Monday, 30 April 2007

"Home Office Collapse" published April 29

You read about it happening, but it’ll never happen to you. It was a Friday, I had just finished writing 75,000 words. A project which had taken me six months, a few counselling sessions and a great deal of recovered memory to finish. I felt strangely deflated at the longed for moment of completion. If only I knew that melancholic mood was a sign.
I set up the computer to print the bugger out. Loaded it up with reams of A4 and wandered into the kitchen to make a celebratory cup of coffee and ponder my newfound freedom. Never again would I need to find time for “the book.”
Back in my home office I glanced briefly at the printer which was happily spewing out completely blank sheets of paper where printed ones should be like some moronic computerised half wit. It had ink. It had died, on page 25. I bought the printer three years ago. I guess it was time.
I returned to my laptop to cancel the print job and experienced a premonition of impending home office disaster. Something to do with the words “three years” and a long overused phrase “planned obsolescence”. I panicked and began to back up. One would hate to lose those 75,000 words. You read about it happening all the time.
At 11.30 am that Friday morning my laptop crashed, hard drive melted, computer dead right in the middle of the back up. It’s amazing how quickly you can find that 0800 helpline number in times of crisis. It’s also amazing how quickly they tell you there is nothing they can do, in times of crisis.
By midday on that Friday my home office had died on me, and gone were those precious 75,000 words, apart from pages 1 to 25 which sat in the printer tray looking very pleased with themselves.
I retrieved my precious pages and reached for the hole punch so that I could at least place them in the brand new folder I had purchased to be the honoured recipient of the intended 119 pages. I just needed to be sure I had them safely filed away. The little green hole punch I bought three years ago, along with my computer and printer to set up my home office, made a mouse-like squeak and refused to punch. There was nothing to do except sit on the floor and summon every swear word that had ever found its way into my brain as well as a few I made up on the spot. For a moment I pondered the possibility that a poltergeist had entered the room and at any moment the lights would start flickering on and off. Would my portable telephone start flying around the room and repeatedly bang me on the head while the green stapler gunned me down?
And then I just cried. As I sat there dripping tears onto pages one through 25 I realised that I really wasn’t surprised that in factories all over the world laptops, printers, hole punches, telephones and staplers were being manufactured to give up the ghost at age three.
I regularly visit our caravan which was built in 1968, when they made things to last. It doesn’t leak, rust or collapse. The fridge clatters into action as it has done for the past 39 years as does the gas stove. The house I live in which is about to turn 100 and doesn’t leak or rot will no doubt still be standing in another 100 years if a property developer doesn’t bowl it over.
And then I just got angry at our acceptance of the sheer stupidity of planned obsolescence which while it helped end the depression in 1932 by creating jobs, has since meant that everything we buy will die, sooner rather than later.
My laptop recently returned home with a new hard drive, only after I had to endure the humiliation of telling the technician my password was “bigdick.” And my printer is still in “isolation.” When I asked what “isolation” meant it turns out it’s another way of saying the technician hasn’t got around to looking at it yet.
Meanwhile my 75,000 words were found by my husband at 1.30pm on that fateful Friday afternoon. Every one of those little darlings sitting in his Gmail account where I had sent them. Gmail is a web based email service which never downloads to a hard drive, it just exists in the internet ether. So in the end my book was preserved not on a hard drive or on 119 pieces of A4 paper. It sat, safe and sound in nothing but thin air.

Monday, 23 April 2007

"Cycling" published April 22

When I took a long hard look at my carbon footprint recently I realised I have very sooty feet indeed. So much so that the the third car has been sold, which we had kept for the adult kids to borrow when they needed it, but otherwise was surplus to requirements. It went for a cool $700 to my son’s friends who have taken it on a fruit picking journey. Originally the idea was to reinvest that money in a motor scooter, which I would use on my excursions to the gym, Foodtown, lunch and the library. All short journeys not deserving of gas guzzling. Then we went to Rome. There we hired bikes and rode blissfully down the Appian Way, apart from my nine-year-old daughter who we had forgotten to teach how to ride a bike. None of us had realised this until the bike was hired and she looked at us with childlike anticipation that someone would soon explain to her exactly what she was doing with a bike she couldn’t ride. So I doubled her on my parcel rack illegally but it did the trick. In Rome a solid 44-year-old woman can ride a bike, because the chance of seeing anyone she knows is very slim and she can therefore pedal away enjoying a rare trip back to her carefree childhood and her much loved Raleigh 20.
Back in Auckland I wondered out loud about getting a bike and using it. The deafening laugher and guffaws from around the dinner table from people I loved and some I had raised to be polite individuals made me think twice. I visited the local Ponsonby bike shop where a very nice man showed me an $800 dollar neon sci fi machine with “enough gears to get YOU up Franklin Rd.” I told the man it looked a bit wanky and didn’t they stock nice old bikes like you see in French movies with baguettes and flowers in the wicker baskets and generous seating? “No we don’t.” he replied firmly before telling me that in the cycling world no one looks at you, they look at your bike. It is very important to have the “right” bike. And no doubt the cheesy lycra bodysuit and silly pointed hat I suggested. The look of disgust was enough to have me hurtling out the door and into the car for the short drive home.
Eventually I found the right bike. A Raleigh from the year 2000 bought at the Bike Barn by someone who sold it to me on Trade Me for $120. She threw in the helmet too although my ex husband tells me you must get a new helmet every 18 months because the plastic deteriorates. That’s just silly. All those landfills full of plastic helmets with an 18 month shelf life. Someone should have a word or at least set those Ribena girls onto it.
I then kitted it out with a sheepskin seat cover, a white wire basket for the front, a parcel rack for the back, a pump and a lock.
Then I just had to ride it. I was petrified someone would see me. Then I was afraid I wouldn’t last the distance all the way into the central library for my inaugural trip. But I did. On the footpath most of the way, and walking it up the steeper hills. When I stopped at lights I adopted a nonchalant attitude, gazing off into space reasoning that if I can’t see someone I might recognise who might laugh at me, they can’t see me.
Then my 18-year-old daughter sat me down and gave me a few tips. One was to think of central Auckland topographically. “Ride the rims” she advised rather than up and down the valleys. The other was to stay on the footpath, which I know is illegal but when someone makes some bike paths I’ll be happy to use them. I’ve only nearly run down one poor woman coming out of a shop, but I’m getting better and spotting them.
I haven’t quite ridden it to Ponsonby Rd for lunch yet, but when I stop sweating so copiously and my hair learns how to behave itself after a session in the helmet I will. And I’ll refrain from riding it right into SPQR and parking it next to the table as I once saw Matthew Ridge do.
As for the non bike riding nine-year-old, she has just come in from riding twice around the camping ground as I type away in our caravan.
“I love riding bikes, it’s very good for the legs,” she announced.

Monday, 16 April 2007

"Tweens" published April 15

It used to be hilarious to describe your child as “16 going on 25!” Oh that used to get a right old laugh in the old days, the thought that a child might think she was older than she actually is. Hilarious. But it gets less funny when your child is nine, going on 25. When she regularly stops at a local cafĂ© for a hot chocolate with her other nine-year-old friends. When she sits on the end of your bed and earnestly discusses the finer details of mascara application.
“You’re not allowed to wear make-up, you’re too young,” I say.
“Oh I know Mum, I totally hear what you’re saying, but there’s nothing wrong with getting in a bit of practice in my own time is there?”Where did my baby go?
And who operated on her overnight and transplanted her delightful Kiwi accent and unique colloquialisms like “bro” and “mate” with an American twang and the constant overuse of the word “like” as in “like I told her like I just didn’t think like that was like exactly what she meant like.” Not to mention the screeching. High pitched squeals accompanied by jumping on the spot and throwing arms in the air with joy just because the cat walked into the room.
“This house is not an American sit com,” I say 10 times a day. “We are not American, we do not shout when we talk and we do not call each other ‘dude’ and ‘girlfriend.’ Please talk in your normal voice.”
“Like totally chill out okay Mum,” comes the reply followed by the more meaningful “Are you stressed out with work, is that it? Do you want to take a break and talk about it?”When did a counsellor move into my baby?
Of course my daughter is manifesting all the signs of a new breed called the Tween. Kids aged eight to 12 who are old before their time. Who practice squeezing zits long before a pimple is even contemplating erupting on their perfect skin. Who know about the complexities of relationships and having a bad day, before they’ve had either.
She wants a mobile phone. She’s not getting it. She likes to eat sushi and prefers it over McDonalds. She happily contributes to adult conversations with astonishing knowledge gleaned from the History channel and reading the newspaper every day. In the old days the word “nerd” would have been rearing its ugly head, but today it’s all about the Tween. Her father and I look at each other with tight smiles of pride mixed with white hot fear. We never had this with the other kids. Did someone activate a nuclear bomb without us knowing and produce these mutant children?
The other kids showed a nagging preference for designer labels at her age but that was about it. They were essentially running, jumping, laughing, silly mites until they turned 13, woke up one morning and gave us a funny look. A look which said “what the hell is happening to me all of a sudden?” That we know how to deal with.
Fortunately our Tween seems to have skipped over the desire to wear G strings and underwear which say “Tease Me!” possibly because they were never allowed into the house. But more likely because she is already “over” the desire to look like Britney and Paris. Our Tween leaves the house looking more like her older brothers and sisters in her own deconstructed Op Shop boho look. I could live with out the ripped jeans and the tangled hair but I’m just thankful she’s not wearing a bra, baring her midriff and shaking her ass in low riders.
And despite the occasional drift into the precocious pit she’s a neat kid. Fun to have around, organises her homework, does what she’s told, wakes up with a smile and never tidies her room. Rather like a little adult.
Oh God where did my baby go?
We wonder what will happen when she turns 13. Will she get less of a shock because she’s had all that practice actually being a teenager before her time or will she crumple into a heap because her new life of hormones and emotional roller coasters just isn’t like it is on the American sitcoms. Where after half an hour of being bullied by a school friend, having to deal with a humungous zit and not getting the cute guy she’s got a crush on, everything is sorted and smoothed out in time for a happy ending before the final credits.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

"Activism" published April 8

You don’t have to be a school girl working on a science project to become a consumer activist. The recent discovery that there isn’t an ounce of Vitamin C in Ribena has inspired me to tell my own consumer activism story, mainly because no one else will.
I’ve tried to get the media interested but it just doesn’t have the same punch because I’m not a winsome school girl. I’m a hardened media battleaxe so no David and Goliath here. And someone in the newsroom might have had to go to Foodtown to check my story because it is about a biscuit whose label incorrectly gives the kilojoule reading for three biscuits instead of one. I’ve had it confirmed by Arnotts, the manufacturer in an email and everything:
Dear Wendyl,Thank you very much for bringing this to our attention. On SnackrightSultana and Chocolate the number of biscuits per serving should read one, not three. We are in the process of amending the packaging to correct thisoversight. Again, thank you for your getting in touch with us and weapologise for any inconvenience we may have caused.Regards,DragicaConsumer Contact Representative
Inspired by the Ribena story I reactivated my activism and set off to Foodtown to see if the offending packet is still on the shelves five weeks after I received that email. As I entered Foodtown I saw John Campbell outside talking animatedly on his cell phone like a good current affairs show host should on a Wednesday morning.This was a good omen “Channel John!” I told myself. “What would he do?” I asked myself. And there they were. The same packet of biscuits with the energy rating of 208kj per three biscuits instead of the correct 624kj. As I walked home in the rain John was still talking on his cell phone but I could feel his silent journalistic encouragement following me down the road: “Go get’em you go get girl!”
But then it dawned on me that I needed proof. Out came the Herald, the biscuit packet and my camera and one hour later I managed to get a reasonable picture where you could see both the date on the paper and the nutrition panel on the biscuits. Then my husband pointed out that I could have just grabbed the biscuits out of my cupboard and posed them with the paper. Out came the Foodtown receipt. All bases covered.
Some people close to me might suggest that I have better things to be doing than catching Arnotts out with their incorrect labelling. And I would reply that I have a book to finish by the weekend, which any writer knows is exactly when you become obsessed with biscuit labelling. Not to mention the temperature variation from one end of the house to the other and the height of your washing line. Anything to prevent you from sitting at your desk and writing.
There was also the fact that back when I made my first investigation I had been happily munching six of the offending biscuits at a time thinking I was doing about 416 kj [as stated on the label] when instead, in my ignorance I was taking on a massive 1248 kj [as effectively admitted in the nice email from Dragica], which seriously puts your diet out of whack.
Not that I didn’t have my suspicions something was wrong. Apart from the lack of weight loss any idiot can tell that something coated in chocolate is never going to be diet food.
But in my house we trust that people obey laws. My husband said exactly that as I voiced my calorie confusion: “Wendyl it has to be right, they are breaking the law if it isn’t, that’s why we have consumer laws darling.” Note the condescension creeping into the voice here. “That’s why we have the Commerce Commission, the Consumer’s Institute, Fair Go, they’d be mad to take them on.”
Oh, okay, munch munch slap it on the thighs.
And perhaps I would have let it all go if the packaging hadn’t been so directly targeted at people trying to be healthy with its “SnackRight” brand and its Low GI and Made with Real Fruit labels.
That’s when I got angry. Ribena just forgot to put in the Vitamin C. Surely as we struggle through the “obesity epidemic” misleading people who are actually trying to do something about their weight is just destructive.
p.s. My complaint is in with the Commerce Commission. I’m expecting John Campbell and a camera crew to pop around any day.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

"Food" published April 1

The tragic thing about trying to eat less is that you develop an unhealthy obsession with the Food Channel. There’s something about watching people fry stuff and stir things with a wooden spoon that gives a fake fullness to the stomach area without needing to actually eat anything. I may have hit on a new diet trend and could soon write a book which will be featured on Oprah entitled “Don’t Eat It, Watch It – how I lost 10 pounds sitting on the couch.” It’ll be a huge hit.
But food porn, just like real porn, has the unfortunate side effect of encouraging you to get up off the couch and attempt to do what you’ve been watching the television. Porn is a stimulant, so one day you find yourself in the kitchen throwing things into a pot with a newfound confidence.
Which again, like porn, is fine in theory but in the end it comes down to detail. And with food programmes these days none of the cooks use measurements. The old fashioned one cup is now a “healthy glug” for liquids and a “good handful” for dry goods. The tablespoon is a “sprinkling” and a teaspoon a “pinch.”
At first you feel quite complimented that Ramsey, Stein and Oliver think so much of your abilities as a cook that they no longer need to give you specific instructions. When you get to you’re their level it’s all about flavour, a dash of wine, a handful of fresh herbs and a flourish of grated of lemon peel. You can do it. You’re a good cook. You watch Ramsey, Stein and Oliver.
Well sort of. The problem is that when you spend $30 on a bit of organic pork, and throw things about in a decidedly creative and knowing manner you can end up with a very nice looking dish of pork which is tragically too salty, too runny or bland as pig swill because your hands are smaller and your glugs are bigger and it’s just not fair.
So you try to find the recipe. And that’s where you realise that you are being taken on one big food porn industry scam. You can’t find the recipes on the shows. You might be lucky to find one on the BBC website but if you really, really want to cook that Lancashire Hotpot you will have to cough up $70 for Rick Stein’s book which accompanies the Food Heroes series.
So it’s back to the TV and filling your entire My Sky planner with every episode of Rick Stein’s Food Heroes so that you can sit and replay it pausing often to gauge visually whether one of Rick’s hands is a cup or a cup and a half. The whole process takes two weeks by the time you finally record the episode you were looking for and your family is quite rightly wondering if you have too much time on your hands before realising that once again you are on deadline and avoiding.
Or you could spend a small fortune buying the books, necessitating a whole new shelf in your already cluttered kitchen. So far Jamie Oliver has eight books in print, of which I have five which means when a friend gives you some duck breasts he recently obtained with his gun out come all the Jamies. Half an hour later you find a duck recipe and wonder where the day went. Cunningly I recently paid the nine-year-old $15 to photocopy all the indexes and put them in a blue clear file so now I just have to flit through the “Jamie Oliver Index” which she has also illustrated with drawings of a bowl, a bunch of grapes and a bottle with the world “oil” on it. She has quite rightly picked up on Jamie’s’ Italian influence.
But now the wives are getting in on the act. I will not buy “Jools” Oliver’s book about the “sheer hard work” it is being a mum to Poppy and Daisy plus recipes. She’s obviously not heard about those women giving birth in the rice fields, thousands of them, every day and just getting on with it. Or those other women over in Africa who find it “sheer hard work” finding enough food to feed their starving children. Nor will I be buying Gordon Ramsay’s “hands on mother of four” wife Tana’s book which tells time pressed parents how easy it is to cook healthy meals. Ditto the rice fields and the not enough food in Africa thing for you too Tana. The only other book I ever want to read by any of these people is Poppy and Daisy’s upcoming scandalous tell-all “Jamie Dearest”.