Saturday 30 March 2013

Hard work (for someone else)

When the kids were younger, I thought about getting one of these kid-bike things that you bolt onto the back of your bike in order to tow the youngster around.

Glad I didn't - watching this bloke struggle up this ramp put me right off it. His kid was just lying back, feet off the pedals, not doing a thing to help. Then again, the excess baggage around my guts probably weighs about as much as his kid plus the bike, so who am I to talk?

Friday 29 March 2013

I just realised my headmaster must have read Xenophon

I stumbled upon "Spartan Society" by Xenophon today, and his description below bears some eerie similarities to my boarding school experiences...... The whole thing is worth a read.

4. Now that I have explained about procreation I want to give a precise account of education. Elsewhere in Greece those who claim to give their sons the finest education put their children under the care of servants as tutors and dispatch them to schools to learn reading and writing and music and the art of wrestling. They make their children’s feet soft with shoes and their bodies delicate with many clothes. As for food, they let them eat as much as their stomachs can hold. But Lycurgus, in place of the private assignment of slave tutors to each boy, stipulated that a man should take charge of them as Train-in-Chief. Lycurgus gave this man authority both to assemble the boys and to punish them severely. He also gave him a squad of young adults equipped with whips to administer punishment when necessary. The result has been that respect and obedience in combination are found to a high degree at Sparta.

5. Rather than letting boys’ feet grow soft in shoes, he told them emphatically to make them strong by not wearing shoes, in the belief that this practice should enable them to walk uphill with greater ease, jump better, and run faster than the one with shoes. And instead of their clothes serving to make them delicate, he required them to become used to a single garment all year round, the idea being that thereby they would be better prepared for cold and heat. As for food, he instructed the eiren to furnish for the common meal just the right amount for them never to become sluggish through being too full, while also giving them a taste of what it is not to have enough. His view was that boys under this kind of regimen would be better able, when required, to work hard without eating, as well as to make the same rations last longer; they would be satisfied with a plain diet, would adapt better to accepting any type of food, and would be in a healthier condition. He also considered that a diet which produced slim bodies would also make them grow tall.

6. On the other hand, while he did not allow them to take what they required effortlessly, to prevent them suffering from hunger he did permit them to steal in order to ward off starvation. Clearly a prospective thief must keep awake at night, and by day must practice deception and lie in wait, as well as have spies ready if he is going to seize anything. So clearly it was Lycurgus’ wish that by training the boys in all these ways he would make them more resourceful at feeding themselves and better fighters. Someone might ask then, if he considered theft a good thing, why on earth did he inflict many lashes on a boy who was caught stealing? My answer is, because people chastise anyone who does not perform satisfactorily. After making it an honor for them to snatch as many cheeses as possible from the Temple of Artemis Orthia, he commanded others to whip them, thereby demonstrating that a short period of pain may be compensated by the enjoyment of long-lasting prestige. With the intention that even in the absence of the Trainer-in-Chief the boys should always have someone ein charge of them, he authorized any citizen who happened to be present at the time to give the boys whatever instruction he thought proper, and to punish any slip they might make. By this measure he gave the boys a greater sense of respect. To ensure that someone should be in control of the boys even when no adult happened to be on the spot, he deputed the smartest of the eirens to take command of each squadron. As a result the boys of Sparta are never without someone in charge of them.

7. The time when boys reach their teens is the very moment when others remove them from tutors, remove them from schools and have nobody in charge of them any longer, but rather leave them independent. Here, too, Lycurgus took the opposite view. Because he appreciated that at this age boys become self-willed and are particularly liable to cockiness — both of which produce powerful cravings for pleasure — this was the age at which he loaded them with the greatest amount of work and contrived that they should be kept occupied most of the time. In his wish to see a sense of respect strongly implanted in them, he have orders that even in the streets they should keep both hands inside their cloaks, should proceed in silence, and should not let their gaze wander in any direction, but fix their eyes on the ground in front of them. Certainly, you would sooner hear a cry from a stone statue or succeed in catching the eye of a bronze one than a Spartan boy. And whenever they attended the mess, they were only allowed to respond to questions the men put to them. Such, then, was the attention he devoted to youths.

8. However, he displayed the greatest concern by far for the young adults, in the conviction that they had the most influence for the good of the state if they were of the right character. From his observation that when people have the strong innate spirit of competition their choruses are the ones most worth watching, he came to think that if he could also urge the young adults to compete in excellence, then they would attain the height of manly gallantry. Let me explain how he used to urge them.

9. From among them the ephors select three of those in their prime. Each of these picks 100 men with a clear explanation of why he approves some and rejects others. As a result those who do not achieve the honor are at war with both those who have dismissed them and those chosen instead of them, and the two groups are on the lookout for any negligent act which may go against the accepted standards of honor. This is also the type of competition most highly favored by the gods and best suited to a citizen community — in which the conduct demanded of brave men is spelled out and each of the two groups independently strives to ensure that it will always prove superior. But should any need arise they would as one protect the city with all their might. They must keep themselves physically fit too, since their rivalry brings on fights whenever they meet. However, all passers-by have the right to separate the combatants. Anyone who defies the man attempting to separate them is brought before the ephors; they levy a stiff fine in their desire to establish the principle that anger must never prevail over respect for the law.

10. As for those who have passed beyond the youngest grade of adulthood, other Greeks, after removing their obligation to keep up their physical strength, nonetheless require them to go on serving in the army when necessary. Lycurgus by contrast made hunting the noblest of pastime for men of this age, so that they could stand up to the exertions of campaigning just as well as the youngest men. This then completes my account of the training Lycurgus prescribed by law.

11. When Lycurgus too the Spartans in hand they were living in separate households like Greeks elsewhere. He concluded that this was the cause of a great amount of misbehavior and so devised his scheme for common messes, thinking gthat these would reduce disobedience. The rations he fixed in such a way that they should have neither too much nor too little food. There is never a shortage of food on the table, yet neither is there a lavish spread. When it came to wine he stopped excessive drinking — which causes both physical and mental degeneration — and just let each man drink whenever he felt thirsty. In his view this is the least harmful and most enjoyable way of drinking. With common messes of this type how would anyone ruin either himself or his household by greediness or alcoholism?

12. In other cities men of the same age generally congregate together and respect only their own social group. But at Sparta Lycurgus mixed ages together in the belief that it is beneficial for the younger men to learn from the older ones. Indeed, it was the custom that any noble act on the part of any citizen was discussed in the messes, so that there was limited opportunity for drunken behavior. Eating out certainly brings out more benefits. To get home the Spartans have to walk, taking care not to trip and fall under the influence of wine. They also have to do in the dark what they do by daylight; men still liable for military service are not even allowed a torch. Lycurgus further noted that the same rations improve the complexion, physique, and strength of hard workers, whereas they give lazy people a bloated, ugly, and feeble appearance. It would certainly not be easy for anyone to find men healthier or more physically adept than Spartiates.

13. Lycurgus definitely held the opposite view to the majority of Greeks in the following ways too. In other cities each man is master of his own children, slaves, and property.. But Lycurgus, in his wish to arrange that citizens might enjoy a mutual benefit without injury to anyone, caused each man to be master of other people’s children just as much as his own. Should any boy ever tell his father that he was beaten by another, then it is a disgrace if the father does not give his son another beating. To such a degree do Spartans trust each other not to discipline children carelessly or dishonor good order. He even authorized them to use other people’s household servants too if anybody needed them. He also authorized the sharing of hunting dogs. They have the same arrangement with horses, so that if someone needs to go somewhere fast and happens to spot a horse anywhere, he just takes it, and then duly returns it after use. He also arranged to have food caches stocked throughout Sparta so that those in need could break the seals and take what they needed. By sharing with each other in this way, even those who possess little can benefit from everything in the polis whenever they are in need.

14.  There are also the following practices instituted by Lycurgus which are quite the opposite from those elsewhere in Greece. In the other poleis everyone naturally makes as much money as possible; some are farmers, others ship owners or traders, while crafts support others. But at Sparta Lycurgus banned all free men from the pursuit of wealth and prescribed that their sole concern should be with things that make cities free. Lycurgus demanded that provisions should be contributed on an equal basis and the way of life be uniform, thus doing away with self-indulgent passion for wealth. There is no point in making money even for the sake of clothes, since it is physical vitality which gives men a distinctive appearance not lavish dress. There is no point in amassing money to spend on fellow members of the mess either, since Lycurgus instilled the idea that the person who helps his companions by undertaking physical labor is more reputable than the one who spends money — the former service comes from the heart, whereas the latter is a function of being rich.

Great cake disasters

Cakes - I really know how to make a mess of making them. My baking experiences are a litany of blunders and mishaps.

I made one last weekend, and didn't cook it for long enough. The middle bit was just a tiny bit squishy - but the rest was edible. Problem is, we had a hot week, the cake didn't go in the fridge and it started rotting from the squishy middle bits after 2 days. Blunder one.

I whipped up a chocolate cake this morning - not very Eastery of me, but I don't have a recipe for chocolate hot cross buns. I was a bit cavalier when I took it out of the oven - instead of sliding it carefully onto the bench, I dropped it.

The cake collapsed faster than a Cypriot bank. It now resembles a swimming pool or a deep fish pond. The icing in the middle must be at least an inch thick.

Too many ambulances

It's been a long time since I've seen a crashed rider requiring an ambulance - and then along come two such crashes this week.

Both happened in Pyrmont before I got there. I was riding into work and a pack went past going in the other direction. The last rider called out "Watch out - there's a rider clown up ahead". "Rider clown?", I thought. WTF?

When I got to the next intersection, there was a rider down. He already had his helmet off and was just lying there with a few other people around him, obviously waiting for an ambulance. No point in me stopping, so I pushed on. No idea what caused him to crash. He wasn't bleeding, but he was obviously in a lot of pain.

Coming home that night, and just a bit further up the road, I spied an ambulance and police car on the side of the road. When I got up to them, the ambos were treating a rider. Again, no idea what brought him down.

I reckon these things come in threes, so I spent the rest of the ride home trying not to become casualty number three.



On the way into town that morning, a taxi pulled up next to me at the lights and the passenger would down his window and asked me about my ride to work. It turned out he had just started riding to work, and I told him that it was great and safe and he should do it more often.

10 minutes later, I passed the downed rider.......

Monday 18 March 2013

Freedom conference

Unfortunately, as per the last post, I'll be too busy to make this conference on 6-7 April. But you should get along.

Too busy to scratch myself

Blogging has indeed been slow - got lots to do. Work has been insane lately, and the home life didn't get any better when the kids went back to school. Just too much to do and not enough time to blog. It comes down to a choice between blogging and sleeping - and I choose sleep.

Monday 4 March 2013

How to eat Vegemite

This guy gets through it almost as fast as the kids.

It's March, and I still haven't watched live TV this year

I was flopped on the couch, reading a book, when I looked at the TV and realised I have not watched anything live on it so far this year that grown up in nature. I think I've watched one recorded movie, and that's it. The kids get to watch ABC2 (the kids channel), but if I happen to be in the room when they're watching it, I'm either reading or snoozing on the couch.

No news. No current affairs. No cooking shows or reality stuff. No historical series or movies or comedies. No sport. Not even NCIS, which had me hooked for 6 seasons. I just haven't found a reason to turn it on and channel surf.

In fact I probably haven't really watched anything on it since November.

Of course come June 21, this will all come to an end. For three weeks. I'll definitely have to invest in a new DVR before then so I can stop falling asleep on the couch an hour into each stage of Le Tour.

Riding bikes is so much comfier....

From here -

Thanks for the tip, Agro.

Sunday 3 March 2013

The incredible weirdness of the internet

Breaded cats. Need I say more?

Cav - this is something to look at, not something for you to do with your damned cat.

Who the hell smokes dope at quarter to seven in the morning?

One of the oddest things about my commute up and down Lilyfield Rd is the frequency with which I smell someone smoking dope. In the afternoons, it tends to waft from the windows of utes driving by - hopefully, only the passenger is partaking, and not the driver. But what stuns me is when I smell it first thing in the morning. The earliest time so far was last week at 0645hrs. It didn't seem to be coming from a parked or moving car, so I presume it was emanating from the Housing Commission apartments that line that section of road. What sort of dope smoker has the inner fortitude to wake up at that hour of the day and light the first cone?

And yes, I know what the stuff smells like. I haven't inhaled in a long time - at least a decade or more. I even partook in trying to grow it when I was at uni - each attempt was a fiasco. Although our group included numerous farm boys who have since gone on to grow enough grain to feed large sections of the third world, we were woefully inadequate at coaxing a weed to flourish. Perhaps it was because they were much better at killing weeds than growing and smoking them.

Only two crops showed any signs of producing a reasonable crop. The first disappeared when some thieving bastards came over the back fence and made off with the whole lot. The second disappeared when the mother of one of the farmers turned up one weekend to tidy the garden in the share house. Whilst we were all recovering somewhere else from a party and a hangover, she removed a trailer load of weeds (good and bad) to the tip. None of us felt like driving out to the tip to fossick through a mountain of garden and vegetable scraps to find them.

After that, we tended to stick to brewing our own beer. That was generally more successful - except when we added too much sugar to one batch and the bottles exploded one by one in our holding area under the stairs. We weren't game to go near them in case one exploded in our faces, so we waited until all 30 bottles had exploded before cleaning up the mess. That took about a week. By the time we moved in with shovels and a rubbish bin, the under stairs area had turned into an interesting mix of broken glass, the remains of dried beer and mold.

I don't think we brewed any beer after that experience either.

Saturday 2 March 2013

Kid friendly cafes - are they worth it?

If you'd suggested to me 10 years ago that I even set foot in the door of a "kid friendly" cafe, I would have run screaming for the horizon. Nowadays, I'm more likely to be standing at the door at 0759hrs with my kids waiting for the place to open.

Some time last year, a very kid-oriented cafe opened up in Wareemba called Hopscotch. I noticed it one day as I was riding down to the end of the Abbotsford peninsular, and then filed it away and forgot about it. You're probably wondering, "Where the hell is Wareemba"? The only reason I know how to find it is because I was riding through one day and saw these big blue signs that said, "Welcome to Wareemba". I think the whole suburb is about 4 streets by 4 streets - a 'pocket' suburb so to speak.

Today was the day when I got to give it a go. I've tried every cafe in Five Dock and the two other cafes in Wareemba. Frankly, none of them do anything for me. There's something about each and every one of them that gives me the shits. Mostly, it is the requirement that you have to be an Italian or Greek insider in order to get decent service in any of them. If you're not part of the local wog mafia, forget it. The food that a lot of them serve is pretty rubbish too. You might think that an area stuffed full of Italians would produce good food - and you'd be wrong.

Thankfully, Hopscotch is the odd one out. From what I can gather, the owners are from Chile, so they are definitely not part of the wog establishment. The place is very kid friendly - there are two primary schools within walking distance, so they definitely have the local mums lined up as their target market. As far as being kid friendly goes, I reckon they've hit the spot. However, it's not an overwhelmingly kid cafe - the food is very grown up, and you can safely eat there without sprogs.

First thing - I would definitely go back again. It has two big common tables - I like these, because when the place is half empty, they give me plenty of room to spread the newspapers out and eat in style. The food is also tasty and the omelette I had today would have stopped an elephant. It certainly stuffed a wet and hungry cyclist who needed stuffing.

Amazingly, the coffee is also first grade. When I got home, I googled some reviews and found that all the coffee snobs gave it very good marks. They use Paul Bassett beans - whatever they are.

If you're the sort of person that makes a fuss about organic this and home made that, then it ticks all the right boxes. I don't really care for any of that - I just care whether the end product is any good. Doesn't matter if you start with organic eggs from home raised chickens fed on organic corn - if you can't cook an egg for nuts, the ingredients are immaterial.

There were a few kids eating with mum and/or dad when I was there. Every now and then, something would go crashing to the floor - but the place was not overwhelmed with the noise of screaming, uncontrolled children. It struck me that the clientele of this place actually know how to discipline and manage their kids, which is something of a first.

The only downer was the price - it was nearly $20 for an omelette and a coffee. Sure, it was first grade stuff, and the service was good, but that's still a big hit for breakfast. Then again, it seems to be pretty hard to avoid having the wallet pounded anywhere these days.

Insert rant here:

Kid friendly cafes - a sure sign that society is on the decline. One of the primary functions of parents is to socialise their offspring - to teach the little buggers how to behave in private and in public. Kid friendly cafes are a cop out - they allow useless, degenerate, hopeless parents to inflict their undisciplined little brats on an unsuspecting public. Kids should be taught to sit down, shut up and quietly amuse themselves without interfering with any grown ups in the vicinity who are trying to concentrate on a newspaper and a good coffee. There is a place for hyperactive little monsters who need to be fed - it's called McDonalds.

End rant:

Friday 1 March 2013

3am kebab guts

Had a bad case of 3am kebab guts today, and unfortunately, it had nothing to do with having a kebab at 3am.

What are 3am kebab guts?

The only reason why anyone has a kebab at 3am is if they have been drinking solidly since about 5pm. The impact on the guts the following morning of too many beers topped off with an early morning kebab is usually catastrophic. The kebab of course is not the cause of the problem - it is the maraschino cherry of stupidity plopped atop a massive banana split of overindulgence.

3am kebab guts are a bloody awful thing to have on a bike. Apart from the embarrassment of possibly letting rip in the face of the person riding closely behind you, there is always the chance you might draw a bit of mud. I don't fret about the embarrassment when commuting, as I don't know any of the other cyclists around me. However, it's a different story when I do a weekend ride.

Enough of that. Possibly too much information. The result was the slowest ride home in a long time - I just couldn't risk pushing it overly hard and thereby putting any excess pressure on the guts. Got no idea what I ate to induce this intestinal horror, but it was nasty.