The Smile On Voltaire’s Face

For many years I’ve visited Melbourne – sometimes in the summer – sometimes in the winter. Sometimes for both seasons on one day ( plus the Apocalypse and Free Pizza Night. Melbourne weather is like that… ) I’ve often gone to visit a friend. He lives in the NGV on the second floor.

François-Marie Arouet was in the word business long before me…and as it happens, will probably be there long after I am gone. That is the quality of his thinking and writing. I say ” is ” rather than ” was ” because so much of what he wrote and published is still current. Indeed a great deal of his admonishment to tolerance and sensible thinking is still for the future…

Quite what he would make of the current viral crisis, the world’s response to it, and the attitude of the plague’s authors, is open to speculation. I don’t think he would have been surprised at any of it – he seems to be a man who would have been hard to startle – and I suspect he would be more willing to forgive the perpetrators than the rest of us will eventually be. He faced bullies and malefactors himself.

But he’s safe now. He can reside in a bronze bust along Toorak Road and in the bookshops of the city. The rest of us still have to keep our distance and hope that the CSL will pump out a vaccine that won’t kill us. And try to be tolerant when the truth about what set it all off finally comes out.

I shall polish my toleration tools in anticipation.

 

Highball

I went into the first floor cocktail bar of the Intercontinental on Collins Street in Melbourne at 5:00 one afternoon. A day of shopping – mostly successful – and I was ready to sit down and peruse the iPad. And I needed perusal oil to do it with.

I went to the bar and asked for a Highball.

The look of confusion on the face of the young man there should have warned me.

” You want a highball glass? ”

Yes, with a Highball in it. It transpired eventully that while he was familiar with the glassware, he had no idea what the drink for which it is named was made of…

So I told him – ice, rye whiskey, and ginger ale. In a highball glass…

He rose to the challenge, though his inexperience caused him to put two shots of rye in the glass before the ginger ale. I did not think it right to complain.

The next day the highball was served by a more experienced man – and it contained only one shot of rye. Ah, well, you can only win some of them.

Highball: rye, ice, and ginger ale. Named after the American railroad signal that all is clear and you can go ahead at full speed. The British railways do it with a whistle and a flag and the German railways do it with a red disc on a paddle. The American railroads do it with a lantern.

I do it with rye.

 

The Lease Is Up

I note that there are a number of premises for lease in…

Everywhere.

Just back from a trip to Melbourne and Sydney and the number of ” for lease ” signs that line the streets are staggering. Not so much on the main city streets – though there are plenty of empty premises in the arcades and back ways. It’s the secondary suburbs that are really quite surprising…even Brunswick Street in Fitzroy – my favourite crap shop and dodgy restaurant district – is thinning out and looking for tenants.

Our own city suburbs have long stretches of highway that are all going begging. But the interesting thing is I bet they are not willing to beg. I suspect the landlords are still trying for every price increase and every winning extra charge that they can get. The fact that they cannot get them hasn’t quite registered.

I even see the foolishness of our local large shopping centre -a place that has a lack of parking space most of the time – ripping up the carpark for more stand-alone businesses at a time when other shops and spaces in their main building are hoarded over.

I am not sure whether it is the lease or the jig that is up…

Fries With That

My recent trip to Melbourne saw me going through the Federation Square premises of the National Gallery Of Victoria with some trepidation. Previous visits were enlivened with rooms full of brightly coloured phalluses and vulvas – always a favourite with the art-lovers – and a full-scale fire alarm and evacuation on one visit. Plus some exhibits of real beauty. Fed Square is a grab bag…

This time was no different, though most of the exhibits were delightful. I am not a fussy connoisseur – give me a brightly coloured vulva and a bag of peanuts and I’m happy. So I welcomed these three pieces of comfortable furniture:

Nostalgic diners of the 70’s and 80’s will have them in a minute. They even evoke the remembrance of smell, though they had no odour themselves.

Call me a cynical citizen, but I reckon that these would be major sellers as lounge furniture if one could overcome the copyright laws.

Note that the Sausage McBiscuit is a North American product – probably closely allied to our Australian Sausage McMuffin.

About This Time Of Year…

I get antsy.

It’s not the calendar and it’s not the temperature. It’s the approach of an interstate holiday trip. I’m going to Melbourne and Sydney in a few weeks. And the mental engine is starting to rev up.

It is not like a trip to either of those cities is great wampum amongst other people – there are no end of Facebook posts from my 223 contacts that list trips to Europe, North America, or Asia and glory in the tourist sights that will be seen. Melb. and Syd. do not have that bragging pressure.

Yet…they have a real place in my psyche. I am comfortable in each city, having visited them annually for years. I know the shops, galleries, and restaurants. I know the transport system. And yet…I do not know them…there is still adventure enow.

There are always shops that wink out of existence – sadly. And others that appear. I adopt the wise Western Australian practice of never assuming anything I desire in shops will ever be there again – and I make sure that I have enough money saved to swoop while the swooping is good. Oh sure, I make some duff choices, but I also make some brilliant ones.

The same goes for the amusements and the nourishments of the towns. Not every plate is a winner, but there is a memorable event and taste somewhere each day. All you can ask is one per day – and in Syd. and Melb. you can find them.

Parochial? Dull? Staid? Why thank, you, don’t mind if I do. Please let me have a glass of water that is not a swimming pool for guardia and a sandwich that does not wriggle. I have the money to pay for it. And the hotel room? The one with the clean bed and bathroom…? Fine, and I shall be down at the bar in an hour.

Why Is There A Goat?

Why indeed?

The question arose on the back court of the Exhibition Buildings in Melbourne this year as I was photographing this Dodge. The questioner was a woman who was photographing all the cars at the hot rod show….always a pleasant activity. She was as burdened down with extraneous photo gear – extra cameras, tripod, and lenses as I was free of them. I used my travelling Fujifilm camera with my travelling lens and…well…traveled…

She was genuinely puzzled by the ram on the bonnet. A surprise, because she had a North American accent and the look of a person who covers a lot of motor shows. I didn’t feel it my place to enlighten her, but left as I heard her buttonhole other people over the question.

As it turned out this time., this was one of the very few occasions when there would be a preserved Dodge on display – the RAC show in the park had very few cars on display – God knows why. I am glad that I got to see this one where it was, as the visitors to the VHRS are respectful of the vehicles on display – they don’t climb and smudge over them.

Isn’t it magnificent? The Dodge may not have carried the prestige of the Lincoln or Cadillac, but then again how much better did it penetrate the Australian market at the time. And how many more do we have to see at the end of the day.

I just wish that the makers of modern cars could take a style hint from the 30’s and bring back solid duo-colours. And bonnet mascots. Surely there is a place for meerkats or penguins or something…I wonder how she would have done with a meerkat?

Blue Dreams

I am a fan of blue cars ever since my first one -a Renault 10 in light grey-blue in the late 60’s. It seemed to be the epitome of style and grace…in a small car. Since then I’ve owned other colours, but always looked keenly to see if whatever I wanted to drive could be had in blue.

This my attraction to this Chevrolet pickup a this year’s VHRS in Melbourne. It was on the inside, which means thee lighting was mixed – and I would have liked to see it out in the sun – but that doesn’t lessen the admiration for the paint job.

A restrained vehicle like this one is perfect for the dignity of the blue. I must admit that from the other side of thee floor I thought I was seeing a restored historical car rather than a rod. Closer inspection showed the lowering, rh shaving, and the other touches that have made this look so good. I love the whitewall and beauty ring treatment, but then I would love that on my little car if I could do it.

 There is a terrible temptation with something as nice as this – that is also a practical vehicle. The temptation would be to make a daily driver out of it and take it down to Bunnings and load the bed with MDF board and kegs of nails. And then where would the superb finish be?

Perhaps the best solution to this would be to make two cars the same – one for show and one for go. Yes, that’s the answer. Now all we need is Lotto to supply the question…

Yaller Cat

Forget about the racial overtones of that Yaller Cat title – this is about the hot rod show, yaller cats attract the eye and stand out even in the dodgiest hall lighting.

In fact I have always been a little surprised that our local taxi industry did not settle upon the colour for the fleets of cars here in Perth – oh, there are yellow taxis in Melbourne , but the bulk of them out here are silvertops, black, or the ubiquitous white. I suspect that a lot of times the colour was chosen with an eye to resale of the vehicle…but by the time a taxi is ready to move on, the buyers need to beware of a lot more than the colour of the body. Note that the Japanese use the dear old Toyota Crown to this day.

The entry car for the WAHRS was, of course, a depiction of the yellow ’32 Ford coupe from ” American Graffiti “. Further in was our heading car with a yellow that came closer to Trainer Yellow than to Lemon Yellow. The ’39 Chev was probably somewhere in between, though the Royal Agricultural Society lighting is always a factor in any judgement you make. You’re best to view a colour out in the sunlight before deciding what shade you’re actually seeing – it would be disastrous to pick paint under the artificial light.

The original Mooneyes rail dragster is also probably as pure a yellow as you could get and certainly seems to match the memories I have of the model kits of the time.

And finally, note that yellow may feature a lot in our state’s team colours but it is also popular in Victoria and New South Wales.

 

The Local Traveller

World travelling, we read, is a marvellous thing. It is said to broaden our minds and make us one with humanity.

I expect everyone who has ever stood in line to get their baggage checked onto an international flight…and then stood in line to board, use the toilets, get off again, pass the immigration and customs desk, and then collect the remains of their luggage has an appreciation of the delights of the experience. Then as they are attended by taxi drivers, desk clerks, tour guides, cafe owners, street beggars, local militiamen, and all the varied members of the aforementioned humanity, they get a warm, fuzzy feeling.

In most cases it is a yeast infection.

I have done my share of it, but as I’ve not re-enlisted in the Traveller’s Regiment and I’ve kept my discharge papers, I feel I’m safe for the foreseeable future. The world may turn, but I’m required neither to push it around nor grease the pintles.

But I do like the occasional drive in the country or air hop to another city in Australia. And, contrary to the overseas experience, I find the actual travel quite relaxing.

In the air, whether you are in the Business seat or Cattle Class, you are provided with a number of entertainments and stimuli – videos, music, frequent meals, etc – that you are allowed to ignore. You can sit there with a book, or a notepad and a pencil, and think. No-one that you are with ever interrupts you to stick another household chore or family revelation onto you. Your phone and tablet are in Aeroplane mode which means you are officially ordered to ignore them. ( Yay! ) and even Mark Zuckerberg cannot pester you.

Likewise on the road. As a driver you need your wits about you and cannot be talking on a telephone or reading a Mills and Boon while at the wheel. You need to obey increasingly complex speed and passing laws, and to avoid those who don’t. So you are in a cocoon of concentration. Break it every hour or so for a coffee or a wee and the experience becomes all the sweeter – you might step out of your Suzuki a little more fatigued than fresh from a Boeing but then you’ve seen more interesting things on the side of the road. And if they are recently flattened, you might have been able to scoop them up for dinner.

The trick is to pick a place to go that is worthwhile going to for your own reasons – not just the fulfilment of some travel agent’s urging – and to go there at your own pace. I pick country towns that might have a friend or an event nearby or a city that has stores I’ve not visited for a while. These will cheer the heart both in prospect and retrospect, and as long as you don’t overstay your welcome, every journey will be a gain.

Overstay? An Australian capital city is worth about 1 week, a regional city three days, and a country town 2 days. If you think the time too short to justify the return journey, then combine several destinations in a round trip. In all cases, leave ’em wanting more of you rather than less…

The Best Comedian Loved The Best Audience

You’ll hear a lot of guff about comedy today – every seedy pub that can afford a microphone and a wooden stool thinks that they can find Dave Allen in their general population of drunks. They can’t, of course, but that doesn’t stop them from chopping off fingers left right and centre in the search…The audiences would be better if they were working on ears…

The guff is generally to do with how vile and obnoxious you need to be to succeed as a joke teller. There’s a fair contest to lower the standard of the art and I must say that some comedians seem to have set their hearts on the Marianas Trench. Dark, cold, and under tremendous pressure – the only creatures to be seen have bulging eyes and enormous teeth. Melbourne comedy festival pub stuff all right.

Mustn’t bag the Victorians too much – I’ve seen local fun merchants roll jokes off the deck here in Perth with the pistols set for 5000 feet and then watched them wait with a silent mic until they detonated. They were so far down by the time that happened you could barely hear the pop.

I’m sorry for the passing of the clean comic. The family comedian who could run a half-hour show on a television network each week and not lose the custom of either the audience or the advertisers. Some of the classics could crack the screen with nothing more than a dead-pan doubletake…a signature silence that you waited all week to see and laugh at.

The humourist – stand-up, sit-down, or whatever – in the days of strict television and print standards had to respect their audience and craft jokes that amused without abusing. They wanted to be laughed with, as well as at, and the very best of them went further than that – they got the love of the audience as well as the applause.

PS: The lust of the audience is also good, but make sure that your clothes can be dry cleaned.