Sunday, June 26, 2011

Australian episode



I'm in Australia. Sydney. Well, Lane Cove.
It's not really a holiday, more a change of air, and a bit of a test to see if my health is in good enough condition yet to allow me to head back to the northern hemisphere.
The Emirates staff looked after me, gently, on the flight and Barry and Rosemary have looked after me wonderfully for the last week and weekends. But I haven't been very adventurous: truth is, I have to face it, I'm not really up to Doing Lots of Things. Especially solo.
The occasional walk to the shops, up the steep hills, once the morning chills are past, has been about the limit to my activity through the week, but yesterday, Sunday, we drove out for a delightful day up the Hunter Valley. Through the coalfields and vineyards and, of course, on into the green vastness of horse country ..



Our first target was under-new-management Brooklyn Lodge, 1000 acres of beautiful horseland and the home, for years, of many of Barry's horses. Manager Adam escorted us up through the impressive pastures to the dry mares paddock, to visit our mare, Rosmarino. Well, she's not mine now, but she was for eight years: when she was racing, and through her first four foals. It is hard to believe she's eleven years old. A decade since we bought her from the yearling sales. She is looking quite splendid, and that high-tensile, nervy, neurotic filly has mellowed into a gentle, friendly, healthy-looking mother. She'll give the boys some fine, future babies.



The last foal of which I'm part-owner (papa: Stratum) is a rising yearling now. He was down in a paddock with the other little boys, and he proved just as amiable as his mother. He is a fine looking lad, too, smashing legs!, and someone will get a beautiful (and, I hope, expensive) boy at next year's sales.



From Brooklyn Lodge, we travelled back to Lower Belford, near Singleton, to visit the new training establishment of Todd Howlett where Barry's two-year-old Mambo King has been prepared for his first campaign. Todd is building an all mod cons combination of boxes and yards, which are already filled with 32 magnificent-looking racehorses. Thank goodness, after my experience with Tenor, I've given up buying beautiful-looking horses. I'd have come away with two or three irresistibles.



Home then to Lane Cove, via a nice, light luncheon at Mama's of Cessnock, tired but happy ...

And tomorrow, New Zealand. The next day, to hospital. Fingers crossed.
And Europe? Well, I'll decide after the hospital experience.

PS What am I thinking of? I must chronicle Livia's ... fifth victory. Back to less than classic class, last weekend, she went out red hot favourite at Charlton, and duly obliged, narrowly but comfortably, officially breaking the two minute mile. Number thirty-nine!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

You never know what you can do until you try!

I couldn’t believe it when the fields went up.
I had thought we’d decided that Livia wasn’t quite up to the very best of Victorian fillies. Although she’d been barely whiskered by Aussie Made Lombo and Bella’s Delight (who ARE the very best) in the Vicbred Super Series, maybe she was better off running in slightly less ritzy races.
But Graeme evidently didn’t think so.
There she was, Livia degerolstein, one of twelve Friday starters for Tabcorp Park’s $20,000 Harness Breeders Trackbred Classic, along with classic placegetters Milliara Lombo and Rhodium Castle, and top-rated fillies Beach Melody and Leilani Lombo. And she was drawn ‘in the carpark’ again. Number seven.
Way2Bet didn’t judge her worthy of even a mention, but got curiously positive (as it does) about one Ezee Duzit Lombo (which Livia has previously beaten fair and square). The public did likewise, obviously influenced by Ezee’s good draw (three_ over the 1720 metres. Aalyah Rose, drawn one, was heavily backed too. And, if Beach Melody was duly elected favourite, the other three good fillies, from the second row, were neglected. As for Livia, she was paying 80-1. Utterly unloved. Less loved, even, than Riviera Kiss, which she beat last start!
I know, lots of names. But these are top fillies.
I can’t say I was confident. Other people’s disbelief makes you doubt. Like a proud mum who doesn’t want to believe that Little Johnny is going to come bottom of the class.
Good old Barry put a tenner each way on her, anyhow. And I sat up till after 10pm and drank too much wine to stay awake..
Well, from the start Livia, of course, dropped out to last. I don’t know why the tipsters worry about her draw, she’s always going to go out ‘at a walk’. Aalyah Rose, Ezee Duzit and Riviera Kiss used their draws to take the front, rattling along at (hurrah!) a tidy but not excessive pace. Livia was at the back with Milliara Lombo, Blissful Kisses and an uneasy looking Rhodium Castle. Third quarter in wow! 28.5 secs. But with the straight in sight, Blissful Kisses was having a go, and Milliara Lombo was powering from the back .. oh God there was a bloody gap between the second last horse and Livia. How shaming!
But into the straight and the little head stuck out, the red nose roll glowed like Rudolph, the little legs revved up and – with her eternal preference for the outside to the inside rail, home she steamed. Milliara Lombo had flown impressively towards victory, but just short of the line Livia bludged past the favourite, which a moment ago had looked a winner, and just failed to get to Blissful Kisses for second place. Third! $15 a place … and behind her not only Beach Melody, but the overrated Ezee Duzit, Leilani (8th), Aalyah Rose (9th), Rhodium Castle (10th) … ye Gods!
Mile rate 1.57.9. The fastest race of her life!
Joy! and … confusion! Where do we go from here? Not my problem. I shall leave that 100 percent in the hands of our nifty trainer-driver!
Note: the Vicbred fillies’ ratings have Aussie Made Lombo as number 1, with Leilani Lombo (3), Lively Moth (4), Bella’s Delight (5), Milliara Lombo (8), Rhodium Castle (11), Beach Melody (12), Aalyah Rose (23), Blissfull Kisses (33) and Livia .. thirty-eighth. Definitely unseeded, but maybe henceforth a little more considered?

Entertaining an Invalid

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Invalid. Yes, that’s me. And has been for a whole four months now.

Last year, at this time, I was swanning round Europe, reviewing opera in Berlin, Operette in Dresden, classical music in Jersey, restaurants (ah! the gallybagger soufflé and the Bay Grill) in the Isle of Wight ..
This year, a little light gardening, water-blasting and too much typing having proved injurious to my health, I have been scotched to my armchair in New Zealand occupying my passive, one-armed waking hours in ... reading? No. Even the long-awaited new ‘Robert Jordan’ has failed to rouse me. Not surprisingly: that magnificent series has utterly lost its steam and its heart. I have, unbelievably, abandoned it half read.

Surfing the web? Some of the time, yes. But there is a limit. I exhaust easily.

Watching television. Yes, I have been watching television. Is that so unusual? For me, yes, a bit. I didn’t own a TV set until I started spending serious time in my triplex in St Paul de Vence, in 1990. In London, we had a rented set for the office, but not for pleasure. French TV was occasionally nice. Good live sports coverage, full-length operas, concerts and plays. We switched on at least once a week.
My place in New Zealand was for years TV-free, until … I bought my first horse. I watched Davey Crockett running his first race on a neighbour’s set, but after a while we gave in, bought a machine, and installed it in the bach in the garden, for racedays. And (TVNZ being barely receivable at Rotoiti), I had to subscribe to ‘Sky’.
A decade on I still subscribe, though I’ve several times considered cancelling. Most recently, last week. I booked for ‘basic’ plus ‘sport’. I like sport. Real sport.
Sky TV and I, however, have different ideas about what is ‘real sport’. They seem to think its consists entirely of big boys (and occasionally big girls) playing with little balls. Kicking balls, throwing balls, hitting balls (and occasionally each other). Round balls, oval balls, golf balls. I am bored by ball games, and especially team ball games. Oval balls even more than round ones. I recognise that there are people – even intelligent people – who like them, so they must have their place. But programmed on EVERY sports channel at once, all day, every day? There is a rugby channel: why aren’t all varieties of oval ball games put on that, to leave the other sport channels free for cycling, athletics, skiing, swimming, rowing, triathlon, fencing … the sports I subscribed to see, and hardly ever do?
Today, I am not in cancelling mood, however. Today, at last, we had a rare treat. Two hours of world champs triathlon, the Roland Garros final (only a small ball) and, best of all, a live broadcast of my favourite cycle race, Le Dauphiné Libéré. OK, its at 1am, but that’s the world. So my subscription survives until the boys and their balls come back. Then, we’ll see.

‘Basic’ apparently comprises about thirty channels. And it is amazing how often those thirty are showing thirty programmes which no adult with an IQ over 20 (that’s me, you know) would want to watch. How many clones of clones of spinoffs of repeats of clones does someone think we can take?
But the Gerolsteiner telly still mostly – about 60-70pc of the time -- does what it was bought for. It shows racing. My TV ‘homepage’ is channel 35. Trackside. Now, I could go on at vast length about the pros and cons of Trackside (actually, I will) but, the fact is, we are lucky to have it. A channel (momentarily two) devoted to racing… or, at the very least, to betting and accessorily to racing – which shows every New Zealand race and many, though alas not all the best, Australian ones, is a gift to be grateful for to anyone in the sport.
Well, a critic is always a critic, and if I can’t review opera, theatre or food … I can always do my daily stint by reviewing television, so here goes.



Trackside, love it and hate it.
Like a theatre show, a television channel has two parts: the play and the actors. The content of its programmes on one hand, and the people who present them and the manner in which they do so on the other.
The ‘content’ on Trackside, both during racing and in the race-less hours is good. I’d give it eight out of ten. I would be very happy if it showed just Australasian and maybe European horses -- no dog racing and no Asiatic racing (Sha Tin means turn-off in my language) -- but I can always turn off, or use the television set’s most valuable feature: the mute button. Of course, I don’t always turn on or unmute again, but since I don’t bet, the TAB doubtless couldn’t care less.
In the morning you have replays of the previous day’s races, so you can watch them without all the dreary chat in between, and you have excellent trials and workouts film. For the gamblers, there’s a longwinded talking heads (and some not very pretty heads! some folk should stick to radio) show previewing and tipping for the day’s events. It’s a healthy mix.
Once racing starts, its full on. Good filming, clear viewing, split screen when necessary, high technical expertise, clear incrustations (if sometimes too many), repeat views when the programming allows. I do object to the planners switching to a foreign dog race when there are a few minutes to go before or after an important horse race but, yes, the visuals are excellent.

The audio side ... commentators, link-men etc … well … there, there is more room for query. Here are a few of this listener’s disorganised thoughts.
Firstly, dear presenters, it is not necessary to talk ALL the time. Say what is relevant, then please stop. Even a beautiful voice gets boring when it is interminable. A less than beautiful one can cause insanity. Or somnolence. And, by the way, chitty-chatty between the presenters alienates the audience. Excludes them.
Secondly, spending time predicting the manner of the running of the race to come – inevitably wrongly -- is a bore. And an embarrassing hoot when replayed after the event. Stick, if you must, to tipping. Not crystal balls (round or oval).
Thirdly – banal interviews with trainers and drivers (the same ones, over and over) are hopelessly uninteresting. ‘Yeah, no, um, he’ll go good’ (the word is ‘well’ not ‘good’) may have several variations, but not many. Especially those predictable post-race ‘I’ve got a mobile microphone’ interviews with the returning driver (yeah, no, um, he went good).
Fourth: why read out loud every bit of text that can be seen on screen? Gabbling through lists of exotic returns, over forthcoming action, is just confusing. We can read. Most of us. If we are interested.
And, for me, the cardinal sin. Will whoever is commentating and linking PLEASE comment(ate) only what we can see -- only and exclusively the horses and the race that are on the screen -- and not chat about football, cricket, their friend’s babies, their first-name buddies in highish places or next week’s racing, as the mobile start goes into motion. There are hours of non-active time and programmes for that. We aren’t interested in the buddies, the ballgames and the babies. We are interested in the current racing action.

As for the cast of players… Well, Trackside evidently made a recent conscious decision. They outed all the ‘personality presenters’ of earlier years – Aiden, Sheldon, Michael, Justin – and replaced them with a blander breed. Fair enough. Faceless, unobtrusive link-men? Ideal. But it hasn’t quite turned out that way. Too many of the current blander breed seem to have got sudden (doomed) ambitions to be Personalities. No. We don’t need to see their faces on the screen, let’s have the horses; and, oy vay, I most particularly don’t want to see their hair. The HRNZ TV Comedy Prize for the past several years has gone without contest to the Trackside hairdresser. Oh, Lord! Who can forget Popplewell’s greasy porcupine .. ?

I could fill a page with grizzles and giggles, but enough. I just wonder who is the casting director for the channel. Well, it’s a professional interest. In my eight years in such a job, there were sound basic rules. Applicants must speak well, clearly, brightly, interestingly, in a comprehensible and unexaggerated accent, and with a sufficient but not intrusive personality. You know: a voice with more than three notes in it. But above all, they must speak CORRECTLY. No ‘he went good’ or ‘I could of done it’ or the host of other gauche grammatical clangers that litter Trackside-speech ... and is it too much to ask that the very simplest of French and German words be correctly pronounced? Australia does it, is education so bad in New Zealand? …
I know, there’s always the mute button. It is permanently in my hand. I can safely unmute when Jess and Karen are on (when the only two women on the channel are its best advertisement, why are there only two?) and Greg has got a new lease of life with his sexy new ‘older man’ haircut .... and today is rainy Nelson which brings out the best in everyone (but, oh, how I miss Ian Chambers and his wonderful commentaries in the fog!) …

Wait a minute. Today, Trackside is delicious! And I’ve sussed why. Perhaps the planes couldn’t get to Nelson, but we seemingly have NO talking heads! NO dreary interviews!. Just horses and races. Bingo!
Sigh. Trackside. Love it and hate it. Perfect or imperfect. Ungrammatical, ill-educated and with bad hair. It’s on in my living room now. Mute, for the 4 minutes till the fifth from Richmond Park where the sun is coming out. It’s true, we’re lucky to have it. We really are.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Savoy Theatre, London, 1891

Another box...
A lovely thing..
The complete costume designs by the celebrated Percy Anderson for the Richard D'Oyly Carte production of The Nautch Girl, the show which replaced .. and in many opinions, including mine, outshone ... the latter day Gilbert and Sullivan works.
The eighty or so designs, some by the artist, some by the artisans, have the original fabric swatches still attached ,,
A real piece of musical theatre history
Sigh. It should, of course, be in a theatre museum. But it is here, in New Zealand, of all places. Silly.




Saturday, June 4, 2011

At the very bottom of the box .. another world ..

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'Where are you, and what are you doing' reads the Christmas message from Dean.on the back..



What indeed. All dead.
Dean's Bar, Tangiers.
Another world. Another time.

Digging deeper I find ...

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Underneath the ballet pictures there are some from the world of variety - I recognise Bud Flanagan, Danny Kaye, Cyd Charisse but who are 'the Blinard Brothers in their impersonation of the Andrews Sisters'? --



and, goodness me, what is this. It looks like a meeting of a cell of wartime miscreants, plotting the downfall of the Empire.



What I think it is, is a gathering in the 1940s or early '50s, of the Society of Australian Writers at Dolphin Square, Pimlico, London. It is attached to photos of Hugh Hastings, Catherine Gaskin, Dymphna Cusak and a delicious-looking, too-writerish-to-be-true, wannabe (maybe he was, oh heck he was!) called Ralph W Peterson. Oh that sweater! Oh, that Colman moustache ...! Cuuuuute!



There's also one of Henry Handel Richardson, but I think she might not have been a current member,
Anyway, I think it is a historical document, and .. is that Ngaio Marsh in the specs and woolly hat? No, can't be ..

La Lutte éternelle: a ballet by Schwetzoff

Oh dear. When you start opening old boxes and files ..

Lots and lots of photos of ballet dancers. Mostly unlabelled, but here and there one is named. Irina Baronova. Bronislawa Nijinska. Georges Skibine. Tamara Grigorieva. Sono Osato as Beauty (or is it Reality). Loads of Tamara Toumanovas. It's Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes in their Australian season of 1939.

This one is clearly labelled. An unnamed ballet (I see it was La lutte eternelle) choreographed by Igor Schwetzoff (Schwezoff) with music taken from the works of Schumann. And the artists are Slava Toumine, Nina Verchinina, Paul Petroff, Yura Skibine and Oleg Tupine.



Action photos, posed press photos, somebody's happy snaps, a Christmas Card (of himself) from Skibine ..

Now, I know nothing and care nothing for ballet. But there must be a balletic equivalent of me, somewhere, to whom the contents of this file would mean a great deal. He or she had better get in touch.

A future star of page makes his stage debut ...

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Well, I said I'd find a picture to jolly this page up, but I never thought this would surface ...



This is a photo of the cast of a little play called "Dream Angus", produced by Brian Douglas (Standard IV teacher) and directed by Brian Gallas (age 9) at Hataitai School, Wellington, New Zealand in 1955.
No prizes for guessing who appropriated the leading role. Teacher's pet, who nabbed himself the job -- already -- of casting director as well as stage director. I think I was supposed to be Bonnie Prince Charlie in my mother's pleated tartan skirt.
I wonder what became of Rina Brilleman, Judy Price, Katherine Steel and the romantic David Dunkley who, chuckle, always got good parts from this caster. I don't remember if he was any good, but he was -- American! Which was about as romantic and Martian as you got in 1955 Wellington.
Ah me, half a century ago and more..

Friday, June 3, 2011

Number 38, or Take me Back to the Yarra Valley!

While the Promethean eagle has been tearing at my shoulder, while I have been suffering equally poignantly from the almost-as-painful experience of alcohol withdrawal (well, semi-withdrawal) and the affres of mal du pays for the Continent of Europe, while I have been frustrated by the inability to type, for the first time since the age of four, at a speed to keep up with my brain, to turn over in bed or to lift a bottle of milk from the frig without pain, and while I have been frozen by the temperatures of New Zealand in the autumnal months …
A little and lovely bit of joy has nevertheless come my way.
My New Zealand racing season has been thin. Worse than my French one, which seems to be over. Five horses in training here, and since my return to Canterbury in October – in large part to see them run – just five starts. Fritzl was the joy boy, with his four starts for a win and a second, but since February the dear wee boy has given us all sorts of health scares, from a tendon (he too!) to an abcess, and he won’t be back on track for a while.
But, across the water, in Australia, young Livia degerolstein continues to fly the Gerolsteiner flag.
After her qualification for the Vicbred Superseries, she ran at Melton and at Geelong and both times hit races that did not suit her. Livia’s trump card is that storming finish from the rear, so when she gets in a race where an unchallenged leader strolls round at a (fine-worthy) dull pace and only really runs a race for the last half or quarter, there’s little chance of her taking the biscuit. She came second at Geelong, thanks to an enterprising drive by Graeme, in spite of that.
And then she went back to Melton for the Vicbred semifinals. I was in two minds. Did I want her to qualify for a rich, classic final she could surely not win? Well, she went out at enormous odds, dropped characteristically to the rear, and, finishing stoutly down the inside, found herself squeezed up by those on the outside, and placed 7th. The first six qualified, and there is no doubt that, with a clear run, she would have made it. As it was, she was named ‘first emergency’, and Graeme nominated her for another race, for the probable event of ‘no scratchings’.
Well, there were no scratchings, and Livia went not to the glamour Group One race, but to Yarra again. I was quite relieved. At Yarra we had a good chance. In fact, I thought, we’d probably be favourite, and should win. The other top favourites, after all, were horses who hadn’t made the Vicbred finals, and Riviera Kiss and Elegantly had both been among Livia’s recent victims.
But, curiously, Way2Bet wasn’t on our side that day, and the punters also looked elsewhere. Everyone talked the other horses, and Livia went out paying $5. And that in spite of the fact that Graeme had ‘put the boy on’: his top driver son, Gavin.
Needless to say, Livia dropped straight to the rear from her outside draw, as the grey, Dufflecoat Jet Lag, rolled to the front. Riviera Kiss was on the leader’s elbow, and Elegantly covered up in the middle, as the well-liked colt Jefferson City improved three wide round the final turn. Livia cruised along in his wake, and as soon as they hit the straight, she just pulled out and left them for dead. Gavin hardly had to rustle her up: she just upped her stride, stuck out the red nose roll, hit the front well before the post, and waltzed home two lengths – which could have been several more – to the good.
Her easiest win yet! Number four for Livia, and number 38 for me … goodness, with only one horse racing I MAY still make it to 40 this year!

Oh, by the way, the Vicbred Final? It was won by Bella’s Delight, which beat Livia half a head for second place in the heats. That heat’s winner, Aussie Made Lombo, fiished third. I think we drew the hot heat!

Alas, no pictures. You don’t want photos of me in my present state, and getting pictures of Australian races is a no-no ..
I’ll jolly up this page with pictures of Gerolstein and the horses soon ..

Recovering from a stroke. Or not. In fifty painful and expensive lessons.

I see its two months already since I ‘came out’ and admitted that I’d had a stroke. You might have thought that, given my measured optimism in April, I’d be on the high road to recovery now, and planning to head for Europe. Not So.
There have been hiccups. Side effects. Sequels. Pain and misery. Apparently, other ills. And, in some ways, I feel worse off now than then. Mentally as well as physical.

Part of my problem is that nobody has been able to tell me – black on white -- precisely what has happened to me, what is happening to me, and what will/can happen in the future. And, above all, what to do about it.
I’ve seen doctor, physiotherapists (two), osteopath, acupuncturists (two), masseuse, .. and I still don’t know what to do. Do they? We do this, it doesn’t work, so we do that, it doesn’t work, we do that … is my situation so very difficult? Perhaps it is.

One thing that seems clear is – yes, I had a classic stroke with classic effects – the maimed right arm, the spoiled speech, feelings of exhaustion – which should be well on the way to mended now. But they aren’t.
Oh yes, I can type now ... at about 60-70 percent. Thank goodness. When I’m not exhausted, that is. But my speech is still fallible, and, above all, I cannot use my right arm for anything more strenuous than typing. It is virtually frozen, and to try to move it out to the side, or behind my back is sickeningly painful and physically impossible. Why now? when I could wield a spade (gently), pluck a weed, brush my teeth, shave my head in April. Why now?

Well, it appears that, about 5 or 6 weeks ago, while asleep in bed, I developed a Frozen Shoulder. Don’t ask me how or why, and if its connected with the stroke or not. I awoke thinking I’d had a fifth stroke. But medical person number 4 diagnosed it firmly as Frozen, and I went off for two fearsome injections of corticosteroids in the blindingly painful shoulder joint. The last was five days ago. I await to be magically cured. So far, the results are mitigated.

At Reflect of St Albans, the clinic, the lady ultra-sounding the joint announced that I had a torn shoulder tendon. By ‘torn’ she apparently meant torn away from the bone. When? How? Since I’ve been struck, I’ve advisedly used the arm very little except to do the often painful exercises prescribed by my medics. And my shoulder was perfectly able to do windmills and dry my back in April. So, I’ve torn a tendon while sleeping? Or was it like that before, and no-one noticed? If so, I can live with it disconnected. And why can’t I move my arm?

So, you see, I’ve gone from ‘I have had a stroke’, to ‘I have had a stroke, and a frozen shoulder, and a torn tendon’. But no-one thought to tell me that before. And what will they add to the list next?

You will understand that I’m now mistrustful … … sometimes I feel that my multiple (expensive) medics seem to be working against each other, or at very best not agreeing… unbelieving, unconfident in the opinions of anyone.

Well, I give it a fortnight. If I’m not showing serious progress by then, I’m going to say farewell to all but one of my advisors and take it from there. Because in a fortnight I’m going to Australia for ten days fresh air and sunshine, and some decisions are going to be made while I’m there. Like … is it time to go home? Am I sufficiently strong to go home?
Home? You can guess of which side of the world I’m thinking.