(Alternate title: I bought a pair of shoes that nearly killed me)
I am writing this as a way of alerting Country Road and their customers to a serious design flaw in one of their products. Hopefully this letter will convince people to value their lives over fashion and to not make the same mistake that I did. Also, I hope that Country Road will see some sense and recall the most dangerous product in their catalogue and the most terrifying non-violent weapon ever created.
The product that I am talking about is a seemingly innocent pair of shoes. I have bought shoes from Country Road before without problems. They were comfortable, lasted a long time and did not cut up the back of my feet during that time where you have to wear them in. For these reasons I felt comfortable buying another pair of shoes, although I bought them online this time. Naively I thought that the worst case scenario when buying shoes online would be that I would get the size wrong and have to return the shoes. How foolish I was.
But there was more to these shoes than seemed at first. Beyond their innocent and plain exterior hid a serious defect. They had clearly been cobbled by the Devil himself. They had wooden soles. Really Country Road, why would you make a shoe with a wooden sole? If I had wanted to buy wooden shoes I would have just bought clogs
At first, the wooden soles were not so much of a big deal. Sure they made the sound of my footsteps obnoxiously loud and made everybody who I approached recoil in terror. Yes they made sure that anything that I stood on crumbled into a fine powder. I just assumed that, despite having a few issues, these shoes would still get the job done. They are just shoes anyway. At first having footsteps that made me sound like a horse was nothing but a mildly amusing novelty and a small inconvenience, however this honeymoon phase did not last long.
The first signs of trouble came when the magnificent wooden soles started to get scuffed. Pebbles stopped crumbling under the shoes’ might and now started to get lodged in there. I stopped becoming a welcome guest in my friends’ houses as my shoes now inevitably scratched up wooden floorboards and kitchen tiles. By this point I had begun to lose confidence in my new shoes, but I had not given up. These issues were small weren’t they?
I am confident that the product designers at Country Road have literally never walked a mile in my shoes, if they had they would have realised that they are portable death traps. It wasn’t until the issues of friction came about (or complete lack of it) that I realised that these shoes were actually trying to kill me. Soon the wood that was glued precariously to the soles began to break off into shards as did my ability to remain standing.
At times I would find myself walking to work, quite innocently, when my wooden soles would inevitably connect with a small pebble or even the slightest decline in the surface of the ground. Upon contact, my leg would then shoot out in random directions, and on more than one occasion, I found myself doing the splits in the middle of a busy road. I bet everyone else found it hilarious. Running is an absolute no in these shoes. Even if the soles could even create enough friction to take a step forward there is no way that the shoes could stop the momentum created by such a move. To run – for the train or tram – means taking my life into my own hands.
Rain is another thing that poses a serious issue to my health and well being I’m not even talking about large amounts of rain, whenever the smallest amount of moisture hits the ground, these wooden shoes lose all friction entirely. If someone so much as sneezes in front of me, I will find myself ice skating all the way home.
The most life-threatening incident that happened in relation to these shoes was also the most spectacular and the most embarrassing. I originally bought these shoes to wear at my wedding and at the time I was blissfully unaware of their murderous inclinations. There were some slight mishaps during the reception but nothing that I couldn’t handle, that was until I made the decision to carelessly walk down a small wooden staircase that lead to the main area where everybody was enjoying themselves. There must have been the smallest amount of moisture on the stairs and when the wooden part of my sole connected with this moist wooden step it caused the most outrageously spectacular result. Instead of happening in slow motion, the events unfolded in super fast forward. My legs shot out in front of me and I landed arse-first on the steps surrounded by people who thought I had just killed myself at my own wedding. Fortunately I was ok and the only injury I suffered was a bruise on my bum that lasted for about three months. This story isn’t all bad though, my spectacular fall taught me that I have reflexes of a cat. At the time of the slip I had a full pint of beer in my hand and I DID NOT SPILL A DROP!
To finish, I ask that you, Country Road, immediately stop selling these shoes and that you promise to never again put wooden soles on your shoes. Or if you do make wooden shoes I ask that there be a large sign reading “CAUTION novelty shoes with wooden soles, use at own risk” so that unsuspecting shoppers like myself are aware of the risks involved in making such purchases. While you continue to sell these shoes I will boycott all Country Road stores which is an act that I’m sure will bring the whole company to its knees. But seriously, these shoes have the stability of roller skates and should not be worn by anyone. No that’s not true, there two types of people who may choose to wear these shoes: those who wish to die in the most hilarious manner possible and maybe contestants on those Japanese game shoes that seem to take pride in painful humiliation.
“If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.”
That’s how Colin Farrell described Bruges – or as he generally referred to it: “fucking Bruges” – In the 2008 film titled, strangely enough, In Bruges. Although Colin Farrell was only referring to one city, perhaps the same thing could be said about Belgium as a whole. Belgium is a strange and often forgotten little country which is famous mostly for unleashing Jean-Claude Van Damme onto the world and not much else. Sure they have waffles, chocolates and Tintin but really, what else is there?
Whenever anybody says that they are going to Belgium, the standard response is generally “why?”. this may be because, according to some people, Belgium isn’t even a “real country”. It may also be because Belgium is a strange little country caught in-between neighbours that are far more interesting. Who in their right mind would go to Belgium when France, Germany, the UK and even the Netherlands are right there?
1 – The most boring place in the world
According to pretty much everybody, Belgium is a boring place. Even the Belgians agree and according to a recent survey, 60% of Belgians wish that they were born somewhere else.
Jeremy Clarkson – aka the mean one from Top Gear – did a (hilarious) documentary a few years back where he travelled to the UK’s neighbouring countries and took the piss out of them. In one episode Jeremy wanders the streets asking the locals whether they were glad to be born Belgian. He is absolutely shocked when after interviewing many people, he finds just one guy who is happy being Belgian. Even the guy dressed as a penguin preferred his status as a penguin to that of being Belgian.
Many countries are famous for having a national sport. Brazil is known for soccer, the Spanish are renowned for acting stupidly around bulls, and France is known for surrendering to the Germans. While Belgium doesn’t necessarily have a “national sport” they do really have some strange ones. If you believe Jeremy Clarkson, a typical Saturday in Belgium, usually involves a game which he calls “shit yourself rich”. This sport involves dividing a field up into an imaginary grid and everybody betting on where the cow will “have its first shit”. Don’t believe me? Watch the video below if you want a laugh.
2 – The culinary delights
If we learned anything from Pulp Fiction it taught us a really good place to hide a watch, and that they do things differently in Europe. In one scene, John Travolta is sitting in a car telling Samuel L Jackson all about a “Royale with cheese” and the metric system.
Vincent: You know what they put on French fries in Holland instead of ketchup?
Vincent: I’ve seen em do it, man. They fuckin’ drown em in that shit.
What John Travolta/Vincent neglected to mention, is that the Belgians also love to drown their chips in Mayonnaise, in fact they practically invented it. Belgian chip kiosks often come with a wall of mayonnaise and sauce dispensers. After ordering your chips, which is simple enough, you are then expected to submerge your lunch under your choice of mayonnaise.
In fact fried potatoes are so popular in Belgium that it is considered their national dish. Moules-frites or mussels and fries may seem like a strange combination, but you try telling that to a Belgian.
Belgium is also world famous for its strange and often highly alcoholic beers. Every town seems to have its own brewery (or several) and a surprisingly large number of these are brewed by monks who have taken a vow of silence, however in true Belgian style, the weirdness does not stop there. What is more strange than a bunch of religious guys silently making beer, is the names they give those beers. Of course there is the famous Hoegaarden, which in English sounds like…well..you know. There are also others such as: Duvel (which means devil), Judas, Satan, Silly, Dulle Teve (which means mad bitch) and Delerium Tremens (which is what you will get from drinking too many of these) just to name a few.
3 – They hate themselves
Belgium has a total of three official languages, which for a country of around 11 million people is a real achievement It is also an excellent way of making sure that nobody gets along. The northern half all speak Flemish (not phlegm-ish) which is just a fancy way of saying Dutch, while the bottom half speak French and a very small part of the population speaks German. To complicate things further, the capital Brussels and the region surrounding it is bilingual in Dutch and French, which means that all of the street signs must be in both languages. This may seem like it makes perfect sense, but often it results in some rather nonsensical repetition of words that are the same in both languages.
While the bilingual (or trilingual) thing may not initially seem like an issue, you can trust the Belgians to make it one. It seems that the French and Dutch hate each other so much – and everybody hates the Germans – that nobody can agree on anything. Since the Belgians can’t even decide on what to name a street, it’s not that surprising really that they can’t decide on a government either. The country currently holds the world record for not having a government. Which brings me to…
4 – Their government (or lack of it)
On February 17 in 2011, Belgium broke the world record for having no government (well really it was for going the longest period of time without having a new government voted in after an election). The country’s different language groups just can’t seem to get along about anything. After an election in 2010, the Belgians did what they were best at and disagreed to the point where no government could be formed. This carried on for some time, but after 249 days without a government, the Belgian people decided enough was enough and marched into the streets to spark a revolution.
Generally, when countries stage revolutions, they can often turn out to be violent and bloody. People march into the streets – or onto Twitter – and demand change. However in Belgium’s case – as with everything they do – their revolution was a little, well, different.
The Belgians held a ceremony, to celebrate eight government-free months and the handing over of the world record from the previous record holders, the Iraqis, to the Belgians. Now, before you accuse the Belgians of not taking this situation seriously, you should realise that more drastic steps were taken. On the same night, began the “Fries Revolution”. Belgians marched into the streets and angrily ate fries to protest their lack of government.
Surprisingly, this “revolution” did not have the desired result of ending the political stalemate and forming a new government. Which is odd really, because what better way is there to say “we are angry” than to march into the streets and eat chips? In fact it wasn’t until much later that that actually happened.
It wasn’t until a full 541 days of negotiations that a new government was finally elected. And the person that they finally elected to run the country could barely even speak Dutch! Which shouldn’t really matter as it’s only spoken by around 60% of the population.
5 – The monuments
Some countries are so famous for their monuments that you can’t mentally the place from the landmark. Who could imagine France without the Eiffel Tower coming to mind, or Egypt without the pyramids? Belgium however is not one of those countries.
Perhaps Belgium’s most famous “monument” (I use that term lightly) is the pint-sized fountain Manneken Pis. Some of you out there who (like me) are particularly immature would look at the name and say something intelligent, along the lines of: “Haha, it has the word piss in it”. Well, if you laughed at the name of the statue, don’t feel alone, the city of Brussels – the country’s CAPITAL – is laughing along with you.
That’s right, Manneken Pis is a statue of a little boy pissing. Before you think that this is some random statue in an out of the way corner of the city, think again. Manneken Pis, the little boy pissing into a fountain, is actually the symbol of Brussels. In addition to this insanity, the residents of Brussels regularly dress up little Manneken to celebrate special occasions and there is even a museum that houses over 800 of his outfits.
Following in this proud tradition, Brussels also recently introduced a female counterpart to Manneken Pis: Jeanekke Pis. This statue of a little girl squatting was erected in 1987 and, like her male counterpart, little Jeanekke is also a functioning fountain which “urinates” water with a look of apparent joy, literally etched onto her face.
Another weird monument can be found in Antwerp, the Flemish capital of Belgium. Antwerp’s main square boats a large statue of a man named Brabo cutting off a giant’s hand. Of course, as it is apparently compulsory in Belgium, the statue is a fountain and water gushes out of the giant’s severed hand as if it was created by Quentin Tarantino. In fact, this statue is so central to Antwerp’s identiy as a city that many believe that this is how the city got its name. The Dutch name for the city: Antwerpen, apparently comes from the combination of the words “hand” and “werpen” meaning “hand throw”.
I could go on forever about the weird and wonderful monuments in this crazy little county but I will try to wrap this up. Other cities too boast strange monuments, such as Ghent’s cannon with a stuffed toy inside, Bruges with its mysterious upside-down cannon and and Brussels’ Atomium which is is an indescribable large silver monument of sticks and balls.
Before I finish, I would just like to ask you the reader a quick question. Without checking Wikipedia, do you know what Belgium’s national anthem is? The answer is La Brabançonne. If you couldn’t answer that don’t worry you’re not alone. The former Belgian prime minister doesn’t know the national anthem either.
If anybody ever made a film documenting the history of Belgium, it would have to be narrated by Inspector Clouseau.
Did this article make you angry? Then you should read “Belgium, the country that can’t take a joke”.
Virgin Buster, Vomit Beer…call it what you want, but everyone has an opinion on it. Depending on your point of view, it either tastes like amber nectar urinated straight from the gods, or it tastes just like urine without the gods’ involvement. Now is an important time in VB’s history, as for the first time in who knows how many years, it has been dethroned. It no longer holds the title of Australia’s number one beer. That crown has been given to a long-time rival XXXX Gold. While many Queenslanders, who are surely celebrating the success of their drink of choice, would tell you that XXXX Gold has overtaken VB due to the quality of the beer I can assure that this is not even close to the actual reasons. Below I will outline the five major reasons that VB is no longer the beer that it once was.
1.The rivalry with XXXX
First of the bat I would like to start with the inexplicable rivalry with XXXX in the first place. What is it with this VB Gold? I would like to meet the marketing genius who came up that idea and inundate them with empty threats.
If you are going to imitate something, then at least you should imitate something that’s worthwhile. That’s why there are so many Beatles and Rolling Stones cover bands out there and (hopefully) not many Wham! imitations. Everybody outside of Queensland knows that XXXX is inferior to pretty much every other beer made in Australia and it is only the poor Queenslanders who have fooled themselves into thinking otherwise. You can’t really blame them though, they don’t really have the mental acuity to know otherwise. After all, “why do they call it XXXX? Because Queenslanders can’t spell beer”.
Defend VB all you want, its strongpoint has never been (and never will be) its taste. In the past – at least in Australia – the actual taste of beer has taken the backseat to it being cold and being manly. In the flavour department, it had very little competition. Despite what many of those who are devoted to one particular brand might say, all of the big name Australian beers taste substantially the same with the sole exception of Coopers which looks and feels like drinking mud (delicious, delicious mud!).
The problem is that the taste of beer has never been important to Australian until very recently. In fact, what has drawn many to their drink of choice probably lies in the fact that, for many, the beers are near undrinkable. What better way to show your masculinity than to drink something that tastes like it has been filtered through dirt (for Coopers this might actually be the case)? It makes sense ‘real men’ like their coffee black, their cigarettes strong and their beer as tasteful as brake fluid. Even the name “Bitter” makes this clear. Some may say that VB is called a bitter because of the English bitter but this is total BS. English bitters are ales and VB is a lager.
Drinking beer has always been a sign of masculinity the commercials and the drinking culture can attest to this. Women were traditionally not even allowed into bars and instead had their own designated ‘Ladies Room’ which allowed them to drink tea and sew or whatever it is that ladies did.
In fact for many even today, beer is solely the realm of males. Recently a New Zealand bride caused a stir at a Bride of the Year competition when a photo of her was released drinking a beer. Many called the photo “disgusting” and that it was a “terrible way to portray the event in the paper”. The bride in the photo however did not see what all the fuss was about. She said:
“So what if I enjoy a Tui over drinking wine and I haven’t hurt anybody doing that. Only a lot of jealous people would be negative, at the end of the day we are meant to be ourselves.”
So, what does this tell us about trans-Tasman drinking cultures? Clearly that it is still not 100% ok for a female to crack open a beer to enjoy – especially while wearing a wedding dress, the epitome of femininity. I think that people should stop worrying about whether a woman is drinking a beer or wine and focus on what is important: the real crime here is that the bride was drinking a Tui – a terrible beer even by New Zealand’s already low standards.
VB has always marketed itself as a drink for real ‘men’. Its most famous commercial, known as much for its slogan “A Hard Earned Thirst…” as for its plagiarism of The Magnificent Seven’s theme tune, makes it clear who VB’s target audience is. The ad shows a group of dirty and sweaty manly men doing manly things like surfing, rowing and working on heavy machinery. There are various versions of this theme but there is one common point: real men like to relax to a VB.
“The best cold beer is Vic”
The problem with this point of view is that today it no longer sells beer and VB don’t seem to realise this. To a lesser extent, consumers are choosing what they drink because it makes them appear manly. I say “to a lesser extent” because the example of the Kiwi bride clearly shows that many people do still think this way. The fact is that as beers become available in more varieties that consumers tend to choose their drink of choice for a growing number of reasons. Drinking plain European and Japanese lagers shows others that the person is a classy and sophisticated individual, low carb beers lets others know that you have no taste buds, drinking small boutique brews means that you are an ‘expert’ on beer and are to be avoided at all costs and drinking Fosters tells people that you are a tourist.
Avoid at all costs.
The times have changes but VB’s marketing strategy has not. Beer drinkers have many choices to decide between and no longer appreciate being bullied into buying a product. This, surprisingly, seems to be the basis of VB’s entire marketing strategy. A recent commercial does exactly this. In the video, a number of men do things that are decidedly unmanly. They use hand cream, order pink cocktails and get their chest waxed. In fact these men are so effeminate that the only way to save them is to give them a big dose of testosterone in the shape of a beer. This commercial was released in 2010 when VB was still Australia’s most popular drink and just two years later as I write this, they have lost that title. I am confident that commercials like these are part of the reason for the decline.
Drink this or else you’re a pansy.
VB originally started out at 4.9% which, by Australian standards, made it the strongest beer of its kind on the market. Many devoted beer drinkers – myself included – deluded themselves that drinking VB was better value for money. The extra .3% that you got out of a VB compared to a Carlton Draught surely had some effect! Soon VB announced that it was changing its recipe to accommodate tax increases or some bullshit like that and VB soon dropped to 4.8% Us beer drinkers kidded ourselves that this amount was insignificant. ‘What difference does 0.1% have?’ we asked. Not much we hoped. We consoled ourselves with the fact that VB was still the strongest beer of its kind on the market, although by a smaller margin.
When in 2009, it was announced that VB’s strength was to be dropped to 4.6% it caused a furore. Beer drinkers hit the streets in number not seen since the Vietnam War to protest this sacrilege. VB was now the same alcoholic strength as Carlton Draught, an unforgiveable sin. VB’s dwindling fan base pleaded with CUB to return the drink to its former glory but this fell on deaf ears until years later.
In October 2012, CUB announced with its tail between its legs that it was retuning VB to 4.9% “to improve sales”. Months later, after the return to VB’s original strength and the introduction of a more retro look for its labels, it was announced that for the first time in ten years, VB had actually increased in sales. The people had spoken…and we were right!
VB can’t be solely blamed for their decline in sales as beer drinking in Australia is at a 60 year low. VB can however be blamed for slyly inflating their prices. Traditionally a very cheap beer, VB’s price has slowly increased to be around the levels of premium brews.
To be perfectly honest, the low price tag was what first attracted me to VB. As a poor uni student I had only a small amount of money to spend on beer and the more money I spent on fancy shit, the less beer I had. Quantity over quality was my throught process and I’m sure this is the exact same thought pattern for the majority of VB’s market. As mentioned above, taste is certainly not the beer’s strong point and if consumers were drinking beer for the taste then VB would have gone off the market years ago.
When supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths decided to sell VB for $28 a slab, Carlton United Breweries (CUB) stopped supply of their beers to them. CUB’s defence was that selling the beer at such a low price was done to protect “the brand equity – the image of our brands”. As a VB drinker, I find this a joke. VB has always been, to me, the cheaper alternative to premium drinks and this is an increasing trend with drinkers. While up until recently the most popular beer in Australia, its market share has dropped dramatically in the last few decades and is now at about 13 per cent. To worry about protecting the image of a brand whose “image” is that of a cheap and ubiquitous alternative is absurd.
Despite the best efforts of large supermarkets, today a slab of VB will set you back close to $40. This figure is ridiculous when you can buy a supposedly better “premium” beer for the same price. Many of these premium beers are imported from overseas (but less and less nowadays) which raises a question: “if Heineken can brew a beer, package it and ship it all the way to Australia and sell it for $40, then why the hell does it cost CUB the same to import a beer from Carlton to Richmond?”. If VB wants to regain the crown of Australia’s favourite beer then they would be wise to reduce the price.
Note: I am aware that many international beers are brewed under licence in Australia, however this is not necessarily always the case.
There is a revolution underway in Australia and consumers are becoming more discerning and more picky. Instead of remaining loyal to one particular brand, beer drinkers are branching out and are now increasingly drinking a wider variety of beers and this is hurting the larger brands such as VB.
According to an article by www.drinkstrade.com.au, over the last ten years, beer consumption in Australia has remained “more or less static”. Despite this change, beer drinkers are not drinking any more beer, but they are drinking what nearly everyone imagines to be ‘better’ beer. The consumption of ‘premium’ beer is growing by 15% each year and in the total packaged beer market accounts for nearly 20%of sales.
In addition to the data, I do not know one person who exclusively drinks one particular brand and certainly nobody who drinks VB exclusively. The fact is that brands say a lot about the person drinking it and it is just so much cooler to drink a Little Creatures over crusty old VB.
The end of an era?
CUB has recently gone to great lengths to increase the strength and alter the labelling to be more reminiscent of what it used to be. While this is an excellent start in retaining and re-attracting their loyal following it is not enough in what I believe is a futile exercise. The increasing number of brands out there, although they are being bought up by large conglomerates, give consumers the choice to buy alternatives to the largest name brands such as VB. This increase in choice means that consumers can no longer be bullied into buying a particular brand. In my opinion, VB’s best course of action would be to focus more deeply on nostalgia: reintroduce the classic theme and the “hard earned thirst” slogan, while forgetting about the silly rivalry with XXXX. The fact is that there is an ever increasing choice of international and boutique beers out there for consumers to choose from. Beer is no longer a blue collar drink, the advent of cider and boutique beers means that it is now acceptable for white collar workers and even – God forbid – women, to drink beer. VB should accept its fate that it will never regain its former glory an hope as best as it can that it retains its position as a cheap staple, and that it doesn’t go the same way as other forgotten brands such as Swan Draught.
I spend a good part of my day catching the train and since I have a lot of down time I read a lot of books. This itself is problematic as it can be hard to find enough interesting books to keep me entertained on the train.
So one day while browsing online for something new to read I came across a book with such an interesting title: The Great Dinosaur Mystery Solved by Ken Ham. Now, I was unaware of a great dinosaur mystery but evidently I was mistaken. My interest was piqued and I immediately ordered a copy on my favourite website.
In the meantime, I found the wait for my new book excruciating. I have always found it hard to wait and when I was a kid, Christmas was the worst! I used to sneak out in the middle of the night to carefully unwrap my presents to see what I was going to get and then carefully re-wrap them so that my parents wouldn’t know. In my head I felt like I was in that scene from Mission Impossible where Tom Cruise hangs from the ceiling.
As it turns out my idea of being careful was not really that careful and my parents used to play games with me on Christmas day. They would hide the presents that I had opened and wait to see the look on my face when, after having opened all visible gifts, the ones that I was sure I was going to get weren’t there. That’s child cruelty right there, call the department of human services!
Anyway, what I meant to say was that I couldn’t wait for my copy of Ken Ham’s masterpiece The Great Dinosaur Mystery Solved to arrive so I started to read the reviews on eBay, and what I found enlightened me.
Some of the most sarcastic comments I have ever seen
While it may not be the work of genius that Ken Ham had hoped for The Great Dinosaur Mystery Solved has definitely inspired some of the most sarcastic customer reviews that I have ever seen.
The following comment is particularly enlightening. On further inspection, it turns out that “chico” has a few classic reviews that can be found here.
Below is another comment, which strikes a chord with me because the reviewer is from Victoria in Australia like myself.
I have always been a huge fan of footnotes too, especially when there are nearly more footnotes than pages of text!
After reading these comments, I am even more excited than ever! So excited in fact that I just ordered another book by Mr. Ham Did Adam Have a Belly Button? After all, the reviews look excellent.
I sure could use an extra book!