20 Apr Taking Risks

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 25.4.22


A wild thought hits me as I walk into the airport – this feels like the riskiest thing I’ve done this year.

Not the flying part. While I couldn’t explain the physics that keep craft in the air to a curious child, I’m happy to trust that someone else knows how it works – and what needs to be done to keep it working – and there are people in the cockpit who are all over this like a rash.

No, the bit that felt risky was suddenly being in close proximity to so many people. I’ve barely left the house since Omicron arrived – occasional brisk romps around the supermarket, a couple of jobs in a room with a handful of people who have just tested negative, and masked indoor gatherings with people I know. Also, long walks on the beach and plenty of chats with friends, thanks for asking. It’s just being with strangers that has become novel.

I mentioned on social media recently that, with vaccine passes gone, I felt even less keen to spend time in bars and restaurants. While many people shared the sentiment, a handful were furious with me for failing to go out and bolster our hospitality sector. One went as far as saying that I represented “everything that is wrong with this country” – a big call given child poverty and global warming are at the top of that list, and all I planned to do was stay home and make a sustaining (and sustainable) sandwich.

I’m applying an abundance of caution to my life choices during this pandemic because I’m not as young as I used to be and, while parts of me are excellent, other bits don’t work quite as well as they did. I know a bunch of people in the same boat – my close circle includes friends, young and old, with all sorts of challenges – dodgy tickers, dicky lungs, screwy immune systems, diabetes, MS, and cancer.

What struck me about the angry people was their assumption of bulletproof-ness – that because they are able-bodied, fit and well, then everyone else is, too. There is a failure to imagine other ways of being.

I can see how this happens. When we talk about pandemic public health measures, the people interviewed tend to be disappointed restaurateurs rather than the terrified parents of kids with brain tumours. We’re encouraged to think business owners are the people who represent us, and that people with disabilities are rare.

Yet being “abled” is a temporary status and you never know when that will change.

We make a mistake when we assume everyone is having the same kind of day as we are, or that they enjoy the same privilege of good health as we do. Many of us assess the level of risk we’re prepared to take right now on a daily basis.

Catching this plane felt like a fair trade-off for being able to work and to hug some people I haven’t seen for a long time. Just like, pre-pandemic, I assessed other risks – leaping off mountains and bridges, trekking in Papua New Guinea, visiting war zones, telling jokes for a living, walking alone at night, and getting married three times…

The flight, by the way, was delightfully uneventful – nothing like that time an engine blew on that plane out of Brisbane and we had to make an emergency landing. This trip should work out fine.


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20 Apr Tiny Party Food

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 18.4.22 – Easter Monday


Generally I am late to the party on whatever the cool kids are into so, for once, I’d like to get ahead of the curve and launch a new fad myself. Allow me to introduce you all to what I am calling the “Tiny Party Food” movement.

This is not to be confused with the “Tiny Food” movement from a few years ago which had people serving doll-sized food on dollhouse furniture. That was more about art than eating. This current food mood of mine is, I feel, a sustainable approach to daily sustenance.

Over here at my place I have discovered that, if left to my own devices, my preference is to live on hors d’oeuvres. Not as a snack before dinner. As dinner. Also lunch. Crackers, bread rounds and pastries with fun toppings other people serve to “tide you over” till the main event have become, for me, the main event.

I say “become” but the truth is I’ve always been inclined to turn up to a dinner and pre-emptively hoover up the corn chips and guacamole in such a heroic fashion that by the time everyone sits down to the proper meal, I am quite full, thank you. A decision I usually find myself at peace with because nothing much beats a good guacamole. She’s a tough dish to follow, so I don’t.

At the supermarket now I’m not even visiting the pasta aisle or glancing at the chops. I’m buying soft blue cheese, pears for slicing and honey for smearing on lightly toasted bread. Also avocado (which I’m allowed because I’m not saving up for a house) and chopped tomato with basil leaves for flavour and also because it makes it look like a party.

Party food is, I see now, my comfort food. Sure, it can also be macaroni cheese or laksa or chicken nibbles – a big bowl of easy-to-cook steaming goodness that is the dining equivalent of snuggling under a duvet.

But tiny party food provides a different kind of comfort, one infused with childhood nostalgia.

Back in the 1970s my mother was the queen of the cocktail canapé. Vol au vents, smoked oysters, stuffed mushrooms… Ridiculously fiddly food that took a whole Friday to prepare before a Saturday party, and was then plated up on trays and handed round to guests by me.

Don’t imagine a scene that is too elaborate – this was a small town filled with salt-of-the-earth good folk, not a scene from Downton Abbey – but everyone would be in their glad rags and smelling good, and my parents were always at their charming best when they were hosting a bit of a do.

There was a thing my mother made with a metal mould that hooked onto a handle. Shaped like a butterfly, she would dip the shape in batter and cook it in a pot of hot oil, then the next day she’d fill it with creamy mushrooms.

This, I now realise, is when I started scoffing snacks in sufficient quantities to constitute a meal. Leftovers from my rounds with the tray and therefore broken-hearted if there weren’t any. I remember being taken aside and warned not to look so sad-eyed when one of the grown-ups took the last of the mushroom butterflies off the dish I was holding. My Hungry Orphan vibe was not contributing to the evening’s conviviality.

And so here I am now with a tin of smoked oysters which I am sticking to crackers with a dab of cream cheese. I highly recommend it. Tiny party on.


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10 Apr Money Talk – The Last Taboo (and how much might a thing like that go for?)

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 11.4.22


When women get together, we talk about pretty intimate stuff. We’re not necessarily banging on about sex, periods and menopause all the time but if someone wants to chat hot flushes or borrow a tampon, we’re open to it.

And though we talk about men a lot less than they think we do, we might squeeze them onto the agenda somewhere after our professional wins and losses, what we’re reading, and our hopes and dreams for the future.

Tell you what we rarely talk about, though – money. I know a lot about my friends – their allergies, favourite holiday destinations, whether they like their martinis made of vodka or gin – but I have no idea how much money they earn or what is in their KiwiSaver.

Which seems, on the face of it, quite right and proper. I was raised to think talking about money was rude. “Vulgar” is the word I can hear being said in my mother’s best voice. Asking – or being told – how much money someone had was the depths of poor taste.

Which didn’t mean we didn’t know who was rich and who was poor in our town – mostly you could tell by the house or the car or the job – it just wasn’t a topic of conversation. And you picked up pretty quickly that you weren’t supposed to ask how much something cost, though a grown-up might make an occasional, desperately curious inquiry which would start, “If you don’t mind me asking… what does a thing like that go for?”

The only conversations we had about currency were to do with pocket money and also those Post Office savings books with the squirrel on the cover at primary school. For younger readers (anyone under 55 – hello!) this was in The Olden Days when my pocket money, for example, was 20 cents a week. Five cents of this was for the collection plate at church, five cents for the savings squirrel, and 10 cents was left to spend however I liked. Generally, I liked aniseed wheels, glow hearts and milk toffees.

Now, back when aniseed wheels were 3 cents a pop, there were a lot of things we didn’t talk about. Men didn’t talk about their feelings, women didn’t talk about exploring their sexual needs, and kids didn’t talk about gender as something that might be fluid. We’ve become open about many things now, but we’re still not chatting about money.

Perhaps we’re worried that we will look like we’re showing off, or we’re embarrassed to reveal we have so little. Tricky in a society where we equate wealth with “good” people making “good” choices, and poverty with – if not “bad” people – “bad” choices. Not wanting to be judged by our income or bank balance, we keep the numbers to ourselves.

But not talking about money has unintended consequences which, ironically, keep us from having more of it. It means we can be squeamish about negotiating a starting salary or asking for a pay rise and, when it comes to putting a value on our work, we’re flying blind.

So maybe after a couple of martinis (vodka, dirty) we might finally open up about KiwiSaver and share our mortgage repayment tips. Feel free to bring it up at book club by quoting Katherine Mansfield who declared, “I must say I hate money, but it’s the lack of it I hate most.”


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02 Apr Reflections on FY22 – and doing the maths on Covid

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 4.4.22


Of all the events we’ve created to mark the end of one thing and the beginning of another – Hogmany, Lunar New Year, Matariki, Diwali – it’s fair to say Tax Time is the one with the least sparkle.

And yet as we reach the end of this financial year – bye bye FY22! – I’m finding joy in trawling through bank statements and boxes of receipts, and piecing together a picture of the kind of year I’ve had.

Financial entrails like these consist mostly of figures – dates, income, expenditure, two kinds of tax – arranged in columns that each produce just one correct number. It’s why I love maths – all other answers in life are preceded by “It depends.”

And yet despite the numbers being irrefutable, I’ve been looking at the picture they draw of FY22 and I can tell you two quite different stories.

In one story: the big number on the spreadsheet shows my income has halved. Also, and related, almost no travel receipts. Pre-Covid, I moved around every week for work and loved it, and did that for pleasure, too.

Few receipts for fun family times – not just the 107 days of lockdown, but even more weeks and months of not seeing my kid and her kids. We were all deprived of being in the same room as each other, and I was kept away from the people I love the most. There have been some dark times at our place, for sure.

But I can look at the same data and see something else. In the space vacated by work and travel I did some things I’d been meaning to do but “could never find the time”. Self-development and study. I created a whole new community of friends who meet in the real world (lunch receipts!) or online, and strengthened the bond with old friends (Zoom pro subscription!) in the same way.

I learned to grab golden moments in between waves of this virus. That window this summer between Delta and Omicron was put to good use and we got halfway through a comedy tour before it got too risky.

Everyone’s story will look different. I started this pandemic with a savings account so the road has been easier than it will have been for others. And let’s not pretend this is all a jolly lark because it isn’t, and none of us are living the kind of life we’d like right now. For a lot of us, “not living the life we want” is a new experience. For others, not so much. But we are, mostly, living. We have one of the lowest death rates in the OECD.

We were always going to end up divided during this pandemic – if not by vaccines, then by health status. From the start, you could see people doing the maths – will I survive this virus or not? It depends.

If you are young, fit, some level of bulletproof, the restrictions and sacrifices seemed only just worth it, and patience waned. You can say “let it rip” if you think it won’t rip through you.

But if you do the maths and calculate you or someone you love might fare badly? Then the restrictions have seemed a small price, the least-worst option. Collective responsibility over personal freedom.

Same data, different story depending on where you think you might fit on the spreadsheet. We’re lucky so many of us are still alive to argue about it.


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28 Mar Calm Down & Cheer Up

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 28.3.2


While I very much believe in science, I still have questions about the speed of human evolution. Maybe I’m impatient (I am impatient) but there are behaviours we persist with even though they are relentlessly unsuccessful.

Take the wolf-whistle specifically, or the more general “shouting at women from a distance”. I once wrote a whole book about how people meet and fall in love and in none of my research did I meet a couple whose passion was ignited by “phwoar, nice tits”. You’d think at some point there’d be a conversation along the lines of, “Trust me, son, we tried it in the 70s – no dice. You and your mates will have to think of something else.”

Asking around, other things people prefer not to hear out loud are the sort you might put on a bumper sticker – collections of words that sound like helping but feel more like someone rang your doorbell and ran away. None of us really know what to say when someone dies, for example, but it’s not, “They’re in a better place now” (only helpful if you have the address) or “Everything happens for a reason” (unless you can provide specifics of the upside and this will always be too soon).

And honestly, no-one likes, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do”. It puts the onus on the person who is already stressed or heartbroken to produce a list of things that need doing and match it inside their fuzzy head to another list they have to make of your talents and skills. Dream up helpful things yourself. Drop off a casserole or mow their lawn (depending on your personal skill set) in the firm knowledge that everyone always needs food and shorter grass.

Let’s also evolve past, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” because there are in fact lots of things you might not die from that leave you weaker, like cancer, heart attacks, lung disease and Long Covid. Daft phrase really and I don’t know how it caught on.

I have never had my mood improved by someone telling me to “cheer up”.  I mean, I’d love it – I think we all would – if that was all it took to banish worry about the future or sadness for the past. But being instructed – often out of the blue and in a shouty voice – to change your mood to something you are clearly not feeling or they wouldn’t have mentioned it is about as uplifting as being slapped in the face with a three-day-old fish. I love fish, but not like that.

Similarly, I doubt anyone has ever achieved a state of inner peace as the result of someone telling them to, “calm down, love.” I don’t know why anyone still says this. It’s not like we have endless examples of people being angry or upset and then being told – most likely by the person they are angry or upset with – to be a different thing and voila, instant Zen. Generally the opposite. It’s one of the reasons we have gun laws.

“Cheer up” and “calm down” are great examples of advice that effectively achieves the opposite of what it says on the box. See also, “You should smile more”, “Don’t be so sensitive” and “You’re overthinking it” – unsolicited advice which really means, “It would be better for me if you behaved in a way that’s different from the way you feel.” Maybe we should try saying that? See how that goes. If it’s a disaster, you’ll get over it.


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21 Mar You Are More Fun Than Bubble Wrap

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 21.3.22


Couple of years ago, I was about to perform at a fancy lunchtime gig in a huge venue filled with hundreds of fancy people seated at long fancy tables. They were enjoying many courses and also many cocktails, and I knew it could go either way.

Being on stage isn’t scary, it’s in the waiting to go on that the fear lives.

As I’m about to walk on stage, a woman I sort of know who is famously a take-no-prisoners kind of gal grabs my arm and says, “You’re very brave to wear that dress – I wouldn’t have the courage”.

She knew what she was doing. This, dear reader, is one of those ‘complinots’ I talked about the other week – structured like a compliment but possibly containing traces of insult. See also, “You’re looking good for your age,” and “You could look really pretty if you wore makeup”.

But – and I cannot stress this enough – this is not what we usually do to each other. What women often do is offer random compliments to complete strangers, as though we all know at an instinctive level that it is our job to hold each other up and add a bit of sparkle to our day.

I asked friends and acquaintances for their favourites and this is what they told me. “A lady in the supermarket said what a beautiful smile I had. I walked out on Cloud 9.” Someone at a pedestrian crossing told Lorna she was wearing a great hat and she fairly bounced across the road. A couple of women with curly hair say they always compliment other women with curly hair because they know how unruly it can be. Jessie says sometimes she keeps wearing a thing because some stranger told her once it looked great. And oodles of people said how good it feels to tell another woman she looks like a million bucks.

And not just looks. A woman with a kid walked passed Barb in the supermarket carpark and said, “I get such a good vibe from you,” and Barb’s never forgotten it. A stranger told Alessandra she has a great laugh. Someone at the gym walked by Holly and said, “Far out, you put the Hulk to shame when you’re smashing those weights, girlfriend.” Boom.

You don’t have to be a stranger to make a compliment shine. A colleague told Esther that they love how her brain works. Someone was told they were admired because they were “unafraid”. Another woman in a leadership role told someone when she was leaving, “I learned a lot from you. You always made me want to be better”. Yes!

Three women were told that people love seeing them walk into a room because it makes that room better. I’d like to get that trio together for a party.

It’s seems like we are born knowing how to do this because the masters of compliments are kids. From the simple-but-effective, “You smell delicious, Nan” by Shona’s grandchild, to the more complex, “You look like fashion!” which came from a 4-year-old kid Liz was babysitting back when Liz was a self-loathing teen. The 9-year-old brother helpfully translated, “She means you look like a model.”

Kids also do killer comparatives. Lyndelle was told, “You are more fun than anyone or anything I know, including bubble wrap.” Meanwhile, Tina’s daughter told her she was “better than Maccers fries dipped in soft serve” and Tina can’t think of a loftier compliment.

You, by the way, look fabulous reading this. You light up my day.


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07 Mar What Not To Ask

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 14.3.22


We’re all a bit edgy in these Pandemic times, so I’ve been asking around for samples of the things we might be saying to each other than tip us over that edge. Turns out, you don’t have to bring up the virus or vaccines to ruin a conversation – pregnancy and parenting can do it, too.

It’s weirdly comforting to remind ourselves we’ve been saying dumb stuff to each other forever. But since we are living in what is objectively a Very Difficult Time, a chat about what not to ask each other is timely.

In terms of frequency, my survey says top of the list of Worst Questions People Ask is, “When is the baby due?” It’s a sweet enough enquiry if you’re planning to knit booties and want to know how fast to get the needles flying, but it’s a truly terrible thing to ask of someone who is, you know, not actually pregnant. Looking pregnant when not pregnant is not aspirational. Nor is being reminded you’re not pregnant if you quietly aspire to be.

We should agree right now on a fundamental rule: do not mention someone else’s pregnancy until they do. If they’re actually pregnant, they’ll probably bring it up so wait for that. Even if they’re having something that might be contractions and you think you can see a baby’s head crowning, I’d still keep it subtle and maybe gently ask if they’d like you to boil some water and grab some towels.

It may seem counterintuitive but, as much as people love talking about their kids, let them take the lead on what gets covered. Definitely do not ask “Was it planned?”  (we always say they were, regardless), or “Do your kids know they are adopted?” followed by, “How much did they cost?” (Not kidding, real question asked of a real parent.)

Also, we need to keep our sticky beaks out of when people might have another kid, and out of asking people who don’t have children why not. Though the opportunity to say, “Because we don’t breed well in captivity” can be very welcome.

Also, we must not ask, “Have you had your baby yet?” While it can be hard to tell because normal women don’t go back to their pre-pregnancy shape … like, ever … this is going to be awkward if her response is to call over a toddler as Exhibit A. Instead, maybe try, “What you been up to?” and see if a recent birth is at the top of her news.

When we a see a woman out doing her career, let’s not immediately ask her who’s looking after the kids – it suggests that’s her real job and she must have done something strategically and logistically amazing to wriggle out of it. Plus, right now she might want to exist in the world as something other than a parent.

We should not, at any point, ask if her partner is “babysitting”. Fathers don’t like it either. That thing dads do when they spend time with their kids is just called “parenting” and you don’t get paid for it by the hour or get a lift home afterwards, and you make your own supper.

Best thing to say to parents? One person told me they’ve never forgotten being told by a stranger, “I love the way you talk to your kids!” And a mother overhearing grandma say to her daughter, “You are a strong woman, and you come from a long line of strong women”. Gold.


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28 Feb What Not To Say

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 7.3.22


You know how it is – you’ve had a hard week and what you’d most like to do is slip into something with an elasticated waistband and binge some small screen trash. But there’s a thing you’ve promised to go to and it will probably be lovely once you get there.

So you make the effort, do magic with under-eye concealer and dress like you’re totally up for this so that, by the time you arrive in your favourite frock and sexy shoes, you’re starting to believe your own hype.

Until someone, head tilted, concerned of face, says, “You okay? You look tired.” Oof. You feel it now. Deflated. Rug pulled out from under. All that concealer is just dragging your eyes miserably, inexorably, down towards your ridiculous shoes.

“You look tired” is one of those things we should never say, unless it’s to a small child we are encouraging to go to bed. In all other circumstances, it is a cruel observation, an appalling conversation starter, and a self-fulfilling prophesy. I’m pretty sure you could say, “You look tired” to a woman who had just returned from an invigorating 3-day retreat and she would visibly slump with sudden exhaustion.

There are other “Things We Shouldn’t Say” to each other – and I know this because I asked a bunch of friends and acquaintances to share their pet conversational peeves.

They fall into categories: things that sound like compliments but aren’t (compli-nots, if you will); unsolicited advice (“Calm down, love”); questions you shouldn’t ask, (“When is your baby due?” which gets asked of people who aren’t pregnant more often than you’d think); and daft platitudes that are the opposite of helpful, (“Cheer up, it might never happen!” when actually, take a breath mate, it just has, hence my face).

Each category gets a page of its own in coming weeks, along with a crowdsourced list of beautiful things we absolutely should say to each other – random compliments for courage and skill and also great pants, which are what we all want more of.

But this week, the compli-nots! The backhanders, which too often are to do with age or weight. “You were beautiful when you were young!” and “You would have been quite something in your day!” both have the structure of a compliment but feel like a dagger to your shrivelled old heart.

“You’re looking well,” is, we all know, code for, “You’ve chunked up”, or the new-to-me rural expression, “You’ve been in a good paddock, haven’t you?”. Moo.

Then round the other way, we have weight loss conflated with attractiveness – the classic, “You look great, have you lost weight?” which is not only wildly judgemental, but also more than one person has discovered the reason for weight loss was dire illness. So let’s just not talk about each other’s size.

Including “You’re shorter than I expected” which I get a lot. Depending on my mood, I’ll go with either, “It’s been a shock for me, too” or “You’re less charming than I’d hoped”. Whichever way I go, the dialogue stalls.

Worse, I get, “I don’t usually like female comedians, but I like you,” – again, it left their brain as a compliment but arrived as an insult to all the women I work with and adore. Though if I say this I’ll get, “Calm down, love.”

Finally, no compliment on appearance – your stunning hair, your beautiful face, your divine outfit – should be followed by, “I barely recognised you!” Ouch.


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21 Feb Remembering How Cars (and Vaccines) Work

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 28.2.22


Back the 1970s when I was a kid, pretty much everyone drove manual cars. My mother’s green Morris Minor had a wobbly gear stick about a yard long and, with no synchromesh left in Gertie’s gear box, you had to double declutch on your way out of fourth back down to third.

Honestly, I can explain what this means – that you push in the clutch, flick her into neutral, release the clutch, pump the accelerator, push the clutch down again and shift into third – but I don’t think it’s going to help. You either know how to double declutch or you’re under 50, and you can’t be both.

There was only one car I rode in as a kid that was an automatic. Mrs P. had survived childhood polio but one of her legs had never recovered so managing a clutch as well as the accelerator and brake would have been impossible. Mrs P and my mother took turns driving us kids to dance classes, and I thought her car was cool, but not the reason for needing it.

We all knew about polio – about iron lungs and people our parents’ age who had been sick like Mrs P or who had siblings who’d died. We also knew it was unlikely we would ever get polio because they’d made a vaccine and we’d all been given it, and that felt pretty great.

We also talked about vaccines because my mother had a story about almost dying as a child from diphtheria. Diphtheria (my mother was always careful to pronounce it properly as “diff-theria”, not “dip”) had been a common cause of death in children when my mother was at primary school, but by the 1970s almost no one had heard of it – we’d been vaccinated against it as babies and then again as children.

At high school in the mid-1970s, everyone in my year waited in a line outside the assembly hall with our sleeves rolled up to get jabbed in the arm with the tuberculosis vaccine. We knew from English class that TB was the lung disease that killed Katherine Mansfield at the age of 34, plus our neighbour had had it, so I was very much into getting that vaccine, too.

Vaccinating every kid against TB stopped in the 1990s because it became so uncommon, though at-risk groups are still offered it for free.

Kids born today continue to be vaccinated against polio and diphtheria, as well as a raft of other diseases – measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, hepatitis B, meningitis, Rotavirus – which stay uncommon because we keep vaccinating against them.

A couple of weeks ago, my 8-year-old granddaughter had her first Covid vaccination. Her 4-year-old brother is too young for that yet but, on the same day at the same time in the same clinic, he got his latest shots for whooping cough, tetanus, polio and diphtheria. My mother and Mrs P would be pleased.

These are repeats of his vaccinations at 6 weeks, 3 months and 5 months – and there have been others too. In all the brouhaha right now, I think we forget how vaccines are administered, that it’s not one-and-done – we space them, we boost them, we tweak for new strains.

At age 65, I’ll be due for my next round of tetanus, whooping cough and – yes, mother! – diphtheria vaccinations. Not exactly looking forward to it, but still grateful that when I drive an automatic car, it’s out of choice, not necessity.


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14 Feb Little Treats In The Post

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 21.2.22


Little treats arriving in the post – there’s nothing like it, is there? As a kid, it was such a hopeful tootle down to the letterbox each day in the week before your birthday – and also after, in case some great-aunt or other had almost forgotten but not quite.

There might be a card with a postal note (old timey pretend-money before bitcoin) or actual dollar notes if the sender was up for the bald-faced risk. Even better, there could be an actual parcel – whee! – containing a book, or a game, or something knitted – not the favourite option but still a thrill because of the surprise factor.

Now, as a grown up, it can be tricky to recreate that moment of wonderment, of a mystery revealed, when the parcels arriving at your door were mostly sent to you by you.

Tricky, but not impossible. For starters, there’s the lag between order and delivery. We’ve been embracing online purchasing since lockdowns made it our only option, and courier companies still seem overwhelmed by the volume of deliveries. Which – silver linings – leaves you with enough time to forget what might be arriving on your doorstep next.

Some of our mornings begin with Jeremy shouting, “Are you expecting something?” as a van pulls up at the front door downstairs, and me replying, “I don’t know, probably?” And then the sound of a parcel being thrown at the steps and a van reversing at speed (like I say, they’ve got a lot on) and Jeremy muttering, “Well, I hope it isn’t fragile”.

Sometimes the forgetting is less about the waiting, more about the chardonnay. Even before this pandemic got us window shopping on our phones, a lovely friend would tell me about spending the occasional Friday evening enjoying a wine or three, and browsing stuff from stores she missed back home in England. A few weeks later things would start arriving – not quite remembered but for the most part appreciated and, happily, in her size. Like a whole lot of presents from someone with her exact taste.

Other times you can blame the shopping on the toddler. That’s what happened to a family in New Jersey recently – mum was browsing a website, popping furniture she fancied into the cart so she could go back later and choose maybe one or two things. Except her 22-month-old son was playing with her phone and managed to click “check-out” and, because her credit card was loaded onto the website, the payment automatically went through.

Over the next days and weeks, things started to arrive. Many things, like flower stands and armchairs – NZ$2690 worth of stuff. It was a wild enough story to bring a TV news crew to the house to interview the family. During which the little boy apparently got hold of the reporter’s phone, opened her contacts and sent an email to her mum. This is what happens, they reckon, when you raise a baby during a pandemic and model living so much of your life on your devices.

The store has agreed to let the family return the furniture, and the parents have agreed to put passcodes on their phones. One hopes they will be complicated passcodes, and not something easy for the kid to work out, like his birth date.

Meanwhile, I’ll stick to my new online ordering ways and keep those parcels coming – and continue saving a small fortune on petrol and parking.


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