Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Here we are on Christmas Eve eve. In Melbourne it is a cool night after several days of hot weather, so at least we will be able to sleep tonight.

Anyway, all that is beside the point. I scanned the photo above last night. It is from my childhood and reminds me of Christmas in the place we were living at the time because my brother's Christmas present is depicted in the photo.

We were given odd things as presents. One year we were all given pith helmets. Mine was powder blue, my brothers helmets were a sort of khaki colour. We loved them and wore them everywhere.

The year of the photo above, my younger brother was given an American Indian tepee and headdress. The present came from my mother's twin brother Uncle D. That was exotica to us. I think I was given a scarab bracelet from Egypt that year which no doubt mollified the desire I may have felt to have my little brother's present.

The photo was taken obviously by my older brother (he isn't in the picture) and shows my younger brother (in headdress) sitting in front of his tepee, surrounded by kids from the mining community up the road. The place is Woods Point, a small mining town in North East Victoria. We lived at the hospital where our mother was the local medico. The Morning Star mine was still in operation those days and the miners and their families lived in a small housing sector slightly out of the main township which was called White City owing to the houses all being painted white.

The photo setting is the side of the hospital. It looks alarmingly overgrown, tall grass everywhere. I'm the big blonde kid standing on the right next to the tree. I appear to be wearing winter clothes, though the other kids are less heavily clad.

The photo was taken with some old brownie box camera which produced little tiny photos, so the quality leaves a lot to be desired. However it does capture an afternoon of long ago, an afternoon drenched in summer sunshine.

Woods Point has been much in my mind of late because of the bush fires. We had rain last night, the first decent fall for weeks, so the threat has now lessened, but has not completely gone away.

As I am unlikely to post again before Christmas - I wish the readers of this blog a very happy and safe festive season.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Dog Days of 2006

Well I’ve been pretty remiss on updating the blog of late, so here’s an update on the state of Cat Politics in these dog days of 2006.

Despite having a bit of a cold a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been kind of busy brushing up on a few courses I attended early in December. One covered the basic essentials of html. You might suppose that as I run several web sites I would be au fait with the basic coding of web pages. Not so, as I use Dreamweaver as a web editor and it requires little knowledge of html. Of course I do understand html quite well, but every code I look up only stays in my head for as long as I need it then disappears. With this in mind, and because at work one is obliged to attend training courses as a part of one’s work performance, I decided to attend one on html.

It was fun and I must admit served the purpose of putting html in context and has given me the confidence to write it. I find it quite an elegant code and armed with this new skill I can now be confident of producing clean code in my web pages.

The other course I attended was for Microsoft Publisher. I am quite experienced in that program, but needed some things clarified after being thrown into the deep end with Basement Discs hiring me to create magazine ads, flyers, posters etc. for their shop. So it was another useful course in terms of my private pursuits, but could also serve at work when such things are required.

I like being creative and find occupying myself in this way absorbing.

There have been no musical treats this month, but January promises some class acts, particularly Mary Gauthier and Steve Young. Mary Gauthier (pronounced go-shay) is an American singer songwriter of remarkable power. I love her songs; they’re so vividly pictorial. As an example here’s two verses from her song “Falling Out Of Love”

It's a cheap hotel, the heat pipes hiss
The bathroom's down the hall, and it smells like piss
It's another night in another town
And I'm another blues traveler headed down

Falling out of love is a dangerous thing
With its slippery slopes and its weighted wings
With its birds of prey circling overhead
Casting vulture shadows on barren beds
Let me out, set me free
Let me out, set me free
Of course you really have to hear Mary sing it in her world-weary voice for it to come alive.

Steve Young is the writer of one of my all time favorite songs “ Seven Bridges Road” and has been around for a very long time. He rarely comes to Australia so it will be wonderful to see him live. Both he and Mary Gauthier are on the same bill at the Northcote Social Club in January.

Naturally I have been reading as much as ever. I whip through a couple of books a week, so it’s hard to remember just what I have been reading. Over the past two weeks I have read Julian Barnes’ “Arthur and George” – a truly beautifully written study of character; “The Evolution Man” by Roy Lewis, a book plucked off my bookshelf when at a loss as to what to read next. It’s an old Penguin book with the typical fantastic cover art that Penguin paperbacks used have back in the 60s, 70s & 80s “The Evolution Man” is an odd book, a sort of primer on the evolution of man told from the point of view of an evolving humanoid. It’s a comical and clever book and I found it an entertaining read. I’ve also whizzed through George Saunders’ “The Brief & Frightening Reign of Phil” and “The Sidmouth Letters” by Jane Gardam. I’ve now started “Riddley Walker” sent me by Clare Dudman as my prize for winning her BAFAB competition. So far, so good, I’ve gradually got the hang of the dialect and am finding it easier to read than at first expected.

I suppose calling this entry “Dog Days” is a bit of a misnomer in that Melbourne has only had the occasional hot day since summer officially began. Nevertheless, the visible haze and smell of smoke from the bushfires raging out of control in the North and East of the State, adds to that summer feel.

The bush fires are rather worrying. I for one am glad I don’t live in the bush. One of the towns threatened is Woods Point where I spent five happy years in my childhood. At that time the shadow of the 1939 fires still haunted the town. It was wiped out then.
I remember worrying about how I would save my cat from the flames. It used to torment me. It is a very quaint little town with unique architecture, so it would be an awful shame if it were destroyed.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Oh Frabjous Day

There was good news on the political front today with the election of Kevin Rudd to lead the Labour Party into the next election. All of a sudden there is an optimistic light shining out from the doom and gloom of our recent expectations.

Kevin Rudd as leader represents a fresh approach from the Opposition, which hopefully will succeed in toppling Howard at the next election. I had quite resigned myself to seeing that lying rat staying in power forever. Every election in the past 10 years has been excruciating in this regard, our hopes of a Labour victory being dashed over and over again.

Mr Howard as well as being a consummate liar is a very canny politician. He gets away with telling whoppers, deceiving the Australian people in ways that smack of a 1984 disinformation campaign where everyone knows he’s lying, but it seems as if it doesn’t matter. He bribes the electorate to forget and actively encourages distrust and racism within the community. It’s high time he was tossed out, before Australia becomes a pariah on the world stage, if it isn’t
one already.

Kevin Rudd’s deputy is Julia Gillard, a young politician whose career I have followed with interest. She has stood up to the worst the Federal Government can throw at her and has acquitted herself well against the likes of head kickers such as Tony Abbot. She has the potential to become Australia’s first woman Prime Minister.

We can finally live in hope again, for as I have mentioned before, I despaired of Labour ever winning under Kim Beasley.

That's not to say that I don't feel for Kim Beasley losing after trying so hard for all these years. It was doubly distressing for him that his younger brother died, which he only learned after the spill. What an awful day for him!

Friday, December 01, 2006

National Day of Action Revisited

Yesterday I got out of bed at 6.30am in order to make it to the rally at the MCG to protest the Howard Government’s draconian industrial laws. I got to the arena in good time and endured waiting for the show to begin in the freezing cold of the morning.

It was a pretty good turnout, I thought. They didn’t actually fill the “G” but more than half filled it. Above is a photo of part of the crowd near where I was sitting, colourful as ever.

We were entertained and harangued by a variety of politicians, trade union bosses, comedians etc. Unfortunately, the sound was so bad you couldn’t hear a word that was said. However, the atmosphere was enthusiastic and the crowd biddable.

After the scheduled show, which terminated with famous Aussie rocker Jimmy Barnes singing a few songs, one of them naturally “Working Class Man”, we all marched to Federation Square for more haranguing and entertainment.

Of course the Federal Government belittled the rally, sneering at the supposedly small numbers who took part. Actually there were about 50,000 + participating, so if I was Howard I wouldn’t sneer too openly. It could represent a backlash against his Government, which would throw it from power. I got a cool “Howard Hater” badge from the Socialists.

CD Launch at Manchester Lane

Well, I was disappointed to find, Manchester Lane is not like the Continental. It’s a classy joint, but not really my cup of tea as far as venues go. For a start it was extremely noisy in terms of chatter. The sound from the stage was too low so the chatter was all the more distracting. I foolishly assumed that people went there for the music. Obviously not. I’d prefer to go to the Northcote Social Club any day.

Despite these setbacks, Sunshine Harvester’s launch was good fun and Moana was in fine fettle as well as her ace little band, which was enhanced by the addition of a string bass and a banjo, played respectively by two very talented young local musicians.

I could go on, but as I appear to have succumbed to some sort of fluish lurgy, I feel a bit dopy and disinclined to elaborate. You’ll just have to settle for a picture of the band.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Teddy Thompson Again

Teddy Thompson was so impressive the last time I saw him, I felt compelled to go and see him again. After all, the venue is only just up the road from where I live at the Northcote Social Club.

I went alone this time and got there early as usual to grab a good position up the front. Northcote Social Club band room is generally a standing only arrangement (though you can usually sit on the floor), so I was surprised to see that they had put out tables and chairs in front of the stage. Quite an improvement from the floor, I thought. So I grabbed one for myself and hoped other people would use the two vacant chairs, so that at least I could go to the bar and not lose my seat. Two very pleasant young women took the vacant seats and we discovered we had remarkably similar tastes in music. They had come from the coast for the event. I would imagine that it was worth the effort, for Teddy Thompson was in very fine form and just as impressive as the last time I saw him 11 days ago at the same venue.

I’m getting quite fond of the Northcote Social Club as a venue, as every time I have been there I’ve met friendly and interesting people. Melbourne audiences are polite and well behaved in general and genuinely love music. Melbourne has a reputation for being the live music capital of Australia and every day of the week there is plethora of live acts to choose from. You will have gathered that I love live music as much as I like the recorded stuff. Teddy Thompson is better live than recorded, though having seen his live act, I appreciate his CDs all the more as it generally works both ways to benefit the artist. I have discovered some previously unknown artists at live shows playing support for the main act. Such a one was Shane Nicholson who is virtually unknown in Melbourne.

Tonight I’m off to another show at a different venue. It is the Sunshine Harvester CD Launch at Manchester Lane. I’ve decided to go for dinner as well as that ensures me getting a seat for the show.

On the topic of venues, Melbourne music goers were spoiled for years by a wonderful venue called The Continental, which was situated in the Eastern suburbs. It was the perfect venue for the intimate music experience. The Continental was the first to offer dinner and show as a package. Many people took advantage of it as it ensured them a seat up the front. The food and service was first rate to add to the luxurious comfort of the venue and the artists who played there were always unusual and interesting musicians and also enjoyed playing there. Unfortunately the venue was closed several years ago due to the Continental managers being unable to secure the building in which it was housed. The building owner refused to sell, so the Continental was no more. It is still held up as the ideal venue. People say about new venues” It’s just like the Continental”, but it never is.

Manchester Lane sounds promising in this light – it just might be as good as the Continental.

Anyway enough rambling on about live music tomorrow brings another National Day of Action protesting the Howard Government’s erosion of worker’s rights with their new Industrial Relations laws. In Melbourne there is to be a big rally at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, a large capacity sports arena close to the city. The catch cry is “Fill the “G”. I’ll be there with my camera and will report on what transpires.

For international readers who may be curious as to who won the Victorian State Elections, the Labour government was comfortably returned to power. Thank goodness!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Another Band, Another Photo

The photo above is of Moana Kerr, Leo Kahans (mandolin) & Paul Jonas (fiddle) with Brian Fitzgerald (guitar) in the background. There was also a dobro player, Peter Fidler who is out of shot. Together they form a great little bluegrass band called Sunshine Harvester.

They were appearing at the last Basement Discs In-Store for the year and it certainly was a good lively act with which to finish the year.

I have known Moana for a number of years through Nu Country. She is currently 8 months pregnant with her first child, but she certainly hasn’t let that interfere too much with launching her latest CD Between Trains - the CD is being launched next Wednesday.

Moana is a vibrant girl, full of vivacity and bounce. She has a lovely singing voice, which is very suited to the old style Americana type of music she specialises in.

Between Trains is a celebration of bluegrass music, a genre I very much like. I love the sound of banjos, mandolins and fiddles playing together, and I am partial to dobros as well.

The band played the whole CD today and it is certainly a charmer. I was delighted to hear Moana’s take on one of my favourite Richard Thompson songs, “Waltzing’s For Dreamers”.

I intend to go to the CD Launch next Wednesday. It’s at Manchester Lane, a new venue for me, but by all accounts a good one.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

State Elections

The Victorian State Elections are being held this coming weekend, so this is a timely rave on the political situation in this state.

The two main contenders are the Liberal Party and the current incumbent Labour Party. The Labour leader is the bland Steve Bracks, a sort of non-threatening kind of guy. He’s quite popular with the electorate, though the rednecks in the regional areas think he is too Melbourne-centric and object to his policies regarding energy conservation and bans on logging and cattle grazing in various sensitive areas.

Being a State public servant, I’d prefer that Labour get re-elected. The last Liberal Government totally decimated the public service as well as selling off most of the State's assets, like the gas and electricity services. They also privatised public transport and closed schools and hospitals. So I will definitely not be voting Liberal, and wouldn’t in any case being a die-hard leftist.

The Liberal leader Ted Baillieu comes from a wealthy background. He’s quite a toff, though bland at the same time. He’s been going around demonstrating what an all-round regular guy he is, plunging into the surf for a swim, rocking it up in a band, while Bracksy is filmed reading stories to children in kindergartens.

It’s all been a bit of laugh, this election campaign, the lavish promises of both parties failing to impress me. Who cares, is the general consensus.

As I live in a solid Labour electorate, I can be fanciful in my choice of candidate. The current representative for my electorate has hardly set foot in the place since being placed in office. She’s retiring (ho hum) and another female candidate will be contesting in her place. Fiona someone or other...

As you no doubt gather, I’m disenchanted with Australian politics at the moment. There appears to be hardly any difference between the major parties. Federally, I don’t think Labour has a hope of winning unless they ditch the current leader Kim Beasley, who has been around so long – and has lost every election where he has been leader of the opposition – that the populace fail to hear or indeed comprehend any of his policies, which, in any case, are only slight variations on the Liberal policy. A new face to the fore would do wonders for the party’s chances, as long as they aren’t loopy like the last new face - Mark Latham - who went to pieces when he lost the last election.

Roll on Saturday – I will use my right to vote as wisely as I can.

The Carnival is Over - Final Super Stable Update

I have been waiting for the final results of the Spring Super Stable competiton to be posted at Racing & Sports before reporting on how I fared.

I ended up coming 11th out of 144, which isn’t bad at all. My overall virtual outlay was $1, 522,00 and my stable won $4, 149,000. A pity it's all virtual - dream on AS.

So how did my stable go?

Apache Cat – a good performer throughout, though he never scored a win. Was in the money most of the time .
Cat’s Fun – hopeless, ditched him at first substitution
Ellicorsam – never made an appearance all spring, ditched at first substitution
Haradasun – brilliant early in the season until he sustained a minor injury and was retired for the rest of the Spring
Miss Finland – superb perfomance all round, only beaten twice all Spring and was always in the money.
Paratroopers – started really well then sustained an injury which knackered his chances for the rest of the season.
Virage de Fortune – missing in action
El Segundo – good form early in the season but failed to win much after that
Pompeii Ruler – good performer until failing in the Cox Plate. I ditched him at the final substitution when I should have dispensed with Paratroopers instead. His performance after the Cox Plate was excellent.
Gold Edition – excellent performance – won just about everything she raced in. It’s a pity I didn’t add her to my stable earlier
Tawqeet – won the Caulfield Cup but was injured shortly before the Melbourne Cup, and, although passed fit to run, shouldn’t have run at all. My big hopes for the Melbourne Cup dashed.
Wonderful World – good performer - won the Thousand Guineas.

The Spring Racing Carnival is now over and was, as usual, fascinating to follow. Miss Finland is certainly one to watch for in the autumn, as is Haradasun who will resume then as well. These two raced against each other earlier in the spring and Miss Finland won by a nose. Haradasun was blocked for a run and couldn’t quite catch her, so it will be fascinating to see them race again.

Other stars to emerge from the carnival are Efficient who won the Derby in spectacular fashion and Divine Madonna who came out of nowhere to win the group 1 Emirate Stakes.

Other Stuff

My review of the Teddy Thompson show at the Northcote Social Club is now up at the Nu Country site. His performance on the night was absorbing and brilliant. I’m mightily tempted to go and see him again.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Tarot Card Meme

I found this meme on Liz Williams blog and thought it was rather fun. I was also pleased to find my Tarot Card was:

You are The Sun

Happiness, Content, Joy.

The meanings for the Sun are fairly simple and consistent.

Young, healthy, new, fresh. The brain is working, things that were muddled come clear, everything falls into place, and everything seems to go your way.

The Sun is ruled by the Sun, of course. This is the light that comes after the long dark night, Apollo to the Moon's Diana. A positive card, it promises you your day in the sun. Glory, gain, triumph, pleasure, truth, success. As the moon symbolized inspiration from the unconscious, from dreams, this card symbolizes discoveries made fully consciousness and wide awake. You have an understanding and enjoyment of science and math, beautifully constructed music, carefully reasoned philosophy. It is a card of intellect, clarity of mind, and feelings of youthful energy.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Teddy Thompson at the Basement Discs

It was a very special treat to see Teddy Thompson perform at the Basement Discs at lunchtime today.

A comely young man, he has an amazingly powerful voice that has an attractive timbre.

He sang about five songs from his latest CD Separate Ways. As he is touring solo, he simply accompanied himself on guitar and as it happens, is accomplished on that instrument as well.

Teddy Thompson is part of the younger Rock Pop scene, a child of famous parents like Rufus and Martha Wainwright who are the son and daughter of Kate Mcgarrigle and Loudon Wainwright. Not surprisingly, these three have collaborated on several projects and also play and add vocal support on each other’s recordings. They are all incredibly talented.

Teddy’s music is singer/songwriter stuff, sort of pop/rock. Separate Ways is a lovely CD and I would, as will many others, include it on my best of list for 2006.

This afternoon was only a taste of Teddy Thompson live, so I am very glad that I have tickets for his show tonight at Northcote Social Club.

I will probably be writing a review of the show for the Nu Country website, so stay tuned.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Buckley’s Hope - 25th Anniversary Celebration

Craig Robertson, author of Buckley’s Hope , is an old friend so we were glad to accept his invitation to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the book. Amazingly, it’s still in print and will continue to be so, according to his publisher who spoke at the event.

The venue chosen for the event was Comrade Paddy’s Bar in the
Trades Hall building, the 147-year-old birthplace of leftist politics and trade unionism in Australia.

Mounting the stairs to the bar, I noted how worn the bluestone steps were and imagined how many feet must have climbed the same steps through the years – honest workers feet.

As soon as we entered the bar, I felt immediately at home. The walls were decorated with revolutionary posters and satiric paintings of current Federal Government members.

Buckley’s Hope is a novel about William Buckley ,
an escaped convict who, shortly after arriving in the new colony, fled into the bush and ended up living with the aboriginals for 32 years before returning to the white settlement. He was dubbed the “wild white man”. Craig was the first writer to tackle William Buckley’s story. He researched the novel for many years before sitting down to write it and it was originally published in 1980.

Having neglected to read the novel before, I picked up a copy yesterday and started reading it on the train this morning.

Getting back to the celebration, there was a good turnout, and I was pleased to discover many old friends whom I have not seen for years.

After preliminary drinks, the ceremonial part of the proceedings began with Craig (pictured above) speaking on the experience of writing the book and introducing the other participants, his publisher Henry Rosenbloom (who I remember from my University days), the poet Barry Hill who recited several of his Buckley poems inspired by Craig’s book, Gregory (I forget his surname), a singer –songwriter who performed 2 songs relating to Buckley and a highly entertaining performance by Jan Wositzky of his “The Go Between - The Story of William Buckley & the Settlement of Melbourne.”

It was an interesting way to spend a Sunday afternoon and, apart from that, it was good to re-meet old friends.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Another musical diversion

I took time off to go to yet another Basement Discs In-Store performance today.
The artist was
Fiona Boyes, local, Internationally acclaimed, blues artist.
She has great bluesy voice and also is no mean slouch on the guitar.

It was a small audience, but Fiona appeared unfazed by this and we were all very appreciative of her performance, which was gutsy and entertaining.

I naturally took some photos and one of them is above.

Next Friday I am really looking forward to seeing Teddy Thompson perform there and I am going to his show at Northcote Social Club the same night.

Teddy Thompson is the son of famous folk artists Richard & Linda Thompson.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Melbourne Cup Day and Thanksgiving

Melbourne city gets a holiday on its biggest racing day the Melbourne Cup. It is a tradition, that if you don't go to the race, you are at a Cup day party.

The latter was the case for us, which was combined with a token Thanksgiving feast of roast turkey owing to the presence of an American at the party.

It was a great day, lots of food, booze and convivial company.

The photos are a tradition that was started last year. One of the hats we used for drawing the Cup Sweep was a pith helmet. We thought it would be amusing if we took photos of everyone wearing it, so I took along my camera this year to reinforce the tradition for a second year.

Bernie - the hostess with the mostest

Nani - turkey cooker supremo and manufacturer of intriguing home made liqueurs.

Tony's looking happy because, for the third year running, he won the Sweep and also managed to successfully bet on the Cup trifecta which paid a tidy sum.

There's always one...

The inevitable grumpy person who would rather be dead than be seen wearing a pith helmet ... Michael - resident cynic and trenchant wit of the party.

The Melbourne Cup was won by Japanese horse Delta Blues and his stablemate Pop Rock came second. A clean sweep by the Japanese racing contingent.

You may well ask - how did I go? Well, I did select Delta Blues a month or so ago in a future bet, so I scored rather well myself, though not as well as Tony.

Monday, November 06, 2006

I almost forgot...

Back at the beginning of October Clare Dudman at Keeper of the Snails ran a BAFAB (Buy a friend a book) competition, requiring participants to submit:

" ...a story of exactly 101 words (not including title) written using words spelt exactly as you say them (e.g. I wint downt laik an got owt me buk. Twas gud buk. I cudnat stop reedin.) The theme is 'guilty pleasures'."

I submitted a piece in Strine and I won, so I have been informed by Clare.

You can read my entry in the comments here.

Needless to say I am chuffed, not giving myself a snowflakes chance in hell of winning.

Thanks Clare, I should run something similar myself, but I fear I have not that many readers.

The Panorama Has Moved

People who have read Edward Whittemore's Jerusalem Quartet would recognise the above phrase from Nile Shadows. It is evocative, but in fact relates to the Nile side cafe where Strongbow and Menelik Ziwar carried out their 40 year conversation.

I am digressing...

What it means in this case is that the Jerusalem Dreaming web site has moved to a new location on the web.

It now has its own domain name and also a fresh new design.

If it is not accessible over the next day - I received an email from my hosting service advising of server outages tonight and tomorrow - keep trying.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Occupational Obsessions

Well, it's not really occupational, though it has kept me occupied for the last week...

If I have been very quiet on the blog front of late it is because I have been creating a fresh new web design for my Edward Whittemore tribute site Jerusalem Dreaming. It has occupied me all week, to the exclusion of almost everything else. When I am in web creation mode I tend to get obsessive and worry away at it until it's finished.

It is fortunate that I am also on leave from my real work, otherwise it would have taken much longer to complete the site. I put the finishing touches on it this afternoon, but it will not be online until next week most probably. Up to now, the Jerusalem Dreaming site has been hosted on my free homepage space allocated by my ISP. It was threatening to become too big for the space allocated (10mbs), so I decided to create a totally new site with a fresh design and get it hosted elsewhere. This also involves acquiring a domain name, which will of course stuff up all links to the current site location. I will advise the new domain name when the new site is online and you will be able to access it and take a look.

Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival

The Spring racing carnival is my favorite time of the year and it is now in full swing.

Last week the major WFA (weight for age) handicap, the Cox Plate was run. It was a thriller wherein the oldest horse (9 years old) in the race won by a whisker and the over-hyped favorite came second last.

Tomorrow is Derby Day and there are 5 major races on the card and 4 of my super stable are contending.

Last week my 3 super stable contenders came 2nd, 6th & 7th, but they all earned money so I am now coming sixth in the competition. If my 4 contenders win or place tomorrow, my virtual coffers will be boosted even further and if Tawqeet wins the Melbourne Cup next Tuesday, I might even win the competition. I did win the first Super Stable competition a couple of years ago, so if , like good old Fields of Omagh (the elderly winner of the Cox Plate who previously won in 2003), I might stage a comeback.

Here's hoping for good fortune...

Monday, October 23, 2006

More Music…

The photo above of is of Robyn Hitchcock & Venus 3 who played a marvellous set of tasty rock n roll at Basement Discs on Friday at lunchtime

I was standing in my usual position, as close to the stage as possible, so the sound of three electric guitars – very well played – caused me an exquisite inner delight. There’s something about good rock n roll that is very uplifting and, I believe, good for the soul.

Robyn Hitchcock’s outfit is great, particularly the purple trousers which co-ordinate with the stage curtains. Purple is my favourite colour and when I see clothes in that shade I generally feel tempted to buy them.

The weekend was busy, which is one reason I haven’t got around to writing about Robyn Hitchcock before, with a 50th birthday party to go to on Saturday and an assignment from Basement Discs keeping me at the computer all day Sunday. Friday night was taken up with more web maintenance stuff. At least my computer gets used in a practical way, though I do find it a great time waster as well.

Back to the band…

Robyn Hitchcock is from Britain & Venus 3 are from the UK and USA, They have collaborated on a CD called “Ole Tarantula” a jaunty rock pop recording, which we were given a taste of on Friday. Robyn Hitchcock sounds like a cross between John Lennon and David Bowie and the style is sort of 1980s Brit pop.

I had never heard of this artist before so I was pleasantly surprised and impressed when witnessing his performance.

It was the icing on the cake of a week of excellent musical delights.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Super Stable Update

It appears I was very fortunate in my substitutions last round. My hunch about Tawqeet paid off in spades. He won the Caulfield Cup and he could very well go on and win the Melbourne Cup.

The Caulfield Cup was run yesterday and I had a dead cert intuition that Tawqeet would win. I didn't have a bet but did tip him in the Groupies competition on Racing & Sports. He came in at the very good odds of 17/1.

Other horses in my stable who have won over the past week have been Wonderful World who won the colts Thousand Guineas and Miss Finland who won the fillies equivalent.

So my stable is looking very healthy.

It's the Cox Plate next Saturday and my stable contains a few contenders. Cross fingers, and hope one of them will win.

Photo above is of Tawqeet winning the Caulfield Cup

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Chicks Rock Melbourne

Last night I went to a Dixie Chicks concert. It was a sensational, high quality performance and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

It was staged at the Rod Laver Arena usually a tennis centre, but also used for large concerts. I would not normally go to concerts at arenas, preferring initmate venues, but I made an exception for the Dixie Chicks. I booked through some mob called Preferred Seating in the expectation of getting good seats. By good seats I mean one or two rows from the front. Even though we paid extra for the privilege of getting tickets from this source, we were disappointed in the seats we were allocated. I will never use Preferred Seating again. They’re a rip off.

Anyway, the concert was worth the money and at least we could see the stage, albeit from rather a greater distance than we would have preferred.

For the Dixie Chicks it was full house, the audience being a mixed bunch but all very appreciative of the show. They were polite and respectful as most Melbourne audiences are.

Unless you’ve been off the planet for the past few years, you would be aware of the troubles the Chicks have been facing after lead singer Natalie Maines made an unwise comment about President Bush stating she was “ashamed the President of the United States was from Texas”.

As a prelude to their show, they played a trailer of a new documentary “Shut Up & Sing” which follows the aftermath of Natalie’s comment. It really is extraordinary, this reaction to the band. It is out of proportion to the mildness of the statement. They received death threats, their CDs were trashed, and mainstream radio banned them from the airwaves.

George Saunders ( a very fine and funny writer) has an amusing satire about this reaction on his website. You can read it here.

Anyway, back to the show.

Australian audiences have no qualms about welcoming the Dixie Chicks with open arms and the Chicks gave it back in spades.

They played all their best-loved songs, like "Goodbye Earl", "Wide Open Spaces", "Travelling Soldier", "Top of the World", the sassy "Sin Wagon" as well as songs from their latest CD Taking the Long Way such as "Lubbock or Leave It", "Not Ready to Make Nice" and the title song, among others.

They are a great live act and even if I was sitting rather further from the stage than I like, I still felt involved and captivated. It was impossible from where I was to take good pictures of the stage, so I cheated and took photos from the big screen.

Above is Natalie Maines, who is the major star of the band and holds it all together, and besides has a truly remarkable voice. This photo is of Emily Robison (I like the backward composition of this shot).

This was my second time seeing the Chicks perform live. I first saw them in 1999 at a much smaller venue. They were just taking off for stardom at that time, touring to promote the aptly named CD Fly.

The support act last night was another American singer, Pete Yorn, who was pretty good too.

Monday, October 16, 2006

More on feminism with a bit of history

The 1970s feminist movement in Australia was very much brought about by the American movement at the same time. Of course we all read Germaine’s book, even the blokes did, and it confirmed what we already knew.

The permissiveness of the sixties and the ready availability of the birth control pill also went some way to free us from the shackles of the past. I remember my mother making comments along the lines of “Unmarried mothers have a terrible life…” but the pill freed us from the worry of unwanted pregnancies and it was well before AIDS hit the scene. We did have to worry about other sexually transmitted diseases, but generally free love was the go.

I was not all that involved in the women’s movement. I did go along once or twice to consciousness raising meetings with female friends, but I also enjoyed the company of men. I still do and my best and oldest friends are all male.

My childhood was unconventional, due in part to growing up in a single parent family. My father died when I was 2 years old. My older brother was 3 and my younger brother was a baby at the time. My mother was a nurse and moved around a lot for her work. Throughout my school years I attended nine different schools, some good, some bad. It’s a wonder I got an education at all.

As my mother was a workingwoman she could not be there for everything, and I learnt early to be independent. When starting at a new school, we often had to front up by ourselves. I remember turning up and having to introduce my younger brother and myself. We were quite young at that time - I was about 8 or 9 years old.

It seemed to be a habit in our family, that if you couldn’t take the kids with you, you would dump them with someone else. We were left at a convent and cared for by the nuns, while my mother went off somewhere on a holiday. We were there at the convent when a letter came that she had remarried. We got to meet the stepfather after the fact, flying by ourselves from the north of New South Wales to Sydney. From there we were driven to Melbourne to the stepfather’s house. The second marriage was not successful and my mother, with us in tow, fled to a remote gold mining town in North East Victoria where we lived in the hospital.

By this time I had 5 schools under my belt. I was a tough kid. I sat through the film “Old Yeller” and refused to cry when all the other kids were bawling their eyes out. Our dog was run over in front of us three children and we watched him die, me with detachment – I still vividly recall the light dying in his eyes as he expired - my brothers in tears. Yes, I was a tough kid.

Anyway, back to feminism.

I remember the days before equal opportunity and equal pay for equal work. When I was first working, women were paid at a lower salary to men. Women were not allowed in bars, but had to hang out in the ladies lounge. Girls were trussed into horrible underwear like step-ins and weighty bras. Pants were regarded as unsuitable working clothing; women were expected to wear frocks. We wore suspender belts to keep our stockings up. The women’s movement freed us from all that. I threw away my bra back then and haven’t worn one since. I never wear stockings either, though when pantyhose came in we girls rejoiced and flaunted our legs in mini skirts.

At the same time as the resurgence of feminism, the anti Vietnam War movement was in full swing . I was more involved with that than with the women’s movement. My male comrades thought I was a liberated woman and treated me as a mate.

I have never been an espouser of causes. I am uncomfortable being part of a group thing preferring to distance myself lone wolfish. I dislike conflict and confrontations and am an introvert rather than an extrovert, being hopeless at small talk, and dislike talking on the phone.

This all makes me sound terrifying, but really I’m very easy to get along with, good tempered and friendly, a tad eccentric.

Meanwhile, the tough kid stands in the wings and lends me strength when I need it.

Friday, October 13, 2006

5 things feminism has done for me

I’ve been terribly lax in blogging so far this month, but will try and make up for it over the remainder of October.

First up, I was tagged for this meme by Clare at Keeper of the Snails.

I think I emerged from the womb as a feminist. It never occurred to me from my earliest childhood that I was in any way inferior to my brothers.

Like Clare, I was fortunate to have strong women in my mother and grandmother. They both lived extraordinarily hard lives, but were independent and hard working. Both lost their husbands when their children were mere babes. They had to make their own way in the world, both working in the nursing profession while raising three children apiece.

I’ve had it lucky compared to them. I grew up in a time of abundance and peace in the golden age of the 1950s and 1960s. I am one of the fortunate baby boomers.

So what has feminism done for me?

1. It taught me to be independent and not rely too much on other people. I hate to be indebted to anyone, though sometimes it is necessary.

2. I was encouraged get an education in order to rise above the common expectation of marriage and children, so I am very well educated in a classical sense. My education has not been much use in my professional life, but it allows me to appreciate the arts, without which I would be bored to death.

3. It has made me fearless. I don’t mind being alone and I am not intimidated by being thrust into strange social situations, or travelling by myself.

4. It has given me a casual approach to clothing and personal appearance. I dress for comfort rather than fashion and I don’t wear makeup, having decided long ago that people could take me or leave me on face value. As you can see in the photo above I was a bit of a hippy chick then. Still am.

5. It has made it perfectly respectable to be childless and live in sin. I just couldn’t come at marriage nor do I regret having no children.

As I am not all that involved in the blogging community, I can only think of one other person to tag with this meme. So, Chief Biscuit you’re tagged.

Other stuff

Update on my super stable.

It has been an interesting exercise, this super stable competition. My horses have experienced all sorts of vicissitudes and setbacks.

Haradasun, who promised so much earlier in the season, was withdrawn from the spring racing program due to injury. The injury was fairly minor, but rather than risk the horse his connections decided to give him a substantial spell and try again in autumn. They are to be commended for this, though it was disappointing from a keen racing fan’s point of view.

I have been through the two substitutions allowed and my final stable is:

Apache Cat
El Segundo
Gold Edition
Miss Finland
Wonderful World

El Segundo and Wonderful World are racing tomorrow. Miss Finland has been performing very well as has Gold Edition. Apache Cat was disappointing last start and I have no idea what has become of Paratroopers. Tawqueet is my staying pick for the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups. A horse with a similar name won in 1989, which could be an omen for good or bad, whatever.

I very much doubt that I have any hope of winning the competition, but it has been interesting and fun.

The Spring racing season continues until mid November, then it’s Christmas and end of year lists.

I hope to post my best of 2006 lists for music and books in late November early December.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ron Sexsmith at Basement Discs

Lunchtime was greatly enhanced by a simply gorgeous In-Store performance by Ron Sexsmith at Basement Discs.

Ron Sexsmith is a Canadian singer/songwriter who is a superb live performer and one of the best songwriters in the world. His songs have been covered by diverse artists and have garnered praise from the likes of Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow to name a few.

His music can be classified as pop and a lot of it sounds very like the Beatles but, if like me, you tend to sneer at the Beatles , Ron Sexsmith channels them (this is a new term to describe artistic influences) with great verve and individuality. He has a distinctive voice, which wavers almost out of tune, but recovers itself at the last moment. He is also a very fine guitarist.

At today’s show Ron played for a generous 45 minutes, showcasing tunes from his latest CD Time Being and also playing songs, requested by the audience, from his back catalogue.

He is a mesmerising performer. Tall, with a boyish face he always dresses in style and has an appealing charisma when seen live. His clever songs coupled with skilful guitar accompaniment, are conveyed with great sweetness.

I have seen him perform quite a few times before and it has always been with great pleasure. Basement Discs was packed for this In-Store so I was glad I got there early to grab a good position for photos.

One song really grabbed me. It was from his new CD and is called Cold Hearted Wind.

It goes:
"Some morning you may find yourself alone

And there’ll be no warning
Should the wind of change start blowin’

Cold hearted wind Is blowin’ in the face of love
But I’ll take it to a place I know
Where the cold hearted wind don’t go

Been brewin’ ever since the world began
It could mean the ruination
Of your best laid plans

Cold hearted wind
Is moving on from every side
Dividing all goodwill has tried
To mend and to unite

You wonder if it’s gone for good
As I ponder that unlikelihood
Oh, if only wishing could
Just keep us from harm’s way always

But I feel it like a train rollin’ down the track
As it calls for you
To entertain these thoughts so black

Cold blooded storm
May turn the warmest heart to stone
And leave a trail of toppled hopes and dreams
Where the cold hearted wind has blown

Cold hearted wind
Is blowin’ in the face of love
But I’ll take you to a place I know
Where the cold hearted wind don’t go"

Of course lyrics often don’t make all that much sense until they’re sung which is an interesting factor in song writing. It is the singing of the words, and the manner in which they are sung, which make all the difference. The above song has a desolate air as it stands, but the tune and singing voice transform it into a beautiful desolation.

Alas, my partner is not a great fan of Ron Sexsmith, so I rarely get a chance to play Ron’s CDs at home, so seeing him perform is my next best thing.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson’s latest novel One Good Turn is a terrific read from start to finish, a highly entertaining page-turner with cliff hanger endings to each chapter. Subtitled, “A Jolly Murder Mystery”, it is that and more, being also a crazy comedy of errors.

One Good Turn is a sort of sequel to the fabulous Case Histories, which introduced Jackson Brodie, ex cop and private detective. He was a lovable character in Case Histories so it was a pleasure to renew his acquaintance in this later novel.

He is just one of a cast of disparate characters, whose fates intertwine as the plot unfolds. There is also Gloria Hatter, wife of crooked property developer Graham, who is pleasurably anticipating widowhood; Martin Canning who writes “soft boiled” old-fashioned detective stories under the nom de plume of Alex Blake; Louise Monroe the single mum police officer; Tatiana the Russian call-girl and a host of other eccentric personages. The plot is complicated, with many twists and turns and reversals and the separate stories of the main protagonists interconnect like the Russian dolls that feature heavily throughout.

The novel is set in Edinburgh during the Edinburgh Festival and begins with a road rage incident that has unanticipated repercussions, and links all the main characters from the start, be they witnesses, attending police officers, victims or perpetrators.

Kate Atkinson has a light touch in her writing. It is quirky, but also remarkably percipient. Atkinson gets inside the heads of her characters in a way that is comical, ironic and perceptive - they come across as oddly endearing and sympathetic.

One Good Turn is Kate Atkinson’s fifth novel, and having read all the earlier novels, I think she is going from strength to strength having taken on the detective genre.

If you want a book that is both well written and highly entertaining you can’t go past One Good Turn. I found it unputdownable and didn’t want it to finish. Light entertainment with an edge, I recommend it unreservedly.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Oh, the flowers that bloom in the Spring Tra La La

As it was a lovely Spring day yesterday, unlike today which is a return to Winter, I went out into the garden and photographed some of the flowers booming in profusion.

I love it when plants, all in a bunch, bloom together, making a stunning wall of colour.

Admittedly, the irises have been flowering for several months, but not quite with the density of display as of late.

The clivias have just started to flower and the pink daisies (whatever they're called) are a mat of pink on the ground.

orange_lily (Medium)

We have purple iris growing all over the place, like weeds. They are a stunning flower and en masse, look spectacular and remind me of Van Gogh's painting.

iris0906_2 (Medium)

There is a lilac bush in the front garden which I planted 20 years ago. It was a sucker from a lilac tree that was in the backyard of a house I lived in 22 years ago. It has certainly taken it's time to flower, as this year is the only time it has borne blossom over the 20 years it has been growing there, near the front gate. The parent tree is long gone, as that other house was renovated shortly after I moved out and the garden was destroyed. I had, understandably, given up hope long ago that the lilac would ever flower, so I'm pleased that it has finally obliged.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Four Hours Sleep

4 Hours Sleep - Basement Discs - 22/9/06

I had considerably more sleep than that last night. Four Hours Sleep is a band of diverse musicians brought together under the auspices of Bill McDonald, illustrious bass player in many fine Melbourne bands, like Rebecca’s Empire, Paul Kelly, Frente etc.

Four Hours Sleep were playing an In Store at Basement Discs at lunchtime today. I was there in attendance with my camera.

The other members of the band performing today were Stephen Cummings, Angie Hart, Pete and Dan Luscombe and Fi Claus. They barely fit on the tiny Basement stage, but the music they produced was sweet and dreamy stuff, taken from the album Love Specifics.

I was pleased to reacquaint myself with Angie Hart whom I used to know many years ago at the Dan O’Connell Hotel. This was before she established her music career. She came into the pub in her school uniform to hang out with her boyfriend of the time. She struck me today as a sweet and unaffected young woman who has not let fame and fortune go to her head.

Angie Hart - Basement Discs - 22/9/06
Angie Hart of course first came to prominence as the lead singer for Frente who had a hit with the quirky pop song,“Accidently Kelly Street” way back in 1993.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Day At the Races

Yesterday I went with friends on my annual pilgrimage to Moonee Valley racetrack. It was Manikato Stakes day, the first Group 1 race on the Spring Racing Calendar.

The day was perfect weather wise - warm and sunny. Quite a change from the last two years, when it was wet, windy and cold.

There was more of a crowd this time round, no doubt due to the absence of AFL games being played in Melbourne this weekend. In fact, the finals are over for Victorian teams for the rest of the season as the two last contenders, Melbourne & Footscray, were both defeated in Perth .

The crowd at Moonee Valley was not over the top as it is on Cox Plate day and it was easy to get a good position on the fence - essential to the thrill associated with close proximity to the horses thundering past.


We arrived just after the second race on the cards, and I managed to recover the cost of admittance with a winner, Shadowmaker (pictured above), in the third race.

My fortunes varied over the afternoon and I ended up with 2 winners, 1 second and 1 third.

The most exciting race of the day was the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes where Apache Cat was pipped at the post by Lad of the Manor. Considering it was Apache Cat's first run at the Valley, he did very well, leading most of the way, only to be caught at the last minute. Lad of the Manor won this race last year, beating Makybe Diva by a similar margin.
In the photo above, Apache Cat is leading down the straight.

The feature race was a good one as well. I backed Miss Andretti , the winner, and she scored pretty easily. Some young man in the crowd around the fence said before the race "Miss Andretti hasn't a hope of winning!" I took that as a good omen and sure enough she won. The young man continued to make aspersions about her as the afternoon wore on and as he became more intoxicated.
Photo above is of Miss Andretti just after winning.

There was the usual cheerful atmosphere, which is something I've noticed at race meetings. Everyone appears to have fun, and are chatty and friendly.

Usually there are amazing costumes, but apart of the girls in their - unsuitable for the weather, considering it turned chilly later - flimsy dresses, the winner for the most outrageous costume was a young man in an extraordinary purple suit (seen above chatting to a policewoman).

I took quite a few photos and apart from those I've used here I've placed more on my Flickr site if you want to check them out.

All up it was a most enjoyable day and it was good to see at least one of my super stable racing in the flesh. Apache Cat is a handsome fellow. His name was inspired by the blaze on his head, which makes him look like an Indian pony.


Update on my stable.

I substituted two horses this week. Cats Fun and Ellicorsam are out, and Pompeii Ruler and El Segundo are in. The purchase of these two rather depleted my winnings, but Apache Cat's second placing and Paratroopers fourth (which still earns money) have raised it up a smidgeon. I figured at the time that substituting with quality was the way to go. We'll see how it fares.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Dissolution Summer - Gwyneth Jones’ Rock and Roll Reich Series

Last weekend I finished reading Rainbow Bridge the last volume in Gwyneth Jones wonderful series of novels, which began with Bold as Love in.2001.

If, like me, you have been following the fortunes of Ax, Fiorinda and Sage, the triumvirate of the Rock and Roll Reich through the five books, you would have been sad that the series has finally finished, but perfectly satisfied with the outcome. I won’t give away the ending here, but will consider the series as a whole.

It is set in a near future England where the Government has dissolved ties with the world and the country is in a state of chaos divided into several radical factions. The action begins at a music festival during what is called Dissolution Summer. The Counterculturals are called to form a new government and it is the formation of this Government and what happens after, that form the basis of the whole series.

The three main characters, Ax Preston, Fiorinda Slater and Sage Pender are all successful rock musicians and become involved in the formation of the Countercultural government. Ax eventually becomes Dictator of the realm. His dictatorship is benevolent and he co rules with consorts Fiorinda and Sage. The relationship between these three is a major theme and it is their fortunes that one is keen to follow in all the ensuing novels.

Far fetched as the premise is, that rock stars could rule a country, Gwyneth Jones’ take on utopian politics makes sense within the context of the novels. And come to think of it, is not all that impossible when you consider that film stars such as Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger have both succeeded to high office and country musician/novelist Kinky Friedman is a candidate for the Governorship of Texas. Even here in Australia Midnight Oils front man, Peter Garrett, is a member of Federal parliament.

The five novels that make up the sequence are all titled after Jimi Hendrix songs. Bold As Love, Castles Made Of Sand, Midnight Lamp, Band of Gypsies & Rainbow Bridge. There are many music references throughout, and rock n roll is one way the triumvirate exercise influence over the feuding masses.

The books can be read separately, but to really get the picture – and it is a large one - one really should read them in sequence. Although I have done the latter, it has only been as they were issued. I look forward to reading the sequence in order, one after the other, to gather all the strands that may have escaped me in the final volume.

Within this series the reader is entertained and engaged by the adventures of the threesome and their friends. They are forced to confront some really heinous enemies, not the least of which is Fiorinda’s evil magician father, Rufus O'Niall.

There is sex and drugs and rock n roll, witchcraft, weird science, political theory and even a skewed parallel with the Le Morte d'Arthur. Parts of it are brutal and horrific, but there are tender scenes as well and it’s all written in Gwyneth Jones’ down to earth, colloquial prose style.

The Bold As Love web site has extracts from the novels; art work inspired by the novels, and much more.

The first four books in the sequence had beautiful covers taken from paintings by Anne Sudworth
but for some reason Rainbow Bridge has a nondescript cover, which I find irritating, in that it spoils the set . I believe reprints of the earlier novels will not have the Anne Sudworth paintings either, so I should consider myself lucky to have the first four novels with these covers.

Despite such petty concerns, I highly recommend the entire series as an exciting, highly original reading experience.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Rejoice! Little, Big 25th Anniversary Edition to be published in 2007.

I greeted with joy and relief the news, today, that the 25th Anniversary Edition of John Crowley’s Little, Big is now certain to be published.

I subscribed several years ago to the numbered edition and would have been terribly disappointed had the venture not gone ahead.

Little, Big is up there with my all time favourite novels. It is a sublimely written, exquisite fantasy that tells the tale of the Drinkwater family and Edgewood, the house they inhabit. It’s a fairy story of remarkable originality and is considered a classic work of fiction these days.

John Crowley is a wonderful writer whose career I have been following for many years. I have purchased all his books and have enjoyed reading them as well.

Little, Big was first published 25 years ago. I bought it then and have a well-thumbed first edition - the trade paperback edition, that is the true first edition.

When I heard about the 25th Anniversary edition I was immediately interested and as details on the publication were revealed, I decided to lash out and subscribe to the numbered edition. What convinced me in the end was the proposed inclusion in the book of the art of Peter Milton. Little, Big is an uncanny book. It's almost as if it has a life of its own. The Peter Milton engravings are so consummately appropriate it is like he was illustrating the book, without realising it.

It really does appear that it will be a beautiful and valuable edition. Though I am primarily a reader of books, I have an interest in collecting fine editions as well, but only of novels I love.

The edition was originally going to be published this month, but it was put back to spring 2007 owing to insufficient subscribers. I feared that it would not be published at all, so today’s news is excellent. I can hardly wait to see the finished product.

Check out the Little, Big site and see if you can resist.

John Crowley has an entertaining Live Journal which is where I read the news today.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Jeff Lang at Basement Discs

A special treat at lunchtime today was the performance of Jeff Lang at an In-Store at Basement Discs.

Jeff Lang is a local singer/songwriter/guitar maestro who has garnered a fine reputation as a great live performer. He was at Basement Discs to promote his latest CD Dislocation Blues, a collaboration with and commemoration to, the late Chris Whitely.

Jeff is a masterful slide guitarist and he accompanied himself on this instrument inititally and for the first three songs, one of which was a dark and swampy version of the old classic “Stagolee”.

For the remainder of the show he switched to a Dobro like instrument (as in the photo above) from which he extracted extraordinary sounds. His performance was fascinating to watch and scintillating to hear. All up it was one of the best performances I have seen at Basement Discs, which is saying something, considering the calibre of all the performers who have made an appearance there.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Super Stable Update

My super stable received another boost today with two horses in my stable, Haradasun and Miss Finland scoring a quinella in the race they were contesting. Miss Finland won by a whisker. Haradasun was blocked for a run in the straight so can be forgiven for not winning. It was an exciting race, quite like the old times when horses such as Alinghi and Fastnet Rock or Elvestroem & Makybe Diva fought out the finish in the straight. These current young horses are well worth following and I'm sure will give us lots of thrills in the future.

Apache Cat also ran today in the Memsie Stakes and came third. The winner, El Segundo, ran an absolutely stunning race. I think I will add him to my stable come substitution time.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Dystopian Novels

After finishing “Birds Without Wings” by Louis de Bernieres, which by the way was an excellent novel, I decided to read Orwell’s great dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty Four” which in turn has induced me to binge on the genre of dystopian fiction.

I often let the book I am reading lead me on to the next. As I rarely buy new books these days, this always involves hunting through my book collection for a vaguely remembered novel purchased 20 or so years ago. It took me a while to track down “Nineteen Eighty Four”, but I found it when I was looking for Huxley’s “Brave New World” which has still not come to light, though I know it is there somewhere.

I had not read “Nineteen Eighty Four” since 1978 and, after all this time, vividly remembered the ending, but hardly anything else. So it was like approaching a new novel where the ending is known, but how the book arrives at the ending is a mystery. This is perfectly OK with me as a great deal of my reading matter these days is often a second, third or umpteenth re-reading of a well-loved book.

“Nineteen Eighty Four” is a profoundly unsettling novel and is, despite being written more than 50 years ago, relevant to today. Newspeak, Big Brother, the Thought Police have been absorbed into the public perception of totalitarian governments and are the bogymen threatening free society today. The wonder of the Internet is how universally free it is, but what if it was controlled by a hostile power? China for instance controls the information available to its citizens with a modified version of Google.

This week I’m reading “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury. It is interesting, though not all that surprising that books play an important role in all dystopian novels, and represent the free and independent mind. The thing about governmental control is that it is desirable for society to be obedient and if prone to rebellion, dumbed down to suppress opposition. You can see it happening these days. Intelligent debate is discouraged. Over the past decade, right wing governments, world wide, have been elected to power by an uninformed or apathetic electorate.

One of my all time favourite books, “Mockingbird” by Walter Tevis is also a dystopian novel. Set in a far future New York, reading has been forgotten and it is the story of how one man, in a drugged controlled, slowly dying society, rediscovers reading. The consequences of his doing this form the basis of the novel, and indeed, ultimately is the salvation of his world. It is, in my opinion a perfect novel, beautifully plotted, an enthralling futuristic fable that is haunting and melancholy. I’ve read it many times and go back to it time and time again to savour its special quality.

There are many dystopian novels. If I was so inclined I could continue reading books in this genre for the rest of the year, but knowing me, I’ll be off on a different tack after a few weeks.

I’m picking up two new books tomorrow from Justin at Slowglass Books - my preferred purveyor of Science Fiction and such like books. One book is the second volume in the Romanian trilogy by Paul Park, called “The Tourmaline” and the other is “Rainbow Bridge” the final volume in Gwyneth Jones’ Rock N Roll Reich series. Both these novels will fit nicely into my dystopian mood being about alternate worlds/societies of a nightmarish kind.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Birds Without Wings - A Review

I finished Louis de Bernieres' Birds Without Wings last weekend, so thought I'd get my impressions of the book up while it was fresh in my mind.
Birds Without Wings is set against the backdrop of the fall of the Ottoman Empire - late 19th to early 20th century. It focuses on the fortunes of a small town in Anatolia. For generations , the Turkish, Greek & Armenian inhabitants have been living in harmony with each other, intermarrying and participating in each others lives and celebrations. The book charts their individual stories through World War I to the creation of the modern Turkish state. Concurrent with the story of this village, is the tale of the rise of Kemal Attaturk.
De Bernieres writing style is lucid, humane and ironic. There are many voices and points of view in the novel, from Iskander the Potter, Ibrahim the Mad, Philothei the Beautiful, Karatavuk's reports from the front at Gallipoli to Rustem Bey the local Pasha.
The Gallipoli campaign by the allies during WWI is described from the Turkish point of view. This is interesting, because as an Australian, I have always heard it from the ANZAC side.
Birds Without Wings is vast in scope and within its pages decries the stupidity of racial and religious hatred and the meaninglessness and soullessness of war. It is in turns brutal and heartbreaking and explains why the Smyrna outrage of 1922, so vividly described in Edward Whittemore's Sinai Tapestry, happened as it did.
The irony of forced deportations is described in heartrending detail. The Turkish Greeks being unable to speak Greek, are deported to Greece and Greek Turks being unable to speak Turkish, are deported to Turkey. The book asks, what madness is this?
I have previously only read one other book by De Bernieres, Captain Corelli's Mandolin which was also set during war time, albeit World War II.
Birds Without Wings was recommended to me by a friend who read the book during his recent travels in Turkey and raved about it. I am glad I took up his recommendation and would myself highly recommend it to anyone as an involving and engaging novel.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Musical Obsessions – A Confession

I’m obsessed by the music of Ryan Adams. It is the first time in my life that any artist has so grabbed my sensibility and refused to let go. Hero worship is not for me, so how do I explain this fixation on Ryan Adams?

I discovered Ryan Adams in 1997 when I bought the Whiskeytown CD Stranger’s Alamanac, at the recommendation of the good people at Basement Discs. I listened to it quite a few times without paying it any particular attention. I liked it, but didn’t think it was all that special.

I became hooked late one Friday night, after arriving home from the pub. Not wanting to go to bed quite then, I smoked a joint, opened a can of beer, donned the headphones and listened to the CD again. It was then that Ryan Adams voice captured me heart and soul. I hadn’t until then actually noted the band personnel; they were just a good band with no standout performers. David Ryan Adams, as he designated on the CD, from then on grabbed my attention.

Of course, his days with Whiskeytown were numbered. His solo career began with Heartbreaker (2000) but news of his doings filtered out in magazines such as No Depression some years before that release. Heartbreaker is a gorgeous recording and contains two of his best songs “Oh My Sweet Carolina” and “Come Pick Me Up”, songs which are always requested when he performs live.

It was Gold in 2001 that really reignited my obsession. I played that CD every day for months and still experience a surge of joy every time I hear it, the songs have become so well loved and ingrained in my psyche. I can imagine myself as a little old lady in a nursing home still playing Gold. No easy-listening classics for this old lady!

Seeing Ryan Adams perform live in January 2002 almost put me off. My first impression of him in person was - what a slob! Somehow, his music overcame that reaction. I went to another live show last year and really loved it and Adams himself looked very dapper. My review of the show is here.

It’s his voice and the way he sings that really affects me. I know of no other artist who can sing with such sincerity words such as “when black arrows shot out your bleeding heart?” or with convincing heartbreak, the words “over” or “lose”. He uses his voice in amazing ways. His latest CD 29 is brilliant as an example of expressive vocals. Singers do like to sing certain words, I believe, just as guitarists like certain notes or riffs. This is so with Adams

Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead has described his voice thus:

“…he has about nine hundred voices that he can use like a Bene Gesserit…”

The comparison of Ryan Adams voice with that of a Bene Gesserit is quite apt in a way. If you don’t recognise the Bene Gesserit reference it refers to a sisterhood in the Dune books who - “are trained in the use of their voice (it is always capitalized "the Voice" in the novels) to compel obedience in listeners on a subconscious level. By controlling the subtleties of her voice, a Bene Gesserit can speak to a person's unconscious mind, commanding it in a way that the conscious mind is aware of, but cannot resist” (from Wikipedia).

Originally the darling of the alt country magazine set, Ryan has managed to alienate the press over the past few years. He attracts sensationalism - not a bad way to draw attention to himself. He released three CDs last year, all quite different – Cold Roses (country rock), Jacksonville City Nights (country) & 29 (solo acoustic). I loved them all and thought every other 2006 release paled into insignificance by comparison.

I am not alone in my obsession...

The Ryan Adams fan base is an interesting one. Comprising roughly equal numbers of males & females, both young and old, it can also be divided into three separate groups. There are the fans who wish Whiskeytown was still going, there are those who prefer the Gold type of music – glorious rootsy rock, and there are the Heartbreaker mob who pine after sweet & sad balladry. Ryan Adams caters to all three groups. He has a vast catalogue of songs, many unreleased. The unreleased songs are as good, if not better than the official releases. The word used most often to describe Adams’ output – and it is overused – is “prolific”. The interesting thing about this prolificity is the high quality of the songwriting. It’s not all that surprising that Adams released 3 albums last year. He could do it again this year and still have songs left over as he is writing new songs all the time. NB: He has lately advised that three new albums are in the works for release over the next 12 months.

The only one of his albums I didn’t like all that much – in fact I only listened to it once – is
Rock N Roll. There is story behind how it came to be. Adams’ label Lost Highway took objection to the album Adams was planning to release in 2003 titled Love Is Hell. Lost Highway’s beef was that it was too depressing. Adams in defiance self produced Rock N Roll in a very short time and obviously made a deal with Lost Highway – officially release Rock N Roll and allow Love Is Hell to be released as well, in two EPs. Love Is Hell is the superior of the 2003 releases. It is full of sad introspective songs, but quite exquisite melodically and lyrically. Adams rarely plays any of the songs from Rock N Roll in his live shows these days - it remains an anomaly. Uncharacteristically sloppy in production, the songs lack depth, though there are some in the fan-base who would disagree. Of course I really should listen to it again sometime. I may have misjudged it.

Part and parcel with my obsession, I take quite an interest in the career of Ryan Adams and pleasureably anticipate his next release. As long as it’s not another Rock N Roll I’ll be quite happy. You certainly can’t call Ryan Adams’ music boring. He can sing any type of music, is a hummingbird dipping into diverse musical genres, wearing his musical influences on his sleeve. His interpretations of other artists’ songs are stunning, for instance his shimmering version of the Oasis tune “Wonderwall”.

I can’t leave out mentioning the predominant fan site,, or more particularly the .org message board, which is basically the only thing on the site worth reading. As fan sites go, the .org is one of the most interesting and lively that I have ever come across. It’s constantly on the go and, although I never post myself, I read it daily to follow the obsessions of all the .org board regulars and to catch up on the gossip. The tone of the board is characterised by a witty cynicism. No soppy stuff here, though posts by the man himself (if he does post) cause wild speculation. Later note: Ryan has recently become a frequent poster and even goes so far as to answer questions asked of him by the fans.

As one poster recently said: “Ryan's music aside, I come here because I love the community of the .org. We laugh, cry, fight, make up, get drunk, have in-depth conversations about things which alternate between the ultimate in depth and meaning and complete hilarious nonsense...we're like a big online family. With plenty of weird uncles.”

It is obvious, from reading comments made by Adams himself, that music, and the production of it, is his life’s calling. One can sense this in his recordings and when he performs live. I think he is a genius – cranky, eccentric and hard to grasp, but a genius nonetheless. Though not recognized as such, Ryan Adams is up there with the greats of Rock N Roll.

Here’s a verse from one of his songs, “September”, which demonstrates his skill as a songwriter. It is heartbreakingly poignant and has a vivid pictorial quality to it. Ryan Adams vocals express, without being mawkish, the inherent tragedy contained the lyrics.

The words:
“Laura lays on the foot of the bed
Mimics a noose with the telephone cord
Doctor’s on the phone
And she hangs up and says,
"I ain't never gonna see the winter again"
Then, I don't know how, but she smiles”

September, September

Click here to listen to Ryan singing the words. (mp3)