Opportunities, maybe


I’ve just about resolved in my mind I’ll be leaving this place, the main questions being how and when. I gave myself a fortnight to figure it out last weekend. I didn’t want to act impulsively and give myself time to consider the implications and options. If I was making the decision today it would be a done deal.

It’s a bit scary, but at the same time positively invigorating. I’ve never been afraid of taking a risk, and while it has led me into trouble a few times it’s also provided me with great opportunity and rewards on occasion. I’m very much a believer in having a go, in living boldly, in acting without regret. Just about the worst thing I can contemplate is getting to the point where I wonder what might have been if only I’d had a crack. For all my faults no-one can accuse me of being timid or afraid.

In this case I am also feeling encouraged. Nothing is certain but I feel as if there is a strong chance of stepping into another role much more interesting and lucrative. I speak of the vendor I’m working with implementing the chatbot. They regard me highly and have suggested if I move on then there may be opportunities either with them, or with one of their clients. I’m meeting with the CEO again next week.

Yesterday I met with their newly appointed relationship manager. When I first heard about his appointment I thought it less likely they would find a role for me. He’s only part-time but would be on decent coin. Potentially that means less to go around. I identified a couple of opportunities for them, with relationship management and business development being prime. That role is now covered, more or less. The other side of it is consulting, which is essentially non-existent in their business model, but a great opportunity.

I’m not crazy about consulting – or rather, I suspect I’m a bit over it. Still, I’m a prime candidate for it given my skillset, and it might be different in this scenario. I’ve been working on this project for about a year, the first six months of which was learning the ropes and basically reinventing the wheel. So much easier had there been a consultant by my side guiding and assisting and educating. That six months might have been concatenated into 6-8 weeks. I managed without and out of it have gained a lot of knowledge and have created a product which the RM yesterday was well ahead of the crowd.

It was an interesting meeting. He was smart and asked great questions and I was pretty candid with him. He told me how AI was a burgeoning market still well short of maturity, and I was in a great position to take advantage of that. He actively encouraged me to stick with it as a great vehicle to further my career. We discussed, in general terms, how advantageous it would be if there was a consulting arm of their business and agreed on how it would work.

I don’t know if the CEO has told him of my restlessness, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he had. Regardless, the meeting yesterday served to validate much of what we have done and encouraged me to believe that if I make the break that something more will be available.

It’s still not a done deal. I’ll size things up over the next week. I’ll meet with the CEO. I’ll see what happens here. Hoping though that I can leave with something good to go to. A holiday in between would make it perfect.

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The music that makes you


For months, it seems, everyone has been raving about the Queen movie, Bohemian Rhapsody. On the weekend I finally got to watch it myself.

Queen are one of those bands I grew up with. I wasn’t an early fan, but within a few years I remember raving over A Night at the Opera, which is a great album. I recall vividly when Bohemian Rhapsody came out as a single, extravagant and way over the top, and especially the music video that accompanied it. Come the eighties I was a pretty solid fan who owned a couple of albums by them. And it was pretty hard to ignore Freddie Mercury who, as his name suggests, was mercurial and talented and deliciously camp. You had to love.

That’s one of the things that comes out in the movie. At times he was a right proper arse, but overall he was a warm and endearing personality given to excess. That meant there were times he was frustrating and unreliable, but it also gave rise to his talent, and made him the affectionate and loving personality that he was. It’s the thing that probably killed him too.

I learned things in the film I hadn’t been aware of before, but basically it followed the arc of their career from fledgling days to the triumph at the Live Aid concert in 1985. For me, I was interested in the musical side. They had some great songs – my favourites being Love of My Life (beautiful and real), Somebody to Love (lush harmonies), and Under Pressure (w. David Bowie), but there were a dozen others nearly as good. They were a great band in an era when great bands were a thing, unlike now.

I reckon a lot of the positive vibes towards this film are thanks to musical memories and raw nostalgia. I get that. It was what got me. It was really well made and acted, a fond movie no matter that ultimately Freddie would die of AIDS off-screen. That’s what gave the movie its meaning though.

Before that I watched a documentary about Sam Cooke. Now he was well before my time, and died when I was only a few months old, but there came a time in my life that he was heavy on my soundtrack. I didn’t grow up with him but he informed my life at a formative time, from about the mid-eighties I guess. I don’t know what started it, but I suspect it was his smooth and simple crooning that affected me at a time when I was discovering all my romantic possibilities.

That’s the simple beauty of much of his music, a velvety, heartfelt voice expressing sentiments that everyone could connect with. They were elemental truths housed somewhere in the warm part of our soul. There were times in that period when I was a dreamy romantic and he was a guiding light who summed up my hearts desires so well.

But then there was another side of Sam Cooke. This documentary showed that very well – the entrepreneur, the activist, the fiercely intelligent and independent man who had a vision of a better world. He was a fascinating individual and might have become a great man besides a great artist had he lived. He died controversially, his name sullied, and it has been shrouded in mystery and outrage ever since – and for good reason.

When I came to him it was his romantic tunes like You Send Me, Wonderful World and Cupid that drew me in, but as I delved more deeply into his career I discovered his more serious compositions, great musically but profound in their message of hope. A Change is Goin to Come and Bring It On Home To Me are heart-rending classics.

It’s great music. I like Queen plenty, but if I were ever asked to choose then Sam Cooke would be one of those few dozen discs I would take with me to my desert island. (Marvin Gaye and Nick Drake would be a couple of others top of my head).

Bringing the walls down


So, last week caught up with my direct manager and after a bit of preamble spoke to her about what happens after I wrap up the project I’m on. I said I’d been in this job for over two years now and didn’t want to go back to what I was doing before. She said there was an opportunity ahead, though not until July, where there’ll be budget for a new function incorporating chat, social media, complain management, etc – basically all stuff I’ve either dome or designed processes for. Theoretically I’d be in the box seat to head it up.

At the back of my mind I’m thinking, and what happens for the rest of this financial year? – but she went on. You do great work, she said. The problem is that you’ve rubbed some people up the wrong way.

This is an old conversation she circles back to every time. I’ve come to think it’s her way of keeping me in my box. I understand in a way. I’m a forceful personality, generally sure of myself regardless who I’m speaking with. I also happen to be articulate and smart, and she’s trying to remind me you’re not perfect buster. Fair call, but I sense there’s something personal in it for her, as if those qualities in general are a threat to her.

Whatever the case I know there’s truth to what she says but, as I told her, I don’t really care.

I accept you’re never going to please everyone. I take the general view that if someone doesn’t like me it’s their problem. Of course there are exceptions to that, but it’s generally the case – it’s no good going about worrying what people think of you. I’ve come from far more robust environments than this one. I’m never nasty or abusive. I don’t harass anyone. I never make it personal. As she admitted, the worst I get is a little gruff with some people. Part of that is a focused, direct way of dealing with things, which is much more common in the corporate environments I’ve been part of. No-one bats an eyelid there (never, in my experience), and are grown up enough to get on with things regardless.

This is the least professional organisation I’ve ever worked for, on top of which I’m working to the side of a contact centre, and I’m prepared to accept that the culture of such places is much different from the general cut and thrust of what I’m used to. The other factor, perhaps, is that the times are different now.

Whatever, as I told her, if I’m gruff with someone it’s generally no accident. There’s a bunch of people here I have no respect for because of how they treat their staff. I have no time for them so my interactions are purely business. I’ve no interest in being more than that, and would feel a hypocrite if I acted differently. It’s worth bearing in mind that one of those people has since been suspended after complaints from her staff – so I’m imagining this.

The other lot I’m gruff with are those standing in the way of things, the people who obfuscate and shirk responsibility, who don’t return calls or don’t do what they promise to do. Mostly they’re in IT, and many of them senior to me. I don’t take no for an answer, I keep going and I’ve no doubt it annoys some people but in the end it pays off. As I’ve told my manager previously, the best way to get things done is to do them (something many people could learn). I’ve got no problem with people who do their job – but if you’re being paid to do something and you don’t then you’re fair game.

As I pointed out to her for the millionth time, you expect me to get results but haven’t given me the authority to make it easy. I can either accept that or press on, but you can’t have it both ways. If I do great work it’s because I don’t relent.

All of this, regardless of my rationalisations, was disappointing. I felt boxed up again, and in fact I’ve scheduled a meeting with HR to discuss it and put it on the table.

Beyond that I wonder where I’m heading here. I was given more encouragement yesterday from another source but it’s all terribly vague. The fact is I don’t like it here. It kills my vibe big time, especially when I’m trying my best to get things done and get frowned upon.

I’ve enjoyed the work I’ve done on the project I’m on, but frustrated always that the work I do is far in advance of the salary I’m on. There’s not a day I don’t feel exploited, which is a big part of the problem. And then I’m frustrated that while I deliver a really good project I’m not let into the plans about where this is heading, even though it would make the job easier, and I don’t get a response to my many queries. Ultimately, I’m frustrated that while this has been good I can do so much more, but am never given the opportunity to show it. In the end it all feels pretty small, and so do I.

I know I don’t want to live like this. You get so many years and what you get is a gift that can’t be squandered. I’m lucky that I’ve been made smart and strong and willing and I can’t let it sour in me. I made a lot of it before. I explored a lot and learnt much. I was a goer. Here I keep running into walls. Unless the walls come down I have to find somewhere else, but all this I’ll discuss with HR first.

Giving my brain a rest


I took the day off yesterday because I couldn’t face up to work. There’s been plenty of times I didn’t fancy work, but yesterday was purely physical.
As has been a common occurrence I got up in the morning, began my regular ablutions, then went back to bed to lay down. Every other time I’ve got up again 20 minutes later and, marginally less weary, have got myself ready and headed off to work – albeit later than usual. Yesterday I went back to bed and didn’t get up until nearly 10am.
I think I’m pretty close to being run-down, but I’m getting old, too. I’ve worked pretty solidly for the last two years, with only a couple of breaks in that – I have about seven weeks of leave accrued. Lately, even when I have taken days off, I’ve still been doing work in my own time, including after work and on weekends.
I need a really good holiday but I’ve been reluctant to commit to anything because I’ve got no money, because I’ve had no-one to look after Rigby even if I did manage to go away somewhere, and because I wanted to keep the leave up my sleeve just in case I needed to cash it out.

Realistically, even though I feel refreshed after doing nothing yesterday, this is only going to continue and get worse until I get away from it all. I need to freshen up properly.

Part of the problem is that I’m always on. Work is demanding, and then comes the weekend. Fine, except I never have a lazy weekend. I do whatever I need to do and then I sit down and write, Saturday and Sunday, and creative writing – let me tell you – uses a lot of brain wattage.
I’m very disciplined. Sometimes I don’t want to do it but I always do. The only time I don’t do it is when I’m away for some reason, which is fuck-all. And that’s the thing, if I’m tired I reckon most of it is mental tiredness because I so rarely let my mind simply idle.

Shit happens and it’s easily fixed. At the back of my mind I plan to take a week off maybe at the end of March and go up to a mates place in Mullumbimby. He’s been at me for a while to get up there and has a granny flat in his backyard I can stay in. It’s right next door to Byron Bay and there’s no more chilled place in Oz (and potentially on the globe) than there. I’ll still do my writing, but a change of scene makes a world of difference in my experience, and spending a few hours each day by the pool or cruising around Byron won’t hurt either.

I’m hoping to get a few things sorted before then, but will update on that later.

Saturday morning rituals


As much as I like to think myself a free spirit I am, like most people, a creature of habit. This is no more evident than on Saturday mornings.

It’s the end of the week and there is a mental reclining into the weekend. I wake, whenever, feed Rigby, make a coffee, and go back to bed where I catch up with things – Facebook and Twitter, the newspapers, and whatever book of non-fiction I’m reading at that time (fiction is for bedtimes).

Somewhere between 9 and 10 I’ll get out of bed and get myself ready for the day ahead. Sometimes that includes a walk for Rigby, though mostly I leave that for later. It always means a trip to the local shops at Hampton for my weekly shopping.

I enjoy this. In fact, I look forward to it. Maybe it’s because it’s such a simple thing. All week I’ve been catching the train to and from work, and in the office have done battle (truer than just a throwaway line). The simple task of shopping for groceries at my cosy local shops is a form of mental cleansing. So off I go.

I’m pretty organised. I have a fair idea each week of what I’m going to buy. About 80% of my shopping is to plan – replacing things I’ve run out of, the weekly staples like bread and milk, and the ingredients I’ve identified for my cooking in the week ahead.

I walk around with about ten recipes in my head I plan to make. Depending on what I feel like and the weather will determine which recipes I select for the week ahead, though generally one will certainly be meat, and hopefully another meat-free. The recipes I browse each week on sites like the NYT, and some I will add to an app on which I’ve got stored about a thousand recipes of all types. I’ve made about 300 of them.

So when I go out I have in mind what I will make and the ingredients I need to make them. Mostly these recipes are new to me and I’ll rate them afterwards. Most recipes score a three, but it’s my hope to get about a hundred recipes with a rating above that which will be the staple of my diet going forward. That’s a fair way off – I’m an adventurous cook and a fussy one, and I’ve got no more than twenty odd recipes that score that well.

So I set out. Occasionally I’ll catch up for a coffee with Cheeseboy on my way, but mostly I’ll head directtly to the shops.

I’ll know if it’s going to be a big shop or a small shop. If it’s a small shop I’ll take the red cloth shopping bag I bought in Hong Kong fifteen years ago. It has memories for me, not just from when I bought it – from the markets on the far side of the island – but of the many occasions I’ve used it, and how, once, mum repaired it for me.

If it’s a big shop I’ll take with me the very sturdy L.L.Bean canvas bag. It holds a shitload, as they say, and can bear a greater burden than I’ve yet tested it with.

First stop is the supermarket. I’ll be about half an hour in there buying my groceries. Next stop is the greengrocer. Most of my meat and vegies I buy from Vic Market during the week, but often I’ll need to supplement my stores with something extra. Finally, I get my weekend bread. Mostly it’s from Baker’s Delight, which embarrasses me some, though it’s adequate bread at a reasonable price. Sometimes I’ll walk a bit further and across the railway line to the French bakery. Sometimes I’ll pick up some artisan bread from the greengrocer. Regardless, there’s always bread of some type – a baguette, something sourdough, maybe some Turkish bread, or something grainy and/or seeded (today it’s Turkish rolls). There’s always bread though, that’s my ritual too.

I’ll head back then. If I’m bold or have some loose change I might stop for a coffee somewhere, but mostly it’s straight home.

At home, I’ll unpack the food while listening to music (today it’s Peter Gabriel). Recently I’ve got in the habit of including a milk drink in my shopping and will drink that while I put things away and then, once that’s done, cleaning the kitchen proper, to cap off the routine.

At some stage, I’ll make myself a sandwich and sit down in front of this thing to catch up with my emails, check out some recipes, browse some music. Today I’ve interrupted that routine, but not broken it. Now it’s back to the kitchen for the cleanup.

Wilting


For two days running now we’ve had no air-conditioning in my corner of the office. Both days have been 30 degrees and muggy, and combined with a crowded office and the heat coming off monitors it’s made for a fetid and uncomfortable workplace. Small compensation has been a portable air-con running, much too small for such an area, and the provision of icy slurpees each morning. By the end of yesterday I was feeling utterly drained, and my shirt was limp with perspiration.
It all adds up, this. You get home and fire up the air-conditioning and it’s nice, but then you go to bed and your rest is incomplete and you return to work weary, only to find once more the air-con is off.

Where I sit gets the worst of it, right on the corner facing the sun, and today quite a few people have decamped to sit at vacant desks on the other side of the building. It’s a bit like a ghost town this area.

I worked late in these conditions last night before heading off to a nearby bar after work with one of the girls here. We sat on a rooftop sipping on cold beers while the dark clouds gathered overhead and the distant rumble of thunder could be heard. After three beers the thunder was closer and we left. I was glad to go. I like a drink and all that but I was fading and wanted to get home before the rain – tipped to be a month’s worth – tumbled down proper.

Lightning streaked across the sky while I waited at Richmond station for a connecting train and rain – much less than forecast – began to fall. Fortunately the rain had eased off by the time I got off at Hampton station, and started again almost the instant I walked in my front door. I didn’t get a drop on me.

I’ve got things to report, etc, but am too tired and apathetic right now to comment. Will get to it.

Looking towards the Ashes


I’ve got a friend who’s a cricket fan, but who’s so depressed with the condition of Australian cricket over the last 12 months that he won’t read a word of what I write about it. I know plenty of others like that, disillusioned and disappointed by the events last year that they still can’t come at the Australian team.
I had a twitter conversation with one of these people recently, a political journalist in Canberra. I understood his perspective completely, I told him, but couldn’t he find a way to support a revamped, and hopefully reformed, Australian team? I urged upon him Tim Paine, a paragon of fair minded and mature leadership and he agreed with me, finally conceding that he would come around to it – just not yet.

No-one was more disappointed than me with what happened in Capetown. I know that’s a cliché, but fair dinkum, the outrage was raw and spontaneous, just as it was for thousands of others. This is something others struggle to understand, and perhaps that’s fair, perhaps there’s some wilful hypocrisy in such belief – but from day dot I was brought to believe there would be no more fearsome competitor than an Australian, but that at end of the day it would remain true to that great Australian dictum ‘hard but fair’. That meant, among other things, that after going at it hammer and tongs on the field all day it was all good to catch up for a social beer after it.

In retrospect I figure those golden days were long gone, and it was all a bit of a fondly held fantasy – though I still believe in the basic principle. While it always made eminent sense to us, to many of our opponents, coming from entirely different cultures, I suspect it was all a confounding nonsense. It was one of those tropes we innocent Australian supporters held dearly to, so that when we were shown to have transgressed it came as a shock to our mentality. That’s why the reaction was so extreme, why the penalties were stiff – they not only betrayed the sport, they betrayed our dearly held notions of Australian self.

I was one of those ready to move on once the penalties were handed down. In fact, I’m happy at the concept of rehabilitation, of – to abuse another famous Aussie dictum – giving the transgressors a ‘fair go’. I wrote in the heat of battle last year that Smith should never play for Australia again. That’s too harsh I think. He has his penalty, once completed he’s welcome to return to the team – though never as captain. I think he was a poor leader regardless of this controversy, but I think this episode should bar him from future leadership. That’s where the line should be drawn.

Now the banned players are poised to become available again, just in time for the World Cup and Ashes tour of England. Smith and Warner should almost be automatic selections, and even Bancroft, given performance. Should be a chance. There’s no doubt in my ever combative Australian mind that we can win both competitions, and that’s what I want.

The availability of these players raises selection questions. Australia finished the summer on a high having easily disposed of a weak Sri Lankan team.

There were some outstanding performances in those tests. Cummins continued his rise superstardom. Head, promising all summer, finally cracked it for his maiden test century. Likewise Khawaja, disappointing much of the summer, got a hundred in what was a virtual dead innings. And Starc finally returned to form with devastating effect.

What was encouraging though was the performance of newcomers. The Australian selectors finally bowed to public pressure and reinstated Burns to the team, and he promptly got a hundred. An injury to Hazlewood gave a fortuitous opportunity to Jhye Richardson, who performed very well. He’s a clever bowler who aims at the stumps and can swing the ball at pace – he’ll be perfect in English conditions. And Kurtis Patterson finally got his chance, and promptly scored a hundred too.

I’ve been a rap for Patterson for a while. I think he’s just the player we need to balance out our line-up. He’s got good technique and a good head on his shoulders. He’s patient too, something we’ve lacked. My only disappointment was that Will Pucovski, perhaps the next great Australian batsman, was denied his chance.

Much can happen before we head off to England, and there’s still a few rounds of Shield cricket to have a bearing on selection – things can change – but here’s my squad:

Warner

Burns

Khawaja

Smith

Head

Patterson

Paine

Cummins

Starc/Richardson

Hazlewood

Lyon

Stoinis

Pucovski

Handscomb/Wade

Worrall/Pattinson

Labuschagne

Harris

There’s a couple too many players there. I think one of Starc and Richardson will be selected in the starting eleven according to conditions and form. I suspect Pucovski won’t be picked. I’ve got one either of Handscombe or Wade will be picked as back-up batting/wicket-keeping. One either of Worrall or Pattinson – Worrall can swing the ball big time, and we know what Pattinson can do if fit. His Shield form will be telling. Tremain is stiff. Labuschagne because he’s an incumbent, and because he’s the only other spinner besides Lyon. And Harris as back-up opener, making way for Warner.

Maxwell might be an option, except the selectors have put a line through him. Will be interested in the final squad selected. It’s a pretty good first eleven though. England beware!