a suffusion of yellow

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

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

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

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

My subject line is a random Dirk Gently quote for no reason other than a vague association with multiplicity, and the fact that Tumblr has a current sideline in gifs from the new Dirk Gently tv series. It sounds completely off the wall, has anyone seen it?
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
So, this is 2017. *looks around vaguely* ... you'd think they'd update the decor. We had the usual lovely New Year's dinner chez jo&stv, with distributed cooking and a metric buttload of champagne, of which I drank very little as apparently I can't drink more than two glasses of anything these days without feeling sick the next day. I made duck. Because duck. I should record for posterity that I made something almost, but not quite, completely unlike the Asian marinade found here - I left out the coffee, added lime juice, and used honey instead of sugar, and the proportions were all different because my invariable principle is not to measure anything and to keep on flinging in bits until it tastes right. But the flavour combination is amazing.

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

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


My subject line is a quote from Portal, early GLaDOS, before she gets passive aggressive. She gets quite spectacularly passive aggressive. So far 2017 is off to a reasonable start, but I darkly suspect it's also going to get passive aggressive, and possibly actively homicidal.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
For some reason the recent Garden XKCD won't load on my work computer, probably because complicated campus firewalls or something - you go to the page and all it gives you is a revolving tree silhouette with the word "LOADING" and a flashing ellipsis, with the mouseover "Relax." I thought that was the whole strip, and it was perfect - that's exactly what you do with a garden, relax and wait for everything to load.

Currently I am delighting in a random corner of my real-life container garden which is slowly and carefully loading three butternut squash plants, the result of me, in a fit of pique at having an entire tray of baby marrow seedlings eaten off at ground level by cutworm, madly planting 6 seeds from a butternut I happened to have for dinner one evening. I'm fairly useless at seeds, a 50% germination rate is bloody good by my standards, but as long as I can keep the neighbourhood tomcat from jumping on them in the course of his flee-the-garden escape route when I shout at him for stealing my cats' food and/or spraying in the passage, they seem to be doing well. In the meanwhile, the XKCD comic is growing things under lights on my home computer, although I cannot as yet persuade it to produce anything other than a row of identical boring trees. I love the way Randall Munroe's mind works, the controls for the lights are elegantly simple.

In a tangentially related note (technological replications of biological processes?), I give you Holotypic Occlupanid Research Group, because delightful. They solemnly and meticulously catalogue the taxonomical classifications of the little plastic widgets used to close bread bags.

In other news also not unentirely related to the unduly artificial mechanical replication of actual life processes, last night Machete Order brought us to re-watch Attack of the Clones. I had honestly forgotten (a) most of the movie, I clearly blanked it in sheer self-defence, and (b) how utterly terrible a film it is. Seriously: the plot sucks, the script blows, the dialogue is beyond lame and unnatural, the greenscreen is ungodly clunky, the "romance" "plot" is the unconvincing bumping together of two wooden effigies, one of them loutish, and the whole represents the utter triumph of overbudgeted CGI over reason, taste or the faintest replication of actual life. Unsurprisingly, given that it focuses on the CGI clashes of droids and clones rather than actual people, the whole thing can be summed up with "Newsflash: I don't care." Honestly, George, it takes a special level of anti-skill to make giant battles between droids, clones and Jedi knights actually boring.

We still have to endure Revenge of the Sith, although probably only when Jo gets back from AfricaBurns. Anyone know any good drinking games? I have time to train my liver up a bit...
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Over the last year I have discovered Growing Things From Seed. There's something oddly satisfying and semi-magical about willing a whole, solid, verifiable plant into existence from a tiny, apparently lifeless speck of plant matter. In this particular case it wasn't seed or even bulbs, but rhizomes, which are weird finger-like chunks you plant horizontally without knowing which end will grow. (Teh Internets assured me solemnly that the plant works out which way is up). My three rhizomes grew, as scheduled, flame lilies, which rejoice in the somewhat hyperbolic Latin name gloriosa superba. A flame lily is beautiful and slightly unlikely, and astonishingly flamelike. They're native to Southern Africa, and I cherish memories of them growing wild in the bush near various homes in Zimbabwe. The flowers are very vivid, and in the slight dusk of a wooded area seem to float. I also discover, on growing these particular ones, that they have this particularly elegant adaptation - they're semi-climbing, in that they grow straight up but don't quite stand alone, and the end of every long, narrow leaf has the ability to curl around a thin support and cling to it. I find this enchanting: so economical! none of this messing around with growing separate tendrils.

I wanted to grow flame lilies because I've always loved them and I associate them very strongly with my childhood, but they're also the national flower of Zimbabwe. Before that, they were the national flower of Rhodesia.

I have been a denizen of my pinko-liberal Commie Cherished Institution for nearly three decades now, absorbing postcolonialist rhetoric like an unenlightened sponge, and there is absolutely no way in hell I lament lost Rhodesia in any political sense. It was a deeply illegitimate regime, founded on white privilege, exploitative and dehumanising to its black people, and not nearly as up-front as South Africa about its basic apartheid divides. The fact that the black regime which took over is equally morally bankrupt and just as destructive doesn't mitigate this in the slightest, Two Wrongs maths being what it is.

But it was also my childhood home, and I had a child's essentially innocent experience of it. Flame lilies are an extremely emblematic shorthand not only for the things I loved about Zimbabwe - its landscapes and animals, the ordered and productive agricultural world I grew up in, my family's place in creating that order - but for a sort of naive and nebulous nationalism. I felt, driving down the jacaranda avenue in the capital or having tea in the city's big department store, a subliminal, undefined pride in the country's achievements in civilisation and functionality.

I think it's significant that I grew flame lilies this summer. I was rocked astonishingly hard last year by the Dylann Roof massacre - the American mass shooting where a disgusting little 20-something white boy went into a black church in Charleston and gunned down nine people with hollow-point bullets. Dylann Roof was a white supremacist trying to start a race war. He had a website called The Last Rhodesian, and his jacket displayed both the apartheid South African flag, and that of Rhodesia. I'm slightly more detached from South African apartheid: I arrived in this country shortly before apartheid ended, and in a weird sort of way it was not entirely my guilt to feel. Rhodesia, though - Rhodesia is. Growing flame lilies was, I realise, an unconscious attempt to try and recoup some of my childhood sense of pride, because seeing that Rhodesian flag on Dylann Roof's jacket was a gut-punch, an inexorable reminder that the country I loved was really an illusion, that my experience of it was a cushioned and privileged lie. Rhodesia is now a particularly vile symbol to the kind of bigoted dickhead whose existence I find basically offensive, and in fact it always was. The flame lily was never mine.

It's hard to reconcile. The Rhodesia to which Dylann Roof imagines he belongs doesn't exist, and it would be an ugly thing if it did. But by the same token, my version doesn't exist either. It never did. It was a child's construct, crafted in blindness and complacence. And in innocence, but I'm way too old for innocence. I can grow as many flame lilies as I want, but I can't make them mean what I want them to. What they mean is now infinitely complicated and filled with guilty regret. My subject line is Magnetic Fields, who say accusingly "If you think you can leave the past behind / If you think you can simply press rewind / You must be out of your mind". I'm not sure if they're talking to Dylann Roof, or me.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Today has been characterised by a trickle of emails from students panicking (fairly understandably, I must say) about whether or not exams will run, and what happens if they're delayed. (The VC has just postponed all next week's ones, which will cause interesting degrees of chaos). Campus is still closed and will be tomorrow while protesters lobby Parliament and dodge police brutality, and I predict I'll spend a lot of time for the rest of the week sending soothing responses along the lines of "we know, we're sorry, we're trying to formulate a strategy which won't torpedo your academics." The theme is still anxiety about their studies, just in the microcosm rather than the political macrocosm.

A week at home has, if considered entirely separately from the very real and desperate circumstances of the protests, been lovely. My cats are graciously pleased that I have arranged for once to give them the sustained companionship that is their due, and are signifying their approval by trying to lie all over my papers and wrists and the keyboard while I'm trying to work. While looking deceptively innocent and adorable, viz:


That curled-paw pose is absolutely my favourite one ever. The black speck on his nose is a tiny bald spot which is a legacy of one of his recent fights.

Work itself has also been pleasantly mitigated by the fact that I can wander around the back courtyard during tea-breaks and water, prod, prune and otherwise appreciate all that burgeoning spring life. Because my back courtyard has a statement to make right now, which is "Green!" Or possibly "GREEN!!" Namely:

Photo0220 Photo0215

The small maddened forest to the left of the first picture is three tomato plants, which have confounded my expectations by reaching skyward with jungloid fervour despite the fact that plants put in exactly the same place at exactly the same time last year on exactly the same regimen of soil and water went small and stunted and sickly, and died after producing about one and a half actual tomatoes each. One of the reasons I love gardening is because it has its own wayward vegetable mind and, charm you never so wisely, will thumb its nose and go its own way.

I also, in a spirit of enquiry, planted another batch of Jo's mad rocket seeds, which I swear she has irradiated or subjected to naked full moon dances at midnight. Or else they're actually triffids. Because I planted these on Monday evening, and this was what they looked like this morning:


I went out there a few minutes ago, and I swear they're visibly bigger. The offical, nursery-packaged chive seeds I planted at the same time have yet to materialise.

My subject line is Crosby, Stills and Nash, more specifically "Teach your children well", which I learned to play at guitar club at school, and the attempt to reproduce which this morning led me to realise that I haven't tried to play my guitar in over a year, and its bottom E string has snapped. Phooey. But I'm officially nominating the song as the week's anthem, because dear lord, so much of what these poor kids are facing is simple inheritance.

I'm feeling green

Monday, 9 March 2015 03:02 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I have a very simple philosophy about gardens. The top three things required by a garden are:

1. Lots of green.
2. Shade.
3. Scent.

All else is optional. Which makes it a little difficult in my current otherwise much-loved domicile, because it has a back courtyard rather than a garden, all paved except for the middle bit where for no reason known to cultured humanity the landlord has put down astroturf. Astroturf's essentially plastic colour does not, alas, constitute "green" for the purposes of the above algorithm. Any green I achieve has to be imported, in pots. There are also no large trees in the courtyard, which rather puts the kibosh on "shade" - because of the walls and hedge, the courtyard is in deep shade except for the bits in the middle, which are in blinding, unrelieved sun for at least half the day. I do what I can with small trees in pots, but they hardly compensate. And the whole flock of things in pots has to migrate slowly about the courtyard to follow the sun as the seasons change.

I am thus forced to fall back on "scent", which is in early days. I have jasmine, yesterday-today-and-tomorrow, lavender and herbs, which are surprisingly scented if I brush against the burgeoning mint or basil, but nothing really flowered this season. Curses, foiled on all fronts.

"Green" is coming along, though. Even if you ignore the astroturf. Viz:


My subject line is from The Postal Service, since my car sound system has reached the essentially random collection of bands it files under "The", giving me The Postal Service, The Section Quartet and The Shins in quick succession. We appear to have struck a motherlode of wistful indie.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Term being over and all (except for those of us toiling in the marking-and-marks-processing salt-mines), there are outbreaks of workpeople all over campus, enthusiastically digging up things with presumable intent to improve them. (One of the major projects is the utter demolishment of a small, archaic cottage at the end of the avenue in order to build a new lecture theatre, in a faint, futile stab at keeping up with our ever-expanding student population. Currently a rather ridiculous proportion of our pedagogical efforts are defined by the Lecture Venue Crisis, which is... critical.)

This morning, however, some over-enthusiastic child of the concrete slab stuck a shovel or suchlike through a vital electrical cable, causing instant lights-out in four or five buildings, including mine. (History does not relate if he was thereby electrocuted, although one hopes not.) These days pretty much all of our projects and daily tasks are impossible without a computer. I filed everything in my office that wasn't actually nailed down, gave some desultory student advice severely hamstrung by my inability to access any student records, proofread the orientation manual, read several chapters of The Italian, because Gothic gloom felt appropriate, and then gave up and buggered off home, where I've been happily catching up on email and repulsing the cat for several hours. (He will try to sit on my wrists while I'm typing).

On the upside, I did the usual wander out into my courtyard when I got back, because green things and vaguely druidic impulses, and was reminded about my pomegranate. I have a small pomegranate tree in a pot. Thusly:


(the slightly demented beadwork hoopoe in the lemon tree pot is courtesy of Claire, following a wistful conversation we had about our common nostalgia for the highveld, specifically its thunderstorms and hoopoes on the lawn).

I grew this pomegranate myself, from seed. More accurately, about five years ago I bought a pack of pomegranate seeds to put on salad, and forgot about them, and they Went Feral in the back of the 'fridge. (I do this really rather a lot more than I should, and really miss having a composter in my new place to absorb the resulting ... compost). As I was throwing them out (imagine me cowing feral pomegranate seeds with a chair and whip and the sheer power of my gaze), I thought vaguely, hmmm, wonder if those'll grow? And in a spirit of scientific enquiry, dumped them into the vegetable box in a conveniently bare corner where the green pepper died (I can't grow peppers), covered them over with nice rich compost, and promptly forgot about them. Some undefined length of time later, I suddenly had a tiny forest of baby pomegranates under the tomatoes, growing promiscuously cheek by jowl and being shiny and glossy and bizarrely happy in a miniature sort of way. I thinned them, and planted them out into multitudinous pots as they grew, and gave them away to pretty much anyone I could think of, and ended up with one, growing like gangbusters. It's now approximately at shoulder height to me and is still green and glossy and weirdly happy.

A couple of weeks ago, I was patting the pomegranate in a vaguely encouraging fashion and suddenly realised that our current summer temperatures are having their inevitable effect, and it was fruiting. It has three or four little tiny mini pomegranate babies, all red and cheerful.


I did that, my very own self. I made that tree, or at least encouraged it, and now it's making babies. I feel like a grandmother.

My car music system has emerged from the thickets of Davids (Bowie and Byrne) and is now meandering amiably through Death Cab For Cutie, for whose wistful alt effusions I cherish something of an affection. My subject line is from "No Sunlight", which is an indecently catchy thing given how bleak its lyrics are. It's apparently a Wistful Indie Thing about sunlight: you have some, and then you don't. (If you're Belle & Sebastian you have rain instead).
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's happening again! Chez Evil Landlord is once more infested with an Army of Reconstruction, only four years after the last one, and with the traditional pinpoint accuracy the blitzkrieg has been unleashed just in time to coincide with my exhaustion-making orientation frenzy. This time the panzer divisions are rolling only over the front wall of the garden, which they are assaulting for processes of dismantling the gate where I park my car and moving it five metres to the right, lowering the ground by a foot or so, paving, and installing a carport. I should add, for posterity, that the conversations around this particular proceeding have gone as follows:

(Approximately four years ago):
ME: Gosh, you know, that extreme right-hand corner of the front garden under the plane tree is an awful little space, nothing grows there, it would make more sense to move the second gate there and use that space for a carport. We might actually get something to grow in the space where the car currently stands, which is further away from the plane tree and has more light.
EVIL LANDLORD (dismissively): Nah, it'll never work, there isn't enough space for a car in that corner.
(Invoking the well-known "Well it's his house anyway" clause, I give up and go away.)

(Approximately a year ago, on a more or less averagely drunken Sunday evening):
JO: Gosh, you know, that extreme right-hand corner of the front garden under the plane tree is an awful little space, nothing grows there, it would make more sense to move the second gate there and use that space for a carport. You might actually get something to grow in the space where the car currently stands, which is further away from the plane tree and has more light.
EVIL LANDLORD (struck): You know, you're right!
(Various tape measures are unleashed and measurements slightly wildly made; it is determined that there's plenty of place for a car if you remove the small sad mirrorbush. Plans are submitted to Council for the necessary delay, circumlocution and meaningless quibbles, and Kurt the Amazing Builder and his panzer division are contracted. I roll my eyes. Memo to self, next time suggest interesting renovations only when the EL is safely sloshed.)

The blitzkrieg started on Monday, and by yesterday evening they had already cleared the corner of the tree and all the associated guff that's accumulated there over the last few years (piles of branches, decaying veggie boxes, the old birdbath, weird bits of broken garden ornament, small pocket universes, the like), dismantled the wall where the new gate is migrating to, and dug a large and mysterious hole under the current one. My vague theory that this was probably foundations for the new wall was proved correct when I came home today to find that a new section of wall had mysteriously sprung into being in the gap.

I note, also for posterity, that this has done exactly what I gently suggested it might, which is to block most of the light from the front garden so that nothing much is likely to grow there anyway. Within the terms of the Well It's His House Anyway clause this is covered by the fact that the EL is more interested in privacy and security than in flourishing gardens, which sunk my suggestion that they stick in a lower section of wall with iron palings atop it. We're getting the extra bit on the whole wall anyway, with electric fencing, which I have to admit is something of a balm to my wounded druiding. It is difficult to overestimate the extent to which I am now bored with being burgled.

I include for your amusement pictorial evidence of (a) the chaos, and (b) the size of the gap which will contain the second car and carport. (As of today it's about a foot lower). The presence of the elderly tumble drier is somewhat mysterious, but I think represents a migration from where it's been standing for a year or so in the back courtyard after it died and the EL replaced it. I think it may have been some sort of shrine.


I also hasten to add that, theatrical whinging notwithstanding, I am delighted by this development and ecstatic at the possibility of a carport which will prevent the damned birds roosting in the plane tree from crapping all over my brand new and recently washed car. (Last weekend I drove it back from the carwash and emerged from the car exactly as a hadeda let fly all over the roof. Actual time between stopping and desecration: fifteen seconds). The EL, while somewhat impervious to suggestion from the Lawful Good front, is a kind and generous man of whom I am somewhat fond even while I gently mock his idiosyncracies. I shall also attempt to forgive the Army of Reconstruction for disconnecting the grey water system without warning, plonking their ladder on top of the struggling plants in the bed below the bottlebrush, and piling sand in front of the pedestrian gate so it narrowly missed bouncing back and clonking me in the teeth when I opened it yesterday. These things are sent to try us. Car port, I tell myself. An end to the bird crap. It'll be worth it.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
There's a particular kind of terminally vague student interacting with whom inserts unnecessary homicidal impulses into my working life. Girl child, wanders through door, encounters my standard bedside-manner query "What seems to be the problem, then?". (Usually followed by "Let's have a look", as I peruse their transcript. I'm totally an abstract sort of doctor). Says she wants to do {X broad admin process}, looks at me expectantly with deer-in-headlights gaze. I carefully explain she needs to do Y and Z procedures. Oh, she says, when I did that there was a problem with P. Gritting my teeth, I suggest she speaks to person Q who habitually sorts out P quite usefully. Oh, she says, she already spoke to person Q who couldn't help because U and V. Restraining my Administrative Laser Glare of Stupidity Vaporising only by an extreme effort, I say tersely, "Right, so actually the problem you want me to help with is U and V, why didn't you say so up front and save us both ten minutes of wasted explanation?" To which she has no response. So I vaporise her. Because really. First thing on a Monday morning and me insufficiently fortified with Earl Grey. What did she expect?

We braaied last night, it being now officially Summer and open to such shenanigans. I made an extra-specially lovely and entirely new salad using fresh broad beans, which I've never actually cooked before. A few months back the Evil Landlord had a burst of Germanic creativity and energy, and made me new veggie boxes for the back courtyard, in place of the old ones, which finally disintegrated after producing about five years' worth of unlikely quantities of baby tomatoes and what have you. It being the depths of winter when the new boxes were ready, I planted beans in a vaguely enquiring sort of way, just to see what happened. They didn't do much for a few months, and then the weather warmed up a bit and suddenly!, jungle. Viz:


Broad beans are the most pleasingly Cthulhoid of creatures, they grow out huge and knobbly and vaguely tentacular, and when you open the pod all the little beans are nested beautifully in a sort of luxurious foam bed. Also, they are prolific like whoa and dammit, possibly at least partly as a result of the sunny hotbox of that back courtyard. This is the haul from yesterday, with a pepper grinder for scale. There's another batch of babies on the vine, maybe half as many, but still lots.


Surprisingly Wonderful Broad Bean Salad

So, you need a bunch of fresh broad beans, the above wasn't quite enough for five people. Once you've excavated the beans callously from their beds, fling 'em into boiling salted water for two minutes, or until the skins just start to split. Skin them. The skins come off really easily, leaving a soft, green, nutty bean behind. Restrain yourself and guests from eating too many just as is. I had no idea fresh broad beans were so good.

Grab a handful of mint and chop finely. Fry up four or five rashers of streaky bacon until crispy, and chop finely. Mix mint and bacon in with beans, carefully, the beans break easily. Grab a double handful of cos or butter lettuce and tear into small chunks. Toss with bean mix.

Construct dressing using Dijon mustard, brown sugar, olive oil and white wine vinegar in your favourite proportions, seasoned with salt and pepper. Toss with salad.

Inhale. The recipe (which I actually pretty much followed, for once) says to serve with pita bread, which is probably worth a try sometime for a light meal in itself.

I am definitely planting broad beans as soon as seasonal wossnames permit. A+, would grow, harvest and enthusiastically consume again.

Subject line from "Poor Boy", also on the Byrne/Eno compilation album. I spent a happy half hour playing some of the songs randomly on the piano yesterday, which solidified my sense that they have surprisingly few actual chords in them given how textured and interesting the sound is. Then I read the blurb on the website again, and remembered, oh yes, the root of the album is explicitly in gospel, which explains a great deal. Vocals dominate, chords are simple, lyrics feature a sort of earthy, emotional reality in vivid images. Still my favourite album of the moment.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Working at home today, hooray! Busy putting together a long and complicated document to convince the Staffing Committee that the job I am doing is not the job they think I am doing (mystic Jedi hand gesture). This is fun, and is allowing me, via the eradication of all actual personal voice, to exercise all my rake-in-the-grass diplomatico-obfuscatory language. I am not entirely assisted by the tendency of Hobbit to lie langorously all over the documentation, but he's kinda cute.

The day has, however, been minorly disrupted by the activities of maddened plumbers plumbing the depths in an attempt to discover why the loo in my bathroom has refused to drain properly for about four days. Answer: giant conglomeration of tree roots in the drain under my courtyard. I darkly suspect the buddleja, which is the only thing really flourishing in that poor, neglected area. Also, I am rendered curiously happy to discover that not only am I spelling "buddleja" correctly, but that it's named after the Reverend Adam Buddle, 1662–1715, one of those presumably happily-pottering ecclesiastical botanists, who lived in Essex and probably never encountered an actual buddleja.

Mostly, I am happy to report that choosing a plumber by the spelling on their website results in a high quality of response and service. I found Clyde Bosman plumbing by dint of googling for "plumber recommendation cape town", and was favourably struck by the tone of chatty, grammatical professionalism on their site. They were very pleasant, arrived within a couple of hours despite a self-confessedly booked-up Friday, sorted out the problem in 45 minutes, did a random lateral additional sweep for roots in other bits of drain by their own suggestion, and charged their absolutely standard drain-clearing fee for the whole bang shoot. This is why grammar is important. Also, hooray! the need to dash semi-naked through the house to use the Evil Landlord's bathroom was wearing a little thin.

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.

the game's the thing

Sunday, 3 April 2011 02:43 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I am forced to contemplate the horrible reality that I'm about to upgrade my computer for entirely frivolous reasons. The Evil Landlord played the new Dragon Age for fourteen hours straight yesterday, which meant I was entirely unable to play the old Dragon Age, my computer being a bit weeny even for games which are several years old. I had a moderately productive day as a result, but you have no idea how twitchy it made me to hear fights and explosions and tactical swearing resounding down the passage, and not be able to pursue my own enjoyment of same. Although, I have to admit, if I do upgrade (which I can afford, and have been promising myself) and install the game and my save files, this house will succumb to a thick pall of computer gaming over evenings and weekends, in which we'll probably entirely neglect to speak to each other, cook meals or feed the cats. So, not much change there, then.

(We are remembering to feed the cats, mostly because they have that "interpose self between person and screen" thing down pat, but a reasonably large proportion of the feeding seems to be for the benefit of the marauding neighbourhood tomcat, who has cunningly circumnavigated our sneakily closed cat-door and is now accessing the house through various bedrooms or, quite possibly, the walls. In addition to nicking food, he beats up our cats and, occasionally, sprays. I am now open to offers of dart-guns, cat-traps, hit-squads, small quantities of plastic explosive, or voodoo curses of the requisite nature).

Part of the moderate productivity was a new Microfiction. This volume's themes are all pictures, this one being the very odd one here. I think I may have been getting a bit stale with the one-word themes: this one has galvanised me to slightly odd creativity. Then again, it's a very odd picture.

Now I shall go and plant pansies. Mmmm, pansies. Totally the wrong time of year, but I love their little velvety faces. I also have to do something to console myself for the slightly blasted heath nature of the garden after the garden service had with it their wicked way - they've mown the lawn down to a sort of straggling stubble, circa Aragorn somewhere around Rivendell. Which will teach me to mow the darned thing more often, I suppose. A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot, but its demands are unceasing.
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At home sick today, the sinus headache having got to the well-known and counterproductive point where it laughs at painkillers and causes me to not actually be able to see straight. A quiet day mostly horizontal, or bumping gently into things when cautiously vertical, seems to have seen it off. Mostly. Glandular stuff still gnawing at my neck. Also watched about five episodes of Castle, which continues cute, although Adrian Pasdar is inspiring me with a strong desire to kick him. Given that it was ungodly and stinking hot today, it's something of a relief not to have had to leave the house. I also seem to have been making serious strides in the not-feeling-guilty-for-taking-a-sick-day stakes: (a) it's more productive in the long run to actually rest, it just lingers for longer if I don't, and (b) after the stresses of the last month, I've bloody well earned it in more ways than one. Dammit.

Today's little piece of futility was to discover, on wandering out into the back courtyard in a lucid moment, that a misguided spider had, overnight, spun an elaborate and beautiful web across the door to the laundry shed. This is a terrible photo, my head was muzzy and the sun is all wrong, but it gives you a sense of the complexity of the structure. Little bugger must have toiled all bloody night.

Just as well I did tried to photograph it, because three seconds later, just as I was constructing detailed and labyrinthine plans for only ever doing laundry the long way round through the other door in future, Hobbit took a wild swing at the spider with one paw and ripped the whole edifice apart. I feel that this is deeply symbolic of something, I'm not sure quite what.

More importantly, I've always known the nursery rhyme referenced in my subject line as "Incy Wincy Spider". I believe strange and mutant variations exist out there, though. Any "Itsy Bitsy Spider" heretics out there? How do you reconcile it with your conscience?

up the anti

Sunday, 30 January 2011 01:12 pm
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It's been a torrid week, and the coming one will be worse. I'm tired, grumpy and all peopled out, and inclined to be very, very short with stupid questions. Is it just me, or is it increasingly depressing to realise that things one takes for granted - grammar, politeness, a modicum of altruism, actually reading important texts or listening to important lectures - are not equally accepted as a baseline of behaviour by about 80% of the people you meet? I must be getting old, and set in my ways. There was a particularly egregiously horrible advertising poster in the supermarket this morning, threatening to "UP THE ANTI!" on value, or prices, or quality, or something. Instead of inciting me to righteous mockery it made me want to cry. It's not helping that the English department, bless its snakepit soul, doesn't want me to teach again this year. Am feeling rejected and non-academic.

This is all very low and blue, so I shall attempt to introduce a more cheery and colourful note with a rather delectable recipe I recently invented. Please excuse the smugness of tone in the ingredients list, I need all the happy I can find right now.


You need:
  • One medium butternut you grew in your garden, and practically had to run down and tackle owing to the speed with which the vines are streaking for the borders.
  • A double handful of the baby tomatoes your tomato vines are producing in insane quantities possibly reflecting a new religious cult of some sort.
  • Three or four spring onions which are growing in your garden with a ridiculous enthusiasm given that in some cases they have to grow out from under the butternuts.
  • A handful of sweet basil which manages to grow manfully in your garden despite being repeatedly sat on by the cats.
  • A couple of generous dollops of marscapone. (If I could find a way to grow this in my garden I would).
  • A couple of rashers of fatty bacon. (You could leave this out, I suppose, if you were adhering to strict vegetarian principles for inscrutable reasons of your own).
  • A generous slosh of olive oil.
  • Garlic to taste, i.e. lots. Five or six cloves at least.
  • Salt, freshly ground black pepper, anything else that grabs your fancy and looks as though it might work with the above.
Wash the butternut to remove random cat hairs, and halve lengthways. Scoop out the seeds and a little bit of the pulp to leave a hollow down the middle. I usually shave off a small piece of the round, curved underneath part so it sits firmly and doesn't rock the boat and tip off all the stuffing at inopportune moments. Throw the seeds etc. into your compost with a brief benediction.

Chop up the tomatoes, spring onions, basil and garlic and mix together. Add the marscapone and mix. Cut the fat off the bacon and reserve; chop the bacon and add to the mix. Add salt and pepper in appropriate quantities.

Slash quite deeply into the cut side of the butternut in a cross-hatch pattern or angular mystic runes or whatever your preference is. Slosh olive oil generously onto the cut surfaces and sprinkle with salt and pepper. It sometimes pays to rub it in a bit so you season into the slashes.

Pile the tomato/marscapone mixture into the hollows and mound it generously above until you've used up all the stuffing. You should pretty much aim to cover the whole cut surface, but peaking along the middle of the length. If there's any stuffing left over you're not trying. For extra decadence, drape the bacon fat over the top. Aesthetics demand that you remove this before serving, and principles of non-waste demand that you eat it. It'll be melt-in-the-mouth crispy. Darn.

Bake uncovered at about 200o for about an hour, or until the butternut is soft. This always takes longer than you think it will. It helps to haul it out the oven every twenty minutes or so and baste it with its own evil, fatty pan juices. You are aiming for all the artery-hardening marscapone goodness to ooze down into the flesh. In more ways than one, see expanding hips.

Slice into fat 2cm-slices to serve as a side dish. Or eat an entire half yourself for a not particularly light supper. Remember to wipe your chin.

Documentary evidence of the Insane Tomato Explosion follows. This is the second time this week I've filled this blue plastic bowl, and there must be almost as many still ripening on the vines.

Also, more demented butternuts in preparation. Observe the spring onions scrabbling out from under.

chilling out

Wednesday, 22 December 2010 01:36 pm
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Oh, my, heatwave. It's mercifully clouded and windy today, but it's been ungodly out there. Every time I come home I realise anew why it is that the pagans got into tree-worshipping: I want to fall down at the plane tree's shady feet and adore. Stepping into the shade from the griddle of the road outside is practically a religious experience. The tree shades the whole side of the house, which is blissfully cool as a result; I hate to think what life would be like if supernatural tree-thieves spirited away the plane tree overnight.

As a result, possibly, of all the heat, and the side-effect that it's a positive pleasure to wander around the garden with a hosepipe de-wilting all the vegetation, my vegetables and herbs are going gangbusters. My small but enthusiastic chilli bush, in particular, is dementedly producing a completely unlikely quantity of chillis, far more than I could possibly use even if I cooked insane thai, Indian and Mexican cuisine for the next six weeks.

This is the result of ten minutes of picking: I've had to throw out another twenty or so which I got to too late and which have shrivelled, and I missed a few full-sized ones on the bush. The mad thing will certainly procuce a second crop, it did last year.

Fired with enthusiasm, I pickled them.

It's curiously satisfying. Apart from the fact that I love pickled chillis and find the vinegar fumes all bracing, there's a sort of back-to-the-land self-sufficiency in pickling your own (albeit miniature) crop. Even if it's a tiny, token gesture, it brings me just one step closer to surviving the zombie apocalypse. Although, to be fair, while the South African crime-rate means most of our homes are fairly zombie-proof, the overall defensibility of this house is badly compromised by the dining-room window.
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Hah! Few and subtle are the pleasures of an academic administrator. About a year ago I suggested to a department head that the admissions process for his programme was unwieldy and made no sense, and proposed an alternative. His department staff loved the idea. He disagreed and rejected it, and it vanished into the dank mists of "might have been" without a trace. Today, in a major faculty meeting, he calmly proposed precisely the amendment I'd suggested, as a response to various problems that were arising as a result of said unwieldiness. My earlier proposal of exactly the same thing was not mentioned. I am, however, too busy punching the air and doing little dances round my office to care particularly. My influence, it is sneaky and latent but you cannot resist it. Fear the administrator. Fear her.

In other news, there's an avocado pear tree in our back courtyard which has grown quietly and greenly to itself for twelve years now, since we moved in. It's never been particularly healthy, being prone to a sort of leaf-edge browning which I am unable to define or treat, although it's been a lot greener since my late papa hammered a bunch of rusty nails into its trunk about four years ago. (Avocado pears are into masochistic piercings. Who knew?). This morning I noticed that, for the first time ever, it has a tiny little green avocado pear growing1. Just one. But it's a start. I may go out there with a hammer this evening and further attend to its masochistic pleasures by way of encouragement. Gods, that sounds dodgy.

Last Night I Dreamed: I was living in the basement of a rambling house on a hill with the entire cast of Big Bang Theory and, for some reason, [livejournal.com profile] herne_kzn. The former were subtly annoying and prone to histrionics, the latter was obscurely comforting. While I'm rather fond of [livejournal.com profile] herne_kzn I have absolutely no patience with Big Bang Theory, which rather suggests that once again my subconscious hates me, at least a bit.

1 Gosh, the avocado has a weird sex life, quite apart from the piercings fetish. I just spent ten minutes reading the Wikipedia entry, and it's all odd gender swapping to strict timetables rigidly defined by sub-species. I suspect ours hasn't ever fruited owing to really poor timing and considerable sexual frustration.

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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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Bleah. Sid the Sinus Headache is in residence again, causing me to pop Advil like Smarties for the last three days, and bite more students than I really strictly should. It's all very boring. I shall distract myself, as is traditional, with linkery.

  • Less boringly, The Roundhouse on Friday night was great. Expensive, but great.

  • This is a very chilling, very beautifully restrained, very, very good piece of writing. Zombies and politics go together surprisingly well.

  • This is a dread warning for [livejournal.com profile] smoczek, courtesy of [livejournal.com profile] schedule5. Apparently we're in for a potato shortage, and serious potato-fiends may want to think about growing their own. I've now filled all my veggie boxes with other veggies, and am out of space. Maybe I can plant some in the disused wing of the Evil Landlord's bed. The one Fish used to sleep in.

  • I'm motoring through yet another re-watch of The Lord of the Rings, which is proving instructive. Still enchanting and emotional; cast still pleasingly hot. However, at this distance the lame dwarf jokes are a lot lamer and more dissonant with the mood than they were in the heady days of first love, and the whole thing makes me realise, slightly horrified, that in purely ideological terms China Miéville was right. There's truly nasty stuff here in terms of reactionary conservatism, racism, class-consciousness, symbolic reductionism and what have you. However, Miéville appears to have recanted his earlier "wen on the arse of fantasy" comment, and apparently liked the films. He nails, I think, the reason why I could finish Two Towers last night and still love the movie, despite a ten-minute fulmination to the Evil Landlord on the bloody Osgiliath detour and how poor Faramir was shafted: it's because the adaptation takes the text so seriously even when its choices are, to my mind, not entirely defensible. Miéville argues that Jackson "cares passionately, even about something as flawed as Tolkien's work, and commits to it totally. The film is rich with this integrity." It's why, I think, I'll be returning to these movies for a happy re-immersion at regular intervals until the end of my eccentric tea-drinking cat-lady days.

    Which, of course, raises an interesting point. When I'm an eccentric 86-year-old tea-drinking mad cat lady, which I fully intend to be, I'm planning to while away my happy sunset years by immersing myself in the vast range of film, TV and books which I'm assiduously acquiring even now. As an activity it will, I'd think, occupy pretty much the same space that knitting or growing roses or climbing the Himalayas1 does for old ladies in our day and age. The question is, what the hell are all the younger generations going to be doing which will make it old and odd and passée for me to be drinking Earl Grey and vegging out in front of the internet or Buffy or Lord of the Rings? Boggles the mind, it does.

1 My view of the probable activities of old ladies has possibly been unduly skewed by my mother, who is going to kick butt when she eventually does consent to actually get old.

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Good lord, there's nothing like a sudden, unexpected November to the solar plexus. Where did that come from? Sucker punched. Not fair.

It was a good weekend, but generally I'm a bit stiff and painful. At the Fiasco game on Saturday I managed to fall over the dog, turning my ankle and collapsing into my chair at the dining room table. I have a large and painful bruise on my right forearm, just below the elbow, and two smaller ones in long lines across my right thigh and left shin. I am completely unable to reconstruct the actual position which caused this particular constellation of klutz-marks: as far as I can work out I must have been carrying my left leg in my right hand. Most mysterious. I blame the dog.

The soreness is not assisted by the fact that I finally sorted out the vegetable planters on Sunday, this entailing lugging eight bags of compost around the show, as well as assorted digging, raking, weeding, hauling, planting, watering and disposing of the corpses. (The winter's remnants of vegetable foliage). Highlight of the afternoon: filling up the watering can and attempting to water random pots of things. No water came out. On peering interestedly into the spout, I was met with the waving eye-stalks of a confused and desperate snail, who'd apparently climbed up there from the inside and stuck. I used the trowels to send him those arm-wavy directions for reversing which are the province of the orange-clad dudes who stand on the tarmac in front of aircraft, brandishing ping-pong bats with mystic fervour. It seems to have worked, the snail was gone this morning, and has hopefully reached cruising altitude in someone else's garden.

Tomorrow, by way of further in the category of Grievous Bodily Harm, our department is having a soccer afternoon. Pleading knees with dislocation auto-destructs, I shall watch enthusiastically from the sidelines. With a camera. And an eye to future blackmail. Heh.
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There are many advantages to living in Africa. The weather. The landscape. The food. The rugged independence of the locals. The South African constitution. Rugby as a national sport instead of baseball. Being chased by lion. However, under the heading of Disadvantages I find myself skipping blithely over the crime, the lack of broadband, the marginalisation of my research interests and my incredible distance from ComicCon to focus firmly on the biggest negative of them all: Colonial Guilt.

We rejoiced for many years in the possession of the Perfect Gardener. Jackson was a lovely man, with quite the nicest broad grin I have ever seen; he was an experienced gardener who knew a lot more about it than I did, and quietly got on with things with efficiency and skill. I hired him more or less at random: he stopped outside our gate one day, where I'd just emerged from my car to stand ankle-deep in dead leaves and dead grass, and asked, with a commendable absence of pointed looks, if we needed a gardener. I liked his face and his references were good, so we gave him a trial, revealing that we'd lucked out big time. However, Wonder!Jackson retired at the end of last year, returning to the Transkei to be with his wife and his mealie crop. In his place he arranged to leave us his son.

I have no problem with the idea of giving JacksonSon a trial as a gardener; Jackson deserved that much. I have an enormous problem with the discovery that said son is not, as Jackson assured me he was, trained as a gardener. He's not only completely inexperienced and basically useless for anything more than tidying up, he's also bloody lazy and doesn't learn because he doesn't want to be a gardener. While I commend his ambition, I do not enjoy having to tell him to do things multiple times and still have them undone; nor do I enjoy having him rip up the grass while raking too hard, or "dig in" compost by putting it on top of the impacted earth and giving it a few ineffectual prods with a spade. Finally, he's pushy: he perpetually wants more work, more money, a maid's job for his wife, my attention to listen to his rambling stories of his plans to be anything other than a gardener, with a heavy subtext that I should be helping him achieve them.

He's not a gardener. I can't make him into a gardener, because I work full time, and besides, I resent being dragged into that expectation without my consent. I doubt he has any idea I'm not happy with his work, his self-satisfaction is ineffable. However, I am basically afraid to tell him to pull his socks up if he wants to keep his job, because he's in our house unsupervised one day a week: we have to leave it unlocked for him because we don't have an outside toilet. I don't like or trust him enough to leave him with that access under threat of firing, I think there's a small but real chance he'd rip us off and bugger off. So I'm left with two options: bite the bullet, or fire him out of a clear blue sky (although with, I have to add, at least a month's wages as severance package, the EL is generous that way).

I've vacillated about this for several months. JacksonSon is not as advertised, he does a poor job, he's lazy and slow, he deserves to be fired. However, in firing him I will be materially disadvantaging his attempts to better himself, as well as creating hardship for him and his wife. He is unlikely, in this economic climate, with our unemployment levels and with his skills, to find a replacement job, particularly since I won't be able to give him glowing references to support him. It's also a betrayal, on some level, of Jackson's excellent service. But against all this I place an inadequately-tended garden, bits of dying and unweeded lawn, a sense that I'm being exploited, and an irritation factor in the high altitudes once a week. I am also keeping out of a legitimate job a large number of actual qualified gardeners who need it just as desperately.

I think we're going to fire him, but I hate myself.


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