Two Caravans – Marina Lewycka

May 26, 2017 at 10:20 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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 Another book plucked from the shelf. So many good books on my shelves waiting to be read! This is Marina Lewycka’s second novel, and follows the fortunes of a group of itinerant workers who have come to England to pick strawberries. There is a memorable and hilarious cast of characters, from the shady Farmer Leapish who houses the workers in two broken-down caravans in his field to the naive nineteen year old Irina, fresh from Ukraine and hoping both to make a living and find a handsome English man like to match the dashing Mr Brown from her ‘Let’s Talk English’ textbook.

Whilst a highly comedic novel, it does shed an uncomfortable light on the conditions endured by such migrant workers, as well as the lack of security and risk of being trafficked they face. The use of language is sublime, with the various characters somewhat broken English adding to the atmosphere; for example the hard ‘mobilfonmen‘ who control the workers, and the sinister Vulk, who calls Irina ‘little flovver‘ as he kidnaps her with nefarious intent.

The first half of the book has a wide ensemble of characters, and follows them as they move around the country (driven away from Leapish’s farm when his wife runs him over in her sports car after finding out he has an ‘arrangement’ with Yola, the Polish supervisor). Along the way they acquire a dog (called Dog), and the pace and humour in this part of the book make for a rattling read.

About half way through, most of the characters disappear, and the book becomes a love story between Irina and Andiry, as they attempt to find stability and peace whilst pursued by Vulk. This part of the novel is less successful, to my mind, and it becomes more forced.

Still, it’s a fun book to read that I recommend. And one that will certainly open your eyes to the conditions endured by the immigrant underclass who make up much of the low-paid workforce.

Tag-a-long on the cargo bike

May 22, 2017 at 14:07 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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As you may remember, over the New Year period we went to the UK, and had a very successful experience with a Burley tagalong trailer. The kids loved it, and it was very easy to ride with it on the bike.

I’ve been thinking about getting one for use at home ever since, especially as the children are really now too big for the ‘two passenger‘ solution I had – their increased weight coupled with the high centre of gravity was making putting them both into the kiddie seats a tiring proposition. If I could put the tagalong on the back of the rack, and leave enough space for another child to sit straddling the rack at the front, I’d have a more manageable solution.

The issue was how to attach it to the bike. I pondered this for a while, whilst doing some internet investigations. And I found a few people who had successfully fashioned a bracket to attached a Burley trailer to an Xtracycle. I reached out to those people, but the information I found was rather old and I couldn’t track them down. But, after some consideration, I figured that I could probably work something out locally. And if not, I’d just have to buy a new bike suitable to fit the Burley to. So I bought a Burley Piccolo trailer, which duly arrived.

The next step was to find someone who could convert the Burley rack into something I could attach to the Radish. The Burley rack as it comes is a well-built steel rack, which fits in the conventional way over the back wheel of a bike. I needed someone who could take the top part of the rack, and fabricate some kind of bracket so I could bolt it down to the rear deck of the Radish. Luckily I had the adapter brackets for the kids seats as a kind of template.

After a bit of ringing around, I found the inestimable Matt Hopkins, of Hopkins Welding. He gamely agreed to have a go at the job, and duly set to with this metalworking tools and welding gear.

I can share a short lesson here if you are every thinking of doing something similar. Don’t simply take the part you need modified to your chosen artisan, along with a rather vague description of what you need. Yes, that’s right; version 1.0 was not quite right. I hadn’t taken the whole hitch mechanism along, so Matt couldn’t see that he needed to avoid some parts of the frame when fabricating brackets, where the hitch slots over them. However, when I subsequently took along the whole thing, he was quickly able to modify it to version 1.1, which worked perfectly. I have to say Matt was very patient with me over what was undoubtedly a much more fiddly job that he at first had imagined, and is a thoroughly nice bloke.

The other requirement was for something for the child sitting on the rack to hold on to. A bit more internet investigation revealed solutions for this too; with an extra long stem, some small handlebars and the correct shim I was easily able to fit some stoker bars behind my saddle, making for a secure ride for the child sitting on the back.

So, with everything fitted it was time for our first ride. We scooted around the block a few times, with the kids swapping places on the tag-a-long and the rack. And it was a great success. The kids love it, and it’s much easier for me to ride; the lower centre of gravity and less weight on the rack makes the bike much more stable. I can also finally do away with the faff of straps and kids seats.

I’m on the lookout for a cushion and some Edgerunners for the Radish, to finish off the job, but for now it works fine as it is. The dual-kid transport solution is back in action!

Tim Tam Black Forest (take 2)

May 19, 2017 at 11:12 | Posted in biscuits | 2 Comments
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Sorry it’s taken a while to get to this. It’s another of the gelato-inspired flavours, with packaging to match the others. Except that this one is not co-branded as ‘Messina’; it looks like the same range, but lacks the endorsement of the posh-ice-cream-shop-du-jour.

There’s a reason for this. It’s not actually inspired by gelato at all. It’s actually inspired by a 2011-era Tim Tam, called ‘Tim Tam Black Forest‘.

Yep, that’s right. It’s exactly the same biscuit. Same filling, same chocolate, same chewy centre. And I have absolutely nothing more to say about it. Read the other review, or just note that it’s not that good, and gets a six out of ten.

 

Update: between writing this and publishing it, it seems the pack has now been amended and does carry the Messina endorsement. Very strange…

 

How does my bike work? – Jan McPherson

May 6, 2017 at 17:06 | Posted in bicycles, books | Leave a comment
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With the junior Chillikebab’s now at school, we have the joy of school readers. Books they bring home to read to us – full of the joy of them learning to read, and the crushing monotony of the repetitive sentences.

The other day, one of the juniors brought home this one – ‘How does my bike work?’. This book I of course approved of. Nothing like some good early education about bike maintenance. Junior read it with aplomb, and I ticked it off on her reading list.

However, it’s not a book I would necessarily recommend as a bike maintenance primer. Take this, for example:

Brake pads press against the tyres? I hope not; that’s a recipe for tyre blow-outs. I resisted the urge to cross this out and change it to ‘rims’ – which in any case I would say is phonically much easier to read…

Still, it’s always exciting to write a post that I can categorise in both Books and Bicycles!

I can ride!

May 1, 2017 at 13:33 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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My youngest daughter has, for many years, been an absolute natural on a balance bike. Since she was two years old she’s been scooting along, balancing with ease and maneuvering like a pro.

However, the transition to a bike with pedals has taken longer than expected. Despite the fact that she can scoot along on a tiny balance bike (long outgrown), lift up her feet and pretend to pedal, for some reason the idea of actually riding a pedal bike just sent her into meltdown. She’s had a ‘real bike’ for nearly a year, but for the most part it’s stayed in the shed, with the ever-more-unsuitably-small balance bike being chosen instead.

Anyway, we finally had a breakthrough. I took her, and her bike, to the park for the umpteeth time, and we tried again. And it clicked. And, of course, she could just ride it – it was purely a confidence thing. She also easily got the hang of braking, able to gently stop when required and put her feet down. She’s been riding it ever since, and hasn’t yet fallen off.

So now she is off. A bike rider. I’m planning to go out for a ride with her soon. Maybe we’ll go and buy ice cream.

Close pass again. Sigh.

April 27, 2017 at 11:51 | Posted in bicycles | 4 Comments
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You may remember a while ago I took some footage of a car passing very close to the cops. The reaction was surprisingly positive, you may recall. Well, it happened again the other day. So I thought I would take it in as well, and also take the opportunity to find out what had happened to my other complaint.

To help with this latest one, I also took some footage of my bike placed exactly one metre away from a parked car, for comparison. And from that comparison, it’s pretty clear the car passed me with only about 50cm clearance – enough to cause a shiver of worry. It’s really unpleasant to have a car that close. I saw a really good picture on social media that summed it up the other day:

So, what was the reaction of the cops this time? Well, rather less good. The officer at first didn’t even want to look at the video. then, after looking at it, he justified the behaviour of the driver, as ‘he probably didn’t want to go over the double white lines’. The fact that he had just gone straight on in a turn right only lane apparently was of no interest either.

Then it got worse. He told me it wasn’t too bad, and that the car couldn’t have been close to me as ‘I didn’t flinch’. He rejected out of hand my picture taken at the one metre distance, and told me that there was no way to tell if it was accurate, and he didn’t think the car was too close. He declined my invitation to go and do the sample one metre distance footage again outside the police station with him watching.

He then told me he would be taking absolutely no action.

I insisted on making a statement anyway, but it was clearly pointless. Here was a cop (Constable Joly, from Chatswood Police Station, for the record) who was justifying the dangerous driving of a law-breaking motorist, and also blaming me (the victim) for not reacting properly.

Oh, and the other complaint? Also dead, with no follow-up done or intended.

Meanwhile, the blitzes on bicycle bells continue. Fines rain down on hapless cyclists for trivial offences. And cyclists continue to die.

 

You can judge the footage yourself here.

Not so whitewall tyres

April 17, 2017 at 14:16 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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I finally had to put new tyres on the Radish. The old ones were getting extremely worn; to the point they were completely smooth and starting to bulge. Riding it was very peculiar; the tyres were so squishy the bike handling was very odd, especially around corners. They were the ones that came with the bike, so have done a lot of km over the past seven years or so.

I have been thinking about new tyres for this bike for a while, and even asked in a few bike shops when i had to take it in for servicing, but hadn’t really seen anything suitable – I want a really fat, balloon tyre without much tread. Oh, and is cheap.

I was idly looking at things on the Pushy’s website one day, and I happened upon exactly what I needed. Fat, smooth, and cheap. And with a stylish white wall, to boot! I bought a pair, and they duly arrived.

I fitted the back one first. This was a bit of a pain, as getting the back wheel off is trickier than usual, given the weight of the bike and the panniers. But once done, I fitted the tyre, with my daughter commenting that the new tyre was ‘pretty’. So a tick of approval. then I put the wheel back on, which was again a bit of a pain. I had some trouble getting the chain on properly, getting very oily hands in the process.

Then I did the front wheel.

Now, more seasoned bike wrenches than me are probably sensing a schoolboy error about to happen here. And yes, you are correct. I didn’t clean my hands first, meaning the front tyre has a rather dirty white wall, adorned with hi-resolution imprints of my fingerprints.

 

Oh well. Perhaps I’ll clean it off one day. Or just wait seven years until they need replacing…

One thousand electric kilometres

April 13, 2017 at 16:06 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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A small thing, but Mrs Chillikebab’s electric bike ticked over to a thousand kilometres the other day. I was able to capture the event on video, for your viewing pleasure.

This was on the same day that I had to replace the front brake pads – so I can tell you that pads last for exactly 1000km.

And it was also the day after I got the first puncture on that bike. So they seem to come at about 1000km intervals.

You might be thinking that 1000km is not a very high total for a bike that is four years old. This is because, sad to say, Mrs Chillikebab is not a big bike rider. Most of those electric kilometres I have ridden myself (it’s a fun bike to ride). But however you look at it, one thousand is a milestone. Or perhaps a kilometrestone.

 

 

Tim Tam Coconut and Lychee

March 10, 2017 at 17:35 | Posted in biscuits | 1 Comment
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tim-tam-coconut-lycheeSo we come to another of the Messina flavours. ‘Inspired by ice cream’, or something. And once again, there’s just a whiff of recycled about this flavour…

The new twist is of course the lychee. On sampling, opinion was divided as to whether it was possible to detect any lychee at all. Most people opined that there was no lychee flavour at all, but a few souls claimed to be able to taste it strongly. Your mileage may vary.tim-tam-coconut-lychee-biscuit

Other than that, they are enrobed in that rather unfortunate ‘white‘ coating. The coconut is probably the best bit, but this is not a classic. Poor Messina. A bunch of recycled flavours that are, so far, failing to hit the mark. Perhaps things will improve with the other varieties. I’m going to give these a 5 out of 10.

Another one…

February 28, 2017 at 17:05 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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Most days, I ride to and from work along Burns Bay Road. On the upper section through Lane Cove, I probably get at least one motorist a day who comes closer than 1m. It has a 50km/h limit; it’s marked with signs for caution due to pedestrian activity, and has a number of pedestrian refuges along its length. It should be a good road for cycling, but the unfortunate ‘door-zone’ markings make is much more dangerous than it should be.

(As an aside, there’s plenty of room for separated bike lanes on this road, although somehow I don’t see the (rather anti-bike) council ever doing that. Another cheaper approach would be to put a double-width bike lane in uphill, move the centre line over and remove the downhill one, as has been done in places in Leichardt )

The other day I got a particularly egregious close pass; one where I could have reached out and touched the car:

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This was one I thought I would take to the police. Not that I have much faith they will do much, but hey.

So I took the footage in. Unfortunately the front cam was not charged, so I didn’t have the footage with the bike wheel in shot.

However, the reaction from the police constable on duty was not what I expected. “Wow!’, he gasped, as he watched the video. ‘Geez, that really is close!’. Then he looked at me, and asked if I’d brought footage in before.

I said I had, and he seemed to remember. However, he was much more enthusiastic this time. ‘This is much better than last time,’ he commented. ‘You can see it’s really really close!’.

So it seems he is going to follow it up. Which is a good thing. Comparing the footage with the last incident (see here), it looks pretty similar to me. Luck of the draw, or are the police starting to take this a bit more seriously, perhaps jolted by press coverage like this?

We will see!

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