A soap opera of a slightly different kind

WHEN I was little, one of my favourite movies was the Song of the South, a movie that was well ahead of its time in combining live action and animation, and about which I remember most the infuriatingly chirpy and catchy song “Zip-a-Dee Doo Dah” and the story of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby.


For the 99.9 per cent of readers not familiar with the story, the main character is a none-too-bright rabbit. His arch-enemy, the not-much-brighter Br’er Fox, devises a plan to catch Br’er Rabbit by fashioning a lump of tar into the shape of a small human, and putting some clothes on it. Br’er Rabbit idiotically picks a fight with the lump of tar and every time he lands a punch on it he gets a little bit more stuck, until he’s trapped. There’s more to the story than that, involving reverse psychology and Br’er Rabbit talking Br’er Fox into a course of action that ultimately permits his escape, but it’s the Tar-Baby bit that stuck with me, if you’ll pardon the pun.

‘Three and a half hours later I got home to find The Companion in the bathroom sobbing and cursing like a rowing club front-bar patron.’


Last Wednesday morning I was washing my hair in the shower when I knocked the soap dish off the wall with my elbow. It really hurt and I broke the little metal bracket that holds the dish on to the wall, so I asked The Companion to drag himself away from Air Crash Investigations on the National Geographic channel and fix it, since I was going out to lunch and wouldn’t be back until later.

Three and a half hours later I got home to find The Companion in the bathroom sobbing and cursing like a rowing club front-bar patron. The shower bracket apparently wasn’t fixed and as I poured him a whisky and asked him why, he told me what had happened.


To get the bracket off the shower wall and the soap dish back on, he needed both a new bracket and a screwdriver. So he went to the tool box only to find it had been so long since it was last opened, the clasp had rusted shut. To shift the rusted-on clasp he needed the WD-40 so he went to the cupboard in the hall, to find a shelf had collapsed under the weight of the red wine. So now we know what that noise was the other night. (I TOLD him keeping WD-40 and Merlot on the same shelf was a mistake!)  A plank of wood in the shed would be ideal as a replacement, but it was about four inches too long so he’d have to saw a piece off the end, only the saw was in the garage and when he hit the button on the automatic garage door opener a safety switch tripped, the door jammed and the lights in the kitchen went off. 


Flicking the safety switch back on didn’t help; it kept tripping and, to his credit, he realised that meant there was a bigger electrical fault somewhere. After his effort to address our telecommunications issues at the farm his eyebrows have returned to their usual position and he now knows better than to mess around with the electrics. 

The electrician said he’d be right there, which of course meant it was 90 minutes before he arrived, diagnosed a fault in the door opener, replaced it and reset the remotes ($407, including labour and GST, thanks very much), and fixed the safety switch so The Companion could get into the garage, whereupon he remembered we threw the saw out because it was both rusty and blunt and a new one would be cheaper than getting it sharpened; so he got in the car and drove to Bunnings.

On the way he decided to stop to pick up the dry cleaning but couldn’t find a park. Thinking he’d be only a few minutes, he stopped in a clearway outside the shop, and by the time he got back to the car, a ranger was writing him a ticket ($161). At Bunnings he found a tenon saw and mitre box (only $25 – well done him!) and drove home without further incident.

Armed with the saw, he took a bit off the end of the plank, and found it was now about half an inch too short to function as a shelf. Exhibiting remarkable ingenuity, he adapted the off-cut of the plank into three legs to support the short end of the shelf, and replaced the wine. Liberally applying WD-40 to the clasp on the toolbox, he eventually convinced it to open and located the screwdriver and a spare bracket. Now armed with the necessary tools – and a mere three hours after starting – he was able to remove the screws holding the metal bracket to the shower wall, replace the bracket and secure the soap dish.

Since it had been an arduous (and expensive) day, and a warm one, too, he decided to have a shower. You can see where this is going. When I found him he was sitting on the floor of the shower holding the broken soap dish. He calmed down a bit after a second whisky.


Mixing cars with pleasure proves an ideal blend


MELBOURNE has long been famous for the breadth and depth of its multi-cultural food and wine culture, with quality offerings in bars and restaurants ranging from the basic to the brilliant. It’s a tough place to impress in a market which has come to expect nothing less than world-class produce, service and – particularly in Melbourne – vibe.

So it’s impressive that one relative Collins St newcomer has been shooting the lights out across the board despite the fact its main business is not cocktails and caviar, but cars. 

The Mercedes me Store in Melbourne is part of a smart Mercedes-Benz global rollout which subtly introduces the automotive brand to an audience which might otherwise have been lured by a stylish space, in this case at the base of the Rialto Tower in Melbourne’s CBD.


Opened in November last year, this was the seventh Mercedes me Store following others in Hamburg, Munich, Moscow, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Beijing. Each of them have been styled around the city in which they reside, which may explain why so many Melbournites seem to be drawn to this one.

Lunches are often packed, according to Mercedes-Benz brand specialist Matt Bruce, and Friday nights have seen a regular crowd beat a path through the doors as a kick-start to the weekend.

Bruce says the venue is on track to record 100,000 visitors since launch by the time the siren sounds for the AFL grand final in late September. 

No, he’s not at all surprised by the success of the place, Bruce says in response to our question about the uptake. What is it with these Mercedes-Benz people? They seem to have an almost sect-like belief that “if they build it, people will come”, whether we’re talking cars or – now – cuisine.

Things certainly seem to be working out for the group. On the automotive front, it achieved record levels of sales and revenue last year, and the Mercedes me stores are always breaking out something fresh to attract new interest. 


Its latest local effort sees the place open for an all-day breakfast on the first Saturday of each month – from 8am until 2pm – starting next weekend (August 4). Of course, it won’t just be about the food and coffee provided by local stalwart ST. ALi. This first weekend sees Mercedes collaborating with design blog The Design Files to present local artist Tammy Kanat in an already fully-subscribed Meet the Maker event.

Don’t despair, however, as there’s always a car in store to look over, sometimes something high-performance, other times, something more tame. The inaugural “Saturdays with me” event will showcase a Jupiter-red Mercedes-AMG GT R, one of the more high-octane members of the brand’s lineup. 

If that doesn’t blow your hair back, gamers or people who like interactivity can also test their skills on the AMG GT3 driving simulator or learn about some of the iconic Mercedes-Benz vehicles on an interactive model car.

Looking ahead for future Saturdays, the G-Wagon will be back on show for the  September 1 event, followed by a week-long retrospective of “Stars and cars”  in the Rialto’s atrium featuring some famous images of people of note with Mercedes-Benz vehicles over the brand’s history in October. 


Range Rover switches up power, safety

DIESEL is not dead, despite what some people may think. Not here in Australia, at any rate, even if we are at the dawn of the electric-car era. We adore diesel Down Under, so car marques are going to continue producing them for the foreseeable future even if they’re being banned elsewhere.

‘The changes mean the cars will go faster and drive more safely, which is just what you need when you have to get the skates on for the school run.’


“Australians love the character of diesel, it’s good for towing, and it offers great fuel economy,” a spokesman from Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) Australia told Madam Wheels today. People have been driving diesel cars here for years and, as long as they continue to do so, companies like his will continue to make them.

His comments follow JLR’s release today of improvements in power and driver-assistance technology in its popular Range Rover line-up. The changes mean the cars will go faster and drive more safely, which is just what you need when you have to get the skates on for the school run.

The engines to get the uplift include the the twin-turbo charged 3.0-litre SDV6 (earning a 12kW improvement) and 4.4-litre SDV8, which will now come with a more efficient eight-speed automatic gearbox. 


While more environmentally-friendly than their predecessors, they’ll be no match for the state-of-the-art P400e plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) JLR launched last year. When that car’s in all-electric flight, it’s claimed to produce zero-emissions over a range of 51km. It will also have technology on board that will direct its driver along the most energy-efficient route by calculating route data within its rather intelligent navigation system.


Driver comfort can be switched up a notch, too, with the inclusion of a feature Madam Wheels will never be without again – Adaptive Cruise Control. The stop-go capabilities built into this life-changing feature keep a vehicle at a set distance from the car in front, slowing to a stop as it stops, then pulling away once that car is off and running again. The additional Steering Assist system helps keep the car centred in its lane by intervening in the steering if the driver veers off slightly, event while his or her hands are on the wheel.


The updated Range Rovers will start arriving soon, priced from $194,535 before on-road costs.


Together alone

A FEW weeks ago, I had a little too much to drink at a lovely dinner party I was invited to by a girlfriend whose love for fast cars borders on the obsessive. The cars she loves are like the men she loves: they look great; they’re a bit of a handful; and they’re prone to letting her down, generally in the most predictable of ways. She approaches the issue of men in the old-fashioned way of owning exotic cars: she has two on the go at the same time, one her daily ride, the other undergoing maintenance.


She puts on the very best soirees, bar none, and they are usually enlivened by our mutual love of Boërl & Kroff. On this occasion I planned once again to leave my car at her place and find a ride the 30 minutes or so back to my place. It was on the journey home that the unexpected happened.

‘There’s something about a man who’s comfortable in his own skin, not pushy or flashy but quietly confident, and engaging in a reserved and slightly understated kind of way.’


The only guest who had arrived expecting to drive home afterwards, and who therefore was not drinking, was someone I had not met before and whom I estimated to be in his early forties. He was well-dressed, well-spoken and clearly well-educated. He was also clearly and resolutely single. There didn’t appear to be any tragic tale of loss embroidered into his life story and no bitterness about a failed relationship, just a mature acceptance that he simply was not the kind of person who could, or who wanted to, hold down a long-term relationship.

More power to him, I thought, if he’s come to terms with that and he’s happy. There’s something about a man who’s comfortable in his own skin, not pushy or flashy but quietly confident, and engaging in a reserved and slightly understated kind of way. The Guest spent a lot of time listening, and only spoke when he had something interesting to add. At least, every time he spoke he added something interesting, which I accept is not necessarily the same thing. At dinner parties people often offer up the “greatest hits” versions of themselves. 


You never know in the three or four hours after you first meet them whether you’ve heard absolutely every last thing about them that’s remotely interesting, and whether spending the next 40 years of your life with them might just be one long, boring, repetitive loop. It’s like when the novelty of the new car wears off, suddenly and unexpectedly, after just a few months, leaving you with that curiously empty feeling and the nagging sensation your money might have been put to better use doing something else.


Worse than being just dull, they could reveal themselves to be some sort of terrible misogynist or racist or religious fundamentalist, or that they exist in a perpetual state of arrested teenage development. One thing I will say for The Companion is that he’s come a long way, despite the preoccupation with gadgets and fireworks, the outright refusal to buy feminine products from the pharmacy and an ongoing refusal to engage with the motor vehicle as a work of art. Some of his best friends are idiots, but then who among us has a partner who doesn’t have a few dickhead mates?


When The Guest suggested I skip the Uber and let him give me a lift home I accepted, thinking nothing more of it than a favour and, as we chatted I realised my impression of him had been formed entirely through what I perceived was missing in his life – namely, the presence of a meaningful other. It’s funny when you find yourself evaluating others by how you think they should be, how you think they should behave, how you think they should feel and what they should have, and then feeling anger or contempt or pity when they don’t conform to your expectations. I suppose that’s the exact definition of prejudice.

We were about 15 minutes into the trip home when The Guest fell silent for a few moments and then asked: “Why is someone like you all alone?”

I was quite taken aback. I’d never thought of myself that way at all. Quite the opposite. I have The Companion – although I admit I hadn’t taken him to the dinner party, and now I wonder why. I have friends, one of whom had invited us to the very party I was being driven home from. I’m busy, I have houses and cars and places to go. Lonely? Not me!

And anyway, that’s what I had assumed about him – how dare he turn my prejudice back on me? I objected politely to his presumption but the rest of the trip passed more or less in silence.  

And all these weeks later I’m still thinking about what he said, his question still ringing in my ears. What has he tapped into that I wasn’t aware was there? What did he see in me that I can’t see in myself? I need answers.