Friday, July 28, 2006

Morning tea

I’ve mentioned before the kiwi ritual of morning tea. Well today this became all the more significant as my dear husband was due to host this morning’s office social event in honour of his birthday at this weekend.

So, I find myself elbow deep in muffin recipes late into the night and then up for a special early shift to make the rhubarb batch as fresh as possible. In the UK I’d dashed off to Tescos for cookies or pastries you’d never find me tie up with apron strings whilst still dressed in my PJs.

I’m pleased to say my efforts were rewarded with reports of the morning tea’s success. It seems that it’s become very competitive to do the home baking thing. I’m just relieved that birthday’s only happen once a year as I need time to recover from this new style of domestic responsibility.
Cakes have never been my cooking strong point since I hashed up the shortbread recipe in domestic science class at school. But, rather than look back I need to look forward and see this as a new opportunity to stretch my domestic-executive skills.

The thing that worried most is that people might think that when Martin came home with his jumbo cake size plastic box that they thought it was what he took to work with his sandwiches in.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

3 strikes

Plans are shaping up to be a permenant domestic-executive. I've had three attempts to get permanent work - I fell at the first hurdle on one (no interview), stumbled with another (long listed but not shortlisted) and finally made it to the tape on the third strike (interview - preferred candidate status).

This whole recruitment experience has finally confirmed what I've instinctively known is that to go back to being a permenant corporate executive is the not right thing to do. I know friends and family expect for me to be lured back - and to be honest for a few moments it was a close run thing. But, with some luck, continued good performance and some cany negotiation I'll be able to negotiate a contract that will suit my needs best.

But that's not for this week - I need a break away from all this pressure. My more immediate worry is where I can find my summer shorts in the many still packed boxes as I'll need them for my winter sun trip away this weekend.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The dance of insight

No time for photo blogging this weekend it's been full on practicing the dance of insight. No, this is not some new form of salsa but one of the many parts of becoming a professional coach. The whole learning experience was awesome and nothing quite like I've experienced before. After the usual first squirms of embarrassment and awkwardness after the three days my training coach colleagues and I were sharing like we'd been friends for life.

One of the things I knew I'd have to work hard on was my listening skills - after years of only taking in less than 100% of what I've heard in order to cover and cope with the scope of work, starting to listen so intently was a massive struggle. It wasn't a good start to be totally bamboozelled by one of the first listening exercises which required me to look into the eyes of a fellow trainee. I knew this course was going to be novel but listening by looking - that was a new one on me!

Still, I've survived the first three days of intensive training and now have 12 weeks of study ahead. I never expected to need dancing shoes for this course but life's full of surprises - as I'm beginning to learn!

Friday, July 21, 2006

International affairs

There's been a massive brohaha with our kiwi foreign minister who disgraced himself whilst visiting the US this week. He kicked out the media from a meeting with Senator John McCain because the media misbehaved and asked too many questions! I think he embarrassed himself and showed what a small town New Zealand can be rather than the internationalised country it is. He's also used up what little credit he may have had with the media pack which will undoubtedly come back to haunt him at a later date.

I wonder whether we are starting to get desensitised to the horrors of international humanitarian crisis? With another Tsunami this week, continuing war in the middle east and the recent bombings in India - it feels that increasingly such events are gaining but 15 minutes of international fame before being lost amongst the business as usual coverage of local affairs - policiticans misdemeanours, state of the economy, sporting endevours, and the weather.

Perhaps its just that international events are so poorly reported in the New Zealand press, with matter of fact coverage with little or no analysis of what might have caused events or indeed what the solutions might be. Thank goodness for the internet where you can access the BBC, Guardian and Observer online and get more indepth coverage and a better understanding of what's happening in the rest of the world.

Crime and disorder continue to dominate local news with a butal murder of a primary school teacher this week hitting the headlines and continued interest in the case of the murdered and mutiliated Wellington man. It's a macabre world in which we live but when incidents such as this happen in a small place like New Zealand they can dominate news agendas.

The weather of course is now becoming an international affair with extreme conditions all over the globe continuing to impact. Even if the kiwi newspapers aren't up to much on the news and analysis they come in handy for stuffing up the drafts in the doors and windows!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Getting over the hump

Life seems intense what with the strife in the Middle East, the heatwave in Europe and a busy week at work and home. It's times like this that you need a safety valve to let off steam and a some milestones to keep you going.

Monday and Friday are milestone days in the working week, for most people marking the start and the end. A few years ago I had to introduce a new milestone to the working week to maintain momentum and impetus towards the end of the working week. This is Wednesday - the hump day. This is the day when you're metaphorically at the top of a hump poised to go downhill towards the weekend.

Ok, this may seem a little wierd but it follows the lead of a very wise friend of my who introduced me to the concept of treats to bring work life balance. This is based on having at least one treat per month - this doesn't need to be a big thing but something that will bring pleasure and take you away from the routine of working life. This might be a special social occasion, a cultural, sporting or travel event, or just plain decadent. Whatever it is, it can bring solace on those days when the going gets tough or you feel stuck in a rut.

So, today being Wednesday, I'm pleased to be on hump day and looking forward to what the weekend will bring. In my case, I'm spending three days improving myself. I'm starting an Intensive Coaching Training that hopefully after three months will give me the capability for a new life venture as a domestic-executive. Given it will be lots of role play and I suspect a bit if tree hugging I am sure it will be an exhausting adventure.

For those friends and family sweltering in the heat - here's some light relief and something for you to imagine. It's raining, cold and blowing a gale here - now, I bet that makes you feel much cooler doesn't it!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Muscle memory

Let's just say that you use different muscles rambling the hillsides to swimming and there is an audible gasp everytime I try and move around. It's been the cause of some amusement in the office, made only worse when they tried to tell me the lift is out of action and I had to walk down and then up three flights of stairs!

Just to remind myself that the pain is worth it, here's another view from the walk, this time to the Westpac stadium, affectionately known as the cake tin. Named because it looks like a baking receptacle this is the space of the great kiwi passion - Rugby. Great excitement this coming weekend to see if the All Blacks can follow on with the Aussie (Wallabies) triumph over the South African (Spring box) on last Saturday Australia won 49-0 (yes, really!).

This week the All Blacks play them in Wellington at the Cake Tin. We thought seriously about getting tickets now we're starting to be Rugby fans but the prices of the tickets stuck in the throat somewhat so we'll be watching in the comfort of home for the all inclusive price of Sky sport!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Photoblogging: our first kiwi home sweet home

This pic shows our first kiwi home - our studio apartment on Molesworth Street. We captured this view from our Northern Walkway stroll.

This is a view of Molesworth Street looking right towards the Parliament and Beehive Building.

Photoblogging: a stroll into town

At last some blue sky and the possibility of a beautiful day. We thought we'd be adventurous and take a stroll into town. How hard could that be living on top of a hill and the prospect of a comfy bus ride home at the end. Not!

We decided to follow one of Wellington's defined walking routes - The Northern Way - which runs from Johnsonville, via Khandallah, to Thorndon. After three hours of traversing the gorges in Ngaio, hiking the hills in Wadestown and moon walking down the Tinakori hill this was one stroll like no other! But, the effort was really worth it to see some of the most stunning views of the city on a crystal clear day.

You had to be there to realise the beauty but here are some of the pics from our admiring views.

The interislander ferry heading off to the Cook Straight past the local sailors on the Wellington Bay

Views across the port and the Westpac stadium

Classic Wellington housing - clinging to the side of the hill

Friday, July 14, 2006

Thanks driver......

At the end of my second week working I'm starting to appreciate more and more of the kiwi etiquette.

Certainly the one that struck home most as a commuter is the fact that almost everyone yells "thanks driver" when they get off the bus. My Britishness still makes me slightly akward in this regard but where I can I exit to the front of the bus and mutter thanks as I get off - or wave in a cheery manner so the driver can see in his mirror.

Morning tea is also an important kiwi ritual. This is when groups of work colleagues seem to slope off to one of the many coffee emporiums to eat pastries, drink coffee or hot chocolate and have a good gossip about things. Not a cuppa in sight! It's rude not to participate in such adventures so even if your slap bang in the middle of something it's best to take the time to enjoy this social interaction.

I've remarked before about the attitude of people serving in shops here. Our local New World supermarket is staffed mainly by young people working part time who have been drilled in the art of good customer care. To be fair, they have at least mastered the ability to sound vaguely interested, something hairdressing assistants still haven't managed. I am still not quite sure how to handle the etiquette though when the supermarket packers are using about three times the amount of carrier bags for shopping (because they are trained not to mix types of food) but since I've only got 500m to walk home and I've only bought 10 items, it does seem a little excessive.

Well, I've survived week two of my work with the Ministry of Justice. I've been bogged down in handling enquiries from the media after our friendly political opposition put out an inaccurate press release which now every local rag in NZ wants to do their local story. I've become very familiar with the stats people who have been so helpful in meeting journalists demands. I've also become very familar with a journalist from Fair Go a consumer programme on TVNZ who is pursuing a complaint against the Ministry. Can't say more at this stage but I'm hopeful of a positive resolution soon!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

NZ defining moments: #2

#2 in the list of defining moments for NZ is the Nuclear Ships Ban.

On 14 July 1984 the Labour Government came to power and introduced the first nuclear-free policy for weapons and reactors on ships that New Zealand had ever had. It also established NZ as the first ever, single-nation, nuclear weapons-free zone. NZ is the only country that has put its nuclear-free policy into law which is comprehensive and expresses our complete rejection of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, or having anything to do with them. For many New Zealanders it is very symbolic and has won our country international recognition as an advocate of a nuclear-free world.

You can imagine how things have been with the recent missile trials in Asia.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

So this is winter?

The good thing about being at work is that you can chew over the key issues of the day that's impossible when you're a lone domestic executive. There's a good multi-racial mix of ex-pat people where I work so we've been pondering the various obvious signs of winter.

Here in central Wellington, you'd not know it was winter - apart from the biting wind and freezing raind - but you just don't get those winter symbols like you do in the UK. Deciduous trees in hibernation for one.

So, when exploring at the weekend I was delighted to see that there were indeed signs of hibernation. This pic shows the bare trees nestled against the lush green of the native bush on our latest trip up to Kaitoke (this time to the Kaitoke Regional Park).

To prove my point about the weather, it was pretty cool too to spy these trees impacted by the prevailing wind. This is my first meeting with remarkable kiwi trees and what a spectacle they make, don't you think?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The power of technology

It was a truly a wonderful experience to converse with family at home via webcam and voice over IP this weekend. It was quite something to be seeing grandparents in real time across the internet. Despite feedback on sound and a grainy picture on screen it was a new communications experience that brought the West Midlands to Wellington and vice versa.

The next virtual meeting is already arranged and I'm sure it will be as exciting. I think we'll have to get the dress code right next time though as it was an early start for us so PJs were the order of the day.

The power of satellite TV has also meant we've been able to keep tabs on the sports fest of World Cup Football, Wimbledon and the Tour du France. It was very unsettling however this weekend to talking to parents who were ringing to tell us they were watching the All Blacks play the Wallabies (ABs won by a mile).

Although we now have the technology I'm struggling to maintain my previous standards of e-communications. Email was a stable part of my daily routine but now I have had to focus on tackling the organisational email mountain of the Ministry of Justice rather than exchanging news with friends and family. At least this blog is an appreciated shorthand for people to keep tabs on our kiwi adventure.

It's been good to have a range of pleasant distractions from the NZ news that seems to be full of stories of macabre murders and body parts being washed up on beaches. Oh, the rain's come back too!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Photoblogging: seaside view

Not a bad view for a Sunday stroll - Mana Island from Paramata (10km north of Wellington). Another beautiful Winter's Day - domestic chores done and no work worry, bliss!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Photoblogging: winter sunset

Today was a beautiful day, hardly a cloud in the sky and an amazing sunset. Makes a change from the dreadful weather this week - three solid days of rain that have left parts of the lower North Island under water. 145.4 mm of water has fallen in Wellington in the first 7 days of July, 50mm fell in Khandallah just on 7 July. With an average July rainfall of 136.5mm you've got to to optimistically think that we've had more than our fill for this month.

Where's the house fairy?

It's been an interesting experience for MT today, he's realised that there is no domestic fairy and the sparkly clean house and freshly laundered clothes comes from hard graft. After year's of having wonderful service in the UK from RC and then me as a domestic executive has dulled his memory of what it takes to keep house.

Still, he's starting to see things in a new perspective having taken duster in hand and mastered the vaccum cleaner in our new shared domestic routine. Whilst ironing has never really been an issue he found out there is a new box of tricks under the sink that he wasn't aware of. Also, that beautiful glass TV unit he thought would be so practical for his audio visual gadgets gets mighty dusty and a nightmare to clean.

All this new insight follows my first week returning to work. Remarkably its wasn't until Thursday before MT declared that perhaps having me at home full time is a better idea! Standards of catering have definitely been more restricted and towards the end of the week the larder and fridge started to look bare. Still, he's a rare breed in men that will muck in and share, even if I get to weild the loo brush rather than him!

As for the executive side of things, its been a fascinating week being employed again. Not just because its a new place, new people and new systems and processes to grasp but most enlightening has been the experience to be doing a job that is at least two steps down from the one I am used to. I've been thinking of a couple of former colleauges and knowing they'd be horrified to see me in action since it was the very interventions in their sphere of work that made them so very frustrated and wished I'd go back to my ivory tower and let them get on with their work.

A few things that have struck home this week.

  • The corporate missions and values on a mousemat, screen saver and desk calendar do absolutely nothing to improve understanding of them or develop an affinity towards them.
  • Managerial sign off processes are nothing but a pain in the proverbial and contribute almost nothing to actually getting the job done
  • Cheerful managers wandering an hour after the rest of the workforce have arrived and chirping on whilst you're deeply engrossed in getting something done is highly irritating
  • There is nothing more annoying than managers wanting to talk to you at 5pm because they've only just come out of meetings but you've just put your coat on to go and catch the bus home.

Having been that corporate communications advocate and that annoying manager, I am now seeing things in the workplace in a completely different light. I've actually enjoyed using my professional skills again but do miss the leisurely pace and more of the life balance. But, I'm sure I'll fit more in as I get used to the hours and build up the stamina again.

The best thing about getting back to work is that I can count the dollars and look forward to some retail therapy to get my true reward.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

NZ defining moments: #1

Since arriving in New Zealand I've been struggling to understand some of the kiwi ways. As luck would have it, Radio New Zealand have recently run a poll of the 20 events that have most helped to shape the country and make it, and New Zealanders, what they are today. It's a fascinating list - a mix of colonial history, liberalism and, of course, sporting endevour.

The #1 defining moment is the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. This is the document of New Zealand entered into by British representatives of the Crown with representatives of Māori iwi and hapū. It was was intended to be an exchange of sovereignty in return for a guarantee of the authority of the chiefs and the protection of Māori land and resource rights. The Treaty also extended to Māori the same rights and privileges as British citizens have. But, since it's signing in 1840 there has been continuous disagreement over its intentions because there are differences between the English and Māori versions.

Over time, it became clear that Māori were disadvantaged by the actions of the Crown and in 1975 the Waitangi Tribunal was established to facilitate a process of truth and reconcilation. The Tribunal examines any claim by a Māori or group of Māori to determine if they have been prejudiced by laws and regulations or by acts, omissions, policies, or practices of the Crown since 1840 that are inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.
The Tribunal makes findings on whether a claim is well founded, and outlines if and how the principles of the Treaty have been breached.

In researching the principles of Waitangi as part of my job searching activities, you get a fascinating insight into the development of New Zealand and its approach to reparation for past wrongs. You've got to hand it to the kiwis, they are paving the way for social justice that countries others could learn from.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

In tune with the news

The Listener is New Zealand's answer to the UK's New Statesman and every well informed kiwi's weekly digest. They've started a fascinating barometer of the news agenda where you can vote for the current news agenda and classify it's position in a matrix of what's topical, interesting, tedious or dated. You can also put up new issues as topical.
You can see this for yourself. But, those outside of NZ might find it a parochial view of the world - which pretty much sums up much of the media coverage here with limited mention and almost non existent analysis of wider world affairs.
No mention of Middle East confict, the World Trade Talks or the drugs scandal at the Tour Du France for instance. Still, no use moaning, I'll just have to sign up and start irritating them by suggesting a broader range of topics that should be influencing kiwi thinking.
Second thoughts, until we've got our residency might be best to keep head down!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Where's the routine?

I'm all at sixes and sevens - devoting 8 hours a day to employed labour places terrible time pressures on the leisurely routine I've grown accustomed to. Pressure is mounting because standards are slipping at home and I only managed 60 of my normal 80 lengths of the pool today.

It's a sharp reminder of the stresses that people face balancing work and life. What's needed is an adjustment of routine and reprioritisation of time - if only I had the energy.

Starting a new job is draining - all that concentrating and being social to one's colleagues. But, it's fun to have some people to chat to in the office and I'm sure in a few days I'll get the hang of it.

Well, that's my time allocation for blogging today - time to start the domestic night shift!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Domestic upset

There is a large cloud hovering over Khandallah and for once it's not the bad weather. It's rather the cloud of gloom after England's defeat against Portugal in the World Cup. Having slept through the live match it was hot foot to watch the recorded version.

I am well used to the highs and lows of the football and cricket seasons after years of experience living with an avid armchair sportsman. I'm more of a national sports fan, only feeling the passion and disappointment of the big games - world cup, olympics etc. This time there's been something missing in supporting England and it's not the mis matched time zones. I think its the lack of real time UK media coverage that whips up a frenzy over Brit performances that is so lacking here. That feeling of being part of a unified body supporting the national team, come what may.

Whilst the UK press will I am sure focus on the injustice of the sending off or the failure of Sven to pick or prepare the right team, here in the land of the positive insight, the plaudits go to Portuguese goalie who save 3 of the English penalties. It's times like this you just miss home - made worse by the usual connections not there as the online editions of the British papers seemed to be slower than ever posting the Sunday editions so we could feel some empathy.

So, our time is over for this football fest, let's just hope the cricketers are back to form soon. We're off to watch another national sports fest in Melbourne, the Ashes, in December (there is some advantage of being in the southern hemisphere!). I'm not sure I could bare the disappointment live and endure the aussie press squawking their success.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Photoblogging: more bridge

Despite the foggy weather in town, Kaitoke was awash with sunshine. The bridge building is progressing with three support uprights which is another small step to living the dream.

Weather watch

A weather phenomena swept into Wellington for our first experience yesterday - the hanging fog. Whilst we sit high in the hills we had an early clearing as these pics show.

Much of Wellington CBD was shrouded in fog all day sitting like a blanket across the Bay. There was chaos at the closed airport as families were jetting off for the kids school break with some people grounded for several more days due to the lack of connecting flights - a nightmare if you're only going for a few days.
10.00am - view up box hill in fog

12 noon - fog lifts, voila!

Domestics in the workplace

Well, I survived my first day back as an office worker. Everyone was very welcoming which makes a big difference when you're the newbie. But, offices are the same the world over - same issues, same problems, same characters.

The state of the office fridge and kitchen were hotly debated issues in the staff meeting with the usual tales of mouldy horrors and salmonella scares. Promises of more discipline and consideration for others. As I sat listening to this it did cross my mind that there is money in coming up with a solution for this age old problem of poor domestic standards in the workplace.

I've seen many solutions to this problem - rotas for cleaning, cleaners employed specifically to keep the germs at bay, dishwashers and nazi style supervision. I'm not sure that they have ever been totally successful because workplace kitchens are a public place, hence a total lack of ownership by the people who use them. It's natures way that people will think that the domestic fairy will come in and wave their magic wand.

It's true that on my first visit to the kitchen (after two laps round the office trying to remember where the door was) that standards were poor - I did manage to find a clean mug and glass so was able to secure plenty of liquid refreshment. I admit I didn't venture for the milk in the fridge preferring to stick to my peppermint tea but there were people complaining about sour milk being left in the fridge.

However, at the end of the day I was astonished, the domestic fairy had been - the dishwasher was whirring away, the sink was sparkling clean and the cupboard full of shiny mugs. Even the fridge had been emptied of its debris. Time will tell if this is a daily occurance of someone cracking under the peer pressure from the staff meeting.

Still, I survived my first day and have planned my first task for Monday morning. I shall take duster in hand and give my desk a jolly good clean - it's like moving house, you don't want to live with other people's dirt. I accept that my domestic-executive standards have risen in recent weeks but more importantly I feel the need to mark my territory. After all I've got to live with it for 40 hours a week for the next 10 weeks.