May 2023

22 May A King’s Honour

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – Cover Date 22 May 2023


On a wet Friday afternoon last October, entirely out of the blue, an email arrived in my inbox from the Honours Unit at Parliament. At least, that’s where it said it was from – my first assumption was that it was a scam, or possibly one of my hilarious friends doing some kind of whacky end-of-week prank.

I tried popping the phone number into Google to see if it had been flagged as a fraud, and checked the email address for oddities until it felt safe to open the attachments. Slowly it dawned on me that some mystery group of people had quietly nominated me for a New Year’s Honour.

This is a delightful thing that any of us can do for anyone in our community or industry – there is a website that explains the whole process and if there is someone you think deserves a medal, you really should get amongst it.

So here was a letter sent on behalf of the Governor General – gasp – asking if I would accept an honour, subject to it being approved by the King. That’s quite a letter to be reading on what had been, up until that point, a very ordinary day. I had a cry, thought about how much this would have meant to my late-parents, and promised myself I wouldn’t tell a soul until (if) the King said yes.

Out for dinner that night with a dear friend, I blurted the news during the second glass of wine. Shameful. But she remained the only person I told for several weeks. It was a delicious secret, like a precious stone you keep in your pocket, touching it now and then with your fingertips to feel the shape of it, feel its weight.

And then you don’t hear anything at all for two months until finally the news comes that the King has said yes. This is a moment I like to think about – that one afternoon King Charles sits down at that desk we’ve all seen on The Crown, and signs his approval, one by one, to the list of Kiwis to be honoured.

I feel sure he would read the short biographical note beside each name to get a sense of who each person is. Dame Farah Palmer and Sir Ashley Bloomfield were on this list – the first batch of this King’s Honours – so he had some pretty terrific people to read about. I wonder what it’s like to see “New Zealand comedian” in one of those bios, and whether that might give you pause as it passes across the royal desk.

I like how our Honours system is widening – even redesigning – who we think of as our “establishment”. When the Topp Twins became Dame Jools and Dame Lynda in 2018, it rewired in the best possible way what I thought of as a “Dame”. As they said at the time, the rebels were getting their medals – for activism as well as entertainment.

I also like the way the process goes along without you, so you don’t know for a long time (and may never know) who made this happen for you. Which oddly means you end up treating everyone you know and work with as though they did this very kind thing.

On the day of the investiture – just seven of us at our ceremony – we talked with each other about the mystery of how this happened, and about self-doubt, and gratitude. And then how we might use this acknowledgement to boost more people in our communities.


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22 May The 7 Signs of Aging

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – Cover date 15 May 2023


There was a time, I imagine, when no one knew what cellulite was or that it was bad. (We’re talking about that harmless skin condition that gives a dimpled look to your thighs.) Given most women have cellulite, those dimply thighs were probably referred to originally as, well, “thighs”. Because this is what normal legs look like.

Then some clever chap (I bet it was a chap) noticed it arrived at a time in a woman’s life when she might be feeling vulnerable (which is all day) and decided they could be described as “problem thighs” and immediately whipped up a cream that may or may not make them “better”.

My money, by the way, is on the cream not making an iota of difference but don’t let me discourage you from taking some quality me-time to rub pleasant lotions on your good self.

Do not, however, think a tub of anti-cellulite cream is an appropriate gift for another lady. Stick to presents that are less judgmental.

Similarly, no doubt, “the 7 Signs of Aging” were invented (or “identified”) a few decades ago by someone who wanted to shift some pots of goo, and now everyone selling pots of goo is totally on board.

The official list goes: 1. Fine lines and wrinkles. 2. Dullness of skin. 3. Uneven skin tone. 4. Dry skin. 5. Blotchiness and age spots. 6. Rough skin. 7. Visible pores.

Not meaning to be picky but I’m pretty sure 5 is also 3. And 4 is also 6 and 2. I guess 7 is a magic number and we should be grateful they didn’t count “lines” and “wrinkles” as separate horrors.

But where does this disdain for aging come from? Why is a wrinkle less attractive than the smooth? How come we don’t welcome softening and folding as proof we’ve been blessed with a long life and we know stuff? Why isn’t looking old aspirational?

In caveperson times, of course, we learned to view youth as attractive because our primary focus was to be on the lookout for a mate we could make babies with. Young meant fertile, symmetry meant health. But that was when we lived very short lives, and procreation was both imperative and largely unavoidable. The major point of women was to be fertile and make new humans.

But we sold up and moved out of caves a long time ago. We live longer lives – much longer than required for making and raising babies. I’ve already spent more of my life now not being of childbearing age or ability. We can even choose to not make new humans at all. We have plenty of time to offer the world more than the possibility of children.

And yet we are still encouraged to view youthfulness (aka fertility) as the thing that makes someone attractive. When really, we might want to evolve past seeing women for what they might contribute genetically, and instead what we offer intellectually, creatively and socially.

I have my own version of the 7 Signs of Aging. The first sign, of course, is that you no longer give a fig about what other people think.

You also have more time now the kids are gone, often more money (same reason), plus more wisdom and experience which we’ll count as 4 and 5. Number 6 is “less patience with bozos”. And the 7th sign of aging is that our faces are a bit saggy. And aren’t we blessed to have lived long enough on the planet for gravity to have done that.



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08 May Shopping the Mouse

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – Cover date 8.5.23


It was my Coco Chanel moment but it involved Minnie Mouse. Of course it did.

Legend has it the French fashion designer advised: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.”  It’s a “less is more” thing rather than an encouragement to be plain. Coco wasn’t ever trying to blend in.

I was heading out the door of my hotel for Day 3 of a five-day Disneyland holiday and about to attach my new Minnie Mouse pin when I thought of Coco and stopped to consider the full effect. Black and white polka dot trousers, red spotty jacket, Minnie Mouse t-shirt and matching mouse ears with bows. No, I decided, the pin was too much. You could feel Coco approve.

My penchant for Disney goes back many years – about a dozen visits since the first one in 1995. It’s about fantasy, nostalgia, simplicity and magic. A safe and happy place, and what a therapist might refer to as “an antidote for trauma”.

I feel at home there, and possibly look like I belong, too. An hour later in the park, Daffy Duck saw my ensemble as she paraded by and did the hand-gesture equivalent of “Oh, my!”

My aesthetic has always leant towards the cartoonish – I adore a polka dot and suit a set of ears. Years ago I was asked in a magazine interview to describe my “style” and I looked to my teenage daughter for help. “Minnie Mouse,” she said, “on acid.” We had both grinned.

It’s a look you can really take for a romp in a theme park. No matter where travellers go, we bring home souvenirs – snow globes if you can get them through customs, teaspoons, the ubiquitous t-shirts. I go for Minnie merchandise, though I’m aware you have to rein it in at some point and ask yourself, “This feels right in the park, but will I wear it in the other world outside these gates?” I have a new red beret with my favourite mouse on it. We’ll find out soon enough.

But also on this last trip I exercised discipline and saved some shopping for elsewhere. If there’s a thing I like almost as much as a theme park it’s bargain hunting. So I signed up for a package designed with Kiwi travellers in mind to cheer up the last day of their California holiday – that limbo day when you checkout out of your hotel with your suitcase at 11am but don’t board a flight home until 10pm.

Karmel Shuttles took me from the Disney Anaheim neighbourhood about half-an-hour north to Citadel Outlets, one of those outdoor malls where you get ridiculous discounts off well-known brands. Popular with locals as well, you might find yourself briefly queueing to get inside stores – a thing which feels alien as a shopping experience but oddly familiar after queueing for theme park rides in the days before.

As part of the package, there’s a lounge to store your luggage and then repack at the end of the experience before the shuttle returns at 6pm to take you the rest of the way to the airport. It feels luxurious and unhurried and looking forward to it helped me stick to budget the whole trip so there’s enough left for something special.

My “something special” was a handbag I’d been wanting for a long time from my favourite store. I bought a very fancy Minnie Mouse tote. But of course I did.


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08 May The People Who Teach Us

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – cover date 1.5.23


My daughter is on her way to becoming a school teacher and, don’t let on for goodness sake, but I could have told her when she was a kid it was what she would do eventually, and I am thrilled.

This is despite knowing that right now teachers all around the motu are exhausted and underpaid. We do what we always do with teachers (see also nurses and mothers) and say we value them but fail to do it in the way we usually value things, which is with money.

I still think about the teachers who made a difference to me. Miss Slater in English, Mr Marsh in Drama, Mr Dreaver in History and Mr Gelston in French. Miss Slater is the reason I never misspell ‘separate’. “It’s ‘a rat’!” she’d bellow, banging a yardstick at the three letters in the middle of the word she’d chalked on the board.

It totally worked. She taught us other stuff, too, but good spelling is invaluable and helps people take you seriously, I feel. Certainly, the opposite is true.

I had a brief flirtation with wanting to be a teacher around age twelve. This is after wanting to be singer, then a hairdresser, and before dreaming of writing and being on the stage.

I pictured myself wearing tweed, sitting in a leather armchair in a book-lined room, doling out the perfect tome from my collection to eager students, like a doctor prescribing appropriate medication.

I don’t know why I thought tweed and leather and a mahogany desk complete with a stand for my cob pipe. Given this was the 1970s and I was growing up in Levin, I should have been picturing brown corduroy and orange floral wallpaper. It must have been something I was reading at the time.

I was a small girl in a small town, a year younger than most of my classmates. Too short for netball, too serious for Bay City Rollers posters, too chatty to be mysterious, and too uncool for Levis and Bata Bullets.

Nerd, then, before nerd was in vogue, and living in a town so tiny it was hard to find enough people to form a tribe. Which made me search books for people I recognise.

Luckily, I had people who encouraged this – my mother, those teachers and also our local librarian, Miss Pickens.

Miss Pickens sounds like I made her up, and I had to check with my mother a few years ago that I didn’t. She looked like a librarian should and led me skilfully, when the time came, from Children’s Fiction to Young Adult Fiction and then to the real grown up stuff.

On Friday nights when the other kids were doing whatever they did (no idea) I’d be at the library to pick up a fresh stack of books that Miss Pickens had recommended.

That library was – and is – a vibrant place, a humming community hub. Most are now, I find – I do this weird thing of visiting public libraries when I’m travelling and can attest they are no longer places where librarians say “shush”.

I strongly suspect my daughter will be her own kind of a Miss Pickens or Miss Slater – one of those people who believe in someone, who makes them think they are smart and can do good things, and so they will. And there is a richness in that. Though imagine if we gave them the kind of riches you could take to the bank.


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