April 2023

30 Apr In Praise of the Handbag

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – Cover date 24.4.23


Yesterday at the supermarket, the checkout operator stopped scanning my zucchinis to admire the bright yellow basket I’d plopped on the counter.

It is probably meant to be a beach accessory but, as I explained to (checks name badge) Monica, I bought it because summer didn’t happen up our end of the country so I had a crack at making summer happen myself with this armful of woven sunny goodness. If you imagine hard enough, a trip to the mall on a grey day feels almost tropical when you’re swinging a yellow basket in your hand.

Admiring our accessories is one of the great things women do for each other. Honestly, if men were really trying to impress us they’d stop shouting things from cars and whistling from building sites, and instead go for, “I am loving the look of your cross body tote!” Swoon.

The right bag performs a multitude of functions. Invented because some tyrant back in the 18th Century decreed women weren’t allowed pockets, the handbag is not only the bag that keeps our necessities at hand (it’s all in the name), it is also a way we express our general style and specific mood via the colour, size and shape of the bag we might choose to “wear” that day.

It’s also – by convention rather than actual design – a safe place. We can admire the exterior of each other’s handbag, but it is universally understood the interior is as private as an actual pocket.

I was memorably growled for rifling through my grandmother’s handbag when I was quite small, which impressed upon me what a personal – almost sacred – space a handbag was. I hadn’t really been going through Grandma’s stuff, except in the sense that I loved the way her fingers danced elegantly through her trove of treasures – powder compact, kid leather coin purse, handwritten letters, lace handkerchief, an inhaler… And I’d wanted to recreate the dance myself.

Handbags are my go-to travel memento (souvenirs makes them sound more affordable than they often are) to remind me of an exceptional time and place. At home, I sling them on a hat stand so they function as decorations, like a year round Christmas tree festooned with leather and fabric treasures.

It has taken me years to realise that, while I like the look of the soft floppy sack, I prefer the structure of basket-style. You can toss things into it as you run around getting ready, and I respect a bag that stays upright when you plonk it on the floor.

There are brands I like – some of which I can afford, some I can’t. I once promised myself I’d one day I’d own a Chanel bag but, realising they cost the equivalent of a good used car, I’ve decided they’re maybe not my thing.

I get the most joy out of bags that make me gasp or smile. Fun ones, like locally made replicas of the old primary school bags we grew up with. Or the evening clutch made of impossibly soft pale brown leather that looks exactly like a paper bag you’d carry your lunch in. I found it in an art gallery in San Francisco’s Mill Valley and it looks so authentic it has been disapproved of at formal dinners.

And there’s a floral velvet bag I bought months ago for a very special event this month, still waiting in its dustcover for the big day. Might swing by the supermarket on the way home, see if Monica likes it.


Read More

18 Apr Endolphins. Not A Typo.

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – Cover Date 17.4.23


“Endolphins”. That’s not a typo, it’s a new word I believe I just invented.

It describes that exhilarating sensation you get in your body when you feel a rush of joy, which I encourage you to picture henceforth as a pod of tiny dolphins swimming and leaping merrily through your veins.

So endorphins (the happy hormone that deals with pain and stress) but shaped like everyone’s favourite aquatic mammal.

Weird? Oh, for sure. But that image, and the word, came to me in a blissful dream the other night, and I feel like we know each other well enough for me to risk sounding a bit mad. And honestly, it’s not a million miles from describing nervousness as a tummy full of butterflies? And, I feel, way nicer.

What inspired the “endolphin” dream? This sudden clarity of porpoise? (Sorry, not sorry.) It happened after a day of driving and – this is the important bit – singing in the car.

I had forgotten how much I love singing. I’m not a great singer – not terrible, it’s not caterwauling. People don’t grimace when I join in on “Happy Birthday”. But no one is going to ask me to find the first note either.

This has been a disappointment – singing is the talent I’d have asked for if I’d been allowed to choose. When people asked eight-year-old me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said cheerfully, “A singer”. People had looked askance. Not, as I say, because I was terrible but my enthusiasm, their faces said, surpassed my ability. It could be a hobby, not a job.

Here’s a general observation – at some point, as an adult, you stop doing the things you are not outstanding at. We focus on our strengths, nurturing skills that enhance our career or show us at our best. In the busyness of life the other things fall by the wayside.

So – unless it is our particular thing – we stop drawing pictures, playing games, dancing, dressing up. We can no longer tell you what our favourite colour is. We don’t daydream about who we want to be. We stop doing things we are “ordinary” at, even the ones that bring us joy.

And so I had forgotten how much I love singing, and hadn’t really done it for ages. But I’ve started again – kind of on doctor’s orders. I use inhalers now that make my voice croaky so a serious vocal warm up before I get on stage to talk is now an essential part of the process.

And I’ve learned the best vocal warm up for me is to make a playlist of favourite songs and sing them in the car on the way to the gig.

Usually, that’s a short drive but an event in Taupō gave me four hours of belting out hits, and I couldn’t help but notice how gosh darn happy, uplifted and positive I felt by the time I arrived.

Turns out, this is science. Singing releases all the happy chemicals – serotonin and dopamine as well as my personal endolphins. Plus it oxygenates your blood and improves lung capacity, and totally amuses anyone who catches you pulled up at the traffic lights where you’ve grabbed the opportunity to throw in some full body emoting. Honestly, you’ve made both people’s days.

Not everything you do has to be brilliant – ordinary is also a thing we are allowed to be. Especially if it brings the kind of joy that has us swimming with endolphins.


Read More

18 Apr That Time I Lost My Mind, And A Year

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – Cover Date 10.4.23


It is a marvellous trick of nature that, even as the years pass, you still feel like the same person inside your head.

That’s why it can be a shock to pass a shop window and see someone you only vaguely recognise – your mother? – reflected back at you. Ah, I see, so I am not actually the 32 year old I think I am? Cool, cool, cool. Must get around to updating that internal image, then.

It is the same phenomenon that means when I am hanging out with a bunch of new mothers I still feel like one of them, and that it was only yesterday that I was living the life they are living now. But then I check the date and realise it was – can this be true? – 30 years ago.

And so it was that I spent a delightful day recently in Taupō, MCing an event to raise money for a local charity, Village Aunties, which supports new mothers. Naturally, this took me back to my own experience of being a new mother and had me digging around in my memories for what that looked like.

What it looked like was possibly a bit mad. I describe 1993 as the time I lost my mind and lost a year – a melodramatic way of saying parenting was so all-consuming I became unrecognisable to myself while the world and its issues went by mostly unnoticed.

I have since googled 1993 and caught up on some of its goings-on – the Waco tragedy, World Trade Centre bombing, a genocide in Rwanda. Years later, I rented the movie “Hotel Rwanda” thinking it was possibly some Merchant Ivory production along the lines of “Howard’s End” (I don’t know why) and was entirely traumatised by it. How could I have missed this horrific event? Mind you, it seems like the United Nations missed it, too. Perhaps they were also breastfeeding.

Like so many, my baby was born prematurely – six weeks early, so not so far off ready, but still in intensive care and fed for the first week through a tube down her nose. I needed to wake her to feed – an odd arrangement, like demand feeding in reverse with the mother doing the demanding – and it took a long time till I believed in my bones she was going to survive.

It was my fabulous Plunket nurse, Marcia, who finally got that message through to me on one of her home visits. “You know she’s going to live?” she said, and I hadn’t known that until the moment she said it.

Marcia was one of the few responsible adults in my world back then. I’d moved to Auckland while pregnant and was without close family or even a social circle for that first intense year.

When my baby was bigger, I’d take her to Plunket for her health checks. It was winter, and I recall our debut expedition, dressing her in many layers till she looked like a Michelin Man, carefully tying on the woollen hat my mother had knitted using a small orange as an estimation of size, though even then it was loose.

Thank goodness she was rugged up, I thought, as I opened the front door and the wind whipped fiercely around me, even colder than I’d expected. At which point I looked down and realised that, though the baby was properly dressed, I was wearing nothing but a nightie and socks.

We were late for our appointment. Marcia was very understanding.



















Read More

18 Apr On Time as a Metaphorical Construct

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – cover date 3.4.23


It’s funny what pops into your head while you’re doing the housework. This is one of those times when your body is busy but your mind is not fully engaged, so it can land on any thought it fancies.

What my mind fancied to land on was a movie I watched as a kid on our black & white TV about a family with twelve kids. “Cheaper by the Dozen” was made in 1950. (I was watching Sunday afternoon re-runs decades later, don’t be rude.) In it, the mother is a psychologist and the father is a time-and-motion-study efficiency expert.

There’s a definite feminist lilt to it (she’s no shrinking violet) and I enjoyed the comedy of watching a grown man use a stopwatch to work out if it was more efficient to start buttoning your cardigan from the top or the bottom. (From the top, I seem to recall – certainly that’s the approach I have since adopted.)

I thought about daft old Clifton Webb and his stopwatch while I was wrestling with my duvet, pulling off the old cover and stuffing it into the fresh one. I hate this job. I will happily change the sheets every five minutes, but woman-handling the super king duvet into a fresh casing is a monster chore, I don’t care how many YouTube hacks you watch, and I will put it off for as long as possible.

Anyway, I did it and, though it wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had in the bedroom, I suddenly realised This Did Not Take Very Long At All. Certainly not the marathon effort I had envisaged. Hence thinking of Clifton and wishing I’d used his stopwatch so I could report specifically how much actual time it had taken. Next duvet change, I promise.

I feel tempted now to knuckle down and do one of those proper ‘on-your-hands-and-knees’ washes of my wooden floors, which in my anticipatory head takes all freaking day, but could probably be done properly in half an hour? Again, I should time it for perspective.

There is, perhaps, an effort-to-satisfaction ratio at play here. A tidy drawer or an organised pantry offers more long term visual joy than a – snore – different duvet cover or briefly shiny floor.

More things seem to take longer than they actually do. In my head, doing my accounts takes forever so I don’t even start till I have a clear day in front of me. But then I shocked myself when I started casually pulling things together for a tax return late one afternoon and accidentally finished it by dinner time.

Balancing out these chores that take less time than you think are things you imagine will happen lickety-split but take for-jolly-ever. Losing weight after menopause. Monday morning admin. Defrosting anything, especially when hungry. Waiting for a parcel to arrive and – but of course – waiting to get paid.

But I have a pretty good handle on how long other things take. Ironing? Three sitcoms or two episodes of a British drama. Trimming the hedge along the driveway is one full sized podcast. Scrubbing the shower tends to take one Kim Hill interview.

These are measures of time adopted in some part because we barely wear watches now. But really, none of this is new. Back in the 1980s, after my Great-Aunt Ruth died, Great-Uncle Frank taught himself to cook and cheerfully informed the family that the perfectly boiled potato took two gins.

I could try that with the duvet cover. And then take a nap.



Read More