Monthly Archives: August 2017

Glory Days (I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it)

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Pieces like this aren’t easy to write in spite of what many people may think. I’ve been in the life insurance industry for over 15 years, that’s like a lifetime. I’ve worked for 6 different companies in a variety of roles. Today, all of that ends. Life insurance is an industry that I know, it’s been my security blanket and it’s hard to take the step into the unknown and outside of my comfort zone.

In those 15 years I’ve met so many people that I now call friends. I’ve attended masses of parties, been to dozens of events, been to lots of town hall meetings and I once even dressed up as wizard and stood in the middle of Melbourne for a day.

I’ve worked in a variety of roles over the years. Claims, Projects, Training, Account Management and Transformation areas. I was sent on a study tour around Australia and New Zealand, where I met a few of my closest friends. I can’t deny this industry hasn’t treated me well.

The decision to leave has literally taken as long as I’ve been in the industry to make. Teaching was always something that appealed to me and I came to the conclusion, on one of my daily walks to work, that if I didn’t do something about it soon, then I never would. I’ve always enjoyed the training aspects of my roles and I’d like to give something back and to do something with a real social heartbeat.

As an industry in recent years we’ve seen a massive spike in mental health issues. I believe this isn’t just representative of people who own insurance policies, but of society itself. I think males especially have a negative attitude about speaking out about issues and I believe it’s very important to be able to talk to someone. I myself have used the employee assistance programme to engage a psychologist about my marriage break up and in fact I found so much benefit from it that I still see her to this day in a maintenance capacity. I’d really encourage anyone who is struggling to do something similar.

There seems to be a certain attitude in Australian society, especially among the male gender, that it is a ‘weak’ thing to do. However I can tell you, from personal experience, that it’s one of the most brave and beneficial things I’ve ever done. If anybody would like to talk to me about my experiences and maybe dispel some of the myths surrounding it, I’m incredibly happy to do so.

From the moment I walked into my most recent role, I felt like I knew a lot of people, that was maybe because I’d worked with about 20 of them previously. The insurance industry is small in Melbourne and there seems to be an ever-revolving door between companies. I’ve enjoyed the two teams I’ve managed, I only hope I’ve taught those teams as much as they’ve taught me over the years.

I wish everyone in the insurance industry, as I leave, the best for the future. I’ve had a lot of fun times and I can’t deny, even though at times I might not have enjoyed the work, that I did enjoy the people.

And so to the future. I’m already 6 weeks into my Master’s course, having already submitted two assignments. My office is now my home. I work alone most of the day, barring maybe a trip to the gym and the supermarket. I didn’t think I’d transition that well but I’ve surprised myself. I’ve quickly developed routines, which are very important to me and make me feel ‘safe’. The future is still a bit scary, studying at home requires a fair degree of self-motivation and so far I’ve managed that. It’s whether I can keep it up I suppose. I guess we always doubt ourselves. Then I have the thought of what my first practical experience in the classroom will be like. Maybe I should just try and live in the moment a while hey?

Stepping out of your comfortable zone isn’t an easy thing to do but if you have dreams why not go for it? In the words of Bruce Springsteen “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?”


IJS 17/08/2017

Disagreements, the oil that greases the chain


Last days eh? Always such a mix of emotion. I think we’d both gotten to a stage where we were ready to go home. I can only speak for myself but I miss the routine of it all. Which is a funny comment because in a couple of weeks I’ll have to develop a whole new one when I give up work completely to study full time. I know we both miss Archie, some might argue that he is just a cat but pets mean so much eh? He’s grown as we’ve grown. I miss Melbourne too, I miss the familiarity of it, I miss my friends who’ve been absolute rocks in my life these last few years. I hope in the future I can say that I’ve been there for them as they’ve been there for me.

We rose late, we’d negotiated a noon check out with our delightful Air B&B host, Liz. I can now reveal a little about the place we stayed. The day before we checked in we got a message to say that Air B&B were banned in her building and when we arrived we had to either tailgate someone into the building or get the concierge’s attention and let them know that we were her ‘friends’ rather than paying guests. I wasn’t too impressed. Claire who is much less uptight about sticking to the rules was much calmer. I muttered to myself for a whole day but I suppose that’s a little bit of anxiety about what if we get there and we can’t get in. I calmed myself with the thought that this apartment was nearly a grand cheaper than any hotel. We arrived, tailgated someone and went straight up to the apartment without a bother. It was perfectly positioned, had everything we needed and the bed was comfy, who could ask for more.

We do find the whole Air B&B thing good but we’ve noticed a lot of hosts will contact you on the day of check out and basically beg you for a 5 star rating and then ask that you put any possible improvement in the private message box just to them. I’m not sure I truly agree with this because as a customer of Air B&B, Claire and I both check the ratings and would prefer if they were honest. We don’t judge on a couple of bad ratings and unreasonable demands but I guess the feeling is by the Air B&B hosts that people do. Saying all of this our host was great, she would contact us nearly everyday to check if there were any problems and if so fix them, she also suggested a restaurant for us and gave general tourist advice.

We finally left the apartment right on noon, and we were sad to leave it. It had been our home for the last seven nights and we’d got used to the traffic noise, the steam whistle blowing (which we figured out yesterday was people on the brewery tour blowing it, like we had) and watching the crowds flock to Blue Jays games. The location had been ridiculously central and we loved it.

We’d amended our plans slightly and taken out the Royal Ontario Museum. We’d both have loved to have got there but there wasn’t enough time and we’re both to remember not to rush (remember coming back from Berlin and moving and doing job interviews the same day). Instead our plan was to head to St Lawrence Market to pick up a tortilla warmer we’d seen and wanted to go back and grab. We’d been served tortillas in one of these in El Sabor in North Melbourne a few months ago and had been looking out for one for a while, so even though it was bulky and we might have found one in Melbourne we weren’t going to turn down a lifetime of warm tortillas. We grabbed a coffee there as well and a cake, in my case a peanut butter slice. Peanut butter I used to hate but this is now very much one of my weaknesses.

We dropped into the Hockey Hall of Fame to pick up some sports merch I’d wanted and not been able to get when I went previously and then onto our final stop Wayne Gretzsky’s sports bar which sounded interesting in the Lonely Planet. Of course for those that don’t know, Mr Gretzsky was an extremely famous Canadian hockey player.  The bar was large with multiple tv screens, most of them showing Premier League Darts. At this point Claire amazed me again, like with our Toronto FC experience, by seemingly being quite interested in the darts. The food was typical bar food and I do feel a little guilty that we have been in a lot and it’s not really Claire’s cup of tea but in fairness to her, she has rarely complained. My final meal was a turkey burger and some sweet potato fries and I drunk my 2400th unique beer.

We had to pop into the Intercontinental hotel because we’d left our bags there. We’d found out they accepted anyone’s bags for a charge of $3. However when we got there the Bell hop charged us $5 a piece, telling us the price had gone up today. In my English way I just agreed, whereas Claire decided very loudly to tell him she had been told $3 and then deliberately gave him every coin she had. We hopped on the train to the airport.

Upon arrival we checked in and found my bag was 8 pounds over, whilst Claire’s was a bit under. They were about to charge us more when Claire decided we would repack the bags and produce a third bag. It’s a silly rule eh? You can take two 50 pound bags each but have no more than 50 pounds in each bag. So even if you have only one bag and it weighs 58 pound they don’t just let you have the 100 pound limit. Hence the repack.

We then passed through security and for a quick drink before waiting for our flight out which finally got out about 30 mins late. A short 1 hour in Vancouver and then back on to Sydney.

Of course I’ll miss being on holiday. There is no nicer person to spend time with than your significant other eh? That’s not to say that spending every day for three weeks with somebody doesn’t pose its challenges. They get to see the sides you usually hide in your quieter moments. The frustrations about everyday things that boil over for a few moments. Relationships come with their fair degree of disagreements and arguments, in a way they are the oil that greases the chain. All too often I think people believe these are the precursor of a failing relationship with their idealised views but I believe they are the opposite, they teach you how to negotiate with your partner and your partner gets to see you when you least want it. These things help you hopefully build a relationship built on rock instead of sand and are nothing to be scared of. I wrote a year ago about how showing vulnerability is so important to a relationship and I truly stand by that.

Half way through the major leg of our flight, I get a strange hankering for Japanese food. A gyoza would go down nicely now. But with my no eating policy in place I’ll just dream I can get that for breakfast in Sydney. And, I’ve never loved the sight of pie face so much! A giant sausage roll and a coffee, all for the bargain price of $11! Ouch. Welcome back to Australia (the Japanese hankering had gone)

On the way to Pie Face and through immigration and customs, I got stopped by every level of security, including the canine kind. Claire’s bags rolled nicely off the travelator and mine were nowhere to be seen. Claire spotted a bag out the corner of her eye at the side of the travelator; we went up and said to the customs guy standing nearby that it was my bag. He asked what was in it. After 24 hours travelling, I was a bit grumpy and said back to him ‘what do you mean?’. He said the dog was trained to stiff out tobacco and did I have any in it. I confirmed I didn’t even smoke and he asked if there were any wood products in there, still my answer was no. In the end he just said ‘fine’ and let me go. Maybe the dog just got it wrong or it smelt that cannabis on the beer festival glasses we brought home. Next the bomb detection lady got hold of me going through the security gate; I obviously met her gaze at the wrong time. She was the nice and kind though. In airports I always figure there are two kinds, those who will generally chat and have a laugh with you and those who in no way wish to communicate with you like a human being. I was lucky that I encountered the first type today.

The flight back to Melbourne was late, but at least we made it, with just an hour and a half turn around, having to get our bags and re check them in. We got a rude awakening in Melbourne when we walked out, especially me in my shorts and t-shirt. Having gone from 38c in Toronto we were now faced with winter conditions.

We picked up our very expensively boarded cat and home we came to a freezing house, but there isn’t anything quite like home eh. Another fantastic trip finished.

IJS 03/08/2017

Adopting a one-eyed approach


Well today on paper I thought was very much a Simmo day. We had a visit to the BMO field to watch Toronto’s soccer side, Toronto FC play New York City and after that a short walk across the road to the Toronto Festival of Beer.

The day started the way it has done the last few days. My alarm going off, me getting up and studying whilst Claire enjoys the holiday time in bed. Claire calls it dedication and praises it, I think that there is a little bit of madness involved and it captures my compulsiveness to a degree and once I set my mind on something I’m completely one-tracked about things. In my own head, I’m not exactly sure this is so much of a good thing. My life has tended to go from me being very interested in things and then, not so interested in things. But I think this time it maybe quite different, although maybe this is just a hope.

Study though goes well. I still have these little panics, that Claire is growing very used to, when I just don’t think I’ve done enough and should in fact be studying 24 hours a day. Claire attempts to give me perspective but such is my way, I perhaps don’t listen too well the first time. But with a bit of reflection, I slowly come round. I mean it’s not the be all and end all is it? In my humble opinion your primary relationship with your partner is that.

In fact we both just lazed a little bit this morning. I headed out over the road to the Steam Whistle brewery to check out their merch, the place was full because the Blue Jays were playing today and their stadium is about 200m away.

After this we headed out on the 40-minute walk down to BMO field, along the waterside. We stopped momentarily to get some nitro coffee from a Starbucks stall on the way. The walk was nice although the temperatures today were particularly hot. I think the mercury hit 34c and it felt like that for the majority of the day.

As the stadium itself came into view, for any sports fan like me, it was a pretty monumental sight. The crowd was like a sea of red swarming towards their temple to celebrate their gods. Sport is like that eh? Everyone there for the sole purpose of supporting one team. All joined together in that support. I suppose really it’s nice being part of something lots of people believe in. That really is the attraction of sport. That’s what drives us to go along, week after week, a sense of belonging and a sense of us.

I thought the game might bore Claire a bit. Soccer is a game I grew up with in the UK and ever since I’ve arrived in Australia, I’ve heard people describe it as boring. And to a degree I get this. Being surrounded my games where 100 points are scored, and then going to watch soccer, which could well be a 0-0 draw, it’s easy to imagine this. But soccer is like chess, it’s in the build up. Goals don’t just happen, they are planned moves ahead.

We were certainly in for a treat. Four goals, two penalties, one missed, one scored. TFC (as they are known) win 4-0. For the first goal, as is my luck, I was out buying a souvenir TFC beaker, with no TV screens only audio commentary. The commentary was so bad, I was convinced New York has scored until I got back to my seat and checked out the score. What pleased me the most though was that Claire actually seemed to enjoy it. I understand sport is my passion and I get you bring people along with your own passion. But considering what I consider a popular opinion in Australia I thought Claire might not enjoy it. I wasn’t particularly ready for her when I got back to my seat, berating me for missing a goal and how good it was. She seemed to genuinely like that it wasn’t a game about brute force and there was a lot of skill involved. And I loved her passion for it, much as I love her passion for new things.

We both left the stadium jubilant after the victory of our adopted MLS team.

The beer festival is a funny story, I’d originally bought the tickets not realising the soccer was on. So in fact had early entry tickets, even though eventually we entered 5 hours after we could have got in. Everyone else queued and we entered the special, early entry line (with no-one in). The festival was in a park and the beer stalls I suppose were off every pathway. One thing that surprised me was the amount of big breweries there (Bud, Coors, Moosehead, Molson and lots of internationals). The smaller craft guys were probably about 10-15 in number and around a fixed spot.

There were 2 or 3 stages each with a different artist. We hung around the main stage, Claire commenting how the whole beer festival site smelled of cannabis. Having never tried it, I just had to take her word for that. The bands were good, the craft beers I’d never tried and we didn’t buy a single token past our 10 each we got with the ticket. We had a nice surprise when one band, played a cover of their favourite rock song ‘You shook me all night long’, which most Canadians didn’t seem to know. But if you’re from Down Under, AC/DC are a fixture eh? The main act was Alan Doyle, who seemed quite famous, and had a very Irish sound. His music got the crowd going which is always a good thing.

The three hours we got there were probably just perfect and we wandered the 40 minutes home along the sea front before heading for my second pizza in two days from the local supermarket (who double as a takeaway pizza shop).

Holidays require you to be ingenious, take yesterday. Toronto FC won’t let you print tickets until 2 days before. So what happens if you don’t have access to a printer? Well there is another option, you can send the tickets to your mobile, but guess what, it has to be a US or Canadian mobile. Arrgghhh. Well luckily enough we have some Canadian and American friends and we got this sorted by sending the tickets to them. And then they forwarded them to us.

Our penultimate day was one where we were again planning to divide and conquer. Claire’s plan was to revisit the St Lawrence Market and mine to hit up some sports shops and breweries. Unfortunately the market is closed on Monday so poor Claire was dragged on a brewery tour of Steamwhistle Brewery. They are interesting they do just one beer but try to do it well. We went on the brewery tour and actually got the honour of sounding the steam whistle, which you can hear all over the park. The tour was simplistic but good, at only $12 each and three free drinks, including a bottle that you walked around with on the tour (imagine that in Australia).

We then had to do a bit of admin, so I could study on the flight home to Australia. So into FedEx we went to do a bit of printing before hitting a backstreet gelato shop. My flavour today was Rum and Condensed milk! Can’t say it tasted anything like that but hey, maybe my tastebuds are completely screwed from all my eating and drinking escapades.

We then split up in different directions to commence our final(ish) shopping of the tour.

We met at our final nice restaurant destination, Richmond Station. The service was actually exceptional, in Canada we’ve experienced a lot of slow service from kitchen to table. We’ve never really been sure if this has been deliberate, but what you’d expect to be a quick one course meal has taken us upwards of an hour and a half. Tonight, three courses served in an hour and a half, nice service, drinks were fantastic and so was the food. I’ve found the more upmarket restaurants in Canada a bit less snobby than the ones in Australia. We’ve turned up in shorts and a t-shirt and nobody really looks down their noses at you because everyone is dressed the same. It’s quite refreshing really.

We’ve moved onto the Aquarium for our last stop of the day. It is literally five minutes walk from our apartment and a good way to finish the night. The aquarium was as okay as aquariums ever are. To be honest Claire had eaten most of the fish in the aquarium in the last couple of week, so it might explain the scared look on their faces as Claire peered into their enclosures. There were some fish and some jellyfish! You could touch things, and there was a big travelator through a giant underwater tunnel. I wanted to check whether they served any sort of fish in the café but I didn’t really get the chance.

We were both glad to get home and put our feet up. It’s been a flat out few weeks and I think we’re both looking forward to getting home. For me, I’ve loved being on holiday but I do crave routine! This obviously will be interesting because in a couple of weeks, the routine I’ve been following for the last 15 years is over and I have to establish a new one.

We fly tomorrow around 8pm and hence we do almost still have a full day here in Toronto, however I’m not sure how much we’ll get done. We have some plans but I’m very conscious these have to be fluid.

IJS 31/07/2017