The Power of Words

Well here we are, dear little New Zealand with a new government. Except it is the same one we had before, but bigger and with some new people.

As some of you know, I am a political animal and I’ve worked hard over the last few weeks to help my local MP, Louise Upston, get re-elected. I’ve delivered fliers and organised other people to deliver them, I’ve manned stalls at two Trash and Treasure markets, led a (car) cavalcade, been a human hoarding and written weekly email updates to send out to party faithful in the electorate, recruited scrutineers and trained them for their work on election day.

Last Friday we had a huge day in the electorate. It started with breakfast in Taupo with the Prime Minister, and then he came to Cambridge around lunch time and then, in the evening, Louise and I went through to Rotorua to do the scrutineering for all the advanced votes. I had several opportunities to speak to John Key, the PM, that day. I gave him a signed copy of The Keeper of Secrets and we had a chat about how it came about. I introduced some of my friends, who were also working for the National Party, to him. He is a consummate communicator and a very cool guy. I have a signed pic on my mantle of the two of us and I am very proud of it.

The next day was Election Day and it was long and stressful and full on, making sure my scrutineers were all okay and doing their job. Then it was result night and lots of cheering and a final outcome beyond our wildest predictions. My party can govern on their own in an MMP environment, unprecedented. But they won’t, they will work with the same partners they had before and it will be progress as usual.

My last comment on this election is that it was a victory against HATE. New Zealanders don’t like to be told who they should believe by outsiders and they hate personal abuse in politics. Our Prime Minister had an awful lot of abuse hurled at him this campaign and he rose above it. Words are powerful tools and they should be used with caution.

So since the election I have been doing housework, two loads of washing, an impressive lot of dishes, tidying away spare fliers and blue ribbons and folders etc. for next time, reclaiming my furniture from under a sea of ‘blue’ stuff.

I went to church yesterday and did my duty as a sidesperson. I experienced another example of the power of words. Someone told me that she would prefer me to wear high cut tops because my scar distressed her and she didn’t think I should show it. I was shocked and I cried. My vicar was very quick to tell me it was nonsense and there was nothing wrong with my scar and I should be proud of it. I AM proud of it, it is my badge of courage. It is also inextricably linked to my Mum and the things she used to tell me to say about my ‘zip’ when I was a child. If she was here I dread to think what she would have said, or done, in defence of her baby. One of my UK friends told me this morning he will store it away and be furious with her when he has the opportunity. But I know that the appropriate response, as a Christian, is to forgive and forget. And I am, I shall, it is a work in progress. If I look in the mirror I don’t even see it, but now, unfortunately, I shall never look again without seeing it, and knowing that it distressed someone.

So, remember the power of words and before you speak ask yourself, “Is it the right thing to say?”


The Closest Thing to Crazy

Life is busy at the moment, that could be a small understatement. I’m writing, gardening, electioneering, volunteering, going to church and eating, sleeping, doing housework (the last one could be an overstatement)

Last week I visited the Rest homes in Cambridge to make sure they were supplied with Special Votes and to let them know that there was help available for residents who wanted to go to the polling booths on Election Day. That meant I went back to Resthaven for the first time in seven months. The rest home Mum was in. It felt strange to pull into the car park and park a different car. It felt strange to walk in and see faces I knew and not sign-in the book, not go down the corridor. I had my “Both Sides Now” CD playing so as I drove out Michael Ball was serenading me with The Closest Thing to Crazy and then I saw my old car in the car park. Someone who works at Resthaven bought the wreck that was my old car.

Yesterday I did a stint at the monthly Trash and Treasure market. I had information on the National Party, blue sweets, free pens and a great big bear with a sparkly blue hat, blue bow tie and “I’m a Key Person” T-shirt. And for 90 minutes or so I had Louise there too before she had to go to Wellington. It was a blast. People came up and chatted away, no-one asked any curly questions and most made a comment about Kim Dotcom. One woman asked for a pen so she could write Louise (my local MP) a message “Get rid of the German!” I’m a writer and I don’t have adequate words to express my disgust at that man and his antics. Still, six weeks and it will all be over. All I can do is do all I can to help.

This morning I was listening to “Sunday Night with Michael Ball” on BBC Radio2, it plays from 6am Monday morning here for two hours and the music is simply superb. Sinatra, the Carpenters, Simply Red and he played a song I’ve never heard before. It was a request and I was so moved by the lyrics I looked it up on You Tube. It is sung by Jenn Bostic. Have a listen, it is a gorgeous ode to anyone you’ve ever loved and lost and miss and know you will see again. I suspect it is going to become a favourite.

My politics

I’ve been gardening and as I pulled weeds, I’ve been thinking about my politics.

I grew up in a household of National party activists and I remember politicians sitting around our dining room table planning campaigns with my Dad and in later years, Mum. I remember going to meetings with them, being in the car when they picked up voters and delivered them to the polls, in later years scrutineering and going to election night parties.

A couple of weeks ago I was stopped by a Labour party supporter who was campaigning on our main street during the monthly Trash and Treasure market. When she learned I was a National voter she said, “why?” I replied, “why not?”

She accused me of voting the way I had learned as a child and not thinking about it. Actually the opposite is true, I think deeply about my vote and I treasure it. She said, “I can guarantee you’ve never voted for anyone other than National your whole life.” “Not true either, I voted for Act once.”

Now I know not to give my party vote to anyone other than the party I want to govern. The party with the leader I want to be Prime Minister. It’s a personal thing, politics. It’s about your philosophy, your values, the country you want to live in. But it also about personal experiences, policies that affect you and people you encounter. I have no children and that colours my views but I have had up close and personal experience of the public health system and as a cardiac patient, and the caregiver of an elderly woman, I can say it has never ever failed me. I did work in the film industry and I joined many of my colleagues and cried with happiness when The Hobbit movies were saved, some of us sent John Key a collective email to tell him how much he ‘rocked.’ I did some television work that overlapped with the Tourism department and encountered him again, his positivity was critical to our success. So many of the National party ministers really impress me and our local MP is so hard working and so dedicated to her constituents.

So I bleed BLUE, it’s in my genes, but it is also my choice.

Of Mothers, cars and elections

Ah, so many things are afoot in my busy life, it is hard to keep up. Today I have pruned large trees and small shrubs and prepared for a Japanese pebble garden…long story, but I think it will look cool and I’ll take a pic of it when it is done.

Last week I went up to Auckland in my new little blue car (of which I am inordinately fond). I had lunch with my fantastic publisher, Finlay Macdonald at Skycity. We discussed the cover of my next book and how to make it sexy and clever and blood thirsty. I will be intrigued to see what they come back with, given the ideas we had! Then I went and stayed with my Aunt who had turned 91 on Wednesday. It was her first birthday without her sister and my first ‘Mum’s birthday’ without Mum. We had some great catch ups and watched some gold medals at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. We were both rather reluctant to part company.

I found this little poem the other day and I put it here in honour of my dear old Mum.

mother poem

The writing is going well and I’m combining it with regular gym and aqua-aerobics, church and preparations for the upcoming election. Those who have subscribed to my blog since 2011 will know that I am a ‘political animal’ and I love being involved in an election campaign. Our local MP, Louise Upston, is superb, one of the best MPs I’ve ever had and it is a pleasure to work for her. On a broader note I am a ‘Key person’, I think John Key rocks and I admire what the National party have achieved during the last six years. So, counting down to the scrap!!

There is some great TV on at the moment, real quality writing and it is maintaining the pressure as the series progress. “Resurrection”, “Under the Dome”, “The White Queen” and of course one day my very favourite, “Scandal” will return. Happy Days.

Cyber Bullying and Depression

With the death over the weekend of well-known social media commentator, broadcaster and former model, Charlotte Dawson, in Sydney, there has been much commentary about cyber bullying and depression.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to be bullied on the internet. People say why didn’t she just stop reading her Twitter feed? Is it that easy? If people are talking about you, or to you, there is a strong compulsion to read it. I always marvel at actors or authors who say they ‘don’t read reviews.’ Really?? I love reading what people say about my writing and I learn far more from the criticism than I do from the raves. I have a special place in my heart for the reader who read 100 pages of “The Keeper of Secrets” and then threw it across the room because nothing happened. Dachau starts on page 109. But I DO agree that it is a bit slow to start and I have remedied that in the next book where there is death aplenty from early on.

Still, back to the subject. Social Media is a two-edged sword. Where else could I learn that Thomas Edison proposed to his wife using Morse code? Or read about President Obama’s favourite salted caramel chocolates? My Twitter feed is full of fascinating morsels of information that I didn’t know I needed to hear. And Facebook is a fairly innocuous place for me. People don’t react to what I write, but then it isn’t of an inflammatory nature. But I do read some pretty nasty stuff on other feeds at times. I follow John Key’s Facebook page. He is our Prime Minister and I happen to think he is a fine fellow and is, by and large, doing a very good job. But there are posters who react to everything he says with a barrage of personal insults that have nothing to do with the subject. In my humble opinion the only person who looks like ‘all those adjectives they use’ is themselves. Key is a public figure, as Dawson was, and unfortunately, if you lift your head above the parapet some uneducated idiot will take a shot at it.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE informed, robust political debate. I am a political animal. My favourite TV programmes (by a country mile) are the American political dramas and I love election year. But for goodness sake, debate the issues, use intelligent opinion not expletives which just make you look inarticulate, and stand for something. No-one should waste a second reading the opinions of people who just knock for the sake of knocking. Tell me you have an answer to our problems and I will listen to you all day.

The other subject that Dawson’s death raises is depression. What a massive word that is. What a world of emotion and pain and despair it represents. People who have never battled it, or watched someone they love battle it, have no idea what it means. Seventeen years ago I was diagnosed with a falling oestrogen level and a hormonally induced problem. Instead of being given anti-depressants, I was prescribed Oestrogen tablets. The only thing that caused was fibroids and unbelievable pain and a period that lasted twenty-five days every month. Several months later, at the age of 40, I had a hysterectomy and my life was transformed.

However, I continued to suffer from black ‘clouds.’ They would descend, I could literally feel them coming. There was nothing I could do about them and I would cry quietly and miserably until they lifted. Several times a day I would consider how best to kill myself and yet I had no real desire nor reason to. It was out of my control. For the most part I hid it well and got on with my every day life. Then in 2009 it would stay buried no longer. The tears were almost a constant companion. I would sit and watch TV, often with Mum in the room, and the tears would run out my eyes and into my hair as I lay on the sofa. I actually wrote suicide notes although I knew I could never do that to her.

One day, in desperation, I searched for Sir John Kirwan’s website. For those who don’t know John Kirwan was an All Black. He played rugby for New Zealand. He was a national hero. He also suffered from depression and some years ago he went public and worked with the health authorities to set up a website. There’s a questionnaire and I took it. I answered ‘yes’ to every question and the site told me to go to my GP. So I did and instead of saying, “I’m upset all the time” I could tell him that I had taken the survey on John Kirwan’s depression website. He whipped out a form and made me take it again. Then he looked at me in wonder because I’d never told him this before and he’d been my GP for years. He prescribed a low dose anti-depressant that I take every day. It took a little while to work. The black ‘cloud’ has never been back. If I cry it is because I have a reason to, something has moved me or upset me. I appreciate each day and never consider harming myself. I am a completely different person.

It is not a sign of weakness to seek help, to seek an answer. It takes courage and determination and an urge to make your life better. One visit to this website changed my life. If one person reads this blog and goes to the site as a result and it helps them, then the circle of support is continuing. It’s not a weakness, it’s just an illness.

A Winston Fly

So it is a lovely, sunny Sunday morning in Cambridge and we have a National government. Almost a ‘govern on your own’ government in an MMP environment. Yesterday was interesting, I sat and watched as the general populace of Leamington came out and voted. Old and young, men and women, wearing blue and wearing red. We were the only party with scrutineers out and, mostly, people were happy to see us. One man in a red T-shirt, red jacket and red woolly hat glared at me the whole time he was in the booth. Fab!

The day before we’d gone to the town square to meet the campaign bus and John Key. There was a bit of bedlam but on the whole it seemed very well organised and I got to shake his hand and tell him I was proud to work for the re-election of a National government. He looked right at me and thanked me. I also told him what a great job Louise is doing and he agreed with me. He remembered Mum and meeting her before. They had a joke about never being too old for politics. He seemed sincere and to be enjoying himself, he also looked very tired, which was to be expected.

My MP Louise Upston increased her majority dramatically and that is a personal endorsement for her. She has a long electorate geographically, it takes her over two hours to drive from one end to the other. She works extremely hard and is a well-known and a well-liked presence in the whole electorate. She is one of the talented, intelligent, down-to-earth, personable MPs coming up in the National Party. And she has a fantastic support staff around her.

SO…Greens did well, Act and United Future hung on with one pseudo-National MP each, Labour failed miserably, Maori party lost some seats and New Zealand First, well that’s almost beyond belief. Then I hear him spouting his racial hatred on the radio this morning and Mum says, “well I agree with that.” So that’s how he does it, he appeals to the inherently racist older voter. Charming.

The tea tape gave Winston traction and it lost Goff traction when he was trying to talk about policy. So I have a question. I wonder what was the political persuasion of the cameraman who left his device on the table in Epsom. I wonder if the outcome he was intending included the dramatic resurgence of New Zealand First at the expense of Labour?

It’s over and another three years beckon. They will be an extremely hard three years and who knows what other curve balls nature will throw at this wonderful country. But we have stable, intelligent and moderate government.  The only thing that depresses me today is that I will have to hear the buzzing of a really annoying fly in my ear on the TV, a negative fly called Winston.

That thing that cannot be mentioned

Today is election day and you are not allowed to make political statements. So I shall tell you that yesterday I went to Cambridge Town Square and met the man who is our Prime Minister, with many other of his supporters. I had made delicious shortbread to feed the scrutineers, and being me, I had made a dozen chocolate-chip shortbread cookies and iced them with a blue “N” in writing gel (photos coming) for the campaign bus. They were much appreciated. More about this tomorrow.

Today we are scrutineering and we aren’t allowed to talk to the voters but we can smile at them. I am doing a split shift 9 am till 1pm and then 4pm until the votes are counted. The booths are quite small here so it should be over by 8 or 8.30pm. I would urge you, if you live in New Zealand and you are enrolled, to go out and VOTE. And I do this for two reasons:

If you don’t vote, you forfeit your right to criticise the outcome and the government that is elected. This is your chance to have a say, why would you not take it? And secondly, think about all the places in the world where people would love to vote but don’t have the chance. Think about the people who have died protesting for the right to exercise a democratic right and experience freedom. Voting is one of the precious things we take for granted.

And another dilemma yesterday. Lucas and I were driving from school to home and discussing Christmas. We covered decorations and gingerbread cookies and the fact that Santa prefers cider to milk and Rudolph and waking up early and having presents under the tree. I thought the conversation was going quite well until the voice from the backseat said:  “So, is Santa real? Because I never see him.” Hhhmmm. Not my place. I said he was very busy visiting everyone and he manages it with magic. He seemed quite happy with that and went on to tell me his sweet tooth was wiggly and the tooth fairy would come and leave him 20cents! Ever since the dental nurse told him he has a sweet tooth, he’s been desperate to work out which tooth it is and whether it will be worth more money.

So off for an interesting day, I shall tell you all about it tomorrow, when there are no restrictions that my blog could break and the men in the white coats would come…some would say it was about time…

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