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Finally, a beer review

 

sparko

Good art is evocative. It jumps on the individual and transports them elsewhere. Gee, even bad art can have you skipping across the planet.

Can beer be art too? Of course. It functions like a frothy time machine. Or something like this.

One afternoon I went on a little holiday, while sitting on our modest patio. Here’s my travel diary courtesy of the following fun refreshments.

Chang

On Boxing Day 2005 we arrived in Bangkok from London. Having survived part or whole of three shadowy English winters meant the Thai heat was monstrous. Like the black monolith in Kubrick’s 2001, it governs the landscape (and the moonscape).

Late morning, we took a boat along the Chao Phraya river, pausing at various Buddhist sites, and marvelling at the coconuts, bobbling in the brown water. When thirst conquered tourism we moored at a floating restaurant for a drink, and such was the hotness and absurd humidity that we demolished a squadron of large Chang bottles.

It’s a pale lager with a straw hue, and while it’s not bursting with personality and stories, it’s crisp and refreshing in a functional way, like an old Casio calculator. It’ll never MC your best mate’s wedding.

Our session was brisk and energetic, and soon there was a phalanx of green bottles on the table, in silent evidence of our stern tropical application. De-camping to Singapore a few years later I learnt that a handful of tinkling ice cubes in a frosty beer glass is no gastronomic crime, in fact it’s medically necessary.

With the sun slipping into the Andaman Sea and your green chicken curry steaming on the Ko Lanta table, a Chang is gorgeously contextualised. Don’t forget. Chang means elephant.

Tsingtao Beer

Gee, we’re all now situated within an Asian century and like Roy and HG, I find it tremendously exciting. This pilsner was originally brewed under the mythical German Purity Laws in a joint Chinese/ Bavarian operation. These enigmatic ideals are now abandoned and rice is an ingredient, but it works in a happy, meaningless pre-season fixture fashion.

Like an episode of Have You Been Paying Attention? it’s fun and compelling at the time, but in the morning, you’ll recollect little of it. However, this is fine. Live a little and ignore the cultural import.

Tsingtao attends to its easy drinking brief with a casual nod to the grandstand as the chestnut conveyance strides past the post in an early spring Group 3 race over, say, 1600 metres. It’s pale, golden in the glass and unlikely to inspire a revolution, cultural or military. While I enjoyed it, at no stage did I hear Communism barking in my ear as I supped. I should’ve listened to Little Feat’s “A Apolitical Blues” to allow beer and art to mingle in that deathless, exotic exchange-

Well my telephone was ringing

And they told me it was chairman Mao

 

Well my telephone was ringing

And they told me it was chairman Mao

Coopers Sparkling Ale

At the end of a holiday, even a lager-themed trip, it’s good to come home. And so, we look at the mighty CSA, as I’m confident it’s not known in the trade. In my coterie, it’s a Sparko although this familiar, friendly nomenclature disguises a dark truth.

Kids: this is not a session beer. The graveyard is clunking with the skeletons of those who fought it, and lost.

Sparkling ale speaks with preternatural eloquence. I tell you, every bottle bursts with Jack Nicholson, the Velvet Underground and ultimately, Hemingway from his tiny Spanish bar. As an aspirational product, it’s looking down fondly upon us all from its Nepalese retreat.

It presents with citrus, cereal, ferment, danger, sex, death. It can be eaten with a fork. Avoid it at breakfast, especially if you’ve booked a duel with a mortal enemy. But taken moderately, in the late autumnal sun, it’s invigorating and celebratory.

After three circumspect sips, you’ll possess the wit of former Australian PM, Paul Keating who once described the performance of a parliamentary foe as “like being flogged with a warm lettuce.”

Coopers Sparkling Ale is huge like Merv Hughes in his twilight, but under the hum and roar of a party, it leans in and whispers conspiratorially, “Can you believe our good fortune to live where we do?”

And you smile in that reflective way while sort of staring into the middle distance and think yep, that’s fecking true.

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Fun and Feasting at the Beggars Banquet

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Who forgot the apostrophe? Mick or Keith? Should it be Beggar’s Banquet or Beggars’ Banquet? I prefer the later, imagining a mythical party hosted by the Rolling Stones somewhere like, say, Tangier in Morocco.

Punctuation marks denoting possession aside, this 1968 release is the most fun of their career with sitars, LA’s Watts Street Gospel Choir and a polite devil all prominent. Forgetting the psychedelic swill of Their Satanic Majesties Request, this album’s ambitious but also homage to their American influences.

The music of Satan is not, as many might attest, heavy metal or any of its more ridiculously camp variants. His accompaniment, of course, is something much more seductive. Opening Beggars Banquet is “Sympathy for the Devil” which is narrated by Lucifer himself.

Underpinned by congas the music is a samba: hypnotic, sexual, inescapably charismatic. And there’s the Devil, resplendent in a sharp suit, drawing you in over a cocktail with his allure, but also his invisible menace. Indeed, the opening to this dramatic monologue is a deferential “Please allow me to introduce myself…”

In the days after its release, I imagine God-fearing folk from places like Lynchburg, Virginia quivering at Mick’s vocals, but I reckon it’s now fanciful fun, fetching theatre.

*

In Keith Richards’ autobiography Life my favourite vignette centres upon the young author and his grandfather in Soho, during the austere 1950’s. Upon seeing a poor urchin, the elder asks, “Keith, have you got a shilling?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Now go and give it to that boy. He needs it more than you.” Keith does.

“Well done,” praised granddad, “That’s very kind.” He pressed his fist into Keith’s paw.

Keith opened his hand. In it were two shillings.

*

“Dear Doctor” is the third track and takes us musically and narratively to the American south with the mawkish tale of a doomed boy, trapped to his betrothed.

The melodramatic context is clunky, but it’s one of the record’s fine acoustic songs that could be dismissed as irreverent; making fun of the genre. However, this would misjudge the band’s deep admiration for this music, as they deliver us to their beloved blues and country destinations. Worship, and not cheap parody is driving the pick-up. Such is the authenticity of Mick’s vocal characterisation that the finale is a relief for us all

It read, “Darlin’, I’m sorry to hurt you.

But I have no courage to speak to your face.

But I’m down in Virginia with your cousin Lou

There be no wedding today.

*

In February 1965, my Mum and Dad saw the Rolling Stones at Centennial Hall. It was part of the Showgrounds, but the building is now demolished. A short Par 4 from where I work, and commuting past, I envisage flickering black and white footage and screaming. Shrill, teenaged, screaming.

Roy Orbison took the stage beforehand and with his voice like “the cry of an angel falling backward through an open window” the crowd adored him. But then, Mum and Dad both remember the Stones being booed and jeered. What? They played eight songs with competent energy, but it was too late. Adelaide loved the Big O, and gave the boys from Dartford the Big A.

*

The Rolling Stones are now popularly connected to the electric guitar, but on Beggars Banquet the acoustic songs generate much of the fun. “Prodigal Son” is a country blues, Bible-infused number that on the record’s early pressings was wrongly attributed to Jagger and Richards. It was by the Rev. Robert Wilkins, a Memphis gospel singer and herb medicine specialist whose first recording was “Rolling Stone Blues, Parts I & II.” It dates from 1928.

It’s a reminder that they still loved the blues and regarded themselves as belonging to Memphis as much as London. “Prodigal Son” is a terrific driving song, and the Mississippi swims into widescreen view as Mick’s harmonica eddies and swirls across the speakers.

*

The album is colonized by rich characters and the richest here is the “Factory Girl.” It’s a curious amalgam with violins, South Asian congas or tablas giving it a Hindustani feel and Mick’s mid-Western vowels providing a pilgrimage too. The girl is irrepressible: catching buses, sporting “curlers in her hair” and loving a weekend fight. Even with the “stains all down her dress” she’s attractive. It’s my pet track.

Opening the batting for the band’s astonishing run of form which witnessed consecutive centuries through Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St, it’s a whirling, boisterous set. While it doesn’t gather the acclaim of its successors, it’s their most fun record.

*

And I’m not sure that the title’s absent apostrophe is rock’s greatest grammatical crime. This surely belongs to Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” for its maddeningly redundant preposition, which if you’re not vigilant, sticks in your head like a rusty nail

But if this ever changin’ world

In which we live in.

Ladies and gentlemen, Beggars Banquet!

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By George said Ringo to Paul while sitting on the John

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June 9- Michael

Walked to St Johns Wood and to Lords. Elderly tour guide was cheeky and cockney. Long Room, museum and media centre. The playing surface drops eight feet from off to on-side. Whilst certainly attractive is not as naturally beautiful as Adelaide. Bought Dad a souvenir- not Phil Tufnell’s autobiography- and headed across to Abbey Road.

Humble white studio but the front fence is thick with graffiti. Much of it corny: “By George said Ringo to Paul while sitting on the John.” Photo taken at pedestrian crossing. Ambled along Regents Canal. Lots of canal boats which seemed to be houses.

Bought lunch at Pret a Manger- magnificent chocolate cake- and ate in Hyde Park near Marble Arch. Walked through the Park to the Serpentine and had coffee. Continued to Albert Monument and Albert Hall.

Natural History Museum for a few hours. Dinosaurs, animals, birds, great spider and web exhibit and the blue whale. Superb.

Onto Kensington Palace. Saw lots of squirrels. The first one was nearly taken by a swooping raven. The Round Pond was great and then we headed to Oxford Street and our internet café. Back to our hostel, and after a big day walking, to be about ten.

June 10- Michael

Coffee and hot chocolate in Trafalgar Square and then to Buckingham Palace. Enjoyed the changing of the guard: music, colour, ceremony. Entertained equally by French school kids.

Westminster Pier and down to St Katherine’s Wharf. Had lunch. By Christ, it was a poor chicken burger. Tower of London. Enormous crowds. Joined a guided tour with a yeoman warder who’d a superb presence, voice and humour. Learnt more about Anne Boleyn, three blind mice Henry VII and royal history.

Checked out the Crown Jewels, White Tower, wall walk, Cullinan Diamond display, Royal Chapel and The Common. Stood on the steps at Traitors Gate and marvelled at this place which has been palace, fort, prison and site of English history’s most poignant moments.

Called into a supermarket for some supplies and beer- wheat lager (shite) and Stella Artois. Caught parts of a TV show commemorating Prince William’s 18th birthday. (NB- the after-party starring Harry probably more entertaining- Editor)

June 11- Kerry

On the road again. Up early, packed and walking to a location near Euston Station at the Thistle Hotel. After a reasonable delay, it was on the bus and winding our way through London to Dover.

The countryside was lovely. Lots of beautiful scenery (Michael slept). Dover was great but things were a bit rushed as we were late. But the white cliffs were interesting and in all a quaint seaside village with a HUGE port. Our ferry, the Provence, was massive. We walked on and made our way to the deck to wave goodbye to jolly old England.

Went downstairs for an ale and a bit of a look around and before we knew it we had crossed the channel in just under two hours and were arriving at Calais. Met up with our tour manager whose name is Ute, and our driver Giro (if I was a bogan I’d suggest the roles should have been swapped- Editor).

Time was short so we were quickly on the road to our first stop- Brussels, Belgium. Ute talked to us about the tour and other general things and this helped while away a fair chunk of time- looking out the window and taking in the scenery is good- to a point. I did recall however a time travelling from the city to Gawler on the train and someone saying it was like France, and I have to agree.

Arrived at the Holiday Inn on the outskirts of towns across the road from a big stadium about 7pm after winding our clocks forward an hour. After a quick tidy up we were downstairs to get a map then on the train into the centre of town. The main square, Grand Place is cool- lots of very big, very old buildings and no cars.

We quickly found the fountain Mannekin Pis, took some photos then looked for food. Ate at a Greek café called Plaka- the food was superb- falafels and a plate of open lamb yiros. YUM.

Had a bit more of a look around the side streets including one full of seafood restaurants before catching the underground home. TIRED!

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Galloping about Greenwich and Abba Adventures

abba

June 7- Kerry

Up and at ‘em early today. Down the road to Piccadilly Circus where we had the place to ourselves and it was so quiet.

We walked along Regent Street to Waterloo Place and down onto The Mall. Followed this along to Buckingham Palace and was impressed by the Victoria Monument but less by the palace. What you can see is big and grey with big black and gold gates. Mmm…

The best bit was it was so quiet- there was hardly anyone else around- a dozen at the most. We did a lap around the palace- ‘tis big- and saw Wellington’s monument and gate at Hyde Park Corner. Once around we went through St James’ Park to the Horse Guards’ ground. The park is lovely and we had a bit of a chat with a nice, chummy guy about the birds.

Went to have a look through Westminster Abbey but it was shut (hope to go back) so went up the road to the Portrait Gallery instead. After this we went to the tourist info and had a huge Pizza Pig-out before sprinting back to the hostel for a cat nap (all hail the restorative powers of pizza- editor).

A couple of hours later we were up and at ‘em again although our body clocks still not caught up and we headed off to the British Museum. Lots of Greek and Roman- too many and we had overload. A few highlights include the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian mummies and the Sutton Hoo, an ancient burial ship from East Anglia, which was very cool. Next stop was the Easy Everything internet shop to catch up with everyone at home.

June 8 (a Friday)- Kerry

A few domestic chores in the morning (No, I didn’t paint the roof of our hostel- Editor) and we set off about ten. Interestingly, the fire alarm went off in the hostel earlier so we grabbed our valuable and went down stairs only to find it was a false alarm. Thank God- I was still in my PJ’s with no undies as they were all in the wash- not a good look in the middle of London (less so in Dubai-Editor).

Hoped on a ferry at Westminster Pier for a trip to Greenwich and the flood barriers. The bar maid was late (Tardy, not deceased- Editor), the driver come guide was informative and funny, the sights were interesting. The bridges good, the Millennium Dome ugly, the flood barriers strange.

Stopped off at Greenwich and hopped straight about the Cutty Sark for a look- interesting. Up the street to a pub for lunch and a beer/shandy and a rest. Then up the hill to Greenwich Park. Didn’t go to the observatory- too expensive and queue too long so we missed out standing astride the Meridian Line.

Up the hill found the 2,500-year-old Roman remains- disappointing to say the least. Further up the way we saw our first squirrel- fleetingly as it was chased up a tree by a dog. Back down the hill past the Queens House and Naval College- more impressive old buildings before going under the Thames through the Greenwich foot-tunnel which was cool. Popped up the other side and caught the DLR back to the city- goodbye Greenwich, we ‘joyed you.

Emerged out from the underground by chance at the Monument, built to commemorate the Great Fires of London- interesting tit bit: if the monument was laid on its side to the east its top would be in Pudding Lane where the fire was supposed to have started in the Royal Bakers Kitchen (who’d have thought so much destruction could be connected with a pudding? – Editor).

Walked home past St. Paul’s- very impressive- hope to go back and have a look inside.

On our very long walk back we decided to go via Leicester Square to get cheap tickets to see the Graduate. As it turns out we couldn’t see it that night so we got tickets for Mamma Mia instead. It rocked me, give me (sic- Editor) that feeling, rolled me…

 

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Our first ever day in London

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June 5- Michael

Thankfully the London flight was only just over half full so we had a spare seat next to us which made the journey better. My initial seat decided to break during take-off and lurched back onto the poor sod behind. The trolley-dolly and my travelling companion both denied any problem, but ultimately understood.

We watched All the Pretty Horses, Sweet November and Anti-Trust. Our arrival at Heathrow was exciting until the poxy, mongrel bastard ATM ate my card. Had coffee and coopa-tea.

June 5 (continued)- Kerry

The bus was ye goode olde fashioned red double decker. The trip was really enjoyable- we got off early to see a bit of greater London. The bus dropped us off at the end of Oxford Street, near Marble Arch- at the corner of Hyde Park and we walked the rest of the way.

This turned into a major feat- no map and only a vague idea (This became a major theme in our travels over the next fifteen years- Editor). Eventually we made it after asking for directions several times and then ringing the hostel.

The room is interesting. Small, a bunk, a cupboard and a sink. It overlooks a construction site. The kitchen and lounge are clean and comfy. There is internet access, a laundry and lots of tit-bits for sale at reception.

After a shower to freshen up we hit the streets- very tired, but needing to stay awake as it was the middle of the day. Four hours sleep in over 24 is not enough.

First stop; lunch at Benji’s on Oxford Street- then a quick trip home for a jumper and umbrella then we were off. Bought a map at a local stall and there was no stopping us. We zig-zagged through the streets of Soho down to St Martins-in-the-Fields church.

Across the road, Trafalgar Square is very impressive. Down Whitehall, past Admiralty Arch, the old war offices in Downing Street, onto the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben and across the way to Westminster Abbey- back to this another day for a look inside too.

Next down to the river just near Westminster Bridge and pier- there’s a good view across the river to the London Eye and the county hall. Walked along the Victoria Embankment up to Cleopatra’s Needle. Very impressive because of its age, but also because of the bog holes and missing chunks from bombing during the war. Also, interested to read that the embankment is only fairly new in the big scheme of things and the river’s edge was in fact about 150 metres from its current position.

Took a photo here of the gate that was once the river’s edge- of course I can’t think of its name at the moment! (Google it, kids- Editor). Made our way to Leicester Square and through Chinatown in Soho to a pub called the White Horse. Looked like a good old English pub- turns out three Aussies and a Kiwi work there. Anyway, the beer and shandies were great.

Walked past a theatre on the corner playing The Graduate- hope to come back and catch it one night. On the way home, we stopped at the supermarket to get a few supplies- things were reasonably priced, then up Berwick Street past the markets which were just packing up.

Back at out hostel we stored our stuff and had a drink before going to bed. Walked around a bit trying to find a good pub and ended up in the Blue Posts for a quick one, then hysterically tired, headed home to bed- still daylight, but four hours sleep in over 36 is just not enough.

In bed at 8pm and not many minutes with the head on the pillow before drifting off into a well-earned long sleep.

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