Monday, May 20, 2013

Lean green cleaning machine

As it says in the About Me blurb, I want to live in a world with fewer chemicals in it. One way I achieve this at home - for the most part - is using Enjo products to clean the house with.

I say for the most part as my husband G gets into the shower recess when I'm not looking and gives it a choking squirt of Exit Mould, just in case mould should consider appearing.

Over the years we've been together though he's embraced the Enjo system even if he doesn't use it properly.  With Enjo, you have a 'fibre' in the form of a glove, or a floor mop, which you dampen with cold water to wash your surface. The important bit is that you dry the surface off ASAP with a clean towel or an Enjo Miracle cloth. This way you get rid of an astonishing amount of bacteria as well as making the surface clean and shiny. Trust me, you do. Anyway G often forgets about the drying off bit. But at least he has a go.

My old Enjo glove fibres I use in the kitchen and bathroom were getting absolutely buggered, almost threadbare in parts. Enjo stuff isn't cheap however; replacements are $49 each and I had to save up a bit to buy replacements for them, which I got a couple of weeks ago.

$49 might seem a lot for a cleaning product but then I'm not buying bathroom cleaners, spray-and-wipe type cleaners or floor cleaning detergent. I reckon in the years I've had my Enjo gloves they have more than paid for themselves.

Enjo make a brilliant paste cleaner called Marble Paste for difficult stains, and really scummy shower screens etc - so I haven't had to buy Gumption, Spray and Wipe, Jif or anything else for eight years. I've only used half my Marble Paste tub as a little goes a long way. It uses orange oil as its cleaning ingredient.

I have never been a 'clean freak' but I fear clean freakiness is creeping in. Most of it is clearing up after G.

When he washes the dishes after breakfast at weekends (my job during the week) the sink and benches are soaked and there is water everywhere. G cheerfully mops it up with an Enjo and doesn't dry it off, so that's where I come in, and I usually end up doing every surface in the kitchen after that.

Whenever G eats anything or makes a sarnie he leaves crumbs - can it be that men just don't see these things? - so the benchtops usually get another quick wipe then to get the crumbs off. I use a carpet sweeper in the living/dining area most days - those crumbs again! He's a mucky pup - as I don't want to encourage ants. We hoover the place once a week to really pick up the animal hair.

Our bathroom mirror gets a daily spattering when G shaves before breakfast, so I get the Enjo bathroom Miracle and wipe it over while I'm cleaning my teeth after breakfast. I do wonder if he ever notices it's spotless every morning?

My new Enjo fibres have given me a new lust for cleaning as they are doing a much better job than the buggered ones. From being a chore, I now treat cleaning as a bit of exercise you can do every day. I figure with the carpet and floor sweeper, the bench wiping, the bathroom cleaning, I'm getting up to 30 minutes' of movement, using lateral muscles, every day. Without even trying.

I have turned into a lean green cleaning machine. Well, green cleaning machine anyway. I'm hoping the cleaning will help lead to the lean bit!

Friday, May 10, 2013

You bet - lamenting the death of the hand-scrawled bookie's ticket

As I mentioned in an earlier post this month I had a day at the races last week. Like just about every other industry you can name, technology has changed the experience.

Yes, there are still horses ridden by jockeys, but consider the humble betting ticket.

I like to bet with bookies. You know exactly what you are going to receive should your horse win. A sudden plunge on Grey Shrdlu may see his price come in from 6/1 to 3/1, but if you've bet with Bill Bloggs and not the tote (totalisator) at 6/1, 6/1 is what you'll get.

Not that 6/1 is mentioned any more. Nope, the elegant litany of the bookies rails has been decimalised. No longer do their boards show lovely and ancient odds such as 5/2 or 7/4, they show the dollar value of what you'll get should you wager a dollar and your neddy be first past the post. Just like the tote.

I think this is to make it easier for people to compare bookies' prices with tote prices. The tote has always shown dollar values, at least in my memory. (Which can be unreliable!!)

The bookies' boards, at least in Sydney, are now computerised, too. No more dramatic twiddling of the knobs to set the odds; the bookies' clerk taps into a computer and the odds change with no frill or fanfare.

Which means the tickets are now computerised, too. This is an example of a bookies' ticket in 2013:

It's very clear. You can see which horse, which race, what you bet and how much you get. Only Paximadia was an also ran and I got nothing :-).

But this is the bookie's ticket that I love and remember from racing days in the past:

Delighfully incomprehensible, isn't it? I have no idea of the date, which horse and which race. It's scrawled in crayon and it appears I got 17/1, I think - I'm not good at deciphering the bookie code. I suspect this dates back to the 1990s; I found it stuck in the leather racebook cover I bought in about 1991.

Just like a mother sheep and her lamb recognise each other in a field full of sheep, the bookie could look at this ticket and know exactly how much to pay you. (Tip: it's numbered. The bookie has a clerk with a ledger that has every bet in it.) Most of the time the bookie didn't even ask the clerk however - he just told you the amount from looking at this scrawl. It was rather mystical.

The advent of huge TV screens has changed the experience too. I think I was the only person at Hawkesbury with a pair of binoculars! There was a massive screen set bang in the middle of the infield behind the old winning post.
However, I do like to watch the actual horses myself. If I want to see a race on a TV screen I'll stay at home.

We all take our mobile phones for granted - and we take them everywhere! Phones used to be banned on racecourses until recent years. There wasn't even a public phone on a racecourse. This was to combat the evil scourge of the SP (starting price) bookie, another colourful part of Australia's wonderful horse racing past that has gone forever. SP bookies would operate illegally off course, in backyards and pubs, offering starting price (i.e. tote) odds. For the uninitiated, starting price odds are the odds payable when the gates open and the horses are racing, at which time bets are no longer accepted.

Some of these operations were huge and sophisticated, and linked to major crime syndicates - not a good thing. The small operations run by a bloke in the corner of the pub have a friendly feel about them though; one bloke operating outside the law and making a bit on the side, as well as providing a service to people who couldn't get to the course to place a bet. 

The advent of the NSW Totalisator Agency Board (TAB) off course betting shops in 1964 slowly killed off the SP bookie in NSW, and internet betting saw it well dead and buried. 

These days at the races you'll see people checking their laptops, tablets and phones for odds or placing a bet online (online, when you're at a racecourse. Go figure.). My, how things have changed.

I suspect that at country races the old-fashioned bookie's ticket still exists; next time I'm in a country town and it's race day, I'm going to find out.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Shrdlu, Gravy Bones and other Mercier delights

As a teenager I discovered the cartoons of the irrepressible Emile Mercier, whose take on 1950s life in Sydney is a perfect time capsule. Racehorses, politicians, housewives, drinkers, the art world... they were all grist to Mercier's wit-laden mill.

I'm going to be lazy here and quote Wikipedia: 'Mercier enjoyed including strange words in his cartoons, like 'ETAOIN' and 'SHRDLU'; nonsense words formed by the first two rows of keys on the old Linotype machines; words which sometimes - to Mercier's amusement - were accidentally included in real-life newspaper articles. 'CMFYP', the third line of keys on the keyboard, was sometimes used by Mercier as the name of a fictitious politician; the Honorable C. M. FWYP. Mercier also found the word 'GRAVY' humorous and included it a variety of contexts, including a trio of racehorses who were named 'GRAVY BONES', 'GREY SHRDLU' and 'CURLAMO' on signs above their stalls. Other Mercier's whims were depicting buildings, footpaths on floors supported by bed-springs, eccentric three-wheeled automobiles, yaks, and portraits of 'Uncle Ezra' on the walls of rooms.'

When you look at a Mercier cartoon there is often more to be discovered than just the main characters, as stated above. I particularly love his cats - scrawny, a bit bug-eyed, with a mangy tail.

In the late 1970s/early 1980s a couple of collections of his cartoons were published, and they are still treasured by me today.  Here are some of my favourite cartoons by Mercier:
See the number plate on the truck? NBG 123. NBG was shorthand for "No Bloody Good". And there's that funny little bearded chap peeping around the corner.

Classic Mercier humour.

Can't you just feel the heat and humidity of a Sydney summer in this one? Everything's drooping including the bloke in the portrait.

Now tell me you didn't involuntarily laugh out loud at this!

Shakespeare meets Mercier. Love it!  And look at the little flying cup and saucer in the sky...

Here are some of those cats with a classic Mercier spring floor. This one's very clean - Mercier usually hid objects in there - dogs, cans of gravy beef...

Mercier's bearded man in his ancient car, a frequent sight in the cartoons.

How topical is this? The Gai Waterhouse/John Singleton racing scandal broke last week...

I love the names Mercier gave his racehorses!

My love of Mercier's sense of humour got me into trouble at business college in the late 1970s. We had a very straight-laced teacher, Mrs Currie, who disapproved of me because I wasn't like the other girls. I didn't aspire to be a secretary or receptionist. No, I was going to be a journalist and made it clear I was learning shorthand and typing to assist me to get a job on a newspaper. Well, that never happened.

But I digress.

Back to Mrs Currie. Halfway through the year we were onto touch-typing our own letters (as opposed to diligently whacking out edc and rfv and qaz and ijn and ol, and other typing exercises). We could choose our own recipients' names for these business epistles. Not for this little black duck the Mr J Smith or Mr R Brown my classmates used. Nope. I drew on Mercier for inspiration and my letters were addressed to Mr Quincey J Erpnewt and Mr C M Fwyp, two Mercier characters. When the third letter was presented for Mrs Currie's approval, to be sent to Mr G Shrdlu, she pulled me up.

"You'll have to stop using these silly names," she admonished.  "I can't tell whether these are typing errors."

"Oh no, Mrs Currie, that's how they are spelled. I can show you the magazine here."

But Erpnewt, Fwyp and Shrdlu were banished. Mrs Currie told me to consult the telephone book and pick proper names. So... after much searching I was writing to people called Cholmondeley and Fitzhaugh etc.  At that time there was actually a Bastard in the Sydney White Pages.  Poor bastard (no pun intended). I wonder how many crank calls he got? Anyway I did consider it for a brief and beautiful moment, but knew Mrs Currie would hit the roof. She'd already spoken severely to me for saying "bugger". 

If Mercier had an influence on the names I used at business college, he also had an influence on my own cartoons. I confess to basing many of my cartoon cats on Mercier's design!

If you like Mercier's cartoons there is a wealth of them here on this blog. Enjoy!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bum freezers and giraffe legs - welcome to The New Races

I was sitting on the grandstand at Hawkesbury Races on Saturday when it struck me that I have been going to the races at irregular intervals for more than 40 years.

That's a very scary thought. I don't feel 40. I certainly don't feel 50, which, according to my birth certificate, I am.

I was ten when Mum finally bowed to my ceaseless pleas and took me to Rosehill to see Gunsynd, the Goondiwindi Grey, in action.

Back then the races were about betting and horses. People shuffled en masse from the parade ring to the betting ring then up to the stand or down to the rails to watch the race.

Now it seems the races are, for many, strictly about the social scene. About drinking a LOT, and for young women, wearing bum freezer skirts and ridiculous shoes. Fashion has always played a part at the races, but now for many of the younger racegoing set the races are about being seen rather than having a punt.

I watched several groups of young women down bottles of bubbly on Saturday. One group just in front of me on the stand didn't move all day aside from replenishing the bubbly supplies. I never saw them have a bet or brandish a tote or bookie ticket.  I suppose that's a good thing; gambling can ruin your life if you get in over your head or spend more than you earn.

I'm a small punter - $5 each way is about my limit. But I know that when I'm betting with a bookie or the tote, a percentage of my bet is being fed back into the racing industry. I think the TAB gives 10% back to Racing NSW.  So betting is like making a charitable donation but with the chance of winning it back several times over. :-) (And a big thank you here to Mouro, who won at 8/1 for me!)

But, as usual, I digress.

Back to the girls. Racewear has evolved, for those under 25 - and scarily for some women near my age - to dresses which barely cover your bum and which hug every curve on your body. If you are very young and slim this is fine, but leaves you a little exposed when you climb the stairs on the grandstand. (And do remember girls about how to sit like a lady with your knees together. Please.) If you are, like some of the girls, bigger than a size 12 you look bloody ridiculous. All the fake tan in the world - and there were orange legs galore on Saturday - can't disguise cellulite, and thighs which wobble when you walk are much better covered up with fabric.

This year's crop of chunky platform shoes doesn't do a delicate dress any favours, either. I saw some shockers on Saturday. Chiffon baby doll dresses are overwhelmed by chunky footwear - in one case I saw a nude chiffon micro dress teamed with enormous electric blue clumpies with ankle straps. They are be better suited with a killer stiletto.

As for the platform shoes... girls clunked along on their platforms like giraffes taking their first steps, stiff legged, descending the stairs with a death grip on the handrails, their head plumage - the inevitable fascinator - bobbing with each careful tread. By the end of the day girls were kicking off the heels and walking barefoot through the car park - another look which just doesn't cut the mustard. I'm so glad I've grown out of following fashion with the slavish neediness of a late teen (I was wearing a charcoal grey knit dress that sits just above the knee, with knee high flat boots; practical for galloping to and from the bookies' ring).

Another thing that doesn't really suit delicate party frocks is tattoos. Big ones. Little delicate ones... yeah, they look cool for the most part. But imagine a pretty girl in a strappy short dress with a massive tatt on her back and on one thigh too. It looks incongruous. Cheap.

Young guys have started affecting the racing trilby, a hat almost doomed to extinction in recent years and previously only the territory of the aged male racegoer or horse trainer. They don't wear it like the old guys do though; it's teamed with a colourful shirt and co-respondent shoes. And trilbies are available in more interesting colours now. It's nice to a see a guy wear a hat instead of a baseball cap.

A few years ago race clubs were bemoaning the lack of spectators and visitors to the races; they started marketing to the under 35s and so the races have become party territory. Now the race clubs are bemoaning drunken behaviour. It's often the gaggles of bubble-fuelled girls that are the trouble-makers.

Maybe they'll grow out of it; maybe they'll learn a bit about following form, have the odd bet and help the industry. Maybe those with good jobs will become part of a syndicate and own their own racehorse own day.

I am relishing being a Grumpy Old Woman; a curmudgeon. It's not that I don't want to see people having fun. I do! Nobody likes a bottle of bubbly more than I. But the races are the races, not just a party.

Dressing up is fun, and the races are an opportunity to wear clothes and accessories you wouldn't wear to the office. But the races aren't someone's 18th or 21st, held at night until the small hours. I would love to see racewear change and evolve into daywear more stylish than uber-skimpy skirts. All it takes is a couple of racing fashionistas like Kate Waterhouse to start wearing mid-thigh or above the knee skirts instead of bum freezers. Hope you're reading this, Kate.