Thursday, 26 June 2008

J = Justice

There is an ugly mood prevailing in New Zealand at the moment. Recently there have been a number of high profile legal cases that have not resulted in a conviction. The public, and even the Prime Minister, have been baying for blood.

One case, where baby twins died, was a horrific situation and was another example of people having babies who could not and did not care for them, and should never have had them. The case involved a dysfunctional family who refused to talk to the police at the outset, then ended up with the mother and father accusing each other in a TV drama-style court case. The evidence was only ever circumstantial and there was opposing medical testimony. There was, to me, undoubtedly reasonable doubt.

But the media has been reporting or perhaps more accurately whipping up public outcry, the politicians (it being election year) have jumped on the bandwagon, and there are the inevitable calls for public enquiries, for changes in legislation to allow for retrials, and for the government to be "tough on crime." Lobbyists scream for longer sentences, under the misnomer of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, despite the fact that we have one of the highest prison rates in the OECD and minimum sentences have been lengthened significantly over the last 5 years. Everyone seems to prefer trial by media rather than trial in law.

“Justice!” they screech, forgetting that reasonable doubt and the right to a fair trial are the basics of our justice system, and if we lose those we lose justice. I knew we had reached a new low when our Prime Minister Helen Clark weighed in, as she is usually a very astute judge of when to speak and what to say.

The public is angry. I am angry with them. But for the opposite reason.

If I ever find myself in court, I want a fair trial, and I want to be judged against the premise of being innocent until proven guilty, and a verdict based on the principle of reasonable doubt.

Mind you, having said that, I shiver at the idea of a trial by a jury of my peers. Whilst I've never been a juror, my husband has reported that half his jury comprised retired people (because they have the time to be jurors) and several of them couldn't even hear the evidence, yet were prepared to come to a verdict. Few of the jurors had the ability to sift through evidence or use logic to determine guilt or innocence. So if I have to be judged by my peers, I want to be the one deciding if they truly are my peers. Women my age and my education level would be a good start - with decent hearing too - but I know that’s not completely foolproof because a good friend of mine, who shares my age, background, education and even a similar career, would want to string me up or get out Old Sparky. So I would want my ethics and social values to play a part in choosing the jury too.

Face it, I’d be screwed. But at least there’d be reasonable doubt ... wouldn’t there?

Monday, 23 June 2008

I = Inspiration

I find inspiration in many places. Unfortunately, I act on this inspiration far less frequently.

The other day, I was driving home and saw a big yellow bus with a neon sign saying “Sorry.” It has inspired me to write a short story. I intend submitting it for a competition but will do so NEXT month after it’s been polished a bit. If I don't chicken out, that is.

On Friday, a “home office” shop inspired me to plan on tidying my office and have it beautifully and expensively organised. It might happen. I have good intentions of doing it.

My travels inspire me to paint. I got into painting when going through a rough time. I loved it, finding it very therapeutic. But I haven't done it for a long time. I feel inspired to start again.

The Biggest Loser inspires me to exercise more, as I watch from the couch with my glass of wine.

The magazines I read in my favourite coffee shops give me a lot of inspiration, both for my career and life in general. For example, Cuisine magazine inspires me to want to create beautiful meals and buy fabulous wine. My favourite cuisine recipe is a sienese recipe for chicken, prunes, spices and lots of booze.

Izzie and Sarah inspired me to help others, and so now I do.

And my blogger friends inspire me daily:

  • to really see the world around me ... and to learn more about birds (IB)
  • to write more about my life experiences (Bridgett)
  • to appreciate the good and often simple things in life, and how to be a friend (Deloney)
  • to laugh at life (Helen)
  • to be more poetic (Mrs S)

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

H = Helping

Every day I log on to a charity website. This site saved my sanity when I was going through a rough time. I found other people who were experiencing the same thing, who could reassure me that I was not going mad, who could tell me I would get through it. I found an organisation set up after a young woman had died as a result of a misdiagnosis, full of compassion for those of us who experienced this medical trauma. I found an organisation backed up by the best medical research in the world, intent on teaching GPs and emergency room doctors the basics about this medical condition. I found information that helped me understand what had happened, why it had happened, what the treatment options were, and what the future might hold.

I found friends. There was safety in the anonymity at first, but our voices were clear, our personalities spoke through the internet’s series of tubes. So when I travelled to the UK, it was as if I'd known these special women for years.. Some of them travelled here. Friendships developed. Real friendships. I send their children birthday presents, send them NZ wine as wedding gifts, share their ups and their downs, and with their help I coped, and grew, I survived and yes, even prospered.

Most importantly, I found myself.

And now, every day I log on to that charity website, and see other women going through what I did. I find them young, vulnerable, terrified, angry, confused, despairing. I reassure them that they will get through this, that what they are experiencing is normal, and that it is not their fault. I listen to them, wipe their tears and hold them across the ether.

I realise how far I've come.

Helping others. It helps me too.

Monday, 16 June 2008

G = Gershwin

Omitted from my x365 so here he is.

Overly, eagerly, affectionate, he can drive people away. But I know his timidity sometimes plays out in aggression, and have a soft spot for him, as I think he does for me.

He’s old now, and drools.

But his purr is beautiful. His fur soft.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

F = Fraud

I remember watching a TV documentary in the early 90s about four very successful New Zealand businesswomen. One of them, the head of a publishing company, surprised me by confessing that she constantly felt inadequate, and this spurred her on to work harder and always be better prepared than anyone else, in case they “caught her out” and discovered her biggest secret. She felt like a fraud, despite her evident intelligence, humanity and abilities. I was surprised.

But I was also secretly comforted. Other women felt the same way I did. (Do men suffer from this? Less so, I think). I too struggled to feel confident with my own talents and abilities. I realise now that I was intimidated by people who used their innate confidence and, at times, aggression to cow the rest of us into the belief that they knew what they were talking about. Consequently, these were the people I saw getting ahead, and I got very disillusioned at times.

Fortunately now though, I am increasingly aware I suffer from the fraud syndrome, aware that the negative conversations I have in my head are generated from my own lack of confidence. I know that if I pretend confidence, no-one will know that I feel a fraud, even if my stomach is tied in knots and doing acrobatics at the same time.

This last week I was re-elected to my position on the Board and had to chair two major meetings. I’d had a few difficult issues to deal with earlier in the year and some sleepless nights as a result. I worried that I would be voted off, and as my husband said, was seeing conspiracies where there weren’t any. By the end of the week I think I am finally beginning to believe that I deserve to be in this role, that I am doing just as well as my quite illustrious predecessors, and that I am not a fraud. I do in fact know what I’m talking about. Experience and commonsense count. Maybe other people have recognised this, even if I haven't. Up till now.

So as my hair greys, frown lines appear and eyesight lengthens, I am feeling much more comfortable in my own skin (if not the mirror).

The fading of the fraud syndrome. Nobody talks about that. But it’s definitely one of the good things about growing older.

Monday, 9 June 2008

E = Eat!

We have to do it. We’d die without it.

We all eat to live. And some of us live to eat.

I’m one of the latter. We’re the type of people who like to take pleasure in all aspects of our lives. I’m deeply suspicious of people who don’t take any interest in food. Either that, or I’m sympathetic – maybe their taste buds just don’t work? Poor souls.

In the 21st century, we have access to so many different types of food. My mother and father, and grandparents, and their ancestors, grew up on the land, eating what they could from the land, rivers, sea or sky. Their food was simple, wholesome. It looked like food. This was the food I grew up with. I remember as a child squealing as my father squirted us with milk from the cow’s teat. Fresh milk and cream daily. Sometimes, when my mother was tired and at a loss for what to provide for dessert (yes, in those healthy and skinny days, we had dessert every night), she would simply whip some cream with some vanilla and icing (powdered) sugar. Aaah. My favourite.

Then I got the letter I was going to Thailand for a year. We knew they ate rice, but little more. Rice was rarely on our table, in the South Island country farm. When it was, it was rice pudding. (Although sometimes my mother horrified me by mixing cooked rice into the whipped cream. Ruining it!) The memories I have of rice pudding are of being left at the table after everyone had gone, because I refused to eat it. I gagged . The texture still makes me want to squirm. So my family laughed at me when we knew I would be eating rice with my host family in Bangkok. I was philosophical - at least I would lose weight. (Typical teenager – skinny was not skinny enough!)

Then I landed on Thai soil. Was served jasmine rice. Sat at the dinner table in the garden as the sun set, and smelled that unmistakeable scent. I was hooked. Then I was introduced to sticky rice. Line and sinker.

Now I’m a rice snob. I’m sorry. Jasmine rice has to be served for Thai food, and I distinctly remember getting very crotchety at a so-called fusion restaurant in the Dandenong range (just out of Mrs S territory) when they had a Thai green curry and basmati rice on the menu. I love risotto (with risotto rices of course please), and paella, and Malaysian coconut rice, and Japanese short grained rice. Sushi of course.

When my husband and I chat now about our travels, you can guarantee we talk about the food as much as what we saw. I can tell you what I ate at many of the places we’ve been.

  • My first ever lobster on the sand in Vanuatu by the most beautiful deserted lagoon
  • the smoked salmon soup in Budapest I remembered just the other night
  • the rabbit stew in Carcassone at Chez Fred’s (yes, that was its name)
  • the capsicum tapas in Segovia
  • the seafood risotto in an alley in Rome just off the Pantheon Piazza
  • the honeydew melon filled with Beaumes de Venise wine in Avignon
  • the tiny mussels in Charlottetown, PEI
  • Yo! Sushi in Bayswater in London
  • Californian Pizza in Bangkok (the fake one who delivered to our apartment) and San Francisco (the real one – prawn and pesto pizza …. Yum )
  • the whole fish on the beach at Phuket our first night together in Thailand
  • the Moroccan tagine of beef, peas and fennel in the courtyard at our riad
  • endless satay at the old outdoor Satay Club in Singapore, and
  • the fried crickets at the mayor’s house in Kantaralak, Thailand.

The list could go on and on.

On Saturday morning Kim Hill was interviewing someone about a meal he’d eaten that cost $350 for 16 courses. “Immoral!” she declared provocatively, at the same time as I turned to D and said “that’s not too bad that price!” After all, we had a Euro 350 meal in Paris at a three star Michelin restaurant back in 2002.

His argument in defence was the same as ours would be. We don’t go to expensive sports matches for $350. I don’t have a lot of diamonds. D doesn’t have a big screen TV. Our car is ten years old, our stereo system older. Our armchairs are a bit torn and tattered. We’ve lived in the same house for 15 years.

But we like food and wine. We like eating out. It’s a form of entertainment. And we’re lucky. We have a good time together, and so a two or three hour meal passes quickly – it’s not a torture of silence we see other couples enduring. We understand the concept of destination dining.

But we like simple things too. Ripe tomatoes and fresh basil. Fish and chips on the beach. Chocolate. Anytime.

And sitting down to a platter of grilled Turkish bread and dips, with a glass of wine, is a great way to unwind after a busy day.

It’s dinnertime.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

D = Distorted

I understand anorexics, in principle. I can see how they can look in the mirror and see a fat person. Because I can do the opposite. I look in the mirror, regularly, and approve. This morning I saw a taut bum, flat stomach and body in proportion. The face was still young, fresh, 30-something-ish.

But sometimes I’m walking down the street, and catch sight of this round, middle-aged woman reflected in a shop window. But she’s wearing my clothes. Carrying my handbag. Huh?

Wwhen I can’t avoid it, I am occasionally photographed. And look back at the image to see a woman who looks kinda like I think I might when I'm old.

In my head, I’m still young, slim, fit and athletic. I told someone that once. They laughed.

I prefer the image in my head.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

C = Coffee

New Zealand used to be a land of tea drinkers. Coffee appeared in the 60s and 70s, but your options were usually instant, Greggs instant, or Nestle instant. We then almost skipped straight to espresso, which started appearing in the late 80s. Now, everywhere you go, there are little coffee shops serving great coffee. You can get a good latte or long black almost anywhere in New Zealand now, even small towns such as Whakatane where I went for the first time a couple of weeks ago.

The New Zealand coffee revolution was essentially home grown. We developed a more European approach to coffee, with small intimate coffee shops, coffee served in glasses or good cups. A good barista is worth their weight in gold, and annual national competitions are held to find the best.

I probably became addicted to coffee at Brios, where I used to drink regularly with friends from work. During work, in fact. But sadly a Starbucks opened up over the street, their landlord got scared, and to their shock their lease was cancelled. (Fortunately they opened up successfully elsewhere, and they’re still going strong). So I led a one-woman boycott of Starbucks. Colleagues used to tease me by leaving empty Starbuck’s coffee cups (cups? buckets more like!) on my desk. It’s been at least 8 years, and I am proud to say I have never had a coffee there yet. New Zealand developed its own coffee culture, one with good food and small owner-operated caf├ęs. Only when it was obvious that this was wildly successful did Starbucks, the big bullying chain, enter the market. I won’t drink there. I have my principles. Stamping of foot!

I adore the smell of coffee, maybe more than its taste. My husband however detests it, so I don’t have a fancy espresso machine at home. I like good coffee, and only good coffee. I get my coffee made by professionals. I’d rather have nothing at all if I have to make it myself! Not because I’m lazy. I just make terrible coffee, and can’t figure out how to do it better.

So when I go out for my coffee, I have some choices to make. I look for atmosphere, service, something to read, somewhere as child-free as possible, and of course, great coffee. Being self-employed, I often drink alone. That has its pleasures too.

Inevitably, I have my favourites. Mojo on Willis St has the best coffee, feels like a little piece of Paris, and is the venue for my regular chats with Adrienne, discussing world politics, office politics, books or the latest fashions.

Wholly Bagels in Thorndon always has a newspaper and a variety of magazines that often send me away filled with inspiration. Only this morning I found reference to a short story competition in a new magazine there. Or maybe it’s the caffeine! It also has free parking, but is to be avoided at all costs during the school holidays.

The Organic Grocer at the bottom of the gorge in Kaiwharawhara is a new discovery, and has more good magazines and some peace and quiet. I also feel very wholesome there.

I always have good intentions to walk to Rosa in Khandallah, but usually end up popping in when I’ve been driving by to get a takeaway fix. It pays not to go around 10.30 am on a Tuesday or Thursday, when the yoga mums are there though.

Rise on The Terrace does the best 5-grain toast with my coffee before a meeting in the morning, and I enjoy lingering over my coffee, or even having a second cup, when all the suits are running off to their offices at 8.30.

And when I have time to kill, and it is a fine day, I sit at the bay, looking out at the harbour, with a coffee from Kaffee Eis, breathing deeply and enjoying the good, simple things in life.