June 2023

26 Jun Time Warp

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – Cover Date 26.6.23


It turns out we are not losing our minds. Well, okay, I can’t speak for everyone – have you seen the nonsense some people are posting on community Facebook pages? Honestly, it’s not us, it’s the others.

But this whole thing of not knowing when things happened? How we find ourselves saying, “Gosh, I haven’t seen you for two years!” and it turns out actually it’s been five years, or possibly six months? This is not your fault. Do not panic!

Peer-reviewed analysis from researchers (and let me tell you, this is the best kind of analysis, and not generally evidenced on community Facebook pages) at the University of Aberdeen has found the Covid-19 pandemic has caused distortions in how all of us perceive time.

The study kicked off because GPs noticed patients couldn’t recall the history of their illnesses. So many people could not answer a simple, “How long has your knee been sore?” they decided to launch an enquiry.

The conclusion? During lockdowns, we lost our landscape – or “timescape” if you will – of the big events that mark out our year. Birthdays, graduations, family gatherings for weddings and funerals, our holidays and travel – the kind of events we use as signposts for locating memories – were missing.

You know how this works. “Young Thomas must be almost twenty-five now because Sue was pregnant with him at Rob and Joan’s wedding and they’ve just had their silver anniversary.”  If you’re not going to weddings, you’re not seeing pregnant bellies and therefore can’t do the maths on Thomas.

Those weddings, funerals and other events involving tiny pastries are the anchor points that allow us to place ourselves in time. Without them, we’re a bit lost, trying to find our way with a map of the Sahara – just a flat expanse of sand. You might know that something has happened but you can’t tell when because there are no buildings on the map for you to say, “It was near this” or “It was miles before here.”

Though also, you might not remember it happened at all. It is possible someone in your family had a baby in the last three years and you’ve missed it. I don’t want to worry you, but maybe you should check? Maybe a general mention on the family WhatsApp that you’re thinking about taking up knitting again and would anyone fancy a bootie. You can always say you’ve changed your mind once you clocked the current price of wool.

Researchers compared this Covid-induced time warp to the experience of prison inmates. Prisoners might see other humans daily, but they miss out on the big social interactions – not a lot of parties in Cellblock D. So the days drag, but the years merge blandly together.

This comparison made me think, too, of what we tell each other about raising kids – that the days feel long, but the years will be short. You think they’ll never get the kids to bed so you can have some peace, and then suddenly they’ve gone flatting with Thomas.

So it is true of parenting, and prison, and also pandemics that the days are long but the years are short. But what can we learn from this? To make sure we not only mark, but make, milestones. Throw parties. Celebrate all of it. Take that trip. Never pass up the chance to bring everyone together so you will be able to recall, “2023? That was the year we did everything”.



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19 Jun And The Award Goes To …

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – Cover Date 19.6.23


One of my favourite jobs is hosting awards ceremonies. Not just the big flashy ones for industries that put on shows for a living – though these can offer a special kind of thrill. I was part of the 1987 film and television awards – the notorious “Goftas” – which featured drunken heckling, impenetrable clouds of dry ice, and Leeza Gibbons dressed in a tinfoil frock.

It was inglorious mayhem and if you’re looking for the reason awards shows are no longer broadcast live on TV, but recorded, edited and played several days later, this is it.

What does still happen live and in the moment are dinner events at which a company or wider industry sector gets together to celebrate achievements of the previous twelve months.

It might be scientists, lawyers, engineers or architects, or a bunch of franchise holders who install windows, or people who make ice cream or run holiday parks.

For me, last week it was farmers, this week it’s a small bank. Whoever it is, it warms my heart to see people win things.

In the twenty years I’ve been doing this – naming finalists, announcing winners – I’ve seen changes. There is less resistance now to stepping into the spotlight – the general stage-terror and gruff, monosyllabic “Thanks” happen less often, and people seem more comfortable about grinning their way through their big moment and finding the right people to thank.

Maybe social media has helped us overcome that excruciating kiwi shyness and just … perform a little? Though an MC still might have to coax winners to step forward out of the onstage pot plants so the photographer can get their shot.

There is a golden moment at the start when everyone might be a winner. With less collegial, more competitive sectors – you can probably guess who they are – it gets a bit rowdy as the night goes on, as potential winners realise they’ve missed their chance and lose interest in what happens next to other people.

I’m pretty sure you can read the health of a business by how supportive and enthusiastic the group is about seeing other people get recognition. I reckon it’s at least as scientific and efficient a measurement as any random survey about “business confidence”.

Every room now has more women in it than it did twenty years ago – there as participants rather than plus-ones – which makes it feel more like a party with literal and metaphorical sparkle. And there are better trophies – fewer bottles of wine which increasingly feels like a weird gift – and instead little bits of art you can pop on your desk or your mantelpiece.

Each time, I think about the woman who made me fall in love with awards nights two decades ago. It was a conference in Rotorua for pharmacists and their staff. I couldn’t read her face as she came on stage to collect her award – irritated, embarrassed, angry? Then as she left the stage, she burst into tears.

Later, she told me she’d never won anything before – she’d not passed School C, nor won a school prize or so much as a chook raffle, she said.

That had been her first time on stage, hearing her own round of applause – with extra cheering from her co-workers. Her name was on a trophy, and she would take it home and look at next week and next month, maybe still now? She was appreciated and seen.

Everyone should know what this feels like.



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19 Jun On Nailing the 1980s … Again

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – Cover Date 12.6.23


For many years – possibly since the 1990s – I have resisted invitations to 1980s themed parties.

I imagine it is the same reason someone who used to be a nurse is unlikely to pick “nurse” as a fun time fancy dress costume – if you do something in a really intense way, and for a living, do you really want to reprise the role once that show is over?

I feel like I did “The Eighties” pretty lavishly in the eighties. This is the decade I went to university, worked as a journalist, and got a job in television – behind the scenes for a few years before ending up on camera with shoulder pads and huge earrings. I don’t need to google, “What did they wear in the 1980s?”. I just have to … remember.

There’s a risk in dressing up in an era you were there for. It offers an opportunity to see how that familiar style looks on this body you are sporting now. Yes, I recognise the outfit, but whose face is that?

So when an invitation to a celebration arrived – one I wouldn’t have missed for the world – themed around an iconic Eighties movie, I knew I would not reach for a bubble skirt and crop top.

Still, it can be shocking to find how many things in your wardrobe will work as representations of an era that has been over for 30 years. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can do this. Heck, I’m not even the only one in my house – my delightful husband continues to dress in charming Nineties Grunge.

I went with a black tulle tutu (longer than I would have worn in 1986 – over the knee rather than halfway down a thigh) fishnets (update on ¾ leggings) and boots. More expensive boots than I would have been able to afford back then, and fitted with (sigh) orthotics. On the way over, I remembered again that sequins feel quite sharp when you sit on them.

A thing to love about surrendering to a party theme is there is less pressure to do successful makeup. Have a crack at batwing eyes and, if they’re wonky, you were being “ironic” rather than artless.

This shindig came at the end of an exhausting week but I found, once I had a teasing comb and a can of hairspray in my hands, muscle memory took over. It all felt so authentically 1986 I wanted to reach for a glass of white wine – the kind that was literally called “white wine” on the box, before we’d even heard of pinot gris.

At the party, it was a joy to see my 2023 mates dressed like my 1980s mates – there was even a small subset of people who belonged to both. I danced harder and longer than I have for a very long time – possibly because being surrounded by pink polyester and gold lycra tricked me into thinking I was a younger, fitter version of me?

Except that’s not right. We always feel young and fit on the inside, regardless, and it takes a message from our body – Ow my knee, Oof my lungs – to remind us there’s been a few years between jazzercise workouts.

Next morning there is a rush of nostalgia as I stand in the shower while jets of water dissolve the can-full of hairspray from my hair and I get a little high on the fumes. Nailing the 1980s once again.


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05 Jun Becoming A Morning Person (Yuck)

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – cover date 5.6.23


It would appear that I may be – and I take little pleasure in this – becoming A Morning Person.

Apologies, I guess, to the Morning People out there. It’s just that I come from a long line of Night Owls who stay up late talking and laughing, read books with a torch under the covers, haul duvets and pillows to couches to watch movies, or leave the party to watch dawn rise out the taxi window.

I cheerfully pulled all-nighters as a student essay-writer, and almost as cheerfully as a single parent with a scriptwriting job. Tuck in the kid, write an episode, make the kid some breakfast.

And possibly drag yourself through the day with little lustre, but comforted by the thought a Second Wind would get you through. My brain, I always felt, functioned best around 8pm which was either when the parenting was over and I could get creative, or when I was walking out on stage.

Out of step with most of the world, for sure. It still strikes me on a day like today (I am writing this very early) that I need to be at my best in about 12 hours for a show. You wake up and your first thought is, Don’t peak too soon, old chum!

I appreciate this is not how everyone’s day starts.

I will confess my image of a Morning Person is not … positive. I envisage someone who wears a lot of earth tones, bakes with wholemeal flour and loudly disapproves of both swearing and dancing, probably with an actual “tut-tut”. People who get up early, in my experience, do it to get a head start on criticising the people who don’t.

One of the joys for a Night Owl is knowing there is a gift of energy waiting for you at the end of each day. You can let yourself procrastinate, stare out a window, fill the morning with mindless activities because you are just warming up.

Here’s an observation – procrastination can be fuelled by over-familiarity with deadlines. You know from experience that you will have the thing done by 6pm – there is historical evidence to support this. Six o’clock is the magical time when all this will be over. And so some part of your brain says, Just wait till 6pm!  Because Brain forgets you have to actually, you know, do it. Engage in the process. You can’t just fast-forward to completion time and voila, there it is.

Tragically I am discovering that, when I try to pull an all-nighter now, my Brain says, “Nah”. I’ll try bargaining with it, offer it a cup of tea and a snack and Brain will shrug, “Sure, maybe, try it.” Brain is always up for a snack.

Yet fuelled and hydrated, Brain comes back with, “Sorry, love, can’t help you at this point. Bit dizzy, if I’m honest. You could try squeezing something out of me but quite frankly… Sorry, you were saying?”

Best I can do is throw something on the screen and hope to fix it in the morning. Which – oddly – is beginning to feel satisfying. Brain seems delighted to have a thing that already exists – albeit a messy thing – that it can knock into shape.

So maybe I’m a Morning Person now? Possibly too soon to say. I’ll let you know if I start phoning people before 8am to tell them I’ve been up for hours and should I pop round now with a batch of wholemeal scones. Feels unlikely.


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05 Jun Money & Happiness

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – cover date 29.5.23


They’ve done another of those “World’s Happiest Countries” reports and New Zealand came tenth. Who the first nine countries were (mostly the Scandinavians as per usual) is possibly less important than the news that Australia came in at number eleven. Win.

What interests me is that, while New Zealand ranked 10th​ globally in the World Happiness Report​, we come in at around 30th for per capita income.

Which suggests there’s some truth in the adage that “money doesn’t buy you happiness”. Something else is contributing to an overall sense of contentment – social support, a healthy life expectancy, a level of freedom to make life choices, and a culture that values generosity and fairness.

Still, money has its uses. My mother, who was neither rich nor poor, was fond of saying with a twinkle that, while money might not buy happiness, she imagined you could be miserable in comfort.

I think we can see her point. As I trundle round the supermarket gazing wistfully at kilo blocks of cheese, I think how nice it must be to be able to afford dairy-based comfort eating. You wonder if the well-heeled will bring back fondue parties so they can show off their wealth.

Even so, there must be a point where you have enough cheese. And money. Like, if you had a billion dollars and doubled it overnight, your life wouldn’t change much, if at all. Same if you lost half of it. There must be a limit to how much you can spend and consume. And I think we’d all like a wee go at finding out what that is.

Various academics have tried over the years to work out the sweet spot – how much money you need to be happy, and at what point adding to your pile of dosh no longer has an impact.

Tricky to establish, though, because “rich” means different things to different personalities. There’s the kind of person who wants enough money to satisfy their needs and wants; and another kind of person who gets pleasure from having more money than other people – “status wealth” if you like. Someone who doesn’t actually like crudités dipped in cheese but hosts a fondue party anyway because it’s the culinary equivalent of driving a Maserati.

I don’t believe money buys happiness, but do believe being poor makes you sad. You can be crushed by financial anxiety and worn down by insecurity.

This is why I like to imagine what we’d be like if we had a universal basic income. Totally appreciate that, as an economic policy, it scares people but as a “thought experiment” it interests me.

We decided ages ago that education and healthcare should be provided free to everyone by the group, so imagine if we extended that to food and shelter. What sort of life would you live if you knew you would always have enough food and a safe, dry home? What work would you choose to do if it wasn’t about making enough to pay the bills? How creative might you be? Also, what would your teeth be like if dental care was free?

I also think about people stuck in sad and dangerous situations because they can’t afford to leave. What if money wasn’t a factor? What choices would open up for them?

Less money, but more security and more choices? Like those Scandi countries in the Happiness Top Ten who tax their citizens harder, but ask them to pay individually for fewer things. This could be the way to stay ahead of Australia.

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