Tag Archives: adelaide

Book review – The Narrow Road to the Deep North

I can’t remember feeling quite so emotionally drained as I did late last night,  after reading the final few words of Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

Winner of the prestigious Man Booker prize in 2014, the Tasmanian writer’s novel is epic in scale, with a beauty of language describing an atrocity of actions that breaks the reader’s heart on almost every page.

Dorrigo Evans is the story’s main protagonist. He is at once both a good man and a bad man, and in Flanagan’s deft hands becomes one of contemporary literature’s most memorable characters.

As a young surgeon and officer, waiting in Adelaide to be called up to WWII, he has a chance meeting – in a dusty bookshop – with an alluring girl. He discovers Amy is the much younger wife of his uncle Keith, but that does not deter them from embarking on a torrid love affair that will haunt Dorrigo for the remainder of his complex life.

The core of the novel is the horror resulting from the Japanese Emperor’s grand project to build a railway from Burma to Siam, in an impossibly short time and in inhuman conditions, using forced labour from 60,000 allied POWs and more than 180,000 Asian civilians.

The subject of so many other graphic films and novels, Flanagan somehow elevates – or debases – the Death Railway story further, through a haunting combination of almost poetic language and characterisation.

Dorrigo – Big Fella – fights an unwinnable battle every day, with the Japanese POW camp officer Major Nakamura and with nature: his 1,000 charges – no longer soldiers, and barely still men – suffer from dysentery, malaria, beri-beri, malnutrition and myriad other diseases. The surgeon does what he can to delay inevitable death for them, but is still forced to choose those least sick to buckle to the Emperor’s impossible demands in building The Line.

The detail in the description of their deprivation is difficult at times to read, impossible always to understand.

In a makeshift operating theatre, Dorrigo does what he can to save the leg of one of his men. It’s already gangrenous and previously amputated, but he was frantically searching the muck of Jack’s stump with his fingers, trying to find something to stitch, pinching vaulting slime, groping pitching slop, there was nothing, nothing to stitch into, nothing that might hold the thread. The artery walls were wet blotting paper. There was, realised Dorrigo Evans, with a rising horror as the blood continued to pump out, as Jack Rainbow’s body went into a terrible series of violent fits, nothing he could do.

Other characters are fleshed out into whole human beings, even as they waste away to diseased skin and battered bone. We come to know and care about Wat Cooney, Jimmy Bigelow, Squizzy Taylor, Rooster MacNeice, Tiny Middleton , Bonox Baker and other lost souls, as much as their respected officer – Dorrigo, Big Fella.

But the author reserves his most devastating detail and horrific narrative for Darky Gardiner. Essentially a good man, Darky becomes a hapless victim of circumstance one day, and an unavoidable example of Japanese brutality, necessary as Nakamura sees it, to maintain discipline and impose the Emperor’s determination to finish The Line.

The novel extends way beyond that terrible 18 months on The Line, but inevitably Dorrigo’s life after the war is moulded by the horror endured in Burma. He marries Ella, his old fiancee, they have children, he becomes a distinguished surgeon, a public figure and a reckless philanderer. But he still thinks of Amy.

We follow Nakamura and his brutal Korean guard, The Goanna,  who rationalise their brutality, with differing outcomes.

We see how some of the other few surviving POWs deal with freedom, home and memories.

But most of all, we remember horror.

My father’s cousin’s husband – Fred Seiker – is 100 tomorrow. Fred survived a Japanese POW camp and, like one of Dorrigo’s men, sketched life in the camp, presumably also risking immediate death if discovered. His published images remain enduringly haunting, and we should never forget The Death Railway. I will certainly never forget The Narrow Road to the Deep North.



The Grand Slam Tour 2015 – it’s a wrap

Tuesday, February 17

We’re sitting in Singapore’s Changi Airport, trying to get through 5 hours in transit during the long trek home.

The Grand Slam Tour 2015 is nearly over, after 5 amazing weeks exploring Adelaide for 10 days, a couple of road trips in South Australia, a fun train journey across the border to Victoria, a week in Melbourne – including seeing the Aussie Open tennis – and 2 weeks in Tasmania, 10 days on the road in a camper van and a few fun days in Hobart.

So what have we learnt?

That the earth is round, that Aussies are the friendliest people on the planet, that wallabies are like kangaroos with thalidomide…and that Andy Murray is still mentally weak against Novak Djokovich.

Thanks to all Gill’s Aussie family, old friends John & Eileen and new friends met along the way for making us so welcome and for ensuring we had a really memorable Grand Slam Tour Down Under.

And huge thanks to Gill for being away from home for 5 weeks with me, and for sharing our Great Big Aussie Adventure. Pretty amazing, eh?

We’ll be back…..

Adelaide – the final stage

Day 11 – Sunday, January 25

A fitting finale for our last full day in Adelaide, as it’s also the 6th & final stage of this year’s Tour Down Under, the first UCI World Tour event of the year where the pros shake the cobwebs off their almost weightless machines and start gearing up for the main European Tours later in the year.

This is a big day for the city and for South Australia. The TDU brings in significant tourist dollars, judging from the number of lycra-clad amateur pedallers we’ve seen on the roads, in cafes and in our hotel lobby and lifts over the last week.

This final stage is based entirely in the city, with 20 laps of a fast 4.5 km circuit, heading up and down the main artery of a now tram-free King William Street, with a scarily tight turn by the Tour Village in Victoria Square, and then a loop around the iconic Adelaide Oval sports stadium. The expected time of 2 hours gives you an idea of the fitness and speed these guys have under their belts.

Some roads have been closed since 6 am and there’s already a carnival atmosphere when Gill and I leave the hotel to plan our TDU day. Young kids are hurtling around their own timed mini circuit; a costumed kangaroo mascot high fives keen spectators, already in place by the railings, his outsize wobbly bottom following some time later; sponsors hand out freebies from gaudy vehicles in the nearby parade ground car park; the tannoy system churns out endless information about the race and riders, alongside inspirational music.

Rohan Dennis, the young Aussie rider with the BMC team, leads SKY’s Richie Porte by a whole 2 seconds after an epic hill climb on yesterday’s stage failed to close the gap completely. Cadel Evans lies 3rd, the legendary Aussie rider competing in his penultimate pro event before hanging up his bicycle clips. He remains the only Aussie to have won the Tour de France so far.

Gill and I are accosted by a crew representing the South Australia Tourist Board and, after being professionally mic’d up, are happy to talk to camera about how much we’ve enjoyed SA, Adelaide and the TDU. In that much overused phrase….what’s not to like?

We watch the first couple of laps by the barrier near the start on King William Street, before walking to join friends John, Eileen and Dot who are watching the race unfold on a big screen in the seated and shaded comfort of the Tour Village on Victoria Square.

It’s scary, the speed and proximity with which over 100 whippet-like cyclists propel their machines on the fast downward stretch of King William Street. Their racing etiquette and level of mutual trust must be nigh on perfect to avoid more frequent serious accidents.

As expected, given the nature and relative shortness of this final stage, there are a few token breakaways from the peloton, all reeled in, a sprint finish won by the the Dutch rider Wouter Wippert, and no change to the overall top 3 standings. 37 year-old Cadel Evans anoints Rohan Dennis, BMC team-mate and fellow Aussie, as his worthy successor.

We jump on the tram to Glenelg to join John, Eileen, Dot & Suzanne for an end-of-tour supper at their favourite place and cyclist’s hangout, the Europa.

Glenelg is awash with late evening sunshine and youthful hormones (not ours). Local lads cruise the streets in their throaty restored American vintage limos, as the girls totter on vertiginous heels towards the current hot bar. short tight skirts clinging to their tanned legs like my brother to his wallet.

A great piece of barramundi fish, some local wines, emotional farewells and the first leg of our Grand Slam tour is almost at an end.

Tomorrow is Australia Day and we’ll head to Melbourne, where I believe some tennis is being played……

South Australia – Road Trip 2

Days 9 & 10 – Friday, January 23 & Saturday, January 24

Another road trip from our Adelaide city base, another hire car. To Wallaroo, a couple of hours north west from Adelaide and on the top edge of the Yorke Peninsula, staring out into the turquoise water of the Spencer Gulf.

Why Wallaroo? To see Gill’s Aunt Margaret, last seen in the UK about 10 years ago; Gill’s cousin Sharon, last seen in the UK in 1964, aged 11 months and just before her parents set sail for Down Under; other cousins and partners and children of cousins who Gill had never met before.

We made a quick detour to the Barossa Valley en route to Wallaroo, loving Tanunda, the sleepy main town of the glorious grape-growing region, vine after vine tumbling down gently rolling hillscapes and responding to the perfect climatic conditions.

We sipped a couple of chilled, crisp whites at the Seppeltsfield Winery Cellar Door, accompanied by a glorious platter of local meats and cheeses and eaten under the watchful eye of a hungry kookaburra bird.

After endless miles of Roman-straight almost completely traffic-free roads (delayed only by a freight train with 106 carriages, roughly the length of Surrey), the rolling hills gave way to flat dusty plains and we arrived in Wallaroo to a warm welcome from Margaret.  Later, we were joined by several of the family for a fun night at the local Hotel/Pub for generous Aussie suppers and a couple of welcome cold ones.

Back at Margaret’s, Gill shared photos of the expanding UK branch of the family and pieced together the different strands of the Aussie clan on a makeshift family tree.

On Saturday, Margaret took us on a tour to nearby Port Hughes, where she and Bill had built their first home in Australia, as well as to beautiful beaches at Simms Cove and Moonta Bay. Then more family meetings in Kadina and Moonta in a whirlwind version of Who Do You Think You Are?

Huge thanks to Margaret for her amazing hospitality towards a couple of strange Poms, and for the rest of the family in making us so welcome. A great, if brief, road trip that hopefully means Gill and her Aussie rellies will be just that little bit closer, emotionally if not physically.


Adelaide – market mooching

Day 8 – Thursday, January 22

A quiet day for our Grand Slam tour, after a full-on week exploring Adelaide and its environs.

To the famous Central Market this morning, South Australia’s main food hub for over 140 years. A covered market with more than 250 stalls, this fills the memory bank of most local people, either as reluctant children or practical parents.

It’s got a typically laid back Aussie vibe, but also bustles with commercial imperative.

We sat down at the legendary Zuma’s cafe for coffee and breakfast. The official Zuma’s half breakfast – toast, eggs, mushrooms and enough bacon to start a Middle Eastern war – sated both Gill and me. Healthy appetites, these Aussies.

Artisan cheeses and breads. Fresh fruit and veg stalls. Fish, with scary barramundi eyes staring straight at you. Dry goods. Novelty t-shirt shop – why do I need GOOGLE when I have my wife? Asian influenced produce from nearby Chinatown. The market is a feast of all the senses….smell, dribble, touch, taste, eat until you can take no more.

And then sit down with a coffee from The Grind, blending beans from Kenya, Colombia and Costa Rica in their espresso, and serving in a pop-up al fresco cafe on Grote Street today, as well as on their market stall.

We took the easy option and bought something for lunch at one counter, rather than concocting our own multi-stalled picnic. Leek and gruyere quiche, sweetcorn and feta fritter, salads of mung bean in ginger & soy and mango and black-eyed beans were savoured in 30c heat, under the welcome shade of a tree down by the river, exotic birds squawking and screeching around us, flashing plumages of vivid blue and green.

We ventured further, to the part of North Adelaide we hadn’t seen before, via the imposing statue of Colonel William Light, looking down from the highest point of the city that he designed in the 1830s. Not sure what he’d have made of the recently expanded Oval, but he should be very proud of the beautiful and enduring city he imagined.

We’re off on our next road trip now, visiting Gill’s family up-country in Wallaroo, about 2 hours on the coast north west of the city….with a pit-stop at the famous Barossa Valley wine district, obviously. Look for a final update on the Adelaide leg of our Grand Slam Tour Down Under on Sunday.


Adelaide – an Oval city

Day 5 – Monday, January 19

You often hear of fusion cuisine, a perfect blend of different food sources enhanced as a whole, rather than diminished.

The Adelaide Oval is the sporting equivalent, controversially updated a year or so ago at a cost of more than A$500 million to be fit for the 21st century, but fortunately in a way that also retains its history from all the way back to 1871.

We did the official tour on a warm, sunny January morning, crossing the river from our city hotel to explore this iconic stadium.

The volunteer led a group of around 10 of us, Gill and I being the only Poms amongst Aussies and natural targets after decades of cricketing defeats.

We were given a brilliant insight into the history of the Oval, one of the world’s most picturesque sporting venues. Century old Morton Bay fig trees, the grassed northern mound (from earth dredged from the nearby Torrens River),  and the heritage scoreboard – very analogue in this digital age – all rightly still represent a proud past. But the high tech structure of the new stands, the quality of the hospitality facilities and the backstage facilities all scream “welcome to the present day”.

The tour was supposed to last for 90 minutes but extended to 2 hours as nobody wanted to curtail the experience. And then there’s also the Bradman Museum to explore…even an Englishman can only admire the Don’s achievements. He hung up his cricket bat with a career Test Match average of 99.94, and that after a 2nd ball duck in his final match. He was subsequently also a doughty performer with golf clubs and squash rackets in his hand.

Gill is not the world’s greatest cricket fan but she loved the whole Oval experience. Just a shame that we weren’t able to see a Big Bash game or a Test Match while we’re in South Australia. We’ll just have to come back….

Later, we enjoyed a leisurely and liquid lunch with John, Eileen and Dot at the Adelaide Hilton Hotel, home of the riders and press machine for the Tour Down Under. John & Eileen bumped into a young Australian rider they seemed to know well – Campbell Flakemore, a 22 year-old Tasmanian who recently won a gold medal at the world Under-23 world championships time trial.  He’s with the BMC team, led by Aussie cycling God Cadel Evans for this Tour Down Under. What a humble lad Campbell seemed, especially considering his achievements and his potential – Cadel himself is just about to retire and has anointed the lad as a superstar of the future. Remember….you heard it here first.

Adelaide – rooftop fun

Day 4 – Sunday, January 18

Chris, still with a vague trace of his Scarborough accent after 11 years in Adelaide, sucked in his cheeks when we said we were off to the Rocket Rooftop Bar & Cinema on Hindley Street. Like a dodgy builder quoting for your extension

“Are we too old?”, I probed.

I’m too old”, he fizzed back. He might have been pushing 30. Gill and I have played around with the 50s for quite a while already…..

“Drug den”?

No reply.

We’d just enjoyed an excellent supper at Bread & Bone on Peel Street, an atmospheric laneway off Hindley in downtown Adelaide. Chris had served us B&B Burgers from the short but funky menu – top quality beef patties wedged into soft brioche buns, layered with smoky bacon, kewpie mayo, lettuce and crisp, vinegary house pickles. Nicely washed down with Napoloene apple cider, all the way from the Yarra. And enhanced by cool music wafting around the shabby chic industrial space.

The disconcertingly narrow entrance to the Rocket Bar was guarded by a polite but wide-pupilled doorman, and led to a steep, dark flight of stairs.

“So have you got a film on tonight?”. The website was somewhat unhelpful, advertising that The Royal Tenebaums would be showing on Sunday 23rd November. We’d been told about this venue by some German girls we’d shared a few drinks with on our first night in Adelaide, but the omens were not looking good….

“Yes. Two Hands“.

“Great. What time does that start?”.

“7:30, maybe 8”.

“And how much are the tickets?”

“Nothing. They’re free”. Curiouser and curiouser…..

We were back at just before 7:30. The scary first flight of stairs led to a scuzzy landing, covered entirely with fading posters of presumably old rock gigs held at the venue. And then to another dark, scary, scuzzy flight. And another.

You know you’re always told never to judge someone by the way they look? Well, I will never judge a Rooftop Cinema by its dingy entrance and shifty doorman again.

Sure, the place was a bit scruffy but, as we emerged onto the rooftop and into late evening sunshine bouncing across the Adelaide skyline, we took in the cocktail bar, sizzling barbecue and Corona sponsored blue beanbags, and all was well with the world.

The movie didn’t start until almost 9, but after a couple of cold beers, free popcorn and a wickedly funny tale about criminal Aussies, in the style of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, we didn’t care.

Earlier in the day, we’d taken the tram to the seaside suburb of Glenelg again for coffee and brunch, before a pretty amazing 10 km walk to Holdfast Bay and Brighton Beach. The outward leg mainly on the elevated promenade, with the return stroll on the soft white sand, waves of the Southern Ocean breaking near our feet and breezes providing some small relief from the increasing inland temperature.


Adelaide – coffee culture

Day 2- Friday, January 16

In search of a healthy breakfast away from our corporate hotel, we hit the streets of Adelaide in dazzling sunshine, feeling self-righteous after an early jetlag-banishing gym session.

I thought we’d embraced coffee culture in the UK, with artisan temples of caffeine gushing up on seemingly every corner in London….but this is a whole new religion.

Adeladies and Admen en route to work grabbed their fix on the run or chatted amiably, standing at newspaper-strewn high counters, in the dozens of cafes on Pirie Street, before hitting the office.

We settled on Kicco, a buzzy temple on the corner of Pirie and Wyatt Streets, enjoying an organic booster of yoghurt, fruit and seeds, together with poached eggs and bacon on toast. And a double espresso shot of their house blend, producing a caffeine injection so intense that any last vestige of jetlag was banished as quickly as a jihadi from a synagogue.

Later, we dropped into The Store in North Adelaide, recommended by friends James and Helen. The area has a different vibe to the Central Business District, feeling  as cool and moneyed as Rodeo Drive in Beverley Hills, but still with the same adoration of coffee. Simon Barista Ware, get your bean-fuelled arse over here….you’d never leave.

By the way, an Americano translates into a Long Black in these parts, unless you want to stick out like a sore Pom.

The rest of the day was action-packed. A long exploration of the serenely immaculate botanic garden was followed by a oenophile adventure at the National Wine Centre, education preceding practice, with posh Aussie whites accompanied by a groaning platter of exquisite charcuterie from the nearby Barossa Valley.

And much later, Gill tried her first ever oyster – the apparently world-class Coffin Bay variety – thanks to young expat Germans Anita and Claudia, with whom we shared several beers on The Deck at the Entertainment Centre, overlooking the Torrens River in warm evening sunshine whilst listening to some excellent eclectic live acoustic music.

A late curry on Rundle Street, then an unprofitable casino splurge, ended a brilliant introductory day to Adelaide.

But it’s the coffee culture that has defined the city for me so far.

Our Story

It’s simple really – good things are made with the heart. Like a composer writing a symphony, or an artist creating a masterpiece. At Kicco, coffee is our art. And in a world where the good things are hard to find, we put the heart back into the daily grind.

Our coffee is so good because each part of the process gets our care and attention. From plantation, right through to the cup. For us it’s not about formulas, figures or focus groups – it’s about the experience. The experience of great coffee.

At Kicco, the process begins with the selection of superior beans from premium estates, but the real magic happens in the roast. Our beans are carefully handpicked and roasted locally in small batches. This special treatment is what makes Kicco coffee consistent, fresh and full of flavour.

Over the years Kicco have perfected the art of coffee with a selection of much-loved signature blends and specialty coffee. Allow us to share the espresso love affair with you.




Adelaide in a daze

Day 1 – Thursday, January 15

The iciness of the 333 Vietnamese beers briefly burst through our foggy jet-lagged minds.

 19 hours in the air + 1 hour in transit + 11 hours time difference + 6 movies + virtually NIL sleep = mental madness.

We were wandering around central Adelaide in the early evening, in search of something light and healthy after the seemingly endless trays of calorific food served up by Singapore Airlines between London and Australia.

We also needed some DVT-banishing leg-stretching and, in an effort to stay awake until a normal local bedtime, we stumbled on the Chinatown area on Gouger Street (pronounced Goo-jer, mate), quite a way south of our base on North Terrace.

Little NNQ (catchy name, eh?) turned out to be an authentic and tasty Vietnamese place. Chilli-hot Ha Noi spring rolls reactivated the taste buds. Xoi Man, sticky rice with sausage and pork floss, looked like chip sticks dropped onto a coagulated mass of semolina, sprinkled with paprika…..but tasted much better than it looked, with interesting flavours and textures exploding in the jaded mouth. Gill loved her Ca Kho, a generous portion of caramelised meat-like fish cutlets, and gloriously sticky rice.

A brief foray across the Torrens River on a controversial but funky new bridge, past the Adelaide Oval – where I had seen England lose to Australia in so many cricket matches during my distant youth – and the Cathedral, had started our hazy introduction to Adelaide.

333 Indochinese beers – well, a few of them anyway – finished it in style.

Australia – The Grand Slam Tour

The Just Retiring Grand Slam Tour of southern Australia is looming large. So large that it warrants its own page on this humble website.

Track our progress here if you want to see what we get up to in Adelaide, Melbourne and Tasmania through January and February.

See if we meet the cycling stars pedalling away on the Tour Down Under in Adelaide, survive the recommended lunch at the famous D’Arenberg winery in McLaren Vale, complete the Grand Slam at the Aussie Open in Melbourne…and manage to chop a log or two on our camper van tour of the Tasmanian wilderness.

See ya in February, mate.