For my Mother, Irene Simkin, 80th Birthday, I wanted to do something special. She had never had a party thrown for her before, and her closest friends lived overseas. So I decided upon hosting an elegant party in Canberra, Australia, along with a South Pacific cruise (to relive memories of our Mariposa trip in 1976).
Mums 80th Birthday Party
On April 13th, 2007, I hosted a sit down dinner (with wines and cocktails) at The Lobby restaurant, in Canberra, Australia for 50 of Mum’s closest friends including billionaires & generals. Guests flew in from the USA, Canada and UK specifically for the event.
Printed invitations, RSVP cards, menu’s with real turquoise stones integrated, place names, posters and special centerpieces providing a 5 meter long plastic scroll printed with a chronological timeline of major worldwide events in her life, integrated with her own photos were made.
A multimedia presentation was created using rotating guests own photos with Mum, and a string quartet brought in from the Sydney symphony. Gift bags with custom made playing cards (Mum was the Queen of Hearts), along with silk scarves and other gifts for all guests. Hardback photo books of Mum’s life were made.
A Special Event for Brett
Since I was taking his sister on all expense paid cruise of the South Pacific, I felt guilty about leaving her younger brother, Brett, out of the events, so I decided to give him a boys day out — milkshakes, hamburgers and knowing he had never before flown on an airplane, I decided to charter a Cessna, and give him a co-pilots first flight around Canberra. At the conclusion of the flight, he was given a certificate of his first flight that I had created in China before I left. The days events were great fun.
Notes from my mothers memoirs
On the Tuesday Toby organized a treat for Brett, as he was not coming on the cruise with us. He had never flown before, so Toby chartered a light aircraft and took him for a flight. He was then presented with a certificate by the pilot and a couple of other souvenirs. He was ecstatic. In the afternoon he took Brett and Ashley on a backstage tour of the Canberra Theatre.
The following day Toby and DJ worked all day behind closed doors and in the evening DJ’s mother. Stella Wizniak and his grandmother, Cassie Boyachuk, arrived from Canada. They were booked into a local hotel and Toby and DJ moved in there with them. On Thursday, 12th. of April Stella and Cassie both celebrated their birthdays – Stella her 72nd, and Cassie her 93rd!!!!! I was in awe of this lady who had braved the dreadful air trip from Canada to Australia to celebrate my birthday with me. I was at her 80th birthday party in Canada 13 years before. That night we went for a celebratory dinner cruise on Lake Burley Griffin, but this was a great disappointment as all the buildings, which were usually floodlit, were in darkness.
Friday was the big day for my party and I didn’t see the boys all day. My lovely neighbours very kindly sent me a corsage for the occasion. Mandy picked me up and when we arrived at The Lobby it had been transformed into a fairyland. Everything was made to a turquoise theme, the floral decorations were superb and there was a most unusual centrepiece of a tall tripod with a banner wound around it depicting the decades of my life, interspersed with pictures of prominent events and people. It was quite fantastic. Every guest received a gift bag containing a pashmina and other souvenirs, including a pack of playing cards with portraits of me with my family as young children and another picture of us all with the children grown up. These were printed on the jokers and the Queen of Hearts has my picture on it!!!!
The cards given to guests showing their table numbers were most unusual. There was a long, slim card and on the front and the back of the card were overlays of parchment all held together with turquoise beads. On one of the parchments was a poem by my dear friend in Oxfordshire, England, Lady Mogg. Margaret is a very dear friend from nearly 60 years ago. On the other side was a clever play on the letters of my name, contributed by good friends in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. Colonel Gerry and Lynn Royals. The name cards on the table and the menus all had turquoise beads attached. On each table there was a overlay of turquoise and each napkin was encircled with an attractive ring of turquoise beads.
We met all the guests as they arrived and Mandy, Ashley and Brett greeted them and gave them their table number cards. Brett, aged 9, was the star of the evening. He had been looking forward to this event for months and was most excited. He looked fabulous in black pants, a white shirt, waistcoat and black tie. I had been teaching him how to give a good handshake and how to greet people and he did a sterling job. Ashley looked lovely in her party dress, as did Mandy, and I was very proud of them all.
My guests duly arrived and we greeted them and steered them towards Mandy and the children to collect their table numbers. Some of my guests I hadn’t seen for over 40 years and it was a wonderful opportunity to meet up with friends from several decades of my life. John and Adrienne Mars came from the U.S.A., Patrick and Elaine Beaumont (Toby’s Godmother) from the U.K. and, of course, Stella and Cassie from Canada. Other friends came from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Wollongong and Wagga Wagga. The Canberra contingent consisted of Phillip and Margaret Bennett, my good friend Sue Andrew and several of my Probus friends.
There was a huge picture frame, which eventually held a group picture of all the guests, and everyone signed the matt around it, and this has taken pride of place in my family room ever since. A string quartet Toby has brought in from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra played beautiful music, and a photographer did a great job, producing hundreds of photos. All the time a slide show of pictures of me during my life was shown. The dinner was most enjoyable, but the cheese platter caused great merriment as the cheese was served in minute slivers!
The birthday cake was a vision to behold. It was a large square with 10 rows of 8 roses and Toby had brought an amazing candle from China, which produced a huge flame and then opened up to show more candles.
Toby made a lovely speech and then all the guests gathered around for a toast to me. It was then my turn to make a speech. At an event like this it’s impossible to have long conversations with anyone, but I managed to get around all the tables and speak to every guest, and of course had a few words with them all when they arrived and when they left.
Toby and DJ did a magnificent job of organization and decoration and the attention to detail was awe-inspiring.
I shall enjoy and treasure the memories of this night for the rest of my days. I am indeed a very fortunate lady.
CRUISE OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC IN “TAHITIAN PRINCESS”.
After a very comfortable flight in business class we arrived in Papeete at 7.55pm. on Saturday,14th. (Tahiti is behind us in time) and were met at the airport by Antoinette, our driver and guide, who welcomed us all with leis. She then drove us in a mini-van to the Radisson Plaza Resort, where it took ages to check in, and in the usual French way they had made mistakes in our bookings. They eventually rectified these and as an apology sent all the ladies a lovely pareo (sarong) and body lotion. We eventually went to bed around midnight. Our room was most comfortable, but in order to reach it we had to go outside and round the building and climb a few steps to reach the elevator to take us to our floor. It was a lovely hotel, but I felt that this was a strange arrangement. I found that all around French Polynesia there were steps everywhere!
The next day Antoinette picked us up at 1pm. and took us on a most interesting tour of Papeete. It’s a huge island and Antoinette was very knowledgeable about all the interesting tourist sites. We visited a spectacular marae (Tahitian religious meeting place or temple) with fascinating stone or wooden carved tikis. The houses looked very small and hot. Black pearls are sold everywhere and we were taken to an establishment specialising in these. One can find poor quality pearls in the markets, but in the shops set up especially for them, they are beautifully presented with interesting settings, but are incredibly expensive.
Antoinette drove us back to the Radisson and at 6 o’clock picked us up again to take us to another dinner for my never-ending birthday at CoCo restaurant, reputed to be the best on the island. It was certainly very pleasant and we enjoyed it very much. On the way back to the hotel it was dark and many of the ships were lit up. The “Tahitian Princess” had arrived and looked lovely. Ashley was hilarious as she mistook the ferry which plies between Papeete and Moorea for the cruise ship, and wondered what on earth we were so excited about! It’s pretty small and she couldn’t imagine how over 600 passengers would fit on it!!
On Monday, 15th. Antoinette picked us up once again to take us to the ship and before boarding we browsed through the market near the cruise ship port. Actually this turned out to be the best market on the whole trip, so some of our group paid another visit to it before we finally left Papeete on our way home, to pick up gift items they had seen on our arrival.
We boarded the ship around 2pm. and settled into our cabins. Once again the stupid French had managed to get our cabin configurations wrong. For instance Ashley and I were supposed to have twin beds, but there was a double in place. However our cabin steward, Tha Won rectified this and we ended up with two beds, bedside tables, a desk/dressing table and chair, a small occasional table, a settee and plenty of storage space. The bathroom was well appointed and we had our own private balcony with two chairs and a table. The whole stateroom setup was fantastic and we were very comfortable. We were on Deck 7, as were Stella and Cassie, and Toby and DJ were on Deck 8. They had been frequent travellers with the Princess Line and were given a special upgrade. We others were fortunate too, as through Toby and DJ’s status with the line we were all given upgrades!! We were made members of the Captain’s Circle and on any future trips get special treatment.
The ship was a good size and we didn’t feel crowded at any time, or overwhelmed by the other passengers. The staterooms went down to deck 3 and this was the deck from which we left in the ship’s tender in every port except Raiatea, where we were able to dock. Deck 4 was the gangway to the dock and also on this deck was housed Reception and the Medical Centre. On Deck 5 were the shops, Casino and Bar, Photo Gallery, the Cabaret/Lounge where shows were staged and the main Restaurant and Bar. Decks 6, 7 and 8 were for staterooms only, and I was fortunate in that the laundromat was just around the corner from me on the port deck. On deck 9 there was the Panorama Buffet, which seemed to go 24 hours a day from breakfast onwards. It was incredible, with an amazing selection of foods, but I found all I could manage was fruit and toast after having had a huge dinner the night before. Only once did I manage to fit in lunch, but because of the requirement to keep my blood sugars stable, I sometimes had a small sandwich around 2.30pm. Ashley and I tried afternoon tea one afternoon, just for the experience, as it was served English style, as in good hotels. We had breakfast in our cabin a couple of times, but it was much better in the Promenade Buffet. On Deck 9 we also had a pool, bandstand and bar, a servery where one could get a hamburger or hot dog at any time, a pizzeria, card room, internet café, fitness centre and spa and a hair salon. Deck 10 sported a fitness track with a special non-slip surface, a library, the Tahitian Lounge where some entertainment took place and two restaurants, Sabatini’s Italian Restaurant the The Sterling Steakhouse Grill, where we celebrated Toby’s birthday on the 21st. April.
They were supposed to give Toby the birthday treatment (which he dreaded) but they forgot and sent us two bottles of wine the next day by way of an apology! Deck 11 was the sun deck. Some nights films were shown in the area by the pool. Ashley and I took part in a couple of trivia sessions and won one of them. Our prizes were very nice, reversible, tote bags. Most of the entertainment was Tahitian dancing – the girls’ dancing was similar to the Hawaian hula and the boys’ dancing was reminiscent of the New Zealand haka. Toby’s phone didn’t work on the ship and his internet connection on his computer didn’t work either, for which he was truly grateful as he would normally be bombarded with work-related emails, so he had an enforced rest!
We knew ahead of time what our table number was in the dining room, but the first night out, whilst we were still in port, there was no special seating and we had a great experience with the waiter, Sherwin, from the Philippines and his assistant, Roberto, an Italian, who was very excitable and reminded me of the actor in that amazing film “A Beautiful Life”. They were so good that Toby asked if it was possible to have them allocated to our table for the whole cruise and we were lucky enough to get Sherwin. He was an excellent waiter, and great fun, and we looked forward to seeing him every night. He had just come from the QE11. He was a very short man and his assistant, Sebastian, was over 6 feet. He, too, had a great sense of humour and they helped to make every meal an occasion and enjoyable. The cruise staff are aware of everyone’s birthdays and they celebrated all that had happened in the past week, so Cassie, Stella and I came in for attention. A small iced chocolate cake with a candle burning was brought to the table and several waiters gathered around to sing the “Happy Birthday” song. It was absolutely hilarious when they sang “Happy Birthday to the three of them”!! It brought the house down.
The next day, Tuesday, 17th. April, we spent the whole day moored in Papeete and sailed for Huahine at 5pm. and spent the next day there from 8am. to 5pm. Toby had organised a car and guide to meet us and we did an interesting tour of the island – which is actually two islands joined by a bridge. There were palm-fringed motus (little offshore islands, some with houses on them), lush foliage everywhere, beautiful beaches and, of course palm trees everywhere. We visited a small vanilla farm, which was virtually in the back garden of a house,. The following day we were at sea all day and that night formal dress was designated for the dinner. Most people complied, but some turned up in their everyday gear. On the non-formal nights the dress was smart/casual.
Friday we were in Rarotonga from 8am. to 5pm. Rarotonga is governed by New Zealand and had a quite different feel from the other islands, which are French. Toby had been unable to organise special transport ahead of the trip, so we went ashore and took taxis to the various places we visited. We were able to do some serious shopping in the town – as opposed to the inevitable markets with shell jewellery and other trashy offerings. We even found a large store where we could purchase decent gifts and top up with things like hairspray and other small items which needed replenishing, and had lunch in a café there. We didn’t find Rarotonga particularly attractive compared with the other islands.
On the Saturday we were at sea all day, but in the morning had to go through French Immigration again. They are very difficult people and when we boarded the ship in Papeete they took away our passports and gave us receipts for them. After Rarotonga (New Zealand territory) we had to line up again to get our passports back!!!!!
Sunday found us in Raiatea at 7am. and in the early afternoon were were met by a guide with a mini-van, who took us on a tour of the island, which is beautiful. We had incredible views out to sea and the colours of the water were unbelievable, ranging from blue to all shades of turquoise, with the deepest turquoise being the farthest out. Again we were shown the area’s tourist attractions – maraes, pearl establishment, etc. Unfortunately Ashley wasn’t feeling too well so missed this trip and rested in the cabin, but by the time we came back she was fine again and we found her in one of the lounges watching a show. That night the dress was tropical attire, and fortunately I had a long, tropical-looking cotton dress, which was over 30 years old! Sherwin had organised the overdue birthday cake for Toby and he had to endure the singing waiters! We left Raiatea at 6am. the next day and arrived in Bora Bora at 12 noon, and stayed there until 5pm. on Tuesday, 23rd.
On the first afternoon we went for a dive in a submarine. We left the jetty in a small boat and set out to sea to reach the submarine, which was quite a way out. We eventually spied a small yellow speck in the distance and burst into the “Yellow Submarine” song! When we eventually reached it we were welcomed by Alain, the owner of the submarine, who was most knowledgeable and interesting and it was an experience to remember. The sub was very small and only took six passengers. We had to climb through a round hatch and down a vertical ladder and were each assigned a particular seat. We went down to 150 feet and saw sharks, stingrays, barracudas and many other fish, some huge and others minute. The viewing windows were rounded and all the fish we saw looked considerably smaller in size than they actually were. Up above our glass roof was another small compartment and from this food was dispersed for the fish. Alain switched on a red light and dozens of fish fought to get at the food, which he would then release. It was a real feeding frenzy!! He did this two or three times and it was fascinating. I loved the whole experience and it was something I will never forget.
The next day we were met yet again by a guide with a mini-van and had a most interesting tour of the island. The whole area of French Polynesia is volcanic and millions of years ago great eruptions took place and the result is an amazing prehistoric landscape of huge hills, many earning the title of mountains – all covered in lush green undergrowth. They are most spectacular, and quite awesome, particularly at dawn and dusk. The musical “South Pacific” was based on Bora Bora and the U.S. naval base where Nellie Forbush was supposedly stationed. Bloody Mary and daughter Liat were also inhabitants of Bora Bora and there is a famous cafe there now, named “Bloody Mary’s with a board erected outside with the names of all the famous people who have visited there! Bora Bora boasts a beautiful, multi-hued lagoon, and there are many sand-fringed motus sitting along the outer reef. It really is gorgeous, considered by James Michener to be the most beautiful island in the world, but then he probably hadn’t seen Moorea, which proved to be the favourite with all of us!
We left Bora Bora at 5pm. on Tuesday, 24th. and that night was another formal dinner evening, and we arrived in Moorea at 7.30am. the next day. That morning we had a most wonderful tour in the usual mini-van and the island proved to be extremely interesting and breathtakingly beautiful. Again, in “South Pacific”, this was where Emil de Beq lived on his plantation, close to the famous Bali Hai mountain, which is an unusual shape and most impressive. On our tour we visited a black pearl farm, which was very educational, a huge vanilla plantation, and Tiki Village which houses an interesting outdoor theatre, shops, restaurants and a tattoo artist, who drew a tattoo of a lizard on Ashley’s arm. One of his earlobes had been extended and had a huge hole in it, through which he stuck a pen marker which he used for the tattoos!! On our tours we had seen many maraes so declined the offer to see more! The views everywhere were majestic and magnificent and the ocean views were wonderful. Moorea seemed to be a more prosperous island that the others and the houses were much bigger and better looking. As on some of the other islands, the big hotels boasted accommodation in thatched cottages on stilts, stretching out to sea, with an access path to each. Many people live on Moorea and work in Papeete, catching “Ashley’s ferry” each day – the one she thought was the cruise ship when we first arrived! Our guide presented each of we ladies with a lovely flower headdress.
We left Moorea at 4.30pm. Papeete wasn’t far away, but we cruised around and arrived there at 8pm., spending the night in port. That night we attended the Champagne Waterfall, where a huge triangle of champagne glasses had been built up and champagne was poured into the top one, which overflowed into all the others, and was then handed out to the passengers. On the morning of Wednesday, 25th. April an A.N.Z.A.C. service was held on deck at 5.50am. I had fully intended to be there but, shame on me, I didn’t wake up until 5.55am. so missed it.
We disembarked at 9.30am. on the 26th. and were once more driven by private mini-van to the Sofitel Tahiti Resort and enjoyed a couple of days there. We all made a trip back to the port area to pick up last minute gifts and other items which Stella and Cassie had had made whilst we were away, but unfortunately the shopkeeper had left them at home, so they had to go back the next day to pick them up. Toby and I were “shopped out” and sat having coffee whilst the others shopped. We then had lunch and went back to the Sofitel, where we had dinner that night. We were not impressed with the food or the service.
The next morning DJ, Ashley, Stella and Cassie went back to finish their shopping, and I had breakfast in the hotel restaurant, which was close to the pool area, and whilst Toby relaxed in his room I sat near the pool, which is gorgeous and right next to the private beach area, and watched the world go by. I stayed there all morning, and Toby joined me for coffee. It was a most attractive spot and we looked across at the Sheraton Hotel, which boasted those intriguing thatched cottages on stilts, out in the ocean. The others eventually came back and I was tempted at long last to go into the sea, which was fabulous – clear, a beautiful colour, and warm. I enjoyed it very much, particularly as I hadn’t been swimming for years.
That was the Australian contingent’s last night – the Canadians were staying on for one more day. The reason for this is that the French have an arrangement with the airlines, making sure that none of them fly in on the days cruise ships are boarding or disembarking, so that the passengers have to spend a couple of nights in an hotel before and after. That was why we had to have my birthday celebration two days early, as we couldn’t get to Papeete in time to board the ship! DJ, Cassie and Stella couldn’t leave until the following day! Actually the French had cooked their own goose, as from the following October, Princess Cruises were planning not to visit French Polynesia. They were sick of the red tape and the fact that the people were so rude to visitors who didn’t speak French. An example of this was when Toby tried to enter the gift shop at the Sofitel and the woman owner didn’t say a word, but physically pushed him out and closed the door!! The French Polynesians were hoping that Segolene Royale would win the forthcoming French Presidential election, as she had promised to give them independence, but sadly for them it was not to be.
Toby tried to take us back to the CoCo restaurant for a final dinner, but they were booked out, and for once he found a very cooperative girl at the reception desk, who suggested that we try “The Yellow Coconut”. This proved to be fabulous and better than CoCo. The venue was a covered outdoor area with ceiling fans, on the water, and was a really tropical setting, with attractive lighting and table settings. The girls serving us were delightful, helpful and fun – quite different from most of the people we had encountered before. The food was superb and it couldn’t have been a better finale to our trip.
Back at the hotel we bade a very sad farewell to Stella and Cassie, and DJ came to see us off when we left for the airport at 11.30pm. We spent some time in the VIP lounge until our flight left at 2.15am. There was one amusing incident when we were on our way to the lounge. We had to walk along a corridor and then get into an elevator to go to the lounge. When the doors of the elevator opened, the doors on the other side also opened and I walked straight through, whilst Toby and Ashley were doubled up laughing. After all it was after midnight and I was a silly old woman!!!! On the plane, after a glass of champagne I fell asleep and awoke in time for breakfast and our arrival in Sydney shortly after, so it was a perfect flight. We were fortunate enough to be processed very quickly in Sydney and didn’t have our luggage x-rayed like everyone else!! This was probably because Ashley, bless her heart, declared a couple of small gifts she had bought, which had wood in them, and I think the customs/quarantine lady was impressed with her honesty.
We tried to get a cab to take us round to the long-stay car park to pick up my car, but this proved impossible, so with great difficulty we pushed some of our bags on a trolley and wheeled the rest. We had trouble finding an entrance into the car park and the system really does need to be organized better. Eventually we made it and then drove to Canberra, stopping of in Berrima for refreshments and arriving around lunchtime at Mandy’s to drop off Ashley.
What an incredible time I had had, starting with my fantastic 80th birthday celebration, followed by the gift of this lovely cruise. I enjoyed every minute of it and was especially thrilled to have my granddaughter, Ashley, with me. She was growing up so quickly, and I doubt if we will every again have the opportunity to spend time together like that, and I shall treasure the memory of it. She was great fun and laughter was a big part of every day! It was also wonderful to spend time with Stella and Cassie, who proved to be great travelling companions and, like me, enjoyed everything, and it was also good for DJ to be able to spend time with them.
Toby, as usual, organized everything beautifully and made sure everyone was comfortable. Ordering our transport ahead in every port was fantastic and made life so enjoyable and easy.
I can never thank him enough for everything he’s done for me, and I am so grateful and humbled by his generosity to an old lady.