Storyland – Catherine McKinnon

October 28, 2019 at 16:47 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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Storyland is the second novel by Catherine McKinnon, and is an ambitious novel created out of a palindromic interlinking of different short stories – all linked by place, but moving from 1796 to a distant dystopian future and back again. The stories are all very rooted in the place – the area around Lake Illawarra, a few hours south of Sydney. This sense of place is well grounded; it is a very Australian story, and takes inspiration I think from the Aboriginal concept of songlines – stories that relate places and traverse the land.

The first story is a reimagined account of Matthew Flinders exploratory voyage south from Sydney in a small boat, and his encounters with the local Aboriginal nation of that region. As the stories move forward through time, that connection with both the land and Aboriginal experiences of modern Australia continue.

Some of the stories work better than others, but they are all evocative and thought provoking. I would say however that not all of them land very satisfactorily, and I somehow wish the linkage between them had been somehow both more subtle and also more overt.

This is a god book that is worth reading – its interesting structure and rich evocations of Australia make it very worthwhile. Yet somehow for me it falls sort of being a really great book – it just seems to struggle a bit under the weight of it’s ambition.

Boris Bikes and Electric Scooters

October 19, 2019 at 14:33 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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We just can back from holiday. Three weeks seeing family and doing touristy things in London and Paris. Getting back on the fixie to ride to work was hard work when we got back – a few weeks off the bike, and goodness does it feel like hard work. Or perhaps it was just the jetlag.

Anyway, I manage to ride at least one bike whilst we were away – I went for a short hop on a Boris Bike. These are, of course, the share bikes that were introduced to London when Boris Johnston was Mayor of London. I have no time at all for Boris. He is a nasty piece of work. But he does ride a bicycle. Which I suppose does show that even the worst of us can have at least one redeeming feature.

So what was it like? Well, it was fine. It felt easier to ride that the Melbourne bikes (from what I can remember). And London is certainly getting more bike friendly – there are a lot of bike lanes, and a lot of bikes around. It is quite a transformation. There’s still a lot to do – whilst the bike lanes and paths are busy, there is a lot of dicing with traffic you have to do as a London cyclist. Still, Sydney could certainly learn a thing or two from their approach.

I didn’t ride a Velib in Paris, but again I saw a lot of cyclists. Come on Sydney, it’s not that hard! But actually outnumbering bicycles in Paris were electric scooters. There are a couple of different companies operating electric scooters, and they are everywhere – and it seems extremely popular. One of the companies who operate them is Lime, and as I have a Lime subscription here in Sydney, I wondered if it would extend to Paris scooters. It did! So I jumper on a scooter, and headed out into the traffic. I have never ridden an electric scooter before. And, in retrospect, choosing to do it in the centre of Paris was perhaps a bit ambitious. Part terrifying. part exhilarating, it certainly seems to have captured the hearts of Parisians, as they fearlessly weave in and out of the traffic. My biggest fear was the small wheels on the uneven Paris road surfaces – the thing just felt one pothole away from a stack. But it was fine, and everyone else seemed fine, so perhaps it’s just an unfamiliarity thing.

I don’t think e-scooters with come to Sydney. The government is too busy mandating helmets for scooters in general, and making electric ones illegal. Because, you know, can’t have people using practical, active urban transport. It’s for their own good, you understand. They should be in a car. Like everyone else.

 

New bicycle!

October 12, 2019 at 20:13 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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A momentous day! A new bicycle has appeared in the Chillikebab household. Sadly, not for me. But for Chillikebab Jnr 2. It seems only a few months ago I was putting her into a tiny seat, but now she has graduated to hew first real ‘proper’ bike – a 24 inch wheeled beauty with hub gears.

I remember by first 24 inch wheel bike. It was an Enfield racer, bright yellow. And it was freedom. It was the first bike that I could really go places on. The combination of being older and having a bike that could cover distances meant I could really go exploring. It was independence, fun and adventure.

I see some of the same things with Chillikebab Jnr 2. With this bike, she can bowl along. She now leaves her sister behind (who refuses to ride a bike, and sticks to her scooter) on the way to school. She can cover distances. She feels grown up.

But what she doesn’t have is the freedom. She can’t go off and explore the neighbourhood by herself on that bike. Why? Because selfish car drivers don’t want her too. They are too concerned with their own convenience to consider the way they restrict the freedoms of others. They swing around corners, ignore red lights, don’t look where they are going, park on footpaths, intimidate vulnerable road users, and generally make the environment so intimidating and dangerous that an eight year old cannot navigate it alone. This makes me cross.

Still, on a happier note we went for a much longer ride today – all the way around the Bay Run. Chillikebab Jnr 2 did fine – hardly even broke a sweat. And she (and I) both had a ball. So here’s to the joy of riding a bike.

Bike share shenanigans

September 16, 2019 at 10:47 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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The Melbourne bike share scheme is going to be scrapped. It was the first bike share scheme to be launched in Australia, and was the traditional sort with fixed rental stations. I did take a ride on it some time ago, but unless I get to Melbourne before the end of the year, that first ride will also be my last.

Of course, the post-mortems go on about why it failed – too few stations, too far apart, in the wrong places, not enough bike lanes, too expensive etc etc. But whilst any one of those might have been a handicap, the real reason is Australia’s helmet laws. Given that you basically can’t legally use the scheme in the way they are designed to be used, it is sort of not surprising that it, erm, wasn’t used. And if you think that’s hyperbole, consider that there are only three urban fixed-station bike share schemes in the world that are failing – Melbourne, Brisbane, and Vancouver. The link? They are the only three in jurisdictions where mandatory helmet laws apply. Go figure.

Bike share bikes did make it into the news last week in Sydney too, when prominent ex-politician Sam Dastyari turned up to a corruption inquiry on one. This is a man who lost his job as a Labor senator some time ago because he was linked with dodgy donations from a dodgier businessman. He was due at the corruption commission as a witness in a different case involving a different part of the Labor party taking large sums of money in cash from a dodgy businessman. (If you are not from Australia, that might seem remarkable, but it’s pretty much politics as usual down here). Well, anyway, Sam had the temerity to ride on the footpath for a short distance outside the ICAC HQ, leading to a stern talking to by the NSW Police – including being issued with a caution for riding on the footpath. Keeping us safe as usual. Still, at least he was wearing a helmet.

Apocalypse

September 7, 2019 at 21:46 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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The weather riding home last night was apocalyptic. Dark, ominous clouds scudded across the sky. And a wild wind blew. Not the usual stormy wind that presages a change, with a cooling aspect. And not a steady breeze bringing moisture from the ocean. No, this was a hot wind, dry and dangerous, swirling and capricious. This was not a natural wind.

One of the interesting things about commuting to work on a bicycle is that you get to experience the weather. Every day, I ride for nearly two hours out in the open – rain or shine, heat or cold. Many of my friends an acquaintances I think truly never really experience the weather. They move from one controlled environment to another – home, car, office, shops – and only venture outside if the weather is ‘nice’. And, as a result, they do not seem to know anything about the weather, and how it is changing.

Not that I am claiming some kind of special insight. I am, after all, living a very privileged life – most of which is in the bubble. But at least, in those minutes on my bike, I have one connection with what is going on in the world.

And it is noticeable what is going on. It has been getting warmer and warmer. I have thrown away all my winter cycling jerseys, as I no longer wear them. Ten years ago, I wore them for two or three months of the year. I can’t remember the last time I needed leg warmers. After a hot day, the cool change that flows across the land seems to rarely come any more.

Like many people, global heating and climate change are of great concern to me. I read about islands disappearing into the sea, coral reefs dying, ice melting at unprecedented rates, forests and tundra burning, massive hurricanes, savage droughts.

But last night, I really felt it. The collapse of our climate is here. That wind was the result of unimaginable amounts of energy being added into our environment; heating seas and lands heaving under a suffocating blanket of CO2. This is not a drill, and this is not a problem for the future.

I don’t know what I can do. Like most of us, I am paralysed into inaction by the enormity of it all. But at least I can do this one small thing. To tell those people I know who live indoors that something is very wrong out there, right outside the window.

Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch

September 7, 2019 at 10:56 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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I got this book for Christmas, and finally read it. It’s a fantasy magic kind of thing. It is getting mostly rave reviews, and is billed as a kind of Harry Potter meets CSI.

It’s sort of fun, and it passed the time, but it’s not a great book in my opinion. The main character, Peter, just seems to sort of drift along, hordes of characters come and go and the ending is a bit of a muddle.

There is plenty to like; some good humour and the whole magic thing is quite well handled. It offers a rich taste of London life too, and it’s also nice to read a book with plenty of characters who are POC, but in a way that just so happens they are, rather than they being the point of their role in the story.

I doubt I’ll read any of the others in the series. But this would make a good holiday novel.

Puncture

September 1, 2019 at 13:27 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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I don’t get punctures any more. Truly. Punctures are a thing other people get – mostly people running silly narrow lightweight tyres at high pressures. Run 32mm, heavy-duty tyres at 85psi, and you will not get punctures.

Well, actually that’s not quite true. You might get one if you don’t replace the tyre when it is worn out. As the tyre gets very thin, you risk of punctures goes up. And as I tend to run my tyres until they are pretty much disintegrating, this does sometimes happen to me.

And so it did, and I got a puncture. So I bought the necessary ingredients, and fixed it all up. Hurrah.

 

 

Arnott’s Ginger Nut Dark Chocolate

August 27, 2019 at 17:49 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment

Arnott’s use peerless chocolate in their biscuits. They make it themselves, and it is really good – especially the dark chocolate. The rich enrobing of a Mint Slice, for example, is magnificent.

Arnott’s have experimented with some quite thick chocolate in the past; so much so that the biscuit almost becomes secondary. So I suppose it is kind of the next logical step to reduce the biscuit content so much that you actually end up with a bar of chocolate with bits of biscuit in it.

And this is what Arnott’s have done. They have made a bar of chocolate with the crumbs from the Ginger Nut production line swept into it.┬áThere are two burning questions this begs. The first is what it tastes like. The second is which type of Ginger Nut they have used.

The first question is easy to answer. It tastes amazing. This is really really good – the rich dark chocolate, the warmth of the ginger and the slight crunch of the biscuit pieces. come together to make a very harmonious experience.

The second question is harder, but after a good deal of forensic examination and micro-excavation, I am pretty confident that it is the NSW ginger nut that features in this confection.

Now, I am aware that this is hardly a biscuit. I mean we’ve pushed the envelope before, but please let me know if this is a step too far, and I will retreat. Alternatively, if you’d like me to look at the rest of the range (including the rather intriguing prospect of chocolate with Jatz in them) I will do so!

 

New pedals

August 24, 2019 at 13:25 | Posted in bicycles | 2 Comments
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So I needed new pedals again. Pesky things keep wearing out. ┬áThe first lot I had lasted ten years, according to this, but these one only lasted five. Perhaps I’m doing more kilometers on this bike than I was. Anyway, I bought some more, and got out my pedal wrench to fit them.

However, I hit a snag. I couldn’t get them off. They were stuck tight. I tried all sorts of things, different spanners, cheater bars, blocks of wood – but they would not budge. I even managed to break a fancy chrome-vanadium spanner in the attempt. I took the cranks off, and got the guys in the machine shop at work to have a crack at it with their array of professional vices, jigs and tools, but to no avail.

Oh dear. It seemed like I was going to have to replace the cranks as well. I looked at various options for crank replacements, but nothing seemed very easy. In the meantime, my feet were slopping around in the pedals like sloppy things.

Then, on they way to work, I popped into the bike shop. You might be thinking that I should probably have done this in the beginning. And you would be right. Using whatever secret bicycle shop techniques they have they managed to get the old pedals off, and put new ones on. Slightly fancier ones, to boot. They did wryly say ‘it was a bit tricky’. Anyway, kudos to the guys at Park Bikes. I am now set for another five or ten years…

Obstructions

August 20, 2019 at 20:46 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment

It was on the third occasion that I realised it was not the wind, or random chance, but that someone was deliberately placing things on the path to create a hazard. Mostly it was fallen branches from a nearby palm tree, but on this occasion it also included a quantity of empty cans strewn all over the path.

It’s happened six or seven times altogether, starting around April this year. The location is North Strathfield, on the relatively new path that runs alongside Powell’s Creek, at the Pomeroy St end.

I wonder who it is who feels the need to do this? It is aimed at cyclists? Or is it just a general anti-social nuisance? It’s always on the way home, so I guess it happens sometime during the day. When I come across it I stop and remove the obstruction before continuing. I wonder if others do the same, and in fact it happens nearly every day, or if is is just now and again.

Oh well. It’s not a major drama. Just a bit weird.

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