Monday, March 25, 2013

Side(burn) bets

After missing the session a fortnight ago I decided to attend tonight's autism group. I'm glad I did because we had some interesting discussion. I got lucky with the subgroup I ended up in.

On Saturday I went tramping. We ascended Mount Climie, which was a bit of a climbie, to an altitude of 840 metres. The autism group is starting to take over the tramping club: of the seven who did the walk, three of us attend the group (Danielle, Tom who has been to my flat a couple of times, and myself). We were blessed with good weather.

I saw Julie at her rest home on Saturday evening. It was the first time I'd seen her after her shoulder operation. She was in a lot of pain - more than before - and didn't think it would improve. It was sad to see her life reduced to an eight-foot-square "cell", especially as she's still got all her mental faculties. She talked about ending her life; it's hard to know how to respond to that. She was struggling to sleep so I gave her seven sleeping pills (they were prescribed to me years ago but I never took them). She's since taken them all - presumably one at a time - but it probably wasn't a clever idea for me to supply them to her.

This third test between NZ and England has been a great battle which the Kiwis have dominated. They ran the English bowlers ragged earlier today and then held two stunning catches just before stumps. NZ now need "just" six wickets in the final six hours of play tomorrow to secure a shock series win. I hope they do it (I suppose I should have mixed feelings about that, but I don't, probably because NZ were huge underdogs before the series started).
Update: What a match, and what an absorbing last three days. Forget the "tee twenty" crap, this was proper cricket. It was a shame the Kiwis couldn't quite finish England off but both sides performed admirably today. Just when the game appeared to be fizzling out into a slightly tame draw, Kane Williamson popped up with two quick wickets to create a grandstand finish. The NZ team go to England fairly soon - it's a shame they'll only play two tests over there. To me a proper test series needs to be three matches at a minimum. And they're playing the shorter formats after the tests - what's all that about?

Yesterday I saw my cousin and her husband (I attended their wedding three years ago) with their two daughters, the eldest two-and-a-bit, the youngest just six weeks old. They now live in Auckland having returned from an extended OE in London. The puzzle stuff has given me a chink of light on the horizon; that's probably why all that family stuff yesterday was just about bearable for me.

Mum is coming up here on Thursday. My sideburns have got even bushier since she last saw them. If I were a betting man (!) I'd put up odds of 3/1 that she mentions my sideburns within the first five minutes. I'm probably being generous with those odds. I'd give at least 8/1 that she doesn't mention them at all in the time she's here. I'm looking forward to seeing her though.

I spoke to my brother tonight. He's staying with Mum and Dad, just for one night, and will be off in the morning. Until last Christmas I'd never known him to have a sustained period of unhappiness. It's upsetting to see it now. He plans to fly back to the UK, permanently, at his earliest opportunity.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


My grandad - Mum's dad - would have been 100 today. He was born on a (very early) Easter Sunday in 1913 and died three months shy of his 90th birthday. He and my grandmother brought up seven kids on their South Canterbury farm. Living on the other side of the world I didn't see a lot of him. He was never much of a talker but he had a quick mind and a keen sense of humour.

In the late eighties Grandad had a car accident and never got behind the wheel again. In 1989 we landed in Auckland to begin our six-month stay in NZ. Grandad had bowel cancer and we thought he might be gone by the time we'd made our way down the country. When we got to Temuka he was skeletal. But somehow he made a full recovery. In late 1990 he and my grandmother flew out to the UK; they stayed with us for about a month. My gran had flown to England a few times but he'd hardly been out of Canterbury before. His first experience of an escalator was on the London underground. They even did a tour of Ireland, which I think was a bridge too far for him, but he was in tears when he said goodbye to us on leaving the UK.

My gran used to nag at him constantly and I could never understand why. Mostly he'd just be sitting in his chair minding his own business. He rode his bike well into old age - he'd often cycle to the library and take out a bunch of large-print books. He read them at lightning speed but whether he actually read them I don't know. I'm sure I caught him turning over multiple pages at once. I think the books were mostly a means of escape from his wife.

My grandad was part of the last generation to live what you might call a simple life. They didn't have a lot by our standards, but relative to their expectations they had plenty, and seemed to be happier as a result. Grandad's life revolved around his garden, the church and his friends. He'd often have his mates (or "cobbers") over for a game of cards: either euchre or crib. He had dozens of grubby, sticky packs of cards in the house; people wondered if he cheated by licking them. The last time I saw him was in 1997 when I must have played hundreds of games of crib with him during our month-long stay. It was a game rich in jargon; here are a few examples (some of which might have been Grandad-specific):
  • "What Paddy shot at" - nothing, i.e. a score of zero
  • "I've got the smell of ya" - I'm catching you up
  • "Gooo" - Grandad's pronunciation of "go"
  • Fifteen-two..."and the rest won't do"
  • Fifteen-four..."and the rest won't score"
  • Fifteen-six..."and the rest won't mix"
    ...and many more. A lot of his sayings were simply words that rhymed with the previous thing anybody said.
On the morning of our departure back to the UK in '97 we had to leave early. But not before he'd played a final game of crib with me. I won that game so we had to play again. He won the second game, we left minutes later, and that was the last I ever saw of him.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Auckland report

I'm trying to sell my old washing machine on Trade Me. Someone just came round to look at it. I wish I'd chucked in a few complimentary shirts. I counted all my shirts - I've got seventeen. Holy hell. Nobody needs that many shirts. I certainly don't.

Selling stuff on Trade Me isn't that easy. I was put off in 2009 when I sold some of Julie's furniture items on there. One of the buyers (who was Chinese) was angry because the table wasn't real mahogany and he retaliated by stealing Julie's dog. The police were brought in and she got her dog back. This time I haven't had any such dramas (yet) but trying to communicate with people before they buy can cause difficulties. Trade Me don't let you give out your phone number, so people resort to writing their number in words. Last night I wondered, do I put "oh" or "zero"? Before I came to New Zealand I'd have read a number like 364-0077 as "three six four double-oh double-seven" without even thinking about it. In fact I still do, but I hear a lot of people (mostly younger ones) saying "... zero zero seven seven". It sounded really strange the first time I heard it, and still sounds a bit clumsy now, though I don't know why. As for "nought", which you'd hear in the UK in a variety of situations (but not phone numbers or temperatures), well I rarely hear that in NZ.

I got back from Auckland on Sunday night. The North Island's remarkable run of dry weather came to a screeching halt that morning – I got well and truly soaked as I attempted to get some kind of breakfast. At 10am I checked out of my motel, walked the short distance to Remuera train station, put $3.40 in the machine and it spat out a ticket. I waited under cover for my train into town. Being Sunday I realised it might be a while until the next train so I had a look at the timetable but couldn’t see any times anywhere. This was weird, but being Auckland public transport I didn’t think much of it. Then I had another look and saw a big “NO TRAINS TODAY” sign in place of the usual timetable. So why do you sell me a bloody train ticket? They had a replacement bus around the corner. My train ticket was still valid, thankfully, but I’m not a big fan of Auckland Transport. On Friday I tried to buy a day pass but you couldn’t do so via the machine and there were no staff around so I bought a seven-buck single ticket to Papakura to see Bazza. He suggested I make a ticketless return, which is what I did, and nobody checked.

Bazza hasn't changed much. He’s made a fine job of his small section with a pleasant selection of flowers and fruit trees, but the inside isn't somewhere I'd want to stay for long. His large flat-screen TV is clearly the focal point of his lounge - he probably watches six hours of telly a day, mainly Sky Sports and the History Channel. We watched the cricket while I was there; he talked pretty much the whole time. He offered me some leftover sushi. I ate it but was unsure of its age. "Did you buy that yesterday?" I asked. "Today." Look Bazza, if you're going to lie, you could at least lie plausibly. I then needed the loo. The sit-down sort. He has carpet wedged in such a way that the loo door is permanently open. I guess he rarely has anyone over so it hardly ever matters. If I was really determined I could perhaps have repositioned the carpet to facilitate door closure, but I took my chance on a numéro deux en plein air. There's a TV ad with the slogan "what does your loo say about you?" In Bazza's case it's quite a lot. On top of the loo were a dozen or so loo rolls, all of the ultra-budget variety, and many of them half-finished. He had a similar habit with toothpaste: there were part-used tubes everywhere. For all his unusual habits, it was good to catch up with someone I got to know over seven years and many tennis matches. I even invited him to stay with me in Wellington.

On Saturday morning I met my aunt, uncle (Mum's youngest brother) and 16-year-old cousin who is now six feet tall, towering above his dad. The two blokes had just done a bike time trial; my cousin was clad in Lycra. Although I don't have a lot in common with my aunt and uncle (he worked at the same company as me for a while in Auckland), they seemed more relaxed than they used to be. It was nice to see them again.

I then met one of the facilitators for lunch (she picked me up in her Smart car which you don't see too many of in NZ) and then it was on to the monthly autism group. An excellent meeting I thought. I counted 23 in attendance. To begin the session we sat in a circle to talk in turn about a topic. This month's topic was music: we had to talk about our favourite singer or band. The bloke next to me started. I couldn't think of what to say: I like all kinds of music but don't have a favourite as such. Luckily they went round in the opposite direction to me, meaning I would go last. I got my iPod out for inspiration and only got as far as B in the list before choosing Bob Marley. Nobody else picked him or the reggae genre so I was OK with that. One bloke attempted to play a CD of his favourite thrash metal band; a facilitator had to be unusually assertive to stop him. When I talked about Bob Marley I lamented the commercialisation of his music and culture. His face is everywhere these days and unfortunately seems to say "I smoke marijuana; here's someone legendary who smoked marijuana" and not much else. For the second half of the session we chatted in small groups, or just sat around if we wanted to. Being able to talk in small groups is important because, guess what, lots of people on the spectrum don't like talking in big groups. There are no small groups at the sessions in Wellington, and that inevitably means two or three people dominate the big group. That's something I'd like to change. One way in which the Wellington group is better (whether by luck or judgement I'm not sure) is that its gender ratio is far more balanced. In Auckland there are hardly any women outside the facilitators; those who do attend feel intimidated by the sheer numbers of men and stop going.

On Sunday, the wet day, I met the woman who used to facilitate at the Wellington autism group and is also notable for being the only person on the planet who I know still reads my blog. I also met her husband who I hadn't seen since they lived down here; he's got a really good job which has improved their well-being considerably. She and I had a really good chat about all manner of things. I really didn't envy her when she told me stories about her son which could best be described as "oh dear". She made me think about my brother. I'm very proud of him and have supported him through all his difficulties with his relationship. Maybe my parents and I have been too supportive. I hope not.

It was good to get away but I was happy to get back. I've got stuff to sort out (hopefully) with my puzzles. By the way my washing machine sold while I wrote this post. The auction ended, it fell short of its reserve, but I made a fixed-price offer of $170 and someone quickly snapped it up.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Cricket pics

Today was a washout in the cricket, as was the better part of yesterday, meaning the game ended in a dank, dismal draw. Such a shame, and quite ironic given all the fire and hosepipe bans up and down the country that two successive tests should be ruined by rain. For me that's the biggest failing of test cricket. I don't have a problem with a draw in a match that goes the full 450 overs (or close to it) - indeed having to bowl out your opponents twice within the scheduled lifespan of a match is an important part of the game - but when rain wipes out a third of the allotted overs it makes everything that came before seem so frustratingly pointless. And apart from scheduling an extra day, which could cause logistical headaches, I don't have the answer.

As I sat on the bank bathed in sunshine on day one, there was no inkling of the eventual outcome, even if rain was forecast for the latter stages of the match. England were totally dominant on the opening day, and virtually all the noise in the ground came from the travelling Barmy Army. Here are a few pictures from the Basin Reserve:
There was some excitement early on as Alastair Cook was removed for 17 but the next (and only other) wicket of the day wouldn't come for another five hours.

Lunchtime; people came onto the oval, many with bats and balls in hand.

The Barmy Army complete with conductor and trumpeter who played theme tunes to shows like Grandstand that I remember from childhood. They even played the darts theme tune at one point; slightly confused by this I looked up at the scoreboard and saw England had reached 180.

A century for Nick Compton (grandson of the famous Denis Compton who played both cricket and football at the highest levels). Jonathan Trott had reached the same milestone a few balls earlier.

Compton didn't add to his 100 runs; Kevin Pietersen then came out to bat.
The duck that had been in or around the square for the whole morning session (and was possibly the main highlight for an hour or two) came to pay us a visit just before close of play.

The scoreboard at stumps. Trott was still there but fell almost immediately at the start of day two. Strangely the "overs" counter reset to zero when the new ball was taken at the 80-over mark.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

My first test

I've just spent a very pleasant day watching cricket at the Basin. I can see the attraction of live test cricket and I'm lucky to have it so close at hand. Let's face it, most of the time not much happens - today I saw just two wickets fall, five hours apart. On a day like today you can just sit (or lie) out in the sun and maybe read a book during the breaks in play. Or have a beer. Or six. Even though not a lot happens, you still have to be a little careful, because when something does happen it sort of matters (it's the opposite of Twenty20 where a lot can happen in a short space of time but none of it really matters). I'll put up some pictures hopefully in my next post.

New Zealand won the toss and put England into bat only to see the Poms reach 267 for two at stumps. Most of the time it didn't even look like a wicket was going to fall. The English batsmen - two of whom scored centuries - went about their business and didn't look under pressure. It'll be interesting to see how the match unfolds - my guess is that NZ will need the rain forecast on day four to save their bacon.

I had an early start as I had to pick Julie up at 6:30 to take her to her operation. My plane leaves at 8:30 tonight, and I doubt I'll get to my hotel much before eleven, so it'll be quite a long day for me. I plan to see Bazza in Papakura tomorrow - I phoned him last night.

In other news, Mum texted me to say we've got a new Pope. A 75-year-old from South America with only one lung.

My short work week was an alarmingly slow one - all this automation has seen our steady flow of tasks diminish to a trickle. I'm slightly worried. They've got a function tonight. It's for St Patrick's Day I think. I was lucky to have a legitimate excuse not to go.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Just a sniff...

Since I last posted there has been a development with my puzzles, provoking an unusually high level of excitement in me. There's the faintest sniff of a possibility that this development could substantially alter my life, hence the excitement.

I didn't go to the autism group last night. I'd made up my mind not to go, and emailed Tracy the night before, then she texted me at half-five yesterday trying to convince me to change my mind: her dad would be there, he didn't really know what Aspies were like, and apparently I'd balance out some of the more extreme personalities on show. She failed to convince me. I went to see Against the Wind, quite a sad French movie, at the Paramount instead.

I saw Die Hard 5 with the depression group on Saturday. The movie didn't do it for me. It was good to catch up with some people though.

Julie is having an operation on Thursday, the first of two days I'm taking off from work. I'll be picking her up from her rest home at 6:30am to take her to hospital. She's hardly in the best physical condition to have the surgery but doesn't feel she's got much to lose. I'll then be going to see the opening day of the second cricket test between NZ and England at the Basin. I'm not a huge cricket fan (I've never seen live test cricket before) but because it's this particular match-up, and right on my doorstep, I feel almost obliged to go. One complaint I hear a lot regarding test cricket is "it's too long". Well yes, in the third millennium, with all our busy lives, who can afford to sit through all five days of a test match? But my answer to that is, who says you have to watch the whole thing? It's a story; what's wrong with dipping in and out, like you might do with Coronation Street? Miss an episode or two, you can catch up later. The times I've most enjoyed following test cricket have been listening to radio commentary (which can be brilliant) while doing something else.

I've been thinking about the bloke from the autism group who came round to my flat twice. Why did I find him hard work? I think it's pretty simple: very little warmth radiates from him. That must make it very hard for him to form relationships. It's not an uncommon trait in Aspies of course (some of whom do have relationships and even children) but it's by no means universal; Richard is a good counterexample.

I'll miss Richard when I fly up to Auckland after the cricket. He's going down to Rotorua for his sister's 40th birthday; he gets on well with her and should have a good time. I'll be attending the autism group on Saturday and catching up with one of the facilitators beforehand. Apart from that, my weekend is unplanned as yet.

Monday, March 4, 2013

I don't wanna live in Bucklame

I snapped this piece of graffiti yesterday, just around the corner from my flat. It took me a second or two to figure it out. Ah yes, Bucklame is what my predictive text comes up with when I try and type Auckland. A quick Google tells me people have been using Bucklame as a nickname for the Super City for some years. Presumably the yellow scrawl (which is already gone - impressive work by the graffiti removal squad) is a reference to all the road works, which are more commonly seen in the Big Smoke.

Tomorrow is census day. I applied for a job with Statistics New Zealand in Christchurch as soon as I arrived in the country in 2003. I would have been working on the 2006 census. I got an interview but didn't get the job. A pity really - I think I'd have liked it. I applied for dozens of jobs on my arrival in NZ. Only one of those was in Bucklame, and of course I got that one.

Sunday, March 3, 2013


Dave came down with a bout of flu so the Orongorongo tramp was unfortunately called off. I had a longish walk yesterday morning - 12 or 13 km around the waterfront to Hataitai and back - to make up for that. If I'm trying to do two jobs, it's vital that I maintain a decent level of physical fitness. I don't know if or when the tramp will happen now, which is a shame.

I saw Julie last night at the rest home in Berhampore. She's not happy there. It's a long time since she's been happy anywhere, but how could you be happy in a place like that? All the screaming and shouting and incontinence and staff who are paid next to nothing and are too busy to help you. Julie introduced me to a 102-year-old man and we shook hands. I'd never (knowingly) met anyone much over 90 before; seeing someone - especially a bloke - living and breathing in his second century blew me away. Remarkably he lived at home until a year ago. I struggled to make myself heard with the TV going in the background but he was still in possession of his marbles as far as I could tell.

The guy from the autism group came round again today. After a while I was wishing he would leave. I hope I didn't make that too obvious. His IT knowledge makes him a handy man to have around though. He looked at my setup, clearly thought I was living in the dark ages, and had a lot of fun installing or uninstalling this or that.

Back to work tomorrow. My desk is close to the toilets and canteen so I get a lot of foot traffic. This didn't bother me until the end of last week when for some reason it started to do my head in.