Noelle McCarthy: Is it fashionable to be practical?

By Noelle McCarthy

Autumn is when old-fashioned practicality gets to strut her stuff in all her forms - and lots of people start to preserve fruit. Picture / Babiche Martens
Autumn is when old-fashioned practicality gets to strut her stuff in all her forms - and lots of people start to preserve fruit. Picture / Babiche Martens

Is it fashionable to be practical? It's autumn now, and an air of domestic capability seems to be the most sought-after accessory du jour. This is an observation based on Instagram, which remains the most reliable barometer of human activity ever known. Admittedly, I only follow 300 people, the majority of whom are here in New Zealand, so perhaps it would be unscientific to attempt to extrapolate beyond the bounds of our shores.

Better to say with certainty that all anyone in this country is doing right now is gathering up vast quantities of crimson and/or green hued fruit and mashing, boiling and baking said fruit into tasty food.

Except Lorde. She's in Brazil, according to Instagram, singing to a festival audience of thousands, wearing this season's Zambesi rose-print skater skirt. She looks happy and gorgeous, but she may be wishing she was at home in Devonport, making feijoa crumble, for all we know.

If she does, you couldn't blame her. Not when everyone else looks to be having such fun boiling up great big shiny pots full of organic figs and filling jam jars with chutneys the colour of old shoes.

The novelty of these sorts of images is short-lived; all the cute, shabby chic kitchens start to look the same after a while, and there are only so many ways you can photograph a pile of fruit. But nonetheless, there's something comforting about the bushels of preserving-shots that start to abound about this time every year. They reaffirm a bigger picture, signalling as they do the end of summer and the advent of autumn. Lovely, comforting, plenteous autumn. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, season of domestic goddess catwalk-ery.

Autumn is when practicality, that good old-fashioned make-and-do quality, the most down-to-earth, honest-to-God of all the values, gets to strut her stuff in all her forms. Picking things off bushes, boiling them up in copper bottomed pots, that's the go in autumn. Her rich bounty provides ample scope for those of us wanting to get in touch not so much with our inner Lorde, as with our inner Alison Holst.

Not that it's an either-or proposition. Not in this country. That's one of the things I love most about New Zealand, the way practicality lives cheek by jowl with even the most rock 'n' roll sensibility. I wasn't here long when I got my first demonstration of how well New Zealand women embody this mix of values, and how delightfully. Six months after I loved to Auckland, I turned 24 and I had a birthday party. I invited all the girls from work. They were all waitresses, like I was, girls who used to go out dancing till 6am on weekdays, on K Rd. They were big drinkers, party girls. They turned up with cakes they'd made themselves, hand-drawn cards, fresh fruit salads in heirloom bowls. Rock stars with a hidden side of housewife.

I've never forgotten how impressed I was. Preserve season will be over soon, on Instagram, hopefully, but New Zealand's a place where practicality will always be in vogue.

* What habits do you adapt over the cooler months?


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