The Year That Was – the highs and lows of 2015

It’s always a nostalgic time. The last day of the year inevitably leads to reflection about the year that was – dreams won and shattered; friendships rekindled and lost; unexpected joys and tragic lows.

I know it hasn’t been a great year for many and I’ve also had my fair share of sad times, but I’m going to take pause to put on my Pollyanna hat for a moment and try and celebrate the highlights.

Before going down that path, I want to pay tribute to two people no longer with us. It’s my way of keeping their memory alive.

Rochelle and me

Rochelle and me

I can’t say ‘goodbye’ to 2015 without sharing one more memory of my dear friend, Rochelle. Her passing was such a massive shock and her loss has been so hard to come to terms with. That sadness will stay with me and our friends who all miss her so much, and will do for years to come. Only two years ago we had a New Year’s Eve party at our place and of course, karaoke was a part of the evening. Rochelle blew everyone out of the water with her version of the Adele song ‘Someone Like You.’ It was a heart-wrenching and poignant rendition and the only moment in the night where everyone stopped to listen. Singing was just one of her talents.

 

We thought about having another New Year’s Eve party this year but I’m not quite ready for that yet. Maybe next year.

Nic Jacobson

Nic Jacobson

 

And then for my son and his friends, just over a week after VCE exams finished, their schoolmate Nic Jacobson was tragically killed in a car accident. The school community rallied around Nic’s parents, Laurie and Jane and his sister Marni. Unspeakable sadness. Inexplicable loss and devastation. Tom had been at school with Nic from Prep through to Year 12. Our hearts go out to Nic’s family and you will forever be in our thoughts.

 

 

Before those tragedies, there were happy times. Afterwards too, although those days are also tinged with a sense of loss as you try to remember the special moments and be grateful for what was and then to live in the moment, knowing how precious and short life can be.

So for now, I’m going to focus on the highlights that made the year special – some planned, some unexpected – but all bringing light and some joy to temper the sadness. Here’s my Top Ten for 2015:

  1. Wedding Anniversary holiday on the Greek Islands. I Blogged about this so you can read back if you want to learn more!
  2. Drinking my Porn Star cocktail

    Drinking my Porn Star cocktail

2. Continuing to work at Smoothfm 91.5 with Mike Perso on the More Music Breakfast Show. 

Mike Perso and me

Mike Perso and me

3. Being nominated for an ACRA (Australian Commercial Radio Award). I didn’t win, but just to be nominated was a huge thrill.

The Smooth News team

The Smooth News team at the ACRAs

4. Fletch celebrating Neighbours 30th anniversary after starring on the show for 20 himself. That was one helluva party at the Carousel!

Fletch and me at Neighbours 30th party

Fletch and me at Neighbours 30th party

5. Daughter Ronnie starting out in the hospitality industry and doing really well. Now working at WILD HOLLY and loving it – although I don’t think she’s allowed to do THIS any more!

It all started with licking the bowl...

It all started with licking the bowl…

6. Starting back at the gym – training with Alinta and getting fit again.

Training with Alinta

Training with Alinta

7. Tom finishing Year 12 and doing brilliantly with his VCE score – not to mention winning the RUSDEN House leadership trophy… He says I shouldn’t mention this because it’s bragging but quite frankly, I don’t give a damn. WELL DONE TOM!

Tom's winning year

Tom’s winning year

8. Finishing my novel MAKING HEADLINES and preparing for next year’s book launch.

Making Headlines

Making Headlines

 

9. Performing at the Starry Night Ball with Fletch – helping to raise funds for the Alannah and Madeleine Foundation – and fitting into my silver hot pants – thanks to Alinta!

Starry Night ball

Starry Night ball

10. Ending the year by hosting a family Christmas at our house with everyone happy and healthy!

Our Christmas tree - mostly decorated by Ronnie!

Our Christmas tree – mostly decorated by Ronnie!

A testament to the great Christmas we had – I don’t even have one group photo because we were all having so much fun, no one remembered to take a picture or think about posting a social media snap even once. Now that’s living in the moment.

 

The new ladies in Doctor K’s life…

I’ve had to endure my husband having many relationships with different women over the years. Of course, he’s had his on-screen Neighbours wife, Susan, for more than 18 years and that’s been easy because Jackie Woodburne is such a wonderful human being and good friend.

Then there was Nicola Charles (Sarah) and Natalie Bassingthwaighte (Izzy) who were love interests on the show for a spell and also both gorgeous, so I can’t complain. Natalie has also become a close pal.

Jackie Woodburne, Fletch and Natalie Bassingthwaighte

Jackie Woodburne, Fletch and Natalie Bassingthwaighte

But now, not only is Fletch surrounded by stunning women on set, he’s embarked on a musical project that means he’s going to be working closely with THREE beautiful and highly talented young women. I mean, really, if they weren’t so damn nice, I might be feeling a little bit over it all…

Alan first met The Pacific Belles when they came along to a regular gig where his band Waiting Room was playing at The Elephant and Wheelbarrow in St Kilda. From there, Alan learnt about their unique musical style and plans for a collaboration grew. You see, The Pacific Belles aren’t any old girl group. They’re a retro swing trio that emulates the harmonies of The Andrews Sisters from the 1940s.

The Pacific Belles performing at The Paris Cat in Melbourne

The Pacific Belles performing at The Paris Cat in Melbourne

 

We went along to The Paris Cat in the city one evening to see them perform and were blown away. Not only is their repertoire tight, pitch perfect and entertaining – they mix up the old with the new – even singing a jazz influenced version of Wonderwall. Impressive.

 

 

Laura Monaghan (pictured above centre) – better known as ‘Betty Belle’, is the lynch pin of the group and the mastermind behind the concept. She firmly believes she was born in the wrong era, which probably accounts for their authentic sound. ‘I came over to Australia from the UK and I’ve always wanted to sing in a trio,’ she said. ‘I love singing harmonies so I thought, “Let’s do a 1940s singing trio.” That’s the music I’m really passionate about. It’s a glamorous era. I love the fashion, the lipstick, the hair – everything.’

The Pacific Belles

The Pacific Belles

 

They’ve definitely got the look down pat. Quick frankly, listening to them sing downstairs at The Paris Cat, I really did feel like I’d been transported back to another era…

 

 

 

They’ve already built up quite a following in Melbourne – playing at functions, popular venues, weddings and events. Tonight they’ll be performing at the launch of Melbourne’s Fringe Festival with shows booked during the festival as well.

A vintage tea party with The Pacific Belles

A vintage tea party with The Pacific Belles

‘Our next public performance dates will be during the Melbourne fringe festival at Madame Brussels on the 22nd of September and then again on the 5th and 6th of October.  Our show is called Sing, Swing, Get in The Mood and we’d love everyone to come along for the afternoon tea and a show.’

As for Fletch’s new musical collaboration with The Pacific Belles, that’s under wraps for the moment, but I’ll give you a hint. It might have something to do with Christmas…

Fletch and Belles

Fletch and Belles

They make a good team, right? Oh, and the Pacific Belles will be back at The Paris Cat in November. In the meantime, they’ve also got an album and video clip to finish. Ultimately, they’d like a hit song in the UK charts. I can’t wait to hear the finished product!

The Pacific Belles

                                The Pacific Belles

For Bookings and enquiries please contact Betty Belle –
Tel: 0448 698 900
Email: thepacificbelles@hotmail.com

 

 

Bali dreaming… time to get away.

I’ve been dreaming about this for some time… returning to one of my favourite places on earth – BALI.

Bali

Bali

And now finally, the day has arrived. I’m just about to finish some last minute packing, hop in the shower and jump on a plane tonight with the kids. Sadly, Fletch has to stay home to continue working on Neighbours, but hey, I’m lucky enough to have my sister, Jill, and several friends heading over to paradise as well, so I won’t be short of company.

But I thought I should warn you this time. Last year when I went on holidays, (to the U.S., last July) I fully intended to Blog every day about stuff, but then found it all too much. Every day I would chastise myself for being slack and every day I would vow to tap something out, but time slipped by and it never happened. Eventually I just gave up. Happily, I must add. I mean, why take a holiday, really, if you’re not going to have a rest? And I did write two summary travel Blogs once I got home.

The problem is, I really do love writing, so I may WANT to Blog. Or not. Which is why I’m saying – there may be a BIG gap between entries – but I’m just not going to commit to anything. At least this time you’ll know why.

Given the crew I’ll be hanging out with, no doubt there will be plenty of stories to tell and I always enjoy sharing travel tips, so let’s see.

Me wearing a neck brace

Me wearing a neck brace

 

At least one piece of travelling advice from our last trip has been taken on board by our son, Tom. He saw how much I benefitted last year from taking a neck brace on planes when travelling long haul economy. It’s the BEST way to keep the head stable and be able to nod off and have a solid nap without waking, feeling like your first stop off the plane has to be at the chiropractors. They really are SO much more effective than those useless travel pillows sold at airports. And they’re only about $10-$15 each. So now Tom and I will be sporting matching neck braces for the journey!

 

Don’t worry, I won’t wear it by the beach. The sand’s a good enough cushion for me when lying horizontal. And if you’re wondering about the weird colours with that pic above, it’s because I finally found a solution to publishing crap photos of myself. Edit the bejeezus out of it with colour distortion and it hides a multitude of sins. Perfect.

Now, if only I could do that to my body when I’m on the beach…

Farewell for now. Bali, here we come!

Bali sunset

Bali sunset

 

Hunting down the ‘BEST Chardonnay in the WORLD’!!

The BEST chardonnay in the world!

The BEST chardonnay in the world!

It took five months and a journey half way across the world to find it, but my mission is complete – I have tracked down the BEST CHARDONNAY in the world.

My extraordinarily patient husband has long endured my obsession with chardonnay. Now, I’m not talking about ‘any old wine’ here – but a beautiful, finely tuned, buttery-oaked, liquid gold piece of perfection. An excellent wine, to me, is nectar from the gods. And I abhor Sauvignon Blanc – EWWW, let me spit to the ground right now with contempt.

So at many a function or restaurant when I can’t find a decent wine, Fletch will give me ‘that look’. You know, the ‘Don’t have a hissy fit, shut up right now and don’t complain,’ look. I give him a LOOK right back. The one that says ‘Sure, I’ll suck it up but I’m NOT happy.’ I won’t say it ruins the evening, but it becomes a less fabulous experience…

I truly wish I liked beer. Life would be so much easier.

But in balance, when I DO find a decent chardonnay, the joy is extreme. I thank the people who picked the grapes, the talented wine-makers who spent years perfecting their craft and the restaurateur who had the good sense to stock the stuff.

Such was the experience last year when Fletch and I were spoilt rotten, and taken to the uber cool GAUCHO CITY restaurant in London, by Channel Five. (Thank you, Greg Barnett!)

Goucho City restaurant in London

Gaucho City restaurant in London

As you can probably guess from the chairs swathed in cowhide, it’s not a venue for vegans. Specialising in Argentinean steaks, guests are invited to choose their own particular cut of meat from a well-presented tray that’s brought to your table.  And while I also enjoy a rich glass of red, (and did with my steak), I opted for a chardonnay to have with our entree.

One sip and I was hooked. ‘WOW. WOW and WOW!’ I declared to the table, ‘This is the BEST chardonnay in the world!’ Okay, that may have been ‘slightly’ over-stating it, but such is my excitement when I make a NEW chardonnay discovery. So good it was, that I knew I’d want to track it down once I returned to Melbourne, so I asked our waitress to write down the wine’s name and vintage on a business card.

Tapiz winery, Argentina

Tapiz winery, Argentina

 

TAPIZ is the name of the winery and it’s located in Mendoza, Argentina. ‘Tapiz’ means ‘tapestry’ in English – appropriate given the fine tapestry of flavours it affords the palate.

 

 

When we returned home in September, I began the task of tracking Tapiz down in Australia. I tried the obvious first – Dan Murphy, Vintage Cellars and the local bottle shops, with no luck. Then I went on to a few wine websites – again nothing. How could this be? How could a wine so extraordinary not be available to the masses? The only solution seemed to be to contact the winery direct in Argentina.

I found the TAPIZ website, but that was of no use whatsoever because it’s all in Spanish. If only I was fluent… Nevertheless, I dashed off an email in the hope that someone in their office might be able to translate and help.

Tapiz Chadonnay

Tapiz Chardonnay

Sure enough, a week later I received a reply explaining that the winery had just made arrangements with an Australian wine importer to bring Tapiz to our shores. In just a couple of months, I could contact RED BARREL Importers of Fine Wines to purchase my much sought after chardonnay.

 
When I learnt Red Barrel had another business – Cosi Duci Gelati in Ivanhoe – I knew we’d get along fine. If I were ever to specialise in food and beverages, I couldn’t think of a better combo than wine and gelati! Owners Victor and Silvia Scalia and I were definitely going to be kindred spirits.

Red Barrel also scored a big, fat gold star for such a prompt follow-up after my initial query. Just two weeks after receiving their first shipment of Tapiz, Sylvia arrived on my doorstep from completely the other side of town, to hand deliver two bottles of their finest for me to sample. She also invited us to a ‘tasting’ at their premises so we could learn more about the full range of Tapiz wines.

It was then, when I held that long-sought-after bottle of wine in my hands that I began to have doubts. Was this wine really going to be as good as I had remembered it all those months ago in London? Perhaps my perception was coloured by the seductive ambience of the lush Gaucho restaurant and the fine food? Maybe this had been one long wild goose chase?

Was it going to be as good as I remembered?

Was it going to be as good as I remembered?

Needing a second opinion and validation, I saved that bottle until I caught up with my fellow-chardy expert and sister-in-law, Penny. Down at their home in Anglesea on a sunny, summer’s afternoon, we finally cracked it open.

Kapow! Yes, there it was! That fine, golden liquid delivered on it’s promise. It was indeed worthy of a blog to share its greatness with the world.

 

Silvia and Victor Scalia, Red Barrel Importers of Fine Wines

Silvia and Victor Scalia, Red Barrel Importers of Fine Wines

 

The second validation came after meeting with Victor and Silvia Scalia at their Red Barrel premises. They share a passion for quality wine, which is why they began their importing business in the first place. Victor visits Argentina at least once a year and was disappointed he couldn’t find the best of their wines in Australia. The best solution – import it yourself!

 

The Red Barrel range of imported wine

The Red Barrel range of imported wine

Red Barrel is now the exclusive importers of both Tapiz and Granata wines for Australia. They’ve already made inroads in Melbourne’s restaurants – notably Piqueos in Rathdowne Street, Carlton, Othello at Southbank and  a new restaurant called Buenos Aires Steakhouse which is opening soon at 189 Lygon St, Carlton – plus they sell direct to the public. Prices range, depending on amounts and variety, between about $21 wholesale and $27.

A fine feast - cheers Tapiz!

A fine feast – cheers Tapiz!

Fletch had to film Neighbours on the day of the wine tasting at Red Barrel, so I took my Dad along instead. I think I inherited my love of fine wine from him, after all! Sylvia laid on a fine feast and I was again delighted to sample my now-favourite chardonnay. Although Victor and I disagreed on one thing. He’s convinced the Malbec is the best of the Tapiz range. It’s a mighty fine and mellow red, but I’d still opt for the chardonnay.

You can make up your own mind by sampling this wonderful wine for yourself. Just contact Red Barrel Importers of Fine Wine by email at

redbarrelwineimports@hotmail.com 

OR the company’s new website will be operational shortly at  www.redbarrelwineimports.com.au

OR phone Business Manager Sylvia Scalia on 0407 881 188.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Favourite London Cabbie

 

Firstly, apologies to readers who have complained that I haven’t blogged for some time. It’s lovely to know that you miss my offerings and I’m feeling guilty that I didn’t forewarn you two weeks ago that I was heading off on a holiday with Fletch. Like the last time we went away, I stupidly thought I’d still manage to find time to post blogs. Wrong. I should have learned from my first experience. Travelling is far too time consuming. Plus I think it’s best to absorb the experiences, sift through the highs and lows and leave out the dross. (that’s my excuse anyway… laziness may have had something to do with it too…)

Our first stop was London. Fletch had agreed to be spokesperson for the Blue September campaign. This meant a week jam-packed with interviews promoting men’s health, in particular, issues relating to prostate cancer. His media schedule was gruelling and on one day, I think he notched up more than twenty interviews in a row. To his credit, his enthusiasm never wavered and I’m pretty sure all requests – from even the smallest local newspapers and radio stations – were met. But by day’s end, he was exhausted.

Big Ben at dusk

Big Ben at dusk

 

It was a different matter for myself. I hadn’t been to the UK for about two years so there were plenty of friends to catch up with, shops to browse and sights to explore. I was also weary at day’s end, but for different reasons. Though I was only window-shopping, it’s easy to rack up the miles traipsing through Selfridges and endless tube stations. But that didn’t stop either of us from making the most of our time in London-town and socialising in the evening. Which means much eating and drinking, talking and laughing, late nights and  expresso martinis. The way I see it – if you get a two-week sabbatical from parenting (thanks to my amazing Mum and step-father Ken) then you’ve got to make the most of it.

Ed, James, Fletch, me and Max Rushden

Ed, James, Fletch, me and TV presenter Max Rushden

After his Blue September commitments came to an end, Fletch had another week off Neighbours due to a production break. This meant – wonder of wonders – a week to travel by ourselves. A rare and precious opportunity. A chance to visit somewhere we hadn’t been before – to tick another of those much-dreamt-about countries off our bucket list. We opted to visit Spain, as neither of us had been before and have always heard marvellous tales from friends – particularly about Barcelona.

But a day before leaving, I was hit by a bout of the guilts. I’d been in London for five days and hadn’t visited one art gallery, museum or historical building. Yes, I’ve been lucky enough to have visited London on several occasions over the years, so I’ve already seen most of the  famous landmarks, but it still didn’t sit well with me that I had done ‘zip’ culturally.

 

Fletch in the audience of Matilda the Musical

Fletch in the audience of Matilda the Musical

Actually, I lie. We did see the wonderful Matilda the Musical, based on Roald Dahl’s famous story with music and lyrics by the incredibly talented Tim Minchin. A big ‘THANK YOU’ to Fremantle Media for making this happen! It’s a MUST-SEE if you’re in  London. An uplifting, hilarious show with one of the most talented cast of children I’ve ever had the pleasure to see perform.  You can grab a snippet of what’s in store at: http://uk.matildathemusical.com

But back to my guilt-trip over the dearth of cultural activity in my London experience. On the LAST day I decided enough was enough – I had to do SOMETHING. I thought back to what I’d enjoyed most in the past and the lightbulb moment happened when I remembered the Tate Modern. Of course! Housing the UK’s biggest collection of modern and contemporary works, I’d always left this gallery feeling awe-struck and uplifted.. Decision made, I set off in the rare autumnal sunshine to be inspired.

 

Tate Modern Gallery

Tate Modern Gallery

 

Needless to say (and I will Blog about this further), I again had a riveting morning and cursed myself for not spending longer in galleries and less time in the shops. But it was the taxi ride back to our hotel that will stay with me for the longest time to come.

 

 

 

As much as I admire the efficiency of London’s Underground and pray that Melbourne’s public transport system could one day be half as good, I also love the tradition of the good old London cabs. Just the sight of them lined up at a rank is a reassuring sign that nothing much has changed since you last visited; a visual reminder of the staunchly upheld traditions that lie at the heart of UK culture. Their drivers always know where to go, plus there’s plenty of room to stretch out your legs and relax during the ride.

I’d stayed too long at the Tate Modern, entranced by masterpieces and dawdling along, when I suddenly remembered I had bags to pack and a flight to catch to Spain in just under an hour. I ran to the taxi rank outside  and breathlessly asked the cabbie to put the pedal to the metal pronto and get me to my hotel.

London cabs

London cabs

‘Not a problem, love,’ he chirped with a hint of a Cockney accent. ‘Enjoy the gallery, did you? Have you ‘ad a good day?’ He smiled warmly into the rear-view mirror, peering through rimless glasses. A middle-aged fellow with wisps of fading red hair brushed across a bald patch. The faint sound of jazz music played in the background.

‘Yes, I did. I love that gallery It’s brilliant,’ I said.

‘Ah well you look like you’ve ‘ad a good day. You look good. I mean, nice. I mean…’ At this point he appeared a flustered, as if worried I might take offence at his compliment. That I might think he was sleazy, when in fact, I knew he was just being kind. ‘I mean, I like your glasses and all…’ His voice trailed off.

‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘They’re transitional lenses, so they work for both distance and as sunglasses.’ I over-clarified the point to make him feel like I really did understand he WAS talking about my glasses.

‘So what’s the rush, then?’ he asked, keen to change the subject. I explained I needed to catch a plane.

‘Oh, so did you need a ride to the airport?’ He looked at me eagerly. ‘I could wait, you know?’

‘No, I think we’re catching the Heathrow Express.’

London Cab

London Cab

 

His face dropped. ‘Oh.’ There was a pause. He gripped the steering wheel more tightly, shaking his head. ‘That damned train is going to be the death of us cabbies. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve had in the last week tell me they don’t need me because of that damn train. Those fares used to be our livelihood.’

 

 

I felt mean. ‘Um, well, I’m not exactly sure that’s what we’re doing. I could check when I get to the hotel and see what Fletch had in mind.’

His face brightened. ‘Oh that would be fab, love. No pressure, mind you. But look…’ He fumbled in the console and handed me a business card with his number. ‘…take this. My name’s Martin and I’ll wait for a bit and you can call if you need me. Where are you flying to?’

‘Spain,’ I replied. ‘I haven’t been before, so we’re really looking forward to it.’

At the mention of Spain, his entire being transformed.’Spain!’ he practically shouted, slapping the steering wheel with gusto and turning up the music. Which in fact wasn’t jazz. It was a Brazilian salsa. ‘Well, I’ll be. I just LOVE that place!’ he exclaimed with glee, now hitting the steering wheel and bouncing in his seat in time with the music. His pale face flushed pink as he started humming along with the tune. ‘And the dancing!’ he added, swaying his shoulders from side to side. ‘Once that dancing starts, you can’t help but get on up and join in. Ah, that’s the life!’ He turned the volume up another notch, bursting into song.

It wasn’t what I’d expected. Before Martin started his taxi-seat grooves, I’d have said he was the least likely person to be a salsa dancing expert, but his performance was joyous. The rapture in his face, as he allowed the music to take over was a sight to behold. I pictured him in a Hawaiian shirt, dancing his way through the streets at the Rio Carnivale, swinging girls around him and throwing his head back, eyes closed in pure bliss.

His enthusiasm for the Spanish culture was infectious; his stories and music amplifying my expectations for the adventures ahead.

I was sad when the taxi ride came to an end.

Even sadder when Fletch explained he’d already pre-paid for tickets on the Heathrow Express.

But I kept the business card. Next time in London, I want to hear that salsa music again. And if you’re looking for a really delightful taxi driver who will be more than happy to drive you to Heathrow Airport, call Martin on +0044 (0) 7876 622 750