Shifty eyed fruits and vegetables

Wholesale produce has the best advertising.

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A sentient capsicum and a sentient eggplant (possibly planning to engage in inter-cultivar fornication) look guilty while driving a model t style ford fashioned out of the carcass of a zucchini and using baby pumpkins for tires. #Truecrime

The Lancefield Black Panther

Australia is riddled with black panthers, jaguars and pumas. They are skittish and seldom seen. Deadly dangerous and fiercely secretive. Some claim they are a myth. But, if that were the case, how could so many people know so much about them? I visited Lancefield because it is a town that has added their own small dollop of bullshit onto a pile as high as nearby Mt Macedon. They have a black panther and I wanted to see it.

Lancefield is a small town. It has a short main street with a handful of shops including bakeries, cafes, book stores and galleries. At the end of the street is a disproportionally large and very grand hotel. A common fixture of towns of or near the goldfields.

As far as small out of the way country towns go it seems better than most. There are also some important ties to history, Wikipedia tells me, but, ultimately it is like a lot of other places.

What makes Lancefield different and why I’ve visited, will visit again, will even take unwitting overseas or city friends for trip to get a neenish tart is because Lancefield has a black panther sculpture. The sun is already beginning to take its toll upon it and the lustre of black is quickly fading to grey. The sculpture isn’t necessarily worth the visit, it’s not very big and it’s not very impressive. There is a similarly not quite impressive story behind it. As the Midland Express writes, the sculpture mysteriously appeared overnight one weekend back in 2015.

No one knows who made it or how it was delivered.

Except the same article does go on to quote the mysterious creator. He or she details how they had three people help and a forklift to install the piece. In a town with a population of less than 2500 it seems likely the mystery is a little bit of a conceit. But, be that as it may, the sculpture exists. It was supposedly installed without the sanction of the council. In this area that is enough of an accomplishment. Plus, that there is any level of mystery even it seems a little forced is truly in the spirit of the Australian black panther.

Every year there is a big cat sighting in different parts of Victoria or different parts of Australia. There has been photos and video footage, but they are not considered definitive proof. Naysayers are quick to discredit witnesses. Claiming they are drunk, that the footage of black beasts only shows overgrown feral domestic cats.

I remember hearing stories of large cats ever since I was a child. Variously described as panthers, jaguars, pumas or leopards the popular theory in my town was they were the mascots of, and had escaped from, American military training bases during WW2.

This ABC article posits the theories of other districts and eras. That the large cats escaped from zoos or could have been brought back as souvenirs with troopships returning from Africa. The article is surprisingly reasonable about the existence of the large cats though also points out that the appeal of the rumour is that it allows us to imbue the landscape with a sense of mystery.

It’s not just the cats that are the mystery though but the origins of the stories. In my story of escaped military mascots, I questioned why the American army would allow their soldiers to have such dangerous mascots. I took for granted that there were mascots, and that there were enough American military bases to sustain a breeding based of escaped Pumas. I’ve since never been able to confirm the existence of such bases or mascots (although perhaps that’s because covered it all up – seriously though).

I think it’s the stories of the large cats are the most enthralling part. Because they have been passed on so effectively for so long, decades, without the help of internet or television. The stories have different local flavours and are imbued with embellishments to suit different districts. In the mountains the cats are shadows which retreat to the peaks at night, leaving little but the occasional paw print behind them. The large cats of farming districts are responsible for the mysterious mutilations of livestock.

The Macedon ranges are an area which trades heavily upon the invented mystery of Picnic at Hanging Rock. It is also a place which is increasingly at war with itself on whether to allow or prohibit development as people move into the area from Melbourne.

Whether it came mysteriously or not. Whether it was sanctioned beforehand or retrospectively by a council often paralysed by the paradoxical needs of its constituents, the black panther of Lancefield is great for its homage to drunken sightings and fear of the bush. The chance that we don’t really know what roams the vast countryside and deserts. That there still might be mysteries hidden in folklore.

Vice Principals

Jody Hill & Danny McBride

Anyone who tells you Vice Principals is their favourite show is probably lying. They’re a contrarian, or they’re young, or they’ve been trapped in a cult for the last thirty years and this is the only TV show they’ve ever seen but, most likely, they’re lying. Because while Vice Principals is a great TV show, and it really is a great TV show, it’s not a show designed to be anyone’s favourite. I’d be surprised if it’s the creator’s partners favourite

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Danny McBride & Groundlings alumni and the person who should be getting offered every comedy part in the world, Edi Patterson.

show.

 

Yet it is great! And in only 18 episodes split over two seasons. In this short run it creates a town, and a school, it has a murder mystery, the rise and fall of an empire, the growth and destruction of multiple characters ambitions and hopes and, in the process, it sees characters move from good to evil and sometimes back to good while others become eviller and others sink down into a quiet malevolent grey area. It is a comedy but also a show which at times makes you question whether you should watch on. Taking characters, you think you love, or at least like, into dark repugnant places while also submitting them to the same pain and heartbreak they caused to others and yet, all the while, still being funny and entertaining.

It’s nobody’s favourite show but it should be the benchmark for what television can aspire to, even in comedy, especially in comedy. Bespoke, twisted visions of chaos,

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Walter Goggins as Lee Russell

violence, heartbreak, triumph and revenge which can come from organic places, origins as seemingly petty as wanting to move from vice-principal to principal.

 

Unlike other short run shows which have attracted a cult following (such as Deadwood, Freaks and Geeks or Firefly) Vice Principals wasn’t cancelled but designed from the outset to be a flash in the pan. It was a show based on innately American subject matter but presented with the brevity and finite arc of most English comedy.

The shows main attraction and a good part of its restrained marketing campaign was that Vice Principals seemed to be either a follow-up or tangential to Danny McBride’s previous series Eastbound and Down. Similarly, to the Eastbound character of Kenny Powers McBride plays his character here, the vice-principal Neal Gamby, as loud, crude and wilfully ignorant. Gamby, like Powers, is a character trapped in a state of arrested development, a mix of juvenile reactivity and conservative defensiveness. Unlike in Eastbound McBride isn’t required to do all of the heavy lifting and is more restrained. He is the protagonist, sure, but also the straight man to Walter Goggins’ brilliantly maniacal co-vice president Lee Russell. McBride plays the perfect patsy to Goggins’ fey, manipulative, crazed yet poised, joker-like teaching bureaucrat.

Meanwhile the solid acting of the supporting cast provides a realistic grounding while

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Busy Phillips & Shea Whigham

also often helping with the pivots and setups for some of the show’s best comedic moments. It’s, again, testament to how much this show achieves that it uses McBride in such a way that the tone can shift so easily and so often. Busy Phillips and Shea Whigham as McBride’s estranged wife and new partner could, themselves, be the basis for a whole show about family. In the very next scene Groundlings alumni Edi Patterson might be chewing the scenery as the simultaneously crazed lover of McBride’s Gamby and the conniving foil to Goggins’ Russel.

 

If this show had transposed the occupation of its character from Vice Principals to federal politicians, it would have probably won every single Emmy. It would have blown House of Cards out of the water and made them bury that crippled horse rather than try to keep it racing beyond the fall of it’s main character. It is the fact that Jody Hill and Danny McBride can mine so much from these base characters, these small stakes and local locations that makes what they produce so special.

 

 

Old Kyneton Hospital

Because apparently empty buildings are the best way to conserve the ‘vibe’.

The Old Kyneton Hospital was founded in 1857. It has been abandoned since 2005 boarded up and fenced off on the top of the hill overlooking the Campaspe river.

To the left of picture is the small red brick infectious diseases ward. Not picture, behind this building, is the small blue stone mortuary building.

There has been interest in developing the old hospital into housing but it has been met with resistance by residents amidst fears the heritage facade will be compromised. This is hardly surprising considering how garish the original planing proposals were. There is an interest group that is calling for it to continue to be used as a public space. The inside of

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The mortuary behind the main building. Credit: realestate.com.au

the property has been gutted so this move would require a large investment to make it a viable working site of any kind.

Development seems to be the best option for the site but allowing such poorly fitting plans to be proposed have understandably worried residents. If the development plan had been more fitting for the area it may not have seemed to prohibitive to residents. That said, the reluctance to renovate the hospital is perhaps representative of a growing conflict in the Macedon ranges area. The population and housing prices are increasing as people look to move outside of Melbourne’s overcrowded suburbs.

It is hard to know if there is any rhyme or reason as to which groups are conservative and who are progressive in terms of development. Anecdotally it seems the more senior long term residents and new residents are interested in conserving the old and quiet feel to the town. In the case of senior residents who may be retired there is no incentive to allow growth of any kind in the area. Similarly newer residents may who have moved from Melbourne are likely to work and socialize in the city. They may not need increased business in their new country homes and, potentially, not wish to see development in the hope that property prices will continue to rise and offer them capital appreciations.

Longer-term residents of the area who are younger or middle-aged, who have lived longer, worked and socialise in the area are potentially more interested in seeing sites such as this be utilised. In addition to the hospital also contains several abandoned pubs and factories.

This difference becomes stark when there are new and senior residents who organise Facebook groups and events to save the old Kyneton hospital building. Meanwhile long-term residents who were actually patients at the hospital shudder at the memory of being treated inside those blue stone walls in its latter years. Again this is anecdotal rather than necessarily representative but seems to reflect the growing tension between residents and traders to towns opening up to cater for growing populations.

 

This isn’t a new situation. For decades the changes in primary industry and retail have led to downswings in country towns throughout Australia and probably throughout the world. Small towns are usually prone to high youth unemployment and above average general unemployment rates. A new study also shows the prevalence of homelessness among these small regional areas.

The old Kyneton hospital is a an empty shell growing ever closer to collapse through sheer lack of action. Some of the blame lies with developers because, well some of the blame always lies with developers who, as always, were greedy in their proposal. It is understandable that residents have sought to preserve the heritage facade of the building. It is inexcusable that so much land, and potential housing, in this and the many other buildings in the area have been allowed to languish while there is homelessness and rising property prices.

The Kyneton hospital is an example of why interest groups, council members and politicians should hesitate to so quickly bemoan the lack of jobs, rising property prices or the exodus of the youth from regional areas. Large buildings like this and the steel casting factory have stood vacant for decades. Half the businesses in town are empty or for sale and many are reluctant to stay open late lest slow trade cuts into their daily profits. In situations like this where the lack of action seems almost an act of self-sabotage its often hard to know if the councils, red tape, indecision or indecisiveness is representative of sheer incompetence or a weak form of corruption.

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The Hospital site approximately twenty years ago. Adjacent buildings have since been demolished. Credit: Victoria Heritage Database

 

Cocagne Sardine Fillets in Extra Olive Oil

Wacka Flocka Flame & Lil Xan: Youth versus Legacy

How long do tinned sardines last? How are tinned sardines cooked? How are sardines preserved? Did Lil Xan really mean to dismiss 2Pac? Was Wacka Flocka Flame out of line to ban Xan from Hip Hop?

These sardines are bad. But how old is the can? How long do tinned sardines last? A google search on the shelf-life of tinned sardines says after five years they begin to lose flavour and consistency. On the front of this tin there is a logo advertising the hundred-year centenary of the company in 2006. Would Cocagne have kept printing cans with this celebratory date for more than, say, five years? Does this mean potentially these fish were canned, at the latest, in 2011 but perhaps as long ago as 2006 or even earlier? And, so, could be anywhere between six to twelve years old? Is it fair to judge something without fully understanding its past?

This is the reason too it comes as no surprise that Lil Xan would diss 2Pac or, more likely, be so easy to manipulate by the media into appearing to diss or dismiss one of the Mt Rushmore figures of hip-hop. Xan was born in ’96, the year Pac died, he could easily

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Wacka Flock Flame. Est. 1986

have  little or no basis for contextualization of 2Pac. Wacka Flocka Flame was born in ’86 and so only ten years old when Pac died but this is much more time to be exposed particularly because 2Pac was still charting after his death throughout the late 90’s and even into the early to mid 2000’s with posthumous releases, most notably the Loyal to the Game in 2004. Flocka was also immersed in Hip Hop from a young age and when he rises to fame it is building on the regional style of Atlanta.

Arguably Lil Xan is just the latest in a long line of posers to think they’re making a statement by dismissing 2Pac. For the last decade posers have been confusing whether they prefer west or east coast rap (or know anything about either) by talking big about how much they like Biggie over 2Pac. This is often simply because they’ve heard Biggie more at parties or clubs. They stupidly dismiss 2Pac based on select singles where the production sounds comparatively dated. This is often also informed by

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Lil Xan. Est. 1996

the many attempts by people cashing in without caring if they ruin 2Pacs legacy such as the awful remix re-releases of his albums, poor quality merch, and probably the worst thing, that ridiculous hologram.

Lil Xan is young and like most young people he wants to destroy all that came before him. He probably would prefer not to have to pay homage to a rap lineage he is in many ways removed from. For better or worse there’s always going to be an old guard who reactively defend the edifices of the past. A similar outcry from the twitter peanut gallery roared loud when Lonzo Ball rated 21 Savage’s Issa over Jay Z’s 4:44 though it was clearly a valid opinion for anyone under thirty. I don’t like Lil Xan much but whether the comment was intentional or the media manipulated him as he now claims, I wish he had stuck to his guns with this especially when Wacka Flocka Flame banned him from hip-hop. If Lil Xan had owned it rather than stepping back, he could have led the charge in what surely must inevitably be a concerted break by his SoundCloud/mumble rap peers to break from traditional hip-hop.

Cocagne Sardine Fillets in extra virgin olive oil are made by Conservas Ramirez in Portugal, which claims to be the oldest cannery in the world. Their products are often priced and discussed in the context of premium sardines. I don’t see the need for DSC_0134boneless sardines as western style fish is often almost boneless or has very small bones anyway, but I liked the tin and design, and this was the only variety on sale at my local store.

Once opened, the fish and oil look promising. The oil is a nice bright colour and tastes and smells mild though there is too much of it. The fish themselves are clean tasting but don’t have much flavour or minerality. They have a good inside colour but texturally are flaky and seem like they may have been over salted and/or cooked to a tough and chewy, almost mackerel like, consistency. I don’t want to rush to condemn when I don’t know how old this can is, whether preserved fish do really degrade over time and, so, some allowances should be made but to paraphrase Lil Xan looks good, tastes boring, 2/10

Hollywood & Levine

Ken Levine

Hollywood & Levine is a podcast by Ken Levine. He is/was a show-runner, screenwriter, radio-presenter, playwright and author. Over the course of three decades his writing credits include, but are not limited to, Mash, Cheers, Becker, Frasier and guest spots on many other hit TV shows. He has written several books, worked as a sport presenter, radio DJ and, recently, written plays. Even the side notes of his career warrant mention; for example, he wrote what I would consider two of the best episodes of The Simpsons (Dancing Homer & Saturdays of Thunder). His life has created or helped to create some of the western worlds most loved entertainment.

Levine’s podcast is based on his critically acclaimed blog, By Ken Levine. With such a massive career there is plenty to cover. He provides advice on comedy writing, self-deprecating stories about his bad fashion sense, being bored at award shows, early dating efforts in sixties Hollywood as well as often brutally honest insider accounts of Hollywood culture and the changing face of television.

Which is fine but, of course, there are a thousand podcasts presented by Hollywood types, so why should anyone care about this one?

Mainly because Levine seems to understand what many other podcasters don’t, that podcasts are often really fucking boring. That they can, and often should, be crafted rather than free form discussion. Podcasts aren’t an absolute good just as radio wasn’t an absolute evil. Hollywood & Levine as a podcast is a creative pastiche self-aware enough to foreground the radio experience of its host and playfully combine both mediums. The show has a jingle and Levine jokingly throws to commercial breaks even though, at least at time of writing, the show doesn’t have or seem interested in getting sponsors (though surely the mattress and stamp sellers of the world will soon try to come knocking). Each episode usually runs for less than twenty minutes but never feels constrained by such brevity. Levine hams it up by seamlessly affecting a traditional radio voice only to subvert it by swearing or carefully steering stories into darkly honest places. He splits episodes into segments and there is a tightness and sense of fun to the show even as the tones shits as sweet reminisces are book ended by his snarky takes on people, shows, or phenomena. For those used to the carefully masked diplomacy of the usual Hollywood celebrity podcast this will be confronting, perhaps even off-putting. This too is the beauty of Hollywood & Levine, that it can roller coaster from sweet to sour, that it’s host is capable of luring in the listener with his sweet tales of teen dates in sixties Disneyland and interactions on the sets of Cheers and Frasier but just as easily turning them off as he skewers all and sundry in his annual reviews of the Oscars. For all of the radio gloss, the jingles and the crafted segments, Hollywood & Levine is unashamedly honest, personal, entertaining, and often vulgar, in short, a podcast done well.

Black for the Baron (1959) (U.S. title If Anything Happens to Hester)

John Creasey as Anthony Morton

John Creasey claimed he was so fast at writing he could be shut in a glass box and have a book finished before he needed to be let out. Creasey wrote over 600 books in his lifetime. He had at least 21 pen names including Anthony Morton for this, the Baron series, of which there are 47 titles. Creasey wrote for approximately 43 years meaning he published about 14 books per year. In 1937 alone, he had 29 books published!

Many of Creasey’s works were adapted for film or television. Copies of his Edgar Award winning Gideon’s Fire (as JJ Marric) go for big money on eBay (though it’s possibly a result of script bidding errors). He could obviously write but, at the pace he was doing it there are, not surprisingly, some low points to his bibliography. This is one of them. The novel is purely by the numbers, Creasey doesn’t even take the time to develop or even explain his central character.

The titular Baron John Mannering, at least at this point in the run, is generic and boring. He is almost a guest star to the plot and little of his ex-jewel thief past, or debonair gentleman detective present serves as anything but as someone to explain the few loose ends of the plot. He occasionally dispatches of rogues and goons. He seems to be constantly admiring the steely resolve of woman or wondering if the paleness of their faces hides inner turmoil.

Black for the Baron isn’t necessarily worse than the other recent detective pulps I’ve read. What are the Bugles Blowing For? by Nicolas Freeling was badly written, much worse than Creasey, but Freeling created vivid characters and his book was interested as it touched on the late fifties confusion with both the recent horrors of the holocaust and the oncoming sexual revolutions of the sixties. The Sad Variety by C.S. Lewis (Daniel Day Lewis’ father) could have been almost as boring in its characters but it was tightly plotted and created a real sense of tension and stakes so that it seemed possible a tragedy might occur despite the hero’s best efforts.

At a slim 150 pages there are few hints Creasey is interested in what he is doing in this outing. There is no real twist, point of interest or tension in the plot. Generally, the book really does feels as if it was written by someone trapped in a glass box running out of oxygen and beginning to choke on their own farts.

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Conservas Santos – Sardines and Tomato

Fish loves lemon and fish loves oil. Fish likes pepper too, as well as bread. As a companion tomato, fresh at least, isn’t at all out of the question. Fresh tomato has a nice acidity, a contrasting texture. In other forms tomato can work with fish in pasta or a fish stew with a tomato base, fine, sure. But tomato sauce? No! It’s too sweet, too thick, not enough fat to wither contrast or compliment. It’s as likely as anything to overpower the taste of the fish.

I have nightmares of accidently picking up tinned sardines in tomato sauce rather than oil. I’d take the awful cracked pepper or lemon flavours before the concentrated flavours of ketchup and fish trapped in tin. But as the ice-caps melt and moguls fall the world changes, quiet revolutions happen, and I wonder if I am being left behind, stuck in my ruts and old ways. Perhaps I was too quick to judge in my younger years? Maybe, who knows, things have changed. I don’t want to live life in the one lane, the wrong lane. I’m DSC_0113happy to re-examine my beliefs, accept that I was biased, mistaken or just plain wrong. I’m ready for a brave new world. Surely anything is possible if you question that which you take for granted. Perhaps the Red Hot Chilli Peppers won’t sound like audio vomit anymore? Perhaps taking the bus is now quick and fun? A simple perception shift might actually show me that real estate agents are good people trying their best rather than unholy ghouls in cheap suits ever eager to suck the life out of all they come across. More unlikely still, perhaps, the world of tinned sardines and tomato sauce has changed, perhaps it is the go to snack I’m about to fall in love with?

Conservas Santos’ sardines in tomato are from Portugal. The have a lovely, abstract packaging in natural colours and a recycled feeling paper. They look classy, they’re priced classy. They’re the tinned fish equivalent of a smart boutique hotel in a simple uncrowded seaside town. If anything could ever bring me around to the idea of sardines and tomato sauce I feel that these Portuguese fish artists at Conservas Santos have the best chance.

Sadly, though the fish are generally large and without minerality, the tomato while not sweet is also not particularly flavourful. The fish are of different sizes and textures. Some seem over cured, one has eggs and is perhaps responsible for the strange fishy flavour of the sauce which is unlike the actual fish which swim within it. Perhaps this is a bad can, a bad example, but the message is clear. Sometimes snap judgements are borne out of certainty and core beliefs. There can be no redemption for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers or the real estate agents which seek to ruin our lives. There can, for me, be no just marriage of tomato and tinned fish.