Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Entertaining. It's like flying a plane you know

My earliest memories of dinner parties that my parents held are my sister and I getting up early  the morning after when the sophistication has gone and all that's left is some  Carrs Water crackers with a slice off egg and a small teaspoon of fish roe on top. The "caviar" has stained the egg slightly black but it's still a mouthful of adulthood - snuck while they are still asleep. The remnants are cleaned up quietly and the room is done.

The next room holds a a treasure trove of half finished deserts, dirty coffee cups with their rims gently marked with lipstick of all shades and in the center of the table - the ultimate prize - Tulip After dinner mints. The rectangle white box and the mint - in a small brown envelope - was what we were here for. You could sit up in the big chairs around the table and slide the mint out of the envelope and then put the envelope back in the box. The perfect crime.

After all how were they going to remember how many had been eaten ?

The rooms still smelt faintly of cigarette smoke and stale perfume. All of which to us was just another example of complete sophistication.

The diner parties were strictly off limits whilst they were in full swing. If you were going to interrupt it you better have either Ebola or have been the victim of a shark attack. Children were to be not seen and certainly not heard

My parents were the masters of entertaining, everything was perfect, from the gold rimed Noritake dinner set to the individually polished silver cutlery. The guests would arrive and champagne corks and polite laughter would pepper the evening, and then after a while they would all move from the lounge room to the dining room to consume delights prepared earlier.

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Well that was the 70's and 80's. Fast forward to today and the pressure to entertain well is akin to being a pilot of a 747. One wrong move and lives are at stake.

I'm blessed to be married to a woman whose attention to detail makes OCD look like a common cold so I'm ahead of the crowd from the start. But don't think that makes it any easier, nowadays Masterchef and every other TV chef proclaim to be able to make even The Incredible Hulk able to cook up a five course meal in 30 minutes or less. So the expectation is already set.

And to make matters worse the meals have to good for you as well, because the minute you re-create Adrian Richardson's Crackling Wrapped Pork Roast  with mash and tarragon salad, some one pipes up with the calorie count and the next thing you know the forks start going down on the table.

Now days portion control is a major point of contention. Serve up an American portion and you'll be howled down, serve a big plate with the food as a desert island swimming in an ocean of sauce and people will look to you for assurances that there a  lot more courses to come. You simply can't win.

There's now even a movement of people who only use ingredients that are transported  less than 100 kms away from where they are, which is fine but that would mean I would have to start keeping cows and banana trees in the park around the corner. Which would be pretty hilarious watching all the people walking their dogs in the park trying to stop them from eating cow pats.

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Anyway entertaining has certainly changed and if the people you are inviting over have even the remotest interest in food and you don't want them to get  Social Commitment Phobia when you invite them over, you can't just slap some Coles sausages on plates and hope for the best.

No,  you are going to have to do research, preparation and planning. Which means you have to get all those cookbooks down from the shelf and read them.

Again I'm luckily ahead of most people as we have been given a plethora of cookbooks over the years from which to research from. I often wonder with all the millions of cook books purchased/gifted if anybody actually makes dishes out of them (besides us) or are they simply used as a conspicuous display of knowledge.

So next time your better half says " Hey we should have our friends /family over for [insert occasion here] " I'd think twice especially if they don't like Coles sausages....

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Ride home ( a tale of perception )

I think he picked up my slipstream as I came through Birrarung Mar , I heard the clank of his gear and his shadow was almost completely on top of mine but just enough of a line for me to notice. I'm on my mountain bike so I'm just not going to be fast enough for him to stay there for long.

I get quite frustrated with the riders who sit right in line with your rear wheel and draft off the slipstream your body creates. This because there's no need to ride so close (not to mention it's lazy riding, they're using the slipstream to get the same speed but for less effort)

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Under the bridge and up on tho the pathways opposite Olympic Park, I keep the pace steady,  as to shake him off I'll have to work twice as hard. Past AAMI stadium and the shadow is gone but the click and every now and then the echo's off the various things we pass - trees, fences, signs, is still there.

Down the hill we go toward Burnley wharf. Sitting steadily on 29kph

As I come off the floating pathways and up the ramps toward the halfway mark it's the Big Hill time. The pathway dips down hard and then climbs sharply, corners hard and then begins a long descent to almost the level of the river  (it floods after a heavy rain) and instantly climbs up to the freeway level again. All the way down I here the click of his ratchet as he stops pedaling and allows the hill to do the work. Momentum carrying us up to 41kph and then slowing us almost instantly to 20 then 19kph.

At this point I decide to try and shake him by leaving the path and going on to the road than runs next to this portion of the pathway. It's shielded by the 15 foot sound barriers that stop the freeway hum from offending the people who live across the Yarra on the waters edge.

I still can't see him properly but the sounds are clear - the click of the ratchets and the occasional squeak of the pedals. Up into 6th and the speedo reads 30kph

Along the road we sweep, the sweat is now tickling my eyebrows and I'm breathing hard.

Second last rise in the road and I watch carefully for the cross traffic, the cars don't look - they expect you to. I slow slightly as the incline steepens and I change down to 5th, I can't hear him but I can feel him tucked in behind riding the slipstream and doing 20% less work than me.

I've hit the last  straight now and I click up a gear again to 6th and the speedo reads 32kph. I can feel each part of the muscle in my legs and the sweat now resembles tears running down my face.

Last rise past the girls school, I often see them in the morning loading boats into the river and wishing they were somewhere else. But not now, the heat rises from the road and they are nowhere to be seen.

I can hear the click of the ratchet in the rear wheel again as we pass the walls of the school and the squeak of his bike chain. Its unwavering and now slightly to my right.

200 meters to go.

I reach the turn on to Bridge rd and stop to one side as I've won. He didn't pass me and I turn around jubilantly to claim my victory.

As I look back along the roads straight line , it shimmers under the suns glare and it looks like it's coated in a film of water but I know it's not.
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There's nothing behind me.

There's no-one behind me.

I check again wiping the sweat from my eyes. My heart pounding.


I've been chasing myself. The click of the ratchet, mine amplified as I ride past sold objects. The squeaky chain the one part of my chain with some slight rusting.

I turn slowly onto Bridge rd and chuckle to myself. You have to be careful what you think are competing for.

Friday, February 17, 2012


" The road to hell is paved with good intentions." 

It's a popular variation of the original saying thought to have originated from St Bernard of Clairvaux who said "L'enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs" (hell is full of good wishes and desires)

Intention can be best described as the specific action or actions that a goal or outcome is aimed at. For those that follow along and are also fans of Freakonomics you will also know about unintended consequences. 
That is - the outcomes that were unexpected or unforeseen.

It would be fair to say I'm the master of those !

I often compare intention to New Years resolutions, you start at the absolute hard line and then quietly adjust it as time and reality creeps in. So for example, when I was younger I would make lists of all the resolutions I had to achieve in that year. Come the end of the year and a variation of the original had been achieved (sort of). So I began to learn that you had to be careful with the original plan.

In our house it goes a little like this :

It was our intention that the new dog would sleep outside at night. The reality was after 90 seconds of howling at the door, The Beloved relocated up stairs for the night with the minions and left me to deal with the noise. The next day a re-design of the "sleep outside" plan was developed. So we will be installing a dog door, which I have to organise.

It was our intention the at the dog would not be allowed on the bed. The second morning he was home he whined quietly and The Organised one picked him up and he was on. Now he knows that if a sleep in is trying to be had he will get some time on the bed by making noise.

Which is what he does now

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Every morning.

It was our intention that we would save money by shopping at the market. With two growing boys the bills were climbing up and the plan was to continue the healthy eating but at a reduced cost. The problem is that there are 2 supermarkets within 300 metres of the house. And you know I hate driving, parking and the rest of the rigmarole. Even with two grandma trolleys it still over flows both and we haven't been to the market yet.

It was my intention that I would teach the boys about bicycle maintenance by rebuilding a bike we found abandoned on the side of the road. I now have 3 incomplete bikes in the shed in various parts and stages.

None of them work.

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It was my intention that I would get the beloved a Valentines day gift ( with thought in it and prior preparation) yet there I was - Feb 14th at 3pm scouring around for gifts trying to find something.

So you can see that in our family good intention is discussed , put in to practice even, but  along the way .....

I put it down to life getting in to the way. I try to be a realist, I want for the best to happen but I know that I'll probably end up with some of what I wanted and some compromise chucked in for good measure.

And in the end I think that's what matters. That at least some part of the plan getting achieved and the benefit for me this teaches the boys that you have to be flexible and adaptive - Right ?

Monday, February 13, 2012

A new honour - Wizpert (or Dad on the Go Live ! )

Sometimes in doing what you love and are passionate about, some one says "Hey you are the kinda person we are looking for !"

But after some smarty pants nominated me for "Best Mom Blogger " and then a number of you voted for me, I was wary of such invitations.

So you can imagine my surprise when I was invited to join Wizpert, a service that matches you with an expert on the subject that you need advice on. So I dutifully filled out the details and away I went. I ticked the parenting box as I felt my travel and foreign language expertise could be a best considered poor.

And lets face it who better to talk to than the guy that did this and this to new jeans to get advice on avoiding such issues.

I also have the great privilege of talking to the CEO Michael Weinberg, about my blog and being part of Wizpert. He is a father of two and looks just like I expected an entrepreneur to look like - switched on and energetic.

So now you can talk to Dad on the Go live on Skype ( it's free ) and who knows maybe we can discuss avoiding this !

Friday, February 3, 2012

Why I can't be a spy

I really like spy movies.

I love the intrigue, the mystery of who is spying on who and the really big question - who are the good guys ? Spy movies tend to take us in to that perceived "underground " of our society. They show the threats we apparently never see and never hear about.

After all when you think about the agencies that ran the cold war during the 60's and 70's they were literally built on ensuring we were all afraid of something we couldn't see or had happened yet.

I would really love to be a spy, I mean look how glamorous it looks ! Cool gadgets, exotic locations, the positives around this obviously cool career are endless.

But when I sit down to analyse it , I have some, well, challenges........

#1- I can't drive - Spies seem to do a lot of driving. They drive to assignments, they get into lots of car chases and generally spend a lot of time in and around cars. My challenge is I am not a good driver. I like to look around constantly to see whats around. I also suffer from acute drivers rage, meaning I really hate everything other drivers do and the perceived wrong they have caused me.

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I just can't see me riding to assignments on a bike......

#2- Not great with  Never used a gun - Hard one to over come  as I literally have zero experience with guns. I know you get training but it will be most likely that I shoot myself in the foot. I also have a slight problem with killing people.

#3- Couldn't have a separate life from my family - I cannot lie to my wife. I look in to those crystal blue eyes and confess everything. Our whole marriage is built around us talking and discussing everything that is going on. And then there's the boys, how cool would it be to go home and tell them I just added a virus to an evil lab that caused it to stop producing a super bacteria and instead made a popcorn tree that pops when the sun hits it.

#4- I love to gossip - Nothing better than a good solid gossip about the world. So I would just find it impossible to hold in that X diplomat is secretly enjoying the company of Y's wife. This would also be a problem if I was captured and tortured - my captors would pretty much run out of video tapes with all the stuff I'd be telling them.
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#5 I am quite forgetful - If I was to become a double agent who then got re-doubled, that's going to be a real problem. I once had to set an outlook reminder each month for 6 months of the year as I kept forgetting my wife's birthday.

#6 I see the good in people - I have a bit of a problem believing that people are all bad. I would want to keep giving people second chances, which could cause issues later down the track. Probably nothing worse than continually running into people you were supposed to "take care of " but didn't.

So I guess rather than become a spy and end up like the cast of "Spies like Us" that classic 80's comedy

Russian Interrogator : Every minute you don't tell us why you are here, I cut off a finger. 
Emmett Fitz-Hume:  Mine or yours? 
Russian Interrogator :  Yours. 
Emmett Fitz-Hume:  Damn! 

I'll just keep doing what I'm doing.........