Arnott’s Shapes – Lamb and Rosemary

May 29, 2020 at 19:29 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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Such excitement! Even in these pandemic times, Arnott’s continues to expand its Aussie Legends series of Shapes, with a new addition to the range – Lamb and Rosemary.

When I think of lamb, I think of Sam Kekovich – more particularly this ad, which was airing right about the time we arrived in Australia. It was my first introduction to Australian humour, and I recall it being shared around the office on this newfangled YouTube thing to roars of laughter. I still think it’s one of the best Australia Day lamb ads they did.

Anyway, would Kekovich give these new Shapes his seal of approval? I’m not so sure. They are actually pretty tasty, and a huge improvement on the revolting meat pie flavour ones. But I’m not sure they quite capture a juicy lamb chop. The actually taste like you’d expect a lamb stock cube to taste. With some added rosemary. They are quite chompable, but not a classic. I’m going to give them a six out of ten.

Electric riding

May 18, 2020 at 13:47 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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A while ago, I bought a new electric bike. I bought if to do a particular journey, but since buying the bike I have had no need to make that journey, due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Oh well. Still, at least I bought it prior to the pandemic, as apparently getting an electric bike in Sydney right now is nigh-on impossible.

Although I hadn’t intended to ride it to work, recently the fixie was off the road for three weeks with drivetrain issues, so I ended up riding it almost every day. It was an interesting experience. Riding an electric bike is different to a regular one. Not in terms of the speed you go, or the route you take, but in terms of your preparation. Of course, you do not need preparation to ride a regular bike. I ride around on my bikes in jeans and thongs all the time. But the 15km to work is a bit too far for a very casual ride under my own steam, and in any case I enjoy the exercise. So usually I ride to work wearing cycling knicks with shorts over the top and a sports t-shirt, as well as my clip-clop cycling shoes. When I get to work I usually need a shower, unless it is a very cold day. So I shower and change. And then I do it all again on the ride home.

On the electric bike, I can just ride in my work clothes. When I get to work, I can go to my desk and start. And when it’s time to leave, I can just get onto the bike and ride home. It is on one level very liberating, and absolutely answers all the ‘cycling isn’t practical for me because you have to change / shower / get sweaty / yadda yadda’.  It makes it quicker and more spontaneous.

It’s also very boring. Not nearly as boring as driving, of course, but more boring than riding a regular bike. I miss that sense of temperature, of the terrain, of the physicality of my body, of connection with the journey. You just sit on the bike and twiddle your legs around until you get where you are going.

That’s not to say electric bikes are bad. They are not. They are fantastic, and I recommend the wholeheartedly to everyone. You can jump on one and go somewhere at any time, in any weather, wearing just what you could wear to walk outside the house, and get where you need to go quickly and efficiently. But I was wondering if that ease would actually be seductive. Whether going back to the regular bike would be a struggle, and if the electric bike would be a temptation – especially on a cold or wet morning. But it wasn’t. I couldn’t wait to get back on the fixie, and my first ride to work on it once it was sorted was an absolute joy. I grinned and sang and laughed and felt my spirits soar as I pushed those pedals around with no artificial assistance.

Electric bikes are amazing. The are practical. And I hope they help to get more people riding. But, in the end, they have no soul.



Fixing the Fixie

May 11, 2020 at 20:42 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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As you will recall, I had a few problems with the drivetrain on the fixie. The chain was worn, yes, but I also discovered that the rear cog was disintegrating. I ordered another one, scouring the online stores for a place that had a 17T cog in stock, preferably of a type that was not one of the cheap black ones like the one that failed.

17T must not be a popular size. Which is odd, as everyone knows that 48×17 is THE proper ratio for a fixie. It is perfect in every respect, from evenness of wear to hill climbing, from average speed to skid spots. But no-one had them in stock. Many places didn’t even stock them – they have 14, 15, 16, 18, 19 and 20T in the range, but no 17T. The few places that did have them only had those nasty cheap black ones.

Eventually, though, I found a store that had a 17T CroMoly cog, and duly ordered it. It took over two weeks to arrive, and when it did the shop had sent me the wrong sort – I had another cheap black one. In the meantime I had been riding the electric bike, and I desperately needed to ride a real bike. A fun fun fun bike. So in the end I just fitted the cheap cog, and forewent the $10 price difference. I’ll have to buy a proper one and replace it soon.

But at least for now the fixie whirrs along smoothly. It’s the first time I have replaced a chain and rear cog, so I was quite pleased with myself! And it looks nice too.

Vale Sydney Cyclist

May 4, 2020 at 20:37 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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When I first moved to Sydney, I hadn’t ridden a bicycle in years. I used to be a keen cyclist, but in my late teens and early twenties I gradually stopped riding as the insidious influence of the motor car overtook me. We did not have a car for the first few years that we lived in Australia, and it soon became apparent that a bike was going to be the most practical way to get to work. So I rediscovered the joy of riding

Not long after that, I found Set up by a local keen cyclist and IT expert Damian Maclennan, it was an online hub for the Sydney cycling community in the days before Facebook, Reddit and all the rest. I joined in with gusto, hanging out, learning new things, meeting new people. Most of the cycling content of this blog was cross-posted to SydneyCyclist, and probably got more readers there than here.

The SydneCyclist website turned me from a whatever cyclist into a cyclist advocate. It took me in all sorts of different directions – from being an expert witness to a Senate Inquiry to (almost) being CEO of Bicycle NSW.

It has run its course, as these things tend to do. The owner of the site, Damian, closed it down at the end of April amidst dwindling participation and an increasingly dated platform. But given how formative it was in my development as a cyclist, I though I would list the ten most important things it brought to me during that formative period.

1) Don’t be a hater

I used to be opinionated. Like most people, I guess. But after a not-well-though-out derogatory comment about a video that lots of people had worked hard to produce, I got a gentle ‘don’t be a hater’ lesson from Damian. It was salutary, and informed my future interactions on the site. Damian’s presence on SC over the years – guiding and moderating – should not be underestimated. Communities only succeed when they are nurtured. Thanks, Damian

2) Helmets

Oh my. I pretty much did a PhD in bicycle helmet science on that site. Much of it was sparring with helmet-zealot-turned-researcher Tim Churches, although there were many others who contributed. I learned a huge amount, changed a few minds, and spent far far too much of my life reading academic journals. If I have a regret it is that the original poster of the main helmet threads subsequently deleted them – and all my work was lost. I would have liked to have at least copied some of the more substantive things for me to keep. Ah well. Perhaps it’s for the best that that period of my life is closed.

3) Awaba Street

The steepest street in Sydney became something of a meme in the early days of SydneyCyclist. Various people describing it became poeple posting their times which I think might even have morphed into a fully-fledged race meet. I don’t really do competitive, but I did manage to get up it on the fixie, Which earned me some kudos in the days before Strava.

4) Helmets again

As a result of all that stuff, I made a submission to that strange Senate Inquiry set up by now-ex-Senator Leyonhjelm into personal freedom, and was subsequently invited to give evidence. It was all sort of fun and exciting, and I got my words into Hansard. Of course, an election was called mid-inquiry, so it all came to naught. Oh well.

5) Meet ups

In the early days of SC, there were several meet-ups. I recall spending happy hours drinking beer with people I had only conversed with online. I also won a jersey, which was even more exciting. Good times.

6) Advocacy

Thanks to SC, I became a cycling advocate. I made (and still make) regular submissions to government planning consultations, write to businesses, politicians and the like. I also joined the (now defunct) Australian Cyclists Party – the only political party I have ever joined – and even arranged to get flyers printed for them, giving them out on Pyrmont Bridge.

7) The almost CEO

Through contacts on the site, I was encouraged to apply for the CEO position for BNSW when it came up some years ago. I got through to the last two, which was an interesting experience. In the end, Omar pipped me to the job. To this day, I don’t know if I dodged a bullet, or missed a life-changing opportunity. Maybe both.

8) Fixie rides

I have fond memories of group fixie rides with Damian and others that were organised through the site. I rarely do organised rides, but those were fun. Sometimes some non fixie riders would come along too! Tootling around Centennial Park with like minded souls was, well, good for the soul.

9) Bike help

How many times did I wonder about using a chain-breaker, or struggle with disc brake pads, or need advice on wheel nut sizing? SydneyCyclist was a wealth of helpful advice and knowledge. Thanks to all who educated me.

10) Friends

I met a lot of truly lovely people through the SydneyCyclist website. Many I have met in person, some only online, but all of them I am now honoured to count as my friends. I hope I can stay in touch with many them now the site has dissolved.


Thanks to everyone who made what it was, and thanks especially to Damian for all his work. (You can read an interview with him about the site here.) Stay in touch if you can (refugees from SC can get in contact with me via this blog), and I hope to see many of you again soon.

Sprocket disintegration

April 13, 2020 at 17:01 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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I knew the drivetrain on my fixie was on its last legs. I had been moving the rear wheel back in the dropouts for a while, as the chain stretched. My drivetrain gets a rough deal. The last 200m of my ride to work is past a rock crushing plant, and there is grit and dirt all over the road. To keep the dust down, there is also a road sweeper spraying water everywhere continuously, which means that this last section basically sprays gritty mud up from the wheels all over the bike. And because I am lazy, I rarely clean my chain. Or my bike, actually. So the chain grinds away rather faster than it should.

Anyway, last time I had the bike serviced I had a complete new drivetrain – chainwheel, sprocket and chain. In the normal course of events, the cogs outlast the chain, so I thought i’d just buy a new chain and replace it myself. The new chain duly arrived, and I removed the old one (excitedly getting to use my chain breaker tool. I think it’s the second time I ave ever used it!).

I cleaned up the chainwheel and rear cog, but upon cleaning the rear cog found something a little disconcerting. It appeared that most of the teeth had sheared off. Apparently I was riding around with perhaps only 8 functional teeth out of 17…

My initial thought was to take it to the bike shop, but filled with enthusiasm after my chain-breaker tool experience, I broke out the chain whip and lock ring removal thingy (I don’t even know what it’s called). My tools are of the basic (read: cheap) variety, and often struggle with tight or tricky parts, but they actually did their job admirably, and I was able to get the lock ring and sprocket off with little difficulty.

I went looking for a replacement cog online; but it seems all the 17T ones were sold out. They had 16T and 18T aplenty, but no 17T – except for the cheap black ones that looked suspiciously like the one I had just taken off. My advice now would be to steer clear of such cogs made from pressed steel, and look for machined ones from hardened alloy. Oh well, I’ll keep looking. Or perhaps go into the bike shop just to get the sprocket…

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.


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.

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