Starting the year with a heavy heart. Family tears for a little lost dog.

December 31, 2011

This was going to be about fun times on New Year’s Eve. Laughs to end 2011. But laughter is hard to find around here at present.

Coco has gone missing. Our beloved dog. The tiny ball of fluff responsible for so much family fun.

She made the trip with us to the Gold Coast this Christmas. Part of the celebration. Even got a new collar and lead from Santa. With sparkles. That she never got to wear.

One minute she was part of the fun around the brother-in-law’s pool on Boxing Day afternoon. The next, gone. We think she wriggled under a fence.

Coco has form for escaping. Loves the wind in her fluffy ears, skinny legs  hurtling down the road. Always to come home, with a wicked grin.

But not this time. She was in a strange place. Different road. And as much as we adore her, it’s fair to say she is easily confused.

We started searching straight away. The extended family. House by house. Street by street. Into the darkness. Nothing.

Everyone expected her to sprint back in that night, tongue hanging sideways. But she didn’t. There were tears.

We went looking again the next morning. Started the process of contacting the city pound, local vets, and the RSPCA.

I thought about the last thing I’d said to her. She’d been left to her own devices the night before, on the big verandah. This resulted in a barking onslaught at sunrise, aimed at next door’s chooks.

Not what we wanted after a late night. I let her know that, angrily, as I locked her away. It might be the last thing she’ll hear from me. Why does that always happen?

I tried to explain to the girls that it would take some time. That someone nearby was probably looking after her, until the pound re-opened. Possibly trying to convince myself.

That afternoon, we put up flyers all over the neighbourhood. Laminated, with coloured photos. The Teenager demanded only the best for her dog.

The girls were much younger when Coco came into our lives. She made an impact from Day One.

The Treasurer was going away on a business trip. The Teenager and Daughter Two were naturally upset. It was my job to cheer them up.

After leaving the airport, we ate junk food, and bought stuff, and ended up in a pet shop.

The girls explained that they’d been looking at a puppy the day before. The Treasurer had told them they should show it to me while she was away. We could decide later if we wanted it.

This was the cutest mutt I’d seen. Papillon x Maltese. White, with black patches, and tan markings on her face. Normally, I wouldn’t look twice at a dog that small. But there was something special about this one.

It was an on-the-spot call that Dads are famous for. Why wait? What better way to take their minds off my limited cooking ability, than for the girls to have a new puppy at home!

With the boot full of food, bowls, leads and other expensive puppy accessories, we headed home with a new family member. Smiles replaced  tears.

We set up the rumpus room for her, cordoned off with cardboard boxes. She jumped, and played, and did a wee every ten minutes. Something that never changed.

As she grew, Coco played a different role with each of us. She kept the Treasurer company during the day in her office. For the girls, it was cuddling on the lounge, after a hard day of barking at next door’s cat.

My treat was the same each night. When I sat down after work, she would jump on my lap, to have her neck scratched. Always for a few minutes. Then she would take off, looking for dinner scraps, and a mat to pee on.

It’s been five days now. We’re refusing to accept that she’s not coming back.

There is the chance, of course, that someone has picked her up, and spotted what we love about her. Maybe, they’ve decided to keep her.

That would make us all terribly sad. But if we can’t have her, we hope she ends up in a loving home. If that’s the case, here are some important tips.

She’s a fussy eater. Good luck trying to find the right dog food. I never could. Leftover BBQ meat is a favourite.

She’ll enter every part of your life. Nothing is off-limits. You’ll try to section the house off, and it won’t work.

She’ll bark at birds, and cats, and salesmen, and the guinea pig. Until you tell her to stop. Then she’ll give you that “just letting them know who the boss is” look.

She’ll try to sleep on the end of the bed. And will look away when you come into the room, in the hope that you might somehow miss her.

Most of all, she will love you, every minute of every day. Unconditional love. What we’re all looking for, but rarely find. We had it, from a sometimes smelly, always affectionate, four-legged friend.

We’ll keep checking the pound. She’s micro chipped, so that’s in our favour. And her foam bed in the laundry will stay right where it is.

Please come home Coco. It’s not the same without you. The smiles you gave us that first day, are gone. Tears have returned.

We’ll let you sleep on the bed. Bark at sunrise. Wee on any mat you want.

If anyone knows where she might be, please let us know. We want our family back together.

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Which carol should I sing next? Hic! The problem with getting Merry before Christmas.

December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve has changed so much.

These days, it’s all about the kids. Buzzing with excitement at home. Refusing to go to sleep.

Not so long ago, it was party time. We’d be buzzing. Until someone sent us home, before we fell asleep.

It seems most of the people I’ve known during my life have had a need to socialise the night before Christmas.

Footballers. Punters. Police officers. Media folk. All with a need to find a cool drink on December 24.

Over time, this has caused problems. There are those who see Christmas Eve as a quiet time, for reflection and cooking. Like Mum. And The Treasurer.

They both got in on the act, during a balmy night in Bundaberg many years ago.

Mum, bless her, had come to visit. It was quite a trip, for a woman of advancing years, who had rarely been on a plane. She was determined to see my new home town for herself.

My mother would never have admitted it, but I think she may have also been checking up on her new daughter-in-law’s housekeeping skills. The newly appointed Treasurer seemed to be very aware of this.

I was under instruction to be home on time. There was much to do, and my help was needed.

The trouble was, I had made friends within the local constabulary. Important for a journo in a strange place. And they had decided I was worthy of Christmas Eve drinks.

From memory, they kicked off early afternoon. A never-ending stream of icy cold beers. And the local product. Such generosity.

They nodded with sincerity when I explained the predicament waiting for me at home. And thrust another drink in my direction. Of course, they had no fear of the two women watching the kitchen clock. Easy to be tough, when you’re carrying a gun.

I was unarmed when I finally made it home. Unsteady feet shuffled me into the eye of the festive storm.

In desperation, I decided that music was my only hope. Christmas music. I broke into tune, encouraging the girls to follow my lead.

One thing I’ve picked up along the way, is that it’s difficult to stay angry at a drunken buffoon in the holiday season. Especially if he refuses to stop singing. So it was, that they both joined in.

A rare victory, thanks to ‘Jingle Bells’.

Fast forward to a different house, in a different time. Young children, so happy. But this year, Dad wasn’t singing.

I had been given the task of assembling a trampoline, in the dead of a Brisbane night. Many of you are now laughing.

It was impossible. I tried. I really did. But the bloody netting wouldn’t stretch over the metal bits. There had obviously been a mistake in the Chinese trampoline factory.

My neighbour at the time, a polite man enjoying his retirement years, decided he should offer a helping hand. Possibly to stop the stream of foul language coming from our yard.

He brought with him tools I had never seen. Items that did the job, quickly and professionally. It was a Christmas miracle, eventually adorned with a green bow.

There have been similar scenes most years since. Bungled assembly jobs. Help from a variety of quarters. With cool drinks taken at home instead.

It will be no different this year. Except with Christmas Eve falling on a Saturday, a man can have an afternoon punt as well. Yes, I’m already rehearsing ‘Silent Night’.


Handy tips on how to get that first job. Be careful of fancy meats and stinky gumboots.

December 20, 2011

The teenager is in a pickle.

She wants money. Needs folding stuff. ‘Tis the season for shopping, after all. So much to buy, with no dosh to do it.

Even at this early stage in life, it’s clear the eldest daughter likes the finer things in life. A taste for the fancy stuff.

Like most girls her age, she has a passion for fashion. Apparently, one cannot have too many pairs of cut-off shorts and coloured singlets.

It is a constant source of frustration to her, that we rarely support these endeavours. She hears the word ‘no’, constantly. I’m thinking of having a card printed with it, just to save my voice.

At one stage, a suggestion was floated that she might like to do a more around the house, in exchange for an increase in handouts. We all had a hearty chuckle over that one.

What she wants, is a part-time job. Something easy, that pays plenty.

Forget Maccas. She has her sights set on a position in retail. The best of both her worlds. Cash, and cheap dresses.

Sadly, it won’t be happening just yet. She’s not old enough. Those pesky labour inspectors put a stop to sending kiddies her age out to the sand mines.

Things only got worse for the poor girl. Stories from the old days were about to be told. My first two jobs. Both spectacular failures.

My first foray into gainful employment was in a delicatessen. Don’s Deli. It happened to be next door to our local pub. Even then, I was drawn to such establishments.

Much of the trade came from those leaving the hotel. Blokes grabbing something for the missus on the way home. A little extra if curfew had been broken.

The owner had an impressive display of meats carefully displayed in his glass-covered cabinet. All different kinds. From across the world, apparently. This posed major problems for his new employee.

In our house, there were two types of cut meat. Devon, and ham. With a definite leaning to the devon. I hadn’t seen or tasted anything else.

It seemed to frustrate the customers, and Deli Don, when I constantly mixed up orders. Or stared blankly at Mrs Smith, when she asked for six slices of the Hungarian salami. Are you sure you wouldn’t like some of the devon instead?

I left the deli world soon after. Around the time that we found the boss was actually known as Dirty Don. And it had nothing to do with the shop’s hygiene practices. More about his interest in enticing staff members into the cold room.

Just when it looked as though I would return to poverty, a mate offered me a chance to work with him. You’ll love it, he promised. Except the smell.

My position at the seafood wholesale place involved some complex tasks. Like putting ice on the fish. Lots of ice. And putting ice on the oyster trays. Lots of ice.

I also discovered that prawns have spikes. There is a method to grab them, and avoid having your hand punctured. I am still unaware of what that method is.

This meant that I would wander around the shop floor, with blood dripping from ripped fingers. The Health Inspector would have had a field day.

It wasn’t all hard toil, however. I still found time to drop the odd prawn in the gumboots of my co-workers. They would fester for the day, leaving socks with a stench that Kenny would have been proud of.

Hosing was also an important part of the job. Nice clean concrete floors. On the odd occasion that I took charge of the nozzle, I would make sure my colleagues got a thorough soaking.

Not sure why, but I didn’t last long there either. And that was just fine. School was nearly done, and I was about to enter the world of radio, where they actually paid people to come up with such tomfoolery.

None of these tales impressed The Teenager. Although she did seem to appreciate the gumboot trick.

We’ll keep sponsoring her a little longer. At least until next year. Then she can chase that dream position.

One thing is certain. She’ll be way more comfortable that I was in those early workplace days. After all, she wouldn’t be seen dead in devon.


Winners and Losers from a memorable year. The racing industry awards you’ve been waiting for.

December 17, 2011

Dust off your best jacket. Straighten that tie. It’s show time.

Yes, here they are. The first annual Hold All Tickets racing gongs.

The awards all decent racing folk are desperate to win. Even if they won’t admit it. Or don’t know they exist.

So here we go. Dim the lights. Save applause to the end. Any whingeing can be directed to our Complaints Department. End of the hall, turn right.

***The ‘Getting Bums on Seats’ award – Peter Moody.***

How good is this bloke? He’s a Queenslander, which is a fair start. But I don’t know anyone who’s done more this year to get people back to racetracks.

He’s more than a champion trainer. He gets it. The fact that people want to see his magnificent mare.

Moody wants Australians to experience the thrill of Black Caviar in action, so he takes her all over our great land. It means so much to him. Much more than an overseas jaunt.

Take the tip. Very few other trainers would be doing the same thing.

***The ‘Jockey to win my Bus Fare Home’ award’ – Nash Rawiller.***

Tough to overlook my Queensland boys. But Rawiller could end up one of the greats. Gives them every chance, every time. A thinking hoop. Stays out of trouble. And you want to be on him in a photo.

Honourable mentions for D. Browne and C. Munce. Super competitors, showing the young blokes how it’s done. Munce would win on a broomstick at the minute.

Watch out for Jason Holder back in Adelaide. He’ll win a heap. And how good is young Chad Schofield going to be? Back him, any day, without hesitation.

***The ‘Trainer Making room on the Mantlepiece’ award – Rob Heathcote.***

He can smell that Group One. Taste it. It’s so close. And no one is more deserving.

Few work harder. Turns out his horses in immaculate fashion, each and every time.

He won’t want to wait this long, but I’d love to see the great moment unfold at next year’s Brisbane Winter carnival. So we can all gather at the stable and make him shout us expensive drinks.

Even better, let’s make it with an as-yet unraced 3-year-old, part owned by some rough heads, who’s ready to light up the track. Stradbroke would be nice. Over to you Rob!

***The ‘Someone make it a Decent Race Again’ award – Caulfield Cup.***

It was one of our great events. Not any more. Most punters didn’t know more than a handful of runners this year. The experts dispute that, but they don’t ask blokes sitting in the TAB. Believe me, it’s in trouble.

Where the overseas runners are now considered sexy in the Melbourne Cup, they’ve done the opposite to the great Caulfield race.

It’s become a giant yawn. And it needs fixing. When the Geelong Cup becomes a better form guide for our great race, something is badly out of whack.

***The ‘Duracell Non-stop Media Man’ award – Andrew Bensley.***

He’s here. He’s there. He’s everywhere. The perfect example of a modern racing media man.

No one is better connected. The big man understands the importance of getting decent information to punters, as soon as it’s available.

His work on Twitter is truly amazing. If you don’t follow him, you’re missing out. Bensley is leading the way in this new age of punting.

Honourable mentions to Ron Dufficy, who tells it like it is (so bloody refreshing), and the Brisbane duo of Steve Hewlett and Tony Clements on 4TAB. Two blokes who love their racing, and put listeners first. A radio show that’s not ego-driven. Try and find one elsewhere.

And keep an eye on a young journo, who lives and breathes racing. Find Andrew Hawkins on Twitter, and follow him. He’ll be running the industry in five years.

So there we have it. Congratulations to all. Prizes are in the mail, and can be redeemed at any Night Owl store where the slushie machine is working.


Mums and Dads who give the perfect Christmas gift. And you can’t buy it. Not even online.

December 13, 2011

I’ve been trying to remember my first Christmas.

How far can you go back? If you happen to be ancient like me, it’s tough.

I can picture where we were living. Our first place. Britannia Street. The house that Dad built for us.

Where was the tree? I think it was in the corner of the lounge room. To the right, as you walked in the front door.

Try as I might, the rest is pretty much a blank. No memory of my first present. Or the decorations. And no photos.

What I can remember, is how Mum and Dad approached it all. It was their special time.

Somehow, they made sure I never missed out. Year after year.

To this day, I’m not entirely sure how they did it. Things were tough for us. In those early days, I had no idea.

When Dad’s business went bust, the family struggled big time. We lost that house. They were shattered.

But every year, come Christmas morning, there would still be a scooter. Or a Malvern Star. Or a cricket bat. I was never disappointed.

So how did they manage? It took me years to find the answer to that. Doing what parents had done years before. And still do today. They missed out themselves.

Thinking back, I can’t remember one decent present that they gave each other during those grim years. Not one.

If you’d been with us back then, you would never have known. Look under our tree, and you’d see plenty of gifts. Their trick was to wrap things they’d already given to each other. Complete with mock surprise. Fooled me every time.

Christmas Day would start with ham and tomato on toast for breakfast. I still have it to this day.

I’d end up outside while Mum was cooking lunch. Dad would help me test-ride the scooter, or the Malvern Star. Or we’d oil the new bat. And it was always just us.

For some reason, Dad never invited his side of the family over. Another unspoken rule. I knew little about them. There may have been a phone call or two. Nothing more.

Our holiday fun always came from Mum’s side. She adored her sisters, and their kids. There would be Boxing Day gatherings whenever the tribe could be gathered in the one spot. Still happens to this day. Sadly, without Mum.

My parents had a love of Christmas, that was different to what I see around me now. They embraced the gift of giving, totally. Their joy came from others being happy. Especially me.

The things they treasured were the bits and pieces I made for them at school. Badly. Wonky ashtrays. Out-of-shape clay figures. Let’s not even mention the woodwork class letter box, that may have been missing an opening for the letters.

There were no big family shopping trips to spend money we didn’t have. No fancy lights. The day just seemed to arrive, with everything done and dusted. Mum at work yet again.

Things are so different now. Not better or worse. Just different.

No-one will go without in our house this year. No presents coming out for the second time. There will be several trips to the biggest shopping centre we can find. That groaning sound you hear is our embattled credit cards.

I’m proud to say I’ve taken at least one thing from my parents. My favourite gifts, will be whatever the girls make for me. Home-made cards. The bits of paper promising to help me around the house. Even though I know they’re more likely to write their own Chinese opera than wash my car.

Life can get too complicated sometimes. In most things we do, simple is good. Mum and Dad knew that. For one day of the year, we were the richest family in the street. That’s something I’ll never forget.


I’ve discovered the ideal Christmas party venue. Tinsel at the track. How could you not have fun?

December 10, 2011

I’m a big fan of having Christmas parties at the races. Unless you happen to be in prep school. Then the classroom is possibly still the pick.

For the rest of us, the track is the perfect venue. You can dress up, or down. Enjoy cool drinks in abundance, and with an ounce of luck, back a winner or three.

There’s always plenty of room. No noisy crowded corner of a city pub. And because it’s a midday start, you should be tucked in bed well before midnight. Unless you backed those three winners.

There have been some memorable stints in years gone by trackside over the holiday period. And a few that I have trouble remembering. I’m pretty sure all were great fun.

Going back a bit, we got our hands on a function room at the Gold Coast Turf club, for an end-of-year newsroom shindig. What a day it was.

We’d had a Punters’ Club running throughout the year, and incredibly, found ourselves with wads of cash. Those who are suggesting I had little to do with bet selections can leave the room.

Some of those present had only seen horses in movies. A few weren’t aware that the bit in the middle of the Friday newspaper is called a form guide. Still, they lined up, and bless them, bet on anything that moved.

My memory is a little hazy, but I seem to recall it was a warm, humid day. That would account for the amount of cool drinks that were directed our way. The waiter is apparently still claiming damages from the damage to his tray arm.

For all that, we still had money left come closing time. For the life of me, I can’t remember what we did with it. Possibly dinner and karaoke. The way any good Christmas party should end.

Come to think of it, isn’t it funny how racing constantly leads us to those wonderful singing machines? Or is that just me?

One of my great post-race day memories involves the Cup, a Melbourne restaurant, karaoke and a secret fridge full of cool drinks. I’ll tell you about it another day.

So, back to Christmas and the races. To show I’m not all talk, we’ve organised a festive get-together for next weekend. ‘Tis the season after all.

Seven old farts in ties. Long time mates from all over, who don’t get to see enough of each other. We’ll be gathering at Eagle Farm to share a Christmas tipple, and a few chuckles.

The plan is a simple one. We’ll gather around a large table, and after a healthy debate about who will shout first, begin bagging each other.

There will be embarrassing stories about one and all. Of course, most of the tales will be embellished. By them, not me.

We’ll share our tips, carefully scribbling in separate sections of our form guides. It goes without saying that no-one writes on another man’s page. Horrible luck. Everyone knows that.

We will spend some time arguing about what sort of joint betting we should do. We’ll pool some money. And later in the day, we’ll forget how much went in.

It’s exciting, and one day, we might actually win. Boy, won’t that be something.

We’ll forget to eat anything. Because we’ll be having too much fun. Too many stories to re-tell. Too many winners to be had. We’ll pay for that the following day.

After the tote windows close, and the barmen decide they’ve taken enough of our cash, we’ll think about our next destination.

This will prompt another heated discussion. No-one will be able to agree. It’s what we do.

Admit it, you’re jealous. You want to come with us, I know.

Sadly, you’re not allowed. No-one smarter, richer, funnier or better looking is permitted at our table.

But there’s a solution at hand. Organise your own group. Get the band back together, and head to the track.

Come and say hello if you make it. We’ll be easy to find. The old blokes bickering over a table of empties and losing tickets. And if you do, bring a bowl of hot chips. You can bet we’ll be starving.


My precious Christmas angels. How they’re lighting up our street, and costing me a fortune.

December 6, 2011

I live in a house of Christmas fanatics.

These girls, they refuse to live by the regulations set down by society. When it comes to the festive season, they go by their own rules.

Christmas trees go up on December 1, right? Well, tell that to Daughter Two.

She’s taken responsibility for the tree. Her pet project. This year, she decided mid-November would be a good time to get to work.

I explained that this was way too early. Bad luck. Bordering on foolhardy.

Daughter Two wasn’t listening. She was on a yuletide mission. No need to check the calender. It was tree time.

She enlisted the services of The Teenager. Together they emptied several dozen boxes onto the lounge room floor. Tinsel, and coloured balls, and angels, and candy canes, and tiny stockings. A mass of green and red and silver.

They are famous, these two, for their inability to finish any household chore. All things done by half. Their motto is “Make a start, so it looks like we’re actually doing something, and then let someone else finish it”. But not the tree.

They worked all that Sunday arvo. With Christmas carols playing in the background. Not a cross word between them. Another first. And by the end of it, they’d done a spectacular job.

It didn’t take long for them to turn their festive fingers to another project. One that splits our family down the middle. Christmas lights.

They were inspired a few years ago, by a great mate of mine. A crazy man who dedicates weeks of every year to turning his humble house into a showpiece of blazing electricity.

He spends thousands on those damn lights. Works every spare day and night. People come from far and wide to see his dazzling suburban spectacular. He even cooks a sausage sizzle for them, while guzzling cool drinks.

The girls thought it was wonderful. And immediately, demanded to know why I was so lazy, and so lacking in the Christmas spirit.

I explained that my friend was well-known for spending vast amounts of money on ridiculous projects for no clear gain. They were having none of it. We needed our own light show.

My dissenting voice was barely heard. I pointed out how high our power bill already was. It rivals newly created African nations most months. This is because the girls have a medical condition, whereby their fingers are physically unable to turn light switches off.

No-one was listening. Before I knew it, I was wrapping long lines of coloured lights across the deck and around our garden.

I did this task poorly. It didn’t help that ants were munching on me as I stretched across the bushes. But mostly, because I am incapable of untangling anything beyond a shoelace. And Christmas lights are designed to instantly tangle.

It took hours. Neighbours complained about the language, which I admit wasn’t fit for the season. Someone mentioned that my rows may have been comically uneven. It was my first and last time.

This year, out of courtesy, the girls asked me to help. I declined. To their great relief.

They’ve discovered that they can do the job much better without me. Quicker too. What took me half a day, now gets done within the hour. Something about that bloody untangling.

I could happily celebrate the festive season in the dark. As long as I can have a cool drink on Christmas Eve, and play Neil Diamond’s carols, I’m at peace.

But the rest of you seem to like the lights. The concept isn’t fading. I accept defeat.

The Christmas fanatics in my house are doing their bit. More power to them. I just wish I wasn’t paying for it.