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This may be the only place on the planet I can say that I am sick of being crook and expect some degree of understanding and sympathy.  “Crook” has taken an evolutionary twist on its way to the Southern hemisphere, its meaning leaning towards “ill” or out of sorts. I am guessing now that what I thought was a cold or an allergic reaction may, in fact, have been the flu.  I probably picked it up at the Writer’s Festival.  Everyone knows that writers are solitary creatures and should never get together except in bars or at Irish pubs. Only bad things can come of it.

The strain that latched itself on to me came on like Sarah Palin’s proverbial bulldog and I am still suffering from the symptoms, which seems hardly fair.  I eat right, exercise, and usually start each day with Uncle Toby.  For those of you unlucky enough to have been born somewhere other than Australia, or those who may not have read Laurence Sterne’s 18th Century novel, Tristam Shandy, the name may not trigger instant recognition.  A briefing is in order.

Captain Toby Shandy, Tristram’s uncle, and brother to Walter Shandy. retires to a life of obsessive attention to the history and science of military fortifications after sustaining a groin-wound in battle.  Much of the action of the novel is concerned with domestic upsets or misunderstandings, which find humour in the opposing temperaments of Walter – splenetic, rational and somewhat sarcastic – and Uncle Toby, who is gentle, uncomplicated and a lover of his fellow man.  (According to Wikipedia’s Sterne expert)

Which brings us around to breakfast cereal.  When Clifton Love, an entrepreneur from Sydney, decided that his family-owned spice grinding business should branch out into milling oats, his sister, Nellie was enlisted to come up with a name for the new product line.  She latched on to Uncle Toby and devised the logo, which has barely changed in 115 years.

The company was listed on the Sydney stock exchange in 1919 and went on to stardom in the breakfast cereal firmament.  In 1993, Uncle Toby was the number two brand of breakfast foods in Oz, right after Kelloggs.  Two years ago, the brand was gobbled up by the Swiss company, Nestle.

The thing about breakfast cereals in Australia is that the boxes get really big, there is a huge variety on offer, and there are a  number of cereals without excessive amounts of sugar.  I am not sure why that is.  Australians certainly have a sweet tooth, but they appear to indulge their penchant for sweets with cookies (biscuits), chocolate and the like, rather than load their breakfast cereals with sweeteners. The Uncle Toby pitch is about good health and nutrition, not about selling fructose to toddlers.

Over the years, the brand has made use of various athletes, including the swimmer, Grant Hackett, as a spokesman.  I wish they would have chosen Cliff Young instead.  He grew up on a sheep farm outside Melbourne which did not have horses or four-wheelers.  He would play sheep dog and run down the sheep.  In 1983, at the age of 61, he decided to enter an ultra marathon foot race between Sydney and Melbourne, a distance of 700 kms, or 442 miles, 17 marathons in a row.  Cliff showed up in gumboots and overalls.

Cliff was not flashy or fast, but five days and fifteen minutes later, he won, finishing the race two full days ahead of his competitors.  He did the one thing that the others had not thought possible, not sleeping.  Cliff never repeated that success, but he went on to run more than 20,000 kms in his career.  What a great Australian story.  Just like Uncle Toby.

Now, If only I could get over feeling crook, I’d be right as rain.  Ready to run down a few sheep, or, at the very least, get back on the bike again.

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