Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Break out the Bubbly - Farewell to 2013

 willy dec13_2
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

iris dement 003_bw
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..