Sick issues

Dear Readers. Sorry. I couldn't show up today. I've got my period. And now – for real life, which, in the 21 century means that women might have what Mr. Thompson so coyly referred to as 'sick issues' but they go to work because it's less of an issue than the bottle of Jack Daniels the young blokes had after the rugby last night, which they are now calling 'food poisoning' and so have called in sick. It is also much less of an issue than not having been born officially brain damaged and yet inclined to say incredibly stupid things without the benefit of anyone being able to feel any empathy.

Strangely I didn't find the interview with him to be at all offensive. In order to be offended one would have to take him seriously and it just couldn't be done. He looked like the smiling tin monkeys with the little hats on that you used to be able to wind up and then let them play their drums – he just kept going in that horribly funny way like watching a plane stall and everyone's giggling nervously until it actually starts diving. The tension was excruciating. What was even funnier than Mr. Thompson trying not to have a brain leak and let the world know what he really thought on TV, (women are obviously morons and should go back to making pikelets) were his efforts at apology. I wondered if perhaps he was gay as he had obviously never had a close relationship with a woman before. Surely any bloke would know that if you wish to fly an emotional kamikaze mission you should always follow the words 'I'm sorry' with the words 'but it's true.'

I wondered at this point if Mr. Thompson had a personal public relations assistant who had to constantly walk around behind the cameras with an enormous sign which would read 'OK Alasdair Shut the $##@$@ up now!' Just so that she could minimise the hours she had to spend on damage control. Obviously she had her period last week and didn't make it. Pity.

One wondered what in fact the bigger issue would be to an employer A) A woman who was really good at her job and actually did take a day off every month or B) someone like Mr. Thompson who managed to be a complete plonker and a liability every day of the week? Hard to say. Mr. Thompson is also right. We all know that blokes if they had periods would roll their own tampons in some menstrual Marlboro moment and go and log pine trees to prove how macho it all was and then give themselves a monthly bonus cheque. We get it. What we'd really like however is pay equity rather than these silly distractions but that's just a matter of allowing the old dinosaurs time to die off or quietly retire to a rest home in Orewa. It is also true that women probably do have a few more days in the year off especially if they're working Mums. This is because despite blokes not having periods they still manage to get off quite a lot of the stuff that women do. Things like: looking after sick kids, local charity fund raisers, school trips, organising the family get togethers/presents/baptisms/funerals and often food for all of the above, statistically still most of the house work, the present for the guy who's leaving work this week, the family holiday, the parent/teacher interview and piano concert and remembering to get the cat neutered as well as taking a cake to the old guy who lives alone. It's what chicks do. It's called being part of a family and a community. Here's a test: for every duty listed above that Mr. Thompson hasn't done this week he should get a 10% pay cut and a further 5% reduction for every day he showed up at work and said something dumb. And that should be the last we hear from him. Period.

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Not that I'm wanting to appear paranoid or anything and not that I'd consider giving any doomsday Christian fundamentalists any oxygen but…is that the gentle buzz of the last of the summer cicadas out there… or a hoard of marauding winged pestilence about to take flight and eat small children on their way home from school? O.K. So I'm a little paranoid. And beginning to regret all that finger pointing and disrespectful chortling I've done over the years at the various groups of people who've gathered together and gone up a mountain/ into a cave and waited for their personal Jesus or alien being to show up while everything they hated about the world finally blew itself up or got eaten by insects. This would last for a few days until everyone got bored and realised that they had to go back to work and that the pile of washing they'd gladly exchanged for a day of rapture or at the very least; a break in the routine – was still there waiting for them when they got home. This phenomenon is common enough for there to be a Simpson's episode where Homer declares the end of the world and everyone in Springfield follows him up the mountain, where, only Marge remains unimpressed by him or his dodgy insights.

I bought into the end of the world thing once – I'd just read Orwell's 1984, in 1984, and a rumour went round that the world would end the following Tuesday. The logic defies me now but we were 14 and everything made sense. Deep. Meaningful. Sense. Why God might reveal divine insights as to the 'End of Everything' to a bunch of 4th formers is testimony only to our utter self-absorption and stupidity but there you have it. I was quite happy for the world to end as I had not completed any of my assignments that week and later found that the nuns had little tolerance for 'the end of the world' as an excuse for not having done so.

Since then I've thought that most 'the end is nigh' thinkers were just giving a big 'the dog ate my homework' card to the whole of their life and saw nothing intrinsically wrong with that except, that life and all its problems would still be there when they'd gotten over metaphorically spitting the dummy at it. Following the crazy weather and geological events we've had over the last 6 months however, and watching the brain-warping devastation that has been unleashed on Japan – I might have to revise my policy of general scoffing at everything doomsday. If some extra terrestrial beings on horseback show up I'll be the first to ask for a ride out of here. Especially if they're good looking, dress like gauchos and don't talk too much. Mmmm. My favourite kind of end days' cowboy. Seriously though, I've had different friends ringing from round the world to chat, half jokingly about Mayan calendars, Mr. Ring, horsemen and locusts and the appalling spectre of Rodney Hide appearing in yellow lycra to the masses to show he has resurrected himself politically as a sign that we are indeed all truly doomed. O.K. I might have made the last one up – but it doesn't detract from the fact that we're all a bit antsy right now and in need of a psychological cup of tea and a chat rather than hours of horror TV coverage and talk of unsettling predictions of further general mayhem.

So if anyone out there wants to take advantage of these challenging times by offering him or herself in guru-like fashion complete with absolutist answers to everything I'll happily turn my brain off and follow the mythic mind of old, cheerily into the gloom or up the mountain. As long as they come bearing a few bottles of decent plonk and some pretty hardy insect repellent that is.

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Harbouring an Eco Terrorist

There is no such thing as a free cat. 7 year olds will sell you the benefits of taking home a free cat from the local market. They may have also worked out the benefits of non-direct marketing. This is where they catch you deep in conversation – extract permission for some action – make a 'yes!' motion like some deranged tennis star as you nod your distracted acquiescence and run away to execute plan. About this time you note out of the corner of your eye a cat being stowed in your vehicle and the woman with the now empty box that did contain kittens speeding away from you without looking back. On enquiring as to why there is a lost kitten buckled into the front seat I am told that I've already given permission and that this is the only kitten in the universe and that I may as well start saving for the psychologist now if I am to even think about ditching it for the trauma I will undoubtedly cause upon her fragile (if slightly scheming) psyche. I cave.

The thing is I like cats. It's a secret guilty affair. It's kind of like hiding Nazis in Argentina after the war must have felt like. I know that I'm now giving refuge to a killer. I've kept my ownership of a cat secret from my greenie mates as I know that telling them I am harbouring a tuatara killing, fantail pillaging, wildlife maiming homicidal maniac on my property will undoubtedly cost me friendships. The problem is that they're absolutely right. I decided that my last inadvertent pet feline was the one that got thrust into the palm of my hand in Argentina having survived a 5 hour car journey clinging to the engine under the bonnet. With her singed whiskers and sooty ears – I called her 'Nafta' – Spanish for petrol – because it was one of the only words I knew and because theoretically it was the only thing that should have been in the engine. I left her in Argentina and decided in future I'd plant bird friendly gardens and forgo feline friendships. Cats must do more damage than dogs to New Zealand wildlife just for their shear numbers. They seem to be ruthless and dedicated killers and, unlike dogs, they get a fairly free range. Cats are not obvious bullies either. I have yet to see some poor lost tattooed young bloke with a pit-cat on a leash in some pathetic attempt to show the world how macho he is. Cats can never augment anyone's sense of self worth for the simple reason that they are always running the show. The adopted kitten has already beaten up the huntaway and sent him whimpering to his kennel, has nationalised the mad Latin's favourite part of the sofa and declared it feline territory and has decreed that he will feed her titbits from the barbeque at regular intervals despite his initial threats to put her on the barbeque. So far he's complying with her requisite code of conduct. She has been granted permanent residency by the Latin because he's been assured that no rat will ever cross the territorial borders of our backyard with her prowling the perimeters. The problem with this however is that it's an absolute lie. Birds and geckos have, until now been shown good hospitality at our place and the plan is for that to continue. The mere act of allowing a cat to live here has caused diplomatic negotiations that any ambassador in the Middle East would be proud of. She is going to have to catch rats in the day time with two bells round her neck or face permanent house arrest. She assures me with the green eyes of a well paid assassin that she is up to the assignment. Silently I let her know that one dead fantail is all it will take and the love affair will be over. I've lived in South America. She will disappear and it will look like an accident. She nods and points a languishing paw to the titbits. She fakes innocent cuteness when the small person picks her up. I get the titbits. We have a deal.

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Totally Unfazed Bloke Syndrome

Greetings. (And you thought only John Banks used that word casually to say hello to people and other alien beings.) Greetings. My name is Nickie Muir and I'm a hurried woman. Or make that harried woman. Or am I just a harridan? The edges are all so blurred lately. I've joined this seven step programme to wean myself from the addiction of busyness and I pledge to slow down long enough to breathe and remember things like; sitting on the doorstep in the sun, drinking tea and painting toe nails, and other stuff; what my child looks like, for example. Like all illnesses it's such a relief to put a name on it. A friend heard me listing the symptoms and told me I was suffering from 'Hurried Woman Syndrome'. I'm not alone she informed me in all sincerity – 30 million women in the US alone suffer from it. The recent weight gain is definitely a sign she said nodding sagely. I was glad that it was a syndrome and therefore I could abdicate all responsibility for it – for a moment there I thought it was all the magnum ice-creams over summer. What a relief.

Apparently women all over the world are running round like 'electric farts' as the Spanish expression goes. We race children to school and ourselves to work, we stress about family relationships gone bad and friendships left untended, gone to seed like an abandoned garden. My garden itself worries me – if I were my tenant I'd kick myself out. We worry about mortgage rates and university fees when our kids are still in primary school and wake at 3 in the morning to remember that we still haven't signed up for that de-stressing yoga class we promised ourselves about a year ago.

The funny thing is, waking up in the wee hours I've noticed the mad Latin is not stressing at all. He is, in fact, about as stressed as a farm dog on a hot sunny day. Flat out and happy. And so I google 'Hurried Man Syndrome' and get no results. I begin to suspect that there may be some correlation between 'Hurried Woman Syndrome' and 'Totally Unfazed Bloke' syndrome, an as yet under-diagnosed disease that is sending half of our population totally mental in order to compensate for it.

I decide to dive into the dark murky waters of his Latin male psyche to discover the ancient philosophy that allows him to glide through life's rapids in such a way as to make Bob Marley appear uptight. I set him a test: 'What do you think we should do about that speeding ticket?' I ask. 'Let it be buggered!' he says in a show of blas̩ machismo. Right. The manana manana approach. Elevate procrastination to an art form of contrived ignorance of a situation that is bound to only get worse, only to discover that most problems do actually disappear if you simply ignore them. At which point the Latin can say 'I told you so' with impunity. Not speeding tickets though. My harried hurriedness hormones begin to rise. I enquire as to what the correct approach should be Рin his world- to an irritating relative at the next family gathering. 'Tell them to bugger themselves', he says looking as if I've just asked how to use the telephone. Of course. It seems so obvious to me now. I have no idea why I would make life difficult by thinking there might be an emotionally intelligent way of dealing with recalcitrant family members and not have some kind of underground uncivil war on my hands for the duration of festivities. Kindly, he offers to ring them now and tell them they can either 'Behave or Bugger Off!' before we even get there. My hurriedness levels go off the Richter scale. Yup. There's definitely a connection I think, as I reach for another magnum. The ice-cream. Not the gun.

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The Long Straw

Someone asked me the other day how it is that I can come up with a page of words every single week without ending up in Ward 6. He had memories of School Cert and the certain knowledge that he'd rather have a go at auto-dentistry than sit at a desk and bash words onto a page. The thing is – I feel the same about his job. I have no idea how, for example, people can actually get a house to rise from a pile of timber and some nails. Utter mystery. Electricians are also masters of occult knowledge to which only the initiated may gain access. They trade in the skills that allow them to bring light to a darkened house and get the dinner cooked without chopping any firewood. Entirely marvellous and yet slightly magical – the only time I have ever tried any home wiring repairs I nearly killed myself and had a Micheal Jackson hair flame moment. I felt cursed and inclined to throw our flatmate, who was forever blowing everything up with her hairdryer and eyelash curler, as a sacrificial offering to the electricity god although I was also sure there would be some OSH rule against it.

Commercial fisherpeople work in a constant seismic rock and roll in big gumboots splashed by freezing water and somehow don't manage to roll themselves up in the complicated gear and inadvertently get themselves flung out as human by-catch. I am amazed by this. I have the dubious distinction of being the only person in the history of boats to have been told to go and make myself become 'very small, mute and barely visible ballast somewhere very far away from all the ropes and pulley thingys'. Mean – but understandable. Who knew captains on racing yachts could be worse than head chefs? Psychologists sometimes have to work with complete psychopaths – do people like Nigel Latta ever feel like they're playing Jodie Foster to someone's Hannibal? Do they take a break from talking someone out of eating them and then go and have a muffin and a latte? What about those women who run service stations late at night. I get scared going to the letterbox - how must it be to working the grave yard shift and wondering when the next P addicted maniac is going to need his car filled up? I salute their courage and also know what it feels like to have no other choice.

Nurses working the night shift in the psych ward of some geriatric homes should be on the Queen's honour list. A few years ago I was teaching English to some young women from the Phillipines so that they could have their qualifications recognised and go from being paid the minimum wage to a proper nursing salary. In reality their English was next to flawless and the English standard requirements were beyond what most native speakers would be able to achieve. Passing by one of the homes late one night I decided to leave some exam papers at reception for the girls to pick up the next morning. I was told that the nurses were on duty in the psych unit – so I went to find them. What ensued, even Dante couldn't have made up. In awe I watched as these diminutive and extremely patient young women 'man-handled' blokes twice their size and weight back into bed and dealt with, in one case at least, far worse violence than the average A and E nurse has to deal with every Friday night. It was like a deranged game of musical beds where all the contestants have no idea where they are and the referees are very small and few and far between and who still have to be really nice even when all the players go all McEnroe on them. I challenge any merchant banker to spend a night there with them and then tell me he deserves a bonus more than they do. So, no, I don't sweat the 600 words because I know that when it comes to jobs – this is one of the longer straws.

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Trollied Dollies

For awhile, I lived in fear that CYF's would come knocking at the door because my daughter had started her morning talk with something along the lines of "Yesterday, we had a family dinner and my Dad gave me wine." She was five at the time and so I was well aware that it would be a tricky conversation when they did show up and was hypersensitive that it was really not a good look. Sure, it had been half a thimble full in a glass of lemonade and while I looked aghast and asked if this was perhaps the early signs of senile dementia and the five year old looked decidedly excited and asked if we were all going to get drunk – I had that distinct Alison–at-the-mad hatter's-place moment. When it was explained to her that wine was like fire – if you have a tiny bit with your family and really nice food every now and again it's like a cosy fire that warms the house. He also explained that if you have more than just a little and you're drinking in bad company then it can burn the whole house down and everyone in it. Slightly heavy stuff for a Sunday lunch for a five year old but I think she got the general idea. Not wishing to undermine this Little House on the Prairie moment I asked later if he was out of his mind giving alcohol to someone so small. He was quick to point out that it seemed perfectly acceptable for 15 year old girls to be running shoeless completely trollied on RTD's and throwing up in public in New Zealand and yet it was not acceptable to teach your children how to enjoy and respect alcohol in a family environment. He felt the problem was in my culture not his. Hard to argue. For that matter he continued – the whole 'sober driver' idea is a total crock and an indication of just how mental our attitude to alcohol really is. What I saw as responsible mate-ship he saw as total abdication of responsibility by everyone else for that night – by having a designated driver you were subconsciously giving everyone else the license to get themselves completely bladdered for the evening and effectively write themselves off. This, he insisted would never happen in Argentina – one because whoever was left sober would take off with everyone else's girlfriends – but also because you went out with your mates to have a few drinks so that you could enjoy their company. Not so that you could scrape them off the floor and let them throw up in your car. As for women – well they just never got drunk to the state that he'd seen women here and, more disturbingly to him, young girls just couldn't be in a state so out of control, alone, in a public place. "How is it, he asked 'that something really bad doesn't happen to these girls?" Insisting that men's bad behaviour shouldn't be women's responsibility, he stopped me. 'You shouldn't throw the pigs the kumara if you don't want them to get eaten.' Fair enough. I couldn't say that nothing ever happens to these girls because, of course – it does. Dr. David Wells, a professor of Forensic Medicine at Melbourne studying the incidence of date rape has found that the increasingly young female victims of sexual assault – and this is in no way justifying that horror, were heavily intoxicated with alcohol not drugs. In Wellington GP Cathy Stephenson, who often deals with such victims also backs up his findings with her clinical practice and that of many GPs round the country. She believes that the amount of alcohol consumed by the young has gone up astronomically while the age of its victims continues to decrease.Kids just aren't getting it. Not the message that the government or doctors are giving them. What they are getting, is the mega muscle of alcohol advertising and the subconscious messages a heavy drinking culture gives them. Still.

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