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 …

Monday, October 12, 2015

You had me at hello ... (And win a free house clean!)

 My kitchen - AFTER a clean 

One of the fab things about blogging is that sometimes companies send you products to review.
Other bloggers are feted with things like chocolates, champagne, and invitations to weekends at posh holiday resorts.
Maid In Australia, however, seems to be destined to be forever opening hampers of healthy food products, cleaning aids, and air fresheners.
I guess it’s the fact that my blog is actually named Maid In Australia, and everyone assumes that either: A. I am a maid, or B. I have some kind of crazy desire for cleaning. (Not that there is anything wrong with that!)
The fact is, the name Maid In Australia is kind of a play on words.
I started this blog after my original blog Aussies In Auckland, about my family’s life across the ditch – originally started to keep our family and friends in touch with what we were up to in one fell swoop – gained a cult following in New Zealand.
With it came national media attention and invitations to events. Regular home deliveries of chocolates and flowers, and attendances at events like real-life Nights At The Museum or invitations to the zoo with the kids. It was like every day was Christmas.  
That came to an end when we moved back to Australia, but I’d already developed a massive addiction to fondness of blogging, and I wanted to continue. But what would I blog about? Our lives in Australia? Well, why the bloody hell not? 
And like magic, the title just came to me.
I’m a travel writer. I was made in Australia.
The name reflects my love of travel, particularly in my own country. I write a lot about my adventures in Australia and beyond.
There was a fair bit of irony there too. With two kids and several pets , I felt quite a lot like a maid when I started this blog, for I was forever running after everyone else and putting myself last. And as I'm single, I'm in serious danger of becoming an Old Maid. 
Finally, the name’s a bit of an in-joke, because I hate housework, and I somehow missed out when the genes were being handed out for tidying and decorating. In fact, I was once given books on cleaning and tidying for Christmas! (Hints anyone?)
But I’m the first to admit, I need all the help I can get in that department.
One of the best gifts I ever received was after having my second child. My then in-laws gave my then husband and I several weeks of cleaning after our little angel came home.
I was working full-time, and with a toddler on the go as well, it was a blessing to have a real-life domestic goddess arrive once a week to do all the big jobs, like the kitchen, bathroom and floors.

Be honest - who doesn't love a clean bathroom, when they haven't had to do it themselves? 

And those long hallways don't mop themselves ... (And sadly, Everybody Loves Lucy doesn't seem keen to help!)

Since then, whenever I’ve been lucky enough to have loads of work on, I’ve invested in my own cleaner.
That way, I’m not only paying my own good fortune forward and giving someone else some work, but instead of spending a day or so of cleaning and doing a half-arsed job (and paying for it later, because my arthritis means housework is actually bad for me – true story), a professional cleaner can get through my chores and do a great job in a few hours. Everyone wins.
So I was delighted when HomeHello contacted me to offer one of YOU, my lovely followers, a free three-hour clean at your home.
What I love is that HomeHello was set up by a group of students at the University of New South Wales, to make it easier to book home cleaning services in Australia.
Since kicking off their start-up in 2014, it has turned from an idea into a fully-fledged, professional business. The team has cleaned hundreds of Sydney and Melbourne homes, and there are plans to expand to other cities and states as soon as they can. (Sadly, they haven’t reached the South Burnett yet, but I live in hope…)
All their cleaners have police checks, are insured, have been individually screened and trialled, and are regularly checked for quality assurance purposes.
Plus, there is a list of things cleaning involves, so you know exactly what you are getting for your money. Certain things, like end of lease cleans, are excluded, but most cleaning like mopping, vacumming and making beds are included. You can add on extras like fridge and oven cleans as well.
There are no contracts, and you can book one-off or regular cleans, from $25 an hour.
Booking is quick, safe, and easy. You simply enter a few details into the website, and before you know it, a qualified cleaner will be making your home shimmer while you relax, catch up on work, spend time with your partner or kids, or do whatever the hell you like with your free time.
While I haven’t been able to use the service myself (because it’s not available here), I do know of several very happy customers who swear by HomeHello.
To enter to win a free three-hour clean, simply comment below on what you would do with your free time while someone else makes your home sparkle.
There is a catch: The clean is only available at homes in Melbourne or Sydney.

Entries close at 5 pm AEST, on Wednesday 21, 2015. 

If HomeHello was available here, I think I'd spend my free time right here ... after clean bedding had been put on of course!