May 2021

29 May Rage

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 31.5.21


This month, I have been conducting a social experiment – inviting women to come along to a show and get on stage to express their rage.

It is a wild idea that started a couple of years at the capital city’s literary festival, Verb Wellington, and has become one of my favourite things to do. Turns out that being angry is tremendously good for the soul.

This isn’t something I might have expected. Of all the emotions, anger is the one I’ve been least good at. I feel it, for sure, but I have been terrible at expressing it. But I’m getting better. Look.

Injustice, rudeness, threats, insults – any kind of attack up close to me or mine – and my “fight” mode will engage. But instantly (and quite annoyingly for someone who is designed to fight with words, not fists) my throat constricts so my voice sounds like a strangled kitten, and the fury that wants to present itself as a bold and dramatic volcanic eruption is squeezed out through my eyes, drop by tiny drop, as sad widdle tears. Which is, in and of itself, enraging.

I know that I am not alone in this. Women and girls are often discouraged from expressing anger, lest we be seen as hysterical, stroppy, feisty, or – horror of horrors – “unladylike”. Our other emotions are acceptable in polite company – joy, obviously, and a fair level of excitement, though also melancholy, bewilderment, loneliness, a touch of envy – there is a full palate available with which to paint expressions of our feelings. But anger, we’ve learned, is to be avoided. Look like you are heading in that direction and it is likely someone will suggest you settle down.

This has fascinated me ever since I interviewed UK writer and comedian, Robert Webb, about his 2017 memoir, “How Not To Be A Boy” in which he posits that men and boys are socialised to express all their emotions as anger. Sad, lonely, hurt, confused, jealous – no matter what they feel – the only acceptable way to show it is by shouting or punching a wall, or worse. Even congratulations or camaraderie is a slap on the back or a whack on the arm. So men, he argued, are only allowed anger. And women don’t get that one, but can help themselves to the rest.

Yet anger is a useful tool for change. It lets people know where our lines are drawn, and stops the progress of things that will harm us. A self-defence instructor told me to take fear and turn it into anger – fear is passive, anger is active, and that’s what you need to dive into and harness, to fight back with power.

Often, women are encouraged to distract ourselves from our rage by soothing ourselves with a bit of self-care. Exhausted by, and mad about, the lack of pay equity or accessible childcare? Maybe what you need is a massage or long bath! And yes, massages and long baths are awesome. But it’s not going to change the world, just your mood. Kate Shepherd and Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia didn’t win us the right to vote in 1893 by popping out for a pedicure – they got angry and organised and did a fair bit of shouting.

So what does it look and sound like when a room full of women take their rage for a romp? People of a range of ages (from their twenties to their sixties) talked about what makes them angry – being dismissed, put in boxes, harassed, harmed, belittled – and about anger itself.

We had poems, and songs, and angry rants, and some things that sounded like comedy but had a hard edge and a twist in the tail. There were cheers of recognition, moments when you could hear a pin drop, the occasional gulp and – because we can’t help ourselves – belly laughs and thunderous applause.

And it was like that time with the self-defence instructor and you could feel the moment where anger feels like power that you will use for something good. Living constantly in that state would be exhausting, but so is endlessly trying to ignore and bury it. One of the kind things we can do is allow each other to safely share our emotions – all of them. Think how good it would feel if you said, “I am angry” and the response was, “I hear you”.

Possibly what impressed me most was how creative it all was. I mean, I’ve always known that a thing that ticks me off is often a good thing to write about – those irritations that, in an oyster, produce a pearl. But I’m still buzzing to think that asking someone to bring out their fury makes a great show. Also, I barely cried at all. I am making progress.

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29 May Airing Your Clean Laundry in Public

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 24.5.21


For a woman who owns three tiaras, I am surprisingly fond of staying home and doing the ironing. Honestly, I am looking at my diary right now and as much as I am excited at the prospect of many nights out working in my favourite frocks, I am also looking forward to the respite of an evening at home giving them a good press.

My laundry is one of my favourite rooms in the house. It is painted bright orange – so bright that the nice man I hired to paint it this particular shade of tangerine phoned me twice to make sure I’d written down the right name from the colour chart. When I came home to see it for the first time, he stood in the doorway, apprehensive, and pointed in its general direction with the handle of his brush. “Is this… what you wanted it to look like?” I assured him he had followed my instructions perfectly. I remain delighted.

It’s not just the room that I am fond of, but the whole laundry process. Washing, soaking, stain removal (I have a book purchased long before you could google that sort of thing on the interwebs), and then the drying, folding, ironing, and putting away. When my weather app shows me a forecast of bright sun, I immediately cast about for things I can get out on the line.

Outdoor drying is my favourite. In winter months I might be forced to use the dryer but, for as long as I can, I am all about pegging things out. Good for the environment, good for the power bill, and amazing how a few hours in sunlight can lift the last of the shadow of a stain. In my imagination, sheets and towels and pillowcases absorb sunshine into their fibres and therefore happiness into my home, and I hear my mother’s voice talking about leaving things to be returned to their righteous state “in god’s good air”. 

So every time I read about a Body Corporate banning outdoor clothes drying, I am filled with enough hot rage to fluff up a king size duvet set. The argument seems to be that pegging out your smalls ruins the image and “special character” of a carefully curated community. As though the better places are inhabited by people who don’t wear undies.

I first came across this concept a few years ago while staying with family in Melbourne. The city hadn’t had a drop of rain for something like a year, and it felt so hot and dry I suspected that by the time you’d finished pegging out your sheets they’d be ready to take inside. Yet apartment owners were stuffing everything – polo shirts, chinos and silk camisoles – into tumble dryers, lest they make the place look unkempt.

It struck me then – and I still feel this way – that this was an outrageous waste of a natural resource (sunshine) and money (power bills). Given how much damage we’re doing to our planet, it feels rude to turn down such a kind offer of free drying from the sun and the wind. But there is more to my love of outdoor drying than energy saving, sustainability and fiscal concerns.

There’s also the romance of seeing part of our lives flapping cheerfully in the breeze. The colours, the shapes, the little peek into each of our private lives that a clothesline or balcony rack offers. The joyful discovery that tame neighbours might be sleeping on wild sheets, or that they’ve acknowledged winter now with the winceyette. Or the inspiration that comes when you see a new shade of bath towel and realise it might be time to refresh your own choices.

And think of those vibrant images of apartment dwellers in faraway places, each telling a small story about who lives inside each of those otherwise identical boxes stacked on all sides. Understanding that people might live in homes of the same shape and size but the way they live is very much their own can make you feel braver about being you.

Each time the debate about airing your clean laundry in public hits the headlines (anywhere from Hobsonville to Edinburgh to various American states) someone – usually more than one – will raise the issue of bras and knickers. That they don’t want anyone to see theirs, and would rather not see anyone else’s either.

I am always tempted to throw in a follow-up question regarding how they feel about ankles and décolletage. Because if you spend a lot of time pretending to yourself that no one wears underwear, you probably have some very firm ideas about modesty all round.

My best advice to anyone with a public-facing laundry rack would be to keep a range of options in view – beige nana knickers pegged out alternately with the flimsiest of fluorescent g-strings, just to keep the neighbourhood guessing.


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17 May Also Available for Children’s Parties…

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 17.5.21


There’s nothing like a long solo drive on a crisp autumn day to have you indulging in a bit of reflection. I had scooted out of the house at the crack of midday, dropped in at the cake shop to pick up a ridiculous confection that shouted, “Happy Birthday!” in caramel sponge and chocolate, swung by the supermarket to stuff bottles of bubbly between icepacks in the chiller bag in my boot (terrible to arrive with warm wine, how thoughtless) and headed three hours south to celebrate my daughter’s birthday. 

Before you are a mother, you assume birthdays are about you. A new bike, a year older, a party with your name in the song, your special day. Quite right – this is exactly how we want you to read it. A joyous celebration of the anniversary of your arrival on the plant.

Secretly, though (and I can’t be alone in this) those of us who were fully sentient at the birth allow our minds to swing back to it. To recall some of it (the bits we liked, mostly, the stuff that went well) and quietly measure the distance between then and now.

Those minutes and hours (also days and years) after your first child is born are when you are most aware that you have no idea how to do the thing you are doing. Raising a new human? Where’s the manual? When will the grown-ups arrive to take over? Then realising with waves of panic that there is no list of instructions and you are the grown-up now and you are just going to have work it out.

And then they’re 28, and you’re driving to see them with cake and prosecco, and it all seems so simple and fun, and you wish you could tell your earlier self, the one who threw kids’ birthday parties with cakes baked in the shape of something you possibly swore over the night before, that it does all work out in the end. And you might measure the distance in grey hair and creaky knees but you can also just enjoy the breathing out now, because you got this far and everyone seems very happy and safe.

One year (and I shivered as I remembered this on the drive down) when my daughter was at intermediate, I gathered up a dozen or so of her friends, took them into Auckland’s Queen Street, and sent them off on a birthday scavenger hunt I’d designed with endless research and bags of prizes, but with zero health & safety protocols in place, and I don’t know what I was thinking except it seemed like a terrific idea at the time and it turned out nobody got lost or abducted, but I cannot tell you why not.

Some years we did parties at home which involved days of preparation followed by more days of trying to vacuum icing off the carpet and finding cheerios down the back of the couch. Other years we’d hire a room at some indoor play area that smelt of wees and socks. Though there was one exceptional year – a Fairy Party with an actual fairy to host it – which was so successful I booked the whole experience again for my own birthday three months later, only with champagne instead of raspberry fizz.

This year, the birthday girl planned the games which left me free to unleash my competitive beast (note to self: leave it to the young ones another time, there’s a love) and there was a lot of very excellent dancing uploaded to Instagram. Again, my competitive spirit reared its head and, after an especially spectacular performance from those in their twenties, I had a go and discovered (why did I not already know this?) that I cannot at all do any of the moves that require you to bend, or lift yourself on or off a chair. Measure the distance between youth and middle-age any way you like, but I’d advise you to find an approach that doesn’t require a lot of upper body strength or flexibility.

I like this bit of life where you get to be on the edge of things, observing, rather than the person at the centre. I also like the bits of my life where I get to be at the centre, of course. But there is a lot to be said for not carrying all of it, all of the time.

I love watching the way my daughter parents, and happily catch myself lost in the observation of it. Bonus points for those moments when a grandchild notices you there, and climbs on your lap for a cuddle and a bit of head-sniffing.

We assume, I think, when we see our nana and pops sitting quietly to the side that they are not robust enough to throw themselves into the giddy bits. Perhaps. But there are also times when we are just looking at how far we have come, relieved that we’ve got here. And maybe planning our own giddy party in a few months, and picking up tips.


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12 May No Thanks, I Live Here

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly  10.5.21


Real estate agents round our way are extremely well dressed. This is probably true in every neighbourhood, though I can’t say for sure – this has been my only neighbourhood for 25 years. But I guess if your business is the buying and selling of the most expensive thing most of us will ever own, you’d want to look the part. Tidy, respectable, well-maintained.  A bit like a house, really.

Anything between one and four of them knock on our front door on any given week. At weekends, they come in the morning, and late afternoon or early evening on weekdays. Three of them over Easter weekend. They have different logos on their business cards, but always a photo so we will remember, I guess, who made the best impression.

Back when we had a landline, it was just phone calls. Eventually, they were the only people who used that number apart from aggressive men who said there was something wrong with my computer which they could fix if I gave them a password and credit card details. Every time it rang, we knew it would be one of the two – about the house we didn’t want to sell, or the computer that wasn’t broken. So we did away with the landline and enjoyed the peace.

But now they knock. They knock so often, I am considering doing away with the front door. Or hiding it somehow so only actual friends and the odd courier can find it. 

It’s not that they’re terrible people. It’s just that we have nothing useful to say to each other. They tell me they have families keen to buy in the area. That’s nice, I tell them, I like it here, too. These people would be specifically interested in buying my house. Really, I think, that’s kind of creepy, are they out there watching us and having these thoughts?

Would I like to have this piece of paper that lists what neighbouring houses have sold for in the last few months? Not really, I say, I feel like what my neighbours paid for their house is none of my business. Would I like to arrange for someone to come and give my house a market assessment? No thanks, I tell them – I don’t need to know what I could sell it for if I’m not selling it, right?

The last chap was as nice as can be. His is smiling from his business card right now, top of the pile by the dish where we keep our car keys. Well-fitted jacket, perfectly trimmed beard, coiffed hair. The kind of man who, if I’d taken half a step out my front door and breathed in deeply, looked like he would smell good.

I liked him so much, I took the time to explain the gap in our thinking. This, I said, waving my arm at the jasmine by the door and the lemon tree my father planted and past the cat lying in the sun, is not a commodity for buying and selling to make money. This is our home. We live here. My daughter, now 28 and off raising her own kids, grew up here. Her name is still spelled out in tiles on her bedroom door.

There is a strapping cabbage tree just outside my office window, taller than our two-storeyed house, which was given to me in a tiny pot as a present after a comedy debate in Whangarei before the turn of the century. We have tūī in our garden, and kererū, and recently a family of sacred kingfishers have started making morning visits. We’ve been here so long, I’ve forgotten what lives in the far reaches of the cupboard under the stairs and there is no one left alive who knows the contents of the garden shed.

Which, yes, suggests a clean-out is in order. Maybe a week of Marie Kondo-ing to see what brings us joy. Must arrange that. But what I am really thinking as the nice man talks property prices is how weird it might be if we approached all things in life like a real estate agent, as though everything was a commodity to be bought and sold. That’s a lovely jacket – I know someone who would buy that jacket from you. The man at number 17 just made an amount that would impress you on a jacket just like it. Also, your watch and your wedding ring. And are these your children?

I am keeping a tally of door knocks from real estate agents. When it comes time to sell, I plan to give the business to whoever has been least annoying. Counterintuitive, I know, to hook up with the salesperson who has been less pro-active, but currently, this is as far as my thoughts on property investment go.



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12 May Feminist Rage Night at the NZ Comedy Festival 2021

“Feminist Rage Night” was born at Verb Wellington in 2019, and it has been a delight to bring it to the NZ Comedy Festival this year. An opportunity for comedians, poets, singers and spoken word artists to release their fury, say the things womxn have been told we shouldn’t say in the voice we’re not supposed to use, using all the words. Two nights only in Auckland – here are pix from our second night on Tuesday 11 May. Looking forward to doing this more often! And keep an eye on the Verb Wellington programme in November 2021.

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06 May 7Days Tonight!

Wild times – the Comedy Festival is upon us (check my DATES page for where I am playing) plus tonight, thanks to the magic of television I will not only be on stage at the Classic, but also on TV3 with these idiots.


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03 May For Mother’s Day 2021

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly  3.5.21


We’ve always said in our family that gifts don’t matter on Mother’s Day. And yet, as I write this, I am looking at the coffee mug my daughter decorated for me some 25 years ago, now living permanently on my desk and filled with pens. It features a house and some stick figures and has been signed by the artist. It might not be the first thing I’d grab in a fire, but it would be close. 

Still, our family’s general attitude towards Mother’s Day has been more poo-poo than ra-ra. This goes back over a century, almost as old as the day itself. West Virginian Anna Jarvis trademarked “Mother’s Day” in 1912,  intending it to be an annual homage to mums but, according to legend, spent the rest of her life railing against its rapid commercialisation. If you thought buying a card and posting it constituted honouring your mother, Ms Jarvis had some quite sharp things to say to you.

They would have been more or less as sharp as my great-grandmother’s thoughts on the subject. Lieutenant Edith Rogers (Salvation Army rather than infantry) strongly believed proper maternal respect should take up more than one day a year, and best involved regular involvement, and the spending of time, not money. She was unlikely to be impressed by some neighbour’s errant son who, in the normal run of things, failed to darken his mother’s door if she were poorly, but turned up with a flourish and some flowers on Mother’s Day and expected a pat a on the back.

Great-grandma also deeply lamented the rise of this imported American “Mother’s Day” at the expense of the much older Christian tradition of “Mothering Sunday”, that little pause in the austerity of Lent when families gathered together and mothers were given thanks.

So yes, traditionally, not much fuss was meant to be made of Mother’s Day in our family, especially not in terms of buying gifts. In the last couple of decades, my mother, my daughter and I settled on a new tradition of spending the evening together at a show. Which is a fancy way of saying that I was usually booked to perform at some Mother’s Day event or other, and I would nab them both tickets so they could come along, too.

Some of these events have entered into family lore. The complexities of the mother/daughter relationship can be a rich source of comedy material and, after some onstage story about my kid, I announced she was in the room – at which point she stood up, took a bow and enjoyed a round of applause. All three of us were giddy with it after. A few short years later, in her snippy teen period, she grudgingly agreed to come to the show but asked that I not tell any stories about her. Fair call. Afterwards, I asked if she’d enjoyed the night and she shrugged. “It was all right,” she said, “but you didn’t talk about me…”

One recent year when my mother had begun to be unwell, I told her I’d been asked to present at a writer’s event on Mother’s Day in another town, but perhaps she would prefer I stayed? “But you must go!” she insisted. Mother’s Day, Schmother’s Day! She would much rather picture me at a festival, talking about books – this was the thing that would bring her pleasure. But when I phoned her from a city a long way away, she sounded sad, and told me of all the fun things her friends had been doing with their children that day. I had made a terrible mistake, I realised, and flowers when I got back on Monday weren’t going to make up for it.

Most years, though, we got it just right.  But I also know the day can be a tricky one for various reasons. Tricky for those who can’t be with their mother right now because of Covid-19 restrictions. Or for sole mothers who don’t have another adult parent who helps the kids to make a fuss of them. For people who have difficult relationships within their families. For people who might have hoped to be mothers but haven’t managed that. And for people who are having their first Mother’s Day without a mother to celebrate. I hope all of you find a way to feel love, and show love, on Sunday.

I will, as is tradition, be off doing a show somewhere on the actual day. And also, as is tradition, we will make sure there are lots of opportunities on the other 364 days to say all the mushy things and give all the help. And I will probably, just for old time’s sake, tell a couple of stories about my now grown-up kid. If she’s okay with that. I’ll ask her first.


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03 May “Chef Wants To Know What You Would Like for Breakfast”

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 26.4.21


Someone from the luxury resort was on the phone to our room. They’d worked out we were up now because smoke was curling out of the chimney of our chalet across the courtyard. Midwinter in Queenstown, you need to light the fire as soon as you throw off the duck feather duvet and slide out of the thousand thread count sheets. “Chef would like to know what you would like for breakfast.”

This was many years ago, when I was booked to perform at Winter Festival. Part of the package was to be hosted by a sponsor – we were paid less in cash, and more in kind. Which is how we found ourselves at the same lodge Bill Clinton had stayed at on a visit to our shores. The kind of place where, if you were of a mind, you could ask them to rustle up a helicopter to take you skiing somewhere quiet. Possibly shoot a deer and have chef turn it into venison steaks for a private dinner served in the wine cellar if that was your mood. 

I hadn’t seen a menu in our room, and asked where I should be looking. I was assured there was no specific list of breakfast options – just tell chef what you fancy and the kitchen will be happy to oblige. This, I realised, was what it was like to be rich. You didn’t just choose from available options, you told people what you wanted and they would make it their business to find it for you.

I should have been delighted by all this. Instead, the idea of imagining a breakfast out of thin air left me bewildered and a touch anxious. What would you like to have for breakfast when you can have anything in the world? Do you go hog wild (possibly organic hog, raised on the eastern side of a hill and served extra crispy) or ask for the ordinary thing that starts your ordinary day? Should I be who I am, or who I would like to be in another different life?

This was during my very lean years – raising a kid, scratching out a living, working hard to make ends meet, only just managing it at various points. No financial safety net, sleepless nights, all of that palaver. The kind of poor where you counted every slice of bread, and wept if something was broken or spilt or wasted because you couldn’t see how those things could be replenished. The kind of poor that makes you edgy and short-tempered, and saying something like, “Never mind, we’ll get another one” would be speaking a foreign language.

So I spent those days at the luxury lodge wondering about two things. One was this: What if this package deal only covers the room, and a bill will presented when we leave for the chef’s breakfasts and delicious dinners? How the heck am I going to pay for that? And the other was: Now that I’ve seen how it works, I’m not sure if I’d be good at being rich.

Because we assume that we would be, right? We daydream about what it would be like to not worry about bills, to live easily and comfortably – or even extravagantly. Part of it, too, is that we imagine how generous we could be – the money we’d give away, the help we could give, the time we could spend on things and people other than work and worry.

But would I really know what to do with more money than I needed? Maybe what happens is you start to imagine you need things that match your money. Like helicopters and venison, and places to stay that nightly cost more than the average month’s rent.

I thought about that trip again recently when I had the family to stay. I can happily clarify two things now – first (everyone relax) the deal had indeed been all-inclusive and there was no list of extras to pay for when we finally checked out. (We should have said yes to the helicopter.) And second, my idea of what “rich” is has shifted somewhat.

Here is what it means to me now: no one in my house goes hungry, ever. We have adventures, buy school and also party shoes, stop for ice cream pretty much whenever we want. Sure, there is a little bit of mental maths going on (when is the power bill due again?) and also a line to be observed between “I’d love you to have this” and “Let’s not be greedy”.

I feel rich because I own books I haven’t read yet, and enough clothes to get dressed for a week without doing the laundry, and because now and then I can afford something exciting to look forward to.

And we are rich if we know that, worst case scenario, we have friends who would rally round; and that – boot on the other foot – we could afford to take a friend in and cheerfully give them houseroom if they needed it.


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