LETTING GO -photo by Helen Coetzee

It’s a cliché, but I HAD A DREAM last night. Actually, it was in the 10 or so minutes between waking and rising this morning. I am blogging my way through my experience of breast cancer. Well I only discovered blogging this year and so will have to go all retro on the early stuff. Yes, it’s therapy for me of course but I also want to reach out to other people going through this because talking through all the stages really does help.

Here’s my dream.

There is a meeting. A long, long table with chairs around, blinds at the windows of an ordinary office meeting room. We file in, about 30 of us. The Oncologist enters the room but doesn’t seem to settle on a place at the table. None of us do. 

Immediately, we are relocated  to the inner city, in the way that dreams can shift seamlessly and with ease. Hundreds of us now, we all sit on stone steps that bank up the steep hill with blackened old buildings at the top and sides. It is pleasantly urban. I feel like I am at a university lecture. Huge sycamore trees with contrasting light bark have lost most of their leaves which now lie on the steps providing bolts of welcome colour. They seem to be on our side. It is damp but not cold. 

The Oncologist is talking. I feel like a child though he is younger than me. He becomes quite impassioned, excited by the power he holds over us and our massive presence. There is a sense among the mass that we are not all the same, though we have been summoned here as if we were. We are CANCER and The Oncologist is THE CURE. We are to report our list of treatments and we are to receive the next stage. As he asks for submissions of experience from the massed crowd, our difference becomes clear. Hands rise into the damp air and each voice claims a treatment, brave people conquering fear and confusion, clinging to their faith. They are the anointed, they have walked through the fire of retributive justice, thrown everything in the arsenal of toxic war waged upon the alien cancer cells that rose up to destroy them.

And The Oncologist salutes them. He is rallying the mass, justifying their suffering, telling them that in following orders they have dealt the blow they crave. He fires up, raises his fist in the air and is shouting about reaching every single last corner of the empires that are our flesh, every cellular outpost – “And I will seek and destroy every last trace of cancer….”

To my right just below where I am sitting, a swathe of the mass begin to boil and move, dissatisfied. Murmurs become a chant and in turn the people rise to their feet. Moving down the grey stone steps as one they turn their heads away and leave the assembly. They are singing, low and simple, “We don’t know you anymore,” over and over.

Then a voice pipes up. Her mouth isn’t working properly, the left side appears to be anesthetized and flaps stupidly, spoiling a crisp delivery. But she is straining to be heard, and winning nevertheless. The Oncologist is rising to a frenzy in the face of the dissenting party but her words are challenging his in mid-air, gaining momentum. Other people to the left and to the right, above and below, begin to pop up, arms raised freely. Mouth gaping to the left and chest hurting with the effort, she bellows –

She bellows in her heart.  She wants to take The Oncologist by the hand and ask him not to be disapproving, not to doubt her, not to be worried for her. She needs to find her own way of dealing with this most personal of diseases. She grew it, she owns it, she will transform it. Don’t try to frighten me with your statistics. You don’t tell me of those who follow your orders  and still don’t ‘beat’ this thing. So work with me. Let me be free. You want to be free.

It is only a little voice, trembling on the air.”You are trying to give us a guarantee that is not yours to give! You cannot say we will never have cancer again. You don’t know, YOU JUST DON’T KNOW.” And you don’t know me anyway.

I wake, my mouth flapping and my chest hurting. It’s 5 days since I had stage one of reconstructive surgery. I went under feeling incredibly fit and well. My chest wound had healed so well and I had strength once more. I have navigated difficult decisions and arrived at a place of confidence as great as anybody can really have It was harder to get up on the table this time than it was last. It was elective surgery. So why put myself through it?

At first, I didn’t think I would ever go for it. I said stuff like, “They’ll only be speed bumps, they won’t be real.” I was in mourning. We women can’t help but have such a complicated relationship with our bodies. We ask so much of them. Our ladyhumps particularly. Ask any mum who has breastfed and you will get that dismissive ‘Well, they’re never gonna be the same again are they?’ No, they are not! But to lose them completely……that was something different again. And then when I could see the years still to come unfolding before me, it started to seem like a long time to do the penance of the staunch. I don’t want to hold on to the anger and the shock anymore. Despite reassurances  that I was no less of a woman, there was still the private moment I step into a bath, the secret throwing away of the naughty nighties, the sudden disappearance of the thrill of a hotel night.

This is difficult to admit but let’s get real. I think we are adult enough don’t you? So I’m taking a cue from  those women brave enough to chase their fantasies and take what’s available – breast cancer or not. It’s going to take a couple of months to achieve a result initially, then a year or so before completion. And when it’s done I shall be wearing a super-sexy-cool t-shirt which you will be able to purchase from my website, in aid of breast cancer awareness. It will say –


REPOST: Why Reading is a Modern Superpower

Reading is a Modern Superpower

Image ©

This is so true and so well put. Love it.

It is my contention that:  In the modern world, Reading is no less than a Superpower.

In this post I will explain the thinking behind this, and share 7 reasons why you should consider make reading an integral part of your daily life.

So sit back, strap in, and turn on, dear reader, while I expound upon…

View original post 1,150 more words


Opera House auditions for Star Wars Set

Opera House auditions for Star Wars Set

Sydney town, you had me this time. It was our second date. I haven’t fallen like this for a city since Paris –  Not Barcelona, not New York, not Melbourne. There were those three years spent with Edinburgh and I shan’t lie about that. That was first independent love. This is like a re-awakening of that first time when I felt seduced by the visceral constitution of a city, where I hit the ground running and wanted to disappear immediately into the labyrinth pattern of streets, to follow the of histories laid out in the layers of stone upon stone; to blend and merge with the smell of the air. Sydney town, famous for its beaches, its nightlife and its modern Ozzy confidence. The harbour bridge that stretches like the back of a Stegosaurus  joining the north and the south. The Opera House, with the creamy gold scales of a dragon just landed and happy to lie at the bottom of town. Two crazed parrots stealing sugar packet from my saucer and ripping it apart in a desperate frenzy for a sugar high. Dining out, the mode du jour would seem to be tapas – done so well. Exquisite blends of tastes and the best pork belly EVER in the well aired Victorian Room,  teaming with tiny dapper men and even tinier lady fashionistas, as if the city types want to dispel the image of brawny surfies and Amazon blondes. The blokes headed out to a King’s Cross pub to watch the rugby and my ladies took me on a whirlwind tiki tour of the northern inner city suburbs. We fetched up at a point looking out at the harbour bridge, with Luna Park to the left, looking like a tiny Constructa Straws creation, ferries floating in and out blinding with fairy lights, the sleeping Opera dragon under his bridge. And then a large, orange moonrise under the bridge just above the far rise of city buildings in the east. Oops.

Planning a Victorious Return

Planning a Victorious Return

It was a perfect trip. There was quite a swell at North Curl Curl as I played ‘Where’s Wally’ from the polenta-like sand, looking for my friend among the black dots, sitting like fleas on the sea. We all laughed and talked of our dreams for ourselves and the world in general because that’s what you do when you feel energised by people of like-minds, spurring each other on to achieve our potential as parents, creative spirits and status quo-challengers. It was the first time in a long time that I began to imagine myself living somewhere else, asking what it would take to transfer the family – even for just a few months. It’s easy to get stuck where you are, not that home is a bad place to get stuck, but there is just so much world out there. I had thought that National Geographic and BBC Discovery Channels would satisfy that part of me until our wee birds all fly the coop and the man and I can go a-wandering. But to really engage with a place, you’ve gotta live there for a while. And Sydney really beckoned. Reality is a dull mistress and I will not obey her yet. I will keep dreaming, plan a gig over there, the man already has workshops in place. More long weekends, a week, a month, THAT really is a possibility. Each time we will bring back more creative inspiration and that will infuse our lives here in smaller, lonelier, emptier New Zealand. It wasn’t long before I began to submerge under her dark waters again, we are the yin to Australia’s bright yang. But I’m happy to swap the arrogant daring of the bright and raucous Australian bird life for the more mellifluous and muted sheen of our feathered treasures! And the welcoming waiata at Auckland airport is one classy way to enter the country. Ah, we go away to appreciate coming home again. I just want to experience that exchange more often. Wake up and feel that youthful drive again. It was a perfect trip.


ImageNew Zealanders LOVE their potluck dinners. When I first came here 16 years ago, I was puzzled and disturbed in equal measure by this cultural staple. Of course I get it. I get it’s No.8 wire thinking, it’s hangi wannabe-ness, it’s diehard democracy and the fact that it gets the women’s vote. But it still drives me a little bit crazy.  For anybody not born into this great tradition, here is my attempt to clear up the conundrums, relieve the doubt and of course, take the piss like any civilized society does of it’s most embedded rituals.

Potluck Dinner v Bring a Plate

I quickly worked out that a Potluck Dinner is the slightly more formal and substantial version of ‘Bring a Plate’, which may be the instruction with an invitation to a shared lunch or morning tea. Anytime before the ‘I don’t have to pretend I don’t want a drink’ hour. That will vary.  Baby showers, work leaving-do’s-at-work, small charitable fundraisers, school fundraisers, and local community events of all persuasions can be accompanied by the instruction to ‘bring a plate’. This means covering a plate or platter with anything from cheese and biscuits to homebaked muffins or cakes and everything inbetween. Size is up to you – just how generous do you need to appear? Save your good serving plate and platter for the occasions when you won’t lose it if you leave it. Otherwise, plastic if you aren’t the colour of Kermit, or edible potato starch if you are. Tongs are the Kiwi serving implement of choice. Even for soup.

There are stories of expats like myself arriving for such an occasion literally with nothing more than an empty plate and a bottle of wine. Fears for crockery supply shortages duly allayed, the culprit will proceed to drink themselves into a stupour, not wanting to eat the feast to which they have made no contribution.

The Rules – Bring a Plate

There are no rules. EXCEPT

  1. It will be duly noted if you merely buy cheese slices and crackers at the dairy on the way – because you couldn’t be arsed to put any effort in.
  2. Packets of chips and dips are regarded as above, or that you have no culinary skills but perversely will be gratefully tolerated because everybody loves chips and dips. Especially if children are present.
  3. Nut and/or bhuja mixes are more suited to an adult-only gathering where those stressing about hip and gut expansion can tell themselves it’s the healthy alternative to 2.
  4. Muffins, while a national obsession, are VERY hard to get right and unless straight out of the oven will probably be stodgy and quite compromised in the flavour department. Nothing says Edmonds Cookbook (a Kiwi religious publication) like the taste of baking powder in whatever flavour muffin you were aiming for.
  5. Bought muffins look super and provide that cakey lovliness better than homemade.
  6. Ditto cakes EXCEPT bought cakes or cakes out a packet which NEVER live up to their temptress allure.
  7. Bought chocolate dips provided with strawberries should disappear off the plate and be secretly stashed away for when the host is re-decorating and it’s time to strip the paint.
  8. Celery/carrot/cucumber/capsicum cut into strips for dipping – what were you thinking? Never able to satisfy enough dip on one strip for their needs, guests will run the risk of a substantial let-down or be forced to commit the unsanitary crime of double dipping, thus contaminating accompanying dip with their saliva. Therefore – at FAMILY ONLY – or swingers – parties.
  9. Lollies provided by childfree attendees at a gathering of big and smalls. We hate you.

The Rules – Potluck Dinner

  1. If your inner voice is screaming ‘What is a potluck dinner?’ – ask. You will avoid the above scenario.
  2. If your inner voice is asking ‘entrée, mains or dessert?’ – ask. Or if, like me, you see an opportunity to be lazy, take pre-dinner nibbles. (See 2 & 3 in ‘The Rules – Bring a Plate’)
  3. Don’t go to any effort in the display department, chances are your dish will be superfluous and left on the bench in the corner above the dog’s bowl. In sniffing distance of the dog.
  4. Unless you have a signature smash hit,an offering of the main kiwi foodgroup – meat – doesn’t mean stressing about how to cook it. A contribution for charring on the barbie is fine.
  5. The other kiwi foodgroup – carbs – can include an homage to the glory of comfort food. Potatoes, diced and fried, kumara of all colours, tossed with vermicelli, pasta AND noodles, baked under a coating of béchamel sauce with extra cheese will rock out of it’s pot. Sprinkle with sesame/sunflower/pumpkin seeds and it will be included in the health food section of the table.
  6. If you’re instructed, or you’ve opted for dessert, whipped cream made exotic with marshmallows, M&M’s and grapes is easy and a surefire success. As is the one with melted Mars Bars, bananas, extra caramel sauce and, um, whipped cream.
  7. If hosting, consider whether you have included a fully trained current holder of a first aid certificate on your guest list. If a guest, bring one with you incase this has been overlooked.
  8. The potluck dinner suits bulimics down to the ground upon which they chunder.

Above all, remember that flouting of any or all of the rules at either of these occasions will be made possible with the addition of alcohol. However, whether it’s a 6-pack of boutique beers, a couple of bottles of organic red – or even a cask of cardonnay and a tray of Lion Red – it is NEVER ok to take your un-imbibed contribution home, as used to be the case with the terribly tight middle class dinner party tradition of the Home Counties.  So to be sure, drink it all yourself. It is the Kiwi way. As you leave, kiss the hosts, (once, not on both cheeks, this is not meterosexual Europe), pat the children on the head and cuddle the dog… cuddle the children, pat the hosts, kiss the dog…, oh I don’t know. Maybe that marshmallow, Mars Bar dessert needs a glug of the brandy I saw by the stove…….

I will providing a searing review of the said TT middle class DPT of the Home Counties in my next blog. One to watch.


Photo on 24-03-14 at 9.03 AMSelfies. We love them. The latest trend is for no make-up selfies to raise money for breast cancer awareness. Good cause. Follow up with regular checks and if you have any concerns, or are eligible for the free mammograms, go have one. Don’t drink too much alcohol, don’t eat too much sugar, eat whole foods, exercise enough blah blah PRAY THAT YOUR GENES ARE GOOD ONES……

First, thanks to my beautiful sweet friends who have done their own selfies. You haven’t tried to hide a thing. It shouldn’t be such a big deal should it, but I know that we don’t like going out without any enhancement. Jeez, if I don’t draw in some eyebrows these days, people think I’m sick again. Truly! And to my lovely friend whose mother died from the disease, I adore how you always add in there somewhere – FUCK CANCER! Don’t get too cross though, those cortisol levels need to stay low.

Going nude is quite liberating isn’t it? Models schmodels, the faces I like the best are the real ones, nervously smiling or showing the discomfort – no eyebrow or lash tinting, just you. Some of the faces have a quiet pride, ‘this is who I really am and it feels good’. Make-up does a lot more than paint our features doesn’t it? It’s as if we can paint ourselves into a personality, or a position in life, status, success, happiness! Yeah, it didn’t quite work out like that for me either. Amongst ourselves, though, it works – one of my friends is ROCKING a shade of red lipstick that I have been looking for all my life. I love it on her face! Well her lips anyway. And I think we all know that most men don’t care either way. Shall we be honest and say there’s other things they hope we won’t give up. Ever.

So I thought I’d share my own make-up free selfie. Of the thing in question.  If you all think your faces are scary without make-up, think again.

And look after beautiful selves. x


HEAR ME WHEN I SAY by Rachel Derham  

it usually starts like this

it usually starts like this

These aren’t just songs that I’ve written and recorded. This is the soundtrack to my life. It’s in the pssshht pssshht of the fly spray automatically going off, in the screams of the kids (as much in fury as in delight), in the rising screech of the washing machine going nuclear on the spin cycle, in the birds and the cicadas and in the door slamming.

Garageband. It’s a great way to get the soundscape blowing around my brain out of my head. I send small sound-bombs out to a circle of friends and acquaintances from time to time. I put one out on a community page a while ago and got more likes than anything else I’ve posted. It is cool to send them out to complete strangers from any and everywhere in the world.

That’s what it’s all about isn’t it, artistic expression? Connection?  If we’re honest, it’s pretty much about therapy as well. When I write music, I’m trying to find the right way to settle something within myself. If somebody else listening to it gets to settle something in themselves, then that’s a big thrill.  Connection therapy.

That’s what music does for us. It’s a beautiful way of reminding ourselves we’re not alone in feeling what we feel. There’s something for everyone with millions of tunes out there. We’re all different and inhabit different ‘clubs’ of music tastes. The opening bars of ‘Hey Ho, Let’s Go’ by The Ramones get me pogo-ing round the room but Glen Miller’s more like to get my mum tripping the light fantastic. I can’t second guess who’s going to like my stuff, that’s what makes it so interesting. I want to find out who’s going to like it. And why.

Yeah, of course I want to go viral and write a tune, which just gets into everyone’s head like a worm and I want to earn myself success doing what I love. Isn’t that the holygrail?

But if they all just make up the soundtrack to my life, I’m ok with that. Like a sound diary. Cars, screams and birds. The birds at the end of this song are kind of magical – a complete accident of timing, couldn’t have done it better if I’d have tried and I didn’t know they had done that until I listened back. Thank you, birds.