Saturday, December 19, 2009

Oops, forgot the Christmas tree

So this one went up in 5 minutes. Call me Cheating Granny. But it does the job.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Old people know too much

Recently I had some rest and recreation with my five sisters on Kapiti Island. As you see from the photo, it was relaxing. And we hardly stopped laughing for 48 hours.

A recurring problem recurred. People who have lived six or seven decades know pretty much everything. So how can we refrain from giving advice willy nilly?

Over two days I was advised (among other things) to buy a chihuahua, lose all interest in my appearance, get a bum-bra for my saggy bottom, and review the prescription for topical chemotherapy I'm using on my nose. Some of these tips were useful, others not so much.

It's only a problem because I am inclined to presume I know best. (The only people who really annoy me are people just like me.) So I took special notice of those who managed to give me advice that I enjoyed. I resolve sincerely try harder to be like them -- wish me luck! Kind. Light-hearted. Curious.

Whether you're 70, 7 or 17, it's nice to be treated with respect... but not too much respect...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

An extremely old woman

Our grandmother, known as Mim, used to look after Penny (aged 3 or 4) while Mother was teaching.

One day she popped Penny on top of the sideboard to remove her from some mischief. Penny was furious, and hurled her deadliest insult in revenge:

"You're an extremely old woman and you look like one!"

Unfortunately for the effect, Mim thought this was so funny that it became a standing joke. She began to sign family letters as ye anciente Mim, and refer to herself as this extremely old woman.

How old was that extremely old woman at the time, I wonder? In her 50s?

R.I.P. Gloria, 10 months old

Friends die at different ages: that's obvious. We prefer it if they die after a fine and satisfying life. We prefer their lives to be long, and end well.

I'm just going to the vet right now to say goodbye to Gloria. Her life has been easy, as my supervisor and trainer, with her own en suite bathroom and sufficient food and water. It has been useful, as she has provided me with instructions, guidance, and somebody warm to stroke. But it has not been long.

Another friend, Jamie, calls cats "angels in fur coats".

Goodbye, Gloria, and thank you.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis, according to Wikipedia

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Hollywood stars panic at age 42

I read in our paper that Hollywood stars start to panic about being unemployable because of old age at about... 42.

But 42 is the meaning of life! Get over it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Old lady loves working

Why would I stop working, when I love it, I'm good at it, and it's useful?

Some people just don't get it. They assume that every old lady would rather stop working, or work less. Why? Maybe they think I don't enjoy work. Or that work makes me tired. Or that work stops me from doing more fun things.

But there's nothing I'd rather do with the bulk of my week than work.

I'm not a workaholic or a perfectionist. My work is balanced by plenty of people time, granny time, me time. I dance, walk, socialise, read books, write books (for fun), watch TV and go to movies. I travel and have holidays.

No doubt the world is full of other exciting things I could be doing. So let other people do them.

Old lady loves new frocks

What do old ladies want? New frocks!

Among the saddest words old ladies say are these: "It'll see me out."

As your world shrinks, no need to go boring! An 88-year-old may need to forgo those 4-inch scarlet heels, but she can still wear a stylish frock. It's a joy to see a really old lady looking great.

As an incipient old lady I was thrilled to buy these two dresses last week. I mean frocks: that's a much nicer word! It's even more exciting because from 15-35 I made my own frocks, and for many years I bought most of my clothes second-hand.

Like many women, I have a secret fabric fetish. We FF-Femmes have a stash of fabric in the wardrobe. See it, love it, buy it, pretend we're going to make it into a frock one day. Yeah, right. My stash includes two lengths from Samoa: a wild orange and yellow polished cotton and red cotton with giant white leaves; plus green silk with multi-coloured splashes.

So, three weddings coming up soon! I felt that justified something new and frivolous, so I went to town intending to buy a pattern. But I diverted to Alexandra Owen's shop, where I bought a super high fashion origami dress in stark French navy cotton. Divine: it revealed my (well) hidden shape. It's an heirloom piece and an incentive to stay alive and sociable: my daughters will have to wait a few decades.

From this splendid accident I learned nothing. I went to town two days later on the same mission: find a dress pattern. This time I dropped into Frutti in Cuba Street and succumbed to an irresistible piece of flowery silk froth, light as a butterfly and crazy with it. The designer, Maiangi Waiti, was inspired by the dresses that old ladies wear. Perfect.
Maiangi Waiti on Facebook

Monday, November 9, 2009

"Scarlet Heels" comes a little closer

This week I'll get my new book to to the book designer. I'm sorting out a copyright statement, which I intend to be pretty radical. Creative Commons for a paper printed book? Unheard of! But then many things about this book are crazy to the point of being reckless, including the cover photo of this old lady. :-) More later.

Advance publicity about "Scarlet Heels: 26 Stories About Sex" on the publisher's web site:

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Grandparents is not a synonym for elderly

This headline appeared in the Dominion Post, 19 October 2009:
Surfing's good for grandparents.

First sentence:
Internet use can boost the brain activity of the elderly, potentially slowing or even reversing the age-related declines that can end in dementia, researchers found.
The study was by Gary Small, professor of neuroscience and human behaviour at UCLA,and his colleagues. The results are fascinating, but they have nothing to do with grandparents. Possibly some of the 24 people studied were grandparents, as they were aged between 55 and 78. Possibly not.

The journalist, I'm guessing, was not of grandparenting age. Otherwise he or she would have noticed that:
  • not everyone over 55 is a grandparent
  • variables among subjects concerned age and internet use, not grandparenting
  • the scientists used the terms older people and older adults, not grandparents.

First-time internet users find boost in brain function after just one week
P.S. Tim Jones points out that not all people over 55 are grandparents, either. A friend of his was a grandmother at 34.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Frances Hodgkins, artist: portrait by Jan Bolwell

Frances Hodgkins, artist. Sounds straightforward? By no means! She was born in colonial Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1869, and died in 1947 aged 78.

J.C. Beaglehole explains why her achievements were so significant, her lifetime struggle so fraught.

n a new play, Double Portrait: Finding Frances Hodgkins, Jan Bolwell shows this very private woman convincingly and movingly. A small play paints a big psychological portrait with colour, shape, light and shade.

DOUBLE PORTRAIT: Finding Frances Hodgkins is coming to the New Zealand Portrait Gallery, Shed 11, Wellington Waterfront.
November 27, November 28 at 6pm, December 4, December 5 at 6pm.Bookings at Downstage Theatre 4 shows only.

Frances Hodgkins' works in the Tate Gallery

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Antipodes: irresistible domestic travelogue

Antipodes by Mark Price.

Maybe you noticed an old lady gently colliding with a magnolia tree and a concrete power pole today. Maybe you noticed those orange-clad hole-diggers leaping away from her trajectory in alarm. Maybe you wondered what book had her so fixated that she was blind and deaf to her surroundings. She was not living in the moment but in a new book.

OK, that was me, and the book was Antipodes: the Ingenious and Exhilarating Expedition of El Lider and La Campana by Mark Price. (Sorry, I can't do macrons or squiggles over the n of Campana. I hope I haven't ruined the effect.)

The premise: A "modestly capable man" plans a modestly capable adventure, exploring the antipodes of 20 "Perfect Places" in his own antipodes, namely New Zealand.

The execution: Perfect Prose. Darling Deadpan. Magnificently ego-free travel writing, with happy whiffs of Toad Hall, Three Men in a Boat and Louis de Bernière's recent charmer, Nothwithstanding.

As I read and walked simultaneously, proving yet again that I'm a woman of many talents, I noticed my stride had a floating, lolloping quality, echoing the rhythm of Mark Price's good plain English.

Sheer pleasure inside a satisfying cardboard cover.

Half of today's wealthy babies will live past 100: study

Half wealthy nations' newborns could live to 100, according to a recent Danish study.

Hard to believe! And it hasn't happened yet. Disbelief bubbles up automatically because this notion clashes wildly with the current state of affairs:
Only about one in 10,000 people lives to be over 100 years old, says Niz Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

That quote's from "20 things you didn't know about ageing" on -- but I can't tell how old the story is, can you?

The wellderly and the illderly: these two new words stress the gulf between one 70- or 80-year-old and the next. I think I was born in a brilliant era, with so much information and choices to supplement the sheer luck of the genes.

Old age? Bring it on!

Mosaic numbers by Duncan on Flickr

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Anna and Grace: maturing in style

The September Issue was great value, as movies go.
A. Fashionating scene: life inside Vogue magazine.
B. Hokey pokey icecream.
C. Two inspiring women, Anna Wintour at 59 and Grace Coddington at 68.

I could describe in some detail every outfit that Anna Wintour wore in the film. Half my brain was thinking, I could wear that, I couldn't wear that -- and mentally revamping my own wardrobe.

I bet thousands of older women have upgraded their look after seeing just how good a working woman of 59 can look. We don't necessarily have quite the same budget, but thanks to Trinny and Susannah we can analyse the components of the look. (Colour. Shape. Fitted cardigans. Knee length patterned skirts. Necklace, etc.) And adapt.

As for Grace Coddington, she deliberately chooses a self-effacing style. I think she wore the same comfortable dress, or perhaps a maroon variation? throughout the film. But I couldn't swear to that because, as she intended, I really didn't look at her clothes.

Neither wore jeans, a fleece, or beige.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple (or red)

At the market today I saw a friend wearing a red silk chiffon blouse. She looked stunning. She too is nearly 70. One of the new breed of old ladies -- the ones who look young.

"I splashed out," said Robyn. "It cost a fortune. What do you think?"

"It looks gorgeous," I said.

"I had to have some colour."

"Yes, we old ladies must wear colour," I proselytised. "We can't wear black or we all look like Greek widows. And we can't wear beige or we all look the same: generic old ladies, interchangeable -- see one, seen the lot."

Then I looked down at what I was wearing.

Black skivvy... Beige trousers...Oops.

I did have red shoes on, if that counts, and orange spectacle frames.

Jenny Joseph's "Warning" contains some excellent beauty advice but it's a big mind shift for Wellington women.

For decades Wellington women wear black -- funky black, arty black, op-shop black, Zambesi black or chain-store black. As a look it's endlessly versatile. What-to-wear decisions are simple. And you always fit in.

Then one day you wake up and your skin has mysteriously lost its rosy glow. Arty black becomes bag-lady black. Op-shop black makes you shudder. High Street black becomes tacky black. And even Zambesi black makes you look like a sophisticated corpse.

That's the reason why Jenny Joseph, clever young lady that she was, knew at the age of 29 that when she grew old she would wear purple and red.

- - - - -

Jenny Joseph's "Warning"
The photo is the beautiful Aunt Polly of one George Perry. His web site has no copyright notice or contact details except for a US phone number.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Left hand writing and right hand writing

Writing with your non-habitual hand is an easy, interesting way to trigger the brain to behave differently.

This is old, old information. I'd use it in writing groups: we'd all write with our left hands (or right, for lefties) for 10 minutes. Often, people were astonished by the words they wrote: apparently an alien had done the writing. Liberating, it was.

Well, I hadn't done that for years. But recently, as part of the save-my-brain-campaign, I've started writing shopping lists and such with my left hand.

The content doesn't surprise me. It's still the same old shopping list:
character dancing shoes
and so forth.

The surprise is in the writing style. Much more legible than my normal writing, which has been out of control for decades. More rounded and childlike, less pointy and mean. A little similar to my father's writing.

If the alien takes over, what will my shopping lists look like then?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The rag rug dilemma: old lady artefact

So, there's this little handcrafted rag rug in my bathroom. Made by my own fair hands, about 16 years ago. I was doing some housework this morning. (Alarm! Alarm! Subject exhibits unusual behaviour!) So I took the rug upstairs to the deck and gave it a good thrashing in the morning sunshine.

Many cultures thrash their duvets and their rugs. This adds percussion to the morning music of neighbourhoods all over the world. So I don't blame myself for what happened next.

Namely, bits of the rug fell off and fell out and blew into the garden next door, and the street, and probably the CBD. It had reached stage 5 of the rag rug cycle: not only had the pieces of rag worked loose, the very backing had begun to rot.

A tear came to my eye. (Not.) No truly, I felt a bit nostalgic. The rug depicts Lowry Bay, a tiny elite Wellington neighbourhood where I had a nice calm few years between turbulent decades.

So calm, indeed, that I made quite a few rag rugs. That's a soothing hobby, and laudably economical. All you need is a canvas backing, a few old woollen coats from the op shop, a rug hook and a pair of scissors. And time.

Oh yes, and space. Those bags of ripped up strips of cloth take space. In fact once I lived in a house with another rug maker: her bags of fabric occupied a room the size of a scout hall. That's why I no longer make rag rugs.

So now comes the dilemma. Do I:
1. throw the rug away? (one day)
2. spray clean it, and hang on a few more months? (probably)
3. get it professionally cleaned and mended? (naa)
4. build a museum to preserve this precious artefact?

But the irony amuses me. For this rug is quite a sweet little artefact in its own right, quite apart from my nostalgia.

It's an old lady artefact, the kind of rug my mother-in-law-number-two used to make and give to the privileged few. I'll be an old lady in February. Maybe I should build up to that by making another rag rug.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Save my brain - learn Hamlet

As part of the great Save My Brain Campaign I decided to do some rote learning. But what to learn?

Taking the laziest option, I chose Hamlet's first soliloquy: O that this too, too solid flesh would melt...Laziest? Because that's what my grandmother used to recite to maintain her formidable brainpower.

So I did. It took me a verrrrry long time, a week. (Young actors can get a whole script down in that time.) And now I need to keep repeating it, to nail it into my long-term memory. If I have such a thing, at my age.

The process is pretty interesting. You have to get it absolutely right, complete with all the syllable-fillers such as "Fie on't! Ah, fie!" and "God! Oh God!" and "Heaven and earth!" And it's those bits where I hesitate sometimes, Alas! woe is me!

Interestingly, the speech seems to get shorter and shorter. As I get more confident (sometimes racing through like R2D2), I'm inclined to stop and think (always fatal). I think, "Surely I can't have reached that bit already? I must have missed a line."

Morning and night I say this mournful, desperate speech in my mind. I imagine my mind has already begun working more lightly and quickly. That's absurd, surely. And incongruous, because the speech itself is the ultimate in neurotic despair.

That's why I'm moving away from Hamlet. A friend suggested the psalms. Great idea. But of course, I'll be picky. None of those doom and gloom and apolocalyptic psalms for me.

Grandchildren's poems

One of the amazing privileges of being older -- a privilege not granted to everyone -- is being a grandparent. I have three grandchildren. Three!!! How lucky is that? They're all fabulous.

Younger people read that paragraph and move hastily away: ho hum,boring, banal. Only grandparents understand this life-changing miracle.

Elsie (6) lives in my town, so every Monday and Wednesday I run down the hill to her school and whisk her back to my apartment for a couple of hours.

Sometimes I write down what she says, knock off the edges and call it a poem. In fact I hardly bother to write my own poems any more, because (like every child I've ever known) Elsie says enough wise, fanciful, crazy and musical things for both of us. Here's what came out of Elsie's mouth on Monday.

Morning is pink

Morning is pink
(says Elsie).

If it's pink, it's morning.
And if it's not pink,

you have to go back to sleep
for a long, long time.

To an old lady laughing, this also seems like a short meditation on death.

Read more of Elsie's poems on

Monday, August 24, 2009

Aging women: if you don't laugh, you'll cry (NYT)

Today's New York Times looks at More magazine, aimed at women over 40.

Stephanie Clifford points out that a magazine whose organizing principle, aging, provokes anxiety among its readers, has an inescapable challenge.
“Don’t take it seriously,” Lesley Jane Seymour, the editor in chief of More, said in a recent interview. “We’re making fun of ourselves. We don’t take aging seriously. It happens to everyone. You can’t avoid it.”

More certainly does not. Age infiltrates almost every article, and while it is a touchy subject for readers, advertisers are wary about it as well. More’s average reader is 51, among the oldest in the magazine business, making selling ads a challenge, More executives say. While it tackles ageism in its pages, it is getting a good dose of it from advertisers.

Advertisers show the same blind spots as I mentioned in my last blog:
[Advertisers] penalize the magazine because its readers are female. The More reader makes a lot more than the average reader of Esquire, at about $66,800, and GQ, at about $75,100. But where GQ, Esquire, and the younger women’s magazines are filled with ads for designer clothes, fragrances and expensive accessories, the ads in More suggest that when rich women hit 40, they yearn for cheap processed foods.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Marketing to old people: aesthetics

Thinking further about why stuff that is marketed to old people is usually so ugly...

My parents' generation had little choice. In New Zealand, imports were restricted and variety non-existent. Everyone had the same things, pretty much. Shopping for household goods, the choice was between ugly and less ugly.

No, that's too mean. I'm very fond of memories from the home of my parents-in-law: bevelled edge mirrors, pink china shepherdesses, multi-coloured crocheted afghans, speckled green cups and saucers, net curtains, pink candlewick bedspreads and altogether a plain, plain interior.

My grandmother Mim had charming, exquisite tea sets in Royal Albert bone china, and a dresser of Mason ware for everyday use. Raising six girls on a few hundred pounds per year, my mother served tea from a silver teapot. The women of our low-income family made their few house-ware purchases with pride and focus. They longed for beautiful things — but choice was minimal and money tight.

Then in the 50s and 60s, things changed. My big sister Jill also had to be acutely careful with money, but with an astute eye for beauty she was able to buy elegant things, simple and streamlined. The home of Jill and Graham, two penniless students with four children, gleamed with Poole Pottery twintone china (as in the photo) and Danish styled furniture.

Now what puzzles me here is that today, in 2009, marketers still use a fake Edwardian style in the goods they market to older people. We get a catalogue in our letter boxes called "Innovations". (Whoever thought up that name had a sense of humour.) It features fascinating, and often bizarre, and usually unnecessary, items for older people.

Often the wood is carved or the iron twisted into curlicues. Linen is embroidered in cross stitch.

That's all very well, but the people who are hitting 70 nowadays have lived a lifetime in homes with some variety and charm. So they're marketing to old, old people. Or maybe dead people. Wake up, marketers! We do not want that yukky stuff.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The cruel aesthetics of old people's stuff

As you get old, you need old people's stuff. Great design never seems to be a priority. In fact, much old people's stuff looks repulsive.

Take shower mats. Old people slip in the shower, right? Solution: a rubber mat that grips the slippery wet base, and that responds to the grip of your dear old toes.

Trouble is, shower mats, like so much old people's stuff, are usually ugly or boring or so boring they are ugly. More than ugly: vile, hideous, disgusting. Colours are modelled on slimy old pink nighties or the dreaded beige raincoat. Lumps in the rubber are like serious acne or boils. The texture sets your teeth on edge.

So OK, I did slip in the shower recently, the first time ever. Wham! Maybe it was a oncer. Maybe it was because I was simultaneously stepping into the shower and mentally listing the jobs of the next 90 minutes. (1. Shower & dress etc. 2. Finish packing. 3. Run to computer shop for replacement netbook cable. 4. Call taxi. 5. Catch plane to Tonga.)

Regardless, if you live alone, best not muck around with risk.

On my return I bought a handsome shower mat from Moore Wilson. It combines the beauties of a chess board, space age jelly, and a crystal prism twinkling in the sun. In the structure I see two extremes in harmony: post-modern industrial steel and the Tofukuji moss garden in Kyoto. Aesthetically I'm satisfied.

And for the next week I owned another beautiful image as an impressive bruise flickered through various permutations of blue, black, yellow and green. Nature's painting on my bum.

Friday, August 14, 2009

This blog: on the cards for 60 years

Here's a weird thing that happened when I was a kid, about the same age as in this photo. (That's me, third from the left, with my sisters.) I said something to my mother that shocked her to the bones.

"I can't wait to die!" I said excitedly. I wasn't being morbid but enthusiastic.

Mother looked so horrified that I hastened to explain.

"I don't want to die yet!" I assured her. "But I just think it will be so interesting."

It's true I was secretly attracted to the hypothetical concept of dying young. But above all I thought the process would be fascinating, especially discovering what happens after you die.

To be honest, nowadays I'm not half so enthusiastic about the prospect of dying. On the other hand, I am still extremely interested, or I wouldn't be writing this blog.

Lost word of the day: cyclamen

I bought this terrific pot plant at the supermarket, which survived my absence without water for a week. I buy a cyclamen roughly once a decade. This morning, a brief moment of forgetting the name.

I'm trying to see a pattern here. Tonga, cyclamen...

Exotic colourful things?

Rarely used, unfamiliar words? Sure, this trip to Tonga with a friend was a very casually arranged holiday: we just picked a cheap destination, did almost no homework or preparation, and when the time came, popped on the plane. It was a frivolous case of This is Wednesday so it must be Tonga.

But no, there's no provocation to forget these particular words. They are worthy, deserving words that could be handy in the future. They do not deserve to be lost.

One rule: the word I forget is always a noun.

Just like on those annoying moments when I hesitate over a word, and others (dum de dum de dum, bo-o-oring) supply it. I feel like a walking — but not talking — old-lady join-the-dots puzzle. I could replace sudoku as the next great puzzle for the masses with my hesitations.

I'm not starting work yet. I'm going downstairs for coffee and sudoku.

Where am I? Memory flickering

It's happened a thousand times to me, and probably to you: that word you wanted just slithers away like a whitebait. You have to trick it into returning to its cage of axons; you have to pretend you don't care, and ambush it later. It's usually lurking there somewhere.

Now that doesn't matter if it's a word like axons which you use rarely because you have never been a brain surgeon and the only brain you work with is your own.

But what happens if the name of an entire country escapes you — the country you are in? That's the sort of question doctors ask you after a head injury: Do you know what country this is?

On Day 2 of my holiday in Tonga I woke early and couldn't figure where I was. I could have confidently found it on a map, or told you it was a South Pacific island kingdom less than three hours' flight from New Zealand. But what was its name?

I lay there for (probably) several minutes unable to retrieve this significant little vocabulary fish from my memory. Could it be Tonga? I wondered. Tongatapu and Nukualofa slithered around without pushing Tonga to the surface. Tonga was in my mind, yet I couldn't quite connect the word to the place. Sheepishly I got up and confirmed my hunch by consulting a pamphlet: Yes, Tonga.

Then a truly scary moment came: for a few seconds, Tonga didn't quite convince me.

Whenever I travel, whether at 69 or 29, I'm likely to feel this disorientation in the early morning. You too? I assume it's quite common. After dawn we can use the sun's position to tell north from south and east from west, although even that can be tricky in a different hemisphere or on a ship or near the Antarctic. But at 5 a.m. in an unfamiliar bed, our location can be a mystery.

Nevertheless, I can't believe that losing Tonga is normal for younger people. It just might be normal for an old lady.

Might as well laugh about that, I suppose.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Old lady bike riding

This week I'm holidaying in Tonga and riding bicycles is a great way to get around the small, flat island of Tongatapu. Yesterday my friend and I set out on the very sturdy bikes provided by the lovely Heilala Holiday Lodge.

Subtext in my mind... Can I still ride a bike? Can I ride one easily, without pain? Will I be fit for the 5-day Otago rail trail bike ride next year, planned as a 70th birthday celebration?

All my unspoken, nervous questions were answered: yes, yes and sure thing.

It helped, no doubt, that the bike's saddle was exceptionally wide and comfy.

As for fitness, I decided to use the Feldenkrais principles. To exert as little effort as possible. To experiment with unusual positions. (!) To let gravity and natural momentum carry me along.

And so it came to pass. The bicycle (that one, anyway) is a marvellous piece of engineering. The slightest effort keeps you rolling along. And hey, it was exhilarating! Wind in the hair, bouncing through potholes, skimming country roads through unknown territory. Even getting somewhat lost was fun.

We did have a destination and we got there: Keliti Beach, with pancake rocks, pounding waves, and mini-blowholes. But that's the least of it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The first iPhone text

This is my new iPhone. Very new. I have received my first text on it:
How's that gorgeous girl today? K

(That's from my daughter asking after her 6-year-old Elsie. I have the honour of Elsie's company twice a week after school.)

Good, well done Granny: you managed to read it. Top of the class.

Next step, to reply. Here's how it went:
I can't spekil on this yet we did. Oloring in my god wo t a mess x
I know this will be a breeze within days. But day one of any new technology is inevitably humbling — even Apple. Fingers too big, don't know the controls, tantalised by the novel touch surface, and possibly even dazzled by the glamour after my humble brown Sony.

Meantime this is what I wrote before the pixies pixillated it. I did, honestly I did:
Gorgeous. I can't spell yet on this. We did colouring in. My God, what a mess. X.
Guess I'm not qwidA ready to send business texts afain yet. I'll stafg training tomootpwww.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Today's body shape, yesterday's posture

I'm trying to remember if we had anything equivalent to today's body shape obsession when I was young.

Certainly our mother told us frequently to sit up straight, stand up straight and don't slump. Round shoulders were anathema. Posture seemed to be more a matter of manners than looking beautiful. Some people's idea of good posture was ill-conceived, too: they wanted us to look more like a chest-beating gorilla than a natural human being.

Nevertheless it was essentially good advice for beauty. Standing taller does improve the figure (and the morale), and it doesn't cost a cent.

We also paid attention to bust-waist-hip measurements, dreaming of the perfect (?) 34-24-34 hourglass figure. That's inches, of course. Very cute, but for me unattainable after the first pregnancy.

And I do remember in my teens being bothered by my hair. We used sugar and water instead of gel or foam. Yech, stiff and sticky. Three cheers for the pony tail, which required no control beyond a rubber band.

It's so crazy that women worry so much about beauty when we're young. I mean, almost everyone who gets three good feeds a day is breathtakingly beautiful when they're young. The young are gorgeous, they're all gorgeous, they can't help it. If only they knew it. But they look in the mirror and see not Angelina Jolie.

Nowadays I'm way past the point where plastic surgery could restore any part of my youthful beauty. But standing up straight still hints at an illusion of [comparative] youth. Thanks, Mother!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Aging rock star dog still rocks

Book review:
Hairy Maclary, Shoo! by Lynley Dodd
Mallinson Rendel

Now Hairy Maclary’s
more fun than a fairy.
But you couldn’t say
Hairy Maclary was neat.

He’s the silliest, willingest
busiest, fizziest
merriest, hairiest
dog in the street.

Now the playingest, strayingest,
rock star dog with millions of fans
has snuck inside a delivery van.

Parents and pensioners,
playboys and popes
all read about Hairy,
they all know the ropes.

Toddlers in rompers
and teenies in beanies
and mummies in gummies
and daddies in pinnies—

they shimmy and scrump
and jump and clap
to Hairy Maclary’s
canine rap.

And ticklish teachers
with flexible features
and pigeon-toed preachers
with polyglot screeches

and notable Nanas
in frilly pajamas
and unctuous uncles
with purple carbuncles

and clowns of all ages
are turning your pages,
and tropical birds
are pronouncing your words.

Maclary amuses and also confuses.
He gets in the brain with his sneaky refrain.
He tangles the axons,
collapses synapses,
And never gets out of the brain again.

So be off with you, old
Mister Hairy Maclary.
You’re now twenty six—
but you don’t need a fix.

We’re older too,
Mister Hairy Maclary,
and you make us feel tired
with your triplicate tricks.

We love your beginnings
we relish your ends.
but we’re so deep inside you
we’re getting the bends.

So off with you now
Mr Sociable Hairy.
Scarper, skedaddle,
get out of our heads.

We have budgets to balance
and projects to skewer.
We can’t stop and play,
we are far too mature.

We have menus to plan.
We have gardens to weed.
Your kind of madness
we just do not need.

So be off with you, books!
Get out of your boxes
and into the shops.
Go do what you do.

Go confuse, go amuse,
go cruise with the news.
Let the nation peruse.
Let the whole world schmooze.
You can’t lose.

Hairy Maclary, shoo!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Smiling sometimes still, with MS

It's easy for me to be happy, because not only do I have the happy gene but I'm a hugely lucky person.

Not so my friend Diana Neutze, who has been stuck with multiple sclerosis for 40 years. Every day can be a nightmare, and many are.

At a certain point, Diana made a decision, a strategy, a plan. She would always try to be cheerful and entertaining when friends called. Otherwise they would stop calling. So visiting her is stimulating and fun, on one level.

It's a tricky one, because sometimes she simply has to vent, and most friends aren't able to receive this. Our natural urge is to deny that things are as bad as she says. That's crazy talk -- because A. Diana knows best, and B. Diana was dealt a very nasty hand.

The photo shows her receiving attention from one of her army of helpers, who's stretching muscles that otherwise cramp painfully. Things are much worse for her now.

Diana inspires me because she turns the whole hideous experience into a spiritual journey. For years she has treated physical disability as a series of problems to be solved, and an opportunity for spiritual growth. It's unbelievable.

Even now, she writes poems, using a voice programme and editing by ear alone. Here's one.

Different Song
“Surely, there is a different song.”

Yes, but you need to be a different person,
change through and through.
Not like going to a hair dresser
with a fancy photograph
and expecting the new hair style
to smooth away flabby skin and wrinkles
with one sweep of the comb.
The change must come from the inside out.

Like the inhabitants of Plato's cave
fixedly watching the movement of shadows
you need to turn around and welcome
brightness and colour and light.

Then there will be a different song.

Diana Neutze, 18 May 2009

Ready for a wedding...when?

So, when's a good age to get married, then? Assuming we're agreed that the brain is immature until the mid 20s, any time before 25 is too young, right?

Not exactly. You might pick the wrong person in your teens, but before long, for all sorts of reasons, they become the right person -- at least for the first 20 years. I'm speaking for myself here.

That's me on the left in The Double Wedding painting above. Painted by my sister Lesley Evans, it (sort of) shows me and another sister, Deirdre, on the day of our double wedding. (Don't ask.) I was 19. Madly in love with my tall, dark and handsome fiance, and never doubting for a moment that we were a perfect couple.

Well, we weren't. We're so different that one of my sons is gobsmacked that we even chose to be friends, let alone got married. He's right: it's bizarre.

But Grant was tall dark and handsome and has always been a thoroughly kind, good and honest man. We shared many adventures and four amazing children. To say the marriage was a mistake would be outrageous, terrible -- because it had to happen, in order for our children to be our children.

So you could say I was far too young (though I sincerely believed I was frightfully grownup at the time) and I made a weird decision with my immature brain. And you'd be right. Yet in hindsight, I made a brilliant choice, despite the marriage ending inevitably in divorce.

When I look at younger people now, I'm glad I was blindly in love with the wrong man. I'm glad I married well before any possibility of making a mature choice. I'm glad I was a child bride. I'm glad I didn't try to find my true identity before bonding in passion. As it turned out, developing my true identity is taking an awful long time, so I'd probably still be a "spinster".

Instead, I am delighted that we married young. That way, we could divorce young, with decades to explore life independently. Thank goodness they didn't have MRI brain scans in our day.

Brain matures in mid-twenties? Tell it to the marines

So, it's official. The human brain does not fully mature until the mid-twenties.

I thought we knew this already. Previous studies in 2004, 2006, February 2009... they all say the same thing. They're talking about physical maturity of the brain.

So teens are reckless drivers and a bad judge of almost everything. Fair enough. They're also exciting and excited and in chemical chaos. Most people I know are happy to have left the chaos behind... although are we secretly wistful about the power surge of feelings around first love?

I'm far from convinced that I was mentally mature at 25. Or 35. Or 45. Or 55. Or 65.

I always thought I'd gain Wisdom and Perspective. Some professors thought my early poetry, written in my 30s and 40s, lacked Maturity. I was bewildered at the time. What did maturity mean? Being terminally fair and deadly boring? Losing passion?

I know, it's probably tragic that I still don't feel mature. But I'm happy that way. Not smug. Still puzzled. Still wondering. But right onside with Denny Crane when he says,

It's fun being me. Is it fun being you?

Now there's a chap who never did mature.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mysterious footpath blotches

Downstairs I have a second, small apartment which I rent short term, furnished. A recent tenant was a lovely old gentleman, Simon. Only old, not older, because he is younger than me.

He lives in Germany and some things here in Wellington mystified him.

"I've noticed blotches on the pavement," he told me in incredulous tones. "Some of them look a little bit like --- I don't know, could it be lichen? And some of them look like -- I don't know what. Could it possibly be... chewing gum?"

"Well now," I said. "It's most likely that some of them are lichen, and the others are chewing gum."

He was amazed. And I was amazed that he was amazed.

On the one hand, very likely in German cities the pavements are scraped and cleaned, so they don't have blotches. Blotches banned. Blotches deleted. Blotches despatched. Wellington underfoot may be disgusting to the foreign eye, for all I know.

On the other hand, how lovely that he could get so much fascination from a miniature quandary like this. He wasn't disgusted, he was charmed. So I was charmed. He could certainly summon up the daily smile.

Moreover, on the one foot, many old people walk heads down, staring at the pavement. That posture is one way you can spot an old person at 100 paces, even without your glasses. I suppose they've had a fall or fear a fall. It's tough when you walk like that, because you don't see the world or any of the wonderful things in it.

But on the other foot, if you walk around staring at the pavement, you may discover wonderful things there too. Like chewing gum and lichen. And by gum, down there, shimmering among the city blotches, one day you may spot an image of Elvis Presley or the Virgin Mary.

Then the boot will be on the other foot. And you'll be smiling.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Never too old to learn

Well, here's what happened at the ukulele concert. The glorious International Wellington Ukulele Orchestra gave me and 99 other people a grand total of 4 x 1-hour lessons in playing the ukulele. My brother-in-law Ben said naughtily, "I didn't know anyone had to be taught to play the ukulele." He's just jealous. (OK, he did spend 40 years as a professional cellist.)

But I did wonder how I'd manage as a rank beginner aged 69. The mythology says that older people find it very hard to learn an instrument.

Certainly, I was slower than others by a long chalk. Dexterity and orientation were hard to find. Even hanging on to the instrument the right way was tricky.

Our final session was a "concert" in which our "bands" performed to friends and family. All week I struggled with my three chords. I was rehearsing with the wrong rhythm! When I was corrected just before the concert, rhythm and chord changes made more sense, but too late for me to do much more than smile and hit C on stage.

Since the concert I practise a bit during the TV ads, once or twice a week. And little by little it gets easier. You can teach an old dog new tricks: it just takes longer.

I smiled when I read Linley Boniface's column recently. She'd attended the same workshop. She said learning to play the ukulele has given her more pleasure than anything else for a very long time.

Me too. Joining the millions who play a musical instrument feels like joining the human race. Even the ukulele. Especially the jolly little ukulele.

Too old to get swine flu

I'm too old to get swine flu (touch wood). So are you, if you're over 60. It seems that lots of us are immune (I keep wanting to add probably, hopefully, apparently, theoretically and touch wood) thanks to encounters with previous flu strains.

Isn't that great?

Last month I saw this guy in the street, an early adopter of the flu mask... masking his chin, so he could have a smoke. That made me smile.

Simple joys of writing

Something to smile about every day, I said. And there is. Every day more than one blog post pops into my head... but not on to the screen. Busy busy busy I am, just like you.

And yet the pleasures of writing are many and various and immediate and long-lasting.

Instant thrill as you jot down some special insight or memory -- and the instant-ness is intense when blogging, because you write, publish and distribute all at once. No waiting, not even for the printer to spit it out. And any time thereafter you can change what you wrote, fix all the errors, smarten up the style.

You're never too old to write. But if you have spent your life saying, "I could write a book," stop thinking about a book. That's too daunting! Just start writing bits and pieces. (And by the way, bits and pieces can often be assembled into something that bears a remarkable resemblance to a book.)

Many of my friends (including two of my sisters) have started writing down stories about their lives, and it's such a buzz. Some are great writers, some aren't: who cares? The thrill lies in getting important memories into words. Doing it, as opposed to not doing it. Sharing stories. Saving stories. Gifting stories to the next generation or two.

It is generous, because you know, after we die, the kids will say, "I wish I'd recorded all those stories Granny (or Dad or Uncle Fred) used to tell."

That's not what I'm doing here but I strongly recommend it. Personally I've got a lot of other stuff to write, just at the moment. And it all gives me pleasure.

Yesterday, for instance, I was struggling with cover art: I'm converting a manuscript into an ebook. That's surprisingly complicated, but a wonderful challenge. The book is called Rude Stories for Mrs Palin. It makes me jump up and down with glee. More later!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Three score years and ten

Meet Celia Taylor in her youth: my gorgeous mother. (Notice: I didn't say in her prime. That came later. As it does for us all.)

In this blurry photo she's probably 19 or 20, and it's around 1934. Glamorous even after climbing a mountain -- and obviously fit. Rebellious. She had a dark, sulky beauty when young, and men of all ages relished her company until she died. And she had six daughters of whom she was proud.

Celia was always adamant that three score years and ten was quite sufficient as a life span. She quoted the Bible in support.

"If I'm going gaga and I'm nothing but a burden," she told us occasionally, "Take me to a beautiful mountain, take me to a glacier, take me to the edge of a crevasse, then turn your back." Yeah, right. But she meant it! She was sufficiently realistic (or ethical) not to make us promise, which is just as well.

Fiercely independent, and passionate about the pleasures and powers of her life, Celia's worst fear was of being a burden. She positively wanted to die at 70, latest.

And so she did, on New Year's Day in her seventieth year. Some people can do that, I believe. Of course she had to work up to this death, by smoking (considered daring and glamorous when she was young) and getting a degenerative disease. You can't make a stroke happen out of the blue.

Well, that was strange even in those days. Today's 70 is yesterday's ... 50? Yet her mother and grandmother lived into their 80s, all guns roaring until quite near the end, I believe.

Regardless of logic, 70 was her deadline. Maybe I started this blog because next year I'll be 70 and I never felt less like dying.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Old, older,oldest

On Wednesday, 28 February, 2001, Japan's oldest twin Gin Kanie died, aged 108. She and her sister Kin (left) were national celebrities.

No doubt about it, she was chronologically old! She was also the oldest.

You can see the difficulty here. From Latin grammar books I learned that adjectives have three forms:
1. positive (e.g. heavy or sweet or old)
2. comparative (heavier, sweeter, older)
3. superlative (heaviest, sweetest,oldest)

Trouble is, the word old now has two meanings: chronologically old and old in spirit. Chronologically old has slunk out of use. We deny it, like fools, in favour of old in spirit.

It's funny, I can have an objective conversation about this semantic oddity with some of my friends but not others. Last Monday, for instance, a friend said, "You're not old. You're just older." It was clearly intended as a compliment, but since when was older younger than old?

It makes my head spin. Old is the new young? There's no such thing as old? Do we grow older, then old, and finally become the oldest — in our street, if nothing else?

Actually, it makes a kind of crazy sense when you consider the terms positively old, comparatively old and superlatively old. We don't progress in that order.

We start by being comparatively old, that is, a bit older than we were a few years ago, or yesterday. Then at some point, we can be classified as positively old. Finally, if we live to 108, that certainly qualifies as superlatively old.

But for most people, this will be the progression:
Positive: older
Comparative: old
Superlative: dead.

Being old is heaps better than being dead, surely. I think I'll join the Old Pride movement, if it exists.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Conference speakers over 55

I'm still digesting 15 fascinating talks I heard at a conference last week, The Future of the Book. Audience was a mix of book publishers, teachers and lecturers, with a smattering of authors and technical people. So, not an ultra-young audience; definitely older than audiences at the usual conferences I attend, which lean towards the internet. Perhaps not a cross-section of book people, because they all had an interest in electronic books (or the possibly terminal illness of P-books).

I asked a few speakers how old they were: 55, 57, 57, they said. I made my own deductions about the others and got this distribution, counting only those whose presentations I saw and heard:

Young speakers (40 or younger): 8
Medium age speakers (40s and 50s): 6
Over 50 speakers: 9

My point? Plenty of people who are pushing 60 are leaders in the everyday world.

This world of exploding ebooks is a lively one, with exciting new developments every week. You have to keep on your toes to dodge the shrapnel and find a good trail through the smoke. For me, that's a deeply attractive feature. Nothing beats learning new stuff when it comes to keeping a live brain. (Apart from the luck of the genes.)

Oh yes, and they gave us this dessert of mini-pavlovas and fruit. Very nice.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

You look young

Since we are looking at hands, here's a naked one. If you're wondering how old someone is, look there.

I wrote this poem in exasperation when yet another person protested that I am not really old. How am I supposed to get used to being old when most people deny it?

But confusion is understandable, because...

Some people look old when they're young. Some people look young when they're old.

When old people were young, all old people looked old. But now, most people look young when they're what was once considered old.

Old has changed. Young has changed. Old is the new young.

But if you're not old when you're (nearly) 70, then who is old?

And if 70-year-olds are still young, then where are all the old ladies?

Old ladies are an endangered species. Somebody has to be them. We need volunteers. I volunteer.

You look young
“You look young.
For your age, that is.”
That’s cool?

Worship my wrinkles,
you fool.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The prodigal glove

I'm wary of gloves. Why buy something that invariably escapes after you've worn it twice?

On the one hand, gloves are an excellent device and they perfectly fulfill the purpose for which you bought the darn things. They keep your hands warm, doh.

This glorious red glove is new. I've worn it (and its mate) three times. Icebreaker. Fine merino. Perfect.

Then I lost them, as you do. I'm so used to this that I barely blinked. Sure, I performed the ritual search of house, bags, pockets, drawers, filing cabinets, toybox, bathroom, shoes, refrigerator, photo album, sewing kit, oven, pot cupboard, litter box -- all the usual suspects. When the gloves failed to materialise, I barely blinked. Vanishing gloves? I'm over it.

But today I succumbed and searched one more time. And yay! Emanating from the depths of a bag I use only on Wednesdays, only for Crows Feet dance practice, was a bright red glow. Yessss. That's why I bought them red, not black.

Today's joy is the joy of finding lost gloves. They ran away from home, they had a spree and then they slunk back. It doesn't happen often in a century. Chalk it up.

Frost on the roof

Last week we had a frost. In Wellington. It's a little unusual, and just up the coast (where it's warmer, as a rule) they had snow. The edge of the sea froze in the Pauatahanui Inlet.

I love frost for nostalgic and sensuous reasons.

Scenes scramble like penguins up through a hole in the ice. I remember as a child waking to a gorgeous layer of crystallized ice on the windows. (Imagine a home that chilly. The horror, the horror.) Walking to school through brittle white grass that crunched underfoot. Jumping on frozen puddles, of course. Paddocks steaming as the thin morning sunshine floated between macrocarpa trees.

Being cold is not very comfortable, I suppose. But it can be exciting. It's not a coincidence that people shiver with excitement or shiver with sexual thrill. One of my early love poems has a couple of lines:

Shiver, man, shiver.
You move like a river.

I photographed my frosty roof. I couldn't help imagining touching it with bare fingers... Would the frost freeze my fingers to the roof and peel off a layer of skin? Or would the finger melt the frost? But the photo didn't work. You can't see its cold fur. You won't shiver.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Joy of not-shopping

Sunday I went shopping with my daughter Diana. I "needed" a smaller dining table, because I'm getting a new gas heater. Shape of room, location of heater etc. meant my table was now too large. So I thought.

We had a fine time, including lunch at the French Market, and eventually found just the table. One more shop, just for luck, and it all fell apart. An intelligent salesperson cocked her head when we rejected one table as too large. "Why do you say it's too large?" she asked. "If you have a long table, you don't have to seat anyone at the ends. So it may take up less space, including the people, than a small table."


After all that earnest shopping, something dawned on me. My very large table was fine. It was the chairs that were the problem. They always seemed awkward, so we can't seat three a side comfortably. My posh chairs are always jangling and crashing against each other, spoiling sociable dinners. They colonise the carpet and attack the legs of other chairs.

Back home, I measured up. Sure enough, the chair legs splay out by 10 cm in two directions. I shoved two into the equivalent of a dark cupboard and promoted two little wooden folding chairs, relics of the 1940s Rigg Zschokke social hall. I love them. They are so cute. And they free up a lot of elbow room and leg room.

All this was fun, but the biggest thrill is that moment when I realise: No! I don't need to buy a new table! I spent nothing! I saved about $1500! The Not-Shopping-Aha-Moment is an exquisite chocolate rush.

That night I dreamed an Indian feast. Scores of people at an ashram, seated on the ground around bright cloths spread with yummy dishes. Goodwill and good cheer. Everyone wearing brilliant colours. No tables required.

The dream was a second reward for not-shopping. Perfect.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fish make you smile

Sunday is market day on the Wellington waterfront. That's where we shop for fresh veges, fruit, bread, eggs, lamb and fish.

We didn't always have this fish market but you can see why we love it. Today I got blue cod. Baked some veges, then turned off the oven and added fish in a dish. The flakes opened wide. I added green salad and a smudge of anchovy paste. My most heavenly mouthful was the last juicy bit of fish. My second most heavenly was roast mushroom with roast beetroot. Perfect.

My god, are we lucky or what?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ukulele laughing

The ukulele has got to be one of the funniest instruments ever. And I thought, if 5-year-olds can play them, surely I can too. Our very own Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra (whose awesomeness reaches the ends of the known universe) runs a beginners workshop each winter. They're like that: famous collectively and individually but still with buckets of energy to spend on humble Us. We get 4 lessons, and number 5 is a public performance. (True, that's more like a sherry glass than a bucket load, in terms of the 10,000 hours practice necessary to reach awesomeness. But they can't hold our hands forever.)

So, we divide into groups according to the song we want to play. Iko Iko and Buckets seem to have about 20 each. I choose Whaling, which we have never practised. And the group consists of 5 or 6... and I can't spot any other beginner beside myself.

Now either they cheated, and were quite cool ukulele players before the workshop. That happens a lot. You can't blame people for wanting to bask in the aura of the WIUO.

Or they are younger than me, with more dextrous brains and fingers. A likely tale. Yes really.

Or they practised more. So I've got to practise like mad all week. Then on the day, I might just hit C in time with the others, and finger-sync the other chords.

What's not to smile about? :-)

Friday, June 12, 2009

The cabbage flower

Today's newspaper has 50 things you can do to have a nice life despite the recession. That sounds much too energetic for a lot of us old or nearly old ladies. We don't need to summon up the energy to do anything special, like play board games or volunteer at the zoo. We do plenty of stuff already, and we have lifetimes of experience in making ends meet. Make our own lunches? Puh-lease!

Oh no. I'd better not do any more stuff, because then I might stop just noticing stuff. Looking at stuff. Smiling at stuff. And I get a big kick out of that.

Yesterday, for instance, I noticed some newly planted flower beds. Or were they vegetable plots? These silly plants don't know whether to be a cabbage or a geranium.

In times like these, I am openly advising careers as cabbages. I'm sure they can find a vocation for this in their hearts.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Aspiring to a smile

I've been thinking about my next destination. My aspirations. I was about to start a blog specifically related to a book I've written, because in a few weeks it will be ready for sale as an ebook. (That'll be Rude Stories for Mrs Palin, when it happens.)

But hang on a minute, mate. What a bore, starting a new blog just to sell something! I know I should be marketing, but (like most writers -- like most small business owners in fact) there's always something I'd rather do. And when your heart's not in it, writing a blog or a book is a bore -- both for the writer and any unfortunate reader who stumbles upon it.

So I stopped. And thought for at least half an hour about this: what message would I rather explore? Every blog is, in a sense, a business blog. And every blog should have a central message. I know these things because I've just written an online course on that very topic.

Then it dawned on me that I do indeed have a "message" that I broadcast every day, almost every hour. It's not expressed in words, but in body language. It's not wise or deliberate or inspiring: it's involuntary.

I'm hopelessly addicted to the smile. I don't smile when my heart is breaking but a smile is my default facial expression. Time and again I don't even know I'm smiling until a complete stranger smiles back. For example, today I walked to town and back, and in one hour, four strangers hit me with big, broad, eye-contact smiles. That's a good score. What a buzz.

To get to the point. I concluded that my smile is my message, and my message is a smile.

I have no moral or philosophical reason for broadcasting my smile. I was just born with the happy gene.

On the other hand, there is heaps of scientific evidence about smiling, and I may explore some of that -- for instance, the physical act of smiling, no matter how artificial, tends to make you happier and even healthier. The beauty of this knowledge is that even people without the happy gene can practise smiling and reap the benefit.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Here come the Old Laughing Ladies

Neil Young singing Old Laughing Lady could be the theme of this blog, as long as you don't actually think too hard about the lyrics. Instead let's celebrate all old laughing ladies, and remember the irresistible whining tones of Neil Young back in the days when there were no music videos. Or we missed them as we rushed around doing housework. Or something.