Friday, 29 August 2008

Z = ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

I love my sleep.

There’s nothing quite like the anticipation of sleep: sinking my head into a soft, fluffy pillow, clean crisp sheets, a warm (but not too hot) duvet to nestle into, my body relaxing, all worries gone temporarily from my head, left to be faced tomorrow.

Even better if it is cold outside, not too windy, raining gently.

And all this is perfect if it is Saturday or Sunday the next day.

Only a few hours more to wait ...

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Y = Yiminy and other Ys

“Do you know what yiminy means?” I asked my friend as we left Sweet Mama’s restaurant on Courtenay Place. Jambalaya with friends on a cold night after seeing the film Prague is an excellent way of passing a cold rainy August Monday evening.

“Yemeni?” she said, “as in from Yemen?”

“No, yiminy as in by yiminy.”

She looked at me quizzically. I started to explain, but how can you really convey the essence of Helen and keep the story short or avoid being distracted? (Note: for clarification, see comments on X=XX) Anyway, after an afternoon of googling yiminy, and consulting my well-read friend, I was really none the wiser.

So we turned to other things. Twenty minutes later we were still talking furiously as I pulled up outside her apartment, still talking as she got out of the car, and barely stopped as she shut the door. By this time we were debating the merits of a gold medal in the shot put over a bronze in the 1500 metres.

The two of us could talk the hind-leg off a donkey, as my dad would have said. Why is it that possessors of the Y-chromosome just don’t get a woman’s need to converse, and the pleasure that can be taken, sharing ideas and lives? It should be admired, but instead “yak, yak, yak,” they complain.

Yiminy!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

X = XX

What does it mean to be a woman?

A lot of people will say that you are only a real woman if you have had children. Only when you’re a mother, do you know what it means to be a woman.

I’ve always felt uncomfortable with that kind of definition. I’ve always liked being a girl. I never played with dolls or held fake tea parties or whatever it was little girls did. But I never wanted to be a boy.

Growing up in the country in New Zealand is a very liberating experience. I could do everything and anything my male neighbours, cousins or students could do, other than standing up to pee. I was taller, faster and stronger. I didn’t need boys to do anything for me. I had no brothers, so unlike a friend of mine wasn’t raised having to make her twin brother’s bed! My sisters and I learned to drive the tractor, toss hay bales out to the cows in the winter, yell at the dogs (though I will admit I never learned how to whistle properly), jump the creeks, climb over or through the fences, chop the wood and carry it inside to the fire. When our “townie” male cousins would come and visit, we took great pleasure in their squeamishness at lambing time, or ignorance over what an electric fence would do if you placed a blade of grass on it. Boys were contemptuous creatures in our world.

There were few concessions made to us being girls. I say ‘few” rather than “no” concessions because I did learn, years later, that my father deliberately put the rams out with the ewes in a paddock a long way from the house to protect his delicate daughters! This upbringing fitted well with the societal changes at the time. “Girls can do anything” was the catch cry. I was confused. Why say it? Of course we could!

I waited for the maternal instinct to kick in until my late 30s, when it turned up rather belatedly, to the beat of a biological clock so loud it was suddenly deafening. The strength of the emotions that arrived were surprising and disturbing to me. I was equally surprised at how I felt less of a woman, judged by others, and isolated from much of society, through my simple and not uncommon inability to give birth. My failure to have children made me question my femaleness in a way that my previous lack of desire to have children never did.

After a few difficult years, my confidence has now returned, my sense of self is stronger than ever before.

I am who I am.

I’m a real woman. Because I know I am.

Monday, 18 August 2008

W = Winter

Dusk is my favourite time of day. The day is done, a relaxing evening awaits. Dusk on a winter’s evening is a particular favourite, full of nostalgia. Tonight a cool mist rises from the earth, all is still, even the smoke from chimneys hangs in the cold air, as the houses around us glow yellow and warm, promising an evening filled with hearty winter comfort food, a comfy couch, a good book or movie (or another night in front of the Olympics on TV), and maybe a nice glass of red wine. Life is good.

I love to be out at this time of night, bracing against the shock of the cold on my skin. I love the soft warmth of a woollen scarf around my neck and face, a heavy coat keeping the cold out, a hat and gloves. But I also like the sensation, if I stop moving my feet, of the cold reaching up through the ground, tentacle-like, through the soles of my boots, threatening to chill my warm toes.

These feelings always evoke so many memories and emotions, particularly of my father, our life together on the farm, and more recently his death three years ago yesterday. August is often our coldest month, but it is also the time of year when lambs are born, and when I was growing up, lambing season coincided with a three-week winter break from school. So naturally on the farm we were put to work.

Every evening, just prior to nightfall, we would go around the sheep and lambs, to check that all was okay, to try to reduce any losses overnight. August memories are of these freezing evenings in the paddocks with my dad, sister, and the farm dogs. The newborn lambs feeding, their tails wagging frenetically as they drink, their mothers’ size protecting them, keeping them warm. The grass already heavy with dew, a frost looms, and the skies are clear and cold. As we headed home, the stars would appear, like tiny glittering specks of ice. Shivering now. But always there was the promise of a warm, happy house and a hot dinner waiting.

Friday, 8 August 2008

V = Vacillate

It’s time for V.

I thought about writing about vegetables. I love vegetables, as long as they’re done in interesting ways, like the Moroccan salads, but I’ve talked about those over on my travelalphablog. And intend talking about vegetables when I write about Spain too. After all, travel and food go together. I love tomatoes, and could wax lyrical about them and them alone, but might need to save that for T if I go through the alphabet again.

Or should I just turn to my travelalphablog and write the “U is for …” entry. After all, T is for Thailand has been sitting there for a while now. But then I’d have to hunt up all my old photographs, scan them etc. Takes ages. Not in mood. And V won’t go away.

I had a V for Valour written – but that was appropriate for ANZAC Day which is in April and it’s now August. Gaack, it’s August!!

I love the word varmint (I’m surprised it’s in the Concise Oxford!) but aside from liking how it sounds, have nothing to say about it.

I could do V for Venison, and write about my dad going deer-stalking, but only ever eat farmed not wild venison so the link is a bit artificial.

V could be for Vanity but my vanity has already been exposed under U is for Uniform.

And V for Vernacular is tempting, but there’s been such good writing about language elsewhere recently I’m not going to try and go there. Not this time round anyway.

I’m not in the mood to write about Vile, Vicious, Villain, Violate or Violence. I’m not a Virgin, a Victim, Vulgar, Vexed or particularly Vigorous today (any day?).

So perhaps I should work on my other project? Except that I’m listening to some interesting stuff on the radio right now and can’t do the two of them at once. Not very well at least. Verily, verily.

I should really do some work tasks that have been lying around for a while. But I’d need to concentrate. See above re radio discussion keeping my attention. Perhaps I should do V for Vacuous, or Verisimilitude.

I could have a nap. I feel sleepy. But the guilt would be overwhelming when husband slaving away at work … V is for Valid.

Or should I go do the ironing? Nah. Doing that during the day reminds me that although I might be a company director, I’m also a domestic slave. Sigh. That brings me to V for Vicissitude.

V

It’s for Vacillate.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

U = Uniform

Kiwi girls grow up with uniforms. School uniforms are compulsory. I've always thought that was a good thing. There was no stigma about clothes, no competition, no embarrassment or false pride. We all wore the same. There are some girls I probably only ever saw in their school uniform.

At primary school I wore a dark brown pleated tunic with a white shirt. It’s taken me years to realise that dark brown actually looks great on me.

Secondary school was even worse. The uniform was a "bottle green" tunic with white shirt, and a red and green tie (which is why I can’t face red and green Christmas decorations). That, coupled with my mother’s intense dislike (almost superstitious fear) of green, has meant that it took me years to find that deep greens look great on me too!

Growing up in the country meant that we didn’t need many other clothes. We had farm clothes – warm, comfortable, durable, often patched, frequently hand-me-downs. Good for wrestling hay bales, or for being around sheep and dogs, mud and muck. We didn't go out much - life was school (or after-school in our uniforms) or at home. We had maybe a couple of sets of “good clothes” which came out for visits to town or outings on the weekends. It might have been different for town kids. (And I suspect it is very different for schoolgirls these days.)

Then I went to Thailand. They wear uniforms there too. Long navy blue skirts and little white blouses. They were okay. There was no way I was going to blend in though – standing a head taller than most of the girls at school. The most painful part of that uniform was the footwear. Little black mary jane shoes with white socks. My shoes had to be made to measure. They were incredibly uncomfortable. Wince. In Bangkok I even voluntarily wore my school uniform on outings to the Weekend Market as my schoolgirl status always helped when bargaining for the best price, saving a few baht here and there.

My first ever full-time paycheck was spent on a delicious soft wool jewel green (yes, green) dress, in March 1986. I loved that dress. Sigh ...

By the late '90s, our mortgage was easier to deal with and New Zealand designers started doing new and exciting things. I discovered Trelise Cooper and Kate Sylvester, and Penny introduced me to the joys of a designer coat with a $20 T-shirt underneath. Such excitement!

I am so lucky. I need never look exactly like other women again. Don’t have to be one of the crowd. Don’t have to wear a uniform anymore. The best thing is that no-one does, with apparel duties lifted and a flood of cheaper imports meaning clothing is cheaper than ever before.

So why do so many women stick so slavishly to what is "in fashion" even when it doesn’t suit them? Or so religiously wear black (Wellington CBD looks as if it is in perpetual mourning) even when it washes them out and ages them. It’s so depressing in the middle of winter. Rain, clouds, wind, gloom, black, black and more black.

It’s just another uniform. Why are so many women afraid to be different? To express themselves? To have fun? Was all that crushed at school in our uniforms?

Sunday, 3 August 2008

T= Trade

Part of the annual cycle of living on a farm is the harvest, or in our case and that of so many farmers in New Zealand, when the sheep trucks come to transport the unlucky chosen to the freezing works. That those sheep might end up on a dinner table on the other side of the world was taken for granted. New Zealand exports its agricultural products to the world, so international trade and the rules that govern it are very important to us.

Farmers here in the 1970s received a subsidy in the form of supplementary minimum prices. I remember discussing this with my Dad who, with his typical pride and dignity, believed that it was wrong to give hand-outs to farmers. He felt that you either farmed well and profitably, or not at all. He did not want government support. So he didn’t complain about the changes in the 1980s when government subsidies to agriculture were dropped, despite the timing of these that ensured the value of his land dropped just before his retirement and sale of the farm.

So I was disappointed and angry but not surprised to hear on Tuesday that the latest round of international trade talks – the Doha Round – have collapsed yet again.

I am angry at the rich west that has enough money to subsidise its farmers, artificially lowering the cost of their produce that then competes with that of much poorer, developing countries. Yet at the same time, the US (and Europe?) refuses to allow the developing world the right to provide some rudimentary protection to their farmers through emergency protection measures when they are adversely affected by the west’s cheap subsidised goods flooding into their markets. That’s not free or fair competition. And yet they claim to be in favour of free trade.

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s hypocrisy.