living up to my name

It is disconcerting to discover you are named after a plate.

My mother will be reading this and rolling her eyes. She maintains that, despite the fact the wedding gift Noritake dinnerware bears the pattern name of Joanne, I was named after the actress Joanne Woodward.

My supposed namesake was an American actress, active in the film industry from 1955 until the present and married to Paul Newman. Apparently Joanne Woodward’s cinema-loving mother named her after Joan Crawford, an actress around in the twenties and thirties. I am beginning to see a hall of mirrors in this naming process: and Joanne was named after Joanne, who was named after Joan….(although Joan made up her name because she was born Lucille…I know, I know, the plot thickens).

Now at this point in the psychoanalysis of the naming progress, I do need to point out that Joanne is actually my middle name. And no, in case you are asking, like David Manual in Form 1 at Shirley Intermediate School, is your name Joanne Joanne?…the answer is no. It is not Joanne Joanne. That is just stupid. My name is Margaret Joanne.

In one of those fits of following crazy family tradition which mum later regretted, suggesting a change by deed poll, Mum, like the first-born women before her, named me Margaret first but called me by my second name.

What’s the big deal, you may ask? Well none really.

Except that we tend to identify with the one name we are called.

So, I feel like a Joanne, or a Jo, whatever that might feel like. Although, if one is a plate called Joanne, one feels pretty smooth and polished with a nice floral motif and gold leaf high maintenance which demands handwashing and no microwave use….and is also a little miffed to have been relegated to the too-good-for-common-use-top-shelf until after the earthquakes and a coming out to ‘everyday’ status.

But I digress. Or run away with myself. Or something.

My passport name is Margaret. It’s the name doctors and dentists and translation examiners and airport announcements about missing the plane unless you board now use. And it’s a name that I just do not listen out for.

If my two names were to fight it out for supremacy, which one would win? Obviously I did some research on this and turned to the internet.

I looked up some excellent sites which, despite not having a handle on the English language, seem to be extremely trustworthy. Here are my favourite numerology explanations of my names. I invite you to read them and perhaps those of you who know me could give me some feedback. I have my own reaction below.

What does Margaret mean?
You have psychic power. You can carry on for others with joy. You have a receptive nature and may bear burdens for others. You are pragmatic, thorough, strong-willed, practical and stubborn at times. You are hard working, often martyr to duty. You like home and security above all. You are bold, independent, inquisitive and interested in research. You know what you want and why you want it.

You are always looking for an opportunity to achieve financial and emotional security. You are basically peacemaker. You understand the law of harmony and desire to balance your life with those around you. You may feel incomplete without someone to share your love, ideals, wealth or work. You can be very sensitive and could appear a bit shy and perceptive. You have developed intuition, patience and the ability to nurture others. You can achieve the state of happiness if you is willing to accept your needs in a complimentary relationship and go to create them.

 What does Joanne mean?
You are honest, benevolent, brilliant and often inventive, full of high inspirations. You are courageous, honest, determined, original and creative. You are a leader, especially for a cause. Sometimes you do not care to finish what you start, and may leave details to others. You can do well in position of authority, and prospers in intellectual and professional fields. You are frank, methodical and believe in law, system and order.

You are seeking freedom, opportunities to enjoy life: to make love, to go places and to do things. You are very adventurous and willing to take risk to achieve your objectives. New ways and new experiences can’t satisfy your restless nature. One adventure leads you to another. You are honest and fair, because you know that this is the only way to receive justice and honesty from other people. But your personal growth is vital for your, and it is difficult to be tied down by rules and obligations. Your restless spirit might best controlled by choosing the field of work that meet your demand for action and adventure.

Right. So there are bits in both of these that I LOVE. And clearly bits I’m not sure I want to acknowledge even though they might possibly be a bit close to the bone.

But maybe this would be the case if my name was Lucille. Or Tom. Or Foxtail, if one’s parents happened to be gifted plates with that pattern name.

Do our names shape us? Do we grow into our names, making them our own and filling out each part of them as we move through life? Or are our names merely labels and superfluous to our journey.

Would my life have been different as an everyday Margaret? What about as a Maggie Jo (said in a slow southern drawl)? Actually I am fairly certain that my life would have been markedly different as a Maggie Jo.

Y’all come back now ya hear…




Something happens to me when I get out of the city and into what I believe is the REAL-ness of a country. I get a shiver up my spine and have that feeling which, if put into words might be something like, ‘ah yes, here I am…this is it’. There is a right feeling about the setting.

I had this feeling on Waiheke, as I wandered around seeing fern fronds and flax and pohutukawa and little boats bobbing in jade-coloured bays and a bowling club circa. 1960. I felt as though I was really IN New Zealand. But what’s that about?

The word that comes to mind is authentic. The idea that you’re getting back to basics, back to the nitty gritty unspoilt realness of a place.

In some respects I don’t like the word authentic as it has lost a lot of its authenticity through overuse. Everyone and his dog these days is bandying around the need for an authentic life, being true to ourselves and our beliefs and so on and so forth. It gets a bit much. We’re so busy striving for the idea of authenticity that we forget what the authenticity we are aiming for actually is.

Is this idea (which I am failing to encapsulate in a word) the idea, or feeling that occurs when we get out of the city and away from the busy, stressful, over-achieving, over-consuming environment and just have time to settle into ourselves and breathe the fresh and, if you’re lucky, honey-scented air and just be?

Because, without wanting to be all jet-set and fancy pants, I have this same feeling when I am in certain villages in France. People walk down the road with baguettes under their arms, you can smell roast lamb and rosemary wafting out of someone’s blue-shuttered windows, men wearing berets and holding a glass of pastis play petanque on a dusty terrain. It feels real. Or like some kind of Truman Show set-up.

The fact that in smaller towns or villages, particularly in New Zealand, there is more evidence of the past, that is, the sixties and seventies, seems to also evoke this feeling of authenticity. Or is it nostalgia? Or just a hipster penchant for retro styles?

I am asking a lot of questions. And I really have no answers. I just know that I like the feeling as everything seems to slide into place, if only for a moment, and I think, yes, this is it. This feels good. And I smile.

i like the cut of your jib

 My nephew wrote a recipe a few months ago. He had the idea, drew the picture and then dictated the ingredients to his mother. When I went over to visit, he asked me to read out the ingredients he had thought of to see whether it all sounded good as a cake. I thought it sounded great as a cake. But when I had finished the list, Raffi stared off into middle distance, with a sort of distracted-Rittey-male thinking kind of look, turned to me and said, ‘Jo Jo, it needs blackberries. Could you add that please.’ And I did and, I have to say, having now baked the Pirate Cake, with three layers and not eight, architecture not being my forte and finding myself strangely bereft of the requisite 8 different sized cake tins (call myself a cook…?!)…blackberries were an excellent and, even vital, addition.

It’s risky trying to bring an idea to life. Especially an idea imbued with such hearty connotations. A Pirate Cake…well that’s up there with Magic Faraway pop biscuits and moon cakes and suchlike. I spent many an afternoon up the pear tree in the back garden in quasi-disbelief that I couldn’t reach the lands that swung around at the top of the tree under Enid Blyton’s pen, providing escapism and adventure.

A child’s imagination, which often has no borders to a child’s reality is a precious thing and it was a mission fraught with peril that I embarked upon last weekend.

I think there was a bit of humouring Auntie on the part of the five year old, whose eyes grew wide when he saw it, and who spent quite some time figuring out the best way to cut the cake. But I like to think that there was also a lot of joy that he and I had worked together to produce this fantastical cake. He had the idea and I made it happen.

All in all, we achieved a fairly yo ho ho feat.

Aargh. And all that.

The Last Slice

Why are we so bothered by the last slice? 
We meet together over food. We are happy to help ourselves to the offerings on a full plate or platter. We are talking and drinking and eating and laughing. Ha ha. He he. Life is a long golden summer and we are living the dream.
Then all of a sudden. The last slice looms. Clouds gather, there’s a chill in the air and we look to middle field, pensive, anxious.
According to Yvette, this change in season at the advent of The Last Slice doesn’t happen in Germany. Someone cheerfully takes it. There are no reproaches, no judgements and no remorse. No one is flicking through the mental notes of etiquette and good upbringing, seeking the Right Thing to Do in This Situation. The person wants to eat the last slice. And they do.
I remember when I was little, there was a rule. It seemed to come about when we were invited to other children’s birthday parties.
The Last Slice Rule. If there is one lonely piece of deliciousness left on a plate and even if you really really want it and your life will not be complete without it and you might starve even and it is your absolute favourite chocolate caramel slice, you must ask everyone whether they would like it. If everyone else refuses, then you may take it. Surely everyone understood the unspoken desire that if you were offering The Last Slice, then you actually wanted it yourself. So surely if someone else took The Last Slice that just wasn’t cricket. But sometimes people didn’t know about the unspoken desire or cricket. Or perhaps they were German.
According to a study, and here, I confess, I don’t know which study, who carried it out, when, and why they are American, but I’m including it anyway because the internet said it and therefore…gospel…truth…base my life upon it…” 6 MILLION AMERICAN MEN aged 35-54 have eaten the last slice of pie and denied it”. The upper case emphasis is the internet’s.
Clearly the whole Last Slice dilemma is a thing. Pizza Hut have addressed it. And it’s on the internet. Ergo….
Which reminds me of the time I was doing my PhD in Medieval French Literature and saw a flowchart based on the Medieval authorities’ legal proscriptions about sex to help the pious man figure out when it was acceptable to have legal intercourse. Crowbar?
I’m not sure it’s the same thing at all.
Or is it?
Is our Anglo-Saxon concern with taking the last slice and therefore, being gluttonous, in the same category as our prudish treatment of sex, desire, lust?
Does the taking of The Last Slice represent our fear of embracing life, saying what we want, taking it and enjoying it immensely without fear of what other people think?