Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Leo Schofield and the acquisition of knowledge

During 30 years of trade you flog off a lot of second-hand furniture and this might explain why, last Thursday night, a large passel of Canberra’s chattel hoarders clogged up Collie Street Fyshwick for the official opening of Fox Antiques. That and the fact there was free booze.

The other attraction was that Fox owners, Barry and Charlie, had roped in Leo Schofield for a bit of a prose to properly wet the head of the cathedral-like space. Admittedly, ‘roped in’ is too strong a term, public speaking is like oxygen to Schofield, a beaming happy Buddha figure with eyes hooded and lips gently upturned by the ghost of a permanent smile, suggesting he’s spent more time grinning than grimacing. And to give the boy from Brewarrina his due the trajectory of his career makes for some interesting anecdotes.

In a way*, his career parallels this country’s stumbling progress over the past 70 or so years. Starting off as a bush kid, then a move to the city (above a beef and ham shop), even at that early stage hankering for something different, more cosmopolitan. Leaves school (uni’s only for the well to do), works retail then advertising, just as it’s just hitting its stride, all the while buffing up his appreciation of the good stuff, whether it be antiques, art, opera or food. Next journalism, columns about food and arts, reviews (a description of a lobster scored him a footnote in journalism text books), National Trust renovations rescues on a grand scale, go-to culture vulture (Melbourne International Festival of the Arts) and more recently broadcaster and explainer to a new generation of arty acolytes.

In his customary uniform of Italian-restaurant-tablecloth-red-check shirt and dark, double breasted sportscoat, Schofield took the crowd back to mid-fifties Sydney where, as a 19-year-old, he whiled away his lunch hours in antiques stores. Too skint to buy much of anything, young Leo stocked up on information, learning how to read silver marks and decode the stock-in-trade antiques that a certain clock fancier mate of his described as "dead people's furniture".**

It was just a casual remark - setting the scene for stories involving Queen Anne sconces, Tarzan’s Grip and the storage properties of sailcloth but it got me thinking. Schofield had started learning specialized skills by forming personal relationships with those long dead dealers, something that is no longer strictly necessary thanks to the internet.

In fact, the whole process of acquiring knowledge and transferring information has changed irresistibly and along with it, the value of that information. Something North American newspapers are learning the hard way.

Putting aside the esoteric world of reading silver marks (try here or here) this can be applied to virtually anything from financial advice to butterflying a chicken.

Not so long ago if you didn’t know how to butterfly a chicken you had a number of options (apart from wishing your apple-cheeked old grandmother had passed on the skill). You could ask a friend, try and find a magazine that covered it, buy a book or, time and interest permitting, go to a class. Now you go to Google, type in how to butterfly a chicken and choose which youtube clip to watch.

I’m no Clay Shirky but it does seem to me that most of the old ways in which knowledge was communicated, and more importantly the economics that underpinned those processes, has taken a slide. What replaces them, and whether it will generate equally entertaining anecdotes, remains to be seen.

*Admittedly in a highly tenuous way beloved of hack blog writers casting around for a link
**Paul Keating for those under 25

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Pinching a phrase

I stumbled across the neatly named The Berra Circular while trawling for Canberra info.

Miss Andrea writes a good post and has a habit of calling a prominent ACT water feature Lake Curly-Gherkin which made me haha face* immediately.

In the spirit of the interwebs, I intend to steal this phrase and use it as if it was my own. Must also start a definitive list of current Canberra blogs and buy some milk.

*Our Notional Capital equivalent to LOL or a smiley :)

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Goat learning

Image courtesy of KerryJ
It was the phrase “annual goat barbeque” that made me set aside any latent antipathy for Cafe in the House. In the past, thanks to a gristly chicken lunch of unusual awfulness, I’ve taken potshots at CitH and, despite Janet Jeffs glowing rep at the Ginger Room, avoided eating there.

The lure of BBQ goat, at a very reasonable $15 per person, called for a temporary ceasefire. Besides, even if the food wasn’t to my taste, it would be worth attending just to be able to drop the phrase “annual goat barbeque” into casual conversation i.e. “Sorry I didn’t get back to you, I’ve been flat out studying for my third masters and buying a new Audi!” - “Hmmm? Didn’t really notice Norberta - I was too busy attending the annual goat BBQ, don’t you know”.

To give Janet her due, she was front and centre at the barbie when we arrived at the OPH courtyard just after 12. There was the usual queuing for tickets, drinks, then food, and finally I was seated in a sunny spot, alone with my goat.

The meat was served in two ways; straight from the grill and with a tomato-laced sauce, both dishes offering up large pieces of tasty meat with generous chunks of fat attached. A couple of salads (quick check for obligatory pieces of uncooked capsicum, yep big tick) and a fresh bread roll made up the reinforcements.

SNAP... distracted by the raw capsicum, I managed to launch the head of my recyclable fork in a gentle arc over the table with my initial attempt to saw off said fat from meat. Disposable cutlery teamed with small, cornstarch plates and robust chunks of goat meat don’t work comfortably together.

With this in mind here a few hints to make your future annual goat barbies enjoyable:

First rule of Goat Barbeque
BYO steak knife.

Second rule of Goat Barbeque
A white hair in your food doesn’t mean your server is blonde (but your goat probably was).

Third rule of Goat Barbeque
Buy bottles not glasses. Choice of wine was between an appropriately local duo: Clonakilla sem sauv blanc and Collector Marked Tree shiraz. Bottles were $35 each, glasses $10 so the bottle mark-up was wearable but by the glass... ouch.

Forth rule of Goat Barbeque
Be punctual, by 1pm it was stumps as far as food was concerned.

Otherwise it was a simple, delicious introduction to a meat that deserves more attention if you're looking for an alternative to beef-lamb-chicken-pork. The Canberra annual goat barbeque is held during the first weekend in April by Ginger Catering.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Aussie net on light fibre diet

When the Prime Minister decides to pony up $43 billion for a national infrastructure program it kind of gets your attention but there's more to this politically than just fat internet pipes. Double dissolution or internet filtering anyone?

After more than a decade of business as usual it was a reminder that governments still have the power to do the unexpected on a grand scale. Recognizing the death-grip Telstra had on the old copper wire fixed line network was unbreakable, Rudd and a small coterie of ministers spent the past two months working on what could be described as the Field of Dreams National Broadband Network plan.

Build it and they will come.

Following yesterday morning’s announcement, legions of geeks, propeller heads and average Aussie porn enthusiasts all celebrated the promise of universal high speed broadband with self-inflicted friction burns. By last night, with equal predictability, the Coalition was already setting up roadblocks.

The effortlessly grey Nick Michen was almost rubbing his hands with glee as he conjured up various obstacles to the project; local councils, the need for a Senate committee and... something else... that's right the Coalition could vote against the project.

Whether or not the NBN comes to fruition it looks like the Ruddbot T-2009 has neutralized the opposition. Block the project (which would mean practically slipping roofies into the Nationals' teapot to get them to go along quietly) and you’re obstructionist luddites who’ve handed the government a nice big double dissolution trigger. Support it and share a large slice of freshly half-baked blame cake if it goes tits up or starts dying slowly like a blue whale on a Greenpeace manned beach.

Meanwhile I’d make a small wager that by building this system from the ground up, some of the technical problems Comms minister Stephen Conroy will have with those pesky ISPs over internet filtering will, over time, become way less mission critical. Even more enjoyable for the government is the NBN (aka Ruddnet, Ruddstra etc) will smash the Telstra monopoly like a candy Easter egg kissing a concrete floor.

A quick spin over to the gold standard for lame corporate blogging, Now We’re Spinning, shows just how entertaining Telstra fanboys can be, stamping their tiny feet at the unfairness of it all.

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Monday, April 6, 2009

Sausage dog at Wallaroo Wines

The first weekend of April is the Canberra district wine harvest festival and this explains why, around noon on Saturday I was at Wallaroo Wines enthusiastically putting a bratwurst roll into my face.

The sausage was a spicy, juicy little number, perfectly barbequed by the team from The Cook & Grocer for which, once they banish raw capsicum chunks from the salad mix that was also in the roll, they’ll get a gold star.

A 2006 Wallaroo shiraz was the drink of the moment. Good dark fruit but not a great deal of length didn’t stop me from having a second glass before giving Molly, the obligatory friendly winery dog scrounging for sausage, a final pat and heading home.

It wasn’t meant to end that way and the original plan was to visit the other nearby wineries including Surveyors Hill and Pankhurst. However, offer me rolling views, succulent snags washed down by a light red and murmuring jazz (plus a shady spot and a labrador to pat) and I’m the first to give up on the idea of the afternoon improving.

Except maybe if I would’ve gone for the cab sav instead...

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Displaced not bested

News that former Dear Leader John Howard has selected artist Jiawei Shen to paint his official portrait, which will be hung in Parliament House. Portraits of the last 12 serving PMs are displayed on the first gallery floor and this means that when Honest John's picture is completed, another Prime Minister's portrait will be moved to Old Parliament House to make room.

It's a strict first-on, first-off rota so it will be an earlier PM who gets the chop for the man of steel. This is the first and last time that Howard will displace John Curtin on any level.

Currently, there is a painting by Josonia Palaitis of John Winston and Hyacinth on display at the National Portrait Gallery. Whether or not he was playing "pocket billiards" during the sitting I will leave for you, gentle reader, to decide.

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Cured salmon (doing better than expected)

A flying visit to Melbourne, and with a big dinner planned lunch needed to be light. Mussel memory* directed my path to Grossi Florentino.

The bar was unexpectedly quiet, a window seat available and a selection made quickly (and lest this urbane blur of motion seems too accomplished, I've cut out the bit where I nearly knocked over the water glass and then dropped the menu). Within 10 minutes a plate of cured salmon, dotted with splinters of red onion, small capers and EVO, had joined a basket of excellent bread and a glass of something white and nicely acidic on the iPod-sized table.

For about $25 it wasn't the cheapest light lunch going but the salmon proved the clincher. Cured with sugar, salt and honey, it was a hit of pure flavour, with sweet and savoury notes that would have teamed nicely with the glass of NV Macedon Brut Cuvée XII ($15) that I glugged down earlier at Juliet's Champagne Bar.

At this point I believe it's semi-obligatory to take up the plaintive cry of 'why isn't there somewhere like this in Canberra'. Instead here's a better review of the Grossi establishment.

*Yes it's one of those sort of posts, the title was your clue so deal with it.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Taking a punt on the Gold Coast

I'm uncertain if it's in any way symbolic but just 11 hours before April Fool's Day the Gold Coast was given the green light for the 17th AFL licence.

FYI, the almost imperceptible keening sound you're hearing is coming from Tasmania.

Now the Gold Coast footy club already has a mascot named, with all the ponderous skill of marketing group think, Gary Clifford Irons, so the title "GC Irons" is probably being stencilled onto to overpriced merchandise as I type.

Looking at Gary, you get the impression they wanted a 21st century Chesty Bond but settled for a Captain Hero. And while everything from the stingrays (crikey!) to the sharks has been proposed as a team name, strangely no-one has gone for the cheap and obvious.

The Gold Coast Melanomas anyone?

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