Sunday, May 24, 2009

Overwhelmed

I feel pretty hopeless right now. Thinking about finding jobs, houses and friends is just getting too much. I've had little enthusiasm for anything this weekend.

I did have a look at a couple of open homes though. One of them was too dark, and therefore a non-starter, but the other one might be a possibility. The ad for this place contained the word "fabulous" ten times, and it'll be up for auction in just under two weeks. Getting any useful information about the place from the agent was like getting blood out of a stone. There are 4.3 million people living in New Zealand, of whom 1.7 million seem to be real estate agents. And they're all the bloody same. When trying to get at least some vague idea of a price range, I was informed that the vendors were "genuine" sellers and I was looking at a "genuine" house. That was really helpful, because for a minute there I thought I was staring at a holographic image, and that the sale of the property was just one big hoax.

Last Tuesday I went to the men's group again. Andy definitely impressed me with his guitar playing, and what's more, he's written dozens of his own songs. It must be amazing to have such talents. One of the other blokes also brought out his guitar, and he could certainly play too.
On the subject of music, I just bought two albums off TradeMe: The Sophtware Slump by Grandaddy and Levelling the Land by the Levellers. The Grandaddy album has similarities to Radiohead's OK Computer and to be honest I found some of it a bit too weird, though I really like the very first track (weighing in at nearly nine minutes it's a real epic) while Jed the Humanoid is the saddest song about an alcoholic robot you'll ever hear. I first bought the Levellers album about half my lifetime ago (well I didn't buy it, I borrowed it from the library and then copied it) but my copy has long since vanished. I love the whole album from beginning to end, though my favourite tracks would be One Way, The Boatman and Far From Home. The Levellers are wonderfully British somehow, and the message "be yourself" resonates strongly with me. I mustn't forget though that the album came out in 1991 when being yourself in the UK was still an option - I feel there has been a marked trend towards conformity since then.

The highlight of my work week was probably Tuesday when I made $80 on iPredict during my tea break. I'm strangely optimistic that the coming week will be better.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What are the odds?

I took a bit of a dive last week. Andy put me in touch with a psychologist in Albany and I had my first meeting with her on Tuesday. This came on the back of a couple of depressing days at work, and even though I thought she was good, I frankly didn't want to know. I'll be meeting up with her again this week.

On Wednesday things got worse. I had a marathon phone call with Julie that night (an hour and three-quarters actually, so people almost have run marathons in the time it took us to finally hang up). Apparently I was a rude inconsiderate prick the time we went to those open homes. Now I don't think I am a rude inconsiderate prick, but I do think I'm socially clueless, and according to her I'm even less socially adept than I thought. My antenna doesn't always pick up the right frequency, and I doubt living by myself for the last two years has helped. I do my best, but if Julie expects socially normal behaviour from me 100% of the time she'll be disappointed. Hell, hanging around with a 63-year-old woman probably isn't normal social behaviour in the first place. I felt sick after that phone call though. I hated myself for having upset her, and realised not only that I'm unlikely to make friends but also that I'll alienate any I do make.

I saw Andy on Thursday. He instantly made me feel a lot better. People's salaries really are arse-about-face, aren't they? He makes a significant positive impact on someone's life and gets paid $x; my bum makes a significant positive impact on a chair all day and I get something close to $2x. OK, I've had to pass a few exams along the way, with all the angst involved in those, but wouldn't it be really cool, just once, to feel I was making a difference?

That evening I went to see the Scottish comedian Danny Bhoy with a few people from work. I wasn’t in the mood for comedy at all. I got home from work and thought, shit, I’ve got to go out and meet people in town and what if I miss them and then we’ll have to go to the bloody pub and I’ll be expected to talk and I’m so bad at that and I’ll just sit there and not say anything and feel stupid. The ferry leaves in half an hour and I haven’t got any clean clothes that are even vaguely acceptable to go out in and I look in the mirror and I’ve aged five years since the last time I looked and I wouldn’t buy a second-hand car from that man and my flat is a complete mess and I scream. My landlords upstairs must have wondered what the hell was going on in the basement but screaming relieved the tension a bit. I got into town and met up with two of my colleagues and had a couple of drinks with them before the show; I was extremely lucky because if I had to pick two work people to have a drink with, it would have been those two. And Danny Bhoy was amazing. I was in stitches the whole way through. Returning to the subject of overpaid and underpaid professions, well comedians earn every penny. Being able to stand there in front of thousands of people takes some serious cojones for a start. And Danny could make just about anything seem funny: Australian motel rooms, flatting in London, what the woman in the front row did for a living, and so on. He would go off on some crazy tangent but would always somehow get back to the original point. He could also take the mick out of himself; comedians who can do that go up in my estimation. I really wish I’d taken full advantage of the Auckland Comedy Festival – it brought a real vibrancy to the city which is so often missing – but it’s always the same story for me: there’s hardly ever anyone to go with and I feel silly going on my own. I now realise that comedy is a great drug for dealing with depression, even if the effects wear off very quickly.

Which they did. Friday was casual day and two fairly eminent members of the department were leaving, so we had lunch to “celebrate”. The head of one of our teams had all kinds of vitally important strategy meetings so wasn’t participating in casual Friday and was only at the lunch briefly. Plenty long enough for me to spill wine all over his trousers however. The odds that my glass would topple at precisely the required 45-degree angle were pretty slim, but it had been that kind of week. It wasn’t a lot of wine really, and at least the glass didn’t break.

Last week was an unusually sociable one for me: on Saturday I went to the rugby match between the Blues and the Crusaders at Eden Park, again with work people. I got caught up in a Stop the War in Sri Lanka protest and then, for the first time ever in Auckland, got on a train. Based on my limited knowledge of trains in the UK and France, I found the whole Auckland train experience a surprisingly civilised one. Crusaders fans are a vociferous bunch – about half the crowd seemed to be decked in the red and black of Canterbury. My parents live deep in Crusader country – red-and-black letterboxes are commonplace down there – so I suppose I was glad when the Crusaders kicked a late drop-goal to eke out the match 15-13 and keep their season alive.

Yesterday I went to Takapuna market with Julie. It’s a lively market and I should go there more often, particularly as there are now real bargains on offer. Among other vegetables I bought some chokos – until Julie told me yesterday, I’d always wondered what they were. I had another crack at that badugi tournament, and this time I lasted only ten minutes. I caught a 543A badugi, the fourth-best hand, only to be trumped by 432A, the top banana. My opponent took two cards on the last draw, so his/her odds of outdrawing me were around a hundred to one. I felt I was on a pretty good wicket there; as far as I knew, he/she might not even have known the rules of the game. One player on our table kept showing down hands like trip sixes and KK66, and must have wondered why he didn’t last very long. All my chips ended up in the pot, and that was that. Poker teaches you that in life there is always a best decision based on the information available at the time, and bad things can happen that you simply can’t legislate for; when one of these bad outcomes does eventuate, that doesn’t suddenly mean that you made a poor decision. When I’m depressed, however, my decision-making process goes out the window and I end up not making decisions at all. (As an aside, I was also dealt four aces in one badugi hand at odds of over 270,000 to one. In hindsight that would have made a good hand to bluff with.)

I've just got home from a hit of tennis. Today is pay day and yes, money really is still going into my account. About half of it will go straight into my savings. I don't know how much longer I can keep this up.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Nervous? You bet

I've been really nervous all weekend. My heart's been pounding away and I don't know why. Yesterday my stomach was in knots all day and I had to put on my relaxation CD before going to bed. I guess tensions might have been heightened this weekend because I've been doing things that could be construed as gambling, but I like to think they were small beer as far as gambling goes.

Yesterday I had a go at a badugi freeroll tournament (freeroll - doesn't cost anything, so can't be gambling, right) on PokerStars. I came 115th out of around 5500 players. The top 64 made the next round which had real moolah up for grabs, so while I was a bit bummed I didn't make it through, I really enjoyed the three-and-a-half-hour battle. That's after I got abuse hurled at me in the first five minutes and almost got eliminated; thankfully I survived and got moved to another table. It never ceases to amaze me how some people act online - they develop an alter ego, making them unaccountable for anything they might do or say. Or maybe their virtual personality is their real, bigoted personality which they have to suppress in their offline lives, hence why they're attracted to the internet in the first place. Whatever the reason, I don't get it. Anyway, the badugi was fun and it was clearly not gambling. I realise now I'm better at badugi than hold 'em. With hold 'em the only information you get about your opponents is their betting patterns - in a freeroll I can use those to deduce that they have precisely two cards. With badugi they also get to draw cards - I seem to be able to use that extra information to my advantage.

I've also be playing around on iPredict, where you can bet, I mean invest, in political and economic events. They even have a swine-flu-related stock. At the moment I'm a bit more exposed to the official cash rate (OCR) than I'd like, but hey we're all exposed to the OCR one way or another. And I can't see any mention of the words "bet", "gamble" or "wager" anywhere on the iPredict site, so I've got nothing to worry about on that score.

This afternoon I went to that auction in Birkenhead. If we're in a housing market slump, I saw no evidence of it today. People came in their droves. The auction itself must have lasted twenty minutes as the price rose above anything I could possibly afford, then above the reserve price, then above the vendors' champagne-cork-popping price. It was four-way action, reminding me of those occasional hands you get in a poker tournament when four players are raising, re-raising and going all in. A lot of the bidders seemed to have "advisors" - I was a bit confused about that - but it was certainly a useful experience for me. From what I see on TV, where some properties struggle to get a bid at all, I imagine this will be the exception rather than the rule.

Unfortunately a lot of my weekend has been a distraction from what I really need to be doing, which is figuring out what I want to do with my life. In my current job it's clear I'm going nowhere at ninety miles an hour.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Goal!!!

The exam wasn't great, but heck, I wasn't expecting greatness. The questions were wordy and required equally wordy responses; this meant I could always slap down some kind of answer, but I was far too wishy-washy and kept repeating myself. Often a question would be split into four or five parts and I would write much the same thing for part "e" as I did for "b" and "c" and "d". I'm not holding out much hope for results day (which is still seven weeks away) but the most important aspect of the exam is that it's over and I can now get on with sorting my life out.

My life would be much more sorted if I could just have a bit more meaningful human contact. Hell, some days I could benefit from any contact, human or otherwise. To help achieve this I'm hoping to buy a house and get a flatmate, so on Sunday I went with Julie - my real estate guru - to look at three places in Birkenhead. I love the bush of Birkenhead - it's so quiet and peaceful there - but I have to make sure I don't end up in a cold, dark, dank hole. Two of the houses were non-starters for this very reason, but the other place was wonderful if just a tad too big for me (it's got four bedrooms and two bathrooms and sits on a quarter-acre). It's up for auction this Sunday - the chances are it'll go for something well above my price range but I'll pop along anyway; my only hope is that it doesn't go at all. It's funny how being a bit of a loner has almost worked to my advantage in trying to enter the property market. I never piss my money away on a night with my mates, nor devour it at ├╝ber-cool restaurants in the city. And I can put my exam passes - each one of which generates a pay rise - down to single-mindedness rather than intelligence or enthusiasm for the subject. I'm hardly coining it in my job, and it does drive me up the wall, but I have managed to squirrel away a significant deposit in the last five years.

Last night I went to the men's group, only it wasn't much of a group - just three of us were there: Andy, Brendan and myself. We ended up watching Youtube videos including one of Dylan Moran who is a brilliant comedian. He'll be performing in Auckland on Friday - alas the tickets are sold out; I never find out about theses things until it's too late.

I miss being in the UK at this time of year, mainly because of the amount of sporting drama the likes of which you just don't get over here. Both my favourite football teams - Birmingham City and Peterborough United - have just won promotion by finishing second in their respective divisions. Though football has become bastardised in recent years, the system of promotion and relegation never ceases to produce edge-of-the-seat excitement. In 1999 the Carlisle goalkeeper - Jimmy Glass if my memory serves me correctly - scored a 95th-minute winner to keep his side in the Football League, sparking a mass pitch invasion. No amount of rugby or league comes close to that for my money.
And then there's the snooker, which might not even be a sport at all. My grandmother has been filling me in on the latest action from the Crucible (which has just finished), making me homesick. Many a time I'd be glued to the telly till late at night watching coloured balls being struck into holes, or even long drawn-out but utterly captivating safety exchanges. Matches would last hours, even days, and would regularly go to the deciding frame. And when I try to explain any of this to Kiwis, they don't seem to get it at all.

If anyone cares (I doubt it), I spent three years of my four-year degree in Birmingham (the third year was spent in Lyon, France). Part of me wishes I'd stayed there after graduating in 2002. That final year was the only sustained period of time when I've felt good about myself, so Birmingham always brings back happy memories for me. I then had to find one of them job thingies so I shifted back to Mum and Dad's and promptly got depressed again. I finally moved to Peterborough where I got a job making maps - it didn't seem a great job at the time, mostly because the pay was so low, but it sure seems a lot better now. As regards the football, well Birmingham has two professional clubs, Birmingham City (aka Blues) and Aston Villa. I plumped for Blues because they were less fashionable and less successful. Peterborough (nicknamed the Posh - heaven knows why) had always been one of my local clubs growing up anyway. Football was hardly in my blood so I felt I could support whoever I wanted, even multiple teams. I should point out that I never ever enjoyed playing the game. At school I was always last picked, and I used to stand there in defence, talking to two other hopeless players (but not quite as bad as me) about the previous night's episode of Red Dwarf, while my nuts froze. Man was it cold. To be honest I never really "got" team sports, full stop.

I've been writing this post at work; it was the most constructive thing I could think of doing before my lunch break. I haven't been silly enough to post it at work; I'll leave that till I get home. In the meantime I'll have to listen to two of my younger colleagues rabbiting on about the incompetence of some of the people in our customer services team. They don't seem to realise that the customer services people are poorly paid and are probably only here because they need the money to feed their kids, not because they're planning on pursuing a career in the industry. I've also got a meeting with my boss - these encounters are no longer daily - but apart from that I'll be counting down the four hours and seven minutes until I can go home.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Swine flew

I've got my latest actuarial exam on Monday morning. It won't be easy but I'm ultra-prepared for anything the examiner might throw at me. All topics covered in minute detail. All formulae committed to memory. All past exam papers attempted. All pigs taxiing on the runway, ready to fly. And with the amount of coverage swine flu has received in the past week, I'm beginning to think that maybe pigs can fly. Over half the emails I got at work this week were related to the virus.
On Thursday I met up with Brendan from the men's group. He's certainly an interesting bloke - he must have one of Auckland's biggest calculator collections. The weather today has been shocking - I even managed to get some study done though I fear it might be about two months too late. Tomorrow is forecast to be fine so I'll go to Birkenhead to look at an open home for the first time ever. I'll see if I can bring Julie along - she actually seems to enjoy this real estate business.
As you've probably gathered, I'm not overly confident about Monday's exam, so my next post is likely to be of the "mortem" variety.