Sunday, March 27, 2011

The decision from hell

First things first, it would be really nice to put paragraphs in this post. I'll leave it up to you to put them in, like this: ***New paragraph*** When I decided eventually to accept the job, I was only one week older than I was when I got the offer. I felt like I'd aged ten years. If I knew the job application process would provoke so much anxiety in me, I never would have applied in the first place. I was offered the job six weeks after the interview for Pete's sake! During that time I was drip-fed information which I tried my hardest to ignore. It was just like a Lotto draw, except one ball is drawn per week, and if you win you get to swim with sharks. Handcuffed. The Asperger's group last Saturday was particularly tough for me. I've met some wonderful people at the group and have made stronger connections there than I ever did in 5½ years at my last "big" job. I arrived early to make the most of possibly my last session. The first person I met was Chris, someone I've talked to a fair bit over the last year. He never seems happy but he's got a good heart and is someone who (if I could spend some extended time with him) I think I could help. By Saturday I still hadn't signed anything and my decision lay in the balance. I talked to one of the facilitators at the group - a warm, kind, gentle person who recognised how hard my decision was. I've build up a framework of support in Auckland; by accepting the job in Wellington I was about to destroy it. On Saturday night, as I lay in bed at half-past two struggling to cope, I thought to myself, nobody is forcing me to take this job. At 9am on Monday I'll get straight on the phone, ring that bloody 04 number, turn the job down and I'll be a blissfully free man. And on that thought I drifted off to sleep. On Sunday I had a swim in the sea; a dog came up to me as was lying on the beach and I thought how great that was. This is what life should be about, surely, not board meetings or exams. I had the same feeling as I bagged some feijoas from the tree outside Autism House. Before I came to Auckland I didn't even know what a feijoa was but I've since come to like them. That evening I talked to some more people and if any one of them had told me definitively not to take the job, that would have made my mind up. But after talking to my cousin who lives in Wellington, I thought more about the current job market and having to move out of my flat come what may. I made the decision at 1pm on Monday after talking to my current boss. He couldn't guarantee a timeframe, and that was that. I popped outside for lunch, not happy with my decision. I bumped into Chris from the group - he was crossing the road dangerously and I had no choice but to do the same if I was to catch him. I got his cell phone number. I'd made my decision but wasn't at all happy with it. According to Monday morning's weather forecast, the issue wasn't whether it would rain later in the day, but how much. So at least I wouldn't have to worry about tennis at six o'clock. Except it didn't rain. Oh god. If I had to write down the top fifty things I wanted to do that evening, tennis wouldn't have made the list. Considering how terrible I felt, I played remarkably well in our doubles match. Of course at sevenish it absolutely tipped it down. We should have called an end to proceedings earlier; we ended up stranded at - from our point of view - 7-6 (7-1), 5-7. We're scheduled to complete the match (which is meant to be decided on a souped-up tie-break rather than a third set) as well as the singles (where that crazy tie-break rule doesn't apply) this Wednesday. Last Wednesday we had the men's depression group. Another big positive in my life, hence it was another flashpoint for me. I still wasn't happy with my decision, and the consensus among the group was "what are you doing man?!" Yesterday I went tenpin bowling in Newmarket with some people from the Asperger's group. Well about a dozen people actually. The place needed a bit of a makeover I thought. It was full of Engrish signs (am I being racist? - I hope not), such as "Please keep your figure out of the ball machine." At the weekends you can play two games for $13, but if you're under five (and therefore can't hold the ball) you get two games for the amazing low price of $11! The last time I went bowling was in Peterborough in 2003 (I went once a week then) and I swear the music playing yesterday came from exactly the same tape. When I played regularly I was consistent but unspectacular. Yesterday I was inconsistent and unspectacular. I found the afternoon quite stressful with all the noise and someone always wanting to talk to me about something when I was quite happy not to talk about anything. I successfully avoided any mention of the two W-words: work and Wellington. Adding to my stress levels, I had to pick up and drop off Graham who lives in Albany. We got lost twice; I felt knackered and like a right muppet. I'm now looking forward to exploring Wellington - of all my fears (and there were and still are plenty) the city itself isn't one of them.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Panic with a "capital" P

Yesterday morning, six weeks after my interview, I got a phone call from Wellington. They offered me the job! Don't panic. Don't panic. Don't...PANIC!!!

I had a swim after work tonight - that was relaxing. I'm looking forward to attending the Asperger's group on Saturday, perhaps for the last time.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The current state of the job market

I snapped this job ad (at least I think that's what it is) outside a shop selling Kiwiana in Queen Street. If this ad is anything to go by, I might struggle to find work when my temp job finishes. New Zealand has two official written languages, and this sure as hell ain't one of them. To add insult to injury, they put a bloody kiwi on it!

I played tennis tonight (it was club night). I found the whole experience painful and couldn't get home fast enough.

My depression has come back in the last few days. Any meaning, any certainty that we all need in our lives to stop us from going mad, has been missing from my life. At work on Friday they gave everyone who'd worked on the earthquake (including me) a free massage. Not a full body one by the way! I took up the offer but could have done with something longer and more vigorous. I should say that work has been the one thing keeping my head above water. Just.

I still go to the men's depression group once a fortnight. It's good for me (and everyone else there I'm sure). My only criticism is that Brendan tends to dominate proceedings; I emailed Andy today with a suggestion on how to stop him from taking over. In the second half of last week's session we watched a dreadful movie - that was fine by me because I was about to nod off.

I watched with disbelief on Friday night as a giant wall of water swept everything in its path, wiping whole towns off the map. Many thousands have lost their lives. It was some relief to see a scientist on TV tonight play down the risks of nuclear Armageddon. The earthquake registered a colossal nine but after the Christchurch event we can all get our heads around big earthquakes. The tsunami was mind-blowing stuff but we get warnings of tsunamis in New Zealand and know what they're about. Mention nukes though and you're entering a whole new sphere: Seriously Scary Shit.

I don't normally listen to National Radio but have done since the Christchurch quake. On the way back from tennis I heard this song (called Son Mystère and sung in French) by a band from Berlin called 17 Hippies. I presumed they were new but have actually been around since '95. Here you go:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tennis tales II

On Monday night we played Milford who always seem to have a strong team. As soon as I clapped eyes on our opponents I knew we'd be in for a tough time; I recognised some faces from previous losing encounters. In the doubles I played with a young guy - twentyish - who blasts seven bells out of the ball. He's got all the shots, including deft touches at the net and a safe but effective second serve, but he can't bring himself to use anything sub-Scud. His service games were a nerve-wracking experience as fuzzy yellow bullets whistled past my ear at something approaching Mach 2, often landing beyond the baseline. I haven't won a night-time doubles match for ages and have been on the wrong end of some real hidings. Nothing changed on Monday as we went down two and two.

Due to the way we split up the team, my singles opponent was someone I didn't play in the doubles. His doubles match was a real marathon though, so after our bash-and-crash I had an hour to wait while I watched him play. He was from Eastern Europe and took tennis seriously. What else could you expect from someone whose first name was Boris and whose surname began with B? He went through an elaborate service routine, seemingly measuring the exact angle of trajectory while at the same time trying to get into the zone. This was a bit scary because I don't even have a zone. If that wasn't enough he had four rackets (clearly worth more than a grand between them) and explained that they all had different levels of string tension, acceleration and whatever the hell else. Maybe he did this just to intimidate his opponents I thought. But when I lost the first set 6-1 without playing at all badly, maybe not. If anything I was relieved to get one game. Early in the second set we had a lot of long games and long rallies. I dug deep in those points, still expecting him to thrash me but at least I'd make him thrash me. I won those tight games and when I'd opened up a lead in that set he deviated from his game plan, rushing his play and making uncharacteristic errors. I won that set 6-1 although it was closer than that really. Looking back I think he was saving himself for the third. He reverted to Plan A in the decider. I made too many mistakes (for me) and I lost it 6-1. What a crazy match!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Natural disasters - will they ever end?

I'm just watching pictures of the tsunami resulting from the monster 8.9 earthquake that struck just off the north-east coast of Japan. Oh my. Japan's preparation for earthquakes is shit-hot, as are their building regulations, but when faced with a five-metre wall of water travelling at forty miles an hour, what can you do? Houses, cars, boats, a whole airport, all washed away.

I imagine the loss of life from the tsunami will have been far greater than from the earthquake itself, massive though it was. They've already had eight aftershocks at least as big as Christchurch's 6.3.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Tennis tales I

I found out this morning that I’ve got seven weeks to vacate my flat. Where I’ll go, and with whom (if anybody) I really don’t know.

Yesterday I went to the French club in Browns Bay, which was convenient because I then had to play interclub tennis at Torbay, a prospect I wasn’t too thrilled about. Before I took to the court I couldn’t have cared less about winning or losing – I just wanted to get home. It was all doubles, partnering players who were at a decent level and clearly would have some emotional attachment to the final outcome. That wouldn’t make it any easier for me. It was very windy out there and at the start of the men’s match I could hardly get a ball in play. When we hung on to my serve in the fifth game to trail by just one, we could easily have been 5-0 down. But then I somehow, from somewhere, found my range and was helped by my very steady, skilful and experienced partner. We had two set points at 6-5, but a barrage of big serves got our opponents out of trouble. Tie-break. Spare me. At that stage I couldn’t have imagined we’d get the result we did – a 7-6 (7-1), 6-1 win.

The highlight – if you can call it that – of the mixed match came on my own serve, when we were leading 4-0 and 40-30. I served what I thought was an obvious double fault, my second ball landing a few inches wide. They didn’t call it, but sometimes opponents don’t call balls that are obviously out. I thought nothing of it, called “deuce”, and stepped up to serve the next point. My partner didn’t like this, saying I should have waited for them to call it, and taken the point and the game if they didn’t. I simply said, “I’m not a win-at-all-costs person,” which she clearly was. Anyway we were well on top and I felt we could win fair and square without needing points like that. We lost that game but wound up 6-1 6-3 winners. Looking back on the afternoon’s play, the conditions benefited me. I didn’t have the technical ability that others out there possessed but if I’m in the right frame of mind I can scrap and get balls back, keeping my unforced error rate down. When it’s blowing a gale most points will end on an error so if you can just keep the ball in play you’re half-way there.

I guess I should tell, briefly, my horror interclub story from a fortnight ago. I won just two games in just four sets, making it my worst overall result ever. Whether it was my worst performance I’m not so sure – there’s no shortage of contenders to choose from. My depression was a definite factor – that evening I didn’t want to be anywhere near a tennis court. Both games I won (both!) were in the singles, against someone I’d played once before in 2005, back when I enjoyed the game. That time I won in a tough three-setter. As for the doubles, the less said about that the better. The big positive was that the evening’s exercise (what little I got) seemed to give me the initial boost I needed to drag myself out of depressive hell.

Tonight I have to play again – I expect my love-hate relationship with the game will continue.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Beyond why

It's eleven days since the devastating Christchurch earthquake but computer issues have prevented me from writing properly about it until now. It reminded me a lot of September 11th: just like ten years ago I was at home on a Tuesday afternoon in late summer, recovering from a depressive spell and generally minding my own business. Then I switched on the TV and everything changed. Rightly or wrongly I couldn't keep my eyes off the screen.

This time it took me a while to fully comprehend what had happened. Logically I thought, this is New Zealand, a first-world country. We have strict building codes. Yes I know the focus of the quake was only 5km from the surface but any modern building will surely withstand a 6.3, right? Wrong. What I saw on TV didn't look like New Zealand at all.

Just before 4pm my old boss called me. When he offered me a job I just about bit his hand off - that three-month spell after the September earthquake was hugely positive for me. The next morning I found out that the company had been affected in the worst possible way by the quake. They lost three people on the top floor of the PGC building, one of whom had come over from Sydney to work on the September event. Other staff members were extremely lucky to escape after being trapped for hours. The atmosphere at work on 23rd February was understandably eerie. For the first two days work was fairly slow and I followed all the latest news on the internet, hoping that my workmates would find their Christchurch colleagues had miraculously been rescued. The initial low volume of work contrasted with the immediate aftermath of the September quake which caused no loss of life, meaning property was people's number one concern, so clients were claiming within hours of the event. Priorities were very different after the latest quake - if you don't know whether your wife is alive, cracks in your heated swimming pool are some way down the list. On the third day following the quake, however, business picked up rapidly, and last week was pretty busy. It's good being busy and it's good doing real work that matters to real people without it being too stressful. As one of the few people who have benefited from the disaster, I absolutely had to donate something. I've so far given $43 or about two hours' wages.

In the wake of the earthquake I've learnt two important things about the human race. One, we're extremely fragile. One minute you can be talking on the phone to a work colleague and the next you can be under ten feet of rubble. Two, the vast majority of the human race are good people. The amount of goodwill we've all seen in the last eleven days bodes well for the future of Christchurch. It will take the city an awfully long time to recover from this, but I'm confident it will bounce back.

I saw an interesting piece from Jim Hopkins in the Herald last weekend. After a catastrophe such as this, the question on everyone's lips is Why?
Why did Christchurch get hit by two massive earthquakes in under six months? That's almost unprecented.
Why was this insurance worker killed by the quake while his best mate, who sat twenty feet away on the other side of the office, got out without a scratch?
Jim Hopkins isn't religious and neither am I, but he said that sometimes you have to accept that things just happen. In other words, they're beyond why. I'm inclined to agree with him.