May 9, 2017


My house is a mess
It causes me stress
But not quite enough
To clean up the mess

I try, I do -
I know you do too -
But all I can do
Is manage the zoo

'Do 5 tasks before bed!'
'Put ten things away now!'
So all the posts said
But they don't quite get how:

Those things are not all
And nor are they small
I could do things all day
And achieve nothing at all

You see...

A house is not static
It doesn't stay clean
Those '5 tasks' or 'ten things'
Go forever, I mean

It's all very well
To do a 'ten minute blitz'
You'll feel glad at the end
To have tidied a bit

But the blitz will have sapped
All your energy too
And still what you have
Is a shit-load to do

There are still things to clean,
Still tasks that are waiting,
And kids who need food,
And food that needs plating

The dog needs a walk,
The garden is scrubby;
The spiders have scared
The kids from the cubby

The clothes still need washing,
The sheets must be changed,
Insurance and banking
Must all be arranged

The floor needs a vacuum 
And also re-stumping
The bedroom needs cleaning,
My clothes need de-frumping

The blinds all need dusting
And the cupboards de-musting!
The barbecue's rusting!
The rubbish bin's busting!

The walls need re-painting -
We'll do that some day
We'll pull up that carpet,
And throw it away.

The wood on the deck is rotting, I know
The front fence is falling and it has to go
We'll plant those fruit trees we've been talking about
And hire a skip and clean everything out.

We'll clean out the garage
And use it for cars!
Instead of parking 
Under the stars.

There's so much to do
And no time to do it
I guess all I can do
Is Keep Working Through It.

June Yarham / Flickr

Mar 20, 2017

Work vs Self-Promotion

Here we go: yet another article with "advice" on how to find success - this time at with a terrific example of the genre entitled 'Want to be successful? Quit working so hard'.

There is a solid kernel of truth in this advice, at least in the title. Being known as a 'hard worker', and slaving away at a desk job (or any job) for 12 hours a day will not generally be rewarded with 'success' in terms of money and renown.  Most of us already know this, even if some of us (ahem) only figured it out after years of doing the same.

"My childhood dream!"
(image: Karl Bedingfield/Flickr)

Of course, 'success' means different things to different people. Becoming an expert in your field, achieving qualifications, building a base for your future, reaching a point at which you are comfortable and can ease off the treadmill somewhat - all of these, if they are your goals, do indeed require 'working hard' for a few years.

And, call me old-fashioned, but I still think it is important for students and young workers to 'work hard' - not only because this fosters knowledge, skills and resilience which they will need to advance, but because, at a young age, 'hard work' is usually the biggest thing you can offer.

That's not to say that it isn't a bit of a mug's game - it is - but you still have to do it, at least until you amass the experience and wisdom to work out how to trade your time and skills for appropriate compensation. And that's assuming you are lucky enough to do the kind of work where this is even possible.

But the "advice" in these articles, such as it is, is that you can leave drudgery and hard work behind by working out what you want and just, you know, doing it. Lift yourself out of the everyday, look beyond the grind, take [insert variable time here, anywhere from 15 minutes a day to a six month sabbatical], find your niche and then... succeed, I guess?

For at this point the advice becomes very fuzzy. But the intent seems to be to become self-employed in some way, like an Instagrammer or a business consultant or a web designer who works from home and enjoys cafe meetings, yoga before lunch and long walks whenever.

"That was a great way to start the morning.
Now to my client meeting at the beachside cafe."
(image: / Flickr)

None of these articles ever suggest what type of work, exactly, fits this life model.

"It's so liberating not being chained to a desk.
Or an ergonomic chair. Or washroom facilities.
Or a roof..."
(image: Bruno/Flickr)
Short term contractor?
Small business owner?

Well, we'll all be independent contractors before long, anyway, self-employed the way Uber drivers are self employed.

Small businesses? The majority fail, or if they succeed for a time, do so on the back of unrelenting hard slog by the founder - which is 'working hard', but I guess in service to your own goals, so therefore is worthwhile, even if you do collapse in a heap after a couple of years and your business along with you.

But hey - these articles are not responsible for the details. That's up to YOU!

So, you can live better than everyone else if you just open your mind, serve your own goals instead of someone else's, and 'imagine possibilities'.
'The first step on your path to success is to stop working, stop stressing, and let your mind wander.' 
Then:  'envision your future', 'refine your vision', and finally: 'then you can make it real!'

I have two problems with these kinds of articles. First, they recommend ways of thinking and working that simply aren't viable for many workers.

I don't mean that the advice in these articles is useless if you work in labour-intensive jobs, in shifts, in retail, hospitality or manufacturing for example. Because these articles are not pretending to speak for anyone other than white-collar professionals.

But aren't they selling a kind of pyramid scheme? Because sure, while there will always be a lucky few who manage to earn a fortune from an Instagram account or an inspiration blog, surely not everyone can do this kind of work? I mean, there may well be enough paying customers (so it seems!), but who is going to run the banks, bring the coffees and fix the plumbing?

Or consider even the most-recommend advice in the 'work muse'/productivity articles, like taking frequent creativity breaks and only responding to email twice a day - I keep picturing young graduates reading them and trying EITHER of these things at any typical company they are likely to work for.

Second though, is the kind of person who writes these articles, and the way they make their own living. Basically, they make their living writing these kinds of articles.

I could point to many gurus and websites whose whole shtick is basically "dare to dream" and who make their money not from having done what they preach per se, but having done what they preach in the form of selling you what they are preaching.

They remind me of the old joke from the days before internet gurus, where someone sees a classified ad saying "Learn how to get rich! Send $1 in a prepaid envelope and receive my secrets!', sends the dollar, and receives a postcard saying 'Place a classified ad...'

So here's how I see it: if your 'mission' in life is helping other people find their 'mission', then what you offer is not a way people can 'work'; it is self-promotion and the selling of those little postcards.

Image: Dipayan Bhattarcharjee/Flickr

Jan 27, 2017

We Interrupt this Dystopian Nightmare for a Visit to Rippon Lea

It's time for some #AlternativeFacts. Trump is not President, Obama is allowed to have a third term, and that Simpsons episode from 20 years ago remains a funny satirical portrait of an alternative future America.

And in this lovely, lovely world, we can safely ignore politics and take our children to visit one of Melbourne's historic houses.

Our original intention was to visit Como House, and then take the little punt across to Herring Island. And after I talked up both to the kids and got them all excited* about going, I did the very basic internet research I should have done first and found that Como House wasn't open.  (It seems to be open on weekends again now, so we will go another time).

So, on this particular day (last Saturday), we visited Rippon Lea instead.

I had very vague memories from my childhood of both houses, and in my memory Como was more austere and beautiful and Rippon Lea less beautiful but warmer. Also I have some weird and I believe mostly false memory of a children's nursery at Como filled with those creepy Victorian china dolls, which spooked us as kids.

The inspiration behind me suggesting a visit to Como to the kids was the episode of Brooklyn Nine Nine we had just watched where Jake and Sophia stay in the room of a thousand dolls.

Anyway, as we know, memory is a famously unreliable beast, and when we arrived at Rippon Lea I was not too surprised to discover that:
  1. the house looked completely unfamiliar to me and triggered no memories at all
  2. the gardens were lovely, as I remembered they were, but I had no memories of them at all other than that they were lovely
The only room I remembered was the old kitchen and scullery, and even that was only vaguely as I remembered it. The layout was different and the rooms much smaller and darker than I remembered.

The house itself, while impressive in features and no doubt stunning in its heyday, I did not find that beautiful. I think what lends it its warmth is its family history.  According to our tour guide, both of the famous families that lived there were close-knit and loving and the house was apparently always full of running, playing, happy children, whose parents did not at all conform to the way we imagine Victorians and Edwardians raising their children.  The first owner, Frederick Sargood, used to apparently let his little daughters crawl all over him and put ribbons in his beard.  

The last owner, Louisa Jones, had the house from the 1920s until she left it to the National Trust in the 1970s. One of her daughters kept a diary which tells of the wonderful childhood she and her brothers and sisters had playing in the grounds, riding bikes, growing vegetables, etc:
"We had our rabbits, pigeons and gardens, from the gardens we sold our poor little vegetables to Mother who always gave us praise for our labours."
(Though at this point I am imagining a patient but secretly irked gardener, in charge of a huge estate, and forced to spend some of his day teaching children how to cultivate vegetables).

Anyway, it was nice to wander the house and gardens and imagine such wonderful childhoods and what sounds like successive families of very nice people all round.

You are allowed to take photos inside, but are not allowed to touch anything except the staircase bannister, which is allowed for purposes of safety and polishing (apparently the oils in our hands do wonders for polishing bannisters).

Here are some photos of the house and gardens.

Visit to Rippon Lea

The entrance and front of the house:

I think this detail clearly shows the Italian influence on the design:

There's not much to love in the front entrance, which is quite dark and covered in frankly hideous Victorian wallpaper.

But the living room is lovely:

...and has an enviable drinks cabinet:

And I loved the furniture in the master bedroom. It is absolutely beautiful and I covet it - as long as I have a bedroom like this in which to keep it, of course. None of it would fit in ours.

Regrettably I missed getting photos of the bathrooms, both of which were very nice. The ensuite to the master bedroom is big, has a toilet with an old-fashioned high cistern and a chain flush, and a very pretty marble washstand.  Also upstairs is a very pretty little green-tiled bathroom which wouldn't look out of place in an older suburban house today.

I was one of the few in the tour who love this painting. I always have - whether it is this one I remember or another like it:

I think Louisa Jones looks like a lovely lady in this portrait:

The back of the house and swimming pool are very nice:

During the 1930s and 40s Louisa held 'Hollywood style' pool parties here. There are some great photos here.

The gardens are beautiful, and include a fernery and lake:

And the cafe garden is lovely as well.

* well, as excited as kids can get about a visit to an historic house/museum

Dec 27, 2016

Tech Life: Build, Test, Release Adventures

For the past year and a half I've been working for a small and smart financial software vendor, which I love. I'd been inching my way from financial services to "the other side" of the software fence for a few months before I made the change, and I thought at the time I had developed a solid understanding of technology vendor-ship and what that work would be like.

But of course, you only know so much until you get there.

The amount I've learned - and am learning - is immense and fantastic, and I am honestly amazed and grateful that in my late forties I am working in a nimble and dynamic environment where I am still learning and improving (I hope) every day.

But then, isn't that life these days? We are living in a time of unprecedented acceleration and change, and it's not like there's much of a choice. Exciting times!

Anyway, in my new life on the vendor side of the technology fence, I have come to appreciate the funny side of the frustrations unique to the software business.  These challenges are ongoing, but you can take comfort from their universality - it's not just you.

There is the classic law on software development:

And just last night I came across this one, which made me laugh at the same time as it sent a small bolt of pain recognition - a bit close to home this one.

What makes you laugh in your line of work?

Nov 25, 2016

Living in a Modernist House

I recently caught up with a great two-episode series on the ABC called Streets of Your Town, about suburban architecture in Australia. It's worth a look - you can catch it here until 30 November.

This is something I didn't know: post World War Two all the way into the early 1970s, there was a program in Australia where great architects worked with housing projects and building companies to create beautiful, innovative modernist houses at affordable prices for the suburbs.  The Small Homes Service headed by Robin Boyd provided modernist architect-designed plans which were sold to the public at cheap prices, creating a bounty of beautiful, distinctive and affordable two and three bedroom homes throughout the suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne.

The Seidler House - Matt Adams Flickr CC

Watching this, I suddenly recognised the first home I remember living in. It was a brick box with sloping roof, exposed beams and bricks, floor to ceiling windows, a split level ground floor and an open staircase, all nestled in a native garden and surrounded with a ti-tree fence. Tick tick tick - all of these are features beloved of the modernist architects of the time.

We have always remembered this house as an oddity - weirdly designed, a menace to small children, plagued with hunstman spiders thanks to being nestled in that native garden. But now I realise it was actually a modernist masterpiece!

When I moved with my own family to the suburb we live now, I drove to that house to take a look, as it's only a couple of suburbs over. The ti-tree fence is gone, and it seems so is much of the native garden, at least at the front, but otherwise it looks exactly the same. I was surprised at how small it looks from the street, but that's deceptive, as the tall brick box you can see is just the front part of the house, and it has another box with the whole back part of the house attached behind it.

Here are the features of that house, all of which are classic modernist design:

  • simple rectangle shape
  • single roof line
  • very open plan
  • exposed brick walls in the family room and living room
  • open staircase
  • split level - two steps from the entrance area took you to the lounge room
  • sloping ceiling with exposed beams and track lighting
  • floor to ceiling windows in most of the rooms 'bringing the external inside'
  • glass doors and glass walls to the back yard
  • native garden
  • in the back yard, a big garden mound covered in tan bark with a ti-tree and native shrubbery

Most of these features were pretty avant-garde to our 1970s selves, and throughout our childhood my sister and I always remembered this house as bonkers. It was also not kid-friendly - we were constantly scraping our elbows on the exposed brick walls and burning the soles of our feet on the heating grates in the floor (again, not a common feature in houses at the time), and one time my little sister tumbled through the open staircase.  Our Labrador also had a mishap on the staircase at some stage and for some time our dad had to carry him up and down the stairs every night and morning.

There was a timber deck out the back, one side of which overlooked some bricks down below - which my little sister fell onto and cut her head one time. The room we played in was carpeted with grey nobbled industrial carpet squares on which we regularly burned our knees and ankles.

The master bedroom was on a mezzanine floor, the only privacy a waist-high wall that overlooked the rest of the house.

When I describe the house now, it sounds kind of awesome - but it actually wasn't.

My mother hated the house because it was not great for small kids, it was dark and kind of ugly, and it was plagued with huntsman spiders. My mother is a proper arachnophobe, which she successfully masked to us throughout our childhood to avoid passing on the same fear. She always remained calm and did what needed to be done when a huntsman invaded the house, which was empty a can of fly-spray on it and yell for the dog who would then gobble it up, fly spray and all.

I did love a few things about this house. I loved playing under the stairs or on the landing halfway up them, and I loved sitting under the tree on the native garden mound. I thought of it as a willow tree, and in my memory it was every bit as magnificent. (It was actually a ti-tree and a few shrubs, but it was still my magical fairy garden).

Looking back now, I am struck by a few things about this house:
  • it was big! There were two living areas, and the master bedroom upstairs had a walk-in robe and an ensuite. My sister and I each had our own bedroom, and we had a playroom 
  • it was packed with modern features that we probably should have appreciated, but didn't
  • much of the 'weird' stuff is standard now - like the open plan, and the flow between the kitchen and living area 
  • it was pretty luxurious in its way - a mezzanine floor, ensuite, ducted heating and track lighting - not things a young family in a rental house would usually expect at the time
  • in hindsight, this was obviously a very cool, designer house - and yet it was also somehow an affordable rental for a single-income family with little money. 

This style of house is often praised for its style and liveability, but we didn't find our house very functional. 

But just as I was wondering if we had in fact been suburban philistines who did not appreciate good architecture, I was amused to come across this article from 2015, when a Seidler house was for sale: "Owners of Seidler house: "it's hideous to live in". Here's an excerpt from the for-sale ad:

"Looking for serious design heads, architecture nuts and modernism fans with serious money....Perfect if you are Don Draper on his third marriage. But for conventional living, no."

When my sister and I asked our mother years later, why the hell did you guys choose that house?? her response was that they never liked it but there was not a lot of choice at the time.

Something that still remains true with rental houses today.

Some years ago, the house was updated with new bathrooms and kitchen, the open plan was reduced with the addition of a couple of walls, and and the exposed brick walls were painted over. Its estimated value is now over one million dollars, and the suburb it sits in is no longer affordable.

We could never have foreseen any of this in 1976.


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