My new girl-crush

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I’ve made a new friend, and I’m kind of stoked about it. Some close mates of mine told me that their Great Aunt had been moved into a local resthome and that they were going to travel down to Taranaki to visit her over summer.

“Oh, I can go and visit her if she wants some company,” I said, chipping some of the tarnish off my rusty halo. I figured I would drop in once or twice, take Bubba to twirl for the delight of the oldies and that would be that.

But I was wrong.

Lyla, the lovely lady I visit, is absolutely gorgeous and just a delight to chat to. I LOVE my weekly catch-ups with her. When I first met her I thought she was so sharp and in pretty good shape so I figured her to be around 75 or maybe 80.

She’s 97. It’s just incredible. She taught yoga for years, in a church up north. After she’d been using the church for classes for around 6 years some locals decided that yoga was pretty much the work of the devil and she had to stop. She didn’t. She said, no – I’ve been here six years and I’m going to go for one more. And she did, much to the dismay of the local lynch-mob. While they were trying to bully her out Lyla’s grand-daughter was born partially blind.

“See?” They said – “that’s what you get for being so wicked!”

Can you even imagine?

One time I went to visit Lyla and she was tired, her and her friend had decided to take a wander around the sprawling grounds of the resthome (it’s huge and houses a hospital and community of retirement apartments too) the day before. They took off for such a hike that 4 carers had been sent off to hunt them down. They did it all on their walkers, up hill and down dale – I imagine they tied silk scarves around their hair Thelma and Louise-style but I have no proof of that.

During my visit yesterday Lyla was telling me all about a little party the home had put on for the residents and their families, an afternoon tea in ‘olden-day style.’ Beautiful hats were mandatory, scones and tea were served in lovely vintage crockery and old-time music was played while the revellers partied until the wee small hours of the late afternoon.

How lovely would that be? It got me thinking about the kind of yesteryear parties they’ll plan when I’m in a resthome. I talked about it with the Viking, we decided that the staff might dust off some early model iPads and we could all sit around in our cow onesies playing Angry Birds and listening to One Direction. Which sounded pretty shit by comparison really.

What do you think the icons of our generation will be? Please don’t say Justin Bieber. 

 

Why I will never go to a Foam Party

Foam parties - testing the limits of waterproof mascara and string bikinis since 1992

Foam parties – testing the limits of waterproof mascara and string bikinis since 1992

I would like to tell you that the Viking and I were sitting, hand in hand, retelling tales of our youth when the subject of foam parties came up, but in actual fact we were watching Gavin & Stacey. Gavin was dragged along to a foam party and, quite sensibly, thought it was shite.

I have never been to a foam party, although in my younger years I did think they looked ah-may-zing. Like, Oh My God! A friend showed me a photo of her and a bunch of board short wearing muscular types cavorting at a foam party in London and I thought, “phwoar – that looks like good fun.” But I never made it to one. Poor little foamless Steph.

I asked the Viking if he’d ever been to one. He had. Of course. Our youths were so different. My party locations were seasonally determined, summer = beach party or outdoor concert, winter = house or, when things got rural, woolshed parties. Growing up in Norway the Viking had all of Europe as his playground. Summers and graduation celebrations were generally spent in Spain or Greece, winters were closer to home, skiing in the day and warming the cockles in mountain cabins of an evening.

He said that after high school had finished him and about a dozen other young fellows went to celebrate on the Greek Island of Hersonissos. I had a ‘burn your notes bonfire’ in Waitara but that’s by the by. Back to Greece. So all the lads took themselves off to a foam party. My mind instantly conjured up images of debauchery, topless maidens swirling around in the foam and draping their soapiness all over my husband. Those horrible, slutty, imaginary teenage girls from the past!

I asked the Viking if that’s exactly what it was like. He insists that the state him and his friends was in on that island shaped them into a woman-repelling force. I have my doubts, strapping young lads with accents and piercing blue eyes – I wouldn’t have minded the odd drunken slur back in my hey-day.

Back to the foam – I asked if he’d enjoyed it. He said it was the worst party he’d ever been to. Factors I hadn’t considered came into play. Your beer tastes like Sunlight liquid detergent. When the foam evaporates you’re just wet, and then it gets cold. The Viking said that the foam at this party wrecked the sound system so the music stopped and it was more like a carwash than a party.

And then him and one of the boys wanted to go home and they waited forever for a taxi only to have one stolen from under their noses by a some lads who said that their friend had broken his hand and they had to just duck in and get him and quickly go to the hospital. The taxi driver said “sure sure if these guys don’t mind.” Of course the Viking and his equally as socially responsible companion said “be our guest” and the friends ran back inside to get their injured mate. As soon as they were out of view the taxi driver said “get in you boys, I’m not taking someone to the hospital, it’s too risky that they might blame me and I’ll lose my taxi. If you don’t get in I’m leaving anyway.”

So in they hopped and went home to the aromatic delight that must be 12 teenage boys sharing close quarters.

I’ve decided it’s all a part of me growing up, this not wanting to do the things I used to. Maybe I’m a bit slow off the mark with these realisations, but going to a foam party hold about as much appeal as drinking from the bladder of a baboon nowadays.

Have you ever been to a foam party? Or, given the chance – would you get soapy on the dancefloor? 

The Biology of Boganism

A flanno, mullet and frosted tips - this bogan's got it all

A flanno, mullet and frosted tips – this bogan’s got it all

I would love to say that I have noticed more of this strange beast as we get closer to the warmer months, but alas, it appears that the ‘bogan’ is an evergreen, he takes no break for cold seasons and has no need for hibernation as he warms his denim-clad cockles on smoking exhausts and roll-your-own ciggies.

My hometown is not shy of a bogan or two, a fact I’ve been reminded of recently. We live on a street that leads down to one of the city’s main beaches – which is fantastic, although many a bogan likes to drop some phat beats out of his pimped-out ride (I know, I’m SO gangsta) on the way to check out the waves. Actually, I remember going down this very street as a youngster, probably in someone else’s bogan-wagon to a party in the beach carpark. A party that was to farewell one of the town’s brightest young things on his way to, well I don’t know, and he wasn’t ‘bright’ so much as good looking and probably a rugby player. In fact he was so cool he didn’t even show up to the party.

But I digress.

The bogan. I am somewhat of an expert at recognising bogans as one of my earliest suitors was a definite bogan. All he ever wanted for birthday, Christmas or anniversary presents was car speakers. I remember doing a count up at one stage and he had 17 speakers in his 1970s Ford Escort. For a short time he had two of those huge wooden box house speakers on the backseat, leaving so little passenger space that only his smallest friend could squeeze in between. I was left to sit in the front on the knee of his 6 foot 5 best friend because, y’know safety first. It’s no wonder I can’t hear the TV now with the way he pumped Violet Femmes through those speakers.

I remember one particularly enchanted evening when we were out a cruisin’ and the car’s normally grunty exhaust suddenly became noticeably more grunty. It started to sound more like a machine gun and, I kid you not, as we turned a corner a young man threw himself down on the pavement – sure he may have seen Boys In The Hood one time too many but he was genuinely frightened. Luckily for me, my Romeo had an old bit of rope in the boot and it was my job to hold the piece of rope – which was wrapped around the broken exhaust – outside of the passenger window of the car until we could get to a safe area for some quick repairs. Oh the romance! I still swoon whenever I hear a car backfire.

And now, as I look upon these lovely little motorhead morsels revving their engines up and down my street, noses barely visible over the steering wheels from their bucket seats, sunglasses on on the darkest, rainiest days I think to myself – far out, that was a lucky escape.

Have you ever dated a bogan? Or are you, proudly, a bogan? How fat are your rims?

 

Finally, the lady opens the kimono

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Mount Taranaki is the ultimate provincial icon, her silhouette is etched into everything from logos to tattoos to the hearts of every local. When I told a friend I was moving back she said “they say the mountain calls everyone home.” Which was a bit eerie at the time because I do feel like it’s true.

But our mountain is an elusive beast, much of the time she’s cloaked in clouds, seldom offering more than a glance of snow-peaked tip through the grey. Some people wonder if she exists at all, as she loves a good hide from the weekend roadtrippers. She’s all peek and no boo. She’s not exactly flirtatious, you need to court her for some time before she’ll show you her wares. I wish I could say the same was true for most of us ladies from the provinces, who’ve been sometimes known, (cough cough) for our friendly spirits (tarring myself with the same brush there, my friends).

Like many new visitors the Viking has been hanging out for a bit of mountain. (If you want to read a childish pun into that last sentence feel free, I know I giggled when I read it back.) But of course she has draped herself in thick grey rainclouds since we arrived. Even when the sun shone through yesterday she was nowhere to be seen.

“That mountain’s got until Tuesday to show itself” said the Viking.

“And then what happens?”

“I’ll start complaining.” (which was funny because he’d already jumped the gun by complaining from our arrival about the absence of snow-capped wonder).

“Maybe I’ll write a letter or something.” he added.

“To whom?”

“The Mayor.”

During our picturesque walk yesterday, where we passed by a gorgeous lake and drank in the beautiful spring aroma of those little white flowers I don’t know the name of (a little help?), and I commented that I think my heart-rate actually drops down a few beats just being close to the ocean, the Viking said that the only thing that would improve things would be the mountain.

Lake Rotomanu

Lake Rotomanu

 

And then, this morning, I was called forth from the boudoir, still encased in chenille and flannel pjs to behold the majesty apparent from our front yard….

In all her glory

In all her glory

And oh what a happy Viking I had on my hands! Maybe the sight of snow does for him what the sound and smell of the ocean does for me.

If Mount Taranaki looks familiar to you, and you’ve never made it to these parts, she made a cameo appearance in The Last Samurai as Mount Fuji a few years ago. It was a time when the province counted Tom Cruise as a local and started referring to itself as Tomanaki. A little bit shameless but the film did wonders for this place. Even Mount Taranaki came out to play when Hollywood was in town, although I’d do what I was told too if I had this running at me:

theLastSamurai-tom

*The painting at the top is by Christopher Perkins, my parents have a print at their house.

What’s your home icon? Do you feel the gravitational pull of the sea or does a good cafe with a righteous flat white cut the mustard in your neighbourhood?

The first concert I ever went to

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The year was 1986. I was 8 years old and thrilled from the soles of my kung fus to the tip of my side-pony to be allowed to attend two concerts over three nights at Taranaki’s most prestigious outdoor music venue – the Bowl of Brooklands.

The Bowl - in my opinion, New Zealand's best outdoor concert venue

The Bowl – in my opinion, New Zealand’s best outdoor concert venue

For those of you not familiar with the provincial prowess that is Taranaki, New Zealand,  let me impart upon you my fond memories of ‘the Bowl’ Many, many a big name act have performed on this stage. Jack Johnson, REM, UB40 – what’s that you say? UB40? The 80s reggae icons who penned the song sung by every person who has stained their lips and their tongues purple by sucking back a bottle of red for the good of their heart? Oh yes – them. And it was UB40 who were to be the first band I ever saw live. What a way to kick off a lifelong love of live music. My sisters and older cousin had been shackled with chaperone duties over my annoying younger sibling self. They begrudgingly accepted the duties in exchange for tickets but got their revenge by dressing me like some sort of Cyndi Lauper/Boy George tribute doll. My cousin had an obsession with blusher that was sadly encouraged by her pop icons and took it out on my face that night. I wasn’t allowed to look in the mirror before I left. I was shown how to dance like Molly Ringwald and made to perform like a wind-up 1980s monkey repeatedly while we queued our way into the Bowl.

Shoddy bone-structure? Just paint it on love!

Shoddy bone-structure? Just paint it on love!

But my mood could not be dampened. Even my slight fear when a big, drunk guy stumbled into my sister was quickly dispelled when a nearby, even bigger and not quite as drunk guy picked him up by the collar and told him to ‘vacate the area’ in fewer words. The same beefcake then started drinking from a hipflask he had inserted into a lovely tapestry cushion to sneak in past the liquorban and kindly offered it to my teenage sister. She wisely said no but kept him close by for security purposes. And as my sisters and cousin kept me within their peripheral vision from as far away as possible, I danced and twirled, snapping my suspender straps and tipping my bowler hat at my older lady fan base. Back in the 80s, the Bowl crowd would show their appreciation for the act by swimming across the eel-ridden moat and sitting on the edge of the stage, sometimes swaying with lighters flicking, often with boobs out. Nowadays there are some killjoy rules about not swimming across the moat and splashing muddy water onto the electrical-wire covered stage – I must agree that barbequed rockstar is rarely a crowdpleaser but watching the sodden faithfuls clamber onto the stage was a very fond childhood memory of mine.

I’ve been taken back to that heady night recently because the UB40 classic, There’s a rat in the kitchen has been stuck in my head for days. Why? Because my mother, the least rodent-loving human to roam this earth found a filthy giant rat striding through her kitchen like  some sort of rat druglord. Unfortunately for Mum, at the time Dad was staying with us for a couple of nights on his way back from a business trip. She was alone with the rat. Wisely, she skyped my sister while holding two walking sticks as weaponry and standing on top of a chair. Apparently my sister peppered her advice with fits of laughter and jokes of the ‘look out! It’s behind you!’ nature. She did wisely suggest getting a professional in though, advice Mum took immediately. A rat-finding wonderwoman swiftly trapped the giant rat and Mum banged pots around the rest of the house to scare off any of the rat’s brothers and sisters. I’m fairly sure she considered hanging the trapped rat up as a warning to others, Braveheart style, but she was scared it would detract from the peonies that have flowered by the front door. And what support did I provide to my mother during this ordeal? I posted this video to her facebook page of course.

Who was the first band you saw in concert? Has red, red wine ever gone to your head?

Facebook likey likey

Nowadays every man and his blog has a business facebook page. What’s that you say? Yes, Sassmouth Mama does have its own page actually. Hmmm? Yes, it’s been stuck on 69 likes for quite some time now, and yes, it is an awkward number to stall at.

*silence*

*audible blink*

Anyway my friends, there are a great range of Facebook pages – some are very good, informative and spice up your newsfeed nicely. There are others that spam the crazy out of you and do the equivalent of the new tweeters daily “morning tweeps!” tweet. [Read more…]

A boot-scootin showdown

My Aunty Janine boot-scoots. Well, I’m not sure if she calls it boot-scootin’ but she line-dances and whenever she tells a line-dancing story I have images of barn dances, gingham and cowboy hats.

Aunty Janine, or Aunty Nene as we call her, is a wee bit fabulous. She’s always been fabulous. She could apply a shimmery, stage-make-up eye-shadow in under two minutes, she taught all the kids how to do the jazz square and watched our dance recitals with unbridled delight. She’s a woman of handbags, scarves and shoes – her wardrobe has dangly bits, sparkly bits and more pops of colour than you could shake a glowstick at.  [Read more…]

And then we all cried

Here I am! In my hometown and feeling pretty smug, exhausted and hay-fevery (ain’t no pollen like hometown pollen) after flying into New Zealand on Thursday.

Operation Surprise Grandad is complete. My big sister Lynley hatched a cunning plan to fly Bubba Sass and I back to the homeland, on the quiet, to surprise my Mum, Dad, other sister and nieces with our arrival.

But my Mum foiled our plan by booking her ticket to leave Melbourne for the day after we were scheduled to fly out. I’m a tricky trickster and a good fib-teller but I don’t think I could smuggle a huge suitcase and the baby out the door without her noticing. So we let Nana in on the plan, which was risky, but at the end of the day worked out because it meant she could change her flight and come to the airport with us and she didn’t have to go through a sad farewell unnecessarily. [Read more…]

A fresh outlook

I haven’t worked for three months, I’d probably be quite worried if I didn’t have a fresh outlook on life. So, I’ve been back in New Zealand since mid December and have travelled a little up and down the North Island to catch up with friends and family. It’s been great. I love Kiwi summers and I’ve managed to follow the sunshine wherever it goes.

I started off in Wellington, where I had to reconsider the wisdom of buying so many floaty summer skirts and dresses. They don’t call it ‘windy Wellington’ for nothing. I had a good time catching up with my friends there for a few days, I felt quite the little socialite actually with all my lunches and dinners. But, after a few days of that I needed to get away so escaped to a friend’s bach in Ngawi. I love Ngawi, it’s such a rough coast, it reminds me of Taranaki – but with more tractors on the main road. I read somewhere that there are more tractors than there are permanent residents in Ngawi, due to everyone needing them to pull the fishing boats in.

So I had a lovely couple of days lying in the sunshine and watching the boats coming in. I did venture out for a wee adventure though, and I of course managed to pick an unbelievably windy day to do it. I wanted to walk along the coast to the lighthouse, which is far further away than I’d remembered. I ended up walking along the road, which was being steamrolled or whatever they do to push the gravel down into the road, and the nice man driving the big machine stopped to let me pass without being completely coated in dust. Then I decided, in my infinite wisdom, to peer over a cliff at the way that the seaweed was being blown with the direction of the choppy water – it really looked amazing. Then I realised that I was having to brace myself entirely against being blown in for a closer look at said seaweed so I turned to walk towards the road (and away from the water) when another sudden gust of wind blew my t-shirt completely over my head, and, as luck would have it, the normally barren Ngawi road was suddenly inhabited by a car filled with surprised looking surfers, no doubt laughing at me struggling against the wind and my t-shirt to make my way to safer shores.

Soon after this, when I was stomping along the road again, a boy came tearing around a corner on his quadbike and nearly took me out and I decided that perhaps today wasn’t the best day for climbing the lighthouse so I turned back. I was no longer feeling at one with nature. My slightly sore heels from some new blisters developed into being excruciatingly painful and I was faced with the ‘bare feet on gravel’ option or put up with the blisters. As I was unhappily pondering this the friendly big machine driving man pulled up beside me in his ute and offered me a lift home. Normally, I’m not big on jumping in cars with strangers (Mum used to tell me hitch-hiker horror stories as a child to reinforce the ‘stranger danger’ message) but it was pre-Christmas and he looked a bit like Santa and my options were running low. Clearly, I made it back in one piece and then managed to lock myself outside and had to climb through the window to get back in but there was never a glass of pinot noir that tasted better than the one I had that night.

From Ngawi I went briefly back to Wellington then up to Taranaki for Christmas. Taranaki is beautiful, there is absolutely no doubting it. When I got there Fleetwood Mac were playing at the Bowl of Brooklands. I love the Bowl of Brooklands, I went to my first concert there when I was about eight, it was UB40 and I loved it. But I didn’t go to Fleetwood Mac, I heard it was great though. I was initially amused at the amount of Stevie Nicks lookalikes around town, and I chuckled to myself about how devoted some people were, until I looked down at my long bohemian style skirt and ran my fingers (as much as I can with the knots) through my long blonde hair and thought – ahhh yeah, I’m just as Stevie Nicks as any of these women and I’m not even a fan.

The rest of my time in Taranaki was spent walking the coastal walkway – which is brilliant and beautiful. There was a campaign in New Plymouth a few years ago to encourage residents to smile at people on the walkway, and it’s really stuck. It’s nice to go out and have people nod and smile at you as you walk along by the beach. There’s a lot of kite-boarding in Taranaki now too, which is good to watch.

So now I’m in Hamilton, which is where I went to University. The city has changed quite a bit over the last, um, I guess ten years now. I caught up with a friend for dinner and when we tried to have a drink afterwards we struggled to find a bar that was open (it was a Wednesday but it was only about 10pm) and when we did find one they closed after we’d had our one drink.

My sister and I also did a day-trip to Tauranga and stopped at Waihi beach on the way home. Waihi beach is gorgeous. I don’t think I’d been on that beach for over ten years, my last memory there being a camping trip after my first year of University. A particularly ill-equipped camping trip if I remember rightly.

Anyway, I’m going to do a day-trip to Auckland to see some friends this weekend and then slowly make my way back to Wellington via another stay in Taranaki. I’ve got a few months contracting work in Wellington, so I’ll be back in the ‘spin-cycle’ of PR very soon. That will be a bit different to the last few months but it’ll also be good to get a regular routine again, and an income will be nice.

The plan after my contracting stint is to go back into the wide world again. I don’t think I’m ready to settle down in New Zealand at the moment, so I’ve decided to travel for a couple of months and then look for a permanent role in Cambodia. There are a lot of NGOs looking for communications people at the moment so I’m hoping to find some work for an organisation that is somehow related to helping children, especially if it’s related to creating opportunities for education. So, fingers crossed there.

As Cambodia in May is a bit too tropical for me I’m going to head back to Europe to bide my time for a while. I’m going to launch myself back onto some of my old stomping grounds in London, I really want to go to the Amalfi Coast in Italy and I’ve also planned to have a look around Norway and maybe Sweden. It’s a pretty loose plan at the moment but I’m excited to get back over the other side of the world in the near-ish future again.

I did get some very, very sad news this week though. My good friend in Vietnam, Jumi, passed away. If you’ve read my blog a little bit you’ll know how wonderful Jumi has been to me, she’s been my translator, my guide and my dear friend since I met her the first time I went to Vietnam. Jumi was one of the most genuinely warm and beautiful people I’ve had the fortune of meeting. There’s so much to say about Jumi that it’s hard to put it into words, it’s a tragedy that she’s gone. She touched the hearts of so many children in Vietnam and made every visitor to Vietnam she met feel welcome.

Jumi has inspired me to take more risks in life and take every opportunity that comes my way – because there were so many things that she wanted to do and didn’t get the chance to.

 

Jumi Nguyen 1987 – 2010
Rest in peace Jumi. Arohanui.