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I have achieved Relative Feline Harmony! in that Pandora, who is a grumpy old thing but quite sweet and affectionate really, has more or less accepted Jyn as a member of the family, submits with commendable grace to being pounced on at intervals (they have amazing chase games thundering up and down the house) and has been known to hold her down and wash her head ferociously. Peak Acceptance was demonstrated in the Food Bowl Sharing Incident, which as far as I can work out resulted from a weird thing both cats have where they prefer to eat from the bowl on the left even if there's more food in the bowl on the right or if the bowls are identical and I swap them. Something about corners. Possibly.

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Jyn continues sweet and idiosyncratic: she's weirdly uncoordinated for a cat, she still hasn't learned how to jump through windows, and she picks her way over cluttered tables and recumbent human forms with a curious lack of confidence, I think she may have balance issues. She is affectionate while retaining the feist levels which caused me to name her after a noted rebel, which means that she'll growl at you if you try to stop her doing something she wants, like run madly into the street to demonstrate her complete lack of road sense. She loves looking out of windows - her favourite spot is still on top of the piano watching the street outside - and I often catch her on my bed, thusly:

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I think she hasn't worked out, lacking object permanence in significant ways, that the world she can see through the bedroom window is the same as the one she can access through the glass door into the courtyard. She gets wildly frustrated chittering at the white-eyes footling around in the ficus, but won't ever run around through the door to get closer.

This Random Unsolicited Feline Update brought to you by a subject line from the Magnetic Fields's "Irma", by way of a loose chain of free association whereby Irma waits by windows and the bowl-sharing photo contained, before I cropped them out, the be-socked feet of the photographer (me. You can tell by the blurring).
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This is a very lovely city, even when its soft grey misty clouds are a lie and a delusion and only give us a tantalising trickle of the rain we so desperately need. We are on very serious water restrictions, I shower and wash my hands to a complicated system of buckets whose collected water is ruthlessly apportioned to the garden and the loo depending on detergent quantities. The days when I could stand dreamily under the hot water for unspecified aeons while my mind drifts happily, are long gone. I am losing plants in the garden, I don't have enough water for all of them and plants in pots don't have the root access which allows them to survive reduced watering. It's all a bit dire.

My subject line is Kermit the Frog, whose gentle optimism I do not currently feel.
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Ow. Apparently the concatenation of a lecture-invasion (stressful), a slightly poisonous and anxiety-inducing faculty staff meeting (lots of people passively-aggressively documenting unhappiness, which always brings my shoulders up around my ears) and weird weather (warm berg wind day followed by sudden cold snap and rain) was sufficient to constitute a migraine trigger, because I lost most of yesterday to ow and ick. Tension and pressure changes, yup, that'll do it. Fortunately taking the small high-tech wafer migraine med (the one with the space-age plastic purple box) and sleeping for five hours yesterday morning more or less settled its hash, and I was basically functional by the evening.

This was good because the Dreaded Thak is in town for a flying visit and spent the evening with me, meeting the cats and showing me kid pics and catching up on gossip in both directions. The kind of friends who live on different continents and intersect only at multiple-year intervals but with whom one picks up exactly as though one saw them yesterday, are beyond price. The cats also approve of this random importation of house-guests for the sole purpose of supplying the feline overlords the requisite additional petting, adoration and warm laps.

In completely unrelated news, I badly need a scientific explanation for my current ear-worm, which is Mika's "Grace Kelly", which has colonised my unsuspecting cerebellum for slightly under a week, including surviving a migraine. Like a cockroach. I know and really like this song, it's catchy and boppable and familiar. I don't recognise the title, I have no conscious recollection of ever actually hearing it in the wild, it appears to have arrived in my brain by some sort of osmosis or teleport. Nor do I in any way recognise the name or existence of the singer, who seems to have been generated in a lab with equal quantities of physical and vocal DNA from Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger and David Bowie under a project description which simply reads "GANGLING", "ENDEARING" and "(POP)". I do not know why this wretched song is so familiar. Maybe it's the Mozart Rossini. (He's stuffing around with Barber of Seville in the lyric line).

Anyway, because the only possible response to an earworm is to pass the damned thing on, like a cold, please do click play.



Aargh. I have edited this to correct my shameful misidentification of opera. Apparently I mentally conflate the Barber of Seville with the Marriage of Figaro when under stress.
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I have just had my second English lecture shut down by student protesters, right in the middle of a particularly pithy bit about postcolonial readings of Frankenstein. We were deconstructing a white British nineteenth-century novel in terms of its representation of marginalised racial identities, what the hell more do the protesters want? I did a quick poll of the class, revealing an overwhelming majority in favour of continuing the lecture, so I tried, possibly foolishly, to continue lecturing over the slogan-chanting and light-flicking. This endured for another few minutes, but narked the little buggers enough that one of them hauled out a fire extinguisher and threatened the front rows, at which point I decided discretion was the better part of valour and shut down the lecture.

I am seething. The ringleader was the little shit whose curriculum woes I spent half an hour patiently deconstructing last week. I'm buggered if I'm doing that again, I think I'm within my rights to refuse further advice sessions on the grounds of the threatened violence. I am surprisingly shaken by the whole thing, actually. Tea is helping. As is the revelation via the class poll that the protesters' popular support has eroded to the point of almost non-existence. That mandate, I do not think you have it in the way you think you have.

My subject line is, of course, Douglas Adams: the only thing going through the mind of a plummeting bowl of petunias is, of course, "Not again...". If this is heralding a new round of shut-downs... aargh, is all I can say. Aaaargh.
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Last night I dreamed what was either an epic fantasy novel or an epic fantasy video game which was effectively a mash-up between current American politics, current student politics at My Cherished Institution, some sort of unspecified contemporary urban fantasy with massively powerful secret female mage figures, and bits of Buffy. The whole overblown thing took place for no adequately defined reason in the endless carpeted corridors of an enormous, luxurious mansion, and was largely retroactive, in that it was shot through with the brooding, hopeless realisation that in the teeth of genre convention we, i.e. the good guys, had actually lost.

The main thing I remember is the huge meeting/negotiation sort of thing between the victorious Bad Guys, represented by Trump and George W Bush sitting smirking together at a corner of the boardroom table, and everyone else, mostly student political activists who were trying to call out the Bad Guys on their ideologically dubious fighting practices. The room was permeated with a sort of helpless horror as we realised how sneakily the Bad Guys had manipulated things to either disempower or destroy or suborn the powerful mage women (Willow Went Bad and betrayed us. Figures). In the background of the dream, various deposed female mage figures were trying desperately to regain the power they'd lost.

I woke up at the point that the werewolf mage lady was attempting a re-activation of her werewolf nature by strangling puppies. A whole row of them. Fuzzy black lab types. It was horrible. I really don't know what the whole thing says about my current state of geo-political despair, except that if Strangling Puppies isn't at least the penultimate level of the Despair Defcon, it really ought to be.

Upside: geo-political despair at least distracts one handily from personal despair, from which you can infer that neither work nor the job search are bringing me much in the way of joys. On the further upside, I haven't actually strangled any students or colleagues, either.

(My subject line is, of course, vamp-Willow).
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I am apparently at a stage in my personal and professional development where I can, calmly and quietly, spent the better part of half an hour gently talking down the angry student protest leader who has come into my office to discuss his options in dropping a course. Not that he was overtly angry, it's more a sort of subliminal, simmering rage and outrage, but even with no voices raised and no overt threats I am still shaking gently in a startled-deer-trembling-in-the-bushes sort of manner, and it's half an hour after his departure. There is something a little troubling about presenting the rules as they apply to a particular curriculum decision, and being told flatly that he will not accept that, the rule is unfair to black students and will therefore be ignored. Also, that if the VC's office doesn't rule favourable on a particular outstanding issue tangentially related to the query, said angry student protest leader will be referring it back to the student body for action. I suppose I misspoke when I said there were no overt threats, actually.

The problem wasn't even the anger and denial of the rules, really. The problem was the half hour, which was the length of time it took me to get into his head the actual implications of the request he was making. It's as if the political bubble insulates him so absolutely from the world (or at least from the ideologically suspect upper echelons of the illegitimate institution) that the actual logic of the response can't permeate. I am also by this stage very good at reining in my somewhat characteristic high-speed polysyllabic babble, and I don't think it was me. It's just that my explanations were occurring in counterpoint to the polyphonic political debate going on in his own head.

I am very tired and have a headache, but he left enlightened and actually smiling, so score one for me. My subject line is from the Magnetic Fields, "I Die", but I promise it's not at that stage yet.
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I share this because it has just made me laugh until actual tears.



Crybaby learns to swim (subtitled). I feel that the phonetic transliterations here accurately represent my ongoing response to my current work life.
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Things that students have said in emails to me today:

"Dear. Please could you..." (I assume they meant to type my name after "Dear" and forgot, but it's rather sweet like this.)

"Goof morning!" (Followed by somewhat of a silly question, so possibly this was actually the correct designation for the day).

Things that my students have said to me in person today:

"I'll tell my personal assistant to set up a reminder to follow up on Wednesday." (he did, in fact, have a personal assistant. In tow. Kids these days...)

This week I have been croaked at by three different laryngitis sufferers and snuffled at by at least one phlegmy parent, so I am expecting lurgis incoming on my hapless form in the near future. I have scored one bar of chocolate, one bag of jellybeans, and tearful gratitude from three different students, which set against only one twenty-minute dissociated rant and blame session from an angry parent, actually puts me ahead. The jellybeans gave me a weird moment of dislocated nostalgia in that they tasted exactly like the little pink chalky cylindrical sweets we used to get as kids, which five minutes of illicit googling suggest were actually Romantics cachous, although I remember them as having an elephant on the wrapper - that might have been a mutant Zimbabwean version. They tasted dusty and pink, I have a very vivid memory of the flavour.

I am beyond dead, but it's Friday. I have not to date eviscerated any students or myself. It could be worse.

how the other half

Thursday, 17 August 2017 10:25 am
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Oh, dear, I appear to have disappeared off the face of the blogging earth again. I blame career change angst and the start of term. I am in the middle of negotiating a severely crisis-ridden change of curriculum week, characterised by advisor flakiness, administrator fail and fascinatingly political double-bookings in my curriculum change venue. (Had to close down the advice process for an afternoon to accommodate an awards ceremony featuring four consuls-general, which was somewhat surreal). I am, shall we say, a little frayed.

By way of a slightly retroactive upside, my mother was in town for the last month; she left on Saturday, alas, but it was a lovey visit, during which she made me clothes, niece-wrangled, did the washing up a lot and was otherwise her usual comfortable and comforting presence. The washing up was necessary because my weird body is at it again, I grew an extra mutant knuckle on the middle finger of my right hand and had to have it surgically removed before it achieved sufficient mass and pressure to fracture the bone. (If you have déjà vu, it's because this happened about a year ago, same finger, different spot. This one was more complicated because the cartilage tumour was partially under the tendon and the surgeon had to detach and reattach the tendon to get at it. Apparently that's a thing you can do. It necessitates two weeks in a splint, and ouch).

While Mother was here we (i.e. me and jo&stv, who are at this point pretty much her surrogate offspring) took her randomly to Riebeek Casteel, which was a lovely weekend in which Airbnb delivered spectacularly on the Some People Have Too Much Money end of the scale, something of an antidote to the weirdness of the Franschoek one. Seriously palatial: a huge, open, beautifully built house with approximately quadruple vertical volume, comfy sofas, a superb kitchen and three ensuite bedrooms. Good food and wine and company. Spectacular views. Generally good for the soul.





(That last one is the view through the front window, which is across from the stairs and above the huge, high living space. The window is amazing, the view even more so. I darkly suspect that church steeple of being Deliberately Picturesque.)

I ATEN'T DEAD

Saturday, 15 July 2017 09:31 am
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oh, dear, apparently I haven't posted in a month? good heavens. I attribute that variously to (a) still being bloody exhausted from the bloody start to the year, (b) still being bloody exhausted by relentless student enquiries, particularly the noxious upsurge towards the end of term, (c) being overloaded with human interaction by (b), (d) being bloody exhausted by the rush to finish a bunch of stuff before going on leave, and (e) the natural and inevitable physical and mental shut-down which always happens when I go on leave, as my beleaguered bod realises that it's actually allowed to relax and promptly falls over.

Of course, all the frantic rush to finish a bunch of stuff before I went on leave was utterly futile, I didn't finish everything, which meant I spent a day or so of my leave writing budgets and hand-holding my staff writing their own budgets, and another day of my leave finishing the thrice-dratted report I should have written a month ago and forgot about, because exhaustion riddles my brain with holes like a Swiss cheese someone shot up with a shotgun. I was, shall we say, somewhat narked by this necessity. Those were my leave days, dammit.

But I'm on leave! and my mother is out from the UK, calloo callay! and is currently sitting in the living room cruising the internet and permitting Jyn to climb on her head. I am clearly my mother's daughter in more ways than one.

Also, I am catching up on sleep, and thus dreams. Last night I dreamed that I had authorised the wholesale and epic renovation of the house in which I was living (not my current one, something much larger and with a slightly worrying resemblance to the Red Rocket in Fallout 4). The renovation team were enthusiastic and a bit oblivious, and ended up mostly deconstructing the house, to the extent of knocking down most of the walls, squishing the entire contents of the house into one room inaccessible other than by climbing over rubble and squeezing through a narrow gap, and leaving me nowhere to sleep. I also spent a lot of the dream wandering around futilely protesting as they installed various dubious interior decorating features, mostly dreadful kitschy art-work, instead of reconstructing walls. About halfway through the process I suddenly remembered, with a horrible sinking shock, that I didn't actually own the house, and thus shouldn't actually be reconstructing it. I spent the rest of the dream increasingly frantic, trying to chivvy the renovators into fixing everything quickly before the landlady arrived and saw what I'd done.

It is slightly alarming to contemplate the extent to which the above dreamscape neatly replicates my current difficulties with mentally processing the massive life change of trying to find a new job.

My subject line is, of course, Granny Weatherwax. Possibly what I actually need is a new job as senior witch in a Pratchett coven.
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Mad storm experiences have distracted me from noting that my weekend away in the winelands was lovely, thank you! Franschoek is really pretty, in a slightly Disney-village sort of way that verges at times on the cutesy. It takes its French heritage very seriously, in a plethora of Frenchy names on farms, roads, shops, restaurants, art galleries (it has a metric buttload of art galleries) and wine. It also has Damned Fine Winefarms and Damned Fine Restaurants as well as superlatively lovely mountains, so I completely forgive it the slightly cut-price rural France effect.

We stayed in an Airbnb for two nights, which was an experience in beautiful farm setting, comfortable beds, good internet, owls hooting in the trees at night, and an otherwise almost complete abandonment of practicality in favour of dubious "designer" aesthetic. Giant wooden chandelier aesthetic. Clunky giant wooden silver-painted monstrous mirror aesthetic. Random plethoras of blocky dog sculpture aesthetic. Dirt-coloured see-through open-weave linenoid drapey chunks of fabric over the windows instead of curtains aesthetic. (Including the window with its sill at knee height right next to the toilet, looking out on the patio by the entrance). Privacy was a complete no-go - one giant room with the bathroom sectioned off, second bedroom in a loft up a dicey and precipitous ladder, with no wall or curtain. (Or light source, for that matter). It's lucky jo&stv and I are very, very good friends, is all. Also: gas stove with oven, but no oven pans. No comfortable chairs. Dodgy electrics (no hot water on the final morning). Bumps in the bathroom floor. Loft shutter didn't latch, and blew open disconcertingly right by my head in the storm as I was drifting off to sleep on Saturday night.

But a beautiful view.

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We did Colmant for champagne on Friday afternoon (we ended up very sloshed, the charmingly persuasive tasting dude had a rather heavy pouring elbow), supper at Foliage (excellent but not superlative, fascinating use of foraged ingredients), wine tasting at Topiary in the morning (Topiary has actual topiary as well as excellent shiraz, viz.:

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).. followed by wine tasting at Glenwood in the late morning. The excitingly chunky Tuesday wol artwork at the head of this post is in the Glenwood foyer, it's blurry because I was, again, sloshed and was waving the camera around a bit randomly. Score at Glenwood, the wine tasting lady was a Known Associate of Jo's from AfrikaBurn, and gave us free wine as well as a virtuoso tour. Then we had lunch at Bread and Wine, which was, as always, superlative (goat's cheese and hazlenut risotto, and red curry soup with prawns, and roast duck breast, and incredible bread). Then we collapsed for the afternoon, and ate, small cautious amounts of supper at Dutch East, who gave us quite the best gnocci I've had in years, with artichoke and chilli, must try at home. We didn't have room for the deep fried milk tart, but I wanted to.

It was a lovely weekend. I approve of this full weekend in the winelands thing, it allows a quite indecent and sybaritic concentration of food, wine and landscape which is exceptionally good for the soul, if somewhat catastrophic to the bank balance. 10/10, would definitely indulge again.

Cape of Storms

Friday, 9 June 2017 08:36 am
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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.

baby got back

Thursday, 1 June 2017 12:22 pm
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A Dear Little Student just delivered the perfect backhanded compliment: "I've always found my interactions with you perfectly smooth and easy," he says, "you're nothing like the nightmare everyone says you are." Um, thanks. I think. In fact, the vast majority of interactions I have with students are smooth and easy, it's a tiny minority who transgress my boundaries and get snarled at, or who run their heads against an unyielding rule and blame the messenger. It is an index to the extent to which this year's reg process broke something in me that I'm not even particularly hurt by the idea that everyone thinks I'm a nightmare. (a) Actually it's not true, I know I'm rather kind to the vast majority of them, and (b) frankly, who cares what they think.

I have compounded my last post's Coming Out As A Soon To Be Ex Academic by telling a colleague, in strict confidence, that I am Soon To Be An Ex Academic and thus can't teach in his course next semester, so the whole thing is reifying at speed. (Dreamwidth wots not "reify", illiterate little thing. It should, it's a good word). This is causing me a small but perfectly formed identity crisis, manifesting as anxiety, avoidance, self-loathing and a well-formed tendency to play a fuckload of Dishonored with bloody-minded pacifism (I finished the main game last night with a perfect no-kill run) while rejoicing in the excessive and Victorianesque politico-Gothic gloom of its setting. So my apologies to anyone who has kindly sent me career suggestions to which I have not responded because I am wibbling like a jelly. I'll get there when I've talked myself into slightly more solidity. I really am very grateful.

I feel that the jelly-like identity crisis will be materially assisted by the fact that I am buggering off into the winelands with the Dread jo&stv this weekend for purposes of staying in an Airbnb for two nights, the better to concentratedly wineroute and dine out at Franschoek's many fine dining establishments, which we tend not to have experienced in our culinary meanderings because no-one wants to drive back to Cape Town drunk and overfed. This will be extremely restoring to the soul, and I can only hope that Jyn will not unleash her usual high-velocity sprint for the traffic flow when the cat-sitter opens the front door on Saturday. I'm getting really good at grabbing her one-handed as she goes past, but I've had a lot of practice.
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Right. *deep breath*. So. It cannot have escaped the attention of alert witterers that I have been, shall we say, less than satisfied with my career and work life of late. Even before the upheavals caused by eighteen months of student protests, campus closures and the concomitant conditions of resource-shrinkage, my job was always a compromise: I do it well, and it has elements I enjoy and find rewarding, but they're small patches within a landscape with more than its fair share of admin swamps, uphill battles and the active orientation/registration volcano into which I am annually and ritually flung. The student protests have been the earthquake which, once the aftershocks have settled, has rearranged that landscape into one where the enjoyable patches are becoming actually difficult to locate.

I need, in short, a new job. More than that, a new career. The niche I have filled is so highly specialised that nothing else like it exists within my Cherished Institution; I have no desire to exchange my current post-student-protest difficulties for the identical or worse ones at any other institution in this country, and given that it's taken me six months and various lovely friends prodding me consistently and affectionately with sticks to get my change-averse hang-ups suppressed to the point of wanting a new job at all, I'm really not up to complicating "new job" with "new country" simultaneously. So new career it is. I am, in short, planning to shake the dust of academic from my booted feet, preferably within the next six months so I don't have to endure the bloody start-of-year volcano again.

This not unnaturally raises the difficult question of what the hell I can do instead. I have been a university teacher, researcher and administrator for my entire adult life. I have a raft of actually fairly highly honed and useful skills that go beyond the standard research/writing and teaching/counselling areas (and I'm actually damned good at those) into process management, logistics, administration, organisational insight and a variety of other potentially marketable abilities and experiences. What I lack is a sense of what the hell is out there, job-wise, that would make use of them. My experience of the non-university working landscape is so minimal that I don't even know what sort of job titles or keywords to search for.

So, when in doubt, crowd-source. A lot of you who read my blog are not in academia, or have partners or contacts or experiences outside the Ivory Tower even if you are academics. Knowing me, and the kinds of things I've been doing for decades, are there any particular roles you can think of in the non-academic world that I would be suited to? Industries, skill areas, job titles, corners where you know academic training is an advantage? Something to point me in the right direction? If it helps, I've updated my LinkedIn profile with fairly detailed job descriptions that give some idea of the individual skills my work life has developed.

I would be deeply grateful for any suggestions that would help me identify a direction for a search, because right now, frankly, the compass is simply spinning gently. Along, in fact, with my head.

My subject line is, of course, from David Bowie's "Changes", because where else?
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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..
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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.
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Last night's fun discovery in Mass Effect: Andromeda: if you are buggering around poking things in the fancy new outpost you've just set up on a planet you've just carefully won over in the teeth of extreme resistance (Kadara, and may I add, Reyes, you bastard!) and you accidentally hang around for too long on the bit of platform you didn't realise was a landing pad for shuttles, a large, enthusiastic shuttle piloted by your own Initiative people will arrive at speed out of nowhere and land on top of you, squashing you terminally flat and causing the fateful "! MISSION FAILURE" screen to flash up over your recumbent corpse.

I find this a particularly pleasing piece of essentially random verisimilitude, it made me giggle madly. It also caused me to mentally construct micro flash fanfic depicting the probable reaction of the poor benighted shuttle pilot who thus accidentally took out their own Pathfinder, who is the colonisation trailblazer, terraforming on-switch operative and the Milky Way travellers' only hope for survival. "Embarrassed" doesn't even begin to cover it. Probably a quick header into the nearest sulphuric acid lake would be the only decent response.

We have one of South Africa's merry conglomerate public holiday clusters coming up, Thursday for Freedom Day and Monday for Workers' Day, and I have taken Friday, Tuesday and Wednesday off with a sensation of palpable relief. I have had the same bloody sinus headache for several weeks now, it drifts in and out randomly, and I am conscious of a deep-seated need to do nothing for a week or so and bond with my new kitten. Next week is the ten-day vac, so it's also even possible that not too many students will actually explode in my absence. And if they do, someone else can deal with them. At this point in the proceedings I am astonishingly unmoved at the prospect.

My subject line is Hillaire Belloc, the dreadful story of Rebecca who slams doors, and meets her Inevitably Gruesome End at the hands (shoulders?) of a bust of Abraham. The poem has been circling my cerebellum gently since the Andromeda Incident.

welcome home

Sunday, 16 April 2017 10:28 am
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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.
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In my defence, my absence from Teh Intahwebs over the last couple of weeks has only partially been because of Mass Effect: Andromeda, although quite a lot of it has, indeed, been the result of kicking happily around another galaxy making dubious romance choices and taking out nasty alien fascists with elan, vindictive efficiency and a sniper rifle. The rest has been because the current bone-deep exhaustion which is still afflicting me after the worst registration season I've ever experienced, morphed into a sinus infection which laid me low for most of last week. I'm still a bit wan and floaty, drifting around in an exhausted disconnect which leaves me feeling as though my feet are not quite touching the floor, and with neither the energy nor the brain for Being Entertaining On The Internet. Patience, I tell myself. Soon, soon, I will have sufficient ducks in a row to quit the hell out of this job and find something that doesn't require me to ritually sacrifice myself on an ongoing basis. After which I may once again be something resembling a person.

Several days at home with a sinus infection did, on the upside, allow me to play significant quantities of Andromeda, which I am apparently 57% of the way through after just under a hundred hours of play. (I'm an extremely completist player). Initial impressions as follows:
  • Hell, it's pretty. The planetary landscapes and cool spacescapes are beautiful in the extreme. The Obligatory Ancient Departed Civilisation, known as the Remnant, have left the landscape littered with incredible subterranean vaults which are all black marble and weird shapes and gravity wells and giant, shadowy spaces stretching down and away. They're breathtaking.
  • They have given us jumpjets! A significant proportion of my gaming time is spent going "sproing!" and "whee!". Also the Nomad, which is an update of the old Mako, which means you can drive around planets at insane speeds while your party bickers, and which is ridiculously enjoyable.
  • All the old familiar races have followed us to a new galaxy, which weirdly presents only two new ones, one of which is the bad guys. The others are the Angara, who are sort of cuddly, collectivist, blue-and-purple lion-lizards who are extremely endearing.
  • The combat and skill and crafting structures are a maddening combination of limited and opaquely complicated. You can do some cool stuff. Eventually. To some extent.
  • The scenario and worldbuilding are... interesting, but, as Penny Arcade noted, a bit in the arena of a young and foolish vintage. This is clearly a comparatively inexperienced writing team, which is the result of them sectioning off Mass Effect to another Bioware location and leaving the experienced writers in Edomonton with Dragon Age. It shows - the writing is generally a bit patchy, plot and characterisation largely unexciting despite some good moments. I'm rather attached to the female Ryder, who's written as a bit wry and deadpan, but a lot of that is her voice, with which I am seriously enamoured: slightly alto with a throaty catch. The NPCs are almost all a bit bland. I'm finding myself making dubious romance choices because not even my Lawful Good can stomach the oatmeal of the "nice" characters. (On the upside, one of the dubious choices is voiced by Natalie Dormer, which may or may not be implicated in the selection process).
  • The fandom is dissing the animation all over the internet, and they have a point. There is a lot of the laziness and superficial glitz which characterised DA2: the game has, for example, made all the NPCs in each non-human race the same face, with vaguely different face-paint. This is, to say the least, disconcerting, and causes brief moments of paranoid conspiracy as you try to work out non-existent connections, but it's not nearly as disconcerting as the facial animations, which manage, in a burst of rare genius, to be of regressively awful quality which puts them back somewhere before ME itself. The original ME didn't try to get fancy and thus avoided the uncanny valley issue into which MEA consistently and with pin-point accuracy tumbles. Characters in this game have some really weird lip movements.
  • I am, probably as a result of contextual imprinting over the last couple of decades, extremely uneasy about this game's colonial agenda and its ecological implications. To date they're not being thoughtfully dealt with.

Also, you have an AI, whose voice alerts you to environmental hazards and resource gathering opportunities and input requirements to an extent which swings wildly between being useful and being repetitively redundant to the point of infuriation. Hence my subject line. It is probably a tribute to the actual good parts of the game that I'm still invested and enjoying it despite hearing the above in a clipped British alto twenty or thirty times in a half-hour burst of driving madly around sand dunes.

this is just to say...

Thursday, 23 March 2017 08:02 am
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... that it has taken every ounce of willpower, Calvinist work ethic guilt and basic Lawful Good that I possess to be actually present at work today, instead of calling in sick in order to stay at home playing Mass Effect: Andromeda, which has been peaceably downloading for the last three days and which unlocked at 1am this morning, and towards the playing of which I have just dedicated, with remarkable absence of aforesaid Calvinist guilt, a stonkload of money in order to upgrade my system to the optimal spec.

This is possibly also just to say, by way of public service announcement, that the last six weeks of being basically antisocial because of work exhaustion will probably give way to at least a couple of weeks being antisocial because I am playing Mass Effect: Andromeda, which is, all things considered, a far better (or at least more enjoyable) reason to be antisocial.

Because at this point? I have damned well earned it.

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