Cape of Storms

Friday, 9 June 2017 08:36 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Well, that was the Y2K of Cape storms, that was. I can't work out if it was not as horrible as anticipated because the whole city over-reacted up front, or precisely because we pre-empted it so well and bunkered down for it - schools and universities closed, minimal people on the roads, everyone had laid in stocks of water and food and kept their heads down for thirty-six hours while the weather rampaged. It was very windy and more than somewhat damp, and very dramatic, and there are trees down all over and some people lost roofs or power, but as far as I can tell the tiny death toll (9 to date) was almost half from a single lightning strike and most of the other half from the horrible Knysna fires. I don't want to minimise those deaths, which are awful, or the undoubted damage and loss and suffering in the vulnerable informal settlements, but given our huge numbers of people in shantytowns, it really could have been a lot worse and I'm really glad it wasn't.

I also have to say that the CT city utilities people seem to have been amazing - trees were cleared and power restored very quickly, from the tenor of a lot of social media responses. I was without power for 24 hours, it went out at 3pm on Wednesday and they only got it back at about that time yesterday (they apparently sent a confused team out on Wed afternoon when we reported it, and they bumbled off to the wrong road and stood scratching their heads at being unable to find the problem - they took chainsaws to the tree on the line yesterday and sorted it out), so Wednesday night was all me and the cats huddled in front of gas heaters and candles heating cocoa and soup on the gas stove.

It also made me realise how dramatically my habitual leisure activities rely on civilisation. Can't game. Can't read or knit, light not good enough. Can't watch movies. Can't read fanfic or cruise Tumblr on the Ipad, which has a light enough screen for it, because can't internet. I went to bed very early, under slightly freaked out cats - the noise of the wind banging the mad hippy neighbour's fancy wireless aerial was rather extreme. I was supposed to take Jyn in for spaying on Tuesday night, but postponed, and I'm glad I did. Apart from worrying about power cuts in the middle of veterinary operations, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get through to pick her up on Wednesday, and in the event she was worried enough by the storm noise that it was good she was at home with me for comforting. Her doom will come next week, alas.

I am also pleased to report that, other than the power outage, no damage seems to have resulted to the house - the landlord's roof repairs last year held well, no leaks, and the big potted ficus didn't blow over (it did when I first moved in, twice, under less dramatic winds, but I'd subsequently moved it into a more sheltered spot and taken it off its drainage bricks, so score). And really, a container garden is the best possible scenario for Massive Gale Force Winds, I'd moved the large fruit trees into sheltered corners and anything fragile into the laundry or house, and it was all fine. Is it awful that I rather enjoyed it? I do like a full-body storm experience, all elemental and grrr and exciting.

I also spent a windy Tuesday night watching Arrival, about which I shall blog separately because I Have Notes, and the first couple of episodes of the new Supergirl series, which is another entry in the Fluffy Clockwork Kittens of Superheroes stakes. As a series Supergirl seems to be cute and amiable, but its fluffy clockwork kitten is constructed a bit ineptly so that, while it doesn't actually bounce off walls, it also doesn't quite achieve the lifelike - everything is done slightly too fast with a mechanical gait. But it's rather endearing, on the whole.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Well, that was a weekend. Sort of. I'm not sure it actually counts as "life" without basic human life-support such as hot water for personal ablutionary purposes. On Thursday evening I switched on the kettle (an interestingly space-agey glass one with inherently dodgy electrics, it blew its reheat function about 24 hours after I bought it), which promptly tripped all the plugs and, for some reason, the geyser. I switched on all the tripped switches, no problem, but on Friday night it transpired that, in fact, something more permanent had blown, because my attempt at a hot shower was tragically undermined by the total lack of hot water.

So Saturday entailed informing the house agent about the problem - she is a lovely lady who, incidentally, owned the house I rented during my Honours year. (She lived in the back half of the property, and it's a source of continual amazement to me that she sanctioned my current tenancy given that my Honours year was characterised by excessive financial precariousness, no furniture, a screaming break-up followed by a screaming break-down, and the frequent use of my empty living room for loud, long-haired Goth parties. She's either very forgiving or has a very bad memory, is all I can say.) She tut-tutted sympathetically and imported Plumbers.

The Plumbers proved, in the event, to be of rather less use than a chocolate tea-pot, i.e. no damned good for their intended function and inclined to do no more than dribble equal quantities of ruined chocolate and ruined tea on your shoe when called upon to perform it. They banged around in the roof for three hours on Saturday, eventually departing having achieved a new geyser element, a complete mess in the roof, a leak in the ceiling, a bill for R2000, and no actual hot water. (Amazon plumbers, people. Not a good experience. Would not permit to plumb again anywhere near me). They returned yesterday and fixed the overflow which was dripping through the ceiling, but still no hot water. My actual landlord achieved the hot water at 7 last night by removing the geyser timer completely. I reckon there's a more than sporting chance that the new element was completely unnecessary, see chocolate teapot, above.

The thing is, this means that the weekend was composed in very large parts of strangers in my house. They made a noise, they turned off the lights at intervals so I couldn't play Skyrim, they required (in the case of the agent) to be treated courteously and fed tea and conversation while waiting. They also represented a response to an issue I reported, which means I spent the whole time poised in horrible anticipation that they'd gently point out I hadn't done Really Obvious And Basic Action B to turn everything on again, and the whole expensive shebang was thus My Fault. (This is a deep-seated hang-up of mine, as evinced by those recurring dreams in which the whole mechanism is going kablooey because I didn't do the Vital Tiny Thing when I was five). I am beyond exhausted; I haven't been able to use the weekend for its gods-given function, which is to retreat into splendid isolation and decompress. I am a shambling thing this morning, and my head is pounding.

On the upside, I had a hot shower last night, so there is perhaps a sliver of hope. Also, I am pleased to report that Pandora and Jyn are spending a lot of their time chasing each other through the house in an essentially friendly and playful way, and can be caught giving each other affectionate chin-rubs if I turn around suddenly. Also, Jyn continues aesthetically pleasing, if evincing a slightly worrying tendency to head straight for the road at mach speeds if I leave the front door open for more than a microsecond. (The black spot on her nose is shrinking, either it was a minor injury or her previous Small Child owner had at her with a black koki). Herewith, for posterity, a composition I entitle Small Cat Big Bed. The light was interesting.

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My subject line is Flanders and Swann, of course; the song doesn't do plumbers, but damned well should..
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Pandora is clearly all threatened by the kitten and is in need of cuddles and reassurance, she is currently sleeping on my desk in front of me, cuddled up to my front, her head on my wrist. She's purring happily while I apply skritches and validation. Jyn is fossicking around the house, excavating the living room rug, chasing cat toys in brief, attention-deficit snatches and generally spreading small-scale kitten mayhem. Every time she meeps, chirrups or trills, Pandora's tail lashes, three times exactly, then stops. It's like a push-button response. It's very funny.

They are, however, generally getting on OK, despite the fact that they appear mutually determined to only eat each other's food; there only occasional growling, as Pandy ruthlessly suppresses kitten rudeness. I have to admit that it can't be pleasant to have one's lashing tail perpetually jumped on, because apparently Jyn has a death-wish. Memo to self, geeky naming conventions have narrative implications, oops.

This was quite a nice momentary still life:

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... which is going to go very bad in about three seconds.

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Yup.

I am very happy to be on leave for a week. I am even happier because yesterday Cape Town broke out into an actual, verifiable thunderstorm, almost highveld quality: it pissed down with rain, and there was a continuous thunder and lightning session for the better part of half an hour. I spent about ten minutes standing on the portico at our building entrance just drinking in the noise and light, becoming marginally damp but with an enormous enough grin on my face that various students were clearly laughing at me. Which is fine. Purveyor of innocent enjoyment to the post-adolescent masses, that's me. I love thunderstorms quite in defiance of any semblance of suavity. It's still pleasantly cooler today, and my plants are all happily damp. A good start to my break.

My subject line is, of course, Alice Through the Looking-glass. Although I very much fear that the reverse is true.

welcome home

Sunday, 16 April 2017 10:28 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
There has been a void in the house since losing Hobbit: apart from the way I miss him, Pandora has become more needy and demanding as an Only Cat. So the plan was always to acquire a second cat, and in the inscrutable way of the Cosmic Wossnames, that void has been filled. In ginger and white, even. Danielle has been feeding three feral cats at her workplace, and while she was doing that the other evening, a complete stranger stopped and asked her if she wanted a kitten. Apparently a friend had brought the kitten as a gift for the stranger's grand-daughter, who was staying with them and had subsequently gone back to Joburg and left the kitten behind. I leave as an exercise to the reader the necessary Homicidal Rant about people who give animals as gifts to children, as though they were stuffed toys without associated needs or responsibilities.

Anyway, apparently the Cosmic Wossnames manufactured me a kitten. Given that she's skittish, feisty and was clearly abandoned by people who should damned well have known better, this is Jyn.

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She's been in the house for a couple of days, and is a sweet and affectionate creature despite the slight skitishness; she has an adorable line in chirrups, trills and Harley Davidson purring, and a well-defined tendency to climb on my desk and bite my chin while standing on the keyboard, causing some serious outbreaks of tactical disaster in Andromeda. She has incredibly soft fur, and a particularly heavy arrangement of fur over her eyes which gives her a slight and endearing frown.

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Pandora is in what can only be described as an Epic Snit. She's furious. She divides her time between trying to slaughter the kitten by sticking her paws under the study door; staring, growling and actively going for her if I put them in the same room; and sitting in the back garden with her back to me, sulking. I am spending my otherwise restful long weekend in something of a war zone. If I'm never heard of again, it's because Pandora has eaten the kitten and buried my body in the back garden.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Hobbit (?2006-2016)



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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

(My subject line quotes the Ink-Spots, from the Fallout 4 soundtrack, which is lovely vintage music chosen by a clearly demented genius to range very satisfyingly, given various current events, from maudlin romanticism to nuclear-apocalypse black humour.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's remotely possible that being a total and irredeemable geek is my Seekrit Weapon, curriculum-advice-wise. If nothing else it gives me innocent joy to assist a student with a tangled curriculum and then spend 20 minutes, as I did a month or two back, dissecting Fallout 4 and our respective experiences over multiple play-throughs. (You were quite correct, Fallout-playing-student. Survival mode, while extremely tricky at lower levels and ultimately requiring minor modding to saves to make it non-frustrating enough for sustained play, is a deeply satisfying thing, I'm so happy you persuaded me to try it. I hope you have a tiny, untraumatic curriculum problem soon so I can tell you all about it).

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

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

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

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

(My subject line quotes "Beren and Luthien", because that level of poignant loss seems vaguely appropriate on a number of levels).
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My car's music system is wandering through the alphabetical mid-section of my Bowie albums at present, currently in the middle of Let's Dance, which gave me, in rapid succession this morning, "Criminal Minds" followed by "Cat People", which has the line about putting out fires with gasoline. This was somewhat apposite as campus re-opened this morning, with the expected protest action following as the night does the day. This gave me a morning shaped thusly:
  • General headless chickening about whether or not we should try to be on campus, with contingency meetings in coffee shops first. Rumours of protesters massing on lower campus, but we resolved to give it a try anyway.
  • Arriving at a quiet middle campus venue for an online reg training session to find that technological mishap is no respecter of protests, and no-one could log into any of the computers. The organisers took an hour to ascertain that, yes, no-one could log onto any of the computers, during which time no training transpired. Then the protesters arrived.
  • Protesters set off fire alarms, bounced around the building singing, shouting and beating drums. About a million policemen arrived. We were told to leave our training venue by a protester, who was fairly polite but who also took away with him, presumably for communist redistribution, the bowl of peppermints set out on the coffee table for the trainees.
  • The building locked down. Fire alarms blaring, all doors locked. One entrance only opened, up three flights of stairs from our basement venue, and at the other side of a mass of police and protesters and news cameras. The protesters flung a bucket of human excrement across the threshold of the only open door and then departed for points upper, hell-bent, presumably, on further disruption.
  • We huddled in the basement until the crowds had dispersed, and then left, gingerly. The direction of the protests meant that my boss texted me almost immediately to say not to bother coming up to the office, since the protests were clearly headed that way, Today We Will Work From Home.
  • I could have done with that decision at 8am rather than 10am, as I find the panic attack/hyperventilation at being trapped behind locked doors to be inconvenient and annoying and would prefer to have avoided it entirely. Also the poo flinging. It came nowhere near me, but I still feel unclean. Presumably that was the point.

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

I am sick at heart. On the upside, Hobbit is responding well to the cortizone and, while still slightly subdued, is contriving to fight being pilled, leaving me with scratches all over my hands and, after one more than usually athletic wriggle, my left nipple. He is eating like a small ginger horse and has resumed his playful finger-nipping and butt-clawing habits. Pandora is in a massive hissy fit, I think she imagined she was an Only Cat Now after five days without him, and is resenting his return. They sit on either side of me on my bed at night with Pandy's tail lashing like a particularly miffed leopard's. On the whole, I'll take it.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Campus continues closed, which does mean the personal introvert box labelled "is stressed by traffic and crowds" is not, in fact, being ticked on a daily basis. Being quietly at home is a good thing, and conducive to being able to craft gently reassuring emails to stressed students. If only everything else in the world weren't exploding. I woke up yesterday at 8.15 with the sudden, horrible realisation that I'd booked my car in for a service that morning and promptly forgotten about it in all the cat and campus crises, and had to rocket out of bed and through the tail end of rush hour traffic to squeak it in a whisker before the 9am cut-off. On the upside, I am rather enjoying the chats with the Uber drivers. Is it just me, or are two-thirds of Uber drivers actually Zimbabwean? We play odious comparisons between Trump and Mugabe and shake our heads sagely about the SA parallels to the Zimbabwe university melt-downs, it's very satisfying.

Not everything is, in fact, exploding. A quick Hobbit update, with grateful thanks to everyone for the good wishes and moral support. I have been talked down by various vets from my somewhat knee-jerk reaction against chemotherapy. The vets, and a fair amount of googling, reveal that cancer treatments in cats and dogs are very much less aggressive than they are in humans, with quality of life being carefully balanced against an actual cure. I've been offered two levels of treatment for Hobbit, either a cortisone pill one, or a more complex/powerful one. The cortisone one is palliative and would give him at least another six months before the cancer developed a resistance to it, the second one has a chance at an actual cure, but has an increased risk of side effects and renal failure. Given that it's kidney cancer, I'm worried about the renal failure risk. He has, however, been in at the vet's on a drip since the weekend, and is apparently responding well and eating OK, so it seems fair to give him a chance with the treatment. I'll bring him home this morning, with one or other of the treatments started, I still haven't decided which. Any input valued! I am still going to lose him, probably by euthanasing him as soon as he starts being uncomfortable and unhappy, but we have more time. I'll take it.

(Subject line is David Bowie, "Days", off Reality, which seems to be a theme at the moment. Other lyrics from that particular song: "going mad, don't know what to do"; "my crazy brain in tangles". Word.)

the c-word

Sunday, 9 October 2016 10:00 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Back in the days of the Osborne Rd digs with Dylan, Mich and Mykal, we had an ongoing joke about "the c-word". I actually can't remember what the C in c-word referred to, I suspect it may have been a post-break-up cynical rant about commitment-phobia from Mich, but I don't think its genesis was obscene. The point was that you could use it to refer to anything you didn't want to contemplate, regardless of whether or not it began with C. Love. The Masters thesis. The cat throwing up on the carpet. The washing up.

I've needed that word this week. Particularly since everything that has rendered this last week a c-word does, in fact, begin with C.

Campus. Is still closed, and will be tomorrow, and we are seeing the possibility of actually finishing the semester slipping inexorably from our grasp. The protesters won't budge, and our attempts to lecture last week were futile. I don't know where this is all going to go, but nowhere good. The destruction to the fabric of the university is already incalculable.

Car. Dead battery for two days running, necessitating waiting around for jump starts and things. It's on a maintenance plan, so I can't get it sorted at the battery place around the corner, I have to trek out to Paarden Eiland. Where it transpired that the battery is, in fact, dead, and out of warranty, so that was an expensive replacement noise.

Cat, and, in fact, cancer. Hobbit is currently in at the vet's, on a drip. He's been increasingly subdued and thin, and this week spent several days not moving from one spot on the living room carpet, eating little or nothing. On Wednesday the doctor found a lump in his kidney, which tests and things have revealed is almost certainly cancer of the kidney, which has spread into the liver and lymph nodes. We are waiting for one last round of test results tomorrow to narrow the kind of cancer it is, but basically the options are chemotherapy or euthanase, and I'm fucked if I'm putting him through chemo to scratch out a last few months of unpleasant life. He's been miserable enough this last week as it is. I am almost certainly going to have to put down my cat on Monday. The effect of this has been to muffle all the campus disasters, which I really should be worrying about, but am not, because I am devastated about Hobbit. I am not coping.

Fuck this week. I'd like to return it to sender with extreme prejudice. You can keep it.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Lectures are suspended today, and the faculty sent all the staff home on the grounds that they'd rather not have us tangle with protests, which I welcome, even if it does mean I suffer momentary setbacks like a sudden Hobbit to the touchscreen at a psychological moment, causing me to, e.g., randomly leave a Whatsapp group I'd just carefully created. (In other news: Whatsapp! I resisted it with all four feet for years on end, but it's seriously great for keeping contact with people during, I dunno, massive campus meltdowns or whatever. I am industriously proliferating groups.)

If nothing else, being formally at home to work means I don't have to attempt the classic student protest manoeuvre, namely swearing my way through rush hour traffic for twenty minutes only to fetch up against a barricade and have to turn around and swear my way all the way back home. Not good for the fatigue. In addition to rush hour traffic as a fatigue trigger, recent discoveries of other, more exciting triggers include continuous fire alarms, crowds singing in the foyer, and faculty board meetings during which the assembled academics of the faculty bombard the VC with complaints, questions and thinly-veiled ideological harangues, mostly conflicting, for two hours. I staggered home yesterday in a state perilously close to collapse.

Of course, the inscrutable workings of Sod's Law dictate that this week is my most congested teaching-wise for the semester, with a batch of lectures as well as my usual seminar. I am scrambling to find ways to catch up, with the uneasy awareness that I have it desperately easy given how little I teach in comparison to most academics.

Among the considerable advantages of working at home: decorative kitties.



I have a dark suspicion that Pandora may actually be giving me the finger as a side effect of that adorable flumphed paw-to-nose pose. Also, winter didn't quite generate the puddle of cat I'd hoped for, but the two of them are getting on surprisingly well. Mostly. Half a second after this photo Dorable rolled over and almost touched him, and a startled Hobbit leaped about two foot backwards and into the water bowl.

(Subject line gloss: Bowie, natch. "Beauty and the Beast". Although possibly something from "Diamond Dogs" might have been more appropriate to the faint air of apocalypse.)

hallo spaceboy

Tuesday, 15 March 2016 01:39 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)


He doesn't have a beard, but I'm wondering if this explains Hobbit's state of neck-floof?

arrrrrrrrrrrrgh

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 09:30 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Today is one of South Africa's myriad public holidays, which is fortuitous, as this year-end process has been extra special sparkly hell because of the exam delays from the student protests, and that, in combination with having dropped the anti-depressants, means that I am exhausted beyond belief. I shuffled into the undergrad admin office yesterday to wave a form at someone, provoking an announcement of "Jessica's a zombie today!" by another member of the office staff whose existence simply hadn't registered on account of my only possessing the energy for singular focus. I am doing that annoying thing where I'm waking up after eight hours of sleep feeling as though I've just staggered into bed after a hard day's ferret-juggling while simultaneously doing Irish dance. In lead-weighted boots. Through knee-high treacle.

So while today's public holiday is fortuitous, it has not been a morning characterised by unrelieved serenity and peace. The cats woke me up at 6.30 via Hobbit's patented "stick both front paws and all his considerable weight into the tender area just above my hip, in a marked manner because he wants breakfast", causing me to erupt upright in bed, swearing. This flung my left calf muscle into a particularly vicious cramp, necessitating screaming, writhing and strange contortions, during which the cats left the bed in disgust. For additional Feline Overlord points, one of them had thrown up next to my bed overnight. Having subdued the recalcitrant calf muscle, I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and, given that I wasn't yet wearing my glasses, placed my right foot firmly into the catsick. We draw a tactful veil over the expressive commentary of the next few minutes. The cats came out of hiding only about half an hour later, when the blue haze to the air had subsided and I'd filled their food bowls and promised faithfully not to kill anyone.

It is, however, probably a good thing that I was awake already, as that circumvented further homicidal rage when various neighbours simultaneously decided to take advantage of the public holiday with a spot of home and garden improvement. At 8 sharp they started variously (a) sawing down trees in their front garden (outside in the road, to the right, with added negative points because I don't hold with cutting down trees), (b) trimming the hedge with something petrol-driven (over the back wall, accompanied by domestic argument as to who should be cutting what where) and (c) embarking on major DIY projects with electric saws, drills and cheerful whistling (over the back wall to the right). At eight am on a public holiday, mark you. The whole thing is forming a sort of modern contrapuntal soundscape, question and answer, the snarling mechanical equivalent of a spirited debate. As one dies down, another starts up. (The tree-fellers are winning, mostly out of an almost internet-troll level of sheer vocal persistence). The noise is simply indescribable, and so far above outrageous that all I can do is giggle helplessly as yet another bit of heavy machinery cuts in with "and another thing...!" in tenor or baritone whirring.

I shall turn the sound up high and play Fallout 3 at them. It's been the kind of morning where pinpoint accuracy in shooting the heads off evil mutants with a sniper rifle is beyond cathartic. Also, two more days of work and then I'm on leave for two and a half weeks, and there is neither sufficient calloo nor callay in the world to adequately respond to that.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
no title

Golux (1998-2015)

I am saddened to report that yesterday the Evil Landlord had to take the unpleasant and necessary decision to euthanase Golux, as the cancerous growths on her nose were no longer responding to palliative treatment and were causing her distress. And while I haven't shared space with Golux for eighteen months, she was my kitty for fifteen years, and I am sad, and missing her with a new poignancy.

When I moved in with the Evil Landlord, late in 1998, I had only the one cat, Fish of lamented memory and Death Star legend. The dreaded Thakky was responsible for our acquisition, several months later, of two kittens from Animal Welfare; she took us out there to select them, and paid for all the paperwork, as a house-warming present. (Best. Housewarming. Present. Ever.) We inspected cage after cage of wriggling kittens in various shades and at various stages of development. I wanted, particularly, one male and one female for reasons of personality balance, and at least one black cat because I missed Pixie and Polonius, the two black cats I'd owned previously. We found a small black female of approximately the right age who was the sole black spot in a seething mass of silver tabby/white siblings, and the nice schoolkid volunteer who was assisting us solemnly held up all said siblings to inspect their nether regions, finally handing over one he swore was male. The black kitten became Todal, and the tabby/white "male" Golux. The vet later, and with some mockery, disabused us of the "male" assumption, so it's fortunate the name works as gender-neutral. But I swear the initial gender mis-assignment somehow shaped her character, or at least those parts of it that were hesitant, thoughtful and slightly confused.

Todal and Golux were named from James Thurber's Thirteen Clocks; the Todal is an agent of the devil sent to punish evil-doers for not doing as much evil as they should, which is everything you need to know about Todal the cat right there. (Favourite pastime: sitting on top of the bookshelf and knocking the row of yarn cones onto the floor deliberately, one by one). Tracy always maintained that we doomed her to that personality with the name, and we should have called her Cream-Puff if we wanted a less evil feline. By that logic we possibly also created Golux: the book-Golux is an odd, gentle, offbeat little character who's invisible at will, and whose essentially good nature is slightly hapless and bumbling.

Thurber's description says that "his eyes were wide and astonished, as if everything were happening for the first time", which expresses something of the sweetly naive element to Golux's character. I obviously chose the name because the kitten was fairly shy and retiring from the first, but either it was an inspired choice, or a self-fulfilling prophecy. (Or I over-anthropomorphise my cats. Jo suggested the other day that most people share space with slightly alien little cat-entities, where I have relationships with colourful feline personalities. It's a fair cop.) It makes me obscurely happy that if you do a Google image search for "thurber golux" you'll pull up a photo of Golux from this blog about two screens down.

Golux was a gentle soul, tending towards the solemnly thoughtful in her responses: she always had to think about things for a minute or so before she did them. She used to sit out in the back courtyard, watching the tendrils of water slowly creep across the paving stones from where I'd been watering the potplants. She could sit there for ten minutes at a time, her ears at an angle denoting extreme interest, but eventually all she'd do would be to put out a paw and touch the water, gently, in an experimental mode. She was, conversely, a talented sneak-thief, with an amazingly ability to climb onto the kitchen counter after food with such nonchalance that I wouldn't register the movement despite being a few metres away and looking in approximately the right direction.

She was a very pretty cat; she had the dramatic Gothy eye-makeup which comes with that silver tabby coat, and her white bits - paws, shirt front, one front leg, as though she'd stepped into a paint pot accidentally - were always immaculate. Her little pink nose was inordinately cute, but of course ended up killing her, given its incompatibility with African sunlight. I was particularly fond of the black tips to her ears, which gave her a sharply defined silhouette - I think my header photo was taken by Dylan, it's one of my favourites of her because the tips are so clearly pronounced, like a caracal's. She always sat very neatly, with her tail curled around her feet.

She was very much my cat, although technically the Evil Landlord and I co-owned her and Todal; she spent a lot of time sitting on my desk, and she slept on my bed every night, usually joining me just after I'd switched off the light. She'd come through the bathroom window, and I could always hear her approach because she talked to herself, a succession of gentle, conversational, slightly plaintive yowls all across the courtyard, in through the window, and across the room to my bed. We used to think of it as her existential angst - sometimes she'd wander around the back courtyard meeping gently to herself for no apparent reason other than requesting from the universe some revelation about the meaning of life. If you put her in a box to take her to the vet (which was always difficult, her command of body language was exquisite and she'd make a break for it the instant you even thought about boxing her) she'd commentate continuously all the way there in chesty, baritone, Siamese-sounding yowls. She always held a grudge longer than the other cats - days, often, before she'd forgive you for a vet trip or a de-fleaing. There were unfortunately a lot of vet trips, as we combated the cancerous spots as well as we could; we kept up the treatments over seven or eight years, giving her a lot of life she wouldn't have otherwise had, so I feel as though her final end was only after a hard fight in which we did everything we could.

I didn't take Golux with me when I moved out of the Evil Landlord's place: we knew she had limited time left, and I didn't want to put her through the stress of relocating her. I think it was the right choice, even though I missed her a lot. Eckie and Danielle gave her a safe and tranquil and loving place to end her days, and I'm enormously grateful to them for looking after her, and for making the difficult and necessary call to let her go. I hope that she enriched their lives as much as she did, in her quiet way, mine. The full quote from Thirteen Clocks in my subject line is the Golux speaking, and reads: "I can feel a thing I cannot touch and touch a thing I cannot feel. The first is sad and sorry, the second is your heart." She did that.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Completely bizarre faculty board meeting yesterday, in which a senior professor attempted to railroad an item through the agenda proposing that the faculty remove all meat products from all its official functions, on the grounds of cruelty to animals. I cannot get my head around how he could possibly think that an article of personal/moral belief was at all appropriate to the faculty's official academic forum. As far as I'm concerned, it's the approximate equivalent of standing up in a faculty meeting and insisting that everyone embrace Jesus because it's the right thing to do. I am more than somewhat miffed that (a) he should force me to become a captive audience to his personal crusade, and (b) that he should demand consideration of something that affects the personal freedom of everyone in the faculty via a forum in which I have no vote. Dirty pool. And egregious grandstanding, to boot: he can have had no hope whatsoever that his horrible little proposal would have been accepted by faculty. He was making a point, possibly against the current dean with whom he butts heads regularly, but he was so out of line as to be in the next army entirely. (Kudos to our dean, though, for standing his ground with remarkable good humour in the face of rampant idiocy).

I admit, I spent most of the half-hour argument (the entirely faculty, who tend to the vociferously opinionated, leaped on board with vigour) alternately cringing in my seat and suppressing a desperate desire to stand up and suggest that the proposer was occupying exactly the same conceptual position as that horrible little court official in America who's just been jailed for refusing to issue marriage licences on the grounds of gay marriage being Wrong. But unfortunately I have to work with the man, and he's already obstructive enough.

At any rate, there was enough tension in the room that it put the whammy seriously on my tension-sensitive frondy antennae, and I spent a horrible insomniac night with my stomach in knots, unable to get to sleep until something around the order of 2.30am. Then Hobbit, bless his little white socks, chose 5.30am to start a half-hour of thumping and mad dashes through the house, which I'd somnambulistically attributed to sheer joie de vivre until the sudden, terminal, agonised squeaking made me realise he was actually dispatching, somewhat lingeringly, a large rat. (He left the corpse on the floor next to my bed, neatly laid out at an exact right angle in precisely the spot where my bare feet touch the floor as I stagger into the upright position. I am equally touched and horrified by the tribute). I was just drifting back to sleep after that when Pandora, as is her occasional wont, decided that 6.30am was the perfect time for the exercise in purring, kneading and climbing on top of me repeatedly which she is occasionally prone to. Sleep, apparently, is for the weak.

As I was leaving for work the feline tribe had cornered a second rat under the passage curtain, and were sitting around said curtain in attitudes of homicidal alertness. I was running too damned late (see 3.5 hours of sleep, above) to institute a search-and-rescue mission, and besides, I don't get too protective of rats. Two in one night suggests a plague ship may have docked nearby. If the cats wish to leap protectively into the breach, who am I to judge? Particularly given my slightly up-in-arms state of bristle at the mere concept of denying them the right to their carnivore natures. Because the Cosmic Wossnames have their own weird sense of humour, and arrange events in amusing thematic juxtapositions just because they can.

I am going to opera tonight - Merry Widow, Africanised production, should be fun and interesting and good for my sleep-deprived soul. My subject line is not Lehar. My subject line is, of course, Flanders and Swann.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Gosh, it's been two months or so since I became a two-cat person again, which to be honest I haven't been since... oooh, Masters year, back in Osborne Rd with Pixie and Polonius? Then there was Fish, and I was a one-cat person. Then there was Todal and Golux, and I was a joint multi-cat person. Funny how cats in batches of more-than-two goes by troll counting logic - one, two, lots. We accreted Ounce and Hobbit inevitably and without conscious choice. I only had a year of being one-cat with Hobbit, and it's weird how quickly it feels right and as if it's never been different, now that the house has feline patterns in ginger and black instead of just ginger.

image

They share my bed at night, although I tend to be a Swiss mountain range between them, and there are frequently rather amusing episodes of cat chess during which they edge independently onto the bed by circuitous routes while exchanging meaningful looks. I did a Sunday morning lie-in drinking tea and reading fanfic recently, and ended up with one cat on either side of my torso, heads on my shoulders, purring loudly in perfectly-synchronised stereo. At least until my delighted giggling offended them both and they jumped off the bed. They've actually accepted each other very quickly - there are still moments of subdued hissing, but they're brief and rather perfunctory, and I catch them touching noses when they think I'm not looking. I should imagine that by next winter I should see spontaneous outbreaks of puddle-of-cat.

I feel the need to record for posterity Hobbit's new trick, which is a hitherto unsuspected tendency to leave the end of his tongue sticking out in a deeply ridiculous fashion.

image

He knows. Cats doing a hangdog look are perfectly absurd.

Subject line is T.S. Eliot's Practical Cats, more specifically the addressing of. Pandora, along the Hobbiton/Hobbitation/Hobbyah principle, has become Pandoracle, Pandorica, Pandable, and occasionally "aargh cat must you headbutt my tea?"
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I'm not quite sure what it suggests, that we (or at least Jo) are apparently on hugging terms with the maître-d of Overture, which is the very nice five-star restaurant on the Hidden Valley wine estate in Stellenbosch. I mean, we know the staff because we go there at least once a year, and they always say welcome back and nice to see you again with a degree of enthusiasm which says they're either genuinely happy to see us or are very well trained - possibly both. They know us well enough to bring extra bread so we can mop up the sauces (that delectable parmesan thing on the oxtail crêpe, for example). And while they no longer do the wine pairing which was hitherto such a marvellous feature of their menus, the nice maîitre-d is always very happy to suggest suitable wines for our various choices, and the single "carafe" we ordered of that lovely chenin was suspiciously free-flowing for far longer than it really should have been, I think he nipped out back and refilled it while we weren't looking. Also, note to self, the Hidden Valley shiraz blend is ace, obtain more. Hidden Secret, I think. Yum.

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

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

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

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

Anyway. You were warned about the flow of consciousness. My subject line is of course Omar Khayyam, not for the first time. Overture was lovely, Hobbit is much less subdued, and Pandora seems to have entirely forgiven me. I have just downloaded the new Inquisition DLC and propose to spend most of the weekend hacking my way joyously through the Deep Roads. (With a pacifist Inquisitor, which will be interesting, apparently it's fairly intense fighting). Today was OK. I'll take it.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I have had two weeks of leave, during which I managed to (a) have my piano tuned and a practice bar fitted (to muffle it, because apparently semi-detached living makes me too self-conscious to play), and (b) acquire another cat. Philip & Jo are emigrating later this year, and needed a home for two of their cats, and I inherited Pandora. Pandora is black and solid and slightly roly-poly, and possessed of Personality, currently expressed via querulous meeping every time she realises she's in an unfamiliar place with an unfamiliar pink blob, i.e. constantly. She's also ridiculous affectionate and prone, as her name would suggest, to Evil, mostly manifested as knocking things over, head-butting me on the chin in the middle of particularly fierce Mass Effect battles, and sharpening her claws on Kevin, the leather chair in the living room. Hobbit is confused and betrayed but being rather sweet and tolerant - all the hissing is on her side, and is fairly minimal on the whole, possibly because I followed a simple principle of dosing them both with catnip every time they met for the first few days. Apparently territorial aggro is not compatible with stoned giggling. Fortunately.

Pandora's favourite place is between me and keyboard, writhing around demanding affection, and occasionally rolling onto the keyboard where a random key-smash will do the most damage. Thusly:



She's actually a black cat, but has a subtle underlay of tabby stripes which are more evident in that photo than they are in the flesh; the (completely accidentally staged) photo below is a more accurate representation of her overall blackness.



Hobbit has registered his displeasure at the invasion by pursuing evil of his own, presumably by sticking his head into the remains of someone's braai fire. He currently has half of a fierce black handlebar moustache and is hurt and embarrassed by my tendency to laugh at him a lot.

freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
This is an utterly simple, somewhat perverse, ridiculously absorbing mini-game. I think its appeal is a sort of transference: as a cat owner, there's something weirdly seductive in projecting yourself into the persona of the #(*&$*)! feline who wakes you up in the morning by meeping, kneading and knocking things onto the floor. It'll take you five minutes to play and will content some weird, vindictive corner of your soul. Unless that's just me.

In other news, last night we watched Interstellar. While I darkly suspect that I shouldn't be thinking about it too hard, because its manifest plot holes would infallibly present themselves (inevitably, with black holes and time at the heart of it), I very much enjoyed it, and in particular its vision of the creeping, dust-laden, inexorable death of the Earth. But it pushed my annoyed buttons a little in its uncritical adherence to the tired old sf trope of "we stuffed up the Earth, let's leave and find another planet."

Because, see, here's the thing. It's not even about my inner Victorian governess who believes that destructive children should bloody well deal with the consequences of their actions, although she definitely believes that. It's actually a logical problem. We live in a biosphere into which we have evolved over ridiculous amounts of time, and to whose atmosphere and organisms and substances and what have you we are absolutely adapted. Even so, people die every day from anaphlyactic shock as a result of an allergy, a systemic and cataclysmic disagreement with our very own environmental niche, suggesting that we are, evolution notwithstanding, somewhat fragile. However badly we crowd and poison and superheat our Earth, how logical is it that we'll find a completely unrelated planet somewhere the hell out there where the environmental challenges of an alien biosphere are somehow more welcoming than the screwed-up versions of the one we've evolved in? In terms purely of economies of effort and resource, surely it's going to be cheaper and easier and less potentially fatal to simply sort out our own planet? Honestly, I don't get it. I have the same problem with giant artificial environments in space. Earth may be a mess, but there's more to work with than the interplanetary or interstellar void offers, and it's less likely to kill you on the turn if you accidentally break a window.

My subject line, incidentally, is Death Cab for Cutie, since Narrow Stairs is playing in the car at the moment - from "Grapevine Fires", which seems thematically appropriate to all this destruction.

Oh, fine.

Saturday, 28 March 2015 01:44 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Apparently taking selfies makes me look grumpy and suspicious. I suspect, actually, that this job is making me grumpy and suspicious. I'm developing this pronounced frown line between my eyebrows, I shall have to practice looking more cheerful. Anyway, this is off centre because I am a complete neophyte selfie-taker and all the centred ones made me extra-grumpy and extra-suspicious.



They're nice glasses. I'm very happy with how they've turned out, or will be once I've got used to them and they've stopped rubbing the bridge of my nose. However, because he's way more photogenic, have a Still Life With Hobbit.

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