Thursday, 20 August 2009

Ho Ho Hobart - Happy 50th, Smack!

I've always wanted to visit Tasmania. People make jokes about Tassie all the time, and I've figured out why: they're jealous. The mainland is huge and relatively flat. Tasmania isn't. It's little and it's rugged, and it's very, very pretty. Well, the little bit of it that I saw last weekend was, anyway – and it's whetted my appetite for more.

It's not really a place to go to just for a weekend – but hey, sometimes there are good reasons – and we had one of the best: Smack's surprise 50th birthday party.

Smack is another motorcyclist and a damned good bloke. He wears t-shirts of questionable taste, and seems to have a lot of motorbikes – mostly Ducatis, but also a single cylinder something-or-other that you have to kickstart. He's a biker from way back, and over the years has collected a lot of biker friends from all over the country. Many of them converged on Hobart last weekend, unbeknown to Smack, to meet up with his Tassie entourage (gee, he knows a lot of people!) and poke fun at his oldness. It was great to catch up with old friends and to make some new ones.

(photo: The Terrible Three meet again - me, Katt & Maggles)

What a hoot! You should've seen Smack's face when he realised the crowd of people at Sublime Pizza were all there to see him. The fact that we'd all just exploded bags of those noisy party poppers and yelled “SURPRISE” should've given it away, but he looked a bit nonplussed, (they say Tasmanians are a bit slow...) then his eyes got bigger and bigger, and he said (in typical Smack style) “You bastards!”

The organisers of the party, a mysterious and very sneaky trio known as Connie and the Stunt Doubles, did a great job of bringing the rag-tag mob together from places far and wide, with a bit of help from a Melbourne bloke called Marty. (thanks, all of you – what a great weekend!)

Now, as my memory is a little hazy, I will have to make things up from this point – although I know we definitely went to Joe's Garage (a bike-themed pub) after eating at Sublime (delicious pizzas!), giving Smack his pressie- a black Shoei helmet so he can do Stig impersonations - and enjoying a delicious ice-cream cake, tastefully decorated with a photo of the birthday boy himself (in yet another tasteless t-shirt!)

(photo: Smack, sneaky daughter Connie and a merry reveller)

The night passed in a blur (although that may have been something to do with copious quantities of Wild Turkey, wine and cider that a certain person consumed). It must've been a great night, because Pisshead and I didn't get back to our accommodation till almost 4am. I'm hoping like mad that there are no CCTV cameras along the Hobart waterfront – although perhaps I could then confirm whether Pisshead's assertion was true. He tells me I 'bumped' into a guardrail on the long stagger home. While I can recall weaving and wobbling, I don't remember any 'bumping' or any guardrails – but something must've caused what felt like a broken hip the next morning!

(photo: Marty & Jules)

There were more pubs on Sunday – there certainly are a lot of pubs in Hobart – before Pisshead and I headed off to the airport, where his reputation was shot to pieces. We met up with Jodz, G-S & Zippy at the airport, and Pisshead actually knocked back the offer of a beer! Too funny! (Actually he was being a responsible citizen - he had a long drive home from Sydney airport.)

I think I need to go back, just to make sure Tassie is in fact as much fun as I thought. Next time on a motorbike, for sure! (and to find out who the mysterious woman is, who is pictured below with Pisshead!)

(photo: Pisshead and evil mystery woman)

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

G Garb returns to Earth - sigh...

Thelma and I parted company in Sydney – temporarily, mind you – after our epic UK journey. Our day jobs and real lives awaited. Erk.

Not to mention jet-lag. Omigod, how insidious is it? It took me nearly a week of falling asleep at odd times, and forcing myself to stay awake at others (an unheard of experience for this insomniac!) AND going to work at my usual hour every day. No wonder my poor blog has been neglected.

Thelma has a slightly more flexible working arrangement, and keeps more civilised hours, but she suffered as well. I rang her occasionally and got babble - something that sounded like a weird combo of sleep-talking, hysteria and Atlantean (or something!). Jet-lag really does suck. However, seeing as we are now sophisticated international jet-setting women of mystery and intrigue, I will stop whingeing about jet-lag, and will pretend that in our sophisticatedness we didn't even notice it!

I will also not mention the terrible toll the trip took on our, um, bowel habits, or the outrageous profits that laxative companies have made in Canberra alone since my return! When they talk about your body being disrupted by travel, they're not kidding!

But apart from the weird sleep and odd-innards – we're home sweet home now. Reflecting on the trip, I have to say it was a fabulously once-in-a-lifetime thing – what memories! What photos! What hangovers!

Thelma and I have had to pick up our lives in Greta (Thelma) and Canberra (Betty), and our business planning now takes place over the phone, rather than within the luxurious confines of Claridge's! (oh, what a bloody hard THUD back to reality that is!)

For the time being I'm returning you to your regular programming, and the Occasional Adventures of Betty is once again primarily my Betty blog – but changed forever (as Thelma and Betty are) because G Garb has become such a fabulously challenging part of my life now as well (thank you Thelma!). G Garb fans - don't abandon me now, because until the G Garb site is fully functional, I'm happily sharing my blog with G Garb.

What a mega-adventure the UK was, and now we are firmly finding our footing back on Planet Earth, and focussing on selling some sophisticated cool G Garb hats!

The fab new G Garb website is under construction. This weekend will be a busy one as Thelma and Betty get together with our lovely web-guru to look at ways to make the G Garb website exciting, edgy and user-friendly. Watch this space...

Right now, though, I'm off to blog about a wonderful weekend in Tasmania!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Havoc at Heathrow - G Garb Goes Home

The thing is, when you're going to spend one night at Claridge's, you want to make the most of the experience. We had intended staying awake all night, so as not to miss a minute of it, but by midnight, this old chook was all done in – and decided that sleeping in the lovely, monstrous Claridge's bed was an integral part of the Claridge's experience. I took my champagne-soaked brain and exhausted bones to bed, and was quite correct - it was divine!

Thelma lasted a few hours longer.

Of course, there is a direct correlation between tiredness levels and brain deadness levels. Hold that thought.

A massive repack of suitcases for the journey home was in order before our car arrived and we were once again whisked through the revolving door into the morning chaos of London – in the nicest possible way.

Our driver was a cheery sort who got us to Heathrow in plenty of time, and that was when the 'fun' began.

Remember that tiredness/brain deadness correlation? It's the only explanation I have for the 'Oops' moments that followed. We checked in our baggage at the Qantas counter, and just before Thelma's was trundled away she realised she needed to retrieve it to do yet another repack. It was kind of funny in a cheek-burning way, as she burrowed through piles of dirty laundry and carry-on luggage right there at the check-in counter to remove bottles of perfume, cosmetics, deodorant etc – in other words, lots of LAGs stuff – from her carry-on luggage, and transferred it all to the giant suitcase.

I hopped from foot to foot and looked apologetic as the check-in queue grew longer behind us, and finally the giant suitcase – now even heavier – was checked in again. We shuffled away to the next disaster – security screening.

At Heathrow you practically have to unpack your carry-on luggage and undress, to get through screening. How embarrassment. Off came the stinky shoes, the hat, the jacket. Out of the bag came the laptop and the smug little LAGs bag. I chucked my shoulder bag into the box as well, and walked through the scanner to collect my stuff.

Getting dressed again on the other side, I realised my shoulder bag hadn't reappeared. Shit – my wallet! My Camera! My fab mobile phone! I dashed to the screening counter to ask for it, just as a stern-faced screener lady appeared with my bag in hand. My relief suddenly turned to horror as she said “Right, let's have a look in here then, shall we?”

How embarrassment again! “Ah, this is the problem'” she said, pulling the can of Red Bull from the depths of the shoulder bag where I had totally forgotten it. I said a bad word and she laughed.

“Do you want to drink it before I take it away?” she said, so I gratefully guzzled it in about 5 seconds flat (thereby proving I was not trying to smuggle liquid explosives on board) and said something stupid about the much-needed boost to my caffeine levels, while she went through my bag carefully, swabbing my camera and phone for traces of explosives, seeing as I had already shown myself up as a complete idiot who couldn't be trusted to get on a plane properly.

I hope my boss never reads this...

At last, we were allowed to skulk off, red-faced, in search of coffee (which I no longer actually needed after the massive Red Bull hit). Great start to the day.

It was a relief to get on the plane without further embarrassment, and take off at about midday, Thursday (London time).

What can I say about the flight home? It was long and tiring and they made us get off in Singapore, and then be screened again. Aaaaargh! The plane was full of red-headed babies who screamed a lot, and small children who talked a lot. Thank goodness for sleeping pills and in-flight movies.

The new Star Trek is brilliant, and Mary & Max made me laugh and cry, and it was a huge relief to get off the plane in Sydney at something like 7.30pm, Friday (Sydney time). Home sweet home. Well, almost. Thelma's and my respective homes were still a couple of hundred kilometres away, so we spent the night in Sydney – and managed to sleep until 4am.

I'm wondering when I will get my brain back – it appears to have been lost in transit.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Seriously Glam - G Garb goes to Claridge's

Omigod, Thelma and I felt like we were on a Monopoly board on Wednesday! We caught a National Express coach from Cambridge to Victoria Coach Station in London, before hopping into a real London taxi (one of those beautiful old-fashioned looking black ones), which whisked us to our HUGE Thelma & Louise girly road trip Big Bang finish – a night at Claridge's (so much more civilised than driving off a cliff, don't you think?)

When the heck did London (remember, I was born here!) get to be so huge and frantic and claustrophobic? The traffic was seriously mental, and my heart was in my mouth for much of the trip. But OH! The names of the places! Remember how I raved about the Egyptian exhibits at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge? Well, there was the same sense of being Somewhere Very Special that we had Almost Always Known as we drove through the madness that is London! Bow, Stepney, Blackfriars, Fenchurch St Station, Temple Bar – the names are all so familiar – and of course, Park Lane and then, the pinnacle of pinnacles – Mayfair – and not just Mayfair, but Claridge's! (can you hear me screaming?)

Claridge's was an oasis of calm. I wish I could find the words to describe the transition from traffic chaos to sea of serenity. It began when the taxi pulled up outside this hallowed institution. The seamlessly smooth extraction of our harrowed selves from the taxi was so quick and painless that it was almost invisible – but I have a recollection of delightfully polite men in top hats.

Through the revolving door - “It's about three steps, then turn to your left, Madam” - and Thelma and Betty were transported to a beautifully serene and genteel world, far from the madding crowd – and it was amazing. They must have some sort of sound-absorbent wallpaper or something, because the hush in the foyer, despite all the marble, is so striking!

I'm finding it difficult to describe it – it was truly overwhelming. The surrounds were so beautiful, from the splendour of the foyer and the wide wide corridors (so designed so that Victorian Ladies could comfortably pass one another in their voluminous dresses!) to the art-deco splendour of the suite in which we stayed. I think it was the attention to detail that just blew us away – the handwritten note to Thelma, welcoming us to Claridge's, the brief tour by the lovely young Frenchman from Reception; the niceness of the man who operates the lift, who wished us a pleasant stay (and then this morning asked if we had remembered to have our passports handy – more about that in tomorrow's post!)

In the relaxing atmosphere of our suite we worked diligently on The Business Plan as we sipped our complimentary French champagne. Oh what a hard life!

Our silver service room service dinner was a mouthwatering delight. I don't think I will ever be able to eat chicken again without comparing it (unfavourably!) to that unbelievably tender, juicy, falling-off-the-bone bird... (Thelma had concerns – was it a happy free range chicken before it was brought to our table? I think it was. It was too tender to have been stressed!)

And when it comes to getting a good night's sleep in noisy London I can't find enough superlatives to describe the beds and pillows - absolute Cloud Nine material. There's a story going around that a certain king once brought his own bed to Claridge's, but couldn't sleep – so he tried one of the Claridge's beds and ended up buying 30 of them to take home with him. I can understand that.

The whole Claridge's experience was truly magnificent. It made me think about people who go there regularly, as a matter of course (I believe we stayed in the suite that Brad and Angelina stayed in) – and I wonder how hard it would be to stay in touch with the Real World if you got used to the exceptionally superb Claridge's 'star' treatment that is the way they treat every guest... watch this space – we'll let you know.

The final fabulosity – getting to Heathrow for our flight home...

Thelma's luggage has somehow transmogrified into a two-tonne monster (ok, a slight exaggeration, but not something you want to be dragging around behind you on public transport in any case, and we were dreading the concept of lugging it up gutter and down staircase.) Those lovely people at Claridge's organised for a beautiful S-Class Mercedes, complete with driver, to take us to the airport. Watch this space for news of the ride!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Cambridge - the Charles Darwin exhibition

A hop, skip and a jump from our 'home' at the Royal Cambridge Hotel is the Fitzwilliam Museum, which was a favourite haunt of Charles Darwin (yes, that Charles Darwin) in his university days (it seems rather a lot of famous people went to the University of Cambridge!). At the moment the Fitzwilliam is hosting an exhibition about the interaction between science and art, with a focus on the work of Darwin.

Thelma was in seventh heaven – she has been a Darwin groupie for years. What a wonderful exhibition! It's open until October this year, if you're in the area.

There's a lot more to the Fitzwilliam than the Darwin exhibition though. We took a little walk through some of the other galleries – it goes on forever and ever – and we simply didn't do it justice. After looking at ceramics from the Near and Far east, I dragged Thelma to the Ancient Egypt gallery (so exciting!) to check out the sarcophagi and the hieroglyphics.

When I was about 12 my Dad gave me a book about Egyptian Art – full of colour plates of fabulous Egyptian artefacts – and at the Fitzwilliam I kept dragging the long-suffering Thelma from one case to another and practically squealing: “Look, that was in my book! Wow, and that one too! Oooh, look!” It was so weird – things I had been looking at on paper for over 30 years were suddenly right in front of us. Freaky!

Here's a pic of the great stairs leading up to the art galleries and down to the antiquities areas. Wow. I'm still buzzing because I saw a real live Modigliani, a couple of Picassos, a Fra Filippo Lippi, a Sir Joshua Reynolds - more of the same "omigod, this is the Real Deal" feeling...

After that, we hit the shops. I kept watch over Thelma's green bag full of hats while she tried on (and bought) half of Cambridge's fashion offerings. She is a perfect clothes-horse – slim and willowy – and the new season's gear – long dress-like tops with footless tights – looks fabulous on her.

I didn't bother trying on the clothes – they're not the sorts of things I can wear on the bike (which I find myself thinking of rather a lot at the moment...) I did, however, find a Basil Fawlty t-shirt that I simply had to have...

...a shop with my name on it...

...and a funny sign, in amongst all the antiquity...

Our time in Cambridge has been all too brief – there's still so much to see – but Claridge's awaits! Come Wednesday morning we will say goodbye to Cambridge and head to London. Wheeeeeeee!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

G Garb goes to Cambridge

What a day! We packed our hats and said goodbye to the lovely Bedford Lodge Hotel in Newmarket, and came all the way to Cambridge – a grand total of about 50kms, but a world away from the bucolic splendour of Horsey Central!

No horses here – the traffic is constant, and I've never seen so many bicycles in my entire life! Oh, but it is just so pretty!
We're staying at the Royal Cambridge Hotel, which is in the middle of the city, and only a brisk walk away from the great colleges of Cambridge University. We seemed to snaffle the last available room in the entire city – there are some conferences happening at the moment, and everywhere is booked out, which is why we are perched like eagles high above the Ring Road.
Our room is the one at the end - on the top floor - the one with the window wide open, to let in the ambience, ha ha!

What an amazing city! 2009 is Cambridge University's 800th anniversary year – that sort of continuity is hard to imagine. In Australia we get excited by anything that predates 1900, so we were almost hysterical over the medieval bits of the city.

A two-hour walking tour included a stickybeak inside Kings College Chapel. I've been a fan of choral music since my uni days, and the choir of Kings College has always been my favourite, so I was a bit overwhelmed – teary, almost – to actually be there under the massive fan-vaulted ceiling.
Thelma took fourteen million photos of everything in sight (and especially photos of us looking scholarly at Corpus Christi College, Kings College, Trinity College etc etc etc), and then we went punting on the River Cam and took fourteen million more, while our lovely punt 'chauffeur', Giles, pointed out all sorts of interesting sights.
One of the first ports of call on our walking tour had been The Eagle – a lovely old pub which had been the 'local' for some of the greatest scientific minds of our time, from the nearby Cavendish Laboratory – so we went there for dinner. Also dining at The Eagle were a Kiwi mother and son. Hailing from Wellington, Reed is a graduate student at Trinity College, and he was having a farewell dinner with his mum when we persuaded him to wear the Hat of the Day.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Family matters - a day at the seaside and a drive in the country

I have a far-flung, fragmented family. The five members of my immediate family – parents and siblings - live in two countries and three states. To catch up with any other rellies you need to travel halfway across the world.

Yesterday was the day. My dad's little sister and her family are holidaying in Southwold, on the Suffolk coast, so Thelma and I hopped into the hired Passat and zoomed off to see them. Well, not zoomed, exactly. Not terribly sure about British speed limits and so on, it was more of a scenic crawl. And we got lost in the tiny town of Bungay (thanks a lot, Google Maps!) and had to ask for directions. Ooops! There is absolutely no truth to the rumour that I get lost on purpose, simply to have an excuse to chat to total strangers, by the way.

What a fabulously noisy and warm welcome we had when we finally found Southwold. It's funny, you know – despite barely knowing my cousins – the last time I saw Tamsin, for example, she was about 10 years old, and she now has two little boys of her own – we were slotted into the family and made a part of their rowdy Sunday lunch.
Thelma wants to adopt my auntie, who drinks wine from a pint glass (yes of course it's watered down!) and who won't let my uncle have a motorbike until she can have a pink car with eyelashes on the headlights..

Little Charis, who's 5, drew me a picture of her teddy and wrote me a lovely letter, and gave Thelma a guided tour of the house, complete with non-stop commentary. And we all took a walk to the beach and to Southwold Pier after lunch. There's an hilarious waterclock on the pier which has to be seen to be believed, and the beach huts are so picturesque. Oh, and this - a cocker spaniel in sunglasses (the Brits are very dog-friendly). What's the line about mad dogs and Englishmen and the midday sun?
The Hat of the Day - perfect for a drive in the countryside - was G Garb 7 –
- and you'll be glad to know that we didn't get lost on the return trip. We saw a live squirrel, a squashed hedgehog, a very cliched chicken trying to cross the road for reasons known only to itself, and more bunnies than I've ever seen in my life, hopping by the roadside and in the fields. We motored through picturesque English villages with thatched-roof cottages that looked like gingerbread (and which, according to my uncle, house all kinds of witches), and I developed a deep and abiding love for hollyhocks. I wonder if they'll grow in Canberra?

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Simply Red - Simply Super!

Before I say another word I have to say this – Kevin J Robinson, from Simply Red, has marvellous taste in hats. I know this because at last night's Newmarket gig he was wearing the same hat that I was – which just happens to be today's Hat of the Day. What a coincidence!

But more about that later. What a day it was! England thawed in yesterday's perfect summer weather – I spent part of the morning watching the busy Friday traffic stop for the horses on Bury Road in Newmarket.

Newmarket takes its equine activities very seriously. The horses even have their own footpath! People walk on the outer footpath, right next to the road, while the horses have a parallel inner footpath, safe and sound behind their human shield. I've never seen anything like it. Everywhere you look you see magnificent thoroughbreds strutting, and the half of the population that doesn't have hooves wears riding boots. On a sunny day, with the eye-stabbing green of the parkland and the pale blue of the sky, it's like a Constable painting – so very English...

Thelma and I got glammed up nice and early. My fabulously bling top from Vintage Angel needed a fabulous black hat to set it off, so I chose G Garb 9 instead of my usual, and Thelma bullied me into wearing some disgustingly high heels. I spent the evening extracting the stilettos from the soft ground of the racetrack and moaning about my aching feet. I am never wearing high heels again, no matter what!

Interest in our hats was high (coz of course we looked like glamorous sophisticated international jetsetters, tee hee - it had nothing to do with the fact that we kept telling anybody who would listen that 'Kevin Robinson wears G Garb hats!') and Thelma handed out quite a few business cards.

British reserve went out the window at the gig and we made some new friends. Like Simply Red uber-fans Jamie and Alison. Alison was kind enough to don the Hat of the Day while she and Jamie smiled for the camera.

And Linda (left) and Glen, who kept hoping Mick Hucknell would wander by and sweep them off their feet.

And some friendly bobbies, because of course, being us, we got lost looking for a taxi after the gig, and when I was little I was always told that if I was lost I should Ask a Policeman.

And then there was a lovely group of Poms who wanted to know where we hailed from (apparently we have accents. Figure that out – we thought it was them with the accents!) Seeing as I was born in Pommyland, we have called this photo Poms R Us.

Our taxi driver to and from the concert, coincidentally, was Jason, the husband of our Vintage Angel, Berni... and he ensured we got back to the Bedford Lodge safe and sound after an amazing evening. (Thanks heaps Jason!)

But the highlight of the night was undoubtedly the Simply Red concert, and actually getting to meet the band afterwards. Mick Hucknell graciously autographed a photo that my next door neighbour, Maree, took at the Canberra gig earlier this year, and posed for a photo with Thelma.

Kevin, the man with the hat, was kind and funny and interesting - and he shouted Thelma and I to a drink, so he's our latest hero – oh, and did I mention he has great taste in hats?