Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Break out the Bubbly - Farewell to 2013

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Willy looking noble

2013 was in all a pretty interesting year, with no personal disasters to mar it. It is now exactly three years since I quit work, and I find I still enjoy retirement enormously and don’t miss work at all.  There are always plenty of things to do to fill time, and even if a lot of that is spent in front of a computer, I rarely get bored.

A highlight of the year for me was witnessing Black Caviar winning two of the last races of her career, and being part of the crowd on the occasions when she was at the track. I watched Australian Story last Sunday, which featured the Black Caviar story and was thrilled and moved all over again, seeing her win her races so effortlessly. She certainly was one in a million, and it will be a long time before we see her like again.

This year I attended more race meetings than ever before, and I saw all the equine stars strutting their stuff up close – Atlantic Jewel, It’s A Dundeel, Fiorente etc, etc.  I’m looking forward to the Melbourne autumn racing season, when I will venture track wise again.

Cat stand off

In January this year we adopted Talya, the Russian Princess, so she’s been living with us for almost a year.  Both she and Willy are used to each other now, and despite Talya occasionally being aggressive to Willy, he appears to take this in his stride. They’ll never be friends, but  they are not sworn enemies either, and tolerate each other quite well. Most days when it’s cool they will sleep on the bed together, Willy on my pillow, Talya on B’s, only a few feet apart. Also Willy appears to have come to an accommodation with Monty the cat next door, as they haven’t brawled for ages, and have been observed sitting peacefully together in the front yard of the house two doors up.

Books & Music

I didn’t get to many live shows this year, but the few I did attend were all different and equally enjoyable. The discovery of the year was The Milk Carton Kids, who hopefully will return in 2014.  As I also didn’t listen to music all that much and bought very few CDs, I haven’t any particular favourites from 2013. Patty Griffin’s new CD American Kid was one of the best, as was The Milk Carton Kids’ The Ash & Clay, but nothing much else really took my fancy.

As usual I read many books, some rereads of old favourites and quite a few new books.

My best of 2013 are:

kingsolver_flight behaviour orphan master's son life after life
goldfinch-large we are all last-friends


Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolvermy review is here.

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnsonmy review is here.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson - Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. This novel is very different to her Jackson Brodie series, but an engaging and clever novel just the same.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – a coming of age novel, a thriller, a page turner fraught with anxiety.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler – my review is here.

Hild by Nicola Griffith – I finished this novel the other night, and I’m still haunted by it. It is an imaginative biography of St Hilda of Whitby, set in a turbulent seventh century Britain.  It is a remarkable novel with a remarkable heroine. Hild leaps from the page in all her  intelligent complexity. I loved this book, and can hardly wait for its sequel.

Last Friends by Jane Gardham – the third book in the Old Filth trilogy, tells the story of Filth’s rival, Terry Veneering. It was laugh out loud funny in parts, and quite as wonderful as anything Jane Gardham has written.

I just realised that my favourite novels of 2013 were all written by women, with one exception. I’m sure I did read books by male writers, but they didn’t grab me as much as the books mentioned above.

Despite the title of this post, I have no intention of breaking out any bubbly tonight. As usual we’ll be spending a quiet evening at home with the cats.

To finish, here’s a card we received from friends at Christmas and thought hilariously appropriate.


Happy New Year everyone! May your 2014 be full of delightful surprises, good health and happiness.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Into the Mystic…

I’ve always been into cards, not the playing kind, but the arty sort, and over the years have accumulated quite a collection. Many of them were acquired when I worked at Space Age Books in the 1970s. These cards are probably quite rare these days, as you don’t see them anymore in card shops, or anywhere else for that matter.

What brought this collection to my mind was a present I received for Christmas from a friend. It was a small, pretty, vintage decoupage suitcase.

Decoupage suitcase

As you can see it is quite delightful and, as it turns out, useful as well. I decided it would be ideal for storing my collection of cards. They actually filled it to the brim.

Hunting out all the cards, from various nooks and crannies, I rediscovered an unusual set of large (150 mm x 210 mm) cards depicting the astrological signs as mandalas, which I had completely forgotten about.

They date from 1975 and are quite spectacular, so I’ve scanned them for this post. The card designs are by A T Mann, and the cards themselves were published by Dragon’s World Ltd.

Click to enlarge the images for more details.


AriesStonehenge – Solunar Observatory

taurus gemini

The great pyramid at Giza
Astronomical Temple

A memory theatre
Vitruvius Palladio – Dee, Fludd

cancer leoplanets2

Jambudvita World Diagram
Jaina Cosmos

Figura Intellectus, Magicosmic Mnemormandala (Giordano Bruno)

virgo libra

Sri Yantra -  Hindu Tantric Yantra

I Ching, squared and encircled

scorpio sagittarius

Tibetan Buddhist Mandala, Mahakala Gonpo-Magpo Chakra

Aztec Calendar Wheel
Precious Fire Serpents

Capricorn - Kabbalah-Sephiroth, Tree of Life.

aquairius pisces

Astrology, Cosmic Geometry

North Rose window, Chartres Cathedral

And finally for this blog post, the solution to the Christmas Crossword in my last post.

xmas crossword_solution

Monday, December 23, 2013

T’is the Season to be Jolly

Ronald Searle – St Trinian’s girls mug Santa

As a contrast to my state of health and mind at this time last year, when I was recovering from a nasty dose of the flu, this evening finds me chipper and in good spirits and looking forward to Christmas.

The image above kind of matches my rather jaundiced view of the season, after my email account has been battered by every site, on which I am on the mailing list, sending constant messages about Christmas specials. I bought all my presents ages ago, so their pleas for me to buy their goods leave me cold and unresponsive.

But to mark the occasion on my blog, I thought I would put up a seasonal crossword for my blog readers to puzzle over.

Firstly a bit of history.

Back in 1989, a drinking buddy of mine who was also a cryptic crossword enthusiast, decided that he would have a go at creating one himself. Not to be outdone, I followed suit, and from then on we both produced cryptic crosswords for several years, and distributed them to fellow crossword enthusiasts at the pub we frequented back in those days.

At first, as I didn’t have a computer until 1994, I used to hand draw the crossword pattern,  painstakingly colour the black squares with a texta pen, then type the clues on a typewriter. After that I would physically paste the typed document and crossword grid onto a fresh piece of paper and photocopy it.

After getting a computer I created my crosswords using a nifty shareware program called Crossword Compiler. Amazingly, that old shareware program still works on my current computer as I used it today to create the solution to the crossword below.

xmas crossword96

Please click on the image to enlarge it and print it out if you want to have a bash at solving it.  Most (not all) of the words relate to 13 across, the answer to which is Christmas.

I’ll put up the solution after Christmas.

With that, wishing Merry Christmas to you all.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Passing Time In The Room…

When I purchased my iPad earlier this year, I set about investigating all the apps that are available to load onto it. There are many to choose from, in fact one is quite spoiled for choice, so vast and varied is the selection.

However, as my iPad has only a 16GB capacity, I can’t go overboard, and besides I’ve noticed that many of the apps I downloaded earlier in the year, I have not opened for months.

I must admit I have become addicted to my iPad, and find it a wonderful way to kill time. I check out the news every morning, as well as Facebook, Twitter and various horse racing, music and book sites.

But what has been occupying my time since last Thursday is the iPad game The Room 2.

The first game, The Room, was voted the top iPad game for 2012, and having played it I can confirm that it was well deserved. It’s a wonderfully engaging, spooky puzzle box of a game, that lends itself to the iPad perfectly, in fact it was designed specifically to run on the platform. 

The Room artwork from game creators Fireproof Games

Described as “a mind-bending journey filled with beauty, peril and mystery in equal measure…you are transported into a unique space that blends spellbinding visuals with intriguing problems to solve

Needless to say I was sucked in by the first game and was keen to get stuck into the second, so purchased and downloaded it on the day it was released.

The Room 2 artwork from game creators Fireproof Games

The Room 2 is just as enjoyable to play as the original, and being familiar with the environment from the earlier game, I find the second game to be even more intriguing and addictive.

The good thing about the games is that they are not mindless shoot em ups, but require you to think and explore the 3D environment for clues to solving various devious puzzles. Finding one object locked away in a drawer unlocks another part of the mechanism you are trying to open. The mood of the game is rather spooky, but the images are rendered in such exquisite detail that you can almost feel the texture under your fingertips. Other puzzles require you to use the so called '”eye piece” which gives you access to another more mysterious dimension beyond the physical.

The point of the game, if there is one, is to follow the trail left by a person known only as A S who leaves various mysterious notes, giving clues as to how to go about it.  The gizmos and machines once unlocked move you closer to the path you must follow. In The Room 2, more rooms open up with more machines and objects to puzzle over. The original game took place in only one room. 

So far in The Room 2, I have reached the third chapter without having to refer to a walk through, so I’m pleased with myself at having come so far. There’s an intellectual satisfaction to be gained from solving the puzzles and moving on. There’s no imperative to speed through the game, other than curiosity as to its conclusion, so I’m savouring the game and taking my time exploring the rooms and objects as I come across them. In fact, I’m enjoying it so much I don’t want it to end.

A mysterious mechanism in The Room 2, with note from A S. Artwork from Fireproof Games.

Of course the game I am most eagerly awaiting is Tesla Effect, the new Tex Murphy computer game. It won’t be released until next year, but from what I’ve seen, or from what Big Finish Games have chosen to reveal, it looks as if it could be very special. In the meantime, I’m happy playing the clever concoctions of Fireproof Games.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Sweet Is The Melody – Iris DeMent Sings the Delta

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Iris DeMent live at Thornbury Theatre 5 December 2013

You could almost imagine that you were somewhere in the deep south of America on Thursday evening at Thornbury Theatre, so transforming and evocative was the wonderful concert performed by Iris DeMent.

The grandiose ballroom was packed to the chandeliers with the sell out crowd, but we all experienced the show as if we were sitting in Iris’s living room. Such was the intimacy of a rare night in the company of an unique American singer songwriter.

I first saw Iris DeMent live in 1998 at the late lamented Continental Cafe in Prahran, so was delighted when this tour was announced, and booked tickets as soon as they became available.

The show opener was Australian Country artist Catherine Britt. I have not previously seen her perform, so was interested to see how she came across. Quite well, actually. She gave us a sweet set of 7 of her own compositions, including Charlestown Road, A Good Few Years and standout Sweet Emmylou, Catherine’s tribute to Emmylou Harris.

catherine britt 2_cropped
Catherine Britt live at Thornbury Theatre 5 December 2013

I remember my surprise when Iris DeMent first walked on stage at the Continental all those years ago. She was unassuming, dressed simply in shirtmaker dress, in fact she appeared quite dowdy. But as soon as she opened her mouth all those impressions were swept away in the glory of her unique voice.

This time she was wore a short sleeved dress in a cowboy print, and cowboy boots. She is not in least photogenic, but I doubt that she cares. It’s the music and the words of her songs that count for everything.

Iris began her set with Makin’ My Way Back Home, a song, from her latest album Sing The Delta, which is an exquisite collection of soulful songs inspired by the place where she grew up in the Arkansas Delta.

She performed quite few songs from the new album, Mama Was Always Tellin’ Her Truth, the title track, Livin’ On The  Inside and several others, but she covered songs from her four previous records as well, singing well loved tunes like Sweet Is The MelodyWhen My Morning Comes Around, Easy’s Gettin’ Harder Every Day and No Time To Cry.

For the most part Iris accompanied herself on the piano, which gave the concert a somewhat churchy tone –hallelujah – playing to a hushed and respectful audience.  One of the highlights was her rendition of the song that is played during the credits of the Coen Brothers film True Grit. Iris recorded Leaning On The Everlasting Arms on her gospel album Lifeline, and informed us that when she received the request for permission to use the song, she had forgotten all about it.

Another song, Like A White Stone, one I had not previously heard, was inspired by the works of Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, and the words of the song are rendered directly from Akhmatova’s poem.

Iris DeMent gave generously of her time and performed 19 songs in all including the encore where she sang three songs, two of them being her best known “hits” My Life and Our Town. The latter song was famously played in the closing moments of the last episode of the TV series Northern Exposure.

It was simply wonderful to see Iris DeMent live in concert again after a hiatus of fifteen years. Her music is good for your soul, sweet to the ears, and emotionally engaging.  She is a treasure beyond compare.

Catherine Britt Set List

  1. Sally Bones
  2. I Want You Back
  3. Charlestown Road
  4. Hillbilly Pickin’ Rambling Girl
  5. A Good Few Years
  6. There’s Gotta Be More
  7. Sweet Emmylou

Iris DeMent Set List

  1. Makin’ My Way Back Home
  2. Sweet Is The Melody
  3. No Time To Cry
  4. Mama Was Always Tellin’ Her Truth
  5. Sing The Delta
  6. When My Morning Comes Around
  7. Livin’ On The Inside
  8. Mornin’ Glory
  9. Mama’s Opry
  10. Easy’s Getting Harder Every Day
  11. The Night I Learned How Not to Pray
  12. Out Of The Fire
  13. Go On Ahead And Go Home
  14. Like A White Stone
  15. Leaning On The Everlasting Arms
  16. There’s A Whole Lotta Heaven


  1. Old Fashioned Love (cover of Merle Haggard song)
  2. My Life
  3. Our Town

Check out this video of a much younger Iris DeMent singing Sweet Is The Melody..

Monday, November 25, 2013

Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion

steichen 1
Model wearing a black tulle headdress by Suzanne Talbot and a brocade coat with a black fur collar 1925

Now that the spring racing carnival is over, I am left scratching my head for topics to post on. But as I did take the opportunity to go the current exhibition at the Victorian National Gallery last Wednesday I'll give you a short review of what was on offer .

I know I have written that I am not interested in fashion, but this is not strictly true, as in my younger days I loved old clothes, and even today I can appreciate beautiful fabrics and stylish costumes.

As Art Deco is my favourite style,  I just had to go along to the exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, which features the photography of Edward Steichen, photographer to the beautiful and famous in the 1920s and 30s. He was the official photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair, and is renowned, not only for portraits, but also fashion photography.

As well as photographs there was a display of  garments from the period, and I am here to attest that they were all stunning, both in design and manufacture.

If you consider the  girls in their frocks and fascinators during the spring racing carnival, their clothes are dull and uninspiring compared to the stylish creations of the 1920s and 30s.  The gowns of the Jazz Age were designed to party in, the skirts cut in such a way that they flared, sparkled and swang when dancing. The fabrics were gorgeous: silk, velvet and spangles combined to create glamour and also provide comfort and freedom of movement.

Back in the 1960s you could still find 1920s and 30s dresses in op shops, but they’re scarce these days. I used to have a couple of beautifully cut crepe dresses and also a black dress with gold lace which could date back to the Jazz Age. The below picture is of me pretending to be a vampire or something at a Space Age Books party, wearing said costume.

space age

As for the photographs, there were 200 of them to look at. Steichen was very particular about the lighting of his subjects and he was a master at it. There was a short film of Steichen at work in his studio, photographing a dancer, which was interesting to watch. He used gelatine plates for his photos, and had a trained technician standing by to quickly insert and extract the plates in a primitive “burst” mode to capture the dancer’s movements.

I found the exhibition to be interesting and absorbing, and well worth going to see.

To finish this post here’s one of Edward Steichen’s iconic photographs – of Gloria Swanson.

steichen 2
Gloria Swanson 1934

Monday, November 11, 2013

Boban & Buffering - Emirates Stakes Day Review & Highlights & Lowlights of the Spring Racing Season

mounting year gate 3
The ornate mounting yard gate – surrounded & entwined with roses

I’m really glad I went to the final meeting of Flemington’s racing carnival. Despite the day starting with a shower of rain, the weather improved as the day progressed and sunshine shone on the track and provided excellent lighting conditions for photographs.

Starting my afternoon at the races at around 1.45pm, I first visited the stalls area to see the horses in their stalls or walking in the ring.

Chris Waller’s contingent were all in adjacent stalls, so I snapped a few pictures of his star performers…

boban_stall 2
Boban who has stamped himself a potential star of the turf, like the  two horses named on his stall walls – Viewed & Shocking.

kelinni 1 
Kelinni with attractive strapper nicely posed  in the stalls area

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The handsome Sacred Falls

Moving along, I found the stall where Makybe Diva’s little sister La Armistad was stabled. She’s a big girl who bears somewhat of a likeness to her sister. Her strapper obliged me by posing with her.

la armistad _stalls 3
La Armistad in her stall

Back at the track, race 5, the Group 2 Momentum Energy Stakes was about to start. I placed a bet on the Gai Waterhouse trained Queenstown and got into position on the fence to see the runners emerge from the mounting yard.

race 5 _queenstown 2

race 5 _miss zenella
Miss Zenella

The race resulted in a win by outsider Girl Gone Rockin who overtook Queenstown to win by a nose with Keep De Rose running third.

race 5 _girl gone rockin 1
Girl Gone Rockin returns to scale after winning the Momentum Energy Stakes

The first of the Group 1 races, the VRC Sprint was up next and I watched the contestants parade in the mounting yard. Yes, the crowds were not as great as Derby Day, so it was easy to get a spot on the fence surrounding the mounting yard.

race 6 _lucky nine 1
Hong Kong star Lucky Nine

race 6 _bel sprinter 2
Bel Sprinter

race 6 _buffering 4

Buffering scored his second Group 1 win, leading from start to finish. Lucky Nine, of whom much was expected, fizzled out and finished in 6th place. Newmarket winner Shamexpress came second with Moment of Change running third. A big cheer greeted the erstwhile Group 1 bridesmaid as he returned to scale.

race 6 _buffering 8
Buffering returns to scale after winning the VRC Sprint.

Boban added another paling to the picket fence representing his latest race results, accumulating five straight wins, and a rare Group 1 double. A horse has not won the Epsom Stakes/Emirates Stakes double for 27 years. West Australian bred Chanteclair was last to do so in 1986.

It would have been a terrible upset if 20/1 long shot Smokin’ Joey  had won as he looked like doing, but Boban who came from the back of the field lunged on the line for a popular win. Speediness ran third.

race 7_boban 4
Boban returns to scale after winning the Emirates Stakes

The final race I watched before going home was the Group 3 Queen Elizabeth Stakes where Precedence prevailed and was thus  compensated for missing a run in the Melbourne Cup. La Armistad ran a pretty good race in her first outing in the city and finished 8th. Sertorius ran second with Let’s Make Adeal scoring third.

I was able to get photos of the main contestants in the mounting yard.

race 8 _precedence 1
Precedence in the mounting yard

race 8 _lets make adeal 2
Let’s Make Adeal – Let’s Elope’s granddaughter.

race 8 _la armistad 5
La Armistad

race 8 _precedence 3
Precedence returning to scale after winning the Queen Elizabeth Stakes

As mentioned before, the crowds on Emirates Day were not overwhelming and there were lots of children, this race day being traditionally for families. There was a children’s fashion show and every so often you would see some young thing sporting a Barbie Doll prize.

The roses were still in full bloom and as glorious as ever.

roses 1
Rose bowers line the walkway to the back of the stalls area and the Birdcage.

And so ends another spring racing season. It had it all, upsets and surprises and resulted in the retirement of some stars and the emergence of new pretenders to the title of champion of the turf.

This was the first year that I have attended just about all the Group 1 race meetings of the Melbourne spring racing season.  I only missed the Rupert Clark Stakes, Manikato Stakes, Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup meetings. I must admit that I enjoyed all the race meets I went to. My only complaint was the programming of the feature races as the last on the card at Caulfield, which I found tiresome.  Let’s hope next year they revert to standard scheduling, as I found the Flemington program much more to my liking and convenience.

As for luck on the punt, my modest outlays were occasionally rewarded, which covered the unsuccessful bets. I generally returned from my day at the races with money in my pocket more often than not.

The Stars of the Spring

Atlantic Jewel added sparkle to every race day in which she participated. Returning from a long injury forced spell she won the first Group 1 of the season the Memsie Stakes, then went on win the Group 2 Stocks Stakes, finished a close second to It’s A Dundeel after a thrilling head to head race down the straight in the Underwood Stakes, then took out  the Group 1 Caulfield Stakes before succumbing once more to injury just before the Cox Plate and was subsequently retired with 10 wins from 11 starts on her CV.

Fiorente started his spring campaign in the Memsie Stakes where he ran 6th, then went on to win the Group 2 Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes at his next start. He finished  4th in the Turnbull Stakes, 3rd in the Cox Plate then rewarded his trainer Gai Waterhouse with her first Melbourne Cup. Surely one of the best looking horses of the spring, I look forward to his return in the autumn.

Zoustar began his spring racing in the Group 3 Run To The Rose finishing 4th. He then won his next three races, the Group 1 Golden Rose, the Group 2 Roman Consul Stakes and finally the Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes.  He’s a super star in embryo and his return in autumn is keenly anticipated.

Guelph was very lightly raced as well, competing four times, running second at her first start for spring in the Group 2 Furious Stakes, before winning her next three starts – the Group 2 Tea Rose Stakes, Group 1 Flight Stakes and Group 1 Thousand Guineas. She is surely the top three year old filly of the year, and also a potential super star.

Boban won all five of his starts this spring including the rare Group 1 double of the Epsom Stakes and Emirates Stakes.

Buffering should be included here, being the only other horse to win two Group 1 races this spring. Now that sprinting stars Black Caviar and Hay List have been retired, the field is open for an honest nag like old Buffering to win more brownie points in the future.

It’s A Dundeel deserves a mention as he is the only horse to have beaten Atlantic Jewel, and though he was very unlucky this spring, he still is to my mind a star of the turf and will be back in autumn to redeem his reputation.

Others worth a mention are Red Tracer who proved she was not a one Group 1 wonder, when she beat her stable mate Catkins in the Myer Classic, Polanski, the rags to riches story of the spring, who won the VRC Derby, Shamus Award who scored his first win ever in the Cox Plate and Fawkner, who proudly flew the Australian bred flag when he won the Caulfield Cup.

Disappointments of the Spring

As is usually the case there are horses that you regard as particular favourites whose performance during the autumn season would lead you believe that they would make their mark in the spring season, but fail to win, through bad luck or bad management or injury.

Miracles of Life never found the form that won her the Blue Diamond Stakes in the autumn. An exceptionally pretty filly whose return to the turf was keenly anticipated, she failed to win any of the three races she contested this spring, though she ran second to Thump in the Champagne Stakes. Her inexperienced jockey may have spoiled her chances in some races, but she appeared not to have the speedy turn of foot we saw in autumn, and indeed she was discovered to have bled internally in her last start, which accounts for her lack of zip in that race.

Super Cool is a horse of whom I am very fond, so I was disappointed in his performance this spring, but looking back he didn’t totally disgrace himself. He finished third behind Atlantic Jewel in the Memsie Stakes and the Caulfield Stakes, and ran fifth in the Cox Plate.  Some horses perform better in different seasons, so maybe when he returns to the scene in autumn he will have more luck. By then his great rival of the autumn Fiveandahalfstar will have returned from the injury enforced break that ruled him out of the spring.

Puissance de Lune, when he started his spring campaign in the Group 2 P B Lawrence Stakes was hot favourite for the Melbourne Cup. It turned out that the aforementioned race was the only race he won all spring, though he did finish a close second in both the Makybe Diva Stakes and Turnbull Stakes. After his abysmal run in the Cox Plate it was discovered he was lame which excuses him somewhat for that failure.  By all accounts he will return in the autumn and perhaps will win an elusive Group One race.

Even though the spring racing season is over in Melbourne, there are three more Group 1 races to be contested in Perth before the dead season begins. The summer/autumn racing season will be on us again in a few months. In the meantime I’ll have to think of other ways to spend my Saturday afternoons, and other topics to blog about.