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Published: January 4th 2014
They call it the Lucky Country.
Or at least they used to.
Once upon a time this wide-open land offered almost endless opportunities, with space aplenty for the few scattered souls to enjoy.
Even now there are still a few secluded spots out there for the dreamers if you know where to look. For those in the towns and cities, though, the modern western malaise of sky-high real-estate, overcrowding and too few hours in the day is almost as bad on these Fatal Shores as anywhere else.
And that’s why this festive season we chose to fly to Sydney, in my view the finest city in the world, and then drive straight back out again without so much as stopping for a coffee by the Opera House. Instead we simply gave it a cheery wave as we crossed the Harbour Bridge and sped off in search of somewhere altogether more tranquil.
A hundred clicks or so up the road we risked a break at Redhead for a look out to sea. This being Christmas Eve we weren’t the only ones with the idea, but fortunately this sweep of sand was plenty large enough for a few
hundred other folk without any danger of overcrowding.
No carol singing or snowmen were to be found, just an endless succession of happy families lolling in the blazing Australian sun. The nippers were merrily playing in sandpits, the younger kids frolicking on boogie-boards in the lagoon, and the too-cool-for-school crowd riding the breakers at the end of the bay. Every inch the Lucky Country after all, it seemed. It was galling, though, just how nonchalantly the youngsters took it all, blissfully unaware of just how utopian their surroundings really were. Try swapping the Sydney north-shores for Scotland, Saskatchewan or Siberia next Christmas kids, and see how much you like it when surf’s up.
Tempting as the beach-scene might have been, it wasn’t what we were after. What we'd come for lay west in the fertile contours of the Hunter Valley, a getaway break to ourselves in a little cottage in Stonehurst Creek Winery.
And though it all looked peacefully enticing in the pictures, I have to say I had mixed feelings of how this might turn out.
The truth is I have something of a love/hate relationship with wine.
In short, I love the wine,
but hate all the pretentious bullshit that goes with it.
The genteel affectation and effortless arrogance of the wine snob gets right on my wick, about as far from the laid back surfy-scene we’d just departed as you can get. It’s an elitist European throwback that just seems downright un-Australian.
I mean, really, at the end of the day, it’s only a drink. You’d think with all the fuss that was made that it was the elixir of life. In fact you’d think so from some of the prices too.
The whole industry has swelled well-beyond just wine these days, and Australian vineyards are typically something of a mecca for a host of boutique getaways and epicurean delights. This ensures that for every genuine upstanding wine connoisseur there’ll be a score of sycophantic aspirational wannabes basking in the afterglow. And as you may have gathered by now, there’s nothing I hate more than sycophantic aspirational wannabes, or bum-lickers, as we used to call ‘em. This particular bunch of bum-lickers consider themselves the pedigree thoroughbreds of the bum-licking world, a self-important self-congratulatory rabble who’ve taken things to a whole new level by attempting to lick even their own
All of which does little to endear them to me.
In fact, as that most reliable arbiter of taste and decorum, Shania Twain, might once have put it, That Don’t Impress Me Much.
Now before you sneer and write-off Shania’s opinion, I have to point out she is a fine, trustworthy and virtuous vixen whose only obvious fault is a curious inability to accurately abbreviate. I also hear it on good authority that no lesser a sophisticate than Donald Trump is a huge fan, so I rest my case.
As usual in this crazy world though, my opinion, as Shania might put it, don’t count for much, and more and more sycophants seem to join the gravy-train every week. These days it’s not just the wine that engrosses them, but the food that goes with it. All over the world folk are flicking from shows about people who can’t sing trying to sing, and people who can’t dance trying to dance, to people who can’t cook trying to cook. Now that's
what I call entertainment.
Nowadays every man and his gourmet-fed dog can be proud to call themselves a foodie.
It’s a word
that has sprung from out of nowhere, typical of a world designed to make you feel ever more insecure. I’d always liked to think, having been successfully weaned off my mother’s breast several decades ago, that I’d got this whole eating thing down-pat, but apparently not. These days, it seems, there are people who eat ‘better’ than me, which has come as something of a surprise as it’s been quite a while since I actually missed my mouth. But despite my bib being long-redundant, in the 21st
century my dining no longer cuts the mustard; my courses are too coarse, it would seem, and I’m in need of a bit of cutting and polishing if I’m to enter the new world of fine-dining.
The finest of all diners have taken things to a whole new (and somewhat surreal) level by not actually eating the food at all, but just spending hours gazing at it. At least so you’d have to think, as it’s the only explanation I can come up with for the otherwise unfathomable vogue of taking a picture of your dinner and posting it on the internet for all your friends to see.
I just don’t
get it: it’s not like I can lean forward and lick the screen to see what it tastes like (though I have tried this once or twice and am happy to report that most fine-dining appears to taste like a fusion of dust and static-electricity). To my mind, the only thing more ludicrous than taking a picture of your dinner would be recording the sound of how it smelt. Last time I checked, you don’t eat with your eyes (which contrary my mother’s childhood claims, turn out not to be larger than my stomach after all). My point, I suppose, is that it’s not the wrapping paper that counts, it’s what’s inside. An astonishing proportion of the population these days seem to have forgotten this.
Luckily for us, the main reason we’d chosen our vineyard getaway had nothing to do with food or wine at all, but was down to the cottage itself, which on the website looked to have a certain rustic charm. That’s another way of saying it looked ever-so-slightly tatty and shabby, which I always find much more alluring than some slick anonymous corporate hotel room.
And on arrival I’m pleased to say it didn’t
let us down. Small and basic it might have been, but full of quaint and homely touches which saw us happily settle in. It looked as fine a place as any to wile away the next few festive days, chilling on the verandah with a glass or two of yuletide cheer listening to the almost imperceptible rustle of the vines as they blew in the wind through rain, storm or shine.
And three days later, I have to admit, this wine lark was growing on me. I even began to commend myself on my choice of holiday in a self-important self-congratulatory way. This Christmas I’d outdone myself, gorging and pigging out as usual, sure, but doing so in a sophisticated fine-dining setting, which as we all know makes it all so superior. So really I should be giving Stonehurst Estate a sycophantic 5-stars, were it not for the obvious caveat that to do so would mark me out as a certified bona fide bum-licker. Luckily I’m confident that I’m still at least a whole yoga season away from any chance of licking my own arse, but you never know till you try I suppose.
I wouldn’t be waiting
with baited breath, though, as sadly my new-found status as a wine-lover lasted only about as long as the hangover from the holiday. My new year’s resolution is to go straight back on the beers, which I stubbornly maintain is no bad thing.
After all, as Thomas Jefferson pointed out long ago, beer is proof God wants us to be happy.
And for those still keener on the wine, don’t fret; Luckily Shania Twain’s more eloquent namesake Mark comes to our rescue, and I’ll leave you with one of his better quotes we can all agree on.
‘Sometimes too much drink is barely enough.’
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