Monday, 19 May 2008

a little golf

Of the three physical activity barometers I set myself at the start of the year, two - cycling and tennis - will almost certainly be achieved before I get to half-way. The third, golf, is behind the eight-ball, but I did put a dent in it this weekend.

I went up to Toowoomba to spend some time with my folks, and got out to golf with Dad on both Saturday and Sunday mornings.

On Saturday morning, we played 18 at Borneo Barracks. We teed off at 7:15am or so, and it was a beautiful morning. I had 94 (22-over), which was a couple more shots than I'd like, but still reasonable, particularly since it included a couple of drives sent onto and over the road. Dad had a fairly forgettable score.

On Sunday morning, we went and tried out Eustondale golf course, on the western outskirts of Toowoomba, for the first time. Once again we were away a bit after 7am, and this time the wind was in from the south-west, and it was pretty cold (about 5 degrees when we started, less with wind chill). The wind made the short par fours more challenging, and overall the course played reasonably well for a small course, with a couple of interesting holes. Dad and I were close all day, until I beat him on the last hole, 88 to 89. Once again, 22-over, since the course is just a short par-66.

Overall, I'd like to be able to play bogey golf (+18), but until I'm playing regularly, I only really expect +20-22, so I was reasonably happy with how I played. It was also really nice being out on the courses with Dad.

Brissie to the Bay ride

On Friday I signed up for the Brissie to the Bay Bike Ride, a 50km charity ride in aid of Multiple Sclerosis.

This ride, like Movember, has a nice signup process that provides a web page for accepting and tracking donations. There is also a facility for sending emails soliciting donations. Both of these are very cheap to set up, and I reckon make for a very convenient way for people to both get a little bit of information about the charity, and more importantly to donate.

So, here is part of the solicitation text they gave me. Please feel free to donate.

Did you know?

  • The average diagnosis of MS is 30 years old.

  • 3 times more women than men are affected by MS.

  • 5 people are told they have MS every working day.

Please take a moment to view my online fundraising page and help me reach my goal. It is easy and will take no time at all, just <donate online via your credit card by clicking here.

All information is secure and all donations will be sent electronically to Multiple Sclerosis Society of Queensland. A tax deductible receipt will be sent to your inbox once the donation is verified.

Multiple Sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system affecting more young adult Australians than any other neurological condition. Your donation will go towards providing a wide range of equipment, support and services to those people affected by this horrible disease.

Your support is greatly appreciated.

UPDATE: I've had to happily revise my original target of $100 upwards to $300, having reached the original amount a half-hour posting this :)

Thursday, 15 May 2008

pigs. flying around. in the sky.

The strangest thing happened last night - our tennis team won. I went down 6-4 in a pretty close set, somehow my partner (who plays an unconscionable style of tennis) won 6-0 (against someone whom I found out was a fill-in), and we won a lacklustre doubles 6-1.

The tennis, though, was of a much lower level than the previous outing, and consequently I enjoyed the cheap win much less than the honourable loss.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Music without words

Tempted as I am to leave my Lucksmiths tribute post at the top of the page for a while, there is more to say!

One of the marked characteristics of my almost-year back in Australia has been a tendency to attend concerts that greatly exceeds my habits in either Rennes, or pre-Rennes Brisbane. Since returning, I've seen Dave Holland, Barney McAll, Gretchen Parlato, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and the Lucksmiths, as well as gigs by Paul, Julz and Kylie. While that won't break any records, its an improvement.

Yesterday, on the back of my Lucksmiths night, I added to the list with the Griffith Trio, a classical piano/violin/cello combination, and their recital at the Conservatorium theatre, courtesy of Andy and his employers Dialog, who sponsor the group.

They opened with Beethoven's Archduke trio. To be honest, I found it fairly dull, which in hindsight is disappointing, as I have a bit of a soft spot for LvB. The instrumentation seemed thin, the passion of some of Beethoven's other works was conspicuously absent, and by the fourth movement, I was beginning to doze.

After a break, and a frankly horrible glass of what claimed to be "classic dry white", we returned to find a string quartet, minus piano, offering Puccini's Chrysanthemums. I enjoyed this piece much more. Whether it was the extra instruments or the writing, the thinness was gone, and the more modern piece was much more interesting in terms of harmonies and, dare I suggest, chords.

The final piece was Elgar's quintet. Like the Puccini, this was a more modern piece, and showed harmonies which reminded me a little of Debussy and Ravel, who I guess might have been contemporaries. There were parts which almost bordered on corny, where the piano turned almost stride-y, but on the whole, it was very nice.

Taken as a whole, the concert was by no means on a par with the Lucksmiths or the ACO, my previous two efforts. The first half suffered from what I consider to be the great detriments of classical music, but the second reminded me a little of what it can be when it is good.

I should be so Lucky...

My favourite band is The Lucksmiths.

This has probably been true for about 10 years now. There have been flirtations with the Dave Matthews Band, the Pat Metheny Group, and a few others, but when I really need to smile, there is nothing so reliably charming as the simple melodies and unassumingly delightful lyrics of the Melbourne pop group.

Time spent away from Australia can make otherwise banal Australian pop songs take on disproportionate emotional attachment, and I was no exception. But more than Flame Trees or Redgum, the music that most captured my nostalgic nationalism while overseas were Lucksmiths lyrics:

It's getting worse
You've hardly said a word
Since you set eyes on the horizon
But I've seen the other side of that ocean there
And it can't compare

and, sung with the same Australian accent, genuine and yet untouched by the Ocker-ism too prevalent in Australia country music:

I spent the summer with the curtains drawn against it
Counting all the nights you’ve wasted
Under unfamiliar stars
Are you ever coming home?
Or should I learn to do without you?

Thus it was with some excitement that I realised this week that the 'smiths were headed north, playing at the Jugglers' on Saturday night. I was joined there by known afficionados Matt and Marty, and curious and as it happened skeptical newcomer Andy.

The support band, the Bell Divers, were the same genre, but reminded me why I am not a generalist indy pop fan. Its hard to criticize them for being a new band, but the lack of clarity and assurance in their performance made it impossible to tell if their writing was the reason they were opening for the Lucksmiths.

The only previous time I had seen the Lucksmiths, they were essentially a trio. Their subsequent addition of a fourth member has changed the nature of their songs a little, if anything making them a little less twee and more popularly palatable. Certainly, as a live gig, they have a more dynamic presence, and "rock" more, than they did before adding Louis Richter.

What has not changed, though, is the quality of their writing. Their songs are pleasant, if simple, and serve their purpose well. Their lyrics, though, are quite probably the best I've come across in music, rivalled only perhaps by Bob Dylan (the comparison is unworthy, since the aims are not the same). I've probably posted this before, but so genuine was the grin that spread across my face when the set rolled around to what might be my favourite Lucksmiths wordsmithery...

Though you kept me guessing and your distance
Were it not for my persistence
We would never have been lovers
You kept your distance and me guessing
Finally acquiescing only after I’d discovered
You kept the things I sent you
The lengths I went to

Or it might not be. There are so many to choose from.

How this band can come to Brisbane and play to an audience of 40 people in a pleasant but, it must be said, very small venue, just defies my understanding. I might never see a better show with fewer people.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

250 progress

One of my ongoing quests has been to get through the IMDB Top 250 films of all time. I made solid progress on this in France, particularly while lame during the winter months, and advanced to around 205. I've been slowed a little since, only advancing about 10 films since coming back (its a moving target, so I've probably seen 15-20 films in that time). Yesterday, in an idle space, I got inspired and watched 3.

I have a bunch (about half) of films on the list that are old foreign films. These are intimidating for a number of reasons. They're not colour, the sound quality is often poor, and they're generally in 4:3 aspect ratio, which all combine to mean they're a little less immersive than post-1970 films. Mainly, though, they just require more concentration, either because I need to watch the subtitles, or because I need to concentrate to understand the French (there aren't many French entries left, actually).

Top of my list, then, was Le Notti De Cabiria, by Fellini. The previous Fellini film I'd seen was 8 1/2, but this one was very different, more reminiscent of De Sica's Ladri di Biciclette than of 8 1/2. The plot follows an Italian prostitute through a few days of her life, exploring aspects such as her work, life, religion, and relationships. The lead, Giulietta Masina, really makes the film work with a very charismatic and compassionate performance.

Next up was Stalag 17, by Billy Wilder. Wilder has even more films in the list (7, and it could easily be 8 with Ace In The Hole) than Fellini (4) - by my reckoning, only Hitchcock and Kubrick have more - and I've seen and quite enjoyed all but one (The Lost Weekend) of his others. Stalag 17, though, I found weak. The characters are, in general, thinly drawn, and the comedy really missed the mark for me. The plot winds along nicely enough, but its just lacking anything really substantial for me. Perhaps its greatest contribution is that it seems to have been the inspiration for Hogan's Heroes.

The third film was American Gangster, by Ridley Scott (also 4 films in the list). This was probably the longest film of the bunch, as is the nature of this genre (life-and-times/rise-and-fall film, a la Goodfellas, Blow, Once Upon A Time In America, There Will Be Blood most recently). The performances are pretty solid, although both Crowe and Washington have done better (which is no slight - they are two of the more capable actors working today). The script is solid, although not spectacular, but it does feel a little bit "been there before", and the ending felt a little bit non-sequitur and slightly corny.

I'm currently at 214, with about 16 or so waiting to be watched.


I won a set of singles at tennis last week.

This really shouldn't be an occasion for a blog entry, but I was thinking about it afterwards, and it had probably been close to two years since that had happened. I have had a horrible start to fixtures (this was the first set my team has won all year, after losing 19 straight), and I've been losing sets (albeit sometimes close sets) to Matt for the last few months. Before that was knee surgery and rehab, and it was probably against Franck or someone in Rennes that I last had a singles set go my way.

I talk a very good game these days about getting pleasure from playing well rather than winning on the scoresheet, but the two really are so closely linked. The preceding 3 weeks that I'd played fixtures, I had lost despite hitting the ball reasonably well - I just failed to do what was necessary, head-wise, to construct points and games. That was probably more frustrating than losing because of poor ball-striking.

Last week, though, I hit the ball pretty well, and really scrapped to stay in the game. My opponent was better than me - if we played 10 sets, he'd win probably 7 or 8, and I was actually thinking during the match, "I don't mind if I lose this - my opponent is better than me, and I'm just so happy I've made it a competitive match".

I actually played OK in the doubles, too - we were down 4-1 when we called time - but my doubles play had been OK the previous week or two, so I was less struck by it.