freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's Spring! While this does tend to invoke my winter-fondling, Scroogelike, homicidal misanthropy, now with added sneezing, I still can't help rejoicing in the mad sprouting of my container garden (freesias!) and the way that the plane trees down the avenue are all leaping into that pale, misty, hopeful green. It's the first warm day in a while, and I've just walked down to the post office in front of the first spring outbreak of Jammie 101, i.e. scads of students whiling away free periods (or bunking lectures) by sunning themselves on the Jameson Hall steps.

I have fond memories of those steps. They were the site, in my second year of undergrad, of large tracts of my new, shiny, springlike social life, which I found with the roleplaying crowd after a first year composed entirely of being a mouselike girly swot. The roleplaying crowd used to colonise the bottom right-hand pillar thingy at the side of the steps, and sit there in a little gaggle of Gothy black which on a good day was clearly visible if you looked up the hill from Main Road. Since we were all pale Gothy types I'm amazed we didn't catch more horrendous sunburn than we actually did. Possibly Goth complexions actually repel light-waves.

The combination of spring-new and nostalgic was weirdly replicated in my lecture this morning, the first of the semester. This entailed the dubious privilege of 45 minutes on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein without benefit of slides, as someone had left the computer set up to a dual-monitor setting which produced nothing but exciting wibbly waves on the data projector screen, and I could not for the life of me find out how to reset it. (Even subsequent Googling for tech support is coming up empty. Someone's done something very weird to the set-up). Since I was talking very much about Frankenstein as myth and visual icon, this made it somewhat challenging to rewrite the lectures on the fly to encompass the complete lack of visual aids, but on the upside I can babble enthusiastically and reasonably intelligently about Gothic lit on no provocation whatsoever so it wasn't too hard. I did lament the opportunity to show pictures of Julius Malema with suggestions that he's Zuma's Frankenstein-creature, though.

One of the slides was of Goth types in costume, as a way of linking Gothic literature to something more visual and contemporary, and like Jammie steps, it made me horribly nostalgic for the above-mentioned undergrad days. If anything at all were to tempt me back into make-up (which it isn't going to), it would be the chance to do the full-on heavy-mascara exotic-eye thing, with curly bits, à la Gaiman's Death. Because make-up isn't quite the same signifier of cowed patriarchal identity if it's performance art.

I used to be a Goth, but I got better, but sometimes I still miss it. Even if - or possibly because - it's fundamentally incongruous in the context of spring.

(My subject line, incidentally, is e e cummings, because Spring has had the damned goat-footed balloon-man on my brain all day, although this isn't "{In Just]-", it's from Spring is like a perhaps hand, which is also beautiful. I love e e cummings. I acquired him at approximately the same time that I acquired Goth and a social life. That shit is hard-wired.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
One of the academics with whom I correspond about complicated credit transfer issues insists on addressing me as "Julia", which is not actually my name. For some reason this gives me fits of the giggles. My slightly insane Uncle Bill, back in his bachelor days when I was still in high school, had a particularly tremendous upper-crust English-rose girlfriend called Julia, pronounced "Juliah!". She is responsible for my lifelong habit of making mashed potato with the skins left on, which I do for reasons of health and because I like a bit of texture in my mashed potato, but which I suspect she did for reasons of sheer flakiness. The first time she met the family she swanned into our house, took a quick look around the kitchen, and announced, with that sort of tally-ho British vigour, "What a wonderful kitchen! I'm going to make bread!". Which she proceeded immediately to do, having arrived with a bag of flour for this purpose. She was, I think, quite mad, but very entertaining, and accounts almost entirely for any amused resonances I have with the name, even erroneously applied to me.

Apart from randomised giggling, my day has also been lightened by the student who has just hugged me enthusiastically, after I wrote her a letter asking Financial Aid to pay for a course on the grounds that its late addition wasn't her fault. (Which it partially was, she should have checked her registration, but it's a lot of money and these kids get desperate, and she asked very nicely.) She was very grateful, and I am feeling the warm glow of Being Useful And Appreciated, which this job is actually quite good for, at least in fits and starts.

I cannot lie, I am also deriving ongoing amusement from Windows 10's desperate, transparent and utterly doomed attempt to rebrand Internet Explorer. It would be endearing if Explorer wasn't the hissing and byword it is, and if its true form weren't evident so horribly through the glitzy design surface of Edge. It's not even a nice try.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I am at home today with 'flu, as I am phlegmy and disgusting and shouldn't breathe on anyone, and moreover have a head full of cement. Also, I need to hold Hobbit's hand a bit, he got beaten up by the neighbourhood tom again this morning, and is wandering around all subdued, with matted fur and covered with leaves. I think the bastard must have rolled him in a flower bed.

So, being at home, it's vaguely synchronous that Tumblr is currently doing a meme about how many houses you've lived in over your whole life. I like the mental exercise this offers, and am doing it just because. Answer, as far as I can remember: 13.

  1. I was born in Bulawayo, so the first house I lived in must have been the one on the research station up in the Matopos hills. (My dad was in agricultural research so we moved around a lot between research stations). I remember the red cement floors and the terraced garden and the view across the valley.
  2. The hardboard cottage in Harare my parents lived in briefly. I think I have a memory of this, it entails a darkish living room with rough walls inset with stone, and an arch.
  3. The first house on the research station outside Fort Victoria, which is now Masvingo. It had a huge kopjie behind the house, where we used to find glass beads in the sand, and a rather twisty, dark forest with a narrow path through it to the house next door where we went to play with a girl called Kate.
  4. The second house on the same research station, during the Rhodesian War so with security fencing around it. There was a giant mulberry tree in the back garden, we used to play under it. We had bantam chickens which were pets, and my dad's pointer had nine puppies who used to seethe around in a pen at the back. There was a "swimming pool", actually an old reservoir with no pump or filter, it used to go absolutely green and fill up with leaves and frogs.
  5. The house in suburban Harare where we lived for a year while my dad was finishing the biometrics for his PhD. It was very weird to me, being very ordinary suburban in style; we had a TV for the first time in my life, there had never been reception on any of the research stations.
  6. The house on the research station outside Marondera, with the lovely trees in the garden, and owls hooting at night. We had rabbits and tortoises, and that's where we acquired the rescued baby owls we raised to adulthood, thus starting a lifelong fixation which makes giving me presents ridiculously easy. The garden had this weird stage area at one end, a bit raised with a bamboo hedge for wings, we used to do amateur theatrical thingies with the friends from next door.
  7. The house my parents bought in Harare when my dad left research - it was the first house they'd actually owned. It was an ex farmhouse, long and rambling, and had been done up by the previous owners, who had the unfortunate shared characteristics of being DIY fiends and rather slap-dash, so it leaked and bits fell down. Huge garden, we grew popcorn and kept goats. If you stood on the front patio and looked down the garden to the fields, you could draw a line with a ruler at goat head height under which no green thing grew.
  8. I'm not counting the couple of stints in digs rooms during undergrad, variously in my aunt's house in Newlands (tense), and Tom's mad mother's garage in Bergvliet (very dirty). The first house I rented myself in postgrad was the digs in Twickenham Rd I shared with Michael, who was a roleplaying crowd friend. It was my Honours year; I was broke, breaking up with The Bastard Ex-Boyfriend From Hell, and on the whole rather broken, and I really can't blame Michael from moving out in a marked manner. The house had absolutely no furniture bar a bed, stove, desk and kitchen table, and was consequently rather good for gothy parties with lots of dancing.
  9. After a disastrous year in a flat with an anal-retentive semi-friend, the next house was the Osborne Rd digs of legend and song, variously with Michelle, Dylan and a different Mike. Those were slightly insane and very enjoyable years. Highlights included that legendary party with both gluhwein and cheese fondue, and, possibly not unrelated, ripping up the ancient and horrible carpets in favour of the lovely pine floors. We had a parade of cats who mostly expired or moved out mysteriously, including Pixie and Polonius (black siblings), the dreaded Widget, her five kittens, and finally the legendary Fish.
  10. After Dylan's mother reclaimed the house, I spent a couple of months in a different house with Michelle and Michael, who were by that point a couple; it was white and clinical and in Harfield Village.
  11. Then Mowbray, three years in an old Victorian on the railway line with Donald, who was a bit laissez faire as home owners go and declined to upgrade the security in any way. After about the fifth burglary was actually an armed robbery, I moved out. Donald is a psychologist and saw clients in the front room; it wasn't particularly compatible with my tendency to run about three different societies (roleplaying, SCA, tai chi) from the house simultaneously.
  12. The domicile of the Evil Landlord, for fifteen years. Good lord. I don't need to tell you anything about that if you've read my blog at all...
  13. My current house, which is unlike all of the above in being mine, mine, mine and never leaving. Which is a catchphrase from the Michelle/Dylan days.

    I have lived in lots of houses, she says with exemplary obviousness. Can anyone top that total? On mature reflection, while I have lived with lovely people on the whole, I really like being on my own.

    (My subject line is from the Brian Eno/David Byrne album, which offers pretty much the definite anthem on this theme unless you count Madness).
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
When I was in my last year of junior school, i.e. aged 11 or 12 or so, I had the lead role in a school play. Well, to be precise, in the small, serious mini-play which served as the opener to the school's production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, in which I was a member of the chorus. Possibly the lead member of the chorus, come to think of it, the director used to give me the mike when the chorus was being more than usually unintelligent about their timing, pointing inexorably to the fact that I am somewhat musical but have little or no actual voice. That was a horribly over-regimented production of Joseph, rehearsed to the point where, to this day, I have a party trick where I can still recite all of the colours of the amazing technicolour dreamcoat, which I learned obsessively because I was terrified of the director and he used to yell if you weren't word-perfect. (Red and yellow and green and brown and scarlet and black and ochre and peach and ruby and orange and violet and fawn and lilac and... I'll stop now.) I can also, if challenged, sit down at the piano and play most of the gosh-darned songs. That director was a scary man.

But the point is, I'm really bad at acting, because of extreme self-consciousness and the tendency to freeze and go deer-in-headlights when undue attention is paid me by rooms full of strangers. The small, serious mini-play in which I played the aforementioned lead role was a horrible little effusion written by said scary director, and acted entirely and rather reluctantly by his Standard 5A class. It was medieval in setting, possibly engendering a hopeless imprinting which explains my helpless compulsion towards the SCA, and my lead role was that of a girl who's almost burned at the stake as a witch because her village thinks she's weird. (Clearly, given the dynamics of my Standard 5 class, he was casting to type). I can still recite some of her long, pretentious speeches. "I was Petronella Savrolet, and I was young. My father was an officer in the Black Watch. He died, and I was left alone in the house." I think they were burned into my skull by sheer terror. (I did like her long white lacy dress and cape, though. Further SCA implications).

Fortunately the nature of the character meant that stage fright was largely indistinguishable from actual acting, and my subsequent career suggests that the ability to give long, pretentious speeches with bell-like clarity to a large audience was inscribed somewhere on my DNA. Those weren't the problem. The problem was the part where actual acting was unavoidable. There was a bit towards the climax of the play, when the villagers are all crowding round and waving pitchforks and shouting "She is not like us! she must be burned! she is a WITCH!" where I was supposed to scream and faint. Weirdly enough, given that I've never had any dramatic training at all, the fainting was no problem, I crumpled very gracefully to the ground without even thinking about it very much, and retained the ability in later life - I probably still could if my knees wouldn't immediately detach with extreme prejudice. Somewhere in my DNA is also clearly one of those small, furry creatures who play dead when terrified.

What I couldn't do is scream. The degree of noise and social violation encompassed by simply throwing my head back and letting rip was absolutely unthinkable. Even with the completely terrifying director looming over me threateningly and mocking my inhibitions, I couldn't do it. (He was a bastard, that man). He eventually had to employ one of my classmates, the rather sweet guy who played the minstrel who rescued me at the last minute from fiery, inhibited death, to stand in the wings and scream on my behalf. It must have sounded rather odd.

I had a point in all this. One of them was to actually blog something, because I haven't for over a month, and because a random memory hit me and this flow-of-consciousness thing strikes me as being a reasonable strategy in trying to get back to blogging. The other is to realise how emblematic that little anecdote is, and how far I've utterly failed to overcome some of those issues as a (technically) grown-up. Still hopelessly self-conscious. Still unable to scream even when threatened. Still inclined to wait passively until rescued. Thus still prone to spend several weeks depressed and hermitting, and not blogging or socialising, and to have it be functionally impossible to ask for help or even allow the feeling to be seen, particularly. When in doubt, play dead. Can still collapse and huddle, apparently. Can't scream.

I'm sorry I haven't seen anyone much, lately. I shall try to Be Better, and to aim, at the very least, for quiet, plaintive meeping. Or, at the very least, blogging. There may be more flow of consciousness, this was cathartic. You Have Been Warned.

(My subject line is mostly because I've been playing Mass Effect again, and it does tend to colonise one's imagery.)

say cheese

Monday, 21 April 2014 10:57 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My grandmother (maternal, for the use of) was generally a dreadful cook, firmly in the lesser British tradition of stodge, overcooked vegetables and the general, fixed conviction that being terribly serious about the quality of the food you produce is some sort of decadent European vice and not to be indulged at any cost. (I identify this in sharp contradistinction to the greater British tradition of gloriously hearty fare, which has given us apple pie, superlative pork products and infinite varieties of pudding and cake, and should be celebrated in legend, song and heaped second helpings). I remember with some vividness the particular stodge-bent which led Gran to offer any serious meal with both rice and potatoes in the main course, and with both cream and custard for the dessert. Also, her scones used to be over-baking-powdered to the point where they squeaked on your teeth, and she made pastry which has been an inspiration to me my entire life mostly because I'm damned determined never to reproduce anything resembling hers. It was always a bit leathery, and she used to sugar the hell out of it. Eek. I was greatly fond of my Gran, but not of her food. It's a source of both amazement and pride to me that my mother is a good cook in the teeth of the odds.

One thing that Gran did do well, though, was a cheese scone thing - more of a savoury muffin, really - which originated, I believe, with a great-aunt, and which I have both adopted and adapted to the point where Gran probably wouldn't recognise it and would regard with suspicion and disdain its culinary exuberances. (I have regarded with suspicion and disdain its baking powder excesses and have reduced them forthwith). This is quick and easy and really rather good in its overall effect, a marvellous recipe for making at the drop of a hat when you have guests for tea - I inflict it frequently on the unsuspecting, mostly recently [ profile] egadfly and his Nice Lady in one of their characteristically flying Cape Town jaunts. Since I promised Iza, herewith the recipe.

Gran's Improved Randomised Cheese Scones

  • 360ml flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Cayenne pepper to taste
  • Whatever other spices grab your fancy – I like a tsp. of smoked paprika, you could try cumin, coriander, dried mustard, etc. Cheese does need a bit of underlining with something that delivers bite.
  • Approx. 1 packed cup grated cheddar or other sharp cheese (you can actually vary this fairly safely, I like them more cheesy than this, and a Parmesan/cheddar mix is a particularly good effect)
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tblsp oil (olive oil is preferable for flavour)
  • 180ml milk (buttermilk or sour cream is even better, you could probably also try yoghurt)
  • Bits! Optional, but I like to add any combination of chopped chives, other chopped herbs, chopped spring onions, fried bacon bits, fried red onion bits, toasted pine nuts, chopped peppadews, etc. You could add cooked vegetable bits (e.g. pumpkin or grated baby marrow) for a muffin-like effect. These are also quite good with small chunks of feta or chevin crumbled into them, or, more accurately in the case of chevin, glodged.

  1. Preheat oven to 400oF.
  2. Sift dry ingredients together.
  3. Beat egg, oil and milk together and chuck into dry ingredients. (All the best quick-and-easy recipes don't mind if you chuck stuff in together more or less wholesale - my banana bread recipe, courtesy of Michelle, actually specifies "sift dry ingredients and chuck in.")
  4. Mix (not too savagely, this requires a few goes with a wooden spoon, not a food processor) to make a stiff batter, and stir in cheese and whatever bits you’re flinging in. I usually add a bit more milk if it’s too stiff.
  5. Drop into greased muffin tins in generous dollops, these are better if they’re a bit larger - at least two-thirds fill the tins.
  6. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Serve hot if at all possible, with butter. They respond quite well to being bunged into a hot oven for a few minutes to refresh them if you're eating them a day or so later. Warning: seriously moreish. They make a damned good accompaniment to soup, too.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I have acquired, by some mystic process over the last year or two, a taste for fruit teas. I've always mentally classified them, along with rooibos, as "disgusting pseudo-tea", but then my erstwhile MA student Stacey gave me a bag of something with pomegranate and apple and I was hooked. This is terribly useful: these days if I have a milk drink of any sort before I go to bed I don't sleep because of all the mucus colonising my lungs, so a soothing blackcurrant and vanilla makes a lovely end to the day. It also means that I'm going through honey at a rate of knots, as I like fruit tea with a teaspoon of honey in it (and, ye gods, is that stuff becoming expensive. I always vaguely worried about the death of bees, and now I really do).

The other night I was digging in the jar for the last dregs, and absent-mindedly put a fingerful of honey straight into my mouth instead of the mug. I haven't done that in years: I'm not madly into honey on its own, and don't eat it on bread or waffles or the like. But that taste thing is startling, even more evocative than smell. Suddenly I was back in the room outside the research-station house we lived in when I was a child of 7 or 8, a whitewashed extension reached only from the outside, via a flight of steps. My dad kept bees for a lot of my childhood, and the outside room was where he stored the frames of comb and the jars and the extractor, and the strange white armour and veil he wore to work with the hives. (And the smoker. A bee-smoker is a weird little metal box with an open cone thingy you puff smoke out of - it always fascinated me).

I have no idea if my memories of the extractor are real or partially fantastic, but they're very vivid. I think my dad may, with characteristic Zimbo resourcefulness, have designed it himself, and either made it or caused it to be made. It was a large, white-painted drum on legs, with a spinning contraption on the inside holding the frames with the full comb, a giant handle to wind it with, and a spout at the bottom to collect the honey. You loaded the frames into the spinning thing and wound like hell, and all the honey, propelled by centrifugal force, flew out to the walls of the drum and ran down into the spout, to be collected either into drums, or directly into jars. (I suspect drums, I think there may have been straining and clarifying bits still to do). The noise it made was considerable, and somehow exciting and technical. It was a very sci-fi thing, that extractor.

Honey is magical stuff. I remember the bottling process, the slow, sensuous, organic flow of the viscous dollops into the carefully-sterilised jars; the few random bees who were always bumping around the room; the heavy sweetness of the scent, and the sharp smell of the wax which was melted down from the empty combs, and which my mother used to use for her batiks. The bee-room was at once a fascinating and an alarming space, to a child rife with both the attraction of the honey, and the fear of the drowsy, disoriented bees bumbling around, with the ever-present potential for pain if you accidentally brushed or stepped on one. We were occasionally given chunks of comb to suck and then chew, the weird, tooth-coating texture of the wax a definite offset against the honey itself. I've never liked comb much. It's possibly why I loved the extractor.

Bee-keeping is an integral part of my childhood: the thread of honey's availability in our meals, a luxury taken for granted; the neat boxes of jars we, I think, used to sell; and my dad all clumsy and alien in the suit with the veil. There was a terribly unfortunate concatenation of bee-keeping with goat-keeping a bit later on, when I was a teenager and we'd moved into town; bees respond very badly to goats, and a swarm moved into the stable where the bee stuff was kept, and attacked the three goats who were living down in the paddock. My mother, amazing lady that she is, braved the swarm to rescue the goats and hauled them off the vet, she and all three of them swollen with stings. They all survived, although at least one of the goats had been so badly stung around the ears that she lost large chunks of them, and always presented thereafter a rather rakishly ragged look.

I suspect that one of the appeals of honey is in precisely this beautiful balance of reward and danger, its inextricability from the humble hard-working bee with the nasty sting, and the burning pain which marks the self-immolatory death of the guardian. Honey makes us thieves; its sweetness is stolen. And a spoonful of honey, apparently, holds the past.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
You know, it's not just the gentle weekly suggestions of my therapist which are starting to make me realise I don't have enough faith in myself. Remember the sad death of Winona, my netbook? She refused to switch on at any price, and eventually by determined trial and error I worked out that her on switch was defunct. I resolved to take her around to her supplier sometime and demand medical attention, and there the matter languished.

Then last night we were role-playing, and the conversation rambled around to matters technogeeknical, as it does, and I had myself a brief, ritual "dead Winona" lament. Whereupon Andrew H-S agreed that yes, it did sound like the on switch was buggered, and why didn't I just open it up and fiddle around a bit, he's seen me fix stuff he can't fix? (On mature reflection I think he must mean that one weekend away in Wilderness with the gang, over a decade ago, when I fixed the broken toilet flushing system with a brass brazing rod and the jeweller's pliers I carry in my handbag, and we spent the rest of the weekend rather drunkenly deciding who we'd like with us come the apocalypse, on grounds of random skills. I made it because of my ability to fix flush toilets. We decided, if I remember correctly, that we were pretty much screwed in genetic terms, we're all bespectacled geek types and our offspring would probably be blind within two generations. We also, for no adequately defined reason, ended up deploying Thakky's husband in a string bikini with a Bowie knife as a boundary patrol, and keeping David in a cage for breeding purposes as he's one of the few of us with 20/20 vision. It was a fairly drunken weekend).

Anyway, fired by this passing testament to my abilities, I just disassembled selected portions of Winona with the Philips screwdriver I keep on my desk, jiggled the switchy bits, blew carefully into the whole thing to remove dust and accreted pocket universes, and screwed it back together, whereupon it booted first go. She is now sitting on my desk meditatively downloading Windows upgrades. I feel smug, and also maddened beyond belief that I didn't trust my own instincts and bloody well do that first off when the problem manifested. Honestly. Two minutes of fiddling and a Philips screwdriver. Think of all the ritual Winona laments I would have saved.


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