Once Were School Days to Holiday Stays

Denise and Frank Kuss had a yearning for a different life from the typical suburban  cycle of work and busy city living.  Here is their  story  becoming  B&B owners of the old  Stanley Grammar School, now their Stanley Grammar Country House, Watervale, Clare Valley.

“I had worked for The Advertiser as a secretary for many years and my husband was a supervisor in the crane industry, but we each yearned for a tree change, to find a total change of lifestyle like the sitcoms on television.

We had no idea how we were goingto do it, so for years  we tried  to feel the vibrations of certain places.   We would pull into a small town and ask ourselves “is this the town? Or we would see a “for sale’ sign and ask ourselves  “is this the house? is this the building ?’’  We looked at old banks, caravan parks, retreats, old pubs and so on, but nothing sparked desire for us.

“One Saturday evening browsing through the newspaper real estate section I saw an historic Grammar School in the country advertised.   So without any real intent I looked  up the property on the internet.  From that moment, I couldn’t get the place out of my mind. There was an open inspection the next day and when I suggested we drive to see it, my husband, Frank, was not at all enthralled at the idea of driving 118 kms to see a property  we couldn’t afford. I said ‘I know we can’t buy it, I just want a little look’. He retorted  ‘woman you’re nuts and your “looks” can be dangerous’. However, I had an inkling and persisted until Frank agreed.

The next morning, Frank tried every trick to stall things. He shamelessly time-wasted – taking the long way to the petrol station, and then slowly cleaning every car window.  I was fuming, but jammed my lips shut to avoid an “argument” which could have stopped the trip.

My stomach was all knotted as we raced against the open inspection closing time and after 90 minutes on the road, we arrived at Watervale 15 minutes late.   As we turned into the street, there in the distance was this beautiful, old  two-storey Colonial building.  It had “history’’ written all over its 19th century stone walls.  Above the arched doorway was etched “Stanley Grammar School Established 1857”.  Our jaws dropped.  The grounds were over-run with sightseers and people  like ourselves, who were contemplating a dream. We were mesmerised with its structural beauty and the enormous opportunities it presented. It was for sale by tender.

Eagerly we walked into the entry foyer and my first thought was “I like this”, and with each step into the billiard room and then the grand classroom,  I knew I was in love.  “I want it!”.   In reality the empty building was very grand and we both knew in our hearts we could not afford it.  We were just Mr and Mrs Joe Bloggs living in Adelaide, in a typical suburban house with regular jobs and here we were contemplating grand dreams to match the structure before us. Some miracle would have to occur to buy this place.   When tenders closed , the agent telephoned and said we had not put in a tender, but we said we couldn’t afford it. He suggesting we make an offer.    So we offered what we could afford – almost 100,000 less than the price the owner, a renowned heart surgeon, wanted.  He dropped the price and we edged up our offer.  It was nerve-wracking, but soon the property was ours.

We wanted the old Grammar School so much, and although the price we paid was unbelievable for the beautiful building, we would need to run it as a B&B to afford it.  And Frank had to keep his day job.  We had no B&B or hospitality experience,  just a background in lots of home  entertainment, accommodating friends on overnight stays.  We reasoned that home was rather like a hotel, a café or a restaurant anyway, feeding many people.  Now we would need to be paid for our accommodation.

Luckily, our Adelaide house sold within a week.   WE had renovated the whole house and had lived with dust, dirt, mess and countless renovating disputes with Frank for a long time. I only enjoyed living in the finished, renovated home for three months before we loaded up the cat Spidsey, Lucy our Kelpie dog, and all our belongings to start a new life as B&B hosts – inexperienced and filled with trepidation.

It took us one agonising year to obtain approval to operate a B&B from the local council and the State Government’s Heritage Department.

After four years, we still take such pleasure receiving guests staying  in any of  our five bedrooms, which are all decorated in my own elegant “shabby chic’’ style – a mix of antique, retro and contemporary furniture, furnishings and  special objets d’art.

For further information telephone  08 88430224 or www,oldstanleygrammar.com.au.




Lashings of Frenchness at Film Festival

The Alliance Francaise French Film Festival, opening in Adelaide on March 20, promises yet again that alluring mix of emotion, passion love, and drama – as well as a new genre – “A French Touch Around the World’’.

It will present four films of the 45 in the festival this year, which will celebrate co-productions  – encounters between French and foreign cinema. As an added twist, the festival links into the International Day for Francophonie, on March 20, which falls during the Festival.

As expected from French film,   the largest genre “It must be Love’’ features a smorgasbord of eight romantic films, which capture French society’s obsession with love, including Romantics Anonymous,  The Art of Love and the Silence of Love.

Then there is a sprinkling of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, stories of happy families (?) and yet another cluster of films categorised into It Happened in your Neighbourhood category.

The festival, sponsored by Peugeot, grows from strength to strength with a record number of 130,000 Australians attending across Australia last year.

France’s official submission for the 2012 Academy Awards, Declaration of War (La Guerre est declaree)  will be the powerful movie to launch the 2012 festival.

It wouldn’t be a French film festival without at least one film featuring France’s much-loved ageless actor Catherine Deneuve  and this year does not disappoint when she teams with a slim, handsome Gerard Depardieu (circa 1980) in Francois Truffault’s 1980 classic The Last Metro.

More details from www.affrenchfilmfestival.org.


Speaking of Paris’s Underground  Metro, it reminds me of a plaintive cry from a rejected French lover. And the wonders of Internet brings this story of Love on the Paris Line 12 from a fellow blogger, who wrote:

Chéri called me last week one day, early morning, from Paris. “I miss you and I just quickly want to tell you how much I love you.’’ Later, during  the weekend I found out what stirred his emotions on that early morning. He found a letter on his seat on the metro, line 12, the one he takes to work every day. It is a love letter from Julien to his lost love Leyin. It is written with passion and sadness and a hope that she’ll take line 12 again, find his words of love dedicated to her and be so touched by it that she returns to him. He ends his letter with a poem and a request that the letter not be destroyed, but left on the seat where you found it, as it is more than just a letter…it is a symbol of love. Here it is:

“Her name is Leyin. I am Julien. For 6 years we were together until she left me 7 weeks ago. If you will allow me, I will share this story of love and passion with you, a piece a day, for as long as my faith keeps up or  until she comes back to this line 12, which she takes regularly. My wish? To touch her, move her and at the same time, bring some beauty to this world of the Paris metro.“

(Back to my French blogger froemd’s Post-script:) So…I know many will immediately think this is a hoax, scam…or a joke…or anything else, except honest and real. Maybe it isn’t real. Maybe it is a joke. Or a scam. But then, in my opinion, it is a positive one. One that leaves you with a smile and a twinkle in the eye…a dream…. and one that has your husband of 30 years  call you early morning to quickly tell you that he loves you. THAT is honest and real.




Time for a Miracle

Those words of wisdom by Regina Brent when she turned 90, currently on the Internet are  comforting as I mull over the worsening situation with husband Olivier’s cancer.

He is in hospital once again, this time with abdominal pain and we wait with trepidation for the results of more blood tests and xrays taken today to find a cause.

Her Number 1 adage, for instance, is that “life is not fair, but it’s still good’’.  Yes, it’s horrible that cancer should strike him down and with such aggression – but we have shared such a fabulous eight years together and I try hard to warm my fearful heart with his funny anecotes and touching moments.

There are many, and two stand out right now. On Saturday night at the 50th birthday of his son, Xavier, even though he was ill, we shuffled in the one spot on the dance floor at the Sheoak Deli to loud rock music. And he smiled and touched my cheek as if we were the only ones in a solitary world and we seemed like shameless teenage lovers. I reminded him of our wedding day when we managed to dance together for, oh, about 10 minutes and neither of us stepped on the other.  It was a miracle given my history of clumsiness and lack of dancing lessons. Of course, I was high on bliss and floating on a pink cloud of plenty of champagne. I never wanted that moment to end.

“You’re not treading on my toes tonight, darling,’’ he said on Saturday.

“That’s because we aren’t really moving our feet, just swaying our bodies in rhythm,’’ I replied.

It was so nice and I smiled and licked away the silent stream of tears trickling down into my mouth.

Regina also wrote “Everything can change in the blink of an eye’’.  Such straightforward words which we all know to be reality, but don’t truly understand  until life delivers a body blow. This happened 13 months ago when Olivier’s niggling back pain was diagnosed as extensive secondary cancer, the primary being advanced prostate cancer. The scourge of older manhood. Unlike most men, whose PC is so slow they die with the disease, rather than from it, Olivier’s cancer is an aggressive No. 8 on the Gleeson scale. It is deadly.

We have lived with the Big C ever since and now that lovely, illusionary notion of Happy Ever After which we assumed would be ours for a few decades on our wedding day four years ago has shrivelled.

Which brings me to Regina’s most powerful words right now “Believe in miracles’’. I would so love to be able to believe in a miracle, but his oncologist is a realist.

I must admit, much of the bravado which fired me to write that web article nine months ago “The Art of Living Fearlessly’’  has evaporated and now I simply pray for a miracle of healing, or at least more time to enjoy life together.  Time is suddenly so precious.

Whatever fate delivers us, Regina’s final poignant wisdom from her list of 45 is “However good or bad a situation, it will change.’’ C’est la vie.

Mandy marries lesbian love

Former Adelaide business leader, Mandy Keillor has been as straight as her black bob hair style all her life. Now at 47 years of age, she admits to having turned lesbian in her late 30s after being wooed  by a gay woman who was her pilates instructor.   “Natalia is a lesbian and left a female partner to be with me,’’ recounts Mandy.

Mandy, on the other hand, had always been with men, including a marriage when she was very young to the father of her two sons.

“I am a person who is open to love and that is what I told my children when we started a relationship…that it was about love,’’ says Mandy who was the president of executive women’s group, Women Chiefs of Enterprise.

“What is really amazing about my own union is when we started being together I didn’t think of the repercussions,’’ she adds. “ It felt so good and it felt so natural. The love came first.’’

Mandy was very much a home grown success story in Adelaide having been educated at Gepps Cross Girls’ High School and lobbying against entrenched gendered roles in society, particularly the building industry.  Turning lesbian,  however, has had its difficult issues particularly when she came out to her sons.

“They have obviously been through a lot in their life with me. I was a mother at 20, sole parent at 25, and I was the first female builder in South Australia.

“They just wanted me to be normal,’’ she recalls. “The last thing they wanted me to tell them is that I was about to be in a relationship with another woman.”

Her oldest son lashed out in harsh words…”His words were “everyone’s always thought you were a dyke builder and now you are going to be a dyke builder!@’.’’

“I told him, “ First of all, I am not a dyke. It’s not a very nice word. I have fallen in love with a woman and that is another person and it is about two people falling in love. They had this stereotypical idea of what it going to be like to be with a woman.

“They didn’t understand until  they met her, when they could see that she was really an amazing human being and not at all stereotypical; quite different from  what was in their head.’’

We are sitting in Urban Bistro, the trendy  eatery opposite the Victoria Park racecourse, sipping a local wine and nibbling on marinated olives and the questions about how this metamorphosis happened tumble out.

Q: What triggered your coming out?

“Natalia was in love with me for 18 months before she told me. She will tell you she fell in love with me and tried not to feel that way because she loved her  partner at the time and she admitted to her “Well, I am going to tell Mandy how I feel’.’’

“She invited me for a coffee and told me her feelings. I told her she was crazy.’’

It was the surprising beginning of an eight year relationship, which sees Mandy wear the diamond-encrusted wide wedding ring Natalia gave her on their wedding ceremony in Spain five years ago.

We discuss Australia’s Marriage Act and its definition of marriage being between a man and a woman, and how it is entrenched  in the collective mind of the electorate as being unequivocal. This is despite a Private Member’s Bill seeking to amend the Act to include same sex couples.

Q: What are the main issues that the Australian public has to grapple with over gay marriage?                                                                                                                                                                   

“Somehow it is still seen as a novelty, especially for someone like myself who has been so straight most of my life.

“People don’t take it seriously as a life choice which is very important as to who you are as a person.

Q:  From your own experience, what is it about gay marriage which people reject?

“I think it is fear of the unknown; they don’t understand. Australia is conservatively indoctrinated. We have had a very conservative government, the longest serving government which was very much in bed with the Americans.

“IN  America, when gay marriage was approved in California, they overturned the amendment in California. It was passed and then revoked it.

“There are only 17 countries in the world where gay union is recognised.

“The reality is we can be of the same sex and fall in love with each other; it happens because for them it’s natural. You are born with those tendencies.’’

Mandy says she has grappled with feelings for other women in the past but never knew how to deal with them.

“I was a sole parent with two boys, running my own building company, the first female builder in South Australia. The last thing I could even think about was questioning my sexuality. Those feelings were such a surprise.’’

Mandy was married to her sons’ father the first time for six years and her second relationship, with another man,  lasted 11 years. “ I have been in relationships with men all my life.’’

Q: What is the difference between being with a woman rather than a man?

“I cannot speak for other people, but for me, it’s the first time in my life I feel whole. It is weird for people to hear me say that.

“People put the emphasis on the sexuality rather than the fact that it is a relationship between two human beings.

“If you have two men together, two women together or a man and a woman together, we all go through the same chemical reaction, the (falling in love) brain chemistry, the same attraction, the same ups and downs of any relationship.

“It’s the commitment to being in a relationship with another person which makes it the same life choice.’’

“That whole notion of homosexual behaviour is still confronting to many peopleand I cannot tell you why, especially when I live in that (gay) community.’’

She talks of the world-wide gay community being inclusive.

“I feel  very happy to be in it.’’

It was Mandy’s idea to go to Spain. She had visited Barcelona years beforehand and always vowed to return. She  intended to live there and set up her building company.  On the other hand, Natalia, a  contemporary dancer was going to Germany to dance professionally.

However, as the date of parting drew nearer, Natalia decided to go to Spain with Mandy.

Q: What were you looking for in Spain?

“I wanted a new challenge, people do stop growing.

“ I had worked for 13 years as a interior designer/builder, but I wound down the business, Keillor Building Associates,  and only told my trades a week before I left.’’

Mandy designed the first Cibo café and the immensely popular Chainti Classico restaurant.

However, at the first meeting with a building contact in Barcelona, she knew it wasn’t going to work in a new country.

“I was meeting with a well-known interior designer, Donna Kelly, whom I had corresponded with beforehand.

“She started talking to me about the building industry and my eyes glazed over and I decided I couldn’t do this anymore. I couldn’t find 30 blokes, train them in a different language and do the same things I had done in Australia.’’

Instead the two women capitalised on Natalia’s skill as a teacher of Pilates and Mandy’s business management acumen.

“We walked out of the meeting  and I said to Natalie  “we are going to start up a Pilates studio.’’

Their business, Studio Australia Barcelona, has grown at a rate of 25 per cent a year into a successful health and wellness centre.

“I teach body sculpting and body shaping because I have also been a body builder,’’ says Mandy, who certainly walks her talk with a slim body and blooming with health.

“We have more than 1000 clients or patients and we do a couple of hundred sessions a week.’’

She says living in Spain has left her feeling more European, but  she is “actually proud to be Australian’’.

“The best thing about being Australian is we aren’t constrained by history. We break our own rules; we take the best that the world has to offer and we shape it to be ours. It stops us being inhibited.”

They are unusual  thoughts coming from a lesbian who had to cross the world to marry.

More on Mandy on www.studioaustraliabarcelona.com.