March 2023

27 Mar Shiny Things On A Dull Day

First published inthe NZ Woman’s Weekly – cover date 27.3.23


When my brother and I were sorting through our late-mother’s things a few years ago, we found boxes of written treasures – letters and cards she’d kept over the years because they meant something to her, and showed how much she was loved.

Sometimes – oh my heart – she’d left little notes on the back of things for us to find that explained their importance. Like the birthday card my brother had sent, not to her, but to our grandmother nearly 30 years before. Our mother’s post-it on the back said Grandma had kept this card on her bedside table all through the last weeks of her life. It was one of the last things she’d looked at.

We treasured these, but so had our mother – the letters and cards hadn’t just arrived in the post and been tossed in a box till we found them. They’d been taken out now and then, re-read, pages smoothed then refolded and tucked lovingly back into envelopes like children into bed.

It occurred to me then that I’d have fewer letters to hold onto, and my daughter and grandchildren would have even less. We email now, send texts and photos, and these are things you can’t tie with a ribbon and squirrel away.

But for years I’ve been keeping a file of emails on my laptop labelled “Nice Letters” which I dip into now and again on a dull day in the same way my mother might have sifted through hers. Some are from friends and family, others are from strangers who have read or seen a thing I’ve done and liked it. Many come with their own stories that echo mine. Some are just a simple bit of kindness.

It always surprises me that, when I read them, it feels like the first time. It seems it is harder to remember the lovely words people say, absorb them and hold them in your mind than, you know, the other kind.

We all do this – remember the hurts and criticisms easily, the praise less so. It’s called “negativity bias”, this bigger impact unpleasant experiences have on our psyche as opposed to positive things.

Studies show that insults, for example, fire up our brain much more than compliments do. Likely it’s because we are busy assessing how much of a threat this is, and whether we should be ready for flight or fight.

Like all mouthy, lippy women I get my fair (is it fair?) share of insults. Enough for me to have created an Insult Bingo Card for social media interactions, quietly (just using my inside voice) awarding points to detractors depending on how many squares they can cover.

You get points for: Never heard of you. Heard of you but never liked you. No longer funny. Never been funny ever. Old and/or ugly and/or fat. Smarty-pants and/or dummy. Raving communist and/or government shill.

It is worth noting that I can be accused of pairs of mutually exclusive things by just one person. There are several blokes and one or two sheilas who have never heard of me but also have disliked me for years.

If it all gets a bit much, I might have a fossick through the Nice Letters. Though the very best thing – the real antidote – is not to read a Nice Letter, but to write one to someone else. And you hope they are – we are all – keeping a file of shiny things to read on a dull day.



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20 Mar Transistor Radio

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – cover date 20.3.23


On a windowsill at my place there is a solar powered radio which also doubles as a torch. I bought it in 2010 from one of those mail order catalogues that features couch covers with handy pockets, and anti-slip shower mats that promise to massage your feet.

Not everything in the brochure has a dual function but you have to turn quite a few pages to find something that doesn’t. I have my eye on a vintage wall clock that doubles as a secret storage space. Except now I’ve told you.

No need to hunt out the receipt to be sure of my torch-radio’s date of purchase – I know I placed the order immediately after that first devastating Christchurch earthquake in September 2010, the one that woke the city in the dark.

From where we were up the other end of the country, we heard stories of people whose only way of staying connected in a city without electricity, telephones or internet was to listen to the radio. RNZ National’s overnight announcer, Vicki McKay, was credited by many listeners for keeping a shaken – and still shaking – city calm and informed.

If bad things were to happen where I lived, I wanted to know I’d be able to tune in to Vicki, too.

Hence this clunky banana-coloured transistor sitting in my window. A hybrid, if you will, because in addition to the solar panel, you can whack in AA batteries, or plug it in, or if it’s dark and there’s a power cut and the batteries eventually die, you can wind a lever to give it a bit of juice for as long as your arm lasts.

Preparing for these recent weather events, I’ve realised it’s now the only transistor left in my house. There used to be some kind of more-or-less portable radio in pretty much every room, mostly plugged in but also able to take batteries should the need arise.

One also played CDs and a particularly ancient one could play a cassette if we still had some. (We have some.) One by one, they’ve been replaced by Bluetooth speakers connected to my phone – better sound quality, less space, easy access to whatever I want to hear next.

Unless, of course, I want to hear the news during a long power cut. Or to hear Joni Mitchell, who took her full body of work off Spotify and thank heavens I still had my lifetime’s collection of her albums and something to play them on. My resistance to letting go of things can look almost prescient.

There’s been a surge in transistor radio purchases over recent weeks – along with a quick lesson for some demographics about what a transistor is.

I was a kid when my father took me to buy my first one. Dad chose the second cheapest despite the salesman saying the one just a couple of dollars more was significantly better quality. Our family has approached appliances the way people approach wine – not the cheapest on the list, but we’re not paying crazy prices either, are you mad?

And sure it was tinny and crackly, but it was still brilliant for listening under the bedclothes to a whole world of music on the new radio station up the road in Palmy, and this was how I first heard Steely Dan and possibly Joni Mitchell before she came home on a record.

It was true then – and true again in an emergency – that it doesn’t really matter how tinny it sounds when all you want is to feel connected.


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18 Mar My Hairdresser Hates Me

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 13.3.23


For a while – and this is no longer true – but for about a year, I had a hairdresser who hated me.

Hate is a strong word. I mean he looked bored when I arrived at the salon, could barely summon the energy to cover me with a cape. Rolled his eyes when I told him what I’d like done. Muttered instructions to the colourist in the tone of someone sharing an insult. Meandered back later with scissors to disagree with me about the length and shape of my fringe. And right at the end – my favourite bit – he’d do a sort of sarcastic flourish in the mirror as we both looked at the final effect, as if to say, “Ghastly. Still, look what I had to work with,” and he’d slouch off to his next client.

I loved it. I’m not entirely sure why. But I kept going back, like I say, for a year or so. It felt very French (he wasn’t French) to be dismissed this way. Here he was, a trained professional in making women look and feel good but, in this particular instance, not really bothered because clearly, sigh, what was the point?

It felt very funny, too. I’d sit in his chair each time and imagine it as an episode in a comic reality TV show where you came for a makeover but no one actually cared. I’d tell people, “My hairdresser hates me!” as though it was the best joke, and we’d all marvel at this strange phenomenon.

Strange, and oddly refreshing – at first anyway. Hairdressers mostly adore you, want the best for you, see potential for volume and movement and shine. They might gently note split ends and return of the greys, but in a tone that suggests we can put that behind us now. They won’t mention anything they can’t fix. You are already gorgeous, they’re just going to let that show.

Not this guy. This guy had no soft patter, could find no compliment to give about my hair, nor my frock, nor a handbag. Nothing about me appealed. Once – and this is a treasured moment – when trying to explain just how short I like my fringe (very) I showed him on my phone one of my publicity photos taken with full makeup and beautiful lighting, and he looked at it like I’d forced him to look at something in a state of decay, and made a noise that sounded exactly like, “Pfft”.

It is possible I hurt his feelings early on, irrevocably. The first time I was sent to his chair (didn’t feel like that the first time but did on subsequent visits) I’d told him “light trim, soft layers”. He’d suggested a short bob, jagged fringe. I told him I’d just grown out a short bob and wasn’t ready to go back.

We could say it started then? But he’d approached me with an air of defeat before that conversation began.

It’s possible I was hoping for a breakthrough. Like those gigs where ninety-nine people are laughing but the hundredth has a stony face and so the whole show becomes about making them crack. Or I’m a masochist, or I’m uncomfortable with compliments, or I have a thing for emotionally unavailable men.

Not now, though. Somewhere in between lockdowns I let him cut a short bob with a jagged fringe. It turned out we both hated it. That’s when I knew it was over.



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13 Mar Unprecedented

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – cover date 6.3.23


There is a very good chance that you, like me, have had it up to here with “unprecedented events”. That you would like many days in a row where nothing notable happened, where you only experienced things that are familiar, ordinary, banal.

Never have I been quite so keen to be bored. I’d like someone in a shop to say casually, “How’ve you been?” and I’d like to answer truthfully, “Oh, you know… Same old same-old.” And we’d grin at each other and float comfortably on.

Instead, up at our mall, we’ve been asking each other if flood waters have been lapping at doors, and sharing tales of downed trees, drowned houses and power cuts, a little unburdening that is always tagged with, “But really we’ve been lucky, I know plenty who’ve had it worse.”

And that’s just this year. For many years in a row, our casual chat has been about big events – domestic terrorism, eruptions, a virus, lockdowns, an occupation at Parliament – that were not part of our conversations before. Regular use of the word “unprecedented” is no longer unprecedented.

When a National State of Emergency was declared on Valentine’s Day, it was noted this was only the third time in our country’s history that this had been done. The Canterbury earthquakes, a pandemic, and now Cyclone Gabrielle. It’s a big deal. It’s new.

It’s so new, some people didn’t get it. “But why? I’m fine over here!” could be heard on social media, people not understanding that a national state of emergency doesn’t mean the whole country is in trouble, but that the whole country will help those who are.

So many things we have never done before – at least, not in my lifetime, and I’m old. And not the fun new experiences you might put on a bucket list. Hot air ballooning, having a conversation in te reo, learning to swing dance… This is about diving into situations and looking for solutions to things that feel alien and unexpected.

It goes some way to explain our slightly odd and irrational responses, like racing to the supermarket each time a lockdown was called or a cyclone is imminent to buy unfeasibly large quantities of toilet paper or eggs or whatever the imagined “scarce item du jour” might be. We’re not entirely sure how to prepare for this threat, but squirreling away acorns feels a little bit right? Hardwired to equate “safety” with “supplies”.

Friends overseas tell me we are making the news over there – we always have, with our books and comedians and films and sports – but with unprecedented weather events now, as well as the other things.

Over a decade ago, when I was on the other side of the world, I remember my eye catching the N and Z of New Zealand in a news story, as it does, and the headline read: “Sheep Runs Wild In Wellington Streets”.

Turns out a mystery sheep had been seen bolting down Ghuznee Street shortly before midnight and was apprehended by local police after being cornered in the Briscoes car park.

Officers had bundled the sheep into the back of their vehicle and taken it the police station. “There was nothing else we could do with it,” they’d said. “It could have caused mayhem if it got into Courtenay Place.” I had never missed my country more.

It felt like a story I’d heard before, and now hanker to hear again. Familiar. Ordinary. Baa-nal.



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05 Mar On Salsa and Also Gumboots and Those Empty Supermarket Shelves

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – cover date 27.2.23


There is a constant supply of homemade salsa at my place right now. Partly it’s because nothing says “summer” on a rainy day like a bowl full of spicy tomatoes (close your eyes and pretend) but also because I keep seeing coriander in the shops and cannot walk past without buying it.

Truth is, I am still recovering from The Great Tabbouleh Debacle of Christmas 2022. I say “tabbouleh” but the trauma included salsa.

These are my two favourite “salads” if you will. Fun to make, festive colours, fresh and delicious. They were to be a pivotal part of our Christmas lunch production – supporting acts to glazed ham in the starring role.

So imagine my accelerating panic in the week leading up to December 25th as I found, day after day, that key ingredients in both dishes were suddenly (I swear they’d been there the week before) missing from all stores in my local environs.

Coriander and flat leaf parsley? Too much rain, thank you climate change. Bulgur wheat? Supply chain issues, thank you Covid. Limes? Good luck finding them, bless you if you could afford them. Onions? Also rain, but red onions could be bought with any gold bullion you had left over from buying that solitary lime.

“It’s like living in the Soviet Union!” I texted hyperbolically to a friend who also had a need for limes, possibly (and ironically) for her vodka. I sent her a photo of a pouch of lime juice – twice the price it was a year ago – to see if that would do. It would, so I swapped that for a handful of parsley (curly, not flat, but needs must) from her garden.

Tip for anyone else attempting tabbouleh in these difficult times – couscous is a reasonable substitute, but also you might find a bag of bulgur on a lost shelf in the gluten-free aisle.

Ultimately, Christmas lunch was saved but it’s made me think how much we’ve assumed we could get anything, anytime. I understand about “seasonal produce” – we grew up with a vegetable garden, so I get it that stuff ripens for a little bit, and then disappears till the same time next year. No point hankering after fresh asparagus in May.

Though this does not apply to silverbeet. That nasty stuff is the vegetable equivalent of a post-nuclear cockroach. It just keeps on existing, even when you encourage the family chooks to peck it to death. Ugh.

But these empty shelves we’ve been seeing are new to us – the gaps where the tissues used to be, or eggs, or seasonal vegetables now battered by unseasonable weather.

Empty shelves, too, for things we wouldn’t usually need during this season, but now do. Even before the floods, I went looking for gumboots – something lighter than my red bands that would work for outdoor gigs in an already damp January, and which wouldn’t require a woolly sock.

“Gumboots?!” The lady in the store was incredulous. “Not now!” A few short, wet weeks later it is entirely possible someone in head office is rethinking what makes the perfect summer shoe and that “waterproof” will become a design feature.

In the north of Aotearoa it seems we are going to have to learn to live with more rain than we’re used to. So I’ve dug out my red polka dot umbrella, and found some light PVC boots, and now I’m walking to the greengrocer to see if they’ve got any parsley.


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