Archive for the 'life' Category


Being back in Halifax


Photo from Dennis Jarvis on flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.

Family circumstances mean that for the last week and a half I’ve been living and working from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and will be here for a few more weeks. It’s been a changing experience to be here, and a very different one from when I’ve returned here for holidays.

I was born and raised in Nova Scotia, and spent 6 years in Halifax going to university. I’ve visited here many times in the years I’ve been away, since we still have family here and nearby. But this is the first time where the initial weirdness of visiting has worn off. Being here for this long, and doing ordinary things like working and buying groceries, has made me feel a little more local once again.

These things, which initially felt strange, have started to feel normal:

  • Everyone’s so freakishly polite, especially in the service and retail industry.
  • Food portions are massive.
  • Relaxed drivers: three times I’ve had cars that were already waiting at a four-way stop reverse to let me cross the street without having to walk around them.
  • Everyone has a funny Canadian accent.
  • The price you see on the tag is not the price you’ll have to pay at the counter.
  • It’s cold: it’s well into spring but some days temperatures max out in the low teens. Nevertheless there are a lot of people in shorts and T-shirts.
  • Lots of hockey. And I don’t feel the need to specify that it’s ice hockey.

I’m looking forward to seeing how things feel when we head out to the country.


Life happens

I haven’t blogged in the last couple of months because I’ve been busy. There have been tweets and Facebook updates and Google+ posts in the interim but there’s been precious little time to sit down and write things like this. But I have a (probably short) window now.

I’ve been busy because of these things:

  • New house. We moved to Seaforth, on Sydney’s northern beaches, at the end of November. This has been an immense time sink. Fixing all the little surprises the previous owners left behind, setting up our things the way we want, buying new furniture, figuring out new routines and new commutes, utilities, and so on. My handyman skills have gone up significantly as a result, and the tool chest I got for my birthday is very welcome. But we’re now happy with the house. Mostly.
  • Christmas and New Year’s. Although this was one of the quietest holiday periods we’ve had in a while there’s always stuff to do: gifts, calls with family, visiting friends, having friends at ours.
  • Visitors. The Brisbanians came to see us for several days, which was a lot of fun. I also had an aunt from Canada visiting for just a day as she stopped in Sydney at the end of a cruise.
  • Baby preparation. Our first baby’s due date is February 1. That’s not far. There have been a lot of things to do, but we’re now as ready as we feel we can be. So my blogging spurt may be short-lived.

Take care, everyone.

Relaxing while I can.


The Oxford Comma

I will admit to being a user of the Oxford Comma. Its occasional improvement of clarity outweighs any downside.



Do I have a psychedelic rock stalker?

This morning as I left the house to go to work I noticed a piece of paper in my mailbox. That’s odd, I thought, I brought in the post when I came in last night. I wonder what that is?

This is what it was:

That’s an original watercolour painting of the cover of Pink Floyd’s classic album Dark Side of the Moon, a musical exploration of the themes of alienation and madness. Here’s what’s on the other side:

If you can’t read that, it says:

Dear fellow human

What is your ‘Dark side of the moon’? What is that which is without light in your life? What is that which you refuse to see, that you allow to bathe in the dark of the moon that is away from the sunlight.


A fellow human

I looked closely at the painting. It’s clearly an original. I looked at my neighbours’ mailboxes: none of them appeared to have anything in them.

How very interesting.


Easter hiking

Spit to Manly

Spit to Manly walk. Photo from Gary Hayes via Creative Commons license.

Today saw me getting back to hiking, something I’ve not done for a couple of months. I did the Spit to Manly walk, one of the best-known ones around Sydney. It was a great hike, with the first third being up-and-down dirt trails through bush, the middle third being wide flat paths across the headland, and the last third skirting the residential areas around Manly. There are a few points we had to wade as the tide was in. There were good views, lots of other hikers, and some Aboriginal rock art along the way. Despite information claiming it should take between 3 and 4 hours, we knocked it off in just over 2. Must be my super-fitness.

Once in Manly we met some friends at 4 Pines, an excellent craft beer spot. I’d been wanting to try it for a while, and it’s  winner: good beer, good food, and a good location (if you get there early).


New stuff

There’s some new stuff in my life.

First, there are two new things:

  • A coffee maker. To be precise, a Lelit PL041EM Espresso Machine. I’m still getting the hang of it, but I’m already making coffees at home much better than I’ve drunk for most of my life.
  • A new computer. To be precise, a 21.5″ iMac. I got totally re-addicted to Macs at my last job, and bought one for home.

There’s also something new to do: a new job that I started this week. I’m back in a big company, but I’m stretching out into a new tech area: software.

Change is good.


Two weeks back in Europe

My whirlwind trip to Europe begins very soon. I’m just about packed.

  1. I work a half day tomorrow, then head to Sydney International Airport.
  2. I fly to London (via Bangkok) and meet up with my better half, who’s already there.
  3. I have five awesome days of holidays back in London. I lived there for 9 years, but have not been back since I left two years ago. I’m planning to see a lot of people.
  4. We fly to the south of France, for a few days in the spot where we got married (aww).
  5. She flies back to Oz. I, however, take the train from Toulouse to Barcelona (via Montpellier and Figueres).
  6. I have a work conference for five days in Barcelona.
  7. I fly back to Sydney, via London and Singapore.

If you look close, you can see me in a window, very smug. Photo from velodenz via Creative Commons license


Umbrella from James Smith

When I arrived in London in February 2001 one of the first things I did was to buy a quality umbrella. It rains quite often in London, I reasoned, and I don’t want to keep buying cheapo umbrellas that break. Might as well get a good one that will last.

I went to James Smith & Sons, a world-famous maker of umbrellas and walking sticks. I paid – if I recall correctly – £90 for a proper city umbrella. They look to be £125 now.

I still have that umbrella, today, and I still use it all the time. I’ve never taken any special care of it, and in fact have probably treated it more roughly than I ought to. Nevertheless, its ribs are still in good shape, the canopy is intact, and the mechanism for putting it up and down work just fine. It is one fine piece of rain-avoiding machinery, and it’s done much better than dozens of cheaper ones would have.

Thanks, James Smith. Quality craftmanship is worth it.

The brolly that won't quit


Places I’ve Lived

I’ve lived in a few places in my life; more than I thought I would end up doing, anyway.


Nova Scotia

Jan 1969 – Aug 1987: West Brook

A very small farming community in a small eastern Canadian province. Our family farm is there, and my family is still there farming it. Like a stupid kid I didn’t appreciate it enough when I was there, but I sure do now. I love going back to the peace and quiet and family.

Sep 1987 – Aug 1993: Halifax

The capital city of Nova Scotia, Halifax is where I did most of my university studies. It’s a port town, a navy town, an historic tourist destination, and home to one of the largest densities of drinking establishments in North America. It’s a simple place, but an easy place to have fun in. It got a makeover several years ago when it hosted a G8 summit and it’s been looking good ever since.


Sep 1993 – Apr 1994: Toronto

The biggest city in Canada, and the capital of the province (but not the nation) it’s in, Ontario. I was there only a short while, for grad school. Toronto is the world’s most ethnically diverse city, a mosaic of 5 million+ people from all around the world. It’s a bit like a big American city – sometime it wants to be – but with very few of the downsides like crime or extreme economic inequality. Sure, it’s got plenty of big-city problems, but not on the scale that usually happens for cities this size. It may be one of the least friendly places in Canada, but that still makes it very friendly. My brother and his wife have lived there for many years.

May 1994 – Oct 1995: Pembroke

I lived in this small northeastern Ontario city for a year and a half while doing my Master’s research at a nearby nuclear research facility. It’s known for its logging heritage. I can’t really say I enjoyed it that much.

Nov 1995: Deep River

I was here for just one month, as my lease in Pembroke ran out before I could move to Ottawa. Given that it’s a town made specifically to house nuclear physicists for nearby research facility I was glad I wasn’t there for longer. Interesting note: in David Lynch’s film Mulholland Drive, Naomi Watt’s character Betty is from here.

Dec 1995 – Jan 2001: Ottawa

I got a job and moved here, Canada’s capital city. As fate had it, some of my best friends in the world had moved there, too, so Ottawa was a lot of fun (they still live there). I lived in two different spots, both in centre town – one a big apartment tower, the other a nice spot in a duplex top unit on a leafy street. Like many capital cities it’s well taken care of: there are plenty of museums, green spaces, and festivals. The Rideau Canal makes for a great centrepiece in summer and winter. It’s a relatively quiet place, but it’s got everything you need, and seemed a good place to bring up kids. When I got to the end of my six years, though, I was ready to move.

United Kingdom

Feb 2001 – Oct 2009: London

London has it all: everything happens there, it’s got awesome history, the cuisine is tops, and there’s no better hopping-off place for travelling. Well, that is, until the economy went south. And getting around was expensive and, sometimes, painful. And the weather was sooo gloomy. But I never, ever got tired of London. If I had to move back I would not begrudge that ancient, lively, mysterious city at all. I lived in Hampstead (which is genteel and quite fancy), West Hampstead (which is just a bit rough around the edges), and Ealing (which was comfortable and independent). I still have amazing friends in London.


Nov 2009 – present: Sydney

Another great city. Its natural beauty – the harbour, the beaches, the nearby Blue Mountains – is breathtaking. So far I’ve lived in Cammeray (small hilltop enclave to the north), Neutral Bay (genteel family suburb on the north shore), and Marrickville (former Greek neighbourhood, then Vietnamese, now burgeoning yuppie hangout). It’s another city of recent immigrants, and has that energy, and that diversity of neighbourhoods that means you can always find something exciting. But it also feels like it’s resting on its laurels a bit, and needs to prove itself if it doesn’t want to be overtaken by the other Australian cities where things are growing.


Australia: one year and counting

On October 29th, 2009, my wife and I arrived in Australia. We had no jobs, we knew only one other person in Sydney, we had a place to live for just three weeks, and I’d never lived anywhere so hot or venomous.

When I say, “It’s worked out,” that’s an understatement.

We’ve both got good jobs, friends, a house, and a more outdoors and healthy lifestyle. We’re planting a backyard garden. I have a fun car. I’m going to concerts and plays and exhibits. I’m dipping my toe in the social media scene here. I have not been killed by a lethal animal (in fact I’ve not even seen a lethal animal, unless you count belligerent drunks in The Rocks).

As I’ve said before, the only real downside is distance from old friends and loved ones in London, Edinburgh, Ottawa, Toronto, and Nova Scotia. We do miss all of you. But we will see you again, sooner or later. We have room now, you know.

Thanks, Australia. Year 1 has been awesome, more so than any reasonable person might have predicted.