Thursday, February 28, 2013

Thud, thud, thud

Earlier this month I bought a dartboard and hung it in the spare room of my flat. I put it in the obvious place on the wall adjoining the flat next door. At the time I wondered whether this was sensible, and decided I'd never play after 10pm. Mostly I played between 8 and 10. I wasn't very good but the act of lobbing darts at a board while listening to the Sound (my new favourite radio station) helped me to relax. On Monday night I found an unaddressed letter in my mailbox. It was what I guessed it might be. Apparently the noise, which they imagined was a ball of some kind, has been tormenting my neighbours ever since it started. They'd lived here since the place was built 16 years ago and had never experienced anything like this. Oh god. One of them works an early shift and I kept him up till 9:45 one night. I felt terrible and apologised sincerely (I hope) in my letter, in which I blamed my non-existent flatmate. Needless to say the dartboard came down. When I bought this place in a large apartment block I did think about possible noise-related issues with neighbours but I never thought I'd be the perpetrator.

On Sunday the guy from the autism group came round. We had a long chat. It's not often I have any sort of chat with someone more introverted than me. He wasn't interested in playing squash or table tennis but was very interested in all things technological. I need the odd bit of human contact every now and then; he said he could happily get by with none.

This weekend I'll be going tramping in the Orongorongo Valley with my cousin's husband (Dave) and their eldest son (he's ten). We'll be camping overnight on Saturday. I'm looking forward to the walking bit (though with a kid I don't expect we'll go that far). The overnight bit I'm not quite as excited about. I'm worried my lack of practical nous will be exposed. Dave is extremely practical.

Something could be happening with my puzzles, and even if it doesn't, I've got some new-found determination to make something happen. This will involve hard work, publicising my business (perhaps using - gasp! - Facebook and Linked In) and for a while doing two jobs. There won't be much time for blogging I'm afraid.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Food fight

Twenty people turned up to the autism group tonight. That's too many really. I don't know if I'll keep going (even though I'd like to keep in touch with some of the people there). Part of me feels I shouldn't be going anyway because I've never had a diagnosis. The previous facilitator was there (she'll be back permanently in April) with her four-month-old daughter. We spent half the evening talking about how future sessions should be run. One guy was clearly annoyed at me when I kept mentioning the Auckland group, but hey, it was an amazing group they had (and presumably still have) up there; for some reason I found those monthly sessions extremely uplifting. I'll be going to the next one on 16th March.

Cholesterol might be clogging up my arteries as I type, but I'm actually a little fitter and stronger than I was a year ago. I've been getting more exercise (going to the gym every other day as well as the occasional tramp) and I do have some self-control when it comes to unhealthy (but scrummy) foods. Some people don't. On Saturday I saw two women (overweight and fortyish) in the Pak 'n' Save car park tucking into the sticky buns they'd just bought. For a lot of people the temptation is just too strong to resist. Surely humans have always been this way; if anything our increased knowledge of what's in our food should make us less inclined to consume fat, salt and sugar. So why instead are we in the middle of a so-called obesity epidemic? The Guardian have been running a series to look at this very issue. I had to agree with this article which argued that we need to stop blaming fat people and start looking at governments, large corporates and society in general to tackle the problem.

I babysat for my cousin on Friday night. They had a Chinese takeaway but my cousin bought way too much food and the kids weren't interested, so there was enough left over for a small army, just for me if I wanted it. I thought I did pretty well not to eat it all.

Mum has just booked a flight to stay with me at the end of March. I don't think she realised it was Easter, but actually I'm pretty glad she'll be coming up then.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Struggling again

It was a bad week to have a bad week. We have a roster at work for handling all the email queries and last week it was my turn. It's part of my job I struggle with at the best of times, but when my head is like mush and my feet are shaking it's like you're running through treacle. I tried to keep the emails down to one scrollbar-free page. After work on Wednesday I read my book in the sun (so I couldn't have been that bad - there have been times when I couldn't even do that) before going to the depression meet-up at 6:30. There was a woman in her late thirties who I hadn't seen since before Christmas. What a Christmas she had. She lost her father and broke up with her husband of twelve years, all within a week, and ended up in a psychiatric ward. In comparison my Christmas was an absolute breeze. I had to leave the meet-up at 7:30 to go to the tramping club and sign up for a trip or two. They had a meet-and-greet session; the guy from the autism group was there which was a bugger because the place stank and was too hot and I didn't want to be there any longer than absolutely necessary. A woman gave a shortish slide-show presentation which, as it happened, was hilarious. It was her deadpan delivery. The autism guy and I chatted for ten minutes; we agreed to catch up at my flat on Sunday.

Work has just started doing health checks on its staff and on Thursday I had mine. She checked my blood pressure, cholesterol, height and weight, then asked me a few lifestyle questions to come up with a rather crude measure of my risk of heart disease. I got one black mark just for being male (!) and another for my cholesterol: my reading was 6.14. I eat less dairy products and fried food than I ever used to, but my damn cholesterol is still up there. Someone suggested porridge as a virtually guaranteed cholesterol buster. I like porridge, and have it every day in winter, so maybe I need to make that a permanent fixture in my diet. I wish they'd given me a breakdown of my cholesterol into the large fluffy (good) stuff and small dense (bad) stuff: the previous time they said I had oodles of both.

I had a long chat on the phone on Thursday night, mostly to Mum. She tried to make me feel better: "Other people have problems, you're not alone." Well yeah, I guess. Like the woman who was back at work last week after breaking her arm in early November. She now goes to the depression group. I think her arm was the least of her worries. The woman who sits right next to her turned up to work two weeks ago with a completely new face. Well that's what it looks like. I'm guessing it's Botox.
On Friday (I was feeling a bit better by then) I joined the French society, like the one on the North Shore but bigger. I don't know whether that was a good idea. The more things I do and clubs I join, the less involved I am in any of them, and the more I find myself going through the motions.

For at least the fifth weekend running it's an absolute cracker here in Wellington. This can't last.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Don't give me that shirt

Today's work day was my worst in a while: my motivation and concentration started off bad and only got worse. I was still some way above head-banging level however.

Mum and Dad came up on Thursday. We met at New World in town; they were chatting with my cousin (the one who got married a year ago) and his wife, having bumped into them. The way I was feeling, my cousin was just about the last person I wanted to see.

On Friday we ate at a surprisingly inexpensive Malaysian restaurant on Courtenay Place. Good value for money. On Saturday we went to the market, then had a drive around the coast to Eastbourne. We were unprepared for such high temperatures as we walked part of the track that leads to Pencarrow lighthouse. Dad took quite a few snaps - he found the big Optimist sailing regatta to be a real goldmine. We stopped for an ice cream on the way home, then had fish and chips from Fish Fins in Newtown (I go there about once a month). That evening we had a game of Scrabble. The luck factor in the two-player game is high enough but with three players it's even bigger. There are three good reasons for that: (a) everyone gets fewer turns; (b) the order in which you play makes a difference - if there's a player who doesn't know (or care) about defence, the player who goes next has an advantage at the expense of the third player; (c) the outcome is more likely to be determined by which player goes out at the end of the game because the point swing is greater, in both absolute and (even more so) relative terms, and who goes out is largely down to luck. Of course when I'm playing with my parents, none of this stuff really matters but I like thinking about it and I can't help that. This time, as it happened, luck was on my side: late in the game I drew both a blank and an S, put down COOLESt for 66, and even though I got stranded with the Q, I won with a score of 217.

All in all, Saturday was a good day. As a family it's nice to enjoy basic things like sunshine, a walk, food and a game. Sunday wasn't so great as Dad and I did our best to fall out with each other. I did the 6.8 km Round the Bays in the morning. It was a good walk (apart from the last bit which I ran) but now I almost wish I hadn't bothered: at work they've been comparing times and photos - especially my ultra-competitive boss - and it feels like I didn't really participate. I often feel that way about things.

Mum just bought me some more bloody shirts. She's always buying me shirts. I've now got embarrassingly many shirts in my wardrobe. Until the weekend about half of them were in a large bag in the spare room, washed but obviously unironed. Mum fished them out and ironed them. When Mum starts ironing, there's no stopping her. Dad then had a go at me for leaving my surplus shirts unironed. It seems ridiculous now, but the way he said it was quite cutting and I took offence. I couldn't understand why he even cared what I did with my shirt mountain, and how he dared criticise me when I've spent many more hours ironing than he ever has. Dad made a few other digs in my direction: he obviously thinks I should be far more interested in interior design.

Luckily our falling-out didn't completely wreck the weekend. Dad lent me another Nick Hornby book - High Fidelity. The first chapter of the book was all about teenage relationships, so I found that quite a hard read, even if it was funny. I'm hoping the rest of the story will be less of an "inadequacy trigger" for me.

Since I last posted, the Blade Runner (Oscar Pistorius) was charged with murdering his girlfriend, while a meteor exploded in Russia injuring 1500 people. Frankly, with news like that, who needs books or films? Real life is plenty dramatic enough.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


I'm pretty bad at the whole eye-contact thing at the best of times, but after Monday night's autism meeting I realise that the moment I talk about a sensitive topic, all eye contact goes completely out the window. That was a good meeting - some of us really got down to the nitty-gritty. I've already been in contact with that guy about relationship strategies (from his email he's obviously a clever bloke). You never know, something might happen one day. If the Pope can abdicate I guess anything is possible.

Wrestling will be deleted from the Olympics after 2016. That's a crazy decision for a number of reasons. One, there's so much history behind the event at the games. Two, you don't need much money to compete in wrestling, so it's a sport that poorer nations have traditionally done well at. That poorer countries were able to win medals was surely a good thing. Three, they're replacing wrestling with sports like golf where the Olympics doesn't represent the pinnacle of the sport. It seems we've now got a new Olympic ideal: make as much money as we can.

On Campbell Live last night they compared the prices of supermarket shopping in NZ and the UK. A $200 shop in Auckland was a third cheaper in London. They cited the lack of competition here (only two players in the market) as opposed to the highly competitive situation over there (frequent price wars and loss-leading - I remember 7p loaves of bread and the infamous baked bean wars). Also many foods are tax exempt in the UK. The exchange rate (almost 54p to the dollar, when it was in the mid-thirties not so long ago) obviously doesn't help either.

Mum and Dad will be arriving tomorrow.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Putting it out there

We had another big turnout at tonight's autism meeting. Seventeen showed up including a stand-in facilitator from South Africa who did a good job I thought. We were split into two groups - the loud group and the one I was in. Being in the quiet group gave me the opportunity to talk more than usual; I talked frankly about my inability to form relationships and my desire to work for myself some day. I took the email address of a timid guy who's had as much success in relationships as me (albeit in less time); I'm hoping we can share some ideas. Tracy was there - she really hasn't been well lately. Her number one goal was to start a family. Another woman had a goal (or rather an un-goal) never to have kids. The South African woman said to me, "you seem to lead a pretty normal life" when I told her about my job and my flat. But that's exactly it. It might look normal but it sure as hell ain't.

I've been feeling a bit low the last couple of days. Yesterday was another beautiful day. I went to the waterfront market, bought lunch (a butter chicken wrap) and enough fruit to feed a small army (the stonefruit has been great this summer), then took a walk along Oriental Parade. They were taking the Hobbit frontage down from the Embassy with a giant crane. There were a lot of teenagers milling about by the waterfront, doing all the things I never did at that age, and that's often a trigger for a downswing in my mood. Bizarrely I'll sometimes feel better in bad weather because I won't see so many people out enjoying themselves to compare myself against. I slipped and slapped yesterday but neglected to slop - as a consequence my knees and ankles turned bright red.

I've just finished another book. This one was a true story about a group of MIT students who lived the high life for a couple of years by beating blackjack for millions of dollars. Word of their exploits gradually got around, they had to take more desperate measures (like wearing disguises) to keep their operation going, and eventually they packed it in. Fascinating stuff, and I was firmly on the side of the students while reading the story because card counting (in my book) isn't cheating at all. I had no idea quite how sophisticated the big casinos' camera networks were (and that book was written ten years ago).

Julie, who turned 67 last week, goes into a rest home on Wednesday. I hope it's just a temporary measure. It's so sad to see someone in that much pain, with no friends or family for support. I'll still pop in to see her every Tuesday.

The Solomon Islands were hit by a massive earthquake last week. The quake caused a tsunami and for a short while New Zealand was on a kind of yellow alert. Nothing came of it and we could all just carry on with our lives. In the Solomons, where they keep getting strong aftershocks, the situation is rather different.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Autism - it's not just for kids

On the radio this morning Kim Hill interviewed Graeme Simsion, the NZ-born Australian author of the successful novel The Rosie Project. The main protagonist in the book has Asperger's, although Simsion doesn't explicitly mention it. It sounds like a good read - I must look out for it. Simsion ran an IT business, earning good money, before (in his fifties) turning his hand to writing. I was intrigued by two things he had to say. First that to become an expert at something (to the point of making a living from it) requires 10,000 hours of practice, whether that's writing or painting or golf or whatever, and since most of us can't afford to give up our day jobs we need to find those 10,000 hours on top of our full-time employment. So if I could manage thirty hours a week, that's seven years! I'll be forty by then, and probably overweight, living alone in a complete pigsty. His other comment related to people with Asperger's: they can (1) choose to remain social outsiders, or (2) learn what to say at parties and, as he put it, what wine to serve with which cheese, and gradually "grow out of it". That's all a serious oversimplification. It's possible to do something in between (have social contact without being the life and soul of the party) and for some people on the spectrum, fitting in is extremely difficult if not impossible no matter how hard they work at it. As for the "grow out of it" bit, that's a great way to perpetuate the myth that autism is "something kids have".

Yesterday our work team went out for lunch. I had a rather yummy lamb shank. I've given some thought to how easy or hard it would be to give various things up for a year. Alcohol: pretty easy; I enjoy a glass of wine or beer but I could easily go without. Online poker: harder, but I've managed fine so far and never get the urge to play. Meat: now there's a toughie (typing that has got me thinking of steak). Meat-free days are extremely rare for me (I'm still thinking of steak). Mmm. To be honest I don't eat huge amounts of meat but that's more a financial decision than anything else.

On Wednesday we had the day off to celebrate Bob Marley Day. I spent some time on my puzzles - I'm submitting some to an Australian publishing company - and had fun and games with my printer. I decided to cut my losses and buy a new (cheap) one. I also bought some extra ink that cost more than the printer.

Last Saturday I went on a tramp to Belmont trig station. It was good walk through a very pretty part of the world, if a little on the warm side: my nineties Barkers track pants are great for winter but for that kind of weather I really need a decent pair of shorts. Part of the track was called Baked Beans Bend. By now I'm used to names like Dead Man's Creek and Skull Gully, but Baked Beans Bend? Did the pioneers experience flatulence problems along that stretch? Or maybe they had issues at both ends, hence the Puke bit.
Last weekend there was a seven-hour doubles match in the Davis Cup. It was the longest ever doubles match and second-longest tennis match of all time. Stanislas Wawrinka (who lost that marathon to Djokovic at the Australian Open last month) was again on the losing side as he partnered Marco Chiudinelli, playing for Switzerland against the Czech Republic. The Czechs won 24-22 in the final set on their 13th match point. The sheer number of match points might be a record in itself. Gustavo Kuerten needed eleven to get past Magnus Norman in the final of the 2000 French Open; I remember that match because I bet on Norman to win the tournament before it started - he was in amazing form but seemed to be battling stage fright and a partizan crowd in the final.

My parents are coming to stay on Thursday for four nights. My flat needs a serious clean before then.