Thursday, January 5, 2012


Wife often complains that I work too many hours. I don't keep score, but I operate a 'give and take' attitude to work these days: mostly I put a lot of time into my job, more than I ever get paid for. In return I expect - and get - flexibility. If I need half a day off, boss is quite happy for me to take it.
Now for the first time in 25 years I am working for an organisation that closes at Christmas and doesn't open again until the new year. Ambulance services, of course, never close, so after all those years of working or being on call at Christmas, it was a delight this year to put on the 'bugger off' message (aka ' Iam out of office...') with a note that I would attend to matters when the campus reopened on Jan 4. As if to emphasise the point, for some unknown reason the IT department expired my account, so I couldn't have worked during the holiday even if I wanted to.
First day back, and the Wellington Phoenix are playing Sydney FC at 3pm. A friend tempts me to go...
The last time I skived the afternoon off to watch a football match I was sixteen. Coventry City were playing an FA Cup replay at St James' Park, Newcastle. For some reason me and my mates thought no-one would notice if we were missing on a cold and wet sports afternoon at school, so we piled on to a bus for the four hour journey through what seemed to us to be a desolate wasteland. Perhaps in January 1976 this was a reasonable description of the north of England. We saw a lot of snow. We almost got beaten up in a chip shop and lost 5-0. The following day our form teacher just smiled sardonically at us: 'good match was it lads?' We sulked. Our dream of going to Wembley was over for another year.
In complete contrast, yesterday I piled on the sunscreen and strolled along the walkway to the Westpac Stadium in my shorts to see our local heros win a ding-dong match 4-2. I had one of the best seats in the stadium, right on the halfway line, and got $5 off the ticket price for being a student!
So why did I still feel some residual guilt for leaving work at lunchtime to watch a football match? Too often we feel that our work colleagues judge our performance on whether we are actually there, when in fact the truth of work for many of is is that it doesn't matter when or even where we do it, as long as we do it to a good standard. Anyone who is office based these days only needs a good internet connection and access to a VPN and you can do your job from anywhere in the world. The fact that there was no-one around to notice that I wasn't actually there didn't matter - I was doing something naughtly during working hours. It was kind of fun, but I think the only person I was rebelling against was myself.
Check out the match report at Go the Phoenix!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My career as a surf dude

Two years, seven months and five days. Being precisely the time it has taken me to consider writing another blog entry. Blogging, or writing in general, is in serious danger of becoming one of the many activities I have started enthusiastically and subsequently failed to progress.
Take this week. The context: we are spending Christmas week 'house swapped'. And what a stunning place we are staying in - check out The owners wanted to be in our street to celebrate dad's 90th birthday, and offered us the chance to spend a week in their street. We hardly know them, but already we love them for ever. Anyway given that we are overlooking one of NZ's most celebrated - and most dangerous - surf beaches, I felt obliged to don my O'Neill First in Last Out T-shirt and head off in search of the ultimate wave. With a body board designed for a ten year old.
So on Christmas Day, dutifilly keeping between the flags, I waded out to join the other bobbing bodies hoping for the ride of their lives. Have to say that just splashing about trying to get on the wave was serious fun. And once, just once, I caught the wave and managed a magnificent er....ten metres shall we say? Determined for more of this, I looked back, checked the flags and went out further. Checking the flags is essential - the rip currents here are very disorientating. Suddenly I realise that I now have to swim, feet no longer touching, and that's cool, I can swim. But think municipal baths rather than major surf beach. 'Hey bro, get on your board and paddle!' A seventeen year old willing to teach me a thing or two was fine by me, I dutifully followed his advice and headed towards the rising wall of water. At which point I suddenly understood why you must never put a cat in a washing machine.
Somewhere between pre wash and spin cycle the board and I parted company, and I feared a trail of head injuries and angry surf dudes. Emerging finally, astonished at just how much of the Tasman Sea can fit into my nasal sinuses, I was grateful to see that no-one was clutching their head and my mate Nathan was catching up with the board. Time to call it quits for the day.
Two days, several large meals and an unspecified number of bottles of wine later, I thought I would try again. I obviously couldn't hear the board whispering to me 'get off me you overweight middle aged white bloke you look ridiculous'. In fact, it turned out that the board was so embarrassed that it folded in half under a rather small wave, and will never be ridden again.
Other Gazza enthusiasms which have either waned or ended abortively include:
Motorcycle engineering. Several years ago my old CB350S needed help, and I thought there could be a mutual relationship whereby I gained skills as a bike mechanic, and the bike became rideable again. Thank you to the guy in Stroud who bought the parts. I hadn't even finished taking it apart, let alone putting it back together.
Half marathons. Trained for and loved the Stroud event in 2006. Even put in a semi respectable time (under two hours). Spent a celebratory afternoon in the town pubs and have never attempted a race since.
Tennis. Nice rackets bought at a knockdown price. Courts in Porirua are all free, but the personal cost of embarrassment every time we play on a court next to folk who actually know how to play, is high. Wife is quite good, I am rubbish. All those hours spent watching Caroline Wozniacki in action didn't help one bit.
Five-side-football. First time I had played for years. On to it, chasing a guy half my age, determined to get the ball off him, then BANG, I am rolling around in pain wondering what hit me and why the kid hadn't been sent off. The answer: he didn't even touch me. My left achilles tendon had had enough and snapped, in true textbook fashion making me feel as if I had been shot in the leg or whacked with a baseball bat. Interestingly, while English friends made incredulous comments about my age and the foolishness of this venture ('grow old gracefully' was one email I received), Kiwis merely expressed sympathy and asked how long it would be before I was able to play again.
Which brings me nicely back to the theme of this blog. It is almost three years since we turned our lives upside down and fled to NZ, and so much has happened that I have started trying to write a book about it. It seems a bit egocentric to think that our lives have been so interesting that other people might want to read about them, but I have read biographies and travel books in which frankly not a lot happens, compared to the last three years in gazandjudiland. So in a desperate attempt to multitask I might try and revive the blog by putting a few paragraphs of the book out for consumption, and keep the book writing alive by blogging some of it.
More likely I will go back to work next week and complain to myself that I don't have enough time.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cakes, Pies and a Strange Compression of Time

There are a few things I wasn't expecting about life in Kiwiland. Take the cakes, for example: moist, tempting, often chocalatey - who would have thought that baking could bring about the downfall of a man? Surely that is the stuff of sex, drugs & rock 'n'roll? But here they make superb cakes, and if I didn't walk to work & go running occasionally there would be very little opportunity to burn off those pleasurable calories, and all that would be left of me would be a lump of lard, blobbing in & out of the office chair.
And then there's the pies....however did I get through life until now, without a Kiwi cheese steak or butter chicken pie?? They are - and this word is very overused, but here it is appropriate - awesome. Even the ones you buy in the BP service station are good.
Another surprise was linguistic. This far, NZers are the only English language speakers I have met who can consistently end a sentence in the word 'as'. Really. 'As Kiwi as', as pissed as', as sweet as' - this is standard currency down here. All you have to do to make it really authentic is to add the word 'bro'. I suspect the common use of 'bro' and 'cous' stem from the fact that there are only four and a half million people in this country, and sooner or later you are bound to be related to someone you are in the pub with...
A personal surprise for me was the way my life pre NZ suddenly seems visible as if at the end of a telescope......weird one this, hard to explain, but in those falling asleep and waking up moments, it's like forty nine years (yes I am that old) of life are open to viewing by my southern hemisphere self. For example, a song from the seventies or eighties will be on the radio, and my brain whizzes through the surrounding years remembering where & when I was, who with, the good and bad outcomes of past decisions, etc. etc. They say this kind of stuff happens at the moment of death, but for me it has been a feature of life 12000 miles from home. I guess it may have been aggravated by some of the novels I have read and plays I have seen recently - the latter including superb productions of Tom Stoppard's 'Rock and Roll' and Pinter's 'Betrayal', both spanning decades of my growing up against a backdrop of music I love. But it feels like emigration has made me my own critical reviewer, reading the chapters of my life until now and offering a verdict to myself. And guess what: the report says 'could do better'.
No shit. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of humans I know of that really 'couldn't do better'.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Particularly Good Friday

As far as I know I have only two followers on this blog. One is a devout Christian, the other a militant atheist, or at least that's the way it was last time we spoke.
Good Friday has always seemed to me to be the most difficult and the most necessary day in the Christian calendar. Without the events that we remember on this day, the rest is just froth and wishful thinking.
In my days of studying theology, there was a lot of reference to the idea of 'protest atheism'. How can there be an all powerful, all loving God when there is such excruciating suffering and such massive injustice on this planet? I must refuse to believe in such a God until there is a satisfactory answer to this question.
What I learnt at the time and still believe is that the only possible Christian response is to point to the cross of Christ. The Christian cannot and must not attempt to give a logical, reasoned answer to the question of suffering. Any answer which attempts to give a purpose to suffering becomes blasphemous: if God willed Auschwitz, Hiroshima etc. etc. then God must be a monster.
Good Friday tells us that the God in whom Christians believe, and in whom atheists refuse to believe, reveals himself not as all powerful, almighty, but in the midst of and on the receiving end of the worst evils the world and humans can throw at him.
This is more than just 'Jesus died for my sins', important as that is. This is an event which, if there is any truth in Christianity, tells us that God suffers, and that if God takes upon himself the sting of suffering and evil, then it becomes possible for humans and the earth to be free.
My all time fave singer Bruce Cockburn (google him) has a line that says 'those who know don't have the words to tell, and the ones with the words don't know so well'.
Well I'm running out of words here. Good Friday always makes me feel a little uneasy, serious, reflective........but it's what makes this Christianity stuff real to me.
So if you came to the blog wanting to know more about life in New Zealand, and found me going on about God, suffering and evil, and you haven't tuned out yet......
It's been a bright, sunny fun day! We are house sitting for my mate Andy in the town of Paraparaumu, some 20 odd miles up the coast from Wellington, and the real reason we are here is a daft black ex racing greyhound called Piper. She needed looking after while Andy & family are away in Australia, and I guess we specialise in daft greyhounds. She's been out hurtling along the beach, chasing other dogs large & small and generally getting excited in the Autumn sunshine.
Yep - Easter in the Autumn. Weird, if you're from the Northern Hemisphere. And the supermarkets have all been shut - but not the cafe that sold us the huge ice creams.....
By the way, another thing I learnt along the way is that atheists are much more interesting than agnostics. Anyone fancy a few beers and a debate about God?

Friday, March 6, 2009

March, late summer

OK we are upside down. Have been for a couple of months, in fact. Neglected the blog, as usual. Time for an update though......
we left Heathrow on 8th Jan ( I think), had a couple of beers in the airport with a guy who was just moving home from Thailand to Teesside. Now that's culture shock for you.
Landed in LA after discovering that Air New Zealand serve the best wine & food of any airline I've tried so far, then spent an hour trying to find a rental car desk that didn't exist. Eventually found out we had to catch a bus to it, hired a funky white Chrysler and drove out into the California night.....straight into three lanes of oncoming traffic. Well it's not my fault they drive on the wrong side of the road. Luckily there was time to correct my mistake, and we survived the drive to our downtown Hollywood hotel, well ok it was a fairly downbeat motel, but clean and well run.
So we had a great time with our friends Debbie & Drew, the warm weather doing us both a power of good. Three days later we took off for NZ and a big leap into the unknown.
I have to say we warmed to the place as soon as we arrived, even though it was 5am. The airport staff, customs & immigration were all very friendly & efficient, we bussed into Auckland and discovered the delights of the NZ 'long black' - a tachycardia inducing double espresso that kept us going until we were able to access our hotel room and sleep a bit (I've since become a bit of a 'long black' addict). We met up with friends from the UK, Andy W and Sarah M, thanks guys, you made us welcome and kept us awake when we needed it most!
After a couple of nights in Auckland we flew on to Wellington, met at the airport by my 'new' work colleagues Andy & Alan (I used to work with these two in Gloucester), plus more of the management team from Wellington Free, whom I now work closely with as well: Pete, Rob & Sarah. And the job's good.
Since then we spent two weeks in a downtown serviced apartment, found a place we wanted to rent, the rental agency messed up the dates so we then lived for three weeks on top of Lower Hutt Ambulance Station (we have a work owned apartment there), then eventually we moved into our new place for a six month rental right opposite the Wellington Botanic Gardens. Which incidentally are absolutely gorgeous. Although I did find out today that the major fault line on which Wellington is built runs right down the middle of the street between us & the gardens. So if we disappear into it, it's been great knowing you.
Now before we left home, I had no end of doubts about whether we were doing the right thing. But since we arrived, I've had no regrets at all. Some serious bouts of missing home & family, sure, but they pass over and on we go with life, work and the challenges they bring.
Judi has been brilliant, while I've been working she has got on with making new friends, kitting out the flat, learning her way around and generally looking after me. Today is her birthday and we are celebrating with a weekend at Martinborough, a very chilled out winery town about an hour from Wellington. On Monday she starts work.
So it's March, it's very warm & humid tonight, but it's only wierd if you stop to think about it. And from pneumonia on Christmas Day back home, I have not seen Judi so healthy as she is now for a long long time.
If you are reading this because you are friends or family and want to know what we've been up to, there's lots more - swimming, hiking, buying a Subaru Impreza, getting used to beer that is always served at sub zero temperatures, discovering what a cool, green city Wellington is (most of the time).......
If on the other hand you expect a blog to contain profound or incisive comment on life.....not tonight, sorry. I'm just too chilled.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Happy New Year and away!

Our NZ visas arrived around 4pm on New Year's Eve. Cue warm glow, followed by celebration, followed by a sudden doubling in size of our 'to do' list and a shrinking of the time to do it: we leave on Thursday! Cue also moments of sheer panic as I realise that we are leaving everything we know and love. The more time we've had waiting for the visas has meant the more time we've spent with friends, family and dogs, realised what a great bunch they all are - and now we are off.
I guess leaving shows everything in a different and sometimes fresh light: I don't appreciate what I have until I leave it behind. Though in the age of the web and regular international travel I like to think we haven't left it all for good. In fact at the moment we both think that we will be back in two or three years - although several people we have spoken to reckon we will change our minds about that.
Anyway we'll be back next summer for stepson's wedding, empty suitcases in hand to take more stuff to NZ.
A Happy New Year to both my readers!

PS Didn't Forest Green Rovers do well?

Monday, December 29, 2008

God and dogs

So I believe in God, and I believe in prayer, but I've never quite figured out how it all works, and greater men than I have failed too and simply called it a mystery. Now if I were God I would want to prioritise prayers about war and starvation and dealing with all the bad stuff in the world. I certainly wouldn't be too impressed with anyone who thought praying for a suitable home for a couple of dogs was a good thing to do. But I must have prayed at some point - well there's no harm in asking - and it may be just coincidence that the young lady who approached me outside Tesco recognised the mutts and me from walking on the common, it may be pure chance that we were both there at the same time, it may be sheer luck that she is able to take Percy & Bonnie into her home, and that they appear to be very happy there......well lets just say we are very grateful for these random occurences and it feels very much like 'someone' is interested in helping us out here.
I'm sure there's a whole swathe of theology about God's relationship with non-humans, but I'm not going to get into that here, I'm just glad that our biggest problem prior to moving to NZ appears to have been solved.
Now maybe I can write about something other than dogs - although a few more cute photos might not go amiss.
The plan is, we will ship at least one dog to NZ in six months' time when we return for stepson's wedding.....we do suspect that one dog may no longer be with us. Though he still seems determined to prove us wrong.
By the way, wife is slowly getting better, but it's going to be a bit of a slow process. Apologies to anyone who was expecting us to be out boozing in Stroud this Saturday, it ain't gonna happen yet. Anyway we haven't got our sweaty palms on the visas yet.

PS I'm a bit bothered by this posting. It reads a bit like those 'God gave me a parking space on a busy Saturday' sermons that used to crop up from time to time in church meetings I attended many years ago. The thrust of these talks was usually that 'if your life feels like crap, you don't have enough faith'. Not the kind of preaching you'd want to hear in a refugee camp, for example.