Thursday, July 31, 2008


Fresh King George whiting with salsa served with wilted spinach on a bed of jasmine rice

15 minutes
Serves: two

2 big fat albany whiting
1 bunch english spinach
1 tin of chopped tomato
1 or 2 cups rice
chopped ginger & chilli
tom yum soup mix
green curry paste
lime & coriander

An intrepid friend drops off two big fat King George whiting, fresh off the boat.
Whiting are just tremendous crumbed and pan fried with a bit of lemon, but this month on Cooking With Art Director we are going to try something a little more adventurous than our usual sandwiches and fried food.
This month, you will learn how to turn your unwanted old vegetables into gourmet accompaniments and how to make your kitchen scraps look like garnish.
Rule number one: Make the most of what you've got.

Scale and gut the King George whiting. If you're doing this inside, do it in a plastic bag. Cut the fishes' heads off if you like. This will help them fit into the pan, especially those big whiting from King George Sound.
Now, look in the fridge. Think laterally. Take out whatever looks like it might go with fish and put it on the kitchen bench to ponder as you go. I happened to have some spinach. If you don't have spinach, use anything you find in the vege compartment.
Put some rice in the rice cooker and add water until the rice is covered to the depth of your first knuckle. Switch it on to Cook. A red light should come on. Put the lid on and trust the technology. Heat up some oil in a pan. Olive oil or sesame oil or any edible oil. Use massage oil if you've got nothing else. That stuff is edible. Drop in a dollop of curry paste and heat it up until it smells nice. Chop some ginger and chilli and chuck that in. Be generous. Ridiculously hot spices never hurt anybody.

Rinse the whiting and lay them in the pan, head to tail. They should look like the symbol on the Pisces horoscope in the weekend magazine.
Open a tin of chopped tomato. Never, ever hesitate to open a tin of chopped tomato. Tins of chopped tomato are one of the seven wonders of the world. Chuck it in. Find that tin of tom yum soup mix you opened the other day. Chuck a bit of that in too. Go on, be generous.
Then add a whole lot of salt. Salt is great, especially with fish. We love salt like the tree loves the axe.
If you've got one of those cracked sea salt dispensers, you can add the salt with a flourish. A flourish will improve the flavour of any sauce.
Rummage in the cupboard until you find a lid off a cooking pot, a big one made of glass. Put this over the pan to help the fish cook in its sauce, sort of broiled in a bouillabaisse. Keep an eye on things as you open a bottle of red.

Conventional wisdom says drink white wine with fish, but fuck conventional wisdom. Open a bottle of red. A Marlborough region pinot should do nicely. Pour a big glass and start knocking the spots off it.
That leftover spinach from the fridge might look limp and unappetizing, but trust me, it will be fine. You just need to scare it with a bit of heat. At the last minute, rinse it and throw it in on top of the bouillabaisse.
The sauce you are cooking is not, in fact, a bouillabaisse, but you should never let the facts stop you from employing impressive gastronomic terms. If anyone queries your etymology, use the word fusion to describe your culinary creation. If even that fails to impress them, and they persist in their pedantry, tell them that if they don't like your bouillabaisse (make sure you pronounce bouillabaisse as if you have a piece of hot potato in your mouth) they can take their bowl and spoon and allez à la cuisine de potage.

Having rid yourself of this boorish interloper, cast your eye about the room for the beautiful girl. Use the word again with an expansive gesture, then offer her a drink. Tell her dinner will be ready in a couple of minutes. Act at all times like a epicurean Great White Hunter. Girls just love that kind of gear.
Knock some more spots off the pinot.
If you've timed it right, that rice cooker will shortly emit a satisfying "ping".
Make a bed of rice on the plates. A bed with fluffy pillows of rice. Food preparation is a metaphor for how you live your life, so do it right.
Lift the whiting from the pan, and lay the luscious creatures on their bed of rice like lesbian porn stars. Squeeze on some lime (or lemon, if you must) while singing the lyrics from Led Zeppelin's Lemon Song.

Once the fish is put to bed, pour on the sauce and then dress the dish. You can't beat a well-dressed dish. Use a few sprigs of coriander. If you don't have any coriander (and i didn't) then just use whatever comes to hand, god damn it. The fish will look absolutely naked without garnish. See the photograph above if you doubt me - that fish is virtually pornographic in its gastronomic nudity. Use parsley. Use the growing green tops off those old carrots in the vege crisper. Or just pick anything from the garden, except oleander leaves, chuck it elegantly on top, and plant some coriander tomorrow.

Finally, add some cracked pepper with - that's right - a flourish.


Most people want security in this world, not liberty.
~H.L. Mencken, Minority Report, 1956

I am living in an old people's home with 30,000 residents. Or is it perhaps a creche? It is statistically impossible for me to leave my front door (yes, i now have a fixed abode) and walk more than 500 metres without seeing a cop. They are ubiquitous. And they will book you soon as look at you.

A colleague was sitting on the street one night in Albany, having finished a meal with friends at a restaurant. He had taken with him what was left of his wine, which he had recorked in the bottles. The police wanted to know what he was doing sitting on a public bench in the street with two bottles of wine. Not open, mind you. He was not drinking from them, mind you. Nor was he driving or intending to drive.
"Why? Why do you want my name?" He was waiting for his friends who had gone into a nearby pub.
"What's your name?" asks the cop.

He knew the police officer through his work at the newspaper. She knew him. And she knew that he knew that she knew him.
"Why? What's the charge? Why do I have to give you my name?"
She asked him again. "What's your name?"
"Why? What's the charge?"

The police placed him under arrest. Put him in the back of the paddy wagon, in full view of his friends and passers by. He was driven to the lockup, fingerprinted, and his DNA was taken. He was charged and convicted of failing to provide details to police when requested. This conviction, and a sample of his DNA, is now permanently on record. His crime, following amendments to State law after the September 11 attacks, carries a maximum sentence of twelve months in prison.

A friend walked home from the pub in Albany one night, as she felt she was too drunk to drive.
She was stopped three times on her way home by three separate sets of police officers who held her up and questioned her. What are you doing, they wanted to know. Uh, walking home?
You could argue that this police omnipresence is a good thing, that it is unsafe for a woman to walk home at night by herself, and isn't it just grand that the police are around to protect her.
But the police were not interested in protecting her.
"I'm walking home," she stated, exasperated, after the third interrogation. "Why? Are you going to give me a lift?"
"No," said the police officer.
"Well fuck off then." A perfectly reasonable response.

An off-duty cop stopped me on my motorcycle in Albany one night. I was taking Sarah Toa for a ride. He asked for my address. I did not actually have an address, and was probably going to sleep in my storage unit that night. I didn't want to tell him that, since such things are, more than likely, illegal.

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids all men to sleep under bridges ... the rich as well as the poor.
~Anatole France, Crainquebille, 1902

So i gave the cop my mailing address, as well as my place of work in Albany. For failing to tell him exactly where i was sleeping that night, i was later fined $200 plus costs. Again, this carries a maximum sentence of twelve months in prison.

I guess the police need to know where you are at all times, just in case they want to turn up in the middle of the night and take you away. Under our new anti-terror laws, the ASIO Act as amended in 2004 and 2005, our government can detain any of us for a week without laying charges. You have no right to a phone call: you just disappear. ASIO has the right to detain you without charge if they have reason to believe you are likely to commit an offence, or have any information about terrorist activity. And after a week, they can apply to detain you again for another week. And so on. And if you speak to anyone afterwards about your arrest - the press, a friend, or your husband - you can be thrown in jail for five years. If you refuse to answer their questions, you can be thrown in jail for five years.

Why have we handed over this power? Why have we given away our freedoms? As Richard Flanagan says in The Unknown Terrorist, fascist states have come about in countries far more cultured than our own.

I am thinking along these lines as i walk down York Street on my day off. Suddenly, there is a marked police car in front of me. About three officers are in the street, pulling over vehicles and speaking to drivers. About five other people in day-glow vests are standing nearby, ready to go. They have a table covered with some kind of paraphernalia. It's a big operation, to be sure. Perhaps someone has escaped from the Albany Regional Prison? Perhaps a terrorist is on the loose in Albany? Naturally, i cross the street to find out what is going on. There is Tiffany, one of the journalists. What's going on, i ask her. Why all the cops.

"Oh, it's Roundabout School," Tiffany says, laughing. "Can you believe it?"
It's what?
"It's Roundabout School. They're pulling over drivers who don't do the right thing, giving them a lesson and a thorough talking to."
The 'roundabout' is about 10 metres around, barely wider than the median strip and car park in the centre of the main street. The roadway deviates all of about a metre as it passes around it. But if you are continuing straight up the street and don't switch on your left and right indicators for about half a second as you pass this tiny roundabout, you are apparently guilty of a Very Serious Traffic Infringement. Serious enough to tie up three police and five RoadWise workers for a whole day.

You're kidding, i say.
"No. Look, they have a little classroom over there."
On the table in front of the day-glo RoadWise workers is a printed vinyl map. Expensive-looking graphics show the main roundabout, clearly labelled with Albany Highway, Middleton Road, York Street and Lockyer Street, complete with dotted and solid white lines. Several toy cars and trucks lie waiting, like faithful animals, on the vinyl roadway. When the recalcitrant roundabout drivers are lectured by the safety team, these day-glo robots push the little dinky cars around their pretend roundabout. The dinky car drivers, if they indicate and behave properly, can in this way avoid death by fearsome toy semi-trailer. Or a fine. Or twelve months prison for failing to state exactly where they are going next.

Roundabout School. Next time i see a cop in Albany, which will no doubt be very soon, i'm going to put my hand up and ask if i can go to the toilet.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


The food at the Venezuelan Pizza Restaurant has little to recommend it. It is instead famous for the fact that it uses nine exclamation points on the first page of its menu. As sub editors, Alphonso and i have a ration of one exclamation point each per year. Like scarce morsels in an understocked fridge, these must be deployed with great precision. Exclamation points should rarely punctuate news writing. Or blogs, for that matter. Like capers, jalapenos and anchovies, exclamation points lose their innate ability to surprise and delight when sprinkled about with gay abandon.

And speaking of gay abandon, the news is now official. Alphonso is leaving the Newspaper for the more fruitful climes of Sydney. To write for the progressive online political journal new matilda, no less. Which has put an end to his fears that he may be stuck in the sleepy hollow of Albany until the end of time. Or until later this year, which from a purely subjective and experiential point of view, amounts to much the same thing.


Not that Albany is a bad place, Alphonso explains. I agree. It is certainly very pretty. But there is an undercurrent of right-wing Christianity and the streets are filled with a swirling torrents of over-zealous cops. Alphonso nods. "And 60 per cent of people are over 60, which means that 70 per cent of people must be over 70," he says.

And bogans in hotted up cars are doing the same bog laps they have been doing for forty years, grumbling up and down Middleton Beach Road, following in their fathers' tyre tracks, i say.

Of course, my usual policy is to let bogans be bogans.

But when they start leaning out of their four-wheeled dinosaurs and yelling abuse at me, just because i want to walk on a footpath without a car trying to push me out the way, well, it gets personal. And when Murgatroyd and i went for a ride on our pushbikes, three people stopped us to explain that i should be wearing a helmet. Three separate people took it upon themselves to act as the fun police. One of them would not even talk to me, even though i was standing right next to Murgatroyd.

"Doesn't he know he should be wearing a helmet," said the elderly woman, with her puckered little mouth that looked like an anus. "Tell him the police will get him," she said, pointing to where i was standing, helmetless, all 500 millimetres away.

"It can be a nasty little town," agrees Sarah Toa, turning up at the restaurant in a fishing jumper with a gift of freshly caught King George whiting. (What a wholly intrepid creature she is. Did i tell you about the time she leapt off the boat onto a channel marker, knife between her teeth, to gather us a feed of mussels?) "When Greenpeace launched its campaign to close down the Cheynes Beach whaling station in 1977, it was the first and only time outlaw bikies stood alongside the Mayor in a protest action," she says.

To support the peace activists?

"Oh no, they were trying to crush them. The Mayor thought whaling was good for the town, and a lot the God's Garbage bikies worked as whalers. Quite a few greenies were assaulted in Albany after that protest. A number of them were American, and when they saw the bikies coming over the hill to their protest at Cheynes Beach, they thought, great, here comes the cavalry. Like in the 60s, when the hippies and the Hell's Angels stood side by side to fight the establishment. But no, the bikies took the greenies on."

The protest fell apart when one of the rainbow children spotted a pod of dolphins, and the committed activists all went "Oh wow! Dolphins!" dropped their placards, and ran off for a better look.

The whaling station was finally closed in 1978. One whaler even had an epiphany and converted, showing up at Save The Whales Day at Middleton Beach in 2007 to offer his support.

"An epiphany," mutters Alphonso. "If i had a dollar for every epiphany..." (Epiphanies are up there with exclamation marks for sub editors.) "I'm sure more columnists would have even more epiphanies even more often, if only they could remember how to spell it," he says.

Later, Martin and i put Alphonso on a plane to take his nitpickery to even greater heights. At the airport, Alphonso admits he will miss the place. Yeah, Albany is not all that bad, i prompt. The city is renowned for the warmth and hospitality it extends to its visitors.

"Who exactly is doing the renowning?" Alphonso asks.

But apart from being hounded by the police, being thrown out of storage units by zealous real estate agents, being abused by Albanian drivers for the sheer lunacy of riding a bicycle on their roads, and being set upon by its elderly citizens, i've still managed to make a lot of friends in Albany.

I'm now good friends with a huge and diverse circle of people here.

Well, would you believe a few people?

How about two bandicoots and a taxi driver?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


"Your blog is really all about her, isn't it," Alphonso says in a mildly accusatory tone. "It's all about the Muse."

A sudden chill grips me. I glance furtively around the staff lunch room. Its formica table is top strewn with newspapers. Its sink boasts an increasingly eclectic selection of unwashed coffee cups. A display of children's toys, cookbooks, and a rotating nylon duster mop has been left by an optimistic door-to-door saleswoman. I lick my suddenly dry lips.

"Of course it's not," i say indignantly. "The Nerve is all about Politics and Art."

Who does he think he is, this johnny-come-lately, suggesting that the sprawling opus that is The Nerve is simply an ode to the Muse? To suggest that it is not a scathing political commentary plumbing the very depths of this social sargasso sea - straining against the blighted currents of our unchallenged social mores? That it is not an inherent critique of the contemporary media and the forms we use express our inefferable human lives? The nerve!

Politics and Art. If there's one thing Mili X taught me, it is that everything is political. Which means that all writing must be political. Ergo, The Nerve is political. And am i not the Art Director? "Politics and Art," i repeat.

Alphonso nods, and takes another bite of his roast beef and salad roll. "Bullshit," he says, between mouthfuls.