The tranquillity of solitude

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When I was 22 I painted “the tranquillity of solitude” on the side of a Leyland Sherpa van. I was travelling around Europe with a trio of blokes at the time. I think I was trying to be profound or perhaps I just really needed some alone time after being squished in a camper for months with three smelly men.

In reality, I had stolen the lyric from the Jam’s classic song, That’s Entertainment, which was on high rotation in my head at the time, but just hadn’t attributed it. Looking back, given the van also had a multi-coloured version of Huey, Duey and Louie smoking a big bong painted on it, my pseudo-profundity was probably slightly out of the place.

In hindsight, nearly two decades later, it seems even then I was searching for some space. Searching for some time to work out who I was and where I should call home. The strange thing is it is only in the last few weeks that I think I have finally answered that question. One can’t rush these things I guess.

From that moment to now, I have lived in more than a dozen places, had a number of longish-term relationships and at least 20 different jobs. I’ve lived on a kibbutz and in the outback. I’ve sanded down grave-stones in the Israeli desert, pumped out blocked-up loos, and picked all manner of tropical fruits to make a crust. I’ve driven around Europe and Australia, and finally nearly seven years ago called time on my adventures when I landed here in Brisbane.

But I am not from here. I am from New Zealand. In fact, my birthplace is now a location almost synonymous with disaster and despair – Christchurch. This might seem over the top, but I say this with some wry experience. Until two and a bit years ago, whenever I mentioned where I was from, people would smile and mention the Southern Alps or maybe the Avon River. Now, they look away, and then quietly ask if my family are okay. The answer is yes – to a degree.

I have been back to Christchurch three times since 22 February 2011 – the last just a few weeks ago – and it was on this most recent trip that I finally accepted this broken city of my birth was no longer my home. But this sense of separation wasn’t because the earthquakes have decimated the places and spaces that I remember from my youth. It was because I finally recognised that I don’t belong there anymore. And it is solitude that has taught me this.

You see, the last three years, I have mainly spent alone. A relationship breakdown meant I finally attained the solitude I pre-empted all those years ago. It’s been inspiring and magical, but sometimes lonely and left me prone to some of my more ridiculous neuroses. But it has also allowed me time to think and to feel and to recognise, finally, that my home is not over the ditch, but here in my wondrous, alternative community near the river where I can wear my flares with pride and even with a smidgeon of dignity.

If I was honest with myself I probably understood that Christchurch was not my home long before the earthquakes. But it was on this most recent trip that I witnessed my birthplace courageously getting on with it, rebuilding for the future, and moving on from the shackles of its past. And I knew without a shadow of a doubt that it was time for me to do the same.

You have to admit that’s a very valuable lesson and one, it appears, I am finally ready to learn now I truly understand where I belong. In fact, sometimes you just need some time alone to appreciate what is right in front of you.

I do ideology

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Nine years ago I wrote a newspaper column about how the Prime Minister didn’t consider gay relationships as serious as straight ones.

Back then, nearly a decade ago, I wrote that the top Australian politician had decided that if you were in a gay or lesbian relationship your coupling was not as serious as the ones that we heterosexuals have (or in my case used to have since I am now a confirmed but very happy spinster).

I wrote that column about John Howard. It was published in June 2004.

In those dark days of Howard’s “children overboard” and “illegal immigrants” reign, his parliament also changed the Marriage Act to read: Marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.

The reason put forth at the time for such a significant change was that there was “significant” community concern about the possible erosion of the institution of marriage.

At the time I argued that perhaps the amended legislation was a necessary measure by a conservative government to ensure that gays and lesbians were never given the opportunity to beat us straighties at the marriage game.

Imagine the outcry, I said then, if future census info was separated into gay and straight marriage data (although in hindsight that would be another crap example of segregation) which showed that divorce rates for gays and lesbians was much lower than for heterosexuals. Of course, to a Tory-mindset, those sort of results would never do.

Fast-forward to 2013 and Australia is still debating its “I do ideology“ even though we have a Labor, and supposedly liberal in the true sense of the word, government.

Meanwhile across the ditch in New Zealand, less than 24 hours ago, the country of my birth was the latest nation to pass same-sex marriage legislation – under a conservative government. New Zealand’s parliament became the 13th in the world and the first in the Asia-Pacific region to legalise same-sex marriage when it voted 77 to 44 in favour of its gay-marriage bill.

But here in Australia, we continue to wait for equality. I really don’t know why I’m surprised given that New Zealand, the much-maligned little cousin over the Tasman Sea, has often been historically more politically and socially astute.

The Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840, recognised maori ownership of their lands and other properties, and gave them the same rights as British subjects. And in 1893, New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the vote.

Of course there are many advantages to living in either country but as the proud sister of a gay brother; a strong supporter of a beautiful gay cousin; and a good friend of many gays and lesbians, I just want them to enjoy the same rights as I do.

It really is as simple as that.

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The land of plenty

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When I was at the doctor the other day to get yet another scan of my ovaries (which seem to be forever protesting that they have been producing eggs for 25 years to no avail actually no wonder they are pissed off), my doctor rather nonchalantly asked me how my love life was going. He has known me for years and has graciously listened to my many fears – some real, the majority imagined – over that time.

Well, I said, I haven’t had sex for so long I think that my hymen may have re-grown. Now it might seem odd that I joke about my hymen with my doctor, but I’ve had some very interesting conversations with this medico since I darkened his door with my plethora of imagined illnesses many years ago.

He is also a very cool dude. In fact, he often recites the many warnings associated with taking the pill in rapid-fire rap-form whenever I have to get a new script from him. Although, my previous comment about my utter lack of any action whatsoever makes me realise that continuing to take the pill is, at best, wishful thinking and, at worst, rather delusional.

Anyway, my comment about regenerating body parts made him laugh, but he did point out that it was also medically impossible. What about Bob, he asked me. Bob? Who’s Bob? Are you going to set me up with one of your medical mates who’s name happens to be Bob, I asked wishfully. No, he said deadpan, B.O.B – Battery Operated Boyfriend.

Oh excellent, I said. Is that what my life has come too? Maybe the statistics about over 40s are true? I’m destined for a lifetime of sexy nights in bed with a “boyfriend” who hums and buzzes, rather than one who whispers sweet nothings in my ear, or one who can speak at all for that matter.

No, I said to my doctor’s naively helpful suggestion. I am not going to purchase a B.O.B. That seems rather defeatist if you ask me and I have always considered myself a (sometimes-misguided) optimist. Nope, I said, I have a much better plan. A very cunning plan. I have purchased a flight to Christchurch.

My doctor was a bit taken aback. As expected in all fairness. Christchurch, he asked. Yes, Christchurch, I said. My hometown, the place that I fled nearly 20 years ago, has four men to every woman. It’s turned into the Land of Plenty. Hallelujah!

You see, two years on from the Christchurch earthquake, the influx of tradesmen into the city means the blokes are vastly outnumbering the ladies. In fact, Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism are so proud of their man flood they have seemingly issued a press release “calling all the single ladies to come and visit their city. I am happy to report I will be heeding their call in under six weeks’ time after my baby brother lent me the money to buy my airfare (this was due to a very unfortunate set of financial circumstances and an airline special that really was too good to pass up).

Discussing such a wondrous statistic with one of my Christchurch-based girlfriends the other day, she indicated that in reality the numbers were probably more like six to one in favour of the fairer sex. I bloody love those odds. If I was a betting woman, I would even back myself.

Who would ever have thought that a trip to Christchurch was better than a vibrator? Not me, but I’m more than happy to do my part for improved Trans-Tasman relations – sans batteries thanks very much.

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