A cycling suburb

November 29, 2016 at 14:10 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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manly-bike-rackI recently had to go to Manly for a meeting, so rode my bike into the city to catch the ferry. This is really a great way to start the morning – a ride, followed by a harbour cruise. Taking bikes on the ferry is very easy; access is flat or via ramps, there are wide gates and plenty of room, and bikes are welcome on Sydney ferries. The Manly ferry has dedicated bike storage places near the gangway. (Sydney Trains could learn a thing or two about being bike friendly from the ferries).

And when I got to Manly, I was struck by how many bikes there were. bikes-on-railingsLots of people riding – a diverse group, with plenty of women and people in regular clothes. This is a good sign of a healthy cycling culture. I also happen to know that Manly has a very low (by Australian standard) rate of helmet wearing – something not entirely unconnected to this. In the past, Manly police have publicly said they do not focus on helmets, as it is not an important issue. A rare example of sanity on this issue. More recently the government-sanctioned police harassment of cyclists over the new rules has occurred to a degree in Manly, but I was pleased to see cycling is still apparently thriving. The bike racks around the ferry wharf  were completely full, with bikes locked up to every available railing nearby – it was a positively Dutch scene. The insouciance of cyclists blatantly ignoring the directions to not put bikes on the wharf was also heartening to me.

There is no doubt that the current NSW government is doing their best to remove cyclists from our streets. And this can be depressing sometimes. They will not succeed. They may try to hold back the tide, to cling to a 1950’s car-centric world view. But it is futile. Around the world, and in Manly, that tide is turning.

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Bicycle fossicking

November 22, 2016 at 13:47 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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oldtonewWell, it’s that time of the week again when we switch on our unrelenting positivism and take a look at the joy of cycling. (Something that is, admittedly, a little challenging this week, with stories like this in the news.) Anyway, this week’s small tale involves me riding to work along a street preparing for council clean-up.

There’s a certain fascination at looking at the things people put out on the verge; a sort of glimpse into the lives of others – and riding a bike is a good way to do it. Slow enough that you can take a look, but quicker than walking (so you cover more ground), and not too quick (as in the car, when you should be concentrating on the road, not the junk on the verge).

Anyway, as I rode past a house this morning, I noticed a broken down cubby house of the same type the Chillikebab kids like to play on in our garden. As it happens, the Chillikebab cubby is not in great shape, as the connecting strut is showing the strain of having excited kids hanging of it. So I stopped, and noticed the house owner was sitting outside on his verandah enjoying the sunshine.

‘Mind if I have a rummage?’ I asked, and he said of course not. I looked, but it seemed this vital piece of the cubby was missing. ‘Do you have the bar thing that goes across?’ I asked, and he said he hadn’t been able to find it. I explained why I needed it, and he said he’d keep an eye out for it, and put it up on his wall for me if he found it.

And, on the way home, there it was! He was still outside his house, so I said my thank yous, chatted for a bit, and then headed home with my prize, which pleased the little Chillikebabs no end. A nice little story – reclaiming some junk, fixing something, having a pleasant interaction with a neighbour. All facilitated by a bicycle.

One Man and his Bike – Mike Carter

November 16, 2016 at 04:04 | Posted in bicycles, books | Leave a comment
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one-man-and-his-bikeAnother uplifting and happy cycling story, as promised. Actually, this one isn’t really about me cycling. But I reckon reading about someone else cycling, and enjoying it, probably counts. And it’s sort of cool that I get to put this post in both the ‘books’ and the ‘bicycles’ category on my blog.

Mike Carter is a bloke who was unhappy with his life; unsure what he wanted and where he was going. So he got on his bike, and pedalled all the way around Britain. Along the way he met a lot of very nice people, had a lot of lovely experiences, and met a few not so nice people sometimes.

It’s an easy book to read with a gentle, self-deprecating humour. And the key themes that come out are:

  • Riding a bike is the best way to travel
  • Most people in the world are very nice
  • The secret of happiness is less stuff, and more connectedness with other people. And to ride a bicycle.

In a world that seems to be going increasingly crazy, perhaps those are things we should all reflect on.

Two Brothers – Ben Elton

November 10, 2016 at 12:19 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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Mben-elton-two-brothersotormouth stand-up comic, social activist and novelist; Ben Elton is a man with many strings to his bow. Usually his novels are satirical reflections on the state of society – fun, fast-paced and a bit preachy. Much like his stand-up routines.

However, in this novel (billed as ‘his most personal to date’), he assumes the mantle of a more serious novelist, tracing the story of two brothers brought up in pre-WW2 Berlin in a Jewish family. The twist, though, is that one of them is not Jewish at all, but adopted at birth to replace a twin that was stillborn.

There then follows a rather unlikely story, involving the two brothers both falling in love with Dagmar, a Jewish heiress whilst maintaining a friendship with Silke, daughter of their maid. It twists and turns, with each brother taking the place of the other, into an ultimate scenario where one brother enlists with the Waffen SS and the other in the British army. Be clear, though, the brother in the SS hates Nazis, and is only joining it to save Dagmar. Who does Dagmar really love? Why does one of the brothers marry Silke? The plot has been described as ‘Archer-esque’, and indeed it does have echoes of a Jeffrey Archer novel.

It’s easy to read. But. It’s long and clunky, with far to many side-expositions, sub-plots, back-stories and lengthy discourses. Yes, we get that the Nazis are bad. Really really bad. Yes, we get pre-war Berlin was a crazy city. Yes, we understand the horrors of WW2. Whilst reading this book, I kept wishing great chunks of it could be excised or pared back. Elton can’t avoid preaching, and it gets in the way. Less could have been more, I think.

Elton can write with pace, and the story rattles along well enough. The historical backdrop is well researched, and vivid. But it’s not quite the novel I think he wanted it to be.

 

Vale Peugeot

November 9, 2016 at 12:46 | Posted in bicycles | 2 Comments
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img_9172Another in my series of happy tales about cycling. At least, I think it’s a happy tale. You may disagree after you read it.

Do you remember this bike? Well, you will remember that I sold it some years ago to a mate. And, since that fateful day, he has been riding it everywhere. A daily commute from Alembie Heights to the city. Tours of the inner west. And even a stint in Fiji, when he worked there for a year.

img_9175Well, the other day, I received some sad news. The wonderful old lady had pedalled her last. Whilst pulling up the Lilyfield Road hill, the frame snapped. Of course, my friend was adamant that this was due to the awesome amount of power his legs were undoubtedly transmitting through the frame. More likely the thirty-year old frame simply succumbed to corrosion.

Now, this is, I suppose, sad. But I prefer to look at the positive. This is a bike that gave at least two people the passion to ride. It’s a bike that was in use up until the end, rather than rotting away on a roadside verge after a council clean-up. It’s a bike that was loved, and will be remembered and replaced.

We went out for beers to celebrate the life of the Peugeot. Quite a lot of beers, actually. Now I just have to persuade my mate to replace her with a fixie…

Shapes – Cheese and Bacon (New)

November 5, 2016 at 19:37 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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arnott's shapes bacon and cheese flavourThere’s an old saying amongst chefs; if you want to give something that is otherwise a bit bland instant appeal, simply add cheese and bacon. There’s something magic about that combination of fat, protein and salt that is just irresistible. But do Arnott’s capture this irresistibility with the Cheese and Bacon shapes?

Of course, the controversy is still still raging about the ‘new’ Arnott’s Shapes. I covered this new Shapes debacle last time when I looked at the Barbecue flavour. Almost half a year on, the backlash continues; social media is still alight with negativity about the new flavours, and Arnott’s have actually had to re-introduce the original Pizza flavour in an attempt to prevent street riots and the like.

Cheese and Bacon is not a flavour I have previously tried, so I have no idea what the original ones tasted like. So in one way this is a kind of more pure review, untarnished by sentimentality.

The biscuits themselves are dusted with flavouring, and appear to have flecks of bacon embedded in them. With no bacon listed in the ingredients, however, I’m fairly confident these are just coloured bits of – something. Perhaps it’s best not to ask too many questions.

And they taste sort of cheese and bacony. Salty, cheesy, savoury. Not too sweet (a fault which bedevilled the new Barbecue flavour). Nice texture. Not a classic, but pretty good. Suitable moreish. So for these at least, I’m going to give the new flavour a thumbs up with a creditable five out of ten. Those with experience of the original Cheese and Bacon can unload below in the comments…

Cycling Tokyo

November 2, 2016 at 21:19 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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me-with-bike-in-tokyoAnother up-beat and positive cycling story, but not from Australia. I recently had to visit Japan on business, and due to a quirk of scheduling ended up with some free time in Tokyo – enough free time, in fact, do take a cycling tour of the city.

Tokyo is a city of cyclists. Actually, no, it isn’t. Tokyo is a city of people riding bikes. All sorts of bikes – long ones, tiny ones, ones with kiddie seats, ones with one large and one small wheel, folding bikes, city bikes, electric bikes – the variety is astounding. The only type of bike that is notable by it’s absence is the ‘road’ or racing bicycle. Very few dropped handlebars, even. Also missing is cycling clothing – no lycra in sight. There are bikes locked up to railings and posts all over the city, and endless designated bike parking areas, racks and cages.

My cycling tour was very nice. We covered about 20km at a very leisurely pace; taking in many of the historical and interesting areas of central Tokyo. There were five of us on the tour, and we dutifully followed the guide as he pedalled us from place to place. The bikes themselves were, appropriately enough,  by TokyoBike – an independent Japanese bike brand that I think is both quite trendy and available  in Australia. To be completely honest, they were not actually that comfortable to ride. Rather harsh, with a too-low too-flat handlebar position that led to aching wrists.

footpath-riding-in-tokyoThere are a few remarkable thing about the bicycle culture in Tokyo. The first is the wide variety of people who ride. School kids. Elderly ladies. Mums with kids in seats. Businessmen. Everyone rides. People on bikes represent a cross-section through Japanese society, which is a real sign of a healthy bicycle culture. Another remarkable thing is that so much of that riding is on footpaths. It is perfectly acceptable to ride on the footpath, and the pedestrians and cyclists just seem to get along – the cyclists go slowly, especially when it is busy, and the pedestrians are aware of cyclists and generally move to the side to let them through. There’s a sort of general ‘keep left’ thing, but to be honest it works because people are accommodating of each other, not because of any particular rule enforcement. Cyclists can move between the road and the footpath, taking pedestrian crossings as needed, and it all just works.

But the most interesting part for me is that there is virtually no cycling infrastructure at all. In several hours of riding, I did not see one single bike lane. There were a few half-hearted bike symbols painted on the road here and there, but that was it. It’s really fascinating, and underlines that a healthy, inclusive cycling culture does not require infrastructure – it actually depends on road users being accommodating of each other. Drivers are respectful around cyclists; give them room and are prepared to wait for them, and much like the footpath riding, it just works. It’s very relaxing to cycle in Tokyo, even in traffic.

bike-tourMaybe, on reflection, this isn’t such a positive story after all – it’s hard to not compare this road culture to the aggressive behaviour so often seen on Australia’s roads. However, it was lovely to ride around a bike-friendly city, and perhaps take some heart from the idea that bikes and cars really can get along, even in places where there’s little cycling infrastructure.

Nutshell – Ian McEwan

November 1, 2016 at 14:24 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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nutshellWhen I reviewed McEwan’s last book, I noted that it felt somewhat formulaic; a little bit too heavy on research and, dare I say, somewhat underwhelming.

Well whether stung by my review or simply fired with inspiration, Ian McEwan has released a book that you could never accuse of being formulaic. It’s a black comedy, inspired by Hamlet, narrated by a nine-month old foetus from the confines of his mother’s womb. Not one of the larger sections at Dymocks, that one…

It’s a terrific book. Audacious and joyful to read, it is a literary tour de force. (Literary skill that, as you can see by the use of such a hackneyed phrase, I lack.) The womb-bound protagonist offers soliloquys on everything from contemporary politics to enduring having his father’s brother’s penis thrusting inches from his nose, whilst we follow the plotting between his uncle, Claude, and mother, Trudy, to kill his father by means of a hipster smoothie laced with antifreeze.

It all sounds utterly preposterous, but the extraordinary writing and compelling narrative drive just sweeps you along – it’s an exhilarating read. There’s literary nods and winks a-plenty along the way, but all that cleverness and conceit avoids being, well, clever and conceited, and just adds to the joy of reading this slim volume.

I read somewhere that McEwan said he enjoyed writing this book, and it shows. It’s a cracker. Get yourself a copy.

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