Tuesday, 31 August 2010

An amazing weekend

Yet another very busy week; sadly, not out as much as I had hoped, as I suffered a recurrence of the allergic reaction (with now no idea of what could have caused it - I had avoided all the things which I had believed to be the triggers before...) - fortunately, this time, I recognised what was happening much sooner, and was able to get enough antihistamines inside of me to stop me turning into a Star Trek extra again (it would have been good timing, with the National NZ SF Convention this weekend...!) Sadly, though, it meant that I couldn't go to TKD - I didn't want to scare the children!

Fortunately, as I'd been able to "quiet" the reaction, I was able to head to hockey on Thursday, which was very important, as, despite my doom and gloom in my last post, we did actually make it through to the semi-finals, on goal difference. (a very good ego boos as a goalie!) We had a really good practice, with a good turnout, which was excellent for team morale. Sadly, the semi finals were our last match, as we got knocked out 2-1. But give that we were one stage further along than we had originally thought, and we were without a number of key players (including yours truly...), we did very well!

I wasn't at the hockey match because it was the weekend of the orchestra workshop. The weeks of preparation for Shostakovich 5 were all aiming towards three very intensive days of playing and socialising with musicians from all over the country.

We started on the Friday night, and I had the immensely satisfying experience of walking across Wellington's Central Business District (about 20 mins) to the pub that I'd 'nominated' for my supper (by virtue of having a 20% off voucher) without having to do more than a cursory glance at a map at the beginning of the route. This may not sound like a big deal, but for anyone who has seen me go into a shop and then turn the wrong way when I come out, it is a fairly fundamental feat of navigation. And I only needed to check the map for getting from dinner to the school where we were playing at the final stages. It is such a great feeling, knowing that the city is starting to 'click' - I'm nowhere near 100%, even in the small CBD, particularly when people navigate me by shop names, but I am getting there.

The first evening was a play through of the whole symphony - whilst our orchestra has been rehearsing in preparation, for a number of the musicians, this was their first chance to see the music, so it was a sight reading rehearsal for a lot of them.

Saturday was rehearsing in earnest - after an initial play through, we split off into our instrumental sections, and had a morning's tuition from musicians from the NZ Symphony Orchestra. This was a fantastic experience - just to be able to chat with someone who plays the oboe for a living, get hints and tips from her, and to learn that even professional players struggle with some of the nastier passages, was worth the workshop fee! We then merged the oboe and bassoon groups into a double reed workshop, and in the final sectional session, we merged all of the woodwind section. This let us build up the woodwind parts of the whole symphony, and really gave me an in depth understanding of the music before we rejoined the rest of the orchestra for a final play through of the day. And the difference between the morning and afternoon "Tutti" rehearsal was astounding - it was difficult to believe that just one day would make that much difference to the sound we were making. It felt like we were 'concert ready' at that point, and the rest of the rehearsals would just be icing on the cake.

The evening was spent with a social event; a quiz, food, and lots of laughter - really good fun.

Sunday was another intensive morning and half afternoon of rehearsals as a full orchestra, ready for playing the finished work to friends and family mid-afternoon. The final concert went really well, after a slightly shaky start (we had a few counting issues, probably a result of a weekend of intense concentration!). The music just flowed so well, and, even as a performer, it took my breath away. The third movement, the Largo, is believed by some to be a requiem for those who died under Stalin's regime, and the mournful theme which recurs throughout (starting off in one of the most haunting oboe solos - next time we play this, I want to have a go!!) really brought that idea home to me. The ending of the movement, where the theme is picked up by the harps and the celeste, actually brought tears to my eyes!

Overall, the whole experience was mind blowing - extremely exhausting, but such an incredible learning curve, and such fun! I can't wait for next year...

After the concert, I headed back into Wellington, as John, who had elected to go to the Science Fiction convention instead, had let me know that a group of them were planning to go out for a curry for supper, and did I want to join them? Not being one to turn down an invitation like that, I met up with them all at the convention hotel, and we had a great meal at the Balti House, which served up one of the best peshawari naan breads I have ever eaten! After the meal, I snuck in to the final two events at the convention, the presentation of the Sir Julius (thank you John...) Vogel awards (the NZ Sci-Fi and Fantasy awards), which was great fun (and we knew four of the winners), and the closing ceremony.

This week is already shaping up to be busy - work is as manic as ever, John and I have a wonderful way of celebrating our third wedding anniversary on Wednesday; we have managed to wangle our way onto a chocolate testing survey at our local Butler's - we have an hour and a half to do taste testing and give our opinions, *and* we get paid for it! No hockey on Thursday, but I'm out on Friday at a colleague's leaving do.

Then, gloriously, I have a week off - with Spring already here (there is yellow pollen along the edges of the pavements, the daffodils have been out since the weekend, and a large number of bushes have flowered already), I want to have a good go at the greenhouse and get seeds in. I probably won't do broccoli again this year; whilst it has been lovely to be able to eat fresh broccoli most weeks, the plant does take up rather a lot of space in the greenhouse! I think I will be buying my seeds based on the plants not trying to take over when my back is turned!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Highs and Lows

Wow! Well, as I said earlier, it as been a very busy fortnight. I've been out most evenings - my fault for trying to cram too much in!

Work has been excellent - I have completed a major project, with the final sign off happening on Friday. It has taken a lot of effort over the last six months, not just from me, but from a lot of people across different departments (I have been given permissions to play around with time-sheet reporting to analyse just how much work has been done on it!), and, with the ink not yet dry on the signature sheet, we are already seeing the benefit of it. A very satisfying end to the week!

Hockey has definitely been on the down side of the highs and lows of the fortnight - we lost last week, and should have won this week, but the other team scored off of a foul (they kicked the ball, and then scored) - the ref was looking directly at it, and claimed that she didn't see anything. We definitely played the best we had for a long time today, so not a great finish to the season (with the draw, we won't get through to the finals). All very disappointing, given how well we started the year.

Tae Kwon Do, on the other hand, is going from strength to strength. It transpires that the examiners at the last grading weren't very impressed with the Wellington clubs as a whole, particularly with their power and technique. So there is a change of ethos within the club, and we are doing a lot more work on those critical areas, which means that the training sessions are much more of a workout, and, from my point of view, a lot more fun (I think that some of the other members may beg to differ, looking at how tired people were by the end of the session!). My knuckles have just about forgiven me for the pounding I gave them on the pads on Wednesday... There's also another club member, who has been off sick for a while, who is at my level, and is also hoping to grade at the next examining session, so I think we are going to be working very closely together.

Orchestra has been fun - we only have one rehearsal left before the workshop next weekend. I've finally taken the plunge and bought some new reeds - I was very impressed with how quickly they arrived, but I haven't really had a chance to test them out - first time playing them will be tomorrow!

We have had two board gaming sessions over the last fortnight - we had friends over to supper last week, and went over to another sci-fi member's house last night. I learnt two new games, one at each session, and really enjoyed both of them (despite not winning either...). Yesterday was also the "Book Sale Day" for the Wellington Mission - a charity book sale where they take over an exhibition venue in order to sell off books for $2 (given that a new book will sell from anything from $30-70, and even second hand can set you back $7-20, you can imagine how popular this was!). John and I took our bags down and spent nearly $100 between us, and were then travelling round the rest of the day laden with books.

Our big excitement of this week was taking part in Wellington's food festival, Wellington on a Plate. We had bought tickets for "Dr Grordbort's Venusian Hunting Party", an evening of entertainment by the Weta team and very high class food at a local restaurant. If you have not come across the Dr Grordbort universe before, this comes under the sci-fi sub-genre of "steam punk". Effectively looking at futuristic scenarios, but set from an Edwardian or Victorian viewpoint. So, corsets and laser guns, clockwork rockets and solar topees. The Dr Grordbort universe is specifically focused on Empire expansion, but out on Venus and the Moon. The weapon of choice is the laser gun, either the Pomson 6000

or the Righteous Bison

We got to play with the pretty toys (and managed to avoid blowing anyone's head off...), and also meet the geniuses behind them, from Greg Broadmore, the designer (who also was the lead designer for "District 9") to Tom, the general manager, Warren, who is one of the team who actually builds the guns and models from the designs that Greg comes up with, Ann, who runs the Weta Cave, and who organised the event, and, for a brief period, Richard Taylor, who is the head of the whole company. I might have done a teeny little fan-girl style "Squeee!" when he came in through the door. But I was very quiet and I don't think anyone noticed... It was a fantastic evening, and I am already looking forward to doing it again next year!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Placeholder post...

I know, I know - I'm a bad blogger! Things have been astoundingly busy over the last couple of weeks - I promise I will get a proper post up on Sunday afternoon which will include social highs, sporting highs (and lows) and our evening out with some of the Weta crew (with photos).

But needless to say, things are going very well, and I am still slightly reeling from rushing past both our 9 month in NZ milestone and my 6 months at the Ministry. I'm not sure where the time has gone!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

It has definitely been a busy week! There wasn't much chance to stop and breathe until Friday evening, either at work or in my leisure time.

We had a good Shostakovich rehearsal – I'm starting to get really excited about the workshop weekend, which is only three weeks away now. It's going to be great fun – the music is already starting to come together, and after a whole weekend of playing, I think that the concert on the Sunday afternoon is going to sound fantastic.

Our Upper Hutt Sci-Fi meeting on Tuesday was really interesting – we had a good discussion on politics in Sci-Fi, which didn't end up in any sort of argument! I really enjoy the chats that we have – they are very wide ranging and cover most different types of SF; books, films, TV and graphic novels, and I'll always come away with ideas for new things which I really ought to get round to reading at some point!

Tae Kwon Do on Wednesday was brilliant. Some of the junior belts are grading this week, so the first hour was putting them through their paces, including a good half hour of fitness (I finally felt out of breath after the warm-up!). The second half, after the juniors left was a huge amount of self defence. The NZ TKD uses self defence a lot more in training than the UK TKD, to the extent that it is tested in grading from almost the start, whereas in the UK it isn't tested at all. So I have a lot to learn with this, and Wednesday's lesson was excellent for that. It was absolutely exhausting – we were doing “take-downs”, which involve using your legs to scissor your opponent, and then the momentum to finish the attack. However, doing that for an hour does put a lot of strain on the leg muscles, particularly the thighs – I've only just been able to walk properly again today!

Hockey on Thursday was ok – however, it would have been nice for the practice to have carried through into today's game, which we lost 3-2. Rather sadly, we were just out-played (and frustratingly by a team which we beat very well last time) – they had three very good break-away runs down the pitch, and they ended up with three on one and two on one in the goal, and there was not very much I could do about it! We spent a lot of time up their end of the pitch, but just couldn't convert to goals (thought to be fair, their goal keeper was very good)

The weekend, by contrast, has been a little bit more relaxing. Aside from food shopping, and hockey this evening, we've managed to keep it very low key. Lots of Dr Who watching (John has been getting plenty of old Whos out of the library), and some real brain de-gunking on silly internet games. Much needed, particularly as the next few weekends are going to be very busy (in a good way, of course!)

We had some sad news this week, too. Our neighbour, Shirley, died after a brief illness. I was a little bit shocked about it, not only because we hadn't realised that she had been ill, but because I had just been thinking that it had been a while since we saw her (the last couple of times we'd popped round to redeliver mail or to check our meter, she'd been asleep, which apparently was a symptom of her illness), and that I ought to pop round for a chat and take her some baking. But at least she had her family with her - her son and daughter-in-law came over from Australia to be at her side.

So, all very sad, but it could have been a lot worse. And it does mean we will be getting new neighbours at some point - Shirley's son has said that they will be selling her house as it would be very difficult for him to be a landlord from Australia. Sadly, we aren't yet in the position to be able to buy, but it will be interesting to see what her house does sell for, as it will give us a better idea of the range that we will be looking at when we do finally get ourselves into the market.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

A quick update...

As it looks like I'm not going to get a chance to blog this week (out every night up to Friday), I thought I'd get updated whilst I can...

It's been an interesting few days since I last blogged - very stressful at work, with trying to get people (who have their own priorities and tasks) to see that what I'm asking them to do shouldn't be relegated to the bottom of the to-do pile! But I managed to leave on Friday having got one major thing accomplished (with a few hours to go before the drop-deadline), and a reasonable way through another one. Plus the possibility that I may be able to take a few days off at the beginning of September to play in the greenhouse and get everything ready for Spring.

Friday night I had a little trip out with some of my colleagues, celebrating a birthday. We went to a trendy pub on the Waterfront, and were sat outside, looking out at the water whilst the sun set. Given that we weren't in August by that point (so, for northern hemisphere readers, still in the equivalent of January), I was really rather impressed! I did have to put my coat back on after the sun went down, and was very glad of the space heaters, but overall, it was a lovely feeling.

The journey back home that evening was interesting - I have signed up to a text messaging service from the train company which alerts me to any issues on the line that I travel on. As I got to the station, my phone buzzed, and the text told me that there were delays of up to an hour, due to "an incident" somewhere between Petone and Taita. Given that Waterloo is pretty much in the middle of those two stations, I was not hopeful of a decent journey back! Fortunately, my train was on the platform, even if the departure board just had "delayed" for the departure time, so I was at least able to sit in the warm. With about five minutes to go before the train was due to leave, my phone buzzed again, and the updated text said that the delay was now 30 minutes. The train did leave on time (which made me glad that I hadn't hopped off to pick myself up a chocolate bar!), and, after checking for tickets, the guard then wandered back through the train saying that, although we were currently running to time, the "incident" was a gas leak at Waterloo (my immediate thought being relief that it wasn't an "incident" as I understood it from many years of travelling on the UK trains, which is usually used in conjunction with the word "fatality"...), and there were five trains ahead of us on the line, so it was likely to be a slow journey. I had been keeping John up to date with the news (huzzah for having a phone at last!), and so was able to warn him that I was likely to be a bit late. However, the journey was smooth, and we didn't spend any time stopped between stations waiting for a signal light to change. For all the dire warnings, we arrived at Waterloo only five minutes later than timetabled - not a bad improvement on the hour that I'd originally anticipated!

Saturday was great fun - we had a relaxing morning - one of my colleagues has given me the first half of the Dr Who finale (which I missed due to hockey) on memory stick, and has also, as an added bonus, given the second half, and the first episode of Sherlock, about which I have heard many good things. The slight downside is that it was recorded as a Windows .avi, and the Media Player that we have on the Linux netbooks is missing a critical codec, meaning that it can play the sound, but not the picture. So, I spent a lot of Thursday evening trying to fix the issue, and then a very kind friend in the UK was up till very late BST (gone half past 12) trying to find the answer. I have the downloaded files now, but have not yet had a chance to install them...

Then off to the shops for our weekly food shopping, and back home for lunch and for baking in preparation for PIG SIG. A very jolly evening was had - very enjoyable chatting - discussions ranging from computer based geekery, to Bab5 and Buffy, to Time Team, and various other historical shows. And then the other random nonsense which does fill the evening - great fun! We were only up the road this time, so were able to walk back (the last bus was the bus we took to get up there at 7:00!) - the air was clear, and there was only a slight chilly breeze up in the hills to tell us that it was still Winter.

And then we woke up this morning to find that it had all, as the brilliant saying goes, turned to custard. Flanders and Swann got it exactly right with "August cold and dank and wet, Brings more rain than any yet." There were definitely ice crystals in the rain as I stood on the hockey pitch! At least our dedication and efforts were rewarded with an excellent game played and a 3-1 win (and I'm still cross about that 1, as I should not have let it in!)

A nice hot shower later, and we then had a friend from the Upper Hutt Sci-Fi group come over, and we have had a very pleasant afternoon chatting about Sci-Fi.

And now, after complaining last week that we wouldn't have anything left to watch now that Dr Who has finished, we have found out about an NZ Sci-Fi show, called "This is Not My Life", which plays on Thursday, and repeats on Sunday. The first episode was, according to reports, very good, so we are going to give it a go this evening.

To finish - the below poster was on one of the noticeboards at work - I absolutely loved it, and felt that I had to share it with you! (You may need to click on it to see it properly)