Monday, October 24, 2016

A new/old Beachhouse...Filled with past Memories and those still to be made...

My journey as a "rookie renovator" is almost at an end.

Six months ago I began the journey when I bought full equity in a beach house I shared, as told here.
I have learnt so much from a great group of local "tradies" who all worked together, with impeccable manners shown towards each other and the rookie renovator!

The kitchen has always been the hub of the house for me...I gain enormous pleasure from cooking for family and friends.  The "new" kitchen is open plan and has a great use of light.

The back room opposite the kitchen and beyond the lounge room was opened up by removing the dividing wall, et voila, a huge, modern open space.

To all of those who assisted me with thoughts, advice, corrections, hugs, wines and laughs, many all know who you are.

Geoff the 'project manager' and Steve 'handyman extraordinaire'

Geoff was such a great teacher and support
The old kitchen with little light
The new kitchen with the bench facing the view of the ocean
The rest of the house has enjoyed old/new furniture.  The cane lounge setting I bought when I was 19...and it was great to paint it white and give it a new look.  The dining setting has been in my family for decades...and for the remainder, I became a great fan of Ikea!

Old lounge room with another room to the right, now opened

The new lounge room is bathed in light with views of the river and ocean

A housewarming gift...let the good times roll!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Somewhere, Somehow, Someday...Love and other Matters...

I am the child of parents who knew all the words to all of the musicals of the '50's and '60's, and my mother's favourite movie was West Side this song by Barbra Streisand and Josh Grogan was part of my emotional development. And as I reflect on my life of love and longing, it resonates with a singular truth.

Recently I was asked by a friend for advice about her love life because, as she offered, she respected mine.  Well, that certainly opened the repository of memories!

I have loved and been loved.  My first love is still in my life, albeit from the other side of the world.  We are friends who share memories of a teen love, but a very real love which impacted on both of our lives and remains a testimony to the innocence of youth. My children's father remains one of the great loves, and friends, of my life.

So many of the friends I have loved, and sometimes lost, remain in my heart.  As I explained to my friend, friends can be loved without being lovers.

But when we choose to become lovers the relationship necessarily takes on another of sheer joy, happiness,  trust, respect, fear of loss, confidence and clarity of self, and empathy for the other in the whirlpool of emotion which is all encompassing, and becomes the love.

And when lovers choose to explore their special moment in time together the trust should be paramount. But as testified by so many in poignant musical revelations this is not always the case.

I have had my heart splintered at times.  And the splinters helped remind me of the fragility of the heart which loves unconditionally.

But five years ago, I actually had my heart broken.  The crack consumed me both emotionally and physically for a few years.  I had trusted someone who shared with me a long distance relationship. Our loving friendship gave me confidence to challenge myself in ways which I had never considered.  I embraced a new country, I climbed glaciers, I snorkelled in remote island locations...and I loved unconditionally.

And so my advice to my friend with her love life? Love like there is no tomorrow and respect, trust,  and laugh.

My broken heart has had a benefit; with the knowledge of such intense emotional pain I have been able to appreciate literature differently, in both English and French.

And to fall in love again with a wonderful man and be in a mutually respectful and trusting relationship.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Renovations... and Manners with the Tradies...

It all started in January.  My partner and I were having a two week holiday at my Beach house, a good time to get the little jobs done around the house and garden. It is an asbestos clad modular house built about 1970.  I have co-owned it since 1989 and loved it for its rustic, very casual ambience, never worrying too much about maintenance as it was just "The Beachhouse". Being in the country, as the house is located at the mouth of the Moore River and overlooks the river flowing into the Indian Ocean, I was advised to have a termite/white ant checkup as the house had not been inspected for some years.

From the moment he arrived the termite expert looked worried..."there's a lot of activity around the garden" (activity being termite trails) and when he finally climbed to the top bedroom and I casually mentioned a bit of a "bounce" in the floor boards, he pounced.  With what appeared to be a moment of almost glee he pulled back the carpet and announced..."well, what have we here? I don't like the look of this".  I must say the holes in the floorboards looked ominous.

It doesn't look good...

Within a few minutes the boards had been lifted and the tell tale traces of fairly extensive termite damage were revealed.  He started talking about lifting all the boards, digging into the concrete slab on which the house rested and exploring all the main wooden beams supporting the house.  As his excitement grew, my incredulity increased.  Was all this really necessary? Couldn't the house just be sprayed when we were not in residence?  Absolutely not...the termite expert was adamant that the concrete needed to be drilled in 40mm spaces and filled with toxic poison (government sanctioned!) to kill the bugs at source.  And then the internal components of the house would be treated.  By the time he left, half the room's boards had been lifted, there was a dangerously gaping hole in the floor and a sense of panic in me. 

Looking straight down to the room below...

But before he left, I called the other owner (my ex-husband)  and we decided the treatment needed to proceed.  Knowing a bit about these matters, he spoke to the termite expert, and following a conversation with lots of chatter about poisons, advised me that Lee knew what he was talking about and to give him the go-ahead.

And so the train of events was set in place. To cut a long story short, a few weeks later my ex-husband decided that the house should be pulled down and rebuilt as the renovations following the termite damage would be so costly. This presented a difficulty for me as my budget was more limited than his and his wife has taste for interior design dramatically different to mine.  After extremely good advice from my daughter and life matters guru, I offered to buy him out.  He jumped at the opportunity as his wife had apparently never liked the place anyway.

Firstly the floor in the spare bedroom needed repairing;  and while this room was generally used for storage purposes it was a wasted space.  My son-in-law, a lawyer gifted with an architect's eye, suggested that for very little expense I could have the wall knocked down between the bedroom and the living space, ensuring that the house would have a more modern, open ambience.

Down comes the wall

I asked around the town who I should approach with regard to having the work done and was delighted to be introduced to Geoff, who would become not only the builder but the project "director.  Steve the handyman directed me to Paul the painter and Glenn the cabinet maker.  Why a cabinet maker? Because when I saw the open space  I could envisage a new kitchen complementing the whole look. 

Geoff dismantling the kitchen, piece by piece...

So then I needed an electrician, Arthur, to change over the power board to cope with the new supply demands and install the lighting need to modernise "the look". 

Everyone knows Arthur the electrician...

Suddenly I was in the process of having plans drawn up, contracts signed and commencing the route to renovation knowledge.

All of these wonderful people are "locals" in the area, and not surprisingly they all know each other.  When I visit to see the progress I invariably meet their wives and girlfriends who are all fascinated by the conversion of the old asbestos modular into a modern looking space.  I think they are a little curious about this "lady with the manners business" who speaks on the radio... I gave a telephone interview one day when I was up at the house, and they all took a break to listen!  Nevertheless, while obviously trying to watch their language around me they all call me "mate" or "love" and treat me like the rookie of renovations that I am.  But they are patient with me and so kind as they explain what they are doing and why.

Paul the painter was incredulous when I said I wanted everything in the house painted white...what about the wooden features around the doors and beams, and the faux wood veneer on the staircase  he asked?  I replied that I thought it was ugly, and everything would look fresh in white, while also making the space look bigger..."well you're paying the bills" he mumbled with a cursory smirk. At the same time I could see that he took great pride in his work and would end up showing off the transformation to his "mates".

Paul called me "girlie" when he was explaining his choice of paint...quite the compliment!

And so the process is nearly finished. My dogs and I have spent many nights at the house without lighting, but fortunately with power to illuminate the lamps scattered around the extension cords for the two small heaters which have battled to keep us warm despite holes in the roof and floor.

Ruby and Amèlie have spent a lot of beach time avoiding the builders...

The old kitchen and I had shared many wonderful times together preparing food for family and friends.  I knew her shortcomings and nuances and many of them I will miss.

My favourite space in the house for 27 years...

But now I have memories to make in my new, very white kitchen...Paul said "no surprises you had it made in white!" with a twinkle in his eye.  It still needs tiles and the whole renovation is waiting on floor coverings, but I get a thrill every time I walk into it.  

There is lots of space for party preparations...

When all the work is finished I have promised all the tradies and their wives and girlfriends that I will have a party for them.  Because as is the life in the country, these wonderful men have not only worked for me, but we have all become friends.  At the end of the day we always share a drink..."wine for you love?" they ask as they open a beer  and grab a wine from the fridge and we chat over the ups and downs of the day.

I really enjoy that all of these people have encouraged me to learn about what they are doing, explaining the technicalities of power supply, types of paint, cabinetry details, lighting choices and all the while comparing "the job" of my beach house with whatever else is being renovated nearby.

The Moore River meets the Indian Ocean...

It has been a great journey.  I have gone over budget knowing that this house will always be "The Beachhouse" to my children and that the modernisation has not changed its ambience too much...sand between the toes and suncream on the faces of my grandchildren when they return from a morning at the beach will ensure that.  

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Back to the Future in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands...

Moored off South Island (photo the author 2007)

I am returning in a few days to the island paradise of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands after an absence of nine years. It is with mixed emotions, I must admit.  The last time I spent Anzac Day  on Cocos was April 2007;  I took up my late father's headstone for his grave, he had died on New Year's Eve 2006.  

My father's grave in 2007 (Photo the author)

While I am  again visiting for Anzac Day and ready to enjoy all of the commemorations which accompany such an important memorial day on a remote island, I am wanting to show my partner, and fellow avid snorkeller, the beauty of a remote part of Australia, visited by few.  He has a milestone birthday due in a few months, and so by way of a birthday tribute I felt a visit to this island paradise would be a fitting gift. And the gracious man that he is appreciates that there will be moments of the past which I will lay to rest.

I made a speech at the Anzac Day service in 2007 in memory of my late father
My father, a retired Royal Australian Naval Commodore, lived out the last few years of his life between his home in Perth, and his island paradise of Cocos.  He was invigorated by the simple life of the islands, the beauty of his surroundings and the kindness of the people, both the expat western Australians of West Island and the Australians of Cocos Malay descent who reside on Home Island.

I  spent many wonderful weeks with him over the years when my children would spend part of the school holidays with their father;  our time together was marked by long chats about life and living, by long thoughtful silences, and many gin and tonics on his front verandah overlooking the island runway (which remains unfenced to this day!)

The planes land on an unfenced runway; the golf course runs either side of the runway!(Photo the author 2007)

So much has been written and spoken about the perils of revisiting old memories.  I am  looking forward to going back to Cocos and enjoying the islands for what they are, not what they have meant to me escape from life's travails, a positive bonding with a parent, an opportunity for self reflection and a marvellous excuse to party!

This time I go with an open mind and a loving partner.  Perhaps it will be my last visit, only time will tell.  But next week, Cocos and I get to bond again...and I will endeavour to win at two up on Anzac Day, to catch up with old friends, and to make new memories.

The solemn Anzac Day service is commemorated by serving members of the Australian Defence Force (photo the author 2007)

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Life do Life's Manners...

Back in France, October 2015

It has been six months since I posted to this blog.  For a number of reasons.  Those of you who are regular bloggers probably never get "blog block"; it occurred when my imperative to write, to share life's matters and my thoughts on life's manners seemed so much less important than living the life which has been mine for the last six months.

But the "block" has lifted, and after so many very special events, most of which  involved modern and traditional manners in one way or another, this post is a chronicle of the "block" time.

It all started in September last year. My son turned 30, the same age I was when he was born.  So many memories resurfaced as we  shared stories of the growing up and maturing of "my baby". Rather than having a large party, his choice was a lunch for family and close friends...a world apart from the fast paced life he had lived for the previous ten years. He is a considerate, worldly and well mannered man of whom I am very proud.

A few days after his birthday celebrations I headed back to France when the weather was turning from winter to spring in Australia, and from autumn to winter in France. I arrived in Villefranche-sur-Mer after an absence of over two years.

A wonderful view from my apartment in the Old Town of Villefranche sur Mer

It was a strange feeling to be "at home"  in a country on the other side of the world, in a culture which I would need time to reembrace, speaking a language which relied, during  my first few days, on facial expressions which I hoped would complement my often exasperated and overly cautious attempts at the French language skills I had assiduously worked on in the two an a half years since my last experience in Villefranche.  Nevertheless I settled for a day before I returned to l'Institut  de Français and the familiar faces of the teachers and administrators.

It was an unexpected emotion returning to this wonderful school, and not feeling completely like a "new girl" on her first day.  That experience was past me and I automatically felt connected to the environment and considerate of the new students, understanding fully their trepidation during the first day of tests, written and oral.  A day when we could speak in our native language;  the last time before graduation when we were on the Institut's grounds.

The teachers and supporting personnel are so very professional that they remember our names within 24 hours.  They are accomplished "diplomats" and it was comforting, if not surprising to me, to realise that a couple of the "profs" did actually remember me from my previous enrolment.The month long course finished all too quickly.  I had again encountered the "I can't do this" moment at one stage, when the overwhelming exhaustion of immersion cut in;  but most students hit that place and afterwards, as with me, move onto then another level of proficiency.  I still don't understand why, but it happened to me on a Thursday in the third week.

My time in Villefranche was enhanced by the arrival of an American friend I had met when studying at l'Institut in 2013.  While we had a pact to only speak in French, so as to enrich the immersion experience for me as she is almost fluent, our excitement at catching up, and our everyday life stories occasionally fell back into English;  with no regrets for either of us, as our time together solidified our long distance, long lasting friendship.

We shared time again at our favourite bar in Villefranche on Friday nights...

My return to Australia and my settlement back into my home life was made easier by those whom I love.  They understood that for sometime I would have one foot in France and the other in Australia, not because of jet lag but because of my longing for the other country and the Louise that I was there, a stranger in an increasingly familiar place.

Then in December my life changed again. Early in the month I celebrated my 60th birthday with a black tie formal dinner at my home.  It was a celebration of my life to date with my family and the wonderful friends who have shared in my journey so far.

So special to have my party by the pool...December in Australia!

But one hour before my guests were due to arrive my daughter, living on the other side of the country and suspecting earlier in the day she may have been in labour, delivered my first granddaughter!  She gave me the greatest gift any child could give her mother...a grandchild with whom I will be bonded through a shared birthday.  The joy of having two healthy grandchildren and to be surrounded by family and friends quite overwhelmed me with happiness.

Happy birthday to me!

Forty-eight hours later, I arrived in Sydney to meet my granddaughter and to cuddle my 21 month old grandson...and to hug my daughter as only a mother can.

Hi...I'm your big brother!

And so to manners... Manners change, traditions evolve and cultural manners differ between  countries; but do the general requirements of consideration towards others change? I don't think so.

The experiences of the last six months have demonstrated to me that fundamentally manners are the same, all over the world, and within the different generations.  I was shown amazing consideration in France when I was speaking French away from the school; my tenses were not always correct, but I was communicating without fear of failure and with humour, being understood and, dare I say it,  having mutually beneficial conversations. I also experienced myself changing my mannerisms and facial expressions so as to align with those who were showing me such consideration as I attempted to communicate with graciousness.

Later when communicating on my return with my little grandson, I was aware that he was like a sponge in absorbing the nuances of life around him; including, as a little boy under two, understanding the consideration required with his baby sister. And the consideration required of his needs, while still establishing his boundaries of manners, by his parents and those others around him.

I look forward to sharing manners and other matters with my we are at her Christening...

People often ask me if The Percy Institute of International Protocol is still practical and people want a knowledge of manners, are they not passed down through families and cultures? Last night, after presenting a two hour workshop on Modern Manners to a Year 11 (age 16) group of male students at a local college and then being Guest Speaker that evening at a formal Mothers and Sons dinner these questions answered themselves. The young men were proud to show off their newfound table etiquette skills, their confidence in escorting their mothers to the tables, and seating them comfortably, and making conversation with the other table guests. Many of the mothers remarked that they just didn't have the time to teach manners to their children;  but that their eyes had been opened as to how much confidence had been gained by their sons in a short period of time. They had showed that they wanted the knowledge.

Modern manners are evolving.  When I introduced, during the workshop, the subjects of social media and dating, and the situations of first dates and breaking up via message/call/email/facebook, etc. the students all realised that there are no modern manners "rules".  However, these young Australians did suggest that consideration and empathy for others should guide their decisions...Modern Manners, or just Good Manners?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

With reflections on motherhood, 8mm film, memories and music...

'My little prince' and me...July 2015

I have had a night of reflection following an extraordinary one and a half hours in which I shared 32 year old Super 8mm film reels with my daughter. There is no soundtrack;  the only audible comments are those we made while watching them together so many years later.  She is now a mother of a 17 month old son, and awaiting the arrival of another child in December.

The reels, filmed mainly by her father, commenced with minutes of her, before she could walk, staggering for a few steps before falling onto her bottom, only to straddle forward for another few steps. They concluded with her, at about 5 years of age, riding a small tricycle with a back tray in which she carried her younger brother. In between they documented the life which was hers for those 4 or so years.  Our family traversing Europe while I was pregnant with her brother, returning to Australia and showing, even at such an early age, her enduring strength of character.

The particular joy I felt when I watched these images with her tonight was when my daughter looked at the little girl in the film, feeling realistically disconnected from the image, but realising how much that little girl looked like and had some of the mannerisms of her son!

Two months ago I was visiting Sydney and my grandson, 'my little prince',  was at the same stage of development as his mother had been as that tottering toddler;  holding on tightly to my daughter's hand as he tentatively put one foot in front, or to the side, depending on his balance, of each other.

This weekend they are visiting us in Perth, on the other side of Australia. They arrived late last night; and while we started the day in a bright and breezy frame of mind, as the day progressed my little prince became more unwell with a nasty cough and a wheezy sound in his chest.  Some hours later he is settled, but the threat of a possible  emergency visit  to the children's hospital loomed large over the afternoon despite the visit of a doctor.  It reminded me of an emergency trip to the same hospital when my daughter was a little girl of  4;  I stayed all night in a chair beside her bed, terrified, exhausted but thankful for the care she was given.  When I awoke from a fitful, upright sleep it was to see my mother offering me her comforting chicken sandwiches.  I hadn't thought about that night for so many years but after watching these films my memories, long unremembered, but not forgotten, have resurfaced.

And I wonder, did my mother feel these same emotions?  The emotions of a mother reflecting on the amazing journey that she takes towards becoming a grandmother? The early uncertainties of motherhood, the mistakes, the joys and moments of indescribable pride,  the apologies, the tears of happiness and sadness?  The what ifs?...

I will never know because my mother died many years ago.  But I now want to have these conversations with my daughter;  I don't want her to wonder as I do.  And equally I would like to have them with my son when he is a father.

My night of reflection has also encouraged me to disturb from their long repose the music tracks which enveloped me in the evenings those 30 or so years ago after the children had drifted off to sleep;  they have quietly again played as I write, and have comforted me as my memories have reappeared as the treasures that they are.  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Miss World Australia, Masterchef Australia...and Manners...

Some of the contestants and the author at Crown Perth, Western Australia...wearing beautiful Linney's Pearls

It was a wonderful surprise to recently have my company, The Percy Institute of International Protocol, invited to enter a partnership with The 2015 Miss World Australia pageant which is being held in Perth, Western Australia in August this year.  My role is to coach and mentor the contestants  on the various aspects of modern manners which will enable them to enhance the experience of representing not only their State but also perhaps their country.

In my coaching role...

A few weeks ago I first met the young ladies who come from a diverse range of backgrounds. They were looking forward to enjoying the experience and personal development which entry in the pageant promised, some of them more confidently than others. I spoke with them about grooming and personal presentation, deportment, modern manners, and dining etiquette in both formal and informal circumstances.  

Two weeks later the pageant was launched and the same young ladies were presented to the pageant sponsors and partners at a very glamorous event.  I was so proud to see the changes in the contestants; their self confidence had risen enormously.  The ladies are supported by a number of people coaching them in the arts of makeup and pageant grooming, communication and multimedia skills and more. 

The 2015 Miss World Australia Western Australia pageant launch

I have been asked regularly which of the components of my coaching  the ladies have most embraced;  it is without doubt the dining etiquette detail.  Which leads me to once more comment on the table manners of the judges on one of Australia's most watched programmes, particularly now in final's week, Masterchef Australia

In 2011 I wrote a post, Masterchef Australia...and table manners...or not? commenting on the shocking table manners showed by the judges of the competition. Four years later, one particular judge still licks his knife blade when he wants to relish a sauce and one of the other holds his utensils like garden tools.

The Percy Institute regularly receives clients who request the dining etiquette course not only for private reasons but as an important inclusion in corporate training.  The general age of the clients is from the early 20s and they all comment that a knowledge of appropriate table manners is still very necessary.

Many of the fastidious and rather unnecessary components of formal dining etiquette are no longer applicable, unless dining in an extremely formal restaurant.  I remember being caught out some years ago when dining at the beautiful Restaurant le Meurice, Paris.  The amuse-bouche was served on a tiny porcelain artichoke shaped plate the size of an artichoke leaf.  As I checked the numerous pieces of cutlery already presented on the table I could find nothing which I thought related to this exquisite offering.  I requested information from our waiter who informed me that this morsel should be eaten from the tiny plate as if one was eating an artichoke leaf!  

Restaurant le Meurice Alain Ducasse, Paris

While our lives tend to be less formal, and with many homes in Australia no longer designed with dining rooms, for many the habit has become to either eat only food which can be managed with the fingers, or perhaps a fork.  When confronted with a range of utensils at a restaurant, for example, the lack of skill creates not only confusion, but often panic. 

The Masterchef Australia programme is an excellent one which I watch whenever possible (and if not, it is recorded for later viewing) enjoyed by many families.  I think it is a shame that, when tasting, the judges do not show regard for the correct way in which to use the utensils which complement the dishes they are experiencing. They are experts in their field and I would like to see them also as role models for modern table manners.