> Skip to content
  • Published: 30 March 2021
  • ISBN: 9780143775928
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 304
  • RRP: $38.00

The Misadventures of Polly Gillespie

Reports from a Riotous Life


I have scars all over my body. I wear some of them proudly, but some just don’t fit, or frighten me when I see them.

I do so love other people’s scars, though. I find they nearly always make someone far better-looking and unfathomably deeper as a person.

Sometimes I look at people’s scars (without being creepy, you understand) and try to imagine how they got them. Generally, asking is a let-down. What I might have thought was the result of a brawl in a Romanian bar over an unruly lover is generally just a mole removal. The scar I imagine being inflicted during a knife fight in Spain is generally from falling off a skateboard. The woman with the scar on her hand I imagine protecting herself and her family from wild dogs in a forest, but usually she had an accident with a kitchen appliance. Nonetheless, a scar is a damn fine thing.

I also appreciate that some scars are disfiguring, and may remind people of awful events they’ve endured. Burns, for example. Burns make me feel empathy, deep empathy for whatever the person had endured and survived. Burns make my heart hurt just a little.

I have scars chequering my body. Some are from awful thingsthat happened when I was a baby. Some are from adventures gone awry as a child. Many are from giving birth. A feware from cosmetic procedures, and one or two from serious misadventures.

Shall we do the ‘Hollywood homes’ tour of my scars? Let’s not do them all — I’m not a Kardashian, after all.

On my throat is a scar from the tracheotomy I had as a baby (see page 176 about the safety-pin incident). It was puckered,until a cosmetic surgeon asked about it at a party and offered to fix it. The wound had healed poorly and the skin attached to the wound, causing a dimple in my throat. He fixed it, and now you can hardly see it at all. I still feel the scar each time I panicor have one of those not-breathing anxiety attacks, though.

I have a scar on my ankle from the same time. When I was critically ill with pneumonia following the tracheotomy, they put a drip in my wee baby ankle. The scar must have been tiny, but it stretched. I love this scar. This is my favourite scar. It isstraight and well placed. It’s like a white tattoo. Should one have favourite scars? Like favourite children? Too bad. She is my favourite.

The scar above my eyebrow is from walking into an open cupboard door when I was eight. I don’t believe I had a sight problem at eight, just a ‘not looking where I was going’ problem. Two stitches later and I can still feel the pain of both the accident and the stitches being sewn in. How odd it is that we can remember most pain except childbirth. Tricky old Mother Nature, eh?

The scar just below my left knee is from falling on a piece of glass, also as a child. My sister had been butterfly hunting, dropped her jar and, because she was who she was, just left the pieces in the long grass. Genius children are sometimes acutely stupid. Of course I would fall in that long grass that most people would simply walk through in sturdy shoes. The glass got buried deep in my knee, and doctors at the hospital had to extract it then sew me up. I can still feel that, too. Oh, and to be rigorously honest, I still feel a smidge of resentment as well.

I have the Caesar scars, the gall-bladderscars and the other stomach-issuescars. Don’t really like them much. They make my torso look like a poorly quilted doll’s body, but they’re under clothes most of the time, so I live with them.

The scar that I am most ashamed of is also fortunately — or not, as the case may be — all but impossible for me to see. It’s on the back of my right thigh.

One word: hamstrings.

It was the Rugby Sevens at the Wellington stadium circa 2009. At the after-party at a local pub-type club with shiny concrete floors, my stupid strappy white sandals met someone’s spilt beer and right there, slightly pissed and in fulldance mode, I did the involuntary splits. I am quite bendy and stretchy, and was capable of doing the splits if warmed up properly and prepared, but it had been a few porn-star moves ago that I’d actually willingly done the splits in heels. I will never forget the look on my friend Anna’s face as I lay? sat?split? splat? there looking up at her. It was a look that said,‘Oh my god, you’re so ruined!’

I got up, caught a taxi with my husband, had a drunk fight, got out of the taxi and walked up the hill to my house with two of three hamstrings on one leg torn from the bone. I went purple from my hip to my toes, and yet stupidly refused to goto the hospital. In fact, refused to go and have my injury looked at by a professional for seven months, and when I finally did (after several more involuntary-splits manoeuvres hanging out washing, walking down the main street of Wellington and on a beach in Rarotonga), the specialist told me I’d need a big operation which would result in me being in a cast for three months, the cast being applied in such a way that it looked like I was permanently doing hopscotch. He told me that because I waited so long, it would probably not be entirely successful.

He was right, and now I pay the price in all kinds of knee, thigh and back problems. The scar from the operation is apparently small and straight, but it tells a story of drunken misadventure and poor shoe choice.

Scars are a map of life, really. Some people’s maps are aseasy to read as a map of Manhattan: all straightforward and perfectly sensible. Some maps, like mine, show all kinds of adventures, larks, misadventures, tours of duty and critical life moments. They are to be worn, though, and they are to be admired by people like me who love to imagine we are all pirates and Peter Pans, warriors and Joans of Arc.

Let me see your scars and imagine the adventures you’ve been on. This year we are wearing our scars with all kinds of pride.

The Misadventures of Polly Gillespie Michael Rosen, Polly Gillespie

Reports from the battlefield of a riotous life, from one of NZ's best-known radio personalities.

Buy now
Buy now

More extracts

See all
Dear Girls

Dear Girls, You are prohibited from reading this book until you are twenty-one years old.


I’m standing on the red railway car that sits abandoned next to the barn.


That I have my own lawn sprinkler has never quite dawned on me

Death by Dim Sim

I’ve worked at a desk most of my life.

The Divorce Diaries

I had my first panic attack on a quiet sunny morning in Berlin. It was mid-summer.


I’m on the highway a few miles out of town when the noise starts: a scraping, grinding din that jackhammers my heart into my stomach.

Don't Stop Believin'

My favourite time of day is ‘magic hour’, when the sun takes a dive behind the craggy mountain ranges and the sky is painted a stunning purple-pink.

Her Say

In jail he had made all these promises – ‘When I come out, I’m going to change’ – and when he came out he broke every single one of them, one after another. And to top it off, because he lived with us, my family started seeing this about him.

She Is Not Your Rehab

In a little tin-shed barbershop in the hood . . .


Two summers ago, my wife and I took our daughters to the zoo.

The Choice

Trauma psychotherapist and Holocaust survivor Edith Eger makes peace with the past as she returns to Auschwitz


In 1867, a journalist named Frederick Wilson published an account of his visit to Sydney’s Central Police Court, on George Street.