August 2023

30 Aug You’re Being A Dick … Sir.

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – Cover date 21.8.23


You know that list you have tucked away in your head of the things you would have if you were super rich? The house with room enough for everyone, a very cool car with maybe a driver, possibly a personal chef and a masseur, a walk-in wardrobe with clothes arranged by colour, shoes and handbags on display…

Okay, yes, this is my list. But regardless of whatever you might have on yours, please add this to it – extremely wealthy people should definitely hire someone whose job it is to call them out when they are being stupid.

Because looking round the place, we can see that billionaires make some terrible choices. I don’t mean sweet little eccentricities. I totally get why the late Steve Jobs had a wardrobe that featured only black turtlenecks and jeans – if you’re running a company like Apple maybe you don’t want to start making decisions till you get to the office.

And when Salvador Dali took Babou, his pet ocelot, for walks in Paris, or Lady Gaga turned up at the MTV awards in a dress made of meat, these were expressions of their personality entirely in keeping with their wider oeuvre. A good and trusted friend would have said, “You do you, Boo” and cheerfully gone about their day.

But then there are decisions made that affect all of us, and which are unfathomable. Can we have a quick chat about Twitter? As a long time user (I joined the flock in 2009) I’ve been watching the changes made by new owner Elon Musk. Specifically, ditching the cute blue bird and replacing it with a creepy black “X” had me thinking, Mate, I don’t think you have people in your life who feel okay about telling you when you’re doing it wrong.

Sure, the rebrand is sort of appropriate in that Twitter is like everyone’s idea of an “ex” now – used to be fun, you once had good chats, but now it’s a toxic cesspool with the default mood set at shout-and-snarl. So, yeah, “X” works in that sense. But kill off the bird when it’s the last sweet thing we remember about the place? Mate.

When you have a lot of money and therefore power, you end up always being the person with the highest status in the room. Relationships can become transactional – they’re there for what you can give them. No one wants to rock the boat if your boat is a luxury superyacht.

Ancient civilisations and medieval rulers knew these dangers, and that the trick to avoid becoming a fool was to employ one. A court jester – literally The Fool – who could, without an ordinary courtier’s fear of punishment or death, tell the King he was being an idiot. In a chorus of yesses, they were free to sing a solo “no”.

It would be a helluva job, of course. I imagine you could get used to living adjacent to luxury pretty quickly and have to keep reminding yourself that part of the job is to risk the boss’s displeasure on a daily basis.

You would need to be past the point in life of being a people pleaser, with nothing to prove and even less to lose. So basically, what every billionaire needs is a belligerent nana.

I would apply for that job. Especially if it came with a personal masseur and a walk-in wardrobe to enjoy for as long as the job lasted.


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14 Aug My Mother’s Rings – Two Stories

An edited version of this appeared in the NZ Woman’s Weekly, cover date 14.8.23. This is the full story… Also, click on the link here for videos and photos of the remodelling process with the amazing craftspeople at The Village Goldsmith.


My mother was the kind of woman who wore her rings every day. Sure, she’d take off the diamond engagement ring when she made scones and pop it in the dish on the windowsill kept there for this purpose, but once those scones were in the oven she’d slip the diamond back on.

So these two rings – the platinum wedding band and matching solitaire – are not only in every family photo when we’re dressed up for best, but in all the moments of our lives. On her hand for every meal, every bedtime story, every hug. And if you’re the kind of person who believes the things we love and carry with us absorb something of our spirit (I am that kind of person) then there is a lifetime of memories embedded in the these rings.

When I was little I might be allowed – with clean and careful hands – to play with the white box the rings had originally come in (it looked to me like a wedding cake and made a very satisfying sound when it snapped shut) and to try on the diamond ring which, my mother said, would one day belong to me.

She talked about that more in her last days, and the practicalities. She knew the engagement ring needed work because after being on her hand for 65 years – not counting the times she made scones – the band had worn thin. She thought perhaps I could use the platinum from the wedding band to strengthen it, let one of them bolster the other.

Donna died in June 2019 and I put the rings away together in their wedding-cake box. I couldn’t wear them as they were – my mother had slender fingers, I have my father’s hands – and I wasn’t ready yet to make them “different”.

This is the thing with estate jewellery – you want to honour the original piece while also making something you want to wear, that feels like you. I had watched my mother have one of her own mother’s rings remade, and saw how it mattered that the person it had belonged to might approve.

There was no rush. I felt I would find a design I liked at some point, that I’d know it when I saw it. And I wanted the whole process to feel good because my mother’s rings were important to her, and therefore to me.

My mother’s story about these two rings begins in 1954. She was almost 20 and my father, John, had just turned 25 when they got engaged. Dad was working at the Sander Tie Company in Wellington and one of the women there had a friend who was a manufacturing jeweller in Courtenay Place. Mona sent my parents to see him.

In an upstairs workshop, the jeweller brought out velvet cushions, placing loose diamonds on them with tweezers so my mother could choose one. For the setting, she chose platinum – a break with conventional gold.

Which was all very sophisticated for a 19 year old girl and her young man who both came from modest backgrounds and were doing all this – buying rings, planning a wedding, even buying a house – with nothing to come-and-go-on but their own wages. It says a lot about my mother – an eye for beauty and her own ideas about how to do things – and about both of them and their determination to get those things done.

My story about these two rings also begins in Wellington, but 69 years later. This January I was visiting the Capital to do some shows and walked by the Village Goldsmith where the Floeting rings in the window caught my eye. I loved them – simple, elegant, all about the sparkle of the diamond. I took a photo, sent an email via the website, explained I had my mother’s diamond ring, and could it be remodelled to look like that?

What followed was a lovely email thread. The answer was “no” but also “yes” – the Floeting diamonds are a particular thing of their own, but maybe we could make a ring that looked a lot like it with my mother’s diamond.

I met with Ian Douglas when he was visiting his Auckland studio. Ian was much less into the “let’s melt it all down” and much more into, “Let’s preserve this beautiful craftsmanship while also making something new.”

And there was a hairs-on-the-back-of-my-neck moment when Ian looked at the wedding band and recognised it. This ring had been crafted at Clements and Holmes, the Wellington jewellery studio where he’d done his apprenticeship. His idea to return the band to its original 1955 state felt like exactly the right the thing to do.

Sending the rings off to Wellington with Ian felt a bit like sending children off to stay with someone – safe hands, but also weird to no longer have them where you can see them. Except that I did get to see them – Ian sent photos and videos of the process. I couldn’t help thinking when I saw the diamond lifted from its setting that I was seeing it the way my mother first saw it, as a loose stone, all about the sparkle.

I hadn’t at all appreciated how much work would be involved in the wedding band – not only restoring the frangipani and diamond shapes around it, but also doing that incredibly tricky thing of inserting a piece and matching it so it would fit my finger. There is a moment in the video where Dan is working on the wedding band and he says, “Perfect”, and I grin and also there is something in my eye.

I also hadn’t appreciated the beauty of this ring before – overshadowed by the diamond, I guess. I wear it next to my own wedding ring now, with the diamond floating on my right hand. They still get to hang out together, but they get their own space.

We have kept the engagement ring mounting – it lives in the wedding-cake box – and I’ll put a stone in it later when I know who it should belong to next. The other two rings I wear every day. Though I keep a small dish on my kitchen windowsill to pop the diamond ring into whenever I’m doing something messy. My mother would love all of this.


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11 Aug Reflecting on Matariki

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly, cover date 7.8.23


Sometimes you don’t know you are missing something until it turns up in your life. This is how I feel about Matariki, our new public holiday to observe the Māori New Year.

I’ve always figured we needed an official winter break – that was a long wait from Queen’s Birthday in June to Labour Weekend late October, right? But I hadn’t realised how significant it would feel to celebrate something uniquely our own, which comes with local history and ritual.

Sure, the Gregorian New Year comes with “ritual” in the sense that “party hard, midnight snog, start the year a bit dusty” has been an accepted blueprint.

But spending this Matariki consciously reflecting on the past and planning for the future felt like a perfect thing to do in the heart of winter – and probably exactly what people in the Northern Hemisphere feel about their snow-covered celebrations when even the weather wants you to rest, take stock, be still for a moment.

Out in Piha where I spent my long weekend we were down at the beach hours before dawn on Saturday to look for the Matariki stars. Local kaumātua Pita Turei has been observing Matariki here for years and usually a handful of other people join him. This year around fifty of us gather from 5am till almost 7.30am, hearing Pita tell stories (not “myths” he says, “our narratives”) that belong to this piece of land and its sky.

Someone has helpfully brought a laser pointer so that, when Pita talks about the constellations, we know where to look – though it is also a tiny bit hilarious that an ancient ritual briefly feels a bit PowerPoint-presentation, and there’s a gentle ripple of laughter.

We gather in a circle around two small fires – one where we burn pieces of wood held in our hands while we’ve thought about the past year (regrets, people we’ve lost) and another fuelled by sticks representing our plans for the year ahead. Some of us are mana whenua, most of us are Pakeha, all of us begin to feel connected. One of the people I’m staying with whispers in my ear, “This is how we bring people together,” and he’s right.

It is a powerful thing to hear the stories of a place while you are literally standing in that place. When I was a growing up, history was in books and about other countries. I know I’m not the only one who is hungry to learn more of the stories about the place I live, and how much more you feel you belong when you know these stories.

It was a jarring moment, then, after sunrise and coffee to read the newspaper and see one of those other stories we’ve been seeing lately – some high profile, wealthy New Zealander saying our country is not what it was, has lost its mojo, that as a nation our best years are behind us. That they’d like it to go back to the way it was (make it great again!) or else they’re letting us know they’re leaving for somewhere better.

This is a story told by someone who was doing pretty great before, and would have liked things to stay the same. Makes sense for them. And I won’t pretend times aren’t tough. But then you look at who gathers before dawn, and you can think maybe we are just starting now to move in the right direction, and our better years are to come.


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11 Aug Unplugged

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly, cover date 31.7.23


This birthday just gone, I gave myself the gift of a weekend lolling about in bed with some books. Something about a day reading under blankets feels extremely indulgent but honestly, once you push through the puritan guilt, it is magnificent.

There was a shimmering moment midmorning on Sunday when I pulled the blankets right up to my chin and wriggled down into the pillows and for a moment felt entirely connected to the child-version of myself. I may have shivered with an emotion very close to glee.

As a kid, I could spend a whole winter weekend reading in my room. No big deal, no one seemed to mind. I suspect I even strung out the odd cold or tummy bug a few extra days so I could stay home from school, underneath the eiderdown, reading. I vividly recall one particular week off school, in bed with ‘The Wind In the Willows’, a large block of Milky Bar chocolate and my very own Chapstick lip balm which were such a perfect trio of pleasures that even now I can’t see or taste one of them without thinking of the other two.

The best bit of university, apart from working out who you are and what sort of world you want to live in, is the compulsory reading. It might look like you’re doing not much of anything, hunched over a two bar heater in your damp flat, but actually, reading this novel is kind of your job right now.

And then there’s a long bit in your life when you can’t flop around with novels. You’ve got work and kids and the dinner won’t cook itself. Reading is done in that bit before sleep, and the purpose of the book shifts from expanding your mind to calming it – though you hope for both before you drift off.

Somewhere in here you get the idea that lying about with a book in the daytime might be lazy, or something only old people do and gosh, are you suddenly lazy and/or old?

Or is this entirely what you should do because you’ve been dancing from one thing to the next and a bit of stillness is just what the doctor ordered. If not literally, then maybe literally if you don’t start doing something nice for yourself that also lowers your blood pressure and calms your heart.

My birthday had other joys, too – on the Friday I gave a talk I really enjoyed, had ice cream and op shopped with my favourite daughter, went for a long drive with Lucinda Williams, and had beef cheeks and creamed parsnip at my favourite restaurant with my favourite husband. There were gifts from family, flowers from friends and messages from grandchildren. All the major food groups were represented.

But then I unwrapped a weekend of “unplugging”. No social media, no emails (ok, I read enough to be sure there was nothing there I needed to read), and no news bulletins. As well as books, I caught up on favourite newsletters and, when I had to be upright to make snacks, listened to favourite interviewers like Kim Hill and Charlotte Ryan. Absorbing the things I’d intentionally picked rather than being bombarded by stories I didn’t actively choose.

And then back to bed and books with my plate and glass, with space here and there for a bit of a think. Which is when it occurred to me that all this “unplugging” was what my great-grandmother would have simply called, “Sunday”.

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