Category Archives: en passant

Musings, mumblings, discoveries and asides.

Greed, business and bookselling

Australian book retail chain Angus & Robertson (A&R) has got itself in the poo. The mainstream media (Fairfax) ran stories briefly (08 August) about A&R attempting to screw its suppliers by demanding payments to cover their ‘gap’ in profitability. To put it more clearly, Angus & Robertson is using the same sort of approach that Australian supermarkets have to the products they carry — ‘pay us to stock your product or go away’. More detail can be found in an article at Crikey (subscription). Suppliers/publishers who don’t yield enough volume profit for the bookseller retailer are being billed for large sums in order to obtain the right to continue to supply the retailer.

I’ve heard that a representative of A&R stood up at the Australian Booksellers’ Association conference a few weeks back and said something to the effect of ‘we aren’t a bookseller, we’re a retailer’ and more about profits and products. So there we have it.

Two of the suppliers mentioned in media coverage are Tower Books and Thames & Hudson. They are prominent in areas such as architecture, art, design, some literature and more (including many French-published food titles). If A&R loses Tower Books (and they seem to have, given the correspondence between them) one would assume that no Taschen books will be available from A&R (Taschen do all sorts of popular books on art and artists, design, culture and photography) as Tower is the Australian supplier. The same is the case for DC Comics. And Thames & Hudson has an impressive catalogue of titles in similar areas. It would seem that A&R doesn’t deserve anyone’s business if they think selling books is about extorting money from suppliers and only giving consumers whatever A&R deems massively profitable enough to bother with.

UPDATE: A nice description of A&R’s greed and various parts of the correspondence can be found at Lightbulb

– DM

Reviews and defamation – Australia’s current case

It’s old news, but for a moment last week newspapers and cafés were abuzz with speculation about the future of restaurant reviewers. A ruling by the High Court of Australia appeared — in media depictions — to establish that a now-defunct Sydney restaurant, Coco Roco, had been defamed by reviewer Matthew Evans of the Sydney Morning Herald.

I expected the food-blogosphere to erupt in outrage, given that many foodbloggers are doing their thing in order to tell cybernauts about their dining experiences. Nix. Nothing. Almost. With the exception of this and this, I haven’t seen other Australian foodblogs mention it. It didn’t even get mentioned in the Australian section of eGullet, despite a previous discussion about reviewing. If you Google relevant terms, you’ll discover that foreign media, forums and blogs have been rather more interested.

I can’t help but wonder just what Aussie review-genre foodbloggers are in it for.

As it happens, last week’s ruling is far from earth-shattering, being but one more step in the case. Wait until the outcome of further legal process in the New South Wales Supreme Court, where the newspaper will actually defend itself. A final negative outcome for the newspaper would have considerable implications for all who review — bloggers who review are of course open to litigation too. If you want to read more about the general issue of litigation and restaurant reviews, see this at

– DM

UPDATE: I had overlooked this clear description of the case on eat-melbourne and (at last!) some online discussion.

Good reviewer gives restaurant a drubbing

There aren’t many restaurant reviewers who I trust to say clearly what they think without adding in a touch of egomania. Jay Rayner of the Observer is one of the ones I trust. He was the first serious reviewer I’d ever read who didn’t shy away from clear negative reviews, as well as good positive ones.

Why am I writing this? Because one of his most recent reviews is marvellous. Here are a few quotes from his review of London restaurant Suka from 29 April 2007.

Any attempt at conversation – ‘God I hate this place. How can they live with themselves,’ etc – kept being interrupted by waiters trudging off into the distance and back again
The one advantage of this set-up was that the waitress was so far away from me, and the music so loud, I couldn’t really hear her recitation of the menu’s ‘concept’.
Anyway, having eaten there, I can sum it up myself: ‘We are now going to extort as much money from you in as short a period as possible for as lacklustre a meal as we can get away with.’

Now go and read the whole thing. It’s great!

– DM

UPDATE: I’m not alone in cyberspace when it comes to expressing respect for Jay Rayner. If you’re interested, take a look at what Silverbrow has to say.

About showing one’s undies

Man. Woman. Curdled custard. Authors have made millions from explorations (in print {ehem}) of the seemingly incomprehensible differences between the hairier and the curvier sexes. Talk of Venus and Mars, emotion vs logic, blahdiblah. All those tiresome clichés over the barbecue — the blokes in the garden moaning about their missuses (the plural of wife) and the ladies loitering in the kitchen whinging about their useless insensitive hubbies.

Deepening the male-female mutual comprehension divide — for those who experience it — there seems to be yet another point of difference. My Google homepage, which serves up a range of feeds from news services, sciency things and other trivia, suddenly delivered me into the world of flashing one’s underwear. One of the feeds is from wikiHow. It tells people all sorts of useful things like how to survive falling through ice on a lake, how to fold a napkin, how to become a sophisticated adult (I passed). On the day in question, the featured article was How to Get out of a Car Gracefully Without Showing Your Underwear

Now, I don’t know about you, dearest fully-clad reader, but I ain’t never shown me knickers whilst disembarking from an automobile. It was a danger I had never imagined. Life as a male can be so innocent. Are women everywhere living in fear of that first step out of their car? Afraid of lecherous men hiding behind carpark pillars? Secret cameras embedded in the pavement next to the parking meter?

I clicked the link through to the full article and understood the problem immediately. Just look at the educational image.

I mean, she’d show her undies if she so much as breathed deeply. Scandalous. No wonder the advice includes:

Even if you’re careful, you might end up showing a glimpse of your underwear. Make sure they’re clean and flattering just in case.


The solution is quite technical and I shan’t bore you with the multi-step instructions for exiting the vehicle. It’s a mixture of dance-step and yoga. The advice to:

Practice in private before you go out, and have a friend watch you so you can make sure you look good and you’re not showing off your underwear.

seems particularly important. If you have no sense of rhythm, ladies, I’d say your best bet is to wear culottes.

I’ve been digesting the article’s words of wisdom over the past days. Watching people getting out of cars. Observing people on trains and trams. Staring at women in cafés. I just don’t see the problem. Or, more to the point, I think the problem has been obviated. Have you noticed, dear suited-up reader, that people are showing their undies all over the place? Why worry about knicker-no-nos while getting out of a car if half the population is already showing the back of their G-strings at Sunday brunch?

Although I at first felt this was a girlie problem, I now believe one should be much more concerned about male undies. We’ve become inured to the once-outrageous fashion of displaying the branded elastic waist of men’s briefs. Now that every Brad and his mate is showing his Calvins or Aussiebums, it’s a disappointment when someone’s t-shirt rides up to reveal an absence of branded elastic. While men-with-undies thought they were groundbreakingly risqué, ‘ghetto’ boys had been letting half their bum hang out of their jeans for quite a while already.

If anybody has been looking (the mothers in the audience might nod in horrified agreement), a good proportion of the under-20 population has been showing rather more than their waist band recently. Yesterday, on an innocent suburban train journey, I copped an eyeful of a teenager’s right buttock. His jeans slid below the leg of his briefs as he got up to leave the carriage. It’s a wonder he could still walk when the beltline of the jeans was so dangerously low. And what was keeping the jeans up at all?

With G-strings at brunch and buttocks on the daily commute, getting out of a car without showing one’s undergarments is quite obviously a redundant concern.

– DM

A sense of humour at Eurostar

The train that thinks it’s a plane seems to have a sense of humour. Putting to one side Eurostar’s once unenviable reputation for tardiness and forgetting momentarily Eurostar’s legacy-airline pricing model (no affordable one-way tickets, a maximum return price of €760 for a journey of less than three hours), one can’t help being impressed by this touch of humour on the company’s website (my emphasis):

To check in, all you have to do is insert your ticket into the machine (which will hold onto it exactly long enough for you to start to panic, just a little bit) and then walk through the gate with your baggage. Easy. If you need help, our staff are always around, and we’ll be glad to check you in ourselves.

When To Check In
This depends mainly on what ticket you have. Unless you’ve been advised otherwise, please check-in at least a 30 minutes before your scheduled departure. Below are the full details, just bear in mind that if in doubt, arrive with time to spare. And have a croissant.
Link to original

Not only is this refreshingly lighthearted, but it’s present in the other languages available on the Eurostar site as well:

Il vous suffit d’insérer votre billet dans la machine (qui ne vous le rendra qu’aprés avoir observé chez vous un début de panique et un premier geste d’appel au secours en direction de notre personnel d’accueil”)
En cas de doute, prévoyez large et arrivez en avance. Et savourez un bon croissant.

Om in te checken hoeft u alleen biljet in de machine te steken (die het net lang genoeg zal behouden om u een beetje zenuwachtig te maken)
Hieronder vindt u alle details, maar denk eraan dat in geval van twijfel het beter is te vroeg te komen. En een croissant te verorberen.

Consistency in translation (where culturally appropriate) is second only to godliness and a good millefeuille.