Life on hold. Convincing kids they CAN survive without their phone.

January 22, 2013

The Teenager’s eye was twitching. Her beautiful face had become distorted.

She could see it. Almost close enough to touch. Connect. Send a message on.

It was her mobile phone. And she wasn’t with it. Daughter Two as well. Stripped of their most vital possessions.

A holiday rule had been introduced. Part of the day was to be phone-less. It was like I’d asked them to shave their heads.

My first suggestion was to leave the devices behind when we went to the beach. They gave me the look. The one that Dads everywhere know. The ‘Thanks, but that won’t be happening in this lifetime’ look.

They explained that they had to take i-phone photos. Hundreds of friends were waiting. There would be action shots in the surf, and glamour shots on the sand.

These images would be posted immediately onto social media sites including Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and WhoGivesaFlying. Ok, I made one of those up.

Everything is about photos and videos, being shared as quickly as possible. No phone, means no sharing.

With the beach off the negotiating table, I moved to meal time. Surely there was no need to have the phone during a holiday dinner?

No can do, they chorused. It’s prime-time to receive messages from friends. They’ll stay in our pockets. You won’t even know we have them with us. Promise. Because I was waiting for my own message, I didn’t push the issue. And yes, I see the irony there.

I wasn’t giving up. We were watching favourite DVDs each night before bed. It would be done without electrical devices.

It was an outrage, they cried. We HAVE to check stuff. You just DON’T understand.

We compromised, and they survived. With sneaky peeks, as I visited the fridge. And we all enjoyed the movies, fully focused.

My quest to reduce phone use was hard enough during a week of sun and surf on holidays. What chance do we have at home?

Parents everywhere are fighting the same battle. Our kids are addicted, to devices that were invented to promote talk. But they’re conversing less. It’s all about internet data, in the palm of a hand.

We’re not much better. My phone never leaves me. You’re probably the same. The constant link to work. Up-to-the-second info from around the world on Twitter. Monitoring the exploits of friends on Facebook. Do as I say, not as I do..

In the holiday tavern, I saw a couple sitting at a table near the bar. Both in their fifties I reckon. Both with i-pads. Their heads were buried in them. They’d gone to the trouble of going out together. Yet they could have been in different suburbs.

It’s hard to see us screen-saving our kids, when most of us are just as bad. If our phones are getting smarter, then we must be getting dumber.

Back to The Teenager’s twitching episode. It came late in the day, during a game of cards. We’d finally come to an agreement, that any activity on the balcony would be phone-free. Keen to hear the end of my campaign, they had agreed.

It meant that as we made up our own poker rules, and certain family members cheated, we were talking. And laughing. Without disruption.

There will be those of you without kids, or with children long gone, who will be scratching heads. Yes, we could ban the devices. Banish them to a mobile wasteland.

Trust me when I tell you it’s more complicated than that. Their phones are such a part of how they exist. The social fabric is so very different from when we were young.

For better or worse, we need to help them stay connected, without shutting everyone else out. And to save the sanity of parents all over.

For our part, we’ve working on sticking with our holiday plan at home. More phone-free time. Device-free zones. Baby steps, but it’s a start. No more living life on hold.

Awful conduct by a winning racehorse owner. And I’d do it again tomorrow.

January 19, 2013

Quite simply, it was appalling behaviour.

Screaming like a One Direction fan. Banging tables. Foot stomping. A jig was performed, badly. And that was before he crossed the line.

I was in the public bar of a delightful little coastal pub. A midweek race had just been run, and won. By our horse.

To be fair, I had given due warning to the handful of punters present. As a part-owner, there was the remote possibility that I might get a tad excited, if things went our way.

I even tipped them in. Told them that our bloke would run way better than his odds suggested. Suggested that they have a dollar or two each way.

Two elderly locals in faded Hawaiian shirts offered little more than rude sniffs my way. I guessed they sat in those same chairs every day. They didn’t need tips from an unshaven bum with a bad case of sunburn.

Not so two young blokes in the bar. They were excited. Took my advice, and settled in as my new syndicate cheer squad.

Let us pause, because I hear you all asking the same question. Why was I not at the track, if the horse was such a decent chance?

Fair point. The original plan was very different. A drive back to Brisbane from our beachside holiday was on the cards. Until we put it to the vote.

The girls had lodged their verdict before I’d finished the question. No way were they going to endure a few hours in the car, when they could be enjoying the glorious sun and surf. Especially for a dumb horse race.

In the end, I had to agree with them. I couldn’t bring myself to put a shirt on, let alone long pants and shoes. And I’m pretty sure the good folk at Doomben wouldn’t have wanted me in the Members wearing my board shorts.

So that’s how I ended up in the pub. With strict instructions from the girls, that I had to be back for our afternoon surf session.

In running, he looked the best of things. I may have mentioned this, loudly, to no-one in particular.

Jeff Lloyd angled for a run, and the big chestnut surged. I brought the whip out in the bar, to lend a helping hand.

The finish was tight, but no-one could hear the caller. Because I had found a volume I wasn’t aware existed. The windows rattled, and glasses shook, as I urged him home.

It was then that I banged my hand on the table. Several times. And screamed Yes. Several times. It was something like Meg Ryan’s famous restaurant scene with Billy Crystal, in a Pub Tab. I’m sure someone in the adjoining bar whispered “I’ll have what he’s having.”

It was everything I hate seeing in others while trying to watch a race. But I couldn’t help it. After colic, and shin soreness, and wet tracks, and outside barriers, and sheer bloody bad luck, we’d done it. Our boy was a winner.

The young blokes were yelling too. And slapping me on the back. The old blokes were gathering their belongings to leave. Dirty, no doubt, that they’d ignored the tip.

When I came to my senses, I apologised, and asked if I could buy them a beer as a peace-offering. Too late. They’d be writing their complaint letter to the publican right about now.

My young friends had no hesitation in accepting a free drink. They were genuinely excited. That’s what racing does.

The mobile phone was in meltdown, with mates messaging from all over. They all knew how long we’d waited. Another wonderful part of the industry we love.

On any other race day, I would have been the last to leave the track. But not this one. An hour after correct weight, I was back in the surf. The girls were excited too. They were on promises of new bikinis if the photo-finish went our way.

If you were in the bar on Wednesday, or happen to live in surrounding streets, please accept my apologies. To the publican, thanks for erasing those security videos.

Part of being an owner, however small, is the fact that you can go crazy every now and then. It’s in the handbook.

Now that I think of it, me being off-track might be our lucky charm. It could be the secret to his success. I still reckon we can win the Cox Plate. Does anyone know a little pub near Mooney Valley?

How to buy a horse at the Magic Millions – don’t let them hear your knees knocking.

January 12, 2013

There’s nothing like bidding for the next Black Caviar.

It’s even more exciting when you have next to no money.

It was at the Magic Millions sale many years ago, that I nearly walked away with a superstar. For someone else.

It’s true that cool drinks had been involved. For much of the afternoon. Even so, I had no intention of raising my arm.

Singo, however, had other ideas. He was a part-owner of the sale at the time. And he had a plan. That I knew nothing about.

One of the joys of sharing drinks with the great man is the endless procession of interesting people who come to the table. The shout could include Johnny Raper and Dawn Fraser. Alan Jones might take a seat, opposite Tommy Raudonikis. Another old mate from footy days would be sipping a beer with the vet. Next to a journo who no-one knew.

The longer the day went, the more likely it was that Singo would add another horse to his stable. Often at the suggestion of one of his guests.

But not this one. He’d written the Lot number on his hand. It could still be seen, through smudgings from sauce and XXXX Gold.

That’s where things got crazier than usual. For reasons not fully known, the multi-millionaire decided that I should do the bidding for him.

At first, I thought he was joking. It made no sense. Especially given I had no cents. But he was in the middle of a deep conversation. Possibly about Newtown’s grand final loss or Strawberry Road’s overseas mission. So he needed someone to raise a hand. Apparently mine was the only one left.

I pretended to be cool, as the bids came in tens. Thousands, that is. From memory, my first entry into the auction was at 40-thousand. With a shaking hand, and a voice that resembled Minnie Mouse.

To add to the sheer lunacy of it all, I was bidding against someone at Bart Cumming’s table. Possibly for the Cups King himself. If only he knew.

It was when we reached 100-thousand dollars, that I started to consider what I’d gotten myself into. It seemed Singo was paying absolutely no attention to me. He could leave at any second. And I had all of ten dollars in my pocket.

I started to wonder how the conversation would go at home. ‘Dear, we need to sell the house. I just bought a yearling. Showed Bart how it’s done. The girls are always talking about wanting to go camping. Now they can LIVE in a tent’.

The auctioneer was looking directly at me. He wanted more. Others in the room were no doubt wondering who this badly dressed bloke was making such outrageous bids. My sweat started to drip into Dawn’s beer.

And just then, as I was contemplating making a run for it, never to show my face in racing circles again, Singo put me out of my misery. ‘No more’, he said, quietly but firmly. He’d been listening all along. With that, he went back into his conversation. And I slumped, exhausted, in my chair.

I’m certain no-one less qualified has ever gone so close to sealing such a deal. My inept performance was the source of much mirth later in the evening.

Singo went on to buy many more horses. Some superstars, some not. After that night, I’m pretty sure he did the bidding for all of them himself.

If you end up in the sales ring tonight, after Heza Jetsetter storms home to win the million dollar race for 3 year olds, remember the following tips, from someone who’s been at the coal face.

Speak loudly and clearly. Raise your hand high. Don’t be put off by those bidding against you. And if possible, have Singo’s wallet in your pocket.

All the tips you need. Our crystal ball reveals this year’s big punting secrets.

January 5, 2013

As punters, we’d all like tomorrow’s paper today. To have race results twenty-four hours early, just once.

Of course, with my luck, there’d be a mis-print. But enough negativity.

The next best thing is the Hold All Tickets crystal ball. Priceless predictions that will be the headlines of 2013.

You, the select few, have the chance to get in early. Sharpen your pencils, and prepare for the ultimate early mail.

First stop, the Gold Coast. The Magic of January. Yep, next weekend.

I see two young horses. Clevadude and Missy Longstocking. Is that Rick Hore-Lacy doing a jig in front of the cameras? I believe it is. There’s your winner.

Fast forward to Rosehill, and the Golden Slipper. The world’s richest race for two-year olds.

I’m polishing the trusty ol’ ball, with my best clean cloth. And I can see a V. Now two Vs.

Villa Verde. Shaun Dwyer’s flying filly from Bendigo. And the Slipper couldn’t go to a nicer bloke.

I’m hearing his speech. He’s thanking a young journo for the story he did on him in Queensland all those years ago, when Regimental Gal took all before her.

Now he’s saying something about sharing the prizemoney with that same bloke. He just needs to find him. But the reception is cutting out. The ball is going hazy. Dammit!

Ok. Now we’re in Brisbane. It’s Stradbroke Day. Our vision has cleared. Eagle Farm looks a picture. Queensland’s premier trainer Rob Heathcote has the trophy in his hand. Jockey Ryan Wiggins has a smile from ear to ear.

What a win. A hometown hero. But which horse?

He’s saying something about the most amazing improvement he’s seen in a galloper. The son of Pins, who won his first race in mid-January this year, now a Group One winner.

I can see some of the owners. They seem drunk already. And they’re singing. What a day that will be.

The crystal ball is fogging up. I’m looking carefully. I think we’re back in Brisbane. Doomben. With a crowd I’ve only seen once before.

There’s Black Caviar. The champion mare is having her final run. It’s a special million dollar race, put on by Queensland Racing.

I can see Peter Moody. He’s having a dart and a XXXX Gold. And telling someone he had to come back, to have a beer at the Breakfast Creek Hotel.

Old faithful is showing me more drinks. This time Flemington in November. The first Tuesday.

There’s a horse winning the Melbourne Cup, by a margin we rarely see. It’s a thrashing. And yes, he’s an international.

It’s Mount Athos. But we didn’t need the crystal ball for that. You all saw the run in last year’s Cup. The best of good things.

So that’s the year ahead. No need to thank me. My pockets will be loaded too. Especially after that Stradbroke win.

It’s official. 2012 was crap. Ten ways to make sure 2013 rocks.

January 1, 2013

It’s all Pluto’s fault. The planet, not the much-loved Disney dog.

So a bloke on radio told me. He called himself Australia’s leading astrologist. I’m not up on how big that field is, but the title sounded pretty impressive.

Apparently, 2012 was a rubbish year, because of where Pluto sat with Uranus. He said this, without the hint of a giggle. Astrologists must be very serious types.

The guru of the stars went on to tell us that 2013 wouldn’t be much better, because their paths are still bumping into each other. Something like a New South Wales State of Origin backline play, millions of kilometres into space.

His expertise took a hit a little later, when he said our political landscape would be the worst since John HEWSTON tried to become PM. I think he was the guy before John Soward. Or was he in that bumbling backline? Anyway, someone had a problem.

But not us, dear readers. Because we’re taking aim at Pluto and all those around her, and declaring 2013 to be our year.

It’s true, 2012 had hair on it. So many people tell me. Just about everyone I know has been counting the seconds to open up the new calendar.

I never want another year like it. Nor do those I love and care about. So I’m doing my bit, to learn from mistakes, and make sure those twelve months are disposed of, to the deepest bin with smelly New Year prawns.

Those who have already erased 2012 from the memory banks, also believe change is in the air. There’s confidence among us. We demand better days ahead.

Family is everything. We will keep learning from each other. And having fun. Daughter Two gave me the most beautiful Christmas card last week. Made me cry. One of her messages was that 2013 would be a Refresh year. The same as we do with computers. Such a smart girl.

There are things I’ll be doing more of. Near the top of the list, is to be around people who make me laugh.

I’ve seen so many people say the same thing of late on social media. It seems we are all in the mood for a giggle. No more gloom and doom. If you can’t offer a smile, feel free to catch the next bus.

I want to spend more time speaking with old friends. The people who know me best. Those who are there, in the darkest hours. And yes, they all make me laugh.

More catch ups. Better use of time. Connecting with the people who really matter.

An old football mate had a crack at me this year, saying I don’t pick the phone up enough, when times are tough. The male mentality, of suffering in silence. He’s right. I’m working on it.

More lunches, with fun people. Those who enjoy all that life has to offer. With tall stories and the ability to take the piss. And the odd cool drink.

I want to read more. The stuff that teaches, and inspires. I want to play more of my old music. Neighbours be warned: J Cash, K Rogers, J Fogerty, D Martin, the Beatles and Eagles will be on high rotation this year.

There’ll be more time allocated to racing people. Salt of the earth types. I’ve never had an unhappy day anywhere near a racetrack. Expensive days, yes. But never unhappy.

There’s the prostate cancer battle. I’ll tell you more about that another day. Don’t worry. I’m happy to say that everything so far is positive. As my consulting surgeon Dr Billy Joel advises, Only The Good Die Young.

Happy New Year everyone. Join with me tonight, in the yard or from your balcony, in giving Pluto the raised middle digit. Do it proudly, and prepare for a ripping 2013.  Just don’t get it mixed up with Uranus.