October 2021

25 Oct Making Sport Out of Arts Funding

A version of this appears in the NZ Woman’s Weekly on 1.11.21

On a pretty regular basis, people who aren’t arty-farty creative types like to have a crack at the people who are. They almost make a sport of it – though not an actual sport because when sport gets funding people don’t complain.

I’m talking about actors, writers, dancers and musicians who might apply for grants to create a thing – a show, a play, a novel, a dance – and then that proposed thing is loudly poo-pooed as a waste of taxpayers’ money. The poo-pooing is often predicated on a brief description of the creative endeavour which, if you’re short on imagination, might sound a bit lame.

Indeed, there were questions in Parliament recently about our national arts development agency, Creative NZ, funding a novel about the collapse of democracy in an association of alpaca breeders. I don’t know about you but that’s the kind of allegory I’m totally up for and, when you learn the writer is award-winning novelist and screenwriter, Duncan Sarkies, you’d be wanting to get your pre-orders in for Christmas.

For sure, it’s not hard to make artistic projects sound lame if you want to. Try this: “A comedy about gender fluidity and what that means for personal identity and sexual orientation, plus a look at the mental health consequences of workplace gaslighting.” You would be hard pressed to find a talkback radio host who wouldn’t deride that proposal as “woke nonsense”.

Or this: “A powerful patriarch with anger issues and zero self-awareness suffers a breakdown and goes bush with his mates. The vacuum created by his absence leads to murder and suicide amongst those left behind.” Far-fetched post-modernist tripe, surely.

And who would fund a play about a misogynist who goes through a messy divorce, starts a cult and secretly marries a woman he meets at a party only to have a daughter who then goes on to become a global leader? Feminist claptrap, thank you caller.

I am, of course, describing “Twelfth Night”, “King Lear” and “King Henry VIII” the way I would if I was in the business of making Shakespeare sound silly. Though now I’ve said it, I’d be keen to see a production where Viola fully investigates gender identity and Olivia explores her sexuality. But I digress.

The easy derision of the arts and artists boils down to not really believing that creative work is “work”. Every kid played Pretend and Dress-Ups and we still secretly believe we could have been a movie star if things had panned out differently.

We also drew pictures that were good enough to be exhibited on mum’s fridge, and we’ve see paintings we’re pretty sure we could do if we had the paints and the patience. And writing? We wrote a poem once that the teacher made us read out to the class, and we’re pretty sure we’ve got a book in us if only we could find the time.

That arty stuff looks like the kind of fun and games we’d do for free in our spare evenings whereas we tend to think of “work” as stuff we’d only do for money because it’s boring, dirty, or dangerous.

And yet. In 2019 the arts/creative sector contributed 92,000 jobs and $10.8 billion to our country’s GDP – about the same as agriculture. And right now the creative sector, which largely relies on humans gathering together in one place, is bearing the brunt of Covid 19 restrictions.

Meanwhile, most of us are surviving the pandemic by reading, watching and listening to creative work. Best we keep supporting those arty-farty types.

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24 Oct Double Vaxxed – for me, you and our babies

I’ve been double vaxxed since June and I feel great. It has made a huge difference to my anxiety levels because I know if I get Covid it is more likely to be mild and brief, and I’m much less likely to pass it on to other people. (Current wisdom is we’re all going to get it at some point so I’m glad I’m ready.) But there’s still anxiety – my mokopuna are too young to be vaccinated, so they need us to protect them by protecting ourselves. Plus -wah! 😭 – I don’t get to see them till Tāmaki Makaurau gets to Level 2, and that won’t happen till we collectively up our vaccine numbers.
So those are the two reasons I would love you to get the jab – for you, and for all our babies.
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18 Oct Playing It By Ear

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 25.10.21


The label on one of the pills I’m taking says I’m not to operate heavy machinery but I’m not sure if my laptop qualifies as “heavy” so I am diving in regardless.

Also, full disclosure, two of the medicine labels warn drowsiness is a risk so forgive me if I wander off mid-thought. Though wait! We’re not doing this in real-time so I can go back and fix things before you read it, right? I’ll just keep in a stream-of-consciousness moment for effect. There, that one will do.

I had a spot of ear surgery a few days ago – initially delayed by Level 4 Lockdown then rescheduled at Level 3. By now I expected to be firing on all cylinders but I’ve done that thing women often do which is to underestimate the gravity of a personal health situation. You’ve probably done it yourself – waved some procedure off with a cheery, “I’ll be fine, it’s nothing!” and then found yourself stuck in your pyjamas days later with your head fairly nailed to the pillow, while people with expectations (and let’s be fair, expectations based on information you provided) tap their watches and ooze impatience.

I can report that a hospital at Level 3 is even more like itself – staff only, all masked all the time. No visitors looking lost or delighted or anxious in corridors because there are no visitors at all. My husband and I had waited in the carpark at dawn for the “Come on down!” call from reception and waved each other good bye.

So it’s all business, but they cannot be kinder, and that’s the usual thing we say about healthcare people but I’m still saying it here because we should remark on remarkable things. They let me make jokes and make some of their own, and one of the post-op carers says when she sees me stand up for the first time, “I thought you were taller – you have a tall personality” and without wanting to disrespect short people everywhere I take this as a massive compliment.

In the operating theatre, a nurse tells me her kid was at school with my daughter 20 years ago and suddenly this gathering of surgical staff feels a bit like a school fair and we get so chatty the anaesthetist says something old-school about women talking and I suggest the only way he can shut me up is to drug me, and he does, and I drift off wondering if that was a terrible thing to say and it probably was.

I don’t know why I am surprised that, after someone has been tootling about in my head with a drill for three hours, I wake up feeling a bit sore. It’s like that time I had a baby and had focused so much on the birth that I was surprised this wasn’t the end of the event, just the very beginning, and I think that’s what the Day Three Blues can be about sometimes but I’m not actually a doctor.

The people who are doctors are very pleased with my ear, and now that it is over I am reading up on the literature and I am impressed with them, too. Mostly, though, I am enchanted by my bandages which come with a bow set off to the side, giving me a flapper-vibe which goes nicely with the white compression stockings and honestly if I could stand up I’d do you a Charleston but right now it is time for nap, normal transmission will resume…

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11 Oct This Pandemic Has Turned Me Into A 1950s Housewife

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 18.10.21


Shortly after 6am last Saturday, you would have found me in my kitchen with the entire contents of the fridge laid out on the bench. Not because I was hungry and about to whip up an omelette at dawn. Nope, this was me pulling out all the shelves and fittings to wash them down, and checking use-by dates on forgotten jars of chutney.

I’d woken early – a thing I do now I’m not working at night – and rather than reaching for a book, I’d decided to get up and get on. I have new microfiber cloths I swear by, and I’m trying a different brand of thick liquid cleaner. I hardly know myself.

On Sunday morning, you’d have found me on my hands and knees washing the floors, scrubbing skirting boards and – if you’d timed it right – shutting myself inside the pantry so I could wipe the inside of the bi-fold door which no one can see unless they’ve shut themselves in the pantry. No one, of course, has ever shut themselves in the pantry until now. 

I am all about the cleaning and cooking, and shopping from brochures and dreaming of evenings out. Recently, I heard myself say, “I feel like an adventure so I’m going to the supermarket, bye!” This pandemic has turned me into a 1950s housewife, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

I suspect my mother would have approved. As much as she enjoyed the work I did out in the world, I know she felt my housekeeping could be a little lax. She rarely mentioned it, but on the odd occasion I polished the silver water jug (wedding gift from her) turning it from tarnished orange to mirror shine, she might say a little tartly, “Is it Christmas already?” Meaning I must be doing this for other eyes, as mine clearly hadn’t noticed it for months. Still, she could see I was pleased with the sparkle of it and she would exhale a little, and smile.

It is true that, back when I spent a lot of nights in hotels – like, you know, in July – I tended to treat my home like a hotel, too. Sleep, eat, do some work, pack a suitcase and go. But I’m here now, noticing tops of doors and finger marks on light switches and suddenly curious about what is stuffed under the spare bed.

I am also – I’ll be honest – going slightly mad. Thank goodness I was born in the sixties because I couldn’t have done the 1950s for more than a few weeks. Much more of this and I will either be burning my bra or getting an online prescription for Mother’s Little Helper, or both.

And yet I will also confess there is pleasure to be found in the sparkling insides of a clean fridge and a well organised drawer. Also piles of clean laundry. I am a feminist, yes, but I prefer my bras washed, not burnt. I mean, have you seen the price of them? And smell the fabric softener on this one.

I have taken to stewing fruit. Sometimes I don’t even plan it, I’ll just be walking past the fruit bowl and suddenly find myself at the stove with its contents. I notice that, as I slice quartered apples into the saucepan, my hands look like my mother’s hands, and they move the same way. You might notice me exhale a little in moments like this, and smile.


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04 Oct Learning to Live with Covid

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 11.10.21


It has taken a while but I am learning to live with Covid-19. By which I don’t mean I have decided to give up on lockdowns and staying home and saving lives. “Learning to live with it” for me means I have accepted that, for the foreseeable future, my life will be very different from the way I would like it to be.

What I’d like to do is go back to work, do some shows, earn some money, see my daughter and grandchildren, and have enough certainty to plan things to look forward to. Instead, here I am in my trackpants, consciously seeking out reasons to be cheerful, applying for government support and very much learning that there are things I cannot control.

This is a whole different “learning to live with Covid” from the version you might hear touted on talkback radio or in newspapers. That’s the one where we let the virus into the community the way they have in other parts of the world where, if you don’t talk to overwhelmed nurses or traumatised survivors, you can pretend for a minute there isn’t a pandemic raging and “they’re getting on with it”.

I hear the argument – made with varying degrees of subtlety – that we should allow the virus in now, and let it take the old and the weak. “The ones who were going to die anyway,” I believe is the phrase. A woman in a bar (back when we did that sort of thing) tried that line out on me a few months ago. She wasn’t sure Covid was much of a thing, she’d never met anyone who’d had it. I told her my husband’s grandmother had just died of it in Canada. But, she argued, his grandmother would have been old, so she was going to die anyway. When I miss the conviviality of being in bars, I think of this stranger and get over that quite quickly.

Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine that the virus is a killer (it is) but picture an actual person with a gun. Imagine this gunman runs rampant in a retirement village and shoots everyone over 90. Some people say this is a tragedy and the killer must be stopped but others say, nah, it’s not that tragic, they were all going to die anyway.

Honestly, that’s the kind of thing you only say when you’re a long way from 90 and don’t have much time for anyone who is.

Part of the problem is that when someone says “the old and the weak” – or, less emotively, “people with underlying health conditions” – it is easy to picture the generic nana of someone you’ve never met. But really, what we are describing is New Zealand’s vaccination Group 3 – people at risk because of diabetes, heart conditions, asthma, pregnancy, or auto-immune and other diseases. There are 1.7 million of them and you won’t be able to see them all with the naked eye. They’re staffing our hospitals and supermarkets as well as every other sector, and I’d generally want to wish us luck keeping businesses going if we’re going to wilfully put what amounts to one-third of the population at high risk.

Soon – once we’re all double-jabbed – by all means, open the borders and try moments of what looks like the life we’d like to have. But also be ready to lock it down again if we have to. Learning to live with it in a way that lets all of us continue to live.


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