23rd March 2017
Ran my first marathon (Kirikiriroa) in a couple of years last weekend. Was hampered by quite severe stomach cramps and nausea in the second half of the race. Turned into an exercise in survival towards the end. Never underestimate the power of a marathon to test you to the limit of your physical and mental capacity.
Got teh medal though….
26th January 2017
I have been teaching my children how to play chess. I used to play at a reasonably high level when I was younger, and look forward to getting back to that level when I am older and have more time. As far as the children are concerned I can’t think of a better pastime. Brain exercise, social interaction, and time away from smartphones…
3rd January 2017
We have just returned from Hawkes Bay, where we camped for 3 nights in our friends back garden in Taradale. Luxury camping! This sounds a bit mad, but I actually prefer sleeping in a tent as opposed to sleeping in a house, as long as I have a mattress to lie on (not a big fan of airbeds). I love being able to hear the weather around me and in addition, there are a lot less allergens in a tent than in a house. This is good for me , who is allergic to both cats and house dust mite. The only downside was that it was pouring on the morning that I had to take the tent down…
1st December 2016
Over the past 3 months I have been on a 5 week road trip from LA to NY with my family, then on a 3 week trip to Europe with my two oldest children, visiting Ireland, Scotland, and France. Far from being refreshed and reinvigorated, I am now completely exhausted!
Really glad it is Christmas coming up. The holiday season in NZ is Decmber and January, so work is often quite a bit quieter. Which is just as well, as I have used up all my leave!
The good thing about all the long distance travelling is that I have almost accumulated enough Airpoints to take the family to the Pacific Islands, maybe next Easter.
31st August 2016
Getting ready to go a road trip with the family across the USA next weekend. It is a military operation organising a family of 7 to get to LA and then work their way across the US to NY. I doubt it will all be plain sailing. I will post intermittent updates from the trip on this page.
Looking forward to some much needed time off work!
16-20th June 2016
In Boston for the ASM/Microbe conference. Plenty of history here, what with the American Independence movement, the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre etc.. Managed to walk most of the “Freedom Trail” in between lectures. Other things I noted about Boston was that it was very warm, the shopkeepers were not that friendly and the cost of food was just as expensive as New Zealand. But overall I enjoyed it, and would definitely go back there in the future to see more of the city.
I have started refereeing some soccer games for my son’s team. I am actually quite enjoying it! They are only 12 and 13 year olds so the competition is not too serious. And being thick skinned, I am completely oblivious to calls/appeals from parents on the sidelines.
However, I will need to get myself a digital watch so I don’t need to improvise the half-time and full-time whistles. You probably wouldn’t get away with that in the Premier League!
26th May 2016
At work I have taken on a few too many presentations and data analyses recently. As a result I have had to spend a few too many hours in the office. My office (or cubicle) is not big enough to sit a guest so I am thus getting a bit claustrophobic.
I have made a mental note to clear the decks for the next few weeks, stop accepting so much “voluntary work” and get out of the office more.
Otherwise I will go stir crazy!
23rd May 2016
Fantastic Mr Fox
My son Shaun (the middle one of five) had a rough start in life. Born with a serious congenital heart defect, Tetralogy of Fallot, he needed emergency open heart surgery at the age of three months. Several more minor operations later, as well as a couple of broken bones, he is now in good health, and has developed a compassionate and inquisitive personality and a resilience which has undoubtedly been moulded by his previous experiences.
Underestimate him at your peril…
He is doing well at school, very well. Now aged 7 he is currently reading Roald Dahl books at home, such as fantastic Mr Fox. So it was a little surprising when he was sent home from school with “Learn to Read” books which he had mastered long, long ago.
When my wife questioned the teacher about this, she was told that his reading level had not been assessed yet (more than 3 months into the school year). I analogise this to my days as a junior doctor. Every day you needed to know which “level” your 20-30 patients were at, whether they needed more intensive care or whether they were ready for discharge. Not to do so was not an option. Not sure why the same principles, and responsibilities, don’t apply to teaching.
Anyway, I considered following up with the teacher regarding this, and then I thought “Well, why bother”. Shaun is doing well. We know it and he knows it. What difference would it make the teacher knowing it as well…
Frankly I have bigger fish to fry, and by the looks of it, so too will Shaun…
16th May 2016
After disappearing for 2 whole weeks, one of our three cats, La-la, reappeared, looking a lot thinner and covered in cobwebs.
We think she had probably been locked in a neighbours shed, and managed to get out when the lawns were due to be cut again…
Cats have an amazing capacity for survival.
11th May 2016
I had to take a sick day yesterday due to a bad headache, and being unable to function properly. It must be my first sick day for a few years… I hate being off sick. I think this stems from when my parents would only let me stay off school sick if I was unable to move! It seems to have installed a good work ethic in me.
9th May 2016
I sat my first French exam in over a quarter of a century at the weekend. Looking to objectify and document my endeavours in learning the French language over the past few years, I went up to Auckland to sit the DELF diploma, and I was nervous! The exam was split up into reading, writing, listening and speaking. Reading was my best component. The speaking could have been better, but what with the nerves and getting up at 3 am to drive up to the exam, I didn’t quite do myself justice on that section.
Overall I think the exam went fine though and hopefully I can work my way up through the DELF levels over the next 18 months.
I will just have to find a good excuse to use my French now…
6th May 2016
For the first time ever, I have agreed to take up a role of assistant coach for my son’s football team (or soccer as they call it here in NZ).
It was not without significant prodding. Challenging authority comes much more naturally to me than being the authority.
I will probably resemble Brian Clough in my management style, fingers crossed I can produce similar results!
4th May 2015
Did some road trip planning for the US with the children. The reality will probably be very different. Good geography education for them.
2nd May 2016
Did some planning with the children for our trip across the US. Here is a very rough sketch of our plans. The reality will probably be completely different.
For September this year, I have just booked plane tickets for my family from NZ to Los Angeles, then returning from New York 5 weeks later. How the seven of us are going to traverse the US remains to be seen, but best not think about the detail just yet! The tickets are booked, which is the most important thing.
26th April 2016
Trip with the family to MOTAT (Museum of Transport and Technology) in Auckland this weekend. Excellent place and they are making big efforts to modernise it with new exhibitions. The only snag is that it is in Auckland where the traffic congestion is horrendous, even at the weekend. Dinner in Mexicali in Ellerslie and home by 10pm. Long but enjoyable day.
22nd April 2016
I have wandered back to this long-neglected part of the website, and resolve to get it back up and running….
This is a photo from the microbiology laboratory at Rotorua, one of the laboratories where I work. The steam is from a large geothermal area not more than 100m from the lab. There cannot be many medical laboratories in the world situated next door to a geothermal park. And I am sure it is the only laboratory in the world where the toilets in the basement are always warm due to the geothermal pool sitting directly underneath it!
2nd February 2016
My wife’s parents kindly looked after the five children so that we could get away for a weekend in Auckland. It was the first time in many years that we have been childfree for a few days.
It was bliss!
12th January 2016
Played Cluedo for the first time in decades last night with the family. Excellent game. I was going well until I realised I had crossed off all the murder weapons… Oops. They don’t make games like Cluedo any more.
7th January 2016
Parents in Law
It is great to have my wife’s parents over at the moment visiting from Scotland. Hope the weather is good for them!
1st January 2016
New Years Resolutions
- Get book published!
- Drive across USA.
- Do another ultramarathon.
- Keep working on my French.
- Get back to Paris, even if it is just for a holiday!
21st November 2015
Staples Rodway Challenge
Can’t believe it is two months since I last wrote on this page. Just completed a 32km off-road trail event in Hawkes Bay, which is my first event after a long term injury lay-off. Fantastic scenery, and it even included a river swim, which I wasn’t expecting. Swimming in a cold river with running shoes and backpack on after 25km and not having swum a stroke for 5 yrs… Well it was a real challenge, but managed to survive!
10th September 2015
Due to chronic insomnia I have decided to give up caffeine. So from 4-5 cups per day I went cold turkey on Monday and have been caffeine free for 4 days now. I had headaches and “bowel disturbance” for the first couple of days, but coming right now, and most importantly sleeping better.
It is likely however that my alcohol consumption will increase as a consequence.
5th September 2015
Played my first game of monopoly in about quarter of a century. It was the “James Bond version” but the principles and rules are the same as the traditional game. It is great that my two oldest children are now old enough to play this with us. There were no fights, but this was probably only because we had to throw the towel in and go to bed before the game got really interesting!
Not content with locking the carkeys in the boot (see 29th July), I then proceeded to lose them during a short morning run around the Mount. Many enquiries to police stations and information centres followed, along with a complete re-tracing of my steps on the run, without success. The keys were eventually handed in to the local police station in the afternoon, much to my relief!
My 4 yr old son was found in the bathroom shaving yesterday. Instead of shaving foam he used Clarins face cream. And he even had a couple of shaving cuts for his trouble!
My wife left the boot of the car below open at the weekend. I walked by and shut it, not realising that the car keys were still inside! When we bought the car it only came with one key. It took the AA mechanic almost an hour to get acess to the car. Will go and get another key cut today…..
The family got a second car a couple of weeks ago. Ferrying the seven of us around in the one car was becoming logistically very difficult so we bit the bullet and bought a wee 13yr old VW beetle. It was a private sale and we were a little dismayed to find steam and hissing from the bonnet on driving it home straight after buying it! Not to worry, it was a minor coolant leak, which we got fixed and all well now. I like beetles, they have a bit of character. I also liked the fact that it was the last car that should be considered when you have a large family!
22nd June 2015
Had a fire break out in our BBQ a few days ago. Months of not being cleaned must have resulted in a build-up of fat. When I came outside after buttering the rolls in the kitchen, the flames were shooting up into the air. Fortunately I was able to turn the gas cylinder off and grab a hose nearby. Could have been lot worse. Will clean the BBQ after use in future.
12th June 2015
Fifa World Cup
Took a couple of my sons to the Waikato stadium to see New Zealand play Portugal in the last 16 of the Fifa U20 world cup soccer, which is being hosted in NZ. What a good game! The Portugese players were small, thin, fast and skillful, whilst the NZ players were big, strong, but maybe not so technically gifted. However both sides played some good football and NZ were unlucky to have been edged out by a goal in the last 5 minutes, the final score being 2-1. Portugal go on to play Brazil in the quarter finals. Great experience for the children.
4th June 2015
Now setting the alarm for 5.15am in order to get all the children out to school and kindergarten in the morning. Looking after the 6 month old baby and the 4 month old puppy takes time as well.
On Saturdays we get a lie in to 6am, but still need to get up for children’s sports.
By Sunday we are shattered and usually take it in turns for an afternoon nap!
29th May 2015
After 2 years using a pot to boil water for a coffee, we finally got round to buying a kettle, a “Warehouse Special”
The children have been so long without a kettle, they didn’t even know what it was called. They have been calling it “The Coffee Maker”!
We are now looking at Bedside Tables which may well take another two years..
20th May 2015
Went to see a stand-up comedian last night, Ed Byrne, an Irish comic who is doing a tour of New Zealand at the moment. It is the first time in about 20 years that I have been to see a comedian, which probably explains why I am so grumpy.
It was a great show. The language was gratuitous, but then he is a stand-up comedian after all, and it goes with the territory. On the other hand, I work as a healthcare professional and have a young family, so my language is heavily censored. He might only work 2 hours a night, but I certainly don’t envy his job.
15th May 2015
Interesting Bus Ride
Got the bus yesterday from the town centre up to an open day at a school my son might be going to next year. En route, a youth sat down beside me, reeking of alcohol and promptly started hastling me, accusing me of being a “cop”. The intimidation gradually got more aggressive over the next few minutes. By this stage I was getting actively jostled and the language became more threatening. Putting my “Belfast” survival instincts into gear, I decided that this particular bus journey was just not worth the risk and got off, necessitating a taxi ride to complete the journey to the school.
I blame my new clothes from Marks and Spender, which must have made me look posh! Next time I will sit close to the driver with the little old ladies!
It reminded me of a quote from one of my relatives. “I have no problems with Public Transport, it is just the public that is the problem….”
4th May 2015
Back to reality
On my first night back in NZ from Europe the jetlag kicked in and I was up wide awake at 2am. I decided to get up, but on walking out of the bedroom door I stood on something squelchy….
It turned out to be a dead mouse. One of our cats must have left it as a coming home present for me.
I had a cup of coffee and at 3am decided to fold away some washing from the laundry. Whilst I was unravelling a sock a large wasp appeared from it and promptly stung me on my little finger.
The children then appeared with the new puppy around 4am.
Back to reality!
On returning to Belfast from Copenhagen I popped into a souvenir shop at the airport to buy a fridge magnet. Costing 40 Danish Krones, I used my credit card. It came up as 40 Krones on the cash register, but on the machine where you put your credit card in, it said 400 Krones (about NZ$80)
An accident?, or possibly a scam on unsuspecting tourists?
Quite possibly. I am glad I noticed anyhow, otherwise it would have been one of the most expensive fridge magnets ever!
26th April 2015
In Copenhagen for the ECCMID conference at the moment. Copenhagen seems like a nice city but the weather has been lousy. I have caught up with a few old colleagues from Glasgow which has been great.
I went to a conference dinner at Copenhagen Aquarium last night, “The Blue Planet”. We were given a tour of the aquarium. Atlantic Fish are definitely not as colourful as Pacific ones! After the promotional talks by the sponsoring company, we had a nice dinner. Sitting beside me was a German who spoke very little English but we got on well nevertheless, and an Italian who has been working in a BSL4 lab with Ebola. Even though I didn’t know anyone on the excursion, it was a very enjoyable and interesting evening.
23rd April 2015
In the City Centre in Belfast today. It is looking great. A big change from when I was younger, when car/van/lorry bombs were all too regular and the city centre was often a bit of a mess, and a no-go area at night.
A double decker bus in Belfast city centre. These were not in use when I was young due to the risk of petrol bomb attacks etc. Good to see them again.
22nd April 2015
I have been to many zoos throughout the world and I have to say that Belfast zoo is up there amongst the best. I was last here over 30 years ago and the old cages have long since been replaced by spacious enclosures for the animals. The information given on each animal is interesting and there is a strong focus on conservation. Was very impressed.
21st April 2015
Spent a few hours with my Mum in the Marks and Spencers department store in Belfast. Not having bought any clothes for myself for several years, I was down to my last pair of threadbare trousers, an old pair of trainers with holes in them and a few faded T-shirts. Therefore a few new garments were much in need.
M&S is a British institution, and they have been kitting out the middle classes for generations. Still, the quality of the clothes they sell is pretty good, and hopefully my new supplies will do me for another decade.
20th April 2015
On the road again.
Have just arrived in Belfast, Northern Ireland for a visit to my parents. The journey was not without incident with the domestic flight between Tauranga and Auckland being cancelled due to thunderstorms, thus necessitating a bus journey and a very narrow check in window to catch the flight to LA. On the flight from LA to London I met a family whose children had gone to the same school as my son in Paris. A small world indeed!
Looking forward to spending a few days in my country of birth before heading off to Copenhagen for the ECCMID conference.
This is our new puppy, “Wagster”, who will be arriving into the household in a couple of weeks time when he is old enough. Like pianos, nobody in the family has ever had a dog before, so it will be a steep learning curve for us.
He will add to the general chaos of the household!
We picked up a free piano that was being given away by a piano rental company. I think it sounds pretty good actually. However my non-musical ear would not really know the difference. Nobody knows how to play it yet, so we are all having a bash and working through the beginner books on learning to play. It will be a while before anyone is playing Eine Kleine Nacht music on it. Nevertheless it is good entertainment, and provides another excuse not to do any housework
Did my first running event post-ultra, a half marathon through the Redwoods forest at Rotorua. The distance was no problem, given I had run over 4 times that over much tougher terrain a few weeks before. However my legs had no speed in them, being much more used recently to energy conserving plodding. So I am going to do a few shorter distances over the next few months, and try and do them a bit faster, before I get too old to run fast.
7th March 2015
The family went to a Scottish Ceilidh dance this evening. Large range of dancing abilities present, a few even worse than me. I used to be a really shy dancer, probably because of my limited abilities. Now I no longer care! Great evening. even my 5 yr old was up dancing.
9th February 2015
Ran my first ultra-marathon on Saturday, a gruelling 85km over the hills and around the lakes from Rotorua to Kawerau. The nervous anticipation had been building over the past few weeks and I was hoping the rather patchy training I had put in would be sufficient. The day started at 6am with over 1000 other slightly insane but very excited ultra-runners at the Redwoods Forest. I seemed to be surrounded by hundreds of extremely thin fit looking people which made me wonder “What am I doing here?” It was the first time I had ever run with a headlamp on, which I guess showed what an amateur I was compared to some of the others.
The event started with a Maori powhiri and we were off into the darkness. The first 20k was fairly straightforward. By the time I hit 40k the legs were starting to tire due to the incessant hills. The period between 45k and 55k were the most difficult of the whole race for me. It also happened to be the most technically difficult stage of the event, with lots of fallen tree trunks to clamber over. With feet that would not do what I told them to, I was stumbling a lot, with several close shaves. At 52k my luck ran out and I tripped and fell, grazing my hands and knees. Somewhat shaken from this I walked for a few minutes then started back into a slow run, relieved to reach the aid station a couple of km later. 55-60k went better and when I reached the 60k mark at Tarawera it was nice to know I would have a medal around my neck no matter what. 60-70k was a long slow ascent which seemed to take forever, and probably did. I am not a big talker during long runs, but chatting to a few fellow runners at this stage definitely took my mind off the pain. At 70k, a decision had to be made whether to complete the 85k or to turn off on a loop and go for 100k. A friend from the running club tried to talk me into the 100k but I was having none of it! My legs were shot and I would have been in a very messy condition by the end of 100k. The last 15k were fairly flat and I managed a slow shuffle to the finish line in Kawerau, approximately twelve and a half hours after I started. (The winner did the course in 7hr 44 min which was a ridiculous time given the terrain we were going over!)
Even though it was painful at times, I thoroughly enjoyed the event. The volunteers were great and the scenery in this part of NZ is stunning. Interestingly, and in contrast to the two previous road marathons I had done, I knew straightaway that I wanted to do it again next year, and hopefully train for the 100k….
23rd Januray 2015
Spent a few very enjoyable days down in Wellington with the family. We visited the Te Papa museum, the zoo, the NZ parliament buildings, travelled on a cable car, visited the Botanic Gardens and had a few meals out. The weather, which can be a bit unpredictable in Wellington was fantastic. It was great to experience a bit of culture. Tauranga, where we live, can be a bit of a cultural desert at times…
18th January 2015
Ran further today than I have ever done in my life before, a training run for the Tarawera Ultra. Then back to the house for several hours of housework and looking after children.
16th January 2015
Made a barbeque lunch for 20 people today. Not bad for an Irishman. It is too early to say whether any illness has ensued.
15th January 2015
Not having had a dishwasher in previous lives in Belfast and Glasgow, it has taken me a few years to get used to this cutting edge technology. However I am now getting used to them and have adapted a few simple rules for their use.
- Make sure the dishes are thoroughly washed before putting them into the dishwasher.
- Avoid bowls at all costs. Having your cereal on a plate is preferable to putting a bowl in the dishwasher.
- Always use the shortest time setting, as if this does not work, as there is no correlation between time in the system and success.
14th January 2015
The loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
You know you are training for an ultra-marathon when you are doing marathon distance for training runs…..
Did a 44k run on Monday and you could probably count the number of people that know this on the fingers of one hand.
It can be lonely but I don’t mind. I run for me. I am not anti-social but I generally prefer running by myself. I like self-motivation. On long runs, the encouragement of others seems to have little effect on me.
I am also sure there is a huge amount of psychology in completing an ultramarathon. I am visualising the pain, running through the pain, and the finishing line. We will find out in three weeks but starting to get very psyched up!
9th January 2015
A teenager sat down beside me on the bench at the Strand at lunchtime. She took out her Smartphone and photographed her Shushi and Smoothie lunch. The (rather unexciting) picture was undoubtedly destined for her myriad of Facebook Friends. She then spent the next 15 minutes texting away on her phone.
Meanwhile I finished off my sausage roll, drank my can of coke, and continued reading my paperback book.
The generation gap was quite evident!
8th January 2015
Have lots of vegetables growing in the garden, potatoes, turnips, beetroot, courgettes, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, sweetcorn, pumpkin, lettuce and plenty of herbs also. I am not very green fingered but it is something I enjoy and get a little bit better at each year.
When I come home from work I bypass my family, and go straight out to the garden so I can talk to my vegetables, and ask them how their day was…
7th January 2015
Spent last night in the tent in the garden with some of the children. As I was not being woken up by the baby every couple of hours, I had my best sleep in ages!
My wife’s father left NZ to return to Scotland today. He will not be sleeping so well for a day or two!
5th January 2015
Happy New Year!
What a year 2014 was. Finishing off in Paris and spending last New Years Day skiing in the Scottish Highlands, we then returned to New Zealand, buying a new house a few months later. I had a tremendous trip to Europe in April for a conference in Barcelona, then visiting labs in Germany, England and Holland. No rest for the wicked. In November, the arrival of Albie, our 5th child has drained whatever energy we have had left. Fortunately help was at hand with the arrival of my father in law from Scotland, and we had a great family Christmas at home.
2015 promises to be a cracker as well. My first ultramarathon comes up next month, although not sure how far I will get with that as training hampered by injury. In April I have another trip to a conference in Copenhagen and a visit to my parents in Belfast. Hopefully will get away on a family holiday later on in the year.
On the work side of things, we are moving into a brand new purpose built lab in late 2015, with one of the most advanced microbiology processing platforms in the world being installed. I forecast a busy year ahead!
25th December 2014
After opening the Christmas presents and going to Christmas Mass, the family went down to the playpark at the Strand in Tauranga. I happened to wander over to the waterfront. I was then lucky enough to spot a large stingray swimming along the shoreline. We walked along beside it for a few minutes, very excited! This will not be a Christmas we forget in a hurry!
24th December 2014
Have just completed my Christamas shopping, a couple of hours before the shops close. Compared to usual, I have plenty of time to spare this year! Looking forward to the Christmas break.
22nd December 2014
My oldest son has just developed a classical chickenpox rash, and three days before Christmas! Maybe Santa will bring him an extra present to make up for it. As none of the other children have had chickenpox, I expect it to spread through the family like wildfire. …
19th December 2014
I have seen a lot of perfect Christmas trees on Facebook recently, trees where people have spent hours, if not days decorating them.
Not this one.
Our tree was erected and decorated in 10 minutes flat, including lights. It has a slight lean to the right, but it adds to the character I think. It is also surrounded by children’s debris strewn across the floor.
We all love it nevertheless. It symbolises the real world, not a perfect one.
17th December 2014
When the first baby comes along, all is new and unknown, and everything has to be perfect. It is certainly stressful. When the 5th one comes along, you have seen all of it before. Nothing is perfect, and you realise that nothing needs to be, even for babies. It is still stressful, sure, but not as much as for baby number 1, and the stress is usually caused by exhaustion.
Combining work work with house work, regularly putting in 17 hour days at the moment. The stress might be inversely proportional to the number of babies but the fatigue is additive. And it is all relative when I think about my wife, and wonder how she does it…
Looking forward to three weeks holiday from work after Christmas. Hopefully some long sunny days on the beach to recharge the batteries.
16th December 2014
PrioritiesMy apologies for this website being out of action for the past few weeks. The baby (Albie) arrived, just a couple of days late, but then had to spend a few days in the Special Care Unit with an infection. All is well now, but it has taken a few weeks to get back to normal.
Simultaneously to the above, the website went down with technical problems and it has taken until now to get round to fixing it. With 5 young children, I have to grab an hour here and there to do this, usually in the middle of the night when everyone else is sleeping!
25th November 2014
A post on this section of the website is well overdue so time to catch up. My wife is due today, but no sign of anything happening as yet. I was a bit nervous about going down to Wellington yesterday for a meeting, in case anything should happen, but it didn’t….
The meeting yesterday was interesting. A meeting consisting of 15+ people is always going to be difficult with regards to making decisions, but the side benefits were a chance to catch up with a lot of my colleagues nationally during the breaks. Not to mention the flights to and from Wellington had sensational views. Domestic flights in NZ are often like that. The trip itself can be every bit as good as the destination.
Tom, my father in law is over visiting from Scotland just now. He is a great help with various jobs that needed doing around the house, which were well overdue.
19th October 2014
You might like to know that I build this website on a laptop that is held together with sellotape. It has a small ant colony living inside it, coming out to gather the crumbs spilt by its users. Not all the keys on the keyboard work, but most of the important ones do.
The perils of sharing your laptop with 4 young children…
16th October 2014
Unfortunately 6 months of my posts on this page have been lost due to technical difficulties. Don’t worry, you haven’t missed much.
9th March 2014
Redwoods Half Marathon Rotorua
Some days you can run forever, others you can hardly go a few hundred yards. Fortunately today was one of the former and I managed to set a personal best for the half marathon. Of course it is all relative. In running as with many other things, there are always people on a different level from yourself. Still the buzz you get from a good run makes all the training worthwhile…
8th March 2014
My youngest son needed to go to the emergency department today to get a few stitches in his head after a fall. I used to enjoy stitching up patients when I worked in ED in Glasgow many years ago. (The lacerations were often scalp wounds secondary to Buckfast bottles.)
Stitches are not so much fun when it’s your own child however!
3rd March 2014
Was in a cafe for lunch with the family yesterday when an elderly lady a couple of places in front of me suddenly collapsed to the floor. She literally dropped like a stone. Tried to remember as much of of my first aid and life support courses as I could, but don’t get much practice these days working in the lab… She was still unconscious by the time the ambulance arrived to take her to hospital. I hope she makes it OK.
25th February 2014
We have been TV free in the household for quite a few months now. After a few weeks the children forgot all about the TV. Moreover they talk and play with each other now, and most of the time they are out in the street on their scooters and bikes, or in the garage playing with their toys. The way it should be.
Click here for a great poem about TV by Roald Dahl.
21st February 2014
Have been getting the bus in and out of work over the past couple of weeks. Have enjoyed so far as it gives me a chance to catch up on some reading and there are always a few entertaining characters on the journey.
Today was not so enjoyable however. The driver, seemingly wound up about something, drove increasingly erratically as the journey progressed. Gesturing to other drivers, driving over corner kerbs and not slowing over speed bumps made for an interesting journey.
I now see why New Zealanders love their cars so much…
19th February 2014
Have just entered the murky world of false niceties, little white lies and strong nerves as we look to buy a house in New Zealand. I am probably the world’s worst negotiator so I very much depend on my wife to prevent me from blowing tens of thousands of dollars unnecessarily….
15th February 2014
It was the caravan demolition derby at Baypark Speedway this evening. Good entertainment for the children. It’s a shame that they don’t have campervans in the derby as well. It would get a few more of them off the road….
12th February 2014
Four is the new Five
Really enjoying working a 4 day week. Great work-life balance. Not to mention I am getting through more work now than I ever did when I was “full-time”. Would thoroughly recommend it. I suspect it is only going to become more common in the future.
Can’t afford it? I bet you can….
9th February 2014
Waikite Hot Pools
Great way to spend a relaxing Sunday afternoon. Becoming one of my favourite geothermal pools. The bonus is the interesting walk by the pools alongside the geothermal river to the source of the hot spring. Interesting all the innovative methods they use to cool the water from 98C at source down to something that you can sit in.
8th February 2014
A new addition
A new addition to the family today, courtesy of one of our neighbours. Originally called Ninja, my son has renamed him Clippy, after his own nickname. He is about 2 months old. Our neighbour has another 8 kittens, not sure what she is going to do with them all!
6th February 2014
Out of all the places I have visited, New Zealand is undoubtedly the king of the personalised number plate.
Personally I never saw the point. There must be better things to spend one’s money on….
3rd February 2014
Down at Tye Park at the weekend, a secluded estuary on Tauranga Harbour.
As you can see by my son’s feet, after playing in the sandbanks there, that there is a lot of oil around. You can see it everywhere on the estuary.
I don’t know whether this oil is from the Harbour boats or from the stricken Rena a few years ago.
Regardless of the cause, it is a good reminder of the potential dangers of deep sea oil drilling around the coasts of New Zealand….
30th January 2014
Found this little injured sparrow flapping about in the back garden. We fed it with water and egg through a syringe overnight and took it to a bird sanctuary the next morning. Hope it survives!
28th January 2014
What better way to spend a summer afternoon in Tauranga than kayaking up the Wairoa River. Beats mowing the lawn which I have always reminded myself that life is too short for. One day I might even make it as far as the McLaren Falls…
25th January 2014
Smiles can be deceptive! This photo was taken at around the 25km point in a trail run across the Rangipo desert and the Tongariro saddle. Despite the smile I was in a great deal of pain. It wasn’t one of my better runs (the croissants and pain au chocolats in Paris saw to that) but the spectacular scenery more than made up for it. The Mount Ngauruhoe volcano is in the background. I would have run faster if it had been erupting.
23rd January 2014
Visited this idyllic Coromandel village today. Unspoilt scenery, a dozen traditional Kiwi Baches, a couple of laidback cafes, a crystal clear river, beautiful golden beaches. Kuaotunu for me is akin to paradise. Would love to have a little bit of it, if it stays the way it is at the moment.
22nd January 2014
Hot Water Beach
At Hot Water Beach today in the Coromandels. Maybe one of the best free attractions in New Zealand, and today we were lucky enough to get a great spot in a really hot area just where the geothermal stream runs down to the sea. However in my opinion, New Zealand’s geothermal areas are always best in the winter as opposed to the summer. There is nothing like sitting in a steaming hot pool when the weather is freezing cold.
20th January 2014
Have been doing some running up and around “The Mount” over the past week in preparation for a trail race in Tongariro next weekend. When i was away I really missed this place. The views from the base of the Mount are spectacular. The views from the top are out of this world. Soul enhancing stuff….
Protecting the Mount and its surrounds from the developers should be one of the core objectives for the local council, so that it remains a special place.
15th January 2014
Back in NZ
Great to be back in New Zealand again! It really is starting to feel like home now. Just recovering from the jetlag and looking forward to a couple more weeks of holiday before returning to work at the start of February, batteries recharged.
6th January 2014
In Dubai at the moment en route back to NZ, completing the circle! I should be getting some sleep for the 14 hour flight tomorrow but internet accessibility is now ubiquitous, wherever you are in the world. It was great catching up with friends and family in Scotland and now really looking forward to meeting up with friends and “adopted” family in NZ.
1st January 2014
2013 was an amazing year. Lots of different places visited and many adventures. Our stay in Paris did not go exactly to plan. In fact for the first couple of months nothing went to plan! However nothing ventured, nothing gained. It was a fantastic experience and absolutely no regrets. Lots of plans in the pipeline for 2014. I have a feeling it is going to be an incredible year..
29th December 2013
Up in the Scottish Highlands at the moment, staying in one of my favourite places in the world, Fortwilliam. All that space after Paris!
Took the four children skiing for the first time yesterday at the Nevis Range. That was an experience! It will take a few trips I suspect before they are all up and going.
The saying goes that if you can ski in Scotland, you can ski anywhere….
24th December 2013
The children are a bit worried that Santa Claus might think they are still in Paris instead of Glasgow and that they will not get any presents this year.
Given Santa’s rather hectic schedule over the past few months, their concerns may well be justified…
23rd December 2013
Hell on Earth
Shopping for a new buggy in London on the last weekend before Christmas was Hell on Earth. It took so long that it was dark by the time we got to the London Eye. However in compensation going on the London Eye at night time was a great experience, even though we had to queue for an hour to get on.
Compared to Paris, London is a bit cleaner and more spacious, with less poverty on the streets. However three days in London is enough for me, always has been, always will be. It is a place I can only enjoy in small doses. Paris though is a different story altogether.
22nd December 2013
After many years, 4 children, several circuits of the world and much abuse, our buggy finally gave up the ghost on the streets of London. It was really quite sad.
21st December 2013
Staying in a Youth Hostel just now in the Eastern Docklands of London. Great relaxed atmosphere for the family. We did a bit of sightseeing around London today, although the weather was pretty wet, so spent a good deal of time in cafes and bookstores.
The most interesting incident happened on our way home. We were walking along the Albion canal on the way back from the Tube station when a rat ran out in front of us, jumped into the canal, swam across (at least 7m), jumped out and disappeared into one of the buildings on the opposite bank.
I never realised rats could swim…
19th December 2013
In our last full day in Paris, I have been reflecting on our time spent here. Before coming to Paris I always shyed away from difficult situations. However I think that facet of my personality has been eradicated for good. I have faced so many difficult situations over the past few months that dealing with them has become second nature. Living in Paris is quite simply survival of the fittest, and looking after four young children there has given me resilience and toughness of character which I never knew I had. Looking forward to new adventures and challenges….
18th December 2013
I was standing outside the American Library in Paris the other day, when I was treated to an excellent example of Parisian parallel parking. A man arriving to pick up his child from the school opposite, spotted his potential parking space right in front of where I was standing. The fact that the space was only three quarters the length of his car did not bother him in the slightest.
By a series of non-too subtle bumps and dunts, back and forward, with his well worn Peugeot, he made the space his own.
In addition it wasn’t even a parking space in the first place but a “space” designated for deliveries. Again this did not bother him, the hazard lights being switched on before exiting the car.
The cigarette did not move from his mouth during the whole parking manoeuvre.
A classical example of Parisian parking, which would have made a wonderful You-Tube video….
17th December 2013
The Parisians just do not do milk in their coffee…
Outwith the tourist areas, any request for a cafe au lait, cafe creme, cafe americain is usually met by a stare of disbelief, and a few quiet mutterings of discontent from the shop assistant.
Ordering a double whisky at 8am in the morning would be more acceptable…
15th December 2013
Was in a busy Metro yesterday when I was reprimanded by one of the locals. He said to me (or I think he said to me) that I shouldn’t be wearing my backpack on my shoulders when the train was so busy so that (yet) more people could fit in. The fact that I had a buggy in one hand and a young child in the other was clearly lost on him.
I responded reflexively with a perfectly executed Parisian shrug of the shoulders.
I now know how the Parisian shrug translates into English…
13th December 2013
Never mind the City of Lights, Paris is the City of Marlboro Lights. Smoking seems to be one of the Parisians’ main pastimes. There are three main types of cigarettes smoked.
1) Roll-ups; The poor man’s cigarette.
2) Old-fashioned traditional cigarettes: It is almost mandatory for nonchalant Parisian moped drivers to have one hanging from the corner of their mouth.
3) E-cigarettes. Mistakenly thought to contain ecstasy. This new type of smoke is very popular amongst the trendy Parisians.
I find smoking in the following locations in Paris particularly troublesome:
i) At Eurodisney: This is supposed to be a children’s Mecca. I hope the Disney CEO makes the brave but correct decision soon to ban it from the Disney Parks.
ii) Outside school gates. I look on in disbelief at teenagers smoking right in front of their school. If I had done that at my old school in Belfast my head would have been placed on the school railings as an example to other students….
12th December 2013
Footpaths in Paris are generally narrow, often obstructed, covered in dog doos, busy, and generally difficult to negotiate with a buggy. One is also at constant risk from the precariously balanced plant-pots above.
In the City of Lights, the lights could go out at any time…
11th December 2013
Parisians have a bit of a reputation for being rude in the guidebooks, so it has been interesting to spend a few months living here to observe whether this is true.
It is a generalisation of course, but compared to other places that I have lived in the world, the manners of Parisians are not the best.
It probably does not reflect on their personalities in general either. More of a sub-concious lack of politeness. probably a result of living for many years in an overcrowded city.
10th December 2013
Went to get a Parisian haircut yesterday. The barber’s French was as mediocre as mine so conversation was light.
….which is probably just as well as he was using a “cut throat razor”. I was even more nervous than on the roller coasters at Eurodisney the day before….
4th December 2013
Skating on thin ice
Ice skating with the family today. Now that I have done ice skating a few times, I have progressed from hapless beginner to barely competent. A newfound passion.
The ice rink is located at the bottom of the Champs Elysees. From the rink you can look upwards through the Christmas markets and lights to the Arc de Triomphe. Looking in the other direction, you can see the Place de Concorde, the Jardin du Tuilleries, and The Louvre in the distance.
The surrealism of the location is not lost on me…
Paris has that polarising effect on you. Some days, you wouldn’t dream of being anywhere else, and others you cannot wait to get away.
2nd December 2013
Children in Paris are to be seen and not heard. In fact they are not often seen. Parisian parenting is strict, bordering on the repressive.
In contrast my children are noisy, fun-loving, playful, and slightly rebellious, exactly the way children should be.
…and the Parisians do not like it one little bit.
29th November 2013
Took my daughter down to Galleries Lafayette to see the rather spectacular Christmas lights and decorations. I am no shopper by any stretch of the imagination, but I could not help be impressed by Galleries Lafayette at Christmas time. It’s upmarket commercialism is both repellant and attractive at the same time.
And my daughter loved it…..
27th November 2013
Went to see Napoleon’s tomb at Hotel Invalides. It was, as expected completely over the top in terms of ostentatiousness.
I “preferred” the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Eternal Flame at the Arc de Triomphe. A more fitting tribute to the war veterans.
Maybe Napoleon should have requested an anonymous and more humble resting place. I think this is what a true war hero would have done…
22nd November 2013
Place de Clichy
Or “Place de Squishy” as my family calls it, due to the sheer volume of people at this site, both below and above ground.
This meeting point of roads, in the north of Central Paris, is about 5 minutes walk from our apartment. It is busy, noisy, dirty, chaotic and even a little treacherous with young children.
And yet this is an area in Paris that I love to be in. It is a melting point of human culture and behaviour which makes you feel totally alive.
I will miss this “place” when we leave Paris.
20th November 2013
The French, famous for their militancy within the public sector, have been very quiet since we arrived. That is until this week, when the refuse collectors must have decided it was their turn for “La Greve”. Rubbish has been piling up on the streets for about 10 days now, and is starting to look a bit unsightly. Thankfully it is feezing cold so there is not the aroma of rotting food to contend with. It is only a minor inconvenience at the moment, and I guess it would have been somewhat of a disappointment if we had left Paris without seeing industrial action of some sort…
19th November 2013
Due to the lack of green space in Paris, joggers tend to congregate in large numbers in the city Parks. It is not unusual to see literally hundreds of joggers jogging around the perimeters of these parks. There is cerainly no hiding place if you are out of shape. And only in Paris do you find joggers decked out in designer scarves. I kid you not…
18th November 2013
There is only one way to negotiate Parisian traffic as a pedestrian… Assume absolutely nothing.
17th November 2013
The push scooter is very popular here, probably because they are generally allowed on the pavement, and allows you to get from A to B relatively quickly without having to go on the road or on public transport. They are fashionable with both children and adults.
I have been scooting back to the apartment recently after dropping my son off at school. I was feeling very Parisian until I hit a hole in a manhole cover, sending me flying over the handlebars! Fortunately little more resulted than a bruised ego.
Style is very much the domain of the Parisian, not the outsider….
8th November 2013
I have been in Belfast visiting my parents over the last 10 days or so. Belfast is now undisputedly the “city of flags”. Even more so now than during the worst days of the Troubles, different areas show their religious allegiances by decorating their streets with either Loyalist or Republican flags.
Sectarianism is far from gone in Northern Ireland. Belfast and many other parts of the country remain deeply divided. This is a shame as the local people are some of the friendliest in the world when it comes to hospitality for visitors.
However Flags do not make the city a more welcoming place. On the contrary they say to me “You’re not welcome here if you are not one of us…”
20th October 2013
Relatively speaking there is not a lot of grass in Paris. The public are often forbidden to sit/play on the few patches that do exist. The French love their rules, and follow them to the letter, even if the rules themselves do not make a lot of sense.
Not being known to be a stickler for rules, I have been asked by officials on a few occasions to remove myself from a grass area. I always feel like telling them that the grass is exactly the same before and after me sitting on it.
It wouldn’t make any difference of course…
17th October 2013
Getting acquainted with Parisian toilets can be a bit of a challenge. A lot of public toilets in Paris have a charge for use. Thus with a family of six on a day out in Paris, the daily ablutions can be an expensive exercise. Only with self-discipline and fluid deprivation can one keep the costs down. Thus a fair degree of research is required to find out where one can wee for free. Never mind Metro Maps. What Paris really needs is a toilet map…
15th October 2013
Down and Out in Paris
Maybe it is a long time since I have lived in a big city, but it shocks me how many people there are sleeping rough and begging on the streets. The number must run into thousands. In close proximity there are many, many people who live in Paris who have far more money than they could possibly ever need.
As a society we have a fundamental duty to provide the most basic needs of living to everyone, regardless of their circumstances or past choices.
11th October 2013
Not a day goes by without seeing someone jumping the barriers at the entrances to the Paris Metro. This is extremely common. Everyone seems to do it, even people in suits. It is generally the younger population but not exclusively. I saw a 65 year old scale the barrier the other day. It wasn’t quite the clean acrobatic vaults of the teenagers, but admirable nevertheless.
They always seem to get away with it, they clearly know how to play the game… I am occasionally tempted. However in the unlikely event of being able to scale the not particularly high bar, I would likely be pounced on by half a dozen security guards yelling incomprehensible phrases at me.
I will stick with the metro tickets for the moment..
7th October 2013
I saw my first rats in Paris today. Thin, with hooked noses and a bit of an attitude. As the theory goes, in a big city like Paris, there is almost always a rat within 5 metres of where you are sitting or standing. Better not to think about that…..
3rd October 2013
Dawn in Paris
There is something enchanting about walking to the local boulangerie at first light to get your daily bread. The streets are almost deserted, the only souls about are locals out to fetch their baguettes or their packets of Gallois. The place is atmospheric. Time to myself, and Paris to myself…
29th September 2013
A day off…
Most of the supermarkets in central Paris are closed on Sunday. Funnily enough the customers seem to survive and the supermarkets don’t go bust, and the staff get a day off to enjoy Paris. Tesco take note…
There is a Parisian street market on Sunday morning at the end of our street, It is like any street market anywhere else in the world, except at Parisian prices. Strong haggling is required!
27th September 2013
One false move and you are dead…
A lot of Parisians speak a bit of English, particularly the younger ones, and they are always keen to practise it. Therefore if you make one slip up in your French, they will just switch to English, which can be a little frustrating, as often your French is better than their English. It is therefore satisfying to get through a whole conversational exchange in French, success being measured as keeping the dialogue in French.
20th September 2013.
Living in Paris
There is little about living in Paris that is easy. The language, the cost of living, the bureaucracy, the sheer number of people. It would be infinitely easier to give up and go elsewhere. However deep down I realise that is probably the only chance I will get in my lifetime to spend a prolonged amount of time living here. That is probably what is keeping us going at the moment.
21st July 2013
Apartment hunting in Paris
We have just spent 5 days in Paris looking for an apartment and just returned to Scotland.
Paris is a fantastic city with an incredible amount to do and see. Central Paris is a real culture shock after New Zealand….the noise, the sheer number of people, the sights and smells and atmosphere of a big city.
In previous visits to Paris we had stuck to tourist areas where the locals knew enough English to take food and drinks orders. However when the subject moves to arranging apartment viewings, opening bank accounts etc etc, the language is very much French, and French only. It is fantastic practice however. Once you have made half a dozen calls on your mobile to estate agents in French to ask about apartments, you start to get a feel for what to say and what is being said to you. In order to speak more French I struck up as many random conversations as possible with whoever was willing to speak to me, shop assistants, waiters/waitresses.
The other notable thing is the mountain of red tape that one must go though in order to integrate into Parisian life. Everything has to be “just so”, and it will be a few weeks yet before we can retrieve all the information that is required to secure an apartment. It is important however not to get disheartened and to just “play their game”.
I am now back in Scotland for 6 weeks to do a microbiology locum post and save enough money for a few months of Parisian rent. After that it is back to Paris, for real….
2nd July 2013
Most of our belongings picked up yesterday for shipping to Paris. All very real now. House is very bare and we are essentially camping in our home.. Finished work last Friday and I am missing it but enjoying the freedom from responsibility also. Just getting all the last minute organising done before our flights next week.
11th June 2013
The house is sold, we are free agents once again, released from the chains of house ownership. Paris in 4 weeks, bring it on!
16th May 2013
Have booked the flight today. One way…., no going back now. Another box ticked off in the myriad of organising that is required.
30th April 2013
Less than two months to go until I finish up work in NZ. Emails have been flying to and from Parisian schools, rental agencies, shipping companies etc. I received an email from a French primary school a couple of days ago and then could not subsequently remember whether the email was in French or in English. It is the first time that I have regarded my legendary amnesia as being “progress”.
16th April 2013
I was a little concerned that the children would be missing a couple of months of primary school during the transition from NZ to Paris. I then reflected on the new cultures, experiences and language they are about to embrace and realised this quite easily compensated for a few missed lessons.
28th March 2013
Over the past week I have had a couple of colleagues tell me that I have made the right decision to move to Paris. It is good to know that there are people out there who believe in you…..
18th March 2013
I have just realised that I only have another seven pay packets to go until moving to Paris. I have never placed myself in a position before with no regular income. I try not to think about it too much as to do so somewhat terrifies me!, especially when I have a family of six to support.
The weeks are ticking by.. The excitement is increasing, the stress levels are increasing, as is the amount of organisational work that is required.
The children cannot wait of course. They just have the excitement, but not the stress.
17th January 2013
I have just been filling in application forms for Parisian schools for the children, in French.
I have been learning French for about 18 months, in preparation for the move to Paris. I know a bit of French now, possibly even enough for a slow speed conversation on something not too complex!
However using it for something functional such as filling in forms is a different matter altogether.
I have enormous respect for laboratory workers (and any other Healthcare Worker for that matter) who have learnt not only to communicate, but to work in their non-native tongue. This must require a lot of determination and hard work.
Working and living using another language will be a real challenge for me and I am inspired by those people I know who have done it already.
3rd January 2013
Only six months to go until the move to Paris.
The reality is now beginning to sink in. New language to learn, accommodation to organise, schools to find for the children, selling our current house, rehoming the cats etc etc.
It will be a highly pressured six months!