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Posts Tagged ‘fitzroy’

Quite why Bruce and Fran hadn’t ventured inside the Birmingham earlier is hard to fathom considering the new owners placed a sign in the street declaring proudly:

NOT SHIT ANY MORE

around the time they moved to Collingwood. Perhaps it had something to do with the Eddie Izzard supermarket theory that shoppers are always guided into the fresh fruit section first rather than toiletries so your initial thought is “Everything here is fresh, I will do well here” as opposed to “Everything here is made of poo”. (Interestingly, when you enter the Safeway / Woolworths in Smith Street you walk into a wall of toilet paper and baskets of tuna – poo and smelly fish – hmmmm….).

Still, spotting a review of a band called The Parking Lot Experiments on Mess and Noise Bruce decided to break his poo pub duck on the strength that their name is taken from one of the Flaming Lips weirder moments. And, despite the fact the only non-crap tap beer (Cooper’s Pale) ran out after his first drink, it did appear to be quite NOT SHIT: comfy sofas; pool table; big slabs of art featuring legends of music; decent jukebox; handy outdoor area; lights turned down low enough to make a detailed judgement of NON SHIT-ness slighty trickier.

The band room certainly had character; coming so soon after the dining room at the Edinburgh Castle helped prepare Bruce: the old sofas, tatty wooden walls, kids sat expectantly on the floor and lack of a stage made it reminiscent of the back room at your grandparents’ – you know, the one they’ve never got round to decorating since the 60s.

The kids did eventually stand up once the band were playing (some even stood on the sofas – IN THEIR SHOES – which the grandparents would never have stood for, no matter how much they liked spoiling you) and revealed Bruce to be the oldest in the room by an aeon. Still, he was there wasn’t he, generation terrorists? So many appeared to be friends of the band that at times it felt like he’d gatecrashed a private party in a school common room.

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But what of the Experiments? Ramshackle in setup (the aforementioned lack of stage, amp stacked on milkcrates, drums sat on possibly more milk crates) and often also in sound (in particular the vocal harmonies that occasionally bordered on caterwauling).

Yet what tunes: from wistful freaky folk to pounding electro-indie that recall anything from the Lips to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, fellow Melburnians Kes and beyond. Impressive drumming on a sparse, unusual set up, entertaining playoff between the keyboard / organ and guitars, otherwordly lead vocals, odd lyrics, moments of yelping lunacy and boundless imagination. Exciting, weird, wonderful and bursting with potential.

Well worth heading there armed with five bucks for the final night of their residency next Tuesday (26/5). Might even try one of the Birmingham’s NOT SHIT $6 pizzas.

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A while back, Bruce and a barman at Fitzroy’s Black Pearl entered into a late night / early morning conversation about creating a cocktail inspired by the Elbow single Grounds For Divorce. It went on to win Best Whisky Cocktail in Australia and will see its creator head to London later in the year to compete for the Best Cocktail in the World title at Diageo’s World Class event.

Said creator and the cocktail have now made it to the pages of the current edition of Beer and Brewer magazine. Hurrah!

Grounds For Divorce1

Could have mentioned Bruce by name...

Now to come up with one for The Flaming Lips’ Talkin’ Bout The Smiling Deathporn Immortality Blues (Everyone Wants To Live Forever)…

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Be afraid

Be afraid

Now, cocktail lounges aren’t usually Bruce’s thing, him being closer in spirit to spit and sawdust than spit and polish, but with some of Fran’s friends being part of the furniture at the Black Pearl, in Brunswick Street, an exception has had to be made, even if it means enduring a steady stream of soft house music and people dressed far smarter than he.

On the plus side, there are plenty of comfy seats and the bar staff do mostly sport facial hair (albeit far more lovingly tended to than the varieties grown on Bruce and Fran’s side of Smith Street*). What’s more, they’ve got to know the staff fairly well, in particular the lovely Chris (the tall, dark-haired chap with big eyes and a cheeky grin).

This in itself has had its ups and downs. Starting with the latter, there has been more than one occasion when the already tipsy couple has wandered in to end the night and Bruce has challenged the bar staff to make him their favourite cocktail using a base spirit of his choosing. When you receive a text from a barman apologising for the last drink you were made the night before, well… just think twice when you’re offered a Fog Cutter, even if it does come in a Tiki mug.

On the other hand…

On Elbow’s award-winning Seldom Seen Kid, the lead single Grounds For Divorce opens with the line: “I’ve been working on a cocktail called Grounds For Divorce”. So, at 1.30am one Saturday morning:

“Chris. Fancy making me a cocktail called Grounds For Divorce,” asks Bruce. “The only guideline is that it must contain whisky or brandy and some beer.”

… the parameters set with Guy Garvey in mind. Surely, after all, if he were to 1) get married then 2) get divorced through drink, the tipple of choice would be beer and whisky or brandy what with him being a stout Northern chap (or possibly 7% cider during festival season).

“Hmmm… whisky and beer,” said Chris. “Guess it would have to be a porter. Something chocolatey and sweet to lift the spirit. And how about a Talisker?”

“Yep. A classic malt. Spicy too. Let’s try it.”

A few trials later – and a trip across to the Provincial to pick up a bottle of James Squire Porter (yes, Provincial, this is why your porter sales have gone up) – and there was the makings of something special.

Fast forward a few weeks and the finished product – Talisker, JS Porter, walnut and chocolate liqueurs served over ice from a porter bottle complete with specially-designed label – is entered into the Australian whisky leg of the World Class Cocktail competition. It comes first.

Chris may have to fly to London for the global final later in the year. Hopefully, Guy and the boys will be good enough to drop in for one while in Melbourne.

* Bruce suspects that much of the “rough and ready” facial topiary seen around Collingwood is either a) the result of hours of careful pruning in front of a mirror with all manner of scissors, tools and razors or b) carried out at that pink hairdressers (Lure, methinks?) that looks like it was lovingly recreated after a marathon session watching Beauty School Dropout on repeat.

(PS – Diageo thought the connotations of “Grounds For Divorce” were inappropriate for a booze competition so Chris has had to rename the drink “Garvey’s Dream” for the purposes of the final. Saps)

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Bruce's first oyster

Bruce's first oyster

Bruce recalls his first oyster clearly. Having dismissed them as a repulsive novelty for show-offs and the rich for 24 years, he finally gave in while bobbing up and down in a tin boat several miles off the north Arnhem Land coast.

In comparison to the saltwater crocs he’d recently spotted and the stingrays he’d chased fruitlessly with a spear an hour earlier, eating an oyster seemed a mere bagatelle. That it had just been hacked off a rock by a grizzled man bearing a knife and measured several inches in length was of only minor concern. The problems started when it proved far too big to swallow and Bruce was forced to chew into its slimy, salty mingingness…

The oysters on special at Smith Street’s Panama Dining Room seven years later were a quite different proposition. Served with a vodka and herb jelly – and rather dainty – they went down without any problem, a mouthful of Emerson’s splendidly crisp pilsner following moments later. In fact, the whole meal was lovely.

Fran and friend had decided that too much of their socialising was male-dominated and demanded they dress up for a proper spot of dining; if you’d taken the best bits of Bruce and Tom you could almost have made a smartly dressed man. Bruce enjoyed a fragrant, crisply seared, yet rare and juicy-on-the-inside pigeon breast (culled, one assumes, from the street outside) served with an absolutely exquisite confit of pork (although is it possible to go wrong with sweet, slow-cooked fat?) and an intriguing thing (he’s no gourmet) that was cooked meat and stuff (see previous parentheses) inside a vegetable parcel.

Fran tucked into some asparagus spears served with a bizarre parmesan brulee followed by a particularly succulent slab of baby barramundi, while elsewhere at the table Spanish jamon-filled clam chowders, rolled veal and all manner of once-living things were devoured. A couple of bottles of Magpie Shiraz were quaffed in a nod to the other side of the road, as was a selection of cheeses and a fortified Reisling. How refined! It was so tasty that, combined with the views through the adjacent arched window of the twinkling CBD, it was possible to ignore the bustle of the bar just a few yards away.

But clearly Fran had lost her mind. After the trouble caused by her exploding interior in Sydney she’d vowed never to touch oysters again, yet here ate not just one (of the four kindly provided for free by the Panama staff for no discernable reason – thanks!), but two of the horny slimeballs.

And what happened?

Twelve hours later:

“I’m going to have to go to a chemist. My throat is killing.”

“OK,” said Bruce, wondering how a rogue snow pea swallowed the wrong way (the origin of the pain) could lead to such drama.

At the chemist:

“I need to go to the doctor.”

“OK,” said Bruce, watching his night of burlesque disappear over the horizon never to be caught.

Leaving the doctor with some high-powered antibiotics and permission to tuck into her remaining panadeine:

“If I’m not better in four hours, I’m going to have to go to the hospital.”

“OK,” said Bruce, fearing they wouldn’t even be home for the internet stream of Man Utd v Stoke.

Hospital never happened. Neither did burlesque. Man Utd won 5-0 and Bruce was watching as 17-year-old Danny Welbeck score a screamer on his debut.

As for Fran, well, she knocked herself out and dreamed, one imagines, of a world without oysters. Just tasty pigeons and fatty, slow-cooked fat. Mmmmm

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Tears of joy, tears of sadness

The Eighties - a decade when sporting fitness reached a new peak

Like his enjoyment of the early works of the Pet Shop Boys and the time he cried in confused anger when Ian Botham was knocked out of the first round of the World’s Greatest All-Rounder competition by Clive Rice (or was it Kevin Curran?), the ability to watch the Indoor Bowls World Championships for hours on end was something a young Bruce used to keep from his friends in order to keep his friends.

Admittedly, he could also lose himself in darts (good old Jocky Wilson dripping in sweat) or snooker (dear, departed Bill Werbeniuk struggling to get his gut over the side of the table), so the lure of greying men in brightly coloured pants that gave off static just by looking at them should come as no great shock. But, now that the likes of That Bloody Tony Allcock* have long since moved on to tend to their gardens and Bruce is a grown man, he thought it was an episode happily consigned to the past. Until the other week…

“Does anyone fancy playing lawn bowls?” asked an Aussie friend. OK, so his hair was grey (prematurely) and he had ample girth, but surely he was too young to be getting caught up in such a thing.

“Yeah, that’d be great,” said another friend, this one still sporting an earring in an attempt to hold on to the last vestiges of his youth.

Bruce couldn’t believe his ears. Two young(ish) men wanting to join the hordes of the wrinklies? Then Fran added to the chorus.

“That sounds ace! When is it?” she asked. (In her defence, it is a sport that doesn’t involve any great exertion hence the attraction)

And so it was that, earlier this week, they handed over their $12, grabbed their rack of weighted bowls and headed out for their debut… with about six dozen others all aged from their mid-20s to early 30s. Turns out “barefoot bowling” is a hit with this generation of Aussies; any wonder obesity’s on the rise if they’re swapping surfing for bowls.

The $12 bought two games, a pot of Cooper’s (who sponsor the weekly session at the Fitzroy Victoria Bowling Club) and a bbq (snags, chicken, lamb chops, salad) as well as the chance to mingle with the characters who inhabit these parts – one team included a man in ninja outfit and another in cream safari suit and matching hat – and the opportunity for such unwittingly hilarious conversational snippets as “Sorry, did I just hit your balls?”.

That they only won one game and lost the other didn’t matter. They’d helped boost the coffers of an old sporting club, met some folk, got some fresh air and all to a backdrop of Curtis Mayfield and sweet Motown beats pumping from an outdoor speaker system.

If only they’d played some early Pet Shop Boys it would have been perfect.

(* Bastard always beat the Scots)

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Going, going, gone

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The house in George Street has its faded charms. One of Melbourne’s many single storey Victorian terraces, its roof is adorned with miniature balustrades, jutting out from the eaves are carved busts and on the side wall two flowers rest in an ornate pot.

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It is, however, showing its age – and signs of having suffered at the hands of an uncaring inhabitant, maybe a series of them. The olive green and yellow paintwork is flaking and can’t hide the cracks beginning to creep across its outer walls to form small deltas in the masonry. The bathroom, in particular, is in need of a good seeing to: much of the paint has fallen from the ceiling and what remains seems to be plotting to join it on the floor or in the bathtub; damp is spreading across the ceiling into the small front bedroom; the window frame has rotted to such an extent potential intruders would need little more than a gust of wind to gain entry. The back yard is unkempt, the shed full of assorted, unwanted timber, while a couple of hundred yards away a group of disheveled men and women drink the afternoon away on the corner of Smith Street.

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The house is available for rent for $350 per week – significantly more than the mortgage payments for Bruce and Fran’s refurbished three-bed semi with large garden and driveway in England, yet outside 80 people are waiting to view the property in the 15-minute slot allotted by the letting agent. Presumably this is because it’s close to the trendy stretch of cafes, bars and clothes shops that is Brunswick Street and its upstart neighbour Smith Street. The agent reveals it is a record number for any property he has ever handled and has to allow people to view it in small groups, who squeeze past each other every few minutes in the tiny, poorly lit corridor.

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All bar one or two enthuse about the house’s wonders to the agent as they leave, oblivious to the damp, rot, dirt and lack of space; one, dressed like a dandy in pinstriped beige suit, matching hat and heavy shades drops his business card into the agent’s pocket with a camp flourish in an attempt to stand out from the crowd. The pile of application forms disappears before even half of the crowd has made it through the front door, their visits recorded for posterity on numerous mobile phone cameras.

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As we walk off to find somewhere else to live we have to pick our way through young couples perched on the edge of the pavement frantically scribbling on their forms like court reporters recording a judge’s summary in a high profile court case.

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Welcome to house hunting, Melbourne style.

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