Sunday, 29 October 2006

"Pull Your Head In" published October 29, 2006

Any New Zealand woman who may be contemplating getting pregnant at 16, having a marriage break up with her business partner or becoming an advisor to the Prime Minister should be very afraid. Just when you thought sexism was over, along comes the media flogging.
Keisha Castle-Hughes, Annette Presley and Heather Simpson are just the latest to feature in a new media strategy designed to send a strong message to Kiwi women that while we may have won the vote early, we need to pull our heads in.
Keisha was front page news for days as journalists desperately tried to find someone who would have an insulting word to say about her teenage pregnancy. But after a long and exhaustive week it was found that she had a stable partner, her family was happy, her agent was happy, the guys she works for in Hollywood were happy. Disappointingly her career is not in tatters due to the shock pregnancy because in breaking news: women can work while pregnant. Welcome to our unique little corner of post-feminist backlash, as brought to you by the media.
Annette Presley’s crime is none other than she ended her marriage, and her ex-husband decided she would also end her involvement in their business. His word was widely reported before she had a chance to say “I am woman hear me roar” because disappointingly she was on a “luxury” yacht in Fiji and chose not to rush home to give interviews. Such was the media storm that one fully expected to see Annette being hauled home in chains and presented before the Bad Wife and Business Partner Tribunal for her sins. Personally I was anxiously awaiting Princess Diana style paparazzi shots of Annette in her bikini dangling one leg casually in the ocean while chatting eagerly with a tanned male friend of Greek origin. But I guess that would mean sending someone out to Fiji, and as we know media, whether on a flogging mission or not, are cutting costs.
And then there’s Heather, who unlike the other two has not appeared in Whale Rider or Dragon’s Den, so isn’t putting herself out there as public property. She’s just pissing a lot of people off which is the worst Womanly Crime of all. She does stuff we don’t know about behind smoke screens stirring away at her pot of sage advice and indifferent sexuality. If there was a media flogging equivalent to witch burning, Heather would be on the stake.
And accompanying every media witch hunt is the inference that the woman involved has gone loo loo la la, lost the plot, taken to the bottle, isn’t coping, can’t hack it. “See!” cries the inference, “this is what feminism gave you. You should never have strayed over into a man’s world where we do only one thing at a time and think really, really hard about things sometimes.”
Am I over-reacting to the portrayal of women who are anti Stepford Wives in their behaviour and refuse to join the army of blandness currently gripping this country? Let’s look at those who have gone before.
Diane Foreman: still the Scarlet Woman for having an affair with Don Brash. Suzanne Paul: made one bad business decision out of the countless good ones she made to become one of the richest women in New Zealand. And she’s paying every one of her creditors back. Judy Bailey: did nothing except get fired. Susan Wood: did nothing but dispute a pay cut. Julie Christie: crowned Reality Crap Queen and seldom gets a good local review for her shows, yet the public love them. As do the TV people in other countries, and she just happens to be really rich because of it. Lana Coc-Kroft: nearly died and has friends who took drugs.
I rest my case. Paul Holmes can call the secretary general of the United Nations a “cheeky darkie” and we still love him. Marc Ellis can receive a class A drug conviction and use a phrase like “sweating like a rapist” and he’s still a good bloke. Don Brash can’t keep his dick in his pants but is still taken seriously in the world of politics. David Wikaira-Paul, a former Shortland Street actor who became a teenage Dad had all the magazines ooh and aah over him for months. Where was his front page shock horror revelation?
Meanwhile news that Echinacea really does work heartens me greatly. That’s what I call news.

Sunday, 22 October 2006

"Rocked Out" published October 22, 2006

The fact that Graham Brazier is hot is not a new concept. I first heard it 25 years ago as Graham was then the quintessential rock god combo: tall, dark and drug convicted. But never in my wildest dreams did I expect to hear it in 2006. Because when you’re young watching rock bands at the Gluepot, you don’t pause for a moment as you puff on your ciggie to transport yourself 25 years into the future where you’re standing in the St James among a strangely spherical crowd of bald-headed and pot bellied middle-aged men receiving texts about Graham’s supposed ample package.
So this is middle age. We all take a few decades out to work hard, buy a house, have children and then regroup at the St James to pick up where we left off watching Hammond Gamble and Hello Sailor as if nothing ever happened.
I’m not sure I ever spent any time in my youth wondering what I would be doing for amusement in my mid 40s but if I had I’m sure it would have gone something like having dinner parties, discussing politics and listening to Handel’s Water Music.
How lovely that Graham and Hammond were kind enough preserve themselves so marvellously for me and my texting friend’s pleasure. At the St James we took cautious looks at each other, we couldn’t believe our luck. Hammond and Graham still sing like angels. It was almost like the old days wasn’t it?
Well not quite. I’d forgotten what you do.
At the Gluepot, Windsor Castle and Mainstreet I used to stand at the back bar affecting an uninterested air. Unless I was pissed in which case I would dance like a loon. All these years later at the St James there was no bar to lean on to do this, so you stood near the front, sipping your bottle of Lindaur (which had an off putting thrush-like yeasty odour) and watched other couples solve the problem of what to do by holding on to each other and swaying.
And then we went home for a cup of tea and Marmite on toast which we used to do in the old days, only at 2am not 10.30pm. Wasn’t our fault, who knew the bands started on time in this middle-aged dream time?
We are, of course, part of a world wide phenomenon which sees the huge bubble of our age group eagerly encourage the likes of the Rolling Stones, The Who and the Eagles to perform for us. And this time around we’re not nearly as demanding for new material. All the old hits will do us very nicely thank you.
Personally I don’t ever want to see the Knack reform because hearing My Sharonna again would be just cause to slit my wrists. Talking Heads would be good, and I'm wondering about buying a ticket to Carole King, but by the time I discovered her I was 15 and spent far too many hours in my bedroom listening to Tapestry than was healthy for a girl. So no, we won't be reliving that little uncool period of my life.
On a local level I send out a plea now to Ric Salizzo’s Plastic Pegs to never reform. Same goes for Russell Baillie’s Bitumen Waltz and Andrew Snoid’s Coconut Rough. The Mockers, The Swingers, Screaming Mee Mees, Peking Man, Citizen Band, Blam Balm Blam, The Chills and the Verlaines, please feel free.
Because the reality is that money talks, and at the moment there is a big bubble of us mooning around inner city Auckland, tired of lattes, lunch and laughing at each other’s expense. We have bored ourselves stupid talking to each other about our worthy and materialistic lives where cooking duck three different ways, painting your house interior the exact shade of white – not too grey, not too yellow, and sipping "pinot", gris or noir from stemless wine glasses has us all a bit glassy eyed and over it. We want to be entertained again preferably in a pub, by a pub band. We want to gaze at Graham’s long lost package, be amazed at a guitar solo and lean against a bar getting slowly inebriated.

Sunday, 15 October 2006

"Things Not to Do" published October 15, 2006

The problem with being part of an ageing population which sees itself as eternally groovy is that we are constantly confronted with lists of things we must do before we die. Death is no longer something which happens when your body has had enough. It is now the finish line for the race to experience all that life has to offer, or we think it has to offer. So we are now confronted with lists of 100 books, 100 films, 100 albums, and 100 places to see before we die. We will not retire, we will simply buy all the “to do” guides and spend our newfound leisure time doing those things the guides tell us to do because we are so boring and lacking inspiration that our lives have become dictated to by a small pool of editors who publish the guides.
Well quite frankly I think that shows a distinct lack of creativity and individuality. What we should be telling people is things we should not do before we die. Avoidance of pointless pursuits is surely a more admirable achievement on your death bed:
1) Do not have a Brazilian. Yes I know lots of your friends have them, but ask yourself why. If your answer has something to do with looking like a prepubescent girl and making themselves attractive to balding, rich Parnell types who watch too much porn, then you have your reason not to. The other reason is it just hurts like hell, and life is already full of too much pain.
2) Take a year off. Why? So you can get out the “to do” guides and visit Machu Picchu while reading Moliere, listening to Mott the Hoople on your iPod and watching My Man Godfrey on your laptop (you’re up to the “M”s).
3) Run a marathon so you can have a nasty mishap involving blood, vomit or poos. Good times.
4) Video yourself having sex. The lighting will be all wrong. Have you really ever seen yourself from that angle? You will look terrible and who gets to keep it when you break up? And if you think he destroyed it like he said he would then how come his mates never look you in the eye anymore?
5) Go to university as an adult student. Yes they do all think you are a nana even if you do wear low waisted jeans and Chuck Taylors with your hand knits.
6) Eat curry flavoured mushrooms from Scotland.
7) Make love on a windswept beach. Two words “sand” and “crack”.
8) Rent a villa in Provence or Tuscany
9) See the Mona Lisa. It’s really small and surrounded by tall German tourists. There are better Da Vinci’s around the corner.
10) Have kids. Your unborn children will never know.
11) Dye your hair red. You will not look vibrant or whacky. You will just look like Kerry Fox in Angel at My Table.
12) Take an Italian cooking course. Buy a cookbook, oh but then you can’t bore your friends with the experience can you?
13) Write a blog. Send a chain letter, more people will read it.
14) Look into your child's eyes, see yourself, and smile. Give them a break, they don’t look a bit like you.
15) Have sex with a celebrity, unless you are actually aged 100 which would be interesting and worth selling the experience to a woman’s mag.
16) Win a date with an All Black at a charity auction. What would you talk about really?
17) Have an affair with a gondolier called Mario.
18) Start a petition.
19) Have Christmas drinks for the neighbours
20) Write a children’s book.
21) Buy a breadmaker.
22) Learn ventriloquism.
23) Wear Trelise Cooper.
24) Give children invented names.
25) Become head of TVNZ news and current affairs. Just ask Bill.
26)Hear yourself saying hello Leighton I’m a first time caller.
27)Do an Intrepid Journey. Have a real holiday with toilet paper, you’re a celebrity, you can afford it.
28)Have your portrait painted. You are not the Mona Lisa, take a photo
29)Be an extra on Shortland St. Oh hell why not, everyone else has.

Sunday, 8 October 2006

"One in Five" published October 8, 2006

The wonderful thing about research is that it gives us all the opportunity to take the litmus test of life. The average person has sex twice a month – cool, so if you have it 2.5 times a month you’re Above Average. The average age of a resident of Grey Lynn is 34 – cool, if you’re 38 you’re Above Average. One in five Kiwis are mental – cool, you’re not mental so once again welcome to the Above Average club.
Of course the problems begin when you have sex every day, are a 65-year-old Grey Lynn resident, and you’re actually feeling a bit mental. Oh my God I’m not normal.
Who gave research people, most probably sociologists with Government funding the right to tell us what is, or isn’t normal?
Did cave man and woman have to pick up their stone tablet delivered by the dinosaur to their cave door and be confronted with the news that most cave people exist on an exclusive diet of meat, shit in the bush and hang elephant tusks from their ceilings for decoration? No. They just woke up, chewed on an ear of corn, went for a shit on the campfire embers where it is nice and warm and makes good fuel before returning inside to gaze at the glow worms on their ceiling. And felt quite content.
Today feeling content is just wrong and there’s always a handy piece of research to tell you why. There’s a whole industry of feel better material possessions or food just waiting for you to read the paper and get worried. Our personal debt is too high. We drink too much or not enough to prevent heart disease. And thanks to Marsden funded research into the orgasm, we will soon know whether we are orgasmically normal or not. Thank God. Reading the paper these days is like hopping on the scales one morning and spending the rest of the day ready to slit your wrists because in 24 hours you gained five kilos. Or perhaps your scales are mental today because latest research shows that 8 out of 10 scales read incorrectly at least once a month according to the cycle of the moon and the magnetic force field surrounding gravity’s pull.
It takes a very secure person with a strong ego not unlike that of a celebrity to withstand the constant barrage of surveys. To live in a house which doesn’t look like a space station with nothing but white, silver and clear surfaces. It’s called clutter, and nine out of 10 people live in it despite what you read in “home” magazines. To eat butter, not some horrible chemical spread invented in an American laboratory to prevent cholesterol. To let our kids eat junk food because they’re kids and that’s what you do when you’re a kid.
But by far the worst survey result cost us $8 million to tell us that one in five New Zealanders will suffer a mental health disorder in any one year. Christ we’re a nation of walking nutters, thought most people.
I wasn’t at all surprised. I’m old enough to remember the shell-shocked gentlemen in Queen St wracked with fear, ducking and diving, hands shielding their face from shellfire. To see my hairdresser greet an obviously confused street woman called Elaine and spray her hair while Elaine pirouettes and morphs into Grace Kelly, leaving with her new friends “dignity” and “pride.” To hug the Grey Lynn Park tramp when he needed a cuddle after someone beat him up…smelly, but what are you going to do? To walk past a school mother screaming her head off at another over some minor issue and think to myself “interesting way of expressing yourself.” To see the shame and humiliation on the face of yet another teenage boy arrested for shoplifting at Foodtown. To hold my 8-year-old daughter’s hand firmly and try to distract her as the cops pull over and beat the shit out of three youths with nothing but truncheons and a frightening dose of raw fury (pre-Tazer). To watch various friends battle bipolar, anxiety, schizophrenia, agoraphobia and Aspergers over the years, whether they knew they had it or not. And to recognise in myself the deep dark hole that I’ve descended into three times in my life, and treat myself for a depressive episode.
Surely we’re all a bit mental in our own way, and we’ve become accustomed to seeing and accepting the way it manifests itself around us. That’s life, and perhaps five out of five researchers should get one.

Sunday, 1 October 2006

"Affairs" published October 1, 2006

So, is everyone having affairs? Tell me, because I need to know. Are there really 20 illicit couplings going on in the Beehive? Are all my friends having affairs? Am I having an affair?
It would seem that the main take out of the activities of the unlikely Lothario Don Brash, is that everyone is doing it. It happens, it is part of the human condition to fall in love with another, to be torn between two lovers, to let the heart dictate where the dick doth dip. Apparently everyone is totally cool with it. Get over it Wendyl.
Gosh I had no idea. Every week I sit down to write this column feeling reasonably confident about my ability to lick the finger and feel which way the wind of social behaviour is blowing, but alas I have totally missed the boat on this one.
I can hardly look anyone in the eye now, for fear that I’ll realise they have in fact been having an affair with me for several months without me noticing. I feel like I’ve just landed in an episode of Big Love. Everyone’s rooting everyone else, in some new polygamistic take on modern marriage, and it’s normal and acceptable behaviour. I feel strangely uncool.
It is true that everyone thinks about having an affair at some stage in their life and few marriages get by without an incident. You’d be hard pressed to find a partner who hasn’t taken a sneaky peak at the cell phone Inbox, pondered carefully the mountains of new underwear coming into the house, or wondered why hilarious Nova at the office is featuring so heavily in conversation these days. But surely affairs are the exception not the norm? Perhaps not. In previous years secrecy and affairs have gone hand in hand, but now, just like abuse and alcoholism, we’re just talking about it more. Especially when it involves ageing, non sexy politicians.
Why am I surprised? Marriages end all the time these days, people move on, get happy.
But what I don’t understand is how come everyone has given up saying “no.” At what stage do you stand there thinking: “If I get stuck in now, I’ll then have to lie every day for the rest of my life, my marriage may split up, I’ll only see the kids on the weekends, my finances will be halved, my children will turn 16 and be totally screwed up, and hate me. I’ll spend a fortune in counselling and by the time all this happens I’ll probably be onto another affair with the potential to screw up another couple of kids and split my finances again. Oh be still my beating heart, you rule, drop those pants now.”
When has “no” not been a good word?
And at what stage do you not ask yourself the question: “Do I have better than this at home if I put the same amount of effort in?”
Most people would reply “yes.” And you can fart in front of them.
A friend of mine thinks that people who have lots of affairs are late virgins and simply can’t believe their luck when they reach a certain power level which attracts. This is a valid theory if you’re thinking along the lines of Don Brash. But perhaps it’s more about hedonism. The pure pleasure and head rush of attraction, something many marriages struggle to maintain once the nuts and bolts of mortgages, childbirth, weight gain, body odours and boredom are screwed tight. That and a teenage-like belief that you won’t get caught, which as Don will tell you, you always do.
My main concern is that now I know everyone is having an affair, will people think I am? I do have lunch with men occasionally at SPQR. And Don Brash was seen having lunch with a gossip columnist at SPQR recently, so is that a sign? Don’t lunch at SPQR or do lunch at SPQR? Is Prego a better option?
The grim reality is that no one ever asks me to have affairs these days. But if they did and I found myself unwilling to make use of the word “no,” the person asking was bigger and better than the one I have at home and I got caught up in a tidal wave of hedonism, at least I’d be safe in the knowledge that everyone will be down with it and totally cool. What a relief.