October 2020

15 Oct An Homage to “Schitt’s Creek”, Bébé

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly, 19 October 2020

Back when we were isolated at home for weeks – two adults, one cat – I satisfied my need for company by voyeuristically immersing myself in the shenanigans of other, bigger communities. My favourite was a joyous binge-watch of “Schitt’s Creek”, a Netflix series following the trials and tribulations of a formerly wealthy family who had fallen on hard times and relocated to the distinctly unglamorous small town they’d purchased once a joke.

We watched all eighty episodes in an enchanted romp. We’d given the series a bit of a go when it first launched five years ago, but I’d sighed and given up somewhere into episode three. Back then, I hadn’t been in the mood for watching wildly privileged Americans look down their snouts at small town hicks. “I don’t like any of them,” I’d said, “and I don’t care what happens to them – shall we try one of those cheery Scandi noirs?”

But come lockdown, and with the sixth and final series gaining traction, we gave it a second glance and couldn’t take our eyes off it. First impressions dissolved, giving way to something that felt a bit like… well, love. I couldn’t wait to catch up with them each evening. Their heartbreaks broke my heart, their triumphs lifted my spirits. I had a new friend-goal in “David Rose” and a fresh role model in his mother, “Moira”. They were deeper and more interesting people than I’d given them credit for, and they had the ability to do that extraordinary thing – remain essentially themselves while becoming better people. At the end of the final episode, I cried – because it was deliciously moving, and because it meant we had to say goodbye. I still miss them. I continue to imagine them out there somewhere, being complicated and happy.

Feeling viscerally attached to people we have never actually met – either fictional or real – is a phenomenon much older than television. We can adore (or despise) anyone who lives large in our minds, from characters in books, to royalty and politicians. When Princess Diana died there was genuine grief from vast numbers of people who had never been in the same country as her, let alone the same room. We all navigate a range of emotions when an American president is shot, or becomes ill, or gets (or doesn’t get) elected, and there are local public figures who arouse genuine distaste or adoration depending on where we’ve placed them in our “friend or foe” file.

Sometimes, the emotional attachment to people we’ve never met – or who aren’t even real – defies rational thought. Back in the 1980s when “Dallas” was the TV show du jour, there was a woman who possibly lived alone with cats who would phone TVNZ the morning after each week’s episode and pass on her advice about what should happen next. Occasionally, instead of simply logging her call, reception would put her through to the most junior member of Avalon’s publicity department (hello) for a chat. I think we all felt a bit of company was the least we could provide. The nice lady – we’ll call her Joyce – would have preferred to speak directly to the people who had been in her living room the night before, but I would do. “Tell Pammy not to listen to JR – her Bobby is a good man, and that brother of his is just out to make trouble,” she’d tell me and I’d promise to relay the message to Southfork. She quite liked Sue Ellen but felt she had made some terrible life choices and we agreed she was best left to sort things out as best she could.

Joyce also had concerns about real, actual people on her screen – there was a Wellington newsreader whose hair she disapproved of because it looked to her “too much like a hat”. I explained that perhaps this was down to the way the make-up artist styled it, to which Joyce replied, incredulous, that the newsreader in question was surely old enough to do her own hair? I promised to nip downstairs to make this suggestion, but despite bumping into the newsreader occasionally in the Avalon corridors, it never felt like the right time to say, even with 1980s ambiguity, “Joyce called and she thinks your hair looks unreal”.

Heaven knows what Joyce would have thought of Schitts Creek – though I would definitely have been up for a chat about Moira’s wigs nailed to the motel room wall like trophies, evidence of who she was yesterday and might be tomorrow. When anyone wonders aloud about the point of actors and writers and other creatives, I think about this basic human need we have to attach ourselves to each other, to feel something towards the people – real or imagined – who live our heads, and remember Joyce.


Read More

07 Oct Legalising the Devil’s Lettuce – Cannabis Referendum

First published on the RNZ website 2.10.20 

RNZ – Legalising the Devil’s Lettuce


When people talk about how they’re going to vote in the upcoming cannabis referendum, it is usual practice – even for those in favour of legalising the Devil’s Lettuce – to clearly state they don’t touch the stuff themselves, actually officer. Fair cop – it feels risky to tell everyone you do something illegal, even if that something has been dabbled in by most New Zealanders at some point in our lives.

In a nod to that tradition, I will say these things: cannabis is not my drug of choice but I was at university in the 1980s and I’ve worked in the entertainment industry for over 30 years. I’m voting yes in the referendum in small part because I’d like to ditch my current drug of choice – alcohol – and replace it with a nice, soothing, legal cup of cannabis tea.

As a balm, cannabis strikes me as a distinctly feminine drug. Despite the popular image of cannabis users being a bunch of blokes getting blazed on the strongest strain of weed they can cultivate, there is a whole other world of Mary Jane proponents whose names are more likely to be Mary and Jane. There is a network, for example, of Green Fairies in Aotearoa – mostly women who grow and supply the herb to assist with anxiety, provide pain relief, and offer a natural pick-me-up or calm-me-down. Before it became illegal here in 1927, the story goes that Mother Suzanne Aubert (currently in line for a sainthood) included the plant in her remedies and sold it to help fund her community work.

It is an entirely human thing to seek out substances that change our mood – every culture finds a leaf or berry, vegetable or fruit that they can tootle about with to come up with vodka, pinot, coffee or cocaine. Something that shifts us from our factory settings to either a more or a less elevated state. When I gave up the booze (or “reassessed my relationship with alcohol” in popular parlance) for a couple of months this year, the most challenging part was finding something to do at 6pm each day to mark the shift from “work time” to “me time”. Best I could come up with was a mocktail and taking my bra off, only one of which is acceptable in polite company. Apparently.

So after a lot of reading and a little experimentation (not currently, officer, feel free to have a look around) I fully plan to embrace cannabis tea whenever I can do that without legal risk. Though frankly, the risk of someone like me being searched, arrested, charged, convicted and imprisoned for having a Tupperware container of something that looks a lot like oregano is pretty slim.

And that is the bigger part of the reason why I’m voting yes in the referendum. Cannabis offences put more people into New Zealand prisons than any other drug, and they are not people like me, but a disproportionate number of young Maori men. A recreational drug that presents little legal risk to someone like me if I were to indulge could have a catastrophic legal effect on someone like my grandson if he were to have a tootle about with it when he grows up. The hypothesis that cannabis is a “gateway” to harder drugs has been largely debunked, but it sure as heck is a gateway to prison.

The proposed legislation could make it less likely a teenager would become a regular user – with cannabis out in the open and frank conversations and education about the harm to young brains, plus stringent regulations on the strength of the cannabis on sale, we would all know what we’d be buying and why it is a terrible idea for anyone under the legal age of 20. Cannabis would be more regulated than either alcohol or cigarettes – you won’t see it advertised, and its use would be confined to private homes or specially licensed premises.

And unlike alcohol or cigarettes, there would be a limit to how much you could buy at one time – 14 grams or about 30 joints. As a daily limit, that might have us clutching our pearls, but it’s a restriction, not an invitation. When I go to the supermarket, I don’t eat all the food in my trolley that day, right? So if you are buying cannabis once a month, that’s how much you can buy on your shopping day – and that would cost around $200. Also, we can, in theory, buy a fatal amount of alcohol whenever we want – but we don’t, because we’re buying that pinot noir to take the edge off our day, not end it. Also, you can’t die of weed.

Like many drugs, cannabis is neither perfectly safe nor extremely dangerous – it is somewhere in between. The current prohibition of it makes it hard to talk about safely finding that middle ground over a calming cup of tea.


Read More

06 Oct The Forever Project – Protecting Our Natural Playgrounds

First published on the Stuff website, 30 September 2020

There is an argument that the best thing humans can do to protect our natural playgrounds is to stay the hell away from them. Quit stomping around kauri, clambering on glaciers, poking about in mud pools and camping on our coasts.

And it’s true – good things happen when we subtract ourselves from the environmental equation. In April’s Level 4 Lockdown when we parked up our cars, moored the boats and grounded planes we watched wildlife fill up the space. The weather was great, right? And the air was measurably clearer. Covid-unemployed, I had weeks to sit very still in our garden and watch the native birds take over.

Tūī – the boy-racers of the ornithological world – chased each other at great speed in what was either a display of skill or an expression of sexual power – it’s always hard to tell with boy-racers.

Kererū, who usually visit in pairs around our place, turned up in veritable mobs. Five – no, look! – six of them clustered in an old karamu tree, testing its resilience with their considerable weight. We would watch them coming towards us, graceful in flight, then land like a fat bastard with an almost audible “oof” on a poorly chosen branch, occasionally stumbling sideways into a mate who’d picked a less bendy one nearby. You’d try not to laugh – it felt like their garden now, and it’s rude to snigger at your hosts.

So yes, “not be in it” is a plausible answer to the question, “What can we do to protect the environment?” Miserable prospect, though. Mother Nature is better than we are at creating exciting destinations for R&R. Glow worm caves, geysers, snow-capped mountains, golden sand beaches… Well done, her. Best we seem to come up with without her help is “a day at the mall” and “a night at the casino”.

Plus the whole “subtract humans from the equation” approach ultimately leads down some very dark roads. It might be true that the best thing any of us can do for the economy, for example, is die aged 65 – make that breath you draw between paying taxes and receiving superannuation your very last. But that’s the kind of argument I’ll leave to talkback hosts and columnists who are cool about saying stuff like, “They were going to die anyway”.

I am, however, a big fan of minimising human harm, and maximising our environmental care. Collectively, we need to continue putting pressure on our governments to take a global lead in cutting carbon emissions, and keep encouraging corporations to invest in sustainable solutions. I get excited when I hear that electric cars will soon be affordable, and that electric planes are a thing – for short haul flights only at this point, but maybe by the time we’re allowed to move around the planet again, long haul will also be an option. Though I understand it’s a challenge to find an extension cord long enough for electric international travel.

Personal responsibility, too. Recycling is something we can all do – paper, plastic, glass, clothing… Textiles to Wellington’s Southern Landfill have doubled in the last decade, and around four percent of what ends up in Auckland landfills is perfectly good yet unwanted clothing. So when you see someone wearing the same old shirt, don’t assume they’ve just given up caring, but thank them for doing something terrific for the planet.

I have also recycled two husbands. This is a fancy way of saying that I chucked them out and someone else found a use for them, incontrovertible proof that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. And also the better option – I’d been tempted to compost them until someone explained the carbon emissions involved in that. Releasing them back into the wild turned out brilliantly for everyone.

Eventually, you learn to trust the natural process. Mother Nature is smarter than us all.


Read More