Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Kicking the Hobbit

When I was eight my teacher Mr Wright gave me the Hobbit to read. I only got about half-way. I hardly recall any of the plot but I remember thinking runes were cool. The copy of the book was a fine physical specimen: at least A4 size with colourful pictures throughout.

Twenty-five years on, here I am in Hobbiton. The centre of Wellington has gone Hobbit crazy in the run-up to tomorrow's world première. On Sunday I went to the Hobbit market; the summery weather brought people out in droves. It was very well done, with bamboo poles and cloth bunting adding a certain authenticity, and great for kids.

I'm now on my last carton of soy milk: my dairy-free experiment is almost at an end. It hasn't made any difference; I'm still coughing up thick phlegm. But as I go back on the dairy, it's time to cut out something else.

I'm talking online poker. It's really started to take over again. I've been cooking meals while playing, which can't be clever. The money isn't really the problem, it's the time spent staring at a screen when I really could be doing something more constructive. I did quit once before: in the middle of last year I cashed out my bankroll, leaving behind just some tournament tickets. But I was back in no time. Before long I'd turned those tickets into cash and was grinding away again. This time I want to give up for good, or at least a very long time (I'm talking years), so all the cash, tickets and everything else must come out. I've got about US$4500 which will be useful money anyway. It will feel good to draw that line in the sand.

Last night I went to the autism group. It went reasonably well. A woman from WINZ came in to talk about plans to make it harder for people on the spectrum to claim sickness benefits. Those of us who weren't currently getting a benefit split off from the rest of the group; perhaps that made things easier as we were generally at the milder end of the spectrum. Tracy said she tried to be an extra in the Hobbit but was too tall (the first time in her life she'd been too tall for something). I'll be meeting Tracy for lunch on Thursday.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Bush walk and a sense of relief

I had quite a good weekend. On Saturday I went on a tramp: the Hemi Matenga bush walk near Waikanae. It took 3¼ hours and it was probably the most arduous trip I've been on since that infamous one in April. The wet weather certainly played its part; the trek up to the highest point was fairly gentle - unfortunately we couldn't see a thing from the lookout due to the rain - but the downward slope was steeper and I slipped a couple of times in the mud. Danielle had signed up for the trip but pulled out when she saw the weather forecast. That was a shame. She is a little unsteady on her feet when going downhill but she probably would have been OK with a pole. The bush was lush and green; the more seasoned trampers among us pointed out plants along the way, such as hen and chicken fern which develops baby ferns at the ends of its leaves.

When I got home after the tramp, I felt that pleasant feeling of accomplishment as well as that unpleasant feeling of being desperate for a pee. That evening I went round to my cousin's place to babysit while they went to see The Intouchables, but not much babysitting was necessary as the film was booked out so they came straight home.

Yesterday the depression group met up at Denny's on Willis Street. We had an interesting chat and all agreed that while public acceptance of depression has improved in recent years, people are far less accepting of social anxiety. The group also met on Wednesday for our regular catch-up on Cuba Street. Just like yesterday, six of us turned up on Wednesday including an older chap with big milky eyes who has bipolar disorder - it was good to see him for the first time in ages. They might be planning some activity along the lines of paintball, but hopefully less painful. A poker night has even been mentioned.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Royal eclipse

My stress levels are down a couple of notches from last week. I've had no work functions or quizzes to deal with. When I described the work quiz to someone, she said it sounded like Cranium on crack. I've never tried Cranium, or crack for that matter, but I know what she meant.

This morning's partial eclipse of the sun caused some excitement at work. I saw the half-obscured sun through sunglasses, and couldn't really see a lot on my computer screen for the next minute or two. In 1999 we had a total eclipse in the UK. It was at about 11am on a summer's day; people used pinhole projectors and various other contraptions to view the once-in-a-lifetime event. The most striking thing for me that day was the sudden drop in temperature.

The other major happening in Wellington today (two in one day, I know) was Charles and Camilla's visit. At lunchtime I managed to glimpse the couple from 100 metres away on the waterfront. There was some ceremony involving a haka, and two wakas were brought out: I hoped Charles might get in one.

I went to the autism group again on Monday. It went better this time, perhaps because the two new guys weren't in my group so there was less disruption.

Last night I saw Julie, as I usually do on a Tuesday. She isn't very good at the moment - she talks about ending her life - but last night she was a little perkier. I took over the film Wall-E which seemed to cheer her up a bit.

The latest government valuations in Wellington just came out. They're reviewed every three years. The GV of my flat is down $20,000 since I bought this place, presumably due to the earthquake business, though it's still $11,000 above what I paid for it. Here's an article in the Herald (that I happen to agree with) about Auckland's (unsustainably?) high house prices.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Glad to get shot of that week

It hasn't been an easy week. We had our work function on Wednesday. It was a well-organised event I must say, but for someone like me it was always going to be hard work. It always amazes me how much people get into that kind of thing. Why can't I be one of those people who can enjoy themselves? Life would be so much easier. I would much rather have stayed at home. I would even have preferred to stay on at work for an extra five hours: that kind of work would have been considerably easier than the work involved in attending an office do. What the hell is wrong with me?

We had the function to spend the prize money we'd been awarded for selling lots of stuff. We all had to dress up according to what team we were in (teams had been allocated beforehand). Luckily our team leader just bought a load of Zorro masks, hats and swords from the $2 shop, so I didn't have to think. The focal point of the evening was a quiz that took about three hours. In between rounds there were bits where you could sing and dance in front of everybody to win spot prizes and extra points for your team (which could lead to more prizes). At ten-ish the quiz was blissfully over (our team finished slap-bang in the middle so we didn't even win the booby prize) and although my colleagues would be going for hours, taking advantage of the free bar, I snuck out, knowing I wouldn't really be able to leave any other way. I'd left a bag at work so I stopped off there on the way home. One of the call centre guys was there, looking worse for wear, waiting for his girlfriend to pick him up. "I got kicked out for pissing on the balcony." That's what free booze does to people.

Wednesday night was a reminder that I will need to change jobs at some stage (next month we'll have the Christmas party - ugh). Unfortunately the job market isn't very good, and anyway just about any job which I'd need to apply for will have the same problem. On Wednesday I tried to follow the US election during work; that's not easy when I sit next to my boss. I was happy to see Obama re-elected, and Nate Silver's predictions all come to fruition (of course Silver never said that Romney wouldn't win - he just said it was unlikely). I hope Obama is able to make a positive change in the next four years without being hamstrung by his opposition in parliament.

Today I went paintballing out near Porirua with six others from the depression group. And I got shot. A lot. In just about every place imaginable. It was inside (not what I expected); we were split into two teams and joined by expert paintballers (the expertise of the bloke with the orange balls was made obvious just by looking at my clothes). I'll be nursing those bruises for the next few days. And some people from the group want to go again!

Tomorrow we've got the autism group. On Wednesday I had lunch with Tracy. We talked about the changes to the group in 2012 and we agreed that they haven't been for the better. The increased attendance (it's roughly doubled) has brought about some more complex dynamics; one or two of the new attendees make for a tense atmosphere. In 2011 the main purpose of the group, it seemed, was to enable people on the spectrum to meet up and have a chat in an environment where they felt at ease. Now the purpose seems to be "practice" for the real world. One of the faciliators is rather patronising and talks to us like a teacher might do in a classroom of ten-year-olds. Believe it or not, we've all survived in the real world, in our own ways, some of us for over thirty years! Many of us - heaven forbid - even have jobs! OK, we all find social situations hard, to a greater or lesser extent, but at this rate the autism group will become just as hard for us.

My cold, while still lurking under the surface (it never totally goes away) but it's much better now.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

When will this end? Who nose

I'm still far from 100%. It feels like someone has shoved a pencil up my left nostril. It's not as bad as the acute attacks of excruciating sinus pain I had in 2008 but it still isn't much fun.

I've got that damn work function tomorrow. I'll see if I can sneak out early but I really wish I could avoid it altogether.

Some good news - my brother has been accepted into the NZ Army and will start in ten days. He'll initially be training in Waiouru but will be stationed in Burnham I imagine.

I'm hoping tomorrow's presidential election brings Obama four more years. Regarding Romney's chances, Nate Silver came up with this astute analogy: "All of this leaves Mr. Romney drawing to an inside straight. I hope you’ll excuse the cliche, but it’s appropriate here: in poker, making an inside straight requires you to catch one of 4 cards out of 48 remaining in the deck, the chances of which are about 8 percent. Those are now about Mr. Romney’s chances of winning the Electoral College, according to the FiveThirtyEight forecast. As any poker player knows, those 8 percent chances do come up once in a while. If it happens this year, then a lot of polling firms will have to re-examine their assumptions — and we will have to re-examine ours about how trustworthy the polls are. But the odds are that Mr. Obama will win another term."

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cold spell

My cold has pretty much written off the weekend for me. Yesterday it tipped it down and blew a gale, and I didn't want to do anything even remotely active anyway, so it was the perfect day so sit on the sofa and lose money at online poker. Today was a little more productive - I hoovered my flat, went to the market, had a large soy flat white on Cuba Street, and worked on a puzzle. And played some more online poker, fortunately winning back most of what I lost yesterday.

I need to be much more assertive the next time I see the doctor. I mean I'm getting these colds all the bloody time. In fact it never goes away. It's always there, bubbling under the surface, ready to flare up every sixth or seventh week. I don't know what's causing it. My near-perpetual cold seemed to start in February, when I moved into the flat, but I don't know if that's just coincidence. I can't see any reason why it should be making me sick, but then again I can't see why it's a serious earthquake hazard (I expect the yellow sticker will be slapped on the building some time in December).

I'm not looking forward to the coming week at work. On Wednesday there's an after-work function which I'm now committed to attending. It'll be some kind of rah-rah-rah to do with the company; all I know is that simply won't want to know.

This coming Sunday the depression group are going paintballing; I've put my name down. I wish it was on Saturday instead but hey.

The presidential election is almost upon us. The media here keep telling us the race is "too close to call" or "neck and neck". Some commentators are implying Obama is about a 55/45 favourite, when objectively it's more like 80/20 in favour of Obama. He's not a shoo-in but I don't understand why the media outlets keep telling us it's a virtual flip of a coin when so much objective data is saying something quite different. When I think about it, it's amazing that Romney has any chance at all. If the election were held in France or Germany, or even New Zealand, he wouldn't get a look-in.