July 2021

17 Jul Vaccine Envy

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 26.7.21


Here’s a thing we couldn’t have imagined in our pre-Covid lives – “vaccine envy”. Who saw this coming? Jealous of the neighbour’s new ride-on-mower, sure, I get that – I want one and I’ve barely got a lawn. Or a tinge green-eyed about someone’s holiday photos or first prize in the raffle drawer. In these moments I think we all allow ourselves a tiny moment of “Really happy for you, but what about me?”

And there are higher stakes involved in getting the vaccination call up. Not to downplay the joy you can get from a ride-on-mower, but that’s more of a labour-saver than life-saver. Once the travel bubble opened with Australia, a bunch of us felt our anxiety levels rise at the increased opportunity for that tricky virus to sneak across our border, especially if our health was vulnerable. It had been easy to look like we were waiting patiently when the virus wasn’t running loose in the community, but we’ve seen how fast your luck can change, and it started feeling urgent.

With a whole nation waiting for their turn, vaccine envy is running hot now at the school gate and in the office kitchen, and everywhere on social media. Some version of, “How come you’ve been vaccinated but I haven’t yet? How did you pull that off?!”

I had moments of “vaccine envy” myself. I’d hear about someone who lived with a border worker or nurse, or (rarely) had been in the right place at the right time and had been invited to use their arm to mop up a leftover shot. Happy for them, right? But just a small case of the what-about-mes.

I’ve been very open about being in the early weeks of Group 3 vaccinations. I figure it’s useful for anyone who might be vaccine-hesitant to hear positive experiences. It has not, however, brought joy to all.

“This absolutely 100 per cent ticks me right off,” someone wrote to my husband and me on Facebook, though she didn’t say “ticks” but a word that sounds a bit like it. I felt her frustration as she explained she was an essential worker during lockdown who’d kept the supermarket shelves packed so the rest of us could buy toilet paper and bread. “Yet we get placed at the bottom of the vaccination pile… BELOW comedians?”

I mean, honestly, she makes two fair points. One is that, while we celebrated essential workers during Level 4, we may have forgotten the risks they took for us then. One way to say thank you could be to protect them sooner rather than later. And second – quite right – no one should be jumping the queue because they tell jokes in pubs.

In reality the 1.7million people in Group 3 currently being vaccinated are in that category because of either age or underlying health conditions. It’s going to take a while to get through them all, and a 60 year old with a heart condition might get called up before an 83 year old, for example – which might look weird to you, depending on which one of those people you know personally.

I keep reminding myself that many diseases and disabilities are invisible and that, while you might know one thing about someone, you might not know all the things. And I keep hoping the lady from Facebook gets her shots soon.


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17 Jul DIY Holidays

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 19.7.21


With few options for nipping off to sunnier climes in these Covid Times, we’re using our travel money for things closer to home. People who track consumer spending say we’re out there snapping up new appliances and remodelling our bathrooms instead.

Which is all well and good, but that new washer/dryer combo isn’t going to make you feel like you’ve spent a week drinking cocktails by a pool, and there’s only so many times you can put photos of your matching kettle and toaster on Facebook.

So if you are missing your annual winter getaway to somewhere sunny, I may have come up with a sparkling idea for a DIY holiday. It’s all a bit Number 8 Wire, but we’ve always been the kind of folk who admire just giving something a go.

I suggest that, if we can’t take a tropical holiday, we take our tropical holiday attitude to the office. Not just the attitude, but also the apparel. I dare you to turn up at the office this week in togs and a sarong and ask workmates to smear your back with sunscreen at regular intervals. Of course, you will need to have a chat with HR or whoever is in charge of the thermostat before you take your puffer jacket off, so a touch of forward planning will be required.

Then get your whole team in on the “day at the beach” mood by setting up two lifesaving flags and then insist people work between them. Any colleagues who remain outside the flags can be rescued with an inner tube and have CPR performed on them. Keep HR in the loop by phoning them at regular intervals to ask them what the UV index is on your floor today and when it will be high tide.

If that’s all a bit giddy for your workplace, you can keep it on the downlow. Whip off your shoes, roll up your pants and place a container of sand under your desk. Or, if you’re the kind of person who prefers to “go bush”, then “take bush” to the office. Dress for the walking track and carry scroggin at all times. Engage people in conversation about their pot plants. “Is this a native? When does it bloom? Can you eat these?” Climb on top of your desk and take panoramic photos of the remarkable office vista.

Or go exotic and pretend you’re in Nouvelle Caledonie – communicate with co-workers using only a French phrasebook. Call up Accounts and ask to have your wages deposited in Euros. Then later in the week, pretend you’re on a stop-over in Bali and barter with colleagues for the stuff in their workspace. “I’ll give you 40 baht for that chair. Okay, 45 if you throw in the pants. And how much for the family photos?”

And then bring it all back home near the end of the week with a Kiwi barbie. Wear a novelty apron and shout stuff like, “Hey Bob, how do you like ‘em?” while flipping sausages and chops on the fancy gas burner you bought with the money you didn’t spend on going away. I’m not sure this is “the best of both worlds” but it’s worth a shot when the world is shut. Besides, we’ve never wanted to build our own version of Disneyland – we’re pretty sweet with an annual A&P show featuring wood chopping and a tiny train – so I think this might work for us.

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12 Jul Reflection On My 50s

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 12.7.21


A writerly friend and I were having lunch – one of those long-overdue catch-ups after not managing to cross paths for a while. There is a book she wants to write – and I hope she does because I want to read it – and I told her about my super top secret project (I tell everyone) that I am sure will be brilliant but I can never find the time to get it started. Fewer lunches and gas-bagging about it would probably help.

I mentioned that I write this piece here each week and she said, “Oh, yes, your advice column” and I choked a little on my tea. My life feels too much of a shambles for me to be offering wisdom to strangers. Honestly, if you had seen me this morning trying to scrub something unidentifiable off my kitchen sink using two types of cleaners and muttering, “I have no idea what this even is!” to no-one in particular, you would steer well clear of any life advice I tried to give.

What I often write down, though, is what I’d like to tell an earlier version of me. The stuff I would have found useful to know in advance and possibly didn’t need to work out the hard way.

Think of it like I’ve just run an obstacle course and – though I’m no athlete – I can tell you which bits I found tricky, where you might want to save your energy, and how deep and mud-sucky the water hazard is once you’re in it.

So this week, as I leave my 50s behind, I’ve been making a loose list of the things I wish I’d known when they started. It has been a glorious decade – definitely my favourite so far – full of milestones and red letter days and plenty to write home about. If I had a chance to have lunch with 50 year old me, this is what I’d tell her.

This is the decade when you will feel most like yourself. You get to be in the world not just as someone’s mother, or someone’s daughter or wife, but also as the person you have grown into. You get a little more time in your day to work out who she is, what she wants, and what she can create. You’re one of the lucky ones who finds menopause works like a boost of energy, and you are delighted to be past the point where you care if you are attractive to strangers – which coincides neatly with the moment when much of the world finds you invisible. No one is shouting at you from a building site which leaves you blessedly free to go about your day.

You are still, though, someone’s mother, daughter and wife and there will be moments in the decade where you are caring for a teenager and, simultaneously, ageing parents while also tending to your primary relationship. Not going to lie, it can be a bit of a squeeze. Ultimately, it is an honour to be needed and be useful. One word of advice – in amongst the doctor and hospital appointments for everybody else, don’t forget your own check-ups. It rarely turns out that ignoring things makes them go away.

But not every niggle is a nightmare. You will be amazed how, with the right attention and effort, something like a wonky knee can be entirely cured, not just “managed”. Don’t buy into that nonsense that your body is inevitably falling apart and there is nothing you can do about it. Ride a bike, get yourself some funky reading glasses, and don’t be too ready to describe yourself in negative terms. You’re middle-aged, not dead, you glorious thing. Plenty of party left in you yet.

Remember what your grandmother said about always keeping a clean, nicely ironed handkerchief handy because big things will happen and there will be all kinds of tears. This is the decade I lost both my parents, and also welcomed both my grandchildren. These things happen in different decades for other people – older, younger – so just know that these events change you. Make space for other people who experience them sooner or later than you do. There are few things as big as these. Allow their grief, and take a moment to look at the photos they want to show you. One day you will be bursting to show them yours.

Learn to say “no” faster to things that don’t bring you joy – I can barely remember examples now because, as hard as they were to turn down at the time, they ended up entirely forgettable. And your favourite things from this decade will be the result of saying “yes”. Yes to offers of work, to requests for your help, to invitations to travel, to joining communities and spending time with friends.

And I’m turning around to say “yes” to this next decade, which might be my favourite yet.


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