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I am apparently feeling Hamletesque, i.e. melodramatic and slightly doomed, and as though my entire society is permeated throughout by futility and rot. Mood. My helltime of year officially starts tomorrow, when the first orientation programme kicks off, but in fact, it started two weeks ago, when I went back to work, the last week of which has been 10-hour days as I try to fit three weeks of preparation into two, as a result of the inscrutable demon powers of university management having randomly started the semester a week earlier than usual. Not only do I have less time, but large swathes of academia are still on holiday, so a significant proportion of vital logistics emails are dropping into the void like meringues into a black hole, vanishing without echo or response.

I am curiously unaffected by this. Usually I would be desperately micro-managing to make sure the clockwork of orientation and reg are grit-free and well oiled, and becoming increasingly stressed by non-responses and admin meltdowns that appear to threaten the juggernaut mechanism. This time I appear to be shrugging; I honestly don't care if it isn't perfect, as long as it more or less works. I am inclined, on the whole, to think that this is probably a healthy response in many ways, and indicative of the fact that, despite my state of career paralysis and inability to identify and power towards any new goal, I have at least achieved something in that I am increasingly less invested in this job's demands and outcomes. Because, hell, if nothing else, that restores some kind of balance in mirroring the extent to which my Cherished Institution is sure as hell not invested in me.

By way of balm and soothing, and incidentally my mandated Proof of Life and Cuteness to phleep&jo, her previous owners, have a cute picture of my cat. She very much enjoyed the gaps that occurred in my shelving as a result of the merry throw-out I had over the Christmas break.

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1. The glass door to the courtyard. She ran into it head-first at mach fuck last night and bounced off, looking confused. She seems to be embarrassed but unhurt, the worst symptom was a lashing tail for about half an hour. She is not always the most intelligent of cats. I darkly suspect Pandora has been mocking her a lot, or at least a lot more than usual.

2. Me. I am currently spending about 12 hours a day at my desk, because I'm checking board schedules as an inevitable upshot of the inexorable march of time and our entrance into the usual year-end exam committee hell. Jyn likes to climb on the desk and tuck her head under my chin, with her forehead against my shoulder, in the classic Feline Demanding Affection pose (see below). This works a lot better when I'm checking board schedules than it does when I'm videogaming. Right now all she does is stand on the board schedules so I can't see them to annotate, which is more or less an act of charity. At other times of the year the Affectionate Head-Butt lends itself to keyboard fumbles, catastrophic tactical failure, sudden death, and yelling.



3. The camera. This is a terrible blurry selfie because she keeps abandoning the head-under-chin pose in order to headbutt my phone, so I have approximately .03 seconds to try and capture the shot.

a thousand words

Wednesday, 21 November 2018 11:14 am
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I appear to be nesting. I had another outbreak of internet art acquisition, and upon arrival of the spoils carted them off to the nice framer man (he's a closet sf geek and gets terribly excited about some of my artwork choices) and had them properly framed. (And may I add, ye gods and little fishes, international customs duty has skyrocketed this year. The two Dappermouth prints cost more to import than they did to buy and ship). My home is now Decorated, or at any rate more decorated than it used to be (it was always pretty decorated, I am incapable of resisting good internet art when I stumble over it, and also have an almost inexhaustible supply of fangirly enthusiasm for highly representable media. Apparently one of the upshots of loving things very hard when you love them, is art.)

Art Outbreak 1: replacing the big green owl pic which hangs over my bed. I had this up for several years, and then the little hooky thing on the picture rail had an attack of ennui and allowed itself to slip gracefully onto the fainting couch, causing an enormous splintering 2am crash a foot from my head, and incidentally completely trashing the print with broken glass splinters. Cussedly, I ordered an identical replacement. I have retired the fainting hook and found one of stronger mettle. Or metal. My wol is back, and I hope he stays there.



He is a beautiful, calm, dream-thing in the same dark green as my bedroom decor, and I love him. He's by an amazing California-based artist called Waelad Akedan, who I found on Society6; she does phenomenally rich and dreamy animals with, I think, Indian visual influences. I'm weirdly happy to have paid for this twice.

Art Outbreak 2: further to the dream animals, the moody, atmospheric art of Dappermouth, the Tumblr handle of artist Jenna Barton. I darkly suspect my recent Teen Wolf fixation may have had something to do with the wolf one, but mostly I love these for the way they feel both haunting and haunted.



Omens and Mirage. I meant these for my study, but have ended up putting them in the living room where I see them more often. I love the way the wolf floats, and the cats disintegrate.

Art Outbreak 3: it wouldn't be me if there weren't videogames. These are now in the dining room, they're from something called Pixelnoise Studios, and they aren't joined by the Skyrim and Zelda ones only because I managed to prod my self-control out from under its rock and cuddle it until it co-operated. (These are the images from the shop, my frames are plain glossy black, and frankly look better).



I should add for posterity that I am currently re-playing Andromeda. Unpopular opinion: it's a good game. Slightly more millenial than the darker-edged original trilogy, and prone to the same problem which we run into running LARPs for the current generation, viz. they tend to lack the conviction for proper villainy, but beautifully made and thoroughly enjoyable even trending to the pastel.
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I need a cat-patcher, stat. I hadn't thought Jyn's buggy jump module was too serious a glitch: yes, I laugh at her a lot because she still hasn't worked out how to go through the bathroom window into the courtyard, but I figure she'll learn when she wants to leave the house desperately enough. And she has in the last month or so acquired the skills to levitate onto the dining room table despite me shouting at her not to. But the problem is that she has, in fact, also learned how to climb onto the back wall of the courtyard (via one of the plant boxes), and thence onto the flat roof of the diagonal neighbour's shed. Which is how she gets beaten up by the neighbourhood feline thug patrol, and is also why, incidentally, I ended up meeting the nice neighbour over my back wall at 9pm last night under somewhat inauspicious circumstances.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jyn loves the new security gate, incidentally. She has returned to full health not just full of beans, but with an excess, which means that twice in the last two days she's successfully made a break for the road while I was fumbling with unfamiliar locks, and has had to be chased down. Since she goes to ground under the car and refuses to emerge, this becomes tricky and time-consuming. I was rescued this morning by the neighbour, who did by his own admission a stormtrooper impression which had both cats streaking into the house with tails like bottlebrushes, seriously freaked. I'm good with this. Two cats have been run over in that road in the last month and a half, I feel that terror in this context is benign.
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I seem to be vanishing into myself in strange and alarming ways just at present, so herewith a Resolution to resume the meeping into the void which constitutes my blogging activities: perhaps, if I write, I will persuade myself that I exist. I do not like the twilight limbo occasioned by my continuing, repulsed and miserable desire to flee my job, and by the identity-crisis-induced helpless inaction which that desire generates in the absence of any immediately obvious alternatives. It's a shadowy, liminal hellscape, and I'm a shadow in it. On the other hand, I lost myself in my own ten-year-old blog posts for half an hour a few days ago, looking for a book reference, and it made me feel more real than I have in months. Words, it turns out, when they are my words and I have wrought them to my will, flood the shadow space with light: they give me a sense of identity. Thus blogging again. Go, little words! construct me!

Also, the blog dive reminded me of the Bunny. Remember the Bunny, and the anvil doom which ended his miserable twee existence? I remember it fondly.

I have, in the last few months, negotiated two massive and prolongued doses of 'flu, with added sinus infection and glandular wossname, and am still very tired, which may be implicated in the sense of vanishing. I am also stressed, because my small Jyn kitty picked up an abscess while I was away last weekend but one, and I didn't find the Suspicious Lump until Tuesday night. I made a vet appointment the next morning, but by the time I took her in on Wednesday afternoon, the horrible thing had ballooned to about three times its size, and had to be lanced, mere antibiotics no longer being sufficient. She has a giant shaved patch and interesting drains and things (man, feline healing is weirdly fast, and occasions strange workarounds) and has been bleeding gently on pale surfaces for the last week. She recovered very quickly after the op, and was almost immediately full of beans again, to an extent which made me realise how horrible she must have been feeling; I'd put the subdued affect down to Feline Displeasure at my absence. But I used to suffer from recurrent abscesses as a kid, I know only too well the enormous, incredible relief of having the damned thing dealt with, both in reduction of pain and pressure, and in the recovery from the general nausea and an infection causes. I feel her. Poor Jinian. Also, being me, I feel horribly guilty that I didn't pick it up immediately, before it got to the point of needing lancing. Cat owner fail.

Pandora is being quite kind to her, which is nice. Proof of a photographic nature (Jyn's wound is on her neck behind her right ear, and thus allows a pleasing illusion of wholeness):

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In parenthesis: it is my almost invariable habit to sign all of my emails, other than the most absolutely formal ones to Big Cheeses, "jt" - my initials, in lower case. I've done this for years, at least as long as I've had this job. It occurs to me, in the context of vanishing, that this is a self-minimising technique. Little lower case me. Unassuming, and unlikely to infringe on anyone's space. It figures.

Hab SoSlI' Quch!

Tuesday, 16 January 2018 08:24 am
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Apparently Pandora is feeling inadequate in the Klingon Eyebrows department, because she appears to be trying to acquire a facsimile thereof, presumably in imitation of Jyn. She's done this by sticking her face into something, I'm not sure what, probably braai ash, although where the hell she found it is anyone's guess as I don't braai and she's too damned lazy to jump over the courtyard wall to access neighbouring braai remains. (I appear to have, by devious cosmic processes, two full felines who are sadly deficit in the Jump module. Must be something in the water. Not that we have much water, but still.)

Anyway. Imitation Klingon eyebrows.

pandy eyebrows

She jumped onto my lap on the sofa yesterday, while I was peaceably reading Teen Wolf fanfic (seriously, more dodgy wolf-pack unscience than you care to know about, although conversely, quite good pr0n), and I looked up to pet her, saw the Face and lost it completely. She was deeply offended by my laughing and sat with her tail lashing for quite ten minutes.

My subject line is a terrible Klingon insult which apparently translates as "Your mother has a smooth forehead!".
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oh gods, there's a coup in Zimbabwe. The military, miffed at the recent Mugabe purge of ex-military politicians who might prevent that poisonous psychopath Grace from taking power, has intervened in force and is currently holding the national broadcaster and releasing far-from-reassuring statements that Mugabe and his family are all well, we promise, they're fine! There are armoured vehicles all over Harare and reports of explosions, and Mugabe himself hasn't made any sort of statement, and I am astonishing myself with the viciousness of my hope that it's because somebody put a bullet between his eyes in the first five minutes of the coup.

I haven't lived in Zim for decades, and I don't even have much family left there any more, and you'd think it would all be a bit distant and abstract by now. But when my colleague came into my office to tell me this morning and I looked at the first few reports, it became apparent that on some subliminal level I am still Zimbabwean, and that some portion of my psyche is still bruised and traumatised by everything that despotic hell-toad did to my country, because I burst into tears. I don't usually do that in front of people, I reserve it for home or the car. It was odd. But, oh gods and little fishes, I hope he's out. I hope he's out on a stretcher under a sheet. I hope Grace is out with him. It's far beyond time.

I suppose the uncontrolled crying might also be because I am already somewhat on edge because of the protest threats on campus, and had a truly appalling night - my damned leg muscles kept cramping, waking me up in agony three times. (It doesn't help that the cats sleep heavily on my feet and contort them into weird cramp-inducing positions, although I suppose I do have my revenge in that the cramps rocket me into the bolt-upright position with a convulsive plunge which usually ejects two protesting felines summarily in something of a graceful arc). Exams started today and the Great Exam Tent Experiment seems to have opened fairly smoothly, with complete lock-down of the Exam Tent in the midst of an iron ring of police, security, campus protection, access control, dogs and an ambulance, and at time of writing a complete absence of protesters. I think that they are Biding Their Time, like a rake in the grass.

My subject line is, of course, Buffy. More accurately, the drunken pretentious Pol student in "Beer Bad". In tangentially related news, my flame lily is flowering again, at least the half of it that wasn't summarily eaten to the ground by snails as soon as it sprouted. I shall attempt to see this as a Good Omen for coups and protests and other such exuberances.
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I have achieved Relative Feline Harmony! in that Pandora, who is a grumpy old thing but quite sweet and affectionate really, has more or less accepted Jyn as a member of the family, submits with commendable grace to being pounced on at intervals (they have amazing chase games thundering up and down the house) and has been known to hold her down and wash her head ferociously. Peak Acceptance was demonstrated in the Food Bowl Sharing Incident, which as far as I can work out resulted from a weird thing both cats have where they prefer to eat from the bowl on the left even if there's more food in the bowl on the right or if the bowls are identical and I swap them. Something about corners. Possibly.

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

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

This Random Unsolicited Feline Update brought to you by a subject line from the Magnetic Fields's "Irma", by way of a loose chain of free association whereby Irma waits by windows and the bowl-sharing photo contained, before I cropped them out, the be-socked feet of the photographer (me. You can tell by the blurring).

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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Well, that was a weekend. Sort of. I'm not sure it actually counts as "life" without basic human life-support such as hot water for personal ablutionary purposes. On Thursday evening I switched on the kettle (an interestingly space-agey glass one with inherently dodgy electrics, it blew its reheat function about 24 hours after I bought it), which promptly tripped all the plugs and, for some reason, the geyser. I switched on all the tripped switches, no problem, but on Friday night it transpired that, in fact, something more permanent had blown, because my attempt at a hot shower was tragically undermined by the total lack of hot water.

So Saturday entailed informing the house agent about the problem - she is a lovely lady who, incidentally, owned the house I rented during my Honours year. (She lived in the back half of the property, and it's a source of continual amazement to me that she sanctioned my current tenancy given that my Honours year was characterised by excessive financial precariousness, no furniture, a screaming break-up followed by a screaming break-down, and the frequent use of my empty living room for loud, long-haired Goth parties. She's either very forgiving or has a very bad memory, is all I can say.) She tut-tutted sympathetically and imported Plumbers.

The Plumbers proved, in the event, to be of rather less use than a chocolate tea-pot, i.e. no damned good for their intended function and inclined to do no more than dribble equal quantities of ruined chocolate and ruined tea on your shoe when called upon to perform it. They banged around in the roof for three hours on Saturday, eventually departing having achieved a new geyser element, a complete mess in the roof, a leak in the ceiling, a bill for R2000, and no actual hot water. (Amazon plumbers, people. Not a good experience. Would not permit to plumb again anywhere near me). They returned yesterday and fixed the overflow which was dripping through the ceiling, but still no hot water. My actual landlord achieved the hot water at 7 last night by removing the geyser timer completely. I reckon there's a more than sporting chance that the new element was completely unnecessary, see chocolate teapot, above.

The thing is, this means that the weekend was composed in very large parts of strangers in my house. They made a noise, they turned off the lights at intervals so I couldn't play Skyrim, they required (in the case of the agent) to be treated courteously and fed tea and conversation while waiting. They also represented a response to an issue I reported, which means I spent the whole time poised in horrible anticipation that they'd gently point out I hadn't done Really Obvious And Basic Action B to turn everything on again, and the whole expensive shebang was thus My Fault. (This is a deep-seated hang-up of mine, as evinced by those recurring dreams in which the whole mechanism is going kablooey because I didn't do the Vital Tiny Thing when I was five). I am beyond exhausted; I haven't been able to use the weekend for its gods-given function, which is to retreat into splendid isolation and decompress. I am a shambling thing this morning, and my head is pounding.

On the upside, I had a hot shower last night, so there is perhaps a sliver of hope. Also, I am pleased to report that Pandora and Jyn are spending a lot of their time chasing each other through the house in an essentially friendly and playful way, and can be caught giving each other affectionate chin-rubs if I turn around suddenly. Also, Jyn continues aesthetically pleasing, if evincing a slightly worrying tendency to head straight for the road at mach speeds if I leave the front door open for more than a microsecond. (The black spot on her nose is shrinking, either it was a minor injury or her previous Small Child owner had at her with a black koki). Herewith, for posterity, a composition I entitle Small Cat Big Bed. The light was interesting.

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My subject line is Flanders and Swann, of course; the song doesn't do plumbers, but damned well should..
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Pandora is clearly all threatened by the kitten and is in need of cuddles and reassurance, she is currently sleeping on my desk in front of me, cuddled up to my front, her head on my wrist. She's purring happily while I apply skritches and validation. Jyn is fossicking around the house, excavating the living room rug, chasing cat toys in brief, attention-deficit snatches and generally spreading small-scale kitten mayhem. Every time she meeps, chirrups or trills, Pandora's tail lashes, three times exactly, then stops. It's like a push-button response. It's very funny.

They are, however, generally getting on OK, despite the fact that they appear mutually determined to only eat each other's food; there only occasional growling, as Pandy ruthlessly suppresses kitten rudeness. I have to admit that it can't be pleasant to have one's lashing tail perpetually jumped on, because apparently Jyn has a death-wish. Memo to self, geeky naming conventions have narrative implications, oops.

This was quite a nice momentary still life:

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... which is going to go very bad in about three seconds.

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Yup.

I am very happy to be on leave for a week. I am even happier because yesterday Cape Town broke out into an actual, verifiable thunderstorm, almost highveld quality: it pissed down with rain, and there was a continuous thunder and lightning session for the better part of half an hour. I spent about ten minutes standing on the portico at our building entrance just drinking in the noise and light, becoming marginally damp but with an enormous enough grin on my face that various students were clearly laughing at me. Which is fine. Purveyor of innocent enjoyment to the post-adolescent masses, that's me. I love thunderstorms quite in defiance of any semblance of suavity. It's still pleasantly cooler today, and my plants are all happily damp. A good start to my break.

My subject line is, of course, Alice Through the Looking-glass. Although I very much fear that the reverse is true.

welcome home

Sunday, 16 April 2017 10:28 am
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There has been a void in the house since losing Hobbit: apart from the way I miss him, Pandora has become more needy and demanding as an Only Cat. So the plan was always to acquire a second cat, and in the inscrutable way of the Cosmic Wossnames, that void has been filled. In ginger and white, even. Danielle has been feeding three feral cats at her workplace, and while she was doing that the other evening, a complete stranger stopped and asked her if she wanted a kitten. Apparently a friend had brought the kitten as a gift for the stranger's grand-daughter, who was staying with them and had subsequently gone back to Joburg and left the kitten behind. I leave as an exercise to the reader the necessary Homicidal Rant about people who give animals as gifts to children, as though they were stuffed toys without associated needs or responsibilities.

Anyway, apparently the Cosmic Wossnames manufactured me a kitten. Given that she's skittish, feisty and was clearly abandoned by people who should damned well have known better, this is Jyn.

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She's been in the house for a couple of days, and is a sweet and affectionate creature despite the slight skitishness; she has an adorable line in chirrups, trills and Harley Davidson purring, and a well-defined tendency to climb on my desk and bite my chin while standing on the keyboard, causing some serious outbreaks of tactical disaster in Andromeda. She has incredibly soft fur, and a particularly heavy arrangement of fur over her eyes which gives her a slight and endearing frown.

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Pandora is in what can only be described as an Epic Snit. She's furious. She divides her time between trying to slaughter the kitten by sticking her paws under the study door; staring, growling and actively going for her if I put them in the same room; and sitting in the back garden with her back to me, sulking. I am spending my otherwise restful long weekend in something of a war zone. If I'm never heard of again, it's because Pandora has eaten the kitten and buried my body in the back garden.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Hobbit (?2006-2016)



The house I shared with the Evil Landlord was legendary for its feline hobo-sign, the secret inscription on the gate which proclaims 'HUMAN SOFT TOUCH HERE!" Both Ounce and Hobbit simply moved in, stubbornly deploying their determination to belong in defiance of our half-hearted attempts to chase them off . (It's still there, the cat-sign: the EL lost all three, Golux, Todal and Ounce, over the last year, another reason why 2016 sucked, but has acquired another two or three by similar processes of arrive-and-demand-the-wine-list). Hobbit first turned up in my blog posts in late 2009, a friendly, fluffy, ginger thing who flirted shamelessly with anyone within range. At the time I posted pics of him "helping" me with a dressmaking project:

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He also played us rather nicely, in that he concealed with some skill certain aspects of his personality until we'd taken him into the household: he was very friendly to the other cats, who at that point comprised Todal, Golux and Ounce. (I'd lost Fish a couple of years earlier; as Jo(ty) commented, clearly the "fat fluffy bossy cat" niche in our house was empty). It's only later that he revealed himself as, in slightly indolent and good-natured terms, something of a bully. He never beat up any of our other cats seriously, and was cordially sat on by the neighbourhood's more Greebo-like fighters, but he threw his weight around enough to be undisputed Top Cat. Ounce, poor shadowy twitchy thing, became shadowier and more twitchy under Hobbit's dominion, and apparently relaxed enormously after I moved out. (Although that might have been about me, come to think of it. Ounce never forgave me for attempting to chase him off when he attempted to move in. I adopted Hobbit immediately and without resistance because I couldn't face another guilt trip if I was nasty to him. See Soft Touch, above.)

Ounce was the Evil Landlord's cat, Toad and Golux were co-owned by both of us, but Hobbit was mine. The Evil Landlord initially identified him as a hobbit, on the "giant furry feet, predilection for Second Breakfast" principle, but like most of my naming attempts, my initial plan was doomed. I'd mentally christened him Pippin, after Peregrine Took, as the personality fit seemed appropriate and it would have been satisfying to shout "Fool of a Took!" every time I fell over him in the kitchen. But nope. Apparently "Hobbit" it was, and the end consonants in the name can be satisfyingly spat, at least. It was also a name peculiarly suited to linguistic play, so he was Hobbiton, and Hobbitonium, and Hobyah Cat, and in moments of unusually high Tolkien geekery, Hobytla.

He was a Personality - ridiculously affectionate, playful, gregarious and more than slightly evil. He was also absurdly fluffy, with the classic "poofy pants" look to his rear elevation, and a rather magnificent neck ruff that became even more magnificent in winter. His slightly teddy-bear quality was exacerbated by the fact that he liked to be picked up and cuddled, and would lie on his back in my arms purring like a loon for as long as my arms held out. He was not a cat of enormous dignity, despite the natural gravitational advantages of his bulk. One of my favourite photos of him is of him perched on the bass speaker for my computer, overflowing gently:

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He liked to be around you as much as possible - underfoot, if you were standing, or on your lap the instant you sat down. His two favourite tricks were (a) sitting just behind your ankles in the kitchen, the better to be stepped back upon, and (b) to reach his forepaws up your thighs, mostly but not invariably without claws, pat your leg and go "prrrrp!" in a demand for attention. It was outrageously cute. He was also prone to affectionate biting - occasionally grumpily, mostly playfully, never breaking the skin. He was a bit weird about sleeping on my bed - he'd climb on and snuggle next to me when I first got into bed, but would stay there only as long as I was sitting up reading or playing games on my phone. When I turned out the light and lay down to sleep, he'd leave within a couple of minutes. I'm not sure if that was about his complicated roof-prowling nightlife, or if I'm a restless sleeper and he didn't like being disturbed. Either way, it was an effective hard-to-get technique, I'd let him sleep pretty much wherever he wanted to as long as he stayed, and his bulk and tendency to sprawl meant I'd be pushed into odd, contorted corners.

When I moved out of the Evil Landlord's place, it was me and Hobbit, a girl and her cat. That partnership was very heavily implicated, I think, in the speed with which I settled into my own place: I was never alone. The two-of-us-against-the-world vibe intensified our interactions and connection, and threw his already strong personality into relief. He drove me madder than he did in a larger house with three other cats to diffuse the personality a bit, but it was also a stronger bond, which endured even when Pandora joined us. He was quite sweet to her, as well: never really beat her up, a lot of the hissing was on her side, and by the end they were touching noses and sleeping not-quite-together. If Hobbit was characterised by anything, it was absolute security in his centrality in the universe.



He was a bit of a shadow of himself when he came to the end of the cancer options: I don't think he was actively in pain, but he was thin, quiet, sad, a little bewildered, unwilling to be held for long even though he purred. I'd rather remember him at the height of his bumptious, affectionate, enormously fluffy powers. I miss him every day.

(Lovely header photo is by stv, it's going on the mantelpiece as soon as I find someone to print it, the campus photo-shop appears to have folded its tents in the night. Rest of photos by me, as you can tell by their complete lack of technical wossname.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Yesterday's Cape Times billboard read, I swear to FSM, COFFIN PAIR CHAIN ROW. While that's a vintage and irreproachable crash blossom of the high quality which is so broadly suggestive it appears to almost preclude actual meaning, it's also beautifully distracting, in that not even my highly-trained and fertile imagination could come up with any back story that seemed in the least likely. I drove around most of yesterday (which was a lot of driving, on account of work + mid-morning excursion to rescue the Jo from being locked out of her own house with a sprained ankle + home from work + vet trip) with my brain gently revolving scenarios in fascinated disbelief. (Googling it is unpleasant and I wish I hadn't, because it's a nasty story, although it also yields the equally vintage crash blossom VIRAL COFFIN HELL VIDEO DUO).

I also badly needed the distraction, because yesterday we lost the Hobbit struggle: the oral cortisone had stopped working, the stronger injected stuff gave him precisely two days of appetite, and then he stopped eating again. He's been increasingly slow, dazed and sad for the last couple of weeks, and it got to the horrible, inescapable point where the only thing I could still do for him was to make it stop. We put him down yesterday afternoon. My house is full of absence.

(My subject line quotes the Ink-Spots, from the Fallout 4 soundtrack, which is lovely vintage music chosen by a clearly demented genius to range very satisfyingly, given various current events, from maudlin romanticism to nuclear-apocalypse black humour.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's remotely possible that being a total and irredeemable geek is my Seekrit Weapon, curriculum-advice-wise. If nothing else it gives me innocent joy to assist a student with a tangled curriculum and then spend 20 minutes, as I did a month or two back, dissecting Fallout 4 and our respective experiences over multiple play-throughs. (You were quite correct, Fallout-playing-student. Survival mode, while extremely tricky at lower levels and ultimately requiring minor modding to saves to make it non-frustrating enough for sustained play, is a deeply satisfying thing, I'm so happy you persuaded me to try it. I hope you have a tiny, untraumatic curriculum problem soon so I can tell you all about it).

Today's one was a rather beautiful inner arm tattoo which made me go "oooh, is that Tengwar?!" in girlish excitement. The student got this sort of soul's-awakening look - momentary shuttered expression, you could see him gathering himself to explain the context to a tragically unhip middle-aged administrator, followed by dawning realisation as my actual comment penetrated and he identified against all likelihood a fellow geek who didn't just recognise Tolkien, but the actual script. I wish I could have taken the hat-trick by translating, but alas, my Tengwar is beyond rusty. ("The crownless again shall be king", apparently. Somewhat classic.) At least I could respond, when he said in some relief, "Oh, you're a Tolkien fan!" by pointing wordlessly to LĂșthien TinĂșviel dancing on my wall.

It's a tiny subset of geeky students to whom I can appeal, but it does help to feel that moment of actual connection. Some things do cross the generation gap.

I fear that geeky consolations are necessary at the moment, as the university landscape is a bit doom-laden. It's all quiet; once again, too quiet. Lectures are suspended for the term, but students are able to access the library and labs, and the buses are running, so technically they are all finishing the semester's work and preparing for exams, which start next week. But it's entirely likely that the protesters are imitating the action of the rake in the grass and will erupt into life as soon as we incautiously step on their tines by trying to actually congregate students for examination purposes. At which point it'll all go to hell in a handbasket. However, I should note for posterity that "tines" is a lovely word. So specific. Precision in language is a very particular pleasure.

Quick Hobbit update: he's still OKish. He didn't respond at all well to the scheduled reduction of his cortizone dose after a week, his condition took a sharp dive, so we had to up it again. This means that the time left on his personal feline clock is probably measured in weeks rather than months; the cancer must be far enough advanced to resist the low doses already. Increasing the dose is giving him a bit of an appetite, at least, although in true feline and hobbitish fashion he is milking this for all it's worth by turning his nose up at expensive kidney-improving kibble. He only becomes truly enthusiastic about food if I hand-feed him bits of cooked chicken from my plate, at which point he snatches them somewhat impolitely and bolts them. I don't feed my cats people-food under any circumstances, usually, but right now I will feed him the blood of the living if that's what it takes. Let's hope it doesn't get that far. (Also, he infallibly bites me when I pill him, so he's getting a reasonable daily dose of blood anyway).

(My subject line quotes "Beren and Luthien", because that level of poignant loss seems vaguely appropriate on a number of levels).
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My car's music system is wandering through the alphabetical mid-section of my Bowie albums at present, currently in the middle of Let's Dance, which gave me, in rapid succession this morning, "Criminal Minds" followed by "Cat People", which has the line about putting out fires with gasoline. This was somewhat apposite as campus re-opened this morning, with the expected protest action following as the night does the day. This gave me a morning shaped thusly:
  • General headless chickening about whether or not we should try to be on campus, with contingency meetings in coffee shops first. Rumours of protesters massing on lower campus, but we resolved to give it a try anyway.
  • Arriving at a quiet middle campus venue for an online reg training session to find that technological mishap is no respecter of protests, and no-one could log into any of the computers. The organisers took an hour to ascertain that, yes, no-one could log onto any of the computers, during which time no training transpired. Then the protesters arrived.
  • Protesters set off fire alarms, bounced around the building singing, shouting and beating drums. About a million policemen arrived. We were told to leave our training venue by a protester, who was fairly polite but who also took away with him, presumably for communist redistribution, the bowl of peppermints set out on the coffee table for the trainees.
  • The building locked down. Fire alarms blaring, all doors locked. One entrance only opened, up three flights of stairs from our basement venue, and at the other side of a mass of police and protesters and news cameras. The protesters flung a bucket of human excrement across the threshold of the only open door and then departed for points upper, hell-bent, presumably, on further disruption.
  • We huddled in the basement until the crowds had dispersed, and then left, gingerly. The direction of the protests meant that my boss texted me almost immediately to say not to bother coming up to the office, since the protests were clearly headed that way, Today We Will Work From Home.
  • I could have done with that decision at 8am rather than 10am, as I find the panic attack/hyperventilation at being trapped behind locked doors to be inconvenient and annoying and would prefer to have avoided it entirely. Also the poo flinging. It came nowhere near me, but I still feel unclean. Presumably that was the point.

The Powers That Be have decreed that we will finish the semester remotely, i.e. no face-to-face lectures or tutorials. Exams will take place in November. We will finish the semester by hook or by crook, mostly crook in the sense that we will examine on eight weeks of work rather than twelve. Apparently academic standards and the integrity of our qualifications are only immutable until they aren't. It's also debatable whether or not the protests will allow us to keep the necessary library and computer labs and buses running for students without home internet access.

I am sick at heart. On the upside, Hobbit is responding well to the cortizone and, while still slightly subdued, is contriving to fight being pilled, leaving me with scratches all over my hands and, after one more than usually athletic wriggle, my left nipple. He is eating like a small ginger horse and has resumed his playful finger-nipping and butt-clawing habits. Pandora is in a massive hissy fit, I think she imagined she was an Only Cat Now after five days without him, and is resenting his return. They sit on either side of me on my bed at night with Pandy's tail lashing like a particularly miffed leopard's. On the whole, I'll take it.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Campus continues closed, which does mean the personal introvert box labelled "is stressed by traffic and crowds" is not, in fact, being ticked on a daily basis. Being quietly at home is a good thing, and conducive to being able to craft gently reassuring emails to stressed students. If only everything else in the world weren't exploding. I woke up yesterday at 8.15 with the sudden, horrible realisation that I'd booked my car in for a service that morning and promptly forgotten about it in all the cat and campus crises, and had to rocket out of bed and through the tail end of rush hour traffic to squeak it in a whisker before the 9am cut-off. On the upside, I am rather enjoying the chats with the Uber drivers. Is it just me, or are two-thirds of Uber drivers actually Zimbabwean? We play odious comparisons between Trump and Mugabe and shake our heads sagely about the SA parallels to the Zimbabwe university melt-downs, it's very satisfying.

Not everything is, in fact, exploding. A quick Hobbit update, with grateful thanks to everyone for the good wishes and moral support. I have been talked down by various vets from my somewhat knee-jerk reaction against chemotherapy. The vets, and a fair amount of googling, reveal that cancer treatments in cats and dogs are very much less aggressive than they are in humans, with quality of life being carefully balanced against an actual cure. I've been offered two levels of treatment for Hobbit, either a cortisone pill one, or a more complex/powerful one. The cortisone one is palliative and would give him at least another six months before the cancer developed a resistance to it, the second one has a chance at an actual cure, but has an increased risk of side effects and renal failure. Given that it's kidney cancer, I'm worried about the renal failure risk. He has, however, been in at the vet's on a drip since the weekend, and is apparently responding well and eating OK, so it seems fair to give him a chance with the treatment. I'll bring him home this morning, with one or other of the treatments started, I still haven't decided which. Any input valued! I am still going to lose him, probably by euthanasing him as soon as he starts being uncomfortable and unhappy, but we have more time. I'll take it.

(Subject line is David Bowie, "Days", off Reality, which seems to be a theme at the moment. Other lyrics from that particular song: "going mad, don't know what to do"; "my crazy brain in tangles". Word.)

the c-word

Sunday, 9 October 2016 10:00 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Back in the days of the Osborne Rd digs with Dylan, Mich and Mykal, we had an ongoing joke about "the c-word". I actually can't remember what the C in c-word referred to, I suspect it may have been a post-break-up cynical rant about commitment-phobia from Mich, but I don't think its genesis was obscene. The point was that you could use it to refer to anything you didn't want to contemplate, regardless of whether or not it began with C. Love. The Masters thesis. The cat throwing up on the carpet. The washing up.

I've needed that word this week. Particularly since everything that has rendered this last week a c-word does, in fact, begin with C.

Campus. Is still closed, and will be tomorrow, and we are seeing the possibility of actually finishing the semester slipping inexorably from our grasp. The protesters won't budge, and our attempts to lecture last week were futile. I don't know where this is all going to go, but nowhere good. The destruction to the fabric of the university is already incalculable.

Car. Dead battery for two days running, necessitating waiting around for jump starts and things. It's on a maintenance plan, so I can't get it sorted at the battery place around the corner, I have to trek out to Paarden Eiland. Where it transpired that the battery is, in fact, dead, and out of warranty, so that was an expensive replacement noise.

Cat, and, in fact, cancer. Hobbit is currently in at the vet's, on a drip. He's been increasingly subdued and thin, and this week spent several days not moving from one spot on the living room carpet, eating little or nothing. On Wednesday the doctor found a lump in his kidney, which tests and things have revealed is almost certainly cancer of the kidney, which has spread into the liver and lymph nodes. We are waiting for one last round of test results tomorrow to narrow the kind of cancer it is, but basically the options are chemotherapy or euthanase, and I'm fucked if I'm putting him through chemo to scratch out a last few months of unpleasant life. He's been miserable enough this last week as it is. I am almost certainly going to have to put down my cat on Monday. The effect of this has been to muffle all the campus disasters, which I really should be worrying about, but am not, because I am devastated about Hobbit. I am not coping.

Fuck this week. I'd like to return it to sender with extreme prejudice. You can keep it.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Lectures are suspended today, and the faculty sent all the staff home on the grounds that they'd rather not have us tangle with protests, which I welcome, even if it does mean I suffer momentary setbacks like a sudden Hobbit to the touchscreen at a psychological moment, causing me to, e.g., randomly leave a Whatsapp group I'd just carefully created. (In other news: Whatsapp! I resisted it with all four feet for years on end, but it's seriously great for keeping contact with people during, I dunno, massive campus meltdowns or whatever. I am industriously proliferating groups.)

If nothing else, being formally at home to work means I don't have to attempt the classic student protest manoeuvre, namely swearing my way through rush hour traffic for twenty minutes only to fetch up against a barricade and have to turn around and swear my way all the way back home. Not good for the fatigue. In addition to rush hour traffic as a fatigue trigger, recent discoveries of other, more exciting triggers include continuous fire alarms, crowds singing in the foyer, and faculty board meetings during which the assembled academics of the faculty bombard the VC with complaints, questions and thinly-veiled ideological harangues, mostly conflicting, for two hours. I staggered home yesterday in a state perilously close to collapse.

Of course, the inscrutable workings of Sod's Law dictate that this week is my most congested teaching-wise for the semester, with a batch of lectures as well as my usual seminar. I am scrambling to find ways to catch up, with the uneasy awareness that I have it desperately easy given how little I teach in comparison to most academics.

Among the considerable advantages of working at home: decorative kitties.



I have a dark suspicion that Pandora may actually be giving me the finger as a side effect of that adorable flumphed paw-to-nose pose. Also, winter didn't quite generate the puddle of cat I'd hoped for, but the two of them are getting on surprisingly well. Mostly. Half a second after this photo Dorable rolled over and almost touched him, and a startled Hobbit leaped about two foot backwards and into the water bowl.

(Subject line gloss: Bowie, natch. "Beauty and the Beast". Although possibly something from "Diamond Dogs" might have been more appropriate to the faint air of apocalypse.)

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