Sunday, 21 February 2010

And another week gone!

Time flies when you are having fun...

This week has been really enjoyable on a number of counts. I've finished my handover training at work, and am now "flying solo" as the lady who was training me has now left. I actually got a couple of practice days as she was off sick on Monday and Tuesday, which was a nice way of easing into it! (though a little frustrating when people came up looking for her wouldn't accept my help as "Julia knows what is going on, so it's easier if I just speak to her". They don't have that option now!) My boss has already decided to push me out of my comfort zone, just a little way, in asking me to help him sort out a dispute with one of our suppliers. I'm fine with the facts gathering, report writing and recommendation making, it's the sitting in front of the suppliers and telling them that they are being completely unreasonable is what slightly worries me. But I'm sure it will be easier once I get a better grip on what is going on. It's also very difficult for me to get my head round my new "status" - for all of my working life, my role has been administrative, and I've always had in my head that I've been "low down" on the status structure (even when the role hasn't been lowly, I'm still used to being seen as at most a couple of levels up from basic receptionist), and I'm now having to flip to the fact that my manager's manager is the CIO for the whole IT group, and three levels above her is the Minister. But I'm sure that will come once I've got a bit of a better handle on the role.

My enjoyment of the week has also been helped by the fact that I'm starting to get the hang of getting up in the mornings, remembering that I need to be heading to bed by 10pm and keeping my brain in gear all day.

We've also been pretty busy all week, hence a lack of posting until today!

Orchestra again on Monday - as interesting and fun as always. I've now got the first oboe parts, and need to spend some time today actually practising them ready for rehearsal tomorrow! (First oboe is away for two weeks, so I really need to look at the solos that she has - there are a lot of them!)

On Tuesday, we went to a seminar run by the good folks at Settlement Support. This one was on Emergency Preparedness - what to do if the earth shakes or the water rises... Apparently the Hutt Valley is prone to flooding on a reasonably spectacular scale; fortunately, we are far enough away from the rivers that we are only going to be affected in as much that the public transport will go up the swannee and make things difficult to get to work. The tidal waves should stop at the railway line a way back from us, so, again, we will only have problems with transport. Earthquakes may be a bigger problem, but only if they get to house or road/railway destruction levels. But we do now know what we should be doing and what sort of items we need to keep handy, and also how long we can expect to wait before help arrives in the event of a major scale disaster (3 days). And we got fed some really rather yummy pancake rolls and chocolate biscuits :-D

Thursday I had my first practice with the Hutt hockey club - this was quite an adventure! The training wasn't being held at the pitch that I had been to on Sunday last week, so I had a 20 minute train journey up the tracks to Trentham to the pitch there. The weather was hockey-typical (grey, rainy...), and I didn't get a great sense that there would be many there, particularly when I arrived five minutes before training was due to start and I was the only lady there! (The men were training before us, and they had a turn out of eight people...) In the end, there were four of us. Two of the men stayed behind and we had a three on three game, which was great fun - lots of running about and no being able to hide at the back! I even managed to get two goals in, which I was very pleased about (even though our side lost incredibly badly...)

We finished about fifteen minutes before time, as we were all getting a bit cold and wet, and there wasn't a huge amount that we could do with just the four of us after the men left. Unfortunately, no-one was heading back to Lower Hutt, so I had to go and catch the train back again, just as the heavens opened completely. I trudged back to the station, only to see the signs up saying that they are doing bus replacements. Unfortunately, the bus stop is the other side of the station from the shelter, and because I couldn't trust that the buses would be running to a similar schedule to the trains (it taking longer to go by road), I had to keep on nipping out in the pouring rain to check whether the bus was coming. It was made a little worse (for my frustrations at least) that the timetable that we picked up three months ago is now out of date, and the train that I was waiting for now only runs on a Friday, meaning that I had an extra half hour wait anyway. And one of the local drunks saw me at the shelter and decided to come over for a chat. Well, I say "chat" - more of an incomprehensible mutter from his side with me nodding and making appropriate sounds when he stopped! (and before anyone starts worrying, I was in no danger from him - he was holding on to his bags of bottles too tightly to ever be a threat, and I had my hockey sticks in my hands!)

Fortunately, the bus that was heading to Upper Hutt showed up, and the conductor suggested that as they were going to be the next bus heading back down towards Wellington, I might as well get on now and start warming up. I did get another drunk sitting next to me as we started to make our way back to Waterloo (this one so drunk that he was having difficulty taking the few paces up the aisle to fall into the seat), but I was able to ignore him better as I had my book out - he didn't really get the hint and kept on talking to me, but didn't really notice that I wasn't responding very much. It was still a very late night back, and unfortunately, the rail replacement after business hours is going to happen for the next few months whilst they do some major track work (they are bringing in some new trains, and laying new tracks to help cope with the extra volume) So, I'm very much hoping that someone will be going my way next week!

And last night, to round off the week, we hosted the Board SIG (Special Interest Group) for the Sci-fi society. It was very nice not to have to travel to get to the meeting, and was brilliant to have everyone round to show off our place. We played some really enjoyable games - I was playing a new one, which really rather complicated rules - however, once we got into it, it wasn't too confusing - one of those games where it is easier to play than to describe! The party ended up finishing at about half twelve, but it really didn't feel that late. Looking forward to the next one!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

What a week!

Well, I make no apologies for the lack of posting this week - I've been exhausted! This whole going to work lark is a lot tougher when you have gotten out of the habit of getting up and thinking all day...

In spite of the tiredness, it has been a good week. I'm finding my feet within the Ministry, though I despair of ever knowing who everyone is (there are about 300 people in my building, and there's another MoE building round the corner). There also seems to be far too many Peters around! It took me till Wednesday to get set up with a login and email - I have a phone number but no phone, which is interesting!

The office that I'm working in is lovely; just five minutes from the train station, and I'm right up on the 12th floor. My desk is in the corner of the office (right by the CIO of the whole division), and, aside from one building, which is slightly lower than us, I have an unimpeded view of the harbour and the sea. Great efforts are being made to not spend the whole time staring at the view, but I do have to admit that it happens on occasion!

I'm getting a good handover from the lady that I'm replacing, but I think that it is going to take me a while to get used to all the systems and processes (particularly as a good chunk of them do seem to be bureaucracy for bureaucracy's sake), and the computer systems that they use, both the main database and the internet links, are shocking - I've not had to wait 20 minutes for a web page to load in a very long time! (and given that the main database is only accessible over the web, it's not as though I'm only using the internet for personal use...)

It is also very intriguing that their personal use of internet policies aren't consistent - Gmail is banned as it is a webmail (which I understand), but Yahoo and Facebook aren't. Still, I'm not going to complain too loudly, as it is nice to be able to look at Facebook on my lunchbreak, particularly when it is raining. When it is sunny, though, it is much nicer to head out to the harbour and eat my sandwiches looking out over the sea...

There is also a little bit of office politics, as is usual in a company of that size. I am doing my best to steer clear - we shall see how easy that gets when I'm dealing with people more regularly :-S

Outside of work, we have also been very busy; our second orchestra rehearsal on Monday. The second oboe has already said that she doesn't want to play first at any point, so I will have to practice both first and second parts in order to be able to stand in for the first oboe when she is away. I've also been landed with a huge dilemma - the orchestra has an annual workshop weekend where they work in sections with members of the Wellington Symphony Orchestra to put together a concert over the weekend. Unfortunately, this year, it happens to be on the same weekend as NatCon, the NZ national science fiction convention. I don't have to decide straight away, but I want to do both!

On Wednesday, we had a sci-fi meeting in town - a semi-serious presentation for the first half, and then some silly games for the second.

Then Saturday, after a reasonably early start to get the vegetable shopping done, we had a lovely day with one of the sci-fi members - he was over our way getting sausages from our local butchers (these are apparently the best sausages in Wellington - when we have a bit more money, I'll be getting some to see for ourselves!), so he treated us to a coffee, and then, as he had his car, drove us round a couple of shopping centres, including a very nice bulk buy shop (similar to Macro) which I'm sure we'll be visiting again!

And today, we had a small lie-in, and then we were out up to the hockey club to get me signed up for the new season. This came care of Kerry, who had hired me, who is also president of the club and who spotted that I played in goal when living in Bristol. The people at the hockey club are really nice - its a mixed club of all ages and abilities, and they have multiple teams as well, so I should be able to find something that sits with my limitations as a goalie. Plus, as they do have a number of people who play in goal, they do specific goalie training, which, aside from a one day coaching session, I have never really had. They didn't have any goalie kit there today, though they do supply the kit for practices and matches, so I had a good run-around on the pitch, and came to the realisation that four months or so without any major exercise does not do good things to the fitness levels! Fortunately, as well as the hockey, and the TKD once I have the money to cover the club fees and insurance, the job comes with free membership to a local gym, so I'll be able to get there during my lunch break, once I've got myself a bit more settled into the job. And I may even join the local squash club if I've not completely exhausted myself!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Quiet week

Apologies for the lack of posting this week - we haven't really done a great deal since Monday - trying to save money!

I'm really looking forward to starting work tomorrow, not just because I know that it is going to be a fun job, with a good atmosphere and colleagues, but also because I am really needing the brain stimulation and the reason to get up in the mornings! Having said that, I have really enjoyed this last week, where I've let myself lie in as needed - the knowledge that the temp agency wasn't going to call to give me a last minute assignment helped in me ignoring the alarm clock...

We discovered our local Chinese supermarket on our walk to orchestra on Monday, and so we detoured there yesterday as part of our weekly shop - I think that John regretted offering to carry the things that I bought - I topped up on all the bottled stuff that I've been missing (dark soy, rice wine and rice wine vinegar, Thai green curry paste etc...), and it was really rather a heavy shop! Still, enough to keep me happy for a while.

Whilst we really didn't do anything yesterday to celebrate Waitangi Day, we did go over to one of our local parks to join in the celebrations for Te Ra o Te Raukura, which celebrates the Raukura, the white feather that people of Taranaki descent wear, and the passive peace resistance movement. In reality, though, it was more of a summer fete - we missed the traditional Maori singing and the haka, and just ended up wandering around the various stalls (mainly food, but a lot of health and community based ones, as well as a couple selling arts and crafts) and listening to a couple of local bands (mainly Reggae for some reason). We had mussel fritters for lunch - quite literally mussels mixed into an American pancake style batter, and then cooked in a griddle. They were really tasty, though they could have done with a bit of chilli sauce to liven them up a bit! Then an ice-cream for pudding - the sellers had a very clever machine which combined the Mr Whippy style ice-cream with frozen fruits - the fruits were placed in the tip of a metal cone, and then the ice-cream was squeezed through so that they mixed together - very tasty!

As we were over that side of town, I suggested that John came up into the Hayward Reserve, as he'd not actually been there. Sadly it was nowhere near as peaceful as normal, as the strains of the Reggae music floated up into the trees. I wondered what the birds and cicadas made of it!

We did get spotted by a Piwikawaka, though he did sit with the sun behind him, so the picture I got isn't brilliant:

We also spotted a cicada in full view - normally they hide away, but this one had probably only recently hatched:

The forest was full of mushrooms - I think that the heat after so much rain had really brought them out. Unfortunately, only one of the photos that I took came out - the camera was having much more fun focussing on the leaves behind...

We also heard a grey warbler, or Riroriro to give it its Maori name - we didn't see it though. This is the bird that I have heard every time I've been out there, and yet not been able to work out what it was (it is a lot harder to do a search when you don't know what the bird looks like, and the links don't all have the song on them). The song is amazing - whilst each one follows the same general theme, the individual songs are all unique.

We didn't spend very long in the reserve, as it was very hot, adn we didn't have any water with us. However, I'm glad that we came out when we did, as it let us get this photo of a Monarch butterfly

which I am very pleased with.

It has now been three months since we arrived in New Zealand - at times, it seems like we've only just arrived, and at others, it feels like we have been here forever. I think that we have really managed to settle in well, without hitting major culture-shock - there have been ups and downs, of course, but many more ups than down! It will be interesting to see what happens over the next three months (and beyond)!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Many Meetings

This weekend has turned into a little bit of a social whirl. On Saturday, after market shopping in the sunshine for once (we actually had four whole days of summer this week - a nice treat for the kids before they go back to school - the summer holidays end tomorrow), I made up some cheese scones (I *love* having my food mixer back!), and we then headed out in the evening for a Phoenix Sci-Fi social. This is a "Bring a Plate" social (and the interpretation of it is that you bring something *on* the plate, rather than just an empty one!) Unfortunately, as we are a bit out of touch (despite reading the local paper, and therefore knowing all about the 94 year old who has just hit his first hole in one in golf, a year after suffering a stroke...), we hadn't twigged that, in addition to the very important Sci-fi event, there were also two other events in the area.
The Trentham Races (The Wellington Cup), which is the equivalent of the Cheltenham Races, in Upper Hutt, which is at one end of our train track, and an AC/DC gig, which was held at the Wellington Stadium, right by Wellington Station. (some unsung genius designed it so that the far end of the platform (at the opposite end to the station) actually leads up into the Stadium itself. On major event days (particularly rugby and football), the fans can just pour out of the stadium and onto a waiting train (obviously getting the right train for their destination!) - when the train is full, then it leaves, and the next one pulls in.

The combined events meant that, rather than the two-carriage train being half empty, as it has been every other time we have used it, there were eight carriages, and we still stood all the way to Wellington. However (despite the heat and the fact that the AC/DC fans next to us needed a little bit of education in the use of deodorant), it wasn't an unpleasant journey - the fans standing by us were from Hastings, and didn't often come down to "the big city"!

The bonus was that as the guard couldn't get down the train through the crush, we didn't have to pay for our journey! (I had my wallet out ready to pay - we weren't fare dodging!)

The Sci-Fi meeting, which was on the hills overlooking the Stadium, was good fun. It was a lot busier than the other meetings that we'd been to, and a lot of new faces. It was a little bit intimidating at times - having thought that I'd got to know most of the Phoenix members, I suddenly realised that there were a lot more than I'd already met, and I was going to have to remember a lot more names (I'm not good at names at the best of times!). But it was still good fun, and we got to have some very interesting discussions. We had to leave a little earlier than we would have liked, but had been warned that we would want to get the train *before* the gig finished for obvious reasons!

Then yesterday (Monday), we had our first orchestra rehearsal. Having been to their Christmas concert, and then had to wait all summer whilst they were on holiday, I've been really missing playing in a group. I will admit that I was a little bit nervous when we arrived at the school where the orchestra rehearses. Already knowing that they had two oboes, I was a bit worried about being a "spare wheel", but I needn't have been concerned. Everyone was incredibly friendly - the two oboes insisting that I sit between them so that I could look at both of their music and choose which one I wanted to play (I did opt for second all the way through - I didn't want to get landed with an unexpected solo, particularly given that I've not really played for three months!). We were all sight-reading, which was very nice, if a bit brain aching - it is a lot harder to come into something when everyone else knows what they are doing! The pieces weren't too difficult, but were taxing enough that I'm looking forward to having my own copy so that I can do some practice. Afterwards we stayed behind to have a bit of a chat, and ended up nearly being the last to leave (no change there, then!) The lady who is in charge of the sheet music also plays the accordion, and is going to get me the contact details of her teacher so that, when I've been paid (oh, this pay is going to be stretched out a bit!), I can actually have some lessons before I pick up too many bad habits.

I've started doing some background reading ready for work next week - I'm happy to see that, on the surface, the procurement rules in NZ are very similar to those in the UK, so it won't be quite the feeling of being thrown in the deep end. Maybe just up to my chin...

Another lovely thing is that Kerry, the chap who interviewed me, emailed me to say that he is the president of the Upper Hutt hockey club. He'd noticed that I'd put hockey down as an interest on my CV, and has asked me if I would like to join! So the weekend after next (the one after I start work), I'm heading up to the astro-turf for registration and a couple of warm up games. I'm rather hoping that they will need a goalie - I think I may be a little bit unfit for running around on the pitch!

So, when I start up TKD after pay day (probably mid-March now), I will be back to a full after work schedule!