April 2022

20 Apr Taking Risks

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 25.4.22


A wild thought hits me as I walk into the airport – this feels like the riskiest thing I’ve done this year.

Not the flying part. While I couldn’t explain the physics that keep craft in the air to a curious child, I’m happy to trust that someone else knows how it works – and what needs to be done to keep it working – and there are people in the cockpit who are all over this like a rash.

No, the bit that felt risky was suddenly being in close proximity to so many people. I’ve barely left the house since Omicron arrived – occasional brisk romps around the supermarket, a couple of jobs in a room with a handful of people who have just tested negative, and masked indoor gatherings with people I know. Also, long walks on the beach and plenty of chats with friends, thanks for asking. It’s just being with strangers that has become novel.

I mentioned on social media recently that, with vaccine passes gone, I felt even less keen to spend time in bars and restaurants. While many people shared the sentiment, a handful were furious with me for failing to go out and bolster our hospitality sector. One went as far as saying that I represented “everything that is wrong with this country” – a big call given child poverty and global warming are at the top of that list, and all I planned to do was stay home and make a sustaining (and sustainable) sandwich.

I’m applying an abundance of caution to my life choices during this pandemic because I’m not as young as I used to be and, while parts of me are excellent, other bits don’t work quite as well as they did. I know a bunch of people in the same boat – my close circle includes friends, young and old, with all sorts of challenges – dodgy tickers, dicky lungs, screwy immune systems, diabetes, MS, and cancer.

What struck me about the angry people was their assumption of bulletproof-ness – that because they are able-bodied, fit and well, then everyone else is, too. There is a failure to imagine other ways of being.

I can see how this happens. When we talk about pandemic public health measures, the people interviewed tend to be disappointed restaurateurs rather than the terrified parents of kids with brain tumours. We’re encouraged to think business owners are the people who represent us, and that people with disabilities are rare.

Yet being “abled” is a temporary status and you never know when that will change.

We make a mistake when we assume everyone is having the same kind of day as we are, or that they enjoy the same privilege of good health as we do. Many of us assess the level of risk we’re prepared to take right now on a daily basis.

Catching this plane felt like a fair trade-off for being able to work and to hug some people I haven’t seen for a long time. Just like, pre-pandemic, I assessed other risks – leaping off mountains and bridges, trekking in Papua New Guinea, visiting war zones, telling jokes for a living, walking alone at night, and getting married three times…

The flight, by the way, was delightfully uneventful – nothing like that time an engine blew on that plane out of Brisbane and we had to make an emergency landing. This trip should work out fine.


Read More

20 Apr Tiny Party Food

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 18.4.22 – Easter Monday


Generally I am late to the party on whatever the cool kids are into so, for once, I’d like to get ahead of the curve and launch a new fad myself. Allow me to introduce you all to what I am calling the “Tiny Party Food” movement.

This is not to be confused with the “Tiny Food” movement from a few years ago which had people serving doll-sized food on dollhouse furniture. That was more about art than eating. This current food mood of mine is, I feel, a sustainable approach to daily sustenance.

Over here at my place I have discovered that, if left to my own devices, my preference is to live on hors d’oeuvres. Not as a snack before dinner. As dinner. Also lunch. Crackers, bread rounds and pastries with fun toppings other people serve to “tide you over” till the main event have become, for me, the main event.

I say “become” but the truth is I’ve always been inclined to turn up to a dinner and pre-emptively hoover up the corn chips and guacamole in such a heroic fashion that by the time everyone sits down to the proper meal, I am quite full, thank you. A decision I usually find myself at peace with because nothing much beats a good guacamole. She’s a tough dish to follow, so I don’t.

At the supermarket now I’m not even visiting the pasta aisle or glancing at the chops. I’m buying soft blue cheese, pears for slicing and honey for smearing on lightly toasted bread. Also avocado (which I’m allowed because I’m not saving up for a house) and chopped tomato with basil leaves for flavour and also because it makes it look like a party.

Party food is, I see now, my comfort food. Sure, it can also be macaroni cheese or laksa or chicken nibbles – a big bowl of easy-to-cook steaming goodness that is the dining equivalent of snuggling under a duvet.

But tiny party food provides a different kind of comfort, one infused with childhood nostalgia.

Back in the 1970s my mother was the queen of the cocktail canapé. Vol au vents, smoked oysters, stuffed mushrooms… Ridiculously fiddly food that took a whole Friday to prepare before a Saturday party, and was then plated up on trays and handed round to guests by me.

Don’t imagine a scene that is too elaborate – this was a small town filled with salt-of-the-earth good folk, not a scene from Downton Abbey – but everyone would be in their glad rags and smelling good, and my parents were always at their charming best when they were hosting a bit of a do.

There was a thing my mother made with a metal mould that hooked onto a handle. Shaped like a butterfly, she would dip the shape in batter and cook it in a pot of hot oil, then the next day she’d fill it with creamy mushrooms.

This, I now realise, is when I started scoffing snacks in sufficient quantities to constitute a meal. Leftovers from my rounds with the tray and therefore broken-hearted if there weren’t any. I remember being taken aside and warned not to look so sad-eyed when one of the grown-ups took the last of the mushroom butterflies off the dish I was holding. My Hungry Orphan vibe was not contributing to the evening’s conviviality.

And so here I am now with a tin of smoked oysters which I am sticking to crackers with a dab of cream cheese. I highly recommend it. Tiny party on.


Read More

10 Apr Money Talk – The Last Taboo (and how much might a thing like that go for?)

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 11.4.22


When women get together, we talk about pretty intimate stuff. We’re not necessarily banging on about sex, periods and menopause all the time but if someone wants to chat hot flushes or borrow a tampon, we’re open to it.

And though we talk about men a lot less than they think we do, we might squeeze them onto the agenda somewhere after our professional wins and losses, what we’re reading, and our hopes and dreams for the future.

Tell you what we rarely talk about, though – money. I know a lot about my friends – their allergies, favourite holiday destinations, whether they like their martinis made of vodka or gin – but I have no idea how much money they earn or what is in their KiwiSaver.

Which seems, on the face of it, quite right and proper. I was raised to think talking about money was rude. “Vulgar” is the word I can hear being said in my mother’s best voice. Asking – or being told – how much money someone had was the depths of poor taste.

Which didn’t mean we didn’t know who was rich and who was poor in our town – mostly you could tell by the house or the car or the job – it just wasn’t a topic of conversation. And you picked up pretty quickly that you weren’t supposed to ask how much something cost, though a grown-up might make an occasional, desperately curious inquiry which would start, “If you don’t mind me asking… what does a thing like that go for?”

The only conversations we had about currency were to do with pocket money and also those Post Office savings books with the squirrel on the cover at primary school. For younger readers (anyone under 55 – hello!) this was in The Olden Days when my pocket money, for example, was 20 cents a week. Five cents of this was for the collection plate at church, five cents for the savings squirrel, and 10 cents was left to spend however I liked. Generally, I liked aniseed wheels, glow hearts and milk toffees.

Now, back when aniseed wheels were 3 cents a pop, there were a lot of things we didn’t talk about. Men didn’t talk about their feelings, women didn’t talk about exploring their sexual needs, and kids didn’t talk about gender as something that might be fluid. We’ve become open about many things now, but we’re still not chatting about money.

Perhaps we’re worried that we will look like we’re showing off, or we’re embarrassed to reveal we have so little. Tricky in a society where we equate wealth with “good” people making “good” choices, and poverty with – if not “bad” people – “bad” choices. Not wanting to be judged by our income or bank balance, we keep the numbers to ourselves.

But not talking about money has unintended consequences which, ironically, keep us from having more of it. It means we can be squeamish about negotiating a starting salary or asking for a pay rise and, when it comes to putting a value on our work, we’re flying blind.

So maybe after a couple of martinis (vodka, dirty) we might finally open up about KiwiSaver and share our mortgage repayment tips. Feel free to bring it up at book club by quoting Katherine Mansfield who declared, “I must say I hate money, but it’s the lack of it I hate most.”


Read More

02 Apr Reflections on FY22 – and doing the maths on Covid

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 4.4.22


Of all the events we’ve created to mark the end of one thing and the beginning of another – Hogmany, Lunar New Year, Matariki, Diwali – it’s fair to say Tax Time is the one with the least sparkle.

And yet as we reach the end of this financial year – bye bye FY22! – I’m finding joy in trawling through bank statements and boxes of receipts, and piecing together a picture of the kind of year I’ve had.

Financial entrails like these consist mostly of figures – dates, income, expenditure, two kinds of tax – arranged in columns that each produce just one correct number. It’s why I love maths – all other answers in life are preceded by “It depends.”

And yet despite the numbers being irrefutable, I’ve been looking at the picture they draw of FY22 and I can tell you two quite different stories.

In one story: the big number on the spreadsheet shows my income has halved. Also, and related, almost no travel receipts. Pre-Covid, I moved around every week for work and loved it, and did that for pleasure, too.

Few receipts for fun family times – not just the 107 days of lockdown, but even more weeks and months of not seeing my kid and her kids. We were all deprived of being in the same room as each other, and I was kept away from the people I love the most. There have been some dark times at our place, for sure.

But I can look at the same data and see something else. In the space vacated by work and travel I did some things I’d been meaning to do but “could never find the time”. Self-development and study. I created a whole new community of friends who meet in the real world (lunch receipts!) or online, and strengthened the bond with old friends (Zoom pro subscription!) in the same way.

I learned to grab golden moments in between waves of this virus. That window this summer between Delta and Omicron was put to good use and we got halfway through a comedy tour before it got too risky.

Everyone’s story will look different. I started this pandemic with a savings account so the road has been easier than it will have been for others. And let’s not pretend this is all a jolly lark because it isn’t, and none of us are living the kind of life we’d like right now. For a lot of us, “not living the life we want” is a new experience. For others, not so much. But we are, mostly, living. We have one of the lowest death rates in the OECD.

We were always going to end up divided during this pandemic – if not by vaccines, then by health status. From the start, you could see people doing the maths – will I survive this virus or not? It depends.

If you are young, fit, some level of bulletproof, the restrictions and sacrifices seemed only just worth it, and patience waned. You can say “let it rip” if you think it won’t rip through you.

But if you do the maths and calculate you or someone you love might fare badly? Then the restrictions have seemed a small price, the least-worst option. Collective responsibility over personal freedom.

Same data, different story depending on where you think you might fit on the spreadsheet. We’re lucky so many of us are still alive to argue about it.


Read More