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Oh, my. I am home, and despite the fact that that was generally a wonderful trip, I can feel inner bits of me spreading happy tendrils to occupy familiar space properly, and wriggling in sheer joy. That was 24 sleepless hours of travelling, encompassing walk-with-suitcase to bus, bus to Heathrow, plane to Frankfurt airport (tentacular, and in possession of Tardis-like corridor lengths longer than actually possible given the building size, they must snarl like spaghetti), plane to O R Tambo (whose signposting is abysmal), six million miles of OR Tambo in search of the non-signposted domestic terminal, plane to Cape Town, and an extraction professionally arranged by stv. The moment of stepping into my own personal shower, with all its hot water in heady amounts, was epiphanic. Celebratory. Practically religious. You don't realise how absolutely essential oodles of hot water delivered with force over a wide area actually are to mental health. (The last B&B had a horrible, lukewarm, trickly shower which had to be activated with a giant button, and which produced unbelievable amounts of groaning, bubbling noise which made a late-night pre-bed shower an exercise in shrinking guilt).

I also arrived back with not only the usual sense of indefinable grime attendant upon 24 hours in aircrafts and airports without sleep or shower, but with the exacerbated version created by a week in London water, leaving one subtly scaly and with heavy, lank straw for hair. God, London water is horrible. If I had to live in London I suspect I'd bath at vast inconvenience via a Heath Robinson contraption supplying bathing water out of a rainwater barrel.

I am also slightly weirded by the practical perambulatory successes of the trip. Despite all these complicated multi-country transfers, the presence of the Paralympics in London, the exigencies of public transport, the unfortuitous confluence of a Lufthansa strike, and the absolute necessity of giving a double period seminar on campus three hours after stepping off the plane, I managed to navigate all of the above without any flight being late, and with my luggage following me docilely, like Rincewind's but without the psychosis, from point to point. I suspect I'm still riding the wave of karmic backlash from the Australia trip, which was rife with flight delays and clouds of ash in addition to its more melodramatic medical upshots. (And I didn't get sick at all this time, which is lovely! Usually the sinus inflammation caused by twelve hours in aircraft aircon mutates into something Sid-related at the earliest inst.)

Also, the double period seminar was, possibly because sleep deprivation breaks down inhibitions and allows bizarre levels of free association, probably the best and most lively I've run this semester. Go figure. Possibly it was also the post-conference intellectual buzz. Marina Warner, eeeeeeeee! But my inbox of doom is rather exponentially more doomlike than usual, so I should probably kill some email. Sigh.
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Yesterday we roasted a pig. Or, rather, my Evil Landlord paid a gentleman of our acquaintance untold dosh to set up in our garden at 10am with an electric spit, a box of coals and a carcass, and at 8pm the 40 or so dear and close friends we'd invited around all ceremonially burned their fingers on the crackling. Any time I vaguely think about becoming vegetarian, I think of pork crackling, and the impulse slinks away going "Oh, all right, then, I take your point" in a rather shamefaced fashion.

Of course, said giant party (occasion: Gosh We Have A Newly Renovated House, Come and Celebrate, and Absolutely Not Anything To Do With The Evil Landlord's 40th Birthday Which Was Uncelebrated In January) also necessitated me visiting four supermarkets, some of them twice, between 8.30am and 3pm, and spending the entire day constructing meringues, chocolate brownies, various salads, garlic roast potatoes, and unearthing sufficient utensils to feed the hordes. Then I cleaned up after it all, resulting in four bags of recycling and two of rubbish, plus the plastic-wrapped pig carcass, dealing with which is uncomfortably like burying a small body.

Today, by way of encore, I hit the local nursery and acquired about ten bags of compost and a small, portable herbacous border. Several hours of digging later, I have slightly persuaded the blasted heath of our garden to take a few tottering steps away from the Dark Tower in the approximate direction of Lothlorien, and have thoroughly doused it in water by way of encouragement. (I have also fulminated mightily about our gardener, who is proving something of a broken reed in the "doing anything at all to the garden I want, describe or expect" department, phooey).

However, today plus yesterday means my feet are sore, my legs are sore, my arms ache, my back aches, my hands are in shreds, there is dirt under my fingernails, I've sliced my fingers and put my weird wrist out again hauling bags when I shouldn't. I am, however, happy to report that (a) the new bath (which I hadn't tried out until tonight as it's been too bloody hot for baths) is nothing short of beautiful, and (b) it was all absolutely worth it.

I'm going to bed now. I ache.
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Things That Tell You You're Not In Kansas Any More: the shower. My mother's shower has two settings, Lukewarm and Too Hot. You have no idea how grumpy I become when deprived of my righteous daily quotient of standing under hot water, therapising.

Some of the grump may also be because the exigencies of the French experience caused me, as a stress control measure, to descend to reading The Da Vinci Code, a copy of which my father had lying around the house for no adequately defined reason. Dear gods. I expected it to be bad, but not that bad. As I have mentioned in the past, skimming the first paragraph of the novel in a bookstore caused me active and violent pain. I have to say, I stand firmly by my initial judgement: that's incompetent mutated journalese if ever I saw it. Nonetheless I slogged through to the end, driven mostly by a sort of masochistic curiosity to see if it kept to its high standards of dreckness throughout. Yup.

The language, of course, is dreadful - see the earlier post for links to the Language Log dissection, which is entertainingly rude. The narrative, if anything, is worse. I expected the book to be the usual mindless thriller, leavened with a bit of entertaining paranoid conspiracy theory and pop mythology. It wasn't even that. It has absolutely no sense of pace: its slow, lame, stumbling plot telegraphs its "twists" and "reveals" so far in advance that you're bored by the time they actually arrive, and takes about the first third of the book to cover about two hours, in unnecessary detail including lots of statistics no-one cares about. This man wouldn't know a description if it wrote adjectives up his leg with a soldering iron. He thinks it's all about numbers and historical architecture. He only avoids the unnecessary detail when describing actual characters, who are sort of semi-animated cardboard cutouts with big red circles drawn around their most clichéd traits. And the mythology. Dear gods, the mythology. It's a half-baked, half-witted, half-arsed concatenation of random symbolism tied together with fetid string and a loopy, amoebic and deeply suspect feminism which is heartily stomped by the story. It's an offense to good conspiracy theory, frankly.

There are three major pop literary blockbusters in the last few years: Harry Potter, the Da Vinci Code, and Twilight. Despite the emotional scarring I'm glad I've actually now read all three, so I can say with authority that they're all bad, but in fact Harry Potter isn't as bad as the other two. On the whole, Dan Brown is also a worse writer than Stephanie Meyer, and what are the odds of that?

not so dusty

Tuesday, 16 October 2007 09:19 am
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Watching Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring for the first time was an amazing, breathtaking experience: I came out of the cinema on a sort of fantastical high, completely seduced and absorbed by the sudden vivid reality of my favourite fantasy realm and its people. Of course, I then had the happy daze burst, like a bubble, by the bloody depressive boyfriend of the time, who turned to me and said dismissively, "Well, the first third was total crap, of course", thus coming, had he only known it, a hairsbreadth from death by strangulation.

I am happy to note that, while Stardust induced the same sort of glowing euphoria, my fellow watchers were far more civilised, and were happy to join me in babbling enthusiastically about the film. Now that I've come down from the high, it might be possible for me to talk about the movie more or less objectively, although I did find myself recommending it to my fairy-tale class yesterday in somewhat extreme terms only slightly leavened by academic sense of any sort ("It's beautiful! cute hero! wheee! Oh, also adult fairy tale, blah."). I shall, however, cunningly conceal my ramblings behind the cut, as otherwise [ profile] strawberryfrog and other benighted UKers (hee) will grumble at me, possibly justifiably.

Stardust! Dust of stars! )

Last Night I Dreamed: I had to stand in for Britney Spears in a rather athletic dance routine at a variety concert in North Africa. I was somewhat worried that I didn't know the song or the words well enough to lipsynch, but fortunately the building was attacked, just before I was due to perform, by a horde of Muslim fundamentalists who abseiled in through the roof. My momentary fear that they may mistake me for Britney, and off me in the interests of decorum and good taste, was allayed when I realised that, having run out of their own deposits of lead and mithril, they were after the region's iron mines. I apparently survived the experience, as a later segment of dream involved Rhieinwen running me an amazing bath, in a giant Victorian tub, with lavender-scented bubble bath she'd given me for my birthday.

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For someone with all the submarine functionality and aerodynamic grace of a brick in water-wings, I'm bizarrely fond of immersing myself in water. I can't swim worth a damn, owing to substandard limbs, sinuses and general co-ordination, resulting in a tendency to splash helplessly in ever-decreasing circles while my lungs try for water-breathing insta-evolution; I love the sea and like paddling in it of a fine summer's evening when all the sun-tan-oilers have departed, but at least one foot must remain at all times on the shore. Bathtimes, however, are an extended hippopotamine wallow and showers an imperative at-least-daily ritual, during which my muscles are unknotted, my teeth unclenched, my brain released to wander happily over vast imaginative waterscapes, and various world-shattering solutions to problems social, personal or literary are vouchsafed via hot water to my receptive form. I'm a water sign. You'd even think there was something in astrology.1

This being the case, I invite you to dwell for a moment on the horrors of my shower previous to the efforts of the Army of Reconstruction. It's a tiny bathroom, just large enough for a shower, toilet and basin; it also had a low ceiling, the better to condense steam and grow interesting Cthulhoid runic inscriptions outlined in black, creeping mould. The entire room was tiled in midnight-blue tiles, making it a light-absorbing, claustrophobic box. The tiles used to fall off at intervals from the damp-rotted plaster, usually in the middle of the night with a sort of muted, evocative, slithering crash which added materially to the all-round trippiness of my dreams. Behind the fallen tiles fronds of slithy green vegetation grew dankly, dividing their time between reaching out to caress the back of my naked, showering leg, and lurking tentacularly while plotting same. The shower was a Heath Robinson, home-made affair which enclosed the bather between a brick wall and a shower curtain. The former harboured my cat, who used to sit up there while I showered and peer down at me with a confusion and concern not entirely inappropriate to the venue; the latter played further host to the Cthulhoid mould, here a mystic spray of black dots whose cryptic patterns shifted strangely in the steam. There probably weren't actually rats in the walls, but by gum if there had been they would have fitted right in. About the only thing the whole set-up ever had going for it was water - lots of it, piping hot, and delivered with bracingly bullet-like force from an adjustable shower head at exactly the right height. Over the years, this alone has kept me sane.

In elegiac mood, I now survey the bathroom in the wake of the Army of Reconstruction's mighty efforts. Gone are the days of performing ritual ablutions in a sort of a cross between sunken R'lyeh and the House of Usher: instead, we have a shrine to Tethys. The ceiling is a good foot higher, and the tiles have departed to that hell of taste from whence they came; the whole is painted in a shade called "Moonbeam"2, a pleasing pearly white which harmonises aesthetically with the shower's marble tiles. The shower itself is a Tardis in gleaming glass3, the better to exclude passing draughts while enclosing the bather in (a) a resonant acoustic chamber for singing and (b) gratuitous quantities of steam, and with an enjoyably space-age sliding door. The whole Star Trek feel is continued in the shiny silver highlights to the towel rail, shelves for shampoo, toilet-roll holder and a nifty little wire basket thingy for holding the soap. (In the previous incarnation of the bathroom the soap was a homeless wanderer which tended to lead a complex private life of its own under the bathmat, possibly in hiding from the tentacled frondy things.)

One of my favourite textual threads in A.S. Byatt's Possession is the recurring theme of bathrooms: marvellous, shining, watery, private spaces in which transformations occur, mirrors and people reflect, things shift from solid to liquid to mist.

I'm going to have another shower now. And possibly grow fins.

1 Not really.
2 In the lowest circles of Hell, just above the sticky vats of molten syrup reserved for the people who write the inscriptions in greetings cards, is the special place set aside for the misanthropic imbeciles who create the names for paint shades.
3 Although not as yet, alas, equipped with any incarnation of the Doctor.

Bunny Threat Level: well, thundering sinus headache all today so no actual work as such, but on the upside Amazon promise they've dispatched the volume of criticism I need for this next chapter, so possibly holding in the yellow.

psycho shower

Friday, 30 December 2005 10:12 am
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So, I'm standing in the shower last night, allowing the combination of hot water and painkillers to drift me into a gently upright somnambulist state, like a horse asleep on its feet, when I suddenly notice that there's a moving shadow on the shower curtain. Something about 10cm long is crawling up the fabric on the outside. I freeze, and stare at the manifestation in a glazed, stupid sort of way, while it climbs steadily up the curtain and pokes its antennae over the pole at the top. At this point it reveals that (a) it's not actually 10cm long, that was its shadow, (b) but it's a good 6cm long, and (c) it's a giant cockroach.

While I desperately try to call in a full air strike by the pure telepathic power of panic, the wretched creature proceeds, with a jaunty stride, along the top of the curtain pole, onto the top of the shower wall, over it, and vanishes. After checking my horribly vulnerable naked self obsessively for cockroaches for about ten minutes, I emerge from the shower and look for alien insect infestations. The giant cockroach of threatening death has clearly hailed a passing taxi and departed, because there's no sign of it.

I spend the rest of the night checking my duvet for cockroaches, keeping all limbs firmly under the covers, and leaping to horrified wakefulness at the slightest sound. I draw a tactful veil over the unhappy fate of the hapless christmas beetle who dive-bombed the duvet, with an audible "whap!" sound, at about 2am. Other than that, no signs of insect life - or, for that matter, air strikes.

I feel a little frayed this morning.
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...and, having fielded five phone calls, one visit (with presents), one SMS, two blog comments and four e-mails before noon, I am feeling Loved, TM. Thanks for the good wishes, all. I realise, in fact, that probably the most important reason to have a cellphone again is so that people can contact me while I'm online on the dial-up, which I am way, way too often. Conversely, the weird cell reception blank spot in our house is worst in my study, for some reason, so the first 30 seconds of any call are confused and intermittant while I dash onto the patio.

As a general spread-the-love, I feel impelled to pass on a site recently recommended to me by Dylan (strictly for D&D players, alas, many 1st ed/3rd ed injokes). The Order of the Stick.

And, a quick correction. When counting up my book stash in yesterday's meme, I omitted an entire bookshelf (it's in the guestroom, camoflaged among the Evil Landlord's personal L-space). I also have about 150 books in my kiddies' collection. Total a lot closer to 2800, overall, and I think I've underestimated the ones in my office. Also, the most recent book I've read is, in fact, Murakami's Sputnik Sweetheart, which I read last night in the bath. (Why, yes, I do read ridiculously fast and have ridiculously long baths). Almost unbearably fragile and delicately-written novel, necessitating the use of words such as poignant, melancholy, fractured and alienated in quantifying it. Also, the more I read Murakami, the less I am able to believe that I am actually capable of writing anything worthwhile at all. Damned depressing man.

Tonight, off to Hussar for Steak, TM; the small/expensive celebration, in sharp contradistinction to tomorrow's Large Raucous Party. Note to attendees tonight: there shall be no singing! None, I say!


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