Sunday, 28 October 2007


The only problem with dining in exclusive posh restaurants is that it’s so damn quiet in there you can hear an egg crack in the kitchen and the Superior couple two tables away from you.
Superiors are a new breed of diner who recently emerged out of the mating of the nouveau riche and the fashionably challenged. When those two bred they produced a person who by necessity must dine in exclusive posh restaurants to illustrate their wealth, a trait inherited from their nouveau riche parent, and they must clothe themselves in ridiculous clothes simply because they have a label and cost a lot. Early Superiors dined at Number 5 and wore Trelise Cooper. Superiors these days dine at Dine and wear something obtained on their last trip to Paris in “one of those gorgeous designer boutiques in the Marais.”
Superiors are easy to spot in any restaurant as they adopt one of two positions. The first is a cool, cold gaze at their surroundings which says “I really can’t believe I’ve been forced to leave my world and join yours.” They sit in perfect silence as they wait for a perceived insult to occur. The second comes a mere 10 seconds later as the perceived insult is leapt on like a starving dog and kick starts and exhausting session of eye rolling, tittering and sighs.
My recent encounter with Superiors was something not only enjoyed by my table but the one next to it and the one next to that. We were all enormously entertained in our own private ways and reliant on each other to keep the collective group informed of the horrors taking place two tables away.
I was first alerted to the Superiors presence by the announcement of their waiter in a voice I felt was a little loud and possibly playing to his audience, which went something like:
“An offering from the kitchen by way of apology for the mistake with the asparagus!”
I paused momentarily as I munched through my asparagus, the first of the season, divine and perfectly presented.
The Superiors scowled, nibbled, then pushed their plates away.
We were there for our wedding anniversary. A particularly good one being the 10th but my attention was barely on my husband or his fond recollections of our honeymoon in Paris, something he likes to do on every anniversary (I was pregnant and too focussed on food to really be that romantic but I did cry at the Swan Lake.)
Instead I was drinking in the Superior woman. Short black hair perfectly styled to resemble Liza Minnelli in her early days. Crisp white shirt, something black, trim, stern and a few well placed pearls.
“She’s a lawyer,” I whispered to my husband as he was half way through his often told and engaging honeymoon story about the cheese. “Well he’s something intellectual or academic,” he jousted back. “Only intelligent men wear a pink striped shirt and get away with it.”
So there it was, the lawyer and the lecturer doing their best to have the worst night of their lives and pay $200 for the privilege.
We dined exquisitely, as always and every so often I could eavesdrop on my neighbours who, like us, spent most of the night commentating on the Superior table.
“She’s just sent back her glass of wine,” whispered the woman.
“But they’ve already drunk half the bottle!” replied the man.
In lesser restaurants we would have witnessed a meltdown by the staff. The chef storming out of the kitchen and giving them an ear full, the maitre D telling them to leave if they didn’t like it. But no. Dine and its staff kept on keeping on, even when Pink shirt asked that they bring him his jacket so that he could reach into the pocket and withdraw his stunning collection of platinum credit cards which he produced with a flourish. Apparently they can be made out of moon rock now.
And it was over. My husband gladly returned to his honeymoon stories but not before I had taken another look at my lawyer and seen the full extent of her outfit.
“She’s wearing a bloody curtain!” I shouted as my eyes took in the full splendour of her cream voluminous designer outfit making full use of the term “ruche” which had been hiding under the table all night.
I think she heard, because she threw a filthy look in our direction, but maybe she was wondering why the whole restaurant was in hysterics.

Image by Anthony Ellison

Sunday, 21 October 2007


There is nothing more unsettling than being the subject of a rumour especially when it is in the street you live in. I do my best to keep my nose clean down our street, but I’m willing to accept that lately there’re could be one going around about me which doesn’t involve alcohol for once.
It all started the day I bought home a bulk lot of baby gear in the back of the Mitsubishi Chariot. I had bought it off Trade Me and my nine-year-old daughter Pearl was excitedly helping me carry everything into the house.
“You have to tell them Mum,” she said seriously as I passed her the teenie weenie cute car seat.
“I’m too embarrassed,” I replied as I extricated the adorable high chair.
“Look Mum, you know the sooner you tell them, the better you’ll feel about it all,” Pearl advised making full use of her newfound tweeny wisdom.
“I know, I just can’t ye,.” I moaned as I wondered what colour to paint the tiny table and chairs.
At that moment I looked up over the box of gorgeous fluffy nappies and blankets and observed my neighbour staring in disbelief before hurriedly looking for something in the bottom of his car.
This is when my street came to the conclusion that I was pregnant. At 45 I was having a senior moment baby.
I now set off for my morning jog wondering how many people are peering over their lace curtains or yucca stone gardens as we get in Grey Lynn, to observe my tummy and the fact that I shouldn’t really be jogging so early in pregnancy at my age.
And of course it’s not true. Instead I’m going to be a Nana. And Pearl will be an aunty and it’s been such a long time since anything has excited me quite as much.
When my step-son Joel and his partner Gemma told us the news my husband and I leapt in the air and screamed with delight. I think we may have even high-fived but both of us have decided to blot that from our memory. The embarrassing bit is that days after, while the baby was still only 13 weeks into it’s gestation I bought a bulk load of baby gear. Shades of interfering mother-in-law crept in as a result of my eager purchase, the other kids just thought I’d gone mental, and even the woman I bought the gear off in Dannemora told me it was a bit odd. There are plans to tell Joel and Gemma, mainly because Pearl refuses to keep it a secret any longer, and I have been advised to show them one thing at a time rather than let them into my office which is now doing a very sizable impression of being a nursery.
I’m hoping they’ll think of my actions as a version of nesting which all women get when a baby is on the way. That fantastic fussing and knitting, folding and shopping and stroking of baby stuff.
I would like to say that the news that I would be a 45-year-old grandmother was met with resounding positivism and joy by my peers. But it seems no matter how excited you are and how many ways you tell people how excited you are there are always those in your age group who fire back the classic line: “I’m just not ready for grand-children yet.”
What part of not ready must you be at my age I wonder? Not ready to love a baby? Arms not ready to cuddle? Nose not ready to sniff the top of their little head and go ‘awww?’ Of course not. The problem seems to be that the very word “grand” placed in front of any noun denotes bad imagery. Grand old pooh bah, grand dame, a Starbucks grande latte, grand duchy, grand mal, grandiose. These are all bad things. So to be a grandmother means one must have a bad perm, a body resembling a lump of bread dough, the ability to do crosswords before, during and after lunch and to never shut up in a conversation.
We have seen the scan DVD and counted its delicious fingers and toes and we’ve already decided that the baby will sleep in our room when it stays. And my husband’s first words after the embarrassing high fives and large embraces of the new parents were: “We’ll be able to take it to the caravan.”

Sunday, 14 October 2007

"Shell Union"

“Have you read the ceremony?” a friend shouted. “God it’s all about shells and sea water…it’s so completely gay!” she squawked.
Normally my friend’s ability to put her foot in it is something I enjoy immensely. Watching her vocally stumbling across a minefield of human sensitivities is a big reason I like to hang out with her, but in this case it was my minefield and my sensitivities.
“I designed that ceremony, you bitch,” came my spirited reply. “And by the way it’s what they wanted, it’s not your wedding.”
“Oh I’m sorry and will you be wearing pink to blend in with the shells,” she guffawed deciding that now the hole was dug she might as well wallow in it. Another one of her attributes I enjoy. “And who gets to drink the seawater at the end?” she chortled.
This was to be my first civil union ceremony as a celebrant but there were two problems. I am not a celebrant. I am only two papers into my four paper celebrant certificate. And I’m not registered. I tried to get out of it several times, but my friends were insistent and I love them both very much so I drew heavily on the two papers I had completed and designed what I thought was a short, moving, deeply symbolic little ceremony and called on a proper celebrant to do the legal bits.
And yes, it involved shells because the wedding was by a beach, and each guest would be asked to place one in a bowl of sea water collected from the beach earlier. You don’t need a degree in symbolism to guess what that was all about. I asked my two friends to spend some time before the wedding wandering along a beach, collecting the shells as they thought of their family and friends and I would collect the sea water.
When I turned up to the rehearsal the shells looked suspiciously clean, perhaps even bleached. I sniffed them carefully, and reached the conclusion that the shells had possibly spent some time between the beach and the ceremony on a slow boat to China where they were processed and returned to be sold in a gift shop somewhere. Hey, they were shells I reasoned and my friends are busy people.
There were tears at the rehearsal and I mentally noted that I may have to draw on my funeral paper where we are taught how to stop people crying. I’m not telling you because it’s a celebrant secret but I was convinced I would be forced to use the manoeuvre during the ceremony.
Later that afternoon I waded into the sea and carefully collected a San Pellegrino water bottle – though other kinds of bottle can be used - full of sea water and went back to get dressed.
Which is when the third problem happened. I was late. I broke the first celebrant’s rule which is always to arrive early and help calm your couple’s nerves. Be their rock, or shell, in this case. I thought of my disappointed celebrant tutor and hoped she never found out.
“We’ve got nine minutes!” he shouted, sweat trickling down his well groomed face.
“Oh gosh have we, sorry.” I mumbled, noticing a small rip in the side of my dress achieved as I hurried out of the car.
“Where’s the sea water?” he screamed, eyes piercing mine in a menacing manner.
With eight minutes to go there was no way I could make it back to get the lonely bottle of sea water sitting expectantly in my kitchen.
“Deep breaths, count to ten, you both look terrific, don’t worry about a thing,” I said confidently as I grabbed the empty glass bowl and ran in no particular direction as long as I looked like I was in charge.
Under the tap it went and I even sprinkled a bit of table salt in to make it almost authentic. And so it began.
It was beautiful, moving, inclusive and funny. Everything it was intended to be.
I was surprised to find that none of the same sex couples there had been to a civil union ceremony despite it becoming law in 2004. In fact last year there were only 397 civil unions registered compared to 21,500 marriages in the same year.
Civil unions, despite all the fuss from Brian Tamaki and the Catholics, seem to be a very new thing. Perhaps they just need some more shells.
I ended the night having rather enjoyed my role in it and having found the determination to finish that certificate and get registered. I’m thinking the business card will be pink with a shell on it.

Image by Anthony Ellison

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Killing Jokes published Oct 7

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but there are some people for whom it can be a long journey before they come to the realisation that they can’t tell jokes. There are only so many times you can look at a sea of confused faces and announce: “you had to be there!” I am one of those people. Know me before you judge me.
The main problem appears to be the punch line. I forget it. Usually just after I’ve started telling the joke. But I sail on confident that it will come to me before I reach the end, like magic, and it never does.
This is a rare disability which is not so much short or long term memory loss, its important information memory loss of the creative kind.
I can sit through half a movie and read half a book before I realise I’ve seen or read it before. Don’t ever ask me if I’ve read or seen something because I just won’t know. I’ll have to ask you to describe it in detail, including all the action up till about half way through, when I’ll say “Oh yeah – and in the end she strips naked and floats away on the iceberg. That’s, like, my favourite movie of all time!!!”
On other occasions I give away the punch line before I’ve even told the joke. “I’ve got this great joke about a doctor having sex with his patient,” I’ll announce.
Fortunately in my world there are people who tell jokes very well indeed. One of my favourites is Kerre Woodham. Her jokes usually involve a lot of set up and every moment of it is exquisitely described as she captures the scene and takes you on a journey of marvellous humour. Passers by watching me listen to Kerre may mistake me for a love struck groupie, so heavenly is it to be entertained by her. I sit huddled in intense anticipation, like an addict about to get their fix and when it comes I shriek like a mad woman and ask for more. I’m ready to admit that I’ve become a bit of a Kerre cheerleader of late, recently interrupting a Paul Holmes lunch so that everyone could hear my Kerre tell her joke. As Kerre positioned herself at the head of the table, thrust her tits out and launched forth I took one look at Paul Holmes’ face and suddenly remembered with horror that it was a Paul Holmes lunch not a Kerre Woodham lunch and if anyone was going to be telling long funny jokes at the head of the table it was the star of the lunch thank you very much. Sorry Paul.
What Kerre and of course Paul have is timing. When you earn your living as a broadcaster you learn to take it easy and not rush into your joke with the sheer enthusiasm of a beginner. An immaculately told joke will always contain at least a pause or a brief silence for effect. And I’ve never been good at silence, even for that long.
A good joke teller will also have the desire to entertain. Years ago we decided as part of our blended family easing-in strategy to get everyone in our family of six to tell a joke at the dinner table. Everyone would swat swot up their joke books and deliver everything from “Why did the man throw his toast out the window? To watch his butterfly” to every knock knock joke you never wanted to hear. Except my son who when it came to his turn said: “Why did the chicken cross the road. Because he could” every night. His need to entertain was obviously very slight. Either that or his need not to feel like a dick was very high.
Recently I’ve been determined to end my long career in killing jokes. I just want to be one of those people at the dinner party who makes people laugh out loud because of a punch line not because I’m drunk and waving my skirt above my head. I’ve been receiving instruction from my husband who has learned not to shake his head in dismay quite so often as I stunningly destroy great jokes simply by telling them. I’m not quite comedy festival stand-up material yet and I’ll never be a Kerre, but if you hear me telling a joke in the future, please at least pretend to laugh.

Image by Anthony Ellison