Ups and Downs

Oof. It’s been an interesting few days – ups and downs all over. That’s inevitable, of course: I uprooted my entire life, moved on my own to the other side of the world, and did it all within the space of six weeks. It’s basically inevitable that some days will go better than others, and that some things will be more difficult than others. On the whole, though, I have to say I’m doing pretty well: I have moments of… not loneliness, as such, but uncertainty, but they pass. I don’t really feel as if I belong here, yet, but I also don’t expect to. I’ve not even been here three weeks, and I’m still largely in tourist mode; that will change.

wine tasting

I was supposed to write tasting notes. I… didn’t.

I went to a wine tasting on Monday night – all South African wines from Meerlust. Again, I was almost certainly the youngest person in the group, but that’s never especially bothered me: I had a very enjoyable evening chattering with some of the other women, and enjoying the wine. Some of the wine, anyway: one of them I thought was awful, and several were merely okay. The two most expensive wines? Yes, I’d gladly drink them again (of course). If you get the chance, do try their ‘Rubicon’ – highly recommended. There were six wines, and for tasting serves, they were generous; that, followed by the pinotage we had with dinner afterwards, meant I was relatively tipsy by the end, especially as I’ve not actually been drinking much at all since arriving in London. It made for a merry evening, though, and a very pleasant one, and the leader of our group (this is another meetup group) clearly knows his stuff – I’ll be doing more things with him (in fact, I’m going to a dinner with this group in two weeks, and then on a champagne weekend to – yes – Champagne in November, and no doubt more in between).

I teetered a little on the way home, but it was a relatively straightforward trip: Jubilee line between London Bridge and Bond Street, then a quick change onto the Central line for Notting Hill Gate. Increasingly, yes, I know my tube lines (some of them).

Tuesday was quieter: some contract work in the morning, and an interview with (another) recruitment agency in the afternoon.

On Wednesday, I ventured out to Hampton Court Palace. Lovely! I’ve actually bought a membership to the Historic Royal Palaces – there’s another four I can see (The Tower of London and Hampton Court being the first two), and I’m quite sure I’ll squeeze them in over the next year.

To get to Hampton Court, one (or at least, if one is me) catches the District line to Wimbledon (this is as close as I’ve gotten, or will get, to the tennis), and then an actual train from Wimbledon to Hampton Court. I actually really enjoyed that: you can watch the shift from inner London to outer London, bit by bit, until you’re basically out in the country. And oh, the green. It’s going to take some getting used to, for me: grass actually being green. That… isn’t so much a thing in Australia, a lot of the time.

Oh, Henry

Oh, Henry

The garden show is also on at Hampton Court at the moment, which I hadn’t realised; I was a little perturbed by the masses and masses of people getting off the train with me, but they quickly thinned out to head to the garden show, as I ducked into the palace itself (which has lovely gardens of its own). Thomas Wolsey rebuilt the original manor house into a palace in the early 1500s, and then it was taken over by Henry VIII and has been a royal palace ever since. In the late 1600s, Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt some of it again to turn it into a baroque palace for William and Mary, which means it’s an interesting collection of time periods. There’s lots to explore – and even some live action recreations to be part of (I rather enjoyed being one of Queen Catherine (Howard)’s court, though regrettably we did not save Culpepper or Lady Rochford – alas! Though perhaps they deserved it, the treasonous scum).

Rather than retrace my steps on the train and tube, I elected to pay a little extra (£17, ouch!) to take the three hour river cruise back to London. I wasn’t in any particular rush, and it seemed like the right thing to do: the Thames is such a notable part of London, after all. There weren’t a lot of people on my boat, which was fine by me – plenty of room to spread out – but unfortunately the commentary I’d read about did not eventuate. I wonder if they only do that on trips upstream rather than down? In any case, it was still an interesting trip – there are some lovely, lovely houses along that river, let me tell you.

Unfortunately, I had a bit of a headache by the time we got back to Westminster. Extra unfortunately, I couldn’t go straight home (which would have been a bad idea anyway – the tube can be pretty hellish at 5-6pm): I had an appointment to view a flat and no time to get home and then back out again. I ended up having dinner at a pub in Southwark, and a glass of wine that regrettably did nothing for my headache (sometimes it helps!), but I managed: it was bearable. By now, too, my phone was beginning to run out of battery, and I was a little worried that I wasn’t going to be able to find my way to where I was going before it died – disaster!

Luckily for me, I found the bus I needed without too much difficulty, and equally luckily, it was a very direct route to where I needed to go: once I was off the bus, I literally only needed to walk around the corner, and there I was. I think the area is officially Bermondsey, or possibly South Bermondsey; it’s a little ambiguous. Either way, it used to be a pretty working class area but is increasingly (unsurprisingly) home to a lot of young professionals. It’s still quite multicultural, though, and I liked that.

The flat was the first I’d inspected, which was a little difficult: how did I know what questions to ask? Renting in London is very different, it seems, to renting in Australia. For one thing, most flats come fully furnished, and bills are often included in the price, so you don’t have to sign up to your own utilities or worry about additional bills. I suppose that makes sense when most flats are shared, and people don’t necessarily stay for long periods of time. Anyway, this particular flat was nice: newly refurbished, nicely decorated, with a bath and gas cooking, and a balcony. It’s just two bedrooms, and the living room has not (as in many other flats) been turned into a third; I much prefer this, because I don’t particularly like the idea of living in my bedroom and feeling uncomfortable leaving it.

So, yes: I applied for the first flat I inspected, and ‘applied’ is not really the right word because I think I was provisionally accepted on the basis of my email to the landlady before we even set up the viewing. It may or may not be wise to take the first place one looks at, but it worked for me. In part, that’s because I don’t have any local rental references (which are generally considered very important) or a job, so I knew a lot of agencies and landlords would be reluctant to consider me. In this place, I have an ongoing tenancy rather than a strict lease, so if I want to leave, it’s just a notice period of two weeks. Easy.

Having inspected the place, and verbally indicated that I was interested, I made my escape: home and bed, pls. My headache was pretty much pounding by the time I made it back onto the bus, and I felt pretty miserable. One nice thing about London’s long summer days, at least, was that it wasn’t dark yet, despite now being close to 9– you get some really beautiful twilights. Needless to say, I made it home safely. And then I slept. It was a long, long day.

Thursday, I promised myself, would be less long. It would be quiet! I would… I don’t know, do something simple and easy and not too taxing. I ended up at Camden Lock Markets, just because I could, and I’ve been basically visiting every market I can find in London, so why not? I didn’t buy anything (except a bagel and a coffee), but only because I had no cash in my pocket: there were some lovely, lovely things. Still, I’m trying to avoid buying anything more since in a couple of weeks I will have to pack up all my things into suitcases again and… well, I don’t know if they’ll fit.

On the way home, I had to change trains at Tottenham Court Road. Which… reminded me that I wasn’t that far from Leicester Square, and didn’t I deserve to reward myself for successfully finding myself somewhere to live? And wasn’t a theatre ticket a Very Good Reward? You can see where this is going.

Leicester Square is full of tourists, many of whom bitch and complain and moan and roll their eyes, but I still kind of love it. I overheard an Australian woman tell someone, shocked and horrified, that someone had stolen her purse right out of her open handbag on their first day in Paris. Gosh. (I don’t think I ever mentioned the wonderful exchange I overheard on my flight to London, wherein two young university students complained to each other about how one shouldn’t have to order a vegetarian or vegan meal on a plane – it should just be a normal option – to which I wanted to lean forward and point out that a) there are a number of types of vegetarian so which one should be catered for? and b) what happens when they run out of vegetarian meals before they get to you, mm?)

In any case, the queues at the TKTS booth were not long, and while I was tempted by all kinds of things, I ultimately decided to go to the matinee of The Phantom of the Opera. I grew up with the soundtrack to Phantom, and first saw it on stage in 1996, when I was twelve. We’d only recently moved back to Sydney, so it would have been June or July – 20 years ago, almost exactly. I remember we sat right beneath the chandelier, and it was thrilling. My seats were not quite so good this time (even cheap, last minute tickets can get expensive), but it was still absolutely magical – it’s one of those shows that really benefits from the spectacular staging of a permanent home. It’s hard to believe that it has been showing in that theatre in London for 30 years; almost as long as I’ve been alive. Needless to say, I enjoyed the show.

(Having said that? People who try and sing on their way out of the theatre, uh, probably shouldn’t. Phantom is not something most people can sing along to, and you’re really better off not trying. Seriously.)

Today? Today I did almost exactly nothing.

That’s not quite true, I suppose, but it’s almost true. I did laundry; I applied for more jobs; I ventured up to Tesco to buy more milk. I had a phone conversation with another recruiter, and spent an hour putting together a supporting statement for that particular job. And then, almost no sooner had I finished that, I received an email containing a letter of offer for another position, one I really had not expected to be offered.

So, uh, that was a surprise?

So, theoretically, I may have both a flat and a job sorted after 2.5 weeks in London. Which, now that I’m on this end of it, seems pretty good (but earlier today, I would have probably told you I was freaking out about lack of job progress, so). I’m pleased: as much as I’ve enjoyed being a tourist, I think I’m just about ready to start settling down. If I accept this job, I’ll have one more week of freedom to fill, and that seems reasonable.

I suppose we’ll see how it goes!

End of the Year (for work, anyway)

I’m really not trying to brag when I say that today is my last day of work for 2013. I happen to work in a place that, while it has definite downsides, also offers significant perks, with an almost obscene amount of annual leave being one of them. This time of year is quiet for us; we’re an educational facility, and so we effectively shut down for much of the summer period, and so most of us take at least a couple weeks of leave.

It’s been a long year, for me, both at work and in other ways. I am so ready to be on vacation; I’ve been ready for weeks. I was supposed to have a week off in early November, but I ended up spending it in bed with the flu, which did absolutely nothing to help my recover emotional equilibrium. I’m pretty sure everyone at work is ready for me to go on leave, too: let’s just say I haven’t been the most patient of people, recently.

This morning, I’ve been tidying things up and ticking them off in preparation for not being here. It’s an easier process than when I go on leave during the rest of the year, since most of my coworkers will also not be around, but there’s still things to bed down. My coworker and I have a big project to commence when we’re back in January, but we’re relatively prepared.

Things have changed a lot since this time last year.

In 2013, there was an organisational restructure that changed us from a library team of three, including our library manager, to a library team of two that now sits under the banner of research and learning. It was a positive step, despite the loss of a position, but it’s involved a lot of change, and a lot of adjustment. Six months later, I think we’re all settling in to it, though things are also changing again: we’re losing the research assistant who was also part of our new department.

We’re also finally in a position to begin the great weed of 2013-2014. Our collection is old: in the past, there has been a huge emphasis on keeping everything, with a bigger collection being considered a better one. Now, we’re looking more at a smaller, highly relevant collection. We’re going to get rid of a lot of shelving and create a business lounge type area.

Honestly, the weeding process is a little depressing, in some ways. There have been two major moves in the past ten years, and before both of them, a weed was supposedly performed. Exactly why, then, I found a 1986 book on artificial intelligence on the open access shelf… It was, at least, a source of amusement:

The programs in this book will run on a standard IBM PC using Basica. All the programs are designed to work with a monochrome screen and no additional hardware or software, with the exception of Listing 9.1 which requires a graphic card and, preferably, a colour display.

I’m not sure why that was ever part of our collection, and I’m really not sure why it still was in 2013. Still, it’s very satisfying going through the collection book by book, making decisions as to what should stay and what should go. The end result is going to be fantastic.

We also replaced our library management system, this year, moving from a terribly awful outdated system (I won’t name and shame) to Koha, an open-source, fully web-based system that I like a lot. We can send automated overdue notices, now, guys. We can add urls to our catalogue entries. We can… it’s ridiculous, honestly, how the simplest things can be so new and exciting to us.

It was a huge job, though. A lot of the cataloguing in the old system was awful and inconsistent. Even the way the system stored data was pretty awful, and though we had some excellent help with the migration process, I have spent hours and hours and hours fixing things up. I’m kind of obsessive about it: I want everything to be perfect. Luckily, I was introduced to MarcEdit, which lets me use regular expressions to make mass changes. I can’t even begin to describe how much time that has saved me, or how nerdily excited I am about it.

(I still don’t really understand how to write regular expressions, mind, but I am very good at copying other people’s.)

I’ve also gleefully thrown myself into writing sql reports in Koha. I can basically report on anything; it’s amazing. Yes, I’m a nerd. But seriously: every time we want to find something out about the collection, I can just write a query to do it for me. I’m in love.

So… yes, that has taken an awful lot of my time.

I spoke at a Moodle conference in September, and yes, I’m still heavily involved in all things Moodle here at work. Sometimes… too involved. I worry that my expertise means that no one else ever tries to take any ownership; I have no idea what will happen when I do, eventually, leave this job.

I’ve started preparing for that eventuality by introducing a documentation wiki here at work. I don’t know that anyone else will ever use it, but at least I feel like I have a place to store all of these things… I’ve done my bit, etc.

We finally launched the new organisational website this year, a long, long time after we had originall intended to. It hasn’t been completely smooth sailing, but it’s a vast improvement on the old one. Of course, here is another area that worries me for the future: the website and library management system both run on linux servers, administered by me.

Well. We’ll just cross that bridge when we get there, won’t we? Or… the organisation will. It’s certainly been a good experience for me: I’ve learned a lot about server administration, and about linux-y things that I hadn’t had to touch before (apache config files, for example, and postfix mail servers, and backup scripts, and logs, and…). It’s one of my strengths, I think: I’m willing to jump in and get my hands dirty, making things work. I google for answers, when I don’t know them. I learn.

I’ve learned a lot this year. I’ve done a lot this year. I’m pretty proud of it. I feel really lucky to have has had as many opportunities as I have had; I don’t think there are that many places out there that would simply let me run with things, the way I’ve gotten to.

And now I am really, really, really ready for a rest.

Career Open Source Software Fiddler

I’ve basically been in Louise-heaven all week, at work. We’ve (finally!) launched our new library management system, and I’ve been knee deep in the wonderful, glorious, utterly delightful mess of preferences and features, all needing my attention. This is the first time I’ve been part of a move this big; certainly, we moved from one learning management system to another, and that was a big project, but the library system has so much data, and our new system has so many possibilities. It’s been great.

I’m not really a great librarian, when it comes down to it – not in the traditional sense. I’m not all that fond of customer service; I’d much rather hole up in my office and get stuck into something without the interruptions that actual patrons bring. I like losing myself in things, and playing with stuff until I figure it out. I’d much, much, much rather play with something until I work it out than be trained in it.

But all of these skills rather nicely set me up for what has ended up being a big part of my job, especially now that we’re moving towards open source solutions. I get to play with these things basically to my heart’s content, and I have basically full control over them: if I don’t like the way something displays, I can dig into the code and change it. Open source is amazingly flexible, and I’m incredibly excited to be getting to mould all of this into what we want it to be.

We’re really lucky that I can do that. I mean, sure, it’s completely possible to hire someone to do all of that configuration and manipulation for you, and it’s a perfectly valid way to do it. But I think there’s an advantage to having those skills in-house: it’s so much more immediate, and so much easier when the person doing the work already understands the organisation’s specific needs. I ended up getting some things working that our paid support people couldn’t, and it’s not because they’re not competent, but because I’m already comfortable with how things are set up on our end.

No one taught me these skills, for the most part. I just learn by doing – by poking at things until I make something happen, or by googling until I see what someone else did, and modify it to my own needs. I’m perpetually frustrated by people who realise that they don’t know how to do something, and just… stop. Why would you stop? Sure, maybe you don’t want to go fiddling with code (I won’t deny I’ve caused myself problems by doing that, and I now have a reasonably good idea of what I’m doing), but… giving up is just stupid.

I’m really lucky that I’m allowed to do all of this. In a lot of organisations I wouldn’t be allowed to touch the servers, let alone take responsibility for some of them. We’re pretty nimble in that way, and that makes my job much more interesting.

The end result of all of this is that we no longer have a support contract for our learning management system (Moodle), because I administer it. We’re not going for a formal support contract for this new library management system (Koha), because I will do much of it – we’re simply going to have pre-paid support hours available for occasions when I do need the backup. So… it’s all mine, mwahahaha!

Of course, this makes things more complicated when I go on holiday, for example, and I’m not sure what will happen if I leave the organisation at any point, but… for now, it’s fun.

In the meantime, however, I have this wonderful new library system, and some really appalling data. There are thousands of records that need to be deleted, and thousands more that need edits, and I know what I’m like: I won’t rest until it’s all perfect.

It’s a bad thing that I’m still thinking about my data at 6pm on a Friday, isn’t it? It’s the weekend. Let it go, self. Let it go.

Turbulence on Reentry

We’ve been home now for two weeks, and it’s been… hard.

Getting back into the swing of the real world after spending so long in pretendy-world land is always difficult, but I think I’ve had some added complications which have only made things more difficult. Part of that is because of work, which has been stressful in an abstract, emotional way rather than an overwork kind of way. I don’t deal well with uncertainty, and since getting back I’ve had a lot of that to deal with. Politics, man; they’re only fun when there’s a disconnect between you and them.

Another part of it is my increasing frustration with where we live. We’ve been in the same apartment for four years, now; in another six weeks we’ll sign the lease for a fifth. Half of our relationship (holy shit, I guess we really are coming up towards eight years) has been spent in this place, and that’s not inconsiderable.

It’s a nice apartment. It’s big, and it has a spectacular view out over the city. But the kitchen is tiny and the oven is awful, and I am increasingly tired of having to ask permission to hang pictures on the walls, deal with six monthly inspections where we get told off for not dusting the cistern of the toilet, and – well, the list goes on.

I think we’re increasingly in that point in our lives where we want to start, bit by bit, putting together rooms that are exactly the way we want them, with exactly the right furniture and decor and arrangement. We could start doing that, in some ways, but it’s hard to plan a room if you don’t know whether you’ll be using the same room in twelve months time. We can’t hang our own curtains, or put up different blinds, or replace the oven.

I’ve wanted to buy a place for a while now, and I think Rohan is finally on the same page as me. Obviously, we’re not going to be able to run out and redecorate and buy new furniture instantly, if we manage to buy, but it’d be a long-term project with achievable goals. I suspect both pairs of itchy feet would be soothed.

Of course, it’s not quite that easy. The property market in Sydney is well overpriced, and the area we want to live in is not exactly on the cheap end of that. I earn good money, and Rohan is well-paid for what he does despite averaging a lot less billable hours, but neither of us really wants to spend half our net income on a mortgage. The real trick, then, is to manage to do this without having to lose too much of our lifestyle in the process. It’s a tricky balance, but I think we can do it.

A lot of the really nice places in this area are out of our price range – but there’s a lot that I think is potentially doable. Whatever we end up with won’t be a forever-house, but it’ll be stable. It’ll most likely be a two bedroom unit, probably in the Gore Hill/Greenwich area which is just slightly cheaper than Wollstonecraft/Crows Nest. It will have an internal laundry (that’s non-negotiable in our book), and gas (it would take a lot for us to give up on that). And for the rest… we’ll see.

So that’s what the next twelve months will be focused on. In August next year, we’ll take a really close look at our finances and see if it really is feasible (unless prices go up excessively between now and then, I’m pretty sure the answer will be yes), and then… well. Take the plunge, I guess.

I feel better, resigning our lease, feeling (relatively) confident that it will be our last one. And in the meantime – every time I reach for my credit card to buy that new pair of shoes, or that cute dress, or whatever it is, I’ll hopefully be able to give it a bit more thought. Do I really need it? Is that money better off sitting in my savings account until it can be used as a deposit? Hopefully, having more concrete plans will make that easier to stick to. It’s not that I can’t spend money on more frivolous things; I just need to think seriously about it first.

Because a place that is ours, with all the attendant headaches, will definitely be worth it.

In the meantime, I will stare at real estate advertisements, and, in particular, at floorplans. What is it about floorplans that are so much fun? They make me happy.


I put up my out-of-office message at about 12:30 yesterday, and ducked out soon after that. I won’t see my coworker until September 10th… and I won’t see my boss until at least the end of October, because she’s having spinal fusion surgery. I feel a little bad for my coworker, who is going to have to hold down the fort without both of us, but I’m not concerned about her ability to manage. She’ll be fine.

I’d intended to stay at work longer, but I just couldn’t make myself do it. Yesterday was a slog, and once I’d cleaned up my desk, done my timesheets, sent out instructions and talked people through things that might need doing while I”m gone… what else was there? I wasn’t going to start anything new.

So it was an early start to my month of freedom, and I’m glad for it. The wind was incredible, yesterday, to the point where there were yachts beached sideways down at Manly, and bits of roof flying away. The long, windy road up through the national park that I have to take to leave my workplace was covered in branches and debris. I was actually a little worried about anything bigger coming down.

I spent most of the afternoon curled up in bed with my laptop, a good book, and the electric blanket on. I have no regrets.

Tonight, in what will count as an official start to my holidays I guess, we’re off to see David Attenborough talk at the State Theatre. I’ve been looking forward to this for months: when we bought the tickets it was still a long, long way away, especially because I knew it coincided with holiday plans. This morning, Rohan and I will go up to our usual breakfast place and have our last meal there for four+ weeks.

Thinking of things in those terms is strange.

When I bought my coffee yesterday morning, the barista and I had a conversation about the fact that I never use a loyalty card; I admitted that I always forget about them. He picked up a new one and calmly marked off all the squares in one row, and then several in the next as well, meaning I have a free coffee waiting for me, and if I’m good at remembering, another one soon.

Except it won’t be soon, because I won’t be back for four weeks. This occurred to me only later, and I felt guilty. This guy remembers me and my order, says hello every time, and generally makes me feel like a regular (which I guess I am), and just did something really nice… and now I’m going to not show up for weeks and weeks. Whoops.

I now have a few days to get myself ready for this trip. I want to clean the house – it needs it, and there’s nothing worse than coming home jet lagged and exhausted to a messy/dirty house. I also need to sort through all the bookings I’ve made and print things off. And make sure we have everything we need. And…

I know most of it won’t take anywhere near as long as I feel like it will, and I’ll have plenty of time, but I am unquestionably relieved to have a few days in which to get it done.

In the meantime, I have also made a number of purchases and had them shipped off to my friend Amy’s place. I love free shipping. I love shopping on Amazon.

I am going to be so broke.