Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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30th anniversary of Needle exchange program

One of the country’s most successful public health initiatives, the needle exchange program has become a network of hundreds of outlets. The first exchange outlets began operating in 1987 following legislation earlier that year that legalised the practice. The early adoption of the exchange program is one reason why AIDS/HIV is low within the intravenous drug using community in Aotearoa New Zealand compared to similar countries elsewhere. Thousands of lives have been saved by the program.
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Too Hot!

Since returning from our holiday in Japan a little over a month ago, I’m beginning to wonder if somehow we’ve moved into a parallel dimension.

The people look and behave the same, places look the same, even the politicians seem the same (although the government has changed). What is different is the weather. It’s not New Zealand weather as I know it.

Aotearoa New Zealand is well know for its temperate climate. Not too cold in winter. Not too hot in summer. The average daily maximum temperature in December in my home town is 20°C (68℉), But not one day this month has the maximum daily temperature been below 24°C (75°F). I started writing the piece late morning and already the thermometer is at 23 24 25°C (77°F) outside and climbing. According to my weather station, the maximum temperature so far this month has been 34°.3C (93.7°F)!

Perhaps if you reside on or near a continental land mass, you’re wondering what the fuss is all about but weather in Aotearoa New Zealand can change unexpectedly, and newcomers to NZ frequently get caught out. Sustained high or low temperatures feel oppressive when one lives where daily temperature variations can be as large as seasonal variations, and it’s not unusual to experience four seasons in one day.

And I suspect being an Aspie doesn’t help the situation. For me, anything below 15°C (59°C) is cold, and a trigger for the symptoms of Raynaud syndrome. Anything above 23°C (76°F) and I begin to sweat profusely, and within a relatively short time I’m saturated. As I’m unable to use any antiperspirants (hypersensitive skin), the result isn’t pretty.

When hot, I find clothing extremely uncomfortable – especially typical NZ male attire. I’ve resorted to wearing a yukata in an attempt to make life more bearable. It definitely helps.

The MetService (meteorological bureau) informs us that this summer is going to be exceptionally hot, dry and windy. Already many regions have seen new seasonal records set and it’s barely mid December! Ocean temperature in many places is 2°C warmer than normal for this time of year and toxic algal bloom is affecting the gathering of kaimoana (seafood) in some areas. Not good.

There’s another issue  I have with the summer season: hay-fever. It’s started somewhat earlier this year than normal. Typically it doesn’t start until mid to late December, but this year it started in mid November. For me it lasts continuously for around two months. Let’s hope that this year will be the same – over in mid January instead of the usual late February.

If you get the impression I’m not fond of summer, you’d be right. Roll on Autumn!


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Strolling through a winter summer wonderland

For the 90% of the world’s population who live north of the equator, Christmas carols such as Jungle Bells and Strolling through a Winter Wonderland have some meaning, even if it doesn’t actually snow. At least in comes in the cold season. Like minorities everywhere, the 10% of us who live in the southern hemisphere are denied our rights: Our right to celebrate a seasonally appropriate festive season.

I say it’s time to take a stand! No more Christmas cards with snow and holy! No more songs about white Christmases! Down with them all.

Here’s something a little more appropriate:


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How I know yesterday was Father’s Day

  1. My daughter phoned to wish me a happy Father’s Day.
  2. My son dropped in give me a cordless drill set as a Father’s Day gift.
  3. Ads on TV promoting all kinds of gifts from socks to stuff for DIY projects to massive armchairs with beer chillers in the arm rests suddenly stopped appearing at every commercial break.

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand Father’s Day is celebrated on the first Sunday in September, but in this household the celebrations are really about the respite loved ones get from being made to feel guilty for not buying their father expensive gifts they can’t afford and he doesn’t need and doesn’t want. It also means that those same commercial interests that had attempted the guilt trip on loved ones also stopped trying to convince me I’m unloved because my children haven’t lavished me with extravagant gifts.

Of course it will start all over again in a few months time as Christmas approaches.

Actually I told a porky above. My son didn’t call in to give me a cordless drill set like the one I’ve been hoping he’d give me ever since the one he borrowed came back with a burnt out motor and a broken gearbox. In fact he didn’t call in at all.

Oh all right. He didn’t even call. Or what’s App. Or text.

I wonder if he’s still alive…


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My kind of food

Growing up, I was not particularly fond of seafood. Although I tolerated the taste of most fish, my ability to catch fish bones in my throat brought me much fame in the whānau, and considerable discomfort to myself. It didn’t matter how careful my mother was in de-boning fish, I was sure to discover a bone by choking on it. Typically no one else could find any bones for want of trying.

Paua3I didn’t enjoy shellfish at all with the one exception. And that was paua. For those unfamiliar with the word, pāua are members of the abalone family endemic to Aotearoa New Zealand, commonly found just below the low tide mark around most of the country. Blackfoot, the most common species has a black body and the shell has a beautiful peacock-like iridescence. With friends of my parents regularly diving for these delicacies, they found their way to our table frequently.

My father was a keen surf-caster, and most weekends when the weather was good, the entire family would squeeze into the car for a short trip along the coast to one of Dad’s many fishing spots. While Dad looked after two, three or four fishing rods, Mum would keep an eye on us kids while we dammed streams, explored caves and rock pools, and risked life and limb climbing cliffs.

It would be a very exceptional day if Dad didn’t catch enough fish to provide a meal or two for six people with a little left over to give to friends. From what  I remember, Dad always prepared the fish, but both he and Mum took turns at cooking it.

In those days, the selection of food in NZ was very limited. Most vegetables came from home gardens as it did in our case. Roasts of mutton and hogget were by far the cheapest form of protein, with beef and lamb some distance behind. Smaller cuts such as steaks and chops were too expensive to have more than once a month, and pork and chicken were so expensive, that we had them only on special occasions such as Christmas. Fish, if purchased was also expensive. So free protein fresh from the sea was really appreciated by all the family except for myself. The fish I most enjoyed came in cans and never contained bones to choke on; Tuna, salmon, herrings and mackerel.

When we were children, meal times a were special time where food, experiences, thought and opinions were shared. They will always be fondly remembered by me. However, the only food I really loathed was one of my parents’ favourites – mashed carrots and parsnips. I still feel ill when I recall its taste and texture. Disgusting!

My wife’s background was very different. For her family, sea food was the primary source of protein and in such a wide variety of forms, that it still makes my head spin. When she first arrived in NZ she longed for the variety of food found in Japanese supermarkets. She had no idea how to cook roasts – Japanese homes don’t have ovens – and the smell of sheep meat cooking made her physically ill. Most of the food and ingredients she was familiar with were unknown here.

Over the four and a half decades since her arrival, New Zealand has undergone a food revolution and our choice of fruit, vegetables and proteins has increased many times over. Our choice of foods will never match the likes of Japan or Europe or (I assume) North America as we are a relatively small country physically with a tiny population, and a very, very long way from other markets. But it’s a marked improvement over the days of my childhood.

Since those log ago days, the relative prices of many foods have changed drastically. Chicken, once very expensive, is now the cheapest form of protein, while beef and lamb (why is all sheep meat now identified as lamb?) is the most expensive. Pork and fish lie somewhere in between. Which finally brings me around to point of this post.

My wife has educated my pallet to truly enjoy a wide variety of food styles, but what I realised recently is how drastically my protein of choice has changed. Where once I preferred red meat, today I much prefer red or pink fish. To be specific, tuna or NZ farmed salmon in the form of sashimi. Salmon is around half the price of good steak, and tuna is somewhere in between. If, fifty years ago someone told me that one day I would enjoy eating raw fish, I would have laughed at such a ridiculous  statement. How wrong I would have been!

Long gone are the days of “meat and three veg”. Here are some recent examples typical meals lovingly prepared by my wife.

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Stepping into the unknown…

Not really, but it makes a catchy title.

Today we decided to change power companies. We’ve been with our current supplier for over 15 years and two addresses, and while we have no complaints about their service, we felt that as a long term customer we had been taken for granted and largely ignored.

I don’t know how electricity is provided in your locality, but here in Aotearoa New Zealand, it is a highly competitive market. A quick online search of suppliers in our region revealed we have a choice of 59 suppliers! Other regions of the country have more, while some regions have a little less less. Some suppliers generate electricity from 100% renewable resources, others have a mix of renewable resources and fossil fuels, and a few don’t do any generation themselves, but buy on the spot market. Talk about being spoilt for choice!

To make it even more complex, each supplier provides many plans for domestic consumers. Our old supplier has around ten plans, as does our new supplier. All up, I’m guessing we had a choice of well over 200 plans!

Power charges here are made up of three elements: cost per Unit (a Unit is 1 kilowatt hour); line charge (daily charge for connection to the power network; and Electricity Authority fee (the authority oversees and regulates the electricity market).

The electricity Authority fee is common across all suppliers, but the line charges and price per unit varies by as much as 50% between suppliers. Then there’s prompt payment discounts, loyalty card schemes and happy hour schemes. Some suppliers offer cheaper rates for hot water, or different day and night rates. Some guarantee a fixed price per unit and line charge fees for one or two years, others don’t. The choices are bewildering, which is why it’s taken so many years to actually decide to change.

Have we found the best deal? I have no idea. It would take far too long to crunch all the numbers. But we have found a much better deal with our new supplier. Our monthly electricity bill will be 25% cheaper than what we are currently paying, fixed for two years. We get a $100 credit for signing up with them, plus we get a 10 cents per litre (38 cents per US gallon, 45 cents per UK gallon) discount on petrol through a fuel card scheme we already belong to.

When we have been paying between $250 and $400 per month for electricity (depending on the season) on a household income of around $2200 per month, the savings are not insignificant.

Now that we’ve finally made the plunge, and found a good deal, I’ll need to seriously look at doing the same for our telecommunications supplier. How difficult can it be? After all there’s only about 70 suppliers and 500 plans to choose from.

On second thoughts…


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Three days lost

There are two conditions that conspire to make my life difficult at times. One is considered a mental disorder by the medical profession although I hope that in time this attitude will change. Once homosexuality was considered a disorder by the medical profession, and when I was a child, left handedness was certainly treated as punishable condition.

How times have changed. Today we understand that what is considered “normal” is in many cases, just the bulge in a bell curve of human variability, and one doesn’t need to be “cured” if one tends to be at either end of the curve.

Of course I’m referring to autism. While autism has its challenges, most of those challenges are because of the way other people, in other words “society”, respond to how I exhibit aspects of autism. While I think autism awareness is ideal in theory, I’m afraid that awareness isn’t accompanied by understanding. In Western culture, it seems that it’s being demonised as an epidemic; something that needs to eradicated, even to the point where the desire to  eradicate the person with autism is seen as understandable, although thankfully not condoned. This must change.

The other condition, and the one that has had the most effect on me over the last few days, is considered a disorder, by the medical profession, and with which I heartily concur, is migraine. Having been laid low by a particularly painful attack that has kept me in a darkened room for three days, unable to eat, think rationally or coherent thoughts, I would like nothing better than for science to find a cure, or even to reduce the severity, frequency and duration of attacks. Looking at the Migraine Buddy app on my phone, I see the following statistics for the last 31 days:

No. of attacks: 14
Average attack duration: 32 hrs 25 mins
Attack days: 27
Attack-free days: 4
Pain Intensity
(1 – 10 scale)
Minimum: 3
Average: 6.3
Maximum: 9

The three most common symptoms (apart from pain) are sensitivity to light and noise, and Tinnitus. These occurred in every attack. However following symptoms occurred in at least half of attacks: Aphasia, giddiness, sensitivity to smells, fatigue, blurred vision, blind spots, ataxia, and confusion, with nausea occurring in only six of the attacks. Distorted spatial awareness, hemiparesis, tremors, dysarthria, and facial numbness occurred in five attacks. There are a few other less common symptoms, but I think the list is long enough as it is.

While the frequency and duration of attacks are a little up on a normal month, it’s not by much. Migraines do limit what I can do and it means that I’m not able to make definite plans. Everything depends on my condition at the time. It means that I’m often seen as “unreliable” because I can’t commit to being at a particular place at a particular time.

Even blogging has to go by the wayside during a migraine, as I’m unable to string a coherent paragraph together, and I’m unable to perform even the basics of proof reading during many attacks.

Currently I’m in the postdrome phase of the last migraine. This means that although the throbbing head pain is gone, it still feels like I’ve been hit by a bus, and I’m not sure how coherent my writing is. The postdrome phase can take as long as a day, sometimes longer,  to finally fade away, but at least, that little guy with the sledgehammer who has been so busy inside my skull for the last 3 days has gone for now. For that I’m extremely grateful.


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Feijoa Season!

Love them or loathe them, at this time of the year are are unavoidable. We have a short  6 metre long hedge consisting of six feijoa bushes that runs along part of the south boundary of our section (residential property). Every few days we gather several kilograms of the fruit.

Feijoas

An over abundance of feijoas!

Today, our granddaughter picked up 8.5 Kg (about 19 lbs) of the very aromatic fruit in around ten minutes. Harvesting is by collecting fallen fruit from the ground – never by picking off the tree, as picked fruit fails to develop as much flavour and sweetness as fallen fruit.

Thanks to methyl benzoate and similar chemicals, the potent aroma is what makes feijoa so unavoidable. It is very distinctive and during harvest season, which for us is May and June, the house positively reeks of it. It’s one of those smells you either love or loathe. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who is indifferent to it.

The picture is one I took a few days ago. The two bags our grandson is holding contain 5 Kg (11 lbs) of feijoas. Five bags of fruit were gathered that day totalling about 12 Kg (26 lbs). The three grandchildren gathered them in little more than five minutes

For those unfamiliar with the fruit, it tastes a little like guava, a little like pineapple, a little like pear and a little like tart berries. Yep, it’s like eating a very flavoursome fruit salad. Delicious! They are best eaten raw, but are very nice in a cooked desert such as apple and feijoa crumble. It also makes a wonderful aromatic jam.

Inevitably, we give away most of our crop to family, friends and neighbours, as do most people with more than a single bush – they’re such prolific croppers. The rest we consume fresh or it’s frozen for making into desserts or smoothies over the next six to twelve months.

As I have already mentioned, it’s a fruit you either love or loathe. At this time of the year, if you visit someone and the place doesn’t smell of feijoa then in all probability they do not like the fruit, and you can be sure they’ve turned down many offers of feijoas over recent days. Don’t risk harming a friendship by offering them any.