May issue #182


Nothing appealed as a P&W subject until I saw this..
Mike's Pith & Wind
The theory and practice of being a MAMIL
There was a letter to the Editor in The Age this morning about MAMILS (middle-aged men in lycra). We always knew that they would be an angry lot from the odd exchanges we’ve had with them at traffic lights and executing right turns. The indignation! The righteous rage!
When you’re lounging at the wheel of your motorised vehicle it’s all a bit disconcerting really. ‘Curb your angst old chap’ occurs to you later, but ‘fuck off you silly old bugger’ will suffice in the heat of the moment.
I had the misfortune to be headed off by a pair of unmounted SOBs while I was trying to place an order for breakfast in a Canberra café recently. You immediately notice that simple act of walking in their riding cleats is a problem and even standing upright looks a bit of an effort. And what’s with the shaved legs? Do you really think it helps with aerodynamic drag? Or do you kid yourself it just looks better with the varicose veins in high relief?
The pair’s conversation could only interest another rider. Observations about the truck that nearly collected you as you streamed down the mountain at the speed of sound. The lotion you’re experimenting with to inhibit the nasty-looking rash on your crotch. Never a word spoken about the views, which I find interesting.
My bro’ Dick responded tentatively about his own bike-riding routine at lunch recently. He confessed to being ‘terrified’ about the prospect of being collected again on the roads around Warrandyte. He’s been lucky twice – maybe he won’t be so lucky the next time. He still rides, but he’s more thoughtful these days about where he rides, especially now that he has a grandson and another bundle of joy on the way.
I know he enjoys the benefits of being fit when he’s riding regularly, but sensibly he’s not overly fanatical about it. I suspect a good percentage of these elderly cyclists are however true cycling fanatics. Bike riding becomes an obsession to these chaps, particularly after retirement, and other road users are viewed as not only potentially lethal adversaries but actually superfluous.
I’d had a couple of drinks at that same lunch and the notion occurred to me that maybe there’s a unconscious death-by-bike-riding movement going on here. I’m reminded of the Monty Python team on their pretend steeds looking for the Holy Grail because there’s something vaguely noble about going out on your state-of-the-art lighter-than-air two wheeler equipped only with a bike helmet and a pump, there to be confronted by hordes of motorised killing machines being piloted by people who only care about getting from point A to point B in the shortest possible time and who aren’t expecting to find the equivalent of a tiger moth wobbling along the left lane – sometimes unbelievably in tandem with another moth-er with an even more pronounced death wish.
In my hometown of Christchurch bicycles were a commonplace resource for schoolchildren to and froing from school. There were no SUVs with grim mothers taking their off-spring to school in those days. Bike-riding paedophiles were not considered a threat and anyway, the fearful attitudes about the safety of one’s children so prevalent these days were easily suppressed in favour of getting rid of the little blighters for a few hours and sipping blissfully on cocktails while playing canasta and listening to Doctor Paul.
Christchurch is and was hyper-flat – even before it was levelled by the recent earthquakes – and so all that the waves of bike-riding school children had to worry about was the direction of the wind. Bikes were so de rigueur that the police insisted on inspecting every child’s bike once a term and sticking on a certificate of road worthiness – or a list of faults to be remedied ASAP. There was a comic strip in newspaper featuring one Pedalling Pete, who passed on tips on how to keep your bike up to scratch mechanically and what your rights were on the road. In short, we were a bike-happy kingdom.
My brother and I lived on the Cashmere Hills and so had a very fast ride down Dyers Pass Rd in the morning mirrored by a long walk pushing the bike up the same steep incline in the evening. When it was frosty in the winter mornings there was the unpleasant sensation of hitting the icy cold layer of air trapped by the inevitable temperature inversion and the considerable danger posed by ice on the sharp bend at the bottom of Dyers Pass Rd. One boy had been killed on that very corner.
My bike maintenance was haphazard at best and on one drizzly morning I realised that my hand brakes were almost totally ineffectual as I hurtled towards the corner of death – and so I crashed. I was lucky to have the ability to slow my descent by using my pedals in reverse to jam the back wheel – an essential adjunct to the feeble and under-maintained hand brakes.
The most embarrassing bike moment was one I would’ve liked somebody to record on their phones, except they didn’t exist in those days. My mate Dave Fisher and I were idling home on our bikes (in tandem) and chatting about this and that. One of Christchurch’s famous red buses passed us and there were a number of our colleagues making rude gestures at us from the back window.
We were so discombobulated we wobbled into each other and fell in an inglorious heap on the road, much to the glee of our school mates. Luckily only our pride was hurt, despite not wearing helmets.
All in all, I wasn’t much of a bike fan then and even less of one these days. If there was the space at home I might entertain the idea of an exercise bike, but walking round the Lillydale Lake is a pleasant, if modest sort of exercise that I can enjoy whatever direction the wind is blowing and I truly have the time and the inclination to look at the view on the journey.
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It's probably time for a change - we'll know soon enough
Dick's Toolbox
The darling dryness of May
In order to minimise offence I won’t mention the election too much as, hopefully, it will be over by the time this article is published - given the general near terminal slowness in both my writing and my brother getting the page up – this is a certainty. I will only say that I intend, as usual, to fill out all the senate boxes below the line in a way that will display a combination of ephemeral knowledge, randomness, and contrariness that will make both the clerk’s and the scrutineer’s life exceedingly annoying.
It will frustrate the preference whisperers’ intentions totally and take up a long time in the polling booth as I wave an Anaconda sized length of paper so I can mark it with the supplied stubby worn pencil. The main problem is concentration over the numbering as it is annoying to find when you check your ballot that you have left a number out and you have to start all over again. There is a chance that I will be found strangled by multiple snakes of ballot papers when the cleaners go to the far corners of the polling centre the next day – which means that I may still be counted as informal vote depending on my pose.
The other disadvantage of excessively diligent marking is that you do have to do a small amount of research to find out what the parties represent and try to do what is best for the country rather than one’s own narrow interests. It may make a difference to where this country goes – hopefully a more humane, environmentally conscious and generous society that our grandchildren can be proud to live in rather that the wasted opportunity that we now live in.
Currently in Australia we seem to be trailing America down a well-worn path of small government and large business, personality politics (if we could be generous to give any politician a real personality), sound bites and on-line trolling.
Therein lies an irony as at the turn of the twentieth century many influential Americans were eager to follow Australia’s lead in the arena of progressive social, industrial and political reform. As historian Marilyn Lake says in her book, ‘Progressive New World’, when Theodore Roosevelt stood for President in 1912 he was accused by his opponents of “a mere rehash of policies long in vogue in Australia and New Zealand”.
A hundred years ago Australia boasted according to Lake’s reckoning:
1) free, compulsory and secular education;
2) the world’s first legal minimum wage (in 1895);
3) the secret ballot (known colloquially as the Australian Ballot);
4) a children’s court;
5) government aid to industry;
6) full adult suffrage (in 1902, 40 per cent of British men were still without a vote) including eligibility to stand for federal parliament;
7) government regulation of the excesses of market capitalism;
8) a maternity allowance and old age pension paid from general revenue as a matter of entitlement;
9) roads, railways, telegraph and postal services under government ownership.
Anyway that was then and this is now so I wonder what this year’s lucky electoral lucky dip will bring apart from snake oil?
We are actually lucky to be able to vote and to live in one of the few free countries on the planet so we should exercise our vote seriously. Or not, given that for a lot of people it is just a required formality that becomes more onerous with age. Were these toddling, aged, cardigan wearing retirees ever radicals?
Fortunately there are some young people who are willing to try and change things so I hope that they get a chance to improve things.
But is the way we vote fair, is the result a fair indication of how we think. I have been reading an article in the ‘New Scientist: The Collection’ called Electoral Dysfunction which concludes that making elections fair is a matter for mathematicians who have been studying the voting systems for hundreds of years looking for the sources of bias that distort the value of individual votes, and ways to avoid them. The regrettable conclusion is that there doesn’t seem to be an answer to the problem. Australia isn’t too bad but when a person could get elected with less than 100 votes you have to say that there is room for improvement
So bugger that. But working as I do at 180 degree tangents I thought I might have a little chat about tattoos which is an unusual conversational vector at this point. The reason for this digression is that I had my hair cut the other day which is always a slight problem in that I never seem to be able to find anybody that does a good job given that my only criteria is to “Please make it shorter.” And not cost too much.
I don’t know if you suffer the same problem that I do which is that my hair is looking terrific to one of failing eye-sight until one day it is two months too long. Or more than two months overdue for a trim or a visit to the shearing shed. Even at my vast and decrepit age I still have most of my hair though there is a degree of thinning or silvery translucence. Things are moving slowly towards the back of my head by infinitesimal degrees. I wear a hat on sunny days.
I have a technique now which is that I take my passport in and say “Make me look like that. Please”.
Given that the passport may be up to ten years old this sometimes causes some consternation and the statement that they are not plastic surgeons.
Anyway I ventured into a nearby shopping centre (nearby being a relative concept her in the outer suburbs) and just by the door was a barber shop devoid of customers. This means one of two things: that you have caught them at that singular moment in their business between walls of customers – or they are really dreadful. The other though is that they looked remarkably trendy and that the young mums with babies or grandparents with toddlers who were flooding the mall weren’t actually in their market spectrum. I think that I missed their market demographic by at least fifty years.
But they cut my hair quite capably for an almost unbelievable $20 which should have been the highlight of the visit except that both of the hairstylists were tattooed.
The most remarkable feature of the ‘I come from Berwick’ barber who tended to my thinning locks was that his hand was tattooed with the bones that lay underneath. Carpals, metacarpals and the odd sinew. Striking to the point of being disturbing. This would be with him for the rest of his life, would vex his girlfriend and children should he ever have them. It might just mentally scare a large number of very young people.
Tattoos are forever. You will advertise your love Brie or Shazza or Derek or Clive till they light the gas in the crematorium. There is the implicit assumption that the fashion for tattoos will last forever and not just be a brief flirtation with what used to be a sign of degeneracy, a naval career or lack of intelligence.
There you are, two years after you drunkenly wandered into the tattooist parlour , applying for your job at the bank wondering if the Maori twirls and swirls that work from your collar half way up your face may work against you in the interview.
To me this belief that it will never matter is very strange as, at the very worst, a bad haircut will grow out.
When the tattooing craze was just beginning I was talking to a friend at Hewlett-Packard, a company that makes a lot of their money selling printer ink – a lot more money than they make selling printers. They had invented an ink for tattooists that could be erased with a specific laser wavelength. No more being saddled with Brie, Shazza,Derek or Clive on your arm or back till the sounding of the Gabriel’s trumpet.
It never sold. Of course.
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