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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

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Ten Years is a Long Time

ute

It’s a scene to make you smile. Two girls and a brown kelpie pup jumping and running, laughing and barking as the late afternoon sun bends through the eucalyptus trees. Their hot perfume hangs in the blue air. All across Australia families like this one are enjoying their Sunday afternoons, as this exceedingly hot summer stretches out.

While these children appear happy in the golden light, the shadows are lengthening, for they and their mother live in a state of apprehension. At the insistence of their father, they are drifters.

Tom Smith meets me in the front bar of Cobar’s Railway Hotel. I offer to buy him a beer, and he says, “Fair enough too. With your fancy city job, you can afford it.” I decline to explain that as a cadet journalist I’m probably earning less than he is, and ask, “How long have you been in Cobar?”

He looks me in the eye, takes a long draught from his beer, and wipes the foam from his lip. “Let’s see. I reckon it’ll be four weeks next Tuesday. Time to go,” he clips. There’s defensiveness in his voice, a challenge, as if he’s daring me to argue. I imagine he’s exchanged fisticuffs in a Friday front bar before. “Why are you leaving?”

As the clock ticks towards six, the pace of drinking accelerates. It’s hot, smoky and the men yelling at each other is a slow-motion explosion of noise. I lean in towards Tom to better hear him. “Shearing’s nearly finished. Job’s done. We’ll head south towards the Murray. Grapes’ll soon be ripe. Plenty of work pickin’ ‘em. I know a bloke in Mildura. We were there four or five years ago. Not long after Susie had her accident.” Tom glances up at the clock. Quarter to six. Impossibly, it becomes louder in Cobar’s biggest hotel.

“Can I ask what happened?” Susie’s the youngest daughter of Tom and his wife Mary. To make ends meet, Mary gets what work she can too. Cooking for the shearers, helping out in the homestead. Both work long hours. Hard, physical labour. “Fell off a fence. Cut her leg badly on a rock, and ripped her calf muscle. Still walks with a bit of a limp. I’d told them girls to stay away from the fence- some of the timbers were loose.”

I study Tom again. His face is weathered brown from years of vicious outback sun, and his eyes are set in an endless squint- even here in the pub. There’s honesty in our conversation, but also a reticence to tell a city stranger too much.

Later as she cooks dinner for her family I talk to Mary, while Tom sits outside. Susie and her sister Jane are throwing a ball to the dog. Dusk descends from the sky. The meal is mutton chops, carrots, peas and mashed potatoes. Resting my elbows upon its laminated top, I sit at the table. “Are you looking forward to Mildura?” I ask. The chops sizzle and spit in the pan. Mary’s eyes scurry across to me. “Is that where we’re headed?’ Her question doesn’t surprise me. Outside in the dusty heat, I hear Tom cough.

“Yes, Tom told me at the pub. Does he…” I pause, worried about marching into their marriage. I’m not sure I’d like what I might hear. “…you know, does he usually ask you about where you’d like to go?” Mary wipes her hands on her apron, and turns to me. “Can I tell you something?” I lean forward. “Please.”

I see tears at the corners of her eyes. “I’m tired. We’ve been drifting for over ten years. Never been anywhere longer than a couple months. We met in Kingaroy. Queensland. Got married. Back then, Tom had plans. Wanted to be a fisherman, you know, get his own boat.” I take a sip from my cup of tea. “What happened?”

Mary pours milk in with the potatoes and starts rhythmically, but cheerlessly working her fork into the boiled vegetable. “A few months after we we’re married Tom’s best man Jim drowned. He was on a prawn boat off of Cairns. Huge storm swept in. They got caught in it. That was the storm of ‘53. Six boats went down. Twenty-three men lost. Tom vowed he’d never set foot on a trawler. We decided to head south and follow the work.”

I offer, “Ten years is a long time.” Mary wipes her eyes with the apron, and whispers, “The girls need friends. School. They could play tennis….” She stops, as if her words are forbidden, an unutterable prayer. Tom’s boots blunder up the corridor. He kisses Mary on the head. “What’s for dinner, love?”

On the following Friday Tom and Mary, their daughters and the dog leave Cobar, the ute’s exhaust coughing out bluish smoke as it bumps down the driveway. Tom flicks the turning indicator and steers south.

In Mildura, seven hours away, there are red and white grapes, ready for picking.

vineyard

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A birthday in Budapest

stein

Friday 15 June 2001- Michael

Early start to go to the Hungarian Embassy. Twenty people also waiting to use their services. $350 later we had our visas.

Those present had a loose grasp of queueing. Stand roughly in line, but sneak up and let your friends in when possible.

Then wandered through the city centre. Bought a new Minolta camera- very snazzy and easy to use (pre-digital too- Editor). The museums, galleries, churches are all grand and attractive. We took lots of photos.

Now Kerry-

Got lost for the first time when meeting our group after lunch. Got there just in the nick of time.

Went for a tour of Schönbrunn (beautiful spring) the summer palace of the Hapsburgs. Very grand, very beautiful, very big: in total over 1,400 rooms. We saw just a few. The ball rooms and the room of mirrors were the best (as attested by Roy Slaven- Editor).

After we stopped at the Prater for a while. This big amusement park had lots of attractions, the main one being the wheel, an older version of the London Eye.

Time for some domestic chores upon our return to the motel- washing. Found a laundromat after asking reception then at the police station (Detergent Detectives- Editor) on the way. Figuring out how to use it was interesting but we got there in the end. We wasted 30 schillings on the way- the total cost was 160 schillings or $23.

By this time we were fairly hungry having missed breakfast and lunching at 11 so we decided to stop for some traditional fare on the way back to the motel. Schnitzel and Cordon Bleu and Salat. All of them were lovely but of course they were pork (the wife has since converted to all forms of pig- Editor) and washed down with a few beers and a red. YUM.

Saturday 16/6 Michael’s Birthday

Up early on our way to Budapest. Got a couple apricot-filled buns as Michael’s cake. Our first border crossing- thank god for those visas. There were ten other buses lined up but we got through in about an hour. We also had to get our receipt for our new camera stamped at customs so we can claim our tax back.

Drove through the country to the hills on the way to Lake Balaton. Was interested to hear that they intend to start an archaeological dig on the high plateau soon as they expect to find old Roman remains.

Lake Balaton is beautiful. We had to wait twice for a big procession of motorbikes to pass- some big international meet.

We stopped for lunch in a little town called Tihany on a small peninsula in the lake- itself featuring two volcanic lakes. Our meal at a hotel in the main street was superb! Michael had paprika chicken and potato coquettes and we shared a salad. Michael also had a big birthday beer- locally brewed and served in a big stein. He wanted another- several in fact but decided to have just a small one (my famous restraint- Editor).

Another interesting restaurant just up the road- Paprikahaus had zillions of dried chillies hanging from it. The lake area is a popular holiday spot and there were lots of people sailing, swimming and fishing. Curious tit bits- the water looks milky green and it is about three miles down in the deepest part. Next stop Budapest- with our regular afternoon bus snooze.

We were excited when we saw our motel and room- very nice compared to the one in Vienna! Dinner was included- another real treat- pork, mushrooms, peas, capsicum and to top it all off- LIVER! Apart from this I think Michael had an enjoyable 35th birthday.

Back to Michael-

Yes, he did. The Danube boat cruise was good although we couldn’t hear our tour guide: no microphone. The Danube is about as wide as the Murray but flows quickly. We saw some impressive historical and public buildings like castles, statues, parliament houses that I’m sure will be on tomorrow’s itinerary.

Finished off the day in fine style. It was a day when I was spoilt, ate great food, split the time between two countries, had some tender moments with the girl and gained some precious memories.

ph

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Austria and the Rhine- seven very scared croutons

soup

Tuesday June 12- Pork Day (Michael)

Early start. Lunch at Trier which has the oldest Roman gate in the world. Lots of wurst stands, and we bought some nice strawberries. Saw a few good dogs.

The local cathedral is huge, beautiful and sombre. Ate a couple pork rolls for lunch and were reminded of this frequently during the afternoon.

Made our pay toilet debut. Travelled through Luxemburg- a generous community with zero net migrant intake every year.

Sleepy afternoon on the coach then a Rhine river cruise which was fun. This large boat had an open back deck with striking views of the narrow valley, castle and vineyards. Had a Riesling and a dark beer in a large vase-like glass. Saw the much-feared Lorelei Rock.

Bussed past Frankfurt and had dinner at the motel. Most of the despised food groups were lurking together- peas, pork and capsicum. Starters was a curious local fare we called Salt Soup which is made of ten tablespoons of salt, half a litre of water and seven very scared croutons.

Met and chatted with a Melbourne couple – Clive and Connie who are also teachers. Walked around the block and retired.

Wednesday 13/6- Kerry

Up at 6.30 again- this is definitely not a holiday, it’s a tour. This is the saying anyway and I agree.

Napped our way through the countryside to Nuremburg for lunch. A very interesting city- we visited the old part; some of which was bombed during the war.

Saw a beautiful fountain in the square and made a special wish with the gold ring- for a Hungarian visa! The story of the visa- or lack of: our travel agent did not inform us despite asking numerous times if we needed one. We’re pretty angry, but we’ll worry about it when we get back. Our challenge will be to get one when we arrive in Vienna where it will cost about 500 shillings each.

Back to Nuremburg. We walked up the hill to the old palace and there were good views over the city. Back in the square we bought some lovely dip and bread and artichokes (choke is the word- Editor) from a Turkish stall and walked down to a park on the river to eat it. Cool!

Back on the bus- another nap- we headed towards Munich, but didn’t pass through it. On the way, we saw a lovely big lake (Khem-see) with islands and all in it. All of this at the base of the German Alps.

Soon we’re over the border into Austria where our overnight stop was just outside Salzburg. The pension was lovely- small, family-owned with spacious rooms and a real double bed, finally! Our meal was good and we walked down the road afterwards which was very nice, except for the big, black slugs. Wrote a few postcards (google ‘em kids- Editor) before bed.

Thursday June 14- Michael

Typically early start. Into Salzburg for city tour. Was quite rainy. Our guide looked like Cosmo Kramer, and behaved like him too. And Kerry’s grandpop, Griffy Grace.

Saw lots of Sound of Music sites and places relevant to Mozart. Cobblestoned squares, monastery, nunnery, castle and funicular. The monks’ cemetery was impressive. Ate a couple pretzels. Got passport photos taken for $40! And then the camera broke. Went to internet café, spent a fortune, lost half an hour of trip text. Whilst the city was beautiful, we weren’t displeased about getting the fuck out of there.

Both napped on the bus to Vienna. Arrived at 6pm to discover that the pocket knife was missing (fuck-up number 76). All our clothes and belongings thrown about the large room, we headed off for an Austrian feast and entertainment.

Sat with Morrie and Glenda and Italian/Americans from Virginia (US state, not market garden town north of Adelaide- Editor). Big wooden tables and stools, piano accordion music and generous glasses of wine contributed to the bonhomie. Salads, chicken, sausage, sauerkraut and stinking pork to eat.

Our rotund musician played traditional tunes and Also Waltzing Matilda and Tie Me Kangaroo Down (Sadly, no Shaddup Your Face-Editor).  Quiet trip back to the motel to the strains of Dean Martin.

Our day finished happily.

toilet

 

 

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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…

 

greenwich

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Giga-Mega Frappuccinos and Kenny Rogers Roasters

krr

June 4- Kerry

RE-LAX! Spent the day “resorting it up!” After another filling buffet breakfast we spent loads of time lazing around the pool, chatting and soaking up the resort lifestyle.

After hitting the banana lounges I went for a bit of a shop and haggled with the locals whilst Michael read the paper. We followed this with a leisurely swim, sun bake and chat- mostly about the chubby chick in the bikini across and how I compared to her.

I should make a note here as Michael forgot to mention it yesterday that I had my first stop in a “funny dunny” at Penang Hill. No big deal really- just a surprise as I wasn’t expecting it. My mission was accomplished!

Meanwhile back at the resort- a few domestic chores later- washing in the bathtub and hanging it out to dry all around the room and we were taking a leisurely stroll along the beach. Michael contemplated- only for a short while I think- going parasailing.

Before we knew it, it was beer o’clock. Yes, both of us! Well, I had shandies. We sat, we drank, we chatted, we read, we relaxed!

Pretty soon it was time to head off for another feed. We had a lovely Indian meal and checked out a few more market stalls. Back at the motel we had a nightcap- no one makes margaritas like I do! And listened to the minstrels play to those wining and dining around the pool. I have little to report after this except waking up in the wee hours of the morning to an amazing thunderstorm. It was beautiful lying in bed listening and watching the sky light up all snuggled up. I could spend lots more nights like it.

June 5- Kerry

Got a ride into downtown Georgetown mid-morning. We shared the car with an elderly couple from Melbourne who gave us lots of little tips on where to go and what to see. After a lap through the tower complex and around the block trying to find our way to the top and the observation deck we finally got there. Straight up to the 58th floor in 25 seconds. A bit daggy up there, but the view was good.

Our next stop was Starbucks coffee shop (Dr Evil’s frickin’ lair- editor) in the new, not even full shopping complex. We sipped a couple of giga-mega frappachinos and played snakes and ladders. I let Michael win.

What followed was the most interesting part of our stay- a walk down to, and through Chinatown. There were hawkers and markets and cats and dogs and strange smells and exotic fruits and t-shirts and hats and shoes and HEAT. Michael’s man-boobs got a real sweat up and his shirt was WET!

Next we had a look around the new shopping complex. Just the usual really apart from our luncheon venue. The most amazing eatery ever- Kenny Rogers Roasters- featuring the one and only Kenny Rogers. There’s music and photos and wood fire roasted chickens. Michael was in denial, me, I just tapped my toes and sang my heart out between mouthfuls. It really is going to take a lot to beat!

storm