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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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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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.


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