September 2021

29 Sep Lockdown Lemons

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 4.10.21


Some people make staying home look good. I have friends who are highly skilled at nesting indoors or who potter round the garden happily for weeks. A few have always been like this, and others just gave it a red-hot go at the beginning of the pandemic and totally nailed it. Now they make staying put look like the most natural thing in the world.

I am not one of these people. Sure, I like my own company and I can hunker down, clean out a cupboard or read a book, but I am a traveller at heart and home is the place where you rest between adventures.

My husband – even keener on getting on a plane and having his passport stamped – has managed with more grace than me, I think, to embrace staying home and saving lives. Give him lockdown lemons and he will make you a lemon tart. Also banana bread. Sometimes – don’t tell him – I buy bananas on the turn just to nudge him in the bread-making direction.

But the people who really nailed “staying home” were our 2020 lockdown neighbours, gone now but remembered fondly. They were in the new house over our back fence, built where the orchard used to be before a previous owner subdivided.

It’s a 5-bedroom rental property with a rotating cast of characters.  Sometimes we barely get to know them, other times we have long chats over the fence about the weather or our pets or who might be planning on playing loud music a bit later and would that be a bother to anyone if it was all done by midnight.

When Level 4 arrived in 2020, the house belonged to the most vibrant bunch yet. The languages wafting over the fence included Portuguese definitely, possibly Spanish, plus a lot of something Eastern European. They barbecued, and played long games of cards at the kitchen table, and had their very own karaoke machine, and danced to Polish techno.

I found it remarkable at first that, each week, they had a birthday to celebrate. Ten flatmates suggested a birthday a month-ish, but every weekend the gold balloons spelling out “Happy Birthday!” would appear in the living room window and a party would ensue.

Over here in my bubble of two, I had questions. First, where’d they get the balloons? (And how tremendous to have them on hand when lockdown hit!) Also, where did they store them Monday to Friday? (They were very big and appeared quite floaty.) And this rash of birthdays – had they got together as flatmates because the thing they had in common was their star sign? And supplementary question: who knew people born under Aries and Taurus would get on so well?

By the time we’d got to Level 2 I suspected those big gold balloons were a ruse – that maybe (odds are) there were some actual birthdays involved but they’d just decided to throw a party each week and the balloons helped set the mood.

I found it all very uplifting – all that conviviality and human interaction when the rest of the world was about social distancing and isolation. It reminded me of what we all had to look forward to on the other side if we keep doing this right.

Meanwhile, there’s a superb lemon tart in our fridge and some of my cupboards are very tidy. And if staying home is the hardest thing I have to do this week, I’m pretty darn lucky.

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24 Sep Shopping In Lockdown

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 27.9.21


I was window shopping online in Lockdown when a realisation hit me just before I clicked “add to cart”. It wasn’t the pretty dress that I wanted to buy. (Though yes, that too – roses, 1950s style, what’s not to love?) The thing I really wanted delivered to my door was (ta da!) the opportunity to go out somewhere wonderful and be in a room where that dress belonged.

Frocking up is one of my very favourite things. Just thinking about what I might wear is calming – if I can’t sleep at night because I have a job the next day that scares me, one of the best ways to settle me down is to plan what I might wear for it.

Indeed, any time a doctor has told me I need to be admitted to hospital for a procedure, my first response is to go out and buy fancy new pyjamas. And yes, this is a diversionary tactic not a million miles from denial, but also it works a treat. I can be relatively sangfroid right up until the anaesthetist asks me to count backwards from a hundred simply because I’m looking forward to a few days in fetching sleepwear on the other side.

Part of my “I want to buy the party, not the party frock” epiphany was the shock of remembering that in Level 4 there were no parties to go to. Sure, I could I pop it on and do something with my hair other than spray more dry shampoo in it and then take a selfie and post it on social media, but there’s a special kind of “sad” about then spending the rest of day frocked up and alone. The Germans probably have a word for it. They certainly have a word for what probably happens next –“kummerspeck” which literally means “grief bacon” and refers to the weight you put on after a bout of emotional eating. I’m not saying sitting alone in your best dress eating a whole carton of feijoa ice cream is wrong, I’m just saying the Germans have a word for it.

If not a dress then, I thought, what about ordering something for a cheer-up that would be more appropriate for these times? All right, yes, track pants because that’s all I wear now and I only have two pairs and if you’re going to wear track pants when you’re not actually “at the track” they should at least be clean unless you’ve completely stopped caring.

And maybe, yes, how about ordering something for your face because despite all evidence to the contrary, you do care about how you look so maybe a serum that will bring back a youthful bloom so by the time you leave the house again people will say, “Gosh, you’re looking well” and not mean that as code for, “We see you’ve been at the grief bacon”.

So I “added to cart” a couple of pairs of trackies from one place, and a bottle of face oil from another and spent the next few days following the delivery progress via email and text, excited as a kid waiting for birthday treats. I can report the pants fit and the serum makes me feel optimistic – so much so I’ve now ordered the vintage style skater dress with roses because there will be a party one day and I want to be ready.


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16 Sep On Storming Out of a Zoom Meeting

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly for 20.9.21


A friend of mine stormed out of a Zoom meeting the other day. I am so entranced by this idea, I’ve been visualising it in my mind’s eye ever since.

In my version of her story – and I’m bringing some personal experiences to it – I picture a gallery view of attendees, a sort of B-grade “Celebrity Squares”. You already know you don’t like them. Partly that’s because you adore your friend and you know how this ends, but it is also because this is a serious board meeting yet (again, this is my version) someone is eating something from a bowl which is probably soup but makes you think “porridge”, and others have their camera pointing under their chins or straight up a nose. Also, the person who is supposed to be talking has their microphone on mute, and several people who aren’t supposed to be talking are unmuted so you can hear their email notifications go ping and something that could be either chewing or scratching.

Meanwhile, the host is aggressively refusing to acknowledge my friend’s request to speak. This has been going on for some time. Each time she unmutes herself to make her point, he uses his “Host” powers to mute her, like a boardroom game of whac-a-mole. Finally, gesticulating dramatically and posting a furious note in the Chat, my friend hits “Leave Meeting”, exiting Zoom and abandoning the checkerboard of ingrates to stew in their own virtual juice.

She said it was extremely satisfying. Right up until it was over. Deciding to go, reaching for the mouse, hovering over the button, the decisive “click”, and the emptying of her screen? Yes! But then there she was, alone, in her living room. Makes you realise how much the dramatic exit owes to the angry walkout, the door slam, and the furious drive home. It’s enough to make you reconsider your fantasy of being able to teleport.

It is remarkable how much the video/telephone combo has become part of our lives. Last Saturday night I spent four hours at an AGM for the comedy industry. True story. Also true is that it was on Basic Zoom so the meeting ended every forty minutes which for other people might have been a deterrent but for comedians on a Saturday night in lockdown? All 50-odd attendees logged back on each time with a fresh supply of snacks.

Back when I had the option of being in a room with other humans, I avoided Facetime and Skype, and I’d never heard of “Zoom” until I learnt other words like “social distancing” and “bubble”. Fair to say it has caught on – on one day in March 2020, the Zoom app was downloaded 2.13 million times.

Last October I hosted a national conference for 700 women from my home office, joking that I may or may not have been wearing pyjama pants, they would never know. But here’s another thing I’ve learnt – even in the virtual world, I dress up for it. I can’t access a formal attitude if I’m not in some level of formal wear.

I suddenly understand and appreciate the old-school dress code for radio – men in bowties, women in evening gowns. Maybe I don’t go that far, but I put on shoes and clean my teeth.

Besides, you need your proper pants on if you’re going to leave your camera going so they can watch you as you storm out.



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06 Sep Lockdown, you say – can I get a vodka with that?

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 13.9.21


Those snapshots the internet gives us of our collective curiosity are illuminating. As the nation was plunged into lockdown last month the thing we most googled was whether liquor stores would be open in Level 4. If I’m staying at home, we wanted to know, can I have a vodka?

In our next searches, we asked about supermarkets and laundromats, then the Level 4 rules in general, followed by the likelihood of wage subsidies and locations of Covid-19 testing stations.

That is a fine encapsulation of our fundamental human desires: booze, food, cleanliness, behavioural requirements, money and health. One might quibble over the order of our priorities, for sure, but we’ve got it all covered.

While everyone else was searching liquor store rules, I was looking for my track pants. This doesn’t make me a better person – I simply had clearer memories than others of how difficult it was to get vodka last time so already knew the answer.

But also I had firm intentions about behaving better this lockdown. Less of the wine and snacks, more of the daily exercise and creative output.

I found the track pants – my old favourites, plus one pair nabbed in a sale during Level 2 and barely worn, so they feel novel – and rifled through my “bought this on holiday as a souvenir” t-shirts, picking out the ones featuring Minnie Mouse to wear initially which kept the first week cheerful.

Also uplifting was reading a lot of very nice emails hoping I was well and keeping safe, sent by retailers whose stores I’d once spent money in and who thought of me as a loyal customer. Oh, and by the way, I could spend more money with them now online, no trouble at all. It was tremendously thoughtful of them.

Sage advice in these strange times is to stick to usual routines like making the bed each morning. Turns out I do these things – the bed making and also the ironing of sheets and tea towels – entirely for my own satisfaction and not for show. I don’t care if you’re coming over or not, the pillow cases will be smooth.

Sometimes you forget no one is coming over. The day we’d planned a couple of family Zooms, I found myself elbow deep in the toilet giving it a good scrub halfway round the S-bend before realising our visitors would be in the living room virtually, and not actually using the facilities.

These chats with family and friends in other countries are helpful for hot tips from lockdown veterans, and a sobering reminder that here we’re not dealing with overwhelmed hospitals and daily death tallies.

I always have a list of chores, but I am learning not to obsessively tick them off one at a time. Instead, I am taking what I think of as the “peck” approach. A little bit of each kind of thing that makes me feel like I’ve achieved something or that brings me joy. So daily there is a light dusting of housework, some business admin, a dive into creative work, a chat with someone in the world outside my bubble, and a fair amount of staring at the cat.

In the quietest of times, I am embroidering a cushion with: “Never do today what might usefully amuse you tomorrow.” Very much enjoying the process so obviously I can’t ever finish it.


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