Thursday, May 16, 2013

Darlinghurst Blog: Animal Life: Ralf the Cat

I've been a bit quiet on the blogging front recently and that's mainly because I've been feeling a bit blurgh. I've wasted far too much time watching television series on my laptop and being generally unproductive and uninspired. Adding to this general malaise is the fact that my muse appears to have left the neighbourhood.

I first met Ralf the cat in 2010 when I moved back to Darlinghurst and set up house in Royston Street. I didn't know his name for a long time, but would often stop with him to pat and chat.

It seemed that every time I went outside, Ralf was hanging about somewhere, a regular presence in the street.

You didn't have to search hard to find him: just look for the sunniest, warmest spot in the street and Ralf would be there. 

During the day Ralf would sleep in whatever sunny pocket he could find, whether it was on a car, in a garden bed or even in the middle of the road. 

But cars were a particular favourite, especially when the motor was still warm. 
I once watched as a driver returned to their car to find Ralf asleep on the bonnet. The driver sat behind the wheel and started the engine, but Ralf didn't move. He simply woke slowly from his slumber, looked at the driver and sat there staring.

One time I saw Ralf taunting Digger the dog on Craigend Street. (Digger was also a regular street character, but moved out of the area earlier this year after nipping one of the children in his house.)
Digger was madly barking behind his fence at the cheeky cat who would dare come near his home. Ralf strolled by, barely giving the dog a glance. 

I admired this about Ralf, his carefree, fearless, don't give a damn attitude and often wished I could be the same.
If Ralf was crossing the road and a car came along, he wouldn't run to get out of the way, but just continue sauntering on with his tail in the air.
If you stopped and gave him pats and he purred and you thought that you had won him over for life, he would then completely ignore you the next day.
He just had that way about him. And because he was so difficult to win over, it made me even more determined to be his friend.

So no matter where I was going, or even if I was running late, I always made sure to stop and say hello to Ralf, give him a rub under his neck and pat the dust and malting fur off his back. 

During these days of wooing him, I often wondered where Ralf lived. 
Once I had seen him jump out the ground floor bathroom window of a neighbouring apartment block. Another time, I saw him go into the building of the man with the umbrella, who lives in my street. 
Other times I spotted Ralf loitering around on Craigend Street and as far away as the little park on Nimrod Street. So he may not have lived in Royston Street at all.

Ralf soon became familiar with my attentions and the way I would call out, 'Ralf!' in a sort of loud, breathy whisper when I saw him. And it seemed his attitude towards me started to soften.

One night, while coming home late, I saw him sitting on the bonnet of a large 4WD and just by habit called out his name: 'Ralf!'
Ralf leapt off the car and ran towards me where he was greeted by his usual pats. 
Then as I said goodbye and walked towards my home, he followed me, right inside the door, up the stairs and into my apartment.

He soon became a regular guest.

I'd see him on the street, call out 'Ralf!' and he'd trot along with me to my door.
Once I called out 'Ralf!' and he followed me all the way across Craigend Street and down to Ward Avenue, about 500m away.

In my apartment, I would place a dish on the kitchen floor and feed him cheese and ham and milk and whatever I could find of interest to him in the fridge. 
I eventually started buying little packets of Dine cat food from the supermarket and always made sure I had ample supply in case Ralf should visit.

He was rather picky about what he ate and would occasionally refuse to eat the new Dine flavour I had bought him, such as Turkey in a Delicious Gravy or Country Chicken. 
When that happened he would just sit in the kitchen expecting me to dish something else up.
I refused to pander to this behaviour and would just ignore him. 
But it didn't happen often, as Ralf mostly had a ferocious appetite - which only added to the mystery of his living arrangements. 
Did anyone feed him regularly? Where did he go when he wasn't in the street? 
Yet despite his apparent independence, he was always wearing a different new fashionable collar, strung with a metal circle engraved with his name. So clearly he had a home somewhere.
Once he had eaten his fill, Ralf would stand by my front door, waiting to be let back out into the street.
At first, the visits didn't last long.

But soon, Ralf began to make himself at home. 
Instead of standing at the front door when he finished eating, he would stay awhile and keep me company.
I'll never forget the day when I was lying on my bed reading and he climbed onto my back, padded around to make himself comfortable and then fell asleep.
It was a rather uncomfortable 10 minutes, but his presence was still a comfort to me nonetheless.

One day I saw the man with an umbrella talking to Ralf, so I went up and asked him if he was his owner. 
The man said "No, Ralf just comes up to eat sometimes. He visits a few different people in the street." 
"I think he lives in that apartment over there," the man said, waving to the place where I'd seen Ralf emerge from the bathroom window. 
So Ralf really did have a home. And I wasn't his only friend.

Still, I liked to think that Ralf preferred me best, especially when I returned home one day and found him waiting for me in the pot plant outside my door, showing off his latest collar.

The last time Ralf came to my apartment was on 23 March this year. 
It was a Saturday night and I had a friend over and Ralf joined us for dinner. 
He didn't visit long, despite us imploring him to stay. He just stood by the front door and waited for me to let him out.
About a week after that I saw him on Nimrod Street at night, walking towards the little park that opens on to Caldwell Street. I called 'Ralf!' but he didn't respond and I had the feeling that he didn't want to chat or be patted. In fact, he practically scampered off, as if he didn't know me.
I shrugged my shoulders and went home alone. 
I didn't know then that it would be the last time I saw him.

It has been two months now and there has been no sign of Ralf. 
There's no cat lounging on bonnets or lurking in bushes. No cat to pat and chat, no cat to call out to, and no cat to follow me home.
Royston Street just isn't the same, it almost feels dead without his presence.
At first I thought he had maybe gone on a short trip away, as his disappearance coincided with the school holidays. I would arrive home in hope, expecting to see his furry face.
But I have now accepted that he is gone for good.
I often wonder about him and where he is living. 
Is he out exploring a new neighbourhood? Or is he trapped in an apartment, with no outside access? 
Is he well fed? Is he happy? Has he made new friends?
I may never know, but I'll always keep a small packet of Dine in the cupboard in case he returns.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Darlinghurst blog: Lost and Found: Red Cat

This poster was pasted up at Taylor Square. It's your classic 'Lost Cat' poster, except the choice of pet photography is rather interesting. Someone suggested the cat wouldn't be hard to find with its 'demonic' eyes. Has anyone seen this flashlight-eye feline?

PS. In a bid to explore new blogging frontiers, I'm writing this post on that new whiz-bang mobile phone technology, which may also add a certain weird quality to the format. Basically, it won't allow me to put the pic at the top of the post! Any hints?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Darlinghurst Blog: Detritus: RIP Rainbow Crossing

There was disappointing news this morning that the rainbow crossing at Taylor Square was ripped out last night by the NSW Government. 
The bright, vivid colours - and what they represented - were such a welcome addition to Oxford Street and really brought the road to life, making it a destination for residents and tourists.
The crossing was put in place by the City of Sydney to mark the 35th anniversary of Mardi Gras in March.
But the state government refused to let it remain due to safety concerns and removed it at 10pm last night.
It's so sad that it's now gone and is just a memory.
You can read news stories about its removal here, here and here.
RIP rainbow crossing.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Across the Border: Kings Cross: Bars: The Bourbon

Kings Cross institution, The Bourbon, finally reopened last week after closing in February 2010 when a storm tore off its roof and caused water damage throughout the building.
That feels like so long ago and I, like many residents, have been patiently awaiting its return to the Kings Cross strip. 
It was always a great locals' pub, because you could sit outside on the street, people watch and chat to passersby.
The Sugar Mill hotel's outdoor seating fulfils some of that brief, looking out as it does on the colourful characters that hang out on the Springfield Avenue mall, but it doesn't have that beautiful sweeping curve where Macleay Street meets Darlinghurst Road.
And it doesn't have the view of the marvellous El Alamein Memorial Fountain.

The Bourbon has all that, and a rich history in the area, dating back to 1967 when it was christened The Bourbon and Beefsteak by owner, US Airforce veteran, Bernie Houghton.

The photograph above, by Paul Green (possibly this Paul Green?) is from the City of Sydney Archives and shows The Bourbon and Beefsteak in the late-1980s when it was still in the Bernie years with its Hollywood-style outdoor lighting and over-the-top interior with walls covered in memorabilia. 
That ghastly plane tree to the right of the picture hasn't changed a bit. 
But the Bourbon and Beefsteak did change when it was sold in 2005 and the new owner cleared the walls, gave the character-filled joint a stainless-steel makeover and shorted its name to The Bourbon.
I'm not going to cover the history of the drinking hole, because a proper historian, Paul Ham, wrote a great piece for The Monthly in April last year, which paints an evocative picture of the Bourbons and Beefsteak's colourful former life.

So after an absence of three years, I visited the new Bourbon last week, shortly after it reopened following a makeover by new owner Chris Cheung, whose hotel portfolio includes the Coogee Bay Hotel, Key Largo in Rushcutters Bay and Cruise at West Circular Quay.
The marketing campaign around the new venue is based on quotes by dead people and old people, such as Ludwig van Beethoven, above, who says "To play without passion is inexcusable".
Another quotes chef Alain Ducasse: "Desserts are like mistresses. They are bad for you. So if you are having one, you might as well have two."
I'm not sure what the quotes are all about, except perhaps they are alluding to The Bourbon's new focus, which is no longer $10 steaks and cheap beer for members, but live music and fancy food.

The absence of the cheap stuff is no great loss for me, because I no longer drink beer, but I was disappointed by the curious design of the outdoor area, which is rather claustrophobic with chunky tiled columns and large window panes obscuring the view of Macleay Street.
There was one good table with a view, but it was taken and so I had to sit and wait for my friend in a rather uncomfortable spot:

Just getting into the outdoor terraced area was an adventure that involved going up the steps at the new front door, passing a woman at a booking desk, walking round through the bar, past the indoor dining area, down some more stairs and then finally through a glass door.


There is also some banquette-style seating (above), lined with bookcases, which seemed at odds with an outdoor area.

It seems that inside is the place to be, but that's hard to take in Sydney when the weather is mostly sunny throughout the year and al fresco dining should be more common.
But to help encourage people indoors, the Bourbon has built a show kitchen where you can turn your head from the bar and watch chef James Metcalfe at work.

According to The Bourbon's new website, Metcalfe formerly worked for fine-diner Becasse, Etch in Surry Hills and burger joint Charlie and Co, so foodies will fancy a bit of name-dropping in that field. But I don't know if locals are going to be walking down the strip to have $22-plus mains that require a side of fries that cost $7 and a $6 salad. 
I know I couldn't. I pay too much rent to live here. And although I really wanted to stay and try the food - especially after seeing yummy-looking plates pass my table - I can't really afford to go to the local and spend that kind of money.
To survive the competition - and there's lots of it in Kings Cross - they will need to win as a destination venue, attracting tourists or people from outside the neighbourhood each night of the week.
My friend Jane Green and I enjoyed a bottle of the Argo Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($32) from Orange, in the NSW Central West, and after being accosted by staff, who were friendly but helicoptered around the table, ordered some king fish sashimi for $12.
The plate looked lovely and was made up of four paper-thin slivers of fine fish, but I couldn't help but think of Brown Rice across the road, where $10 would get me eight nice, fat slices of salmon sashimi. 
The best thing about the chatty staff was extracting details.
According to the waiter, the second level of The Bourbon will open in six months with a bar, and the third level will be open next year, housing a restaurant.
Chris Cheung also owns the neighbouring old Swannies club, which closed when the club went into administration in May 2011, but that isn't scheduled to open until 2015.

Moving on, I always think bathrooms are a good way to judge a place and the ones in The Bourbon, down the back stairs, were clean and grand with pseudo-Dyson hand driers, where you dip your hands into the machine and water magically evaporates. But there was no soap left in the dispenser.

To encourage sociability between the guests, there's also this mixed-sex hand-washing fountain (above), where the soap dispensers were full.

So, it was a fine night because I had the dear Jane Green for company and we eventually got the table with the view that I wanted, but will I rush back?
Perhaps after three years my expectations were too high.
I would love to know if you have been and what you think.

The Bourbon
22 Darlinghurst Road
Kings Cross NSW 2010
02 9035 8888

Friday, March 1, 2013

Darlinghurst Blog: Art and Culture: Blinged Out Fabulous by Ron Muncaster and Craig Craig

If you're attending Saturday night's Mardi Gras Parade and looking for some inspiration, you must go and see the show of the year at the Tap Gallery on the corner of Palmer and Liverpool streets.

The upstairs gallery, entered from Palmer Street, is featuring until Sunday an incredible show of museum-quality costumes by legendary Darlinghurst designer Ron Muncaster, alongside artworks inspired by his designs - and using off-cuts from the fabrics - by his partner of 15 years, Craig Craig.

I wasn't sure what to expect, but when I walked upstairs I was struck by a room filled with creativity and daring designs.

The costumes date back to the early 1980s and featured in Mardi Gras Parades throughout the years. The inspiration is incredible. Muncaster is a true creative dreaming up over-the-top concoctions that are shiny, sequined and could only be worn in the Mardi Gras Parade. 

Meanwhile, Craig's works almost act as inspiration boards, dissecting all the pieces and fabrics that have gone into creating these extravagant costumes.

Can you imagine someone sauntering down Oxford Street in this sapphire gown:

I would love to wear a costume like the one below where my identity could be kept secret as I danced down the parade route (only because I'm quite shy):

Alongside one of the costumes is a photograph showing Ron in the parade wearing the large skirt and headdress (which was apparently stolen) and it really brings the idea of Mardi Gras to life: a celebration of sexuality, individuality and acceptance.

As Craig explains in the exhibition flier: "Early on, I could see that our acceptance in the wider community was going to be by our exposure in media, television and on the streets and Ron was part of that evolution that I could support." 
Happy Mardi Gras everyone. I hope it doesn't rain on Saturday night.

Blinged Out Fabulous
By Ron Muncaster and Craig Craig
Upstairs at the Tap Gallery
278 Palmer Street
Darlinghurst NSW 2010
Until Sunday 2 March 2013