It was going to be a night to remember. A night we’d never forget. A girl’s night out on the town. I hadn’t been out for aaaages. We hadn’t seen each other for nine years. There was so much to catch up on, so much to discuss: ghosts of boyfriends past, daftness and heartbreak, the achievements of our children (not in jail, knocked-up or generally rotten like other people’s) and whether or not it was time for Botox. It would be a gender-exclusive rampage, a meeting of wild women under the skies the likes of which Dunedin had never seen and probably didn’t want to.

I started getting ready at 3pm for a 5.30 ETA; showered, shaved my legs, squirted on some beachy waves serum which immediately made my hair go all stiff and sideways, about as beachy as a stick. Then it was time to bring out the big guns, show I meant business: a full face of slap. First off, eyebrows: the trend at the moment is for crayoning on big thick ones that look like dead caterpillars, or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, pencil-thin ‘demented granny is surprised by cheese’ ones like Carmen of K Road or Tim Shadbolt. I’m not trendy though, I’m a Facebook narcissist constantly astonished by the meanness of trolls – I always picture them as elderly men whose eyes look in opposite directions, living in secure residential care and trying to punch the nurses, but they’re usually just stay-at-home mothers of two-year-olds, which, quite frankly, would make anyone want to kick Jesus.

Lips: easy. They remain in pretty much the same place they always were, just more fluted and less of a home to lipstick.

Painted my eyes – never too much sparkle being my motto – and thought about how great it was to have reached an age where you knew how to use makeup to your advantage instead of just randomly plastering it all over and ending up looking like a tequila sunrise with two healing bruises for eyes.

Moisturising, I travelled the traces left by life so far, over stretch marks made by a baby born 25 years ago today and grown into a beautiful person, over the feather lines of scars that had once seemed such gruesome hurts, now bleached to insignificance. And then, it couldn’t be avoided: my feet. “The rest of you is fine,” said my mother, “but your feet are very unattractive.” My feet are horrible, it’s true, but winter is a gift to the ugly-footed. Not a gift: my mother, the voice of doom when it comes to the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. She warns my eyelids will soon collapse and then “terrible things will happen to your body,” especially your lady parts, apparently, which will shortly start to sag and/or fall out. Honestly, I keep hearing this from older women (are they trying to freak me out? Why is it that nobody ever says anything about how painful childbirth is but septuagenarian biddies just can’t WAIT to broadcast the fate of your gibblets?) and always picture it happening in Farmers, for some reason.

My tights were in the dryer but time was a-wasting so I put them on still damp, which felt awful, wet-bum-on-a-cold-night bad, however I was cheered by the fact my lady parts hadn’t fallen out, yet. I forced a pair of earrings through the forgotten holes in my ears. Brushed my hair and swept it up into a ‘do’. Double-checked that I was wearing shoes that weren’t gumboots and an actual dress. I looked flippin’ amazing, if you took your glasses off and stood at the back of the room taking mild hallucigens.

We met at Pequeno, sat by the fire and, over wines, filled each other in on everything that had happened since we’d last clapped eyes on each other. Quickly getting silly as wet hens, we shared divorce stories and laughed about disastrous rebounds involving fat bald Welshman on the ginger spectrum. “You can’t make this shit up!” she screamed, so loudly I worried about the integrity of her pelvic floor. Finally, talked out, wiping the mascara from all the crying/laughing off our cheeks, intermittently wheezing from fits of the giggles, “I’m exhausted,” I said.

“Me too, lets share a cab.”

I let myself into the house, softly bounced off the hallway walls a few times on the way to the fridge where I ate two cold chops standing up. Putting on my pink fluffy dressing gown I slumped down on the bed making an “Oooft” sound.

It was 7.45pm.

 

 

 

 

Posted
AuthorLisa Scott

“What do you think of the New Zealand man?” I asked Chloe the French chef. “They are like bears,” she said. “Brutal, not very delicate compared to men from other countries, full of testosterone. I have never known a kiwi man from the intimacy but from the outside they are like ‘I’m super tough,’ also, I think they are quite hot, in general they are good-looking guys.” Thank you, Chloe. Your citizenship is in the mail.

“Table five say they’re allergic to cilantro,” said a waitress. “What the f*&k?!” shouts Chloe – and it’s here we’ll leave her, knowing that being a chef isn’t about making food for people but distributing punishments to customers, and she’s about to come up with a good one.

I am writing this from Oamaru, where men wear flannel and women get pregnant if they so much as look at them sideways. Men here back trailers full of firewood down winding driveways like it was nothing, hit starter motors with a hammer, are Crump-ish when it comes to bush survival and its accoutrements. “You shouldn’t wear flannel unless you can cut a tree down,” says MMM (Mighty Mongrel Man), who has come up with an alternative set of America’s Cup rules involving backing the boats on a trailer, circumnavigating Stewart Island while drinking a crate of big bots, the last leg a swim race to shore (guaranteeing competitor’s boats will be predominantly crewed by Heartlanders). Well, why not? Now the auld mug has been won by cycle power, I think pedal swans should be allowed. That would rule the Swiss out right there, they’d never set foot in a pedal swan.

Rumours of penguins abound in Oamaru, but I’ve never seen one. I’ve never seen Mt Cook either, and I’ve been there three times. Maybe both are tourist myths. Oamaru has the longest, flattest, slowest most boring main street in the world, stretching from the industrial north end to the Victorian precinct. On and on it goes, never picking up speed, chuntering with metallic green SS Commodores and matt black Holden Kingswoods. The main street separates the territories of Oamaru’s two tribes. Up the north end, the people are short scrappy little terriers with carny hands, often found up to their hips in the guts of cars in various stages of mechanical undress – while in the Victorian precinct, tall and willowy humans ride penny farthings, dress in red velvet dresses and WW1 flying ace helmets with goggles. It’s like the Hutus and Tutsis, living at different ends of the same town.

Oamaru is rural so the local is more important than the global. People say ‘hello’ as you pass on the footpath, smile at you in shops, chat about your purchases as they scan your groceries: “Arborio rice? What do you do with this then?” International flavour is provided by an itinerant population of Willing Workers on Organic Farms who actually work everywhere, are mostly French and usually women. On sunny days the Woofers can be seen sitting in threes on the boulders down by the harbour, talking to each other in their own language, like slaves on their day off. They come for a couple of months and invariably end up staying longer, because they fall in love with an Oamaroovian.

Oamaru is the last bastion of the old school New Zealand man, his masculinity undiminished by feminism, proudly leaning an elbow out the window of his van to yell, “Hey, sexy!” without fearing a clobbering. Chivalrous and decent, bulging with muscles not made by a gym membership, an Oamaru man will offer jackets in case of chill, open doors, change your flat tire at midnight in a raging storm; holding the torch in his mouth while you sit in the passenger seat, out of the rain, lest your hair get messed up. Chopping firewood, digging trenches: all the things that men everywhere used to do before women told them to stop because it was sexist, Oamaru men do them.

So, if you don’t mind someone going “phwor!” when you walk past, if you are partial to slow dancing and being shooed out of the kitchen while they make you breakfast, if you like being treated like a Princess, come and get one before the French girls take them all.

 

Posted
AuthorLisa Scott

I’ve never been very outdoorsy. Being in the nature messes up your hair and the lighting is so harsh. You trip over reapplying lipstick. There’s cow poo and cows. I’m scared of cows. And you have to be so alert all the time: look out for avalanches, weather, cliffs … so many things can kill you and I’m the kind of woman who falls down a bank going for a pee. For safety reasons, I probably should be on one of those harness/tether things parents used to put out-the-gate children on up until people started giving them disapproving looks and the wild ones were set free, making cafes hell.

Also not ideal in an alpine surrounding: I’m a dreadful over-thinker. When everyone else is doing the end of class chill out bit in yoga: “my feet and ankles, my whole body, is completely relaxed…” my brain is out on the ledge, screaming. All the women in my large Irish catholic family are like this. Emotional hair-triggers. Passionate, hard work. You can always tell a Burrell husband, he looks like he needs a transfusion of haemoglobin, stat. Wild-eyed with trying not to set her off, loved to a nub of a man.

Born under the sign of Pisces, I’m happiest in/on/under water. Pisceans cry a lot, we are watery pools. Immersion in a buoyant fluid suits us, its amniotic, comforting. I like to be beside the seaside. The shushing quietens the constant monkey chatter of my brain. The mohawked mountain man (MMM, not to be confused with the Mighty Mongrel Mob) is not so keen on water, unless its frozen. He is one of those wild children, unleashed. I hold onto the arm rest of his truck a lot. Sadly, by the time you read this, he will probably be dead. It won’t necessarily be my fault: his hobbies include downhill racing, back country snowboarding, alpine climbing and wakeboarding. He’s not long for this world, bless him.

In the meantime, there are some adjustments/allowances to be made on my part: MMM has a penchant for peaked caps and BMX bikes and listens to trance, which is a kind of headachy dirge enjoyed by bearded transcendental sex therapists in bead necklaces. He likes nothing better than climbing up a mountain and basically falling back down it all day long, attached to a board made of bamboo and birch. He’s younger, of course. Shist-faced and feckless.

The taking-a-younger-man-as-a-lover-post-divorce cliché is a thing (and has been long before French author Collete wrote Cheri) because after all the boo boo a woman needs a fun love, someone who makes you laugh, dares you to do things you normally wouldn’t. Get towed behind a jet boat on water-skis, for example, dislocating your elbow. It isn’t serious – younger men live lives of churn and chaos, they own posters, not paintings, and dressing up is finding a clean t-shirt in the pile on the floor – but it’s not meant to be serious, just good for you, like time in sunshine. Too long in this particular sunlight though, and you know it’ll be a closed coffin and a eulogy using the phrase, “died doing what she loved.” But that’s a problem for another day.

“Grab a backpack, lace up your boots and lets head into the hills, Lisa,” said no one ever, until Queen’s Birthday weekend when MMM decided to take me up the steep bits. “Welcome to my world,” he sang. John Grenell would have been horrified. We travelled in a gun metal grey Torana called ‘Stella,’ her keyless entry a coat hanger, her emergency supply kit a duct-taped packet of mac and cheese from 1998. As we started up the track to Mt Aspiring we passed a family of four, a loaf of bread swinging from the back of mum’s pack. The kids looked absolutely miserable, sick for Xbox. Larkin might have had a point. As for me, I saw a world of possibilities; striding along rosy-cheeked, singing Edelweiss, with a pair of those walking sticks, staying in DOC huts, eating boil-in-bag-meals and being stinky in a worthy manner.

Alps to ocean via the newly opened Rhyme and Reason brewery in Wanaka, (where the Joy Rider is drinking now) Oamaru to the Catlins is 294 kilometres. We took two days, drove 979 kilometres, arrived sideways and covered in mud. “I’ve been to the mountains,” I told the ocean. “We eat mountains,” said the waves. “We fill you up,” said the peaks. Everybody’s looking for something.

Posted
AuthorLisa Scott

A serial monogamist, I’ve always gone for the same type: blonde, fit and extremely good-looking. If you put my last three boyfriends in a line up, as well as resembling a casting call for Vikings, it would be difficult to tell them apart, and scientists searching for a cure for male pattern baldness would want some of their DNA. But recently I thought, where has dating good-looking men got you? So, when an overweight, balding Welsh man started romancing me, I let him. Look how shallow you aren’t! I congratulated myself. You are an equal-opportunities kind of woman.

We didn’t have much to talk about, it’s true, he was more the silent type: which can hint at hidden depths but is also sometimes a sign your man’s not the smartest tool in the tool shed. And unlike the Vikings, he did seem to be a bit of a hypochondriac, complaining about the least little ache and pain, as well as reluctant to put his hand in his pocket for anything (I thought that was the Scots, but aren’t they almost the same people, where is Wales, anyway?). However, he was great one for cuddles, and kisses on the forehead, for messaging me every day and telling me he thought I was beautiful – and who wouldn’t love that? Unfortunately, he was sending the exact same messages, right down to the capital X kisses, to his OTHER GIRLFRIEND.

Now, I’ve always thought that people are innately good. That even the grumpiest, most irritating old man is really just a sweetheart having an off day. Sunshine and lollipops and everyone getting on (even exes, eventually) has always been my mantra because, astonishingly, in the course of my entire life nothing really awful has ever happened to me – meaning I’ve been inoculated against the world’s evil, making me easy pickings for this bad man.

The first time he touched me, a pat on the hand, I was crying. My marriage and life had fallen apart and I must have reeked of eau de pathetic with the possibility of a large cash settlement. Bad men can smell vulnerability. They lurk, looking a little beaten up by life themselves, and women feel sorry for them. Women are kind.  

Bad men, even excellent liars, often inadvertently speak the truth because their conscience bothers them so much. “I don’t want you to think I’m a bad person, he said = I’m a bad person, and “I don’t want people to say I took advantage of you” = I’m taking advantage of you. Maybe his Welsh accent prevented me hearing what he was really saying. Kiwi women love a colonial burr. It calls to our settler blood and stops our ears.

On Monday, his other girlfriend and I met for the first time after a mutual friend overheard our three names being mentioned in a sentence and thought “now that’s a sequence that doesn’t occur naturally.” She is lovely. We compared notes and pennies began to drop. We both felt sick. I was actually sick, and wiping my mouth with the back of my hand, tasted my own disgust. For the last three months, we’d been in the same relationship without knowing. He’d pursued me, convinced me he was falling for me, and it was all a lie, a wonderful game. He was a predator. Behind those blue eyes, there was either nothing there, or something you really didn’t want to see.

He might have seemed a bit of a thickie, but you had to take your hat off to the organisational capabilities and time-management skills required to juggle two girlfriends in a small town, sleep with them sometimes within 12 hours of each other without either of them meeting or the brunette finding the blondes’ hairs (I’m a shedder) about your person; not to mention booking airfares to see one while lying to the other about where you went. No wonder he bought our jewellery from the same store, he must have been exhausted. No wonder every time he dumped either of us, by text, he’d say he was stressed. I’m surprised he didn’t have a bloody heart attack.

“If he could do it to someone like you, I don’t feel like such a moron,” she said. I felt the same, with a side of incandescent rage. We had been played, made fools of. We drove to his house, the last two people he ever expected to see together. I’d heard the Welsh were musical and the sound his slapped face made was almost percussive. “What is your life like?!” asked my friend Rebecca. What, indeed. A tragedy? A comedy? A series of unfortunate events? Still, I’ve learnt my lesson. Nothing but good-looking men from here on.

Posted
AuthorLisa Scott

Last year, a reader wrote in the comments section beneath an article of mine posted online, that I was ‘a smug and entitled farkety fark fark.’ Well, that’s not exactly what she wrote but journalism standards prevent a verbatim repetition. I’d been having a whinge about getting jailed by the Americans: “orange isn’t the new black, in fact orange doesn’t suit anyone, blah de blah blah” … when the truth was I had little to complain about, being middle class with a rich boyfriend and all my own teeth. The Americans let me out, after all.

Twelve months later, single and poor, I’ve realised that particular reader, while clearly dealing with an anger problem, had a point: I was being an arse-hat, maybe not in that article but definitely in life, where I had become a bit of a mean girl. And this is the problem with having money: it becomes easy to mock those who don’t have it, harder to be compassionate. I’m not saying the wealthy are dicks, maybe it’s just me.

Material comfort is like a blanket, good for hiding under. Have it for long enough, you’ll forget the years without two cents to rub together. You might even, in your arrogance of disregard, pick up an impoverished hitchhiker and make fun of him later at a dinner party for being whiffy.

I was reminded of this yesterday at the nice warm library (where the internet is free), after biking into town through a rain storm from the one-room cabin in the woods where I now live, when I realised there was little to distinguish me from the other homeless people. I too, was soaked through and ponged a tad, I too talked to myself occasionally. More of a thoughtful ‘hummm’ than out-and-out ranting, if you know what I mean − the point is nothing but luck separates us from the less fortunate, and this is a very good thing to be forced to remember. Over our lifetime, if we are blessed, we go up and down in status, have stuff and lose stuff, and what’s really important, rich or poor, is not the new-fangled-ness of the white ware you’ve accumulated, but that you are a good person.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been poor, but after 15 years of double income bliss, fair to say it’s come as an unwelcome surprise. I’m broke. I’m so broke I have negative money. That’s less than no money. The bank called me to complain that I had insufficient funds. “I couldn’t agree with you more,” I said. “My current level of fiscal insecurity is shocking.” They seemed to think I was doing it on purpose. That I was being broke just to annoy them.

To begin with there is a kind of nobility in poverty, a Mary Tyler Moore, ‘I’m going to make it after all’ will to survive, a Gloria Gaynor soundtrack. This wears thin the first time you realise it’s going to be a petrol-or-food situation this week. And everything is so expensive. Like an old person rocking on the porch, reminiscing, fondly do I recall the days when I went to the supermarket and bought whatever I wanted. Such disgusting prolificacy: $24 bottles of wine! $8 cheeses! It’s true what they say: two really do live cheaper than one. Especially if one of the two is a man with a large salary.

It is with a sob and a sigh and a gluttonous look in my eye that I farewell those years of plenty. Did I mention I’m a writer? The average New Zealand writer makes $12.50 a year. Before taxes. Because of which, some of the things I now cannot afford include: pedicures, pride, bikini waxes (things are dire down there) and the dentist. It seems I am destined to be a toothless crone with gnarly toes and pubes to her knees. Currently living in the country, after months of sawing wood, my right arm is absolutely massive, making me look lop-sided. On a positive note, I’ve almost completely stopped accidentally sawing my hand and leg in the process and will soon be strong enough to start the lawn mower. So at least one overgrown jungle will be getting a trim.

When the sheep noises get too much, I come into town, my enormous arm hanging out the car window, and marvel at the modern conveniences: bath tubs, flush toilets, washing machines and best of all: television. Tell you what, if you haven’t had a TV for a while, even sport is interesting. Sometimes, watching the news at a friend’s house, I swear that lovely Peter Williams is smiling right at me. I wonder if he has a girlfriend? Tell him I’m poor, but nice.

Posted
AuthorLisa Scott

Selling tickets on the Titanic? I’ll take one. Invade Russia during winter? Sounds awesome. Import possums, stoats and ferrets to a country with abundant birdlife and no natural predators? What could possibly go wrong? There’s a Trojan horse outside? Hang on, I’ll open the gates.

I am a one-woman calamity, a human disaster ray right now. I couldn’t make a good decision to save my life, got more bad ideas than hot dinners – although that’s probably because I don’t actually have a proper kitchen, or a shower. I almost have a toilet and I’m very excited about it: so excited, when Roy from Bioloo drove all the way down from Rotorua to deliver it, I hugged him like I’d never let him go. “Toilets sometimes have this effect on people,” he said.

Anyway, turns out that after the angry phase and the crying phase and the thinking-about-having-sex-with-your-ex phase comes the part where you realise you’re alone. I mean really by yourself, literally independent, in that if you get sick no one cares (newly single shock #657) and you have to make ALL the decisions from now on. Social, financial, material. I know this will sound fabulous to those of you currently fantasising, as you do, about your spouse dying − quickly and painlessly while doing what they love, of course − thus enabling the buying of whatever without all the tedious negotiation and explaining and lies about half price sales that go with coupledom, however, the truth is not having someone to bounce ideas off (even just to decide what not to do) can be paralyzing.

I tried to buy a new phone yesterday and, overwhelmed by the plethora of choices simply had to give up. On any given day you can find me in the pasta aisle, racked with indecision. Spirals versus penne? Ravioli? Macaroni? It’s all too much.

Worse, I’m living in the middle of a major building project that involves installing a composting toilet, a kitchen, gas hot water, a new water tank and pump. As with any renovation, there are hundreds of individual decisions to be made − and if I get any of them wrong, the house will fall down. The look of utter hopelessness and bewilderment I sometimes give the builder freaks him out completely and more than once I’ve found myself sobbing against his high-vis clad chest after he made the mistake of looking sympathetic. It’s the job from hell.

Things having gone the proverbial pear, it can initially seem impossible to mould them into any other shape. Life becomes a messy swirl, a downward spiral; you’re emotionally all over the place, like a mad woman’s poo. It’s like being in a pinball machine, caroming hither and yon at the whim of a malevolent child. Perhaps because you’re transitioning into someone new, a lot of weird, out-of-character behaviour is only natural at this nebulous ‘who am I now?’ stage. Before, I used to be a bit of a scaredy-cat, extremely risk-adverse. Now, everything burnt to the ground, the most awful already happened, there doesn’t seem to be much left for me to fear. And so it is, without the safety net of a stable relationship and the conventions and expectations of normality associated, all rational thought has evaporated and a new reckless streak emerged, a fearlessness I never knew I possessed, a brave stupidity that, strangest and most dangerous of all, manifests in night surfing.

In the pitch dark, on a moonless night, I float, legs dangling above the mouths of invisible monsters, waves slapping against the cliff, shags grumbling in their nests above. Sometimes unable to tell the shore from the inky ocean stretching into the shipping lane − nothing but Albatrosses till South America − you don’t know which way is up when you fall into the cold blackness, yet I couldn’t give a buggering cluck. This thoughtless lack of health and safety planning, this Evel Knievel bus jumping is just a symptom of these most confusing of times and will, according to friends who have been here, go on for a while yet and (I have it on good authority) may include, but not be limited to: unprotected sex with absolutely the wrong man, drunk driving, smoking at Olympic level, eating pies and wearing mini-skirts. Eventually, though, even this wayward stuff will fall away, and I’ll find a new normal, a new way to be myself. I might be drowning, not waving, at the moment but soon, hopefully, I’ll remember that I do know how to swim.

Posted
AuthorLisa Scott

I am not edgy. I am not, nor ever have been, cool – except for half an hour in 1984 when I owned a pair of gold glitter roller skates and set off down Forbury Road, not a small girl in the chesticles, wearing a white crochet boob tube and shorts with tassels. In the movie house of my mind I was a wheeled renegade, a free-spirited risk-taker, and you can be sure the residents of St Clair had never seen anything like it (and wouldn’t again, until I broke my leg roller-skating home from a party at the surf club almost 20 years later wearing a tight red cheongsam. Appropriate clothing is everything, children). Unfortunately, I only got about ten metres down the road when I fell over in front of a bunch of surfers, one of whom I was desperately in love with, though I never spoke my feelings (or to him, ever), and took all the skin off my knee. The surfers laughed, the bastards.

Limping home in my socks, dripping blood and mortification, I knew I was not destined for the cosmic glade where uncertainty rules, the place where life is lived on the edge. That I would not be a fringe dweller. Well… I am at the moment, just not on purpose. Quite frankly, Port Chambers, where I am renting a thespian Eden (a garden of earthly delight full of figs and apricots, apples and pears; every morning a glory of birdsong) while my Purakanui bach is being made fit for human habitation, is like the Wild West. Just without the hats and syphilis. Oh, hang on…

Voted the second-least desirable Dunedin suburb to live in 1989 (Careys Bay the least), Port is chock-a-block with outrageous characters with amazing backstories – nobody just decides to come here, it seems, they are fleeing or pushed, on the run or retired from the kind of lives you only see in magazines. Crazy sh*t happens constantly. Scorned women run amok, old boxers smile, exposing teeth like fence posts in a muddy paddock, drink is taken and cars are driven into shop fronts. Goods trains heading north punctuate the night with their rattle and clack. The sun rises on broken hearts and beer bottles, logging trucks shake the historic buildings, ghosts sigh and cruise ships loom above it all. It’s marvellous. But I digress. The point is, I’m not a risk taker. Or, so I’ve always thought.

When I worked at the Fortune Theatre, it was this chicken-heartedness that meant I became enarmed of actors, set designers and directors. Because creative types are the riskiest risk takers of all. They live their truth, put their hearts, reputations and futures on the line every day. They tread a hard path, and I love them for it. Being around actors: larger than life, brave, able to recite pages of Shakespeare at the drop of a hat, pull something terrible and wonderful from their imaginations and place it in front of you with modesty and grace, I dared to dream of making a go of it as a writer. So much so, one day I said to my boss, “I’m going to write a novel.”

“Are you?” she said. “Well, go on then.”

So, I did. I had to, really. Even though the doing made me come over like one of those little dogs that shake all the time and have to be carried around in a handbag. Don’t think I don’t know that, if I’d just kept my mouth shut, I might still have a proper job.

Speaking of proper jobs, the Fringe Festival is on again from the 9-19 of March. From small beginnings, this annual showcase of ingenious fruitcake has become a highlight. A limelight, a spotlight, a flashlight, a strobe light: letting us see how wonderful we are. The aurora of awesome, Dunedin’s Tahu MacKenzie will manifest in a cloud of tulle and sprinkle fairy dust over the city, things will get silly. This year’s programme is jam-packed: from a history of Scotland with nob jokes to a multimedia reimagining of the Dunedin Sound, to a three-night stand with Jeremy Elwood. Each and every one of the acts have one thing in common: they put themselves out there. Had the courage of their convictions, instead of just convictions.

We can all take heart from the fringe dwellers, the risk-takers. Their bravery and beautiful madness is contagious. It might be steep, hard to find a foothold and it certainly is a long way down, but there’s a marvellous view from here, the edge.

Posted
AuthorLisa Scott

If someone had said to me: “First week back at work in 2017 you'll share the front page with Martin Phillips from the Chills,” I would have seen it going a little differently. I indulged in some incredibly stupid, reckless behaviour in 2016, including, but not limited to: chainsawing in tiny shorts, night surfing and drunk driving ̶ by far the worst, as the others put no one but myself in danger. Why I did them doesn't matter; I am the captain of my own ship, plenty of people have stressful times and they don't get behind the wheel pissed. I did, though, in a monumentally regrettable moment of hubristic self-indulgence, the only good thing the fact that I was immediately caught, before I could crash into something, or someone. “You had to hit rock bottom,” said a friend who's been through a harrowing addiction, jail and rehab, “and if this is your bottom, you got off pretty lightly.”

Lightly might be in the eye of the beholder. I don't think anyone's felt lower than I did on Tuesday, when, after leaving court (until you've stood behind a glass barrier in the criminal element zone, I don't think you can understand the full-body mortification of a shame so total you want to hide your face like a child) having just lost my license for 7 months, I started getting texts from friends saying, “Be brave... remember today's headlines are tomorrow's fish and chip paper ...” What are they talking about? I wondered, and then Googled myself. Big mistake. Huge. As the economist, up until now maintaining a dignified silence in the face of my bonkers, put it: “in cyberspace no one can hear you scream.” I went and sat in the library amongst the Israeli tourists, using them as a wall. “Lo, lo!” (no no) they shouted at their mums via Skype. No no no alright.

I thought I could handle humilation's sting. I once comissioned a fifty foot banner across Stuart Street that spelt Roger Hall's name wrong, and I do self-depreciation for a job, given my columns are basically a documentry of fails, but this was next level. Nora Ephron might have said, “its all copy” ̶ she'd never been trolled in comments section of the Stuff website. It felt like everyone in the world was mad at me; pillored publically (its always nice to watch a train wreck if you're not on the train, and I've done it myself: 'serves her right' ̶ now it was my turn), as someone who voices their opinion loudly and smart-arsedly, the opinion of others came down on me like an anvil. It will be hard to win back the good faith and love I've enjoyed, a long time before the embarrassment fades, and in some ways I'm glad to be stranded at Purakanui. The shags and sea lions are remarkably non-judgemental. The paddle crabs just want to nip my feet.

My one abiding memory of that night in November was how lovely the police were. How polite, how calm in the face of the mental landslide as slowly dawns on you just how astonishingly you've FUBAR'd, the murder done to your career. “Don't get ahead of yourself” said Constable Ben, “it might not be as bad as you think,” but it was. Watching the sober (ing up) realisation of the fallout from your own actions, the lightbulb go on above your head (Oh God oh God oh God what have I done!?) they don't need to be so patient and kind. People who drive drunk are nauesously tiring in their predictable stupidity and the similarity of their excuses, and the cops have to put up with their bad decision making every night of the bloody week and clean up the aftermath when it doesn't end with a silly selfish blonde woman weeping with regret on the breathalising bench, but a funeral and the tears of the family of the innocent person she's killed.

Despite the interventions of my friends, despite TGB hiding my keys, fortifying me with a vat of coffee, delaying me, feeding me; despite the Tamster's entreaties not to drive, 'Scooter, just stay here', I did all the dumb things. A sound social shaming, a period clapped in the stocks being metaphorically booted up the backside seems a pretty fair price to pay, and its nothing to the kicking I'm giving myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted
AuthorLisa Scott

Look, I’ll spare you the gory details, break-up stories are all the same − suffice it to say, after ticking along in a perfectly predictable, blissfully happy manner, a couple of months ago my relationship of 15 years went up like an unattended chip pan. Yes, that’s right. Reader, I did not marry him.

Thin (as thin as a short, curvy girl can get) and wretched, with a face like a dropped pie, I packed my tattered self-esteem into a tiny suitcase and flew to Rarotonga to spend two weeks with friends who run the island’s SPCA, reasoning they’d know what to do with a sick animal. I must have been giving off palpable rays of devastation on the flight over, because the man seated next to me was practically limbo-ing into the aisle. No man on earth wants to rub elbows with a sad lady.

Which is why turning to female friends in times of crisis is vital. I’d forgotten how lovely it can be to share a house with other women, if you’re not students and nobody’s washing their oversized dingy grey bras in the kitchen sink. We drank coffee in our nighties in the morning, drank wine in the evening, hugged freely and made frangipani flower crowns for our hair – simple, unchallenging, lady-time things. They’d both lived through it: that punched-in-the-stomach state of near-death hopelessness that follows the end of long relationship. They knew what it was like to be so lonely you turn the radio on just for company, so emotionally squished you weep until the pillow is soggy or dehydration sets in. So when they said, ‘things will get better,’ I tended to believe them.

Another great thing about female friends (apart from the fact that they let you ‘whaaaa’ all over them, leaving damp patches on their clothes, and never tell you how ugly you look when you cry) is that they provide clarity, sooth a tumultuous inner world, remind you who you really are and what you’re capable of. Rather than be overwhelmed by that terrible list: buy a car, find somewhere to live … and all the things you now don’t have: economic security (or an economist), a partner for rest home wheelchair races … they help you see the possibilities, the things you do have: aptitude, brains, courage. Taking each problem one at a time, they solve it, and come up with a way forward. “You’ve got a plan now,” said the SPCA ladies, using the special voice that calms anxious horses and distempered dogs. “You’re going to be fabulous.” I felt like I couldn’t find fabulous if it arrived on a Pride float and covered me in glitter, but at least I had a plan.

And, oh, how they fed me: ika mata (raw fish), pan fried mahi mahi, fresh albacore tuna, coconut, banana, papaya. Fact: it’s very hard to maintain a state of constant misery with your toes in the sand, the sun on your face and mango juice running down your arm. Tell you what doesn’t help, though, and that’s taro. Even adding things: salt, chilli flakes, chocolate, Bloody Mary sauce, couldn’t make this tasteless purple fibroid appetizing. Quite frankly taro, I don’t think you are food, I think you are a building material mistaken for provisions.

Speaking of provisioning, this is exactly what I felt I was doing during my tropical fortnight of respite from real life. Like the Maori canoeists on the their great migration to New Zealand, making the most of Rarotonga’s plenteous bounty before the great journey ahead, I too had a long, long, long way to go before I’d be somewhere I could call home.

And you know what? After years of self-prescribed regulations around food, eating whatever you want is nothing short of miraculously freeing, literally chicken soup for the soul, albeit in the form of fresh sashimi, lobster, “another glass of rose?” (Yes, please) and then a nap. While you can’t actually eat away the heartache, you can buy a dress a size up, which gives you a marvellous sense of having achieved something that day. Every night I went to bed full and slept dreamless, every morning I swam in the sea or snorkelled out to the reef, floating above the coral houses of silly little fish with long beaky noses. Round and brown after two weeks in the hands of animal welfare experts, sporting a lovely glossy coat, I was so tranquilised I completely forgot what day it was, and missed my flight home.

 

Posted
AuthorLisa Scott

The end of a long-term relationship is a hard road: unwinding and unravelling what was formerly twinned and mingled takes time. Rending asunder (as no man should let, the Bible says, which is probably why women end up doing it all), you go through a lot of packing tape. And tissues. After 15 years, you haven’t just amassed an amazing collection of lidless plastic pottles and guarantees for devices that broke long ago, you share a tonne of friends. Friends he brought to the relationship, friends you brought, friends you made along the way, and just like matrimonial property, they’ll be divided too. “You keep Dave, I’ll keep Tammy…” Guest lists become super-awkward, sides get taken – even if neither of you is an ass hat − however, coffee klatch collateral is the least of it.

The truly weird stuff starts happening not long after you break up. First, you discover just how many colossal numpties you know, and (spoiler alert) that some of them never liked you anyway. People you’ve been friends with for years will say the most astonishingly stupid things. “You’ll be on the Tinder,” they’ll declare, seeming to believe you’ll bounce back when you can hardly put lipstick on, look like an unmade bed and have convinced yourself you’ll never have sex again in your life.

Now you are single and the protective cloak of coupledom formerly shielding you from the slings and arrows of outrageous perverts has fallen from your shoulders, other women’s husbands will offer you more than a shoulder to cry on and accidentally pocket dial you while in the car with their wives. Friends will decide, despite your clear penchant for hot blonde men, they can fix you up with their strange uncle Pete who has brown teeth and no hair and a million conspiracy theories. Hey, you’re single, you should just be grateful for the attention.

Smug marrieds will shun you, thinking divorce is contagious (actually, Brad and Angelina were perfectly OK before my relationship broke up) and because they think their husbands are pocket dialling you, you round-heeled slapper.

If you are mad enough to accept an invitation to a party at a time when you should be avoiding all social obligations because you cry at the drop of a hat and this makes your eyes all puffy, guests possessing the emotional intelligence of an uncooked potato, will ask ‘How are you?’ in tones reserved for news of terminal illness. This is a lot like the reporter who asks the homeowner how they’re feeling as they stand in front of the smoking ruin of their house. Unsurprisingly, “Just peachy” isn’t the answer. Then there are the friends you have to comfort, reassure love still exists. “But I held you up as an example of a great relationship, how could you do this to me?” Um…sorry?

Rubberneckers, gossip hounds and the secretly-pleased-to-see-you-miserable-because-your-non-stop-loved-up-happiness-was-getting-on-their-tits will lust after the juicy details, pop over with a bunch of rhubarb, a ‘How are you?’ and an expectant pause. Don’t give them anything. Provide absolutely zero salacious details. It will KILL them.

You’ll need some wins, because studies show we lose 8 friends when a long-term relationship ends. Three of those are most likely to have been friends of your ex first, so fairly painless. The others will hurt though, but you can avoid significant losses by not trash-talking or making your friends pledge allegiance: “He’s dead to me. Dead, I say.” They don’t want to act as a go-between either. In international relations this is called ‘shuttle diplomacy,’ in real life it’s called ‘starting shit.’ Yes, it might always have been ‘uteruses before duderuses,’ however it ain’t easy being Switzerland, and your girlfriends will still like your ex. So they should: you wouldn’t have fallen for him if wasn’t completely awesome.

Another Twilight Zone thing is receiving more kindness from complete strangers: Facebook friends you’ve never met, exes not seen for years (anyone really, outside the inner circle of pain), than your real friends. The reason for this is that it’s quite tiresome, listening to hours of venting and being embarrassed by you dissolving into tears at the pub and after a month or two or four, your friends will justifiably feel like throwing in the towel. Which is why you need to be the best-est friend there is. Bring wine. Be jolly (within reason, there’s nothing scarier than brittle hilarity). Ask them if they’ve lost weight. Tell them their hair looks lovely. Because you’re going to need all the friends you can get.

 

 

 

Posted
AuthorLisa Scott

For reasons that I won’t go into here (although when has discretion ever stopped me before?), I spent all of last week in a state of extreme rage. Not a cut-off-in-traffic fume. Not the rocketing blood pressure caused by the blatant non-cooperation of your children. No. Angrier than that.

I’m not talking about anger’s limp nutritional sister ‘hanger’, either, which I witnessed in the Tamster when I took my super-ire to her house in an attempt to win the seldom-coveted title of Worst House Guest Ever (hosts just love it when you dispense with the niceties and argue with everything they say). Dinner delayed by an hour and a half while I perched on the ledge of wrath, hunched like a prehistoric carrion bird, ripping fluffy things to pieces with my talons and shrieking at the sky, Tammy changed from the kind of person who signs up for fundraising walks and bakes muffins for the infirm to a starving shrew faster than you could say ‘my carrots are getting cold.’

As the room developed a sudden poltergeist chill, a look of complete terror flitted across the face of her fiancé, who leapt to his feet to cook her a steak touts-bloody-suite. “Does this happen often?” I inquired. We were both whispering. Frankly, the Tamster had scared the piss out of us. “Yes,” he said. “You’re usually OK once the only sound you can hear is her knife and fork against the plate.”

This, as I said, is NOT the kind of angry I have been. I have been much, much, much angrier than that. Blow the buttons off your blouse and turn your skin a nasty shade of green angry. Possessed by a fury so incredibly potent, nuclear fission, Rutherford old chap, is small beer in comparison. Fearing an explosion would leave me with naught but tattered stumps, I did what anyone would do: let my fingers do the talking and Googled ‘anger management’.

Anger the emotion is neither good nor bad, say the experts. Like any emotion, it’s conveying a message, telling you that a situation is upsetting, or unjust, or threatening. If your kneejerk reaction is to go code red, however, that message never has a chance to be communicated. So, while it’s perfectly normal to feel angry when you’ve been mistreated or wronged, anger becomes a problem when you start fantasizing about holding someone’s head under the water using a paddleboard paddle and leaving their body for the sharks.

“Come over,” said Tall Gorgeous Blonde, “we’ll do Drunk Angry Painting.” I’d never heard of this, but Drunk Angry Painting is actually a thing. Having now experienced it, I believe it should be offered as a form of therapy alongside Lacanian psychoanalysis and Gestalt psychology.

Here, roughly (I’m no expert), is a beginner’s guide to this incredibly restorative past time: first, at a dining room table or an equally long, large space, lay out some blank canvases, tubes of paint in every colour, a glass of water to clean your brushes and brushes themselves in a variety of sizes. Open the first bottle of red wine. Slap paint onto a canvas while simultaneously shouting and swearing, or shouting swear words. You might briefly be reminded of Rolf Harris-style pictures made up of random swathes and squiggles: “it’s the Queen!” Further contemplation would be inappropriate. You are not a pervert, you are an angry person.

Should you be the silent angry type, perhaps you might like to express yourself in violent dabs and splashes, press your brush so hard against the canvas the wee metal thing holding the bristles together splits. This is not a judging place, this is an art space. Open the second bottle of wine. Remember to drink from your wine glass not the brush water glass, whose contents are now a similar colour.

Still lives are the best subjects for Drunk Angry Painting, as life models can be confronting. To this end, Tall Gorgeous Blonde set up a vase of fresh lilies on the table, and we both attempted a rendering. Hers was a symphony of loveliness in white and pink, executed by a hand with real talent. Mine was acid green and black and resembled cancer cells painted in absinthe and tar. To look at it was to catch a glimpse of something rotten and ancient, something truly awful, like a clown that lives in the sewer and is really a giant spider. But my god did I feel better.

 

Posted
AuthorLisa Scott

Julian Barnes’ Sense of an Ending won the Man Booker in 2011. I couldn’t make head nor tail of it (obviously I understood the words, they just weren’t linked up in a way that made such an accolade rational) plus, it was boring. I don’t need wizard schools or dragons, but shouldn’t something happen in a book? Isn’t that what ‘plot’ means? Don’t you hate worthy books that make you feel like a thickie? There’s something Emperor’s new clothes about them: “Everyone else understands this astonishing work of fiction, except you, you low-brow gimp.”

Critical reception only served to underscore my stupidity. “Do not be misled by its brevity,” said Anna Brookner of The Telegraph, “its mystery is as deeply embedded as the most archaic of memories.” I don’t know what that means either. Sense of an Ending is however, being rather wee, perfect for stabilizing a wonky desk.

Anyway, I’m no Jim Flynn − far be it for me to suggest anyone’s torchlight list, it’s just that I am currently experiencing my own sense of an ending, packing up the house where I have lived for 15 years. It seems you can only leave the Crime Triangle in a police car, a coffin or a divorce. Either way, you’re going to go through a lot of tissues.

Putting your life in boxes is hard. I find its best to just look at things out of the corner of your eye, lest you be overwhelmed by the recollection of when and where you bought them (as a side note, what is up with Facebook Memories? Every single bloody morning Facebook says, ‘We care about you Lisa,’ and then whacks me in the head with a picture taken in happier times. I’m starting to feel that you do NOT care about me, Facebook. I think you might be a frenemy, and if a person, the kind who tells you you’d look awesome if you dyed your hair red using henna, because they want to ugly you up with some permanency.

Anyone who’s been through this knows it’s the most miserable thing in the world (not the henna, although that is regrettable and almost impossible to get rid of, short of shaving your head) apart from a death. And it is a death really, you become a ghost in your own life. A haggard one, because the end of a long-term relationship is dreadfully ageing. Your face looks like an unmade bed, yet friends (breaking up is a great way to find out how many colossal numpties you know, and that some of them − spoiler alert − never liked you anyway) will declare, “You’ll be on the Tinder” when you can hardly manage to apply lipstick.

In recent years there has being a growing trend for house-cooling parties and divorce parties, even mid-life crisis parties. Given how fleeting our passage through this world, how short our beautiful butterfly lives, it’s only human to celebrate things: beginnings, endings. My wise friend Alex G said in some ways all celebrations are commiserations. Funerals: everyone gets to eat those fabulous little sandwiches while you lie there with the wrong makeup on, rotting. Weddings: a public commitment to only have sex with one other person for the rest of your life. Birthdays: hahaha you’re older. Anniversaries: congratulations, you’ve left the toilet seat up for forty years. Retirement: welcome to end-times levels of boredom, here’s a watch.

Life is naturally full of endings and beginnings as we change and grow, shed our skins and emerge new creatures time and time again. Of course, beginnings are a lot less scary when you’re young; finding yourself far from the finish line in your forties (as if a giant hand had plucked you off the chessboard and tossed you on the carpet) is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. Beginnings are wonderful, soap operas and sagas waiting to be written. Endings are a different story entirely, and the end of something very, very good is the saddest story ever. But that’s the thing about fairy tales: sometimes you don’t get a happily-ever-after, sometimes the witch gets her way.

So take one last look at the place where so many happy memories were made. Raise a mental toast. Leave your key on the kitchen windowsill and pull the front door closed. You’re not coming back. There’s nothing more to be said here than, “The End.”

Posted
AuthorLisa Scott

Last year, a reader wrote in the comments section beneath an article of mine posted online, that I was ‘a smug and entitled farkety fark fark.’ Well, that’s not exactly what she wrote but journalism standards prevent a verbatim repetition. I’d been having a whinge about getting jailed by the Americans: “orange isn’t the new black, in fact orange doesn’t suit anyone, blah de blah blah” … when the truth was I had little to complain about, being middle class with a rich boyfriend and all my own teeth. The Americans let me out, after all.

Twelve months later, single and poor, I’ve realised that particular reader, while clearly dealing with an anger problem, had a point: I was being an arse-hat, maybe not in that article but definitely in life, where I had become a bit of a mean girl. And this is the problem with having money: it becomes easy to mock those who don’t have it, harder to be compassionate. I’m not saying the wealthy are dicks, maybe it’s just me.

Material comfort is like a blanket, good for hiding under. Have it for long enough, you’ll forget the years without two cents to rub together. You might even, in your arrogance of disregard, pick up an impoverished hitchhiker and make fun of him later at a dinner party for being whiffy.

I was reminded of this yesterday at the nice warm library (where the internet is free), after biking into town through a rain storm from the one-room cabin in the woods where I now live, when I realised there was little to distinguish me from the other homeless people. I too, was soaked through and ponged a tad, I too talked to myself occasionally. More of a thoughtful ‘hummm’ than out-and-out ranting, if you know what I mean − the point is nothing but luck separates us from the less fortunate, and this is a very good thing to be forced to remember. Over our lifetime, if we are blessed, we go up and down in status, have stuff and lose stuff, and what’s really important, rich or poor, is not the new-fangled-ness of the white ware you’ve accumulated, but that you are a good person.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been poor, but after 15 years of double income bliss, fair to say it’s come as an unwelcome surprise. I’m broke. I’m so broke I have negative money. That’s less than no money. The bank called me to complain that I had insufficient funds. “I couldn’t agree with you more,” I said. “My current level of fiscal insecurity is shocking.” They seemed to think I was doing it on purpose. That I was being broke just to annoy them.

To begin with there is a kind of nobility in poverty, a Mary Tyler Moore, ‘I’m going to make it after all’ will to survive, a Gloria Gaynor soundtrack. This wears thin the first time you realise it’s going to be a petrol-or-food situation this week. And everything is so expensive. Like an old person rocking on the porch, reminiscing, fondly do I recall the days when I went to the supermarket and bought whatever I wanted. Such disgusting prolificacy: $24 bottles of wine! $8 cheeses! It’s true what they say: two really do live cheaper than one. Especially if one of the two is a man with a large salary.

It is with a sob and a sigh and a gluttonous look in my eye that I farewell those years of plenty. Did I mention I’m a writer? The average New Zealand writer makes $12.50 a year. Before taxes. Because of which, some of the things I now cannot afford include: pedicures, pride, bikini waxes (things are dire down there) and the dentist. It seems I am destined to be a toothless crone with gnarly toes and pubes to her knees. Currently living in the country, after months of sawing wood, my right arm is absolutely massive, making me look lop-sided. On a positive note, I’ve almost completely stopped accidentally sawing my hand and leg in the process and will soon be strong enough to start the lawn mower. So at least one overgrown jungle will be getting a trim.

When the sheep noises get too much, I come into town, my enormous arm hanging out the car window, and marvel at the modern conveniences: bath tubs, flush toilets, washing machines and best of all: television. Tell you what, if you haven’t had a TV for a while, even sport is interesting. Sometimes, watching the news at a friend’s house, I swear that lovely Peter Williams is smiling right at me. I wonder if he has a girlfriend? Tell him I’m poor, but nice.

Posted
AuthorLisa Scott

Remember Renee Zellweger in Cold Mountain? You should, she was awesome. So awesome, she won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her portrayal of hard-scrabble Ruby Thewes, who saves pathetic gentlewoman Ada’s (played by Nicole Kidman) life by teaching her how to run her North Carolina farm during the American Civil War. In one particular scene, Ada is hiding under the porch from a bolshie rooster. Ruby wrings its neck and cooks it.

Now, I’d like you to imagine, if you will, another character made famous by Miss Zellweger: Bridget Jones. Let’s say, that after her life went all Samsung Note 7, Bridget found herself Darcy-less and living in a one-room bach, a single woman of significant uselessness, surrounded by trees, not a modern convenience in sight, falling over a lot. Are you imagining? Good, because that is my life at the moment.

Living in the country requires a practical mind. I do not have one. You need to have a plan, and candles. And be able to dig a deep hole. Lessons are often learnt the hard way: holding down bits of wood with your bare feet while sawing them on the back steps is not a super idea, given there’s no cell phone coverage and an ambulance, should you be able call one, takes 35 minutes from town. Could I tie a tourniquet? I don’t think so. I can do a lovely table napkin, though, and make a face towel look like a slightly flaccid swan. Best get to know the neighbours.

You need mental fortitude and muscles to live in the country. After months of sawing wood, my right arm is absolutely massive, making me look like Popeye after only one can of spinach. While this means I tend to paddle in circles, I will soon be strong enough to start the lawn mower, a man job if ever there was one. Things you also need a man for: opening jars, climbing on the roof to discourage blackbirds from nesting in the chimney and doing something about the decomposing possum slumped face down, white nubs of vertebrae exposed, at the bottom of the old water tank.

I briefly thought about going on Tinder, because you never know what people have a kink for: there might be someone out there who gets off on manual labour, some kind of horticultural BDSM type, and all I’d have to do would be go out into the garden every now and then and shout at them while they pushed the lawn mower around in a ball gag and leather shorts. But women are currently leaping off balconies to get away from Tinder dates and a friend told me she went on one where the guy said, after she started hysterically crying about the end of her marriage, “Shall we just have sex anyway?” so I did the man-things myself. Cue Gloria Gaynor soundtrack.

Speaking of surviving, the Tamster has some wacky idea I’ll grow my own salad greens and wee pots of herbs to save on the groceries, but she comes from Winton. Although, there are spring lambs in the back paddock, and they look delicious. Their mothers make a heck lot of noise, perhaps they read my meat-loving mind.

When the sheep noises get too much, I come into town, my enormous arm hanging out the car window, and marvel at the modern conveniences: bath tubs, flush toilets, washing machines and best of all: television. Tell you what, if you haven’t had a TV for a while, even sport is interesting. Sometimes, watching the news at a friend’s house, I swear that lovely Peter Williams is smiling right at me.

Inside the nice warm library (where the internet is free) on a rainy day last week, I suddenly realised there was little to distinguish me from the other homeless people. I too, was soaked through and ponged a bit, I too talked to myself occasionally. More of a thoughtful ‘hummm’ than out-and-out ranting, if you know what I mean – and of course I’m not homeless, I have a roof over my head, a nice warm bed to sleep in and yesterday connected the gas bottle to the hose thingie without help from anyone. I might be the Bridget Jones of Cold Mountain right now, but one day soon I might be a Ruby Thewes. A danger to chickens. A strong, independent woman. Who probably shouldn’t light any matches.

Posted
AuthorLisa Scott

Last weekend I was MC for the 43rd Annual Conference of the Perioperative Nurses College of NZNO. I practiced saying ‘perioperative’ about a hundred times beforehand, even though, to begin with, I really had no idea what it meant: I just thought it would be nice to swap jeans and gumboots for frocks and heels, a transition not without glamour-associated side effects. Hair and makeup done, driving to the venue, I kept catching sight of myself in the rear-view mirror and freaking out. Who is that woman?! It’s you, you dozy mare.

Perioperative nurses are theatre nurses, Florence Nightingales doling out a kind smile, a reassuring pat on the hand to patients about to undergo a traumatic life experience. While the 12-year-old surgeon is telling you how awesome what he’s about to do to you is, medically, perioperative nurses are the ones who make you feel that, within reason, nobody’s going to laugh at your bits or draw a moustache on your face while you’re unconscious. Doing all the literal and metaphorical heavy lifting, they put up with shite pay, long nights staying awake eating crap food and drinking worse coffee and you never hear of them striking. They are the unsung heroes of our healthcare system.

The conference was attended by nurses of many stripes and specialities, and I’ll tell you what, they have very strong stomachs. Unflinching, they watched a presentation on endoscopic scoliosis surgery from Dunedin Hospital’s world-beating dream team of Alan Carsten, Ginny Martin and Jason Henwood which had me staring at the wall, thinking Halloween had come early and breathing heavily, much to the amusement of those seated next to me. I was tempted to put my head between my legs but, wearing borrowed Charmaine Reveley and about to field questions from the audience, I thought it might muffle my voice.

The exhibitor stands were filled with objects that looked like they could clear drains, mix concrete or rescue a wedding ring from the back of the dryer. There were enough beds and clamps and needles and things to easily set up a wee Botox clinic as a side line − for some reason they didn’t. I wandered the trade floor picking things up and asking what they were (this initially caused some confusion, as everybody knows what a ureteral access sheath is, apparently) however my curiosity peaked after someone mimed hammering something long and pointy into a hip bone. Anaesthesia was invented for a reason. Sometimes it’s better not to know.

Nurses are a tight knit bunch, mostly, I think, because they speak a language the public don’t, can toss off: ‘neuromodulation in homeostasis’ without blinking, and because they see some truly awful stuff. They can hardly rock up to a dinner party and share work stories in a getting-it-off-your-chest manner (people are eating). Hospital work stories aren’t ‘weird Jenny from Sales is copying my outfits’ more: ‘we had to amputate the leg’ − which can put you off your prosciutto-wrapped asparagus; meaning nurses tend to keep the secrets of the operating theatre to themselves. It’s a very stressful occupation. Not like in the 1970s, when the first perioperative nurses conference was held in Dunedin. Back then, nurses wore the white uniforms and stockings of a thousand schoolboy fantasies, the job was by all accounts rather fun and, if you were of a mind to, you could smoke INSIDE the hospital.

Maybe this pressure is why nurses inhabit an alternate reality when it comes to a sense of humour. An example of this is the fact that the perioperative nurses’ college magazine is called the Dissector. The first, second and third time I heard this, I nearly wet myself. Nobody else seemed to find this remotely funny yet they were in bits over Wellington having the highest number of patients presenting with foreign objects inserted inside them this year (Dunedin had the fewest, in case you’re wondering. We just have better things to do, I guess).

So, whether you’ve ‘fallen’ on a bust of Beethoven or chopped off all your toes not looking where you’re shovelling (and there, but for the grace of God, go I) know that in your moment of need, the lovely nurse telling you that everything’s going to be alright has just spent three days topping up the skills to keep that promise. Worry instead about what you’re going to tell your mum.

Posted
AuthorLisa Scott

Look, I’ll spare you the gory details, break-up stories are all the same − suffice it to say, after ticking along in a perfectly predictable, blissfully happy manner, a couple of months ago my relationship of 15 years went up like an unattended chip pan. Yes, that’s right. Reader, I did not marry him.

Thin (as thin as a short, curvy girl can get) and wretched, with a face like a dropped pie, I packed my tattered self-esteem into a tiny suitcase and flew to Rarotonga to spend two weeks with friends who run the island’s SPCA, reasoning they’d know what to do with a sick animal. I must have been giving off palpable rays of devastation on the flight over, because the man seated next to me was practically limbo-ing into the aisle. No man on earth wants to rub elbows with a sad lady.

Which is why turning to female friends in times of crisis is vital. I’d forgotten how lovely it can be to share a house with other women, if you’re not students and nobody’s washing their oversized dingy grey bras in the kitchen sink. We drank coffee in our nighties in the morning, drank wine in the evening, hugged freely and made frangipani flower crowns for our hair – simple, unchallenging, lady-time things. They’d both lived through it: that punched-in-the-stomach state of near-death hopelessness that follows the end of long relationship. They knew what it was like to be so lonely you turn the radio on just for company, so emotionally squished you weep until the pillow is soggy or dehydration sets in. So when they said, ‘things will get better,’ I tended to believe them.

Another great thing about female friends (apart from the fact that they let you ‘whaaaa’ all over them, leaving damp patches on their clothes, and never tell you how ugly you look when you cry) is that they provide clarity, sooth a tumultuous inner world, remind you who you really are and what you’re capable of. Rather than be overwhelmed by that terrible list: buy a car, find somewhere to live … and all the things you now don’t have: economic security (or an economist), a partner for rest home wheelchair races … they help you see the possibilities, the things you do have: aptitude, brains, courage. Taking each problem one at a time, they solve it, and come up with a way forward. “You’ve got a plan now,” said the SPCA ladies, using the special voice that calms anxious horses and distempered dogs. “You’re going to be fabulous.” I felt like I couldn’t find fabulous if it arrived on a Pride float and covered me in glitter, but at least I had a plan.

And, oh, how they fed me: ika mata (raw fish), pan fried mahi mahi, fresh albacore tuna, coconut, banana, papaya. Fact: it’s very hard to maintain a state of constant misery with your toes in the sand, the sun on your face and mango juice running down your arm. Tell you what doesn’t help, though, and that’s taro. Even adding things: salt, chilli flakes, chocolate, Bloody Mary sauce, couldn’t make this tasteless purple fibroid appetizing. Quite frankly taro, I don’t think you are food, I think you are a building material mistaken for provisions.

Speaking of provisioning, this is exactly what I felt I was doing during my tropical fortnight of respite from real life. Like the Maori canoeists on the their great migration to New Zealand, making the most of Rarotonga’s plenteous bounty before the great journey ahead, I too had a long, long, long way to go before I’d be somewhere I could call home.

And you know what? After years of self-prescribed regulations around food, eating whatever you want is nothing short of miraculously freeing, literally chicken soup for the soul, albeit in the form of fresh sashimi, lobster, “another glass of rose?” (Yes, please) and then a nap. While you can’t actually eat away the heartache, you can buy a dress a size up, which gives you a marvellous sense of having achieved something that day. Every night I went to bed full and slept dreamless, every morning I swam in the sea or snorkelled out to the reef, floating above the coral houses of silly little fish with long beaky noses. Round and brown after two weeks in the hands of animal welfare experts, sporting a lovely glossy coat, I was so tranquilised I completely forgot what day it was, and missed my flight home.

 

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AuthorLisa Scott

2016 local body elections: it’s been exhausting. Although that might just be me, life is pretty tiring at the moment and one of my arms is bigger than the other from sawing so much firewood. Still, mustn’t grumble.

2016 local body elections: the dirt thrown, the promises made, those pesky hoardings everywhere, leaning over the grass like top-heavy daffodils, plastered with the faces of people you’ve never heard of and won’t again after today. Like billboards of the disappeared.

2016 local body elections: the candidates are weary. Every morning they pluck new greys. It’s been a gruelling three months on the hustings and their partners are sick to death of all the smiling, it’s like living with the Joker. They look forward to sitting on the couch in red wine-stained trackies, retiring from social obligations and snubbing the neighbours.

2016… ah, f*** it. Voting closes at noon. Who will be the mayor of this fine almost-metropolis? Who will park their bottoms in the seats of power for hours and hours, gradually going numb with making the important decisions about mud tank hoovering, shifting the Delta debt around and where to bury the sand sausages?

We must all do our bit for democracy − but sometimes it’s hard to give a stuff and, quite frankly, there seem to be a lot of candidates who would suck at it or use public office as a platform for alien abduction stories. Well, that’s freedom though, isn’t it: the egalitarian, unalterable right of the loonies to inherit the earth should someone vote for them. As the Americans say, anyone can grow up to be president. I bet they’re regretting that.

In a race where voter apathy is usually the only winner, last weekend a new contender emerged while the sleeping city slept. Perched atop the old post office, brooding, chin on fist, like a giant bat or an undertaker with flappy lapels: Bingle Struthers. Who is this mystery man bringing up the rear; long of face, funeral of suit? Uncommonly handsome, if you have a thing for cadavers, Bingle is a former navy man with a love of ska. Granted an exclusive interview, I asked him if there were any skeletons in his closet. Despite rumours he would often start drinking his own urine before the ship had even left port, did his years of seamanship end in an honourable discharge? “With respect, the over-inquisitive media shouldn’t enquire about one’s closet or discharge,” said Bingle, remaining hereafter aloof, a virtue in politicians, if you ask me.

Bingle’s campaign staff of soccer hooligans and anarchic design graduates have painstakingly condensed his 500 page, at-times-rambling manifesto into a series of bite-sized slogans containing the wisdom of proactive solutions and the comfort of empty pandering:

·        Sludge tanks or slush funds? Your choice with Bingle.

·        When times are hard, Bingle is really hard.

·        Let’s make Mosgiel great.

·        Hearts and heads up moving in an agreed direction.

·        Not derision but vision for erosion.

·        Transparency, accountability, rather nice upholstery and washing taken in.

You wouldn’t let him get close enough to kiss a baby, if you cared for it, but one has to agree some of these sound just vague enough to be mistaken for quasi-philosophical Facebook memes. While you might think it’s down to the strength of both your pelvic floor and morning coffee, actually, local government shapes pretty much every aspect of our daily lives. If, God forbid, you fell ill and had to go to Dunedin Public Hospital, you’d see just where ignorance of that fact gets you: 1960s healthcare, complete with gruel.

I don’t have the time to do something about yucky patient food or half-finished cycle ways or backyards that look like swim-up bars because I’m trying to build muscle in my other arm so I don’t look so lopsided, but someone has to. And while you, maybe, have to admire his tenacity in standing for council in 2006, 2010 and 2011, not to mention this year, a tick for Bingle will definitely invalidate your voting paper, because he isn’t on the ballot, and because you’re supposed to number the candidates in order of preference. Bingle, Bingle, Bingle … it’s almost as if you don’t exist.

 

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AuthorLisa Scott

For reasons that I won’t go into in a newspaper published in the town I live in (although when has good taste or discretion ever stopped me before?), I spent all of last week in a state of extreme rage. Not a cut-off-in-traffic fume. Not the rocketing blood pressure caused by the blatant non-cooperation of your children. No. Angrier than that.

I’m not talking about anger’s limp nutritional sister ‘hanger’, either, which I witnessed in the Tamster when I took my super-ire to her house in an attempt to win the seldom-coveted title of Worst House Guest Ever (hosts just love it when you dispense with the niceties and argue with everything they say). Dinner delayed by an hour and a half while I perched on the ledge of wrath, hunched like a prehistoric carrion bird, ripping fluffy things to pieces with my talons and shrieking at the sky, Tammy changed from the kind of person who signs up for fundraising walks and bakes muffins for the infirm to a starving shrew faster than you could say ‘my carrots are getting cold.’

As the room developed a sudden poltergeist chill, a look of complete terror flitted across the face of her fiancé, who leapt to his feet to cook her a steak touts-bloody-suite. “Does this happen often?” I inquired. We were both whispering. Frankly, the Tamster had scared the piss out of us. “Yes,” he said. “You’re usually OK once the only sound you can hear is her knife and fork against the plate.”

This, as I said, is NOT the kind of angry I have been. I have been much, much, much angrier than that. Blow the buttons off your blouse and turn your skin a nasty shade of green angry. Possessed by a fury so incredibly potent, nuclear fission, Rutherford old chap, is small beer in comparison. Fearing an explosion would leave me with naught but tattered stumps, I did what anyone would do: let my fingers do the talking and Googled ‘anger management’.

Anger the emotion is neither good nor bad, say the experts. Like any emotion, it’s conveying a message, telling you that a situation is upsetting, or unjust, or threatening. If your kneejerk reaction is to go code red, however, that message never has a chance to be communicated. So, while it’s perfectly normal to feel angry when you’ve been mistreated or wronged, anger becomes a problem when you start fantasizing about holding someone’s head under the water using a paddleboard paddle and leaving their body for the sharks.

“Come over,” said Tall Gorgeous Blonde, “we’ll do Drunk Angry Painting.” I’d never heard of this, but Drunk Angry Painting is actually a thing. Having now experienced it, I believe it should be offered as a form of therapy alongside Lacanian psychoanalysis and Gestalt psychology.

Here, roughly (I’m no expert), is a beginner’s guide to this incredibly restorative past time: first, at a dining room table or an equally long, large space, lay out some blank canvases, tubes of paint in every colour, a glass of water to clean your brushes and brushes themselves in a variety of sizes. Open the first bottle of red wine. Slap paint onto a canvas while simultaneously shouting and swearing, or shouting swear words. You might briefly be reminded of Rolf Harris-style pictures made up of random swathes and squiggles: “it’s the Queen!” Further contemplation would be inappropriate. You are not a pervert, you are an angry person.

Should you be the silent angry type, perhaps you might like to express yourself in violent dabs and splashes, press your brush so hard against the canvas the wee metal thing holding the bristles together splits. This is not a judging place, this is an art space. Open the second bottle of wine. Remember to drink from your wine glass not the brush water glass, whose contents are now a similar colour.

Still lives are the best subjects for Drunk Angry Painting, as life models can be confronting. To this end, Tall Gorgeous Blonde set up a vase of fresh lilies on the table, and we both attempted a rendering. Hers was a symphony of loveliness in white and pink, executed by a hand with real talent. Mine was acid green and black and resembled cancer cells painted in absinthe and tar. To look at it was to catch a glimpse of something rotten and ancient, something truly awful, like a clown that lives in the sewer and is really a giant spider. But my god did I feel better.

 

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AuthorLisa Scott