Thursday, December 31, 2009

The year 2010

January the first, 2010..
Another year begun.
Well, it’s begun nicely, for Gerolstein is shimmering colour-drainingly under a beautiful summery day (29 degrees as I write) …

Elena is munching the clover, while hopefully dreaming of future exploits, Rose and Mikie are scratching each other’s necks and having a grown-up hoon … and, on the Male side of the place, Boofie is doing the same for D’Arcy (below), before the two of them take a free-legged-pace (or, in D'Arcy's case, trot) around the fields with good friend Jake..

And way down the back, behind the trees, Duchess, Sally and baby Douchelette calmly chaw away…
Wendy is planting tomatoes and lettuces in the ‘under development’ new veggie garden, and I am about to start on the restoration of a Victorian linen chest which has suffered somewhat as it journeyed from Northamptonshire to St Paul de Vence, to New Zealand..

All is peaceful and pretty in the land of Gerolstein…
May it, I pray, remain so through 2010…

Elena's First Cheque

A very small one, but hey! a girl has to start somewhere ..

New Year’s Eve, and out we went. But not to some midnight party … we went racing, to the Rangiora Harness Club’s floodlit meeting at Addington Raceway, the HQ of New Zealand harness racing.
I went first, to do the meeting, greeting, hand-shaking of winners bit which I (as a now ex-committee member of the club) do when I am in New Zealand, and Wendy followed a few hours later with the float and our Elena. For Elena was drawn to start in the very last race on the programme. I was hopeful rather than Hopeful of a first-four placing, partly because our girl was lustily in season, partly because she had drawn number seven, near the outside of the mobile gate, with the hot favourite inside her, and partly because there were a number of horses in the race with fair form. Our best to date was a fifth.
But it isn’t now.
Starting from the outside, she had no chance of getting to the front – where she loves to be – and John had to drop her back. As I had feared, she was not on her best and most concentrated behaviour, but with a mile to go the pace slowed, and John zoomed her around the field to sit parked outside the leader. Into the final straight, she was still there, but when it came time to move up a gear and have a crack at the favourite, today that gear change didn’t come. She fought on, though, as she always does, and she passed the line in fourth place. Her first cheque! And a ‘bit of form’ which will help her get into other races.

Back in the big new stable block, she stood calmly dripping... I’ll tell you what, in spite of the millions that the brand new place cost, I certainly wouldn’t be calm in it. It is hellishly noisy and reverberating, and each box is equipped with chains with which to tether the horses. ‘Coaster’ Howe, in the box next to us, tidily clipped the chains back when he released his horse. A hundred other people just let them drop: result a continuous volley of explosive slap-shots (as the chains fell and slammed their clips against the wall) that goes right through your head .. I couldn’t stand it for more than ten minutes, I don’t know how the horses do…
Also, if you are unlucky enough to get the box next the wash-down, you end up with sodden gear-bag, sodden everything that's at floor level..
But the inconveniences and unpleasantnesses of the Addington barn were last night all forgot. Elena had her cheque.. $250 less deductions (which I imagine will be about 40pc, we shall see ... it’s a long time since I won a cheque in New Zealand!) .. I downed a small whisky in celebration, and then headed back to Gerolstein..
It was 11.30pm when we slumped into our cosy chairs, and ‘our’ Australian trainer was just running up the winners on the TV. So we saw the New Year in, with a very small bottle, and a couple of re-viewings of the night’s race, as we began to plan our next Elena outing…

Friday, December 25, 2009

Breakfast, Lunch and Wilma..

Whilst all my European friends fete their Christmas under snowflakes and in minus temperatures, here in New Zealand it has been a scorcher of a day..
Christmas day breakfast, served soon after dawn on the terrace at Gerolstein, was still under moderate temperatures ..

Christmas day lunch, served on the very much larger terrace chez Paul and Wendy Yesberg, was under a sky of perfect blue and a sun of perfect power..

And the day was topped off by a reunion with dear old Wilma, that splendid racehorse Lite Phantom, who for half a dozen years ruled over our back broodmare paddock, and who this year is manufacturing a baby for Yesberg son number two, Trent.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Emily for Christmas..

Emily Soldene was a part of my life for a long, long time, but even though her story is now written and published, and I have moved on to write the life histories of other folk, I still have a soft spot for her..
And today, Christmas day, my first action was to hook to the new bathroom wall a wonderful poster of the lady which I bought some years ago at fantastic price from Bloomsbury Auctions, London. Having it restored, and then finally mounted, has raised its value to that of a Picasso or a Durer ... but finally she is out of her packaging and on to the wall .. alongside the Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein playbill which adorned the old bathroom...

Now if Luxaflex will just get into action with that blind, the famous Bathroom will be finished!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Suddenly summer...?


A sort of summer has descended on Canterbury. We have sunny days with frigid mornings, and regular rafales of rain. Not at all what I remember as summer from my childhood. Especially in December.
December is school holidays, of course, and so little D’Arcy came home from Motukarara this week, the first stage of his education complete, and looking ever such a big lad ... if a little tubby. Tuck-shop-itis?

But Murray’s float did not return to Bank’s Peninsula empty. Mademoiselle Lucie is taking her uncle’s place in that nice, cosy box chez Edmonds.
I have to say we were not optimistic. Lucie has not grown out of her shyness and diffidence, and the idea of loading her into a horsebox … I think Boris (another uncle) holds the Gerolstein record at just under an hour of efforts, and we were prepared for that record to be broken. So imagine our surprise when a completely uncomprehending Lucie, without a backward look or a backward step, allowed herself to be gently encouraged up the fearsome ramp, into that dark, confined exterior, at the first attempt!

Elena has been to the races again. She continues to improve as she gets the gist of what racing about, and she is thoroughly game .. a real trier. This time, after getting rather mucked about at the start, she bullocked round three wide to sit parked – the favourite, in the lead, had no intention of letting her past -- but had to yeild that place to a gross outsider (which subsequently stopped). A bit of nifty driving and luck saw her slip into the trail on the home turn, and she ran on stoutly down the straight behind a leader-winner which was already gone. She finished fifth, showing every sign that with a little more luck and a nice draw she can soon be expected to do better. I should not neglect to say that the race was run in a downpour, and that far too shortly before the race it was announced that horses would be expected to wear mudguards and wet-weather dust sheets. Ours were at home. Robbie and Carla Holmes came to the rescue and Elena (who got thoroughly agitated at the delay and the remake of her cart) repaid them by beating their horse! Racing!
There is plenty of it at this time of the year, so the girl will be out again on New Year’s Eve.

Otherwise, we can hopefully take a small breather. All the Works – from bathroom and bedroom to re-roofing, to haymaking, to pine-topping, to fencing, to track-refurbishing and to drive-repairing are effectively done for the year (next year, I hasten to add!). As dawn breaks over our fields, Gerolstein can be seen to be pristine, and now we can sit back and enjoy it.

Except that I am off early January to visit mother in Nelson, then mid-January to see Barry and Rosie in Sydney, and finally 4 April it’s back to Europe… to Berlin, Jersey, my beloved Wight and to Paris for the northern summer ..

The year goes too quickly.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The little bit of Scotch in me..

This is a photo of Margaret McGregor Anderson born in Rattray, Scotland 28 May 1885; died Wellington, New Zealand, 21 September 1960. 'Maggie' was the daughter of Alexander Anderson, a mechanic in a flax mill, who himself had been born around 1855, in ... France, and his wife Annie née Morrison from Kirkmichael. I cannot discover any facts on the subject, but I imagine that the Anderson family were in France, like many Scots of the era, working in the textile and hemp industries. So, you see, I have a fair helping of Scots in me, and even a dash of pseudo-French, for Maggie Anderson (Mrs Edwin Welsh) was my grandma and, as a very little boy, I remember this photo hanging on the wall in my grandparent's living room in Miramar, Wellington.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

X marks the day!

We are there.
The very last finishing touches have been added to the shower-room of all shower-rooms, the skipful of debris has been trundled away, and today Richard the celebrated Revamper rolled in bearing bottles of bubbly…

Sunday night, all the lads who have worked on the creation of Kurt’s famous Bathroom will descend one last time on Gerolstein .. this time for the biggest party that I’ve ever thrown here…

I wonder who will be game to try the shower. Nay, even be photographed in it …

The final photo of the rest of the bathroom has to wait, for the artwork (two C19th posters of my heroine, Emily Soldene) can’t make it till Tuesday and, alas and alack, it takes Luxaflex anything up to two months to manufacture one simple blind to order. Perhaps I shouldn’t have chosen a sunny, buttercup-yellow fabric all the way from South Africa.

The creation of The Bathroom has, I have to say, had a roll on effect, and The Bedroom has also undergone something of a change. Its walk-in wardrobe has, of course, gone -- becoming the shower -- and, as a result, the adjacent second bedroom has been metamorphosed into a dressing room. Making, thus, for a more spacious bedroom…

In both of these there is still considerable work to be done: mostly on the shopping front. It was hard enough to find a firm which could supply anything but too-too-classic-darling beige, cream and grey blinds, finding linen – especially duvet covers – with some warm and happy colouring in them is even harder. I shall look round when I am in Australia in January to see if I can find some nice, bright, autumn coloured bedware, since New Zealand, incomprehensibly, seems to have sunk into the boring and the pale.

So, the makeover of Gerolstein is not by any means over…

There are, after all, still the living room, my study, the kitchen and the dining room, not to mention the cottage and the second bathroom, as yet untouched ... but definitely not this year!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Roofless at Dawn .. Naked at Dusk

What a day. What a ….

OK. Where did we leave this story? Oh, way back! So the roofers are in. You knew I was having the house re-roofed ..
And the hay on the ground.
The bathroom in limbo, though operative..
The drive? Well, it was supposed to have been done last week, but no-one has turned up. This is New Zealand.

So early this morning, I was de-roofed. I was a little nervous, as the weather forecast was for thunder, lightning and hail. I was even more nervous about the hay, which had already been drizzled on, but then saved by two days of heat and wind.
Cees the Dutch roofer didn’t seem worried. It won’t rain, he said positively. It will rain said the TV and the meteo-computer…
It seemed Cees was going to be right. As we all laboured away – me digging up a tree and creating a vegie garden in nowt but stubbies and a kepi, Wendy doing horses and gardens, the lads building my nice new green roof, and Papa Tull turning and baling the hay – the sun sweltered down on us. ‘It’s pissing down on Rolleston’ came the news about 3pm. But not at Sefton!

Soon, the roof was done (double click on Cees for full-sized picture!), and the paddocks proudly boasted 57 big square bales of hay – a record! we’ve never had much more than 40 before! – and the rumbles suddenly got closer.. the sun vanished, a cold wind blew up .. and next thing, as the roofers rumbled off into the dusk, Wendy (who had at least the sense to grab a woolly) and I, still just in keks and kepi!, were tearing round the paddocks with old horse coats, trying to cover at least some of the hay..

Then, as the rain paused (was the predicted torrent of hail going to come?), and I headed soddenly for the blissful balm of my lovely new hot shower, Neil the hayman rumbled up in his big red tractor. And before we’d finished the second bottle of bubbly, there was hay in the barn!

But good luck isn’t endless. With just a few bales to go .. the big red tractor blew a tyre..

Now its 6.30am Tuesday. The big red tractor sits forlornly in the paddock waiting for 9am and a new (very large) tyre, the last four bales of hay, draped in the horse-coats once sported by Flying Chev and other dear departed pals, sit grotesquely in the front paddock .. the roofer lads are coming soon to do their finishing touches .. and later the bathroom/bedroom boys to rip down my bedroom ceiling and perform various other delights..
I shall shut my study door and shrink into the nineteenth century ..
Because outside – even though the hail never came – it is (contrary to the forecast) cold and drizzling. This is New Zealand. In the Summer.
I'm booked for a trip to sunny Australia in a few weeks time...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Beauty Is and Beauty Does

The saga of the lovely Elena de Gerolstein, the tale of her growing into a racehorse and the head-scratching she has put us through, trying to get her to behave on the track in a manner conducive to a good performance, has been a long one.
But today it moved on a stage. As you may remember, Elena started off her career in trials enthusiastically, winning first a learners’ heat, and then a heat for unqualified horses, before – as the grade climbed a little, and the races became faster -- she started to show that annoying tendency to ‘race greenly’. Wendy tried kitting her out in various combinations of gear in order to correct her unhelpful propensities, but nothing seemed to solve the problem … until today.
Today, we put away the boring pole, we put away the Murphy blind, and we equipped her instead with a simple pair of half-blinkers. Hopefully, thus, she would concentrate on what was in front of her instead of at her side or behind! And the result was that the only thing in front of her was air.
A nine horse maiden field, including one unraced one whispered as being something special and others who had been already placed at the races. Elena drew three at the barrier, perfect for her, and in spite of doing her corkscrew-neck trick in the preliminary, she went away quickly and won a little battle for the front. And away she strode, with the entire field splayed out in Indian file behind her. Coming up to the home turn, the Indian file concertina-ed, as those with ambition pulled out to prepare their attacks, but round the bend, the one that attacked was Elena, who popped smartly three lengths clear.. and put her head down. The Something Special and the most experienced of the maidens tried to bomb her in the final hundred metres, but Elena wasn’t having it and she held on to win a half-head and a head in a three horse finish.
The time for the 2000 metres was a fair 2.34 (a kilometre rate of 1.17) with final 800 metres in 58.9 and final 400 metres in 28.9. Thoroughly respectable times -- especially in a very strong sidewind which, as leader, she had in her face all the way -- which are not far off those needed to win many a maiden race on raceday.
So Elena has added a ‘non-winners’ heat to her previous workout wins and that leaves only one more step .. she needs to do the deed on raceday.
Today has given us confidence that she should do something like that before too long. Of course, it would help if she drew three again, and if she were able to lead (which she clearly likes), but many a raceday field over the coming months will be weaker than what she beat today, so…
Watch this space!

Race 8 MOBILE PACE (Non Winners)

Distance: 2000m Weather: Track:
Place Book Horse Handicap Time Driver Trainer
1 3 Elena de Gerolstein Ft 2-34.0 J R Dunn Ms W J Williams
2 9 A Legend Ft C T Dalgety
3 7 Song For The Asking Ft D M Thompson
4 8 Matturity Ft P T Borcoskie
Other Starters not necessarily in finishing order
UPL 1 Rocket Fun Ft Don Ross
UPL 2 Mysterious Girl Ft G P & Mrs N M Hope
UPL 4 Anitagain Ft M P Jones
UPL 5 Kotare Rapide Ft M J Smolenski
UPL 6 T K Oracle Ft D J & Mrs C M Butt

Number of Starters: 9
Margins: 1/2 head, head, 1 1/4 lengths
Sectional Times: Mile Rate: 2-03.8 Last 800m: 59.8 Last 400m: 28.5

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The stupendously silly season


I should be waiting a little longer before writing this, until the stupendously silly season is over, but if I do there will be too much to say, because there has been too, too much to do..…

In a week or so, everything .. please. please, everything .. that is happening in the beleaguered land of Gerolstein will be over, and we shall be able to enjoy our ‘summer’ (if and when it happens) in the peace and calm of our lovely rural surroundings. But, for the moment .. (silent howl)

It started with the bathroom. If I had known what was coming, I would never have dared the bathroom. But I did. And – give or take a few final and decorative touches - it’s done. Yesterday a lady came to ‘vitroglaze’ the shower room, tonight it will be dry .. and I shall be able to inaugurate my Monsoon dump shower. It had better be a stunner.
The operation is, I think, wholly successful. The room has come out exactly as I imagined and wanted it. The tradesmen have been every one a gem, the thanks for which must go to Richard the Revamper: he may be extraordinarily expensive, but he is extraordinarily good, and we all know, to coin a cliché .. ‘you gets what you pays for’.

So, the bathroom done, and bedroom two metamorphosed into a delightful dressing room, we now move to the replacement of half the bedroom ceiling, and on Friday the roofers begin the entire re-roofing of the house. I can’t even think about that one. Please the Lord they don’t make a mess …

The saga of the trees ended happily. After the disastrous episode of getting fifty pine trees topped of ten to fifteen metres of huge frizzly spires – an exercise which cost us broken fences, smashed gates, ruined hay, a wrecked electric fence system (still not working) – I called in a classy firm by name Roseworks: and in a day and a half those young lads with their chainsaws and a bobcat had turned a mass of tangled, broken boles and branches into a neat pile of shaven tree-trunks (size a, to be sold), another of size b, to be cut up and used for the winter’s fires, and a third, large one of rubbishy bits (to be burned) .. all that remains now for me to do, in person, is pick up the thousands of pine cones lying in the paddock so that they do not damage horses feet or farm machines!

Today? Ah, today the haymaker arrived at 7am to mow, and any minute now I shall be turfed out of here by Spiderman who is coming to spray the houses, inside and out, in a usually very successful bug protection exercise. Tomorrow the men from Daikin come to instal Wendy’s heat pump, Friday it’s the roofer, the vet to ensure that Duchess is in foal, and also probably the man to grade etc our 500 metres of driveway..

And somewhere in there, are horses. They too have been active. D’Arcy continues his ‘finishing school’ at Motukarara, Lucie will follow him there very soon: she is very much a handful (I hesitate to say ‘her mother’s daughter’ given the notoriety of her mother) and has a cavalier disregard for fences. That is to say, she doesn't stop when she gets to one .. she goes over, under it, or straight through it. Ping. Mikie has the cart back on for the first time today. Elena has had a wee freshener and goes to the workouts on Saturday. And over in Australia very little Livia, only just turned two, is about to do the same! Amazing! An early two-year-old! And in France, Tenor has been to Caen (in spite of a blodge of muddy heel) and qualified comfortably…

Duchess (once scanned and, I pray, found pregnant) and Douchelette and dear Sally will move into the hay paddock as soon as we are baled which will be somewhat of a relief, as Douchelette seems to have inherited the female family traits and shows all signs of being a very lively lassie. A nice 4 acre paddock should keep her occupied!

My quiet spring. My lazy summer. To get a breather, I have booked a wee trip to see Barry and Rosie in Sydney in January..

But it’s a long way to January. Still, maybe after this week – after the baling, the spraying, the roofing, the building and all the rest -- life at Gerolstein will be able to relax back into its normal routine

Festive season? No way. Festive, for us, will be a bottle or two of bubbly on the terrace, in country silence, looking out at our horses and our gardens..
We’ll have earned it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Good Heavens, ma'am ...

What are you doing in my family photo box?

It's evidently a Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium .. that's Dinah Shore and Alan Jones .. the rubicond chappie is Prince Littler ..and that's Gracie Fields's left shoulder and coif..

Ian must have collected this for one of his books..