• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

Blown away

Wellington, I hate you - except on a good day.

Reflecting on 2006, I recall only that it rained. And blew. And froze. And then it rained some more. Although I am constantly on at my kids about the paucity of their vocabulary, the truth is that Wellington's weather was crap. Yes, there are other words for it, but crap is the best one. The bad weather seemed to dominate all else. Wellingtonians take pride in the fortitude with which they withstand the weather. The constant refrain in the capital is that "you can't beat Wellington on a good day", which simply means that on the other 364 days almost anywhere else in the world would be better.

This year, though, I have been ready to throw in the towel. If my husband's job did not tie us to the capital, I would be ready to pack up and go at the slightest hint of a job opportunity in the pleasant climes of Anchorage or Tierra del Fuego. A friend has likened tolerating Wellington's climate to sticking in a relationship with a man who really isn't good enough. And so you put up with the bad behaviour and the staying out late or, in the case of the weather, the relentless southerlies. Happiness is sapped away and you instinctively walk hunched over, trying to preserve your core body temperature despite the elements. You are slowly ground down, carrying a polarfleece at all times, accustomed to only seeing umbrellas broken and up-ended in rubbish tins. Each morning you turn on the radio news to find out in which Wellington suburbs homes have slid down the hillsides overnight.

Then, just when it seems too bleak and unrewarding to endure any longer, the most beautiful, warm, still and cloudless jewel of a day appears and all is forgiven. On that day the harbour is spectacular, the houses clinging to the hillsides are endearingly quirky and people walk with their heads high, greeting complete strangers. On that single day, you think those months of southerlies were an aberration and that this is how it will go on. Of course, it does not. Like the errant behaviour, the weather quickly reverts to its true nature. It is said that second marriages are the triumph of hope over experience, but in reality living in Wellington in 2006 best suited that epithet.

*

When I think about the people who made the news this year, Louise Nicholas remains the most haunting figure. Like Nicholas, we the public have to accept the jury's verdict, and doubtless the men accused of raping Nicholas believe justice was achieved. The court has decided that she was not raped. This does not mean she did not suffer. The type of behaviour that was exhibited, and acknowledged, in that Rotorua flat in the early 80s was occurring in loads of other flats in many other towns, and still is.

Feminism has gone quiet, perhaps because the articulate, urban, educated women who led the movement have seen enough victories to relax, and to be able to enjoy the fruits of their efforts, as they are entitled to. The battle is far from over, however. There are still a lot of unreconstructed men, and plenty of trapped and exploited women and children. As the year closes with a run of murder-suicides, in which men have been the killers and women their victims, it is clear that the urgent need to change people's behaviour and expectations cannot be left to social policy alone. It's a rallying cry for anyone willing to hear it.

*

On a personal note, in 2006 my house did not get renovated, I did not lose 40kg or learn French (or how to cook) and I did not read any of the 25 books from last year's reading pile. It is a struggle to think of anything I did achieve, other than playing a slightly smaller role than my husband in keeping our three children alive. Still, how ghastly to be an overachiever reaching December 31 with the realisation that you have to do even better next year. My suggestion is to benchmark yourself against something like Honey, We're Killing the Kids. I watched it once and found it unbearably depressing, but it is excellent for self-esteem. Now I know that if my family eats KFC fewer than four nights a week, we can count 2007 as a great year.