stuck to the family car roof wasn’t reason to ask him where his armadillo suit was.”

I defended myself. “It was in harmless jest. Didn’t mean Jacob to get hot under the kippa. C’mon, everybody remembers ‘The Holiday Armadillo’. Classic ‘Friends’. Ross dressed-up as an armadillo for a kiddies Christmas party ‘cos it was the only fancy dress left. ‘Happy Hanukkah!’ Immortal. Chanukah, Hanukkah, same thing. Anyway, armadillo or not, that should be a dormouse. You know, small, furry-cute? Ears round and delicate?”

Dormouse of tradition

Mum and bratling turned to face us. “No way it’s a dormouse!” exclaimed mum. “Look at the claws poking out it’s cuffs. Reckon Myer’s gone and scraped the barrel of their props department.”

“Agreed. That dormouse pretender is…,” I brain-wracked for the right word, “a simulcrum.”

“What’s a SIM-milk-crumb?” asked the bratling.

“It means an unsatisfactory substitute.”

The mum grinned like a Cheshire cat, “The man means a crap understudy, darlin’. Like… like a weedy seadragon playing Chopper… or your dad playing baby Jesus.”

Surely, in the sixty-third consecutive season of Myer Christmas Animated Windows the prop wallahs and window dressers couldn’t be so lame. Not when flamingoes were clearly flamingoes and dodos, dodos. And not when a narrator’s voice on loudspeaker pushed the notion that the Myer Dormouse was ever so a dormouse: “March Hare and the Hatter were having tea… a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head.” Pushed into a corner I had to contemplate a slavish replication of someone else’s artistic licence.

“Come on. Come on! Keeping moving along, please!” came the impatient plead of a Constant Security yellow jacket. The missus and I did as told, dripping away to Google-sleuth.

And there, on the web, she was. Rébecca Dautremer. A creative forty-something. A French lass. Seemingly neither a naturalist nor giving a fiddler’s about rigeur, her take on Carroll’s classic arrived in bookshops a mere three years ago. The ‘dormousey’ clawed thingamabob that popped into her noggin might, however, fit better in ‘Wizarding World’. Only in my humble opinion, of course. Even odds Lewis Carroll aka the mathematical Charles Dodgson would’ve applauded madame. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ isn’t to be read as a logical tome.

Rébecca Dautremer

Maybe, regarding substitutes Aussies are simply mould breakers. Shane Warne, for  example, is probably dead chuffed ‘The Gatting Ball’ has morphed into a racehorse now trundling the country’s gallops.

The undisputed truth, spuds or not, the Twenty-fifth promises to be a roaster. Ring out that solstice bell, cat, I say, as I go kick out the Christmas beetles merrily decking the hall.

Happy Christmas, indeed. Happy Chanukah. Happy Whatever.

 

Illustrations & text © 2018 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

A Geelong Cat’s Cologne

1st December 2018.

The Geelong Cat’s Cologne

On the tin roof above our heads Hobnails the brushtail possum was doing his warm night thing when the missus turned to me showing a sad face. “Hubhub, my dad says sorry but they’ve lost the second boomerang. In the snow. Says he’s numb with cold from looking.” She was on the phone. Long, long distance. To Germany.

Hobnails

How we actually came to buy that particular whazz-stick last August is a tale unto itself and serves to illustrate what the legally trained mind can aspire to. Particularly when existing cheek by jowl with the Rhine in Cologne. The birthplace of scented toilet water in itself sounds iffy, although it’s my in-laws home patch of choice.

The Romans, busying themselves with mattocks and trowels, first laid the city’s foundations. Those Latin natterers though could never have imagined the like of chap doing business on Lindburger Strasse squidged between the Vietnamese restaurant and the gasthaus. I mean, in the name of the goddess Diana, legions would have judged the beastie above Colin Truslove’s emporium ridiculous as a faun.

Limburger Strasse, Cologne

Indeed, distracted flicking through social media messaging from his lady adorers, my friend Georg, a regular WDR TV news face and sleuthing journo, muttered Colin’s place, off the beaten grockle track in the Belgian quarter, was worth a gander. That Georg did so in the same breath as mentioning Claes Oldenburg’s ‘Dropped Cone’ (“a cornucopia of consumerism”), an ice cream sculpture atop a Newmarkt shopping mall and Gerhard Richter’s ‘Symphony of Light’, the Dom’s iconic mosaic window, glaringly hinted Colin’s was a must. Plus the ‘bonzer fellow’ sold ‘Sullivans Cove’, a wunderbar Tassie malt. At the drop of an Akubra I, and the missus too once encouraged, felt duly tugged.

The dropped cone, Neumarkt

The mimicked kangaroo warning sign in the shadow of Volksbank Köln Bonn HQ gives playful meaning to a bounced cheque. Which, after hurdling two boxes of ‘Speight’s Gold Medal Ale’ and one of ‘One Fifty Lashes’, is what I pointed out to toothy-grinner Colin, desk sat under an upside down world map in… the Australia Shop, selling everything from didgeridoos to tea tree oil, fluffy koalas to Tim Tams, jackaroo jackets to passion flower seeds. Even nosy kiwis have sneaked in. A few, anyway.

Signage and boomerangs

Kiwis sneak in

Pleasantries exchanged and my quizzing infernal he confessed to being a Geelong Cat.

My knowing the term meant an impressed eyebrow rose towards his bald pate. This fostered me to show off. Course Geelong, I remarked, was the original home of AFL. A game dreamed up in an alcoholic haze by W.M. Mills as something to keep cricketers supple during a Victorian winter. I achieved scrutiny.

Yet on I prattled. Most from Geelong, I understood, high-tail it only as far Melbourne, get eaten alive by Buruli ulcers in the Bellarine or, as in W.M.M.’s case, ’twas said, do-themselves-in with a pair of scissors trimming a cuff thread. I had to ask the sixty-six year old: “But why choose Germany?”

“Oh, lor!” was what I initially thought he replied. He actually said ‘Law’. Seamlessly, class of ’78 Monash University, law, German studies, and romance languages and literature melded into class of ’79 University of Cologne, law pure and simple. What transpired between ’79 until becoming the first in Germany to offer foodies low-fat kangaroo ham in ‘97, seems rather a grey area. A nifty sidestep, though, into a field of economic development in cahoots with Australian interests led to, well, everything.

Safe to say, the German bug had bitten him early as ’69 – a scholarship winkling Colin away from a Geelong weatherboard to the lavish baroque and rococo styles of Bavarian Würzburg. Returning the favour by offering Aussie culture to the Germans might mind-boggle a missionary.

“Anything you recommend before I head off again to Melbourne?” I asked.

“Aye. If you crave the rarity of Vegemite this side of the planet go suck a bottle of Maggi (the thin, concentrated dark brown liquid food flavour enhancer. Swiss). Taste’s similar.” Fascinating.

“And given you sell it, is there any other taste you can describe crocodile meat having apart from the half-fowl half-fishy smack?” I interpreted Colin’s narrowing eyes and smirk for myself. Namely, don’t go forgetting the odd human aftertaste. Of pom irritants.

The missus smiled sweetly, paid for the booty she’d collected whilst I’d rabbited, and bade Colin “Tschüss” before shoving me out the door with a departing “Danke jeune!”.

“But, but, but…” I protested.

Back at the in-laws she and I did tests. Item one, the boomerang. On first chucking we felt diddled. The genius thing didn’t return. Vanished in to the aether. AWOL. Somewhere between the rusted woodwork clamp on the rotted stump where squirrels hang out and the neighbours hazelnut tree. Confiscated by the ‘Vice Squad’, I hazarded. Item two, the box of ‘Little Creatures Pale Ale’ disappeared less mysteriously. Of items three and four, thankfully the roo balloon, string-tied to a gardening fork, bobbed merrily above the runner beans, eliciting the odd pigeon coo and magpie chack; what could possibly happen to the pot planted macadamia nuts was anybody’s guess.

Maybe it would have been safer to plump for the passion fruit seeds. No worries. I suggested ‘morgen’ we’d go shopping again. The boomerang did need replacing and I really, really wanted a dram of ‘Sullivans Cove’ to share putting the world to rights with Georg. Bounced cheque, nothing. But debit card? Ouch. The rightful term, even to the legally minded in a Geelong Cat’s Cologne.

“Lovey,” I said, “tell your dad to hit what’s left of the whisky. It’ll warm the cockles of his heart. And say, blast the squirrels.” Hobnails too for that matter. There was nothing more to add. For sure the roo, long limp, would have been binned.

 

Illustrations & text © 2018 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Bum Snakes and Fur Sausage

24th November 2018.

 

Fur sausage

This month, far from a silly sausage, Somerset’s Jack Leach conquered his Crones and helped spin England to twin Test wins in Sri Lanka. Here snags of all sorts stuck out. Rather than confuse, I don’t mean like rubber snakes not scaring possums shitless as they’re supposed to. Instead, I declare, the nation’s stressed judiciary’s oppressive workload’s being dubbed “a sausage factory”. Carly Schrever, scribe of an Australia-first study on law and order heard it so.

Bang on top of which comes the weekend’s Victoria election. Downfalls imminent as the next Melbourne squall, Liberals and Labour are both bigging-it-up on crime. So a case load, then, growing stuffed as a Loukaniko. And that’s turning a blind eye to deleterious possums.

Which I might add our local barn owl hasn’t been. But the shrieking slaughterer can’t be everywhere causing possumly habdabs. This left the missus and I party to pondering a sausage enterprise amongst mates while mixing with Oakleigh’s gossipers. It was the time of day when that Melburnian Greek enclave, a sweet tooth heaven of bougatsa and galaktoboureko, positively thrums.

At our noshery table little Petrina, Hellenic from neck to toe, specs magnifying her eyes round as pitta breads, clearly had a eureka moment after having flipped topic from semolina custard and scented syrup to her diabetic husky and, crucially, Anush stopping by with a bee in her bonnet. A large one.

She slapped the table top, instead. Cappuccino slopped. My fat warm bougatsa wobbled where it sat. “I did not bring my Nazeli to Australia to chop sausage!” Anush lamented, her accent Russian, her first language, although home was originally Yerevan in Armenia where the Hrazdan River pales in comparison to the Yarra. By ‘sausage’ she wasn’t meaning ‘sojuk’. Daughter Nazeli had landed a job behind a Coles deli counter. Clearly her mum hoped for higher aspirations. Prodding to discover what, my missus invited Anush to join us. How could she dare refuse?

“You can help us cheer Petrina up,” said the missus. “She’s feeling a bit down. Cute bothersome possums in her backyard are munching fig and pomegranate leaves. The grapevine, too. And worrying nesting birds. And Blade, one of her huskies, is ill.” From my knowledge Blade earned his moniker thanks to Wolfman. Marv Wolfman. The Marvel chap who created the infamous vampire slayer played by Wesley Snipes the tax dodger. It had nowt to do the poorly pooch having sharp intelligence.

“He is. He is.” Petrina piped. “It’s so sad. I’m having to inject insulin into Blade’s bald patch the vet shaved. My other dog’s Acura – she’s named after, you know, the luxury American car. That one’s never normally still. Always buzzing around. Must have ADD. Now she’s moping. Feeling it for Blade.”

The missus and I tutted sympathetically.

“Huskies stink,” said Anush. “Like Samoyed. My friend has Samoyed. She put stinky hair in bird box. Make possum go away.”

“Because possums hate the smell?” I asked.

Tochno.” (‘Exactly’, my Russian smidge translated.)

Cute bothersome ringtail pair

“Wasn’t there a Moorabbin lady selling dog hair in nets for that reason?” mused the missus. She rubbed her schnozzle thoughtfully. “I’m sure, she ran a dog grooming business. It was in the paper two or three years ago.”

“Well, Petrina,” I said. “Surely, even a mite worse for wear, Blade and Acura can now make themselves useful. Help repay those hefty vet bills.”

Which brings me to Petrina’s moment. “Ooooh! Yes! Blade’s always moulting. So’s Acura. They leave fur everywhere. Loads. And it combs off in mega lumps.” Her growing excitement was a joy to behold. “But what shall I put it all in?”

A surreptitious stroke of the missus’ knee and I had the answer. “Ladies tights,” I said.

Petrina grabbed at the idea. “Mum’s got plenty of old tights!” She giggled. “They’ll stuff in to giant snags. Imagine them hanging in the trees! What’ll the neighbours think? Ha! I’ll make a start tomorrow.”

“Good. Wonderful.” My straight-face was blessed hard to keep. “Bung the missus one if you can. Might make Hobnails the brushtail bugger off our tin roof. And allow the visiting barn owl’s claws to stick to mice.”

“Fur sausages have gotta be better than my bum snakes,” said Petrina, convincing herself. “The possums think the snakes are toys.”

“Same as a boomerang?” I offered. “Bet a pair of ringtail juniors could balance one on its edge and seesaw.” A fairly stupid notion, I admit. Then another thought occurred and again I put the idea out there. “Petrina, listen. I’ve a idea. Why not go into business with Nazeli? Could be lucrative. And instead of cutting sausages she’d be making them. Huge, soft and… smelly. A great Christmas prezzie. What do you say, Anush?”

Anush stared at me, puzzled. “Ya nye paneemayoo (I don’t understand).”

I explained. Very simply. Her jaw dropping, I quickly added I was joking.

Slava bogu (Thank God),” she said, the relief self-evident, the Coles deli counter become a magnificence to behold. Although, in truth, her dream of Nazeli demure in a designer dress shop stayed preferable. About to leave us Anush had a piece of advice: “If you want best Christmas you must shop at Aldi.”

“Really? Do you shop there?” I asked.

Kanyeshna (of course)”

After the election results should I say “stuff and nonsense”? Perhaps it’ll be a crime not to. If that’s courting an extra snag, let me be the judge. Best I elect to keep shtum. First, while the missus smoothes her tights and gently tells Petrina an Acura’s actually Japanese, I’ll finish my bougatsa.

 

Illustrations & text © 2018 Zum Beamer/ Charles Wood.

Bunged Up and Pricey Poop Gobbling

18th November 2018.

 

Cafe Pom

My respect of the feathered locals taste has taken a bash. A pity, since Cafe Pom was just for them and offered a varied enough menu: healthy fruit and nut sprinkled seed mix, crumbs of stale sourdough, manky grapes and mouldy blueberries, and oat cluster cereal dust. Don’t get me wrong, all’s gratefully gobbled.

But, oh Lordy Lord! My chuckabouts come cheap weighed against the Sunday special, hiked up further by Melbourne’s weekend surcharge. Something that afflicts even a takeaway small coffee. Which, Monday to Friday, my favourite street hatch shoves out for four bucks twenty loose change. Come Saturday, it heaves fashionably to four bucks sixty. A rascally uppage of naff cents.

For the grubbier occupations it’s a case of praise be to calamity, for jolly are the surcharge spondulicks. Enough, indeed, to prompt prayer to some jobber’s patron saint. Like say, St. Vincent. A Dominican, some believe, who fondled a plumber’s rates book.

St Vincent and, maybe, his rates book

The essence of this matter arose on Friday evening. When, inside Guernsey’s farmhouse, my missus and I, as fresh tenants, wrinkled noses at our Bayside nest. How malodorous it smelled! Of course, the letting agent assured Tobes the landlord cherished his investment property. Trouble was Tobes lived in fancy-pants South Yarra. Forty-minutes away, heinous traffic allowing. Meaning the cosmetic foibles of his darling nineteenth century pile, smooched back and sides by 1970s suburban throw-ups, was rather out of sight out of mind.

Understandable then that Guernsey’s centrepiece, a brick, yawning fireplace, was cold as a snowman’s heart. An unpleasantness the missus took upon herself to remedy forthwith with an on-line click – DIY warmth and cheeriness in a ton of red gum logs. Three hundred and twenty bucks worth. Sustainable. Choppings from Murrumbidgee (which incidentally means ‘big water’), somewhere west of Wagga Wagga. Unhappily, making space beside the chimney breast, the missus’ peek and pry found, snuggled to a web old router, snoozy hairy flower wasps. Big beasties. Brilliant.

Hairy flower wasps

That aside, the piggy-bank had squealed. So a simple supper. Bean paste laced with organic cider vinegar bearing floaty iffy bits known as the ‘mum’, helped down by toast and lettuce. Fibre fodder to keep the morrow’s motions tickety-boo, so to speak, aided by exercise – the dunny being way in the booay beyond the laundry room.

Trotting there had springy corridor floorboards boing worthily of a Trappist heart attack and make unseen wildlife trebuchet. Where rank slop lay puddled in the dunny’s corner I imagined the odd slug on boogie board, and failed to see the ruddy great hint. Without drawing attention to itself Guernsey’s was having a snaky attack of playing silly buggers.

A punctual tumble of firewood from ute tray to Guernsey’s driveway greeted Saturday morning. The ton making a cubic metre of obstacle course. Getting weaving on the stacking task brought on nature’s ‘yoo-hoo!’.

Minutes later, I summoned the missus. “Hey! C’mere! I’m in the laundry room. Come feast your eyes on this.”

“What creature have you found now?”

“Not a creature, my love. Go stand by the sink. When I flush the loo, watch the plug hole. Don’t get too close. Ready?… Goody-good.” I pressed the thingummy-whatsit.

A shriek and the missus was in need of a dab down. From her nose to the knees of her Armani long johns.

I gave a pat of comfort. “A bonza impression of the Kiama blowhole, don’t you think? Summat’s deeply amiss in the drains.” I whizzed a solemn text to South Yarra. The reply was punchy: “Cant be helped But shit mate its Sat”. After which Tobes arrived with commendable alacrity. Donnie the 24-hour plumber, a sprightly second, the rumpled sixty-something old rooster conjured away from gym bench presses.

Manoeuvring his smeary mechanical crankum of suck and shove over the log hurdle toward the yuckity-doo-dahs Donnie enquired the firewood’s cost. I told him. His response: a chuckle. “I always order delivery for mid-week. Only two hundred bucks. Here, I’ll make that back in a half hour.” He admitted though to having major tugs on his wallet. In a blink of eye his mail order beauteous young Thai wife, whom Donnie loved to bits, had ‘taken’ him for an awful, awful lot. And still there’s a villa in Greece he hadn’t got around to showing her. Small wonder he might beg St. Vincent for surcharge grip.

Donnie’s crankum

Trying to prove himself the very opposite of a ‘Trappist’, two hours Donnie foofed and faffed before trumpeting he’d got stuff burbling. Only he wasn’t sure quite where to. I had an inkling. The rank grey sludge splotched in the bathroom shower bottom had Tobes call for reinforcement. Of hi-tech. His proposed: an attack from the road end. Supplied by fledgling Jake. To whom drainage clearance by gizmo was a new venture. And opportune. The archetypal plumber he wasn’t. More a musician who’d taken an enriching hidden turn. Keyboard playing since a five-year-old, he boasted a record contract in Europe. However, undertaking to keep his Russian wife in designer shoes and handbags Jake reminded himself of the difference between a pizza and a musician. The answer: a pizza can feed a family.

“Problem’s bog roll,” he explained. “Years of clogging. See it on camera.” I peered at his in-van monitor. “Look, I push the rod through, pull back and the mass closes up again. Neat as you like. It’s not for budging.” Though actually, with a gurgle and glup, it was.

“Yay!” cheered Jake, time-glancing his phone. Smugly now. Surcharge blessed, the amassed could half meet something Jimmy Choo. After a hose down scatter-splatter he and Donnie simply went with the flow. Their totalled tab? Heavens!

Hence, in Sunday’s sun, Cafe Pom’s special – poop and paper mash globs – got baked. Enticed speckled doves sashayed from their canoodle corners. Indian mynas prowled like gunslingers and gorged. Magpies bullied and binged. Blackbirds simply should have known better. Passers-by, the causers of startled wing explosions, scooted. Forget Guernsey’s low profile, dammit.

Best I crumble that sourdough on a macaroni cheese. Lunch for the missus. Something tum-warming to peck at. Her extremities waiting on me for a blazing log fire. Just had to shift those hairy flower wasps.

Birds of the world, eh?

Sense or not, I’m so craving a coffee. Maybe quit bean paste for a little while, though.

Zum Beamer’s Bean Paste.

Serves a few

Ingredients:

Two tins of butter beans, well rinsed,

Quarter of a red onion,

Four glugs of olive oil,

Two dessert spoons of organic apple cider vinegar with the mother (the floaty iffy bits),

A triple grind or more of coarse sea salt.

A slosh of water.

Method:

Bung everything into a bowl and whizz-whizz with a mixer until smooth. Scrum!

 

Illustrations and text © 2018 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood

Feathered Frets and Mornington Wine

11th November 2018.

Ian the Gordy

The Mornington Peninsula, near Arthurs Seat, on a November Sunday. The sunny spring day turned to mizzle. “Here’s us, the only dorks in shorts,” said the speckless Son-of-Calcutta, he and I, a Pompey born Hampshire hog, heading for his friend’s winery where the general populace is banned.

Beneath towering gum trees the rutted dusty track, enough to give the Joe Blakes, ended at two green tin sheds. The right hand one, a recent addition. Beyond, pinot noir grapevines sloped away in immaculate rows. The Bellingham Estate, a boutique affair, has been lovingly tended for the past twelve years since being bought by the grafter Ian the Gordy, whom Son-of-Calcutta’s smartphone summoned away from a humming tractor.

“You tarted up your bottle labels yet?” Son-of-Calcutta asked, a reference to a logo of nowt but two letters of neat calligraphy: B E.

“No. A farmer doesn’t tend to be creative,” said Ian, his accent pure David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd, the summer voice of pom cricket. In contract to those on us day trippers Ian’s shorts were practical. They complemented a dishevelled appearance of grimy cap, sweaty T-shirt and grubby work boots. At 56, his round face stubbly and weathered, the overall effect was rustic. His plagues of woe: bacteria, fungi, bugs and slugs. Knock his dad down with a feather one could, had the fella been alive. It was a ‘Shaw’ thing.

Shaw, Lancashire

I mean blimey, Ian’s dad was a Gordy. It’s what they call people who hail from Shaw, a place joy forgot in England’s urban north – the most deprived bit – trapped like a fart between the bum cheeks of Oldham and Rochdale. True, when Lord Haw Haw’s mum was born in the town the place had more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the world. Cotton was King. The mills and the pub snug, Life. Not no more. Fat cats became thin as the needles of today’s downcast shufflers. Bright spark Ian, seeding a spirit of adventure, escaped. Early. Up the road. The call of engineering. The tickle of entrepreneurship saw him to Oz, making aeroplane parts in Port Melbourne. Where the wine itch replaced warm beer stoicism. The chap was clearly adaptable.

“Ever thought to loosing runner ducks amongst your vines… against the naughty slugs?” I asked, spotting a progressing slime trail whilst searching for something to say.

“Hmm. A winery in Tassie tried that. Wedge-tailed eagles snatched every duck bar one. The last wouldn’t come out it’s barn. There’re wedge-tails here. So anything taking uncommon interest in me vines’ gets sodding sprays. Which is a bloody science. Barring the odd snooty bugger, the neighbouring winegrowers are kindly with their advice. And I welcome it doing most stuff meself. Maintenance contractors cost me ten thousand bucks a year. Ten thousand! That’s per acre. That on top of the thirty-five thousand bucks to plant an acre of vines in the first place.” They were figures to flabbergast. Enough to have almost made Ian broke.

The last runner

Son-of-Calcutta was quick to change the subject, his own winery dream having hopped the twig a while ago. “So what’s new?” he quizzed.

“Come see.” said Ian, keen to usher us inside his latest erection.

In the gloom, behind beloved wrenches and carpentry tools, huffed a mustard coloured sports car super sorry for itself coated in the smut of neglect. “A Porsche,” sighed Son-of-Calcutta sniffily.

“Wrong. It’s a Jensen.” In fact, a 1974 Jensen-Healey Mark II. An iconic mongrel. The design wrapped up by Aston Martin’s William Town. A 1973cc Lotus engine. The chassis and steering bits and bobs, Vauxhall. The gearbox, Sunbeam. “Found it in a ramshackle barn. Been there twenty years. My gal (a Motherwell lass) said it’ll be where’s it’s now in another twenty. Can’t have her saying ’told you so’!” He gave his cap’s peak a tug as was his habit.

“Just now though it’s a task firmly on the back boiler. More pressing is banging together wooden bird boxes.” The reason shot shrieking overhead in flashes of green and red as fast as any Jensen can aspire. The good psittacines of the Mornington were losing a battle royal for gum tree nest holes. The baddies, starlings and Indian mynas, had the box seat. “Aggressive little buggers,” Ian growled. Parakeets and lorikeets, indeed any blinking ‘eet’ desperately sought alternative Edens. Which, out of the kindness of his heart, had Ian multiple times teetering on the topmost rung of his longest ladder juggling bird box, hammer and nail a judicious seven metres – a rat being what it is – above terra firma. An iffy place for a Lancastrian but for a parrot, tail feathers crossed, bijou and secure.

Like the mynas Australia suits starlings. In their blooming murmurations, the thriving descendants of 1850s arrivals a fair wind behind the convict ships, were proper pests. If it wasn’t for their thievery Ian wouldn’t have the agro of netting his vines. “If only I had an air gun,” he mused.

“Anyway let’s attack some wine. It’s why you’re here.” I entered his sanctum: the older shed. Where, on their sides, oak barriques nestle. Watching over them, a nudie lovely, the photo black and white. Her image gleeful. Vat stomped grapes bursting skins, releasing juices, beginning fermentation. Ageless.

“Have a pew.” Ian gestured to white plastic chairs at a trestle table before producing two bottles of pinot, three glasses and blue bucket. A novice to protocol I eyed the latter with trepidation, Although I’m sort of up to speed with the tasting lark: the vigorous wristy swirl of wine in glass followed by sniff and swig, the bucket was a mystery.

My tipple, Ian’s 2017, poured, ‘down the hatch’ it went. Rapidly. “Yum,” I said. My companions meanwhile swirled some more, sipped small, spoke of fruit notes, Ian calling his effort “flabby” but “worthy of pizza” before he and Son-of-Calcutta sloshed what lingered into the bucket. Ah. And so to the pièce de résistance. The 2016. A pinot concurred fit for haute cuisine eateries. Judges palates going so far as to consider it competitive. Ian was chipper. Seems the latest buzz was all about fruitiness rather than the smack of oak and charring. What Ian called out as “shonky” was key to past successes of pinot from a nearby posh estate.

Glug went my ration of my host’s elixir. Bucket again ignored except by the chums. Son-of-Calcutta tugged out dosh for half a dozen bottles of the stuff. At mate’s rate. For me, the impecunious freeloader, my tasting etiquette was in definite need of work. Acceptant of winging it I too had adapted. From Hampshire hog to old country cuckoo. And no escaping it.

 

 

Illustrations & text © 2018 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Fair Dinkum Veteran and Backyard Swing Bowling

2nd November 2018.

Backyard swing bowling

About where I’m sat gawping at a confusion of tea chest packing boxes Aboriginals made a fine fist of it growing nutritious edibles in unforgiving sand dunes. Ones that stretched square kilometre upon square kilometre up from the sea. Mr Guernsey, a pom and wannabe farmer, rudely told those mortals to shuffle off elsewhere. In 1868 he built a dinky double-gabled house, a tad of status, beside a dusty track. That same year the Fourteenth Amendment, the one about birthright, got adopted in the US, and HMVS Cerberus, the rusting heritage hulk and gull-perch in Half Moon Bay, got it’s earliest iron rivets at Jarrow, on the faraway Tyne.

HMVS Cerberus and assorted birdlife

House done the intrepid Guernsey set about a market garden – a nod to the Aboriginals and a gobbet of nous, him having first pitched up with lost-looking sheep and goats. Trotting a fair way behind those ungulates came opportunistic developers and golf course planners. So in the manner of Dire Straits ‘Telegraph Road’ was born Melbourne’s Bayside. Brighton, the poshest bit, is thought of as ‘The Bubble’. Shane Warne lives there. My missus and I no longer do.

With its botox-smug, run-along-a-ding-ding, beach-huggers The Bubble doesn’t agree with everyone. The missus and me counted our gripes on the fingers of more than one hand: The hoity-toities looking down their schnozzles. The Porsche eejit asking whether a small temperamental Fiat was the most I and the missus could afford. Ferrari and Maserati infusing our boudoir with morning high-octane carbon perfumes. The jogging gym rat, tugger of a compliant designer pooch, sneering at my ginger nut bicky. The partying possums chomping the blooming roses plus at the mains power supply. The fat cockroach using my shaving cream suds to imitate Santa. The list went on until, lease expired, me and the missus had our marching orders, our single year flown fast and colourful as a lorikeet.

The without frills middle of row town house, a tired, echoey art deco survivor – its defunct flame-effect gas fire last serviced before the millennium – now shudders from modernising jackhammers and shrieking drills, outcompeting the neighbours’ potty leaf blowers and the municipal giant-scale sewage pipe laying. Ornamenting the front garden and spoiling the neck-craning sea view are rubble piles and a blue portaloo. After renovation a hefty price tag will ensue as sure as Port Phillip’s waters support flesh-eating nasties.

Next door, locked away safe from dodgy lifeforms, nervy Marge had twittered through the wire mesh and steel bars of her porch’s security gate. “You’ve been such lovely neighbours,” she said. “Where are you moving too?”

“Only up the road,” I replied. “About 5Ks. To a farmhouse. Amongst higgledy-piggledy suburbia. Amazing, innit? It’s an absolute treasure. Even has corbels – corbels! – and stained glass widows. And no possum legions ‘cos a barn owl hunts the garden. Street lights burn night and day saving Bayside staffers unearthing a switch. And for chilly nights there’s a proper fireplace. Huge it is. Perfect for a gorgeous red gum log fire.” Turning on her heels Marge snorted disbelief. I felt the urge to count another finger.

Downsized by the tractor barn and hay barn being hived off to adjacent plots when 1970s bungalows replaced the brassicas, Guernsey’s seemed peaceable and snug behind its paint-peeling picket fence on what’s an unremarkable avenue. The frequent siren wails on the Nepean highway and the rumble and whistles from the Frankston line close by carried bearably.

“Oldest house in the area,” the rental agent assured.

“Possibly in the whole of blimmin Australia,” I’d enthused, utterly beguiled, absorbing the cricket wicket daubed on the side of the decrepit backyard shed. That and the narrow wooden seat rope-dangling from a high jacaranda branch presented a pitch ideal for swing bowlers.

The houses’s cracked and water-stained inner walls, the heavy sweet whiff of the landlord’s strategically placed frangipani incense sticks which masked the unlived-in fustiness, and the very pretty fossil – an utterly useless Rex cast iron wood fired kitchen oven – were mere details.

“We’ll take it,” blurted the missus.

“Absolutely we will,” I’d seconded,

So here we are rattling around a fair dinkum veteran, tea chests awaiting rummage. Above our heads a large possum thunders across the tin roof.

Out of the frying pan…

 

Illustration & text © Zum Beamer/ Charles Wood.