Getting old is not pretty

Last weekend I visited my aunt in hospital. She has been diagnosed with cancer and given weeks to live, so she is very focused on tying up loose ends. She’s very accepting of her lack of future, but is struggling mightily with financial concerns. 

Money has been a lifelong obsession: she has never, to my mind, been able to adjust her lifestyle to her means but I suspect that’s only the visible tip of a large iceberg of not understanding money and making decisions based on fear. 

Now she finds herself at the very end of her life requesting help getting a lawyer to sort out some property issues that have been a problem for 25 years. 

I’ve done what I can,  arranged a lawyer to visit her in hospital, and I’ve fielded several calls from her in a state about some aspect of money. I’m doing this mainly because I’m close to my cousin and this is a practical way to support her through all this stress. 

But I am gobsmacked that it has come down this close to the wire. I cannot understand how she could leave this to the end of her life to sort out when she’s had years to address it and get things in order. For her own peace of mind, I’d think she would have resolved all these issues years ago. I can’t believe she doesn’t even have a regular lawyer who knows her situation. 

It reinforces for me how important it is as a single person with no dependents to sort my own shit out. When there’s only you, you have to get a grip on your finances, your assets, your legal rights and responsibilities, if only for peace of mind. Believing it’ll all resolve itself without active management and decision making is naive at best and irresponsible at worst. 

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Why I am not a lawyer

This past week I got to spend some time in Court. I was there observing, for a project I’m doing at work. 

I attended two mornings of District Court. The first day was for case review hearings, where prosecution and defence are supposed to put forward an agreed summary of the arguments in the case to the judge who then can give early indication of whether there is an argument to be heard and if not what sentence is likely. This theoretically gives the defendant an opportunity to plead guilty, avoid the trial before the judge, and get bonus points for an early guilty plea leading to a discount in the sentence. 

When the process is followed, this is frequently an efficient way to proceed for all parties. Except of course there is endless pissing around on all sides leading to further hearings being scheduled and cases dragging on for months. This probably doesn’t bother the defendant but for the victims and witnesses, it’s a real cost having to come back to court time and again. 

The second morning was list Court where everyone arrested overnight appears including a large number of traffic related offences. This moves through pretty quickly as people are either bailed or remanded and a hearing date set down, or fined and discharged. 

Never having had occasion to be involved in the justice system in this way, I found it all quite illuminating and sad. But more than anything I was struck by how boring the whole process is. A lawyer has to show up for half an hour to represent someone who has made an obviously bad decision, usually while under the influence of alcohol, then try to present some kind of case for leniency or mitigating circumstances or denial of the events. This seems like a deadly mix of repetitive and detail oriented work. Likewise for the prosecutor, worse since there was only one of them whereas at least the lawyers only had to represent one or two clients. For the judge, it has to be mind numbing sitting there listening to one story after another with only minor variations from day to day. The registrar who was managing an endless stream of paperwork as well as scheduling court dates and keeping the whole process moving seemed to be the busiest of the lot. 

If anyone chooses a career in law and especially criminal law based on what they see on TV in shows like The Good Wife and whatever legal dramas are current now (I was going to write “LA Law” then realised that’s decades old!), I fear they’d feel sorely misled.  The same is true of NCIS-type crime shows as a representation of investigative and forensic work. Most jobs are a good deal more boring and mundane than they are on TV. Intellectually I know this, as do most people, but I was still a bit shocked to realise just how much reality differed from drama. 

It makes me realise that my own job is actually pretty interesting. 

Being my own client – badly

I’m in danger of becoming a bore or a sinner – a single issue nutter. Or a multi issue nutter perhaps. I have detailed conversations with likely looking colleagues about rainwater tanks: in ground, partially buried or above ground? Above or partially buried. Plastic or concrete? – definitely plastic. 20,000litre or two 10,000l? Two tanks are better. And that’s just the water. Solar power systems are occasions for even more detailed conversations with infinitely more variables to debate. And then there’s the issue of household appliances and how much power and water they use and energy star ratings and low pressure suitability. 

This is all important of course to ensure that what I build works, lasts the distance, and doesn’t leave me literally high and dry. But I know it’s way too soon to be looking at appliances. I’m not going to design my entire kitchen around a 4-star dishwasher that’s on sale right now when it’ll be out of warranty by the time it’s installed. 

All my design training flies out the window when I’m my own client. I know I need to start big picture and work in to the detail, but find myself latching into a detail and mentally committing to it without really meaning to, then finding myself constrained by it. 

Partly this is because there are so many factors to balance, and it becomes progressively easier to make decisions for every decision that gets made: when you’ve decided where the kitchen goes, other things logically flow from that. Constraints are the generator of good design – you don’t get innovative problem solving happening when there aren’t problems to solve. When there aren’t enough constraints, it’s very difficult to decide because there are no obvious downsides or upsides to any one option. 

However, I’m getting ahead of myself. I haven’t even got a decent topographic map of the land yet, and I’ve only spent a total of about 3 hours there so far.  I’m well short of what I’d have considered a decent site survey back in my professional design days. 

I think I’ll rent a GPS unit suitable for surveying, and spend a day walking round the land, recording as I go. Not only will I have got to know the land, I’ll have gathered the topo data I need to build a 3D model of the site, draw an accurate base map, and ponder the options for building sites and access. 

Once I have that, I can start to make some informed decisions about where to build. The main constraints will be access, sewage and views. In that order probably. 

Then it’ll be time to start calculating the size of my water tanks and the number of batteries I require for my solar power. At that point my inner bore can have free reign, for a while at least. 

A visit to the farm

I took my father up to see my new land. He was quite taken with it. It’s hard not to be: it was late afternoon when we got there and the light through the clouds was quite magical. 


It was very boggy underfoot though as it had been raining hard for the past 48 hours. We got stuck driving up the access road. So that’s my first priority: grade, drain and gravel the road so it’s passable. 

We wandered around a bit, seeking out views and possible building sites and found a lovely one with views to the ranges and down a gully to the river flats. 

The gullies are a lot steeper than I remembered – too much Google mapping and its pseudo 3D had led me to a false view of the terrain. 

It’s a lot of land. No question. I have moments of panic when I realise just how much land there is, because I have no idea what to do with it all, except that I don’t have to worry about that because that’s what the farmer tenant is for. 

It’s all very exciting. It’s as lovely as I’d remembered. It’s also slightly terrifying as it’s so far outside my comfort zone. Although really it’s more of a return to a zone that I am no longer comfortable in because I’ve been out of it for so long. I’m sure I’ll get used to it again. 

So much to think about and plan for. I’ve never really had a five year plan before and now I really do need one.