Wednesday, January 27, 2010


On Saturday I met up for dinner with that woman from the autism group. I got to meet her husband (I wasn't sure what to make of him) and her daughter Charmaine who has Asperger's. I found Charmaine fascinating but realised she must be quite a handful. She quickly introduced me to Bakugan. "Battlegun?" "No, back-oo-gaan." Was it a game? A toy? A Japanese cartoon? I couldn't quite tell. Bakugan involved small plastic balls that, when dropped on the ground, opened up to reveal characters representing elements like fire and water. The balls were magnetised and would attract themselves to a series of Top Trumps-style cards. The purpose of the magnets was lost on me (in fact the purpose of the whole game, or whatever it was, was as clear as mud) but I played along, trying to impress Charmaine by juggling the balls or reading the French version of the instructions. To her amazement, some "players" had got their characters' power levels up to 1500 G's. "Fifteen hundred?" I said, "geez!" I was struggling to figure out how a piece of plastic could have a power level; the accompanying DVD, and Charmaine's enthusiastic commentary, failed to clear things up for me. It appeared some people even played high-stakes Bakugan, where you put your own plastic balls on the line; for some reason I found this amusing.

Charmaine also loved sci-fi and fantasy books. I suggested that she write a book of her own. She told me proudly that she'd already written six. Were her interests and obsessions typical of a twelve-year-old girl? Probably not. Her stepfather described her as being "like a nine-year-old girl" but I didn't see her that way. I felt she was age-neutral as well as gender-neutral (I can now see where Jen Birch was coming from in her book when she talked of her feelings of androgyny). Charmaine is a Kiwi born and bred, but you wouldn't know it from her accent. Instead she talks like a Pom who's spent a couple of years in the States. This underlined for me that Charmaine is very much her own person.

Autism in all its forms is intriguing and at times can even be entertaining. I find it easy to warm to people with the condition, but it's also easy to forget that it can actually make life very difficult, both for the people themselves and for those they live with. This was certainly the case for Charmaine. I think her mother (who homeschools her) and stepfather do a remarkable job.

On Monday I played interclub tennis for the first time this year. For some reason tennis is a flashpoint for me; it exposes my mental frailties. I used to love the game but in the last two years it's become a struggle. I wasn't at my best mentally when I stepped on the court yesterday, and playing the doubles match with Superman certainly felt like hard work. My mind was never in the present moment; instead I was thinking, my partner's playing so well, I'm an embarrassment, God I hate this, I wish I could just get off the court. A typical service game from my partner went like this: service winner, ace, botched volley by me (I'm so hopeless at the net), crunching forehand winner, second serve ace. Looking back now though, for all his flamboyance, my partner probably made as many mistakes as me. In the end we were a tad unfortunate to lose in two tie-breaks, 9-7 and 7-4.

In my singles I expected to be blown off the court by an opponent with a far bigger game than mine. In the first game I didn't get a return into play and I felt sure I'd be on the end of a severe hiding. However my own serve had improved markedly from the doubles, and I clung on until the tenth game when he broke me for the set. I'd played a very good set, but once I'd lost it to an opponent who hadn't got out of second gear, I was almost resigned to defeat. But instead of moving through the gears in the second set, he slammed into reverse, and I shot out to a 5-0 lead simply by targeting his backhand and chasing down every ball. Then he started to play again, and I really had to dig deep to close out the set 6-2. At 4-3 and 30-all in the third set, I was half a dozen points (but in reality a million miles) from winning when my opponent twisted his ankle, collapsed in a heap on the ground, and couldn't continue. I've never won a match that way before. We iced his ankle (the bar fridge came in handy) and he went home seemingly OK, while I went home feeling a lot better; exercise always helps me.

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