Monday, February 8, 2016

Message To My Boy

Australia Day, 2016. Also Chase's 15'th birthday. View from our room at the Brisbane Marriott.

I’m looking out at the Brisbane River as I write this post.
The river holds so many memories for me.
We lived by the river in the early years of the children’s’ lives, and I still miss the daily waxing and waning, the passing traffic, the morning and  afternoon walks which could always be counted on to relieve a stressful day or soothe the soul (the childrens’ or mine!)
I spent much of the night and the morning after my wedding to my children’s father watching the river wake up from our hotel suite, feeling our firstborn child kicking inside of me.
High on the excitement of our wedding day, as always troubled by insomnia, kept awake even more so by the movements of a busy unborn baby, and captivated by the view, I had so much to think about. *
As I did on the morning of Chase’s 15th birthday. 
After so many changes in our lives, we were temporarily back in Brisbane where he and his sister Harmonie’s lives began.
As I once again sat beside a hotel room window and watched the city light up, I remembered how the baby who was to become the most important male in my life was a livewire even before he was born.
One of the early ultrasounds showed him doing somersaults inside of me. Arms and legs would protrude from my body at random times, like something out of the movie ‘Alien’.
Chase was an active baby from pretty much the moment he was conceived, causing all manner of adventures during pregnancy, labour, birth and beyond.
Yet, I’ll always remember those magical moments immediately after he came into the world. After all the action of labour, my newborn did not cry, but looked around calmly with liquid eyes, almost as if he recognised us.
Later, the comments we always got were: ‘He’s been here before’. And: ‘He’s an old soul’.

Certainly, Chase has a reputation for being wise beyond his years. “The little professor”, he was often described as, with at times, a sense for the dramatic. And a sense of humour that has always cracked me up.
I didn’t get to finish this post on Chase’s actual birthday, because I was too busy sharing the day with him and his sister. Coincidentally, it was also the last day before the kids went back to their other parents ahead of the start of the school year, so our time together was extra special.
As part of both their birthday presents, and to prevent yet another crazy early-morning drive to Brisbane for the airport run, I’d arranged for us to spend the day and night before in the city where they had spent so much of their lives.
That mini break holiday is a whole other post, but in the meantime, I traditionally write a piece to mark each child’s birthday. This one’s for Chase.

Happy birthday Baby. And thanks to the Brisbane Marriott staff for sending up cake and mocktails to mark the occasion.

As I mentioned, this year, Chase turned 15. As the years fly by and he grows rapidly into a young man, I found myself, once again, marveling at the surprises of parenthood. Like the fact that one of the very special things is that your children end up teaching you as much as you teach them. Perhaps more.
So I thought this year’s birthday post for Chase could focus on some of those things. (And I know all parents gush about their kids, so forgive me please. I also do my share of nagging and complaining, so I figure it works out about even in the end).

Chase’s 15th birthday messages (Ramblings of a Mumma)
  • One of the first words you said after Da-Da and Mumma was ‘Dei-Dei’ for Daisy our Labrador. You also said ‘Brink’ for water and carried a water bottle with you everywhere.
  • You were possibly the first unintentional baby ‘cake smasher’. When we posed you next to your christening cake for a photo, you gleefully punched your fist into it, pulled your hand out, looked at in wonder, and put it into your mouth. That’s my boy!
  • You were the most engaging child. You smiled at everyone, and you were pretty much always happy. The only times you weren’t, was if there was a problem and /or you were sick. You were also a pretty good judge of character, and that’s a skill you still have.
  • Dr Greg, our GP for many years, referred to you as ‘Sultana Boy’ for sucking a sultana up your nose at kindy. He wasn’t able to get it out, so I ended up having to take you to the ER, where they told me to basically push my mouth over your nose and blow it out! Just one of the many gross things I’ve had to do in the name of motherhood. Remember that when I’m old(er) and you have to do something hideous for me.
  • You might remember Dragonball Z being your first TV show/DVD, but you actually loved the Wiggles and the Hooly Doolys first.  If I ever hear the song ‘Pizza Pizza’ again, it will be too soon…
  • You are a never-ending source of information, and never cease to surprise me.

The young man who can, without fuss, cook a barbie for a very large family reunion (with extras) and knows the exact temperature to cook the meat to ensure no one gets food poisoning. I bow down to you. 
  • I admire your knowledge of first aid, science, maths, chess, technology, and so many concepts that I can’t get my head around. I also wish I had your stomach and calm attitude when it comes to blood, gore, and situations where people’s safety and/or health are at risk.

Them Skills. Multi-tasking by entertaining kids, our dog Lucy, and taking photos - plus keeping an eye on the barbie - recently. (Taken at Mount Wooroolin Lookout, Kingaroy)
  • I’m so proud at your diligence with school and your determination to work  harder this year. I know your Dad and step-mum have played a big part in this and I thank them for that
  • I’m glad that you are finding your path. But don’t be afraid to meet new challenges as they are presented. Chances are, they will always make you more confident, wiser and stronger.
  • I love your quick sense of humour, your empathy, and your positive outlook on life. Try not to lose that, even when life gets tough. And when it does, remember, it will get better. It always does.  
  • I love that you are mindful (sometimes without realising it), and that you see things that others may miss. Like a great view, wonderful food, a photo opportunity, a person struggling in a crowd who might need help.

Taking in a view and appreciating the moment is actually being mindful. (Photo taken from the Executive Lounge of the Brisbane Marriott on Chase's 15th birthday - also Australia Day!)
  • I admire how patient you are with others, like little children, animals, and my ailing mother. Even me at times! Like when you are trying to explain, yet again, the rules of chess.

Yet another game of chess, this time in the comfort of the Executive Lounge of the Brisbane Marriott Hotel. On this occasion, you did not let me beat you, but I'll get there, one day. (Maybe?)
  • Keep up that appreciation for the little things that matter, like long-time friendships, family connections, our family history, caring about animals and appreciating nature.

Thanks for having the bright idea of having Pa-Pa tell you about the good old days at the Wondai Timber Museum, where he used to volunteer, and which displays some items from his family farm and former carrying business. I think you made Pa-Pa's week. 
  • I know that sometimes you and your sister argue, but that’s normal. I also know you care about her. (Yes you do!) Keep looking out for each other. Remember that weird saying: ‘Blood is thicker than water’? Friends and partners come and go. Siblings stick by you forever (if you want them to).

Love your sister! No one will 'get' you like she does. And vice versa. (Taken at Hamilton Gardens, New Zealand.)
  • I know sometimes that we ‘have spirited discussions’. But that’s because we are very similar, and I hope we can continue to have these very honest and open talks for the rest of our lives. I enjoy them immensely. (Even if I get frustrated – at myself – that I can’t answer all your questions, know ALL the things, sometimes have to admit that I'm wrong, or agree to disagree. And that's okay. I respect your right to have an opinion that is different to mine.)
  • It makes me smile when I hear some of my sayings come back at me. “You don’t have to like it, but I just ask that you give it a try”, you said a few times these holidays, when I didn’t feel like reading something out of my comfort zone, or watching something I thought I’d hate. I’ll keep trying the things you ask me to, and if I don’t, throw that statement at me. You’ll guilt me into it, I promise. It’s payback for all those times I eventually got you to eat broccoli and peas. ‘They’re little trees,’ I told you. And ‘Anthony, the Blue Wiggle, loves them.’ I owe you for that! 
  • While we are at it, I'm sorry for all those White Lies and Tall Stories by the way, especially the ones about wolves. I thought I was doing the right thing. I didn’t realise I was potentially scarring you for life! Forgive me. 

Okay, I didn't arrange for the Story Bridge to be lit up just for you. The fireworks might have been on for Australia Day also ...
  • Thank you for reminding me how much I love music and that I have missed playing piano. I’ve enjoyed teaching you a few songs and I’m promising publicly to learn a few new ones, so we can have a bit of a play-off when you return in April.
  • Thanks for teaching me about the man who “owns” the moon, the latest first-aid advice (I really must renew my skills), and persisting with trying to re-teach me chess. In return, I promise to continue to source cool collector, gaming, comic stores and anime shops; to continue my quest to speak up and/or send food back when orders are wrong, and to get fitter so I can hike even further without puffing on our next trip to the Bunya Mountains.

DO go chasing waterfalls! (Photo taken at the Bunya Mountains National Park) 
  • I am not perfect, but I promise you this: I will always strive to be the best mother I can to you and your sister, and the best person I can be,

I'm not known for my domestic goddess or cake decorating skills. I will continue to make cakes for you, but I won't make you eat them! Promise.
  • It goes without saying: I’m always here for you no matter what. And nothing is too big or too bad that it can’t be worked out.
  • Remember your stretches, develop your core, and always wear sunscreen.  
  • But please, don’t ever make me gut a fish again!
Most of all, thanks for being my son, my friend, my teacher, my muse, my heart.

I hope you had a happy birthday, and that there are many more to come.

And next time, can I have the espresso mocktail? 

* By sharing these early memories, I don't mean any disrespect to Chase's other parents or their relationship. I feel very lucky that the kids have caring parents in their lives who love them very much. I just wanted to share my earliest and most recent experiences with my son to mark this milestone. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

And so this was Christmas

Christmas was a mixed blessing this year.
Christmas was a blessing, because I was surrounded by people who love me and whom I love back. There was plenty of food and drink, and lots of laughter and tradition.
But it sucked, because my kids were not with me - though I will see them soon.

Bittersweet - watching other children leave a drink and snacks for Santa and the reindeer when yours are not there. Mind you, mine are too old for that now! 

As I often do at Christmas, I thought a lot about festive seasons gone by. The good, the bad, the indulgent, the basic. From childhood through to now, and many in-between.
Being the only one in a group to be 'on your own' can be lonely. In fact, it's the worst. Even harder, when you are separated from your children, and there is only a short window of time when you are allowed to contact them.
You grieve as you watch others share what you cannot. But - it's life, and it can also be a useful time to reflect. That's what I did this year.
And I found parts of my life flickering by in memories, a little like a slide show.

My childhood church

In church, on Christmas morning, as the pastor somehow tied the story of an amorous gorilla into the birth of Jesus (don't ask) I remembered many childhood scenes, sitting perhaps on that same pew with my Mum and Dad.
As it often does, my mind wandered, struggling to stay with the logic of the Christmas 'sermon' and the joy of the season. And this time, instead of my siblings, (and assorted partners over the years) crammed into the pew, it was just my elderly parents and I. And the memories turned on and off, like someone was flicking a switch.
There was the time I took a first boyfriend to church, feeling so self-conscious, awkward and shy. The times when I took my own children along to church, and I tried not to laugh at their antics. The changes, as members of the congregation came and went, grew up, had families of their own.
As my ailing Mum scratched distractedly at her skin on her arms and legs and made them bleed, my Dad grabbed her hands and held them. I wanted to photograph that moment, a close-up of their hands, though I can picture it vividly in my mind's eye.
I rarely saw Dad holding Mum's hand back when we were kids. Now he does it all the time. There was something special about that moment. I know he did it to stop her from scratching, but she was also letting him. She wouldn't have done that once. There was something beautiful about that mutual act of love, but I thought it would be bad form to take a photo in church. (Perfectly okay to talk about the sexual activities of a gorilla on Christmas Day though ...)

Morning tea at Mum and Dad's cottage later 

Afterwards, there was the pop of champagne corks, the fizz of a soda stream constantly refilling non-alcoholic drinks. Jokes, music, phone calls, noise.

Tears when 'Santa' appeared to be overly generous to some and not others. Momentarily hurt feelings when a present from adult children - Meals on Wheels deliveries - to elderly parents, meant an admission that it made a patriach feel old. But grateful all the same.

This pair... and friends 

Many pets, friends dropping in, motorbikes, buggy rides in the bush. Air-conditioning, rain, seafood, Christmas in the Australian country.
The exhilarating moment when my 85-year-old Dad rode in a bush buggy, that I was too scared to ride in. (I promised to do it if Mum would ...)

One of the other grandparents, bravely taking on the bush-bashing buggy ride ... 

I thought about Christmasses past. Some spent in places like England and New Zealand.
There were times when I was a kid, an innocent teenager, a full-of-myself adventurer. When I was married, pregnant, a mother, divorced. Times of going without, and times of being okay. Times of unbearable pain, but hiding it. Think Emma Thompson in Love Actually.(There are reasons that movie resonates with so many of us ...)
Into my memories flew a time when, one of my best presents, was a Christmas stocking full of dolls' clothes, that my mother had sewn herself, from scraps of fabric which were left over from making our clothes. I only realised, much later, that we were probably broke at the time, and that was actually a labour of love.
There was another year, spent in the English countryside, when my then husband and I put the turkey and fixings on in our rented holiday cottage, and went out to find a pay phone - there were no mobiles then - to ring home. We came back to discover we were supposed to put pound coins in a special 'box' to make the oven work, and the cooking had never started. A rookie Aussie mistake. Christmas was late that year, but it was bloody awesome, even if it was just the two of us. That was all we ever needed.
A hot Brisbane Christmas, heavily pregnant with my first child and as uncomfortable as hell, but full of hope for the future. Another one, where overseas relatives visited and joined in our strange Aussie traditions.
Christmas is so many things for so many people.
When the festivities were over, I returned home, and people asked me whether I received any good presents.
Well, as a single adult, I don't really receive presents. And yes, I miss the days when Christmas meant pampering, with gifts of jewellery, lingerie, lovingly hand-made and chosen gifts. (Though I would have swapped it all for a cuddle from my kids...)
I was spoiled a week or so before the 25th, when my sister arranged a surprise visit to her hairdresser, to get my long-neglected locks into shape. That was so thoughtful and needed! It was the best gift I have received in many years.

A hairdressing salon on a farm

After the cut, without make-up, because - surprise!

And in the days leading up to Christmas, a good friend organised a much-needed few days away to relax and de-stress on the Sunshine Coast. 

The destination also happened to be one where I'd spent a lot of time as a child, and there's probably a whole other blog post in that. Importantly, I think it's one of the most beautiful destinations in Queensland - and that's a huge call - and just being back by the sea, in nature, with great food, quirky shops, friendly people and good company, healed a part of my soul.
Back home, Lucy was being well taken care of by my wonderful neighbours - there are always my neighbours or friends and family who take her in and visit regularly - so I only had to put my feet up and relax.
As for presents on Christmas day, it was special enough, just to be included in family celebrations.
It was present enough, to hear my kids say: 'I love you.' Even though it was on the phone, and not in person.
It was lovely that, when I stayed with my sister and her family, Lucy could come too, even though she was a little bit naughty at times and thought it was fun to visit the neighbours whenever she had a chance!

Lucy in her Christmas finery 

It sounds corny but it was present enough to be present.
On Boxing Day, it was fun to watch movies on fold-out chairs and armchairs on the big-screens in my sister and brother-in-law's eco-friendly, smart-home with family and friends. Lucy by my side, food and drinks and company at hand. 
And when I returned to my own place, to have other friends and family, reach out. 'Do you want to come over for coffee?' "Do you want to meet for a chat?"
As simple as that.
They knew instinctively that I would be struggling coming back to an empty home, and they fixed it with a cup of tea and a chat. (Okay and maybe a few hugs).
And I have friends and family in Brisbane and beyond, who offer me a bed when I am picking up the kids when they can, or a place for respite. Not to mention those throughout Australia and the world. The internet and skype has made connecting and staying in touch so easy. I never know when I'll get a skype call from someone on the other side of the world, just when I need it the most. (JH you are amazing at this!)
You know I am so lucky!
So often I get bogged down in what I don't have, what I can't do, what I've stuffed up, what I can't provide...
But my friends and family - and my kids - remind me I'm okay.
Throughout the year, I've had so much support from them, I've had help in the form of home-cooked meals; a hand putting furniture together (okay I basically just watched, felt guilty, and provided drinks); lawns being mowed; Lucy being taken in; ME being taken in - sometimes with just 30 minutes' notice (long story); and so much more.
So my friends and family who really care are the best presents of all.
And if you need a lift, I love this display from the 2015 South Burnett Hancock Prospecting Christmas Lights Competition. Says it all really ...Let It Go

Friday, November 20, 2015

Where dreams do come true

The kids had been begging me to take them to Dreamworld for ages.

In the old days, when we lived in Brisbane, and I covered a lot of animal, travel and entertainment stories for national and international magazines and newspapers, we were regulars at theme parks.

Probably the last proper visit to Dreamworld was when the Wiggles and  Hi-Five (the original members of both groups) performed at the park. That's how long ago it was! And we were regularly invited to cover major events.

A young Chase even was cuddled by Kathleen de Leon, who confessed she was very clucky at the time (pre her marriage to Daniel Jones).

More recently, we attended a live filming of a Big Brother eviction. But that was really just an evening, live-filming event, and we didn't actually get to see any of the park. (Even though, as a veteran Big Brother reporter, seeing the experience through my childrens' eyes was a completely new experience. And awesome!)

So it was great to revisit Dreamworld with my older, wiser, stronger kids.

It was all fresh for my teens, who had been too young to remember the theme park from their visits as Wiggle-loving toddlers. (How I would love to post some pics of those days, but I think my offspring would kill me  or even worse, exact their revenge at a later date...)

  Dreamworld has been revamped and rethemed since then. And big time. So the visit was just as much fun for me. 

It was also the first time I have taken my kids to a theme park as teenagers.

These days they have gone well and truly beyond the kiddy rides and are way into the fast and furious thrills. They love the animals, colour and adventure as well, and they're fit enough to want to keep on exploring, rather than tiring and asking to go home way before we've seen everything.

In fact, this time it was the adult who was flagging way before they did. 
But I still had a very long drive home to 'look forward to...

We had plenty to enjoy in the meantime.

Map Guy wasted no time decided which attraction which we should head to first, while a certain Miss 12 was attracted by the pretties. A little bit of her mother in her then ...

Actually Harmonie was just like a kid in a candy store ... funny that 

Mmm... chocolate

Time for a coffee, but an iced version, because even at 10 am it was so freaking hot. #thisisQueensland

Zombie Evilution was first on the list. The kids were keen for me to go into battle, but as soon as they read the exclusion list (weak neck, motion sickness, weak back, nervous disorders, recent surgery) I was dispatched to be Bag Lady while they had the fun. Apparently Chase was the winner for his team! For the record, I am sure I would have kicked some serious Zombie butt in there ... 

Zombie Central 

The iconic Shark Shack food outlet. This is where the hungry Man Child chose to have a snack, while Miss 12 and an adult friend went on the Wipeout. Luckily, the two facilities are next to each other, because, although Harmonie was well taken care of, she also wanted me to take photos and videos. And although Mr 14 thinks he is bullet-proof, I didn't want to leave him alone. Okay, call me a helicopter mum. but I'd rather be safe than sorry. I was hovering more than helicoptering, in any case.

About to be wiped out ... My daughter has a stronger stomach than me!

But everyone went on The Claw. Well except me. Bag Lady duties you see ... Apparently it was Teh Awesome

An iconic Dreamworld stand. Important fact: You can get your refillable slushie containers refilled here also

Chase's mid-morning snack, which cost around $26. You don't have to buy the special drink container (which costs extra) but the idea is you can then refill it at a vast discount throughout the park. And they have something cool to take home.To be honest though, there were only a few stands/facilities that sold the slushie drinks, which were what the kids were after. And the hot dog stand and Shark Shack closed early, even though it was school holidays. (Trust me - I walked there especially to refill it when we couldn't fill slushies elsewhere). 

Just riding along 


I must confess: I wanted desperately to have my photo taken with the Madagascar crew. But no one would join me, and because we were running out of time (the kids had a plane to catch in Brisbane that night), I didn't feel like we could take time for a photo opportunity for me. I had only watched that movie a million times because of the kids!That particular area was Nick Jnr the last time we visited, and Dreamworld have done a great job at rebranding the whole feel of the area.

After all those rides, I did insist that I get a 'turn' at doing something I wanted to do. And that was to see the animals, including the tigers. Again, I've been lucky enough to get up close and personal with the tigers in a previous life - I've even had one jump over my head, and yes I've patted them - but I can't go to Dreamworld without checking in.

They are just like big pussycats (but not really), and what you see really depends on what they are doing and how they feel on the day.

The kids saw their first Cassowary that they remember, though we have seen them before. I encountered cassowaries a few times in the wild when I lived in Far North Queensland, and it's always a treat to see these rare, flightless birds. "Look, an emu," shouted a bogan to his kids, as he rushed on by. I had to be restrained from running after him and giving him a talking to. 

The obligatory koala shot. There are more koalas at Dreamworld than you can poke a stick at. Not that you would ever do that. Perhaps a better term would be: 'Find asleep in the fork of a gumtree'
We saw more animals (and there are so many including kangaoos, wombats, dingoes, Tassie devils, crocodiles, and emus. Ahem. But my son began having an allergic reaction to either the animal food or one of the animals, so we had to move on.

It was fine, as going on the water rides took his mind off things and his reaction cleared. I joined him for this ride, which I have done a zillion times, but I still screamed like a girl, And afterwards, my pants were soaked. Because of the Water Ride you understand. 

We also went on a circular water ride but no one could get a pic of that one, because we all rode on it.  In fact, we couldn't get a pic of everything, and we didn't get to do or see everything we wanted to do. (You seriously need a few days ....)

We ended the day with a slice of American-style pizza (and chips for those who needed them). A nearby sandwich joint did not sell sandwiches, only subs and and a few sad pieces of sushi, but perhaps it was the time of day and they had sold out.

We were really sad as it was time to get on the road to Brisbane and we'd only seen a percentage of the park. And the big loss was that our entry included the adjacent WhiteWater World too, which we would have loved to have tried out.

At the time, Dreamworld was running a promotion where patrons could renew their tickets on leaving, allowing entry into both worlds and the Skypoint Observation Tower at Q1, the highest beachside observation tower in Australia, until the end of June 2016. (For a small fee, conditions applied).
We really wanted to do that, but there was only one operator on duty, a line of people, and a seemingly particularly demanding couple taking up all her time when we were leaving the park. We waited and waited, but that couple's queries never got finalised.

With the clock ticking, we had to leave. but I'd recommend checking it out if you are visiting the Gold Coast or a resident, because just one more visit would make it more than worth your while.  

Our verdict?

 Having visited Dreamworld pre-kids, with babies and toddlers, young kids, and now teens, a visit to Dreamworld is a must for all ages. It's no Disneyland, nor has it ever tried to be. It's an iconic Australian theme park, that has moved with the times and really does have something for all ages and tastes. 

Our tips

  •  Plan ahead. Work out what you want to see the most and head there first (and if the queue is really long, go somewhere else and come back later).
  • Take snacks, and/or refillable water bottles. Generally, you're not allowed to take your own food in, but staff turn a blind eye to you bringing in water bottles each and a few snacks that fit into your bags.
  • Queensland is hot, even in winter. Slap on the sunscreen, wear a hat and sunglasses, and reapply the sunscreen often. Drink plenty of water.
  • If you have a legitimate food allergy or condition, you are allowed to take food in (check first regarding conditions), but I find kids usually don't care about the food as much as the rides and experiences. 
  • The main trick is keeping all of you hydrated. There are water points throughout the park where you can refill your bottles. Staff aren't going to make a fuss about a few vegemite sandwiches or snack packs, but don't try to bring in an esky. You can still have a picnic but you might be asked to leave your esky in the car, get a pass out and come back later. Unless you have the real allergies or food conditions, and can provide proof of these.
  •  I must admit, shelling out $26-ish for a hotdog, chips and drink was a lot to swallow (get it?) for just one teen's snack, particularly when he needed more food and drink later. And it was pronounced only 'edible'. 
  • I would welcome more healthy choices. 
  • At the time we went for our second 'lunch/snack', there were a few pieces of sushi left that didn't look appetising, and as I said, no sandwiches available for a tween who just wanted a vegemite sambo. She chose a New York slice of pizza instead, joined by her brother. One of them had a meal deal and one just a slice. I think it was another $30 or so for that, and they were still hungry. (Don't worry - we grabbed Japanese food on the way to the airport). 
  • Having said that, a trip to a theme park, sporting event, upmarket resort, theatrical presentation or similar is a very rare treat for most families, and food and drink costs are always high. When you keep that in mind, our Aussie parks are quite reasonable compared with others around the world.
  • Try to avoid the gift shops. Because - money and stuff. But if you do go, they actually have good quality merchandise and a lot of it is practical. Like drink bottles, cups, collectables and pens.  
  • Go to the loo! It should go without saying, but if you see a loo without a queue, especially if you have small children, elderly parents, or a Mummy Bladder, GO! Because the minute you are busting, you will not be able to find one for ages. And then there will be a line for kilometres. (Okay, I do have a tendancy to dramatise). The same goes for water fountains and the stalls with slushie machines. 
  • Get there early. It's in a pain in the butt to set the alarm during a Gold Coast holiday, but it's well worth it when you burst through those turnstiles early, feel like you have the park to yourself, and get straight to the ride you've been aching to do, without having to wait. 
  • Allow extra time to leave if there are special deals on. 
  • Just enjoy. Have no expectations. If one ride has a long queue, another will not. If someone is tired, a show will be on. It's all about the fun. And the #DWhappiness 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

MIA gets racy with Rachael Finch

This week I was invited to sip champagne and compare fashion tips with model mum Rachael Finch.

Clearly that's because we have so much in common, and look so much alike we could be twins.

(Okay, I made that bit up).

Actually, it's because I'm a travel writer and blogger, and Virgin Australia are often kind enough to invite me to events or launches which they think might interest my followers.

On this occasion, Race Carnival ambassador Rachael Finch offically opened Virgin's hugely popular Hat Valet service with Australia's premier millener Nerida Winter at a swish event at their flagship Sydney Lounge.

Virgin offers the Hat Valet service as part of the Spring Racing Carnival, and is a tradition that is simply 'out of the box' in terms of travel in Australia.

Traveller and race fans adore the Hat Valet service, because it provide first-class handling of a girl's (or guy's) most important fashion accessory, the headpiece.

For now, the service is only available for Virgins customers travelling between Sydney and
Melbourne during this year's Spring Racing Carnival.

Virgin staff provide free boxes for hats and fascinators at Sydney and Melbourne check in, take care of them, and hand deliver them to passengers on arrival.

"So you don't have to worry about travelling with your hat or hair piece, or worrying about where to put it or if it will get crushed," explains Rachael. "And you don't have to worry about your hair getting messy, or your lipstick needing a touch up. It's all done for you, so you arrive race-track ready."

That's because during the Spring Racing Carnival, guests at Virgin's Sydney Lounge can also avail themselves of complimetary blow-dries and hair-styling, make up touch-ups, ModelCo make-up kits, and even shoe-shining provided by social enterprise franchise Buffed. But more on that later.

As I mentioned, I was invited to try out the services available to Virgin highflyers and Lounge guests in Sydney, with Rachael, Nerida, and other fashionable guests. But, in typical  #daysofbronnie style, life intervened, and I had to content myself with a phone interview.

I must admit to feeling a bit peeved with a phone chat, knowing my new best friend  interviewee had been sipping champagne, having her luscious locks tended to, and her already- perfect make-up touched up, just minutes before our chat.

To make matters worse, Rachael then experienced the magic of our regional  phone line connections - or lack of them.

"Are you in a tunnel?" she asked, as our connection was first disconnected, and then I was forced to get up from my desk, walk around, put one arm in the air, stand on one foot, and then freeze,* lest we lose contact again.

"Your voice is echoing like you are in a giant room," she said. "Oh, I've lost you again. Okay, now that's good."

Once I'd found a sweet spot - country followers will be sooo familiar with my frustration - we continued.

We talked about the Hat Valet service, and how important it was for women, having invested in a good hat or fascinator, not to have to worry about irritating passengers by wearing their headpiece on the plane, but also, not to mess up their hair by taking it off. Instead, just being able to turn up at the airport and have their hairpiece safely and expertly looked after, AND having their hair and make-up fixed, takes a lot of the stress out of race day travel.

But a lot of my followers are men, who also travel a lot, and like a bit of pampering as well. And, I’ll be frank. Many of them are whingers. I am sorry guys, but you are. You’ll read this and say: “Why do women get everything? What about men? Why do we miss out?” So there were questions to be asked. And ask them I would ... 

And let's be honest ladies, if we've gone to a lot of trouble to look good, the last thing we want is to be let down by a partner who turns up with a crumpled hat, untamed moustache, bad hair, or dirty shoes, when we have dressed to the nines.

So I wanted to know if the Hat Valet and associated Virgin Lounge services were available to  men as well as women.

"So what about men?" I asked. "Did any men have any blow jobs in the lounge this morning?"

There was a momentary silence, and as I wished for the ground to 'swallow' me whole, Rachael, the publicist, and I suddenly burst into fits of laughter.

I apologised profusely, as I earnestly explained I meant blow dries. Blow Dries! (Seriously, what was I thinking?)

"I've never actually been asked that question before," Rachael laughed, putting me at ease by admitting I'd made her day.

And to set the record straight, men did and can use the Hat Valet service, to ensure their hats arrive in style, and many of them also use the hair (and make-up) touch-up service. And even have blow dries!

"When you consider Australians spent around $50 million in race wear for the Spring Racing season last year and retail stores like Myer can see up to one headpiece per minute fly out the door during the busy pre-racing season period, we know how important this accessory is to race-goers," says milliner Nerida Winter. "They want to be able to wear them again.

“I know some of my clients love Virgin Australia’s Hat Valet service and look forward to using it on their trip to Melbourne every year.”

As for the Buffed service, it is now permanantly available in Virgin's Sydney Lounge for small fee for $8, which goes to the Buffed artisan.

Virgin Australia Group Executive, Public Affairs, Danielle Keigher said the enterprise supports homeless, displaced or marginalised Australians, who are excluded from mainstream employment. Buffed gives them the skills, location, equipment and the environment to set up a business as shoe and leather treatment artisans.

The Hat Valet services are exclusively available to all Business Class guests, Platinum, Gold and Lounge members through the premium kerbside entry of Virgin Australia’s Sydney Lounge until and including November 7.

In the meantime, Rachael has exclusively shared her trips for this year's racing season with Maid In Australia:

"Monochrome is always a safe 'bet', she advises. "If in doubt, you can never go wrong with black and white.

"But the seventies look is really big this year. I like a fitted dress that sucks you in and shows off your figure as much as anyone, but you can't breathe, and you can't eat.

"I love the longer sleeves, the floaty hemlines, and feminine fabrics that are in this year. It's a modern take on a 1970s vibe and you feel a lot more relaxed when you're wearing something like that."

Something a bit more for the non-model mums like me, I suggested. 

"It's whatever makes you comfortable," she says. "If you feel comfortable and you can move around, you'll look good. And the look is a lot more forgiving if you actually want to eat and drink. And who doesn’t?”

And if you're wondering if Rachael will be taking her own child along to the Melbourne Cup, this year it's a firm 'no'. That's not because she's got anything against children at the races, but because, as she points out, it's an individual thing depending on the child, the parent, and the venue.

"Some race days cater for children, and even have Fashions On The Field for kids," she says. "And some children are fine at these events. But Violet is two now, and she's delightful, but I think parents will understand when I say she can be a bit of a handful. At this age, I don't think race days are the best place for her. She wouldn't enjoy it, and I couldn't relax. Maybe when she is older."

As for selfies, Rachel isn't a fan of the duckface or this year’s current race trend, the poking out of tongues, and then posting of tongue-pics on social media.

“Oh no, I don’t like that at all,” she said. “I’m a fan of keeping your tongue firmly in your mouth. My best selfie tip is to grab someone, and put a big cheesy grin on your face. And just have fun and enjoy the moment.”

Advice I could have heeded earlier!

More details about Virgin Australia's Hat Valet Service and Race Carnival Lounge services are here.  

Have you ever made a slip of the tongue? Wished for the ground to swallow you whole? How did you recover?

*Okay, I made that part up too. But I did have to walk around and stand in one spot for the rest of the interview, or we lost the connection …