Sunday, 29 July 2007

"Status" published July 29

Just once in my life you would think it possible to do something a little unusual and not have it become a trend. I’ve been catching buses consistently for 10 whole days. I’ve stood in the rain and waited for 20 minutes, I’ve caught the wrong one and I’ve forgotten to ring the button for my stop. But generally I’ve become quite the buster, complete with my 10 pass ticket and smug saving the environment face.
Distressingly I was recently in a very posh restaurant (having caught the bus and arrived a little early) and overheard a table of well heeled businessmen earnestly discussing their recent bus trips. The men had “my car cost as much as a small house” written all over them but they were telling tales of hopping on not one but two buses to get about the place. Surely rich white men were untouched by such hippy talk as using public transport? Surely my bus experiences were mine and mine alone not to be messed about with by people of that class and status? When my companions joined me one of them looked over at the table and explained away my dilemma.
“They own Stagecoach,” he announced in a matter-of-fact tone only news readers possess.
Obviously they’d been indulging in a fun corporate exercise of “getting down with the customers” and were celebrating in the relative safety of a restaurant none of their customers could afford.
But good on them. The more people who catch buses the better because then we might get more of them, on time and going our way more frequently. We’ll reduce traffic congestion, save petrol, and operate like a proper metropolitan city. We might also get buses free for students and old people which would be super.
There are some of us who adore public transport. I’ve been to Europe six times and never caught a taxi. Not even from the airport. Which sometimes means you’re in a carriage with dope smoking Nigerian teenagers who live in the outskirts of Paris, but they seemed quite nice. They were certainly laidback.
It also means you sometimes get told the train you’re on is the right one when it’s not. But how often do you get to see a quaint old train station in the middle of Sicily while a young woman (who later reveals she is a geriatric neurologist) screams at the top of her voice in staccato Italian at a station master to get her the right train and get it now.
But back in New Zealand if everyone becomes busters, there will be the problem of status anxiety. Without the buzz of sliding into your heated leather bucket seats, firing up the V8 and cruising around the streets in a car designed for fording rivers rather than negotiating traffic islands at an average speed of 40km, how are people going to know that you’re important? How will they know that you have six figure salary, a seven figure house and a really small penis?
I’ve been working on it. First you must wear your money in accessories. You don’t just plug into a 1GB iPod you have the mega 80 GB version. You also have headphones at least the size of your head if not bigger and every accessory you can find from skins to armbands. People will take one look at you and see the equivalent of at least a BMW 3 series or an Audi A4. But add a Blackberry and get busy with your emails and you can shift all the way up to a Porsche or even a Rolls Royce phantom if you score yourself a Vertu or an iPhone.
Then there is the problem of maintaining your status as in individual. By necessity public transport means you are not alone. You may have to sit next to a fat person or listen to rowdy children…yuck! But please don’t return to the solo haven of your vehicle. Consider this a good chance to mix with the “real” people and drop in funny anecdotes at work just to show that you’re “in touch.” You can even afford to become a little supercilious with it now you’re officially a buster.
And if you’re not a status seeking wanker, then it may be necessary to advertise your less materialistic attributes by reading intelligent literature. A newspaper is a good start, a Jane Austen if you’re into attracting the ladies, but why not go the whole hog and grab yourself a copy of “A Life Stripped Bare, my year of trying to live ethically” (available at all good Trade Aid shops.)

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Age published July 22

I turned 45 on Thursday the same week that cute little weather girl Toni Marsh was furiously trying to tell everyone she was no where near 40. Apparently she’s nearly 39 and someone had to rock up to Births, Deaths and Marriages to find out. I’m okay about admitting my age because secretly I know people really think I’m 35.
This year I’ve even started growing the grey streak back into the front of my hair, just so people will look at me and say: “Well she must be 45 she has that grey streak, if she was 35 she’d be dying it.”
And actually I’m more likely to tell people I’m older than I am because I can never quite remember what year I’m in or what year I was born.
I’m also quite happy for someone to look up my birth certificate to prove that I’m 10 years older than I am but to save you the bother it was July 19, 1962, North Shore Hospital. You’ll notice my name was originally Wendy, but it was altered to Wendyl when I was 10 months old. I tell people my parents had a huge weekend and decided to invent a new name for me. They deny this furiously (the bit about the huge weekend, the name is quite obviously made up) and while we’re at it Mum would like it if I mentioned something positive about her for once. She won at bridge this week. Got a silver cup and $50.
That same week I was also struck for the very first time with the knowledge that I had at least 40 years still to go if you take the average life expectancy for a Kiwi woman is 81.9. I’ve added 3.1 years for good behaviour. What an awfully long time to fill when you’ve already got a career, given birth four times, learned how to cook, sew, garden, read without moving your lips and have decent sex. What will I do with those 40 years? I’ve started doing the crossword.
Someone suggested affairs with younger men are all the go when you have a bit of time on your hands. I asked my husband what it would be like from the man’s point of view to watch an older woman take her clothes off in front of you. Would she be best to insist on lights out, take some E so that it didn’t really matter or give him a guided tour to the scars your life has left on you? Fell off the bike coming home from tennis, first baby stretch marks, second, third and fourth baby stretch marks, skin cancer removal, episiotomy scar times four. My husband suggested leaving out the episiotomy because young men don’t know what that is.
I had a dinner for my birthday. The friends I invited were different from the friends I invited the year before and the year before that. Some were the same, obviously I don’t go through friends quite that quickly, but none of them were at my 35th birthday. Age does that.
I refrained from screaming in a pissed way at my birthday lunch with the girls that I’d “bought myself Botox for my birthday!” as I once heard an older women in full flight at SPQR. If I did that I’d then have to scream: “And in 10 years when my liver gives up trying to cleanse my body of botulism I’ll die!”
At 45 my body has never been better. Not in a Nicky Watson tanned and terrific way,but in a healthy way because age tells you that it’s best if nothing goes in without evidence that it was created naturally. And that it’s quite good to do some exercise every day. A cold or flu contemplates settling in for a week of battle with my immune system and runs screaming from the room after 24 hours. And my body and brain have spent enough time working together that they combine to get me home before I start making a fool of myself in public places.
But the best thing about being 45 was turning up for a photo shoot for former editors of the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly where I was admonished by another former editor for not following the brief of wearing “black and white.” I hadn’t read the brief; at 45 you read books, not briefs. But it didn’t matter because at 45 you don’t have to do white. You can do whatever the f..k you like. Toni Marsh might quite like that when she gets there.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

"On Being Interesting" published July 15

The long cold days of winter are threatening to turn us all into tiresome, jumper wearing people with nothing better to do than read books in front of the fire, slow cook pieces of meat which should have been fed to the dog but masquerade as comfort food, and start doing the Herald crossword. By July it always becomes essential to find ways to make yourself more interesting when you are forced out into the cold and exposed to others. Here are some ideas:
If you’re a girl shave your head for charity and post a picture of yourself on the net. Guaranteed to generate a few gasps from your friends and colleagues but highly unlikely to get you laid in the very near future. In fact not even the near future, try next winter when you’re hair has grown an inch or two.
Tell everyone you’re on the Global Poverty diet. You’ve just read the No Nonsense guide to World Poverty and were so moved by the story of Farida Bibi from a village on the Bay of Bengal whose family chews rags to ease the hunger pains that you can no longer put anything in your mouth without tasting rags. You’ve already lost two kgs and you’re having talks with a publisher about a possible book deal. It could go global.
Consider the vest. A bullet proof vest sends a really intriguing message that you’ve just popped in from a hostage siege or perhaps you’re a duck hunter who is worried his mates might mistake you for a duck. Either way it makes for fairly interesting conversation and you can even buy one on Trade Me at the moment – closes tonight 6.31pm, $1 reserve. Or how about a visibility vest? Available at all good $2 shops this says you have an important job on the roads, you’re an ambulance driver or you lead the walking bus to school. All interesting pursuits guaranteed to keep the conversation flowing for a while and always leads to a spirited discussion on fluro choices for winter: yellow, orange or pink.
Email all your friends You Tube clips. Nothing says “interesting” quite like clips of TV shows they’ve never seen, or indeed never wanted to see. But it proves that you are “up with what’s happening” along with the other 100 million people who log on every day.
Email your friends obscure websites like where you have catalogued your entire book collection, complete with the cover art and you just wanted them to know how many books you have. Fascinating and good for insurance purposes if the house burns down. You can also tell them a bit about yourself such as the fact that in the last year you’ve given a voice to the disposed homeless defended the dignity of the old and helped the anger of the young grow into understanding. Not to mention turning dreams of a future into a living experience and assisted others to connect and walk the talk.
Start “accidentally” wearing your work photo ID outside of work. It’s a great conversation starter as everyone in the pub reminds you you’ve got it on, it sends the message that you are employed and that you work for a really big firm and the words “Accounts Dept” or “Call Centre” are too small for anyone to read from a polite distance.
Don’t wear black. Nothing says “positive attitude” and “sunny disposition” quite like a splash of orange and lime on a dull winter’s day. You may be confused for Theresa Gattung “kicking back”, but hey you were noticed.
Get drunk. You’ll be interesting for approximately one hour so do realise that after that you need to get home fast to your comfort food, your fire and a soothing dose of Coro St.
Start a blog. I did ( and the abuse was so overpowering I had to block the comments section for a few days just to get over it. The only person who was a bit nice to me confessed on another blog that he was just sucking up so I’d put his blog address in this column and get him a few more hits. It’s an ugly world but go there and you’ll at least have something to talk about even if your self-esteem has been reduced to the level of the rags starving children suck in India.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Excuses published July 8
There comes a time in everyone’s life when certain behaviours we are not proud of insist on taking themselves for a walk on a repetitive basis. Eventually it becomes evident that you need to come up with an explanation for these stray puppies of abnormal conduct.
For celebrities this is not a problem. Paris? ADD. Lindsay? Addiction to painkillers. Britney? Addiction to painkillers and buying wigs.
It could be reasonably argued that celebrities actually need a bit of a disorder to do what they do so abnormal is the desire to be famous, to give up any pretence of privacy and find God.
But when it comes to being just a normal person with an annoying tendency towards bad behaviour then we have to work harder. Which is when the disorder de jour becomes very useful.
A few years ago Autism was all the go. Don’t feel like mixing and mingling? Keep laughing at the wrong place in the joke? Can’t look anyone in the eye? You’re not rude you’re Autistic. Feel free.
Then along came Attention Deficit Disorder or ADD. Can’t be bothered listening? Keep walking out of the room at the wrong time? Always on the go? This one can cover a lot of ground on any given day.
And lately Aspergers is all the rage. Bit clumsy? Not good in a social situations? Can’t read body language? Go for it.
The wonderful thing about having a disorder de jour in your back pocket is that no one questions it. You can be in the middle of the most disgraceful behaviour in a busy restaurant such as pulling a woman’s hair while screaming abuse at your boyfriend about supposed indiscretions and simply ask that people respect your behaviour due to a diagnosis of ADD combined with a touch of Dyslexia. You can guarantee they will back off in an instant in an effort to be seen to be a caring politically correct member of society. And no one will ask you to sign the bill thinking Dyslexia means you can’t write your own name and go around the place marking “X” on legal documents.
You can also use it for explaining away work issues such as boring everyone rigid with extensive logic arguments about the storage of paper clips (Asperger's) or repetitive behaviours such as insisting on stacking the toilet paper rolls neatly in the toilet (Asperger's, Autism) or just losing it on any given day (Autism).
Which takes care of the behavioural side of your demeanour. But there are still certain behaviours that require excuses such as not turning up at work. What you need then is the disease de jour.
For many years the two words “women’s” and “problems” were sufficient to buy you anything from a day off work to a full scale six weeks if “surgery” was required. Although it can also be categorised as a disorder de jour to explain away general moodiness and hypersensitivity.
But then male bosses stopped turning pale and shaky at the slightest mention of “down there” because they were cool and modern and with it. Suddenly they started actually asking how heavy your flow was and had you considered the possibility of fibroids? Apparently his wife has them. Now you’re pale and shaky.
These days we’ve had to be a bit more creative and call in Irritable Bowel Syndrome but even then they insist on suggesting that your farting was actually getting a little out of control in the office.
The key is to find something no one knows about. Can I suggest Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome which according to Paula Abdul is why her behaviour on Idol was so loopy. Not the drugs after all. Hard to diagnose, this disease causes the nervous system to begin behaving erratically. Brilliant.
Or how about Simmering Kidney Disease or one of the many illnesses caused by mosquito bites? Allergies are also ensured a long life span due to pollution of our environment. All you need to do is sneeze a lot and remember not to eat dairy when the nibbles tray goes around at staff drinks.
At the moment I’m working on a suitable disease to explain why I went to the Kathmandu sale 10 days ago, bought six thermal tops and haven’t stopped wearing them since, even to bed. Ah yes, SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Apparently I can also gain weight and refuse to get out of bed. Loving it.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

"Trouble with Teens" published July 1

When did teenagers become the new hated minority? In a unique sociological twist we’ve stopped turning on people because of their race, religion or sexuality and decided to turn on our own. Our kids.
They are not to be trusted and certainly shouldn't have the right to vote at 16 as proposed by Sue Bradford. Being a teenager is possibly the worst thing you can be because you are certain to become a hoodie wearing P addicted crime machine. Just read the papers.
Society insists that your children have two stages when you will want to hand them over to CYFS. When they are toddlers and when they are teenagers. God forbid you should get through either stage without incident, that’s just not normal. Whoever heard of a toddler who doesn’t have tantrums or a teenager who doesn’t turn sullen, uncommunicative and overindulge in alcohol and drugs? People insist on telling you that parenting teenagers is a minefield. A thankless task which will always end with a visit from the cops in the middle of the night.
And if they’re not destined for a life of crime they’re just so weird and whacky and self obsessed and off this planet. Really? Last time I looked this generation of teenagers is possibly the most well educated, well researched, most likely to have a debate and win type of people. And don’t even start talking about the environment, from the age of 12 these kids have a PhD on the subject.
Because what people over 40 fail to realise is that these kids have the internet. They Google, they You Tube, they My Space, they bebo, they Wikipedia, they chat online, they learn things at a rate only the speed of light could envy. They are little powerhouses of knowledge, even the poor ones. Don’t look now, but the internet is everywhere.
Readers of the NZ Herald need look no further than the College Herald, the outstanding newspaper written by high school kids to realise that on any given edition you will be confronted with opinion, knowledge and facts on everything from nuclear power and world poverty to globalisation. I doubt I even knew what globalisation meant at that age and I was on the debating team and everything.
I was apparently a terrible teenager. Before taking any new man to meet my mother I would have to warn him of two things: She will talk about my teenage years as if I was Carrie reincarnated and she will get out a poem I wrote at 14 and read it out loud in an attempt to mortify me. The last man I took to meet her smiled politely at these revelations, even though he was 38 and had two kids of his own. And I’m pretty sure that poem is still lurking somewhere at the bottom of her handbag to be used at a moment’s notice if I don’t watch my 44-year-old self.
But despite being a little naïve and idealistic teenagers of my generation were generally expected to be good kids and grow up to be valid human beings.
Then somewhere along the line society started saying teenagers were wrong. And so started the self fulfilling prophecy. If you tell any minority they suck, then that’s exactly what they’ll do.
And then we send them out with their self esteem around their ankles into a world where they are being offered more than the dope we smoked. They’re dealing with pharmaceuticals and while parenting guru Ian Grant tells parents to have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to drugs, that advice may have worked in the 18th century when it was still legal to lock your kids up, but surely giving them information and advice is a better course of action.
Even without Ian Grant to guide me on the path of righteousness, and despite my mother’s memory, I wasn’t a terrible teenager. My only crimes were that I left home at 17 to live with my boyfriend and put myself through a journalism course while I worked waitressing at the Hungry Horse Restaurant. And I was a bit lippy. Which I still am.
Today we need to stick up for our teenagers. To tell them that being a teenager is about experimentation, moderation, having the knowledge to make good decisions for themselves and others, that we trust them to make those good decisions and most importantly that we really like having them around. And never, ever leave poems lying around where your mother can find them.