Monday, April 26, 2010

Life stages

Following yesterday's Anzac Day service I met up with four others from the Asperger's group at St Lukes mall. After much discussion regarding the choice of film, we eventually plumped for Date Night which was hilarious in places, though I was hardly in the mood for comedy. It looked like we would see Boy which I must make sure I see before I go away. It was good to meet up with Richard and the others whose Asperger's were at varying levels and affected them in very different ways.

After Saturday's embarrassment I didn't particularly want to talk about my other tennis matches, but on Thursday I played what I imagine was my last ever match with Bazza. I'd rather not mention the score (I mean I'd love to, but we were only playing for the love of the game so the score hardly mattered). To cut a short story even shorter, we were outclassed in our second round match. Bazza was a talismanic figure at the club ("c'mon Belmont!") even if he could get on my nerves at times. Now that he's gone, that's one less reason for me to play there.

Saturday's singles - that match - was also a second-rounder. In the first round I got lucky and faced an inexperienced player. I struggled to an error-strewn 7-5 6-1 win. It wasn't much fun.

My dad flies back from the UK in a few hours' time. I think he's glad to leave and relieved that the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano won't stop him. The last four weeks, with my grandmother, haven't been easy for him. And as for my aunt, the less said about her the better.

Mum arrives here on Wednesday (by accident she booked her flight on the same day Dad returns from the UK). I'm looking forward to seeing her.

Tomorrow I'll be seeing a careers advisor. For once I'll be brutally honest and tell her what I want to do (and what I don't). I'll have to go to Mt Eden for this appointment (they recently closed the Takapuna office). On Wednesday, just before Mum gets here, I'll be meeting with my counsellor.

It's been a pain not having a car. Buses wouldn't be such a problem if I was making the same journey all the time, such as going to and from work, but as that's not the case I've found it all a bit of a struggle. I see people waltz onto the bus and ask nonchalantly for one or two or three stages. How do they know how many stages it is? I've never seen a sign telling me I'm about to enter the such-and-such stage. And what's to stop you from staying on for an extra stage or two? I can't imagine the driver remembering exactly who has paid for what. On occasions I've bought an all-day ticket that lets you bypass all that stage malarkey, but even some of the drivers don't know about this ticket, or at least they pretend not to.

On Thursday I entered an 18-man private tournament which one of the badugi regulars set up. It was a limit tournament with rapidly increasing blinds at the start, so luck would play a huge part in the outcome. I got a lot of luck, almost an embarrassing amount of it. When we got down to three I had over 80% of the chips in play, and soon it was all over. I followed that win with a fifth-place finish in last night's pot-limit tournament. That good fortune hasn't flowed through to the cash games. My overall profit did top $600 for the first time today, but nine of the last ten hands I showed down were losers and I ended the session at $599.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Two out of three ain't bad

This morning I played my last tennis match for the season and perhaps my last for a few seasons. I got out of bed, I made my way to the courts, I didn't win. In fact I got utterly thrashed. But in the words of Meat Loaf, that's two out of three which isn't too bad under the circumstances. I wanted the match over with as quickly as possible and got my wish. I lost 6-1 6-1 and was lucky to win two games, but I didn't care. We played on Court 1 where everyone could watch. They must have wondered what was going on. It was a match I never would have won even in the old days when I could still just about play the game, but this time I couldn't get off the court fast enough. At times I'd call out the score - "love-forty!" - before the point was over because I knew I was beaten. Matches are still going on as I write this, and a lot of people are down at the club watching them, but the thought of watching people play - and enjoy - good tennis on a sunny afternoon was too much to bear. And besides, I felt embarrassed. I went straight home, not knowing when I'll play tennis next. I wouldn't mind if I had a friend I could get the occasional knock with, but being part of a club and everything that goes with that is just too much right now.

It's strange what depression does to me. Not only do I stop caring, I also find it very weird that other people still do care. I have to remind myself that there was once a time that I cared too.

Tomorrow I'll attend the Anzac Day parade in Devonport and later meet up in St Lukes with a few of the Asperger's group to watch a movie. I'm looking forward to that.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Club champs commentary

Monday night's mixed doubles match was almost entirely rally-free and we were done and dusted in forty minutes. We lost 6-1 6-2. I don't think my partner particularly liked getting thrashed. I've played more and have experienced being thrashed more than she has, so it didn't bother me too much, especially because we won about the number of games that I thought we would. I wasn't happy after the match, however, when I found we would go into a plate competition. More tennis?! Please. Don't you understand? I only play this bloody game for exercise, and I'm playing every night as it is.

Last night was the men's doubles with Bazza. I'd been dreading it. It was a match we were expected to win (our opponents are fairly new to the game) but with the way I was feeling at the time, nothing was guaranteed. The match was delayed a bit, so I talked to a few people at the club and I felt more relaxed (sometimes that would have the exact opposite effect - I can no longer predict these things). The scores were close early on, but we pulled away to win 6-3 6-0. Both of us played steady tennis and it was like the old days when we used to win on a regular basis. As always with Bazza there were a couple of controversial moments. He called a ball out that I watched land plum on the line (or is it plumb?). I had a play on that ball and returned it, pretending that I hadn't heard him. But Bazza stopped play, called "Ouwwwt!" again, and our opponents accepted his call. I have overruled him in the past, but this time we were on Court 1 with dozens of people watching, and I didn't want to make a scene. Another time we accidentally started a game receiving from the wrong sides, but we did a quick switcheroo and our opponents failed to notice that Bazza had received two serves in a row. Tonight I've got my first round singles match; I happen to have drawn the better of our doubles opponents from last night.

I had lunch at the Patriot with Andy for my birthday. A very satisfying salmon salad.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ticking over

Today is the last day of my twenties. I can't say I'm looking forward to ticking over to a new decade. The fact that everything will end in a zero all at once - my age, the year, even the day - doesn't help. Tomorrow I'll be meeting Andy for lunch; it was very kind of him to suggest that, and it's about as big a birthday celebration as I could face right now. The last time I had a party, if you can call it that, it wasn't much fun. We ended up in some horrible sports bar in Birmingham (it might even have been the Sports Bar) where we couldn't hear ourselves think, let alone speak, and none of us enjoyed it, least of all me.

Being on the verge of thirty was one reason why I quit my job. It was time I stopped pretending to be someone else. I now know I couldn't go back to that sort of environment again, well not for a good few years at least. The question is, what now? English teaching and the mental health industry are my two main options. Oh, and my puzzles of course. I mustn't forget those.

On Saturday I attended the monthly Asperger's group. It's always an amazing experience. So many people, so little time. There were at least two totally new people there, one of whom you might call a typical "Aspie" - "hello, my name's Peter and I invent things", but the other was anything but. Whether he was trying to shock or impress me I don't know, but outwardly it appeared he was a born risk-taker with an enormous amount of confidence.

I took second place in Saturday night's badugi tournament. However there were only 37 runners so the payout wasn't huge, and I gave all my winnings back - and more - in yesterday's cash games. I thought I might have better luck in last night's tournament but bowed out in ninth place out of 55 when the top eight paid. I got all my chips in with an unbreakable pat queen, figuring that any pat badugi is gold dust at a four-handed table, but my opponent made a six on the first draw and I was out. A bad day at the office you might say. The good news is that I play at a low enough level than I can afford bad days. My overall profit stands at just over US$550.

I've put my name down for this week's club champs. I'm playing in all three tournaments - singles, doubles and mixed - so yesterday I popped along to club day for some practice. I got more practice than I bargained for. They'd organised a mini "FUN!" tournament. These days I find that anything billed as "FUN!" almost always isn't. We played a series of 20-minute doubles matches with sudden-death deuce, with prizes given to the man and woman who win the most games, regardless of how many they might lose along the way. So you're better off with 4-4 draw, say, than a 3-2 win. Of course I would never have been in the running whatever the format, and I think the eventual winners had won more games than I'd even played. There were too many people on the courts and I hated the whole experience. In the last match I was just going through the motions. Virtually every ball I hit went miles out, not that I cared. I just wanted to get home. I waited around for half an hour while they presented prizes for this and that, not wanting to appear rude. "We've had such a Fan Tastic afternoon of tennis. It seems like every member of the club turned up today (you're telling me). It's so Fan Tastic that you could all make it."

My three matches in the club champs are on consecutive nights starting tonight. My first match, a mixed doubles, won't be a problem because it's a match we're expected to lose. The other two, which I actually have a chance of winning, I can't say I'm looking forward to. I'll post my results later in the week.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Panic stations

I had panic attacks both yesterday and the day before. At least I think that's what they were. One moment everything was normal, then the whole room started to spin, as if I'd been drinking, and I couldn't feel my arms or legs. Yesterday's one happened at around 9pm. I felt sick and lay on my stomach on my bed for a while. I then felt very weak and exceptionally hungry, like I hadn't eaten for days. What can I have that's quick? Weet-Bix. But that milk container is so heavy! I unplugged the phone (it was about the time Mum was likely to ring), ate my Weet-Bix in bed (the sugar tasted much sweeter than it normally does) and then went to sleep. This morning I'm fine.

I've had an up-and-down sort of week. Hopeful one day, utterly hopeless the next. On Monday night at Takapuna I played my last pair of interclub matches for the season. In my singles I was totally outgunned by a 17-year-old whose father coaches the game and whose 12-year-old sister is ranked second in the country for her age group (and can now beat her big brother). Man did that serve come down fast. His forehand was an equally effective weapon; I aimed everything at his backhand which, unfortunately for me, he was often able to run round. The Takapuna courts had ample space between the baseline and the fence, which was just as well because I needed virtually all of it. I lost the first set 6-2 in 22 minutes (yes I timed it again). The second was closer: at 3-3 I had a point to win each of the next two games. Had I won those points the outcome might have been different, but in the last game at 5-4 he slammed down four more booming serves to snuff out any chance I might have had. I broke his serve just once in the match; in that game he double faulted twice to give me a love-30 head start, and even then I only just won it.

What happened next, in the doubles with Superman, was quite a surprise. We played well but we were up against two young guys (including the one who had just beaten me) who were only interested in the singles. Once we were on top, they simply didn't care, and we won 6-1 6-1. The night's other matches also reached a swift conclusion and we were able to have a few drinks afterwards. Being a Monday night, and ... er ... New Zealand, everything is normally shut by the time we get off the court. After Saturday's experience which I found pretty horrible, I can almost say I enjoyed my tennis on Monday.

I spoke to my dad last night (my panic attack, or whatever it was, happened almost has we hung up). We had a good chat, mainly because we never talked about me. My grandmother isn't as bad as my dad had feared, but she's losing her memory and that is upsetting her. In fact she lived in morbid fear of losing her memory long before it actually happened.

Yesterday I started to think about the ins and outs of my trip for maybe the first time. I really don't like to plan things. The future, even a positive future such as a holiday, tends to scare me. I booked a Ryanair flight from Stansted to Brescia for May 12th; my plan is to spend nine days or so exploring the north of Italy, then visit Marseille, get the TGV up to Paris, go to Roland-Garros if I can somehow wangle myself a ticket, then catch the Eurostar (which I haven't booked yet) back to London.

Talking of UK flights, due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland, nobody in or around the UK is currently flying anywhere.

This afternoon I'll be meeting Richard and the rest of the Asperger's gang for their monthly meeting. I'm looking forward to it. It's one of the highlights of my month.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I'm NOT being negative

It hasn't been a great few days. My conversation with Dad on Wednesday only made me feel worse about myself. I told him about the puzzles and how much they were paying me. "Is that dollars or pounds?" was his immediate reply. Pounds I said (I'd converted the figure). "Oh well. Better than nothing I suppose. I hope they're not taking you too long." C'mon Dad. Give me some encouragement, please. When we hung up, I felt sick. Why do I even bother? If the figure had been in dollars (and therefore less than half as much) I wonder what he might have said then?!

My dad's an artist. Paints pictures. He's made a living from it since 1977. I'm very proud of him. But as you can imagine, his income is unpredictable. He'll sell twenty paintings at an exhibition and then nothing for weeks. These barren spells really get him down. Not because they put my parents in financial dire straits (they don't), but because he only feels his work is any good if people are buying it. When he does make a sale - or two - after a dry patch, the last thing I'd say to him is, "oh right, only a small one then. Hope it didn't take you too long." Let's face it, making any kind of living out of selling art is no mean feat. And it isn't the eighties any more. When I was a kid, his paintings almost flew off the walls. He was one of the best in the business in my own (perhaps biased) opinion, and still is, but art was a fashionable thing to have back then, and people appreciated good art. Now people don't want to cough up two weeks' wages on something to stick on the wall, and would rather spend that sort of money on a 52-inch LCD TV. Or is it LED?

When I met my counsellor later on Wednesday, we talked about all the negativity coming from my parents, and strategies to deal with it. The next day, when I spoke to Mum, I tried out one of these strategies. It failed miserably. I told her that my brother (who almost stopped communicating with my parents for five years) had the right idea. She put the phone down on me. We did later repair much of the damage, but it wasn't nice.

I do think Mum and Dad are partly to blame (they do like to seek out worst-case scenarios) but a lot of the problem is my level of self-confidence. Most of the time this hovers around zero, and when I'm depressed it drops well below zero. I don't have many people to talk to, so anything my parents say (especially if it's less than positive) carries far more weight than it should. Hell, I'll be thirty next week! I'm old enough to have my own family.

I stayed up till 1:30 on Friday night to finish those puzzles (I'd better not tell Dad that) and on Saturday I played tennis. I was on the court in body, but not really in mind. Our opponents were a level above us, so it was hardly surprising that of the four sets I played, I lost three of them 6-1. The first match, with Bazza, started atrociously. The opening set was over in 19 minutes (isn't it funny that I thought to time it?); we put up a much better fight in an hour-long second set, storming out to a shock 5-2 lead and bringing up a set point. But in the end it was a struggle even to take the set to a tie-break, which we lost 7-3. The mixed match wasn't much fun. It was typical of many of my recent on-court experiences. At the start I at least have some idea of what I'm doing, but after a while I no longer know where I am or who I am or why I am. I was really only playing for the exercise and the mental health benefits I get from that; all those games and sets hardly mattered. I'll be playing again tonight.

My poker profit broke through the $500 barrier yesterday in unexpected fashion. I had my first ever tournament victory in a 66-man pot-limit badugi event. Reaching the latter stages of a tournament always requires a slice of luck, and I received mine when, short-stacked and half a dozen players from the money, I hit a seven-outer on the last draw to survive. For once I capitalised on my good fortune by building a healthy stack. Eventually we were down to three. Every time I raised, the player to my left would reraise the max and I'd fold as would my other opponent. Then I got dealt a K-9 badugi (you could perhaps call that a badoggie). I raised. Sure enough, he reraised. I don't think you've got anything. I just had him covered and put him all in. He called and drew two. My badoggie held up. Heads-up play didn't last long. My opponent wasn't aggressive enough, or just went card dead, probably a bit of both, and I emerged as the winner.

Now is a good time to take a short break from online poker. I've got a whole list of jobs that need doing before I go away. Lately poker has been something of an escapism. And it's got well-defined rules, it feels predictable, safe even. I know that probably sounds ridiculous. But after a few hours staring at virtual images of cards and chips flying around the screen, I feel I've wasted that time, and often get more depressed.

I met up with Phil shortly after my poker win. We played pétanque at Bayswater and then had a long chat over a coffee. He's emigrating to Denmark at the end of the month, to live with his girlfriend he met on a work trip over there. I told him about my puzzles; he thinks I could make a serious business out of them if only I'd publicise myself a bit more. When I think about it, I've gone to great lengths not to publicise myself, in all aspects of my life. It was great to see Phil though; he doesn't have any preconceived ideas about how people should live their lives.

Today I'm coming out of my latest bout of depression. When I'm depressed, nothing matters and I don't notice anything. Birds, dogs, trees, music, TV, other people, anything outside me and my depression completely washes over me. Sometimes I can't understand how the rest of the world keeps functioning as normal when I'm malfunctioning so badly. When I get back from my trip I think I'll move out of this flat. Living by myself isn't helping me.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Getting to know my brother again

I spoke to my brother on the phone this morning. That's not something that happens every day. In fact it only just happens every year. I get the impression that this latest course, in which he lost two stone, has left an indelible mark on him. From a typically short email he sent me: "the army's not worth getting your legs blown off for ... I've put myself in harm's way enough in my time already." That's the first time he's ever come out with something like that. He's got a new girlfriend, Heidi, six foot tall. I figured she must be German but apparently not.

In the last few days, everything has been getting me down. My to-do list that keeps getting longer. My phone conversations with Dad where I feel he's judging me. The online poker - win or lose, I feel guilty about playing. And yesterday I got a phone call from my uncle about a possible actuarial job. Please, no! I'll have to apply for this job which will only put me back in the industry I so desperately wanted to leave, just to please my uncle and my parents.

I saw my counsellor this morning; this was good timing. She told me I really don't have to apply for a job I don't want just to please other people. This of course is true.

I spoke to Bazza this evening. On Saturday we'll be partnering each other in interclub for probably the last time ever.

A few months back I suggested that Scrabble's word list needed some serious weeding out. Well I heard today that they plan to do quite the opposite by allowing proper names. So if, for instance, someone plays the word QUART, I can (using a blank of course) make QUARTZ and BAZZA, scoring roughly a squillion points. Yuck. The good news is that these new relaxed rules only apply to a special new version of the game, and the rest of us can carry on playing as normal. Which makes me wonder, what's the point in the special edition? People can play under whatever rules they like, so long as everyone agrees, with a normal Scrabble set.

Tomorrow lunchtime I'll be seeing Mandy, the only real friend I had at my old job. She's still there, and still wishes she wasn't. Before then I'll be catching up with Andy. So we've got the Andy and Mandy show.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I'm not addicted - honest

I'm tired and bunged up with cold, so I just want to go to bed. I'm looking forward to an extra hour there in the morning with our clocks going back.

Very little of note has happened since I last wrote. Dad arrived in the UK safely; while New Zealand is experiencing an Indian summer, Britain is the midst of whatever you call an everlasting winter. My brother has just got back from Brunei where he had the final stages of his SAS selection ordeal. Unlike most of those who start out, he got all the way to the end, but unfortunately (for him) didn't get selected. From what I gather, they had a small number of places and the final decision was something of a lottery. I'm very proud of my brother for getting that far; I personally couldn't think of anything worse. Apparently he's contemplating coming out of the army in the next year or so, perhaps concentrating on his parachute instruction which he currently does as a sideline. One of my top priorities on my trip is to catch up with him, to see him properly. Since I left the UK at the end of 2003, I've seen him just once, and that was only briefly. We've drifted apart, which is a real shame because although we're very different I think we'd get on well. Who knows, maybe I could even get a jump with him.

I spent this afternoon with Richard, and a very pleasant afternoon it was too. We chatted in a café in Mt Eden and then climbed the mountain itself. It was the first time I'd been up it. It was a great vantage point; looking out from the summit gave me some appreciation of Auckland's geography, which although I've lived here for six years, isn't great. I liked the map they had there; distances to various overseas cities were marked on it. It was nice to be reminded that the world is actually a big place; my world seems to have shrunk since I lost my car.

This paragraph will be nothing but online poker, so you may want to skip it. Next month PokerStars will be having its annual Spring Championship of Online Poker, or SCOOP for short. For each of the 38 events in the SCOOP, there are three tournaments (with low, medium and high buy-ins) that run alongside each other. The low badugi event has a $16.50 buy-in, and fortunately it's one of the first to run, so I'll be able to play it before I go away. I'd planned to pay for the buy-in out of my bankroll, but I realised I'd accumulated some frequent flyer points and wondered if I could somehow make use of those. For 70 points I could enter a turbo no-limit hold 'em satellite which gave entry to an $11 tournament for the top 10% or so. As the name "turbo" suggests, these satellites are all over in a flash, so I was able to have seven or eight goes at them without wasting too much precious time. I managed to qualify twice, but instead of entering those $11 tournaments, I unregistered and took the $22 which I could use to buy into any tournament I liked. Satellites to the SCOOP badugi had a $3.30 buy-in, so my $22 would give me six bullets to fire at those. My first attempt never really got going and I busted out around half-way. Yesterday I tried for a second time; I made an even worse start this time and my chip count was in three figures for nearly an hour. Staring elimination in the face, I survived by hitting a T42A badugi on the last draw when my ultra-aggressive opponent had a king. He liked to draw rough, so unusually for me I drew one card to the ten, figuring it stood to be the best hand if I could make it. My read was good but still I got lucky. That was the turning point for me. I then ran hot, and with the top three making it through, I soared up the leaderboard to second place where I stayed for the remainder of the tournament.

That all sounds rather convoluted (and I'm sure if Richard sees it he'll laugh - he's one of the few people I've told about my poker exploits, if that's the right word) but in short I've now got entry to a $16.50 tournament and have $15.40 I can use for other tournaments, all without dipping into my bankroll. And I've still got more of those frequent flyer points up my sleeve.

Yesterday was Good Friday - in New Zealand the same debate comes up year after year about whether shops should be allowed to open on that day. Contrary to popular belief, shops are allowed to open - they just have to pay a $1000 fine which in many cases is nothing. Although I'm not religious at all, I find it refreshing to have a day when people can't buy bathroom tiles or LCD TVs.

Next stop bed.