Tuesday, 30 March 2010


Well - this week has had a few firsts in it:

We have had our first orchestra concert, with a lovely programme of suites and serenades. The audience wasn't large, but everyone seemed to enjoy listening to the music as much as we liked playing it. And the husband of one of the violinists is doing an audio recording qualification, so his class were practising with our concert - we might even get a CD out of it! We had a chat and social afterwards (Known as "bring a plate", which does include bringing something to go on that plate - an American supper), which was lovely and friendly. The next concert is going to be a Jazz one, so I'm looking forward to that, but I think that someone else is going to have to do my counting for me!

I had my first league hockey match. We lost 3-2, but didn't play too badly, given that we hadn't played together properly as a team (and the practice on Thursday seemed to mainly be spent playing 'getting to know you' games...). Only one of the goals shouldn't have gone in, and I did save far more than three, so I'm happy with the way that I played! It will be interesting to see how the team develops over the season.

I had my Introduction to the Ministry on Friday - this was actually really rather fun. Rather than just sit and be lectured to, part of the morning involved going round the Ministry main office (the IT Group is actually sat in a separate building, about 10 minutes' walk away) and talking to the people working there, and then feeding back in a presentation (involving posters, glue, coloured pens and glitter!) to the rest of the group. It was really interesting, and great fun. As well as the rest of the lecture (which included some info on gifts and ethics which I thought was self evident, mainly because I have to deal with it a lot in contracts, but other people hadn't heard about, and we ended up having quite a debate about!), we also got to go round the Parliamentary offices (also known as the Beehive). The Minister wasn't there, but we did get to meet four of her Privy Secretaries, and they explained about their role and how the Ministry and the Minister fitted together (and also the reason for them needing information as a top priority whenever there is a Parliamentary Question that needs to be answered - there are less than three hours from the question being asked to it needing to be given to the Minister to answer it in Parliament!) Sadly, we didn't get to go into the debating chamber, so I shall have to be a tourist at some point and do that for myself!

I also had a two day training course on Wednesday and Thursday, which has given me a better groundwork for the work that I need to do on contracts. Which is a good thing, as we also have a new member of the team (though I am still the new girl, as she has moved internally), and she is taking on the administrative part of my job (which wasn't very big to begin with!), and I will be concentrating more on the high level and strategic part. A definite shove outside of my
comfort zone, but I am now confident that I can do it!

Autumn is definitely on its way now - there is a definite nip in the air in the mornings (though, in general, the late morning and afternoon is still up in the high teens / low twenties C, so it isn't cold by any stretch of the imagination!). I'm learning the difference between a Northerly (wind coming down from the North end of the island - usually warmer, occasionally bringing a gentle rain and low cloud/fog) and a Southerly (wind coming from the South Island, usually come straight from Antarctica, and occasionally still carrying a penguin - it is *cold* and is the type of wind that goes through you without stopping to say 'please') It is also getting darker, very quickly. In the last week, I've gone from a half-light in the mornings to near blackness when I wake up. The light fades very quickly in the evening, too - it's not going to be fun when the clocks go back on Sunday.

But I'm still getting a chance to get out to the greenhouse on the odd occasion - I'm starting to fight a battle with caterpillars - at some point over the summer a butterfly got in, and my broccoli is covered with caterpillars of all sizes (all a lovely bright green that blends in with the leaves!). Fortunately, they aren't too difficult to pick off (some have fastened themselves down with silk, but it doesn't take much to get them to let go), and I now have some very satisfied birds in the garden! The broccoli does seem to be able to take the munching, but I'd rather not be bringing up the next generation of butterflies to eat next year's crop! I now have three capsicum growing on my pepper plant, too, with a few more flowers still in the process of opening. Very exciting, particularly as the capsicum in the market are showing a marked sign of being at the end of the season - the prices are starting to skyrocket, and the quality is going downhill very rapidly (it is now difficult to find ones that I could confidently say would last the week, even in the fridge, and as I cook with peppers on average 5 meals out of 7, I dread them disappearing completely!)

It's a short week coming up at work, and then Easter - I am really looking forward to the four days off. We haven't got anything definitely planned (tentative discussions from someone at sci-fi to be doing "something"), and I can't wait for the lie-in on Friday morning!

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Ups and Downs

It has definitely been an interesting week this week. Work has had some highs and lows, as has life outside of the corporate world.

Lows included hitting my head against the brick wall which is the Student Loans Company - these people have no concept of the fact that I am not telepathic. They sent me a letter, dated the 10th March, stating that my next loan repayment was due on the 10th March... And then when I went onto their website to try to make a payment, it wouldn't get to the point where it would let me put in my card details, so I couldn't make a payment anyway! It also took quite a bit of looking to discover that they charge a whacking great percentage if you are paying from a "for'n" bank account. So, I have sent them a long email, with scanned payslips showing deductions attached, asking them to tell me how much I owe them in total (due to the way the loans are administered, nothing gets updated until after the end of March, however the interest still mounts up), and then I'm going to pay off the balance using money (eventually aimed for a house and car deposit) that is still sat in the UK waiting for the exchange rate to pick itself off the floor. It will just be easier that way!

I also had a meeting first thing Monday morning, in which I needed a Senior Level decision, and had stayed late on Friday and came in an hour early on Monday to prepare for. Unfortunately, my item was 8th on the agenda. Items 3 and 4 involved a colleague of mine who, partially due to his length of service in the field, takes his own, very singular view of events. Quite often the opposite to what was actually decided. Because of his expertise, there is a tendency amongst the people that he works with and for to just defer to his judgement. However, our CIO is not one of those people, and she wanted a full explanation of item 4. Which took the remainder of the meeting time and then some. Very frustrating, particularly when my bit would have only taken five minutes. Fortunately, the delay has allowed me a bit more time to think about the project, and hopefully I'll still be able to get a decision before my next deadline!

Another low turned out to actually start climbing up towards the highs... I got asked to pop into a meeting with one of my colleagues regarding an email I'd sent her. The email itself was fairly innocuous, asking her to confirm the contracts that were held against her budget code. Unfortunately, there turned out to be a couple of cans of worms hidden in there, one which was easily solvable (even though it will require a chunk of paperwork), the other which just got messier and messier as I kept on digging! It also required me to learn how to use the Oracle financial system, and is going to have an interesting outcome, whatever we decide to do. So - whilst it was a headache which I could have done without, it has become very intriguing, and has also highlighted an urgent need for process chance (which we were aware needed to be done, but, because it will lead to extra work for some people, was difficult to put across), and I think I now have enough ammunition to get it to stick.

However, even with the lows, there have been very many more highs this week. They have included:

Getting confirmation from the insurance company that they are going to pay out the claim on John's mouldy boots. Which is a good thing, given that the chap who was looking at them (and who has found a way of cleaning them rather than having to take them to bits and put them back together again) actually fixed them over the weekend. (He said that he wasn't that fussed about the payment, but as he'd put in so much work, I'm very pleased that I can actually give him something back!)

Spotting that my capsicum/pepper plant not only has flowers on it, but now has a pepper growing! (unfortunately, the position of the pepper and the flowers means that I can't actually take that good a photo, so you'll just have to imagine what it looks like...)

Getting the chance to have a free guided tour round the New Zealand Supreme Court. The neighbour of one of my colleagues works in the court, and, as part of her duties, has to lead the tour - it was her first go on Friday, so my colleague said that she'd bring along some friendly faces! The Court is a fascinating building - it is split in two, with a modern building at the front, which was only finished this year (Prince William got to do the official opening). The modern part is a glorious piece of architecture - copper twining decorations round the outside to represent New Zealand trees, a glass entranceway into the lobby, which has copper round the walls, and a glass window through into the courtroom (symbolising "transparent justice") - this window has some clever chemical in it, which, when a switch is flicked on the judge's bench, turns the window opaque, in order to protect witnesses if necessary. The courtroom is a miracle of acoustic engineering - it is shaped like a kauri cone, with overlapping diamond panels made from sustainable New Zealand silver beech. The engineering that they have done means that from anywhere in the courtroom, a speaker can be heard as clearly as if they were sat next to you. The whole building is just beautiful, and a demonstration that modern architecture needn't be ugly! We then went round the Old High Court building, a Victorian structure which, after being abandoned for over a decade, has now been restored, using traditional techniques where possible. We were taken down into the holding cells, where the tables and benches in each cell were covered in the graffiti of the accused. (I could have spent *hours* reading it all. My colleague found names of people that she'd been with at school...) The interior of the High Court is very Victorian, and obviously designed to impress and overawe anyone (prisoner, jury or press) who was visiting. (The Press bench was also covered in graffiti, but slightly less crude than that which was down below...) Overall, it was a brilliant tour, and I definitely recommend it to anyone visiting our area of the world!

Getting confirmation that I'd got onto the Seconds team for hockey. (though given that I am one of only two goalies who show up, I'd have been very upset if I hadn't!)

Having another brilliant Board session with the Sci-Fi group - one of the members is moving house soon, and she brought along a number of bottles of wine that they'd been given, and hadn't actually got round to drinking. One of them was two years older than me, so, of course, I had to try it! It was delicious - almost sherry-like in look and flavour, but not in strength. The other *mumble mumble* bottles of wine were also very good :-) (it is lovely not to be driving anywhere!)

Going round the Pompeii exhibition at Te Papa. I won tickets to visit here a while back, and as I was aware that the exhibition was finishing soon (and that the Easter holidays are coming up, so it was likely to get swamped by school children rather than just visiting coach parties), we decided to head down. The exhibition was excellent (though I am glad that I didn't have to pay for it, as I think the entry fee was quite steep!), with artefacts ranging from every day items (pots, pans, amphora) to coins and jewellery, frescos, and carbonised food. The information displays were also very well laid out, with timelines of both the Roman Empire, eruptions of Vesuvius (with a lovely map showing where the different lava flows had gone), and the final days of Pompeii (including, of course, excerpts from Pliny). There were translations of the various bits of graffiti on the walls, as well as interactive computer displays, and a 3D animated film of the explosion (though, apart from a couple of bits of flying pumice and a bird, there didn't seem to be any real point to it being 3D...). They also had a few of the body casts, separated off from the rest of the exhibition. Whilst I'd seen pictures of most of them before, I don't think that anything could have prepared me for seeing them in the flesh (so to speak). The reality of them was completely overpowering - I know that I now have to go to Pompeii and Herculaneum for real to see it all in situ.

Sunday, 14 March 2010


Where did that week go?
Time has just flown by, and I can't believe that we are at the end of yet another weekend!

Things have been incredibly busy at work, in both good and bad ways. It is good in that I am being given more projects to do, and people are learning that it is my job to help them, but bad in that I am not having a chance to sit and look back over things and consolidate them; I'm always moving on to the next bit and hoping that I'm not making too much of a mess of things! Next week I've got a number of training courses, and I hope that they will help put things in context and give me a better idea of where I need to be coming from. I had a very interesting meeting with my equivalent in a different agency; the agency had run a similar procurement project a few years ago, and he had a number of lessons learned that he wanted to share. I've since learned that I need to take his opinion with a little pinch of salt (his reputation isn't that great across the sector), but it was definitely useful information.

We've also had a little bit of turmoil as a press release from the Minister regarding efficiency savings was interpreted by the media as massive redundancies - fortunately, we have a very good CIO who took the time to have meetings with the IT group and explain what was really meant and to allay any fears (she did point out that, with the savings that had already been found by the finance team, if they did have to have redundancies, then at most it would be six people, and she had already had (by show of hands) far more than that from people looking for early retirement!)

The social side of the week has also been very busy; we had the general Sci-fi meeting on Wednesday, which was, as always, good fun. Then Thursday, I was out with hockey - we didn't get a great practice in as it got dark, and it turns out that the pre-season pitch only has two floodlights on them, both at one end. So we had to finish early, which is a bit frustrating when you've paid a train fare to get there! Fortunately, someone was able to give me a lift home (which was even more appreciated when I realised how far out of their way they had gone!), which was a good thing, as I'd just watched the last train for an hour go past when they announced that they were cancelling the rest of the practice. This week's practice will be at a closer, and better, pitch.

Friday was interesting - we had a spectacular storm which blew in from the South Island - it really was a case of the sky suddenly going black - we were able to watch it rolling across the city. Thunder, lightening, hail and tornadoes (though I didn't actually get to *see* the tornadoes as they just over the hill and hidden by the low lying clouds - the damage they did was incredible, though, including lifting roofs off of buildings "like paper" according to one news report - fortunately in that case, a school, the kids had been let out for the day about half an hour earlier, and there was pretty much no-one about, meaning that no-one was hurt. In fact, across the whole of the two islands, there was very little injury given the scale of the storm). I was working late anyway, and quite thankful of allowing the worst of the rain to blow over. However, the storm had done its damage, and when I got to the station, it was bursting at the seams with people. I ended up standing next to a perfect stranger, and asked him what was going on - it turned out that a tree had come down across the lines. This had taken the power out further up the tracks, and the train company were trying to work out what to do. We got chatting, and, after a while, I (very cheekily) asked whether I could borrow his mobile (and pay him for the text) to let John know that I was going to be late - knowing KiwiRail, we could easily have been there for a couple of hours, but I didn't want to risk leaving the platform to look for a public call box, just in case they put something on while I was gone. The announcement then came through that the company could get us to Petone, which was only about half the way to my stop. They were then going to try to sort out replacement buses (but given that it was Friday rush hour, it might take some time) Ashley then said that as his car was parked at Petone station, did I fancy a lift home? Now all the rules of common sense said that I should have declined (particularly as he knew that I didn't have a phone), but common sense wasn't soaking wet and absolutely shattered from a long week at work (and didn't have a husband at home waiting for his birthday pizza!) And, to be honest, he was a very nice bloke, and we had a great chat all the way home. So, no worries :-) And another indication of how nice the Kiwis are as a race!

The birthday pizza that I mentioned came from a fantastic company called Hell Pizza - www.hell.co.nz - their pizza names include the seven deadly sins, the seven circles of hell as well as various other amusing names. For me, however, the big intrigue was that they do dessert pizza. This turned out (once I'd scraped all the toppings back on - the delivery guy had held it on its side!) to be a sweeter pizza dough with chocolate and vanilla custard and various cooked berries. It doesn't sound like it should work, but it definitely does!

Whilst we were eating our pizza and enjoying "Bill Bailey's Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra" (much worth watching - I definitely recommend, even if Mr BB had a few tuning problems with his singing...), there was a thunderous knocking on the door, and it turned out to be our neighbour's son. He had a plate of nibbles, meat and dips in his hand and passed it over saying "Mum said to give this to you, I don't know why." Very bemused, I thanked him, and (as we were very full from pizza) we put the food in the fridge for another day!

On Saturday, we were invited out by one of our Sci-fi friends to go and watch another of his friends flying model helicopters with his aviation group. Whilst this had the definite potential to be a "boys and their toys" day, it was really great fun. The skill of some of the fliers had to be seen to be believed (and I do actually have some videos of these on the camera. Unfortunately, none of the films are very good on their own - they need a bit of editing. Which means that I need to find a decent Linux video editor, or wait until we get a *ptooie* Windows PC. So, you will get to see them, it just won't be straight away!) - they were throwing the model helicopters (worth scary amounts of money!) through the sky (and very close to the ground), both right way up and upside down, and, aside from one which didn't get into the air due to a bust giro (in itself costing over $1,000...), nothing crashed or got broken. And we also got a free lunch out of it (the club is sponsored by one of the local supermarkets, who provided a veritable feast, including burgers, buns, crisps, fruit and drinks...) Alex then took us round the Porirua shops again, which was even better now that we had a bit of disposable income to spend! I've picked up some lovely fluffy wool and have just started my next knitting project (having not quite finished my last one...)

Sunday was another early start - I'd been called on Friday by the coach for the 2nd hockey team asking whether I wanted to play in a friendly match - a mixture of both the 1st and 2nd teams. I definitely wasn't going to say no, so was at the pitch just after 9.00. The match itself was great fun, but very difficult, with the ball spending a lot of time down our end. It was very interesting to start to get a feel for the different ways of playing, and realised how much I'd got used to the Bristol Ladies' defence tactics (here, there is pretty much no marking until the players are in the D, which makes me feel a lot less secure, as the team seems to often be on the back foot once the ball does get closer to goal!) But I saved more than I let in (and was only cross with myself with one of the goals), and think that I didn't do too badly given that, aside from a couple of practices, I've not played since September. And, on that part, the 1st team coach didn't think I'd done too badly, either, as she asked afterwards whether I'd mind subbing for the 1st goalie if she couldn't make matches. Like I'd say "no" to that!

Sunday afternoon, after we did our supermarket run, I spent making cheese scones to put on the now empty and washed up nibbles plate from our neighbours. We then spent a very nice half hour or so round at their place chatting - they are a lovely family (even if she says she is having a couple of problems with her teenage son - we certainly don't hear them arguing!), and I think that we are very lucky to have such nice people on either side of us.

And that was last week. It's now Tuesday (I have been writing this post for a couple of days - I hadn't realised that it had got quite so long!), so we've had another orchestra rehearsal. We've only got a couple of weeks to go before the concert, but it does all seem to be coming together now (and I'm now hearing the music whenever things go quiet, which means that it has sunk into my brain!) And my pepper plant has bloomed - when I popped into the greenhouse to get basil and spinach for supper, I spotted that there are a number of open flowers hiding under the leaves. I'll try to get some photos tomorrow :-)

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

No news...

Really, it has been a bit of an uneventful week this week. We are really settling in to our routine now; Monday is orchestra (last week was my second week of 'subbing' for the first oboe, this week she was back. I was a little bit chuffed when the conductor mentioned to her that she had been 'ably covered' by the rest of the oboe section - given that I didn't do as well as I'd have liked on the oboe solos that I was playing, it was nice to hear that he thought I'd done ok!); Tuesday is an evening in, when I check on the greenhouse and catch up on any internetting that I've missed by not being in on Monday; Wednesday is either an evening in, or we are out at the monthly Sci-Fi meeting (though when I pick up TKD again, it will be my TKD evening); Thursday is hockey; Friday is another evening in, and making sure that the greenhouse plants are still thriving (the broccoli is now charging me a toll to go in...); Saturday is our shopping day - up to the Farmers' Market for our fruit and veg, then a stop off at the chocolate shop for a drink, and then the supermarket shop - the evenings are either relaxing or out at various Sci-fi events, depending on when in the month we are; Sunday is a day to ourselves, I do some oboe practice, and occasionally wave an iron at some of the more creased clothes that I want to wear in the coming week!

I've now had my first month at work - I feel like I'm finding my feet a bit now. I know the 'usual suspects' without having to look them up on the intranet, though I still don't recognise a lot of people (my poor memory for faces is really haunting me now - it's not good to introduce yourself for the third time to someone, particularly when they only work round the corner from you!). Both my boss and the CIO are conspiring to push me firmly out of my comfort zone whenever they can - I know that it is good for my career, and I will quickly get used to it, but it is still a little unnerving at times, and I do occasionally long for the safety blanket of admin.

The weather is starting to get colder in the mornings (though I was able to spend all bar one of my lunchbreaks last week out on the harbour, reading my book and watching the waves come in), and it is definitely darker when I get up - I just hope that the corresponding Spring is driving away the snow and frost for everyone back in the Northern Hemisphere!

Monday, 1 March 2010


Apologies for the lack of a blog update on Sunday – Blogger decided to play around, and would load up the page title, and nothing else *rolls eyes*


The rather overshadowing news of this week was the 8.8 earthquake in Chile which triggered a Pacific wide tsunami warning. It meant we got to see and hear first hand the Civil Defence system which we had been taught about at the seminar not two weeks ago. That same seminar meant that, although we were woken up with the CD warning on the radio news, we automatically knew that, although we are in a low lying area, we weren't in any danger. So it was a case of leaving the radio on and listening for news updates, which happened about once every quarter of an hour or so. I did think I faintly heard the warning sirens in the distance, but it might have been my imagination! Fortunately, as events showed, whilst we did have a tsunami, only the Chatham Islands had anything over a meter high.

It was very interesting to listen to events unfolding over the next couple of hours - I have a short cut link (mainly because I'm interested in the local earthquakes) to GeoNet (link) which also has tidal gauges to monitor tidal waves.  You can see the events unfolding here:

Usually the lines are pretty flat (as they have been adjusted to take into account the tides)...
The radio was also quite amusing - at one point they had a reporter up on the hills overlooking Wellington harbour, and he'd obviously been told that they had set aside a three minute segment for him, and he was determined to fill it, even though he had nothing to say!
It is very comforting to know that, even though this turned into quite a non-event here (in Wellington the waves reached 30cm), if it had been bad, the emergency planning was there.
Now, it is just really a hope that the devastation from the earthquake in Chile can be contained and that the death toll does not rise.
In other news, I've had my first full week of "flying solo".  All things considered, it hasn't gone too badly.  I don't think I've made too many mistakes (only one obvious one, and that was due to me not finding out enough about a contract and relying on other people's opinions - fortunately I was able to clear it up within a very short space of time without too much fuss and bother!  Lesson learned for next time...), and I've managed to impress the boss with the fact that I know how to use Excel and Project (he did get very excited when I showed him a couple of pivots that I'd used to get some data out of our unwieldy database, and a series of formula to flag time periods when contracts were expiring)  My workload hasn't got too heavy yet, either, which is good, and means that I can work on some longer term projects which will make my life easier in the moths to come.
Orchestra was fun this week - I sat in for the first oboe, and didn't manage to fluff the solos too badly (apart from one piece, which I hadn't realised we were going to be playing, and where every note was an accidental and awkward fingering!)
I also had the trials for the hockey teams - not quite the trek all the way out to Trentham, this one was at the hockey club where we had the sign up session, and only a couple of stops up the line.  It was a good session - great to get back into the pads again (and these are *posh* pads - not quite top of the range, but getting there!  I've never had 100% body coverage before...), and I did manage to make a couple of good saves.  And let in a couple of doozies as well...  I wasn't good enough to get into the firsts, but then I wasn't expecting to - their current first goalie is amazing!  Kerry (the guy who hired me) was watching the trials, and very kindly gave me a lift back - given that my other option was to walk (I wasn't going to wait for an hour and a half for the next train which was going to be a bus anyway), I was very grateful.  And he then invited me out for drinks the next evening - he was going to be watching the NZ/Oz 20:20 cricket, and was meeting his mates at the pub beforehand.  It transpired that one of the people he met up with was a contractor who had been doing my role a few months ago, and the other was also a procurement consultant.  It is nice to know that, even if I don't decide to stay here for the very long term, there are consultancy roles available when I have built up enough experience (as Kerry said - the government will always need to buy things!)
The weekend was spent pottering - we had hoped to get out on the Sunday to a regional park where they were having an open day, but when we looked at the distance on the map, and the fact that the start point for the guided walks was 2km uphill from the road (which was already well over an hour's walk away), we decided to give it a miss!  There are some gorgeous purple flowers growing on the tree which sits just into our neighbour's garden.

And the plants in my greenhouse are really getting going, particularly my broccoli

and my pepper.

We've also had a bit of an insect explosion - as well as the cicadas deafening us in the trees outside, these moth like insects were all over our lilies

and this little fellow was buzzing around the greenhouse

Looking at the length of his sting, I decided that the prudent course of action would be to leave the door wide open until he stopped head butting against the glass and flew out!