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Best of the reader pics sent to http://www.theage.com.au:

No longer just famous for its dim sim, now South Melbourne has dim cabby

Jesus Christ.....

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Only the most prude amongst us would deny one can take great pleasure in laying a cable / dropping the kids off at the pool / taking a dump*. So imagine if you were able to help some of the world’s neediest people while doing so – how awesome would that be?

Well, some Melburnians are on the case and plan to introduce non-profit bog roll that will fund sanitation projects in the world’s poorest places. Check this out:

Who Gives A Crap

for more.

And happy pooping!

[* Insert favourite colloquialism here]

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Given Bruce had never actually watched Millionaire Hot Seat quite why he agreed to be part of the audience is unclear. Perhaps it was the slim chance of being pulled from the crowd for the opportunity to win $1,000 / shame himself, although one lesson from today is that his lack of Australianism meant he would have been screwed over by the quizmasters’ obsession with Aussie colloquialisms in the early rounds: “A shag on a rock”; “You’ve got tickets on yourself” – you what? “Get fucked” he understands, but beyond that…

Anyway, having genned up on the format over a parma at the Fox on Sunday night, he rocked up at The Bridge for a pre-Channel 9 lunch and the warning: “The memo said no checked shirts”.

“There was a memo?” said a bemused Bruce.

“Something to do with the cameras not liking them,” said his fellow audience member, a veteran of Sale of the Century and Deal or No Deal and clearly someone who knew what he was talking about.

Saddened at seeing the prospects of returning to Collingwood a millionaire recede yet further, he plodded to join the line outside 9’s crumbling Richmond HQ: a collection of pimply media students, Pies fans desperate to bask in the presence of Chief Pie and the unemployed / unwashed (NB – the aforementioned categories did overlap) awaited. The sadness was soon multiplied when the forms were handed out regarding confidentiality.

“Are you connected to any of today’s contestants?” they read.

It meant only one thing: the contestants were already chosen; Bruce and friends had been dragged along under false pretenses. Rather than sit through five shows like obedient Pavlovian mutts with the prospect of one of them getting on the show they faced sitting through five shows like obedient Pavlovian mutts without any prospects whatsoever.

Once waved into the studio, things took a further turn for the worse. The warm up guy appeared, a former children’s television performer (apparently) now plumbing the depths of comedy with repetitive digs at the Kiwis in the crowd, references to his wife and slightly seedy chat up attempts with a ditzy blonde media student. And boy did he go on, encouraging us to practice the various forms of clapping, cheery and commiserating that would be required during filming while displaying a Greyfriar’s Bobby-like devotion to King Eddie.

Finally the pain ended (or at least took on a different form, somewhat like the effect of morphine on a burst appendix). The Clown moved off stage, the lights dropped and the audience erupted. Eddie appeared, started his spiel, stumbled over his words and the teleprompter stopped working. Genial Eddie wasn’t happy, indicating he might not be the sort of person you want to mess with, then disappeared. Take two went more smoothly, the contestants proved mostly useless and a guy walked away with $1,000.

The Clown’s promise of major prizes for audience members – which were later revealed to be $50 notes by a mountainous walking tragedy who has attended every Millionaire screening since day one (and received our raffle tickets out of thanks / pity) – weren’t enough to prevent plans to escape before the second show. They were foiled nonetheless as, barring time for a suit change for Eddie, there was no break. In the end, however, it was worth staying.

Between shoots, Eddie likes to take the mic from The Clown and banter with the audience. Here are three examples of what ensued:

“What’s going with you then, Snowy?” to an albino schoolkid.

“You can give it to him tonight” to the partner of a failed contestant from Sydney.

“An ammeter measures electric cunt. Er, current” to a female publican in a dazzling, sparkly – some might say electric – red blouse.

The first one set two of Bruce’s companions into fits of giggles while the second spread the fit to Bruce and his other companion, leaving all four doubled over trying to suppress snorts while a young woman attempted to win several thousand dollars like naughty schoolkids trying not to get caught in assembly. As for the third, well, it’ll be interesting to see if the producers manage to edit out the time Eddie said “cunt” on telly.

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Since nailing their flags to the Collingwood mast, Bruce and Fran have taken their fair share of abuse for choosing late in life to become supporters of a team associated with ranks of Woodstock-smashing, toothless, tattooed bogans. And, while Bruce has suggested they get half a tattoo of the Collingwood crest on each of their arms and has been known to enjoy the odd pre-mixed, it is somewhat unfair: anyone who stood with him at the North Melbourne end of a game earlier in the season would agree that neanderthal lumps can be found among the supporters of any side.

Still, having befriended a Pies-supporting MCC member, they’ve recently taken to watching games in style and this weekend had hoped to be eating in the members’ dining room beforehand. This required planning, particularly when it came to dress, especially for Bruce, who has stood still fashion wise while Fran has become rapidly Collingwood-ised (bag lady chic). A few requests for advice later and he found himself in Episode, in Brunswick, the sort of place that takes the time (and fun some would say) out of hunting for vintage clothes in opp shops. Twelve suits and 20 waistcoats later, he was looking very much the reincarnation of David Niven, albeit fatter, lacking in moustache, poorer, monogamous and not dead.

Pondering the wisdom of karaoke later

Pondering the wisdom of karaoke later

With Fran attired in a 40s style tartan dress that Julie Andrews might have knocked together for Gretel, they set off for the ‘G in style. Sadly, the dining room had proved a step too far for their host at this popular a game so the European, in Spring Street, had to suffice. Its period feel suited perfectly, even if the busy Saturday morning crowd made service a little hurried and impersonal.

At the ground, even among the plentiful suits in the third floor members’ bar, the Scottish-tailored suit stood out while the Pies delivered a solid smashing to the woeful Tigers. For the first time ever, Fran held off from having a pie (clearly feeling it would destroy the illusion of grandeur). It felt wrong to let the standards drop, so an upmarket bar crawl had to follow. It started with tapas at Movida Next Door, served by a wonderful moustache that Bruce really should have stolen to complete the Niven-esque look. Then a misstep – Spice Market, in Russell Street, the sort of place that’s all style, no substance (or all tits, no taste, as Bruce suggested later) – for a couple of cocktails, nibbles and bubbly, before more cocktails at the Hairy Canary, where the arrogance of the barman who seemed to be catching a cold every time he went to the toilet cost them a mention in the paper.

At this point, it became clear that dressing up smartly can only do so much to improve behaviour: Bruce had phoned ahead to book a karaoke booth… Collecting yum cha on the way, the poor folks at Kbox suffered almost four hours of caterwauling (although Fran’s convinced she’s pretty good). And, just to complete the fall, Bruce had to return, hungover, the following day to collect the sunglasses he’d left under the table. Niven would never have sunk so low.

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There’s very little not to like about Eastern European food if you like meat and cabbage. It was with great delight that a far younger Bruce toured the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and more recently Slovenia and Croatia to discover that whatever their particular take on national cuisine it usually involves large amounts of meat.

Highlights included the wonderful goulash and bread dumplings washed down with a pint of Pilsner for a mere ₤1.50 enjoyed in various back alley restaurants in Prague surrounded by hearty, bearded men and heftier women. Then there was Fatal’s in Budapest. Admittedly, there was nary a restaurant in Hungary that didn’t overload your plate with meat – one platter Bruce ordered consisted of three different meats in slab form topped off with a thick garnish of roasted fat (the chest tightens just thinking of it a decade on) – but Fatal’s wasn’t for the faint-hearted. Even the French Onion soup, supposedly a starter, was an assault course of a dish, while pig’s lung made the menu too.

Budapest breakfast

Preparing a Budapest breakfast (the vegies are plastic and only for show)

On slightly shakier ground when it comes to fond memories was a farmer’s feast in Ljubljana on honeymoon. The restaurant leapt off the Lonely Planet Guide to Eastern Europe’s pages with its promise of traditional Slovenian country fare. Fran was reluctant but, as the city treated them to a downpour of biblical proportions while they walked past its front door, agreed to venture within. To this day she maintains there was horsemeat on the large silver platter, one of many barely recognisable meat-based products floating in a sea of vinegary, cabbage-strewn fat. Whatever the origins, her fright meant more food for Bruce.

So, nearly three years on from those blissful early days of marriage (in time terms only, of course, every day with Fran is bliss from start to finish) it was with great excitement and foaming at the mouth that they spotted Koliba, a Czech and Slovak restaurant opening in Johnston Street, on the Collingwood side of the Smith Street junction.

7pm on a Wednesday night and every seat was taken; folks were turned away. Criminy* – word (or curiousity) must have got around. It was simple enough inside: brick walls; wooden furniture; dolls on the wine rack – and the bottles of Pilsner Urquell (the world’s first pilsner) were a reminder to Bruce that he really should hunt it down more often.

As for describing themselves as a Czech and Slovak restaurant, they pass the Ronseal test. The food was nothing if not traditional; you could as well be in a barn in Bohemia as in Melbourne’s bohemian heartland. The marinated sausages UTOPENCI consisted of a cold, pickled sausage whose insides would have been bursting to get out had it not been sliced from one end to t’other and filled with a strip of red capsicum. The pickle had a hint of chili and a side of onions and garlic. The second starter, potato pancake BRAMBORAK with sweet and sour cabbage (had to get a cabbage fix somehow), was a thin rosti smothered in a tangy layer of gooey cabbage.

But really, it was all about the goulash. Two dishes of tender beef in a thick gravy and four doorstep slabs of bread dumplings presented quite a challenge, the sauce incredibly rich and the dumplings as bouncy, stodgy and filling as they had been down those Prague back alleys. Bruce soldiered on, ignoring the cries for mercy from his stomach, Fran had to leave two-thirds of the dumplings.

Fine dining it ain’t, but then it doesn’t claim to be. In Bruce’s albeit limited experience of Eastern European cuisine, this was as authentic as it gets. Next time, however, they’ll fast for 48 hours beforehand to leave room for more dumplings.

* A nod to Paul Wilson, of the Observer newspaper’s sports team, the worst of a particularly bad stable of sports writers who unfortunately work for the British paper with the best website. Well done, Paul, I did indeed have to Google the word to make sure it wasn’t a printing error.

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“Is that a body in the road?” asked Bruce as they drove along the edge of Willesmere Park in the early hours of Saturday morning.

“Oh my God. It might be,” said Fran.

They pulled over and, from a safe distance, Bruce called to the body slumped across the small, concrete central reservation like an abandoned Guy Fawkes dummy. It stirred. And rather than the drunk bogan or hit and run victim they’d expected to see, there was a bemused looking boy, mobile phone pressed to his ear as it must have been when he passed out.

“Are you alright?” asked Bruce.

“Er… yeah. Um… I don’t know where I am,” came the reply.

“You really shouldn’t be lying in the middle of the road you know. At least get onto the pavement.”

The poor boy was shivering. Dressed in smart shirt and slacks with recently polished shoes on he clearly hadn’t put enough thought into his Saturday night out.

“What are you doing here? Where are you trying to get to?”

“I’ve fallen out with my parents. It’s really bad. I can’t go back. I don’t want to talk about what’s happened. Don’t worry, my friends coming to get me…” and on it went.

“Do you know where you are? Then how does your friend know where to go?”

And on some more. Where was the nearest station? Where was he? If he was left alone he’d be fine. Well, except he’d freeze.

There was no escaping the fact – they were going to have to give him a lift. But, with Fran’s friend in the back of the car – dressed to the nines a la Fran after a dinner dance – was he safe? Short of patting him down, Bruce was pretty certain he was.

“Get in. If you don’t want to tell us where you live or where your friend lives we’ll give you a lift to a station or at least somewhere warm.”

Turns out he wasn’t just safe; he was rather sweet.

“My name’s Sam. Just turned 18, just started on the grog – you know. Already lost my licence.”

“Don’t worry,” said Bruce. “Everyone passes out in the street or underneath a van at some point in their life.”

Soon he was fully relaxed, perhaps aided by the Hoonmobile’s heaters on full blast to stop him shivering while Bruce, Fran and friend sweated.

“So, what have you guys been up to tonight?”

Bless. To think he’d been potential roadkill just minutes earlier. Then, as the car swung through Richmond towards Richmond Station – “You can get pretty much wherever you want to go from there, Sam” – a change of mind.

“Hey, I recognise this place,” he said. “I live near here. I’ll get out and walk.”

“I thought you didn’t want to go home,” said Bruce.

“No. No. It’s OK. I’ll walk.”

“How near’s near?” asked Fran.

“A kilometre. Well, a short kilometre,” he said, coming across as the naughty boy in the company of adults that he was

“Are you sure?” said Fran, coming across as the school teacher that she is.

He was.

“Now remember, when you’re older and you see someone collapsed in the street, you know to stop and help them,” said Bruce, coming across as the patronising git.

And – with a little wave goodbye – Sam was gone and it was time for Bruce and Fran to hit Smith Street.

What with catching a mugger who’d assaulted a young Korean tourist and tried to steal her handbag in North Melbourne just a few weeks’ earlier, Bruce and Fran are becoming quite the Samaritans. In fact, one more good deed over and above the call of duty and heathen Bruce will be in line for canonisation much to the horror, no doubt, of Fran’s Catholic clan. Or does it take more than that to qualify as a miracle these days?

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Simple really.

Do you want your daughter to become embroiled in real life sub-Jerry Springer escapades?

Answer yes – name her after a respected European make of car, a one-step guarantee of instant class. Volvo’s probably a little risque, Citroen a little tart, BMW too open to interpretation (and blackmail), Ferrari just crass, so how about Mercedes?

Well…

Ladies Corby and Johnston

Ladies Corby and Johnston

The best laid plans, hey.

In the blue corner, the foul-mouthed queen of the Schapelle clan; in the red corner, the sister of former Sarah Palin son-in-law-to-be and soon-to-be-sparring-with Sarah Palin in front of a Judge (Judy or otherwise) Levi Johnston.*

Hmmm… maybe Volvo isn’t that bad after all.

(* What’s an “s” between friends, anyway?)

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