What’s your beef?

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Sitting one day in a chic Cabo San Lucas restaurant over-looking the Sea of Cortez we watched an American gentleman throw down his menu and beckon the waiter.

“Is the fish fresh?” he barked.

“Of course, senor, it was caught this morning,” the waiter assured him, indicating the magnificent ocean spread before us, home to some of the world’s most delectable seafood.

“Then gimme the beef burger.”

It reminded me of a guy I once knew in Los Angeles who was rich enough to constantly travel the world first class and dine in the best restaurants.

“We ate in the top restaurants in Paris, Italy, Michelin, you name it,” his girlfriend, an ex-Beauty Queen told me. “But he only ever wanted meatballs. I coulda killed him.”

Some people just want their beef. Even here in deep vegetarian country I am surprised by the longing for red meat. Of course it must be organic – as must everything else.  Food must be gluten-free, dairy-free, fat-free, sugar-free, sulphur free, sulphite-free, pesticide-free, preservative and triglyceride-free.

Which can make choosing a restaurant a little time consuming –  unless you happen to be in the vicinity of a marvellous place called “20,000 Cows.”

This vegan 70’s décor restaurant is in the rural town of Lismore, NSW. It was named after the number of cow’s lives the owner figured he would save over the course of his establishment’s life.  The kitchen makes my bathroom look like a football field and the wait is pretty long but the food when it comes is sensational. With everything from spicy Yemeni stuffed pastry to creamy Malaysian curries (not real cream) it is always booked out.  

I used to scoff at all this organic nonsense until friends who are making a documentary about the takeover of the world’s food supply by BIG BUSINESS opened my foolish eyes. The bombarding of our food with chemicals and GM modification is the stuff of horror films. It is now being linked to the collapse of bee colonies across the planet and possibly to the astronomical spike in diseases like cancer and brain disorders like autism and dementia.  I like my honey and am quite attached to my brain so I am changing my ways.  I have even started buying organic butter and milk. Pesticide-free vegetables are creeping into my shopping basket until the ones I’ve planted are ready to eat. 

But I’ve decided not to get too carried away.   

I have met people who are such strict vegans they will only eat free-fall fruit. If the tree didn’t give it up voluntarily they would rip off their own hand before ripping it from its source. They are called extreme fruitarians.

Fruitcake also springs to mind.

My homeopath told me about one of these fellows who had eaten nothing but fruit for 20 years. His osteoporosis was so bad he had the spine of a 90 year-old woman. He was only 40. To cure himself he filled a backpack with rocks – as you do – and spent the next 6 months climbing up and down rough terrain.  He may have also started working his way through those 20,000 cows.  Apparently it worked, although I have my doubts.

Visiting town to stock up on some new pens I am alone and can eat anything I want without lengthy consultation. I don’t care what it’s got in it. It’s hard to beat a good old fashioned Australian bakery.  When you push open the fly screen door the smell is overwhelmingly nostalgic and scrumptious.  I grab a gluten-full sausage roll with sugar-drenched tomato sauce and a sticky bun with pink icing full of preservatives and join a workman eating his pie and sauce on the bench outside. We nod at each with mouths full of evil pastry.

From the corner of my eye I see him take an apple turnover with cream out of a bag and ram it into his gob with fingers that look like bananas.     

No doubt he checked first that it was made from free-fall apples.  

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Green Faeries

It’s marijuana patrol time again in the neighbourhood. The cops are out in their helicopters scouring the dense green vegetation for plantations of pot. It’s hard to concentrate on working with a chopper k-thumping overhead – quite literally. They fly so low you expect them to land any minute on the roof like Santa.

This is hippy country, famous for its weed which grows like, well, a weed. Stick anything in the ground here and it will sprout by lunchtime and be an old growth forest by next week. In the nearby town of Nimbin there is a Hemp Embassy and a world famous MardiGrass held every May.

Coinciding with the start of harvesting season the weekend-long blowout – and its more serious side – a drug law reform party – sees thousands of stoned locals and visitors from all over the world transform the sleepy little town into one big happy billowing bongathon.

Led by a road-train of day-glo psychedelic Kombi vans a giant burning spliff is carried down the main street accompanied by a flotilla of floats, the Rolla Dooby Girls and the green Ganja Faeries who dance along spinning their magic.

 

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The Ganja Faeries work hard for months leading up the festival rehearsing and sewing their flamboyant costumes. There is no age limit on fairyhood. It is a state of mind not body. The only requirements are a love of dancing, green tutus and of course a fondness for Mother Nature’s herb.

The weekend festivities include the Hemp Olympics featuring events such as Joint Rolling, Bong Throwing and the Tug o’Peace with a hemp rope, natch. The Bong Throw has male and female categories and the Joint Rolling is broken down into subdivisions.

The previous year Bob the Joint Builder won the Speed Roll at a stunning 29 seconds although Wendy, a nimble local, wasn’t far behind – chased by Andreas from Germany. Wendy had her revenge in the Blindfold where she beat out Bob the Joint Builder and everyone else.

Entrants from Slovakia to Iran and France duked it out in the Adverse Conditions event and the Artistic Roll which was won by something called “the helicopter.” 

The grand finale is of course the presentation of the Grower’s Cup for best produce grown that year – although how the judges can possibly tell the difference by this stage is one of life’s mysteries.  

Only the faeries know. 

The Doctor Is In

Being a two fingered typist plays havoc with the fingers, especially the trigger ones. Weeks of bashing away with my right hand has left me with the beginnings of RSI. For years I have witnessed journalist friends’ arms become so bad with this dreaded occupational hazard they couldn’t pull a tissue from a box without screaming.

It’s time to nip this sucker in the bud and go see the doctor.

Doctors in this neck of the woods are what you might call casual. The first time my very English friend, John, went to see one he was asked to wait in the waiting room until the doctor was ready.

“I’m free now, come on in,” a voice finally announced. John looked around. The only person in sight was a woman with wet hair slicked back, pants rolled up to her knees and her bare feet covered in sand.

The doctor was in.

John, who comes from a long line of very proper English medicos who wouldn’t be seen dead without a suit and tie was delighted.

In keeping with the relaxed visual, doctors insist on being called by their first name. When I called my former doctor, “Doctor Werner,” she glared down at me and declared that her father had been called “Doctor Werner.” She was plain Anne!

To get to my new doctor you have to drive past fields of cows and rolling farmland until you reach a river which you cross to enter a sort of jungle. Further upstream the river has platypus in it and sometimes you are lucky enough to see one. They are quite shy.

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The surgery is on stilts and very rustic looking. Any minute you expect Tarzan to emerge and greet you. But it’s just the doctor in a sarong.

“Where shall I tie the dog?” I ask.

“Just bring him in,” he says as if I am some crazy person.

So in we all go and are soon joined by the doctor’s own dog. It is very cosy.

Even more cosy are home visits. I love how the doc here still comes calling. It’s one of the last holdouts of old-time civility and caring.

My mother said that in the old days in Ireland doctors would arrive like visiting royalty in their coats and Top hats. (this was a while ago)

I’m not expecting to see a top – or any other hat – cross my sick-bed threshold here in New South Wales anytime soon. But somehow it is reassuring to see that my GP is wearing shoes. Well flip flops anyway.

On the Beach

Up here in northern New South Wales people like to go around barefoot.  Even ladies of a certain age in smart frocks forego footwear.  A man in a business suit skate boarded past me recently with nothing on his feet but two silver toe rings. No surprise that the local shoe shop recently closed down.

My Springer Spaniel, Gillie, on the other hand has a foot fetish and is extremely interested in shoes – especially my own. Shoes hold the mystery and meaning to life and can dictate the difference between a good day and a crappy might-as-well-go-back-to-bed-day.

Each time I get up from my desk he watches anxiously to see what I am planning to do with my feet. If anything with a high heel appears from the closet (less and less likely) he picks up his disgusting chewed ferret and slinks away to sulk in the bathroom.

Sneakers and espadrilles mean a local walk around the property which is pretty good fun – especially if the giant lizard is out and about – but the big excitement is reserved for flip flops. Because flip flops mean THE BEACH.

Most local beaches have a special section where dogs great and small can fly through the air after Frisbees, chase sticks into the ocean and body surf back to shore. With everything from bossy little Jack Russells to crazy passive-aggressive Collies it always amazes that there are rarely any fights.

Even mean-looking junkyard dogs smile and act like graduates of anger management school as they chase each other across the sand and into the waves like frolicking nymphs.

 

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Surf Dog Australia

I recently watched a group of menacing young men swagger their way along the shoreline dressed in the kind of gear you normally wear to a knife fight rather than a beach. People got out of the way as their bad vibes preceded them down the sand.

Suddenly a Collie crossed their path. The owner nervously called it back as the biggest and baddest of the bad asses stopped and stared through his Terminator shades at the innocent pooch.  Then as we watched helplessly a single word came forth from the mouth of Mr. Evil.

“Lassie!”

Apparently it’s impossible for a person to walk on a beach and feel depressed – or its flip side, anger. Something to do with negative ions in the sand. I guess dogs are absorbing them too, right up through their paws. But then dogs are pretty happy most of the time. Why wouldn’t they be? They never have to wear shoes and they can wag their tails all they like.

Big proper tails. Not little humiliating stumps. It’s against the law in Australia to dock tails – and after the initial hullabaloo everyone has got used to it.  Who knew that Dobermans had long majestic tails to add a final touch of nobility to their streamlined elegance? How wonderful to watch that big Dobie bitch wag that thang.

Go girl. If you got it, flaunt it!   Woof woof WOOF.

Ready For My Close-Up

Big Fred my tech guru has just called warning me to back EVERYTHING up as there’s a particularly nasty new virus on the rampage.

“Guess what I did today?” he asks.

The mind boggles. He is an unpredictable fellow.

“Bought an LBD.”

Big Fred, a good looking bloke, is not what you would call small. He’s no size two. Twenty two is closer to the truth. Being tall and an ex-truck driver he can pull it off.  But a little black dress?

“How “L” exactly?” I ask with trepidation.

“Above the knee.”

“Uh huh.”

“I’ve just got one problem and I need you to help me with it.”

“Okay.”

What could it possibly be? To borrow my new black tights to wear as gloves? To put on a suit and accompany him to the Brisbane Symphony Orchestra?

“Shave my back.”

Sometimes there is no point in trying to be polite.

“No fucking way.”

“Aw, don’t be like that. I could come over and colour your hair for you in exchange.”

 

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“All right, Mr. De Mille. I’m ready for my close-up.”

 

Home beauty treatments are popular around these hills and dales. Fred himself does a nice little line in nails. His spare room houses – alongside his enormous collection of enormous hoop earrings – a small department store worth of nail varnish.

Girls arrive from far and wide to have their hands and feet expertly manicured and painted Hotlips Pink and Big Apple Red by Big Fred. And while he’s at it, he’ll run a quick clean-up on your laptop.

Many of the beauticians are English girls – hairdressers mainly, who have scissors and will travel. They charge a quarter of what the salons cost – and do a very passable job if you don’t mind sticking your head in the kitchen sink.

“Thanks, but I’m right,” I tell my friend. “The girl’s booked and coming next week to do my hair.”

“Then do me a favour,” he says. “Ask her if she does Brazilians.”

Little Miss Sunshine

Shove over Cate, Nicole and Kylie.

You have some serious competition from a new Australian bird – a redhead whose major fashion statement is feathers. Her name is Little Miss Sunshine and she’s a hen.

As the star of the anti-battery hen campaign That Ain’t No Way To Treat a Lady the little chicken is popping up on screens and billboards across the world.

This clever campaign from the wonderful Animals Australia aims to capitalize on consumers’ increasing unease with the source of their eggs. Nobody wants to think that the gal who laid them a perfect oval miracle for breakfast is tortured in a cage so tiny she can never stretch her wings her entire short life.

And because poultry farmers are addicted to all those TV women’s prison dramas they know only too well that caged girls love to fight. To nip this in the bud poor old chickens have the ends of their very sensitive beaks sliced off.

The hens on the property here are outside ladies. They waddle around the grounds raking at the earth for tasty things with their sharp claws. Then they have a nice old roll in the dust for a bath. Lots of squawking goes on because chooks are great communicators and each cluck means something different. They even cluck softly to their unborn chicks to teach them communication skills – and the chicks chirp right back from inside their shell.

Our girls’ eggs are never fertilized because we don’t have a rooster. Roosters can have a bad rep as rapists and are a pain in the ass at dawn so we are a rooster-free zone. Their coop which they all trot back to at dusk is like a nun’s convent or a Reality Show where men are barred. It’s spacious and cosy with lovely fresh straw in the laying boxes.

And do they lay!

Sometimes there are so many eggs – big beautiful bright yellow-yokey eggs – that you don’t know what to do with them. Visitors try to sneak away before we can bombard them with another couple of dozen and even when the whole neighborhood is avoiding us still they spill out from the fridge and onto the benches in bowls that have been dated and color coded.

If they want to lay while out and about they will find the oddest places to do it. The dog kennels are a favourite and so are the bags full of sheared alpaca wool. But old shoes and the seat of the tractor are handy too. You have to be careful where you sit sown.

Romain, my neighbour, found a hen sitting on his sofa recently watching television.  X Factor Australia was playing. He couldn’t quite grasp what she was clucking about but thought it had something to do with getting herself on the show.

I reckon she’d be in with a chance. There’s been a lot of crap on there but nobody has laid an egg yet.  That takes real talent!

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www.animalsaustralia.org/no-way-to-treat-a-lady

 

All That Slithers

One good thing about the rain is the absence of snakes. They appear to like it about as much as I do and tend to stay indoors, probably in bed. But you can’t count on it. A neighbor told me he had seen one in his compost pile in the dead of winter with frost on its head.

I am trawling the Internet for a way to clear copyright on a photo I want to use for an article when my girlfriend Georgia calls to drag me off to the beach for a dog walk. As an afterthought she adds that she just found a snake skeleton and skin inside her bathroom. She thought it was just a python, harmless unless you are a small dog or cat or crocodile.

A nine foot python ate a very large croc the other week. Not around here thankfully. Our pythons don’t usually get much bigger than 6 feet and mostly mind their own business. They eat the rats which eat the bananas thereby enjoying a sort of rodent smoothie.  When it’s sunny they like to stretch out on the tin roof side by side like girls on the beach.

Most beaches around here tolerate nudity, toplessness or the full burkini if that is your go – and it’s not uncommon to see a lovely tan gal striding into the waves butt naked. You will never catch me naked on a beach. Not because of modesty but because there are SNAKES on the beach. Not harmless pythons but Eastern Browns, the second most deadly snake in the world. They live and mate in the sand dunes and sometimes will slither down and give you a quick nip.

My friend Helena who sports a nice all-over all-year tan was lying face down in the sand last summer when she felt something hit her on the back of the leg. By the time she’d rolled over, whatever it was had gone and just two small puncture marks remained. Being a girl who has lived in very remote and primitive conditions throughout the world she doesn’t panic easily. Instead she (quite) calmly drove herself to Byron Bay hospital where they confirmed that her assailant was most likely an Eastern Brown snake.  Fortunately for Helena it wasn’t suffering from PMS that day and just gave her a warning “dry strike.”

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Had it unleashed its venom she could have died on the way back to the car park.

George the Snakeman who has caught over two thousand Eastern Browns over the past 14 years told me he had been called some years ago to get one out of the ATM machine in downtown Byron. That’s a withdrawal with a difference. George will go anywhere to catch a snake for the price of a donation. You know it’s him arriving because he has SNAKEMAN written across his truck – and in case you miss that and mistake him for the Avon Lady  the words SNAKEMAN are also written in bold white letters in the shape of a cross on his big black leather boots.

In the trunk of the truck is a large see-through box full of writhing snakes. Recently he was at war with another snake catcher who had the gall to call himself the Snakeman.  It became very venomous before it was somehow all resolved, but it just goes to show that even snake catchers have to worry about copyright.