The decorations were up along the main street, red tinsel twinkled in the sun by the statue of Trooper Jack. I’d finished bottling the elderflower champagne, no explosions yet, but two bottles lost to over-enthusiastically malleting the capper; was off to buy labels when I heard singing, and turned to see a grandad dandling (who wouldn’t like to be dandled, unless it was out a 40-story window) a toddler on his knee outside a café, “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth, my two front teeth…”

‘All I want for Christmas’ I thought, is to be able to afford a trip to the hair dressers, I look like Pepe le Pew. But do I want that so much? I’m a lot less vain these days, still peruse mirrors, but more like a patron fascinated by an art installation designed to erode; checking to see what else has fallen off. I ran out of my favourite lipstick ages ago and never replaced it, bought a truck load of gravel instead. My face does things that Botox could prevent, but I like it, reliably there on top of my neck. Last Christmas (feel a Wham! song coming on?) I was less a person than a shape shifter, a series of complex calculations, and we all go through life being what we assume others want us to be, saying what we think we’re expected to say, unless something comes along to change things and we start being real, the way the elderly are, “I’ve never liked you, Isabelle, you have a fat arse” – because they know time is short. All I really want for Christmas is for my daughter to be nice to me.

My Purakanui tiny home is finally finished and ready Airbnb. A little bit Hotel California except you can leave, after a minimum two-night stay, the bach came to represent my mental health during the renovations, parallel as they were to my own, so the first guests will be living inside my mind, a much sunnier place than in the days when I lay face down on the Axminister sobbing while tradesmen came and went, leaving bills that demonstrated the true cost of learned helplessness. Last Christmas Day I was on the road from Cape Reinga to Whangarei, everything closed, feeling like Mary after Joseph forgot to book something, starving while a fat bald Welshman who’d told me he was single sent me photos of his lavish four course repast. My Christmas dinner was an Angus burger eaten in a Motel 6 next door to the McDonalds. Squashing the wasp in my bed, I went to sleep as the broken crosswalk down the road blipped ‘cross now cross now….’ full of hope for a future that never happened because realistic wasn’t a part of it. Some people are like computers, you’ve got to punch instruction into them.

It’s been a year of surprises. A year of going over the handlebars, getting knocked out by falling doors and learning to do things by/for myself. I am a very slow learner. I’ve learned, by painful increments, that having enough to eat, enough money to pay the bills, enough know-how to make and mend instead of buying new is more important than whingeing about the things you had and lost. “All I want is happiness,” said MMM, “And a new backpack.” The Maverick Mountain Man has a dreadful backpack addiction. There are backpacks in the garage, backpacks under the spare bed, leaning up against wall, flaps out like disembowelled little people, arm straps dangling. “They’re not all the same, they have different functions. I have my snowboard backpack, one for carrying mountaineering gear … I don’t have a going-to-town backpack.” Its time he faced facts, stopped living in denial. His search history is full of backpacks, it’s disgusting. I used to be the same with clothes: suffered the covetous diamond-eyed gleam of designer dress love, shop-window-licking yearning. Now I sell them off one at a time, like stamps from exotic countries, and use the money to buy cheese.

There’s a big difference between the things you want and the things you need in life. And when farmers are killing themselves because they can’t afford the interest on loans the banks so wantonly extended, any life is good. If you’re breathing, that’s enough, it doesn’t require wrapping. The things I want these days are in my power to have, and if they aren’t, I’m pretty sure I don’t need them. I hope that all you want is what you already have, too. 

AuthorLisa Scott

“Speak into my good ear,” I asked daughter Sophia. We were out for our usual Friday night dinner. She passed me a water glass. “Give it to my good arm,” I said. My right arm is so sore. “It’s because you go around holding it up, linked through the arm of your imaginary boyfriend.” My younger man isn’t real, apparently. He is a figment of my imagination. “And I’m getting really sick of you making me sit in the backseat of the car,” she complained. Sophia was just messing with me – she does this a lot, changing my ring tone to a recording of me snoring, etc (if I’d bought her a pony that time she might not be such a monster) – my boyfriend is totally real. Either that, or I am sleep-eating loaves of bread and own a Terrano. If my boyfriend isn’t real, I am great at DIY and throw myself surprise parties, which is a whole ‘nother level of weird. Plus, just whose house have I been staying at, then? Imaginary boyfriends don’t live anywhere except the depraved recesses of your mind. Maybe it’s an airbnb. If so, why do I keep doing the dishes and hanging out the washing? Why is it so badly decorated? So: real. Hahahaha.

But it did make me think. A woman is nothing without a boyfriend as accoutrement, spider killer and excuse to get out of things, “Sorry, we can’t come to the christening, Graeme’s allergic to children.” Problem is, a decent man is near-impossible to find, most commitment-phobic or so mind-bendingly horrendous you’d rather die of spinsterism (suffocated by crochet and potted succulents and eaten by your cats). With all the good ones taken and adultery passé, an imaginary boyfriend is totally the way to go. An ex bull rider and mountain climber, my younger man is funny and charming, has an enormous willy and thinks everything I do is amazing. He laughs at all my jokes and the first thing he says when he opens his blue eyes every morning is “I love you.” When he smiles at me over a candle-lit dinner his teeth are so white it hurts to look directly at them. He rubs my feet when we watch The Big Sick.

Of course he sounds too good to be true.

My feet are horrible.

What impresses me is the elaborate nature of the fantasy (and it’s NOT a fantasy, he really does exist, I’ve met his parents. Or simply rocked up to a random North Otago farm at dinner time and scared the hell out of an elderly rural couple). The younger man lives in Oamaru, where, for the last nine months, if he doesn’t, I’ve just been wandering the streets chatting away to myself, searching for penguins. “Look! A penguin.” “No, Lisa, it’s a tom cat.” I guess people thought I was on hands-free, or bonkers: easy to hide in a town where every second person is dressed like a Victorian toting a laser gun and penny farthings and dirigibles are common-place.

With an imaginary boyfriend, you can appear, in the eyes of your friends, family and co-workers, worthwhile and not the least bit sad. Sure, you’re going to have to invest some time crafting a back story, remember details about his family, appearance, where he went to school, his car, the restaurants you go to and so forth. This will add texture, quality and believability to your ‘relationship.’ You might as well give him an awesome job, since real, in-the-flesh boyfriends are usually accountants, yarn artists or vegan activists. Imaginary boyfriends tend to be slashers: lumberjack/underwear models, paediatrician/violinists. His demanding life as a crown prince or the former head of a major New York crime family now in the Witness Protection Program is why he never accompanies you to anything. He has good reasons for his near-constant absences – he was busy rescuing stranded freedom campers while panning mountain streams for gold to make you an engagement ring. Don't hold back. Make him sound noble, kind, trustworthy and brave. Deflect any suspicion with sarcasm: “Sure, I just sat in my bedroom and made him up…” Imaginary boyfriends are there for you, they’ve got your back, can satisfy your every need. Well, every need but one. You'll have to take care of that yourself. But as we discussed above: you’re secretly great at DIY.

“Are you real?” I asked the younger man as we strolled around Oamaru, arm in arm at dusk. I have to admit; my night vision isn’t super.

“Look! A penguin!”

“No, Lisa, it’s a rubbish bin.”

He just stared deep into my eyes, kissed me and held me like he’d never let me go.

I bloody knew it.

AuthorLisa Scott

“Your writing’s really improved,” people say (just one person, actually). “What’s your secret?” Well, like anyone who takes their profession seriously, I have a trainer. MMM used to couch women's rugby in the states, when he wasn’t being a corporate shiny-bum, and thus combines the sports pep talk with shouty greed-inspiring mantras worthy of the Wolf of Wall Street.

Just like athletes, all workers need encouragement, the problem with my job (apart from the lack of performance-enhancing drugs and sponsorship monies) is that it’s basically days spent crouched over like Golem, inserting commas and then taking them back out again a few hours later. Sure, there’s the initial fun bit: eavesdropping on people’s conversations and writing things down on a serviette, or jotting down ideas in the car at the lights – but when the sun comes up it’s just me and a barely legible note-to-self written in Revlon Colorstay.

And there simply aren’t the usual office politics to provide distraction. Nobody’s getting sexually harassed (chance would be a fine thing), no one’s whispering in the kitchenette about Monica’s new boobs (so pointy you could take someone’s eye out). No awkward emails from the finance department questioning purchases made with the company credit card (every office needs a chocolate fountain, in my opinion). Inspiration and energy can flag, and this is when a coach comes in handy, rallying spirits in the locker room.

“We’ve spent ten hours a week together,” he says. “We’re family. Brothers. Brothers. I mean sisters. You’re in a tight huddle, just you and your computer.”

He puts inspirational music on, the Flight of the Valkyries, which can make it hard to concentrate, I keep thinking we’re going to be bombed by Dennis Hopper. Prancing around the room in moccasins, one sock and dude robe Tony Robbins wouldn’t be seen dead in while I slump, hair wild and untamed, groaning, he runs on the spot, shaking his hands out. “You gotta get warm, you gotta get loose. You are made of breath and potential. The universe is already falling for you. You need to be who you are where you are right now.”

“Broke at the kitchen table?”

“How many goddam syllables are there? The bigger the word, the more expensive the magazine (by that reasoning I really must learn some science terminology) Woman’s Idea. Horse and Tractor. You’re going to be in the best waiting rooms. Not just family planning, the dentist. A Ponsonby dentist. If you didn’t want this job, why did you go after it?!” he yells.

“I didn’t go after….”

Sometimes he uses the sandwich technique from management psychology, where you insert an insult between two compliments: “Bob, you have a lovely smile, it’s a shame your data entry is so crap, but we all love the muffins you bring to morning tea.” MMM’s sandwiches can be a little confusing. “You’re dancing through the forest of words, plucking the ripest fruit. You don’t know how to pronounce them or how they’re spelled, but you know what they mean. The spell check is your friend. Don’t let the spell check get you down. The spell check doesn’t judge. Your readers judge.”

He senses when I’m not feeling it. Can turn around a defeated attitude, and me, physically, when I give up and go outside into the garden where he’s cutting the hedge so neatly it looks like a Hitler moustache. “Saturday is game day,” he says, taking me by the shoulders. “People are waiting for the Mix. We’ve trained for this. Show up for yourself. I love you.”

“I might get sued again,” I worry.

“They don’t sue, WE sue. They sue, we all sue. There aren’t enough high court judges in the land for where we’re taking this, baby. Its Suemaggedon.”

Crawling to the finish line (750-800 words linked together in a form that isn’t nonsense) like a legless chicken with a grain-covered keyboard, I push ‘send’ and collapse, exhausted and brainless. MMM leaps up and punches the air like Judd Nelson in the final scene of The Breakfast Club. There’s no result yet. There’s no ‘I’ in team, either. But there is ‘meat’ if you rearrange the letters and someone pays you on the 20th.


AuthorLisa Scott

In a very late example of the fallout from a relationship spilt (but then it’s amazing how long the punches keep coming), I was recently awkwardly disinvited to a friend’s wedding. From best woman to shunned is rather a fall from grace and I can only surmise the bride-to-be was worried I might cause a scene or that the Mohawked Mountain Man wasn’t toilet trained. The implication being, having spent so much time in Oamaru of late and out of my normal social circle, I had regressed to savage. Dunedinites tend to see Oamaru as a town awash with mad gronks in stupid hats waving bizarre contraptions constructed from trash and more goggles than a Minions movie, where the popular pastime is molesting penguins. And while its true Omaroovians did used to take a penguin to a party back in the day (hilarious, apparently, until the penguin threw up half-digested fish all over the Axminister), I think you’ll agree this view is a rather short sighted one.

And while it’s also true I’ve started calling people whose names I can’t remember “Old Mate”, saying “Hoo roo” when leaving and doing that rural one-finger hand salute thing when I pass another car, I haven’t entirely lost the run of myself, as proved last Saturday when I went to a party in Dunedin. I know. Guess whose back? Shady’s back. Tell a friend.

If you haven’t suffered the parting of waters and ceremonial striking from the guest list that comes with a rendering asunder you can’t possibly understand how much it warmed my cockles to 1. Be invited in the first place. 2. See my friends and have them see me. Becoming one of the disinvited post-divorce is, I think, understandable. In the early days of the spilt you cried all the time and this becomes tiresome, not to mention the constant shuttling from pillar to post that goes with feeling unfixed in time and space is the ruination of any hostesses’ seating order. People think divorce is contagious and that, thanks to your newly skinny state (divorcerexia: when you’re too sad to eat and friends ask if you’re “on the P”), their husbands will crack on to you. Plus, people naturally side with the person more able to stand a round of drinks, it’s just the way of the world.

So, out of necessity, I made some new friends over the last eight months, found myself embraced by the marginalised; the tribe you fall into when you’ve lost your own. These near-strangers were the ones who, when I was finalist for a big award but because I’m a writer couldn’t afford the plane ticket, threw me a surprise party. Knowing I was bummed, MMM, in between sharpening his ice axes and eating potato chip and Vegemite sandwiches, secretly organised my very own awards night, festooning the house with streamers and balloons. Small children belonging to these same new friends burst out from behind the furniture yelling “Surprise!!!” Poppers popped and so did the balloons, there were savouries and tomato sauce and I loved it all so much I happy-teared. 

Long story short, I didn’t win. MMM presented me with a bouquet, a glass of bubbles and a home-made certificate which read: ‘You was fecking robbed.’ But I wasn’t. I felt, in that moment, the luckiest, most-blessed woman alive. Which is the opposite of how I’d been feeling for months, suffering panic attacks so severe I actually passed out during one of them and becoming so thin I shivered constantly, like one of those little dogs you have to carry everywhere in a handbag. My long-term friends didn’t know about this because I didn’t tell them. I guess I was mad at them, disappointed they weren’t there for me during the black months of winter when a voice in my head said, in the most conversational of tones, out of the blue as I was walking up Tyne street, “If this doesn’t work out you can always kill yourself.”

I have triumphed over the voice, my own being so much louder, but not everyone is so lucky. Its mental health awareness week. Reach out to your friends, even if it’s been a while. Even if their Facebook page is full of smiles. Even if it seems they’re doing fine without you. Because maybe they’re not.

AuthorLisa Scott

In an example of hideous irony, it was the week of the ‘Me Too’ campaign. Facebook was sadder than usual, every single woman you knew posting a black heart to show that they had been sexually harassed or abused at some point in their life. Harvey Weinstein shambled out into the light of the twenty-first century like a hairy-backed dinosaur coming out of a velvet cave, alternatively contrite and self-pitying: “I came of age in the 60s and 70s.” Actress Rose McGowan made things uncomfortable for Hollywood men like Ben Affleck, who knew about the sexual abuse of others and yet profited from the company that allowed it. It was a week of calling out society’s dramatic imbalance of power, breaking silences, of women being strong, standing up, not being cowed by how much they needed the job to complain. Women’s voices were being heard, loud. It was the end of an era. Things would never be the same again, they said.

Like anyone busty and short, easy to loom over, leer down at, I’ve had more ‘Me Too’s than hot dinners. From the broadcaster of this parish who cornered me when I was a waitress (until someone introduced me as my mother’s daughter and he pulled himself up sharpish), to the sales manager who, during a job interview said, “Good thing this desk isn’t see through. Are they real?” … to numerous gropes, pinches and ‘accidental’ breast grazes. Sweaty hands and ‘go team’ bum pats. In India I was ‘Eve-teased’ into a state resembling an agitator washing machine with a bad attitude: elbows constantly at the ready. I was even masturbated on once, on public transport. India and I do not see eye-to-eye on feminism.

So yeah, me too buster, ad nauseum. But this isn’t about me, this is about a young woman I love, who went to a party the week the casting couch was trundled off to the dump, the week those who spoke out were called ‘heroes’ by actress Meryl Streep; she went to a party and someone put something in her drink. You are perhaps unaware, as I was, that this sort of stuff happens in Dunedin all the time. A guy or group of guys think it is funny to drug a girl and watch what happens. She doesn’t know why she suddenly feels so drunk. How the hell did it happen? She only had a couple. My girl, the girl I love, was sick, terrified and paralysed, seeing what was happening as if from behind glass. Luckily, she was with a friend who noticed her slip away from the party, but before he found her she spent a short time wandering in the Octagon utterly disorientated, totally confused, feeling she had no control over her legs, and nobody came to her aid, I expect because they thought she was pissed.

Worse, this young woman now feels ashamed because of what someone else did to her. People saw her out of control, it could be anyone passing her on the street, how would she know? She feels judged. She feels anxious walking home from work. Really, she was very, very lucky – I know of five women who were stupefied, and two of them were raped. They told no one, at the time. She told no one, until she decided to tell me, and I decided to tell you. Let’s not keep quiet about this. I know its difficult stuff, distasteful. I know it’s hard to accept the world contains people so evil. Drugging a woman is not just sexual, it doesn’t just mean you have power over her as you watch the chemicals take hold, choose your moment and offer the villainous chivalry of the predator; it does her down as a human, makes her a thing.

If I could get my hands on the person responsible, a young man who came of age in the 90s, I’m not sure what I’d do. “I’ll take the kneecaps and leave the face for you,” said MMM, who’s own daughter is only two. “If this is OK now, what the hell will be OK when she’s in her twenties?” Of course it’s not OK. But why, when women have a voice, when we all agree about what is right and what is wrong, are we still breeding men who want to shut them up?

AuthorLisa Scott

I’ll admit I was pretty bloody huffy when Barry the Sparkie kicked me out of the house so he could wire up the oven, because 1. Nobody likes to be called an ‘interferon’ and 2. I’d been using the oven as a bookshelf and this would seriously mess up my Penguins.

Finally, the kitchen is going in. There’s just a big hole at the moment, every surface of the living room-cum-bedroom covered in glasses and mugs and plates – like the morning after a fabulous party, without the hangover and regrettable amounts of cheese – however I have great expectations and none of them involve toast. I’ve reached peak toast.

It’s been more than a year since I’ve had a kitchen to call my own. Ah, the things you take for granted: grilling, baking, water coming out of taps above a sink … every day at the Purakanui bach has been just like camping; which sounds fun, until its winter and you’re doing the dishes in a bucket outside in minus three. A friend (who is either evil or doesn’t understand irony) gave me a drink coaster for my birthday with a picture of a 1950s housewife on it proclaiming, “I only have a kitchen because it came with the house.” ‘Hahaha’ I think, every time I see it. Like fun it did. Raw food, Vegetarian, Paleo, I get it. These people don’t have kitchens either. 

My cooking facilities consist of a microwave so old you want to turn it on from across the room wearing a tinfoil hat and using two brooms tapped together, a small fridge, a toaster and the top of a Klondike pot belly. I don’t have a sink, so water is ported from the bathroom.

If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, I’m not sure which region I’m aiming for on the younger man’s body, but it’s got to be somewhere in the vicinity. “You certainly haven’t been able to wine and dine me,” he said, only a little petulantly, knowing wining and dining is an older man’s job (also, by the time he gets to mine he’s been hiking across a ridgeline all day carrying his snowboard/throwing a bike down scree, and, led to believe there’s food and finding only cheese and crackers fails to hide his dismay, something I find secretly hilarious).

“How could you even entertain entertaining?” he asked, lending me a light-weight climbing stove to make him coffee, so at least there was some of that. I didn’t entertain it. There are the clear benefits to not having a kitchen. You never have to do dishes or know what a ‘roux’ is. People don’t come expecting dinner or even a platter of nibbles. They don’t come with so much as a ham sandwich in mind. They bring you food. And when you go to their house for dinner (I’m pretty sure) they find it gratifying when you eat everything on your plate and then also theirs as well as any leftovers, hoovering food up like a varsity student home for the holidays. “Lisa doesn’t have a kitchen,” they whisper to other guests behind their hands. Alright, you do lose some airs and graces. Ps and Qs get mislaid in a box somewhere with the colander. Plates and knives seem fancy and new-fangled when you’re used to a spork and an instant ramen bowl and napkins blow your mind – what the hell are they for, is it a little hat?

But this insistence on a place to cook and do the dishes is soooo provincial. Many New York studio apartments do not have kitchens, New Yorkers would rather have closets, and always eat out anyway, which makes me cosmopolitan, not primitive. Going kitchen-less is not new. Ethel Merman had the kitchens removed from her apartments in the Park Lane and the Berkshire Hotels, because with room service she never used them. But she did buy a toaster-oven to heat what one biographer, Bob Thomas, said was her favorite dish: chicken frankfurters. We toaster messiahs know kitchens are just jewelry for a house and I stopped wearing jewelry after that time a tree tried to eat my ear.

Studies show home cooking is a major ingredient in healthy diet although I think they might mean other people’s home-cooking. Still, I have a vision of me in a pinny, all domestic goddess twinkle and smelling of cake, spatula in one hand and a swipe of flour across my cheek. Come over, I’ll make you something nice. Maybe.


AuthorLisa Scott

Think I’ve recovered from last weekend. It was a bit of a stunner though. No, I’m not talking about the election: I was up a mountain and a big hardwood door fell on me and knocked me out. Have you ever had a concussion before? I think one in two of you must have some kind of on-going head injury, because I came down from Awakino, high in the St Mary’s Range – where not much has changed since the Waitaki Ski Club was formed between the two wars that would decimate the valley and leave nothing but widows and crosses from Oamaru to Kurow and where the spring slush is soft and the snow melt makes the old water race, Fluming Gully, waterfall cold over gold – to discover a National landslide and Winston Peters as kingmaker AGAIN, the last thing I bloody expected.

That’s the problem with blows to the head, though, aside from unsightly lumps, you’re temporarily bewildered, lose the run of yourself. “Who are those people in the kitchen?” I kept asking, no idea where I was, like an Alzheimer’s patient on a golf course, a lovely opportunity for MMM to picture my swift and certain intellectual decline (only fair, he won’t always be massively strong). The constant cranial pounding was like some awful Dub Step. “My head really hurts.”

“I’m sure it does,” said the Much-Maligned Man, whose own head was a bit hurty; the mountain suddenly weirdly teeming with women who wanted his attention. There’s just no safety procedure for that, other than climbing higher; above the receding snow exposing the dirty Spaniard and wild Irish, past a big black spider tip-toeing across the white.

Concussion though, it’s a doddle: check the patient knows their name, the date, who the prime minister is (turns out I did) apply a cold compress, aid sleep, provide a bowl to be sick in. The blow to your head might smack you silly in the short term, but it’s the 72 hours afterwards that really matter. Post-concussion syndrome (PCS) symptoms include fatigue (your poor wee brain is trying to heal itself), irritability and impaired memory. Concussions and repetitive play-related injuries have been known to led to depression, anxiety, are even thought to cause psychotic episodes.

Is that what we’re having, New Zealand? Have 46% of us gone a little mad, as Psycho’s Norman Bates says we all do sometimes? Dressed in our mother’s clothes, off on a stabbing spree? Maori Party, stab. Greens, stabbity stab. Medical marijuana, stab. Is it not enough there are too many people squished atop the two deflating lilos we call islands, that wages remain low while food is atrociously expensive and the country is so filthy we can’t swim in or drink the water? Isn’t it enough that our government keeps lying to us? Why would anyone want more of the same? Isn’t this the oft-used definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? And worse, a result still so uncertain, with special votes yet to be counted before a tremulous parliament can be formed. Labour-Greens-Winston or National-Act-Winston? The only certainty is that we’re all hostages to one man’s massive vanity. Trump much, New Zealand?

Since the door fell on me I’ve flaked out several times, been super-tired, not to mention as grumpy as Winston being asked for a straight answer. I would have gone to the hospital but I wasn’t sure we still had any. What the hell New Zealand? What the hell? I’m not the only one who’s been whacked over the head here: the homeless, the mentally ill, low-income families living pay check to pay check – you mass immigration-milk-powder-to-China-property-speculators may as well have king hit them too, and you can bet the headache is going to last for those of us who wouldn’t know a capital gain from a hole in our pocket. Thanks for nothing, you chicken-hearted bastards (because National voters never admit it, do they? Always stay schtum when the rest of us are looking for the culprits), you change-phobic cretins, you door slammers. I’m so mad at you. If my head didn’t hurt so much I’d butt you with it.

AuthorLisa Scott

The Green Hornet and I were recently reunited. Weird, I’d completely forgotten it was an automatic and for a moment was flabbergasted (and not in the sense of the Washington Post neologism invitational: appalled over how much weight you’ve gained). Why would a bogan like me buy an automatic? I can only blame being not in my right mind at the end of last year. The first thing I did, after a selfie, was drive it into the gutter because my spatial awareness distance-judging thing was totally off. Understandable as I’ve been recalibrated myself, my clock wound back a million miles from the middleclass twonk who once mocked a hitchhiker at a dinner party.

I have learnt much from those seven months, about the people who live in this country, dressing for the prevailing weather, and myself.

To begin with, I hated begging lifts. It is a position of subservience, standing by the roadside, and I considered myself too good for it. But I had no choice, a big Monty Python cartoon foot had come down from the sky, squashed the hubris out of me and belief in a world that didn’t exist, a world where I was a special rainbow farting unicorn – so I got over it, began to look forward to chatting with whomever stopped, but I was living by myself in the wops, starved of conversation.

Interesting facts: not one rich person ever picked me up. Younger male drivers consistently failed to hide their disappointment upon discovering the little blonde Shelia was in her forties. I always felt sorry for them, objects in the rear mirror being hotter than you think – although being short and blonde (and often wearing gumboots) ensured I never had to wait very long.

Apart from the married compliance officer in a Holden Colorado on his way to Gore who suggested we stop at Shag Point so I could give him a blow job, hitchhiking is remarkably safe in New Zealand. I could always tell if someone was a creep because they would always and I mean without fail, say, “Aren’t you worried about how dangerous this is? Aren’t you worried someone might hurt you?” this happened four times and each time it was a man, and it invariably felt like they were projecting, that they harboured violent tendencies, secret desires and, given opportunity and a guarantee they’d get away with it, would act on them. Wolves in business suits.

People would tell me everything, a stranger they would never see again, even though I did see some more than once in wildly different contexts. I saw the pulverised wreck of a metallic green SS Commodore I had caught a lift to Waitati in a week before it was flattened by a truck. I was told about murders, mayoral fornication and the true cost of five fourteen-hour days away from the wife and kids. Regularly hitching from Purakanui to North Otago visit the Mighty Mix Master I inhabited a small world where everyone knew or was related to him and they’d sometimes drop me to his door, talk about the price of eggs and yell “Hoo roo” as they drove off, doing that rural one finger steering wheel salute.

I hate to tell you but people are driving wasted a lot more than you realise in New Zealand and P is at epidemic levels in our small towns, the Hampdens and Herberts red in tooth and nail with arson and gang patches. A lot of people are very badly off financially, many are mentally fragile and yet they are the opposite of selfish, kind to anyone with less. New Zealand is not the happy place the Flight of the Conchords made it seem. People are angry: at the Chinese buying up the country, at Aucklanders, angry that our rivers are filthy that the rich just keep getting richer. They feel that nothing can be done, are resigned to their voices going unheard. But over the last seven months, I listened, walked miles in their shoes, and it changed me for the better. Never again will I be inside my car looking out without remembering how it feels to be outside looking in, and I’ll be voting for them next weekend.

AuthorLisa Scott

“Hello stranger,” said the Port Chalmers librarian. “Thought you’d broken up with us.” I would never break up with the Port Chambers library. I’d just been away for a while, still felt exactly the same, neither time nor distance could quell my admiration. Plus, it hadn’t been 90 days. We were still in the honeymoon period.

“Everyone can keep their sh*t together for 90 days,” said the Mighty Moriori’s Mate. After that, so his theory goes, the wheels fall off and you are revealed in all your resplendent, naked Emperor lunacy; any hidden weirdness wriggling to the surface like worms on concrete after rain, looking for a New England and finding only death under the noontime sun (jeepers, that escalated). “Oh pu-leese,” I said. But, sure enough, 90 days later, things went completely mental. Situation FUBAR, the personification of a room reveal on one of those home renovation shows, where the room has a rose tattoo on its breast and four children to five different fathers and a large collection of transsexual donkey porn. More on this later.

Hop on the Bus, Gus

First, let’s consider the 90-day-trial period, shall we? Demanded by our current economic climate, entered into workplace law despite considerable push back from unions, it’s an opportunity to weed out mouth-breathers and people who eat fish sandwiches at their desks. A chance to construct a dismissal for serious misconduct like humble bragging weekend sporting achievements or keeping rocks painted to look like cactuses. The truth is, everyone comes into a job making promises they can’t keep, it’s a fundamental human right to fib about your familiarity with Excel, your fantastic time-management and excellent written and verbal skills. We’re all lying, whether its calling in sick using that trusty guarantor of no-questions-asked: “diarrhoea,’ or faking enthusiasm for Becky’s engagement ring – some of us are just more disappointing as a concept.

Unfortunately, this 90-day “getting rid of Bob” business is no silver bullet – by this time said unwanted employee has put money in the kitty for flash coffee and organic milk and been invited to someone’s wedding. Giving them the heave now will result in hurt and humiliation, grievances and grudges, not to mention a rather limp turn out for the inter-departmental three-legged race.

Make a New Plan, Stan

So it is with relationships, where everyone puts their best foot forward to begin with. I usually don’t fart for at least the first year, and put my face on the minute I wake up, in the dark, which results in wonky eyebrows. This kind of behaviour is mostly hormone-related and eventually wears off to the point where you’re comfortable walking around the house in a ratty dressing gown, hair gone Sideshow Bob, legs hairier than the dog’s. You say apathy, I say empathy.

Anyway, after 90 days there’s been a certain amount of cross contamination. Staying at their house a couple of nights a week, there’s enough of your DNA spread around to make a whole new girl; toothbrushes are intertwined, socks stolen. Until one morning you wake up and realise this person is a full-blown nutter. Cue shower scene music from Psycho. Emotionally, you’ve committed. Stuck. Your Marmite’s in their cupboard, you’ve loaned them your Kerouac, introduced them to your friends – it’s going to take a little bit of backing using your mirrors, a little bit of jiggling, you can’t just go around hiring and firing willy-nilly, although I do know a guy nicknamed “three-day Mike” for this very reason.

 Give back the Key, Lee

If only you’d employed a series of boyfriend suitability tests, conducted along similar lines to the 90-day workplace trial, instead involving parental dinners and camping in the mountains (did you know you have to poo on a rock, wait till it freezes and collect it in a plastic bag to take home? Deal-breaker right there) all the while treating the other in good faith, offering bonuses (not necessarily in the form of cash which can be misconstrued), incentives, and agreeing a notice of termination might be given at any time with no hard feelings.

Or you could avoid this whole messy business by breaking up with them and starting again. There’s a lot to be said for a dozen daffodils held behind the back of a man dressed in black. For a red dress and nothing taken for granted. Who knew you liked pina coladas?  

AuthorLisa Scott

“That’ll be the Maori in him,” said the (white) grandparents of the two-year-old at the café table next to mine, when he spilt his fluffy. I was speechless, yet unsurprised: we live in a country where such casual racism is endemic, a country where the have-nots are made ‘other’ by the haves. A country where skin colour is a barometer of future success. Welcome to New Zealand, please set your clocks back 30 years.

Haerei Mai New Zealand, where the mainstream media have just hounded the only politician who spoke for the poor, the brown, the possessors of ovaries, into resignation. I’m the mainstream media, sort of, although whenever someone calls me a ‘journalist’ I always correct it to ‘writer’ because I think of journalists as the sort of people who go through other people’s rubbish bins – and as the Merchant Money Man says, I’m certainly not a middle-aged white guy like Hosking, Sainsbury, Gower or Garner, which is probably why I used to be on the DPB when I was at university and am therefore not inclined to throw stones. I struggled with writing this column because I didn’t want to get myself in trouble; which shows what a spineless jellyfish I am, me with nothing to lose, and how brave Metiria is, with everything. Avenge Metiria? Avenge us all, her DPB homies, scraping plates in the kitchen, eating the chips you didn’t finish.

The resignation of Metiria Tureia has highlighted a particularly loathsome school-yard-bully side to the New Zealand psyche. The privileged class attack applied to anyone already on the ground/living in their car/begging in the streets. The way she who says, ‘we must do better’ is quickly finished. We aren’t very nice people, New Zealanders, despite our inadvertently hilarious behaviour involving spaghetti and pineapple pizzas. Metiria’s biggest mistake was not being a drink-driving All Black or a broadcaster who kicked his partner down the stairs but a woman speaking up for the disenfranchised. All this in a country whose finest moment was establishment of the social security act in 1938. The poor might always be with us, but don’t you dare wave a brown finger at the establishment and accuse them of failing them.

During my university days, if I hadn’t had a flatmate who sprung for groceries every now and then my daughter and I would have been much worse off (and did often go hungry), despite enjoying brilliant support from both sets of grandparents, without who’s non-monetary succour I couldn’t have attended classes or worked as waitress in the evenings at Cobb and Co. I got by, in my op shop finery and home-dyed hair. I got by, in a half-life where Easter was a nightmare: everything closed, no money. Holidays were for other people. Every couple of months, an unavoidable expense (like electricity, or a doctors’ bill – if there was an anti-diluvium, archaic disease you’d imagined eradicated in Victorian times, Scarlet fever, for example, then Sophia would get it) meant I’d have to make an appointment to see my case manager at Social Welfare, a gangly bespectacled man on the ginger spectrum, beg for additional funds or a food voucher, and promise it would never ever happen again. Which was a lie.

“Where’s the Daddy?” I was once heckled outside the library, by a bunch of teenagers, pushing a pram containing the light of my life and reason for nights spent awake worrying. Not only stressful, its humiliating, poverty; you are made to feel lesser, on the scrounge, just for trying to provide for yours what everyone else’s children have. Having the audacity to parent without a husband: “You’re the one who left, I’m not going to pay for nappies,” you’re a moustache-riding Jezebel, sucking on the sweet honeyed tit of tax-payer-benevolence, having baby after baby just to pay for your ciggies.

If you’re on a benefit you are criminalised, made morally questionable – judged by the well-housed and well-fed before you even have a chance to defend yourself, or get out of the box they’ve put you in. I’ve no doubt carrying this dark umbrella affected me: I suffered from a monstrous eating disorder and once shaved all my hair off in what in retrospect wasn’t freedom of expression at its finest, but a bout of debilitating depression. Ironically, growing up poor can often make wonderful humans. The children of the poor, if they stay out of jail or a coffin, are resourceful, tolerant and compassionate. Unlike the children of the rich, especially if they work in the media.

AuthorLisa Scott

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.





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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.
















AuthorLisa Scott