freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I love that Tumblr took a sort of unspoken pact to basically ignore the Trump inauguration; I saw very little in the way of commentary or detail. The day after, everyone blossomed into gifsets and reblogs about the women's march instead, which was lovely. Also, comparisons of crowd turnout, and CakeGate, and a neo-Nazi being repeatedly punched with increasingly baroque soundtrack. (Punching Nazis is a meme I can get seriously behind. My favourite bit: "It wasn't a punch, it was an alt-highfive". Take that, disgusting alt-right.)

And the Nazi-punching has been fascinating, because it seems to go against the very politics which generates it - if you're against Nazis then really violence shouldn't be the answer, because it closes down dialogue. But, you know, if someone is ranting about Nazi beliefs and the How rather than the Whether of racial genocide, then really you're way past the point where dialogue is possible, and perhaps a punch is the only appropriate response.

It strikes me that the world in general has this sort of condescending assumption that liberals are Nice. That because we espouse notions of equality and empathy and dialogue, and are against privilege and discrimination and oppression, that we can be condescendingly ignored as ineffective. And it's true, all of these things put us at a disadvantage when up against the sort of grasping, narcissistic bigotry which can create Nazis or capitalism or Trump; we have socialised ourselves into accommodation because empathy and compromise are core liberal values, and it's a serious disadvantage in political conflict.

But anyone who thinks that liberal politics are Nice has clearly never seen a Tumblr callout feeding frenzy, which can identify, surround and isolate an unfortunate transgressor and skeletonise them in seconds without turning a self-righteous hair. That shit gets nasty, and is about as narcissistic as anything Trump ever pulled. But it demonstrates that liberal values are not incompatible with concerted, violent, self-reinforcing rage; and if ever there was time for righteous anger of biblical proportions, it's now.

Liberal empathy being what it is, I've spend some time over the last couple of days wondering what it actually feels like right now to be Trump. To have lied, bombasted and manipulated your way into the ultimate accolade of power for American identity; to be sitting at the pinnacle of political success, and to know with a cold, sinking, inescapable certainty that it's something you never actually wanted, didn't expect to win, and for which you are completely, desperately, catastrophically unqualified and unprepared. And that everyone hates you and finds you ridiculous. Your ascension has been immediately protested by the largest march in history. Your administration is going to be a long succession of destructive disasters, but it's also going to be a continuous, ongoing, inescapable humiliation. You have the lowest approval rating of all time, the most under-attended inauguration; the media, social media, public both national and international, your own internal departments, will continue to gleefully point out your screw-ups in solo and chorus until you scuttle, shamefaced, from the role. Hell, even your cake is a lie.

Right now, Trump's stratospheric levels of oblivious narcissism are frankly the only thing that is preventing him from retiring to the privacy of his gold taps and quietly putting a bullet in his own head.

And, you know, in his place I'd not just be humiliated and inadequate: I would look at the concerted efforts of crowds in pink pussy hats and the tenor of their witty, punchy, unafraid signage, and I would be afraid.

My subject line is Jabba the Hutt dialogue, translating as "You weak-minded fool!"
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Gawsh, but midsummer has a terrible effect on me. It's been stinking hot for the last few weeks; today's random gentle rain had me leaping out of the house with glad cries, stoked for the day in a way I haven't been in months. (Tracy sent me an email this morning with a tongue-in-cheek closing instruction to "have a sparkly day!", which made me giggle but is possibly more relevant than it's been in weeks). I am useless in the hot weather; my brain shuts down, my energy drops, I pull in my horns and set myself to endure rather than actually living. I don't go anywhere or do anything, and find myself shying away from social engagements of almost any sort.

Part of the Reverse SAD Effect is also, I think, because of the shape of the academic year and the fact that my horrible confluence of orientation and registration duties hits me just after the year begins. It's a bit later than usual this year because of our disrupted academic schedule after protests, but in a way that's simply drawing out the horrible anticipation. Part of the reason I tend to curl up hedgehoggily and pretend I don't exist when a social invitation comes my way at this time of year is because I am internally braced for a four-week period in which demands will be made on me more or less continuously by several thousand people, and some sort of unconscious personal barrier is springing up protectively to husband my energy. It doesn't help that the demands slowly ramp up from the moment I get back, so I've been registering more or less wall-to-wall rugby players since Monday last week. (Rugby players make a really solid wall. And also, for some reason, almost uniformly attempt to register without bringing writing implements of any sort. I assume it has something to do with the size of their hands).

I suppose what all this is saying is a sort of lateral apology to my friends, and to many missed social opportunities lately: I promise I don't hate you. I'm just hoarding spoons.

(Subject line is New Model Army, "Green and the grey", which was playing in my car, but coincidentally also describes today's weather.)

a suffusion of yellow

Wednesday, 11 January 2017 08:43 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
For some bizarre reason my morning Earl Grey tastes faintly of coffee. This seems both unlikely and a little unfair. I don't think there is actually any coffee in the house.

Today is my last day of leave, which I propose to spend doing entirely self-indulgent things which probably include comfort-replaying something hack-and-slashy. It's been a lovely three weeks of leave, which have been characterised by a nice balance of achievement and goofing off.
  • I examined a PhD thesis, for the first time ever, which was pretty terrifying going in but actually doable, and I think I've done a reasonably fair and conscientious job despite large tracts of it being in an unfamiliar critical field.
  • I should have written a paper, but three days in I examined my conscience and state of energy, thought "Hell no" and withdrew from the collection, which made me feel guilty for about three seconds, and then enormously relieved; the editor was nice about it and the world did not end. (I also have to say that if there's a silver lining to the student protest cloud, it makes a magnificent excuse for not being able to do stuff).
  • I finished Portal, Portal 2 and Firewatch, all three of which were highly enjoyable.
  • I've managed over the holiday period to get back into exercising, which means I've been walking for about 40 mins daily, and am feeling much better for it.
  • And, notwithstanding water restrictions, I have madly grown a batch of gem squash plants and a mango seedling from seed, by virtue of randomly planting the remnants of various meals, watering them at erratic intervals, standing back and let the currently rather fierce African sun and my predilection for compost do their stuff.

By way of some faint point to this slightly vague and wandering post, have some random linkery.

  • This is an obituary for Leia Organa, rather nicely done.
  • This is an Ursula Vernon YA portal fantasy, evincing her characteristic combination of whimsy and down-to-earthness, and featuring a particularly virulent toxic mother figure. I loved it.
  • This, on the other hand, is an entirely adult, very dark, very freaky, very good Ursula Vernon horror story, finishing which made me go "Holy fuck!" out loud. There's feminist fairy-tale rewrites, and then there's ... this.


My subject line is a random Dirk Gently quote for no reason other than a vague association with multiplicity, and the fact that Tumblr has a current sideline in gifs from the new Dirk Gently tv series. It sounds completely off the wall, has anyone seen it?
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Right, so, another year, another crisis. LJ has just relocated all its servers to Russia. This means that LJ blogs are likely to come under Russian censorship, but more instrumentally, apparently Russian LJ users are jumping ship in droves, and there's a fairly high chance that the site will go under for lack of custom. I have mirrored the entirety of the extemporanea archive at Dreamwidth, where it's freckles_and_doubt. (This was because some evil-minded individual has nicked the extemporanea title on Dreamwidth; on the upside, freckles_and_doubt was what I initially wanted to call the blog but was prevented from doing by LJ title limitations).

So I fear that, suddenly and without warning, this has become a Dreamwidth blog rather than an LJ one; I will post from Dreamwidth, and crosspost to LJ with the comments disabled, at least until the point where it's clear my itsy bitsy audience has made the migration. Please update your RSS feeds accordingly! If you want to comment, do so on Dreamwidth, please, and with my apologies if LJ is easier for you. Dreamwidth does cheerfully support OpenID. It's also a fan-created and fan-driven site which has been the alternative to LJ for a while, with any luck it won't have the wobbles of shifting ownership that LJ has had to endure.

I have been on LJ for almost exactly 12 years, my first post was at the end of January 2005. Blogging generally has declined a lot from its heyday in the oughts, and the LJ community has shrunk a great deal, but it was a safe and happy internet home for a long time. Dreamwidth feels very similar, but it's still the end of an era, and I'm sad.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
So, this is 2017. *looks around vaguely* ... you'd think they'd update the decor. We had the usual lovely New Year's dinner chez jo&stv, with distributed cooking and a metric buttload of champagne, of which I drank very little as apparently I can't drink more than two glasses of anything these days without feeling sick the next day. I made duck. Because duck. I should record for posterity that I made something almost, but not quite, completely unlike the Asian marinade found here - I left out the coffee, added lime juice, and used honey instead of sugar, and the proportions were all different because my invariable principle is not to measure anything and to keep on flinging in bits until it tastes right. But the flavour combination is amazing.

I am still on leave, calloo callay, although it's a slightly hands-on sort of leave. With one hand I am examining a thesis which is forcing me to read more creolisation theory than my non-postcolonial-fondling soul is strictly happy with, sigh, although on the upside it's on Nalo Hopkinson, who is a groovy sf writer. With the other hand I am wrangling orientation leaders, curriculum advisors and random queries from my boss, as I'm apparently constitutionally incapable of going on leave without reading email, and am forced to ritually curse the terminal conscientiousness of my Lawful Good. With my proverbial third hand I am attempting to mend, alter and generally refurbish my wardrobe, and with a fourth hand I am playing Portal, which I had unaccountably neglected to play before despite being absurdly familiar with it via pop cultural osmosis. Dashed through the first one in short order, am nearly finished Portal 2 with enough puzzle-solving panache to have minimal resort to walk-throughs. Both games are elegant, intelligent, darkly funny creations, deservedly classics. I love the goo bits, so creative.

In between all of the above I am lovingly prodding my container garden, which is performing GREEN! with some verve despite water restrictions and the need to amble around with a watering can rather than sloshing about with a hose.

garden1.jpg

My subject line is a quote from Portal, early GLaDOS, before she gets passive aggressive. She gets quite spectacularly passive aggressive. So far 2017 is off to a reasonable start, but I darkly suspect it's also going to get passive aggressive, and possibly actively homicidal.

annus horribilis

Saturday, 31 December 2016 11:18 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's a bit tricky to do a Year In Review for a year which featured the collapse of the South African tertiary education system, America deliberately electing Jabba the Hutt and Britain trying to saw its own leg off in an effort to detach from the mainland. One's personal milestones and experiences seem somewhat irrelevant. On the other hand, Jabba the Hutt isn't in power yet so at least I don't have to write a Year In Review that has to include actual rancors nuclear war. I still think it was prescient of me to have discovered Fallout in the last couple of years.

2016 has been a complete bitch. Academia has become neither safe nor secure; nor, in fact, has the world at large, as the West's ugly underlying bigotries have leaped to the fore in a flurry of political and ideological regression. Some sort of weird demographic, possibly a complicated metric intersecting my age, the bleak political climate, the modern music and film industries and the spread of information in a media age, has absurdly concentrated the death of icons into the last year so that it feels as though 2016 has been prowling the ranks of the particularly beloved with a scythe. And my cats, past and present, keep dying. Looking back, it's the most that one can say that we've survived the year without actually retreating into a bunker or the foetal position under the bed.

In the more personal sense, the student protests, and the concomitant chaos and difficulty in campus administration and teaching, have crystallised my dissatisfaction with my job. Our faculty team has been in a state of flux, with my difficult boss driving change hard enough that people are leaving in droves; I like the team which is emerging (except aforementioned boss, who I still feel I have to placate), but the work is steadily becoming more difficult and demanding, as is the academic landscape as a whole. I don't think I can be here for much longer. In particular, I don't think I can continue to endure my job's drain on me personally: I am socialising less, am continually exhausted and avoiding groups of people, I dive back into my house at the end of every day and lock the door behind me with a palpable sense of relief. I miss my friends. I don't have energy to deal with them, but I miss them anyway. And I am feeling very Zimbabwean under the current university experience: it feels as though it could mean the kind of wholesale political crash which lost my parents everything. Change may mean a change of country, if I can possibly swing it. It may also mean a change out of academia. Academia has not been kind to me for a long time, but this year it's been actively cruel.

So the annual scorecard is a bit depressing, and looks as follows:

Things achieved by me: survival under difficult circumstances. Resolution for radical change in my work life. Increasing political skills in self-protection and boss-evasion.

Things not achieved by me: healthy social levels. Exercise. Job satisfaction. Change.

Losses: Hobbit. Todal. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Sheri S. Tepper, Carrie Fisher, numerous others not quite so iconic to me. The ivory towerness of the ivory tower. The global plot.

Things discovered by me in 2016: Growing flame lilies. A proper phone, and, not unrelated to same, Avengers Academy, Uber and WhatsApp. Stranger Things. Fallout and Star Wars fanfic. MRI scans and cartilage tumours. KOTOR. Gougères (via Claire). Machete Order. Check, Please!, and ice hockey generally (!). Demisexuality. Cornbread. Reading on Kindle. Jessica Jones. OT3s. Feline kidney cancer diet restrictions. Political despair.

Things rediscovered by me in 2016: Star Wars. Drarry. Student protests. Postcolonial despair.

Resolutions for 2017: try to resist various flavours of despair. Change, adapt, survive. Socialise.

The year has been enough of a bitch that it's difficult to say "Happy New Year" without it sounding sarcastic. At the very least, may 2017 be less dreadful than we're all afraid it's going to be.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)


2016 continues to deliver, in the sense of delivering pain and loss and the removal of hope. I am surprisingly devastated by the death of Carrie Fisher: I hadn't realised how much her role in Force Awakens had meant to me. Her feisty princess was, of course, integral to our investment in the original Star Wars trilogy, and her role as a female character was uncommonly powerful for the time - the antithesis of a passive damsel, she had both the personality and the political/tactical power to hold her own against the men. (Also, as I persist in thinking of Trump as Jabba the Hutt, there is considerable vindictive satisfaction in imagining her choking him with a chain, the action which was the archetypal denial of the chain-mail bikini and the female role it attempts to define).

But it was the mature Leia of Force Awakens who was most interesting, and whose loss I really mourn. The film created a powerful narrative place for her - a woman who has lost everything, home and family and political hope, and yet who continues to fight. We are given precious few female cinematic icons who are permitted to be experienced, mature, battered by life, wise, flawed, powerful, authoritative, instrumental - defined, in short, by something other than their sexuality. But the role worked because of who she was outside it - a gutsy, unabashed, irreverent older woman who had no truck with societal expectation, who called out misogyny and objectification, and who was frank and unashamed about her own struggles with substance abuse and mental illness. There's a lovely quote from her in The Princess Diarist in which she says about Star Wars that “Movies were meant to stay on the screen, flat and large and colorful, gathering you up into their sweep of story, carrying you rollicking along to the end, then releasing you back into your unchanged life. But this movie misbehaved. It leaked out of the theater, poured off the screen, affected a lot of people so deeply that they required endless talismans and artifacts to stay connected to it.” In a lot of ways she could have been talking about herself.

I am sad that she has had her life prematurely ended, because she was making a marvellous and inspiring thing out of her own difficulties. I am heartsore that we have lost both her real-life presence and voice as an anodyne to Hollywood stupidities, and her character in future Star Wars films. If we ever needed an icon for continued resistance against fascist, misogynist systems in the teeth of the odds, it's now. Fuck 2016.

(My subject line is from one of Carrie's own autobiographical books, in which she describes George Lucas's insistence that she not wear a bra with the white dress because "there's no underwear in space" and with weightlessness your body will expand but your bra won't, so it'll strangle you. Which is terrible science and everything you need to know about justifying objectification by mansplaining right there, but the point is that Carrie wanted my subject line to be her obituary, so it is.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Ooh. Weird, weird dream last night: looking at self in mirror, while talking, and having my reflection's lips move completely and disconcertingly out of sync with what I was saying. Then I stepped away, and right behind me, perfectly hidden until I moved, was a man in middle-easternish robes and headscarf and sunglasses, looking menacing. Then I turned around, and I was on a huge, futuristic stage in the middle of a dark stadium full of people, all watching. At which point, fortunately, the cat landed on my stomach on her way out the window and I woke up. Somewhat freaked, to be honest.

I didn't do a Christmas post yesterday because the Internets had not vouchsafed me their usual benevolence in the form of a chirpy/irreverent Christmas doodle. But they did this morning, so have a retroactive Merry Festive Wossname! I hope it was a Good Day within the meaning of your personal Christmas act. I carefully arranged it so I didn't have to leave the house, and I noodled around cooking and prodding the garden and Skyping my mother and patting the cat, and it was lovely. And almost completely unlike Christmas, which is kinda the point. We did Polish Jo-consolatory Christmas Eve, with barszcz (for which I still have an unseemly affection) and dumplings, and I'll do a gesture at the Christmas stuff today, having Boxing Day lunch with my sister and niece. About the only thing which reconciles me to the heaving, fixated desperation of Christmas shopping crowds is the smug knowledge that I don't have to participate. Both sets of my Christmas gifts were bought online, heh.



Rogue One is apparently still colonising my brain. I wish I could attribute this, it's bounding unsourced around Tumblr, it may have originated on Elite Geek's facebook, but who knows? Whatever they teach them in schools these days, it apparently isn't referencing.

And my subject line is Wham!, naturally, because the latest outbreak of 2016 viciousness has been (a) Carrie Fisher in hospital in a critical condition after a heart attack, and (b) George Michael passing away quietly in his sleep. Fuck it.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)


Whedonesque on Tumblr yesterday made the comment that "Rogue One is an excellent Star Wars film and in some ways the best Firefly movie since Serenity." Hah, I thought. Flip, I thought. Smart-arse. Also, in the event, after watching the film this morning, I am forced to conclude: correct. I loved this movie, although in a very different way to Force Awakens: it's a denser, darker, chewier, less swashbuckling thing, all political sweep and gritty, desperate acts of resistance. I very much like this review, which contends that the film basically both rehashes the manifest iniquities of 2016, and offers some sort of potential antidote. But there are also definitely Firefly echoes; ragtag team of jaded misfits and hopeless causes struggling against fascist empires, leavened with one-liners and driven by strong character interactions. Also, spaceships. Spaceships are cool.

The film doesn't merit a Pros and Cons list, because there weren't too many cons, so have a sort of random listy thing. Spoilers! here be spoilers! )
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)


Some Things About Doctor Strange:
  • I am resolved to be more organised in my movie-watching experience so I never have to go back to Canal Walk as the only place a film is still showing. Their sound is always cranked up too high, and their projection is always too dark. Even in a 2D version. This does detract from one's experience of the film, particularly the night scenes, in that really one can't see what's going on. Also, my ears hurt.
  • Conversely, on a Sunday morning, even the one just before Christmas, I was the only person in the cinema, allowing me to put my feet up on the chairs in front of me and to apostrophise the screen with some vigour at whim. I love doing this. It's the best possibly movie-watching experience.
  • Significant swathes of this film were tragically miscast. My love of the Cumberbatch is a pure and abiding thing, but he's just wrong with an American accent, it's seriously distracting. The perfect fit of the gaunt lines of his face with the magician archetype wasn't quite enough to carry it. And the character's weird mix of driven egotistical ambition and irreverent one-liners never really gelled. Also, while my love of Tilda Swinton's particular brand of individualistic androgyny is an even purer and more abiding thing, a white woman should not be representing Nepalese mysticism. However elaborate the backstory that claims the Sorcerer Supreme as a global figure, a whitewash in this context has profound implications for representation and it bugged the hell out of me all the way through. Mordo, on the other hand, was great. Chiwetel Ejiofor is always great.
  • My profound fondness for spaceships and exciting techie gadgets notwithstanding, it's clear that, however flawed a film is involved, by gum at heart I'm a fantasy creature. Magic does it for me. It really does. Memo to self, fantastic beasts, eftsoons and right speedily.
  • Notwithstanding which, the film was so busy going "whoo!" at the special effects team as they had at the fractal nature of visual reality with both hands and cool glowing spell diagrams, that it really wasn't paying much attention to the plot. It offered a weird degree of emotional disconnect. I never quite cared about anything. If done properly, an over-arching cosmic threat should explicate and resonate (shut up, stv) with the protagonist's own issues and arc, and... not so much. It felt patched together. I do not think that this was a good script.
  • The Cloak of Levitation stole the show. Flirty thing. Like the best cats - sleek, self-possessed, wayward and pleasingly homicidal when not being affectionate.
  • This film failed the Marvel Test, viz. whether or not I'd sit through the credits to see the final easter egg. In a word: no. Was not sufficiently interested. Tragically, more and more recent Marvel films are actually failing the Marvel test, because, regrettably, more and more they are rehashed, homogenised, money-making artefacts whose actual content is dictated by a marketing committee and thus lacks inspiration, spark or narrative coherence. Yet another in the Giant Commercial Superhero Line, ho-hum. Yawn. With a side order of tone-deafness to issues of race and gender and the like. It's enough to make me, an almost entirely Marvel-fondling comics fan, eye DC edgeways with an awakening interest. The whisper flies around the clubs, could they be worse? I fear they could, yet still I am tempted.
  • Marvel test, failed. Bechdel test, failed. Sexy lamp test actually not failed on the second go (the female doctor's first appearance arc could have been replaced by a sexy lamp with "Doctor Strange Is A Dick" stuck to it on a post-it note, but on the second try she actually did plot-relevant stuff. Her third appearance could have been replaced by a sexy lamp with "SPOILER is SPOILER" stuck to it on a post-it note.). Furiosa test failed in spades, good grief, this was a movie about a man's struggle with ambition and power, MRAs drool at it.
  • I was prepared to love this film, on account of its confluence of several happy buttons, but no. I am disappoint.

My subject line is what happens if your dodgy memory mashes up two Shakespeare quotes, namely "passing strange" (Othello) and "indifferent honest" (Hamlet). I stoutly maintain that the conflation was irresistibly conjured by the quality of the film. Also, while the quote is possibly orbiting my brain randomly as a result of having seen BC in Hamlet (he was great), now I want to see him do Iago.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I had to dig back through blog posts to write the Hobbit elegy, and it's both weird and strangely satisfying, to re-visit my own life like that. Words, I get high on them, and that's some good shit at times. Also, given that my personal neuroses tend towards the aargh-I-do-not-exist-or-if-I-do-I'm-not-important end of the scale, it's even salutary and probably good for the soul, to be reminded that my own experiences and feelings and insights do exist, and may be valid. Sometimes I find that hard to believe.

What did leap to the eye, though, was the association of the annual board schedule rant with flanking posts bemoaning my state of health. Because, yes, apparently I do mark the year-end process annually by picking up some sort of lurgi, which then rampages over my hapless form for anything up to weeks. I did three days of board schedule checking over the weekend and Monday with a weird intermittent sore throat, which turned on Monday and Tuesday into a full-blown viral thing that knocked me flat for most of Wednesday, fortunately neatly sandwiched between the unavoidable meetings I had to attend on Tuesday and Thursday. The whole horrible season culminated in a five-hour meeting yesterday, after which I staggered home at 6pm, ate something random, prodded the cat and collapsed into bed. I feel considerably better this morning after, ooh, count them, eleven hours of sleep. I have one final meeting on Monday, after which I go on leave for three weeks, and damn the torpedoes. Anything vital in the way of orientation and registration prep can damned well wait until January. Dammit.

Cape Town is hideously hot, I have stress eczema all over my throat, and the attendant braai smoke from today's public holiday is inflaming my sinuses. But! I have three days in which to do nothing. The garden is burgeoning, my flame lilies are in flower again, the cat is asleep on the sofa making cute meeping noises in her sleep, I have a large iced coffee on my desk, and I have randomly acquired the wherewithal to make cherry chocolate trifle for supper tonight, just because I've bloody well earned it after the last week. It's not all bad. I'll take it.

(My subject line is from the Magnetic Fields, "Chicken with its head cut off", the title of which is the only part of the song which is actually in any way relevant to this post.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
'Tis the season, by which I mean exams committee season, which means that it's the couple of hideous days during which I check and annotate board schedules while swearing at my life choices. I do not need to go through the motions of the annual rant, I shall simply reference it. Insert rant here. You know how it goes. In the Infinitesimal Department of Up, there are slightly more actual rumblings in the institution at large this year about automating the whole damned thing via the student database, mainly because it would be a side effect of doing it for registration purposes, and two years of student protests have rendered the upper echelons of management strangely interested in registration processes which don't actually congregate students in large crowds for protesters to disrupt. However, that's a Giant Programming Challenge Of Doom, and will take a minimum of several years even if they start now.

In the Infinitely Larger Department of Downside, the two hideous years of protests have generally had far from salutary effects. My weekend and Monday will be entirely full of board schedule checking to a far greater extent than usual, which is the product of discovering, yesterday evening, that academics had pulled out of three of the prelim committees. They apparently did this on Wednesday, and the administrator responsible for the committee scheduling simply didn't tell me. I found out last night in passing, accidentally, during the course of a query about something else. Apparently it hadn't penetrated the administrator's head that we have responsibilities for due diligence in these checks, and we can't simply truncate the committees. Someone has to take up the slack. That would be me. After a bit of a reshuffle, I now have two board schedules, the second being almost as thick as the one I was originally allocated, and which habitually takes me 8-10 hours to check.

I'm very tired and don't have the energy to be properly furious, but by gum if it weren't the end of the year I would be raging. Because, see, I do get it. It's been a year and a half of hell. Academics are exhausted, drained, alienated, pushed later into the year than they would be because of the delayed semester, and they are protecting themselves by simply saying "no". From their side it's justified: the whole protest debacle has been hell on everyone, requiring huge amounts of compensatory admin and emotional energy. But the thing is, the admin processes don't simply stop because everyone's tired. We have a faculty full of students awaiting their year-end coding fates, and we have a responsibility to maintain our processes and standards by doing the proper check. And academics are by the weird caste system of a university the ones who are more able to complacently retire into narcissistic individualism under pressure. They are protected by tenure, and the system always privileges their individuality, which is the realm of their intellectual and research life, over the mundane grind of maintaining the administrative system. So they say "no", and the system does what it always does, which is to make the administrators compensate, because they don't have the luxury of refusal.

It's been a hellish time to be in academia. We are stressing people way beyond acceptable boundaries, and we are going to see things snapping, mostly because people are simply going to up sticks and leave. Which is going to further compromise function and standards, which is going to see more people leaving. I hope like hell it isn't the beginning of the end.

My subject line is Franz Ferdinand, by processes of (a) alphabetical car music rotation, and (b) they're catchy. Memo to self, acquire more albums, I'd forgotten how much I enjoy them.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My gosh-darned microwave oven is making weird noises. Not, may I add, the kind of weird popping noises you often get from (just as a random example, nothing at all to do with my non-best-practice) reheating rice uncovered. Nope, this is, somewhat alarmingly, a weird noise it makes to itself quietly in the corner of the kitchen when there's nothing in it, no-one has pressed "go" and in fact I haven't used it for days. It's a staticky sort of crackle that sounds like a miniature and slightly meditative geiger counter. It is, I have to say, enormously disconcerting when it happens spontaneously in the silent kitchen next to my bedroom at 4am, particularly when I've been playing a lot of Fallout.

I noodled around on the internet and found a Youtube clip of someone else's oven doing exactly the same thing:



Gawsh, I thought vaguely. Gawsh, that microwave looks exactly like mine. Which it is. The same model. The one you can find by googling for "Russell Hobbs microwave oven fault", which turns up the Daily Mail article about that model being recalled for its potential to spontaneously combust. Gawsh.

Fortunately the noise has always sounded suspiciously like a mini Tesla coil to me, which says electrical short and arcing; I have been following a simple principle of unplugging it at the wall when I'm not actually using it, and that usually settles its hash within a few seconds. (Also a bit disconcerting that it continues crackling for a bit after current is removed, which is very like that weird electrical car problem you sometimes get in older models, when the car continues to idle for a few seconds after you've cut the ignition. Because demon possession, apparently.) But I should probably really stop using it on strict principles of self-preservation and not accidentally electrocuting the cat. It is, of course, out of warranty by now, and the model was clearly never actually recalled in this country. I see a new microwave in my immediate future, sigh. Probably not by Russell Hobbs.

The Dire Straits ear-worm, incidentally, comes free with my subject line at no extra cost. You're welcome.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Hobbit (?2006-2016)



The house I shared with the Evil Landlord was legendary for its feline hobo-sign, the secret inscription on the gate which proclaims 'HUMAN SOFT TOUCH HERE!" Both Ounce and Hobbit simply moved in, stubbornly deploying their determination to belong in defiance of our half-hearted attempts to chase them off . (It's still there, the cat-sign: the EL lost all three, Golux, Todal and Ounce, over the last year, another reason why 2016 sucked, but has acquired another two or three by similar processes of arrive-and-demand-the-wine-list). Hobbit first turned up in my blog posts in late 2009, a friendly, fluffy, ginger thing who flirted shamelessly with anyone within range. At the time I posted pics of him "helping" me with a dressmaking project:

DSCN1600

He also played us rather nicely, in that he concealed with some skill certain aspects of his personality until we'd taken him into the household: he was very friendly to the other cats, who at that point comprised Todal, Golux and Ounce. (I'd lost Fish a couple of years earlier; as Jo(ty) commented, clearly the "fat fluffy bossy cat" niche in our house was empty). It's only later that he revealed himself as, in slightly indolent and good-natured terms, something of a bully. He never beat up any of our other cats seriously, and was cordially sat on by the neighbourhood's more Greebo-like fighters, but he threw his weight around enough to be undisputed Top Cat. Ounce, poor shadowy twitchy thing, became shadowier and more twitchy under Hobbit's dominion, and apparently relaxed enormously after I moved out. (Although that might have been about me, come to think of it. Ounce never forgave me for attempting to chase him off when he attempted to move in. I adopted Hobbit immediately and without resistance because I couldn't face another guilt trip if I was nasty to him. See Soft Touch, above.)

Ounce was the Evil Landlord's cat, Toad and Golux were co-owned by both of us, but Hobbit was mine. The Evil Landlord initially identified him as a hobbit, on the "giant furry feet, predilection for Second Breakfast" principle, but like most of my naming attempts, my initial plan was doomed. I'd mentally christened him Pippin, after Peregrine Took, as the personality fit seemed appropriate and it would have been satisfying to shout "Fool of a Took!" every time I fell over him in the kitchen. But nope. Apparently "Hobbit" it was, and the end consonants in the name can be satisfyingly spat, at least. It was also a name peculiarly suited to linguistic play, so he was Hobbiton, and Hobbitonium, and Hobyah Cat, and in moments of unusually high Tolkien geekery, Hobytla.

He was a Personality - ridiculously affectionate, playful, gregarious and more than slightly evil. He was also absurdly fluffy, with the classic "poofy pants" look to his rear elevation, and a rather magnificent neck ruff that became even more magnificent in winter. His slightly teddy-bear quality was exacerbated by the fact that he liked to be picked up and cuddled, and would lie on his back in my arms purring like a loon for as long as my arms held out. He was not a cat of enormous dignity, despite the natural gravitational advantages of his bulk. One of my favourite photos of him is of him perched on the bass speaker for my computer, overflowing gently:

DSCN1650

He liked to be around you as much as possible - underfoot, if you were standing, or on your lap the instant you sat down. His two favourite tricks were (a) sitting just behind your ankles in the kitchen, the better to be stepped back upon, and (b) to reach his forepaws up your thighs, mostly but not invariably without claws, pat your leg and go "prrrrp!" in a demand for attention. It was outrageously cute. He was also prone to affectionate biting - occasionally grumpily, mostly playfully, never breaking the skin. He was a bit weird about sleeping on my bed - he'd climb on and snuggle next to me when I first got into bed, but would stay there only as long as I was sitting up reading or playing games on my phone. When I turned out the light and lay down to sleep, he'd leave within a couple of minutes. I'm not sure if that was about his complicated roof-prowling nightlife, or if I'm a restless sleeper and he didn't like being disturbed. Either way, it was an effective hard-to-get technique, I'd let him sleep pretty much wherever he wanted to as long as he stayed, and his bulk and tendency to sprawl meant I'd be pushed into odd, contorted corners.

When I moved out of the Evil Landlord's place, it was me and Hobbit, a girl and her cat. That partnership was very heavily implicated, I think, in the speed with which I settled into my own place: I was never alone. The two-of-us-against-the-world vibe intensified our interactions and connection, and threw his already strong personality into relief. He drove me madder than he did in a larger house with three other cats to diffuse the personality a bit, but it was also a stronger bond, which endured even when Pandora joined us. He was quite sweet to her, as well: never really beat her up, a lot of the hissing was on her side, and by the end they were touching noses and sleeping not-quite-together. If Hobbit was characterised by anything, it was absolute security in his centrality in the universe.



He was a bit of a shadow of himself when he came to the end of the cancer options: I don't think he was actively in pain, but he was thin, quiet, sad, a little bewildered, unwilling to be held for long even though he purred. I'd rather remember him at the height of his bumptious, affectionate, enormously fluffy powers. I miss him every day.

(Lovely header photo is by stv, it's going on the mantelpiece as soon as I find someone to print it, the campus photo-shop appears to have folded its tents in the night. Rest of photos by me, as you can tell by their complete lack of technical wossname.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Yesterday's Cape Times billboard read, I swear to FSM, COFFIN PAIR CHAIN ROW. While that's a vintage and irreproachable crash blossom of the high quality which is so broadly suggestive it appears to almost preclude actual meaning, it's also beautifully distracting, in that not even my highly-trained and fertile imagination could come up with any back story that seemed in the least likely. I drove around most of yesterday (which was a lot of driving, on account of work + mid-morning excursion to rescue the Jo from being locked out of her own house with a sprained ankle + home from work + vet trip) with my brain gently revolving scenarios in fascinated disbelief. (Googling it is unpleasant and I wish I hadn't, because it's a nasty story, although it also yields the equally vintage crash blossom VIRAL COFFIN HELL VIDEO DUO).

I also badly needed the distraction, because yesterday we lost the Hobbit struggle: the oral cortisone had stopped working, the stronger injected stuff gave him precisely two days of appetite, and then he stopped eating again. He's been increasingly slow, dazed and sad for the last couple of weeks, and it got to the horrible, inescapable point where the only thing I could still do for him was to make it stop. We put him down yesterday afternoon. My house is full of absence.

(My subject line quotes the Ink-Spots, from the Fallout 4 soundtrack, which is lovely vintage music chosen by a clearly demented genius to range very satisfyingly, given various current events, from maudlin romanticism to nuclear-apocalypse black humour.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
At this point 2016 can officially fuck right off and die. Seriously. I do not want this 2016, it is skraaatched. In my personal iconage, it has taken from us David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Sheri S. Tepper. It has given us Brexit, Donald Trump, destructive student protests and cancer in my cat. It and all its works can take a long fiery hike straight into the sun. Today it's the death of Leonard Cohen, who is not quite a personal icon but is still a Significant Good. It feels like adding insult to injury. Also, people keep posting covers of "Hallelujah", which infallibly makes me cry even in circumstances when significant portions of America haven't just lost the collective moral and political plot.

On the upside, Tumblr is circulating relevant post-election Cohen lyrics, namely from "Everybody Knows", which is a favourite of mine and also satisfyingly and appropriately despairing.
everybody knows that the dice are loaded
everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
everybody knows that the war is over
everybody knows the good guys lost
everybody knows the fight was fixed
the poor stay poor, the rich get rich
that’s how it goes
and everybody knows
In this dark time in American politics, I re-recommend you copperbadge's unabashedly fantasy wish-fulfilment political AU with the Avengers taking the White House. Leader of the Free World. Balm to the political soul.

Further in the Department of Frivolous Escapism With Which I Propose To Distract Myself, I hear really positive buzz about Mass Effect: Andromeda, whose release date has been delayed to next year, which is a Good Thing because if they released it in 2016, 2016 would infallibly fuck it up beyond redemption. Interesting details on the game's developments here; I like what they have apparently done to tweak the combat system, and I am really excited about the increased emphasis on character interactions, because as you all know I am a mad and desperate fangirl for Bioware character interactions. The statement "The squadmate with the least amount of lines in Andromeda has more lines than the squadmate with the most amount of lines in ME3" made me go "squeee!", although not quite as ear-splittingly as if they'd replaced "ME3" with "Inquisition". I shall set aside a two-week leave period around Andromeda's release date, upgrade my computer, and permit 2017 to establish its bona fides appropriately while waving two fingers in 2016's general direction. Because really.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I did not expect to wake up this morning to a Trump victory. I also did not expect to have that victory hit me like an actual punch to the gut, since which I have been in on and off in tears. Even before reading Tumblr, with its intimate window into the pain and fear of the very liberal-skewing American bloggers I read, I was wandering around the house mumbling "But how could they do that?" in betrayed disbelief. What does it say about people that vast swathes of American voters can put any kind of stamp of approval onto that man and all he stands for? A ranting, blind, profoundly stupid, narcissistic and sociopathic man-child whose message is all about bigoted, divisive, ultimately venal hatred? Brexit was a faint shadow of this. Beyond any implications of the profoundly broken state of democracy in a media-driven world, I want and need to be able to believe better of people. But I can't.

And make no mistake, this is not just a crippling blow to values I hold very dear, decency and thoughtfulness and empathy. I am feeling it personally because this is also a particularly cruel and dismissive assault on women. Trump is a joke candidate: it is basically an insult to Hillary Clinton to be considering his "qualifications" in the same breath as hers. She is a mature, hyper-intelligent, accomplished and hard-working politician whose experience and skills have been honed across the entire course of her life to the fine point required by the presidency. If she were male, I think she would have won in a landslide. Her unpopularity, the media play with her "scandals", the characterisation of her as cold, or driven, or ambitious, are all the direct and instrumental result of her gender. If she were a man, her "scandals" would be negligible and her "flaws" would be strengths. It is beyond ridiculous, given her clear competence, that she should be so unpopular. It is sheer misogyny, woven into the fabric of media portrayals and voter responses. And to elect a shameless misogynist instead of her is a slap in the face to women.

Clinton in the White House would have been the rational choice, but also the hopeful one for more than feminism. It would have rejected the vile, destructive and asinine flailings of Trump, and it would have affirmed the idea that society is growing and maturing, that we are addressing racism and sexism and bigotry and unthinking greed, that we have learned. I don't even want to contemplate what it's going to do to our world to have a climate change denier as the American president at a crux point where we have an imperative and fast-closing window for instrumental change. We're fucked in that sense alone, even without the likely regression of American sexual and racial and economic politics and their knock-on effects in the global zeitgeist, and the non-zero chance that he'll nuke someone in a fit of pique because they insulted him on Twitter. Possibly it's a good thing I've been playing all this Fallout, I may yet need the skills.

But we can't have Clinton, because too many people voted in fear and hatred and ignorance. Which brings us to Terry Pratchett, the archetypal humanist, whose sense of humanity's failings is clear-eyed and acute and ultimately more forgiving than mine. He says it all in Night Watch, really. "The People tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness. And so the children of the revolution were faced with the age-old problem: it wasn't that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people." Trump is a debased and dangerous idiot, but the wrong kind of people elected him.

One of the drawbacks of over-active empathy is that I need to feel connected to the world. I cannot imagine feeling connected to people capable of deliberately electing Trump, and it hurts. It means I am not part of the world. More than that, if this is what a significant portion of our world does, and wants, I do not wish to be.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's remotely possible that being a total and irredeemable geek is my Seekrit Weapon, curriculum-advice-wise. If nothing else it gives me innocent joy to assist a student with a tangled curriculum and then spend 20 minutes, as I did a month or two back, dissecting Fallout 4 and our respective experiences over multiple play-throughs. (You were quite correct, Fallout-playing-student. Survival mode, while extremely tricky at lower levels and ultimately requiring minor modding to saves to make it non-frustrating enough for sustained play, is a deeply satisfying thing, I'm so happy you persuaded me to try it. I hope you have a tiny, untraumatic curriculum problem soon so I can tell you all about it).

Today's one was a rather beautiful inner arm tattoo which made me go "oooh, is that Tengwar?!" in girlish excitement. The student got this sort of soul's-awakening look - momentary shuttered expression, you could see him gathering himself to explain the context to a tragically unhip middle-aged administrator, followed by dawning realisation as my actual comment penetrated and he identified against all likelihood a fellow geek who didn't just recognise Tolkien, but the actual script. I wish I could have taken the hat-trick by translating, but alas, my Tengwar is beyond rusty. ("The crownless again shall be king", apparently. Somewhat classic.) At least I could respond, when he said in some relief, "Oh, you're a Tolkien fan!" by pointing wordlessly to Lúthien Tinúviel dancing on my wall.

It's a tiny subset of geeky students to whom I can appeal, but it does help to feel that moment of actual connection. Some things do cross the generation gap.

I fear that geeky consolations are necessary at the moment, as the university landscape is a bit doom-laden. It's all quiet; once again, too quiet. Lectures are suspended for the term, but students are able to access the library and labs, and the buses are running, so technically they are all finishing the semester's work and preparing for exams, which start next week. But it's entirely likely that the protesters are imitating the action of the rake in the grass and will erupt into life as soon as we incautiously step on their tines by trying to actually congregate students for examination purposes. At which point it'll all go to hell in a handbasket. However, I should note for posterity that "tines" is a lovely word. So specific. Precision in language is a very particular pleasure.

Quick Hobbit update: he's still OKish. He didn't respond at all well to the scheduled reduction of his cortizone dose after a week, his condition took a sharp dive, so we had to up it again. This means that the time left on his personal feline clock is probably measured in weeks rather than months; the cancer must be far enough advanced to resist the low doses already. Increasing the dose is giving him a bit of an appetite, at least, although in true feline and hobbitish fashion he is milking this for all it's worth by turning his nose up at expensive kidney-improving kibble. He only becomes truly enthusiastic about food if I hand-feed him bits of cooked chicken from my plate, at which point he snatches them somewhat impolitely and bolts them. I don't feed my cats people-food under any circumstances, usually, but right now I will feed him the blood of the living if that's what it takes. Let's hope it doesn't get that far. (Also, he infallibly bites me when I pill him, so he's getting a reasonable daily dose of blood anyway).

(My subject line quotes "Beren and Luthien", because that level of poignant loss seems vaguely appropriate on a number of levels).

children of the corn

Saturday, 22 October 2016 03:21 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I do not at all wish to think about the campus situation, given that library and lab access was, in fact, disrupted by protests all week, and that clashes with police and security have become violent. My inbox is filled with panicked and plaintive queries, I am exhausted and despairing, and I am forced to contemplate the need to produce four weeks of teaching in virtual form by the end of this weekend. I am therefore going to distract myself with cooking, mostly because I have recently discovered American-style cornbread, and both Jo and Claire are badgering me for the recipe.

I have wanted to make American-style cornbread for years, because it sounds cool, but we don't actually produce cornmeal of the requisite grade in this country, so I've never pulled it together before. However, a couple of months back one of the Tumblr bloggers I read posted a recipe for skillet cornbread with caramelised onions, which looked so good I was moved to do five minutes of internet research, which revealed that you can substitute the cornmeal in cornbread with polenta, which is, in fact, apparently identical to coarse-ground cornmeal. As I retain my pathological inability to follow a recipe with any degree of fidelity, I am posting below my version, rather than simply linking to his, although you can have the original link as well, here. My version doesn't caramelise the onions with actual caramel, but compensates by upping the butterfat quotient of the cornbread itself to more civilised levels, i.e. decadent ones. I will have no truck with skimmed milk. It also reduces the amount of maple syrup, because I think this is better if it's not too sweet. It doesn't seem to make much difference if you use real maple syrup or maple-flavoured golden syrup, you just need that touch of sweetness and flavour.

SKILLET CORNBREAD WITH CARAMELISED ONIONS

Onion Topping:
1 tsp brown sugar
3 tbsp butter
1 medium-sized red onion, diced (or sweet white onion if you can find them)

Cornbread:
1 egg
250ml full cream Greek yoghurt (you could use low fat if you prefer, but why?)
125ml buttermilk (or normal milk if you must be health-conscious)
3 Tbsp melted butter
3 tblsp maple syrup
250ml polenta
60ml flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 a tin of whole kernel sweetcorn (this is optional, but works very well).

I make this in a weird but magical handle-less stainless steel pan thingy I inherited from Jo(ty) when she and Phleep fled the country - it has a nice heavy base, which I think is the important bit, and you can bung it in the oven owing to the lack of handle. I've also made this in a Dutch oven, i.e. my heavy cast-iron Le Creuset knockoff. You don't need anything with a lid.

  • Preheat oven to 425oF
  • Caramelise the onions: on medium to low heat, melt the 3 tblsp butter and add the chopped onions. Allow to sweat gently and soften for about 20 mins, stirring occasionally, until they start caramelising properly. Cheat and add 1 tsp brown sugar and a little water. Cook another 5 mins or so.
  • Mix dry ingredients (polenta, flour, backing powder, baking soda, salt) in a mixing bowl. Mix yoghurt, milk, melted butter and syrup with the egg in a measuring jug. Fling wet and sinfully fatty ingredients into dry ingredients and mix.
  • Mix in the sweetcorn. You can also fling in things like bits of chilli, chopped peppadews, crispy bacon bits, grated cheese or chopped spring onion, although I wouldn't put them all in at once. I like the spring onion/peppadew version, although the whole corn one is my favourite.
  • Tilt the onion pan to run the butter up the sides, for greasing purposes, and spread the onions vaguely evenly over the bottom.
  • Pour the batter over the onions and bung into the pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until firm to the touch and starting to brown. Let it cool for five minutes or so before loosening the sides and inverting onto a plate. You'll end up with a flat round loaf with caramelised onion topping, like a savoury upside down cake.
  • This is damned good with chili, or soup, or in chunks all on its own, and would make a superb and wildly cross-cultural accompaniment to braai. It's also, I warn you, absurdly moreish, I can flatten a whole loaf unaided in 24 hours. If eating it over a couple of days, it works to microwave slices for 20 seconds or so on Day 2, it freshens them and it's better warm.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My car's music system is wandering through the alphabetical mid-section of my Bowie albums at present, currently in the middle of Let's Dance, which gave me, in rapid succession this morning, "Criminal Minds" followed by "Cat People", which has the line about putting out fires with gasoline. This was somewhat apposite as campus re-opened this morning, with the expected protest action following as the night does the day. This gave me a morning shaped thusly:
  • General headless chickening about whether or not we should try to be on campus, with contingency meetings in coffee shops first. Rumours of protesters massing on lower campus, but we resolved to give it a try anyway.
  • Arriving at a quiet middle campus venue for an online reg training session to find that technological mishap is no respecter of protests, and no-one could log into any of the computers. The organisers took an hour to ascertain that, yes, no-one could log onto any of the computers, during which time no training transpired. Then the protesters arrived.
  • Protesters set off fire alarms, bounced around the building singing, shouting and beating drums. About a million policemen arrived. We were told to leave our training venue by a protester, who was fairly polite but who also took away with him, presumably for communist redistribution, the bowl of peppermints set out on the coffee table for the trainees.
  • The building locked down. Fire alarms blaring, all doors locked. One entrance only opened, up three flights of stairs from our basement venue, and at the other side of a mass of police and protesters and news cameras. The protesters flung a bucket of human excrement across the threshold of the only open door and then departed for points upper, hell-bent, presumably, on further disruption.
  • We huddled in the basement until the crowds had dispersed, and then left, gingerly. The direction of the protests meant that my boss texted me almost immediately to say not to bother coming up to the office, since the protests were clearly headed that way, Today We Will Work From Home.
  • I could have done with that decision at 8am rather than 10am, as I find the panic attack/hyperventilation at being trapped behind locked doors to be inconvenient and annoying and would prefer to have avoided it entirely. Also the poo flinging. It came nowhere near me, but I still feel unclean. Presumably that was the point.

The Powers That Be have decreed that we will finish the semester remotely, i.e. no face-to-face lectures or tutorials. Exams will take place in November. We will finish the semester by hook or by crook, mostly crook in the sense that we will examine on eight weeks of work rather than twelve. Apparently academic standards and the integrity of our qualifications are only immutable until they aren't. It's also debatable whether or not the protests will allow us to keep the necessary library and computer labs and buses running for students without home internet access.

I am sick at heart. On the upside, Hobbit is responding well to the cortizone and, while still slightly subdued, is contriving to fight being pilled, leaving me with scratches all over my hands and, after one more than usually athletic wriggle, my left nipple. He is eating like a small ginger horse and has resumed his playful finger-nipping and butt-clawing habits. Pandora is in a massive hissy fit, I think she imagined she was an Only Cat Now after five days without him, and is resenting his return. They sit on either side of me on my bed at night with Pandy's tail lashing like a particularly miffed leopard's. On the whole, I'll take it.

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