August 2021

30 Aug On “Pushing On Through”

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 6.9.21


I had a baby 28 years ago, and I think that’s why I am still a bit tired now. I mean, I’ve had a couple of decent sleeps since then, but I suspect as a new mother you learn an approach to life that possibly isn’t serving you so well if you keep it up in middle-age.  

I remember that fog of exhaustion – woolly headed, dizzy, a tinge of nausea – so clearly. My baby was born six weeks early and had to be woken to feed every two hours, but I know full term babies are no guarantee of longer stretches of sleep either. So you push on through, ignoring your body’s and your mind’s need for rest, because this is the Thing You Must Do. There is a new human to keep alive!  

But at some point, all that disregarding of the signs you should go to bed and stay there is not going to be good for you. Tricky though – once you’ve mastered the art of Soldiering On it can be hard to make yourself halt this relentless march and leave the parade for a bit of a quiet sit.  

I seem to recall there was a time when people who were ill went to bed and didn’t get up till they were cured. Now there’s a pill for that which can take away all the symptoms so you can pretend you’re quite well thank you, and maybe go share whatever it is with your workmates, and then they can take a pill, too.  

Possibly this global pandemic has made us better – I hope so – about keeping to ourselves when we’ve got anything that looks even vaguely Covidy. I’ve noticed people with tickly throats or hay fever pointedly identify the cause of their coughs and sneezes as non-pandemic related, as in: “Washoo! Crikey, the pollen is bad this season, isn’t it, Cheryl?”  

I also remember a simpler time when, if we were tired, we’d go to bed and fall asleep with a book. Now when we’re exhausted we sit on the couch and watch just one episode to wind down, and then just one more because at this point we’re too tired to get up and go to bed, so we might as well finish the series.  

One of the reasons I can remember the fog of exhaustion – woolly brain, queasy tummy – is that I am feeling it now. I checked my temperature and it’s not that, so I checked my diary and that would explain it – too many days on, not enough time off due to a tendency to say “yes” to everything except an early night with a book.  

So that’s what I am doing now – consciously paying attention to the signs that I need sleep, or space and calm, and unlearning those new-mother skills (which might have become habits) of “pushing on through”. Habits compounded, no doubt, in those of us who are self-employed or freelancers or instilled with a protestant work ethic that suggests we are defined by our devotion to what we do.  

My late-mother would remind me at regular intervals, when she saw the midnight oil burning at mine, that her yoga teacher would say, “Remember, Donna, we are human beings, not human doings”.  

The baby is all grown up now. I might put myself down for a nap.

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23 Aug Reception Trouble

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 30.8.21


It is useful, I think, to know when you are most likely to be the worst version of yourself.

Some people are a bit touchy first thing in the morning – slow to wake, in need of a shot of caffeine before they’re ready to engage. For others there’s a mid-afternoon hangry slump that shortens their fuse. Parents struggle to maintain their usual charm and poise around dinner/bath hour, and people who leap out of bed at dawn to go for a run can get a bit snappy if they’re kept up beyond their bedtime.

I try to be a pleasant person to be around – it seems the least we can do for each other since we’re sharing a planet – and it’s easy to pull this off because I genuinely like a lot of the people I meet. But recently I’ve worked out there is a particular place that I am most likely to be a horrific grump – at a hotel or motel check-in.

The problem is that, in my head, arriving at my accommodation is the end of something – the end of the early start, the bag packing, the trip to the airport infused with general anxiety about missing flights, the waiting, the boarding, the flight itself, then navigating a ride with a stranger from airport to accommodation.

Good cab rides are either peaceful or a conversational delight – I met a woman who does fly-fishing recently and I still miss her – but there are also bad cab rides that do terrible things to your blood pressure and your faith in humanity.

Arriving at reception looks like the end of all this – you are tired and also grubby for no reason you can pinpoint, and in need of a wee, and you would like to be alone now. But for the person on the other side of the desk, it is the beginning of their bit, which is Being Welcoming plus Admin. Forms, credit cards, questions about newspapers and breakfasts that seem so far off into the future you can’t imagine ever needing them in your life, and that ubiquitous question, “How’s your day been?” which feels hard to answer prettily given your day has so far consisted only of those dull things listed above – though you have high hopes for the remainder of the day once you’ve made it to your room, soon please.

Day Three of a four-day multi-stop trip, I turned into a proper Karen. (Apologies to all my friends call Karen who are, one and all, adorable, but you know what I mean.) Faced with a three hour wait until check in, stranded in a carpark outside a locked office and with nowhere else to be, I badly wanted to ask to speak to the manager but realised I already had her on the phone and she couldn’t help me no matter how much I suggested she might.

But one of the cleaners let me leave my suitcase behind and wander off (see also: get me out of their hair) and a couple of hours later I came back and there was a room waiting and I apologised to the staff for being terse earlier. Not at my best, I said, at check-in, especially when I can’t.

They say that if you feel uncomfortable about a pattern of behaviour, then on some level you are already moving towards changing it. Expect warmth, charm and cheerful descriptions of how my day has been next time you see me at reception.


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23 Aug Adults Only

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 23.8.21


“Is this… um… Is this a no-kids resort?” We’re on holiday in Rarotonga and a family with two young boys have dropped by to have a look around. I’m wandering past with a book when the mother stops me to ask the question in a tone that is tinged with wonder, and also hope.

Yes, I tell her, you have to be over 16 to stay here or to use the pool which is deep enough for dive lessons, though anyone is welcome to eat at the restaurant. She says it would feel mean to give the kids lunch by the pool but not let them swim in it afterwards, and I see her point. I ask how long they’re in Rarotonga for – ten days, she says, which is longer than us and I’m envious. “But you can do a lot more in a week without two kids in tow!” she says, and we grin at each other because I used to be her, and one day she might be me.

I remember my first holiday as a mother, about eight months into the parenting lark. It was a weekend away and somehow I’d imagined it would be like pre-baby weekends away – a dinner out, a nap, no housework or cooking, much peace and freedom and maybe a book. Then the shocking realisation that a weekend away with a baby was exactly like a weekend at home with a baby, except without the stuff you needed on hand.

This is my first experience of an “adults only” resort. Though “adults only” sounds like the back room of a video store with rude movies… “Child free” maybe? Just “quiet” mostly, with a distinct lack of shrieking in the pool or whining at the restaurant or sulking on the sun loungers. That special kind of quiet your house has once you’ve got the last kid off to school.

We are people temporarily escaping kids, or yet to have kids, or enjoying being able to afford the luxury of a place without kids now our kids have left home. Even our conversations seem quieter, our voices less urgent, lacking the edge of hysteria you detect in someone’s first adult conversation of the day. No one needs to be told off, given warnings, or have boundaries explained. You are not vigilant. You are allowed to swim at night in the pool so long as you don’t annoy anyone. Aside from the no-kids rule, there are almost no others. 

I like how adults are with each other when it’s just us. We dip in and out of conversations, and occasionally gather in groups for sunset cocktails but also sometimes don’t. I get the feeling we’d all cheerfully lend our neighbours a cup of sugar but probably wouldn’t ask for one ourselves. We are delighted to be self-contained.

There is a wedding on our beach, and an engagement, and other stories are shared about big life events. We give each other hot tips on places to eat and occasionally all end up at the same restaurant where we smile and wave but stay at our own tables, comparing notes the next day about the cheesecake and fish.

After eight days, I’m at the airport where clusters of hot, fraught families are making their way home and I am so overwhelmed by the sounds they make, I put in my earbuds and listen to an ocean scape. I will re-acclimate, but I’m not ready yet.


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23 Aug Keeping Secrets

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 16.8.21

If you have any juicy secrets you are bursting to tell, here’s an offer – they are perfectly safe with me. This is because I am, in possibly equal parts, both discreet and a bit daft.

The discreet part comes from my childhood. Our close neighbours back then were what might be termed “movers and shakers” in the twin worlds of business and politics. When special guests arrived for cocktails and dinner – the environment where important deals are actually done and then rubber-stamped later in the boardroom – I was asked to pop on my best frock and climb the fence between our houses to hand around the nuts.

So between the ages of 10 and 17, I was privy to many a conversation about the business, political (and occasionally marital) machinations that kept our little part of the world turning. I understood without ever really being told that what happened over pink gin and canapés wasn’t to be broadcast beyond the garden fence. 

From time to time, our delightful neighbour might say to my mother, “I suppose Michele mentioned that so-and-so is running for parliament/ selling the company/ having it away with her doctor,” and my mother would first look blank, then proud, then finally a little disappointed and say, “No, she didn’t mention it.” Having passed this test, I continued to be invited over to hand around the nuts.

I loved knowing stuff – occasionally my parents would share some bit of local news and I’d say smugly, “I know” and perhaps, now that beans had been spilt, I would add an extra bit of detail they hadn’t heard, and give it an extra flourish.

I still like knowing stuff. Some of my work – as an MC for awards nights or voice artist for advertising campaigns or auditions for TV dramas – comes with a non-disclosure agreement to be signed and witnessed. I get a small frisson of excitement about being handed an NDA – it suggests you’re part of a select group who have been told an important secret, and I enjoy the chill of reading legal-speak for the ramifications you are threatened with if cats are let out of bags.

But really, I don’t need an NDA because I have also, over the years, become a bit vague. Fairly often, I’ve heard something on the radio or TV and thought, “Whose voice is that? She sounds familiar…” before realising it was some secret campaign for a fancy new product I’d recorded months ago and forgotten about the moment I’d signed the NDA and left the studio. It’s as though my brain responds to being asked to file something away as a secret by not filing it away at all.

And people like to tell me stuff. Perhaps because I tell personal stories on stage and in print, total strangers feel very comfortable about confiding in me – I hear stories in bars that I feel honoured to be trusted with, and then I promptly forget all the names and places involved. I would make a weird spy – terrific at the intelligence gathering, able to elicit all kinds of information but then… nothing to report, sir. You’d have to water-board me to make me remember what I did last week.

So really, if you have something you desperately need to tell someone and don’t want it to go any further, talk to me. I make an excellent pink gin and do help yourself to the nuts.

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04 Aug The things you think while driving over the Remutakas…

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 9.8.21


I am driving over the Remutaka hill, thinking about names, and why they matter. It is one of those winter days that appears like a gift – clear blue skies, the sun hitting the car in a way that makes it feel like a moving capsule of summer. With no wind or rain to battle the rental car fairly swoops up these winding curves from Wellington, and drops down the other side into the Wairarapa.

When I was a girl, these were the “Rimutaka” ranges, not “Remutaka”. The spelling mistake was fixed only recently, part of a Treaty settlement for the Rangitāne iwi made legal in 2017. Remutaka means “to sit down and gaze” which is what early explorer Haunui-a-Nanaia did here on his journey of discovery across the southern North Island. As opposed to “Rimutaka” which doesn’t mean much of anything.

As I drive, I am thinking about other names that have been changed back to the original, to something that makes more sense. When I was a girl, my mother had a friend called Pearl who announced one day in middle age she would now be called Elizabeth. This was her original name and the one she wanted to use now, not the nickname she had come to be known by.

Eyes were briefly rolled in our small town. “Elizabeth” sounded formal, possibly regal, yes? Plus remembering to call her something different from the name used when they first got to know her would be hard. Jokingly (but not to her face) for a while she was referred to as “Per-Lizabeth”, and then the town got on with other things.

I wish now I’d been able to ask her how she had come to be known as Pearl, why it didn’t feel right for her anymore and what motivated her to reclaim Elizabeth. I can imagine stories from banal to dramatic that could explain it.

Whatever it was, I understand this affection for an original name. Despite marrying countless (ok, three) times, I have never changed my family name because it is part of who I am. It places me in my whakapapa and connects me to my own history. Any of the men who married me would have been welcome to change their name to mine, but they also were comfortable about continuing to be themselves.

I am excited when I hear about changing place names back to their pre-colonial versions, and the history the original name reveals. I feel more joy about living in Tāmaki Makaurau – a place “desired by many”– than in a city named by William Hobson after a man who was the Earl of Auckland, neither of whom were from here.

We are organically moving towards calling this country Aotearoa – not through legislation, but by popular usage. I am tickled when I hear grumpy old men kick against this with a “Who decided this? No-one asked me!” which is the kind of thing you might say if you are someone who is used to being in charge but find you no longer are.

We’ve proved that our brains are nimble enough to embrace what will be for some of us – though not all – new words. We’ve learned to sing our anthem in te reo, we can find Ōtautahi and Kirikiriroa on the map. And it takes me a long moment now to remember that Mt Taranaki was once called “Egmont” back when Elizabeth was called Pearl.


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04 Aug Too Stressed To De-Stress

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 2.8.21


If you’re lying on a massage table worrying about not being a good massage recipient, you’re probably not doing it right. This is the thought that made me snort-laugh last week at a Rotorua spa, startling the masseur.

It’s not that I’m a massage novice. I’ve been having them regularly for years as a way to deal with mental stress and also treat muscular problems. There is a fabulous massage therapist I’ve been seeing for more than two decades and who remains my favourite but, when I’m out of town, I might see someone else. She’s okay with that – we’re not exclusive. I know she sees other people, too.

Before her, I used to go to a guy who mostly massaged athletes. At first, I liked how no-nonsense he was – the place smelled of liniment rather than frangipani oil and there was a noticeable lack of dolphin music – but in the end the general ambience of feet and old sneakers stopped me going back.

There was a massage in Aitutaki that was like a religious experience, and a “couple’s massage” at a spa in California that felt like a scene from movie, though neither of us could work out whether the genre was romantic comedy or porn. I’ve been massaged on beaches and in bures, using everything from hot rocks to brushes and bamboo, and wrapped in seaweed and mud.

I’ve developed an approach to massage etiquette. I shave my legs so they don’t feel they’re risking splinters. Knickers are generally optional, and the massage therapist will let you know their preference or provide you with a disposable pair but, just in case, I’ll turn up in something not too shabby but not so fancy I’ll be worried about getting oil on it, and flexible enough to move around so they can get at the maximum of my gluteus maximus. Honestly, I can’t overstate how much tension we are all holding in our bum-cheeks – let them have at it.

Related, I’ve learned that the fear of farting is far greater than the actual incidence. Unlikely to happen if you don’t eat a pie before your appointment and, honestly, what with the aromatherapy oils and zen music, we can all cheerfully pretend it didn’t.

But on the table last week with a brand new masseur, I was suddenly hit with a wave of anxiety. I was enjoying it, but how could I let him know that I was? Should I say something? Sigh, perhaps? Make happy noises? But would that be weird? What do other people do when they are on the table?

Suddenly I realised this was not a conversation I’d ever had with anyone. Do other people give the masseur regular feedback? Was I known in massage circles as the least appreciative client in spa history? Was I the equivalent of an audience that stares at the entertainer inscrutably, and then suddenly gives them a standing ovation once it’s over?

At which point I realised I had disengaged from my body’s experience of the massage to worry about him, and that a whole leg had been brushed and kneaded but I’d missed it. That I was so worried about doing this wrong, I was absolutely doing this wrong. Hence my snort-laugh and his momentary surprise. “Sorry,” I said, “this is lovely. Just drifted – present now.” And I was, for the rest of the hour.

I was so relaxed by the end of it, I probably would have been really good at having a massage.


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