Friday, October 30, 2009

It's a love/hate relationship.

Although my collection would suggest otherwise, there are some things about Gourmet Traveller that I dislike.

Number one on that list is the branding of it as a "luxury" magazine.  I know the food is luxurious (although often not that expensive - the agar agar for the parmesan marshmallows was 80c.  An affordable experiment) but it irritates me that this translates to an expectation the rest of your life will be equally luxurious (and these extras do have the pricetag to accompany them).

Exhibit A:  This month's Gourmet has a section on champagne.  Oh Good, thinks I, who have been known to enjoy a glass (or two) of bubbles on the odd occasion (or even occasion for that matter).  So I turn to the section and find it really is a section on Champagne with a big C - the proper stuff.  The cheapest bottle featured is a steal at $85.  Most hover around the $100-$150 mark, but if you're feeling like splashing out, there is a $220 bottle (the 1999 Charles Heidsieck Rose Reserve, if you're interested).   

But ok, fancy pants wine can perhaps be expected - it is Gourmet Traveller after all.   And good wine and serious food are often a pretty good match.  (A bottle of $10 lambrusco and serious food can also be a pretty good match in my experience, but I suspect I am a wine philistine.)

So onto Exhibit B:  A piece on party invites for adults.  Instead of emailing or ringing your friends to invite them over to your house, why not drop them a note?  So much nicer in the age of instant communication.  And if it takes a $31 set of invitations, each enclosed in its $7.50 envelope (yes, that's per envelope) - well, so much nicer.

I don't have the money to spend on stationary like that - I'm too busy buying agar agar!  And king prawns, which did put a little more dent in the wallet than the agar agar.  A worthwhile dent though, because this brings us to the love part of love/hate.

The food.  When it all goes right, it is so wonderfully right.

Last night's dinner was this chicken, prawn and caramel coconut salad from a recipe from Longrain.  It was a perfect Thai recipe, a wonderful balance of salty, sweet, pungent, sour and hot.  

It wasn't the quickest recipe - the chicken had to be poached in a heady mix of coconut milk, stock (I used duck stock Tony had made a few weeks ago - very nice indeed), fish sauce, ginger, garlic, lemongrass and oyster sauce, cooled and then shredded.  The coconut caramel sauce was made with palm sugar, coconut (well, dur), shrimp floss, shrimp paste (lot of shrimp featuring here), fish sauce and lime juice.  Then the shredded king prawns, chicken and dressing was tossed with mint, coriander, julienned ginger and chillies.

It was AMAZING.  Cooking, I was a little worried - the dressing was very pungent, and I was afraid it would overwhelm the delicate prawns.  I shouldn't have been.  It all combined perfectly, and we polished off the whole thing.  Definitely a keeper.  And for the money I saved by not sending Tony an invitation in the mail on luxury paper, we can probably even make it again.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Soup, glorious soup

Every month, Gourmet Traveller has a section called Fare Exchange, where readers write in to request recipes of dishes they have eaten at a restaurant (Fare Exchange - geddit?  Because it's food, so it's fare, but it's fair - oh, nevermind).

The recipe we tried out last night was from this section, and it is Church St Enoteca's green pea soup with parmesan marshmallows.

This is how it looks in Gourmet:

And this is how it looked at our house:

We're missing the fiddly bits on top because we didn't have some of them, and after 2 1/2 hours of being in the kitchen (to make bread, soup and those parmesan marshmallows) I just couldn't be bothered with the bits we did have.  

The bubbles are there partly because we were celebrating - Tony was officially offered a job at UC - and partly because after 2 1/2 hours in the kitchen making bread, soup and those parmesan marshmallows they were deserved!

I should point out, the recipe suggests the prep and cooking time for this dish is 35 minutes all up, not including chilling of the marshmallows.  The recipe is wrong.  I'm not an overly slow cook, and I find all those estimations of time to be wrong, wrong, wrong.  I'm sure they work in a professional kitchen where all the fiddly bits are done ahead of time, and you have a dishwasher (both the person and the machine - we lack the machine and sadly the person as well) as well as staff to help out.  When it's just me in our tiny galley kitchen, cooking while Tony is doing the bed-boy-wrangling - well, things take longer.  Often a lot longer.

The parmesan marshmallows were fun to make, but I think they are a good example of something that is neat in a restaurant setting, but for a home cook the time-effort-result equation just doesn't work out.  

The soup however - the soup was magnificent.  Clean, fresh and yet incredibly rich and flavoursome.  The only problem I had was it needed to be strained to acheive the light end result, which meant a lot of the pea mush that cooked in all the good stock and butter and so on was going to be discarded.  How wasteful, I thought.

And then I looked at the green pea mush.  Hang on... peas.  Mush.  Soft.  Cooked vegetables.

That looks like baby food to me!  


And as it turned out, Toby agreed.

So we all ate Church St Enoteca's green pea soup, in one form or another, and all enjoyed it very much.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Goodbye Aliens, Hello Food.

(Subtitled:  It's still Monday in America.)

Yes, Magazine Monday came and went and I was caught up with the last week of teaching and marking and baby juggling and other boring things like that.  So today is transatlantic Magazine Monday - we're fine by LA time.

We had a bit of a foodie weekend, which will not be surprising for those people who know us.  In fact, most people who know us will be asking "Aren't all your weekends foodie?".  Well, yes, I do tend to orientate this way.  But this weekend was particularly so.  We went to the Canberra Farmers Market at EPIC, which was celebrating its 5th anniversary.   Among the celebrations were cooking demonstrations by local chefs using produce bought at the markets.  We watched the head chef from Grazings make a salad using Poacher's Pantry smoked duck, and tasted his macadamia, chive and fetta pesto (yummy indeed),

And then we went home to get a jump on this week's magazine.  Introducing - a week of eating courtesy of Gourmet Traveller!

I was lucky enough to be given a subscription to Gourmet Traveller last Christmas.  I read it every month, usually drooling, but ever since the arrival of destructo-boy - uh, I mean my son - I haven't been cooking that many complex recipes.  

This will change!

The first recipe we decided to try was a simple David Thompson one.  We own, and love, Thompson's classic cookbook Thai Food.  Every recipe in it we have tried is amazing.  It is, however, not an easy cookbook.  To do the food justice, you need to set aside a full afternoon (or sometimes a day) and be prepared to be precise, fastidious and meticulous.

The recipe we tried on the weekend was from his new book, Thai Street Food.  The recipes are described as 'easy' and 'fresh'.  And, for David Thompson, it was relatively simple.  A simple assembly of ingredients:

I said relatively.  There were only two things we had to buy specially (well, three if you count the duck eggs but you could use chicken eggs) and the rest we had in the pantry. 

It cooked up to quite a decent Pat Thai (David Thompson says Pat instead of Pad, and I'm not going to argue!):

No meat, just tofu and dried shrimp instead of fresh which gave it a nice, chewy, gusty edge.  A little chilli and garlic oil at the end punched it up to where we like it.  And the leftovers were great for lunch the next day.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go hunt down suppliers for agar agar powder so I can make Parmesan marshmallows for our next recipe.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Charting my Course (Ain't Nobody Going to Read my Mind)

One thing I noticed while reading UFOlogist is that the contributors seem very fond of charts.

Very fond.  The chart option on Excel has a lot to answer for.

Inspired, I decided to join in the fun.

The labels are probably too small to see, unless you move your face about half an inch away from the screen and squint.  I just tried that and I still can't really read them, plus I have a headache - so I wouldn't recommend that course of action.

Each of  the colours is the magazines we've had so far.  UFOlogist is green, Shop 4 Kids is red and in a completely unsuitable turn of events, Classic Tractor is neither John Deere green or Massey Ferguson red but is stuck with blue.

The categories are, from bottom to top, Craziness, Educational Value and Enjoyment of Activities.  So Classic Tractor was a low craziness (even with the sombrero-wheel-tractor-paint-fumes debacle), high educational value and relatively high enjoyment (mostly because of Toby's toy tractors).

UFOlogist, you may notice, actually wins the enjoyment of activities category.  Why?  Well, what better thing to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon with your 11 month old than make tin foil hats?

That's right, nothing.  

Friday, October 23, 2009

They're reading my posts!

After my expose on the National Australia Bank logo (well, ok, my mocking of the expose in UFOlogist), it appears the big banks are listening.

ANZ announced today that it was changing it's logo.  The old logo is the one at the top, the new one down the bottom: describes the new logo as 'blue blobs' but I am more savvy than that.  Two eyes, a mouth and antenna later:

ANZ has clearly joined the herd.   The Australian banking industry welcomes the new alien overlords!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Actually, sometimes it's just paranoria.

Today's featured article from UFOlogosit is by Jon Wyatt, who postulates that many corporate logos hold hidden messages of welcome to alien visitors.

The first one isn't a logo so much, as an ad promoting Connex's new sms service:  a fact Jon Wyatt does acknowledge, but adds 'but is it also welcoming any ET commuters?'.

Sure.  In the same way that ET was a giant conspiracy to make humans welcome our alien overlords as cute little creatures...  hang on a minute.  Maybe there's some truth in this alien conspiracy thing!  Or perhaps I've been reading UFOlogist a little too much lately.

Jon Wyatt continues.  Now I can give him that the Optus, Telstra, Powertel and Orica logos look a little spacelike.   Even the old Telstra logo (bottom right, first picture) could look, as he suggests, like a 'an ET with large hollow eyes gazing at us from a star field'.  If you squint and turn your head on the side.

The predominance of telecommunication companies represented gives rise to a query though.  If Optus, Telstra and Powertel really do have the technology to be in contact with alien beings, how come I still can't get a mobile phone signal in parts of Canberra?   You'd think that transgalactic communication would mean consistent coverage across the nation's capital would be easy stuff.

When the attention turns away from the telcos, things get a bit iffier.  Take the National Bank logo for instance.  It's a red star.  John Wyatt says it 'may symbolise the Planet Mars with the orbits of Phoebus and Deimos, its two moons, indicated by two notches'.  Ok, first off, Mars?  Doesn't look like a 6 pointed red star.  Mars looks like this:

Though, it is true that Mars is sometimes referred to as the red planet, and there is a Project Redstar which has released a video entitled 'Martian Genesis' which offers, apparently 'incontrovertible evidence of an extraterrestial base on Mars'.  The link is here - but don't go if you value your eyes.  

So perhaps the red star link can be justified - by use of a conspiracy theory.  Sure, using a conspiracy theory to prove another one, that's solid logical ground!  My debating coach would be so proud.

Taking the National Bank logo as welcoming the Martians causes some concern though.   There may be life on Mars, it's true.  But NASA tells us it would most likely be 'very small, bacteria-like life forms'.   National Australia Bank has designed its logo to make the alien bacteria feel at home?  

Good thing I'm with Commonwealth.

Now to give John Wyatt his due, he does present his findings in a not altogether serious manner.  (Which is good, because the RMIT logo looks less like a 'fiery object entering the Earth's atmosphere' and more like a sideways Pac Man baddie to me).   But I thought it would be worthwhile to see if anyone else had come up with the link between corporate logos and hidden messages to aliens.

What I found is 

1.  A lot of people suggesting a link between a 1967 sketch of UFOs and the XBOX 360 logo:


2.  If you google "alien conspiracy theories corporate logos", you're asking for everything you get.  (Apparently the Google UFO logo and Masonic/Illuminati conspiracy theories rule the roost (I blame you, Dan Brown!)).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Aliens of the world unite.

You know what's disappointing about UFOlogosit?  The lack of pictures.  Most articles are text heavy

and the one article that does have pictures, the photos aren't of aliens at all but planes.  Regular, run of the mill planes.

If that's an UFO, our recent trip to the USA was a lot different than I remember it being.

The lack of pictures is a pity, because if there were pictures, it would be a veritable multicutural plethora of aliens.   In one issue of UFOlogist, we have:

  • Underwater aliens in Russia - 'mysterious underwater swimmers, very human-like, but huge in size (almost three meters in height!)'
  • Dog or gorilla shaped aliens in Brazil (the accounts differ) - 'an enormous swift-moving ape that moved on all fours with large red eyes', 'a colossal dog that reeked of carrion'
  • Cat shaped aliens in France and Spain - 'a hideous feline shape that darted into the surrounding darkness'
  • Humanoid aliens in England (Finally! I was begining to think the animal aliens were taking over) - 'three very tall humanoids... their silver suits had no zippers, buttons or seams'
Given that UFOlogist hasn't given me pictures, I went in search of my own, with varying degrees of success.

The dog/gorilla alien could be from Alien 3:

The scuba diving aliens seemed to have combined with the cat aliens (which, let's face it - feline shape disappearing into the night?  Sounds like your standard backyard moggy to me):

But my greatest success was with the humanoids.  Tall, shiny tight silver suit, no zips?  Oh my god, they found Seven of Nine!

Monday, October 19, 2009

It's not paranoia if it's true.

Magazine Monday has rolled around again, and after the consumer bent of the last two weeks, I wanted to take another path.

I enjoyed reading about tractors, so I thought it was time to expand my vehicle horizons.  Now I could have chosen boats, planes (real and/or model), motorcycles, bicycles, cars, steam trains, electric trains or unicycles.  (Ok, I'm not sure there actually is a unicycling magazine.  But it wouldn't surprise me if there was.) 

I decided to think a little outside the square.   And so, introducing....


The subtitle is Beyond Imagination Lies Truth.

I can tell it's going to be an educational week for me, because the first page alone has taught me many new words and methods of scientific studies.  There's the relatively boring fields of geomancygematria and simulacra.   Then there's archaeoastronomy, a science described as "A field with academic work of high quality at one end but uncontrolled speculation bordering on lunacy at the other".  I'm sure UFOlogist falls into the high quality end.

My favourite however is euphonics.   Spell checker doesn't like it and google doesn't think it exists.  (And, in case you were wondering, Classic Tractor kicks euphonic's butt in a googlefight.)  So I figure by the end of this week, I'm going to be smarter than spellcheck and google combined.  Right?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Things I learnt in the first three weeks

I had meant to do a summary post each week of my magazine.  Obviously, that hasn't happened.  I'd love to promise it won't happen again, but as the mother of a small child, a PhD student returning from leave, and a hopeless procrastinator - that's a promise that's made to be broken.

(Of these three, it's really the last one that's the issue.  But I like to try and justify it somehow.)

So while I can't promise this with any great scheduled regularity, I will try.  For my first two magazines I have learnt:

  • There's a lot more to tractors than I had thought.
  • There's about as much depth of journalistic investigative writing in a shopping magazine for kids as I had thought.
  • Even I, who broke my intention to have a "frugal baby" within about 2 seconds of falling pregnant, have my limits from the "aww that's cute" to the "holy mother of batman that is ridiculous" and those limits are way way before the $1600 family death trap - I mean family bucket bike.
  • Going to the Murrambateman field day and recognising the difference between the Massey Fergusons and the John Deeres makes me feel like I fit in.
  • The number one difference between Massey Fergusons and John Deeres that I know is one type is red and the other green.  I said I felt like I fit in, not that I actually did.
  • And finally -  babies and baby tractors?  A winning combination.

New magazine tomorrow - it's been bought and it's a ripper.  Never before have I felt slightly ashamed to be buying a magazine...   (And no, it wasn't in a brown paper cover.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Truth in Advertising

As I read through Shop 4 Kids, and look at the ads (the ones I can discern from the rest of the magazine, that is), I am struck by something.

The kids are clean.  Way too clean.  

Take this ad for example:

Cute kid, Levi clothes, nice picture.  Right?  But do you see that pot plant in the background?  And the boy is wearing a white shirt.  Dirt, white shirt, kid....  Why is he still so pristine?

For comparison's sake, I took my son outside.   The elements are there - kid in foreground, nice clothes on (not a Levi shirt but a handknitted cardigan.  I don't get to have control over what he wears for ever, so while I do there will be handknits!), pot in background.

Two seconds later:

Making sure the other hand gets coated:

What I didn't get pictures of is 2 seconds after that, which involved the eating of the dirt, and the later discovery that somehow he had got dirt inside in his clothes, under his top and into his nappy.

And it's not just the dirt.  Here's an adorable little girl holding a gingerbread man.  Not eating it, not sucking it, not smeared with icing and covered with gingerbread crumbs.

Here's Toby after being put in the vicinity of food.

(Yes, those are black beans on the table.)

Finally, there's an ad for a new line of children's clothing by Fiona Scanlan of Scanlan and Theodore, Big by Fiona.  The ad is focused on the bright colours, so there's an easel, a painted backdrop and a kid holding a paintbrush:


You'll note the lack of paint on the clothes or the children.  In fact, you'll note the lack of paint on the paintbrush.  Probably a good idea.  

He even had paint behind his ears.

As I type this though, it occurs to me that maybe the problem isn't unnaturally clean kids in the advertising - maybe my child is just a grot.  Given that I've had to get up while writing this to haul Toby out of the garden beds (twice), the potting bench (once) and the weber ash tray (once), and he managed to uproot a dill plant when I wasn't looking, I think perhaps I'm onto something.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Things Not to Buy

....unless you're Bill Gates.  And maybe not even then.

So the last look at Shop 4 Kids showed there are some quite cute, even reasonably priced kid's gear out there.

This post - not so much.  After going through the magazine, I have three contenders for the "Overpriced, Ugly and Just Plain Wrong" category.   More money than sense indeed.

First up - Leopard Print for Mini-Mes!  

Yes, because leopard print is such a great idea for grown women in the first place - classy, you know?

And $90 for a pair of kid's shoes?  Totally reasonable.  It's not like their feet are growing fast or anything.

Even if we take the point that a little leopard could work in the right circumstances - what are those in the bottom right corner?  Yep, it's leopard print boardies!  Of all the contexts in which leopard print could perhaps work, swimwear for kids isn't one of them.  At least the taste line was drawn at showing a leopard print bikini for little girls.  Or perhaps they just couldn't find one.

The next contender is a baby carrier, not unlike the Baby Bjorn or other popular carriers.

Except this one is designer, made of leather, and costs $549.

And in my opinion, doesn't look at all comfortable.  If you're wondering, it's from Silver Cross - the same folk who make the Balmoral Pram which retails for around $3000 US.  Almost makes the baby carrier look reasonable.

And finally, we have what Shop 4 Kids describes as "one funky family ride" that "screams mummy chic":

A Family Bucket Bike.  For $1600.

Maybe it's just me, but that thing doesn't scream anything chic.  It doesn't scream anything except perhaps the kids who are giving off a distinct Village of the Damned vibe.

The caption also laments that the bucket bike isn't available in Australia.  I would imagine not, as I can't imagine how it would possibly pass safety standards - one quick corner and the kids will be tumbling out of their bucket faster than Jack and Jill.  Although given they're probably reading your mind and directing your will, maybe the lack of restraints and seats isn't a bad idea after all.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Shopping for another week.

I've neglected poor Shop 4 Kids this week.  A confluence of events have meant that our life has been crazy this past week and I just haven't had the time to read my magazine.

A job interview for Tony, a vatload of marking for me, a new car seat required for the baby who did a growth spurt, the changing of the seasons requiring tomato bushes to be planted (hey, I have my priorities!), the end of the non-teaching break and the brilliant decision to spend all yesterday driving around looking at houses even though a) we don't have plans to buy a new house and b) we don't have the money to buy a new house all mean that today involves me, a stack of essays, a HB pencil and a cramping hand.

(The sad side effect of the computer age - whenever I have to handwrite now for more than a few sentences, I cramp up.  My copperplate is suffering.)

Which is a long way of saying that it looks like it will be Shop 4 Kids for another week - until my marking is done and I have time to get to the newsagent and choose another title.  (I have some good ones in mind though.)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

ishop 2.0

Internet shopping for kids.  It makes sense.  Going to the shops with the pram, the nappy bag, the food, the spare clothes, the dummies, the blankets and oh yes the kidlet is not always an easy or calming exercise.

Internet shopping for kids is quick, can be cheap and as kids are basically kid sized, chances are what you buy will fit.  And you can always err on the big side, because you know they're only getting bigger.

So, today Shop 4 Kids tells me where to blow my cash online.

First off is kidstylefile, a veritable imall of kid's stuff, which links to many many many other shops.   It appears the 80s are in for kids as well, if the batwing jumpers at Little Pinwheel are any indication:

Perhaps we'll pass on that one.  This however, from sendatoy is beyond cool.  The Rolobox Wheel Kit for cardboard boxes!

Easy attach plastic wheels to turn any box into a vehicle.  You can just attach and make (let's face it, a fairly unimaginative one as above) or if you go all out:

Very neat.

Toby is not walking yet, so no shoes for him most of the time.   When he does start going though, I'm going to be fighting the urge to head over to Little Moo Shoes.  

I'm also quite taken by Baby Goes Retro, but I'm not sure Tony will agree that Toby needs a $40 Danish animal onesie.  (But it's so cute!).

The final stop in our whirlwind ishopping tour (I need icoffee and an isitdown...) steers away from clothes and to something I am very much in favour of:  music for kids!  Rhythmic Kids has a great selection of instruments for little chubby fingers.

While this percussion set is the perfect gift to get back at other parents for something (and, ideally if you live far far away),  my heart is set on the baby trumpet.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sensible things from a shopping magazine

Sounds ridiculous?  Despite my post on Monday, Shop 4 Kids does have some interesting and fairly sensible content.

Top of my list today is the 'Pack your bags' article in the pregnancy section (Shop 4 Kids:  In Utero!)

On the 'Vital, I packed it, would certainly agree list' are
  • Gatorade - I went through a lot.  I got people to bring me some the next morning.  I found that during labour I didn't want to eat, but, given I was in labour for over 24 hours eating was kind of necessary.  Gatorade was a nice compromise.
  • Pyjamas - Yes. But be warned, birth can be a messy business.  Take washable ones, not Peter Alexander silk pyjamas.
  • Toothpaste and toothbrush - simple, but important.  After staying up all night and drinking so much Gatorade (see point 1) that your tongue is slightly blue, cleaning your teeth is a little luxury.
  • Camera - no brainer, really.
  • Champagne!  They suggest Veuve Clicquot, I think we had Mumm.  I say I think because, and this is the family of Mummy conspiracy, I was too whacked out after the birth (and in fact we waited 24 hours) to have more than the tiniest sip.  I'm assured everyone else in the family enjoyed the bubbles though.
The 'No, not really' category
  • Make-up.  The article suggests a make-bag, bronzer, lip gloss, concealer and mascara.  I may be biased here because although I like makeup I wear it probably once a month.   Still, in my experience just washing your hair and cleaning your teeth after giving birth is a high achievement.  Standing up long enough in front of the mirror to actually apply makeup?  Not going to happen.
  • Scented candle.  Nice idea but in most hospitals they don't allow open flames.  Something to do with the highly flammable gases apparently.  
  • Hair-dryer:  See point 1 above.  Unless you have an amazing birth with singing angels, helpful rainbow dolphins and a 4 pound baby that pulls itself out, you aren't going to feel like doing a neat blow out.   Take the scrunchies and prepare for ponytails for a few days.
And finally, in the spirit of something I have learnt from this magazine:  Stuff I wish I'd brought and will do next time.
  • Shower gel.   The accompanying text is 'Hospital shower gel is nasty and you're going to want a serious shower power after game time'.   They have a point.  After all the hard work, it would be nice to turn what is a fairly industrial shower into something  a little more scented.
  • Nursing dress.  I had planned to go to the birth centre, have the baby, and be home within about 4-6 hours of the birth.  We left for the birth centre at night, so I just took pyjamas and a dressing gown.  After all that's all I'd need, right?  (Cue sound of a million Mums laughing.)  Yeah, babies don't follow plans.  After a transfer up to the hospital, a loooong labour and overnight admittance, we left the afternoon two days after we arrived.   And I was still wearing my pyjamas (I managed to lose my dressing gown.  In fact, perhaps I should add that point - don't take anything you're not prepared to lose!)   It would have been nice to have had a shower with my shower gel and to have left wearing actual clothes.

Monday, October 5, 2009

In these Tough Economic Times...

My mother-in-law reads this blog.  I know this, because after reading yesterday's post, she accused me of being a soft touch, and spoiling Toby (which is, as everyone knows, a grandparent's right and duty, not a mother's!).

Hmmm.  She may have a point.

However, it is Monday and therefore time for a new magazine.   This one I chose for a number of reasons.  Firstly, I have a heap of marking to do this week and I wanted something that required less concentration.  I liked the tractors, but I still don't know what a grub screw is, and this week I don't have the time to try and find out.   Secondly, in the spirit of the economic stimulus, the global economic crisis and calls for consumers to do their bit, I thought this magazine appropriate.  And in light of the TractorGate toy episode, I will do my best not to buy anything for Toby as a result of this week's magazine - a positive shrine to consumerism:  Shop 4 Kids!  

Wait, this may not have been a good idea.

A few years ago, a new magazine came out called Shop Til You Drop.  I was, and still am, astounded that there could be a whole magazine that was just shopping.  Isn't that the point of advertising?

However, Shop Til You Drop was a success, so much so that it has spawned different versions of itself.  There is the one off magazine Shop Girl, aimed at the 'tween' market.  I'm not making this up.  I didn't chose that one because a) it's only a one off - I think magazines need to be periodical to be proper magazines (magazine snob!  Watch me break that rule when there's a one off I actually want to feature) and b) I didn't think I could cope.  I oscillate between being horrified at the concept, and, in the context of having seen my now 13 year old sister start an interest in fashion and shopping over the past 3 years or so, grudgingly impressed at the niche marketing.  As the media flurry shows, I'm not the only one who finds this magazine disturbing.

However, as well as Shop Girl, there's also Shop 4 Kids.  I have a kid.  I shop.  Seems like a perfect combination, right?  It should be an easy week of leafing through a magazine.

Not so much.  My ease of reading so far as been impacted by the eye rolling (oh yes, I think a $159 dress is a great idea for a toddler.  What, there's a matching one for Mum for only $399?  What a fantastic idea!), my genuine inability to tell the difference between the actual content and the advertising at times, and the urge to throw the magazine across the room at certain points (usually involving ridiculously grown up and inappropriate attire for little girls.  No, baby bikinis are not cute.  Nor are little girls lounging by the pool in bathing suits with mocktails and pretending to read Danielle Steele novels).

I also have an issue with the title.  It's the 4.  I mean, Toby is going to be of the sms generation.  I get that.  He'll use acronyms and abbreviations that I don't understand.  Text speech will probably be old school by the time he's baffling me, but I'm sure there will be some alternative to lol or rofl that will be cool.   Even though I get this, I don't have to encourage it.  Can't he learn the real words before we start shortening them?  It's the same reason I refuse to buy any Playskool branded toys.  I don't think toys with a deliberate misspelling in their name is a great start for your child's reading and spelling skills.  I want my kid to write properly, and I want his environment set up to assist this.  If Toby forges a late note, I want it to believable.  "Sry Toby wuz l8 4 skool" just won't cut it!

Hmm.  Far from encouraging my materialistic side, it seems Shop 4 Kids is exposing my curmudgeonly, crunchy, earth mother side.  I have a sudden urge to go out and stir the compost bins while reading to Toby, humming The Internationale and perhaps baking organic cookies.  

It should be a fun week.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The problem with toy shops

Well, we didn't build a tractor.

We did however visit the shops, and Toby managed to communicate his approval of the week's theme.

While we managed not to come home with one of the big ones, I am currently looking at a John Deere dual wheeled mini tractor that is not in the shop any more, but rather here on my desk next to me.

I wonder if Toby will do so well out of next week's magazine.... 

Friday, October 2, 2009

You're never to old to have fun in a field.

One of the things that has struck me from reading Classic Tractor is how people enjoy their passions - whether those passions are knitting, reading, gardening, cooking, playing sports, taking nature walks, or, say - tractors.

For a yarn-o-phile such as myself, the Alpaca tent at the Murrambateman Field Day is my idea of a great day out.  There's fleece a plenty, interesting people, cool animals and of course, yarn. Now I think of it, my dedication to the Alpaca tent may be why I haven't learnt much about tractors at the Field Day yet. 

For other people, a great day out also involves a field.  But instead of alpacas, substitute in three Massey-Ferguson tractors, a tractor trailer, big bags of fertiliser (1000kg of big) and a little device called a Pressure Control system.

Basically a Pressure Control system is coupler and chain that loops around a trailer's drawbar, and works to increase the traction of the tractor.  Apparently the device never really caught on in the tractor set: Classic Tractor laments that "many farmers viewed it as a gimmick".  Never one to be deterred by trends or popularity though, Classic Tractor decided to test out how well the system actually worked.

Now, to be fair, they had a pretty thorough system of testing worked out.  They used three different tractors, each with different pulling power.  The tractors were tested first without the pressure system, and the wheel slip was measured.  The tractor was then fitted with the Pressure Control system and the wheel slip was remeasured, over the same course.

The results were pretty impressive - the MF 165 had a 33% wheel slip without the system and 8.4 tonnes of fertiliser.   With the system, and front weights on the tractor, the wheel slip was only 16% for a 10.8 tonne load.  (That's a lot of fertiliser.)  All very serious stuff, and valuable information.

Still, as I read the article I see:

A lot of people standing around in a field very intently watching a tractor:

A tractor doing a wheelie:

(The text in the article was "All four former MF employees warned us that Pressure Control wouldn't work without front weights attached.  They were right, as this picture demonstrates.")

And four very happy looking farmers at the end of the day:

And I suspect this whole thing was less about the impressive percentages and more about being out in a field with some tractors, some fertiliser and generally having a Good Day Out.   And there's certainly nothing wrong with that.