Thursday, August 29, 2013

The muppet factor

Sunday's drama has made my work week more manageable - no matter what happened at work I was unlikely to feel as much of a muppet as I did on Sunday. Still, pretending to care, like in this morning's meeting, can get tiring after a while. Some people have meetings virtually all day every day and I wonder how they cope.

Dad has had a painting accepted for a exhibition in China. Painters were invited to submit their work, so it's safe to say the submissions were of a high standard, and only a small fraction of them were selected. In other words Dad has done well. He's also exhibiting some paintings here in Wellington this weekend - they're bringing them up in the car and will be arriving tomorrow.

With the situation in Syria comes the concern that my brother might be sent there. He's currently in the reserves of the British army.

Rugby's Ranfurly Shield is an interesting concept. Upsets in rugby are rarer than in other sports (such as football), and because a team only plays a handful of home games in a season, it can hang onto the Shield for years. Or not touch it at all for years. Otago, who I always thought were a big player in NZ rugby, got their hands on the Shield last weekend for the first time in 56 years. Yikes. I hope they hold onto it for a while.

The US Open tennis is in full swing. Well sort of - there's a lot of rain and no roof. Marion Bartoli isn't playing. She retired from the game after her incredible Wimbledon triumph. It's a shame that tennis should lose such a classy player.

In more sports news, there was a controversial and highly bizarre match in the league cup between Yeovil and Birmingham yesterday. You can read all about it here.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


One minute I'm sitting out on the balcony on an unusually balmy Sunday in August and the next ... oh dear. The door has locked behind me, the key's inside and I'm trapped. No phone, no nothing. What the hell do I do? I'm only on the first floor but there's also a step up from the ground. I'm looking at 13 feet. I think of ways down but decide there's no real way of getting down other than stepping out onto the beam that connects the balconies, and jumping. I use a long stick to knock on my neighbour's window but they're obviously out. Eventually I attract the attention of a Chinese family who live above me and are about to head off in their car. The mum phones the property manager, who I thought had a key to all the apartments, but apparently not. She tells me not to even think of jumping. "I'll call 111. The police." "Um, you should probably ask for the fire brigade." Oh god. Is this really happening? It's happened in bad dreams enough times. I hear her half of the 111 call. "Nothing's on fire and nobody's injured." Five minutes later three firemen are on the scene and I'm suitably embarrassed by the whole situation. They put a ladder up and I get down. I've left one of the downstairs windows open a few inches with the "security" stay which the firemen break very easily, and I'm back inside without having to shell out for a locksmith.

I bought the people upstairs some lilies and a box of chocolates but they haven't been back since. It makes a nice change to sense the aroma of flowers as I walk into my flat. There are a couple of things I can take out of being trapped (I was stuck for about an hour). One, I've locked myself out before (far less dramatically) and I'm bound to do it again. It's just too damn easy to do. Having flatmates will help but in the meantime I'd better make sure my property manager has one of my spare keys (there's no-one around here I really trust with them). Secondly the window stays are so feeble that I must never leave the downstairs windows ajar, not even an inch.

In other news, we had a very good session at last night's autism group. People have really come on in leaps and bounds. Tom, for instance, has become (and this sounds terrible) much less robotic and more human. This time last year he'd hardly say anything at the group and his face would be almost expressionless the whole time. Now he contributes quite a lot. He must have a good sense of humour, if all the comedy programmes he put on my computer are anything to go by, but up until recently you never would have known it. We talked about skills that people on the spectrum sometimes have. The date calculation thing always blows me away. In fact there is no calculation that I can see. You input a date, sometimes years into the past or future, and out pops the day of the week. Almost instantly. How? It's the same with mental arithmetic. I'm quite good at that (it's one of the few things I can confidently say I am good at) but I still have to calculate the answer, and I make mistakes sometimes. How some people are able to bypass all those calculation steps and get straight to the answer I have no idea.

One of the comedy shows Tom gave me was Look Around You. It's a spoof educational programme, where they do supposedly serious experiments that are in fact complete bollocks. It's a take-off of the programmes they produced for schools in the UK in the late seventies and early eighties, and must have repeated for a few years after that because it all seems quite familiar to me. The attention to detail is excellent and makes the whole thing even more hilarious. Here's the bit where they boil an egg. Enjoy.

We moved desks at work on Friday. I've now got less space but I've got a window. I'm now miles from the loo but people can't see what I'm doing very easily. You win some, you lose some I guess.

My chances of being stuck on the balcony were increased by Wellington's warmest winter on record. Climate change has all kinds of knock-on effects.

I've started caring about politics a bit more of late (and it's funny that after my last post when I talked about Key, and not trusting, I should lock myself out). We've got a prime minister who basically thinks he can do what he likes, and I don't like that. His comments about the GCSB bill didn't wash with me, and as for the saying "if you've got nothing to hide you've got nothing to fear", well that might be true, but the fact is we've all got something to hide, dammit, even if it's perfectly legal. I really hope that whoever wins the Labour leadership contest can shake things up at next year's election.

I haven't heard from Julie at all since I wrote that letter.

Mum and Dad arrive on Friday. I haven't told them about the lock-out incident.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Food for thought

I saw the doctor today. Not my usual doctor (I specified this when I made my appointment) but one who advocates a change in diet rather than endless popping of pills. I already watch what I eat, or so I thought. But she wants me to do the Whole 9 diet, a type of exclusion diet that is "guaranteed to change your life". No processed foods including grain, no dairy products, and definitely no sugar. Sugar is the food of the devil. On the flip side she says I should be eating lots of meat, the fattier the better, lots of fish, three eggs a day, and mountains of vegetables. "Isn't this the caveman diet?" "Yes, but I've been following it for months, and do I look like a caveman?" As it happened, she had more than a hint of a tash, but I decided not to comment on that. She had no problems with my plans to come off my nothing-matters pills, as long as I didn't go the cold turkey route, and she wrote a prescription for the small tablets to allow me to better regulate my dose. So I got something out of seeing the doctor today - that's not always the case.

Mum and Dad will be arriving in Wellington next Friday. They'll be staying six nights. I'd better make sure those shirts are all ironed. They're bringing up a dining table which could make a big difference - suddenly my flat will be suitable for visitors as well as any flatmates I might have. I expect they'll be bringing a lot of other bits and pieces that will probably serve to complicate my life rather than improve it. I'd be more than happy with just the table and some meat, if they're able to keep it cold for that long. I'll wait till my parents have been and gone before going on this life-changing diet for a month. (I'm skeptical but there's little harm in trying.)

Yesterday I was chatting to one of my colleagues about the housing market. She said that December 2011 wasn't a clever time for me to buy, and that Wellington's apartments are dropping in value like a stone, yellow sticker or not. People just don't want a bar of them. A lot of apartment owners must be in a negative equity situation. I'm not quite in that position: I took out a 68% mortgage, I'd get about 68% back if I were to sell now, and I've paid a bit more off since then. It's frustrating because I look around my flat and think, you know what, I've actually got a pretty good place here. Maybe coming off Efexor might help me see more of the positives.

I rang Bazza for his birthday last night. He said he thought it would be me because nobody else remembers. There were really only two topics of conversation: earthquakes and tennis. I'll probably see him next month - I fly up on the evening of the 20th in time for the aspie group the next day, and come back on the 24th.

David Shearer resigned as Labour leader today. He's always seemed like a genuinely nice bloke, someone I can trust. He didn't get very far as leader because he's not an orator, he isn't particularly adept at political gamesmanship, and he doesn't pretend to be your mate. In other words he's the polar opposite of John Key, who I no longer trust at all.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Six point oh no

At 2:30 on Friday we all got under our desks as the latest "big one" shook the building. Despite being a 6.6, a tick above last month's big shake, it didn't feel quite as violent. What really got me this time was the look of terror on some people's faces. They looked, dare I say, shaken up. So that was work over for the week, although we had to wait for the all-clear before we could go home. It's at times like these that I'm grateful I can just walk home; the roads were gridlocked as people wanted to get the hell out of the city on a Friday afternoon. I had a look around my flat when I got home; there were no additions to last month's plaster cracks. I spoke to one of the other owners - we agreed that for a building that's supposed to be as dodgy as hell, it's come out of these two big shakes remarkably well. That nine-storey lift shaft on Lukes Lane, which will hopefully come down soon, has become a symbol of Wellington's earthquake risk. This time the small town of Seddon really felt the full force of the quake - I was reading about a couple who had moved there to get away from Christchurch.

The size of the subsequent aftershocks has taken me by surprise. We got a 6.0 as I was ordering fish and chips. Fish Fins in Newtown were still open - I'd been looking forward to that all week. "Would you like lemon salt and pepper?" Yes please ... uh oh ... holy shit ... are you OK? I had visions of vats of hot oil toppling over - at least the hospital isn't far away. We've had a bunch of fives and high fours, some of which have woken me up, and I haven't really wanted to go to sleep in the first place. My body clock is way out of whack right now.

Mum and Dad have used the shakes as an excuse to ring me almost hourly. They're driving up this way soon to take four paintings to a watercolour exhibition. I'll be seeing them on the 30th - I think they'll be staying here for six nights. Yesterday Dad and I had (another) argument about home ownership. I'm beginning to regret going anywhere near the property market.

I spent ages last night trying to watch 56 Up without my making my computer terminally ill with viruses. It was showing at the film festival but my brother was here, it was his birthday, the weather was good, and it simply wasn't going to happen. I eventually found it online, complete with Chinese subtitles, and watched all three parts. I last saw the series in 1998 (42 Up as it was then) and what an experiment it has been - effectively a real-life soap opera that only airs once every seven years. Neil was the most interesting of the lot, and the one I could relate to the most, but all the participants were fascinating in their own ways and I found all of them likeable (except perhaps Pete who seemed a bit conceited to me, and only participated this time to promote his band). Many of them shared a dislike for the programme ("people think they know everything about me") and I can hardly blame them - there is something eerie about it. But those same people also felt morally obliged to take part, and I suppose it helps if you get paid for it. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that all fourteen participants (ten of whom are blokes) are still alive - you'd have got long odds on that in 1964.

I'm about to watch some folk music at the Museum of City and Sea with some people from Update: The music was good and it helped me relax a bit. The bloke who played the Irish songs had been to Kerrytown where my grandfather was brought up. On the way back I took a picture of the offending lift shaft, complete with bouncers.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Crashing the system

Julie rang me at work yesterday. I soon wished I hadn't picked up the phone. I sent her a letter last night, saying that I've had enough of all this depressing talk, going round and round in a cycle of negativity, and that it doesn't help either of us. I drove over to her place and put it in her letter box. There was no point talking on the phone, or in person, because she would just take over.

I attended a meeting yesterday on the 25th floor - some of my old colleagues from my previous role were there. I really really didn't want to know. At times I stared out the window - I could see the Basin, my flat, the old Hannah's shoe factory, and in the foreground a huge billboard ad for a bank - something about revolutions and leaders. Is there no escape from this bollocks? I did pick up a couple of things from the meeting. One, they might at some point be changing their crazy zigzag premium rates on some types of insurance. Two, it would be easy for any of us to completely crash the main system. It wouldn't be much more complicated than asking your calculator to compute a number that's too big to fit in the display. Only instead of just producing an error message, the whole system would die. The worry in the meeting was that the proposed changes could kill off the system without any direct human input at all.

There were some other things in that meeting, directly related to my role, that I didn't quite take in. I was at the meeting because they want me to take on new tasks, become more involved. Grow. Develop. I don't want any of those things. It's hard enough to keep track of the tasks I'm doing now. My head is all over the place as I have to shift my attention from task A to task B, then back to A again. Then to C, and so on, all in quick succession, and in a matter of minutes I've done a whole Genesis album. Put D and E in the mix and I won't be able to cope. And of course the last thing I want is any sort of career progression in the environment I work in. My old boss, who I still think of as my boss, is going for interviews at the moment. I can hardly bear the thought of those.

I think a lot of (most?) people at work don't really want to know any more than I do, but their aspirations motivate them to want to know. Some of the sales people, for instance, are really competitive, and that competitiveness (which goes beyond just wanting to make more money) drives them to increase sales. Being a salesman, especially when it comes to selling someone else's overpriced products/services/stuff, isn't something I've ever aspired to. Seeing who can sell the most stuff is, to me, like seeing who can fart the loudest. Both are talents, and both can be improved with practice, but I don't have any wish to excel at either of them.

I'm still enjoying Truth in Advertising. A lot of it rings true to me. He said he was quite happy renting, he liked the impermanence of it, but he bought a property anyway because that's what he was "supposed" to do. I've certainly been conditioned to buy rather than rent. "Whatever happens, the value of property never goes down," Dad told me several times. That wasn't far off the truth for most of the 20th century and the very early 21st, but with leaky homes and earthquake strengthening, getting involved in property now seems like a minefield.

To prove my point about car registrations in the UK, when I asked my brother how old his Audi is, he told me it was a P. No date, just a letter, which happens to mean 1996-97. It's a bit like rocks that you say are from the Cretaceous period instead of being however many millions of years old. That makes a lot of sense because millions of years are hard to fathom. By the way, it can be good to think of things like geological time when you're feeling depressed, because it makes other things (like whether you fit in with your work colleagues) seem insignificant.

My counsellor supports me in my plan to gradually reduce my dose of Efexor to zero.

Monday, August 12, 2013


One of the topics at tonight's autism group was finances. That's quite a pertinent subject for me at the moment so I'd prepared a list of tips to help people on the spectrum with both the "ins" and "outs" of money, only I wasn't able to get very far when it was my turn to talk.

At work today we had afternoon tea - savouries and mocktails - to celebrate the new team structure. I happily partook in the food and drink but I couldn't see what there was to celebrate. I'm now officially part of a much bigger team with a more ruthless manager who has the same first name as my mother. My old boss is sticking around until mid-September. Last week he did my interim review, as they call it. We dashed into a meeting room and were done and dusted within five minutes.

On Saturday I signed up to play pool with the anxiety group on I don't like pool that much, and I like sitting round a table with lots of people, drinking, even less. And that's what we did for an eternity (I think it was nearly three hours) before we even played pool. The woman next to me was extremely loud and kept saying "totes". That's short for "totally", which is bad enough as it is. I'd only heard "totes" as a joke before; I never thought, like, real people, like, totally said "totes" in general conversation. I'd totes had enough before the pool, and once I'd played a couple of games and blown what felt like dumb money on drinks, I was glad to get home.

On Friday night Julie put the phone down on me again. This time I didn't feel as guilty as I have in the past (my counsellor has helped here I think). I haven't called her back.

I attended the games evening at the library on Wednesday. I played canasta with the same woman from the previous week. She works at the library, doing some kind of strategic planning or something. In other words nothing to do with books. I really had no clue how to play canasta. She plays every other week, and my cluelessness soon became obvious. My family played a long time ago when the game was popular, and once in the early nineties I did join in without ever properly knowing the rules. My dad tape-recorded our canasta session (he'll still have the tape somewhere), hoping to get a few snippets from my grandfather who had Alzheimer's. Unfortunately my grandad didn't say a lot (he was very quiet, and placid, in his later years). Anyway, there are two main types of card games: trick-taking games and rummy-type games. Canasta is a rummy game but it doesn't really play as one. My instinct was to try and get rid of all my cards, as you do in most rummy games, but in canasta you often want to do the exact opposite - pick up a whole bunch of cards from the discard pile which you use to form melds that score points. This took some getting used to. It's not a quick game - it took me 1¾ hours to come second.

I've been reading a book called Truth in Advertising. In places it's hilarious. Slightly alarmingly for me, a lot of the humour revolves around the narrator's disillusion in his job, but he's actually less disillusioned by his made-up job than I am in my real one.

I've now seen the latest seismic reports for our apartment block. It appears my flat is in fact in the dodgy zone rather than the "safe" zone. By the way I now pay $1750 a year in insurance through my body corp fees. One highlight I just remembered from the body corp AGM: when asked if any firm decisions have been made about earthquake strengthening, a committee member said the process was currently at "ground zero".

Car number plates beginning with H appeared on our roads last week; it took a smidgen over two years to get through the G's. In the UK you can tell the age of a vehicle directly from its number plate. When I was growing up, the new letter (an H-registration, say) came out on 1st August each year, to a big fanfare. A few doors down from us was a garage; people would take off in their new cars on the stroke of midnight. Such is the status symbol that a new car provides in the UK. Used cars in the UK lose their value extremely rapidly; my brother has just bought a not-that-old Audi A4 for only £600. (It looks like my brother has got his old marine security job back. He's only been back ten days and things are already looking up for him. Hopefully he can consign his NZ experience to history.)

Monday, August 5, 2013

The luck factor

I've just got back from playing El Grande, a medieval Spain-themed board game, with Tracy and Tom. A very good game it is too. It's just about simple enough for me to understand (some of these modern games are too damn complicated for my liking) but it has multiple layers of strategy. It's dice-free and (on the face of it) almost luck-free, but as I actually won, luck must play a significant part. It took us two hours to play- if we were more experienced it would have been more like 90 minutes, which I think is just about the perfect length for a game. There was some faux-Spanish spoken, such as Tom's "el sixo" for a score of six.

Last Wednesday I attended the games evening at the library. It was nice to be in my comfort zone, playing games I'd actually heard of. I played Scrabble with one of the staff who organised the evening, and a guy from the autism group who talked almost constantly throughout. (It's amazing how many people I know who are capable of incessant talking.) I won by a decent margin despite being hampered by an unusable Q. I then played crib with that librarian - I happened to win by just one point in a dramatic finish.

Julie is someone else who can talk non-stop. She builds an impenetrable wall of words; every now and then I'll interject with "hmmm" or "that's right" and that's as far as I'll get. She'll get upset if I try to end the "conversation" which is usually a very negative monologue. Frankly Julie is a "time sink" I'd be better off without, even if (in her better moods) she can be understanding of my own problems.

Tom came over yesterday. He's got this amazing self-built briefcase computer. I wanted to take a photo of it and post it on here, but I could see he didn't like it when I pointed a camera in the general direction of the machine. Its innards include hard drives with huge capacities; it's got a screen on the outside and various protruding sockets. He transferred a bunch of comedy TV shows onto my laptop which was nice, but it took three hours, meaning he was here longer than I'd have liked. He gave me some handy pointers for my app though. I've been having all kinds of problems with it - everything that I could possibly think of has gone wrong, as well as many things I never would have thought of. I was over the moon this weekend when I received a much improved new version from the developers; up until then the problems seemed almost insurmountable.

At the weekend I heard a Scots College student (name Sebastian Hallum Clarke, born 14/7/97) talk on the radio about his success with apps. Later Kim Hill interviewed Eleanor Catton, 28-year-old author of an epic novel which has been nominated for this year's Booker Prize. In both instances you could see what a difference your upbringing (i.e. luck) makes.

This puzzle app is a lifeline to me. My chances of going anywhere in my current role are zero. Going anywhere good at least. My boss has sadly just been made redundant, meaning I'll soon have my fifth boss, and first female boss, in my time at the company. I don't think she'll be anything like as personable as my current manager. It's hard not to feel slightly edgy about it all.

Yesterday Tom told me that he went cold turkey on Efexor from a fairly high dose, with little in the way of an adverse reaction. He said Efexor numbed everything, as it has done for me. He now takes no antidepressants at all.

So Rubert Mugabe won the latest election in Zimbabwe by a landslide. Amazingly turnout for the election was 135%.

My brother had some drama at Christchurch when they tried to hit him with excess baggage charges running into the thousands. He should be back in the UK now, although I haven't heard from him.