If Karen Burge, co-owner of Good Thing, had all the money in the world to make Mt Albert a better place, she’d “buy up lots of shops and commercial property, make them look amazing and then tenant them to businesses that would benefit the wider community”. PICTURES: JULIA THORNE
Karen Burge lives and works in Mt Albert and is co-owner of gift, homeware and clothing store Good Thing. She’s married with four children (aged from 8 to 14) and, when she’s not serving customers at Good Thing, loves to cheer them on at their various sports and interests. Karen and her family have just moved into a new house, which she says has a great garden to potter in and “a lovely big porch on which to take tea and eat scones with friends and read books!”
So how did you get to Mt Albert?
Twelve years ago, we saw a rumpty old house we thought we might be able to afford and the rest is history. At the time, no one could believe we had paid such a lot of money for such an old dump.
Tell us about your childhood
I grew up largely on the North Shore, where my dad’s grandparents had farmed since before the bridge went in, when there were dirt roads and vineyards and orchards. My parents both worked hard and wanted my sister and me to do well at school and go on to successful careers. Dad was very strong on his daughters being able to do anything. I made life-long friends through high school but I couldn’t wait to skip city-side once I started working.
Your first job?
As a child, I used to collect the money from Herald subscribers with a little book to record payments. Then, years later, my first real job out of university was as a junior reporter in the Herald newsroom. I was a journalist for 20 years until I started Good Thing with Sarah Twist two years ago.
The most uplifting moment of your life?
All the usual ones to do with my nearest and dearest, but I also have moments of pure contentment and happiness almost every day by letting the little things in life fill my cup. Swimming in big waves is my greatest summer pleasure.
Seeing my dad die at 68 from an aggressive brain tumour. I miss him a lot.
Things you’ve learnt about life that you will take to your grave?
Gosh, this is a big one! Well, I think my personal motto is “to thy own self be true”, so I trust my instincts and the need to be able to sit comfortably with myself at the end of each day. Treat others as you would like to treated. Be kind. Be generous with yourself, your talents and what you have and can give. And to be grateful for the little things, because we don’t always get the big things we might hope for or dream about.
What’s made you very proud?
I am regularly proud of my kids, of course, and I’m really proud of Good Thing, which Sarah and I started because we really believed in Mt Albert and wanted to create a store that Mt Albertians would be proud to have in their shopping strip. I still get a buzz every day when I unlock the door. I’m also incredibly proud and grateful to be a New Zealander.
What makes you damned angry?
The sexual abuse of children makes me more angry than anything in the world. It also fills me with sadness. I believe it’s the cause of so much personal damage in the world.
What could you not do without?
My mind. I am a big thinker, reader and planner… I spend many happy hours in my own head.
The thing you have always wanted to crack but haven’t yet managed?
Learning another language. I’ve dabbled several times with conversational French, but never get past the basics. I fall apart conjugating verbs.
What personal frailty in others do you most detest?
A lack of courage, apathy, fence-sitting, and those who criticise others but don’t do anything themselves
What about yourself – do you have flaws you wish weren’t part of your make-up?
Of course, so many – where do I start! I’m not as patient as I’d like to be and I wish I could live in the moment more. I’m disorganised at times and have been known to put my head in the sand on things I can’t face right now!
Describe your perfect weekend
There are lots of perfect weekends in lots of different places but they all involve great company, great food, beautiful settings, gripping reading material and lots of laughs. Sometimes my favourite weekend would be pure isolation on my own in the middle of nowhere with a stack of great books and a deserted beach. Actually, that is a recurring fantasy!
And the dream holiday if money was no object?
We’d pack our bags and head off overseas with the kids with no fixed itinerary and no return tickets. There are so many amazing places in the world that I’d love to explore and discover with my kids if time and money were not an issue.
What about that magic dinner party – who would share your table?
I don’t really aspire to meet famous strangers (I met quite a lot of famous people when I was a journalist and they were often disappointing in real life!). But I’d love some really funny comedians to join all the fun people in my life, some amazing chefs to whip us up a feast and a great DJ to get everyone up and dancing afterwards.
What would be on the menu?
I love lots of different styles of food but if there was a delicious lamb dish and some delicious rosé, I’d be happy.
And the music in the background?
Something upbeat and light.
What about books and writers – what/who will stay in your mind until your dying day?
I absolutely love to read and always have a massive stack of books waiting, but have a terrible memory for what I have read! I love all Kate Atkinson’s books (she might come to my dream dinner party, actually), Lionel Shriver’s book We Need to Talk About Kevin will never leave my mind, Goldfinch, Bulibasha, A Little Life. I’m drawn to books that are quite gruelling and raw. I also love learning about periods in history and different countries through fiction.
Your favourite movies?
If I had to choose the one I have seen the most in my life, it would be The Princess Bride! But in recent years, I loved Boyhood, which starred Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and Ellar Coltrane. It followed the main character from age 6 to 18 and was filmed over 11 years almost in real time. It was fantastic.
Watch much television? Favourite shows?
I’m a House of Cards fan, love Orange is the New Black, Mad Men, The Fall. I’m keen on a mystery and conspiracy.
What are your biggest concerns for the future?
I have many but I try not to dwell on them too much or I would find it hard to get out of bed in the mornings… overwhelming! One part of me hopes that oil will run out sooner rather than later so we are forced to embrace cleaner technologies and all the wonderful inventions and innovations that will bring. My heart breaks for children in unsafe and unloving homes and all those damaged by what happened in their childhoods. I wish all Kiwi kids had the chance to grow up with love, care and have their needs met. I’d also love all New Zealanders to have the chance to be literate. I think this would make an enormous difference to inequality and personal worth.
What do you particularly like about Mt Albert?
I love Mt Albert. It’s the best community I have ever lived in with lots of good-hearted, open-minded people. I love that I both live and work in Mt Albert and get to meet so many lovely people from all works of life and sectors of our community.
If money was no object, what would you spend it on to make Mt Albert a better place?
I would buy up lots of shops and commercial property, make them look amazing and then tenant them to businesses that would benefit the wider Mt Albert community. I’d love to see our main street develop into a well-supported and relevant place. I’d also make some cool facilities for the young people and some sort of young-friendly hang-out place! I’d also love to see a library, theatre, movies, and an art gallery.