Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Postscript on plastics

Many thanks for the comments on the plastics post! Yes, "Rae", I have seen the photos of your daughter in her gorgeous (truly) wedding dress crocheted out of plastic bags (if you send me a digital version I'll even post it on the blog). And I'll eagerly await your Xmas gift of a recycled bag bathmat (but please use only blue ones or it won't tone in).

Other posters: The charming descriptions of worm farms and non-smelly composting were almost alluring. Now how about coming round to build and maintain one for me, or maybe even me and my other four townhouse neighbours? But I really did appreciate the realism about the virtues of plastic, and I couldn't agree more about the rat shroud.

A nice footnote: the Sunday Star Times recently reported (sorry, tried to find it on the Net and couldn't) that a clever kid has spurred her school to use its buying power. It's persuaded the supplier of its bought-in lunch items to use paper bags and wrapping instead of plastic. Way to go.

But a reader's letter points out that the paper's crusade against plastic was undercut when it gave out hundreds of copies of the paper at a recent Fun Run - all wrapped in plastic.

If the women are naked why bother with the news?

Young women aged at least 20 (and probably not more than 21) have been invited to audition to read the news naked for Alt TV. My only question is, why bother with the charade of reading the news?

Why not just screen a procession of naked women 24 hours a day, broken only by the ads? For that matter, why not just bring in a new employment regulation?

Any woman judged to be sufficiently attractive by her male employer (or, in the much less likely situation of having a female employer, the next most senior male) should be required to work naked, whenever the nature of her work allows it. (I mean, we wouldn't want them to get pneumonia or skin cancer, would we, that wouldn't be very nice.)

On second thoughts, let's combine this idea with an amendment to the new law on breast-feeding. Employers now have to provide somewhere suitably private for women to breast-feed their children. But we're missing a trick here, surely.

Women who breast-feed have to expose at least part of their breasts. If they're inconsiderate enough to insist on breast-feeding when they should be working, why not make some money out of them? Employers could set up special glass booths where the attractive ones breast-feed in full view of the rest of the workforce - the male workforce, anyway.

We can call it multi-tasking. That's what women are supposed to be g00d at. So let's go the whole hog and kill two birds with one stone.

See "Gambling For Profit & Misery", my new Letter from Elsewhere, on Scoop at

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Being astonished by Frances Hodgkins on St Patrick's Day

On St Patrick's Day I had the rare pleasure of running away. It's always a poignant day for me because my younger son was called Patrick, and he died 20 years ago when he was 18. But it's also a very longstanding friend's birthday.

As she has just retired and it was an amazingly fine day, we ran away up to Waikanae and to Mahara Gallery, which is showing Frances Hodgkins and Seraphine Pick. I hadn't remembered that this small gallery has a unique connection with Frances Hodgkins. Her sister Isobel's family lived at Waikanae, and her ashes were brought back from England to be buried there. The gallery has a collection of her work and from time to time holds carefully chosen exhibitions of it.

This one is small but striking, with paintings from 1869 to 1921. What I liked best were two side by side showing a mother and child.

The first one dates from 1906. It's a beautiful but still relatively conventional watercolour. The one next to it was painted just ten years later, in 1916, but the change is astonishing. It's full of movement and colour, and the mother and child form a pattern with the rich fabric of their clothes and the background.

I'm not putting this very well, because I don't know enough artspeak to describe how the painting works. The other thing that made it so striking for me was that I'd never seen it before, and discovering a previously unseen Hodgkins is a tremendous pleasure.

The sister exhibition by Seraphine Pick is full of pleasures too, although they are darker and more disturbing ones - especially as they so often evoke that scary decade, the 1950s. I remember seeing a very early exhibition containing her work - I think it was a series of small coloured-pencil drawings, including some of marching girls. (I could have this completely wrong and if so, Seraphine, I apologise.)

I wanted to buy one but didn't. That's the story of my life as far as buying art goes - I see something I really like (Pick, Nigel Brown, Shane Cotton, even Colin McCahon, back in the early 1960s) but get nervous and think I can't afford it, and then a few years later wish I had followed my instincts.

Well, in the case of the McCahon that's not true - it was one of the first contemporary New Zealand art exhibitions I'd ever seen and it never even occurred to me that I could actually buy one. Except for one couple who owned a Binney, I didn't know anyone who bought original paintings.

Go and see the Hodgkins and the Pick if you can - the exhibitions end 30 March. For details, go here.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Getting rid of plastic: why it's no use talking to me

Getting rid of plastic is a noble and necessary aim, and I wouldn't say a word against it. But I am fed up to the back teeth with articles like the ones currently running in the Sunday Star Times.

First, some poor woman flagellates herself about her reckless use of plastic. She then gets ticked off by a righteous greenie, who tells her how to mend her planet-destroying ways.

She mustn't use the insinkerator to get rid of kitchen scraps because it wastes gallons of fresh drinking water. Yes, that's true, it does, and I've stopped using mine (smug expression) for that very reason.

But that still leaves the problem of what to do with the smelly stuff. (Let's just note in passing that the more fresh food you cook at home - as recommended by that very same greenie - the more smelly stuff you have to get rid of.)

A compost heap is of course the ideal - and we did faithfully compost for years. But moving to an urban infill townhouse (again, greenie-recommended) with a tiny garden has put an end to that. So we put it in the rubbish, and to do that without ponging out the kitchen, we - like the hapless woman, in this case Rose Hoare - line the kitchen bin with a plastic bag.

Shocking, I know. So what does the greenie recommend instead? A worm farm - "perhaps on a balcony?" I have heard this "solution" before, and I have news for you: as the only alternative offered where compost is impractical, it is not going to be widely adopted. Ever.

It is simply no good making individual citizens - in fact, individual women, since I don't recall ever seeing chaps subjecting themselves to public tickings-off like this - responsible for privately solving a problem which they didn't cause in the first place.

Poor Rose is not going to rid the world of plastic bags no matter how many worm farms she sets up, any more than she is going to stop takeaway sushi bars using plastic boxes by printing out her work and eating it crouched over the usual tiny table in the sushi bar instead (And by the way, why is this woman so appallingly overworked that she doesn't even get to take a proper lunch break??)

The only sensible approach to getting rid of plastic is to throw the responsibility back where it belongs. The supermarkets, takeaway bars, yoghurt makers, et al are the ones who put all this stuff into circulation in the first place.

Then they leave us to tie ourselves in knots trying to avoid it - and feel incredibly guilty when we inevitably fail. And if there is one thing no modern woman needs, it's having another load of guilt dumped on her head.

Now that the cloth bags are really cheap, charging for plastic bags is a good idea. But I'm working on a plan to deal with plastic in a completely different way. It involves pausing just before I get to the checkout counter, carefully divesting everything in my trolley of all the surplus packaging, and leaving it neatly piled on top of the nearest display of goods.

If the supermarket insists on buying it packed that way, they can take care of it. If they don't like it, they can have words with the manufacturers. Meanwhile, leave poor Rose alone.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Joining the blogosphere

I've been meaning to get around to starting a blog for, oh, at least two years or so. So now, thanks to the help of my good friend Rachel McAlpine (web writing adviser to the world) I'm finally DOING IT. Only problem now is - what to write?

Maybe I should introduce myself. I'm in my (very early) sixties. Right now I'm sitting in my study in the townhouse my husband and I moved to about nine months ago. Moving is always ghastly but we were also badly out of practice, since we hadn't done it for fifteen years. But it was worth it. And right after we did it, the housing market in New Zealand started to collapse, so we feel as if we've escaped a huge scary monster by the skin of our teeth.

I work at home as an editor and I write "for fun". Well, not exactly. As Linda Grant recently wrote, writing is not fun, and we would not do it if there was anything else we could find to do that was as absorbing, because it involves "going into your study to fail and failing until lunchtime".