Christmas hack

Well, here we are again, with a seasonally cold day for the annual thing, Wonderkelpies wearing antlers and everyone else looking knackered while 2017 lurches to a close, flapping about in an ungainly fashion like a badly winged pheasant which it will continue to do prior to lying on its back, giving a couple of kicks and expiring quietly and we can have a crack at 2018. Which I am rather looking forward to, especially to find out what wheel has been reinvented, and, indeed, renamed, as a life hack.

Where did that one creep in and when? I know I’ve used it once myself, but it was in the context of a satirical piece dissembling about assembling a wheelbarrow, and scarcely counts. It is a word rabbit though, popping up everywhere, as rabbits do, and it’s getting to be very prevalent.

It is disturbing that we have to give common-sense and good advice, or just plain useful information a hip name to make people pay attention. It really is quite counter-intuitive and not quite good enough. Here’s a life hack, stop using jargon like life hack and think it through. And take out your earplugs when crossing the road. It might just save your life.

And anyway, hacking is what is done either to bring up a satisfying wodge of phlegm, to be inspected morbidly, or slagged a fantastic distance, at your discretion; or an activity carried out in a grotty grotto in Mom’s basement by a spotty grot called Neuman Fink to get through a firewall and have a look around. Or what Russians do at US Presidential election times.

So it is that we’ve been up and done the ritual emptying of the sacks of stash, along with commentary, such as the Human Locust’s observation, to the general amusement, that Charlottey had a sack full of diabetes along with the usual socks, jocks and books.

He was not much better not only identifying a bumper bag of M+Ms as diabetes, but a monster bag of Twisties as zits. He got to the end of the loot to observe that a new basketball would be good for working off the diabetes, and then pounced on a bottle of some unguent for washing the face of teenagers “and this will be good for the zits” he proclaimed, happy as anything.

I started on the first, second and third of three good books, – but was shortly cut short by the attending to the fixment of brunch, being the traditional yuletide nosebag of scrambled eggs, southern fried ham and grilled trout. Such repast is now finished and the kitchen cleaned within an inch of its life and all barbeque plates and frypans various given their heavy duty prewash courtesy of the above Wonderkelpie, having shed her antlers, and now working for a living.

The trout, as all Ovens River trout, was symphonic. These were obtained during the last Mountaingrass where I played bugger all banjo and did a lot of fishing in some of the most magical country in the known galaxy.

And will be next week for the Nariel Creek Folk Festival, and with some fishing thrown in if my mate Stubbsie has left any and for which some flies need to be made. That is, of course, after the usual hoggish excesses of the day, with the prospect of further loot.  In the meantime, I have at least 3 good books to read, and so do you.

If you don’t mind, Merry Christmas, I’m busy.

Posted in Mostly true stories | Leave a comment

That’s cricket. Or not.

It is a fine day in the sun in the best traditions of the game with players late due to a high school reunion and eating yourself sideways on a luncheon of epic proportions. There’s banter a-plenty and prandial and post match convivialities with due care and attention to proper form

After the working week and the mad rush that has become known as Saturday, a day of rest beckons. But no, there are those hardy and noble souls who, battling everything from a high school reunion to a new knee, dutifully don the whites and join battle with an equally eccentric convocation.

That’s cricket.

You can have a fine match in fine spirit and once again, another one notched up for the best traditions of the game. And that’s cricket when we say “that’s not cricket,” vide some act of perfidy, such things never happening in cricket. Ever. Because when you are playing cricket, no matter if the other side is behaving in a manner that would warrant one uttering “that’s not cricket”, you never say “that’s not cricket”.


You are ineffably gracious in victory and, even better, insufferably so in defeat. Peter Ustinov remarked that this is where the real victory is won, with the loser so graciously gracious to the point the victor feels positively indecent. He didn’t say it exactly that way, mark you, but that is the general thrust of it. Go and read his book or google it.

There is, nevertheless, a perverse dichotomy (which sounds like it is extinct megafauna, but isn’t), in the fact that we only say “that’s not cricket” in respect of things happening in the context of things that are not actually cricket.

Maybe that is what is the comfort against the reality that keeps us coming back, knowing that in playing with proper form you are going to have fun no matter what but wear what comes your way. Including sledging. From your own team, generally.

Because the reality is, cricket is a cruel game. It is one where heart and soul can be torn asunder with a dodgy leg before decision either as a batter or bowler. I’ve had both in my time, sometimes in the same game, and it can cut you deeply.

Being a large country we often travel long distances to wear the whites. But cricket is too fickle to respect such commitment. In this country you can drive 3 hours for a golden duck. I’ve seen it happen and it is as heartrending as a lost kitten in a blizzard.

You can be the strike bowler on the last ball of a match with a six required and you put every shred of your being into an attempted yorker that would have brought you glory beyond measure and price. Instead you bowl a full bunga and it goes back over your head and into the next postcode.

I’ve seen that one too. And it puts a hell of a lot of other misfortune in the shade, for mine.

On the upside, things like that are a marvellous antidote to being absent of mind:  No-one ever lets you forget.

Posted in Mostly true stories | Leave a comment

The meaning of life? Tighten loosely

Hey ho me hearties.  I must say I am rather enjoying a garage/mancave restoration project. Over the last 3 weekends I have now found every single spanner, sprocket, socket, fucket, where is it? handtool, doover and generally useful thing that has been lost as far back as the second term of the Howard Government. The temper that I had lost in the interregnum, looking for the bastards, will not be restored.

The first phase was the building of a space-saving shelving solution, aka a mezzanine, built entirely from recycled timber specially selected at the Green Shed in Mitchell (where the real tradies shop) and collocations of common Anglo-Saxonisms of mine own creation. The “mezz”, which is head high and 2mx2m has a carpeted area underneath with room for a couple of chairs. It is very nice.

Phase two was the sorting through of crates and boxes and bags of crap, putting stuff away, throwing stuff out and frankly wondering what the hell some of this stuff is or its provenance. Phase three will be a final putting away and throwing out of peripheral stuff that made the first cut but is now on its first written warning.  It’s nearly all done and the chore is made even easier by cranking up an old tape of Butch Robins and some live John Hartford – or when he was alive at any rate and it seems to have general approval.  For instance, Charlottey gave instructions for her chin up bar to be installed on the mezzanine somewhere.  I didn’t have the right bolts and couldn’t be arsed going out.  But. We have a couple hours of daylight left, and I’m still on the do something ride, so what to do?

Now the Kelso wheelbarrow has not been well and on its last legs, the bucket anyhow, rusted through and gone in the bum. I hies me to hardware emporia various to look for a replacement tub and none to be had unless by special order.  A new 100l tub costs thirty Australian dollars more than a whole new one, albeit one you have to have some experience with anything from Meccano upwards to build yourself. Not quite good enough and I swearingly purchased the latter, giving the tub of the one that had breathed its last a reprieve from the crusher and it will start a new life as a flower garden with the frame repurposed to shift firewood. So there.

In the garage, with a greater portion of the shite of Christendom sorted, sifted and put away, leaving a workspace you could build the Titanic in I immediately filled said space with a disassembled wheelbarrow, layed out per the plan, looking like a fossilzed triceratops. I also read the instructions. And they were not bad. Not the worst I’d ever seen (microwave instructions on noodles in Spanish are buggers). The part nomenclature was clear enough: wheelbarrow tray, wheel, axle. But then it went off at a tangent and you wonder whether you’ve bought mountaineering kit: base pad, base wedge. Pleasingly there were handles and then it got all anatomical and safety conscious: leg, leg brace, nose guard and so on, down to the nuts, bolts, washers, spring washers, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all.

Utterly delighted to have had every part in the schedule actually supplied I got to work. Checking I had the right tools – and I still have no idea what a slotted screwdriver is, but I have a screwdriver that goes into slots and it worked swimmingly. There was also a helpful hint that was so blindingly obvious that they had to state the blindingly obvious but did so in the most understated way, as if fearful of causing offence by the mere suggestion of how we might do it without ending up with dead knees and a new bulging disc:

“A pair of saw horses or similar raised work platform will be useful during the assembly”.

Right too. The rest of the instructions took some work, and, given the suggested sequence, a degree of contortionism, both physiologically and with the noggin. Now, the base wedge (and if you had been paying attention I mentioned the base wedges earlier) has a bevel edge and long square edge and you get a diagram which is intended to show which is which and you are none the wiser; but this is critical because you then get asked very nicely to position the wedge correctly:

“Please send the Long Squre Edge of Base Wedge (C) towards the handle (D) And send the Bevel Edge of Base Wedge (C) towards the Base Pad (B)”. I don’t mind saying that had me flummoxed for a bit. I mean, there appears to be a whole etiquette to this  How do you send the wedges anywhere and do they need a letter of introduction?  Social standing is at stake.

Handy hint: if you get your Edge Wedge arse about the holes for the bolts wot attach to nuts and largely hold the whole caboodle together won’t line up.

And in terms of the nuts and bolts as this is a rather clever contraption of polycarbonate and metal, everything gets the bolts inserted first and then you tighten your nuts. If you tighten your nuts too early this chucks the balance right out and the bastard won’t go together. Which I found out.

Paying more attention to the instructions, after finally fitting the leg brace and wondering if tomorrow I’ll need a neck brace, I saw that for the fitment of a nut to a bolt there is, on many levels, a good life hack. In respect of this nut, and all the other nuts, once the bolts are in and it is hanging together:

“Tighten loosely”

I just love that. There’s no “DO NOT OVERTIGHTEN!!!!!” or “Overtightening of nuts in contravention of these instructions will result in all guarantees or warranties, express or implied, howsoever described, deemed void ab initio, and the product purchased will be fecked and so are you”.


“Tighten loosely” There’s so much wisdom in those two words I almost want to scream. I’m going to use it in a meeting, see if I don’t.

And so should you.

Posted in Mostly true stories | Leave a comment

Uluru: Statement from the Heart

As we move into National Reconciliation Week there are some milestones: The 20th Anniversary of Bringing them Home, the 25th anniversary of Mabo and the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum where 92% of Australians voted to allow  Indigenous peoples to be counted in the census.

I often wonder about the other 8%. I merely surmise they are the ancestors of the the current crop of the angry, frightened and ignorant right wing rump otherwise known as customers of Rupert Murdoch, flagwits, Reclaim Australia and the joint and several political parties characterised by a permanent state of offence that other people are not like them.

The theme for #NRW2017 is “Let’s Take the Next Steps”.  In my workplace we are very committed to reconciliation. We are going to be writing down our personal commitment to what our steps will be.  I know mine already – and that is to support wholeheartedly, and without reservation, and be an advocate for the intent, spirit and goals of this extraordinary document. This Statement from the Heart.

The usual suspects, or the descendants of the 8% will try to paint this statement as divisive.  On the one hand that would appear to miss the point.  But missing the point is not the point.  The point will be trying to obfuscate. To muddy the waters. And, with no shame or sense of irony – to divide.

That will be the actual point.

But this Statement seeks to unite.  This is made clear in the first substantive paragraph:

Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.

Reading that back and writ large is an intertwining of faith, fact, law and science. This is a commonality between our peoples and reflects, ultimately, that we cannot turn back the clock.  You cannot change history. But you can learn from it and thereby guide the future.

Now this is where it gets predictable. The 8 percenters will repeat the tired old trope that we are living in the here and now, that they were not responsible for what happened, and why should they feel guilty?

But let’s just have a look at that and give it some analysis.  Yes, we are living in the now and no – you were not responsible.  However, what about the notion of having a shared history?  Which I think this Statement reflects. Shared history is important.  We are taught in school, for example, about the importance of our relationships with Britain and the USA.  Why?  We have a shared history and that has influenced our present and will continue to do so. Those aspects of shared history are many and varied and one is a major one: war.

And here is another thing.  Inasmuch as Indigenous Australians are told to “get over” colonisation and everything it brought, why are we not “over” Gallipoli or Pozieres?

It might also beg the question of why we have living ex-service-people sleeping rough on the street or committing suicide for want of support while $650m can be found for memorials for people who have been dead 100 years.  It may reflect an inability to deal with the here and now, it being far more comfortable to get a faraway look in your eye, wear a poppy, talk nobly about sacrifice, buy another beer and play two-up.

I am not suggesting for one second we ought not have ANZAC Day.  Taylor, J 2304306 has participated in the one day of the year as part of a catafalque party, I’ve marched with my mates and all of that.  I recognise it from a sense of place from history, and a sense of shared history with those other men and women.  Many other people do the same, and not just with ANZAC Day. It could be any day where there is something momentous from history to commemorate, and we come together to do it. If Carlyle was right and that history is the essence of innumerable biography, then it means it is nothing other than what we share as people and as a people.

So why cannot we approach a concept of shared history with Indigenous Australia?  John Howard pissed in the soup with the “black armband” view.  A more accurate description is white blindfold.  In not acknowledging that history a message is actually being sent “I don’t care”.  This is going to happen over the next few days.

Then the right wing media, Bolt, Windschuttle, Akerman, Devine and other such great thinkers of the modern age will respond to the inevitable dog-whistle and after a preliminary round of mutual arse-sniffing on Sky News or some such other echo chamber, the yapping of “Guilt Industry!!” will commence.

It is all getting rather tedious.

I am unsure of what it is in the psyche of the conservative commentariat but there seems to be an inability to separate empathy and compassion from guilt.  It may surprise people to know that it is entirely possible to feel empathetic and compassionate and have a genuine desire to want to help without feeling a shred of guilt or shame or blame.

I have no feelings of guilt for what amounted to genocide in this country.  Then again, I’ve never experienced dispossession and I cannot imagine what it must feel like to be a curiosity in your own country, or not feel you are on your country on equal terms.

But I know what it feels like to want to help someone who does not have it as good as you.  Many other Australians know that feeling too.  That is why we have volunteers and charities: the Salvos, the Red Cross, Vinnies, the White Coats, Medecin sans Frontieres and a myriad others. This is an innate desire, and in some cases, need, to roll up your sleeves and do your bit to make someone else’s life a little better, if you can.  And I would give fairly good odds that not one of the army of people who go out and do this work, day in, day out, for little or no monetary gain do so out of anything to do with guilt. They do so out of empathy and compassion:  Two of the things that make us human. And they do so because they want to make Australia better, as well as be better Australians.

So why is it so hard when it comes to Indigenous Australia?  It need not be the case.

I think that is the point of the Statement from the Heart.  They are not asking for us to make reparations out of guilt.  Nor is this Statement a request for a hand out or even a hand up. It is a request for a hand on equal terms. They are asking for nothing other than that which we take for granted as our birth-right or citizenship right, to take their place alongside us, because currently they do not and cannot.

Why is this the case.? Principally because, I think, they are regarded as a defeated people.  And there is an ugly streak of “winners are grinners” than runs through part of the Australian psyche. They are regarded as losers, even though they never ceded sovereignty.  But against firearms, alcohol, disease, strychnine laced flour and waterholes, being treated as fauna up until 1967, stolen children and otherwise relegated to missions where you needed a pass to go into town you don’t really stand much of a chance of victory. A referendum is great but it will not do much except trap you in your equality; when what is really needed is equity.

Equity, in my view, and I think this is consistent with the concept in whitefella law, means recognising and acknowledging that sovereignty, in the sense of the document was never ceded and co-exists with Crown sovereignty.  This will be a difficult concept for many to grasp, even for the well-meaning:

This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.

You note again the intertwining of our cultures, going beyond the notion of shared history and exploring shared concepts of being. This is in the reference to ancestral ties to the land or “mother nature”. You will also note the concept of birth, death and being returned to the land.  Who has not heard that at a funeral service for a friend?

And what about spiritual sovereignty with respect to land?  We all recognise that, for we all know that links to what we call home go deeper than a crown lease or discharge of mortgage.  In the The Castle Darryl Kerrigan taught us that and so did his lawyer and it is more than just a vibe.

I don’t read anything in this document that seeks to be divisive and assign blame for past wrongs. To read that in would actually be to miss the point.  What this Statement says to me is that we are in the here and now and we are here because of the past, but we can do something now and pass it on for the future.  This Statement is seeking a fundamental pathway. Righting wrongs is all well and good but for the future we need to break the cycle and thereby influence the future.

Important work is being done in that area, but not many know of it:  Empowered Communities. This is a national framework, which, at its heart, is about Aboriginal communities taking control of their own destinies and breaking the cycle of passive welfare and all that which goes with it.  But don’t just take my word for it, read the report.

I was privileged to be seconded to the West Kimberley from Feb to April 2017 where I had the honour to work on a project associated with Empowered Communities and also meet and work with some of its leaders, one of whom has ultimately played a role in the shaping of the Statement.

Now, I considered myself reasonably enlightened when I got to Broome.  A few days in and I was profoundly angry.  When one reads the media one either gets the shock horror depravity rubbish of the Murdoch press, or, let the record show, this being what I have been told, the sob stories in the more left leaning media.  Both wings of this very confused avian critter are misguided and wrong-headed.

In the West Kimberley, and in many other regions, the Empowered Communities model is providing real change and positive results.  There are Aboriginal people standing up and making a red-hot go of things with education and trade training, governance, preventative health, suicide prevention, youth leadership.  It goes on and on.

But mainstream Australia is being told none of this.  This is happening right under our noses and, for some unfathomable reason, we are told relatively nothing.  This is both is shameful and irresponsible.  If nothing else it is a lowest common denominator perpetuation of the patronising attitude that Indigenous Australians have been dealing with for over 2 centuries:  the whitefella even gets to decide what blackfella stories get told.

Well, as Gandhi and Shakespeare might have said: “Fuck that shit”.

It was during my secondment that I had some wonderful discussions with my colleagues in my host organisation.  One in particular I remember with a young woman, trying to bring up a kid by herself and finish her law degree. We got talking about reconciliation and how we could make things work and so forth and I finally got the point she was making.  Her world-view was that reconciliation is not just about making Indigenous lives better.  It is about making Australia better for all of us.  Of course, with true reconciliation non-Indigenous Australians will benefit.  And you don’t have to be Einstein to work out how.

On a spiritual level the entire country – whether you are part of the guilt industry or not, will be better off.  With less passive welfare we will see a better return on investment from the taxpayer dollar spend on health, education, welfare, the justice system.  With greater employment the tax base is broadened.

With new businesses and investment you promote the free flow of capital. And on a cultural level you get a mutual understanding.  How is any of that divisive?

This much is illustrated here:

We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country

And this:

Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.

And finally, this:

In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

Which captures again our shared history and, so fundamentally and importantly, a vision for a shared future.  The time for symbolism is over.  Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters, our fellow Australians, seek to be heard.  I think it is time we all sat up and listened and then joined that trek.

Let’s take the next steps.


[In the preparation of this chapter of my blog I pay my deepest respects to the people of the West Kimberley for inspiring me to change my life]

Posted in Mostly true stories | Leave a comment

On the Road Again

Just can’t wait to get on the road again

The life I love is making water with my friends                                                                                  (Willie Nelson, coach tour of Spain)

Of course a coach tour is not really the same as being on the road as a musician, so I’ve heard.  In the latter, bad breath and a hangover is practically obligatory.  And you don’t have a tour guide/director nagging your socks off.  

The last time we did a coach tour it was pre-kids and we went up the North East of the USA and into Canada with a mix of folk from England, Wales, Eire, the Netherlands and some total pain in the arse sovereign citizen “I don’t have to pay tax, its in the Constitution” types from Queensland – one of whom I ended up in an argument with about Constitutional law, about which I know something having passed it, when it was de rigeur to fail, and finished a devastating submission on said subject “now shut the fuck up and leave me alone”.  He did.  

On the tour, two ladies from Eire became firm friends, one, a pillar of society in Cork, becoming a lasting travel companion on a number of other trips, including our last foray to the Dingle Peninsula and with whom we shared the inestimable pleasure of witnessing a local farmer unleashing the ripest of profanities upon a sheepdog.  The pillar of society practically swooned and I managed to persuade Charlottey that the farmer was telling the dog what to do in Gaelic.

The tour guide was a dour and boring as batshit Dutch woman called Susannah who took us to all the choicestly tacky tourist traps and appeared to be on a sling from the proprietors of same.  I certainly witnessed her taking a couple of brown paper bags in the same embarrassed fashion that the unashamedly corrupt never display  Naturally we rebelled.  For example we were practically ordered to all have lunch in the one spot near Kennebunkport.  It was one of those all-you-can-eat buffets where the food looked like shit and tasted worse.  However as our coach (part of a flotilla of 4) pulled into town we espied a rustic looking place on the river, with a water-wheel and what to any trained Australian eye looked like a beer garden over the water.  A big sign said “Fish and Chips”.  Right.  While Susannah’s back was turned we skedaddled and made our way to this waterside Nirvana.  It is my patriotic duty to advise that every single citizen of Felix Australis from the tour had done likewise.  And while our compatriots were given the goose liver treatment with factory swill and warm coke we dined royally on swordfish steaks, chips as only are prepared in the umpteenth layer of heaven, washed down with craft beers.

We got in a lot of trouble for that.

Our current tour director has missed his calling.  The chap’s name is Enrique.  Young, handsome and looks a lot like Ricky Martin.  But this is Spain and most of the blokes, and a large percentage of the women do as well, so it is nothing to be too excited about.  He should either be in stand up comedy, although the recycled 2 Ronnies jokes are a bit naff, or early childhood education.  He is obsessed with the regularity of our bowels and ensuring our bladders do not burst.  In the pre-tour meeting some 50% of the time was spent in discussing the need to maintain hydraulic efficiency and, as Phil the Greek once observed, “never lose the opportunity” for a pee.  Such is his solicitousness vide same I would not be surprised if we had pulled up in some secluded spot on the highway and got ordered off the bus for him to produce some plastic receptacles and shout “potty time!”.

 The local guides were much the same, directing our attention to landmarks, toilets, art, toilets, souvenir shops, toilets, restaurants with toilets.  And toilets.

I’ve not been told to go to the bog so much since kindergarten.

The tour commenced in Madrid, where we had spent a few days already.  Of course a visit to Madrid is not complete without a mosey around the Prado Gallery – a counterpoint, if you will, to the perplexity of the Marcel Broodthayers retrospective elsewhere.  Is the art magnificent?  Yes.  What’s it worth?  Squintillions.  Did I like it?  No.  Walking from room to room observing for the umpteenth time the crucifixion, the resurrection, the persecution of this person, the martyrdom of that one, etc it was all death, death, deathity-death with a loving spoonful of the worst imaginable, and unimaginable tortures, such as The Hanging by the Bollocks of St Goolius and most of it in the nick. 

Now, I’m as broad minded as the next man but this art (and Marcel and his eggs were looking better by the minute) was evoking a sense in me that the creators and purveyors of same had a prurience not quite in keeping with what one might generally associate with any particular form of morality.   Worse, it seemed also to be largely in the name of perpetuating, via scaring the shit out of you, a series of myths for the purpose of preserving an existing social order and structure, rather than anything else, with a strong and rather tasteless S+M/necrophiliac theme going on. 

As Christopher Hitchens said “Christianity is a sick death cult”.

After an hour of so of I found it all positively oppressive.  It was almost like a weight on my shoulders, which you ought not mistake for guilt as I am a born again atheist.  I just yearned for something a bit more cheerful than a highly colourful representation of the bloody awfulness of the human condition as represented and perpetuated by religion. That a lot stuff all allegedly comes from a period allegedly known as the “renaissance” don’t matter a hill of beans.

Because if it represents a transition from the so-called Dark Ages, the transition is little more than watching porno in digital rather than analog.

Charlottey was feeling the same way, little bloody heathen that she is, but she sparked up when we did find a lovely painting of Noah counting the animals in 2 by 2.  A wide range of critters were represented in this particular work but I am sure that certain precautions should have been taken – like segregating the rabbits for starters.

One work did actually catch my eye and did hold my interest (apart from the stoning of a Saint and I noticed his second toe was longer than his big one – an attention to detail that is commendable) and that is Mary and the Souls in Purgatory (Pedro Machuca C16).  This represents herself and her baby expressing milk from her breasts onto tortured souls in Purgatory thus cleansing them etc.


Pedro Machuca – had a lot of problems, that lad.

Now do not for one moment think I am actually being smutty.  Breast is best and all that sort of thing and to hell with anyone who gives a mother a hard time for feeding a baby in public.  But as I studied the painting and read the screed that went with it and reflected on what it all means and such, but one thing went through my mind “What the bloody hell was Pedro thinking?”  This is the wife of a Jewish Galilee chippie for goodness sakes, not a post-partum Kim Kardashian shooting YouTube clips.  I did ponder whether Pedro might have been wet nursed or bottle-fed or was just a boob man and got nowhere with it.  He would have had Freud knackered.  And I’ll tell you something, come out with something like that these days, and the protests vide Piss Christ would look like a picnic in comparison.

Leaving the Prado and the Super-Soaker Virgin and it’s time to meet our group.  Ricky has us gathered in the dining room and gives us the low down of all the do’s and don’ts.  Most of it is don’ts, including, peculiarly, not using the loo on the bus.  We can use any others the length and breadth of the Iberian Peninsula and are actively encouraged to do so.  But not the one on the bus.

Another don’t is pocketing nosh from the breakfast buffet to nibble on throughout the day.  Firstly, they don’t want the bus to get all manky and secondly – well, there isn’t a secondly.  While we might have paid for the food we are only permitted to eat it in the actual room.  The waiters will be watching us like hawks.  Ha.  I’m here to tell you that me and my crew are expert foragers, as has been explained elsewhere, and can pocket muffins, croissants, fruit and bread rolls in a sleight of hand that would leave Harry Potter scratching his head.  And we are on the road after all so thinking of a rainy day is an article of faith.  We managed.

We are issued with little receivers with earpieces


Talking into your cuff is fun

This is for the purpose of shoogling us from point of interest to point of interest without having to shout.  Ricky said these things were called “Whispers” which evinced some snickering among some of the ladies and a few of the blokes, noting that this is also a brand of feminine hygiene product, or “ladies’ tackle” as my Grandad would have it, in many parts of the world.  Although not Spain, apparently.  Everywhere we get off the bus we are exhorted to “Don’t forget your Whispers” and Ricky didn’t twig to why this produced muffled hilarity.  Bless.

The fun bit is that there is an earpiece on a cable and we all wander about looking like the Secret Service would look if an Oompah-Loompah was President.

Oh. Wait.

The tour group itself was a mishmash of folk from a few different places – Sri Lanka, Wales, Canada, India, Taiwan, Singapore and Oz.  There are some interesting personalities such as the two that wait for the precise moment for Ricky to be imparting important information concerning timings, safety and stuff and immediately start talking, to be comprehensively “shooshed” with extreme prejudice.  Then there is the sociopathic dentist from Ontario with a European accent straight from Transylvania who flatly refuses to rotate on the bus because of “travel sickness”. Pig’s arse – she just wants the best seat behind the driver.  On walkabout she attaches herself to Ricky and the local guides as with a portable umbilical cord and won’t shut up with pointless observations and frivolous and vexatious questions, is constantly walking in front of photographs or standing in the way with an evil look on her dial; probably much like the one she adopts when doing root canal without anaesthesia and is otherwise as popular as dentists generally are.

Why someone so bloody awkward and anti-human comes on a group tour is beyond me.  She may have been genuinely lonely, but she was also genuinely a pain in the arse, according to the two who had initially room-shared with her.  She insisted on sleeping with the dunny light on, snored like a chainsaw, talked to herself both in awake and sleep mode and, given the accent, was likely a vampire.  Anyhow following an unfortunate incident in Alhambra the two rotators claimed to have the ‘flu and didn’t want the Countess of Bathory to get it and so are happy for herself to continue the tour with her own room.  Ricky assented and the gleam of triumph in the ivory mechanic’s eye was nothing to the look of relief and joy of her former room-mates. Whenever I picture this person as a dentist I can only imagine the her looming over me with the instruments of torture held firmly, looking like Hannibal Lecter with a good appetite.

So we hit the road with our destination being Granada, but a stop at Toledo for a dauner around the old city.  One word for Toledo – spectacular.


Holy Toledo

Toledo, like a lot of places in Spain is as old as recorded history, as back as the BC times it was a fortified city, occupied over time by the usual suspects: Romans, Visigoths, Arabs and Moors until Alfonso VI got the Spanish shit in a sock and re-took the city.  The 3 main Abrahamic religions managed, on one view, to generally live alongside each other here during a period known as La Convivencia (The Co-existence).  There is an alternate school of thought that while the three religions did manage to co-exist there was hostility and violence which only seemed to subside following the establishment of Catholic rule which included the expulsion of the Jews and the forced conversion or slaughter of the Muslims.  Sigh.  Imagine.

The old city of Toledo is a joy to wander around in.  The streets are incredibly narrow.  Chavi, our local guide, explained that this was a Moorish thing, keeping the streets cool in summer and shelter from the cold winds in winter.  Cars are actually driven down these streets – less than 10% room for error with a bee’s dick allowance of zero:


Panel beaters lead rich, full lives in Toledo

Toledo is very well known for a fab piece of artwork by El Greco (the Greek) – The Burial of the Count of Orgaz.  OK, another death theme, but with a great backstory.  The Count was a great philanthropist and decreed that when he carked he was to be buried in an unassuming grave and he was such a decent chap, as evidenced by his large gifts of moolah to the Church that St Stephen and St Augustine personally dropped by to bury him.  They did it in front of everyone too, which is kind of neat:


Not a bad send off

A couple of fun facts.  The kid in the front row is El Greco’s son, Jorge.  Note, however, how he is holding the torch.  The little scamp is setting fire to bloke in the grey cowl. And if you take a closer view of the look on his face he knows exactly what he is about.  Fine boy.  Also, the bloke looking at us immediately above the raised hand is El Greco.  Ergo, an early selfie.  What you won’t find in the books, according to Chavi, was that while the picture is utterly fab, those in higher authority felt that El Greco was taking the piss somewhat and he fell out of favour. Even so, in high season the queue to get to see the painting is often several hundred metres long. Unless you are French, of course, and you go straight to the front.

Toledo is also possessed of a swish Catedral:


We didn’t go in.  The last Catedral we visited was in Madrid where on our way back from a major tapas blow-out we dropped into the Catedral. We were met at the front of the crypt by this:


Televangelism has nothing on this

It was “voluntary”.  Right.  That’s why they had an enforcer on the door.  I dropped in a 5 Euro note.  And we wandered about noting there are some really creepy wooden altar boys that follow you around.


I thought this little bugger was a pickpocket

At Toledo they were less subtle.  Entry fee E10.  This is the second richest Catedral in Spain.  Sorry, but am I missing something here?  Two Catedrals.  On prime real estate, worth a bomb, owned by arguably the richest Church in the known Galaxy and they are either panhandling for donations or charging a flat fee to get in while, noting the scenario in Australia (and elsewhere) fighting tooth and toenail to not pay compensation to people who suffered the most appalling abuse as kids and not paying, as an institution, tax.  Well, as Shakespeare might have said “fuck dat shit”.

Also the votive candles are not only electric but you only get to light one with the insertion of .50c.  How cheap is that?


Expect change. Except from vending machines and the Catholic church.

Confession – this photo is actually from Lisbon, but I got unnerved in Madrid due to wooden altarboy. William though it was Chucky’s cousin.

The hypocrisy is breathtaking.  But then again hypocrisy and religion go hand in hand.  And on the other hand, take masturbation, the penalty for which has traditionally been anything from going blind to burning in hellfire and everything in-between.  Check out this guy though:


Just looking for my car keys, Mother Superior.

Enough of this juvenility. Toledo, as any boy scout who had one of the red handled sheath knives in the 1970s will tell you (leather sheath too!) makes good steel.  Every second shop was a veritable armoury of blades of every shape and style and we were fortunate enough to visit a place with the oldest forge in Spain:


Need one for the shed

We then had a tour around the shop.  Note the displays.  A lovely advisory was that “You are strongly advised not to play with the swords”.  Pig’s arse to that.  The shop became a scene from Braveheart and some of us were lucky not to lose an eye, arm, leg or anything else.  So for those of you that like to get your Jaime Lannister or Brienne of Tarth or even a Highlander without a Scottish accent or a Spaniard with a Scottish accent on and wander about tooled up, have a squint at this lot:


Stocking stuffers


Genuine Spanish Samurai Swords

Hello muddah, hello faddah

Next stop, Granada.  This is, of course, where one of the most elegant and wonderful historical sites, Alhambra, is at.  There is lots and lots to say about Alhambra, but the best thing to do is wander around and take in the utter splendour of the place.

Alhambra is incredibly romantic.  Part it was built especially for a honeymoon by Prince something or other.  Him and the wife rooted themselves stupid in it and then used it for nothing else. A more recent tale has more of the flowery stuff

At Alhambra there is a schedule tighter than your quoit when you have the trots and a cough, with timed entrances. Miss your entrance time and you’ve done your dough. One of our number, travelling solo, a youngish lady from Singapore, following the advice of Enrique to always use the restrooms as much as possible, wanders off in search of the ladies’. Didn’t tell anyone, although her then room-mate did know she’d gone off but said nothing. While away our local guide, Miguel, comes back with our tix and we have to go. At a canter. A number of us voice concern for our colleague. Mig is a bit callous, and only after a bit does he go and talk to a guard and get them on the look out. Some of our number step off smartly but about half of us dawdle like anything, with one young bloke trying to call said waif and stray (who was by now having a panic attack we learned later) and me and my young bloke keeping a lookout as arse-end Charlies.  No dice. Our timed ticket has come up and we have to go. And we do. At a snail’s pace, and Miguel, picks up the vibe and slows up too. Hevenchewually he gets a call. Our colleague ” ‘as been founded” and he vaminoses off to go and get her while we all stay put and behave. Actually we wandered off and buggerised about. Presently he returns with herself – and there are tears and hugs all round. 

Of course this would have put everyone on notice to stick together. Yeah, nah. The straggling became intense as the episode brought together those who had wanted to stay and wait, and they faffed about, taking silly photos and generally wasting time. Loved it and Miguel thought it funny too. Anyhow, we got back to the parking lot and there is our lady’s saviour, a complete dish of a chap who is a guard and who saw her in distress, slayed 10 dragons, plus a giant or two, picked up her hanky and saw her safe. She asks for a picture of the two on her phone. Not wanting to miss a thing I oblige. Next thing he’s asking her to send him the pix. So she gets his email. She gives hers. Bugger it, they swap phone numbers. They will call each other. She is literally melting and he then plays the ace, the left and right bowers and the joker: “I am not Spanish though, I am from Italy”. Bingo.

It would, of course, be rotten of me to tell you that the psycho dentist from Ontario had been the damsel in distress’ roomie the night before, so pretend I didn’t.

The Costa del Sold:  Malaga

The next stop on the tour was Malaga.  Two words.  It’s crap.  Another two.  Don’t go. In season it is hot and horrible and full of aged English tourists.  So in the land of the sun-tanned and swarthy El Cid in full battle armour, putting the Moors to flight with martial cries and sending all the Senoritas in a state of swoon the best you can hope for is a pink and wrinkled Old Sid, in terry towelling hat, shorts, socks and sandals, moaning about the food and the toilet paper and being nagged to death by his vulture of a wife whose gob demonstrates perpetual motion.  Out of season it’s still crap.  Long streets closed off to traffic with the sort of anodyne and generic shops you can find anywhere and it is only the fact that people are talking Spanish and are otherwise having a kip between 3 and 5pm that lets you know it is in Spain. Where normally you could skive off down a side street – forget it.  They are all blocked off and smell of cat’s piss.  So down tourism central you are sent.

Why, oh why do we do this?  Why do we make everywhere else seem exactly the same as anywhere else selling the same anywhere else shit to the same anywhere else people that you would gladly go to anywhere else to avoid, but you can’t.  As I may have pointed out before, the point of travel is to be somewhere, not in a random anywhere.  Frankly, given a choice over the Malagas of the world, and I’ve been to a lot of them, I’d prefer to be in the middle of fucking nowhere.  Then at least I’d know where I was.

The only thing Malaga has is funny shop signs.


Sounds like my place. Except we don’t serve fossilized horse dicks


For the bloke with a vulture for a wife


Insert Donald Trump joke here

Bidding a glad farewell to Malaga, and making a vow never to return, even if I ever own a terry-towelling hat or sandals, we made our way to Seville. The trip was memorable for two things.  Enrique doing both a gentle advocacy for and spirited disapproval of, bullfighting and his choice of music, for “relaxation”.

Bullfighting.  In some areas of Spain this is banned.  In others they go nuts for it.  In the latter the nuts of the bull are also a delicacy, but the bull must first be slaughtered for amusement of the locals.  Actually, first, it has to be bred.  And there are whole acreages set aside for raising toros, that are fed, watered and exercised and spoiled rotten for 4 years or so until it’s off to Pamplona or some such where these pampered bovines are let loose on the streets for the amusement of the several and the purpose of injuring, hopefully fatally, drunken Australian tourists.  From thence it is to the bullrings.  Apparently great store is set on the bravery of the bull and the incredible courage of the matador but it is all crap. 

First, the bull is merely doing what bulls will do if you rile them up – gore you, stomp on you and generally give you a thin time for interrupting their chewing of the cud.  And fair enough, you deserve it.  Second, there is nothing brave about any of this.  The fight lasts 20 minutes.  This is so the bull doesn’t learn the moves and runs anyone through or gets bored, has a crap and chews some more cud.  The fight is in 3 phases.  The first is when a pair of idiots on blindfolded horses padded up as if for cricket gallop about and poke the bull with lances in the shoulders to cause blood loss and weakness in the neck area.  The second phase is where a troika of pillocks on foot stab the bull with barbed sticks around the shoulders causing further weakness and blood loss.  By the time the third phase starts the bull is quite wobbly from loss of blood and cannot hold its head up properly and can only look directly at the cape that the matador is waving around in a rather effeminate fashion.  Eventually when the poor sod of a bull is utterly exhausted the heroic matador, dressed in very heroic garb of plus fours, a too short but heroic gold lame jacket, tights, dancing pumps and a Mickey Mouse hat, runs it through with a sword.  The bull collapses and your man then runs around like he just scored the winning goal in the world cup or is on a promise from Salma Hayak.

So to recap.  The big hero at the bullfight is the one who comes on right at the very end when all the hard work has been done by others.  Hero?  No.  Bullfighting is a longish buildup to a coward’s punch in fancy dress.  I’d sooner go to a Broodthayers retrospective or watch a lactating virgin (and riddle me that one, Batman) giving Purgatory the once over.

This was, of course, tempered, by the tour music.  Andean pipes.  Saying a prayer that we’d be spared El Condor Pasa (beautifully renamed I’d Rather be a Hanky than a Snot by P.J. O’Rourke) I settled back….and descended into Hell.  The playlist for which is:

Imagine (I wish)

Fernando (My bollocks are exploding in slow motion)

Woman in Love (Followed by my skull)

Where Do I Begin? (Please don’t)

Let It Go  (And don’t pick it up again)

IIIIYIIIIIIYIIIII  Will Always Love Yoouuuuuuuuuuuuu (Agghhhhhhhhhh!)

Personally, I think the bull got off lightly.  I distinctly heard Jose, our driver, gritting his teeth.


This was a highlight.  First off there is Spanish Square, which as well as being utterly spectacular was used for a Star Wars movie and it doesn’t get a lot better than that. 


This place is packed on May the Fourth

Eschewing the evening’s entertainment of a dinner and a flamingo – (or was it flamenco?), we went to see Seville give Malaga FC a seeing to in the local derby.  The stadium was packed, noisier than I even believed Spaniards were capable of – even the Malaga FC supporters, confined, we think, for their own safety, to one corner of the ground made a hell of a racket.  The home hooligans behind the goals were moshing like the dickens, jumping up and down like Masai tribesmen with itchy bums and making the Barmy Army sound like a bridge club in a library.  But this was soccer and, ergo, with bugger all going on largely vide the game there was plenty of the usual histrionics associated with this most theatrical of sports which I punctuated with sledges more suited to a Raider’s match (I was wearing Raiders clobber too):  dive taking (“get up ya sook!”); appeals for penalties (“tell him he’s dreamin'”) and Lazarus like recoveries when same were denied (“Feeling better, Jose?”); high dudgeon when yellow cards were dispensed (“he’s been doing it all day”) and grand mal trantrums for a red (“off off off, y’grub”).  Some goals were scored, but it all got missed in the rest of the palaver.

Seville, like most Spanish cities, is a wonder just to swan about.  Twas but a short walk from our hotel to downtown, perhaps a mile at the most, this being nothing to such seasoned city walkers and cheapskates as ourselves who eschew buses as for the soft.  Thusly we found ourselves at the Catedral where Christopher Columbus is safely buried.  There is any amount of revisionism now about that masturbating, fornicating, sonofabitch (so the ditty goes) Columbo and rightly so.  First.  He did not discover America.  Are we clear? There were people already there and perfectly happy to get on with things without the trappings of so called civilisation.  Second, nor did he bring civilisation to the Americas neither. 

OK, at that time in the Americas there were cultures that practised genocide, feudalism, slavery and public human sacrifice to appease the gods in a society where religion and the royalty reigned supreme.  What Spain brought was essentially no different.  They just changed the gods and whomsoever was in charge.  There was still death in quantity, usually in public and a heaping helping of torture to go with it.  Slavery was also a thing and genocide went with the territory.

So now he is under this slab:


The dirty song about Columbus is a hoot.

And given what he unleashed in the Americas he deserves to be a lot further down.

Seville is also fabulously easy to get lost in, and, we are given to understand, practically compulsory.  So we did, and wandered around.  First it was with absolutely no idea, happily, then slightly unhappily, then downright pissed offedly, then going postally emerging not where we thought we might, which would have been a short wander of 500m back to our digs, but right at the beginning of downtown where we had originally started and consequently a further mile to go, this being practically fatal to such over it city walkers and cheapskates who had not studied the bus timetables as ourselves.

Never mind.  We will revive on the 4 hours to Portugal.  Without Andean pipes.  We think Jose nicked the CD and binned it.

Posted in Mostly true stories | Leave a comment

Nosebags in Madrid – A Retrospective

Following a highly esoteric ramble around Madrid, read about it here, Ms Dawn Louise, an old school friend and professional sledger, said:

Well, that’s lovely and Kulchural, but I need to see what you are eating in Madrid. Please.

Well, here you are then, hungry guts.

Something tells me that Ms Dawnsie was taking the piss when she wanted to see pix of what we were eating in Madrid.  Anyhow, given that food pictures slightly edge out sardonic cats, deformed dogs and fubsy kittens on social media, it seemed the done thing to not only post said pictures but describe the experience, just to take the superficiality of writing blogs that no-one reads, let alone gives a shit about, to the next level.

The national snack of the Spanish, is, of course, the churro.  I have described elsewhere (and had you read the blog you would have known this) that these come in supermax size in Madrid hereabouts and thus have the approximate dimensions and shape of fossilised horse dicks.  Every day, from morning till night, you will see hordes, nay, Armadas of happy Spaniards, chowing down on their fossilised horse dicks, dipping them in hot chocolate that has the temperature and consistency of lava.  And well they might.  Take a bite of one of these things without the chocky and they have zero structure, little taste and a lingering sense that a BP oil well has burst in your gob.  This is what food technologists (yes, there is such a trade, as horrific as it may seem) refer to, without any sense of indecency either, as “mouth-feel”.  Eeeoww.

Anyhow, for your consideration, a pair (they go round in pairs like women going to the loo) of fossilised horse dicks.  Enjoy!


In the “never again” category.

As much as fossilised horse dicks are the national snack, the national dish of the Spanish is undoubtedly paella.  It comes in a range of varieties, which could, in all honesty, be called risotto.  Paella often comes as part of a tapas meal – well it did for us at lunch yesterday.  Due to the almost immediate hoovering up of the tapas dishes a photo was not available but a small dish of seafood paella survived the ravening hyaena (none of my crew go much for prawns, mussels etc and went green at the sight of baby octopus).  So here you are before I scoffed it:


Octopus lurking beneath

Today saw us wandering about the Prado gallery.  A compendium of all the classic artists of the Renaissance.  Ergo plenty of himself doing the Easter party trick, the martyrdoms of Saints various, collections of folk who seemed to be able to balance golden plates on their heads and otherwise a shit ton of death. This was, however, life before they had Country Music. 

Feeling incredibly kulchered we went in search of something a bit upmarket, and found same but a bee’s dick off the main shopping drag in uptown Madrid; a delightful little noshery called The Dodo (recommended in Trip Advisor).  The decor was pleasant, the staff courteous and the ambience only such as what can be obtained by a selection of popular music done Bossa Nova style.  For the purposes of the rest of this missive open a fresh tab with the following link:

Righto, let us commence.  Eschewing the fixed menu we went for the lunch special.  Here ’tis replicated for your benefit:


Work it out your bloody self.

Following due consideration, and the application of drinks we had decided.  For Primeros while the rest of the table sought the Parrillada de Verduras your correspondent elected to throw caution to the winds with Arroz a la Cubana.  We being armed with a dictionary and phrasebook and the staff speaking eff-all English, we were, of course, picking our entrees with they having roast veggies and myself Cuban rice.

Of course, the meal is incomplete without a collocation of flours, eggs and salt and oil, heated to the point of expansion, nestling on black crepe that would otherwise suggest a funereal air, but I reckon alls they had were black napkins:


And very nice it was too.  Those are my granny specs.

While nibbling on same the Primeros announced their appearance:


Cuban rice:  Castro’s revenge.


Sodding good.


The eggplant is hiding at the bottom.  My Mum used to do the same thing.

There being 4 at table we elected to have two of each of Segundos.  We had worked out that Entrecot con patates was something with spuds, there being an Irish influence in Spain since Napoleonic times.  Entrecot was translated as veal, which seemed fine.  Gallo a la Plancha was quizzical.  A Gallo is a rooster (in our dictionary) so chicken was the obvious thing.  Our appetites whetted and taste-buds prepared we awaited the second stanza with keen anticipation.

Entrecot con patties was the old favourite:  steak and chips:



Keenly awaiting the chicken we were amused and amazed to find we were dished fish  – to wit flatfish with scalloped tatties.  We surmised they had run out of chicken and thought they might sling us some fish perhaps thinking we were the sort of ignorant as pig-dogs English that go to Spain and make arses of themselves and consequently couldn’t tell shit from strawberry jam, let alone fish from chicken:


Rooster fish

Mains over it was time for Postres.  Figuring correctly that Mousse de Chocolate was actually chocolate mousse and not chocolate covered mice or even a moose, 75% of our party took that:



One of the party took a risk on Arroz con Leche – rice pudding.  I am afraid there is no picture of that as I was punished with that as a child both in school dinners and elsewhere and the smell and look of it makes me chunder.  It brings to mind A.A. Milne:

What is the matter with Mary Jane

She’s crying with all her might and main

And it’s lovely rice pudding for dinner again,

What is the matter with Mary Jane?

And I am not surprised. Although I suppose if they had given Mary Jane some Mary Jane, likely she’d have got the munchies and eaten the muck.

The popular vote for tomorrow is pizza.  I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Editorial note:  back at the digs we did some further research and found that Gallo was actually John Dory.  Super.  It was correct we got fish. Except it was still flatfish we got.  Flatfish is still the most common substitute for Dory in the known Galaxy. Bastards.

Posted in Mostly true stories | Leave a comment

A snapshot of Madrid (and some random stuff)

Al Gore is reputed to have said that “airplane travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photo”.

Quite apart from the fact that airplane travel is completely unnatural, in my case at least it makes me look not only post-mortem, but also having been the subject of an exhumation order.

This look, and the feel that goes with it is like an exceedingly bad hangover.  You know it will pass and you will swear never, ever to drink, or fly long haul again.  About the only thing that does any good is a nice bracing walk and doing one’s best to get into the rhythm of whichever resort-city-hell hole you have fetched up in before collapsing, exhausted, at somewhere approaching bedtime, or 4pm, anyway.

When we closed our last missive we had finally been granted ingress to the less than salubrious Hotel Praga, an establishment that has grottiness and charm in equal measure – rather like that shitty old car you cannot bear to part with even though it is full of the detritus of takeaway food, has beer/coffee/bodily fluid stains on the upholstery, has doors that won’t lock and a funny smell that won’t quit.  It is loved dearly and desperately and it won’t be time to say goodbye unless and until a good friend torches it for you and you split the insurance money.

It struck us as odd that there were no tea/coffee facilities in the rooms.  After getting over the shock we thought it downright outrageous, as, being critters of habit, there is something civilised about a cup of char while watching some shite on ITV of an evening following a yomp around the sights, sounds and smells of Madrid.  Eventually, and noting there was one of those discount general stores across the street next to a Lidl, we thought bollocqueros and went and bought a little kettle, teabags, coffee and the other necessities of life.  We were not sure if it was actually prohibido to make our own hot brews, so we hide the kettle every morning, where no-one could find it, except the cleaning staff.  It has not been confiscated as yet.

The virtue of the Praga is that the wi-fi is unbelievably good, it is close to some of the most charming pieces of parkland imaginable, town is but an easy walk, there are cafes and bars in abundance and it is the staging post for the coach tour we are departing on in but 3 days.  The tour itself shall be related anon, but the long and short of it is that the Hotel Praga was the only choice, unless we wanted to stay elsewhere and schlepp ourselves back to meet the coach.

The parkland.  Some fun facts.  Madrid, a city of 3.2 million, give or take, is a centre of European commerce, being the 3rd largest city in the European Union, with the 3rd largest GDP in the EU, with a high standard of living and a bucketload of cultural stuff.  However, so far as cities go it has the highest number of trees and green surface per inhabitant in Europe with each person having about 16sqm per inhabitant (WHO recommendation is 10sqm) and since 1997 there has been a 16% increase in green space.  That is as against the usual population growth and the preservation of cultural icons.  This begs the question – Mike Baird, are you even bloody listening?

Near what I have come to call the Hotel Yorba is a delightful park called Parque de la Arganzuela.  This runs along the Manzanares River and apart from the immaculately laid out gardens, winding walk and cycleways (pedestrians with right of way and the lycrists be damned) and stunning water features there is some brilliant kid’s play equipment.  One that impressed greatly was what I initially took to be a modern objet d’art of a criss-cross of essentially telegraph poles, laid out as if by a gang of beavers following a few beers approximating a question mark shape.  This being Spain, however, the damn thing could be upside down or the right way up depending on your perspective.  Closer inspection, however, revealed some ship’s rigging here and there and it was clear that it was to climb on, and, inevitably, race along without falling down and very likely breaking several bones.  It was utterly stupendous.  The following does not do it justice and if you’re lucky I’ll do the course myself and shoot a movie, or die trying:


“Break a leg!”

And no, we can’t have one in Australia, least of all Canberra.  The safety Nazis of the 4th Reich of Zer Nanny State off Zer ACT Governmentaplatz will see to that.

Having exhausted the possibilities of navigating the architectural efforts of pissed beavers it was time for some kulcha and we hied us along several streets and through a couple of parks and up a sodding big hill to the Catedral de la Almudena.  It is a handsome gaff by any measure, but while it looks as historical as all heck, it was only commenced in the 1870s and not consecrated until 1993.  A couple of things were significant.  First, the  characters surrounding the cupola.  One seems biblical enough, but the one on the left looks like he’s having problems with flies:


Catedral de Wotsit


Who forgot the Aerogard?

Second, the cathedral was built on the site of a mosque that was part of the caliphate of that well-known ISIS bastard Emir Mohommed I.  The mosque, the UPF and Reclaim Australia knob-jockeys will be glad to hear was destroyed in 1083.  What the aforesaid knob-jockeys won’t be pleased about is that the old mosque walls are being preserved and the street where all this is on is named after the Emir his bad old self.  Not quite Bendigo or Eltham but I am sure that they’ll club together and send three or four over there for a protest, and they might be able to borrow a staffy or two (Madridians love their dogs and it is practically compulsory to own one, just quietly) to make up the numbers:


Pauline Hanson will speak at a protest about the building of this wall.

Suitably enlightened we wove our geographically embarrassed, for Madrid is harder to navigate than Canberra is for anyone not born to the place, or pathologically stupid, way to the Musea Nacional Centro de Art Reine Sofia.  Which is an art gallery (of modern stuff).  En el camino, as four persons in a mass of thousands we passed through the surrounds, and the square itself, of the Plaza Mayor.  And I am here to tell you it is charming, splendid, old world – everything.  Even the massed lycrists hammering down the streets on their two wheeled willies, screaming abuse at pedestrians and looking like a yellow version of Spiderman gone to seed, could detract from the utter loveliness of the place.  And in nooks and crannies various were some really quite charming art-forms.  You know – statues of everyday people doing everyday things.  Precisely the sort of public art we cannot have in Australia on account of drunken bogans destroying it.

Anyhow, I espied one bronzed old chap (and by which I mean he was made of bronze rather than being a Bondi Iceberg), leaning over a balustrade, watching eternity go by, entirely peaceful, and a lovely counterpoint to the mayhem not 15 yards away.  It also appeared that the cult of rubbing some part of a bronze statue, presumably for luck, was alive and well in Madrid.  This poor sod was copping it on the backside:


Hard to get a shiny bum standing up

As if in anticipation of what might occur, the sculptor had given your man a look of utter resignation:


“My arse!”

And which is fair enough.  You’d probably look the same way after being felt up every 15 minutes everyday by strangers.  However, given that this chap did have a rather shiny bum I am thinking of crowd-funding getting him sent to Canberra, perhaps to grace the environs of the Australian Public Service Commission as a perpetual memorial to those in Government employ.  The look on the face would not be inappropriate either, particularly given the current round of Enterprise Bargaining.

Incidentally, at the ANU Law School there was a bust of Sir Robert Garran, a luminary of the law and the first Secretary or some such of the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department.  He was on a plinth half way down the stairs in the library.  Garran’s nose was shined to the max, it being considered good luck to give it a quick polish as you trudged off to an exam, or death, one having something to do with the other.

But we shall not dally with shiny-arsed, or nosed, statues.  Nay, we must hurry up and wait in a queue to get into Queen Sophie’s art gallery.  Why?  Because after 1:30pm on a Sunday it is free to get in and all the cheapskates in Christendom will have the same idea, and Picasso’s Geurnica hangs out (literally) there!

What was also there was a retrospective of Marcel Broodthaers, described by wikipedia, the font of all knowledge for lazy buggers and lazy bloggers as: 

Marcel Broodthaers was a Belgian poet, filmmaker and artist with a highly literate and often witty approach to creating art works.” 

No he wasn’t.  He was a complete fruitcake obsessed with eggs and mussels.  No.  It’s true.  Some of the pieces were merely collages of eggs that someone had blown, and I use the term advisedly given this was a modern art gallery, accompanied by some words of wisdom that the earth was an egg, or we all were or some such:


Belgian egg-head.

The defence rests.

WTAF is it with modern art anyway?  I mean, all you have to be is barking mad and tie a few sticks together and stick them in a marshmallow and dangle a tampon off it and get someone equally barking but richer than God to buy it and all of sudden you are dressing in a black jumper and all sorts of profundities are being written about you and your “challenging and confronting work”.  Note for file, whenever this correspondent hears those words about film, literature, music or art, one word crosses my mind:  “crap”.  Then, of course, there is this endless meme on Facetube and Twatter:  “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” – which is about as facile and inane as you can get short of believing in trickle down economics.

This is not to say all modern art is that way.  Last year I was at a conference whereat the dinner was at MONA.  This place is the absolute bomb it having such fantabulous things as the Poo Room where the digestive process is replicated by a series of machines that get fed and produce faeces.  Now that is actually quite clever.

MONA is also famous for the corridor where the wall is decorated with plaster of paris moulds of the female genitalia.  This, of course, has many names, all too rude to replicate here.  But while the aim may have been to shock, challenge or confront, it didn’t do anything of the sort for me.  There was something quite normal and natural about the whole thing:


I don’t know much about art but I know what I like.


Old Kent Road (credit: Tom McDonald)

Which probably has more in common with the classic art, particularly the nude stuff in any event, although there is a school of thought that this is but an early form of sexting:

“Hey, Helga, I want to send my boif something of me in the nick, know anyone?”

“Ja, try that Rubens bloke”

Which clearly makes Michelanglo’s David one of the first dick-pics.

And so to Geurnica.  Too much has been written and said about this iconic work for me to do it justice and it was just a rare pleasure to spend some time in its company, having read up on the history of the atrocity that inspired it and despite the fact I find Picasso’s style to be a bit on the whacky side the work does capture on a number of levels the utter horror of that tiny part of a war – and in so doing captures the utter horror of all war.  Nevertheless, whatever Picasso was smoking or dropping it should be made available to the general public.  For mine, I actually think they might give it to matadors.  I mean, for the appalling thing called bullfighting this is what we see:


A heapin’ helpin of fuck you up

Get in the plaza de toros with one of those bloody things?  Not on your nelly. Given what the idiot fighting the bull is dressed in, he must be completely whacked.  I reckon this is what they see:


Pajaro luna by Joan MIRO (you should see his platypus)

As you can probably tell we are having enormous fun.  There is something, as Bill Bryson observed, about wandering around not knowing what anyone is talking about.  Mind you, you can get that experience in a University Refectory.  The lingo?  We are doing our best to get a handle on it, but where the Irish and Scots might go at it like machine guns the Spanish are lasers.  I can understand some written Spanish (except the instructions on some instant Chinese food vide 5 minutes in a microwave – which we don’t have as we only run to a kettle) but in shops etc I have utterly no idea.  However, I am delighted to relate that it is absolutely permissible to use the expression “hasta la vista”.

Just don’t put “baby” at the end, while sounding like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Posted in Mostly true stories | 1 Comment