What I did on my holidays – Rottnest Island; the story on a penguin in search of a quokka

Thursday 9 July 2009

All my days so far in Perth have included a sky as clear and blue as Daniel Craig’s eyes. Today, the day before I leave for Rottnest, the sky is more like Charlton Heston’s cataracts. Grey… completely grey… and wet. Delightful. I wasn’t planning on adventuring far today, if at all, just to the local café perhaps, but the rain has … um… dampened even that plan. Pity, especially considering I’ve a load of washing handing on the line. Now, rain has never bothered me – it’s only water – but damp socks and underpants do. So it looks like I’ve an adventure destined for me after all – a trip to the local Laundromat!

With a bit of on-line research I find a self-service Laundromat about 20 minutes walk from Anita’s in Maylands, a suburb I have yet to explore. Bag packed, with the first sign of the raining easing, I leave via Anita’s garage door and strut off down the lane. It’s a nice walk though a little damp, and the rain begins its casual downfall again. I was also getting a little concerned – I seemed to have walked a lot further than 20 minutes; but tucked away on the side of a little shopping district (next to a picture framers – imagine that!) was the Laundromat.

Inside were four dryers: two being used, a third “Out of Order”; and the final with a gent clearing out his dried load. Soon I chuck in my assortment of smalls, t-shirts and jeans and close the large glass door. I now notice the sign:

DO NOT PLACE SMALL
ITEMS OF CLOTHING
SUCH AS:

socks, items of baby
clothing
g-strings etc in this dryer

IT EATS THEM!!!

Considering it’s the only machine available, I take my chances with my socks.

Fifteen minutes later, my clothes toasty dry, I head back out into the world. In that short amount of time the sun had broken through, the clouds had become fluffy and white, and the puddles were acting like mirrors, making me cuss that I had left my sunglasses in my other bag.

I go for a bit of a wander and slowly meander my way back to Beaufort Street and then to home. Along the way I find an ancient hard back of Pride and Prejudice, complete with illustrated dust jacket, in the Maylands’ Salvos. I know a certain colleague’s daughter who would love that, and promptly handed over my $2 because, as we all know: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person in possession of a copy of Pride and Prejudice is always in want of another copy of Pride and Prejudice.

On Beaufort Street I popped into a fabulous little shop called COOK/book which sells … oh I can’t be bothered finishing that sentence. There I got myself some silicon egg poachers (I’ve wanted some for ages but always thought they were too expensive. Here, for $20, they’re half the price I’ve seen them for in Sydney. Bargain!), and a little “thank you” present for Anita. A couple of days ago Anita made the most scrumptious kangaroo and Guinness pie, but what I thought she needed was one of those little pie birds to stick out the middle of the crust. I bought the last one they had in stock. I picked up a nice bunch of flowers too.

Incidentally, on reading this back, and other pieces in this Holiday collection, I notice that I constantly jump tenses between present (“I go for a bit of a wander”) and past (“I popped into a fabulous little shop”). This is because these entries are written swiftly and segmentally, and so lose an over-all editorial eye. Sometimes I go back and change it, other times I just can’t be bothered. Please excuse this lack in standard. Oh, but if I get my “it’s” and “its” mixed up, chastise me promptly.

Later I went to IGA to get some goods for Rottnest. It’s very much a “bring-what-you-need” situation. I got some tea, tetra pack milk, choccy bickies (I am on holiday), juice, eggs (to try out my poachers), dijonnaise sauce (they didn’t have hollandaise), bread rolls, cuppa soup, and some spag sauce and pasta to cook up one night. I’ve plenty of food, and there’s a shop on the island, plus a restaurant and a pub, but I’m covered for breakfasts and for at least one meal over the two nights. What I don’t eat I’ll bring back and donate to Anita.

Standing in front of the tea, tossing up between ten packs of the Irish or English Breakfast, there was next to me a middle-aged man considering the coffees. An elderly woman tottered up, had a quick look, then took down a small jar of Moccona and popped it in her basket. “A good choice there, hey?” said the man; the woman just smiled. “Yep, I often get that when it’s on special. That or the Riva, that’s a pretty good coffee there too, isn’t it? When they’ve got that on special, I sometimes get that. But usually I get the Nescafe 43. Now that’s a good coffee. I think that’s my favourite coffee of the three.” The woman kept smiling as she backed away. I quickly grabbed the Irish Breakfast, then scooted past.

Dinner was a quiet affair with lots of brussels sprouts. While I roast my sprouts with balsamic vinegar, John bakes his in a thyme and cheddar cheese sauce, with a parmesan cheese crust. They were extremely yummy – always nice to find new ways to eat a brassica – but I think I’ll stick to my method of just sticking them on the tray with everything else. After dinner we watched a little telly, then I excused myself and went off to pack. While I’m leaving most things at Anita’s to pick up on my return, I still do need to get some things organised. I’m taking Rose, my laptop, for instance, which reminds me: don’t forget to pack the DVDs.

–+–

The sky is clear, the wind is nil, and the ferries are certainly running to Rottnest today.

I woke up at the alarm, showered, had some toast, finished packing, and was out the door by 7.40am. Perfect. As I wandered down the street a bus was pulling into the stop. Even better (not that you can have something that is even better than perfect, but let’s just go with this for now). I break into a trot. Then the handle snapped on my mountain deluxe backpack and – wham! – the bag fell to the road. I grab it up and keep running when one of the straps snapped and – wham! – the bag fell to the road again. Cradling the bag, which was a lot heavier than I remembered, I finally made it to the bus and sat down. “Excuse me,” said the woman next to me, “but your bag seems to be leaking.” Sure enough milk was seeping across the floor. “Oh dear,” I said. ‘Don’t worry,” the woman said, “It can only get better.” She paused. “Or worse,” she finally concluded.

I sat there, trying to remain calm, practising my breathing, and working out the extent of the damage. A man tapped me on the shoulder. ‘Excuse me but you’re leaking milk.” “Yes, I know,” I said and thanked him. Soon another woman tapped me on the shoulder. Again I thanked her, then continued practicing my counting.

At the Perth train station, the first useful stop, I disembarked and checked the damage. One of the tetra packs had sprung a leak. It might not be that bad, I thought, but in the back of my head I knew I won’t know completely until I checked in to the cabin six hours later. All I could do for now was remove the bastard carton and re-zip the bag. I toiled the backpack the few blocks down to the wharf, cussing all the way. Bloody cheap bag! Still, what do you expect for $14

–+–

Turns out the morning ferry is not running due to technical problems, so it’s a bus to Fremantle. Lovely. I ask where I can get a coffee and am pointed towards a shop down a bit and to the right. I get a take-away flat white – $3.80. THREE DOLLARS BLOODY EIGHTY!!! I’m over this Rottnest trip before it’s even begun. I’m telling you – I better get to keep a bloody quokka!

We all piled into the minibus. Across from me sat an elderly couple – he in a Scottish peaked cap complete with pom pom – and their daughter and her son. “We should get hour money back,” they moaned. “We payed for a river cruise not a bus ride. That’s why we came all this way, for a river cruise. We should at least write them an email of complaint. It’s not good enough to just say the boat’s being fixed. It’s your business and it you’re going to offer a river cruise then customers should get a river cruise. I reckon next time, next time, what we’ll do it not book before hand on the internet but come down on the day and if they’re not offering a river cruise then we go with another company. Still, at least we’ll get a river cruise coming back, but it will be dark, wouldn’t it? And we won’t be able to see anything. If we don’t get a river cruise coming back then I’m demanding my money back, ‘cos that’s what we paid for, wasn’t it?” And so on. It was incredibly grating. But I was quite happy to take the bus as the driver pointed out this attraction and that landmark, with a bit of home grown gossip thrown in. He was very entertaining. 

Waiting at the Fremantle Port for the ferry there was this intense smell, like no water borne smell I have ever smelt. It wasn’t that salty, rotting seaweed smell, or that gutted fish at the market smell. Funny, though, it was strangely familiar, like something from my deep dark past: a heavy, heady, dusty smell, with a touch of manure. It was then that I noticed on the other side of the Port a great carrier painted with the words: LIVESTOCK EXPRESS. Oh, so that’s the smell. I knew it was familiar.

A long time ago, when I was very small, my family spent some time of a cousin’s sheep farm. I have no idea how old I was, mostly like 6 or 7, I should ask Mah when I see her in Melbourne, but I have incredibly strong memories of the trip. I remember running across a paddock. I remember that Mah and Dah left early and I stayed for a few extra days. I remember sheep dogs, but I don’t remember sheep. But what I remember more than anything is being in a sheep shed. It was dark, just natural light piercing through the beams, walls, and floor boards (I remember that light seemed also to come up from the floor), and the timber floor was slightly waxy from all the lanolin. The floor was covered with a mixture of wool tufts and sheep droppings, and I remember so strongly that I didn’t want to walk across it – I’d get pooh between my toes! I was a delicate flower, even back then. But what strikes me the most is the smell – a mixture of sheep droppings and fine red dust and lanolin and labourer’s sweat. And the sun, there was also the smell of the sun – natural forces instead of the fluorescent light; or maybe that was a sound – a clean air and not one gently humming? I don’t know, but if the sun could have a smell, it was there. Nearly 30 years later all that came flooding back just by standing on an unfamiliar wharf in an unfamiliar city.

As the ferry was about to leave an old duck and her granddaughter leapt on board and squeezed in next to me on the back in the open air. We got chatting. Another Sydney-Sider over here to see her granddaughter compete in the national gymnastic championship. She’s only here for a day. “That’ll be enough,” she said.

I’m on the island 40 minutes later, but check-in is not until 2pm: another 3+ hours. I go for a wander while I wait and stand on my first Western Australian beach and see my second Western Australian lighthouse. As I was heading down to the beach I spy – oh joy of joys! – my first quokka. Slowly I sneak up and take photo after photo, each one a little bit closer. The big rat (sorry) marsupial just kept munching its seedpods. I got closer and closer until I was near enough for it to sniff my hand. I t wouldn’t let me pat it though, but they sure look cuddly. I WANT TO KEEP ONE! Finally, bored, it slowly started to hop away. I looked at my watch – 11.15am. “There you go,” I said to no-one in particular, “I’ve seen a quokka. I could easily go home now.”

After wandering back along the coast line and through all the holiday cottages jammed with vacationing families – the young scooting about on bicycles, the old sitting on foldable chairs on the verandahs enjoying either a cup of tea of a bottle of beer – I chat a while to Patricia, a guide trainee, in one of the many heritage spots. She’s doing her exams later in the week to become a fully-fledged volunteer. I wished her luck and promised to come to her session tomorrow as support. (I never made it)

I popped into the information centre – according to the board my room is still not available – so it’s a stroll down to the Quokka Arms Hotel for a pint and an enjoyable beer battered fish and chips with red pepper aioli (they love their aioli here in Western Australia – sort of the focaccia of the Noughties). As I ate I watched the ferry return with its next load of passengers; I was relieved to see it had a load of luggage this time, in a cage at the back. Hopefully my milk-sodden bag is amongst it.

Quokka Arms is a great place to people, and peacock, watch, though at $9 a pint I think I’ll be mostly drinking in. Groups gather around tables and order Coronas; kids clamber over the old stone fences or leap on the wooden stools in the beer garden, a bit like a human version of Q-Bert; young girls in skimpy shorts; lads over loaded with surfboards and enormous head phones; the occasional gents obviously thinking they’re in the Tour de France, peddles up, unclicks his specially designed shoes, then does that strange click-click waddle walk. The peacock strolled over to my table a number of occasions but I never got a good photo of it. He was either scared away by marauding children or realised I had no chips to spare.

At 2 minutes to 2pm I get jack of the waiting and join the service queue. My room is ready. At the pick-up/drop-off spot, a couple of doors from my cabin, my bag is waiting. Everything is looking rosy. I yank open my bag expecting my clothes to be a little damp and yoghurt smelling, but things were stickier than I wished. Three of the eggs had cracked also on the journey and leaked their albumenic goodness all over my new striped hoodie. I haven’t even had a chance to wear it yet. Five minutes in the bathroom sink with the bottle of body wash and my hoodie is soaking wet but seemingly egg free, a bit like a vegan cake, if you think about it, and probably just as tasty. Everything else, and I mean everything else, has the damp signs of the busted milk carton so I drape everything over the bunk bed railings in an attempt to dry. The moment I get to Mark and John’s I’m washing straight away. Thank goodness I had the insight to pop into the Rottnest grocery and pick up some booze. I was hoping on getting something Western Australian but – they don’t call me Cheap Clyde for nothing – I ended up with my ol’ favourite 2-litre cask of Yalumba Shiraz. It does me. I’ve finished my first glass just while typing this, and there’s plenty more where that glass came from!

To my amusement (or is that “dismay”?) the grocery also had, believe it or not, every food item that I had brought with me. I check using the IGA docket – every item. I could have just bought everything here and now not have a broken bag and clothing covered in eggnog. Oh well. Now that I think about it, I’m sure someone at work had mentioned this. Perhaps next time I’ll listen.

The room: Caroline Thomson 705. It’s quite nice really, I’ve stayed in far worse hotels. It’s a cabin designed to sleep 6 via a double and two lots of bunks (I thought I was getting a 2-person but I’m not complaining), an average sized kitchen table, a refrigerator (fantastic), a gas stove, and sink. Attached is a little bathroom being bison (sorry) basin, shower with one of those overly friendly curtains that just wants to cling to you, and toot (or “brasco” – hello Beautiful Creature!). Out front (where I’m sitting and chewing up Rose’s battery) is a picnic table under the little verandah. It’s all very nice, very comfortable, and very holiday. I’m feeling serene just writing about it. 

The seven cabins in my allotment form a squashed semi-circle around a communal barbeque.  I’m on a straight side so my neighbouring cabins (703 and 704) are on jaunty angles to complement the circular shape. I know that 704 has a young child in it as I’ve heard both the child and the mother, and they’ve hired a bike with a baby seat (absolute giveaway). 703 has a pink kids bike thrown out the front of it, so I’m assuming there’s a little girl there. Funny – the dad from 704 just rode up on his bike (the bike being the only form of transportation on the island. Actually, that’s not true – there’s the bus service and also (I was surprised) a train that used to carry artillery to the Oliver Hill Lookout, Western Australia’s first line of defence against enemy attacks. I’ll hire a bike tomorrow. Sorry, where was I?) Funny – the dad from 704 has just peddled up. Seems a nice guy – a Mac user so he can’t be at all bad – but I couldn’t help noticing the stupid bike shoes.

Let’s think about those stupid bike shoes for a moment. Sure you can click them into the peddles of your bike and go speeding along. Sure they are incredibly comfortable and great for your feet and make cycling an ease. And sure they give you a sense of belonging to a club, a movement, an identity. So sure to all these things and many more. But they make you look like a knob. Sense Factor might be high, but the Knob Factor is off the scale.

O-H M-Y G-O-D-S !-!-! A quokka – A QUOKKA – just did that cute little bounce up to my cabin to say hello. He came up, had a little sniff around, took out some discount brochures it had in its pouch, pissed on the doorstep, and then meandered off to the next cabin. Now, that’s what I call service!

It’s just started raining. And now it’s stopped. What’s the time – 5.09pm. I’ve been sitting here on the verandah (I went and bought an extension cord), typing in my notes and now I’ve suddenly realised how cold it has become. Brr, I say. I go inside and grab my jumper – luckily un-egged and un-milked – to put on. Noticing the clothes on the railings I realise how little clothes I’ve packed. I’m really doing this holiday on the easy with all clothes demanding a second wearing. Actually, I think I’m finally starting to perfect the notion of holiday packing – you really don’t need much at all, but with my new hoodie out of action it’s interesting how much you being to have to rely on just the basics. It’s very muchgoing to be the same t-shirt and jeans kind of days.

O-O-H-H M-M-Y-Y G-G-O-O-D-D-S-S !-!-!-!-!-!-! A QUOKKA JUST WENT INTO MY CABIN!!!! AAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!! Is that not the most amazing this ever!!! No, wait – I’ve now got two quokkas – DOUBLE AAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!! There are signs everywhere saying not feed the quokkas as they die or start forming gangs and mug you. Well, I can’t help myself and pinch off pieces of bread roll to tempt them closer. Oh no – I’ve created a quokka fight. One bit the other and now there’s fur. Oh gods they are so gorgeous! Why don’t we replicate them and have them as house pets.

It’s a bit later on (5.47), the rain has recommenced, and I’m now wearing my jumper, scarf and leather jacket. I could just go inside but what’s the fun of that? My 704 neighbours, who have been here for a week and have another week to go, have cycled off to the hotel. It’s raining in that “I’m not really raining” type of way. The information centre gave me some postcards. I’ve a few birthdays coming up but what do you write?

Having a lovely time
Wish you were here
Our room is marked with an “x”

Hmmm… I’m having a bit of trouble writing neatly, even just trying to hold the pen. The night’s a bit of a blur after that.

–+–

Wednesday I wake with just the palest of heads. What did I do last night? Nearly finished the cask of red for one thing. I had also cooked – I have no memory of this – and the stove is covered with fettuccini and stir-through pasta sauce. I didn’t bring any cleaning products (I would have thought they would have supplied at least a bottle of washing liquid and a brush) so I’m a bit lost to how I’m going to fix up this mess. Hot water and the towel once I’ve finished with it will have to do. I’d also left the gas tap on so was slowly killing myself all night.

I finally get out the cabin, after first checking on the state of the milked clothes (still damp), and walk down to the bike hire shed. The bike is the only form of transport on the entire island and a necessity if you wish to explore away from the settlement. At the shop I order a bike for the day. The lady asks if there are any additional things I might need: a basket, a light, a pair of those stupid bike shoes that make you look like a knob. I politely say no and just stick to ordering a geared bike and helmet. While waiting in line I worked out that I haven’t been on a bike for 16 years and I’m curious to know if riding a bike is like … well … riding a bike. Soon, seat adjusted and helmet on I find out that it is like riding a bike, though I’m pretty wobbly when I start off. Map in hand I set off anticlockwise on the yellow line which circles the entire island right down to the very western tip. Total estimated journey: 3 – 5 hours.

What I hadn’t counted on was just how exhausting cycling can be, especially considering I just set out as if the last time I cycled 22 kilometres was yesterday. After 2km, on reaching the Geordie Bay shops, I thought I was either going to throw up or have a heart attack. I buy a bottle of water and slowly sip away half of it. Great, 9% in and I’ve already halved my water supply.

I’ve also never ridden a bike with gears. The last bike I had was 10 Speed – you just clicked the dial to the resistance number you wanted. This bike has got dials on both handles. I think the idea is you have it at a low resistance that you can still pedal but at a high enough one that you propel yourself forward as you go. After a lot of mucking about I settle on a 2:5 combination. It seems to work the best.

I’m wearing jeans, a t-shirt and a jumper. I had hoped to wear the hoodie but that’s still damp from its egg mishap (examining it later, I missed some of the bloody egg. I’ll chuck it in the wash with everything else when I get to Mark and John’s). The sky is cloudy and the wind is crisp. The island is a lot hillier than I thought it would be but the struggle to get up one side (sometimes walked) is made up by the exhilaration of zooming down the other. And I’m enjoying myself immensely.

As I travel I stop and enjoy the views of the bays. Rottnest has 63 inlets and bays and, I reckon, I visit 59 over the day. The most spectacular spot is the West End. Standing on the timber lookout and watching the force of the waves come crashing in is a momentous experience, but try as I might I couldn’t see any whales; I’m a month too early.

On my way back, though, standing at the southernest point of the island, I spied a large shape bobbing out in the water. I washed it for a while as it seemed to dip under the waves to then come bounding back. IT’S A WHALE! IT’S A WHALE! I’VE SEEN A WHALE!! YAY!!! Turns out it wasn’t a whale, just a speedboat out fishing. Shoulders slouched I got back on my bike and treadled away.

I don’t know if I took the easy or the hard route, travelling anticlockwise around the island, but the hills seems steeper and the wind fiercer, but eventually I saw a holiday cabin and I realised I was back in Civilisation. I had made it! I stopped off at my cabin to refill my water bottle. It was 2pm. The entire journey had taken me two and a half hours.

I’d walked to the Bathurst Lighthouse on my first day but I still hadn’t been to the central one – the Wadjemup Lighthouse – or the Oliver Hill cannon for that matter, which was Australia’s first line of defence back in WWII. Unfortunately, I had now missed all the tours (The last tour for anything is 2pm. I tell you, they really need to reconsider how they manage the tour schedules but I suppose it’s designed for day visitors only.) so I decided to peddle the distance instead, and at least go and stand next to the landmarks and admire the view. The path heads out west from the Settlement and weaves its way through the inland lakes so it was a nice journey on mostly flat land that gave you the chance to do a little bit of bird watching too. Did I say “mostly flat land”? Not the bits to get to the Lighthouse or cannon. You’ve got to build these things on hills, you see; I was just a little shocked to think that they made hills so tall.

The cannon could fire an armour-piercing bullet a distance of 28km, which is sufficient to do some pretty serious damage if fired Perth-wards. Can’t remember how far away Perth is from the Island but the Old Duck who I was chatting to on the way over said that it the distance was no more than from Sydney Harbour to Manly. I didn’t stay long at the cannon, just enough to walk around; I find there’s something incredibly morbid about glorifying defence. Yeah, sure, the cannon was there to defend Australia but the display boards go into graphic detail about how much damage the cannon could do. It was so very proud of how much it was prepared to kill and destroy. The trouble is that Australia really has had absolutely no world importance except to produce movie stars and fight in other country’s wars. It’s a bit late now to ponder but what would have happened if Australia had told England to bugger off back in World War One? We wouldn’t have a public holiday at the very least. That sounds even more Un-Australian than fighting.

The Lighthouse is on an even taller hill but the view was magnificent. You could see the water horizon the entire 360 degrees – the full distance. It was the first time ever in my life that I have realised I was on an island. I’ve been on islands before (well, Australia’s an island, isn’t it?) but when do you get the chance to visually realise this? I am awed by the experience. I am disappointed, however, when I discovered that the lighthouse had been fully automatic since 1990. That’s such a pity as I always had dreams of marrying a lighthouse keeper and keeping him company. Will just go and have to find another lighthouse.

I took a detour on my way back that crossed north through the lake system, which meant that I retraced some of my earliest bike path, but this time travelling clockwise. It was head on wind the entire way and I was seriously buggered. The slightest sign of a hill was enough for me to get off and walk to the peak. I did make it back to my cabin, of course, and finally realised that I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Standing out the front of the cabin, watching the blackest of black crows, I devoured half a packet of chocolate wafers and two cups of tea. As shattered as I was I felt so proud of myself; first time on a bike in too many years and I had completely circled and criss-cross the island.

I looked at my watch: it was just going on 4pm. I go for a little lie down. I wake up at 7.

Food-wise I’ve got two cups of soup, a bottle of coke zero, and about a third of a carton of milk. It sounds like it’s raining but it turns out just to be the wind in the trees. All the shops are now closed (they close at 6) so I get dressed and plan for dinner at the Quokka Arms; they’ve a Wednesday special of beer and pasta for $20. Getting on the bike, though, was a shock to the system. I seem to have bruised my entire undercarriage; sitting was a tender subject. I take the ride very slowly.

As I wince my way through the settlement, I am stopped by the road being completely covered with quokkas. It was like the final scene from that rarely shown cinematic masterpiece Alfred Hitchcock’s The Quokkas. As I approached the little buggers all looked up, their little beady eyes catching in the street light, and I was reminded of that scene from that other cinematic masterpiece 1960’s Quokkas of the Damned (John Carpenter remade it in 1995). Silently, I slowly steered my way amongst them; they just sat there and allowed me to pass.

The Arms is packed, it being the only place open after 6pm on the entire island. The pasta options turn out to be macaroni cheese, tomato and fettuccini and a creamy carbonara. I ordered the carbonara and took my beer to sit outside. It wasn’t raining, just occasionally spitting, and it was nice sitting their watching the perfect row of lights on the horizon. There’s Perth, that must be Fremantle, but the lights kept on going; Albany perhaps? The meal eventually arrived (it wasn’t anything special) and I finished my beer. I considered another, but no, I’ve had my full for the day and really just wanted to go back to my little cabin and watch a movie while tucked up in bed. The rain has started too so it looks like my timing is right.

–+–

Thursday, 7:30 and I’m packed ready to go, listening to the My Fair Lady original Broadway recording. My backpack, now dairy product free, is out sitting in the pick-up zone for someone to either collect and transport back to Perth, or steal. I’ve wiped down the stove and the sink using the towel dipped in hot water, which seems to have done the trick. I’m not going to mop; I think you are expected to but bugger that, I’m on holiday!

Oh damn. The battery just went on Rose. No more My Fair Lady.

Oh double damn. The zip on my shoulder bag just broke, even ripping out some teeth in the process. I’m not doing well with bags, am I?

It rained solidly all night, paused long enough for me to put my backpack out, then started its downpour again. I may finally get the opportunity to wear the rainjacket I bought. I’m just waiting now till the bike hire reopens, so until then I’m sitting inside, or standing outside, sipping tea.

I’m also walking a bit like a cowduck – a wide gaited waddle. All my private bits are tender from all that cylcing. I’m just glad there’s no full length mirror, otherwise I’d have been tempted to take a gander (to continue the duck reference).

The rain stops at 8.30 and I lock the door and peddle off to return the bike. I’ve enjoyed having the bike; I’m sure I could get used to the bruises. By the time I have recollected by bike hire deposit the sky is prefectly clear and it looks like it’s going to be another wonderful Rottenst Island day.

–+–

The rest of the day was a tedious collection of waiting. I waited for the ferry, I waited for the river boat, I waited for the bus back to Anita’s. It’s now just past 3pm and I’m halfway through a cup of tea and still the waiting game continues. I’m now waiting for Anita so I can hand over the keys, then waiting to travel to Mark and John’s, my next hosts. I can’t remember if they were going to pick me up on the way home from work, or if I was to get their myself. Might go make a phone call.

–+–

All this waiting and travelling did give me a chance to think about the last couple of days. Me, who never likes to be mroe than a stone’s throw from the theatre district, had a truly great time on Rottnest Island, but I don’t know if it was relaxing. The first day was a mess of trekking up and down with my bags and waiting to get in to the cabin, but I did get to do one of the nature walks and had a nice lunch at the pub and chat to a very helpful guide. But then I just got pissed that night and lost about 4 hours. Yesterday I was on the bike for 5 solid hours, circling and criss-crossing the island. Considering I haven’t been on a bike for 16 years I think that’s a pretty impressive feat. I slept well before waking for dinner, but it wasn’t till late last night that I got to just sit with everything done and simply relax.

If I had booked another night then today would have been taken up just sitting and reading and thinking. And relaxing! Someone once told me that that was what you are supposed to do on holidays; I seem to spend mine constantly rushing from gallery to pub. Still, I’ve five more days here.

Tomorrow I’m going to Fremantle Markets, which should be fun, see if I can get a new shoulder bag, and I think we’re hitting the Court that night. Saturday is Mark’s birthday party so I’m invited to that. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday all presently free. I’d like to go to the zoo, and there’s the aquarium. But then again I might just sit around and read Moby-Dick and try out this “relaxing” that people seem to talk about.

Decisions, decisions, just as long as I’m enjoying myself.


What I did on my holiday – “Zoo”

Monday 6 July 2009

I did the “Robot” and moss green combo and looked fantastic.

Anita and John’s is one of those townhouses built on the back half of another block so it’s kind of difficult for people to knock on the front door – it’s down a little pathway then through a locked door. I figured it would be easier if I just met the Mark and John out the front; they didn’t seem to mind and were out the front of the house waiting for me when I walked down the path..

So we drove to “Zoo”, which is just around the corner from Mark’s work in Northbridge. Northbridge, from what I can gather, is Perth’s (to use Sydney references) Kings Cross and Chinatown and Oxford Street and George Street, all rolled into one. A kebab shop on every corner, a nightclub in between, some sort of drunken revelry out the front – home away from home for me. “Zoo” is entered via a back laneway past some skip bins – very KX. After the $10 entry fee, the three of us snaked down the darkened path to the dance floor and bar. The space was a pretty accessible one: good sized bar, some lounges in an alcoved section, a hearty dance floor with the DJ booth in one corner, and a smaller back section for standing around. The walls, though, were like black marble (I’m sure they’re just glossy paint) but they made the place look twice as big with little mysterious passageways into exciting little private areas. Even with my glasses on I needed to feel my way around the walls – I walked into my own reflection on more than one occasion. Anyway, bar visited and a drink each, we took up a spot in the little back section, just on the edge of the floor.

Well, M+J seemed to know everyone. All these people kept coming up and saying “hi”. I was well impressed, especially considering they had told me they rarely ventured out. They even knew the organiser, a man who I worked out had served me drinks at the Manacle Bar back in Sydney. Quite handsome he was too. So, people would come and go and I would be introduced to them all. I said to the boys at one stage was social butterflies they seem to be. John assured me if was just because they had “new meat” with them for display. Oh, I thought, but just between you and me I quite liked being described as “new meat”.

We had got there around 10.15ish, and the night was going well, having had a few drinks each. The boys have slowed down – school tomorrow – but I go to get another drink. “I’m sorry,” I’m told by the girl behind the counter, “the bar’s closed.” It was just on midnight.

Twenty minutes later the three of us are standing in the laneway. We would have left sooner but I got confused in the cloakroom (the leather jacket they were trying to give me looked a lot more smart than my actual leather jacket. Turns out it was the right jacket after all, I just didn’t recognise the tag) and so we walked back to the car. I was tempted to get a kebab but I kept the desire tamed; I’m not sure the boys would have appreciated me smelling the car out with garlic sauce. Soon they were dropping me out the front of Anita’s and I made my way through the gate and to bed. I was home in my boxer shorts flicking the light out by a quarter to one.

So that’s the night life of Perth.


What I did on my holidays – Margaret River

Monday 6 July 2009

Very lazy morning Friday, it being about 12.30pm before I finally pulled the door behind me. I had been given strict instructions to be home, packed and ready to roll, by 3.30, so with only a few hours to play with I took Anita’s suggestion and instead of turning left towards the city, turned right.

Beaufort Street isone of those artery streets that join the city to the north … or perhaps it’s the other way round? The buses run down (and up) Beaufort Street on a very regular timetable. Every couple of kilometres there’s a shopping village consisting of an IGA, chemist, chicken eatery, hairdressers and – most peculiar – a picture framers. People of Perth must have no wall space left to accommodate such a demand. In one lot there was the “Rembrandt Restaurant”; a few blocks later there’s “Mozart’s Patisserie”. I was half expecting there next to be “Galileo’s Dog Wash and Grooming Salon” a little further along.

What there is, though, is the Astor Cinema which is holding Perth’s International Film Festival; how nice of them, they must have known I was coming. I picked up the catalogue. Perhaps I can catch something next week before I head for Rottnest?

I walked and I walked and I kept walking. I felt fit and exploratory and intrepid. This is how you see a city! And then, over the horizon, appeared a Babylonic Splendour – a Centro Shopping Centre. I wonder if they’ve got a K-Mart, I … ummm… wondered as I cut my way through the car park. Sure enough, there it was. Why was I after a K-Mart? ‘Cos they had the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for $16.42!!! Bargain! I also picked up a rather fetching striped Bonds hoodie and a grey marle raglan t-shirt (I have been wearing the same hoodie and t-shirt for four days straight. Soon enough they could go on holiday for me). I was a happy shopper and I turned and started south.

Now, a normal person would probably be a little tired by now – and I was – and so would consider catching a bus back home, but not me. I walked the entire distance back, cursing myself for not being a more normal person. My feet refused to talk to me when I finally made it through the gate. Anita looked up the distance – 13.2km. Must admit I was a little disheartened; I thought I had walked more.

–+–

Bags in the hire care, Anita and I started on our 4-hour journey to Margaret River. It shouldn’t have taken that long but there had been a major accident on one of the bridges so we c-r-a-w-l-e-d along that, then we had a slight sign reading malfunction, but we got to the sweet little cottage eventually. That night we dined in on a pretty fantastic chillied chicken pizza and watched Iron Man. Bed soon followed … separate rooms, of course.

–+–

After a slightly awkward start (it wasn’t until we had the eggs and other ingredients ready that we discovered not only there was no saucepan but no hot plate either. We ended up scrambling in the microwave – very light and fluffy they were too.), we set off for a stroll up and down the main street. Anita was after a breakfast table (you know the ones with the fold down legs so you can sit up in bed and watch telly while munching on your tea and toast) and I was after a book (any book), but we both left empty-handed. I’ve this thing of writing the holiday destination on the frontispiece; it would have been nice to have a book scribbled “Margaret River, July 2009”. I could have picked up some Penguin Classic that I think I should read (The Odyssey, anyone?) but I’ve got enough already on the book shelf at home, ready to read (Ulysses, anyone?)

Afterwards we drove to Colonial Brewery and enjoyed their sampler tray – four beers on a wooden board shaped like a cross between a two-up paddle and a Japanese wooden shoe – while nibbling chips, aioli and buffalo wings. We both very much liked the Kolsch Beer over the others.

Next was the Berry Farm for Devonshire Tea (I had coffee). Sipping out drinks we were bombarded by little honeyeaters that landed around (even on) us and suckled away at the left over strawberry jam. Anita and I sat their as statues and took umpteen photos. Anita got some great shots as the birds were mostly facing her; I got mostly back shots. I’ll try to get some copies of Anita’s pics. At the Berry Farm we finally bought some things – me some jams for Mah and some port for my next house guests (which I hope they open while I’m there), Anita some port for a friend and some chutney for herself. Nice people, the owners threw in a bottle of verjuice. Anita couldn’t wait to get out her Maggie Beer cookbook and start creating.

We did go to a proper winery: Xanadu, chosen for our love of ‘80’s roller skating filmology. Didn’t buy anything though. The winery was actually named after the Coleridge Poem. I can’t pretend to say I wasn’t just a bit disappointed when I learnt that.

We came home for a cup of tea and a short rest before walking down to Wino’s Restaurant for dinner. Anita had only grand things to say about this place – a lass at work had done similar – but while the meal was excellent (em the olive gnocchi followed by the barramundi, Anita the goat’s cheese mouse then the tagliatti (spelt something like that – looked like a seafood pasta to me), then both of us the chocolate mouse to share), the service was lacking. From walking through the door we were left waiting – for our seat; for our drinks order to be taken; for our drinks to arrive; for our food order; then they forgot my entrée – so both of us were annoyed with how the night was professionally panning out. The company, though, was magical and the two of us talked freely and honestly. I was again reminded why Anita is one of my dearest friends.

There were a couple of minor hiccups with the night, the worse being the view. While we had a very good table in the corner with excellent people watching opportunities, my direct line of vision was down some guy’s arse crack. I’m not sure if he had failed to wear underpants or was especially low-riding that night, the chubbsy was pure plumber’s smile. At another time, when the table behind us arrived, Anita whispered, “When I say, turn around and smile… Now!” And so I did. It’s always fun to get your mug in other people’s family photos. Pity the immediacy of digital cameras.

Eventually we headed back to our holiday home and after a peppermint tea and the movie Clue, to bed. It’s an early start tomorrow.

–+–

Sunday I was in a terrible mood when I got up – who gets up before 9am on a Sunday?! Whoever it was who decided that checkout time was 10am should be shot in the next with a herring tipped in treacle. But up and out we were. First we stopped in the city for the Sunday Markets (basically the same stuff they have in the shops but now on the streets), then we made our way to the Vasse Felix winery to see the Janet Holmes a Court gallery. I liked her sculpture garden, didn’t think overly of the wine; coffee was nice though.

You see, the problem is I’m a Quaffer. I’m sure all these wines were fantastic quality, but I miss the taste of the little plastic spout. I’ve never been one for quality – quantity does me fine. Just as long as I don’t get a headache the next morning, that’s all I ask.

Afterwards, not interested in more wineries, Anita took me to the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse to finally get my first glimpse of the Indian Ocean. “Pah!” I scoffed, “I’ve got one of those back in Sydney!” The Cape’s National Park was all burnt out in February this year and so the landscape was made up of blackened stalks with the occasional bloom of green to colour the range. It was awing to imagine the force that the fires must have had, but heartening to the see that Nature has eventually fought through.

I suggested we grab an ice cream cone from the counter, but Anita had better ideas. Our last stop before heading back to Perth was Simmo’s Icecreamery – absolutely delicious! I saw my first emus of the journey too – paddocked but still emus. One of them was only interested in trying my ice cream but I told him a few harsh words and the creature sulked off with its tail feathers between its drumsticks.

After an uneventful journey home John, Anita and I heated the venison pies we had picked up earlier. They were very nice, the pastry especially, though, as John said, would you have known they were venison if you hadn’t been told? Still a nice dinner, though. Tonight I’m going out with my next hosts to my first gay clubbing experience; some night they have here called “Zoo”. Should be fun. Still tossing up what to wear – I want to look my best. Should I go with the check shirt, sleeves either unrolled or rolled, or perhaps, and this is how I’m thinking, the moss green long sleeve top with the olive “Robot” t-shirt over the top? The boys will be here in twenty minutes, I better start getting ready.


What I did on my holidays – Perth

Friday 3 July 2009

On my last journey I broke both a window and a friendship. The window was easily mended but the friendship has shown to be beyond repair, though I have tried on a number of occasions. The most recent attempt was two days ago when I rang to see if he would like to meet when I’m in Melbourne. He politely said no then hung up. Oh well, I thought, that’s that then. I’m still to be punished.

This trip I’m also staying with friends. Let’s hope I’ve learnt my lesson.

–+–

All packed, I left for the airport at 1pm, 4 hours before my flight. I like being at the airport all checked in – there’s nothing else you can worry about, it’s all done. You’re stuck till you get to your destination so you might as well relax.

I started my book – Moby-Dick (incidentally did you know that only the title is hyphenated? The Great White Whale itself if always written as two words – how about that!) and was over 120 pages into the 634 by the time the flight was called. Great story, considering nothing’s really happened so far, but it’s kept me page turning. Some great moments of comedy too. You can sense the excitement of the chases that are to follow.

Why didn’t someone tell me that Perth was so far away! Stupid Me for not being able to count. 3 hours time difference between take off and landing + 2 hours time difference = 5 hours. I had it burnt into my brain it was only going to be 3 hours (I forgot the time difference). It wasn’t till I was sitting on the plane in a chair that would only stay upright, with an overhead light that didn’t work that I realised the difference. And then, due to on coming winds, it was a further hour before I landed – 6 hours! At least I got lots of reading done.

At one point a flash of brightness out the window caught my eye. First I thought it was a light on the wing of the plane but on closer viewing there was Zeus lighting a patch of clouds in the near distance. I watched mesmerised as the clouds sparked with neon light, giving body and magnitude to their size. The plane was above the clouds and I realised that while the sky was ink blank, the clouds themselves were a deep purple, like an eggplant that has lost it’s gleam. Slowly the plane past by the electrical storm and was lost in the shadows of the wing. Zeus will have to play without an audience. I went back to my book.

Writing this, about half hour from Perth, I’ve finally put the book down at the end of Chapter 40. I think I’ve read enough about Cetology for one night (Chapter 32: 16 pages – 16 pages!!! – on the descriptions of the different types of hunted whales!). Moby Dick (the whale – note no hyphen) is about to make his first entrance into the story, so I thought this a perfect place to stop – something for next time.

Arriving I was a little sad to not find Anita waiting for me. Damn it, I said, I’ve told her the wrong date! And here’s me without her number in ready reach (it’s safe on the laptop). But before long there she is – I was just being a Silly Impatient Billy (and SIB, not an SOB – bit of a difference). After hugs I grabbed my bag (“Is that all you’ve got for 2 whole weeks?” Anita said) and we headed back to Anita’s home and my base camp for the next week. A really nice place, I was well impressed. John (A’s hubby) made us each a tea and we chatted for a while before realising that with the 2 hour time difference it was now past 1am Sydney time – no wonder I was so tired. So off to beds we went and a very good night’s sleep.

I kept waking up through the night but realised I was still on Sydney time so would roll over and get a few more hours sleep. I finally arose and left the house about 10.30 – perfect holiday getting up and about time. Anita had given me basic instructions to get into the city – just go that way, then turn left – and it was as simple as that. 20 minutes’ walk later I was in the city – three cheers to Anita and John for such a great location! First things first I popped into the tourist centre, picked up some brochures, and booked my ferry to Rottnest. The lady behind the counter was a little hesitant with my chances for getting to Rottnest – the weather hadn’t been the best. “Good luck” she said in not the most encouraging way as I made for the door.

The rest of the morning was a “getting to know you” stroll around the city centre and down to the wharf to find the ferry point – not that difficult, they’re all at the same spot. Walked past the bell tower (might go back later) and the ferris wheel (it seems that you’re not a city these days unless you’ve got one of those bloody great things on your water’s edge) then back to wander around the malls. There’s always a sense of comfort when you realise that all malls, to an extent, all look the same. I idled my time visiting all the regular shops I would normally visit when in the city, then went looking for a food court for lunch. I enjoy food courts; there’s something so cosmopolitan about them – all these national gourmets all side by side and being dished out on cheap crockery. But half an hour later… no food court. I ended up settling on a very nice Asian place that did a yummy-ish BBQ pork and noodles, plus a glass of wine – my first since arriving.

Still early in the day so I thought I’d visit the Art Gallery of Western Australia. An hour and a half later I left the gallery, every piece of art viewed. Can’t say I wasn’t disappointed, but there were some lovely pieces there that I knew, and they have an interesting complete gallery exhibition concept (each room being themed, such as the body, the line, etc, so that different eras sit together on the one wall) and it’s a very nice space too (circular around a spiral staircase) but there was nothing that stole me, nothing that sold itself as truly “Western Australian”. NSW has Brett Whitely and Sydney Nolan and Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington Smith (and there was some Nolans and Prestons and C Smiths on the WA walls), and Victoria has the Heidelberg Collective and JohnBrack (and there were examples of both on display here), and Queensland ‘s got Ian Fairweather (and there many of his here as well!) but here was nothing that I learnt to be WA’s grand artist. I thought this was very disappointing and a little sad. Everyone needs someone to promote.

Actually, thinking about this later, I think the problem is that the Gallery is only half a gallery. It’s a modern gallery only. What they need is another space for the 19th and turn of the 20th Century works. There must be some old building they can find to slap a coat of Federation paint on to hang the huge European landscape canvases. I reckon they do that… International standard!

I came back home, picking up some milk at the local IGA on the way. I also found out where the gay bar is – The Court. I had walked past it on my way into town and not realised. I didn’t go in, there will be plenty of that next week. It was also, on the way home, that I remembered it was my birthday. I’m now 36. I felt ever so slightly like Nick Carraway, but while I remembered my birthday while purchasing a three litre container of milk, he had just been in attendance to a wild party. Now that I think about it, I’m nothing like Nick Carraway at all.

For my birthday dinner, Anita and John took me to the Little Creatures Brewery down in Freemantle for the most sublime bowl of chillied muscles, my main after the shared nibbles of skewered kangaroo served with a tomato relish(more please), prawns in something delicious, pork belly all mouth meltingly wonderful, and a bowl of perfect chips accompanied with the creamiest aioli ever – ended up eating it with a spoon. I was in heaven. Our fourth dinner guest, Julie, did say that the aioli at Flipside was better, so I jotted that down for a later treat. Greedy me then deserted on waffles with poached apple and rhubarb drizzled – drizzled! – with maple syrup; all washed down with an assortment of Little Creature beers. They needed to roll me back to the car for the journey home. A great way to end my birthday night, but a great night all around, beginning with my pares ringing to wish me a happy day. I was very touched.

Back home, and after a tummy-settling cup of tea, I took Moby-Dick to bed. Didn’t read a page.

–+–

Today, Thursday, did the Western Australian Museum, or mUSEum as they advertise themselves which I think is a pretty nifty way of promoting a museum, and what a lot of fun that was! Best $5 I’ve ever donated. There is something quite enjoyable about looking at a display of stuffed marsupials; their stolen lives snarling at you though plastic teeth, glaring at you through marble eyes. I did also get a kick out of the hallways of butterflies, each jousted with a sewing pin right through their gullets. Admittedly, I did find them quite educational, but more for my screenplay than for their lepidopteral genealogical value – I’ve now worked out how I’m going to remove the secretary.

They’ve got a stuffed bison!

Are dinosaurs just the greatest thing ever? I stood aside, smiling, watching a school group of young boys all going “Waaaauuuuuuwwww!” Do young girls “ahhh” and “0ooh” at the site of a reproduction of a Tyrannosaurus Rex’s skull? I hope so. I’ve always loved dinosaurs having several books as a kid (I do have a willy after all) and it was a ticklish delight to stand in the shadow of the immense skeletons and just be awed by their size. It was a great time.

Less involving was the Indigenous Collection of which I quickly glanced before moving on. I’m the same at the art galleries when it comes to Aboriginal work – I simply do not care. It actually makes me angry – not the torture “White man” inflicted, or destruction of cultures, or the “significance” of the dot and line paintings – I’m angry with myself for not even wanting to know more. I just think, So what? and move on to the Dutch still lives. Dinosaurs, meteorites, collections of Bakelite radios – tell me more! Aboriginal anything – tell someone who cares.

Presently at the WA mUSEeum there’s an exhibition on Nick Cave. Strange place to show an exhibition on a Victorian, I thought. Lots of Cave note books (which were interesting) and art works and collectibles (not as much). All very worthy, but he’s never done anything musically to me. I’ve just always thought him a skinny bloke with bad hair. Apparently he sings all right. So Cave’s importance was mostly lost on me. Now, Rick Astley – the Exhibition… that would be something.

Did you know that the Laughing Kookaburra is an introduced species to Western Australia? Neither did I. Turns out they were released form the Perth Zoo some time around the turn of the 20th Century and now inhabit the entire southern coastline. Isn’t that interesting?

For lunch I dined at the mUSEeum cafe on a very nice toasted chicken melt thing and the world’s largest coffee. They upgraded me from a mug to a bucket due to my long waiting time, which was nice of them.

Had my first beer in a Perth gay bar. The Court is right across from the mUSEum so I popped in for a soothing ale. Looks pretty much like every other gay bar I’ve ever been in. Nice flocked wallpaper though. After one beer (it’s only middies and pints here. I, of course, had a pint, though I do think they are a little too big for ease of drinking) and collecting the pink press (a monthly which probably goes to suggest the amount of gay life in Perth) I headed home. Anita’s throwing a special dinner for me tonight and a work colleague. Should be a night of quality conversation and delectable dining.

As I was peeling the potatoes I learnt that Mollie Sugden has died. I’m very sad.

Oh damn, a glass just smashed upstairs.

–+–

Anita’s Most Fantastic Kangaroo and Coopers Pie
(which started life as a beef and Guinness pie)

From Delicious Magazine, July 2009

Serves 6 (well, 4 plus leftovers for 1)

  • 1/2 cup (50g) plain flour
  • 1kg diced kangaroo (or chuck or blade steak)
  • 140ml sunflower oil
  • 30g unsalted butter
  • 220g small button mushrooms (I wouldn’t ‘cos I’m anti-mushroom but most people like them and I couldn’t taste them anyway)
  • 2 onions, thickly sliced
  • 1 Tbs sugar
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 300ml beef stock
  • 300ml Coopers (or Guinness)
  • 2 Tbs tomato paste
  • Leaves from 3 thyme sprigs
  • 3 tsp Worcestershire sauce

For the Mustard suet crust:

  • 175g self-raising flour, plus extra to dust
  • 2 tsp English mustard powder
  • 40g powdered suet mix (you can get it at supermarkets)
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten (for brushing)

(You can use puff pastry instead.)

For the suet pastry, sift the flour, mustard and 1 tsp of salt into a bowl, then stir in the suet. Sit in 1/2 cup (125ml) cold water to make a soft dough. Tip onto a floured surface and knead dough gently for 1-2min until smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap, then chill for 2 hrs.

To make the filling, place the flour in a shallow bowl, season with salt and pepper, then add the kangaroo, tossing to coat. Shake off and reserve the excess flour. Heat 1/4 cup (60ml) oil in a flameproof casserole over a medium-high heat. In 2 batches, cook the kangaroo for 8 min or until browned all over. Lift onto a plate with a slotted spoon. Set aside.

Increase the heat to high, add half the butter and all the mushrooms to the casserole pan and cook, stirring for 2 min until slightly golden. Remove and set aside with the kangaroo.

Reduce heat to medium-high. Add the remaining4 tbsp oil to the pan with the onion and sugar. Cook for 15 min, stirring until onion is caramelised. Add remaining butter and garlic and cook for 1 min. Stir reserved flour into onion, followed by the stock, Coopers, tomato paste, thyme and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to the boil, stirring, then return the kangaroo and mushrooms to the pan. Season, partially cover then reduce heat to low and simmer for 1.5 hrs or until beef is tender and sauce has thicken. Cool mixture.

Preheat oven 220C.

Spoon kangaroo mixture into a deep 2 lire pie dish. Push a pie funnel into the centre, if desired.

Working quickly as the pastry will become very soft when brought to room temperature, unwrap pastry and roll it out on a lightly floured surface to form a disc that’s slightly larger than the top of the dish (about 8mm thick). Cut off a thin strip from the edge, brush with a little water and press onto the trim of the dish. Brush with more water. If using a pie funnel, cut a small cross in the centre of the pastry and lay over the dish so that he pie funnel pokes through (Alternatively, cut a slit in the pastry to allow steam to escape). Seal pastry edges, trim excess, then crimp the edges to seal. Brush the pastry with the beaten egg yolk mixed with a little water. Bake for 30-35min until the pastry is crisp and golden, then serve.

Anita serves this with a hearty potato and sweet potato mash.

–+–

Chocolate Fondants

From Delicious Magazine, April 2008

Serves 4 (the recipe says 6 but who listens to recipes)

  • 200g good-quality dark chocolate (such as 70% Lindt)
  • 240g unsalted butter, diced
  • 4 eggs
  • 90g caster sugar
  • 30g plain flour, sifted
  • icing sugar to dust

Grease and line 2 baking trays with baking paper. Grease and line the sides of 6 (4) 4cm deep, 8cm metal rings with baking paper and place them on the trays. You can also use six 3/4 cup (185ml) soufflŽ dishes that have been greased and lightly dusted with flour (shake off any excess flour).

Chop the chocolate. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water (don’t let the bowl touch the water) and allow to melt, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together until thick and pale. Fold in the chocolate mixture, then fold in the flour. Pout into metal rings or souffle dishes and chill for at least 2 hours (this help fondants maintain their soft centre during cooking).

Preheat oven 200C. bake the fondants for 10-12 minutes until set – they should be cooked on the outside but runny in the centre (Anita did for another two lots of 5min before she was happy the tops had set).

Remove form the oven and allow to sit for a moment before turning out. If using metal rings, use a palette knife or spatula to carefully transfer fondants to serving plates, then remove metal rings and baking paper. Fondants cooked in souffle dishes can be served straight from the dish.

Dust with icing sugar and serve with a double cream and ice cream.

When Anita served these, they looked magical, and it was a sweet joy when you cracked open the outer cooked shells to see the gooey chocolately insides trickle out. A top marks sensational ending to a night.