Australia

Ejo #103 – An Open Letter to Annette of Holiday Shacks

 

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The email that launched a thousand words.  A simple apology would have seen the matter die a natural and quiet death.

Dear Annette of Holiday Shacks,

Thanks so much for your email. I must say though, it wasn’t exactly the response I’d been hoping for. I thought, perhaps, you might go for something a tad more conciliatory. A touch more apologetic, considering your crappy handling of what went down when we rented one of your “shacks” earlier this year. I sure as hell wasn’t expecting you to so nimbly squirm out of accepting any responsibility at all. Allow me to recap.

In April of this year I rented one of your ludicrously priced holiday homes for a weekend. You see I live abroad, so whenever my husband David and I are back in Melbourne we have this little tradition of renting a country house with my sisters so that we can all catch up, have some drinks, cook some food, dance around, swim, play games, shoot the shit and just have some good old fashioned, wholesome, family fun.

As you can imagine, we were suitably impressed when we arrived at Oceania Retreat – it’s a stunning property. Which is why I rented it, notwithstanding the astronomical (and actually pretty embarrassing) price tag. I’m sure you’ll agree that $3050 for a weekend away is a shitload of money, Annette. Because I would hate for you to think that I can go around splashing cash like that on the regular. No, no, no. It was definitely way above my budget. To be very honest with you, I actually booked it by accident one night, when I was super drunk. Oops! And I’m not ashamed to say that paying that much money for a two day getaway made me feel a little bit like vomiting in my mouth. But as I’ve already said, time with my sisters is very special to me, so I went through with the booking.

So yes, we were impressed with the house. But as I told you in my initial complaint, there were a few things we were not so impressed with. Especially considering the price we paid. For instance, the dirty socks we found on the back porch. What the hell, Annette? For $3050, the least you could have done was pick up the socks? Also for that price, how about providing an umbrella that actually fits into the picnic table, instead of one that doesn’t. And hey, why would you advertise the house as having a “coffee maker” and a “fully stocked gourmet kitchen and pantry” but not actually provide any bloody coffee? That’s just nasty, girlfriend. I mean, alright, coffee might not seem like such a big deal… but it kinda is a big deal Annette. It kinda is! And while you’re at it, you might also want to think about asking the owner to repair the broken bi-fold doors that we were strictly forbidden to use. The busted bi-folds were a hoof to the face, Annette. I bloody love bi-folds!! I love the effortless blending of indoor and outdoor living that they provide. The bi-folds were one of the main reasons I booked Oceania Retreat in the first place. And the fact that the entire wall of them was broken and unusable does not seem fair considering that I paid full price for the house.

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The row of bi-fold doors that are designed to welcome the outdoors inside.  These were locked shut during our weekend stay.

 

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This is the house I thought I was renting.  Sadly, because the bi-fold doors were locked shut, it’s not the house I got.

But look, all of those inconveniences paled into comparison when, at around 9.30pm on Friday night, the electricity in three quarters of the house just went out. And no Annette, despite your strident assertions, we had not overloaded the system. Not in the least. Nary an iPhone was being charged at the time. But the power went kaput anyway. Being practical people, we figured we’d just find the fuse box, flip the safety switch and get back to having fun. Except Annette, we couldn’t find the fuse box. We looked everywhere, inside and outside of the house. But it was nowhere to be found. Was it because we were drunk? No. Was it because there were no lights? No. It was because the fuse box was hidden… wait for it, behind a locked door!!!

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Curious.

Which begged the question, Annette, where the fuck was the key? I still believe that was a very reasonable question to ask, sitting in a big-ass summer house with no electricity on the first night of a weekend away that cost us an asspile of money.  For some reason, you disagree.

We spent a couple of futile hours looking for the damn key before giving up, a little after midnight, and calling the number in the guest compendium. We called twice, because we felt that the situation was serious enough to warrant immediate attention. But the woman who took our calls obviously didn’t think that a power outage in a luxury holiday property was worth waking anyone up for. And so we spent the night in a $1525-a-night house with no electricity. Which was significantly worse than a mere “inconvenience”.

Look, Annette, ultimately it wasn’t the electricity failure that pissed me off. It wasn’t the dirty socks or the sadistic, empty promise of coffee. It wasn’t even that the fuse box was stupidly locked in a room that we couldn’t access – even though that was fucking ridiculous. I mean, come on. If you were going to give us the key anyway, why lock the door in the first place?  Mess with your guests, much?  (For future guests staying in Oceania Retreat, the key is in a small bag, in a box, on a middle shelf in one of the cupboards in the laundry – good luck finding it in the dark.)

No Annette, what really upset me was your email. How long it took me to make my initial complaint is irrelevant; I’m a busy person. And I’m sorry that most of your guests are in bed by midnight, I truly am.  But we paid for the privilege to stay up as late as we wanted.  So sure, we called after midnight, but the power had been out since 9.30pm. We called only because we were out of options and we were worried that the fridge situation was going to become a health hazard. The meat was starting to smell and the beer was getting warm. And that is most certainly not OK.

I know you’re not a hotel. Duh! I’m not interested in a 24 hour concierge desk.  I’m interested in 24 hour electricity.  I have stayed in over 50 holiday homes through companies such as yours, as well as 72 Airbnb rentals. I have never seen a fuse box locked in a room with no access. You know why Annette? Because I’m fairly certain that it’s illegal. And the reason the room was locked? To protect the secret treasure trove of wine and coffee hidden inside (oh yeah, there was fucken coffee!!!). Seriously, if the owner is so concerned about their mediocre wine collection they should find another place to hide it. The fuse box needs to be accessible 24/7.

Your final comment was: “We consider that his matter has been finalised as we dealt with the situation in an appropriate time frame and don’t consider Facebook as the appropriate forum when the situation was resolved.”

Listen, seven hours to respond to what I would call an urgent situation is not dealing with it in an appropriate time frame. And indeed Annette, Facebook was definitely not the best forum on which to air my grievances about Holiday Shacks. High five for pointing that out. Hospitality, you see, is an industry that relies on excellent customer experiences and positive word of mouth. Particularly the rarefied realm of luxury hospitality in which Holiday Shacks lurks. Your website bandies around terms like, “luxury holiday accommodation business”, “luxury coastal and rural holiday homes”, “luxury villas” and “guest luxury experiences”. That’s a whole lotta jive about luxury, Annette. But do you know what I don’t consider a luxury? Electricity. I tend to think of electricity as more of your “essential” type item. You rent mansions (not caravans); on the Mornington Peninsula (not outback Australia). Unlimited access to running water and electricity is not optional. And ten hours without electricity is not an inconvenience. It’s fucking unacceptable. And even worse, avoidable.

Before I finish, I’m going to leave you with a suggestion. Some constructive criticism, if you will. Seeing as you work in customer service, perhaps you could try using a bit more diplomacy next time you receive a complaint. Instead of blaming us, your customers, for a situation that was not our fault, perhaps you could … oh, I don’t know, maybe just think about apologising instead?? Just saying, Annette. I have a feeling that your email to me was so dismissive and contemptuous because you presumed that the final word was yours. But you were wrong, Annette. It’s mine.

And now the matter is finalised.

Ejo #100 – A Love Letter To Melbourne

The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not
be questioned.

Maya Angelou

Melbourne, my beloved, you are not the city of my birth, but you became my home before I was old enough to form memories of anywhere else. You will always be my hometown. And no matter where I live, you will always be my home.

I became aware of my capacity to love you only after we parted ways, nine and a half years ago (ack, has it really been that long?). Oh dear Melbourne, when I moved away in search of adventure, to “broaden my horizons” and to see more of the world, can you believe that I was actually happy to leave you. I was excited to embark on that brave new endeavour. It wasn’t that I was leaving you, it was just that I was going somewhere else. And even though my journey has been more difficult than I could have imagined, even though I left behind all my family and all my friends, and even though I have struggled with that, I don’t regret any of it. I have seen the world, and it’s wonderful. I have broadened my horizons and I have had adventures. Hopefully I will continue to have them.

What I do regret are all the years that I took you for granted. All the years that I failed to appreciate how entwined we were, and how dependent my sense of self was to yours. I moved away to have new experiences, arrogantly presuming that I would find the same sense of belonging and the same sense of security and oneness that you and I have always shared. Naïvely thinking that these things were inside of me.  But they were not.  I found that I did not belong anywhere else. I do not belong anywhere else. I blamed myself, for years, thinking that there was something wrong with me. Only after a great deal of painful introspection (and therapy, lots of therapy) could I see that you and I have something special, something that I will never find anywhere else in this world, no matter how hard I might search for it.

Melbourne, you have contributed so much of yourself to so much of me. I spent my formative years, my growing up years, inside of you. But until it was gone, how could I have known the extent of your influence? Does anyone ever realise how much they’re shaped by their environment, until they leave it?  The place I live now is nothing like you. The place I live now hates me, and quite frankly, I hate it back. I will always belong to you. And you will always belong to me.

I recently spent two wonderful weeks back in your embrace. In the comfort of your big sky, your clean air, your beautiful light. Enveloped in the glow of your sparkling constellation. You are my galaxy, and though my chosen orbit forces us apart, I am forever drawn to you. We resonate, you and I.  My cherished family is with you. My friends live in you. My history resides within yours. When I am “home”, I am normal.  My guard drops.  I breathe more deeply, and with less effort.  I remember who I was.  I know who I am.  I like myself more.  I regain a sense of belonging. And I do belong.

My beloved Melbourne, please, wait for me.  I promise you, one day I will return.

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Best fucking coffee in the world.

 

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David and I missed out on the “smashed avo” trend, so we make up for it every time we go back.  Also: bacon!!!!

 

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Afternoon cocktails at Madame Brussels. A quintessential Melbourne experience.

 

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Of all things, a lichen covered mailbox in Mount Waverley brings on waves of homesickness.

 

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Park.  Land.  Every.  Where.

 

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A track behind my childhood home.  You don’t realise how much you can miss trees and dirt and insects and bark and grass and fallen leaves and dappled light and twigs and Mother Nature until you have to live without them for so many years.

 

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The light.  Just, the light.

 

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A delightful afternoon in a delightful garden with delightful friends.  Melbourne.

 

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Yes, you can hire a yacht anywhere in the world.  But only in Melbourne is it helmed by such a good mate.

 

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Mah bitchzzz!!!!  Melbourne is where I am free enough to be my crazy self.

 

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Friends.  I’ve lived with these people.  I’ve danced with them.  I’ve gone to university with them.  They know me.  I know them.  Love is in the air!

 

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My gorgeous Mum in her incredible garden.

 

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My best friends in the world.  My sisters.  Melbourne girls.  ❤

Ejo #83 – Fergus Miller: Because Your Candle Burns Too Bright

In late 2012 my friend Svetlana was given a subscription to a music streaming service as a gift, from her husband Andrew.  One of the first new albums she discovered was from a band she’d never heard of called Bored Nothing.  I’ll let Svet describe her reaction:

I have no idea what made me click on the Bored Nothing album, but doing so literally changed my life.  I became completely obsessed with it.  It was absolutely perfect in every way.   I listened to it five times a day for two months. I’d listen to it when I got dressed in the morning, driving in the car, hanging up the washing. I drove my family crazy. I probably drove my neighbours crazy too as I’d blast it through the speakers while jumping on the trampoline with the kids.

I kept thinking that if I were an indie movie, this album would be my soundtrack.  There was a song for every single mood I’ve ever experienced.   Elated, serene, sad or pissed off – I could find a track that matched my frame of mind.  It wasn’t just the music that I loved, it was also the incredibly thoughtful and poignant lyrics.

I asked my friends if they had heard of Bored Nothing and not a single one had.  Sadly, they were all listening to the same stuff they listened to ten years ago because they couldn’t find new music that they liked.  So I started a music blog – to help my old-fart friends discover new music.

And that’s how the Australian music blog “7 Seconds Of Sound” was born.  The fifteen months I spent as guest writer on the blog were, creatively, some of the best of my life.  I love music and I love writing, so when Svet asked me to be a contributor it was a no-brainer.  The rewards were many.  The discovery of incredible new music that I would otherwise be oblivious to.  The opportunity to hone my writing (and interviewing) skills.  And a wonderful new way to bond with my gorgeous friend, Svet, whom I missed dreadfully.

Another, unexpected bonus was the chance to actually get to know some of the artists we were reviewing.  Both Svet and I got close to a couple of musicians, our admiration for them as musicians evolving into a mutual appreciation of each other as human beings.  I feel lucky to still be in contact with a couple of the people I reviewed, and to call them my friends.  But my experience pales with the rapport that Svet developed with Ferg.  They transcended the fan/artist bond that brought them together to form a true friendship (OK not BFF’s, but still, the type of friend you can message at 4am knowing they won’t get pissed off at you).  Svet describes meeting him for the first time, at one of his gigs:

I was so ridiculously nervous. It was pretty comical considering I was a confident woman almost twice this dude’s age.  I just walked up and said “Hello, I love your music” suddenly stuck in a weird, awkward moment with my musical hero.  Shaking like a leaf, I told him how super nervous I was and he asked “Why? Are you about to take a test?”.  I laughed, but didn’t tell him it was because he’d been in my head for hours a day, every day, for months.

When the gig finished Ferg came up to me and Andrew, and we started chatting. He gave me a record of his self-titled album. I was so blown away by this. The artist that I was obsessed with was not just a great musician but such an incredibly lovely and generous person. I told him about my blog and asked if I could interview him, and he agreed.

That was in early 2013. They did the interview and had a couple of drinks.  Over the next few years they sent each other emails and messages (yep, even at 4 o’clock in the morning) and had lots of diverse and interesting conversations at his gigs.

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Earlier this month Fergus Miller, tragically, killed himself.  He was 26 years old, he was a beautiful person and he was an incredibly talented, self-taught musician who played almost every instrument on his debut album.  This ejo isn’t about his depression or about his suicide.  It’s about Ferg.  It’s a celebration of his spirit, which will always live on in his music.  It’s about making sure that as many people as possible can hear the songs that he gave life to.  It’s about music, and how it eclipses all the bullshit and rises above the pain of the person creating it (however excruciating), to become something that touches and connects people.  And perhaps even soothes their own pain.

Svet has, understandably, been devastated by Ferg’s death.  She cried for days after learning the terrible news from his wife, Anna (who must be utterly heartbroken).  The intensity of Svet’s grief caused her to be angry at herself though, reasoning that they hadn’t been close enough for her to have the right to be so sad:

“But after listening to his friends and family talk at the funeral and seeing all the touching tributes on social media, I understood my grief. Ferg was such a warm and sweet person. He gave so much of himself, through his music and his relationships with people, that even meeting him once felt like you’d known him for a lifetime.

We may not have known each other well but I will never forget his sincerity and kindness to me over the years. His music has played in my head pretty much every day since I first heard it in 2012. It inspired me to set up a music blog that resulted in some incredible experiences and connections with artists I respect and admire from all over the world.”

A regular series on 7 Seconds Of Sound was called “Give Me Five” where we asked musicians to talk about five songs of their choosing.  As a tribute to Ferg, I’ve asked Svet to select five of his songs, and to write a few words about each one.  I’d really love it if you would take the time to listen.

“Bliss” – Bored Nothing

“My second post on the blog featured Bored Nothing’s “Bliss”. I love this video as it shows what makes Fergus so bloody special. Here was this dude who just wanted to make music for the love of it. He doesn’t look like he has tonnes of cash to buy the most expensive instruments or put together an extravagant and stupidly shallow video clip. He just obviously loves making music and is lucky enough to have awesome friends who help him make video clips.  Even if he had millions to spend, his video clips would probably still be the same as there’s nothing better than hanging out with your mates and a bunch of ducks in the backyard.”

 

“Get Out Of Here” – Bored Nothing

“Get Out Of Here” and “Charlie’s Creek” are definitely my favourite Bored Nothing songs. Both songs have a nostalgic beauty to them and flawlessly balance Ferg’s soft voice with quiet instrumentals. He is a great storyteller of sad tales of love. It just blows me away that he was probably about 20 when he recorded these songs and possibly much younger when he wrote them. Maybe it takes the confusion of adolescence to write sweet songs like these but so many people try hard to capture the bewilderment and uncertainty of that stage of life and fail whereas Ferg seems to be able to do it effortlessly.

 

“We Lied” – Bored Nothing

This film clip is a perfect visual accompaniment for this gorgeously wistful song. It was filmed during Bored Nothing’s 2014 European tour.  It’s serene and simple with no hint of boastful pretense of life on the road. It feels a bit voyeuristic watching it as you’re not just observing a band during quite moments on tour but you’re watching sweet and intimate moments between Ferg and his girlfriend at the time, fellow musician Anna Davidson. They were married not long after this video was filmed.

 

“Public Phone” – Wedding Ring Bells

I once gave Ferg some completely unsolicited advice and luckily his gentlemanliness prevented him from telling me to get stuffed. I told him two things. The first was to definitely include subdued tracks like “Get Out Of Here” and “Charlie’s Creek” on his next album as the focus of those songs are his beautiful lyrics and his great vocals. The second piece of advice was to incorporate more cowbells in his music. Disappointingly, he never did the cowbell thing but after Bored Nothing broke up, the self-titled album for his next project Wedding Ring Bells was laden with softly sung, quietly played songs. Public Phone is my favourite track on that album, with its sweetly sung philosophical lyrics about love and the inevitability that it will end in bitterness and disappointment. It’s the perfect song to listen to while looking out the window on a rainy day.

 

“You Win, Baby” – Wedding Ring Bells

Ferg’s friend Marcus Sellars put together an incredibly touching playlist for Ferg’s funeral. He included a lovely demo version of “You Win, Baby” that sounded like it was recorded in his lounge room. Ferg was playing this song to his friends for the first time and there was some funny banter between Ferg and his mates at the beginning, including his friend Catie saying she needed to put on her glasses so she could hear better. It was so nice hearing his laughter and listening to how relaxed and happy he was. For a moment I forgot where I was and then he started singing and it hit me yet again that Ferg was gone, at which point I completely lost it and broke down in tears. 

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For nearly two and a half years 7 Seconds Of Sound has been on indefinite hiatus.  During that time I’ve applied gentle pressure on Svet, every now and then, to perhaps revive the blog, because I miss it.  In a way, now that Ferg is gone, it’s almost like the closing of a circle.  Even though I never met him, Ferg had an effect on both Svet’s life and mine.  His life was short, but his influence was wide.  Rest in peace, Fergus Miller.