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.

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