Slum childhood. Ulitmo, Sydney, NSW, Australia 1973

When I first moved out of home in 1973, to live with my girlfriend, I was seventeen years old. The house I moved into was a shared student house on Harris Street in an inner city suburb of Sydney called Ultimo. Ultimo was a very squalid and ugly area back then and it still is. Much of inner Sydney has become gentrified as the slums have been renovated. Ultimo has been resistant to gentrification due to the very busy, four lane Harris Street that runs through the middle of Ultimo. The side streets are narrow and and dark.

The houses that line Harris Street are charmless worker’s terrace houses of the Dickensian kind built in the late 1800’s. The houses are completely bereft of any kind of grace as they sit directly on the street with their doorways opening straight onto the sidewalk without any intervening space. The windows of the living rooms are on the walls that meet the sidewalk and passer-bys can press their noses up against the glass if they wish.

Kids would sometimes just watch us through our living loom window

The only thing to recommend Ultimo is that it is very close to the centre of the city. There are no nearby playgrounds for the children and when I used to live there, the kids used to roam the streets.

Some of the little local boys who used to hang around the streets

There used to be a group of very young boys who lived nearby that used to peer through our mail-slot or our living room window they were so bored.

The kids would call to us through the mail slot

 It makes me shudder when I think back to how at risk these children were.

I wonder how he turned out

Every time I drive down Harris street I marvel at how little it has changed when there is so much rapid change in the rest of Sydney.

I hae meat tha ye can eat! The perfect roast pork recipe.

I had some friends over for dinner on Friday night to help celebrate my birthday (which was the day before).

the usual suspects

For the main course we had a pork roast stuffed with mushrooms. The pork was cooked in a kettle barbeque over charcoal and served with a potato and celeriac mash and also with roast carrots and beets. For dessert we had an orange and almond cake served with quince and sherry ice cream, topped with a marmalade and Gran Marnier sauce. All home made.

I have to say, that the pork was absolutely perfect and here’s how I prepared it.

Serves 10

Ingredients

A large deboned pork loin with the belly and skin (check with your butcher as you might have to order this a few days ahead). The piece I used weighed about 4kg (about 8.8 lbs)
1kg (2.2lbs) of mushrooms (I used about half field mushrooms and half rehydrated mixture of porcini and chantrells)
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of chopped fresh thyme
Zest of 4 lemons
1 cup of salt
2 tbs of fennel seeds

Method

Prepare the pork by using a box cutter (or any other type of razor in a safety handle) to cut thin strips about 7mm (about  1/4″) deep and about 7mm wide into the skin.

Roughly chop up the mushrooms and fry with the garlic and thyme until the mushrooms begin to brown.  When the mushrooms are cooked season with salt and pepper, then add the lemon zest and remove from the heat.

Lay out the pork, skin side down  and use a very sharp knife to cut a pocket into the loin (the large solid piece of meat at the end)and stuff it with about half of the mushrooms. Spread the rest of the mushrooms on the belly (the flat flap hanging off the loin).

Roll up the pork into a log and tie up with cooking string. Then rub olive oil all over the skin. With a mortar and pestle, grind up the fennel seeds with the salt and rub the mixture well into the cuts in the skin of the pork. Cover the pork and put to one side so it can warm up to room temperature.

In the meantime get your barbeque ready. Load up the charcoal trays up high to make a hot fire. It usually takes about an hour for the charcoal to be ready to cook with after it has been lit, which gives the pork time to warm up a little. Don’t start to cook until all the fuel is coved in a thin layers of white ash. If you don’t have a kettle barbeque you can use an oven at 180 C or about 375 F.

The best way to calculate how long to cook the roast (this works for the oven and barbeque) is to lay the pork down and measure how high the end sits above the surface that it is laying on. You cook the roast 1 minute for every millimetre. For example, my roast sat 140mm high so I cooked it for 140 minutes.

When your roast is cooked, take it out of the heat and let it sit for 30minutes. Don’t cover the meat with a non breathable material like foil because it will trap the steam and make the crackling go soft.

This roast was PERFECT

The day I was born. 21st of May 1956

I was born on the same day (21st May of May 1956) as very first airborne hydrogen bomb was dropped on Bikini atoll. 

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Bye, bye paradise.

Amazingly, despite the odds, considering the trouble and strife the world has been through since then, plus all the dumb things that I’ve done, 53 years later I’m still here!

 Woo hoo me!

Tonight I’m having a bunch of friends over for dinner to celebrate. Because I’m getting ready for tonight, I don’t have enough time for much of a post, so for all my friends out there, here’s the Four Tops singing one of my favourite songs, “Reach out”, that I dedicate to you all.

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There are few “paths less travelled” left for gen Y. Damnoen Saduak Floating Market Ratchaburi, Thailand. 2007

Sometimes I feel a bit sorry for the latest crop of bright shiny things that have just left the nest to go travelling.

The great unknown they are about to leap into is actually a well sign posted, worn path complete with a multitude of guide books. Truth be known, it’s been like this for several decades. For example, when I went to Bali back in 1974 I felt that I’d come too late and had missed out on how I thought it must’ve been before. You should see it nowadays! I could hardly recognise the place when I went there about five years ago.

When I was in Thailand a few years ago, I went to the floating markets. I avoided going there on my first trip to Thailand back in 1974 because I figured that it would be too touristy. That was over 30 years ago and of course it’s an even better known tourist attraction now. The klongs (canals) were clogged with locals in their boats selling things to the captive market tourists in the group tour boats.

I passed boat after boat full of young people who wanted to see some local colour. With bored and disappointed looks on their faces, they politely declined the wares on offer . As the old Vikings would say, “it wasn’t worthy of a saga”.

trial by shopping

Poor bastards!

I bet that’s not what they signed up for.

They had travelled so far, and all they wanted was an “authentic” experience, but instead, like slot-cars, they were racing around in a well worn rut.

I was talking to a young guy who is a co-worker of my wife the other day, and we were chatting about his recent trip to Europe. I was particularly interested in what he had to say about driving in Bosnia because it’s one of the places I’ll be going to with my wife later this year.

Him: “Oh it’s a real adventure!”

His comment set off alarm bells in my head because to me, “adventure, is discomfort remembered in comfort”. I’ve had what many people would call adventures and I can say with some authority that “adventures” are unpleasant even though, they do make for good tales over dinner with friends years later.

Me: “Adventure?” What do you mean by adventure?”

Him: “You know, going somewhere that not many people go to.”

Me: “Whew!”

Him: “Why the sense of relief?”

Me: “For a minute there I thought you got into some deep life threatening shit .” “You know, like being held at gun point for 8 hours on a small riverboat on the Mekong by boy soldiers of the Pathet Lao; or like being thrown in jail and having 3 cops trying to beat you up in Morocco.”

Him: Umm.. no… not quite… but we did get stopped a few times, up in the northern areas by the Serbian militia and they checked our papers.

Before anyone out there thinks I was indulging in some kind of pissing contest, my main concern was the word “adventure”. To me adventure is a bad thing, as I’ve had more than my fair share of them and I’m in no hurry for any more character building experiences. This goes double for when I’m with my wife. I’d never forgive myself if she ever came to any harm.

Adventure?

For me?

No thanks, I’ve had more than enough but I hope there are a few wild places and experiences left for generation Y so they can entertain their dinner guests when they get older.

How a practical joke nearly got me killed

Back in the early eighties, when I lived in the US, I used to work in a travelling Laser Light show that used do the carnival circuit in the summer and the car show circuit in the winter. The Laser show was called “Laser One” and it was transported in a three-wheeled trailer towed by a high cube truck with a tow ball. The trailer had a fold out façade with two revolving-door entrances at either end and it housed the control room with the actual laser in the middle.

The positioning of the entrances meant that the triple axel with the very small wheels were in the middle of the trailer, instead of the end. The mid mounting of the axels and the tow ball hitching system led to a very unpredictable and dangerous ride. The trailer was quite heavy and it used to seesaw up and down over any undulations in the road plus wheels would regularly tear off while we were driving down the highways. The wheels used to tear off because of metal fatigue caused by the forces exerted on the outside wheels as they were dragged around the middle wheels when very tight turns were made during parking. It wasn’t unusual to be travelling down the road and to see one of our wheels passing us and a shower of sparks coming off the dragging hub. I didn’t get my drivers licence until I was 35 so my job in lieu of sharing the driving was to change wheels and tyres when needed. It was needed often and, often it was in the middle of the night in freezing conditions.

Most of the driving was done by our manager, Brian “Buzz” Carlos, and sometimes my other co-worker, Jordan would help out.

Buzz

Buzz was a very levelheaded and intelligent guy who was a pleasure to work with. None of us smoked and it came as a surprise to Jordan and I that Buzz started smoking when we were in Milwaukee. At first it was only one cigarette every couple of days but then of course it turned into one a day and when he starting a couple a day. I thought it would be hilarious to play a practical joke on him. I went to a magic and novelty store and bought some “spikes”.

Spikes are about 1cm (1/3 of an inch) long and about half the thickness of a matchstick. They are pushed into the end of cigarettes to make them explode. So when Buzz put his smokes down one day, I inserted a few spikes into them, while he wasn’t looking, and waited. Lo and behold, Buzz didn’t pick a “spiked” cigarette for over a week. In the meantime, winter was coming and as it was getting colder Buzz went out and bought a very nice parka with wolf fur trim because the heating in the truck wasn’t adequate.

At the end of a “spot” (the place where the show was held) we’d do the “strike” (take down the show) at the end of the last day, which would take about five hours and then we’d jump into the truck and drive through the night, straight to the next spot.

With the show in Milwaukee finished we headed south through Tennessee as it was starting to snow and by the time we reached the Smoky Mountains there was a blizzard. We’d been up all night, and Buzz had been at the wheel without a break, when we started to hear frantic messages over the CB. Things like “if you heading down the mountain at such and such, get out of my way, cause my brakes ain’t working!” or “watch out for such and such a place as there is black ice and two trucks have left the road”, etc. There were smashed cars and trucks all over the place. Buzz took it all in his stride and just drove on through the carnage. After all, we had to get to the next spot on time. The snow just kept on falling and the blizzard winds made the visibility very poor.

During one particularly long steep descent down a mountain road thickly covered with snow; almost no visibility and a bucking and weaving truck, Buzz in his nervousness decides that it would be a good time to light a cigarette. BANG!! The cigarette blew up and hot embers went into Buzz’s eyes, blinding him and also setting his brand new parker on fire! The truck was starting to fishtail because of Buzz’s flinch at the wheel when the spike went off. Jordan grabbed the wheel and helped Buzz regain control. When we got to the bottom of the hill Buzz pulled the truck over and jumped out of the cab to put out this smouldering parka.

Needless to say, I wasn’t a very popular boy that day. I won’t be putting spikes in people’s cigarettes again.

Slipping, slipping into the future. Sapa, Vietnam. 2007

Sapa is a small town in the far north of Vietnam, close to the Chinese border. Ever since the Vietnamese government have opened up their country to the west, money and western influences have poured in. About two years before I went to Vietnam, a friend of mine (Doug) who’d been there, advised that I go there soon as possible because the country was changing at a break-neck speed.

Hmong motorcycle man

What makes Sapa special is that there are a few hill tribes there that have clung onto their culture and distinctive dress. Of course such sights are an irresistable magnet for tourists.

From what I saw there, with the pressure of increasing tourism and the prosperity with the head long dash towards the future it brings, I’d say that it won’t be long before the only place that anyone will see the Hmong and Yao people in their traditional dress with be at performances in large hotels. I can’t blame them; after all, it sucks being dirt poor. It’s just a pity that their culture is going to be swallowed up and absorbed by western consumerism.

I think the video below is a good metaphor, for the bland homogenous world we are all heading for.

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God’s toe marks. Grand Canyon north rim, Arizona, USA. 2005

Back in 2005, my wife and I visited the north rim of the Grand Canyon. One particularly beautiful day we were out on a point, up above the track, laying on our backs watching the condors soaring above. It was all so blissfully beautiful. Just laying there enjoying the company and the place reminded me of a quatrain from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
 A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread–and Thou
   Beside me singing in the Wilderness–
 Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

As we lay there together, whole-heartedly enjoying the moment, our bliss was shattered by a nasally high pitched shrieking declaration of,

“OHHHH…….MYYYY…….. GAWD!!”
“WILLYA JUSS LOOKIT THAT!!”

“IT’S JUSSO BEUDDIFUL!!”

“YOU’D HAVTA BE NUTS NOT TO BELIEVE IN GAWD AFFTA SEEIN THIS!!”

“LOOKKIT YOU CAN EVEN SEE WHERE GAWD’S TOES WENT WHEN HE MADE THE PLACE!!”

I couldn’t resist jumping up to have a look to what kind of raucous creature made such a noise.

Yep there was no surprise there. Standing in the middle of the track below us was a very chunky woman dressed in brightly coloured tight knitted synthetic T-shirt and shorts, accessorized with rhinestone encrusted; cat’s eye shaped glasses and toeless shoes with heels way too high to walk in such surroundings. She looked like a cross between a Gary Larsson cartoon and Brigid Polk’s portrayal of Estelle, in Andy Warhol’s movie “Bad”.

Next to the shrieker was a drab little fellow who was the personification of beige looking at what I presume was his wife, was pointing at.

So I took a photo of what she was pointing at.

Evidence of the existence of a god

 My only regret is that I didn’t take a picture of them.