five things

Monday, 25 March 2019 01:37 pm
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  • I am stealing a format from Scroob, with thanks, because I am finding it difficult to blog at the moment and I think her five things approach may help. It's a pleasing combination of structured and random, and has the potential to address the almost complete absence of mental energy which is currently preventing me from assembling a sustained post. I am, alas, in the usual post-registration doldrums, the semester has quietened right down with precipitous suddenness, catapulting me from "over-extended" to "bored" on the turn, which always has the effect of shutting my brain and energy right down, possibly into recovery mode. Psyches. So weird.
  • I trundled off to see Captain Marvel with my sister yesterday morning, in my favourite 9am Sunday slot because the maximum of about five people in the movie theatre always soothes my misanthropic soul. I wholeheartedly recommend the movie: at last, a female-led Marvel film, whose female direction, scripting (Kelly Sue DeConnick consults) and costume design were palpable throughout. Not just a worthy female lead, nicely cast and played, but an intrinsically female narrative: her fight is against very male forces who manipulate, gaslight and suppress her at every turn, and her eventual triumph is deeply satisfying. Also, great special effects (her powers towards the end are amazing and very shiny), music (90s!) and humour (her interplay with Nick Fury is gold). Also, flerken. I'm just saying.
  • My personal possibly-flerken are doing fine. Jyn has apparently recovered completely from the Mysterious Mouth Abscess of Doom Which Baffled Vets, and has regained her customary swagger. It was a weird place for an infection, right back on the hinge of her jaw, and we can't work out what would have caused it, there's no way it could have been a bite, animal teeth aren't long enough, unless someone has been breeding sabre-toothed moggies locally. Best guess is that she got jabbed with a bit of stick from one of my potplants, and it got infected. Most mysterious.
  • Load shedding has been temporarily suspended, calloo callay, it was getting very tedious. Although apparently it could start again at any moment. This city is feeling more and more dysfunctional, the current school holiday season is making me realise how incredibly horrible the roads are during rush hour when schools are actually in session. Not just because they're overcrowded, but because road manners have deteriorated to the point where people jump robots almost at will. It's very eroding to my sense of safety and belonging, it feels as though the social contract is dissolving - which, given that the city can't currently supply adequate lights or water, it really is.
  • Tumblr has vouchsafed to me Nathan Pyle's Strange Planet, which is a reflective, poignant, happily strange little exercise in unperturbed defamiliarisation. Go read. And imagine pleasant nonsense.
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Being as how I'm on leave for three weeks, we (me and jo&stv) just had four days up the West Coast in Riebeek Kasteel, which is a one-horse town whose notional horse is exceptionally beautiful, and is generally pleasingly empty and non-touristy. And very Afrikaans. I had a slightly surreal experience buying inordinate amounts of olive products in the olive place, realising only after the transaction ended that the nice cashier lady had addressed me entirely in Afrikaans, to which I'd responded entirely in English without actually noticing the dual language thing going. Apparently Afrikaans comprehension has settled on me, like lint.

We stayed in the same Air B'n'B we did a couple of years back, the one up on the hillside over the town, with the view from the front porch looking like this:



We did a desultory amount of wine and olive shopping, and walked a bit, and cooked or ate out, but mostly collapsed on sofas or in the pool and read a lot. It was incredibly relaxing and, with the trifling exception of pining for my kitties and the absence of wifi, good for the soul. On the upside, apparently I have enough phone data to read fanfic via a tethered Ipad, although it's probably just as well I was boycotting Tumblr in a marked manner owing to ideological miff. Also, the two latest Naomi Novik novels (Uprooted and Spinning Silver) are brilliant, kick-butt fairy tale retellings and should be read immediately by all right-thinking people. Spinning Silver in particular has a phenomenal, intricate narrative structure and does phenomenal, intelligent things with the Rumplestiltskin tale and male power and Jewish identity. Unreservedly recommended.

Stv also had the brilliant idea of mounting a half-hour's driving expedition to the wind farm which is in the far distance of the house's view. Wind farms always please me enormously in concept, because clean power, but they are also weirdly striking up close. The turbines do the oddest thing to scale: they look huge when you see them in the distance from the house, and then seem a lot smaller when you are ten minutes away, and then when you're right there they are suddenly placid giants dwarfing everything around them. I found the vibe and atmosphere they create to be enormously striking: they have a sort of serene, remote, implacable presence, towering quietly over you while retaining a self-contained distance, calmly spinning in pursuit of their own mysterious ends, to which you are clearly irrelevant. I'm not sure actual humans actually made them, it seems more likely that they are some sort of inscrutable alien entity which simply grew overnight.





I wish I could say the heavenly ray of light in this last one was a deliberate artistic choice, but it was a joyous happenstance.
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Life feels a bit apocalyptic at the moment, I will probably be having more of those dreams. While it's pleasantly damp and cool in Cape Town and water restrictions have been relaxed a bit, the equal and opposite reaction has been Eskom running out of power - again - and implementing load shedding - again - without warning - again. I mean, they publish it on their website, which no-one ever reads until the lights go out, or at least once the lights have come on again after going out. And they randomly switch between Level 1 and Level 2 - also without warning - which is particularly rife with complication given that the WhatsApp group for my street is prone to excitably and incoherently giving each other conflicting information about which zone we're actually in, which when read off against shifting load shedding statuses can completely obscure all logic and sense for days at a time. Honestly, my immediate environment could probably be serviceably choreographed as French farce right now. I try to plot when the lights are going to die, which they reliably don't when I expect it and do when I'm not expecting it, at which point I sigh, grab a torch and/or the gas stove for tea-making purposes, and hope to hell that the fanfic up on my Ipad at this precise moment is at least one of those 80-000 word epics which will keep me going for a bit.

Load shedding also, of course, happened on campus bang in the middle of our exam committee frantic period, giving us two and a half key hours in which administrators couldn't upload progression codes. Fortunately the essentially reactionary and analogue checking process involves giant printed board schedules and a pencil and the building has large windows, so some aspects of the whole edifice remained functional. But it's an index to the essential insanity of the season that I am, for once, grateful that my annual rant about how this whole process should be done more accurately and less exhaustingly by computers, has never borne fruit. We'd be completely screwed if it had. As it is, I am at the stage of slurring and noun loss which has forced me to reassure three separate colleagues this week that I'm not actually drunk, promise, just extremely fatigued, but the whole thing has been organised with ruthless efficiency and we are on track for final committees tomorrow.

In the middle of the post-apocalyptic whole, it's been particularly surreal to watch the abstract collapse of Tumblr, which has been my fandom and media home, if only in a strictly onlooker capacity, for six or seven years now. The venal and ham-fisted incompetents who contrive to run the site in the teeth of their own unfitness have banned NSFW images, with NSFW being defined in essential heterosexualist, gendered, puritanico-capitalist terms and implemented by an automated algorithm apparently conceived of and executed by actual chimpanzees. They want, of course, to make sure they keep on making money out of the site by selling ads and having the (awful) app in the Apple store. They have shot themselves in the foot with a small tactical nuke, taking out as collateral damage a whole thriving, interconnected and delicate ecosystem of fans, artists, small businesses and social-justice-focused communities who have made Tumblr into a vital living space despite everything the owners (Yahoo) have done to try and sabotage it. Not everyone on Tumblr is into porn or erotica or explicit fanart, but its free expression is a weirdly important thread in the whole ideological identity of the site.

I mean, capitalism is stupid and short-sighted, we know that. It goes for the easy short-term profit in defiance of long-term damage. But what the hell are these idiots even thinking, to alienate their user base like this? They are ejecting, effectively, their actual product. People are making migration plans in droves. (Many of them are coming here to Dreamwidth, which is a silver lining for me because I prefer to blog in this sort of environment and have never quite dared fling myself into the Tumblr stream, it scares me). There is no point in being "safe" for ad sales if the 10 million users have evaporated in shocked distress. Tumblr has its issues, with its community identity as much as with its owners, but its flow and focus and discourse are unique, and they broke it. I am very sad.

(My subject line is New Model Army, because the current state of my personal zeitgeist is tending a bit to the post-punk).

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.
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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.

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.

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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This is a very lovely city, even when its soft grey misty clouds are a lie and a delusion and only give us a tantalising trickle of the rain we so desperately need. We are on very serious water restrictions, I shower and wash my hands to a complicated system of buckets whose collected water is ruthlessly apportioned to the garden and the loo depending on detergent quantities. The days when I could stand dreamily under the hot water for unspecified aeons while my mind drifts happily, are long gone. I am losing plants in the garden, I don't have enough water for all of them and plants in pots don't have the root access which allows them to survive reduced watering. It's all a bit dire.

My subject line is Kermit the Frog, whose gentle optimism I do not currently feel.
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Mad storm experiences have distracted me from noting that my weekend away in the winelands was lovely, thank you! Franschoek is really pretty, in a slightly Disney-village sort of way that verges at times on the cutesy. It takes its French heritage very seriously, in a plethora of Frenchy names on farms, roads, shops, restaurants, art galleries (it has a metric buttload of art galleries) and wine. It also has Damned Fine Winefarms and Damned Fine Restaurants as well as superlatively lovely mountains, so I completely forgive it the slightly cut-price rural France effect.

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

But a beautiful view.

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

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

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

Cape of Storms

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

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

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

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

I also spent a windy Tuesday night watching Arrival, about which I shall blog separately because I Have Notes, and the first couple of episodes of the new Supergirl series, which is another entry in the Fluffy Clockwork Kittens of Superheroes stakes. As a series Supergirl seems to be cute and amiable, but its fluffy clockwork kitten is constructed a bit ineptly so that, while it doesn't actually bounce off walls, it also doesn't quite achieve the lifelike - everything is done slightly too fast with a mechanical gait. But it's rather endearing, on the whole.
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I am in the orientation/registration run-up phase, which is horrible and exhausting, already requiring 12-hour workdays, and uncomfortably like being nibbled to death by very small annoying things, possibly miniature vampire ducks (petty and draining and stupid). The preparation part is not materially assisted by the fact that we've been running an online registration pilot throughout, so what with rugby players and online forms I have been registering students intermittently from the 7th January, and will be doing so until the 10th March. No wonder I'm a bit frayed.

The registration process, the orientation prep and the various other admin tasks have been exhibiting an unusually high level of people doing exactly what my strategic, careful, detailed, widely disseminated notices and announcements have told them not to do, often half an hour earlier. Submitting forms without class numbers. Trying to register when they have deferred exam results outstanding. Arriving in my office for curriculum advice for which I am explicitly unavailable at this time of year. Trying to schedule classes which haven't been approved by the relevant committee. (This was a gosh-darned professor and head of department who clearly did not read the detailed email to which she was replying). Trying to schedule my exam checking meeting on top of the orientation talk-giving commitments during which I'd blocked out my time as unavailable. It feels like trying to herd mutant toddlers in earplugs.

On the upside, Robynn randomly sent me a knitted teacup-warmer in the shape of an owl (or, more specifically, in the shape of an owl cosplaying as my journal icon, although without the umbrella, unless the "#STRESSMUSTFALL" tag counts, which it definitely does, thank you Robynn!), and this morning the mountain was wearing two hats under a moon, because it could.

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I will try very hard not to attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by reading failure, and will take what consolations I can get.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I'm not quite sure what it suggests, that we (or at least Jo) are apparently on hugging terms with the maître-d of Overture, which is the very nice five-star restaurant on the Hidden Valley wine estate in Stellenbosch. I mean, we know the staff because we go there at least once a year, and they always say welcome back and nice to see you again with a degree of enthusiasm which says they're either genuinely happy to see us or are very well trained - possibly both. They know us well enough to bring extra bread so we can mop up the sauces (that delectable parmesan thing on the oxtail crêpe, for example). And while they no longer do the wine pairing which was hitherto such a marvellous feature of their menus, the nice maîitre-d is always very happy to suggest suitable wines for our various choices, and the single "carafe" we ordered of that lovely chenin was suspiciously free-flowing for far longer than it really should have been, I think he nipped out back and refilled it while we weren't looking. Also, note to self, the Hidden Valley shiraz blend is ace, obtain more. Hidden Secret, I think. Yum.

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

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

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

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

Anyway. You were warned about the flow of consciousness. My subject line is of course Omar Khayyam, not for the first time. Overture was lovely, Hobbit is much less subdued, and Pandora seems to have entirely forgiven me. I have just downloaded the new Inquisition DLC and propose to spend most of the weekend hacking my way joyously through the Deep Roads. (With a pacifist Inquisitor, which will be interesting, apparently it's fairly intense fighting). Today was OK. I'll take it.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's now officially registration season, in that I have now gone through the ceremonial annual benediction of an incensed parent shouting down the phone at me because their offspring is unhappy with an answer I gave her. Ten minutes. Continuous anger. Refused to let me get a word in edgeways to explain or otherwise. Reduced me, as is traditional, to tears, because I'm exhausted and reserves, not so much, and I eventually said "I'm sorry, this conversation is inappropriate and I am ending it now," and put the phone down. I hope that's my one for the year, any much more is going to erode me to a sort of soggy indeterminate thing which simply collapses sadly when more pressure is applied.

Registration/orientation this year has been particularly fraught and filled with loathing, but has been infused with additional merriment by a number of external factors apparently sent by the Cosmic Wossnames expressly to try me. Viz.:
  1. Heatwaves. Hideous sticky heat both during the day and at night, leading to irritability and insomnia and the desire to emigrate immediately to Canada in a marked manner and never return.
  2. Building operations. In my building, in surrounding buildings, in buildings around where I usually park. Noise, dust, paint fumes, scaffolding, unavailable venues, weird extrusions of fencing which block off whole scads of parking places so that parking, already a bugger on this semi-vertical campus, is now a thing of nightmare and sin. I've had to park on a yellow line on two separate days, because there simply wasn't any option, and despite the fact that I am hardly alone since campus has been festooned by similarly benighted motorists parked in every odd corner where they specifically shouldn't, that sort of thing niggles wearingly all day at a girl's Lawful Good. Also, my horrible complicated day last week was further complicated by the sudden discovery that none of the bathrooms in the building were operational, because renovations. Taking a bathroom break between the two meetings for which you are double-booked is not actually possible if the bathroom is in, so to speak, another castle.
  3. Load shedding. Eskom, bless its inadequate electric socks, is running out of power, and while it's being pretty good about sticking to a timetable and advertising the random swooping in and out of load shedding periods, orientation is quite complicated enough without suddenly having to evacuate 450 students from a pitch-dark lecture venue. (Not that I've actually had to do that, but the constant fear and planning wears on the nerves a bit). Also, I am prone to be denied vital tea supplies at strategic moments. This is not a good thing, at this time of year. Homicide results. I drove home last night from dinner in the pitch-dark of load shedding at about 9pm, and it was surprisingly weird and slightly freaky. On the upside, candlelight, and that cute solar-powered lamp thingy Vi gave me. And the excuse to retire early to bed and read Inquisition fanfic cunningly pre-loaded on my cunningly fully-charged Ipad.
  4. Political shenanigans in the faculty office, leading to administrators backing me into corners for twenty minutes at a time to have a full-scale meltdown about how awful the boss is being. I have personally experienced the boss as actively detrimental to morale and am full of sympathy, but I don't have time to make reassuring noises for twenty minutes while students pile up, mournfully puppy-eyed, behind me. The administrative processes behind reg have been somewhat under par this year, because everyone is unhappy and freaked, and it really doesn't help.

My car music trekked through New Model Army and into OK Go, who are generally happily bouncy but from whose lovely depressive ballade "The House Wins" my pleasingly surreal subject line is taken. I love that song: tuneful, wistful, bleak. "You don't have to be alone to be lonely, you might as well give in ... the house always wins." I've subsequently ploughed through a plethora of Pixies and am into Seu Jorge, because apparently I am materially soothed by acoustic David Bowie covers in Portuguese. As one is.

Now I go forth to wrangle advisors for change of curriculum next week. Aargh. This all cannot end too soon.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
There's something particularly pleasing about an entirely self-indulgent holiday you really can't afford and are damned well taking anyway. Bartholomeu's Klip is a luxury farmhouse guest lodge thingy, where they charge you rather a lot for incredible amounts of superlative food, accommodation, game drives, and generally beautiful surroundings in which to lounge around doing nothing much (or, in my case, reading the new Phryne Fisher, which incidentally has tickled me pink by virtue of being unabashed BBC Sherlock fanfic) while minions bring you tea or gin at your command. We had two nights there, which is really all the average constitution can handle given their daily plan of pre-game-drive tea and muffins, giant brunch, high tea, drinks with snacks, and a four-course meal in the evening. It's also all I can handle financially, even at winter half-price specials, given a recent move and house-refurnish. But it's utterly, utterly worth it. We had enough of us to book out the whole house, which meant we didn't have to freak anyone else out by having drunken argumentative conversations and playing Gloom and Fluxx all over the show, or when reading the new Phryne Fisher caused me to lie on a garden chair and giggle like a maniac for the better part of a morning.

It's near Wellington, and the private game reserve is reclaimed renosterveld; I loved it on our last visit, when it was much more desert-like, but also loved it this time under rain and greenness. It's a very beautiful landscape.

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The game viewing was really good - millyuns of buck, gnu, amazing bird life, and for some reason an unlikely and pleasing number of bat-eared foxes, which were running around in small packs all over the adjacent farmland as well as in the game reserve itself. I don't think I've ever actually seen one in the wild before, despite living in southern Africa my entire life. The small hordes of them made me very happy. We also scored a reasonably close, extremely grumpy and entirely fortuitous porcupine, which was also truly happy-making. I love porcupines, the way they trundle along. This is a truly terrible photo, because it transpires I shouldn't use the zoom function on my cellphone camera, but it gives you a good sense of the bat-eared fox's really nice line in pausing to look suspiciously back over its shoulder while displaying its ears.

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This place has beautiful mountains and magical light. Also, in addition to the bottles of wine they give you Jedi cloaks on the game drives, which is fortunate, because they're bloody cold.

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My subject line is from the Bee Gees, although it's a very weird, atonal and wistful little song that really has nothing to do with the lovely holiday. I have also successfully ear-wormed myself utterly with the Bee Gees, and have been singing them madly around the house all morning. I suppose there are worse fates.

postcolonic

Friday, 13 June 2014 08:46 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Right, well, thank fuck that's done. I emerge from two weeks with my head down on this bloody paper, having just sent 6000-odd words off to my nice ex-supervisor so that she can confirm my argument isn't actually on crack. I am buggered. I've been putting words onto the damned screen for up to six hours a day for two weeks from the midst of a 15-volume pile of critical tomes, while simultaneously writhing with distaste and hating the universe in general and everything in it in particular, with special reference to African film and all its works. It's been very slow and torturous, and I'm still not convinced I'm safe from being ceremonially lynched by a mob of petulant postcolonialists, but the worst is over. Even if there are giant flaws in my argument I'm now editing rather than writing, and it's the writing which is like drawing blood at the moment. In the unsexy non-vampire way.

I suffer from existential crises when doing this sort of thing. I start disbelieving in my own academic existence, and it makes the writing process really rather hard. At least if there are words on the screen for me to work with I have some evidence in favour of my status as tangible and instrumental. Really, a lot of my life is spent as a sort of a wistful academic ghost.

The particular bugger about this bloody paper has been that I've felt impelled to write it to the exclusion of almost everything else. This means that I have not done interesting things to my nice house (newsflash: I still love living on my own even when I hate the universe because academia), or adequately paid attention to my cat, or done any socialising, really, that hasn't entailed jo&stv battering down my door and either plying me with food or dragging me out. Which means there was really rather enjoyable tango at the Crypt on Tuesday, but otherwise not a lot. It's not that I hate everyone, I promise.

I am also on leave for the next ten days, three of which will include an entirely self-indulgent jaunt to Barholomeus Klip, that luxury farmhouse guest lodge thing with the amazing and practically continuous food. I can't really afford this, I'm pre-emptively spending a chunk of my November bonus, but I decline to feel remorse or guilt. Stuff it. I've earned it. Not to mention the fact that it's the end of the first semester and I'm more than somewhat dead on my feet.

So, how is everyone? Are any other Capetonians cordially freezing to death at the moment, or is it just me? It's been icy, down in the 6-degree range, with snow on them thar hills. The air has teeth.  I have unearthed my Giant Coat of Sweepingness and have been sashaying up to campus every morning imagining I'm Sherlock. It adds a certain useful layer of impatient disdain to the interactions with students. I hope you are all well, and warmer than I.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It is at this stage fairly possible that I've found myself a house rental, enabling me to remove myself from the domicile of the Evil Landlord, a gesture which will be accompanied by the unmistakeable sound-effects of stretching, twanging and pained meeping noises as deep-seated roots resist uprooting for all they're worth. Unless there's something fairly horrible lurking beneath the innocent surface of the rental agreement I should be moving within a couple of weeks, and have hence been forced to buckle down and, avoiding the ricochets of disturbed .303 bookworms, weed my giant L-space book collection so I have some faint hope of compressing it all into boxes for travel without actually collapsing the local space-time continuum. My study floor is currently bedecked with tottering piles of volumes, faintly tear-stained as a result of the emotional upheaval of deciding to chuck them.

I will, of course, stick most of them into voluminous bags and haul them off to the local charity shop, but before I do that I'd like to give CT-based witterers of the sf/fantasy persuasion (i.e. most of you) a crack at claiming any of them which look as though they might usefully enhance your reading life. Photographic listage follows. If you want any of these, please let me know and I'll label them yours and shunt them in your general direction via trained mongoose or brown paper parcel switches in the park, or something. (This is the first installment. It's approximately a sixth of them, and I haven't tackled the non-sf yet).

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The house, for the curious, is a semi-detached recently-renovated two-bedroom Victorian in Lynfrae, which is a subset of Claremont; I re-toured it this morning in the company of Claire and Stv for moral support and second opinions, and they like it as much as I do, which is quite a lot. And it's not just because it's bucketing with rain at the moment and the whole world is a nicer place.

My subject line is, of course, Terry Pratchett, although I can't remember which book it's from and am callously leaving that as an exercise for the reader.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
coriolanus

I have, what with one thing and another, been reading Coriolanus recently. Oh, all right, the one thing or another is the appearance on our local Nouveau movie circuit of the film of Tom Hiddlestone's recent run in the play in London, which earned rave reviews from a lot of people who weren't actually drooling Loki fans. (It also earned rave reviews from drooling Loki fans, although the presence of Tom Hiddlestone stripped to the waist and bathed in blood may have been partially implicated in the response. Also, massive homoerotic subtext. These days, show me a text which doesn't have a massive homoerotic subtext and I will politely remove the earplugs and blinkers you unaccountably appear to be wearing. We live in a deeply repressed society.)

Anyway. Shakespeare is, of course, a highly pleasing thing to one who is guilty, as I am, of a serious addiction to language. I don't know the play at all, and have been happily skip-reading through it in preparation for seeing the film. Conclusions: (a) Shakespeare is still the good stuff in terms of linguistic high, (b) Coriolanus is kind of an arrogant dick, and (c) wow, but is this a topical play right now. The first scene entails Roman senators interacting with a mob of commoners who are all agitating about overpriced grain and Senator privilege, and features a citizen ranting about senators in a speech which made me sit up and go "Whut?"
Care for us! True, indeed! They ne'er cared for us yet: suffer us to famish, and their store-houses crammed with grain; make edicts for usury, to support usurers; repeal daily any wholesome act established against the rich, and provide more piercing statutes daily, to chain up and restrain the poor. If the wars eat us not up, they will; and there's all the love they bear us.

This, children, is the contemporary USA. Or, in some lights, the UK. This is the particular flavour of rampant and unchecked capitalism which characterises the Western world, where the gap between the obscenely rich and the poor widens daily, where governance repeatedly privileges corporations over people and bails out banks. And where world powers make war because it's profitable. (See this interesting article on the change in US policy over the last few years). Human nature apparently doesn't change much. That Shakespeare, he knew.

Of course, I still haven't seen Coriolanus despite all efforts to do so - we had tickets for last night, but arrived in the Waterfront only to be told that the scheduled load shedding power cut for the evening would cut the movie off half an hour before the end, and strand us in a darkened, zombie-apolcalyptic mall. We went and had tea and cake instead, which was rather pleasant, but not nearly as highbrow as the intended evening. Tom Hiddlestone notwithstanding. Ster-Kinekor owes us a replacement viewing, though, so we may yet get to see the damned thing. If the power cuts permit.

My subject line is not only Simon and Garfunkel, it's a direct quote from a Daily Voice billboard this morning, which made me laugh rather a lot.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
For once I have remembered to note that it's my blog's birthday. I first posted on 31st January 2005. That's nine years of blogging. 1 657 entries, counting this one. That's one every 1.98 days, if the weather hasn't robbed me of my tiny vestiges of mathematical ability. People have posted 10 732 comments. The longest hiatus in posting has been the ten days or so in July 2011 while I was in hospital with my feet exploded. I think it's fair to assume that I quite like writing stuff, for some reason. Or am actually addicted to words. Or uncommonly cussed. Probably all three.

Cape Town is having heatwaves. I think it's almost allowed to, usually they come in February and that's ... in a few hours, now. (Alas January. I'm sure there was something else I was planning to do with you, but oh well). Be that as it may, today was ungodly, stinking, improbable hot. This is something of a continuing theme: this weekend the foot pedal on my sewing machine inconveniently burst into smoke and melted plastic in the middle of a skirt reconstruction, so possibly Hell is closer to the surface than usual. I spent the only tolerable hour or two this afternoon sitting in the living room (in the middle of a power cut, for some reason - Capetonians, turn off your aircon. It isn't fair that you have it when I don't) with my feet in a bucket of water and ice. Turns out this reduces my swollen ankles immediately and dramatically, which is useful, as the combination of heat and running round conducting orientation for four days gives me puffy feet like whoa and dammit. I can't even blame the DVT, they used to do this while I was running roleplaying cons and SCA events, years before my leg inconveniently exploded on the way to Australia. I don't like this weather. Have you noticed?

Fortunately, given the heat, the Revenge of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Army of Reconstruction has finished the remodelling of the front wall and departed for points unknown, which means we don't have to deal with dust as well as heat in that sort of misguided fake Western movie fashion. They have left behind a rather spanky carport and pristine section of new wall in addition to the traditional blasted heath which always attends their efforts. Viz.:

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I thumb my nose in the general direction of the hadeda aerial bombardment of my car, now frustrated. Hah!

I know "I'll stop the world" from Nouvelle Vague, for whom I have a somewhat unbecoming passion quite apart from their bossa nova version of this song, which has an insidiously beautiful lyric line. I do vaguely know the Modern English original (quite a fun music video, despite o lord the 80s), but it's not a patch on the cover.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I've managed, over the last few months, to get back into something of an exercise routine, which is a bit erratic at present owing to potential heat-stroke, but averages out at a brisk walk around the Common every second day and is making me feel exponentially better about life on a number of fronts. Exercise, who knew? It takes about half an hour, striding as fast as I can, which represents a speed at which I frequently overtake other walkers and have been overtaken precisely twice by walkers since I started the whole routine. (I'm overtaken by runners all the time. Given the high prevalence of wildly fit people who belt around the spanky new track around the Common, this is extremely motivating on purely scenic grounds.)

Since it's still heat-wavy and I had a truly appalling night last night, I walked this morning, brisk exercise being extremely good for sleep deprivation, muscle tension and the grumps. This adds a merry layer of smugness to the pleasures of the exercise, since I was the only walker present at all. There were runners and a couple of cyclists, but apparently Christmas raises the exercise-commitment threshold to the point where only a sprinkle of Serious Exercisers bother. And, of course, me. Basking in the temporary and entirely illusory categorisation. Far less grumpy than I was when I started.

One of the minor joys of the Common route is the City of Cape Town's outbreak of noticeboards, which erupt on all four corners of the Common to instruct the civic-minded exerciser of the Rules. Apparently we aren't allowed to sleep, drive, dump, smoke, sell, dig, pick flowers or chop down trees on the Common. We are also officially mandated to smile at all times. I rather enjoy this. Something about a ridiculous happy face with full civic authority.

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I suppose this is a rather long-winded and roundabout way of saying Happy Christmas, all you witterers, I hope it's a good one and pleasingly relaxed, as well as being based in more sleep than I had. By way of Christmas cheer for all those of you with similar fangirl proclivities who haven't yet seen it (and with a tenuous and entirely wayward puppy linkage via smiley faces), the BBC has released a Sherlock teaser for the new episode on 1st January. I'm pretty much in the zone where I don't do Christmas presents these days, but this is a good one.

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