50 Shades of Grey

letterbox
THE most delicious things happen when you scrape off the exterior. Sand yourself back and prime yourself to move forward. January has proven to be just that at my house. After 16 years I decided to give my crumbling, rumbling, beautiful Queenslander workers’ cottage a facelift. It was much-needed cosmetic, and a little bit of emergency, surgery. We’ve survived 16 harsh Australian summers of scorching, peeling heat, punctuated by fierce storms and flooding rains, this old girl and I. Oh yes, the sunburnt country we all love has taken its toll on me and my house. Wood rot, pernickety possums with their scratchy claws, ballsy bush rats, scrub turkeys and my beloved wild snake have all burrowed into her psyche and the outside walls. And something had to give.

Front bedroom before

Front bedroom before

My builder/painter Gregg arrived on a typical tropical day where the humidity slides right off you like a melting ice cream. I’d selected a grey palate for my paint job, thinking it was befitting of my 1920s cottage which was nearing her first century. Little did I know there were 50 shades of grey from which to choose, nor did I realise that this summer I’d understand that life comes in those same 50 shades.

Front house view before

Front house view before

Front house view after

Front house view after

Gregg smoked and swore like a sailor and so much for both of us, that I found I gave up swearing. I’ve never been a smoker so that wasn’t a problem. But he also worked bloody hard under that hot Australian sun. Brisbane in January? What a bugger of a job. Humidity is your worst enemy and sleep is as rusty as my old gate. But soon we found our rhythm. I adopted his tradie hours, rising with the sun and working until early afternoon until the heat got the better of us. Gregg scraping and painting outside, hammering nails, and me inside, writing in symphony. We’d stop occasionally to chat, about lives we’d left behind. Pasts we’d rather forget and of futures we were looking forward to. Gregg, 48, had recently married the love of his life Fiona. He gave me dating advice. “You’ll just know, darl.”

Gregg

Gregg

This rough, big bloke and I slowly forming a bond and friendship as the old paint, and our natural walls, fell away. Again and again I was reminded that life comes in 50 shades of grey. You can’t judge a book by its cover, and don’t even bother buying wine with a fancy label. It’s what’s underneath that peeling paint that counts. And day by day my house transformed, from what Gregg described as “old, mouldy green” to contemporary grey.

Back lattice before

Back lattice before

Back lattice after

Back lattice after

He clipped away the trees that had been pushing on the front fence, and one day asked me why I was “hiding”. Isn’t it funny? You don’t even realise what you’re doing until someone points it out. Meditation and yoga teachers believe the concept of “house” equals “self”. And here I was, crouched behind the bushes, hiding from the world. And so we chopped away at that notion, and opened it up, keeping just enough shade and privacy, but allowing in the light.

North-east side of the house replete with the old blinds Gregg saved and painted white

North-east side of the house replete with the old blinds Gregg saved and painted white

I like that idea. Letting in the light. Gregg painted me a white picket fence, the “great Australian dream” kind. And joked now I just needed the bloke. My letter box was splashed in a shimmer that would make any Mardi Gras parade proud. Another shade of grey used to tie together the white and the dark grey of the walls. I grew accustomed to Gregg and looked forward to his daily quirky company. On those hot days when my mind wandered from my work, I imagined myself as Frances Mayes in her Villa in Tuscany, with her rabble of foreign workers knocking down walls and painting everything fresh.

South western wall before

South western wall before

South western wall after

South western wall after

And then, the day came when the job was done. I asked Gregg what I would do without him. “A bit of (expletive deleted) gardening wouldn’t go astray,” he laughed, referring to the wild Aussie bush I like to keep at the back of my house in the tree tops, and the much-neglected garden patch out the front. A green thumb, I am not. For years I’ve wanted to fill the pits surrounding my draw bridge entry with crocodiles, to sort the men out from the boys. Apparently they won’t let you do that in Brisbane. Then, on his last day on the job, Gregg and the lovely Fiona arrived to plant me a beautiful garden. He’s that sort of bloke.

Fiona's gorgeous garden, which Gregg tells me even I can't kill

Fiona’s gorgeous garden, which Gregg tells me even I can’t kill

It’s interesting how you grow used to the daily presence of someone. Gregg taught me the difference between oil-based and water-based decking oil. The importance of using good quality paint on a house which has to withstand Australia’s harsh climate. How a nail with a screw design won’t pop out under the demands of our sun but an ordinary nail will drive you nuts. But most of all he taught me, like my house, that we all come in 50 shades of grey.

Deck doors before

Deck doors before

Deck doors after

Deck doors after

If you are looking for a quality painter with a building licence as well (a rarity in Brisbane I can tell you), someone who will go above and beyond, and who charges reasonable prices, contact Gregg on: 0458 572 523 (and tell him his new journo mate sent you).

Messing About in Boats

You can run, but you can’t hide. The Global Goddess, last spotted in Bali by Hector’s Diary before she headed for the Bali and Flores high seas.

8degreesoflatitude

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorRHis diet of worms and other non-religious fare

Bali, Jan. 4, 2017

WE have a lovely friend, a former media colleague who goes by the pen name of The Global Goddess. She has a tough life, poor thing. She’s forever flitting off from Brisbane, her home city, to go to distant places and write about them. Well, someone has to do it, we suppose.

Her most recent gambol was a cruise to Komodo aboard the Al-Iikai, a 37-metre Bugis pinisi fitted out for maximum comfort and operated from Serangan in Benoa Bay. It was, she tells us, a program that gave her plenty of stories about messing about in boats.

The goddess, real name Christine Retschlag, apparently didn’t read Kenneth Grahame’s marvellous fantasy tale Wind in the Willowsas a child. But we’re sure that Ratty will forgive her, given her later experiences. Hector…

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Postcard from Polar Bear country

polar-bear-manitoba
GREETINGS from Canada, where I’m heading tomorrow on my next travel writing assignment. I’ve been a little quiet on these pages lately, catching up from my last big trip to South Africa, which, like all of the best travels, stole a piece of my heart. I’ve been writing stories, saying goodbye to winter in Australia, and coming out of hibernation to spring clean my mind, body and soul. I’ve been stretching my mind in meditation classes, my body in yoga, and feeding my soul through plenty of long walks along the Brisbane River. And now, it’s time to hit the road again. I’ll be travelling to Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg, Churchill, Montreal and Quebec. And, as this picture suggests, I’ll be going on a polar bear walking safari with Churchill Wild in a remote, pristine arctic location. I’ll be back on these pages soon, with plenty of travel tales, and I’m sure, one or two stories about scaring both man and beast in the Northern Hemisphere. Wish me luck!

Is this Queensland city turning into a mini Melbourne?

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THE chill wind is slapping my face like a jilted lover and the crisp air is transforming my breath into dragon smoke. It’s a grey, old mid-winter day in Toowoomba, where the mercury is fumbling to reach double digits and failing miserably. In fact, if I combine the weather, graffiti art, and cacophony of cool coffee shops I might just be in Melbourne. But I’m not; I’m 90 minutes west of Brisbane, visiting the darling of the Darling Downs.
Pink
I should be hating on this day. I despise bleak, cold days made even worse if you have to be out in the elements. But I am having a ball in spite of myself. I’m on foot, exploring Toowoomba’s street art scene, and every few metres am torn in a different direction as my eye catches a splash of colour down a hidden alley way. It is said that Rome is one of the best cities in the world to become lost. Toowoomba is another.
Mural
This is a tale of art deco delights. Of a city brimming with hole-in-the wall coffee nooks, great cafes, ambitious chefs, organic food and an equally organic evolution. There’s still the odd haberdashery shop and ancient facades redolent of the Toowoomba of old, including at the Quest Apartments in which I am staying, and whose reception area is in a charming old church. It’s a very Toowoomba thing, to combine old with new and Quest offers six levels of modern, fully equipped serviced apartment accommodation right in the heart of this city. And what a beating heart this is.
Quest
I meet First Coat Festival Director Grace Dewar in The Firefly café, a converted warehouse and art space. The third First Coast Festival has just been staged and there’s now more than 80 urban artworks within a 2km radius of Toowoomba’s CBD. Grace says graffiti art has strong links with Toowoomba, as this was where the coal trains rattled through the city, inspiring the tags of some of Queensland’s early graffiti vandals.
“Toowoomba has been well known for that. We are fostering that energy to provide a home for that culture,” Grace says.
“The whole street art culture is well documented with graffiti writers coming out of the 80s. It was that whole idea of putting your name of things and having that peer respect.
“The word graffiti has a lot of negative stigma. But we are sitting in a new place, we are in the thick of a movement.”

First Coat Festival Director Grace Dewar

First Coat Festival Director Grace Dewar


And the First Coat Festival is at the forefront of that change. During the event, the city transforms into an outdoor art gallery with works by overseas, national and local artists. Visitors can view artists live at work during the festival, and when it’s over can download an App (First Coat) or a self-guided map (www. firstcoat.com.au) and experience the city’s artwork bursting out of walls or hidden in secret lane ways. Grace believes unlike Melbourne, whose urban art grew around the Victorian capital, Toowoomba is actually evolving around its graffiti art.
“You don’t have to seek it out, you stumble upon it. It’s a really easy belief because it is coming from a real place. It is not a ‘wank fest’ which I really like. It is a public gallery that’s available 24/7,” she says.
“It’s that idea that people can experience a country town that offers so much culture, not just in public art but coffee culture and the restaurants and bars that are opening up. We’ve got a pretty great scene.
“It’s a different look community and a smaller version of Melbourne. It’s interesting that it’s referred to as a little slice of Melbourne or Melbourne’s little sister.”
Girl
It’s lunchtime by the time I reach The Finch and meet owner Dan Farquahar. This modern Australian eatery, opened a year ago, is in a former bakery with restored pressed metal ceilings and exposed brick walls. A bench at the front is made from recycled wood from the Bundaberg Distillery.
“A lot of people come in and say ‘it’s very Melbourne’ but this is typical Toowoomba with the high ceilings and original floor and walls. It is quite beautiful, we’ve tried to keep the integrity of the building,” Dan says.
“Toowoomba has seen a few waves. For a long time from a food perspective Toowoomba has been a fast food town. But now people expect and are looking for better quality products and ingredients.
“I like to think we are serving good quality locally-sourced food with our own slant.”
GroundUpEspresso
I pause for coffee at Ground Up Espresso, a laneway cafe consistently voted one of Toowoomba’s best, browse through Bunker Records & Espresso, and check out Toowoomba Regional Gallery before dinner at Kajoku Korean and Japanese Restaurant where I meet Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers Event Manager Mel Kite. Mel says even the festival, which started in 1949 and is Australia’s longest running, has evolved with the city.
The event now embraces “earth-art” projects and this year’s festival, to be held from September 16-25, will focus on bamboo and orchids. Celebrity chef Miguel Maestre will stage a paella kitchen and there’s a food and wine event within the festival.
“There will be several sustainable gardens and other things on trend. This year there will be a smoked barbecue pit and a barbecue competition,” Mel says.
“At night time we will have a concert series that showcases a lot of female artists who are dynamic and front row at the moment.
“It is a true celebration of spring and there is something for every age group.
We are constantly looking for ways to reinvigorate and create interesting things.”
Elephant
There’s a Jack the Ripper fog the next morning when I drive down the Great Dividing Range back to Brisbane. I monitor the mercury as it rises every few minutes, climbing from 12 degrees to 23 degrees by the time I’m back in the Queensland capital. But things are hotting up in Toowoomba, and Melbourne, well, watch this space.
GirlTwo
The Global Goddess travelled to Toowoomba as a guest of Southern Queensland Country Tourism. http://www.southernqueenslandcountry.com
• Check out First Coat Festival artworks at http://www.firstcoat.com.au; Quest Toowoomba at http://www.questapartments.com.au/Accommodation/478/Australia/Queensland_Regional/Quest_Toowoomba/Welcome.aspx
• The Finch at http://www.thefinch.com.au
• The Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers at http://tcof.com.au

PaintBrush

The Many Faces of Sri Lanka

Tea picker, Haputale

Tea picker, Haputale

SRI means splendour or splendid and Lanka means Island. I returned home from Sri Lanka a few days ago but the places and people I encountered remain etched in my memory. Please enjoy this photo blog which explores the many faces I met on my journey.

I worshipped with the monks in Kandy…

TheMonksThree

TheMonksTwo

I played with the children…

TheKidsThree

TheKids

TheKidsTwo

Met the market women…

MarketWomen

MarketWomenTwo

Admired the beautiful girls…

PrettyWoman

PrettyWomanTwo

And met some cool dudes…

CoolDudes

CoolDudesTwo

CoolDudesThree

The Global Goddess travelled in Sri Lanka as a guest of Intrepid Travel – http://www.intrepidtravel.com

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