Sunday 31 December 2006


Since we live near the water, we have been thinking of buying a canoe for a while - something cheap on eBay. However, I have always wondered how we would get it from our backyard to the water.

This photo shows the way ahead. A bike, a bit of rope and just tow it across the grass.

Near death at the markets

I went shopping at the Flemington markets yesterday. Can't fault the place - I did the grocery shopping for about a third of what it would cost me at the local supermarket.

The only problem with the markets is getting out of them alive. I had a good look yesterday and did not spot a single person with blonde hair. As far as the eye could see, the place was a heaving mass of Chinese and other ethnic types - those that are way to smart to shop at Coles. Good on them for spotting a bargain a mile off, but they should be forced to park a mile away from the place. There are cars constantly on the move looking for a parking spot or trying to get out, and the Chinese drivers just can't drive. You really take your life in your hands everytime you cross a road at the markets.

And never get in the way of a Chinese woman trying to do her shopping. A sharp elbow in the guts will be your only reward.

Filthy poms

I say "filthy poms" in the expectation that Bondi will be overrun with poms celebrating the new year tonight. On the way back from the beach, I listened to an interview with a DJ who was playing at Bondi tonight, and of course he was a pom.

In previous years, the beach and surrounds have been a disaster area the morning after. No swim for me on new years day - I don't fancy walking down to the surf through a sea of beer bottles.

The council has prepared a bit better this year - the sea wall is lined with rubbish skips from one end of the beach to the other. Big bright yellow things. Somehow I get the feeling that they will not be well used by the revellers, who will just drop their crap on the ground where they stand.

New years eve becomes more of a pain in the arse with each passing year.

Take away coffee

On the way to Bondi this morning, I was stopped at a set of lights when I spied a pedestrian getting ready to cross. She was wearing exercise clothing, and was carrying a coffee in a cardboard takeaway container.

That is one bloody American import I reckon we can do without. I don't mind drinking coffee in the car when I'm on a long drive and I need a bit of stimulant, but I don't get this idea of walking around with a steaming cup in your hand. When I drink coffee, I like to sit down somewhere nice and drink it. I like the pleasure of whiling away 15 minutes or so in a cafe with a paper or some friends and just relaxing. There's nothing relaxing about running around with a takeaway - it just exudes "I'm a very busy person", which to me says "wanker". No one is too busy to stop once a day and just sit down and enjoy life.

I would support the greenies if they started a campaign to ban those stupid cardboard cups.

Then again, maybe not. Somehow I think that I don't want to sit in a cafe with the types of people that order takeaway. Maybe it is better to get rid of them and to send them out onto the street where they belong.

My Bondi mornings are rooted

I went back to the beach this morning for another nose clearing episode, followed by breakfast, and had my morning ruined by the Bondi Kiosk. The people running it now have definitely fiddled with things. I eschewed the Spanish omelette this morning and went for something really simple - poached eggs with mushrooms.

Problem number 1 - they were out of turkish toast, so I opted for some multigrain stuff. Personally, I think multigrain is only fit for feeding to birds. But it was that or nothing, so I went with it. The bread came out as a big, inch thick slab of dried ick. On the side was a little circlette of butter - enough to cover about half a slice of toast at Ethiopian diet thickness. The staff were too useless to ask for more, so I just put up with it.

Problem number 2 - the eggs were poached to within an inch of their life. I like my eggs gooey in the middle. When lightly poked, yellow stuff should explode out everywhere. The only way these things would have exploded is if they fell on a land mine. They were as hard as a hard boiled egg with the shell still on.

Then came the mushrooms. The Kiosk used to be the only place I ordered mushrooms due to the special way they cooked them. They used only small button mushrooms, and oven baked them with sweet Indonesian soy sauce and oregano. The result was delicious. The new mob have ditched that method, or the cook took his secret with him, and they are now just sliced and poached in butter. Sorry, but that is not for me.

The coffee was also not that great. The thing I like about lattes is that they are smoothe. They go down very easily. Not so the coffee this morning - it was a bit of a struggle to get it down. I didn't finish it, which is heresy.

So that is my last visit to the Kiosk. Unless it changes hands again, and I will give the new owners a go.

I now have to decide whether I can be bothered getting off my arse and writing them a letter telling them all the ways they have ruined my favourite breakfast haunt.

And to cap it off, there was no surf this morning. But at least my nose was 80% clear by the time I got out of the water. At least they can't bugger up the water.

Saturday 30 December 2006

Crusty pizza

A new pizza parlour has opened up in our neighbourhood - it is called Crust, and it is a gourmet pizza establishment. You can tell it is gourmet by the price - a large pizza is $20.

We decided to try them out the other night. Well, I decided to try them out as it has been ages since I have eaten a smoked salmon pizza. The last one was one I made myself, and I had this idea in the back of my mind that a gourmet place should be able to do a better salmon pizza than moi.

So I drove up to the shop, placed my order and sat back to watch the crew make pizza. The shop layout is quite simple - it is purely takeaway, and the counter that you order at is where they make the pizza. Two blokes stand there behind glass putting on the toppings and then it is fed into a conveyor oven. You can see the entire manufacturing process right there in front of you.

A few things stuck in my mind as I sat there on my trendy red cube watching things happen.

For starters, they had a fancy roller doo-dad for rolling out the dough. One bloke stood there and fed a lump of dough into the top and a lovely round pizza base popped out the botton. I was gobsmacked. Rolling out dough usually takes me a few minutes per base when I get the dough right, which is about 1 in 5 occasions. I don't want one - there is no room for it in our house.

The next step was smearing on the tomato sauce. One bloke was doing that, and he was really working at it. I just spoon a few blobs onto the base and whizz it around with the back of a spoon, but he was concentrating on it so hard that I figured he was a plasterer during the day. Each base was perfectly covered with an even layer of sauce by the time he was finished. When you think about it, he was wasting lots of time. When you eat a pizza, do you really care if the sauce is evenly spread?

After that, it went to the topping guys. They had lots of fancy pizzas, which you can lookup at I watched them make a few dozen, as they were fulfilling orders that were phoned in. One that stuck in my mind was a Morocan pizza. It was topped with spicy lamb mince, and the bloke that was making it layered it on about an inch thick. Then the owner turned up, took one look at it and told the guy off for spreading it too thin! He proceeded to lay on another half inch or so. I was stunned - I think less is more when it comes to pizza, and these guys were totally into more-more-more. My salmon pizza ended up with several packets of salmon on it. It was too much - way too much. I ate half the pizza when I got home and binned the rest.

I also ordered a vegetarian, and that didn't go down well either. The vegies were shoveled on half a foot thick, and they weren't cooked very well.

They did get the crust right though - it was very good. Pity everything above the crust was such crap. Well, not crap, but certainly not worth $39 for two pizzas. I was really disappointed.

I also worked out that something was missing from the salmon pizza - sour cream. Thankfully I had some in the fridge, and that improved the pizza by about 500%. I normally also put caviar on my salmon pizza, but they weren't that fancy.

In the end, I decided that I can make over twice as many pizzas for the same money, and make them better. Which is a bugger, as it means I have to cook them from now on. No more takeaway pizza for us.

Iced coffee

I found out this week how to make a really bad iced coffee.

For months now, I have been making it at home with instant coffee and the results have not been that bad. Not great, but drinkable.

On the way back from the country last week, we visited some friends who are a long way from the nearest cafe, so they have an expensive, whizz-bang coffee maker in their kitchen, and they buy in deluxo beans from somewhere. I was in need of some coffee for the last push into town, so I thought I'd make an iced coffee using a short black from this superb coffee machine as the base.

Well that was a blunder. As it turned out, it made really bloody awful iced coffee, and it needs full fat milk, not the skim rubbish that they had in their fridge. For some reason, iced coffee has to be made with el-cheapo crapo instant coffee. It doesn't even need to be fancy instant coffee. Well ok, I have not tried making it with that really, really cheap muck that comes in a tin, but fancy beans are a waste of time when you are going to ice it.

Who would have thought that?

Friday 29 December 2006

Saint Bob

I think I will write to His Holiness, The Pope and ask him to nominate Bob Geldof for sainthood.

In Somalia, the recently ousted Islamisists are complaining that the invading Ethiopian Army are crusaders (as they are Christian).

The Somalians have been trounced partly by Ethiopian air power, which includes a stack of aircraft bought from Russia in the 1990's. I read somewhere that they spent $US250 million after being whacked around by the Eritreans.

Live Aid reportedly raised $US280 million. Hmm, I see some symmetry in those numbers. Bob Geldof raises money from the West to re-equip the military of a Christian country. That Christian country then invades a muslim country, sparking off accusations of a crusade. Crusade is quite succesful so far.

In that case, Sir Bob should be made a saint for financing the first succesful crusade in about 900 years. Never figured him for a muzzie whacker.

How should pancakes be cooked?

We have a small difference of opinion in our household about pancakes. If I want to eat pancakes, I have to whip up and cook my own as no one else will eat them. Conversely, if J cooks them, I find them inedible. It's amazing that something made out of milk, eggs and flour could turn out so differently depending on who is making them.

I usually avoid pancakes when eating out. They're usually thick, cold and covered in 10 types of crap that I don't want. I like to nibble on what someone else has bought, but I could never chew my way through a meal of them on my own. Yes, I like whipped cream and berries and maple syrup, but I like them in small amounts. I don't like a huge mountain of the stuff strewn over a pile of cold, rubbery pancakes. It looks good and goes down like a wet dish cloth.

Me, I like them plain and simple. Eggs, flour and milk, beaten to a thin, non-lumpy consistency. When poured into the frying pan, the mix should immediately head for the four corners of the pan (metaphorically). They should be cooked in butter over a medium heat - not so hot that the butter burns, which is just plain yuk. It goes without saying that they can only be flipped once, and I normally flip when the top has dried out (ie, no more wet stuff sitting around in puddles). If the mix is good and the pan the right temperature, bubbles should form all over the surface of the uncooked side.

Once flipped, I don't like to cook them for too long. I hate them to be dark brown. Just a nice, light shade of tan will do me fine. If the mix is not too thick, they will be cooked all the way through. If the mix is like tar and the pancake is half an inch thick, you need to blacken them on the outside before the inner bits stop being raw.

Once cooked, straight onto a plate for dusting with sugar, sprinkling with freshly squeezed lemon and then rolled up and eaten straight away. No pancake should sit on a plate for more than half a minute. Any more than that, and they start to cure like rubber.

The only option for me is maple syrup, and I usually work my way through a stack with 75% sugar/lemon and 25% syrup.

J goes the other way. She throws a stack of cinnamon sugar into the mix, and cooks them in oil. I fry pork chops in oil, but never pancakes. Each to their own. I guess it is like how some people are folders and some are scrunchers. You can never convince someone else to change.

What a way to crap up Christmas

My flu bug finally seems to be on the way out the door. Might even be able to remount the bike next week and pedal into work on the first work day of 2007. Just one annoying thing to get rid of, and that is the bucket of snot that is still stuck up my nose. I have been coughing and sneezing this gunk out for two weeks, and it shows no sign of abating.

So I pulled out the number one ace snot cure this morning - a trip to the beach. The best snot cure seems to consist of getting dumped in a big surf half a dozen times, but alas, that was not to be this morning. There were waves, but the ocean was like a large washing machine and the waves were uncatchable. I had to make do with swimming to and fro in the chop and blowing out hunks of green goo every now and then. I really needed to catch a few waves and inhale some salt water up my nose as I am still a bit clogged. I don't know what it is about body surfing that puts so much water up your nose. Maybe once you catch a good wave you don't notice all the spray hitting your face and going up your snoz. Whatever it is, body surfing is the only truly effective nasal clearance technique.

No swim at Bondi is complete without a good breakfast, and I have been looking forward to returning to the Kiosk for 6 months. I haven't swum since June or July, and I have been missing the place. Last time I ate there, it had just been bought out by a guy who went to my school. I had a long chat with him the day after he signed the papers and he swore he wasn't going to tamper with the place too much. I continued to go back month after month, and the only thing that changed were the staff as they slowly rotated. However, the replacements were a good bunch - friendly, good hearted and chatty. The cook thankfully remained the same, so the food wasn't screwed up.

Then I walked in the door this morning after a 6 month absence and the decor had changed. Some stuff behind the bar had changed slightly as well - but not enough to make a big difference. The big change was the staff - the cook was nowhere to be seen, and not one of the staff was familiar. To cap it off, there was a really thickset older woman doing the serving, and a silly young chinese thing with too much rouge taking orders. If there was one constant at the Kiosk, the staff were attractive. Not stunning, but attractive. Male or female. Apart from the cook, they all looked like they had risen at dawn, run along the beach and then been for a swim. They were fit and toned.

The new lot looked like a bunch of rejects from The Biggest Loser. I looked around in vain for a familiar face, and then noticed that the menu had changed. The items were still the same, but the format was new.

Uh oh.

Ordering used to be easy. I'd sit at the bar and the cook would yell out, "Spanish or eggs", meaning did I want a Spanish omelette or poached eggs with mushrooms. The barista would simply plop a latte in front of me. All that is now a fond memory. After 10 minutes, I finally managed to catch one of the staff and give my order. I sat there reading the paper, waiting for my coffee to arrive. I read the first section of the SMH - no coffee. I read the "Drive" section. No coffee. I read the sports section - no coffee. I re-read the front section, and then breakfast arrived.

Uh oh, fucked it up and got the order wrong. I did not order plain scrambled eggs. Back to the kitchen with that lot.

Coffee finally arrives.

After re-reading some more sections of the paper, my Spanish omelette arrives.

It was dry and distinctly lacking in taste. The coffee was a bit burnt and bitter.

Bugger bugger bugger. The only thing that hadn't changed was the price. And it isn't worth it.

Thankfully, there are two completely adequate cafes next door that I have tried from time to time, so I only have to relocate about 20 feet. I might give them a second go in the morning, since I figure I still have a bit more snot to go. Today could have just been a bad day - Christmas rush and all that.

For their sake, I hope so.

Thursday 28 December 2006

Country salad

Country folk might know how to grow food, but they certainly can't cook it. I find eating in country cafes to be the worst culinary experience possible, and I have eaten in the back streets of Hong Kong and spent many years at boarding school. Country cafes are the epitamy of that old "Odd Angry Shot" saying about Army cooks - they are fitters and turners. They fit food into pots and turn it into shit.

Thankfully, things are changing slowly. Junee now has a place that serves edible food on plates. They also have a burger shop that sells good burgers, but they are sold in paper bags rather than plonked onto plates.

I was so impressed, I had to take a photo. The salad was not going to win any Golden Plate awards, but given that it consisted of carrot, cucumber, tomato, lettuce and beetroot, it was quite amazingly excellent. It actually had a good dressing that didn't taste like oven cleaner. Call me stunned, but it was good.

Clean out your paddocks

I am yet to meet a farmer with a clean farm. There is always a dumping ground somewhere with all sorts of rusting crap piled up gathering cobwebs.

Well, there's money in crap. We stopped at an antique shop at Wallendbeen (of all places) and their front yard was full of stuff like this. Painted on it are two words - "sold" and "$195".

Old rusting tractor wheels were fetching $10 to $40 and an old lawn roller was on offer for $40.


It's all thanks to sir Bob

I see in the paper today that Ethiopia has invaded Somalia and whipped the Koran lovers. Part of the reason is that Ethiopia has quite an airforce, mainly equipped with reasonably modern Russian fighters and ground attack aircraft. Apparently they spent $250 million on new planes back in the 1990's.

I guess we can thank Live Aid for that. Good on your Sir Bob - you helped equip a Christian country with the modern weapons that it needs to conduct a crusade against the Muslim hordes.

Hope he chokes on a tofu cake when he reads that.

Too many crystals and not enough deoderant

We've just had a week in the country, visiting the in-laws about 6 hours south-west of Sydney. A normal drive would be six hours, but we took to the backroads shortly after Yass and stuck our nose into all the little country towns along the way. The highway lets you see little but a selection of McDonalds and KFC and advertisements for truck insurance. It's nice if you are in a hurry to get anywhere, but who is ever in a hurry to visit the in-laws?

Just off the turnoff to Harden is a little town called Bowning. It is only about 2 kms off the Hume, and I have been through it many times before on work trips. I normally zip through it at the speed limit as there never seemed to be anything worth stopping for. On the way down, we did pass something worth stopping at - a gallery called "Bigsky", but I was so shocked at seeing something we should stop for, I forgot to hit the brakes and next thing you know, we were out of town. Made a mental note to stop on the way back.

Which we did. The gallery is owned by a yank called Troi. No, I have not mustyped Troy - all his stuff was signed Troi. It's like "Tiffany" with 3 "i's" and 2 "n's". He was a well-inked individual - both his arms were totally covered in tattoos, as was one leg down to his ankle. He seemed like a very relaxed kind of bloke - nothing Hell's Angel about him. The artwork was nice - no skulls with dripping candles perched on them etc. Some of it looked quite Japanese. Interesting.

We ended up buying a vase to replace one that I broke recently. The big selling point for me was that it had a very heavy base, meaning that it is very hard to tip over. I'm sure the colours are nice too.

Next to the vases was a bit of blurb about the artist. I read one paragraph and that was enough for me. It said that he learnt how to paint vases whilst in residence in an artists colony at Uki or Oki in the 1970's. Got no idea where that is - I thought Oki was a brand of printer.

A few words stuck though - "1970's" and "artists colony". A nice phrase for "hippy commune". As Jeremy Clarkson would say, "wierd beards".

J put it nicely - "too many crystals and not enough deoderant".

Thursday 21 December 2006

Il Cortile

Just had a feed at a newly discovered Italian restaurant in Balmain called Il Cortile. It was touch and go for a while as to whether we could go out, given the sniffles and all, but we blew our noses and cleared our throats and made a night of it.

Il Cortile is a bit of a strange "discovery", given that it is right next door to Circle, where I eat once a week. I have been walking past it for a year at least and have never noticed it. So much for making your presence felt!

J found the place during the week when she was doing a walkabout for her kiddies guide book. That involved going door to door to most businesses and trying to get them to sign up for entry in a book that she is publishing about kiddie friendly places in our area. Her work has already paid off, as Il Cortile was a great place to go.

For starters, it is just the right size. Not too big and not too small. There is a nice garden area out the front, but it was too windy tonight to sit there. There is also a nice little courtyard out the back with a fountain and some fish in it, but the place was too quiet for them to open it up. It has a great big fuck-off pizza oven - you could roast half an ox in it if required. It also has an open kitchen, which is great for those that want to see what is going on. Unfortunately, we were right next to it, and my back was to it, and I got pretty bloody hot as a result. However, that did not detract from the night.

The food was very good all round. The wine list looked good as well. I had a beer soaked pork belly on a "crumpet" of kumera and apple, and it was marvelous, swimming in a mushroom sauce. Magnificent. Better than most 5 star restaurants would do. Succulent, tasty and not too much of it.

Between everyone else, we also had a vegie stack (excellent), fish cakes (excellent), callamari rings (very good). The callamari rings came with a very nice little spicy tomato sauce which looked home made, and they didn't skimp on it.

For mains, I had a veal parmigana type thing (I don't think I can spell it). It was very simple, but very good. The best I have ever had. It was a bit of a tester dish - if they could do something that simple very well, then they could cook anything well. It is like testing a place with fish and chips - if you can't fry fish and chips properly, you should be in a different line of work.

The rest had a vegie pizza of some sort (so good, the uneaten half was taken home in a doggie bag), a steak with blue cheese sauce (it seemed to be wolfed down, so it couldn't have been too bad) and a salmon steak of some sort for the "fishy" vegetarian. There were no complaints. The plates were very bare at the end.

I could have called it quits after the main course, but we just had to try dessert. We shared two chocolate mousse between the six of us, and that was probably one too many. The rest of the food must have been very good as the only quibbles were about the mousse - it had been sitting in a display cabinet for a while and had developed a slightly rubbery skin. I didn't mind it at all. It was good mousse - not the best mousse (L'angelo does better), but it was good. Worth having again.

The service was quite good and the staff were more than happy for the little monkey to run around the place causing non-destructive havoc. The nice thing is that it had good atmosphere - Monkey visited most of the tables around us and charmed the pants of the other patrons. One bloke was so impressed at how much fun we were having, he came past for a chat and gave us $2! Unbelievable.

I'm definitely going back. We had a short yarn with the owner, Christine, who informed us that the place had been going for about 10 years and her and her daughter had owned it for a year or two. The do breakfast on Sundays, so we are going back after Christmas for a morning feed.

The entrees were all around the $14 mark and the mains around $18. The pizzas were all about $15 - an absolute bargain for the quality. Dessert was $10, with fancy desserts going for $14.50.

I'd class it as a better than average place with lower than average pricing. The food was simple, but of great taste and quality.

Big thumbs up.

Wednesday 20 December 2006

Fucking broken parking meters

Balmain is one of those suburbs where the parking meters are thick on the ground - so thick, they look like an invasion of Daleks. Most of the time though, if you can be bothered parking one street back from the main drag, you can avoid the meters.

When we lunched today though, we found that the backstreet was metered. So I went to the first meter, plugged in some coins and it refused to issue a ticket. It also refused to give me back my $2. It just sat there with a "smart cards now accepted" message on its face and did not respond to any input.

Useless pile of crap.

Knowing how evil the parking inspectors are, I went to another meter and fed it my remaining $3 in change. It seemed to accept it quite happily, but also refused to issue a ticket. Sounded like it was out of paper.

Each machine had a lovely label on it saying, "in case of problems, call this number and quote the machine ID". Of course I had not taken my mobile with me, as I was totally uninterested in taking any work related calls, given that my head was partially splitting from a headache.

It's time like those that I wish I had a large sledgehammer in the car. I was worried that if I didn't call the fault in, some bastard would come past and issue me with a ticket. But I was stuck, so we said what the hell and had lunch.

And returned to find a windscreen devoid of tickets. I think I would have gone postal at the Balmain council offices if I had been issued a ticket.

If councils want to take your parking money, they can at least ensure that the bloody meters are in proper working order.

Useless sods.

Miss Saigon

I find that when I am feeling like crap with the flu, there are two things that give me back a bit of bounce:
  1. swimming in the ocean, particularly if it is cold
  2. Thai food
I have never tried the two together - ie, having a swim and then some Thai food, mainly because I like to swim before breakfast (when not many Thai places are open) and because there are not many Thai places near where I like to swim (Bondi). Lots of cafes and the odd sushi joint, but not much Thai. Well, okay there is one near the north end of Bondi, but it is crap.

The cold surf is marvelous for getting all the green gunk out of the lungs, nose and throat. Swimming in a pool is no substitute. Good, hot Thai food does much the same.

The last few days have been nasty. Yesterday was spent mostly in bed - 8 Nurofen only sufficed to take the edge off my headache (that included 4 of the Plus variety), and today was looking much the same. The only answer was to either swim, or have something spicy for lunch.

J suggested that we try a Vietnamese place in Balmain. Normally, I hate Vietnamese food. I have always considered it a poor cousin of Thai. A sort of slightly spicy Chinese, or a bland version of Thai. I've never liked it, except for the rice paper rolls - they can be excellent.

So I kind of went along expecting the worst.

We had two types of rolls for entree - a vegetarian batch with tofu and a non-vegetarian batch with prawns. They were good. Not great, but good. Good enough to go back, given that it is the only place for about 10 miles around that makes them. I think the disappointing bit was the peanut dipping sauce. Just not enough bite.

For main, we both had a salad. I had a salad with lots of prawns and chook, and J had a similar salad with roasted chook. Both were very good. I have had better at a Thai restaurant in Mosman, but the Mosman place costs nearly double what Miss Saigon charges, and it is too far away for a casual meal. And the Mosman place is damned near impossible to get into.

I felt much better after lunch - the salad was crisp and spicy and hot enough to really get the glands working again. I felt vaguely human. Only needed two Nurofen and a sleep to make it through the afternoon.

So Miss Saigon gets a thumbs up. I'll be back. However, I'll be careful what I order. Half the menu looks like slightly souped up Chinese (yuk) or bland Thai. I'll stick to the entrees and the salads, which all looked very good.


Got a christmas card from my lawyer today.

Wonder if he will bill me for it....

Monday 18 December 2006


I curse this bloody head cold. The guts have cleared up but now my nose is blocked solid and my eyes are puffy and I feel like a different kind of crap.

I would love to jump on the bike and go for a spin somewhere - anywhere would do, but at the moment, I couldn't make it to the end of the street.

So I am standing there in the kitchen this fine Sunday morning, feeling like two kinds of crap when I notice lots of rapidly walking people going by. I am used to seeing people wandering by leading dogs, pushing prams, carrying remote control cars, footballs and cricket bats, but I have never seen people tearing by. Yes, there was some sort of walking race going on, and an official of some sort was stationed just up the road to look for lifting and that sort of thing. I sniffed, and went and took some photos. I like to walk, and walk quickly, but competitive walking to me looks about as much fun as enema races.

To cap of my lack of exercise misery, lots of cyclists started going by. It was a perfect day for it - hardly any wind, temperature not too high, sun poking out from behind the clouds.

I went inside and buried myself in a book. My eyes are so puffy at the moment, I can hardly see what I am typing.

Saturday 16 December 2006


Lying on the couch this week in a position designed to minimise the chance of vomiting has introduced me to a whole new world of TV for kids. It's called the ABC and ABC2, and for once, I reckon I got my 8 cents worth.

I always thought that kids TV consisted of Sesame Street, Play School and a whole pile of ads for McDonalds and sugary cereals and plastic toys that choke half a billion kids a year. However, my eyes have been opened.

Some of the shows are dead boring (like "Titch"), but a few are very well made and some are truly whacky. I was quite taken with Boohbah, (more good info via this link) which is a freaky offshoot of the Teletubbies. I have never watched the Teletubbies until this week, and I liked them too. There's something about being sick and watching entertainment designed for tiny little minds.

Boohbah really got me from a technical perspective though as you've got 5 people dressed up in these enormously fat, furry suits. Apart from the fact that their head-disappearing trick reminds me of something that you can do with a foreskin, I was amazed at the stamina of the Boohbahs. I had to wear a Care Bear suit once for a store promotion, and it just about killed me to just stand around in an air conditioned shop for a few hours. Sweat was bucketting off me. These Boohbah guys are doing star jumps, leaping around and generally doing stuff that would turn the inside of the suit into a wet sponge. Considering the suits are wired with little flashing lights, I'd be a bit worried about sweating in one too much.

So I lay there on the couch feeling like crap and admiring these guys as they did starjumps in the equivalent of a furry NBC suit for a few minutes. They must be ex-Marines. If you don't know what I am talking about, watch Jarhead for the scene where they play American football in NBC suits.

I liked the kids stuff so much, I have taped about 10 hours of it. Certainly beats watching the news.

Going, going, gone....

For those of you that have seen our shoebox, you'll know that we currently live in a house the size of a...... shoebox. I think it is the classic definition of "cottage", which is Gaelic for "unable to swing a cat in any room in the house". I know people that having lounge rooms larger than our entire "cottage". The youngster will be able to say, "When I was young, we lived in nowt but a shoebox lad, collecting dried seagull dung for fuel and cooking rats over a backyard fire" etc etc etc.

A similar house just up the road just sold at auction for a tad over $700,000. We dropped in on the auction, which was about as boring as watching an OH&S subcommittee debate ammendments to committee procedures. 59 people stood around (I counted them) variously hugging each other tightly (the winning bidders), picking their fingernails, picking their nose, parking in the middle of the street or watching the birds crapping on the cars parked on the side of the road. The auctioneer tried to inject a little life and humour into the occasion, but he was an utter dud. Some people can front a crowd and be funny or moving or engaging, and others think they are all that and more but are just plain embarrassing. This guy needs to get another job.

When we arrived, bidding had slunk up to $695,000, and seemed to be stuck there. The auctioneer did his "going once, going twice" thing about 10 times as the price inched up $1,000 at a time. Each bid was a few minutes apart, and required much arm twisting from various real estate agents and other sharks that were circling the bidders. I gave up and went home.

The thing is, the block is not that big, there is no garage, it has three small bedrooms and clearly the only medium term proposition is to go up another floor. The poor owners have just spent a million bucks in reality - a bit over $700k for the property, plus stamp duty and all the other transaction costs, then the bucket of money to add the extra floor.

Good luck to them.


Got a bit of a shock last night. The end of the school year is nigh, so the 10 year old came home yesterday from the hell hole up the road with a box of stuff that had been collecting throughout the year. As the stuff came out of the box, I noticed a test paper where the score was 20 out of 41.

Egads, I thought, I'd better have a look at that one to see why he did so badly.

It was an English test. I worked my way through it and discovered that I would have been lucky to get 10 out of 41.

There were questions on synonyms, antonyms and hymonyms. The first two I vaguely understand, but the last one was beyond me. I thought he had been unfairly marked on an antonym where the question was "healthy" and the answer he gave was "overweight". Gods, that was a classic tug of war between the perils of kids being obese and prone to dying young (thus clearly unhealthy) and the idea of being politically correct and not stigmatising the "big boned" kids. Bloody rough of the teacher to come down on the side of the politically correct. I must send a copy of the test to Tony Abbot to let him know that the message about fat kids is sinking in.

Then there were questions on conjugating verbs (I couldn't answer any of them) and doing things to nouns and pronouns and adjectives that were just beyond me. Like I said, if I had scored 10 out of 41, I would have been chuffed.

So it got me thinking - if they are teaching this stuff to 10 year olds these days, why can none of the 20-something contractors that I have working for me write anything worth a damn? Has verb conjugating and all that only recently re-appeared in the curriculum, so that an entire generation missed out, or does knowing what an antonym is really make no difference to how well one can read, write, comprehend, reason and argue?

Perhaps a bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. It could be that some people run around going, "I must be good at English because I know an adverb from a verb", but that's like knowing a few words of Italian but being unable to comprehend whole sentences.

We found out about that last night. J decided to make tiramasu for dessert, and was reading the recipe (in Italian) from the back of the savioardi packet. I was able to translate "sugar" for her, and that was about it.

After it was made, we were discussing how to make it and I discovered that she had not separated the eggs and whipped the whites - the whole eggs had simply been mixed into the marscapone and sugar. We were a bit sceptical for a while as to how it was going to turn out, given that the whole 'separate the eggs' bit is fairly fundamental to the recipe.

So given our comprehension of Italian, we were able to understand the words "biscuit", "cocoa", "coffee", "sugar", "marscapone" and "eggs", but made a bit of a hash of putting all that together.
Be that as it may, it still turned out pretty good. Maybe a touch heavy on the whisky for my liking, but the egg issue was not a problem in the end. For sure, it was different, but it went down well.

Friday 15 December 2006

I can influence the media

I got really dark at the Sunrise program the other week over their "Cool the globe" stunt. I blasted off an email to them suggesting that they were an intensely hypocritical bunch of pricks as producing the show must produce more greenhouse gas than a small African country. I also suggested that Channel 7 could cut its emmissions by 25% by not broadcasting between midnight and 8am, which of course would get rid of 2/3 of the Sunrise show.

I spotted this article on their website today which proclaims that they are going to be the first gas friendly TV show in Australia.

I am so glad they took my suggestion to heart.

Now I am going to have to write to the CEO, posing as a concerned shareholder, asking what the purchase of all these carbon credits is going to do to the bottom line.

McDonalds followup

Got this in the inbox today:

"Your comments have been received by McDonald's Australia Customer Service Department. A member of our team will contact you if you requested this option. Please do not respond to this email as it was generated automatically. Once again, we thank you for taking the time to contact McDonald's with your comments."

Well, I can't wait to see their response.

(I jumped onto their website after my Quarterpounder/Big Mac debacle and let them know that I was less than impressed. I was even less impressed with their comments page - it took about 10 minutes to type in 100 words as it let you type one letter every 2 or 3 seconds. Most annoying. Like using Compuserve on a 2400baud modem in 1992).

Yellow coconut

Did you know that if you leave desicated coconut in the cupboard for long enough, it goes a pale shade of yellow?

I had no idea until tonight. I knew we were running low, so I bought a new bag today. I measured out what was in the jar, then topped it up with fresh stuff from the new bag, and hey, the two were totally different colours. Like pissing in the snow after having a Berroca.

The things you learn.......


I had my first "real" meal for a week this morning - breakfast at Circle. I had to eat out because there was no food left in the house. Since we have all been so crook this week, no one had been able to go shopping, and no one had an appetite anyway so food was off the agenda. However, I woke up feeling marginally hungry, and decided to test whether I was on the upswing or not.

I survived the meal, but started feeling like crap again mid-afternoon (nothing to do with the food I might add). The thing I noticed is how pungent the cheese was in my omelette. Either my sense of smell is enormously improved (probably through vomit clearing the nasal passages), or the lack of coffee had something to do with it (am off milk at the moment), or they have found a purveyor of suprisingly aromatic and flavoursome gruyere. At least I am assuming it is gruyere. It smells that way, but about 10 times more potently than the stuff I get at the local supermarket.

I have this feeling that I am about to embark on a great gruyere hunt. This hunt will take me all over Sydney as I visit cheese shops far and wide in my quest to track down the ultimate gruyere.

By the end of it, I will probably never want to eat an omelette ever again.

The thousand dollar pizza

Why did I get so crook?

Because of Pizza Hut.

Because we were going away for a week, we decided to clean out the fridge by eating everything perishable and not restocking. By Monday night, we were out of food, so we decided on home delivery - two Pizza Hut pizzas. They cost $11.90.

I had half a pizza. Two hours later, I was flat on my back feeling quite horrible. An hour later, I was driving the porcelain bus. An hour after that, I was wee-ing out of my bum and wanting to vomit again.

We were supposed to fly at 10am on Tuesday, with a 7.30am taxi pickup. At 7am, I knew I could never survive 2.5 hours faffing around getting to the airport and then getting on a plane, followed by a 5 hour flight and then an hour messing around at the other end collecting a hire car and getting to the nearest bed. I doubted my guts would even hold together long enough for the drive to the airport. I could think of nothing worse than needing to stop a taxi in the cross city tunnel so that I could have a chuck. Taxi was cancelled, tickets were a write-off. No travel insurance.

Because we booked with those nice people from Virgin, we were screwed on the tickets. You can only change them up to 24 hours before your flight, so there went $820 worth of one way tickets. To change the return tickets is $40 a pop, and then we might have to pay extra if an equivalent price seat is not available on the flight we want. So that takes it to $940.

Then add in all the pills I have popped this week - half a box of Nurofen for the excrutiating headaches, the bum stopping pills that prevent the runs, the anti-nausea pills that stop me wanting to throw up and the rehydration thingys that I've been sucking on in order to keep the fluids up. The bill must surely top $1000 when you throw in the $11.90 for the pizza as well.

So I have gone from being a complete non-fan of Pizza Hut to quite detesting it.

A disorderly stomach

My guts went guts-up in a bad way this week. After a few days in bed, contemplating whether to visit the bathroom to either sit on the toilet or stick my head in it, I have now recovered to the point where I can walk around and eat. Odd thing is, I am eating like a pregnant woman.

To start with, I wanted Thai. I had some of that. Then I wanted White Christmas (the stuff made with Rice Bubbles), so I looked up the recipe on the Kelloggs web site and then did a spot of shopping. When I went to make it, I discovered that I was short a cup of powdered milk. We have baby formula, but I am buggered if I am making a sweet out of baby milk. Bleah.

My fallback position was chocolate crackles. I have inserted a photo here of my half made crackles. The big bowl contains all the dry ingredients - the 4 cups of rice bubbles, the dried coconut and the cup and a half of icing sugar. (Is icing sugar explosive when released into the atmosphere? If so, it is a good thing I didn't light the stove after making this).

The big white block on the chopping board is copha. 250gms of it. I knew I needed some, so I bought a block thinking I'd need about half for the recipe. Uh uh. I read the recipe and find that I need the lot. I was so dumbfounded, I had to take a photo to show you what goes into 24 chocolate crackles. A big block of vegetable shortening. Is this stuff palm oil? Whatever. A total artery hardener. I was just looking at it, thinking about all the chocolate crackles that I ate as a kid. I must have consumed a wheelbarrow full of this stuff by the time I was 10. If that was the case, why was I a whippet-thin kid when todays youngsters appear to be walking beachballs?

I then found that we didn't have the little paper cups that you put crackles into - only big paper ones that you use for muffins. So we now have 10 muffin sized chocolate crackles in the fridge rather than 24 little bite sized ones.

I am going to try them out on some friends this week. I reckon they will last in the fridge for about a year if no one likes them. I have also packed them fairly tightly, so they are going to be solid little suckers. No light and fluffy Aero-bar style chocolate crackles for this family.

The other really wierd thing that I craved was sausages and beans. Don't ask me why. So tonight I had a couple of big kransky sausages and half a can of beans. My stomach has gone very strange this week. What on earth can there be in kransky's that one might crave, apart from half a pound of nitrates?

Wednesday 13 December 2006

Get my bloody order right

From a young age, all children in the western world are taught that McDonalds is a paragon of operations management. It is the best run fast food chain in the world. It is the company that invented big fat procedures manuals, training regimes, quality programs and all that hooey. They serve up a perfect meal every time.

Then why is it that on my last two visits to my local McDonalds, they have given me a Big Mac when I have asked for a Quarter Pounder? Both stuff ups happened when going through the drive-thru, and just in case you think I didn't put in the order correctly, on the second attempt, my lovely partner did the ordering.

I could understand a mix-up if they had a meal called a "half a flounder" and served me a fish on bread instead, but they don't. Say "Big Mac" and "Quarter Pounder" and see if they sound similar in any way.

Thankfully, when they did it the second time, I checked the docket before we drove off the lot, and we simply went around again and swapped it over. I hate Big Macs with a passion - I really can't bear them. I could have handled being given anything else on the menu except a Big Mac.

At least I can now write a letter of complaint to Macca's and see how they respond.

Sunday 10 December 2006

More stupid places to ride a bike

My ride home takes me through Pyrmont and over the ANZAC Bridge. For some reason last week, I decided to look for a different route through Pyrmont. Not that there are many - the Star City casino is in Pyrmont and it takes up a big slab of land, and the Pyrmont peninsular is not that big.

I wanted to try a different route as there is one corner that I just hate crossing on the way home. It's an odd corner - on the way to work, it is fine. But on the way home, it is a nightmare. It's hard to explain without sitting you on a bike and getting you to do it yourself, but it is a spot that shows up the oddities of cycling. The problem is that you come off the Darling Harbour footbridge, which is designed for pedestrian traffic, and have to cross at a set of lights that have been setup for pedestrians and cars, but not cyclists.

I guess when they set this thing up, not many people were riding that way. However, I think the last census showed that cycling has grown by something like 600% or something silly on my route, and now the chickens are coming home to roost.

I really don't want to get knocked down on this particular corner, so I have been deviating down around Star City and checking out the alternative streets. They aren't much better, partly because of the idiot taxi drivers that hang around the casino. Them aside, I found a doozie last week - there is a bike path that takes you to the ANZAC Bridge, but it traverses a fairly steep hill. In their wisdom, the engineers who designed it have put in steps for pedestrians, and a path for cyclists. The two are intertwined, and the path is not wide enough for a pedestrian and cyclsts to get past each other. I doubt two pedestrians could pass without them turning sideways.

That's just part of the run. The path twists and turns and actually has two U-turns in it, and the turns are so tight, you have to unclip from the pedals to get around them.

Once again, some dopey council can say that they have invested in a bike path, but it is a big waste of money. I just wish these idiots would build things properly instead of coming up with a half baked design that satisfies no one.

Water restrictions - piffle

I tried a small experiment with grey water recently. Instead of putting the water from our washing machine down the drain, I stuck the hose out the window and let all the suds and rinsing water go onto a small patch of lawn. I figured if it killed that bit of lawn, we wouldn't care.

Instead, we now have a small jungle outside the laundry window, and the rest of the lawn is looking rather threadbare. I give the lawn a bit of a drink twice a week - not a soaking, just a drizzle. The blasted thing refuses to grow, there are bare patches everywhere and prickles have started to make an appearance.

So this week, I dumped the washing machine water into the trough and then bucketed it out onto other bits of the lawn.

Well bugger me - doing the laundry uses a lot of water! I lugged out bucket after bucket after bucket. One load of laundry produced more water than I put on the lawn in a week.

So from now on, so long as we are not using bleach or hot water, that water is going on the lawn. Yes, it's a bugger having to cart it out the back door, leaving a trail of slippery drips, but if it produces a decent lawn, I am all for it.

What I really need is a 15 metre hose that I can attach to the washing machine and just dump somewhere on the lawn - the water can just run out anywhere and seep around the place. I don't need to be too artful about it.

Letting rip

No, I am not talking about farting, or having a go at something stupid. I am talking about that feeling when I am on the home stretch, a clear, straight path in front of me and no breeze or even a slight tail wind. That's when I chunk-chunk-chunk up through the gears until I am close to top gear and the legs are really grinding out the revolutions. Head down, bum up and seeing how fast I can sustain a good speed.

On a normal day, I can sit on around 45 km/h and that is it. Professional cyclists would laugh at me - they maintain that kind of pace for hundreds of kilometres in the Tour, but then they train all year, weigh at least 20 kilos less and have a peleton to drag them along. The difference between riding on your own and riding in a group is amazing - it's no use trying to describe it to someone that hasn't done it. It's not like jogging in a pack - you aren't going fast enough to benefit from the reduction in wind resistance.

Anyway, on a good day, I can crack 50 km/h on the flat and hold it for a few minutes. Then I get home and watch the individual time trials from the last Tour and note that all of the cyclists went faster than that over a 40 km course. Ah well, we does the best we can.

And it doesn't matter if I am not that quick - I still come out at the end feeling very good about it all.

Good blogs

I have been reading a few good blogs lately. One is Flight Level 390, which is written by a US airline pilot. He has a nice take on life in the skies. I'm not sure why I like it - I just do. I used to go up the front of the plane when I was a kid and see what the pilots were doing, and I think he gives me an understanding of what I was seeing when I was 10 years old.

Another is The Magistrate's Blog, which is written by a pommy magistrate. His descriptions of the underclass that front him on a weekly basis are very good, as well as the deliberations that he goes through when sentencing them. The workings of our courts are a mystery these days as all the major newspapers seem to have given up on covering trials. The media seems to only cover the crime, not the aftermath. You hear about this murder or that rape, but rarely do you find out what happened next - unless some judge imposed what the media thinks is a light sentence, and then all hell breaks loose.

Random Acts of Reality is by a London ambulance bloke. He has just published a book about the blog, and I think his blog has gone downhill a bit since then. His early stuff, describing what it is like to work a nightshift dealing with domestics, fights, stupidity and mayhem, is very good.

I have also been looking at a few UK police blogs, namely Inspector Gadget and Copper's Blog. Both offer an interesting view on what the police have to put up with, and it's not pretty. I am not talking about criminals - I am talking about the mindless management wank that comes down from head office.

The last one is about teaching in the UK, by Frank Chalk. Frank has also put out a book as well, and sales seem to be going quite well. Now that I have some skin in the game (two kids to edumacate), I'm interested in reading what teachers think of their little dears. It's not pretty either.

Why the predominance of UK blogs? I have no idea. There are plenty of US blogs about police, ambulances and teaching, but maybe I just prefer the English style of english. There also seems to be a dearth of good Australian blogs on these topics. However, a good Sydney blog about taxi driving is written by my favourite man of lettuce.

They all put my feeble efforts to shame.

Bad Juju

Is there such a thing as juju? There must be. I had to hurry home from work the other day and the ride was ferociously bad - one of the worst I have ever had. Not tough or hot or windy - just a ride where I encountered more fool, dickheads and knaves on the road in one 30 minute session than ever before.

Most days, the ride in and out is pretty cruisy. I have selected a route that avoids riding on major roads, or crossing major roads at hairy spots. The thing about cycling is that it is not just riding on a road that can be risky - just crossing them can be pretty foul at times, even using traffic lights or a roundabout or a pedestrian crossing. Some intersections are clearly better than others, and my route is partly based around using the least risky crossing points. The other factors are hills (the fewer or gentler the better) and using bike paths. I don't mind doing nasty hills, but I like to warm up first, so my morning route takes a bit of a meander throught the flat bits of my suburb in order to warm the old legs and lungs up before tackling some nasty bits of geography.

Anyway, it didn't seem to matter where I rode - I ran into bad juju. The bikepath should be pretty safe, but I just about had a head-on with another cyclist who decided to take a notorious bend way too fast - luckily I had slowed right down and managed to avoid him. A bit further on, a woman let her dogs go just as I reached her, and they almost bolted under my wheels. Whilst in town, a bloke in a Range Rover cranked up his car just as I reached him and pulled out without looking - but I had spotted what he was doing and was well away from him when he made his move. A courier pulled up in a no stopping zone outside a pub, banking the traffic up behind him. Furious drivers then started pulling idiotic manouveres to get around him, and all of them would have ended up on top of me if I hadn't seen it coming and gone another way. Pedestrians ran out in front of me without looking.

That's just a small sample. All the way home, I was thinking, "Take it easy, keep your eyes open and don't push your luck", which was very annoying as I like to pedal close to flat out. Taking it easy is not part of my mantra.

But I made it home in one piece, and shook my head in amazement at what I had just seen. Is it the proximity of Christmas that makes people act so stupid? Is it the weather? What the hell is going on?

It's days like those that make you want to own a tank instead of a bike.

The Lynwood Cafe

The Lynwood Cafe is situated in a little village about 60 kilometres from Canberra. Blowed if I can remember the name of the place at the moment - I just know that you drive down the Federal Highway and turn right and there you are.

It's a nice place to stop for tea and cake if you are driving down to Canberra on a weekend afternoon. It makes a very nice change from the Macca's at Marulan. It's a whitewashed old cottage with a good sized bit of lawn out the back, and people come from far and wide for the food. It's one of those marvelous places where you can roll up for lunch at not depart until about 6 hours later. I like it. Only problem is, I have to drive 250 kms to get there.

Ah well, we dropped in the other day for a refereshing coffee and cake. I had a lemon curd thing, which surprised me by coming in a water glass. It was really strong curd at the bottom, with mild creamy curd in the middle and proper double cream on top. It was great, and about 4 times what I needed. It was possibly the best curd thing I have ever had, but I left feeling like I had pigged out on way, way too much creamy stuff.

The coffee was good too - I needed it to cut through all the cream I was ingesting.

J had a macadamia tart of some sort, which was also very good, but a bit sweet for my liking. Again, a portion half the size of what we got would have been better. Still, can't complain about being stuffed full of good food.

There was only one downer about the place - there was a table of a dozen or so ladies from Canberra doing lunch near us, and some of them had those amazing penetrating voices that you can hear in the next paddock. They all struck me as public servants of one type or another, and one of them in particular just went on and on and on about some drunken night, and unfortunately she had the voice that would penetrate cement. I had to listen to her dribble away as I spooned my way through the delicious curd. Some people need to be denied eating rights at certain establishments. Why can't we bring back some sort of class system? Not one where you have to be upper class, but one where you have to show that you have some sort of class. She was just a silly piece of work.

Lynwood is not for the faint of wallet either - two cakes and two coffees set me back $31.50. The cakes were $12.50 each.


Tuesday 5 December 2006


I have had a series of very indoors jobs for the last decade. I rarely find myself outside these days during work hours, so the weather for me has not been that important for a long time. About the only thing that I used to concentrate on during the weather report was the surf conditions, but frankly I can't work out the difference between "seas" and "swell" - I just go to the beach and hope for some waves to bodysurf on. I don't care whether it is hot or cold, fine or raining when I go swimming - after all, you're going to get wet, so what does it matter?

Cycling has changed all of that. Now I study the weather with the same intensity of farmers and ice cream marketing departments. Do I need to pack my spray jacket this morning? Is it a day for gloves with or without fingers? Should I take the clear lenses for my sunglasses? Will I have a headwind going in, and if so, how strong? Depending on the wind, which route should I take? Will I get hit by lightning? Should I pack spare socks (in case it buckets down and my socks get wet - putting on wet socks at the end of the day is not a good start to the ride home).

These are all considerations for the cyclist. Looking out the window helps, but I am now a student of the longer range forecast, because it also determines what time I get out of bed. If it is going to be stinking hot, I get up soon after dawn and ride in before the road starts to melt. If it is going to be freezing, I go in late after the sun has been up for a few hours and the mist has lifted.

It's all part of the subtle differences between motorists and cyclists. Motorists don't need to give a bugger about what is going on outside - you just set the climate control to 20 degrees and go wherever you are going.

"Chai" for chunder

We recently acquired a packet of Chai tea. I am not a big fan of funny teas. As far as I am concerned, tea is made from tea leaves, and that is about it. No cinammon and vanilla and cardamon pods and all that muck. However, since I am not much of a tea drinker (maybe 5 cups a year), I don't have much say in what tea goes into our kitchen cupboards.

What amazed me about this packet of Chai tea is how much it stinks. The coffee shop that I visit once each morning sells bucketloads of the stuff, and it has never offended my nostrils. J makes a cup of it regularly, and it doesn't bother me when it is steeping in the cup. I can even make a cup for her.

What I can't stand is the smell of the box of teabags in the cupboard. For some reason, concentrated unused Chai teabags smell like vomit to me. Don't ask me why - they just do. We've had to seal them in a plastic tub in an effort to stop me from hurling everytime I open the drinks cupboard.


Sunday 3 December 2006

Stupid councils get up my nose

I've had to visit a physio once a week or so for the last few weeks, so I have been cycling to the physio from work and hoping that my bike doesn't get nicked whilst I am getting kneaded. After the physio, I take the long way home, since my physio tells me that part of my recovery regime is riding. Unless you know the area, describing my route home is a waste of time, but one highlight is that it takes me under the Gladesville Bridge. The bridge was built in the 1950's, and is a typical concrete monstrosity of its era. I still like going under it, as even concrete monsters have a certain beauty about them.

In all honesty, I just want to climb up the support works. It's a big concrete arch, and it looks shallow enough to be able to climb up it with a good pair of grippy shoes. Doing that kind of stuff these days is enough to get you shot as a potential terrorist, so I doubt many people do it anymore. But it's nice to dream.

The only nasty thing about the ride is the bit that takes me to the bridge, plus a bit of stupidity on the other side.

The Council in their wisdom has decided to mark out a bike lane along a street that runs parallel with Victoria Road. Victoria Road is an immensely busy arterial - one of the main roads in Sydney. I hope I never end up on it on my bike. I much prefer the back street.

There is just one problem - the back street has a road surface that would put the Paris to Dakar rally conditions to shame. And of course the worst bits of surface are right where they have marked the bike lane, so I never ride in it. It's a bit bloody stupid really. The council can say that they have created another 500 metres of bike path for the cost of a few tins of paint, but the whole thing is just a lie.

Fucking local government. What more can I say?

Once I get under the bridge, I meander around the water for a bit before rejoining the road. Once again, the council has built a path that for cyclists, is a path to nowhere.

There is a bit of an artform to building cycle paths. With pedestrians, it's easy. You can build a totally shoddy goat track and people can still walk on it. It doesn't matter if bits are missing - pedestrians will find their way around any obstacles.

Now that I own a pram, I know that it is not so easy when pushing a pram. Suddenly those rocks and stairs and lumpy bits and missing wheelchair ramps become big obstacles. A pedestrian with a pram is nowhere as manouverable as one without. Sounds obvious, but it doesn't stop stupid bloody council planners and council workers from building paths that could only have been laid by complete dickheads.

With a bike, you take it up a notch as you are travelling a lot faster. My top speed pushing a pram is 6 km/h, and that is fast for most pram walkers. Yes, some people run with prams, but they are a minority.

On the flat, I rarely drop below 25 km/h unless there is a really nasty headwind. Cruising speed is around 30 km/h. Fast cruise is 35 km/h. Really hiking along is 45 km/h, and flat out with tailwind is 50 km/h.

Suddenly stairs and potholes and rocks and low hanging branches and other obstacles become enormous problems. A pedestrian going 6 km/h can come to a complete stop in one step. A cyclist at 35 km/h on skinny tyres takes.... I have no idea how long to pull up. Too bloody long is the simple answer, and at that speed, any obstacle is likely to result in a crash.

A cyclist is also as likely to get off their bike and push it as a motorist is as likely to get out of their car and push it. I know that sounds silly, but it is part of the psychology of riding a road bike. Mountain bikers might be used to dismounting, but the only time I dismount is at the end of the ride, or when I have to carry my bike up a set of stairs. Apart from that, I dismount for no one or nothing.

Which leads me to stupid councils. Once I get past the Gladesville Bridge, I am on a path that was not designed with bikes in mind. For starters, there is no way to get onto it from the road - no wheelchair ramp. The only way onto it is to either jump the kerb and cross some grass, or to go into a driveway and cross a nature strip, hoping that no punctures occur on the way across. At the far end, there is a wheelchair ramp, but it is not designed for a speedy exit onto the road. I think the safest way to get onto a road is to do so as quickly as possible, like merging lanes when you join a freeway. Slow traffic is a menace, and so are slow bikes. Of course the ramp has been located in such a way to slow you to an utter crawl.

I wish I could control a concrete truck and crew for a few weeks. The fun I'd have.

How to cut the road toll

Once again, the SMH is up in arms about P-platers running into things and killing themselves. Everyday, there is another front page article on some 18 year old that has managed to kill themself, and often a few friends. There is the usual hue and cry to "do something about it".

I don't know about you, but I think the principal cause is that young people are idiots. I was young once, and I was an idiot. I did stupid things with guns, flamable liquids, explosives, cars, heights, fire, water, tools, alcohol, bicycles, motorbikes, trucks, cats and just about anything that came to hand. That's part of being young. I was lucky - I got away with it.

The usual cure for all of this is simple - growing up.

One difference these days is that the youngsters are driving much better cars than we had to put up with. One of the things that comes with a "better" car is that it is faster. We had underpowered slugheaps that were lucky to get up to 110 going downhill with a tailwind. Every picture of a totalled car that I have seen included what seemed to be a fairly late model car that had either a reasonably powerful 4 cylinder motor or a fairly pokey 6. Commodores these days can get up to a ludicrously scarey speed in very little time at all. Cars have gotten safer, faster, more economical and less polluting, and along the way, they have created a false sense of security. I live on a corner, and the window that I am sitting in front of now looks onto that corner. I see youngsters lose it on this corner all the time - they try and take it too fast and they end up all out of shape. So far, none of them has met a car coming the other way, but that day will come, and I will be looking out the window at a head-on.

The cars that I drove as a youngster all got out of shape so quickly that one didn't have a chance to have a deadly high speed crash - one had metal bending low speed crashes that rarely resulted even in bruising.

I think the answer is to start importing Russian cars again and making them compulsory for those under 25. No more BMW's for the 19 year olds.

I must be a sucker for Ikea

For some years now, I have been working off a big desk at home that is totally bereft of drawers or filing. It's great - I just dump everything on top and when the mess gets too much, I throw out all the rubbish, stack up the things I want to keep and move on.

Due to space restrictions though, I now have to share the desk. Boo hoo. I am now down to about 1/3 of the area that I am used to, since a fax and another PC now occupy the other 2/3 of the desk. That meant I finally had to relent and buy a 3 drawer thingy to stash all my loose junk in. Ikea seemed to offer the best bargain with the 3 drawer thingys costing only $49.

I think. I'm sure I only paid $49. Maybe it was $59? Who knows. It was less than you'd probably pay for a half decent unit second hand.

The only problem with buying a GOLIAT from Ikea is putting the blasted thing together. They always fool you in the shops by presenting fully built models. That to me is false advertising - they should instead display what the thing looks like when you pull the 74 bits out of the box and have them spread around you on the floor. Then throw in a couple of toddlers to smash the foam packing into 63,000 little white bits and to jump up and down on the cardboard box until it is mush.

It shouldn't have been that hard. After all, the little Dalek of a thing barely reaches my knee, has no moving parts and consists largely of a base, two sides, a back and a top.

Well, it wasn't that hard really, except that my legs ached from bending over for an hour or so whilst screwing it together.

What I did work out is that this self-assembley idea is a crock. I have just bought something for $49 that has numerous metal and plastic fasteners, umpteen bits of wood, plastic runners and door handles and was all cut and packed in China and shipped to Australia and it still only cost $49.

Which means if you take out the profit and the shipping costs and the handling and transport and storage and the general overhead of running a 2 acre shop, means it probably cost about $10 to make in China. Which also means some rice eating bloke was probably paid about 20 cents an hour to cut it and pack it.

If it took me an hour to put it together, why not give the guy another bowl of rice and get him to put it together? After all, it would increase the price from $49.00 to $49.20.

Dining at the Welcome Hotel

Had dinner at the Welcome last week - hadn't been there for some time, and we felt like a night out.

The Welcome has a proper dining room, unlike some pubs where you just eat in the bar area. Not many people were having a feed - the dining room had maybe a dozen tables and we were the only ones there until near the end of the meal.

We don't have the luxury of eating long, lazy meals anymore. Little Monkey will sit around reasonably quietly for about 10 minutes and that's it. As soon as we got there, we let him go and he wandered around the restaurant until the food arrived re-arranging chairs, playing with the power points and generally trying to pull glasses, plates and cuttlery onto the floor.

The Welcome has quite a good menu, with just enough dishes to choose from. They'd don't smother you with choice. I didn't bother looking at the wine list as we were both off the juice. What I should have done was eat 2 or 3 entrees instead of just having a main. The entrees looked really good on paper, and my main turned out to be annoying.

One bad thing was that our food seemed to take forever to arrive. I went for a veal cutlet, which was a good sized, done rare but served on a bed of awful vegies. I think it was a bed of celery and leek, and I just hate celery. I don't mind leek, but it was undercooked and tough and stringy. The meat was good though. I asked for a side order of chips, and they were the crappiest chips that I have had in a while. No salt, not fried - I think they were oven baked, and they were both soggy and flavourless. Don't go the chips.

J had a chicken ballantyne, which is some sort of boned out piece of chook that has been stuffed with something. I'm not sure what it was stuffed with, but I didn't particularly like it. It was served with some sort of gnocchi, which I tried and almost spat out. It was dreadful. I think it was stuffed with sage, which I love with pork, but it seemed to be about 70% sage and 30% gnocchi and you have to tread lightly with sage.

Big thumbs down.

To cap it off, the chook did not agree with J, and we had to pay and bolt and then pray that she didn't have a chuck in the car on the way home. It was that bad.

Which is a shame, as J knows the owner and the Welcome is normally very good. It hasn't put me off the place, as it has so much potential. Next time we go there, I am just going to order entrees until I have had enough.

As far as price goes, it is a bit expensive. Our mains were $27 each, and the totally crap chips were $7.50, which is one of the most awful rip-offs that I have ever seen. For $7.50, we could have gone to Lashings and got a great big burger with everything and chips on the side, and Lashings makes great chips, smothered in chicken salt.

So that was the Welcome. I wonder how long it will be before I can face it again?

Saturday 2 December 2006

Flipping foul French food

Well, I finally made it to our local French restaurant for a feed other than breakfast. I was working from home last week and feeling a bit peckish and we were monkey free, so we decided to have lunch as a couple.

Le Grande Bouffe is a lovely place to sit in - the decor is good and the layout is interesting. The staff are also not too bad. Pity about the food.

To start with, it's a very difficult place to take a vegetarian for lunch, even one that eats chicken (a chookatarian?). Apart from a salad and a soup, everything on the menu had lots of meat in it. Or fish. Vegetarians could starve in places like this. I guess there aren't many vegos in Frogland.

I was not that hungry, so I went for two entrees - the soup and a terrine. The soup was a consome of tomato with a few parcels of pasta like stuff in it, sprinkled with truffle oil and shredded basil. It was nice, but not to my taste. It was also a silly thing to eat when the temperature was around 38 degrees.

The terrine was not bad either, but not good. It was just plain boring. I doubt there was any herbs or seasoning in the meat mixture, and if there were, they were very subtle. Too subtle for my worn out tongue. It was served with a small pot of onion relish, which was quite tasteless as far as relishes go, and the relish was garnished with two small cornichons, which were also pretty tasteless.

In short, it was like working your way through a plate of cardboard. Not bad cardboard, but cardboard none the less.

J had a salad of walnut, blue cheese, pear and rocket-type greenery, and it looked alright. It was the only thing she could eat on the menu. There seemed to be a lot of it, and she didn't complain, but we aren't going back.

It's put me off French food a bit. We have another frog place nearby called Vatel, and we have never eaten there, although everytime we drive past we say, "We should eat there". Now I am not so sure.

Ah, what the hell, we'll give it a go.

PS - lunch at Le Grande Bouffe set us back quite a lot when you consider that we had 3 entrees and tap water. It was an expensive failure.

Yes, I have changed the blog template

I must be getting old, because I was finding the blog hard to read with the previous template. I have been reading a few blogs lately, and found that the "minima" template is one of the easiest to read - big letters, few distractions.

I hope it helps your eyes too.

Lazy good for nothing shoppers

I hate lazy people. People who are too lazy to push their shopping trolley into a trolley bay in the car park once they have finished loading their car. People who just leave their trolley next to their car, blocking two car spaces, and drive off.

I hope they are all fat bastards with sore knees.

Why is it that people think it is fine to abandon trolleys in car parks? Where I shop, there are multiple spots set aside for used trolleys, and no car space is more than a 20 second walk from a trolley bay. Yet the car park is generally spattered with trolleys, and one bloke is employed full time to go round and round the car park sweeping them up.

I parked there the other day, spotted an unused trolley and pushed it to a bay, which wasn't that hard as the trolley was right next to my car and the trolley bay was in a direct line to the escalator which takes you up to the shops. I didn't have to deviate more than a few feet to collect it.

I got some stares of wonder and astonishment from some of my fellow shoppers. The thought of cleaning up after themselves had obviously never crossed their tiny little minds.

I can't wait for my local supermarket to start charging a $2 deposit for trolleys. That'll stuff 'em.

I finally make an edible breakfast

I eat breakfast out a lot. There are several reasons for this, but the main one is that I am not that fond of cereal. The ones that are good for you taste like cardboard and I just don't like the ones that are bad for you - way too sweet. I can't handle sweet stuff early in the morning. Croissants and bagels and all that are not for me - I need something savoury.

The second reason is that I can't make coffee, or at least good coffee. I have tried my hand at several expensive coffee machines owned by other people and it is an art that I haven't mastered. I can make something drinkable, but not something good.

The third reason is that I am really quite crap at cooking breakfast. So are a lot of cafes. But that's beside the point. Someone that cooks 50 breakfasts per day is likely to be much better at it than me, so I bow to the experts.

The last few weeks though have seen me doing a bit of work from home. The option is there to go out for a feed, but some morning I don't have time and I have to feed myself.


I have been in omelette mode lately, so that is what I have been making. Today, I finally managed to make one that would be passable at my favourite local cafe. Not great, but passable. It has only taken about 50 dozen eggs to get to this point.

There were three things that I did differently today - I added a lot more salt than normal, I ground a huge amount of pepper into it, and I whacked in a stack of ....aaargh, can't remember the name of the cheese. It's French, and it smells a bit, and it is great with eggs. It will come to me eventually. Anyway, I put in about 3 times my local dose. I need to remember the name as we are almost out and I will have to go shopping for more tomorrow.

I thought I was going to have a cheesy disaster, but it was fantastic. I was pretty impressed with myself. I have also been shopping around for bread to put it on, and have settled on a very good sourdough loaf that has only one drawback - it is $5.50 a loaf, and I have to drive miles to buy it.

But it is worth it.

In case you are wondering, the eggs come from cage chickens. To hell with free range - the cage chooks lay eggs that are just as good and are half the price. My only exception to that is when I get eggs from Ann, as her chooks run around all over the farm and get fed heaps of expensive grain, and the yolks are so yellow, they look like blood oranges.

So I can now feed myself at home. I am so happy, I think I will have to eat out tomorrow to celebrate.

I finally make an edible breakfast

I eat breakfast out a lot. There are several reasons for this, but the main one is that I am not that fond of cereal. The ones that are good for you taste like cardboard and I just don't like the ones that are bad for you - way too sweet. I can't handle sweet stuff early in the morning. Croissants and bagels and all that are not for me - I need something savoury.

The second reason is that I can't make coffee, or at least good coffee. I have tried my hand at several expensive coffee machines owned by other people and it is an art that I haven't mastered. I can make something drinkable, but not something good.

The third reason is that I am really quite crap at cooking breakfast. So are a lot of cafes. But that's beside the point. Someone that cooks 50 breakfasts per day is likely to be much better at it than me, so I bow to the experts.

The last few weeks though have seen me doing a bit of work from home. The option is there to go out for a feed, but some morning I don't have time and I have to feed myself.


I have been in omelette mode lately, so that is what I have been making. Today, I finally managed to make one that would be passable at my favourite local cafe. Not great, but passable. It has only taken about 50 dozen eggs to get to this point.

There were three things that I did differently today - I added a lot more salt than normal, I ground a huge amount of pepper into it, and I whacked in a stack of ....aaargh, can't remember the name of the cheese. It's French, and it smells a bit, and it is great with eggs. It will come to me eventually. Anyway, I put in about 3 times my local dose. I need to remember the name as we are almost out and I will have to go shopping for more tomorrow.

I thought I was going to have a cheesy disaster, but it was fantastic. I was pretty impressed with myself. I have also been shopping around for bread to put it on, and have settled on a very good sourdough loaf that has only one drawback - it is $5.50 a loaf, and I have to drive miles to buy it.

But it is worth it.

In case you are wondering, the eggs come from cage chickens. To hell with free range - the cage chooks lay eggs that are just as good and are half the price. My only exception to that is when I get eggs from Ann, as her chooks run around all over the farm and get fed heaps of expensive grain, and the yolks are so yellow, they look like blood oranges.

So I can now feed myself at home. I am so happy, I think I will have to eat out tomorrow to celebrate.

Friday 1 December 2006

It's getting warmer

I am still hovering around the 75 to 100 kms per week mark, struggling to push right up to 160 kms per week. I was hoping that the warmer weather would help - I can get out of bed earlier and take a longer route into work, since the danger of getting frostbite on the way is no more. However, everything is conspiring against me and I am sleeping in instead, thus cutting down the morning riding time. If I can do 14 kms each way, cracking 100 kms a week should be a doddle - ride 4 times and it's done.

Apart from sleeping in though, I've been working from home a bit, and it's a bit hard to ride in those circumstances. Once I start working, it's hard to break out of it and take an hour off for a pedal. I know I should, but working from home seems to mean putting in a 14 hour day.

Hmm, must set alarm clock for 4pm and ride, regardless of what is going on.

Exercise cockroaches

I was having a bite to eat with a few co-workers recently and we were talking about the hazards of mixing cyclists and pedestrians. One bloke goes for a ride before work some mornings (on a mountain bike I presume) and he also complains about pedestrians straddling the entire available footpath - and he lives in south Sydney. So it doesn't seem to matter which suburb you live in - some pedestrians are just plain fools.

Why is the ABC so stupid?

I was watching the news on the night that the Blackhawk clipped Kanimbla and went into the water. Some idiotic journo was prattling on about how the Army had sent out a purchase order for replacements for the Blackhawk and "those that fly in them must be nervously awaiting the arrival of the new helicopters", implying that the existing choppers are crap units that are just waiting to fall out of the sky!

Amazing. Where do they get these drongos?

Who knows what happened to the Blackhawk. Until the investigation is complete, it's a bit early to start blaming the helicopter. For all we know, the pilot might have stuffed the approach or the landing and it is all down to pilot error. Hell, after reading a few books on flying, everything is down to pilot error, even if the rotor falls off in mid-air (pilot blamed for not properly checking the aircraft before taking off).

I can't understand why more journalists aren't punched in the face each year - the excuse being that the puncher was trying to knock some common sense into the punchee.