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