You are viewing 30 entries, 30 into the past
April 12th, 2007
March 5th, 2007
The Internet is for meta-analysis:
As any fule kno, the internet is for porn. This fact has stood, like some whacking great monument of truth, in the back of the collective consciousness of the world since the webternet began. And then -- alas! -- it was held up the the harsh light of Science and fell over ungracefully into the mud. For a while the webternet was without form and meaning. Then, gradually, it began to pick up a new identity; here and there, now and then I would see people imputing that these days the internet is for cat pictures.
This set me to thinking: surely the webternet is for many things? Should we deny the validity of Harry Potter/Chalet School crossover fanfic merely because it is neither porn nor depicts cats? And, with the aid of Science, I have therefore prepared a Venn diagram of the interwebs which should sort the whole problem out.
( Much, much biggerCollapse )
 Science sat on my shoulder and implored me not to do it, but hey.
ETA: version with more readable, less voluptuous font here
February 3rd, 2007
True Opinions from the Public:
Me: ...but the worst band name ever was Red Box. I mean, I can't even remember any of their songs. All I can remember about them is that they had such a shite name.
Chris: I think they were the sort of stuff that used to get played on Philip Schofield's radio show -- wet music for grown-up indie kids.
Me: You mean like Coldplay for the 1980's?
Me: So, what do you think about Fluffymark's going-to-Glastonbury plan? I'm still deciding if I want my very own wallowing-in-shit experience or not.
Shortly after this, our conversation was interrupted by the arrival on stage of the Arcade Fire, who proceeded to play an stupendously rocking set of rockingness which I'm not smug at all about having a ticket for, despite radio 6 going on repeatedly about how hard they were to get hold of. Who else was at this small, intimate gig? Apparently, the lead singer of Coldplay and the organiser of Glastonbury.
...I bet the tall bloke I kept elbowing was in Red Box.
December 25th, 2006
At approximately 11:50 last night, we decided it would be a good idea to make mince pies. We didn't have a recipe -- but then again, we had some mincemeat, and who needs a recipe for mince pies? And so now we have a little tray of pies shaped variously like sausage rolls, triangles, whales, dinosaurs without heads, &c., which probably proves that one shouldn't bake mince pies at midnight on Christmas Day.
Afterwards, we looked up recipes. To which all I can say is, that I now have a burning desire to cook a mince pie for next christmas, because it turns out that four hundred-odd years ago, the mince pye:
a) could be up to 100kg in size,
b) could contain rabbits, partridges, legs of beef, pigeons, capons, hares, liver, eggs, pickled mushrooms or indeed all of the above plus everything from a modern-day mince pie,
c) was often held together by iron clamps (see point a),
d) was banned by Oliver Cromwell, and
e) had a pastry model of the baby Jesus on the top.
But enough of pye! the main intention of this entry is to wish you all merriment and joy and suchlike, and to thank you again for being a superb friendslist over the year, and to mention that since I've not really got individual people hereon presents this year, I have instead bought you all some trees -- about a third of a tree each, as it happens. And I'll now return to my scheduled sherry and a surprisingly-circular pie. :)
November 30th, 2006
HOUSEWARMING - absolutely the final missive (probably):
It has not failed to escape my attention that some of you would like to know where we live, seeing as we've, um, invited you to our house on Saturday. See, what I neglected to mention is that our little gathering on the 2nd is intended for telepaths only.
...um, what I mean to say is Disorganised, me? and that you may find our address in the original entry here (friendslocked to my f'list) or here (friendslocked to Chris's f'list, or if you're on neither or not on LJ then email me (address in user info) and I'll (probably) tell you. The postcode is CB1 2LL for users of interweb mappingthingumbobs -- this only identifies which side of the road it's on, though. It's a straightforward and short walk from the train station and only a little longer from the bus station ('turn right and carry straight on' just about covers both). Coming by car is trickier: there are a couple of short-stay pay and display car parks nearby (one is at the beginning of Gwydir Street) but the local roads are strictly residents parking only and there are usually no spaces anyway. Saturday the second is also the date of the Mill Road Winter Fair, which may mean that in fact cars can't get into Gwydir Street anyway. So I'd give Mill Road a miss, park centrally or elsewhere, and walk in.
The intention is to begin the Beggar's Opera singthrough at about 2:30 (so maybe turning up from 2?) It will be rather disorganised. I suspect the Farce of Sodom will begin at around 9:00. We have some spare copies of both scripts but as yet no spare copies of the score (but there are pdfs online). It will be rather disorganised. In between at some point there will be some food (a large fish and a Rice Thing, we are thinking); as I don't know how many people there willl be I'm making no guarantees to feed everyone, but there are astonishing quantities of takeaway food available locally.
Bring things, if you want to bring things. Wear things, if you want to wear things. Etc.
 Actually, I can imagine few worse things than a room full of drunken telepaths - can we cancel?
November 22nd, 2006
MEN WHO SING!
...our housewarming Beggar's Opera (Saturday December 2, afternoon (probably 2:30ish),in Cambridge, music is not difficult and is all online as pdfs and mp3s here, is also v. good & has choruses of ruffians & whores) is a little short of you at the moment.
Chance to partake of a Very Large Fish included. And Gin. More Women who Sing also a thoroughly good thing. Also small furry beasties from Alpha Centuri who sing. Does anyone have any amiable singers hiding under the bed?
In order for this not to be the spammiest entry in spammytown ever, here is a work-related image.
November 19th, 2006
Get yer 17th & 18th Century Underworld Here:
So: there is to be Housewarming on the 2nd of December.
As part of this Housewarming there is to be a read/singthrough of the Beggar's Opera, and perhaps a readthrough later on (after Gin has been consumed) of the Farce of Sodom. Although the philosophy of this singthrough is that if there has to be a choice between enjoyability and quality, enjoyability should kick quality's arse, this is still less than two weeks away, so it would be wise to assign parts and such. To that end, the way I'm doing casting is as follows:
1. Both scripts, scanned pages of all the songs and mp3s of most of the songs are up on the fluffhouse server here.
2. If no-one volunteers to sing or read anything, I will personally sing and read every single song and line in the entirety of both plays. You owe it to the world to stop me doing this.
3. If you'd like a part (summaries of all the parts are beneath the cut below), comment to this post. Comments are automatically screened and will not be unscreened unless they're obviously non-casting related or you ask. You should say which parts you'd potentially like, and you can also say if e.g. there are people you'd prefer not to have romantic scenes with or suchlike.
4. I wait a couple of days, and then assign parts.
5. Giant lizards take over Tokyo.
( Part Summaries, Sundrie Notes &c.Collapse )
October 29th, 2006
The men of this period became birds:
After about a week, the mountain obsession turned into another one; a strange vision, wholly related, but one which made my physicist heart revolt. Simply relating it makes it sound a little daft. Perhaps I should provide a little backstory as to why it seemed a logical step to make.
( See, when I was a teenager I decided I'd rather like to be Tolkien...Collapse )
But anyhow, this was the end result: suddenly my mountain-reverie had been derailed by -- of all things -- an archetypal flood myth. I had slipped over to the high peaks of a fantasy world, and that fantasy world had responded by submerging everything but the high peaks in a cold, silent ocean. Honestly, haven't you heard of conservation of mass?, I said to the fantasy world; and, unsurprisingly, the fantasy world shook shook its little head and said nope.
Then the fantasy world took me out for a drink and showed me cryptic glyphs which said such things as:
'Atonatiuh, Water Sun, third Cosmosgonic Era, called Quiauhtonatiuh - Rain Sun. The Sun at this time is Tlaloc, God of Rain, and ended in a cataclysm on a day Nauhiquiahuitl - Four Rain - when Fire rained down from the Sky. The men of this period become birds.'
It told me of Uta-napishti, who Gilgamesh sought on an island at the edge of the world, and how he was warned by the gods to build a boat to save his household from the oncoming deluge; and how at the end of seven days of rain his boat came to rest on the peak of a mountain; and he and his wife were given immortality and repeopled the world. The same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened, said my fantasy world, abruptly switching to Noah; who, it reminded me, had also survived in a boat a flood that had covered all the high hills and mountains. It told me then that the Greek Deucalion had done such a thing as well, although he at least had neglected to fill his boat with animals; and his flood had lasted nine days, and he had come to rest on some mountain or other. The Menominee Manabus, it said, had shot two of the gods and in consequence was chased by the waters to the peak of a mountain. The Caddo, menaced by four giant monsters, hid themselves and pairs of good animals in a giant reed, so that when the flood came to drown the monsters they might survive. Manu was warned of the flood by a fish, who towed his boat to a mountaintop when the waters rose. Need I go on?, said my fantasy world. And I conceded that it might not have been a particularly original thought after all and that yes, mythology was rather fond of floods overtopping mountains, particularly where there were boats involved. One might even, I supposed, surmise things about the need for survivors of disasters to find reasons why they were spared, combined with the Chinese whispers of ten thousand years, combined with a few historical misadventures of water. But, I told the fantasy world, my accidental flood myth was at least in the future -- all the others were tales of the distant past. At which point the fantasy world rolled its eyes, said You might want to read a few more things like this, then, and left.
Ungrateful bloody mythology. Still, it has a sort of a point. Sea levels have risen in the past. Sea levels are rising now, and if I have learnt anything in my brief time flitting around climate science it is that we do not know how high the waters may reach; other than that, if all the ice in the world were to melt, we would be 60--75 metres deeper in ocean. I think of the fens, much of which are kept dry by pumping stations as it is. I think of the highest peak in Tuvalu; not particularly lofty, but in danger of being submerged in the forseeable future.
And since Venice I have been thinking of drowned cities (and there are many drowned already), serene like dead Ophelia or Fuchsia (as if the process of drowning were serene or pretty; as if a drowning city would not belch oil and sewage, as if the last to leave would not be looters and madmen). This morning Debussy's Sunken Cathedral was playing on the radio. I would think of the murky waters of a submerged London, but this is hardly a new idea. And I have been reading J. G. Ballard's Drowned World, in which London is a hellish riot of heat and swamp, of skyscrapers overgrown with creepers, of deep lagoons through which one can see the old city streets receding benath silt. At least the brief idea of worlds' end I had was serene and cold; some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice.
You know who else had a flood myth?, interjects the fantasy world one final time, Tolkien. He had dreams about it: of the ineluctable Wave, either coming up out of a quiet sea, or coming in towering over the green inlands. Oh, and by the way, the being-Tolkien corporation is not hiring.
October 16th, 2006
The ladder with no human end:
There was a time, a few months ago, when I dreamed of mountains. I am not entirely sure why. Perhaps I had read something on the subject. The complexion of my daydreams changed -- just for a week or two -- into a sort of strange and wistful pining, an unrequited wanderlust which went away as quickly as it had come. Perhaps it was just the names; the uppermost places of the Earth cluster, almost without exception, in the Himalayas, and the names of those places have a mystical, assonant ring to them, like the sound of bells coming from an impossibly distant height. Annapurna, they say; Dhaulagiri, Karakorum, Kangchenjunga, Shishapangma, Lhotse, Nuptse, Makalu. It was summer, when I dreamed of mountains, and I dreamed of cold, clear air and white snow and peaks encompassing the horizon. Of course, climbing mountains is not like that, not that sort of mountain; it is dirty, and technical, rather dangerous and hard. And I do not understand the way that mountains work, not in my instinctual heart; I don't understand their sudden storms or their thin air. Even in the lower hills of Scotland (and I do not think I have ever climbed anything with snow on it) there have been moments of perplexity. Walking up the slopes behind Blairmore house in bright woodland sunshine, Chris and I came out onto the first hill's bald peak -- and instantly our benign sky was all wailing winds and hail. We went back down, and the sun returned. But every time we tried to go back up to the peak, foul weather arose from seemingly no-where. I am stubbornly drawn to the heights, sometimes, and it worries me that this lack of understanding does not worry me, if that makes any sense. That I think mostly of the cairns and the clear water and the ponds of the hills which reflect only sky, and have a strange love for strange places that are dangerous.
( Far too much about mountains, terraforming, death &c.Collapse )
October 15th, 2006
A trick done with mirrors and doors:
It is an odd situation that I find myself in. To say that a lot has happened since the last livejournal entry of any substance is an understatement: I have, in point of fact, got married, moved house, changed both job and academic field and spent time on three continents, not to mention crossing the equator twice and the prime meridian nine times. Moving week itself was changeable: that was what the weather forecast said; we were on the chaotic cusp of autumn, and hundreds of birds wheeled and gathered over the road, black against the sunset, as we took our little Yaris back and forth along the A428. Forget that the fenlands have no appreciable scenery for hundreds of miles, forget that the sulphurous odour of cabbage fields hangs over them like a wet fart off the North Sea -- what they have in abundance is sky, and as we carried out our own small migration that sky was a Turnerian fantasy world of cumulus rising, clashing, huge thunderheads building up and breaking catastrophically, shafts of crepuscular sunlight striking out like an announcement of the second coming. We were very little beneath it all; somewhat less than the birds. But in our little way we're no longer Bedfordians. Everything over, we have ended up here: in Gwydir Street, in Cambridge, with all sorts of wonderful things a few minutes' walk away. I am quite off balance. It's all rather lovely.
How to describe where we are? We have bought a teapot which is rather too large for two people to use. I have baptised the front door with gin. We still don't have enough bookcases. Our local shops sell pigs' blood, black salt and pea aubergines. And then there are the doors....
See, there is a measure of poverty which states that a non-poor household should have more rooms than people; a condition we only just edged into in the Mew, assuming bathrooms to be countable. More remarkable was our position in the depths of abject door poverty. There were only three in the building, including the front one. If one included all cupboard doors, that number stretched to a generous eight. It wasn't something I felt strongly about, at the time. The Mew was a house with no hidden corners. We used its space efficiently. And now suddenly we're in this strangely large old Victorian house; a house with crannies, with a mysterious locked attic, with a door in the middle of the bathroom wall which swings open as you are brushing your teeth to reveal a mirror which reflects your arse, with big wooden cupboards smelling of old sap; and which almost certainly has a hidden entrance to a basement, probably beneath the stairs. When you walk to the front door, a very small mirror reflects the movement of your feet, as if there is someone else in the room; and another mirror turns the line of curtains in the front bedroom into a cloistered corridor to mirror-land. I went to a conference last week at the Royal Aeronautical Society; afterwards, walking along the edge of Hyde Park in pursuit of a particular bookshop, I had a sudden moment of confusion in which it seemed that the chirality of the world had been switched. I have never been very sure of my left and right and east and west, to be fair. But would it be easy, in a mirror-world, on a stage with a suitable number of mirrors and doors, to turn a Bedfordian modeller of stars into a Cantabrigian modeller of air transport? And how long would have one have to stay in a mirror-world before one stopped noticing?
For all my breathless words, I can't keep down the pedant inside; who would like you to know that, though humans stop noticing pretty quickly, our chemistry might not function quite correctly in a mirror world. But I have informed the pedant that if you play about enough with mirrors and doors, you might be confused enough not to care.
Enough of this. Good people, come and have tea with us! We have a large teapot, and it ain't going to drink itself.
September 21st, 2006
A rather pitiful charade:
See, I had all these fine words fermenting and growing ripe in my head, albeit rather glacially (can you ferment glacially? It's what they were doing, anyhow) about the wedding and the honeymoon, about roses and gold and mead and tropicbirds and tortoises, there I was, mulling over all of those happy memories and letting them settle contentedly into place -- and then I was going to post some pictures of interesting rocks, and then I was going to mention that we were moving to somewhere rather close to one of the best pubs in Cambridge in a week and a half --
-- when my happy fantasy of a well-honed, meme-free stream of livejournal posts is shattered by a lucky guess in a game of charades. Tch. By the power of webternet chains, and even though I'm not particularly sure of the rules, it looks like it's time for, er -
* makes vertical pulling motions *
EDIT: now guessed by andrewwyld, who has taken up the baton over here.
 Wikipedia is my friend.
August 8th, 2006
Like an enormous carnivorous cake:
I have many, many things I want to post about: mountains and flea circuses and art and dovecotes and the rising of the sea. But these things are going to have to wait because, well, WEDDING.
Which reminds me to remind you:
1. Everyone on the f'list is invited to the ceilidh. This does in fact mean you, even if you think it doesn't, although we're assuming that we'll have relatively few attendees from, say, Australia. The ceilidh will be from around 7:00 to around 11:00 on Friday the 25th at Moreteyne Manor, Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire (more directions thereunto than you can shake a stick at). There will be cheese and cake.
2. Those people who have been invited to the whole thing: now's about the time that we start prodding the people who haven't replied with sticks. Prod. Prod. We know of several people who appear to be making travel plans to get to the wedding without actually having told us they're coming, for example....
3. There is now a list of charities up on the not-a-wedding-list page. Apologies to those who asked for taking so long over this.
August 1st, 2006
There are certain shapes, sets of numbers, combinations of letters and so forth that I have looked at so frequently (it is usually, though not always, the fault of Work) that I can recognise them instantly. No context, no framing; just squiggly lines on a page. I suspect everyone has some of the same sort of thing. Currently, I know a lot about this shape:
and I have previously had a lot of dealings with this shape:
However, my prompt for revealing such shapes unto the world (other than to add to the daily quota of perplexity) is another form of mysterious incantation, to wit: the seemingly meaningless ascii conundrum. I showed this particular odd jumble of ascii to purplepiano at the weekend, in great excitement; it was the first time I had seen such a thing. Unsurprisingly, he had no idea of its import. But I suspect some of the people reading this might be able to hazard a guess....
July 30th, 2006
Long-lost cousins in the cello section, and other illuminating tales:
There is something about the combination of music and endurance -- something that sits rather deep in the human brain, that worms its way into ritual and pop culture and tradition alike. I am at a loss to explain why I would rather stand at most gigs than sit, given that I am not a dancer of any note; or why I have an odd feeling that standing at gigs whilst besplattered with mud, a la festival-goers in the rain, is the desirable way to go about such things. Is it tribal bonding?
If it is, then I guess I was out doing classical tribal bonding last night: that is to say, lured by the promise of purplepiano in the chorus and the chance of attending PastyFest (dude!) and talking photography with the incomparable andrewwyld in't morning, I went promming. I wasn't going to do it this year. I was going to be too busy. But ah, the promenade concerts! They draw you in, somehow. With all their peculiar Englishness, their pair of notable queues, their Victorian history, their slight over-fondness for Elgar, their mushroomy ceiling -- they're like the eccentric great-uncle you never had. Unless you did. But anyhow. This is how one finds oneself spending an afternoon in Kensington Gardens, reading the Pilgrim's Progress and idly watching a squirrel trying to retrieve crisps from the end of a stick, before ambling over to stake out a place in a remarkably short queue for a couple of hours. Thence followed an evening full of divers excitements, involving:
1. Being right at the front of the arena, in the middle. Yea, even unto being 3m from the conductor's bum. I generally prom barefoot, and I could feel the vibrations through the floor as Mr. Robertson jumped up and down.
2. The usual collection of glorious eccentrics. Wagner dolls, peculiar beards, alarmingly cute composers, the discovery of long-lost cousins in the cello section, discussions of exactly how many minutes long one likes one's Meistersingers prelude -- that kind of thing. Someone should write an operetta.
3. The usual enormous, forbidding and lumpen soprano (again, extremely close-by) who turns out to have a rather lovely, melting voice.
4. Some rather more unusual stuff: e.g. The Shout, an experimental choir whose members come from all sorts of different singing traditions, and
5. A huge choral piece (in size, not length) involving them and five other choirs of varying sorts. And an orchestra. And words which were a mixture of Caryl Churchill and Sumerian-sounding babble syllables -- combine this with the music, coming in in rhythmic bursts, and you have a vision of a man-made climate apocalypse which is strangely enticing. At this point (the choirs had spilled out into the stalls) I was standing at the focus of a great semicircle of singers, which was pretty fucking incredible...
6 ...and then the conductor gestured to part of the audience, and it turned out that large chunks of the prommers on either side of me were part of it as well, at which point I went slightly wobbly.
7. After that, Prokoviev's Alexander Nevsky was almost a mellow comedown piece. Well, maybe. Being merely quite large and very, very Russian, with its German invaders dehumanised by having them speak jumbled-up Latin fragments, Stalin is me best mate, &c.
So, yes. I stood up throughout, which I guess is a sign of a good prom. I suspect I'm more of a sucker for the artistic endurance event than most, or at least have a poor sense of when it's better to give up, the Ring cycle and Finnegans Wake being cases in point. I suspect this is a harmless habit, if not entirely healthy. Being an human is odd, &c.
 Crucially, although the final few minutes of the Ring Cycle are glorious and sublime, although the final leitmotif, the one which appears only once elsewhere, just comes in from nowhere and crushes your heart -- they're not nearly as good if you haven't listened to sixteen hours of Norse Gods bickering beforehand.
 Opinions on this may differ, yes I know Wagner-the-person was a twat, &c.
July 24th, 2006
An Open Letter to Muse:
I write concerning your recent work, Supermassive Black Hole. Whilst I am sure that it represents a valuable contribution to the field, I (and I am sure many others) remain a little confused by your use of non-standard terminology and the sparse manner in which you have presented your main arguments. If you could clarify some of these matters for me, it would be much appreciated.
First, and most generally, whilst you refer throughout to an individual supermassive black hole (SMBH) you do not specify which one. Am I to assume you are discussing Sgr A*, which, due to its location in the centre of the Milky Way, is by far the most commonly-discussed individual SMBH? If so, you would do well to mention this fact. In addition, I feel that referring to Sgr A* as 'baby' and opening your argument with reference to its tendency to make you suffer and moan detracts somewhat from the scientific rigour of the work. Far be it from me to pry, but are you spending too long in the office?
Your second argument, beginning You caught me under false pretences, is most interesting. Are you referring to the high level of obscuration which blights most attempts to observe the Galactic Centre? If so, this seems to be a rather roundabout way of saying so. Combined with your earlier statement, don't you know I suffer, you almost appear to be suggesting that Sgr A* has some degree of sentience. This is a radical departure from current theory and I feel it may have some trouble gaining acceptance in the current scientific climate. Also, to cover some of your minor points:
-the gravitational pull of the earth on you rather outweighs that of Sgr A* on you, so speculation about the timescale over which Sgr A* will 'let you go' is, I feel, unfounded.
-It is unlikely that Sgr A* can hear you moan, as sound cannot travel in the vacuum of space.
It is always gratifying to see researchers expressing genuine enthusiasm for their work; however, given the sparseness of the rest of the work, do you really need to reiterate so many times that it sets your soul alight? Alternatively (I am afraid your unusual audio-based presentation allows for potential misunderstanding) you mean supersolar. In which case you should be aware that, though the common assumption is that the Galactic Centre is of supersolar metallicity, recent work (e.g. Najarro et al. 2004; Carr, Sellgren & Balachandran 2000) has suggested that solar metallicity is more appropriate for this region.
However, it is your main conclusion which I find particularly fascinating. I myself have done some work on Sgr A*'s consumption of massive and intermediate-mass stars (see Dray et al. 2006, astro-ph/0607470). Whilst 'superstar' is unconventional terminology, given the probable top-heavy IMF in the Galactic centre region I suspect you are referring to massive stars. Are you implying that their interactions with the black hole generally lead to the entire star being sucked in? If so, this is of the utmost importance for my work and I would value some further information about the processes by which you have come to such a conclusion. In addition, you claim to link this process with glaciers melting in the dead of night. Are you suggesting that Sgr A*'s consumption of loss cone stars is a cause of global warming? This would be a staggering result with profound implications for humanity, if proven. Whilst I confess I cannot see any potential mechanism by which such a link could be established, I would have no objection to the dramatic increase in funding for Galactic Centre research which might come about on the back of such a claim. The fact that your research is being so widely distributed is therefore, I feel, cause for cautious optimism, despite the peculiarities of your arguments. Perhaps you could play up the global warming aspect a little more in future papers?
Finally, given the above points, I may wish to cite you at some point. Given your unconventional distribution method, I am unsure as to the correct way to word such a citation. Would
Bellamy, M. et al. 2006, in Black Holes and Revelations, ed. R. Costey, Warner, # 3.
yours in confusion,
Lynnette M. Dray (Dr.)
June 30th, 2006
A reminder and a question:
Calenders, unlike colanders, fill up remarkably swiftly; and brains, rather like colanders, forget things. Invitations are objects almost completely unconnected with colanders, but should be hitting the post shortly for the thing that people may have forgotten about, which is to say that:
purplepiano and I are getting married on Friday the 25th of August
Although we won't be able to invite everyone to the ceremony and the food, we're intending a ceilidh afterwards and everyone's invited to that (the more the merrier, in fact -- ceilidhs are good with lots of people)
With that in mind, we have constructed a Logistical Website here containing details of how to get there and whatnot. Also with that in mind, um -- those of you f'listers who know about know about such things -- how does one go about getting one's hair done pre-wedding? As is perhaps readily apparent, I've not been to a hairdresser since I was eleven. The same goes for finding people who will paint your face with strange unguents on your bridal morning, and all that. I'm not big with the cosmeticology in situations other than the overwhelmingly thespian, but I do vaguely remember someone mentioning the Body Shop in a positive light sometime previous.
 Yes, I get the general idea: you ask a hairdresser. But I have no idea what is Normal in the world of hairdressing, and that would be good information to start with.
June 27th, 2006
White stones and water:
In Naples, they believe that the octopus is fond of the colour white -- I cannot think why, as octopuses turn white when they are agitated, but it seems to be so -- and so they may be caught by the following method: a fisherman fills a white amphora with white stones and places it on the bed of a shallow sea. When an octopus comes along, it sees the white amphora and decides to make its home therein; so it empties out the stones and gets into the amphora itself. The fisherman, on seeing the stones scattered about the sea bed, retrieves the amphora and, with it, the sleeping octopus.
To my mind, the telling of this story implies one important fact, which is to say that a recent burst of book-tidying has once more placed the Penguin Companion to Food in a place suited to idle browsing. I am therefore supplied -- nay, oversupplied! positively brimming, in fact -- with peculiar tales to do with things at least marginally edible. And in thinking of white stones and water, another of those stories comes to mind; which is that of the blind coconut. Most coconuts have three pores at one end, see. Soft and rather useful places which one may pierce with a corkscrew to let the juice out. The blind coconut, being a freak of nature somewhat like the matreshka egg or the two-headed tortoise, is hole-less. In their place (it is said, for this affliction affects fewer than one in a million coconuts and it is hard to be sure) there forms a hard, milky stone, like a pearl but somewhat larger. This is the coconut pearl. They are (of course) without price. And of course, such stones are said to have magical powers -- healing, luck, the taming of fevers -- and of course if one lurks round long enough on the internet one may be sidled up to and offered a green coconut pearl from a nut with seven eyes, just as one may be offered a red bezoar from the stomach of a cobra, fossilised tiger testicles for virility and pearl-of-cat for the removal of negative energies; or a scaly ball of condensed dragon-spirit for three thousand dollars. But then again, the internet has always been the sort of place where one could purchase a half-dozen mummified squirrel heads on an idle afternoon. It's why I'm rather fond of the place.
But coconut pearls, though. Perhaps the entire world's supply -- impossible to gather together, insane to try -- might fit into a very small, very white amphora. And what sort of octopus could one capture then?
 A name which somehow conspires to suggest that the book comes ready-supplied with a large flightless bird to sit at your right hand in restaurants and encourage you to order the trout.
June 15th, 2006
Cat news is no news:
Vet's diagnosis: dunno. Cat's diagnosis: dunno (only it was expressed in a more mew-ly form). In short, we are waiting and medicating. And no more blood has come out of the cat, which can only be a good thing.
Anyhow: as the proud owner of Pet Insurance, the Nug was allowed to take her medical notes home in support of a claim. These proved to be surprisingly entertaining. For a start, she was officially happy snoozing and was purring too much to monitor respiration on the morning she was sent home. The rest of the notes are written in some sort of strange code only comprehensible to the Veterinary Elite or those with access to online glossaries, but confirmed that the lumps remained unidentified, most vital signs were NAD (no abnormality detected) and that various cellular investigations had turned up only rbcs (red blood cells).
Doctors are famous for writing like this, of course. It's amazing what insulting detail you can hide in in acronyms. Suffered a UBI? That's an Unexplained Beer Injury to the cognoscenti. Apparently. Unless it's the Union Bank of India, or United Business Institutes. Looking at a glossary of medical abbreviations reveals more of the same confustigation. Within the medical field alone, 'AAA' is Annual Accountancy Agreement. Or Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm. Wow. That's a mistake you really don't want to make. Let alone mistaking Canadian for Cancer. When you have all the words in the world at your fingertips, abbreviation and acronymisation are longer safe sciences.
Now as it turns out, most plausible two- and three-letter acronyms already have at least one meaning. But such is the alphabetical crowding in this modern world that many have two or three well-known meanings. Which got me to thinking: if the following letters were entirely devoid of context (and I'm aware that at least one of these polls has been done before) --
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Compulsory Basic Training
Cock & Ball Torture
TV? (not strictly acronyms, &c.)
June 13th, 2006
Bad Cat News:
The Nug, unfortunately, is not well. In the way of most cats, she chose to manifest this by behaving entirely normally, up until the point that it was no longer possible to hide; which was when I came home from work on Thursday and found a great deal of blood that should have been inside her all over the banister, stairs, floor and the like. It was coming out of her nose and mouth, a fact that she was trying rather hard not to reveal.
As you might imagine, I freaked out like a chicken on speed at this point. Emergency vet phonecalls were made. I left some panicy voicemail on Chris's mobile (in Spain). But, in predictably cat-like fashion, she stopped bleeding shortly before seeing the vet, began behaving even more like an animal with nothing wrong with her, and even managed to show that she was defecating normally by doing so in the taxi on the way there. It is good that vets are clever people and not fooled by cats. In the end she stayed there for a couple of days, and they took a lot of X-rays, which were all normal; and she didn't bleed any more; but looking up the back of her nose with an endoscope they found some swelling and lumpiness, and they also found a small lump under one leg, and that doesn't sound like good news, really. :(
But however it be, she's home for the moment. And we have a pile of pills to give her.
Now, I have never given a cat a pill before. The felines I lived with as a child were uniformly well up until the age of 18, whereupon they uniformly expired without the need for intervening medication. And such people as choose to give advice on pill-giving tend to have a rather nervous jocularity about them that I find quite off-putting. Ho ho, they say, Giving a cat pills? Don't forget your suit of armour and industrial pliers! I have some horse tranquillisers you can borrow. Did you know cats can spit out medication with sufficient velocity to put your eye out? Hey, would you like to see my scars? Our steadfast Encyclopaedia of the Cat advised that one should merely wrap the cat in a towel, lubricate the pills with plenty of butter, perform a particular sort of complicated Vulcan grip (illustrated in three steps) to open the cat's mouth, drop the pills directly down its throat and hold the mouth shut until they'd gone down. But just how do you get an un-cooperative cat into a towel? The Nug was having none of it. Perhaps one of us could gently stroke her whilst the other one wrapped the towel around? Or maybe we merely had to be faster than her? Or perchance....
Whilst we were wondering this, the cat strolled up to the plate with the pre-buttered pills on, had a good sniff, and then ate them. That's one good thing, at least.
Back at the vet's tomorrow.
June 8th, 2006
The girl who cried wolf:
Ah, humans, humans, humans. We jolly sailors on the mammal boat are many things on many levels, some sublime and some absurd, but it can't be denied that on at least one very basic level we are fundamentally beautiful, intricate machines for turning food into shit. In this frequent thought I am aided by the cat, who provides ample public demonstration of the general principle to an audience of two at 8pm every day. Darn it, I find myself thinking, there must be more to this eating lark. Perhaps this is why some people do it for profit, and some people claim to go without. But I was thinking of a subtler effect -- of cloves and cinnamon bark, cardamom pods and peppercorns.
( On spices, bodily fluids and the like; occasionally Bad and WrongCollapse )
June 1st, 2006
May 31st, 2006
The Wretched Refuse of your Teeming Shore:
After all that, there was only one thing to do: go back to New York. In this I am indebted to the_lady_lily and her bloke, who showed me round on day 1, were generally lovely, fed me with wonderful food and facilitated a round or two of the archetypal ex-pat conversation, why can't they serve tea properly in New York?
And after that, I flung myself into the city as if I intended to drown therein. How to describe it? I spent a little less than two days there. And in that time it seemed to me to be most like those great and terrible medieval panoramas that one sometimes finds on the walls of old churches; those in which the Scheme of all things at the Last Judgement is shown in one vast mosaic of images, from the blessed feasting and rejoicing in heaven at the top to the damned writhing in hellbound agony at the bottom. All these images, all visible, all together. The very heights and the very depths. It was a fascinating place. Had I a camera made from my eyes, I would reproduce the story for you in the form of a stained-glass window, perhaps. But I don't, and the images I do have are to come later. I shall have to make my images here and now from words. Here are a few.
( The island between the rivers' jawsCollapse )
May 30th, 2006
A Light for the Hospital of the Blind:
Half-asleep on the morning of Friday the 12th and slipping around through half-dreams in my head as I sat on the tube, I heard announced over the tannoy A light for the Hospital of the Blind. How odd, I thought, and who would want such a thing?. And it occurred to me that the world had gone all strange, and that that probably meant that Something was about to Happen. It was a shameless cheat of a thought, since I already knew exactly what was about to happen. I had flights booked and everything. Nevertheless, it seemed like a good starting point.
From then on it went very quickly. One moment I was sleeping on mirabehn and mostlyacat's kindly-offered sofa, and the next (excising perhaps only a half-day of moments in between) I was on a train pootling through rural Connecticut with the state's Golden Age Olympics team inching their strollers up and down the aisle, and only Pemmican to eat. And yet really it didn't seem too odd. For all of the searching questions at the border, there was no language barrier and not a great deal of cultural barrier; some part of me was convinced that I had remained awhile in London, and that London was a rich and strange enough place to contain in one of its nooks and crannies a goodly bit of rural Connecticut. This persisted even after the train drew in to Boston South Station: here to welcome me were the night and the drizzle and a waiting subway station. It was all strangely like home.
( The Other Cambridge and some wet things that befell thereCollapse )
One final matter: some of you may be wishing to know what has become of the ducks that I took with me. One of them, you may be pleased to know, is languishing nary a metre from my right elbow. The other one I think may be currently in Salt Lake City. I have set it free to travel the world... of which, perhaps, more later.
And then, of course, there was New York.
May 10th, 2006
Emerge twice and then go under:
Meanwhile, at the society for putting things on top of things, a tense silence reigned. Would the society's master crypotopositioners succeed in placing three mangoes, a deck of cards, two spoons from the wreck of the Titanic and a miniature dachshund atop the rounded end of a wrens' egg?
I have absolutely no idea myself, but I am engaged in something similar, to wit the final arrangement of conference travel. Come Friday evening I shall be setting off on a rather long journey, see. This time the means of travel are relatively uncomplicated (only planes and trains as opposed to last year's trains, buses, planes, boat and feet) but rather time-consuming and with rather a lot of different sorts of train. Fa la! I bring it all on myself....
I think I said I was going to meet people shortly before a huge wave of busyness intervened and I ended up not making plans, but anyhow: I shall be in the Boston/Cambridge area (hopefully) from late on Saturday until mid-day the next Friday, although the daytimes from Monday to Thursday will be full of conference. Thereafter I shall be in New York until some time in the afternoon on Sunday. I will probably have email/interweb access for some of the time, and my phone should work (although calling it will cost, y'know, $$$). It is vitally important that I go geocaching, it would be rather cool if I were to go to the robot museum, there are actually far more things I want to do in New York than I have time for, and so on and so forth.
Suggestions/ plans for meeting up/ small furry beings from Alpha Centuri? I have so much to do at the moment my brain is actually melting.
May 8th, 2006
Swing your Partner:
Ah, spring! That season in which we can all skip around with joy in our hearts and a song on our lips as we survey the multitudinous blossoms, bluebirds, scantily clad pretty people, hormonally-crazed pigeons and so forth. And since it is May, the song that comes most readily to my lips is Thomas Morley's delightful madrigal, Now is the month of Maying. You see:
Now is the month of Maying,
When merry lads are playing
And just what are they playing, Uncle Morley?
Fa la la la la la la, la la, fa la la la la la la.
Well, that sorts that one out, then. Just out of interest, where might they be engaging in fa la la?
Each with his bonny lass
Upon the greeny grass.
Fa la la la la, fa la la la la la la, la la la la la.
I see. Um, I believe these days that's known as dogging. If you're not interested in fa la la, of course, there's always a bit of hey nonny nonny or hi diddle diddle. Both are popular options in May. I suspect if I'd watched The Wicker Man earlier in my life, or even paid close attention to what was being sung, I might have noted sooner that actually a lot of twee-sounding folksongs are actually all about sex. But no matter, no matter. I'm over that now. Like a rather selective teenager, when I hear 'twee', I think 'rampant bunny action'.
This brings us to Saturday night. On Saturday night I, along with just about everyone else in the whole world, was at atreic and emperor's wedding ceilidh. I am pleased to report that no actual rampant bunny action went on on the dancefloor and a wonderful time was had by all. However, there was a great deal of partner rotation. This happens in celidhs; it's not a proper folk dance situation unless you get to dance with every gentleman in the room and preferably most of the ladies at some point. But there was also a lot of the other sort of partner rotation, as announced by our Caller for the night:
Gallop through the arches together and then... swing your partner!
Circle each other, looking deeply into each other's eyes and then... swing your partner!
Beckon the woman in the other couple, and then they beckon you, and then... swing!
Nyeees. I've heard a lot about swingers, but somehow I'd never connected swinging with actual, er, swinging. You know how sex was invented in the 1960s, and as a consequence we are subsequently living in the only sex-obsessed era in the history of humanity? I've a sudden niggling feeling that that might be bollocks.
I'm also incredibly glad I hadn't made any sort of folk dancing/sexual symbolism connection when I was in middle school and the most evil, sadistic teacher in the entire establishment was outed as a Morris dancer. And what's with the bit in the Gay Gordons where the woman swings around by herself while her partner watches?
May 5th, 2006
The reason and the road:
Here's a confession: I didn't grow up with the shipping forecast. I didn't even grow up with Radio 4: I spent my formative radio years wasting around at the back of the metaphorical bike sheds with Power FM, the local trashy-pop-played-twice-an-hour station. I came away from Power FM with slightly too deep an understanding of New Kids on the Block and a hearty loathing of Posh Windows and Conservatories, the company which provided Power FM with most of its advertising revenue. I did not, however, come away with any inclination at all to come over all misty-eyed at the incantation Rockall Malin Hebrides Bailey. I sometimes wish I had. I think I ended up instead with the impression that such people were a sort of mystical breed of Others, special people who could play Mornington Crescent or reel off a list of ancient uses for the middle finger and were generally possessed of arcane knowledge.
There's a subtle magic about lists of words repeated often, a magic that weaves its way into the hidden places of your brain even when you think you're not listening; the sort of magic that could easily create a lullaby out of Dogger Fisher German Bight. I quite fancied having the great grey waves of Atlantic storms haunt my lullabies, when I was older. I went through a time of wavering with my radio preferences. I became a dial-flicker. Oh boy, did I nudge that dial. Unfortunately, having rather poor aim, I slipped right past Radio 4 after a period of 3, and ended up listening to Radio 5 instead. Radio 5 didn't have the shipping forecast. What it had instead (and rather more frequently) was the travel news. Thus it was that the names that found their way into my lullabies were different ones: South Mimms, and Scotch Corner, the Black Cat Roundabout, the Catthorpe Interchange, the Blackwell Tunnel, Spaghetti Junction. I never went to any of these places or even knew where they were. Their names just congregated in the back of my mind. If I had any thought of them at all it was as images of circulating traffic jams like great slow prayer wheels ticking off the hours of the working day, of giant abstract knots made out of people's journeys, or the melting-together of hot tarmac veins.
( In which the names become real, and we travel the full length of the A1Collapse )
Somewhere in all the above, I think, is the explanation I wanted to give; why, looking out of the train window yesterday morning through the reflecting haze of warm air over yellow fields and spring hedges, out towards the slowly-turning wind turbines in the distance, I thought Ah! That's the A6 over there!. Or why, a few months ago at a party in London, my reaction to someone mentioning South Mimms was unbridled enthusiasm; why, perhaps, deep in my guilty not-green-enough heart I have found a spot of road wanderlust. Is this normal for people who drive about a lot? Do you all secretly have favourite roads, or look at road maps for slightly too long?
 Fans of the Meaning of Liff may be pleased to know that there are a number of items which might be found on a tibshelf at Tibshelf services. There's even a vending machine for them. Some day I shall really have to go to Pimlico and try and hunt for pimlicoes therein.
May 4th, 2006
After traversing the glen and the mountains and the high lonely moor, you come at last to the loch with its little ferry; the loch which later joins with the sea and becomes the Atlantic, the loch where distant gulls call and the wet breeze is laden with peat and salt. The inn on the near side of the loch is called the Nether Lochaber Guesthouse (vacancies available). The inn on the far side is simply called The Inn. There is no other for miles and miles. But if you were to cross there, to cross and carry on down the single-track A road with its twists and turns and wandering sheep, you might find yourself at the uttermost West; at the lighthouse and the black rocks where the island of Britain ends and the crashing waves of the ocean begin.
( On staying at the last homely house on the road to the end of the world, and what befell thereCollapse )
What about the uttermost East, though, eh? Lowestoft. Not quite as romantic and remote, but also not nearly as far away from here. Anyone up for a day trip this summer?
April 19th, 2006
There's been a lot of that poetry-posting around recently. I can't precisely remember why -- post-a-poem week? NaPoWriMo? 'Which poet lives under your bed'? It's good, so don't stop. Anyhow, I thought that with all that pomery around it was high time I posted some pomery of me own. So here is some. Found pomery, if you will.
The thing is, I found this pomery in 1997 in Cornwall; it was the winner of a 'find the tackiest thing on sale in St. Ives' competition. The host for this parasitic poem was, at the time, a tea-tray. And it was, as you might imagine, roundly mocked: so thoroughly mocked, in fact, that I believe the poem crawled off the tea-tray in shame and flung itself into the Atlantic Ocean. Now I come to visit my parents on the Isle of Wight, nearly ten years later, and there it is! On a mug owned by my mum. That's me told, then. Poem 1, me nil.
On the other side of the mug, inextricably linked to the parasitic poem, is a picture of Clio. Clio the dog, that is: a little black shadow of a cocker spaniel, not quite a fully-fledged muse of history nor ever likely to be. She is the Improbable dog, the dog my parents own even though they already had plenty of pets, the end result of a sequence of events. The end of the sequence is this: a picture of a young, clever, energetic being who wants companionship. A being who is lonely and anxious, who has too much energy for the situation they find themselves in, who paces around the house looking unsettled. A being who wants to play on the beach, and who doesn't want to play alone. And, well, you might think that one solution could be to buy them a puppy. That's what my parents thought too. The only unusual part of the equation is that the being in question is also a dog.
( On sundrie dogs, with animated tail-pullingCollapse )
April 18th, 2006
I first read The Secret History in Canada. I didn't know then that it was set in Vermont. In any case I was going North, up into the forests for a conference visit; I'd picked up a pile of books beforehand to see me through a lonely hotel at Heathrow and the interminable plane journeys. In the event, of course, it did not last out the travelling. I got caught up in the story and stayed up, dizzy from jetlag-induced insomnia, long into the dark Canadian forest night until I'd finished it. Later on I took it with me to Montréal. It had been the conference dinner the night before; I was hungover to the nth degree. I hadn't booked a hotel room or even packed. I spent the hundred-mile car journey there drifting in and out of sleep; now forests, now roads, now a painted city bathed in syrupy light. That night I slept in the grim basement room of a seedy hotel half-way up a hill, a room whose main feature was a large metal pipe running from one side to the other. What sounded like half-hearted but lucrative fornication appeared to be going on in some room above. I still couldn't sleep. In the corner of the room was a small television set which seemed to be stuck on a local station from nearby Vermont, a station alternating between half-hour infomercials touting weight loss drugs and news bulletins about the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, all partially obscured by large black boxes. I concocted my own breakfast in bed in the morning out of sesame seed bars and bottled green tea from Chinatown, and learnt about local happenings in Vermont. It seemed strangely appropriate, as if The Secret History hadn't just been a part of my Canada experience, but that Montréal had become a part of my Secret History experience.
But here's a thing: I think at the endmost stage art is collaborative. That is, The impression that a book or an image or a piece of music creates in your head is the sum of what the artist did and when you experienced it and what you think the artist meant and sundrie randomnesses of place and effect. In thinking of this, I begin to wonder: is the ideal state one in which everything works together, in which the same impression is formed in the same way in everyone? Or is the ideal state one in which eveyone sees something different, in which the transmission of artistic ideas is a chaotic, lossy process and sometimes the result is better, sometimes worse? Here's another thing, an example, if you will: I am a timid little bunny in the face of warnings about hearing loss, and listen to my ipod at the sort of volume where sometimes I can't hear everything. And sometimes as I walk through the streets of Leicester all I can hear is the beat, and everything else is reconstruction; and then when there is a lull in the ambient noise I hear the melody itself and unthinkable! it's in a different key to the one I've been hearing. Or later on I look at the lyrics and I find that those words I'd been praising, those words which were searing or poetical or spoke directly to me, all those streams of miraculous words were merely some trite or nonsensical sequence before they got filtered through noise and misunderstanding.
And I start to think: maybe it is better to consider things as a whole, then. To not necessarily discard the misunderstandings, to keep the memories associated with when you read something, not just what it was about. And then I start to wonder how I can manipulate that effect. And then -- then, I try and do so. And that's what I've been doing for a while.
( Further manipulationsCollapse )