Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Languaging

One other subject we talked about on Saturday was language, or the demise of it. It certainly seems that the level of people's language has been in decline. Pick up one of my great uncle's war letters and it's on a totally different plane from anything you see in your inbox (because who writes letters?) today. It's not as if he had much of an education, but he clearly made an effort. Back then, writing mattered beyond just getting your point across. I made the language-is-dying argument to Tom, and he replied that there are more words in the English language than ever before. That may be true, but a good many of them are along the lines of "selfie" and "chillax", and how many of the vast inventory of words do people actually use? How often do you hear a word like "diaphanous" these days? Or "cacophonous"? I'd bet good money that the "top" 1000 words in the English language make up a greater percentage of writing than they did even twenty years ago. It would be easy enough to work that out - perhaps I should ask the geeks at Language Log to do it. As for me, I haven't used enough big words in the 5½ years this blog has been running, and it's time I did something about that.

This isn't an easy week for me. We've already had several meetings about the upcoming move and other stuff. There has been much talk about organisational structures and I've found it hard to even remotely care. Today we met the CEO of the new company. He lost me at "we're gonna rock it out on October five." There has been a lot of braggadocio on show, especially from my boss and his boss, and I find all a bit nauseating. There is one boss I have a lot of respect for - the guy who manages all the field workers. He knows the drainage networks like the back of his hand, and does a great job of training the field workers, judging by the quality of the survey data. I hope that the move allows them to keep that up, as I said in the brief submission I made yesterday. I also made the obvious point about the inconvenience and potential cost of transport and possibly parking. It'll take some adjustment. I'll miss the propinquity of work to home, and the plethora of gastronomic establishments I currently have at my disposal when borborygmus arises. On Friday we've got our mid-winter party after work. I wonder how that will pan out. It has the potential to be quite stressful. At least when I get home it'll be the weekend and I'll be able to relax. Oh wait...

I saw my counsellor last week for the first time in ages. In our previous session she used "language" as a verb, as she'd done many times before. "Do you like the way I'm languaging this?" I'd let her off all those other times - she's a very helpful counsellor - but I was finally languaged out and I pulled her up on it. Last week there was no languaging, and we agreed upon a goal for me, to be working for myself by 1st January 2016. It's a good goal, because I fear I'll be somnambulating through life as long as I work for someone else. We talked about coming off the Efexor last December - that was actually a pretty big deal, and even though the withdrawal symptoms were awful, it was worth it.

National unveiled their housing policy at the weekend. It might increase the supply of homes in Auckland, where things have gone completely nuts, but it'll definitely increase demand, and any policy that does that is crazy. If it was up to me I'd bring in a capital gains tax, as Labour plan to do, and I wouldn't make the family home exempt. Why should it matter whether you own a single property worth $2 million, or if that sum includes your Pauanui bach and a couple of rentals? Under my system, your tax rate would reduce the longer you own the property, reaching zero after ten or fifteen years.

I've got my Chinese class tomorrow. In last week's lesson we learnt how to say where things (like the bank or the cinema) are, and where you come from. We learnt a few words for countries, such as France which is "Fă guó". Someone asked if that's because it sounds like "foie gras"!

Kevin was in some pain yesterday, as a result of the operation rather than the fistula itself. I really do hope he's sorted out now. Not being sorted can mean not being able to go the toilet, which doesn't bear thinking about.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

It's the economy, stupid

Yesterday the southerly continued to rip through Wellington, and it kept me inside for most of the day. Inside isn't a place I like to be on a Saturday. I did however catch up with the ex-facilitator of the Wellington autism group (who I saw in Auckland last month) and her husband. They were down for Beervana. We met at Joe's Garage on Tory Street, and covered a few conversation topics in a fairly short space of time. One of them was my flatmate. He is effectively a boarder. As they say these days, I'm over it all. I count down the weekends, because they're the most exhausting part of the week, and also because 17 is a manageable number. On Wednesday Kevin had what I hope is his last operation on his bum. He doesn't seem to be in pain. He was given a lot of medication after the op, and when I got home from work on Thursday there was all manner of lotions and creams and sprays and pills, in just about every corner of the kitchen and lounge. He'd had medicines lying around for months, but I'd tolerated that, probably because I'm quite a tolerant person. But the increased volume of them was more than I could handle. "I see you've got your drugs lying all over the place, like there, there, there, and [pointing to the couch] there." "Uh-huh, yeah." Have you got Asperger's? It's OK, you can tell me. "Um, do you mind not having your drugs everywhere?" He took all the medication downstairs, including the stuff that was there before.

We also talked about property ownership. So far for me, it hasn't been what it was cracked up to be. In fact I associate buying this place with "bad", because I had quite bad depression around the time I bought it, and had to leave my well-paying role almost the moment I got my hands on the keys. That bad stuff had little to do with the property purchase, but it's hard for the mind to break the connection. It's a bit like my brother's attitude towards New Zealand: bad things happened while he was here, none of which were related to NZ, but he still doesn't want to set foot in the country ever again. Of course in my case more bad stuff has happened since early 2012 - the earthquake assessment, more depression, and a difficult-to-handle flatmate - none of which has helped. Perhaps the hardest thing for me about owning a property has been the added pressure of earning an income. Certain types of people can expect to earn an income that heads steadily northwards, or at the very least, northeast. I'm not one of those people. In 2009 I earned a good salary, then the following year my biggest source of income was online poker. In 2011 I was back to earning good money, almost half of which disappeared for the next two years. If I couldn't eat it, I wasn't buying it. This year has seen an uptick again, thanks also to Kevin, but I'm still earning far less than I was in '09 and '11, and it's anyone's guess what will happen next. That unpredictability doesn't lend itself to paying off a mortgage. Why can't I be like "normal" people and climb the career ladder? That's pretty simple, and I've said it before. Relationships, teamwork, all that stuff is far from innate to me. It wasn't obvious to me in that beanbag relay race when I was five - I had to learn what you were supposed to do - and it still isn't obvious now. And it's absolutely crucial to one's success in the workplace (and even wanting to succeed in the workplace). Joining a new organisation is always the same for me. I can wing it for a while, then it just gets too hard. That's what makes a temp job so good. You're hired to perform a specific task - there's no guesswork - and you're not expected to do any of that networking crap because you won't be there long enough.

We also talked about the economic shift that took place in the early eighties. In New Zealand the word for this was Rogernomics, after Roger Douglas, but similar policy changes took place all over the developed world. It's funny that the subject of phones came up. In the UK until the eighties, everyone had the same rotary BT phone. If you were lucky, you got to choose the colour. We had a brown one. Actually nobody really had a phone, because it remained the property of BT, which was privatised under Thatcher in 1984. I read a really good book which touched on the economic reforms of the 1980s, as well as homelessness, love and depression. Written by Elliott Perlman and based in Melbourne, it's simply called Three Dollars. At some point in the eighties, stock markets became mainstream and the ups and downs were reported on news bulletins. (The woman in the story thought this was funny - why should I care? - and came up with her own All Ordinaries index for recording the ups and downs in her mood.) In the eighties, money changed from being simply a means of exchange to a thing to have in itself, even a way of measuring self-worth. Jeez, if my salary isn't going up in real terms year after year, I must be a failure. How and why did that happen? It's an interesting question, because I don't think it's good that it happened, even if there were clear benefits to the new economic environment like being able to choose your phone, and getting your line installed much faster in a competitive market.

We did talk about the stock market a bit. It was good to talk to someone who understood concepts like over-diversification. When my gran died, she had a managed portfolio of shares. From memory she had shares in exactly fifty companies. As I tried to explain to Dad, that made no sense at all. You might as well invest in a tracker fund.

Perhaps because of the difficulties I face in keeping a well-paid career job (which are mitigated to some extent by my ability to not piss people off), I've sometimes found it hard to warm to people who do manage to climb the rungs of the corporate ladder. People who do something a bit different often seem easier for me to get along with. Maybe that's how I ended up with Kevin.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Grounded

If I’m going to continue this blog at all, perhaps I should focus on my attempt to learn Mandarin. Learning this language requires more dedication and concentration than my current living arrangements allow. In the last session we learnt numbers. Why is it that 386 in Mandarin sounds a lot nicer than 241? At least with numbers you can practise quite easily, because they appear everywhere. As I’ve found in other languages, the best way to practice saying numbers (and letters, in languages that are sensible enough have an alphabet) is to read off car number plates as they whizz by. I like that Chinese numbers also come with hand gestures. You can count up to ten on just one hand, so from six to ten, the signals aren't what you'd expect. The other topic we dealt with in last week’s lesson was family members. The Chinese seem to have more family-member words than we do, with separate words for all the different kinds of auntie you can have (mother’s younger sister, father’s older brother’s wife, and so forth). You're not supposed to call your elder brother or sister by his or her name; you need to use the word for "big brother" or "big sister", so my brother who's close enough to my age to almost seem like a twin, would need to show me respect by calling me "gē ge". And if he was my twin brother, born ten minutes after me, he'd still have to show me the same respect. Our teacher showed us her family tree which was strictly men-only. 

Mum and Dad got back yesterday from their 2½ months away. I was tracking their Singapore Airlines flight on flightradar24.com. It's a fascinating site (and would be interesting enough if it was just a world map without all the swarming planes). As my cousin's husband said on Sunday, what that site really shows you is where in world the money is. Tom is embarking on his big adventure and will be in Sydney now, about to fly to Tokyo on a 747 (not so many of those iconic planes now - sad in a way as they changed the world). Tracy flies to Europe on Thursday - she's away for five weeks. As for me, I'm stuck here for the foreseeable future.

National are still favourites to win next month's election, but their price on iPredict (yay, I'm still on their leaderboard even though I haven't traded for years) has dropped from the low eighties to the low seventies in the last few days. I've now decided that they won't be getting my vote this time. On Sunday we had lunch and board games at the autism place, and someone in a Bananagrams game joined KEY onto DORK. Well a dork he ain't, but he could have handled the events of the last few days much better. The blogger Cameron Slater is a nasty piece of work and if I were the Prime Minister I'd be distancing myself as far as possible from Slater, not calling him Cam as if he were my mate. Then there's Judith Collins, Minister of Justice of all things, who appears to think she's above the law herself, and also seems to lack any shred of compassion. So I won't vote National but are Labour, policy-wise, really any better?

The wind needle, officially called the Zephyrometer, was struck by lightning in a storm last week, and they haven't decided whether it'll be replaced.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Taking its toll

Brendan texted me yesterday to say that Robin Williams had taken his own life. Williams’ untimely death shocked the world. How can someone so talented who has given so much pleasure to so many people be so utterly depressed as to want to end it all? Poor mental health is a huge problem in our society and it shouldn’t take an A-list celebrity suicide to get people talking about it. Every year about 300 people are killed on New Zealand’s roads. Road deaths are readily reported on the news. You can find the figures all over the internet, and they’re updated almost daily. Road casualties are broken down month-by-month, by age, location, and type of road user. And wouldn’t you know it? NZ road fatalities are in steady decline. We’re all becoming better drivers and our roads are becoming less dangerous. But while the road toll is decreasing, over 500 New Zealanders are killing themselves every year, and that figure isn’t going down. Just imagine for a minute that suicide statistics were displayed so prominently and in such detail on a government website, and updated every time a suicide was confirmed. Suicides would be the second or third item on radio news bulletins. Millions of dollars of taxpayer money would be spent on suicide-prevention adverts, specifically targeting those most at risk. By tracking the stats, you’d know exactly who those at-risk people are because, guess what, they aren’t the same people they were in 1994. Knowledge is power. Yes, John Kirwan’s depression campaign has been a definite help, but so far it feels like we’ve only just scratched the surface of the problem. Depression, and suicide in particular, still seems to be largely a taboo subject.

I talked to Brendan on the phone last night. We talked about Mark, a 23-year-old guy who, for a while, attended both the Auckland autism group and the North Shore men’s depression group. He died on a sunny afternoon in August 2011 when his car crossed the centre line and collided with a truck. I don’t think it was ever determined whether or not it was suicide. Mark had a combination of mental health and other conditions: depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and Asperger’s, although I never would have guessed he was on the spectrum. He was what I’d call a “pretty boy”, and he had a habit of getting closer to women than they might like. He came from a well-off family north of Auckland; I don’t think he had a good relationship with his parents. In September 2010 he wanted to move away from home and he asked me if I’d take him on as a flatmate. I said no, using the age gap as an excuse, but really I knew he’d be hard work with all his conditions. If I’d said yes, he might still be alive today. If a butterfly flaps its wings and all that.
 
The autism group on Monday worked rather well. Our facilitator had to leave at short notice but that wasn’t a problem – we were more than capable of facilitating ourselves. My phone app – remember that? – cropped up in conversation. If I’m ever going to create apps or games myself, perhaps my best bet is to make a Facebook game.

Here's a great article on FiveThirtyEight about Nigel Richards, the Kiwi Scrabble player who is number one in the world by some distance and gets virtually zero recognition here in New Zealand. He's almost a recluse and is Zen-like when he plays Scrabble. Both his interests are obsessions: Scrabble and cycling. If he wasn't somewhere on the spectrum, I'd be surprised.

Here's another good article from Joe Bennett, describing a moneyed suburb of Auckland. He's right - house prices have reached almost mythical levels in that city. Things were bad enough when I looked at properties in 2009. The no-price thing was a real turn-off. I'd look at a place and ask an agent for just the first figure of the price. Three or four? Four or five? Give me a clue. Of course if I'd actually bought, we'd be talking six or seven now. But that was 2009, the year when my income peaked. I'd be really surprised if I ever earn as much in real terms as I did then, and I knew that even then (and if by some miracle I do make that much, it won't be from a salary). The earning power of a graduate is "supposed" to peak around fifty; mine peaked in my late twenties. Going back to the article, Joe Bennett has a remarkable knack of making mundane things, like that road sweeper, sound interesting, almost beautiful.

I had my Chinese lesson tonight. I still think it'll be ages until I can speak vaguely comprehensible Mandarin, if I ever do. And as for reading or writing it, that will take even longer. At the moment we're using pinyin, which is the most popular Romanisation system. The design of the system was headed by Zhou Youguang, a remarkable man who is still alive at 108. The Language Log blog is interesting reading. It covers Chinese quite often. The latest post on the blog, written by Victor Mair, features a Chinese restaurant menu. The two most impressive things in that post (to me) are that: (a) the Chinese have at least seven words for cabbage, and (b) Victor Mair knows them all.

My car failed its warrant. I'm not surprised. It's got some fairly large patches of rust on both of the front pillars. I'm getting the patches repaired for now, but all this rust will probably be end of my car eventually.

It feel like rust patches are sprouting all over this blog too. I don't think my writing is up to much these days, and I don't enjoy it as much as I used to either. So we might be nearing the end.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

RPG - not my cup of tea

Yesterday I had that RPG session, which I only took part in because of my flatmate. Any excuse to get out of here for a few hours. I enjoyed it about as much as I expected to. There were some really uncomfortable bits which involved me having to talk and try to disguise the fact that I had no frigging clue what was going on. I do get the appeal of RPGs, they just don't appeal to me. Different strokes for different folks. Tracy, the "game master", had spent many an hour preparing for the afternoon, and had a kind of closed-off booth set up at the end of the table with a laptop and rule sheets and books; it all seemed completely nuts. When we slew the minotaur, it was all over. We didn't go far beyond the allotted five hours, which was a relief.

By the end of the RPG I'd had more than enough, but Tom and one of the others had arranged more games, with pizza, at someone's flat near the railway station. I was persuaded to drive there, this "someone" turned out to be a nice bloke, the we played two games that were far more enjoyable to me: Tsuro and Phase 10. For Tsuro, the rules stated that the oldest player starts. Oh great. I might as well have been eighty. I hadn't played Phase 10 before, and some of its rules could do with a tweak if you ask me (I think all runs should have to be of the same colour), but at least I understood it, and I've always liked rummy-type games. There were a few aspies there, so some of the conversation was, um, interesting, but all in all it wasn't a bad evening.

My flatmate really is a lazy bugger. To give you some idea of how lazy he his, he doesn't bother eating the bottom 5% (at least) of the insides of any food container. That probably shouldn't annoy me as much as it does, but if you can't even be arsed to scrape out a jam jar, it can't be a good sign. What's more, recycling is a foreign concept to him. That would involve actually rinsing out the jar and putting it in the recycling bag for me to put in one of the bins downstairs. Way too much effort.

I sent my boss an email, basically asking for more direction. He's now pencilled in two hour-long sessions a week with me. He's done something similar with my team-mates. I'm glad that my email has resulted in (I hope) positive change.

I saw a French film - Folies Bergère - at the Embassy today. I enjoyed it from start to finish, but the scene that stood out for me was the father watching his son give his acrobatic performance - that was a beautiful moment.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

It's beyond me

The news we were all expecting was confirmed today: we won't be Council employees for much longer; instead we'll be working for the water management company whose name is as yet unknown. It's possible, but unlikely, that we'll stay in our current office. In all likelihood we'll be shifting to Petone, probably before the end of the year. I don't mind Petone at all, but it will still mean some added hassle and expense.

Work could be better. Or could it? I don't think I'll ever properly fit in, no matter where I work, unless it's by myself. Only a relatively small percentage of being at work, in an office, is actually doing work. The rest is all that people-related and politics-related and system-related stuff that I'm really bad at (and eventually, being bad at that stuff impacts on your work too, as you have less and less of a clue of what's happening). I'd say the split at my workplace is 40:60 in favour of the "other" stuff. My team-mate told me about her time at Saab (cars) in the UK, where it wasn't far off 10:90 by the sound of things. It's no wonder they went under. A shame, because they made nice-looking cars (I'm a bit of girl when it comes to cars: I'm much more interested in what they look like than how they perform.)

On Tuesday I went out into the field. It was a great day for it. I went with a young Czech woman who is fairly new to the Council, to try to find out how the stormwater network connected in parts of Berhampore and Island Bay. She was so good, and I felt completely hopeless. It's not easy (for me at least) to figure out what connects to where, when you have so many tiny channels that often give just a trickle of water, if that. It gave me some appreciation for why our data on open channels is so patchy.

I had my second Chinese lesson last night. It isn't getting any easier. In some ways it's a great language. I liken it a bit to Lego: to make a sentence you just connect the blocks you need, without having to add any funny embellishments first, and you can easily change a sentence by rearranging the blocks and maybe changing one or two, in a perfectly logical way. But obtaining the necessary blocks in the first place is really, really hard. As I said here, Chinese words have no "shape" to them; they're just sounds. We're a long way from learning the characters, which is a monumental task. Here's a brilliant article, written in the early nineties, explaining why Chinese is so damn hard. All the apps and clever programs that have been created since then probably haven't changed the situation all that much.

Last Saturday I went to Greytown in the Wairarapa with Martin, to pick up his drum kit. It was wet and windy, and I had to watch what I was doing as I went over the Rimutakas, especially on the way back. Then on Sunday I helped Tom take some electronic gadgetry off to the tip. He's going to Japan on the 20th, for a year, and is understandably excited. He applied for an English teaching programme at the start of the year and got put on a waiting list. This last-minute acceptance came out of the blue; he'll resume his PhD when he gets back.

With Tom gone, our fortnightly board games sessions won't be the same, if they happen at all. On Monday we seemed to spend more time eating cake than playing games, not that I minded one bit. The cake (in the shape of a Tardis), and ice cream and mousse and raspberry coulis (?), was for Tracy's 30th birthday, which is actually today. As for the games, we first played a printed game where you had to hop from one square to another, with certain restraints that could be relaxed if you had a special power, and collect all the gold before your health level reached zero. Or something like that. I've played a lot of games like this now. I was much more a fan of the second game, What's My Word? (A word game, yay!) Both players (or in our game, teams) have to pick a six-letter word, and take it in turns to guess certain parts of the word (e.g. the first three letters, or the middle four), and those parts have to be words themselves. You get 25 points for a correct letter in the wrong place, or 100 points if it's in the right place. The points system is what makes the game so good: the method of scoring also provides vital clues for guessing the word. Anyway Tracy and Tom's word was SLUICE, and Tracy's mum and I managed to deduce it. I picked INVOKE for our team, and they got it too, although I think we got more points overall. (Here's a review of the game - I'm enormously envious of the bloke who wrote it.)

On Saturday Tracy's organising an RPG from 1pm to 6pm (I bet it goes longer) and I foolishly said I'd play. I think there will be six of us. She's put a lot of effort into it and I'll have to spend some time figuring out how my character "works" tomorrow night, in advance of the game or battle or scenario or whatever I should be calling it. It sounds like hard work. Why oh why can't I play "What's My Word?" instead, over the best of 19 games? Is this what they call a first-world problem?

After ten years, a space probe has come within quacking distance of a rubber-duck-shaped comet. I have no idea how. Apparently the spacecraft will stay at that distance, rather than just drifting away again, and will analyse material from the comet that will help understand how planets in the Solar System were formed. It's all way beyond me I'm afraid. As I think this blog might be in future.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Good on him

On Sunday morning I heard on the radio that David Light had won a silver in boxing at the Commonwealth Games. Hmmm, that name rings a bell, and Light isn't all that common a surname. Sure enough it's the David Light who was at my tennis club in Auckland. I played him twice at the club champs; we won one each. In 2006 he was only 14 but almost my height and already quite imposing physically. He would have beaten me seven times out of ten, but unfortunately for him, I happened to play one of the best matches of my life that day, and I ran out a 6-4 6-4 winner, making maybe half a dozen unforced errors in the whole match. Fast forward to 2008, and I was going through a bout of depression and didn't want to be anywhere near a tennis court. After an embarrassing 7-6 3-6 6-1 first-round win over a guy called Dean Martin (yes, really) who didn't even play tennis, I faced David Light in round two. He'd trained hard over the previous two years and was quite an accomplished player by now; I was all over the place, tennis-wise and everything-else-wise. Predictably I lost 6-1 6-1. David made it through to the final and might have won but for some poor sportsmanship from his experienced opponent (Simon, you know who you are) who almost bullied him into carrying on in ridiculously heavy rain. David was an exceptionally nice guy, so nice in fact that I wondered whether it could hinder his progress. Neither tennis nor boxing especially reward niceness. He was the youngest in a family of eight; I met his dad a few times - he was also a very likeable chap. Congratulations on your silver medal David - next stop Rio.

I wanted to write more, but here's a picture of Auckland from the Devonport ferry.


I did a "Good on her" post when Marion Bartoli won Wimbledon. It's hard to keep track of these things.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mei guan xi

The last few days have reinforced my belief that I'll need to work for myself eventually. Anything that has brought me even a modicum of success has been something I've done by myself, and now that I'm in my mid-thirties, I can't see that pattern suddenly changing. Plus if I'm semi-serious about ever living with other people for any length of time, I don't think I'll be able to work with other people too.

My percussion course unfortunately got cancelled due to low numbers, so I decided to so something different. I enrolled for a course in Mandarin. I had my first lesson last night. My first impression: it's hard. You've got those all-important tones to negotiate, but the minute you try and form a basic sentence, all those tones go out the window. It's nothing like anything I've attempted before. The words don't feel like words at all, but just sounds, which means there's little to get a handle on. Compare Chinese to Indonesian, where the words for "open" and "closed" are "buka" and "tutup" respectively. Now I look at "buka" and think of "bocca" which is Italian for mouth, and imagine a wide-open mouth. As for "tutup", that reminds me of "shut up", hence closed. When you're trying to learn Chinese, those kinds of memory aids are far harder to come up with. And let's face it, Mandarin is not the prettiest of languages. With all its monosyllables, it hardly flows like, say, French or Italian. The Italian word for beetroot is "barbabietola", which with those three B's surrounding a rolled R, is a pleasure to say. The same goes for "pomodoro" (tomato), and you can see all those four O's lined up like four big juicy Italian tomatoes. In Mandarin, nothing on the same planet as those two words exists. But in case you think I'm bagging Chinese, it does have some really nice features. Word order seems extremely sensible to me. The word for "understand" is "ming bai" (I can't get the tone markings easily) which literally means "bright white". How great is that? A relationship is "guan xi" (Chinese life is all about your guan xi), and to say something doesn't matter, you say "mei guan xi", which means "no relationship". Makes sense, doesn't it? It's also a reminder, in case I needed it, that if you're not in a relationship, you don't really matter. I'm already looking forward to lesson two. (I'll try and get on the Batucada drumming course.)

I spoke to Mum, Dad and my brother on Monday night. Mum and Dad had just got back from their amazing Nordic cruise. While they were away they had an offer on their third UK property accepted. They're turning into tycoons. My brother passed his SAS course, but frankly (after what happened last year) I was just glad he got back in one piece, with only a few bruises and cuts to his hands. I still have no real idea of what he went through. How my little brother does it I don't know.

It's almost two weeks since I went to Auckland on a shiny new plane. On Saturday I went to the autism group, where the turnout was relatively low. It was great to see the facilitators and some of the old faces, as well as new ones. The topic, which people talk about in turn at the start of the session, was the pros and cons of 21st-century life. Gosh, where do you start with that one? Firing up the Auckland Transport app on your smart phone at 11pm and getting on the right bus with 30 seconds to spare, through to people not talking to each other because they're glued to their smart phones. The worst part of living the 21st century, in my opinion, is that the amount of hatred and cruelty in the world is the same as it was in the 20th, if the events of the last few weeks are anything to go by. On Sunday I saw Bazza in Papakura, and couldn't wait to leave his house with the unshuttable loo door and a combination of two strong smells: disinfectant and Bazza. He bought me a kebab meal which didn't quite do it for me, to put it mildly. (Bazza still plays tennis. He recently chipped in $1000 to help buy a defibrillator, after someone from an opposing team collapsed and died during an interclub match.) On Monday I met Richard at the very pleasant Pukeko café in Parnell. Richard had been sick with flu and it was good of him to catch up with me at all. I saw three movies: What We Do in the Shadows (a Wellington-based comedy vampire movie that wouldn't have worked at all if it was Auckland-based), The Lady From Shanghai (a slightly weird film noir from 1947 with a dramatic ending; it was part of the film festival) and The Armstrong Lie (also part of the festival, this was a fantastic documentary I thought). I didn't see everyone I'd hope to. I couldn't contact Mandy at all. Brendan lives near Albany and meeting up just got too hard; I had to make do with a 70-minute phone conversation which he dominated with his conspiracy theories on both Malaysia Airlines disasters. On Tuesday I caught up with the former facilitator of the Wellington autism group. We met at Zarbo in Newmarket. I had a great meal there, including a small piece of a gigantic salmon. She then took me to visit her house in Titirangi. They've done a lot of work on the property, especially the garden which, with its stream running through it, really makes the place. The Auckland property market has gone crazy in the 2½ years since they bought the house and its value has increased accordingly. She then drove me to the airport - nobody had ever done that for me in Auckland before, so I felt quite privileged.

The Glasgow Commonwealth games is in full swing. I'm not watching any of it. I was here for the Auckland games in 1990; it was all very exciting and a very big deal. I still remember the "This Is the Moment" official song. Some people have asked what the point of the Commonwealth Games is any more - "you might as well have a games for countries that begin with P" - and I kind of see that point. The argument I don't get though, is "the standard isn't as high as the Olympics, so it's crap and not worth watching." I've seen tennis matches between players ranked well into three figures and been totally captivated. The corollary of that argument is that if the best players are there, it must be worth watching. The Indian Premier League has many of the world's best cricketers, but to my mind it's manufactured crap and I can't see why you'd want to watch it.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

I need some elixir

On Friday we had a surprise announcement at work. It's highly likely that we'll be moving to Petone, probably in October, to a central 'hub' that deals with all the water management in the region. If and when this happens, I won't be a Council employee anymore (which means that my orientation came a bit late). My biggest issue with the move is that, as I'm currently paying zero dollars to get to and from work, I'm effectively getting a pay cut unless I can negotiate something. I have no idea at this stage how the change will affect my day-to-day work. I hope it means I actually get to do more real work. I spent a decent chunk of Friday on the internet, mostly looking at plane-crash-related articles like this one. Yes that's a really interesting subject, but it's not remotely what I'm being paid to look at.

It hasn't been a bad weekend. Yesterday I went swimming at Tawa. I got instruction from Isabel, one of the volunteers at the autism group. It's not like I can't swim - I've swum miles in the past - but I've got virtually no technique. Then later I went to my cousin's place. She, her husband and the two eldest boys were playing Clash of Clans on their iPads. They were fairly serious about it all. I couldn't quite figure out what was happening amidst all the colourful (and stunning) graphics, but it seemed that your clan's success or otherwise depended heavily on how much elixir you had. It's quite educational for the kids. They get to learn words like 'elixir' (which is useful for word games). But only if their parents are rich enough to afford iPads. Last night I went to Countdown for a change. I learnt that Maori for beef is 'meaty cow'. Well it's actually 'miti kau' with a macron (or bar) on the first i, which makes the vowel longer.

Today I saw The Epic of Everest, part of the film festival, at the Paramount. Anything Everest-related pulls in the crowds in New Zealand, and this film certainly did. It told the story of the British attempt to scale the world's tallest mountain in 1924, and it was fascinating viewing. The Tibetans are an amazing people (my dad was lucky enough to visit, and paint, Tibet in the mid-nineties), even if one of the captions (basically "look how dirty this Tibetan village is, and compare it to the beauty of Everest") suggested otherwise. I was amazed that they got that close - only 600 feet from the summit - only using oxygen above 27,000 feet or so. And I was even more amazed that someone was on hand with a camera powerful enough to film the ascent from up to two miles away.

What a week for air travel. Three crashes, 460 lives lost, beginning with the Malaysian aircraft that was shot down in an utterly appalling act. And to think that it was another Malaysian 777. It's all so incredibly sad.
FiveThirtyEight did an interesting (as always) article analysing the likelihood of plane crashes on different airlines. Its main conclusion was that, for any one airline, you can't expect a crash to affect (positively or negatively) the chances of another crash. It also concluded that crash rates are strongly correlated with per-capita GDP of the airline's home country, which is hardly surprising. Interestingly it rated Garuda as the fifth most crash-prone global airline out of 56. I flew with them a few times as a kid.

I will get around to writing about Auckland eventually. On Tuesday I'll be starting my percussion course.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Getting oriented

My new(ish) job, in theory, is fascinating: the drainage networks represent a whole new underground world. In practice though, I wondered why the hell I bothered turning up today.

Yesterday was interesting. I had my "orientation" at work. You'd think I might have had it sooner - I've been there three months, although some people had been there a lot longer. In the morning we had our introductions, with a distinct Maori theme. Being Maori Language Week might have had something to do with that. To my shame I know very few Maori words. I can count up to twenty in (let me think) eight languages, but Maori isn't one of them. We played a sort of game where each of us, in turn, had to say something we hadn't done. Everyone in the group who had done that thing then gave that person a lolly from a pile. I said that I'd never been to America and got ten lollies - a little over half the group. A few eminent people in the Council, including the CEO, then spoke. The CEO wasn't exactly over the moon with Tuesday's decision to decline the Basin Reserve flyover. I was hoping to see the Mayor but I think she was away. We got to look at some old pictures of the city and play "guess where this is". I could have looked at those photos for hours, and wouldn't mind having a couple on my walls at home.

After lunch (and the food was good) we went on an excursion, taking in WREMO (the emergency management office), the Botanic Gardens (what a peaceful place to work), the Archives (I'd be close to my element working there) and the ASB Sports Centre in Kilbirnie (where I found out that I'm really bad at basketball shooting). Our guide was great - he's been with the Council for many years, having started at Archives, and knew everything that was worth knowing about Wellington. I asked him the origin of a street name and he quickly gave me the answer. So all in all, it was a good day.

I haven't got the time or energy to write about my Auckland trip. Perhaps I'll manage that at the weekend.



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Man and beast

The temperature in the Brecon Beacons is forecast to be 26 degrees on Thursday. I hope my brother is OK. In contrast, in Wellington, it's been the first day of what I'd call proper winter.

One of the facilitators from the autism group – I’ll call her Isabel – volunteers at the Wellington SPCA. On Sunday she gave us a tour of the premises. This was quite popular – many people on the spectrum have a strong connection with animals. The SPCA recently moved to the old Fever Hospital, which opened just after World War I as (mostly) a final destination for TB sufferers. Unsurprisingly the building is supposed to be haunted, but it now works very well for the SPCA. It was upsetting to see animals that had been neglected. At one point I had a dog on my lap who was shaking like crazy; apparently she was just very shy, and had actually improved in that regard since arriving there. I hope she goes to a good home. The cat section was the best – I could have taken any of a number of them home with me, but alas the body corp rules prohibit pets. Tom was fascinated by the microchip reader. He thought that humans should have chips implanted too, so we wouldn’t have the hassle of carrying around bunches of keys everywhere. I’m happy with things as they are, although come to think of it there have been occasions when a microchip might have saved me some embarrassment. Some of the group went to lunch at the Hong Kong BBQ on Kent Terrace – I’ve eaten there before – but I already had food and drink on me and I just walked to my car and drove aimlessly for a couple of hours. I needed some time and space to myself – the car was the only real answer.

On Friday night I’m flying up to Auckland. I’ll be staying four nights at that motel in Epsom I was hoping to avoid this time, but it was the place that made the most financial sense. My room will have a TV with a few Sky channels, one of which will be showing a sport I neither care about nor properly understand. I might even notice a slightly unpleasant smell when I walk into my room for the first time, but the niff won’t be attributable to anyone in particular, and anyway I’ll soon get used to it. I’m looking forward to it all. I hope to see Richard, Bazza and the woman who used to facilitate the autism group in Wellington. Seeing people is the main reason I’m going. The other reason is not seeing people.

Kevin is pleasant to talk to. We do have a lot of conversation, even when, or especially when, I’m not in the mood for it (and he does like to talk about god quite a lot). It’s his complete domination of everything inside my home that’s the problem, rather than him per se. It’s a shame because with the change of job, life could actually be quite good for me right now, instead of just about tolerable. Granted, things could have been even better if that app had taken off and I’d made lots of money and I could have travelled and not had to answer to anybody, but that app was doomed from the start. It was like buying a lotto ticket with only three numbers on it. Dealing with maps of drainage networks is nowhere near what being my own boss would have meant, but it’s miles better than insurance.

So the World Cup is over. Germany were deserving winners of a very good tournament that will live long in the memory. The final could have gone either way and I'm glad it wasn't settled by penalties but instead by Götze's excellent goal. I only managed to watch the first half before going to work. I noticed that several of the German players had umlauts in their name; surely (Schürrle?) one of them would score. Germany's consistency in major tournaments has finally been rewarded. They've reached the semi-finals of every World Cup this century. England haven't got that far since I was ten. Making Messi the player of the tournament was a little odd, but what do I know? On the evidence of the few games I saw, it would have been a toss-up between Rodriguez and Robben.

Oh, and I've just noticed this is my 500th post.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

My brother's ordeal, and one eternity to go

Today I sold Julie's Nissan Micra that she bought new in early 2009. It's a classic grannymobile. I don't know what colour you'd call it. Peach? Shocking pink? I felt ever so slightly silly as I drove it to the car yard. At first they would only offer $6000 - it needs some work on two panels and the colour could be a turn-off - but when they came up a thousand Julie eventually accepted on the phone. It'll be interesting to see what price they put on it at the yard. I wouldn't be surprised if it's ten or eleven grand. Julie's just found out that she might be moving from her Newtown rest home to a retirement village up in Napier next weekend. She doesn't think she can drive anymore, with her arthritis and neuropathy, so she was desperate to offload the car. This whole Napier thing has come out of the blue after a conversation Julie had with her niece. If it does happen, I won't be too disappointed that she's moved away, but I probably will go and see her. Any excuse to get in the car and well away from here.

I phoned my parents last night. They'd just got back from three days in London. They saw two shows and visited the Maritime Museum (which has changed a lot since I went there when I was 16) and a lot else besides. Today they depart from Newcastle on a two-week Nordic cruise. Where all this appetite for cruising has come from I have no idea. Maybe appetite is the word: you can stuff yourself silly if you want to.

This weekend my brother - a reservist in the British army - is embarking on a two-week SAS selection exercise in the Brecon Beacons. I have a hard time even thinking about what he'll be going through in the coming fortnight. Three people died from dehydration in last year's exercise - it was all over the news in the UK. With just a map and compass, you really are on your own there. I guess that's the whole point. But some of the soldiers involved, like my brother, have survived combat in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. That they should put their lives at serious jeopardy in a training exercise just seems so wrong. I'll be keeping a close eye on the weather forecast.

Kevin knows the date I want him out by (well actually he doesn't, because that date has long gone). But he knows the date I told him, and assuming he's gone by then, I'm now half-way to having this place to myself again. It already feels like an eternity, so I've just got one eternity to go. At work yesterday I was doing a fairly menial task, but it was strangely therapeutic too, and the last thing I wanted was to come home to 24/7 Kevin and nonstop TV.

On FiveThirtyEight they were trying to get a measure of the off-the-mapness of Germany's 7-1 win over Brazil, largely by comparing it with famous blowouts in American football. But they missed one crucial fact: gridiron isn't on the global sporting map to begin with. No result in that sport, however shocking, can reasonably compare. You can say the same about rugby, although the All Blacks are a global icon, and if they were beaten 70-10 by Australia in a World Cup semi-final (heaven forbid), that would send out some pretty big shock waves. Only two sporting events in my memory come anywhere near Germany–Brazil. The first was Michael Johnson's 19.32 in Atlanta, when he obliterated his own world record and the rest of the field. That second 100 metres was stupidly fast. The other one that sticks out is Isner–Mahut. Not the same sort of achievement of course, but tennis is a global sport, and that match even overshadowed the last football World Cup, as well as the Queen's visit to Wimbledon, while it was happening.

Had Holland won that shoot-out against Argentina, their passage to the final would have been unsatisfactory (a dodgy late penalty to beat Mexico, followed by two consecutive wins on penalties). With Argentina getting through, I know the result I want on Monday morning: a convincing win for Germany, or failing that, any win for Germany. Before the final we've got the third-place game, which has a bit more meaning (and intrigue) this time than it normally does.