My dear readers, you had a pretty rough time of it in 2020. What with the pestilence, house arrest and the destruction of your civil liberties and basic human rights, you’ve also had to put up with The Traveller’s rants about trains and P.G. Wodehouse, some oh-so-precious whimsy involving Wordsworth, wooden spoons and fairies, incomprehensible nonsense about tram tracks and a couple of 100-year-old scoops. But amid the dross were moments of absolute comedic gold that cried out for special recognition.
So I have created a new award . . . the Patto, in honour of Australia’s cultural ambassador, the King of Leer, Sir Les Patterson, and his best mate, Barry Humphries. You might remember that, in the biggest joke of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the organisers outdid all the players by stripping Bazza’s name from the gong for best-in-show. Are you with me?
The Traveller began the past 12 months with a visit to the Water exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane – the jargonised captions on various questionable artworks provided a laugh or two. Then there was the Tallangatta Prophet and his prediction (ca 1989) that the United States was in imminent danger of being crushed by the Soviet Union. I had a row about the meaning of “wowser” with another Australian, no doubt to the eternal fascination of the Americans who started it. The red-in-the-bed, fair dinkum, true blue human rights advocate Dame Mary Gilmore bemused, rather than amused, us with her reasoning on why the White Australia Policy was essential and mixed (race) marriages were abominable.
And how about the yarn from the lads and ladesses in the New South Wales Transport Department? These faceless funsters decided – never mind the pestilential despoilation all around them – that Sydneysiders just had to be protected from their new trams’. . . drum roll . . . flange-way gap. Well, I won’t go into it all again. Just flip back to A flange health hazard posted on 30 June. “Cyclists [inter alia],” the bureaucrats said, “are vulnerable to the risk of one or more wheels becoming stuck in the flange-way gap in tram rails.” Some lunatics in Hamburg reckon this is more of an opportunity than a threat. They have fitted training wheels to a bike, inserted the big wheels in the notorious gap and, hey presto, created the Bahnradbahnrad, the tram-bike. Wheeee!
At the end of the day, though, all things considered, I reduced the field to a short list of two. Which post would win the Patto – the story of how the British Empire was lost on Brighton Beach (Rule, Britannia! on 4 September), or the florid imaginings of wine writers (Whining, Thurber-style? on 24 July)?
The first involved retired Scots Guards officer Donald Clark, of Tonbridge, Kent, who found himself in a minority of one on the town council by opposing mixed (sex) bathing in the local swimming pool. Australian newspapers reported this with some glee in July 1920 – yes, the date is correct – the same year that closet communist Mary Gilmore also unburdened herself on the subject of mixing. This much awarded poet (and did I mention human rights advocate?) reckoned mixing the races would weaken Australia and Cr Clark declared mixing the sexes would similarly undermine the British Empire.
Close and constant observation on Brighton beach had convinced the ungallant Guardsman that “the female form divine” was an “entirely mythical delusion”. The spectacle of a girl in a “dripping bathing costume, with wet hair hanging over eyes, and looking like a Skye terrier”, had been responsible for many a man taking an oath of celibacy. “More husbands have escaped from matrimony on the sands of Brighton than will ever be caught there,” said he, entirely oblivious of double entendre and Brighton’s reputation as a hotbed of infidelity.
He appealed to the Tonbridge council as Imperialists and patriots to understand that Britain’s greatest need was the raising of an Imperial race. That would be impossible, said the father of eight, if the council provided the means to make men hesitate in carrying into effect the relations they had made under more alluring conditions. No woman, however beautiful, could stand the test of appearing before the man she had inspired in the damp and bedraggled condition that was the inevitable consequence of a bath, whether public or private . . . Hundreds of brides (sic) had been doomed to a life of useless celibacy through that infamous institution known as mixed bathing. He regarded Brighton and those towns which had encouraged mixed bathing as the source of the country’s coming decadence.
And, of course, history has proved Donald “where’s your troosers” Clark right. The British Empire is no more. You read it here first, folks.
The Patto would have been awarded there and then, had I thought of it more than five minutes ago. As it happened, though, along came those ever reliable wine writers, especially the one who opined that a particular white wine “tastes of pears bitten into a day before ripeness”. This is up there in pretentiousness with James Thurber’s immortal cartoon caption (which I am delighted to borrow again). Cap’n Peary, as I dubbed him, had a few other nice lines in his critiques of various wines in this one article but none matched this one, nor ever could.
Or so I thought until this same chap popped up again in The Australian with a survey of champagnes with which to salute 2021 – no Australian bubblies, only champagne which, of course, you understand can’t be anything other than from the designated Champagne region of la belle France. Yes, you’ve got him. He’s the Oz’s regular wine critic. I can’t keep him anonymous any more – welcome, Nick Ryan, to The Traveller 2021.
Nick serves up champagne wine writing. The choice of gems this time was dazzling.
One sparkler: “[The wine] smells of the wildflowers crushed by an outdoor tryst in spring sunshine, tastes of the macerated red berries consumed in the afterglow, and lingers on the palate like the memories of the long distant time when such things were possible.” (Ah, sweet youth, panting en plein air.)
Only slightly less glittering was: “The only palate immune to invigoration from an aperitif like this sits in a mouth glued shut by a mortician.”
And: “It is graceful and poised, full of fine white peach and citrus characters with a seam of crushed oyster shell running right through it.”
Nick seems to have unique way of eating oysters, so I suppose it’s no surprise his critique of the $300 Krug Grande Cuvee should be the finest of his pearls: “A mountain stream and the Atlantic Ocean are both bodies of water and beautiful in their own ways, but comparisons end there. Krug is Krug first and champagne second . . . this is classic Krug. It’s a head filling, swoon inducing, fever dream of baked brioche, candied citrus, white truffle, and a lost afternoon in byzantine alleyways of an ancient spice market . . . A life lived without at least one glass of Krug is a life wasted.”
Well, my life has been wasted so far. I can live in hope I guess, but I need to get a move on. I daresay Donald Clark missed out on his glass of Krug, and I’m afraid he is going to miss out on the Patto, too, because, really, no fair judge could go past the premature pear-eater. His champers drools have clinched the inaugural Patto. Tan-ta-ra!
No doubt, Nick, you’d like to thank gaard, your parents, your sisters and your cousins and your aunts and your agent and all the wonderful people who . . .
Nah? Oh all right then.
I work to rule when having a crack: If you get a chance at a cheap shot, don’t miss. Couldn’t hit anything but the bullseye this time – wine writing is the sittingest of ducks. Nick, if by some miracle you ever see this, be aware that it’s all meant in fun. I know you’re only trying to transmit your knowledge in an entertaining way but, golly meboy, you’ve gone over the top more times than a survivor on the Western Front. For what it’s worth, I thought you loosed off a few good shots of your own in your intro to the champagne tasting, especially the reference to The Big Lebowski. Sometimes nothing else but pleasure-seeking will do. Also, hurling a heavy ball at effigies of a certain Dear Leader would have been a good way to skittle a futile, frustrating and effed-up year.