Thursday, July 29, 2010

2010 Spring Racing Carnival – Build up begins this Saturday

Shoot Out resumes this Saturday
The Group 3 Bletchingly Stakes, to be run this coming Saturday at Caulfield, represents the kick off to the upcoming spring racing season. In this race over 1200 metres, AJC Australian Derby winner Shoot Out, begins his long build up to the Cups and his last race as a three year old. He’s a tough young horse presumably, when you consider his summer/autumn campaign, so let us hope he is up to it and stays sound throughout. His trainer John Wallace has mapped out a traditional racing program for a Melbourne Cup bound horse, so that Shoot Out will be gracing the turf every fortnight from now on.

This means, if all goes well, that he will be competing in the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes at Moonee Valley on September 11, a day I generally go to the races in person. Also pencilled in for that race is my favourite racehorse Typhoon Tracy – whoopee! Already the Dato Tan sounds like it will be a beauty and a big thrill for me to see both Shoot Out and Tracy in the flesh. I daren’t anticipate it too much in case I jinx it by too much keen expectation. Tracy will be starting her Cox Plate campaign in the Memsie Stakes on August 28, where no doubt she’ll clash with Shoot Out first up, and who knows (at this stage) what other contenders.

So how will Shoot Out go in the Bletchingly Stakes? He’s in with a chance and if not winning, will be competitive. He has shown versatility by winning races from 1200, to 2400 metres.

Several of his opponents – Keano, Royal Ida & Stanzout- recently contested the Listed John Monash Stakes, which was won by 2009 Blue Diamond winner Reward For Effort having his first start for over a year after injury disrupted his career in the autumn of2009. He has come back in good order judging by his run in the John Monash.

Shoot Out’s main dangers in the Bletchingly appear to be the mares Velocitea and Elumino, fellow three year old Tollesprit, and Keano who was only beaten by a head in the John Monash. The track will probably be rated dead to slow as showers are predicted for Friday and Saturday here in Melbourne. That shouldn’t worry Shoot Out; he appears to cope with all types of track, though this is the first time he’s raced in Melbourne.

Disappointingly, there probably won’t be a Super Stable competition on Racing & Sports this year as the regular organiser of the competition has banished himself from the forum over a trivial identity issue. I’ve always enjoyed having a Spring Super Stable - it adds spice to one’s enjoyment of the season, so here’s hoping The Shu will change his mind and administer the competition again.
Update Saturday

Shoot Out
gunned down his rivals with a stunning win in the Bletchingly Stakes, holding off oldster Stanzout and Velocitea to win by a good margin. I had a small wager on him, seeing as how his odds were so good ($6.50 ) - I doubt if his odds will be that long again this season.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dan Kelly’s Dream Live at Basement Discs

It’s a dreary overcast day here in Melbourne this Friday, and what better way to escape the chill and gloom, than to venture to the Basement discs for some rock 'n' roll goodness, which was delivered in spades by Dan Kelly and his Dream Band.

When I arrived at the Basement it was all happening, sound checks, the stage being decked in plastic leaves, an animated fish tank sort of thing glowing back stage, the band milling around waiting to start. Which indeed they did, after Pat (Basement Discs) delivered another of his excellent introductions, somehow working in a scene from Apocalypse Now to heighten the expectations of the larger than normal audience.

Pat’s intro was apt, as it turned out, as Dan Kelly and band launched into a most engaging set of songs drawn from his brand new CD, titled Dan Kelly’s Dream, a somewhat psychedelic collection of quirky songs with fantastical lyrics, describing Dan’s very vivid dream life.

He started with The Catholic Leader, a fantasy about a nun, following that with his new single Bindi Irwin Apocalypse, a bizarre underwater vision involving the eponymous heroine of the title. He also performed the title track Dan Kelly’s Dream and The Decommissioner a song about blowing up the Hazelwood Power Station.

The Dream Band comprises Indra Adams on bass, Dave Williams on drums and Keirnan Box on keyboards. They, enhanced by atmospheric sound effects, made a huge noise of ear buzzing intensity. Dan played guitar, originally electric, until he broke strings on two separate guitars, then on acoustic.

It was a highly entertaining in store performance, and a welcome diversion for a wintry day in beautiful, sometimes, Melbourne.

Check out Dan Kelly’s Blog at - it’s rather amusing.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cats and Politics

It has been a while since I last wrote about the cats.

Both are still happy and healthy though Ms Lizzie, being now a senior citizen, is less active and spends most of her days indoors. She had a close encounter with a brush tailed possum last week which we were astounded to witness. Due to a light illuminating the decking outside the backdoor, for once, it was a remarkable sight.

The possum came from the back yard and marched across the decking close to where Lizzie was sitting minding her own business. The encounter, thankfully, did not result in violence. The possum paused when it saw the cat and peered at her short sightedly, no doubt thinking she could be another of its kind, her colouring being very similar to that of the marsupial. Lizzie sat there, unmoving, and eventually the possum just ambled on its way and onto the fence and up into a tree with the cat showing no inclination to follow. It was gratifying to see that Lizzie at least is peaceful towards the native animals. She obviously realises she wouldn’t have a hope against a brush tailed possum – they’re formidable beasts.

Here’s a recent photo of Lizzie basking in the winter sun.

The wilful one, Willy, still runs wild in the streets, though he does spend more time at home now that it’s cold. He has been responsible for the importation of several rodents into the house, some which have evaded capture. We have no idea what happened to them, but presumably they’ve either escaped or been eaten or died, as the cats have lost interest in the places we suspected they were hiding. A mouse was hiding in the wall furnace and only revealed itself when B turned the heater on. A singed mouse shot through one of the vents and hid behind a bookcase. Lizzie dedicated a night to watching for it, and may very well have caught and eaten it. We haven’t heard a squeak.

Willy, handsome as ever.


As for politics, Australia will go to the polls in a Federal election on August 21, which should be interesting, but probably is not. The media thinks it is, and is now in full election mode, since the poll was announced by Julia Gillard.

I’m hoping Julia will win. It would be a shame if she were to inherit the post of PM only to lose it shortly afterwards. She’s quite impressive, cool and collected, and more than a match for Tony Abbott and his cohorts. As long as Julia can keep her troops in order, and not be second guessed by the Opposition, and if Tony Abbott somehow makes a fool of himself (shouldn’t be too hard), Labor might scrape in with Greens preferences. Perish the thought if Abbott & Co were successful – it’d be like the Howard years all over again, only worse.

Anyway, we’ll know in a month.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Annual Art Fix – The Städel Museum European Masters Exhibition


Yesterday, courtesy of a free ticket from Mercedes Benz, B and I ventured to the Victorian National Gallery to view the annual Winter Masterpieces Exhibition.

This year it features paintings and sculptures from the Städel Museum, a famous institution in Frankfurt Germany. It covered artists from the 19th Century to the 20th Century, ranging from the Romantic and Realist movements of the early 19th to the Surrealists of the 20th and all the other art movements in between – chiefly Impressionism, Post Impressionism, Symbolism, Expressionism, and Cubism.

An interesting collection it was too.

To follow are various paintings that caught my eye, scanned from the promotional brochure and the postcards I purchased as souvenirs.

Just before entering the exhibition there was this curious and whimsical structure set up for the entertainment of children called Das Puzel Haus. God knows what was inside, but it looked inviting even to this older person.


Miraculously there wasn’t a huge crowd moving through the exhibition at the time we were there, so you could get up close and intimate with the paintings, starting with the Romantic Movement, with lots of brooding landscapes like this spectacular volcano painting by Johan Christian Klausson Dahl. This was B’s favourite picture in the exhibition.
I.C.Dahl_Vesuv (Medium)
My favourites were later on, when proceeding from the moody landscapes, all of a sudden one came upon Le Déjeuner by Claude Monet - so refreshing to the eyes with its fresh clear colours and simple composition.
The Impressionists were well represented with wonderful paintings by its leading artists.

Monet again with the typical painting style associated with the Impressionists.
Renoir’s Apres Le Déjeuner - a charming informal outdoor scene.
Degas – I loved the composition of this painting with the orchestra in the foreground with the ballet dancers beyond.
Also represented were works by Van Gogh, Cezanne, Corot, Gauguin, Moreau, Redon and this one by Rousseau – The avenue in the park of Saint-Cloud.
Beyond the Impressionists and Post Impressionists we moved on to Expressionism, Symbolism and Surrealism.

“Max” appears to be a popular Christian name for German artists, no doubt drawn from Maximilian.

Max Beckmann was well represented with a room dedicated to his paintings. (a few are pictured below)

Self Portrait 1905

Double Portrait
Another Max Beckmann (title escapes me)
I also loved this painting by Symbolist painter
Max Klinger - Portrait of a Roman Lady on a rooftop in Rome. It’s both airy and solid with the relaxed woman surrounded by sky with Rome laid out below her.
I was delighted to find my favourite “Max” artist, Max Ernst, also represented by two paintings, one of them the beautifully strange Nature at Dawn.
Lastly, because it has big cats in it and is wonderfully dramatic, I was very taken with this
Paul Meyerheim painting called The Jealous Lioness.
Also on show in the exhibition, I was pleased to see a Picasso cubist portrait, a painting by Fernand Knopff, several by Paul Klee and Egon Schiele, to name a few of the many others.

Next year, so it is rumoured, the Melbourne Winter Exhibition will feature Klimt and Hundertwasser, so that’s certainly something to look forward to.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The News Where You Are by Catherine O’Flynn

Melbourne is having its coldest winter for a decade, so what better than to settle down with a good book, and The News Where You Are, Catherine O’Flynn’s recently published novel, was just the ticket. For some reason or other, O’Flynn’s book was available in Australia early, and having been very impressed with her first novel What Was Lost, I snapped up a copy of her latest at the earliest inst and couldn’t resist reading it last weekend.

“What Was Lost” was nominated on the 2007 Booker long list and won the 2007 Costa Prize for best first novel. If awards are given for originality, O’Flynn thoroughly deserved all the accolades she garnered.

So the new one, The News Where You Are, does it live up to expectation? It certainly does!

Catherine O’Flynn has a remarkable ability to invest her novels simultaneously with humour and pathos. This was the case in her first novel and in her new book as well. There is a melancholic sensibility underlying The News Where You Are, but it is also very funny in a dryly humorous way.

Main protagonist Frank Allcroft is a TV news presenter on a regional television network. Frank is generally content with his lot in life; he has a wonderful wife and a sweet young daughter upon whom he dotes, and he devotedly visits his difficult mother in the retirement home where she lives. Unambitious, Frank has been delivering local news items of remarkable triviality for over fifteen years, and has gained a following by being an inept humorist, peppering his news reports with lame and badly executed jokes. However, he is haunted by the stories he reports, especially those involving the unloved and forgotten of society; lonely deaths undiscovered for months, the funerals of whom he attends as a mark of respect. He is particularly haunted by the hit and run death of his early mentor in the news department, Phil Smethway, who had gone on to become a successful media celebrity before his untimely death, and the connection between Phil and one of the lonely deaths.

Frank is also disturbed by the changes being wrought in his city, particularly the demolition of his Architect father’s post war buildings, which one by one are disappearing from the cityscape.

At once a mystery novel, a satire on modern culture, and a study in character, there is much to like in The News Where You Are. It is a worthy successor to the acclaimed What Was Lost, despite the negative review of
Olivia Laing in the Guardian, who appears to be guilty of pushing her own premise regarding the diminishing success of authors, who have best selling first novels and fail to achieve the same success with their second. Fay Weldon’s review in the same publication is much kinder and a tad more perceptive on what O’Flynn is trying to achieve in her novels.

In my opinion The News Where You Are, establishes Catherine O’Flynn as a writer to follow. So what if the novel does deal with lost things (a different kind of lost) as in the first book, I really like her style of writing, the out of the ordinary (in literature) locations in which she sets her novels and the unusual careers of her characters.

I found the book to be just as much a page turner as What Was Lost, and was both moved by its poignancy and amused by its dry wit.

Friday, July 02, 2010

A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees by Clare Dudman

I count Clare Dudman as one of my online friends. She is also a very fine writer. Her two previous novels “Wegener’s Jigsaw” and “98 Reasons For Being” are both very well worth reading, touching as they do on obscure Scientists, Alfred Wegener who spent the bulk of his life in pursuit of his theory on Continental Drift and Heinrich Hoffmann author of the classic children’s book Struwwelpeter and early psychiatric practitioner. Clare’s imaginative and well researched re-creations of these two men’s lives make fascinating reading.

In her new novel,
“A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees”, Clare tackles the settlement of Welsh Argentina. The story tells of a group of Welsh colonists who driven to poverty in their home country accept passage to Argentina to become part of a new Welsh homeland. Based on historical fact, the description of the travails of main character, Silas James, along with his family and fellow settlers, is a moving story that engages the reader’s attention from the first chapter to the last.

Upon arrival on the shores of Patagonia, the promised new homeland is not up to expectations. Life is hard and the colony is almost abandoned as crops fail, and starvation threatens. The colonists are saved by contact with the native Tehuelche Indians. The Indians are given voice in the novel through the person of Yeluc, an elderly shaman whose thoughts on the new settlers and the Tehuelche way of life, are interspersed throughout the main story.

I whizzed through this novel over a weekend, utterly immersed in the landscape of Patagonia and the characters contending with it, as they strive to find a way of living, alternately tossed between tragedy and jubilation, disaster and progress.

A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees is a lovely novel, which I highly recommend for a rich and rewarding reading experience. Check out the above link for more information, read an extract, and watch the movie Clare has painstakingly created to promote the novel.

In a way this novel reminded me of the story of my own paternal great great grandfather, who migrated to Australia from Somerset around the same time as Clare’s novel is set. I’ll write about that in another entry.