spiders from Mars

Monday, 13 June 2016 12:36 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
When I left to do some shopping early on Saturday there was a small flock of hadeda ibises (ibi?) posed dramatically along the roof-tree of my house, against the morning sky. Rather like a boy-band album cover, in fact: studied poses, all carefully differentiated, positions and distances calculated to hint at relationships. A deliberate construction of unity and individuality. I'm still kicking myself that I didn't take a photo, if only as documentary evidence so I can pick the right bird out of the line-up for punitive purposes. Because in retrospect that was a sinister little flock loitering with intent.

During the course of Saturday, while I was in my study innocently ambling through the Shivering Isles1 one or more nameless hadedaean perpetrators spent several hours wreaking wanton destruction in the back courtyard2. My container garden has a terribly tendency to cutworm, who drowned in droves in the heavy rain last week, and the Hadeda Boy Band obviously had a field day noshing the little surface-floated squishy corpses. Which is fine, and would cause me fist-pumps of vindictive satisfaction, except that hadedas are large birds who (a) trampled several plants nearly to death, and (b) half dug up others - the soil in the pots is basically harrowed and drilled by the multiple stabbings of hadeda beaks. Have you seen the beaks on those things? like bloody ice-picks. And, crowning insult, they crapped (c) all over the back courtyard, with that excessive bowel enthusiasm characteristic of their kind, and (d) all over the kitchen, because I leave the courtyard door open for ventilation during the day, and they clearly wandered in like they owned the place. I basically had to hose down and disinfect the whole room. I'm not sure the cutworm decimation is worth it. Seriously, One Direction would definitely do less damage, or at least damage that was somewhat less scatological. Probably.

I'm feeling a little besieged, is all. The neighbourhood tomcat who beats up Hobbit is still prone to coming into the house at night to beat up Hobbit, play with his cat-toys, steal the catfood and spray all over the passage. (Where the hadedas crapped. I'm sensing a theme.) I'm sleeping with the bathroom window closed, which means my cats trying to get out or the tomcat trying to get in have to go through my bedroom window and over my recumbent form. This does seem to be excluding the tomcat quite usefully, hooray, even if it does necessitate 2am wake-ups as Hobbit launches heavily from my midriff. But clearly any open window is an invitation. Last night I was lying in bed playing Avengers Academy on my phone3, and I happened to look up at the curtain because my eye caught a slight movement of something dark against the dark green. And a massive spider, must have been 8-10cm across, came moseying out from behind it and across it like the hot contender in the World's Most Nonchalant Arachnoid heats.

This is, quite frankly, rude. Because one's body does that complete muscular lock-down thing, frozen in horror and with faint echoes of Dragon Age dialogue drifting across one's cerebellum4. During this involuntary play-dead manoeuvre the spider ambled unhurriedly on a dead level path across the curtain, and disappeared behind it. Then I lay there for the next hour, staring into the dark with eyes like the third dog from the tinderbox fairy tale, every fibre of my being tense, while scenarios play out endlessly: spider has fallen on the floor and is climbing up the bed leg and under the blankets. Spider has fallen on the floor and is climbing up the mosquito net to drop on me. Spider is climbing up the wall so it can fall on me from the ceiling. It's lurking on the curtain so it can fall on me when I forget about it and open the curtain in the morning. It's fallen on the floor and will run up my leg when I get out of bed. It's moseyed on out into the courtyard and I can go to sleep now. Really. Really. I can sleep now. Any time.

I eventually did, and it didn't leap out at me at any point during the night, but I find the fact of its complete disappearance suspicious. With any luck the nice cleaning lady will find it and chase it out into the courtyard, where a hadeda will eat it. Because apparently I have an ecosystem.



1 Oblivion re-play while waiting for Fallout 4 to download. The Shivering Isles are perfectly demented, but I'd forgotten how pretty they are.

2 Which in retrospect does explain why the cats spent the day attached to my ankles, lily-livered beasts.

3 This is a deliberate attempt to try and connect me more with my phone, which I forget to check or charge or bring half the time, and which would be long since dead if it were a tamagotchi. Judicious experimentation suggests that being able to make teen superheroes dance or fly or take selfies does indeed foster attachment. Go figure.

4 Cole: "Too many legs!". Dorian: "Just once, we should see normal-sized spiders!"

the empty sky

Sunday, 20 May 2012 08:32 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Scotland is beautiful. Cold, and bleak, and windswept, and beautiful. Apparently these are the sands from the race in Chariots of Fire. The local industries appear to consist of education, golf and Chariots of Fire jokes.



The St. Andrews cathedral is a rather picturesque ruin, having been abandoned during the Reformation, after which it spent the next few centuries gently falling down. Its slightly unusual position right on the sea probably had something to do with this. The wind off that sea is, as the Scots say, a bit stroppy.



A feature of our Saturday morning stroll around the town was the unexpected American harrier hawk, with attendant falconer, parked off on a park railing. Apparently the falconer has seven of them, which he keeps strategically tethered to rooftops in the town to prevent the seagulls from nesting. This probably works rather well: a harrier hawk is one of your more disagreeable raptors (in the photo it's objecting to a passing labrador). When not tethered on rooftops, they're flown on the golf course to combat the undermining of the greens by rabbits and moles, which I should imagine they also do rather efficiently.



Unfortunately, proximity to a falconer and bird apparently makes me cry. I miss my dad.

I now face the next 24 hours in airports and aircraft, to fortify myself for which I will now descend and partake of an enormous Scottish breakfast, although without the black pudding. See you in Cape Town.
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The bird life in this garden is vaguely increasing, most notably in the case of the hadeda who has spent portions of the weekend sitting on the highest point of the house roof and whooping meditatively to himself in the approximate tones of someone being slightly distractedly murdered by inches. I blame global warming, myself.

Unusually, I can't also blame the cats for the unhappy dove corpse I found on the front doorstep the other day: it had clearly broken its silly neck flying into the big dining room window, and was moreover otherwise intact. If the cats get hold of a dove or pigeon it always explodes into approximately ten cubic metres of feathers all over the house, in an area effect which is in no way in keeping with the small size of the bird. I think it's something to do with quantum.

I am saddened by dead ring-necked doves, they're pretty and inoffensive creatures who are not prone to the slightly lobotomised, avian snickering of pigeons. What I have found, very weirdly, however, is that the dead dove appears to have left an absolutely perfectly bird-shaped impact mark on the window. I have spent all weekend wandering out there at intervals and attempting to photograph it, from a variety of angles and in a variety of lights. This was last night, and seems the most successful: while it's not a great photo, I'm pleased with the detail.



It's a rather pleasingly strange and ghostly phenomenon.
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As New York sort of quails beneath Hurricane Irene, I note for posterity that there were two hadeda ibisis on the lawn this morning. (Ibissis? Ibisisisis? Ibi? It's a word like banana, in that it's difficult to stop spelling it). Hurricanes and hadedas are not, in fact, completely unrelated, at least in the wayward meanderings of what pass for my train of thought. We've had the hadedas go over every evening for a couple of years now, with that characteristic loud, mournful, cacophonous, slightly self-satisfied call which characterises them - not a shriek, really, more a sort of a bellow. (I don't know where they're heading to, although it's towards the mountain: either an unspecified roosting destination, or a night on the town).

The evening chorus didn't used to happen when we moved into this house, which was, gawsh, getting on for thirteen years ago now. Back then the hadedas could be found pottering around on lawns in the leafier, more verdant suburbs like Constantia, but over the last decade they've gradually migrated into the more built-up areas. I think the two who were with us this morning have actually claimed the area as a territory, over the last couple of months I've started to hear them yelling at each other/passers by/neighbourhood cats/other birds at odd intervals during the day.

So, hadeda ranges are changing. Something is happening to make the population expand, or to make hitherto unpalatable areas suddenly desirable. Their food sources must somehow be affected. I blame global warming in a vague, undirected sort of way (hence the link with hurricanes), but I'd love to know what the actual mechanism is.

Right, it must be 6pm. I know this because I've just said to Hobbit, "Your butt is ringing. This is what happens when you sit on my cellphone." He looked horribly offended. It's my daily Warfarin alarm, so I dash off now to imbibe pink pills and blue pills and giant purple capsules, O my. (The latter are various vitamin and herbal remedies to attempt to address the psychotic PMT, which I am amazed to say seems to be working. Also, in the interests of good taste and TMI I shall not talk about the effect of Warfarin, compounded by the absence of contraceptives because they Increase The Chance Of Blood Clots, on the Monthly Girl Troubles, other than to say Ouch).

down came a blackbird

Wednesday, 3 August 2011 11:51 am
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Goshdarnit, it would have to be the morning I arrive at work late (owing to a detour to allow medical vampires to extract their weekly quotient of blood) that a helicopter crashes on middle campus. I saw all the police vehicles milling about and deploying flashing lights as I drove up the hill, and vaguely wondered what the hell was going on. (My amorphous sort of thought was "government bigwig giving lecture", which says somethingorother about something, not sure what). Pics here. Not a hugely serious crash, no-one dead, pilot injured, but those are some extremely expensive-looking helicopter bits lying all over the road. Also, I am unrepentant about my basely but typically human desire to have seen the crash. It would have been some innocent excitement to my day.

Talking about black airborne things and disasters, I am also apparently under siege by starlings in my office. There's a large starling population on campus, and they make a good living off rubbish bins, litter and occasional sandwiches straight out of the hands of unsuspecting students. They also occupy the buildings with careless insouciance, leaving bird crap all over halls and lecture theatres, and betraying a thoroughly fiendish and unavian intelligence in their ability not to hurtle into closed windows, but to flip derisively through appropriate gaps. Possibly a junk food diet has caused unnatural mutations. Also, Hitchcock. She says darkly.

I left my window open while I was in a meeting yesterday, and a pair of starlings clearly flew into the office while I was out and had a good old explore, leaving bird crap all over student forms, important documents, my offical faculty stamp, and a random selection of Sookie Stackhouse novels I was lending to a student. (MA thesis on vampires and immortality). Miffed, I closed the window to leave only a tiny crack open, upon which the two culprits immediately spent the rest of the day sitting outside and craning in through the crack to look at me reproachfully, whistling rude things to each other about my lack of compassion. Honestly, they're more like cats than birds: that absolutely narcissistic self-will, and desperate need to be in a space simply because they're being excluded from it. (cf Hobbit outside the bathroom door). Starlings always remind me of Todal.



This is not a good photo, they move around a lot. Either that or they have stealth technology which blurs them.

fragile things

Monday, 5 July 2010 09:38 pm
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It's not madly compatible with ownership of four1 cats, but I really enjoy birds. To this end I have a hanging bird table in the back courtyard, which I fill erratically with assorted seeds, and watch with great pleasure while a motley assortment of pigeons, doves, sparrers, white-eyes and the occasional thrush squabble for it messily, taking off in a miniature thunderclap of wings whenever I wander outside. The cats lurk under the feeder, pretending nonchalance, but the birds either cheerfully ignore them or, in the case of sparrers and white-eyes, swear at them with Cockney urchin insolence.

Yesterday one of the doves, the dainty little Cape turtle-doves with the distinctive black collar, flew madly into the kitchen and thence into the living room, where I was curled up on the sofa imbibing my daily dose of hawt mind-bending demon-sex courtesy of Justina Robson. The stupid bird of course did the classic stupid bird thing, which was to make a mad dash for the outside via the closed window; fortunately it wasn't flying fast enough to stun or kill itself, but it ended up fluttering frantically in the space between the window and the burglar bars. This meant that I could actually rescue it by the simple expedient of moving slowly up to the window and catching it in my hands.

Holding a wild bird in your hands is a surprisingly intense experience. Their frames are astonishingly light and brittle; the tiny bundle of feathers sits in your fingers with incredible quivering vitality given how fragile it is. The discrepancy between its size and your own is almost unthinkable, and you feel like a clumsy giant, strangely torn between impulses of nurture and predation. Nurture wins out over the "small crunchy morsel" instinct because the fluttering stops the instant you have your hand around the frail body, which is suddenly motionless except for the hammering of its little heart. The stillness is heart-rending: it suggests that the small creature is overloaded, has given up, is stoically waiting for death. This is the point where birds can simply die from the shock, so it's always a victory when you step outside and open your hands, and the negligible weight reasserts its energy and motion to flutter off, disbelievingly and slightly drunkenly, into the sunlight.

I like birds. They’re a completely unlikely conglomeration of delicate physicality, all that self-determined, vibrating life hung onto those slight, airy bones and feathers. I can’t imagine how we must appear to them – huge, threatening, noisy, incomprehensible creatures confusingly unlike a definable predator, and prone to these unexpected and unfathomable rescues. I want to reassure the flitting, feathery bundles that I mean them only good, but there’s absolutely no way I can. Frustrated, I put out birdseed.



1 Stealth!Cat, thank heavens, seems to have departed, suggesting Ounce and Hobbit actually managed to find enough of the missing masculine equipment to run him out of Dodge.

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There's a pair of peregrine falcons nesting on a ledge on the hospital across the road from our house: I hear them screaming a lot. (This is a sound hotwired into childhood memories, from exposure to my dad's falcons for approximately the first twenty years of my life). I don't often see the actual birds, but yesterday there were two suspiciously peregrine-shaped avians in the tree opposite our gate. They were dodging behind branches and giving me funny looks, hence the slightly blurry and obscured photos.



(Well, I assume those are peregrine falcons rather than extra-large pigeons in drag. My dad could tell you if they're adult or juvenile, male or female and the state of moult of each, plus quite probably their shoe size and religious persuasion. Me, I just think vaguely, "Look a bit fluffy, don't they?", thus demonstrating that I am not a credit to my upbringing. I attempt to redeem myself by noting, for my papa's benefit, that there are more pics on my Flickr page, from which he may well be able to discern political leanings and social security numbers.)
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Phooey. I've just accidentally ordered two copies of the DVD of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a movie for which I have an extreme, guilty, swashbuckling-Victoriana passion despite its almost total lack of actual merit. Free copy going to the first person who asks. (In Cape Town, preferably, so I don't have to send it all over the show).

One of the starlings in our road has learned to make car alarm beeps. When I left the house this morning he was sitting in the tree doing that obnoxious "gosh it's dawn wow yay happy!" thing that birds do (and what's with that? Somewhere in human civilisation we went badly wrong if we can no longer muster the enthusiasm birds do for a new day). His usual "twootle fweeple tweet twee" pattern mutated when I hit the alarm button to unlock the car, to go "twootle fweeple tweet BEEP!" - he had the artificial tone perfectly, I thought for a moment my remote was madly unlocking mother's car parked in the road outside. He repeated the BEEP pattern a couple of times, in a companionable sort of way, and then went back to the "tweet twee" one. I'm not sure why this sort of thing makes me happy - possibly simply because starlings are cute and cheeky, but also because I like to think that not all aspects of human civilisation are necessarily bad for our non-human co-habitants.

So, as the subject line somewhat laterally suggests, mother and I went off to see WALL-E last night. Vague Commentary Follows. )

Incidentally, if anyone else caught the rest of the re-enactment poodles bit on the credits for Presto!, please let me know, it's driving me crazy. Teh Internets know not of it. In addition to the initial "Civil War Re-enactment poodles" box there was another one with "Re-enactment poodles" plus two adjectives, and I cannot remember the adjectives. Magnificent? Spectacular? Phooey!
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One of my students has insisted on writing her vampire essay on Queen of the Dammed. This is clearly about repression on a scale I have hitherto failed to associate with Anne Rice.

Amusing student errors such as the above are somewhat necessary this afternoon, since I'm menstrual, sore and grumpy as hell, and the continual stream of more than usually lost and hopeless students is irritating me beyond belief. I shall console myself with random photography. There's an Egyptian goose sitting on a chimney on the roof opposite my window, looking somewhat morose in the rain. Every now and then it has itself an enormous conniption about somethingorother, and flaps around honking. Then it goes back to pretending it's sort of weathervane silhouette without the actual vane part.



It's always fascinated me that birds stand on one leg when they're contented. Do you think they like to keep one foot warm, or indicate their basic subliminal trust that no-one's going to sneak up and push them over?
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Good lord. Evil moebius dream. In between a somewhat interesting New Year's party simultaneously online and in a series of swanky flats belonging, among others, to [livejournal.com profile] wytchfynder, I seem to have spent endless time photographing birds. Specifically, photographing birds which were perched on the fibrous matting liner of the hanging baskets in the courtyard outside my bedroom, stealing fibres for nesting material. (This much actually happens. The starlings love the matting and spend lots of time in pairs and trios uttering muffled "woot!" and "twee!" noises through beakfuls of fluffy stuff, trampling the hapless pelargoniums and giving the baskets a sort of involuntary Afro. The depredations are quite epic: any day now the plants themselves are going to fall through the naked wire in a shower of unsupported dirt).



It was a good New Year's party, with fireworks and everything and that slightly blurry focus which suggests the presence of acceptable degrees of alcohol, but dammit, every now and then I'd click on the wrong button and the whole thing would fade and I'd be photographing birds. Starlings, yes. Then a whole bunch of little glossy humming-birdy things, and several sparrows, and a pair of burrowing owlets (very cute), and a toucan, and a spotted eagle owl, and eventually a gosh-darned ground hornbill, which is perfectly ridiculous as the basket would never support its weight. And as if it wasn't enough to keep ducking out of the party for a new avian vignette, the photos were terrible, blurry at best, and frequently lacking any trace whatsoever of actual bird. (I have to admit that this is also a fairly realistic detail given my general absence of photographic skill).

I variously attribute the endless and baffling nature of this dream to the fact of book club last night (excesses of wine, giggling and drunken sessions of romantic Odious Comparisons); the extreme heat, which is leading me to sleep with the French doors onto the courtyard open for the better admittance of evil hanging basket vibes; and Rupert Everett. I came back from book club with his autobiography, which I incautiously started reading before going to sleep, and from which I had to reluctantly prise myself at about 1.30am when the unnatural headlock exerted on my skull by my headboard rails showed signs of actually detaching my neck from the rest of my spine. He ain't a half bad writer: the book has a sort of fragmented, frenetic energy which is simultaneously revelatory, funny and incredibly sad. It reads almost like a caricature of a promiscuous gay lifestyle, interestingly detached from any real emotional content (I suspect that's self-protection), but with the underlying thread of a continual and rather desperate seeking-out of sexual encounters. The writer seems lost, looking for something, but you're never quite sure what. I can't decide if he's a cynic, a tragedy or a total bastard (possibly all three), but either way the name-dropping is something else. Anyone who can treat a fling with Ian McKellan as a sort of youthful and immaterial passing fancy has to be credited with serious attitude.

I actually did some book-updating yesterday, in a vague, desultory sort of way. Rupert Everett notwithstanding, shall attempt to do better today. Work worky work work work.
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'Tis that time of year again! the annual, horrible, always unanticipated stupid big run thing which comes pounding past my bedroom window, two metres away from my head, at 6am on a Sunday. It comes with thumping feet, panting, talking, laughing and other expressions of masochistic dysfunction and the cheerfully sadistic impulse to spread it around to the less energetic. I spend the first ten minutes lying in bed wistfully wishing I was on the roof with a catapult*, and then I give up and get up. Of all the stupid side effects of my stupid body, the one where I can't get back to sleep again once I've woken up is possibly the most annoying.

Sleep was particularly necessary because of yesterday's trip out to the Strandloper, the beach-style fish restaurant up the West Coast, another in the line of Tinnimentum-entertainments with jo&stv. It's a pleasant drive, and a lovely, laid back, make-do sort of atmosphere. Seven courses of seafood and one of lamb, off paper plates, with mussel shells for utensils, sitting on concrete tables on the sand under shelters made from weathered bits of boats. The "shipwreck" ambiance is possibly taken a tad too far, I kept bumping my head on random floats hanging from the ceiling. Which is, incidentally, shadecloth, upon which the shadows of the gulls make lovely patterns. Very relaxed sort of day, with the cumulative effects of sea air, wind, sand, food, wine and sun sending us shambling back to town in a sort of pleasantly zombified state, to fall into bed at about 9pm, zonked.

Am v. proud of my self. I ate mussels! In garlic. By dint of closing my eyes and refusing to look at all the wriggly intestinal bits.

I also stood on a rock and recited Ted Hughes, for additional pretentious academic cred. "Wind", possibly my favourite poem of all time ever. ... The tent of the hills drummed and strained its guyrope ... At any second to bang and vanish with a flap... a black-/ Back gull bent like an iron bar slowly. I love watching gulls in a strong wind, they make beautiful patterns in the air. Strandloper has a large population of enormous, glossy birds who live on the pickings from the restaurant, and presumably conduct an ongoing brutal turf war to keep lesser birds out.

* the Evil Landlord's contribution: "Caltrops."
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I'm getting too old for LARPing. Or, at least, getting too old, opinionated and set in my ways to really enjoy LARPs written by all but an extremely high-quality few ([livejournal.com profile] d_hofryn, this means you and your partner in crime, so get writing, people!). As I am not generally in, as they say, a Good Space at the moment, I seem to have very little tolerance for the kinds of problems and inconsistencies an inexperienced bunch of designers are likely to perpetrate. I become very frustrated, and end up spending three hours gnashing and gnarling at all beholders in a thoroughly obnoxious fashion.

This wasn't too much of a problem in last night's Discworld LARP since I was supposed to be taking upon me the mantle of Granny Weatherwax, probably the character most designed by a benevolent providence to be my role-playing soulmate, and herself constructed with a fair amount of gnashing and gnarling intrinsic to her personality. But I always had misgivings about the idea of a Discworld LARP that used actual canon characters, and in the event, despite the evident care and detail that went into writing this LARP, I don't think the final result was ultimately successful. There are too few surprises, too many ponderables attached to each character, and too great a discrepancy in the extent to which the players are familiar with the history and personalities of the canon.

The risk is also simply too great that the designers, in a desperate search for novelty, will take the characters too far away from the canon as it is perceived by die-hard, read-everything fans such as I unashamedly am. The dual layers of interpretation - designers and players - mean that the LARP comes to read like slightly slap-dash fanfic. This is fatal in the context of Pratchett: I don't personally enjoy fanfic written for any setting which has, in canon, a reasonable degree of complexity and subtlety. (I love Harry Potter fanfic because Rowling's world is basically flat and full of holes, and any embroidery has a high chance of actually improving on the original. I won't read fanfic in any Joss Whedonverse, because they're complex enough that an insensitive reading really stuffs with the canon. Call me picky. I'm picky).

The fact that I was, last night, in Day 3 of a particularly obnoxious four-day headache (possibly more than 4-day, depending on whether or not I wake up with the blasted thing tomorrow) really didn't help. Nor did a major communication breakdown among the DMs about character abilities, leading to a somewhat doomed attempt to play Granny Weatherwax with no actual effective power at all for three quarters of the evening. In fact, bleah.

On the upside, she says, trying desperately not to turn into Schopenhauer, I have fiendishly addicted the Evil Landlord to Season 1 of the new Doctor Who, which is entertaining to watch; he seems somewhat tickled by Christopher Eccleston's Doctor. Heh. I'll make a drooling Germanic fanboy out of him yet.

Also, outside in my courtyard a small flock of white-eyes has found the hanging baskets, the fibrous padding for which apparently makes excellent nesting material. I'm so enjoying watching the little buggers flipping about uttering muffled witterings through a mouthful of fibre, I don't particularly care that the baskets are starting to have that shocked Afro look.
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My, but Cape Town is getting its dander up this morning! Bucketing rain, gusting wind, cats plastered affectionately to heaters... except Golux, who is at the vet's having the third in her series of nose-freezing sessions. She's getting wise to this: when I didn't immediately feed the cats this morning (she's not allowed breakfast because of the sedatives), she came all over suspicious and we had to chase her down and corner her to get her into the basket. For a slow, dim, thoughtful little kitty she's amazingly cunning at times.

I am not currently enamoured of my kitties, so much. The other day I wandered vaguely into the kitchen in search of tea, only to find a Cape robin sitting on the kitchen counter.


(Rather exquisite photo by Paul Bright, off TrekNature.

It looked at me, flipped its tailfeathers a few times in that slightly rude robinnish fashion, and flew calmly out of the open door. I was somewhat enchanted. Apparently they have a tendency to get quite tame, as a species. Who knew.

But yesterday I went into the dining room to find a small robin corpse under the table. All incriminating teethmarks, traces of hair and pawprints had been carefully removed from the crime scene, but I have my suspicions. Am cross.

Despite a mad social whirl again (family stuff, plus [livejournal.com profile] d_hofryn's birthday and a jo&stv supper last night), I am stuck into the Absolutely The Last, Final, Ultimate Encyclopedia Entry, and apart from tearing my hair gently at the thought of summarizing the significance of film for fairy tale in 5000 words, am Full Speed Ahead. Go me.

baths and Barthes

Thursday, 19 January 2006 09:04 am
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One of the best things about the relaxing of water restrictions - apart from a garden that's actually looking vaguely green - is the birds. I've just put the sprinkler on the front bit, and spent ten minutes watching three white-eyes, a thrush and a sunbird having a whale of a time diving (or running, in the case of the thrush) repeatedly through it, wittering with excitement. Then they take baths in the puddles. I think humanity made a major error somewhere in this whole civilisation business, when our definition of pleasure involves either complex ingredients and major alcohol-producing chemistry, the major death of trees to put little black words on paper, or the entire Hollywood film industry. Even bathing, which I admit is an important pleasure for me, requires hot water and preferably lots of scented additives. See Orang-utans, civilisation, for the use of.

Currently my definition of pleasure involves a day in which my head does not hurt. The last three have been something of a washout, work-wise; if I don't have a headache when I start reading Barthes, I certainly do when I stop. This may have something to do with the weather, which continues hot, but my suspicions are otherwise. Dammit. Matters were not helped yesterday by an involuntary early wake-up: about five ADT operatives (the local security company, who do patrols) chose to park their cars in the corner of the road near our house, and have a loud, Afrikaans argument (including frequent repetitions of the word "poes!", dear me, what can they mean?), starting at 6am and continuing for just over half an hour. Three metres from my bed. In an ideal universe the wall of my bedroom would not also be the wall of the property, or if it was, would be adjacent only to vast tracts of wilderness inhabited only by birds and animals. Quiet birds and animals. Also, while I am generally in favour of the obvious activities of our Boys In Blue And Orange, I would definitely settle for a silent crime-deterrant presence. Anyway, I got up, seething, at 6.30, and went for a brisk walk around Rondebosch Common, which was surprisingly pleasant. Not only everymoment gets to wun! And it says hopeful things for the human race as a species that there is no jogger so out of breath that he or she won't say "Good morning" in passing. Of course, the fact that it was cool and windy and I was striding around with an enormous, silly grin on my face, may have had something to do with that.

In other news, I recommend to your attention [livejournal.com profile] wytchfynder's current exercise in imaginary housemates. They are quirky, compelling and beautifully written, enough that they're worth the side-effect, i.e. causing me to search my conscience regarding the actual year I spent sharing a house with him. I don't remember committing any of those solecisms, but my memory is notoriously erratic.

consolation

Wednesday, 21 September 2005 02:17 pm
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Things Which Make Me Happy, despite minor academic irritations:
  • Silly weblinks. The dreaded Mich, veteran of several years in digs with me, but mostly quite sane really, pointed me to this rude article about role-players this morning. It's very funny. And rude.
  • Good online comics. Am now addicted to Girl Genius, which is steampunkish and rather endearing, with a nice line in pseudo-German villany, something I enjoy given my Evil Landlord experiences.
  • Walking past the UCT fountain (a silly, flat, Chinese sort of thing with concrete trigrams) this morning to see four happy pigeons and a starling, all bathing madly. What is it about birds in bird-baths that's so enjoyable? I think it's the zest with which they splosh around, and all the unnecessary flutter and splash. And the cute punk feather-styles that result. I was all grumpy because of internet withdrawal (Humanities server fell over with a thud this morning), but it cheered me right up.
  • Faint signs that my department may love me. I now have a telephone in my office, for the first time in my teaching career. (Extension 5366, for you fellow campus types). It has madly enabled me to phone all sorts of bookshops in order to discover that Player of Games will not, in fact, arrive in time for my students to read it. Ain't technology wonderful.
Bugger, I was going to stop this daily posting thing. I can give it up any time I like, honest.

moral fibre, lack of

Monday, 27 June 2005 10:08 am
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Much as I would like to blame the Birthday Conspiracy for the fact that I've played ShadowMagic for two days solid (because it just looks so cool on this new screen), I know, deep down, that I've played ShadowMagic for two days solid because I have the approximate focus and self-control, work-wise, of something small and fluffy and ineffectual, probably drawn by Ursula Vernon. Goldarnit. Must ... finish ... Tolkien ... paper! Must also get self off butt in order to take car in for (a) electrical overhaul (random indicator and brake lights have died) and (b) mechanical overhaul (still drinking water like a fish). However, I vouchsafe to all you witterers the unhappy truth that probably I'll sit here all day playing ShadowMagic, possibly with a small break to maniacally practise up my recorder piece for Bardic. I have an exam meeting tomorrow, however, which will drag me kicking and screaming into some sort of activity, whether I like it or not. At the very least, running amok in the meeting with a blunt object, such as the Riverside Chaucer. (They tend to be lengthy and frustrating).

Have discovered two things this weekend, diametrically opposed in terms of value:
1. LiveJournal is disgusting over weekends for us mere dial-up plebes. It takes 20 minutes to load a page. (Probably exacerbated by IAfrica's connection foibles, which are also worse over weekends). This possibly explains the fact that I never seem to post on Saturdays, although conversely it utterly fails to explain the fact that I almost always post on Sundays.
2. I appear to share my birthday with Joss Whedon, if Meg's Boyfriend Page is to be believed. (And thank you, scroobious, for the link to that little time-waster!). How cool is that?

Some of today's slight dreaminess and tendency to revert to ShadowMagic may be because SABC2 chose to show Batman Forever really late last night, and I'm a tad short on sleep. Don't know why I've never got around to seeing that particular Batman movie before, since generally I adore superhero movies. It's a rampantly camp and ham little production, isn't it? (She says, laying on the assonance). It is my considered opinion that, Eternal Sunshine notwithstanding, Jim Carrey should be taken out back and shot in the overall interests of the human race, and that Tommy Lee Jones should know better. I ask you. Even Nicole Kidman was ham. It quite made Val Kilmer's characteristic tonelessness attractive by comparison. Also weird multiple personality tendencies in the dialogue: 90% of it was really bad, and the other 10% was inspired and screamingly funny. I suspect they hired Joss Whedon or someone to salt it with one-liners after the fact.
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There's a big tree in our back courtyard, which since we moved in has been clinging precariously to life and limb with whatever trees use for fingernails. It's not very healthy - large dead patches all over, and some sort of weird discoloured virus on its leaves. However, this last Year of Hell-Weather appears to have been right up its strange, Entish alley, since in the last couple of months it has blossomed madly into, well, blossoms, and then little purplish fruit. Masses of little purplish fruit. Whole stonkloads of little purplish fruit that are (a) dropped enthusiastically over the back yard, where they squish under my bare feet (I never wear shoes in the house, unless it's cold and I'm in Furry Hobbit-Foot slippers, thank you Stace) and (b) a devilish attractant for what seems to be the entire bird population of the Cape Peninsula.

This is, in fact, madly entertaining. Waking up in this house now gives me, in terms of bird-wittering levels, flashbacks to the Highveld, which has a much larger bird population than the Cape. At any time during the day the tree is the site of squabbles, flutterings, twitterings, squawks, whistles, avian acrobatics, and the occasional dull "thud" as some particularly maladjusted birdbrain flies into a window. Mostly it's whole flocks of white-eyes, who are, as I think I've posted before, dull green and mad-staring-eyed, and who flip themselves around in secret formations like an ineptly-co-ordinated airborne clockwork army. We also have a nice selection of starlings, uniformly svelte and elegant little creatures - mostly the European variety, including the attractively-speckled females. The currichaine thrushes from the front lawn also drift in and out, which is odd as I don't think they eat fruit; they tend to lurk on the sidelines looking distant and snooty. And on one occasion a sunbird showed up, causing the whole neighbourhood to erupt into the avian equivalent of whistles, cat-calls and the odd lobbed half-brick, in the typical reaction of a bunch of low-lifers to high-class glitzy fashion-wear badly out of context. The cats sit on the ground underneath, pretending slit-eyed cool, and being sworn at in Bird while they mentally revolve the possibilities of Heath Robinson contraptions for getting up there.

I have acquired an ancient copy of Roberts's Birds of Southern Africa, the birding bible on which I was raised, in a house notable for my father's dedicated falconry and general bird-mania. Currently my bird-identification skills are at the level of failing to find anything which resembles the bird I've just seen on what is probably the relevant page two hours after the mysterious feathered stranger has actually left. In particular, there's one small, enigmatic, rather shy little bird who I keep catching in the act of eyeing me from inside a bush; it's slim, dapper, discreet, and devoid of significantly memorable markings. Possibly it's actually a remote camera drone from whichever Evil Overlord I've annoyed this week. Either way, I can't find it in the bird book.

I am, frankly, surprised to realise the levels of pleasure which the whole scene is giving me. I am clearly imprinted.

somewhat avian

Tuesday, 22 March 2005 11:39 am
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Drought in Cape Town means we have heavy water restrictions, which means we're only allowed to water the garden on two days a week, for an hour, half an hour with a hand-held hosepipe, and the rest with, can you believe it, buckets. The wonders of modern civilisation, hoses and sprinklers and what have you readily to hand, and I have to lug buckets around. Something very wrong somewhere. I'm getting seriously milkmaid arm-muscles.

Anyway. The upside of spending half an hour standing in the garden with a hosepipe yesterday is that the local bird life is obviously suffering from the water lack as much as the garden is. I had a triumvirate of white-eyes playing in the spray for almost the whole period; they hang around in the trees wittering excitedly to themselves, and fly down through the spray at intervals, or have mad hyperactive hysterical baths in puddles. I love watching birds bath, they're so wholehearted about it, lots of splash and giggle. White-eyes are tiny and slightly pudgy and endearing, and look a bit like psycho circus clowns, with big, white, obviously made-up circles around their eyes, startling against the dull military green of their plumage. The hosepipe has one of those spray nozzles on it, and shoots an arc of spray about 4 metres, but the birds were coming quite close to me in their excitement. There's also a pair of groundscraper thrushes who live in the garden (taking their lives daily in their dear little birdy claws, given that two of our four cats are psycho bird-killers). They run around on the ground the whole time I'm watering, with that odd, stop-motion dash-and-bob, keeping a careful eye on me, but following the spray around to grab the worms and insects and stuff that come to the surface with the damp. The thrushes have a rather attractive dull orange front, which is exactly the same colour as the dead leaves from the plane-tree, so I generally don't even spot them unless they move. They also like the spray, and dash through it at intervals. None of the birds fly away if I deliberately move the spray onto them - they're probably about as heat-stressed as I am, poor things.

My sister has a pair of eagle owls living on her property. I'm horribly, horribly jealous.

In other ironies, I have a nasty cold (always feels wrong in a heat-wave). The bug may be doing the rounds, since both the chemists in Rondebosch were out of my favourite 'flu med this morning - they both sold out over the weekend. Alarming Plague Hits Cape Town! And, in fact, by all accounts, London. Must be an astrological conjunction or something.

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