August 2022

07 Aug Invalid Name

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 8.8.22


Every time we go to the vet, I think about that time my daughter decided to change her name. (Weird start for a story, but you know what I’m like.) We were there again this morning with our cat, Satchmo, named for jazz legend Louis Armstrong and while he was weighed (not as heavy as I’d feared) and vaccinated (Satchmo’s a big believer in science) I was thinking back 20-odd years to a visit at the same clinic with a different cat.

Jimmy was our big fluffy ginger boy who enjoyed a remarkable 21 years, living with me well before my daughter was born and still here with us after she’d left home. Terrific cat, used to sleep on my head at night as though I was a pillow or he was a hat. I still miss him.

When Jimmy was eight and Holly was six, we arrived at the vet and were greeted with, “Jimmy A’Court? Come through.”

“Is he an A’Court, too?” Holly asked me, clearly struck by this information. Back then, Holly still had her father’s name but, she pointed out that day, everyone else living in our house – her mother, her grandparents and the cat – was an A’Court so she wanted to be one, too.

I said I wasn’t sure how to go about changing it and she did one of those six-year-old eye rolls and explained, “Oh, mummy! You write a letter to the government and tell them that’s what you want to do and they fix it.”

So we did, and they did, and all these years later her children carry our name along with others, which is very cool. For a while, because of the patriarchal tradition of only sons keeping their names, it looked like A’Courts were an endangered species, but we are flourishing now.

Though it is something of a hospital pass – it is rare that anyone knows how to spell it, even less likely they know how to say it. (For reference, it’s A like the letter A, emphasis on the first syllable – think “Acorn” but with a “t” right there at the last minute.)

I still find it hard to correct people, particularly in those settings where someone says, “Please welcome Michele a-COURT” so the first words out of my mouth would need to be, ‘Hello, you’ve done it wrong, lovely to be here”.

In more recent years we’ve discovered that, in a digital context, having two capitals and an apostrophe renders a name “invalid”. Various ancestors would be spinning to see “Acourt” typed into in online forms.

I am also blessed with a tricky first name – Michele spelt the traditional French way with one “l” and (my mother’s idea) a grave accent which I’ve been told is pretentious, to which I say, “Moi?” I’m not fussed if anyone else uses it, but once you get used to a macron showing you the length of a syllable in te reo, you can handle a grave.

There is a gift passed among all of us with less usual names. I swear every Siobhan and Aiofe is inclined to take extra care to get things right when they meet a Cholmondeley Majoribanks. A name is a taonga, and getting it right feels like a blessing.

They got the hang of A’Court at the vet clinic ages ago. Though I do remember on an early visit with our new boy, the vet nurse asked, “Satchmo… Now how do you spell that?”



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01 Aug Nostalgia for a Bit of Low Tech

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 1.8.22


Bad manners, and a bit lazy. Not you, obviously, I’m talking about the others. These are the two human behaviours at the root of our most annoying technological advances.

Exhibit A: the toilet that flushes automatically. At some point, so many people failed to flush the toilet in public restrooms that someone was driven to think, “Ok, sigh, we’ll do it for them.” The unintended consequence being the toilet can think you are done while you’re still sitting there (possibly contemplating a modern lack of manners) interrupting your reverie with a splash of cold toilet water up your back. Thanks everyone who couldn’t be bothered pressing the flush button themselves, I am having a great day.

Outside the cubicle, because some monster (many monsters) left the hot tap running over the hand basin, we are now limited to ice cold water delivered in automatically measured inadequate bursts. Don’t start me on automated hand dryers designed solely on the theory that water can be scared off your skin by a lot of noise.

We now live in world where we can’t trust each other to turn off taps. Or lights, or heating. I’m not sure what started this – are we too busy? Forgetful? Entitled and wasteful? Wherever it began, it leads us down a road, possibly in a self-driving car, where we will unlearn the habits of doing these things for ourselves.

Either that, or we’ll go all retro and embrace low tech again. I am already fantasising about a return to old-school hotels with a bilious old grump on reception – possibly with a yappy small dog in tow – half-heartedly handing over an actual key on a keyring for your door which you access via a lift that does not talk to you.

Don’t get me wrong – I like a “smart hotel”. You can download an app to your phone and turn your heating on before you head back to your room, and lie in bed to fiddle with the lighting without searching the walls for switches.

I mention this because I once stayed in a West Coast motel where I spent two days trying to work out how to turn off the hall light. Tracked the switch down eventually – it was tucked behind the fridge in the kitchen. Got to love a DIY sparky.

Step out of bed in the wee small hours in a “smart hotel” and a floor light is activated. Slightly freaky if you’ve just woken from a dream about monsters under the bed with torches, but terrific if you’re the kind of person who aims for the bathroom in the dark but inevitably finds themselves naked in the hotel corridor as your door locks behind you.

“Smart” features are sold not only on convenience but on doing the right thing by the planet since we obviously can’t be trusted to do this ourselves. On the upside, if you forget to turn the lights off when you leave, the room will do it for it.

On the downside, this feature is motion-activated and I’ve discovered I am a fairly still person. I’ll be reading in bed and suddenly all the lights go out. To counteract this, I have now developed a habit of regularly waving my arms about to keep the lights on, even now I’m at home. This is an improvement on the behaviour initially adopted when I’d assumed it was sound that activated the lights, which had encouraged me to regularly give myself a round of applause.



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