Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Risky business

I'm feeling better now than I've done in months (probably since May) and have no real idea why. The diet, the pills (I'll be dropping back again on Friday), the long weekend, who knows?

Dad is supposed to be back now, but with the storm, I've no idea whether his flight actually took off when it was scheduled to. When someone in my family attempts to fly somewhere, myself included, a severe weather event is almost guaranteed. I gave him a ring at the weekend, and also had a longish chat with my brother who was a mixture of happy (that he's with his friends, half a world away from his horror story) and cheesed off with his financial situation, which is about as bad as mine.

Dad's trip to the UK has meant I've spoken to Mum on the phone even more than usual. I'm happy with that - we get on pretty well these days. She hasn't been feeling 100% for a while but stubbornly refuses to see a doctor. She thinks it's all down to the food she eats. That includes the rash on her upper arm that keeps slowly expanding.

The highlight of the long weekend for me was my first ever proper game of Risk. We played at Tracy's place - the same crowd (well, three is a crowd) of Tracy, Tom and me. The idea was that we'd play for two hours, and whoever occupied the most territories at that point would be the winner. I was fortunate to snag Australia early on, and it was close for the lead between Tom and me. As such, most of my attacks were directed at Tom. After about 90 minutes we felt like we were just getting going (man it's a long game) so we upped the time limit to three hours. I focused almost exclusively on the Southern Hemisphere, and as I threw more than my fair share of fives and sixes, I was able to control South America and/or Africa. But my luck ran out and Tracy, who had kept a low profile, came marauding in. At the three-hour point my yellow army still occupied more regions than Tracy's red (Tony's green army was on the wane), but with someone making such a strong fightback, finishing at that point wouldn't have been "right", so we decided to adjourn until the weekend after next, at my place. How do we do that? Ah yes, take a photo of the board. I'm not sure I can wait so long to play again - it was a very absorbing three hours. Tracy has so far had one extra turn (she started), I'm next up, and I'm already thinking what I should do with my new complement of eleven yellow plastic cylinders. Tracy said after an hour that she was doomed, but I think that was a bluff. She's a smarter, more experienced gamer than either Tom or me, and I'm sure she knows it.

My hand-me-down copy of Risk is the 1963 version. The actual copy can't be that old - it's probably early seventies, which admittedly is still pretty damn old. Even after playing one session I can see that Risk has its flaws, but it's still an excellent game, and in its time it must have been revolutionary. Board games up to that point were: roll the dice, move your counter the number of squares indicated on the dice, then do what it says on that square (if anything). Risk is a complete departure from this. Plus it does seem to simulate war rather well at times - often I was thinking, yes I took that territory but boy did I lose a lot of men doing it. I'm glad I've got this version which requires you to choose, in turn, where to place armies on the board at the start, rather than having them randomly determined. I think that choosing territories adds an extra dimension.
The instructions give me a window on what life was like in the sixties and seventies. "The rules which follow are new and are the result of continuous research and testing ... They develop strategy sooner and make for better play." So you knew the game took seven hours, but that wasn't a problem?! Wow. In 2013 a mass-market board game taking more than a couple of hours would be a non-starter. The time factor is probably the biggest criticism of Risk. Then there's the role of luck - it's hard to determine how significant that is given the sheer number of dice rolls in a game. Thirdly there's a rich-get-richer mechanism (the more territories you've got, the more armies you get, which enable you to control more territories...) - that would probably be my biggest complaint.

Before the game we talked a bit about computer programming. Both Tracy and Tom love it. "It's fun." Well, programming for its own sake, or even to achieve a goal I don't care about, ain't my idea of fun. I did a short programming course at uni but we weren't actually taught anything, as far as I could see, and the two or three people on our course who already knew about the language drip-fed the "answers" to the rest of us who were completely clueless. If, on the other hand, my program is doing something I'm interested in, you know, creating an app or something, I could see myself learning the relevant language.

On Sunday I went to sit out on the bank at the Basin, and to my surprise there was a four-day game going on between Wellington and Otago. The home side were doing well, and when one of the batsmen was dismissed for a century, on came Jesse Ryder for the first time since March when he almost died following that attack in a Christchurch bar. As it happened, his father, his girlfriend and other members of his entourage were right in front of me. I spent more time watching them than any of the players. Ryder raced to 48 by the end of the day and was out for an impressive 117 on Monday.
(Edit: I shouldn't pretend to know anything about domestic cricket. Jesse Ryder had moved teams over the winter and was now playing for Otago against his old side.)

This morning Birmingham and Stoke played a memorable match in the League Cup. With the score at one apiece, Blues had a man sent off on the stroke of half-time. Unsurprisingly Stoke, the superior side on paper, capitalised to go two goals up. Eleven minutes to go and Blues bring on Peter Løvenkrands, and what do you know, he pops up to score twice in the final six minutes to force extra time. Only three minutes into the extra period and Stoke go back in front. Blues are dead on their feet as they try to scramble another equaliser which they somehow manage in the 118th minute. It sounded far too good a game to be decided on penalties (and don't forget, Birmingham played the last 75 minutes a man down) but alas Blues missed their first two spot-kicks and that was pretty much that. For all my cynicism about football and team sports in general, this was a "feel-good" game for me, in spite of the final result.

Update: Dad is back; I just spoke to him. No problems with the scheduling, but he felt very ill at Hong Kong after an ultra-cramped Virgin Atlantic flight, and was worried he wouldn't be able to continue his journey. He vowed never to fly with Virgin again. He flew with Air New Zealand (a far less painful experience) on the second leg.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Kiwi-ish: a post about how Kiwis say stuff

I've been meaning to do this for ages. A post about how Kiwis talk. I was given a reminder at the latest body corp meeting, when someone asked, "Claire, are you clear...". If there was a difference between Claire and clear, I couldn't hear (or hair or here or hare) it.

A few things before I go any further:
  • I'm only considering how Kiwis say their words, not what they say, which is for another post.
  • Pronunciation and accent aren't the same thing. When I say "park" and a Kiwi says "park", the difference is purely down to accent (the "ah" vowel is less open in NZ English than in my English). But when I say "pasta" with a short "a" sound, and a Kiwi says it with a long "ah" sound (like the one in "park"), that's not just accent: we're using different vowel sounds entirely. John Wells's lexical sets, which are very useful when describing accents, help with this distinction. (Mr Wells wrote an excellent blog on phonetics - check it out if you're interested in such things.)
  • What's my English? I'd say it was "standard" British English, very unregional, not posh, not working-class, not anything in particular. Boring, isn't it? Inevitably after living in New Zealand for nearly ten years my speech has become Kiwified to some extent, but not nearly as much as you might suspect.
  • By comparing Kiwi English to my English (or anyone else's), I'm not saying it's any better or worse, just different. And I am half Kiwi after all.
  • I won't mention the classic attributes of Kiwi-ish that we all know about ("fush and chups" or "unternit exciss").
  • I won't be using IPA. I do know what the funny symbols mean (ɑɪ θɪŋk) but I won't assume everybody else does.
Right, here are some of the less obvious characteristics of Kiwi speech that I've picked up:
  1. Kiwis love the "aaah" sound (the one that dentists get you to say). They eat paaahsta (as I mentioned above), talk about the Maaahfia and enter daaahta into their computers. The last one isn't universal: John Key talked about "dayta" when discussing the GCSB bill, which is how I've always pronounced it, although I hesitate a bit when I say the word now. Is this love of "aaah" influenced by Maori? Someone corrected me when I pronounced mana as "manna" (like manna from heaven): no, it's "maaahna".

  2. The way I say the depends on what the next word is. Before a vowel I say "thee" as in "thee apple". Otherwise it's "thuh" as in "thuh ball". But a lot of Kiwis, particularly younger ones, say "thuh" regardless: "Thuh aaahnswer is on thuh unternit." Some take this a step further and say "a" instead of "an" when the next word begins with a vowel: "I'll send you a email." On occasions I've heard "ay" instead of "an": "That's ay interesting idea."

  3. This follows on from number 2. Like me, most Kiwis (with the notable exception of some in the deep south) are non-rhotic. That is to say when a syllable ends with an "r" (like either of the syllables of corner), there's no audible "r" sound. Neither do you hear an "r" in a word like alarm, where the "r" is followed immediately by a consonant. However most non-rhotics, myself included, have a linking "r": if a word ends in "r" I do pronounce it if the next word starts with a vowel, as in "car alahm". But not everybody in NZ has a linking "r": you'll hear "cah alahm" from time to time. I think the Pacific Island languages have played a part here. With such high-profile names as Ma'a Nonu, some Kiwis have no problems pronouncing two similar vowel sounds side-by-side.
  4. As I alluded to in the introduction, many Kiwis pronounce beer and bear identically, or very close to it. It's what they call a merger. The subject of how we pronounce these two words came up at work recently. Interestingly, when you added bare into the mix, my colleague (who has the merger) couldn't predict whether I would pronounce it like beer or like bear. This is actually a fairly well-known characteristic of Kiwi speech but I thought I'd include it because it creates extra homophones that I don't have in my speech.
  5. There's also a merger between the 'al' and 'el' combinations. There was this ad on the radio for DIY products: "You know if it's Selleys it works." I thought it was Sally's for about a year, until I happened to notice some of their grout in a hardware store. Then we had someone with the surname Ellis who applied for an insurance policy; he wasn't too happy when he opened a letter addressed to Mr Alice. Strangely the pronunciation of Wellington seems to be shifting in a different way: I hear "Wullington" quite a lot, with the first syllable rhyming with "gull". I think this is due to the close position of the lips after the "w" sound; it's easier to follow up with 'ul' than 'el' or 'al'.
  6. There's another merger going on between 'ol' and 'ul', so that for some Kiwis, golf and gulf are pronounced the same (or near enough that I can't tell the difference). Again a radio ad had me confused for a while: is the country club you're advertising (north of Auckland) called Golf Harbour or Gulf Harbour? It's got a golf course and it's by the Hauraki Gulf, so either would make sense. This is yet another example of homophones that many Kiwis have, but Brits and other speakers of English don't.
  7. Holy homophones, Batman! We have a chain of eateries in Wellington called Wholly Bagels, so I hear the word wholly quite a bit. In these parts, it shares its pronunciation with holy, and I guess you could add holey (as in a sock) in there too. The difference actually lies in the word holy. For most Brits you could divide this word neatly into two syllables (hoe + lee) but for Kiwis the first syllable is coloured by the "l" sound, so it comes out as (hole + lee). A similar phenomenon is found in words like ruler: for poms it's generally (roo + la) but in NZ English it's more like (rule + la). This is one area where my speech has (consciously?) changed since I landed in NZ: the typical pommy pronunciation of words like holy or Poland sounds stuck-up or affected to some Kiwis, and I'd rather not be thought of in those terms.

  8. When an "l" sound ends a syllable, or comes before a consonant at the end of a syllable, it often becomes a "w". Examples are ball, wool, milk, gold, folder and fulfil. This process is known as L-vocalisation. It's not just Kiwis that have this feature; Cockneys have it too, as do I to some extent (this isn't something I've picked up in NZ - I had it before).

  9. In Kiwi speech, some words tend to gain a syllable. The word door, for me, is just one syllable, but for many Kiwis it's two: something like "dor-wa". Likewise the word here (which for me is sort of 1½ syllables) is definitely two syllables for a lot of Kiwis: "hee-ya".
  10. Other words lose a syllable, or at least part of one. When I say file, it's hard to say whether it's one syllable or two. However for a lot of Kiwis it's clearly a single syllable, not far off "fahl".
  11. So far I've dealt mostly with vowels, because that's where most of the differences lie, but consonants play their part too. With a word like tissue, many English speakers (myself included) have decided that "tiss-you" is way too much effort, so we mash the "s" and "y" sounds together to get a "sh" sound. A similar thing goes on with the word measure: the "z" and "y" sounds combine to produce a "zh" sound (which is more common in French - you find it in words like fromage). For many born-and-bred Kiwis this process extends further than it does for me: assume becomes "a-shoom", presume becomes "pre-zhoom", and you get ads (yes, more ads) for home "inshulation".
  12. In some instances (actually quite a lot), Kiwis enunciate their words better than Brits do. A good example is the "t" sound in the middle of a word, when followed by another consonant. When I say Batman, there's no audible "t" there; instead I use a glottal stop. But for some Kiwis you do hear a "t" there, as well as in words like currently, and you'll even hear careful newsreaders pronounce both "t"s in night-time.
  13. Sorry, I'm about to break one of my rules here. The last item on my list is Kiwis' complete butcherisation of foreign words and phrases, particularly French ones, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't bug me just a little. The word croissant usually comes out like "cruh-SONT". I can't really blame them: most Kiwis don't learn French at school any more, and even older ones who did (like my mum) didn't learn good pronunciation - lessons were focused mainly on grammar. What I find kind of funny is when people try to make French words sound even more French than they really are, lingerie ("lon-je-raaayy") being the best example.
So there you go. Phonetics (and linguistics generally) is an interesting subject I think, and I'd like to learn more about the actual physical processes that go on (without thinking) when we make certain sounds. That would surely make the differences between various forms of English easier to get a handle on.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Red card

I was in two minds over whether to attend Monday night's autism group, and before long I was wishing I'd stayed away. The bloke I'd previously likened to Gollum, who calls himself Mr Ronald, had a habit of taking more than his fair share of biscuits and chips. On Monday the rotund chap with the braces (I think I've mentioned him before too) had had enough of this ("take the whole fucking lot then") and things quickly got out of hand. Mr Ronald became very aggressive. Other people weighed in, a red Snapper card was brandished, and food went flying. We only had one facilitator instead of the normal three; I tried to back her up but others did the opposite. In the end Mr Ronald did get shown the proverbial red card and was told to leave. I didn't want to make a big deal of the food thing - I've seen it many times before, from Bazza and others. Hoovering up food seems to be a very common trait among autistic people. But the bloke in the braces made a really big deal of it. I'm happy that these kinds of things are pointed out, but he wants the whole meeting to be a teaching mechanism so that people can cope with the big bad outside world. That's not what I want, and if it turns into that I'll stop coming.

On Sunday I played badminton. It was less organised than previous sessions - we didn't have points tallies or anything of that sort. One guy was keen to play a game of singles with me - I felt a bit bad as I beat him 21-4. He was starting a new job, in the mental health sector, the next day. Some (most?) of the people there preferred chatting to playing. It was suggested that I do a squash meet-up at my apartment block. I'll probably arrange that in a month or so.

I hadn't been back long when Martin came over. He showed some interest in flatting here but nothing definitive. If he does move in he'll be bringing his guitar and drum kit. I can't imagine the guitar will be an issue for neighbours but as for the drums, if the darts are anything to go by...

An old colleague from Auckland has just started at my workplace. I didn't like him much (he just seemed, um, not very nice) but people can change a lot in four years and anyway he'll be working 24 floors above me so I won't see much of him. He played competitive badminton at a good level and would surely beat me 21-0.

I'm lacking in energy so often. I'm going to get my thyroid checked just in case.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Human nature - isn't it weird?

Mum rang me yesterday morning. She was fed up with the golf club (a few years ago I didn't think that would ever be possible) but most of the conversation revolved around me. Mum made a comparison between me and my brother - he's more resourceful, more resilient, can handle "situations" more easily than me. He'll just "get out there and do things". Gah. "But it's not your fault that it's harder for you - that's just the way you're made." Right. As I see it, the difference is that my brother's "situations" are precisely that. They come and go. And he's got friends, connections, supports. My problems are a way of life (and the money thing just adds an extra layer).

As usual on a Saturday morning, there were some interesting programmes on the radio yesterday. One was about the rise of China. It was interesting talking to a Chinese woman at one of those meet-ups. She said that for centuries China had a collective culture, but in urban centres this culture has been overhauled by an each-man-for-himself culture that's (scarily) far stronger that we have in NZ. She was interesting to talk to; I later emailed her asking if we could catch up, but she ignored or deleted or didn't get my message or it went into her junk. Or something.

Later they interviewed Gary Greenberg, author of The Book of Woe, which talks about the DSM (the mental health manual if you like). It's fair to say he's not a fan of the DSM, which seems to be driven by big pharmaceutical companies. In the latest version Asperger's was controversially removed from the list of diagnoses, with all kinds of ramifications for people who had previously been diagnosed with the condition. Luckily for Kiwis we take less notice of the DSM than they do in America.

Yesterday was a bright sunny day and in the afternoon I sat on the freshly-mown bank of the Basin Reserve and read. A few others were doing the same. One bloke was practising his guitar. The groundsman was hammering in the advertising boards that had come down in the storm. I was attacked by a big bumblebee and didn't mind: it reminded me of when I was a kid - bees were more plentiful and life was simpler. (In China they don't just have bees; they have killer hornets.)

Work last week was tolerable. On Friday afternoon there was a scare as a suspicious white powder was found on the 18th floor. There were cops and people in orange hazmat suits. I was hoping we'd have to evacuate and could all go home. People get louder as the weekend approaches - Friday afternoon is the time I least enjoy being in the office.

My cousin's youngest boy has turned five and started school. Private school. The same place his older brothers go, although they just went to the local state school until they turned eight. I'm not convinced it's the right place for the little one. He's not academic like the other two. My cousin's husband said he never would have sent any of the boys to private school, not that he has anything against it, it just wouldn't have crossed his mind. There was a similar situation in my family. I went to a private school (public school as they illogically call it over there) from 11 to 16. I sat the entrance exam, the idea being that they'd only send me there if I got a scholarship. I passed the exam OK, but didn't get a scholarship, so that was that. But then Mum decided to stump up the money (she made all those kinds of decisions - paying for education would never have entered Dad's head), knowing that my brother sure as hell wouldn't pass the exam if he were to take it the following year. To me it felt like a giant waste of money. The school - which for so many parents was all about image - didn't do much for me.

I was thinking how much I'd like to get into psychology (although how could I study that at the moment?). It's something I've been interested in for years - far more so than goddamn life insurance. As Tracy has alluded to on occasions, if human nature isn't natural for you, and you have to learn it, you become an expert in it (it's a bit like when you learn a foreign language; you often end up knowing more about the structure and grammar of that language than your mother tongue). I don't think I'm an expert at all, but I do think my Aspie tendencies have helped my understanding of human nature. If it seems really bizarre that people happily pay a dollar more for the milk with the fancy label than the one without, even when they know both bottles have come from the same cows, you'll make a note of that. Or that if you can't remember last night, you must have had an amazing night. Or that you'll happily vote against something at a body corp meeting even though it doesn't improve your lot at all, it just makes someone else's lot a bit worse. The list goes on, and for me it's fascinating. (Occasionally I've been able to take advantage of other people's "weird" human nature, online poker being an example.)

In a few minutes I'll be going to Karori to play badminton.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Gale tales

Extreme weather is now the norm, or so it seems. When Geraldine made the news yesterday morning (there had been a fire and some roofs had come off) I rang Mum. Her power was out and she hadn't slept much - she'd stayed up to watch the Shanghai tennis final; the storm peaked in the early hours. But she was fine and there was no damage to speak of. It wasn't much fun for her being alone in the house though. Dad has a knack of bogging off overseas and missing these "weather events". She got her power back on at 8pm last night. The storm ripped through Wellington too; scaffolding spectacularly collapsed at a building site just two-minute walk from my work. I spoke to my cousin who finally got back to Wellington after having five internal flights cancelled. Tomorrow she flies to the States.

Tracy was out of action for all of last week - her thyroid was all over the place, high one minute, low the next. Yesterday though she'd improved enough to invite Tom and me over for board games. We just played one game - Alhambra - quite a cleverly-designed game that combined classic "economic" strategy (is it worth paying x to obtain y?) with spatial considerations (where is the best place to put this tile - if I can legally place it at all?). I'm better at the economic stuff than the spatial stuff. Tom and I were thinking on a fairly basic level, while Tracy (who admittedly had played it before) was on a different plane in her strategy, so it was fitting that Tom and I finished in a dead-heat, with Tracy a dozen points ahead.

Sunday was a glorious day and I managed to get sunburnt sitting on Oriental Bay near the tugboat restaurant. After yesterday's storm and today's rain that's hard to believe.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Voting and vexation

On Thursday a yellow sign was put up right outside my flat, i.e. inside the apartment building. That's great. I expected a sign on the exterior (we got that a week earlier), but not inside as well. What's next? I'll have to put one on my loo door? You wouldn't want to be caught short when the big one hits so anyone who uses my loo needs to be made aware of the risk. From the council's point of view our apartment block is two separate buildings (a "safe" one and a dodgy one), even though they're joined together. I'm just inside the unsafe part, so this new sticker tells everyone they're now entering the dodgy area. There are two other yellow signs on upper floors that carry the same message.

I'd only just seen the sticker when we had an emergency body corporate meeting - it lasted two and a half hours and things got pretty heated. They're painting the outside of our building and they've found a lot of corrosion in the steel panels of the roof. Water is already leaking into one or two apartments (not mine - yet). We had the meeting to vote on how to proceed. For me it was an easy decision: we've got the scaffolding up so we should do it now. I don't want to fork out this extra money, but leaving it till later, when it might cost twice as much, would be crazy. They needed a 75% vote to allow the work to go ahead, but the townhouse owners banded together and voted no (they're up in arms over shelling out all the money for their leaky buildings and don't want to pay for work on the main apartment block, not that they would really have to anyway) to give a 16-7 tally. The townhouse owners wouldn't benefit at all by stopping the work; they were just trying to score a political point. Someone compared them to the Tea Party in America. Eventually two of them changed their mind, two more people arrived (they voted yes), and with a 20-5 vote the work was allowed to go ahead. I think it'll cost me about $3000 (on top of my normal body corp levy). People pointed out that this is just the entrée before we deal with the seismic strengthening.

This home ownership lark isn't at all what it's cracked up to be. Paying for the roof repairs is just one of those things, but as for the earthquake reinforcements, who knows what that might cost, and in the meantime I'm stuck here with no possibility of selling. There really isn't enough money coming in; the sudden drop in value only adds insult to injury. I'm beginning to wish I'd stuck with online poker. I knew the rules and could calculate the odds; with this apartment someone slipped a couple of jokers into the deck when I wasn't looking.

While my boss was out of the office for a couple of hours, one of my quieter colleagues commented on how much more relaxed the atmosphere was. Too right. With my boss, it's go go go, all the time, and all information about anybody in the office (including her) is public property. I'm always thinking, jeez, I didn't need to know that. (I didn't have to guess her weight at all; she volunteered that information.) In other work news, the woman who was controversially fired in June for fiddling her stats, recently got unfired. She took it further, won her case, and got another three months' pay. Good on her I say.

I did vote in the local elections. I never bothered when I lived in Auckland. I see that Celia Wade-Brown was re-elected as mayor. I didn't put a 1 beside her name, nor her main rival John Morrison. My council vote was mostly driven by self-interest (my earthquake predicament) and I note with some horror that none of the names I put any sort of number beside got elected. I like the randomised ballot papers we had in Wellington, which meant the Abbotts and Adamses didn't get an unfair advantage.

Last week I read an article in the Guardian about Britain's failings in literacy in numeracy, compared with other OECD nations. I enjoyed this comment about the obsession with targets in education:

I just can't understand it. Labour gave schools targets, masses of new procedures to follow to record target completion, policies, procedures to follow to record policy adherence, procedures to record policy targets, procedures to ensure that targets were within policy, policies to ensure that procedures recorded targets, and above all targets to ensure that recording of targets and the policies to follow procedures were on target.
I suppose they could have thrown in a bit more teaching, but surely with these many targets, policies and procedures the children should have pretty much educated themselves?

I also read an article about Britain's booming new-car market. It's nuts if you ask me, and great news for people like my brother who can grab bargains by buying perfectly good second-hand cars.

Here and here you will find (and hopefully enjoy) some music from the band with probably the best name ever. They're called Tim and Sam's Tim and the Sam Band with Tim and Sam. Or TASTATSBWTAS for short. Or just Tim and Sam (incidentally there is a Tim in the band but no Sam). They're either from north Wales or Manchester, maybe both. I'd never heard of them until last week, but with a name like that there was a fair chance I'd like them.

That band name (lots of short words) made me think up a quiz question about a song title. Which hit song has 10 words in its title but only 15 letters? It's from the seventies and reached number one in NZ.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Mrs West

During and after Saturday's tramp I felt decidedly unfit, but arriving at work on Monday helped put things into perspective. My boss, at five foot nothing and (at a guess) twenty stone, would have fallen into the super-duper morbidly Embarrassing Bodies obese category. She then went on a strict diet, offloading probably a quarter of her weight, quitting smoking at the same time. Unfortunately the weight is piling back on again (stopping smoking is partly to blame perhaps). She doesn't really walk around the office - it's either a shuffle or a waddle. I had a primary school teacher - Mrs West - whose proportions were very similar. She had rough, scaly skin and often had her tongue sticking out. Her bulk was matched by a big personality that helped mask her serious shortcomings as a teacher. I remember when Mum, who did supply teaching, came into our class and corrected her spelling on the blackboard. Come to think of it, I probably corrected her spelling too. When it came to marking maths, she relied on two of her pupils (a girl and me) to check everyone else's answers against. Smacking wasn't really the done thing in 1987 but Mrs West didn't care. When she'd done with me, she was about to have my brother (a noted troublemaker) for a year, but point-blank refused to have him in her class. Mum was incensed. She was about to go into full-time teaching at another school, so she decided to move us both into her new school. We both would have been happier staying put. For the rest of my school years, that sense of being an outsider never totally went away, so Mrs West had a fair bit to answer for. She later got into windsurfing, funnily enough, and had to have a wetsuit specially made. Dad bumped into her on a recent visit. He was surprised she was still alive; she's looked in a bad way for a while. She'd be in her seventies now.

I've got one or two more things to say about school in my next post.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The only way is up

Saturday's tramp was every bit as exhausting as expected, but I felt so much better for it. We did a loop, walking to the top of Kapakapanui the steep way, and coming back down the not-so-steep (but plenty steep enough for me) way. Only four of us did the walk, if you can call it that because all four limbs were required. The summit was at an altitude of 1100 metres, a 960-metre climb from the starting point. We waded through a stream at the beginning; I quickly felt out of my depth. I'd expended a lot of nervous energy in the previous two days and that probably didn't help. This was the steepest part of the track. My heart was pounding and I struggled to keep up; the leader put me at the front. After that I kept up a decent pace, with The Only Way Is Up playing in my head. We saw four mountain goats including a baby one (a kid of course). It felt good to reach the top. The low cloud meant we couldn't see a thing up there, certainly not the amazing view you get in the brochure.
We had lunch up there and gradually made our way down, stopping briefly at a DOC hut. It wasn't an easy descent - it was extremely muddy and slippery. Just as I could feel my feet warming up, they were back in the cold water: we crossed the stream nine times at the bottom. I felt pretty good at the end - I could do with this sort of workout more often.

I did the driving - about an hour each way. As I said before, I get nervous when I'm carrying multiple passengers because it's something I rarely do, and I always think I'm being judged. I shouldn't have been too worried on Saturday - everybody was nicely subdued. My car is more suited to this kind of driving than what I normally do around the city. When I lived in Auckland I went on long drives at the weekends all the time, but that's when I was younger and didn't have to worry about money so much (isn't it supposed to work the other way?).

On Friday we had our after-work boat trip. My stomach had been churning and I'd made regular trips to the loo - I'd been dreading it, not the boat bit but the people bit. The boat was quite a majestic catamaran that our company had chartered. There were two resident dogs - a Dalmatian and a Japanese Spitz. The sea was almost totally calm, making for a very pleasant trip out to Somes Island and back. One of my colleagues, we found out, lived on a boat for five years. “And now I’m working for …” She prefixed the name of the company with "effing". It's always interesting talking to her. Unlike some people in her role (taking calls from customers) she hasn't been institutionalised by working for an insurance company. The people bit, yes, that was hard work, as was the bit where they gave out awards for amazing this or awesome that. One award was a monetary prize for getting the most points (how you get points I don't really know). The woman who received the most points, by a mile, had just left the company, and there was a tie for second place. How did they resolve that? By splitting it 50:50 (money is good like that - it splits easily)? No, by tossing a coin. When we got back on land, some people continued their evening in a bar. It was nice having the next morning's tramp as a valid excuse - I got home around eleven.

Yesterday morning I rang Dad - he's in the UK until the end of the month, sorting out furniture for their latest flat. My brother was out. His mood has lifted immeasurably since he got back to England. He still has a short temper though - it's a trait he's got from Mum's side of the family. Dad and I agreed that would be nice if he could curb that, but if it's in your genes what can you do?

After hobbling to the market to buy all the vegetables and eggs I'll now be eating, Martin came over. I asked him if he'd be interested in flatting with me. He has a guitar and a drum kit, as well as a record player and a selection of vinyl. He's had to leave most of that at his parents' place for lack of space at his current flat - I said he'd be welcome to keep it here. I offered him $190 a week and I'll see what happens. We talked about our relationships with our parents. He said he never got much affection from his mother and could never hug her now - it would just be "really awkward". Wow, that's sad.

It's day two of my new diet and I've already transgressed. A glass of wine at my cousin's place last night, a chocolate chip cookie tonight, milk in my tea and coffee at work when I just wasn't thinking. Bacon and eggs for breakfast is something I could easily get used to though. I posted a comment on, talking about the challenges of a strict exclusion diet when you're depressed, and my slight skepticism of the regime. I got a helpful reply, but then the topic vanished and I could no longer log in. I thought for a minute I'd been banned and IP-blocked for speaking out of turn, but no, there were problems with the site. In conjunction with the diet (or my feeble attempt at it), I'm still weaning off Efexor. On 1st October I dropped to 75 mg.

Tracy and Tom came over last Monday night to play board games. We played a rather good co-operative game where you had to recover the parts of a plane to fly out of a desert before you die of thirst or get buried by a sandstorm. It came right down to the last card - make or break - and unfortunately for us it was break. The game was good but the best part of the evening was the chat.

I've felt two earthquakes in the last week - at about 5:30am on Wednesday (an awkward time) and 7:30am yesterday.

I've yet to vote in the local elections, not because I don't care, but because I have no clue who to vote for. I only know of two of the candidates, and I don't think name recognition is a very good basis for casting a vote. Oh, and I'm fed up with those billboards that mention "reviving" Wellington. It isn't dying!