Another classic hill ride this month: Arthurs Seat. It’s not particularly long, if you start counting at the bottom (at just three kilometres) but it’s steep enough to test a professional rider, which is why it featured in stage four of last year’s Jayco Herald Sun Tour. Granted, the professionals went up the hill three times in a circuit course that lapped through Flinders and Merricks for a total of 131 kilometres, but, hey, they get paid to do it. For the record, Russian Egor Silin won the stage, in a time of just over 3:20, with the stragglers finishing up to 14 minutes later. The hill ride officially starts just after you cross over the freeway at Dromana and work your way up the false flat to the entrance of the park. You don’t really know what’s about to happen until the road quite suddenly kicks upwards in a series of switchbacks: we found ourselves standing on the pedals in the granny gear for most of the way, a little shocked, to be honest, at the severity of the gradient on some of the corners. Much of the climb has an average gradient of 8 per cent, though if you take the inside line on the corners it can steepen to give you a (tiny) taste of what the pros experienced on the recent killer climb in the Tour de France up to La Planche des Bes Filles. On the way down, go over the back towards Flinders or Shoreham or make your way down the way you came, cautiously. Stop at the pull-out and admire the view back towards the city and down the horseshoe-shaped peninsula towards Point Nepean. The round trip is about 160 kilometres from Melbourne, a great day ride.
The 1000 Steps were built a century ago and rebuilt in concrete in the ’50s, more with picnics than personal training in mind. Since they’ve been made part of a memorial track to soldiers who fought on the Kokoda Trail, visitors trying to pay their respects have been overrun by the half-a-million people each year who walk or jog up and down the incline. So Parks Victoria is building new steps nearby for fitness types. The steps will be made of bluestone spaced at varying intervals (to reduce fatigue) with fitness stations (where you can stop for a breather while pretending to work out). More details on where to start and finish are here
Deputy editor Konrad Marshall is spending a week driving a Silvertop taxi for an upcoming feature on a cabbie’s way of life. While he was underway news came through that a fellow cab driver had been murdered by a passenger. He wrote this response for the daily Age:
WHEN I heard that a taxi driver had been stabbed to death yesterday morning, I was headed for Tullamarine behind the wheel of my cab, licence plate M-6152. And I felt sick to my stomach.
I had logged on at 4am in darkness at the Cabways depot in Richmond. The driver had been murdered at 3am, the radio said, on a street in Mount Waverley.
Wednesday was my third shift as a Melbourne cabbie, an assignment for The Age that started as a sort of abstract curiosity, but which has just become very real. I once heard taxi driving described as ”the most dangerous job” a person can do. It makes perfect sense from the driver’s seat.
When you drive a taxi you’re completely alone, totally vulnerable, carrying cash, going to unknown and high-crime areas, dealing with strangers at close quarters, often when they are drunk or on drugs, with the added tension of a financial transaction, a meter system the customer never fully understands, and often (though not for me) a language barrier to overcome. I can’t think of many more trying ways to make a living.
News of the killing reached me when I was north of Essendon, about 7am, while ferrying a quiet businessman from Hotham Street in Elsternwick to the airport. After dropping him at departures and collecting my $75.40 total - my first fare of the day - I headed for the taxi holding area where a fog was lifting.
Set away from the main terminal, filled with line upon line of taxis, the yard looks like a big cattle feed lot, filled with restless metal yellow beasts in neat rows. Drivers lay sleeping in their chariot seats or stood in the open air rubbing their hands together for warmth. They huddled near a kiosk, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, playing chess. Some were in the non-denominational prayer room. Others walked laps to keep limber.
I spoke to many and they all offered overwhelmingly sympathy for their slain peer, and flashes of anger for the slayer - but none were surprised.
I start driving night shift tonight, from 4pm to 4am. I’ll be behind the wheel tomorrow night, too. I feel good about it, but perhaps only because I know I can parachute out of the situation next week. Then, I’ll go back to the passenger seat, back to using Cabcharge vouchers instead of processing them. I’ll sit up front (as always), say hello to my driver, and when he drops me off, I’ll say thanks.
You can follow Konrad’s live tweets from his taxi @melbournecabbie
Four dishes that caught our eye (tongue?) around Melbourne this month…
1. Steamed mulloway at Embrasse in Carlton, topped with fried breadcrumbs and surrounded by heirloom cauliflower florets (part of the ever-changing four-course Sunday lunch for $62).
2. Dessert “antipasti” at Sarti, in the city: there’s a sliced “salami” that’s actually a dense concoction of chocolate, cherry and hazelnut; some rough-hewn pieces of goat’s curd that, on closer inspection, you discover are vanilla and white chocolate semifreddo; some “olives” made of marzipan and pistachio; and a tiny broche bun that is, would you believe, brioche. It’s $18.
3. Scallops at The Moat, in the city, wrapped in pancetta with a green apple puree, black fermented garlic and a fresh apple and petite herb salad on the side. It’s $16.
4. Dim Sum at Spice Temple, at Crown, such as har gow (steamed prawn dumplings, $11), finely pleated, translucently perfect steamed scallop dumplings ($11) with chilli sauce or, if it’s regionality you’re after, the northern dish of pan-golden lamb dumplings ($9).
Want a fine-dining experience for pocket-change money? Go out for breakfast at a top restaurant, like Pei Modern in Collins Place at the top end of Collins Street. We’d certainly recommend dinner there, but the same top-notch kitchen also turns its hand to breakfast, at similar prices to your local cafe. Here photographer Mark Roper puts together a selection of breakfast dishes at Mark Best’s newish restaurant Pei Modern, which brings a high-end sensibility to all-day dining. Expect to pay around $14 for “egg and smokehouse bacon” on sourdough; $13 for potato hash, smoked ocean trout and a poached egg; $10 for “organic porridge and quince”; $12 for sardines, relish and toast; $5 for a pink grapefruit; $8 for home made muesli and $8 for a bacon toasted sandwich; and $12 for sardines on toast. Even charging $6 for jam and toast seems reasonable, when it’s home-made sourdough. Full menu here
We caught up this month with Peter Maddison the super-energetic architect-turned-TV presenter who somehow manages to run a practice while also hosting the local version of the popular show Grand Designs. Full profile appears in the magazine next week, but meantime we thought we’d share his seven tips for keen builder-renovator types, they’re quite frank and useful if you’re thinking of getting into a project.
1 Decide on what you “want”
“First, write an aspirational brief for yourself. What do you want out of this? Is it some design kudos? Is it about impressing the neighbours? Is it about doing something pragmatic to house your family? Is it about a big fancy front door that you love? Is it about the area? Is it about the view?”
2 Decide on what you “need”
“Write a more detailed, practical list of what you want in the home. Bedrooms, bathrooms, hand basins, toilets, kitchens, everything. Materials you like, too. Then add some sizing. Should the bedroom be 3 x 4 metres or 4 x 4 metres or 5 x 5 metres? What about the study? Do that for every room, add it all up and get your square metres. That will give you the approximate size of the house.”
3 Know you can do with less
“Take a fifth off the size of that figure. Most people are building houses at least 20 per cent too big for their real needs. The average size of a house in Australia is about 265 square metres, the biggest houses in the world. Sadly, that’s not a big house for the people who come to me these days, who are after 300 to 400 square metres. If we could get people’s aspirations back to 265 or less, it’s going to be much better for this country.”
4 Talk to the professionals
“That saving in size will also pay for a professional to look after the project for you, and I would recommend that instead of doing it yourself. You’ve got to get drawings, costings and then get it built, and there are a lot of trained people who can help you along the way. Doing it all yourself, you will virtually have to give up your job and then take on something you’re not skilled in – and there’ll be a lot of stress along the way. Roughly 60 to 70 per cent of the houses on our show are architect driven and the rest by homeowners. Some of the latter pull it off, but they’ve got to be prepared to give up something to do it.”
5 Find the right fit
“Find an architect or a designer you get on very well with and whose work you aspire to before you consider their cost. You want to be on the same page and have the same design ideals.”
6 Keep an eye on cost
“Monitor the cost even in the design phase, before you find a builder, because getting the drawings done can be a long process – and it’s a crucial period for controlling your budget. This is where you really should get a quantity surveyor or a cost assessor.”
7 Plan for the worst
“Allow a contingency sum – it’s a must. For a new house, it’s going to about 5 to 7 per cent in unseens – mistakes that everyone makes, and things no one can predict. In a renovation, it’s going to cost you 15 per cent – at least – on top of what the quote is from the builder. As a side note, I wouldn’t renovate unless you really love the area. Renovating is harder than building from new. It’s more costly, more complex. You’ve got to move out and rent while it’s going on, so there’s added cost and a lot of emotional trauma. If you do go that way, you’ve really got to want it long term.”
Ah, the iconic Eames lounge chair. Yours for around $5000. If you buy the real thing. Or around $1000 if you buy a copy. But can you tell the difference? Is this picture above of the real one or a knock-off? We have a look at the booming world of “replica” designer furniture in our upcoming homes issue - and you’ll get the answer then!