Sunday, April 28, 2013

Battles with my phone

It's been an uneventful week. I'm still grappling with my smart phone. The touch-the-screen-and-things-happen facility is both a blessing and a curse. Mostly a curse. Literally. One time I accidentally activated a function whereby anything you say is displayed on the screen. Before I knew what I'd even pressed, "oh f*** off" appeared, asterisks and all. I never felt the need to swear at my dumb phone. And I only had to charge it twice a week. I can't imagine booking flights on my smart phone or anything clever like that. Way too fiddly. Apparently you can download an app for that, but it's not like I book flights every day. On the other hand it's great to know that I have a camera in the exact same place as I have my alarm clock. And if I wanted to see who's updated their Facebook status I could do that too, in the exact same place. If I was actually on Facebook, that is.

Ever since social media became really big I've been trying to figure out why I haven't engaged in it. It's not as if I've made any big conscious decision to disengage in it; I've just never been drawn to it at all. And it's not like I feel smug about not wanting to go anywhere near Facebook and the like. On the contrary, I wonder what's wrong with me. I think I've finally figured it out. I'm interested in people. I care about people. In some cases, I care about them a lot. But I care about them on a purely individual basis. If I connect with people, I prefer to do so individually, not a dozen or more at a time. I've rarely felt part of a group or team. Of course I do spew out this blog to many thousands of people (!), but I think of all my followers as individuals rather than one big group. So that's what's wrong with me, or different at the very least.

My brother's ex wrote and shared a lot of pretty nasty stuff about him on Facebook, which she later deleted. So that's another reason to avoid it. I got a text from my brother last week; there was a lot of anti-NZ sentiment there. Mum and Dad hope that he joins the army again on his return to England. I have mixed feelings about this. No question, being an elite soldier is what he's good at. I'm very proud of him, and a little envious because I've never shown anything like the same level of competence in any of my roles. I'm sure he'll slot right back into his army position if he rejoins, and he'll do an exceptional job. But it's the whole war thing I have a problem with. He put his life squarely on the line three times, and for me that's enough, especially because one of those times was (as far as I could see) a result of a complete fabrication by various politicians.

I attended the Anzac Day service at the National War Memorial which is almost literally right on my doorstep. All the road works (building the new Memorial Park in time for the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli in two years) and repairs to the bell tower detracted a bit from the ceremony. Still it's important that we remember, and it has some extra significance for me due to what I said in the previous paragraph. It's interesting that Anzac Day has in some ways overtaken Waitangi Day (or Bob Marley Day as I call it) as our national day. I can see people want to get away from the divisiveness we see on Waitangi Day, but in recent years going to Anzac Day parades - even getting up at five o'clock to go to dawn services - has for some reason become fashionable.

I saw this article in the Dom Post on Monday about the Wellington region's economy compares to that of Auckland and Christchurch. It gave some statistics about Wellington, presenting them under the headings "good", "bad" and "ugly". In the "bad" section it gave three pieces of information:
1. House prices in Wellington haven't gone up recently like they have in Auckland and Christchurch.
2. Wellington, with its large public sector workforce, has one of the least diverse business sectors. Only Nelson is ranked worse.
3.  Business units: Business size growth in Wellington since 2002 is below national average.

Right, number two I agree with. That's not good. But why are ever-increasing house prices a good thing? And why is bigger business necessarily better? Somebody please explain.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Soggy birthday

Today has been quite a soggy 33rd birthday for me. The depression group organised an outing to Somes Island. When I poked my head outside this morning I was sure it would be called off. I texted the organiser who assured me it was still on, so I boarded the 10am ferry with the six others who hadn't totally given up on the day. The rain eased off a bit and we spent an interesting 2½ hours on the island. Most of the wildlife we'd been promised didn't materialise - I think the weather had a hand in that - but the island had more of a history than I'd imagined. Heavy anti-aircraft guns were installed during World War Two. Thankfully they were never fired. Perhaps I'm easily impressed, but building guns all those years ago that could reach and hit planes flying at 30,000-plus feet sounds impressive to me. I suppose so many resources were poured into that sort of technology back then that it advanced at a rate of knots. We had a good look around the rather creepy animal quarantine station which was still in use as recently as 1995; we thought it would be a good setting for a horror movie. Just before we left the island it started tipping it down; it's continued to do so since then with no end in sight. Still, we're overdue a good downpour after a very dry summer and early autumn.

Not many people know it's my birthday. I did tell people at work, and of course I was asked what I had planned for my big day. The last time I had anything approaching a party was eleven years ago (I can't believe it's that long) when I was in the middle of studying for my final exams at Birmingham. Like today my birthday fell on a Saturday and we ended up at some god-awful bar where you could only communicate via hand signals. Eleven years before that, on yet another Saturday, I played in a tennis tournament in Bedford. I've experienced the whole gamut of birthday weather and on that day we got light snow. If memory serves I somehow played four matches that day in between the wintry showers (while Mum sat in the car - I didn't like her watching), winning two and losing two. Eleven years before that was a Sunday, and I don't remember anything of that day at all, which is just as well.

Continuing the "old people" theme on this blog, the world's oldest living man (from Japan) turned 116 yesterday. When I shook hands with that 102-year-old chap at Julie's rest home it felt like I was shaking hands with history. Add another fourteen years and just, wow. He's also the oldest living person (it's rare that a man holds that title), the first ever man to reach 116, and the only living man to be born in 18-something. Seeing him on the news tonight he's starting to look his age, although it's hard to say what someone of that age should look like.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Would rather stay dumb

Today I bought a smart phone online for $285. It's an LG model with one of the later Android versions, and a 4.3-inch screen, but only one core. I figured that the point of a dual core (as I understand it) is to enable your phone to do two things at once, but I'm unlikely to need that capability and I'd rather have a slightly bigger screen instead. If it wasn't for my "business" reason to have a smart phone I wouldn't have bothered. This graphic neatly sums up my take on the comparison between smart phones and dumb phones:
That image was created by Islandia Geomatics, and the only inaccuracy (for me) is that I use both hands to text, even on my dumb phone. When my toy arrives in the mail, perhaps I'll be converted, but I doubt it. I've already got a phone. And a laptop. And an iPod. And a camera. And a calculator. And a watch. I've even got a GPS thingy for my car which I rarely use.

I've just finished my third Nick Hornby book in a row (this one was called Juliet, Naked). It took me longer to read than the other two combined, and it didn't do it for me like the others did. It was still very well written but I didn't like the characters I felt I was supposed to like (and vice-versa) so somehow it didn't draw me in. Probably I'd have liked it more if my expectations hadn't been raised by How to Be Good and High Fidelity. Hornby is an excellent writer, no doubt about that, but I've got one minor criticism of him: he overuses the word "pathetic". That happens to be a word Mum uses a fair bit too.

Margaret Thatcher's death has sparked wild celebrations in some parts of the UK. Some of those people don't even know (or care) why they're celebrating; they just want to cause trouble. As a certain Mr Hornby might say, pathetic.

My brother has made a surprise (but sensible) change of plan: he now expects to stay in NZ until November.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Out with the old

I had a hard time concentrating yesterday afternoon. Realising I have very few real friends can do that to me. I suppose Julie is the only real friend I have here in Wellington, and she made it pretty clear on Tuesday that she wanted to die.

I still think I struggle to make friends because I can't do that "interplay" thing. I know it when I see it, but I can't really define it and I certainly can't reproduce it. Maybe the real reason isn't that, and it's actually because I'm boring or selfish or both.

At least yesterday was Friday. For a lady in the so-called quality team, it was her last day. She turns seventy in two weeks, making her three times as old as many of her colleagues. They'd arranged a morning tea to celebrate the big seven-oh (how often do you get to celebrate that milestone at work?) but things happened quickly. I have first-hand experience of just how quickly things can "progress". She'd been there 7½ years, getting paid very poorly, but a new boss and some new systems led to her demise. Her leaving date kept being brought forward and in the end she just wanted out. An email was sent, implying that she'd jumped, but everyone knew that wasn't the case. So instead of a birthday morning tea she got a leaving one, which was quite substantial - the amount of food provided is mostly a function of how long you've been there rather than seniority. Her boss, who would normally give some short speech, didn't say a word.
Her husband died some time ago, and under the law at the time his family got everything while she got nothing, hence why she was still working at that age. She's also had cancer. Some people have it tough.

Old people have been a feature of my recent blog posts. I've always had a lot of respect for older people and tend to get on reasonably well with them. That's probably because there isn't the same expectation - and pressure - that I feel when talking to people of my own age. When the other person is of a vastly different age to me (older or younger), the "interplay" thing is no longer as important. I've always thought it shocking how the elderly are treated in Western cultures - they often have a lot of valuable experience that for some reason is deemed to be irrelevant. To show you what I mean about valuable experience, watch this video of Felix Baumgartner's record-breaking jump from last October. It's an amazing, goosebump-inducing, video anyway, but what puts the icing on the cake for me is Joe Kittinger, directing operations from Mission Control 24 miles below. Kittinger was the previous record-holder: he jumped from 19 miles way back in 1960, and here he is at the age of 84 directing proceedings, ticking off items from a checklist. His "Attaboy" and "Your guardian angel will take care of ya" made the moments before Baumgartner's big leap quite moving.

Margaret Thatcher's funeral is expected to cost £10 million. Yes, she was a hugely influential leader, and I think that anybody's funeral should be a big deal, but ten million pounds? It's incredible how much some things cost. The price tag to earthquake-strengthen my work building is $35 million. The cost of refitting a nearby cafĂ©, just so it can serve coffee, is $4 million (my cousin and I talked about this - she didn't think that was a lot). It's always interesting to talk money with my cousin; her dollars and my dollars aren't really the same currency. She recognises that too, and she's also aware that it rubs off onto the kids. When I last visited they gave their eldest boy $2 (he'd lost another tooth) and the shiny coin meant more to me than to him. If he wants something, he knows they can just buy it for him.

I had lunch with Tracy on Thursday. I think I realise now that she'll always just be a sort-of-friend with whom I spend one lunchtime every second month or so. We met at the food court, as usual, and all her complex (but very real) food allergies gave us an obvious starting point for our conversation. We do have quite a lot in common, but I'd say she's got a lot more self-confidence than me. With her it's a case of "I've got Asperger's, I'm happy with that, and all you crazy neurotypical people can do what you like." With me it's "I may or may not have Asperger's, I'd rather not know, but whatever I've got I'm not particularly proud of." Being at peace with herself meant she could appreciate the small things like the seagulls (we sat out in the warm sun) and I wish I could do that more. Most of our conversation revolved around her, or at least things that were common to both of us; we only briefly touched on anything specific to me. It would be unfair to call her self-centred; she does a lot of volunteer work. It would be safest to call her a complex character.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Iron lady (and some others)

Margaret Thatcher has died. She was Prime Minister for all my early childhood. I was too young to have any real opinion of her; she was just someone I saw on the telly a lot. She certainly polarised people: some (like my grandmother) thought she was Britain's saviour; others demonised her. If I'd been old enough to know and care what she was doing, I don't think I'd have been a fan. Yes she did make Britain a better place for some. Our family were perhaps some of the lucky ones. In the mid-to-late eighties Dad's paintings were practically flying out the door.

One thing's for sure: the Iron Lady was clever. For the big announcement that the Channel Tunnel project would be going ahead, she was called upon to deliver a speech in French. The snag: she couldn't speak a word of the language. No problem, someone gave her a quick crash course at Downing Street just before she hopped across the Channel. When she came to make the speech, she still didn't know what she was saying (she was just making noises according to some pronunciation guide) but those noises somehow combined to produce passable French.

Last night we had a special "games night" at the autism group. Tracy brought along a selection of games; the one we played was a collaborative game (a good idea, and something I'd never tried before) in which the object was to rescue people from a burning house. It featured an octahedral dice - I'd always wanted to play a game involving dice with more (or fewer) than six sides. We "won" the game by the skin of our teeth. The "house" was single-storey; when we finished I said it was crying out for another floor or two. Tracy said you can purchase an extension that provides just that. I was really pleased with the way Danielle seemed to come into her own as we played - she got to grips with the rules faster than I did. That's what's so great about a board game - everyone gets to participate more or less equally. That's far from what happens when people just talk.

I saw Julie tonight as I usually do on a Tuesday. I haven't seen her express this level of complete and utter hopelessness before. The only potential bright spot is that she should be moving out of the rest home soon.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Bouncing back (I hope)

This week I've been feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, the lot. I can't quite put my finger on why. There might be several whys. Sometimes there doesn't have to be a why at all. It hasn't been much fun feeling hopelessly inadequate, not sleeping well (that's a problem I haven't had in ages), and being even more obsessive about the passing of time than I normally am. There's been a lot of news - the plane crash that killed the 2 Degrees boss and his wife; Jesse Ryder; North Korea; Nelson Mandela; the new Chinese leader; and the George Taiaroa murder (that was absolutely terrible), but I've been too introspective to pay much attention to it and I feel bad because of that.

My uncle - Mum's third brother who's 69 - has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He smoked up until a few years ago. He's lived in South Canterbury all his life and knows people from childhood. I've seen him on a fairly regular basis, most times I've gone down south, but I've never got to know him that well. I've never felt we've got much in common. He's quite a complex character I think. He's been married three times and has seemed quite bitter ever since his second wife pretty much took him to the cleaners. I guess we're all terminal, but this has happened so suddenly (the news I mean, not the cancer which has probably been around for some time) that it's a real shock to Mum's family. My uncle is a very private person and although I haven't named him and hardly anyone reads this blog anyway, he'd probably shoot me if he knew I'd written this paragraph.

On Tuesday I saw Julie at the rest home. The place is run by the Catholic church (she isn't a Catholic herself but most of the inmates are) and you get the impression they're nearly all waiting for God. I think you can become institutionalised, and subservient, very quickly in a place like that. Julie plans to move out of the home later this month, into a flat that someone has hooked up for her. I've lost track of the number of times she's moved. She had some extremely dark thoughts when I saw her. I don't expect her next move to lighten her mood but I'd like to be proven wrong.

I was on edge for the rest of the week. By Friday the constant foot traffic behind my desk (to access the nearby loos and canteen) was starting to get to me. That lunchtime I got my hair cut at the cheapest place I know of in town, a barber's with old furniture, run by an old man. I think he recognised me from my previous visits. He asked me what I wanted and I made a bad job of pretending to have some clue. Inevitably when I returned to work, some of my colleagues noticed my chop and wanted to know where I'd got it done. Oh god. Our local CEO has now moved on to bigger and better things within the company, and on Friday afternoon she had her send-off. Lots of anecdotes, lots of jokes, lots of supposedly funny pictures on Powerpoint slides, and lots of wanting to get the hell out of there.

Straight after work on Friday I went round to my cousin's place for an Indian takeaway and a couple of glasses of wine. I don't drink a lot and when I do it's nearly always either with my cousin (her husband doesn't drink) or by myself. My cousin's husband showed me their Kindle. It can store up to 3000 books, and in some ways is better than a book. For instance you can't increase or decrease the font size in a physical book. Don't know what "repudiate" means? Just click on it and it brings up a dictionary entry. It felt like science fiction somehow. (Mum has an e-reader too but I don't think it's as sophisticated. It does however come with a lot of classics already loaded.)

I've so far resisted the temptation to buy a smart phone. Actually that isn't quite true; I haven't needed or wanted one so I haven't bought one. But this puzzle stuff will soon make one a necessity. So what do I get? I know, I'll ask Tom from the autism group. He emailed me screeds of information about phones, and went into all kinds of technical detail that I didn't even try to understand. Apparently it's all about what version of Android you have (Tom says I shouldn't go down the iPhone route) and whether it has a single or dual core. You can even get quadruple cores. I wonder, can you also get Apples with multiple cores? That brings to mind this sketch from the one remaining Ronnie.

Tom came over yesterday. He brought half a roast chicken and helped me with some tech issues, but oh boy. I was feeling anxious anyway and he didn't help. He's got an inquiring mind, which is generally a good thing, but it means he asks lots of questions. Yesterday I could almost physically feel the impact of each one. I had to explain why I wanted to go to America, which was hard because I didn't really know why. At one point he wanted to know if I'd done any home improvements lately. Well not really. I mentioned the chairs that I did with Mum last weekend. I said the stair rail needed painting. He said, yes, it looks really grotty. Thanks. "I can tell you're not interested in doing renovation." Thanks. While I was sorting out lunch he looked at those chairs and picked them up and turned them over. "Why aren't the screws in fully?" They don't go in all the way. Look, you try. They did go in all the way, but there was some good reason why we hadn't fully tightened them which I could no longer remember. Out came his Swiss Army knife and he started tightening the screws. "This one is missing a screw." Yes I know, they came in packs of fifteen, I'll get another one.
I'd had more than enough of Tom by this stage. I asked him how he planned to spend the rest of the day. He got the hint.

As I was walking through Te Aro yesterday, post-Tom, I saw this game of bike polo going on. I'd heard of it, and even Segway polo, but never expected I'd see it in action.

Today I went tramping at Cannon Point. I'd done that trip before, six months ago. Only four of us went today - some people (including Danielle) were put off by the dodgy weather. It did rain a bit, but nowhere near enough to outweigh the benefits of getting out and about when you've been feeling like crap. Even driving there and back seemed to be of benefit, and I now feel like I'm bouncing back from my latest bout of depression. It wasn't a very long walk; it took in the reservoir lake which must have provided most of the Hutt's water supply in the past. On the walk somebody mentioned smart phones and I said I was looking to get one; it was suggested I get the Galaxy Rav 4 or something. Whatever, it was clearly expensive. When I said I didn't want to spend more than $300 I got comments like "but a smart phone is such a useful tool; unless you get a good one you won't appreciate how powerful it is." That's OK if you've got the money.

I heard Hello Old Friend by Eric Clapton on the radio on Friday night. It's just a lovely song, simple as that, and I've been playing it a lot this weekend. For some reason it reminds me of Richard (as it happens he was born the same year that the song came out). I miss Richard. So much is made of where we live, but if you've got friends nearby that hardly matters.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter with Mum

Mum flew up to spend Easter with me. We got on pretty well most of the time. She's more accepting and supportive of me than she used to be. She understands my depression a lot better now (John Kirwan's book possibly had a hand in that) and seems to understand me a lot better, so it's no surprise we get on better. She's come to accept that I'm not going to become CEO of a multinational company any time soon, and is hopeful that my puzzle business does take off, improbable though that might be. I'm certainly impressed by her improved level of understanding - to be honest I never expected it. Perhaps everything that's happened to my brother has taken the spotlight off me. She now has just two main worries when it comes to me. The first is money, and I suppose when you take an enormous pay cut you can hardly blame her. The only slightly annoying thing is that she now thinks I'm incapable of paying for anything. The second is relationships. That's understandable too (it's not as if it doesn't bother me) but mentioning it over and over is unlikely to make a girlfriend magically appear. I wish it would.

Mum helped to zazz up my flat a bit. She bought (and shipped up here) two nice woodcut prints which are now hanging on my wall. She also painted my dining chairs, which currently have no table to go with them, and helped screw in the seats. Naturally she did some washing and ironing but I made sure I had no surplus unironed shirts this time. We didn't do much except go on a couple of long walks, go out for two inexpensive meals and generally chat. One of our meals was at a Malaysian restaurant on Manners Street. Even though it was relatively early, we managed to get sandwiched between two tables full of noisy drunk people. I was relieved when we were able to escape. A shame because I enjoyed the food. We did very little shopping over the weekend, which is always nice. (Of course very few shops are open anyway on Friday and Sunday, and long may it remain that way.)

It's amazing to think that Mum will be eligible for a gold card in little more than a year. She's still remarkably fit and healthy. She eats and exercises well but most of her good health is simply the result of good genes (Dad isn't quite so lucky). Yesterday (Easter Sunday) she went to church. In Geraldine the congregation at her Catholic church is dominated by the cauliflower brigade, so called on account of their hair. It's a dreary business most of the time, and it sounds like Mum often goes through the motions. Mum found yesterday's service here in Wellington to be quite uplifting (as it's meant to be), to the point that I wished I'd gone. It was a multicultural affair involving young people with guitars.

I took Mum to the airport at about 5pm yesterday. I was sad to see her go. By the way I was miles off with those sideburn odds. She mentioned them within seconds.