My current professional writing commitments have necessitated a suspension of further activity on this blog until further notice. My daily observational blog, DoctorDi, continues uninterrupted and shall include Manly posts where appropriate.
Thank you very much for your patronage of this site, and I look forward to your joining me on DoctorDi. Meanwhile, I encourage you to take advantage of the Man Town blog roll to access many key Manly websites for further information on this beautiful part of the world.
It’s three years today since we moved to Manly and into our own home. Heady days indeed. Llew and I were walking along the beach promenade last evening trying to work out if either of us had ever lived anywhere longer. I’m pretty confident three years in an unbroken stretch is the longest I have ever spent in one place. Llew had a longer stretch in his childhood home, but that’s it. So it seems Man Town has cast quite a spell on us; here we are, three years later and if anything loving it more than the day we arrived.
I love our home, that’s certainly a big part of why I’ve been so happy here. I live and work here, so I suppose it’s lucky I’m as fond of it as I am. But it’s more than that. It’s also Manly itself (although it’s a very different place through the week than when the daytripper onslaught hits every weekend). It’s really a pretty incredible place to lay your hat. A fully functioning, vibrant, eclectic village with practically every conceivable thing available within its confines, a surf beach, the harbour, and a long, interesting history. Actually, parts of the history aren’t great. It didn’t take long for the famous manly Indigenous residents to be utterly displaced from the area after the arrival of the English and I find that devastating. Tens of thousands of years of inhabitation completely wiped away in a couple of decades. Now the most Indigenous thing about Manly is the name of a brand new apartment block, named for that long ago tribe. Pretty crass, huh?
Anyway, this is a happy anniversary post to a place I have really grown to love. Thanks, Man Town, you’ve been an absolute revelation to me.
The builders of Man Town are ruining my life. Okay, if not my life, then my sleep. Okay, if not my sleep then my ability to recover from an overnight bout of insomnia by sleeping in until at least, oh I don’t know, say 8:30 am. This isn’t quite as late as it sounds because I work about five metres from my bed, so I can be up, showered and sitting at my desk with a coffee by 9 am just like the rest of the workforce. But if I’ve had a decent night’s sleep, I get up with Llew and keep commuter hours without the commute. But the faaaaaarking mongrels that ate Manly are kicking off right next to my ear earlier and earlier each day. Including Saturdays. I want to kill them, slowly. I want to ram their jackhammers right up their blue shorts and see how they like it without earplugs. I want them to finish building the latest goddamn eyesore and leave me out of it.
Manly is being overrun by property developers. Now, I should say here that I have nothing against property or development per se. On the contrary, I love property, I’m genuinely fascinated by all facets of the industry (that’s a lie – I don’t care how you change a light bulb, let alone put in a toilet), and I can see that all the developmental activity is doing great things for job creation and in many cases improving the suburb. Eg, there was one block of flats on the beachfront that was recently demolished. It was an ugly red brick building with no redeeming qualities of its own, and the tenants were aggressive wasters who sat next to their burnt out car looking like cast rejects from The Lost Boys. Nobody’s sad they’re gone. On the other hand, further down the beachfront, another party house was demolished about 18 months ago and the destroyed property not only probably should have been heritage listed, it’s also been replaced by a crime against architecture. You win some, you lose some.
Right now I’m losing some. Sleep, that is, precious, precious, life-saving sleep. And I am starting to let out an angry growl in the morning instead of opening my eyes, stretching luxuriously and letting out a sweet “Good morning, Llew!” to my equally blissed-out, well-rested husband. No, we don’t do that anymore. Now we swear and growl and occasionally yell an obscenity out the window at full volume. They are destroying my quality of life. They’re wrecking my concentration. They’re even spraying concrete all over my washing. I don’t how how much longer I can take it. When will it end? It’s been going on for far too long as it is. I posted about the demolition of the houses on DoctorDi at the time, so I’m actually going to check how long it is taking these fuckers to build the latest in an apparently endless series of ho-hum Manly apartments. I’ll get back to you on that*. And then I’m going straight to bed to dream dark dreams about drainage.
* I wrote the DoctorDi post ‘Demolition Derby’ about the early days of this development on March 5, 2007, noting that they were already a fortnight into the task. Which makes it almost our first anniversary. Shucks. No bloody wonder I am so pissed off. I’ve been working and living with this for a year now. WHAT THE HELL ARE THEY DOING BACK THERE??? WHY IS IT TAKING SO LONG??? It’s not even a big block – it’s a tiny block. And they are NOWHERE NEAR finished. Nowhere. Near. Finished. And now that I’ve confirmed this really has been taking an inordinate amount of time, over 300 too early morning wake ups from the bulldozers and the jack-hammers, I feel like snarling at someone. Why are we so powerless in this situation? There is not one single thing I can do about this, and it makes my blood boil. But hey, don’t mind me, see you in the morning. Why don’t you just come by around dawn?
It’s a rainy Monday in Man Town… I think it may have just stopped raining for the first time all day… up until moments ago, it’s been pouring non-stop. And to be honest, it’s kind of nice for a change. Not that I want the forecast week of rain, no thanks, just a day or so would do nicely, but the gentle pitter-patter is so cosy-making and soporific, and let’s face it: it’s perfect writing weather (oh look, false alarm – it hasn’t stopped after all).
Rainy days at the beach put me in mind of fish ‘n’ chips, specifically of the English variety. I think it rained near on every single time I went anywhere near water whilst Llew and I were living in London, so it obviously left some kind of subliminal impression. Robin Hood’s Cove is one quaintly-named place I remember vividly. It was raining, of course, and people were queuing, of course, so the whole scene was very, very English. And what they were queuing for was one shop’s famed fish ‘n’ chips. Llew and I duly fell in and were eventually rewarded with our own paper parcel. That was the day I finally admitted something I had long suspected: I don’t really care for fish and chips.
I know it’s a radical stance, but the fact is it’s usually really greasy, fatty, and disappointing. Oil that’s been recycled too often really starts to taste toxic, and beer batter and chips really soak up the carcinogens, if you ask me. And then there’s the sogginess. Christ I hate soggy food. And then there’s the fact that you unwrap it all and it spills right out to the corners of the greasy newspaper looking awfully… well, pale. Fish ‘n’ chips is a terribly pale looking meal, and just quietly, I don’t think that’s so bloody appetising. So I usually have a few half-hearted bites of deep-fried shark and some wet chips and call it a day. That’ll do for at least another year or so when I’ll go through the ritual again just to be sociable. I do live at the beach, after all, and fish ‘n’ chips go with the territory.
Naturally there’s a number of outlets in Manly. Most of them are very touristy, catering to the vast numbers of day-trippers who spill off the ferry quite happy to eat the first serve of fish ‘n’ chips they can lay their greedy paws on. Walk down the Corso between the ferry wharf and the surf beach and you will see dozens of people eating their pale, deep-fried food with gusto. Walk past the Manly Fish Cafe on Wentworth St and you will see the queue spilling out the door. Their adjacent restaurant likewise does a cracking trade. They aren’t a bad option, in fact. I’d give them the number 2 rating. But the number 1 spot is taken.
I think I’m a good judge of fish ‘n’ chips precisely because I don’t love it. If I think it’s worth talking about, then it’s probably pretty good because generally speaking I’m not terribly fussed by the whole experience. If I could never eat a really superb pizza or pasta again in my life, I would be devastated. If someone banned fish ‘n’ chips, I wouldn’t care. So it’s with some confidence that I am telling you that the best place for fish ‘n’ chips in Manly is in a little tucked away corner of Rialto Square called Mongers (well, officially I actually think it’s called Fishmongers, but no one ever calls it that).
Mongers started in Byron Bay, and I believe they now have a couple of outlets in Sydney besides the one in Manly. It’s a simple idea, really well done. They have excellent hand-cut chips, a really light, tasty batter, high quality fish either grilled or fried – some marinated – and they even do lovely tempura vegetables. I worry that people don’t know they’re there because of their position, but Rialto Square is a great little pocket of Manly precisely because it’s just off the Corso and beachfront madness. It’s like a little oasis of calm. And Mongers is comfy, casual and BYO. It’s a lovely relaxing place for some superior fish ‘n’ chips. I’ve even been there several times since it opened, and there’s simply no greater compliment I could pay their fish ‘n’ chips. And looking at that rain outside my window, I could almost go a serve of their lightly crumbed calamari right now…
Towards the end of last year, one of the party girls who writes the social pages for the S section of the Sun Herald blew the lid on something I’d been telling my single friends: there’s no man shortage in Man Town.
Sydney is deep in the grip of a severe man drought, and it doesn’t seem to matter how comely the lasses are, or how vivacious, or how talented or amusing, there apparently aren’t enough single men to go around. I’ve heard debates about this from the other side of the toilet block that are centred on the idea that some Sydney girls have an outrageous set of criteria with which they go a-hunting, but the numbers do seem to suggest the field is unfairly disadvantageous to the so-called fairer sex. One single guy for every nine single girl is one stat that stuck in my brain.
So this revelation in the social pages got top billing one weekend as the party girl recounted in vivid delight her slack-jawed shock upon arriving for a VIP do in Man Town (held at Shore Club, naturally). There were men, lots and lots of fit, funny, professional single men. And in her final column for the year, she had a list entitled something like ‘Top Discoveries of 2007,’ naming this man glut in Manly in the top three. Yes, there’s testosterone in them thar golden sands.
Well, the women of Sydney apparently heard that rallying cry. I’d noticed the single man phenomenon most especially at the Manly Wharf Hotel. If I meet Llew down at the ferry some nights after work, occasionally we duck into the Wharf for a sundowner. We’re never alone in this cunning plan, lots of people do the same straight off the ferry and Jet Cat. And often times I’ve said to him ‘Gosh, Llew, look around would you, we really have to get X and Y over here one night – look at all these groups of apparently single men…’ He’s rarely expressed any enthusiasm, but I’ve mentioned it to a couple of friends since.
And didn’t the floodgates open on the Australia Day long weekend… It seems I am not the only one who read the party girl’s insider tip. Boy oh boy. Llew and I went for a long walk on Sunday afternoon, and whilst out and about we decided a beer at the Wharf would be an excellent idea. Whilst there, we were struck by the number of dolled up women in all their finery disgorging in vast numbers from the ferry and heading straight for the Manly Wharf Hotel. I doubt it’s a coincidence. The groups of casually dressed, apparently single and apparently heterosexual men were there as always, and teeming through the door with their slap, strap and stiletto style were all these women who looked like they’d been beamed in direct from the eastern suburbs to find a man. It was really very striking. In my swimmers and sarong I really felt like I’d stepped into an unfamiliar parallel universe. Llew and I took it all in over our beer and then left. Walking in the opposite direction from yet more dolled up girls spilling from the ferry, Llew said “I don’t think those boys are going home alone tonight.” You said it, Llewie. And for any single female readers out there, I’m telling you, they’re here. We locals don’t call it Man Town for nothing, you know.
Apologies for the belated post – there aren’t enough hours in the day sometimes. I feel like I am writing around the clock and still, still I’m struggling. And I’m not the only one – gee, small businesses do it tough around here. We have a great little retro, reupholstered furniture store near our place called Velvet Loves Vinyl, and I have been watching their business with interest since it about a few months ago.
They’re in an awkward spot, and the site they have leased wasn’t their first choice. I can see why – it’s tricky. It’s at a set of lights and there’s a bus stop right out front, which means a double whammy of poor stopping conditions. There’s nowhere obvious or easy to pull over and park. A friend of mine who also lives locally asked me about it on Saturday night and admitted she hasn’t been in yet because it’s never easy pulling over there. So that’s a difficulty. It’s also far enough out of the Man Town village proper that you’d kind of have to know it was there. Other little strips of shops have flowered beyond the village – just look at Silver Blue (46 Pittwater Rd, Manly, +61 2 9569 4329) and spacejunk (30 Pittwater Rd, Manly, +61 2 9976 2944), they’re killing it – but you have to be in the right strip, otherwise you’re just left floundering. In fact, sometimes you also have to be on the right side of the road. Directly opposite Silver Blue is a great clothing store called Fabric (35 Pittwater Rd, Manly, +61 2 9976 0562). They import UK labels like Box Fresh and always have loads of really funky gear for men and women. It should be doing a roaring trade, and yet I rarely see anyone in there. This upsets me deeply, first because I hate to see any small business struggle, and second because Fabric is precisely the kind of boutique Man Town needs more of. And they’re in a cluster that would otherwise suggest a win… I can only assume people don’t like crossing that road.
Further out of the village along the same road, we’re back to Velvet Loves Vinyl. They also have some funky clothing, but really they specialise in 50s and 60s retro furniture and fittings. I love their stuff. It’s all beautifully, lovingly reconditioned and they often have real collectors’ items. I am frustrated on their behalf – it’s a great little business, and I wish them every success, but the site they originally wanted would have been so much better. There’s simply more parking, and more of a hub, and more of a reason to stop. Location. It’s a bitch. But check out their wares the next time you’re in Man Town, especially if you’re in the market for a fine piece of retro furniture.
Dolphins were out the other morning when Llew and I went for our 7 am dip. They cruised offshore fairly sedately until the one at the back (it always seems to be the one at the back of the pod – is it the youngest?) decided to fire up and give us a bit of a display. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love them. I just love them. I jump up and down on the sand like I’m six whenever I spot them out there. And this time I spotted them before we’d even crossed the road to the beach.
I don’t know if it’s because the swell finally eased off or because of the temperature of the water. The conditions have been pretty hectic for what feels like a couple of weeks now – messy shore-breaks and big dumping waves that fill your cossie with sand and toss you aside like an ant. It’s very humbling being out in the ocean when it’s like that. I play it very safe because I never doubt, I never forget who’s boss. The beach has been closed recently thanks to these conditions, a consequence of the cyclone up north, but opened up again last week and still the surf has been wild. Today it’s calmer, and personally I’m ready for it to level out to a flatline even for a day or so. I’d like to get in without being afraid of getting sucked up or dumped, and I’d like to get out minus the sackful of sand in my pants.
At any rate, you have to get in there whatever way you can wherever you are. If you’re in Sydney, then find a beach and – using all safety precautions and obeying the lifesavers – just get in there. The temperature is pure perfection at the moment. It’s the best salt bath known to humanity. The most reviving thing I know. My early morning and early evening dips are the best part of my day. They are life-altering in a small but crucial way, and they make me glad, so glad for the ocean, even when she’s so cranky and determined to make a mess of me. I’ll forgive her, of course – I always do. What’s a little sand between friends?
I am a lifelong pizza freak. I can’t get enough of it. It doesn’t seem to matter how often I eat it, I never get sick of it. I could always put away a few slices, and do so at every available opportunity. My love of pizza is a truism like the sun rising.
So finding the perfect pizza place was a matter of some urgency when we moved to Man Town. They’d be servicing my future pizza needs, after all, so it was essential that we tried everything, forgave nothing, and eliminated all pretenders. Despite Sydney’s general love of pizza, and mine in particular, sadly there’s still a lot of bad dough going around. Deep dish pizza (shudder). Thick crust (cringe). Molten piles of bad cheddar lava (run for your life). A place that says all the right things and looks the part can disappoint with the absolute worst of them (need I even speak their names?).
It took a while for Llew and me to graze our way through every pizza place in Manly, but it wasn’t long before a clear winner emerged. It remains our pizza of choice, and it is the Brindisi, a fine number from a little trattoria called Pizza Capanna (shop 5, 49-53 North Steyne, Manly, +61 2 9977 7700). It’s tucked away in a bad building – and by bad I mean ugly and poorly designed – but does a roaring trade for the simple reason that their food is good. They do lovely pastas, too, but we just stick with the Brindisi these days because I make a lot of pasta at home and therefore very rarely order it when we’re out (I made an exception on the weekend and was only reminded of why I made the rule in the first place).
The Brindisi we have ordered countless times in the nearly 3 years of our Man Town residency is not the Brindisi on the menu. We have it without the tuna, because if there’s one pizza I hate it’s a damp pizza, and tuna makes a pizza wet. So does spinach. Get ’em off my dough dial.
The Brindisi Du Jenkins, on the other hands, is basically the perfect pizza. Maybe we should ask for anchovies instead of tuna, because then it might actually be the last word in pizza. As it stands, minus the tuna, it’s pretty bloody good: prawns, sun-dried tomatoes, capsicum and chilli. Y-U-M. Of course, the base has a lot to do with its success; the one we had last night was back to Capanna’s best for the first time in months. We’ve even been forced to try other pizza places a second time because the Brindisi changed for a time in all the worst ways. Too much cheese. A change in the dough. It went from a fine thin crust and perfect topping-to-base ratio to pure stodge with alarming speed. We were devastated. Lost. What had happened and how could we make it right?
I actually went in after one of the first bad pizzas and told the chef something had changed. He said nothing had, but that the temperature can affect the dough. I accepted this at the time but when the bad Brindisis continued, Llew and I puzzled over it anew. Could it be one chef makes it perfectly and another chef stuffs it up? Yes, we decided, this was possible and indeed the likeliest explanation for the suddenly uneven quality of our previously consistently perfect pizza.
We were unfaithful. We cheated on Capanna. We ordered elsewhere for a time, bored and frustrated and feeling like they weren’t listening to us and were taking us for granted. But we kept coming back, hoping to recapture that early love and deep connection. Hoping we could re-ignite the magic. Wanting desperately to work things out.
And last night, it happened. The Brindisi was back, just as we remembered it, just as it should be. Pizza love was in the air, and it was good enough to eat.
Okay, so it’s Wednesday, not Monday, but as Monday was the last day of last year and yesterday was the first day of this year, I hope you’ll forgive the tardiness of this post. Many people returned to work today and I’m one of them.
The good news is that it seems Australian surfing history is being rewritten. December 30’s Sun Herald reported that the long-held belief that Hawaiian legend Duke Kahanamoku was the first to get up on our waves (in 1914) is now being acknowledged as false. Better still, it seems the first recorded surfers in Australia were members of none other than the North Steyne SLSC. That’s right, our local 100-year-old surf club that sits halfway along Manly Beach. Apparently there’s evidence of local lads William and Tommy Walker exhibiting their surfing skills as early as 1912 once club members returned from Hawaii with boards as early as 1911, three whole years before the Duke turned up at Freshwater to strut his stuff.
Three years to practice their board riding would also explain one historian’s take on why the Duke was at Freshie instead of Man Town in the first place: apparently the Manly boys kept dropping in on his waves. For a guy who must have been used to creating quite a stir, such territorial riding from the local upstarts must have seemed like rain on his parade. I love it!
The huge statue of the Duke watches over Freshwater commemorating his surf there as the first in Australia. I love the statue, it is regal and athletic, but if the home of Australian surfing is really outside my front door, then I’d like to see some sort of commemorative monument to those cheeky Walker boys too. If these dates and old press clippings are accurate, then they’ve earned their place in the Australia surfing history books, and no doubt I am not the only Man Town resident who would love to see them finally get their due (with all Duke respect, of course).
It’s a muggy Man Town Monday; climate change seems to be fundamentally altering the appearance of the Australian Christmas. Last year it actually rained during a mostly overcast Christmas Day – unheard of. And there are showers forecast for today. There are ominous clouds gathering across Manly right now readying for the afternoon’s precipitation. This is not ideal – I have some last-minute Christmas shopping to do and really wasn’t planning to do it in the wet… Global warming is just plain old un-Australian.
Christmas Eve in Man Town this year will hopefully be – at least briefly – a social affair. Llew’s not taking any time off over the break so he’s at work today as per usual, but we’re hoping to catch sight of some of our locally based friends this afternoon for a Christmas Eve sundowner (the absence of actual sunshine being a minor technicality) at the Manly Wharf. Then it’s off to meet up with the Jenkins clan for the main event.
We prepared ourselves yesterday by stocking up at the Four Olives Deli (4-8 Darley Road Manly, NSW 2095, +61 2 9977 4611). It’s got everything, including imported cans of goose fat for all those goose fat recipes you’ve been dying to try all these years… There’s all sorts of exotic and delicious and peculiar ingredients from right round the world, and then there’s the cheese room.
All hail the cheese room.
Llew went into fits of delight upon entering the cheese room.
“I love it here!” he squealed (yes, squealed).
He started drooling shortly thereafter.
“Look at this! And look at this! Ooooooh, what about this?”
Cheese bliss. As any self-respecting cheese lover knows, there is a kind of dairy ecstasy that takes over at such times, and Llew surrendered body and soul. Eventually I had to leave him in there and rejoin the deli proper because my fingernails were turning blue. I spent my time outside the cheese room wisely, ordering some sopressa hot and a fat section of wild game pate.
Llew eventually staggered out of the cheese room laden with calorific artery hardeners we can’t wait to get stuck into tonight:
Quickes aged cheddar (bitey and crumbly), Roquefort, Gorgonzola, and of course some plum paste just because it’s Christmas.
Bring on the cheese platter. All hail the cheese.
Postscript: The clouds have cleared and the sun is shining – you beauty! Merry Christmas, all.