Milestone

So, I finally did it. I got rid of my beloved Prius.

The saga starts in about November 2013 when my car started refusing to start more often than not. I suspected the 12 volt battery which I replaced. So pleased I was with my self-diagnosis that I decided to also top up the oil.

So, I tipped the contents of the bottle I had prudently stored in the boot for just such the occasion. Unfortunately, what I thought to be oil at the time turned out to be antifreeze. Now, anyone who has anything more than a passing acquaintance with cars will know that mixing antifreeze in with your oil is a big no-no, the antifreeze, when it cools, can form little crystals that could damage the engine.

So, I tried to drain the sump (three words I hoped to never use in my life though I am somewhat proud I know them at all) and subsequently stripped the bolt’s head!

The 24 hour mechanic charged me a small fortune to drain the oil and replace it but they returned it to me in a non-working state.

I walked all the way to the nearest mechanic to buy another 12 volt battery, only to find that replacing it did not fix the problem. The local Toyota dealership declared it was the battery and offered me a discount to sell me a battery for $4,000, which they thought was the problem.

My father’s friend George graciously agreed to fix it. Turned out that the overnight mechanic had overfilled the oil which means the car could not turn over at all.

The car ran well for about 4 months and then refused to start again. I didn’t have the heart to do anything about it for over a year, so the poor thing literally gathered dust in my garage for over a year.

It wasn”t too bad, because my partner Freddy has a car.

Until a few weeks ago when Freddy was rear-ended on the Auckland Harbour Bridge. The image below doesn’t look that bad until you notice the rear wheel is sitting at a rather unnatural angle. 
IMG_2614

The insurer declared it a write-off, paid the few thousand dollars it was worth and we were left 100% car-less.

So, we recently embarked on a number of public-transport supported missions to dealerships around the Auckland region. We wanted something new enough that it would retain some value, but not new. We managed to get a second hand 2014 Holden Commodore in Freddy’s favourite colour: blue. I think Freddy may love that car more than me!

We need money to find the new car and paying registration, insuranc e and parking for my non-working car doesn’t make any sense. So, today, at about 3pm, I called a car removal company and got them to remove my poor sad Prius.

I love that car, it’s been with me through some of the best and worst moments of my life. I have filled it with boxes to move from place to place, I have driven clear across Texas in all directions. Dallas to Galveston, across to central Arkansas. I have driven it to the top of New Zealand’s North Island via 90 mile beach, I have taken it on the ferry to the South Island. It was my safety, my independence, my first car, it nearly killed me twice and saved my life countless times. I have slept in it countless times and ferried countless others to safety in its arms.

As the truck took it away, I touched its rear bumper affectionately and whispered to it my thanks.

Click on the link below to join me in a nostalgic tribute to my little Prius on a Flickr album. DSC_0402

Ten Years On

This is a speech I made to mark my 10 years at Beca:

Ten years ago, last Saturday (18th April 2005 to be precise), I joined Beca as a software developer. I know this because the notes against my name in Active Directory clearly indicate that’s when Trudy set up my account. It’s probably a testament to my own poor memory that this is the most accurate record of this life event.

I pretend that it’s not a big milestone to me, but to be honest it actually really is. Huge in fact. I have been obsessively checking that comment in AD for quite some time, awaiting this day.

Ten years is longer than I have attended any academic institution, primary, secondary, or tertiary. It’s longer than I have ever lived at the same home. It’s longer, in fact, than I have lived in any country apart from South Africa. Ten years is longer than the duration of all of my romantic relationships combined. Given that my parents divorced when I was 9 and remarried when I was 13, 10 years is even longer than I have had the same legal guardians as a child.

It’s been a decade of change, both for me and for the company. We’ve gone from one CRT to two flat screen monitors, the Auckland office has been refurbished and we feel more global, even though we no longer have the UK office. BAT came into being then disappeared but its lingering effect is felt even at the executive level of our business.

My original desk at Beca 2005
My original desk at Beca 2005

I can vividly remember key moments in my career: my first interview was with Richard & Dean. Richard asked me a question about maintaining state in a web application and we talked about that for half the interview. My second interview was with none other than Thomas and Robin, where they carefully explained that the “Beca Connect” model was kind of like CMMI. I remember nearly loosing Llanwyn’s cat when I lived at his house in Texas for 2 weeks and the moment when Llanwyn suggested we turn my “palava” into a “pavlova” when I complained about only having 500 Mb of RAM in my PDP.

I remember every Christmas party, especially the first one (with the obligatory bus disaster), supported by the many photos I enthusiastically took at the time. I recall projects I was involved in, from the sublime to the trivial, with such clarity that it’s hard to believe that some of them happened over 9 years ago now. My first job was upgrading the DSR VB6 application from Access 97 to Access 2000 (Dean’s handiwork, I believe). Aah, those were heady days of wonder and idealism!

At the same time though, there are some events that entirely escaped my notice: when did I learn to play office politics? When did I learn how to encourage people? When did I learn to make speeches? When did I learn to give guidance, or direction? For that matter, when did the words “guidance” and “direction” even begin to feature in my language? At what point precisely, did I grow up?

Grow up. I think that’s the right term.

I remember, many years ago, looking at senior people in the business and wishing I got paid as much as I assumed they did whilst wondering what it was exactly that they did. I remember wishing I knew how to progress in my career properly and not knowing much about how to get to where I wanted to be, or even where it was I wanted to be at all.

I do things today that would have terrified me 10 years ago. It’s not that things have become more complex, they’ve just become more uncertain. My primary mode of work has moved from using tools like Excel to writing Word documents, to preparing PowerPoint slides to the present day where much of my job seems to be just talking to people until something good happens.

Looking back on all those memories and especially the pictures of the time, I am reminded of how many people make up “Beca” in my mind who are no longer here, and how what once was a tight little team of people in “BAT” has matured and spread itself around, completely out of character with the original shape. Beca the company has changed so much as to be unrecognisable from itself 10 years ago.

Here’s an excerpt from a diary entry from around October 2005: “I also changed jobs from one that had me so busy I was literally on the verge of a nervous breakdown to a really good one that leaves me with way too much free time to think about things on the weekends… So, it wasn’t too surprising when, in about July of this year, I suddenly awoke to the realisation that I may not, in fact, be as straight as I thought.”
Yes, it turns out that 10 years is also longer than I have been conscious of my own sexuality.

You see, for me, Beca has never just been a place to go to earn money. Beca is a choice I made for myself 10 years ago and a choice I continue to make on a daily basis.

I know that may sound a bit corny, a bit like I have drunk too much of the corporate Kool-aid after all these years, but the more I reflect on it, the more I realise that it’s true.

I often refer to my move to Beca as my “first selfish choice”. That’s not to say that I haven’t been selfish in my life. Rather, I feel that deciding to leave my previous job and choose a job more suited to me was the first time I made a conscious decision to go for something that I wanted rather than to just slip quietly into the next phase of my life, as had always been expected of me. This one selfish choice triggered a cascade of choices which left me happier, more robust, and more integrated as a person. I have a lot to thank Beca for.

I thought for week for an appropriate conclusion to this speech, but I really couldn’t figure out how to end it, so I thought I would just say this. Freddy accuses me of loving my work too much, but he’s only partly right.

In my previous job, working for Cecil, I came to the realisation that I had made an emotional investment into the organisation itself and that an organisation or a company could not possibly reciprocate such an emotional investment. The best place to invest one’s emotions is in a person.

So Freddy is partly right, but it’s you that I love, not my work. I love you guys.

As a cohort you have changed as much if not more than I have over the last 10 years, but you remain in essence and in character the same. Thank you for being part of my journey for the last 10 years, you all mean the world to me.

Eau de Vie

“Good evening, I am Patrick” the em-bearded man in suspenders proffered his hand to me with a formal air. I took it suspiciously, unmoved by his ceremony.

“Do you have a reservation?”.

“Yes, you’re rather hard to find you know”.

Freddy dug me discretely in the ribs. You see we’d spent precious minutes hunting for this establishment at 1 Malthouse Lane in Melbourne. Since it’s modeled after a speakeasy in the years of prohibition, there’s no signage on the door to indicate it’s even a door, let alone the place you are looking for. I had to impose on a rather flustered-looking French waiter at the nearby French Brasserie. The approach lent a certain pretentiousness to the place that set my teeth on edge at the start.

Pâté with cherry preserve - bar food at Eau de Vie.
Pâté with cherry preserve – bar food at Eau de Vie.

“I did warn you, it’s going to be a little… hipster” Freddy chided quietly.

Melbourne has a rather strong hipster influence. Those kinds of people who confuse obscurity with quality or old fashioned with classy. I have to admit to feeling some bias as we followed Patrick to our little seat at the bar.

It didn’t take this exquisite bar long to win me over.

The Aviator (left) and Yuzu mule (right) at Eau de Vie.
The Aviator (left) and Yuzu mule (right) at Eau de Vie.

The team here at Eau de Vie are as committed to their cocktails as they are to their aesthetics. The menu is impressive and their collection of spirits would turn any barman green with envy. I especially enjoyed their performance pieces.

I remember spending one drunken evening carefully teaching a barman in Queenstown how to make an espresso martini myself, his brow furrowed with a mixture of confusion and disbelief.  Here at Eau de Vie, a simple Espresso Martini is not nearly fancy enough. It’s served with a dollop of cream on top, solidified into ice cream through the use of liquid nitrogen before your very eyes.

This is how drinking should be. Or perhaps how all experiences should be. A wonder, a pure delight.

Without a doubt, the most impressive drink of the evening has to be the Ron Zacapa Blazer: a flamed rum affair infused with walnut and banana that will leave you smiling wistfully all evening as you slowly sip the warm liquid down. It also makes for a spectacular show, with the skilled barmen performing a rather dangerous looking stunt with aplomb.

At the conclusion of the evening, I had to get up and shake the hand of the barman who made my blazer (seen walking back and forth in the video above, wearing a white shirt). It’s one of the more memorable experiences you can have at a bar. Stylish, exquisitely flavoured and presented drinks and food which shines through so strongly that it’s no longer pretentious.

No pretense about it in fact, these guys know what they’re on about.

 

Lake Taupo Lodge

“I’d just like to get your photo into my scrap book” Gary explained “my memories, you see” he added, almost apologetically. This was the point at which I finally understood the passion behind the hospitality we had experienced for the last two glorious nights.

We arrived at Lake Taupo Lodge a little after 4pm on Saturday 4th April 2015. The plan was to spend a weekend simply enjoying the beauty of New Zealand’s largest lake over Easter while the weather was still fine.

Front of lake Taupo Lodge taken on 5th April 2015
Front of the lodge

The first thing you notice when you arrive at Lake Taupo Lodge is the beautiful way in which it has been appointed. Every detail immaculately and exquisitely chosen for a specific purpose: to evoke a sense of being in a comfortable, opulent and interesting home. Everywhere you turn you see another new and interesting thing. Or, more accurately, a collection of things. From the musical instruments arrayed within the sun room to the series of measuring weights sitting on the kitchen counter, to the decorative pickles in the dining room, the house is filled with unique and interesting collections.

Musical Instruments at Lake Taupo Lodge
Musical Instruments at Lake Taupo Lodge

Collections no less interesting than the proprietor himself. Having worked in the textile industry for many years, Gary has travelled the world over and from his travels has developed a knack for collecting interesting things which he uses to adorn his beautiful lodge. Like all guest house accommodation, the experience relies considerably on the hosts themselves. Gary and Shirley appear to have their roles down pat, causing Burt Reynolds himself to declare Gary “the best of New Zealand”.

High praise from someone who has undoubtedly seen some very fine accommodation, but I don’t think its hyperbole at all.

Lavender on our bed
Lavender on our bed

The crown of this accommodation has to be the Lake Suite we stayed in. Featuring stunning panoramic views of Lake Taupo over the immaculate garden and a most welcome spa bath, you could be forgiven for believing just for one night, that you really are the most important person in the world.

Lake Taupo Panorama from Lake View Room
Lake Taupo Panorama from Lake View Room

This is a feeling Gary works hard to engender. “Everyone is equally important” he opined to me solemnly when I remarked on the long list of distinguished guests he has hosted: everyone from intrepid adventurer Michael Palin to director Peter Jackson. He follows this philosophy through with his actions. No task is too small but that he would do it to ensure your comfort. I encourage any visitors to relax into the experience and settle into the natural cadence of the place. Breakfast is at 8am, canapés will be served in the gaming room at 6pm. Go out to dinner at one of the local restaurants and spend your evening drinking in the tranquillity of the great lake.

Smoked Trout Canape
Smoked Trout Canape

The canapés were exquisite, featuring pâté made from smoked trout caught by Gary himself using his own hand-made flies. Somehow, although the lodge was completely full for the weekend, we felt as though we were the only ones there. I think this is in part that it’s spacious enough for a sizeable group of people and also Gary works hard to give every guest a personalised experience.

Eggs Benedict
Eggs Benedict

Breakfast featured its own chef (Stefan from Germany) and an impressive menu to choose from. Breakfast was served in a style that reminded me of my grandfather: a leisurely multi-course affair befitting the most important meal of the day. We started with a continental breakfast with toast, cereals, croissants, yoghurt and fruit as well as a hot option (eggs benedict for me, pancakes for Freddy).

Garden Path taken at Lake Taupo Lodge 5th April 2015
Garden Path

The gardens have an old English design stuffed full with native New Zealand plants. A boulevard of living ferns leads you past a Koi-stocked water feature to little secluded spots within the garden.

Koi Fish Pond taken at Lake Taupo Lodge on 5th April 2015
Koi Fish Pond

Flowers from the herb garden adorned my eggs benedict the next morning and every night our bed was laid with fresh lavender cut from the little topiary garden. I especially enjoyed the passion fruit adorned greenhouse featuring some well cared for flowers.

Greenhouse Panorama taken at Lake Taupo Lodge 5th April 2015
Greenhouse Panorama

I think I understand somewhat the motivation behind Gary’s work. You see, he is a collector, not just of things but of experiences and when you collect such a broad range of interesting experiences and things the only natural thing to do next is to share them with as many people possible. In doing so, Gary is able to collect one more thing: us. I am proud to be nestled among the leaves of Gary’s scrap book, rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous. Not because they are rich and famous, but that in shared experiences we enrich each other’s lives in immeasurable ways. Perhaps this is why so many guests feel compelled to leave a piece of themselves behind: to become a part of the experience that is Lake Taupo Lodge.

I must write

All children, it seems, want to be distinct from their parents, and every child, it seems, ends up discovering things embedded deep within themselves that inextricably link them to their parents anyway. Like an unbroken chain of genetic information stretching back to our origins, we carry with us the unmistakable imprint of our ancestry, whether we like it or not.

It makes sense to me then that my father once wrote the simple phrase “I must write”. Writing for me, like my father, is something I have to do. For me, writing is a part of thinking, it’s a way of organising my thoughts and in fact most of my writing never even escapes my own head. I review conversations and events as though they were scenes from a book, revising and refining the experience: good or bad. A character in my own story, I explore my motivations thoroughly and do my best to understand my life itself.

As Anne Morrow Lindbergh once wrote: “I must write it all out, at any cost. Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.” Anne herself is an interesting character, having written some rather controversial stuff in support of the Nazis in the 1940’s. That said, I don’t think her other writing detracts from the sentiment: writing about life is being conscious about life and for me, is as important as living itself.

I love writing, its cathartic and a great way to deal with stress for me. Maybe that’s why I have neglected my blog for three whole years: I’ve been quite happy lately, even with the usual stresses of work.

I’d like to change that. No, I don’t mean I want to become more stressed, I have just decided I would like to do more writing and that means you, gentle reader, are going to see more happening on this here little website. I don’t know why it’s better to write and then publish my thoughts to the world at large. It does seem rather self-centred to me. I have considered making a private journal but for some reason it just doesn’t feel the same. I think the difference is that writing for an audience sharpens the thinking, you focus more on trying to convey a meaning or a feeling, rather than just trying to note down a thought or an idea.

People say there’s no risk to blogging (what a silly term), but that’s not entirely true. Every bit of information you publish about yourself on the Internet is available for all to see, potentially for all time! It’s important that you recognise that your audience includes people who may like you, people who may dislike you and people like intelligence agencies, rifling through all our personal information to unspecified ends.

Anyway, this post marks a conscious effort on my part to write more and post more. I can’t promise any frequency or quality, but I promise I will do my very best.