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I woke up randomly at 5.30am this morning, which is fairly standard at the moment, probably because my body actually hates me and refuses to take more than 7 hours of sleep regardless of what time I go to bed, whether or not I set an alarm or how tired I am (newsflash: very, more or less perpetually). What was cruel and unusual was lying awake for ten minutes happily plotting out my Saturday and luxuriating in the feeling of not having to fight traffic to work, which lasted only too briefly before I suddenly remembered it was actually Friday and a work day. Not cricket, brain. I do not appreciate being hoodwinked and conceptually ambushed by my own cerebellum before my first cup of tea.

I am now sitting in my office having a mental wrestle with myself about whether or not I'm going to attend a faculty curriculum symposium in twenty minutes, which will subject me to (a) crowds, (b) political rhetoric, and (c) interpersonal tension, all of which give me hives. I am very, very close to mentally categorising it as "not my problem, I'm not an academic", giving this whole profoundly flawed academic edifice the finger, and buggering off home. Which would be bad, and wicked, and awful, and lovely.

On the upside, tonight I take my sister out for a birthday dinner at the local Italian joint, which is very nice, so I suppose there's that. On the further upside, for the last few days I have been re-reading the entire Drarry fanfic archive of blamebrampton, which is unduly British and frequently hysterically funny Potterslash written by someone I darkly suspect is personally located somewhere in the bowels of the British civil service, and to which I attribute any preponderance of British idiom in the above.
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The other night I dreamed an alien apocalypse, in which the bulk of humanity had fled or been removed, and I was living alone in a small country house, worrying because the visiting soldiers had gone out to buy beer and hadn't returned and the aliens could arrive at any moment. And while I was waiting I heard a loud engine approaching in the distance, and Tom Hardy arrived in a humvee with his dog, and proceeded to dig through my kitchen cupboards to find a large enough pot in which to give the dog water.

I have no idea. My suspicion is that this about (a) global political collapse, and (b) the fact that Tom Hardy, quite apart from his various roles, appears to be cordially insane. He was cordially insane in the dream, at any rate. I think we may have subsequently gone careering off across the country in the humvee with his dog and both my cats, looking for the military enclave to bring them intelligence. No actual aliens ever appeared, but I suspect they had eaten the missing soldiers.

My life at the moment is rather dull and very, very fatigued, with occasional high spots, most notably last night when jo&stv fed me delectable vegetarian supper out of Ottolenghi cookbooks. While I was familiar with "Ottolenghi" as a word, I hadn't associated it with an actual chef and had vaguely assumed it was a particularly complicated ethnic dish of some kind, along the lines of osso buco or saltimbocca. Both of which would, in fact, also make good chef names. At any rate, the baked minted rice with the olive/walnut/pomegranate salsa was bloody marvellous.

I also have to record for posterity that fanfic high spots can include, in defiance of probability, a Regency AU of the film versions of The Hobbit featuring a genderswapped Bilbo who's a vicar, and several trans dwarves. As yet unfinished, but the voice and worldbuilding are pitch perfect.

My subject line is Franz Ferdinand, currently on rotation in the car, from "Dream again". I record this after having spent twenty minutes fruitlessly trying to find the lyrics under the delusional and probably fatigue-related belief (fatigue stuffs my memory like whoa and dammit) that the song was by the Fratellis, who I see have two relatively recent albums I haven't actually acquired. Note to self.
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I follow on Tumblr a blogger called elodieunderglass, who is wry and funny and has a thing about swans. Today they posted possibly my favourite thing in the history of ever, which is an outsider perspective on cricket which made me snort the traditional Early Grey up the traditional nasal appendage.

The post also, in a demented and lateral sort of fashion, exactly encapsulates not only the stunned bewilderment inevitably arising from the game's deranged terminology, but the tone and feel of Sunday cricket over the radio, which I remember vividly from my dad listening to it over afternoon tea. A mild, drowsy, comfortably arcane sort of space which swings gently between restrained approbation and slightly pained remonstrance, offset by long bouts of immersed and contemplative calm. It conjures a strangely embodied sort of afternoon sunlight punctuated by the distant, characteristic "pock" of bat on ball, and the distinct and otherworldly sensation of British tea-drinking.

I understand just enough about cricket to be obscurely comforted rather than maddened beyond belief by its arcane intricacies, and I find the whole unlikely edifice, particularly in its radio commentary incarnation, nostalgic and soothing in the extreme.

I spoke into his eyes

Wednesday, 10 October 2018 11:13 am
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Feeling a bit non-existent again, so am taking this opportunity to remind myself of my own instrumentality. When suffering reality slippage, it helps to tally up the small but perfectly real motions in evidence of one's own actual impact on the world.

Things I achieved over the weekend:
  1. A load of laundry.
  2. The watering of the garden with the grey water from the above load of laundry.
  3. Chocolate cake. (this one, but I leave the egg yolk out of the icing. I have been eating it for breakfast all week with indecent satisfaction).
  4. Fancy chicken lasagne dinner for jo&stv, based on this one but without the cream, extra cheese or actual skillet. Also, garlic bread, which has given me acid reflux for the better part of three days but was absolutely worth it.
  5. Courtesy of jo's demon drilling skills, curtain rails and curtains on my front windows, which has measurably reduced the temperature of the front rooms by a few degrees, and has incidentally allowed me to retire the (cheap and nasty) blinds, thus frustrating Jyn's ongoing attempts to render me actually homicidal by trying to climb through them so she can see out. I'm deliriously happy about this, the house suddenly feels properly furnished and my nocturnal activities properly veiled from prying eyes in a way they simply weren't given the flimsy and cat-raddled nature of the blinds.
  6. Prompted by the "properly furnished" sensation in (5), above, the cleaning down and anointing with teak oil of the small teak desk I use for sewing; it was a bit water-mottled from hosting potplants and is now a glowing, beautiful thing. Wood, so satisfying.
  7. The brushing of both the cats, resulting in (a) a small inanimate tribble of astonishing dimensions, and (b) absurd quantities of purring.
  8. A metric fuckton of Skyrim, as is the traditional way of my people when faced with the unavoidable and unpleasant onset of summer temperatures.

Surprisingly large and varied numbers of things were also achieved by me this week so far at work.
  1. Number of large/annoying committee meetings survived without undue mental trauma or actual homicide: 3.
  2. Number of colleagues rescued from weird and baffling curriculum intricacies: 4.
  3. Number of students whose weird and baffling curriculum intricacy was sorted by me personally with rabid efficiency and dispatch: 5.
  4. Number of gently collapsing students rescued from their own approaching-term-end angst, despite it being too late in the semester for most sane or rational administrative mechanisms to apply: 3.

*waves Flag of Existence triumphantly*

I shit you not

Tuesday, 9 October 2018 01:39 pm
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So, Cape Town has water restrictions, because Drought. You probably knew that, because I, and all other Capetonians, bitch about it endlessly. We bitch about it endlessly because, by and large, we have all stepped up to the crisis and restricted our water use with such efficacy that dams are back up to over 70% capacity after an average rainy season. We cruelly curtail our showering, and lug buckets around, and purge the garden of water-needy plants, and refrain from flushing toilets, and wash the linen and our hair less frequently, all to a gentle refrain of whinging, but by gum we restrict our water use. We get it. We are Capetonians and love our city and are capable of doing what we can to make it work. The whinging is, I fear, intrinsic and possibly motivational to this process.

The particular aspect of all this which actually does render me homicidal is the language it generates. Ye gods and little drought-threatened fishes, we are coy about bodily functions. We are obliged to madly police how we flush, with specific reference to what we're flushing, and goddammit but we can't come out straight and say it. Instead, we blossom forth into a series of passive-aggressive notices couched in euphemistic terms, and contriving to suggest that our personal waste processing processes are being overseen by an intrusive cadre of over-potty-trained Victorian governesses. If I see one more instance of the twee little rhyme about "if it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down", I am going to start frothing at the mouth.

And make no mistake, the Pee Governesses are intrusive, and expect to moderate and control highly personal processes to which no outsider should be privy. I wish I could draw a tasteful veil over the most recent outbreak my Cherished Institution has harboured in the service of water retention, but I can't, because they're right there. Next to the pan. Significantly unveiled. The horrible high-tech plastic boxes with the doom-laden flappy door in the top, and the instructions which require you to make use of same to dispose of "urine-soaked toilet paper ONLY". Presumably to require less water by reducing toilet paper presence in the sewage system. Which makes sense, but there is something particularly horrible about waving urine-soaked toilet paper around in any vicinity except that of the actual loo. Eeuw, is all I can say. Eeeuw.

headology

Saturday, 6 October 2018 07:43 am
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Weird sleep and dream patterns in the last few days, I had some sort of bug on Wednesday and was a bit flattened with nausea and stomach cramps, and it seems to have messed with my sleep cycles. I ended up lying awake the other night randomly remembering a piquant detail from my past, that being the time I met Terry Pratchett - it must have been in the early 90s, he came on a book tour to Cape Town, and did a talk at the university. ("The problem with South Africa is that it's like trying to open a box with a crowbar which is inside the box.") The local guys who were on the old alt.fan.pratchett newsgroup were also keen to meet with him in a smaller group setting, and got hold of me because I was chair of the Tolkien Society at the time and they (quite correctly) thought I might also like to meet Pterry. Retrospect suggests that I didn't actually fully understand what they were asking, because I ended up hijacking their intimate get-together dinner and turning it into a Tolkien society cheese-and-wine event for about forty people. I suspect they've never actually forgiven me. Seems fair. I'm sorry I was so oblivious.

At any rate, it was a lovely evening, quickly degenerating into most of us clustered around listening to Pterry talk, which was hilarious. (He did the "who likes ginger, garlic, cats" poll - apparently his fans overwhelmingly like all three). I remember the event vividly because at one point he did a shambling orangutan impersonation and picked fleas off me. But most of all I remember it because someone asked him for more details about what Magrat was like, and he looked around the room, pointed at me, and said "Like your friend there, but without the self-assurance".

The physical equivalences were probably valid - I was a particularly skinny thing back then, if not quite the traditional ironing board, was wearing a full-length black chintz dress, and had very long hair which, as now, I never blowdried, so it tended to frizz madly in all directions. Occult jewellery may also have been implicated. What weirds me out now, looking back on it, though, is the crack about self-assurance.

See, I'm not self-confident. I am awkward and reticent and self-conscious in large gatherings or meeting new people. My disaster of an academic career is testament to my wholesale ability to take on board negative opinions about me from anyone in my general vicinity, and I've never had an active enough belief in my academic abilities to hold to them in the teeth of criticism. I build up confidence very slowly, and tend to acquire it from the structures I represent; I conducted a two-hour meeting today with senior academics, and had absolutely no problem doing so with authority and dispatch, but that's taken me a decade to learn. I'm absolutely calm and self-assured in front of a lecture hall full of students, even when they heckle, because I can immerse myself in the teacher, and that, again, I've learned over time. One of the reasons I'm finding it so hard to leave this job, I think, is because I am exhausted at the mere though of having to build up that confidence again in a different context and role. And while academia and this job may have beaten the confidence out of me since those days, I think it's more likely that Pterry only saw me as confident because I was being Tolkien Society Chair at the time, and the role gave me the authority I might otherwise lack.

I never really did identify with Magrat, possibly because her slightly limp ineffectuality is everything I am afraid I actually am, but maybe Pterry's use of me as a model was one of his classically uncanny and withering insights. Or maybe my commitment to the role is simply that good and he genuinely thought I was self-assured. I dunno. Either way, for the record, these days I'm really much more of a Granny Weatherwax.
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There are many, many advantages to living in Cape Town, which is my Favourite Place In The World, but high on the list are two of them we invoked on Sunday: good food, and beautiful countryside. We drove out to Luddite wine farm, up past Grabouw, for a local chef's pop-up Sunday lunch. It's about an hour and a half's drive through beautiful scenery, up Sir Lowry's Pass and among mountains and farms and lakes, o my! We are firmly in Spring in the Cape, and it trotted out a blazing summer day just because, and it was a truly lovely excursion all round. Somerset West notwithstanding. (Somerset West is a small-town-vibey suburb of Cape Town, distinguished mainly by its apparently pathological need to assert its own importance by putting eight or so long-phase traffic lights in a row on the main highway going out of Cape Town. It backs up like a complete bastard. Took us an hour to get through, coming back. Citizens of Somerset West have, I fear, a high background level of minor mishap on account of all the ritual cursings of frustrated motorists).

The pop-up lunch thing is fun because apparently it's perambulatory, and takes place in odd kitchens - this one was the winemaker's own home, with concomitant lawns, and dogs, and interesting architecture and art, and a deliriously wonderful accumulation of mismatched crockery to accommodate all the people. (And an interesting selection of people, too! Apparently a good way to randomly expand one's social circle from unlikely angles). It was an excellent lunch - while we were promised Beef Wellington, apparently there was some sort of critical fumble with the beef, and we got two kinds of lamb instead, a sort of shredded slow cooked thing, and beautifully rare chops; also asparagus and artichoke starters and an amazing pan-fried trout with crispy skin, yum. Luddite also does a very small, very concentrated selection of really superlative wines, introduced during a winery tour by the fanatically dedicated and charming wine-maker. (Defiantly anti high tech, hence the farm name). Grenache noir, who knew? Amazing stuff, apparently very commonly grown in France, but rare in the Cape. Kinda light, and fruity, and a bit jewel-toned.

Part of the enjoyment for me was also that I drove, in my little Beastie car, which made for slightly slow and low-gear assaults on the steeper bits of the pass, with the AC turned off, because she has a very small engine and doesn't do hills well with three people in the car. (Or, frankly, with one person in the car). I love driving, and love having a reasonable car into which I can pack friends; it's also an elegant solution given that my current fatigue levels mean I can't actually drink very much without after-effects, so I may as well be Designated Driver and allow jo&stv to imbibe freely, which they did, to great hilarity. (Also, bonus, driver's music choice rule. When you put my MP3 player on random it reveals there is apparently an over-abundance of David Bowie and Annie Lennox in my music collection, but also occasional outbreaks of Franz Ferdinand, during which everyone bops).

The only problem was the wheel-wobble we picked up on the way back, which I attributed at the time to wheel alignment being knocked askew by the really rather terrible dirt roads on the farm. However, when I trundled the Beast into the tyre place on Monday for an alignment, they gently pointed out the balding front tyre on the point of actual collapse, and gave me a Stern Talking-To about tyre tread, the natural life of a tyre, and the need for replacement. Four new tyres, R4000, second visit to have a caster shift alignment done, whatever the hell that is. (Apparently the Beast was pulling the wrong way for our road camber. It's technical). I was clearly overdue for tyres, I've been driving the Beast for five years anyway, and mostly I'm just profoundly grateful she didn't explode on the highway on the way back. Other than in Somerset West, where she could have exploded with impunity on account of how we WEREN'T MOVING.

Owing to wine, heat and general uselessness I took absolutely no photos. You'll have to take my word for it. Also, my subject line is Omar Khayyam, by contractual obligation when I'm talking about a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and the wilderness.
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I always have my doubts about whether or not birds of prey really like being petted, but I'd say this one somewhat unequivocally does.

we are the dead

Thursday, 27 September 2018 10:30 am
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My road has outbreaks of volunteer poppies, they spring up in the oddest cracks and corners as soon as the weather starts to warm up. I love them and find them astonishingly poignant, possibly because they function as a really very overcoded symbol, which I shall proceed to unpack because you can't stop me, mwa ha ha!

Part of it is, I think, the colour: the splash of defiant red which is particularly brilliant against tarmac or concrete. It's a brave little flag, waving for life and growth in the teeth of a sterile cityscape, and doing so with insistent cheer and profligate overstatement of hue. It's also a lone standard-bearer, speaking directly to our humanly sentimental appreciation of the small, solitary individual facing off against overwhelming odds. It's so unlikely, this little fragment of life, struggling through the stonework, finding tiny cracks in the system through which to express itself. It undermines the monolithic constructedness of the city in a way which speaks directly to anyone who feels alienated and helpless in the face of the impersonal scale of contemporary existence.

Poppies also, of course, have the very obvious symbolism of Flanders fields and the way they have come to function as a reminder of the wholesale slaughter of the First World War. They are about death on a number of levels, not just the blood-red of their flowers or their growth in the fields of dead. Their medicinal properties associate them with a deep, unnatural, deathlike sleep, and with the corrupt, destructive decadence of opium and heroin. As a species their physicality is strangely fragile, their stems easily broken, their petals paper-thin and delicate - a visual reminder of the tenuous nature of life which paradoxically strengthens their impact. They grow in Flanders from the dead, but they make life out of that death, and brandish it defiantly at the world. That paradox is, I think, also at the heart of their impact as lone volunteers in an urban landscape, fragile but alive among the concrete.

I love poppies, but weirdly have no desire to grow them for myself, and I think that's precisely because they're so much more interesting a symbol when they're growing themselves, for their own sakes, where they shouldn't be able to. They are flags of unlikely hope.

(My subject line weirdly isn't David Bowie, it is, of course, John McCrae's "In Flanders Field", although Bowie has a particularly weird song by that title on "Diamond Dogs". Music from which was not, as far as I can tell, implicated in the really lovely concert we went to on Saturday, which was Bowie (mostly the early classics) reinterpreted as full-on Baroque by a Baroque quartet. Right up a number of my alleys, particularly the genre-bending ones, their German Baroque rendition of "Moonage Daydream" caused me untold unholy glee).
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It is surprisingly unsurprising to have turned up at Andrew S's "I'm in CT and it's my birthday!" braai yesterday to discover that approximately half the guests, self included, were wearing some iteration of a Star Wars t-shirt. Because old CLAW crowd, and we're all unabashedly geeky and clearly feel enabled in the expression of same by contact with the old tribe. Either that, or it's some sort of territorial display. But I have been reading an awful lot of Teen Wolf fanfic and my view may be unduly coloured by over-exposure to dodgy unscientific pack dynamics. At any rate, very pleasant gathering, and lovely to catch up with people I haven't seen in way too long owing to ingrowing hermitage.

It appears to be spring, which was useful for braai purposes, the weather has been lovely, clear and crisp. CT dams are at 70%, and there's more rain predicted for this week. I am, as usual, consoling myself for the inexorable approach of January heat-waves by wandering around my spring-loaded garden, patting odd exemplars of the burgeoning foliage on the head and exhorting it to further efforts with an insouciant verbosity which I suspect has led my neighbours to mentally categorise me as "crazy cat lady", an appellation which which I am down.

One of the mad floral activists is below, half a tray of violas which I grew from seed. This was the result of a slightly odd supermarket promotion at our local Checkers, where for a couple of months they handed out at the check-out a pile of little seed-growing packs, three or four depending on how much money you spent. These comprised a small cardboard box/pot thingy, a square of paper with embedded seeds, a few labels identifying the particular seed type, and the bit I really loved, a miniature hockey puck of compressed and dehydrated potting soil. When you stuck this in a saucer and added water, it madly expanded and crumbled to make actual soil in a fascinating and semi-magical fashion. In a spirit of experimentation I actually planted one batch of these, despite the fact that I can't grow things from seed worth a damn, and they all sprouted, possibly because Science. The cauliflower and parsley went spindly and leggy and didn't last long, but the violas produced the below, and there's something else quietly growing small, sturdy leaves in the other half of the box, it would be lovely if I could remember what the hell it was. Something floral rather than vegetable. I hope it survives long enough to identify it.

I cannot help but think that it was a slightly misguided promotional concept, to hand out plant-growing kits (a) in the middle of winter, and (b) in the middle of a drought, but the compressed soil was Cool Science, and on the upside, violas! I love their little velvety faces, especially this strain, which have goatees. When I went out into the courtyard this morning they all had their faces turned to the sun, except one, who had it turned backwards in a bit of a sulk. I think the others were mean to him overnight.



My subject line is e e cummings, which is inevitable given spring.
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I need a cat-patcher, stat. I hadn't thought Jyn's buggy jump module was too serious a glitch: yes, I laugh at her a lot because she still hasn't worked out how to go through the bathroom window into the courtyard, but I figure she'll learn when she wants to leave the house desperately enough. And she has in the last month or so acquired the skills to levitate onto the dining room table despite me shouting at her not to. But the problem is that she has, in fact, also learned how to climb onto the back wall of the courtyard (via one of the plant boxes), and thence onto the flat roof of the diagonal neighbour's shed. Which is how she gets beaten up by the neighbourhood feline thug patrol, and is also why, incidentally, I ended up meeting the nice neighbour over my back wall at 9pm last night under somewhat inauspicious circumstances.

Because, it turns out, if Jyn is dweebish enough to climb onto the diagonal neighbour's roof and then jumps or (knowing her) falls into the diagonal neighbour's back courtyard, she's dweebish enough not to be able to jump out as it's a high-walled box. This despite the fact that I can see at least three routes any other red-blooded feline would be able to use in an instant.

No, she'll wander around in the diagonal neighbour's courtyard, mewing piteously. At 9pm I'll start getting ready for bed, and realise that my bedtime cat count is one short, at which point I'll go out into the back courtyard and hear her. Calling over the back wall does nothing except intensify her piteous mewing. Leaving the house by the front door, walking around the block and calling in front of the diagonal neighbour's house does nothing because it's another row of semi-detached houses and there's no way through to their back garden from the front. The house is dark and silent, they are clearly out.

Returning to my own garden and calling over the fence still doesn't inspire Jyn to find a climb route, but it does eventually alert the neighbour immediately behind me, who comes out into her garden and is able to report that Jyn is wandering around next door but won't come when called, because she's not only jump-disabled, she's ridiculously timid. Nice neighbour readily agrees to allow me into her house, so I once more trot round the block, clutching my pepper spray suspiciously in case of things that go bump, trek through the nice neighbour's home into the garden, and try to persuade Jyn over the wall. No dice, because she's freaked enough to not even be able to jump onto a chair so she's within grabbing range.

Final upshot: me and Nice Neighbour manhandling a ladder over the wall, Nice Neighbour climbing over (because my knees and balance are seriously not up to it), befriending Jyn, grabbing her and handing her to me so I can post her over the wall back into my garden and hope to hell she doesn't try to climb straight back over so she can follow me back through the Nice Neighbour's house and round the block. Again.

It's somewhat bizarre circumstances under which to meet the neighbours, is all. But it does demonstrate that I have at least one neighbour who is prepared to go severely above and beyond in the service of dingbat cats with faulty jump modules, and the slightly hapless fumbling of their owners. Also, failing a patch job on her programming, I think I'm going to have to construct a small obstacle course in the back courtyard and try to actually train Jyn's AI into this mysterious "jump" business.

At least it wasn't also bucketing with rain, is all I can say.

In re my subject line, she is not a Jellicle Cat because apparently they jump like jumping jacks.
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Oh, dear, fatigue crash. For the last week or so I have been doing that thing where I assume the horizontal position, drained and useless, at 9pm, and wake up at 6am regardless of alarm-clock contributions, with that slightly time-warped feeling as though I'm about to fall into bed after a heavy day. Possibly one involving simultaneous marathon running, tricky technical writing and fending off an alien invasion, after which I've stayed up all night juggling ferrets.

This random and intermittent lassitude is, regrettably, a feature of chronic fatigue; sometimes I just gets tired. No particular trigger (Mondays or a glass of wine the night before are sometimes influential, but to no discernible pattern, I may have to give both up just in case), and nothing I can do except wait it out while doing not much. Symptoms include noun loss, distraction and that weird thing where I get two steps up a staircase and have to stop for a bit to contemplate the essential impossibility of continuing.

This is heartily dull, but it will pass. Normally I retreat into video gaming, but I am jonesing for first-person sword-and-sorcery rpgishness and have played the Elder Scrolls and Amalur into the ground to the point where another replay is boring even in my current state of brain-deadness. Same prob with Bioware. I need a new game, stat. Taking recommendations.
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Recipe time! because I want to keep in the blogging flow, and can't think of anything else offhand. Also, because these are stv's favourite candidate for occupancy of the Endless Cookie Tin, a birthday present I gave him a few years back, constituting a fancy tin + undertaking to fill same with home-made cookies on demand, which gives me a lovely excuse to undertake wild baking experiments without entirely submerging my house in baked goods I'll never eat. Also, I have been tinkering with these for umpteen iterations and now diverge fairly wildly from the recipe and should probably write it down before age and chronic fatigue gently erase it from my memory.

This recipe relies, ironically enough, on the health food lunatic fringe's market clout having made various pure nut butters freely available in supermarkets over the last few years. It makes a very rich, short biscuit that spits in the general direction of healthy eating in any sense. You can actually make it with any nut butter and relevant nuts (cashews, almonds, the choc almond butter version is good), but the macadamia are best by a fairly long way, probably because of the richness of macadamia nuts.

This is based on Joy of Cooking's peanut butter cookie recipe, but basically I open the book to the right page and then cordially ignore it.

MACADAMIA CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

120g butter (at room temperature is easier)
125ml soft brown sugar
125ml brown sugar
1 egg
sploosh of vanilla to taste (I like lots)
260g macadamia butter
360ml flour
2 tsp ground ginger, dash of nutmeg (if you're feeling fancy, substitute a couple of teaspoons of grated orange zest)
1 tsp bicarb
1/2 tsp salt
15ml buttermilk (because there clearly isn't enough fat up in here already)
at least 100g dark chocolate chips
at least 100g coarsely chopped macadamia nuts (150g is good for reasonable levels of decadence)

  • Preheat oven to 180oC (350o F) and line two baking sheets with baking paper.
  • Soften butter a bit by beating with an electric mixer or whizzing in a food processor; add both types of sugar and beat for a few minutes, as long as you would to achieve the traditional "light and fluffy", which it won't achieve because this is coarse sugar, so it ends up looking sandy and a bit clumpy.
  • Beat in egg. Beat in nut butter and vanilla.
  • If you were a higher, nobler human being than I am, you'd sift the flour, spices, bicarb and salt together before adding them, but I never do, I bung them all into the measuring jug together and stir vaguely with a butter knife. Add the dry ingredients in approximately thirds, beating for the first two thirds while adding the buttermilk between them, then mixing in the last third with a butter knife, it gets a bit stiff and will burn out your mixer if you give it half a chance.
  • Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips.
  • You should end up with a stiff, moist drop cookie consistency rather than the usual rollable peanut butter cookie dough. Wodge dollops of mix onto the cookie sheets, leaving them room to spread a bit, and squidge them down a bit flat as they don't actually spread that much.
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes depending on the personal proclivities of your oven, they should just be starting to brown at the edges. They are very crumbly when hot, and particularly delectable while still warm. Watch out for the molten chocolate bits.
  • Inhale.

*z-snap*

Saturday, 15 September 2018 08:48 am
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Last night, having finally figured out how to reconfigure the home theatre system from Zelda to Blu-Ray, I watched Avengers: Infinity War. Now that I have retrieved the cats from the top of the curtains, where they fled in discombobulation at all the irritated shouting, I have some Notes.

  1. SO.
  2. BADLY.
  3. WRITTEN.
  4. We have reached a stage of blockbuster movies which is a perfect and literal embodiment of Baudrillardian simulation: they are endlessly proliferating copies of copies, to the point where all sense of an originating real is lost. This was not a film narrative, it was an awkward conglomeration of acceptable plot elements hacked together into the overall, cargo-cultish shape of a film, and set shambling into the cultural landscape in the shrewd and practised hope that it would fool the moviegoers into paying money for it. Which in the event was clearly successful in the financial sense, but catastrophically otherwise for the plot.
  5. A movie can't just be well-known heroic stereotypes enacting explosions, it needs a clear motivational thread to hold it together. And I realised very sharply last night that the thread needs, weirdly enough, to be moral: people need to do things because there is not just a practical but a philosophical reason to do them. Infinity War is trying in a half-arsed way to do some heavy philosophical lifting on the nature of evil, and the idea of sacrificing the individual for the overall good, but it can't hold the ideas together enough to do any sort of meaningful or consistent exploration. It tries to evoke them by passing reference, and assumes that's enough. As a result there was no actual logic to character reactions; not only did the vast majority of the supposedly pivotal and emotionally trying decisions fall under the category of Too Stupid To Live, they had no emotional impact, either, because they made no sense.
  6. I don't care how much money the latest Thor film made and how much that owed to its campy humour: Infinity War had a much darker tone given its themes, and its writers aren't fit to run Taika Waititi's scripts down to the copy shop, and certainly weren't up to the challenge either of generating said humour or of mixing the two, so the humour attempts simply sounded lame, forced and out of place.
  7. Infinite cosmic power is a narrative and cinematic trap. Not only would it be visually boring if properly realised, it's incredibly difficult to retain narrative drive and challenge in the face of it, and it makes laughable monkeys out of consistency. Examples are legion, but a random one that particularly narked me: given what Thanos can do with all except the last stone, there was absolutely no reason to treat the Wakandan forcefield as any sort of barrier, he could have taken it down with a fingersnap. It was clearly there to make pretty large-scale battlefields and induce artificial Plastic Trauma, TM. Unfortunately infinite cosmic power needs exceedingly clever scriptwriting, which this signally wasn't.
  8. The film tried to make Thanos into a subjectivity, and he shouldn't have been. (a) because there wasn't enough narrative meat to make his motivations meaningful, and (b) because he's a narcissistic homicidal paternalistic wangst-ridden dickhead (literally) and the fact that the writers clearly found that interesting is everything you need to know about them in order to run screaming in the opposite direction.
  9. Further to (8) above, if the most recurring feature of your so-called plot is the sustained theme of Men Feeling Plastic Conflict, TM, and having to angst about sacrificing women to it before deciding to sacrifice them anyway, your misogynistic pissbag writers need to be shot out of a cannon into the heart of the sun. Also, I don't think it's just my steady diet of slash which makes me see this, but there were altogether too many Default Heterosexual Romances in that movie. If the only emotional connection you can imagine between characters is a stereotypical romance, you have insufficient imagination to be writing film scripts.
  10. The Avengers franchise has some significant cultural and character capital built up now, and this film cheerfully threw that into a handy black hole. There were too many characters in this film, and none of them did anything that made sense or developed them in any useful way, and nine tenths of the actors concerned are actually really good and deserved far better. And I'm not even going to get into the random deaths thing, because (a) they were unearned and had no emotional impact and I frankly didn't care, and (b) they'll probably all be rolled back because comics.
  11. SO.
  12. BADLY.
  13. WRITTEN.

OK, that was cathartic, I feel better now. Although entirely inclined to be very, very wary of the upcoming Captain Marvel film, she's a brilliant character and survey says Marvel's moviemaking machine will chew her up and spit her out in tiny, plastic bits gummed together with sticky sexism. Woe.

kindred spirits

Thursday, 13 September 2018 08:07 pm
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Students are suspiciously quiet this semester, what the hell. We had a downright placid change of curriculum period, and for the last few weeks the trickle of students panicking in my office has been more of an intermittent dribble. While I am subliminally waiting for the other shoe to drop and, I dunno, a full-on Deep One cult to surface in the Chinese fountain on the plaza or something, it does at least mean that over the last week I was twiddling my thumbs enough that I managed to read the first five novels in the Anne of Green Gables series off Gutenberg in my office browser. Which, I have to add for posterity, is a literary diet far less likely to traumatise any students who accidentally catch sight of it than either of my more usual work-avoidant browser habits, viz. fanfic and Tumblr, both of which are prone to erupt without warning into explicit gay porn.

I haven't read Anne properly for years, I motored through the first one six or seven years ago in order to supervise a more than usually fumbling Honours thesis. I had forgotten a lot about it, and the reminder has given rise to two sharply opposed responses.

On the one hand - lord, it's sentimental. Very much an artefact of its time; I looked for it because I keep seeing references to the new Anne with an E tv series, but I think one of the reasons I kept reading is because the world it depicts is so idyllic, ordered and sane, in sharp contradistinction to ours, which really isn't any of the above, right now. Anne's sentimentality leads it to idealised ideas of relationships and, particularly, women's roles in them (also, children, to occasionally nauseating extremes), but there's something very comforting in the simple nature of its conflicts and in the series' sustained belief in the essential benevolence of people. I found myself glossing over the saccharine bits and the horribly outdated gender politics because the characters are so interesting and real and likeable despite them.

On the other hand - sentimental, saccharine, idealised though it is, something in Anne herself was, I think, formative, and I still read her with enormous pleasure and recognition. I never had her unfettered spontaneity, but like her I was a child whose vivid emotional life was internal and imaginative and romanticised - still is, really - and whose best school subject was English. Anne's status as a word-witch among her peers is something I, as an awkward introvert, passionately desired, because unlike other aspirations it wasn't entirely impossible - it was a superpower I intellectually possessed and could conceivably unlock if I only had the confidence or unselfconsciousness or social skills. I never did, of course, but it was comforting, I think, to contemplate an idealised identity which was created by becoming more powerfully myself rather than less.

Dated sentimentality aside, Anne is a vivid creation and I was happy to re-discover her. I should look out for the new series, it seems to be worthwhile.

SPACE TERMITES!

Tuesday, 11 September 2018 02:03 pm
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Over the last few years stv&jo have variously participated in a sort of bloody-mindedly perverse version of Ludum Dare, which is a game jam, a themed, annual competition to design a video game in 48 hours. While stv and his cohorts have in the past actually programmed a game, some combination of jo&stv have at various points also run a personalised version where they design a board game or RPG to the specified theme, and within the specified time. This is, in fact, how jo and I came, back in 2013, to invent Space Amnesia, which was a LARP which messed with the theme for that year ("10 seconds") to play with the idea of an amnesiac spaceship crew receiving their memories back in short, if not quite 10-second, bursts. We never quite perfected the LARP, but it had a couple of rather entertaining test plays.

This year's August Ludum Dare had the theme of "running out of space", and jo&stv and I and their friend Sara ended up trying the board game version this last weekend, delayed from the actual August date by the fell descent of lurgis. We ended up with a strategic tile-placement game called Space Termites! (the exclamation point is integral and vital).



You are an intrepid space engineer, tasked with building a spaceship in simultaneous co-operation and competition with your fellow space engineers, and hoping you do so well enough to survive the subsequent space termite attack. The "running out of space" theme comes in the reduction of your spaceship size not just by termite depredations, but by your deployment of your fiendish module-folding skills, which allow you to compress and fold back the spaceship you have just carefully built, to retain all necessary facilities and make sure (a) no sticky-out bits are gnawed off by space termites, and (b) it's small enough to be picked up by the rescue vessel. You are scored competitively on how many of your tiles survive. Tiles are placed according to the air/power/water connections, and facilities designated by the same processes, and you end up with something that scorns design regularity (we decided space engineers have no truck with architects) but during various different games did, in fact, amorphously come to resemble a space fish, the Millenium Falcon if you squint, or a Star Destroyer with its front point gnawed off. Unlike this one, which once the termites have finished will look more like a Borg cube.



The game is ridiculously entertaining and rather back-stabby to play, and also weirdly tactical for a basic, silly concept, but it was also absurdly fun to design. It's fascinating to me how incredibly generative limitation can be (which explains, I suppose, why I'm so into highly reductionist genre convention). If someone tells you "design a board game" you flounder, but if someone says "design a board game about running out of space", ideas self-generate in excited flocks and have to be wrangled over heatedly while they bounce off each other and mutate. (It is not entirely impossible that this process was unduly exacerbated by (a) wine, and (b) high levels of postgraduate education among the participants, which means things became at times conceptually dense and polysyllabic.)

And I really think we struck it lucky (or highly intentional and clever. Or both.) with the core concept, because the balance between co-operation and back-stabbing really makes the game interesting, and ramifies out the tactical possibilities in weird and challenging ways. Also, I have to say, there were untold opportunities to make cheerfully mean space engineer jokes. Sorry, engineers. You can laugh when the termites get me.

ding dong

Sunday, 9 September 2018 07:31 am
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I should probably have mentioned that one of the things that happened over the latest bloggery hiatus is that my evil hell-boss resigned. When the Dean came into my office a few months back to tell me about the resignation, I was completely unable to restrain myself from an small, involuntary, dignified Dance of Joy. The Dean, who is a Nice Man who shares my opinion of the Evil Hell-boss, immediately burst out laughing. "You know," he said, "absolutely everyone I've told about this has done exactly the same thing."

I occasionally reel slightly, if I can pause in the fog of resentment and anger, to wonder at quite the magnitude of the fuck-up she achieved during, what, five years in office? She attempted a grandiose and misguided office restructure which achieved nothing it was supposed to because she was blissfully out of touch with the realities of day-to-day admin, and which resulted in a massive downturn in effectiveness and productivity. In the process she rode rough-shod over the staff to an extent which caused an approximately 80% staff turnover in two years. She has spent the rest of her time diligently producing administrative process manuals which no-one will ever read, and which attempt to enshrine an office practice she doesn't fully understand. When the whole thing fell apart and the staff began to actually refuse to implement any of her instructions, she had a beautiful toddler tantrum and removed herself from office (on full pay) to sulk down the hill in another department doing unspecified "special projects", while her deputy had to do two jobs simultaneously, including manage disaffected staff. She also managed to finesse this dereliction of duty to re-characterise it as All Our Fault, not hers.

As she tactfully took her last couple of weeks of work in the faculty office as leave, this means she's left already. It is actually quite odd to contemplate how little a difference this has made. The damage has been done so extensively and comprehensively that I think we're all staggering around, stunned, in the ruins, and the fact that Great Cthulhu has fucked off back to R'lyeh doesn't really mitigate the mental trauma any. Those sanity points are lost, buster. No returns.

I find it funny, though, that she came into my office to give me a breezy, cordial goodbye on her last day in office. Lots of chatting about her new post (still within my Cherished Institution, alas) and possible co-operation down the line. I am unable to decide whether or not this is the result of me acing my personal strategy for dealing with her over the last few years, which is to be Resolutely Professional And Pleasant and not to go against anything she wanted in any upfront way, so that she genuinely imagines I'm a supporter, or if she has an equal and opposite strategy of cordiality which means the whole interchange put the Genuine levels in the room at 0.00%. It's interesting, though, to realise that several decades of role-playing have some practical upshot, I hadn't thought I was capable of that kind of sustained deception.

I still want to leave this job, although I don't have it in me to do so immediately, I'm one of the few points of institutional memory left. Apart from my sense of traumatised camaraderie with fellow administrators, I shudder to contemplate the additional, hideous reduction in service our students would experience as my replacement learned the ropes. But I am not, so to speak, committed to the enterprise any longer. The burned child eventually learns to fear the fire, at least at the point where her fingers are scorched to stumps approximately at the elbows.

perambulation

Friday, 7 September 2018 09:40 am
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A couple of weekends ago we (me and jo&stv) took a weekend off to go up to Wellington, where we spent two nights in a slightly larney AirBn'B on a wine farm, and followed our avowed intent of doing nothing much all weekend. It's amazingly good for the soul, to spend a wet, cold, blustery day high up on a hillside overlooking the valley, with a fire, blankets, books, games, wifi, good food at ridiculously short intervals, and excellent company. Holidays where you don't leave the house, my favourite kind. Also, underfloor heating in the bathrooms, which is a pleasingly sybaritic luxury. And beautiful views.

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We did stop for lunch on the drive up, at another wine farm. They had an elephant, of the arty rather than the flesh and blood variety; he was excellent.

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I am fortunate to live in an exceptionally beautiful part of the world.
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Last weekend, by my request and in response to a couple of interrupted attempts to get into my front door by unspecified crowbar-wielding Bad Guys, my nice landlord came and installed a solid cast-iron gate in place of the original rather flimsy cheap trellidor. As my front door is right on the road, this was Reassuring. All was gas and gaiters until Sunday morning, when I came home from shopping to discover that the day before I had apparently carefully swapped over the keys on my keyring to add the new security gate key, but in a slightly exhausted daze (I haven't been sleeping well) had madly removed the actual front door key instead of removing the old security gate key. I thus had two security gate keys, one entirely useless and out of date, and no front door key, since it was sitting on the kitchen table, and couldn't get into the house. This simple stupidity was the start of a cascade of errors which unfolded thusly:

  • I have never actually locked myself out of this house before, but being vaguely excessively Boy Scoutish about this (possibly as a side effect of the Lawful Good), I had left a set of my keys with jo&stv. It was by this stage about 9am on a Sunday; the odds were good that they were home.
  • Problem escalation 1: in the early morning pre-shopping daze, I had left my cellphone on the bedside table, so couldn't phone or text to see if they were home. Solveable by simply climbing back into the car and driving through to their house.
  • Problem escalation 2: three days before I had coincidentally said to them, "Hey, you do know I don't answer the door if I'm not expecting someone? so please text first before dropping by", and they'd said "Hey, same, all good". This means that it was fresh in everyone's minds when their doorbell went several times in succession on a Sunday morning without prior warning, and they quite righteously didn't answer. I tried yelling, but they have a high wall and I'm not loud enough to make much impression.
  • Problem escalation 3: ironically enough I actually had the spare keys to their house in my handbag, but couldn't get the gate to open, it randomly sticks in the damp weather and had, with pinpoint accuracy and perversity, nominated today as Off Duty.
  • Problem escalation 4: in a cellphone age, we are ridiculously bound to our phones for day-to-day info. I didn't have my phone, therefore not only couldn't phone, but also had no relevant numbers, because I never got around to putting my hard copy backup into this year's diary. It was a very weird feeling: not only was I not legitimately able to prove I was myself by texting, even if I found a nearby phone I wasn't able to prove I was myself by actually having the necessary contact information. Horrible sense of non-existence.

It was like a domino cascade: one initial tap and the whole thing fell over, slowly, in beautiful stages. I solved it, eventually, by driving up to campus, accessing my computer in my office, looking up Jo's number on the student database and Steve's in his email, and phoning cellphones until someone answered. Sod's Law being what it is, they'd left the house about ten minutes after I did, I should have simply waited, but fortunately they were only one suburb over and came haring back to let me in, so I achieved keyhood and toddled back home, shaken and self-chastising and vowing never to leave the house again for any reason.

Jyn loves the new security gate, incidentally. She has returned to full health not just full of beans, but with an excess, which means that twice in the last two days she's successfully made a break for the road while I was fumbling with unfamiliar locks, and has had to be chased down. Since she goes to ground under the car and refuses to emerge, this becomes tricky and time-consuming. I was rescued this morning by the neighbour, who did by his own admission a stormtrooper impression which had both cats streaking into the house with tails like bottlebrushes, seriously freaked. I'm good with this. Two cats have been run over in that road in the last month and a half, I feel that terror in this context is benign.

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