Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Family Birthdays 2

The Doyle birthday season continues, with Annette (the glamorous sister) celebrating her 50th birthday last week. I missed the party and a weekend of celebrations (that's what jobhunting will cost you) but I'm assured the last party-goer departed at 9am the following morning.

Annette is the person who introduced me to India eight years ago, and has strong links with the country herself. Here she is with little Aishwaria, the youngest addition to a family Annette has been friends with for more than 20 years. She visits the family every time she travels to India (which is twice a year) and she is like the eldest sister. She doesn't ever talk about the assistance she has given this family over the years, such as paying for a well to be dug to irrigate their farm, and contributing to the education fees of most of the family. Her latest idea is to help buy a tractor for the family's village - any ideas, anyone?

However Annette is not just a phianthropist and has been known to be a bit of a party animal too. Here she is after a long night partying in Essex (where else), having convinced the local police to give her and her mates a lift home when they locked the keys in the car. Charming.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Willy LitFest

Yesterday I participated in the Williamstown Literary Festival. On stage. As a competitor.

I didn't mean to: I thought I had volunteered to read out some other person's work, but apparently I had put my name forward to read my own piece. Later it was further clarified that I would be reading out my offering as part of the People's Choice Awards, to be voted on by the audience on the day.

I spent the day at the festival, sitting in on lectures and workshops. The "Writing Food" talk by a local celebrity chef got the gourmet juices flowing, and now three of his books are on my must-have list. I was ravenous afterwards.

The "Sassy In The City: Writing The Modern Woman" lecture was given by a beautiful young romance writer with glossy curls, a great handbag and a handsome man waiting in the wings for her. Even though she was talking romantic fiction I got quite a few tips from her experiences. A couple of very elderly ladies in tweed and tight curls sat in the front row and muttered quietly to each other, shaking their heads and wondering aloud who this Bridget Jones was that the writer kept referring to.

Back in the Meeting Room of the Mechanics Institute, the wooden plaques around the room lauded past presidents of the Ancient Order of Druids and past Grands of the institute itself. A small group collected for the People's Choice Awards and eleven local writers, myself included, stood and read out their personal pieces. I was the youngest entrant by far, except perhaps for the fresh-faced writer of teenage books whose perfect skin and long glossy auburn hair would have made me envious were he not a bloke.

One of the front-row ladies from the Sassy lecture, a sprightly 80-year-old local woman, stood and read a beautiful and poignant recollection of a Scottish friend, written for his funeral. A younger woman in grey snakeskin drainpipes gave a spirited rendition of her perfectly phrased and rhymed epic poem about the Aussies' favourite horse, Phar Lap. A fashionably-dressed silver-haired woman from the University of the Third Age read out a lovely and amusing piece written from the point of view of a bonsai with a high opinion of itself.

My turn came. I stood at the top of the class, it seemed, and read out a version of my Chengde story from China. I was nervous and I know my voice shook a little at times. It is so different when you are seeking validation of your own words: I might as well have been standing there pleading for them all to like me.

I didn't win of course: the bonsai lady deservedly picked up the first prize. Early this morning when I awoke I realised I'd had no chance - I didn't even give myself top marks in the vote. I had misread the instructions and on my own ballot paper I had placed myself third, beneath the bonsai woman and a fellow writers' group entrant.

Maybe next year.

Monday, May 08, 2006

One Year On

It is hard to believe that a whole year has gone by since he left. The trip had been a last-minute decision, and in the end we only saw each other for a few hours. Then I kissed him and told him I loved him, and walked out the door. It was the last time I saw him.

I had seen relationships end before, and had experienced heartbreak. This was no different: the chasm hurt like a physical wound. I sat and sobbed to my friends on the phone, bewildered by my abandonment. Despite the anguish it caused me, I continued to talk incessantly about him – even his presence in a conversation was better than nothing. The feeling of closeness I experienced when talking about him almost dulled the pain of losing him, if only for a few minutes.

One thing was different though. When my heart had been broken in the past, my feelings of rejection were difficult to separate from the hurt of the relationship ending. This time all I had to contend with was the knowledge that I would never see him again: I know he loved me. He told me enough times, and more than that, for almost 40 years he demonstrated it in everything he did. He was my father and he loved me. I was his daughter. Nobody could change that.

One year on, on the other side of the planet, I sit with a glass of red wine by the fire, candles glowing in the silence of the evening. This day last year, this very minute, I sat by his bed and watched him drift in and out of sleep. Now he is gone. The treasure of those last hours fills my memories, and the reliving of that night makes me feel close to him still. It is worth the pain I feel to recall the look on his face when he woke in his hospital bed to see me arriving with my little suitcase on wheels, a smile of joy for me despite his suffering. “Ah, Maiready!” He was the only one who ever called me that.

I remember that I went back one last time to kiss him goodnight again, to tell him I loved him again. I didn’t know then that it would be the last time, but it gives me comfort to think back on that impulse now. Nothing was left unsaid.

Today is no different than any other day really. He cannot be more in my thoughts than he has been every day in the past year. I could not miss him more than I have missed him since that day. But still I sit and relive the events of a year ago. It is my way of honouring him I suppose: no church visits for me, no grave to stand beside. For a short time, my sorrow will again be eclipsed by my bittersweet memory of the last time I saw his face. He was my father. I am his daughter and I love him.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Melbourne Restaurants

Most of these places I have visited, with a smattering recommended by others.


Ding Dong Lounge, 18 Market Lane (close to Chinatown)
Rock 'n' roll meets modern Australian in this decidedly cooler-than-thou bar in central Melbourne. Shades optional.

Flower Drum, 17 Market Lane
Considered to be one of the best restaurants of any cuisine in Australia, the Flower Drum is almost impossible to get a table in. But well worth the wait.


Ezard at Adelphi 187 Flinders Lane
Teage Ezard is the gastronomical high priest of Australian fee style food, as he calls it. A visit to this restaurant is less of a night out than a pilgrimage. The eight course tasting menu is recommended.

Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, 25 Bennetts Lane
The Melbourne equivalent of Ronnie Scotts and the home of the Bennetts Lane International Jazz Festival

Cookie, 252 Swanston Street
You will find an obscenely long bar in this place, with a similarly impressive wine and beer list. The balcony is a good place to people-watch.

Victoria Market, 513 Elizabeth Street
Victoria Market is a historic landmark in Melbourne – it is the largest open-air market in the southern hemisphere. Originally known as a food market, it is now the place to buy anything from organic fruit and veg, authentic Mediterranean food, hardward and of course Aussie souvenirs. The Night Market takes place on Wednesday nights in summer, Its major focus is on food and entertainment. About 20 food hawkers provide a culturally rich range of food including African, Mexican. Spanish, Malaysian, Indian and Middle Eastern street food – not to mention the wineries who set up stall and sell fantastic wines by the glass or case! A great place to spend a summer’s evening.


Shop UR2, Upper Level, Southbank

Beautiful views of the river from the sheltered balcony, waitresses in kimonos and delicious food. What’s not to like?!

E Gusto

This is so popular with local office people that the company I'm temping for call it "the boardroom". An easy-going popular place with outside tables right on the river, E Gusto has a good Italian menu and a relaxed feel.

Blue Train

This is a great place to meet with friends as the menu is so wide it pleases everybody. Wood-fired pizzas with original toppings are my favourite, although the Asian fusion dishes are also tempting - try the beef curry. Wine list is short enough but well-chosen with almost everything available by the glass.

Bear Brass

A trendy bar in the Southgate building, it's a great place to people-watch after work or on an early summer's evening. Cocktails are good and bar snacks hit the spot.

Port Melbourne


Right beside the Tasmanian ferryport, Campari has an interesting mix of Mediterranean food on its wide menu. Tapas are fresh and varied, the paella is authentic and rich, the pastas to die for, and the hot plate dishes are a meat-lover's dream. The inside is not as atmospheric as the outside tables - a bit café-ish - although they are open for breakfast too (try the churros and chocolate). But sit on the deck and watch the passers-by watch you eat with the beautiful people.


Man Mo, 42 NewQuay Promenade, Docklands
This beautiful restaurant with intriguing curtains made of kitchen sieves and tea strainers, offers the very best of Chinese food with excellent views over Melbourne city.

Bhoj, 54 NewQuay Promenade, Docklands
This new version of the famous Templestowe original is reputed to have stolen the crown of best Indian restaurant in Melbourne. Certainly looks the part! Looking forward to checking this place out from the inside next time I am in town.

Livebait, 55b New Quay Promenade, Docklands
Occupying one of the best locations in the new Docklands development, Livebait’s speciality is modern seafood with a strong Mediterranean influence.

Cargo Restaurant & Supper Club, 45 New Quay Promenade Docklands
Famous for its unisex electromagnetic toilets, made from transparent glass which only turns opaque when the toilet door is locked! The 270 degree views across the Melbourne skyline are pretty good too.

West of Town

Thien An, Footscray

Little Vietnam is full of cheap and cheerful eateries, many within or beside the cavernous Footscray Market (recommended by no less than Rick Stein for the quality of its fresh produce, meats and seafood). Closer to the train station, though, is a famed little place which has a loyal following - you will see a small crowd of people waiting outside each evening before opening time. It's BYO (bring-your-own) as you would expect, and $20 a head will buy you a substantial three-course feast.

Thai Angels, Barkly Street, West Footscray

Hidden down in West Footscray, this tiny place boasts a lovely coffee shop during the day, but serves up some of the best Thai food in Melbourne at night. The young waiting staff are friendly and attentive, and if you ask for "Thai hot" your taste buds won't be disappointed! It's BYO too although the wine list has plenty of good-value choice too.

Sirens Restaurant, Williamstown Beach

One of my local favourites – this lovely restaurant in the old art deco bathing pavilion looks out over the bay, and is a great place to watch the sunset or the pelicans flying past

East of Town

Café Sienna, 402 Chapel Street, Prahran
No visit to Chapel Street would be complete without lunch at a café watching all the Melbourne beautiful people going by. Where better than Café Sienna – if there is nobody interesting wakling past you can always watch the clientele… lunchtimes bring a mix of drug dealers, students and rich girls. Caeser salad is pretty good too!

Botanical, 169 Domain Rd South Yarra
Botanical's recent transformation is complete - with its style and exceptional food making it the Good Food Guide Restaurant of the Year. According to their website, the Bubble Bar at the Botanical is the perfect place to take somebody if you wish to seduce them!

Thy Thy 1, 142 Victoria Street, Richmond
“Bloody good cheap grub” is how somebody once described this great local restaurant, upstairs above the shops on Victoria Street. Service is efficient in this slice of Vietnam right in the middle of Melbourne. You won’t get to linger all night – or even have a table to yourself – but the food is worth it every time.

St. Kilda

Stokehouse, 30 Jacka Boulevard, St. Kilda
The Stokehouse is a bit of a Melbourne institution, located right by the water on the St. Kilda beachfront. Downstairs is casual dining and drinks, with an outdoor terrace – great for anytime of the day or night. We used to come here when I had no money and sit for hours over a coffe, watching the St. Kilda people roller-blading by. Upstairs is fine dining, with similar spectacular views across the bay.

Soul Mama, St. Kilda Sea Baths, Jacka Boulevard, St. Kilda
Great vegetarian food and fantastic cocktails, with spectacular views across the bay.

Café Tien Tien, 217 Barkly Street, St. Kilda
A wonderful Chinese/Singaporean restaurant with a great wine list and facinating décor including a genuine Buddhist shrine. Food is beautifully presented and service is impeccable.

Chinta Ria Soul, 92 Acland Street, St. Kilda
This is the first Malaysian restaurant I ever visited, and my niece had to order for me! The food blew me away the first time, and every time since. The music is laid-back, and you don’t have far to fall to find a great cake shop for dessert afterwards.

Café Barcelona
25 Fitzroy St St Kilda 3182
They say the food isn’t completely authentic, but it’s still delicious! Sit on the sidewalk and sip a sangria and let them bring you a parade of tapas as you watch the world go by.

71A Acland St St Kilda 3182
It’s a bit of a see-and-be-seen spot, but a truly democratic crowd from locals to backpackers to people just off the beach. Modern Australian food, a decent winelist and buzzy atmosphere.

130 Acland St St Kilda 3182
A Melbourne institution, Cicciolina’s is reputed to be the best Italian restaurant in Melbourne. Owned and run by women, this cosy restaurant is the favourite eatery of many of Melbourne’s biggest chefs – and I guess they know their stuff. The back bar is where Melbourne’s finest wait for their (unbookable) table, and the wine list is legendary.

Lygon Street

Lygon Street, Carlton
This famous street specialising in great Italian food is an absolute must. Just pick a restaurant and you won’t be disappointed!

Top Eight Books for Future Leaders

Imagine your child, your god-child, or perhaps a child you know will become the leader of the free world, can only ever read ten books in their lifetime. What would those books be?

Thanks to all who contributed to the experiment. I received some wonderful lists from people, many of whom also gave their reasons why they chose the books.

In the end, we didn't have a full top ten. There was a handful of books who were nominated a number of times, and a clear number one book. But the rest of the books nominated make such a great collection that I have listed them all here. Click here to buy any or all of the Top Eight from Amazon. Enjoy!

Number 1 – four votes
Animal Farm by George Orwell

Nominated by:

Nick Lawrance
“Read this book firstly as a fairy tale”
“Then to be read a second time immediately after The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx, as an allegory of how power corrupts and all that”

Mairead Doyle
“This book can be read again and again in life to appreciate its many layers”

Katea Downie

Joint 2nd
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Nominated by:
Manu Pillai
Katea Downie
Mairead Doyle
“The ultimate cautionary tale for our times”

Joint 2nd
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon

Nominated by:

Nick Lawrance
“Because mental health problems are just health problems”

Eileen Kershaw

Mairead Doyle

Joint 4th
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Nominated by:

Sam Evans
“Read this book and you won't have a great view of humanity; like no other book it reveals the human cost of wars and why they should never be fought”

Mairead Doyle
“Probably the best war book ever written”

Joint 4th
Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Nominated by:

“A modern Australian flavour”

Sam Evans
“An Australian masterpiece, amazingly written book about two poor families in western australia that suffer catastrophies but live on - wonderful use of Australian rural language”

Joint 4th
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Nominated by:

Katea Downie
Katharine Haines

Joint 4th

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Nominated by:

Katea Downie

Mairead Doyle
“A powerful story about growing up in an imperfect world”

Joint 4th
The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama

Nominated by:

Manu Pillai

Sam Evans

“Helped me get perspective - I think I’ll need to re-read this every few years to keep its messages fresh”

Other Nominated Books (Title, Author, Nominated by)

100 Years of Solitude
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Suzanne Parsons

A Shropshire Lad
AE Housman
Katharine Haines

A Well Dressed Gentleman's Pocket Guide
Oscar Lenius
Orlando Gibson

Anna Karenina
Leo Tolstoy
Sam Evans

Art of War
Sun Tzu
Manu Pillai

Between You & I
James Cochrane
Orlando Gibson

Bhowani Junction
John Masters
Hayley Burchill

Lesa Campbell

Black Beauty
Anna Sewell
Louise Beechey

Black Dogs
Ian McEwan

Bonjour Tristesse
Francoise Sagan
Katharine Haines

Brave New World
Aldous Huxley
Manu Pillai

Bridge to Terebithia
Kathrine Patterson
Alison Crimmins

Herb Boyd & Robert Allen
Orlando Gibson

Captain Correlli's Mandolin
Louis de Bernieres
Louise Beechey

Catch 22
Joseph Heller
Nick Lawrance

Catcher in the Rye
J D Salinger
Katea Downey

Change the World
Robert E Quinn
Dean Campbell

Computer Programming for Dummies
Orlando Gibson

Crime & Punishment
Fyodor Dostoevsky
Louise Beechey

Danny, Champion of the World
Roald Dahl
Nick Lawrance

Definitely Atlas Shrugged
Ayn Rand
Alison Crimmins

Bram Stoker
Nick Lawrance

Elizabeth - Red Rose of the House of Tudor
Kathryn Lasky
Kathryn Fridman

Alfred Lansing
Sam Evans

Famous Five or Secret Seven
Enid Blyton
Eileen Kershaw

Fast Food Nation
Eric Schlosser
Katharine Haines

Howl's Moving Castle
Diana Wynne Jones
Kathryn Fridman

I Capture the Castle
Dodie Smith
Katharine Haines

I, Coriander
Sally Gardener
Kathryn Fridman

If This Is A Man
Primo Levi
Katharine Haines

In Praise of Slow
Carl Honore
Katharine Haines

In Spain
Ted Walker
Annette Doyle

Journey to the River Sea
Eva Ibbotson
Kathryn Fridman

Les Miserables
Victor Hugo
Louise Beechey

Lord of the Rings
J R R Tolkien
Sam Evans

Lyn: A Diary of Prostitution
Lyn Madden
Annette Doyle

Maid of Buttermere
Melvyn Bragg
Louise Beechey

Martin and Malcolm and America
James H Cone
Orlando Gibson

Master and Commander
Patrick O'Brien
Hayley Burchill

Mayor of Casterbridge
Thomas Hardy
Louise Beechey

Midnight's Children
Salman Rushdie
Mairead Doyle

Mr God This Is Anna
Mairead Doyle

Northern Lights
Philip Pullman
Kathryn Fridman

Noughts and Crosses
Malorie Blackman
Mairead Doyle

On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Ian Fleming
Nick Lawrance

Oxford English Dictionary
Orlando Gibson

Parade's End
Ford Madox Ford
Hayley Burchill

Pilgrim's Progress
John Bunyon
Hayley Burchill

Pole to Pole
Michael Palin
Katharine Haines

Puffin Book of Utterly Brilliant Poetry
Louise Beechey

Rachel's Holiday
Marian Keyes
Annette Doyle

RHS Gardening Manual
Hayley Burchill

Romeo and Juliet
William Shakespeare
Katea Downey

Schindler's Ark
Thomas Kenneally
Mairead Doyle

Sophie's World
Jostein Gaarder

Teach Yourself Chinese
Orlando Gibson

Teach Yourself Spanish
Orlando Gibson

The Butcher Boy
Patrick McCabe
Annette Doyle

The Communist Manifesto
Karl Marx
Nick Lawrance

The Constant Gardener
John le Carre
Suzanne Parsons

The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Mitch Alborn

The Horse Whisperer
Nicholas Evans
Annette Doyle

The Kite Runner
Khaled Hosseini
Suzanne Parsons

The Lady Grace Mysteries - Assassin
Patricia Finney
Kathryn Fridman

The Lonely Planet - India
Lonely Planet
Annette Doyle

The Lost World of the Kalahari
Laurens van der Post
Katharine Haines

The Mousehole Cat
Antonia Barber
Louise Beechey

The New York Trilogy
Paul Auster

The Once and Future King
T H White
Katharine Haines

The Piano Tuner
Daniel Mason
Hayley Burchill

The Prophet
Kahlil Gibran
Annette Doyle

The Reader
Bernard Schlink
Nick Lawrance

The Silent World
Jacques Cousteau
Louise Beechey

The Star of Kazan
Eva Ibbotson
Kathryn Fridman

The Treatment
Mo Hayder
Annette Doyle

The Worlds of Chrestomanci - The Magicians of Capriona
Diana Wynne Jones
Kathryn Fridman

Time Bandits
Michael Palin & Terry Gilliam
Orlando Gibson

Twinkle Annual
Eileen Kershaw

Veronika Decides to Die
Paul Coelho
Annette Doyle

Vile Victorians (Horrible Histories)
Terry Deary
Kathryn Fridman

Voyage of the Dawn Treader
C S Lewis
Nick Lawrance

Winnie the Pooh - Complete Collection of Poems and Stories
A A Milne
Mairead Doyle

Women's Room
Marilyn French
Annette Doyle

Monday, May 01, 2006

Mornington Wineries

We cruised down country lanes with the colours of autumn all around us. We saw glorious red and golden vineyards through the trees, and tantalising glimpses of the bay and the Tasman Sea glinting on the horizon, as we hopped from winery to winery tasting the best of the Mornington Peninsula’s wines.

One was Eileen’s favourite winery restaurant. The Montalto vineyard and olive grove also has a sculpture exhibition dotted around the estate which allowed us to enjoy spectacular views across the vineyards whilst inspecting the exhibits. The restaurant terrace certainly looked lovely, and we will visit again one winter afternoon for a fix of sunshine with our food.

My personal favourite was the last place we visited, the Hurley winery at Balnarring, run as a hobby by two pinot noir enthusiasts, lawyer Trish and her QC husband Kevin. They have three vineyards surrounding their house, Lodestone, Garamond and all of which produce a wonderful pinot noir. We sampled the 2004 vintage before Trish gave us a tour of the vineyards, delivering the best short course possible on winemaking in 20 minutes! It was hugely educational, and I was fascinated to see how close together the three vineyards were (they are essentially right beside each other, just separated by wind-breaking trees) given the vast difference between the two wines I’d just tasted. The third vineyard’s wine had not been launched from the 2004 vintage as they were not happy with it.

Back in the tasting barn, Trish gave us a taste of the 2005 vintage which were sitting in oak barrels. This time the three vineyards were represented, and again I was amazed at how different they were. Despite Orlando’s protestations that I buy no more wine, I had to come away with just two of the Lodestone 2004 vintage. However I was eclipsed by Kelvin who bought 10 bottles to make up a full case between us!

The Hurley wines are available at a number of good restaurants across Melbourne, and you can get on their mailing list to keep track of their wines too.