Friday, December 2, 2011

When you come to the end of an imperfect year ...


A month? A month has gone by since I blogged? And quite a lot has happened in that month.

I am still somewhat handicapped by the sequels of my nearly nine-month old stroke – so, thanks a heap all those pundits who said I’d be ‘totally re-established in one to six months’. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that folks of the medical establishment don’t know very much about strokes, or that every cerebral incident is different.

My reaction to this impuissance was to give up on pundits, expensive specialists etc, and only then did I start noticeably to improve. With, I should add, the help of my faithful acupuncturist and chinese herbalist. Brett Walker, take a bow.

So what’s wrong with me now? Well, my right arm, hand and frozen shoulder have regained most of their movement, but they lack singularly in strength. Lifting anything heavier than a small bucket of horse-feed, or opening a tricky bottle of wine, are out. But finally my typing is getting back to normal, which is a major fact of life for me.
Strength all round is the big thing … and weariness ... but when the sun shines and the horses win, the world is a less painful place. So, now, I just have to get rid of my neural twitch (only evident when lying down), get through next week’s cataract operation and dental adventure… and. well, post-stroke I’m on the blood-thinner clopidogrol (sounds like something a pooch would eat), so I guess I just have to put up with being covered in bruises and blood-marks, and bleeding ridiculously every time I knock myself or touch a rose-prickle.

That’s enough of the health bulletin. Except to say the sun HAS been shining and, yes, racing win number 43 came up last night.

I forced the issue with the sun, and took ten days with Barry and Rosemary in Sydney again. Training for my 40-hour flight back to Europe at the end of summer. We had a lovely lazy time, and I didn’t lift a finger (except to walk Holly the dog), so it was a limited ‘rehearsal’. I wonder how travelling and living on my own will go. We celebrated my dear friends’ 36th wedding anniversary (I was at the wedding!) with dinner at the Via Napolitana in Lane Cove (delicious) and I got to know the latest of the dynasty, grandson Harry. At 18 months, he has already developed a taste for Prada sunnies.

Babies and young things are everywhere at Gerolstein, too. But we have had our share of drama and disaster. Duchess’s stunning foal fractured a sesamoid at two weeks. He doesn’t seem to know it, though, for when he is let out for a few minutes from the pen where he and his mother are immobilised, he kicks his heels in the air!

Yearling Thomas tried out for a showjumper and jumped a double oxer wire fence. Somehow he landed on the other side, but the trailing leg … So he’s a sad and sorry boy and on bute today. Lucie also jumped two fences, and broke through a lot of tape – what a girl will do when she’s in season, and there’s a man down the block! Straight back into training for her. And Agnes, and Pattie.

The foals continue to be a joy, but give us regular frights. Little Johnny, who is to be christened Johnny Molecule after my brother’s new book, is growing up nicely at a month old, but has been left with a curious stub of umbilical cord …!

There is a lot of worry and incident in having horses, but when they win … well, last night was my ninth win of 2011. Something has gone right in this otherwise ill-starred year.

It was Seppl yet again. After his win at Kaikoura, he proceeded to the New Zealand Cup meeting. He ran an enormous race off 20 metres handicap on Cup Day (5th), and on Show Day got run down in the last bit for another 5th. He came home with a dirty nose, but it soon cleared up, and on he went to Geraldine. That is a race I prefer to forget. He was disqualified for allegedly interfering with a notoriously breakable horse … which meant his almost impeccable formline got a ‘0’ to it.
Perhaps that was why, against a large field of horses ,many of which he had already beaten, he went out, last night, tenth favourite at 26-1. Or was it perhaps partly because Murray elected to drive Pammy’s Boy, which had defeated Seppl twice this season. Seppl’s new driver – his fourth in 14 starts – was Jeremy Anderson, an enormously talented junior reinsman who I will always be pleased to have behind any horse of mine.
Seppl had drawn three – all but three of the front-markers were ’unruly’ and condemned to outside starting positions! – and, while a lot of the ‘unrulys’ showed just why they are classed ‘unruly’, Jeremy got him away from the barrier like an Exocet. Straight to his favourite place, in the lead.
But the driver of the favourite, Mamselle (I haven’t yet worked out why it was favourite, but someone knew something), had the same idea. Jeremy calmly let him past, and tucked our boy into the trail. A good decision. No one was game to take the favourite on, and she and Seppl came to the home straight in front. Seppl headed for the passing lane and my heart sunk. He has shown aversion to ‘passing on the inside’ before. But not this time! Jeremy kidded him through the gap and, as the two leaders drew clear of a field where nothing but Pammy’s Boy seemed to be coming forward, Seppl confidently took the lead and carried on to a comfortable ¾ length victory. 4 ½ lengths ahead of the third horse!
He had been given a perfect run, and responded perfectly, in his fastest winning time to date.
These were some of the best 2-4 win horses in the country. I’m beginning to wonder if our Sepp isn’t the best trotter I’ve owned and bred! So far. Watch this space.

The other babies round here have been avian. While I was in Australia, Trixie hatched five adorable peachicks. But nature is cruel, and peahens are not very good mothers it seems. After two weeks three have gone -- lost, stolen or strayed -- and our baby count is now down to two. Temporarily, I should say, because now Dixie is sitting secretly on another bunch of eggs … as for Mr P he just crows, doesn’t help at all with the babies, fans his tail and looks for more available hens …

Now, can something nice please happen in the last four weeks of my annus pretty horribilis...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Kool Kiwi Kittens


Very original cats in dress rehearsal 1981

Cats, performed by students? Hmmmm. I wasn’t sure. I was around in the West End musical world when the show was originally produced in 1981. It had, from the start, the buzz of a British A Chorus Line to it. Elitist, elegant, superior, snobbish even. Only the very best dancers in the country would be up to performing this show. When I first saw it, I wasn’t at all sure that its style and its tone, its almost self-conscious classiness, would gain it popularity. Well, I was wrong to doubt. A hundred thousand times wrong.
And wrong about it being suitable for students. These ones, anyhow. In this version.

As it moves into its fourth decade, from the professional stage to the amateur to the collegiate, Cats has changed. Like other shows of great originality, its individuality has become smoothed down, its quirkiness ironed out, finally it has become, in the nicest meaning of the word, more ‘popular’, more conventional.
As I sat there at last night’s premiere in Ashburton, I felt as if I was seeing a version of the show as re-done by Ralph Reader or Busby Berkeley. Huge, colourful, glamorous. Did it work? In a large part, yes. Why not? There are lots of students available—and, the best thing, capable – of taking part, so why not have squadrons of tapping cockroaches and Siamese Cats in colourful costumes, why not have 42nd Street echelons of dancing pussies pounding energetic moggie-steps to the accompaniment of a hugely voluminous vocal sound. Why not? It gives everyone plenty to do, thoroughly pleases the audience ... and much of it thoroughly pleased grouchy, jaded old me, too. OK, I’ll tell you what, give me back ‘Billy McCaw’ and cut ten minutes of all that Jellicle Balling off the end of Act One, and I’ll even go with the fiddled-about-with-since-1981 version.

Anyway, Cats in its 2011 version – with its large proportion of young, lively characters -- is thoroughly suitable for students. On one condition. That they are technically, choreographically and vocally, capable of correctly performing its series of stand-up character numbers and ensembles. And the Students of NASDA proved, last night, that they were decidedly capable. Each and every one of them could Dance with a capital D (and if anyone couldn’t, he was a bloody good faker), the volume of sound and the zing of half a dozen sopranos hitting top Z together, in the big ensembles, was im-press-ive …

When all were so good, large part or small, you aren’t supposed to pick out individuals. But, of course, I’m going to.

I’ve seen endless student shows over the last 35 years, in my old job as a talent-spotter, and I didn’t expect to find one of the best vocal performances of those years in Ashburton. Grizabella, as so unforgettably created by Elaine Paige, is necessarily in the show’s spotlight, as she has the one take-away tune of the affair, the soulful, yearning ‘Memory’. And not much else. Without a superb ‘Memory’ and a fine Grizabella, the show loses its ‘heart’. Last night, it had all the heart in the world. Shaan Antunovich, aged 21, a tiny figure drowned in a huge Miss Havisham costume, sang the famous song to within an inch of its life. I have never heard it sung better, except – of course -- by Ms Paige. It was a stunning vocal performance. This young artist still has learning to do, and her very lowest notes will gain the necessary richness in a year or two ... but, my goodness, if she can sing like that now … I hope I’m around to see her fly. Because she will.

Enjoyment of a performance is always tempered by enjoyment of the material. And I have to admit to having favourite bits in the score. And unfavourite one. I never liked the Kenn Wells and Wayne Sleep bits, and I adored Susan Jane Tanner (whom I snapped up as a client!). All my ‘best bits’ got yeoman service last night.

I especially liked Monica Hope as the Gumbie Cat tripping about in front of her Chocolate-Soldier cockroaches, truly comical and never overstated, and I was most impressed by a third player in an ‘old’ part – Tainui Kuru, suffocated in an even bigger costume than Grizabella’s, as Old Deuteronomy. Mr Kuru has the famous knack of appearing to do little, and riveting your attention. When he stepped forward, to sing his solos in a rangy and ringing baritone voice (I’m sure Brian Blessed never sang a top G), the storm of activity which had whirled relentlessly upon us suddenly calmed. There was just the big, still cat, and the fine singing … ‘beaut’, as they say down here.

Danica Brbich and Dayna Dodd were Sharon Lee-Hill and Geraldine Gardner (I’m sorry, the naming of cats isn’t one of my talents, and anyway the parts are all differently cut up) to a ‘t’, dancing and singing swingeingly about ‘Macavity’ in what was one of the best moments of the original show, and still is of this.
Jason Parker and Kelly Mahoney made a tasty meal of the highly-coloured Growltiger sequence, and played and sang the cod Italian aria-duet inserted for the show’s American version with OTT bravura.
Edwin Beats strutted his stuff splendidly as the sexy Rum Tum Tugger .. I spy potential there, if he remembers to stay in character when he is not soloing! – Nathan Tunbridge made excellent characters of Gus and Bustopher (when did that become a combo?), unlike enough Messrs Blessed and Tate to leave an agreeably clear memory of his performance with me ..

And, oh, there were so many more.

Of course, the largest star made by the original production of Cats (not counting those who already were stars) featured in one of the smallest roles. One of the smallest, but the best, roles. I can still see and hear the largely unknown Sarah Brightman, up on the rubbish heap in the starlight, joining Ms Paige in duet …
Manuao Ross sang the little part beautifully, with all the sweetness that it calls out for, and recalled for me perhaps the best moment of all of Cats 1981.

So, all in all, an extremely enjoyable evening, gingered up by some really grand performances and especially by a most memorable ‘Memory’ ..

Its quite a few years since I first saw a NASDA show, and they seem to be increasing in quality every time I see one. I wouldn’t have picked Cats as a suitable vehicle for these young men and women, so bravo! to whomsoever had the foresight to do so. THIS version. Bravo, all round.

What’s next year?

PS Hey, I just remembered, what happened to the Pekes and the Pollicles? When did they disappear? And wasn’t there a rather dull solo spot for W Sleep? And I see that disastrous Rumpus Cat is gone. Seems there’s rather a lot to say in favour of this version!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Seppl at the Seaside

There’s been a ‘false quietness’ about our little horsey world during these last weeks. Livia and Fritzl working themselves up for a return to the tracks, D’Arcy jogging, Lucie and Agnes resting, Seppl taking five … Instead of racing horses, we’ve been rearing them. After the glamorous Franco

  came Sally’s son, a lovely leggy Righteous Hanover colt, whom we have called Johnny

  Next, was Annie’s little boy (also by Righteous Hanover), - so we have 'The Righteous Brothers'!

and Erin’s Badlands baby and dear old Gwen’s Monarchy foal – she is coming back to us to have it – are in the works. But this weekend was the annual race meeting at Kaikoura. A festival of sunny seaside racing, featuring some of the best horses in the country, in the lead up to next week’s New Zealand Cup. I’ve only once had the delight of winning a race at Kaikoura – with Il Campione in 2002 – although Master Ado ran a mighty third a year or two later in the one-win trot. Well, this year Seppl went to the seaside, to run in that very same one-win trot. Sixteen trotters in the field, and guess who opened favourite! Our wee boy! Gulp. As you know I get nervous when my horses are favourite, and today all sorts of wayward things were afoot: our Lawrence, Fritzl’s driver, won race one on a 113-1 shot, two hot favourites galloped hysterically out of contention, and there had been two scary-looking crashes, one involving Seppl’s last-start driver, the great Jimmy Curtin. Well, by the time the race started the powers that punt had decided to go for the Purdon-trained horse, unfortunately named Contador, doubtless on the ground that the maestro could have another favourite blow up, and a North Island visitor. Seppl was third favourite. He had drawn eight, the extreme outside of the front row, and, with a heap of shoving and manoeuvering on the part of those drawn inside him (if eight horses won’t fit across Kaikoura’s track, make it less), he was practically hung out on the post where the tape zings and slaps when released. When the tape did go, he didn’t make his usual flying beginning. He gasped a moment at the horrid machine … but then, where another horse would have galloped, got his mind back on the job and launched himself in pursuit of the best beginners. Three back on the outside when they settled round the first bend, he waited only for the back straight, where Murray zipped out of his trailing spot and took Seppl straight to the lead. ‘He grows another leg when he’s in front’ the commentator once said. He does. He strode deliciously along in front, unchallenged, as, in the last 400 metres, the survivors of the pace and the gait lined up for the attack. Wham! Contador galloped on the tricky home turn, wham! Royearl’s Quest, running parked, left his feet instants later, wham! Ruby and Diamonds, the original leader, flew to bits at the straight entrance and didn’t stop galloping until after the post … and Seppl? Murray glanced over his shoulder, saw he was well clear, and eased to the line more than two lengths clear of the field. Seppl’s tenth start, his third win, and as Mr McNamara, the commentator – or was it Mr O’Connell, the link man – said, there will doubtless be more. The little boy with the most unfashionable breeding on show has turned out to be a distinctly nice racehorse.

Here he is, courtesy of Race Images, snapped hooning down the home straight with – look!—in the background, the famous Jack Litten colours, which I used to punt on decades ago in Julie Hanover days, here worn by runner-up, Game as Ned Kelly. Colours? I know. Murray copped a $25 fine. He forgot to change his shirt, and went out wearing his colours instead of mine. But this picture will still be going on my wall. A lovely souvenir. Win number 42!

Friday, October 14, 2011

"I'm about to be a mother..."

It seems only a year or two since I brought home the gangling yearling filly with the giraffe neck and the wonderfully haughty stare, from the Sales. Well, my beautiful Elena de Gerolstein had a little racing career, won one race and ran some fine placings, and is now retired. But, dammit, talk about the glamorous older woman! She looks better than ever, at seven years old ..

So it's time to become a mother. Hello, Mr Rob Roy Mattgregor ...

Duchess, meanwhile, has delivered us of her fifth baby: and after three girls in a row ... a baby brother for Fritzl!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ganzl - the 21st Century

Ganzls of now! Here are Régis and Segolène's daughters: Elena 7 and Lucie 3

And, well, I'm not likely to have human children, am I? But I have an Elena aged 7 and a Lucie aged 3 as well!

ROBIN HOOD ... back from the dead!

When England's Victorian Opera brought out their recording of Lurline, I hailed it as a double success: both as an historical document and as a jolly good listen. Now the organisation has followed up with Macfarren's opera, Robin Hood, and I can only repeat my former comment. Only more so.

Robin Hood is an absolutely English opera, written by a proven and sophisticated English playwright, and composed by a successful English composer, on the most wholly English of subjects. It looks English, it sounds English, it simply couldn't be anything else ... it just smells English.
It is also utterly typical of its time, conventional even, and in no way tries anything new in its music. We have a Florestan-cum-Fairfax prison scene for tenor, we have a Henry Phillips distraught father scena for the baritone, oodles of Malibran bravura for the prima donna, who in time-honoured fashion puts the denouement on hold while she does her vocalises, touches of English part-singing, a little bit of buffo, and there is a lilting take-away Sims Reeves ballad for ... well, for Sims Reeves.

And it's all absolutely splendid stuff of its kind.

Robin Hood is a star vehicle. Robin and Marian dominate the show and the score, and Macfarren has made their roles long and hard. Producer, E T Smith, who always did things in grandiose fashion, cast them with England's megastar tenor, Sims Reeves, and one of the best coloratura vocalists on the European concert scene, Helen Lemmens-Sherrington, who, I am quite sure, both vocally had their parts tailored to fit. He got Charles Santley, too, to play the Sheriff, who was duly made into a nice chap rather than the nasty henchman of Prince John we are used to. Top English singers Josephine Lemaire and William Parkinson took the little parts, but really, the show is all Robin and Marion, with occasional interludes by Santley. And a chorus of many. Since the Robin and Marion were huge public favourites, and the piece a fine one, lavishly staged, Smith had a splendid hit on his hands.

Victorian Opera had a task on its hands. Having had to cast Malibran and Louisa Pyne for its last two discs, now they had to cast Sims Reeves and Mme Lemmens. It can't be done, of course, but they have had a darned good try. Nicky Spence (Robin) lilts and thrills nicely. He drives the show's big hit, 'My Own, My Guiding Star', along in a ringing way that shows why it was a hit, and I particularly liked his moody prison scene. Kay Jordan (Marion) flings herself bravely into the hectic bravuras, but I liked her best when she joined the delicious mezzo Magdalen Ashman in the merry 'To the fair'. Miss Ashman also started things rolling with the grand 'The hunters awake'.
Geoffrey Hulbert sang the Sheriff's show-off scena ('My child has fled') vigorously, Andrew Mackenzie-Wicks was a merry Allan, and I found perhaps the most unalloyed joy on the discs in the ensembles and part-singing. Macfarren really could write for English voices, and English singers -- as proven here -- can sing his work a treat. With hardly a modified vowel.

If all this sounds a bit uncritical ... haven't I any complaints? Well, one or two of the Sims Reeves solos are a bit too conventional to be true -- their titles give it away: 'Englishmen by birth', 'The grasping Norman' -- but they were well liked in their time. So was buffo 'The Monk within his cell' -- created by comedian George Honey -- which I feel should rollick more. But it comes down to this: if you like the conventions -- the ballads, the scenas and the bravuras -- of 19th century English opera, and I do, very much indeed -- and the utter Englishness of it all, with its round and glee singing, it would be hard to find a more enjoyable opera than Robin Hood.
And unless you can raise Reeves and Mme Lemmens (to listen only, not look -- they were both vastly unheroic and unromantic-looking), I can't imagine it being more pleasingly and effectively presented than it is on this disc.

Next one, please, Victorian Opera.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Or Ganzl. Or, it seems, Gansl. Or, I've just discovered .. Gánsl. For a man who spends a large part of his life, delving into the genealogy and personal facts and figures of other people's lives, I've always failed signally when it came to my own family history. My brother and I had resigned ourselves to 'never knowing', since, years ago, my paternal grandmother told us -- and I was in my mid-twenties, already! -- that her husband, who had died before we were born, had been Jewish. Central European Jewish records ... after the war ..? Well, I didn't know. 

 When you don't know, you invent. And when I came upon another Ganzl (no umlaut, that was my mistake, and I'm stuck with it!), Régis by name, and French, of Swiss descent, we immediately decided we must be some sort of distant cousins. Well, I was sure Switzerland came into my tale somewhere.

Two things then happened. My mother dumped upon me a vast plastic bag of photos and stuff which had been the property of said grandmother. I glanced in. Holiday snaps. And put them on a shelf. Then I came in contact with Marie-Theres Arnbom of Vienna, operetta historian. I wrote a piece for her new book, and she mentioned her husband's forthcoming work: on Viennese Jewish families. 'Hah!', I laughed. 'Find mine!' And she did. She found me a great-grandfather and mother, and ... there was grandfather Pepi, and his boring but long-lived brother Fritz, and the mysterious Onkel Max ... and three sisters, great aunts of whom I had never suspected the existence! (It was brief). Great-grandfather was Adolf Gánsl, born in Mór, Hungary in 1844. Great-grandmother was Julie Rosenbaum from Königsberg, Bohemia, daughter of Adam Rosenbaum - great-great-grandfather .. how did they meet? Great-great-grandmother was Katharina Schweizer .. oh dear, is that how the muddle with Switzerland got into my head? All this only came on us 24 hours ago, so I've got a bit of ordering and tidying to do, but I did cast a more careful eye at Nana's plastic bag. And there they were: great-grandfather Adolf (b Mór, 1844; died Schulgasse 8, Währing, Vienna 8 April 1889). So young.

And great-grandmother Julie, died 8 Schulgasse, 5 June 1888. Oh dear. So the stories about Fritz and Max being brought up in an orphanage -- they really were five and two when their parents died. Why did I think it was a car crash. Cars were hardly invented.

And here, look, Pepi and Max. Photographed by Grillich in the Währing Hauptstrasse. Before they were split up. Max to the orphanage, and Pepi to be brought up, as we knew from my father, by Tante Rosenbaum ...

And Pepi on his wedding day, with his bride, Rudolfine Josefine Stojetz. Our Nana. Goodness, she was pretty. But strong .. and that's another story.

Here's the certificate, too, which confirms much of all that.

Well, we've opened the box of tricks now. We'll have to delve a little more into it. I mean, why were Adolf the Hungarian and Julie wed in Franzenbad (where the hell, IS Franzenbad ..), and why did they come to live in Vienna's Zirkusgasse, Antonsgasse, Mosergasse, Buchfeldgasse and Schulgasse? Come to that, why were they always moving! And .. Oh dear, I'll have to put aside Miss Matilda Florella Illingworth, soprano, of Yorkshire, and spend a little time on the Gánsl family! Maybe Johnny and I aren't the end of the family -- by any of its variant names ... as we thought we were!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Drama at Gerolstein, or Oh! Minnie!

The wonderful Woodend Fire Brigade powers down our driveway at dawn after a frantic phone call ...!

Are we burning?

No. But Minnie has got herself up a very large gum tree and can't get down. This time her choice of time -- Saturday night -- wasn't so hot, and she spent 14 hours perched 15 metres above the ground until I could ring the sapeur pompiers!

Her descent was somewhat undignified

And after giving us a sleepless night, she's prancing around the place as if nothing had happened.
Oh, Minnie!

Please, it must be spring soon ..

A month has gone by since last I blogged ..
Not like recent years, eh?
No theatres, hotels, restaurants in 2011
The overwhelming topics of the day are my wretched health, and the pets.

I'm not going to rabbit on about my health. Although I should, because it might help someone else in a similar plight to understand a little what is happening to them. Suffice it that I'm bearably handicapped, with a few unpleasant side effects, and that from being a 'carer' I have rather become one who needs somewhat to cared for.
We shall see what the spring and summer bring. Because the recent burst of slightly warm sunshine -- after violent snow, and in spite of regular earthquakes in the 4-5 register -- has cheered and lifted me enormously.

I've also been muchly cheered by the pets. Little Livia didn't make the grand final of the Breeders Crown, but she ran what the racing press called a 'massive' race for a close fourth in the B Final, and then, on the last day of the season, easily disposed of a so-so field at Stawell. Her seventh win. Now she goes for a very well-earned rest, and the baton is taken up by Seppl, returning to NZ racing after a year out for growing pains. I actually made it to Rangiora raceway for his re-debut, thus we have 'Photograph' of him lining up in the birdcage after a nice third placing.

The next week, he ran a much closer third at Addington, and I think a win -- it will be my number 42! -- is very near.
The next up to the plate will be the beautiful Agnes, followed by Lucie and D'Arcy who, grown to manhood, feted his third birthday this week, before shipping out from Gerolstein to trainer Murray Edmonds to go back to work.

And, of course, foaling time is coming near...

We may see some breeding action n the avian world too. Mr Peacock has made the acquaintance of Dixie (Miss For Ward) and Trixie (Miss Back Ward) and has been parading his tail and making threatening motions with his nether areas non stop for a week

And there is just space for my special little pet. Minnie. She is eight years old -- and I remember as last week, the day she wandered on to my doorstep saying 'it's Easter holiday weekend, so you can't take me to the homefinder vet because he's closed for three days. And in three days, I'll get you ..'. She did, of course.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

To Catch a Peacock ...

Eighteen months or so ago, a beautiful peacock made Gerolstein his home. As we watched him parading his glorious tail, up and down on the patio outside our windows, we realised suddenly that the spectacle wasn't for our benefit...

And so, for the last year we've been trying to acquire -- somehow, anyhow ... a female to share his life. So many efforts, so many dead ends ...

Then, yesterday, good friend Jen called. She was bringing three peahens that very evening!

They have to be caged and fed for a week or two, while they settle in. Caged? Where?
We set to, to turn the littlest horse pen into a bird-proof sanctuary in the fading light and double quick time. Every bit of chicken wire on the place, my Dad's old tarpaulin, the wire shelves from the dead frig, a couple of old gates and a mouldy trellis, an old wheel, miles of binder-twine which had once held hay, a branch for a perch ... a veritable artistic collage!

They arrived after nightfall, and Wendy and Jen showed them into their new home under the floodlights. Perfect! Well, not quite. During breakfast, next morning, we saw a lithe form scurrying across the paddock..

And then there were two.

Refortification done, and now the two Misses Peacock are settling in for their second night in Pasticcio Palace. Mr P is munching his kitty-biscuits on the verandah ... the escapee obviously didn't find him, and he hasn't found the hopeful virgins. I don't think so, anyway. But he looks very sprightly and proud tonight. Maybe he knows!

The city that was Christchurch

Brother John popped in from England, and brought mother down from Nelson for a couple of days to Gerolstein...

While he was here, he drove to the city that was Christchurch ...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Little Livia Degerolstein and her battle with the stars

I don't play sweepstakes. I've always felt they were a distasteful hangover from the 'rich man's sport' state of mind of nineteenth-century racing. So none of my horses, over the last decade, have been paid up for, or run in Sires Series, Sales Series, Breeders Crown Championships etc.
So I don't quite know how it happened that I ended up paying the entrance fees to the Australasian Breeders Crown for Livia. I think, the day that the young man from Harness Racing Victoria contacted me, I must have just had a win and was feeling positive about racing. So, I rang trainer Graeme and said 'should I pay?', and he said 'yes, she deserves a shot', so I did.
When I looked at the ranking for the acceptors, Aussie Made Lombo, Australia's 'Filly of the Year' 2010, was rated number one. Of course. And Livia was 300th, and counting. Oh, dear.
Since then, of course, Livia has developed into a nice wee racehorse. She had won five races, and had climbed up the rankings into the 100s by July this year. And, well, she was paid up, eligible, so it seemed silly not to run her in the Championship, in spite of the presence of Aussie Made Lombo, Bella's Delight, Lively Moth and Kiwis Tatijana Bromac and Victor's Delight in the field. You never know, we might draw a soft heat and get a race run to suit us and ...
When the fields came out, Livia was number one in the first heat. And, guess what, number two was Aussie Made Lombo. Oh, well.
The big day came, and Aussie Made Lombo was 1/10 on favourite. The pundits and men who talk couldn't see her beaten, although one or two did give a mention to Tatijana Bromac, at 7/1, a filly who had run some fine races in New Zealand. Livia was actually third favourite, at a distant 15/1, mostly I think because she'd drawn one, which -- given her slow starts - isn't always favourable to her.
Watching on the late-night TV at Gerolstein, fortified by a little bubbly and nervously hoping she'd run up to her third favouritism, we watched endless pictures of Aussie Made Lombo (Livia was next her, so sneaked on to the screen momentarily) and listened to lengthy chat about Tatijana, whom the commentator called 'Tijuana' before his courage failed him totally at Livia's name and he just called her 'number one'.

The start of the race went as predicted. Aussie Made Lombo cruised straight past Livia and into the lead, and having got there, slowed the pace. Livia had no trouble in gluing herself on to her back wheel, into the favoured trailing position. We just had to hope that Aussie Made Lombo would stay in front.
And she did. That's what a reputation does. No matter the first half mile was run really slowly, no-one was game to take the favourite on. Until the half mile. Then everything changed. Tatijana Bromac launched a mighty challenge and the speed up front increased dramatically. The duelling leaders were four lengths ahead of the field approaching the turn. And Livia? While the rest gasped for breath behind, she paced steadily on, a clear third. Oh, just stay there!
Round the bend, the titanic battle continued, and good heavens! Whips were flying, but Gavin Lang was just gently encouraging Livia and she was making ground on the two in front. Then the little head with the red nose roll was up to their backsides and the commentator alarmedy started calling her 'sneaking up on the inside' and 'coming fast'. Sneaking? She was doing a Livia finish. But for once, not way out in the middle of the track: up the sprint lane.
Suddenly it hit us, she was going to win! And win she did. The official margin says a neck, but she didn't have to win by any more, and Gavin had stopped driving her before the post.
Joy, rapturous joy, at Gerolstein. And the first person to call us was Bob McArdle of the Tatijana Bromac team. Don't tell me there isn't some 'sport' left in the racing industry!
Livia's win caused mild consternation in the press, who talked about the speed duel, the trail run, the sprint lane ... what they didn't talk about was that, in a last half run in 56.8 seconds, Livia had closed down a 4-length gap on the stars...
So, there we are. She is an ABC heat winner. In a funny system, the beaten horses run this week in a repechage, so Aussie Made Lombo and Tatijana Bromac, Bella's Delight and Lively Moth -- all beaten -- will obviously get back into the competition for the semi-finals on 12 August. When ... anything can happen.
It would be nice to be in the final, but it's not hugely important. No-one can take away that wonderful night from us. The 56.8 half, and the victory over the champ.
Bravo, Graeme, bravo Gavin, and -- oh! -- bravo little Livia Degerolstein.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Snow in my kingdom..."


"Snow in my kingdom! A stain upon my grass ..."

The babies have never seen snow before, and aren't sure what to do with it. Rocky rolls in it, Thomas looks doubtful...

Boofie ignores it, and D'Arcy just pisses in it!

Friday, July 1, 2011

A shocking story

Last night, on the Gold Coast (of Australia), a three year-old horse curiously named ‘Return of the King’ won a race in grand style. It was his fifth win, already.

He wouldn’t have won any, had it not been for me.

A few years ago, Gerolstein housed a broodmare – and once a fine racehorse -- by name Hot Blooded Woman. ‘Tui’, as she was known, didn’t have much luck with her babies. The first one died, the second one had a very modest career and got exported, the third one seemed to be doomed to run places only,,. and then in 2007 came Carlos.
We called him Carlos (tongue-in-cheek, of course), after the tenorino of the singing group Il Divo, because he was such a ridiculously handsome boy.

One rare night, Wendy had to go out, and she asked me to check occasionally on the mares and foals, while she was away. Part way through the evening, something jogged me into action, away from the comfort of the telly and my wineglass. I slipped on my espadrilles and headed for the baby paddock. And I hove over the horizon just in time to see Carlos take off. He’d got a fence between him and his mamma and all he knew to do, to get to her, was … bugger a perfectly good, wide open gate ... to jump it.

He’s a pacer, not a steeplechaser. He didn’t make it. His little trailing leg caught the top wires, he toppled over … and, oh my God, the wires closed in a tight tourniqet around his little hoof.

I flew towards him. He wasn’t struggling or crying out. Just whimpering and looking un-understanding. And upside down! With his little trapped leg in the air. I grabbed the wires to pull them apart and … zonk! The electric fences had leeched full-power into the top wires. But you don’t think of things like that. I just had to get our beautiful little boy free. Shock after shock sizzled through me as I fought to untwist the unyielding wires …

Well, I did it. And Carlos gambolled off with only the marks of the hot wires on his well-shaped leg. I sat on the ground, dazed, thinking ‘they say electric shocks are good for you’.

What caused me to go to the paddock at precisely that time? Ten minutes later, and … I hate to think.
But one thing is certain, Carlos wouldn’t be a racehorse.
So, every time Return of the King, as he was renamed, wins a race, I think of that night. The night of the twenty-three shocks…

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

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.