Friday, November 30, 2007


It's 5am and I find myself wide awake and restless in Cork. I'd like to be asleep like everyone else, but my metabolism has other ideas. It's not really convinced about this whole Ireland business and is having none of it. As far as it's concerned we never left Sydney and we shall damn well rise when Sydney rises.

There is a possibility that I have unfairly accused my internal chronometer. An equally plausible suggestion is that excitement is keeping me awake. I have just finished a week of meetings and tomorrow I'll be in dirty old Dublin town meeting friends and family. The meetings have confirmed that I shall be rewarded with my own business in Australia and have instantly generated an enormous workload. I'm guessing that my enthusiasm for the task ahead, and general buoyancy over going home, are as much the culprits for my insomnia as jet-lag.

Ah! What's this I see? Yes! A glimmer of light in the east.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Personal Trainer

It began innocently, as these things do. But looking back at that beginning now, knowing the suffering and pain that was to come, that innocence is unimaginable. Like a forgotten Eden, forever lost, as so many of us have been, since that innocent beginning.

‘Physical exercise is good’; an unassailable truism. And so our team willingly submitted to the regime. Weekly at lunchtime we would exercise under Mark’s direction. It was as simple as that, as innocent as that. So the compulsory, regimented, exercises began, under our new Personal Trainer (‘El Persodente’). If we had only known the road down which that simple, innocent agreement would bring us; a road of terrible pain, a road of wretched suffering, a road around Farm Cove and Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair.

As the weeks passed Mark’s gentle encouragement gave way to demands that we improve our times. Mark, or ‘Che Cahill’ as he insisted we call him, became a brutal disciplinarian. Each outing was more challenging, more arduous than the last. Che branded all objections as descent and they were mercilessly crushed.

The objectives were inhuman. It was only a matter of time before the effort would overcome one of us. Aziz was first to succumb; Poor, gentle Aziz. The demands of our leader were simply too much for him. He always lagged the rest of us. With our support he persevered. But one day we looked back, and Aziz was no longer there. What became of him? Did Che execute him? Did he die of sheer exhaustion? Was he sitting at his desk trying to polish off a bug during his lunch break? Who knows? Who could know?

Undaunted, the Personal Trainer commended our loss as a sign. He declared it ‘Year Zero’, and pressed us to, and beyond, the limit.

Words can not describe the horror that Tuesday lunchtimes (or Wednesday if it rains or whatever on Tuesday) now hold for us. The agony is monstrous, but dread of our leader’s capricious temper and fear of his wrath keep us running.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Congratulations Nina

Nina was always willing to go the extra mile. Now she’s jumped through hoops and snatched her MBA from the ambition tree.

It’s always good to be proactive and touch base with the industry to get a heads-up on the benchmarks for fast-tracking your career. The bottom line is that a knowledge-based strategic game plan is needed to prove you are a goal-focussed team player who is in the loop. You need to play hardball to empower a win. The prevailing philosophy is to quantum leap over your peer resources by obtaining a superior business oriented academic enablement. Thus pushing beyond the parameters under which most of one’s career competitors operate, therefore enhancing your value while radically reducing internal angst, synchronizingly marginalyzing your rivals to a point where they are almost nil as a potentially competitive factor, thereby dominating, in a total way, all the marbles. That’s what Nina’s all about.

But it hasn’t been just about picking the low hanging fruit. Bilaterals with Nina have been at a premium while she’s been at the academic coalface. We’ve all had to adjust to the low-Nina-availability environment. That was a paradigm shift that required us all to re-solutioneer our collective social interactions. Often Nina was engaged in valued added initiatives and needed to skip opportunities to exchange discourse regarding matters that were not within the strategic MBA-box. This had a negative impact on all of our bottom lines. Happily, newly equipped with her MBA, she’ll have enhanced face-time for us all. (Though we may never again understand a whole sentence that comes from her lips).

Well done Nina!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Meta Blog

It’s been quite some time since I’ve made an entry here. The drought is finally at an end; I’m back, by popular demand.

The record will show that, after 24 successive entries over the course of a year, (an average of a blog posting every fortnight or so), this blog experienced something of a hiatus. Fully two months have elapsed since my entry bemoaning the evils of white ants and their voracious appetite for all things wooden (not least of which is my house).

The white ants are at least in part to blame for the cessation of my scribbling. Or rather the effort to expunge the imprint of their munchings has consumed my free time to the point that generating missives for recreational purposes has taken something of a back seat.

It would appear that the long, dark teatime of this blog has not gone unnoticed. The initial, lone voice of disquiet has been joined and lately risen to something of a chorus. Many of you are demanding 'the return of the blog' (sounds like a bad B movie).

It is gratifying indeed to hear you express this interest. I might have been forgiven for believing that this forum amounted to little more than me talking to myself. (A practise I reserve for my solo trips to crowded cinemas). But here you are in your thousands demanding fresh entries.

And have them you shall.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

White Ants

From the sheltered perspective of Ireland, Australia is a place populated by ferocious creatures. From the tiny Sydney Funnel-web spider to the gigantic Crocodiles of Queensland, from the fictitious Drop Bears to the very real Common Brown snake, it would appear that Australian fauna are intrinsically malign. So one shouldn't be surprised to discover the place if crawling with termites (or White Ants) earnestly bent on the destruction of all human constructions.

I knew there was some termite damage in the roof of the house when I bought it. "A couple of carpenters will sort it out in a day", I was told. Also there was no urgency to the work. It appeared that a termite invasion had been chemically thwarted decades ago but much if the damage was covered over rather than repaired.

When electricians recently descended on my little Surry Hills cottage, they exposed some of the damage in the bedrooms and I decided it was no longer feasible to ignore it. I set about identifying and replacing effete floorboards.


A lot of the damaged boards look fine on the surface, but they are little more than a paper thin veneer over a fragile honeycomb of minute tunnels. In many cases you can crush the stuff to powder with your hands and none of the affected floorboards would hold the weight of a person.

Floor Post-Banquet

The photo above shows something of a low point in the life of my house; the carpets are up and the dead boards removed but not replaced. Meanwhile everything (carpets, underlay, deceased floorboards, replacement floorboards, disassembled bed, clothes) is piled up in the remaining bedroom.

As I write it has been put to rights. I have two bedrooms once again and slept in a proper bed for the first time in weeks. There's still a big tidy to be done and the downstairs remains formidable, but more significantly, I now live in fear of the "Revenge of the White Ants".

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sparks Fly

"Computers are the future", I was told by the career guidance teacher, "There'll be plenty of work in that".

In my old school, the position of career guidance counsellor was a sort of repository for senescent dodderies. My counsellor was an affable relic that was kept-on out of some kindness. There was some unspoken financial matter in the chap's past that restricted him from taking to pasture as he clearly needed to do. As a result every pupil was individually slumped before the fellow, to spend an hour of their life that they would never recover, as he dispensed the worst vocational advice known to man.

His determination of one's ideal path was algorithmicly linked to the most recent exam results. So the bookish were pushed towards the professions while less accomplished academics were told that lifelong nirvana could be obtained from a trade.

I was able to save the man the bother. Having made up my mind that software engineering would be my life's work at an early age. Even back in 1988 the grey had a vague notion that "computers are the future", and I saved myself perhaps 30 minutes of wasted teenage time.

Nearly 20 years on and I'm less certain. On the face of it the less erudite school boys have enjoyed two decades of unbelievable wealth accumulation. Sitting as I do now, in a home that demands the attention variously of chippies, sparks and plasterers. They can more or less name their price and certainly command hourly rates that make me blanch. That, of course, is if you are lucky enough to get a quote from them. I've had tradesmen who didn't turn up, electricians that took one look and vanished into the ether and a single quote from a sparks with a lasso and ten-gallon hat.

It seems to me that I would be a rich man had I taken up a trade in preference to a career in computer science. I don't blame the should-have-been-superannuated man. My mind was set and he could no more have made me pursue a life as a mason than as a medic. I fear the mistake was mine, but I do fear it was a mistake.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Butt Ban

The Veil

This weekend marked the final opportunity to smoke in a public bar in New South Wales. I'm happy to announce that all my socialising will now be free of passive smoke.

House Warmth

The new house had it's inaugural party last weekend. It was something of a landmark event for me and I'm pleased to say it went swimmingly.

I hate throwing parties. For one thing you never fully enjoy a party that you are throwing yourself. There's far too much running around making sure that everybody else is enjoying themselves. And you have to expend a modicum of time with each guest so you never really get to have a conversation with anyone.

But the main problem with parties is the fact that it provides a potentially brutal barometer of one's popularity. First of all there's the decline-ratio: the proportion of the people you want to be there that don't want to be there. And in my case (having only been in the country for 8 months) there's the thorny question of having people to invite at all.

On both counts I have to say I was very pleased. When I sat down to prepare a list of invitees I was slightly worried that it would be depressingly short. I quickly realised that I had nothing to worry about there. There are friends from work, friends from my old house-share and of course the netball team. The decline ratio was also pretty good. And my little house was duly packed on the night.

My two sofas had arrived at 6:30am on the morning of the party. The only other furniture consisted of 5 milk crates and this fridge that arrived mid-afternoon.
Kool Kiwi

Mandy and Aoife brought me shopping for all my party needs. (I would have been lost without them). The two continued much of the running during the party. I took each new guest on a tour of the property, while Nathan began an industrial scale production-line of baby-Guinnesses.

I'm very content that the party went exactly as I had hoped. Above all I had a strong sense that the people who had gathered there were of the highest calibre, and I'm deeply happy to have made friends with so many genuinely pleasant people so quickly after arriving in a new country.

More photos here.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


I'll take a break from the world of property to mention a plunge of a different sort.

At the time of writing I am 35 years old and I cannot swim. I personally find this completely unremarkable. It's absurdly simple to avoid swimming. If everyone decides to go swimming you just do something else.

If you grow up in Ireland in the 1980's there aren't any swimming pools worth going to and, even in the summer, it's far too cold to brave the sea. Although Irish people usually do learn to swim at some point in their childhood, not being a swimmer never hindered me in any way. Swimming occasions rarely arise and there's always something else to do. Down Under, opportunities to swim are plentiful. As are the swimming pools. And it's not always the case that other activities are on offer.

On rare occasions when the topic of my inability to swim arose in Ireland I was met with mild surprise and generally pressed to take adult lessons of some sort. I politely ventured that I really ought to look into it at some point and promptly dropped the subject. As always Australia is different. The locals are positively aghast when they hear I cannot make my way about on the surface of water unaided. It is almost as if I had announced that I cannot hear and have been secretly lip-reading all their conversations with me. I've had more than one person email me with comprehensive lists of classes. They've practically listed which bus routes to take and have barely stopped short of offering to pay for the classes. Aussies REALLY just don't get that you can't swim.

So I took the plunge (so as to speak) and I'm taking lessons.
Cooling off

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Hicks Mansion

With the settlement on the house some weeks away, my frenetic workload had suddenly and completely evaporated. It was long past time to make good on my promise to visit Paul.

Paul Hicks is one of my best friends from college. We studied together, worked together and drank together. We've even pursued the same girls and managed not to fall out over it. About four years ago Paul decided to settle in New Zealand and he now resides in Wellington.

Final approach into Wellington airport revealed New Zealand's national capital from behind a bank of long white clouds. A dispersed conurbation of low housing packed into undulating hillsides bounded by infinite seas. Paul was there to meet me at the gate.

We passed the four day weekend pleasantly. The days we spent drinking and hiking. We also drank, and got drunk, I think every night. Visiting perhaps every Irish Bar in town, and a significant proportion of the remaining pubs. But the insobriety was always good natured and the whole experience thoroughly relaxing. Are we getting too old for full on carousing, or just too old to start fighting over the same girl?

My lasting impression (inevitably, perhaps, because of my recent home purchase) was of Paul's house. It is simply vast. A four bedroom home on two levels may not be Buckingham Palace, but for a bachelor in his first home it's positively sprawling.

Paul offered me a choice of rooms. Selfishly I selected the largest. A room that might otherwise have accommodated a training session for a basketball team. I considered the dimensions carefully and concluded that the entire original structure of my house (both floors) would fit in the volume provided by this single room. The ceilings were absurdly high and fiendishly ornate. Daybreak illuminated the chamber through an imposing window in the north wall and flooded the space with brilliant light. It was like waking up in a cloud.

I think I'll be going back.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


It seems like the last several weeks have all been about waiting.

I have a strong sense that from the moment I move into my house every spare second shall be spent repairing it. Preparing it for winter storms. Sealing it against the cold. For now I wait.

An intense effort lies ahead, so I have prepared. Last week two builders and an engineer came by to quote and advise on the necessary building work I want completed before I move in. Not to mention the destruction and re-build of the collapsing laundry (currently a million dollar law-suit waiting to happen).

Meanwhile, I find myself taking an interest in other people's homes. A window shopper of architectural details, furniture, lighting options and storage solutions. But for now I can purchase none of these. So I press my nose against the shop window and admire, and wait.

Waiting also for Joanne to return from New Zealand as she finally did last week. On a fleeting visit with her sister, Lisa, she politely admired the outside of my new home. Provided all the right assurances about location and builders. Now she has gone, once again. Returning to her own house in Wales, via New Zealand and South America, with a promise to come back to Australia once Lisa is safely married. Meanwhile, I continue to wait.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


I signed contracts for the little house on Belvoir Street today. I'm still reeling.

As well as contracts, I signed up for a mortgage with my employer, BigBank, with all it's attendant guarantees and check lists. Then there's the small matter of a cheque for $49,000 (10% or the purchase price).

The tenants will still be in the place 'til the middle of May. That gives me some breathing space to shop around for home insurance and to decide what physical changes I want to make to the property.

I've just been discussing my basic plans with my house mate, Aoife. She disagreed with every single opinion I had. Even down to the idea of removing the dividing wall downstairs, which I regard as fundamental. Admittedly, her ideas were grander and would make for an attractive home, but the planning regulations for a listed building would be a problem. And cost would be prohibitive.

If anyone out there has any suggestions I'm currently open to them all.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Belvoir Street

It looks as though the house search has come to an abrupt end. As I have just agreed to buy this:
Sale Agreed

I can already see the start of problems. The scanned documents from the vendor were mostly illegible, and my solicitor has sent a list of questions to them that I never even countenanced. I'm sure these are pretty standard but they looked scary.

The house itself turns out to be heritage listed. They were quiet about that during the viewing. Of course, I never thought to ask either as the building is not THAT old. It's seems the Australian authorities get all misty eyed whenever they see a building that's more than about 20 minutes old. If you applied the same criteria for heritage listing in Dublin, everything inside the M50 would be a heritage site. While "heritage listed" sounds lovely, it may make certain extension plans I was thinking about a bit tricky.

All in all I am really excited and there's enough DIY there to keep me busy for the foreseeable future. Ideally I'd be calling in some free-labour debts. Unfortunately the small matter of the intervening planet will makes it unreasonable to expect my friends to drop round and operate a paint brush in exchange for pizza and beer.

In the short run there's the conveyancing to deal with. I'll probably need to get the place rewired. but I hope to be in it by May and then it's just the small matter of paying off a loan over the next 25 years.

Monday, February 19, 2007

House Shopping and Melbourne

I went to Melbourne this weekend, to spend some time with Fiona B.

The alternative was to spend the time trawling though other people's homes with a view to acquiring one of them. Finding a home ought to be an exciting task; a project of discovery and adventure. But with each viewing I become ever more despondent. I've just realised why I do not enjoy looking for a new house: It's shopping.

I don't understand shopping. It's necessary, because you can't walk around naked and hungry, but I've never grasped how some people, Mary Poppins like, manage to turn it into a recreational activity. A friend once intimated to me the value of her favourite Swedish shopping emporium. "It's cheap, disposable fashion", she exclaimed, " so you can wear it a few times and constantly shop for new things!". Honestly, she thought eternally browsing for that ideal blouse or belt would be paradise. To me it's a purgatory I'd just as soon avoid.

And so my temporary reprieve was to spend a day or two with Fiona as she caught up with pals from her college years in Melbourne. How much better this was than shopping for bricks and mortar I cannot relate. Fi enthused about her town. Beamed as she described her college haunts and marvelled at the changes of more recent years. On Saturday we sat beneath the stars and listen the the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra do justice to Verdi. Not an estate agent in sight.

I was sorry to leave Fiona and Melbourne behind, to return to Sydney and grasping for the bottom run of its property ladder.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Changing the Guard

We are getting a new housemate at our house on Barcom Avenue. This is a good thing because she is beautiful, intelligent and Irish. But it’s also bad because we gain Aoife at the significant expense of losing Natalie.

Natalie is nice. She’s kind to strangers and small animals. But great character strengths can be weaknesses too. And her habit of lending her room to near-random strangers when she was out of town was mitigated only by the fact that they always turned out to be quite pleasant, or at least not actual axe murders. Not being hacked to bits in our beds by Nat’s houseguests, however, was more due to providence than planning. The thing that annoyed me was when she announced that we were now in possession of a puppy.

Now caring for strays is a good thing. They’re not well loved and who amongst us could not benefit from a modicum of tenderness every now and again. But I regard the kennelling of canines as akin to rain during this New South Wales drought. It’s desirable and even necessary but I prefer when it’s happening far, far away.

Seriously, I expect to be asked before a pet is brought into my home. As in; “Hey guys, my friend is going to be out of town and I was thinking of offering to look after his Doberman. What do you think?” Of course, what I’d think would be “No!” and I imagine my thoughts were predictable. That however does not excuse turning up with said mutt as a fait accompli.

Anyway, annoyance at Nat was disgorged in a whispered conversation between the other three housemates. It's really not pleasant to be talking about someone behind their back and unfortunately our whispering was not quiet enough and Nat overheard. She was justifiably outraged and to my disappointment she has decided to leave us. I think the overheard conversation came at the end of a really bad week for Nat (her uncle passed away and she’d been slaving all hours at work). Any other time and we might have been able to gloss over the matter, but we are where we are.

And although no one will replace Natalie, I am quite looking forward to having an Irish girl about the place – especially this Aoife one.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Italy in August

It's difficult to achieve anything in Italy in August. Like buying a bed, for example. Unless you regard endlessly flitting from one furniture shop to another in a futile effort to find one that is open as a achievement. No, on balance, it's best not to bother. Even if you do find one that is not physically shuttered, it will be but a show-room and a caretaker. The elderly individual will brush off any attempts to so much as place an order, telling you to come back in September. Your sleeping on the floor 'til then my friend.

This goes beyond frustrating. Your western-consumerist mind will tell you that it HAS to be possible to give people money in exchange for goods and services. But alas, no. Your Euros (or dollars, old Lira, Ringgits, whatever) are no good to you in Italy in August. So you might as well kick back, make your own coffee and bask in the certain knowledge that sleeping on terracotta tiles is your fate for the rest of August.

And so it is in Sydney in January. At least if you're trying to view residential property. This city is utterly bereft, entirely devoid of real estate agents for the whole month. Seriously, there's not one to be found. I phoned up one place and actually got an answer, only to be told that all the agents were away until after Australia Day (January 26th).

My Euros are no good here.

So I might as well kick back, pour my own beer and relax in the certain knowledge that an absence of estate agents makes this city even more desirable in January.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


There are perhaps three cities that are world famous for their New Year's Eve celebrations. Edinburgh has Hogmanay, New York has a crystal ball but Sydney has the biggest fireworks show in the world.

When three metric tonnes of explosives go into the air this is what it looks like
Happy New Year!
It's hard not to be impressed!

To get this shot I had to queue up from 7:30 in the morning and wait for sixteen and a half hours. The absolute best spots were already taken, but I was still more than content with the position we had.

The day was spent with Hamish, Fiona and friends. In effect it was one long extended picnic, culminating with the pyrotechnics at midnight.

Happy New Year everyone!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Turkey in the Sun

I was warned about home sickness by a friend who had emigrated to Ireland. It hits you about four months in, I was warned. Around that time, the novelty of your new city will have worn off, you'll be working (which will, on occasions at least, be a drudge), and you will still not have an abundance of friends.

This was doubly worrying for me because I arrived in Australia on September the 23rd. "Four months in", meant I could expect my big home sickness bout to kick in right in the run-up to Christmas. So, not wanting to end up in some Irish pub crying into my Guinness at 3pm on Christmas Day, I steeled myself against a difficult time. In the event it was actually very pleasant.

As I said here, Christmas is really about your own traditions. With Australia being so completely different from Ireland at this time of year I simply did not feel Christmas was happening at all. Or rather, I felt it was happening, but happening somewhere else. On the day, I walked with friends along Bondi Beach in the Sun and enjoyed a sumptuous barbecue. There was drink too - but not to excess. This will, I hope, be something of a template for Australian Christmases to come. It's not a "real" Christmas, but it's a lot better than salty Guinness.