Month: Dec 2015

Retro Tuesday: Marriage And New Beginnings

A CLOSE FRIEND of mine got married yesterday, and not for the first time; coming soon after Christmas, with its messages of new beginnings — to say nothing of the lovely girl he’s married — hopes are high that this time, it will last a lifetime. A simple garden ceremony provides the impetus for Retro Tuesday this week, but in case anyone is worried I’m going to force them to sit through a video of someone else’s wedding, there are bigger fish to fry.

Simultaneously, the greatest problem and the greatest joy about us as human beings is that we’re all different; there are those narcissists who think the world would be just fine if everyone agreed with them all of the time, and if nobody ever dared to dissent or object to what they said or did or wanted. The overwhelming majority of us, however, would quickly grow bored, no matter how comfortable we might feel in our own skins.

Personally, the idea of 7 billion clones of me running around the place is enough to make me want to scoop my eyeballs out with a spoon. Just for starters.

The friend of mine in question (and I won’t identify him — and being a rather private individual, neither will virtually every reader of this column) begins his third marriage today with great hope and optimism with a lady he’s known since the two of them were children; over the years and interspersed between marriages, international relocations, and all the other changes in life that just happen, they have passed in and out of each other’s lives time and again, but it has only been in the last few years that they finally got together.

As the immortal John Lennon once said, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. Ne’er a truer word was spake, so to speak.

My friend’s first wedding — which preceded my acquaintance with him — was the stereotypical white wedding; lots of people, big church, big to-do with the obligatory realm of attendees…the sort of thing that nowadays costs the same as a small apartment to put on, and one would have to say the purchase of an apartment as the gift of a head start in such circumstances is probably the better way to spend the money, old-fashioned notions and aspirations of romance and chivalry notwithstanding.

Sometimes love — and marriage — just dies; it doesn’t have to be with a bang, or in tempestuous acrimony; it doesn’t have to be anyone’s fault, or because someone did or didn’t do something; sometimes things change and evolve as we mature as people; and sometimes things just end. So it was in this case.

His second was to a certifiable lunatic (not that anyone realised it) whose mother — unquestionably — was in charge; anyone who harboured any misapprehensions about that point was either involuntarily set to rights or involuntarily discarded in whatever manner could be engineered to be as malicious and vicious and destructive as possible.

Watching on, I could always relate where #2 was concerned, for I once narrowly escaped a fate that in retrospect I’m certain would have been virtually identical; the pliable, obedient, acquiescent daughter and the domineering mother who would brook neither opposition nor challenge, backed by a formidable familial machine of bitches, arseholes, fork-tongued manipulators and other cretinous specimens with the morals of alley cats on heat and the aspiration merely to exercise malevolent control over the lives of others. There are good reasons that people who know me hear me describe the individual in question as “the wrong girl.” It is simple shorthand for a creature and the rabid litter whence she came that collectively rank beneath contempt.

Unfortunately, most of the people I know, when they look around, know of more than one relationship within their social ecosystems that almost exactly mirrors these examples, if they’re not in one themselves; I was lucky: I was jettisoned before there could even be a marriage, and after the initial indignation and shellshock subsided (despite knowing, deep down, the realities of the situation well over a year before it ended) the relief at avoiding a fate almost literally worse than death cannot be overstated.

My friend, however, played the whole regrettable storyline out to its inevitable conclusion, and if a situation ever defined the stereotype of a horrific marriage breakdown, this was it.

So — after four years of assuring my friend that “it’s safe to marry this one,” for his third wife really is a great girl — yesterday, finally, he did, and whilst the cacophony of bullshit emanating from #2’s bunker did its best to drown out the goodwill and bonhomie and merriment that marked the occasion, it couldn’t compete with the sentiment of the track that opened proceedings in a simple but dignified civil ceremony in the hills about 70km south of Melbourne.

Horror stories and happy endings aside, the point today — apart from providing an excuse to introduce Lennon into the retro circuit in this column — is that nothing lasts forever; everything changes, and even people apparently perfectly suited in every way at one end of a liaison or marriage can, at the other, have grown, changed, or been manipulated to surrender the things they once held dear.

Some people can live together for a lifetime. Some can move silently, unknowingly and in the most congenial spirits in different directions to the point “together” is no longer a feasible word in the lexicon. Some people can implode, taking some of the surrounding countryside with them. And some can just be the kind of people whose selfishness, for whatever reason, makes them happy only if they are able to destroy the happiness of others.

With seven billion stories on planet Earth and our little human penchant for pairing off, it’s no wonder the range of outcomes is infinitely different — and the means by which they are arrived at, however variously splendid or acrimonious they may prove.

I wish my old mate many years of happiness as he embarks on the life he was probably always destined to share with his new wife: and this brings up our double shot today.

A proper British Christmas tradition each year is the contest between its major retailers to see who can come up with the funniest or cleverest Christmas commercial, or who can produce the one most adept at getting everyone misty-eyed and weepy; last year the chocolates went to John Lewis for its Monty the Penguin number, and whilst Monty doesn’t feature today, a variation of the audio track from the John Lewis offering of 2014 does.

 

20 years ago — in what must rank as one of the greatest musical bastardisations ever committed — Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, “handed over” to Paul McCartney two demo tapes of unfinished songs that were found among his effects after his assassination in 1980; Beatles enthusiasts (of which I am one) went mostly apeshit for the new “Beatles” songs Free As A Bird and Real Love that were eventually released, dubbed and modified and treated with effect by McCartney et al to the point Lennon’s lyrics and voice were almost indecipherable.

I thought they were a disgrace, and should instead have been released as part of an “unplugged” or “lost tapes” type compilation of unreleased work under Lennon’s own name, but I had (and I think, still have) the minority opinion on that.

The version I share with readers today doesn’t feature a pretty video for commercial release; rather, it is a restored version of Real Love as it existed when first recorded by Lennon, sitting at his piano; apparently, a tambourine Lennon was playing with his foot has been stripped from this version, and an earlier version that featured it (and which was originally embedded into this post) was taken down by YouTube because the guy who posted it was a bit of a dab hand for copyright breaches.

In terms of our subject, it’s a pity, but the indecipherable “Beatles” song is presented for what it was when Lennon first wrote it: a simple expression of love.

It seems a noble and fitting wish as two good people set forth on a new life together.

All the very best to them both…and a “happily ever after.”

 

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Talking Turkey: Adding A Festive Dinner To The Festive Season

THREE DAYS after Christmas, as many people are confronted by the voluminous remnants of a turkey whenever they open the refrigerator, an unpleasant conundrum presents: throw it away and waste it, or do something with it? People who’ve paid top money for a good bird will incline toward the latter but many are clueless. Today I share a solution that can return the bird to the dinner table tonight.

First things first: thanks to the demands of the season, the ordinary course of business and the simple shortage of time, the feature on London restaurants I promised when last I posted has failed to appear, and for this I apologise; even so, I’m mindful that there is a glut of free-range organic turkey carcasses jamming up refrigerators all across the world today, and that unless something constructive is done with them — and quickly — most of that delicious turkey meat will become landfill at the local tip when weekly rubbish collections shortly resume.

We will come back to my selection of London restaurants in the next week or so.

I regret that I didn’t take some photographs this week of what’s become the annual Turkey and Leek Pie dinner in my house on Boxing Day, but I want to share this ritual with readers as it offers both an excellent way to use up the remainder of the lovely turkey meat from Christmas lunch and the addition of an extra festive dinner to the silly season calendar: with the stresses of Christmas out of the way and the clamour of little hands for presents sated, what I share today — despite the input of time required — will provide an excuse to invite a few good friends around on Boxing Day or the couple of days thereafter to share an unctuously naughty feed and a couple of bottles of your favourite vino.

Some years ago, someone gave me a box set of Jamie Oliver DVDs for Christmas. Now I like Jamie, but rarely use him as a source of inspiration for my cooking; somehow whenever I watch his shows, the recipes all seem to end with the addition of piles of rocket (which I thoroughly detest) that may or may not be slathered in litres of balsamic vinegar, and the end effect of that is to lose my attention completely.

But at around the same time — and as I’m originally from a sub-tropical climate, where Christmas is invariably a cold buffet — I dispensed with the practice I’d been shanghaied into of serving up three or four courses on Christmas Day to avoid both the cold buffet scenario and the aversion some in my circle seem to have of the idea of a traditional roast Christmas dinner; I started buying a turkey each year, and only through sheer luck watching the Jamie Oliver Christmas DVDs a couple of days out from the first year I cooked a turkey, I happened upon this excellent way of ensuring that none of the precious bird ended up in the garbage.

There isn’t a recipe as such for this: I couldn’t find an authentic representation of what Jamie did on his show anywhere online, so the steps I share today are basically my transcription of what I’ve seen on the DVD and adjusted through trial and error over the past three years.

Yet if you bear with me — and this will take a couple of hours to do — I promise you that not only will your turkey be fully put to delicious use, but that the double-take on your turkey across a couple of different nights may even make having a turkey cost-effective enough to get one a couple of times through the year in addition to Christmas.

So, here we go — apologies for not publishing an ingredient list at the outset, but you can easily compile one for yourself.

Get the bird out of the fridge and pick off one kilogram (a little over two pounds) of the cold turkey meat; a mix of white meat and brown is best (yes! A use for those legs and wings!) and don’t forget the oysters on the underside of the carcass. You want this shredded into little bite-size pieces, and take care to ensure no feather quills or sinews get into the meat you pick. Place into a large bowl and set aside.

In another really large bowl, chop 2kg (4-5lb) of leeks, using both the white and green parts; make sure they are well-rinsed but don’t worry about getting them dry as the water will help steam them later. Halve them lengthways, then chunk the white section, cutting the green ends a little more finely.

Take 4-5 rashers of good, smoky, streaky bacon and dice them up into a small bowl and set aside; in a separate bowl, pick the leaves off about 20 thyme sprigs and have them ready to go as well.

You’ll need a very large saute pan with a lid for this: if you don’t have one, improvise with a roasting tin and some foil.

Place the pan on a low to moderate heat on the largest burner on the stove top and once hot, saute the bacon and thyme in about 80g of butter and a few glugs of good extra virgin olive oil; after 3-4 minutes, add the leeks (I do this in a few stages just so I can stir them a bit to combine and coat in the butter) then cover with a lid or some foil and turn the heat right down. Allow to steam gently for half an hour, stirring every 7-8 minutes, until the leeks have cooked down and everything is nicely combined. Halfway through, season the leek mixture with a couple of pinches of Maldon sea salt and a few grinds of freshly milled black pepper.

At the end of the half-hour, add the turkey meat you’ve picked off the frame, and stir in until combined and warmed through; add two heaped tablespoons of plain flour and stir until the flour is cooked through a little but before it starts to colour.

Now add one litre (just over two pints) of good quality chicken stock and slowly bring up to the boil; allow to simmer gently for a few minutes to bring all the flavours together, then stir in one very generous tablespoon of creme fraiche. Season well with some more Maldon salt and quite a bit more fresh-ground pepper, then stir until everything is nice and smooth and combined.

Next, get a very large strainer — enough to hold the contents of the saute pan — and set this over a clean saucepan; tip the turkey mixture into the strainer and press down. The objective is to get as much of the cooking liquid out as possible: this is your pie gravy. Once you’ve done this, press a layer of cling film onto the top of the collected gravy (this will stop it forming a skin) and set aside until just before serving time.

Place the turkey and leek pie filling into a large pie dish; I use a large Pyrex baking dish (that normally gets used for roasting potatoes in duck fat) and spread out evenly.

Cover with puff pastry: this could be a store-bought block you’ve rolled out on a floured bench, or a couple of ready-made sheets you’ve “crimped” together to form a single piece large enough to cover the whole pie. Don’t waste your time and effort making puff from scratch for this, unless you have a pastry fetish: this recipe isn’t difficult, but it’s quite time consuming enough without burdening yourself with the need to make puff pastry afresh. Store-bought is just fine today.

Cut off any obvious surplus from the pastry, then tuck the edges under the filling so it’s all encased. Carefully score a diagonal or criss-cross pattern on the pastry with the tip of a sharp knife — there’s no need to cut a ventilation hole in the pastry — and brush well with some beaten egg.

Place in an oven preheated to 200 degrees Centigrade (175 degrees for fan-forced) for 30 minutes or until nicely browned all over on top.

While you’re waiting for the pie to cook, boil some potatoes and mash them up to have ready to serve with the pie; about 5 minutes before everything is ready, very gently reheat the gravy so it’s piping hot (but not boiling) and boil some frozen peas to accompany.

To serve, use a cooking spoon to cut out a serving of pie; add some mashed potatoes and peas to each plate, and pour over a little of the gravy, putting the rest on your dinner table in a jug for people to help themselves to more if they wish to.

This will easily feed 6-8 people — even 10 at a stretch — and also goes devilishly well with any leftover stuffing you can reheat and serve alongside.

All that’s left is your choice of poison: a bottle of Shiraz works beautifully with the rich gamey turkey, as does a good medium-dry white served well chilled; alternatively, and especially if it’s a ladies’ gathering, you could buy some Champagne or Montrachet, but remember the adage whichever way you go that good food is dishonoured by bad wine: and for such a fine post-festive treat, I’m sure you can manage something a little better than a bottle of plonk.

Is there a half-eaten turkey sitting in your fridge? If you hop to it, the festive bird can enable you to delight a selection of your friends tonight, perhaps those who don’t enjoy coming to events with your family. But who you choose to share this with is up to you.

 

Retro Tuesday: The 90s, And…

IF THERE’S A DECADE that isn’t exactly noted for the durability of its music, it’s the 1990s; even so, a little gem — masterfully reworked in an almost-contemporary context — roared back onto my radar a couple of weeks ago, and whilst my “retro preference” is to focus on the 70s and 80s, today we’re going to indulge that awful decade for a couple of great gets.

But first, the good news, or I hope it is: with a little more time on my hands over the next few weeks — just until things go off with a bang again once the silly season is out of the way — I should find the time to post a little more regularly on this new site, finally, in addition to Retro Tuesdays, which (at least) are already becoming a regular feature; first cab off the rank will be something for those heading to London at any time soon, thanks to a chance conversation I had at the weekend.

British food is wonderful — if you know where to look for it — and I’m going to share a few tips to help keep people travelling to the UK well fed and stodge-free (and yes, for those who know me, Marcus will get top billing, but that’s tomorrow’s, or maybe even Thursday’s, story).

But with the 90s on the radar today, I realise I came very, very close to committing a sin I assured readers I wouldn’t; in thinking through some of the possibilities for today’s feature, one of the first acts that came to mind was La Bouche: a dance band I was introduced to by the beautiful and free-spirited black girl I was sometimes found in the company of in Brisbane during my early to mid 20s in Brisbane, and which (even if it had been crap, which happily, it wasn’t) would have still scored highly on my scale at the time simply because it was a favourite of hers.

La Bouche, of course, is another German group, and having already featured Nena and the Scorpions in the past few weeks, I didn’t want to make it a habit; even so, before we move onto today’s double shot, treat yourself to a a retro bassline and a bit of boom and shake.

 

I guess it becomes relevant to today’s selection, for there are crossovers everywhere; since I moved to Melbourne 18 years ago next month, I have seen the lovely lady to whom I allude just twice: once back in Brisbane, and once here. It was something fated never to be, although as is the way of such things that do not end acrimoniously, I know that if I were to run into her tomorrow, the warmth and friendship — e’er dormant — would still be well and truly alive, and we’d just pick up where we left off, and have a good old catch-up. (Last time I saw her, in Melbourne, we sang karaoke at a beachside cafe in Port Melbourne — badly — with a few other friends and some cheap fried food, but it was one of those impromptu social events that “just happen” and remain fondly remembered for many years afterwards).

In fact, everything about this unorthodox girl was impromptu.

When I lived in Brisbane (and remember, this is a girl I was supposedly dating) I got a phone call at about 9am one morning; still working rotating hospitality management rosters back in those days and having been out partying the previous night on a day off — a Monday, from memory — I wasn’t really with it when the phone rang, and it took some time for the disbelief to dispel once the call was finished.

Hung over, sleep deprived and struggling to do much beyond providing simple but cogent acknowledgement of her sentences, this girl — the ultimate free spirit — had rung me up to tell me, without a hint of malice or irony, that she was going to Thailand that afternoon.

I had seen her on three of the previous seven days: not a word of it. But do you know what? She did go to Thailand that day, and it was another month before we saw her again. She said she needed a rest and to let her hair down, and to catch up with her cousin, who was also having a holiday there as well.

Most people in my shoes would have been offended, to say the least. I was. Until, years later, I realised that that was just the way she was. No plans, no ties, just whatever seemed like a good idea at the time.

The restaurant I was managing at the time had one of those $2 per play jukeboxes in it that were all the rage in the 90s; it featured a “Top 5” countdown (sometimes topped by Mariah Carey’s Hero) that generally featured a track from precursor British boy band East 17. From time to time, if no money was inserted into it, the jukebox would randomly blurt out whatever song was in the number one spot. All too often, this was it.

 

It’s funny how you associate songs and music with events in life, be they good, bad or excruciating; after a period of being sporadically informed by the jukebox that “everything’s going to be alright” when I not only didn’t think it was but found the contrary assertion rather provocative and not dissimilar to the effect of a red rag being waved at a bull, I started feeding it $2 coins to push another song — that was neither the East 17 number nor the God-forsaken arpeggio-fest of Carey’s — to the top of the countdown and keep it there.

At least a burst of something disconnected would stop me brooding.

Of course, my lovely black girlfriend and I didn’t last, didn’t make it, and didn’t walk off into some mythical stereotype of ochre sunsets and flying horses; a benignly anarchic, liberated, ethereal free spirit of the most unruly and unpredictable kind and a city creature as thoroughly urban as I was were never going to last. I used to liken her to the girl in The Sound of Music (you know, “how do you solve the problem of Maria? How do you catch a cloud and tie it down?”) to which my best mate, the redoubtable Mr Oxford, retorted that if I ever bought the 3-Series I had been casing out at Brisbane BMW (I didn’t — like any good Scotsman I jibbed at the price tag, even though I could afford it once upon a time) I might find it a bit hard to load her, and her cloud, into it at the same time.

When she announced she was moving to England (again, at extremely short notice, although more than the few hours’ warning I received about the field trip to Thailand) I hastily concocted a scheme to race off after her, armed with a large diamond, and bring her back: it really was all right in the end, because I was dissuaded from doing so, and poetically enough, that dissuasion also came at almost literally the last minute possible to abandon the plan.

The happier outcome in this instance was the disjointed but enduring friendship with a perfectly lovely yet truly unique individual; but others walk away into the sunset — and this brings up the double shot of East 17 today, and the contemporary rebirth it enjoyed in 2011.

Monarchists and republicans alike were captivated when global mobile telephony giant T-Mobile landed a cheeky marketing strike to coincide with the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton; some colleagues and I found ourselves talking about it a couple of weeks ago, and you can enjoy their handiwork here.

 

One’s life is for sharing…which, in some respects, is the point of this column: I trust readers have enjoyed another little story from memory lane woven around some old (if socially awkward) soundtracks. More will follow next week.

But the pretext to talk food, finally, has fallen into my lap, so in the next couple of days, it’ll be two of my favourite subjects in the world: food and London. (And anyone from the Ministry of Culture who sees value in hiring me as an ambassador should feel free to contact me…so long as the job comes with an entry visa and serviceable salary 🙂   )

 

Retro Tuesday: Christmas And The Marching Of Time

I’M NOT IMMERSED in the whole “Christmas Spirit” thing most years until a lot closer to Christmas Eve than we are now; usually — and certainly as busy as I have been these past few years — Christmas is on top of us before I get to it. A reminder of how Christmas and the march of time lobbed onto my radar last week, and today’s musical flashback reflects the fact that ’tis the season: in more ways than one.

But I have, I must say, gotten a little better with all things festive in one sense: if you’ve got friends and/or business associates abroad (and I have both) and you want to send them Christmas greetings, organisation is key.

There have been times I’ve sent a handful of Christmas cards off to Britain in the full knowledge they’ll be lucky to make it there by the new year, and last year — with almost a dozen cards to send to London, some to friends, some to people I’d worked with in my media business, and some who fit both categories — I decided that such tardiness simply wouldn’t do, and from memory it was about now I posted them all (it was when my mum came to visit Melbourne for her birthday, and this year her birthday is today, so happy birthday mum).

One of my London friends (and I will be careful not to identify her) who I know through more political avenues (yes yes, I know, there’s that link again) conducted — about mid-year last year — something of a social media debate on the merits (or otherwise, in her view) of Love Actually, that Christmas-themed multipolar British rom-com that hit cinema screens worldwide back in 2003; “Miss Apples” (as we will refer to her) was the first to alert me to last year’s excellent Christmas commercial from British retailer John Lewis (and you can see that here — believe me, you’ll love it) and when she got my Christmas card sent me a picture of it, on her desk, with “mini-Monty:” John Lewis sold out of genuine Monty the Penguin toys in record time, of course, but she’d found something comparable, and it gave me some satisfaction to see that for once, my Christmas cards had actually made it to their destination by the middle of December.

I tell this story — one friend in London, the cutesy TVC I connect with her, and the spirited charge against Love Actually she led on Twitter — because the Fairfax press carried a piece last week on Olivia Olsen who, as those who know Love Actually will know, was the 11-year-old who appeared in and sang a ripsnorting rendition of Mariah Carey’s All I want for Christmas near the end of the film.

Unlike my friend “Miss Apples,” however, I love Love Actually, and this Christmas Eve staple in my house will again get a viewing once the turkey has been prepared for the following day.

 

It’s hard to believe that Olivia is all grown up, as readers will see from the Fairfax article; the pretty little kid who starred as Joanna, the love interest to the gorgeous Sam, is now 23: she has grown into a beautiful young woman, to be sure, but for tens of millions of Love Actually devotees will be forever etched in time as Joanna, singing that song.

And it’s a reminder that just as Christmas is a special time of year, it shouldn’t be taken for granted; that quirky British film was 12 years ago, and the speed with which the passage of time has rocketed ever since is scary, to say the least.

Today’s Retro Tuesday is a relatively quick one. How much can you say about Christmas, really, without getting really silly about it in a column like mine? But for a double shot today, I have chosen a second track from the same movie, and this is one that should be played as loud as you can get your system to play it.

 

I’ll be back in the next couple of days, and we’ll talk about something that has nothing to do with Christmas; but in the meantime, enjoy these couple of pieces from memory lane; and if you don’t already have one, go and get a copy of Love Actually to watch on Christmas Eve once the kids have gone to bed: as silly and corny as it is in some ways, it’s a great rollicking yarn, and with Brady movies coming out of the woodwork at this time of year, I know what I’d rather be watching… 🙂

 

A Man Called Boris: What’s In A Name?

Today — as I always do on a Saturday — I headed out mid-morning with things to do: post a parcel, go to the Prahran Market, get a haircut, buy cigarettes, and multiple sundry little jobs; one of my stops, if the journey takes me to Southland, is the Boost Juice bar, either en route to JB Hi-Fi to buy DVDs, or as a punctuation point for refreshment whilst navigating the rest of Westfield’s monolithic answer to eastern suburbs rival Chadstone.

It struck me this afternoon, as I chatted with the girl on the counter who recognised me from previous visits, that an ancient old party trick I had invented many years before really was becoming old hat; they don’t even ask me what my name is at Boost at Southland any more, because they know who I am: or they think they do, at any rate.

My name is Boris.

Before anyone thinks I’ve gone barking mad, I should explain.

I have never really had a nickname as such, not that it bothers me; there were those during my high school years who decided to call me “Sledge” on account of my penchant for complete bluntness and candour — often perfectly innocent of any tact, too, just for good measure.

Fortunately, one mellows with age 🙂

But before the 1996 federal election (and no, we’re not going down a tangent to discuss politics, never fear), I spent some time working at Liberal Party headquarters in Brisbane, helping out with the nightly telephone polling the party was conducting in marginal electorates in and around Brisbane and near the Sunshine Coast, where there were a couple of seats the party was looking to win as well.

I had never really felt comfortable calling what I presumed were strangers, saying “Hi, it’s Yale from (fabricated research company name); would you have a couple of minutes to answer some questions about the coming federal election…” as first, I am cursed with one of those names that is not only distinctive, but very rare; Murray and Tracey and Susan had the cover of relative anonymity, but I was…well, me.

Secondly, the polling company we said we were calling from didn’t exist; the director of the Liberal polling outfit found a listing in the White Pages for an organisation by the same name, and it goes without saying that this was a source of great mirth and merriment.

It also went without saying that it sure as hell wasn’t us, ensconced in our Liberal Party bunker on Lutwyche Road.

And thirdly, my suspicion that sooner or later one of these presumed strangers would turn out to be someone I knew (and potentially knew well) was confirmed with a jolt one Tuesday night, when I was handed a call sheet with the name, address and telephone number of one of my high school teachers on it to canvass.

I don’t intend to identify her, of course, but there were a couple of female teachers the senior boys found rather appealing, if I might put it like that; this one was the “appreciation point” of choice for those of us with rather higher IQs and more sophisticated outlooks than, say, members of the football team. Not that there was anything wrong with the footy side, mind, but this sassy, stunning, smart, pouty, attitude-exuding spunk, with her sports car and her chic outfits, was someone quite a few of us wondered openly — and naively — about her marital status.

Boys will be boys…

I knew what this disarmingly forthright girl would say if anyone called her — that she was a Labor voter — but this was someone I knew from the 1980s, before the ALP ran off the rails to pander to inner-city elites as a foil to the Greens; most teachers voted Labor, and I knew for a fact that this one certainly did. However, and despite the fact my own affiliations were well known by all of my teachers at school (moi? A conservative voter? Really?), I doubted whether I would get any further than the headline “voting intention” question if I called her myself.

So I passed the call sheet off to the guy sitting beside me; he called, she deigned to have the conversation, and the affirmation of her intention to vote for Paul Keating was so emphatic that I heard the word “Labor” from a distance of five feet. As I suspected she might, she kept my colleague chatting for about ten minutes, and — with not so much as a word to him before the call of the background story I have just shared with you — when he eventually hung up, he remarked that she sounded like an awfully good sort.

That was it though: from that moment, I couldn’t call anyone as a pollster and tell them my name; there was a copy of the Courier Mail sitting on the coffee table in the middle of the room with a picture of Boris Yeltsin on the front page, and before I knew what I was doing, my next call started out, “Hi, it’s Boris calling from (silly company name)…” and the really silly thing about that is that nobody flinched.

Of course, Boris needed a surname; someone suggested “Boris Kalashnikov” as a suitably well-heeled moniker for a fictitious Russian exile, but eventually — after a fair bit of discussion in the tearoom — the decision was made that “Boris Farkovski” was a better fit, owing to the fabricated nature of the research company, because “Boris” was, in fact, just a piss-take, and on account of the response that was all too often forthcoming when some unknown resident of the boondocks we were calling into grasped the fact that we had the nerve to demand to know who they voted for.

Boris has had his uses over the years, I assure you all, and he has also come in handy when people simply don’t listen, but more on that in a moment.

But all my life — on account of my name — I have had to endure the same handful of conversations hundreds, if not thousands of times; people who might in fact be showing some genuine interest, but who instead are actually demonstrating just how dim the great herd we all belong to can really be.

Yes, it’s just like the University. Ha. Ha. Ha. Yes, I am very secure at night, thank you very much: how obliquely predictable for you to causally mention Yale locks. Me? Do I do my fair share of heavy lifting? Pull my weight? Of course I do, because there’s a forklift company named after me.

Never mind the fact the name is from Old English, and means — get this for special — “a sloping hill.” Even if anyone found that interesting at all, it’s no match for stupid gags about universities and forklift companies. If I had a dollar for each time I have heard them I would — quite literally — be a millionaire. There’s nothing original or amusing in it. It just illustrates how deep stupidity can really be.

Around the kids at school when I was younger, I quickly learned that “Yale” rhymed with all sorts of things. I got told I was slow because I was a snail. I must have been very ill, for I was always getting told I looked pale. Apparently one hell of a blowout must have happened that I sleepwalked right into, because I also resembled a whale. You get the picture.

By the time I got to high school, someone must have imagined National Socialist tendencies of me that could only be the result of hallucinogens or hard narcotics, because all of a sudden I was hearing “Heil Yale” wherever I went, replete with that ridiculous fascist salute made famous by dickless criminals in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.

And my best mate, since we were both 10 years old in 1982, was and continues to be a rather sterling fellow with the surname “Oxford.” And if anyone asks me — as they asked the pair of us too often all that time ago — where Cambridge is, I will come through their screen and garrote them.

For a time after I left school, I seriously flirted with changing my name: not to Boris, of course; he was still some years away from entering the picture.

But I contemplated “Howard” — after my favourite 1980s British singer, Howard Jones — very seriously; so seriously, that for a solid portion of the few years I spent working part-time in a chain of well-known all-you-can-eat restaurants as a student, I had a name badge with “Howard” on it. Some of my Uni friends even knew me as Howard.

But I began to retreat from the whole name-change thing when I realised that rather than listening to brain-dead gags and spelling my name out for people who simply didn’t listen when I told them (and I speak very, very clearly), I would instead spend most of my life explaining why I changed it.

And when people began to suggest “Howard” had something to do with John Howard — then still a few years away from reclaiming the Liberal leadership and going on to beat Paul Keating in 1996 to become Prime Minister — rather than Howard Jones, the decision to abandon the plan completely became final, and irrevocable.

Sorry about that, HoJo.

 

I’ve always sympathised silently with those other poor unfortunates who, like me, got names that put them in the firing line, and there are many who fared far worse in this respect than I did.

I’m talking about those awful, awful bogan names that screech “I’m from Dandenong/Woodridge/Liverpool!” (select the appropriate option for your state) in crisp, compact soundbursts like Jaxxen, Rybekkah, D’mel and Kaydence. The worst one I’ve ever heard of was a girl called “Abcd,” which — apparently — is pronounced “absidee.”

Quite.

No, if people who can’t clean the shit out of their ears (or simply don’t listen) when I tell them who I am is the worst thing to worry about, I’ll take it. Especially when there are others walking around permanently branded as trailer park trash every time they identify themselves, courtesy of well-meaning but fuel-fumigated parents in beanies and sheepskin boots.

Which brings me back to Boris.

I have a rule: if some customer “service” policy at a quick service food outlet, meticulously followed by some kid who doesn’t really care anyway, means I have to give them my name so they can herd me back out the door in land speed record time, I tell them I’m Boris.

After all, it saves them the time and trouble of asking me to repeat myself. It’s simple, unmistakable, and doesn’t rhyme with anything except “Doris” and “Horace.” I’m not a girl, and anyone who gets Boris and Horace confused has a problem with themselves that extends well beyond impaired hearing. I figure I can’t go wrong.

And it saves the efficient, officious kid the trouble of typing “shale oil fracking implement” or something else they think they might have slightly misheard into their system if they simply opt to use their initiative, and decide that to be the lesser evil than asking me to say my name again just so they can be sure they’ve taken their customer “service” duties as serious as the policy manual says they have to.

Next week, when Boris turns up in his Carlton Football Club shirt for his usual smoothie order on his way to JB Hi-Fi, he’ll be greeted — as always — like an old friend. And secretly, on the inside, I’ll smugly allow myself a little smile.