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WONDERFUL, WOEFUL AND WONDERFUL
It’s strange how good often comes from bad. And here is a case in point. THE SOFITEL IN DARLING HARBOUR Sydney is all you’d expect from that brand name. Ideally comfy. Terrific service. Pick-your-jaw-off-the-floor views. We spent several days and nights here recently and would happily do so again. Sydney, of course, being a bit of a soft spot for me having worked there for a decade back in the 90’s. Much has changed since those days however – in fact Darling Harbour, as it is today, didn’t even exist. Holidays are of course meant to be a time of relaxation. A time where the everyday tedium is handed over to management, staff and owners of the property you chose to book, pay for and occupy; be it a small B&B, boutique Hotel or conglomerate, such as The Sofitel. The second image, by the way, is of Noelene preparing our afternoon bath (bubbles included) which, not surprisingly, became a much looked forward to ritual. WONDERFUL!
The “STUDIO” – booked a year previously through BEROWRA WATERS HOLIDAYS – promised much but delivered little other than a gigantic boot up the bum to move on. But that, unknown to us at the time, proved to be a blessing. This place masquerades as one thing via the on-line advertising mumble but is, in reality, another thing entirely. We had booked for three nights but could last only one – more on that in a minute! The place is in a tranquil setting but that’s where it ends. If you like grot, and I mean as in not having seen a vacuum cleaner, a bucket/mop or disinfectant in a very long while, this place is for you. It is the sort of place teenagers might gather, safe in the knowledge several bottles of cheap wine will obliterate any lingering memories. Seriously; this place left a lot to be desired. We did get a refund on the two days we did not stay but not for the night we did – more on that in a minute! The furniture is shabby beyond description (photo 2), the deposits of insect excrement on the window sills are of truly impressive height (photo 3), but the BBQ on the deck (photo 1, and promoted as a selling point on-line) and hotplate were the clincher. In fact when we queried the state of the BBQ the response from Berowra Waters Holidays was, “What’s wrong with it?” she asked – SERIOUSLY?
Obviously when you occupy a premises you do not go looking for faults – well, not right away anyway. But they soon became apparent here, and plenty. Pubes around the toilet pan (don’t you just hate that?), blown light bulbs, really dirty windows (so much for the views), dirty mats/cushions and… a glass hotplate cracked from one end to the other! We were assured this was safe but my IQ’s not that low I would take a chance. Besides, the plan was to cook on the deck and enjoy “those views” especially seeing we brought along $100 of meat and supplies. This thing defied description. Seriously, it should be at the bottom of the river. Great shards of rust littered the tray. The nozzles were blocked to the point only half worked. Flame intensity could not be controlled other than at high. It could not be turned off other than via the gas bottle. And… there lingered a worrying whiff of gas. After one minute Noelene ventured to the back while I fiddled at the front and the whole thing blew up I her face. How she didn’t become incinerated is beyond me! The river crabs dined on T-bone that night while we settled on wine and crisps. Over “dinner” we determined to leave the next morning (health and safety reasons). We would have left that evening but as the “fireball” experience hadn’t occurred until after dark, and there was a considerable stretch of wide and deep river between us and our car on the other bank (you are transported in on a small runabout pre-arranged by management, such is the set-up) immediate vacation was, understandably, not an option. Plus, we had yet to organise alternative accommodation.
A small runabout comes with the property (if you dare stay) but management informed us that to kill the engine you need to pull out the choke and flood it – an obvious problem if for some reason (such as a medical emergency) you need to restart the thing shortly after stalling. Fine if you’ve got fifteen minutes up your sleeve! I can only assume that he reason for the non-return of the initial night’s stay is because we were unwilling to vacate the property immediately and swim with our luggage the best part of a kilometre down an inky black river! Our request for this nights refund, as well as an explanation why it was requested, to management and the owners remains ignored. WOEFUL!!
Now this is where it gets good for The studio fiasco led us to discover THE CARRINGTON – a charm-laden 130 year old hotel of grand design, soaring ceilings, floor to roof curtains, old paintings, antique furniture and plenty of indoor statuary. I forgot to mention, The Studio charge $375 per night (no, I’m not kidding!), more than double The Carrington tariff! AND… THE CARRINGTON WAS CLEAN! We breakfasted in a guild-ceilinged dining hall with the dulcet tunes of Vera Lynn and The Andrews Sisters for added charm; a truly memorable experience. ECHOES, a more modern representation right on the escarpment, afforded stunning views from our room, the bed and the toilet as well as the sumptuous gardens that surround the place. The whole building is bright and airy and reeks of pride in a job well done. The Sofitel, The Carrington and Echoes embrace the ethos of hospitality to a tee. And they know how to deliver and how provide customer satisfaction. All of which brings me to an old Chinese proverb. Or was that Latvian? Or Icelandic…. “Behold the pooh on the sill, for it leadeth to far greater hitherto unseen pleasures.”
JUNE 2018 – A NEW SPORT: Good job we went into training some time before we left Perth because there was some serious eating to be had onboard Regal Princess. The first few days I felt genuinely ashamed. I was feeble minded. I was greedy. But by day 5 (make that 2) I didn’t care less and happily joined the other 3,500 intemperates on board who turned gluttony into an art form. With roasts, pizzas, sausages, bacon as well as all manner of eggs, cheeses, vegetables, seafood, cold meats, pastries, salads and fruit available virtually around the clock (never had chips for breakfast lunch and dinner before!), abstinence was impossible. Sure, we enjoyed the entertainment and the Football World Cup on a forty-foot screen on deck, and the theatre and the shore excursions and the cocktails. But we spent a fair amount of time drooling down the aisles of food wondering in what we might indulge for early/mid/late morning/afternoon snacks; as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner, of course! I didn’t care about cholesterol. I didn’t care about weight. And I didn’t care about the consequences. For now I was as happy as a pig in mud. Must have been that Baltic air!
JUNE 2018 – HOME AWAY FROM HOME: This beautiful ship became home for two weeks. Cannot rate the cleanliness, food, staff, entertainment, facilities, and the time we had onboard Regal Princess, highly enough; eleven out of ten! Stayed in a sumptuous suite. Weather was perfect all around the Baltic – warm with flat oceans. Eleven pm sunsets; three am sunrises. Great onboard company. A variable mountain of food from which to select starting at 6.00 am till 11.oo pm, all imaginatively prepared and displayed. And the countries of Denmark, Norway, Germany, Estonia, Russia, Finland and Sweden, an utter delight. Never slept better. Never ate better. Impossible to pick a highlight, so I wont. There really is something very special about being on a cruise. Troubles disappear. Attitudes change. And the world starts to become a very different place. Well… for a while anyway.
JUNE 2018 – MOTHER AND WIFE: Caught having a bit of a natter at The Beach Shack in Jindalee. Caught, I suspect, nattering about the upcoming Baltic/England trip! Bit windy today but plenty of atmosphere with the sound of the sea crashing on the rocks and the whiff of ocean air all about. Felt mighty tempted to order some chips, it was that sort of weather, but refrained, limiting the damage to flat whites while mother indulged in a caramel slice! The kilos have been shed in readiness to make room for those Scandinavian pastries, London restaurants and Devonshire and Cornish pasties, cream teas, fish and chips et al.
The new camera (used here) is gradually being mastered. Read 161 pages of the manual, remembered three! And Noelene has been practicing packing for weeks now, though I am a little suspicious of her intent as she eyes my empty case expectantly! Hope to spend some time in a Russian pub watching the World Cup. Noelene has taken a great interest in Danish pastries. And the thought of those London pubs and coastal villages has caused plenty of sleepless nights so far.
APRIL 2018 – A NEW START: This was always going to be a big year wasn’t it? One book complete (non fiction), a second nearly there (fiction), and young Noelene turning her back on the tedium of 9-5 forever! On that note we just had to celebrate. And what better way than at The Crown! The weather was great so we indulged ourselves by the heated outdoor pool – pina colada for her, Heineken for him; supped on champagne and dined by the window enjoying the city and river views from our room; turned back the clock with a terrific band in the Casino (so good I can’t remember their name), and chatted about the upcoming Baltic/London/Devon romp. The Crown really is a wonderful place to stay – clean, classy and comfy. Because of the occasion we opted for a suite. And as there was a TV in the bathroom, we filled up the tub and sat shoulder deep in suds with a bottle of Oyster Bay and a six-pack of Budweiser to watch the final quarter of the Eagles come-from-behind win against Geelong being played, ironically, live only a few hundred meters away at Optus Stadium. Talk about atmosphere. The only downside was that having endured considerable pain removing the caps from the beer bottles with a teaspoon, it took until stubbie number six for me to realize they were twist-tops!
And lets not forget breakfast – talk about a whopping choice! So whopping in fact I decided to have lunch (curried chicken, curried chick peas and pakoras) straight after my entre (bacon, sausage, eggs, mushrooms, baked beans, baby potatoes) to save the bother of partaking later. Couldn’t quite manage the trifecta (Chinese for breakfast?) but Noelene was impressed none-the-less at my stamina! And yes… that is a mini cloud that drifted in through the window courtesy Photoshop – it was that kind of a dreamy weekend.
JANUARY 2018 – Happy New Year: Well, this year is going to be a whopper! And talking of whoppers…. we went to The Boat down the road in Mindarie and lunched on a shared Indian Ocean platter. My god this thing was huge – 4 bits of fish, prawns, calamari, pickled onions and a mountain of chips. Oh; and two pints of Heineken each (Noelene’s with a dash of lime). All very pleasant with a slight breeze and boats nuzzling their moorings while we nattered about travel, the upcoming trip (tell you about that later) and the near completion of the novel. Bit hard to tear ourselves away actually but after putting on a few kilos we thought it best to waddle off home to continue our efforts there. So… all up an enjoyable start to the year for us. Trust yours will be happy, healthy and fulfilling. And we look forward to your continued patronage.
OCTOBER 2017: PLAYING WITH LIGHT This image of Noelene was shot in Camps Bay South Africa. It was post-breakfast (around 6.30 am) and a beautiful still morning on the beach. The light source was available daylight (left of image) filtered with strategically placed blockers to disrupt the continuity. Noelene had purchased this “Brazilian” bikini the previous day, so we selected an appropriately patterned rock as a backdrop. The rock texture was enhanced with SP Editor software and the overall colour/exposure manipulated with Symatics software to create a more moody atmosphere. We washed it all down with a suitable South African white several hours later over lunch.
AUGUST 2017: BOOK UPDATE For those who have been enquiring about the book (Betrayal) you will be pleased to know that the end is nigh. This has been a 14 month project so far. The novel is complete but undergoing a second draft. For the statisticians that is – a little over 100,000 words comprising Three Parts and Thirty Chapters. The image below is the back cover over which will be written the “blurb” in white. The image is obviously a fountain, which does have huge relevance to the story. And yes… it is supposed to be moody and atmospheric rather than a badly taken shot. In fact, the final image was a lot trickier to produce than anticipated. The second and third drafts will hopefully be completed early in the new year. Then off to London for a comprehensive manuscript appraisal, some final adjustments and then….
JULY 2017: FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD, Noelene and I seem to be on a bit of a food thing at the moment. Don’t know whether it’s age-related or worm-related but we just can’t seem to get enough of the stuff lately. Especially good food! Anyway… we discovered the delightful Hickey at the delightful Babylon Grill and Cafe in Joondalup recently and heck is his food good. So good in fact that I’d marry him if he wasn’t a bloke and I wasn’t already married to Noelene! I had a kebab here the other day whilst I was out and about so I just had to take Noelene along for lunch to show her what I had discovered. This time I had a wonderful agglomeration (can’t remember the name) of chips buried beneath a mountain of Middle Eastern flavoured meat and cheese and chilli and garlic sauce. No wonder I waddled out to the car afterwards, starry-eyed and fuzzy-headed. I could barely fit in actually and didn’t eat for the rest of the week – well, not till dinner time anyway. Hickey makes his own bread, his own sauces, his own cakes and, I’m sure, his customers very happy. And the added bonus this day was that I got to have chips – the potato being my favourite food item for it’s tollerance to be roasted, fried, mashed, baked or boiled into all manner of delicacy as well as thrown at the neighbours cat when need be! For me there’s something about Middle Eastern food, and Indian for that matter, that really hits the spot. The spices and that piquant pong detected from afar that lures you inexorably in like an insect to a honey-trap.
APRIL 2017: OH WHAT A NIGHT! Noelene and I both love Indian food so it was no surprise that we found ourselves down the road at Shakira Restaurant at Mindarie Marina the other night. Noels had thick and creamy buttered chicken while I was a little more foolhardy and opted for beef vindaloo. My god was it hot! Sort of burn-your-face-off hot! It started with a swollen tongue then progressed to incinerated lips and scorched nostrils before eventually engulfing my whole head in a chilli infused euphoria. I didn’t know pain could be so good. It was a bit like having a concrete slab dropped on your head and enjoying the experience (perhaps it was the wine?). The food was fresh, authentic and aromatic. The garlic naan oozed butter all over the place. The view and atmosphere by the water was terrific. And the company… well that’s another story.
JAN 2017: ANNIVERSARY Noelene and I recently celebrated our third wedding anniversary. And third wedding anniversary gifts are typically symbolised by leather in which, I must say, young Noels looks particularly fetching. Despite my most earnest endeavours however, yak skin undies and a matching bra were nowhere to be found. Perhaps they haven’t been invented yet! As a consequence the below motor vehicle was a distant second choice but had to suffice. It is comprised largely of metal and plastic and rubber but does have some leather bits inside (stearing wheel, seats, gear shift knob) so I guess that sort of counts. I have been lusting after one of these cars for some time so in a way it is no surprise that one now resides in our garage. It is blisteringly quick; 0 – 100 in 4.7 seconds (and that’s just from the garage to the letterbox!). When Tom from Nissan took me for a brief outing to show me what it was capable of one afternoon I was impressed to the point that a recently consumed cheese and ham sandwich almost reconstituted itself on my lap, prompting my desire to own the car at once.
Our anniversary itself was a wonderful affair of over indulgence in fine wine and fine food and each other, though for a brief moment during those celebrations I did experience a prick of annoyance that I had wasted several years prior to meeting Noelene with an utter nutcase and a consumate pest (that’s one person, not two) as time is so precious and not to be wasted. But never mind, because here’s the irony….. if I hadn’t experienced that loathsome time I wouldn’t be in the position I am now would I? It was, after all, a matter of circumstances becoming fortuitously aligned – fate, destiny, the stars, if you believe in that sort of stuff. And a bad situation does so effectively put things in perspective and impart a heck of a sense of appreciation if you manage to extricate yourself from sinister clutches. I hate cliches but, sometimes you just have to sift through the pooh to find the diamond (is that a cliche?).
Anyway, here’s to the newest addition to our household, or garage. But far more importantly, here’s to three much appreciated years of wedded bliss and a damn lot more to come.
JAN 2nd 2017: A NEW BEGNNING It’s always nice to start something new; the anticipation and the expectation of it all. And so here we are…. another new year has begun. Last year’s was terrific so let’s hope for more of the same. It ended and began rather nicely for Noelene and me at Portofinos a short stroll from home. The breeze was brisk from the ocean as we sat overlooking the beach sipping our favourite Italian champagne on the last day of the year. Once disposed of, we wandered inside and were ushered to our seat by the window with us on one side and the broad expanse of the Indian Ocean on the other. This twice-cooked pork belly (below) was so succulent and so tastey and so crunchy that all thoughts concerning weight and cholesterol became non events – well, for a while anyway. It was all rather elegant and served on a blob of creamy mashed potato and topped with an apple mash. Bugger me, I could eat another one right now! The oysters were a treat, so too the wood-fired garlic bread. And to facilitate digestion all that was washed down with a couple of bottles of Hay Shed Hill SSBs (well, it was NY eve!). The walk home under an inky blue but star-speckled sky was rather interesting if not a little wayward. But we did “eventually” make it home. From all of us at the studio; Happy New Year. May this be your best one yet.
NOV 8th 2016: AND WHERE HAS THE YEAR GONE? Never mind… another one will soon be upon us. The Festive Season is fast approaching and promises to be another time of great merriment with family, friends, food and plonk. Talking of which, I had a coming together with two particular reprobates over the weekend and have since vowed to give them a wide birth for a while (well, until I recover anyway!). From all acounts it was a most enjoyable evening with ten in attendance all up at brother Mark’s and Kanlaya’s house. Sampling different beers in good company can be a very enjoyable pasttime even if things do get a little fuzzy at times. The creative output photographically has slowed just a little due to the “book” committments. But goodness me, there will be some mind-blowing work popping up in the coming months with new software and new studio lights to tinker with. And for those who have enquired: “Betrayal” has now reached 70,000 words with approximately another 20,000 to go. All up a very productive year (so far).
OCT 23rd 2016: GOOD OLD FREO. Haven’t been to Fremantle for a while and to date I had not stayed there overnight; not until the weekend that is. Heck, was it enjoyable. Noelene and I lunched at Joe’s Fish Shack (which was terrific) and dinnered at the Istanbul Restaurant (which was as woeful as Joe’s was good!). The weather was perfect. And I had a slice of orange in my Blue Moon beer which I would never have suspected made for a terrific combinbation. Especially when assisting with the digestion of fish and chips. We stayed at the Port Mill which is an absolute gem of place tucked away off Essex Street right in the centre of everything. Real French Provential feel about the courtyard with the fountain, pavings, wooden outdoor settings and creepers. In fact we liked it so much we’re going back soon. Sitting on the balcony with young Noels with a cup of tea in the morning and a wine in the evening was a delight. And the perfect setting in which to while away some hours lost in conversation about “the book” (65,000 words now written) and travel plans. And the good thing was that the car was still in the carpark when woke the following day!
OCT 6th 2016: We went for a walk the other morning and I don’t think I have felt so invigorated in a long while just by being outdoors and amongst nature. As we walked along the coastal path the sea was as flat as a mill-pond. Sea birds bobbed on the surface a short distance from the rocks. Rabbits explored the dewy tussocks of grass in the early morning sun. Fairy Wrens darted in and out of the low shrubs. The air was fresh and tangy with salt. The breeze was stimulating but not cold. And our destination, Portofinos, lay a delightful ten minute stroll away. It is times like this that really do make you appreciate just about everything. Your mind wanders. Your heart and soul feel soothed and content. And with that comes an immense inner peace.
We occupied a window seat gazing out across a lime green ocean where sheep fleece clouds piled themselves on the horizon. We chatted. And we sat in silence. The clock didn’t matter. The tea was piping hot. The bacon suitably crispy and the white fluffy eggs poached to perfection. Times like this are priceless – the occasion, the moment, the company. And it is a never ending wonder to me how often it is the simple and the unplanned experiences in life that afford memories that linger the longest.
SEPT 30th 2016: THE DILEMMA. Noelene is on holidays at the moment which means it’s the first time we have had some shared days together (other than weekends) for fourteen months. So… we decided to have a board meeting by the lagoon (okay, pond) and discuss a few ideas over some of that wine we discovered in Italy last time out. We couldn’t decide whether to partake of the white or the red so thought, bugger it; why not have both! Anyway, after two bottles, and perusing the brochures on different cruises, we felt like we had actually spent a week travelling to some exotic places on a luxury liner with a private balcony and endless acres of azure ocean spread before us. Heck, might knock off three bottles next time and cruise for a fortnight! Hey….. mental tourism; just might be the next big thing – certainly a heck of a lot cheaper.
SEPT 30th 2016: I, ME, US WE AND THEM. Had a bit of fun with my alter egos yesterday. They all turned up at the same time together, which is happening with frightening regularity these day! Must be residual trauma from my time in captivity with the Loony in the Hills! Anyway, we all had a damn good time and shared a beer together. Yes, it’s actually the same beer so they’re quite a cheap lot when they do come around; five for the price of one! In the old days creating an image such as this involved plenty of hydroflourics (darkroom manipulation) but now it’s all done with software. Actually, it’s infinitely more enjoyable these days because you are not locked away in a darkroom with the sound of running water and the whiff of developers, stop bath and fixative. A lot cleaner and altogether more civilized if you ask me and, of course, there is far less chance of spilling a beer in daylight! Cheers (from all of us).
AUGUST 9th 2016: BALLOONS, PORK AND CHAMPAGNE! Today was a rather “special day” as it was Noelene’s birthday. And, as it was her birthday I occupied a fair bit of the afternoon fiddling about in the kitchen and blowing up pink balloons. Enough pink balloons to make me feel quite light-headed! We had pork belly for dinner and my goodness did it turn out a treat. It took several hours but that is the secret to getting it just right; it needs to be cooked slow. The meat tore off in soft moist stringy bits and the crackling was salted and crisped to perfection – talk about a cholesterol binge! The pork was plopped on a bed of fluffy mashed sweet potato and garnished with a couple of asparagus spears and watercress and drizzled with pan-fried gravy. And all that was washed down with a bottle of Prosecco – the same Posecco we discovered on the Amalfi Coast last year. Anyway, the upshot of all that is you just can’t beat fine food, fine champagne and fine company. Heck, I feel like doing it all again tonight!
JUNE 2016: MORNING TEA Well, what a jolly nice time we had here at Sugar and Spice Patisserie in Joonderlup. I’m not quite sure where the “spice” bit comes from though. They do savory’s too so perhaps that’s it? Anyway, one could get a little plump just gazing at the stuff behind the glass cabinets in this place. Little miniature edible works of art they are. And some bigger ones on display on the counter. It’s amazing just how creative you can be with food and cakes in particular. Huge scope though, I guess, with colour, texture, shape and delicious-sounding names like “exotic delights”. Hmmmm…. I could be describing Noelene there! Mum opted for a chocolate fudge while Noels and I settled on a ham and cheese croissant. How boring is that? Flat whites all round. And all up a delightful way and place to while away an hour.
25th JUNE: EQUIPMENT One wife, two Elinchrom strobe lights, various diffusers, Topaz and Corel software, one bottle of Oyster Bay Savignon Blanc (okay, make that two!)
7th JUNE 2016: Here is the front cover for “the book” – we designed, photographed and art worked this in less than half a day. The photo was taken just a short distance from home on the coastal path at Mindarie. Noelene and I feel very excited about this undertaking which has been too long in the offing. Anyway, the time is now right and the groundwork has all been put in place. Numerous readings, discussions and a “few” bottles of wine, have gone into the planning of this project. The anticipated completion date is the end of the year. It is a psychological thriller about an individual so single mindedly consumed by paranoia and jealousy, the consequences of their actions could never have been envisaged. Based on a true story, the end will have you screaming; SEQUEL!
8th MAY 2016: MOTHER’S DAY Well, another Mother’s Day has come and gone and a jolly nice time was had by our mob so I hope yours was nice too. Did you know that a 25% of all flowers bought throughout the year are purchased on this one celebratory day. Also, the oldest woman to give birth, and hence be a mum, was a 72 year-old from India. And if you want to hear something that will really put you off your Cornflakes, a transgender bloke from Oregon had some major reconstructive plumbing work done to the point that he actually gave birth…. THREE TIMES! I guess that makes him some sort of mum too but perhaps I’d better not go there now. Anyway, below are a pair of “real” mums – one is my mum May and one is my wife Noelene. The sea breeze was in and it was a little chilly and blustery out on the front veranda but not enough to deter us. And my god did we partake. Never had champagne and tea together before but what the heck!
31st APRIL 2016: AN INTERESTING DISCOVERY. Found out on Saturday night that a generous combination of Carlsberg, Budweiser, Fat Yak, Spitfire, Adnams, Bombardier, Leo, Chang and London Pale Ale can instill in the consumer an unwavering desire to sing Beatles songs! And that reminds me…. A drunk was driving through the city one day and his car was weaving all over the road. Eventually a cop pulls him over and says, “Did you know you’ve been swerving so much that your wife fell out of your car a few intersections back.” “Thank heavens for that,” sighed the drunk. “For a moment I thought I’d gone deaf!”
FOOD & DRINK & MORE FOOD & DRINK – MELBOURNE MARCH 2016: If you enjoy fine food (I’m talking about really fine food) you will utterly adore Melbourne. It’s not just that there are good restaurants here; there are so many! You will find them along the waterfront, in many of the reputable hotels as well as tucked away in obscure streets and narrow lanes. Nearly 6,000 are listed in the Australian Good food & Travel Guide and they cover a dazzling variety of dishes from homespun and traditional flavors to modern and exotic. Just as well we didn’t have more time or we would have assumed sumo proportions by the time we got home!
During our stay we visited Byblos on the banks of the Yarra – as authentic and moody a Lebanese eatery you are likely to find anywhere outside Lebanon. We noshed at the Victoria Markets on a pizza (Noelene) and a”pulled pork” bun (me) stuffed with enough porker to keep me in a heightened state of excitement and active for ten hours (sorry vegans). And we took advantage of room service on the 49th floor of the Sofitel Hotel, at which we stayed, simply for the fact that the views were so mouth-wateringly grand we wanted to stay in. I sampled beers I had never heard of. And at the hotel bar on the 35th floor Noelene moistened her taste buds with a creamy and chocolatey delight called a “devine pleasure” (who comes up with these names?). By the way, the views from the toilet of this bar were so memorable in themselves that I went back several times just for the hell of it!
MARCH, EASTER 2016: Goodness me. If I had known that Melbourne was such a fabulous place I would have come sooner! Our temporary home is the Sofitel on Collin Street and I can tell you that it will be very hard to leave. It’s (apparently) the tallest hotel in Melbourne so we chose a suite on the 49th of 50 floors. It is so high that your ears pop when you get to the 35th floor. I’ve never been so far off the ground other than the times spent in aeroplanes or on mountains, and the time my brother lit a firecracker and put it in the saddlebag of my pushbike when I was ten years-old!
The views are 180 degrees and, as you can imagine, sublime. We can see to the coast, to the hills, into the MCG, the Yarra River and bridges, Rod Laver Tennis Arena and adjacent courts, parks, Central Train Station, churches, trams, people in rooftop pools, and, six hot air balloons sailing passed several floor below us. As I sit by the window late afternoon with my Cricketer’s Pale Ale in hand and Noelene beside me (white wine in hand) I feel like the “Keeper of the Realm” gazing down on a world in microcosm. It makes me realise how you can get a totally different perspective of a city when you look down on it from up high.
The bed is huge. The bath and shower are huge (more on that later). And I know at once it is going to take an extreme test of fortitude to leave this place when the time comes. And we haven’t even stepped foot outside yet.
MARCH 2016: THE GOOD LIFE. The modern day pizza is an invention from the Italian city of Naples and dates from the late 1700s to early 1800s. The world’s largest pizza was cooked in South Africa a couple of decades ago and measured more than 37 meters in diameter! The world’s most expensive “commercially available” pizza is a thin-crust delicacy that can be found at Maze Restaurant in London. Ingredients include fontina cheese, baby mozzarella, pancetta, cep mushrooms, mizuna lettuce and fresh shavings of a rare Italian white truffle. To nibble on one of these will cost you more than $200.00.
But without doubt the world’s tastiest pizza can be found in Mindarie Western Australia. This delectable morsel is hand-crafted by my wife Noelene, commencing with her own dough base. Ingredients include baby boccaccini, baby mozzarella, baby chorizo, baby anchovies, baby proscuitto, baby rocket, baby olive slithers as well as numerous other secret baby bits I am not at liberty to disclose here. Her pizza, taken with one of her coffee specialties, makes you feel like you have been whisked off to some sort of gastronomic nirvana. And the only thing more delicious than this is the creator herself!
MARCH 2016: THAT’LL TEACH ME! Went to the Toast to the Coast Festival at Mindarie Marina on Sunday. Well, it was just down the road, the weather was great, the water in the harbour looked like a mirror so why not? They had all sorts on offer; marquis crammed with local crafts as well as food, beer/wine tasting, as the name would suggest. Pretty early on in proceedings Noelene and I got chatting to a chap at a kiosk devoted to all things chilli. Now I am rather partial to chilies so I did the obvious and tried a particular paste. There was quite a selection of various concentrations but my god was this one potent; and I only had a tiny dollop. The hard part was trying to disguise the fact that it felt like my face was melting. I have not had so much pain in my head since I got hit in the mouth with a cricket ball in Grade 7! It was too early for a beer so I tried to deaden the effect with an ice cream. The tingling in my tongue kept coming and coming then found it’s way to my belly so I briefly sought refuge alone at the end of a jetty as I gazed down at the water.
The heady aroma of various foods, the clammer of background chatter and the pounding sound of a band playing at the Boat Hotel added measurably to my feeling of nausea. But it did eventually pass. Enough for us to sample some coconut prawns with lime and (heaven forbid) chilli dip and to nip into the Indian Ocean Brew House for a pint of one of their in-house brews. All things considered I made a fairly remarkable recovery. It was quite a day!
s JAN 2016: ANNIVERSARY. Noelene and I have been married two years this month. And I must say that time certainly does fly when you are having fun! It’s strange really because on the one hand it seems like only yesterday that we stood on that red carpet in the back garden surrounded by friends and family about to embark on what has without doubt been the most cherished two years (to date) of my life. Similarly it seems so long ago too. Perhaps it is because we have seen and accomplished much in those two years together. Or perhaps it is because each new day becomes more special and memorable than the one it just replaced. Either way, the memory of first catching sight of Noelene above the roof of my car at Hillary’s Boat Harbour will stay with me always. The prospect of each new day together fills me with relish. And the pleasure I have known since Noelene became my wife is immeasurable. My only wish now is that I live to be 150!
JAN 25th: PLEASE EXPLAIN! Looks like something to do with terrorism doesn’t it? But it’s not. Looks a bit like Gadaffi too, doesn’t it? But it’s not. Not the most flattering angle, I know, but it’s me at 5.00am a couple of days ago, and trying to do a selfie at that time of day after only a few hours sleep takes some doing, I can tell you.
It took Noelene some time to wire me up and even longer to get the whole lot off the following morning. The reason was to record my sleep patterns and to maybe understand my dreams, which can be rather intriguing at times. It can take a couple of weeks to analyse all the data so we will just have to wait and see what happens. Noels and I have been quite engrossed in some sci-fi series lately which have got me wondering if the “loony from a past life” might have planted some sort of chip into any manner of body orifices whilst I gently slept. Or perhaps she put something in my breakfast, lunch or dinner. On second thoughts probably not. She couldn’t cook (couldn’t do much of anything come to think of it!).
JAN 5th 2016: JUST HOW DANGEROUS CAN A SAUSAGE BE? Well, maybe not the actual sausage but perhaps more the events leading up to devouring them. Let me explain.
It was a beautiful summer morning recently and the thought of coffee, onions and snaggers for breakfast on the shore a few hundred meters from home once more proved hard to resist. The sun rose steadily in the east as waves unfolded upon the shore. It was a lovely day for a beach BBQ but Australia can be a dangerous place at times and there is no shortage of er doers laying in wait to cause trouble. Australia is home to crocodiles and sharks armed with bone-crushing jaws, venomous jelly fish, grotesquely large spiders, a host of noxious plants, fierce tidal rips, drunk drivers, vindictive ex-wives and, one of the world’s tiniest and most lethal creatures, all of which can cause serious injury or death! Mosquitoes are in fact by far the world’s deadliest animal accounting for more than a million human lives world-wide each year! And Australia is home to some of the world’s deadliest snakes too!
Noelene and I sat on a meter-high limestone wall armed with a mug of coffee and a sandwich brimming with Cumberland sausage, onions, butter and tomato sauce. A gentle breeze tickled our hair. Conversation was suitable muted. But we were not alone. A few meters away an adult Brown snake too was out enjoying a Sunday (in it’s case) wriggle. This thing was big. And it was in no hurry to leave. In fact it arched itself upright before vertically ascending the wall mere meters away before disappearing disconcertingly into the undergrowth over which our feet were dangling. I didn’t know that snakes could climb walls but I was already aware from my readings that the Brown snake (not unlike the ex-wife) has been described variously as “nasty, bad-tempered and aggressive.” The venom from one of these things is among the most toxic on earth and can cause gross disfiguration of the bitten area, paralysis, as well as kidney and heart failure and their inevitable consequences.
Needless to say, we completed breakfast cross-legged and in a heightened state of unease and in considerably less time than originally planned. Interloper aside, it was still a magnificent morning alone with Noelene on the wall in the warmth of the sun and the whiff of the sea all about. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing.
JAN 4th 2016: GOODNESS ME: Already well into 2016. Well, only four days but it feels like more! We gave the hot tub a bit of a work out again yesterday. Can’t quite beat sitting in one of these with the right person and a bottle of whatever it was. We didn’t want to get out even when the water went cold because it was so hot outside. Made lots of plans for an exciting 2016 and generally got water and suds all over the place! My ones are the ones on the left, by the way. And I’m not talking about glasses! Anyway…. we hope you all had a terrific Christmas and New Year and, like us, can’t wait to get stuck in to another.
DEC 16 2015: AN EARLY CHRISTMAS PRESENT! Seeing I bought this for myself I didn’t consider it cheating when I opened it up early. Actually, I didn’t even have to open it up on account that it didn’t get wrapped in the first place! Yes, it’s a drone. And, seeing it’s classed as a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) I can now officially classify myself as an “AVIATOR” , according to authorities in the know.
Anyway, enough of that. My god is this thing fun.I haven’t had so much fun since I burned the top of Billy Creed’s head with a magnifying glass in grade seven (he was big and obnoxious and used to bully smaller kids). This thing is surprisingly light and agile and can do all sorts of things once you get the hang of it. It doesn’t have a camera but this is only a stepping stone for bigger and more exciting things to come. Might even embark on bombing missions over Syria if need be! Seeing we have a fish pond out the back and a fountain out the front, the last thing I want is to end up up in either so I have gone rather low key to start with. It’s already ended up on the patio of the house at the back which, come to think of it, is a great way to get to know your neighbours (can I have my drone back please?)
Once I become a little more proficient at steering I intend to stalk Noelene about the property with it trailing messages such as, “meet me in the boudoir at nine,” or, “could I have another beer please sweetheart?” The scope, it would appear, seems endless!
OCT 14 2015 BACK HOME: The thing I love about travelling is that it always puts your own life and circumstances into a more sobering perspective. No doubt about it, we had a fabulous time away. We visited beautiful places. We met interesting people. We stayed in some wonderful accommodation. And we collected memories that will last a lifetime. If I ask myself what was the highlight or most enjoyable experience of the trip there would be many to contemplate. The beauty of Santorini? The age of Athens? The charisma of Dubrovnik? The grandeur of Venice? The charm of Positano? The majesty of Rome?
In actuality it would be none of these. Coming through the front gate when we arrived home after all those weeks away was like arriving at the Promised Land. It felt safe and inviting. It felt familiar and secure. The world is a busy and angry place at times and to have your own space to come home to is something you only truly appreciate with absence. It’s always been those simple things in life; putting out the rubbish once a week, wandering among the roses and, to me, seeing Noelene’s smiling face while we chat and sip wine on the veranda. Life is and should be very simple…. capture the moment, like a photograph. We often look back more on life than we do forward. And though now a fading memory, the experiences of a past life in the “Hills” with a different person does fulfill a very useful purpose for it gives me such great appreciation for all that I now have. Oh dear… the jealousy and paranoia of that afflicted one, such a poisonous and “cancerous” malaise.
SEPT 2015 ROME: Rome is indescribably ancient. And it is quite eerie coming from a place like Perth (which is indescribably new) and wandering among relics and ruins that have been in that same spot for thousands of years. Cliched but true; “like going back in time.”
Rome is quite easy to negotiate on foot; if you’ve got a map of course. It is relatively flat. And from where we were staying (near the Spanish Steps) all of the major attractions were walkable in 30 minutes or less. By comparison London is roughly three times the size, population wise, and seems to go on forever. One problem with Rome is an utter shortage, or complete absence, of public toilets. In all the kilometres we walked we didn’t come across a single one (unless you count quiet alleys or the occasional tree!). The toilets in cafes and restaurants were horrid and filthy. Usually shared, usually no seat, usually no locking door, usually no toilet roll, and usually piddle-strewn by desperates who couldn’t find a public toilet – UUUUURGH!
Shopping for shoes and handbags was high on Noelene’s agenda (as were ice creams). You have to be careful here though because there is a lot of Chinese rubbish which is relatively easy to identify by the synthetic materials used as well as a sneakily small “made in China” logo tucked away somewhere. They might look okay on first impressions and are a lot cheaper but you get what you pay for and the Chinese (sorry Chinese people) are very good at making junk! We noticed a lot of shops in Europe warn against taking photos, and for that very reason. These ideas and designs are photographically shipped off to China and replicated. We discovered while in Venice that around 45% of the Murano Glass market (for which Venice is world renowned) has been lost to Chinese and East European imitations.
Queues to some of the better known monuments – like the Colosseum – are horrendous; up to 90 minutes. We didn’t go inside but got a good impression and feel for the place by wandering around the perimeter for an hour or so with hundreds of other tourists and numerous pick pockets while Noelene licked hypnotically at her pistachio ice cream (I opted for a more conservative vanilla). There were quite a few Centurions wandering about too, dressed in authentic garb and charging tourists considerable Euros for having a photo taken with them – I didn’t know Centurions had mobile phones and wore Seiko watches!
The nights were warm and balmy in Rome and the streets and street-front cafes crowded with people eating, drinking, chatting, and enjoying life. We walked many miles during our stay and saw many wonderful sights. But the delight was that at the end of each day just a short stroll down a side street was our hotel. Small and intimate and quite with a big comfy bed and big fluffy pillows.
SEPT 2015 POSITANO: Positano is on the Amalfi Coast (Italy) and reached by a tortuously winding cliff-top road that makes you gasp out loud not just for the panoramic views but also the thought of driving over the edge. And apparently people do, according to Giovanni, our driver. Not on purpose, of course, they are just too busy admiring the scenery.
An hour after leaving the airport we arrived unscathed at our hotel and fell in love with Positano immediately. Around 4,000 people live and work here in buildings that cling impossibly to the cliffs. What would possess people to build on such precipitous slopes is beyond me. But precipitous slopes make for wonderful views so it made sense to have breakfast on our balcony each morning before setting off to explore what lay below. The first morning we walked to the shore and shops which, although downhill, was still an effort. Fortunately there was a bus stop right outside the hotel but the bus was small, always packed, and driven by a guy who drove like only Italians can. There were about 20 seats on this thing but it didn’t stop around 100 people trying to get on each time it stopped (that’s how bad the slopes are) including people with dogs, elderly ladies weighed down with a months worth of shopping, kids with inflated lilos, locals, tourists and the odd individual unwittingly swept along in the rush! Honestly, there were faces squashed against people’s backs, limbs protruding from windows, and in the two open door ways whole bodies that were more out than in! And….. there was no air conditioning!
Talking of driving…. people in Positano can drive a scooter and eat an ice cream at the same time. And they can talk on their mobiles while riding too. If it’s raining they do the obvious and put up an umbrella and ride on regardless; seriously. And all down a slender and bumpy street with a one in four gradient at around 60kmh. Now that’s talent!
Down on the shore was a hum of activity fringed by shops, eateries and bars. Pleasure craft bob in the bay. Ferries come and go. And the beach is littered with people swimming, paddling or sunning themselves. Positano is famous for ceramics and there are plenty of outlets in which to indulge; so we did. Items vary from small bowls and platters to outdoor settings and statues and are invariably brightly coloured, hand-crafted and expensive. Noelene showed me that like the Positano scooter riders she too can multi-task, by devouring a double serve ice cream while shopping for ceramics simultaneously!
SEPT 2015 VENICE: We had considered not going to Venice because the cost of transportation from the airport to the hotel and back was horrendous; a couple of hundred dollars! We thought bugger it, we’re not likely to come back so what the heck. I must say though that I did feel a little bit like James Bond being whisked along in a polished timber speedboat crashing through the wake of on-coming craft while the wind tugged at my hair and dear Noels reclined on the studded upholstery behind me.
We were dropped right at the hotel landing pier which was a blessing as Venice is a city cobwebbed with canals and bridges – thousands of them! It’s relatively easy to find your way around once you’ve been there a few days but from the water gives a really good perspective just how complex and intricate this city is. We had heard much of Venice’s fame Murano glass so headed out to the island to see what was on offer. My god, the stuff is mind-blowingly beautiful. And expensive! We narrowed our choice down to three before opting for a lovely vase Noelene thought would look at home in the hallway (there goes the new car!).
St Marco Square is a clammer of activity day and night and there were plenty of great little eateries and drinkeries to stack on the weight and the cholesterol. Glass ornaments, trinkets and jewelry are sold virtually everywhere and can be as expensive as your pockets are deep. Some items we saw cost as much as the average suburban home! Noelene has become a bit of a connoisseur of ice creams since we came to Europe and since arriving in Italy began to expand her CV to include pizza. The canals here can get incredibly congested with water taxis, pleasure craft, commercial traffic, even police craft jostling for the right of way. Boats speed about darting under bridges and skirting each other with only inches to spare. There was never a raised voice or a cross word however. And in that indelibly chaotic Italian sort of way, it all seemed to work just fine.
SEPT 2015 DUBROVNIK (Croatia): Here in this beautiful Medieval town full of charm and snaking alleys, I got to fulfill one of my life’s ambitions (but more on that soon). Vlaho was our driver/captain/pilot? for half a day – just me, him and Noelene, on a private boat called the something-or-other. We visited, and entered, a huge sea cave. We stepped ashore to explore the eerily abandoned 5 star Belvedere Hotel left in ruins following the Croatian War of Independence. And we sipped beer on a typical Dubrovnik beach which was so stony and pebbly it made me walk like a drunk and wince like a wimp. We rounded the west tip of the small island of Lokrum, where small gatherings of overly chummy blokes dangled their fishing tackle in the mid-day sun (I’m not talking about fishing rods or nets here!). And then it happened. Vlaho dropped anchor in a suitably spectacular piece of Adriatic where I leaped with Johnny Weissmuller aplomb (well, not quite) into the sea to be joined shortly by Noels. I had wanted to do this for years! The water was breathtakingly clear and refreshing as we snorkeled and drifted in a sort of aqueous outer space. The place was teeming with fish and the ocean floor littered with boulders and shells enough to provoke a blubbery Tarzan-like call of the wild. I could have stayed there all day but we had other things to do.
Back on dry land we got a good run down on what the War really meant to this place from a fiercely patriotic Croatian named Zlatan in the appropriately named “Libertina Inn.” The inn was about as big as the average suburban kitchen but chokkers with memorabilia including a cannon ball on the floor, which we used as a footrest. The owner sat silently behind the bar smoking as if he didn’t plan too far ahead, while Zlatan spoke of the nation’s Independence and his days in the merchant navy. Zlatan told us that the War (1991-95) cost around US$37 billion in damaged infrastructure and lost output. Twenty thousand lives were lost. And in barely four years a quarter the county’s economy was ruined. But today was a day of great celebration for Zlatan for it was the twentieth anniversary of his county’s independence. He bought us a round of drinks. We bought him a round of drinks. He bought us another round of drinks. We bought him another round of drinks. Then, with a certain reluctance, we farewelled our new friend and wandered out into the warm evening air in search of something to eat while we were still able to walk.
AUG 2015 ATHENS: Athens is fabulous. The place is drenched in ancient history. The shopping is good, especially jewellery (as Noelene discovered). And the people are exceedingly nice. It was quite late when we arrived but not too late for a nightcap on the balcony gazing down at the pool and up at a nearby hill and a floodlight monolith called the Acropolis.
The next day we did what everybody who visits Athens does and went for a rummage among the ruins of the Acropolis. There are actually several ruined buildings up there of which the best known is the Parthenon – the one with the pillars that make it look like a wedding cake. Construction of the Parthenon began nearly two and a half thousand years ago, which is rather staggering. And it is (or was) built as a temple to the goddess Athena. It’s an amazing place with far reaching views across the city. There are pillars and statues and lots of bits of monuments strewn about that I thought would look right at home by the fishpond in our back garden Any misgiving about a quick pilfer were soon dismissed however by the signs warning against nicking antiquities. Never mind, I would just have to buy an imitation in one of the countless souvenir shops below. It was hot, dusty and windy which added measurably to the sense you were back in some distant time and place. I couldn’t quite drift all the way back though on account of the millions of tourist clambering about.
The Plaka is an ancient neighbourhood spread along the slopes of the Acropolis. It’s full of old homes, twisting little alleyways, more ruins and interesting places to shop and eat. There are plenty of shops selling Greek urns and duplicate bits of monuments and all manner of Gods so if you act a little nonchalant when browsing and then haggle you can get some terrific bargains. Some charming eateries here too but the Greeks seem to do an odd thing with their kebabs. I love kebabs and I love chips but chips in kebabs was a new one for me! All of this is easily walkable and having it only a few minutes from the hotel was rather handy. The weather’s great. The pool’s great. And later that evening we popped up to the rooftop restaurant. The views were quite something and the Acropololis glowed in all its glory as the sun faded from view and the floodlights came on. Noelene’s steak was cooked to perfection and my chicken fell away from the bone in moist, succulent lumps. The wine flowed. And when the Ouzo came into it’s own, finally I felt every part like I was back in Ancient Greece.
AUG 2015 SANTORINI (GREECE): My god this place is hot. I’m talking about 45C hot! Well it is situated on a volcano so I suppose it should be. Still active too apparently. Santorini is about 75 square kilomeres in area and lived on by around 16,000 people. We are staying in Oia, a sun baked village of infinite charm smeared into the cleft of a very steep chasm. This place is famed for crafts, those iconic white-washed domed buildings that adorn postcards, and spectacular lingering sunsets (really? Better than Mindarie?). Actually they are rather impressive. So much so that hundreds of people line the streets in searing heat for hours each afternoon waiting for the sun to slowly track to the horizon before blazing for several minutes then plopping into the Aegean Sea. It is several hundred broad and steep steps to the azure ocean below and some eateries where donkeys wait to ferry the less enthusiastic (or less mad) back to the top. Even the donkeys look buggered and seem to fix you with a pleading sort of don’t-hop-on-me glare when you approach. By the way, Noelene and I walked all the way down and all the way up, though the later took considerably longer. Our home for the week is the biscuit-coloured building centre of the first image which, on account of it’s snugness and tunnels, has me feeling a little rodentish at times. All of the buildings here seem to jostle for the best views and are separated only by an impossibly narrow labyrinth of alleys and stairways. We have a large hot tub on the patio made for consuming wine in and nibbling seafood in while looking out to sea and at the ocean liners lumbering by. This really is the sort of place that leaves you without a care in the world but those steps and that heat can be tricky and it took only a matter of days before I shed blood on those very slopes. It was while I was out taking photographs, of course, but shots of these sorts of villages can be particularly difficult to exposure correctly on account of the constant glare from the buildings. If you want to read something really interesting, read “Tale of two Airports” below.
AUG 2015 “A TALE OF TWO AIRPORTS” Thira Airport on Santorini is truly unique. It’s only about a 40 minute flight from Athens and when we arrived there was no one there. Seriously, the place was empty. It was as if someone had stuck their head through the door and yelled, “Run, ISIS are coming!” The place was tiny and utterly deserted so we stood with our equally vague faced fellow passengers for several minutes before an (until now) idle luggage carousel jolted awake. We duly retrieved our suitcases and walked blinkingly into the sunlight and the welcoming embrace of our driver Sergio, completely unopposed. That was our arrival. Departures however are a completely different matter.
“Departure”s is on the other side of “Arrivals” and considerably larger in area. It is chaotic and filled with ill-mannered tourists and uninformative staff. There are no announcements. No order. And no semblance of queues. When you do manage to rid yourself of your luggage the actual departure lounge is ineffectively small – around 40 metres of floor space services three departure gates. There is a ratio of around 50 passengers for every seat, the floors are awash with food wrappers and soft drink bottles. There are only two toilet cubicles each for males/females but no toilet roll, no toilet door locks and the floor (in the men’s anyway) is a large puddle of piddle which makes the wash basin a tempting option. More worrying however is that there are no toilets seats (who on earth would pinch a toilet seat?).
Our plight was compounded by the announcement that our plane would be late (did the pilot sleep in I wonder?). We eventually got on an overcrowded bus in 40 plus heat and were ferried along with our luggage a short distance to a small plane marooned mid apron. After settling in and being given a boiled sweet by a hostess (sorry, cabin staff) the pilot popped his head out of the cockpit and announced in a laconic tone, “The plane wont go.” Another plane was eventually found, one I sincerely prayed worked, and two hours later we were on our way. But the funny thing is that immediately prior to take off we were handed an obviously (as in, this-is-a-common-occurrence) prearranged leaflet from Aegean Airways apologizing for any inconvenience and and at the same time expounding their belief in delivering an efficient service. To that end all passengers were offered a free flight as compensation but with a few conditions. The offer could not be taken during public holidays, summer, weekends, Christmas time or any other time that might generally be of use to someone wishing to have a holiday. To us it didn’t seem worth the expense to spend more than $3000 flying back to Greece at an inopportune time to take advantage of a free 40 minute flight! Thanks Aegean Air…. FOR NOTHING!
Jul 12th 2015 MANFRED MANN: Do you remember those songs “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”, “Pretty Flamingo”, “Ha Ha Said the Clown”, “Mighty Quinn”, “Ragamuffin Man” and a whole lot more? Good, then I’m not as old as I feel! Noelene and I saw Manfred Mann last week and what an experience it was. The Astor Theatre was built in Mount Lawley in 1914 in a Federation Free Classical style for a mixture of vaudeville and lantern slide shows. The carpet is older than your great grandparents, the curtains are luxuriant enough to get lost in and there is an upstairs dress circle haunted by spectators and performers from long ago. I’m not really sure about the last bit but it seemed appropriate to include here so I did. Manfred Mann played to a packed, almost entirely grey-haired audience and Noels and I were comfily ensconced only five rows from the front – close enough to admire Paul Jones’s tonsils and Mike D’Abo’s too for that matter! Jones’s harmonica playing was a treat as was Mike Hugg on piano (electric), while Paul Jones and Mike D’Abo took turns on vocals delivering former hit after hit. It was nice to mingle wine-in-hand in the foyer during the interval (remember those) and a visit to the urinal was an eye-popping experience of negotiating haphazardly abandoned Zimmer frames and other walking aid paraphernalia. Honestly, it was like a Coles car park on Christmas eve! After two hours we bade a speedy farewell through a fire exit and were soon whisked away back to our hotel room where awaited a variety of cheeses and hams, oysters, olives, breads and, of course, champagne. Beyond the window the lights of a mostly slumbering Perth glistened like crystal while behind waited a bed big enough to sleep a hippo. The whole evening was certainly one to remember.
Jul 11th Sat 2015 BUBBLES (AND MORE BUBBLES): Well… it’s been rather chaotic for some weeks now so after a little over two years in “the house” Noelene and I decided to take only our second dip in the hot tub. I say “only” because the thing does take some time to fill. There were bubbles all round as the cork flew from the bottle and bounced off the mirror, the heater, the towel rack and Noelene’s head before plopping into the tub. Noels and I discussed our impending Mediterranean jaunt over an Everest of bubbles mid-bath where all that was visible above sea level were two heads and four knees. But as we sat in contemplative silence there seemed something oddly lacking; a toy! It seemed a matter of logic to have some sort of vessel plying the surface so after several more glasses an agreement was reached and what better toy in a bath this deep than a submarine (remote control of course) . I must say though that to have your entire body immersed in a cocktail of rejuvenating salts and steaming water for an hour does do something to the senses. Does something to the skin too because my feet and hands looked considerably older than the rest of me when I eventually emerged Yeti-like from the suds. One odd thing however…. we never did find that cork!
Jun 18th 2015: Not quite a year ago Noelene and I were in Whitby (Yorkshire, England). In 1885 the Schooner Demeter ran aground with a cargo of dead crew members including the captain, who was lashed to the helm! A massive black hound was seen to leap from the ship and bound up the 199 steps towards the Abbey pictured here. Vampires can take on many forms, including a dog, so if you believe the legend, this is how Whitby Abbey became the home of Dracula! Anyway, Noelene and I popped in late one afternoon in search of the blood-sucking bugger but with little reward other than some photographs and splendid views from those lofty heights.
I must say through that I wouldn’t fancy being left alone up there after dark because there are many ancient and sloping headstones scattered about a nearby church and you never know who you might bump into once the sun has gone down, the tourists have departed and you are left all alone with the wind, the sound of the sea and your imagination. We vaguely, and very briefly, entertained the idea to go back up later that evening but sort of got distracted in a lovely old pub overlooking the harbour which served fine food and fine ale. Well, that’s my story anyway!
The image below was originally in colour. It has been turned into a monochrome and selectively hand-tinted for a suitably ghoulish and vampish look.
10th June 2015: MOVIE STARS AND THE MEDITERRANEAN This photograph of my dad on a scooter was taken some years ago but has obviously paid a visit to our Digital Darkroom since. The reason that it is on here however is that scooters always remind me of late 1950s and ’60s films with scenes of the Mediterranean coastline. They conjure up images of an impossibly charming and chestnut-coloured Carry Grant piloting a Vespa, passengered by an impossibly charming and chestnut-coloured Sophia Loren. Big sunglasses. Billowing white shirts. Broad smiles. Hair defiant in the face of a bracing wind. Delightful memories indeed. We will soon be going to the Mediterranean but not to ride scooters as my scootering abilities are limited to having infrequently ridden a bicycle more years ago than I care to remember. Also, the roads are now infinitely more perilous than when Carry and Sophia were tootling about those cliff-side roads.
Instead, the impossibly charming (but still working on the chestnut colouring) Noelene and I will content ourselves with idling away the hours on a lumpy volcanic beach or sitting in colourful stripey deckchairs or sipping local frappe or nibbling locally-caught anythings in street-side cafes or chatting to whoever takes our fancy or poking about in hidden away shops. Noelene has already done plenty of “digital shopping” (there’s a new one) and practiced packing/unpacking so as to maximize every square inch of suitcase space; mine included! Rather than risk life and limb on a scooter we intend to take to, and explore, the many waterways and islets and leap hand in hand from the bow of a small chartered vessel into the deep and azure waters of some isolated Mediterranean grotto squealing like teenagers. Only so many weeks and so many days to go. Who says we are counting?
4th June 2015: NOELENE HAS A NEW TOY! She had been wanting one of these things (an Espresso machine) for some time. Well, now we’ve got one and I must say coffee never tasted so good. And that’s from a tea drinker. The whole place smells like a Parisienne cafe and when she compliments it with one of these delicious delights below, well, you do sort of drift off into some kind of gormandish heaven. I never realized how vile “instant coffee” was. And this thing gets all the love and attention (from Noels) you might bestow on a new-born.
THE VISITOR: 16th May 2015 Noelene and Hannah were enjoying a nice quiet afternoon tea in Joondalup when they were photo-bombed! Never mind, it was an invitation only “Afternoon Tea With the PM” after all, and a jolly good time was had by all!
BREAKFAST FIT FOR A KING AND A QUEEN: May 3 2015
….well we felt like royalty anyway. What a terrific way to start the day; breakfast on the beach. A couple of sausages each shoved in a bun (and then in our faces), a flask of “proper”coffee, friendly locals taking their friendly pooches for a piddle and a poop, the warmth of the early morning sun and a spectacular stretch of coastline spread before us with the whole of Sunday to while away the hours together. This was just a short stroll from home so no cars, no traffic, no parking, just a pleasant wander with plenty of fresh ocean air to kick start the appetite. Amazing how the simple things in life can be so damn good!
LET THE YEAR BEGIN: APR 2015
Well, it’s been a hectic year so far with one thing or another. Had a terrific time in Sydey for New Year. We did the Harbour Cruise thing with the fireworks and one almighty party! Words cannot describe it… the mood, the atmosphere, the whole experience is an absolute must.
We’ve been in Mindarie two years now and FINALLY got the pizza oven cranked up but my god was it worth the wait. You absolutely cannot beat a wood-fired pizza washed down with cold beer. Heaven! And with the right company of course. Noelene and I had a trial with just the two of us before she unleashed her culinary talents on family and friends. I think it must be the way those nimble fingers distribute the prawns, prosciutto, bocconcini, Mozzarella, anchovies, bacon, pineapple, rocket and olives. And talking of olives, I think Noelene has gone Mediterranean because she has been harvesting the olives from our trees, leaching them, salting them and bottling them in her own concoction of garlic, chili and secret herbs (though I still find them handy to ward off neighbourhood dogs when they come for a poo on the verge!). These things are huge (the olives, not the dogs). And, the key to cooking pizzas is the temperature. Ninety seconds is all it takes before you find tomato paste dribbling down your shirt front and molten cheese glistening on your chin. Hmmmmm!
And talking of Mediterranean, in the coming months we are off to the Greek Islands (more specifically Santorini) as well as Athens, Dubrovnik, Venice, Rome, Capri and Positano on the Amalfi Coast. We are going to undertake the “Erotic and Exotic in the Mediterranean” calender idea. I know…. Rome and Venice? Mediterranean? Well you have to mix pleasure and pleasure don’t you? Noelene has already drawn up her shopping list. We will also be researching and writing a series of relevant travel articles while away. And if you want to know more about the calender you can contact us. Or watch this space!
Well, it’ nearly Christmas and we hope you are all getting in that Festive mood! We certainly are. From all of us here have a terrific time over the coming weeks and into the New Year. Noelene and I will be off embarking on some new adventures soon which we will let you know about as things unfold. In the meantime stay safe and happy and thank you for your support and custom throughout the year. The rest of the Britain trip will be appearing shortly.
MY GOD, THERE IS A LOT COMING UP IN A VERY SHORT TIME. JUST HAVING A VERY BRIEF BREAK TO CATCH OUR COLLECTIVE BREATHS BUT THE INFO WILL BE APPEARING ON HERE WITHING 48 HOURS CONCERNING THE FIRST SIX MONTHS OF MATRIMONIAL BLISS, LONDON, PARIS, DEVON, HAUNTED PUBS, THE ENGLISH RIVIERA, YORKSHIRE DALES, ICE CREAMS/CHOCOLATE AND FUDGE, CASTLES AND DUNGEONS, FISH AND CHIPS (GOODNESS, THE ENGLISH CAN EAT!), ROBIN HOODS BAY AND ARGUABLY THE BEST BUSKERS ON EARTH AT THE FESTIVAL IN EDINBURGH. AS A CONSEQUENCE OUR GALLERIES WILL HAVE LOTS OF NEW IMAGES APPEARING OVER THE NEXT SEVERAL WEEKS. OH, AND ALSO AN ANNOUNCEMENT ON THE COMMENCEMENT (SHORTLY) OF “ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS” – A SCREENPLAY OF EPIC PROPORTIONS! SEE YOU SOON. AND SEE BELOW….
*** TOXIC LIVES *** – Synopsis (This novel is nearing completion. We have had numerous inquiries so please feel free to drop us a line)
Dobey and Maria had known each other from high school. Now, many years later, they had reconnected and were duly married.
Dobey had become a fashion photographer. He and Maria lived in a large Edwardian property on the banks of the Thames and to the outside world their existence seemed one to be envied. Those first few years were indeed idyllic. They traveled often and the demand for Dobeys services steadily grew. His success, however, coincided with a gradual decline in Maria’s mental health and mood. It was a change that Dobey was slow to discern.
One of the studio staff first brought to Dobey’s attention the disfigured photographs retrieved from a bin. Several clients had abruptly moved business elsewhere. Social engagements had fallen away. And Maria’s increasing paranoia and erratic behavior had been noticed beyond the confines of their marriage.
But it was the arrival of Maria’s sister, Victoria, that was to have the most dramatic effect so far and send events spiraling out of control. In a case that had local police baffled, Victoria’s husband had disappeared without trace six months prior during a camping trip and Maria had now coerced Dobey into letting her visit for several months to try to get her life back in order. Victoria was not beyond the suspicion of the police. And now with the two sisters together, some dark and sinister family secrets were soon to surface.
#5. HARRODS: JUL 2014
Got to backtrack a bit here. I FORGOT HARRODS! This is the place you go to to look at things you can’t afford; so we did.
Charles Henry Harrod started it all way back in 1824 from very humble beginnings. Today Harrods (and we’re talking about a single shop here) has 90,000 square metres of selling space; more than 300 separate departments; nearly 10,000 staff; more than 30 restaurants; 300,000 visitors/day in peak periods; over a billion dollars in annual revenue and they stock just about everything. You can even buy gold bars!
We visited the food hall first and spent some time dribbling over the countless varieties of breads, cheeses, cakes, chocolates, meats, sweets and international foods that were displayed in truly imaginative style. You could eat yourself to death in this place and even put on weight just looking at the stuff. The perfumery (which occupied Noelene for some time) was drenched in a heady aroma of possibly every perfume currently in production. The handbag and ladies shoe departments (which occupied Noelene for some time) were similarly intoxicating with the whiff of expensive leather. My wife held up a pair of casual runners and with a slackened jaw whispered, “A thousand dollars!” “You do get two shoes though,” I commented. In gift-ware we were attracted to an ornate gold and silver crab dish with an opening shell in which to pour sauce. This would look great during summer BBQs and seemed like a bargain at a mere $800. The sales assistant pointed out (with a titter) that that was just for the spoon (which I hadn’t even noticed), and that the whole ensemble could be secured for $20,000! Then we came across a crystal decanter with frosted engraving – $54,000! And an ornate piano for $500,000! I was starting to sweat. And I became immediately terrified to touch anything.
This “shop” reeks of opulence to the extreme and is a great place to go if you want to dream and see what very few of us can afford. If you are of immeasurable wealth you might opt for a box of prime tea for $8,000 a kilogram or a box of hand-made Patchi chocs ($10,000) to go with your tea. If you are into golf a two-ball putter (whatever that is) will set you back $160,000. Mind you, it does have a white gold head and is decorated with 240 rubies and 378 diamonds. A crystal bathtub will set you back nearly $800,000 and a pair of ruby slippers $1.6 million! The most expensive item so far sold at Harrods? An ocean going yacht for $165 million… well, it does need a crew of 34 to get it going!
At the foot of the escalators by “door three” stands a bronze monument to Princess Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed, son of the then owner. It was erected in 2005 and depicts the cheery couple dancing on a beach beneath the wings of an albatross. There is a condolence book nearby, in which we left a message and signed our names. The monument is titled “Innocent Victims.” The toilets in Harrods are promoted as “luxury” toilets so we just had to pay a visit. There were no diamond encrusted urinals here but the gents did smell rather delicious. A smart and suited chap a comfortable distance away dispensed paper towels on which to dab ones hands. I folded mine gently and placed it in my shirt-front pocket. I was not leaving this place empty handed. Nor too, it appears, a certain brazen thief back in 2012 who walked off with a $50,000 designer dress!
#4. POLPERRO – AND AN INTRODUCTION TO BRITISH GULLS: AUG 2014
Polperro is a small fishing village on the south-east coast of Cornwall. And just like my wife, the place oozes charm, character and beauty, all in generous proportions. Okay, so I’m feeling a little poetic this morning but honestly, this place is really quite sublime. Flower drenched cottages tumble down the steep cobbled lanes to the quay. Small fishing boats bob gayly (see, I told you I was feeling poetic) in the harbour – when the tide is in. And in the air there lingers the constant whiff of the sea and fish and chips; and…. circling gulls. But these are no ordinary gulls!
We were dining on the back upper deck of the Three Pilchards Inn (how’s that for a name?) in the sun and fresh air and marveling at the view out across the harbour and the hills beyond. Our crab sandwiches were soon to arrive; and so were the gulls. A woman dining at a nearby table had just become the recipient of a dropping of titanic proportions. Herring gulls are big, noisy birds. And like any large creature they obviously need to eat a fair bit. This thing approached from the sun like a Stuka. And boy did she get it! A direct hit on the temple, shoulder and upper thigh, with a fair bit of over-spray on the table and seat too. But her husband didn’t react to his wife’s plight at all, instead turning his attention to his pint of beer (which was half consumed), holding it up to the sun to inspect the contents. Clearly dissatisfied, he uttered a few expletives then banged the glass down on the table in disgust.
Polperro is nestled in an idyllic geographical location surrounded by steep slopes rolling countryside and precipitous cliffs pitted with caves. This, as well as the villages relative isolation, made it an ideal place for smuggling which has been associated with Polperro since it’s development as a port in the 12th century. Those activities reached a peak in the 1800s when Britain was at war with France and America. But even today the place still reeks of its smuggling past with its sing-along pubs, tightly clustered fisherman’s cottages, narrow lanes and scatty paths that wander away from the village and out into open countryside. All this atmosphere now attracts hoards of tourist but thankfully, for us, most of these had dissipated by late in the day and the chaos and clamor once more give way to tranquility and imaginings of an altogether different way of life.
#3. A HIRE CAR AND A HAUNTED INN: AUG 2014
We picked up our hire car in Dover but instead of a drab grey Ford Focus we were pleasantly surprised to be upgraded to a six-month old pearlised black Audi. This thing was swanky with rain detection windscreen, parking aids and all manner of paddles and levers clustered about the steering wheel. A manual for the car was not included so it took us about three days to figure out how to use the GPS and we never did quite fathom out how to turn on the headlights; not that they were needed.
Rye is a delightful little town in East Sussex situated on the confluence of three rivers. The place is positively ancient and cluttered with red pan-tiled roofed cottages and bumpy winding lanes. It is also home to the famous Mermaid Inn which was about to become home to us for the night. This inn is one of the most picturesque in England and dates from the early 1400 hundreds, though its cellars go back a further three centuries. Inside there are stairs that go down before going up, and stairs that go up before going down. There are loads of narrow passageways and sloping rooms and plenty of low doorways on which to knock yourself silly; which I did! This inn was also a favorite hangout for the infamous smugglers, the Hawkhurst Gang; who had a penchant for whipping and clobbering people and filling them with lead. Two of the gang’s leaders, Arthur Gray and Thomas Kingsmill, were executed just prior to 1750 but not before they and their chums had terrorised much of the area for nearly two decades. As you would expect of an inn with such colourful associations, there are plenty of rumours of secret passageways, hidden tunnels and, ghosts!
Our room looked like something straight out of Medieval times. Old furniture. Dark beams. Mullioned windows. And a large and heavy four poster bed. In fact the whole inn is decored this way which gives it a unique and impressive charm. The doors creak. The floorboards creak. The stairs creak. And there is no way you could sneak in or nick off early in the morning without being noticed. The dining room was set out as if awaiting a visit from Henry VIII and his entourage. In every quarter, the rooms, the passageways, the stairs, the bar and the common rooms, there wafted an unmistakable sense of age. And for a building this old, it was impeccably clean.
From our window we gazed out at the misaligned rooftops and pastures beyond. And it was with relative ease that I began to hear barroom banter and to detect the whiff of smuggled “bakky” from long ago. Our evening at the Mermaid Inn passed free of ghostly interaction, though my wife did spend most of it camped resolutely on my half of the mattress. The only peculiar nocturnal sensation that did occur however, was on account of the severe east/west slope in our room which determined a noticeable uphill walk to the loo!
#2. PARIS: JUL 2014
Paris is markedly smaller than London. About 2.5 million inhabitants as opposed to more than eight million, which sort of makes you realize just how big London is. In fact London is only marginally smaller than New York and is by a long way the largest city in the European Union! Anyway, enough about London.
Our introduction to Paris was rather interesting. We arrived via the Channel Tunnel on a Eurostar train which flashed by contented English sheep and cows on one side of the Channel and then by contented French sheep and cows on the other at around 200 kph. Shortly after disembarking at Gare du Nord we were set upon by another “Ali-looking” chap at the taxi rank. He gesticulated to a waiting black van (like the ones they kidnap people in in American movies) and waved a price list in front of us, pointing to a figure at the top that said 95 Euros. At this stage of the trip my experience with Euros was limited but even I knew that this was around 140 Australian dollars for what Google had informed us was a ten minute trip! We caught a “normal” taxi instead, which cost 12 Euros, though our driver subjected us to Middle Eastern music for the duration. When we reached the hotel he insisted that our three suitcases be treated as separate paying passengers (that’s a new one to me!). Anyway, in my best Arabic I told him to bugger off. We had arrived.
The architecture in Paris is quite splendid and the city is littered with plenty of spiritual relics in the form of churches and cathedrals. There are grand palaces and stately public buildings. And there are old and monumental apartment blocks with shuttered windows and which are entered only by a single and imposing communal door. I would have loved to have been invited in. Public places such as parks and green spaces are plentiful and vast and populated with canoodling locals, throngs of tourists and individuals selling the same tacky souvenirs.
As Noelene and I wandered up the Champs Elysees in search of a coffee and baguette one bright and sunny day, I saw on the pavement ahead what appeared to be mounds of black plastic bags of rubbish. As we got closer I realised they were bodies; human bodies! Perhaps they’d been mugged or fallen from a window? I almost stumbled over another that appeared magically and suddenly from nowhere. And then it dawned on me. They were Muslim women answering the call to prayer. Just flopped down on the pavement. On the pavement amongst the spit and chewing gum and cigarette ends. Now that’s devotion! And they seem to really love Paris!
During our stay we walked a lot. We got lost a lot. We sipped coffee and nibbled cakes in street-front cafes. We did all the things you do when you go to Paris and Noelene spent on French handbags what someone else might spend on a second hand car. We also dined in a fine French restaurant by candlelight where Noelene got to fulfill the last of her Parisienne desires. She ate snails! SNAILS DROWNED IN GARLIC!
# 1. LONDON: JUL 2014
I love London. I love London simply because there’s so much to love about the place. It has history. It has culture. It has tradition. And it has great pubs, restaurants, theatre, music, markets and, of course, some iconic places of interest. And Noelene loves London too now that she has shopped, and shopped, and……
We were met at the airport by Arani who ushered us into a swanky black car with a pull down flap between our seats that housed a suitably chilled bottle of champagne, two glasses, as well as some refresher towels. I just knew we were in for a terrific time. We had booked into the Millennium Gloucester in Kensington from where most of London is easily accessibly on foot or the Underground. Parks, museums, palaces and art galleries were all right on our doorstep; Harrods too. But it was the markets that beckoned my wife. And this day it was Camden Market that she had in her sights.
Camden Market is humming with colour, sounds and smells. And, of course, there are shops and stalls that sell, well… just about everything. The streets are cluttered with colourful characters and vendors pestering for business. We popped into a shop specializing in leather goods and were immediately set upon by Ali (I call him Ali because he looked like an Ali). Noelene looked smart in her jacket as did I in mine. Ali even told us so. But he was evasive about the price until he was sure we liked what we had tried on. “Eight hundred pounds for both,” he said in an authoritative tone. I hurriedly began to disrobe.
“No, no, no….” pleaded Ali. “For you, five hundred!” As we wriggled free from our jackets the price plummeted further. And by the time we both fought to get through the door it was under two hundred. This had me mildly confused and wondering if they were in fact leather at all. I was in need of a drink.
Down by the river I contemplated the froth on my glass of cold Stella while Noelene took delicate sips of her wine. Various craft pootled about on the water. The sun warmed our heads. And we nibbled on pizza wedges of gigantic proportions while molten cheese dripped from my chin and settled on my lap. I was in heaven. A short distance away three police officers sat on a shirtless man lying face-down on a path by the river. Another handcuffed him while a further three stood by and watched. I pulled out my camera and shot the man (now dragged to his feet) eigtht times with my 250mm Sigma. He was clearly intoxicated and soon hauled away.
Earlier in the day we lunched at a pub on Brompton Road named after a bunch of fruit but I didn’t mention this previously as I felt reluctant to commence this post on a negative note. Good grief was the food awful. I’m talking about enough-to-put-you-off-food awful! I started with a steak sandwich with watercress and mayonnaise for the equivalent of $13. The waitress, in fairness, soon noticed a mounting pile of boli (plural for bolus) on the side of my plate and inquired if all was well. On learning of my displeasure she offered me another choice from the menu. I opted for nachos but I think the chef had run out of cheese because each corn chip seemed to be glued to the other by a single small blip of cheese. The whole thing appeared to be cooked to within a whisker of incineration which meant that (apart from the awful smell) when I picked up a corn chip the whole pile came up as a single rigid mass. Should have stuck with the sandwich! Just prior to departing, a couple of young (obviously in love) chaps ambled in and sat at a snug and cosy table nearby. I felt an urge to warn them off the steak sandwich and nachos but the barmaid was within listening range. She was bigger than me so I thought better of it. Beer was great though!
WEDDING & HOLIDAYS
What a busy beginning to the year we’ve had, and what a terrific time too. Noelene and I got married in our back garden by the fishpond and I must say Noels looked a treat strutting her stuff down the “Red Carpet” (albeit numerous meters shorter than the Hollywood version). Still, the Mindarie rug did just fine. The food was tasty and varied. The company… well, thoroughly companionable. And the three ladies on flute, cello and violin added that special something.
Our time in Tasmania was more of a mini break than a honeymoon. We’ve reserved that for later in the year when we visit England, Wales, Scotland and France. In the meantime though, Tasmania really is a wonderful place – so picturesque, historic and an utter charm. I have been there before many years ago but did have a peculiar and troubled time back then (ever been on hols with a psycho??). This time the experience was altogether enjoyable and started off at the Chancellor Hotel overlooking Constitution Dock in Hobart. We had terrific views from our eyrie and soon settled into life on the Waterfront exploring the bars, eateries and scenery. Our first night was particularly memorable in that we stumbled upon (and, many hours later, out of) a charming old pub with a lone musician entertaining the crowd. I had an early start photographically the following morning and left Noelene to recuperate somewhere in the fluffy folds of one of the most comfy beds I have occupied for some time. All I can say is thank god for the advent of “auto focus”. And, upon my return 90 minutes later, my wife hadn’t moved an inch!
The great thing about Tasmania is that everything is so convenient and close at hand. It is big enough to get lost in but does impart that certain sense of isolation and lostness that seems to characterize island life. The place remains relatively untouched as far as is possible these days. And it really does have some outstanding areas of great natural beauty; none more so than the wilderness area around Strahan on the west coast. We spent several hours aboard the Lady Franklin II gliding effortlessly past areas where no human has set foot. Beauty around here defies superlatives. Secretive creatures plop in the water and rustle among the undergrowth. And of course there is the penal connections and the tales of torment and suffering on Sarah Island that have since found their way into numerous books and films. It almost (but not quite) made me feel guilty sitting in our leather bound chairs on the upper deck quaffing a selection of Australian and New Zealand wines and nibbling on some of Tasmania’s finest cheeses as the day, for us, slipped peacefully by.
THE TIME IS NIGH
Well, it will soon be Christmas and what a terrific one is in store. I recall in years gone by, Christmases with my ex-wife being about as merry as a bad case of hemorrhoids! They were bland, banal affairs of her and I nibbling a roast chook (that I always cooked) at the exclusion of all other familial interaction – a situation brought about by innate paranoia, insecurity and a downright hopelessly peculiar sense of logic on her part.
Nowadays things are entirely different, of course, and Christmas has truly become a time of sharing and caring, giving and taking and making the people that matter really feel important. Our new (King Arthur-sized) dining table is ready for it’s first work out. The BBQ too is ready and primed. The fishpond is glistening (after numerous days of frustration) and brimming with lively and contented inhabitants. And hemorroids are thankfully a long and distant memory.
Early in the New Year we are off to Tasmania and Sydney. But before that, sometime in January, there will be a truly momentous occasion. Any ideas what that might be?
2. THAILAND TRIP
November 2013 (2.08pm)
The journey from Patong to Khao Lak was about 90 minutes by courtesy car. I was recently recovered and Noels was oddly subdued. We were staying at the romantic boutique resort The Sarojin tucked away on a pristine slice of coastline to absorb ourselves in all the things you might get up to at a romantic boutique resort tucked away on a pristine slice of coastline.
The place is superb. Service, cleanliness, food, room, location…. was top drawer. The staff at The Sarojin want to make you happy. They are dedicated to making you happy. And they will organize anything for you (elephant ride while sipping champage, private beach-lit dinner for two…) as long as it’s legal!
Our room was fabulous. We had a huge candle-lit free-standing bath on river stones. Our own private cabana and five metre-long pool. A well stocked fridge. Sounds of the ocean close by. Huge comfy bed. Then, as soon as we had moved in, Noelene came down with what I had recently recovered from!
She did recover sufficiently in time for us to enjoy the remainder of our stay and boy did we make up for lost time. Massages, wine, food, swimming, cocktails, walks, wine, food, wine and plenty of time in our “private” pool. I now know what to expect in Heaven so at some point in your life you simply must come to this place.
1. THAILAND TRIP
November 2013 (4.30pm)
A Near-Death Experience
Oh my God! I’ve never had a country try to kill me before! The first few days in Patong went as expected. Pestered to exhaustion by tailors, taxi drivers, massage girls, ex-pats trying to sell time-share accommodation (even foreigners get in on the pestering lark) and watch/hand bag sellers. Goodness, these people have elevated persistence to another level entirely!
And so it was one evening, after another such exhausting day, that we found ourselves at an intimate corner table in a rather moodily lit “nameless” restaurant perched above the ocean. The views/drink/sea air/company and conversation were fabulous. So was the food until about three hours later.
It started around midnight and ended at lunchtime the following day. Every two hours (almost to the minute) my body convulsed and heaved in ways it has never done before. I felt (and probably looked like) Ragan in The Exorcist. It was so bad in fact that I got Noelene to record it visually for posterity and, perhaps, when the trauma wears off, a bit of a laugh in maybe a decade’s time. I can’t show you here, of course, but suffice to say I felt like I had been ravaged by a polar bear! I got no sympathy or relief from the hotel nurse. And at one point I considered asking Noelene to drag the bed to the edge of the balcony and tipping me over! It took several days to recover but there was an odd twist in store….
7. SOUTH AFRICA TRIP
1 st August 2013 (10.39am)
The Lap of Luxury.
I felt like Rocky Balboa standing on the balcony in my fluffy white robe peering out across the Bay to Table Mountain. What a view! What a hotel! My sparring partner (Noelene) and I stood in awe in slippered feet, glass of champagne in hand. The bed was covered in rose petals. Plump seals basked in the sun on the jetty below, we had just scoffed half a box of chocolates and appropriate music wafted from a bedroom big enough to play tennis in. Welcome to the Table Bay Hotel at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town. I don’t want to drop names but this place has been temporary home to Barack Obama, Robbie Williams, James Blunt, Charlize Theron, Jane Fonda, Michael Schumacher, Prince Albert, Al Gore, Mia Farrow the entire Manchester United football team and now me and Noelene. I could go on and on here; the roll call of the rich and famous is both long and impressive!
I’ve never had a phone in the bathroom! I’ve never had a stranger turn down the sheets at night and tuck me in (well, maybe not quite tuck me in). And the staff here love to open doors for you. In fact the only door they didn’t open was the one to the toilet! The inclusive breakfast comprised a choice of virtually anything you desire and came from all points of the globe. Dozens of choices of cheese and juices. An assortment of practically everything that has ever lived in the sea. Hams, pastries and potatoes done anyway that you like. Salads, fruits, breads, sweet meats, tea/coffees, sparkling wines, even roast duck… and this was for breakfast! We had four days to eat as much as we could and in a very short time we became as chubby as the nearby seals. We wallowed in the pool in the morning and we waddled about the shopping precinct in the afternoon. And during one memorable breakfast I increased in volume by 1.3kg!
More people visit the Victorian and Alfred Waterfront each year than live in New Zealand; and it’s not hard to see why. The place is a Mecca of ritzy jewelers and boutiques, bars and restaurants. Troops of street musicians exhibit talent beyond belief and the whiff of yet more food and nautical hoots lingers in the air. Everyone is content and everyone appears to be on holidays. And then, of course, there is that ever-present backdrop of Table Mountain, comforting and companionable as ever, peering down on all that is grand. We’re going to miss this place.
6. SOUTH AFRICA TRIP
27th Jun 2013 (9.50am)
Helicopters, Sharks and Shanty Towns.
We’d been looking forward to our intended scenic helicopter flight over Cape Town, down the coast and around Table Mountain for some time but our pilot recommended we alter the route due to “significant turbulence”. “How significant?” I asked. He raised an eyebrow. “It’s like a washing machine out there.” I glanced at Noelene. She nodded once. I turned to the pilot and said, “What the heck; we haven’t come all this way for nothing!”
The three of us hopped in, buckled up then took off into a misleadingly glorious morning for what would be the most horrendous and disconcerting flight of my life. To deflect from my growing unease (and as we were over the ocean) I asked Captain Aubrey if he spotted many sharks from up here. He did. And it appears that these South African sharks don’t mess about. It’s not uncommon for them to leap snapping and irritable from the water with great ease in search of prey (presumably fleeing seals or people) which kind of puts you off venturing out even above the water. Anything that comes looking for you with that sort of vigor deserves respect!
A short time later we were flying over Hout Bay when I noticed, smeared on the rocky slopes below, the Shanty Town into which Noelene and I had ventured the previous week. I asked Aubrey if this place had a name. The name now eludes me but Aubrey did add that three policemen had been shot dead there mere days before our visit. I seemed to be asking all the wrong questions.
But for Aubrey’s ongoing commentary, the rest of our flight was completed in relative quiet. We flew between Devil’s Peak and Table Mountain. We flew over President Zuma’s palatial retreat. Over the hospital where the first heart transplant was performed, over Table Bay and on back to the helipad.
Aubrey had provided a wealth of information in the short time we were together. The views were spectacular and the flight was, well, a thrill. But as we disembarked and farewelled our pilot, I suggested to Noelene that as soon as we returned to the hotel we should decline our acceptance (made the previous evening) of the offer made by a friendly chap in the bar to go sailing on Table Bay the following morning.
5. SOUTH AFRICA TRIP
10th Jun 2013 (10.06am)
The World’s Most Dangerous Monument
Cecil John Rhodes was an English-born businessman, mining magnate and politician. He founded the diamond company De Beers and also the territory of Rhodesia, which has since become two independent nations, Zambia and Zimbabwe. But Cecil was dogged by ill-health and died in 1902 aged 48. As befitting someone who crammed so much into a relatively short period, a monument was completed in 1912 to commemorate his achievements. But this monument, I discovered recently, is about as dangerous as Baghdad! SERIOUSLY!
Rhodes Memorial is an agglomeration of steps, pillars, walls and statuary neatly positioned behind Cape Town on the slopes of Devil’s Peak. And there are plenty of ways here that you could seriously injure, maim or even kill yourself without too much effort – take a close look at the photo.
There are corridors that lead you (in extremely subdued lighting) to archways that open quite literally into thin air. I was walking with my video camera held at arms length when I realized (by pure good fortune) that beyond the archway was a substantial drop onto the rocks below. No railings. No signs. No warnings of any type. If you were mildly distracted or not concentrating, like me, your life could come to a very swift end.
Kids, as they are apt to do, clamber excitedly (and unsupervised) on top of over sized stone lions with a perilous plop either side onto yet more rocks or concrete slabs. And take a look at the steps! When you are walking down them you don’t realize that if you deviate from the standard central steps you are in for a nasty surprise because the ones on either side, for some unfathomable reason, take on gigantic proportions. And the cobble stones on the “viewing” level are an absolute nightmare to negotiate.
There is a single (as far as I could tell) small and sufficiently inconspicuous sign that does excuse the authorities from any mischief you might do yourself. But my god; for the views out over the Cape Flats and the sea, the risks are worth it!
Rhodes Memorial – click to enlarge
4. SOUTH AFRICA TRIP
21st Mar 2013 (9.30am)
Before going to Hout Bay we stopped by the Sofia Cafe Oyster Bar, and guess what? Not an oyster in sight or even on the menu which seemed a little odd – a bit like giving a vegetarian restaurant a name like “Chuck’s Steak House!” But it got worse. We ordered prawns wrapped in bacon but Sofia was out of prawns. We ordered lamb koftas but Sofia was out of lamb. Our appetites had waned so we settled on a shared plate of bruschetta. Bruschetta is supposed to be grilled bread “massaged” in garlic, oil, salt, pepper and topped with tasty things like cheese, cured meats, tomato, capsicum… you can really get imaginative here. Ours was a few angles of toast topped with a flap of cold ham and partly melted cheese. YUK! A two-year old could have done better! Even the seagulls turned up their noses; or rather, beaks!
We arrived in Hout Bay rather peckish but made up for it by lunching at the Fisherman’s Wharf on arguably the world’s finest fish and chips. Ask for King Clip (fish) you wont be disappointed – great views too. Near the wharf a kid of about ten was making a risky living by standing on the rocks at the water’s edge with a bit of fish dangling from his mouth. A huge seal slowly approached and then lunged at his face to whip away the fish. After numerous near misses the kid propositioned standers-by for donations, presumably for a future face transplant! (seems only a matter of time).
We did what we were strongly advised not to and drove into some real run down areas to capture some images of the sorts of places you don’t want to call home. The local school was barricaded with barbed wire and looked pupil-less. Kids and dogs pee’d in the streets and suspicious characters lurked on every corner. The streets got narrower and narrower the further we went and we had the disconcerting sensation we were being watched at every turn. It was two weeks later during a helicopter joy-ride that we heard some very worrying news about where we had just been (story coming later).
Hout Bay harbour is a hive of activity. It’s colourful. It’s aroma laden. And there are loads of interesting characters to take candid photos of. Tourists haggle with street vendors. Brightly painted boats ready themselves for hours of hard toil. The beach arcs away in one gigantic crescent of ivory-coloured sand. And that mountain backdrop – it’s just inescapable.
3. SOUTH AFRICA TRIP
19th Mar 2013 (1.15pm)
This is a beautiful strip of expensive coastal real estate a few minutes drive from Cape Town and flanked by cafes, restaurants, shops and bars which in turn are flanked by a seemingly endless spine of imposing mountain. In front of all this is the popular beach of Camps Bay but Christ is the water cold! I mean really cold! Colder than a bank manager’s heart cold! It’s so cold in fact that people who live virtually on the beach’s doorstep have swimming pools! It was so cold that I made a noise I’ve never made before when I ventured in, barely ankle-deep!
Early morning sea mists here make for great photography so I decided to try out Noelene’s new swimming attire that was made in Brazil. Not as in donning it myself mind you, but rather of positioning her artfully in the viewfinder whilst she posed on a rock. No need for either of us to suffer the bite of the ocean here; we had a swimming pool back at the house in which we were guests.
The main strip of Camps Bay is great for eating, drinking, people-watching and more eating and more drinking. Vendors sell colourful trinkets made from bits of wire, bottle tops and empty cans. Street entertainers ambush you to finance their routines and everybody seems chatty, sociable and vacationally happy.
Late afternoon here is terrific for photography too as a great glowing orb of sun wobbles momentarily on the horizon before plopping gently into the ocean then scrambling up from behind the mountains once more the following day. The sky continued to radiate peach and platinum long after the sun had retired and massive fingers of mist reached slowly down between the mountain crevices as they crept towards the sea. These rivers of mist are in fact vast banks of cloud drawn seaward by the cooling temperatures and resemble a waterfall of unimaginable beauty in slow motion. What a way to end the day.
2. SOUTH AFRICA TRIP
7th Mar 2013 (10.30am)
What a terrific little enclave this is. Nestled among pink and blue mountains (depending on the time of day) this place could easily be in the Austrian or Swiss Alps. But it’s not. It’s about 70 kilometers north east of Cape Town and utterly beautiful and tranquil and, apparently, the peaks do become dusted in snow during winter as befitting such a scene. So much of a jewel is this little town it has experienced somewhat of a “boom” over the last twenty years and boasts some lovely restaurants, exclusive shops and plenty of B& Bs – often in vineyards because this is a world renowned wine district. So, with that in mind we stocked up and temporarily moved into the Dieu Donne Guest Farm which, in its beautiful natural setting, was on the doorstep to everything.
Franschhoek is one of the oldest settlements in South Africa and the area was once roamed by elephants. Now it is roamed by tourists. Talking of elephants we lunched at the Elephant and Barrel; a smallish, quaintish pub tucked away off the main street. Nice English pub atmosphere but the food? All I will say is that it was okay if you like your beer served in a cracked glass and your nachos (Noelene’s) looking and tasting like they’ve been left on the road in the sun for three days to cook, and your toasted sandwich and chips (mine) looking and tasting like they’ve been left on the road in the sun for three days to cook. Pity!
Armed with a bottle of Stellenbosch white (ok, two) we ventured down to the Jacuzzi at nearly midnight on our first evening. My god… the wine and cheese, a moonlit mountain and a moonlit Noels; I was in heaven. I have no idea what time we went to bed and hadn’t had so much fun since the previous night! In fact we got so much into the Franschhoek spirit that we trotted off to an exclusive local jeweler the following morning to have a particular gold and diamond ring for Noelene worked on all day by some dedicated craftsmen in readiness for our departure the following morning. That’s the sort of effect the place has on you.
1. SOUTH AFRICA TRIP
25th Feb 2013 (9.50am)
FROM HERE TO CAPE TOWN
Aircraft toilets; UUUURGH! They’re small, noisy and utterly unpleasant (bit like my ex-wife!). Honestly, these things just keep getting smaller and smaller. Surely aircraft designers could get a few extra centimetres from somewhere and add it to the toilets.
The flight from Perth to Cape Town was a bit of a haul, especially the way we went (via Dubai). One of the cabin staff had a terrible cold. Her nose was redder than Rudolph’s and she dispensed beverages with a (presumably used) tissue clenched in one fist. Oh dear. Two of the seats in front of us were occupied by very small children. At dinner time when we requested of the cabin staff that these children place their seats in an upright position so we could eat like everyone else we were told, “They are alseep.” So?
I had no use for the knife and fork. My face was so close to my tray it was easier just to lick the food off the plate. Apparently half fare passengers take precedent over those paying full fare. I wont mention the airline (Emirates) but it was disappointing. On the way back it took two hours to get a glass of water! Okay, enough about aircraft grizzles and ex-wives, what about Cape Town?
With its back against Table Mountain, and its toes dipped in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, there can be few cities situated in more beautiful natural surroundings than Cape Town.
With the sentinels of Devil’s Peak and Lions Head either side of Table Mountain, the Twelve Apostles marching away to the east and the Hottentot Ranges to the west, the city is utterly dominated by mountain landscape. And, as we descended over these heaving grape-blue mounds and wheeled in from over the sea, I knew this was going to be a place of terrific photographic opportunities.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: WE WILL BE ENGAGED IN A PROJECT IN SOUTH AFRICA FOR SEVERAL WEEKS. AS A CONSEQUENCE THERE MIGHT BE A SMALL DELAY IN PROCESSING PRINT ORDERS, THOUGH THE USUAL “CONFIRMATION OF ORDER” EMAIL WILL BE FORWARDED TO YOU UPON RECEIPT OF YOUR PRINT REQUEST. WE APPRECIATE YOUR UNDERSTANDING IN THIS MATTER.
I apologize for the lack of BLOG at the moment but this site has only recently been completely rebuilt and I have spent considerable months and expense ridding myself of a particularly egregious “monster”….. hmmmm!
I assure you though, that in the coming weeks this BLOG will be filled with “juicy” comments – photographic and otherwise – and some truly mind-blowing thoughts and ideas. Can’t elaborate at the moment I’m afraid so be patient a little longer and I will get onto this upon return from Darkest Africa. Can’t wait to talk to you then and share with you our experiences.
From all at the studio; thanks to our loyal customers for your business throughout the year and to those who are new to our site. All the best for 2013.
Paul and the team