Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Summer Daze & Christmas Greetings

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Ronald Searle Christmas Card

With Christmas only a few days away, here’s a post to celebrate the season and review 2015.

Despite the world in general being in tumult, my 2015 was reasonably stress free and a good year overall, with plenty of things to keep me interested and engaged.

Melbourne experienced its first heat wave of the summer earlier this week, where the temperature reached over 40°C last Saturday. You would think, considering the hype put on it by the media, that we’d never had a few days over 35°C before. They must have been scratching around for news.

As usual, I’ll be glad to have Christmas out of the way. We’ll be spending the day at my brother’s on the coast, but driving back afterwards, so the cats won’t be put out.

What bliss it is to be writing this post in Open Live Writer after clunking away on the Blogger editor for a couple of posts. Open Live Writer works well and runs smoothly in Windows 7 , thank goodness.

Highlights of 2015

There weren’t that many books that really wowed me this year, but a few stand out as keepers. I really liked Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See, A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson, David Mitchell’s spooky Slade House and Margaret Atwood’s very funny dystopian novel The Heart Goes Last.

I also read and enjoyed the latest Kazuo Ishiguro novel. Written in his characteristic understated prose, The Buried Giant is a haunting novel on memory and loss, set in the Dark Ages.  I purchased the US hard cover edition and I must say that it’s a beautifully designed book and enhances any bookshelf.

After reading Neal Stephenson’s new novel Seveneves, which I enjoyed enormously, I felt an urge to reread his Baroque Cycle a three volume historical novel set in the Age of Enlightenment (17th century and early 18th century). Each book in the trilogy is about 1000 pages long, so it took me a while to read, but Stephenson is such an entertaing writer it certainly wasn’t a chore. He obviously had a lot of fun writing it.

Neal Stephenson is wanton with words. He’ll use 100 words where 10 would normally serve, but he’s such a brilliant writer you go with the flow willingly. Here’s an example:

The quill swirled and lunged over the page in a slow but relentless three-steps-forward, two-steps-back sort of process, and finally came to a full stop in a tiny pool of its own ink. Then Louis Phélypéaux, first comte de Pontchartain, raised the nib; let it hover for an instant, as if gathering his forces; and hurled it backwards along the sentence, tiptoeing over i’s, slashing through t’s and x’s, nearly tripping over an umlaut, building speed and confidence while veering through a slalom course of acute and grave accents, pirouetting through cedillas and carving vicious snap-turns through circumflexes. It was like watching the world’s greatest fencing master dispatch twenty opponents with a single continuous series of manoeuvres. – page 119, The Confusion (Vol 2 of the Baroque Trilogy)

You are educated and enlightened reading Neal Stephenson, as he always takes time to explain complex ideas in simple terms and even though he uses a lot of acronyms, they are fully spelt out several times until you get used to them. He also writes action scenes that leave you on the edge of your seat and is laugh out loud funny at times.

I didn’t purchase much new music this year, just a few favourite artist CDs like Ryan Adams’ Live At Carnegie Hall and his version of Taylor Swift’s 1989, Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell’s Travelling Kind, Eilen Jewell’s Sundown Over Ghost Town, Servant of Love by Patty Griffin, and Something More Than Free by Jason Isbell, all of which are wonderful, though I haven’t listened to them all that much. My top pick is probably The Milk Carton Kids’ exquisite Monterey.

The discovery of the year was local Melbourne band Raised By Eagles, whose newest release Diamonds In The Bloodstream is up there with my favourites for the year.  I’ve never see them live, but hope to catch them next year whenever.

My music kicks were mostly got from the live shows I attended, all different but all enjoyable.

And of course both the Melbourne autumn and spring racing carnivals were full of interest and saw the emergence of several new stars of the turf, Cox Plate heroine Winx being the stand out.

So on that note I wish readers of this blog, whoever or wherever you are, a very merry Christmas and hope that the New Year is kindly and grants you health, wealth and good luck.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Test Post with images - expanded

Alexander Palm in flower with lorikeets

An explanation is needed methinks.

The Alexander Palm pictured above grows at the back of the rear garden. B acquired it many years ago and it sat in a pot for at least five years before he planted it in its present situation. It grew, and grew, and grew like Jack’s beanstalk, and now towers over the back laneway.

palm 5

Earlier this year it flowered for the first time, and it attracted swarms of bees initially, then the lorikeets arrived en masse.

It appears as if it will flower again next year as it has pods of some sort, which may very well be flower buds.

palm 7

On the subject of plants, a strange plant self seeded in a pot and started growing. B thought it could be a sort of weed, but a few months ago, when on his daily walk he chanced upon some parkland gardeners with an identical plant. They told him it was a Kangaroo Apple.

He planted it next to the fence, and it too grew with incredible speed. From a small shrub it grew to a large bush in the space of a few weeks.

It started flowering recently –  in vibrant purple clusters.

kangaroo apple 1
Kangaroo Apple flower

The fruit of the Kangaroo Apple is poisonous apparently. The possums are not in the least attracted to it, which is a blessing; after all they have succeeded  in killing three plum trees and greatly limiting the fruiting of the loquat and fig trees.


Yay Open Live Writer works!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Republic of Cats–Update

Cats on bed in surprisingly close proximity
I’m obliged to clunk along with the Blogger editing client until such time as Open Live Writer is up and running, which could take some time.

There is of course a lot of grief in the Blogger community about the sudden demise of Windows Live Writer as a useful tool and I share their angst. 

I’ve been using Windows Live Writer for nine years and thought it was a really excellent piece of software, so I’m disappointed that it no longer works with Blogger, due to some Google security setting.

Therefore I appreciate the efforts of the developers to create a new open source version. Can’t wait to give it a spin.

Anyway, it’s time for a cat post.

The Republic of cats is pretty peaceful these days. Several new cats have arrived in the street, and they have had to learn the hard way where they fit into the hierarchy.

When they first arrive there’s a fair bit of hissing, howling and growling, but that diminishes over time as the feline population get used to each other and learn to share the territory.

It’s a pity mankind is unable to follow their example, judging by the state of the world these days.

Monty and Willy settled their differences a long time ago and have reached an amicable settlement where they don’t fight each other, and appear to accept each each other’s existence as a tolerable fact.

Talya doesn’t care for any of them, and faces down any neighbouring cats that stray into the yard. They’ll walk miles out their way to avoid her.  Even Willy is a wimp if he has to move past her in a doorway, though if she is too close to him he’ll stare her down until she retreats.

Fortunately she’s given up stalking him and pretty much accepts him as an uncomfortable reality, though all this stress still makes her tear her fur out, though that could just be obsessive habitual behaviour.

Grey scale study – Talya snoozing on her blanket.

When I last wrote about the cats, I’d just purchased a self warming cat bed, hoping to give demanding lap sitter Willy an alternative to my knee.

It turned out to be a good purchase, for after Talya initially commandeered the bed, it is now Willy’s domain on the front verandah and she doesn’t get a chance to sleep in it.

Willy in cat bed, happily ensconced.
There must be some kind of Murphy’s Law governing pets. They always have problems that require veterinary advice on the weekend or public holidays when their regular vet is closed.

A couple of weekends ago, Willy arrived home from wherever, acting strange. He appeared to have a problem with balancing and was also trying to dislodge something from his mouth. It is difficult to get him to cooperate in the case of prising his jaws apart to see if there is an obstruction, and dangerous, as he lashes out in distress. 

So, as it was a Saturday evening we were obliged to take him to the nearest 24 hour Vet, who fortunately could see him immediately.

At the initial consultation the vet couldn’t find anything wrong with him, but they put him in a consulting room with us and let him out of the cat carrying cage. He wasn’t in the least freaked out and cruised around the room , eventually jumping onto the examination table and settled down happily.

We had to wait while the vet saw to several other animal patients (it was quite busy) and when she came back she examined him again, which he bore pretty calmly. We were just about about to take him home, still with the problem, when the vet decided to check his mouth again, and discovered that he had a small chicken bone caught behind his teeth. She carted him off to remove it and we were happy to pay the exorbitant consultation fee ($150.00) to have the problem solved.

Goodness knows where he got the bone from, as we are very careful to dispose of chicken bones out of the cats reach, and we’ve repeatedly warned the next door neighbour to never give bones to the cats.

Other than that incident the cats have been in good health and long may they continue to thrive.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Bowie Unzipped–Jeff Duff at Caravan Music Club

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Jeff Duff live at Caravan Music Club 11/12/15
Ever since I attended the Robert Forster concert I’ve had the David Bowie song Golden Years playing in my head, occasionally alternating with Starman and Ashes to Ashes, all of which were played on the night in question by the Thin White Ukes, the ukulele David Bowie tribute band. You could say they were the catchiest tunes of the evening.

On Friday night I had the pleasure of seeing Jeff Duff, founding member of iconic Aussie band Kush, perform his riveting tribute show to the same artist, at Caravan Music Club.

A consummate showman and  entertainer, Jeff Duff channelled the spirit of Bowie through two sets and twenty four songs.

The show started with the recorded soundtrack of the opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey (Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss) and the band – Jak Housden (guitar), Glenn Rhodes (keyboard) and Jess Cianti (drums) – climbed onstage dressed in white space suits and took up/sat behind their instruments.

In his first (of six) costume of the night, Jeff Duff entered dressed in a sparkling gold suit, fitted with angel wings and launched into a medley of Starman and Ziggy Stardust with a snippet of Ashes To Ashes thrown in.

Jeff Duff live at Caravan Music Club – costume 1
China Girl was the next song to be performed, then Changes, Space Oddity (with audience participation in the chorus) and Life On Mars.

Jeff Duff live at Caravan Music Club – costume 2
Whilst Jeff was executing a quick costume change Jak Housden entertained the audience with a rendition of Oh, You Pretty Things.
Jak Housden in space suit singing Oh You Pretty Things
Jeff returned to the stage resplendent in a gorgeous red suit topped off with a top hat, to take over the vocals again with Modern Love.
Jeff Duff live at Caravan Music Club – costume 3
Two more songs were sung before the end of Set 1, Under Pressure and Young Americans.

After the break there followed ten more songs that included Heroes, Golden Years, 1984, Rebel, Rebel and a great cover of Lou Reed’s classic Walk On The Wild Side, which song always reminds me of my long departed dog Arabel, who used to howl along with the coloured girls going doo, doo, doo...

The audience were encouraged to sing the doo, doo, doo bit, which they did with enthusiasm.

Jeff Duff live at Caravan Music Club – costume 4
The second set ended with Suffragette City, but Jeff Duff and band returned for a three song encore that included the Kush hit Livin’ on Easy Street and MacArthur Park, which was also covered by Kush back in the day.

Jeff Duff live at Caravan Music Club – costume 5
It was wonderful evening of high class entertainment. The room was packed for the sell out show and the band was hot. Though only a three piece outfit, they packed a big sound. The charismatic Jeff Duff was the star act and is a great live artist and he performed the quirky songs of David Bowie with wit and style.

I dare say I’ll have the whole back catalogue of David Bowie songs on my brain for another month.

Jeff Duff live at Caravan Music Club – costume 6
That was the last of the concerts I will see in 2015, and a fine way to segue into 2016.

I really regret that I missed going to see the David Bowie exhibition at Melbourne ACMI when it was on. It’s decades since I’ve listened to his music. Latterly his songs can be heard with a fresh ear, eons after hearing the originals, and although familiar come with a new awareness of the uniqueness of his artistic output.

Set List

Set 1
  1. Starman
  2. Ziggy Stardust
  3. China Girl
  4. Changes
  5. Space Oddity
  6. Life On Mars
  7. Oh, You Pretty Things
  8. Modern Love
  9. Under Pressure
  10. Young Americans
Set 2
  1. Wild Is The Wind
  2. Heroes
  3. 1984
  4. Sorrow
  5. Walk On The Wild Side
  6. ? (sung by Jak Housden)
  7. Rebel, Rebel
  8. Golden Years
  9. Jean Genie
  10. Let’s Dance
  11. Suffragette City
  1. All The Young Dudes
  2. Livin' On Easy Street
  3. MacArthur Park

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Ground Control to Major Tom

Jeff Duff Live at Caravan Music Club 11 December 2015
I spent most of this afternoon writing a post on the Jeff Duff Bowie Tribute concert, but am unable to post directly to blogger from Windows Live Writer. I only found out when I tried to upload the post.

Thanks Google and Microsoft for not letting us WLW enthusiasts know that it no longer operates in Blogger!

There is a new Live Writer being developed as Open Source software called Open Live Writer, but even though you can download it, there is a problem with it connecting to Blogger at the moment.

Hopefully this issue will be solved soon and normal transmission can resume.

I'm writing this post on Blogger's editing interface, which is terribly clunky after being used to WLW.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

The One Of A Kind Cat Book

We all know that cats rule the internet. As the most intriguing and amusing creatures in existence, it is only their due. They have been lauded since Ancient Egypt in books and other media before the Internet was invented.


For instance there was Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, by T S Eliot, in which the acclaimed poet celebrated the peculiarity of the species in comic verse.

And now comes a thoroughly modern equivalent – The One Of A Kind Cat Book, an enchanting creation of Ciye Cho, featuring a cast of 16 interesting feline characters.


Ciye both illustrates and writes fantasy novels, and The One Of A Kind Cat Book is his latest creative project. It  is available for purchase as an eBook (pdf) on his website.

Within the pages of this lavishly illustrated book, you will meet feline actress supreme, Catalina Deneuve, a rare flying ocelot of the Amazon rain forest, the mysterious rainbow cat of Svalbard, a magician’s assistant, and many other remarkable cats, some of them quite malevolent.

It’s a cleverly written little book, the narrative taking the form of letters, journal entries, email correspondence, post cards, websites and book excerpts. Ciye has a breezy writing style, somewhat tongue in cheek, and is altogether charmingly amusing.

Ciye hopes to produce a physical copy of The One Of A Kind Cat Book, but in the meantime you can purchase the eBook (pdf) for a mere $3.00 here.

It will appeal to cat lovers everywhere, and even dog fanciers will find it entertaining.