Thursday, 4 December 2008

Plenty left

Thanks Barbara for your comment.  I have plenty  of books left and am doing a roaring trade through Trade Me. A lot of women are buying it for themselves or a friend for Christmas, and many have commented that they couldn't find it in bookshops. And I'm getting a lot of lovely comments and feedback which makes me glad I put it up for sale in the first place.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Bitch and Famous special Christmas offer

Good news. I can now offer some copies of my book Bitch and Famous  at a special reduced price of only $15.00. You can get them on by searching Bitch and Famous or see other payment methods below.  This is a significant saving as it retailed for $37.00 so if you haven't got around to buying it now is the time as I don't have many left. Perhaps there is a woman in your life who needs some work/life balance and would relate to my story or is interested in what goes on behind the scenes in the women's mags?  It would make a great Christmas present for Mum, Grandma, your sister or girlfriend. Or maybe your book club would like to read it and you can take advantage of my special bulk offer which is $100 for 10 books.  A bargain.

I'll also sign each copy and dedicate it to you or someone special.  

Here's what the back cover says:

For more than 25 years, Wendyl Nissen has been at the front of the media pack, first as an eager young journalist, then as the influential editor of a string of high-profile women's magazines, a television producer and writer, and as a popular radio commetnator and columnist. 

Throughout her career, she has crossed paths and swords with local and international celebrities. Now, she reveals the tricks of her trade, from espionage and arm-twisting to the creation of instant celebs and the truth about who gets paid how much in ‘cheque-book journalism’.But Bitch & Famous is not just about the glossy world of magazines and TV. Nissen also shares the personal challenges and heartaches she has faced throughout her turbulent career. She writes about her relationships and marriages, the demands of juggling motherhood with driving ambition and the despair of losing her baby daughter to cot death in 1992.In this raw, clever and funny memoir, Wendyl Nissen lifts the lid on the New Zealand magazine and TV industries, and lets us look into the life of a woman whose trademark no-nonsense approach has made her many friends – and enemies – along the way.

Go here for a TV interview about the book:

Here's what the reviewers said about Bitch and Famous:

I have to say I really genuinely loved this book and I really didn’t expect to.  I expected to gag at her bitchiness and shallowness and be irritated by an endless parade of pseudo macho conflict driven encounters by people who are famous only for being famous.  There’s  a bit of all that but Wendyl’s writing is so good and her personal insights so raw and honest that one simply can’t help responding to her as a human and not just the bitch of the title. Wendyl is best known as the editor of mega selling women’s magazines especially Woman’s Day right at the time when chequebook journalism came to town. So while this is very much Wendyl’s own story the loss of her child through cot death, her breakdowns, her husbands, her friendships it’s also the story of her industry - the media. She offers real insights into the daily life of magazine editors and journalists, their pre-occupations and the lengths that must be gone to, to secure stories.  There are tonnes of famous people scattered through these pages. She seems to know or have known or no longer be speaking to many of our household names. Paul Holmes, Susan Wood,Lorraine and Aaron Cohen and many others.  And she tells great stories about them, sometimes bitchy but often just sharply insightful and very fond. Often crass, always outspoken she is a woman of outrageous cheek and unusual sensibility and intelligence. I strongly recommend picking up a copy of Bitch and Famous.

Review by Margie Thomson, Easymix radio.


I bet there are a few A List celebs who’ve been trembling in their imported Italian shoes, wondering how they’ll fare in Wendyl Nissen’s expose of life behind the covers of the glossy magazines we see on our newsstands every week. Nissen is the ne plus ultra of magazine editors - at varying times, she’s been the brains behind Women’s Day and the New Zealand Women’s Weekly and during the eighties she was part of the process of creating celebs in this small town. Pre 1985, television presenters were heard not seen and it was considered a sign of poor story telling if you had to stick your face in front of the camera. By the end of the 1990s New Zealand’s small screen stars were commanding big bucks for selling their marriages and babies to the women’s mags and more often than not, it was Nissen who got the juiciest plums. This is an unflinching look at life at the top of the magazine publishing industry in New Zealand, and the people who help shift the mags. Nissen doesn’t pull her punches and the language would make a wharfie blush. Not only does the f word feature prominently, the c word even made it past the editors! But that’s Wendyl - colourful, strong, opinionated, brutally honest - especially about herself - and always fair. At times, the books a little confusing as Nissen doesn’t recount her life chronologically - but really, that’s not too much of a distraction as the book reads like a conversation with a particularly fabulous friend over lunch. And by the end of the book, you’ll be hoping to be one of the people on Wendyl’s lunch date list.

 Review by Kerre Woodham, Paperplus.

All you have to do is send a cheque  for $15 plus $2.50 postage to:
W Nissen
P.O. Box 78361,
Grey Lynn,
Auckland 2045.

Be sure to include your postal address, and the name of the person you would like me to dedicate it to. 

If you'd like to pay by internet email me at for bank account details. 

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Retro Food May 4

There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned panic about the price of food. The spectre of having to pay more for basics like bread and cheese can cause one to come over all retro and make like we are still in the middle of both World Wars and the Depression. Saving the roast fat for lard to use on bread instead of butter, plugging holes in shoes with newspaper, or taking a leaf out of Muriel Newman’s book of a few years ago which suggested making raincoats out of plastic bags.
Well maybe things aren’t quite that bad yet, but it’s an easy button to push. The announcement by the NZ Herald that we are paying 28% more for food would have sent a chill down most family hallways until we realised their exhaustive investigative team paid $5 for a bunch of broccoli. Shop around, Herald, shop around.
The only shortage I’ve ever faced was car less days in the 70s; and once I couldn’t find any kibbled wheat for my home made bread for months. So adjusting to not being able to get what I want when I want it, or having to pay more for it will be a toughie.
Which is when I rediscovered the Aunt Daisy Cookbook, given to us by friends and the edition my mother cooked from all my life.
“This,” I said holding it up for my family to witness, “will see us through the toughest of times.”
“Mmm,” they mumbled in unison. Which is what they do when I say things like: “Spiders are nature’s fly killers, we should learn to live with their cobwebs” as I gaze lovingly at the ceiling or “If we get three laying hens they’ll lay one egg each a day, that’s a total of 21 a week!” as I gaze adoringly at the back garden.
I eagerly read through the pages of Aunt Daisy putting Post It notes on all the recipes I remembered from my childhood, and that night in a rarely seen fit of penny pinching, decided that the few scraps of left over roast lamb were going into Aunt Daisy’s curry sauce. The one my dad used to make.
As he sipped his pinot gris (we’re not quite at cask wine yet) my husband tried to hide his astonishment at what I was throwing in the pot. This is a woman who prides herself on making her own curry powder by enthusiastically pounding various spices and seeds in her mortar and pestle, throws in curry leaves from her curry leaf tree and wouldn’t dream of making anything without her home-made chicken stock. Instead I was throwing in store bought curry powder, chutney, vinegar, cornflour, sultanas, sugar and plain old water.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” I muttered. “Not even a can of coconut cream,” I twittered as I chopped up bananas and rolled them in desiccated coconut for the accompaniment. And then we sat down. We tasted. We looked at each other long and hard.
“Delicious, just like my Mum used to make,” he glowed.
“It’s very good isn’t it?”
And so the retro food revival took off. Chicken Hawaiian anyone? Hokey Pokey biscuits? Or how about a nice Salmon (tinned) loaf with Cheese Sauce?
Slowly but surely, the cooking of my parents started to come back to me, as did the strict budgeting my mother used to do, inherited from her own parents. Now I visit the supermarket every morning, when the meat is on special. My freezer is chock full of gravy beef, corned beef and something called a lamb flap which I plan to thaw and investigate at a later date, when the world food shortage has really kicked in. There’s also a particularly attractive pig knuckle which I wrestled off another woman, simply because I spotted it first.
And if the freezer wasn’t so full already I’d be investigating a frozen side of mutton and bagging it up like my Mum used to do.
Next I’m planning to camp outside Foodtown and collect signatures for a petition supporting the removal of GST on fresh food items, like they do in Australia. And when Don Brash mutters to me about compliance costs I’ll answer: “I’ve got two words for you Don ‘computers’ and ‘coding.’”
I’m not sure if we’ve actually saved any money by going retro, but I do know that living like they used to in the old days isn’t a bad way to be. Bring on the car less days.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Grooming April 27

Every woman has one moment in her life when she rates herself a 10 out of 10. Usually it’s at her wedding, when months of planning and hours of grooming have gone into the perfect image. For me it was neither wedding. It was the other day when I got out of my car at the Foodtown carpark having been shooting for TV all day. I had spent several hours in front of the camera filming some chat segments for April in the Afternoon on the Living Channel and I don’t mind telling you things were looking pretty good. Full make-up, straight hair, silk shirt care of top designer Claire Kingan Jones. As I strolled through the automatic doors I caught a glimpse of myself and thought: “Wow, where did that old chick with the frizzy hair go?”
As did the check-out operator who refused to engage in our usual daily banter, obviously not recognising the TV me. “Takes some getting used to, I guess,” was all I thought as I strolled confidently out into the carpark.
“Maybe one day someone will actually check me out after these shoots,” I wondered as I walked to my car. Even the most married of women appreciates the odd glance of interest. It had been years since anyone had looked at me for more that the standard perusal but I remember it being quite reinforcing the last time it happened, when I was 21.
And then it all went horribly wrong. As I unloaded my shopping I noticed a man sitting in the car next to me chugging a can of beer. He was old, bald, overweight, drunk and to top it all off had a unique growth obviously enjoying its stay on his cheek.
“Hey, gorgeous,” he yelled out his car window. “Wanna root?” At me. The one standing gob smacked in front of him, fixed to the spot in horror.
Great. I was looking the best I could for a 45-year-old woman, thanks to the ministrations of many. And the best I could do was an old, drunk Petri dish.
As I gathered my glamorous self up and carried her off, before my admirer worked out how to put two fingers in his mouth and wolf whistle, I heard a shriek from behind me.
“What the f…do you think you’re doing chatting up that old cow,” yelled a woman who was everything evolution’s little mistake was, minus the cheek growth.
“Wouldn’t you like to know you fat slut,” came his spirited reply.
She held up traffic at this point, hands on hips glaring at me, then him, then me again like John Wayne having a show down in the middle of a bad Western.
And there I was, the centre of a domestic incident in my local Foodtown carpark and I wasn’t sure which event was more offensive. The screaming drunks or the fact that I had just been described as an “old cow.” But there was no denying that in an instant I had become the other woman in a ménage a trios of bad genes, alcohol poisoning and a facial growth from outer space.
Which is when I craved the anonymity of bad grooming. It would seem that “looking your best”, as my mother used to say, comes with the dire consequences of an open invitation to be noticed. The old me wouldn’t have raised a glimmer of notice let alone hope from fungus face as I shuffled past beneath my hair.
Grooming also demands a high price. The necessity of having blow-dried and straightened hair, manicured and painted nails and make-up on most of the time has added an extra two hours to my day. Just to be able to face the cameras. I realise that for many people who aren’t on the TV being that groomed is a normal event. But for me it is a terrible effort.
And then there is the pressure of the show itself. The day I found myself looking down a camera and recommending a quick shot of hairspray to the buttocks to prevent undies giving you a wedgy my 25-year journalism career flashed before my eyes and glared at me with abject horror. The spirits of my mentors circled, laughing uproariously at what had become of me. The ghosts continued to follow me home cackling with glee from beyond the grave. I think it was the late Neil Roberts I heard saying “Stick to print.”

Illustration by Anthony Ellison

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Make It Stop April 20

“Make it stop!” I screamed down the line to my friend Kerre, the one who sits on top of me in this newspaper every Sunday. The one you’ve probably just read before having a quick look at this.
“I keep running in the rain,” I moaned. “And it’s not just rain, it’s thunder and lightening and wind and there I am running in it, all wet and steamy.” I grumbled. “ And my hair keeps going frizzy.”
It all started when I read her book “Short Fat Chick to Marathon Runner” and exactly one hour later went for a run having first photocopied and pinned to my office wall “Appendix 1 – a marathon training programme for beginners.”
“You’ve planted a subliminal message in there somewhere, you’ve been watching too much Derren Brown, it’s something to do with neurolinguistic programming, like the politicians do to make the masses obey,” I muttered.
Finally Kerre could get a word in, a most unusual situation for her to be in.
“But doesn’t it feel great?”“Not really.”
My husband initially greeted the news that I was “training for a marathon” with enthusiasm. I think most husbands would as they visualise their 45-year-old wife morphing into something lithe, long and sinewy. Until I returned 10 minutes later.
“What’s wrong? Too difficult?” he inquired sympathetically.
“No it’s Monday, walk 5, run 5,” I snapped as I headed off to the couch to lie down for an hour in recovery mode.
I reported him to Kerre.
“Noted,’ she replied.
I take the dog with me. She came once around the park and then sat on the top field and waited for me to complete the second lap. I’ve never seen a black lab give an enthusiastic thumbs up of support but that’s what Shirl did as she sat on her haunches gazing at my disappearing arse. Which isn’t fair. In dog years Shirl and I are the same age, surely she could make more of an effort.
“She has dodgy hips and she doesn’t want to lose weight,” replied my husband. “She’s perfect as she is, aren’t you my sweetie, weety,” he gurgled at Shirl as she rolled on her back and kicked her legs in the air.
“It’ll be a while before you get me to do that,” I thought to myself as I stumbled to the shower wondering when the dog started getting more attention than I did.
I gave the book to my 19-year-old daughter who runs already and suggested we could team up. She hasn’t said a word to me, but I know she read the book because I heard her telling a friend how funny it was, especially the bit about Kerre saying she looked like a white rhino that had just been shot in the arse by hunters after her first half marathon. Which is fine, didn’t want to run with anyone anyway, I much prefer having some “me” time being the very busy woman I am.
My youngest daughter arrived home from school and gave me “the look.” It’s the one she gives when I have decided it might be nice to wear a bright floral dress for a change and present myself looking like a flowerpot. Or when I’m getting dressed and she asks if I deliberately buy my undies too big or do I like them that baggy? Don’t worry, missy, I think to myself, one day someone will say that to you and all you will think is “I must be losing weight.” Or in this case when she looks at me in my Grey Lynn School T shirt and leggings, my frizzy hair bursting out from the hair tie and says “Mum, did you forget to get dressed again?”Once, a long time ago, she got home from school and I was still in my nightie and slippers. Big deadline to meet, lots of writing, didn’t have time. Only two of that day’s couriers looked at me strangely.
Then Kerre rang and suggested we run together some time.
“Oh I can’t talk and run,” I protested. “Actually, Kerre, I think I might not run a marathon, I just want to run,” I pleaded.
“Good girl,” she replied.
“Didn’t last long,” added my husband.
“I am not bloody Kerre Woodham,” I said for the second time that week, having told her producer exactly the same thing when I filled in for her on her Sunday morning radio show.
But I’m still running in the rain.

Illustration by Anthony Ellison

Tuesday, 15 April 2008


Hello everyone. Sorry I haven't posted in ages - been away, been writing, been busy. Will do a catch up in the next few days.


Sunday, 13 April 2008

Dancing Queen April 13

Not so long ago former Knight Rider David Hasselhoff’s kids filmed him one night when he was horribly drunk, sprawled on the floor attempting to shove a hamburger in his mouth. The intention was to show him just how disgusting he was when he was drunk, but it eventually ended up on the net, showing the world just how disgusting he was when he was drunk.
My biggest fear is that someone will do that to me. Not when I’m on the floor smearing my face with tomato sauce because to my knowledge I’ve never done that, chocolate maybe, but not tomato sauce. I’m petrified that someone will film me when I’m drunk dancing. And every woman reading this knows exactly what I'm talking about. That shameful moment when you morph into the Dancing Queen, a rare undiscovered talent, lithe, graceful and full or artistry and decide that everyone should be lucky enough to see you in full flight thanks to a few too many vodkas.
I’ve always loved to dance, and can often be found doing it in the kitchen at home, or perhaps in quiet moments when I think no one is around and it’s been so long since David Bowie and I spent some time together.
But social dancing is a sport rarely indulged in unless you have had a few too many. We’ve all been at occasions when people have stared miserably at an empty dance floor while the band enthusiastically plays on hoping just one drunk woman will get up and start the dancing. Because it’s always the drunk woman. No sober person would see the logic of leaping up in front of people you know and start waving your arms around, thrusting your hips about and shaking your head wildly from side to side. But oh the joy of it all. The release as the music enters your body, the deep and secure knowledge that you look fantastic out there hitting every beat right on target.
“She must have done ballet as a child,” you hear the awed crowd whisper as they watch you execute a perfect pirouette.
“I haven’t seen anyone do that move since the 70s,” whispers another admirer as you shake your head backwards and forwards, hair wildly streaming all over your face.
“So creative,” says someone else as your arms weave and undulate over your head forming an imaginary tree complete with sparkly fingers.
You try to share the joy with your partner by occasionally indulging in the “you copy me I’ll copy you” dance routine where you both wave your arms in roughly the same way, in almost the same direction and finish with a triumphant twirl. But really you are lost in your own world of dance. A sublime place where you swirl and thrust, shape the air with your hands into tiny bubbles of perfection and choreograph your way into dance dreamland.
You close your eyes, all the better to be at one with the music and open them just for a second to see that the dancers have moved away to give you more room for your high kick, just like in the movies where two dancers wow the rest into submission and the camera moves in for the close up. You check to see that your partner is still enthusiastically keeping up with you and then you realise that your partner has been replaced by your husband who isn’t dancing, is holding your handbag and has that smile on his face which says: “Time to go home darling.”
“But I’m having such a gorgeous time, Nick is such a great dancer isn’t he? God this band is terrific. All the old hits eh!”
“I think you may have exhausted Nick, darling, he collapsed in the corner 10 minutes ago.”“Oh dear, well you’ll have to do, come on just one more dance, I just love Prince,” you shout before singing loudly “Purple Rain, Pu-urple Rain.”
He’s been here before my husband. Thank God. And half an hour later I’m at home, staring at my sweat laden lank hair in the mirror, the smudged mascara, the wet armpits staining my new silk dress and wondering if the damage done by my high heels to my arches will render me a cripple for the rest of my life.
“I had such a nice time,” I snuffle as I drift off to sleep.
“I know darling and so did the 50 people you scared off the dance floor.”

Illustration by Anthony Ellison

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Reformation April 6

Reformation 06

It was Duran Duran that did it. “Are you going to Duran Duran?” someone asked with unrestrained excitement in their voice. “Such an iconic 80s band!”
And that was it. I threw my head back and howled. About how not iconic Duran Duran is. How they were an extremely light weight bunch of gits who put out ridiculous pop songs and spent far too much time putting highlights in their hair and poncing around in white linen suits to even make a dent in musical history. Has everyone forgotten this fact?
Apparently. Next someone will be telling me that Queen were such a great 80s band with that fabulous hit Fat Bottomed Girls, or that The Police were hot with that song Roxanne which young men insisted on singing falsetto ad nauseum and WHAM deserve a place in rock and roll history for Wake Me Up Before You Go Go.
These bands are not iconic, nor were they cool. Stop making my 80s memories angry.
Everyone has an era that is precious to them. A few years where you were young, wild, free and finally understanding what life was all about. And for most of us it was when we were in our early 20s before kids, travel and mortgages intruded on our reckless hedonism.
For me it was 1980 to 1985 when I went to Jazzercise class three times a week, had a great job, great flat, great boyfriend and loved my music. Which wasn’t Duran Duran. It was The Clash, the Cure, Violent Femmes, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Prince, the Eurythmics and the B52s to name a few. For post punk 20-year-olds the pop song was dead and would never be revived if we had our way.
Until now. I have no objection to a bunch of middle-aged people wishing to relive the 80s in their search for music they can relate to. I accept that since the 80s there hasn’t been a lot of great music made, although I actually prefer the stuff the 70s produced and spend far too much time listening to Van Morrison than is healthy.
But in their haste to relive the 80s do they have to only remember the stuff that floated to the top. The Duran Duran flotsam and jetsam. Perhaps the problem lies in the fact that these very people who turn up enthusiastically and pay out their hundred bucks for tickets were dorks in the 80s and still are. So you can’t really blame Duran Duran for meeting the demand. I’m sure 20 years ago they were quite happy to slink off to their country estates and hope the world quickly forgot the pop crap they had created. But what person approaching 50 and staring down the tunnel of life at the dim flame of retirement, would turn down a bit of cash to squeeze into some tight pants and hum a few tunes or bash a drum or two.?
And what fickle people make up their audience. How conveniently they forget that many of these bands broke up because they could no longer stand the sight of each other and swore they’d never play again. One can only wonder at the superior vision the fast talking promoter created as he convinced them all to have another go. The grim determination on the face of the drummer who hasn’t earned one cent of song writing royalties in the last two decades, squaring up to the lead singer who has, and what’s more is still with the model the two fought over when the band broke up. And so there they are, non iconic 80s bands parroting the terrible songs and struggling to remember words which their fans know off by heart.
The other reason these bands get back together is because that solo career just didn’t quite work out did it Sting with the release of your album of 16th century lute songs? I wonder how many people who rocked out to The Police concerts in January listened to that little gem.
It is true that some of my 80s iconic bands have reformed and I have simply chosen not to see them. The Cure’s Robert Smith used to be hot. He’s not now according to one reviewer who described him as looking “dead and bloated.” He’s old and fat, just like me. I don’t want to make my 80s memories angry.
So next time someone suggests I pay good money to see a crap supposedly iconic 80s band, I’ll simply reply that they belong where my Jazzercise high kick belongs…with my angry 80s memories.

Illustration by Anthony Ellison

Sunday, 30 March 2008

The Sound of Silence March 30

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to live the life of a nun and take a vow of silence. For a chatty girl like myself with a penchant for very non nun activities, I’ve often looked over that grassy knoll and wondered if it is in fact greener in the nun’s world.
Then I found myself in Venice experiencing it for myself. Sister Wendyl arrived full of glee and excitement at the prospect of spending two weeks on her own, finishing that difficult first novel and within one hour realised that for the next 336 hours I would have no one to talk to, no one to drink with, no one would hug me and on top of it all I was determined to stay on my self imposed dietary restrictions which limited the intake of pasta, buffalo mozzarella and proscuitto, which some may argue is the only reason to go to Italy.
“Oh God, what have I done?” I muttered to myself as I gazed out of the window at the San Trovaso bell tower. “How will I ever get through two weeks of this?” I challenged myself as I peered miserably at the gently lapping canal which was enjoying an unusually high tide. “That’s it, I’m going home, this was all a huge mistake, I am obviously a complete nutter,” I thought to myself, having realised that there was no point in talking out loud anymore as I could hear myself perfectly clearly in my head.
My problem is that I have never been on my own. The single life, just me, hanging out and enjoying my own company. From the age of 18 I have been in serious relationships with the longest time in between men being a massive three weeks which was spent in such a haze of alcohol and “good times” I have only a very dim memory of it, which is probably a blessing. And from the age of 24 I have always had children around, who are great providers of hugs and silly conversations when the man of the house is away, distracted or getting the silent treatment.
My husband pointed out that this lack of single time may turn out to present a few problems in Venice. He has always thrown his single time out there as some of the best years of his life. I’ve never been sure what part of working two jobs, doing the ironing on Sunday nights, going to the gym and learning to cook casseroles out of recipe books amounted to the best fun a man can have. When I met him he used to put a list of the meals he was going to cook every night of the week up on the fridge, every Sunday after the ironing. I told him that my lack of single time has never presented itself as a problem before and I doubted that wearing crisp white shirts or making lists and putting them on fridges was a skill that a person really needed to survive on their own. But I did accept that I was rather unusual, and my relationship addiction is something I will deal with one day when I have to. Maybe when he’s dead, if not before.
So when I entered my Venice nunnery I had none of the skills necessary to survive. As the power of speech left me completely and I simply conversed with myself through my brain, I hit on it. Routine. It works for small babies, it works for troubled children, and surely it would work for Sister Wendyl.
And there I was sticking a list on the fridge which gave me regular times to write, times to go for walks, and times to have meals.
I felt much better and then totally ignored it. I started smoking. Then I drank whisky, which was neatly slotted into the 2pm to 6pm writing book slot, and I conveniently lost my appetite. It seems that Sister Wendyl only likes cooking for and eating with, other people.
And then one day, when my mouth’s only exercise for 14 days had been inhaling smoke and swilling Johnny Walker, I finished the book.
“Well done you,” were the first words I spoke in weeks, feeling that they deserved to be formed and spoken out loud, rather than reduced to a thought process.
Finishing the book was great, but what I really meant was “well done you” for learning to be on my own.

Illustration by Anthony Ellison

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Bitch March 23

Being called a bitch has never worried me. Which must be really frustrating for the person hurling the insult. Ramping it up one level to the “c” word might be overdoing it, so instead they laterally think all the way over to “mentally ill.” I don’t mind being called mentally ill either, some of my favourite people are certifiable.
When my book Bitch and Famous was published the first question journalists asked was: “Why would you willingly refer to yourself as a bitch?”And the answer is simple. Because I am one and I’m proud of it. I was quite shocked to hear that people in 2008 still regard bitch as a bad word. Surely we have reached a point in our emancipation where we can claim it and own the power of it without feeling it brands us as an undesirable.
Over in the States there’s a magazine for people like me. BITCH magazine says:
“When it's being used as an insult, "bitch" is an epithet hurled at women who speak their minds, who have opinions and don't shy away from expressing them, and who don't sit by and smile uncomfortably if they're bothered or offended. If being an outspoken woman means being a bitch, we'll take that as a compliment, thanks.”
My favourite T shirt at the moment is one bought for me by a friend in a vintage shop which is bright purple and says: “WARNING: I go from zero to bitch in 4.3 seconds.”
Most women who own the bitch inside them found her one day while they were trying to get noticed. In my case it was the shoulder padded, briefcase clad 80s and 90s where women learned very quickly that if you acted like a man, strutted like a man and swore like one, people took you seriously. Whole careers were carved by women f-ing and blinding, yelling and barking, strutting and posturing. But as Bette Davis said: "When a man gives his opinion, he's a man; when a woman gives her opinion, she's a bitch."
Today my bitch has been tamed somewhat, and is only let out on special occasions for protection or simply to impress someone. She’s a great one trick pony my bitch. But she has left me with the social handicap that men will never hit on me. I must be the only 45-year-old pick-up line virgin. Not for me the “Quick call heaven, I heard they’d lost an angel and I’ve just found her” or even the more simplistic “Wanna root?” Instead men tend to hang around me for so long that in the end I simply say: “Did you want something?” And it turns out they did.
Men also regard you with all the warmth and enthusiasm of a postie with a wild dog gnashing at him over the fence. They stand poised and ready for you to bite their heads off at any moment. They’re nearly right, I tend to bite further down.
Men will also react in horror when you use the word “no” frequently. They don’t like women saying “no” that’s why we have rape crisis centres and women’s refuges.
The true bitch comes from a place of strength and often humour. But lately I’ve had to clarify what kind of bitch I’m being called because there’s another kind emerging who I’ll have nothing to do with. That snarling insecure woman whose self esteem is so low she can only look at other women with envy. This is the schoolyard bitch, the bully, the threatened one. There’s one in every workplace, in every social grouping.
Where was she when we were knocking our bitch into shape climbing the ladder, smashing a glass ceiling or two and storming in and out of meetings? Making the tea and draining the clothing boutiques of anything floral and the cosmetic stores of pink lipstick. Sticking around long enough for the dust to settle then offering herself at a reduced rate and an eighth of the attitude after all the hard work had been done. I don’t think this bitch has earned her stripes, or ever will. She’s a faux bitch and if you call me one of those bitches I’ll bite really hard.
The amazing thing about this bitch is that she is so subtle you sometimes miss her. And when you find one you can’t quite believe that the woman with no style, who wouldn’t send a ripple of interest across the pond of life and has a seeming inability to do anything of note, could find the wherewithal to be that hurtful. What a bitch.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

SPQR meets Te Puke March 16

It was one of those days you wished to dear God you had stopped long enough to at least drag a brush through your hair and maybe put on some shoes. But hey, it was Te Puke on a rainy Friday afternoon, who was I going to see?
“You look like something the cat dragged in,” murmured Judy at the camping ground shop as I checked out.
“You’d look like this too if you’d just dismantled an entire awning on your own in gale force winds and driving rain,” I mumbled miserably. I always enter the first stage of depression when I leave my caravan.
She gave me a look which said “you could at least have washed your face” and tallied up my ground fees.
“There’s a forest in your hair,” she added as she swiped my card in the machine.
“I know but no one cares down here, everyone’s so laid back, that’s what I love about this place,” I proffered trying to avoid my reflection in the window.
Judy gave me another look which I would have preferred not to decipher because it went something like “yeah and that’s why my hair is perfect and I’m wearing make-up and something on my feet.”
I then realised that I had dirt smeared all over my legs from when I fell down the bank thankfully still hanging on to the awning. And I’d forgotten that I went fishing in my denim skirt the day before and it still had a few fish scales on it.
“Go on you, get back to the city and get yourself cleaned up,” she laughed before giving me a kiss goodbye.
Oh well, I reasoned only a few hours and I’d be back in Auckland and my big bath.
But first there was a stop to be made at the Te Puke Op Shop which last time I looked had a rather special cake mixer for only $5. In I went with my forest, dirt and fish scales and within moments I heard his voice.
There’s only one place I hear it and that’s SPQR, my favourite restaurant, a place I never set foot in without make-up, brushed hair and occasionally even heels.
I hastily hid behind the “larger sizes” clothes rack and peered cautiously through a pair of size 24 elastic waist black polyester trousers to determine that yes, Auckland had caught up with me.
There examining an indeterminate appliance was my favourite waiter we’ll call Mike (not his real name) in his trademark hat and discussing the merits of the appliance with his girlfriend.
The guy who makes sure I try beautiful wines and pours them for me in the “special” glasses he gets from out the back. Who bothers to stop and have a chat with me, even if I am being lame and not at all funny.
I like him. I like him a lot. But until I found myself cowering behind the humongous pair of pants trying to avoid getting too near the crotch I had no idea I cared what he thought. Was I so shallow that the thought of a Ponsonby waiter seeing me looking less than groomed in Te Puke really mattered? Was it really so bad being outed by an Aucklander for looking a fright?
I had to admit that yes, I was indeed shallow and what’s more I had to get out of the shop and away from the pants which were now emitting a rather disturbing odour.
What to do? Tough it out by waltzing up and saying some pathetic line like: “Ha no Astrolabe chardonnay for me today eh!”
Bad approach on two counts. For a start I’m talking about work and he’s obviously on holiday, though why in Te Puke I have no idea. And secondly he’ll probably mistake me for the local homeless woman who wanders the streets begging for leftovers and cigarettes.
So I just got out of there fast. The dog looked a little surprised to see me back quite so soon, and then we were gone.
“God are you alright?” asked my husband on greeting me at our front door. “You didn’t have an accident did you?”
“You’d look like this too if you’d just dismantled an entire awning on your own in gale force winds and driving rain,” I repeated forcefully. “And been spotted by my SPQR waiter!”“I’ll get you a drink and you can tell me all about it,” he soothed before adding,
“What’s that fish smell?”

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Library Love March 9

I can’t quite believe that we get to read books for free. It’s one of the great joys of my life that I can walk up the road to my local library and pick up a book to read, the equivalent of several days entertainment, for nothing. It’s the only thing of real value we get free in this country which doesn’t involve extra fees or admission payments.
I spend a lot of time at my local library which conveniently presents itself as a gothic looking building giving me the immediate persona of a budding Jane Austen as I eagerly enter its doors. I’m always surprised that it’s not packed out, like the local shopping mall with people eager to take advantage of a good book for free. But perhaps reading still has a way to go in the “exciting ways to spend your weekend” stakes. The only problem with my library is that being a community gathering place I run into my husband’s former wife quite a lot. It’s always nice to see her so that’s not the problem. It’s the books I get out that are.
My library gets books “in” for me from other libraries for a small fee of one dollar. The librarian has to get them from behind the counter. And that’s the problem
Once, I was researching a piece I was writing about keeping the love alive in marriage. Honestly. I write an advice column. Truly. I had gathered a few interesting looking books off the shelves and went over to check them out and pick up the marriage book I had ordered earlier which proved elusive. While the librarian hunted I chatted to the former wife about this and that until we were interrupted with:
“Ah here it is. Under “L” instead of “N” for Nissen. Resurrecting Sex: Solving Sexual Problems and Revolutionizing Your Relationship’ – is that the one?”
“It’s for research!” I shouted a little too quickly and rather loudly. “Something I’m writing,” I attempted as I avoided looking at her face for fear of seeing either a commiserating look that often passes between women who have or had the same husband or a stunned: “what the hell?”By the time I had produced my card and checked the offending title out she had wandered off into the kids section, so I’ll never know which look she gave me.
The second time was a recent visit where the two of us met again, quite by chance, and were chatting amiably at the counter while once again I waited for the librarian to retrieve the book I ordered which once again seemed not to have been filed under “N” for Nissen.
We were discussing her recent trip to Europe and my upcoming one to Venice where I was vigorously defending my right to travel alone to work on my book to someone I knew would see it my way.
“Ah here it is. Venice for Lovers - is that the one?” shouted the librarian.This time I didn’t even attempt the research line.
“Yes that’s right, it’s a book for lovers of Venice you know. Not the other way around, ha, ha” I said weakly.
The librarian smiled. I knew she believed me. She is my favourite librarian.
I don’t know her name because I’ve never asked but she always makes me laugh and on this occasion rescued me from deep shame and humiliation in front of the ex by presenting yet another book she knows I’ll love. The last one was about how to ice cup cakes so that they look like body parts. This one was titled “I Like You, Hospitality Under the Influence,” by Amy Sedaris. I’m not sure how my favourite librarian got to know me so well, but I appreciate the fact that she takes the time to keep books aside that will amuse me.
As an author I’m supposed to dislike the library system because the 17 copies of my own book currently doing the rounds in the Auckland catalogue stop people going out and paying good money for it. I can see that’s a problem for publishers but I’m pathetically grateful people are reading it and have to resist the urge to bribe my favourite librarian to access the computer system and allow me to email a personal letter of appreciation to every lender. Knowing that they’re being entertained for free is one of the great joys of my life.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Alone March 2

Despite believing that a woman can do what she likes and be who she wants it has become obvious to me that there is one thing a woman should never be. Alone.
I’m about to disappear for a few weeks to Venice, Italy. Alone. It’s the best news I’ve had in years that I’ll be free to wander the canals of Venice and tap away on my laptop for hours pausing only to cater to my needs, not anyone else’s.
But as news of my trip has spread the reaction has been overwhelmingly negative. One person close to me inquired if they had ashrams in Venice, dropping a huge dollop of suggestion that I might be having a mid-life crisis. Another person, also closely related, wondered why I would even consider travelling anywhere on my own when I had a nice husband to go with me, and suggested Hawaii would make more sense. I’m not sure why Hawaii, perhaps a woman is better alone wearing a coconut bra?
Someone else, on hearing my reasons for wanting some time out as translated by a friend: “she never gets a moment to herself,” managed to make me feel so much better by highlighting how awful, indeed, my life really is.
“I could never live your life,” she said with the dread more commonly used for conversations discussing cancer diagnosis.
A colleague, live on the radio, stated that he was worried about my family. The inference surely being that when the woman of the house was away the children starved, the power was cut off and the Ebola virus moved in.
And then there was the expense. “I thought you were paying off the mortgage,” smirked a very brave person. Necessitating a long explanation about my previous book proving a little controversial which meant I ended up with a bit of an unexpected windfall, most of which went on the mortgage actually and some of which I was putting into the next book. Beat that.
And then there were just the looks. From various people searching my face for signs of a marriage break-up, a terminal illness prompting me to get out my list of 100 things to do before I die, or an assignation with a lover of indeterminate nationality, but most probably Italian.
“No seriously, I just want some time alone to write my novel which is set in Venice,” I repeated until I was blue in the face.
Which then prompted a thought bubble above their heads which said: “She’s taking herself a bit seriously isn’t she?”
I will never be one of those pale women who waft across the stage at the Montana Book Awards looking like they need an intravenous drip for basic nutrients and a sense of humour. But I’ll be damned if I’ll let my novel be set in mystifying Karangahape Rd when I have Venice at my disposal. I’m a popular fiction writer with the sole aim that one day someone might curl up with my romantic thriller on a rainy winter’s afternoon and have a pleasant read.
But as the time draws near I am outraged that I have had so much damn explaining to do because I am stepping out of the antiquated expectation hat a woman’s place is in the home. We have obviously not progressed since the 60s when the only reasonable excuse for a mother to leave her family was to go into hospital for a hysterectomy or to attend the funeral of a distant aunt down country.
Hours were spent preparing freezer meals labelled: “Beef stew, Monday night, defrost then heat slowly on in the pot on medium” or “Macaroni cheese, Tuesday night, defrost then heat slowly in the oven on 150 degrees.” And brave souls left notes suggesting fish and chips on Friday. Other women in the neighbourhood rallied around and invited hubbie and the kids over for a meal to save them “fending for themselves.”
Men however, have always been allowed to travel alone. Far and wide they go conquering deals and takeovers. My travel writer husband does a fair bit of it with no such reaction from anyone about being alone or being any more odd than usual.
The only people who are quite happy for me to disappear are my five children. The very people I am escaping from with their love of interruption, need for nurture and givers of conversations I never regret finding time for. And that’s why I love them.

Illustration by Anthony Ellison

Sunday, 24 February 2008

The Privilege of Breeding February 24

“Mum you can’t park here, it’s only for parents with babies,” said my youngest daughter in her patient voice. The one she uses to explain that I have my dress on inside out or I might be a little drunk.
“I don’t care, I’m making up for lost privilege,” I replied testily.
“Lost what?”
“The lost privilege of breeding, grab the shopping bags and lock your door.”
My local Foodtown has gone to the trouble of branding the 10 car parks closest to the door exclusively for use by parents with babies. It’s a fantastic idea especially for those working mums who dash in at 5.30 with overtired children recently retrieved from daycare and attempt to buy something resembling dinner.
I’ve been there, I know how they feel. Just as you finish one job you are about to start another, and it won’t end until dinner is cooked, babies are bathed and safely asleep. Approximately four hours to go and parking close is a great help.
But in my day we never had branded carparks. We had to park with the normal people, because in the 80s breeding was not a privilege. We didn’t even have those cute seats in the trollies and had to somehow fit the carseat in the trolley along with our 12 pack of Treasures and packets of mince.
Recently I’ve considered suing the government for that loss of privilege. I’d like to claim the 14 weeks paid paternal leave I never got for my four babies. The childcare subsidy which wasn’t available for my children, had there actually been childcare centres back then. The Working for Families tax subsidy which was non existent. I reckon it cost me $50,000 to choose to have a career and give birth to four children so where’s the back pay? Surely my babies are just as valid as today’s ones?
In 1986 when I had my first child there were only 52,823 of us breeding that year. And you didn’t’ really get much help especially if you insisted on being a working mum. Like many young women in the 80s I made the tragic mistake of believing I could combine the feminist dream of working full time and having children. I did it, but at a price thanks to Rogernomics, Ruthanasia and a Labour government more interested in free markets than free children. And it was very lonely. At 24 I was regarded as a bit eccentric having a baby, I had no friends who were pregnant, no one at work was pregnant, and there were no exceptions made for pregnancy in the newsroom. You still worked the late shift and if you went over your 10 days sick leave allowance because your other baby was in hospital with pneumonia your pay was docked.
It’s hard to believe employers could be so harsh when today they are falling over themselves to let mothers work part time, from home, up a tree if they want to all at full pay because there just aren’t enough workers out there to fill the jobs.
So, is it any wonder we are experiencing a baby boom not seen since 1963? Just over 64,000 babies were born last year to parents who planned their pregnancies knowing that they will receive everything a privileged couple should to help them add their precious bundle to our population.
But according to a shocked media obviously incapable of economic analysis, the baby boom can be explained by celebrities. Apparently women are more than happy to put themselves through nine months of strenuous baby growing, not drinking alcohol and limiting what they eat to look like Angelina Jolie and Heidi Klum. I don’t think so, Kiwi women just aren’t that thick. They know that Angelina and Heidi have an army of trainers, dieticians, beauty therapists and nannies ensuring they look fantastic during and two days after their pregnancy. But what pregnant celebrities have done is make it okay to walk around with your gorgeous naked belly exposing itself in a bikini or above low waist jeans. Gone are the days when we were reduced to hiding our bump under ridiculous gathered frocks and sewing wedges of elasticized material into the front of our jeans to make room.
There has never been a better time to have a baby, and it’s almost worth having another one just to make the most of all that privilege and the Foodtown carparks.

Illustration by Anthony Ellison

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Sorry February 17

Some people are a long time coming to the art of saying sorry. Volunteering an admission of guilt just seems wrong when you will most likely be able to argue your way out of it. “I only did that because you backed me into a corner” is a good one. “You just can’t accept the fact that I’m right” is another and “Get over it” a very useful statement to cover most situations.
I don’t think I used the word “sorry” once before the age of 40 and I still lapse back occasionally into the belief that people should accept me as I am and respect my right to be a pain in the arse on occasion. I am who I am, live and let live, that sort of thing. But in recent years I’ve found the wonderful panacea that saying sorry can be. Instead of days and sometimes weeks of stewing over a disagreement you just wake up the next morning pick up the phone and say you’re sorry. Problem disappears. Now I understand the whole confessional thing with the Catholics where you confess, say some Hail Mary’s and walk out feeling much lighter.
But saying sorry is more than just letting those two syllables escape from your mouth. It is widely regarded that a successful apology must have three elements. Regret for your actions, taking responsibility for them and being willing to remedy the situation by not doing it again.
Which is where Kevin Rudd and I part company. I’m very glad that seven years after I witnessed the march across the Sydney Harbour Bridge demanding an apology for the treatment of Aboriginals someone has finally got around to it.
But making it all about the lost generation is very convenient. It points the finger at a bunch of British influenced government officials who took Aboriginal children away from their families. Not good, definitely needs an apology but what about the rest of the past 200 years of deep racism, certain apartheid and wilful neglect shown by Australians towards these people?
Who is going to apologise for that situation and who is going to take responsibility and remedy the fact that every day in every way, white Australians, as they have done for the past two centuries, prefer their Aboriginals to be neither be seen nor heard.
I lived in Australia for 18 months which was about all I could stand. There were several reasons I came running home but one of the main concerns I had was their treatment of Aboriginals. In the white middle class circles I mixed in you just didn’t talk about it. At least in New Zealand when Tame Iti goes running around the bush with some guns most households would sit down over dinner and have an energetic discussion. The dialogue would happen because as New Zealanders we are engaged with its people. We care. Which is not to say we aren’t racist also, a mere 10 minutes with an ear to talkback will tell you that. But we have the passion to discuss and debate the issues which have the power to tear us apart. In Australia you sit down at a dinner and utter the words “so how about those Aboriginals?” and the room goes deathly silent. With that one topic you have stormed into a cultural territory which was fenced off years ago. They appear numb and in denial about the apartheid which is taking place in their very own land. They seem powerless, blinkered and unable to utter one word about the situation either through fear it would be the wrong word or a lack of information on which to make an informed comment. The most I ever got any Australian to say about the situation was that what was done is done. And it is no wonder that every time Germaine Greer puts pen to paper expressing an educated understanding of Aboriginal culture and their treatment by the Australian Government in the British media she is widely discredited by her home country’s media.
And if you do travel out in the desert you are likely to meet, as my husband did just a few months ago, a whole tribe of displaced Aboriginals who were living in a settlement while they waited for their homeland Maralinga to be cleaned up after the British tested atom bombs on their land in the 60s. The Australian Government has done some work, and forked out some money, but there is still a long way to go. Sorry.

Illustration by Anthony Ellison

Sunday, 10 February 2008

The Letterbox February 10

It all started when my mother-in-law turned up on the doorstep out of breath and a little worse for wear.
“I was going to drop these off in the letterbox but there doesn’t appear to be any bottom in it,” she announced taking long lung filling gasps of air every three words.
It’s quite an effort to get to our front door involving a steep path, steps and a fair bit of fauna and flora clearing.
A cup of coffee and a sit down saw to my mother-in-law, but alas the letterbox on closer inspection did indeed have no bottom. Suddenly the mail which kept appearing in our garage, five metres to the right of the letterbox, delicately slipped under the locked door made sense. We had simply thought our mailman had gone a little odd and preferred the slot under the door than the slot in the box. We also understood why we frequently had to hunt in our overgrown garden looking for our mail.
Our letterbox was old when we moved in. It was possibly constructed at the same time as the garage which is pre-war. And like the garage which is barely standing, we just didn’t want to see that our letterbox was past it. We were convinced it was made from heart Kauri and so old and iconic we considered registering it as a historic place.
My mother-in-law offered to buy my husband a new one for his birthday but he couldn’t wait that long. Instead he instructed me to have a look on Trade Me, and a week later our marriage was severely strained. Who knew that men and women could think so differently about a letterbox?
“Not white, not metal, slot needs to be wider, too big, honestly how do you thank that is going to fit on our post?” he barked as I showed him my Trade Me selection of iconic and slightly weathered Kiwi letterboxes.
“Put in a search for ‘letterbox wooden’” he instructed (again) before marching off to address some literary crisis on
Unused to being instructed, let alone twice in one morning I went for a long walk to consider my options. Would I tear his heart out now or give him another 24 hours? As I walked I felt the same way I did when I got pregnant. Overnight you notice every pram, every baby, every other pregnant woman and that whole aisle in the supermarket with nappies in it where the day before they simply didn’t register on the radar. I stopped and admired every single letterbox, from the architect designed cedar and metal creations currently in vogue for Grey Lynn renovators, to various versions of the nice white metal one with room for four bottles of milk and a carrier I remembered from my childhood to the quirky artistic creations ranging from one painted to look like a TV and another involving pukekos and a great deal of ceramics. In Grey Lynn when people aren’t appearing on or making television, they express themselves with artistic letterboxes.
I returned home more confused than ever and stroked my broken letterbox. I’d never had to replace a letterbox before and you certainly don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Perhaps I could patch it, but where would I find the right grade and age of heart Kauri to match?
“I need to talk to you about the letterbox,” I said to my husband in the voice I use for getting my own way. “You’re being bossy and unreasonable and I really want one of those white metal ones from my childhood.”
“I was not bossy,” he retorted. “I just thought you’d appreciate my input.”
“Next you’ll be blaming the full moon and the hot summer,” I snarled, instantly regretting it.
“Right, I can see there’s only one way to sort this, get in the car we’re going to Mitre 10,” he instructed (again).
The good news is that we now have another letterbox, even though we left a trail of helpful Mitre 10 staff in our wake as they all tried to help the war of the worlds taking place in the letterbox aisle, before sensibly retreating to the safety of the lawnmowers.
It’s a wooden version of the white one and if you squint your eyes you could almost call it iconic.
“Happy now?” he grumped, content only that he got to choose the number to put on it, which is quite frankly gaudy.

Illustration by Anthony Ellison

Sunday, 3 February 2008

"Tupperware" February 3

Tupperware has always made me feel inadequate. It is the Scientology of kitchenware with it’s insistence on “burping” the lid, keeping matching sets in order with colour coding, stacking neatly in pantries and doing things with it which are just plain weird.
Does anyone really defrost meat in that plastic meat defroster, whip cream in that shaker thing, keep lettuces in that container with the spike which anal probes your lettuce and store half an onion in something which hangs from your fridge shelf?
I’ve only been to one Tupperware party in my life which scared me so thoroughly that the cream shaker I bought remained on my shelf for years unused and was regarded with deep suspicion every time I walked past it. I felt that if I succumbed and used it just once, I too would be hosting parties to sell bits of plastic which boss you around with Tom Cruise determination.
Women who have Tupperware also get quite shitty if you don’t give it back. Over the years they have given me baking or various left overs in Tupperware but never have they handed over the morsels without first saying: “I need the Tupperware back,” with a hard look I interpreted as meaning the Tupperware equivalent of L.J. Hubbard would impregnate them if they didn’t
Then the next time she’s at your house she rifles panic stricken through your cupboards looking for it while you attempt to stifle the vivid memory you have of throwing it in the bin, all the better to rid your house of it’s scary energy.
Recently, however, I’m seeing a new side to Tupperware. The cool vintage side. All those wonderful pastel colours which housewives in the early 60s bought en masse in the days when they also made frosted layer cakes and responded to advertising slogans which said: “calories, shmalories – as long as it’s fresh!” or “I can’t say I do, I don’t have my Tupperware.”
I’ve been seeing a lot of old Tupperware lately in Op Shops where they arrive in sad cardboard boxes each one still hanging onto their masking tape handwritten labels announcing that “cornflour” and “icing sugar” were once resident. I was immediately attracted to them because I knew they had come from a well ordered, old fashioned, good housewife type of kitchen, they have the nice old Tupperware logo on them and they are all in remarkably good nick because as we all know Tupperware lasts a lifetime.
Which is when I realised that the box of it I just bought for $5 probably came from a woman who recently died. All those Tupperware housewives who went to those parties in the 60s are now happily making angel cakes in heaven and Op Shops are overflowing with the stuff. Suddenly you can see the dusky pinks, sky blues and sea greens neatly stacked in her old cupboards housing baking ingredients which were regularly called upon to whip up a banana cake for the bowls tournament. You can see all the white lids happily burped sealing in the freshness and standing tall like good Tupperware living up to the slogan: “Stack neatly, save space!” I don’t mind using a dead housewife’s Tupperware because I see it as giving it a good home and out of respect I leave the masking tape labels with their former owner’s shaky old handwriting on them to preserve their former identity on my shelves. Which means I often find salt lurking in the one labelled cornflour but needs must.
So my kitchen is slowly filling up with the stuff which brings about a new problem. Where are you supposed to store it when not in use and how do you make sure you don’t lose the lids? Perhaps that’s what you learned if you hung out at Tupperware parties. I’ll never know.
What I do know is that slowly I’m becoming a born again Tupperware woman. I admired someone’s Pick a Deli container the other day which she was cleverly using to house tinned beetroot in its brine. No mess, can of beetroot lasts forever. I actually had the thought: “what a brilliant idea!” And when my daughter’s boyfriend’s mother sent some baking in a nice beige bit of Tupperware I made the effort not to lose the lid so that I could return it, such is my newfound respect.
I’m on the lookout for a beetroot storer and while I’m at it those ice-block makers, a cold cut keeper and one of those blue and red shape sorters for kids.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

"Yummy Kids" January 27

I always imagined that when my kids grew up into adults I would never see them. Pretty much like when I grew up, left home and got busy. I’ve talked to them at length about the great disappearing act of my generation but they’re not getting the hints and have continued to hang out at home. I quite liked having them around until I realised there is a distressing trend for parents with adult children to include them in their best mate circle. These once tiny little moppets with smelly nappies and food in the hair are suddenly the drinking buddy, travelling companion, confidante and cool flatmate.
“We do everything together,” gush these parents. “We just all get on so well and like the same things. Gosh some weekends it’s one big party at our house, you’d think we were still flatting!” they giggle outrageously.
Please don’t’ ever let me be one of them. I would rather swim naked across Cook Strait than wake up one morning and realise that I spent 21 years raising my children so that I could spend the next 20 years hanging out with them because my life is so empty.
God forbid the former little shits of these other parents should ever leave home and force their parents to spend time alone, getting to know each other again, walking around naked and having sex whenever they like, wherever they like before gorging on takeaways for two. Which will never happen because getting to know each other again just seems so boring when you have a constant stream of youth through your house teaching you how to use an iPhone and introducing you to music other than Steely Dan. You are mainlining cool 24/7 by association thanks to your yummy kids. And the kids are so onto it they have no intention of leaving home in the next decade. In our generation we left home to have sex, not so with this generation whose partners are welcomed with open arms into the family home and bedrooms. More the merrier you cool bundles of adulthood. Couple this liberalism with the free booze, free rent, free food, free overseas trips in return for a few hours of drunken rambling by their aging parents about how disappointing their life turned out to be and you have what we oldies term a win win situation.
I’m guilty of some of the above. I do drink with my adult children occasionally and pay for the booze. We even take them out to dinner and took them all to Paris. But they don’t have to be my confidante because I don’t’ believe they deserve it. Why would you expect adult children with their own lives to be remotely interested in, or be able to help with, the mad life you have made for yourself in the past 45 years? But in return I don’t expect to be judged for that life, and sadly when you hang out with your kids too much that’s exactly what you’ll get.
You may spend 99 percent of your time being the perfect parent, but that one percent when you totally screw up by drinking too much at lunch and allowing one of your mad friends to crash a family party you have hell to pay the next day. Yes, you read correctly. You become the teenager sent to Coventry for the day by your children because your behaviour was inappropriate. If they could send you to your room to think about your actions they would. But you’re already in your room because it’s the only place in your house, which you own, you feel free of judgement.
I’ve been told I need to have a long look at the kind of people I’m spending my time with (A type celebrity personalities), I should spend a bit more time considering the needs of others (not bringing said friends to family parties) and could they please have my credit card for their uni fees.

So I’m always more than ready for them to move out when they do. I miss them and throw myself around the house using phrases like “empty nest” and cook far too much food. But secretly I’m so relieved to be me again, a bit like that first time when I moved out of my parents’ house at the age of 17.
Meanwhile my husband points out that I only have myself to blame. I brought my kids up to have opinions, think for themselves and not take any shit. This apparently includes their mother.

Illustration by Anthony Ellison

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Jet Ski Madness

As our Cleopatra summer progresses, making hungry where most she satisfies, we bathe and sun ourselves as Kiwis who have known no summer similar for a decade.
“The weather!” we exclaim with a rare ferocious positivity to each other.
“Marvelous!” we reply, unused to such reason for joy.
And we cross our fingers behind our backs because we’re just not used to this kind of good luck.
“A true Kiwi summer,” we rejoice.
The Rugby World Cup seems a million years ago, our appalling child abuse statistics have surely been bleached away by such healthy heat and sunshine, and even Sir Ed’s death seems to have happened at the right time. A really Kiwi time full of freckles, sand in your sandwiches and cold beers on the beach.
Which leaves only one burning question from this perfect summer. Who signed off on jet skis?
It’s something I’ve pondered most days as my view from the caravan is interrupted by something smaller than a dinghy and larger than a surfboard, yet emitting a noise so loud it must surely have been created by a logging truck.
There are only two sounds you should have to hear during a true Kiwi summer. That of the lawnmower with its gentle low-pitched moan and tantalising smell of two stroke and fresh cut grass. And the contented chuckle of a Seagull outboard reliably ferrying fisherman out to sea from where they will return loaded down with snapper the size of newborn babies. Well that’s how I remember it. But both sounds are produced while doing something useful and most of us are okay with that.
The jet ski on the other hand makes a hell of a noise doing nothing. It’s not used to transport passengers form one destination to another. Nor can you fish from one, although I have seen it attempted.
Most water sports require some skill. Waterskiing is noisy and essentially a speed issue, but you have to try really hard to balance and might even manage to do it on one leg. Kayaking involves co-ordination and muscle power. Sailing needs a knowledge of the winds and currents and fishing needs a boat, which may go fast but also means you end up with a snapper or too.
Jet skis require no special skill except the ability to sit down and turn a switch. They are kayaks for fat guys, who hoist their huge gut onto them and proceed to go fast in one direction. Then come back in the other direction. Fine, get off. But they just love doing it again and again and again. Back and forth, back and forth stop suddenly, go fast suddenly, back and forth. Then they go around in circles. Starting with a really big one and then finishing with a really little one which just about causes their own wake to push them off. Cool.
To be fair I get the first five minutes. Wind in your hair, gliding over the water, that sort of thing. What I don’t get is an hour later when the repetitive back and forth and circle behaviour begins to take on an air of obsessive-compulsive retardation. Only the most minimal of brain function would find it stimulating.
Which is when the fat guy finds a new activity.The thrill that he is doing something “active” and with his neon life jacket looks slightly “sporty” means that he must now parade a few metres from the shore at a speed fast enough to slice a whale in half let alone your child who is having a swim.
But then the other day I saw him. A bronzed god, all rippling biceps and six pack, astride a slightly battered and worn jet ski which held its rider like a race horse on the last lap home. He leaned back into his machine, every bit the easy rider, his jet ski doing a sizeable impression of a waterborne Harley. No circles for him or speed races back and forth. Instead he headed straight out across the treacherous bar, sleekly weaving his way in and out of the two metre waves, occasionally airborne, turning and landing, sleek like a dolphin. I couldn’t take my eyes off him as his long hair trailed behind him in the wind and I wondered out loud if finally, this might be what jet skis are all about. The skill, the danger, the sheer sexiness of the guy.
“Hope he falls off,” snarled my husband, from behind his book. And he did.

Illustration Anthony Ellison

Sunday, 13 January 2008



I am very fortunate to have interesting friends. One is attempting to cross the border of Jordan into Syria for her summer holidays. She’ll come back even more knowledgeable about Middle East politics which will make our next conversation more challenging than the last one. Another has just returned from Hollywood where I like to think his life is one long episode of Californication and another lives in Brisbane, which isn’t at all interesting but they are having cyclonic weather conditions with fascinating daily updates.
Which makes my last four weeks at the caravan look exceptionally dull.
“So what have you been up to?” inquired Mr Hollywood, eventually.
“I just finished a jigsaw,” I volunteered hastily eliminating alternative recent activities such as gathering pipi, floating in the water and gathering pipi.
“Umm, we’re not going to tell anyone about that okay,” came his hasty reply.
“Why not?”
“Remember what happened with the caravan?”Indeed I do. A few years back I bought an old caravan, restored it back to it’s sparkly lino and then spent a lot of time there alone with the dog. My friends muttered amongst themselves, rumour spread that my marriage was over and all I got was the caravan in the settlement and when the dust settled my reputation as an interesting person was over. I was eccentric but in a boring way. Like Marcus Lush without the ice, the trains or Bluff.
Recently, however, I was saved from being an eccentric bore by the plethora of silly season newspapers screaming at me that caravans are cool! Caravaning is back! Interesting people with arts degrees have caravans!
One of the pieces was even written by my husband who, like Mr Hollywood and the rest of my friends regarded the caravan as an eccentricity at the time but because he loves me rode the wave and on the way back down agreed to spend some time there and got it.
So now the fact that I spend a lot of time in my 1968 Lightweight caravan is no longer evidence that I am uninteresting, I am suddenly cool.
Which is disappointing. I like being stationary and solitary and staying up to midnight without realising it to finish the sea part of my jigsaw. I didn’t even stay up to midnight on New Year’s Eve, in fact getting me to see the two hands on the number 12 requires vast amounts of persuasion these days. But when you’re half way through completing a picture of boats in a port you just have to finish the sea.
I have so far finished three jigsaws and discovered there are two provisos. They have to be vintage because the pictures are crazy. Guys sitting in front of the fire sucking on a pipe, holding a rifle with a dog at his feet, that sort of thing. And I prefer them to have a seaside theme. Apparently I like the colour blue and its many variants. The one I stayed up late for has the most astounding array of blues and greens. I am eagerly anticipating getting to work on the one of Venice during a gondola regatta from the 1960s. I have five more after that and I doubt I’ll ever run out because Op Shops keep me in constant supply for the average price of one dollar stretching to three dollars if there are no pieces missing. I am deeply indebted to the volunteer staff at the various Op Shops I haunt who sit in the back room completing the puzzles then write on a sticker “one piece missing.”
I don’t really care if it isn’t complete, it just makes it more challenging in those final moments when you have no pieces left and three holes. And that’s okay because it’s not like you get them framed and hang them or anything, although I was tempted with the beauty of the man with the dog and the pipe and the rifle and the fire.
I told Mr Hollywood that he may have been away a while and might need to remind himself that I am the antithesis of his new life. I am peace and quiet and smell nice.
I’ve just bought a jigsaw mat off Trade Me which you roll up and it magically keeps all the pieces in place and I’m not at all looking forward to a future silly season when my husband and several other journalists write moving pieces about the return of the jigsaw.

Illustration by Anthony Ellison

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Fill Ins

Boxing Day sales are for the insane. We all know this because we’ve tried it at least once and been crammed into bad air-conditioning with strangers farting turkey and burping Lindaur. But the biggest argument for staying away is the fact that you get the Fill In serving you behind the counter.
While retail bosses lounge around the beaches of New Zealand looking forward to counting their takings at the end of the day, their Fill Ins are using the time to bitch them out, big time.
I’m still not sure how I ended up shopping on Boxing Day, but I think it had something to do with needing a toasted sandwich maker or the fact that I was temporarily losing my sanity. By the end of my shopping spree I was absolutely certain that all retail bosses are absolute pricks. I would like to say I was eavesdropping shamelessly as I scanned the boutiques suddenly aware that I also needed a sundress, but the din of disgruntled sales assistants whining was so loud it was unavoidable.
“She’s so like, totally unreasonable. I hate it when she’s here, she’s so picky.”
“So I told him I’d already worked three days straight and he could just get stuffed.”
“I can’t believe he had security cameras installed to watch us, like I’d steal any of his crap clothes.”
And so it went. I felt as though I had arrived three hours into the staff Christmas party while the boss was unavoidably detained in the loo. Insults were hurled and accusations made all in that ear drum shattering pitch which takes hold of women when they’ve had a few. And the intense concentration required by all members of staff involved in the discussion meant that I could have stripped naked, had a picnic and conducted a séance on the shop floor without a flicker of interest. The only let up on dissing the boss was one shop where the Fill Ins were having a good old bitch session about that girl Lara the Fill In across the mall at the other dress shop She’s a real cow.
I only mention this Boxing Day saga because the trend for retail workers to share their feelings in front of customers has become worryingly prevalent. In recent times I’ve heard stories of thrush infections, several boyfriend sagas and also been the unwilling observer of a staff member being disciplined to the level of a second warning behind the counter while I was attempting to buy some stockings. Do they not have staff rooms anymore? Or perhaps it is just that I’m a hopeless nosey parker and most customers simply don’t notice the shame, humiliation, anger and emotional meltdowns worthy of a Coronation Street episode going on behind the till.
But I’m sure I’m not telling bosses anything they don’t already know. You can’t be on the job 24/7, every good boss knows to take time out, especially at Christmas. But when it comes to retail I have to disagree. Why would you leave your shop to the mercy of a bunch of 18-year-old morons at the busiest time of the year?
Especially when you know that Fill Ins just don’t give a shit.
I hate having to point out that the items I have just bought were actually on sale, but I did it three times that day managing to save a few hundred wrongly charged dollars in the process. And each time was met with:
“Oh are they? How much did you say? That’s a good price isn’t it? Don’t mind me, I’m just a Fill In. ” Oh that’s okay then. Fill Ins can’t be expected to do their job properly.
But my special award for Fill In Retail Worker of the Year goes to the girl in the honey shop. I just about bought the whole shop so keen was I to purchase the special honey which has more healing power than antibiotics that I was entitled to a free soap and my daughter demanded that I get one.
“Oh are you? Which one do you want?” “I don’t know,” I said pleasantly. “Which one do you like?”
“I don’t like them,” she replied deadpan as she gazed out the window longing for sun and surf. “They’re a stupid shape.”
I never found the right toasted sandwich maker but I did find a punch bowl fountain at K Mart which lights up. Which was almost worth the insanity.

Illustration by Anthony Ellison