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Rats, slipped a bit on the posting. I have been particularly tired over the last few weeks, I keep having these weird moments when I climb out of the car after shopping and am suddenly overcome by an all-over bodily lassitude such that I can't imagine where I'll actually find the energy to pick up the grocery bags and walk up the steps. Or I look up from reading Martha Wells on the sofa and realise my eyes aren't focusing properly and my entire person is winding down into that just-pre-sleep drowsy heaviness, and I should probably go to bed, except that it's 8pm, and going to bed that early is ridiculous.

And when I do go to bed, regardless of time or whether I set an alarm (I haven't for nearly six months now), I fall asleep immediately, and sleep deeply for exactly seven and a half hours, and then wake up, entirely unprompted. Often, given how tired I am lately and how early I go to bed, at 4.30 in the bloody morning. It is clearly not enough sleep. I wake up tired. I have always been a 9-hour sleep person, even 10 if I can get it, but my damned declining middle-agedish bod is regressing to teenage angst status and refusing to do what's good for it. It would probably help if I got some exercise, but I'm too tired. Yay circularity.

On the upside: Martha Wells. The Murderbot Diaries. Intelligent, funny, poignant sf and incidentally a beautifully-judged disquisition on the nature of identity, humanity and consciousness. And corporate greed. Highly recommended. (The link is to the Kindle page because that's what was on my desktop, because currently the Kindle is the only thing that stands between me and the pressing need to construct more walls in my house onto which to attach bookshelves).

Work is simultaneously winding down for the end of the semester/exams and winding up into the year-end exam committee process and preparations for the orientation/registration chaos of the start of next year. This may be why I am feeling tired, conflicted, and hideous kinship with those long strings of goopy smoked mozzarella you get when you lift a slice out of my characteristically over-cheesed deep-dish lasagne. I am also entertaining political despair, because, recent House gains notwithstanding, America, and also because several lovely Zim students in a row this week engaged me in impassioned discussion of the current Zimbabwean situation, which is breaking out in rapacious politicians who are, yet again, robbing their citizenry blind via financial fuckwittery, and have the whole thing teetering on the brink of yet another complete economic collapse. You wouldn't think there was enough actual structure left for it to collapse further. As I said to the young man yesterday, you think that at least Zim can't get any worse, and then it does. I don't see how our significant cohort of Zim students are going to pay their fees next year, there's no forex, which is awful for them, but is also going to deliver another blow to my Cherished Institution's slightly stretched finances.

In mitigation, I recommend reading everything David Roth writes on Deadspin in the way of ruthlessly dismembering political fuckwittery, specifically the Trumpian variety. I've just read Toward a working theory of what the fuck Donald Trump is even talking about and This is all Donald Trump has left, both of which are savage, biting, insightful dissections which leave Trump in appropriately raw and quivering lumps. Satisfying. But not, alas, assisting with the exhaustion.

true and correct

Monday, 5 November 2018 02:41 pm
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I'm a Commissioner of Oaths in my employment capacity, as a result of the fact that my Cherished Institution requires CoO certification for anyone above a certain payclass. Generally I don't have to do much with my Madly Official Stamps, since, while the institutional Powers That Be do generate a list of available commissioners, they only seem to advertise it in a locked filing cabinet in a basement somewhere behind a sign saying "beware of the leopard", with the net result that few tragically uncertified students actually work out I'm available. However, there's been a slightly odd rush of certification requests in the last few days. Either they've fired the leopard, or something about the approaching end of year brings people out in documentary hives.

The certifications of copy are dead routine, and, as I just said to the nice young man whose certificates I stamped, probably among the easiest things that students could possibly ask me to do. What is more difficult is the commissioning of a document, which is the whole sworn oath thing where I'm attesting that the signature on the document is that of the person in my office who is also the person appearing in the identity document they've given me as proof. Which is a madly ritualistic bit of legal wossname where I actually have to administer an oath, and always makes me feel as though I should be wearing a gown and wig and breaking out the more cumbersome sort of legalistic jargon. (Even though I always, without fail, default to the "truly affirm" version rather than the "so help me God" one, on the grounds that someone else's relationship with God is none of my business, and also that the invocation of a deity doesn't assist the integrity of my participation in the slightest being as how I don't believe in him).

I don't have to commission documents too often, and at least two of the occasions where people have arrived in my office with a commissioning request, I've had to gently decline. Both were fellow staff members, who wanted me to commission a document on behalf of an absent family member, and both of whom, while they didn't say anything explicit, managed to convey by generally huffy body language their annoyed incredulity at the fact that I wouldn't just stamp the damned things already, good grief, despite the inarguable absence not just of the vital personage concerned, but of every sort of verifiable element to which I'm supposed to be attesting.

Lawful Good doesn't work like that. I have a stamp which says I've verified things to my own satisfaction, and a quite clearly written and unequivocal guideline document which lays out exactly what I'm supposed to be verifying, and I'm quite frankly buggered if I'm going to make a mockery of the system by using my powers for anything other than their intended purpose. What the hell, even. How dare you expect it of me.

Dear attempted-falsifying colleagues, in that momentary drawing of lines you tried to implement, where you and I were comrades standing against the giant mechanisms of meaningless bureaucracy, you have badly misunderstood my position in the whole thing. I'm not on your side of the line. I frankly resent that you think I might be, particularly given that both of you are higher ranking in institutional terms than I am, and the whole momentary-comradeship thing elides a power balance that might conceivably be read as pressurising a junior staff member. I get that you are not attempting massive fraud, and this is convenience, and your family member almost certainly is who you say they are, and probably even signed this. But no. It might not matter in the greater scheme of things, but the integrity of my word damned well matters to me. We live in a world where, globally, systems are being systematically screwed by this sort of personal-convenience thinking. This is a tiny meaningless microcosm, but I will have no truck with it. You want my signature, you take the system on board.
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Blissfully rainy and cold for the last couple of days, my garden is all happy and full of rain-washed leaves. It makes the Skyrim replay less urgent, I don't have quite the same desperate need to deny the globally warmed African temperatures by frolicking through snowy landscapes, but I'm right at the end of two major quest lines I haven't played before, so have had additional reasons to plunge straight back into gaming when I get home.

This is the replay where, in fairly uncharacteristic denial of my usual Lawful Good hard-wiring, I am playing through the Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood quest lines. Thieves Guild is, obviously, about wholesale nicking stuff, and also restoring a crumbling guild to its former glory days; the Dark Brotherhood is an assassin's guild, with a particularly nasty Daedric godling at the heart of it. (The Daedric lords in Elder Scrolls games are potentially very nasty indeed, and I tend to avoid all but a handful of the nicer ones like the murder-ridden pits of extra-dimensional perversion they are). And part of my vague yen to get all anti-establishment up in here is, I think, because the world in general and my academic corner of it in particular are making me despair of systems in general, and wish to bestow on them a hearty Up Yours, at least in an abstract and virtual sense.

But the other reason I've managed to go beyond my usual point of initial "nope" in these quest lines is, weirdly enough, role-playing, because this time round I'm playing a Khajit. These are the cat-people race of the Elder Scrolls world, humanoid, furry, rather lovely tigerish faces. My current iteration has caracal ears, which are my favourite feline ears of all time. Khajit have good bonuses for thievery and sneaking, but mostly Khajit identity is enabling my non-lawful activity by dint of the fact that Skyrim is beautifully constructed as a parochial, insular little snowfield full of patriotic Nordic types who distrust and exclude outsiders, and random NPC samplings of whom have some choicely racist things to say on the subject of cat-people. You start the game narrowly escaping random execution for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I emerged from the starting sequence in a fine frame of seething indignation towards Nords, the Empire and random discrimination which made it comparatively easy to decide, right, you bastards, you owe me everything you have. Also, you tried to kill me, so I'll kill you right back.

It's surprisingly freeing. I don't think I'll drift in any wholesale way towards this kind of anti-establishment gameplay as a general rule, it's really quite alien to me, but at this particular moment, and given the more dysfunctional kinks of my personality, it's probably weirdly healthy. I am, at base, incredibly bad at anger. I find it very difficult to direct it against the world; I will turn it, nine times out of ten, against myself, into generalised self-loathing. As I burgle yet another snooty Nordic home with vindictive satisfaction, somewhere, without knowing why, my ex-therapist is spontaneously punching the air.
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Randomly cooler last night, thank FSM, cloud cover came up and the air was very mildly icy. Possibly just in time to save both my mental health and my considerably drooping container garden.This weather, I do not like it. It is not friendly.

Other things I do not like: watching my own lecture videos to critique my lecturing style and quality, on the general grounds that since my teaching existence is this weird marginal thing which is utterly unsupported by my institution, faculty or co-workers and no-one else is going to nurture it, I have to put the work into nurturing it myself. I don't like watching myself on video. (a) My general posture and appearance beat me over the head with how physically unfit I am, even allowing for the inevitable weight-gain effect of the camera. I look terrible. (b) Following the thread of my own lecture inevitably highlights how fatigued I am currently; you can see it in the hesitation and pauses, in the way I lose the thread of what I'm saying and have to grope for coherence. (c) The above two points notwithstanding, these weren't terrible lectures, they just could have been a whole lot better. Two of them were quite good. Students asked interesting questions and seemed engaged. But as my output goes they were under par.

They probably won't get a chance to be better, because I think they may have been the last ones I'll ever offer, I cannot continue to be here, it's clearly very bad for me.

Things I do actually like: it's Friday, thank FSM again. My garden has drooped a bit but is still alive, and pleasingly green. The jasmine is in flower and smells delectable, and the flame lily has sprouted again. Also, this lovely article goes a fair way towards at least partially restoring one's faith in eco-recovery, human ingenuity, rational systems and engaged youth.

too damned hot

Wednesday, 24 October 2018 07:30 am
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Cape Town is having a January heatwave, which I resent somewhat given that it's October. This week has been temperatures in the high 30s, which the weather site assures me is ten degrees higher than the average for this time of year, so thanks, global warming and climate change. I have been sleeping in a mosquito net in sheer self defence. (That is, in a mosquito net and nothing else. The cats appear to be enjoying the additional skin contact, which is hardly helping the problem). The unseasonable temperatures are also stressing my garden-watering schedule something 'orrible, the pots dry out in a day rather than the usual two or three, and as a lone lorne single person I am simply not generating enough grey water to compensate. At this point longer showers may be a moral necessity. (Moral if you're a druid, at any rate. For the purposes of this exercise please assume I'm a druid. The indecent burgeoning of the inhabitants of my container garden over the last few weeks under the aforementioned sunlight suggests that it's not too much of a stretch).

The installation of actual curtain rails in my front windows has been a small but measurable point of mitigation of all this nasty cheap imitation sunshine stuff. (As opposed to real weather, which has clouds and rain in it). Actual curtains rather than those ridiculous blinds noticeably drop the temperatures when you close them to exclude the afternoon sun, which otherwise streams in uninterrupted and with worrying ferocity. My slightly cheap and stop-gap curtains are a pleasing sea-green in colour, rendering my study agreeably underwatery to an extent which is itself cooling to the soul.

I am, needless to say, also retreating into my usual heat-wave remedy, which is to obsessively re-play Skyrim, because snowy landscapes. It is a possibly worrying index of my current state of work-hatred and general misanthropy that I am, in this playthrough, playing dead against my usual type, and following both the Thieves' Guild and Dark Brotherhood quest lines. I could react against current global moral meltdown by being particularly noble and upright, or I could, apparently, decide that there's no point and in any case I am out of fucks to give. Murder, mayhem and plunder, yay. Why the hell not, everyone else is.

I do, however, shudder to think what actual January is going to give us in the way of temperatures if this is October. Move over, Death Valley. 50s here we come.

vision thing

Sunday, 21 October 2018 09:27 am
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Migraine auras are extremely weird. I had a random attack yesterday, which started out as strange patches in the middle of my vision, causing me to clean off my glasses umpteen times in increasing frustration before realising what was happening. The true aura came a bit later, in the form I always get, and have done since I was at school, I remember lying in the nurse's office watching the flickering with slightly stoned fascination. It's always a reverse C shape in the right hand side of my vision, occupying about the middle third of its vertical pitch, and composed of tiny interlocking needles in black and white, in weird diagonal patterns which flicker continuously.

I've had a tendency over last few years to have fits of aura without necessarily progressing to full-blown migraine, although that can also happen - I don't know if yesterday's was a true migraine or only an aura attack, because I hit it with Trepiline as soon as the true aura appeared, and it vanished within an hour, along with the incipient headache. Score, except that Trepiline in the middle of the day knocks me out, so I fell onto the bed at 12 and only woke up at 5.30, much to Jyn's delight. She likes to sleep on my bed during the day, and appreciates company. And then I slept for nearly eight hours last night, so double score.

It may have been stress triggered, now that I think about it, because I bunked the faculty curriculum symposium on Friday afternoon, which always causes me acute guilt because Lawful Good, but in retrospect I think my complete inability to contemplate the thought of a crowded lecture theatre full of politics was probably pre-migraine weirdness. It's nice to have a label for it.
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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.

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