Yard sales and supply chains

People-watching is one of my favorite pastimes. I do not consider myself to have autistic “super powers”— but perhaps my ability to draw joy and happiness from watching other people go about their lives is not to be dismissed. And it has probably saved me a lot of money over the course of my life.

Covid-19 restrictions rather got in the way at the beginning of the pandemic, but I have people-watched in all kinds of circumstances and I quickly adjusted my habits to accommodate it. And for the last few months, I have been able to sit in a pub once again and enjoy overhearing conversations and watching people from my favorite seat.

Now the darkness and rain of autumn has landed. It does not really bother me, but I do become more of a homebody once we get into October. When it is windy and pouring with rain, I tend to just go to the grocery store and come straight home without stopping for coffee or beer. But there is no people-watching to be done from my apartment, so I depend on doing it virtually. And I recently found a gem!

I have not watched Antiques Roadshow for around twenty years, but it once was on my list. I liked both British and American versions — but I must confess a preference for the American show. Americans just seem to have a more interesting relationship with their stuff. American homes and garages are typically much larger and many have full basements — so Americans are able to collect a lot more stuff. And once the home/garage/basement gets impossibly full, they have a yard sale and drag a lot of the stuff out onto the front lawn. And there are people who are yard-sale junkies, driving around town on weekends looking for yard sales to poke around in. And it is at yard sales that many Americans acquire the treasures that end up on the Antiques Roadshow.

Not surprisingly, the current season is a compilation of footage from pre-Covid events. But they have done something rather interesting. Each episode features items from events held around fifteen years ago (2006/7). And the valuation has been reassessed to see if the item gained or lost value in the meantime. Ugly vases, large pieces of porcelain and folk art have not fared well!

It is fun to hear people tell their stories — and see their reaction when they learn that the watercolor painting they bought at a yard sale for $10 could be worth $25,000 at auction. But I also love watching the people hovering in the background, most of who are waiting in line to have their items assessed. And every now and them, I glimpse one of the Keno brothers getting animated with a piece of furniture.

I must digress to mention the Keno brothers, Leigh and Leslie, identical twins with rockstar blond-haired good looks. When I was a regular viewer, Leigh and Leslie appeared together, but by 2006, each seemed to have started in business for himself and appeared alone. Both are equally passionate about antique furniture and are not at all shy about exploring every nook and cranny, even if it means enlisting the help of production staff to turn over a large heavy desk so that they can look for tell-tale marks and fittings — or climbing inside an armoire to inspect the heads on the screws.

Fashions do not seemed to have changed much. The crowds of 2007 are indistinguishable from crowds of today. The only noticeable difference is that no one is looking at a phone. Many people undoubtedly have a mobile phone, but not a smartphone to be staring at.

Anyway, this has been a fun TV show to dip into again and binge-watch. And it has been interesting to consider as I read about global supply-chain problems. Many people are fretting about Christmas merchandise possibly not making it to stores in time for Christmas shopping. I worked several years in Christmas-dependent retail — and I have to confess I always get excited at the prospect of Christmas shopping being disrupted. Not Christmas. Just the shopping.

Our local antiques mall has been shuttered since March 2020. I can assure you that place is filled to the rafters (on all three floors) with stuff. Over the years that I was visiting, more stuff seemed to come in than go out. Each time I went in, it was harder to move around. Right now, I do not think you could get more than a few feet inside the front door (from what I see through the glass.) If local retailers run out of stuff to sell as Christmas presents, perhaps the owners of the antiques mall could open a temporary wholesale operation — or even get a permit from the city to close the street outside for a day to put up tents and have a giant sale for the public. This could be an unexpected bonanza for thrift stores, charity shops, flea markets and car-boot sales if people are forced to buy second-hand goods for Christmas because all the new stuff is stuck in containers on ships anchored at sea. And if the weather forecast is good for the weekend, people might want to hold an impromptu yard sale.

This is a golden opportunity to get rid of your stuff!

Clapping not enabled

Clapping along with music while sitting down. I do not know if this is a uniquely British habit (although I have seen audiences doing it on clips from German TV), but I have not noticed it so much in America.

Picture a live audience that is seated. And a musical guest starts their piece — and within a few seconds, the audience will be clapping along. I do not know if this is sometimes prompted, i.e. someone at the side of the stage holds up a large sign, “Clap”, or if the clapping is spontaneous. I seem to remember attending live events as a child in England, and the clapping starting with no obvious prompt, so I assume it is spontaneous. But even as a child I found it quite laughable. I understand the constraint of listening to upbeat music while seated — but many people go through their daily lives listening to music through earbuds, and they rock along by nodding heads, jigging in seat, tapping fingers on knees, rocking feet, and so on. It is only while seated as a group listening to the same music that people are compelled to clap along. There must be a clapping switch in the brain that just turns on — and that switch might not exist in some autistic brains (or it is locked in the “off” position.)

I am not a musical performer, but I am sure that I would be very distracted by the clapping — especially if the beat that the audience settled on did not exactly match what I intended. I suspect that in the TV shows where I have seen this, the performers were just miming to a backup track and so it was not an issue. And even if playing live, we are dealing with music designed to entertain the masses, so perhaps it just goes with the territory and entertainers are comfortable making an adjustment for slow-clapping or fast-clapping audiences.

It still drives me nuts though!

America has/had a game show called Wheel Of Fortune. While the wheel is spinning, everyone claps. The contestants clap. The audience clap. The host claps. Vanna claps. It strikes me as so pointless and makes me cringe to watch. I actually used to enjoy this show — except for the clapping while the wheel spins. I could never have been a contestant myself, because I would not have joined in with the clapping. And one of the production staff would have told me I have to clap. And I would have said that I will not clap. And then they would have told me I cannot be on the show if I will not clap.

I acknowledge that this is one of those “but it makes people happy and there’s surely no harm in it” things that most people never question — and get annoyed at me when I do. So I am guessing/hoping that my aversion to it is just part of my autistic wiring. But I would like to think that some neurotypical people find it baffling also.

Now I am wondering if a performer has ever requested that the audience NOT clap along — and walked off stage when the audience did not comply. Would make a good comedy sketch!

Back to Twitter

It has been around a year since I have been on Twitter. I had mainly been using it to keep abreast of weather and transit delays/cancellations, something that was very useful when commuting daily into downtown Seattle. Once I found myself working from home, I had no need for transit information. But I still scrolled through Twitter many times a day — out of habit. When I got a new phone, I decided not to install Twitter. And I have not really missed it.

But my TV-watching tastes are a bit obscure — probably because my only subscription is for Apple TV+. I got a free year with the new phone and I fully intend to renew. The programming is definitely the kind of stuff I enjoy. However, because it is ONLY available on Apple TV+, the viewership is somewhat smaller — and that means the programs have less visibility. The end result is that I do not have anyone I can enjoy sharing this with. On this platform, a search for Ted Lasso turns up almost nothing.

The second season finale of For All Mankind was probably the most emotional hour of TV drama I have ever watched. And I wish it could have been a shared experience for me. By that, I mean that I would love to have heard about how it affected other people. And I realized that if I had been on Twitter, it probably could have been.

The second season of Ted Lasso drops in July. So I decided to be ready. I have installed Twitter and signed in. But I have “unfollowed” almost everything I was following before and curated a new feed that I hope will make time spent on Twitter more rewarding. I rarely post anything myself, and even when I do, I never have more than a handful of followers. It is more about a virtual version of the pleasure I get being alone in a public space and overhearing conversations I find interesting — and sometimes managing to be part of it.

I searched on autism — but I concluded that Twitter is probably not the best space for it. This blogging platform is better because most people put a lot of time and effort into what they write. Besides, I do not always have time to read everything I find here (much as I would like to) — so I think I will leave Twitter for Ted Lasso and other esoteric pleasures.

Richmond ‘till I die

Most Zoom meetings I attend start with a round of introductions. And sometimes, the host throws out some trivia question as an ice-breaker. I always feel uncomfortable. The question is always of a kind to remind me how much I do not fit in with most groups of people.

Today’s question: we were asked to name our favorite sports team. Meh!

Now this is something that could be irksome to just about anyone, autistic or not: the assumption that all people are into sports and have a favorite team. I wonder why it does not occur to people who come up with these questions.

Anyway, I now have a great answer for this question. My favorite sports team is AFC Richmond, the fictional soccer team in the TV show, Ted Lasso. It is fun seeing who knows what I am talking about — and who obviously does not 🙂

Finding Minnie Caldwell…or a Snug

Minnie Caldwell (left) with Ena Sharples in the Rovers Return Inn

As pubs go, the Rovers Return Inn would probably never top of my list of desirable watering holes. It hardly qualifies as a dive bar — but it probably qualifies as a “boozer”. However, if it happened to be just down the street and I was a little old lady who likes to get out the house, I would probably end up there.

For want of other entertainment lately, I have been watching old episodes of Coronation Street on YouTube. I started out with random episodes from 1973-1976, and I’m now working my way through a set from 1977. I left the UK in 1983 and have no idea of the trajectory the show has taken since then. But watching these old episodes, many of which I remember watching as a youngster, I am struck by many things:

  • It’s really funny. Not like a sitcom is deliberately funny. But peppered with really funny comebacks and one-liners and general conversational humor.
  • Much of the acting is superb
  • Most of the characters are very well cast and highly believable
  • However, and this observation should not be taken as approval: there are no people of color amongst the cast, although there are sometimes people of color in the Rovers, e.g. a couple at a table or some guys playing darts. So, Coronation Street was OK with people of color being visible in the background — but not yet ready for people of color to have an active part. I would hope this has since changed.
  • In many scenes in the Rovers, different generations are represented, from young Gail Potter and Suzy Birchall up through the Langtons and the Bishops and to the old folks in the Snug.

The last point has made me think about my expectations for old age.

I love the Minnie Caldwell character. Despite the sweet smile, she could be quite cheeky. And her life, as portrayed, has some appeal for me. She supplemented her state pension by taking in lodgers. This is the one aspect of her life that I would not welcome because I can not handle responsibility. I would have to be one of the lodgers. But otherwise, I can see myself being happy as Minnie Caldwell: pottering around in the morning and feeding the cat; making tea for someone stopping by; having some pilchards on toast for lunch; and then going down to the Rovers for a bottle of milk stout and a gossip with Ena in the Snug.

The Snug is a nice idea: a seating area with access to the horseshoe-shaped bar for service but separated from the main room by a partition with a door. It allows you to be connected with the action of the whole space but without being overwhelmed by it. You can enjoy overhearing Bet Lynch winding up a customer; or Elsie Howard having a row with Rita Littlewood; or Billy Walker throwing someone out — but from a safe distance.

I am not yet 60 (58) and I am already finding most bars to be hostile places, especially when alone. I do not know where the Minnie Caldwells of today go when they fancy a beer and a chat with friends.

Maybe no one else aspires to be Minnie Caldwell. Just me.

Hey! I was watching that!

Soap operas are easy for me to get into. I think they are a window into the neurotypical world presented in a way that is easy for me to make sense of.

After only three days in the USA, I had been drawn into All My Children and I would follow that soap, on and off, for the next twenty years. When BBC America started up in the late 1990s, it showed back-to-back episodes of EastEnders: a contemporary episode, running about three weeks’ behind the UK schedule, followed by an episode from the mid-1980s. I enjoyed that for a couple of years, but then I moved and decided to do without cable TV.

In this work-from-home situation, I have BBC Radio 4 playing for much of the day and have been drawn back into The Archers. (I wonder if Alice will fall off the wagon once the baby is born. I hope so. Her character is not so interesting sober.)

And then there was this rather funny thing! I used to work in a department where most of the staff were Filipino. My first Christmas, the holiday part took place a Filipino restaurant. Unfortunately, there was some mix-up with the planning and when we arrived at 2:30 pm, we were told they were not expecting us until 4:30. A bit of an argument broke out — in a language that I do not understand (Tagalog, I assume) — so I decided to go sit in front of the TV that was on at the far end of the room. A soap was on — also in a language that I do not understand — but that did not deter me. I sat there quite happily for about fifteen minutes, just following along without knowing the words. But then one of the restaurant staff came over and turned off the TV. And I was more than a bit miffed!

“I was watching that!” I wanted to protest.

Not ending life

Tony Shalhoub was a recent guest. I have never heard of him but his story was intense. His father was born in Mt. Lebanon and was left an orphan from World War I. The grandfather was killed in action in Armenia and the grandmother shortly afterwards. In addition to the destruction and death of war, Mt. Lebanon was also stricken with a locust plague which wiped out a harvest. Tony’s aunt, still a teenager, had to look after the other children. Life was horrifically hard and in a letter to relatives in the USA, she wrote (paraphrased),

“I wish to die. And if you love me, you will pray for me to die too.

A TV show I really enjoy is Finding Your Roots hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr. It is one of those shows that researches the family trees of celebrity guests. I enjoy it even when I have no idea who the guests are! I love hearing their reactions to what they learn. And it is amazing to see their faces when they unroll the chart of their family tree at the end. Personally, I have no interest whatsoever in my family history but I enjoy watching other people discover theirs.

It made me think of how I feel every morning when I wake up — that I wish my life would end. And I know it is ridiculous because my life finds me safe and comfortable right now. This is not to say that I think of suicide — wishing for your life to be over is NOT the same thing as ending your life yourself. And it is a good thing Tony’s aunt never took matters into her own hands because, somehow, she and the younger children made it all the way across Europe to France from where they sailed to America and joined relatives in Wisconsin where they went on to lead happy lives.

Sometimes — not always — but sometimes —even the most desperate of situations can turn itself. I guess the challenge is hanging in there in case your situation’s number comes up. But I can fully understand why that is hard to do.

On the spot

Podcast hosts often wrap up an interview with a set of “Quick Fire” questions. I guess it is a convenient way to end the podcast with a sense of completeness, especially if it was an interview that was hard to keep on track. But listening to it makes me anxious.

What does it mean to be brave?

How anyone can come up with a quick answer to a question like that is beyond me! I would have to think about that for an entire day. Perhaps some podcast guests have to think about it for an entire day and then phone it in later.

I doubt I will ever be a podcast guest. But I have been put on the spot often at work. My workplace has Equity & Inclusion as a major point of the mission statement, so we have a lot of trainings and workshops. Under pandemic restrictions, there have been fewer trainings and the online format has been rather different. But in the past, we would sit in a circle in a room. And before starting, we would “go around the room” and introduce ourselves. Some leaders would also ask us to sum up our current state of mind in one word.

Oh dear. I was never able to fully listen to anyone’s introduction because I was too busy (a) trying to discern my current state of mind, and then (b) trying to decide on the one word that best described it. So I eventually just defaulted to “anxious”.

Then at the end of the session, we would go around the room and offer one word that summed up what we were taking away from the training. By the time it was my turn, most of the good (and acceptable) words had been taken. On one occasion, my word was “smooth”. Naturally, I got a lot of odd looks. I explained that it was the only word coming to mind right now.

I assume this is due to my various impairments with processing, especially with verbal information. Unfortunately, this is a such a common feature of training, once our training schedule picks up again, I might have to resort to preparing generic words ahead of time so that I have something to say in case I draw a complete blank.

Another thing that floors me is when we have to include some fun trivia with our introduction. Meetups on Zoom are often hosted by someone who asks us to share what we have been binge-watching on Netflix. I must be the only person in the modern world without a Netflix subscription. The only paid subscription I have is for Apple TV+, and if it was not for all the Ted Lasso fans out there, I would imagine myself to be the only person in the modern world with an Apple TV+ subscription (I signed up for it when I got a year of free access after buying a new phone and I will continue with it because it has great programming.) I also have access to PBS Passport and a big archive of old PBS programs. Other than that, I just have unpaid YouTube. So anything I mention is likely to be rather obscure. Instead of listening properly to other people introducing themselves, I am distracted as I try to think of something I have been watching that someone else might have heard of. But when my turn comes, the response is always blank stares and silence.

The one-word summaries at the end of a training strike me as nothing other than a gimmick — an easily deployed tool that gives everyone the feeling that something has been accomplished — except those of us who have spent the entire session thinking about our word instead of focusing on the actual training.

The writing habit

I do not have a cable TV subscription. Or Netflix. Or AmazonPrime. Or paid YouTube. And, it is only in the last year that I have even had a proper internet connection. For years I got by tethering my laptop to my phone. But with a data plan capped at 8GB, that did not really provide for watching video content. So how did I get by?

Well, during the day at work, I would use my break time to download plenty of podcasts to my phone over the WiFi so that I had something to listen to at home (and on the bus). And on Sunday, I would go to the library to get DVDs to watch. That is pretty much how I amused myself. Of course, that would not work now, because I do not go into the office and my local library branch has been closed since March. So I am really, really glad I got internet connected when I did — else life would be really hard right now.

Even so, I still have not completely succumbed to TV. For most of the day I stream BBC Radio programs on BBC Sounds. But in the early summer I bought a new iPhone — and got free access to Apple TV+ for a year. I have really enjoyed the programming and will probably pay for it when the free access expires. I also have the PBS app on my iPad and have been watching the content that is not locked behind Passport. Last year I made a donation to my local station, but Passport somehow did not get unlocked. This year I tried again — and once again, Passport did not unlock. But I contacted customer support and the problem was resolved after a few days (so I might send another donation in a few months.)

Last night was the first with PBS Passport unlocked — and I found an old Ken Burns film about Mark Twain. I remember watching it back in 2001 — which seems about a million years ago now. I have read so much of his work and would be hard-pressed to name a favorite. As I watched, I realized that I really miss the writing I used to do. I have really got out of the habit. I think a bit part of it is that the coffee shops and taprooms I used to enjoy writing in are essentially closed. Even where tables are open for seating, I do not feel comfortable taking up space for the two hours I could happily sit writing away and ordering refills. I have never really been able to get into a good writing groove at home.

I have been able to make a habit of writing this blog several times a week — mainly about my experiences of being autistic. But I used to write funny little stories. I need to get back into that.

I really cannot believe how much work Mark Twain cranked out over the course of his life. I have the Complete Works on my e-reader — and I cannot see how he found the time to write it all. And he was writing by hand — with pen and ink on notepaper! I wonder if he would have been as productive writing on a laptop connected to the internet!