June 2022

20 Jun Covid – The Sequel

Written on 7 June and first published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly… 

This morning I bounced out of bed which is pretty terrific – there hasn’t been a lot of bouncing since Covid came to call.

This is Day 10. I have pants on and I’ve brushed my hair and teeth. I am upright and suspect what is going on in my head right now is “a thought process”. Haven’t had one of those for a while.

It’s an improvement on Day 8, officially the last day of my isolation. There was a cautious trip to the supermarket, worrying about breathing on people in case a week hadn’t been long enough, then dinner and straight to bed.

Covid is different for everyone – a friend hasn’t been able to shake her cough for weeks, yet I haven’t coughed once. Instead, I wake each morning with a headache which eases off during the day. This “headache” it is different from the one that feels like it’s in your brain – this feels like the bones in my skull are sore.

But let me tell you about Day 3 because, according to my doctor, that’s universally the worst day. I phone her because I am very full of Covid and there is a drug called Paxlovid I’d like to take but, she says, even with my risk factors I am not eligible and this makes me cry. Day 3 blues, apparently, like when you have a baby.  It also makes me so cross I almost explode the pulse oximeter on my finger.

I am dizzy and fuzzy of head, and decide these are two of the Covid Dwarves and ponder the rest. Dizzy and Fuzzy, also Thirsty and Sleepy and I can’t think of the others and I don’t know what seven is.

My eyeballs are hot and moving them hurts so reading feels hard. I watch bits of movies – not on the TV in the living room because the couch is so far away – but on my iPad in bed. At one point in the afternoon I close my eyes just for a minute and wake up when it is dark.

Day 4 and my iPad and I binge-watch and nap, though I have to turn off notifications and silence my phone because I cannot tune out noise or bear distractions and I am so grateful I do not have children right now. After a day of napping, I sleep for 12 hours.

There are times when I think I am cured and make plans to do things like change the sheets or do some work or go for a walk and THAT’S HOW IT GETS YOU and I am dizzy when I stand up so I don’t.

It takes me three hours to send two invoices and reply to urgent emails. The reason it takes so long is probably to do with the extraordinary number of typos I insert into each line.

Day 7 I manage a walk, masked up, staying as far away from other humans as I can while holding my plague-ridden breath. I am grateful I stocked up in preparation for this (not like a prepper, I don’t have guns) but I am even more grateful for friends who do a supermarket drop off, plus another friend who sends fruit and honey from her garden (not a grammatical error – she keeps a hive) along with a fist of ginger and some cake. And while I do not wish this virus on anyone, I promise I will return the favour.



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14 Jun A Couple of Weeks Ago When I Was Full of Covid

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 20.6.22 


On a recent Sunday, I got a kind text from a friend I’d seen at a big event three days earlier saying she’d tested positive for Covid. Her text went nicely with my sore throat but that morning’s test came back negative.

I managed, however, to collect more symptoms during the day including a very upset tummy. Monday’s test was positive.

It was weird to finally see the extra line I’d prayed not to see so many times. I test regularly – it’s required by many of the people I work for, plus I like to check that my hay fever symptoms really are hay fever before I stand up in front of hundreds of people and talk. But it was almost a relief to see those two lines this time, confirming what I’d been sure of anyway while spending the night in an achy sweat.

I messaged the people I’d had contact with, initially feeling guilty I might have passed it on, but then recalled I felt zero animosity to the person who thought she might have given it to me. We’re all doing our best – most of us, anyway. Wear a mask, wash your hands.

I spent the rest of the morning filling out my Covid record and the forms for bluetooth tracing, and cancelling the week’s work – two shows, several meetings, and a visit from my daughter and grandkids. I notice we’ve created a Covid Positive etiquette, a bit like saying “Bless you!” when you sneeze: “I hope it’s mild!” I’ve been wishing people this for months, and it sounds sweet when you hear it from the other side.

Then I got out the fancy soap I’d been saving – Florentine Rose & Peony – had a shower, washed my hair and opened the rose scented body oil I’d been given as a gift. I didn’t know what seven days isolation would be like but I’d start it smelling good.

This is Day 2 and I cannot do Wordle. Not only can I not think of the word, I can’t find the joy in thinking of words. I put it away unfinished and get it out much later, and even with A_O__ and a T floating around, it takes a long time to find ATOLL.

All I can do is sleep and eat ice blocks. Not simultaneously. That would make a mess of the sheets. I’m pleased I haven’t lost my sense of smell or taste yet. Or appetite. If there is an illness that would make me waste away like a romantic heroine, this isn’t it.

Sometimes it feels like my head is trapped in a vice. Always it is an overwhelming malaise that stops me functioning – reading, thinking clearly, standing upright… I mean, if you didn’t usually do very much or think a great deal, I can see you could find this mild.

What comforts is the certainty of the mandated isolation period. Knowing I mustn’t leave the house till Sunday means I don’t have to guess if I will be well enough to work this Thursday night, or worry that I am unnecessarily letting someone down by being insufficiently robust. There is no pressure to harden up, push through, or soldier on. My phone notifies me of the number of deaths from this virus each day. No one can say, “Covid? Don’t you reckon you could pull yourself together and come in for that meeting?” I have permission to take gentle care of myself. We should always do this.





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06 Jun Cheers, Ears!

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 13.6.22


There was a time when I might have been embarrassed about the size of my ears, but those days are over. Two years into this pandemic and it’s my ears doing much of the heavy lifting in keeping me safe.

“Might have been embarrassed” is a low-key way of saying I kept my ears hidden with hair and hats for decades after one too many childhood comparisons to Dumbo the Flying Elephant. Terrific book, but the titular character is not exactly aspirational when you’re a 6-year-old girl.

Now, however, I am grateful that the shell-likes each side of my head (giant clams, really) provide sufficient acreage and anchorage for current requirements.

Not just glasses and earrings as per previous eras (anagram, geddit?) but now also a hearing aid and mask. Plus on some work days, we’ll throw in a microphone headset and an earpiece on the spare side. On these days, my head can feel like an orange stuck with cheese-and-pineapple loaded toothpicks at a party in the 1970s.

I’ve mostly mastered wearing glasses and mask without fogging – pinch that mask nose clip nice and tight. In the kitchen, I still find it entertaining when I open the oven door and my specs steam up like I’m a mad scientist in a lab.

I’ve barely contemplated contact lenses or lasers – the truth is, I like wearing glasses. With them on, I can see stuff; take them off and the world is a delightfully soft focus place where objects blend gently into each other and people appear kinder and less judgemental.

Those of us who are bespectacled like to think they make us look clever. We also like to think that, when we take them off, we look younger and sexier, and we might toss our hair in an ironic yet hopeful way. Obviously we don’t know if we really do look sexy because at this point we can’t see.

I have trouble seeing things far away (street signs, movie screens) and also close up (books, thread going into the eye of a needle) but there’s an area in the middle that is pretty much 20/20. If I don’t have my glasses on and you walk towards me, I’ll be guessing, “Is it Dave? It’s Melanie! Or Brian?” until I hear your voice.

Sometimes to live dangerously I leave my glasses off. I have several lipsticks in the same brand and can’t read the labels glassless, so it’s a lucky-dip whether I’ll be wearing fuchsia or blood-red. Small things entertain me. When I can see them.

I have, however, learnt not to play lucky-dip with price tags – $180 looks exactly like $30 to my naked eye and that’s not a discovery you want to make at the counter. I’m already playing Russian-roulette with the eftpos machine at the best of times. My relief when it comes up “Accepted” is less to do with having enough money in my account and more to do with having stabbed the right keys using little more than muscle memory.

So mostly I wear the glasses. Different ones for different moods. Heavy black frames for what I like to think of as “science laboratory chic”; rose gold rims which I intend as “ironic hippy” though I see now they mostly make me look like my mother.

My ears, however, make me look like my father. Industrial size, super strong, doing more than their fair share to help me see, breathe, hear and be heard. My 6-year-old-self apologises. Three cheers for ears.



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06 Jun In the Dog Bed

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 6.6.22


You know what would go really well with this magazine you’re reading? A super comfy place to curl up, like maybe your very own dog bed. Hear me out.

I’ve been reading about a couple of Canadian university students who have designed what might be the world’s first dog bed for humans. The “Plufl”, for that is what it’s called, is engineered to “maximise comfort and foster a sense of security, delivering relief for those who have ADHD, stress, and anxiety-related issues.”

Think the full bed equivalent of a weighted blanket, with a lot of memory foam and an oval shape designed for sleeping in a foetal position – “the optimal napping experience”.

It sounds dreamy, but let’s stay awake long enough to ponder the evolution of this concept. At some point in recent history, we looked at our dogs and thought, We love you so much we’ve decided you deserve what humans have – your own special comfy bed for napping in as though you were a person.

Next minute, we’re looking at our dogs and thinking, By golly, I could do with what dogs have, my own special comfy bed for napping in – as though I was a dog who had a bed just like a person.

So to recap: the Human Bed was redesigned for dogs, and then that Dog Bed was redesigned for humans. Are we all seeing what is going on here? It turns round in a circle a bit like a dog getting ready for a nap.

Makes you wonder what else our pets have that we might want. I could fancy one of those little tartan coats we put on terriers in winter. And there are days I wouldn’t mind a rich lady carrying me around in her handbag.

But – here’s the thing – it is not actually our pets’ accoutrements that we covet – it’s their lifestyle. We want the nap, not the bed.

All this has got me thinking about our devotion to (obsession with?) our fur babies. Though let me say I don’t like that phrase – “fur baby” immediately makes me picture a human child with excessive body hair, and it takes a moment to replace that mental image with a kitten in a bonnet. But I digress.

Some would have it we devote ourselves to fur babies instead of having children, or after our children leave, or as a preferred alternative to the kids we ended up with.

We dote on our cats and dogs, let them get away with stuff no one else could (chewing shoes, pooing in a box in the laundry), give them the best spot closest to the fire and pat them for no special reason. I look at my cat and think, That’s a nice life. I would like that life. I wish I was a cat.

See what I’m getting at? They are not our children, they are us. We are giving them the life we would like to have. Sure, we’d draw the line at having to lick ourselves clean, and I’m less keen on rat, but we are treating them the way we would love to be treated. Kept warm and safe, well-fed, pat-patted, much loved.

Our “fur baby” is really our “fur me” – we just find it easier to lavish that kind of care on someone outside of ourselves. But we all deserve our own version of a Plufl.

Though when you’re in it, you’d hope no-one comes and rubs your tummy. That would be weird.



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06 Jun What’s A Lady Got To Do…

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 30.5.22


Sometimes you’ve got to wonder what a lady has to do to get some respect around here. I’m not talking about me – I make some of my living by telling jokes in pubs so I’m not expecting a room to fall into reverential silence when I turn up. That would be weird.

Mostly when I walk into a room I get, “You’re a lot shorter than you look on TV” which you could also say to the Queen but I bet they don’t. I’m also often asked if I’m going to sing because vast numbers of people can’t tell the difference between me and the divine Jackie Clarke which I find flattering because a) I can’t sing and she really can and b) she is much taller.

But I’ve been thinking about some of the other women I respect and admire – educated, experienced, successful – who nevertheless have been publicly dismissed and diminished as lightweights despite quite a lot of evidence to the contrary.

It’s usually by a man who would have little-to-no idea what it took to get her to an elevated position where he might notice her and therefore take his pot-shot. I’m not sure this happens to men – I can’t think of examples of local businessmen being dismissed as “a little bit of Eurasian fluff” or accused of using their “sensuality” to sell company shares the way Nadia Lim was recently.

It must feel so weird to be diminished this way when the real you – the one that lives in the actual world – has post-graduate qualifications in your field of expertise, has built a business and a successful career, won awards, written books, become a household name and hosted a primetime television series throughout Asia to an audience of 130 million people.

You fondly hope an attempt to belittle someone so obviously successful just makes them snort-laugh, but we know the damage this can do to every potential Nadia Lim who hears, yet again, that there are those who think she is not enough. If you’re a kid who sees a successful woman being disrespected, it doesn’t exactly encourage you to follow in her footsteps.

I was struck by a radio interview last year with Dr Ayesha Verrall who I think we can respect regardless of any party politics. Dr Verrall has been in Parliament for the last 18 months, having arrived there from the kind of career that women of my mother’s generation dreamt of, and fought for. Medical school followed by years of specialist training and study in infectious diseases all over the world, and hands-on experience in public health and in leadership.

The high profile host replayed parts of this interview interspersed, as is his shtick, with clown car sound effects in the pauses she’d taken as she composed her answers.

It struck me how bizarre that might feel to someone at this stage of her career. You might be thinking, “Seriously? All those years led to today?”

My mother and her cohort were offered only teaching, nursing or secretarial school in the 1950s, and were dismissed for wanting more. So they wanted it for us – they encouraged their daughters to dream big, be ambitious, to create a woman-shaped space in rooms that didn’t have women-shaped spaces before we got there.

They wanted us to be taken seriously for the work we had done. I don’t think they were expecting clown car toots or being dismissed as fluff, and we owe it to them to not accept it.



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