New bicycle for me!

March 21, 2020 at 20:26 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Yay! In these troubled times, I have a happy story of new bicycleness. Because I have a new bicycle!

It all started some months ago, when Mrs Chillikebab’s e-bike stopped working. The clutch in the motor would no longer engage – you would hear the motor spin up, but it would not drive the wheel. Sad to say Mrs Chillikebab does not ride it, but I did sometimes use that bike when an e-bike was useful. (Mostly when I was very hungover, tbh).

I took the bike to the e-bike shop, and they told me the could not just replace the clutch, as it was not available as a spare part. Instead they would have to order a new motor, which would cost $1,000. Considering you can now buy a brand-new e-bike for less than that this did not seem like a good deal.

I wasn’t super happy about the Gazelle having died. It had only done 1500km, and although it was 7 years old that didn’t feel like good value. It cost about $3,000 as I recall, which works out a $2 per km.

Given the high cost of repair, the shop said the wholesaler of Gazelle (who also handle some other brands) would offer me a discount on a new bike of any of their brands. And the shop offered to give me a $250 trade-in on the Gazelle, as they could use it for parts (they subsequently sold the battery for $200, I learned).

This was all happening at a time when getting to orchestra rehearsals was problematic. Mrs Chillikebab was using the car as the juniors had choir that night, and getting too and from rehearsals on the bus was something of an odyssey, especially on the way home (a 15km journey was taking me over 90 minutes…) I could go on the Radish, but in order to do this I had to literally jump on it the second I got home – which means I had just done an 18km commute on the fixie. The Radish is slow and heavy, and the route to orchestra is one long uphill slog. Perhaps I am getting old, but this was too much for me; I did do it once, but arrived very tired, hot and sweaty, and only just in time. (I can’t take the fixie to rehearsal, btw, as I don’t have any way of carrying my viola).

It suddenly occurred to me that a new e-bike was the solution. It would be much faster than the Radish, far less effort, and in the long run cheaper than endless taxis. So I went back to the shop to try them out.

I tried quite a few, but in the end settled on a Kalkhoff Agattu 1.I. (one dot eye. Or perhaps one dot ell. Or ell dot eye. I mean. 1.I. Someone didn’t really think that one through, did they? I bet it causes endless confusion…)

It has a mid-mounted motor that drives the crankshaft, which is different from the Gazelle which had a front wheel motor. This makes the bike handle better, as the wheels are not heavy. It has a lot more torque than the Gazelle had too. I also liked it because the rack was set well back (due to the battery placement) which was also important as I needed space to mount my panniers and then have my viola sticking up out of them. And it is a step-over frame, which is just the best for any kind of utility bike.

I did try a few other brands, including ones with rear and front wheel motors. They were all a lot more powerful than the old Gazelle. Clearly things have moved on in the last seven years. There was one (and NCM I think) that had a rear wheel motor that was extremely powerful. You actually didn’t need to put any effort in; just turning the pedals very slowly was enough to trigger the motor, which could then get you up quite a steep hill. I sort of didn’t really like this. I like my e-bike to ride like a bicycle with a magic whizz-along spell, not feel like a motorbike.

I took the bike home on the Saturday, enjoying the ride home. (So easy!) I needed it on Monday for orchestra, but after a couple of trips to the shops and so on Saturday, the battery needed charging. So I plugged it in to charge.

Nothing.

Zlitch. No lights, no beeps, no indicators. I left it in the hope something was happening, but after being on ‘charge’ for several hours, the battery was still only 15% full.

This as a disappointment. I called the shop, and they asked me to bring it in. I was not able to do this until the next weekend, so had to do the bus / taxi thing to orchestra on that Monday.

The next weekend I went back to the shop, and they realised they had given me the wrong charger. They are lovely in that shop (it’s the biggest e-bike specialist in Sydney), but they are, well, a tad disorganized. They are hugely busy (which I guess indicates the size of the e-bike boom going on right now), but also somewhat chaotic. Armed with the right charger, I went home and charged up the battery.

On Monday, I was ready. I got home, loaded the viola into the panniers, and set off. It all went very well. At least to start with. The bike whirred along, the evening was warm and I was happy.

As I got most of the way to the venue, something strange happened. The chain came off. I investigated, and it seemed the rear wheel had slipped in the drop-outs. As I didn’t have a 15mm spanner on me, I just had to put the chain back on and hope for the best. I got to the venue in plenty of time, not at all hot and tired, and was happy, even if the chain thing was annoying. Clearly the bike shop hadn’t tightened the wheel nuts enough.*

When I came out of rehearsal, it was raining. This was not something I had anticipated. I was wearing a cotton t-shirt and shorts. The temperature had also dropped considerably, reminding me that it was autumn, not summer. I set off, quickly getting soaked, the cold air making me shiver. On a e-bike you don’t really get warm pedaling. I suppose I could have switched the motor off, but it was late and I wanted to get home. I shivered along further, and of course the chain fell off again. And again. And again. I kept having to stop, in the raid, hands trembling with cold, to put the chain back on. It was not the happiest of rides.

The next day, I fixed up the rear wheel, and rode to the shops after work. All was well. Next week I would have no problems, enjoy the ride – and also take a rain jacket and a warm sweater for the ride home.

But then orchestra was cancelled due to COVID-19. So my whole reason for buying this bike sort of went away.

Anyway, it’s a super practical bike which I now use for popping out to the shops and so, unless I need a lot of stuff or am hauling the kids.

I did wonder if I would be tempted to ride it to work, and leave the fixie at home. The lure of the motor and all that. And I have ridden it to work a couple of times, mostly out of curiosity. But actually it’s no contest. The fixie is so much more fun. E-bikes are no doubt very practical. they open up cycling as an option for journeys that otherwise would be difficult. The magic force you feel when you accelerate away from the stop line is sort of exhilarating. But ultimately, they are a bit soulless. At least in my opinion. They might have power, but they are not alive like a regular bike.

 

 

* I recall what must be over ten years ago when I first took the fixie out for a test ride from the shop, the same thing happened. The rear wheel slipped in the drop-outs, and on that occasion I had to carry the bike back to the shop. You may also remember this.  I put it down to the extraordinary amount of torque my quads can apply to the pedals…

Tree clearing

March 4, 2020 at 13:13 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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We had some significant storms in Sydney recently. It was a huge relief in many ways, as we have had a disastrous drought that then led to horrific and unprecedented fires. Many of the fires are now extinguished, and the rain was extremely welcome – despite the wild weather, no-one was complaining, we were all just so glad to see the rain.

The deluge, coupled with high winds did, however, cause some damage – there were flash floods, and trees came down in various places across Sydney. One of those places was across the path in the park I ride through on the way to work. It wasn’t completely blocked, but it was a pain to squeeze by next to the fence, through a muddy, sandy area.

I did report it to the council, but after a few days it was still there, so I took it upon myself to take a small saw in my backpack to clear it on the way to work. It was rather harder work than I anticipated (the saw was small and blunt, the tree was larger than it looked), but in the end I managed it. I’m not sure which was harder, actually, this tree or the last one I cleared from a path. I wonder how long it will be before the council come and clear it properly?

 

 

Wings of Fire; The Dragonet Prophecy – Tui T. Sutherland

February 26, 2020 at 14:36 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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Chillikebab junior the first turns ten years old soon. I asked her what theme she wanted for her birthday party, and she wanted it dragon themed. Specifically Wings of Fire themed. There had to be a quest, and a prophecy, and dragon eggs, and fire, and magic. I enthusiastically joined in with this, suggesting a range of cool things I could do – from making dragon eggs to creating an escape room to brewing magic potions and so on. My imagination ran wild, whilst Chillikebab jnr’s eyes grew wide and she proclaimed that it was going to be cool. (I had, at the time, consumed a fair number of alcoholic beverages, it should be noted.)

I should take this, I suppose. Once she turns ten, I doubt her dad will ever be cool again. But in the cold light of day, the scale of what I had suggested and the expectations I had set up were a little daunting. I had a lot to do… (I’ve also stopped drinking. At least for a while. Remind me not to start again until after Chillikebab junior the second’s birthday.)

Anway, I am now engaged in mounding dragon eggs out of paper mache, googling where I can buy dry ice and writing prophesies in rhyming couplets. Ho hum.

In order to ensure verisimilitude in my approach to the prophesy writing (it’s not easy being a prophet, let me tell you), I read the first book in the Wings of Fire series. They are kids books, but also popular with adults it seems. they are New York Times bestsellers, no less.

I don’t know what to say about it really. It’s non-stop violent action from start to finish. Battles, fights, sadistic torture, imprisonment, gladiatorial arenas, horrible deaths, mutilations and poisonings. There’s a sort of story about five young dragons that are going to save the world, there’s a war happening, and there’s some mysterious goings on. That’s probably all you need to know. It rattles along at a cracking pace, and I can see why my daughter likes them – they are action packed.

There’s not much scenery, however. The world the dragons inhabit is barely sketched; this is not an immersive and intriguing universe that you can visit in your head. There’s also a load of glaring inconsistencies that left me scratching my head; the dragons have rather clumsy claws but are also able to put a hand on each others’ shoulders; they move things by awkwardly pushing them around with their snouts but somehow they also have magnificent castles and complicated metalwork; their bones are stronger than diamond and can’t break, yet they do break when they fight. And so on. Perhaps I’m too much of a pedant.

Anyway, I now have a better idea of how to plan this party. Perhaps some kind of death match where the last child is left standing…

Identity Crisis – Ben Elton

February 19, 2020 at 15:00 | Posted in books | 1 Comment
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This book is very Ben Elton. You know – take a current societal conflict or controversy, dial it up to some sort of extreme, and create a satirical comedy about it that also acts as a pointed commentary on the ills of the world and our relentless slide into conflict, nihilism and catastrophe.

The topic for this book is ‘culture wars’, and the way bad actors manipulate public opinion via social media campaigns in order to sow discord and win elections, with side tours into reality TV, policing and race.

It’s OK. Elton’s books are very readable, and it rattles along in fine style, with plot twists and cliffhangers aplenty. But somehow I feel it doesn’t quite connect with its targets; many of the characters are not quite right and at times I get the distinct impression that Elton is dealing with subjects that he does not properly understand himself – and his pointed satire about how tone deaf we all are comes off as a bit, well, tone deaf.

Hey ho. If you are unaware of the link between social media, fascism and populist election wins, then you might learn something from this book. (Of you could read what actually happens – I suggest starting with Carol Cadwalladr.) But for me this wasn’t one of Elton’s best.

 

Mythos – Stephen Fry

February 8, 2020 at 20:41 | Posted in books | 1 Comment
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About thirty years ago, Mrs Chillikebab and I got married, and went to Greece on our honeymoon. We had a lovely time walking on the beach, swimming in the sea, visiting the many wonderful ancient Greek sites and drinking beer. The beer was, I recall, Mythos.

Mythos beer is now available in Australia. So the other day we ordered one, hoping to relive a little of our honeymoon. Did the taste of that fizzy golden lager bring back memories of our younger selves lying lithe on the sand? Well, not really, because Mythos beer, it turns our, is not that good when not drunk in Greece whilst on holiday. So the whole thing was a bit of a disappointment.

This incident was brought to mind just a few days later when I picked up a book to read, titled Mythos. Written by Stephen Fry, it is a retelling of various Greek myths in a contemporary style. I think the standard term is ‘made accessible for the modern reader’ or something. I have very much enjoyed Fry’s other books, so was indeed hoping for a good dollop of accessibility, and even possibly some entertainment. (Although I do feel that I’m rapidly reaching an age where to call my self a ‘modern reader’ is a bit of a stretch…). But then again my recent disappointment with a Mythos product was in my mind too. How would this one go?

The stuff of Greek legends is, well, the stuff of legend, You know – Prometheus, Zeus, Poseidon, Aphrodite, Spartacus, Thor, and all the rest. Now, here’s a thing. I have always struggled with this kind of thing, because I have an atrocious memory for names. People who are good at remembering names like Greek myths. But people like me struggle. Opera and jazz and much the same. In fact, I reckon the Venn diagram of people who like Greek myths, jazz and opera would be a circle. They are all sort of fun, all sort of inaccessible and all seen to require a near encyclopedic recall of names. (I bet Stephen Fry likes jazz. And opera. And I bet he can name loads of singers, bandleaders and the rest.)

Anyway, Mythos was fun. Fry’s retelling are lively and easy to read. It is entertaining. The stories are quite good, as it turns out (although if I was being critical I’d say a few of them were rather same-y. I sense plagiarism was an issue amongst ancient Greek bards). But. But but but. The names thing. Oh my goodness. Chapters start with things like ‘You recall earlier how we learned that Achaeus was son of Xuthus and Creusaon, well….’.  Well no, Stephen, I don’t recall. I don’t recall at all. All those names just blur together before vanishing into the mists of forgetfulness.

I fear there is no hope for me. I enjoyed Mythos. But it has not helped one jot in making me sound more erudite at parties by being able to name drop Greek deities. They just drifted from my head minutes after finishing each chapter.

Arnott’s Shapes – Meat Pie flavour

February 1, 2020 at 12:42 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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This is the other flavour in the new Arnott’s ‘Aussie legends’ range (we looked at the Sausage Sizzle ones a little while ago), and I suppose is another iconic Australian comestible. When we moved to Australia I recall going into a pie shop and being somewhat confused by the range on offer. Sure, there was Steak and Mushroom, Steak and Cheese, Chicken and Vegetable and all the rest, but the one at the top of the list was simply called ‘Plain Pie’. Plain? What was a plain pie, I wondered. So I bought one.

It was some sort of meat (I think beef), mostly minced, in a sort of thick gravy. It was salty, and not very nice. Clearly it is this type of pie that Arnott’s set out to celebrate with this new flavour, rather than any gourmet or specialty variety.

I know this because these new Meat Pie Shapes are disgusting. They are even worse that that plain pie. They are worse than that mass-produced, been-in-the-warmer-for-hours pie you get from the servo late at night when you are hungry on a drive, and that’s all there is and you buy it even though you know it won’t be very nice (and it isn’t). They are absolutely revolting.

I suppose if Arnott’s were setting out to celebrate just how low and just how nasty the meat pie can be in Australian culture, they have succeeded admirably. When you open the packet, the first thing you notice is the smell. It is horrible. AsI opened them, my whole family (at the other end of the kitchen) called out ‘what’s the horrible smell? Smells like dog treats.’ If you touch them, the smell gets onto your fingers, and is extremely hard to wash off. I washed my hands four or five times in the end, but that disgusting smell still lingered to my fingertips, making me heave if I brought them to my nose.

The flavour is nasty. Honestly, I can’t really make a clear assessment of how closely they resemble a meat pie in taste, as I was kind of gagging as I forced a few down for this review. Just accept that they are not nice at all.

I’m not the only one who thinks this, btw.

I think they might even be worse than this abomination from a few years ago. Just No, Arnott’s. No.

 

The Binding – Bridget Collins

January 24, 2020 at 12:48 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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The Binding is apparently a genre called ‘magical realism’, which seems like an oxymoron to me, but hey. It was a Christmas present, and I read it over the holidays. It’s set in a sort of quasi-19th-century parallel universe, where books are not as we know them – rather they are magical objects, created by ‘Binders’, and they contain real human memories. If you go to a Binder and have your memories put into a book, then those memories are erased from your mind. I thought this premise was quite intriguing, and certainly quite thought provoking.

The book is in three parts, and it revolves around to main characters (and is told in their voices) – Emmett Farmer, a farmer’s son, and Lucian Darnay, the privileged son of a wealthy industrialist.

The first part of the book is, I thought, slow going. It’s full of those ‘you aren’t allowed to know that’ tropes that can be intriguing, but actually sort of got so piled on they were in the way of the story. Anyway, eventually the real nature of books is revealed, and Emmett ends up, after a feverish illness, apprenticed to a Binder in a remote spot far away from civilization.

The backstory to this is revealed in part two, which is the best part of the book, I think. It’s a love story, although not a conventional one, quite nicely told.

Part three gets very dark; the sinister underbelly of this bucolic society is revealed and the role of Binding in hiding abusive behaviour is revealed. There were some exciting parts in this, but I wasn’t a big fan of the ending. Your mileage may vary.

Looking at reviews, this seems to be a book you either love or hate. I sort of mostly liked it, which I suppose puts me in the middle. If you like magical realism, then I think you would like this book. The premise is intriguing, the alternative world that Collins creates is sophisticated, well drawn and full of colour and detail, and the characters are vivid and alive. All this is a joy to read. But there are some niggles; some slow points, some internal inconsistencies and some pacing issues that prevented me, at least, from fully immersing myself into this book.

 

Arnott’s Shapes – sausage sizzle flavour

January 15, 2020 at 20:29 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment

Ahhh, The sausage sizzle. Such an iconic Australian thing. On the approach to almost any supermarket, DIY store or school event you can start to smell it; the burnt grease, cheap meat and frying onion aroma. Then it comes into view; a bunch of burly men burning sausages on a large, flat BBQ with the women put to work taking gold coin donations, pointing people towards the sauce bottles and shouting ‘two with onions’ to the men behind them.

It is, without doubt, Australia’s national dish. A sausage (or ‘snag’), on a slice of white bread, with onions on the top, with either tomato or ideally BBQ sauce. You might also have American-style mustard on it, but this is considered a bit avante-guarde and suspicious. If it’s a really posh sizzle they might even give you a bread roll – not a hot-dog roll though (goodness, NO), but a Vietnamese crusty roll from a local baker. This roll, of offered, is undoubtedly the best part of the whole assemblage. But the true-blue Aussie will prefer a soggy slice of white bread every time.

Australian’s take the sausage sizzle extremely seriously. One only has to look at opposition leader Bill Shorten’s faux-pas with a sausage to understand how he lost the ‘unloseable’ election in a shock defeat, never having regained the nation’s trust after that event. National DIY chain Bunnings caused outrage and boycotts when they suggested the onions should be placed underneath the sausage (sacrilege!). Even a relative benign suggestion from a top Aussie chef Adam Liaw on how to make the bread fit better caused online outrage.

And so it is into these shark-infested waters Arnott’s boldly tread with their ‘Sausage Sizzle’ range of Shapes biscuits. I guess they are emboldened by the success of their Vegemite shapes, which are truly terrific, and are scouring other Australiana to exploit. (There’s also a Meat Pie flavour that I will come to in due course).

The box features the iconic comestible. They’ve avoided the obvious tripwires – the sausage is diagonal, it is on a regular slice of white bread, the onions are on top, it has BBQ sauce. Yet I’m a bit suspicious about that BBQ sauce. A wavy line piped on top of the sausage? Seems a bit fancy to me. Everyone knows you just squirt it along the edge of the sausage. I hope Arnott’s are equipped to deal with the backlash. #saucegate

Anyway, what do they taste like? To be honest, it’s not a bad representation, in taste terms, of the sausage sizzle. Their taste teams have really done a first-class job here; there is sausage, onion and a hint of sweet sauce to be made out, which is quite remarkable. It’s not quite up to WIlly Wonka standards, but it’s pretty good.

Yet somehow this doesn’t work. I think it is the mismatch between the texture and the taste. A sausage sizzle is soft and pappy. These are crunchy biscuits. There’s a cognitive dissonance there which I couldn’t quite get over. So they are OK, but somehow not great. I’m going to give them six out of ten, with a bonus point for flavour ingenuity.

Postscript

I almost forgot – these shapes also have Tasmania flavoured ones in there. When they launched the Vegemite version, Arnott’s were desperately trying to court controversy (or perhaps head one off) with some half-baked campaign around Tassie being missing from the biscuit shape (Tasmania is, for international readers, an island somewhere down near Antarctica that is apparently part of Australia). As far as I know this attempt to spark attention on social media utterly failed, but they are still flogging it, this time by including Tasmania. Give it up, guys. No-one cares.

 

Teenagers on bikes

January 11, 2020 at 20:39 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment

We recently went on holiday, down to the south coast. We got caught up in the bushfire crisis on NYE, and it was extremely scary. I did write a blog post about it, but it’s rather personal and not about bicycles, books or biscuits, so it has a password. If you’d like to read it, drop me a line and I might give you the password, but please don’t be offended if I don’t (and if you do know me, the password is my surname).

Anyway, there was one positive bicycle-related aspect of the whole experience. You see, we were cut off in a situation with no electricity, internet or phone coverage. So our devices were pretty much useless, and in any case soon ran out of battery.

What was really interesting about this was the number of kids who, with apparently nothing else to do, rode around the neighbourhood on bikes. There were few cars on the road (as there as nowhere to go), but there were hordes of bikes. It seemed every child over ten who was staying in one of the many caravan parks in the area took to their bike and went for a ride. It was very noticeable.

And virtually none of them were wearing helmets.

Who would have thought. Take away the devices, take away the cars, make the ‘rules’ seem irrelevant and suddenly bikes are everywhere. It was like the 1970s all over again.

It was a small thing in the midst of a very anxious situation, but it was enough to at least for me to give a wry smile.

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