Pet Hate #342 .. Taxis

December 20, 2007

What’s the one thing that binds most towns and cities worldwide in terms of being absolutely and completely crap? Yep, Taxis (and taxi drivers).

Standing in the line for an hour and a half at 1:00am at Star City casino the other day gave me plenty of time to think about the subject, and I reckon that in pretty much every single city I’ve been to (except maybe Hong Kong), taxis exhibit these similar attributes:

– pricey
– late or never show for a booking
– never available when it rains, snows or even feels like an unusual weather event
– impossible to get late at night (London and Sydney being two extreme examples)

and are equipped with a driver who:
1. Doesn’t speak English (allowable in non-English speaking countries of course!)
2. Doesn’t wash
3. Drives at the speed of Michael Schumacher with the driving skill of Stevie Wonder
4. Doesn’t know where he’s going
5. Tries to rip you off if he thinks you don’t know either
6. Will attempt to go off-meter or haggle an additional price
7. Will add on all sorts of mysterious extra charges
8. Doesn’t want to go south of the river/north/on a short trip/to the badlands etc etc
9 Will engage you in a one-way conversation on all the subjects he is an expert in (thank you talk radio!)
10 Will spend most of the journey on the phone/pressing random buttons in the cab/sniffing/changing lanes for no reason whatsoever or fiddling with the aircon.

I hate taxis with such a passion that I will go out of my way to find alternative methods of getting somewhere, or simply not bother!

Am I mad or do other people feel the same way?

What I really need is my own private driver 🙂

Fish, Chicken or Fishicken?

December 14, 2007

You’ll be pleased to hear I made it safely back from Perth. I like Perth, although even Sydney’s fly population seems to have migrated west in search of resources wealth (thereby further driving up the price of everything to even crazier levels!).

No standard jokes about airline food from the flight back, but I did notice something strange. I had the chicken curry, but on the lid it said ‘contains fish’. Hmm. Probably best not to ask!

Did I miss anything whilst I was away? 😉

When Does Choice Become Confusion?

December 3, 2007

It’s no state secret that we, as consumers, are given more and more choices in everything we seek to buy. Enter any supermarket and you’re probably as amazed as I am at exactly how many different types of cheese or hair shampoo there are. If you’re a short, white, ginger-haired, middle-aged, dry-skinned, flaky scalped kind of fellow, there will be a conditioner just for you! Try asking ‘what salad dressings do you have’ when asked if you’d like one in any restaurant in the US and you’ll be confused by the time your waitress has reached number three (of fifteen).

Choice is great of course: how boring would it be to always have to have the same thing, in the same colour, with the same taste? Every .. single .. time.

But when is it too much? At what point do we cross from choice to just confusion?

We were looking for a new mobile phone for my wife at the weekend. Being a bit of a geek I wasn’t phased by the choice of phones themselves – that’s just techie heaven. What confused (read: annoyed) me was the choice of tariffs. Or more significantly, the way in which those choices were almost deliberately designed to confuse and blind you with science.

Yes, I’d like to choose a plan that accounts for my activity. The more I pay per month, the lower my per-call cost should be. I understand that we can’t have a one-size fits all approach. But what is it with plans such as: ‘pay $14 on the $39 cap and get $140 of calls: excluding international calls, but including 5Mb of data, at $5 per month. With 200 included texts; but only on network-to-network super-maxi plan phones; on a Wednesday;in September’


It’s not a cap if I have to pay more. It’s an allowance. And I don’t want to have to then choose one of three ‘free’ add-ons that should be part of the standard plan. I want international on or off. That’s it. I shouldn’t need to know or care what network the person I am calling is on – give me a call rate and bury the cross-charges. I don’t know anyone else on your network – are you saying you’d like me to go to your competitor just so I can get cheap/free calls to my friends? Why would you want that?

As for data plans .. $5 for 5Mb? Are you serious? All of the networks here have 3 or 3.5G networks. How long would it take to burn through 5Mb of data? 15 minutes?

And don’t get me started on Australian broadband .. that’s even worse!

Give me a choice, just make it a simple one .. please!

Ok, that’s my rant for today. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest 🙂

(speaking of choice: my father was once asked in a diner in New York how he’d like his eggs. After some consideration he simply answered: ‘cooked?’)

Santa .. Sponsored By ..

November 26, 2007

This weekend we went along to watch the first Sydney Christmas parade. Loosely modeled on the Macey’s Thanksgiving parade in New York (minus the giant balloon figures), the event attracted over 50,000 people according to media reports.

The thing that struck me though was how horribly corporate it all was. Perhaps I was just young and naive, but as a kid I remember watching parades where the floats were clearly knocked up in someone’s garage by a couple of blokes at the weekend. Dodgy plywood strapped on top of an old van and costumes made from old curtains and papier mache sufficed.

I’m no longer naive enough to believe these things are free, or that advertising doesn’t invade every aspect of our day to day lives, but I was somewhat bemused by some of the participants: The Sydney JetBoat? Austar Cable TV? Ronald McDonald? Santa sponsored by the Daily Telegraph?

Maybe I’m just a grumpy git – all the kids around me in the crowd still loved seeing Santa and couldn’t have cared less if he were sponsored by Haliburton. As for some of the others though .. I think I managed to annoy my wife by stating loudly ‘look, here comes an advert for ..’ every time a new group came past 🙂

Have I lost the plot, or just a sign of the times?

Play >

November 22, 2007

Ok, I am back! Family packed off back to the UK, I now have slightly more time available. I think it was actually a pretty good effort for my 80something year-old grandparents to make the trip from England to Australia. It’s a bloody long way at any age!

We did, of course, spend a lot of time at Sydney’s tourist spots, which was actually quite a nice way to re-engage with the city. Living in any place you tend to get a little blase about its attractions so it was good to get out on the ferries, visit the beaches and do the things that in my ‘normal’ life I’d stopped doing.

Anyway, I think they were glad to have made the long trip too – I don’t think they believed that at that age they would travel to the other side of the world. My Grandad even bought a Sydney cap and a boomerang 🙂

More soon.

Message To Staff: “No Yawning”

October 11, 2007

We are currently at what is hopefully the tail end of a bogong moth invasion here in Sydney. There are (seemingly) billions of the little buggers in the city at the moment, lost on their way to their annual vacation in the Snowy Mountains.

Luckily they are more annoying than dangerous and don’t bite, sting or eat your clothes.

The kind management at ACP magazines has, nevertheless, issued a warning to their staff to ‘refrain from yawning’ lest the moths mistake their gobs for a mountain tunnel and fly in for some hibernation action! I’m not sure who that makes the bigger fools – the management for giving the advice, or their staff for needing it! I’m going to be charitable and assume the former.

What’s next I wonder?

‘Would all staff members please be aware of excessive blinking. Closing your eyes for too long may result in being hit by a truck.’
‘When licking your lips, be careful your tongue doesn’t accidentally come into contact with an electrical socket.’
‘Dear staff, please don’t smear your body with honey and jump into beehives.’

What do you think: health and safety gone mad? Or an office prank?

Beer or Whine?

September 27, 2007

A hot topic for debate here in Sydney currently is mayor Clover Moore’s proposal for more intimate ‘Melbournesque’ bars and lounges. I have to say I am in 100% agreement with her. Sydney has some reasonable cool bars and a lot of pubs, but for great little Euro-cafes, bistros, wine bars, lounge bars, supper clubs and hole-in-the-wall cool venues, Melbourne wins hands-down.

Right now, Sydney laws mean that in addition to expensive alcohol licenses, you also have to pony up for a ‘social impact analysis’ at roughly $60,000 plus associated legal fees and other nonsense. In Melbourne, a handful of virtually penniless students could open a bar in an upturned skip at the back of an alleyway. And they do. And it works.

The crusty old folk at the AHA, who seem to be stuck in some 1960s timewarp, believe that Sydney folk don’t want to have a nice glass of wine in a small quiet bistro and that large pubs with pokies and sports on TV are what us bogans really enjoy. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!

I’m glad to see that support for Ms Moore is coming from people like Neil Perry and other notable nightlife owning Sydneysiders too.

I do enjoy Sydney, but having recently returned from a trip to Grenoble in France, we need some good old Euro-chic. Bring it on Clover!

If You Can’t Take the Heat ..

September 25, 2007

I noticed that somebody (probably the owner or manager) at the Bird Cow Fish restaurant in Surry Hills took exception to my review on the Thursday Club site.

At first read I felt bad for caning them. On reflection though, I think it’s they who are missing the point. I do accept that the way we review on the Thursday Club can be somewhat flippant at times. It’s always tempting to go for the cheap laughs, and it’s easy at someone else’s expense.

But here’s what they are missing. For whatever the reason, I had a bad experience there. Happened to be noisy kids, which they couldn’t do a lot about short of ejecting them, and grumpy service – which they could easily fix. It doesn’t really matter why I didn’t like it, the point is, I chose to tell people about it. I didn’t just tell my friends, I told a bunch of strangers. In fact, I told multiple thousands of strangers (going by our web stats).

And that’s the price of entry of doing good business nowadays. Whether buying a car, taking a vacation, picking up a book or choosing a restaurant, you can read the views of potentially millions of other people prior to making your choice. There’s a huge oversupply of everything for those with the means right now. Even in the microcosm of Surry Hills, you can walk down the street and pick at least twenty or thirty alternative venues to eat. If I’d read about someone who had a similar experience to me, where do you think I wouldn’t have eaten?

I’m with Peter Sheahan on this one: if you want a seat at the business table you need to be timely, on quality and perceived good value – *pick three from three*. And then something else…

Bird Cow Fish could have said (should have said): ‘oops, sorry you had a bad experience. We pride ourselves on being a family friendly restaurant [the something else], but why don’t you come back on a xxxday night when things are a little quieter, we have some jazz and it’s a bit more grown up. We’d love to show you our bistro menu’. You get the idea.

I’m not angling for freebies, and I’m sure they really don’t give a stuff if I never darken their door again. But those hundred, thousand, ten thousand other strangers? That’s a whole different story.


September 7, 2007

Sydney is in the midst of the OPEC, err APEC, conference right now. Lots of security of course, the ‘great wall’ of Sydney security fence, and 20 car cavalcades for Mr Bush and co (who, by the way, managed to bring 250 staff with him!).

It’s all been quite serious on the harbour, with police boats and jetskis zooming around; helicopters with searchlights are hovering overhead, which looked really cool last night when it was quite misty.

Today was an APEC public holiday, so I think most people took the opportunity to head out of town, resulting in something of a ghost town. Apparently tomorrow is the big day for those up for a bit of a protest. I’m kind of tempted to head in and take some photos, but don’t really fancy ending up on some intelligence database. Perhaps I could wear a disguise: a long beard and turban perhaps? Oh, no wait, the Chaser boys already tried that one.

Ooo, where’s my tin foil hat? In the middle of writing this, my PC just crashed … yikes, they’re on to me! Better publish this quick.

Hey, what’s that red-dot on my chest ….

Mind The Gap

August 15, 2007

Sydneysiders enjoy a number of fun hobbies, including: going to the beach, wearing t-shirts with turned-up collars and bagging CityRail.

CityRail Logo

Probably the best page in the local free daily newspaper ‘Mx’ is the letters page, which is normally entirely devoted to horror stories about late trains, annoying (or hot) fellow passengers and nasty ticket inspectors.

Coming from the UK, and having had to deal with the train situation there for far too long, I don’t actually think the train service is that bad here (although the coverage kind of sucks sometimes).

CityRail themselves have made some sterling efforts to improve performance though, including:

– altering the timetable
– removing a bunch of services (less trains = less chance for cockups)
– running the trains slower and taking longer at each station
– shutting down large parts of the network most weekends for track work
– putting the prices up
– suggesting that running within 10 minutes of schedule = on time!

Hmm. Ok, so there are some issues. However, I can now categorically state that I have the answer: music!

I’m not talking busking, or piped music, or free Ipods. No, what we need are some tinkly jingles at each station when the train arrives!

In Japan, for example, they play a funny tune to announce the train. The tunes differ depending on the line and station. At Denver airport they play some crazy deliverance-style twanging country at each stop. Although, as this was the US, the music is accompanied by the recording of a guy saying things like: ‘yippee-kay-ey mother frighteners. We’re now lee-eeving the A terminal. Hold on tight y’all. Yeehah!’ (or something like that. It had been a long trip and I was tired).

Even Gare De Lyon in Paris, which is a heaving mass of sweating bodies most of the time, manages to inject a bit of Euro-techno just prior to their announcements.

So come on CityRail. You know it makes sense. When the train arrives .. the first bar from ‘Down Under’ with the pipe sounding thing. As it leaves .. the second bar.

Perfect. And a welcome distraction from all the other issues.

“Dear Mx ….. “