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Film Review- The Trip to Spain

The-Trip-to-Spain-poster

Enticing Spanish food, gorgeous cinematography and two actors playing fictionalised versions of themselves perpetually engaged in battles over career, family and who does the best Michael Caine impression.

Yes, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon have returned with the third in director Michael Winterbottom’s now anticipated film series.

With a typically thin premise- Coogan insists he’s writing a book inspired by Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning along with the usual contract to write a set of restaurant reviews for the Observer our team departs from Plymouth by overnight ferry for the north of Spain.

The comic energy of the film comes from the endless cockfight between the characters over their impersonations of actors and celebrities. Their stable includes Michael Caine, Robert De Niro and celebrated BBC Radio announcers Terry Wogan and Ken Bruce. Brydon’s impersonation is so uncanny- “Up next: The Doobie Brothers! – that he once took over Bruce’s Radio 2 morning show and most listeners only knew what had happened when the real host appeared at the end!

Mick Jagger is a welcome addition to their repertoire, having snuck in following Coogan and Brydon’s early discussion of older men having kids. He stunningly captures the Stones’ front man and his nasal almost public schoolboy tones, along with the hysterical clapping trope associated with Jagger’s onstage performances. It’s funny, and early on we have Coogan 1, Brydon 0.

Beyond the aural fun it’s also an essay on middle-aged masculinity. The ebb and flow of careers- Coogan now sees himself primarily as a writer, and the scenes with him sitting morosely at his laptop indicate how dismally this is travelling, through to meditations on death and the struggles with family and love. Coogan’s Dad-joke-sad attempts to flirt with an attractive ferry attendant establishes this middle-aged loss early. Happily, Steve later announces that “Fifty is a sweet spot” but of course there’s an underscored doubt about his optimism.

With Emma, Steve’s assistant and Yolanda, the photographer, joining them late in their journey a shared lunch gives the leads the attractive female audience they need for a final showdown in which Coogan and Brydon duel over who can do the best Roger Moore with the Welsh star taking this to maddening yet terrific excess. It’s magnificent.

In the previous films we had literary assistance in Keats, Shelley and Bryon, and here in Spain it’s Don Quixote and his assistant Sancho Panza which somehow reaches its ridiculous zenith in them duetting on “Windmills of You Mind” as their Range Rover speeds towards Malaga.

The film is part travelogue too with the countryside as well as the restaurants in luscious prominence. The Alhambra is used to highlight Coogan’s latest existential crisis as he wanders through this stunning palace, his haunted, hunched self in contrast to the natural and Moorish architectural wonder.

“She was only nineteen years old!” is the overdue vocal joust- I thought Michael Caine might be unforgivably absent- at their final restaurant in which their shouting match somehow remains unheard by those at the surrounding tables. This impossibility adds to the film’s absurdity.

The Trip to Spain is huge fun and already I’m guessing where they’ll next venture. I suspect a French tour.

Regardless, I’m sure that Caine, Moore, De Niro and co will be along too.

The Trip to Spain is in Australian cinemas now.

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Greenock Brewers Barossa Valley

brewery.png

In one of his more reflective and tender moments Australian poet-balladeer Kevin “Bloody” Wilson offered the following as a courtship inquiry

            Does your Dad own a brewery?

I’m unsure what reply Kev received- probably one in the negative, but I do know that a bloke from my hometown of Kapunda runs Greenock Brewers Barossa Valley in this gorgeous hamlet about an hour from Adelaide.

If you ask the average punter their favourite law what do you get? Thou shalt not kill? The deliberate out of bounds law? Unlikely. I nominate the German Beer Purity Law of 1516, and happily the owners, Chris and Lisa Higgins are fans of this one too, and it guides their craft. And, of course, it’s especially relevant here in the Prussian-settled Barossa with its tradition and strict codes and nodding respect.

I ducked in last week, and while Chris was down in town, Lisa let me in and after a couple snifters, I strolled out with some tremendous cargo in the form of two six-packs. I drove back to Glenelg with matronly care.

Bunawunda Blonde is dangerously easy to drink. But unlike many commercial beers (read muck) this lager rewards with complexity and maturity that doesn’t scream, “Messy Millennials on a hot Sunday”. There’s delicate spice infused with a smiling approachability. I like it. It’d find a cheery spot around a BBQ, or at five bells on a Friday (or earlier in the week).

The brewery is set just off the town’s main drag on Mill Street. Coming from Nuriootpa (where a young HG Nelson once kicked a footy) if you get to the pub, once run by iconic mine hosts, Norton and Mick Schluter, then you need to turn the EH Holden around. But if you slip into the Greenock Tavern’s front bar, never fear, for the brewery’s excellent product is available there too.

Having spent not a few winters up at spoggy’s on a Saturday and playing footy in various Barossa towns I can assure you it gets decidedly crisp, and in these times of personal need the application of dark ale becomes vital.

Greenock Brewers Dark Ale is like the Bunawunda Blonde, in that it’s a beer of subtlety and elegance. It doesn’t get in your face like a Tanunda Magpies fullback or an Angaston opening bowler, but moves with seduction. This, as many will tell you, always works better and jags the win. There’s some lingering Mocha and wafts of smokiness too that seems perfect for an evening around a cracking fire, after the Kapunda Bombers have had a top day in the lead-up to finals.

When I poked my head in the other day I spotted a cosy outdoor area with tables and chairs and a fire. The brewery itself is housed within a fetching old stone wheat store that immediately makes a wonderful impression. It sets a tone, and turns up the thirst a few Fahrenheit notches. Couple this with occasional live music- probably no Kevin B Wilson, although I can’t be certain- and it makes the Greenock Brewers Barossa Valley an attractive location, in an attractive town, in an attractive valley.

I’m there.

greenock blonde.png

https://www.greenockbrewersbarossavalley.com.au/

 

 

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Pardon me, Pastor, pass the pasta

DD

The torchlight beams hop about the dirt path in front and then above, and occasionally, behind us, as our boys, Alex and Max, guide the way into Sassafras. The mountain dark and colossal cold presses down. Fern trees are all about, like extras in Avatar, for we’re in the Dandenongs. To our north a wooden building appears. It’s a church.

At least it was. Now, it’s a restaurant called Dine Divine. On the phone, a week ago, Janine was insistent.

“We must go to the old church Sunday for they have a brilliant pasta night.”

Mine host and restaurateur Trev punches our order into his iPad with one finger. He’s had a successful career, and splits his time between Southbank, his farm and this converted place of worship. He could be retired, but I know there’s nowhere he’d rather be. He likes a yarn.

Janine, Garry and I have the carbonara. It’s magnificent. Creamy and luscious, but possessing subtle flavours, while the pasta is bouncily solid, as it should be. The ham is salty and necessarily complementary, and the dish is equivalent to the food I had at Jamie’s Italian in January. Anyway, we know his restaurant juggernaut is a genealogical lie, for Mr Oliver was born in Essex.

Garry and I each have a Crown Lager, and I remember a time, back in the simpler, pre-globalised 1990’s when these represented a beery extravagance, and were something to be enjoyed at a Christmas function, when the boss was shouting- Quick! Davo! Get a couple more Crownies. We’ve still got ten minutes to go! Or you were on the lunchtime lash, at somewhere precariously bohemian, like Café Junction in the Adelaide Casino. Now, a Crownie’s unreconstructed flavour and nose seems as sophisticated as a night at the Dapto dogs.

When in Ireland on their honeymoon some dear friends ventured into a pub for lunch. Brett considered the blackboard menu above the bar, and asked the waiter, “What’s in the Guinness and steak pie?”

With unblinking eyes, the young local looked through and past Brett, and replied in an unironic monotone, “Guinness.” There was a pause. “And steak.”

So, my wife had the Guinness and steak potpie, and declared it the best she’s ever feckin’ had. A couple bowls of chips are inhaled. Folks sometimes forget that it’s easy to butcher a chip, to mix food industry metaphors. These are an ornament to the spud. We eat them as if we’ve been wandering the desert for over a month, except we’re in a temperate rainforest.

Is there a better soft drink than a Lemon, Lime and Bitters (LLB)? Of course not. I just read that it’s customary for Antipodean golfers to take it after their round, but I must rebut this as bald-faced nonsense. But Alex has one, and for a few minutes it’s the best event of his brief life.

The LLB is superseded by the arrival of his sticky date pudding. He is nine, and eating chocolate dessert inescapably descends into an unholy hybrid of unwatchable reality TV, horror schlock, and Animal House food fight scene. It becomes difficult to tell if he’s gobbling the pudding, or vice versa.

Again, I wonder at what age he’ll possess a fully-functioning mouth, and we’ll be able to throw out the drop-sheet. It seems a while off. Inserted between the almost medieval-black castle of pudding, and the elegant bathtub of ice cream, is a golden lattice of toffee. He makes a suitable mess of this too.

On the flight home, Alex announces it as a Victorian highlight. For me, it is too.

Dine Divine is warm and wonderful, and sits geographically and gastronomically at the centre of Sassafras.

We’ll be back.

Dine Divine is at 345 Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, Sassafras, and

https://www.dinedivine.net.au/

SDP

 

2

Battery Point Boozers: Brave Journeys into Hobart’s Hotels

SA

Striding up Runnymede Street into the heart of Battery Point and the beginning of Friday night with the dark and the cold pressing down upon me, I take in my surroundings. I dichotomize Arthur Circus, Australia’s only circus, with its cottages built close to each other as if they’re all huddling together around a scrub campfire.

These are streets with houses and restaurants and stores all pushing for attention, right up on the footpath. There’s no sweeping front lawns and yawning gum trees, but cobblestones, and a distinctly London-like topography.

I’m in Hobart for a conference and tonight the Crows are hosting the Bulldogs back at Adelaide Oval. As there’s also a pub back in my hometown of Kapunda called the Prince of Wales I involuntarily step inside the Tassie version, and find my place at the side bar.

It’s a snug corner populated with eccentric locals and bohemians and ordinary folks and tourists who seem to possess some organic ownership over this space. One of the staff, Aaron, is the brother of Nathan with whom I worked in Singapore. Between his pouring and my emptying, we chat in a necessarily staccato way.

I then have a yarn with a raspberry farmer, Phil and his partner Mary, about Turkey. How do these conversations commence? Together, we roam through Kusadasi and its heady lanes of Irish bars, and on to Istanbul and the Bosphorus and the Grand Bazaar and the Blue Mosque, and then, finally, to Gallipoli.

Phil offers me half of his burger. I buy his wife a Bacardi and Coke. Just like the Crows, we’re all winning. Later, they move to the front bar, to dance to a jazzy blues band.

After the siren, I again cut across Arthur Circus, and head down the hill.

*

Saturday, late afternoon and the dark is rising as I amble past the chippy and the curry house towards the Shipwrights Arms, all white and majestic like a billowing sail. Safely inside and perched like a parrot on a stool, I examine her stained-glass windows and nautical photos.

There’s Sydney to Hobart memorabilia including pictures of my favourite yacht, Brindabella, while across the wall is a black and white depiction of HMAS Vampire. By the door is a rack. Black coats hang as if deflated ghouls. The footy’s on a tele and Sydney’s again galloping towards the finals.

Suddenly, I realise the aural beauty. The commentary is muted, and there’s no music pounding down from ceiling speakers, and no jiggly death clatter from hidden pokies. There’s only the lowing conversations from happy knots of folks. No TAB and Sky racing insistence, just human voices like a heartbeat line, traced on an ECG, with laughter providing the graph’s healthy spikes.

It’s a pub in which chat is treasured. The business plan could be: encourage them to talk and relax, just like they would at home. I could be in Cornwell or Yorkshire.

The Shipwrights Arms has but five beers on tap, and around its lavish bar are scattered some older blokes who each buy a stubby, and pour it into a small glass. Although I wasn’t born, it seems very 1955. I recognise one fellow from last night at the Prince of Wales. He’s just retired, and is heading to Sicily next week for a few months. He’s pretty excited. I’m happy for him.

In another nook, by the fire, I see another television screen. The darts is on and Barney is in strife against Chisnel in the Shanghai Masters. By the bar, just next to me, Ted and Ron and Bruce are ribbing each other with the gentle affection of old mates. They drink pots, and talk of absent friends and golf and the daily driftwood of a quiet island life.

*

I know I should pop into a most marvellously named pub, Doctor Syntax, over in Sandy Bay, but time is against me. It’s branded after a famous nineteenth century British racehorse, and as I’m in town for a literacy convention the name should also be personally symbolic or hyperbolic, but maybe instead it’s a name for an editing franchise. Having trouble with apostrophes? Call Doctor Syntax on 1-800-COMMA.

When I walk into a pub I try to look at the floor for I reckon this can be informative. Polished concrete? Run for your life! The Whaler, in the heart of Salamanca Place, has old worn tiles that echo with Moby Dick and Ishmael and the swish of harpoons.

Inside is deep like an old friend’s hug and chocolate dark and above the bar timbers there’s stained glass that’s austere and haunted and vaguely Eastern European. In front of me a circle of young women, possibly tertiary students, are all in black coats. One, clearly the alpha, is setting a fierce Chardonnay pace, and she’s lapped her peers. I’ve seen this movie before. It could be lights out at eleven, for her.

Given it’s a uni pub there’s music. There’s 60’s soul and then songs featured on hip alternative films from the nineties. It makes me smile. A girl from the circle shuffles a few steps across the prehistoric tiles to Morphine’s “Buena” and its saxophone, all sultry and snaking and menacing, but when no one joins her, she flops onto her stool.

There’s an early evening ease, but then an agitated young guy and two barely clad girls burst in, and the spell is broken. There’s now a ménage a trois edge. Time to bolt. I tip down my ale and head home to the footy and Rockwiz.

whaler

 

 

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Here I am, happy in Hobart

ferry

I’ve been accused, obviously in the past, by both strangers and loved ones, including my wife, of ridiculous and unknowable underdressing.

It’s dark as a pint of stout and only just past five bells here in Hobart. As luck would have it, I’ve located a stool in the front bar of The Telegraph, and let me assure you, I’m suitably clad for the climate.

It’s July, but the side door is wedged open, tempting a decidedly crisp draught to gush into the pub, and phantom about us, like an anonymous, yet Arctic ghoul from the Harry Potter series.

Ordering a Cascade Pale Ale and a pizza, I note that Old Mate behind the bar is wearing shorts and a t-shirt. A quick scan of the dark, convict interior tells me that he’s not the only one. If my wife were here, she may well now be in an involuntary foetal position, wailing for a Bundy and a blanket.

Scrutiny of the pub’s décor also tells me that stripping away the uptartedness, this is an old world, maritime boozer. I can almost hear The Pogues, playing Rum Sodomy & the Lash.

Already, I’m happy in Hobart.

*

With the MONA ROMA ferry hurtling up the Derwent there was music thumping across the deck. I was instantly smitten hearing Joe Tex and his 1977 classic “Ain’t Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman).” I mean, who wouldn’t be?

Australia is wobbling on the edge of drought and, even here in Tasmania, the hills are brown and thirsty. It’s a massive harbour, and is more Port Lincoln than Sydney with its expansive stretches and rustic, inviting appearance.

*

How tremendous to invest an afternoon in this most modern and confronting of museums?

The architecture is instructive for we are sent, mole-like, to the depths, and in exploring the exhibits, are to ascend, towards the light. This establishes a central theme of the vast collection, for it is about decay and marginalisation. MONA is more Nick Cave than One Direction. I’m eager.

It’s also surely a first-world indulgence that we have the luxury of introspection and probing questioning. Each room has a theme and the first two I visit are declared as opposites: faith and satire. I take an inner breath. Here’s two ideas I hold important. Are these so incompatible? Do I have to surrender one? I fear satire may be just in the lead.

I pause at an ancient TV which is looping endlessly through the clip of a band unsuccessfully trying to master the Sex Pistols’ “God Save The Queen.” The singer holds a sheet of lyrics in front of her agonised face, while the drummer and guitarist are bravely attempting the same song, but in violently clashing tempos.

Each musician is an octogenarian.

It’s funny and probably cruel and I wonder what I’m supposed to think.

*

There’s a large cement cavern, vaguely reminiscent of London’s Tate Modern and its turbine hall, with its evocations of empire and space and dark. Along its length is Sidney Nolan’s installation, “Snake” comprising over 1,600 individual paintings across 46 winding metres. When it was conceived and assembled Nolan was already elderly, and I gasp at the colossal nature of his singular, ambitious vision.

A major departure, as near as my innocent eye can tell, from European galleries, is how this collection celebrates unheralded, everyday artists. Many of the works are Art Brut and Outsider Art, often by commoners and folks suffering mental illness, especially in the London-based Museum of Everything. There’s an insolent rejection of high culture, and a preference given to solitude, and the voices of the disturbed.

My audio companion instructs me in the work of a Prussian butcher who was fascinated by the cosmos and space travel, and created accordingly. Until recently he received no acknowledgement. How great, how vast, how rich is this planet?

I like that, at least in these very minor ways, there’s an arc towards democratisation.

I swing back through the galleries, past the dinosaurs assembled from found objects such as cable ties and one, a large asaurus of some note, built from both blank and pre-recorded cassette tapes, including incurably hideous disco tapes, but none by Joe Tex. By hang tight folks, if vinyl can make a comeback so can dinosaurs and tapes, like Ripper ’77.

I also take in a smiling hermaphrodite illumination and other happy collisions of ideas and amateur execution, including an entire darkened wall of vaginal casts, and its accompanying eight-minute audio commentary. I wonder if it has been commissioned by my favourite conceptual artist, Maude, of The Big Lebowski. I hope so.

Suddenly, the bright, southern day is rushing to the east. I’m back on the ferry and the Tasmanian velvet is pushing in, all over Salamanca Place.

I head to the pub.

maude

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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.

bangkok

 

 

 

 

6

Round a Table with Old Friends

galah

The Grand Canyon is mightily impressive. So is the Eiffel Tower. The best beach I’ve seen is Ko Lanta in Thailand, where the sand is soft and the water is azure blue and clear as glass.

I’ve been lucky to go on some amazing holidays and see some amazing sites.

I’ve just returned from a quick holiday to Kimba, on the state’s west coast, where the most captivating site wasn’t the Big Galah, but a succession of tables.

Yes, tables. Tables loaded with stories and laughter. Tables with old friends around them. Perfect.

And around these tables the best stories are the familiar ones; the ones you know as well as the back of your hands; the stories that make you smile instantly because you can recite the details and the dialogue like an old song, and you know how they finish and like a kid at Christmas you can hardly wait for the punchline, and then, when you hear it you roar, like a drain, but probably louder than you did the last time you sat at this table with these old friends.

Thanks to the tables I enjoyed in Kimba, Coffin Bay and Buckleboo. Golf club tables, pub tables, front deck tables, kitchen tables, coffee tables.

Breakfast tables, lunchtime tables, first beer of the day tables, BBQ tables, Saturday night and folks are getting rowdy tables.

The Crows are playing, but leave the tele off tables. The go on, text Mozz and check how old he is tables. The remember when Hen sprayed his opening drive at Port Augusta and went straight back to bed tables?

I love a table.

So, now I’m out the back at home, writing this, sitting at a table. The rain has stopped and above the vague traffic there’s birdsong and laughter from the kids in the house behind us.

I’m already thinking about the next time I sit round a table with old friends. Sometimes you don’t need a Thai beach, but just a welcoming table.

 

 

table