Crackers

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So, we all know modern society makes it almost impossible for the male of the species to maintain the traditional hunter-gatherer role, but my husband – bless him – still tries.

As designated shopper, each week he faces the fiendish psychology of supermarket product placement, the dizzying selection of brands and terrifying understorey of toddlers – all the while wrestling with lists, price comparisons and trolley – to emerge triumphant with goods.

Sweet chap that he is, this almost always includes a “surprise” for me: perhaps dark chocolate with sea salt, a wedge of really good cheese or a king prawn or 10.

I’ve come to relish unpacking the groceries, but this week I hit the “surprise” and recoiled much as if the offering was a chewed mouse on the doormat, or maybe even … on my pillowcase.

Not since I was in my early 20s and living in a shared house above a butcher’s shop, where peak nutrition was Keen’s curried surplus sausages with tinned pineapple, have Arnott’s Shapes crossed my threshold. Some foods are culinary cocaine!

Could anyone stop at one Barbecue Shape? Sure, you can fold the special stay-crisp packet away in a hermetically sealed and locked box and toss the key over the Iguazu Falls, but then what happens?

Next thing you are in a darkened room with an empty box and busted chains dangling from your wrists, cackling to yourself. And what do they expect? It is, according to the advertising slogan, “flavour you can see”.

My husband was alarmed that this small box had unwittingly wrought such angst.

But, look, he said – reading from the packet – “It’s light & crispy. It’s the flavour hit you can feel good about. A flavour hit with lighter crunch.”

Yes, it’s true there’s a modest calorific reduction on the traditional Shapes versus the “light & crispy” version but, by and large, the biggest Shapes-shifting has occurred by reducing contents from 250 grams in the mid-’90s to 200g in 2011 and now to 120g.

Arnott’s is not alone in this process of downsizing quantities and trumpeting them as improvements.

For example, Peckish rice crackers have recently become thinner, therefore lighter and crispier, while the Fantastic brand now offers the “Thinner Bite” that’s “30 per cent thinner”.

It doesn’t mean these attributes will extend in any physical way to the consumer, just that you might not be able to see the biscuits if you stand them sideways.

Arnott’s Shapes were first produced in Victoria in the 1950s and today 53 million packets of Shapes are reportedly consumed in Australia each year, with the Arnott’s biscuit brand found in 95 per cent of households.

According to Wikipedia, Shapes “were originally made in the shape of potato chips, but were too difficult to cut and bakers realised were a waste of dough”.

Not a lot has changed really, except of course Arnott’s is no longer Australian and it’s only the biscuits that are losing weight.

– See more at: http://www.theweeklyreview.com.au/talk/mouthing-off/sarah-harris-shapes-up/#sthash.hQOZCubM.dpuf

waltzing with ned

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There are two names redolent of late 19th-century Australia. The first is Ned. The shamelessly mythologised thief and murderer Ned Kelly is a recurring motif in Australian art and literature. As far as bits of steel and popular culture go, his helmet is an image almost as ubiquitous as Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup can.

Even before the bushranger and his cohorts were the subject of the world’s first surviving feature-length movie The Story of The Kelly Gang, written and directed by Charles Tait in 1906, there was a melodrama by Arnold Denham.

Ned was muse to one of Australia’s greatest painters, Sidney Nolan, inspiring 27 paintings in his Kelly series. Later, no lesser an idol than Mick Jagger would strut forward in 1970 to portray Ned in what was then the seventh film about this Irish convict son.

In the late ’70s there was also a rock opera written about the bushranger by Reg Livermore, while Johnny Cash wrote and recorded the song Ned Kelly for his album Man In Black.

Ned was the subject of Peter Carey’s Booker Prize-winning novel True History of the Kelly Gang and Robert Drewe’s earlier novel Our Sunshine, which was the basis of a 2003 film starring Heath Ledger.

Ned is also a recurring theme in the work of Haha, a Melbourne street artist, and even inspired the Tin Symphony in the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Now he is the subject of another musical.

Ned: An Ordinary Man, an Extraordinary Legend makes its world premiere at the new Ulumbarra Theatre in the fitting confines of the old Bendigo jail next month.

Concurrently, the celebrated Bendigo Art Gallery is running an exhibition called Imagining Ned, which features artefacts and ephemera alongside works by Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Adam Cullen and Norman Lindsay.

But if Ned is the man of the moment, then his partner, far more shy and elusive, must be Matilda.

This month marks 120 years since Banjo Paterson first publicly performed Waltzing Matilda in a small pub in outback Queensland.

While the exact etymology of the name Matilda as used to describe the swagman’s bundle is disputed, there is no doubt she’s part of the national psyche. There have been more than 700 recordings of the unofficial national anthem, ranging from classical covers to punk rock and yodelling.

In recent years it has emerged there was a love triangle behind the composition that led Paterson to jilt his long-time fiancée Sarah Riley after a scandalous flirtation with one of her best friends, Christina Macpherson. It was only in 1971, when some of her original writing was discovered, that Macpherson – great-great aunt of former Victorian premier Ted Baillieu – emerged as the co-author of Waltzing Matilda.

Now her ghost will be heard when The Man They Call The Banjo, a musical theatre production about the love story behind the song by Felix Meagher and Dennis O’Keeffe, has its world premiere at Little River this month.

So Ned and Matilda waltz on in the hearts and minds of another generation.

stop the racists

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No one was really surprised when Gabi became the target of a sophisticated international crime gang, least of all my gal pal herself.

Gabs is the kind of person who can be wandering along minding her own business when out of nowhere a herd of wildebeest will appear and stampede toward her.

She has the equanimity of someone completely accustomed to chaos.

When Gabs calmly climbs down out of the nearest tree and you ask how on earth such a thing could possibly happen to her – or indeed, any one several continents away from the African veld – she’ll reply: “I dunno, just lucky I guess.”

So it was when, on a recent visit to Melbourne, she went to withdraw some money from her bank account and noticed a major discrepancy, Gabs didn’t panic.

In 48 hours her card was skimmed of $2600 – the money having been withdrawn from five locations across Sydney’s south-west while she explored Melbourne’s lanes.

Turns out she had used her card at one of at least 15 ATMs targeted by specialist Romanian gangs who travel the world skimming the accounts of hapless single mums and dental nurses.

Romanian organised crime gangs specialise in this kind of crime. They have targeted Australia many times before, flying in on legitimate visas. Other known fly-in-fly-out criminals include teams of Irish conmen who pose as legitimate tradies then charge home-owners grossly inflated prices for substandard “work”.

If this is the kind of person we not only welcome, but rubber-stamp, why do we insist on demonising the poor desperate beggars trying to reach our shores in boats?

According to the Federal Government’s own figures there are at least 50,000 people living in Australia illegally after overstaying visas.

They have paid for their airline tickets and entered the country legally, then deliberately and calculatedly broken the rules.

Those men, women and children who climb aboard unseaworthy death traps have broken no laws, nor are they seeking to deceive us.

They are out there waving their arms and crying for help.

To see yet another Australian federal election degenerate into a race to the bottom of the ocean on the issue of asylum seekers is way more than depressing.

When politicians talk about our “porous borders”, what really they mean is borders to the poor.

They are appealing to our basest nature on a question which won’t make an iota of difference to the quality of the average Australian’s life.

According to the latest UNHCR figures 45.2 million people were in situations of displacement at the end of last year including 15.4 million refugees, 937,000 asylum seekers, and 28.8 million people forced to flee within the borders of their own countries.

During 2012 some 7.6 million people became newly displaced, 1.1 million crossing borders as refugees and 6.5 million as internally displaced people.

This translates to more than 20,000 people around the world forced to flee their homes every single day.

Put in an Australian context, that’s 4000 more people displaced around the world on any given day than asylum seekers arrive on our shores during the entire year.

For that is the true extent of our cynical, sickening, politically manufactured “boat people crisis”.

In the greatest worldwide refugee tsunami in 20 years, it’s literally a drop in the ocean.

the eyes have it

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The trouble with whales, ” opined a voice from the La-Z-Boy, “is their eyes are too small.

If we letter-boxed the Japanese with pictures of whales with big eyes the killing would stop … end of story.

And … it would be cheaper – not to mention less confusing – than employing sharks,” sniffs he who has no great opinion of the legal profession.

We’d been watching some of the evidence presented to the International Court of Justice as part of Australia’s case against Japan over alleged breaches of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

And, as it is essentially a question of national face – and the saving thereof – the eyes really do seem to go to the heart of the issue.

Consider the seals.

Not so long ago the Canadians were clubbing baby harp seals with impunity, but today there is less incentive for sealers, with bans on seal products in 34 countries.

And it was those big black limpid eyes that helped turn around public opinion.

Seals, pandas and chimps count among what environmentalists call “charismatic megafauna”, able to stare into a camera lens to win hearts and influence people.

It seems even scientists are not immune to this phenomena, with studies showing “cute and furry” animals are 500 times more likely to be the subject of research papers than less attractive critters – irrespective of whether they are in any way endangered.

This also explains why, after going to one of those Loony Larry/Freaky Fred discount places to buy a loaf tin last week, I emerged – somewhat bemused – with a $2.99 plastic meerkat on a stick.

Has anyone ever gone into a shop intentionally to buy such a ridiculous item?

Yet, there were about 100 standing sentry just inside the entry and by the next day they were all gone.

The Japanese have contributed considerably to the cult of cute or “kawaii”, investing anime and manga characters with huge Bambi eyes since the launch of Astro Boy in 1952.

Eyes can also be a powerful deterrent.

British research shows strategically placed posters of staring eyes around car parks and other high-risk areas reduce crime because thieves can’t shake the feeling of being watched.

Whether the ICJ returns a verdict upholding Australia’s case before the start of the next whale hunting season remains to be seen.

But the world will be watching.

*meerkats image from Road Travel Africa

http://roadtravelafrica.com/2010/11/26/meerkats/