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

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

OK, that was cathartic, I feel better now. Although entirely inclined to be very, very wary of the upcoming Captain Marvel film, she's a brilliant character and survey says Marvel's moviemaking machine will chew her up and spit her out in tiny, plastic bits gummed together with sticky sexism. Woe.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Things that make me homicidal: having a student arriving in my ofice to add a summer term course to her record. Telling her she is too late to do so, the deadline was Friday and she's effectively missed a quarter of the course. Having her become visibly grumpy and petulant when her sob story about being too busy doing other things to add it earlier does not magically dissolve the rule and allow her to add the course. Having her leave my office in a huff.

Two minutes later, receiving a phone call from one of my advising team, because the student has gone straight upstairs to the other advisor's office and given her the whole spiel, as though I have not just categorically told her that what she wants is against the rules and not permitted. She didn't like the answer I gave her, so she went to find another advisor who would give her a better one. It's exactly like kids playing one parent off against the other. Parents among you, does that also make you homicidal? I'm surprised by the strength of my reaction. I really, really don't like being manipulated. Nor does my Lawful Good appreciate the blatant disrespect to rules and processes which that particular manipulation represents.

In more amusing news, my previous post managed to completely horrify my mother, who misread the unprovoked starling attack as an unprovoked attack by a student, and was all up in arms and protective about it. I promise that I have not been whapped upside the head by any students lately, or in fact ever, and would definitely be less blasé about it if I had. But it's an index to the Troubled Times On Campus that it was not entirely outside the bounds of possibility that some such manifestation might occur. Fortunately exams are over and the gazelles have mostly fled campus in their usual quivering herds, so I think the odds of bodily violence are greatly reduced.

My subject line is the Fratellis, who are my current go-to energetic rock band for things like cooking and driving, although they tend to make me drive slightly ferally. The song is "She's not gone yet but she's leaving", which I am taking as my work anthem.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I have just done two weeks of, on average, ten hour days; this week I've been arriving at 7am and leaving at 6pm, once registration has finally wound down. Since I worked through the weekend with emergency marks checking, eight hours a day, this is adding to an existing base of exhaustion. I am reaching new, hitherto unsuspected depths of tired. Also, headachy. Also, ridiculously hopped on Earl Grey as it's the only way I cope.

Concomitantly, the urge to throttle people is rising. People who need throttling:
  1. Advisors who don't arrive.
  2. Advisors who arrive in the wrong session despite being explicitly told to check they have the right one.
  3. Advisors who ask me questions or egregiously commit advisor errors which are covered in great detail and LARGE! CAPITALS! in the handouts I give them. And the briefings. And the reminder emails. And the hotsheets. And the special sheet labelled COMMON ADVISOR ERRORS, PLEASE DON'T DO THIS!
  4. Students who stop me to ask questions when I'm rushing between venues.
  5. Students who stop me to ask questions and, when told "I'm sorry, I don't have time for that now", say "This will be really quick!" and ask it anyway. Usually at length.
  6. Students who stop me to be disgruntled because they are discovering that the rules do, in fact, apply to them and are not susceptible to "But I really, really want to!" as an argument.
  7. Students who are disgruntled because the rules apply to them and who demand I spend half an hour at a time inventing labyrinthine, complex and unlikely curriculum solutions to the problem, in the teeth of my warnings that their school subjects under-prepare them for these courses and there is a high chance that they will messily self-destruct.
  8. Students who are disgruntled enough about the rules applying to them that they escalate it all the way up to the Dean despite being told "No!" at every step.
  9. The inventor of the infernal combustion engine, and hence global warming, and hence the level of heat through which I have been trekking to the registration venue, which is four flights of stairs away in the sun. My knees hurt.

Fortunately, there's always Ursula Vernon. I have adopted her fat beaver forthwith. I need it on a button, stat.

And then, of course, at the moment of Maximum Homicidal Misanthropy, the desperate excluded student sits in my office for ten minutes of curriculum advice, and I sketch her a curriculum which more or less rescues her, and she looks at me starry-eyed, and says "You know, I always leave this office with my faith restored," and the lump in my throat throttles me rather than her and I drive home singing along to "Blue Jean" and feeling that maybe all is not lost.

(My subject line is not "Blue Jean", it's "Scary Monsters", because I absolutely was one until I wasn't.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Spoilers: it isn't. Hellish heatwave hot, so that my ankles have swollen to the point where it hurts to walk. And unconscionably filled not only with the usual last-minute orientation and registration panic, but with hyped-up and desperate early registration, rude students, and an additional fun-filled layer of attempting to predict completely unpredictable student protest patterns and work things around them. I have never been in so many contingency meetings in my life. Ninety percent of it will, I confidently predict, be either irrelevant or ineffective.

I invented a closing salutation today, in an email to stv about laundry. (Strange but true). It reads, "wishing you cool breezes and buckets of ice and the summary disappearance, humanely but with finality, of 99% of the human race."

Yes. I think that would do it. If ever I needed a button which reads "HOMICIDAL MISANTHROPY", now is the time.

My subject line is David Bowie, and, fair warning, probably will be so for the foreseeable future. This is from "Everyone Says Hi", which is a lurking favourite of mine and is a sweet, nostalgic little tune about someone moving away and/or, I darkly suspect, dying. The last post the subject line was from "Time", which I love for its jazzy piano and innate cynicism.


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

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

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

I shall turn the sound up high and play Fallout 3 at them. It's been the kind of morning where pinpoint accuracy in shooting the heads off evil mutants with a sniper rifle is beyond cathartic. Also, two more days of work and then I'm on leave for two and a half weeks, and there is neither sufficient calloo nor callay in the world to adequately respond to that.

broken telephone

Saturday, 16 August 2014 12:05 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Telkom was designed by Kafka. It's the only explanation that makes any sense at all, if "sense" in any sense can be said to apply to Telkom. I have chronicled before the unlikely sequence of events which has led to my acquiring ADSL in the teeth of the odds. I suspect, however, that I am still suffering the lingering, ghostlike traces of the particular screw-up which led Telkom to register my order twice, and then fail to do anything about either for several weeks because of apocryphal lack of ADSL ports. I've had two Telkom technicians arrive abruptly out of the blue in the last week, both swearing up and down that they're here because of a fault logged for this address by my landlord, who lived here six months ago, on a phone number which isn't any of the three I've had since I moved in. Their system, I suspect, not content with the extreme numbers of real faults Telkom systems throw out, is hallucinating completely new ones just for fun.

At any rate, this morning's technician was somewhat bizarrely well timed, as I had just woken up, made tea, fed the cat, sat down at my computer and discovered, after some swearing, that I was utterly without either internet or a phone line. Just a dull buzzing sound, as of distant demonic bees. I was faffing around trying to remember which fault reporting line works from a cellphone when there was a knock at the door and there was a technician, apparently summoned out of the aether by Telkom's telepathic awareness of my need. If my need was to have a completely different line repaired for someone else, that is, which it really wasn't. He obligingly fuffled around a bit, prodded the local junction box, and informed me that it was probably a fault in the underground cable and couldn't be sorted out without a proper fault log. He did, however, provide me the SMS number for logging faults, which I immediately phoned.

Ten minutes later I had received five text messages all saying "A fault for this phone number has already been logged", and two saying "A fault has already been logged from this cellphone number." None of the seven iterations of this are, needless to say, true. I then received the actual acknowledgement which allowed me to report "No service", and a nice text message assured me it would be sorted out within two days. I expect this to have as much relationship to actual reality as any of the above interactions, i.e. none at all.

In the meantime, though, please note that my landline is an ex-parrot for the time being, you'll have to use my cell. I do have internet, by virtue of the fact that I never got around to returning the 3G dongle to Claire, on whose head be many blessings because re-activating the 3G is saving my sanity. Not money, but definitely sanity. Email may be the safest bet given cell reception in this area.

I should never have introduced my techno-jinx to Telkom. The results are horrible to contemplate. I am also darkly suspecting that at least some of the recent shenanigans are a sadistic Telkom response to the fact that I cancelled my data package with them last week, and will move back to Imaginet, sobbing in gratitude, at the end of the month. I'm being punished for my lack of customer loyalty. While laughing rather hysterically at the idea that Telkom could actually expect loyalty from its hapless customers given the horrors it inflicts on them, I will survive the next few days solely because of the awareness that if my service goes down again, I phone the Imaginet helplines rather than the Telkom ones, and am immediately (rather than after a 35-minute wait) put through to a lovely geek whose job it is to sort it out. At least one of them professes to rather enjoy shouting at Telkom. That's customer service.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I do not celebrate Valentine's Day, for varied reasons not entirely confined to ingrowing singlehood and dislike of both commercialism and gender stereotyping. But today Ursula Vernon is doing morally ambiguous honey badgers. This is an ongoing series which apparently started with snarky Twitter commentary on First Amendment rights and went rapidly downhill from there. If owls weren't already my personal totem I would be adopting morally ambiguous honey badgers forthwith. She draws them in a similar style to Digger, for which I have an unseemly passion.

Honey badgers are hardcore. We used to do family holidays in Mana Pools, which is an amazing game reserve in the Zambezi valley. I have no idea what it's like now, but when I was a teenager it was rendered moderately unique by being miles away from anywhere on dirt roads which required a 4x4 to navigate, and was only really patronised by hard-bitten Zimbo bush cognoscenti. The reserve apparently felt that their clientele were bushwise enough that they permitted you to get out of the car and walk to see game if you saw fit, which is how our extended family ended up being chased through the park by lion after stumbling on a kill. There was also no fence around the campsite, leading to interesting moments like sticking your head out of your pup tent in the morning to find that it was being straddled by an elephant.

The honey badgers arrived one night to raid the rubbish bins. My late Uncle Roldy, characterised by being a 6'2 hardbitten Zimbo bush cognoscente who had survived the Rhodesian war with moderately unruffled calm, climbed out of his sleeping bag to chase them off, at which point they emerged from the bins, gave him a dirty look and went for him. He backed down.

I should point out that my late uncle Roldy had, earlier in the same trip, faced down the five charging lion we had disturbed on their kill, and caused them to skid to a halt in front of him. He continued to face down the pride until the rest of us had removed ourselves from the vicinity at some speed, at which point he backed away slowly and the lion went back to their kill, probably shuffling their feet a bit and muttering about not really being hungry, anyway, after all that eland. If my late uncle Roldy didn't want to tangle with honey badgers, you can take it from him that they're hardcore.

(I should probably add for posterity that all of the above is absolutely and literally true, although I should clarify that the elephant and pup tent thing wasn't me, it was a friend. Interesting facts about me: I have run away from a lion charge and am probably lucky to be alive, as they're bloody big cats and tend to chase small running things in a spirit of malevolent inquiry. My late uncle Roldy was also hardcore.)

My subject line is, of course, quoting morally ambiguous honey badgers. Relax! Wear the bodies of your enemies! It's really very soothing. Words to survive registration by, I suspect.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Anyone who's been within an approximate radius or downwind of me recently will know that we currently have a Tomcat Affliction in House Evil Landlord/Lawful Good Tenant, as I tend to rant about it a lot. He's a slinking, stinking, ginger-and-white thing who leads a cryptic life of crime mostly on the roof, but who has developed a truly annoying habit of arriving punctually in the back courtyard at our cats' mealtimes and whinging because we haven't put the food out yet so he can muscle in and steal it. My life as the hapless object of eternal student complaints makes me a wee bit testy with even our own cats getting all demanding, and it's bloody well not cricket from an illegal immigrant. Also, said Slinky/Stinky Tom goes through phases of wandering through the house in our absence and spraying in the EL's bedroom, presumably as a direct challenge for territorial dominance to the house's Alpha Male. (In other news, it's nice to have it unequivocally established that the EL actually is the Alpha Male, as Hobbit clearly labours under the adorable illusion that it's him). Further to Macavity the Mystery Cat's territorial operations, Todal has become all insecure and discombobulated, and has taken to peeing in the EL's bedroom at random intervals. It hasn't been all olfactory joy around our neck of the woods, I can tell you.

The Hidden Paw aspect of Macavity allows him to, among other things, levitate mysteriously onto the roof from a standing start at the food-bowls the instant you think about coming within a sixty-foot radius of the kitchen, so he's near impossible to catch. We are going to have to do something sneaky with traps, and possibly decoy Admiralty papers or a femme fatale Peke with a blackjack in her garter. But it's becoming untenable, and I fear there's a short, sad session with the SPCA in Macavity's criminal mastermind future.

So last night I dreamed that I actually caught the bugger, with my bare hands, and stuffed him into a catbox, where he sat and protested his innocence while pretending to be cute and fluffy. (Even in the dream I wasn't taken in, probably because of excessive training on Hobbit). The dream then precipitated me into an extended argument with no-one in particular as to whether it was better to take the wretched cat to the SPCA to be put down after no-one adopted him, or to take him directly to Graham The Gnomelike Vet, and have him put down without recourse to meaningless illusions of reprieve. At the end of the argument I turned around to discover that the Evil Landlord had snuck behind my back and furnished the catbox with carpets, a tasteful array of expensive sushi in high-end paper boxes, and a miniature television set, on which Macavity was now watching cartoons.

Clearly I am still Deeply Scarred by the Ounce experience. Ounce was also a stray who attempted a similar Macavity-style invasion, which we steadfastly resisted until the point where I went away on holiday for three weeks and came back to discover that the EL had caved and Ounce was now part of the family. (Ounce was himself scarred by the preliminary rejection and still bloody well runs away from me in a pointed fashion if I do anything threatening, like existing). But I'm wise to the EL's ways now. Wise, I say. Macavity has it coming, and at the first hint of sushi or cartoons I will have him into the Liesbeek in a sack with lead weights tied to his feet. Metaphorically speaking. Criminal masterminds and quisling Evil Landlords deserve no mercy.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I am sternly informed by my fellow New Year celebrants from last night that I am not in fact permitted to consider the burglary the first act of the new year, but the last act of the old one. To which I say, gee, thanks, 2012. Way to exit with an over-dramatic flounce like a complete arsehole.

We had the usual giant multi-course New Year meal for eight of us last night at jo&stv's, which was just getting into gear around Course 3 (those amazing Vietnamese rice-paper spring rolls Jo made after stealing my cookbooks for inspiration) and my third glass of champagne (needle indicates "slightly incoherent but passionate holding forth about fan fiction" on the drunk-o-metre) when a complicated concatenation of events caused Karen to phone Jo to tell her to tell me that the house had been broken into. It appears the bastards kicked down the front door, rushed in while the alarm wailed, stole the television (again) and Winona (my netbook - woe!) and ran away quickly before the armed response arrived, which they apparently did in under three minutes. ADT hauled in the police, but repeated phoning of my cell was bootless as it was in another room and we were making a fair amount of noise. (Phoning the Evil Landlord was absolutely bootless as he's hiking somewhere in the Cedarburg and is likely to be entirely without either reception or the actual phone). So the nice policewoman apparently sat in the house for an hour twiddling her thumbs in between phoning down the entirety of the list of numbers tacked up next to the phone, which is how she reached Karen, who phoned Jo.

It all makes perfect sense, really. For a given value of "sense". Given that this was at about 10.30pm, my apologies to anyone else who was randomly phoned. (Including the Evil Landlord's sister, who came rushing through from Paarl as a result of a garbled voicemail just as everything was over and we were departing to resume our rightful year-end gourmandising). The Nice Next-Door Neighbour is of the opinion that the unfortunate officer was prodded into the above slightly excessive action by Mrs. Cake, who was rampaging around in her usual busybody fashion when I arrived, and it does seem in character.

I am beyond pissed off. New Year's Eve is logical if you're a burglar, everyone is either out or drunk, but it's bloody rude, and we ended up delaying Robbi and Vi's delectable smoked ribs main course by over an hour. I was deeply attached to Winona, and hadn't backed up the last two hours of LARP writing I did on her, which is making me spit. The TV was six months old, we'd just replaced it after the last burglary, and I shudder to think how the insurance premiums are going to skyrocket. The front door is trashed, the security gate is trashed, and I spent the night at Jo&Stv's rather than alone in a house I couldn't lock properly, fretting about the cats and the unspecified hordes doubtless carrying the house contents off into the night. (Fortunately they didn't).

The marvellous handyman sort of person Claire's dad unearthed for me has just left, having hauled himself out to work cheerfully on New Year's day for a complete stranger, and equally cheerfully accepted whatever the hell I wanted to pay him as he didn't think he'd achieved much. (I showered him with everything in my wallet). Since the security gate tends to the cheap and nasty his efforts to repair the lock were fruitless, but he has nailed the security gate to the front door frame, which means I'll have to do all entrance and exits via the back courtyard and the shed for a bit, but am unlikely to be murdered in my bed tonight unless they bring Grond or a tank or something. I feel very maiden-in-tower. Fetch me flowing golden locks and a prince, stat.

There is probably a stern Dutch Uncle talk I shall be giving the Evil Landlord in the near future, once he's staggered back from his four-day hike, which will entail pointed requests for a better security gate on the front door, a serious repair to the door frame, which has now been multiply splintered by callous door-kickers-down, and something baroque involving electric fencing. This morning's breakfast with Jo&Stv featured blueberry pancakes*, on the grounds that there were blueberries left over from last night's dessert, and a spirited debate on the relative merits of moats, bear traps, bears, bears in boats**, alligators, sentry guns, and something more lethal which explodes the heads of any unauthorised personnel over 20kg in weight, suggesting we'd be fine barring incursions of midget ninjas or (Jo's rather rude contribution) Hobbit.

I need to do That Post, all year-end reflective and resolvey, but right now I'm too narked. However - and I say this with something of forced cheer - happy new year.

* New recipe I wanted to try for the hell of it. I approve.
** I have no idea. We did conclude that the bear traps would probably simply sink.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Apparently there are mutant ninja Catholics in my family tree. Or, possibly, just Calvinists. Either way, there's a hell of a lot of guilt going on. Things about which I am currently guilty: my lack of communication with the house agent in France because I'm afraid if I email her she'll say she's no longer my agent; the blasted-heath state of the garden; my complete failure to do anything resembling exercise for the last couple of years; my lack of blogging; the way my poor little car billows smoke out from under her hood after driving for longer than five minutes; and my inability to replace her owing to a rooted reluctance to provoke the insurance gods by buying a new car while still driving illegally on a non-existent Zimbabwean driver's licence, an ancient and expired certificate of competency and a South African learners. Oh, and, of course, the driving illegally. I outrage my own Lawful Good on a daily basis. It's probably doing me untold damage on the astral plane.

In slightly mitigating pursuit of the driver's licence, I have attained the preliminary step of the aforementioned learner's licence, which was annoying but not too difficult to achieve, even given my grad student intellectual perfectionism which means I still haven't quite forgiven myself for getting three questions wrong out of a hundred. (They were multiple choice. There's no excuse.) I have also embarked on a series of lessons with a rather lovely driving instructor lady with a throaty contralto voice and a pleasing air of unflappable calm, neither of which are consoling me for the lessons, which I loathe and abhor with the fiery passion of a thousand suns.

Driving a car is a particularly strange and powerful psychological process. Apparently most people identify themselves as good drivers regardless of actual skill, which I think has something to do with the weird process of identification and body schema which causes a driver to extend their own body sense to encompass the car itself. (This is why even a minor rear-ending in slow traffic causes homicidal rage: it's a personal space invasion akin to a complete stranger slapping your butt unexpectedly). And having your self suddenly extend to a tonne or so of hyper-engineered metal and plastic with pleasing curves and superhuman speed capabilities is a massive power trip, a heady extension of agency no less effective for being routine. (This is why Iron Man is such a powerful archetype, and is probably at least partly why the movies make so much money).

I've always loved driving, not just the speed and independence but the interaction with the car, the sense of co-operation; I listen a lot to a car's engine note, I enjoy that mutual responsiveness of driver and machine. So it's a truly horrible and dispiriting experience to encounter the quite ridiculous demands of the K53 driving test, and to feel, after 25 years of driving, like a troglodytic and ham-fisted amateur. 25 years will allow you, apparently, to build up some really awful driving habits. I do things in the wrong order, I ride my clutch, I never use the handbrake, I appear to routinely roll back about an inch without noticing while taking off, and I am to date absolutely incapable of rewriting my hardwired routines to meld corrections to all of the above with the particularly bizarre and impossible set of observations the K53 requires of its hapless victims. I now have a permanent crick in the neck from blind-spot checking, and an abusive relationship with my rear-view mirror. Attempts to grok the K53 are not only making me temporarily into a truly terrible driver, they're also inculcating me with the belief that there's no actual way I'll ever pass the damn thing without heavily bribing the examiner, which is not an option owing to sheer bloody-mindedness as much as the Lawful Good.

In short, aargh. The guilt levels are not assisted by the fact that the hatred of these lessons is sufficient to cause severe avoidance, which means I've not got around to phoning for the next appointment since approximately Thursday. Any of you who see me in Real Life might do me the favour of prodding me gently and asking reproachfully about driving lessons. I may growl, but it's for my own good.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I'm not entirely sure why Bleak House is my favourite Dickens novel, but there it is. I think my fondness for Esther, the main character for about a third of it, is akin to my liking for Mansfield Park's Fanny Price: they're both quiet, apparently submissive female figures who seem to conform to the stereotypes imposed on them by their world, while actually having a great deal of internal strength, both of purpose and of belief. They're sneaky. By way of counterpoint Bleak House also has Lady Dedlock, quite one of the most compelling of literary women. We like Lady Dedlock. One of these days I'll actually get around to watching the BBC mini-series of Bleak House which features Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock. And, of course, Bleak House's version of Chancery, and the great lumbering endless complexities of the famous case of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce, is a marvellous and terrifying satire.

It was a little bizarre, however, to find myself forcibly reminded of Bleak House, a Victorian version of English law, while spending five and a half hours in Wynberg Magistrate's Court on Wednesday. I was summoned for 9am to give evidence against the Extension Cord Con-Man. (Remember him?) I spent three hours waiting in court, watching various other cases drift past before they started ours, at which point they promptly sent all the witnesses outside. Then it was the lunch break and the magistrate buggered off. Finally at about 2.45 they hauled me into court to give approximately ten minutes of rather stunned-herring testimony, since by that stage I was exhausted and mazed and sore from sitting on the ridiculously hard wooden benches.

And I had Dickens flashbacks. This is a South African court engaged in Roman Dutch law, but its atmosphere of slow, smug, sleepy, self-contained self-importance is absolutely identical. Here are, as in Dickens, the lawyers "mistily engaged in one of the ten thousand stages of an endless cause, tripping one another up on slippery precedents, groping knee-deep in technicalities, running their goat-hair and horsehair warded heads against walls of words and making a pretence of equity with serious faces, as players might." Our lawyers mumble rather than declaiming, but they do so in medieval robes, and they bow to the magistrate when they enter the court. "Well may the court be dim ... well may the uninitiated from the streets, who peep in through the glass panes in the door, be deterred from entrance by its owlish aspect and by the drawl, languidly echoing to the roof..." In the three hours I watched they brought seven different malefactors before the magistrate, of which six were merely brandished in a ritualistic fashion before their cases were postponed. The public prosecutor had lost her notes for the one case which was actually heard, and was unable to sum up; she was sharply reprimanded by the magistrate, who was a forceful woman with a short way with inefficiency and patently absurd attempts to stall made by the defense lawyer in the Extension Cord case. There was a lot of inefficiency. It was very salutary. I hope I never have to set foot in the place again, it's too depressing to think that this self-satisfied, wholly inefficient and cumbersome system is what passes for justice in this country.

Of course, matters were not improved by receiving the phone call, while pacing the corridor outside the courtroom, from the alarm company people to say we'd been burgled. Again. Through the front door this time. The burglars were clearly interrupted by the alarm and took only the EL's computer, my monitor, the TV and the EL's leather jacket, and they left a beautiful thumb-print on his bedroom cupboard. But it all seems rather ironic, suggesting that crime will not be brought to justice on approximately all fronts. Phooey.
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As promised, I trundled off to see Thor on Wednesday evening, which in the event was a bad idea. Not because it was a bad movie, but because Wednesday evening before a public holiday was unholy busy (I thought it would be safe with Thor being near the end of its run, but nuh-uh), and I have a well-defined bite-people response to crowds. It's also a godawful way to watch a movie - the theatre was filled with chatting, sweet-paper rustling, cellphone beeping, and lame laughter when Agent Coulson asked if Thor's training was in South Africa. It was also a fairly small cinema, which mitigated against the big-screen immersion experience I wanted quite apart from the crowd disruptions. It's a bad sign when you know perfectly well there's a Joss-directed Nick Fury easter egg after the credits, and you can't bear to stay in the cinema long enough to see it.

Still, while I couldn't quite give myself to the film in the way I think blockbuster popcorn fantasy, particularly superhero fantasy, requires, it was a lovely movie. A bit odd, to come out with the prevailing impression that Thor, and particularly Thor, was sweet. It's an extremely character-driven film; Thor himself is a sort of naive, simple jock character who's all about the buddy experience with Sif and the Warriors Three (and I do love a good ensemble superhero battle, possibly as a result of ineluctable D&D imprinting); his character arc and development are inevitable but rather endearing, and the moment of self-sacrifice surprisingly poignant and real.

I was impressed with Chris Hemsworth in the role - he's amazingly likeable, quite apart from being quite amazingly ripped. (The scene with him in jeans and no shirt produced a sort of gasping, self-fanning impression of "...shoulders... (faint)" which is nicely echoed by Jane Foster and which suggests the concept of "godlike physique" has been properly embodied). Hemsworth had a good chemistry going with Portman, it was a believable attraction, and rather pleasing to see female astrophysicists doing their maverick, dedicated thing. Fumbling, goofy, doomed, mortal/immortal geek/jock romances ftw. Also, hooray for Kenneth Branagh, and his beautifully British tendency to cast really good actors. Odin and Loki were also excellent, and I am absolutely behind the concept of Idris Elba as Heimdall.

I loved the film visually - Asgard itself, while occasionally overwhelmingly gilt, has some moments of true magic, and the flat, dramatic wastes of New Mexico are an interesting counterpoint. Also, all the flashy special effects bits with Thor and the hammer made my simple, pervy-superhero-fondling heart very, very happy. Plus, bonus deep space panoramas. The visual designers clearly have a love affair with the Hubble telescope, as do all right-thinking people. The heavy astrophysics/Einstein-Rosen bridge stuff is also surprisingly effective in grafting the whole unwieldy mythological Norse edifice onto a contemporary science-fictional setting. Really, Iron Man shouldn't exist in the same universe as Thor, but the film's lightness of touch, and general refusal to explain gods-as-aliens beyond a certain point, actually made it work.

So, yes. I liked this film. Another one for the DVD collection, which is less of a testament than it may sound as currently the DVD collection has acquired a Katamari-Damacy-like momentum and is attracting practically anything to its giant, accreting mass with little actual care for quality. This one, however, I'll watch again. Leaving aside my characteristically helpless "yay superheroes!" response, I like these people.

(1) I gloss the subject line because it's going to be absolutely incomprehensible otherwise. My late father used to recite the little piece of doggerel it came from quite often, in an absolutely characteristic index to his sense of humour. The rest of it goes: Thor the thunder god rode out,/mounted upon a filly,/"I'm Thor!" he cried./The horse replied... &etc.

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Oh, Friday, allow me to love you and pet you and call you George, you have arrived not a moment too soon. It's official: this week has sucked. Also, blown. Also, I disown and disinherit it, it is no relation to me and I have never seen it before. Honestly, officer, it followed me home.

By way of celebration, a blissful billboard juxtaposition from the trip up to work this morning:


and, immediately below it, in the same format from the same newspaper:


I darkly suspect the billboard-stringing-up dudes of political commentary.

Now I shall interview orientation leaders. Interview interview interview.

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This is a very seasonal job which I am, to a greater or lesser degree of reluctant efficiency, holding down. Apart from the hellish frenzies of end-of-year, start-of-year and first-week-of-second-semester, aka Hellweek, it is characterised by what I can only describe as Doldrums around May/June, namely now. I have things to do, but they're not madly urgent, and it's thus very hard to motivate myself into actually doing them, with the net result that I'm bored. I also have to achieve them in between a more or less continual stream of student interruptions as the end of the semester approaches and student angst levels start to rise. I am not good at interruptions. See Homicidal Rage, previous post.

It is thus, alas, the time of year in which I reliably and fervently hate this job. Or, not so much hate it as loathe its guts to the last twisted, blackened inch. I wish to eviscerate said guts by means of throwing a hysterical fit and resigning to do something interesting and fulfilling and for which I am actually fitted by inclination and training, like teaching Chinese to reluctant badgers. I'd say that the hatred is exacerbated by the fact that (a) I'm also horribly glandular and perpetually exhausted, and (b) the Dragon Age fixation is making me doubly resent having to spend my days doing something other than hitting darkspawn very hard with a sword, but in fact it's exactly the reverse: the level of hatred for the job is causing both manifestations. This is Not Productive. I console myself with the thought that it's seasonal - I don't usually hate this job nearly as much as I do currently. There are times when I really only find it mildly depressing.

The other drawback to a job with a recurring seasonal cycle: you end up realising that in fact what you're doing is playing an endless game of Desert Bus. As soon as I get to the end of the year, I turn right around and go back to the start, scoring One Point thereby. Hooray.

Please to ignore the above extended whinge, mostly it's an attempt to account for my unaccountable lack of posting lately. Sorry. As you were. I promise I'll Get Better.
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It's been a rude shock to come back to work after a ten-day break, particularly when my week has been rendered more than somewhat hideous by a continual stream of angsty student queries. My immediate response to a knock on my door has been instant, reflexive, homicidal rage, which I instantly have to choke down in order to be empathetic to their problems; this has resulted in increased homicidal impulses owing to frustration, and as a result a rather nasty feedback loop. It is also bringing out my worst hedgehoggy tendencies to contemplate the fact that, following a roleplaying game on Wednesday night and Salty Cracker expedition last night, I have [livejournal.com profile] khoi_boi's birthday dinner tonight, a LARP tomorrow and a dinner date for Sunday night. Five days of unrelieved socialising make Extemp a grumpy, grumpy thing. I apologise in advance if I accidentally dismember anyone in the next few days. Nothing personal.

That being said, last night's dinner was excellent (La Mouette has a winter special on their six-course tasting menu, highly recommended), and our Lady Blackbird game is continuing to be disreputably and chaotically hilarious. The game system allows for a minimal DM presence and considerable input from the players, three out of five of whom are experienced DMs, so we tend towards horribly complicating our own lives in inventive ways. There is, thank the aetheric space-jellyfish, reason to believe that my thoroughly annoying character may be showing signs of actual personal growth, and a concomitant drift away from rampant and entitled narcissism. We can hope, anyway. If not, the Pirate King is going to almost certainly have to spank her frequently just to remain sane. On the upside, detonator innuendo, a moodily-organ-playing captain, an asteroid field which grows evil vodka potatoes, experience points for disdain, and a pirate called Cholmondeley Veruca. "We have booby-trapped your ship, in the sense that we've sent Kale to fix your engines". Also, points to the (somewhat besotted) Captain for reflexively shooting the pirate who made personal remarks about Lady Blackbird. It was cute, and is directly contributing to her personal growth. Thank the gods.
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The discipline of English lit
is open to the meanest wit:
hardly rocket science, its creed
demands you simply learn to read.
Yet there they sit! my brightest class!
Mute, because they can't be arsed
to read the nifty books I set.
I push the button marked "Eject"
to launch them skywards through the roof,
and register my sharp reproof.
Heaped on the lawn, all bruised and bleeding,
bet they wish they'd done the reading.

Still no epiglotti. I'm too annoyed to think of rhymes.

(Edited after the fact to a slightly snappier version. The Eject button was in one of my earlier scribbled bits of paper, and I subsequently forgot about it.)
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A tragic trend in modern youth
resides in this disgusting truth:
their writing skills are somewhat vile,
devoid of substance, form or style.

But worthier still of deep repentance
their offenses to the sentence!
With blind indifference quite superb
They brutally excise the verb.

Faced with grammar thusly maimed
- mutilated, bleeding, lamed -
I swear I will, by all the gods,
chastise the perpetrating sods
with metaphor that's rather neat
by sawing off their hands and feet.

What tells you I was marking essays all yesterday? Actually, this lot on vampires weren't half bad. Someone wrote an amazing, insightful, focused, intelligent response to From Dusk Till Dawn, which I would have thought was a feat completely outside the bounds of human capacity.
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Of student crimes unsavoury
The worst is to the apostrophe.

You'd think the wretched little twits
Could learn to tell their its from it's;
Or not, with doltishness excessive
Confuse the plural and possessive.

But since they do, I find it droll
To have them clubbed to death by trolls.

This one courtesy of the last two weeks of marking, and of Stace, who wanted to see students clubbed to death by trolls. Dedicated to anyone who feels that the author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves is a soul sister. I have for years had exactly the fantasy she describes, of guerilla signage activies with a small can of spray paint.

Happy June, everyone!
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The tut room's video up and dies!
Ignoring plaintive student cries,
with hammer, club and guillotine
I pulverise the damned machine,
ensuring hatred, fear and dread
by making them read books instead.

Teaching was a far, far simpler thing in the days when we didn't have to teach film. That's all I have to say.
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You're handing in your essay late?
A trap-door drops you to your fate.
In noisome water, in the dark,
while gnawed by leeches, eel and shark
please spend your time in contemplation:
you should have done the preparation.

I suppose I should hasten to add, in the interests of political correctness, and in the unlikely event that any of my students actually stumble on this page, that in fact I quite like students, and have taught them for over thirteen years now because I enjoy it and them, not out of some strange masochism. It's certainly not because of the salary. I am firmly against the idea of corporal or capital punishment in our institutions of higher learning, and identify myself fully with a mode of gentle and supportive instruction. No students, bears or sharks were, or will be, harmed in the making of these Ruthless Rhymes, and any resemblance to actual malefactors past or present is purely coincidental.

This latest one, incidentally, sparked by the joyous combination of a headache and horrible heartburn, the latter of which I take personally given that I've hardly eaten anything today. Had to give up a wineroute with Jo&Stv as a result of the headache, since the painkillers tend to make me carsick. Sigh. I want a new body, this one is skkkkraaatched.


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