Abandon hope, all ye who enter there

Save money, grow herbs, cook at home

Save money, save face, grow herbs, cook at home

It’s been a herby kind of month or so (and I’m not using a euphemism here – mostly). It just seems that everywhere I’ve turned, and whatever I’ve cooked, my old mate basil has been at my side. Except as pesto. I can’t bring myself to go the pesto yet – it feels like a betrayal putting those magnificent plants out of their misery too soon. Like farewelling an arthritic old kelpie after a life of toil, only with a Breville, pine nuts, olive oil and a shitload of parmesan.

Talking of euphemisms (and a life of toil), I was tossed a beauty a few days ago. Friends, I’ve been informed by email that I’ve been ‘rotated off’ an assignment this year – and I’m using the latter euphemism advisedly, as I’d like any future ‘assignments’ to continue to be as forthcoming as my herbs have been this summer.

After I’d replaced my Tena Lady, I threw this phrase over to a few smart folk I know to find out if they’d ever come across it and, once they’d stopped howling with laughter and towelled themselves dry, they all said they’d never heard of it. Not even my most corporately cluey wordsmith friends. Damn you, MasterChef, and all those overbaked cheffy terms – ‘cooked off’, ‘fried off’, ‘sweated off’ – that you’ve lumbered us with.

‘Off’. Who knew that a tiny adverb would gain such traction in the world of bollocks-speak.

I do quite like this euph, though. Quite apart from its comedic value, it’s spare and elegant, with an industrial edge. Like a Surry Hills pop-up. Would that I could have replied with similarly corporate brio, but I can’t think of anything better than ‘go forth and multiply’ which is a tad too biblical/Peter Costello/Joe Hockey for me.

I hope to be dining out on this little morsel for some months to come.

And talking of little morsels (I fear these segues will be my downfall yet), sadly, this gem came too late for my friend Sophie’s and my Celebratory Pre-Christmas Lunch – a tradition that stretches way back to December 2013. This year we chose north Bondi, though it’s hard to shake the feeling that north Bondi wouldn’t choose us for quids.

The obergruppenführer at the other end of the phone had insisted there were only two booking options – midday or 2pm. Okay – midday then. We would take our cossies, have an early lunch, get caught in a rip down the south end, be rescued by lifeguards and still have time for a Gelato Messina yoghurt and caramel cone. A perfect Bondi day.

Hungry, happy and ‘hooray – on holidays!’, I arrived at 11.58am and approached the bar. This, I was told IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS by the cheerless git in a checked shirt, is just not what you do at a restaurant that has already MADE IT PERFECTLY CLEAR that it expects you there at MIDDAY and NO SOONER. Chastened, I genuflected and shuffled out backwards to await his command. As I knelt, counting grains of sand, I pondered the curious ways of restaurants in Sydney…

Hospitality. You know, you invite some friends over and spend a few hours shopping and cooking stuff, and you make sure everyone has plenty of everything – seconds even; sometimes even doggy bags. Then you reapply your deodorant and pick the duck fat out of your eyebrows and greet everyone at the door with real pleasure, because you invited them, and you like having them around and being around them. And everyone gets drunk – or not – and eats too much and you get a real kick out of them enjoying what you’ve made. Then everyone goes home.

Hospitality. You know, you grudgingly allow some people to squeeze into a half-empty restaurant at a window table for two positioned right in the middle of a pillar that blocks a great view of the beach, and spend a few hours shopping and cooking stuff for a menu whose ‘plates for sharing’ come in odd-numbered portions. Then you reapply your attitude and greet everyone at the door with barely concealed contempt, because you know you need them so you can pay for your next tattoo, but you just want to be out the back tending to your heirloom pickles. So everyone gets drunk – or not – and doesn’t get to eat enough, because those shared plates have been plated-up by a horticulturalist in group-plantings of three and five. And you’re too busy chatting up a newsreader and some skinny bint Who Quit Swallowing for Life to have a clue whether anyone else is enjoying anything. Then everyone goes home.


Spag bol - as Australian as Australia Day

Spag bol – as Australian as Australia Day

Which is why, on a satisfyingly cold, rainy and dismal Australia Day, I enjoyed a bit of contemplative herb-fuelled stirring (still not a euphemism – mostly), with the help of some lustrous bay leaves from a plant that I hope will outlive me. It seemed far more fitting than thinking of something wittier to say than anyone else on the planet about Mr Abbott’s greatest gift so far to our satirical landscape, or hooning around in a Nissan Xenophobia with plastic flags stuck out the front windows.

The dish of the day? Naturally, the Number 1 most popular, true-blue, cooked-off, plated-up meal in this wide brown land (according to those in the know, namely marketing professionals and content strategists) – a dinky-di spag bol. Enough for six – no split bills.

Middle-age dread

Finding inspiration – and aspiration – in the strangest places

It’s been a dry couple of months – sorry about that. It’s been hard to raise a laugh recently and, what with her flabby muse fleeing to Thailand for a nip and tuck, Monetise This has had to content herself with reruns of Episodes on UK TV and the guilty pleasure of Offspring on Channel Ten – the former a dampener on aspirations of wit; the latter, a delicious mind-numb of twitchy acting, perfect skin and high boots. So it was with gratitude that I pounced upon a column by a writer who regularly affords me the opportunity for some hard-earned middle-aged spite.

She has discovered, as do many writers having to come up with weekly stuff, that there’s no better way to break a writing drought than with a list, the fallback for many a columnist, including myself back in the day, when trawling the bottom of the barrel for subject matter.

So, armed with Nikki Gemmell’s tooth-rotting droplets of wisdom, I now know what’s been missing from my autumn years – other than Chanel tennis balls, obviously.

Her 50 edifying pointers on reaching that ‘glorious, grounded milestone’ in Saturday’s Weekend Australian Magazine have inspired me to add my own, as I head into the business end of my own inglorious, grinding millstone.

1. George Orwell famously observed that at 50, everyone has the face they deserve. Or can afford.

2. The only true failure is in doing nothing. The only true success is in concealing it.

3. Perseverance is the key. But not when dealing with computers; in which case, teenagers are the key.

4. Change is a gift. It moves us forward. Unless it’s in five-cent pieces.

5. Courage isn’t needed so much for the shattering blows in life but for the long, lonely cliffs we need to climb to then haul ourselves back into peace. Courage is writing a sentence that doesn’t make readers want to throw themselves off a cliff halfway through.

6. Failure humbles us – no bad thing. Or makes us bitter and resentful – far more likely.

7. We eventually learn to laugh at our failures, to recognise the lessons of them. But remember it’s still always easier to laugh at the failure of others.

8. Life’s a vast process of distilling – hopefully into those twin balms of simplicity and serenity. Or a single malt and a splash.

9. Overlive, don’t underlive. Especially if you have a good credit rating.

10. Recognise the courage in living differently. But don’t forget to brush your teeth.

11. Cultivate your mates for what’s in their hearts, not for how they look or what they do – or what they can do for you. And if that’s not possible, their livers are another good option.

12. Arrive on time; it’s respectful. But leave before they start cleaning up.

13. Be an appreciator. Or stay out of the housing market.

14. If you have one true friend, you can forgive all the rest. But will they forgive you?

15. Don’t be sloppy with friendships – or eventually friends will become sloppy with you. Always watch When Harry Met Sally in the privacy of your own home.

16. A gentleman, and a lady, always does the kind thing. At least once a week and maybe twice on Sundays.

17. To be truly free, you have to forget what other people think of you. And after 55, forgetting is what you’ll be best at.

18. Attention’s a gift. Just make sure you keep the receipt.

19. Beware the piracy of indifference. Only download from sites that care.

20. Never underestimate the tonic of praise. Never underestimate the gin of derision.

21. Appreciate the courage in kindness. Especially if it involves a Labrador and a small hand-held treat.

22. A light heart is a wonderful armoury for living. But heavy make-up is cheaper.

23. Accomplishment makes us happy. Unless it’s someone else’s.

24. Don’t suppress a kind thought. After 50, it will give you reflux.

25. Secrets sap us, stunt our growth. But not as much as cigarettes.

26. Grasp the relief in exposure, the dignity in risk. Unless you’re Rolf Harris.

27. It’s amazing how much support you can get when telling the truth. And how much more you can get when telling lies, eh, Tony…

28. Surrender requires just as much strength as resistance. But it tends to cost more.

29. Kids watch us – and do as we do. So how does that explain Clive Palmer?

30. The question to always ask: is this the right thing to do? The answer to always respond with: I don’t comment on operational matters.

31. Goodness brings happiness. Unless it’s quinoa.

32. Doing something for someone else helps not only them but ourselves; it buoys us. Especially if they leave a tip.

33. Calm’s impossible if you want to control other people, for their will is like an eel, slipping from your grasp. So buy a bigger trawler.

34. Crack open your life to love by giving it. And always remember that Vaseline is your friend.

35. It’s impossible to seduce someone who’s content. Unless you’re under 30.

36.  Sharing vulnerability makes us realise how alike we all are. Unless we have a good builder.

37. Strong people have the courage to show their vulnerability. Stronger people have the courage to take advantage of yours.

38. The bad times dissolve, always. The good times are swallowed furtively with a margarita, mostly.

39. Beware that reducing little word, “dependent”, for it means letting ourselves be controlled by another. Be even more wary of those reducing little words, “Lite & Easy”, for it means letting ourselves be controlled by packaging.

40. Thoughtful action is always better than impulsive behaviour. But impulsive behaviour has more of a ring to it.

41.  A life lived in fear is not fully lived. Nor is a life lived commuting on the M5.

42. With sex, honesty’s the most shocking thing of all. And it doesn’t leave those unsightly stains.

43. Live with gratitude; it’s twinned with goodness. Better still, live in Griffith, NSW; it’s twinned with Treviso.

44. Listen to your inner voice – it’s always seeking happiness and peace for you. Unless it’s quoting chunks of Monty Python; then you must seek it out and destroy it.

45. Live with joy. There’s so much wonder and beauty in this world – seek it. Start at Homeworld in Kellyville; tell Joy I sent you.

46. When life is crushing, seek the solace of the land. And if the land isn’t in, go to the pub.

47. A life driven by love is preferable to a life driven by greed or ambition. As long as it’s driven in an Aston Martin.

48. There’s not a person alive who doesn’t want to be told they’re loved. And not a dead person who could hear you if you told them.

49. At the end of our lives the question should be not what we’ve done, but how well we’ve loved. And how much we spent, factoring in the cost of prophylactics.

50. Stop. Take a deep breath. Think of three things to be thankful for, let the gratitude flow through you and… smile. Because you’re now free to throw out all those nauseating aphoristic little self-help books displayed by the cash register in bookshops that you’ve been given every Christmas since the dawn of time, and that dog-eared pile of Yours magazines, and go get a life.






Not talkin’ ’bout my generation

Living life, loving life: Lucy, 69, still loves surfing, Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain.

A new magazine hit the newsstands last week. A bright beacon of hope for trillions of Australian women aged 50 and above, hungry marketing analysts and (briefly) a hungry late-50s female writer of an optimistic bent.

Yours, it’s called, dear readership, and you’re welcome to it, because it sure as hell ain’t Mine, or Anyone Else’s I know.

Yours is the Best & Less of women’s magazines – a place where yea who enter should expect to abandon all hope.

It is the cultural equivalent of speaking slowly and loudly to the elderly, the infirm and the foreigners.

It is the design lovechild of a Reliant Robin and a life-size, creepy ‘baby’ doll that grips your finger.

And if, as has been intimated, it is targeted at us 50-plus female ‘powerhouse purchasers’ (I should live so long…), then it seems to have mislaid its bifocals while taking aim, dear.

Granted, as with every clichéd aunty, it means well: the call to community (with prizes); the jubilant affirmation beside Every Celebrity’s Name of Their Age, no matter where they are (The Bush), or what they’re doing (Sticking Acupuncture Needles into Dachsunds), wearing (Harsh Blue) or modelling (The New Bob).

The New Bob. Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?

Much like The Old Bob – still crap if you have curly hair.

There’s Short Fiction – so short, that no one – from the Empowered, Connected 50-Somethings, to the Feisty, Mountain-Climbing 80-Year-Olds – reading it need fear dying before they get to the end.

And among the Team of Experts is a Vet.

Because, in the not-too-distant future, voluntary euthanasia for humans will be legalised.

The Longevity Expert would be hoping not, I’m guessing.

Anyhoo, what I Just Don’t Get (apart from why they haven’t euthanised whoever chose that heinous comic typeface) is why we, being such f**king powerhouse purchasers and all, would spend our stylish, plucky, glass-ceiling-shattering, hard-earned dosh on Yours when we can buy Anything Else.

Long day’s Genet into night

Triple-ginger biscuits – not as nice as Yasmin’s

Working full-time for the past seven weeks or so has not been particularly conducive to blog-fecundity. Monetise This has been editing her eyes raw on a new delicious. magazine cookbook at her former NewsLifeMedia haunt in Alexandria (which, extraordinarily, hasn’t undergone yet another name change since last I worked there). Its big brother (hmmm, how apt…), News Corp, however, now has a new part-script, part-sans serif logo so screamingly daggy and indecipherable, that at first glance it reads as ‘Nems Cornmp Australia’, the last word writ large in what looks like a default font). But maybe that’s not such a bad thing – at least with a logo like that, nobody’s ever going to accuse you of being smart enough to tap phones.

Despite the temporary blindness and considerable weight gain brought on by a surfeit of recipe reading and the seemingly daily sampling of baked goods, there are many perks to be had when working in-house at a food magazine.

Earning money is one.

The triple-ginger biscuits that I was inspired to cook yesterday afternoon were another (they’re called ‘cookies’ on epicurious.com, where the recipe originates, but not on my watch), courtesy of Yasmin Newman. She’s about to launch her first cookbook, 7000 Islands: A Food Portrait of the Philippines (a beautiful, beautifully written book with great recipes of a less gingery bent). Hers were far lighter, crumblier and generally all-round nicer than those pictured above. But she is a baker of some talent, as well as being rather all-round nice herself.

My default baking state is one of floury anxiety, but those biscuits are worth any increase in my blood pressure for their sheer, unadulterated gingerocity.

Yasmin first won a place in my heart, and on my waistline, with a collection of chocolate brownie recipes, each inspired by her friends’ various personalities. I wouldn’t have the imagination or insight to invent anything, baked or otherwise, that was palatable enough to reflect the personality traits of some of the people I know. I don’t think unsavoury features in the flavour spectrum.

Best of all, seven weeks of daily toil at the editorial coalface gave me the perfect excuse to do nothing but slump, dozing intermittently, in front of Foxtel every night. Which fetched me up at The Dragon’s Den. No, friends, not a metaphysical descent into work-induced despair, but a television program inhabited by people with enough shrill self-belief to occasionally persuade stern-browed investors to finance products such as self-adhesive ‘eye flicks’.

Oddly, that enterprise didn’t pique the interest of the backers it so richly deserved – not even ‘Dragon’ Hilary Devey, who seems to already have a problematic relationship with her make-up mirror. Had I had a spare 50,000 quid, I’d have jumped at the opportunity. Hell, there was even a sub-range of ‘party eye flicks’. How could it lose?

Perhaps my non-existent life savings would be better invested in crowd-funding some quality theatre, although I can’t seem to find any anywhere, even when the participants are of the calibre of Cate Blanchett, Isabelle Huppert and Elizabeth Debicki.

I was hoping to write a searing, insightful post about Jean Genet’s The Maids, but I lost the will to live about 2 minutes after Debicki left the stage. All that kept me going for rest of the performance was my increasingly resentful fascination in how damned good all those women looked in their underwear.

But I felt vindicated by the time Debicki, Blanchett and Huppert had coaxed out three curtain calls, as everyone else seemed to have lost the will to live, too. Perhaps it was just that we were all desperate not to miss out on a table at Cafe Sopra up the road.

Fools. Gone are the halcyon days when the matchless Andy Bunn was, um, peaking at the Sopra stoves. A dismally flaccid ‘mixed mushroom’ salad (which, I’ve since concluded, meant ‘mixed with a trowel in a large bathtub’ rather than any evidence of fungi variety) swamped in dressing with some sodden potatoes does not a happy philistine make.

If you want a salad – go to Kepos St Kitchen and be done with it. I cooked chef/owner Michael Rantissi’s cauliflower salad (the recipe can be found in the April issue of delicious. magazine) as part of the fresh, vibrant, seasonal, local (and all manner of other foodie buzzwords) vegetarian spread I put on for the third, dispiriting Australia v British-and-everywhere-else-Lions test match. That’s why we lost. Not enough meat.

Years ago, when my friend who accompanied me on last week’s theatre date and I were at Sydney’s University of Technology studying (and I use the term loosely) a degree in Communications (looser still), we frequented many a cinema and playhouse in search of entertainment and enlightenment, with varying degrees of bafflement.

So how we both chuckled ruefully last week after the applause (rather quickly) faded at The Maids, and the audience rushed off to order their stuffed zucchini flowers.

My how we laughed, not only at their reckless veering from the hallowed path of vibrant seasonality on that cold winter’s night, but fondly remembering the credits rolling at the end of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive some 10 years ago, and turning to each other to mouth as one, “What the f**k was that all about?”

But I didn’t really care what The Maids was all about. All I wanted was for the shouting to stop. And for Cate Blanchett to just drink the damn tea, already.

Skimming the surface

The infinitely more riveting glacial drama of Sealy Tarn, Mt Cook National Park, New Zealand

I’ve an elephant in my room, and it has long, straight, silver-grey hair with a middle parting, and a thick southern US of A drawl. It is but one among many. They are living in Paradise and, apart from the silver-haired one, they all like to gambol naked together in the freezing waters of New Zealand’s South Island. They are the conceit of someone else with long, straight silver-grey hair, someone who has been, on occasion, something of a hero; someone who should, if I may be so bold, get a grip.

But as I watch Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake and have to listen without snorting with laughter – or worse, gagging – to lines such as, “I’m going to love you forever; we’re going to walk through the valley of death with a rainbow over us,” yay verily, I do fear evil, and that my Campion-lovin’ days are numbered. Truth be told, they took a hammering with A Portrait of a Lady, and barely held steady at In the Cut. Thanks, Mark Ruffallo.

I imagine a group of creatives putting their heads together. “Okay, guys, cinema has died hard. It’s all about HBO and the slow-release mini-series. Look at how long they’ve dragged Mad Men out for. Give me your best shot. Jane, baby, what have you got for me?”

The whiteboard is wiped down and the brainstorming begins:
– diminutive cars driving through vast, jaw-droppingly beautiful, yet terrifyingly alienating landscapes
– a desolate outpost town clinging to the edge of civilisation, whose redneck inhabitants play dangerous games of darts at the pub
– a bunch of emotionally damaged women who like to get naked, pat horses and pay cash for swift and meaningless sex with the town rednecks, while living in brightly painted shipping containers by a large and very cold lake surrounded by imposing mountains
– an albino girl
– a po-faced female shaman figure known only by her initials, with long, straight grey hair, whom the damaged women make tea for, and who, in return, lights more than one cigarette at a time and shares them around, along with densely opaque nuggets of wisdom
– David Wenham
– a much younger, po-faced female with a pudding-basin haircut and good skin, originally from said desolate outpost town who’s escaped this barren yet eternally majestically backdropped hell-hole to work in Sydney for years, only to return with an accent that’s more Elle Macpherson (post London migration) crossed with Zsa Zsa Gabor than Janet Frame
– a craggy, shouty Scottish git with long, stringy hair who’s not Billy Connolly, lairding it over a couple of surly bastard sons and a handful of large dogs and one small fluffy one
– a pregnant teenager who walks into a lake and walks out again, then disappears
– tattoos

But why Elisabeth Moss? Why? And which voice coach is responsible for that travesty of an accent? And why hasn’t someone thought to slap Ms Moss out of her coma yet?

Go back to Mad Men, Elisabeth, for pity’s sake. It’s slow, god knows, but the script makes some semblance of sense, and you’re good at your American accent, and no one watching it can be in any doubt that it’s not a comedy, even if it doesn’t have mountains.

Alien degustation: in space, no one can see you cook

Space brulee torch

So, here’s an idea for a future exciting, challenging challenge for MasterChef Australia: The Professionals Series 1 of the Most Challenging, Exciting Cooking Contest Ever Seen on Television Anywhere by Anyone in the Known Universe, Infinity and Beyond.

The final four contestants – let’s call them Matty, Catty, Bratty and Tatty – are put through a rigorous hour of training at NASA before the first ad break. We witness their physical hardships and share their hopes and fears, as they learn to whisk egg whites to stiff peaks, render duck fat and bone out a quail under zero-gravity conditions.

Their only companions – a large, disembodied voice (let’s call it Hal) and an unblinking, eerily life-like automaton, the MP3W.

Their most audacious, inconceivably challenging challenge? To journey to a far-off galaxy – let’s call it Planet Cake – where they must create a 12-course degustation for 100 VERY DISCERNING, ICONIC, PASSIONATELY FOODIE SURPRISE ALIEN GUESTS.

Cue shocked expressions through Perspex visors. Cue MasterChef flames. Cue McSpaceburger ad.

Cue shocked expressions through Perspex visors again.

Cue Hal: “But there’s a twist…” Cue ominous digital music. “Your guests have only one mouth between them and…” Cue over-long pause.

… “it is only used when there’s an ‘R’ in the month.” Cue MasterChef flames. Cue indestructible space paper towel ad.

Cue “It is only used when there’s an ‘R’ in the month,” again.

Catty is weeping. Matty looks to Bratty for guidance, but Bratty’s trying to remember which months are the ‘R’ ones. Tatty is defiantly confident – he knows his months backwards – but is swiftly put in his place by the MP3W, who thunders, “Respect me, respect me, respect me, respect me, respect me” until Tatty is forced to his knees – which, because it’s zero gravity, are above his head.

Cut to the MasterChef Space Module Kitchen, where our four contestants stand before the large, disembodied voice and the unblinking MP3W.

Cue Hal: “You have just 12.5 million light years to prepare 12 beautiful dishes. Luckily, you have the run of the entire MasterChef Space Module Kitchen Pantry to choose your beautiful ingredients. But Matty – because you won the Qantas Civil Aviation Invention Test, you get a head start of three millennia.”

Cue wry smiles and muffled clapping from the be-space-suited Catty, Bratty and Tatty.

The MP3W thunders, “Your time starts… Now. Now. Now. Now. Now. Now. Now.”

Cue Matty floating above a Coles spice rack. Cue MasterChef flames. Cue ad for Curtis Stone’s teeth.

Out for a duck


A Trojan duck

It’s been a while since Monetise This has put proverbial quill to parchment. This is due, for the most part, to some complicated tinkering with the mechanics of this site and to a general ennui brought on by Sydney’s thick, sweaty summer heat and the burble of cricket commentators.

When we’ve occasionally managed to stir our stumps to leave the cool embrace of the open refrigerator door, it has been to frolic, albeit self-consciously, alongside a youthful crowd to the strains of live music.

This is all part of this year’s concerted (hah!) effort to engage a little less with our sofa and a little more with that oyster of a world we’ve ignored for too long.

Two Door Cinema Club, The Vaccines, Jungle Giants – not names, genteel readers, that roll easily off a middle-aged tongue (if I had my way, ‘Two Door’ would be hyphenated, for a start…). But hell damn, they could all make sweet music and make our ears ring for 24 hours afterwards – just like the good old days.

My most profound discovery that night was that I was no less insecure and self-conscious in my mid-50s than I had been as a teenager, rigid with terror, propped against a wall at my first disco, as Marvin Gaye pulsated through ‘Heard it Through the Grapevine’. It didn’t help that I was wearing a denim shirt, which attracted several sideways glances due to its similarity to the uniforms of the security staff at the venue. A sartorial lesson duly learned, my blog brethren…

A week later – Hot Chip at the Enmore theatre, on the hottest day in Sydney for a trillion years. And yet another fashion conundrum, leading to a plaintive Facebook plea. What to wear? “Ketchup” was the smart-ass response from Andrew, my ever-dependable, faster-than-the-speed-of-light London wag.

Hot Chip seemed to attract a much more mixed crowd (and why not, we’ve all gotta eat, right?). Old, young, gay, straight, beautiful, not so much – all dancing (this time propped against each other). Sweat is a great leveller.

As is a barmy art installation. Down at Darling Harbour some geezer’s blown up a creepy giant rubber duck for this year’s Sydney Festival and everyone’s flocking to see it. But all is not what it seems, I fear (hope, actually). I suspect it harbours thousands of armed ducklings (that’s armed as in weaponry, not with actual arms rather than wings – that would just be stupid), waiting for their moment to steal forth under cover of night and storm the barbecue shops of Chinatown to liberate their doomed brothers and sisters.

And if they don’t, I’m going back to Darling Harbour with a very large knitting needle.

iPhone therefore iAm?

Filofax, a long-lost friend

A plague on iPhone and its evil creators. I missed three birthdays last week and countless others over the past year. They weren’t saved into my phone calendar. And, by the time Facebook litters my inbox with coy little messages about the Friends I Have with Birthdays this Week, it’s too Facebooking-late to send them a card, seeing as half those people don’t live in the same hemisphere as me.

Actually, sometimes I wonder about that – friends being so far away… Perhaps it’s something I said. Except I’m the one who left. So it must be something they said.

The cards are the thing. Facebook is great for keeping you in touch with people who make you feel inadequate about your deadly social life and general lack of achievement, but it’s not like tearing open an envelope and giving it to the dog to chew while you get all teary over the carefully chosen, handwritten card inside.

So, I’ve been building bridges with my Filofax, which has sat for too long, silent and accusatory, at the bottom of my Mary Poppins bag (the hulking one you put your big stuff in, like too-ripe bananas, a takeaway container full of last night’s quinoa, a pair of shoes, humungous sunglasses case – why, Sunglass Shack, why?! – and five pens). My other bag is for the iPhone, mostly.

And if not in the bag, it’s shoved on the desk under a teetering pile of bills paid and pending, sundry photographs, shopping lists and unread Walkley magazines. The repository of all knowledge, tragically abandoned by its late-adopter, tech-cowed owner.

Despite the neglect, it’s a handsome beast, this Filofax, with its red faux crocodile skin – a Christmas or birthday gift from my husband a couple of years ago to replace the one he’d bought me when we first met. A little flashy for my tastes (the Filofax, not my husband, although he has his moments). I preferred the original – soft and supple from years of handling (again, I’m talking the Filofax here, not any multiplicity of husbands).

But this young interloper has heft. Boy, does it have heft – it weighs a bloody ton. And when I do actually get round to opening it, the little plastic ruler-cum-bookmark is always locked in about five weeks behind the week it should be on. I flick through pages of forgotten reminders. Six more friends to make it up to. Sigh.

I mean well. Every year, I buy a diary refill and rewrite all my significant dates – usually on the hottest day of summer, sitting inside in nought but a sarong and a pool of sweat, so most pages are puckered and dappled for the year with inky watermarks. Birthdays are emphasised with a sprightly slash of citrus highlighter; anniversaries of deaths more restrained – ‘RIP DAD, 16’.

‘Dentist, 9am’ or ‘Lochie, roots’ might get a different coloured pen, but I’m not wasting highlighter on those suckers.

After the copying is complete, the preceding year’s Week to a View insert is then placed in an envelope, which is then marked with the relevant year and added to the dozens of other similarly filled envelopes in my filing cabinet, there to never again be retrieved.

But handy just in case. Ah, what manner of postmodern poetics could I summon by dipping into that collection of everyday minutiae…

Anyhoo, the reason this leathery tome is taking up so much of my  valuable time right now (and yours, you poor, unsuspecting fools) is that I’m just two weeks away from having to hand back my work smartphone and sign up for one all of my own.

And, keeping in mind my now well-documented lack of tech-savitude, you will understand, dear blog beings, this preoccupation with matters Luddite. And why I’m feverishly copying everything that’s on my iPhone by hand into my Filofax in case I lose my entire, albeit inconsequential, life in the telephonic transition that is soon to befall me.

But all is not lost – I’ve recently discovered a light at the end of this dank tunnel – and its name is iCloud. Yay, verily, the iGods may be crazy, but at least they know how to make a silver lining.


Brand power – flick off the switch on the way out, would you…

Well, well, well – here we are at a momentous time in our publishing history. Well, I am, anyway. I’m sure you’re somewhere else entirely, and rightly so if you know what’s good for you.

It seems that the ducks haven’t been in a row for quite some time, my friends – according to my other friend the elephant in the room. And my, what an elephant it’s been – the kind of elephant that everyone in the entire universe and beyond has been aware of for months, but only the people who are crushed against the mantelpiece behind it aren’t allowed to talk about.

No matter – ‘twas fun while it lasted. Mostly. And what talent I worked with! No, not you, Curtis Stone, nor you Gary and George and Matt and Matt (well, maybe the Preston one).

No – I’m talking about our art directors Natasha Allen and Vanessa Samuels – superstar creatives with unswerving patience and uncommon valour in trying circumstances (see above) – along with similarly endowed art editors Elizabeth Lough and Melanie Yun; food geniuses Sophia Young (enough said), Olivia Andrews, Dominic Smith, Jessica Brook, Sarah Hobbs – dream teams in every configuration; and a sub-editing line-up that not only blinded boys with their winsome ways, but who were all smart as whips and far, far better at subbing recipes than me – that would be Selma Nadarajah, Yasmin Newman, Zoe Lyon, Phoebe Macrossan, Samantha Jones and Rachel Hanson.

Good times.

Better food.

And plenty more besides. Splendid contributors and REAL food people, Leanne Kitchen and Marion Grasby, whose power with the written word and prowess with the pans have never ceased to delight, educate and cause an embarrassment of Homer Simpson-like drooling. And always filed on before deadline – bless your cotton socks. Wine wit and muso Greg Duncan Powell – a constant since Vogue Entertaining + Travel days; stylist extraordinaire Kristine Duran-Thiessen, whose ingenuity with a napkin and drizzling spoon are non pareil; and of course, Matt Preston, international man of mystery – but only when he’s waaaay over deadline with his copy. Apparently he’s scored a cameo on Lowdown which presumably doesn’t entail him judging a beautiful dish. Not the only one teetering at the brink of a new career, then.

So, that sodding row of ducks. This delightfully obtuse phrase was brought to my attention yesterday at an extremely long and rowdy lunch at the new Movida (oh, how I shall miss scattering those little insider foodie bon mots among the news-hungry) with the MasterChef Mag mob, by my partner-in-cynicism and formidable boss-woman, Trudi Jenkins, to whom I’m eternally grateful, among so many things, for keeping me company and being my immoral compass in this crazy little game we call magazines.

Or should I say, content platforms. Typical – just as I start getting to use this gibberish without being locked up in a padded cell, I have to rethink my career. I’m already boning up (ha!) on my doggy-day-care jargon. I’ll get back to you on that. According to Trudi, I’m two years behind with my corporate-speak anyway, so it may take a while.

Yeah, those ducks were all over the place, apparently. I blame myself (and I’m sure plenty of others would too, if they gave a fuck) – I thought it was a food magazine we were publishing. I had no idea it was about sports shooting, although it felt like it sometimes – usually at management meetings. Vale MasterChef Magazine – I’m going to miss you, but not as much as I’m going to miss the people… or the perks.

Ah, the perks. MasterChef aprons, MasterChef knives, MasterChef mixing bowls, MasterChef contestants, Curtis Stone measuring cups. Gluten-free flour, enough quinoa to feed a small South American nation (well, it’s them or us), obscure chutneys from Byron Bay and, worse, coffee from Byron Bay. Come on people – be honest now – there is no such thing as a decent Australian home-grown coffee bean. Our combined body weight in chocolate every Easter. Ditto mince pies every Christmas. Can’t say fairer than that.

So here we are then. The November issue will be our last – out on the 22nd of this month. The month doesn’t really have the suave cachet of a September issue, or the splendid, yet poignant, finality of a December issue, does it… But never mind. Go forth and buy it in droves, people – it would be good to give the finger to the bean counters by stuffing up their sales forecasts. Hell, it may even become a collector’s item.

But probably not.