Noelle McCarthy

Noelle McCarthy is a Herald columnist

Noelle McCarthy: Stories shine a light in dark places

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Franklin Rd is transformed for Christmas festivities. Photo / Greg Bowker
Franklin Rd is transformed for Christmas festivities. Photo / Greg Bowker

The only thing that matters are stories. Somebody told me this. She was a bit drunk at the time, but she was right.

She was talking about how it's great to hear a funny story at a party, especially if it tells you something about a person that you didn't already know. She'd heard one earlier that night that was a case in point, from a guy we both know.

He's got a teenage daughter, and the boys have come calling. The other night one of them came over to watch a DVD. Dad had misgivings about this til the young man arrived and he caught sight of the DVD, Cabaret. Not to worry, the boy was obviously gay.

How we laughed! It was funny the way she told it, and it proved the point. I've seen this guy every week for a year, and I didn't even know he had a daughter. Why would I? We go to the same parties, is all.

We were at a party, having this chat. A Christmas party, the first of the season, celebrating the switching on of Franklin Road.

A party that sparkled, in a beautiful house. The sparkles came from skeins of lights on the balcony, and all the lovely people within.

Outside on the street was a car crash, literally. Smoke rising from a fender bender at the corner of Franklin and Ponsonby Road. Hordes of children half-crazed from ice-cream, the elderly of the parish, up late, wandering around in a daze.

There were cameramen and choristers, and the Leader of the Opposition [Phil Goff] cheerfully, pointlessly shaking hands.

Inside the house Len Brown stood in the hallway, shoulder high to the hostess, twinkling festively, lit from within. The Mayor of all fairy lights, the biggest sparkler on Franklin Rd.

Earlier on I told him my name and he sang it back to me. "Noelle, Noelle, Noelle." High pitched, silvery, note perfect. Quick as you like, and mad as a brush. A personalised serenade from the Singing Mayor.

It is not like I've never had The First Noelle sung to me before, it usually infuriates me, but how can you fail to be tickled by that sort of melodic bonhomie? Talk about puckish, our Len is positively fey. Even his hair is magic, I've never seen silver catch so much light.

The great and good of Auckland queued up in the hallway to be dazzled by their elfish boss, and out in the lounge, I cuddled in close to the drinks cabinet and heard why stories matter. They matter because they cut through the bullshit, and they help you to connect, she said.

They do. The day before the lights came on on Franklin, December 1, was World Aids Day. I went to a lunch put on by MAC, a makeup brand to which I am partial. We were there to celebrate a lipstick. The MAC Aids Fund raises a lot of money for charities set up by and for people living with HIV and Aids all over the world. They've just passed the one million dollar mark here.

One of the New Zealand charities that gets help from MAC is Positive Women NZ, a group set up to support the women and their families in this country who are living with HIV. Sitting around the table with Jewel and Jane and Jana, I put their stories together in bits and pieces.

Jane gave the presentation earlier that day. Her makeup was magnificent, her false eyelashes mesmerised us as as she talked about living with HIV. Jewel got the virus from her boyfriend she said, in between telling us about her nine cats, and how she used to be the coatcheck girl at The Box.

She was diagnosed at 21. Thirteen years later and she's still living her life with HIV. She gave me a recipe for lentils on toast. Jan was an older lady, a nurse. She pricked her finger on an infected needle at work. Jan was softly spoken, but you wouldn't want to mess with her, I thought. I didn't ask her her story, I didn't have to. Jane, Jan, Jewel, they've all told the stories of their lives for an ad campaign for positive women.

They're a big part of the reason we can now talk about HIV, openly, how it affects mothers, aunties, girlfriends and sisters. They're the reason there's less stigma, less secrecy and less fear around the disease.

There's a lot of rubbish written about "speaking out", the sort of personal disclosures of addictions or disorders favoured by celebrities when there's an album or an autobiography to promote. But there are also those stories that shine a light in the dark places, and show the way.

Like my friend at the party says, stories matter, and some stories matter a lot.

- NZ Herald

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