April 2021

18 Apr On My Propensity for Smacking Myself In the Head

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 19.4.21

 

The other night in an underground city carpark, I put on quite a show. Not the kind of show I had just done in the comedy club up the road – that had gone far more to plan and involved very little slapstick. Also, that had been stand-up. This was entirely fall-down. 

There was a sizeable audience for both events, though. I’d finished work to a decent crowd around the same time the Auckland Philharmonia had knocked off next door, so the city’s carpark was abuzz with classical music lovers now queuing up to pay for their parking and happily chatting. By all accounts, Michael Houston was superb and the Rachmaninov had been invigorating. You could tell there would be no early nights in these people’s houses.

I chatted with strangers about our nights the way you do in long, slow moving queues, then skipped towards my car, possibly a bit full of myself and my own good times. And suddenly fell flat on my face on what I can only assume was a particularly slippery bit of concrete.

Keys and handbags and open palms make quite a clatter in underground carparks. Still, not quite loud enough to drown out a dozen or so people sharply drawing in their breath. An older lady came to help and asked me how I felt, meaning my scraped knees and red hands. “A bit silly, to be honest,” I told her. That clarified, and my stuff put back in my handbag, she told me she couldn’t find her car or the husband who was waiting in it, and we agreed we were both having quite a time, and wished each other all the best.

In the usual run of things, I’m not someone who trips or spills or knocks things over. I can catch a ball and throw a dart, and I’m not the wedding guest people keep away from a three-tiered cake because “you know what she’s like”. But I am capable – suddenly, out of the blue – of smacking myself in the head with all manner of things in inexplicable ways.

This is not (I’ve googled it) because of anything underlying and sinister. I just get a rare and sudden onset of clumsiness when I’m tired or distracted. It doesn’t happen often enough to worry me, which also means when it does happen, it’s quite a shock. “I am totally not the kind of person who falls over in a carpark,” I am able to think as I fall over in a carpark.

Mostly, I find these moments amusing and endearing. I mean, we’re supposed to worry that grazed knees – perfectly acceptable in small children – mean something else when we’re grownups. We’re waiting in trepidation for the day a fall becomes A Fall with a capital F and leads to hip replacements and assisted living.

Rather, I suspect these moments serve to remind us we’re not as grownup as we think we are. A sign, not of decline, but that the world is still a place we can’t take for granted and needs our attention.

So this is a shout out to the occasionally klutzy doofuses amongst us. We know who we are. And like the nice lady who tried to cheer me up by telling me she’d forgotten the location of her husband, let me lift your spirits with my most ridiculous moment of gawkiness.

One of my favourite jobs is recording voice overs for radio and TV commercials. It’s one of the few times when I really feel like I know what I’m doing – I’ve been doing this for years, and I love it.

It’s one of the few jobs where someone like me is on an equal footing. You’re not on the back foot because of your gender, or age, or appearance. It feels like there is no glass ceiling with voice work. It’s all about skill, and what you can make your voice do.

On this particular day, it was a demo for new client – a kind of lightly paid audition that might lead to a regular job. There was a cluster of new people to meet and try to impress. And they were impressed with my first take, and got excited about seeing what else I could do.

Can you do it so we can hear your smile? Yes, I can. Now like it’s a warm secret? Absolutely. Can you make us feel the colour green? Sure thing. Give us something that sounds like corduroy? Not a problem.

Amazing, they said, this would be a regular gig. I thanked them, picked up my umbrella and… smacked myself in the head with it. Quite hard. I have no idea how. I could not recreate this. Recovered (oh, how we laughed) I turned to go… And walked straight into a glass door.

Turns out it’s not just the glass ceiling you have to worry about. I did not get the job.

 

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09 Apr What, this old thing?

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 12.4.21

 

Around the time my high school friends were spending their pocket money on Levis and Bata Bullets, I was scouring our town’s first “Opportunity Shop” for old ladies’ castoffs. There was an orange tweed blazer and pleated camel skirt, and a pair of extremely nana-shoes (so nana, my actual nana had some just like it) which I took to with shoe paint and turned bright pink.

Desperation had started it. Wages from my weekend job at the local dairy didn’t stretch to store-bought jeans so I was stuck with the perfectly serviceable but also uncool “elastic-waist denim trouser” scenario my mother whipped up on the Singer at home.

Immediately, my op-shop budget unleashed op-shop tastes. I couldn’t say if there even was a rack of pre-loved jeans to rifle through – too distracted was I by polyester blouses with pussycat bows (wish I still had those) and Silverdale twinsets in pastel shades (same).

It gave me a sense of independence and power that, even with very little in my wallet, I could probably buy one thing that took my eye. Low-risk spending which meant I could also afford to experiment, make mistakes, and donate the yellowed petticoat or felt hat back to the store if it turned out this wasn’t my thing.

Later, there was an elderly fur coat that doubled as a bedspread for Aro Valley winters as well as frivolous ensembles like the yellow polka dot two-piece with peplum waist I was still wearing in photographs taken ten years later. Once, I found a dollar note in the pocket of something I’d brought home which essentially (good housekeeping) made the whole purchase free.

I have favourite towns and cities to visit based not only on access to cheese rolls but because of their charity shops or their fancy sister, the vintage store. You can justify something a bit spendy on the basis that, in its first go-round of retail, that designer-you’ve-heard-of jacket would have cost six times more.

An avid handwasher and mender, I suspect on some level I’ve occasionally bought a nana-cardigan because I am convinced I can get that stain out, replace those buttons from the jar I keep, freshen it and soften it and reshape it the way it deserves to be presented to the world. I’ve also been known to audibly catch my breath when finding The Perfect Thing waiting patiently just for me on a crowded rack – the way a hunter might feel about spotting a stag in dense bush, but heaps kinder and no-one dies.

Buying second-hand because you’re on a budget is something you will never stop doing while you’re on that budget, but there are other vital reasons for supporting recycled clothing stores. Since the tariffs came off imported manufacturing in the 1980s, we’ve been able to buy cheaper clothes – which means we’ve bought more by volume, and then kept them half as long. And then we chuck 75 per cent of it pretty quickly into our landfills. Textiles sent to Wellington’s Southern Landfill doubled in the last 10 years, and it’s estimated that 25 per cent of them were perfectly fine clothes that could have been recycled or reused.

Even earlier in the process, according to the United Nations the fashion industry creates about ten per cent of the global CO2 emissions – that’s more than aviation and shipping combined.

So I’m delighted when I hear about savvy young women setting goals for themselves to not buy anything “new” for a year or more, instead hunting down cool stuff in stores that fund charities, or swapping amongst their circle of friends, or developing relationships with the delightful people – kind volunteers as well as passionate professionals – who make recycled clothing their business.

I love it that finding new-to-you clothes that make you feel good can be done with an eye to caring for the planet by being conscious about what you bring into your home – less stuff, and of the best quality you can afford, then wearing it for as long as it lasts – or gifting it to someone who will get fresh joy out of it. Plus doing what you can to support ethical manufacturers who source sustainable textiles and pay their workers properly.

The other part of this story is to take care with what goes out of your house, too. Charity stores report spending thousands of dollars on sending torn, dirty, unsellable clothing to landfill – which isn’t helping anyone, let alone our carbon emissions. There’s a woman I admire who packages up her pre-loved clothes like gifts – reused gift bags or wrapping paper – so that the people they end up with feel like they’re getting a present, and that they deserve good things.

Eventually, we might get to a point where someone admires our outfit and we say, “What, this old thing? I’ve had it for years!” and that’s something we genuinely feel proud of.

 

 

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05 Apr Thanks, F*@#ing Covid.

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 5.4.21

 

I’ve been thinking about those little German weather houses shaped like an Alpine chalet that people used to have on their walls. Depending on the weather, either a woman (when it’s sunny and dry) or a man (rainy and damp) pops out of their side-by-side doors to let you know if it is a good day for pegging out the washing or, conversely, if you need to take your brolly with you to the shops. 

I want to say there was one at my great-aunt Ruth’s, but memory is unreliable. It may have been at another relative’s house entirely. Because when I picture it now, there was a lot going on already in Ruth’s front hallway and I find it hard to imagine why she – a woman of taste – would have added a decorative weather house to her already bountiful furnishings.

Because I am certain about other things in Ruth’s front hall. There was a telephone which sat on the kind of table we referred to then as “a telephone table” and beside it was a seat – more padded than a dining chair, less sumptuous than the kind for the living room – on which she could sit for long, comfortable conversations with whoever phoned. Room for an ashtray and teacup, or an evening gin. Having a particular place in your house for making and taking phone calls seems outlandish now. Still, back then, when the phone rang, at least you knew where to find it.

I am absolutely certain that above Ruth’s telephone table there was a cuckoo clock that had belonged to her mother. When my brother and I came to stay, great-grandma’s clock would be wound up so we could hear it cuckoo at 15 minute intervals. Once the novelty had worn off (an hour or so would do it) our great-uncle would fiddle with its workings to keep the bird quiet and still.

Maybe I’ve turned the cuckoo clock into a weather house in some part of my brain, which will be the part that has been wishing for something like that – an outward sign to tell me when the pressure is going up or down.

You know how it is – you get so caught up in Getting Stuff Done you don’t notice rain clouds until it’s too late to get the sheets in. Could’ve looked out the window but honestly a chap in lederhosen popping out his door would have helped. A weather house for your stress levels, helping you assess what sort of day it is.

This most recent Alert Level change – my city at Level 3, the rest of Aotearoa at Level 2 – was a tough one. Tougher than the Valentine’s Day short, sharp “stay home, save lives” the week before. I can tell you that now in a retrospect, but I couldn’t see it at the time.

I’m a massive fan of doing things for the collective good. I would have assiduously kept my blackout curtains closed during the Blitz, and I will be lining up for a Covid-19 vaccine when it’s my turn – not just because of my own underlying health issues, but because with more of us vaccinated, all of us will do well.

So you put on the bravest face you can find, right? Plus you don’t want to sound all wah-wah sad-face about your personal circumstances. Other people are doing it tough – often tougher – and we need to keep each other’s spirits up.

But at some point – and people in Canterbury will know this better than anyone – there are cracks in your resilient front, and pretending you are okay when you’re not starts to feel like you’re pretending to be someone else.

I noticed my hands were permanently clenched, that on more than one morning I had a cry in the shower, and that my memory – not just about weather houses – was unreliable.

A work friend told me she liked something I’d written a year ago, just now published. I had no memory of writing it. I’ve read it now, and it sounds like me but I don’t remember working on it in 2020’s Level 4. She says, yes, and she’s never sure what day it is. Sometimes the year escapes her, and she laughs, “Thank you, Covid!”

Other casualties of Covid: I keep a paper diary and I am using a lot of Twink. (Paper tape, actually – never say I don’t move with the times.) I look at bookings for work which used to make me (a freelancer, self-employed) feel secure about the future, but now I think, Really? Will that happen? Diary, I am not sure I believe you.

My brain has behaved like this – living on the edge of tears, the inability to focus or record memories or to imagine the future and trust plans – before, and I realise this presents a bit like grief. For which my best advice is to be gentle with yourself. The little man has popped out of the weather house and there will be rain. Grab your coat.

 

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