Remembering Mum’s Big Book. When homework help came from the shelf, not the laptop.

October 30, 2012

There was a time, not long after Tyrannosaurus Rex munched on his last meal, that we had to function without computers.

That’s right. Nothing to download. No status updates to check. When Likes came via a wolf whistle. And questions were answered in a very different way.

Anyone under 30 just fell from their ergonomic chair. They think I’m conversing in some crazy Russian tongue.

Imagine that. Solving problems without logging in. Instead, we opened up books.

I thought of those BC days (Before Computer) while helping Daughter Two with a homework assignment.

I hadn’t been called on to lend a hand for a while. Her mother is the expert in this field. Highly skilled at making and shaping. And solving the impossible task.

On this occasion, my job was to find information about wind turbines. A subject, it must be said, that is foreign to me. My knowledge of the finer details of renewable energy could be written in capitals on the back of a green stamp.

This meant we would be visiting the Google empire. One click, and I had enough data to open my own wind farm. Those rushing to comment on my suitability to self-fuel such a property can resume their seats.

I passed this information on for Daughter Two to do as she wished. She seemed pleased, although I noted she didn’t ask me to help assemble the project. Wise girl. Too many craft disasters have gone before us.

How would my own mum have helped with such a request, all those years ago? Very differently. Like so many other aspects of life back then.

Those well off in our neighborhood had encyclopedias. Usually purchased from door-to-door salesmen. For my young readers, imagine all the bits of the internet, crammed into 24 leather-bound books.

We couldn’t afford such luxury. So Mum found another way. Our answers were found in her Big Book.

I don’t know where she got it. But we used it most school nights. Anything we needed was buried somewhere in those pages.

It was her guide when something had to be made. A quick look at the picture or diagram, and away she’d go. While Dad snoozed in his favourite chair nearby.

Whenever we were sick, the Big Book would be plonked onto the kitchen table. Mum would search for symptoms, before taking us to the doctor. Self-diagnosis, way back then.

I can’t remember the Big Book letting us down. The only problem, was that there was only ever one answer.

We’ve come so far. Mum would be a Google tragic if she was still with us. Because she loved accessing information. Instead of her beloved book, she would find pages of stuff, from all over the world.

There are times when we Old Farts have to admit that some things are now so much better. Daughter Two would be lucky to use the Big Book as a door stop.

In this instance, our kids are so lucky. As much as I loved that book, the material it contained now seems to come straight out of the Dark Ages.

One thing doesn’t change though. I’m still banned from assembling anything. That could be the next challenge for our Google Overlords. When it comes to teaching bumbling Dads how to make homework projects, we still have a long way to go.

Forget the barrier draw – Gai’s about to win the Cox Plate. Why Pierro will get her smiling again.

October 27, 2012

When it comes to the Cox Plate, you’re either a fan of the babies, or you’re not.

There’s no middle ground. Some will sing the praises of the best youngsters in the land. Others will smirk when they finish down the track.

Ok, strictly, they’re not really babies. The three-year olds have been around a bit. But compared to the best weight for age horses in the land, babies they are.

No other race gives them such a fighting chance. Yet no other race is so gruelling.

It’s every owners dream to win the Cox Plate. To do it with a three-year old, carrying a tad over 49 kilos, is something again.

They have to be extra-special. Hype horses need not apply. The tiniest chink will be exposed out there. With the older stars grinning as they fly by.

Two months ago, I tipped Pierro. Back then, I thought he was on the way to being our next superstar. The first horse to complete the Golden Slipper/Cox Plate double in the same year.

I’m still tipping Gai’s young champion. But with a little less confidence.

His loss last start wasn’t part of the plan. When the regally bred All Too Hard went past, we gasped as one.

Gai refused to make excuses, but I will. It was a ride that Nash would love to have again. Too bad to be true. Pierro did amazingly well to finish where he did. He was gassed early, and still had the audacity to nearly pinch it.

I’m sticking with him. As others drop off by the minute. And in the ultimate vote of support for youth, I’m tipping a three-year old quinella.

Yep, I reckon the first two from the Caulfield Guineas will fight it out again. Pierro and All Too Hard, neck and neck. With Gai’s favourite just getting there.

That sound you now hear is the roar of disapproval from those who can’t cop such madness. And they may well be laughing at me this afternoon.

The more I look at the field, the more I think it’s lacking in genuine superstars. No Kingston Town in this lot.

Don’t get me wrong. They’re a hugely talented bunch. I’d love to have any one of them in the backyard. I just don’t think they’re unbeatable.

Ocean Park is a genuine threat. Bossy will make sure of that. And my old favourite Shoot Out is a knockout hope at big odds. I reckon they might be fighting over the minor placings.

These three-year olds could be on their way to rare air. With plenty more gripping battles ahead. It might just be a Cox Plate we’ll be talking to our grandkids about.

If I’m right, Gai will forget her troubled week, and hold the Plate aloft. Sadly, without Singo. If I’m wrong, I’m sure you’ll let me know.

Kids who decide life isn’t worth living. It has to stop. Why we all must be part of the solution.

October 25, 2012

My daughter and her friends went to a funeral this week.

Fourteen year old boys and girls. They should have been in school. Instead, they were in tears.

They lost a friend. A beautiful, smart, popular, bubbly girl. And they don’t understand why.

Fourteen year olds shouldn’t be going through this. They should be making up dances, and talking about boys, and pulling faces when their teacher’s back is turned.

They found out late last week. As is the way of the world, the message went out on Facebook. It spread quickly, even though most were still in class.

Some thought it was a hoax. It had to be. Their friend had everything to live for.

She’d been to our house a few times. One of the gang who took delight in keeping me awake during girly sleepovers.

By nightfall, the dreadful news was confirmed. Their social media world went into a frenzy. All asking the same question. Why?

They began posting tributes. With love hearts and kisses, as young girls do. Touching messages, of how much they loved her. Written out of hope, that she was somehow still reading them.

Together, they organised their own memorial service the following night, at one of their favourite places. More than one hundred of them. A place they’d gathered so often. Now a location to share grief.

They lit candles, and sent little hand-made boats across the water. They hugged, and cried. Some were distraught. A bunch of kids, trying to make sense of something the rest of us don’t understand.

This beautiful girl’s parents were there too. With their hearts breaking. I don’t know them, but my heart is breaking for them. Still. I can’t begin to imagine their pain. Their sense of loss.

They wished their beloved daughter could have seen the outpouring of emotion that unfolded that night. So many people who cared for her. So many decent teenagers, who wanted the chance to help. Now, it was too late.

I picked my daughter up when it finished. She was with a friend. They walked to the car, slowly. In the distance, I could see the parents, saying goodbye to the last of the kids. It looked like they didn’t want to leave that spot. Maybe they wanted to hold onto that outpouring of love just a little longer.

In the car, I asked the girls how it went. Good, they said. If only their friend had been able to see how much they all loved her. If only.

At home, our family talked long into the night. About the importance of looking after each other. Of sharing problems. Outing the bullies. Becoming a voice against wrong. And the fact that nothing is so big that it can’t be dealt with together.

I want this to stop. I don’t want another child to think that there’s no way out. I don’t want another loving mother and father to go through that unimaginable torture.

We need to start talking about it. We need to have conversations with our kids. It can’t be a secret any longer.

Every other day, in cities and towns all over the land, another youngster is taking this terrible option. Too many are now looking down, realising there was, in fact, another way.

Governments and schools have roles, and they must play a part. Getting even tougher with on-line thugs. Making sure there’s a place for everyone, no matter what their make up might be. And listening.

No-one has more power than us. Mums and Dads. Grandparents. We need to take this thing on.

Write down your own thoughts on it. Send them somewhere. Share this post with someone you think might benefit from it. Ring a radio station. Bring it up at the dinner table. With i-phones off for just a few minutes.

We can send cameras to take photos on Mars. Surely, together, we can provide a society that our children don’t feel the need to escape from.

I don’t have the answer. But I want to help find it. And soon. I’m sure you do too.

No more funerals for 14 year olds. Give your son or daughter an extra hug today. Think about that special girl. And get chatting. Play a part. The only thing more precious than life, is a young life.

Why Peter Moody will be sipping XXXX Gold from the Caulfield Cup tonight.

October 20, 2012

Exactly seven weeks ago, on these very pages, I gave you the winner of the Caulfield Cup.

A long-range tip, for one of our great races. The feedback was overwhelming.

The great majority of you had a hearty laugh, and marked the selection ‘Can’t Possibly Win – tipster an absolute dud.’

Hard to argue with that. It must be said, my record in the 2400 metre event is less than flattering.

But a select few, obviously with way more dollars than sense, jumped on board. Without telling anyone. Just in case.

I’ve fancied Lights of Heaven for a while now. Since Peter Moody started wrapping her two seasons back. Something special.

Things didn’t work out last Spring. The mare needed more time. Moody admitted he needed to re-adjust his thinking with her.

She was a different horse in Brisbane over the winter. Improved every run. Blew them away at Eagle Farm. With some left in the tank.

Granted, the smarties still don’t accept the Queensland form as genuine. More fool them.

Moody has always had this race in mind for her. Even when the current  campaign started shakily. He hasn’t wavered. And as the big day approached, the pieces have tumbled into place.

Luke Nolen selected her, over the stable’s two other runners, both imports. Rest assured, if Moody thought the others were better chances, Luke would have been on them.

She’s carrying 53 kilos. A luxury impost for a quality performer. And the camp draws barrier 8 during the week. Perfect.

It will be run at a genuine clip. The on-pacers, including the highly fancied Glencadam Gold, will be at each other for the first half of the race. That’s not the way to win a Caulfield Cup.

Nope. The winner will get a cosy run. A world away from the battle up front.

The big question is .. is she good enough? Does she have the talent to hold off the overseas raiders?

I think she does. We’re about to see the best of her, striding past them on her home track. The great man from Charleville will be holding the Cup aloft.

Seven weeks ago, when I gave her the big tick, she was paying 21 dollars. If you were jumping on last night, you would have had to settle for 8 bucks. And don’t be surprised if she keeps tightening during the day.

The internationals will have their turn in a few weeks at Flemington. But not today. Wish us luck.

When you collect, as big Pete is downing that frosty Queensland brew, remember to keep a few dollars aside for my Cox Plate tip. Another special.   More on that next week.

Words of wisdom from my favourite racing journos. The scribes to find you winners.

October 13, 2012

As a young racing fan, I grew up reading Bill Casey and Max Presnell.

While other young kiddies were brushing up on Macbeth and Mark Twain, I was learning about life from two great men of the track.

Casey made journalism look so easy. He was able to take us on his own remarkable journey. From the races to his local pub, we felt like we were at the bar with him.

He loved a laugh. Nothing was taken too seriously. Except when some bumbling administrator ran out of pies, or forgot the racebooks. Then the paint would come off the walls.

He seemed to know everyone. A bulging contact book. And not all the names were above-board. That’s what made his stories so fascinating.

His love of the racing caper jumped off the page. There was a passion, especially when someone had done the wrong thing. And he stressed the importance of history in the art of finding a winner.

Max Presnell does it to this day. Constantly reminding us that everything old is new again. That winning training methods and jockey techniques have been around since Banjo Patterson was leaning on the outer rail.

Speaking of the great Banjo, dig up some of his stuff, if you want to see how racing journalism helped portray our earliest days. Wonderful accounts of hard luck stories and dodgy characters.

It’s those characters that turn a good racing yarn into a cracking one. Because the racetrack, and the agencies involved in the punt, are full of them.

If you haven’t read anything by Les Carlyon, you are missing out big time. No-one writes better accounts of all things Australian. From Gallipoli to Bart Cummings, and all photo-finishes in between.

He can describe a thoroughbred like no other. Reminding us that these amazing animals are more than just horses.

Les understands how trainers think, and why jockeys wait until the 200 metre pole to let loose. He’s able to put us in the thick of an early morning trackwork session, because he’s stood there frozen so many times himself.

Again, the passion shines through. A writer’s love of the industry.

Read Kenny Callander’s book, and you’ll take a trip with a man who has spent a life mixing in circles your mum might not have approved of. If you’re like me, you’ll be jealous. So many adventures, involving so many interesting people.

Like Presnell, Ken has been around since they ran the first Cup. Or so it seems.

His columns today pull no punches. He’ll take jockeys to task for questionable rides. Trainers will be asked how last week’s losing favourite was able to turn things around yesterday. The punter’s pal.

You don’t have to agree with him. That’s the beauty of it. Opinions are like bums. Everyone has one.

I love knowing that my favourite racing journos are mad punters. I want them putting their folding stuff on the things they’re spruiking. Winning and losing like the rest of us.

It pains me to see that Bart Sinclair is about to leave our racing pages. Another master of the game. And such a wonderful, decent man. In a time when hype can take over from fact, Bart gives us information over crap every time. Praise in measured doses, and gentle jibes when needed.

When racing administrators stuffed things up so badly in his home state, no-one was in their ribs more than Bart. He wouldn’t let up. Articles so powerful they ended up running on the front pages instead of the back. It took a while, but Bart won the day.

I like the work of plenty of today’s younger journos too. Nathan Exelby is a fine form analyst, who tells us stories that matter when it comes to making a dollar.

My mate Ben Dorries gets some ripper tales from jockeys and trainers. Stories from real people. An insight into the characters, that most punters don’t get to meet.

Sometimes I wonder if those in the industry’s shiny offices fully appreciate the work of these blokes, and my heroes before them.

More than just tips and results. That rare ability to dig under the surface, and make us love racing even more.

Enjoy their articles today. Share them, so others can too. Our industry has so many great yarns to tell. I reckon old Bill would be nodding from the Upstairs Bar.

Forget the Horse Whisperer. Meet my mate the Woy Woy Goat Walker.

October 9, 2012

It wasn’t something you see every day. A grown man walking a goat by the side of the road. Complete with collar and leash.

Traffic slowed to a crawl. Drivers strained for a better look. It was difficult to work out who they were more focused on. The high-stepping farm animal, or the giant wearing nothing but his footy shorts and a smile.

My big mate has always done things like that. He’s not embarrassed easily. When you tip the scales at over 120 kilos, you can pretty well do as you please.

Memories of the goat came flooding back on the weekend, as a few of us celebrated his 50th birthday.

In typical style, he’d banned any party. Said he wouldn’t attend. Too much fuss.

Instead, it was decided that we’d surprise him several weekends before the actual date. A shock and awe approach to a birthday bash.

Over a few cool drinks at the club we helped build thirty years ago, stories of tall tales from the early days emerged. The goat received several mentions.

We were minding it for one of the Big Bloke’s friends. I never found out why. I just came home one Friday night, on unsteady pins, to find a new pet chained to the clothesline.

This puzzled me. I was sure there hadn’t been an animal there when I left for work earlier that day. One would remember such a development.

I checked with the housemates, who confirmed that my eyes weren’t playing tricks. So began our time with Spot the Goat.

Visitors loved Spot. They thought he was a quirky addition to our bachelor pad. Like the barber’s chair on the back deck. And the bathroom that had never been cleaned.

I had less affection for Spot. His diet consisted of grass, cardboard (as in beer cartons), and my work shirts. His other great trick was to position himself at my bedroom window, and make the most awful of noises at approximately 4am. Every day.

His time with us was eventful, but brief. Spot went to the farmyard in the sky. The Big Bloke was upset for a week.

My mate’s other great passion, aside from family, Fords and Manly, has always been food. You don’t get to be his size without knowing a little about preparing a meal.

Back then, he took it upon himself to make lunch for all three members of the house. One loaf of bread per day. White, of course.

He bought us lunch boxes, and had them packed, ready to go, early each morning. Sometimes with a treat. This, from a burly front-rower who packed down with the best of the time.

At work, my colleagues chuckled. Don’t let that one go, they’d say. I’d landed myself quite a catch.

It all worked fine, until the day I was invited to a business lunch. I’d forgotten all about it, and duly lined up in the morning to receive my allocation of the loaf.

Those four hefty sandwiches remained in my bag, as I dined out on fancy Chinese. Big mistake.

What I didn’t realise, was that my towering housemate was checking our lunch boxes each night. Just to make sure that his efforts weren’t being wasted.

It was our first and only confrontation. Me full of cheap wine and dim sims, and him waving soggy cheese and beetroot sangers in my face.

From then on, if I had a work lunch, I’d dump his carefully made sandwiches in the bin. Nothing like keeping the peace.

He hasn’t changed. Made me breakfast before I left for my flight home. Three fat sausages, two eggs, two tomatoes, baked beans and toast. And watched as I took every bite.

He loves looking after people. Always has. The Big Bloke doesn’t believe in throwing anything away. A mighty heart in that giant frame. Even the cat is a stray.

I could have asked if he had any goat’s cheese to go with my cup of tea. But I thought better of it.

He doesn’t exercise farm animals any more. That’s a shame. I guess once you’ve walked with goats, there’s not much left to achieve.

Going with the flow. How our city draws strength from a mighty river.

October 2, 2012

I’ve fallen in love with a muddy river.

A waterway that defines a city. So much of what we do revolves around it. Or on it.

Everyone in Brisbane has a story about their river. You either live to the north or the south of it. Our great watery divide.

Other cities boast about aquatic attractions too. I like that. The magnificent Sydney Harbour. Bondi. Surfers Paradise beach. The famous Yarra. We’re all drawn to the water.

If you were somewhere else over the weekend, you missed a great time here. Riverfire is a spectacular like no other. We blow up tonnes of fireworks from one end of the river to the other, sip on cold drinks, and cheer like crazy when it’s done.

People find the best viewing spots early. Some are in place twelve hours before the first cracker goes off. Then they sit, and read, and talk to their neighbour in the next camping chair. All day. The river does that to you.

It’s great fun. But I don’t need a festival to celebrate what this amazing stretch of water provides.

I see it every morning. What a way to start the day. The same view, that’s constantly different. Colours change. Ever so slightly. If you look hard enough, you’ll see various shades of sparkle.

There’s always something happening. I see tug boats. And kayaks. Million-dollar cruisers and two-bob tinnies. Moving together, as if guided by an unseen marine conductor.

Forget the morning ritual on overcrowded trains. A mob of lucky ducks get to commute on a slick Citycat. Or a majestic ferry.

Their skippers spend their day cruising up and down the river. Constantly smiling. Probably because they don’t have to drive a bus.

Their passengers are happy too. Such a pleasant way to go somewhere. Life seems to slow down just a little.

I can catch a ferry to two of my favourite pubs. Almost door to door. Water transport to watering holes. On the way home, a bloke gets to see the city lit up at night. Sometimes through one eye. It could be straight out of a tourism brochure.

For all the beauty, there is awesome power in the river. We know that, from painful experience. In flood, a monster is revealed.

Memories of last year’s devastation remain raw. So much damage. Awful pain for many. Some still haven’t recovered. Others won’t come back. They couldn’t go through such trauma again.

I still can’t believe how high the water came. Stretching to levels that seem ludicrous. Reaching places that few would have expected.

It means we’ll never take her for granted. A generation won’t forget.

But it’s hard to hold a grudge with her. She’s such a major part of our life.

You’ll have your own special waterway. Take the time to enjoy it soon. Fireworks or no fireworks. Life by the river is pretty cool.