At The Movies

10 Oct At The Movies

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 10.10.22


I have taken to scooting off to the movies at the drop of a hat. It feels a wild indulgence to sneak a couple of hours out of an afternoon and watch stories in the dark about other people’s lives.

I used to think the point of going to the movies was the company, but it’s enough to have an audience of strangers, a big screen and an ice-cream to make it feel like an event.

When I was a kid, it really was an event. We’d put on our Sunday Best (black patent leather shoes, yes please) and I’d have a Sherbet Dab sold exclusively at the Regent Theatre – a red lollipop you dipped into a powder-filled envelope and fizzed on your tongue. This was back when we stood for ‘God Save The Queen’ and Dick Van Dyke was in all the films.

Now I go as I am, though with a coat because all movie theatres are freezing. I can do this because my life doesn’t have a regular structure. I work from home, or out of town, or at night or all day or both, and then occasionally none of the above. I don’t know what the word is for this. Asked to provide one recently I started, “My life is…” and a man offered, “Chaos?” But it doesn’t feel like chaos. Just a lot of different things I love which happen in an unpredictable order. “Impromptu”, perhaps, like these trips to the movies.

A friend says going out by yourself feels “like a secret” and I know exactly what she means. Especially for people who have spent chunks of their lives caring for others, managing complex logistics of pick-ups and drop-offs similar to General Norman Schwarzkopf that time he was organising Operation Desert Storm. Though Desert Storm only lasted 43 days. Now, when only you know where you are, it is thrilling.

There is a time when you are a kid when you grow big enough to go out by yourself. For a bike ride, to the shops, to the playground by the lake. No longer picked up or dropped off at an approved place at an appointed time by a responsible adult. You are becoming one of those yourself.

This is what being a grown-up meant – to think, what would I like to do right now? Where would I like to go?

You got a lot of this when you first left home – these opportunities which are also responsibilities. Then there was very little of it once you were in relationship and/or had kids. The chance to be alone or do things by yourself were so few and far between that sometimes you might go to the bathroom and lock the door just for a bit of peace.

I can see myself as a kid, going for long bike rides on my own. Sometimes this would be to the cemetery down the other end of town, to read headstones and imagine other people’s lives. You could find markers to make stories, like the gap in time between the husband’s death and the wife’s. Most often it was a matter of months but sometimes it was decades, and you invented different stories for the years in between – was it a long grief, or a liberation? Then on the way home you’d have a Jelly Tip.

And here I am this many years later, sitting in the dark with an ice-cream, still fascinated by stories about other people’s lives.