Thursday, August 25, 2011

Spring is in the air – The Memsie Stakes

Shamrocker resumes in the Group 2 Memsie Stakes – photo by Michael Dodge source Daily Telegraph

For the past week, the weather in Melbourne has been kind – warm and sunny, though it is expected to cool off by the weekend. Not much rain is predicted, so the course at Caulfield on Saturday should be spot on and good for an interesting race card.

The Group 2 Memsie Stakes (1400 metres, WFA) is the feature event and the field has a quality field of stayers and a few middle distance runners, several of them resuming for the Spring. Notably, Shamrocker, who won the Rosehill Guineas and the AJC (Sydney) Derby in the autumn, will kick off her spring campaign in this race.  1400 metres is a little too short for her, but it will be interesting to see how she goes.

Other favourites of mine resuming, are Linton, who acquitted himself well in the autumn running second to Shocking in the Australian Cup and third to the recently deceased Cedarberg in the BMW, and Heart of Dreams, getting on now, but a quality WFA galloper who could well be in the finish. It’s a wide open race as far as picking the winner, but the in form Rekindled Interest and Prince Obama may be the ones to beat. The mystery runner is the former New Zealand trained mare, King’s Rose who has now joined the Peter Moody stable and is highly thought of within racing circles.

The other race of interest at Caulfield is the Group 3  McNeil Stakes – a race for 3yos over 1200 metres. A good field of smart youngsters have accepted. There’s Golden Archer who ran second to Sepoy in the Vain Stakes a fortnight ago, gutsy filly Satin Shoes who narrowly won the Quezette  Stakes from Metonymy who is also part of the field and may turn the tables on her this time. Others of interest are Do You Think, beaten by the classy Helmet in the Sires Produce Stakes in April, the beautifully bred Decircles, a last start winner albeit on a country racetrack, and the aptly named Vatican  (Gods Own – Our Sistine).

The Group 3 Run To the Rose is the feature race at Rosehill in Sydney on Saturday. For 3yos and run over 1200 metres, it witnesses the return of classy colts Helmet and Smart Missile as well as last start San Domenico Stakes winner Fox Wedge and Karuta Queen who ran third in that race.  The resumption of Smart Missile is the most anticipated. He is the only horse to have beaten Sepoy, which he did by a short margin in the Manfred Stakes back in March on a bog track. Helmet has won his last three starts and is obviously a very talented youngster. He almost blew his chances in the Champagne Stakes, by veering wildly when reacting to the tap of a whip in the final stages of the race, but still managed to win.

As well as the above races on Australian turf, over the Tasman several New Zealand bred Spring contenders will be contesting the Mafki Challenge Stakes at Hastings, so is of interest in terms of the big races yet to come.  The ripper field includes Mufhasa, Jimmy Choux, Lion Tamer, Wall Street and Scarlett Lady, all familiar names from the autumn, most of them with Group wins in Australia under their belts.

It’s still two weeks until the first Group One race (Golden Rose) of the season, but as fields build in quality, the excitement continues to rise accordingly.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes


I keep forgetting how much I admire the writing style of Julian Barnes, but as soon as I start one of his books it all comes back; how enjoyable they are to read.

It was thus I began this latest of his novels, The Sense of an Ending yesterday; a few pages into the novel, I recognised its quality and relished the thought that there were many more pages to go.

Not that many, actually,  as it is a short novel of 150 pages.  A lot is packed into those 150 pages, as the narrator Anthony Webster, a 60 something divorcee, recalls certain events in his life, after receiving an odd legacy from the mother of one of his old girlfriends.

The predominant theme of the novel  is memory – its trustworthiness or rather its fallibility and how liable a person is for the actions of their life in relation to other people. Theories of history also play a part in the novel, in terms of truth and reliable reportage of facts.

Despite the novel being written from a male point of view I found myself identifying with it, being at that 60 something age myself. However, in my case, I smugly thought, I have a record I can refer to in my diaries, which I kept for 20 years or so.

I mean to reread them at some stage, not to vicariously relive my youth, but to clarify my memory of times past. It could be very embarrassing, reading one’s callow youthful thoughts, but then again it might be enlightening and finally force me to decide whether to retain them for future generations or destroy them.

Sorry to get off the track, but perhaps the protagonist of Barnes’ novel would have benefitted from keeping a journal.

Be that as it may, of all the Booker long list novels I have so far read, The Sense of an Ending strikes me as a likely winner of the prize. It has a maturity and quality quite lacking in the others, which were entertaining and well written, but hardly prize winners.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Chock Full of Country Goodness – The Amazing Rhythm Aces

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A rare event and a fabulous band, The Amazing Rhythm Aces took to the stage at Basement Discs at lunchtime today.

Led by Russell Smith, the Aces are an excellent US country/blues/ rock band with a highly distinctive sound, characterised by Russell Smith’s great vocals. He’s also an excellent song writer, famous for the classic Third Rate Romance (Low Rent Rendezvous) and many other songs. 

Today he had a long set list to choose from, but he claimed that he knew the words to all of his songs, so didn’t really need it and proved it conclusively.  We got The End Is Not In Sight, The King Is In His Castle, Midnight Communion, Della’s Long Brown Hair and of course Third Rate Romance.

I last had the pleasure of seeing the Aces back in 1997 at the (late lamented) Continental Cafe, so it was great to renew my acquaintance with their music.

The current line up for the Australian tour is Russell Smith (guitar, vocals), Billy Earheart (keyboards) Kelvin Holly (guitar, harmonies) Fred James (bass) and Mike Dillon (drums).

Check them out on My Space and give them a listen.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Books – Currently Reading

I seem to have consumed a great many books over the winter, the last few weeks being especially intensive.

The Booker  long list was announced on 26 July, and I noted at the time that I had not read a single one. Normally there are one or two that are worth looking at, even if they don’t make it to the short list, let alone win the prize. I‘m often baffled by the selection of the winner, last year’s winner,  for instance, The Finkler Question, which I got around to reading after the award was announced, and subsequently  loathed, though I loved the 2009 winner Wolf Hall.

This year’s long list seems diverse and interesting, so I decided to give some of them a go,  my stricture being that they must be available in ebook format and be appealing in one way or another to my taste. Normally I would only get around to reading a small selection of the Booker list, as the expense of buying books in Australia is prohibitive and besides, half the list is not available here at all.

The Kindle comes to rescue again, so this year I can sample those books on the long list available in ebook format at less than half the cost of a regular book.

So far I’ve read three of the long list; a seafaring tale, a western and a Victorian mystery thriller set around horse racing. All were very different and all were entertaining and interesting to read.

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The seafaring tale is Carol Birch’s Jamrach’s Menagerie, narrated by Jaffy Brown, who opens the novel with the following statement:

I was born twice. First in a wooden room that jutted out over the black waters of the Thames, and then again eight years later in the Highway, when a tiger took me in his mouth and everything truly began.

Jaffy’s adventures, after being saved from the tiger by Jamrach of the title, and given a job as yardman and animal carer in the menagerie, eventually take him to sea in quest of a dragon. The voyage ends in shipwreck and what follows thereafter is one of the most harrowing reading experiences I have ever undergone.  Towards the end of the book Jaffy recaps his life as follows:

 One way or another I suppose you could say that voyage was the making of me. I’d have been a yardboy. Is that what it was all for? To make of me the man I am now? Is God mad? Is that it? Stuck between a mad God and merciless nature? What a game.

Believe me, it’s a remarkable book, powerfully written – a tale of high adventure and survival after unimaginable hardship.


The Sisters Brothers by Patrick De Witt is a picaresque Western yarn set during the Californian gold rush period. The story is narrated by Eli Sisters who along with his brother Charlie are famous gunslingers feared throughout the west. They are hired by a man called the Commodore to seek out and destroy a prospector named Herman Kermit Warms.

Eli’s narrative follows the brothers journey from Oregon to San Francisco, and their encounters along the way, which often end in bloodshed.

However the book has more depth than at first appears, and is darkly funny. Eli’s voice is matter of fact, laconic and deadpan, and he often muses on his career as a gunslinger and his wish to get out of the business, settle down and open a trading post.  I won’t spoil the ending, but if you liked True Grit or the Coen Brothers movies, this book will probably appeal.


With my fondness for horse racing, I suppose it’s obvious why I should find Derby Day by D.J. Taylor appealing.

Horse racing during the Victorian period is in fact the focus of this novel.

The book is more an intrigue than a mystery, with various characters from both high and low life all scheming for a result on Derby Day. And there are a few murders to be investigated as well. None of the characters are  particularly attractive or likeable, personality wise, but the complex plot, and the wheeling and dealing on the part of various characters, keep one interested to the end, which naturally concludes with the running of the race at Epsom. The hero of the novel, if there is one, is the racehorse Tiberius. Whether he wins the Derby or not, I’m not letting on.

Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say any of the above novels will the Booker Prize, I found them all enjoyable, though I am not inspired enough by the writing to seek out other novels written by any of the above authors. I plan to read The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes next, just as soon as I can download it onto my Kindle and will probably read The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers, as it is a dystopian novel, and has been compared to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and P D James’ Children of Men, both of which books I love.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

An afternoon at the races

Kneeling, posing for photos after winning the Crockett Stakes

It being a bright and sunny Spring day, yesterday I decided to attend the race meeting at Moonee Valley. I’ve recently purchased a season’s ticket (very good value for $95.00) so will probably attend more often than has been my want in the past.

Let’s hope I’m luckier next time which will be on September 10, as I came out the loser yesterday, though only bet very modestly, so didn’t lose all that much.

I arrived at the course just before Race 5, the Crockett Stakes which was a race for 3 year old fillies over 1200 metres. I had my money on Hallowell Belle, who ran second to Kneeling.

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Hallowell Belle being guided to the barrier stalls by Sub Zero (winner of the 1992 Melbourne Cup).

The next race was the Nissen McKenzie Stakes a 1200 metres sprint for colts and geldings. I decided to back Niconoise, half brother to group winners Niconero and Nicconi, who showed great  promise in his only start .

The race was won by outsider Amah Rock, like Niconoise, having only his second start, scraping into the field as first emergency after several scratchings.

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Amah Rock after winning the Nissen McKenzie.

Race 7, hoping to recoup my loss on Niconoise I decided to go for Lone Rock, the class mare in the race, who was at good odds. However, she missed out on a place, the short price favourite Kulgrinda winning easily from Happy Angel and Morgan Dollar.

Kulgrinda after winning the Printhouse  Graphics Stakes

Despite not having much luck in betting, it was a pleasant day to be out in the sunshine watching thoroughbred racehorses strut their stuff.  I left after Race 7, catching the sleepy No 506  bus home. 

The meeting on September 10th will have better quality races on the cards, notably the so called  Cox Plate preview Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes (Feehan Stakes). Can Whobegotyou win it for a third time?

Last photo is of trainers Danny O’Brien and Mark Kavanagh having a smoke and chat outside the holding stalls.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Don Walker – Quality with a Capital Q

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Today’s well attended in-store at Basement Discs starred former Cold Chisel lyricist and keyboard player, Don Walker. He is the man who wrote the  famous Chisel songs Choir Girl, Khe Sanh, Saturday Night, Flame Trees, etc. etc. He is recognized as one of Australia’s best song writers and he sang some fine examples today, starting with the bluesy Angry Women, following that with Postcard from Elvis – both fabulous songs – and several more, closing with the raunchy Yakuza Girls.

I must admit I have not paid any attention to Don Walker’s solo career, so was mightily impressed by his performance today. He was accompanied by his current band The Suave Fucks (described as "all songs and no database") who provided very tasteful backing to his wonderful songs. They included Charlie Owen and several other familiar musicians whose names escape me.

The artist he most reminded me of was Texas singer/songwriter supremo Guy Clark; Don Walker’s songs have that same quality of literacy and cleverness with words. Like Guy Clark his songs tell great stories that reel out like a movie in your brain.

A truly excellent quality half hour of music, which had to be seen to be believed.

Don Walker is also the author of acclaimed memoir Shots

Friday, August 12, 2011

Eagle & The Worm – Woo Hoo!

Melbourne is acknowledged to be the live music capital of Australia, and it seems to me that new bands are emerging from the cracks in the pavement at a remarkable rate.

Witness today, the live in store at Basement Discs, where new local band Eagle & The Worm – all eight of them – performed a lively half hour of music promoting their debut CD/Vinyl Good Times.

eagleandworm1 (Medium) 

Band members are Jarrad Brown, Richard Bradbeer, Jim Lawrie, Joe Cope, Michael Hubbard, Emily Mould, Ross Beaton, Liam McGorry, but don’t ask me to identify who is who, except Emily (obviously), who plays trombone, or how they came by their unusual band name.

And their music? Well, it was loud as you’d expect, but really joyful and fun. I heard snatches of The Cars, the Beatles, The Beach Boys in the mix, so I’d say it was playful pop and it was played and sung with verve.

Being an eight piece outfit, they obviously didn’t fit onto the tiny Basement stage, so here’s a photo of the brass section.

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I missed writing about last Friday’s Basement Discs in-store, when another talented group of Melbourne musicians calling themselves Brothers Grim and The Blue Murders, showcased their debut CD, A Year To Forget. They describe themselves as “…four Blues Hounds reviving 20's blues, in an unwholesome, moon howling, sweat dripping, groin shaking fervor. It's been loosely described as... "Unwholesome sex voodoo delta blues-a-billy" or "Howlin' Wolf in an AC/DC T-shirt on too much cocaine"”


Notwithstanding their excellent interpretation of blues , you’d feel tempted to buy the CD for the cover alone – I love it!

Next Friday Don Walker (Cold Chisel) takes the Basement stage, then on  Tuesday 23rd August The Amazing Rhythm Aces, a great band from the USA will be performing an in-store.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Spring Racing Carnival Warm Up

Sepoy resumes this Saturday in the Vain Stakes

Though Spring is not in the air in Melbourne at present, this week being a particularly dreary and wintry one, there’s a lot to look forward to in the racing scene this weekend, which is sure to add sparkle to my Saturday afternoon.

There are two choice Group 3 competitions, one at Caulfield and one at Rosehill, and also the Group 2 P B Lawrence Stakes (formerly the Liston Stakes) at Caulfield and several interesting listed races.

Several of the stars of autumn begin their Spring campaigns, most notably champion two-year-old,  Sepoy, who starts off his three-year-old season in the listed Vain Stakes. It’s run over 1100 metres, so easy going for the youngsters. Sepoy should win this if he’s half the horse we think he is, despite the hoodoo on Slipper winners in the race. His only competition as far as I can see will come from Golden Archer from the Peter Moody stable.

The Quezette Stakes is the fillies equivalent of the Vain Stakes and it’s good see the reappearance of classy fillies from the autumn, such as Satin Shoes, Glissade and Golden Slipper runner up Mosheen,  Also in with a pretty good chance are the so far unbeaten Cute Emily, and the lesser credentialed Metonymy who both are trained by the in form Peter Moody.

Whobegotyou returns to the turf after a long absence in the Group 2 P B Lawrence Stakes (1400 metres) and could well win it. But I will be most interested to see how unbeaten mare Lights of Heaven performs in this, her first race in open company. A number of imported stayers are having a practice run in this race, so they are not really expected to win over 1400 metres, but Absolutely, the only other mare in the race, who finished second behind Lights Of Heaven in the South Australian Oaks, and won the Sydney Oaks on a bog track back in April,  could be in the finish if the track is on the slow side.

The Group Two Cockram Stakes over 1200 metres is a race for mares and sees the return of Victorian Oaks winner Brazilian Pulse, Sydney mare Parables and the talented South Australian mare Southern Speed. Lady Lynette, now a seven year old could surprise, as could Pinker Pinker, but fitness may favour Bletchingly Stakes winner Mid Summer Music and the runner up Rue Maple. Whatever, it will be an interesting race to watch.

Rosehill hosts the Group 3 San Domenico Stakes, a race for three-year-olds over 1100 metres. Magic Millions winner Karuta Queen resumes in this as does the wonderfully named Hollyweird, and as far as the fillies go, are two of the top chances. Of the colts Foxwedge and Fontelina look the likeliest if they can beat the fillies.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Melbourne Museum & Tutankhamun Exhibition


I have not been to Melbourne Museum for ages, not since the new building, constructed during the Kennett years, opened in 2000. I remember the occasion vividly as I’d had a tooth extracted in the morning and met friends at the Museum afterwards. I was somewhat dazed by the novocaine, but tottered around the museum, lingering longest at the Pharlap exhibit. In my student days I often visited his mounted hide at the old museum in Latrobe Street, so it was like greeting an old acquaintance.

Anyway that was not why it was so memorable. After leaving the museum on this occasion, I ambled towards home, via Smith Street in order to drop into the Smith Street TAB outlet and cash my winnings from the Melbourne Cup. Brew won that year and paid very handsomely. It was Oaks day, so I decided to reinvest some of my winnings on an Oaks trifecta. Still under the influence of novocaine, I dreamily chose three likely fillies. I stayed to watch the race, and blow me down, my trifecta was a winner, and paid a dividend of $650.00 when outsider Lovelorn romped home. My best win ever on the horses, considering my modest outlay.

Back to the present…

Melbourne today was bright and sunny with a temperature of 22°C, so sandals and tee-shirts were the go, as off I tripped to the museum, arriving in plenty of time for my pre-booked session at 12.30pm.

Today was seniors day, which I deliberately chose as there was less likelihood of school children swarming in droves and cluttering up the exhibition space.  My logic was spot on and my fellow attendees were generally in the older person category.

You have to queue behind a rope until you can enter, and then are presented with a video introduction, briefly outlining the historical period etc. Then the doors are opened and a light shines on a statue of Tutankhamun (something like the picture below).


Christ, I thought, I hope it’s not going to be dark all the way through. But my fears were unjustified, though the lighting in general was subdued, to enhance the atmosphere and highlight the ancient wonders of Egypt on display.

The exhibition, though principally revolving around the boy king, dedicated several rooms to his forebears.  The mummy cases of Queen Tjuyu and Amenhotep III were both on show. In case you don’t know, which I didn’t, these two were Tutakhamun’s  grand parents. Below is the funerary mask of Queen Tjuyu.


Akhenaten and Nefertiti were also covered. There was an exquisite carving of Nefertiti, which unfortunately was not available as a postcard.

After moving through the several rooms dedicated to Tut’s forebears, finally you reach the boy king’s realm. Most of the displays were of the artefacts found in the tomb. I was really taken with a small chair, simply ornamented in ebony and ivory, with lion’s feet (including claws), and a carving of a panther.

I must admit the workmanship on all the artefacts was first class and very beautiful. Below is funerary jar with lion recumbent.


There were about five rooms devoted to Tutankhamun, though it was disappointing that not one of his mummy cases was part of the exhibition.

It took about two hours to work through all the rooms, if you took the time to read the notes on each of the display cases. And as a bonus, I was able to recognise Tutankhamun’s two names in cartouche’s after watching a video lesson that was playing on the wall in one of the rooms.

It was an interesting and fascinating exhibition and I’m glad I took the effort to go, but I think the Art of Vienna show at the Gallery was better overall.