So much more than a talented young jockey. Why the loss of Nathan Berry hurts so much.

April 5, 2014

He celebrated the way you want them to. Showing that victory meant something.

Nathan Berry has just won the Magic Millions. Easily. The young bloke had been up against some of the nation’s best hoops. And left them in his wake.

He waved his arms, and gave a yelp. Showed off that million dollar smile. Somewhere between rock star and choir boy.

The Gold Coast faithful lapped it up. It wouldn’t have surprised if he’d just stepped from the Broadbeach surf. He could have been their poster boy.

Confidence without arrogance. A young man sports administrators dream of.

He fulfilled every commitment asked of him that day. Every interview. All with that cheeky grin.

How painful it is, that we won’t get to see it again. We lost Nathan this week. Not from a fall. But from a rare illness, that most of us still don’t understand.

When he become crook in Singapore a few weeks back, it gained little attention here. Some thought it was from wasting, the curse of all jockeys.

But it was so much more. Something so insidious and invasive, Nathan stood no chance.

In the days before his death, the support through racing circles was overwhelming. Social media came to the fore. He must have felt it, surely, in that hospital bed so far away.

Racing folk are rare beasts. They are quite capable of tearing each other limb from limb, over the merits of a change in riding tactics. But when trouble strikes, they unite. And when a family is hurting like Nathan’s is right now, they reach rare levels.

Tributes on Facebook and Twitter have been overwhelming. Such a genuine outpouring of love, and respect, and sorrow.

Jockeys, trainers, punters, journos. Millionaire owners, and one dollar punters. As one, they’ve sent a message to Nathan’s loved ones. You are not alone.

We want his twin brother Tommy to know that we are trying to share his pain. Of course, we can do little to ease what must be unbearable heartache. Two young men with the world before them. Now there’s just one.

I never met Nathan. But I feel like we were mates. Just like the rest of his followers on social media. We saw pictures of his victories. Laughed at fun the boys would have, on their rare nights out.

We shared his wedding day, from our phones and I-pads. Saw the love between two special young people. Just a few months ago.

Some things don’t make sense. A young man who you would be proud to have as your son. From a family that base everything they do, on love and respect.

It’s Golden Slipper day, and we’ll have a punt, because that’s what we do. Tommy still wants to take his ride in the great race. Could you do it? Such courage. Because Nathan should have been there too. Riding Unencumbered. The horse that he danced on after that Magic Millions win.

Even if Tommy’s mount Valentia gets up for Gai, there’ll be no real celebrations. Just sadness. On so many levels.

Keep the tributes coming. Remember Nathan in your own way. For me, it’s the happiest ever winner of one of my favourite races. Which I’ll never be able to watch the same way again.

Farewell Uncle Tom. The kindest man I knew. With the biggest heart.

January 7, 2014

I had no idea what to wear. The biggest event of my young life. I had to look the part.

Uncle Tom was taking me to the cricket. He was a Sydney Cricket Ground member. He knew I was a cricket nut. He decided that I needed to see an Ashes test.

Dad might have been more excited than I was. What a thrill, he said. Clearly, I was one lucky boy.

Mum told me to take a jumper. In January. I could have been selected for a space shuttle mission, and she would have insisted I take that bloody garment.

I didn’t own a tie. Just my good jeans, and my only buttoned shirt. Uncle Tom said that would do just fine.

I don’t remember the cricket. Just the surrounds. We ate lovely food. Uncle Tom knocked back a few beers. In fancy glasses I’d never seen. Everyone was in a jacket.

When I got home, Dad pumped me for details. Every little bit. He loved his cricket too. He was thrilled for me.

A few years later, I was back at the SCG. A league semi final. Newtown v Wests. A full house. Those rarified surrounds again.

This time, I soaked the action in. The most exciting afternoon I’d experienced.

It’s what Uncle Tom did. He made us all happy. I can’t remember him ever being cranky. Not one cross word.

With his beloved Aunty Heather, he made sure no-one went without. We were so lucky, those in his extended family. They did so much, and asked for nothing in return.

I had never been to a house with a pool. The first time we stayed at their place, I wouldn’t get out. A little blonde boy with prune-like skin. So different from our backyard.

Uncle Tom was a successful businessman, but he would never tell you that. The conversation about who should bat at number three in the baggy green was much more fun.

When we lost Dad, he looked after my family like a guardian angel. So much support for Mum. I know she was forever grateful. And it wasn’t the first time. It was just his way.

He died last week. He’d been crook, but had no intention of going anywhere. Fought it all the way. Was still working from his hospital bed, into the final hours.

I feel like I should have told him more how much we all loved him. How he made such a difference to all our young lives. He would laugh that off, I know. What he did, he did because it was the right thing to do.

He left us, a few days before the Aussies scored their historic Ashes victory at the SCG. There’s something right about that. He would have clapped, politely, with that great big smile.

Farewell Uncle Tom. Thanks for showing a country kid what could be. And letting all of us see that there is no greater love, than family.

Getting ready to remember my wonderful Mum. Just don’t trust her with the seafood.

May 7, 2013

For a tiny woman, Mum sure packed a punch.

Whether you were a school administrator, a local politician or a teenage son, it was wise not to tangle with her.

She was always polite, of course. But beware the terrier, if she thought the wrong thing was being done.

Mum had our primary school hall built. She didn’t think it was acceptable that we had nowhere to hold proper assemblies, or musicals. So she set about changing things.

My mother was a tireless letter writer. She penned notes to scores of people over that bloody hall. If they didn’t respond, they’d get another.

Mum took to the airwaves. She decided talkback was a valuable tool, to push her barrow. She painted a sorry picture of our rundown school. Politicians who had been sitting on their hands, were starting to look bad.

Finally, they relented. We would get our hall. More than anything, I think, to shut Mum up. She was delighted.

When I got to high school, she decided it needed a new hall too. Seriously. The letters started again. This project proved easier. The powers-that-be didn’t have the energy to fight her.

After Dad died, we used to have terrible fights. I was heading off the rails. She was trying to be mother and father, and it wasn’t working.

I eventually moved out, at 19. I know that hurt her deeply. She didn’t say a thing. Just went about supporting me any way she could. From pots and pans to cleaning cloths. Not that any of them were used in those early years.

When we were no longer living under the same roof, the fights stopped. I finally appreciated the incredible struggle she’d had, to keep my brother and I safe and well. She finally understood the difficulties a teenager had, after losing his much-loved Dad.

When I started work, she was so incredibly proud. I was employed by the same radio station she featured on, a few years earlier. She continued to call them, whenever something took her fancy. Always with a reminder about who her son was.

I moved interstate eventually, into a different part of the media. She demanded I send home tapes of stories I’d done. I’m pretty sure they were shown at morning teas, with her friends. Poor ladies.

Mum would visit whenever she could. We were lucky enough to live in some of Queensland’s most amazing parts. She was constantly amazed at the beauty of those places.

Towards the end of her life, she struggled. Her sight was all but gone. So cruel. This woman who loved her crossword puzzles, now had to use books with only the largest print. And even then, she could barely make out details.

On one of her final visits, I took her to a seafood shop, to get lunch. I asked if she wanted prawns. Yes, she said, that would be lovely. How about those ones there in the window? They look big and juicy.

They were indeed. Sadly, she was pointing at the lobsters. We had a laugh about that. She kept her sense of humour till the end.

In her final hours in hospital, I held Mum’s tiny, frail hand. She told me that the giant Indian was calling her. I actually looked about the hospital room that night, so sure was she that the big guy was there with us. I couldn’t see him. But she could. I still picture what he must have looked like.

She gave me so many valuable lessons. Near the top of her list, was to fight for what you believe in. And that if something will make your heart happy, then it’s worth chasing. Nothing is more important.

I miss Mum every day, but especially on Mother’s Day. Give yours a hug for me on the weekend. And if you’re having seafood for lunch this Sunday, make sure you check those prawns.

Going through life, hand in hand with my girls. As long as no-one is looking.

March 19, 2013

Daughter Two has had enough of hand-holding.

There’s been no official edict. No declaration. It’s just not cool.

Her hand is no longer available. She’ll show affection in her own, 12-year-old way. Usually via a quick hug.

She has gone down the same path as The Teenager. Although it must be said, the older sister was less definite about it all. She would forget sometimes, and grab Dad’s hand. Until she remembered that it’s not the done thing.

Daughter Two was one of the great hand-holders. Her tiny hand would be in mine wherever we went.

It’s one of the special things about being a Dad. Trying to make those around you feel safe. Little girls know all is fine in the world, when Dad is clutched close by.

From parks to shopping centres, and everywhere in between. Crossing the road. On the way to school, and on the way home. ‘Hold my hand Daddy.’ Music to a father’s ears.

We were at the movies on the weekend. Just the two of us. Another thing I love about being a Dad. To giggle through a flick, munching on too much popcorn and slurping iceless coke, is indeed a treat.

On the way to the cinema, I made a grab for those delicate fingers. I knew what the result would be. But I did it anyway. That’s another special thing about being a Dad. The ability to annoy.

She pulled her hand away, and laughed. We were both in on the joke. I pointed out that it used to be the other way around. That she used to grab MY hand. Another laugh.

‘Dad, I was, like, 6. All little kids do that. I’m older now.’ And so she is.

I explained to her that there is a cycle in this hand-holding business. Sure, a ban was in place right now. But things would change.

She would again want the same feeling of comfort that little girl had, a few years back. During boyfriend problems. And marriage. When she had her own children. Our hands would be back together. As far as lower-level carpark speeches go, it was a pretty good one.

She laughed again. ‘First of all, I don’t have a boyfriend. And I’m not getting married. I’m DEFINITELY not having kids.’

So there.

Deep down, she knows I’m right. It’s just that when you’re going on 13, an admission that a parent might know something about growing up is forbidden.

We had great fun in our movie. Sharing the same drink, demolishing the popcorn, and guessing the plot early.

As we walked back to the car, I put my arm around her. Briefly, and in part, to protect her from traffic. Old habits die hard.

She shrugged it off after a few seconds. With a laugh. Just long enough to say how much we mean to each other.

One of the tricks about being a Dad, is keeping up. Something that was fun yesterday, can be lame today. And then fun again. It’s all about listening. And getting instructions off their Facebook page.

I’ll keep trying the hand grab every now and then, just to annoy her. I don’t care how old they get. A Dad still has to have some fun.

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.

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.

Making the footy more than a game. Getting that winning feeling with ponchos, pies and the kids.

May 1, 2012

Daughter Two did a quick count of available umbrellas, and frowned.

There were two on offer. And three of us. She knew being the youngest in the flock was going to cost her dearly.

We were about to set off on a walk to watch the Brisbane Lions. A ten minute stroll, that would allow us to embrace the excitement of our fellow supporters.

Not today, however. Any pre-game buzz had been washed away, in a near cyclonic rain storm.

Normally, this would pose problems. But not on a footy night. For the true supporter, it all adds to the experience.

The girls huddled under the green umbrella, with The Teenager doing the holding. This meant two things. That Daughter Two would get saturated on one side, and that I would be continually stabbed from the other.

To make things worse, the normally placid footpath that would take us to our destination, now resembled a raging river. Both girls managed to step in every available puddle within our first 200 metres. Shoes were officially soaked.

As is their way, the soggy situation prompted much laughter. They managed to disrupt every other fan trying to find cover. The angrier those around them became, the more they giggled.

The bloke selling the thin plastic ponchos was doing a roaring trade. We added to his bulging money belt, in the forlorn hope that his flashy coloured garbage bag would somehow become a protective shield against the wild weather. It didn’t.

Soaked, but with spirits intact, we found our seats, thankfully under cover. As the girls hit their phones, to alert a breathless social media world of their whereabouts, I reflected on how cool it is for a parent to take kids to the football.

It can be any code. As long as there’s a crowd, and cheering, and a pie stand. Even in the rain.

Dad was a mad rugby league fan, but for some reason, it was rare for us to make the trip to city grounds. Too far away, and too expensive. We did our watching on tv. Not quite the same.

My first memory of attending a big game is my uncle taking me to the Sydney Cricket Ground, about 100 years ago.

Uncle Tom was a member of the SCG. Still is. To be invited to the big smoke with him was a huge thrill. I had to dress up. No doubt Mum would have made a fuss about that.

From memory, it was Wests and Newtown playing in a semi final. Before a capacity crowd. For a country kid, it was an experience to cherish.

With a lifetime spent in and around league, I’ve been lucky enough to attend plenty of wonderful games in the years since. Origin classics, and Grand Finals. Even a Challenge Cup decider at Wembley. But there’s something extra special about joining the crowd with kids in tow.

I’ve been to games of all kinds with cousins, and nephews, and friends. Always enjoyable, especially the first time.

But when it’s your own children, well that’s something again. A rite of passage in the family relationship.

The girls have gradually developed their appreciation of big time sport. It’s taken a while. Now, they love being in the crowd.

They’re mad Titans fans, and have been to a handful of games. Sit near them in the stand at Skilled Park, and you’ll have industrial deafness before half time.

This night, we’d changed codes. Some tickets landing in our lap prompted an unexpected foray into the world of AFL. The torrential rain made things tough. But it was still thoroughly enjoyable.

What made me even happier, was how the girls appreciated the spectacle, even though they knew little about the game. That attitude will allow them to appreciate major events the world over.

We ate plenty of food. The Teenager even wolfed down a pie. Cheered the local boys. And ignored the drunken clowns a few rows back, who thought swearing as loud as they could was an amusing way to pass the time. My glare did the trick. They stumbled off towards a bar by the third quarter.

We left with a few minutes remaining. It was a thrashing, but the girls didn’t mind. We’ll give the new game another go, hopefully on a dry track. And we’ll be back to watch the struggling Titans soon.

There’s so much to occupy young minds these days. Just about all of it with a touch screen. Sometimes, we need to be reminded how enjoyable the simple stuff is. With or without a plastic poncho.

Stepping out of the giant shadow of Black Caviar. Get ready for a two horse war.

April 14, 2012

There’s no tougher gig in the sporting arena than living up to the family name.

Dawn Fraser’s daughter would have needed fins at birth to match her famous mum.

Bob Fulton’s sons were all handy first graders. But better than one of league’s Immortals? No chance.

The Ablett boys have made a fair fist of it. I’m no expert in their game, but I hear people say Gary Jnr goes close. And doesn’t seem to get into as much strife as Dad.

In the racing game, perfect families are few and far between. For a start, some of our greatest males are left, shall we say, less than manly. Makes it a little difficult to keep the bloodline going.

There’s no guarantee either, for those in the breeding barn still firing live ammo. Champion sons and daughters are rare.

One of the great father/son combinations was Octagonal and his boy Lonhro. Both champions. Trained by the Hawkes family.

They know something winning the big ones, this lot. So who better to be handling Black Caviar’s half-brother?

All Too Hard might just be a superstar. We’ll know more later today, when he goes around as the short-priced favourite in the Sires.

When someone like John Hawkes gets excited, you take notice. He’s been around the block a few times. The bloke would play down a Lotto win as just a nice pick up.

Make no mistake, behind closed doors, he’s doing the old trainer’s version of cartwheels about this youngster.

They’ve been cautious with him. Even side-stepped the millions on offer in the Slipper. How tough would have that been?

It’s all about the horse. That’s how they are. Looking ahead. There is huge money to be made, if he keeps winning, and remains intact.

It sets up a dream encounter this afternoon. All Too Hard v Pierro. Gai’s Slipper winner from last weekend. Tough as old boots. Racing on the pace, with a genius in the saddle.

If we’re lucky, we might get a once-in-a-generation finish. Those clashes that feature in showreels, and trivia nights.

Think back to Bonecrusher, ever so slowly grinding Our Waverley Star into the Mooney Valley turf, in that soul-stirring Cox Plate of 1986.

Get the kids to log you onto YouTube, and dig out the 2002 Yalumba Stakes. You’ll remember it when you see it. Sunline flying up front, only to be reeled in by Lonhro in the shadows of the post. A ride for the ages from a fellow called Beadman. And a call from Greg Miles that still prompts tingles.

We love a two-horse war. And we just might get another one. Don’t stress too much about the result. Just enjoy two young stars, showing us what’s great about the racing game. They’ll both do the family name proud.

From first boyfriends to Black Caviar. School bus bullies to our lost dog. Looking back at a memorable first year.

January 3, 2012

It’s a new year. I’m assuming you’ve all returned to some level of sobriety. To celebrate, let’s take a journey back in time, to the old year.

This blog came to life last March. The result of a dislocated ankle, that had me laid up at home for weeks, on the brink of outright insanity.

Someone, somewhere, suggested I start writing about stuff. So I did, with a bung leg pointing skywards.

Over time, it developed into a twice-weekly affair. Life, laughs and the family on a Tuesday; racing and sport on a Saturday.

Quite a mix. Something for everyone. Or, two piles of crud to be totally ignored.

The kids have featured prominently. For the most part, they’re fine with that. They usually get a giggle from it all.

To share details of their dance concerts is great fun. Possibly sleep-inducing for some. But still great fun.

Tales of my first meeting with Daughter Two’s boyfriend tickled a few of you. Horrified the ladies. Mortified Daughter Two.

Lots identified with my feelings at watching my other little girl become The Teenager. Dads everywhere were nodding quietly.

I’ve found myself thinking more about the old days. My childhood. Mum and Dad. Trying to recall the people and events that shaped me.

From feedback you’ve given me, we like the reminiscing. Simple things. Like playing outside as a kid every afternoon. Mum’s cooking. And facing up to bullies on the old school bus.

Of late, we’ve shared details of our first jobs. Sacrifices our parents made at Christmas. Many of you had similar memories. And how those of our generation (definition – old farts), are paying the price for being kids who didn’t know what sunscreen was.

There have been stories through the year that have been shared on Facebook and Twitter. The marvels of social media. So great to be a part of it.

The tale of our lost dog Coco has gone far and wide in recent days. Sadly, she’s still missing. But the support and encouragement we’ve received has been nothing short of amazing. Thank you.

We talked State of Origin. Those outside of Queensland and New South Wales were probably scratching their heads. No problems there. It’s only for a few weeks.

Something that did strike a chord was when a bloke becomes eligible to officially support his adopted state. Ten years? Twenty years? Never? Everyone had an opinion.

The debate even slipped into the mainstream media, in the days after the blog ran. That was a first. Maybe a coincidence. Maybe not. We’ll have another crack at it this year. Go the Maroons.

Not all of you are interested in the Saturday racing pieces. That’s ok. Racing is a passion of mine. I’d write about it even if no-one was reading. Which is sometimes the case.

It was a joy to describe the jubilation at Doomben, when Black Caviar came to town. Tears and cheers at a packed racecourse. Something we haven’t experienced for years.

We were able to have a giggle at kooky Kim Kardashian being scratched from Melbourne Cup week. And my excitement at the tradition of going to Stradbroke Day with a much-loved childhood mate.

Sad times too. Young Corey Gilby’s tragic death at a country race meeting. And the pain that lingers, after losing the amazingly talented Stathi Katsidis, way too young.

Then there was the highly sought after Melbourne Cup guide. Great fun. Of course, my top selection was scratched on Cup morning. And I gave the winner no chance. Who else can boast that sort of strike rate?

You can find all these stories and more in the blog archive. That is, if you care. And you are so mind-numbingly bored that you actually want to read more. That also tells me that you probably need to see a doctor of some kind.

Don’t forget, you can subscribe, so you never miss a word. Twice a week, direct to your e-mail address. Fill out the box at the top of the Hold All Tickets page. It’s free. Or, sign up someone you don’t like. Now that would be funny.

So, to the year ahead. There’ll be more fun. A few laughs hopefully. A crook tip or two. And a look back every now and then, at how things used to be.

Thanks for coming along for the ride. It means a lot.

Who would have thought that getting busted up doing the gardening at my mother-in-law’s place, would lead to all this? Lucky for me, fact around here is almost always stranger than fiction.

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.