Sunday, August 31, 2008

Kate Atkinson & The Australian Racing Museum


I had the good fortune to meet the British writer Kate Atkinson yesterday morning, albeit very briefly. It was after her appearance at the Melbourne Writers Festival where she did a reading and was interviewed by a local writer who did not identify herself.

It was very interesting, and delightful to see and hear Kate Atkinson in the flesh.

She came across as an intelligent and dryly humorous person - someone you would like to get to know better.

I have been a fan of her books since Behind The Scenes At The Museum launched her into the public eye in 1995. She won the Whitbread Book of The Year prize that year for the novel. She now has had seven books, including a book of short stories, published and to my mind each new one is better than the last. I loved her latest When Will There Be Good News?

end of the world When asked which of her books was her favourite, Kate voted for her book of short stories Not The End Of The World which she claims contains her best writing. I reread a couple of the stories this morning and I must say they are delightful - quirky, highly original, with that wonderful light Atkinson "magic realist" touch.

Her taste in music , as evidenced by the choice of music of her character Jackson Brodie, is very similar to mine. I recognise all the artists he listens to in the novels. She obviously likes the alt country genre, and when we asked her what she was currently listening to she replied with Tift Merritt and The Waifs, both of whom are represented in my music collection.

The event was held at Federation Square at The Edge auditorium. It happens to be be very close to the Australian Racing Museum which I have not had the opportunity of visiting before. I decided, seeing as I was in the area, that I would give it a look over.

There's not all that much on display really, though it did bring back memories of horses I dedicatedly followed in the past, so it was interesting for me. It did have the skeleton of Carbine who won the 1890 Melbourne Cup, and was the founding sire of a great many fine Australian racehorses.

I had a chat with the guy behind the counter and asked if the museum would be interested in seeing my old race horse scrapbook from the early 1960s. He was interested in it and we had a cosy chat about the horses who raced in those days, including my old favourite Dhaulagiri. He said Dhaulagiri's old jockey Geoff Lane had come into the museum a few weeks back. He knew a lot about the racing industry and was about my vintage, age wise, so it was good to have a racing conversation - a hard thing to come by in my normal person to person encounters.

As for the races yesterday, Weekend Hussler was back in the winner's circle with a decisive win in the Memsie Stakes. My other two super stable runners also did well. Sugar Babe won her race and Dorabella came a close third in hers. My virtual coffers were boosted by $200,000+ in prize money.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Spring Racing Carnival – gathering pace

Next Saturday the race meeting at Caulfield promises to be a beauty with many potential stars returning for the Spring.

Among them, Weekend Hussler will be making his second spring appearance in the Memsie Stakes. Hopefully he can win this one. At his first race this spring, in competition against Light Fantastic, the latter got the best of him, sneaking a win by a short margin. Also of interest in the Memsie is former star of the turf Pompeii Ruler who hasn’t raced for a year after sustaining an injury which put him out of action last spring and Melbourne Cup winner Efficient. Top Sydney mare, Tuesday Joy, is entered for this race as well. It promises to be very interesting.

Apparently the Hussler will be competing in the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes on Manikato Stakes day in a fortnight, the race meeting I always attend, so it will be thrilling to see Weekend Hussler in the flesh.

So far, my super stable is doing quite well. The only horses not to have earned money are Sugar Babe who has yet to race this spring, but may well be in the action next Saturday, and Dorabella who failed to get a place in her first race of the season. She is also nominated for a race this Saturday. Forensics must be due to resume racing. I believe she is in a trial this Friday, a good indication that she will be back on the track soon.

Last weekend Augusta Proud managed to score third place in a torrid race on a heavy track. She was stuck three wide for most of the race so had to work extra hard, coming home a half length from the winner.

Of course this time last year the Equine Virus struck the Australian Racing Industry and prevented Sydney & other interstate horses competing in the Spring Carnival. It will certainly be livelier this year with Sydney horses being part of it. Triple Honour who is a Sydney based runner and another of my super stable horses, won his first race convincingly, adding to my virtual coffers which now stands at $290,300 so I have funds for a substitution or two should any of my stable fail to perform to expectation.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A night in the country

Yesterday afternoon we went to visit friends who have recently taken the plunge and made a sea change by selling up their city property and going bush.

The change is not really a sea change as their country residence is up in the wilds of North East Victoria at a place called Tolmie, which is out the back of Mansfield, the nearest sizable town.

I am familiar with the countryside in that area as I went to boarding school in Mansfield for two years when I was about ten. Though truth to tell I haven't been up that way for years.

We arrived mid afternoon, and despite the fact we were hoping there would be snow on the ground, it was cold but bright & sunny. Ideal for photos. The house and property are very pretty and quite isolated.

Below is a photo of the verandah of the house with part of the wonderful view.

tolmie 038

More photos...

tolmie 001

View from the verandah

tolmie 017

Reflections in the dam

tolmie 011

Solar power grid

tolmie 033

The sun room this morning with bowl of lemons

tolmie 027

Sunset last night with unusual bright blue clouds

It was a pleasant change to get up to the countryand lovely to see our friends Robert & Nani. Unfortunately we were unable to stay longer than a night as we left the cats to their own devices with enough food for the night, but no longer.

One of them obviously got peckish this morning, as when we got back there was a live pigeon sitting on the top of the blinds above the window in the computer room.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

When Will There Be Good News?

Over the weekend I read what has to be one of the best books published this year. It was Kate Atkinson’s stunning new novel When Will There Be Good News?

Atkinson just gets better and better with every book. This latest is a positive tour de force – a powerful, exquisitely plotted page turner.

The third, and perhaps the last Jackson Brodie mystery, this one is much darker than
One Good Turn, and the reader indeed does wonder for most of the book, when there will be good news, as violence and disaster dog the path of the main characters.

Several characters from the previous Jackson Brodie novels appear in this one. Louise Monroe, the feisty police inspector is one, as is of course Jackson Brodie. There are two new main characters/narrative paths in Joanna Mason/Hunter and Reggie Chase who engage the reader’s attention pretty well instantly. Reggie Chase the sixteen-year-old, who looks fourteen, is a beautifully drawn character and reminded me somewhat of Kate in Catherine O’Flynn’s novel What Was Lost, also an excellent novel with an Atkinson sensibility.

Kate Atkinson has an amazing ability to get inside her character’s heads as she tracks their thoughts in internal monologues that paint with words everything important there is to know about them – their inner psychological persona and personal history. This is standard in Atkinson’s books, but she does it so well it is part of the addiction that her readers have for her books. That Jackson has the
The Lyke-Wake Dirge running though his head just before he is involved in a potentially fatal situation is a wonderful touch in the light of what ensues.

Though the theme of When Will There Be Good News? is dark, there is ironical humour throughout as the characters contend with the darkness and misfortune of their lives.

The book opens with a violent murder - the random slaughter of innocents by a mad man - thirty years before the main action of the novel begins, another common trope of Atkinson’s, which is nonetheless effective as a hook on which to hang a plot, as indeed this crime does.

I can’t recommend this novel highly enough. It is a literate, beautifully written, darkly comic thriller. Perhaps some of the coincidences are a bit far fetched, but such is Atkinson’s art, you don’t really mind at all, as there is a certain satisfaction to be derived from such collisions between characters and events and you willingly suspend disbelief.

Kate Atkinson will be in Australia next week for the Melbourne Writers Festival. As part of a birthday present, along with the novel, a friend gave me a ticket to one of her appearances in conversation with local writer Catherine Cole. It’s something to look forward to in the near future.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A veritable musical feast – Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson/ The Sand Pebbles

From l to r - Bill Chambers, Kasey Chambers, Shane Nicholson
Last night I had the good fortune to witness yet another wonderful concert by Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson. This time it was at the Hamer Hall which is part of the Melbourne Arts Centre complex. It is a venue I’ve never actually been to before but it is an excellent venue for concerts like the one last night. On the way to the venue I took another photo of the National Gallery with its Art Deco entrance. It looks better by night, as you can see.

The evening started with a short set from young Texas singer songwriter Ryan Bingham who was pretty good himself. Unfortunately he wore his hat throughout his set so I never got a look, let alone a photograph, of his face.

The Kasey Chambers part of the evening started quietly with an acoustic set, comprising Kasey, Shane and Kasey’s father, Bill Chambers performing a selection of Kasey’s songs from various CDs which included Last Hard Bible Not Pretty Enough, Barricades & Brickwalls . Shane also performed a couple of his songs which included Designed to Fade off his debut solo CD It’s A Movie.

Then the band came out. It was the same line-up as supported the artists at The Corner Hotel show that I witnessed in April.

As it was a late night, I’m feeling slightly brain numbed today, so I will not go into much more detail as I am going to write an extended review of the show for Nu Country: suffice to say it was a marvellous evening of superb music.

The Sand Pebbles

The Sand Pebbles

Today at lunchtime the Basement Discs hosted local band The Sand Pebbles at their lunchtime in store. The Sand Pebbles music is termed psychedelic rock, though they described themselves today as flower punk. The sound was certainly psychedelic with definite shades of 60s era music – quite different from the rootsy sounds of last night, but thoroughly enjoyable just the same. Visit their web site to check out their music and for more information.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Spring Racing Carnival – about to take off

Though the preliminary build up to the Spring Racing Carnival began a fortnight ago, it has so far been a fizzer with little to interest the dedicated follower of form.

Last year, interest was high from the beginning of August with the likes of Apache Cat, Haradasun and El Segundo racing early in the season. It is really only starting this coming weekend with the Group 2 Liston Stakes generating excited anticipation at the prospect of star racehorses Weekend Hussler and Light Fantastic clashing for the first time in competition. It should be a great race. That is, if The Hussler does make it to the field. He is at present recovering from a minor injury sustained earlier this week.

Five of my Super Stable horses are racing this weekend. As well as Weekend Hussler and Light Fantastic, Dorabella is starting her spring campaign this weekend at Caulfield as is Sugar Babe.
In Sydney, Triple Honour will be racing at Rosehill. Here’s hoping they all do well and boost my virtual coffers.

Augusta Proud is set to resume racing the weekend after next after pleasing her trainer in a trial, so I’m looking forward to seeing if she can repeat her autumn form. No word on the other horse in my stable, Forensics, but no doubt she’ll appear in the mix sometime or other.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Lunchtime Music Returns to Basement Discs with The Flood

The Flood - from l to r - Tim Wedde, Scott Hills, Kevin Bennett, James Gillard

After a month or so with no in store performances, it was pleasant to get back into the routine of wandering down to the Basement Discs to catch some lunchtime vibes of the musical kind.

And it was a special one today with Sydney band
The Flood returning to play songs off their latest CD Everybody’s Favourite.

They are a great little four piece band comprising Kevin Bennett on guitar and lead vocals, James Gillard on electric guitar and backing vocals, Tim Wedde on piano accordion and backing vocals and Scott Hills on drums.

Their music is kind of country rock blues and sounds really good. Kevin Bennett has a great bluesy voice and when the other guys add theirs to the mix it creates an uplifting wall of harmonies.

They performed five songs, the pick of which was a cover of Jay Farrar’s Tear Stained Eye.

That’s not say the band’s own compositions are lacking anything in originality and melody, but this song is simply beautiful and as Kevin admitted many people mistake it as one of his when he performs it in concerts.

I ran into several friends down there today – quite a contingent of old Nu Country folk who I don’t see all that often these days.

All in all a very pleasant interlude in the working day.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Ginja Roe at the Carringbush Hotel

ginja_roe_030808 069_filtered

On Sunday afternoon I took the opportunity to go and see once again the girl duo, Ginja Roe, perform live at a small hotel in Richmond. This excursion was only the second time I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them perform live.

You may recall that I was very impressed with them when I first saw them at about this time last year.

Since then they’ve released a new CD called Polished which I ordered as soon as I heard it was in the works and it is just as good, if not better than their debut CD Home Made, a more layered recording than the simple arrangements on the earlier record.

It was certainly a pleasant way to spend a cold winter Sunday afternoon/evening in the cosy Carringbush Hotel.

Ginja Roe are Megan Doherty and Pamela Wouters, childhood friends from the outer suburban town of Pakenham. Meg writes the music and lyrics, but both girls take turns with the singing. They each have lovely distinctive voices which individually sound beautiful, but in harmony, are really heavenly.

They now have a band, adding a drummer, Bindy Cohen and a bass player, David Kidd to the line up. Meg and Pam each play a guitar, Meg plays harmonica and Pam contributes tympanic effects on a type of hand drum. One of the things I’ve always liked about Ginja Roe is their gutsy sound, so the additional band members add a bigger, fuller bodied dimension to their live performance.

Their performance is assured and lively and they have an engaging stage presence. My friend and I stayed for two hours, but had to leave before the third set. The two hours we were there passed at the speed of light. It was engrossing on a visual and aural level.

Playing a mix of original and cover songs, Ginja Roe demonstrated the diversity of their musical influences over the course of the afternoon. It rocked one minute then quietened to sweet & slow the next. They did a great cover of I’m A Believer made famous by the Monkees back in the 1960s though it appeared to be a medley with a Dire Straights song. Their own compositions are nothing to sneeze at and are up to the best of what’s on offer today.

Pam did a wonderfully sultry, sexy rendition of Sweet and Divine one of Meg’s songs from Home Made.

Another winner was the lovely Flowers from the new album where their two voices in harmony sounded truly divine.

Each time I have seen Ginja Roe – and it is only twice – I have been tremendously impressed. They just get better and better. I shall certainly go and see them again, hopefully in the near future as I don’t intend to wait a year for the next time - this time around.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Art Deco Exhibition

This afternoon B and I made our way into the city to visit the Art Deco Exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria.

We caught the train and on arrival in the city crossed over Princes Bridge to the other side of the Yarra River.

art_deco_exhibition 003 (Small)
View of South Bank from Princes Bridge

As we approached the gallery I snapped a photo of the exterior.

art_deco_exhibition 007 (Small)
National Gallery Exterior View

The entrance, in tune with the theme of such a major exhibition, was a glorious Art Deco archway.

art_deco_exhibition 008 (Small)
Gallery Entrance

And so on to the exhibition...

art_deco_prog When we first walked into the exhibition space there was this wonderful painting by Tamara De Lempika (pictured on the program).

It was a real thrill to see one of her paintings in the original. I have long admired her stylish deco art.

The Telephone, as this one is called, it very typical of her art.

But this was just the start of the exhibition.

We moved on to other rooms and gasped in awe at the beautiful things on display.

I didn't dare take pictures, so have scanned the below images from the program.
art_deco_radio The exhibition covered all areas of the Art Deco movement.

From furniture, cutlery, china, glassware, textiles, fashion, posters, bakelite radios (as pictured), photography, all of it was exquisite.

There were photo slide shows of famous deco interiors and also the Foyer from the Strand Palace Hotel 1930–31 was set up as a physical object in all its glory.
This picture is of Josephine Baker, and the exhibition had a film of her dancing the Charleston.

It was hilarious, though probably in her day it was terribly risque.

I saw couple of children trying to dance like her.


By the time we reached the end of the exhibition we were somewhat footsore and dazed from seeing so many fine works of art.

However, on leaving I did take a photo of this gorgeous Mercedes Benz.

art_deco_exhibition 010 (Small)

It is a 1936 Mercedes Benz 540K Cabriolet C, the only model of its kind in Australia and one of only 419 540Ks ever made.

Finally, one of the features of the National Gallery of Victoria is the Water Wall.

When the gallery first opened 40 years ago, everyone thought of it as a giant fish and chip shop window. It is however rather beautiful. This photo is taken from inside looking out into the entrance courtyard.

art_deco_exhibition 011 (Small)