freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
For no adequately defined reason, radio announcer auditions, courtesy Wikipedia. This is enormous fun to read out loud, particularly since the Parade's End Effect has been replaced by the Granada Sherlock Holmes Effect and I'm still enunciating with bell-like British clarity. Go on, try it. The sacred, secret crypts of Egypt and a marked propensity for procrastination and sloth. You roll it around your tongue and spit it out.

One hen
Two ducks
Three squawking geese
Four Limerick oysters
Five corpulent porpoises
Six pairs of Don Alverzo's tweezers
Seven thousand Macedonians dressed in full battle array
Eight brass monkeys from the ancient, sacred secret crypts of Egypt
Nine apathetic, sympathetic, diabetic old men on roller skates with a marked propensity for procrastination and sloth
Ten lyrical, spherical, diabolical denizens of the deep who haul stall around the corner of the quo of the quay of the quivery, all at the same time on Tuesday or Thursday, it really doesn't matter.

My subject line is David Bowie, "Time", one of the great Bowie piano pieces which I will, by gum, teach myself to play sometime very soon because it's awesome. My car music is still cycling through Bowie, currently Tonight by way of The Last Day, which is the new one and curiously pleasing.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
hobbitbystv

Hobbit is not really a cat of enormous brain, but he appears to subscribe fully to that curious cat-telepathy which allows him both to sense and to thwart opposable thumb thing persons' evil plots to, for example, stuff him unceremoniously into a cat-box and haul him off to the vet for the annual check-up, shots and admiration session. (My lovely gnomelike vet is more of a dog than a cat person, but he is part of the considerable and ever-increasing fan-club dedicated to Hobbit's general state of floof.)

Hobbit has distinguished himself by being utterly underfoot since I moved house, the summary relocation having rendered him clingy, overly affectionate and continually demanding of attention. This state of affairs remained firmly in place until Friday afternoon, approximately ninety seconds before the moment at which I planned to grab him, stuff him unceremoniously into a cat-box & etc. At this precise time, having been until then peacefully curled up on top of the piano, and despite me not having moved in any way indicative of imminent cat-grabbage, he jumped down and sauntered off into the back courtyard. I didn't actually register his absence, being engrossed in a particularly tricky Dragon Age battle, until he leaped madly off the wall into the empty vegetable-box, knocked it over with an enormous clatter and thump, gave himself a hell of a fright, and rocketed back through the house at mach speeds with his back arched and his fur up in a sort of bristly explosion in all directions. He levitated out through the open front window and, by the time I'd opened the front door to look for him, had vanished utterly into the convenient pocket universe occupied by embarrassed cats.

I didn't see him for three hours, during which I wandered up and down the road calling seductively to no avail, eventually giving up and phoning the vet somewhat shamefacedly to cancel the appointment on the grounds that the object of the exercise had done the magic vanishing trick. (I'm more used to this from Golux, who is a pro of note and has to be crept up on via a concerted campaign of leaving the catbox in the living room for a minimum of three days while resolutely thinking of something else entirely). The nice vet reception lady is, of course, utterly inured to the magic vanishing trick and only laughed at me a little bit. Hobbit is as yet unshot, I'll have to try again this week, possibly with a butterfly net after I've located the bag of catnip, which I stashed away so cleverly in the face of Hobbit's ability to sniff it out and chew through the plastic that I haven't been able to remember where I put it.

The very lovely artificially tiger-striped Hobbit-portrait above (sun through blinds) is, of course, by stv, who Hobbit-sat in sheer self-defence for a few hours on Saturday night while Jo and I filled his house with ravening hordes of LARPers. As the daughter of an animal scientist and a sturdy rationalist in my own right I do not subscribe to baby-talking any animal of mine any more than I subscribe to baby-talking babies, but my subject line reflects a sample of the affectionate apostrophes and linguistic innovations with which I am wont to address Hobbit when I arrive home of an evening and he greets me at the door. I should point out that in the ancient tongues of men "hobytla" means "hole-dweller", which I suppose explains the pocket universe.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)


My love-hate affair with Disney fairy-tale movies (and by "love-hate" I actually mean "hate with a side order of reluctant fascination and rather shamefaced amusement") is a fairly well-known phenomenon, but The Little Mermaid has always been my least favourite. It's something about Ariel out of the sea being muted - when she can't speak, she seems by extension to become unintelligent, almost animal, not quite human, her vacant and over-compensatory smile the very definition of the stereotypical airhead bimbo. Voiceless, she's strangely powerless to affect the action. Her land-bound identity externalises in one neat image the nastier and less enlightened views of women still being perpetrated in odd corners of our popular culture. I always disliked that element in the Andersen original, and in the visual and aural format of film it's horribly inescapable.

So I suppose it isn't that strange that effectively losing my voice for the last two days should give me exactly the same feeling. I'm a pretty much hyper-linguistic person at the best of times, and the job I do is very much about communication, a lot of it verbal. I give advice, and brief students, and train advisors, and weigh in on committees. I have a voice, and damned well know how to wield it. Being unable to speak blunts my efficacy to quite a ridiculous extent - my default response to a situation is to step in verbally, to describe, interrogate, throw around solutions, give instructions. To struggle for physical voice, even to be forced to whisper so I can't make myself heard, to hear my words slurred and slowed by my hoarseness, denies both my intelligence and my agency. It goes beyond maddening into something very like despair.

And that's not just about agency. Ariel's problem is that, shorn of her voice, she cannot communicate herself to the object of her desire. Her identity, her individuality, remains locked inside her. I'm not a physical person, other than wild hand-waving to support the verbal babble. A lot of who I am is in my language, my inherent intoxication with words, my complete inability to get through more than about five minutes of even a technical briefing without irony, technicoloured imagery and ridiculous wordplay. My esteemed colleagues at my Cherished Institution see, at a conservative estimate, approximately about a fifth of my personality, and with this throat infection they don't even see that. I become a dull, lumpen, slightly futile thing.

Today I had to find a last-minute substitute for my first two-hour curriculum talk, and struggled through the two-hour training this afternoon with heavy reliance on other people to elucidate the bits they could, and the room hanging anxiously on my croaked whispers. That is, fortunately, the last of my speaking duties for the week, and I think I'm going to resort to scribbled signage for the next two days so that my voice recovers for the rescheduled vampire lectures on Saturday. Because this? this sucks.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I seem to be going through a stage of oh-god-I'm-tired-and-I-hate-work. The important thing with this, I've realised, is the focus on "going through a stage". This is a phase. It too shall pass: the brain chemistry or the hormones or the sleep cycle will re-synch, motivation will wake up from its cave, and life will be liveable again. It will probably pass more quickly if I eat chocolate, hit a lot of niskaru very hard with a prismire sword (yup, replaying Amalur), and browse the internet for interesting kipple.

But I've also realised that the nub, the locus, the emblematic pivot of the state is my bloody inbox. The email inbox is the curse of the modern age. It's particularly pernicious, because in the abstract I rather like words, I write with a great deal of facility, I'm murderously fast touch-typing on a computer keyboard, and at base I rather enjoy the sense of achievement that comes from answering all a student's possible questions ever and spreading sweetness and light in three short, pointed sentences and a link. But the damned things keep coming. The end of term is in sight, and I'm seeing probably fifteen or twenty queries a day about admissions, incoming exam angst, course-dropping and the generalised existential panic which is the default state of the student under stress. No matter how torrid my love affair with words and how boundless my sympathy for the common or garden student in its natural habitat, there comes a point where typing another sentence is not something into which I spring with glad cries.

My backlog of unanswered mail goes back three weeks. It'll take a day of intense focus to clear them all. And clearing a backlog is not without its own horrors, mostly due to my dual overabundance of empathy and guilt, as a result of which I read a month-old plaintive plea for help and immediately feel like the Worst Person Evah for not having answered immediately to put this poor fellow creature out of their pain. Because the reality is that, while to me the individual mail is merely one of a shoal of its fellows which circle my hapless form nibbling like goldfish (some of which are piranha because it's All My Fault), to the writer it's a huge chunk of concern and fear which occupies their personal horizon like a stormcloud of doom. I have the power to make it go away. I haven't exercised that power because I'm tired, or busy, or overwhelmed, or cruising the internet, or they asked me to "kindly" answer at once. I am a Bad Person. There will be coal in my stocking.

This is thus, like the majority of blog posts in the history of ever, not a post so much as it's an avoidance, a bizarrely counter-intuitive retreat from text into text as I try to reassert my ownership of, and investment in, the process of writing. In this act I insist that writing is not always about someone else: sometimes it's about me. I wave my tiny flag defiantly. It's been scribbled on extensively. It's distracting me from my bloody inbox.

I also bring you the results of the aforementioned internet-cruising. I stumbled across this old but kick-butt series of posts on The Awl, about women and power in the images of geekdom and sf. Bits that struck me: killer robots are women, or, perhaps, women are killer robots. "They're servants that won't serve, beings that we let into our homes because we thought they'd regard us as their superiors, whose compliance we took for granted until it vanished." It does explain the backlash. Also, a love song to Ripley and Buffy and River Tam, women who fight back. And feminist utopias: "Speculative fiction is sociology's dream journal; nerds want a place to belong; on the Enterprise, nobody cares if you're into space travel." That last statement made me strangely happy.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
The ceiling in the foyer outside my campus office randomly fell in the other day. This is both ironic and inevitable, as the building has been rendered hideous for most of this year by the merry crash of scaffolding being erected, the merry crash of scaffolding being dismantled, the thumps and joyous cries of builders chipping plaster off walls, likewise for builders slapping plaster onto walls, the headache-inducing smell of paint fumes, and the intermittent, ground-shaking, skull-invading roar of angle-grinders, jackhammers and other industrial monstrosities one shouldn't encounter outside of Einst├╝rzende Neubauten. Side effects have included gents on scaffolding outside the ladies' loo, gents on scaffolding breaking the windows in the ladies' loo, a sort of involuntary Gothic outbreak in the courtyards where the builders constructed the post-structuralist art installation draped in black roofing material, and a continuous, tenuous, palpable film of dust over the back of my throat.

Now that it's all over, the outside of the building looks wonderful, and I am relieved to note that they have replaced the supports of the Classics balcony. (One of the first things the builders did was to remove the wooden cladding around the base of the metal poles, revealing that they were rusted through to leave about a 2cm pitted central core supporting the edifice. Fortunately balcony and Classics professors are all still present and accounted for. I like the Classics department.) However, all the jarring has clearly mounted a sneak shockwave attack on the structural integrity of the ceilings and floors, and we have the sudden descent of several square metres of plaster just in time for innumerable droves of undergraduates to stand in precisely that spot while we sign their forms to change their course registrations. It all seems somehow Meant. Fated. Because of course it'll happen like that.

On the other hand, enough students have been driving me homicidally insane in the last couple of days that I'd rather relish dropping ceilings on them. The narcissistic bubble occupied by your average post-adolescent would depress me profoundly if I wasn't rather sadistically relishing my awareness of the way it's going to be ruthlessly burst by their experiences of the Big Bad World over the next decade or so. I figure that being snarled at by a wild-eyed advisor figure crouched dragon-like over her desk is probably good practice. My bad temper, let me show you it. It's for your own good.

Other than ceiling collapses, the usual pile of student corpses and a rather high exhaustion level, life is rendered more pleasant than it might otherwise be by the presence of my mother, who is inhabiting the house with her customary unobtrusive cheer. Of course, the ceiling of the guestroom collapsed right on schedule the day before she arrived, owing to the heavy rain and a breakdown of a famous Evil Landlord/Heath Robinson leak collection contraption in the ceiling, and we only rendered the guestroom habitable in time by dint of serious heater action. I'm sensing a theme here. Probably the one from The Amityville Horror.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I have acquired, by some mystic process over the last year or two, a taste for fruit teas. I've always mentally classified them, along with rooibos, as "disgusting pseudo-tea", but then my erstwhile MA student Stacey gave me a bag of something with pomegranate and apple and I was hooked. This is terribly useful: these days if I have a milk drink of any sort before I go to bed I don't sleep because of all the mucus colonising my lungs, so a soothing blackcurrant and vanilla makes a lovely end to the day. It also means that I'm going through honey at a rate of knots, as I like fruit tea with a teaspoon of honey in it (and, ye gods, is that stuff becoming expensive. I always vaguely worried about the death of bees, and now I really do).

The other night I was digging in the jar for the last dregs, and absent-mindedly put a fingerful of honey straight into my mouth instead of the mug. I haven't done that in years: I'm not madly into honey on its own, and don't eat it on bread or waffles or the like. But that taste thing is startling, even more evocative than smell. Suddenly I was back in the room outside the research-station house we lived in when I was a child of 7 or 8, a whitewashed extension reached only from the outside, via a flight of steps. My dad kept bees for a lot of my childhood, and the outside room was where he stored the frames of comb and the jars and the extractor, and the strange white armour and veil he wore to work with the hives. (And the smoker. A bee-smoker is a weird little metal box with an open cone thingy you puff smoke out of - it always fascinated me).

I have no idea if my memories of the extractor are real or partially fantastic, but they're very vivid. I think my dad may, with characteristic Zimbo resourcefulness, have designed it himself, and either made it or caused it to be made. It was a large, white-painted drum on legs, with a spinning contraption on the inside holding the frames with the full comb, a giant handle to wind it with, and a spout at the bottom to collect the honey. You loaded the frames into the spinning thing and wound like hell, and all the honey, propelled by centrifugal force, flew out to the walls of the drum and ran down into the spout, to be collected either into drums, or directly into jars. (I suspect drums, I think there may have been straining and clarifying bits still to do). The noise it made was considerable, and somehow exciting and technical. It was a very sci-fi thing, that extractor.

Honey is magical stuff. I remember the bottling process, the slow, sensuous, organic flow of the viscous dollops into the carefully-sterilised jars; the few random bees who were always bumping around the room; the heavy sweetness of the scent, and the sharp smell of the wax which was melted down from the empty combs, and which my mother used to use for her batiks. The bee-room was at once a fascinating and an alarming space, to a child rife with both the attraction of the honey, and the fear of the drowsy, disoriented bees bumbling around, with the ever-present potential for pain if you accidentally brushed or stepped on one. We were occasionally given chunks of comb to suck and then chew, the weird, tooth-coating texture of the wax a definite offset against the honey itself. I've never liked comb much. It's possibly why I loved the extractor.

Bee-keeping is an integral part of my childhood: the thread of honey's availability in our meals, a luxury taken for granted; the neat boxes of jars we, I think, used to sell; and my dad all clumsy and alien in the suit with the veil. There was a terribly unfortunate concatenation of bee-keeping with goat-keeping a bit later on, when I was a teenager and we'd moved into town; bees respond very badly to goats, and a swarm moved into the stable where the bee stuff was kept, and attacked the three goats who were living down in the paddock. My mother, amazing lady that she is, braved the swarm to rescue the goats and hauled them off the vet, she and all three of them swollen with stings. They all survived, although at least one of the goats had been so badly stung around the ears that she lost large chunks of them, and always presented thereafter a rather rakishly ragged look.

I suspect that one of the appeals of honey is in precisely this beautiful balance of reward and danger, its inextricability from the humble hard-working bee with the nasty sting, and the burning pain which marks the self-immolatory death of the guardian. Honey makes us thieves; its sweetness is stolen. And a spoonful of honey, apparently, holds the past.

green and pleasant land

Wednesday, 16 May 2012 06:57 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Britain still does that thing to me where a random piece of landscape is like an unexpected blade to the heart: a combination of a sharp, intimate sort of realisation with a sense of slightly deadened loss. I suppose it's the legacy of a colonial upbringing with a highly British-centred experience of children's literature, so that the land itself is above all an imagined space, and its sudden reality poignant and shocking.

I was last actually in Edinburgh when I was about 8 years old, on a family holiday which I remember only in snatches (Edinburgh castle was cold and the hill was steep). But today the bus took me past the Spitfire memorial on a roundabout near the airport, and my response was one of visceral memory. We didn't fly to Scotland on that family holiday, as far as I can recall. I don't know if we even drove anywhere near the airport, but my subconscious firmly believes my dad was all enthusiastic about the replica of the old plane mounted in flight. My dad was a frustrated pilot, who flew gliders and spend his national service in the air force as a packer. The memory, even if it's a false one - the sense of familiarity - was very strong, with the same sense of not-quite-real distance.

The potential horrors of a 12-hour plane flight with a DVT in my recent past were, in the event, not as horrible as I feared. I think the challenge of this sort of trip is really in the expectation: once you're actually on the ground doing what needs to be done, it's just one foot in front of another, logically in sequence - paper-writing, packing, not having ones knees explode en route, the slightly complicated bus journeys to traverse the ordered, fertile country between Edinburgh and the university. The bit I was really dreading, actually, was injecting myself with anti-coagulant just before boarding, and in the event it was a total non-event - a nifty little self-contained syringe which is thin and sharp enough that it slides in with rather terrible ease to the soft tissue of one's stomach flab. (Reasons, I suppose, not to have a toned stomach). And I leaped up religiously every two hours and stood in the galley area waving my feet around in a circulatory sort of fashion.

I feel better than I usually do after that flight, actually. No sleep, of course, but less stiffness or swollen feet. Also, I have watched the latest Mission Impossible (silly plot, excellent cast except for Tom, that Jeremy Renner lad is really growing on me, Tintin (fun, faithful and rather beautiful in every aspect except Tintin himself), the new Muppet movie (awwwwww) and the second RDJ Sherlock Holmes. This last was a dreadful movie: RDJ's Sherlock has become a caricatured buffoon who owes nearly nothing to the source material. I'm not angry, just disappointed and a little hurt.

The town of St. Andrews - or, really, the university with a sort of frill of town on it, since I am in the midst of campus in a rather lovely B&B on the high street - is beautiful, medieval, green, immaculate. I am typing this on a wireless connection which randomly refused to work when I first booted up, I expect because of rogue Windows upgrades stuffing with my settings. I don't have the technical skill to work out why these things happen, it appears to be some sort of implacable enmity between long strings of arcane acronyms tending heavily to P and T and V, but I spent an hour systematically changing every setting I could think of until something worked. I feel obscurely triumphant. Not a geek, really: slow and inept, but persistent. Ah, Barracuda.

I am also, as you can tell from the flow of consciousness, suffering the logical effect of having not slept in nearly 36 hours, 20 or so of which have been spent either in airports or in aircraft. I'm a bit punch-drunk. I shall have dinner with the conference organisers tonight, count myself ahead on points if I actually remember or consciously control more than about a third of what I say, and shall go to bed extremely early. Tomorrow I give a keynote which is apparently being filmed for the benefit of the UK media attention this conference is randomly garnering, and which I suspect is about twice as long as its slot and will have to be ruthlessly pruned on the fly. Wish me luck.

The owner of this B&B apparently sold his old house in Edinburgh to JK Rowling herself a while back. I am obscurely cheered by this.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I am not entirely enamoured of the feline tribe, right now. Not my feline tribe - or, at least, only my feline tribe by extension and adoption. Jo&stv are away bestmanning a wedding in the UK, and I've drawn catsit duty owing to the unaccountable whims of their previous steady catsitter, who went and got herself her own house. The duty entails feeding the cats daily, and also keeping a weather eye on the houseplants, garden and general property value. (The garden bit has been dead easy owing to the weather, which is currently rather pleasingly inclined to the vertical descent of water from above).

The cat-feeding gig has become somewhat fraught with danger, given my tendency to a slight unsteadiness on my pins even when sober, and the reaction of young Sproing, half of the jo&stv feline tribe, to the prolongued absence of his pink blobs. He becomes extremely needy and clingy, prone to walk just in front of one's feet nearly continuously, while he yowls and purrs in a slightly schizophrenic fashion and I fall over him at intervals, cursing. I can hear the yowls from the moment I get out of the car, as he lies in wait behind the front gate, presumably drawn by the sound of the engine. (It's amazing how quickly cats learn the finesse of engine note distinction which generally characterises only professional mechanics and Tony Stark).

The cat-sitting gig has also led to the occasional night spent in the house, by way of reassuring the kitties that they haven't been utterly abandoned. Sproing's state of clinginess is such, however, that he is a far from ideal bedmate. He curls up reasonably peaceably in the crook of one's knees, but is also driven, at random intervals during the night, to sashay up the bed to stick his nose into one's face, purring loudly. I am not accustomed to this. My own felines, by virtue of my fragile and dependent relationship with sleep, have been rigorously trained not to do this sort of thing. The third time he did it, it woke me up out of a fairly deep sleep in a state of disorientation which caused me to react instinctively and adversely to a giant, blurry, orange and white shape filling my entire field of vision - i.e. I went "aaargh!" and batted it away with enough force that he landed on the floor several feet from the bed. I am somewhat guilt-ridden about this involuntary action, but am pleased to note that (a) he appears unharmed and just as clingy, and (b) he didn't disturb me again last night. Also, you can see what I mean about the rigorous training of my own cats.

None of which, of course, prevents me from reacting with absolute approbation to the latest lovely quote from Joss Whedon. In reply to the query "Cats or dogs?", he gives us: "Cat! Dog: need need, poop, chew, need, lick, need. Cat: whatev. Meow, yo. Here's a mouse." Also, the Avengers movie is at about 96% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, causing me high levels of anticipatory fangirly glee. ("The Avengers is neither overwhelming nor underwhelming. What it expertly is, is whelming." Hee). I'm going to go and see it tomorrow. Possibly twice.

In other news, I finally finished Mass Effect 2, as a result of which (a) I'm wandering around the house twitching vaguely from the withdrawal symptoms, and (b) this Harry Potter paper is actually taking shape. Also, as you may have noticed, (c) I'm blogging again. Blogging is clearly adversely affected by computer game obsessions, except, of course, when it isn't because I'm blogging obsessively about computer games. Watch this space.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Of all the ways of spending a Friday afternoon, that wasn't my favourite. Shortly before 1pm this very day, while in the grip of only moderate orientation panic, I executed a sharp right turn somewhere between my computer and the kettle and caused my right kneecap to exit its socket with a merry shout of "Sproing!" (This is not to be confused with my left kneecap, which has been known to exit its socket with a merry shout of "Sproing!" on several occasions in the recent and distant past, mostly notably when I was sixteen and waltzing).

I cannot recommend this course of action at all. For a start, a kneecap sitting on the side rather than the front of your leg is all wrong, a misshapen, horrifying Cthulhoid entity causing distress and terror quite apart from the collateral damage, which is the BLINDING PAIN. God, dislocations hurt. Way more than breaks. Also, I unthinkingly fell into my desk chair instead of onto the floor, possibly preserving myself from further limb-disintegration, but also condemning myself to an hour and a half spent hunched in an unnatural position clutching my kneecap while all my other muscles went into spasms of uncontrollable trembling and the bloody ambulance took its own sweet sodding time.

Also, hospitals. Hospitals warp space-time by crowbarring into the normal continuum quite bizarre and unlikely amounts of hanging around waiting, in this case while suffering the Screaming Agony Death Type Three, into the gaping voids between being put on drips, put on oxygen, prodded by nurses, prodded by doctors, X-rayed, pushed around by porters and, thank all the cosmic wossnames, pumped full of decadent and necessary quantities of morphine. This almost helped.

Finally they got bored with the waiting, and around 4pm the nice sister announced that they were going to knock me out while the doctor wrestled the leg back into shape. She added something exotic to the drip, causing extreme sleepiness, and I lay there for a while thinking "Gosh, this is nice, but I'm still mostly awake, they're going to have to step the dose up." Then I looked down and realised my leg was a normal shape again and the lack of pain was not simply sleepiness, but actual lack of pain. Too odd - normally I'm aware of the moment where everything goes black for a microsecond before you wake up to find it all over. This time I had no consciousness of losing consciousness, and regrettably missed the bit where I was apparently very chatty with the doctor, informing him that "I can be rather contrary sometimes".

Dislocations are very weird because, while they're incredibly painful and cause spontaneous generation of brand new religions which worship the notion of never moving ever again for any reason, they're also instant cure. The moment the dislocated bit is back in place the world is suddenly filled with rainbows and roses and fluffy unicorns ridden by Barack Obama with a new world order, and only a moderate amount of bruising. This has left me hobbling slightly, pale, shaken and incredibly woozy, but in all other ways feeling like a total fraud.

Next up, interviews with orthopods to work out exactly how badly I've now buggered up the other cruciate ligament. Go me. Also, extended research may be necessary to track down any of the other monitor contacts they've left adhering to unlikely portions of my anatomy, I keep finding new ones.

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