waffling on

America awoke last week to the news that the makers of the iconic Twinkie snack bar were going out of business. It coincided by strange chance with the third anniversary of the demise of a uniquely Australian product.

After 62 years of continuous production, the confectionery giant Nestle announced, in late November 2009, it was a wrap for the Polly Waffle, with a spokeswoman declaring “no one buys it any more”.

For those of us who identified keenly with these nubbly old bars with their marshmallow centres, the extinction was sad.

As shelves were cleared to make way for slicker more contemporary confectionery, I ruminated gloomily about use-by dates.

It didn’t help to discover the media studies class I’d been asked to address that week was labouring under a serious misnomer about their special guest.

The students’ disappointment was acute when they realised I was not the erstwhile blonde, totally telegenic Sarah Harris of Channel 9 reporter fame.

Returning somewhat crestfallen to the office, I observed morosely to colleagues it was as if I were the Polly Waffle incarnate.

In an attempt to cheer me that two of them set off on a hazardous road trip to secure the last Polly Waffles in captivity.

They returned triumphant with three bars found under a dusty counter in a shop in Urana in the Riverina.

Now, after three years sitting in the cabinet with heirloom china, it’s time to let go.

So I’ve posted one to Julia, one to Tony and the third on eBay under “rare, iconic Polly Waffle”, with proceeds to the Cancer Council.

Admittedly it’s now two years after its best-before date, but isn’t this just the golden age of Polly Waffle?

of rings & things

Days are a bit like carnival rides.

There are big, gently looping ferris wheels of days and then those when it seems like you’ve unwittingly purchased a non-transferable ticket to spend 24 hours on the Zipper.

It should have been obvious it was going to be one of those days when I pulled off the road to view a text message.

It was from Telstra. They wanted to tell me about options to avoid texting and driving.

Getting back onto the road I travelled a couple of kms before being pulled over for a random breath test.

I puffed into the little straw and aced the test, but the policeman still asked me to get out of the car.

He then pointed out that my front tyres were balding. “You might also want to check your oil – the engine sounds a bit tappety,” the officer said.

On the road again the petrol gauge started blinking so I stopped at the next petrol station and filled up.

About one kilometre from the station I realised the third finger of my left hand felt strangely naked.

I wheeled round and hot-footed it back to the petrol station.

A P-plater now occupied bowser four and was carefully washing the windows of his pride and joy.

I looked down. There, about two steps from where he was standing splashing water about and millimetres from a grate, was my engagement ring.

I fell to my knees in front of the astonished young man, clutching my recovered ring to my chest like Frodo Baggins on the edge of Mount Doom … only I clearly was not invisible.

God, lady,” he said “I don’t even know you.”

google not so alert

It stands to reason that the books you read might reflect your personality. Who hasn’t gone to someone’s house for the first time and made a beeline for their bookshelves?

It’s a form of socially acceptable snooping for clues about their likes and dislikes or, in the case of a new boyfriend, possible serial killer tendencies. Personally, I’d find the absence of any books scariest of all.

But would you actually presume to read a person comprehensively based on a Georgette Heyer novel and an ancient guide to tickling trout?

Lately I’ve been curious to see Google is interpreting me via my emails, web searches and all the little pieces of digital DNA I send out daily.

The average internet user has 736 pieces of personal data collected every day by service providers.

This information is used to tailor ads which are then bounced back to them.

As a journalist who works from home I fancy my internet behaviour is not typical. How many people have googled Ted Bundy’s favourite book, Heinz tomato sauce, Woornack aged care facility in Sunshine and Australia’s per capita consumption of mushrooms in the past 20 minutes. None!

But did I really warrant an ad for incontinence solutions?

Why they’ve even got the dog figured wrong.

An email I sent to my partner about the dog wanting to be picked up and cuddled while I was working threw up an ad for “stopping aggressive dog behaviour”.

Is this the page where the genetic algorithm eats itself ?

How apt if the antidote to loss of privacy is too much information.

maintain the rage

For more than 25 years my husband refused so much as to set tyre on a Shell service station concourse.

He used to say he would rather run out of petrol going past a Shell service station than stop and refill there.

His boycott of Shell went back to 1975 when one of its then-senior executives gleefully endorsed Sir John Kerr’s sacking of the Whitlam Government.

Comrades, let me tell you, he maintained the rage until about 2002 when we bought an airconditioner and received with it $500 worth of petrol … redeemable only at Shell.

By then the offending Shell hands had long gone and the hubby figured he’d be running on empty as far as commonsense was concerned not to cash in.

Irrespective of politics, it reminds me that sometimes we do need to vote with our feet.

It’s not so much one single thing as the steady drip, drip drip of corporate arrogance that’s turned me right off the big two supermarkets.

Like the way they think I’m so stupid I’ll believe self-serve checkouts are intended for my convenience rather than their bottom line.

The way they continually squeeze their suppliers, demanding they find cost savings or risk their products being removed from the aisles.

The way they are planning over-sized supermarkets in towns with insufficient populations to support them, which independent grocers claim is a deliberate strategy to obliterate existing local businesses.

But most particularly I resent that the ‘family-friendly fresh food people’ are also Australia’s largest owner of poker machines with a most unhealthy appetite for gaming revenue.

Is that a Woolworths petrol station? Damn, I think I just ran out of gas.

the fur flies first class

Doug is lounging in his executive suite, watching television and killing a few hours until it’s time to depart for the airport.

He is travelling from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur the long way via Taipei because being brachiocephalic there are only a couple of airlines who will take the risk of allowing him on board.

It’s all to do with potential medical problems caused by his very short nose.

You see Doug is a pug.

He is one of a surprising number of companion animals that can be found on any give day at the Hanrob Pet Hotel awaiting international flights organised by JetPets Animal Transport.

As people have become more mobile so, too, have their pets.

One in three people will at some time in their lives consider uprooting and moving abroad, be it for love, work or adventure.

Many will elect to jet-set with their pet or, in the case of Helen and Kory Nelson, all four of them.

Between airfreight, boarding and quarantine it will wind up costing the retired physiotherapist in excess of $6000 to export Siamese chocolate points Lilly and Zac along with golden retrievers Chevy and Harley to their new home in Denver, Colorado.

The Nelsons wouldn’t have it any other way. “They go wherever we go. They are part of the family,” Kory says.

The Nelsons are far from alone.

In 2011-12 financial year 6998 dogs and 3139 cats were exported from Australia and 7279 dogs and 3915 cats came into country according to Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry figures.

That’s a lot of fur flying, but it just goes to show cats and dogs reign.

mummas in hummers

Australians have always had a love affair with big powerful cars. First it was blokes with their V8s and now, in this age of vehicular equality, its mummas in hummers hammering over suburban speed humps like its smooth terrain.

Anyone in the vicinity of a school round drop-off time will have noticed the inverse ratio between size of drivers and their vehicles

The proliferation of 4WDs and large to medium sport utility vehicles (SUVs) on city roads is frankly killing those of us in Noddy cars.

Research has shown the driver of a small car hit by a 4WD is 4.5 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured than the off-roader’s driver.

And, of course, that’s precisely why people buy them, thinking they can keep their loved ones safe in the unfortunate event they should happen to barrel into another vehicle.

The harsh truth, though, is it’s the 4WD owner’s kids who are coming off second-best.

In the past 18 months six children have been killed in driveways in Victoria. Running over children in driveways now ranks as the number two killer of children under five in Australia at home. Almost 80 per cent of these deaths are caused by 4WDs or SUVs.

Worse, these catastrophic crush injuries are usually inflicted by a car driven by a parent, relative or family friend.

The huge blind space behind these vehicles was graphically illustrated at last week’s launch of the Kidsafe Driveway campaign when 15 linear metres of children were seated in the blind spot of a 4WD.

None of them was visible in the rear-vision mirror.

Certainly there’s a place for 4WDs. But is it really the city, when the only obstacles are baby-shaped boulders and outcrops of small children?

an unexpected hitch

If there is one lesson to be gleaned from years of crime reporting it’s just how quickly a seemingly innocuous situation can turn into a total nightmare.

In crime, circumstance is the No.1 co-conspirator – the victim caught in the conjunction between offender and opportunity.

It’s true that nine of 10 times taking that short cut across an ill-lit car park late at night, telling someone you have only just met on the internet your home address or leaving your drink unattended in a crowded bar is unlikely to prove fatal.

But why take the risk? Why put yourself in harm’s way?

There are predators in the world to whom the mere act of walking along the road is an invitation, but whether they act will often depend on the degree to which the potential victim makes themselves vulnerable.

And just as there are dozens of little things we can do to safeguard ourselves, there are big blinking neon signs we can wear that say: “pick me”.

To my mind, standing on the side of the road with your thumb out is one of them.

I met the families of Joanne Walters and Caroline Clarke while they still had hope the girls were alive.

Five months later their bodies were found in the Belanglo State Forest – the first of seven young backpackers’ bodies retrieved from the killing field in the NSW southern highlands.

As bogeymen went I thought Ivan Milat had cast a long enough shadow.

But this week when I asked the young hitchhiker now safely seated beside me she shrugged and said: “Who’s Ivan Milat?”