Monday, January 30, 2012


I was almost a complete wreck at work today after listening to last night's Australian Open final that went seven minutes shy of six hours. I slept through most of the middle stages but woke up in time for Nadal to escape from the jaws of defeat in the fourth set, then go ahead 4-2 in the fifth. At that point it seemed Rafa would do it. It's a shame I couldn't see it (no I'm not going to rush out and get Sky) - these two guys play almost impossible tennis, such as Nadal sliding to pick up balls from well outside the tramlines. It's worth noting that Nadal had a break point for 6-6 in the fifth, which would have sent the match into a seventh hour and spinning into outer space.

So Andy Murray's wait for a first grand slam title goes on. I've heard people say that he's soft between the ears, or that he struggles with the big occasion at the sharp end of grand slams. While I'd agree to some extent with the second comment (though not at all with the first), his main problem is that he's human, albeit a human who happens to be very good with a racket in his hand. After last night I wonder whether Djokovic and Nadal are human at all.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Twists and turns

Today I went on my first walk as part of the tramping club. My preparation was less than ideal: I (stupidly I guess) stayed awake till 2:40 this morning to listen to the second men's Aussie Open semi on the radio. The 4¾-hour match had as many twists and turns as a snake slithering down a spiral staircase. From what I could tell neither Djokovic nor Murray was quite at their best, but it sounded like a gripping contest, at least when that Aussie commentator (whose focus was on everything but the tennis) got out of the way and Richard Evans and Chris Bowers took over. Perhaps the pomminess of those two announcers endears them to me, but they do seem extremely knowledgeable about the game. It was a shame, after such a close-fought match, that Murray couldn't quite make it. I'm now listening to the women's final between Sharapova and Azarenka. It's 3-3 in the first set; if it remains close you can expect the gruntometer to hit record levels. I saw Sharapova play in Melbourne in 2005 - the grunting on that occasion was almost hilariously loud. For the record she thrashed Li Na, who wasn't anything like the player she is now. Update: Azarenka swept to the title without losing another game! Mum said she played out of her skin.

Fortunately the walk started at eleven but I still felt badly starved of sleep. We met at Karori Park and walked the Skyline Walkway over the top of Mt Kaukau to Johnsonville. It was a nice day for it - OK it was windy as heck, but we had bright sunshine the whole way. I took a few photos and chatted to some of the others in the group to begin with, but I tired towards the end. It was the first real strenuous exercise I'd had in ages, and of course that's one of the main reasons I joined the club in the first place. I carried my new backpack, which I bought in Auckland, but it was too big for a trip lasting a few hours like today; I might try and get a smaller one off Trade Me for my next day trip. The trips are categorised into about six difficulty levels - today's was the second easiest level. On the club's website it says "You can be as fit or as unfit as you like!" I'd dispute that - if you were really unfit, you'd have struggled today. Maybe that's a measure of my pomminess - being brought up in the UK gives me an idea of what "really unfit" is.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


In 2008 Gran published a book which covered her long, interesting and varied life, concentrating mainly on her childhood which was spent in Wales. She wrote very well I must say, even if the motivation to write eluded her at times. I took my copy of the book up to Auckland with me – I thought some of my friends might find it interesting, especially the photos.

My grandfather was a Squadron Leader in the RAF. In the sixties they were based in Naples, which sounds like a crazy but beautiful place, if that makes any sense. My grandma liked to be known as Nonna, the Italian word for grandmother; that’s what we called her most of the time. I was taken by surprise, therefore, when I saw this shop a couple of minutes’ walk from the motel I stayed in:

What, if anything, the shop is selling I really haven’t a clue, but it’s full of old guitars, amps and Radiohead memorabilia. Not a granny to be seen. The umlaut is a bit of a mystery too.

I’d planned to make a (bad) joke about her becoming a Nonna-genarian at her next birthday but alas she died four months too soon. I’ll miss her a lot. She was very good to me as a boy: she (embarrassingly) favoured me over her other two grandsons.

In 2000 I flew with her to Cairns to visit my parents (Mum did a year’s teaching exchange over there). We spent a week in Penang on the way over there. Later that year she visited me in Lyon and almost died on the flight. Her heart had stopped beating for an extended period although she didn’t know that at the time. I vividly remember her being wheeled out, well after all the other passengers had gone through, looking almost unrecognisable from the Nonna I knew. She seemed to perk up though, so I took her around Lyon’s attractions, oblivious to how ill she was. In the summer of 2001, when she realised what was up (after one or two more episodes), she got a pacemaker fitted. The four-hour-plus operation was not without a hitch – afterwards she said it would have been nice to have “sailed away” then, as she put it, but she still had six or seven good years left in her. She visited New Zealand for the third time in 2005, having come here in ’89 (with my grandfather, while we lived out here) and ’98 (with Dad). In ’06 I made a trip to the UK; she and I spent a week in Paris. In ’08 I made another trip to England and went on a short holiday to Italy with a university friend; in those four days Nonna had slipped a lot – she must have had a stroke while I was away. A week earlier she was hooning around town in her Nissan Micra (well, not exactly: she went at about the same speed as farmers go in their tractors, but at least she was driving) and now she was trying to make phone calls using a TV remote or a calculator. Knowing the importance of one’s independence I tried to convince her to get back in the driving seat – she went 100 metres down the road and that was the last time she ever drove. She did bounce back but was never quite the same. I’m so glad I managed to see her in 2010 – although she’d slipped a long way, she was still her at that stage.

I’ve been staying at a hotel on Great South Road, close to Remuera train station and only a few doors down from the offices of Lifeline, which I unfortunately pulled the plug on half-way through the training programme.

Richard and I met up in Newmarket on Saturday before attending the Asperger’s group at their first meeting at the new location. Unlike the old place it doesn’t have an outdoor area, which is a shame, but its acoustics are much more suitable. About 25 turned up – I’d almost forgotten how positive an experience those monthly meetings were for me. It was really good to see Chris in a more positive frame of mind – 2011 was something of an annus horribilis for him I think. I felt a certain sense of shame as I made less than positive noises about my work when others in the room would have given their right arm for any kind of job.

On Sunday I took the train to Papakura to see Bazza. He’d obviously been busy cleaning – his flat had a strong smell of disinfectant. He hasn’t done a bad job with his place really and for somebody who doesn’t drive he’s got everything close at hand. He doesn’t have a lot of mod cons but he’s got Sky, so we watched some of the Aussie Open which, unlike in past years, I haven’t been following closely. He has a habit of talking incessantly during the game, and calling balls out that are in (which he also did in matches involving him!). His pronunciations of players’ names and nationalities can be amusing at times. For instance I never knew that Djokovic came from Suburbia. I’m glad I caught the match between Na Li and Kim Clijsters – a repeat of last year’s final – in which Clijsters dodged four bullets to come from 6-2 down in the second-set tie-break, sneaking through in the end as the Chinese launched a fightback of her own in the deciding set.

On Monday I met Mandy, my old work colleague, in Takapuna. Unlike me she’s making big positive strides in her job and is even dating one of her high-flying workmates. We had pizza at Mac’s bar – or whatever it’s called – on the main drag.

Today I’ve been catching up with Richard, who showed me his wonderful drawing of Emma, and I’m now sitting peacefully in Cornwall Park – one of the best bits of Auckland I think – writing this on my laptop. My flight goes at seven. It’s back to work tomorrow and who knows what’s in store for me there.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

She's gone

Dad just rang me. Gran passed away a few hours ago. She was 89.
There was no quality of life any more, so this is for the best, but it's still quite a shock.

I'm flying to Auckland tomorrow evening.


Dad emailed me yesterday to say he'll be making an unplanned trip to the UK. His flight leaves on Sunday. He'd been in contact with Gran's home; they said things were looking bleak. He did book a last-minute trip over there at the end of 201o. That time she recovered before he stepped on the plane - he rebooked his flight - but I'm less optimistic now.

I met Danielle again at the tramping club. Someone gave a talk on a trek they did a year ago that took in Mt Aspiring. Unfortunately Danielle left before the talk - she seemed interested only in signing up for trips; I couldn't encourage her to stay. Whether I'm anywhere near organised enough - or practical enough - to do any sort of overnight trip I really don't know.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


After my near-meltdown at work yesterday, I decided to take today off. I'll get as much work done by being at home as I would at work. Hopefully with my batteries recharged I'll be better tomorrow and I'll go in. It gives you some idea of my struggles at work that I can increase my overall productivity by calling in sick. It's only my second sick day in nine months so I should be fine.

On Saturday I had dinner at my cousin's place. I wasn't feeling wonderful but I instantly felt better when the three boys greeted me at the door. Tim, the middle one, fired his water pistol and wanted me to have a go. He informed me that they did have three water pistols but one was broken. I promptly broke both the other two in the space of two minutes! Oh dear! I felt pretty bad about that and bought Tim a slightly less breakable water pistol from Farmers on Sunday. I'll give it to him the next time I see him. A whole industry of water guns, potato guns, dart guns and you-name-it guns has suddenly sprung up, judging by the arsenal on display at Farmers.

My cousin came up with a wonderful idea for a business opportunity that could, who knows, extricate me from my current job. I'd be perfectly capable of doing all the donkey work but unfortunately I've got the business acumen of a woodlouse. I'm still positive about giving it a go. My cousin told me not to worry about my job - "you know it's hard for them to sack you" - but that's hardly the point. Being bad at, and totally uninspired by, my job doesn't help my self-esteem. It'll make me more depressed, my performance at work even worse, and my struggles to hang on to my job even more desperate. And if I start shouting and swearing and chucking things around the office I'll become decidedly more sackable. This is just the situation I was in three years ago.

I suggested that I see the Muppets at the cinema with the boys this weekend, but of course I'm off to Auckland this weekend, so I'm a muppet for suggesting it.

Last Wednesday I met up with Danielle from the autism group. She's very shy, even by my standards. We had dinner at the Moroccan restaurant next to Taste of India on Cambridge Terrace, and then went to the tramping club. There are in fact two tramping clubs that meet in the same building. The one that I'll be joining is the Wellington Tramping Club, not the Tararua one that lost a member two weeks ago. I'll be going on an easyish (I hope!) day trip at the end of the month. They had a map of the Tararua ranges on the wall - it really is a completely different world from the urban one I live in and all very intriguing. From that point of view, as well as all the exercise I'll get and new faces I'll meet, I'm looking forward to it. I'll be a bit apprehensive too though.

Danielle washes dishes to earn some money. It's not a great job but it's a job, which I know (speaking from experience) is really important. That's what is so sad about the gradual loss of checkout operators and airport check-in desk people. I had three dishwashing jobs from 1996 to '99. My first was at a 1000-year-old pub. It was very busy on a Saturday night and I always stank of fish when I got home. I was happy to do the job even if the social aspect to it wasn't a lot of fun. The pub had a massive electrical fire in '97 although I wasn't working there that particular evening.

Danielle will be 26 tomorrow. I'd like to get to know her a bit better. We'll be going to the tramping club again tomorrow night.

On Sunday I bought this album from Kiwi band Steriogram for three bucks (!), for the cover as much as anything else. The album was released in 2010 but the cover reminds me of their (amazingly brilliant if you ask me) Walkie Talkie Man video which came out about the time I arrived in NZ.

It's great that you can use the Basin Reserve as a park when there are no matches going on. You can't use the bit that people play on of course, but on a sunny afternoon like we had today, it's very nice to just sit on the freshly-mown grass bank and read a book.

Monday, January 16, 2012

RIP Blanket Man 1957-2012 - and a tricky work day

I used to see Blanket Man, a.k.a. Ben Hana, ten times a week, but I won't be seeing him any more. He died yesterday at the age of 54. Last time my parents were up I said I didn't think he'd be around much longer, but last week I saw him moving around - that seemed to be a good sign. He obviously touched a lot of Wellingtonians, judging by this impressive makeshift memorial on Courtenay Place today. That he was able to pursue his harmless (if unconventional) lifestyle in peace says a lot about how tolerant Wellington is as a city. Somebody suggested today that there should be a theatre production based on Blanket Man's life.

In contrast, someone who keeps on surviving is my grandma. She spent last week in hospital as her recurring bowel issues presented themselves once more. Somehow they removed the blockage but she's terribly weak now and I don't know how she keeps bouncing back. I did speak to her at Christmas, for the first time in months, but I don't think she knew who I was. Dad still rings her but he says it's pretty hopeless now.

I've been suffering from varying degrees of depression in the last week or so. I reached a low point at work today, which was just like a typical work day in early 2009. The day began just about tolerably and then rapidly deteriorated. My head seemed to be filled with thick fog, I had no idea what I supposed to be doing and I got quizzed by my boss - "Where did this come from? What does the factor of 1.59 mean?" - but I had absolutely no idea where anything came from or what anything meant. My memory of any specifics was non-existent. My desk phone rang. It was the property broker. Fuck. I ignored it. My mobile rang immediately afterwards. Fuckfuckfuck. I picked it up. "It's Steve Jones." "I know who it is. You've got thirty seconds." Did I really just talk to him like that? At 3:30, just after I'd completed a report that wasn't worth the virtual paper it was written on, I could very easily have caused some property damage but got myself out of the building before I became dangerous. I walked slowly around the block, at one point stopping to bounce backwards and forwards against a wall on a side street. At fourish, after I'd calmed down a bit, I got back to the office. I still didn't get any work done, but at 5:15, as I was about to go home, someone from Marketing asked me a question. And guess what. For the first time this year I knew the answer!

I'm not sleeping well at the moment. I don't think I got to sleep before midnight at all last week. Last night was no different. I remember the red digits reading 0:49 when I got up, read a couple of pages of a book about symbols (why are traffic lights red, amber and green?) and got back into bed. I must have fallen asleep at 1:30 or so. I woke up at 7:51. Fuck.

Last week I told my boss that I missed the exam deadline but I was coerced into sitting an exam in the second half of the year. I know that if I do enrol for an exam, it'll be priority E or F for me, and the grade I'll get in the exam will be something similar.

I've got plenty more to write about but I feel absolutely cream crackered. I apologise for the swearing.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Whoosh! There goes the deadline

I didn't sleep well last night as I anxiously contemplated the next few months; the howling wind probably didn't help either. Today at work was therefore an even bigger struggle than usual. I had a fair bit to do and was given the third degree by my boss. At one stage I had just about every spreadsheet under the sun open.

I don't participate in many work converations any more - most of the time I literally can't due to my lack of Mandarin - but the ballooning tragedy did crop up today. People were comparing riding in a hot-air balloon to bungee jumping and parachuting. Despite the horrendous accident at the weekend I'd happily go up in a balloon while I'd be cacking my pants doing either of the other two. I would do a parachute jump though, preferably a tandem with my brother who is now a veteran of several hundred jumps. But I think I'd give the bungee jump a miss.

At 12:45 today my mobile rang - it was the electricity company wanting to replace the meter at my flat. They rang me last month as I was walking home in the pissing rain after locking myself in the loo at work that day. Now I vaguely remember them saying something about the 9th but it was pretty much in one ear, out the other. So at lunchtime today I had to beetle home (as Dad would say - he says "beetle" a lot) so they could install this bloody meter. Half-way to my flat I remembered that all the meters are stored in a room with a combination lock. Neither I nor the two meter men had a clue what the code was, and after five minutes of faffing around I beetled back to the office.

Here's some excellent work news. I can't do an exam in the first half of 2012 because I've missed the enrolment deadline! I'm not exactly up with the play on the current exam system so I had no idea the cut-off date was so early. According to Stephen Fry's book, the late Douglas Adams (who frequently had writer's block) said "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly past." This particular whooshing sound is music to my ears.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hot-air balloon disaster

Eleven people died yesterday morning in the Wairarapa when their hot-air balloon went up in flames. Imagine being up there, 200 metres above the ground, the basket in flames, able to do nothing. This account (from the Herald website) gives you some idea:
"And it shot up in the air, which I guess was because of the heat, and we saw two people jump out and everyone was screaming - the screaming was just terrible - and then when the canopy went up in flames it just dropped."
I'm still a bit puzzled by what happened - whether it hit a power line before bursting into flames - but it will all come out I'm sure. If yesterday had been anything like today in terms of weather, those eleven people would still be with us.

I've hardly poked my nose out the door today, such as been the wet and windy Wellington weather. Yesterday was fine though for most of the day.

Friday wasn't a good day at work. I really didn't want to be there. More about that next time.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Ham tomorrow

I read today that a longstanding member of Tararua Tramping Club (the one I was about to join) fell to his death on New Year's Day while on a solo tramp in the South Island. It must be very sad news for everyone at the club and it goes to show that there's an element of risk no matter how experienced you are. I'm about to email the woman from the autism group; I'm sure she would have known him. He sounded like a kind, easy-going bloke.

I had an unusual dream (or possibly a nightmare) about my flat. I had four dogs to contend with for a start. Then I wanted to advertise for a flatmate but somebody put up an ad for me, stating that only actuaries need apply. I'd rather have the dogs.

Mum wrapped up some ham to take back with me. Every Christmas and New Year it's the same story. Ham and salad one night, ham and potatoes the next, ham and ham the night after. Not that I mind particularly.

I finished Stephen Fry's autobiography in time to give it to Dad before I hopped on the plane. He really is an amazing man. The mind boggles as to how he managed to pack so much into his twenties. How I wish I had a quarter of his talent with words. He left his life story tantalisingly poised on the subject of his cocaine addiction, which he says will require another book.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Time to get back

I spent New Year's Eve in Timaru with Mum, Dad, my aunt and uncle and their two friends. Seven of us in all; I was the only one under sixty. In some ways I find it easier to socialise with people much older or younger than me, or for that matter people who don't speak good English, because I'm not expected to have much in common with them. We turned up at the stupidly early time of half-five, so by the time the last fireworks had been launched we'd been there seven hours. I got very bored, but I've endured a few 31st Decembers in the past that were far worse than merely very boring. I lucked out on the various games but didn't mind donating $8 - if it wasn't for our donations the show wouldn't survive. To his amazement Dad won a kilo box of liquorice allsorts on the chocolate wheel. The best act was probably a bloke who managed to escape from a straitjacket while riding a tall unicycle. The fireworks were, for a city of Timaru's size, rather impressive.

The next morning I was alone in the house as Mum was at church and Dad, despite his headache, had gone to Pleasant Point to fly his model plane. The phone rang; it was my aunt. She wanted us to come over for a meal. My god. You've had people staying with you for a week, you spent seven hours last night with people, and now you want more time with people?! I said I'd wait till Mum got back. I told Mum, who didn't want to go out for a meal any more than I did. Dad sure as hell wouldn't want to. To my surprise, Mum (who finds it very hard to say no) spared us all by picking up the phone and uttering that really big two-letter word.

I've come to realise that Mum isn't as sociable as I thought. As for Dad, he's never been particularly sociable. He needs human contact but a little goes a long way. He's worked by himself for over thirty years and that's never really bothered him. I'm a more extreme version of Dad. Several weeks in a row without significant time to myself and I go mad. The implications that has for any possible relationships in the future aren't worth thinking about.

Mum took me out for a hit of golf again last night. I did nine holes in 66. On the eighth I ran up a twelve, twice hitting a tree and twice hitting absolutely nothing, but on the last hole I made a shock par three after hitting the pin with my second shot and sinking the shortish putt that followed. Mum and I have also played tennis a few times. She's noticeably got quicker around the court and it's probably just as well that we haven't been scoring.

Today has been a dull, inside kind of day. We hang around for ages waiting for more relatives to arrive. I wish I'd pushed off in the car. Tomorrow I'm going back to Wellington. It's been good to see my family, and get on the tennis court and even the golf course, but it's time to get back.