Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Special times, special people, special places

I'm sorry that posts on this blog have been so infrequent recently, but we're back home now so perhaps they might become less irregular again. I say that I'm sorry, but I don't know that anyone else is: my holiday offering was very self-indulgent, and I'm afraid to say that this one will be too - but then again nobody is putting a gun to the head of either reader and forcing him or her to read it. But we've had a lovely holiday, I'm sad it's over, and writing about it is a way of allowing me to enjoy it further, both by helping me to savour again its details and by helping those details to stay in my head, because of being organized therein. So warning - if you've got something more worthwhile to do than listen to me reminisce, then do it! Now!

I blogged on our second and final morning at Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort, which, as you can see from the picture, was a little piece of paradise. The Pacific was waiting to be (very tentatively) entered, so I was briefer (less long-winded) than usual - so now, in addition to reporting on our stay in Queensland, I'll just touch on a few of our previous treats which I failed to mention earlier.

Probably the one disappointment of our stay in Victoria was the weather, but that actually in retrospect seems worse than it was. We arrived the Tuesday evening prior to Flemington, and it was hot and sunny from the start of the tour up to and including the following Monday, apart from a few hours of light (while we were watching the international horses work at Sandown) and then heavy (particularly while we were walking to Caulfield station, without the umbrella which I stupidly assured Emma that we wouldn't need) rain on Thursday morning. But Cup Day was cold and windy, and the following day wasn't a lot better, so although that's only two inclement days, they are two inclement days which stick in the mind - particularly in Emma's mind, because she seemed about as cold at Flemington on the Tuesday as I become any time I'm unwise enough to go to Cheltenham. Which means bloody freezing. The weather was starting to improve when we left on Thursday, and we had just about perfect weather for the rest of the stay, although it was extremely windy for part of the time we were on Moreton Island - although that was nothing compared to the hail which was falling in Brisbane at the time. Or the snow in Ballarat. We were actually lucky in Brisbane because, although we did have to take care not to get sunburnt, it wasn't too hot, which it can be, and it was pleasantly cool during the nights. Perfect - and we might have a week or two of similar conditions to look forward to in the UK in about seven or eight months' time.

Treats from Victoria which I failed to acknowledge included a visit to 'Champions' in Federation Square in Melbourne at lunchtime on Thursday, prior to meeting Joff at his office for an early kick-off for our drive to the High Country. When I'd last been in Melbourne eight years ago, a racing museum had recently been installed in the grandstand at Caulfield, and it was rather nice. That has now gone, and instead we have Champions, right in the heart of the city. It is a museum and is home to the Hall Of Fame. It's great to have this so central, and it really illustrates just how central to life there is the sport of kings. Unlike, sadly, here. It's a great display. There isn't actually that much, but what there is is used to best advantage. On a similar note, on the Sunday Joff took us, again after starting the day at Sandown, this time with a well-fed press conference thrown in, to 'Living Legends' out towards Sunbury, just beside Tullamarine airport. This is an excellent institution. I suspect if one goes there in another few months there will be more there, but they'd rushed to get it open for Cup week, so all it is is what it's about: the horses. Residing in four paddocks beside an interesting old homestead, maintained by a historical society, are eight living legends. The animals live there two by two: Doriemus and Might And Power (first and second in the 1997 Melbourne Cup, separated that day by about half an inch), Sky Heights (all the horses there look tremendous, but he's a real stunner) and Juggler, Paris Lane and Rogan Josh (both Cup winners), and BLU and FOO (Hayes-trained Cox Plate winners, Better Loosen Up who beat Stylish Century in the Mackinnon Stakes on my first Derby Day, 1990, the start after winning the Cox Plate and the start before winning the Japan Cup, and Fields Of Omagh who, remarkably, had concluded his career eight days previously by winning his second Cox Plate on his fifth start in the race. Special horses in a special place.

One social event which Richard Sims missed was an evening with his colleagues Tony Kneebone, John Barker and Craig MacManus in the Winning Post after the Derby, which was memorable mainly for the chaos which was reigning as gremlins had crept into the works just before the Cup edition was about to go to press. Joff, Emma and I helped ourselves to the beers and to the spread which Craig had laid on as the show was played out before us, but all was well that ended well (eventually all that was missing from the front page was the date) and eventually the team could knock off and join us in the brahmafest. There's the possibility of a photo of the crew appearing here, and if it does please don't think that I was dying of embarrassment - I'd just got quite sunburnt at the races that afternoon.

Having missed the Winning Post jamboree, Richard was definitely present for our final night's entertainment, which he and Joff laid on at Richard's instigation and organisation. Firstly we were treated to 'a taste of old Melbourne' (oh so reminiscent of Kramer's spell as reinsman on a hansom cab in Central Park, although fortunately Dickie hadn't been feeding the steeds Beeferino) as were pulled round the city by a pony-and-trap (in fairness to Dickie, he couldn't possibly have predicted just how cold it would be when he made the arrangements) before boarding a tramcar for a dinner on the move, around the city and south-eastern suburbs. That's an idyllic way to spend the evening which I'd recommend to anyone, and it was typically kind of Richard to produce this surprise treat - the only shame was that, still suffering from the chill of Cup Day, Emma was "scratched on vet's advice" an hour or so before the evening's end - but Dickie had the "Sheilas from Sale" to serenade instead, so that was no problem.

New South Wales was lovely, both in Sydney (we stayed for two nights virtually under the bridge, within three minutes' walk of Circular Quay) and outside, as our visit to the Hunter Valley was lovely. In addition to seeing lovely studs and horses, we made the inspired choice to drive up to the Barrington Tops National Park, which would make a pretty good alternative setting for 'The Man From Snowy River'. Bronwyn was a very kind host, and we had a memorable stay in a special place.

Queensland more than kept the ball rolling, as Michael and Sarah, helped by Liam, Jamie and dear little Finn (pictured) who are three smashing boys, were kindness itself. If they and Joff co-wrote a book on how to give one's guests a good time, it would be a best-seller. It's been a tough year for them, courtesy of the stewards' extremely harsh decision to warn Michael off for six months, but one wouldn't know it from the air of (at times chaotic, mainly thanks to Jamie) jollity in their house.

The filly which I own in partnership with them, Dolly (Somewhere Safer), is another beneficiary of their kindness, and a more content or serene horse one will never see. Although Michael's neighbour Michael Lakey is kindly overseeing the early stages of her preparation (now that she's returned from a longer-than-originally-planned spell) as she goes on the walker every day, she's still got a long way to go before she's in peak condition, but she's only a spring three-year-old and would be a fairly late-developer anyway, so we'll dream of something for her at the Queensland Winter Carnival next May or June. And if she takes longer than that, that won't be a problem - she's sure to continue to develop for a year or two yet. She's in the safest of hands, and I think we've got plenty to look forward to with her - and having now met her, I'll enjoy any success she achieves even more.

As already mentioned, we had an overnight trip to Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort, where Michael, Finn and I had the thrill of braving the breakers (it was actually very safe) to feed the dolphins who come in from the bay voluntarily every evening. That was one wildlife highlight, and another came on Friday when we had a day-trip to Australia Zoo, up under the Glasshouse Mountains near the Sunshine Coast, the home of the late Steve Irwin. We petted kangaroos, wallabies and a koala named Jack, in addition to seeing a heavenly host of birds and animals, including Alice's relatives the dingoes, and it was a wonderful day. We'd been lucky enough to see just about all the main native animals and birds in the wild (although fortunately we only saw crocodiles in captivity!), but the zoo made sure we had plenty of exposure to everything one could wish to see. It's a lovely place, where the animals are treated like friendly kings, and it's the perfect memorial to Steve Irwin. Sarah said he'd performed in the Crocoseum when she'd last been there, and when he appeared and enthused to us on the big video screen during the show we watched in there it was a very emotional moment.

A similarly special outing happened on Sunday arvo when we were four of around five hundred in the audience in Pioneer Village Hall for a concert by Graeme Connors. I know that every time one goes to a really good concert one is tempted to say that that was the best ever, but really this show raised the bar as regards what one can expect from a show. Winner of 12 Golden Guitars (Australia's country awards, although I'd call his music country rock), Graeme is the complete performer - because he quite clearly loves music and, just as importantly, loves the country around him and its people, and loves to entertain. In two hours, he played his guitar (sometimes with two accompanying musicians, sometimes on his own) and sang, but equally importantly he informed and entertained, relating the background to all his songs and telling stories to fit everything together. At half-time he asked for requests, and dozens of people lined up to write their choice on sheets of A4 - and the remarkable thing was that dozens of different songs were requested. So many special songs, not least the one with which he finished the show, the one he wrote for and sang at the opening and closing of the Paralympics in Sydney in 2000. We had tears in our eyes and a lump in our throat, we laughed, we sang and we clapped. And clapped. And clapped. Sensational. And then, to cap it all off, he had time for everyone afterwards: it wouldn't have mattered how many people lined up to shake his hand or ask for him to sign a CD afterwards, he found time for much more than a quick greeting for everyone as he chatted to everyone individually, remembering anyone he'd met before. I've said "That was the best concert ever" several times before, but after Sunday afternoon it will have to be a very special show indeed to make me say that again.

And that's just a few of the treats we've had. It was a wonderful holiday, thanks to the kindness of so many good people and to the wonderful country that Australia is. I could go on and on, but it's now 6.45 so it's time to go outside and start the day - and unfortunately, in November, starting the day in Newmarket isn't as idyllic as starting it in Deagon (or anywhere else where we've started it in the past three weeks). Ah well ... Anyway, if you've been bored, don't say you weren't warned. And if you've enjoyed reading this, however much you've enjoyed it, you probably haven't enjoyed it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. I just hope that it isn't another eight years until my next visit.


Kentucky Wildcat said...

Sounds like you had a good trip all round. See you in Newmarket next week. KYWC

easygoer2 said...

Get your arse up to Newmarket, Dickie. Sounds like you and KYWC ought to be scouring the December Sale next week, prior to her heading Down Under to lend her support to the Keysborough project. There are a few Scotch pies waiting for you in Saxon Street, though, so KYWC might have to fight for your attention.

D.D. Fan Club said...

John and Emma

You left us with so many lovely memories. Thanks for sharing the week with us all,we had a ball. Recommend to all BHS supporters to purchase the Greame Connors CD "it's all good". Oaks filly continues to improve.

Scotch Pie said...

Saxon Street's Scotch pie supply is somewhat depleted but fear not I am off up to Scottyland on Thursday to replenish stocks!