December 2022

26 Dec On the Joy of Making New Friends

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – cover date 26 December


At family gatherings, my adorable Great-Uncle Frank – a wise and witty raconteur in a family not short of them – was fond of saying at the end of a story, “Oh, well… You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family”.

This was a potentially disastrous thing to say in a room full of relatives but we all knew what Frank meant. The story would have been about some daft cousin or irritating in-law who was – happily – not currently in the room. Instead, we were the ones celebrating together largely because we all liked each other, not just because we shared a fair bit of DNA.

We are terrifically lucky if we enjoy the company of our wider family. It is certainly not a given – all around the motu there are people who gird their loins and hope for the best each Christmas, while also putting an escape plan in place. “Would love to stay longer but we promised a fictional person we’d drop by with a non-existent gift and my partner has just given me the secret signal that it’s time – must dash!”

And while there is definitely something magical about being in the company of older relatives who have known you your whole life, these days I also relish spending time with relatively new friends.

I don’t know where I picked up the idea that, as you get older, is gets harder to make friends but this is definitely a load of nonsense. I suspect I might have heard it from those ghastly people who say your school and/or university years will be The Best Years of Your Life and it is all downhill from there. This was a terrifying prospect when I was all angst-riddled in my teens and twenties – this is the highlight?! – and I am happy to say that later life was much improved.

In fact, what I think really happens is that, as you get to know yourself better, you get better at making friends.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week – after a wild run of work and travel I have finally found time for myself and so have been meeting people for lunch for several days in a row. It feels wildly indulgent and also entirely necessary – to take an hour or two to catch up on news and celebrate the things that have been good.

People who know about the psychology of relationships – the platonic kind as well as the romantic ones – say there are key things to bear in mind. That it helps if you actively go looking for friendships (rather than assuming you will meet people by accident); that you should assume people will like you (this is an attractive vibe); and that it helps if you make yourself vulnerable – it draws us to each other and helps us connect.

This last one is harder for men, apparently, and easier for women who share universal experiences.

I am, it is fair to say, a chronic over-sharer. You tell me about your latest work project or that you’ve bought a new lounge suite, and I’ll blurt out some epiphany I just had with my therapist.

Even so, I just had lunch with four women and we swapped stories about parenting and periods and “what our mothers told us about sex when we were kids” and honestly, none of us knew each other even two years ago, and I don’t know what Uncle Frank would say about it, but we are properly bonded now.






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13 Dec Lowering The Voting Age to 16

First published by RNZ 3.12.22 “It all works better when everyone feels involved”


Democracy is a lot like helping out around the house – as soon as the kids show the slightest bit of interest, they should be heartily encouraged.

Doesn’t matter if they don’t do it the way you would. It takes a while to master hospital corners and stack the dishwasher “properly” (as in “to your liking”) but youthful enthusiasm should be tapped into and nurtured because society – like a household – works best when everyone feels involved.

I voted in my first general election in 1981. I’d been keen but too young in 1978, my last year at high school – though this hadn’t stopped me researching who I’d vote for if I could. The National MP was a family friend (too conservative for my liking), the Labour candidate was a teacher at school (not a favourite) so I’d signed up at the local library to hear more about the chap standing for a new party called Social Credit.

He duly popped round to our house, bless him – a surprise for my parents who were active National Party members, and no doubt disappointing for him once he found out I had no vote to give him.

Not every kid will want their own “meet the candidates” private viewing, but it feels normal – should feel normal – to be curious about how the world works in terms of who is in charge, how they get there, and where you fit in that equation. This is what adolescence is about – making sense of social structures and placing yourself in part of something bigger.

We are going to be talking about the voting age for at least the next six months – a law is being drafted to lower the age to 16 after the Supreme Court declared the voting age of 18 inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act. Parliament must either agree to lower the age, or argue 16 and 17 year olds shouldn’t vote.

What grounds might you have for that? Perhaps you think 16 and 17 year olds are too immature to vote. In which case we might want to reconsider other things they do – like leave school, drive a car and pay tax. Also, if maturity is a pre-requisite for voting, we’d need a test other than date-of-birth – I’ve met some pretty flaky 39 year olds.

Perhaps you think these 200,000 new voters will all be raving lefties who will skew the results – an argument which would surely reveal a lack of confidence in conservatives’ youthful appeal. And maybe a ripple of progressive idealism would balance the curmudgeonly tide at the other end.

Or perhaps you think it is pointless because they’ll vote the way their parents tell them to. This was an argument 130 years ago against women’s suffrage (that effectively they’d double their husband’s vote) so it’s a rather dusty one. The assumption of parental influence would also suggest you’ve never had, or been, a teenager.

Instead, think about what we might capture by inviting 16 and 17 year olds into the democratic process while they are curious, mostly still at home and going to school so in a relatively stable environment, surrounded by peers also learning. Engaged and actively involved.

This is not like lowering the drinking age – no one is going to get drunk on voting. Though there’s evidence it is habit forming, that you are more likely to vote if you voted last time round.

Similarly, your teenagers are more likely to use the washing machine after you’ve guided them through it that first time. That dishwasher, though, is another story.







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09 Dec Gifting

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – cover date 12.12.22


What kind of nana buys her grandchild a kazoo? You’re looking at it. By all means, bear this in mind as I offer my hot tips on how to do Christmas gifts.

To be fair, I was in something of a dissociative state when the kazoo ended up on the shop counter. I had taken both grandchildren – one 4 years old, the other a day off 9 – to their local mall to choose a book each as a present.

My big girl turns into Judge Judy when she’s shopping – fast, decisive, unswayable. She picks a thing, bangs her gavel and it’s done. But my small boy is like a puppy in a forest full of squirrels, distracted every 30 seconds by the next thing over there.

Choices made at last, I’d discovered my wallet was missing so we’d abandoned everything and sprinted back to the car to find it (phew) hiding under the passenger seat. Returning to the store, Nuku changed his mind again and somehow a kazoo ended up beside the books.

It turned out okay – kazoos don’t seem nearly as kazoo-ish as I remember. Also, I can turn my hearing aid down.

But this gift-buying reminded me that next on my list will be Christmas shopping. (To all of you who have already done yours, well done, so happy for you, I bet you’ve made lots of other terrific life choices which I’d love to hear about it but not right now because I’m a bit pressed for time.)

My approach with the kids – and with their mother before them – is the old-school one-two-three of Something To Eat, Something To Wear, and Something To Play With. And “play with” can also mean “read” or “experience” – so a bike in a special year, but often a book, or a family trip to the zoo.

I am inspired by a birthday gift from a fabulous friend – a book subscription which started in August and will go on into the New Year. Each month there is a package on my doorstep (it’s already great because it’s six presents!) of a book chosen particularly for me by the people who work in a Wellington bookstore. Their picks are based on my answers to their questionnaire: what kind of books I love, what have I enjoyed recently, what are my all-time favourites, what would I not have a bar of…

A personal note comes in each package. “A local novel full of loveable weirdos… Enjoy!” from Jane, and “Some super wholesome essays – don’t worry, they won’t rot your teeth with sugary sentiment.” from Becks.

There has been only one misstep – a book which I’d already read and adored. Proof, of course, that they’ve nailed what I like, and easily exchanged for another I’d had my eye on.

It is a remarkable feeling, to open each parcel and see what these book-loving bookstore people have chosen for me. It is a delight to think that someone has held you in their head as they’ve scanned their shelves for just the thing you might fancy.

It reminds you that this is the magical part of gifts – knowing someone has been thinking about you even when you weren’t around, and wanting to make you happy, and finding the present that will do this.

Of course, the other thing about books arriving in the mail is that they don’t accidentally come with a kazoo. How you feel about that is over to you.









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05 Dec Get Into Your Comfort Zone

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 5.12.22


My Christmas gift to myself between now and the 25th of December is to get right inside my Comfort Zone and stay there.

Yes, you read that right. I know any number of self-help gurus and motivational speakers will urge you to “do something every day that scares you”, to challenge yourself, break out of your routine, to feel the fear and do it anyway…

Go for your life if you fancy it, but I’d be keen on a bit of mundanity. Honestly, I reckon we all deserve a few days under the duvet at this point – if not literally (I’d quite like it literally) then on a spiritual level.

These last few years have been a wild ride of learning new things, embracing the new normal, managing uncertainty and assessing health risks daily. Now I find myself craving the familiar and comfortable and predictable.

It hit me over the weekend as I drove – using GPS and blind faith – around a city I don’t know well, looking for things whose location was a mystery. I wanted to find a bookshop, a florist and some doughnuts to make my granddaughter’s birthday sparkle which meant navigating unknown roads in torrential rain.

Side note: Is there a city anywhere in this fine country not currently up to its chin in roadworks? I mean, it is terrific that our infrastructure is getting a good seeing to, but navigating city streets sometimes feels like trying to dance with someone who is undergoing surgery. (Macabre analogy but it came to me while I was sitting at a Stop/Go sign and I’m using it so I can feel that time wasn’t wasted.)

What hit me was how exhausted I felt about being on high alert in unfamiliar territory. That I wanted to be somewhere I knew, and to switch into auto-pilot. I wanted a day – maybe a few in succession – that didn’t involve launching myself into a new activity, meeting new people, or trying a thing I’d never done before.

This is unusual for me. I like novelty – unknown places, unfamiliar food, new frocks. I relish driving on roads I’ve never travelled before and go out of my way (literally) to find them. I was thrilled to take the coast road home from Russell recently, aware as I wound up each hill and dropped down to the coastline again and again that this was the first time I had seen any of this land or that view of the sea.

But we have all, I think, been moving at pace this year while also on high alert. There has been a sense of urgency about being with each other, getting on planes, catching up on things we couldn’t do for what seemed like a very long time.

Though “long time” is relative. I reflect often on my grandparents and great-grandparents whose lives were much more disrupted and for much longer by a couple of World Wars, and admire their resilience and social cohesion, and wonder if we’d have managed to keep the blackout curtains closed.

Meanwhile, there will be no Christmas gifts for sky-diving or taking up the banjo, thank you. I’m not even going to try a new recipe. We will have the usual Christmas Trifle because this is, after all, what “traditions” are for – to comfort us with the familiar.

So join me as I pop on my slippers and step right back into my Comfort Zone – a place which will feel like a bit of a novelty.




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