Friday, January 29, 2010

Menangle by night


I knew that dowdy, disagreeable Harold Park (see earlier post) was not the face of Australian trotting. The fact that it has been so long listed for the chop speaks for itself. But up until last night, Harold Park -- four visits in forty years -- was the only harness-race venue in this country I had ever visited.
Not any more.
Last night, Barry and I hoofed it seventy kilometres up the Hume Highway from Lane Cove into the almost-country and to Menangle Park Raceway (recte: Paceway .. what about the trotters?) .
The Paceway is, so a kind gentleman guarding some of the private precincts told me, a work in progress. Although it has been open getting on for a year, they are still developing it. Well, all I can say is, what they have done already is delightful, delicious and dazzling. When it’s done, Menangle could easily be my favourite harness venue, all countries and courses put together. Though I recognise that they still have work to do.

It was evident from the moment that we drove in at the cheerily-manned gate (gold stars for the vehicle marshallers) that this was another bowl of cherries to the grim, saucery emptiness of the city venue. The course was thronged with lively racegoers, obviously all having a wow of a time. I could have been back at Rangiora or Nelson at Christmas time, except for the fact that it was night. More than that, it was an occasion: the new-style Menangle’s first meeting under lights. And I may say right away, splendid lights both in the public areas and on the track.

The most important part of any racetrack is, of course, the piste itself, and this one is a stunner. To look at, anyway. I can’t speak for driving on, though I’d give my left pinkie to get out my retired amateur driver's gear and have a try. It’s about 1500 metres round, immaculate in its grey-beige grit, with perfect sightlines, set in agreeable countryside and ... well, the horses evidently like it too. One medium-class ex-Kiwi horse ran a 25.8 first quarter, the main race (1 mile) was won in 1.53.0, and a 1-2 wins race in a time just fractions slower. If this is where the formerly ridiculously-named ‘Miracle Mile’ (draw one, lead, stay there, yawn) is now to be run, then the race will be at last able to live up to its name.

The public buildings are simple-looking and apparently effective. I say apparently, because I didn’t get to go inside. Building one, the main stand, is a bar and lounge for members and sponsors. Building two is a dining room … for members and sponsors. The dashing marquee alongside these stands is for committee, celebrities and dignitaries. And the second marquee seems to share the same fate.

And the hoi polloi … such as I for this occasion was ... where do we go? There’s one open stand, after the line, there are a few rows of bleachers in front of stand number one, and a very nice little lawn down to the rails. But food and drink – and shelter from the showers we got -- are underground. Who wants to be underground at a race meeting? No complaints about the catering, though. There was excellent ‘race-course’ tucker, a choice of three beers (including a wise light) and the liquid refreshment was a whole dollar cheaper than at Horrible Park.
Gentlemen of Menangle! Priority one in the next phase of development – even though you are, of course, already ten km ahead of the HP course -- is to provide something a bit nicer for the non-dignified, non-sponsorising non-membership. I mean, that’s how we attract new people to harness racing, isn’t it?

Complaints? I have to think hard. They need to repaint the sign advertising SOUVENIRES. The Garrards shop (one charming lass) is far too small and situated in the unvisitable (to me, alas) owners and trainers only area. I had to ask permission from another friendly official to be able to go and spend my money. $10 to get in and $3 a racebook is tough after New Zealand freebies. And Barry, who usually bets with the bookies said that the handful of them there (including my mate from HP, he works hard!) offered awful odds and he spent the evening betting on the tote. But, otherwise… they have got it all so amazingly right. Menangle is glowing evidence in favour of getting racetracks out of city centres and into agreeable and open-skied venues where harness racing can once again be a spectator sport for all, and not just ‘an industry’ and a dreary piece of TAB-fodder. I look forward with anticipation to a visit to Melton, Menangle’s Victorian equivalent in September.

I’ve talked so much about the place, I haven’t paid any attention to the horses. Sadly, we were too late for the first, a trot with a field made up almost entirely of mostly re-named (why this continuing insult?) ex-Kiwis including old pal Chew the Fat, and we arrived only for the third, a one-to-two-metropolitan-wins race. It was a stunner! They cut out the first quarter in 26 and something, completed their mile in 1.53.6, and the performance of the all-the-way winner, a Cam’s Card Shark horse named Genuwine was little short of staggering. Although an aspiring-to-the-Interdoms American import, Lonestar Legend, took out the principal race six-tenths faster (after runner-up Cullen’s Legacy’s lightning first quarter), for me Genuwine was the star of the evening. Cam’s Card Shark, begorrah!
I snapped Genuwine during the race, but they were going so fast I just got blurs, so I snapped him again in what passes for a winner’s circle. I’m sure it is only temporary. I hope it is.

(Postscript: I discover Genuwine is also a US import with a huge record, huge winnings and a prospective stud career in Australia. So my ‘discovery’ isn’t one!)

Thank you Menangle, for a very nice night. The rain didn’t matter at all … but next time I’m coming I think I might call in advance and let you know -- especially if it's wet -- that I am accounted by some a very small ‘celebrity’…

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

When it reins it paws!

Elena’s outing to Addington wasn’t the only Gerolstein horsey event that my globe-trotting caused me to miss this week.
After Seppl’s fine first workout at Motukarara last week, Murray decided to give him one more like run, and then take him straight to the qualifying trials. I checked the schedules: splendid, that would be 3 February and I’d be back in Canterbury!
But things moved even more quickly than could have been imagined, and the day after Lena’s victory, little Seppl and his better-known nephew Fritzl (‘The Soldier Fritz’), headed for Ashburton and the week’s Qualifying Trials. Seppl’s mission was to crack the qualifying time, Fritzl was there for Murray to get a handle on the stage of his preparation: for we are only a fortnight away from the first three year-old classic of the year, and on last term’s form, Fritzl could be there.
Seppl lined up with six other young rising trotters, and when the tapes flew he stepped away just as faultlessly and fast as his mother, Gwen, used to do in her youth. Apparently there was a bit of carnage behind him, but Seppl didn’t even see it: as he did last week, he just trotted straight to the front, ran them along for a mile and a half, and none of the others got near him! He even ran home his last quarters in 58 and 28, times worthy of a pacer.
So my next glimpse of Seppl, when I pass through New Zealand, will now be at the real races rather than a trial.
Fritzl lined up against two star three year-old fillies, and he more than accomplished his mission. Although the winner, a race-winner the other day against older horses, finished 10 lengths ahead of him, they cut out their mile in a neat 2.04 .. not a bad effort for a first pipe-opener of the season!
Hopefully, I’ll be having a fun time with Gerolstein's horses in February and March, before I quit New Zealand to return to Europe!

Race 2 QUALIFYING TROT. (Time Required - 3-20.0 )

Distance: 2400m Weather: Fine Track: Fast

1 11 SEPPL 6 Ft 3-15.8 M Edmonds M P Edmonds
2 12 Seeker Dhu U1 Ft 3-16.3 B Weaver B Weaver
3 6 CR Ash 1 Ft 3-16.4 J B Geddes J J & J B Geddes
4 8 Sole Recruit 3 Ft 3-21.1 K D Townley K D Townley
Other Starters in finishing order
5 9 Gee Itsa Boy 4 Ft D McCormick D G McCormick
6 10 DixieCommando 5 Ft J J Geddes J J & J B Geddes
7 7 A Saint She Aint 2 Ft C A Butt T G Butt

Margins: 3 lengths, nose, 23 lengths
Sectional Times: Mile Rate: 2-11.2 Last 800m: 58.7 Last 400m: 28.3

Seppl 2006 3 Br g Wrestle-Gwen
Trainer: Murray Edmonds
Owner: K F Ganzl, B D Collins

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Australia Day and ... Elena Wins!!!


There’s an old adage, much subscribed to by my friend Jack, which says ‘they only win when you aren’t there’. The horses that is. So when I decided to pop over to Sydney for my first visit to Barry and Rosie in their new home, I said to Wendy, ‘Just carry on’, and pointed to what seemed the only possible race for her, in an HRNZ January-February schedule annoyingly de-Canterburyised: Tuesday 25th.

Tuesday meetings are meant to be for a lesser class of horse (though it doesn’t always turn out that way! The Purdon, Butt and M Jones colours are often seen out Tuesdaying) and the field that Elena drew was – given a couple of imponderable first starters – not bristling with form. I was fairly .. nay, rather daringly too .. confident, in spite of the presence in the field of a professional runner-up named Music Box Dancer. And the wizard of Trottech tipsterland labelled her a virtual cert. The Australian tipsters put her fourth: but they didn’t know what we knew, that we’d sussed the little (large) problem that had caused the Oamaru debacle, and moved to correct it.

Tuesday racing was invented to fill a gap on the Australian gambling channels. A very happy invention for all concerned. But this meant I could be sure of seeing my girl’s race, if not in person, at least on trans-Tasman TV. The TV in question turned out to be the largest I have ever seen.

Tuesday was Australia Day. I don’t know why the world needs these jingoistic fetes, but there you are. It was Australia Day and folk were feting. We were invited to do that feting in megastyle, at the stunning Vaucluse home of Barry’s clients and friends, Richard and Lilli Kaljo. On arrival, I shyly inquired of Richard whether I might watch my race … well, how was I to know that he has been the owner of a Doomben Cup winner and umpteen other top class horses, and is a rabid racing man! As was, it seemed, everyone else in the room!
On went the TV, round went the buzz .. and I’m sure the reason that Lena dropped from $6.60 to win to $4.10 to win was because of the telephone betting activity that came out of the Kaljo living room.

The race did not start well. Elena did her usual ‘I hate anything in front of me’ act, turning her head away from the gate in the run-up to the start, and – after Oamaru – John was not hustling her. So she made a poor start, as the rank outsider zoomed to the front and set off at a good pace. But John didn’t seem worried: in fact he seemed to be just dollying unconcernedly along near the back of the bunch, until he pulled three wide and let Lena run up to the leader with about 600 metres to go. The leader promptly threw up a very white flag and vanished backwards down the rails, carting his followers with him, and Lena found herself in front almost by default. Round the home turn she cruised – John sitting quietly, as the only likely challenger loomed up on his right elbow. The commentator promptly started calling the other horse the winner – an unfortunate foresightly habit of commentators – but John and Elena had a full tank, and John had only to brush the accelerator for our girl to take charge of the situation, and glide pass the post sufficiently and wholly comfortably ahead.
She came back with not a hair out of place.

Up in the Kaljo palazzo, Lena and I were the hero/ines of the hour, and my Australia Day’s resolution to drink just a little light beer went, of course, plum out the window as we fiddled with mobile phones trying to get through a call to Wendy in the birdcage..
Such excitement for a Tuesday maiden at Addington? … oh, yes. This win is a wonderful one in my book. First of all, it’s a win gained out of all sorts of adversity -- remember the steel pins in Lena’s throat? -- secondly, it’s the first win for Wendy and I as a team, and for Wendy her first win in her first season as a solo public trainer, And it may be the thirtieth victory that a horse I have owned or part-owned has notched up in my time as a horseman .. but it’s the first one ever (after the placings of Davey Crockett, Master Ado, Smart Don and Il Campione) on the headquarters track of the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club at Addington.

It will be a long time before I forget Australia Day 2010. And thank you Richard and Lilli, Robert and Sandra, Michael, Joel and all the gathered company: I couldn’t have had my longed-for win in more convivial and friendly company…

But next time, damn the adage, I am going to be there.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Australia: week one

Event of the week: I got to catch up with Antonette and Daniel. Antonette is Barry and Rosemary’s daughter whom I have known since she was a thought, an egg, a tiny swaddled pixie in a cloth carrying-cot on my couch at Bruton Street, London W1, a gawky freckled dance student … and whose godfather I ought to have been. Foolishly, the Catholic Church, thinking only of retaining dominion over a child’s religious allegiance, and ignoring things like love and inheritance, disqualified me on grounds of race and (lack of) religion, so I am only a godfather at heart.
Antonette is now – three decades on -- grown into a beautiful young woman, with a fine career in Australian broadcasting and last year – when I, alas, was on the high seas somewhere between Vanuatu and the Solomons -- she became Mrs Daniel Johnston.

Daniel works in my sphere, as a dramatic pedagogue, and yesterday we discovered ourselves quoted in one and the same theatre magazine. So you might say we are on the same wavelength.

Saturday night, the family and a dozen friends, old and young, gathered for an Aussie BBQ here at Lane Cove, and even though the heat-wave burst in a flurry of rain early in the evening, a really lovely time was had by all. Notably me. And I snapped a slightly fuzzy photo of the Collins family…

Sunday, we visited Daniel and Antonette in their apartment in the charming coastal suburb of Clovelly for morning coffee, and then we headed for Randwick. Yes, Randwick as in horse racing. For it was the day of the Inglis Classic Yearling Sales. These sales mean a lot to us, for from them came our Rosmarino – the winner of some $200,000 in stakes for us, and now the mother of our equine children. The latest of those children will come up for sale here in April (I shall be on the spot!) when, hopefully, he will make Barry, Ivano, Gerald, Les, Brian and I enough Aussie dollars to keep us in golf-balls (them) and horseshoes (me) for the rest of our lives.

The Randwick sales complex is agreeable. More so than its New Zealand equivalent, where I bought Elena four years ago. Firstly, it is effectively open-air rather than deeply tented, but what I liked most is the way it is run. The auctioneers (well, two of the three) were immeasurably better than their Kiwi equivalents: no campy joking with named friends in the audience, no ‘look-at-me-will-you-put me on Celebrity Squares’ performances, no endless, bawled bla-bla, just efficient and almost comprehensible calling of the bids (will someone teach these guys microphone technique!) and wrapping up of sales. They make you want to bid, whereas the Kiwi jokers always seem to be rooting for their mates alongside the podium.
The sale prices were surprisingly modest -- $10,000-$60,000 -- during the couple of hours we watched (I am told it was a day for modestly pretentious horses), but one chestnut filly by Snitzel out of Innocense caught fire and made it up to $130,000. Maybe this was because a daughter of the hitherto not exactly fashionable Snitzel had put up a showy display at the races the previous day. Or maybe someone knows better than I what to look for in a thoroughbred horse. I shall watch with interest the future of this young lass. (PS: the top-seller of the day went for $250,000).

Today was a day for a little shopping, a lot of lazing, and the tennis and the races on the TV.
Now, I normally don’t watch TV except for the harness racing. But today I did some tennis, and also suffered a number of news bulletins. And in both cases .., well, I’m very worried about Australia. I know tomorrow is so-called ‘Australia Day’, but I was shocked by the pathological over-the-top ‘nationalism’ shoved out of the box and down my throat every five minutes. Ozzie this, Ozzie that ... surely only the most insecure folk feel the need to be so desperately and bawlingly ‘assertive’? A pathetically ludicrous (and carefully publicised) group of painted loonies who pretended an interest in tennis were bad enough, but the bloke who is so scared of the past that he wants to remake the national flag was undoubtedly the saddest. I can’t believe it! Australia which, when it had a government with a brain, looked as if it could do anything and go anywhere in the world .. reduced to ‘Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie’, yellow face paint, and attempts at revisionist history .. it’s pure jingoism and nothing short of … well, sad.
Hopefully, Australia Day will bring more youth, more joy, more hope, more uncringing positiveness… and less mindless yelling.

Stop Press. I forgot the horses!
A grand horsey day here on the left hand side of the Tasman. ‘George’ who ran so encouragingly at Harold Park went out again today, already, at Menangle … and he won! And at the same time, down in Victoria, Elena’s brother (and Livia’s uncle) ‘Eton Bromac’ did exactly the same! One gold star for our Sally! Her progeny now have 30 wins. And a sort of one for Elena… who tomorrow goes to the racetrack herself. Fingers crossed.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sydney 2010

I’d forgotten how long it had been since I had been to Australia for more than just a quick change of planes on my way to somewhere else. I found out yesterday when I tried to use my local bank card ... and discovered that it was a whole year out of date!
In fact it’s more than two years since my last visit, and in those two years a few things have changed. First and foremost, Barry and Rosie (whom frequenters of this blog will know well, and who have been my very dear friends for nearly 40 years) have moved house. From the likeable Italian suburb of Leichhardt, to lovely Lane Cove, in the northern outskirts of the city. It’s another world. Here, we sit on a wide open terrace, glass and fork in hand, gazing over the green Australian bush, alive with the hoarse croaks of the kookaburra and the buzz of the Aussie mozzie, and pleasantly far from the howl of aeroplane engines. Delicious!

Australia in this January of 2010 is – there is no other word for it – Hot with a capital H. The TV has just told me that it was 41 degrees yesterday, the car thermometer clocked 49 after sitting in the sun … such temperatures I’ve never experienced and I had no real idea how to cope.

My first day here, I accompanied Barry and Ivano (above) to Rose Bay golf course for a gentle round (them) of nine holes, and a gentle green walk (me) in the sun. Many is the time I’ve looked over the fence at Rose Bay golf links (for Rose Bay is where Ian’s mother lived her last years), so it was fun to stroll around inside the fence. You only get to stroll, for the course is largely used, it seems, by late middle-aged ladies whose average stroke runs 20 metres and whose airshot tally is momentous, and very tall young men with lots of length and minimal accuracy. I wonder if the ball with the red ‘H’ on it was ever found by its rightful owner…
But I didn’t realise how hot it would be on the hatless parts of me that no longer have much hair! A couple of middys of Toohey’s Old Dark (very nice) were required at Hole Ten to lower my cranial temperature!

Day two, some gentle Lane Cove downtime (with a little shopping, notably at a first-class food-n-flowers emporium named Thomas Dux), and day three – what else – off to the races. Now, last time I was here, Barry and I went trotting at Sydney’s Harold Park. We left after a few races, I declaring it was the most horrid hippodrome I had ever been on, anywhere in the world, in my many years of racehorse-owning and horse-race-going. I never thought that I would return and, in fact, I was under the pleasant illusion that the venue had been bulldozed, in favour of wide-open Menangle (which I have yet to try). But it hasn’t. It’s still there, and horses still squeeze their way around it to an audience of a few hundred uncomfortable punters … but .. The ‘but’ was that last night’s programme included two horses very dear to Wendy and I. ‘Ty’ (Typhoon Anvil) who spent his growing and early racing years with us, and ‘George’ (General George), the second son of Gerolstein’s resident pacing broodmare, ‘Sally’, both of whom are now racing in Australia. So we went.

Harold Park is as depressing as ever. Gloomy corridors, and ‘prison’ staircases, stained utilitarian carpets, windows so filthy you can’t see through them, a choice of two beers served at $4.50 in a plastic cup and not even a sandwich in sight. Maybe the ‘members only’ and ‘club’ areas are better (‘visitors, stay away!’) ... I sha’n’t, doubtless, be finding out. The surly girls in Garrards made me think longingly of the lively lasses at Addington, and … well, at least the one and only bookmaker was cheerful enough, if barely patronised. The place just oozed moribundity.

On the slim credit side of the leger, the racing-round-a-saucer was somewhat better than it had been last time, and I was kept buoyant by the fact the both our babes put on a show.

Ty – at long odds – was left in front when the favourite galloped, and he led the field up to the straight entrance (it must be the first time ever in his life he has led!) before being run down for 5th.

In the last race of the night, George—at even longer odds – starting from ten, followed a running line that couldn’t run, a three-wide line that couldn’t go forward, was second-last on the turn, and flashed home for a splendid fourth.
So the evening was rescued from shabby horror, and I was able to head back to Lane Cove, in the slightly cooling night, looking forward to a soontime visit to Menangle (or anywhere) and a more agreeable view of Australian harness racing.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Look who's coming to breakfast


Our friendly peacock seems to have decided that Gerolstein is a good place to be ... most especially at dawn and at dusk. In other words, when the horses are being fed, and a bit of loose grain may be lying about...

He's got no chance whatsoever with Rose, the world's champion eater. Her bowl is always scoured clean..

I think he will have to have a wee bowl of his own

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Seppl's day

Once upon a time, three years and some ago, in the very earliest days of this blog, there were born. in the back paddock at Gerolstein. two wee trotting fellers. I called them Fritzl and Seppl, names which just happen to be the Austrian ones of my father and my grandfather.

I have to admit that Seppl was only conceived and born so that the more richly bred Fritzl should have a playmate with whom to grow up…
And it worked. They became (and still are) sweetheart-mates, and when Fritzl went off to be trained as a racehorse by Murray Edmonds in Motukarara, Seppl went with him.
Fritzl (The Soldier Fritz) made his debut as a racehorse at two, with some decided success. Seppl stayed in the shadows: growing and waiting and being a pal.

But today it was Seppl’s turn. He is freshly three years old – still young for a trotter – but, to my delight, he is ready already to make his first attempts as a pre-racehorse. And today was the very first of those attempts. So, in spite of the fact that I fly out of New Zealand tomorrow, I simply had to drive across to Bank’s Peninsula this morning to see him ‘run round’ at the workouts. Just that: no big race, just a ‘run round’ with two or three other horses in a wee rehearsal race.
My first surprise on arriving chez Edmonds was that … I didn’t recognise my ‘son’. I saw this fine wee lad, with every sign of being of our ‘Robinson’ family, tied up at the barn… and I didn’t recognise ‘wee’ Seppl. Partly because he is no longer so wee, and partly because Fritzl wasn’t there to distract the limelight. When I looked closer, of course, that was my lad ... the haircut, the eyes, the face .. but, gosh, the body?!

When he trotted out to the race-track, I was really taken aback: he looks very slim, but gosh he looks like a racehorse. Maybe it’s the flowing mane?

I had resigned myself to the fact that, from a standing start, he would probably fail to go away. But, no! Eased gently into the three-horse line-up by Murray, he took a few delicate first steps, upped a gear, zoomed past the one that had stepped away fastest, and went straight to the lead: and there, for 2600 metres, he stayed, trotting sweetly, mane a-flying, looking much nicer a trotter than his ill-fated brother (Boris) and sister (Wanda) ever did.

And he passed the post in first place, a length ahead of the best of his rivals.

At the end of the trials, Murray brought baby Lucie out on to the track.

Amazing! Lucie, who was figuratively sucking a sugary hoof a few weeks back, now with a work-cart behind her, trotting neatly (give or take the occasional ooooh! at the sight of a vehicle or a flowering irrigation system or … a corner) round the Motukarara grass track…
Heavens! The ‘family’ are up and going!
Maybe she will be one of the first Love You babes to race in New Zealand.

Horse racing rarely allows you to have a perfect day.
Livia, in Australia, was due to have a final pre-racing trial tonight. Yesterday she sliced up a leg on a fence…
That’s horses..
But tomorrow Elena goes to the trials, to try to get herself back into gear after her disastrous trip (which I refrained from telling you about) to the race-she-was-tipped-to-win at Oamaru.
Well, today I have had the good and the sad.. what about tomorrow?
And at 3pm I am at Christchurch airport .. destination Sydney, Australia

Stop Press: Elena ran a splendid trial. She was really there only to test the combination of gear we are using to try to combat unfortunate gallopy happenings such as occurred at Oamaru, but she not only behaved 95 percent perfectly (the driver still has to 'shut his eyes going round the last bend'), she went away well, sat parked for the entire trip behind the 'fashionable' Anvil's Never Easy (a sister to our dear wee now-in-Australia 'Dobbie'), ran past her in the straight -- without even being tapped up -- and only just gave second best (beaten a neck) to the horse, Code Red, which had trailed throughout, and which is in any case not a maiden, but a race winner from last season. The time, too, was a spirited 2mins 31.8 secs (mile rate: 2.01.7). So if Lena can do that without really making an effort -- she came back in with barely a hair turned -- I think her turn cannot be too very far away.
What a nice, workout/trial couple of days I have had! Now let's see them do it on race day!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Branding Day

It comes but once a year.
And it’s a day I always like, because it means we get a visit from good-fun ‘silver-daddy’ John, who is in charge of branding every yearling in the south Island north of Waikouaiti.
This year, of course, we had only Douchelette to get done and, as always, I was a tiny bit nervous. Duchess is fiercely protective of her babies, and – as she showed when she buried her teeth into the vet, on day one of this filly’s life -- she’s not scared physically to warn off invasive humans.
Douchelette has been into the crush several times, when her mother has been being served with this year’s dose of Love You semen, so she didn’t protest at the change of scenery and the ‘walls’, and passed most of the time, while we waited for the branders to arrive, attacking her weary mother’s teats. Weary? Oh yes, Douchelette is a very big girl for just 10 weeks of age.

However, when a couple of strange men invaded the crush, Mademoiselle la Douche quickly got the message that something was up, and looked to escape.

And mum – a little surprisingly -- didn’t seem to be protesting at all as her daughter was manhandled into a quick neck-shave..

and after a kind of rugby-tackle second catching

the final painless branding process...

And then it was all over. Duchess and Douchelette returned to their 5-acre paddock, and Douchelette – whether to show her deep unconcern for all that had happened, or in a thumb-sucking regression to wounded-feelings babyhood -- headed straight for her fourteenth breakfast.
You know, sometimes we think it would be wise to wean Duchess’s babies from her as early as possible, so that they don’t become fixated with their very fixatible mamma. I think with Douchelette – easily the biggest of her three babies, and (so John said) the biggest Love You foal he’s seen -- we may have to save Duchess and her undoubtedly aching udder from her vivacious child!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

FIS Weltmeisterschaft 1933


I've been digging in photo boxes again. Not mine, this time, but my father's. And amongst the 1930s and 1940s photographs of mountains. both European and New Zealandish, I found his amateur snaps of the 1933 world skiing championships. All carefully labelled, so I can tell you that these are photographs of the ladies' slalom race (yes, thats how far apart the piquets .. and the skis used to be!) of 10 February 1933, that the lady above is Paola Wiesinger of Italy, and below is Nini Zogg of Switzerland. Neither lady placed in the event, but both were in the top five in the downhill, and Mme Zogg took silver in the main event: the combined.

He also photographed Hans Hauser (see above, in the men's slalom on a murky 9 Feb) , David Zogg, Toni Seelos, Emmy Ripper and Kathi Lettner in action (as well as Leni Riefenstahl and Guzzi Lantschner apres-ski) and caught Otto Furrer in a manouvering slalom moment (below)

That windmillish turn must have been OK, because Furrer placed fourth in the slalom and third in the combined.

Skiing has somewhat changed since 1933, yes?

Snow Wight

In June and July, I shall be homing back in to my little 'nest' at Hermitage Court Farm, Isle of Wight..

I am rather glad that I didn't choose January .. Red Fred wouldn't make it up the hill right now, and Jayne, Chris, Jack and Charlie are literally snowed in up on St Catherine's Downs. No skool, lads! But also, the larder is running low...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The mother of the Galli


My father and my brother have made notable appearances in The Blog, since its creation in France three and something years ago. But my mother ...

Yesterday I went to see my mother, for one day and one night. Going to see her is not a case of popping next door. Richmond, where all the Gallas family lived during my college days, and where mother now lives again, alone, is 4 1/2 hours drive from Gerolstein. So I set out at 5.45am, to escape (mostly successfully) the holiday traffic. It is a pleasant drive, through uniformly attractive -- though in no way startling --New Zealand farmland and forest, and the nine hours spent at the wheel went most painlessly.

Pain is something mother knows all about. A few months ago, at the age of 87, she took a fall, broke her arm and crushed two vertebrae. Since then, she has lived in pain such as she has never known. But now, she felt sufficiently strong for a little visit from son number one...
Although I tried hard not to think about it, I expected to find her terribly diminished. That is to underestimate my mother. All six stone of her. To my delighted surprise, I found her looking if anything brighter and better than on my last visit, twelve months ago..
As you can see, for a lady approaching her 88th birthday, and in possession of all her faculties and a good few extra, she is rather remarkable.
Love you heaps, mum.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Peacocks on my patio


I more or less awake in the half-light of dawn...
There is someone trying the bedroom door, from the verandah..

What do I do? I grab the camera ..
and I sneak to the next set of doors..
Just in time to snap a hazy photo of my visitor as he glid swiftly across the lawn, through the trees, under the startled nose of the breakfasting Elena, and off into the tall grass round the swimming pool...

Peacocks on my patio! La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein herself couldn't ask for more

Friday, January 1, 2010

Out of that photo box...

Goodness, what is there in that photo box? Maybe I should stop looking…

  This is me, for heaven’s sake, in 1973. Thirty-seven years ago! I didn’t own that suit, it was out of the wardrobe of the Harrogate Opera House where I was playing, for the nonce, in a Christmas production of My Fair Lady. Just back in England definitively after my two-year 'career' in Monte Carlo, I was a late addition to the cast and a part was manufactured for me out of all sorts of bits of music taken from here and there in the score. I remember I had to sing Pickering’s music in ‘You Did It’, because the dear man (Martin Scott, where are you?) couldn’t hold a vocal line. It wasn’t a bad production, although, apart from the Eliza (Liz Mansfield), only I, one other lad and a rather fine soprano chorister could actually sing. That other lad went on to be a West End leading man, and is now Paul Bentley, international operatic librettist. I remember the photo session too. This photo was done free. After which the borrowed suit came off, for the taking – as payment -- of some more ‘artistic’ photos which I guess, for 1973, might have been considered a touch saucy… Well, Marilyn Monroe did it: why not I? By the way, Jim Moran of Harrogate, you were really a very good (and artistic) photographer… and I don't think your 'daring' (for 1973) efforts -- of which a couple of the more modest herewith -- quite made a porn star out of me! I can’t find my picture of Paul and I ‘Wouldn’t it be loverly’-ing, so here’s another one – even older – from out of the famous box. A production circa 1970 by Opera Piccola of Schenk’s The Village Barber at, of all places, Sheffield. That’s the tenor Uel Deane at the right, and John Wakefield or was it Winfield at the left, and yes, me with the beard, but alas Patrick (McGuigan?), Caroline, Brian (McGuire?), I only recall your first names. I also recall nothing about the opera, and nothing about Sheffield except that on the Saturday the bloke in the B&B room next to me took me to my very first football match. Sheffield Wednesday vs Swindon. He had just been hired as a player with Sheffield. It was a 3-3 draw and fooled me into thinking that all football matches were as lively and as good fun!

  postscript: I've just discovered that Jim Moran did indeed move on from that tiny little studio in Harrogate, and from sleeping in a shed in the garden.. he's become an award-winning photographer with some glorious credits, as you can see here I wonder what other (future) 'celebrities' he has photographed nude!