Thursday, May 29, 2014


Yesterday Kevin had an operation for an abscess on his bum. I picked him up from Kenepuru Hospital. It seemed to be a success. He was given seven items of medication and told not to spend too much time sitting on his arse - that isn't an easy task for him. It's a problem he's had before - hopefully it'll now be sorted once and for all.

The highlight of last weekend was probably going to the zoo (it was Wellington Open Day so you could get in for a gold coin donation) and seeing the chimpanzees being fed.

You know, they eat sweetcorn pretty much how I eat it. A cheetah sadly died on the way to Wellington Zoo yesterday.

On Saturday, a wet and horrible day, I met up with this woman in her late twenties who I'd never met before. She's fairly new to Wellington and does a similar job to mine - she used to live in Geraldine and Mum put me in contact with her. We had a coffee on Cuba Street, then she took me out to Lyall Bay and we had another coffee. I quickly ran out of things to say and must have seemed very boring. I even felt very boring.

I'm looking forward to Wimbledon and the World Cup - two sporting events I actually care about happening at the same time. But right now the French Open is taking place. So many shocks already. Both the Australian Open champions, Li Na and Stanislas Wawrinka, were knocked out in the first round. I was thinking, heck, to have both champions lose in the first round of the very next grand slam must be extremely rare. I bet that hasn't happened for twenty years or something. Turns out it's never happened before.

I've just started reading Angela's Ashes. It's been sitting on my shelf for years but my dad told me it was very grim so I haven't dared read it until now. The word "arse" features quite prominently.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Discomfort zone

Tom persuaded me to attend a games night on Wednesday. It was a Reddit meetup, not that I "do" Reddit or anything. It took place at Victoria Uni, really close to where Tom designs and builds his robots. There must have been close on thirty people there, including that "Death Star" busker, who I last saw in February, still wearing that crazy jumper. I felt out of place pretty quickly. There were Game of Thrones references in conversation, which I didn't get because I don't watch it, not that I'd be able to concentrate on it if I did. There were also Monty Python references. Now I do get that, but heck, I don't know all the words to all their songs off by heart. In the first game (I've no idea what it was called) a succession of dice rolls led me to be a "traitor" whose goal was to kill the other five players in the game. Things got complicated for me quickly. I was presented with a rule book and told to study it so I could secretly plot my course of action. Jeez man, give me a pack of cards or something I understand. If it wasn't for Tom (who I'd seen too much of over the previous few days) I might well have just slipped out of the exit door and gone home, taking my traitor role almost literally. I was relieved to roll a triple blank which led to instant death for me, and more importantly the end of the game. The second game, almost inevitably given this is 2014, was zombie-dominated. Like in the first game, my final dice roll was the decisive action, although this time we won, not that I cared. Everybody seemed extremely pleasant and interesting, but wherever my comfort zone is, I was a million miles out of it.

When the games were over, Tom showed me his lab, if that's the right word, where he does all his extremely fancy stuff with robots. I felt a sense of envy: he's very good at what he does and clearly enjoys it immensely. They even had a mini-museum of old computers, calculators and slide rules. Completely unexpectedly, he then showed me where some of his ancestors on his father's side were buried, very close to the university campus. Then I walked home in the teeming rain.

I'm getting on OK with my flatmate, but the fact that he's there (and he is pretty much always there) adds a certain tinge to everything I do, to the point where I often feel unable to do anything. I know it's just me (oh, and all the noise from the TV), but the long Queen's Birthday weekend looms darkly. I wish I could get away. Somewhere, anywhere.

Monday, May 19, 2014


I'm still feeling the effects of Saturday's climb, especially in my calf muscles.

We had our fortnightly "big team" meeting today. It took a surprise turn when all the managers left to enable everybody else to talk about them. "He's a great manager but a poor leader." That kind of thing. One woman who attended the meeting is some sort of management guru. She was writing frantically during the meeting. She splits her life evenly between Sydney and Wellington, crossing the Tasman every other week. For some reason I got chatting to her. She said she once had a mild heart attack and her blood pressure was found to be 230/130. Whoa. At that point her commutes between Australia and NZ became fortnightly instead of weekly. (Talking of Australia, after last week's budget - where in my opinion they made the right amount of cuts in all the wrong places - I'm glad I don't live there.)

After work today I went to the Malaysian place in the Left Bank arcade and had a nasi kampung with an omelette on top. That filled me up. On the TV they were showing an athletics meeting from Shanghai. While the 5000 metres was taking place, an enormous Russian bloke threw his last attempt at the javelin. It soared out to 82½ metres, only enough for fifth place, but he was clearly enjoying just being there. I could have sat there watching the athletics all evening, but instead I attended the autism group. I don't know how much longer I'll keep that up.

I'm not sure how much longer I can keep this blog up either. I've run out of things to say and ways to say them and I'm tired.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Puffed enough

If I walk a mile, like I do to and from work each day, I feel like I've had a decent amount of exercise. Yesterday the challenge was to walk almost a vertical mile, up to the 1529-metre summit of Mt Hector, the highest point of the Tararua ranges. Even getting up in time to be at the train station by 7am wasn't an easy task. Our starting point, Otaki Forks, was over an hour's drive away. We'd only been going ten minutes and I was already puffed. I was in no mood for energy-sapping conversation. The six others, with the exception of Tom, were all experienced trampers for whom this kind of exertion was no big deal, so I felt out of my league. I took very few photos: most of the scenery, beautiful as it was, passed me by. The saving grace was the weather which was almost perfect. It turned a near-impossible undertaking into just a very difficult one. After 4¼ hours we reached Kime Hut, 70 metres from the peak. Our leader decided that we wouldn't go any further and that we'd only have a short stop for lunch because he had an organised murder mystery evening scheduled. Bugger you, I was thinking. We were a little quicker going down, and reached the bottom at 5pm, shortly before sunset. I didn't get home till seven; it had been a long day.

It was an exhausting walk, and if I said I enjoyed it I'd be lying. It wasn't just the physical exertion, it was the people too. How dare you talk merrily about corporate restructures or the tramping club photo competition when I'm struggling to put one foot in front of the other? The memorable Akatarawa "bush-bash" I did two years ago, while also being very hard work, was very different in that respect - most of the others were having a tough time too - and the whole experience was that much more satisfying.

It's now 3½ months since I had this place to myself. I still haven't got used to the change. Unless something out of the ordinary happens, I think I'm in for the long haul (I know, I know, it's my place, I can do what I like...) but I don't think it would be fair on Kevin to get rid of him till December, in which case I'm only a third of the way through this stint. I know it's just me, but I'm unable to concentrate on things anymore; it always feels like there's someone looking over my shoulder, and $25 a day isn't really enough to compensate for that.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Getting away

I'll try and make this quick. I still have tricky days, and although the new job is far more interesting than the old one, it's amazing how much the change in job hasn't solved. Although this week I've had a chat to someone who has given me an idea (or rather the impetus to pursue an idea).

I'd like to go away. Properly away. It's four years since I last did that. I'm considering going to New Caledonia, although I'll need to wait till I have enough leave. I have been there before - in December 1986 - and can't remember much about it other than the searing heat. That was on the way to New Zealand - an incredible journey for a small kid. Our UTA jumbo jet had a name - "Big Boss" - and we stopped in Bahrain, Muscat, Colombo, Singapore and Jakarta at some point on either the outward or return trip. In those days you had to refuel much more often. I remember looking out the window of the plane to the Australian desert that never seemed to end. Occasionally you'd see a road, a car, some sign of life. Anyway, Phil has been giving me advice on what to see (and how and when) if I do go to New Caledonia.

Last weekend Kevin went to see his parents (or "folks") in Masterton so I decided to invite Tom, Rhiannon and her boyfriend over on Saturday. Not a bad evening (lots of good food), but I couldn't totally relax. Too much talk of computer games and Game of Thrones-type TV series. Apparently I'm unusual in ever going to the cinema by myself. I don't logically get why going to the cinema alone is any weirder than going to McDonald's alone. On Sunday I walked up Mount Vic and went to my cousin's place for dinner.

Work is fine. On Tuesday I went on a traffic control course at the Brooklyn tip, even though most of it wasn't relevant to me. A lot of the people on the course were in their early twenties, and their attitude to the course made for an "interesting" day. In my lunch break I finally figured out how to set the clock in my car - it only took me just short of four years (I'd got used to adding or subtracting the right number of hours and minutes but it had recently started to annoy me) - and I don't even know which buttons I pressed. Talking of clocks, at 1pm today, quite by accident, I saw the animated clock in the Old Bank Arcade do its thing. I had no idea what would happen, and I was quite impressed.

On Saturday I'm going on a difficult tramp (for me) in the Tararuas - it's scheduled to take ten hours and at this point I'm wondering how I'll survive. If I do make it I'll put up some photos in my next post.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Maps and work

Maps. I've always quite liked staring at them, and get to do that quite a lot at work. I'm supposed to be focusing on pipes and nodes, but it's hard not be distracted by roads and buildings. As well as digital maps, I sometimes get to look at physical plans that were drawn in the sixties and have been added to over the years; the distances on the plans are now a mish-mash of feet and metres, and luckily I'm conversant in both. For all my enthusiasm for maps (I'd like to get an old map to put on my wall) I don't think I'm especially good at reading them.

Work is going OK for now. On Monday morning I attended a meeting chaired by the head of department, the swarthy bloke who spoke French in my second interview and has a tan that you can't naturally acquire in Wellington. It was an hour and a quarter of high-level conceptual stuff; I couldn't see how any of it pertained to me. A woman in my team (she's been there a while) complained that nothing in the meeting was of relevance to her.

My background ("he's an actuary") has come up quite a bit. I was never actually an actuary and it's years since I last did anything remotely actuarial. The last exam I passed was in 2008 and it feels longer ago than that. I really wish they'd quit using that A-word.

Councils are notorious for their inefficiency and I've already seen several pieces of evidence that Wellington is no different. Less work seems to get done than people say gets done. Yesterday they needed to get Push and Pull door stickers and they had to be authenticated or some such bollocks. I suggested that someone visit the $2 shop.

Despite the new job, I still feel that I'm drifting through life (at best) with no maps or plans.

I called Birmingham's last-gasp draw a "great escape" because it kept them in the division, but really for those who follow football, it is one big escape, win, lose or draw. I get that need for escapism - I certainly have it myself. Football also gives you a sense of identity, something I've always struggled with.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The great escape

I'm not sure how they managed it, but Birmingham stayed in the second division (a.k.a. the Championship) thanks to an equaliser from defender Paul Caddis deep into injury time. It doesn't get more dramatic than that. They came from two down (and almost certainly out, you'd have thought) to draw 2-2 at Bolton, having dominated the game in large parts. Leicester, who won the league with a ridiculous points tally, beat Doncaster 1-0 with a dodgy penalty, meaning both Blues and Doncaster finished on 44 points. Normally you have no business staying up on that kind of total (last season Peterborough went down with 54 points; Wolves did likewise with 51) but somebody had to survive, and it was Blues who had the better goal difference. From looking at the stats and reading some recent match reports in which Blues sounded like a complete shambles, it's a miracle they stayed up. But miracles do happen. Let's hope they can capitalise on their good fortune, or at least consolidate. A change of manager mightn't be a bad idea.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Going down...

Eight days in the job. Getting to know quite a bit about pipes. Compared to people, pipes aren't too bad. They had drinks after work today. I didn't want to be there but I didn't want to be at home either. After work I had that sinking feeling. The end of the week, but weekends are hard work. I was wishing I was still back in Auckland doing some kind of temporary work where I could relax and not face the impossible task of building a rapport with my workmates. Did I mention that my job isn't permanent? It's a two-year contract. Two years feels like an eternity. The money is better - that's something - and the work is interesting, but there's all that other stuff. And I'm staring at a blank calendar with nothing to look forward to.

On Monday I got a letter from the apartment next door about excessive noise, both in Kevin's room and in the lounge. For me, that's actually a good thing - it gives me more ammo when asking Kevin to turn down (or off) the bloody TV. It's the second note I've had from the people next door.

That evening I played board games with Tom and Tracy. We played two games of Qwirkle which involves placing rows of tiles with matching shapes or colours in a similar fashion to playing words in Scrabble. It was a nice simple game, and I felt I had a reasonable handle on it. (I won the first game and came second in the other.) Then Tracy's mum joined us for a co-operative card game called Hanabi. Unlike any card game you've ever played (except Indian poker if you've ever tried that), you see everybody's cards except your own. Interesting concept certainly.

My new employers have come up with a new "logo". It's terrible. For a start it isn't a logo at all. It's text on a yellow background. Wellington is full of creative people; I don't see any creativity in this block of text.

Much debate on the Guardian website after the execution of Clayton Lockett. He was injected with a previously untried cocktail of lethal drugs, and only died 43 minutes later from a heart attack. I'm against the death penalty. Yes, some people commit such heinous acts that you wish they could be wiped off the face of the earth, but by killing a convicted killer, it starts to make you as bad as them - two wrongs don't make a right. There's little evidence to suggest that capital punishment reduces murder rates. Plus there's always the chance that you'll execute someone who was wrongly convicted. And nobody, no matter what they did, deserves to die slowly in agonising pain.

Also from the Guardian, here's a rather alarming article about prenatal screening for autism. Having met many warm, kind, intelligent people who happen to be on the spectrum, the idea that their very existence could be denied as a result of a positive blood test is repugnant.

I've written several times on the demise of sport as we know it. Most popular sport these days is like fast food, and it's amazing how people just mop it up. They announced this morning that rugby will soon feature a super eighteen. Yes! An upsized competition. Bigger is better. Then there's English football where the top players are paid obscene amounts and fans happily part with a large chunk of their own wages to see them play. As more and more money flows to the top of the game, some of the smaller clubs are struggling to stay afloat. One of these (and they aren't even that small) is "my team" Birmingham City, who are dicing with relegation to the third division (which is now called League One - go figure) for the first time since 1995. They've lost their last five games, and have only won two of 23 home games all season! Tomorrow night they travel to Bolton in their final game. They could draw and stay up on goal difference, or if they're really unlucky, they could win and still go down. It's hard to predict results on the last day (some teams have nothing to play for so you don't know what sort of side they'll put out or how they'll approach the game) but I reckon Blues are marginally odds-on to be relegated.