Christmas Eve at the Fish Markets

December 26, 2010 at 20:57 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Christmas. A time of good cheer, families, gifts, food and unbelievable traffic congestion. Or at least, this last item was evident this on Christmas Eve morning when I went to the fish market to pick up our Christmas seafood. Cars everywhere, cops directing traffic, chaos in the car park. Really, why do people put themselves through it?

I felt suitably smug wending my way through the traffic into the fish markets; no need to queue, no need to sit in a traffic jam, no need to pay to park. On the way in, I met a friend, also on his bike.
‘I said to my sister that I was going to the fish markets this morning,’ he said, ‘and she said I was mad. I told her I wasn’t driving…’

The queues, though, were not just in the traffic lanes. People were queuing outside the retailers to get in. Having successfully avoided the queues to get into the place, how could I avoid these ones too? My friend wanted to go to a particular shop, so joined the queue winding out of the door and across the car park.

Trying to be clever, I checked out the various retailers, and chose the one that seemed least busy in terms of people inside – Nicholas Seafood. Walked in the back door, found an assistant, and picked up what I needed. Result! Got served in under five minutes. Had to queue up at the till to pay, but that was only another five minutes or so, so everything was looking great. At this rate, I’d be in and out in the time it was taking those poor car-bound motorists just to get into the car park.

Paid for my fish, and then queued up at the collection counter. It quickly became clear why Nicholas Seafood was serving customers quickly at the front end; their process clearly was designed to maximise the number of people they took money from, rather than the number of people who actually walked out with seafood.

The system worked like this. Each receipt had a number written on it (mine was ‘L20’). As each order was completed it was put in a bag with a matching number on the receipt inside. Those bags were then haphazardly piled up on the counter. An small army of cheerful girls then attempted to match the numbers on the receipts clutched by the (increasingly unhappy) punters with the ones inside the bags.

The pile of bags just grew and grew. There was no way of knowing whether my bag was actually in the pile. Nonetheless, an assistant gamely checked dozens and dozens of bags, opening them all to look at the number inside. They couldn’t find my number. There must have been fifty people in the queue waiting; perhaps fifty identical plastic bags piled up on the counter; seafood spilling out of them as they were checked over and over again; the poor assistants swarming around them vainly looking for specific numbers buried in the mountain. And still more and more bags were being piled on top.

It was an amazing sight. I wish I had taken a photograph; the absurdity of the system was hilarious. Myself and the guy next to me just got a major attack of hysterics about it.

‘This is freaking hilarious’, he said, wiping tears from his eyes. ‘This has absolutely made my Christmas!’.

Eventually, after about 30 minutes, a miracle. My bag had been found! I made my way out, and loaded up the panniers for the ride home. I checked the queue at the place my friend had been to. Much reduced. And his bike was also gone. Seems like I didn’t avoid the queues after all…

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Of gears, panniers and fitness

October 5, 2009 at 22:41 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Well, as some of you may remember, a little while ago I bought a new bike. Here it is:

Other than feeding my addiction, I bought it because I wanted something more practical, something I could carry stuff around on and do longer rides. Oh, and I lusted after swishiness.

Well, the first thing to note is that if you want to bring about a global drought, go and buy a bike with mudguards. Since buying that bike, it has never rained when I’ve needed or wanted to go anywhere, except when I was on the wrong (mudguard-less) bike.

The second point is that gears make you soft. Yes, it’s a cliché, but it seems to be true. I’ve mainly been riding this bike, and I just have this impression that my fitness has dropped slightly. (Of course, that may not be the reason – I have also developed an addiction to Arnott’s Lemon Crisps; I’m not sure that consuming an entire packet at midnight prior to going to bed is exactly the nutrition of champions.) Hills on the fixie are brutal and short. On the new bike, they take longer, and I feel more spent at the top. Of course, the new bike is heavier. Sometimes much heavier, as I also have fallen victim to the First Rule of Panniers.

Yes, I also bought panniers. Why are panniers so expensive in Australia? I do make an effort to support my LBS, as I figure the service and convenience of a bike shop around the corner is worth paying a premium for. But when you can buy panniers from the UK and get them delivered to your door in less than a week for under half the cost of buying locally, well, something seems a bit wrong somewhere.

Anyway, the First Rule of Panniers, for those unfamiliar with it, states that whatever size of pannier you get, your stuff will only just fit in them; the corollary being that your stuff expands to fit the size of pannier that you buy. The panniers I have are thirty-eight litres, pretty standard for touring. People use them for things like round the world trips and moving house. However, for some reason my commute to work how seems to require me to fill them up, whereas previously I could fit my stuff into a small backpack. Almost every time I go out there is some reason why I have to take a load of stuff with me. It’s very mysterious. And heavy.

In the course of this, I also learned why tourers like such low gears. Getting out of the saddle when the bike is laden is very weird, unsteady and tiring. So you stay in the saddle and spin in a lower gear. Maybe that has affected my fitness. Or maybe I’m just more tired because I’m hauling an entirely unnecessary 10kg of extra weight around with me. I’ve also become much less tolerant of the SHB steps, as wheeling a heavy bike up and down them is much more difficult than slinging a lightweight one over your shoulder and jogging down.

Still, I do love my new bike. Lots of people ask me which one I prefer (well, not lots actually, most people can’t tell the difference, but a few have asked). So after some consideration, I have developed this analogy.
The fixie is like a mistress. It’s fast, racy and fun, but not always practical. And whilst it’s a blast now, there is a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that this is not something I’ll be settling down with; it’s not going to be suitable for my old age.
The tourer is like a wife. Comfortable, practical, and unlikely to solicit as many gasps of admiration, but ultimately the one I’d choose if and when I have to start being sensible.

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