Sunday, June 30, 2013

Too cool

It's a fine Sunday in Wellington, even better than yesterday when I went on a tramp in the Orongorongo Valley. It was an easyish walk - we went at a fairly leisurely pace and there weren't any real steep climbs or descents. Only five of us did the trip - Danielle, who seems fairly weather-sensitive, pulled out at the last minute. The cool but dry conditions were pretty much ideal for tramping I thought.

I watched One News on Friday and was a bit puzzled by why Steven Adams' NBA draft was the number one news item. Not only that, but when they finally moved on from talking about his $2 million contract they said "in other news...", a phrase that's normally used after a huge news event, as if to say that everything else pales into insignificance. Yes, the NBA is a big deal internationally, and a Kiwi player landing a big contract deserves a mention. It's also nice to have a good news story for a change, especially when you add in the extra feel-good factor of his sister being a double Olympic champion. But in reality a seven-foot bloke making lots of money doesn't materially affect many New Zealanders, unlike Auckland's transport plan which (either directly or indirectly) affects us all. I would have touched on the Adams story at about 6:15 and only made a big deal of it during the sports section.

Talking of sport, Marina Erakovic's Wimbledon came to an end last night against Laura Robson (I followed the match on the internet). Erakovic totally dominated the early stages of the match, racing out to 6-1 5-3 in no time at all. But it seemed nerves got the better of her. (Even at the crappy levels I used to play at, I found that having a big lead against someone I didn't expect to beat could be nerve-wracking. At any moment my opponent could click into gear and steal the match from me, and I'd be powerless to do anything about it.) Erakovic double-faulted at crucial times and proceeded to lose eight straight games (despite having chances in several of them) to fall 4-0 behind in the third set. Robson hung in there, buoyed by the crowd who helped get her over the line as Erakovic mounted a comeback in the latter stages. Overall the Kiwi won 87 points to Robson's 81, proof that it's not how many points you win but when you win them. Erakovic maintained a high standard in all three matches; if she keeps it up she should soar up the rankings. I just hope that last night's loss (and she lost the match rather than Robson winning it) doesn't damage her psychologically.

This morning I had a coffee at Midnight Espresso on Cuba Street on the way to the market. There I read an article in the paper about the possible demise of Cuba Street as a bohemian enclave of Wellington. The word "gentrification" was used, and it was suggested that Newtown could soon be the cool zone. A new upmarket restaurant (which I could see from the café) has just opened where Peaches and Cream (a sex shop) used to be, right opposite an even more upmarket restaurant in Logan Brown. I think (and hope) that reports of Cuba Street becoming uncool are a bit premature. Today as I walked along that street on the way home, I caught sight of someone I guess was BMD, finishing off one of his spray-painted murals. He had long hair and a beard, much as I guessed he would, and I didn't dare talk to him as he was way too cool.

If anyone cares, this is my 400th post.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Some nice vistas (I hope)

What a crazy start to Wimbledon with Federer, Nadal, Sharapova and several other big names all out in the first round and a half. There have also been a record number of retirements (seven last night); the All England Club made a statement defending the preparation of their courts. Maybe the players, rather than the courts, are underprepared - the grass-court season is so short. In 2015 the gap between Roland-Garros and Wimbledon will be extended to three weeks (I've always thought the biggest thing that needs changing in world tennis is the calendar; that's a good start). I was reading an old Sports Illustrated article from 1975 advocating sweeping changes to the game. It could almost have been written today. I'm glad only a few of the suggested changes have actually come to fruition in the last 38 years. The sit-down at the end of a set (and not after the first game of a set) was definitely a positive change that came in around the turn of the century.

Now that Mum has some spare time, she watches a helluva lot of sport on telly, especially netball and basketball. Dad despairs at the amount of netball she watches - often back-to-back games - and I can see where he's coming from. I mean the game itself can be watchable but it's the competition that seems so contrived. So what if the Swing are thrashing the Sting. Dad wishes she made better use of her brain. When I was about eight she attended night classes in maths. She taught me some of what she learnt - for ages I thought "integer" rhymed with "beggar".

Dad has started getting bad headaches again. They're not quite the debilitating migraines he had for so long, but they're bad nonetheless. And they follow the same weekly cycle, starting on Wednesday, worsening on Thursday, peaking on Friday and tailing off over the weekend. If he starts getting full-blown migraines again, life could soon become intolerable for him, not just because of the pain but also Mum's total lack of sympathy. Many times Dad would be writhing around in bed in agony, and Mum would accuse him of "playing up" as if he were a disobedient child. She wouldn't pop in every now and then to see how he was. Nothing like that. And heaven help Dad if they were supposed to go out somewhere. All hell would break loose. I love Mum dearly but her attitude to Dad's headaches (or any other illness he might have) is something I can't forgive.

I helped Dad with his computer issues, or tried to (I'm no expert). Their PC is painfully slow. On several occasions Dad mentioned taking a hammer to it. Of course they've got bloody Vista, and as we all know, Vista means death.

Yesterday's flight from Timaru was a very pleasant one, although being on the sea side of the plane I missed what would have been a great view of the snow-covered mountains. As always the whole experience of flying from Timaru was almost totally stress-free.

A view of the mountains outside my parents' house in Geraldine yesterday. You could see the wind blowing the snow off.

This was on the way to the airport.
At Timaru airport yesterday. My brother's skydiving operation uses the same model of aircraft.
Shortly after take-off yesterday, from inside the 19-seater plane.

After a really nice time away (I needed the break) It was back to work for me today. I missed a lot of excitement with last Thursday night's storm: there was talk of windows blown out and screaming kids. The coast took a real battering.

Until I started talking to customers, I didn't realise how tight money is for so many people. For so many customers it's absolutely vital that we deduct premiums on the right day or else the money won't be there. We're often talking twenty or thirty dollars. Being paid fortnightly instead of monthly can make a huge difference. For me it wouldn't make a lot of difference whether I was paid quarterly or hourly. I don't earn much and I have a mortgage so why are things so different for me? The main reason is simply that I only have to provide for one person, not four or more. I did once earn considerably more (if not big bucks) and that has helped my financial position. I can also thank my parents who have always been careful with money; their attitude has rubbed off onto me. Plus, unlike most people, I rarely have the urge to spend. More stuff often means more hassle. Funnily enough, in my old job in Auckland, as my salary increased my discretionary spending went down. With each exam I passed and every step I took up the pay scale, I built another layer on top of my house of cards which could come crashing down at any time.

Mum turned 64 two weeks ago; Dad's 63rd birthday is tomorrow. To celebrate and to show appreciation for everything they've done for me (such as picking me up from Christchurch) I bought them six bottles of wine while I was down there. They didn't think I should spend money on them while I'm trying to pay off my mortgage on my current income. A few years ago I'd buy a case of twelve more expensive bottles and they wouldn't think I was being extravagant. They worry a lot about how much money my brother and I have (or not).

I played badminton last night in Karori with the anxiety group. The organiser was intent on making a competition out of it all. She wrote the scores down and covered up the sheet after every game as if it was all a big secret. Someone on the sidelines scored each game but lost track so badly it seemed points were being given out randomly. Of course it doesn't matter but I find it hard to concentrate when someone shouts out "six-all" and you know you should be a handful of points up (or down, as the case may be). We had some very good rallies; it would be nice if this could be a regular thing.

I saw an interesting article on the Guardian website, provoking (so far) over 1700 comments. Apparently so-called Gen Y-ers (I'm right on the cusp of that age range) are supporting the Tories. The article starts off by saying, "If you want a good idea of where Britain might be headed, go to Peterborough." I had to laugh at one commenter who said, in that case heaven help us. I lived in Peterborough for eight months before moving to NZ. My flat wasn't much to write home about (and that's being kind) and my job was poorly paid but I have quite happy memories of my time there.

Monday, June 24, 2013


I normally find it hard to relax, but I've managed to recharge my batteries here in Geraldine. Nothing much has happened here, and I've hardly seen anybody except my parents, but seeing lots of people and attempting to achieve things tends to stress me out.

After the cold snap that straddled the shortest day, we've had two lovely days here - those crisp mornings and clear days that you get so often in this part of the country. Yesterday we dropped in on my uncle, the one with terminal cancer. He seemed remarkably chipper, he hadn't lost any of his several interests, and had even regained the weight he'd lost. I never would have imagined he'd recently received a death sentence.

Mum and Dad have a variety of fruit trees as well as a vege patch, giving them an even bigger supply of homegrown produce than we had in England. It would be nice to have something similar myself one day. We've just been picking cooking apples which will go into a crumble. I made an apple and rhubarb crumble for my work colleagues last week (they were doing some kind of pudding week). They said they liked it but it's hard to tell what they really think. Dad mentions a time in the seventies when he brought homemade wine into work (making wine was a popular pastime back then). He knew it was disgusting but his colleagues politely drank it all.

Dad is getting a new website made up for his paintings. He wants a picture of himself on the home page (I agree that he should have one) and wanted me to take a suitable photo of him - an "arty, moody" one as he put it. "Just use your nous," he told me. But I've got no nous when it comes to arty, moody photos of people. Do you want the apple tree in the background or not? In fact I rarely take photos of people full stop, as Dad found out when he saw the pictures I took of my trip in 2010. I was peeved when he dismissed all the shots I took. He mentioned his cousin, a potter, who has made a living not from selling his pots so much as selling himself. There are photos of him, immaculately coiffed, all over the internet and in print. I accused Dad of being as vain as his cousin. I did take more photos and he eventually chose one. If I have a tinge of autism it comes to the fore whenever people-related photos are involved, especially arty, moody ones.

Yesterday morning I watched Dad fly his glider at Pleasant Point. He spends many an evening tinkering with balsa wood and glue - he enjoys building his planes and gliders more than flying them. He has excellent fine motor skills; of course his living has relied on them. Yesterday we met a young guy who had spent a fair sum on an impressive ready-made plane, and an 81-year-old bloke who grew up in St Ives. He remembers the town in wartime when its population was only 3500 - long before the sprawling estate was built - and everybody knew everybody. He's also an anti-bike-helmet advocate - he thinks helmets (which aren't compulsory in the UK or continental Europe) are a psychological and practical barrier to cycling in NZ, and the health of the nation is worse as a result. I think he's got a point.

Wimbledon, the greatest tennis tournament on earth, starts in a few minutes. The automatic entrants to the main draws were joined by a number of qualifiers. To qualify for the men's main draw you had to win two best-of-three-set matches followed by a best-of-five; there was no tie-break in the deciding set of any match. Because of the long final set and the fact that you're more likely to reach it in the best-of-three format, you would expect a best-of-three to last longer than a best-of-five once service dominance reaches a certain level. I'm guessing the cut-off point would be around 85% of points won on serve; I promise to do the calculations and post the figure here.

Friday, June 21, 2013

6000 feet of snow down to two feet

That's a joke my uncle would make when anyone inquired about the weather. Snow has been coming down in Geraldine all morning, as it has in much of the South Island.

My 2:15 flight to Timaru yesterday was cancelled 25 minutes before it was due to take off. I'd been refreshing the website all morning, half-expecting the plug to be pulled on my flight, but of course they didn't cancel it until the last minute. I managed to get on a flight to Christchurch (on an 80-odd-seater plane I now know to be an ATR) and was lucky to get out of Wellington at all. The wind had really sprung up by the time we took off shortly before four. "All remaining customers are invited to board the aircraft." Customers? Didn't we used to be passengers? I didn't like hearing "customers" in that context, even if that's what we are. It's like the way BNZ refers to its branches as stores.

I'm grateful to Mum and Dad who drove up to collect me in the wintry weather. We had some tasty fish and chips at Rakaia and got to Geraldine at sevenish. Last night gales wreaked havoc on Wellington and no flights are currently leaving the airport at all.

I had a good chat on the phone with my brother last night. The saga with his ex-fiancée (which, unbelievably, is not yet over) has made him vehemently anti-NZ. He's vowed never to set foot in the country again after he leaves on 1st August. I'm hoping he'll still be able to see me in Wellington in late July but I wouldn't bank on anything right now.

Dad has a headache and is happy his bowls has been called off.

Monday, June 17, 2013

What's an iBox?

This Thursday I'll be flying to Timaru in one of those little planes. I'll be staying down south till the following Wednesday. I'm looking forward to getting away for a few days.

We had the autism group tonight. We split off into three subgroups of five or so. In our group was a woman I hadn't really met before. She didn't speak although she was very facially expressive; she communicated by tapping out messages on her phone. At one point we discussed physical exercise and she handed me her phone which showed the simple message "I box". For a few seconds I was picturing some sort of Apple gaming console. Ah, you do boxing. Now that's proper exercise. Her next message said that she used to cycle at national level but came off her bike at speed and suffered a brain injury. Judging by her insightful messages all evening there was little wrong with her brain. Tom was also in my group and was busy unscrewing a table with his Swiss Army knife and Leatherman. It's actually quite comforting to know that he unscrews other furniture besides mine.

One of my team-mates at work got fired last Thursday. Sacked, dismissed, however you say it it's not good. Part of her role involved taking calls from customers; she'd receive points (which converted into dollars) for certain outcomes, for instance if someone rang in to cancel their policy but she retained the business. Apparently she'd been fiddling the points. I don't know the ins and outs of it all but it doesn't sound clear cut to me. Some of my colleagues aren't happy with the way she's been treated. She plans to take legal action. I think the incentives work on a dollars-per-point basis, but if you don't reach a certain monthly target you get nothing for that month. I think that's an unfair system, and some people will try to beat unfair systems if they can.

There was a headline in Saturday's Dom Post: "Wellington dithers while Auckland hums". I'm not sure what kind of hum they're talking about because whenever I go to Auckland I don't hear it. I think it's more of a "kerching" than a hum - people flock there (from within NZ and from overseas) because that's where the jobs are. House prices in Auckland continue to skyrocket. On TV last night they showed a (Pakeha) woman struggling to get a toehold on the Auckland property ladder, who was particularly interested in a house because it was number four and Asians might be put off by that. "Four" sounds very similar to "death" in Mandarin. When house numbers start to become a major consideration, something isn't right.

Mum and Dad have just bought their third property, and their second flat in St Ives. I asked Dad what would be next - he assured me there wouldn't be a next. My parents have always been interested in houses, and like looking at them - particularly new developments - when they drive somewhere.

I went to my cousin's place on Saturday night. We watched the All Blacks game against France. I only had one eye on the game, if that. There was much excitement at a couple of the All Blacks' tries but I didn't share in it. Unlike tennis I don't really get rugby, even if I followed the most recent World Cup and actually went to two matches including Tonga's shock win over France. At least Saturday's match finished with a tennis score (30-0) although I thought the French were unlucky to get nil.

Next month they're having a Great Gatsby-themed mid-year work function. Should I go? I'm not sure I can face the prospect to be honest. Last year I was in Auckland when the function was on so there was no decision to make. No such luck this time.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

App games: it's time I got a life

I've recently dipped my toe into the vast sea of app games, really to get ideas for my own app game, the first (non-live) version of which should be in my hands in a few days. I downloaded four free games and I thought I'd give a review of them here.

Candy Crush Saga
This game has overtaken Angry Birds as the world's most popular app game. I can see why: it's fast-paced and busy, constantly bombarding the user with animations and sounds. It took me a few minutes to twig what you were supposed to do, probably because I'm a bit thick. The object is to swap adjacent pieces of candy to create lines of three identical candies. The first couple of levels are very easy so that you're hooked in at an early stage, and this game has more hooks than a coat rack. There's a ticking clock in the background (What's this for? Is there a time limit?). It turns out that every half-hour you play, you gain an extra life. You can also buy extra lives or gain them by sharing your score with your Facebook friends, if you have any, and of course many people have hundreds of them. The colour scheme and candy-store theme are quite feminine; attracting that half of the population has played a big part in the game's success I think. As for me, well I completed about ten levels, hardly scratching the surface of the "saga", then promptly uninstalled the game (it's nice that it's so easy to rid yourself of apps if you've had enough of them). I quickly tired of the booming voice telling me something was "sweet!" or "tasty!" every few seconds. All the colours were over the top, and when I saw coloured fish crawling over my screen accompanied by fairground music, I wondered if someone had spiked my tea. And my lack of a Facebook presence renders the game unworkable for me. I won't give it a star rating: Candy Crush is very cleverly designed but it ain't for me.

4 Pics 1 Word
This is a puzzle game, each puzzle consisting of four pictures which combine to give a single word. Beneath the pictures are some letters which you use to form the answer - this can be anywhere from three to eight letters. My cousin and her family have played this a lot; it makes a very good family game. Some of the puzzles could be solved by quite small children and would provide a useful, fun tool for helping kids with spelling and vocabulary, while others would probably need grown-up eyes and brains. Difficulty varies a lot from one puzzle to another but it isn't in any sort of progression: puzzle 173 might be harder than puzzle 456. That's not such a bad thing; it doesn't lock out the younger family members after a certain point by producing a stream of hard-to-get words. And there are a lot of puzzles. I visited my cousin's place last night and there was a real sense of anticipation as we homed in on the 1000th (and supposedly final) puzzle. What would happen after completing the last puzzle? A big fanfare? Something asking you to shell out money for more puzzles? What actually happened was puzzle 1001. Everything is very clean and slick, with just the right amount of sound and animation. Sure, the pop-up ads on the free version get annoying, but I can't blame the designers for wanting to make money. My only criticism would be the choice of letters which you pick from. The unused letters seem to be picked at random from the alphabet; this means the low-frequency letters appear more often than they "should". Sometimes you'll even get a selection containing say three Q's and no U, in which case you can disregard the Q's immediately. That's really just a minor nitpick - I'm happy to give 4 Pics 1 Word 4½ stars.

Quite a simple game which had me hooked from the start.
There's a wheel split into three coloured segments in the centre of the screen; using the touch-screen you rotate the wheel to catch coloured flying balls by matching them with the correctly-coloured segment. As you might imagine, the balls get faster as the game progresses. The more consecutive balls you match correctly, the points value of each subsequent ball increases, and it does so in quite an ingenious way. However if you mismatch a ball, the "energy level" of one of the three sectors reduces, as does the points value when you next catch a ball. When the energy level of any of the sectors reaches zero it's game over. Some of the balls have special powers, for instance one type of ball creates drones (they're all the rage these days) which ward off rogue balls. The worst ball to collect thankfully occurs only rarely: it reverses the rotation of the wheel, leading (for me at least) to certain death. The game has many subtle but rather cool features. The balls leave a trail as they streak across the "sky"; if you mismatch a ball the handset vibrates; as you approach your personal best a circle appears showing whatever username you picked for yourself, closing in on the magic colour wheel until your record is broken. I love the spacey feel of the game, the simple colours and the choice of font. As your high score climbs ever higher, you move up a ranking system. My last attempt, which was a huge improvement over my previous best, only elevated me to the third of 13 possible ranks. I haven't played since, but as each game only lasts a few minutes I may well do so again without feeling especially guilty. All in all Gyro is a suberb game: 5 stars.

As the name suggests, this game takes the form of a 7x7 grid. The object is to rearrange coloured squares around the grid to create lines of four (or more) of the same colour in a row, which then disappears. It starts off nice and easy, but rapidly becomes very difficult. And that, to my mind, is the biggest flaw of 7x7. However, the game is an interesting mix of skill and luck - there's a lot of strategy involved in deciding where to move each square to maximise your chances of still being able to move on future turns. You can see what colours are coming up next, and that makes strategy considerations even more involved. Odds come into play, as do other poker-like concepts such as inside and open-ended straight draws. If you do clever stuff like make two lines in one go, you get extra "lifelines" which are crucial in being able to survive later on, but you can only really collect these lifelines in the earliest levels and I don't like that your survival (or not) of level four is so dependent on what you did in level one. There are other things that could have helped make the game more marketable. It's too static; it needs a few more lights and sounds. Someone wisely pointed out that the "try again" button implies failure, and "play again" would have been better. And perhaps most importantly, the name could be more appropriate. It's true that the game is played on a 7x7 grid, but that's really only incidental. Four is the key number, not seven, so if the name is to contain a number at all it should be four. Still, I can't be too critical. Creating a fully functional phone app isn't easy, and it's kept me occupied for a few hours already. I'll give it 3 stars.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sudoku - a cure for chronic depression?

Last night I saw Julie at her flat. She was in her dressing gown. She talked and talked, replaying conversations she'd had with this or that person, expressing anger at things people had or hadn't said. As usual, she lost me in a sea of he-saids and she-saids. I'd interject occasionally with "mmm, that's right" or "that must be hard". Sometimes she said she was at rock bottom with nothing left to lose. A friend of hers in Raumati suggested she move into a nearby flat. Julie said that would only make things worse. I then told her she'd contradicted herself because she'd said things couldn't get any worse.

Julie is in a lot of mental and physical pain, but I'm sure things would be much better if she had a family. She's got an extended family of course, and a handful of friends, but none of that comes close to having your own children. (I'm guessing here because I haven't got kids, but I have got a mum, and I've got a bond with her that I don't think you can have with anyone else.) I think of my maternal grandmother who had seven children; she was always having family popping in and was always on the end of the phone.

Last night I noticed Julie had a Sudoku book on her shelf. I picked it up - there were no marks in it. I thought it might be a good way to stimulate her, but she was too busy replaying conversations to be interested. She asked me what she should do and say the next time a particular person came over. "What would you do?" I couldn't give her a satisfactory answer. Eventually, with the Sudoku book open at page one, I said, "what I'd do is put a one in this corner." She laughed, I explained the rules, and we finished one of the easier puzzles. She was in so much pain though (her medication was overdue) that I felt under a lot of pressure to finish it as quickly as possible. And what if it went wrong? I've never done such a stressful Sudoku in my life. In fact I hardly ever do Sudoku these days (I've never been that big a fan anyway) but last night's puzzle served quite a useful purpose I think.

I spent longer at Julie's than I'd planned and ended up getting a takeaway from Golden Sun. Three doors down from the takeaway is Evil Genius (have a look at their website), a shop selling vinyl, coffee and other stuff and I'm unsure of. It was still open, and according to their site it's open till four in the morning (ish), even on weekdays. How does that work? I mean, Berhampore isn't somewhere people "hang out". Where does the money come from to allow you to stay open 20½ hours a day? I'm glad it does work, or seems to. I had a good look in the window but I didn't dare go in: I felt too old, uncool and musically clueless.
Edit: it actually closes (normally) at 4pm, not the 4am I assumed. There happened to be a special event going on when I walked by.

The world's oldest man died yesterday at the age of 116, which (as I found out this week) is the height of my work building in metres. It's also nine-eleven upside down. Talking of numbers, I found this interesting post and video on Language Log (a language-related blog) about the extensive use of numbers in Chinese puns. Because there are so many homophones and near-homophones in Chinese languages, the word for five (say) sounds similar to a bunch of other words. In my time in France I remember seeing 109 (cent neuf) standing for the identically-pronounced sang neuf, meaning "new blood". You'd also see K7 standing for "cassette" (they're pronounced the same in French). And of course in English people use 2 and 4 all the time in their texts. But it seems the Chinese do this kind of thing on a different scale entirely.

I know I need to meet new people but doing so causes me a lot of stress. It's a real catch-22 for me.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Fog lifting?

I felt stressed for most of the weekend. It seemed impossible to switch off from everything going on in my head, which meant that everything I did, or tried to do, was shrouded in dense fog. I was busy all weekend - at least it felt that way - but I never felt like I did anything of significance. I went for a longish walk, went to the market, did my chores around the house, played around with a few phone apps (which I need to do as part of my "other job") and spent a fair while on the phone, but didn't talk face-to-face with anyone unless the market stallholders count. That's not an unusual weekend for me; when I return to work on a Monday and someone asks me what I did at the weekend I often end up saying "nothing special" or words to that effect.

At lunchtime today I saw my support worker (have I mentioned her?). Her main job is to help people look for and keep jobs, but when I see her I often drift into territory that lies outside work. Today it felt we were getting somewhere, and I think my fog cleared a little as a result.

I had to phone a few customers at work today. Considering how hard I find certain people-related situations it's funny how I don't mind calling customers, and sometimes even like it, except when they ask me something I don't know the answer to and I feel silly. Today I found myself in an interesting situation when a name I knew flashed up on my screen. I checked his notes and one of my colleagues had written "I spoke to him, he said he's autistic...". Yep, definitely the guy from the group. He'd applied for an automatic acceptance policy (no underwriting) and it's easy to see why: he's very overweight and with his past history of addictions he'd struggle to get cover otherwise. He'd be about five foot five in every direction and his trademark braces make him a very recognisable figure. Some of his comments on Monday nights make me wince ("when I feel down I fire up YouTube and listen to one of Hitler's speeches"). Eww. His view of the world lacks any shades of grey, and he can get worked up over issues to the point of being scary, but he's also highly intelligent and can be very friendly too. Anyway I was really supposed to ring him but I just couldn't. How could I pretend I didn't know him? What if someone listens to my call (which is recorded)? I saw his birthday was imminent so I sent him a text wishing him a happy birthday and, er, by the way, if you provide your payment details I'll put your policy in place. I found it interesting that he told my colleague he was autistic - he seems to identify strongly with the "brand".

Julie sounds like she's in a pretty bad way and I don't think I can do much to help. Our 45-minute phone conversation on Saturday (which was really her conversation) could have been summed up in seconds: "I'm in a lot of pain, I feel hopeless, and I don't want to live any more."

So Nadal did make it eight French Open titles and twelve grand slams in total. Quite remarkable really. Some of the results in the latter stages of the tournament (Tsonga beat Federer 3-0; Ferrer beat Tsonga 3-0; Nadal beat Ferrer 3-0) show the importance of match-ups in tennis.

Saturday, June 8, 2013


I stood in the cold on Lambton Quay for an hour and a half on Wednesday evening, trying to raise money for Autism NZ. There was plenty of foot traffic but the weather didn't help; people just wanted to get home. It was also hard to get noticed, unlike last year when we put up a stand at the entrance to New World. To my surprise two blokes each gave $20. I was the next biggest donor (a $10 note and a bunch of small change) but of the thousands of others who walked past me, only ten or so donated. If everyone had given just a dollar, what a difference it would have made. It can't help that so many people live cashless lives. I stood next to a bus stop for some of the time; bugger those Snapper cards.

I can't remember anything of Thursday except that after work I walked past a café that I hadn't really noticed before on the corner of Dixon Street and Courtenay Place. It has lots of old shabby furniture. I heard the latter half of what seemed like an amazing song blaring out of the speaker. The only lyrics I caught were "Jump On My Shoulders" which happens to be the title of the song. I Googled those lyrics after going to the gym. When I listened to the song (by a band called Awolnation) on YouTube it no longer seemed amazing, just reasonably good. I must download the Shazam app (which can identify songs as they're played) when I ... um ... get back to using my smart phone instead of my dumb one.

Last night I saw the Great Gatsby at the Embassy with the work social club. It's good for me when the social club organises a movie because I can participate without having to be very social. I read the book in 2009 and I can see why it's viewed as the great American novel. I didn't realise that F. Scott Fitzgerald was so damn young when he wrote it. The movie wasn't bad either but I preferred the book and I felt the movie was half an hour too long (one of my colleagues said two hours too long). They could have cut back a bit on Gatsby's use of "old sport". Visually it was quite spectacular though. After the film a few people, including my boss, wanted to extend their night out but it was an easy decision for me to go home.

I listened to bits (when I wasn't asleep) of last night's gripping semi-final between Nadal and Djokovic. The other three grand slams have produced all manner of great men's matches in recent times but this time it was Roland Garros's turn to come up with a real classic. It wasn't just the quality of play and closeness of the match, but the significance of the outcome. Luckily I woke up in time for the fifth set. During the most dramatic game of that set, which saw Djokovic broken for 4-4, the commentators did justice to the historical significance of it all. The crucial moment was perhaps when Djokovic touched the net to hand Nadal a break point in that vital eighth game, but it's easy to single out individual moments. Had Nadal served out the match at 6-5 in the fourth set, all those "crucial turning points" in the fifth would never have happened. With a staggering record at Roland-Garros (58 wins and only one loss), Nadal must be a fairly heavy favourite to win a record eighth title.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Could I live with other people again?

Martin came over yesterday. He'd just been working as an extra for the second Hobbit film - they needed tall people. He thinks he might be called upon to play an orc in the third film. We played squash, or tried to, and the rest of the time just talked. I'm a bit embarrassed of my flat when people come over - I have way too much space for one person, and you can't help but give away a lot of information about yourself when people see how you live. I'm toying with the idea of taking on Martin as a flatmate (he's not all that happy with his current arrangements). The money would be handy. But I haven't lived with other people for six years, and the idea of living with someone I sort of know is scary. I think I'd almost rather take my chances on someone I don't know from Adam.

Last night we had the autism group. It was a really good session, the best in a long time. Some of the quieter people are gaining in self-confidence and contributing more, which is excellent. After work tomorrow I'll be collecting for their annual appeal (due to some calendar stuff-up, this year's collection is in midweek, which is a shame).

I listened to an interesting programme on the radio yesterday. David Stuckler, author of The Body Economic was interviewed. According to him (and contrary to what you hear from politicians and in the media), recessions are health-neutral. In other words economic downturn doesn't make people sick, but how governments react to the situation just might do. In particular, he says, austerity (a word we've heard so much of in the last two years) is a killer.

Tommy Haas marches on at the French Open. He hardly broke sweat last night as he beat Mikhail Youzhny to reach the last eight.

I think we can safely say it's officially winter now. The weather took a violent turn early this afternoon as heavy rain combined with gale-force winds. The colder, wetter weather obviously means people wear a lot more clothes, and that makes life more interesting when you're wandering through (or sitting in) town. On my better days I almost go as far as caring about what I wear, and I should probably write about that some time.

I saw Julie tonight at her flat in Berhampore. Unlike some residents of the suburb (including those in one of the rest homes she stayed at) she wasn't evacuated in the early hours of the morning due to a landslide. Just as well; that might have been the last straw for her.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Ways to make a living

The opening night of Dad's UK exhibition was a success. He sold about a dozen paintings. He still has quite a following in his old stomping ground, which he hasn't come close to matching in New Zealand. I'm really proud of Dad (and, if I'm honest, a little envious). Not many people can make a living in the way he has. Mum's career as a primary school teacher is also something to be proud of. Since the early seventies she's been shaping people's lives; that's high-stakes stuff. Then there's my brother; his army career is awe-inspiring. All three members of my immediately family have been very good at their jobs for long periods of time, while I've been good at mine only very sporadically.

A riot broke out yesterday at Spring Hill, a prison in the Waikato. I wonder what sparked it, if anything. Back in 1990 there was a huge riot at Strangeways, a maximum-security prison in Manchester, that lasted weeks. It succeeded in bringing about major (positive) changes to prisoners' living conditions. A fly-on-the-wall documentary series about Strangeways is currently being shown on TV here in New Zealand. It's grim stuff, but strangely compelling viewing. One of the featured inmates makes a perpetual dirty protest; the amount of time spent on him is unreal and it all seems so futile. Another inmate (that for some reason I found endearing) talked about going to the gym: "If I had to choose between the gym and doing loads of drugs, I'd take me gym. Well, come to think of it, I quite like both."

I've been enjoying the French Open tennis commentary on the internet. You can choose to have the commentary in either French or English. They now have a Kiwi by the name of Matt Brown on the Anglophone team; I've been impressed with his knowledge of the game. Perhaps the match of the tournament so far took place last night while I was sound asleep. Tommy Haas, who's older than me by a full two years, beat John Isner in five sets. Remarkably Haas saw a dozen match points slip by in the fourth set, then had to save one en route to winning 10-8 in the decider, taking it out on his 13th opportunity. Grand slams produce these kinds of battles that you just don't see the rest of the year (and it's hardly a surprise that Isner should feature). Kiwi hope Marina Erakovic was beaten narrowly in the third round last night but she'll still get a helpful rankings boost.

Continuing the sporting theme, I saw this superb cartoon about club football. It's hilarious and very well done, and shows how unbelievably irrational some football fans are.

Tomorrow is a public holiday. Why we have a day off for the Queen's pretend birthday I'm not so sure, but I'm not complaining. Martin will be coming over. I haven't seen much of him lately.