freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I am in the orientation/registration run-up phase, which is horrible and exhausting, already requiring 12-hour workdays, and uncomfortably like being nibbled to death by very small annoying things, possibly miniature vampire ducks (petty and draining and stupid). The preparation part is not materially assisted by the fact that we've been running an online registration pilot throughout, so what with rugby players and online forms I have been registering students intermittently from the 7th January, and will be doing so until the 10th March. No wonder I'm a bit frayed.

The registration process, the orientation prep and the various other admin tasks have been exhibiting an unusually high level of people doing exactly what my strategic, careful, detailed, widely disseminated notices and announcements have told them not to do, often half an hour earlier. Submitting forms without class numbers. Trying to register when they have deferred exam results outstanding. Arriving in my office for curriculum advice for which I am explicitly unavailable at this time of year. Trying to schedule classes which haven't been approved by the relevant committee. (This was a gosh-darned professor and head of department who clearly did not read the detailed email to which she was replying). Trying to schedule my exam checking meeting on top of the orientation talk-giving commitments during which I'd blocked out my time as unavailable. It feels like trying to herd mutant toddlers in earplugs.

On the upside, Robynn randomly sent me a knitted teacup-warmer in the shape of an owl (or, more specifically, in the shape of an owl cosplaying as my journal icon, although without the umbrella, unless the "#STRESSMUSTFALL" tag counts, which it definitely does, thank you Robynn!), and this morning the mountain was wearing two hats under a moon, because it could.

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I will try very hard not to attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by reading failure, and will take what consolations I can get.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I'm not quite sure what it suggests, that we (or at least Jo) are apparently on hugging terms with the maître-d of Overture, which is the very nice five-star restaurant on the Hidden Valley wine estate in Stellenbosch. I mean, we know the staff because we go there at least once a year, and they always say welcome back and nice to see you again with a degree of enthusiasm which says they're either genuinely happy to see us or are very well trained - possibly both. They know us well enough to bring extra bread so we can mop up the sauces (that delectable parmesan thing on the oxtail crêpe, for example). And while they no longer do the wine pairing which was hitherto such a marvellous feature of their menus, the nice maîitre-d is always very happy to suggest suitable wines for our various choices, and the single "carafe" we ordered of that lovely chenin was suspiciously free-flowing for far longer than it really should have been, I think he nipped out back and refilled it while we weren't looking. Also, note to self, the Hidden Valley shiraz blend is ace, obtain more. Hidden Secret, I think. Yum.

Overture is a favourite hang-out because it's always a really good experience, and any food they serve can be ranked on the scale of very good, really damned good, amazingly good and wow my tastebuds just exploded in a good way. And damn the expense. It's worth it. Also, I have discovered that my superhero ability appears to be "reliably order the best thing on the menu", putting me mostly at the head of the field in our informal fork-sharing comparisons. That vanilla souffle, mmmmm. Also, while it sounds unlikely, the gnocci with roasted mushrooms and smoked aubergine pâté. I don't know what they did to the mushrooms - portabellini which I think were slow-roasted so they were slightly dried and a concentrated mushroom taste explosion of note. Must try at home.

Today's lunchtime jaunt was additionally pleasant because it was a weekday, stv and I both took a day off work just because, and I at least was sitting in the winelands imbibing quality food and booze instead of wrestling through the thickets of HR-speak which have characterised large tracts of my week. (My Cherished Institution's HR department has the bit severely between its teeth in the performance-review area and is burying everyone in labyrinths of over-documented, overly positivist HR jargon of the worst description. SMART measures. Aspirational career goals. Objective-centred self-evaluation. My boss called my role "student-facing" in cold blood yesterday. While carefully stashing the term towards my ongoing efforts in linguistically role-playing, with some verve, the kind of person who actually takes this shit seriously, I nearly bit her.)

It's probably a good thing, all things considered, that I solved one minor mystery just before jo&stv came to collect us for the Overture jaunt. I lost Pandora this morning. She's settled in very happily and seems to be an entirely self-confident and autocratic bundle of affection nicely balanced with demand (preferred affection mode: headbutt me violently in chin, or preferably in mug of tea), but for about half an hour this morning she redefined herself as an intermittent and disembodied meeping. I could not find her. I thought she might have been stuck on the roof or something, because I opened every cupboard I could think of to check if I'd shut her inside, and nope.

Eventually, careful triangulation led to the kitchen, where she'd managed to get herself shut in the spice cupboard, which I hadn't checked because there's simply no space for her. It has three shelves which pull out with the door, and they're stacked with jars and boxes and what have you, and completely fill the cupboard when the door's closed; she must have climbed into the space behind the shelves when I opened the cupboard to refill the salt, and I have no idea how she folded herself up small enough to fit when I madly closed it again without noticing her. Possibly the usual feline pocket dimension. The one which allows them to walk through walls. Except, apparently, cupboard walls. I'm a bit tetchy on the cat subject because poor Hobbit was badly beaten up last night by the beastly neighbourhood tom, and is all subdued and sporting a notch on his ear, having left a swathe of orange fur on the pavement outside the front door. If I'd accidentally bent, bont and splugged Pandora by leaving her stuck in the cupboard for four hours while we made merry, I would have felt considerably worse than terrible, and inclined to doubt my cat-parenting skills on all fronts.

Anyway. You were warned about the flow of consciousness. My subject line is of course Omar Khayyam, not for the first time. Overture was lovely, Hobbit is much less subdued, and Pandora seems to have entirely forgiven me. I have just downloaded the new Inquisition DLC and propose to spend most of the weekend hacking my way joyously through the Deep Roads. (With a pacifist Inquisitor, which will be interesting, apparently it's fairly intense fighting). Today was OK. I'll take it.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's now officially registration season, in that I have now gone through the ceremonial annual benediction of an incensed parent shouting down the phone at me because their offspring is unhappy with an answer I gave her. Ten minutes. Continuous anger. Refused to let me get a word in edgeways to explain or otherwise. Reduced me, as is traditional, to tears, because I'm exhausted and reserves, not so much, and I eventually said "I'm sorry, this conversation is inappropriate and I am ending it now," and put the phone down. I hope that's my one for the year, any much more is going to erode me to a sort of soggy indeterminate thing which simply collapses sadly when more pressure is applied.

Registration/orientation this year has been particularly fraught and filled with loathing, but has been infused with additional merriment by a number of external factors apparently sent by the Cosmic Wossnames expressly to try me. Viz.:
  1. Heatwaves. Hideous sticky heat both during the day and at night, leading to irritability and insomnia and the desire to emigrate immediately to Canada in a marked manner and never return.
  2. Building operations. In my building, in surrounding buildings, in buildings around where I usually park. Noise, dust, paint fumes, scaffolding, unavailable venues, weird extrusions of fencing which block off whole scads of parking places so that parking, already a bugger on this semi-vertical campus, is now a thing of nightmare and sin. I've had to park on a yellow line on two separate days, because there simply wasn't any option, and despite the fact that I am hardly alone since campus has been festooned by similarly benighted motorists parked in every odd corner where they specifically shouldn't, that sort of thing niggles wearingly all day at a girl's Lawful Good. Also, my horrible complicated day last week was further complicated by the sudden discovery that none of the bathrooms in the building were operational, because renovations. Taking a bathroom break between the two meetings for which you are double-booked is not actually possible if the bathroom is in, so to speak, another castle.
  3. Load shedding. Eskom, bless its inadequate electric socks, is running out of power, and while it's being pretty good about sticking to a timetable and advertising the random swooping in and out of load shedding periods, orientation is quite complicated enough without suddenly having to evacuate 450 students from a pitch-dark lecture venue. (Not that I've actually had to do that, but the constant fear and planning wears on the nerves a bit). Also, I am prone to be denied vital tea supplies at strategic moments. This is not a good thing, at this time of year. Homicide results. I drove home last night from dinner in the pitch-dark of load shedding at about 9pm, and it was surprisingly weird and slightly freaky. On the upside, candlelight, and that cute solar-powered lamp thingy Vi gave me. And the excuse to retire early to bed and read Inquisition fanfic cunningly pre-loaded on my cunningly fully-charged Ipad.
  4. Political shenanigans in the faculty office, leading to administrators backing me into corners for twenty minutes at a time to have a full-scale meltdown about how awful the boss is being. I have personally experienced the boss as actively detrimental to morale and am full of sympathy, but I don't have time to make reassuring noises for twenty minutes while students pile up, mournfully puppy-eyed, behind me. The administrative processes behind reg have been somewhat under par this year, because everyone is unhappy and freaked, and it really doesn't help.

My car music trekked through New Model Army and into OK Go, who are generally happily bouncy but from whose lovely depressive ballade "The House Wins" my pleasingly surreal subject line is taken. I love that song: tuneful, wistful, bleak. "You don't have to be alone to be lonely, you might as well give in ... the house always wins." I've subsequently ploughed through a plethora of Pixies and am into Seu Jorge, because apparently I am materially soothed by acoustic David Bowie covers in Portuguese. As one is.

Now I go forth to wrangle advisors for change of curriculum next week. Aargh. This all cannot end too soon.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
There's something particularly pleasing about an entirely self-indulgent holiday you really can't afford and are damned well taking anyway. Bartholomeu's Klip is a luxury farmhouse guest lodge thingy, where they charge you rather a lot for incredible amounts of superlative food, accommodation, game drives, and generally beautiful surroundings in which to lounge around doing nothing much (or, in my case, reading the new Phryne Fisher, which incidentally has tickled me pink by virtue of being unabashed BBC Sherlock fanfic) while minions bring you tea or gin at your command. We had two nights there, which is really all the average constitution can handle given their daily plan of pre-game-drive tea and muffins, giant brunch, high tea, drinks with snacks, and a four-course meal in the evening. It's also all I can handle financially, even at winter half-price specials, given a recent move and house-refurnish. But it's utterly, utterly worth it. We had enough of us to book out the whole house, which meant we didn't have to freak anyone else out by having drunken argumentative conversations and playing Gloom and Fluxx all over the show, or when reading the new Phryne Fisher caused me to lie on a garden chair and giggle like a maniac for the better part of a morning.

It's near Wellington, and the private game reserve is reclaimed renosterveld; I loved it on our last visit, when it was much more desert-like, but also loved it this time under rain and greenness. It's a very beautiful landscape.

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The game viewing was really good - millyuns of buck, gnu, amazing bird life, and for some reason an unlikely and pleasing number of bat-eared foxes, which were running around in small packs all over the adjacent farmland as well as in the game reserve itself. I don't think I've ever actually seen one in the wild before, despite living in southern Africa my entire life. The small hordes of them made me very happy. We also scored a reasonably close, extremely grumpy and entirely fortuitous porcupine, which was also truly happy-making. I love porcupines, the way they trundle along. This is a truly terrible photo, because it transpires I shouldn't use the zoom function on my cellphone camera, but it gives you a good sense of the bat-eared fox's really nice line in pausing to look suspiciously back over its shoulder while displaying its ears.

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This place has beautiful mountains and magical light. Also, in addition to the bottles of wine they give you Jedi cloaks on the game drives, which is fortunate, because they're bloody cold.

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My subject line is from the Bee Gees, although it's a very weird, atonal and wistful little song that really has nothing to do with the lovely holiday. I have also successfully ear-wormed myself utterly with the Bee Gees, and have been singing them madly around the house all morning. I suppose there are worse fates.

postcolonic

Friday, 13 June 2014 08:46 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Right, well, thank fuck that's done. I emerge from two weeks with my head down on this bloody paper, having just sent 6000-odd words off to my nice ex-supervisor so that she can confirm my argument isn't actually on crack. I am buggered. I've been putting words onto the damned screen for up to six hours a day for two weeks from the midst of a 15-volume pile of critical tomes, while simultaneously writhing with distaste and hating the universe in general and everything in it in particular, with special reference to African film and all its works. It's been very slow and torturous, and I'm still not convinced I'm safe from being ceremonially lynched by a mob of petulant postcolonialists, but the worst is over. Even if there are giant flaws in my argument I'm now editing rather than writing, and it's the writing which is like drawing blood at the moment. In the unsexy non-vampire way.

I suffer from existential crises when doing this sort of thing. I start disbelieving in my own academic existence, and it makes the writing process really rather hard. At least if there are words on the screen for me to work with I have some evidence in favour of my status as tangible and instrumental. Really, a lot of my life is spent as a sort of a wistful academic ghost.

The particular bugger about this bloody paper has been that I've felt impelled to write it to the exclusion of almost everything else. This means that I have not done interesting things to my nice house (newsflash: I still love living on my own even when I hate the universe because academia), or adequately paid attention to my cat, or done any socialising, really, that hasn't entailed jo&stv battering down my door and either plying me with food or dragging me out. Which means there was really rather enjoyable tango at the Crypt on Tuesday, but otherwise not a lot. It's not that I hate everyone, I promise.

I am also on leave for the next ten days, three of which will include an entirely self-indulgent jaunt to Barholomeus Klip, that luxury farmhouse guest lodge thing with the amazing and practically continuous food. I can't really afford this, I'm pre-emptively spending a chunk of my November bonus, but I decline to feel remorse or guilt. Stuff it. I've earned it. Not to mention the fact that it's the end of the first semester and I'm more than somewhat dead on my feet.

So, how is everyone? Are any other Capetonians cordially freezing to death at the moment, or is it just me? It's been icy, down in the 6-degree range, with snow on them thar hills. The air has teeth.  I have unearthed my Giant Coat of Sweepingness and have been sashaying up to campus every morning imagining I'm Sherlock. It adds a certain useful layer of impatient disdain to the interactions with students. I hope you are all well, and warmer than I.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It is at this stage fairly possible that I've found myself a house rental, enabling me to remove myself from the domicile of the Evil Landlord, a gesture which will be accompanied by the unmistakeable sound-effects of stretching, twanging and pained meeping noises as deep-seated roots resist uprooting for all they're worth. Unless there's something fairly horrible lurking beneath the innocent surface of the rental agreement I should be moving within a couple of weeks, and have hence been forced to buckle down and, avoiding the ricochets of disturbed .303 bookworms, weed my giant L-space book collection so I have some faint hope of compressing it all into boxes for travel without actually collapsing the local space-time continuum. My study floor is currently bedecked with tottering piles of volumes, faintly tear-stained as a result of the emotional upheaval of deciding to chuck them.

I will, of course, stick most of them into voluminous bags and haul them off to the local charity shop, but before I do that I'd like to give CT-based witterers of the sf/fantasy persuasion (i.e. most of you) a crack at claiming any of them which look as though they might usefully enhance your reading life. Photographic listage follows. If you want any of these, please let me know and I'll label them yours and shunt them in your general direction via trained mongoose or brown paper parcel switches in the park, or something. (This is the first installment. It's approximately a sixth of them, and I haven't tackled the non-sf yet).

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The house, for the curious, is a semi-detached recently-renovated two-bedroom Victorian in Lynfrae, which is a subset of Claremont; I re-toured it this morning in the company of Claire and Stv for moral support and second opinions, and they like it as much as I do, which is quite a lot. And it's not just because it's bucketing with rain at the moment and the whole world is a nicer place.

My subject line is, of course, Terry Pratchett, although I can't remember which book it's from and am callously leaving that as an exercise for the reader.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
coriolanus

I have, what with one thing and another, been reading Coriolanus recently. Oh, all right, the one thing or another is the appearance on our local Nouveau movie circuit of the film of Tom Hiddlestone's recent run in the play in London, which earned rave reviews from a lot of people who weren't actually drooling Loki fans. (It also earned rave reviews from drooling Loki fans, although the presence of Tom Hiddlestone stripped to the waist and bathed in blood may have been partially implicated in the response. Also, massive homoerotic subtext. These days, show me a text which doesn't have a massive homoerotic subtext and I will politely remove the earplugs and blinkers you unaccountably appear to be wearing. We live in a deeply repressed society.)

Anyway. Shakespeare is, of course, a highly pleasing thing to one who is guilty, as I am, of a serious addiction to language. I don't know the play at all, and have been happily skip-reading through it in preparation for seeing the film. Conclusions: (a) Shakespeare is still the good stuff in terms of linguistic high, (b) Coriolanus is kind of an arrogant dick, and (c) wow, but is this a topical play right now. The first scene entails Roman senators interacting with a mob of commoners who are all agitating about overpriced grain and Senator privilege, and features a citizen ranting about senators in a speech which made me sit up and go "Whut?"
Care for us! True, indeed! They ne'er cared for us yet: suffer us to famish, and their store-houses crammed with grain; make edicts for usury, to support usurers; repeal daily any wholesome act established against the rich, and provide more piercing statutes daily, to chain up and restrain the poor. If the wars eat us not up, they will; and there's all the love they bear us.

This, children, is the contemporary USA. Or, in some lights, the UK. This is the particular flavour of rampant and unchecked capitalism which characterises the Western world, where the gap between the obscenely rich and the poor widens daily, where governance repeatedly privileges corporations over people and bails out banks. And where world powers make war because it's profitable. (See this interesting article on the change in US policy over the last few years). Human nature apparently doesn't change much. That Shakespeare, he knew.

Of course, I still haven't seen Coriolanus despite all efforts to do so - we had tickets for last night, but arrived in the Waterfront only to be told that the scheduled load shedding power cut for the evening would cut the movie off half an hour before the end, and strand us in a darkened, zombie-apolcalyptic mall. We went and had tea and cake instead, which was rather pleasant, but not nearly as highbrow as the intended evening. Tom Hiddlestone notwithstanding. Ster-Kinekor owes us a replacement viewing, though, so we may yet get to see the damned thing. If the power cuts permit.

My subject line is not only Simon and Garfunkel, it's a direct quote from a Daily Voice billboard this morning, which made me laugh rather a lot.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
For once I have remembered to note that it's my blog's birthday. I first posted on 31st January 2005. That's nine years of blogging. 1 657 entries, counting this one. That's one every 1.98 days, if the weather hasn't robbed me of my tiny vestiges of mathematical ability. People have posted 10 732 comments. The longest hiatus in posting has been the ten days or so in July 2011 while I was in hospital with my feet exploded. I think it's fair to assume that I quite like writing stuff, for some reason. Or am actually addicted to words. Or uncommonly cussed. Probably all three.

Cape Town is having heatwaves. I think it's almost allowed to, usually they come in February and that's ... in a few hours, now. (Alas January. I'm sure there was something else I was planning to do with you, but oh well). Be that as it may, today was ungodly, stinking, improbable hot. This is something of a continuing theme: this weekend the foot pedal on my sewing machine inconveniently burst into smoke and melted plastic in the middle of a skirt reconstruction, so possibly Hell is closer to the surface than usual. I spent the only tolerable hour or two this afternoon sitting in the living room (in the middle of a power cut, for some reason - Capetonians, turn off your aircon. It isn't fair that you have it when I don't) with my feet in a bucket of water and ice. Turns out this reduces my swollen ankles immediately and dramatically, which is useful, as the combination of heat and running round conducting orientation for four days gives me puffy feet like whoa and dammit. I can't even blame the DVT, they used to do this while I was running roleplaying cons and SCA events, years before my leg inconveniently exploded on the way to Australia. I don't like this weather. Have you noticed?

Fortunately, given the heat, the Revenge of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Army of Reconstruction has finished the remodelling of the front wall and departed for points unknown, which means we don't have to deal with dust as well as heat in that sort of misguided fake Western movie fashion. They have left behind a rather spanky carport and pristine section of new wall in addition to the traditional blasted heath which always attends their efforts. Viz.:

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I thumb my nose in the general direction of the hadeda aerial bombardment of my car, now frustrated. Hah!

I know "I'll stop the world" from Nouvelle Vague, for whom I have a somewhat unbecoming passion quite apart from their bossa nova version of this song, which has an insidiously beautiful lyric line. I do vaguely know the Modern English original (quite a fun music video, despite o lord the 80s), but it's not a patch on the cover.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I've managed, over the last few months, to get back into something of an exercise routine, which is a bit erratic at present owing to potential heat-stroke, but averages out at a brisk walk around the Common every second day and is making me feel exponentially better about life on a number of fronts. Exercise, who knew? It takes about half an hour, striding as fast as I can, which represents a speed at which I frequently overtake other walkers and have been overtaken precisely twice by walkers since I started the whole routine. (I'm overtaken by runners all the time. Given the high prevalence of wildly fit people who belt around the spanky new track around the Common, this is extremely motivating on purely scenic grounds.)

Since it's still heat-wavy and I had a truly appalling night last night, I walked this morning, brisk exercise being extremely good for sleep deprivation, muscle tension and the grumps. This adds a merry layer of smugness to the pleasures of the exercise, since I was the only walker present at all. There were runners and a couple of cyclists, but apparently Christmas raises the exercise-commitment threshold to the point where only a sprinkle of Serious Exercisers bother. And, of course, me. Basking in the temporary and entirely illusory categorisation. Far less grumpy than I was when I started.

One of the minor joys of the Common route is the City of Cape Town's outbreak of noticeboards, which erupt on all four corners of the Common to instruct the civic-minded exerciser of the Rules. Apparently we aren't allowed to sleep, drive, dump, smoke, sell, dig, pick flowers or chop down trees on the Common. We are also officially mandated to smile at all times. I rather enjoy this. Something about a ridiculous happy face with full civic authority.

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I suppose this is a rather long-winded and roundabout way of saying Happy Christmas, all you witterers, I hope it's a good one and pleasingly relaxed, as well as being based in more sleep than I had. By way of Christmas cheer for all those of you with similar fangirl proclivities who haven't yet seen it (and with a tenuous and entirely wayward puppy linkage via smiley faces), the BBC has released a Sherlock teaser for the new episode on 1st January. I'm pretty much in the zone where I don't do Christmas presents these days, but this is a good one.

freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Cape Town is having Winter, TM, slightly late but with immense seriousness and inordinate quantities of water. Traffic has been horrible, particularly this morning, when it took me 20 minutes to inch up the hill to campus. It turned out that this was not because large chunks of road on the N2 had been washed away, as is the way of my people in winter. Far more amusingly, it was because a divvil of some sort had possessed the traffic light just before the freeway exit, so that it was cheerfully showing to our road, at any one time, either three green lights and one red, or three red lights and one green. You have no idea how dislocating this is. And, for some reason, how amusing. I'm still giggling. It seems to undermine some fundamental truth in your average driver, producing a sort of bewildered contemplation which plays out as follows (and I could see exactly this thought process in the cars ahead of me even before it happened to me):

TRAFFIC LIGHT: *cheerfully shows three red lights and one green*
CAR: is confused. Treats this carefully like a malfunctioning robot: stops, checks, is about to go when:
TRAFFIC LIGHT: *changes cheerfully and without warning to three green lights and one red*
CAR: responds like Pavlov's dogs to the green light for a microsecond by starting to take off before having brain exploded by the lone red. Is confused. Treats this carefully like a malfunctioning robot, stops, checks, drives on with head spinning. Or, if me, in a fit of the giggles.

We are creatures of order, and traffic lights are unquestioned beacons of coherent guidance in our orderly worldview. Except when they aren't. Then our heads explode.

I have not been blogging of late because of... thing. I'm not sure what, actually. I have, however, spent an entire weekend with the Jo inventing a new, exciting and minimalist LARP system which encourages players, Fiasco-like, to invent the plot themselves from minimal cues. Currently it's labouring under the working title of "Space Amnesia", which is really a literal description of its workings. We shall be hunting down playtesters shortly.

I have also, by no actual effort of my own other than desultory blogging, found a Macavity Solution, in that CarloandKaren have volunteered to adopt him on the grounds of being short a ginger tom. This means we have started feeding him and encouraging him into the house, with the fell and deceptive intent of getting him relaxed and friendly so that we can swoop down, incarcerate him in a box and haul him off to a life of vet check-ups and sybaritic luxury. While he still won't let me come closer than a Jackie-length or so to him, he has progressed from pitiful yowling to actual conversational yowling if I talk to him for a while. I'm hopeful.

Subject line, as any fule kno, references Good Omens and demonic traffic possession.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Heavens to Betsy, it's June. You can tell by the driving rain, hail and icy cold, which are causing me to both freeze and rejoice in equal quantities, because I'm odd that way. Cape Town is in the middle of a giant three-day storm (someone's amazing pic of hailstones lying like snow in the city here), and Hobbit was recently discovered, after 24 hours of absence, curled in a ball of denial under the braai in the shed. It's bloody cold out there, I can only think he must have been hiding from the thunder. Twit. I also have a cold in the head attended by Sid the Sinus Headache, and am conducting today as an extended negotiation between the work that I need to do and my equal and opposite need to go home and hibernate. The sweet child who arrived for curriculum advice this morning struck a serious blow in the service of work ethic when, upon being granted the course change she wanted, she gave an ear-splitting squeal of joy, rushed around the desk and hugged me. She probably added a good hour to the time my butt remains in this chair, which at current showing has me fleeing the place at about 2.30 sharp.

She also mitigates to some extent against the perfectly obnoxious older-brother-of-student who rendered my Thursday afternoon hideous by shouting abuse at me for half an hour by the clock because his little sister can't graduate as expected, and whose toxicity permeated through most of the weekend, resulting in me being withdrawn and useless and having truly weird dreams. I blame him entirely for the current state of lurgi. He freaked me out, being really quite threatening, and it took me a good couple of days to throw off the lowering sense of failure and self-blame. He was an arsehole, who clearly intended at the outset to perform his anger until he'd browbeaten the faculty into acquiescence, and I don't think anything I could have said would have calmed him down, even if he'd let me get a word in edgeways. (I think that the fact that I was female probably made it worse: there's a certain kind of Zimbabwean black male for whom a woman questioning his authority is anathema). Fortunately he was trying to circumnavigate an iron-clad faculty rule which is never relaxed under any circumstances, and the whole performance was doomed. Idiot.

On the upside, this linguistic dissection of annoying teenage sounds was particularly giggle-inducing in the context of my students. You must watch the video, it's brilliant.

I have, for once, remembered that a new month entails a subject line reference post, but this got longer than I intended, I'll defer the payment of intellectual debts until tomorrow. In an attempt at a new approach to this: today's subject line courtesy of Vampire Weekend, whose first two albums I have been playing on rotation for the last couple of weeks. Lovely indie rock with an African music influence, it's bouncy and melodically inventive and clever and has a kwaito-ish edge which makes it weirdly familiar. The quote is off "Unbelievers", which is on their new album and not yet out in this country - I've been hitting YouTube.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My poor little Mermaid finally died. The Mermaid was, lest this sound unduly surreal, the white CitiGolf I've been driving for the last eight years or so, who earned her sobriquet from the mystic and largely inexplicable inscription on her number plate. Perhaps as a result of this she evinced an uncanny attraction to water over the time I drove her, not always with the best results given the traditional workings of the infernal combustion engine. She always had a tendency to run her cooling system dry and overheat, and over the years I've had the radiator replaced entirely, had insane quantities of water removed from the distributor cap after an unusually deep puddle experience, had water poured into my boots via the front panel as a result of rain becoming cached under the bonnet, and had the bodywork reconditioned because of the exuberant leaks which tended to manifest in jolly Cape Town storms. She finally expired a few days ago, completely in character, when the leaky head gasket I've been pussyfooting around all year got to the point where it let water into the system, and she started driving in a jerky, hiccuppy sort of way which definitely Boded. Poor Mermaid. Always yearning for the ocean in a doomed and futile sort of fashion.

So last night the nice man from Ray's magical auto-mechanic place came round, and after confirming my diagnosis ("I really shouldn't be driving her, should I?" "Uh...no.") bought her off me on the turn, pressing oodles of cash into my slightly fluttering hands, detached me from the registration papers and a receipt, and drove her, hiccuping gently, away, bound for a complete re-conditioning and resale at his capable hands. I hadn't expected it so quickly, and had to do an extremely speedy purge of the interior of all the random guff which piles up over time. (The yield: gorilla lock, mermaid charm from rear-view mirror, bottle of sunscreen, bottle of engine oil for babying the leaky head with, eight shopping bags, an exploded map book, my now entirely useless campus parking disk, a coke bottle full of water for babying the leaky cooling system with, a metric buttload of random paper bits those poor sods handout at traffic lights, five nursery plastic sheets for carrying plants on, a flourishing crop of mould in the boot, and that umbrella I thought I'd lost last winter, thus continuing the watery theme).

Watching her toddle off, I felt completely bereft. A car driven over time becomes a personality, both an organism for whose continued well-being one is responsible and a trusted compatriot who bears one's chattels and one's lazy form tirelessly about the show. Her possibly dodgy Dagon-worshipping traits aside, the Mermaid has served me faithfully; she's ported me around the city, up the campus hill daily, over the Neck repeatedly into Hout Bay to visit my father, on tarred roads and dirt, in hail and pelting winter rain and February heatwaves and those amazing Cape Town winds which try to playfully blow you off the freeway. She hasn't done much distance stuff, but has successfully ambled out to Arniston a couple of times. She had a game little heater but no air-con, the world's most terrible gearbox, and a faulty passenger-door interior handle which used to randomly entrap passengers to no discernible pattern, causing amusing levels of panicked scrabbling. (I always chose to interpret it as a sign of affection, a reluctance to relinquish the cherished passenger, but I doubt they felt it). She didn't have the personality of my Biscuit Tin, but I was fond of her, and used mutate "Mermaid" into "Merrymaid" at odd moments, and drive around singing Gilbert and Sullivan.

I feel as though I've carelessly allowed something fragile and complicated with whom I have a relationship of trust to slip out of my control. Did I damage her carelessly? Will she be OK? Will her next owner look after her properly? Shouldn't I have vetted them, like you do for dogs? Do I over-invest in inanimate objects?

So I'm carless again, and slightly tearful. Various confluences of the Cosmic Wossnames have determined that I'm trying to find myself a Toyota Yaris, if only because it narrows the field to manageable levels which stave off panic attack, and in defiance of the fact that it's a silly name. The Jo, with ineffable kindliness and self-sacrifice, has volunteered to haul me around to various auto dealers on Friday, and to pat my hand gently as I try to grapple with the technicalities of test-drives and finance and what have you. There's a sheaf of car ad printouts on my desk and a page of annoyed scrawls which determine, after horrible hold music has caused the ear-wax to melt and dribble out of my ears, that it's not going to be worth going through my bank, as they hedge their loans about with sharp stakes and unpalatable restrictions. As a result of the indefinitely-delayed adulthood occasioned by indefinite grad studenthood, this is the first time I've had to do this. I'm in a state of wibble.

However, this does mean that the state of fatigued uselessness which has dogged me for the last year and a half, may finally be lifting. The things I needed to do by the end of this year included a new car, a driver's licence and a new agent for the French house. I have a learner's, a car plan which will by gum by a car in jig time, and a contract from the new agent in my inbox. Two and a half out of three ain't bad.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Cape Town! currently the locus at regular intervals of storms, heavy rain, hail, high winds, cats puddled around heaters, a soaring electricity bill, and that savage bite in the air that tells you somewhere in the fortunate upcountry there is snow. I am, needless to say, an extremely happy pervy cold-weather-fondler. This last is despite a certain amount of unavoidable angst, given that I leave for a three-week overseas trip on Saturday, and while plane tickets, hotels, visas and various other bits and bobs are duly sorted, I have only written one of the two papers I'm supposed to be giving. (For no adequately defined reason, an entirely unnecessary re-read of Memory, Sorry and Thorn appears to be implicated in this last dereliction of duty). However, deathless insights into feminist re-writes of "Aschenputtle" will buy it over the next few evenings, stat. News at eleven.

In support of this, should there be, as yesterday, a brief and unlikely lull in the atmospherics resulting in a resurgence of the worry-factor, there is always the soothing option of http://www.rainymood.com/. It was clearly designed specifically for me, and I'll probably run it nonstop during the February heatwaves.

And, by way of inspiration, there are always the Bulwer-Lyttons. This year they have caused me unholy glee in the SF section by the perpetration of ungodly puns.

Professor Lemieux had anticipated that his latest paper would be received with skepticism within the small, fractious circle of professional cosmologists, few of whom were prepared to accept his hypothesis that our universe had been created in a marijuana-induced industrial accident by insectoid aliens; nevertheless, he was stung when Hawking airily dismissed it as the Bug Bong Theory.

Hee.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
This morning I woke up to thunder, and petrichor, and a tight cluster of alarmed cats around my feet. They hate the thunder, and slink through the house on a sort of ambulatory cower. I, on the other hand, drove up to work in the pelting rain laughing like a loon, and uttering little shrieks of joy every time the lightning arced across the mountain. Still a highveld girl at heart, and I miss thunderstorms on a deep and physical level which I'm only really conscious of when it actually thunders.

They're a very bodily experience, thunderstorms. Not just because the feel and the scent of heavy rain and the vibration of thunder are so deeply sensual, but because, I think, the air is so charged. I feel electric: alive and tingling. It also helps that the thunderstorm has cleared the air and cooled things down after two days of intense, sticky, ennervating heat wave, causing me to revive like my drooping and underwatered garden. If we're going to go the highveld route of heatwaves as the necessary foreplay to a climax of thunderstorm, I can endure them a lot better.

Yesterday's heatwave was also made endurable, of course, by a sumptuous champagne breakfast with jo&stv, followed by lounging in the swimming pool. Followed by lots and lots of Skyrim. Prancing around a snowy virtual landscape is probably the next best thing to actual air conditioning. My game at the moment, however, is subject to sudden rains of Stormcloak and Imperial corpses, who descend unexpectedly from thin air and thud to the ground, causing city guards to become quite naturally concerned. I'm imagining a concerted effort of giants somewhere launching them irritably into the air a long way off. Also, my dog is floating. I think the last patch broke stuff again. Sigh.

Last three days of registration to survive. Wish me luck.
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Mental Floss has just given me the word I always knew I needed. "Petrichor: The clean, pleasant smell that accompanies rain falling on dry ground. It’s from the Greek petra (stone) and ichor (the blood of Greek gods and goddesses). The term was coined by two Australian researchers in 1964."

Hooray for Australian researchers. That rain smell is one I associate strongly with highveld thunderstorms and the start of the rains - it's particularly vivid when it's the first rain after the arid heat of the dry season. But even Cape Town rains manage to recreate it, especially at the moment with the alternation of hot and rainy. It's a sharp, keen, vivid, slightly wild smell, rife with generative promise, and I love the way those Australian researchers have constructed the word - petrichor is perfectly believable as the residue of a slightly otherworldly power. Like most instances of precipitation, it makes me very happy.

(And, yes, I'm quoting Toto lyrics. I like that song. So sue me.)

For some reason this year's Christmas seasonal stuff hasn't annoyed me as much as it usually does. It all seems a bit subdued: the city isn't packed with tourists to any unacceptable extent, the shop displays are not generally as in-your-face as usual, and my homicidal mutterings about the inappropriateness of jolly snow-encrusted Santas in African summer are more than somewhat below par. It might be that I'm still too tired to work up a good head of irritation steam, or that I'm working later than usual into the month and am tucked away neatly in an ivory tower away from the shopping frenzy. It's also helping that my sister and I have a no-presents-except-for-the-niece pact this year1, and I am spared the usual harrowings of present-acquisition. This is a surprising sense of release, and caused me to reflexively go off and donate madly to charity instead (Wikipedia, and St. Luke's Hospice - the former because its citation-needed refrain is wildly useful in explaining plagiarism to students, the latter because they were really lovely to my dad).

In a neatly circular conclusion to this wayward-puppy post, Toto have recently re-formed for a benefit tour for one of their members, who is an ALS sufferer. ALS was what my dad had. Everything is connected.


1 Presents for Da Niece are not a problem, because I acquire them off Teh Internets through the year. One of this year's books was Look! A book!, which Cory Doctorow recommended on the basis of its success with his 7-year-old daughter. It's wonderful, detailed artwork with a lovely sense of whimsy; Da Niece seems very taken with it. She's 6 this year, so it's proving a bit of a challenge to hit the right level of either complex enough to interest her when it's read to her, or simple enough that she can start to read it herself. I think this one works quite well in the latter category. In the former, she's about to hit the stage where she's ready for Diana Wynne Jones, and for Ursula Vernon's Dragonbreath series. Heh.

freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
You know, this planet is fundamentally screwed. It's the middle of December. (And, in related news, how the hell did that happen? I've wandered around for the last two weeks firmly convinced that it was around the 3rd of the month, and here we are with a totally unexpected public holiday to the side of the head on Friday, and Christmas itself leering just around the corner. Also, I forgot [livejournal.com profile] friendly_shrink's birthday, by dint of not realising the month had progressed that far. Fatigue does the weirdest things to one's perception of time.)

Anyway. It's the middle of December. We have had solid, heavy rain all morning, with a truly marvellous episode of actual hail for about fifteen minutes in the middle of it. We are supposed to be a Mediterranean climate, i.e. all about the winter rain, not the summer (see High Veld Summer Thunderstorms, Lack Of, Tragic, for the use of). If we have stuffed with this climate to the extent of hail on the 14th December, it's pretty bad. Put it together with the merry billboards advertising the US/China hijack of the climate change summit to try and weasel out of emissions accords, and it's perfectly obvious why we're doomed.

This wouldn't happen if we were all orang-utans. I bet orang-utans wouldn't feel the need to get all protective of their bloody oil-based economy.

I should point out that all of the above did not in any way prevent me from spending ten minutes this morning with my third-floor office window flung open all the way while I stuck my head out into the rain, laughing like a loon, and tried to catch the hailstones out of the air. Bits of thing falling from the sky apparently regress me to the joyous age of 8, or thereabouts. My morning was materially improved by having to comb the hailstones out of my hair before I could deal with the next dose of student angst. Strange but true.

The inexorable advance of December towards Merry Festive Wossnames reminds me that I did, in fact, send out the Great Boxing Day Braai invite a couple of days ago. If you're in Cape Town and didn't receive it but would like to attend, please leave plaintive meepings in the comments. I probably only left you out owing to cheesebrain, which I have a lot of just at the moment.

prease contact me

Saturday, 3 December 2011 03:09 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
You find them in your postbox quite often: those little slips of paper, carefully trimmed off an A4 sheet, and inscribed in the painstaking, erratic print of someone whose literacy is fairly marginal. The writer advertises themselves as "Malawian gardener" or "Malawian lady", trading on, one imagines, the popular Southern African stereotype of Malawians as cheerful, honest and magical with gardens. (We had a Malawian gardener when I was a kid. He was, if I remember correctly, rather taciturn, but he used to feed us bits of the mealies he roasted for himself on the boiler fire, and he grew amazing vegetables). They ask for a job as a gardener, as a housekeeper, or in today's example, as a child minder.

These slips are often hand-written individually rather than being photocopied; they give a cell phone number, and in some cases the cell phone number of a reference. They are carefully polite and unassuming, a modest request quietly left rather than an intrusive in-person appeal. They are quintessentially humble. They represent, I think, in many cases the absolute desperation of someone who is in a foreign country, almost certainly without money or support, attempting to construct a life for themselves in an environment which is, while probably more rife with opportunity than their home country, neither easy nor welcoming. They are the last-ditch attempt of someone who is too proud to beg.

They break my heart.

here comes the sun

Tuesday, 1 November 2011 11:16 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
It's really cheating to garden in this climate. You fling a few seedlings into the ground, wave some compost at them in a desultory sort of fashion, douse them with water occasionally, and stand back so that the "whoosh" of vegetative life reaching for the ferocious African sun doesn't actually singe your eyebrows. I planted tomatoes less than a month ago. Behold:



This is before I went in there with a machete and a train of native bearers to hack off all but the main shoots so that some of the fruit actually gets to see the sun through the jungle, and the spring onions aren't completely overrun.

Also, I grew this pomegranate from seed, which I stuck into the soil in a waywardly experimental mood about a year ago, when a tray of supermarket pomegranate seeds in the fridge Went Bad, or at the very least set up their own illicit still. They sprouted like mad things; I've given seedlings to several people, and this one is outgrowing its pots with enough fervour that I suspect it of being part Triffid. It also looks ridiculously healthy, suggesting that it thrives on the above regimen of wholesome neglect.



Also, I love pansies. They have sweet little velvet faces, which they produce in a tasteful array of deep jewel tones which almost exactly approximate my taste in clothing colours. They're evil aliens and I thus grow them only in pots in a slightly shamefaced way, but I planted the right-hand pot in April and they've been blooming ever since, which I suspect is probably against the rules. The left-hand pot are the Next Generation, planted a few weeks ago. Anyway. They make me happy.



This post brought to you courtesy of a recent, random re-watch of Sunshine (tense, philosophical space movie that does amazing things with light and Cillian Murphy), and a major Soundgarden ear-worm which the Beatles subject line was a futile attempt at dislodging. Bugger.

a blustery day

Monday, 30 May 2011 11:42 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Oh, hooray, winter is here! Cape Town has been banging and flapping for several days, apparently in a spirited attempt to blow away to sea entirely. The garden is full of drifts of dead leaves, twigs, branches, and the top third of the small tree outside the garden wall, which blew over during the weekend. (I'm sad about that. I like that tree. It's a small, quiet, retiring sort of herbaceous creature with lovely dark leaves and an attractive shape. I hope it survives its involuntary deforestation.) It's also been bucketing with rain; outside my window as I type there's the traditional water-going-past-horizontally thing with which the Cape is wont to while away its winter months. Hobbit and Golux have celebrated the winter by reaching enough of a detente to sleep on my bed at the same time, which means my back is perpetually a bit stiff from contorted kitty-accommodating sleeping postures. Hobbit's a sprawler.

It's all good. I love this time of year. Clearly the buckets of rain was all that was necessary to hoick me out of the homicidal tendency to loathe the world in general and everyone in it in particular: I'm feeling much less misanthropic. This is surprising, as last night's spaghetti bolognaise session in honour of [livejournal.com profile] friendly_shrink and the Usual Suspects entailed enough wine that I had a mad insomnia attack at 4am, and have had precisely four hours of sleep. Fortunately the Dear Little Students, possibly in remorse at the droves of them that pestered me last week (including 23 who turned up in the last two hours before the 4pm course change deadline on Wednesday), have shown neither hair nor hide this morning. Sensible gazelles.

I remembered my umbrella. There's a heater on my feet. The tea supplies are holding out. I'm playing the Decemberists. I submitted my Microfiction on time. No-one has knocked on my door all morning. I don't have to do anything this evening. Happiness is a simple creature.
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This post should have a really-random-analysis red flag. You have been warned.

Trees generally are a locus of all sorts of things: beauty, dignity, age, a sort of massive calm. Tolkien's Ents are simply a vivid externalisation of the kind of awe a tree should properly engender. But more than that, a tree is a text, a solid confluence of history and context and identity as well as aesthetics.

The plane tree in our garden is an excellent example of its genre, a lovely tree in its own right - it grows tall and straight and huge, unslanted by the fierce Cape winds which push lesser trees over into tilted growth. It's our saviour in summer, shading the entire side of the house, and making the interior blissfully cool on the hottest days. The deep shade severely limits the kinds of plants I can grow in the front garden, but I consider it to be worth it. In winter the plane tree usefully loses all its leaves as well as the fuzzy bobbles of its seed heads, allowing the sunlight in to the house and grass. I am happy to allow it even that, and will cheerfully rake up the brown autumn drifts.

Trees, of course, are also about history. I have no idea how long this one has been here, but even with the relatively fast plane tree growth, it's probably a minimum of fifty or sixty years. I don't know who planted it in the corner of the garden, to provide its peaceable shade in the February heatwaves, but they were clearly a respecter of trees. I find it odd to think of these unidentified individuals experiencing the same summer heat we do, and planting a tree whose welcome dappled cool they will never actually experience. I hope they would be happy to think that we do experience it, and are grateful.

I love this tree, but it's problematical. It's an alien, not native to the Cape; while it's not the water-hog a eucalypt is, nor invasively prone to scatter its offspring everywhere, it shouldn't really be here. The plane tree originates in the northern hemisphere; ours, a stranger to the tip of Africa, is also as far as I can work out a hybrid, a London Plane, which is a cross between the oriental and American strains. I'd never want to remove it, it's a beautiful tree, but if I were to plant something now for shade and beauty, it wouldn't be a plane. Not even trees are exempt from the re-judgements of the New South Africa and the re-assessment of colonial legacies and aesthetics which make a nonsense of local ecologies. I can't look at the plane tree, or touch its strangely smooth grey bark, without feeling a complex constellation of love and guilt and unease.

They may not fling themselves spontaneously far and wide, but plane trees invade in a more conceptual sense: we plant a lot of them. There are new rows all down the road around the corner from our house, and along the main avenue on campus. This picture was taken outside my office today. When I started my undergrad here, I don't think those plane trees had been planted yet; they were put in, as spindly metre-high things, in my first couple of years of study, and my earliest sense of the avenue is as a blisteringly and uncompromisingly open, sunny space. Now we have the start of a shady, tree-lined stretch which is an enormous relief in the summer. The historicity of trees, above anything else in my life, makes me realise that I've been on this campus for over 20 years. It also makes me realise how far, even in this particularly self-consciously political space, the Afrocentric on campus is capable of being undermined by convenience. Plane trees grow quickly and look lovely, but in their leafy green between the ivy-covered stone of the buildings, we ape the English or American university rather than forging an identity of our own.

I cannot regret a tree: their presence and character, once established, make me both respectful and protective, and I will always mourn their destruction. But in this, as in all things, the fatal tendency to think means that love is never simple.

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