Monday, 29 July 2013

The Expectation of Saunas

I’ve been a member of a swanky country club for over fifteen years. I bought a membership when they cost less than a weekly wage. Back then I swam whale-like up and down their 25m lap pool, my pregnant belly an egg-shaped keel beneath me. I mostly likely swam breast stroke so I could enjoy the sunlight filtering through the willow trees beyond the ceiling to pool windows. I swam in the vain hope I was preparing the necessary muscles for my impending labour. It didn’t work by the way, 29 and a 1/2 hours after the first tightenings, my first born daughter got tugged out with those nasty salad server like utensils they call: forceps.

I swam on, yet like all gym memberships, my attendance versus fee payment is so out of proportion they really should be paying me to attend. Somehow I persuaded the management to let me pay monthly, by credit card, so I could earn airpoints. I’m always in arrears. And I always feel guilt tripped into sporadic over attendance when I have to fork out a large lump sum for a swim or a pilates class.

So on Saturday afternoon, I took the waters. I was by myself so I also took my time. I zipped up and down the pool, propelling myself through the salty water in my courtesy size 7-9 flippers, flutter-board in my outstretched hands. Over a period of 35 whole minutes, my heart rate gently accelerated to a less than sitting-at-the-computer-pace. I enjoyed the zen scenery, craning my neck from side to side. I do nana swimming currently. Hate getting my hair wet. And my ears. I just work on my thighs.

A pleasant native patch between the gym building and the pool now balances the exotics over stream opposite. In summer, Gunnera leaves the size of small dinghies hover against the glass. There was only one other fellow swimmer. A women running up and down in a crouched position doing some odd under water duck arm type motion. It’s often empty this three lane pool. Empty of humans and lost Band-Aids.

Nowadays I take a sauna after my swim. It’s a small cedar lined compartment that could fit 15 pigmies, shoulder to shoulder at a push, in the privacy of the ladies changing area. Like the pool, when you get to the sauna, you want it for your very own. 

Alas, the duck swimmer had staked her claim with her complimentary white fluffy towel. She’d also placed her gym bag and day shoes (yes real shoes) on the bench beside her towel. The benches where towel clad or tog clad woman (like myself) sit. DS was taking up half the sauna. I took the adjacent bench, beside the hot coals.

DS entered, dripping from the shower. She tutted. She was nude. I did not want to see her older-end-of-middle aged body. I lay down and shut my eyes. 

Zips opened and closed. Material rubbed on material. DS sighed. Shoes were buckled. I took a peek. She was dressed in trousers, socks and rubber soled Ecco shoes and nothing else. 

I shut my eyes again. The sauna has been too hot lately. One day I wondered why my skin felt on fire then checked the thermometer. 100 degrees. Celsius. Boiling point! I was starting to feel that way again. Scalding. I checked the thermometer: 90 degrees. It was as hot and dry as a desert in that small wooden box. DS’s togs steamed by the coals.

I stepped passed her and cooled myself under the shower, refilling the sauna bucket at the same time.

On returning I ladled water over the rocks. Steam Hissed. So did she, “are you trying to make it hotter?” She scowled at me pulling on her second layer of merino.  

"No, I think they’ve set it too hot actually,” I said. And thought it an odd comment coming from a woman who’d confused a place designed, to bring about a mild perspiration while semi-naked, for a changing shed. 

‘Water makes it hotter you know.” She barked.

‘I’m just trying to get a bit of moisture in here,” I replied feebly. I always add water.

She picked up her bag and left. She forgot her togs. I didn’t mention them. She could have been leaving them to catch on fire? I drizzled the cool water over my thighs which looked like a dappled pony’s flank in pink. I also poured it over my head and thought about a childhood story of a new born motherless lamb that was left beside a bar heater to dry. I wondered at what temperature flesh cooked?

But I was alone. I relaxed. My fifteen minutes was almost up. Whether I’d done myself any good or not was beside the point. I sipped the last drips of my water bottle. Then lay on my back and pulled my knees up to my chest. I breathed into my belly while my lower back enjoyed the stretch.

By the time I’d had my shower and was drying my freshly washed hair, while the GHD’s heated, DS returned. She stormed through the calm of the cream panelled dressing room and grabbed her togs out of the sauna. I’m sure she tutted again. It was MY intrusion on her bathing ritual which had made her forget them after all. 

She hadn’t spoiled my experience though I suspect I’d spoiled hers. I’d taken the waters. Alone. I’d exercised. And I’d saved oodles in water heating.  

NB. After a quick (internet) check I discovered: 

“A sauna session can be a social affair in which the participants disrobe and sit or recline in temperatures typically between 70 °C (158 °F) and 100 °C (212 °F). This induces relaxation and promotes sweating.”

Or: “the correct sauna temperature is between 140?F- 190?F (60?C- 90?C)”.

And: “The maximum allowed sauna temperature in Canada and the United States is 194°F (90°C).[2] Some European countries allow much higher temperatures, which can be unsafe.”

So in conclusion: go nude, sit on a towel, drink water, check the temp or if in doubt take a Finnish friend.

Monday, 22 July 2013

The Art of Spying

I’m at Cardrona with my free style skier son, Jasper. He’s training. I was going to get a day pass, but overnight rain dampening the snowpack has stalled me. Pearl grey clouds skudder over the lift line, the sun is masked yet still a glaring orb behind them.

I decide to wait till 12.30pm and get an afternoon pass for $70, a saving of $27. 
So I take up residence in the mezzanine café with my laptop. I order a coffee. A trim flat white, large cup. I’m doing an ‘observation’: making a record of everything around me. I haven’t done one in a while.  Much awarded journalist and regular cool guy, Steve Braunias sent us out to do these when I attended a writing course with him. Class of 2011. The class he loved so much he put us in his book.

Morning sun streams in the large picture windows, framing the courtyard, rectangular clock tower in duck egg blue and the slope behind. A middle aged couple sit by the window to my right, at a small square formica table. He’s nodding in agreement with his wife. His grey hair has receded into that protruded tongue shape that often afflicts the males of our species. The grey hair of the tongue pokes up like an ancient tuatara. They’re table number 50. His nod becomes more pendulum like; back and forth pivoting from his waist. Is he praying? Or omming? No words come from his mouth. They are not dressed for skiing. Perhaps they just drove up the muddy, windy, barrier-less mountain road for a thirty minute thrill and some caffeine. Yes, they are thrill seekers. Grey devils.

The café is noisy and overheated. My merino wrapped legs prickle in my ski pants. I’ve undone my vents and taken off every woolly garment I can afford, without sitting here in my bra. My coffee arrives it’s strong and smooth. But, I didn’t really want it. It’s my rent. My spy money.

A family of six is eating breakfast; three kids, one husband, two wives. They have up market gear, Ryder, Spider and those just released $300 goggles with the magnetically attached lenses. Gear heads. But late starters, it’s 9.33. Keen beans wait to load the lift at 8.50.

Two young men directly in front of me are tucking into scrambled eggs. Holding their cutlery like weapons. Knife and fork etiquette, where has it gone?  They chew their breakfast with closed mouths. Phew.

A baby screams on the carpet in the corner to my right. Protesting at having its nappy changed or the surrounding din.

A tall man in white shadze is now perched on a stool behind me, if he looks over his shoulder he could see what I’m typing. I angle my laptop screen towards me. I can barely see the letters appearing as I type.  But privacy is of paramount importance when spying. Just ask John Key.

The veins on my hands are popping out from the heat and caffeine injection. Aside from doing a down-trou there is not much I can do. The water I’m drinking has ice in it. According to Jasper’s internet fun facts, restaurant water is as dirty as toilet bowel water. A few years ago, visitors and staff at Cardrona had prolonged doses of vomiting and diarrhoea. After weeks of head scratching and testing for Rotovirus etc they discovered the sewage system was at fault. They’d been supplying poo water. Oops. Nasty stuff that e-coli when ingested. I take a tentative sip.

The praying mantis day tripper is standing up, donning a Drizabone which falls past his knees. His lips are still pursed. He may have uttered a word; yes. 9.50. I’ve been here for 25 minutes. Spying is fun, but the atmosphere is oppressive. I’m losing my religion…Whoa Black Betty bam a lam.

Two women take table 50. They have gluhwein in glass mugs, slices of orange and cinnamon sticks bob on the surface. Hey, anything can happen on a ski field.  ‘Cheers.’ They looked Brazillian, with their long black curly hair. Turns out they’re kiwis. Just as I’m conjuring up their lives: toddlers in the nearby crèche etc, two boys in the gangly spotty stage of adolescence join them. They chat briefly, get a $20 note each and depart. They don’t smile. But they talked without sneering.

I think of asking the staff if they have any music written post 1975. Then decide a spy should keep a low profile. They all wear a uniform of black talking t-shirts with creative slogans like: Cardrona, Aren’t you glad you called in sick. And Cardrona, Fun.Guaranteed.

The well kitted out family, probably from Auckland, still haven’t left. Thankfully shadze man is intently reading his I phone not my screen.  My eyebrows start sweating.

The gluhwein women are two thirds done. 10.04. One of the adolescents returns. ‘Mum I’ve lost a glove?’ ‘Go and look for it,’ says the mum. Sterling adult advice. The son departs. I’m starting to feel hung-over. The barista flicks the coffee measurer, click clack click. The steamer hisses. Coffee up. Three teenage girls join the gluhwein women. Last sips. 10.11.  

I have 65% battery I could keep going, but I decide it’s time to read my book in the cool of my car. ‘The Ocean At The End Of The Lane’, by Neil Gaiman, is the best grownup story told in the voice of a seven year old boy I’ve ever read. I told Neil Gaiman so via twitter and he said, ‘thank you!’. It’s also a gripping tale filled with freaky childhood experiences, only escaped via magical safety mechanisms.

I start packing up. A really really tall youth joins the gluhwein mums. Glasses empty. 10.13. Rockin Robbin.

As I take up residence in my car, I spot another black t-shirted staff member. Cardrona: Ride, Relax, Party, Repeat.

Not till next Wednesday.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Channelling The Muse

Below is an excerpt from one of my favourite YA books, “Triple Ripple” by Brigid Lowry.  I’ve read this book several times, always marveling at how this three sided story has been fabricated so neatly. It’s almost as though, what they refer to in the rag trade as hidden seams, have been used. I love the story itself and all the characters: The female fairytale protagonist Glory, her teenage reader and the writer.

The other night I picked up the book and it opened to page 113. I read. Then I thought by golly, every writer needs to read this page at random intervals throughout the year. If just to give themselves a break, let go of the angst which comes with trying to produce totally amazing plot- driven-heartwarming-spunky-character- filled-funny-stories, all the time.

Thank you Ms Lowry. (I hope it’s okay to reproduce this. If I’ve broken some rule please let me know.)

“The Writer                        ( from Triple Ripple, page 113).

The writer has been channeling her inner librarian instead of her inner spoonchild, eating plenty of salad but not enough cake. She’s been walking miles in comfy old track pants, but not lounging lazily on her bed in her kimono, reading old magazines. Lately, she hasn’t even allowed herself a teensy-weensy bit of retail therapy. How come she keeps forgetting the obvious? ‘People of the World, Relax!’ as Kurt Vonnegut said. So, the writer gets out her coloured pencils, her Mexican recipe book, her sewing box and wonderful fabrics. She paints a flowerpot turquois, drinks champagne on Wednesday, buys herself some flowers, just because. The more she smiles at her life, the more it smiles back at her, and the more the writing flows.”

Unfortunately I don’t know if I can pull off all of the above. However, I could try lying around in my pj’s with the teenagers these school holidays with a cucumber face-mask on, watching rom coms, drinking berry yoghurt drink out of the bottle while eating sour worms and the cheddar onion kettle fries I said they weren’t allowed for breakfast.

All the while snap-chatting my recently curled eyelashes, commenting on tumblr and facebook, looking at up to the second trends on Pose and Refinery 29, while constantly rechecking the cute photo I posted last night to see how many likes I’ve earned. (nb. average accumulation during waking hours approx 1.5 per minute if you're under 20).

Anything to encourage the elusive kid lit writing muse to visit over the next two weeks, as the house falls under a veil of cracker crumbs, dust bunnies. And NOISE.

Footnote: Brigid Lowry also wrote, Juicy Writing: Inspiration and Techniques for Young Writers.

It probably contains some sage advice for old writers too. $12.87 from Fishpond, includes delivery.

(Hand and bird with pearl pin eyes, carved in soap, by Saskia Leek, Exhibition Dunedin Public Art Gallery)

Monday, 8 July 2013

International Tweet Fest With a Famous Person

Crazy things can happen. Sometimes I love the barrier-less world of social media. I especially love twitter where there is no fine line between the haves and the have-nots. You can follow anyone you please, in a weird voyeur kind of way perhaps, because they cannot de-friend you. They can avoid replying to your tweets. But a tweet is easily overlooked so should not offend your easily crushible-constantly-seeking-likes-pageviews-and-other-SM-positive-affirmation mentality.

So on Wednesday when, UK Children’s Laureate and author of 50+ books (mainly in the YA genre), MALORIE BLACKMAN tweeted:

@Malorieblackman If you'd like me to visit your school/library/literary festival please visit for more info.

I cheekily, after an agonizingly long and lonely internal debate, trying to remember if I’d ever read ‘how to tweet famous people without being rude, crass or sounding like a crazy’, replied:

@malorieblackman would you ever consider visiting New Zealand?

Then I went on about my day wasting hours of precious writing time, avoiding writing and chewing through broadband, while keeping myself up to the minute on bookish debates of the kid lit kind.

Lo and behold. Later that night…

Ms Blackman tweeted back.

@janeebloom I visited New Zealand about 6 years ago and loved it. I would certainly love to go back. :-)

I let out a shrill cry of delight probably audible in Auckland. Pa-poppycock to all those lesser, huge and important people who’ve ignored me to date. A REAL life famous person tweeted ME. With a smiley face even. Possibly only because I happen to live in a fabulous clean green squeaky clean and currently teenage sex free country called Godzone, Aotearoa, New Zealand. 

Little did Ms Blackman know that I immediately suggested to the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival organizers that they might like to consider asking her to speak at their May 2014 event. I pictured a healthy panel debate with our top YA authors, our OWN newly appointed NZ Children’s Laureate and Ms Blackman discussing: The Treatment of Sex and Four Letter Words in YA literature, or similar.

I do realize, in her capacity of UK Children’s Laureate Ms Blackman will be rushed off her feet in England’s pastures green, until she hands on her tenure in 2015. But you can but ask. And the organizers had already. And her publishers said, NO, she’s tied up. 

Actually, I’d been daydreaming at my computer screen (5+ tabs open waiting to be read) about Ms Blackman making a trip down under, before our tweet-fest and before the sex in Ted Dawe’s, Into the River, became hot news. She’s been outspoken already about intimate matters in YA Literature and I like her views.

Ms Blackmans believes it’s partly the responsibility of YA authors to empower teenagers through literature. To provide them with a cache of sexy bits to tuck away and carry with them on their inevitable path of intimate experimentation. Like me.

I’m okay with the darker stories being told like, Into The River. In fact, I’m looking forward to reading it and seeing it climb up the bestseller list. Move over Wonky Donkey.

I want to understand how the young Maori protagonist, smart and keen and supposedly on the right path for a great future, after winning a scholarship to an elite boy’s boarding school gets lost? How and why his isolation sends him on a path of self-loathing and self-harm? Most of all I want to know if he recovers?

But I want to see some positive heart-warming coming of age YA books in the market place too.  

Ms Blackman spoke of reading about a teenage girl whose boyfriend was brutalizing her because that’s what he thought sex was from watching porn online. She said, “It made me angry and it made me sad. I thought well, this is exactly why we need not just sex education in schools but also books that tackle the subject of relationships and your first time”. “I would rather my daughter read about a loving sexual relationship in a book - whether it works or whether it doesn’t - but in that context…”

TV and Film doesn’t help. Puberty Blues, the Aussie drama set in the 70’s, for example. I watched it gob-smacked. Where on earth had the young surfer dudes got their performance ideas from? Their fathers? Older brothers? Farm animals? ‘It gets better,’ my 14 year old assured me (who’d already watched it online unbeknownst to me). Thankfully after several episodes, one high school couple did separate from the wanna-root-in-the-back-of-the-ute group. Moving away to share intimacies and conversation alone, gently flowing down their own sweet path of discovery.  Who was that programme aimed at? But more scarily, what message was it sending young people (especially girls) at that all-knowledge, no-experience stage of life?

At a SCBWI conference in Sydney 2011, an LA Agent when asked what the market wanted said; YA stories with romance, real romance. I can’t remember her exact words but I’m sure she mentioned ‘loin stirring’. 50 Shades of Grey was still on the bestseller list at the time (and doing the rounds of Year 12 at high school). I sat there thinking, I really hope there isn’t going to be a new genre along the lines of some weird YA pop-corn-porn. 

Luckily not. Nevertheless, I think we can expect a lot more racy, hopefully empowering YA novels. 

BTW I did tweet Ms Blackman again. Hey I was on a high. I’d been asked if I had connections.

She didn’t reply. It was twelve hours after her tweet, she’d probably gone to bed.  However, the seed is sown, it may be a very long gestation but you never know.

As for me, I will now crawl back into my Juliet tower, pull up my artic blonde ponytail and sit before my blank screen, disconnected from the wretched internet with my timer set for 30 minutes.

Before I climb the 136 steps I’ll leave you with this, Huff Post YA list for the beach warning: contains lust, love and tension.

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