The Emperor’s New Clothes

When I was a kid, I remember reading a book where an emperor paraded through his city entirely naked. His noble subjects were too scared or embarrassed to point out his brand new outfit was woven from nothing but air and imagination.

I had a similar experience today.

I bought an old bike from a kind Swedish girl for $50, and finally jumped on it this morning. I sat at the top of Fernhill, gloved fingers flexing on the handles, facing a thrilling descent. It was -8°, the mountains were streaked with pink light and white cloud, and Queenstown lay in shadow below. I pushed off.

The air was so cold, my face was numb within seconds, I could barely see the blurry road ahead through streaming eyes. The frost was melting, and the cars hissed as they overtook, their tyres flicking salty grit at me.

I was early, so I treated myself to breakfast. The cashier looked up, and there! A moment of uncertainty flickered over her face, before it was replaced with a shy smile.

“Anything else for you?” I shook my head, and nipped over to Joe’s, for the best coffee in town.

“The usual with honey?” The guy with the chubby cheeks asked. He knew me well, but today, he wouldn’t catch my eye.


I headed over to the bookshop, opened up, and an hour passed. Finally, I popped to the loos, and burst out laughing.

My face was covered in mud.

I looked like a kid who’d tried to draw measles on their face, but could only find a brown pen. And to top it off, my mascara had streaked, tears like sooty comets had left a smudgy trail towards my hairline.

Why hadn’t anyone said anything? I’d met loads of people that morning. Had they been too shy, or too polite, to point out the obvious?

Unlike the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, I’d not had a child stand up in front of the crowd and ask why was I naked, or in my case, why did I look like a scruffy Dalmation.

I washed my face (it took a while) and went back to work, but I couldn’t help but mull on two questions for the rest of the day…

  1. At what point in our lives do we become so fearful of overstepping boundaries, we lose our honesty?
  2. How much are mud guards in New Zealand?

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