December 2021

27 Dec On That Glorious Space Between Christmas and New Year

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 27.12.21


The week between Christmas and New Year has always been my favourite. There has been the indulging of family at one end, then the over-indulging of self at the other – though I am less inclined to that these days. Look at me, all grown up.

But between those two poles of Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the week is slung like a hammock, offering calm and a bit of a lie down with a new book and some leftover ham.

Not for me the Boxing Day sales – I’ve seen enough shops for the time being and I’m happy to let others snap up the bargains. Besides, I still haven’t put my Christmas presents away so there’s no need to bring in more new stuff yet. Instead, I’ll likely venture as far as the nearest beach, book in one hand, ham sandwich in the other.

I often think I like my city most of all when everyone else leaves it – Auckland seems to function best on about half its permanent population. This tells us something about our infrastructure woes and also our obsession with cars, but I’m possibly too drunk on leftover trifle to articulate that this week.

It will be interesting to see how many of us really do travel this summer – some have been champing at the bit to get out, but many of us are still hesitant. One of my friends jokes she has Stockholm syndrome – her house has held her captive and now she doesn’t want to leave it at all.

Indeed, sensible people have been suggesting Aucklanders should keep away from regions still working on their vaccination levels, and I can see their point.

Mind you, it is easier for me to comply with that kind of request given our family from across the border have come to us for the holidays, saving us from having to make a hard choice. And I know many people are doing the very best they can to safely visit much-loved, much-missed family in other places – travelling direct, staying still once they get there, being vaccinated and also taking a Covid test before they head off.

What a remarkable thing it has been, to have ended up with my closest family on the other side of a border! Sure, extended family have been scattered about the world for decades, but to have been unable to see my daughter, my brother, my mokopuna for this long when they’re just a few hour’s drive away is not something I’d ever imagined.

There are so many things I would never have imagined two years ago that are now part of our lives. Scanning in and showing vaccine passes – pretty straight forward – but also balancing the love you have for your family against the risk you might inadvertently bring them.

Though this has been true for small numbers of us for a long time – friends with cancer who didn’t need viruses brought into their homes, premature babies who needed to be protected from the wider world and the big people in it, all kinds of at-risk people we wanted to visit, but it was best we didn’t.

Perhaps this has been a taste (for all of us) of what it has been like (for some of us) in pre-pandemic times. Having to make personal sacrifices for the greater good is part of the price we pay for community, and here is our reminder.

To be honest, though, staying very still this week is no sacrifice – it’s all about the ham. Shush now, I’m reading.


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20 Dec On Not Doing Christmas At All

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 20.12.21


We have a friend who doesn’t like Christmas. Not because he belongs to one of the religions that doesn’t celebrate it, and not just in the way none of us likes Christmas in patches, like when we’re trying to find a car park at the mall, or the piped carols they’ve being playing in stores since November sound like fingernails down a blackboard, or at around 4pm on the actual day when you’d quite like a nap but the guests show no sign of leaving. We can all be a bit anti-Christmas at times.

But our friend doesn’t like Christmas at all – or at least, he doesn’t engage with it in any way, preferring to spend the day entirely alone.

In earlier years, we liked to gather up waifs and strays at our place on December 25th. Partly that’s because I couldn’t bear the idea of anyone being lonely on this day of all days, but also (quite selfishly) I’d noticed that injecting the odd special guest encouraged family to be on their best behaviour, which can be helpful as the day wears on.

So when Dougal (not his real name, something about him just makes me think of “The Magic Roundabout”) first told me years ago that he’d be spending Christmas Day alone in his flat with his traditional meal of baked beans and a beer, I invited him to join us for ham and champagne instead. I’m not quite sure when an invitation turns into a command, but I used a fair bit of, “But you must come!” He, however, wouldn’t be persuaded.

I’ve never asked why – I’m not very good at asking people the kind of questions I can feel they don’t want to answer. I’d be a terrible press gallery journalist, leaving all the question time to Barry Soper.

My usual style is to leave a long pause to see if the person fills in the silence (a useful technique with recalcitrant teenagers, I’ve found) but if nothing is forthcoming, I’ll let it go. I can guess a whole lot of reasons for someone wanting a solitary Christmas but really all we need to know is that he’s having the kind of day he wants.

Which is what I wish for all of us. There are a gazillion things that can go wrong – sometimes it feels like some of us are blue touch paper and some of us are matches. But there are even more things that go right. I especially love that bit after all the presents have been opened when the smallest kids toss their gifts aside and start playing with bubble wrap and boxes.

Chances are that at some point during the whole Christmas palaver – if you keep an eye out for it – you will be touched by some unexpected kindness, or a supreme act of thoughtfulness, or a gift you weren’t expecting. Quite possibly, you will have at least one lovely moment in amongst the hoopla where you share a sneaky knowing look with someone who gets it. And you will get a phone call or text from someone in another place who is thinking about you.

I will send Dougal a text, like I always do. It won’t mention Christmas – like I say, Christmas is clearly not his kind of thing. But he always texts back, so his phone is on, and that tells me something. And then I might slip away for a nap.

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20 Dec Live Comedy Is Back!

After 107 days of staying home to save lives in Tamaki Makaurau, we got to go out and do live gigs again on Friday 3 December 2021. It was scary, and exciting, and felt strange and also entirely familiar. It was so bloody good to see my comedy whanau again. I wrote this for the Spinoff about how laughter never sounded so good and although when I read it now it feels kind of Pollyana and self-indulgent, I’m glad that this very special night was recorded for us.

I love my job so much. I also love the people I work with.


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13 Dec The Great Library Heist of 2021

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 13.12.21


Last week, I stole a book from our local library. Inadvertently, and I’ve fixed it now, but still.

This heinous crime occurred on the very first day Auckland libraries reopened after being locked down in August, so it seems a poor way for me to say welcome back, I missed you. Though of course it was the sudden novelty of the whole pick-up, check-out process wot done me in, m’Lord.

In a fit of optimism weeks ago, I’d ordered a book from our neighbourhood libary. Impressively, in that tiny window between being allowed back in their building and then reopening to the public, our librarians had done a sterling job of racing round the aisles and placing requested books on supersized collection shelves.

So there I am, my first trip out in 91 days to somewhere that’s not a supermarket, mask on, scanned in, up to my elbows in hand sanitiser and dusting off my library card. I wanted to interact with other humans, and also didn’t want to interact with other humans; to settle in for the day, but also get in and get out with the least amount of friction.

I zapped the barcode on my card, zapped my book and waited for the slip to print that would tell me when I needed to get it back. When nothing was forthcoming, I assumed we didn’t do that anymore? An environmentally friendly saving of paper and ink? I’d check online later.

It is possible there was a faint “beep” as my book and I passed through security but, when I looked behind me, there was no one in pursuit.

I read my lovely book for a week before thinking to check the website. It said I had one day left to pick it up or lose my place in the queue of people who wanted it. They had no idea I already had it. Technically, I’d nicked it. I was a Library Thief.

Given the reverence in our family for books and public libraries, this was like stealing from the church collection plate. I was both hot and bothered. But I hadn’t been caught yet. So it was back to the scene of the crime the next day with the book secreted about my person. Pretty sure I heard a faint beep as I passed through security but that may have been nerves.

Once safely at the self-service checkout, I hummed with faux cheer, tucking the “due back by” slip (they’re still a thing) inside the cover, and ostentatiously waved the book about as I left, privately noting a definite lack of security beep.

Many of us, I think, have been hot and bothered at a library – usually over unpaid fines and lost books. It can be hard to keep track of what your kid has checked out and where they’ve put them (let’s blame the kids for minute) and a whacking great fine can put you off visiting for weeks.

Which is why I am delighted to hear many libraries around the country are doing away with late fees entirely. They mean little to those who can afford them, but they’re enough to put off the most disadvantaged. Many libraries are finding that, with fines forgiven and abandoned, people who had stopped borrowing are coming back, and books they never expected to see again are turning up.

They still want you to actually check them out, though. So I’m relieved I got away with my book heist – or “fixed it”, depending on the generosity of your view.


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06 Dec Your Cat Is Tracking You (probably not in a creepy way…)

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 6.12.21


On a pretty regular basis I will read about a fancy piece of research reported in what I still call “the newspaper” (by which I mean a reputable source on my phone) and I think, Yeah, I could have told them that.

Not in a smug way, more in an affirming way – like, if their scientific deductions tally with my lived experience, then they’re probably onto something, well done.

Recently, for example, The Guardian ran a story about how cats are brainier than we think, and let me tell you this absolutely resonates with what I’m observing round my house with our cat, Satchmo.

First, meet Satchmo, our nine-year-old black and white rescue cat, named after legendary jazz musician, Louis Armstrong. Our Satchmo (the name is a derivation of “satchel mouth”, a reference to how Mr Armstrong’s cheeks looked when blowing the trumpet) doesn’t play any instruments but he is a very cool cat with an unmistakeable jazz vibe.

Shortly before stumbling across the Guardian report from the University of Kyoto about smart cats, I’d been regaling my husband with news of Satchmo’s latest cleverness. Despite (or because of?) spending his first months in a rubbish dump, Satchmo has developed refined tastes, including a preference for filtered water.

Of late, he has taken to sitting at the apex between his water bowl outside and me in the kitchen, looking from me to the bowl and back again until I open the door and freshen his supply. Clever, right? Superb communication skills.

Of course, as soon as I’d reported this, I turned back to see that Satchmo was lapping up water from the guttering of the sliding door. You can take the cat out of the rubbish dump…

Still, I’m not a scientist and the people at the University of Kyoto are. What they’ve uncovered is that cats use a type of socio-spatial cognition to track their humans, so they know where we are at all times. It’s an understanding of “object permanence”, meaning cats can do what human babies work out in the first year of life – that even when you stop seeing something (the doll, the mother) you know it still exists.

They put 50 cats in a room – separately, not together, are you mad? – and played a recording of their owner (staff) calling them from outside the room on the right. Then suddenly they played their owner’s voice from a speaker inside the room on the left – and each cat was visibly startled at the possibility their person had teleported into the room. This business of picturing you even when they can’t see you suggests high cognitive processes.

Like I say, I could have told them this. Satchmo constantly pictures things he cannot see currently in his bowl. He knows the cat treats are somewhere – specifically they are in the pantry, third shelf up, on the left, next to the almonds mummy has in a bag that makes exactly the same noise when it’s being opened so he comes running and we both have a treat because otherwise he has some special sad eyes he can stare at you with for a long time.

Since we’ve been constantly home since August, I’ve noticed that what our cat is currently using this human tracking skill for is to get away from us. Never a lap-cat, he was usually a “near-by” cat, slipping into my office while I was working or climbing onto our bed in the night. Now he is deftly placing himself in whatever room we are not in. Clever boy.


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