Sunday, 25 February 2007

"The Scent of a Man" published February 25

I’ve often boasted that if I was blindfolded I could pick my husband out of a line-up simply by my unique sense of smell. I would need to smell all over you understand, but I would be looking for a sense of mahogany. An earthy combination of old smoke, sensible soap and the merest hint of cognac on his breath. A smell I suspect enjoyed it’s full bloom in the 50s when men smoked a pack a day, washed with Sunlight soap and brushed their teeth with salt. I imagine they also wore corduroy pants with pleats at the waist, tweed jackets with leather patches on the elbows and read Swift in their armchairs by the fire while the faithful Labrador lounged at his feet.
Exactly why I would ever need to pick my husband out of a line-up whilst blindfolded remains unclear. Perhaps he was arrested for smoking in a non-smoking restaurant and I wasn’t blindfolded I was actually blind following a recent accident involving a volatile combination of baking soda and vinegar to clean the toilet. Or perhaps Julie Christie has persuaded us to take part in a new reality series called “Sniff Him or Die.” Or something along those lines. And actually if I was close enough to sniff my husband from top to toe I’m thinking he’d be unable to resist a slap on the arse or that stroke on the back of my neck he does which would give the game away, and now it’s all getting a bit porno fantasy land and I need to get back to the topic of smell.
Men and their smells are as important in the rules of attraction as men and good shoes, men and a sense of humour or men and the ability to buy roses on Valentine’s Day.
Scientists will tell you that if a man doesn’t smell right it doesn’t matter how much you want to like him you’ll just never want to get within smelling distance which kind of prohibits a sex life. So finding his scent is an art I feel I must share for the sake of relationship perfection everywhere. There are three spots, each emitting a very different aroma, but like a good perfume each is an essential note of the man fragrance.
The top note is the sexiest smell a man can have, and unfortunately our modern metros spend most of their lives trying to wash it away. His sweat. Only the most prudish woman will deny that a good whiff of an armpit after his workout at the gym or a bout chopping the firewood is quite moreish. Not that you’d want to smear it on your pocket handkerchief and whiff it all day, but it’s tantalising and suggestive all in one whiff.
Sweat must not, however be confused with BO which is that same sweat going off, rotting, turning into something very unclean and disgusting. So the lesson here is to get it fresh. Straight off the rugby field, the golf course, but perhaps not the fishing trip, especially if he’s got a good haul and been doing a bit of fish gutting.
Then there’s the hair line. As long as he’s a real man and doesn’t steal your shampoo there will always be a distinctive identifier of your man around the nape of his neck. This is the maternal smell, not dissimilar to the one we mothers associate with that first primal whiff or our new baby’s head. It’s a soft smell, the one you find on his pillow after he gets up in the morning. Totally free of any stray Gucci or Calvin Klein. Just him from the roots up so to speak.
You have to travel further for the next smell which starts at the navel and really comes into its own as you head south. Musk is the predominate note here and let’s just say that like sweat there are varying stages of musk. The nice sweet version or the stale cheese-like smell which tells you he hasn’t had a good wash down there for a while. But when it’s fresh and musky there is nothing quite so overpowering and likely to glaze your eyes and make you go a bit silly.
And there you have it, your man’s essential perfume, made fresh every day, and just for you. If you’re not sure you’ve ever quite grasped the full three notes all at once then wait until he’s asleep, lift the sheets and have a good old sniff (providing he’s not a bed farter).
The smell you receive is the one you can safely copyright and know that in a line-up, you’ll be able to pick him out blindfolded …or something like that.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

"Mid Life" published February 18

“I just had to ring you to tell you I’m making breadcrumbs,” came the excited voice on the other end of the phone.
“Did you toast the bread first?” was my immediate if insensitive reply, knowing very well that the voice on the other end of the phone belonged to a woman who would need all the help she could get. The breadcrumbs were just the first phase of a very common affliction.
For me it was making my own laundry detergent, bottling it and distributing it to my friends who placed it gingerly in their designer handbags before phoning my husband to check on my mental health. .
Home made breadcrumbs and laundry detergent may be part and parcel for a woman living in Nelson, who crafts bead ear-rings to sell at the local cafe. But for the two of us, Auckland born and immersed for the past 20 years in busy and relentless careers, nothing could be more frightening to behold.
Just yesterday (in the 90s) we were shoulder padded to our eyeballs strutting around with stern looks and strong words. We were working girls, and proud of it, every day fulfilling the feminist movement’s expectation of a good keen woman. Earning good money, working long hours, marrying a good man and raising healthy children. At least on the surface. Underneath we were exhausted most of the time, we each lost a marriage, and when our 40th birthdays rolled around the nagging sense of loss took hold. Had we missed out on something? Like making breadcrumbs? Were we validating ourselves by what we did at the office?
And there it was. The longing for a life of simplicity, a life where your time is your own to spend working if you want, or planting potatoes.
Post Career Joy is most often experienced by women past 40, and sometimes by men of the same age. It happens when we leave full time employment, sit around at home for a while pondering our working-from-home options and discover the Aunt Daisy lurking in all of us. And for women who have worked all their life, it comes as a shocking but ultimately pleasant surprise to find that when one has the time, the kitchen becomes a fascinating place not the mere giver of heat for convenience food. And there’s this lump of ground outside which would make a very nice potager garden. And did I just spend an hour talking to my kids about life instead or nagging them to clean their rooms?
In the three years of Post Career Joy, I have baked bread and shaped intricate parcels of delicious ravioli, cooked bits of meat for 10 hours, you get the picture. Cooking with time. I’ve also grown my own lettuce and herbs, planted potatoes in the rain and cleaned the house with nothing but baking soda and vinegar.
My friend has now moved onto stuffing poultry. But Post Career Joy is not all bread and potatoes.
She hasn’t got a tattoo, which is next. Just a small one, no dragons or anything like that. Or written a book. Or priced solar power options for her home. Or bought a caravan in a remote location and spent hours there listening to the sea and doing all the thinking she never had time to do when she worked full time. Those things will come. As will picking up a bit of work she likes doing and not minding how much it pays.
Meanwhile those around us wait for our real selves to return. The women they have known for the past 20 years. Bursting with energy, vital and fascinating, always ready with a funny story from work. But she’s disappeared without warning, didn’t even leave a note. Only now, after three years, has my family become used to what they refer to as the “new” Wendyl. Every so often one of them will ask in a careful voice if I’d ever consider going back.
“Going back where darling?” comes my vague reply as I spray the roses. So lost to me is the memory of hard work and middle management arseholes.
The very relieved child trots off, but not before reminding me he’ll be home for dinner.
“Home made tortellini with salad from the garden!” comes my delighted response.
My friend on the other hand has some way to go before her former life leaves her to find a better home. She’s officially on Post Career Joy watch until she’s made it to six months without giving into upper management arsholes and returning to a job. But her garden is waiting and I’ll be there with my shovel. If only to bury the breadcrumbs that didn’t quite work.

Sunday, 11 February 2007

"Sex and Middle Age" published February 11

There is nothing more annoying than being told what you should be doing in your life. It is for this reason I detest those surveys which announce that “most” people have sex less than once a week. How can they possibly tell who is having sex with who and how often? I haven’t noticed any statisticians in my bed lately, have you?
So I was less than enthused to read the findings of New York psychologist Esther Perel who tells me that married couples have no sex at all. We’re in the midst of a sex drought leading lives which can no longer muster the slightest hint of eroticism and “many” of us go for a whole year without turning to our husbands and suggesting a root.
How can this be? Were we not the first generation to dip our eager genitals into the well of sexual freedom and emerge triumphant, if a little scarred by the accompanying herpes, Chlamydia and crabs? Our lives were always going to be rich and diverse in the area of sexual gratification as long as erectile dysfunction kept its limp tentacles at bay. We’re the ones who sit and watch those old couples in restaurants who have not only forgotten the art of conversation with each other but you just know Dad hasn’t been near Mum for a cuddle in years. You observe and rather smugly think that will never happen to you. You’re far too enlightened and motivated for that carry on.
But as it turns out the sexual revolution was a total waste of time. Sex has no place in the modern middle aged marriage.
But help, and a bestseller is on it’s way with Perel writing a book Mating in Captivity – Reconciling the Erotic and Domestic in which our sexless selves are encouraged to email our partners filthy billets doux in the hope of getting each other interested again. Personally I would set up your own web based email account in which to do these smutty pieces of creative writing because the last thing you want is the IT nerd at work bouncing the email he just read about he size and resilience of your husband’s member and what your are planning to do with it. Or mistakenly sending it to your boss. And I’m sure once you got started it could be quite fun pausing between staff announcements to whip up a frenzied piece of sexual erotica, but how long before the domestic interfered?
Dear Sex Ogre
I can’t wait until you get home so that I can strip you naked, cover you in oil and rub myself all over you.
Get milk on the way home and where did you put the scissors?
Love you long time
Pop Tart
Then Perel suggests a bit of motel room sex and sex in alleyways. Well, hello doesn’t everyone do that on a Tuesday night after Coro Street? Grey Lynn is teaming with smug marrieds ravaging each other behind Foodtown and hasn’t everyone noticed the kids sitting in the back of the Holden sipping their pink lemonades while Mum and Dad are in the Quality Inn getting their ends away?
Her suggestion that we turn up at parties and pretend not to recognize each other is just silly. What would your friends think? I doubt they would nod sagely and quote Mating in Captivity, instead they’d put it down to yet another crippling bout of the silent treatment.
What Perel fails to tell us is what to do with our other lives while we’re rekindling the eroticism. There’s a reason we spent our youth bonking our way through the alleyways and flats of Ponsonby and it had to do with the absence of a mortgage, a job to pay it and children. Screaming, demanding, exhausting children, and that’s jus the teenagers.
As we collapse into our marital bed, soft and well worn, sleep has become the most important activity in our well run lives. We become obsessed with getting at least eight hours because any less and we just can’t function. And sex has become the enemy of sleep because it takes time, and sometimes wakes us up.
So if one of us in the marital bed should be overcome by a nostalgic and usually subconscious grope in the dark, we’ll be met by a slap and the most unromantic or erotic words known to man: “I can’t believe you woke me up for that!”

Sunday, 4 February 2007

"Style Counsel" published February 4

No Kiwi girl got past her first Smith and Caughey’s training bra without learning several rules of style. Don’t wear horizontal stripes, black makes you thin, never wear white without a tan, and don’t mix purple with green.
All these tips were gleaned out of fashion mags as New Zelaand women clambered their way through the crazy psychedilia of the 70s into somethig a little more classic and European by the year 2000.
It has taken several decades for Kiwi women to find some sense of style, but today a casual stroll around the streets of Ponsonby will reveal some rather elegant women, as long as you ignore the visitors from West Auckland.
We can credit this eventual discovery of things chic to those who were lucky enough to travel to Europe and immerse themselves in a bucket so full of superior style that they would come home looking like a cross between Audry Hepburn and Jackie O. Eager Kiwi women greatfully left behind the crimplene trouser suits and marvelled at how well things fit when they were designed and cut well – no need for elastic waistbands in Europe.
But today, I can confidently pronounce after a month over there that the word “style” has undergone a slight change in meaning in Italy, where bling went to die. An entire reality show could be built around the challenge of finding a pair of jeans which doesn’t have diamantes glued to the butt. And don’t even get me started on the shoes. No style conscious Italian would be seen dead on their evening stroll around the piazza without a pair of silver trainers and a matching shiny silver puffer jacket wih fur trim giving the visitor an overwhelming impression that Italian youth has identified rather too strongly with American rap stars.
Out here in the colonies we have occasional glimpses of designers like Versace and Chirstian Dior with the odd handbag, pair of sunglasses, or belt and that’s all very nice as a one off item to go with our black. But it’s not until you get to Europe that you see a woman dressed out in top to toe Christian Dior. Shoes, jeans, belt, t shirt, jacket, necklace, ear-rings and sunglasses – all in wonderful glorious bright pink with sparkles. As you attempt to absorb this blinding designer vision you wonder if the designer himself ever imagined all that going together quite like that. In Europe the singular form of the noun accessory just doesn’t exist. It’s accessories, the plural at all times.
As I shopped exhaustively through the cities of Venice, Rome, Sorrento,
Syracuse and Palermo, I found myself craving and admiring our local designers. A well cut plain white shirt, a beautifully tailored pair of black pants, all part and parcel of all of our designer collections, even if you do have to go to the back of the shop to find them. In some weird cultural exchange New Zealanders have taken the simple well cut lines of European design and made them our own while Europe has become overwhelmed in Eurotrash bling, perhsaps inspired by the constan demands of Paris Hilton and her puppy, who, thanks to Paris’s ever diminishing weight, can now wear each other’s clothes.
Of course other things went to die in Italy. The tracksuit, which has undergone little adjustment since it was made popular by the likes of fitness guru Richard Simmons in the 70s and rap stars in the 90s, when the tracksuit found itself a little bit of bling down the trouser leg. It would appear containers full of them have been loaded up in West Auckland and shipped to Italy as emergency supplies.
Nothing went to die in Paris, on the other hand. If it had, the strictly styled Parisians would have wrinkled their noses, clasped it gingerly by the tips of two fingers and thrown it over the border to Italy. There are no tracksuits and the only bling is the diamonds weighing heavily and singularly on their fingers and ear lobes. Normally there are great fashion trends to be picked up on the streets of Paris but in winter one can barely move for the cushiony, soft mass that is fur coats. Tiny cobblstone lanes become a mass of undulating fur. There are no fat people in Paris. Paris is the only country in the world which makes you feel ugly, frumpy and fat from the moment you alight at Charles de Gaulle airport. Which is why I recommend, for the sake of your mental health, that you follow up any stay in Paris with at least a quick stop in Italy to take in the tracksuits.