Flat tyres and flat caps

November 23, 2015 at 21:30 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Flat tyre

flat tyreI got my bike out of the shed the other day, and the tyre was flat. Flat as a proverbial pancake. This was a great shock, as I never get punctures. People always look at me incredulously when I say that, but it’s true. Punctures are such unusual events that I write about them on this blog every time I get one, and a quick search reveals the last one was in February 2012. I never dig out all the bits of broken glass from my tyres, and run them until they are practically disintegrating, but never seem to have any problems. (Probably because I run wide (32mm) tyres at low-ish pressures. If you’re still running horrid narrow tyres at 100PSI+, well, more fool you.)

I dug out my puncture repair kit, and set to work. It was the same wheel I struggled with when I replaced the tyre a little while ago, but I figured with my new-found wisdom on how to remount the tyre, things should be much smoother.

And indeed they were, although as it turned out it wasn’t a puncture at all, but the patch I had put on the tear in the tube had failed. This was the tear, you may recall, that I made with tyre levers whilst struggling to remount the tyre last time.

This did make me a little embarrassed. I mean, having a patch fail. Come on. In my defence, it was a large-ish tear (perhaps 8-10mm across) which can be hard to patch successfully, and given I have so few punctures my repair kit is invariably dried up and dusty. Not that’s really much of an excuse. Anyway, I put the spare tube on in its place, and all was well. I even managed to re-mount the tyre using only my thumbs.

Flat cap

hunters hill cycling signI was quite taken by this poster for the Hunter’s Hill family ride. Well done, Hunter’s Hill, for holding a ride not predominantly aimed at sports cyclists, and also for not including a single sports cyclist in the picture on the poster. I was of course most taken of all but the fact that the front two riders appear to be not wearing Australian regulation headwear, given one has a sun bonnet, the other a flat cap. I hope this subtle message is a deliberate anti-MHL stance by Hunter’s Hill Community Services. I wan’t able to go to the ride, but was heartened when I saw that the website was similarly devoid of any mention of helmets. Indeed, they didn’t even mention in the ‘rules‘ that you had to wear one, which is almost unheard of (every other organised cycling event I have ever looked at says ‘helmets must be worn’ almost as the first thing). Next year, I must try to get along. Wearing my best flat cap, of course.


Arnott’s Vita Weat Multigrain

November 18, 2015 at 21:05 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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vita weat packI had to double check that I hadn’t already looked at the mainstay of the Arnott’s savoury cracker range, but it seems it has been thus far overlooked. Or perhaps I had thought about it, but always struggled.

You see, there’s really nothing whatsoever to say about these biscuits. You see that picture of them, a bit lower down? Well, they taste exactly as you expect from looking at that picture. They are plain crackers, perfectly nice with some cheese, with a few grains in them to add texture. They taste like, erm, plain crackers with some grains in them.

vita weat biscuitOh dear, this isn’t going too well, is it? I mean, I do have some standards, and a minimum word count is one of them. After all, you are paying to read this, and you expect at least something for your money.

The only other vaguely interesting thing I can say about these is that Girl Chillikebab #2 liked the box, and stuck a load of glitter, ribbons, cotton wool and coloured paper to it before announcing she had made it into a marshmallow machine. Fully working, I might add. That is if you like imaginary marshmallows.

I’m going to give these really quite nice crackers a seven out of ten, but then subtract a penalty point for being boring.


Tim Tam Raspberry Choc

November 11, 2015 at 19:24 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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tim tam choc raspberry packWell, somehow this one slipped through the net. Apparently it was created for Valentines Day back in February, but I only just came across it. It’s another Zumbo flavour, and I have no doubt that it came about as a direct result of this very blog. You see, when I looked at the previous Zumbo attempt at a raspberry Tim Tam, I noted that, based as it was on the exceptionally ordinary Tim Tam White, it was never going to amount to very much. An improvement, yes, but with such an unprepossessing foundation it was never going to be a classic. I’ve also previously noted that the Tim Tam Dark is the best Tim Tam. No, I’m not going to argue the point. If you disagree, you are wrong.

Evidently Mr Zumbo has been reading this, put two and two together, and made  – well, we’ll see how much in a little while.

tim tam raspberry choc biscuitThe Tim Tam Raspbery Choc, you see, is made with that fabulous rich, moreish Arnott’s dark chocolate. This puts it firmly on the path to success from the outset. I suspect that Mr Zumbo has also tweaked the filling, as it has a slightly more scented, aromatic quality – almost like a liqueur.

The net result is a smooth, satisfying and decidedly grown-up Tim Tam. Which I am shamelessly going to take all the credit for. In this case, then, putting two and two together comes out with a solid nine out of ten for the Tim Tam Raspberry Choc. Good stuff.

Choc Chip Scotch Finger

November 5, 2015 at 12:45 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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choc chip scotch finger packFor the most part, I avoid the whole internet slang and emoticons shtick, but just occasionally I see something for which they just seem perfectly apt. Which is why, when I saw Choc Chip Scotch Fingers for the first time, my reaction was simple.


It’s all just so obvious, but so inspired. ‘Twisted’ indeed.

These biscuits, I felt, could be dangerous. You just say the words ‘Scotch Finger’ and ‘Chocolate Chips’ in the same sentence, and it begins. you just want some. You just want some really really badly. Before you’ve even tried them, you need more of them.

choc chip scotch finger biscuitI was trembling with excitement as I opened the packet. Here they were.

My first thought was actually that they don’t look very attractive. Kind of blotchy and a bit odd. Something to do with embossed lettering and choc chips, I think. Oh well, never mind that, let’s press on with the devouring.

And devour them I did. the whole packet was gone in a matter of minutes. They really are pretty good.

But but but. Note quite as good as I hoped. Somehow they just don’t quite hit the mark. Possibly a tough gig, given the high expectations. But the chocolate just wasn’t pronounced enough. They need larger chocolate chunks, I think. Not necessarily more chocolate, but fewer, bigger pieces (This is a problem I’ve had before; Arnott’s seem to struggle with larger-than-normal chocolate chips. Perhaps they could upgrade their chocolate-chip machine?). Overall, I’d probably say the Chocolate Coated Scotch Finger is actually better.

All of this is, on reflection, perhaps a good thing. Perhaps Arnott’s deliberately restrained themselves when creating these, knowing just how dangerous they could be in the wrong hands.

I’m going to give these a seven-and-a-half out of ten. They are good. But nowhere near Lemon Crisp territory.

Senates and Helmets

October 27, 2015 at 20:49 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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australia in stackhatsI don’t write about bicycle helmets much any more. I probably should, as they make for good click-bait, getting lots of hits on my blog. But to be honest, I’m rather bored with the whole thing. After spending years debating, scrutinising, reading and analysing research and commentary about them, it’s just so obvious they helmet laws are a complete disaster in every respect, and bicycle helmets in general are a drag on a healthy cycling culture that I can’t really be bothered arguing any more.

However, a senate inquiry has been set up to look at the issue of the ‘Nanny State’, and one of the specific terms of reference is bicycle helmets. So I found the energy to put pen to paper (or rather finger to keyboard) to make a submission.

There are lots of other submissions too, and most of them seem to be about bicycle helmets, despite the terms of reference including other topics such as alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. Apparently we love debating bicycle helmets almost as much as we love forcing people to wear them.

Some of the submissions are predictable; one-dimensional perspectives from the medical fraternity somehow claiming that repealing the helmet law would cost millions  as every cyclist in Australia instantly falls victim to incapacitating brain injury. Yawn. I’ve dealt with all this before.

Lots of them are more interesting. Quite a few from people saying they cycle less or not at all because of helmet laws. Which is interesting, as according to many helmet zealot ‘academics’ these people do not exist. Many well researched and argued submissions pointing out the flaws in the helmet law. And a lot of refreshingly short ones, which basically say ‘please repeal the helmet law as it is rubbish’. Hurrah for them.

Anyway, if you are interested in my lengthy discourse on the topic, it is here. Be warned, though, it’s very boring. You’d be better off riding your bike.

Choc Banana Tim Tam

October 20, 2015 at 14:56 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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tim tam choc banana packetExciting news! Another new Tim Tam is here! Goodness, the innovation department at Arnott’s must really be working overtime at the moment. This new line is exclusive to Coles; I suppose to balance the Three Bean Tim Tam that was exclusive to Woolies.

The packaging is a slightly disconcerting yellow colour. I don’t know why it should be disconcerting; bananas are yellow after all. Yet somehow it is, to me at least. I have to say though, I did like the little banana shape behind the ‘New’ flash. Subtle one for the biscuit packet nerds out there. Which, of course, I am NOT. No sir, not me. Ahem.

So what are they like? My very initial instinct was to be worried by the whole concept of banana flavour. I mean, banana flavour never actually tastes of bananas, does it? But then I caught myself. This is Arnott’s we are talking about. They can confound expectation.

When you open the packet, they do smell quite strongly of sort of banana. And when you eat them, they also taste quite strongly of sort of banana. Actually, they taste quite a lot like banana syrup. Not that I’ve ever had banana syrup, to be honest, but I was reliably informed by those who had that this is what it tasted like. This was considered to be a Good Thing, as banana syrup is a delicious sort of grown-up thing, as opposed to banana lollies, which are a kind of revolting kids thing.

I actually thought they were OK. Not my favourite ever, but not at all bad. Not too sweet, banana flavour was quite good, chocolate as always impeccable.

There is one thing you probably need to know about these, though, and that is that they repeat on you. ‘Repeat on you’. Goodness, what a buttoned-up English person I can be. What I mean is that if you eat most of a packet of Banana Tim Tams in one go (which is what I did), you’ll be doing huge banana-flavoured belches for the next 3-4 hours. So be warned.

I’m going to give these a five out of ten.

The Secret River – Kate Grenville

October 13, 2015 at 21:06 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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The Secret River starts in 1780s Lsecret riverondon. William Thornhill, a small boy, born in the squalid slums of London, get a chance to create a life for himself as a waterman, ferrying people across the Thames. Then, when things go wrong for him, he, his wife and their son are sentenced to be transported to Australia.

Arriving in Sydney in the early days of the colony, Thornhill sets out to rebuild his life, eventually claiming land and settling on the banks of the Hawesbury river.

Of course, the settlers come into contact with, and conflict with, the Aboriginal people of the area. There is horrific violence and brutality, but also attempts at reconciliation and peace. The moral choices are often ambiguous, and the novel paints a vivid portrait of early colonialism.

It’s a gripping read, often uncomfortable, and certainly gives an insightful perspective into the struggles between the white settlers and the Aborigines – and ultimately how the ‘blacks’ were brutally subjugated.

I’ve read a fair bit of Australian history since moving here some years ago, but this novel really puts that history into human terms. There is a risk in reading it as history though, in that Thornhill is very unusual in terms of his liberal, tolerant outlook. This paints a rather romanticised picture of white settlement (although Grenville does not shy away from the uglier side of colonial attitudes in other characters). But that said, I still recommend this book to all seeking both a great novel, and also an insight into how Australia was colonised by Europeans.

Arnott’s Savoy

October 6, 2015 at 13:02 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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savoy box arnottsSavoy. When I hear that word, I immediately think of the posh hotel in London, probably because I used to live there. (London, that is, not the Savoy).

When Google hears the word Savoy, it thinks of a cultural region in France. I’m not exactly sure what a ‘cultural region’ is, but I sense there are not many of them in Sydney.

When those oh-so-uncultured Sydneysiders see a pack of Savoy, though, I sense they think ‘Jatz’. Because, you see, they bear an uncanny resemblance to the Jatz biscuit. Even the packet is identical, right down to the piece of cheese.

Actually, they are not quite identical. The Savoy pack has the biscuits every so slightly lighter in colour, like they have been over-exposed; perhaps printed at an inferior print-shop.

But what of the Savoy biscuit? It is the same as the Jatz?

Well, dear readers, I can reveal that they are not the same. Not quite. You see, it’s one of those regional things, a bit like the Ginger Nut. Savoys hail from Victoria, where they were baked by Brockhoff. Arnott’s merged with Brockhoff back in the 1960s, but kept the Savoy recipe and name. For this reason, you’ll find mostly Savoys in Victoria, and Jatz in NSW.

savoy biscuitI guess it’s now all in the past, but I do suspect some sort of 1960s shenanigans with all this. Which came first, the Savoy or the Jatz? Well, my extensive research indicates it was the Savoy. Which I think means Arnott’s must have blatantly tried to copy them when they created the Jatz. I mean, look, even the packet looks the same! Even Aldi wouldn’t be so bold. Perhaps they had to buy Brockhoff simply to close off any possible litigation by the former.

Anyway, enough of all that ancient history. What do they taste like? Well, rather like the Jatz, I suppose. They are a tiny bit crunchier, with a bit more ‘snap’, and yes, they are a bit paler in colour. So that pack artwork is quite correct.

They are also a bit saltier, and a bit less sweet. Indeed, checking the ingredients, we find more salt in the Savoy, and more sugar in the Jatz. Holding to the general rule that anything white and crystalline is probably going to kill you, albeit after you’ve enjoyed the experience it offers, both salt and sugar come with some caveats.

According to this learned Professor, salt is going to lead to heart attack and stroke, whilst according to this learned Doctor, sugar is going to lead to liver disease and diabetes. So I guess you could take your pick from those, and choose the Savoy or the Jatz accordingly. Or just take the ‘everything in moderation’ approach, and have some of each. That’s what I do, including doing the ‘moderation’ bit in strict moderation.

So if you usually eat Jatz, try some Savoys for a change. And if you’re a Savoy habitual, branch out with a Jatz. That way, we can all stay healthy, and also support the multitude of almost-the-same-but-different product lines that Arnott’s do so well.

I’m going to give them an eight out of ten, making it an honourable draw with the Jatz.

Arnott’s Shapes Extreme BBQ Ribs Blast

September 30, 2015 at 20:19 | Posted in biscuits | 1 Comment
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shapes extreme boxWe live in a world of immoderation. Everything around us is super-sized, extra-strong, ultra-intense. Marketers of the world conspire to convince us that their product will deliver that life-changing experience, even as we plug the mundane details of renewing our car insurance or buying a sandwich.

For the most part, Arnott’s avoids such excesses. Lemon Crisp packets are not labelled ‘OMG! Unbelievably addictive!‘. Ginger Nuts do not proclaim ‘The strongest biscuit in the world!‘. No, Arnott’s like some throwback to a more genteel time, prefer to be more understated, allowing the qualities of their products to speak for themselves.

Of a character or kind farthest removed from the ordinary or average‘. ‘Exceeding the bounds of moderation‘. Thus the dictionary defines the word ‘extreme’. And it seems Arnott’s have gone all out with this new Shapes Extreme range to do just that.

The packaging is riotous. The language is hyperbolic – ‘intense’, extreme’, ‘blast’. What on earth is all this about? It’s like seeing your grandfather at a rave party.

I have to say, my curmudgeon meter was dialled up to eleven on this one. These were going to be terrible. I could just sense it, and I took them to the checkout like some portent of doom, only buying them because of the paucity of alternative options at the servo where I stopped in a mad rush.

The fact that I was taking them to an orchestra rehearsal made it even worse. They were my contribution to supper; a supper that is enjoyed by a distinctly conservative, largely retired, and somewhat blue-rinsed collection of amateur violinists. Oh well, I thought, I suppose the trumpets might like them.

Somewhat embarrassed, I opened them in the break and sampled one. Shuddering slightly as I lifted it to my lips, I closed my eyes and took a bite.

and….    and…..

Where was it? Where was the tongue-stripping acid, the tang of monosodium glutamate, the flabby biscuit no more than a second-rate delivery mechanism for all that ‘extreme’?

shapes extreme biscuitMy god. They were actually good. Really good. Crispy and light, with a lovely texture. Flavoursome and savoury, with just the right balance of sweetness, unami, salt and spice. In some extraordinary way they reminded me of a really good naan bread in an Indian restaurant; which sounds weird but might make sense if you try them.

This was something extraordinary. Even more extraordinary was that everyone agreed. Retired solicitors queued up to get more. The double bass player who rarely speaks was heard to remark ‘mmmm, these are nice‘. They were gone in seconds, with me barely being able to grab the last few to take a picture for this blog.

So there you are. Never judge a book by its cover and all that. The only way these are ‘extreme’ is in the ‘extremely delicious’ sense of the word. Go and buy some. You won’t be disappointed. I’m going to give these a nine out of ten.

NSW Ginger Nut – revisited

September 22, 2015 at 19:09 | Posted in biscuits | 1 Comment
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ginger nut packBack in 2011, I looked at the NSW Ginger Nut. A truly remarkable piece of biscuit engineering, capable of withstanding the most extraordinary forces – eating it requires an almost karate-like skill. That review remains one of the most read on my blog (which is to say viewing figures are close to double figures), and certainly the most commented.

However, in recent times the comments have taken on a worrying edge. Commenters spoke darkly of the ‘influence of the Americans’, and hinted that the oh-so-uncompromising NSW Ginger Nut had ‘gone soft’.

Is this really the case? Could it be that Arnott’s lost their way, and dared to change the recipe? And after what happened last time?

This was something that needed urgent investigation. And given the trove of scientific data I amassed last time I looked at them, I thought it shouldn’t be too hard to find out if things had indeed changed for the worst.

First of all, though, I did some anecdotal trials with some randomly selected work colleagues. Did they think the Ginger Nut had gone soft? I procured a pack, and offered them around. The overwhelming consensus was that they were just as hard and unyielding as ever. Encouraging, but I wanted to know for sure.

A visual inspection yielded few clues:

ginger nut biscuitarnotts ginger nut biscuit





The 2011 picture is on the left, the 2015 on the right. What we can clearly see is that I have got better at photography in the last four years. But otherwise, they look pretty similar.

So it was time for the three-point-flexural test. I used the same board, the same weights and even the same cocktail stick, carefully retrieved from the Chillikebab archives:

arnotts ginger nut flexural test

So, how is it going to fare? Is this going to reveal that the NSW Ginger Nut is but a weak shadow of it’s former self, or is it going to stand tall, living up to it’s fine history?

Well, I started to pile the weights on top. More and more. And then, with a loud snap, it cracked.

arnotts ginger nut failure point

So what was the final tally? Well, as you can see by the high-precision weights piled on the top, it fractured when I reached 52.2 Newtons, or a little over 5kg. This result, as you will remember, is pretty much exactly the same as last time.

So you can rest easy in your beds, dear readers. It seems the NSW Ginger Nut is as strong and unyielding as it ever was. All I can suggest is perhaps those readers who had such painfully soft experiences had somehow got hold of one of the inferior Queensland varieties. So if there is a problem, perhaps it is in the logistics. Change your shopping location, seek out the NSW variety, and enjoy…

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