Angels in flat shoes. Why our nurses deserve so much more.

August 28, 2012

From a 5-year-old, it was a stroke of brilliance. A plan that just had to work.

I was in a little coastal hospital, with tonsils that were deemed no good. At a time when the mere whiff of tonsilitis meant an operation to whip them out.

It was sold to me as being necessary to end the weekly sore throats. And as a bonus, there’d be unlimited ice cream afterwards.

Sounded good. Until they told me that I’d be spending the night there alone.

No beds for parents back then. Mum and Dad had to go home without me.

Dad told me everything would be fine, and they’d see me first thing in the morning.

Mum, however, was teary. It was the first time we’d been apart. She was as upset as I was.

She hugged me, a giant squeeze from a tiny lady. And that gave me the opportunity to put my plan into action.

I grabbed her wrist, and held on for dear life. Small fingers in a death grip. Everyone else laughed, but I was serious.

They couldn’t leave me, if Mum was trapped. I’d hang on all night, and keep her with me.

Mum tried to reason with me. Dad tried to unwrap my bony fingers. He could have succeeded, of course, but let the show continue for a little longer.

It was a nurse who saved the day. Or night. I still remember her smiling face, promising me she wouldn’t leave my side, until my parents returned.

My grip eventually loosened, and with more tears, they departed. True to her word, that lovely woman stayed close, until I fell asleep. My first encounter with the angels who nurse.

A few years later, I broke my wrist. Playing soccer in the backyard, I fell, landing on the concrete lid of the old septic tank. This time, it was off to the big hospital.

I don’t remember much of the ordeal, expect that it hurt like hell. But there was a bigger drama, that Dad explained to me when I was older.

There were no beds. So we spent seven hours on a trolley, in the hospital corridor.

I do remember Dad doing his block. It was one of the first times I’d seen him blow up. While he was battling anyone who came near, it was a nurse who took pity on us. Not a doctor or administrator. Another angel.

Somehow, she got me a bed. And soothed the old man at the same time. Quite a feat.

Since then, I’ve seen them work their magic through the eyes of a parent. When you need all the help and reassurance you can get.

One night as a youngster, The Teenager had a fever that would have fried eggs. We’ve always been able to tell her temperature through the soles of her feet. Weird but true.

They were scorching. So it was off to an even bigger hospital.

Every parent knows the feeling of helplessness, when a child is sick. You think the worst, immediately.

The emergency ward was bustling. Doctors were flat-out. When it was our turn, the medico didn’t waste time or words. If the fever didn’t come down in the next few hours, our first-born would be admitted.

I thought back to the five-year old’s death grip, all those years ago. I didn’t want her to have to come up with the same plan.

For her part, the Not-Yet-A-Teenager was more interested in reading their colourful books. With steam coming off her forehead. Try as I might, I couldn’t convince her to drink the water they’d given her, to get that temperature down.

Panic wasn’t far off. Until a nurse came to the rescue. Male, this time. He convinced her what a cool idea it would be if she could read AND drink. Made it a game. It worked a treat.

All those stories came back to me, as I sat in hospital myself over the weekend. An unpleasant but necessary bout of surgery.

Late at night, it wasn’t the surgeon who provided me with comfort (although it should be said that he, too, was fantastic).

It was my nurse. Full of caring and compassion. With expertise to match. And the ability to ignore major levels of yuk. At all hours. Making things better. For scared little kids and impatient old farts.

What a noble profession. What wonderful people. Worth so much more than they’re getting.

Next time you’re in hospital, or visiting someone who is, thank the people in uniform. Our nurses. If you can’t keep Mum with you, there’s no better replacement.

Toilet troubles, crook knees and baldness. Let the Old Fart celebrations begin.

August 21, 2012

We are all getting so very old. Ancient, even.

Thank you Captain Obvious, I hear the crowd roar. But you must stick with me here.

I’m referring to a particular group. My mates. The boys I grew up with.

We are all approaching fifty years. A bunch of us, hobbling towards five decades of life. Some with more hair than others.

The first of the birthdays was at the weekend. Others will follow in the months ahead. Then next year. And a few in the early part of 2014.

You might tag us as over the hill, but we’re all still young at heart. We remember how it once was. What we used to get up to. I wouldn’t say we were wild. Although others might. I prefer to remember us as high-spirited, and fun-loving.

When we get together these days, we try to do the things we once did. For a while at least. Before one of us nods off.

For this party, we decided to gather at our local a few hours earlier. A punt and a few cool drinks, before the official fun began. A time-honoured tradition among this gang.

One by one they arrived. I don’t get to see them that much now, so every greeting featured a heart-felt hug and a firm handshake.

The ales flowed, and so did the stories. But the topics are so very different.

I returned to the table after a successful wager at Caulfield, to find the boys deep in conversation about their prostates. Not the footy, or the surf, or even a joke. Prostates.

One was recovering from a test. Another had one booked. Everyone had a horror story. Can’t be too careful, you know.

This bunch had been known to take over entire disco dance floors, and drain kegs in backyards. And here we were, discussing troubled male glands. In the same bar that the more spirited had arm wrestled in their youth.

For me, the conversation was a timely one. I’m having surgery later this week. They asked plenty of questions and painted terrible pictures about what was ahead. So nice of them.

We then shifted body parts. One of the boys described his progress after a knee replacement. A bloke who terrorised opponents on the field years ago. Now paying a painful price.

We left for the party soon after. A gentle walk towards the beach. A few were hobbling. One softie was even complaining about the cold. Why didn’t I take a jacket?

We arrived, and found other tell-tale signs around the room. One of the boys on crutches. Another bung knee. And it’s fair to say no-one was carrying a hair brush.

A bloke I hadn’t seen in twenty years mentioned that he’d had a heart attack a few years back. He was a respected opponent in our battles on the paddock. Now he was careful about his weight, and what he ate. Although it must be said, his form on the night was most impressive. I’m guessing the cardiac surgeon has given beer the green light.

A few haven’t made it this far. So sad. One of our great friends fought cancer like a warrior a few years back. The despicable disease got him in the end. Another is in the fight of his life right now. And we’re backing him to get the cash.

So we’re the lucky ones. Still very much alive and kicking. Having a giggle. Just falling asleep earlier.

The birthday boy finished the night by falling down the stairs. There was mock concern for a while, before everyone started laughing at him. I’m told he made a full recovery.

That’s what’s got us this far. A healthy dose of that great Australian trait. The ability to laugh at ourselves. And join is the fun with those closest to us.

My time’s coming, I know. The good news is that my knees are fine. And I’m still safe on the stairs. But can someone lend me a jacket? It’s freezing in here.

Finding a winner on Twitter. The racing names you should be following.

August 18, 2012

It will surprise many to discover that the racing industry, traditionally home to old farts, has become a leader in making the most of social media.

If you’re a punter, and you’re not on Twitter, you’re not in the game. Almost overnight, the major players have gathered in one place. And you can find them on your phone or computer.

Few sports use the medium better. Probably because everyone involved in racing has an opinion. Instead of yelling over the parade ring fence, we now tweet.

There are some stars, who you must follow. There are some dills too. You’ll work them out for yourself.

If you’re just starting out, fear not. Here’s the list of the people who matter, to get you up and running.

After you find your mum, dad, partner, kids, boss and bookie, your priority is to add Andrew Bensley. His Twitter name is @AndrewBensley (Newcomers, you’ll see that look frequently from here on. Twitter identities always start with an @).

The big man from Sky is a Twitter freak. The most prolific I know. He’s sent out more than 10,000 tweets, and shows no sign of slowing down.

Follow him, and you’ll receive all the racing news you’ll ever need. And then some. What the trainers are saying. Which way the jockeys are leaning. Who starred at trackwork, and the big improvers.

It’s a constant flow of golden information, that punters of old could only dream of. Ignore him at your peril.

The next must have is his mate, Ron Dufficy .. @DufficyRon. The Duff tells it like it is. He spares no-one, and is particularly scathing when administrators get out of line.

Not as many tips, but plenty of fun. And when he likes one, get on.

Another favourite of mine, is someone plenty of you won’t have heard of. A young racing journo on the up, by the name of Andrew Hawkins .. @AndrewNJHawkins. Andrew lives and breathes racing. For a young bloke, he’s incredibly well-connected. And he knows his stuff.

There are thousands of tipsters and form analysts. Part of the fun is finding those you like. For what it’s worth, here are a few that I enjoy following.

Gibbo .. @brissyraces (also has a great website). Chris Nelson .. @qldtrials (Best Bets analyst and contributor to 4TAB). Brent Zerafa .. @brentzerafa (Daily Tele). Ray Thomas .. @RayThomas1.  Jay Rooney .. @Jay_Rooney (West Australian form). Brad Thompson .. @BradThompson83. The legendary Tony Brassel .. @TonyBrassel. And plenty more.

There are media folk at every turn on Twitter. Some are great fun, and thoughtful performers. Try this lot. Mary Collier .. @mtc01 (owner and 4BC breakfast host – one of twitter’s finest). Nathan Exelby .. @xlbnathan (Courier-Mail scribe). Tony Clements .. @tonyontheradio (4TAB host and industry expert).  And Richie Callander .. @richieplz (one of the best Twitter names!)

Special mention goes to some old Twitter friends. Some of the funniest Twitter banter I see comes from a bunch of mates, who never miss an opportunity to have a crack at each other, especially over losing bets.

Do yourself a favour and follow Ben Dorries .. @bendorries (Courier-Mail), Gerard Daffy .. @GerardDaffy (betting guru), Wayne Hemming .. @TickerOz (legendary Brisbane journo) and Peter Psaltis .. @peterp79 (4BC sports lover and host).

More and more stables are coming on board. Check out Peter Moody .. @MoodyRacing, Gai Waterhouse .. @GaiWaterhouse1 and her hard working staff member Natasha Kent .. @KentNatasha. Plenty of good stuff too from Griffiths Racing .. @GriffithsRacing, Lee Freedman .. @Freedmanbros and Desleigh Forster .. @DesRacing74.

Want to stalk some jockeys? Try Kerrin McEvoy .. @KPMcEvoy, Glyn Schofield .. @ SchofieldGlyn, Chris Munce .. @MunceC and Josh Parr .. @JJParr7.

Some don’t fit into any category. They’re either smart, funny, helpful or controversial. Enjoy the offerings of Corinna Slade .. @CorinnaSladey, Steve Meakes .. @ourmaizcay,  Brad Tamer .. @Tatts_Tamer, Racing Good Oil .. @RacingGoodOil, The Gadfly .. @turfgadfly, Cox Plate .. @The_Cox_Plate,  and Racenet .. @RacenetTweets.

And of course, no racing fan’s Twitter account is complete without the great mare herself, Black Caviar. Yep, she’s on twitter .. @blackcaviar2006. Her phone must have mighty big keys.

So there you have it. The must-have names for punters on Twitter. Apologies to those who I follow and enjoy, but forgot for this piece. There are so many of you out there.

Have fun finding your own favourites. Hopefully it will help you build your betting account. And here’s someone who’ll never give you a winner, or a worthwhile tip. But you should follow him anyway. That Salmon bloke .. @salmo22

An Ekka fashion adventure. See-through tops and slinky singlets. And that’s just the blokes.

August 14, 2012

It’s fair to say that Eric from Kingaroy had never seen anything like it.

I’m assuming that was his name. He certainly looked like an Eric. And if his home wasn’t in the peanut capital, it was surely just a few large paddocks away.

We were watching the fashion parade at the Brisbane Exhibition. The Ekka, to anyone who has Maroon flowing through their veins.

The city’s annual show. Every decent town has one. From Sydney to Cairns and west to Nashville, showtime puts a city’s heartbeat on display for all to see.

The Ekka is famous for bringing the country to the city. And Eric was as country as cattle stations and the pedal steel guitar.

This fashion parade had striking Australian clothes, shown off by stunning models. They were tall, skinny and confident. At times, there wasn’t much left to the imagination. And Eric was seated just metres away.

This is one of the delightful quirks of the Ekka, and shows like it. No matter how polished the parade might be, anyone can end up in the front row.

In Paris or Milan, such seats would be reserved for the industry’s biggest names. If you’re not an ‘A’ grade celebrity, forget it.

Here, the best seats in the house can go to bogans from Beaudesert and grandmas from Gympie. Possibly next to a mechanic from Maryborough. And Eric.

Somehow, he’d scored poll position. Front row, centre seat. If the cameras had been rolling, he would have been in every shot.

I’m not sure why he was there. Possibly to keep the peace. I’m guessing he’d never seen such an event before. Because his expression was one of constant amazement.

Mouth open, eyes popping. The occasional shake of head. Every now and then, he would glance at the missus, to see if this was all for real. That was a waste of time, because she refused to return his gaze. She was having too much fun in the big smoke.

I’m not sure why he was so startled. As fashion parades go, it was anything but outrageous. But then something happened, that was too much for the old boy from the bush.

There were two male models. Impossibly chiseled, with smiles so bright they could have lit up Eric’s remote airstrip on the farm at midnight.

Every time they strutted their stuff, Eric’s gob opened just a little wider. There were BLOKES doing this modelling caper too!

One came out in a white singlet. And not the style that Eric’s mates would have worn in the shearing shed.

This one had tiny, narrow shoulder straps. It was tight enough to show an eight-pack.

Over the top, sat a flowing tropical, short-sleeved shirt, in all the colours of the rainbow. I’m no expert, but I think the outfit was finished off with those cream drawstring cotton pants, that rich single doctors wear to the pub on a Sunday arvo.

Luckily, it was the final walk of the parade. Because Eric could take no more. Couldn’t get out of that prime position quick enough. He was last seen herding the women-folk to the nearest bar.

That’s the beauty of the Ekka, and annual shows the world over. Once you get through the gates, everyone is equal.

City-folk have that same look, when we head to the animal pavilion, and see the birth of a baby lamb. Or the farmer showing his prize-winning chook. We don’t understand it, but we marvel at the beauty, that we don’t usually get to see.

How wonderful is it that a bloke like Eric could experience all that? In the very front row. The boys at the local will be in for some stories when he gets home.

Little people who are big targets. Give our jockeys a break.

August 11, 2012

The jockeys copped another bagging this week. Only a handful, mind you. But as usual, others get dragged down too.

Like any profession, there are those who qualify as good and decent. As well as a few who are more than happy to darken the reputation of their colleagues.

From doctors and lawyers, to plumbers, publicans and priests. Journos even. So it has always been.

There are thousands of blog writers. Some are brilliant. Others pedal rubbish and crud. Then there are the rest of us, compiling pages of harmless dribble every other day for our family and close friends.

My point here, and I do have one, is that it’s unfair to lump everyone into the same basket. And I fear that’s what happens when the spotlight is put on racing.

To those folk outside the industry, who wouldn’t know a saddle cloth from a soap dish, claims of wrongdoing equals everyone being a cheat. I hear it often.

As a punter, I can reach rare levels of fury when a jockey steers one in the wrong direction. Taking my cash with him or her. But I never stop admiring the skills and courage of the hoops every time they go around.

Few other professions pose such dangers. Certainly not six or seven times a day. And that’s not counting trackwork, and barrier trials. Huge, heavy, flying machines, that don’t always do as they’re told.

It’s easy to forget the dangers. They risk life and skinny limbs every time they take one out. A bit different to those of us who park large bums at desks, where the day’s biggest danger is burning a tongue on hot coffee.

I’m friends with plenty of hoops, mainly through social media. They impress me time and again, with their humour, and dedication, and support for colleagues.

Yes, there are some narks. But they’re in the minority. Look around your own workplace. Good luck if you don’t have any.

Most are young, working and playing hard. Unlike others of their age, this lot get up at 3am every day. And quite often eat similar portions to a sparrow.

It’s a sport of individuals, but the jockeys remind me of how a football team operates. They stir each other, and tease, and love nothing more than a decent prank. Watch them go at it if a mate gets a ride wrong.

But in times of trouble, they stick solid. Just like a team. There for each other, with more solidarity than most other groups. In those dark days when a jockey is seriously hurt, or worse, the bond is rock solid.

Here in Queensland, the riding ranks have never been so strong. And it’s no co-incidence that the form of the younger riders is on the up. Just like a footy club, the senior players set the tone.

Blokes like Chris Munce and Larry Cassidy have won more Group Ones than I’ve cooked lamb roasts. Those on the rise have role models right next to them. And blokes who know them, tell me they are well aware of doing their bit.

My humble view is that the game is cleaner than it’s ever been. The stings and shonks of days gone by are much harder to get away with. Listen to an old-timer explain the way things used to be, and tell me I’m wrong.

I’m not silly enough to think the game will ever be totally clean. When such big money is involved, there’ll always be someone wanting to get a piece of the action by means that aren’t allowed.

When they catch the crook ones, I’m all for throwing the book at them. Set an example, so others don’t go down that path.

But it doesn’t mean everyone sitting in a saddle is wearing a black hat. Without them, the industry we love would grind to a halt. Sure, let them know if their ride wasn’t up to scratch. As long as you cheer the good ones too.

Time for change. Why horse racing should be part of the Olympics.

August 4, 2012

It’s painfully clear to any fair-dinkum sports fan that more than a few Olympic events need to go.

You and I know that members of the IOC are regular readers of Hold All Tickets. Here is our chance to point those learned gents in the right direction.

Badminton is a sport that kids play when they’re bored at parties. It’s not serious. That’s why all those teams started cheating. They’d done the same at their 7th birthday and no-one noticed.

I was a gun handball player at school. Made the ace square most lunchtimes. Funnily enough, that didn’t qualify me for the Olympics. Because we grew up and found far more interesting things to do. Ditch it, and no-one would notice.

Synchronised swimming? Please. I’m sure the girls put in plenty of training, and I admire them for that. But I can’t accept twirling and splashing as a sport. My girls can do that any summer Sunday.

A good rule of thumb is that anything I can do, shouldn’t be part of the Games. I believe I could race-walk, Kel Knight style, without too much trouble. Much slower than those in London, but it could be done. Either run, or go home.

Having tennis superstars playing for medals makes my head spin. Have they been training for the Olympics all their lives? No. For just a minute? No. If the Olympic concept folded tomorrow, would they give two hoots? No.

In four years time, golfers will be on the team. Yep, that model of Olympic spirit, Tiger Woods, could be part of the action. God help us.

Ok, enough of the negativity. I have a plan to put the Gosh back into the Games. And we might even win a few events.

I first saw the idea on that impressive racing website, Racenet. If you haven’t visited it, you should. One of the growing number of top-notch racing sites online.

The boys there suggested racing should be part of the Olympics. Possibly in jest. But they got a big response. And I think they’re onto something.

Imagine the world’s best horses, jockeys and trainers, on the Olympic stage. In the colours of their homeland.

You could have three races. 1200 for the sprinters, 1600 for the middle distance stars, and 2400 for the best stayers. Spread them over a week at the back-end of the Games, when the swimming is done and everything else becomes a yawn.

The best of the Brits. Kiwis would be there with pride. The USA, South Africa, Japan, Germany and all those other countries we see on Sky Racing late at night.

Start the debate on who would represent Australia. Let’s imagine the green light has been given, and we’re in action next week.

Black Caviar would be the only choice for the sprint. She’d take gold, of course. Can you imagine Peter Moody on the Olympic dias, singing the anthem, with a XXXX Gold in hand? It would be on highlight reels for decades.

A tougher choice for the middle distance race. I’d go for More Joyous. She’d have a red-hot go. Gai would be dashing in green and gold. And Singo would become the Laurie Lawrence of the Games Village.

So You Think would make an Olympic size comeback. In Australian colours. Back with Bart Cummings, and blitzing them over 2400.

So there we go. Three gold medals. And ignore all this talk about owners needing cash to compete. If Roger Federer can do it, so could we. It would be up there with winning the cup.

Forget mis-firing Missiles in the pool. The answer is on the track. We’ll go there together, in 2020. And get your bets on now for Bart to be carrying the flag at the Opening Ceremony. Might take him a while to get around, but what a journey it would be.