Booze Myth Busting

OK. So I’m a bit cross about this continuing flood of misinformation about booze and tax. Tax and booze. So here I go again. Maybe grab a drink before you take a read – I’m fired up.

Let’s start with the obvious conflicts.

I’m a distiller, well I don’t actually make the stuff but I part-own a joint that does. I’ve been peddling booze in some shape or another for the best part of 20 years – that includes beer, wine, spirits and cider. I’ve been intoxicated more than once before and have acted like a clown in public and in private, under the influence and as sober as a judge.

I’ve seen alcohol impact lives of people close to me in a very negative way; I’ve regularly wondered whether my drinking and my working so closely in the industry is a poor choice – whether I should do something more positive in society. But it doesn’t take very long for me to think again.

The distillery where we make Four Pillars gin has a bar that is open on average 60 hours per week, 363 days per year. We have had more than 50,000 visitors since we opened in late 2015. There have been no reported stoushes, not a single issue with drunken behaviour or a single arrest for drink-driving. Sure we’ve sent a few people on their way with wise counsel and much caution, but we have served 30,000 gin and tonic paddles without incident. It’s a wonderful, social, clever, inclusive place – and I bloody love it and am incredibly proud of it.

I am the President of the Australian Distillers Association, so my allegiances are obvious. I also work in the field of marketing and PR so know a thing or two about how to spin a story and massage some facts to suit my purposes.

So BEWARE. I might just be the Devil in Disguise.

However, unlike many people who have an opinion about booze, I’m not pretending to be something I’m not. I’m not in disguise. I’m out and I’m proud. Proud to work in an industry I love.

But here’s the thing, and right now my top is about to blow. In the words of Peter Finch, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.

The demonisation of booze; its producers, sellers, marketers and drinkers by an INCREDIBLY small group of folks who wish Prohibition back upon us is simply TOO BLOODY MUCH.

Believe it or not there are people – unusually loud, ill-informed people, on the fringes of our moderate society who want to stop good, decent people having fun and a drink. God knows why, but they do.

First, let’s get this right. Australia is NOT a booze-filled, alcohol-enraged nation of piss-heads.

Maybe we were once upon a time but we sure as hell are not now. Per capita consumption of alcohol in Australia right now is at a 50 year LOW. That’s a fact.* It’s not double what it was a decade ago as quoted in several recent reports. That’s a complete and utter fabrication.

And alcohol tax isn’t too low, in fact it’s incredibly high. It’s just badly weighted between beer, wine and spirits. That should be perfectly simple for ANYBODY to understand, even a politician, if they have stepped into one bar and purchased one drink any time in the past decade…

Let’s keep it simple.

Beer is probably taxed about right, cheap wine too low (particularly the oft-abused large format casks) and spirits too high. But again, you’d expect me to say that – I’m a distiller after all.

Except it’s EXACTLY what EVERY single report, study or senate committee has found over the past 15 years. Even (and god help me here) the ANTI-ALCOHOL lobby, the nanny-staters, the neo-prohibitionists and the lunatics who think booze is the new cigarettes agree on that one. Go on. Ask them.

Moderate consumption of alcohol is not a bad thing – even doctors say it can be good for you. The industry employs around 165,000 people directly and indirectly through all its channels. It pays more than $5billion in taxes to the government coffers and heaven forbid it adds some colour and flavour to many people’s lives. And it tries really hard to act responsibly because it is important to do so. And also we know, all too well, that we are always being watched – so more often than not we are on our best behaviour.

But like everything that could do us harm; gambling, driving, crossing the road whilst listening to podcasts, sky-diving, surfing with sharks, snowboarding, crowdsurfing at a dance party, lunching with an NRL player or executive, flying a plane, and many more daily activities, it needs to be approached with just a little bit of old-school sensible-ness. Maybe even wariness.

We do not want to strip all that is fun from the fabric of Australian society. Or do we?

Did you know it was already too dangerous in Sydney to drink a Negroni after midnight? And that’s a FACT. Did you know a single malt whisky and a few ice cubes is not considered an acceptable beverage at a five star hotel after an event if it ends a minute past midnight?

Can you imagine what a “normal”, non-violent, alcohol drinking human from anywhere else on this planet might think of these rules?

I don’t actually mind sensible restrictions on advertising and promotion. I even think a few initiatives over the past few years have helped us moderate our drinking culture to where it is becoming a “less but better” approach. And yes, I recognise that alcohol abuse continues to cost our society too much.

But enough is enough. I don’t need some Wally from Canberra telling me when, where and how I can have my fun. I don’t need my bottle of gin to be twice the price in Healesville (where it is made) than in Los Angeles, simply because our local tax system is a shambles.

And I don’t need to be told that the booze industry is an evil empire run by alcoholic Svengalis trying to coerce you into getting drunk. Because it’s bullshit.

You don’t want to drink? Good on you. No dramas here. As it happens, I have quite a few mates who don’t drink or do so incredibly rarely. But I have quite a few more who do. And do it sensibly – most of the time. And that should be good enough for the do-gooders to cut us a break.

Here’s a deal. I won’t come to any of your preachy, anti-alcohol, fun-police chats if you don’t come to my bar.

* In 2015 Australians drank on average 9.71L of pure alcohol per capita, in 1975 that number was 13.1L. These figures are from the World Health Organisation. This number puts us around No.20 in the world for per capita booze consumption surrounded by nations like Spain, Switzerland, New Zealand, Great Britain and Denmark. And yes, I acknowledge this figure is well ahead of Indonesia who drink the least in the world.

From Asia with Love: Stu’s Food and Drink Adventures


Stu and Cam enjoying a drop (or two) at M Gallery Hotel’s rooftop bar.

I just spent a week and a bit visiting Vietnam, Thailand and Hong Hong and here’s what I saw and thought between drinks:


Well, Bangkok is awesome, of course, and the food and drink scene has stepped right up into the top echelon of Asia over the past couple of years. We all know Gaggan is now the No.1 restaurant in Asia according to Asia’s Top 50, and although I didn’t make it, the reports are incredible.I met one of Gaggan’s head chefs at a gin booze-up and he seemed nice and he said Gaggan was a top bloke and a genius – so that’s good enough for me.

For me, one of Bangkok’s great restaurants remains Bo.Lan – we went there on our first night. It was my second visit and the flavours are vivid, delicious and pretty bloody spicy. Even our local host reckoned a few of the dishes were fully fiery. In fact, our local Four Pillars distributor, Wallop, had an interesting take on Local v Tourist flavours, particularly at renowned restaurants. He said the “foodie” tourist wanted food that was actually in many cases spicier than what the locals would have. He thinks it’s a bit of an ego thing -“Make it proper spicy like the locals would have it”- so sometimes they rev up the chilli to impress the tourists. Funny, hey?

Great bars include Rabbit Hole, Teens of Thailand (no it’s not what you think, it’s great) and the remarkable Iron Fairies and the Iron Balls Distillery and Bar. Bangkok is fun, that’s for sure.


My first visit to Vietnam and the “rolling thunder” of mopeds on the road is something to behold. Ho Chi Minh rocks. The new M Gallery Hotel des Artes is a tremendously cool, small new hotel with an epic rooftop bar and a glass bridge from the roof to the equally super cool Shri Bar and Restaurant where Richie Fawcett oversees an incredible bar program and whisky library.  Rich is also an incredible artist and has in fact produced an amazing coffee table book featuring the best drinks and streets of Ho Chi Minh – buy a copy when you visit Shri.


Smoking cocktails in Ho Chi Minh.


We had a brilliant dinner at an expat-focused joint called Lubu and I would go back there for sure. But let’s be honest, you’re in Vietnam for the pho and a few locals told us the best in town was Pho Hoa at 260c Pasteur Rd in District 3 (very Hunger Games). We had an 11am pho there on a Sunday morning and it was the best goddamn pho I’ve ever tasted. And $4 to boot. Beef combination. And half of Ho Chi Minh seemed to be there. The other half were in the Tao Dan Park, just behind the Independence Palace. If you’re in Ho Chi Minh on a weekend you just HAVE to walk through this park, it’s an incredible cultural experience. And you need to visit the War Remnants Museum, and yes a word of warning – it’s as confronting as everyone says it is. I’ve never needed to look away from so many exhibits and pictures in my life. Harrowing.


How can you not love Hong Kong? Still vibrant – still Chinese on one side and Western on the other. A city of two really distinct personalities – and both sides are great. We stayed on Kowloon side; the dark side as the gwailo residents call it, or Mosman, as a mate of mine disparagingly referred to it. It can be a bit of a pain coming home at 2am in a cab with a screaming driver who does appear to be the angriest man in the world, but you do get to use the Star Ferry, still one of, if not the, greatest public transport services in the world. And still 50c a trip each way (upper deck please).


Stu and Dev (genius bartender) at Otto e Mezzo in Hong Kong.

Over on the island, the bar scene is as good as ever – anything by Antonio Lai (origin, quinary envoy at the Pottinger Hotel) is brilliant but I must admit I rather fell in love with a bartender at the three Michelin star Otto e Mezzo, which is deep inside one of the Landmark buildings (like most of Hong Kong you sometimes think – either that or PP). Devender Sehgal (Dev) is a genius and made some of the best cocktails I’ve had IN THE WORLD. Go sit at the bar, have a bowl of pasta and one of his Jasmines. And tell him Stu sent you. We had a ripper night also at Potatohead – the Bali classic is now in Singapore and Hong Kong and if you can jag an invitation into their private lounge out back, well you might be locked in there for many, many hours and rack up a very,very big bill . . ..

That’ll do for now. Back to school sports . . . .


How to make America great again: Stuart Gregor has more questions than answers after a month in the USA


Smiles in front of the White House – just one week before Trump’s inauguration.

America the confusing. After a month in the USA I think I am more uncertain than ever how to Make America Great again.

Here are some random thoughts:

Gosh it’s a funny old time right now, isn’t it?

Everything just seems so thoroughly mixed up, unpredictable, somehow the order seems disrupted. My (our?) obsession, yes OBSESSION with what is going on in the USA right now just seems to get fuller and deeper and yet things in this part of the world seem to remain pretty stable, sensible and joyful.

On Instagram this morning, there are thousands of pictures of kids heading off to new schools. Good schools, teaching sensible things in a logical way. The system is not perfect but it is good. Our politics is not perfect but it’s a pass – at least relatively speaking.

And yet, on the other side of the world things appear, to put it nicely, bat-shit crazy. Ignorance and fear have temporarily taken over logic, good sense and education. And there’s an old-fashioned Ringmaster – a guy who a century ago would have had a twirling moustache and a tophat, whipping up the frenzy. Without recourse to history, intelligence, rational thought or compassion, this man does whatever it takes to court attention, to maintain the spotlight upon himself. And he’s bloody good at it. And he knows his audience and he continues to give them exactly what they want. It’s an entirely implausible movie plot but here it is acting out in real life.

Gosh what an incredible thing it is to see.

I’ve just returned from a month in the USA. I was in DC a week before the inauguration, in Los Angeles on THE DAY, I spent too much time on CNN, FOX and social media – it was literally a barrage of noise, opinions, yelling and screaming – the likes of which this western world has probably never seen. There’s simply too many people saying too many things with too little thought. So here I go adding my voice to the chorus.

America is, as we know, such a place of contradiction that it absolutely beggars belief. In a day visiting the Natural History Museum, NASA or one of the Smithsonians, you can feel nothing but inspired by the sheer breadth and depth of human endeavour possible in this great country. The thrilling thinking followed by the breathtaking execution. And then . . .


With the family at the Kennedy Space Center.

And then you go back to your hotel room and the shouting begins again.

But then there’s a night out at Hamilton, a night cruising bars in New York or a brilliant Cuban-inspired dinner in Miami and you just literally shake your bloody head. This place! What is with THIS PLACE? How has it come to this?

It’s been said a million times that the US elections and Brexit are a mirror to each other and that’s right. There is no longer left and right – there is just us and them. Depending on which side of the chamber you sit – us the “elites” and them the disenfranchised – or vice versa. And the divide is ruthlessly exploited by both sides. This is not the art of wedge politics, this is the politics of a divided canyon. An hour watching 30 minutes each of CNN and FOX makes you think there are actually two parallel universes. Alternative facts is not just a cute hashtag but a terrifying, Orwellian reality. Impartiality and the art and craft of dispassionate, analytical, fair-minded reporting has gone out the window. And both sides are at fault. I read and heard as much hysterical anti-Trump “journalism” as I did pro-Trump FOX-isms.

And the thing about the US is that there is still so little we Australians understand. Like how my cousin’s wife – a well-read Bostonian with great taste in art and a poet for a mother – could be such a rusted-on, Pro-trump, Fox-watching Republican? How she could say, while she doesn’t agree with all of his actions and words, she thinks he is a FAR superior alternative to Obama or H Clinton. We never understood, in this nation, how deeply unpopular Hillary was and is to this day.

Or how I could fly into Orlando, Florida on the very day a bloke from Alaska shoots dead five people in the Ft Lauderdale airport after picking up his gun at the baggage carousel. And it rates a mention for a day or two and then everyone just gets on with their business. Eyes blinked briefly.

I couldn’t help but compare it with the enormous, fortnight-long outpourings of grief when a lunatic drove over five people on Bourke Street in Melbourne the week later. Seriously, the value placed on innocent lives being lost in Australia is so much higher than in the US; it is truly incredible. You’ve no idea. No, that’s probably not true. You probably have every idea but to see it live in action, well it’s really, really confronting.

I went to the college football final in Tampa – Alabama vs Clemson – it was an event, an atmosphere, a spectacle like none I’ve ever witnessed in a lifetime of sporting events. And the match itself was a true epic. Yet I couldn’t help feeling a little odd. The crowd of 90% whites cheering on two teams from the South featuring 90% blacks. I guess, in essence there’s nothing wrong with that; in fact, it might be somehow liberating and football is an incredible route out of poverty for so many young black guys, especially from the South. Yet. Yet, it still felt somehow weirdly gladiatorial. Let them crash into each other and get concussed, while we cheer and sing and play in the marching bands. Perhaps I’m just over-thinking it. That’d be a first.


Catching the college football final in Tampa Bay, Florida.

And this, I guess is the laboured point I am somehow trying to make. America is the earth’s greatest conundrum. Simply capable of the best and the worst in humanity – even on the very same day. It’s a point I made to our guide in DC as we toured the monuments of Lincoln, Roosevelt, King and Jefferson. Four men of divergent backgrounds and political sides but somehow bound in the rich, incredible history of this nation.


The Lincoln monument.

God, I said, exasperated. This country is just so bloody confusing. I can’t make any sense of it at all.. Its so bloody fascinating and frustrating at the same time.

And he, a gay a capella singer from California who majored in political history, simply gave a shrug and replied; “Isn’t that what makes it so great?”.

Maybe he’s right. Maybe this particular period of American history is a turning point. Maybe we needed it to happen to re-set the moral compass of a nation.

Maybe in a decade we will look back and say that this crazy period made good men and women take a stand. That the nation needed a truly radical re-boot.

Maybe, just maybe, after the carnage and hand-wringing and protest and probably violence of these next few months or years, America can start to re-build.. And it can become greater than ever before.

We have to believe it possible.

I knew Bec Wilson for about 15 years. Here’s what passes for a tribute to a very special person.


Rebecca Wilson died today.

Jesus that’s a tough line to write. Bec the indomitable, Bec the invincible, Bec the inscrutable.

People throw around phrases like larger than life too readily but our Bec, rather than living large in the sense of reckless abandon or over indulgence, she lived large in truth.

Bec had her artifice and fakery DNA removed at birth and I think in its place was put the finest bullshit detector Australia has ever seen. She seemed actually incapable of saying the “right” thing at the apparently “right” time. She was gloriously incorrect whilst so often actually being correct. Many people saw Bec as a hater – someone who wanted to tear things down, to rip into people and places but they couldn’t be more wrong. Bec was not a hater, she was a lover. She LOVED good people and great endeavour, most especially of course in the sporting world. She didn’t enjoy sport she revelled in it. Those GREAT sports people in Australia, and they and we in our hearts know who they are, loved and were loved by Bec. Ask Freeman, ask Goodes, ask Boyle, ask Tallis – just don’t ask the fakers, the dribblers, the gibberers or the urgers. They loathed her because she shone a light on their fakery, their pretence, their manifest dishonesty. She made mistakes, bloody heaps of them, but they were most often made with good intentions. She made enemies; I said a week ago that if you didn’t have at least one good feud with Bec you just weren’t trying hard enough.

But she had love – real unadulterated, genuine, deep love for people and that’s why racists and charlatans and crooks just got her so bloody mad. They were taking the spotlight from the good guys, the guys (and more importantly the girls) who fought and tried and were honest and decent.

And that’s who she was. To beat around the bush was as foreign an idea to Bec as it was to drink anything other than chardonnay (“Why WOULD I Stu? It’s chardonnay”).

I once, on radio, tried to explain to her what chardonnay actually WAS, a grape variety, it made for some of the most hilarious radio I’ve ever been a part of – she simply couldn’t have cared less; “But how GOOD is it Stuey? How good?”

The woman knew how to encourage – just ask her boys or Harto or anyone who was close to her. If you were doing well or even trying hard you would hear that “Go You” ringing in your ears.

I made a wine Bec; “Go you Stuey”, I wrote a book; “Go you good thing”. I had a baby Bec; “Go you, Go Sal”.

Bec Wilson tried every day to be true to herself and her family and her beloved trade of journalism. Her old man Bruce had been such an incredible journo and such a beacon for young upstart journos at News Ltd like me, and then along came his incredible, loud, opinionated, brash, hilarious, gutsy daughter. And she didn’t just do him proud, she built an even greater legacy to that family name.

God I loved being around Bec Wilson – you would gossip, laugh, hear things you just couldn’t believe were being said, drink chardonnay and more especially feel alive, feel like you’d just spent a few hours with a human tornado.

It’s profoundly sad of course and especially for Harto, the boys, her mum and Jim, but to say she lived a life well would be gross understatement. Bec Wilson was a proper, fearless woman who was a wonderful friend and an epic loss to all of us. And she really did forge a path.

We love you Bec Wilson: Go You.



Farewell you legend – an obit to a genius. David Grant AM

david grantThis week a brutal brain tumor took the life of a bloke I was incredibly proud to call a mate. Not just any bloke – quite simply the most creative, most hilarious, most entertaining bloke I’ve ever met. I’ve not known DG as long as many, which is strange, cos we grew up in the same suburb, but I know he had literally thousands of great mates, admirers and just randoms who couldn’t quite believe he said what they just heard . . .

Like many, I genuinely loved DG; being around him was like being in a better, funnier, smarter orbit. I’ve not met anyone who shone so bright, dreamt so big and lived so large.

Last year he was inducted into the Events Industry’s Hall of Fame and his great mate of 30+ years, the indomitable Prue Macsween, delivered a heartfelt and brilliant introduction. Prue and I used this as the base for an obituary that will appear in the Sydney Morning Herald. It may get a bit of an edit, so just in case it does, here it is in its unexpurgated form.

David Grant – event producer, creative director.

David Grant was probably Australia’s greatest event producer and quite possibly the best the world has seen. A restless, quick-witted, incisive, creative and ruthlessly funny individual, David passed away Monday December 14 from a brain tumor. He was 55.

David grew up in Killarney Heights on Sydney’s northern beaches in a family of ordinary means.  His work took him into the world of kings, queens, presidents and billionaires.

In 1985, he set up a portable office in his shabby electric blue Ford Laser and began organising events – any event in the beginning – and very major events at the end.

His events were, and remain, the creative benchmarks for a very competitive industry.

His parties on the social calendar were mad, bad, stylish, daring, beautiful and simply like no other – the Cointreau Ball, which he produced for nine of its 11 year existence, became legendary in the Australian party world.

Cointreau ‘Dita Von Teese’ Ball

A shot of the famous Cointreau Ball

He ignored every rule and regulation, or had them rewritten. He disdained authority, avoided the everyday and throughout his career created moments of great magic and often poetry, of unrivalled style, fun and glamour.

No challenge was ever too hard (he burnt down a Port Douglas sugarcane field four times a year for inbound US incentive winners), and even though the industry at that time didn’t have the myriad suppliers you could call on to help today, he somehow just made things pop out of thin air.

He bought the first truly portable kitchen for the first large-scale offsite event, sewed the first chair cover, ordered the first all-clear marquee, bought the first fairylights, – prosaic and passe now, but revolutionary then – and he convinced one-man-band technical operators, chefs, florists, entertainers, you name it, that perhaps there was a proper living to be made from this seemingly crazy world of events

He was first to illuminate an Australian city when he lit nine buildings including the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Centrepoint Tower blue for a perfume launch in 1990.

He was the first known person to put dodgem cars in a ballroom, he created a white water rafting track for an underwater party in a six-storey car park.  He was the first to have a party on a floating pontoon, in a sewer, on a beach, in a jail. . .

For 30 years his exceptional work continued for the most discerning clients in the arts, media, fashion, luxury, finance, sport, and political worlds.

His unflagging sense of humour, even in the scariest adversity, is legendary. When he produced a series of events for President Clinton’s official visit to Sydney in 1996, he was ordered to play the official Presidential anthem, “Hail to the Chief” on Clinton’s arrival during the worldwide CNN broadcast at the Botanical Gardens Fleet Steps.

But instead, to the horror of the White House and the Australian Government, he took it upon himself to play Clinton’s favourite song, the big band swing classic,  “Sing, Sing, Sing”. Bill and Hillary laughed, and entered the event on live international TV with a smiling energy lacking until that moment. Yet again DG, as he was known, had turned a good event into something truly unforgettable.

At the lightening quick handshake farewell, post the event, Clinton, when introduced to Grant as the producer, quipped “ahh you’re that crazy guy, thank the Lord, you made my day, I love Australians”. Not unsurprisingly, David never worked again for the Prime Minister’s Department – their loss.
Where David was famous and completely legendary was in the world of the Summer and Winter Olympics. He produced events, corporate hospitality marquees on an almost mythical scale, presentations and famously, played a huge part in Australia’s winning pitch for the 2000 Olympics.

For 10 consecutive Winter and Summer Olympics, David’s events were regularly the highlight of the Games, for those lucky enough to secure an invite. During the Sydney Olympics his renowned capacity for hard work and flawless quality saw him produce 320 events across 17 days in 12 different locations.

Former IOC President Samaranch once famously said in the lead-up to the Athens Olympics; “call Lord Grant, he’s the only person after Stalin who could possibly fix this mess you’ve got us into”.

In the USA, where he did much of his best, big budget creative work, he was a legend.

The creative director for Sports Illustrated in New York once said; “How does that crazy motherf***er think up that undoable shit and then make it 10 times better than we ever thought possible and we’re supposed to be party central?”.

We all wondered the same thing at various times.

David won more than 35 industry awards including Meeting and Events Australia’s “Australian Event Organiser of the Year” a record 10 times and he was made a member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2005 in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, for services to the events industry and the Olympic movement.

Many claim to be “unique” characters, but David was, quite simply irrepressible, irreplaceable and at times desperately irresponsible. He was also the most hilarious person in Sydney, and quite possibly the most inappropriate.

Over the years he appeared plenty of times on TV on everything from The Block to the Chopping Block where he famously quipped that a restaurant he was reviewing “had all the charm and sense of welcoming of the waiting room at the Villawood Detention Centre”.

David gave back to the industry by constantly taking time to speak at industry events, obscure educational facilities, to the random people who rang for advice weekly  – to friends, competitors, anyone.

He suffered five hernias, one back rebuild, a knee reconstruction and various other war wounds from his “hands on” way of doing business but he could not beat a devastating brain tumor diagnosed early in 2015.

David is survived by his wife Katerina, parents Bill and Maggie,  brothers Michael and Peter, first wife Lisa and sons Seigfried, Max, Jack and Lewis.

A celebration of David’s life, hopefully attended by plenty of his mates, will be held in Sydney in mid-late January. Please keep an eye on Facebook and other media for details.

Oh, and it’d want to be a bloody good party . . . DG would expect nothing less.

Prue MacSween and Stuart Gregor have worked in the public relations business for a combined 50+ years.

Life Lessons Learned from the Back of a Taxi


 By Jemma Lee (Senior Account Director at Liquid Ideas) and Jennifer Bailey (Account Manager at Liquid Ideas)

At Liquid Ideas, we have this philosophy that we have in creds decks and write on walls and say in presentations – have your eyes up and your ears open. Our inspiration comes from the hospitality world… the intuitive sommelier, warm customer service and your favourite waiter at the local Italian joint. And last week, we had an experience that reminded us why having your eyes up and your ears open can get you far more than a good tip.

It was a cold, overcast Friday morning, we’re standing on O’Riordan Street trying to hail a cab. It takes an unusually long time. Plenty drive by, none stop. We’re getting a bit pissed off. A taxi finally slows. We exchange quips about it being the most banged-up taxi to drive past yet. We get in. And shit, are we glad we did. With our ears open, this guy changed our day and enlightened us more about life and people in that 25 minutes than had happened in probably the entire year. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true.

“How’s your day going?” we ask. Taxi etiquette. “I never have bad days,” he replied. Right. “How’s yours?”

“Not bad I guess. Had training this morning. Now just at work.”

“Training hey? So you pump some iron. But have you been doing your character pushups?”

I’m sorry – what? Character pushups? WTF?

It’s exactly that. Working on your character. “Six packs disappear,” he said. “Your character doesn’t.”

We are both inquisitive, interested types, and we perked up then. Some small talk was exchanged initially and then before we knew it, we were completely absorbed in what was the most philosophical and provocative conversation we’d had in a long time.

The man had a vocabulary that rivalled William Blake and poetic rhythm to his soliloquies – everything came in threes or fours – lulling us into backseat awe. And so for no other reason than wanting to capture the enormity and eloquence of his wisdom so as to not let it fade, we wrote down what we could remember from this fascinating man.

Have a fertile mind

He said he had an opinion on everything, but that he never wanted to stop learning – that his opinion could always be changed, altered, built upon. A ‘fertile mind’ – that’s what he called it.

Strive not to be loved, but to love

True fulfillment is loving someone, not being loved. As humans, we spend our lives wanting someone to love us but in truth, happiness and fulfillment comes only from giving our love to someone else, unconditionally.

Stand for something

Stay true to what you believe in, whatever that is. If you believe in nothing, you defend nothing. Navigate by your own star. Be the master of your own fate, the emperor of your own freedom. If you are the captain of the freedom of your mind, no one can ever take that away from you. For at the end of it all, all we have is our principles. No material things, no companions, just the principles which we choose to live by.

Lamenting the absence of seminal

There are almost no seminal thoughts anymore, he said. Four million people go home on a Monday night and sit on their couch watching a chicken get roasted on TV or watch an 18 year old sing Hallelujah to have someone cry for the fortieth time – “A Star is born!”. Is this living?

Four words to live by

Avuncular, didactic, acrobatic and elastic. That’s what you should strive to be. Be an avuncular and didactic human, with acrobatic and elastic thoughts and feelings.

He left us with this – “The bigger the island of knowledge, the wider the shores of wonder.”

And that was that. We paid our fare, stepped out of the cab onto the busy CBD footpath and were immediately swept back up into our world of client meetings, phone calls, planning, excel sheets and deadlines.

How incredibly lucky we were to have spent 25 minutes of our day being enlightened and encouraged by this complete stranger. And all we can think is how many people get in his taxi and miss out on all of that.

Eyes up ears open people, you never know when Gregory David Roberts* is driving your cab.

*at least, we’re 99% sure it was him…

Stu’s First Film Review: The Best Movie of the Decade…and Birdman

This blog has never featured a movie review.

Well, I’m about to write two. Why have a blog at all if you can’t indulge in the things you secretly think you’ve always been a bit awesome at? I have always thought I’d be an awesome film reviewer, maybe we all do. But I especially have thought I possess superior gifts of film analysis. Which is strange because I don’t actually see a lot of films. I’m not a guy who goes and catches the latest Scandy dramas or art house classics, or even the dodgy blockbusters. Hell, I haven’t even seen Casablanca or any of the Godfathers. So I might actually be a cruddy reviewer cos I can’t contextualise … But who cares. My blog.

So I’m writing this in a place where I do in fact watch most of my movies. On board a plane. And just now I have watched the best movie I’ve seen in a decade. And then I watched Birdman.

The best movie I’ve seen in a decade (probably longer) is called Ex Machina. It’s written and directed by a bloke I’ve never heard of (Alex Garland) and stars absolutely no one. Well that’s not true. It stars actors, not stars.

And it’s absolutely f***ing brilliant. I seriously can’t put it any other way – and I know by being sweary I will be in trouble with my wife and my kids will snigger but this movie deserves the ultimate approbation. A simple premise about artificial intelligence, an almost paralysingly brilliant script and the most magnificently tense anxiety-inducing direction. This is a film that restores your belief in film. I’ve no idea if it has won or will win any awards. But it wins Stuey Gregor’s film of the decade, and that’s good enough for me. See it.

And then I watched Birdman. Birdman has won lots of awards yet has split those I know including my wife and bestie Polly who both loathed it, calling it self indulgent baloney, or words to that effect. I see where they are coming from.

Birdman is Hollywood doing quirk at its highest level. The directing and production are pretty bloody stunning granted and yet… And yet… It just doesn’t ring true. Sure, they’re trying to say something about celebrity, but they do it in such a magnificently Hollywood way the whole thing is laced in its own self-induced and self-involved irony. And shit I hate monologues. Who ever speaks like that? Who speaks like Emma Stone spoke to her dad? Who deliveries soliloquies like the Birdman did way too many times? I know it’s a fantasy but it’s also a bit bloody rubbish. Writing great words is one thing, writing great dialogue another thing entirely. And just as an aside, it’s not easy for me to pan a film with both Naomi Watts AND Emma Stone in it….

But Birdman isn’t all bad I reckon. People much smarter and more learned than me in the craft of film thought it brilliant. But in my mind it was show-offy and hyper produced. Put simply, it’s no Ex Machina. And I bet that’s not been said on the movie pages before.

Ex Machina. 5 stars

Birdman. 3.5 stars