Sunday, December 28, 2008

Old Revolutionary Posters

Jeff VanderMeer, reviewing Penguin's Great Ideas collection on his blog Ecstatic Days has reached the Communist Manifesto by Marx & Engels. This reminded me of some old treasured posters in my possession which I acquired during the uproar of the Whitlam Government dismissal in 1975. Several of them (in fact most of them) were produced by the Communist Party. Even though I was never a member of the Communist Party I have a communist party badge, given to me by a friend who was.

cpfbadge

Anyway, back to the posters...

They are all a bit tattered and browned by time, being at the time printed on poor quality paper, but they are probably extremely rare these days. I have photographed them as they are too large to scan.

Firstly, a very popular poster of the time showing Malcolm Fraser on a horse as a haughty squatter. Even though we hated Malcolm Fraser at the time he took power, he has since evolved into an admirable human being, being outspoken in his concern for the underprivileged.

poster1 (Medium)

Next, the infamous John Kerr (the Governor General of whom Whitlam famously said Well may we say "God save the Queen" because nothing will save the Governor-General) features as the focus of a rally.

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Blinky Bill, the hero of a famous Australian children's book, carries the Eureka flag.

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And finally, a bit irrelevant to politics, Bear Dinkum - iconic Australian bear created by Neil Curtis.

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Click images for larger versions

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Day - The Aftermath

As usual we spent Christmas Day at my brother's place on the coast and a fine day of excellent food and and drinks it was.

I was also able to see how much my great nephew, Tate, and great niece, Zoe, had grown in the past year - a lot.

It was a pleasant sunny day, not too hot - perfect for the drive down in B's silver Mercedes with the top down - wankerama personified, but truth to tell, very windy.

Anyway, here's a few photos - kids, cat and magpies.

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Zoe - a year and a bit.

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Tate - now three years old.

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Indie, my niece's extremely laid back one eyed burmese cat. Indie is a lovely boy, amazingly relaxed and friendly. He lost his eye in an accident either with a car or dog when he was quite young, but he seems unfazed by it. He came for Xmas lunch along with the kids.

And finally some tame magpies, hanging out for a hand out.

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We stayed the night and got back to Melbourne about lunchtime today. Except for the so far non appearance of Willy, the cats appeared unstressed by the experience of having to fend for themselves last night. Our neighbour, by prearrangement, fed them anyway.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Eye Candy For Bibliophiles

I've finally got around to posting new covers in my other blog Eye Candy For Bibliophiles after a hiatus of several months.

I'm currently moving through my medium bookshelf and am almost halfway through the entire bookshelf. I should be able to run through the rest of my paperback fantasy section this month, then get into the Science Fiction section early next year.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Jeff VanderMeer Blogs Penguin Great Ideas

Jeff VanderMeer on his Ecstatic Days blog is in the process of reviewing 60 Books in 60 Days by reading the entire collection of the Penguin Great Ideas series. He aims to read one a night, from mid-December to mid-February, and post a blog entry about it the next morning.

So far he has posted reviews of:

On the Shortness of Life; Life Is Long If You Know How to Use It
by Lucius Seneca (c. 4 BC - 65 AD)

Meditations
by Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180)

Confessions of a Sinner
by St Augustine (AD 354-430)

Jeff's blog is always entertaining, but he has certainly reached new heights with this latest endeavour.

I am finding Jeff's reviews of this series to be fascinating and very interesting and look forward each morning to see which writer/book gets the VanderMeer treatment.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Willy Immortalised On Canvas

Some time ago one of the women, who is part of the small painting group who gather in our next door neighbour’s shed for painting sessions, asked us for a photo of our cat Willy, as she wanted to paint him. A cat lover, she has always admired Willy who often hangs around in the neighbour’s garden. He is a very attractive animal – one of the prettiest cats I’ve ever set eyes on.

We gave her a printout of a photo I shot of him in our back garden, and the other day she very kindly gave her finished painting to us. It’s a lovely picture and she has captured the cat perfectly, especially the expression on his face.

Below is the original photograph and photographs of the painting ...

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Original Photo

Painting

...and a detail from the painting with a detail from the photo.

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Original Photo Detail

Painting Detail

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Mockingbird by Walter Tevis

mockingbird
Bantam Paperback 1981

Every couple of years or so, I pick up Walter Tevis’ wonderful dystopian novel, Mockingbird, to read again. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve read it since I first came across it in 1981 and fell head over heels in love with it.

My old Bantam paperback edition of it is holding up well thank goodness, as I don’t know what I’d do if I could never get another copy of it. It’s THAT important to me, one of my all time favourite books.

Fortunately it has pretty much stayed in print through the almost three decades since its first imprint in January 1980. It is currently available in the SF masterworks series.

So what makes Mockingbird so special?

It is indeed one of those books, like Whittemore’s Jerusalem Quartet, that reveals its treasures in repeated perusals. Even though I know the plot of the novel from start to finish, there are passages within it that take my breath away every time through the potency of their imagery.

Take this passage, for instance, where Spofforth the robot shows Bentley an old silent film.

“The great ape sat wearily on the overturned side of a bus. The city was deserted.

At the center of the screen a white vortex appeared and began to enlarge and whirl. When it stopped it had filled more than half the screen. It became clear it was the front page of a newspaper, with a huge headline.

Spofforth stopped the projector with the headline on the screen. “Read that,” he said.

Bentley cleared his throat nervously. “Monster Ape Terrifies City,” he read.

“Good,” Spofforth said. He started the projector again.

The rest of the film had no written words on it. They watched it in silence, through the ape’s final destructive rampage, his pathetic failure to be able to express his love, on through to his death as he fell, as though floating, from the impossibly tall building to the wide and empty street below.”

This passage relates very poignantly to both the beginning and ending of the novel. You only know that if you have read the book as many times as I have.

There’s another passage that never fails to delight me with its reference to the temptation of Adam in the Garden of Eden.

Some background first…

Mockingbird is set in a 25th Century New York, where humanity is in decline. The young are raised in dormitories and conditioned to introversion, encouraged to maintain privacy and distance from each other. Personal relationships and emotions are discouraged – “quick sex is best” is a catch phrase as is “don’t ask, forget”. They emerge from the dormitories as virtual zombies, drugged by sopors and the readily available marijuana cigarettes, and are given some meaningless task to perform. Most of the real work is done by robots

This future New York is controlled by a Make Nine robot called Robert Spofforth, the most sophisticated robot ever made. He is the last Make Nine robot, his fellow Make Nines having all gone mad and/or committed suicide. Spofforth has been modified so he cannot kill himself, but really, the only thing he has ever wanted, in his long artificial life, is to die.

Enter Paul Bentley, who has taught himself to read. He approaches Spofforth with the idea of getting a job teaching others to do so.

Spofforth instead gives him a job transcribing the text of old silent movies into speech - a useless task in itself, but important to Bentley. Through his developing skill at reading and writing he comes to realise several important changes in his mind, which leads him to an awakening from his sleepwalker state.

In time he meets Mary Lou, a dormitory drop out and the only unprogrammed human in the world. Sopors make her physically ill, so she doesn’t take them and is clear headed. She is the ultimate outsider from this society. Having escaped from the dormitories, she is hiding out in the Bronx Zoo, subsisting on stolen sandwiches and sleeping in the Reptile House. The development of the relationship between the two is slow, but gathers apace when Mary Lou breaks the cage of the python an act of vandalism shocking to the conventional Paul. Hauling the snake out of the smashed case she demonstrates that it and all the other animals at the zoo are robots.

The following passage is the one I referred to above:

“I looked at the broken glass on the floor and then at the broken case with the plastic tree in it, now empty of movement. Then I looked at her, standing there in the House of Reptiles in the bright artificial light, calm, undrugged, and – I was afraid –totally out of her head.

She was looking toward the python’s case. From one of the higher branches of the tree inside there was hanging some sort of fruit. Abruptly, she reached her arm inside the cage and stretched up toward the fruit, clearly intending to pick it.

I stared at her. The branch was quite high, and she had to stand tiptoed and reach up as far as she could reach, just to catch the bottom of the fruit with her fingertips. With the strong light from the inside of the case coming through her dress her body was outlined clearly; it was beautiful.

She plucked the fruit and stood there poised like a dancer with it for a moment. Then she brought it down level with her breasts and, turning it over in her hand, looked at it, It was hard to tell what kind of fruit it was; it seemed to be some kind of mango. For a moment I thought she was going to try to eat it., even though I was certain it was plastic, but then she stretched her arm out and handed the thing to me. “This certainly can’t be eaten,” she said. Her voice was surprisingly calm, resigned.

I took it from her. “Why did you pick it?” I said.

“I don’t know,” she said. “It seemed to be the thing to do”

I looked at her for a long time, saying nothing. Despite the age lines and sleep lines in her face, and despite the uncombed look of her hair, she was very beautiful. And yet I felt no desire for her – only a kind of awe. And a slight sense of fear.

Then I stuffed the plastic fruit into my pocket and said “I’m going back to the library and take some sopors”

She turned away, looking back toward the empty case. “Okay,” she said. “Good night”

When I got back I put the fruit on top of Dictionary and sat on my bed-and-desk. Then I took three sopors. And slept until noon today.

The fruit is still sitting there. I want it to mean something; but it doesn’t.”

Mockingbird is full of references; to old films, to other dystopian novels, Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty Four in particular. It is haunting and has a gentle melancholy feel throughout. It arouses a sympathetic reaction in the reader, just as haunting as the ghosts of memory that torment Spofforth or the chance phrases from silent films and poetry that arouse unfamiliar feelings in Paul and Mary Lou.

There are some lovely twists. Instead of Thought Police, the world of Mockingbird has Thought Buses, public transport that can read a passenger’s intended destination telepathically and take them there. As Spofforth explains to Mary Lou, the first models of thought buses were two way telepaths, with the ability to directly communicate with the passengers, but they had to discontinue them. Mary Lou asks why. Spofforth’s reply is that that although they were incapable of breaking down, it was because people wouldn’t get off.

Walter Tevis was an astounding writer. Before his death in 1984 he wrote a total of six novels and a number of short stories. Three of his books were made into films, The Hustler, The Color of Money and the Man Who Fell to Earth. But he has virtually been forgotten by the mainstream these days.

I think Mockingbird is an almost perfect novel. Beautifully written, masterfully plotted, it’s a wondrous fable of the future that is compulsively readable, no matter how many times you’ve read it. I’ve never, before or since, ever come across a novel that explains so intelligently the process of reading and learning to read.

Get yourself a copy and read it. You won’t regret it. I’ve given away many copies of this novel – I am evangelistic about it– and every recipient has loved it. If I had a spare copy at the moment, I’d give it to someone. Unfortunately second hand copies are few and far between these days. Even so, I keep looking.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Justin Townes Earle at the Toff

Justin Townes Earle - Toff In Town - 30/11/08

A heavy duty social weekend culminated in the Justin Townes Earle show at the Toff In Town last night.

I’d never been to the venue before, and I must say my first impressions were less than positive when trying to get a drink at the bar, with poor service and loud horrible music permeating the place, but once inside the band room it improved considerably.

Even though it was a long wait for Justin Townes Earle to front the stage it was worth the wait, and I forgave him my tired legs and aching feet at the end of the night after witnessing what can only be described as a sensationally good night’s entertainment.

It was a standing only show, so I got myself a good position in front of the stage only a few metres at times from the star of the show. It also allowed me to get some good photos.

As for Justin’s performance, it was riveting to watch, and as has been remarked elsewhere on
the blogosphere, one felt one was witnessing greatness in embryo.

I totally concur with the statement made by Chattanooga Free Press "I have a feeling that in a few years we'll need backstage passes at the Ryman auditorium to get anywhere near him. He's just THAT good."

He gave the packed audience a night to remember, playing for something like two and a half hours, ranging through any number of genres, and channelling old time country like a ghost of Hank Williams or Buck Owens.

As well as having a voice to be reckoned with, he is also a fantastically good guitarist, playing non stop and speedily adapting his chord structure to fit the songs.

Words really fail me describing his performance; you just had to BE there.

In other music news, Lucinda Williams will finally be touring Australia in April and playing at Hamer Hall in Melbourne, as well as venues in other cities. She was to tour some years ago but cancelled when her mother died. A bitter disappointment it was at the time, so cross fingers she makes it this time.

There are so many good artists scheduled for next year’s festivals that one would need to get a second job to afford to go and see them all. As well as Lucinda and Ryan Adams, there’s Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Old Crow Medicine Show etc. etc. So far I’ve only booked for Ryan, but regretfully passed on Leonard Cohen and Neil Young, the tickets being way too expensive, and you just can’t go to everything. I saw Leonard Cohen live many years ago, ironically at the Comedy Theatre, and I recall it being a great show.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Long Tall Tennessean – Justin Townes Earle plays Basement Discs

Justin Townes Earle - Basement Discs - 27/11/08

God, I’ve been spoilt with fine music this week, and today was no exception with the amazing Justin Townes Earle playing an in store at Basement Discs at lunchtime today.

Justin Townes Earle is the 26 year old son of Steve Earle and he is in the process of touring Australia for the first time, promoting his debut CD The Good Life.

Justin, however, didn’t play any of the songs off that album today, saying we could listen to the album. The songs he sang were all new and will be on his forthcoming sophomore disc Midnight at the Movies scheduled for release in March next year. Except perhaps one, which he admitted was finished just this morning at the airport. The Basement Discs audience were the privileged first to hear it.

As a performer Justin Townes Earle has an extraordinary stage presence, a kind of insouciant natural born charm that expresses itself with airy self confidence.

He’s a bean pole of a guy, surely six and half feet at least, and very photogenic. An energetic performer, he roamed all over the stage and loomed over the mike, wildly strumming his guitar. He was stunningly good and has a powerful voice that occasionally sounds like his father as a young man. His music would be classified (if you were into making classifications) as country rock, swing whatever.

There was a good crowd there today, all the usual suspects and then some. I’d say they were all as blown away by Justin Townes Earle as I was.

I am glad that I will get the chance to see him again next Sunday at the Toff in Town.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Edward Whittemore Calendar for 2009

As is my occasional wont, I have created a calendar dedicated to the books of Edward Whittemore for 2009. It's been a few years since I last did a calendar, and this one is my best effort yet.

Here are some sample pages (click for larger image)

calendar09_1 calendar09_2

On each page you get two images, one, either a book cover or a photo of Edward Whittemore, and in the background, an image appropriate to the featured book or to the Jerusalem Quartet.

There is also a quote for each month.

Anyway, it is available for download in pdf format from the Jerusalem Dreaming website.

Enjoy!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

John Mellencamp Concert - A Spectacular Night's Entertainment

It's freezing cold in Melbourne today, back to winter with a vengeance, but I have a warm glow, recollecting last night's wonderful concert at the Rod Laver Arena.

The front row seats are obviously the best place to be at this enormous venue, so I felt cosily at home in my seat in row H, eight rows from the stage. I had an excellent view of the stage and was able to get some reasonably good photos of the event.

The three performances were all superlative, and started with a short set from Shane Nicholson, initially solo, then with his father in law Bill Chambers providing accompaniment on steel and whatever else he was playing. He was out of my range of view.

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Shane Nicholson - Rod Laver Arena - 21/11/08

Shane mostly played songs from his new Familiar Ghosts album, which was fine with me, as I love it.

After a short break Sheryl Crow took to the stage. She was fantastic! Her act was gutsy, lively and thoroughly enjoyable rock 'n roll. She was accompanied by a big band which comprised a drummer, another percussionist, an ace lead guitar, a bass guitar, another guitar player, a keyboard and two backup singers. Understandably the sound was big and satisfying loud. It thrilled my rock child soul. It was the first time I've seen Sheryl Crow perform live, and hopefully not the last. I'd definitely go and see her play again.

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Sheryl Crow - Rod Laver Arena - 21/11/08

The same goes for John Mellencamp. His act, on top of the others was the icing on the cake of a wonderful evening.

Being the archetypical rock musician he put on a great act, irresistibly foot tapping and body swaying stuff.

I love rock 'n roll played loud and hard, and John Mellencamp delivered in spades. It has an amazing effect on me - a sort of exhilaration infuses me and I get carried away to a happy place watching and listening to the music.

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John Mellencamp - Rod Laver Arena - 21/11/08

This is first time John Mellancamp has played in Australia for fifteen years, but he obviously had fans galore. Everyone sang along to the songs, and even though I have not listened to his early songs for many years, they all came back to me as he sang them.

He played a well spaced mix of old and newer stuff, both hard rocking and slow ballads. It included songs like Small Town, Jack & Diane and a few from his latest album Life, Death, Love & Freedom.

I emerged from the arena in a happy daze and even though I had to stand in queue for a taxi for at least half an hour, it was worth the effort.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Today at Basement Discs – the Fabulous Fireside Bellows

Andy Baylor, Tracy McNeil & Jordie Lane - Basement Discs 21/11/08

It was a very special show at the Basement Discs at lunchtime today. Featuring the combined talents of Jordie Lane and Tracy McNeil, and performing as Fireside Bellows, this young duo is sensationally good. Sounding like a down under version of Gillian Welch they entertained the small audience with songs from their brand new CD No Time to Die. Andy Baylor, local multi instrumental maestro was present as well adding fiddle and mandolin to their guitars as accompaniment.

Jordie Lane is the son of well known Melbourne comedian Denise Scott, and is a very talented young singer songwriter. He has a gorgeous voice, a clear sweet tenor that is a pleasure to hear. Tracy McNeil hails from Canada and is also supremely talented. Her voice is a deepish alto so the harmonies between the two are quite sublime.

I first saw these artists
perform back in April when they were in store at Basement Discs promoting their individual CDs, Tracy’s Room Where She Lives, and Jordie’s Lover’s Ride and I was very impressed with them then. Today they surpassed that show with a moving and very lovely show.

I fully intend to purchase a copy of No Time To Die CD. I had no spare cash for it today, but I am mightily tempted to go to the CD Launch at Northcote Social Club on Sunday afternoon.

Check out their
My Space page and give them a listen.

In other music news today, I noticed in today’s Age Entertainment Guide that Ryan Adams and the Cardinals are touring Australia and New Zealand in January 2009. I can’t miss that!
And tonight is the John Mellencamp concert - will report back on that tomorrow or Sunday.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Carnival Is Over - a review of the 2008 Spring Racing Season

This is a bit after the fact, but better late than never.

Remember back in July when I was so optimistic for my virtual Super Stable? It has been a spring racing season with many reversals and upsets, thus has been constantly interesting and unpredictable.

Last year’s season was of course marred by the EI (Equine Influenza) virus, which precluded horses from interstate competing in any of the major events in the Melbourne racing calendar.

This year was a completely different story with Sydney runners taking out quite a few of the Group races.

As for my super stable, well it didn’t do too well at all, despite all its early promise.

So how did they fare?

Weekend Hussler – His connections were perhaps too ambitious and overestimated his ability to take out the longer distance races. Early in the season he was narrowly beaten in the Liston Stakes by Light Fantastic, then won both the Memsie and the Underwood Stakes. He looked like he couldn’t be beaten, then unaccountably failed in the Turnbull Stakes , before proving that he couldn’t stay in the Caulfield Cup. There are some racing commentators who opine that he should have skipped the Caulfield Cup and run in the Cox Plate, which he may well have won, considering that he had twice thrashed the Cox Plate winner, Maldivian, in the aforementioned races.

Light Fantastic – great things were expected from this young gelding. He returned to Spring racing with an unbeaten record and the hearts of racing fans were beating in keen anticipation to him racing against the Hussler. He did win the first round, but disappointed from then on failing to perform up to expectation. It was subsequently discovered that he had stomach ulcers, so he was retired for the rest of the season.

Triple Honour – like Light Fantastic, he won his first race of the spring, then after being narrowly defeated by Gallant Tess in the Chelmsford Stakes, was found to be lame and also retired for the spring.

Augusta Proud – Another young horse of whom great things were expected, despite her failure in the Golden Slipper. She only managed to place once this spring, then was reported injured and retired for the rest of the season.

Dorabella – Managed to last out the season without injury. Managed to run a place a few times, but didn’t earn my stable much money.

Forensics – Very lightly raced throughout the spring, but proved her class by winning the Group One Empire Rose Stakes.

Sugar Babe – A similar story to many of the above, she performed really well early in the season, then was spelled for the rest of it with an injury.

Tuesday Joy – She was my substitute when Light Fantastic was spelled. I was lucky enough to see her run on Manikato Stakes day at Moonee Valley where she won. Shortly afterwards, she was banned from racing after bleeding during the Turnbull Stakes.

Time Thief - A very promising colt, lightly raced, who was runner up in the Caulfield Guineas to Whobegotyou. He’s one to look out for in the autumn.

Samantha Miss – one of the few consistent stars of the spring. It sure will be interesting following her career from now on. She appears to have the potential to be another Miss Finland or, dare I speculate, Sunline.

Princess Coup – Despite coming to Australia with two excellent New Zealand Group One wins under her belt, the Princess failed to be competitive this time in Australia – disappointing is the word that springs to mind.

Cup HorsesEfficient, Mad Rush & Septimus – no sooner had I added Efficient to my stable, than he was out with an injury. Mad Rush looked so promising for the two cups, but failed to gain a place in either. And as for Septimus, the less said the better.

By the end of the carnival my stable was a shambles and ended up 72nd out of 93. Oh well, better luck next year.

So that was the spring racing carnival for 2008.

Not to worry, the 2009 autumn carnival is only a few months away and there is a lot to look forward to, like the return of Weekend Hussler and also Light Fantastic in the shorter races. Also I’m keen to see if Whobegotyou lives up to his hype in the autumn. And no doubt more potential super star race horses may just be over the horizon. One I am curious about is Coubertin, the little half brother of Elvestroem and Haradasun, who may be debuting shortly.

There is a bit of action at Ascot in Western Australia over the next few weekends, where Apache Cat will be out to redeem himself after his shock loss on Emirates Stakes day, in a clash with globe trotting super sprinter Takeover Target so the carnival sort of continues in the west for a short time.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Familiar Ghosts - Shane Nicholson

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I rushed out today to purchase the brand new Shane Nicholson CD Familiar Ghosts and have just listened to it for the first time on my computer. It's fabulously good!

Shane has created a mini masterpiece, beautifully written songs, catchy tunes and his voice has never sounded better. He produced this CD all by himself and plays all the instruments. It has a beguiling raw acoustic sound, quite different from his usual painstakingly produced pop records.

Shane has finally gained recognition for his talents in his collaboration with his wife Kasey Chambers on the Aria winning record Rattlin' Bones. A lot of people who saw the couple perform together for the first time, were very taken with Shane's performance and voice, having ignored him previously.

I have been a fan of Shane's music since seeing him open for Kasey in a concert in 2003. I have seen him perform live solo twice since and twice with Kasey. It is hard to believe that I saw him perform live to a meagre audience of about 20 people not so long ago. He is now a potential super star.

I get to see him again next Friday when he will be opening for John Mellencamp and Sheryl Crow at the Rod Laver Arena. I am really looking forward to this concert as I have become very fond of John Mellencamp's latest CD Life, Death, Love and Freedom, a wonderfully moody and gloomy collection of songs. It sounds pretty drastic, but is in fact as life affirming as it gets. I have a penchant for sad songs, along with many other people. Perhaps it is the emotional impact of such songs that so tug on the heartstrings in such a positive way.

Shane will also be launching Familiar Ghosts at a local venue in Fitzroy on Saturday, but I doubt if I will make that show, much as I would like to attend.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Last day of the Melbourne Racing Carnival - Emirates Stakes Day

Tomorrow represents the official end of the Spring Racing Carnival. There are two Group One races on the program - the Emirates Stakes over 1600 metres and the Patinack Farm VRC Stakes, a sprint over 1200 metres. Apache Cat, Melbourne's favourite horse, will be making his only appearance this spring in the sprint, before going overseas to compete in Hong Kong. Unless things have changed drastically with the Cat's will to win, he should easily account for the rest of the field, the main dangers being Sydney horse Triple Honour, back after sustaining an injury early in the spring, Sunburnt Land, a recent Melbourne winner and classy sprinting mare Bel Mer.

The Emirates is a wide open contest of evenly matched runners. Last year rank outsider Tears I Cry won it, but this time it is possible that the favourite will win. The favourite is currently Sea Battle, running on his home track for in form trainer Mark Kavanagh. The Gai Waterhouse trained Bank Robber is a threat as is former top galloper Sniper's Bullet, along with All Silent, a winner last start at this track, also likely to finish well.

The Oaks was won by the remarkable Samantha Miss, who proved she was a class above the rest of the field and also proved that she can stay. She won easily by several lengths, Miss Scarlatti coming second and the Bart Cummings Allez Wonder a close third.

Steve Earle at the Forum

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Steve Earle - The Forum - 6 November 2008

Steve Earle gave generously of his time last night in a great show at the Forum Theatre in Melbourne city.

Performing solo for the most part, Steve ran through a fine selection of his back catalogue which included several of my personal favourites - Goodbye and Ellis Unit One, a powerful and affecting anti death penalty song, to name a few.

Interestingly enough, there were no songs from his two "protest" albums Jerusalem and The Revolution Starts Now. Steve and wife Allison Moorer both expressed their delight at the result of the American election, so perhaps Steve feels it is time to lay his hammer down, though we were encouraged to sing our hearts out when he sang his Pete Seeger tribute song, Steve's Hammer.

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Allison performed a short set to open the evening's entertainment. Unfortunately I missed half of it, being obliged to hang around outside waiting for a friend to turn up in order to give her a ticket. Allison mostly sang cover songs which included Patti Smith's Dancing Barefoot. She also contributed to Steve's act, performing the duet Days Aren't Long Enough with him, and providing backing vocals on several songs from the Washington Square Serenade album. Songs from this album formed the bulk of the second half of Steve's set, often accompanied by a sound effects/disc jockey guy at a sound desk in the background. I thought it worked quite well adding depth to the sound, though Steve's solo accompaniment was anything but subdued.

Steve revealed that he was working on a new album, a tribute to his old friend and mentor Townes Van Zandt. The record will consist of all TVZ songs, and he sang a very good version of Pancho & Lefty during the encore as an example.

An excellent show all round and I was thankful that for once I could see Steve Earle in a seated venue, up close.

The set list for those interested is below

  1. Steve's Last Ramble
  2. Devil's Right Hand
  3. My Old Friend The Blues
  4. Some Day
  5. Taney Town
  6. Goodbye
  7. Tom Ames' Prayer
  8. South Nashville Blues
  9. Ellis Unit One
  10. Tennessee Blues
  11. Jericho Road
  12. CCKMP
  13. Transcendental Blues
  14. Sparkle And Shine
  15. Days Aren't Long Enough
  16. Down Here Below
  17. City of Immigrants
  18. Oxycontin Blues
  19. Galway Girl
  20. Steve's Hammer
  21. Satellite Radio
  22. Way Down In The Hole

Encore

  1. Guitar Town
  2. Pancho & Lefty
  3. Copperhead Road

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Cup Day - Party, party, party

viewed

Viewed after winning the 2008 Melbourne Cup

What can one say after witnessing one of the most unusual Melbourne Cups in history. The tactics of Irish Trainer Aiden O'Brien fairly backfired, after Septimus and his stablemates, Honolulu & Allessandro Volta ran their legs off in the initial stages of the race and at one stage were several lengths in front of the rest of the field. However, when they turned for home entering the straight they were easily over taken by those coming from behind and ended up at the tail of the field. It was a real thrill to see Viewed win, despite the fact my money was on Bauer who was beaten by the shortest margin possible into second place.

And Bart Cummings winning his 12th Melbourne Cup was heartwarming as well. We all sat on the edges of our seats to watch Bart's reaction to the win, wondering which wonderful understatement he would come up with. He's well known as master of understatement and this time all he said was "That's good, it was a nice win" though he was beaming as he said it, and a little teary eyed.

We spent the day at a Melbourne Cup party with friends - good food, fine ale, excellent company, and high spirits.

As is traditional at this cup day party we photographed everyone wearing the pith helmet, used for the drawing the of the sweep.

Young Sam posing as a reprobate cubist.

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Dennis, the winner of the sweep (1st & 2nd prize!) displaying his wealth.

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Tony aka "Lucky", who up until this year has won the sweep, expressing himself here in a creative fashion.

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Andrew, a fellow racing enthusiast.

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His wife Luana

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Luana's mum Anna

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Ali, who backed Viewed, looking apprehensive - not sure about this pith helmet gig.

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Bernie having a good time as usual.

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Nani & Robert - down for the day from the country.

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Paul, overshadowed, but cheerful all the same.

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Brent looking thoughtful - or is he?

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Another Paul posing as an intrepid whatever

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And finally the remarkable Cheryl wearing her racing outfit

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It's not every day that you meet a person like Cheryl. She was amazing, very funny with a razor sharp wit. She gave a captive audience a rundown of her day at the races and won us all over in a flash with her lurid descriptions of the race day crowds. She's a dentist from the Gold Coast, Bernie's son's girlfriend, down from Queensland for the Spring Racing carnival. She and Dan (Bernie's son) had been partying since last Friday and were showing no signs of slowing down that I could see. A rare treat was Cheryl - I do hope I get to meet her again.

****

Tomorrow the carnival continues with the Crown Oaks - a race for three year old fillys over 2500 metres.

I am very interested to see how Samantha Miss performs. She is deservedly the favourite, and if she wins will be one of very few favourites to be successful this spring.

Also on the cards tomorrow is the Steve Earle concert at The Forum theatre. I am looking forward to that enormously and interested to hear his reaction to the outcome of the American Presidential Elections. Steve Earle is well known for his leftist views so no doubt he'll be in excellent mood for the show, not that he is a temperamental artist. He always puts on a good show.

I'm delighted, as are many others, with Barack Obama's victory. It seems to bring hope to the world again - a light at the end of the very dark tunnel we've been in since 9/11.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Spring Racing Carnival - The Melbourne Cup

So finally we've come to the BIG one, the Melbourne Cup, a race over 3200 metres or a two miles in old parlance and the most important race on the Australian Racing calendar. In Melbourne we even get a holiday for it, and the nation stops for the running of the race.

The good oil? I'm afraid the Melbourne Cup has to be the hardest race to pick the winner so I am not going to give you any guarantees here.

There are so many factors to choose from, complicated by the fact that a third of the field is from Europe and we have, except in a few cases, not seen them in action.

There are those that say that Septimus is best stayer in Europe, but can he handle the hustle and bustle of an Australian race? Sure he has the best European jockey in Johnny Murtagh, but our Aussie jockeys know the turf so to speak, and will be all out to stymie Septimus' chances. Of course he has several of his stablemates to set the pace, but whose to say that Aussie & NZ horses can't take advantage of this as well.

It is a complaint in racing circles that Australia no longer has any good stayers. New Zealand continues to breed stayers and several are in the cup, most notably Nom de Jeu and C'est La Guerre (funny how they've both got French names). Boundless who races in Sunline's colours is another, and the rank outsider Prize Lady, who actually has been proven over the distance.

Actually, even though I would love to see an Aussie horse take out the cup, I don't fancy them at all, except perhaps for Viewed and Moatize, both trained by master trainer Bart Cummings who has won the Melbourne Cup eleven times and hopes to win a few more before he dies.

So my leanings, on form, are towards the Europeans, in particular the two we have witnessed running here - Mad Rush and Bauer.

Other than the form, which is not always right - witness the Derby result - one basically has to rely on personal choice, through whatever means - pin sticking, hat drawing, astrology etc. For those astrologically minded, I have drawn up a horoscope for the cup tomorrow, but it has not proved all that enlightening other than indicating a winner from overseas.

Last year, half an hour before the race I had a flash of inspiration regarding Efficient, simply by noticing the answer to a clue in a crossword, and correctly identifying it as an omen bet. The words in the answer were "iron horse".

The winner? Your guess is as good as mine.

You might find the following from the Racing & Sports website interesting, despite the fact that I found a lot of the conclusions reached in the article spurious.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Derby Day - Post Mortem

Claire Lindop victorious in the Derby - photo from ABC Net
It turned out to be a very interesting day's racing as expected. History was made as Claire Lindop became the first female jockey to ride a Derby winner, cleverly guiding the 100/1 chance, Rebel Raider, to a very easy win. As I said in my last post the Derby often results in surprising winners. Whobegotyou was left behind, virtually pushed aside by Rebel Raider as he stormed past him and took the lead. Whobe couldn't keep up, but managed to hang on for second spot.

I take back everything I said about Gai Waterhouse's horses not doing well in Melbourne. Her horses in the Coolmore Stud Stakes (Northern Meteor) and the Mackinnon (Theseo) both won quite convincingly. Even old Bart Cummings managed to pull a winner out of the hat with Moatize triumphing in the Saab Quality Stakes. Moatize's win qualifies him for the Melbourne Cup and Bart has engaged the services of the remarkable Claire Lindop as his rider. It would be wonderful if Claire rides him to victory thus breaking more records, by becoming the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup.

Princess Coup disappointed again, never being in the picture as far as the Mackinnon Stakes goes, coming ninth. Forensics however, class mare as she is, was back in the Group One circle, winning the Myer Classic.

The cup field has been announced - 24 runners will be competing. I'll be giving it quite a deal of thought before I hazard a guess at the winner.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Spring Racing Carnival - Derby Super Saturday

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Maldivian

It's super Saturday tomorrow for the running of the Victoria Derby with four Group One races on the program. Including the Derby, there is the Coolmore Stud Stakes, a 1200 metre race for three year olds, the Mackinnon Stakes over 2000 metres, the traditional last chance for Melbourne Cup hopefuls to qualify, and the Myer Classic, for fillies and mares, over 1600 metres.

Last week's Cox Plate was won by Maldivian (pictured above) who lead throughout and dictated the pace of the race, thus ruining the chances of the back markers, which included Princess Coup, to gain any headway in the straight. Zipping ran second and Samantha Miss proved her worth by coming a close third. She will be running in the Oaks next week.

Maldivian's trainer Mark Kavanagh had a very successful day, with Whobegotyou easily winning the AAMI Vase and Sea Battle winning the Crystal Mile. It certainly made up for the disappointment he suffered when Maldivian was sensationally scratched from the Caulfield Cup last year. Whobegotyou will be attempting to make it four wins in a row in the Victoria Derby tomorrow. I can't really see anything beating him, though there may be an outsider in the field who will surprise us all.

Princess Coup gets a second chance for Group One glory tomorrow in the Mackinnon Stakes. Also in the field is her old rival Sirmione (who won this race last year), Littorio who lowered Weekend Hussler's colours a few weeks ago, and Sydney horse Theseo, trained by Gai Waterhouse. There is always a question mark over Gai's horses racing in Melbourne, as more often than not they fail to handle the reverse way of going. The Mackinnon Stakes has a long and glorious history, and it has been won by many famous racehorses- Empire Rose, Let's Elope, Better Loosen Up and At Talaq to name a few, who all went on to win the Melbourne Cup the Tuesday following. They bred them tough in those days.

Along with Princess Coup the only other member of my Super Stable running tomorrow is Forensics in the Myer Classic. If it doesn't rain too much tonight (that would be a surprise!) she should have a very good chance. She's a class mare, having won several group one races in the autumn and is also the 2007 Golden Slipper winner. Competing against her are several other smart girls, including Mimi LeBrock, Absolut Glam and Bellini Rose who beat Forensics at her last start. All in all it's a pretty classy field, but I hope Forensics wins - my stable needs a boost.

The Coolmore Stud Stakes has an interesting field totalling nine runners. It will be interesting to see if Northern Meteor who has won his last two races in Sydney by 4 to 5 lengths can repeat that form in Melbourne. He will up against some smart boys such as All American who really has not lived up to his early promise, ditto with Von Costa De Hero, Wilander who has great chance and the unbeaten Fist of Fury. I have been following Captain Fantastic because I like his name, and although he was very competitive in Queensland in the autumn, he hasn't done much since. If he won, it would be a boil over as he's currently at odds of 80/1.

Last week I stumbled across a great horse racing blog called Foolish Pleasure, run by a fellow female in America. It is very well written and Valerie has a keen interest in Australian horse racing as well as following the American scene.

If you're after local tips, I recommend you check out Laurie Sainsbury's tips on the Race Net web site. I've been reading his tips for several months, though not necessarily taking his advice as I rarely bet, but he has tipped some very good long shot winners.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Vandas Unplugged at Basement Discs

Mikey Madden & Chris Altmann from The Vandas at Basement Discs
It’s been a while since there has been an in store at Basement Discs so today’s mini show was a welcome diversion from the usual run of the mill lunch hour, where I generally go for a constitutional walk down to the centre of the city.

The Vandas have just released their debut full length CD Slow Burn which has been receiving rave reviews in the music press. They are a local four piece rock band, but today they were represented by two members, Chris Altmann and Mikey Madden, playing an acoustic version of some of the songs on the new album, as well as a few from the past.

They were pretty good I thought – their music being a mix of genres from pop to rock to country. One the songs they performed was a Hank Williams type tear jerker which they played wonderfully.

Chris and Mikey took turns with the vocals and also sounded great in harmony, both having quite distinctive voices. Chris sang with a slight American accent and at other times sounded like Aussie icon Paul Kelly. Mikey had a higher register in terms of vocals and came across as Brit Pop.

I must admit, I had not seen these guys before or even heard of them until quite recently. Basement Discs is to be commended for presenting such a diverse range of artists in their wonderful lunchtime in store shows.

Scheduled for November is Charles Jenkins, local singer songwriter and all round lovely guy, Fireside Bellows with the combined talents of Jodie Lane and Tracy McNeil and Justin Townes Earle, who is of course Steve Earle’s son, so that will really be something special.

I will be on recreation leave from work for the next two weeks, oh joy unbounded, though I won’t be going anywhere. I plan to lounge around at home and read, for a start, Neal Stephenson’s new monster novel Anathem.

Also I have just purchased a new desktop computer and will be spending a fair bit of time transferring everything from my old computer onto it. The new computer is sitting in boxes at the moment, but I am really looking forward to seeing how it performs when it’s up and going. By all accounts it should be really speedy and powerful, being equipped with a Core 2 Quad processor and 4 gigabytes of RAM.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Spring Racing Carnival – The Cox Plate

Last Saturday’s running of the Caulfield Cup resulted in a 40/1 winner, the totally overlooked Godolphin horse All The Good who won by a couple of lengths from the New Zealand stayer Nom de Jeu with rank outsider Barbaricus coming third. Weekend Hussler showed definitively that he can’t stay, finishing way back in 12th place. He has now been spelled for the rest of the spring, but will be back in autumn to compete in shorter races, in which he obviously excels.

Mad Rush, the other runner I was interested in, put in an excellent run, being guided by his jockey through the pack of tiring horses to flash into fourth place.

This Saturday sees the running of the second big race of the spring, the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley. It has to be one the weakest Cox Plate fields I have ever seen, but it is not without interest.

One can only speculate on the outcome with such questions as:
Will Samantha Miss live up to her hype and be the first filly to win the race in 30+ years?

Can Princess Coup, fresh from two consecutive Group One victories New Zealand, finally win a Group One in Australia? In autumn she seemed to be the eternal bridesmaid, storming home late to just miss winning.

And how will she handle the Moonee Valley track, on which she will be racing for the first time?

Ditto with Samantha Miss whose previous victories have all been in Sydney against her own age group.

There are only 12 runners in the Cox Plate this year and any one of them could be the winner. The race has yielded some unexpected results in the past - witness Fields of Omagh in 2006 winning the race for a second time at the grand old age of nine.

Princess Coup’s nemesis in the autumn was Sirmione who beat her twice in the Australian Cup and the Mackinnon Stakes, and he, being trained by the great master trainer Bart Cummings, cannot be overlooked. Nor can Zipping or Alamosa be totally ignored.

Mares have a good record in the Cox Plate, so I think I will stick with the girls in particular the Kiwi Princess.

Current hyped colt Whobegotyou is also racing on Saturday in the Group 2 AAMI Vase. His trainer wisely refrained from being tempted with the Cox Plate millions and settling for an easier race, stating he didn’t want to crucify the colt by throwing him into the big end of racing too early in his career.

And the BAFAB Winner is…

…Gautami Tripathy who runs the Reading Room Blog. Actually, Gautami was the only entrant in my BAFAB giveaway (see below) so she wins hands down. Sinai Tapestry is now winging its way to its new home in India. As Gautami has already read one Whittemore book, Jericho Mosaic the fourth volume of the Jerusalem Quartet, she will surely enjoy the first book, Sinai Tapestry.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Biting the Sun – rediscovering Tanith Lee

Rummaging through my fantasy book collection for book covers to display on my Eye Candy for Bibliophiles Blog, I have come to realise that I haven’t looked at, let alone opened many books in this category for several decades. What a wealth of books to be rediscovered are hidden there!

One of the authors whom I was very taken with back in the 1970s, was
Tanith Lee. I have practically a whole shelf full of her books, original first edition paperbacks published by DAW Books, including her debut novel The Birthgrave – a rich swords and sorcery fantasy featuring a heroine with super powers. I recently reread it and I must admit I quite enjoyed it. I even read one of its sequels Quest for the White Witch which I liked as well.

However, her most interesting books of that time were Don’t Bite The Sun (1976) and Drinking Sapphire Wine (1977), which are set in a utopian society of the far future. I’ve just reread Don’t Bite The Sun and whilst reading it realised, that although the society is based on a sixties hippy culture of sex and drugs and rock n roll, it has a prescience in relation to today’s popular culture and youth lifestyle. You see, in Lee’s Utopia, a high tech domed world called Four BEE, the populace are encouraged to live their teenage years (which last for centuries) in total abandonment of responsibility, to take drugs (one is called Ecstasy), indulge in free sexual relationships, change bodies and gender at will. They are called Jang and being Jang, as the narrator tells us, is to be conspicuous, wear outrageous clothing and generally act like young racegoers do during the Melbourne racing carnival, - over the top high spirits and generally pretty disgusting.

The nameless heroine and narrator of Don’t Bite The Sun, though Jang to a tee, is dissatisfied with Utopia – a rebel angel in paradise. The novels trace her disillusionment with, and eventual exile from, the Four BEE Eden.

The books are written in a wonderful vernacular style, the heroine grabbing the reader’s sympathy from the word go. I really liked her relationship with her stolen pet and the pet itself, another non conformist – fierce and wild and representative of the natural world outside the dome.

Written, so speak from an insider’s point of view, the heroine has a jaundiced view of her society. As she emerges from Limbo in yet another new body she describes it, “As usual it was depressingly lithe and glamorous…willow waisted, with an exotic bust and long, long scarlet hair” or when referring to her physical environment “Outside it was one of those depressing blue-crystal-golden-drops-of-sunlight afternoons. The weather is always perfect at Four BEE...”

By no means great literature, these books are nonetheless great fun to read and beautifully written– the irrepressible voice of the heroine is thoroughly addictive. Don’t Bite The Sun and Drinking Sapphire Wine are currently available in an omnibus edition entitled Biting The Sun.

There’s a rather good recent review of the omnibus volume by Jo Walton on the
Tor Books Blog

Cover artists for the above pictures for those who are interested are Brian Froud (Don't Bite The Sun) and Don Maitz (Sapphire Wine)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Spring Racing Carnival – Caulfield Cup

It’s now officially the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival even if it has been ongoing for the past few months. On Saturday the first of the big rich Group One races, the Caulfield Cup is to be run.

It’s an intriguing race this year, with any number of interesting runners, including Weekend Hussler who will be out to redeem his failure in the Turnbull a couple of weeks ago. He’s currently at fairly good odds, his last race performance creating doubts as to his ability to win over a mile and a half (2400 metres). I certainly hope he can win and put the mockers on the knockers. He is top weight, so he has his work cut out for him.

The contenders also include Maldivian who caused a sensation last year by rearing in his barrier stall and cutting his head on some television equipment that was fixed to his gate, which resulted in him being summarily scratched from the race. The race was won by Master O’Reilly who is also part of the action this year; though in my opinion he won by default last year. I’m interested to see how the British horse Mad Rush goes and also Guillotine who has drawn a wide gate, but is a lightweight chance.

Several New Zealand stayers are in the mix – Nom De Jeu, Red Ruler and Boundless. It is not wise to doubt their ability these days.

As someone on the Racing & Sports forum said, the Caulfield Cup is a dart board -it’s anyone’s guess which horse will win.

Last week’s Yalumba Stakes yielded a surprise result. Douro Valley, who hardly ever wins anything, snatched the victory from Pompeii Ruler with Guillotine coming third. Douro Valley is also running in the Caulfield Cup – he came second last year, so has a long chance.

The Caulfield Guineas was won by a horse with the peculiar name Whobegotyou, a super star in the making, so the pundits aver. My favoured runner, Time Thief came second. Whobegotyou won very convincingly by several lengths and Time Thief just couldn’t catch him.

The fillies Thousand Guineas, run on Wednesday was won by Gallica with Cat’s Whisker coming second.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Spring Racing Carnival – The Caulfield Guineas

Guillotine
What an old fashioned term "guineas" is! If I recall, a guinea was twenty-one shillings back in the old days of imperial currency. The actual race is worth considerably more than that - $1 million dollars in prize money no less.

The race is for three year old colts and geldings and is run over 1600 metres (a mile in old parlance).

Time Thief is my stable representative in the race. It will be his toughest test to date. However, he is very smart, judging by his previous runs, so has a good chance.

There are two other group one races on the card tomorrow, one being the Yalumba Stakes a weight for age handicap race over 2000 metres. A small field of class competitors will be vying for the money and include Pompeii Ruler, who after returning from a long injury recovery has shown spirit in this spring’s races and will probably start favourite. Guillotine, who I witnessed winning the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes is also a major contender along with the New Zealand Derby winner C’est La Guerre and Sirmione the winner of the Australian Cup earlier this year.

The other Group One, the Toorak Handicap has a large field of middle distance runners. It is hard to pick a winner, so I won’t even try a prediction.

I’ve made a few changes to my super stable this week, retiring Tuesday Joy and Sugarbabe and buying a couple of stayers, these being Efficient, last year’s winner of the Melbourne Cup, and Mad Rush a British horse trained by Luca Cumani, here especially for the cups. Cumani’s entry into the cups last year was Purple Moon who did very well coming second to Efficient in the Melbourne Cup. Mad Rush is apparently a similar type of horse to Purple Moon and he will have one of Melbourne’s top jockeys, Damien Oliver as his rider in both the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups.

I have two substitutions left and may use them to acquire a few more stayers closer to the Melbourne Cup.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Cat Politics Update

I took the above photo of Willy last Sunday so it’s a timely excuse to write about the state of cat politics in the household. Willy is sporting his new collar and tag as he recently lost the old one somewhere or other. The other two cats are not tagged as they generally stay close to home and don’t wander about like Willy who is tagged due to his tendency to climb into open cars. As you can see his ears are still unmarked as he’s not brawler and runs away from fights.

Nothing much has changed as regards the Timmy vs Willy antagonism. Willy makes sure that he and Timmy do not cross paths. Timmy is still aggressive towards Willy and either lurks in doorways waiting to pounce on him or chases him if he can get away with it. When we are around he knows he can’t – we’ve reinforced the message with loud vocal remonstrance which actually works, or by shooing him aggressively away. He’ll never learn I suppose. He and Lizzie generally coexist fairly peacefully with an occasional boxing match when Timmy gets above himself and tries to bully Lizzie. You mess with old lady cats at your peril as Timmy has found out - the hard way.

During winter it became obvious that Timmy was suffering from arthritis – his movements were restricted and he was hopping around on three legs. He’s now on a drug called Metacam, which has had a remarkable effect. It worked first up. One day Timmy was hobbling round like an old man, the next he was swinging from trees. Perhaps we should have left him half crippled to reduce the aggression between the two male cats, but in all conscience you can’t really let an animal suffer, even if that animal is a recalcitrant curmudgeon of a be
ast.