Sunday, July 27, 2014

Things That Passed Through My Mind Today

The first thing was waking up with a song going round my head. This morning I woke and immediately started humming "I Feel Fine" by the Beatles. A bit of a random song seeing I can't remember the last time I heard it on the radio and I don't have it on any music in my collections. Apparently the term for this is an "earworm" and there are hypothesis for why this occurs. Here's a nice article about the subject at the Daily Mail, which explains in terms that even I understand what the issues are. For me, it is always the morning when I get that tune stuck in my head, so I guess it is something subconscious. So now all I have to do is start remembering my dreams. Which brings me to my next question

Why do only some people remember dreams? I have virtually no recollection of my dreams. I have often woken in fits of laughter and had no recollection of what I was dreaming about. It's a bit frustrating, while my wife, Caroline often remembers her dreams in vivid detail. To be fair, if my dreams are anything like hers, then I'm glad I can't remember them :D

This article has some pretty good explanations, and in the case of Caroline and I, she definitely wakes more during the night, whereas I tend to sleep solidly through so that part of the theory is borne out by our behaviour. I also like the part about dream recallers being more responsive to outside stimuli during wakefulness, like when their name is being called. It seems therefore only natural to me that husbands like me, who rarely respond to their name being spoken during wakefulness should not recall dreams much!

Maybe to recall dreams I need to drink more coffee, and drink it later in the day?

I have limited myself to coffee early in the day, and 2 coffee's a day (usually!). I was toying with the idea of buying a coffee machine, an espresso maker or cafetiere or something, but I realised that what I really like is having coffee at a cafe. I enjoy the Melbourne cafe culture (I enjoyed European cafe culture when I was living there) and sitting at a cafe, people watching, and reading a good book....actually, I don't mind whether the book is that good or not. I've recently started reading more than one book at a time and I very much enjoy this. It's a bit like following your favourite TV series week after week, and I dip into books as and when I feel like it. Besides books about chess, I'm currently reading a set of fantasy novels by Markus Heitz, "Perfect" by Rachel Joyce, the follow up to the magnificent "Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry", and "Narrow Road to the Deep North" by Richard Flanagan which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize a few days ago. They are very different books, which place different demands on their readers and I enjoy being able to pick a book up, or put one down as I fancy. I do find that at some stage in a novel there is a point where the book has to be finished to the end, while the others are left for a while. But this is ok, and I have no trouble picking up the books that have been left. Next on my reading list is the book with one of the best names I've seen for a long time:

I've just found a really nice blog which has a post on exactly the subject of reading more than one novel at a time. Check it out.

I wonder if reading before sleep will deter people from dreaming? I guess not, because Caroline also reads before sleep. The only other external factor that we don't share is a love of whiskey. Actually, Caroline does like single malts, but she doesn't drink much, whereas I....Well, I don't drink much, perhaps a shot or 2 a couple of times a week and I tend to drink more in the winter than in the summer. As I drink so little over the course of the year, I tend to treat myself to whiskey's that are quite expensive and that I enjoy. I have a copy of Ian Buxton's "100 Whiskey's to try Before You Die" on my bookshelf, and I'm surprised by how many I've already tasted. Today I went to look for a whiskey, and came away with one I'd never heard of, let alone tried before. According to Whiskey Exchange, Glen Moray 16 Year Old is "Sweet, full and exceptionally well rounded. The flavour is initially of toffee, progressing to mint humbugs and barley sugar and followed by a hint of smoke and peat flavours." I have to admit that I love the blurb on whiskey bottles, and can be tempted into buying a whiskey just based on the story and descriptions of their products. Try it. Go to any whiskey site and you'll find  no end of descriptive prose about their products and their history. One of my favourites is Laphroiag!

Glen Moray 16 Year Old with it's attractive case. 
It's getting a bit late here now, so I'd better try a shot to help me sleep! Now that I think about it, does alcohol help you sleep or not? I'll go find out and report back on whether this whiskey should be one of the 100 to try before dying in a later blog post.

Glen Eira Chess Club

The success of any new venture depends on the commitment of the individuals involved. When I talked to my friend and colleague, David Cordover, about starting a chess club in our area, he basically just put in a massive effort and made it happen. Things like getting a venue, applying for grants, telling people about the club have been done by David without hesitation. He just sees what needs to be done, and then does it. I've taken more of a hands on role, ensuring the club is open each week, and informing members of what's going on. Actually, this last thing has been a bit sporadic, and it is something that I would like to improve upon. I personally think that every chess club should have a weekly newsletter, whether it be delivered by email/paper to members, or published on a website. It doesn't need amazing chess content every week, but it should reflect upon the members of the club.

Once you have a couple of committed leaders driving a project, you just need to develop a core group of people who will become involved on a regular basis, and this is now happening at Glen Eira Chess Club. We have run a set of 7 round swiss events with no entry fees and no prizes, though they do qualify for an end of year club championship which will have prizes. This format has worked really well for our club as other clubs in Melbourne are somewhat more serious. We open our doors at 6 pm and have an hour of junior/casual play and then our tournament games start at 7.15 pm. The games are 60 + 10 which means we don't have a particularly late finish is another consideration for lots of players.

So we wanted a social environment, where players could compete seriously if they wanted to, and where a chess community could flourish and develop. This we seemed to have achieved with a regular turn out of between 12 and 25 players, and more like 50 players having tried the club out through it's first year. Besides the regular players, we have had some very distinguished Australian chess guests drop in to the club. IM James Morris played in our first 7 round swiss event this year, while FM Domogoj Dragicevic is playing in the current event.

The current tournament is the last chance to qualify for the end of year championship. We decided on holding qualifying events so that the regular members get an even chance to play in the club championship as averse to strong players who come to the club just to play that event. If a strong player wants to play our club championship, they have to qualify, the same as anyone else. So far, that's worked pretty well with a combination of strong players and regulars making it through. At the same time as our club championship, there will be a reserves championship for anyone who doesn't qualify for the championship. Next year, there will be a slightly different criteria for qualifying, but more on that later.

This week, I had to play against a local player originally from Russia. As Glen Eira has quite a high proportion of immigrants from Europe, it is not surprising that we are getting chess players from these countries. I'm an European immigrant! In fact, our tournament this time has players representing England, Holland and Iceland so Europe is doing quite well. My opponent plays a pretty decent game for a part timer, but he played a bad opening and never really recovered.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Bg4?!
This was the opening moves of the famous 'Opera House Game' between Morphy and Count Isouard and the Duke of Brunswick. As I've shown this game to numerous chess classes through the years, I followed in Morphy's footsteps for a few moves before my opponent deviated from the famous game. It didn't really make things better for black who suffers from a bad king position and poor piece development. I managed to win the game, but my opponent created some difficulties for me, and although not a regular chess club player, he must be at least 1500 strength, and perhaps was stronger earlier in his life.

For those of you that haven't seen the great game, here is Morphy's amazing win analysed by Steinitz. Enjoy :)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Double Take

When was the last time you were playing a game in one of your favourite openings and someone comes up with a move that makes you do a double take? One of the best reasons for playing a lot of blitz chess is in order to perfect your openings, and to see lots of ideas very quickly. I've recently started playing blitz chess again and I'm having a lot of fun trying out some new openings and some old favourites that I haven't played for a long time. One opening that I've played quite a bit is the Ponziani 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3. Of course with these classic old opening games there are often the most bizarre variations hidden somewhere, and these can be so obscure that they are forgotten or rarely mentioned. I came up against one of these the other day.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3 Nf6 4.d4 Nxe4 5.d5 Bc5
I had never seen this move before, and it certainly won my opponent some time on the clock. It is typical of the 19th century, and it had been analysed by Steinitz.

Unfortunately for the online game I didn't know about any of this, but I do now. So I played terribly for one online game but have learnt some theory about an odd variation and seen some crazy variations. Take this queen sacrifice variation.

And finally, here's a game where white turns the table on black and answers black's quick attack against f2 with an even deadlier attack on f7.

I'm enjoying playing blitz chess again, and funnily enough I get a kick out of my opponents playing moves which make me do a double take. These moves help me to further understand  the openings I play, and usually lead to interesting and unbalanced positions.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Chess Diary

No, don't worry, I'm not going to pour my heart out while in the midst of a middle aged crisis. Diaries, or personal notebooks, are often kept by chess players and I wondered how many readers do just this. So do you keep a chess notebook, or chess diary? I guess in the digital age, we can store information on our computers, or phones/tablets easily, so perhaps personal databases fulfil the same role.

I used to keep a notebook back in England, though that was in the days before online databases and resources. So as well as my own ideas and analysis, there was a lot of material that I collected from books and periodicals that I bought or borrowed. Unfortunately I left all the stuff in England when I emigrated to Australia, and all my chess books as well. So I've decided to start a chess notebook again. I'm not sure whether to use pen and paper, or a computer but the vast amount of material that is readily available to players of all standards needs to be filtered into manageable proportions. Otherwise looking a 5 million game database to improve your game is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

One thing that all chess players enjoy is a good sacrifice, so my diary entry for today has involved sacrifices and attacks. Examining sacrifices is good for a number of reasons:

- we get away from pure materialism in out thinking.
- we improve our imagination, looking for unusual ideas in positions.
- we learn to calculate variations correctly.
- we develop a series of known patterns we can put into our game.

An easy one to start with. This was an online game I played. 1. White to play.

We all love a queen sacrifice, so here is one from the great Hastings 1895 tournament. This first round game Albin-Bird continued 40..fxg3!? allowing 41.Bxh6. 2.See if you can spot the follow up.

This is a game I played at my local club, Glen Eira, the other night. I was black and had a piece for 3 pawns. 3. Can you use your imagination to find the move I played?

Finally, here's a position from the game Malyutin-Yemelin Moscow open 1995. I looked at this game because it started with the same Ponziani opening that I have been using a lot recently. If we look at the position, it might seem that black is doing well, especially with his advanced protected e-pawn eating into white's territory. However look at each sides pieces. White's pieces are concentrated centrally and even his queen side rook has lifted and is ready to swing to the king side. Black's pieces are somewhat disorganised with the Na6, Ra8 and Be8 being particularly odd looking. White used that fact to strike. 1.Ngxf5 Rxf5
2.Nxg4! [all of a sudden white's pieces are threatening to swamp the king side. This move clears the g-file for a possible Ra3-g3 pinning black's queen to his king. 2.Nxf5 was possible giving 2 pieces for rook and pawn, but the text move is an elegant and imaginative solution to the situation] 2..hxg4 3.Bxg4 Rh5
Black tries to stem the tide by giving back a little material. This move also gives the king shelter on the h-file should white intend Be6+ 4.Bxh5 [Not materialistic, but a line clearing move which also happens to win material] 4..Qxh5 5.Qe6+
Finally White has broken through. Here's a little calculation test. 4. See if you can refute all of black's possible moves here.

It was fun looking at some sacrifices, and even playing some, and I'll post some answers tomorrow.

Answers (as I see them anyway!)

1. I launched the fork 1.Nc6! where the knight can't be taken 1..bxc6 2.Qa6+ Kb8 3.bxc6 with unstoppable mate on b7.

2. The game Albin-Bird Hastings 1895 continued 41..gxh2+ 42.Kxh2 Rxg2+ [black has rook and pawn for the queen while white's king is exposed] 43.Kh3 Rg6 44.Be3 [In his annotations for the tournament book, Schiffers claims 44.Qc1 is better] 44..f4 45.Bf2 Rh6
There now seems no satisfactory defence, and Albin crumbled with 46.Bh4 Ng3 47.Rxd7 Nxe2 when white can't capture either piece (48.Qxe2 Rg3+; 48.Rxb7 Ng1+) and soon lost.

3. I was happy to find 1..Rxc3! when the tactics work for me. 2.bxc3 Rb8 is not playable, so my young opponent found 2.e5! but I had 2..Qf3 3.Rf1 Rc5 with a winning position

4. Maljutin-Yemelin, where black played 5..Bf7 which lost to 6.Rg3+ Kh7 7.Qe4+ when black resigned.

I don't think alternatives were any better.
a) 5..Kh7/h8 6.Rh3 wins the queen
b) 5..Kg7 6.Rg3+ Bg6 7.f5 +-
c) 5..Kf8 6.f5 again looks strong 6..Bg7 7.f6
d) 5..Qf7 is probably best 6.Rg3+ Kh7 [6..Kf8 7.Qxd6+ Qe7 8.Rg8+; 6..Kh8 7.Qh6+ Qh7 8.Qf8+] 7.Qh3+ Qh5 8.Qxh5+ Bxh5 9.Rh3 when white will end up an exchange and a couple of pawns ahead

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What in the Chess World?

So where do you stand regarding the issue of politics in sport? It's a shame when sports stars are used as pawns in political games, or when political powers interfere with sports events. Chess seems to be going through the mill with this at the moment. I'm guessing there are things going on behind the scenes, and possibly political machinations in operation, but the recent announcements of the Tromso Olympiad organizing committee, and FIDE have brought the game of chess to another crisis. The fiasco concerning the late entry of the Russian Women's team, the defending champions, to the event has caused huge ramifications around the chess world. There have been court cases threatened by the Russian Chess Federation, Tromso organisers, and even FIDE, I think. I haven't been following it closely enough to grasp all the fine details of exactly what is happening.

Various chess news sites have commented on the possible ramifications of the crisis. It is possible that the Tromso organisers decision will stand and the event will go ahead without the defending champions. To me this would be sad and I hope it is resolved. It is equally as sad as the planned 2016 event which is to take place in Baku, Azerbaijan, where it is likely that one of the top teams, Armenia, will refuse to travel. I thought that FIDE (gens una sumas, "we are one people") had once ruled that Olympiads couldn't be held in countries that were in conflict. I guess a border conflict doesn't count as outright war but it still should be taken into account. Perhaps FIDE believes the conflict should be resolved by 2016? Seeing this area has been in dispute between these 2 nations for at least 100 years, it seems somewhat hopeful to believe it will be over in the next 2!

Another possibility is that the Norwegian Olympiad will be cancelled by FIDE and a new venue will be put in place. The Olympiad will then either revert directly to that new venue (Sochi has been touted) or will be postponed and held at a later date. This would indeed be a tragedy, and the death of this particular Olympiad. Many smaller nations will not be able to afford to change their plans. Many countries whose players are not professionals will have had those players securing holiday from work to travel to this event, which might be their international highlight for 2 years, and in some cases, their whole life. This would be a wholly unfair way to deal with this crisis at such a late stage in the proceedings. I heard on Twitter the other day that FIDE were prepared compensate nations if this were the case. GM Ian Rogers, who I don't always agree with on this blog, was spot on when he tweeted

He then followed up with this tweet regarding compensation:

 The third scenario that I've heard suggested is the FIDE President uses his executive powers to over rule the Olympiad organisers and allow the Russian women's team, and of course any other precluded teams to compete. This would seem the best of the 3, if it wasn't for the obvious conflict of interest that Kirsan Ilyumshinov has being Russian himself.

Of course the best scenario is that the issue is worked out behind closed doors with all parties coming to an agreement through negotiation. I guess it is already too late for this and the chess world will suffer a little bit more from hostilities that will remain in the psyches of the aggrieved parties for years to come, like some wild west feud that carries on for generations. A bit like the Kramnik-Topalov situation where they 2 grown men can't pull their heads in and at least be civil to each other.

However, in my little part of the world these things have little affect on my chess life. I play at my local club, and try to teach kids to love the game. I was going to be talking about the Olympiad to some of my students over the coming weeks, but I like to be as positive as possible to these kids who are mostly primary school age. So I think I'll be focussing on the glory days of the Olympiads. Here's the game of the week that they'll be seeing this week, where a little known country joins the Olympiad in 1935. I don't believe that many of the competitors at the Warsaw Olympiad would have thought too much about the Estonian team before it started, or their board 1, a young man by the name of Paul Keres who scored 65% in his first international event on board 1. The Estonian's finished 11th out of 20, not bad for their first attempt.

Here is Keres celebrated game from that Olympiad against the Englishman William Winter, a game which apparently would have done Morphy proud according to a contemporary opinion. Enjoy :)

What in the World?

'The World's gone mad!'

Now that's something that I must have heard....actually, I'm not sure how many times I've heard it. I suppose that mad things have always been there, but it's a platitude that's worth repeating when another crazy, sad, terrible thing happens. I mean, it's bad enough that there are civil wars flaring across the globe with atrocities that would really drive one crazy if it was pondered too much about. But then something like the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines civilian flight happens and takes the madness to a higher level.

I have to admit, that my world view has always been a kind of 'head in the sand' approach. The further I'm from something, the less affect it has on me. I find it difficult to get caught up in hysteria over tragic events that I don't feel a part of. As an example of this, I can remember the morbid feeling following the death of Princess Diana. There seemed to be a collective grief across England as people mourned for Diana. I couldn't be a party to this grief. It never affected me the same way, and I felt myself bewildered by the tragedy and the feeling of mass depression that seemed to grip the country for about a week after her death. In contrast, the 9/11 bombing of New York hit me harder. I heard the news about the planes crashing into the World Trade Centre while sitting in a piazza in Florence with Caroline. To be honest, we thought the Irish couple who were telling us the story were joking at first but we soon became aware of the facts. We saw the mayhem of travellers at Pisa airport worrying about how they were getting to the USA, some for visits, some to get home. Caroline and I had visited New York a couple of years before 2001, and we went back in 2003. Seeing the Ground Zero area, where we'd previously marvelled at the twin towers brought the tragedy into even greater perspective.

I don't really know how I felt when Caroline asked me if I'd heard the news on Friday. I joked that the only news I followed was news from the chess world but I guessed from her manner that something pretty bad had happened. She told me of Russian insurgents in Ukraine had shot down a civilian plane with loads of people on it. It kind of numbed me. I'll probably be flying back to the UK next year with Caroline for a visit, and there's a chance that we will travel Malaysia, or another carrier that uses Ukrainian airspace. This is a terrible tragedy and I feel utterly sorry for the families of those who lost loved ones on this flight.

There is so much that is wonderful on earth. It's just a shame that there are enough of our human race to spoil things.

So why can humans act inhumanly?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bastille Day

If I had to say what was the best public holiday I'd ever experienced, it would have to be a 14th July in France. I've been lucky enough to be in France twice over the years on Bastille Day, once in Cannes on the French Riviera with the most amazing firework display over the bay, while the other was a crazy night in Chambery in the French alps.

The festival celebrates the 1789 storming of the Bastille and subsequent end of French Monarchy and the setting up of a Republic in France. The Bastille was a medieval fortress which later became a notorious prison and it's destruction at the height of revolutionary unrest left little remaining.  Apparently, by the time of it's demise, the prison was not as bad as it once had been. Half a century before the revolution, it had been described by a former inmate as "hell of the living", while Voltaire popularised the story of one of the prison's most famous detainees, Eustache Dauger, or the man in the iron mask. However, the main reason for its storming in 1789 was probably for the ammunition stored in the fortress.
Claude Cholat's "Siege of the Bastille" (from wikipedia)

Essentially, the Bastille became a symbol of the repressive monarchy and geographically it was situated on the tinderbox front line between affluent and impoverished areas of Paris. The first celebration of July 14th was held in 1790 as an anniversary of the event. Since then the celebration has become a fixed event on July 14th with probably the 1989 bi-centenary being the biggest of them all. I remember trying to hitchhike to Paris that year to join the celebrations. I left the ferry in Dover and saw a line of about 50 hitchhikers with signs for Paris. So I turned my board over and wrote Amsterdam on the back and spent a great few days there instead.

Anyway, enough of the past. Next year I'm planning on visiting my family in England, and while there, I intend to spend some time in France with Caroline. She's been to the West of France before, while I've spent time in the East, so we're planning a drive around the country to take in some French culture. Last week I went to the French stall in the Victoria Market and today Caroline and I got into the 'quatorze Juillet' celebrations with a French meal (Baguette, Camembert, Champagne ham and Pommery mustard) and we'll be watching the Tour de France tonight and hoping for a French victory on tonight's stage. Vive la France!

Wonderful rich wholegrain French mustard

A creamy Camembert with an earthy flavour

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Chess Catch Up

It's been a while since I wrote about chess so it's time for a catch up. This is all going to be local gossip, so Im not getting into how badly Kramnik played last night, and it would be fairly ridiculous of me and this little blog to criticise the play of one of the all time greats of the game. Especially the way I've been playing! The tournaments I was playing in have both finished. At the MCC, the City of Melbourne Open finished with Malcolm Pyke as clear winner on an impressive 8/9. This was a whole point clear of Dean Hogg while Jack Puccini finished outright third on 6.5. However, the most impressive performance for me was that of Roger McCart who finished in the pack on 5.5 in equal 6th from a starting ranking of 26th. I finished in the same group on 5.5 which was somewhat disappointing, though there were some good moments.

There was a brilliancy prize contest which was somewhat surprisingly won by a long positional game. The game was a pretty good game, but it was hardly what I'd call brilliant. I'd have preferred the second place winner which was won by a nice game culminating in a sacrificial attack. Anyway, the games are posted here and you can decide for yourself which was more brilliant.

At Glen Eira Chess Club I came equal first in the tournament with Jerzy Krysiak after missing the last round. This was good enough to qualify both of us to the end of year Championship where we'll be joined by WCM Sarah Anton who finished on 4/7 and went through on tiebreak from David Cordover. The field for the end of year Championship now has 6 of the 9 players, IM James Morris, Carl Gorka, Rad Chmiel, WCM Sarah Anton, Rebecca Strickland and Jerzy Krysiak. There is one more qualifier which starts next Friday 18th July and runs for 7 consecutive weeks. The final 3 qualifiers will come from this tournament which promises to be the strongest of all, as 2 2000+ players have expressed an interest in joining the event. As it is the last chance to qualify for the $1000 Championship final, there may yet be more strong players induced to join the field.

Apart from tournament chess, there are some other interesting things that I've seen. I've heard rumour that one of Melbourne's biggest chess club's, Box Hill, are going to have to move premises. Box Hill are a powerhouse of chess administration and their tournaments generate good numbers of players. They have organized many tournaments on behalf of Chess Victoria including the Victorian Open and Victorian Junior Championships for a number of years. When I first came to Melbourne Box Hill Chess Club was located in Box Hill, but they moved closer to the city a few years later. They have been at Canterbury for a number of years and hopefully they will be able to continue on at their current location, or they will find a new home. Melbourne needs as many clubs as possible and the loss of even one club will be hard felt in the chess community.

And while we're on the subject of the Victorian Junior Championships which has just recently concluded, I'm wondering why there is no under 18 title any more? The under-18 Championship has to be the state's most prestigious junior title and it is disappointing that Chess Victoria feel the need to dispense with this event. I can understand the reasoning. Fewer players seem to be willing to take part in the event making it unprofitable to run, but that hardly justifies axing it. Really, in the worse case scenario, why not merge the under 18's with under 16's and 14's and give the titles to the highest finisher in each age group? That's what has happened with the girls championships for as long as I've been in Australia. To finish this rant on a positive note, congratulations to all the age group winners from last week and especially to under 16 Champion, Max Chew Lee who could consider himself this year's Victorian Junior Champion.

Finally, it was sad that the Australian Chess Magazine folded last year. To be honest, I would not like to be a chess magazine editor at the moment as I know most are having a hard time making ends meet. A combination of free online resources and cheap chess programs have made it difficult for chess magazines to survive, and some of the most respected chess periodicals, including Informator and British Chess Magazine have had to revamp their products. Well into this comes a new Australian publication, 50 Moves. The online magazine boasts an impressive array of Australian talent in its contributors but will it survive? How will the magazine brand itself? Will it appeal to a niche Australian market where subscriber numbers will be low, the problem the Australian Chess Magazine had. Or will it push into the global market where competition is so hot that even 2700 led publications, such as Chess Evolution, have struggled to push into the market.

Young South Australian talent, Fedja Zulfic, seems to be the driving force behind 50 Moves Magazine, and I wish him and the team all the best in making something that works. I urge all readers to get behind this because Australian chess is in need of some promotion, and analysis and comment from the top players needs a forum. I get paid in a couple of days and $40 will be going straight to this enterprise for an annual subscription. I just hope enough people get behind it to make it worthwhile!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Day Out In The Country

I haven't written for a while for a number of reasons which I won't bore you with, but I'm back to blogging. I've a lot to write about, both concerning chess and non chess so there'll be bits of both. For now I want to talk about my day today. It's days like today that I realised why I moved to Australia.

Kookaburra looking at St Andrew's Market
I took a drive out to the countryside with my lovely wife, Caroline. I have always been amazed at just how lush this part of Australia is. I can remember back to my preconceptions of Australia. Those basically consisted of it's hot, there's loads of beaches, deserts and dangerous animals, and it's bloody hot! However, after living here for nearly 10 years, I've found the reality different. Winters in Victoria can be quite cool and the countryside is diverse and really beautiful. Today we travelled to one such area, the Yarra Ranges. We started with a trip to St Andrew's Market. Besides having some great stuff, the market is set in the beautiful eucalypt forest of St Andrew's. Unfortunately, there had been a power outage today, but it didn't stop the market. It shut down some cafe's and slowed things down a bit at the food and drink stalls, but that didn't dampen spirits of the market goers. In fact, even the weather didn't keep people away. It never really rose above 10 C and there were showers, but everyone seemed to still be having a great time.
The Honey Stall at St Andrew's Market set among the Eucalypt's
We then took a short drive through the Yarra hills to Healesville where we went for a walk at Badger Creek. I'd been to the nearby Healesville Sanctuary before which is great to walk around, but Badger Creek was really magical. After a lot of recent rain the creek was flowing well, and the ferns and flora were splendid.
Full flowing Badger Creek 
Badger Creek is an excellent place to spot the elusive Lyrebird. I had never seen a lyrebird before today, which included a walk through a lyrebird enclosure at a wildlife sanctuary! Today that changed and I saw a young male lyrebird. We were able to get quite close to him, though I couldn't get a good photo. Caroline thought he was young as his plumage didn't seem full yet he still seemed magnificent to me. In fact the whole area was magical, with great light catching the moisture on the ferns while sunshine lit up the gullies.

Sunlight on the ferns at Badger Creek
Today was a reminder to me to not take my new country for granted. Just a stone's throw from my city home is some absolutely amazing countryside which is so different to that which I was used to in England. As I get more settled into Melbourne life, it is all too easy to forget just how alien this part of the world seemed to me in the not too distant past. They say that familiarity breeds contempt, but that hasn't applied to my view of Victoria.

To keep things fresh, it is good to check out the views of other people who are new to Australia, or thinking about emigrating or visiting here. It makes me smile when I compare people's thoughts about Australia to my own. So I'll be following this blog about an Australian roadtrip that is being undertaken by the brother of a friend from my school days, John Fowler. John and I were junior chess rivals who both ended up emigrating and while I didn't know his brother David that well, I'll still be interested to see how he feels about his trip. Hopefully David will see some amazing things and not too many scary Australian animals. I still haven't seen a snake in the wild but we did see a scorpion in Badger Creek today.

A wood scorpion (I think).