January 2022

31 Jan Between Delta and Omicron

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 7.2.22


During that sweet spot between Delta and Omicron, I considered it our job not only to scan in, mask up and get boosted, but also to get out and enjoy each other’s company – very carefully – while we still could.

And so after staying put since last August – the first time in decades I’ve spent that many months without travelling – I scooted out of Auckland on a little comedy tour to some of our best beachside towns.

The first leg involved a plane – a plane! – that delivered us to a regional airport. Airports are good at planes, but less good at ground transport in smaller places where economies of scale mean taxi stands are mostly empty and you can wait as long as your original flight for a cab to respond to a call.

We tried an Uber in New Plymouth this time to see if that might work but got a call from the driver wondering if our destination was far enough away to make his trip to the airport worth his while. Given he had the address of our accommodation, and the advantage of local knowledge, we figured only he could answer that question. Ultimately he decided a drive to the airport this sweltering Sunday wasn’t for him and we were back to square one.

The next wait for a taxi, though, gave me an opportunity to hoover up a particularly delicious and quite chunky lemon slice I’d had my eye on in the airport café. It put me back in the travelling groove.

The trick with travel is to surrender to what happens next. Though I’m not a fool – I realise that whoever said the joy is in the journey, not the destination, probably didn’t have kids. Or half-a-dozen comedians to herd like cats. Still, you learn to make the best of it and get your lemon slice where you can.

We played that night to a couple of hundred joy-filled locals and holidaymakers in Ōakura, a town I’ve never played before – and there aren’t many places left on that list. Even so, it produced some old friends not seen for a long time and there were catch-ups over fish and chips, and then new friends made on the other side of the show.

I never know quite how to explain what it feels like to do my job, especially after months of not be able to. It’s like coming home, or returning to myself, or finding yourself at a really good party instead of ending up at the slightly lame one and hearing that things are going off somewhere else. And as well as having your own turn, there’s the bit where you slink off down the back of the room to watch your mates work, and see a room full of strangers roar with laughter, nudge each other in recognition, feel delighted and connected and happy. It’s a grand way to spend an evening.

The next day it’s a six hour drive in a van – round Mt Taranaki which is as bare of cloud and snow as I’ve ever seen it, then up through the King Country to the Waikato and on to Auckland to prepare for the next leg. Could’ve been five hours, I guess, but there were whitebait fritters to be had in Mōkau, and at least two stops for mango ice blocks. We remember how to travel when we can.


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20 Jan A Brief Word

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 31.1.22


Life changing. That’s the only way I can describe it. It has brightened my mornings, lifted my mood and didn’t cost me a cent. More than happy to share the secret so we can all get on board, and you’re very welcome.

Here’s what I did – I cleaned out my undie drawer. Marie Kondo’d my knickers, chucked out the ones that didn’t bring me joy. The ones that judged me and said I’d had too much Christmas trifle. The ones meant to suck in my tummy but made me feel trapped. Those others designed to feel young and funky but which cut me off at the thighs or disappeared up my bum or rolled over at the hint of a belly. Also the shabby ones, and the ones that had been mean and scratchy from day one.

Which sounds like a lot of undies to chuck but really we’re talking maybe half a dozen? Some of them were guilty of more than one crime – I’m looking at you harsh red lace bikini brief with a tendency to ride up in places you don’t belong.

We hold on to bad undies longer than we should. Partly that’s because they’re madly expensive – especially relative to their size and weight – and we want to get our money’s worth. Leave them in the drawer untouched for a couple of years and, golly, look how well they’ve lasted.

But also, somewhere in each of us lives a particular terror which is The Fear of Running Out of Clean Undies. I honestly can’t tell you if this has ever happened to me – maybe on some trip I’ve miscalculated the ratio of knickers to number of days between laundromats? But the fact I can’t tell you where or when this terrible thing occurred suggests this is not a memory, but an anxiety about something that hasn’t happened yet. A hardwired dread, like being attacked by a woolly mammoth at the mouth of your cave.

So we keep the knickers that make us sad and angry for “emergencies”, shoving them to the back of the drawer where we’ll find them when all other options fail. But they’re sneaky, those undies, working their way up the front where your early morning barely-conscious hand will accidentally pluck them from the pile, and before you know it you’re wearing something that makes you feel bad about yourself. The day has hardly started and you’ve already made a terrible choice.

Toss them out, I say! Yes, even the expensive ones – stop thinking they deserve a turn so you can justify the money spent on them. It’s not your job to make your lingerie feel special – this is absolutely supposed to work the other way round. You go right ahead and chuck ‘em out if they’re mean to you.

And then (and this may be a general rule for living) pay more attention to the undies that bring you joy – their style and shape and fabric – and get more of those into your life. I mean, wait for the sales, obviously, unless you won Lotto this summer. A terrifically good underwear drawer is a long-term investment project.

And remain vigilant – any time a pair of gruts feels less than great (“gruts” is an awful word but it’s still better than “panties”) biff them. And as you toss them into the bin, say in your firmest voice so you really hear it, “It’s not me, it’s you”.


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10 Jan For You – A little taste of what menopause is like

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 24.1.22


I like these humid days in summer when everything feels soggy and your limbs stick together with sweat, when your internal engine seems overheated, your fingers are too fat for your jewellery and somebody made your pants too tight.

“Like” is perhaps not the correct word – I “admire the democracy” of days such as these because it gives everyone a little a taste of what menopause is like.

It is certainly the major way menopause has presented itself in my life over this past decade. A rush of damp heat that rises up my body – surprise! – as though I am blushing from the feet up. Waking in the night because I am on fire and the bed is a swamp, so I throw the covers off and hang a leg over the side and seconds later I am freezing. Feeling heavy and bloated, and always with the pants suddenly too tight.

Back when we used to travel to foreign parts, I would smile to myself as the plane door opened in somewhere like Rarotonga or Bangkok and a wall of hot, wet air would slap each passenger in the face, and they would either be delighted or overwhelmed by it, and then everyone would walk into the arrivals hall and be hit by a wall of freezing aircon and there’d be grumbling and I’d think quite loudly, “There you go, that’s menopause, except that menopause lasts for years. Maybe give your mum a call and tell her you’re sorry for not cutting her some slack when she was in her fifties.”

It is, of course, a different experience for everyone – which we are discovering now that we’re talking about it. My mother, thank goodness, shared her experience with me so I knew what was likely when my turn came – hot flushes and interrupted sleep were definitely our thing.

Having a relatively easy time of menopause (my reward, I like to think, for suffering through years of excruciating periods) gave me space to look for and find the upsides. I have been able to talk myself into thinking of hot flushes as “power surges” driving me on to do the next thing. My mother encouraged me to think of this bit of life as my prime – parenting over, harnessing this wild energy for work and creativity and intellectual curiosity.

I’ve gifted myself cotton and silk (more affordable once you stop buying school uniforms and tampons) so my skin can breathe, especially at night. And there’s the joy of liberation from the male gaze. Sure, being this invisible means it can take too long to get served in shops but otherwise what bliss to move about the world without total strangers providing commentary on what you’re wearing, how they rate you, or what they might want you to do for them next.

I hear that my mother and I got off lightly. There is a plethora of menopausal symptoms, many of which are debilitating. There seems to be an equal and opposite lack of research into the causes, effects and solutions.

But changes (see what I did there) are afoot. From where I sit now – almost out the other side – it looks like we are breaking the last taboo about what life is like for people with uteruses. I witnessed the moment in history when puberty and menstruation were brought out into the open, and I like being here for this chat about our next change of life.



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05 Jan On the Difference Between You and a Tui

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 17.1.22


In these wild times, we look for certainty where we can find it. Here’s one thing I am reasonably sure of – out there in our vast native bushlands, there are no wild animals proposing a toast to welcome in the New Year.

This isn’t because they know something we don’t (though they may know some things we don’t). It is because there are at least two things that separate the wild things from us humans.

First, there’s their lack of opposable thumbs and consequently an inability to hold a wine glass to make a toast. And secondly, while they’re good with general seasons, they don’t appear to keep a day-by-day calendar, lacking that (solely?) human need to construct a narrative to give their life shape and meaning. Tūī and wētā don’t keep a diary, and have no use for a New Year, nor a party to mark it.

We do, though. We humans need narrative, and we search everywhere for stories, for their beginnings and endings which help us muddle through the middles.

This is why we invented calendars with weeks and months and years, and whipped up weekends, an entirely artificial construct which lets us trick ourselves into thinking something is finished so we can take a breath and reset, and then again trick ourselves into believing something new has started. You run, you stop, you catch your breath and then, more or less refreshed, jog off again into the future.

We especially like to farewell one year and welcome the next, as though they are a living, breathing thing with their own personality. It was a good year, we say, or one we’re glad to see the back of. See you later. Next.

One of the tricky things about this pandemic is we know when it started but have no idea where it ends, that we are “in the midst” of it, but possibly nowhere near the middle even yet. “Nailed it!” we’ve been tempted to think a few times, until the virus reinvents itself and we feel closer to the beginning again, with the end so much further off.

So being certain that tūī and wētā don’t join us in counting down to midnight on New Year’s Eve is one of the few things l will state with any confidence. And I am doing you a favour by not making any predictions for 2022 – whenever I feel sure about something, the universe appears to find it amusing to whip that rug of certainty out from under my feet.

I’ve had a look back at my hopes and dreams for 2021 – it boiled down to wanting to make the diary in my NZ Covid Tracer app look like something I’d be proud to have Dr Ashley Bloomfield read out to the nation at a 1pm briefing.

I pictured local excursions, shows, galleries, restaurants! And certainly, there was some glorious tootling about in those first months, and it warms me to remember them.

Then in August, life became entirely tootle-free. Even Dr Bloomfield would be hard pressed to read with any verve my record of, “Supermarket, supermarket, supermarket…”

So I will have nothing to say about this last year as it leaves, or to the next as it arrives except, “Fate, I will not tempt you”. I will try to be more like a tūī or a wētā. Though I’m still grateful for opposable thumbs which I will wrap around a wine glass, and I’ll look the world firmly in the eye and say, “Let’s give that another crack”.



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