Category Archives: Food

Pants-off Hot: 1 Day in Nelson

Nelson, Nelson, you blow my mind.
So much sun, so many smiles
So much to see, so much to eat.

The market, my God, the market…

Vegan sprouted gifts galore
Raw cocoa Snickers bars
Spicy wholemeal oliebollen
The Dutch Touch, Yeah yeah yeah
Argentinian alfajores, alpha-what?!
Sri Lankan vegi roti wrap
Too much, too much

All Blacks towering everywhere

Is that one? And him?
Don’t ask me.
I’m a vegan, I don’t know.

Just get a selfie just in case

Full to busting, hands aren’t full
Fermented black garlic spread

Got from Mot, loaded for home

Rugby stats as genius art
Mind blown!
Got to stop.

Want so bad, pretty as hell

Wait.

Vegetarian Butcher, holy shit

Nelson, Nelson I gotta say

You’re pretty-damn pretty

Pretty damn hot

Pants-off hot

Hotter than hot

The sexiest city in the whole wide world

Named after that dude

That famous dude

The ha-ha! guy

You go Nelson

You do you

I’m too hot

Pants-off hot

Time to lie down sleep it off.

Unspeakable

The wife-to-be is quite fond of faggots. Me, I’m not so sure. I mean, some things just bring up long-embedded reactions. Thoughts of toffs bullying young fags in Tom Brown’s School Days, or bundles of twigs piled under heretics who will not recant before the flames consume them.

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I know words have several meanings but I can’t quite get my head around the idea that my fiancé finds comfort in little rissoles made of offal and offcuts named after, well…

It turns out they’re a speciality of her homeland, the English Midlands, traditionally eaten with gravy, mash and peas. Like bound twigs, they are bundles of otherwise worthless bits. Pig’s liver, heart and shoulder with herbs and breadcrumbs. A gutless English haggis, if you will.

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The name makes sense. The first printed use was in 1843 when a local paper noted some fat bugger had eaten 20 of them. Clearly some feat.

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The word comes from Latin fascis ‘bundle of wood’ and is related to the Roman symbol of authority and punishment, the fasces; an axe bound in a bundle of rods. The rods for whipping, axe for beheading. The Italian fascists took their name from it believing it showed how the bound cause of the many confers unbreakable strength (which sounds much like an argument of their communist foe.)

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Unlike that other great fascist symbol, the swastika, the fasces did not fall from favour, and is still proudly displayed by the US government.

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Of course, the humble faggot can have other meanings. Facebook has banned English users from talking about their meaty treat because of this. Ads that play on the name have also been supressed.

Words can be tricky. Some people can say them, sometimes. Others cannot. It depends on where you live, who you are. Borders and rules are shifty.

This struck me last month while listening to podcasts about the celebrated Dam Busters raid. It is 75 years since that audacious attack on the heart of Nazi Germany when the leader, Guy Gibson, chose the name of his beloved dog as the code-word for success. It was a common, affectionate name in 1940s England. My English father had a cocker spaniel with the same name at the same time. But the BBC did not dare mention the dog’s name. They simply referred to “Gibson’s dog” or “the dog’s name”.

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The word has an ugly history. Abuse. Reclamation. Suppression. Cultural imperialism and bias. Its use, or absence, is fraught with problems. The great wordsmith Stephen Fry is writing a script for the Peter Jackson remake of the 1955 film. All people can talk about is whether the dog should be named or renamed.

There is no easy answer. History happened, and should not be ignored. Brave young men gave their lives on the raid and thousands of innocents, woman and children and enslaved labourers, died in their beds. Whose story is it?

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The American history of slavery has not ended. The debate in the US over the unspeakable word bleeds into the rest of the world. No one’s hands are clean. I learned this when the UK treasury tweeted that anyone who paid taxes in the UK up to 2015 had helped end slavery!, based on the fact that repayments on reparations paid out in 1835 had just been completed, 180 years later.

It was an appalling twisting of words. The £20 million (£200 billion or US$405 billion today) was paid not to the former slaves, but to their owners. Half went to just 6% of the claimants, a despicable roll-call of Britain’s future elite. To make it worse, the money was clawed back through taxes on everyday goods, making the many pay for the sins of the few.

The fact that every time I had a pint or a pub lunch in the UK before 2015 played into this sick abuse is hard to swallow. It makes me feel angry and ill.

The persistent call in the US for reparations for the victims of slavery is usually met with derision. It cannot be afforded, is undeserved. That is nonsense.

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I have heard the iniquitous use of the unspeakable word, in songs and movies, justified by black musicians as their right in lieu of reparations. I can sing it, say it, but you can’t, is said seriously, and with a smile. I respect that greatly.

But American history is not world history. The imperial reach of their media should not swamp the nuance of different cultures and taste.

Black US forces fought the Nazis in Europe and famously experienced a freedom that did not exist at home, the so-called ‘land of the free’. The British refused to bow to American racism.

The only time they ever did was in the war of 1812 when captured white American sailors demanded they were segregated from their fellow combatants while imprisoned in Britain. It was a foreign concept on British soil. The black prisoners amused themselves while waiting for freedom by staging a production of Romeo and Juliet. There’s a book about it, a film to follow.

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Some things are hard to swallow but Shakespeare, that great Midlands lover of words and nuance, was adept at throwing bits of this and that together to turn the unpalatable and mundane into an experience that transcends the simple definition of words. It is part of his undying genius.

To the Bard, the world was never black and white. And he probably also liked faggots.

 

And hark ye, sirs; because she is a maid,
Spare for no faggots, let there be enough.

                                     -Henry VI Part 1

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Reading Minds

I used to work in a job where people read books. Some read them on their devices, but most brought along actual books. Books they loved.

This wasn’t the distant past. People also chatted, messed around on phones or flicked through magazines. Some preferred to close their eyes and escape the day. But most chose to read books.

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As a writer, I always asked what they were reading, and why. It was a good way to relax them, to take their mind off the 16-gauge needle I was about to slide into their arm. It also helped me understand readers better. Were they reading for distraction or passion, to acquire knowledge and understanding, or to simply affirm their beliefs?

Once, a woman proudly said she only read non-fiction, because she didn’t want to waste her time on things that weren’t true. She was reading a book by a famous TV medium. The irony lingered briefly in her eyes before disappearing into enthusiasm.

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One of the truisms of reading is that women read more fiction than men, and that men read less fiction as they get older. And even though I was always a big reader (and writer) of fiction, this has happened to me, accelerating with the age of demanding devices and constant distraction. Now, I have to make myself read, to regain the lost joy of reading.

I’m reading a novel about astronauts practicing to go to Mars, and another told by Shakespeare’s little brother. They’re cracking reads, full of exciting science and history, insight and humour, beauty and pain, but my phone constantly lures me away with its tantalising chimera of connection.

This morning, I avoided reading a novel by scanning an article about Quorn. It is set to become the first multi-billion dollar alt-food. It is not meat. It is not even a plant. It is an ultra-processed mould, which is not how it is marketed. I like having an alternative to meat, but anything ultra-processed is not food.

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I then read an article about how the human brain has shrunk by 20% in the last 30,000 years, mirroring the process of domestication. Domestic animals don’t need to think, we do it for them, defining their needs. Settling down into civilisation has done the same to us. We don’t need to know how to hunt and gather, so our hungry brains (which take the lion’s share of our blood and energy) have withered.

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And it’s not just food that we have outsourced. We all used to sing, tell stories, entertain and attract potential mates. We now leave that to our betters.

Algorithms can predict what we will like before we have had a chance to form an opinion. They know what will engage and enrage us.

Neanderthals had much bigger brains than modern humans. They needed it to thrive in a pretty tough environment, so they were probably cleverer than us. Which goes against our naturally self-aggrandising assumptions, since we see no Neanderthals walking in the street, or on Twitter.

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But current estimates reckon about 40% of Neanderthal DNA lives on in us, in different little bits, spread throughout the population. You and I have about 2%, but no one knows exactly what it is doing. Hopefully we possess part of their cleverness. Maybe their love of art or dress sense. Early human cave paintings in Iberia have recently been attributed to them, not us. Maybe they gave us storytelling, music; a sense of the divine. It seemed to suddenly appear in humans 50,000 years ago, when we came face-to-face with our big-brained cousins.

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Reading novels increases human empathy. This is a measurable fact. Maybe that is why women read more novels then men. That is my speculation. But I know for a fact that the people I stuck needles into for 7 years read more novels than any other type of media. They gave of their time, body and blood, for people they didn’t know. Because they cared.

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I’ve started reading novels again. Because you are what you eat, and fiction matters. Because we live in a world where a semi-literate clown can be elected to great power while spurning truth and novels.

Fiction, like a good meal, makes me feel better about myself and the world. That is something that rarely happens when I stare at a device.

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2 Days in Christchurch (part 2)

Hanging in the Square

Working in theatre, television, sound and health I’ve travelled most of my life. Either up and down New Zealand or through bits of the world.

Even when I’m travelling just to see new places I rarely sleep well in hotels. I think it’s the fact I’m always aware of the unfamiliar, waking to check where I am, rather than due to any discomfort.

That said, I’ve slept in lot of noisy, hot or stuffy rooms. Last night was not like that.

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I’m in one of the new hotels that are slowly rising from the rubble of Christchurch. Breakfree on Cashel Street is the fifth different hotel I’ve stayed in post-quake and I think it’s my favourite.

It’s stylish, interesting – fun to be in. My room is a tiny studio but the design makes it seem huge thanks to clever mirrors and a chunky, industrial glass and steel en-suite in the corner of the room. I almost had to pry myself out of it last night to wander the CBD.

I had hoped to catch up with an old friend and drink beer in the air of a warm nor-wester but he had to work on Evita so I took the chance to be in this nice space and write without the pressures of home nagging at me (fix this, sort that, clean the blah blah blah).

That’s the thing about being alone in a town, you can do what you want. It’s one of the great pleasures of solo travel. The biggest drawback is eating. Eating alone can seem a bit empty. That’s why I sat in my room and wrote and wrote, and it wasn’t till 7:30pm that hunger drove me out on to the streets to see what the CBD had to offer.

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Over the past five years there hasn’t been a lot. The temporary food stalls that have popped up tend to close at night (except for the late-night pissed-folk ones that open late). After a stroll through road cones and re-build, and groups of tourists standing outside burger bars, I found a cool wee Japanese place called Hachi Hachi on Hereford Street. It was very appealing. I wanted a ramen but fell for the sushi burger with kumara chips and lychee Mogu Mogu… just because.

It was delicious. The tastes and mix of textures. I slowly savoured it watching a steady stream of locals bringing their kids in for a treat.

I wanted more. Writing and travel always increases my appetite.

But I had to find somewhere different. Resisting the lure of chips at Wendy’s or BurgerFuel next door I decided to head across the Square to New Regent Street where I’ve eaten many times.

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That’s when I discovered what I should have gone straight to. A night food market in the Square. It was wonderful. The food looked great. Exotic and interesting. The people were hanging and happy. I did three circuits of the stalls before I decided on a wrap with 12-hour slow-cooked pork and slaw (the beef cheek was sold out) from a stall run by friendly chaps who called themselves something Horse (sorry, too distracted by the deep-fried Oreos & ice-cream next door to get the name).

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I ate it sitting at the feet of the restored Godley statue (Christchurch’s founder) feeling like I had stepped into some comforting mix of the past and the future. The Square was alive. In use. Not some sad relic full of tourists standing around wondering what to do in a disaster zone. Maybe it was because it was so dark the crumbling carcass of the Cathedral was hidden. You weren’t constantly invited to mourn, unable to move on.

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I grew up hanging in the Square. Waiting for buses. Waiting for friends. Just waiting.

Last night I got to do it once again.

 

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3 Days in Auckland (part 4)

5 Hours in Paradise

When I booked my weekend in Auckland, I wasn’t entirely sure if I would make the trip. It was all a bit of a whim, anchored around a 50th. And since I was using Airpoints there was nothing to lose.

But once I got here on Friday, I was in love with my one-time home. It was as comfortable and stimulating as an old lover. The familiar was exciting, the changes intriguing. I didn’t quite know what would happen, and I loved it.

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I woke at 7:30 am on Saturday, a sleep-in for me. Before I pulled out the ear-plugs needed to dull the noise of the city and lodge I rushed to open the blinds. The Sky Tower stood amongst cloudless blue.

 

Okay. Okay. That was a surprise. Grey clouds had been forecast. A cool Easterly. That, plus reports of an awful outbreak of sea lice on the beaches of Waiheke, had made me think twice about zipping across the Gulf to my former island home. But clear skies were enough for me.

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The CBD was Saturday morning-quiet as I headed down the hill, making the trek I had done countless times after spending the night in a cheap hotel after a late finish at work (or a night in town).

Showered and packed for the day-trip (water, journal, camera, towel, tablet, portable power supplies) I found myself rushing, anticipating the phases of the lights, knowing which crossing I had to make to avoid being trapped at an intersection for several precious minutes. Although I was in no real rush (the ferries go every half hour in the weekend), the need to make a 12 minute walk in 8 minutes flat (to avoid being stranded) remained. The phases of the lights, and my memories of them, had not changed.

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The queue for the 9am ferry was Saturday-large. Day-trippers and wedding parties. I got my $36 ticket (not a bad price to visit paradise), and was on board with 10 mins to spare.

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While the day-trippers crowded the open upper deck I headed inside to grab a table out of the sun (and wind to come). With a coffee and a Gulf News (yay, the good old ‘70s-feel local rag is still going!), I pulled out the tablet and started tapping out my post about Friday night.

Maybe I should have been gazing out at the Hauraki Gulf and the islands whizzing past. Rangitoto, Motutapu, Motuihe, Rakino, Bean Rock. The line of terns diving at bait balls of fish. The pods of dolphins or orcas that sometimes slow the commute. But I was back in the forever of the past, where the journey was precious time to read or write, have a beer with friends as the city disappears on the ride home.

I got on the Onetangi bus. I could have gone straight to Palm Beach on the Rocky Bay bus, but I fancied breakfast at the Ostend Market, a regular Saturday ritual when I lived on the Rock.

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The bus was packed. Locals and first-timers. I grinned like a loon as we wobbled and wound our way up the lumpy, bumpy road from Matiatia to Oneroa, ecstatic for no good reason. Behind me an elderly couple narrated every thought and sight. That’s a nice village. Lovely. Oh. A market. Look, a 4 Square. This is a lovely drive through the bush. Very nice. It’s a real holiday place, this. A real holiday place. Yes, I agree, they must have a hospital here. They must.

At first I took them for a rural couple up from the South Island. But when the woman stopped filling in her husband’s words I pegged the slow, slow, drawl of an Aussie bloke. I resisted the urge to turn and correct their assumptions. There is no hospital. You are either ferried or choppered off, depending on urgency.

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I wanted to take in the experience, not play tour guide. But I enjoyed their commentary. Noted it down in my journal. As we approached Ostend they wondered about the vineyards on the slopes of Te Whau. I turned. They’re grapes. It’s a vineyard. Waiheke is world-famous for wine. You should try some.

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The market was wonderful. Full of the familiar. Touches of the new. It was 10am. The sun was hot. I realised I didn’t have a hat.

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It’s very much a local market. Unlike others (in Auckland or Wellington), it’s uneconomic for outsiders to ferry over and set up. Which means you get old 2nd-hand books, bits and pieces, local produce and crafts. Kids sitting on blankets selling off old toys. I wandered it all before deciding what to eat. First up, pizza man. Still here after I first scoffed his crisp, thin bases 10 years ago.

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Then a new one. North African rolls and empanadas (apparently). I had lamb with the works. Wow.

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2nd-hand books were set up in banana boxes. I don’t need any more books. But always explore. I found a Horrible Histories Annual for $5. My daughter will love it. The man asked if it was for me. Called me a good dad.

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After buying a very large jar of Jenny’s Kitchen Tamarind Chutney (best in the world, a constant gift I always passed on to those who didn’t live on the Rock) I decided to look for a hat. The market hats were either too small, or too hippy/old man for me. I wandered along to the Surf shop and found a cap with a large brim. Very street.IMG_0582

After necking a macchiato from a funky van (skulls and antlers, worn out poster decoupage) I decided to head off to Palm Beach. It wasn’t a big walk. 25 minutes of up and down across the back of the island (that maybe looks like a long, thin dog lying west to east). But my bag was now heavy. Loaded with too much chutney, the book, sun screen, market snacks, Waihekean t-shirt bought with the cap. All the rest.

I needed to load up on fluids. Chose a smoothie from Revolution Juices by the war memorial.

 

You must be a visitor with that big bag, the woman making my ‘Pink Love’ berry smoothie said. Yip, just over for the afternoon. You should stay the night. There’s a great band playing. Radio Rebelde. Kind of Latin, ska. My friend is the DJ. She’s good.

I smiled. Wished I was staying.

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3 Days in Auckland (part 3)

Into the Night

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I’ve always felt comfortable in Auckland at night. I’m not sure why. Christchurch always seemed to have an ugly underbelly waiting to slip a knife. Wellington conceals a solid seam of nasty, ready to swing a punch from behind.

Such impressions, valid or not, are hard to shake.

I headed out at 9:30pm having spent more time than I had intended bashing out the last post. Uploading the photos was the worst bit as the Wi-Fi went to shit as the travellers hoovered up the bandwidth with Netflix, or whatever.

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As I walked along the neon darkness of K’ Rd I realised something that made me quite uncomfortable. I was wearing shorts. At night. In town. My bare legs exposed to the pre-loaded revellers piling out of taxis to line up for bars and clubs. It’s not something I had ever done except on random occasions going out for beers after a long day at work in the sun on a big job like golf or cricket or the Aussie V8s. But then I looked at all the women with their bare legs and short skirts and thought, if they can be comfortable being so exposed, why can’t I? Of course, that argument wouldn’t hold sway with any of the bouncers guarding the bars.

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I headed down Queen St looking for something to eat. A Korean place near the top called Nanas looked the best bet. It was the busiest and the menu looked great. But I would be the only person sitting alone. Not a problem. But I wanted to keep walking, consuming the sights and the night.

I wandered along Lorne St to Vulcan Lane, wondering if I would find somewhere funky and appealing. Half of it was roped-off with a long table of revellers listening to a New Orleans-style street brass band playing ‘Happy’.

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I half-considered a pub feed at my old stand-by, the Occidental. It’s a Belgian Bar with nice beer, pomme frittes and buckets of mussels. I would meet 1st dates there back when I was internet dating. It’s where I met the mother of my daughter on Waitangi Day 2007. That was the last time I spent our National Day in Auckland.

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But I didn’t want to sit in a pub of the past. I had a belly full of honey bourbon I needed to soak up/walk off. It’s too easy to drink more than you intend when writing and wrestling with Wi-Fi.

As I turned into Fort Street I was overtaken by the waft of weed. Four Canadians walking behind me copped it, too. That’s pot. No it’s not. Yes it is. Him, in that phone box. Go and ask him.

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Fort Street, like K’ Rd is one of the old sex districts. It has been made over, but the colour and sin remains. I love it. It was so good to see the White Lady parked up. Flipping burgers since 1943. But no, not for me. Not tonight.

Disappointed rugby fans were filling the downtown area, spilling off the trains from Eden Park. The Hurricanes had pipped the Blues in a thriller. I’m not a huge ruggers fan, but I’ve worked on the games for years. I was happy to be a Wellingtonian at that moment.

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By now it was 11pm. I couldn’t face the Viaduct in shorts (more on the Viaduct later). So I headed back up Queen Street past the gaggles of people swarming the gelato shops (they didn’t exist in my day), up to Aotea Square where I spotted a Carls’ Jr. They don’t have those in Welli. I went in, and had a Memphis burger.

It was perfectly fine.

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4 Days in Christchurch (part 3)

Wandering the Pretty

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After spending an enjoyable morning writing up/posting the night before, I went out to wander the empty landscape and blank blue skies. It is unbelievably beautiful. Yes, there are old facades held up by containers and steel beams awaiting their future. Oceans of empty lots are filled with grey river stones and wire fences. IMG_9764

But there is a trove of art amongst it all. So much I can’t keep my camera(s) in my pocket. This is the land of the unexpected mural. Sides of buildings, yes. But also the unexpectedly exposed arses that haven’t seen daylight in decades. Until the neighbor came down. I love the humorous murals tucked into crannies you may not notice unless you look. I can’t stop smiling.

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I had breakfast in an old remodeled building which is now called Supreme, or Supreme Supreme, or Coffee Supreme (all three are used throughout). It has a great style and feel. Kind of retro modern. A good range on the menu. I chose the pulled corned beef hash. IMG_9752When may sound heavy on a hot day but it was full of fresh herbs and flavour. Perfect after last night’s liquid dinner. I couldn’t help but post a photo on Facebook. I know haters hate, but I have been taking photos of meals forever. Nevertheless, when my waitress sprung me doing it I could only feel like a tool. A saddo sharing a solo moment with no one in particular. But that’s not my reality. Is it? I shan’t look too deep. I am writing a blog about next to nothing.

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Getting sprung meant I decided not to ask the waitress about her intriguing haircut. It’s always tricky commenting on the appearance of younger women. It’s taken me years to be casual and confident about it at work. To not worry if it comes across as sleazy. Or gay (not that I care). The waitress had a short, smart bob but the fringe wasn’t cut straight, it went down at 45 degrees to a point in the middle. I had a flatmate who did that in the ‘90s. It was ‘70s retro back then (in itself an echo of whacky ‘50s, maybe?) Was it just ‘asymmetric’ or did the style have a name? I didn’t ask. I had already indicated I may be a dick.

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After a second macchiato (at what a friend commented on my post was the coolest café in Chch) I set off to wander the pretty.

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