Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Too Cool For Cats

Winter has come early to Melbourne this year. freezing cold from the middle of May. By the time winter is officially here we will be quite inured to it – sort of.

I snapped the above photo of the cats this afternoon, both curled up on the bed – in rare close proximity, though not touching.

Lizzie in the foreground looks much bigger than Willy, but truth to tell there’s not much between them in height. In weight, Lizzie is a featherweight, whereas Willy, who looks slim and slight, actually weighs a ton. He’s a solid muscular cat, hence the deceptive heaviness.

As Melbourne has been plagued with rats and mice over the past few months, Willy has been catching one or more a day. Unfortunately, he brings them inside to play with, and more often than not they escape and disappear under the furniture. Lizzie has totally lost interest in prey these days, so doesn’t even bother staking them out, a pastime she took very seriously in her younger days, so there are unknown numbers of rodents lurking somewhere in the house, unless they’ve escaped through the walls as we can’t hear any scuttling.

My attitude has become ‘out of sight out of mind’, as I can’t be bothered fretting about it.

However the thought of another three months or so of winter is kind of depressing, but a good excuse to curl up with the cats and read.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

David Mitchell – Superstar Writer at the Athenaeum

david_mitchell 007 I don’t suppose you can generally call a writer a superstar, but the huge turn out at the Athenaeum Theatre last night for noted literary light David Mitchell, gave the impression that wordsmiths can warrant such status.

David Mitchell himself admitted that he envied musicians, who can obtain an instant response from their audience as to the acceptability of their musical offerings, being out there in the glare of the spotlight a lot of the time, whereas writers, having a solitary occupation, rarely receive such feedback . He did mention though that he enjoyed touring and meeting his readers face to face.

He came across as charming, funny and unaffected; he has an appealing and attractive personality that was friendly and cheerful to all those who queued for his signature.

As these sort of events go, not that I’ve been to many, it was interesting and engaging throughout. It started with David Mitchell reading from his latest novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, then Melbourne Writers Festival Program Manager, Jenny Niven posed several questions about his writing process. He spoke at length about his methods of research and the problems inherent in writing an historical novel. All very interesting and wittily expressed by the guest of honour.

After a few audience questions, it was a matter of getting in line for the signing. It was a long queue, but David Mitchell seemed indefatigable. I only took my copy of Thousand Autumns, and was pleased to have it signed, though others seemed to have brought along his entire opus.

David Mitchell has been widely praised for his writing, and I have no arguments with that, as I recall my delight when I first discovered his books when Cloud Atlas was published. I was entranced by the novel and awestruck by Mitchell’s clever sleight of hand prose. At my time of life it was thrilling to discover a writer of Mitchell’s calibre as such beguiling writers are all too infrequent.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Black Caviar phenomenon continues in Queensland


Black Caviar is aiming for her 13th win in succession and 6th Group One in the BTC Cup at Doomben race track on Saturday (today) . Queensland Racing is expecting record crowds to attend, matching or even overtaking the turnout back in the 1970s for Queensland racing hero Gunsynd aka The Goondawindi Grey.

The weather on Saturday in Brisbane is expected to be fine and sunny, so the track should be good. Certainly better than the present weather here in Melbourne where winter has struck with a vengeance. Oh to be in sunny Queensland!

A field of eight will contest the BTC Cup, a weight for age competition over 1200 metres. The field includes Hay List who proved his superiority to the majority of sprinters excepting Black Caviar, recently demolishing a classy field in the All Aged Stakes with an effortless 3.5 length win. Black Caviar and Hay List have met on three occasions, and the mare has won all three, so I can’t see Hay List getting the better of her in this.

The remainder of the field will no doubt have to fight for third spot. Old troopers Black Piranha and Snipers Bullet who haven’t raced since December 2010, resume in this race. They both have form on the track, but they’ll probably be pipped by super consistent mare Melito or one of the other younger contenders.

It’ll be a must watch race for racing fans all over Australia simply because of super star Black Caviar, but alas it won’t be free to air TV. I’m contemplating going to the nearest TAB to witness the event, depending on the weather.

Speaking of stars of the turf, the 2010 Australian Spring Carnival hero, So You Think, had his first start for his new trainer Aiden O’Brien in a 2000 metre race at the Curragh in Ireland. Though not pitted against the top echelon of middle distance runners, So You Think won the race by 10 lengths, displaying his obvious class and impressing all and sundry. He’ll be contesting harder races in June, so here’s hoping he continues his winning ways.

This post was written mid week, but as Blogger has been down I haven’t been able to post it until today.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Rumble, Shake & Tumble with the Wagons

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I just love watching the Wagons band perform live, and had an opportunity today to see them at an in store at Basement Discs. Their new album Rumble, Shake & Tumble, was released today and a large audience was at Basement Discs to celebrate the launch.

As a live band Wagons are dynamic, rambunctious and riveting. Led by the very funny and charismatic Henry Wagons, they gave us a taste of the new record to the tune of four or five songs. Very tasty it was too, full of country rock goodness, and included a great tribute song to Willie Nelson.

Henry was in fine form spruiking the new record for all his worth, and I’m certain many CDs were sold, particularly after he called for pug puppy Gordon to join him on stage. How could you love the guy and not buy his record!
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Check them out on
My Space and try and get to a live performance during their extensive tour supporting the new album. They won’t be back in Melbourne until mid July when they’ll be doing an extravaganza at the Forum Theatre.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Books and reading

It has been ages since I last wrote about books, so as a break in posts about horse racing and live music, here’s one about what I’ve been reading.

Late last year when I looked through lists of books forthcoming for 2011, I was less than thrilled with what was scheduled. In fact, unlike every other year, this year appeared to have no new books I was particularly looking forward to reading.

It seemed to be a dire and somewhat worrying situation, so much so that I imagined myself having to spend the year rereading my own private library or downloading old classics onto my Kindle.

Now that I have retired from work, I devout several hours in the morning to reading. I like reading in bed in natural light without wearing my contact lenses. I am short sighted so reading without visual aids is no problem and seems to be kinder on my eyes.

So what have I been reading? Lots of different books in fact, many of them new to me as well as rereading many old favourites.

Since Christmas I haven’t actually bought a physical book, until today, when I went to Readings bookstore in Carlton to redeem a gift voucher, which I’d been meaning to do for ages and had forgotten about. I did rather well, coming home with a hard cover of The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier and a hard cover signed copy of Rose Tremain’s The Road Home which I found on Readings famous bargain table. The Illumination is Kevin Brockmeier’s new novel. I was very impressed by his 2006 novel A Brief History of the Dead, so I’m looking forward to reading his latest, which sounds fascinating. Rose Tremain is one of my favourite novelists. I’ve been collecting her novels for years, so to get a signed copy of one of her books is a thrill.


Despite not buying hard copies of books, I have been buying plenty of ebooks, and have discovered some great novels which passed me by last year. I’ve been most taken with Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, A Visit From The Goon Squad, a brilliant novel that I felt compelled to read twice, to see how it was structured and to pick up on all the clues scattered throughout that reveal the whole story. The novel is structured as a series of interrelated short stories, giving different viewpoints on the lives of the main protagonists, and there are many of them, who are somehow or other related to main character Bennie Salazar, a successful music producer in New York. One chapter is in fact a Power Point presentation. The novel ends with a satisfying mental click, accompanied by a silent “Yes!”


The Dervish House, a Science Fiction novel by
Ian McDonald is another book I found to be above average and brilliant in its own way. Also sporting a large cast of characters, and following six separate story threads, it is set in Istanbul in the year 2027 and opens dramatically with a suicide bombing on a tram, an incident that reverberates on the lives of several of the denizens of the Dervish House who are indeed the subjects of the six threads, which naturally intertwine as the novel progresses .


Currently I’m reading
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes, a South African writer. The novel is set in a future Johannesburg, where malefactors are stigmatised through the mysterious acquisition of an animal familiar, a twisted version of the daemons in Phillip Pullman’s Golden Compass series, and forced to inhabit ghettos. The heroine of Zoo City is Zinzi December whose animal familiar is a sloth. She makes ends meet by composing scam email messages, and on the side uses her special talent for finding lost things for private clients. It’s a punkish, hardboiled urban fantasy with a smart streetwise heroine, and I’m enjoying it immensely.

Other than the books mentioned above, I’ve also recently reread two Michael Chabon novels, the great The Yiddish Policeman’s Union and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay that I admit I enjoyed more on this second reading than I did when I first read it back in 2004. I’ve also read Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguru, Sacred Country and Music & Silence by Rose Tremain, The Silent Land by Graham Joyce, as well as many others that fail to spring to mind at the moment.

Titus Awakes

Just yesterday I found out that the long lost fourth novel in
Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series is to be published this year to mark the centenary of Mervyn Peake’s birth on 7 July 1911. The new book, entitled Titus Awakes was written by his wife Maeve Gilmore, from notes left by Peake before his untimely death and was only recently unearthed in an attic by one of his granddaughters. Who knows what it will be like, but as a long-time fan of the Gormenghast Trilogy I feel I had to have it. Strangely, the British first edition will be a paperback, so I’ve pre-ordered the American hard cover edition, as I do love hard covered books. I have however pre-ordered the new UK illustrated hard cover edition of the Gormenghast Trilogy which will be published on 7th July. Having already the old Penguin paperback versions as well as a three volume hard cover set of the trilogy, I reckon the new edition will be an asset to my existing Peake collection, most of which are rare first or early editions.

On the subject of books and writers, I almost forgot to mention that one of my favourite writers,
David Mitchell, author of such marvellous books as Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten, not to mention The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet ,will be in Melbourne on 17th May and will be in conversation with Melbourne Writers Festival Program Manager, Jenny Niven at the Athenaeum Theatre. I’ve got a ticket and am looking forward to attending the event. I doubt if he’ll be doing a signing, but I’ll take my copy of Thousand Autumns just in case. He’s in Australia for the Sydney Writers Festival and will only be briefly in Melbourne.