Thursday, 25 July 2013

A letter to my other Grandma

Champagne Grandma …

There is no fizz as I write this note to you. I had hoped to get back to Brisbane to see you one last time after hearing the diagnosis was grim. In the event, there wasn't time.

I'm sorry I can't be at your funeral. Work pressures. Deadlines. Clients. There are plenty of excuses. There are always excuses. There is no excuse.

I was your eldest grandson. You were my last surviving grandparent.

My own mortality comes into sharper focus. And life will go on, as it does.

Indulge me a memory or two. My most vivid ones are of the old Station Master's house at Michelton. The dirt beneath the high-set worker's cottage mined with ant lion nests, funnels of slippery sand where ants would lose traction and end up in the maw of a monster.

The green conifer of some description festooned with spiked blue plastic-like pods, which resembled shipping mines from early wars, or perhaps a medieval mace.

Uncle Roger's room. Referred to with whispers and glances. The mysterious Uncle Roger. Larger than life. Elusive. An Elvis. Once or twice we glimpsed a sighting.

Grandad Crawford, with his fist-like calves, big knots of gnarled muscle rippling beneath his crisp white gartered socks. Taking me up to see the train levers, switching trains to different tracks, staying on the rails.

And Grandma Crawford, Violet, Vi, with her neat perm and twinkling eyes, fragile, almost birdlike to hug as the years went by and grandchildren grew bigger.

Later, Keperra. A comfortable brick home, comfortable retirement. Less mythical, sharper focus. The beer coaster collection. Jamaica. Why do I remember Jamaica? A coaster, or a poster perhaps. Some impossibly exotic rum juxtaposed with the ordinariness of the Brisbane suburbs. Long lazy stuffed Christmas afternoons that crept by with a torpor all of their own.

In later years, I enjoyed seeing the two Grandmas as partners in crime, mending fences, enjoying each other's company.

What memory will I hang on to as I sign off here? I'm sitting at Carmel, fondly remembered family gathering spot, coffee in hand, sea breeze whipping up and rattling the windows. Just me and Grandma Gags and Grandma Crawford.

Doing a cryptic crossword, or at least trying. And Champagne Grandma's razor mind slicing open anagrams and puns and scrambled words without any of the mind-twisting effort I required to solve them.

Life. Death. The big cryptic crossword. I never did know why we called her Champagne Grandma.

I still don't have a clue.

Bereavement completists, family members and other interested readers can find my piece read at the funeral of Ann Tree, my 'other, other' Grandma, and my dad's mother, here: here:

Friday, 12 July 2013

Fine dining's crisis: too many pairings, no full house

Sshh: That sound you can hear, that faint wooden rattle under an Evinrude's rudeboy roar, is the sound of The Fonz putting on The Skis so he can carry another fallen hero or epic failure on the now immortal waterski jump over The Shark. 

The latest fad du jour to jump the shark is wine pairing, which went from champagne supernova of cool to self-sucking sharknado of stale faster than you could say 'degustation menu'. Second raters and bandwagon jumpers cannibalised  the concept, and almost daily it descends to a new nadir.

You know the drill: Would-be or fading hotspot announces wine pairing menu, celebrity chef or sommelier is summoned to make the culinary couplings. If it's a hit, some quick PR buzz and celeb cachet rubs off. If it misses the mark ... see 'sharknado'. 

Done first, it was genius. Done well and with style, it had staying power. But the concept now is overcooked, burned and due to be scraped into the skip, and each breathlessly trumpeted new instance of this culinary charade is now haunted by the shadow of The Fonz as he soars overhead, legs akimbo, outsized wine balloon in one hand, huge rack of ribs in the other, and the towrope between his teeth.

It's clear things have gone too far when in certain Californian establishments, sommeliers spend their days investigating which fine wines work best with Pringles, Cool Ranch Doritos, KFC cole slaw, California rolls and pumpkin pie.

The entire industry is pretentious, drunk on self regard, bloated with hubris, and ripe for a reality check, if not a good stomping.

Some of the most celebrated wine tasters can't tell their eiswein from their elbow. The evidence is in: in a recent study, blindfolded wine experts given the same wine three times in a row delivered wildly fluctuating ratings on the same wines.

And pair that with this: A 2006 study, published by the American Association of Wine Economists, found that most people can't distinguish between paté and dog food.

For dessert, consider this critic's crash landing on the outer banks of wank: His 'principle flavour profile' for one bottle listed "red roses, lavender, geranium, dried hibiscus flowers, cranberry raisins, currant jelly, mango with skins, red plums, cobbler, cinnamon, star anise, blackberry bramble, and whole black peppercorn'', among others.

A king tide of pomposity and pretension is running, but this oenophilic onanism must have just about reached its high water mark. Soon, the ebb tide will begin its sucking scour. When grown men want to make a study of which Chilean chardonnays go best with what colour of M&M, it's time for change.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Bondage with Versace: luxury brands' dirty little secrets

Brand extension is a wonderful thing, broadening a brand's audience, reinforcing brand awareness, carving open the fat fresh breasts of new worlds of consumers. Brand extension is also a risible thing when branding boffins bungle or drop the ball, heading up some dry gully that is off message, off brand, off piste and simply reeking of wrong. 

That's when you get Harley Davidson for Kids fashion, Bic Disposable Underwear, Zippo For Her perfume, Dr Pepper Marinade and Eva Longoria's SHe Steakhouse For Women. (Yes, SHe). That's also when you hear Fonzie revving up the speedboat and strapping on his waterskis. 

Luxury brands jump the shark higher, further and with more gold leaf when they get it wrong. Which brings me to the point of this recent piece dashed off for South China Morning Post's glossy new Style magazine style - incontrovertible proof, incidentally, that I am a writer with Style. 

Just who exactly does "The Man Who Has Everything" think he is? And does he know how much he has to answer for?

It must surely be this most consummate of consumer who haunts the minds of the designers du jour as they toil in the ivory towers of the luxury brand houses - especially when their fancies take flight to the farthest shores of brand extension and all manner of oddities, objets d'art and arcane artefacts are emblazoned with luxury's sacred seals.

What do you get The Man Who Has Everything? Why, the Versace Bondage Bench, of course, as unveiled to a coterie of cognoscenti by Donatella Versace at Salone del Mobile, part of Milan Design Week 2013, recently. It is the work of the Haas Brothers, the prodigies who also gave us the Stud Club Chair, Honeycomb Side Table, and - cue chorus of cherubim and seraphim, god rays and gratuitous lens flare - the Donatella Chair.

The Brethren Haas are very much in the House. Very now. Their stuff is name-checked in Mario Testino shoots and devoured by Peter Marino, the uber-interiors architect and ur-leather queen whose rubbery touch can be felt in the Big Apple's swankiest luxury flagship stores.

Your Honour, might we approach the Bench? It looks too frail to unleash any seriously kinky stuff upon, and its oiled black leather, vestigial studs and taut straps look far too expensive to risk staining.

Perhaps its sole purpose is simply to invite contemplation, comment and the occasional choked double entendre from the green-faced unfortunates who don't have one. An opiate of the bosses. To paraphrase Morrissey, another redundant luxury item: "Why ponder life's complexities when the leather runs smooth on the Bondage Bench?''

It's a dangerous game these brands are playing, however. No one really knows where the edge is, because those who went over it aren't around to tell us their tale. One minute you are the toast of cool hunters who look like The Village People, the next, you are jumping the Damien Hirst shark.

Louis Vuitton's wheelchair for Lady Gaga packed its valise for the outer banks of political incorrectness, while the luxury behemoth's US$8,000 skateboard case must surely let rip with an ironic cackle every time it's opened. Aston Martin went potty with a baby stroller; Harrods went one better with a line of "posh" pot noodles.

Even Hermès, the luxury fashion and leather goods titan named for the cleverest of the gods, trotted out a "magazine strip chair" cobbled from floor scraps and cast-offs, teetering on the smart side of Spinal Tap's famous "fine line between clever and stupid".

I'm prepared to give the Bondage Bench a pass, even if this from the Brothers Haas makes me want to bang my head against its buttery hide: "The process is very important to us," Nikolai and Simon tell apparently in unison. "It starts with a spark of inspiration and then becomes a tangible form. Donatella was the spark, and this furniture collection is our interpretation of the legend and the house of Versace."

Spare us the spiel, boys, stick to furniture.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Now Everyone Can Lie ... grounded and pounded by AirHeinous

Final Call.... OK time to go. Except they already went.
Viva AirHeinous .... Air Asia has stooped to new lows: My colleague and company owner David Johnson and I, who fly these air pirates about once a week on average, missed out flight from Bali to Bandung just now because after delaying the flight for nearly an hour (a short history of time compared to the usual Air Asia delay) they went and took off while 'final call' was still showing on the screens.

We were sitting within eyesight of the gate and both of us can hear. Staff at Air Asia, in between sneers and giggles, told us our names had been called three times before the plane took off. An outright lie unless they called the flight at sub audible levels in some incomprehensible accent. And this at Denpasar, global aviation hub to one of the world's most famous resort islands.

I suppose we should count ourselves lucky that there was another flight at midnight - we only have a five hour delay rather than miss a crucial new business meeting tomorrow morning. This comes just weeks after Air Asia kept four high profile Hong Kong journos and the rest of the flight's passengers captive for almost 18 hours while feeding them an escalating farrago of twisted truths, fibs, porky pies and big fat lies.

The journalists eventually mutinied and went home, outraged at the treatment and in no mood to come on the press trip our agency, Delivering Asia Communications, had put together. Meaning a loss of ink to the value of over four million baht in terms of what was have been published.

Congratulations Air Asia. If this is how they treat the people who can pen nasty things about them, imagine how they treat the common man.
Let's lie with the world's best .... is that airline's nosecone growing longer?

Well, with sneers and lies and blank stares mostly.