Tuesday 28 April 2015

"A cleaner! But I thought you called yourself a feminist!"

In some circles, hiring a cleaner is seen as un-feminist. In fact, it's seen as un-feminist to talk about cleaning, or woman's invisible role within the home at all. I sense an internalised misogyny - women's work isn't Real Important Feminism. Why don't we talk about the wage gap instead, so long as we can ignore the impact of the second shift on our roles in the workforce.

We live in a small rented apartment, so my partner's bacon-bringing home is strictly metaphorical. His manly duties extend to keeping (his) car warranted and registered, and cleaning (his) barbecue after (his) use. The rest of housekeeping - the laundry, the vacuuming, the endless churn of dinner and dishes - falls into the traditionally feminine sphere. If we followed the model in which I was raised, I'd do the lot.

When I was growing up, my brother was entirely excused from household chores (including taking off his muddy boots inside, choosing instead to create instead acres of sweeping and mopping daily). When I tried to chide him, our mother would snap: "He does lots of OTHER things around the house!" Back In The Day the Only Son surely did do a lot of work, but our suburban house didn't have trees to fell, hogs to slaughter, barns to raise, and so on and on. My brother's contribution included: changing lightbulbs, and "fixing cars," which meant removing the radio from my car and giving it to a friend of his, and removing the jack from my boot and then suggesting, when I called him from the roadside one dark cold night, that I should change the flat tire myself, sans jack. I wish I was exaggerating, but he really did change all the lightbulbs, so that's something.

Obviously, that model is untenable. Splitting chores 50/50 is ideal, but I chose to hire a cleaner because Partner and I are sharing a household for the first time, and with a third person to boot. All three of us have different standards of cleanliness and different ideas of how things ought to be done. Later, we'll reassess this decision, but it's great for now.

To return to the point: hiring a cleaner does not mean I'm not a feminist. Here's a short list of reasons why:

  • It's an opportunity to pay at least one woman a living wage. Plus, she set her own hours, can bring her kids with her to work... sure, the actual job sucks, but so do a lot of jobs.
  • It sets a rate of pay for household chores. The cost of getting something done in this house is $35 an hour. Sure, I'll put on a load of laundry, but since we both know how much that's worth, you better help hang it out. Someone said to me that $35 is an obscene amount of money to pay someone to scrub the toilet, but you know what's really obscene? That I'm expected to scrub it for free, which is the other option.
  • It removes some household management and micro-decisions. A lot of housekeeping is mental. Take planning dinner for example: you have short-dated mince which ought to be used, and an onion, and you think there's a half packet of lasagne noodles, and are there regular tinned tomatoes or only the weird "Mexican" ones? Is it too hot to run the oven this evening, if you get home at 6 that means you won't eat until 7.30 at the earliest and is that too late? So maybe lasagne's out, and you start the whole mental equation over again. Every day, and twice on Sundays when you go to the supermarket. Hiring a cleaner means you're not thinking "when did I last clean the toilet?" on top of all the rest.
  • Cleaning's a skill, and I'm not all that great at it. Our cleaner, bless her, got the weird white stuff off the shower door. What was it? I have no idea, but now it's gone.
  • Splitting the second shift in half doesn't eliminate it. We both work 40 hours a week. We both do half the chores. The second shift is split between us, but it's not gone. Outsourcing some of it means more time for the finer things in life, like cheap wine and NetFlix.
So yes, I do still call myself a feminist. And the toilet's very clean. 

Saturday 25 April 2015

Ordinary Times

Reading widely does not mean that you take in more than people that read narrowly. The human condition guarantees a certain sameness to life's narratives: love and happiness, sorrow and loss, evil and redemption, all bound up neatly in different coloured jackets. 

I read the following poem in a book about death, or rather, the end of life. The book is called The Undertaking - Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, by Thomas Lynch. The poem is called Nines, and is attributed to Henry Nugent. Lynch says in introduction, "the courtesies of copyright do not deter me from sharing here," perhaps because he is the author after all, and the poem has since been published under Lynch's own name.

Thus we proclaim our fond affirmatives:
I will, I do, Amen, Hear, Hear, Let's
eat, drink and be merry. Marriage is
the public spectacle of private parts:
cheque-books and genitals, housewares, fainthearts,
all doubts becalmed by kissing aunts, a priest's
safe homily, those tinkling glasses
tightening those ties that truly bind
us together forever, dressed to the nines.

Darling, I reckon maybe thirty years,
given our ages and expectancies.
Barring the tragic or untimely, say,
ten thousand mornings, ten thousand evenings,
please God, ten thousand moistened nights like this,
when mindless of these vows, our opposites,
nonetheless, attract. Thus, love's subtraction:
the timeless from the ordinary times -
nine thousand, nine hundred, ninety-nine. 

I like the breathless counting of it, the rhythm, and the clear shape of the lover's affection. I like the hope in it, the praise of ordinary times, and the celebration of the now, even sweeter for the knowing that it will someday end.

Friday 3 April 2015

My suitcase was perfect for a weekend in Melbourne. It has wheels and a handle for airports and hotels, and is roomy enough to fit a swag of shopping.

But when we went to the South Island recently, it kind of sucked. Scratch that - it really sucked. It was heavy. It didn't fit inside the tent and had to live in the car (you took a suitcase CAMPING, you say. Well, yeah, we parked all of 20 metres away from the campsite). It took up a lot of room in the compact car we rented.

Even once we'd shoved a tent and a camp stove and a saucepan in the suitcase, it still wasn't full, so I both over AND under packed, taking more than I needed of some things, and forgetting some others because I couldn't see what I had.

While the suitcase's wheels were great in the airport, and the extra space did mean we could pack down our food instead of spending valuable holiday time having an argument in the supermarket about the relative merits of dried pasta vs rice, it was overall not the best experience.

After lugging it up a flight of stairs to our Christchurch motel room, I started thinking about the Air B&Bs we'd already booked. That romantic attic room? Probably involves at least three flights of stairs. If the camping hadn't convinced me, that staircase did.

I asked around for recommendations, and everyone said MacPac. They're a New Zealand-based company, which really sealed the deal - it's not often you really get the chance to buy kiwi made. Better yet, people reported they'd had MacPac packs for ten, twenty, thirty years without any issues.

I bought my backpack on sale, but it was still absurdly expensive. You could get a couch for the same price, but of course that wouldn't be any good to take away. The shop assistant showed me how to use it, and fitted the pack to my body, an oddly intimate experience.

With a suitcase, you can cram a lot in, squirrelling socks away in crannies and cradling rolled t shirts between unworn pairs of shoes. In a backpack, there's a lot less room - maybe half as much. All your worldly goods are humped on your back, like the shell of a snail. It forces you to make tough packing decisions. It forces you to confront you are leaving a lot behind.

This post is one in a series. Check out everything I have to say about moving internationally here.


If you are young, and have a little bit of money, Auckland in summer can feel a lot like a tourist resort. It's not just the throngs of tourists who crowd the streets, it's how we experience the city. 


Every evening, we drink cocktails on the deck and watch the sun go down. 

The view from our place.

We hang out at inner city beaches after work.
Ten minute's drive away.

We wander around the art galleries and take in a show. 

Ugh, fireworks again?

On the weekends, there are free concerts in sprawling city parks. There is a new restaurant to try each week, Vietnamese, Thai, tapas, and fusion. 

Drinks after work.

Salmon pasta from a place called Rad.

Waiheke with its dusty vineyards is only a ferry ride away. 

Mmmm... pre-wine.
If you are young and have a little bit of money, it is stupendously easy to have a wonderful time here. 

If you don't have any money, this city is terrible

There's another reason this place feels like a tourist resort. If you will excuse the bourgeois phrasing, there's no way to move ahead. Owning a house or an apartment in this city is an impossibility on my wage (please, before you comment and tell me otherwise, I have researched. I have tried.) The government is disinterested, appears to be corrupt, and there's little we can do except - what? Wait? There are jobs, but not all that many, and a pay rise outside of the public sector is unheard of. I can count on one hand the number of my peers who have had children. 

There's nothing to do except have a wonderful time. 

If you follow me on Twitter, you already know we're moving. Jesse and I are packing up everything we own and taking seven weeks to wander around the US before heading to London.

This decision has been a long time coming. Jesse has wanted to go for as long as I've known him. I love it here, and I have been reluctant to go, but it's time. If we leave it any later, I'll age out of the youth visa. My sister has a spare room in London where we can stay while we get our feet. 

It was a friend's graduation in the US which provided the final incentive. Jesse posed the question after I'd had a bad day of work, and cried into a glass of wine. "What if we never come back?" he said. "Go to the graduation and then just keep going?" 
"Fine!" I said, "Let's go away and never come back!" 

It's a childish impulse, and an impossible idea. What if we just leave all of our problems behind? That's not how it works. That's not why we're going. But we're going just the same. 

Jesse and I took a weekend in the South Island. We wanted to see Grant, who was finishing an Aoraki Bound course, before embarking of his long held dream of messing around New Zealand on a bicycle. It was our last chance to see him, maybe for a couple of years.

It was also our last chance to see the South Island, for a couple of years, so we booked tickets and researched campsites to offset the expense.

On the morning of our flight I silenced the caw of the alarm, and went to open the door of the bathroom. It didn't budge. I tried again, then called to Jesse quietly.
"What do you mean the door won't open?"
"What do you think I mean by that?"

He tried, and shifted the door a hands-breath, wide enough to reach in an arm, the claws of hammer, but couldn't reach the mop, which had toppled from behind the washing machine and jammed the door.
"I'll have to force it," said Jesse.
"We're having door troubles," I apologised to our flatmate's girlfriend, who had emerged to see what the fuss was. A moment later, the flatmate appeared. I imagined them whispering incredulously in the half dark. "What do you mean, door troubles?"

Jesse put his shoulder to the door and forced himself through the reluctant gap. I banished the mop to the deck. All weekend we retold the story: remember the bathroom door?

At the airport, the taxi driver apologised for his driving as he hefted our bags from the boot. I hadn't noticed.
"It's been a long night," said the driver.

We had been in the air for ten minutes before I remembered I'm afraid of flying, except maybe I'm not anymore. I spent the rest of the journey smiling smugly to myself.

Christchurch was cold, cold like I'd forgotten existed over this long summer. "It's seven degrees!" I cried, then instagramed a picture of myself wrapped up snug.

"Imagine," I said, "living somewhere where you had to wear a hat."

We breakfasted in a pirate themed cafe, and were on the road before ten. I did most of the driving, watching the land unfurl from pastures to plowed fields, to tussock. Jesse checked the map:
"We're not even on the scenic route yet," he said as we passed over another bridge. The sky was clear and impossibly blue, but the rivers and mountains and lakes were bluer. The roads were very straight and flat. We went a hundred kilometres without seeing a passing lane, but didn't need one, as there was almost no other traffic around.

In Geraldine, I marvelled at the World's Largest Jumper, and patted all the local yarns.
"I'm going to buy them all," I said.
"Sure," said Jesse, but when I turned for the door, he looked up from his phone and said, "what about your yarn?"
"I can't, remember? We're going."

At Lake Tekapo, I found a flying fox, and whizzed down it twice. We parked at Peter's Lookout ("Look out, Peter!" I said) and pushed through the brush to the lake shore.

Then we were driving again, threading our way between the mountains. At the vistor's centre at Aoraki, we turned the pages of the four thick memorial books, looking at the faces of the ones who had gone before us, and not come back.

Jesse picked a campsite with a view of the mountains, and we set up his little yellow tent. Mt Cook village is nestled into the base of the mountains, a flat, wide valley covered with yellow tussock. The mountains rise straight up on three sides, giving the peculiar impression you are in the bottom of a bowl.

We cooked our dinner in the Public Shelter, a hall with high ceilings and metal sinks across one wall. There was no electricity, but there was running water. A group of travellers was slicing onions and mushrooms, beating eggs, and selecting spices from a large tupperware box. I had bought a packet of pre-cooked rice, and a heat-in-the-bag curry. 
"It's nice," said Jesse. 
"Mmm, it is, but it looks like cat sick," I said. 

We shared a picnic table with two travelling couples, who after a quick nod to us, went back to their conversation. "I want to travel for at least three years," said the woman of the younger pair. 
"I've been travelling since I was 20," said the woman of the older couple, "and I think I'm ready to settle down, maybe have a family. A pet. And the jobs you get when travelling - I'm sick of picking fruit and cleaning other people's houses. I think I'm ready to live in one place, you know?"
"I think it's a shame how people don't travel," said the first woman, "It wasn't until I went overseas that I realised I've never seen my own home. There are amazing places an hour away from where I grew up, and I've never seen them."
"That's always the way," said the younger man, "do you know how many New Zealanders haven't seen the South Island?"

It was still early, so we climbed the crag and watched the sun begin to set behind the hills. 

The airbed I'd bought didn't quite fit inside the tent. We shoved it in anyway. It filled the entire floorspace, and , and the next morning both woke up sneezing from the flurry of feathers which had leaked from his sleeping bag. 

I was snuffling and wiping my nose at the picnic table outside the tent when Chris appeared. 
"Hey Chris!" said Jesse.
"Chris!" I said. "Would you like a water? Juice? Coffee? Or maybe a cider?" I added hopefully. It was 10am. Chris wanted a coffee and we set up the little stove top pot and poured espresso into bright melamine cups. It was a beautiful day, but windy. Chris had already been for a walk. I put hot cross buns, dried mango and scroggin in front of him. "Eat," I urged. 

In the car park we met Grant's parents before being gently herded to where the pōwhiri was to take place. A tall man told us what to expect, translating every word we may not have known, lending his speech a strangely doubled quality. "When we hear the karanga, welcome song, the wāhine - woman - lead the way and sit at the back, and then the tāne - men - follow and sit at the front. The women lead the waiata, song.

After the pōwhiri and formal speeches, we ate a feast from plastic plates - chicken and steak and sausages and mussels and thick slices of sourdough bread, salad and fresh fruit and lemon cake. The participants each shared what they had gotten out of the experience. One said, "I can't believe I ran a half marathon this morning!" He talked about running towards Aoraki, an ancestor, and what an honour it was to run to his feet. "But Aoraki didn't think we'd been tested enough and blew his breath in our faces the whole time!" he laughed. 

Another spoke of how close the group had grown in such a short time, and that he believed, He hono tangata e kore e motu; ka pa he taura waka e motu: unlike a canoe rope, a human bond cannot be severed.

Another talked about pounamu. Pounamu is at once something you walk upon when it lies in the rivers, something you take with you as a pendant, and something you carry inside you, a lesson, or a personal truth or treasure which is with you always. 

Later we ate dinner with Grant and his parents and Chris. Grant was amazed - "I can't believe this. Being indoors is so - you know." He told us stories about getting up before the sun rose, and sailing a cutter, and spending 24 hours alone in the bush, and Doug the poop spade.

We had planned a long walk the next morning, but we woke up to a mizzling wet and took a short one instead, over two suspension bridges, and through rocks and brush. 

We played Pooh-sticks off the second bridge. They dropped down for long seconds before disappearing into the churn and struggling through the rapids down the river. My stick won.

Back at camp, Chris reappeared just as we were talking about taking down the tent. "Coffee?" I said hopefully, but Jesse overruled me and we took down the tent in the rain, stuffing it angrily in the hire car. After a shower at the backpackers where Grant was staying with his parents, I felt much more human. "There's nothing like washing your hair, taking a bath, or going for a walk to make you feel better," said Grant's mum. 
"I've done two of the three today," I laughed. 

We brunched and lingered over surprisingly good coffees, before we had to say goodbye and drive back to Christchurch and head to home. "That's the first goodbye," I thought, watching the landscape slip away from mountains and tussock, to fields, to pasture, before it was hidden by houses again.