Saturday, October 15

beat 'till stiff : peta mathias

Between voracious gulps of red wine and a sensual rendition of an Edith Piaf classic, author, chef and television presenter Peta Mathias gave the audience advice on face cream, tattoos, boil treatment and how to stop strangling your mother, at the launch of her new book Beat ‘Till Stiff.  In the relaxed surrounds of Casa Luna restaurant on a cool and wet Ubud afternoon, wine and coffee sharpened the crowd to the inner workings of multiple female orgasm and germ transfer between Catholics. She warns mockingly that “one minute your holding a sinner’s hand in church and the next you’re in a coma in the infectious diseases ward.”

Beat ‘Till Stiff is a women’s recipe for living through a collection of stories about transformation. While her publisher was reluctant to agree to the provocative book title, Peta persisted and won, believing that “the most obvious transformation, if you are a cook, as I am, is the magic of eggwhites if you beat them, because they start out looking like a horrible pile of snot, which no one would want to eat.” Something happens to turn them into glorious peaks, a metaphor for the unexpected changes in life.  

Beat ‘Till Stiff follows the success of her humorous guides to the sexes - Can We Help It If We’re Fabulous? and Just In Time To Be Too Late.  While an authority on women, her latter analysis of manhood required her to delve into men’s fashion, psychology, and the sweaty realms of rugby. It was an enlightening experience and she recounts that “in interviewing these men, particularly about topics like family, relationships, sex and love, I just wish that I had asked these questions when I was in my twenties, and I wouldn’t have told so many men to f**k off and die.  I would have been a little bit more patient.”

In researching stories for Beat ‘Till Stiff  Peta interviewed sex therapists to garner theories of why women have the potential for multiple orgasms, grimaced through the pain of a tattoo - with advice to “take the drugs first, not after” - and channelled Edith Piaf’s sordid ways in the south of France.  She faced her accountant and the “ugly pieces of paper” at tax time, discovering she had spent $8240.05 on her appearance; almost the same amount as she had spent on five months rent in France. Arguing that “it costs a lot just to keep your act together” but   outraged at the amount, Peta called a friend who consoled her by saying “what, you only spent that much?  You’re an underachiever, go and get some more botox.”  Poppy red lipstick and fiery red hair are her signature, and Peta admits to a penchant for designer clothes, believing that they fall better and that she “needs them for mental health”. She eschews fitness, claiming she doesn’t need to go to the gym because she gets “so much exercise slapping all this cream all over myself.”  

Peta is a “big fan of therapy” and credits it to healing the complicated relationship she had with her mother.  She explained that “if you are still fighting with your mother at middle age, it means you haven’t outgrown childhood, you are still in a childhood emotional state of parent and child rather than two women. Once I got over that I saw my mother as a human being and a person for the first time and we both stopped being absolutely hideous.”   However, she is convinced that her mum lied about the origin of her disgusting childhood boils that had “aliens crawling out of them.”  

A “recovered Catholic” and ex-nurse, Peta outgrew being a chef at 45 and decided she wanted a career change, but didn’t know which direction to head.  With advice from the book “What Colour is My Parachute”, she re-read her school reports to see where she had excelled before being directed  by others.  “I looked at them and I wept, because I couldn’t remember who that girl was.  She was so different, this child, from the woman I had become.”  As a student Peta shone in singing, music, composition, English, French & Latin, “and with those god-given talents I went to Auckland hospital and became a nurse and washed bed pans, and I wasted five years of my life. It certainly taught me what I didn’t want in life”  After this she became a counsellor, then moved into cooking at the age of 40.  To those still searching, Peta offered the supportive words “It is never to late in life to start a new occupation.”  With a passion to write she published her first book aged 45, and the television series “Taste New Zealand” followed. Seventeen years later with twelve books to her name, her advice to aspiring writers is to “read writers who you admire,  read and read and read, then sit down and write and write and write.”  Through sheer self discipline, this is how a “nurse ended up in Bali drinking red wine.”
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