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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January 4, 2020 at 12:16 | Posted in Uncategorized | Enter your password to view comments.

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