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.

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