Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Winter Down Under

This was the cover shot published in the Sydney Morning Herald during our recent trip to Australia in the depths of winter. The following week it was even warmer and the wet-suits were off.

Not to make light of global warming or to diminish the charms of a proper winter -- for starters it kills off the bugs and without that we're up the creek without a paddle, to use a popular Aussieism -- but this looks kind of fun (for those who like a bit of wet, salty terror), even if one of the two women partaking appears to have lost her footing.

Aussie in any season indeed is not for the faint of heart of foot, which is kind of what I like about it, if it is also why I moved to New Zealand; a little bit of Aussie heat goes a long way.  

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Labour gains

So, I think I should leave the country more often...

While flying back yesterday from my dance-reunion trip across the ditch on a plane piloted by a woman (my first - and a bloody smooth flight it was too), reading Inferior, a book about how science has got women so woefully wrong (review to come), I learnt that the political party I have long supported and almost stood for at one point in time has appointed a new leader - a woman - to fight the upcoming general election in seven weeks. All this is very good news indeed.

I have met Labour's new leader Jacinda Ardern and, along with my daughter, have done some campaigning with her, and I reckon that if anyone can turn this country to the left, where it needs to go, it is she. She represents the possibility of real change towards a country that cares and creates, rather than a country that struts and cuts, a change the party, the country - and global politics - sorely needs.

Jacinda is the fourth leader the Labour Party has appointed since Helen Clark, the country's first elected woman PM, left NZ politics for the United Nations when Labour was ousted in 2008. But she is the first woman leader since Clark, after two disastrous Davids and one ordinary Andrew were appointed to the job. And even though she only has seven weeks before the election to turn Labour's poor poll results around, I think she can't help but improve the party's and the country's outlook whatever the election result, and if not this time, then next she will be New Zealand's prime minister.

Good luck Jacinda; Labour gains indeed.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Beyond the Bone

As a ballet dancer in my youth I was naturally obsessed with my weight and did some pretty extreme things to keep the weight off, including eating nothing beyond breakfast for six days of the week and binge-eating on the seventh, as well as using laxatives when I broke this strict diet even with just a spoonful of food beyond breakfast. And I exercised more or less all day. I weighed 37 kilos from when I was 15 to 17. I loved my hip bones and my thigh gap, though I wanted more of a gap, as well as bonier shoulders and arms.

To the Bone
This extreme dieting kind of worked for me at the time, as it does for many ballet dancers - and models and actresses - which is a problem for these art forms and one that is reflected, with slightly less intensity, in the wider experience of growing up female in a culture that values the aesthetic of female thinness and bones.

If I'm honest I still value this aesthetic to a degree, though I have not dieted - nor been thin - for many decades now, and I think my values have changed somewhat since I was a skinny teen. I can see that Keira Knightley is too thin here. Much too thin.

The Netflix movie To the Bone tackles this issue head on, with a story featuring a girl struggling with anorexia who is played by an actress who is clearly too thin (she lost 20 pounds for the role), and who has suffered from eating disorders in her past, as have the women who wrote and directed the film.

It's a pretty common female story to be sure, and for this reason it should be told in film. But the fact that the actress had to dice with this disease by losing so much weight when she was thin to begin with and had experienced eating issues in her real life, is rather problematic, as it kind of suggests that the disease is not as serious as it is, if you can just come in and out of it like that, an assumption all too easily made when the cure seems to be to just eat.

But the disease kills a high number of sufferers and the cure is far from simple. Indeed the only real cure is prevention, which is the opposite of easy as it means undoing all those messages that tell us in Western culture that thin girls are prettier than not-thin girls.

The film's inclusion of a not-thin girl as one of the patients in the clinic for treating eating disorders was a progressive - if slightly awkward - move in that it helps us to see that thin and fat are really the flip sides of the same disordered, food-preoccupied mind that is the reality for so many western girls and women, a perspective that shows, indeed, that eating in itself is no cure.

I don't think I have been a particularly good mother to my daughter in her struggles up and down with weight, no doubt partly because of my own weight issues and preoccupation with bones as a young dancer, but I think I am getting better at seeing it is preferable for women to be overweight than underweight, or at least realising that this mental adjustment is the first step towards developing a healthier perspective on women and weight.

To the Bone is, on balance, a story worth telling on film, largely because it shows the unattractiveness of being a thin and bony woman, in contrast to its usual glamorisation, without simplifying the cure or blaming the thin woman - or deflecting blame, either. There is no finger-pointing; 'blame' is diffuse and shared, a novel concept in itself.

I hope this cutting-edge, female-centred film helps anorexic girls and women - indeed all girls and women - to move beyond anorexia and other eating disorders, including bulimia and obesity. It has helped me already.  


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Make me

So I was in our local department store (Farmers) recently trying on a black woollen skivvy because my existing one has lost its elbows and at my age you need elbows, and the lights in the changing room were so harsh white they were practically racist.

Indeed these lights judged my skin as cruelly as white-pink skin ever was judged, which might be fair enough, if it wasn't for the fact that it was clearly aimed at women of a certain age, and our skin has had more than its fair share of harsh judgement.

You can't enter these giant glaring glamour stores, most of the stock of which is aimed at 'older' women, without passing through a gauntlet of white-lit makeup stalls staffed by an army of heavily made-up and uniformed women who glare at you as a drill sergeant might glare at his (her) soldiers to see if their kit is up to muster.

Only soldiers sign up for that level of scrutiny, we don't, and it is our skin wrinkles, the work of mother nature, being judged wanting, not our clothes wrinkles, the work of sloppy laundry. There is only so much we can do to improve the situation, and whatever we do is only a stop-gap measure, and a bloody expensive one at that. So we have much more to lose than to gain by going down that made up road.

And the only reason I can think for why they continue the glaring lighting beyond this vast cosmetics gauntlet into the changing rooms where it simply cannot improve your response to the clothing tried on there, is that the money to be made in convincing middle-aged women they need a full facial cosmetic upgrade is so much more than they can make in selling clothing that they are actually willing to sacrifice their clothing sales to sell cosmetics, by reducing your self-esteem far enough in the changing rooms that on your way out, back through the gauntlet, you succumb to the pressure and stop to ask one of those heavily made-up manikins to make you up a face. Then, once you see your made-up self in the mirror, there's no going back to the old, low-resolution, blurry, blotchy you.

And after flinging my skivvy in disgust at the assistant on my way out and telling her: 'Those lights in there aren't helping!' refusing to buy the thing on principle even though it fit, I passed through that glaring cosmetics gauntlet and despite myself found my feet hesitating: perhaps just an eyebrow pencil? But no; it's a slippery eyebrow slope.

So its no eyebrows or elbows for me for now. However I do fear that as I am trying to return to the stage at a rather advanced age, it is only a matter of time before I do go down that slippery eyebrow slope. But not yet.


Monday, July 3, 2017

Animal sex?

Not as animal as all that
When I read recently about the female star (Emily Watson) of the latest BBC drama series Apple Tree Yard having ‘hot, animal sex’ on screen with a stranger at the age of 50, my first thought was: what do they mean by ‘animal’? 

Unfortunately I was unable to find out because this so-called 'animal' sex occurred in the first episode that we missed on account of attending the comedy performance Feminists are Funny. Clashes do happen, sometimes they are a little ironic. 

The performance was great; feminists are funny indeed, but even so I was disappointed to have missed episode one of the series that I had planned to watch and have since watched subsequent episodes of (no animal sex in those, at least as far as I could tell).  

It's not that I wanted to watch 'animal' sex especially, only that I am curious about the term, because, as it happens, during the course of my advanced political research, I have had occasion to watch sex between creatures we more routinely describe as animals, if not as the king and queen of the animals, namely lions, and the sex they had was not what I would call 'hot' or 'animal', indeed. Very little heat seemed to be involved, it was all but perfunctory and over in less than ten seconds, though often repeated in the course of five minutes, and each time it was the female who initiated it - by squatting down on her front - and ended it by roaring over her shoulder to get her chap to look lively and hop off (he would otherwise have stayed there all day and fallen asleep; that bit seemed quite animal, actually) so she could stretch her legs, circulate his semen, and begin the whole sequence over again.

My second thought was: 'Is she really younger than me?' Emily Watson, that is, not the lioness in the video. She was definitely younger, having animal sex five times in five minutes. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

On being both - and much more

It was Virginia Woolf who 100 years ago wrote that it was not enough to be man or woman, that we have to be both, but it is Ali Smith, no doubt with the added vision of someone who lives a non-heterosexual life, unlike Woolf, who has given that idea contemporary teeth in her extraordinary body of work, not least her 2014 Women's Prize for Fiction winner - How to be both - that tackles the issue directly,  if very creatively, and which I've just finished reading having only recently discovered Ali Smith - better late than never.

For Smith it is not just about being male and female at once but also the idea that those who die live on in us, as does their art and many of their traditions, while we all play many roles in our lifetimes, indeed more and more, and that that is how it should be and we need to embrace that idea of 'being both' much more than we do.

I won't say I understand all that Ali writes on this challenging idea, but I think I understand enough to say that she gets at the crux of what it takes to have effective experiences living in, behind and beneath all the moments of our lives, and especially in living in relationships that are not based on preconceived polarities but allow us to experiment more with open feelings and deeper connections with each other, between the generations and across cultures, as well as the sexes, which is surely the challenge of the modern age, if not of all ages.

I am heterosexual, as far as I know, but in my marriage I believe I am in a way both woman and man, as is my husband in return, and then we are neither too, or in being both we are neither as far as any kind of preconceived notions of what it is to be a man and a woman go. I mean not entirely, but in essence we are kind of both. He is a university librarian and blues guitarist (to name but two of his roles), I am a political theorist and dancer, to name but two of mine.

By contrast, reading recently about the Uber CEO and general company practice of being aggressively greedy and bullying and sexist, in other words classic macho male behaviour, it seems to me that the problem with that situation could be described as men being too male - a problem not unique to this 'man's world', indeed that which defines its essence and essential problem.

Equally, but with a little more complexity because in a man's world women's choices and options for getting ahead are generally more constrained than men's are, Kim Kardashian could be said to be too female in that she has built an industry around her appearance and the hyper-sexualised display of her womanly assets and nothing else, as if to be woman is just to be, and always to be, on show.

Thus I think the Uber men and the Kardashian women alike could learn a thing or three from Ali Smith's idea of being both, and also neither, in moving beyond the heterosexual gender extremes of learned behaviour that accentuate the innate tendencies and weaknesses of both sexes. Instead we should try to develop different tendencies to overcome those weaknesses and in doing so, it's possible that homosexual and transsexual insights can provide clues as to how we might better do this.

To being both and much more than the sum of those polarised parts.



Monday, June 19, 2017

24 years ago today

Face to face for the first time.
Photo taken by the midwife.
It was twenty-four years ago today
Following thirty-five hours of pain
That the doctors said at least you tried
But baby's had enough, baby's tired

And giving me a form to sign
To waive responsibility if I died
A needle took the pain away
As the midwife took out the razor blade

Which was guaranteed to raise a smile
When she shaved off a mole and cried:
'You didn't tell me you had a mole, child!'
And I said: 'I forgot, I've got a lot on my mind'

But what's a bit of blood between wives
In the best cause of furthering lives
And the mole was forgotten in a flash
When to the surgery we did together dash

For the show to end all shows to begin
Applying the weapons of mass reproduction
Under bright lights with a tug and a cry
He did emerge finally, he did arrive

And they said I'd like to introduce to you
Your firstborn babe, he's bloody but brand new
And it certainly was a big thrill
Though I was shivering all over with a sudden chill

Then a week later, it didn't take too long
They said: you can take him home, go on, go on
And so we did twenty-four years ago
And today he still lives at home

Which is fine
We're all good with that
When we go away he looks after the cat

Happy birthday, Conor James, there's no pleasure without labour pains.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Handmaid hope

So I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I didn't make it through Margaret Atwood's book The Handmaid's Tale, though I had enjoyed several of her other books before that, not least the brilliantly named - and written - The Edible Woman.

But Handmaid's I found not only unnecessarily bleak but too heavy-handed in its depiction of the dominating female characters who perpetrate most of the day-to-day suffering inflicted upon the handmaids, at least in the first third of the book that I read. Even the institutionalised rape of the handmaids seemed to be blamed more on the wives who watch than on the their husbands who perform their role in a perfunctory, almost reluctant way.

So I was a little reluctant to invest time in the TV series based on the book and again nearly gave it up after the first couple of episodes that did nothing to relieve my original misgivings. But I persisted, and I'm more or less glad I did, for the story ends on a note of some hope, with the women collectively refusing to stone their fellow handmaid to death - 'They should never have given us uniforms if they didn't want us to be an army' and the wife, an almost entirely unsympathetic character to that point, standing up to her husband when he tells her 'You answer to me; now go to your room!' by raging at him that he is weak and because of his weakness - the usual infidelities with his handmaids, plus scrabble - God has made him infertile, the ultimate insult and impotency in Atwood's dystopian world (if not the ultimate real-world fantasy).

And although it doesn't really give us anything to hope for in terms of resolving the real-world gender oppression and conflict that undermines the pursuit of those values of love, equality and freedom on which the happiness and health of all depends, the message of female collective action is empowering and the creative exposition of the gender corruption and crap that lies at the heart of all patriarchal religions is effectively done if, at times, all too real: there but for the grace and graft of those who resist fundamentalist religions go each and every one of us.

But I am recommending the series and thinking about re-reading and finishing the book; I just might have to wait till Trump is impeached first; it's a little too close to the bone right now. Hopefully Melania watches it and realises she is little more than a handmaid herself then files for her freedom and the public humiliation is enough to bring on the ultimate Trump tantrum that finally reveals to the world what a sorry excuse for a man he is. Now that would make for a good fantasy novel.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Standing up for Her (Bridget Christie)

The world has done something right at last!

In fact the world of women has been doing a lot right lately, even more so than usual, and better still, they've been doing it MUCH more publicly than ever before, giving sisterly support to women of all stripes and strides across the globe, so that we might all stand up for Her in numbers never seen before to improve the world for women and with women that means children, and oh look; some of those children will grow up to be men, so that means men too.

Hurrah! The world's problems fixed by handing women the mics! (pronounced mix). Indeed the answers aren't blowing in the wind anymore, they're blowing in the women... Okay, that joke still needs some work. I'm not quite ready for my own Netflix special.

But BRIDGET CHRISTIE most definitely is, and last night she proved this to me, my husband (who is a man) and many thousands, perhaps millions of other women and men around the world in her new Netflix special Stand Up For Her the first global-release Netflix stand-up special by a British woman and possibly the first ever global-release Netflix special by a mother of any nationality, for she is a mother, unlike the majority of female stand-ups, though of course fathers abound. But times are a changing.

I had not heard of Bridget before, I confess, slightly to my shame, but living 10,000 miles away I hope I might be forgiven, this being her first internationally-released show. But it most definitely won't be her last, as it is one of the best stand-up specials I have ever seen -- and I've seen a fair few now -- and pretty much the only one that tackles sexism head on, a major challenge for a comedian.

But it's a mark of Bridget's talent, as well as our times, that feminism can be brought to the international stand-up stage and be wildly relevant and funny. For example she takes on Stirling Moss, the racing car driver, who said publicly he thought women had the physical capacity to be racing car drivers but not the mental acumen, even though his own sister is a world champion racing car driver and he once stepped into an empty lift shaft, fell three flights and broke both his ankles, something Bridget suggests, to brilliant comic effect, shows a slight lack of mental acumen on his part.

We are all special, of course, but some of us are more special than others, and Bridget Christie's Netflix special is as special as they come. I look forward to her world tour; suggested title: Mothers On the Move.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Wonder women

If I'm honest this image gives me mixed feelings as a feminist, as I continue to worry that the hijab that encumbers women and symbolises female deference to a patriarchal god and men as his earthly representatives, perpetuates the very value, upheld by all religions in some degree, that underpins so much of the brutal violence and humiliations that are inflicted upon women the world over.

But, on the other hand, I have to admire these women, especially those wearing this most recognised and decried symbol of the Muslim faith, for standing together in public, with women of other faiths, to show, not their female deference to men, but women's united opposition to the latest brutal and public example of the violent male approach to solving disputes, just as we stood together to oppose the election in the US of a man who openly shames and degrades women and is busy as we speak (if not playing golf) 'working' to remove our hard-won rights and freedoms upon which a kinder, safer and less unequal world absolutely and ultimately depends.

I have not yet seen the female written, directed and starring film Wonder Woman, but I have read many interesting reviews of it and will see it soon. This review by the NZ comedian couple, Michele A'Court and Jeremy Elwood, I like in large part because of its insight into what a gender-evolved partnership looks like, with Jeremy writing that he finds the male opposition to women-only screenings of the film an 'embarrassment' to men, and an irony when it comes from the very men who 'invented exclusion', which is really all men, or men of all cultures, though rich white men have certainly contributed more than their unfair share.

To all those who stand up against male arrogance everywhere, women and men alike, I thank and commend you. The future of humanity is in your/our hands.


Friday, June 2, 2017

Funny mummy

I'm not sure this is the best picture of me performing my hilarious Hawaiian hand dance at the Revel Cafe on K-Road in Auckland on Wednesday night, but it is definitely the blurriest (my husband took it).

Also, there seems to be suspicious stains all over my trousers that I can't explain, and I'd only had one vodka, most of which, I'm pretty sure, went into my mouth.

One of my hands, meanwhile, seems to have been swallowed by a painting, and the other lost its fingers. Miraculously, the missing appendages turned up later, so that was alright.

Still, I do look happy and, as we all know, that's the main thing, especially in these challenging times, even if it could be argued I look a little too happy.

It was a comedy gig organised by one of this year's Raw Quest finalists, with a line-up of ten other Raw comedians, most of whom were more successful than I was in this and last year's quests - they could hardly have been less successful - as well as being half my age or less.

Still, my main man, manager and photographer in chief said I was the funniest on the night and as I am largely doing this crazy thing that my friends, if I had any, would call 'brave at my age', for him, that goes a long way to making it worthwhile, with bonus benefits in the bedroom to follow -- even if I was asleep on tranquillisers for those.

I was also the only mother in the place, something I know because part of my set was on the joys of motherhood and at one point I asked 'are there any other mothers in the house?' The silence that ensued was followed by a hearty laugh, which was something at least, even though it stuffed up the joke I was planning to make when the other mothers called out yea! (I'll save that for later).

But as most comedians, young and old, are guys who either ignore or have something slightly condescending if not critical to say about their mothers, I feel that the comedy industry could do with more mothers in its midst, perhaps particularly mothers of boys. Certainly I know that my boys are ecstatic about the prospect of their mother being a stand-up comedian.

And so I will press on with my Hawaiian hands and joys of motherhood jokes in the hope that some day, fairly soon, my skills will be recognised and the national, if not global comedy industry will get the most valuable of all gifts that can be given: perspective. That and life, of course; but I've been there, done that and got the scars to prove it, too.  


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Go Google!

Google's celebration today of Zaha Hadid the Iraqi-British woman who was the first of her gender to win the top architectural prize (in 2004) and pretty much all other architectural design prizes that are awarded around the world, a woman who substantially reshaped modern architecture  indeedhits just the right note in response to the latest round of terror inflicted upon the world and the world's females especially.

Like I said in my previous post, and as Time magazine reiterates in its latest edition, this latest terror attack should be in large part understood as an attack on women's efforts to move beyond traditional gender roles and divisions and to challenge the principle of male superiority that upholds them in all countries around the world, if perhaps most violently by those who use suicide bombs to express their profound resentment and rejection of female emancipation.

Go Google I say for offering an alternative response to terror other than the increased presence of armed officers on the streets, as if guns can fix this. This sophisticated, creative and peaceful response to terror reminds us that beauty beats bombs and equality beats evil which doesn't bring the murdered back but it does suggest a better way forward and perhaps, at best, provides the faint hope that those who were killed didn't die in vain.

And thank you Zaha for your inspiring example and buildings; a woman for our times indeed.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Pink balloons

I'm struggling with the 'essentially playful' part of my blog ethos today, my heart going out to the families of those killed and injured, many of them young girls as they clutched pink balloons and dreams, in the latest deranged attack on female freedom by another boy-man brainwashed into thinking pink balloons are what's most wrong with the world. At least that's how I see the Manchester suicide bombing of the Ariana Grande 'Dangerous woman' concert yesterday. 

Others will focus on the immigrant status of the bomber's parents and make it about letting people into our countries who don't share 'western values'. But male resentment of female freedom is universal and many of the school shootings in the west by non-immigrant men have been motivated, in some part if not entirely, by this same resentment. And the aggression and pervasiveness of online misogyny speaks to the same depressingly timeless and borderless resentment. 

Of course in many ways it's easier, if that's the word, to make it about immigration and a clash of cultures than it is to face the harder-to-change reality that boys of all cultures continue to find common cause in the idea that they are more entitled to self-expression and realisation than girls are, and to resent any and all challenges to this idea.

I don't have the answers but I do think that framing the problem as it is must be part of our response. 

Balloons over bombs. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Reasons why not

Suicide is a tricky subject and only the bravest attempt to comment on it - and commit it, perhaps - though it might also be characterised as a cowardly act, indeed perhaps the most cowardly. It's complicated.

Mahatma Gandhi is quoted to have said on the subject: 'If I had no sense of humour, I would long ago have committed suicide', which, as with most of what he said, seems to cut to the heart of things.

When, during my darkest days of researching and writing on violence against women, a period when my mother told me I had lost my sense of humour, I was asked by a counsellor if I had suicidal thoughts. I hesitated for quite a while before replying, through torrential tears, in the negative.

I did want to run away though, which I confessed to the counsellor at the time, even though I had a young family I loved and was loved by (most of the time). I'm glad I stayed -- not sure about them.

That was in my thirties. My teenage tears over frustrated dancing dreams seemed even worse -- as they will. Because at that age you are so new to adult feelings and pressures that you are almost living in a state of perpetual shock at the unexpected bigness of life and your own frustrating powerlessness to make things go the way you want them to and to figure out where you fit in.

Writing about those tears and years as I am now in the second volume of my memoir I am almost amazed and even proud of the funny letters I wrote home from London (which Mum kept) that belie the deep despair and confusion I was feeling at the time, letters that seem to speak to Ghandi's idea that our sense of humour saves us, if anything can, from being fatally cowed by the big bad world and its attempts to destroy and diminish us, real or perceived.

So, it is in this light that we move to consider the big bad present day and its show of the moment Netflix's 13 Reasons Why that tackles teen suicide head on and in much greater detail and depth than has ever been done before on screen.

We (Moose and I) hesitated before spending thirteen hours watching this YA show, but I'm glad we, the parents of three teens at one time and one teen now, finally did. That said, it was too drawn out and not quite believable that a girl like Hannah: smart, an only child from a more or less happy family, and not exactly unpopular, would kill herself at 17 and leave her parents, whom she loved, to find her bloodless body.

Then again, emerging adults are so much in their own traumatic world and with the volume turned up so high that it does seem to shut out all else, so it might be believable from this perspective that is so hard to fathom once you've moved, as I have, so far beyond that world.

But beyond suicide the gender battles are particularly well portrayed, with the rape scene, or scenes, done simply and realistically, rather than sensationally, to make it all too believable that the perpetrator, a classic privileged male narcissist, could do what he did and get away with it - but for the tapes Hannah left, which is the crux of the matter. She gets to explain what happened to her and why she did what she did, with the rape as the culminating cause but not the only reason for her to end her life. For this aspect alone I'd recommend the show, if these scenes do make for rather unsettling viewing.

And I hope the show can be educational and reformative for the young people watching it, as well as for those people -- all of us, really -- responsible for helping our young people begin to find their own way in the world without hurting themselves and or others. Humour would have helped these teens do this better and viewers to watch it as well, but then the outcome would have had to be entirely different.

So in its way, this serious and unflinching portrayal of troubled teen life ending (and starting) in suicide, confirms Gandhi's view on the vital, life-saving importance of humour. And on that note, I will sign off and get back to rewriting my very own teen comic tragedy under the working title: 'A woman of strange substance'.  


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Leaves walk (poetry warning)

Leaves walk
Run and tumble
Across the wet
Sticky grass

New autumn leaves are lost
Liquid Amber boss

Leaves walk 
Right up to the front door step
Knock! Knock!

But they don't want to come in
They are just friendly
Plant smiles

Leaves walk
Leaves talk

Autumn parade
Cat walk
Tip-toe charade


I need glasses to see them

But they're there just the same

With or without me and my glasses

Leaves walk
No they don't

Yes they do                                                     
On tip-toe
Thrusting their shoulders
Rolling their hips

Shshshshsh... don't slip

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Block blues and other hues

This spectacular flower (?) was snapped outside one of the houses renovated in the Block NZ TV series a few years back. I think I blogged on it here at OWW. 

They are strange looking flowers and from a distance as you drive past they look top-heavy and gangling. But close up they look like this! Like a plant version of an ice-cream sundae, perhaps. 

I picked the day, or the day picked me. Though our firebrand flower seems to be shielding herself from the glare of the sun. Yet how well the blushing blue sets off her colours. She appears to know this too. 

It was taken in summer, late summer last. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Sweet subtlety

I have just posted this chocolate photo on my Facebook header. It is a good fit and replaces the man being tripped up who had run (or tripped) its course.

It's a box of chocolates opened out onto a white plate from last year's Mother's Day chocolates. But I can't find the source photo and Facebook won't let me copy it from there (now I have found it).

The one pictured below is an actual raspberry inside a white-chocolate shell. My sister sent a box made up in Christchurch for Christmas 2011, but they could work equally well for Mother's Day.

One comment and 'like' in one hour on Facebook. It's from VC, who writes: 'I've seen some heavy hints in my time...'. Indeed.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Adams' Arrival

The title of Amy Adams' latest film Arrival seemed a bit lame to me until I realised it was intended as a subtle - too subtle, in my opinion - tribute to one of the greatest records of all time: ABBA Arrival. This realisation has made all the difference to my appreciation of the film and explains why an actor with the initials AA was cast to play the lead. I do prefer it when things make sense.

It would have been helpful if they had incorporated something of the ABBA Arrival soundtrack in the film to give us more of a clue as to this tribute. For example, when this alien (heptapod) 'hand' slaps the glass partition between it and Adams, 'Knowing Me, Knowing You' might have worked well. Instead they went with eerie instrumental stuff that only added to the general confusion.

But seriously; ABBA aside, Adams brings real-world (and real-woman) cred to this alien-invasion film based on a short story 'Story of Your Life' by American-Chinese author Ted Chiang about the fluffy physics of wondering what we would do if we knew the future. She is great, even though she can't sing or dance.

But though the story and the reviews of the film have not emphasised this, one of the main strengths of the film for me is the progressive gender commentary and critique it offers, with the contrasting roles played by Adams and her male support, Jeremy Renner, representing the female emphasis on language, patient understanding and lateral problem-solving as a more subtle and ultimately superior response to our failures of communication than the male emphasis on logic, abstract physics, and, if that doesn't work, concrete weaponry that has prevailed throughout history

I think this is the direction our sci-fi imaginings of the near and distant future need to be heading in, rather than continuing to assume weaponry and wizardry (math) will help us fix the present and find the future.

And really what the film is saying is that the future of humanity lies in both types of reasoning (female and male) coming together to work out how better to support each other to save the future from the past by moving beyond the profoundly destructive conflict that has existed between men and women throughout much of history the world over.

When men and women work together, as they are meant to, as they do in this film, and as they did in ABBA, more or less, there is no limit to what we can achieve. Indeed we may even be able to see the future.

Knowing me, knowing you is what it's all about, indeed, and I really think that should have been the Arrival theme song.  



Thursday, May 4, 2017

To lose and laugh

I like this take on how to deal with losing without slitting your wrists. Having spent the morning wrestling with this very challenge, it has helped me a little. I wouldn't be able to type this nearly as clearly as I am doing, with only a moderate trembling, if I had already slit my wrists.

But this quote from the tennis legend that implies that those who fear (HATE) losing are in fact the champions, puts a heroic spin on losing if you twist its meaning just a little, and what's a little meaning twist to save a twisted life? Nothing. Now I just feel sorry for all those scaredy-cat would-be winners.

Yesterday I found out I lost my bid to become NZ's newest oldest stand-up comedian, and worse, that I was apparently never in the running - too old? Ironic, but probably. Either that or my ears are too big. Old ears are big - all the better to hear you with, evil comedy overlord.

I was told, not in so many words but thereabouts, that there was a desirable cross-section of new comedians and I wasn't situated on it. I was in the blank bits, the undesirable void, the withered wasteland, the shapeless, shitty pits where no potentially winning comedians dare to stray.

And all the time I had myself picked to win the thing. Ha! How funny is that! See how I made humour out of losing? I think maybe that's my next book. No wait; there are already 874 books on bouncing back with humour already published this year. Oh well, there's always next year.

I think maybe I need to build my own cross section.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Artful Ali

Ali Smith is a genius. To read her book Artful is to know that totally. She is beyond good.

The book is a collection of four lectures given at Oxford University in 2012 that were clearly written also to work as a whole. For they do work as a whole.

Artful is ostensibly taken from Dickens' Artful Dodger in Oliver Twist, but it goes way beyond Dickens (into the 21st century). There is at least one story within a story in Ali's Artful, whereas Dickens favoured the meta-narrative.

'Artful Ali' is both the artful horticulturist narrator and the uber-artful elite academic dead friend who the narrator keeps talking to, going on holiday with and even steeling books in her name.

She, the friend from the underworld, is in the middle of writing four lectures when she dies. We never find out what she died of. How is certainly incidental compared with that.

The lectures are:

1. 'On Time 2. On Form
3. On Edge and 4. On Offer and on Reflection.'

Katherine Mansfield also gets more mentions and more salutes than in any book I've read that was not either directly about KM and or written by a New Zealander. It doesn't happen often. It barely happens. And it should happen. KM is well deserving and overdue such praise.

So I appreciate this recognition of a proper creative genius. Living in NZ this is especially appreciated. Sometimes it takes a genius to recognise a genius.

Artful by Ali Smith is a brilliant and beautiful read and a definite must for anyone who likes to think hard about life. Anyone who dares.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

To BBC or not to BBC

So here are the world's most tattooed senior citizens. Quite the distinction. I bring them to your attention because they are the present feature on the BBC world service radio programme 'Outlook' that has requested a copy of my book from the publishers with a view to interviewing me for their extraordinary personal stories series.

I'm not sure if it takes my achievement down a notch to be likened to extreme tattooists, but I think, or like to think, my 'extraordinariness' - if extraordinariness it is - is not quite so..., so..., I don't know how to characterise tattooing. It's brave in a way, but many would consider it more foolhardy than brave. Perhaps they would regard the 'bravery' required to do stand-up comedy in the same vein. There are similarities.

And I do like their tattoos, as much as I like any tattoos, at least.

Anyway, the BBC have to read and like my book first of all and then decide if my story is extraordinary enough. As the Sydney Morning Herald described my book as 'a memoir of ordinary events and aspirations', if they decide that it is, it would be a wonderful correcting of that clunky put-down - and from my home town too. They could have done better than 'ordinary.'

Of course a few people rushed then as they are rushing again now to remind me that the extraordinary is to be found in the ordinary. But I think that's kind of crap. I know what they mean, but I think closer to the truth is that all lives are extraordinary, just that some are more extraordinary than others, or more extraordinary in some way.

I hope mine is extraordinary enough.  

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Monday Extract is Me!

Me in 1982 and in The Spinoff yesterday
So I am glad my father came back from the war more or less intact, sure. I am also glad that the Kiwis and Aussies who fought alongside in the previous war, for one day a year - today (Anzac Day) - forget their often antipathetic relationship to come together to commemorate that bloody brotherhood battle with a mutual holiday and various dawn parades. I need these countries to get along, my flexibility to straddle the two with dignity is fast dwindling - I am not the dancer I once was, indeed.

But, with all due respect to battles of brotherhood on which nations are forged and f*cked, today, for me, is more about commemorating (celebrating) a slightly smaller but in some ways no less bloody battle to make a name for myself in the book business, a business that has suffered significant casualties in recent years with new authors positioned front and centre on the bloody battle lines - armed with only a leaky pen.

But yesterday - today for Americans, who are my main blog readers - an extract of my memoir published last May was printed here in The Spinoff online magazine in 'The Monday Extract' with this photo and a little blurb about me and my current mad bid to become a stand-up comedian (more on that later).

Quite a few have shared it on Facebook already, the majority of them people I don't know, so that feels like a small victory and a few metres of enemy territory gained. Hopefully it translates into a few more sales too, as my pen is in need of reloading for the difficult second assault (Vol.II).


Thursday, April 20, 2017

The age of equality

The 'Caring Counts'  report that helped deliver a long overdue 
$2 billion dollar gender pay-equity deal 

Jane Fonda's 2011 TED talk on the power of ageing
and justice for the aged 

Politics is a dirty business, make no mistake, and our right-wing government's recent decision to support a massive pay-equity increase to the mostly female workforce employed in the aged care and wider paid-care sector is a blatant election-year stunt.

The same government previously went out of its way to block pay equity and before that, in 1991, its ideological ancestors passed the Employment Contracts Act that did away with collective bargaining, dismantling the union's power and leaving it up to the individual to negotiate his/her own wages and conditions.  Hence the pay gap between employers and employees, rich and poor, men and women increased steeply, and was particularly stark in the female-dominated caring sector. As the Caring Counts report stated:

"Carers are completely undervalued. We do a job that no-one sees.
We are a vulnerable workforce looking after vulnerable people."

Kristine Bartlett
For the male dominated right-wing government to take electoral credit for putting right what they went out of their way to put wrong less than twenty years earlier, is political cynicism in the extreme, and even then, wouldn't have happened if not for a Human Rights Commission report and one particularly determined aged-care worker, Kristine Bartlett, who'd been on the same $14.40 per hour wage after twenty years in the job and spent years fighting in the courts for pay equity for women workers like her until she finally succeeded.

The courts also finally ruled that NZ was in breach of the International Labour Organisation Equal Remuneration Convention (1983). In fact there was equal-pay legislation in place in New Zealand as far back as 1972 and the left-wing had done its best to equalise pay for women and other disadvantaged groups whenever it was in government. But as in all western countries the bastards on the wrong wing have dominated and have systematically set about undoing many of these pay-equity gains.

If the present wrong-wingers use this move as leverage to get reelected for a fourth term I worry that the gains won't be worth the price paid, as they will no doubt continue to cut funding in the rest of the health-care system beyond election year. It's a depressing thought and a fundamental flaw in the democratic system.

But I take some comfort in public politicisation processes, like TED talks, that are proliferating every year and giving voice to an ever wider array of people, like Jane Fonda, who have the power to popularise unpopular messages, such as justice for the older of age and older women specifically - 'the largest demographic in the world' - to a global, cross-partisan, cross-cultural, all-age, all-gender audience. The future of justice for all is in their hands, ultimately, as party politics and the formal political system become increasingly corrupted by big money and big fear-mongering madness.

Still, in the short term this is a big win for NZ's women and a massive credit to the tireless work of one woman in particular, whose caring work in looking after the elderly for twenty years was valued over that period, if not always, as work of minimum value to society. Rubbish collection (men's work) is paid more. But she showed them her real worth in never giving up and so paved the way, as far as she could, for justice for other chronically undervalued women. Thanks Kristine; your work is priceless.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Beauties and Beasts

Two cute little girls, 8 or 9 years old, sat unsupervised across the aisle from us in the cinema for Beauty and the Beast last weekend, eating noisily and dashing off to the back of the cinema whenever 'the Beast' appeared, which was quite regularly. I guess their mothers were beyond Beauty and the Beast. Perhaps they were working.

This is a story traditionally made and marketed for little girls, and perhaps they took some pleasure in this dashing off, but they seemed genuinely scared and the Beast was definitely made to scare (probably for the fathers of the little girls or their brothers who were forced to watch it) and it is not fun to be genuinely scared, not if you're a girl, at least. My grown sons assure me that it is fun to be scared, if you're a boy, though as I recall when they were that age they didn't like it quite so much.

Although I normally hate noisy eaters in cinemas and found 'the Beast' and the rest of the film far from frightening, being a not so little girl anymore, these noisy little girls and their terrified dashings-off for the illusion of safety of the back wall of the cinema, I found increasingly charming and by the end of the film, was enjoying them more than the film.

The film is, as most films and stories targeted to females have always been, about one beautiful female character and a whole bunch of varied male characters. Male-targeted films and stories, like Lord of the Rings, do not apply the gender reverse of this formula, needless to say (in a man's world), they just add even more males and usually a less significant role for the one beautiful female, if any role at all. It's a problem, still.

And yet I found myself defending the film to my daughter the other day who rubbished it on feminist grounds (though she hasn't seen it), because I kind of think that, apart from the obvious gender imbalances, and the only-beautiful-women-count tiresome trope, this story does at least feature a fully-fledged female character in the lead role.

The story is also a little more gender evolved than it might seem. In suggesting that true love is the only way to tame the selfish beast in men, though slightly oversimplified and romanticised no doubt, I think it gets to the essential truth of heterosexual relationships, a truth that is not seen nearly often enough on our screens. Rather we are told over and over that men are the heroes who rescue women from danger, loneliness and insignificance. In reality this rarely happens and, indeed, the greatest threat women face is from the men they live with who have not been tamed and who continue - with society's sanctioning - to put their selfish, boyish needs ahead of those of the family, while wanting to control and dominate their women instead of loving and supporting them. In relationships that do work, more often than not it is the women who rescue the men from themselves, or there is a mutual 'rescuing' and respect.

So although I wouldn't describe Beauty and the Beast as a feminist film exactly, and I'm not sure those two little girls would have learnt anything progressive from watching it -- those parts of it that they did watch -- I think we could do worse on a gender front than this fairly light and entertaining family film. We could do better, no doubt, but we have done a lot worse too, and I'm mildly encouraged that with this film we are inching closer to an on-screen representation of what a healthy relationship between a woman and a man looks like - if with a little too much fur, fang and frill.


Monday, April 10, 2017

John Clarke dies

Fred Dagg
The funniest man down under, if not up over, has died. It's a shock and a tragedy, he was only 68! I can't believe it.

Incredibly, I was recently in communication with him about playing my father if my childhood memoir was ever adapted for TV (a big if, no doubt), but he liked the idea, rather than dismissed it, saying 'what a good photo' it was of my father that I sent him. He could see the likeness.

NZ commentators are saying 'he found the nation's funnybone' and he did. And in tribute, we have the annual Fred Award at the NZ International Comedy Festival for the best comedy show named after his first satirical character, Fred Dagg, the farmer with seven sons, all named Trevor.

After that he became the undisputed king of Australian political satire and his 1999 mockumentary series The Games, about Sydney's preparations for the Olympic games was the forerunner of The Office and just as clever and funny, though not quite as widely lauded, and more's the pity for that.

He was (no is!!!) one of the cleverest and funniest men on television and my comedy idol and mentor.

His death is not funny, of course, but everything else he did was, and there will never be anyone like him. It's almost like losing Dad again.

Rest in parody, John Clarke.

Friday, April 7, 2017

A town down

If ever a picture told a thousand words, this picture of the floods in Edgecumbe, the Bay of Plenty NZ, taken yesterday by journalist Luke Appleby did and does. The whole town was evacuated to higher ground just in time before the river's flood-bank broke.

It was the tail end of Cyclone Debbie that flooded parts of Queensland earlier in the week and here is said to be a one in 500-year storm, with the flood-banks only built to take a one in one-hundred-year storm.

I guess global warming has made an arse of those figures, if it's fair to attribute such record-breaking natural disasters to that. I think it must be, but I'm no scientist.

Here in Auckland, two-hundred or so kilometres north of this town, the same night we experienced the heaviest rain we have ever experienced in our twenty-plus years at this address. It was so heavy that out walking after dinner in a momentary reprieve from the deluge, I heard a strange rumble in the near distance and wondered what it was. It sounded motorised. I dismissed it, but walked on, away from our house, a little faster just in case. But I didn't seriously think it could be rain. I had never heard rain that loud while walking under a dry sky.

Five seconds later I turned back, running for home, as the roar arrived in a stunning hurry, dumping a vertical tsunami of water on me - the only person fool enough to be out in it - drenching me through in about four seconds while I ran screaming for home. I didn't even have an umbrella.

We are on high ground here but it was still frightening, the sudden explosion of the skies and the intensity of the roar that came with it. You could swear there was attitude in that roar. Had I pissed off some god somewhere? More than likely.

Our garden flooded in parts but it drained off by morning. I don't know how people recover from this level of flooding -- the mud, the mess, the carpets, the walls -- but at least they got a warning and were able to evacuate in time. Hopefully the authorities realise they are going to be dealing with this sort of thing slightly more often than every 500 years and build stronger floodgates.

As for me, I will do what I can not to piss off the gods, and take an umbrella just in case.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Green Light Sigh

So Lorde's latest hit song Green Light is great, but that's not what concerns us here, at least not directly. Indirectly, maybe.

But first, what we're concerned with here is this green light sigh from that tedious English guy in response to Melbourne's recent move to install recognisably female road-crossing signals alongside the recognisably male symbols that have been the norm there, here and everywhere since roads got busy and governments decided they needed to encourage people to cross them with care.

Admittedly, men probably needed more help to know when to cross a busy road and when not to than women did (and do), but still. We mustn't assume that. We must assume that men are as capable of careful crossing as women.

I think the fact that this move in Melbourne came in early March just after the release of Lorde's new single was probably a happy coincidence, but you never know. Women are organising our efforts better than we ever have done before, and Lorde is one of the most outspoken feminist role models for strong, smart and feisty young women of her generation. It was also the day before International Women's day, so that might have been a factor too.

But whatever else, the timing is clearly a reflection of the feminist fourth wave we are currently riding that seeks to challenge the small and big biases in public life that continue to endorse the male as primary and normative and position the female as other and secondary - if present at all.

The traffic signal changes were funded by community groups and businesses, not tax payers, and have only switched six male signs to female signs so far, so it's a fairly small step for equality. But it's a significant step even so, or it wouldn't piss off men like Morgan, although he and his ilk are a touchy lot.

More unfortunately it has also pissed off some women; indeed the 'feminism at its worst' comment that was the basis of the Telegraph article in Morgan's tweet, came from a woman. Sigh.

Of course there are plenty of women who don't identify with dresses and we women have fought for the right to wear trousers, after all. But surely you don't need to like wearing dresses to see that the traditional symbol is masculine and to know that it went unchallenged all these years because men were considered to be the norm by those people, invariably men, who got to decide what went where in the public (if not the private) sphere.

The bias was so pervasive it would have been unconscious, so these men who set up the signs would have just said 'we need a sign to show people when to cross' and that sign would have been made in the shape of a man, without 'gender' ever being mentioned. Same goes for the male pronoun standing in for 'people' for so many centuries of the written word.

Unfortunately that's not a luxury women (feminists) have. Signs and stories never have been and never will be unconsciously made in our image. So we have to make conscious changes and many changes seem small but are significant because those bigger changes, like the right to vote, to work, to choose, to wear trousers, etc, are made up of all these smaller changes that gradually, and often unconsciously, shift attitudes about who we are and what we need to be and do to be happier as people one and all and less in conflict with each other.

So I say this is feminism at its walking best. It's not a giant or even a small leap, to be sure, but it is a safe step in the right direction.

Walk with me and you will see that we can be as one free; that just came to me in a fabulous feminist flash. I think I feel a song coming on, I will call it 'Walk with me.'

PS: Just found out that Wellington, NZ had installed suffragette Kate Sheppard images for eight of its road-crossing signs earlier this year, not to suggest it's a competition between Australia and NZ. Far be it from me to do that!

However I think I prefer Kate's retro dress. Just saying (and that NZ was first to grant women the right to vote).

Friday, March 31, 2017

A funny fluffy fabulous feminist

So I've just finished reading Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter by NZ's female comedian of the decade, Michele A'Court, a couple of years after it was published, but better late than never - much!

I was moved to tears of hilarity and recognition, as a mother and feminist (and wannabe comic), by this funny fluffy fabulous feminist - 'fluffy' from her daughter's first interpretation of the word 'lovely' that became their go-to word for all lovely things and days from then on, a word I might borrow from time to time for the same purpose, hoping that some of their fabulous fluffiness might rub off on me. Indeed a girl can never have enough effs.

Michele is a wit and a brain and a 'strident' feminist to boot - things that tend to go hand in hand, in my experience, but not so much in popular mythology. She is also NZ's answer to Caitlin Moran, who could be described in the same terms.

In fact these women both describe themselves as 'strident' feminists, a playful, even 'fluffy' take on the rather more hard-nosed 'radical' feminist of old. I am going to borrow this term too; I hope they don't mind.

I don't think Michele will. I wrote to her to tell her how much I enjoyed her fluffy fabulous book, and she wrote back within 24 hours! That was a very fluffy day, I must say.

And I am going to see her perform this Sunday (at the club where I am currently battling it out to be the fluffiest new comedian on the block) and where this Sunday, she and other local comedy legends will be giving their time and comic talents freely to raise money for Women's Refuge.

Stand-up has not had a long history of supporting causes like Women's Refuge, it's safe to say. Indeed many have been critical of the male-dominated industry's jokes about wife-beating in the past. And sadly I recently witnessed this kind of thing still being brought to the stand-up stage by new comics, with one guy opening his act with: 'Some things aren't funny (significant pause); domestic violence for instance (significant pause in which I thought I knew what was coming and was bracing myself, but it was even worse than I expected); you should never hit a woman (significant pause) with a baby.'

But he bombed, this young white guy, with an act that was so out of touch with mainstream feeling on these issues that people in the audience, other than me, groaned in dismay, or sat in stunned silence, and I ended up feeling somewhat reassured that I was not alone.

We obviously need more funny feminists, men as well as women, and fewer unfunny sexists. And there are more and more funny feminists to be found on our screens, stages and pages. Michele A'Court is a shining local example of this progressive trend that I think is the best and perhaps only way to bring about a lasting change in attitudes on women and men (and children) from which policy change happens.

If you can make people laugh while you're gently prompting them to think about things in a slightly, but significantly different way, then they are much more likely to listen and to be moved to change their ways, in my view.

Funny feminism, it seems to me, is the fourth wave of the movement. Let's make it a permanent wave, I say, like the hairdo we women don't get anymore but probably should. As long as we can talk on the phone while we're getting it, what's not to like? Indeed it should be easier with mobile technology; what was it invented for otherwise?