Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Update on the state of Cat Politics

It is now four months since Timmy joined the household and the cat political situation is in a delicate state of détente, where the cats have gotten used to each other but maintain a cautious distance through mutual agreement. Timmy and Lizzie have sorted their differences and mostly ignore each other, even if they are sitting side by side waiting to be fed. Willy is the wild card in that he spends so much time out and about on his own cat business, that Timmy, when he sees him, acts as if Willy is a stranger and stalks him, whether out of menace or curiosity it is hard to fathom. Willy has taken to spraying everywhere inside and out. I suppose it is gratifying to see that he regards the house as his territory, but a nuisance as well. We’re always running round with a sponge, expunging his marks. Timmy, elderly cat though he is, has taken to slaughtering the local wildlife – ring tailed possums predominantly. He has previous form killing possums, so we naturally assume he is the murderer. We haven’t seen a rat or mouse dead or alive for months. Either Timmy’s presence has cramped the hunting abilities of the other cats or there aren’t any rodents around to be caught.

The next cat, I swear, will be called by a name that does not have the “I” vowel. I suppose one name fits all, where the cats are concerned. Whenever you call Willy, Lizzie or Timmy you are likely to get a different cat to the one being summoned. They look puzzled when you don’t react to their presence and can’t understand why you are still calling them when they are right there in front of you. An indignant meow is the usual reaction. So, the next cat gets called Boris, Morris, Amanda, Lulu, and Lola - whatever. Of course no matter what the name, it will, in the course of time, get reduced to a diminutive with a “Y” on the end.

We will be away at my brother’s place down the coast for Christmas Day and will be spending the night there. The cats will be left in charge of the house. It will the first time we have been away for more than a few hours, since Timmy came to stay, but I’m sure we will return to a peaceful household with no blood on carpet as we’re very confident that the détente will prevent all out mayhem.

Slouching towards Christmas

That pretty well sums up my attitude to the impending festive season. I am feeling less than full of Christmas cheer, I must admit for reasons that are beyond me at the moment. Partied out perhaps, shrinking from being sociable, bored with whole thing.

Still, soldier on I must and there is the bright prospect of a break from work for a week, where I plan to lounge around and read and play computer games.

Last Sunday I went to the Nu Country Christmas party as a matter of duty towards the
Nu Country organisation. I maintain a website for them and I was there to take photos for the website. There were about six country music acts scheduled and I managed to stay for four of them.

First up was young country girl Susan Lily who hails from the south western New South Wales town of Hay. She is an up and coming singer songwriter - yes, another one – who gave us a taste of her wares on Sunday. Susan’s set was entertaining enough and her songs were good as was her voice which had a country twang, though somehow lacked expression.

Suzie Dickinson and her band were next and her act was the highlight of the afternoon. She is more alt country than country if you know what I mean. It was more rootsy and rocky than country and more to my taste musically. Suzie has been around the scene for ages and is a very experienced performer. I enjoyed her set immensely.

The next act, by Leslie Avril, was a sizzler. Leslie has made a name for herself as a honky tonking raunchy singer and entertainer. Her songs and act were sensational and risqué. She puts on a high energy show that is crowd pleasing, especially if the audience is country music orientated. I found her set enjoyable, though I’m not all that keen on the type of music she specialises in.

Former Toe Sucking Cowgirls member, Tracey Bunn was the last act I witnessed. Tracey comes from Darwin in the Northern Territory and is described on her my space page as having “a voice like an angel and a mouth like a sailor”. She gives the impression, as does the other member of the toe sucking cowgirls' duo, of being a hard drinking, loose living country girl. Her own music, however, is introspective and locally flavoured. She was accompanied by an ace guitarist also from the Territory.

By the time Tracey’s set ended we had been at the party for about four hours so called it quits and went home.

These Nu Country parties occur once a year and are well organised and offer a range of music across the country genre. It’s a pity they don’t get much of a turn out for these parties as the whole show was free and the entertainment, if you like that sort of music, is of a high quality.

The website is very successful and is stuffed with information, mostly written by David Dawson, head honcho of the organisation. He’s a music journalist by profession, so it’s second nature to him to run off a feature story or review. I occasionally contribute a concert review, but no-one else contributes anything to the site, though volunteer video camera operators and editors create the TV show which is shown on a community channel once a week during a biannual season.

In other music news, Patty Griffin is returning to Australia in March for the Easter music festivals which proliferate at that time of year. Music lovers are spoiled for choice during this period. Patty will be performing at the Palais Theatre on 28 March 2008. I’ve got good tickets and am looking forward to seeing her again, especially as she will be bringing her band this time.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Novel Girls

I haven’t written much about books of late, mostly due to reading the long and involved House of Niccolo saga by Dorothy Dunnett. I’m on the last book “Gemini” at the moment and it has been so pleasurable reading the eight books, I will be sorry to finish.

Dunnett’s books are monsters in size and weight, so during the daily commute I have been taking lighter books in my bag for the journey. The first was Michael Swanwick’s “The Iron Dragon’s Daughter” – a book I had been considering reading for years and finally purchased on a discount voucher from Borders. It’s now one of the Fantasy Masterworks Series published by Gollancz. The other is “Trixie” by Wallace Graves, a book discovered unread on my bookshelf, an old Penguin paperback.

I realised the other day that the heroines of both "The Iron Dragon’s Daughter" and "Trixie" are pretty similar in many ways. The stories differ of course, one is set in a fantasy world and the other is set in Los Angeles in the 1960s.

The “Iron Dragon’s Daughter” is the tale of human changeling Jane trapped in Fairyland and how she seeks to free herself from its thrall. The Faery of this novel is like no other. It is not cute or Tolkienesque, but steam punk, nasty and a satirical mirror of the real world. Jane is a spunky heroine. At the opening of the novel Jane is enslaved in an iron dragon manufacturing plant, working in Dickensian conditions as a factory hand along with children of other species. She comes across a grimoire and realises that she has the power to use it. Something else knows this, a disabled Iron Dragon who plots revenge on the world. He courts Jane’s attention and manipulates events to the extent that Jane is forced to flee. To do this she steals the dragon and they fly beyond the factory into the larger world outside, whereupon the Jane and the dragon part ways.

Jane realises her lack of knowledge limits her ability to truly escape from this faery world so she sets herself to get an education, concentrating on alchemy.

The novel follows Jane’s acquisition of knowledge and her adventures in the academy until she eventually reunites with the dragon who is still using her for his own purposes which have become Jane’s own.

It is an unusual novel and a very originally envisaged fantasy world.

The Wallace Graves book is also an odd novel and Trixie the heroine is unusual in many ways.

She is a near white illiterate orphan who has been lured onto campus with promises of a college education by two unscrupulous professors, one who uses her for sex and her knowledge of popular music and the other as the subject in a McLuhan-style pre-literacy study.

Trixie however is smarter than they think.

The novel is written in the style of a diary recorded by the sassy Trixie. The first entry covers the assassination of John F Kennedy and introduces the reader to Trixie in her words:

"This is the wurst awful that happen.
Somebody kill him. The president of the U.S. of A. is ded!"

Trixie’s prose, in a kind of illiterate dialect at first, improves as her education progresses. Her diary documents the major events of the time she lives in – the race riots, the black power movement and the struggle for integration by the blacks of America – as well as telling her own story with disarming frankness.

Living at the College campus Trixie is a changeling in a new world, like Jane. Trixie struggles to free herself from her past and escape into a brighter future, through education, like Jane.

Trixie’s sixties world of sex and drugs and rock n roll is echoed in the similarly decadent fairyland of “The Iron Dragon’s Daughter”. It is these elements that made the connection in my mind between the two novels.

Though very different, both are interesting and unusual novels. I think it uncanny that after finishing the Swanwick novel, I picked out Trixie quite by chance and found how similar they were.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Oh Susanna at Basement Discs

What a wonderful treat it was to see Canadian artist, Susie Ungerleider aka Oh Susanna, playing live today at Basement Discs!

I feel spoilt having experienced in such a short period of time, two exceptional singer songwriters.

Oh Susanna is up there with Patty Griffin in terms of having a great voice coupled with an enviable ability to write wonderful songs. She gave us a small taste of her talent today at lunchtime, where she sang eight songs from her latest CD.

Her voice is powerful, pitch perfect and has an attractive broken hearted break in it. I was very impressed with her performance and I am very tempted to go to her only Melbourne show next Tuesday at the Toff in Town a newish venue in the city.

She has just released a new CD “Short Stories” which has been highly praised by major music magazines like Uncut and Mojo. I agree with the critics – it is lovely.

I also like her taste in T shirts as above. Apparently this particular wicked queen shirt was a present from her husband last Christmas.

Her music is a mix of folk, country and blues, but is very individual all the same. I highly recommend checking her out if you love great singing voices and interesting song lyrics.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Sunny Melbourne Country Blues

Shannon Bourne & Kerri Simpson - Basement Discs - 30/11/07

On this pleasant sunny Melbourne afternoon, I took the opportunity to wander down to the Basement Discs for yet another in-store.

Today it was Kerri Simpson, who has been around the Melbourne music scene for something like 20 years. This was the first time I had seen Kerri perform as far as I remember, but she is a well known artist in blues and gospel circles, having one of those great singing voices that suit those genres down to the ground. She can however sing anything and performs all types of roots music.

Kerri Simpson

However, today she was promoting her latest CD Maybe By Midnight a tribute to alt country music. Accompanying her was guitarist Shannon Bourne who is regarded as one of the best guitarists in Australia. This was amply demonstrated today where his playing practically eclipsed the supposed feature artist.

It was an enjoyable half hour of music, the penultimate in-store for the year. Next week Canadian singer songwriter Oh Susanna plays the last show for the year. She is quite wonderful and has a very appealing voice that sounds irresistibly sweet and sad as she sings her languid folk songs.

I picked up a new CD today as well. It’s Alison Krauss & Robert Plant’s collaborative album Raising Sand which has been receiving rave reviews. Alison Krauss is a well known bluegrass artist. A child prodigy on violin she also has a superb singing voice. Robert Plant was the lead singer for Led Zeppelin. This unlikely partnership has produced a very likeable album. I haven’t heard it all the way through, but the bits I’ve caught when Basement Discs have been playing it in the shop, have intrigued me so I decided to get the CD.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Labour Victory

The Labour Party was swept into power by a record breaking majority on Saturday. All my dread at a return to power by John Howard's party has been consigned to the dustbin. In fact it appears John Howard has lost his seat, to the likeable Maxine McKew, former ABC journalist, turned aspirant politician. At the beginning of the campaign she was given little hope of taking the electorate from him, but her hard work has paid off.

So we can look forward to a new era in Australian politics - hopefully a kinder, greener and more compassionate era.

It goes without saying, I was delighted with the result. I spent Saturday night glued to the television, watching the results come in, and persisted until John Howard conceded defeat.

It reminds me of the heady days when Gough Whitlam came to power. A friend of mine remarked at the time " Even the stars look different...". It's like that now.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Sime Nugent at Basement Discs

Sime Nugent live at Basement Discs - 23/11/07
I was pleased to see Sime Nugent performing today at Basement Discs. Sime is a local artist - a fine musician, songwriter and exceptional singer. Sime's voice is powerful and expressive. I don't know how you would classify it, but it's certainly a great voice.

This was the third time I've seen Sime perform, and his performance, as always, impressed me with likeable songs and interesting musical arrangements. He has recently released a new CD "Happy Hour" which was the occasion of his appearance at Basement Discs today. He had a few members of his band supporting him today in the persons of Amos Sheehan on electric bass and Roger Bergodaz on drums.

Election Fever

Cartoon by Michael Leunig - click for larger image

Tomorrow Australians get an opportunity to throw John Howard’s Government from office. This chance only comes round every three years, so let’s hope the Australian electorate collectively make the right decision. It’s time for John Howard to go.

It’s looking good - touch wood – for a Labour victory. The headlines in yesterday’s newspapers read “Liberal race-hate scam exposed” a telling blow against the Coalition. In an act of incredible stupidity, some Liberal Party members were caught red handed distributing a scurrilous pamphlet, purportedly from the Islamic Australia Federation urging Australians to vote for Labour because of their support for Muslim causes, including support for the Bali bombers. All patently untrue, it was designed to incite anti Islamic feelings within the electorate and show Labour in a bad light.

Howard’s “pin-up” girl, Liberal MP Jackie Kelly, was involved in this scam and when questioned laughed the whole thing off as a joke and prank. It has caused the Coalition dire grief, yippee!

It seems that the election campaign has been going non-stop all year. It has certainly run its course. I am heartily sick of it, and gave up listening to both parties long ago. I’m no swinging voter and made up my mind at the start of the campaign. Being a single tax payer, there’s no money in it for me. My hip pocket won’t be affected at all as the pitch has been towards families, with individual tax payers being ignored as usual.

Kevin Rudd, the Labour leader, has run a very good campaign and has consistently been the preferred PM in opinion polls since he took over the Opposition leadership. Support for Labour and a change of government has been high throughout the campaign and the latest polls show a solid Labour victory. Let’s hope they are true to form.

Despite this hopeful outlook, I am still steeling myself for disappointment. It’s been so long - eleven years in fact - since Labour was in power, and each win by Howard has been devastating and depressing.

Tomorrow night, early or late, whatever, we’ll know.

Review of the Spring Racing Carnival

It’s over until autumn next year. It was an odd spring of racing due to the Equine Influenza Virus preventing horses from other states competing. Victoria miraculously remained free of the virus, though I believe that some horses, Miss Finland for instance, being affected by the anti virus inoculation, raced below expectations. Apache Cat in particular had adverse reactions to it which prevented him from completing the season.

The final day of the Melbourne season threw up some remarkable long shot winners. A horse called Tears I Cry romped home in the Eclipse Stakes. It was one of those rags to riches incidents. The horse was ridden by a female jockey; it was trained by a young rural trainer and was owned by a Warrnambool dairy farmer. For all of them, Tears I Cry’s win was totally unexpected.

So how did my super stable go this year? I ended up coming 19th out of 109 with virtual stable earnings of $4,614,600. I came second in the financial version of the competition winning a real $100. I also came second in another competition in which I won a modicum of glory.

Here’s how the horses in my super stable (substitutions included) performed:

APACHE CAT – was lightly raced early in the season and won well on each occasion. His bad reaction to the anti virus shot put him out of contention for the rest of the spring.
EL SEGUNDO – won the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes & the Cox Plate. The most expensively bought of my stable, he finally justified his selection.
HARADASUN – I was really hoping he would perform better than he did. However, he managed to get a place in all but one of the races he competed in. At least I won’t have to agonise over selecting him for my stable next year, as he will be racing overseas and that doesn’t count.
HERE DE ANGELS – beat Gold Edition on her first run back from a spell, but in subsequent races failed on all counts
MURTAJILL – didn’t race up to expectations
SEACHANGE – splendid New Zealand mare, whose points didn’t count in the competition
BEL MER – only ran one or two times and came second in both races
GOLD EDITION – a great sprinting mare who won the Manikato Stakes, but was subsequently defeated twice by the amazing Miss Andretti.
PURPLE MOON – came 6th in the Caulfield Cup and second in the Melbourne Cup
WEEKEND HUSSLER – he was the new sensation for spring with an unbeaten run until defeated in his last race of the season. Certainly one to watch out for in the autumn.

Autumn 2008, with racing in all states being back in action, should reignite my interest in the sport as it usually does, though I will continue to watch the form and read the gossip over summer.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Patty Griffin at Northcote Social Club – WOW!

Patty Griffin with Doug Lancio - NSC 14 November 2007

It was quite a night at NSC full of wonderful music. We got there early for a meal and managed to be first in line to enter the band room, whereupon we grabbed a good position right in front of the stage.

The venue filled up fast until it was packed tight, being a sell-out show. There are several advantages to being up the front. As well as being the prime spot for viewing the show, it tends not to be as crushed as elsewhere in the room and also puts one in the best place to take photos without heads blocking the view.

Karl Broadie opened the show with a short engaging set. He was thrilled to be the support act for an artist of Patty Griffin’s calibre and intimated that we were in for a real treat.

How right he was, not that anyone in the audience had any doubts about the quality of the performance we were about to witness.

Patty Griffin was superb. Her powerful and affecting voice was wondrous to hear in a live setting. A guitarist called Doug Lancio is touring with her, playing lead guitar to her rhythm guitar. He was pretty good at it too.

The songs seemed to range across Patty’s entire repertoire and included two cover songs. She sang the gorgeous Trapeze song and Top of the World, which is regarded as one of the great songs of modern times. Her voice was perfect and so expressive it is hard to describe how it can tug at the heartstrings one moment, send chills down the spine at the next and rock one's soul to the core.

Patty’s set lasted for almost two hours and those hours appeared to flash by at the speed of light.
I barely noticed my feet, sore from standing for several hours.

I am thankful that I have tickets for her show on Friday. One certainly couldn’t just go and see her once.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tonight - Patty Griffin

I am looking forward enormously to seeing Patty Griffin performing at Northcote Social Club tonight.

I recently got hold of her recent DVD – Live at the Artist’s Den. Watching it, I was awe struck and extraordinarily moved by her performance. It is anticipated that her actual live show will be as good if not better than watching the DVD. The Show at NSC is booked out, so it will standing room only. Naturally, I will be getting there early to grab a good position in front of the stage.

This is the first time Patty Griffin has toured Australia. As well as tonight, I am also attending her show at the Athenaeum Theatre - a quaint old theatre in the city - on Friday.

I’ll report back tomorrow on her Northcote show, with pictures.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Checking out the new version of Windows Live Writer

I just downloaded the new version of Windows Live Writer. It has desirable new features such being able to insert local images into one's blog at the writer stage and they are then uploaded to Google Picasa at the same time as the post is loaded to Blogger.

Live Writer is a wonderful free program from Microsoft. I have been using it fairly regularly to compose entries for my blog. It intuitively adopts the formatting already set up on one's blog so requires little editing afterwards. Especially now that you can add pictures to it.

So to test this here is a photo I snapped today at the Basement Discs where Stephen Cummings was performing an in-store.

stephen_cummings 018 (Small)

Stephen Cummings is another of those long time on the scene artists. I remember seeing him for the first time way back in1976/77. At the time I had a job as a drink waitress at a pub in Carlton called Martinis. Stephen Cummings with his band The Sports used to play on Tuesday nights. They were a great little rockabilly band and as Tuesday was a relatively quiet night, I got to watch the band, rather than being distracted by customers.

I've seen him several times since then, of course and today's mini show was up to expectations. He was accompanied by Bill McDonald on electric bass and Billy Miller on guitar and harmony vocals. I just checked Billy Miller out on Google and discovered that way, way back he was the lead singer in a band called The Ferrets. They had a hit with a song titled "Don't Fall In Love".

Well I will now post this blog and see how it goes with the upload.


It worked splendidly.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Nation stopped as usual ...

Efficient on his way to winning the Melbourne Cup - photo from The Age website

...for the running of the 2007 Melbourne Cup this afternoon. It was won by an iron grey horse called Efficient, whose form of late has been uninspiring. In fact he hasn't won a race since winning the Victorian Derby this time last year. My fancied runner, Purple Moon, came second.

Half an hour before the race, I had an extraordinary intuition . I had been doing the daily cryptic crossword and idly glanced at the answers for an omen clue for the winner of the Cup. One of the answers was "iron horse". I quickly scanned the form to see if there were any grey horses running. Efficient was the only one so I hastily got online to my Internet betting account and placed a $5.00 each way bet on him.

He paid very good odds - $23.00+, so I'm very pleased I didn't ignore the flash of intuition. I had already had each way bets on Purple Moon and the third placed horse, Mahler so I actually backed the trifecta, alas, not as a trifecta. Still, I made a profit of over a $100.

The race as usual was exciting and seemed to be run at a rattling pace, the field stretched for lengths behind the leaders. Efficient came from the rear down the outside and pipped Purple Moon at the post. Post and pre race ceremonies were full of pomp and circumstance, which I found amusing.

Days before the cup I create a horoscope for the day and hour of the race to see if any planetary influences are prominent at that time. Once, I did successfully predict the winner by astrology, so I give it a go every year. Unfortunately my mind is always biased towards a particular horse, so I study the horoscope to see if it matches the characteristics of my favoured runner, which tends to muddy the interpretation. The horoscope showed an interesting Grand Trine (120 degrees separation) configuration between the Ascendant in Pisces conjuncting (0-3 degrees separation) Uranus with the Sun in Scorpio and Mars in Cancer. It pointed to a horse with watery connotations in its name. Uranus was the interesting planet being so close to the Ascendant as it signifies something unusual or quirky, and may indeed have pointed at a long shot winner. The postion of the Sun in the 9th House indicated a winner from abroad. Efficiency was bred in New Zealand, Purple Moon and Mahler are Irish.

Another, and more orthodox, method of picking a possible winner is to look at the horse's breeding. Efficient's sire is Zabeel who in turn was sired by Sir Tristram whose offspring won or were placed in several Melbourne Cups. Zabeel's sons and daughters have also been prominent, with at least two, now three, winning the race.

Normally on Cup day we go to a party, and a very fine party it is. This year the hosts are touring Europe so no chance of meeting up this year. Lucky I suppose, as otherwise I wouldn't have been able, or would have dismissed the chance, to get to a computer and place a bet on Efficient after my revelatory intuition.

I have always, being a dinky-di Aussie, listened to or watched the Melbourne Cup since I was youngster. Today I was reminded of my first attendance at the Melbourne Cup in 1970 when another grey horse, Baghdad Note won and I picked it as the winner simply because it had green silks. I haven't actually attended the race course since the early 70s. Too crowded for my liking these days.

In other racing news, and of interest to you Brits out there, Haradasun, a horse I have been following since his first start, is to be transferred to Ireland and trained for a season at Ascot in June 2008. I'll watch with interest myself how he does over there and hope he performs better than he has done this spring in Melbourne. He will be under the care of top Irish trainer Aiden O'Brien. Goodbye Haradasun and good luck.

So Jan, referring to your comment below, it really takes no special inside knowledge to pick a winner at the races. It helps, sometimes, but not always.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Spring Racing Carnival - Cox Plate

The Cox Plate, the premium weight for age handicap in Australia, was run yesterday and was won by El Segundo (pictured above). It was an oddly run race, with Haradasun taking the lead early, an unusual position for him to take up in a race. But apparently no other horse was willing to set the pace. It was a pretty slowly run race, with a mad dash at the end. El Segundo swept down the outside and overtook both Haradasun and Wonderful World, who were fighting out the finish, to win by 2 lengths.

Fortunately I have El Segundo in my Super Stable along with Haradasun who finished third so the virtual earnings in my stable were boosted by $2 million, giving me a chance to win the Super Stable competition. Winning all depends on having the correct horses in one's stable - money earners, hopefully Group One money earners.

This year, with racing in New South Wales and Queensland being non-existent due to the Equine Flu outbreak, Melbourne racing has been the only act to follow. Whether horses trapped in the other States would have made a difference to the outcome of various races, is hard to fathom. But it seems to me to be lacking its usual excitement this Spring, what with a lot of the top fancied horses not performing up to expectation, for instance Haradasun, who has run 5 races this season for three seconds and two thirds. I was hoping he would redeem himself in the Cox Plate, but it wasn't to be. However, no matter that he is worth $20 million dollars to the breeding industry, he will probably be back racing again next autumn.

There are still several races to go in the Spring Racing Carnival, most notably the Melbourne Cup. My stable only contains one stayer, the English horse Purple Moon, so I hope he gets up and wins it. He looks to have the potential and has a top Australian jockey on board. Cross fingers for his success and my chances of taking out the Spring Super Stable competition.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Dog memories and other stuff

Today is the 20th anniversary of the death of my dog Arabel. She was a liver and white English Springer Spaniel and a real character. The only dog I personally owned, our relationship lasted for 14 years. I acquired her as a puppy in 1973 and she was real handful, extremely lively and destructive, but sobered as she got older. Cats liked her, even wild stray kittens, as she was non aggressive and cheerfully friendly to all and sundry.

When she was about 18 months old she had puppies – 11 of them! I had hoped to breed her to my brother’s Springer Spaniel, but she fancied a mongrel that leapt over the fence, the father of two thirds of the puppies. All the puppies survived and I managed to find homes for every one of them, as they were attractive dogs. I remember their first weeks of life inhabiting my room in the rented house I lived in then. They all piled onto the bed (a mattress on the floor) along with Arabel and the oriental cat, Mao. I squeezed myself between them and somehow managed to sleep quite well. Cautiously opening my eyes in the morning, I’d pause before greeting the pups, as they’d swamp me with enthusiasm as soon as I said anything. This situation only lasted a few weeks before I moved them to a sheltered area outside and started the weaning process, which then meant that I had to get up in the middle of the night and feed them. They made a hell of racket when they were hungry.

That was Arabel’s only litter and I abandoned any ideas of breeding from her – too much hard work - and such a large litter was debilitating to the dog’s health.

Where I’d go, she’d follow. I even took her hitchhiking once all the way up to northern NSW and back. She was a four-wheel drive type of dog; she’d forge her way through anything.

Her favourite song was Lou Reed's " Walk on the Wild Side". She howled along with the coloured girls going doop de doop in anticipation of the saxophone break.

She died just after midnight on 22 October 1987. It was a mishap, a bone eaten too enthusiastically which lodged in her stomach and broke through the stomach lining. We rushed her to an all night vet, but she died on the operating table. I was distraught at her death and even the cats were upset. I never felt tempted to get another dog afterwards.

I still have her collar, which even after all these years still has a doggy aroma.

The above picture is a sketch I drew of Arabel when she was alive.

Other stuff…

Spring Racing Carnival

Last Saturday’s Caulfield Cup was full of drama with the hot favourite Maldivian being scratched at the barrier. I was watching it on TV and saw what happened. Maldivian reared in the barrier and cut himself on a fitting. The horse in the next barrier, Eskimo Queen lay down in the barrier and got stuck underneath it. Both runners were scratched, Maldivian being led of with blood coursing down his neck. The race itself was an anticlimax after the pre-race drama. My fancy Purple Moon was blocked for a run in the straight and came in sixth. Here’s hoping he has better luck in the Melbourne Cup.

The Cox Plate is run next Saturday and it has a very interesting field, including Haradasun, El Segundo and Miss Finland.


Last Friday I had the pleasure of seeing Angie Hart performing at Basement Discs. Angie was promoting her first solo recording “Grounded Bird” and very pretty it sounded. Angie attained fame at a very early age as the singer in popular band Frente. I knew her before that as a schoolgirl who frequented the Dan O’Connell Hotel.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Currently reading…

Well, actually it’s rereading. With my proclivity for reading long novels, I have started rereading Dorothy Dunnett’s “House of Niccolo” series. There are eight books in this series and I am presently on book two “The Spring of the Ram” wherein the hero, Nicholas Van der Poele, has embarked on a journey to Trebizond to further his fortunes in the merchant world of Renaissance Europe.

Dorothy Dunnett is famous for the Lymond series of novels, a fantastic historical adventure story comprising six books, which feature the fascinating hero Francis Crawford, soldier adventurer extraordinaire. She died in 2001 and was herself a person of many parts. As well as being a prolific writer she also had a career as a portrait painter.

The “Niccolo” series is a prequel to the Lymond saga and like the latter series the action ranges across a large geographical area. It begins in Bruges where Nicholas is introduced, first appearing as an apparently simple dyer’s apprentice, an illegitimate child fostered by Marion Charetty, the distant relation who owns the dyeing business. As is typical of Dunnett’s style of hero, Nicholas is not what he initially seems, but is gradually revealed to be a genius with figures and codes and wise beyond his years.

I first read Dorothy Dunnett back in the late 1980s, when my supervisor at work recommended the Lymond series to me. I must admit, I had heard of Dorothy Dunnett before then, but had dismissed her books in my mind as being merely insipid historical romances.

How wrong I was!

Dorothy Dunnett's historical novels are highly individual, meticulously researched, intricately plotted page-turners of remarkable quality. They are beautifully written, the writing being vividly pictorial, colourful and dryly humorous, not to mention full of drama. The historical period – 15th and 16th Century - comes to life under Dunnett’s skilled penmanship. Her cast of characters is enormous and include actual historical personages participating in the action. Her leading characters are psychologically complex human beings. Her heroes, Francis Crawford in the Lymond series and Nicholas, are enigmatic, intelligent and multi-skilled. Her heroines are brainy, strong, brave and independent. Subtle, extraordinarily evil villains engage in dangerous competition with the main characters and are also initially not what they appear to be. The complexity of characters lends an intensity and drama to the ongoing narrative. The plot twists and turns, resulting in surprising reversals and revelations, and Dunnett keeps the reader on tenterhooks to the last page of the last book in the series. It is masterfully done.

Dorothy Dunnett works on a huge canvas. As previously mentioned, the geographical stretch of the novels’ action covers the known world of the time - the Ottoman Empire, Czarist Russia during the reign of Ivan the Terrible, the Holy Land under Marmalukes, England under Henry XIII, the Florence of Cosimo Medici etc. etc. All these places are described in technicolour - the brilliant fashions and jewels, the picturesque cities and ceremonies are all rendered in sparkling detail.

By no means an easy read, Dorothy Dunnett’s 14-book epic is well worth the time and effort expended and totally engrossing when you get into the story. It is said about John Crowley’s novel, “Little, Big”, that the further you go in the bigger it gets. This is also true for the Niccolo/Lymond chronicles.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

And the winner is...

Having enlisted the aid of the redoubtable B in drawing a winner from a hat, I am pleased to announce that Ruth is the winner of my BAFAB competition, She will receive the wonderful historical novel Restoration by Rose Tremain. Even though not all entries had the correct answers (question 2 was tricky) I threw them all into the hat and was delighted that Ruth was the one who won, and justifiably so, as she had the correct answer - Rose Tremain has published 12 novels.

So congratulations to Ruth. To claim your prize please send an email to the following address with your mailing address: amf47ATrelaxDOTcomDOTau and I will send you the book forthwith.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cats Can Talk

I had a dream last night. The only part I can now remember is explaining to someone that cats are the only animals that can speak to humans. Dogs bark, but cats talk in plain English. In my dreams, the cats do talk. It’s a pity this is not true in real life, though cats are very good at communicating with their human companions through expression and body language.

I would certainly like to know what’s going through Timmy’s head at the moment. Now that he’s off the clomicalm, he is back to terrorising the other two cats. My impression is that he wants to be top cat. All his life he has been the only cat in the household so maybe he regards his present situation in the same way and resents having to share. We express severe disapproval when he tries to bully Lizzie or Willy, and even though he does back off when one of us acts as a buffer zone, he will persist in stalking and menacing them when he feels that way inclined. It’s not as if he wants attention from us as he’s not the sort of cat you pick up and cuddle. He has a tendency to scratch and bite if you pat him too long or handle him in any way. He’s awfully pally when he wants food, but the rest of the time he minds his own business or lurks in doorways, waiting to menace, or at least inconvenience the other cats.

My BAFAB competition ends at midnight Friday 12 October, Eastern Australian time. So if you want to score a copy of Restoration by Rose Tremain you still have time to enter.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Basement Discs goes Zydeco

A lunchtime treat today was the in store performance of Melbourne band Zydeco Jump.

Zydeco is a form of Creole music that originated in Louisiana and is related to Cajun music.It encompasses a wide variety of roots music genres including Blues, Folk, Jazz, Gospel and Rock. The piano accordion and the washboard are the traditional instruments that give Zydeco its distinctive sound. It is great foot tapping dance music played to a syncopated beat.

Zydeco Jump
has been playing its variation of zydeco for almost twenty years. The band was formed in 1988 by George Butrumis (piano accordion) and Gary Samolin (drums), both of who were part of the band today, along with longstanding band members Alan Wright on guitar and vocals and Ben Taylor on washboard. Paul Williamson of Big Combo fame guested on the saxophone. Altogether they created an irresistibly enervating sound.

It was an entertaining half hour or so of feel-good music, from waltzes to trad jazz type tunes. The band was promoting their latest CD Cooking Zydeco and concentrated on songs from it. These included the title track and a wonderful waltz called "Siren". Every time I hear a waltz tune, I am taken back to my schooldays where we learned ballroom dancing from a Mr Meredith of the Meredith School of Dancing & Physical Education. “Heel, toe, toe. Heel, toe, toe” is what I hear in my head when a waltz is played.

Tomorrow night I’m going to Northcote Social Club to see Doc Neeson’s Angels a sort of reformed band comprising members, including the acclaimed lead singer, Doc Neeson, of the famous Australian rock band The Angels . The Angels were a very popular pub rock band during the 70s. 80s and 90s and had hits with “No Secrets”, “Face the Day” “Am I Ever Gonna See your Face Again” “Dogs Are Talking” and many others.

Apparently the show on Saturday night will be in acoustic mode, so at least we won’t have to wear earplugs. It will certainly be interesting to hear all the old hard rock hits done acoustically.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

BAFAB – my turn to give away a book

As I have been the grateful recipient of a previous BAFAB (Buy A Friend A Book) giveaway on Clare Dudman’s blog Keeper of the Snails, I figured it was high time to donate one myself in the cause of good will and fellowship with all men (and women) and encourage the pursuit of literary delights to the masses.

Click here to read about the idea behind it.

Up on offer is Rose Tremain’s fabulous historical novel Restoration. It’s an oldy but a goody and it is one of my all time favorite books. It has just been re-released in a handsome, new, eco friendly (the paper is recycled) paperback edition, so if you would like to own this book, answer a few simple questions and submit your answers below in the comments. I will then throw the entrants’ names in a hat and draw a winner. Do not assume that the person who has answered the questions before you is correct.


1. When and where was Rose Tremain born?
2. How many novels has she written?
3. Which literary prize was she awarded in 1999?
4. Which book was the winner on that occasion?

As I’m a day or two late in posting my BAFAB offering, you have until October 12th to submit your answers.

I will post the winner’s name on Saturday 13 October 2007.

Other blogs offering books during BAFAB week:
Keeper of the Snails
Welcome to my World
Karen Writes
Reading, Writing and Stuff that Makes Me Crazy

Friday, September 28, 2007

Karl Broadie @ Basement Discs

Icy winds and sporadic rain gave a fine impression of a return to winter today, but I braved the elements and made it down to the Basement Discs to watch Karl Broadie perform in store. It also meant wading through crowds of people in the city to see the AFL Grand Final parade.

The AFL Grand Final is on tomorrow, so the city was full of people wearing the team colours of the two teams who will be competing, Geelong and Port Adelaide. My interest in football is minimal these days, but I suppose I will be barracking for Geelong tomorrow.

Anyway back to Karl Broadie. Karl is a Scottish born singer songwriter who now lives in Sydney. He is touring to promote his latest CD One Million Emeralds and will also be the support act fro Patty Griffin during her Australian tour in November. He is an engaging performer and a friendly and charming person to meet.

Karl’s songs are classic singer songwriter stuff – a mix of country, folk and pop. His voice has a pleasing gritty hoarse quality that reminds me somewhat of Irish artist, Bap Kennedy and also there’s a touch of Australian icon Paul Kelly who is an obvious influence on Karl’s song writing.

Accompanied by John Kendall, who played fiddle and sang harmony vocals, Karl’s in store mini show was a very pleasant interlude in an otherwise sports crazy day. He naturally sang several songs from the new album. You can listen to some of his songs on his My Space page. His earlier CD Black Crow Callin’ is also worth checking out.

Tomorrow afternoon, despite not being all that interested, I‘ll be watching the Grand Final at a pub with friends. It’s sort of a tradition that the footy final is also a social occasion, which is the reason I will be present as it’s much more fun to watch the football in a crowd.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

As Seen on TV

When I arrived at work last Monday week, one of the girls who works in my area shrieked, “I saw you on television last Saturday!” She was terribly excited about it, and after an initial puzzlement as to what on earth she was talking about; I found out that I had indeed been filmed at the races in a crowd scene after the running of the Manikato Stakes.

Later in the week, another work colleague came up to me and asked about my luck at the races. He had actually recorded the moment onto a DVD and he kindly burned me a copy.

The above photo is a screen capture from the DVD. As is usually the case with screen captures, the photo is somewhat distorted, but I am perfectly obvious, up there on the fence, camera clutched in my hands, surrounded by blokes. I feel rather privileged to be in the same picture as Gold Edition, who is the real star of the screen.

Update on cat politics

Timmy has been part of the household for over a month now, and the situation as regards the other two cats has improved somewhat, with Lizzie basically having established her credentials as a cat not to be messed with. She and Timmy have pretty well settled their differences and co exist quite peacefully. As for Willy, it is still tricky, as Willy is frightened of Timmy and avoids him where possible, mostly by making himself scarce. We have been dosing Timmy on clomicalm after he had been consistently aggressive to our little prince. Clomicalm is a mild sedative for dogs and cats and is helpful in reducing stress and modifying behaviour. We’ve tried to make it clear to Timmy that Willy has our full protection and must not be driven away. Whether Timmy has got the message is unclear. Other than this problem with Will, Timmy is a laid back, pleasant puss who generally minds his own business. He doesn’t stray and rarely calls attention to himself.

He did however get himself into a dire situation last weekend, trapping himself behind a fireplace and being unable to get out. The fireplace is purely decorative and every one of our cats has jumped behind it and managed to get out again even when they were tiny kittens. We were under the impression that he’d got behind the fireplace via access under the house. We subsequently discovered that this was not possible. So on Friday morning he must have jumped behind the fireplace and then discovered he couldn’t get out. B heard him meowing but assumed he was under the house. We later discovered him, by feel, behind the hearth and tried to encourage him to get out. To no avail – he couldn’t or wouldn’t get out. He stayed there all night without a making a noise. It wasn’t until Saturday afternoon that B, fearing that he had died there, decided to move the fireplace. Timmy wobbled out, unsteady on his pins, which leads us to assume that he has arthritis in his back legs and was therefore lacking rear drive power to climb from the fireplace. He can however jump onto the bed with ease even though it is higher than the fireplace. It may have something to do with being unable to visualise the landing spot on the other side, that convinced him that he was unable to get out of the fireplace, as I do believe sight is important to cats in working out spatial measurements. It looks so effortless when a cat jumps to a high place – one moment they’re on ground level, the next they’re on high.

As always, fascinating creatures.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Day at the Races – Manikato Stakes Day 2007

Gold Edition leads the field down the straight in the Manikato Stakes

It was a bright and sunny day last Saturday, perfect weather for an afternoon turf side.

In the company of lady friends M and Y, we took a bus which stops just outside the course and arrived at Moonee Valley just before the third race on the cards. There was enough time to put a bet on before the race was due to run. A rather hasty decision in that race resulted in a third placing for my chosen horse, Snappy Tom.

My fortunes varied over the afternoon, but I didn’t particularly mind, as I’m a modest punter. I ended up with one win, two seconds and a third place from five bets. My super stable however was boosted by a virtual $503,600, as all five of my super stable horses racing that day were in the money.

Haradasun after competing in the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes

Seeing Haradasun in the flesh was the highlight of the day for me. His race, the Dato Tan ChinNam Stakes was the classic competition of the day. Haradasun and El Segundo fought out the finish in a truly thrilling competition down the straight and hit the line together. El Segundo won by a whisker, though it did look to be a dead heat. They both emerged from the pack at the 600m mark and charged down the outside of the field, leaving stragglers in their wake. It’s the sort of race that will be talked of for years to come, like the classic competition of Bonecrusher and Our Waverley Star in the 1986 Cox Plate, to which the racing media are already comparing the 2007 Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes.

El Segundo after winning the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes

The Manikato Stakes, the first group one race of the Spring was also a classic race, with the Iron Filly, Gold Edition, leading from start to finish amd winning easily. A very striking looking horse she is, and she looked very pretty in her orange bridle to match the jockey’s silks.

Gold Edition after winning the Manikato Stakes

Jan was querying in the comments in my last post the link between racing and music. There’s none really, though at Moonee Valley on Saturday a band provided entertainment between races. I can’t remember what they played but it was pleasant enough - sort of classic rock pop.

A blimp drifted overhead at one stage...

There was a fair crowd at the course though not over the top. It seemed mostly to be comprised of hard drinking young men. I didn’t see any interesting costumes this year. Victoria is still Equine Virus free, but there was evidence of precautions at the track. Presentations were not held in the public area. Horses were quickly sashed and removed from the course and horse areas were fenced off.

As the afternoon drew on the shadow from the pavilion covered the Public Lawn and it grew chilly so I was glad I’d brought my jacket after carrying it around all afternoon. Shadows cast on the track gave my photos a watercolour effect.

We bussed it home again after the eighth race, well pleased with our day at the races, though not exactly rolling in money. That’s it until next year, for me, as I don’t intend to go to any other races this spring. They get too crowded from now on for my taste. That’s why the Manikato Stakes day is perfect – star horses, small crowds, short queues at the TAB, not to mention the thrill of watching the races from close up at the fence without having to fight for a position.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Jack Howard and the Long Lost Brothers @ Basement Discs

After a bit of a lull in live music performances, today’s mini concert at Basement Discs was a lively mix of various types of music, including grungy rock, funky Latino and all round uplifting rhythms, which was thoroughly enjoyable.

Jack Howard is a former member of the great Aussie band Hunters and Collectors, wherein he played trumpet, keyboards and provided backing vocals.

He is also an accomplished songwriter and is the lead singer in his own band. The band on the Basement stage today comprised Jack (vocals, trumpet) Nicky Del Ray (electric guitar, backing vocals) Barry Stockley (bass) and Sharky Ramos (drums). They made a satisfying big fat noise that had feet tapping and bodies swaying from the opening number. It was great to hear trumpet playing for a change, of which Jack Howard is a master.

The in-store performance was to promote the band’s latest CD, My Lucky Day.

I didn’t really know what to expect of the show today so was pleasantly surprised and very glad that I made the effort to attend.

Super Stable Update

It was a substitution round this week, so, with my stable having earned a virtual $432,625, I was able to swap a few non-performers in my stable. I outed Murtajill who has been disappointing and substituted him with the filly Tan Tat Delago. I also reluctantly swapped Seachange for Gold Edition (aka the iron filly). Seachange, for all those New Zealanders out there, is a local champion and has won several races in New Zealand so far this spring. Unfortunately, earnings from New Zealand races don’t count. It is expected that she will be coming to Australia to compete in the Cox Plate, but that’s a fair way off, so I outed her from my stable. I added Bel Mer a week ago as a substitute for Musket who was affected by the EI virus lockdown in Sydney. A special substitution round was allowed for this situation, with no loss of earnings

My new stable is
Apache Cat
Bel Mer (F3)
El Segundo
Gold Edition
Here De Angels
Tan Tat De Lago (F3)

Five of this stable (El Segundo, Bel Mer, Haradasun, Here De Angels and Gold Edition) will be racing tomorrow at Moonee Valley. It also happens to be the day I go to the races. I’m really looking forward to seeing my favourites in the flesh, and hopefully getting some photos of them. Haradasun and El Segundo will be competing in the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes and Gold Edition and Here De Angels will be having a rematch in the feature race – the Manikato Stakes. They raced against each other a fortnight ago and Here De Angels got the better of Gold Edition on that occasion. The Manikato should be a thrilling race and the Dato Tan Chin Nam equally so.

As it's a bit grey and rainy today, I'm hoping it will be fine and sunny tomorrow. Expect a report after the event, with pictures.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

APEC, Politics and Such

I’m glad I don’t live in Sydney at the moment as half the Sydney central business district is closed to the general public due to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. It all sounds like overkill to me and many other citizens, especially Sydneysiders. I read in the news today that security was removing cutlery from the tables of restaurants close to the event. As if someone was going to snatch up a butter knife and attack President Bush or the Chinese president! There are police snipers on the top of buildings and security personnel everywhere, rubbish bins are taped up, you name it, they’ve thought of everything. Unfortunately for the arm of the law police horses are suffering from EI or can’t be moved into the public arena due to the ban on horse movements throughout the state of NSW. Lucky for the horses, I say. It must be admitted that anarchists and terrorists could have been itching for the opportunity to blow up a whole bunch of world leaders in one hit. Tough luck for them - they haven't a snowflake's chance in hell of getting anywhere near them.

You can read comprehensive reportage on this event on the Sydney Morning Herald web site.

It has been nauseating to see Howard and Bush holding hands and grinning from every newsstand and putting up with a media obsessed with reporting every little thing Bush might care to utter in their hearing.

It will all go away after the weekend, then we can get back to the down and dirty election campaign that has been ongoing for months. So far, in the election campaign, things are not looking good for John Howard. Dare we hope for a change of government this time round? I almost don’t dare contemplate a Labour win, as I know I’ll be heartbroken all over again if Howard wins another term. The Opposition leader, Kevin Rudd has been playing it cool throughout this build up to the elections and has appealed to the electorate as sensible and responsible. The contemptible Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer tried to sully his image by dredging up an incident where Rudd was reported to have attended a strip club. - Shock horror! So what, who cares, was the general opinion. It didn’t dint Rudd’s popularity one little bit, in fact it probably enhanced it by conveying the impression that our Kevin is just “a bit of a lad” and made him appear more the common man.

Australian politics has never been particular about religious preferences or moral codes. Take Bob Hawke for instance. He was an admitted Atheist and also a womaniser and drunk. Nobody really cared if he was any of those things - he was a popular Prime Minister. John Howard is always taking the high moral ground, but we all know he’s a terrible fibber and a hypocrite. He’s never been all that popular – I remember how astounded I was when he won the Liberal Party leadership and even more astonished when he won his first election. However, he had an aura of honesty and responsibility, which has effectively hoodwinked the population for years. He is also a very canny politician. That is why I am not willing to believe that Labour will win the forthcoming election –just yet.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Cat Politics Progress Report

Pictured above, is Timmy lounging around in the backyard. As you can see, he feels quite at home.

Not so the other cats, though they haven’t as yet packed up their bags and left home.

There has been quite a bit of argy bargy in the realm of cat politics over the past week, with Timmy starting to assert himself. He has miserably failed to win the affection of the either Lizzie (fat hope!) or Willy. They won’t have a bar of him. He makes them nervous and Lizzie is positively hostile to him. There have been several fiery close encounters between Lizzie and Timmy with neither cat actually gaining anything, though Lizzie put on such a fierce wild-cat display the other day, it caused Timmy to back away. We are woken in the early hours by the occasional shriek, but more often growling and hissing.

This morning all three cats were on the bed, though Willy climbed under the sheets. Two persons were between the other two who were glaring at each other venomously.

Peace only descends at meal times. Timmy must have been used to some other regimen, as at first he didn’t seem to like any food we put before him. Now, realising that he gets fed regularly, morning and night; he hoes in readily and eats a variety of cat food.

This situation is interesting for observing cat behaviour and marvelling at their intelligence in handling tricky situations. I observed Lizzie the other day. She wanted to get past Timmy, who was sitting directly in her path. She was under the impression that he would spring on her as soon as she moved, so she waited until B walked between the two of them, and used his brief buffer zone to get past the danger area. It reminded me somewhat of getting through tricky spots in a computer game. Willy, being younger and more agile can slip past Timmy before he realises that he’s been dodged, but has to put up with Timmy stalking him, with what intent we are uncertain, but Willy regards this pursuance as potentially hostile.

How long this state of affairs will last is hard to fathom. They’ll eventually sort it out and live in relative peace with each other, hopefully sooner than later.

Update on Spring Racing Carnival

Saturday’ s race meeting in Melbourne went ahead as anticipated and there is still no sign of the EI virus in Victoria, so it’s looking good for my day at the races in a week or so.

I had a few modest wagers on Saturday and was quite successful – 3 winners and 1 second place. My super stable balance was boosted by $140,000+ in virtual earnings. Haradasun was pipped at the post by the amazing Miss Finland who travelled from Adelaide the day before the race, but still managed to put up a good fighting finish.

Spring’s looking good again racing wise, all going well as far as the virus is concerned.

As it’s now officially spring, here’s another spring photo – the backyard resplendent with plum blossom, seen here through the boughs of the fig tree.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Brian Kennedy at Basement Discs

I’m a bit behind on reporting this In Store performance, but better late than never.

Brian Kennedy did a show at Basement Discs last Wednesday and I managed, in between funeral arrangements, to get down to see him.

An Irish charmer, Brian Kennedy is a very engaging and entertaining performer. Multi- talented - he is a musician, singer and novelist - he spent many years playing in Van Morrison’s band. He also represented Ireland in the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest.

Perhaps the most remarkable talent Brian Kennedy possesses is his gorgeous voice. It’s what first struck me when I first saw him perform at Basement Discs several years ago.

His voice has a high register, almost soprano, but probably is classed as a tenor.

As mentioned before, as a live entertainer he is funny and charming. Though I do not own any of his CDs (I can imagine B’s reaction if I brought one home!) I always take the opportunity to see him playing live at Basement Discs.

Last Wednesday was a great little show – very enjoyable to all who attended.

In other music news, Patty Griffin will be touring Australia for the first time in November. I’m certainly looking forward to that, as she is an extraordinary artist - a remarkable singer as well as being a great songwriter. Emmylou Harris is quoted as saying about Patty Griffin “"I would go anywhere, anytime to hear Patty Griffin sing her extraordinary songs". Same here.

Update on the Spring Racing Carnival

So far the Equine Influenza virus has been confined to New South Wales and Victoria has remained virus free. There has been no racing on the East coast for over three days, but Saturday afternoon is looking promising for the resumption of racing in Melbourne. The EI virus has frustrated the training programs of Sydney based horses and it looks like they will not be in contention during the early stages of the carnival or maybe not at all.

The Carnival may end up as a Melbourne centric competition, which would be a shame, as there are champions in Sydney who would have enhanced the entries into the main Spring races. It also looks as if the International contingent will be greatly reduced this year as well.

Fortunately a lot of my favourite racehorses, like Haradasun, El Segundo and Apache Cat, are Victorian based. Haradasun is due to race again next Saturday. He is also likely to be racing on the day I make my annual pilgrimage to Mooney Valley Race Course in mid September. I’d love to see him in the flesh and hope to get a picture of him on the day.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Spook Country by William Gibson

I am into my second reading of William Gibson’s new novel Spook Country. Well may you ask why I am re-reading a book I recently finished, again so soon. Was it because the initial reading left me with unanswered questions? No. Was it because I read the book in a less than absorbed fashion first time round? Not really, though it was fragmented by interference from outside sources.

The true reason I am reading Spook Country again is because I loved it so much on first reading that I just had to. I wanted to catch all the refracted inferences from the first page onwards.

Spook Country is the most contemporaneous novel I have ever read. Gibson’s style renders that contemporaneity in vivid detail - it is zeitgeist to such an extent that the book reads like it happened yesterday. It dazzles the reader with immediacy from the first page and imbues commonplace objects with significance and glamour.

William Gibson coined the term “cyberspace” in his 1984 novel Neuromancer and became known as the godfather of “cyberpunk”. His work has been called prophetic, but Gibson states in a very good interview in Salon Magazine “All science fiction is in one way or another about the moment in which it's written, even if the people who write it don't know that.”

Pattern Recognition, the forerunner to Spook Country was set in 2002, the first of Gibson’s contemporary novels. Spook Country is related to Pattern Recognition, through the commonality of some characters that briefly appeared in the earlier novel, but can be read as a separate novel.

In Spook Country, there are three plotlines that at first appear to have no relevance each other, but it soon becomes obvious that all the plot paths will meet later in the book.

The major story lines involve the following characters:

Hollis Henry former member of Curfew, a cult Indie band, turned journalist, is hired by a mysterious magazine “Node” to write an article on locative art (a sort of Virtual Reality only viewable through VR equipment). Her brief expands into a quest to find hacker Bobby Chombo who has, as well as creating virtual locations for locative art works, been tracking a mysterious shipping container.

Tito is a 22-year-old Cuban Chinese immigrant, member of a family experienced in espionage with links to Soviet Russia. His aunt Juana is a master forger and Tito himself is expert in a method of martial arts that combines a Russian form of martial arts called “systema” and the Santiera religion of Cuba. He runs errands for the family who are under an obligation to a mysterious old man.

The third main character is Benzodiazepine junky, Milgrim, who has specialised knowledge of Volapuk, the Russian method of rendering the letters of the Cyrillic alphabet on Roman keyboards. Milgrim is a prisoner of Brown. It is unclear if Brown is a policeman or a federal agent. Brown is very interested in the activities of Tito , whom he refers to consistently as the IF, an acronym for Illegal Facilitator, and he needs Milgrim’s special skill, for which he is prepared to supply his habit.

The three plot lines are handled with precision and draw together in a satisfying thrilling ending. The past lives of the characters provide a glimpse of their inner self and also have a bearing on their current attitudes and abilities. They are all endearing in one way or another.

William Gibson is another of my all time favourite writers. I came to Neuromancer quite late (in 1990), some years after it was published, and have subsequently read all his books several times.

Gibson's writing style is smart, graceful, dry and ironic and he writes amazing analogies that make you pause in awe at their vivid aptness. Take this analogy for instance:

"The sky had a Turner-on-crack intensity, something volcanic aglow behind the clouds that looked set to birth tornadoes"
Or, this one:

"Six floors below, she saw the palms along Sunset thrashing, like dancers miming the final throes of some sci-fi plague.”
Ostensibly set in 2006, the novel embraces the post 9/11 world, the war on terror and even references the inundation of New Orleans. The time setting is apposite to the action of the novel where the characters carry laptop computers and consult Google, guide vehicles via GPS and use Ipods as data storage carriers. It’s a techno thriller-cum-adventure novel of the first order, full of ideas that make you look anew at the world around you and urges you to consult Google for more information on things like Volapuk, steganography, and other such cool stuff mentioned throughout the novel.

Spook Country is one of the best novels I have read this year. I recommend it unreservedly.

Monday, August 27, 2007

25th Anniversary Edition of Little, Big

The 25th Anniversary edition of John Crowley’s wonderful book, Little Big is finally close to publication. I have been waiting for this edition for years. I ordered myself a copy of the numbered edition several years ago and my anticipation has recently been piqued by the news that a limited edition poster, produced as part of the test printing process, has been made available for purchase. It’s a bargain at $15.00 US so I naturally ordered myself one. It features a short Crowley, Little, Big related extract called “Suppose One Were A Fish” and displays some of the art work of Peter Milton which will be used to illustrate the new edition.

You can view a good quality pdf version of the poster here.

Peter Milton’s art is extraordinary – meticulously detailed and intricate, black and white prints, which contain multilayered symbolic or allegorical references to 19th Century literary figures among other things. His art is beautifully strange and yet strangely familiar. Check out his work at

On the subject of posters and poster art, I bought a poster at the Ryan Adams concert. It too is a limited edition piece of art. Just about every city on Ryan Adams current tour has its own individual poster design and features an iconic image that defines the city it represents. The Melbourne poster shows Luna Park with an old fashioned tram – one of Melbourne’s most iconic public transport features with the Ryan Adams & the Cardinals rose logo displayed on the side of the vehicle. It’s very cool and stylish. The artist is Melbourne based artist and designer, Daymon Greulich. Check out his folio on the website to view more Ryan Adams tour posters. I think they're all pretty gorgeous. The posters were only available at the shows and in limited numbers, so now there is a big swap market for them on Ryan Adams fan sites.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Introducing Timmy

I managed to get a photo of Timmy today. As you can see he's quite a pretty cat, though the resident cats Lizzie and Willy are not impressed. Handsome is as handsome does, is their general opinion.

Timmy has settled in really well and, even though he has had ample opportunity to run away, has not taken it upon himself to do so. He has a nice nature and appears to be nonaggressive, so no fur has flown since he has arrived. Lizzie and Willy still regard him with suspicion, with Lizzie glaring and hissing at him on sight and Willy giving him a wide berth. Initially Willy was friendly towards Timmy and appeared hardly fazed to have a new cat in the house. Something must have happened during the past week, to make him nervous of Timmy, though he appears not have any wounds. We can only speculate on them encountering each other one night and facing off. Timmy is, however, nervous of Lizzie. You just don't mess with old lady cats!

It's a relief that this adoption of Timmy has not been as traumatic for him or us as we initially feared.

So things have returned to normal after a really quite stressful week. I couldn't think straight last week, so I am glad B's mother's funeral is behind us. It was a good funeral as funerals go - small and intimate - with a simple service.

Other stuff.

Below is a photo of plum blossom with a bee and lots of sky. You can see that it was a lovely day today. Spring is well and truly on the way.

Not so the Spring Racing Carnival, which has been affected by an outbreak of Equine Influenza in New South Wales. All races and horse events on the Eastern coast were cancelled yesterday for a period of 72 hours, to prevent the virus from spreading and to try and establish the source. Australia has been free of this virus until now. It really couldn't have happened at a worse time as it will indeed have an impact on how the Spring Racing Carnival pans out, or indeed if it happens at all.

As a racing fan I'm pretty devastated. I was so looking forward to seeing my favorites fight it out in upcoming races and also keenly anticipating my annual day at the races in September. Let's hope the virus is contained and that racing will resume soon.

PS: My review of the Ryan Adams concert is now up on the Nu Country web site.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Splendid Dose of Cardinality...

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals -20 August 2007 just what the doctor ordered.

The Ryan Adams concert was fantastic, a sensational night of rock 'n roll full of stellar performances. It was well and truly up to my expectations and my seat was perfect for viewing and listening.

Ryan was in a very cheery mood and handled the few hoonish members of the audience with wit and good humour.

I was also very taken with the Cardinals, Ryan's touring band, especially the lead guitarist Neal Casal who provided harmony vocals and even performed one of his own songs, which was great. Neal Casal has a gorgeous voice, which blends with Ryan's equally gorgeous voice in a really magical way.

It has been a very distracting past few days...

On Saturday B's mother passed away, so it has also been quite stressful. She had a massive stroke that rendered her unconscious. B found her in a chair in her living room, passed out. She was rushed to hospital but died several hours after. It was terrible for B, but also a relief, as she was quite frail and getting quite senile . She was 86 years old.

The past few days have been occupied with organising the funeral, but we still managed to fit in the Ryan Adams concert. We needed some light relief after the weekend.

We've also inherited B's mother's cat Timmy. So far, so good , the resident cats appear to be handling it better than we expected and Timmy is keeping a low profile and seems to be settling in quite well.

Cross fingers it all works out.

I feel very tired at the moment so will expand on the above later.