What started as a family celebration almost ended in tragedy for actress Miranda Harcourt, when a freak accident saw a bone become lodged in her throat. Miranda, who returns to Shortland Street next month alongside her 14-year-old daughter Thomasin McKenzie, who plays teenager Pixie, was enjoying a farewell dinner for her son Peter (16) – part of the national team travelling to Singapore for the World Schools Debating Championships.
Her horrified family called an ambulance and Stuart accompanied his wife to Wellington Hospital, where Miranda was admitted overnight. Fortunately, her mother, actress Dame Kate Harcourt, lives downstairs and was able to hold the fort. While Miranda initially suffered from breathing difficulties, X-rays revealed no lasting damage.
“There’s still a slither of bone stuck in my oesophagus which I have to get checked. But they said I was lucky the damage wasn’t worse. I’m so relieved because I also work as a voice artist – my voice is my livelihood.”
Miranda admits to a moment of panic when she thought she may no longer be able to speak.
“I’ve always been a big fan of the written word, but I didn’t realise how much until I came very close to it being my only form of communication!”
“As usual, I was multitasking, trying to pack Peter’s bags and eat dinner at the same time,” says Miranda (52). “What I should have done is sat down and chewed properly.”
Miranda says the meal, cooked by her husband Stuart McKenzie, was so delicious, she helped herself to seconds.
“I tend to eat really quickly and I was ravenous. But when I bit into a lamb shank, I felt a bone pierce my oesophagus [the canal that connects the throat to the stomach]. The next thing I knew, I was coughing up lots of blood.”
In fact, so passionate is Miranda about writing, she’s joined an initiative to inspire Kiwi kids to put pen to paper. Curled up on a couch in her Wellington home, Miranda says more than one million New Zealand adults experience literacy difficulties and anecdotal evidence suggests that students arrive at school with fewer words in their vocabulary than a decade ago.
“That’s why I was so keen to support the Get NZ Writing initiative. These days, young people seem to spend all their time on the computer. Getting our kids to handwrite helps them to develop their language skills and retain information.”
Created by Warehouse Stationery, the initiative will see free handwriting kits sent to every primary school in the country, to encourage pupils to practise their writing skills. There is also a competition to find the nation’s best hand-writer, with winners announced next month.
Miranda and New Zealand children’s author Gavin Bishop will judge the competition, and Miranda says she’ll be looking for confident, easy-to-read entries.
A few years ago, she and Stuart published two literacy and numeracy books – Miranda’s Alphabet and Miranda’s Numbers – which were based on the way they taught their own three children.
“For us, it’s about teaching letters and numbers through shapes. It’s called illuminated text – that’s what we based the books on.”
Miranda is also glad that nearby Houghton Bay School, which all her children have attended, has a strong focus on handwriting. In fact, daughter Davida (8) admits she prefers writing to typing, saying, “It makes me feel good to write every day.”
Davida and her siblings also regularly send handwritten notes to their grandparents
“We’re great fans of handwritten letters and cards in this house,” says Miranda. “Our kids’ grandparents love to get family news and views written by the children.”
Having recently returned from India, where she helped coach actors Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman for the Hollywood film Lion, Miranda is also busy co-producing The Changeover, which her husband has adapted from a Margaret Mahy novel.
“We’re hoping to start filming next year but it’s just one of many things on the work front. That’s why I’m so glad my throat injury wasn’t more serious – I don’t have the time to be ill!”
For more information, see warehousestationery.co.nz.
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