Gentlemen of Leisure

Feb 26, 2010


Not Bill or Rafiq.
Not Bill or Rafiq.

Recently I was invited pheasant hunting by Bill, a former South West chairman of the National Farmers Union. Bill is a six foot four gangly baritone, a sort of West Country Ian McKellen, and when he invites you pheasant hunting you say yes. I said yes.

Bill picked me up on Monday morning of what turned out to be the last day of hunting season. As I had never been shooting before it was agreed that I would be a ‘beater’ for the day. ‘To be a really effective beater,’ I was told, ‘you have to think like a pheasant.’ This didn’t, I assume, mean emptying my mind into a kind of Zen like pheasant stupidity. Bill assured me that the gamekeeper would give me very clear instructions and there was absolutely no chance at all of me being shot. So that was encouraging.

When we arrived at ‘the hunt’ I very quickly realised two things. I was about thirty years younger than anyone else, and I was extremely underdressed. The standard kit consisted of khaki wellingtons, long green socks tied up with red tassels worn outside of the boots, tweed plus fours, a tweed hunting jacket, a tweed vest, tweed tie and a tweed flat cap. There was a lot of tweed.


This ensemble was accessorised by a leather shot case, an empty shotgun case across slung across the shoulder and a loaded shotgun resting jauntily in the crook of the arm. It was as if they were going to a dress up party. And in a sense I suppose they were. Continue reading “Gentlemen of Leisure: A pheasant spot of hunting”


Feb 23, 2010


Becoming The Mark

Bartering in a South East Asian country isn't easy. Particularly when you're unable to speak the language and don't want to rip people off. Instead, they get to rip you off! says Kevin O'Faircheallaigh.

Kevin O’Faircheallaigh is 28 and in 2009 decided to abandon all domestic commitments and to have one last big adventure before the impending doom of 30. With that in mind, him and his partner packed an ambitiously small backpack each and headed out to spend a year exploring Asia and Europe, with a brief sojourn into North Africa. Expect him to become a Back in a Bit regular.


Kevin writes: I’ve never been particularly keen on the idea of bartering. Even in Australia, where I have a firm if not sophisticated grasp of the language, the idea fills me with a sense of dread. So for a monolinguist like myself, the prospect of making my way through South East Asia can be daunting.

It’s not just the act of bartering itself, but the myriad of different approaches that I find intimidating. In some countries, it’s rude to barter, in others, it’s rude not to. Some can be negotiated down a lot, others a little, and some will require reasons for why the price should be reduced. And to my amazement, some people actually like the process. In fact, LOVE the process. My sole bartering goal for this trip then was not to be taken advantage of too heavily. In this, I have failed miserably. Continue reading “Becoming The Mark”


Feb 19, 2010


Katy Morrison writes from Santiago, Chile: Actually, that’s a little unfair. I don’t know if Chileans actually like bad customer service, but its certainly a possibility given its prevalence here.

Lets take the dinner I had last night as an example.

We’re in a nice restaurant in Bellavista that serves the most awesome sandwiches which, amazingly, are not of the completo style, but rather of the pan-American gourmet style – think sandwich of aji de gallina with salad or lomo saltado complete with tiny potato crispies. Ok, it might sound a little weird but take it from me, these sandwiches are the real deal. As in, delicious, and not at all like a completo.

We sit down (after being told that the table we wanted was for six people and us only being four made us ineligible for it..). So we sit down at a crappier table, for four people. Menus arrive. There are lots of drinks in a big long list headed ‘tragos’, which oddly enough, means ‘drinks’.

O turns to waitress and points to one of the drinks.
O: ‘Que es esto?’ (what’s this one?)
Waitress: “Uh.. Son tragos.’ Waitress turns, and walks off.
In case you didn’t get that, her response to his question was “They are drinks”. That was it. Then she left.
Well, thank you for that. I think that counts as Strike One. Continue reading “Gentlemen of Leisure: Things Chileans Like — Bad customer service”


Feb 18, 2010


Welcome to Slide Night at Back in a Bit. Sit back, relax and get ready to travel far away from your desk and your sore computer eyes as we share our favourite travel snaps and the quirky stories behind them.

Dan Miller is a Melbourne-based documentary photographer.  His recent work has explored the consequences of rapid modernisation in Mongolia, and life in government-built temporary living spaces in China’s post-earthquake zone.

Vegan restaurant run by followers of Supreme Master Ching Hai, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Vegan restaurant run by followers of Supreme Master Ching Hai, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Shot using:
Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Focal length 24mm
ISO 640

Dan writes: Being a vegetarian is difficult enough at home (“we’ll slap your mushrooms on the barbie next, Dan — that way they’ll have a lovely taste of steak”), but it can be nearly impossible when travelling overseas.

On a recent trip to Mongolia, a country famed for its cuisine of mutton, noodles with mutton, mutton dumplings and mutton stew, I was expecting to embrace a kind of pragmatic ‘flexitarianism’.  So imagine my surprise to find, tucked away in the back of an Ulaanbaatar building dedicated to vendors of drab women’s fashion, an oasis of vegan pleasure. Continue reading “Slide Night: Going veg in a meat-lover’s paradise”


Feb 16, 2010


Responsible tourism: charity

As any traveller to India or similar countries would confirm, one of the most confronting aspects of these countries is the extreme poverty which gets right up in your face and challenges everything that you believe about the world and yourself.

As any traveller to India or similar countries would confirm, one of the most confronting aspects of these countries is the extreme poverty which gets right up in your face and challenges everything that you believe about the world and yourself. Deciding if and how you’re going to respond to this poverty is a process that continues from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave such a country, and there’s no right way to go about responding to it.

Although it’s not immediately obvious, one of the most difficult things about being confronted by a beggar is the way it makes you feel about yourself. A decision to give or not to give is less about your genuine compassion for the beggar’s situation and more about your self-image and your sense of self-determination. In Australia, a common response to being asked for money on the streets of Melbourne or Sydney is that “they’re just going to go and spend it on drugs,” which is probably true in many cases, but the justification for not giving money is also a way to make ourselves feel better for having made a decision not to give. But Australians give enormous amounts of money to charity each year so we’re not at all a miserly or compassion-free people, so it’s obviously something about coming face-to-face with an actual person whose circumstances make empathy difficult that generates a bunch of conflicting thoughts and emotions.

Continue reading “Responsible tourism: charity”


Feb 15, 2010


Katy Morrison lives in Santiage, Chile: I don’t know whether this is an Australian thing, but there are very few occasions in my life where I have felt the need to impart my wisdom to a random group of people.*

Further proof? This photo is from a film called El Brindis
Further proof? This photo is from a film called El Brindis

Those in Australia who do feel that need, I invite to proceed directly to the Speakers Corner at the State Library in Melbourne where they will be able to stand comfortably on their soapbox and spout off about anything they like (anything they like within the limits set by anti-terrorism legislation of course) and everyone will duly ignore them.

In Chile I don’t know if the Speakers’ Corner thing is a tradition. What I do know, however, is that there is in actual fact no need for a Speakers’ Corner here, because that role has already been filled more than comfortably by a fundamental part of any Chilean social gathering – ‘the brindis’.

Yes, its time to put your soapboxes away and sit down people, for its much more comfortable to give a speech from right here at the dinner table.

A long speech. Very long. And ponderous. Continue reading “Gentlemen of Leisure: Things Chileans Like — making speeches”


Feb 11, 2010


Welcome to Slide Night at Back in a Bit. Sit back, relax and get ready to travel far away from your desk and your sore computer eyes as we share our favourite travel snaps and the quirky stories behind them.

And today we have the most joyful of pictures and a story, from Crikey reader — and ‘DJ, rapper and shoe shopper’ — Jess Hopcraft.

Warsaw, Poland
Warsaw, Poland

Shot using: Some crappy digital camera

Jess writes: Snow. Not a foreign concept, although Hollywood would have me believe the king of Siam had issues grasping it. But living in a country that is mainly desert and living in a city that has four seasons in one day — which although very “cool” is never really very cold — means that I, at the ripe age of 24, had never actually seen this “frozen water”. Minus viewings of Ice Age with my niece and many a white Christmas rom-com.

When I googled the weather in Warsaw on the day I was set to leave, I saw an unfamiliar cartoon picture next to a very scary singular number. Did I need special pants? Would my five euro vintage boots be ruined? Could I freeze to death? Awoken on the train by a sudden jolt, I pulled back the curtains and got what was to be my first glance. Empty fields and small houses with a noticeable but not complete white covering. It didn’t exactly look inviting, but from the heated carriage it had a certain romantic quality. I smiled  and clapped my hands like a small child on a theme park ride.

I was more warmed by my dear friends who looked at me with sweet encouragement when I had expected subtle embarrassment. When we got off the train my questions were all answered. Yes, I needed special pants. I believe they call them warm pants. Yes, my five euro boots would indeed be ruined. Ruined and wet the whole four days. And no, you will not freeze to death Jess. For in Poland there is a special potion that when consumed keeps you toasty warm. Vodka. Continue reading “Slide Night: Snow day”

Letter from ...

Feb 10, 2010


Scott Bridges is sadly returning to Melbourne, but the travels of Back in a Bit will continue. With the help of Scott, guest bloggers and our becoming-more-regular series — Slide Night, Gentlemen of Leisure, The Insider — we’ll muddle our way through. We’re expecting a few different travellers will guide the blog, and we’ve already got a few up our sleeve, but we’d love any suggestions of people you may have. Just email [email protected]

I want to visit to Cuba before Castro dies. Which I feel bad to say, since Cubans are suffering etc, but I really want to see the old classic American cars from the pre-embargo age before they are overtaken by Toyota Corollas.

One of our latest editions of Crikey’s Letter From takes us to the hot streets of Havana and Barcoa, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution. There was even a performance where Kool & the Gang played. It looks like it was quite a night:

Celebrate good times, come on!


by Aron Koh

“Neither Blockade Nor Hurricanes will beat down CUBA.” So reads a typical mural freshly painted across a storm-battered wall in Baracoa on the eastern tip of Cuba. On the beach where Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492, a socialist sports stadium now perches as if it were about to slide into the sea, its sea walls washed away by Hurricane Ike in 2008. Like the old Cathedral by the Square of the Revolution, parts of Baracoa have been torn apart by the wind and the sea and never put back together. The Cuban government blames the US Embargo, which it calls “the blockade”, for the scarcity of resources that challenges reconstruction. Baracoans, like the rest of Cuba, make do with an economy based on such scarcity. In Baracoa at least the land is bountiful and the town awash with coconuts, cocoa, coffee and plantains, and the sound of squealing pigs. Horses and carts and old bicycles clatter through narrow colonnaded streets that seem frozen in time. Continue reading “Letter from Havana: a Kool new year in Cuba”

Scott and Spykey

Feb 8, 2010


Coming home

Due to a family illness Lisa and I have decided to end our trip and come home. We'll be back in Melbourne later this week. While neither of us are in any doubt that our decision is the right one, it's still a sad decision to make, writes Scott Bridges.

Due to a family illness Lisa and I have decided to end our trip and come home. We’ll be back in Melbourne later this week. While neither of us are in any doubt that our decision is the right one, it’s still a sad decision to make.

On the morning after we made this decision I was sitting in a restaurant waiting for my masala dosa, staring out the window at the theatre on the street. Just outside the restaurant a man with crippled legs was perched on a rough home-made skateboard, pushing himself around with his left hand inside an old rubber sandal. I watched this man for a while, asking passers-by for money, and I noticed that across his face at all times was a wide, genuine smile. After a while he stopped and had a chat with a man, laughing loudly at a joke they shared.

A few weeks ago on the bus ride from hell I also spent some time watching other passengers and I was struck by how many of them were smiling and laughing during an experience that I found so overwhelmingly frustrating. These two incidents for me symbolise the uniquely Indian way of looking at life, where no matter how many things there are to be upset and sad about, always find a positive and focus on that instead. It’s not a new or complicated idea, but it’s such a good idea, and it’s one that we in Australia would do well to keep in mind more often. It’s certainly a strategy that I’ve been using this past week as I get ready to head home.

But enough of this maudlin, reflective shite, and time for something useful. Tell me, blogosphere, where can Spykey and I go to get the best, most authentic Indian food in Australia? Melbourne restaurants are of course the most convenient for us, but I’ll accept nominations for eateries in any town and city in Australia. Just in case we visit there sometime.

Gentlemen of Leisure

Feb 5, 2010


Somehow I have found myself living in Plymouth. When I first arrived here I jumped to the conclusion that Plymouth was basically Geelong – or more accurately what Geelong would be like if it had reached the peak of its cultural significance in the Elizabethan period.* After some consideration this remains essentially true, but nonetheless I’m actually becoming quite fond of the place. Albeit in the kind of way one becomes quite fond of the animatronic Gary Ablett at the Smorgies in Geelong, but still doesn’t really want to live there.

[*You could of course mount a fairly strong argument that Geelong actually did reach the height of its cultural significance during the Elizabethan period.]

To begin with we have finally found a good pub. As it turns out, the best pub in Plymouth is also the oldest pub in Plymouth, The Minerva which has been open since 1540. It has roughly the dimensions of a shoebox, and if you are of average height you bump your head. Francis Drake lived across the road for a while in the 1560s, so its pretty good odds he probably popped in for a cider at some point. Most nights about half the people bring a musical instrument. A few too many guitars for my liking, but there are always at least one or two piano accordions and a man who has the most amazing collection of Irish whistles you could imagine, as well as a set of Uilleann pipes. Continue reading “Gentleman of Leisure: Plymouth — like Geelong, but with worm charming”