South Park Self

take your carriage clock

My Cherished Institution has just sent me a 10-year long service certificate, and I'm trying to work out why opening the envelope made me (a) laugh slightly hysterically, and (b) feel sick. It's a weird thing to receive on many levels, not the least because I can't work out how they're dating it. I've been in this job for six and a half years. Before that I had a temporary half-post in the English department for two years, and before that two years of post-doc during which I also taught. If they're going to count the part-time teaching, then in fact a 10-year service certificate is a bloody insult, I've been teaching for this university since 1992.

The bitter laughter/nausea reaction is entirely appropriate: the "service certificate" thing really both marks and completes the kind of erasure that academia habitually performs on the grad student teachers who actually perform the heavy lifting in the university's educational enterprise. This is another dose of Academic Ghost, isn't it? I apparently only started to exist officially on 1 July 2004, a completely arbitrary date which marks nothing significant in my actual life. Anything I achieved before then, the years of teaching and supervision and general academic dogsbodying, are a sort of hallucination. They aren't Real. The institution magnificently ignored them as I pootled about under the institutional table, incidentally propping it up while hoovering up crumbs.

This particularly abstract little face-slap does, in fact, come with an actual, physical bonus of a thousand rand, which is not unwelcome given that I'm busy furnishing a house and my credit card is starting to wilt slightly. (My bank has just upgraded it, in fact, suggesting that it's becoming somewhat athletically fit from regular exercise). But I can't say I'm consoled.

My subject line quotes Belle & Sebastian, whose sad and cynical little ditty "Take your carriage clock and shove it" is beautifully apposite.
South Park Self

every day, such a holiday

There's something particularly pleasing about an entirely self-indulgent holiday you really can't afford and are damned well taking anyway. Bartholomeu's Klip is a luxury farmhouse guest lodge thingy, where they charge you rather a lot for incredible amounts of superlative food, accommodation, game drives, and generally beautiful surroundings in which to lounge around doing nothing much (or, in my case, reading the new Phryne Fisher, which incidentally has tickled me pink by virtue of being unabashed BBC Sherlock fanfic) while minions bring you tea or gin at your command. We had two nights there, which is really all the average constitution can handle given their daily plan of pre-game-drive tea and muffins, giant brunch, high tea, drinks with snacks, and a four-course meal in the evening. It's also all I can handle financially, even at winter half-price specials, given a recent move and house-refurnish. But it's utterly, utterly worth it. We had enough of us to book out the whole house, which meant we didn't have to freak anyone else out by having drunken argumentative conversations and playing Gloom and Fluxx all over the show, or when reading the new Phryne Fisher caused me to lie on a garden chair and giggle like a maniac for the better part of a morning.

It's near Wellington, and the private game reserve is reclaimed renosterveld; I loved it on our last visit, when it was much more desert-like, but also loved it this time under rain and greenness. It's a very beautiful landscape.


The game viewing was really good - millyuns of buck, gnu, amazing bird life, and for some reason an unlikely and pleasing number of bat-eared foxes, which were running around in small packs all over the adjacent farmland as well as in the game reserve itself. I don't think I've ever actually seen one in the wild before, despite living in southern Africa my entire life. The small hordes of them made me very happy. We also scored a reasonably close, extremely grumpy and entirely fortuitous porcupine, which was also truly happy-making. I love porcupines, the way they trundle along. This is a truly terrible photo, because it transpires I shouldn't use the zoom function on my cellphone camera, but it gives you a good sense of the bat-eared fox's really nice line in pausing to look suspiciously back over its shoulder while displaying its ears.


This place has beautiful mountains and magical light. Also, in addition to the bottles of wine they give you Jedi cloaks on the game drives, which is fortunate, because they're bloody cold.


My subject line is from the Bee Gees, although it's a very weird, atonal and wistful little song that really has nothing to do with the lovely holiday. I have also successfully ear-wormed myself utterly with the Bee Gees, and have been singing them madly around the house all morning. I suppose there are worse fates.
South Park Self

happy Joss Whedon's birthday!

Because it's traditional, that's why. Also, weirdly enough, happy Alan Turing's birthday. I am very much looking forward to the new film about his life, not only because Benedict Cumberbatch.

I have horrible 'flu at the moment, which is a bit of an unkind way to finish up 10 days of leave. They were a very nice 10 days of leave, we went up to Bartholomeu's Klip again, and then I fuffled around the house for several days generally relaxing enough for my body to realise, "Right, we're run down!" and pick up lurgis. On the upside, I'm too out of it and generally disgusting to be at work, and Telkom have just left having performed mystic wossnames in my living room which have, miraculously, and in defiance of probability, resulted in a fully operational phone line (albeit with a different number to the one they first gave me), and ADSL. Apparently they dealt with the lack of ADSL ports in the area by creating me one, presumably out of cardboard and string or thin air or the tears and cusses of frustrated customers. Negotiating their helpline and mutually contradictory updates over the last month has been a deeply unpleasant experience, and I shall wait only until the end of the month before joyously cancelling my Telkom internet package and fleeing back into the welcoming geeky bosom of Imaginet. Imaginet's helplines are things of joy and relief.

I should dig up my Bart's Klip photos and blog about it. Yup. Getting right onto that, once I've stopped floating gently around the house in the 'flu-ridden state which means I don't quite connect with anything, ever. It's entirely unproductive but surprisingly pleasant.
South Park Self


Right, well, thank fuck that's done. I emerge from two weeks with my head down on this bloody paper, having just sent 6000-odd words off to my nice ex-supervisor so that she can confirm my argument isn't actually on crack. I am buggered. I've been putting words onto the damned screen for up to six hours a day for two weeks from the midst of a 15-volume pile of critical tomes, while simultaneously writhing with distaste and hating the universe in general and everything in it in particular, with special reference to African film and all its works. It's been very slow and torturous, and I'm still not convinced I'm safe from being ceremonially lynched by a mob of petulant postcolonialists, but the worst is over. Even if there are giant flaws in my argument I'm now editing rather than writing, and it's the writing which is like drawing blood at the moment. In the unsexy non-vampire way.

I suffer from existential crises when doing this sort of thing. I start disbelieving in my own academic existence, and it makes the writing process really rather hard. At least if there are words on the screen for me to work with I have some evidence in favour of my status as tangible and instrumental. Really, a lot of my life is spent as a sort of a wistful academic ghost.

The particular bugger about this bloody paper has been that I've felt impelled to write it to the exclusion of almost everything else. This means that I have not done interesting things to my nice house (newsflash: I still love living on my own even when I hate the universe because academia), or adequately paid attention to my cat, or done any socialising, really, that hasn't entailed jo&stv battering down my door and either plying me with food or dragging me out. Which means there was really rather enjoyable tango at the Crypt on Tuesday, but otherwise not a lot. It's not that I hate everyone, I promise.

I am also on leave for the next ten days, three of which will include an entirely self-indulgent jaunt to Barholomeus Klip, that luxury farmhouse guest lodge thing with the amazing and practically continuous food. I can't really afford this, I'm pre-emptively spending a chunk of my November bonus, but I decline to feel remorse or guilt. Stuff it. I've earned it. Not to mention the fact that it's the end of the first semester and I'm more than somewhat dead on my feet.

So, how is everyone? Are any other Capetonians cordially freezing to death at the moment, or is it just me? It's been icy, down in the 6-degree range, with snow on them thar hills. The air has teeth.  I have unearthed my Giant Coat of Sweepingness and have been sashaying up to campus every morning imagining I'm Sherlock. It adds a certain useful layer of impatient disdain to the interactions with students. I hope you are all well, and warmer than I.
South Park Self

words, some of them of an unladylike and Anglo-Saxon nature

I am in the sweary stage of paper writing. It's fighting me; I'm wrestling it, it's largely winning. I hate it, and myself, and my writing, and African fairy-tale film, about equally. I am horribly bored by the need to finish the damned thing (it's now nearly a week after deadline) and the fact that I can't permit myself much in the way of socialising or happy domestic fuffling until it's bloody well done. Alarmingly enough, this is all familiar and status quo: never underestimate the extent to which the relationship academics have with academia is basically abusive. I'll finish it. This too will pass. Until then, swearing, and loathing, and hedgehoggy hermitting. But especially the swearing.

I did, however, track down the volume on African folklore which I'd randomly packed at the bottom of a whole box of Pratchett and Moorcock. This has led me, as a knock-on effect, to throw out more books, as I had to unpack and repack a bunch of them. I'm still obscurely enjoying the catharsis of the clear-out.

Photo0056 Photo0046

There should be an almost complete Elric in the Moorcock, and a couple of other series as well - Corum, and Dorian Hawkmoon? I have kept the Jerry Cornelius ones, because postmodernism, and the Dancers at the End of Time ones, because I don't do hallucinogenic drugs and a girl has to have some substitutes. I am forced to admit that I've pretty much outgrown Elric, I haven't read them since undergrad. The John C. Wright are buying it because the frothing homophobia of the writer's online presence is having the Orson Effect, namely an inability to read his fiction without a sort of Pavlovian response of annoyance and distaste. Also, he's a sexist sod, frankly; I really like some of what the Orphans series does, but its ideological irritations are now outweighing its enjoyments. Never trust a writer who feels impelled to spank almost all of his women.  I have retained only the remnants of my Heinlein collection which are (a) genre classics and (b) I am able to read without actually throwing the book across the room, which in the event turns out not to be many of them. I've turfed out the young adult stuff, because frankly there's better y.a. sf out there, but they're actually fun and comparatively inoffensive - Pam, you might like them for the young'uns? The Michael Scott Rohan are swashbucklery fun, but I've kept Scott Lynch for that.

If anyone wants to appropriate any of these, please let me know! So far only the Kay and the Aldiss have been bagsed from the previous group.
South Park Self

to cats of foreign name and race no quarter was allowed

I let Hobbit out of the house over the weekend, after a full week of being incarcerated in what, according to his reaction, was a medieval torture chamber with frills on. Of course, I had started trying to encourage him to go outside a couple of days earlier, to which he returned, in the immortal words of Bertie Wooster, a polite nolle prosequi: apparently a week indoors had inculcated in him the fixed belief that the rest of the universe had ceased to exist, and he was somewhat alarmed at the revelation to the contrary. He certainly retired under the dining room table, alarmed, every time I opened the courtyard door. However, he has apparently come to terms with the continued existence of the world at large, and once I opened the bathroom window stopped badgering me all night, which means I've had a blissful few days of actually sleeping through the night. Honestly, it's like having babies.

It also took, though, approximately an hour and a half before the neighbourhood's Feline Reception Committee arrived to look over the latest immigrant, and there has been a fairly civilised refrain of growling issuing from the back garden at intervals over the last few days. There's an excessively beautiful Siamese in the posse, and a black-and-white thing who comes over all suave but whom I darkly suspect is a thug. Today I arrived home to the following joyous scene:


That's clearly a game of Cat Chess. They sat like that, unmoving and possibly unblinking, for about ten minutes while I took multiple pictures and then pottered around the kitchen making tea. I suspect that they were engaged in a territorial and diplomatic discussion not unlike the Treaty of Versailles. Let's hope diplomacy is sufficient and it doesn't come to all-out war, I've just got used to sleeping through the night. But I have to say, Hobbit looks somewhat cornered. I don't think negotiations are going his way at all.

I am pretty much moved in now, except for the L-space explosion which represents my book collection: it's down to 11 unshelved boxes, but has temporarily halted there while I wrestle with this paper from behind the rampart of books on African folklore, books on African film, cups of tea and emergency chocolate supplies on my desk. Further unpacking of books may occur because I can't find my nice new Encyclopedia of African Folklore, which I really need to refer to. I could swear it was with the other tomes, but I must have stuck it into a box somewhere. One of the 11 boxes. Which I will now have to unpack and then repack. Aargh.

I am, book, paper and cat crises notwithstanding, finding myself extremely happy in this house.

The subject line is, of course, T. S. Eliot - more specifically, the slightly nasty racism of Growltiger.
South Park Self

needing a babysitter and hiring a dingo

It's a curiously powerless feeling, sitting here on the bottom end of Africa and watching the US's utterly venal and corrupt oligarchy calmly and rapaciously affect our lives. Because it does: our culture is global these days, its supply chains and technologies interconnected as intricately as our biosphere, and with as much potential for damage. The current threat to net neutrality is giving me cold shivers, but it's also giving rise to John Oliver's take on it, which is, frankly, beautiful.

Fly, my pretties! Fly!
South Park Self

do not interfere with the nature of causality

gault library

I do like Tom Gauld's cartoons, they have a sort of wry, self-deprecating literacy to them which strikes something of a chord. If you haven't read his collection You're All Just Jealous Of My Jetpack, you darned well should, if only because its titular cartoon exemplifies so neatly my own stance in an uncaring academic world. The above cartoon is particularly relevant to my current interests as, while I am generally ensconced in my very own house somewhat ecstatically, I am still confronting the problem of the Library, which is approximately three times the size of my available shelf space. Unpacking my books has forced me to revisit the process of self-interrogation which led to my earlier exercises in Shuffling Off or Throwing Out books, with particular reference to Gauld's categories of "Saving For When I Have More Time" and "Will Never Read", because the usual processes of self-deception lead to an over-easy conflation of these categories. I am thus embarked upon a secondary literary weeding, with particular reference to the above categories and my new, idiosyncratic one, which is not so much "Wish I Hadn't Read" as "Am Reluctantly Forced to Admit I Will Never Read Again Because Really It's Not That Good."

In short, I have more books to throw out, and the next few posts will probably give alert readers a faint sense of déja vu. As before, Capetonian witterers are please to tell me if you want any of these and I'll shunt them your way before hauling the leftovers to the charity shop.

Guy Gavriel Kay, alas, is buying it, because I am way too old and ornery an English academic to survive another dose of flights of portentous emotionality. I've kept the interesting Tanith Lee short stories, I'm mostly throwing out her young adult stuff and the more over-the-top erotic horror. Some of the classics - Anderson, Aldiss, Lieber - I was keeping out of a vague sense of academic completeness, in case I ever needed to refer to them, which I really won't. I've kept some MacAvoy, thrown out the ones I don't flat-out love. The Kurtz has only survived thus far out of a vague nostalgia for my neo-pagan phase.

My Book Discards: How I Grew Up. Have at them.

The subject line is Pratchett, Rule 3 for Discworld librarians. In hanging onto books it's not so much causality that I've been trying to interfere with, as the nature of time.
South Park Self

for sale, cheap, ginger feline

I love my cat, really I do. Hobbit is a feline of character and authority, as well as being ridiculously fluffy and frequently cute. It's sometimes difficult to remember this, though, when dealing with his post-removals state of miff, because he's completely hideous to live with. He has every reason to be insecure and angsty given the sudden, unsolicited and radical reshaping of his environment, but that's not my first response when I fall over him for the umpteenth time because he's no more than six inches from my ankles at any given moment, being needy and insecure.

Or, as this morning, when I'm bumbling through the day in a somnambulistic daze because he spent the night trying, at intervals, to dig through the curtain next to my bed in a futile attempt to get at the window, which was closed, anyway. He's a very loud cat. And a heavy one. When he jumps onto the bed, the resulting small mattress-quake infallibly wakes me up. Then he walks heavily over my recumbent form to get to the window, scrabbles ineffectually at it for a few minutes, walks heavily back over me and either jumps to the floor with a dull thud, or curls up in the corner of my bed and washes himself. Loudly. Just as I'm drifting off to sleep, he leaps to the floor with a dull thud, and then spends the next 20 minutes wandering around the house, mewing piteously. And loudly.

If I cave at 2.30 am and in desperation shut him out of the bedroom, he mews loudly and repeatedly throws himself bodily against the door like a small, furry battering ram until I cave again and let him in. At which point he repeats the cycle above. He must have woken me up five or six times last night, mostly out of a fitful doze because I'm really bad at getting properly back to sleep once awoken. I'm a zombie today, and am finding it difficult to focus on the fact that I love my kitty, really, because of the traditional red haze of undead homicidal mania. I hope he settles down soon. My mental health is suffering.

Despite this I had a lovely weekend, including random takeout and Girly Evening with Claire and Lara on Saturday, and a blissful Sunday morning empty-cinema viewing of X-Men: Days of Future Past, which is a damned good film of which more anon. I also have to report that my niece's dance performance, one of those giant ones at the Opera House with umpteen dance schools participating, was surprisingly enjoyable. She makes a cute Dalmatian puppy, in a pile of similar 8-year-olds being pursued around the stage by Cruella de Vil. Also, while I am still unable to overcome my ingrowing dislike of the stilted, artificial codes of classical ballet, I enjoyed the hell out of the tap, modern, Celtic and, oddly, hip-hop numbers. I blame Stv for the hip-hop, he's the one who insists on showing me Step Up movies. But I realise that I'm also all about actual synchronised movement in dance - my favourite tradition is still ballroom, in the Fred Astaire sense rather than the modern reality show one. I like it when there's lots of mirrored, mutual movement rather than static poses. Hip-hop definitely counts, and its energy is infectious.
South Park Self

with his name written clearly on each

My goods and chattels resulted in rather a lot more than forty-two boxes, all carefully packed; there were the 25 large eco-boxes, and the 15 cardboard boxes the EL acquired from Merrypak, and the 10 from Tracy, plus another three or four random ones from jo&stv, and in the end all the food went into shopping bags because I had denuded the immediate social landscape of boxen of any kind. My more-than-42 boxes, all carefully packed, have their contents written clearly on each, or more accurately scribbled hurriedly in koki - the inscriptions read things like "BOOKS - SF", or "BOOKS - END OF PASSAGE", or "COOKBOOKS", or, more unhelpfully, just "BOOKS". Because the packing-up process was assisted by my standard array of slightly insane friends, several of these boxes have now taken additional inscriptions randomly to themselves. They read, variously:

  • BOOKS - PASSAGE - VAMPIRE FANGS. (That one possibly even relates to the contents).
  • BOOKS - PASSAGE - RABBI HATS. (I have no bloody idea).
  • BOOKS - PASSAGE - HOUSE/TECHNO/TRANCE. (That definitely doesn't relate to the contents).
  • BOOKS - PASSAGE - DRAGON SCALES. (Possibly also topical).
  • BOOKS - PASSAGE - CHRISTIAN BOOKS. (That's either wanton provocation, or contains Narnia).
  • COOKBOOK'S. (These last two are definitely wanton provocation. One of them has an additional inscription of APOSTROPHES on the opposite corner, just to underscore the point).

Even if he hadn't proudly drawn my attention to his efforts, my money would have been on Stv as the perpetrator. No innocent bit of paper is safe from his annotation.

The eco-boxes are now unpacked, leaving me with 20-odd cardboard boxes full of books, DVDs and CDs. I cannot unpack them because three of my bookshelves are not yet bolted to the wall. I cannot bolt them because the corner where I want to put them contains an alarm sensor, which they would block. ADT are proving a broken reed in the department of doing anything about installing a radio transmitter, so I haven't yet been able to ask them to move the sensor owing to their complete non-appearance and lack of communication. For want of an ADT response the whole thing snarls up. Telkom did actually arrive today to activate what turns out to be a normal phone line. They are still out of ADSL ports. They will install more in October. There are apparently 80 people waiting for ports in the area, so I'm very far down the list. In the interim I have scored a 3G dongle from a kindly Claire, and have home internet with minimal fuss beyond having to buy a data bundle for it via my cellphone because I didn't have internet. I have used my cellphone more in the last two weeks than I have in the last five years together.

The house is now properly furnished with a sofa and dining room table and chairs, and rejoices in a Hobbit, who is in a severe and querulous snit about being moved, and rendered last night hideous with a campaign of whinging throughout the small hours, interspersed with climbing on me in a marked manner. He does not find the accommodations to his taste, and wishes moreover to promenade in the garden, which he can't, because he'll infallibly make tracks for Rondebosch if I let him out.

The house also has a mountain just outside its front door.


It's also mine, and mine alone (except for Hobbit, who admittedly takes up a certain amount of space). I'm liking this feeling.

The subject line is, of course, quoting "The Hunting of the Snark". For some reason the stanzas about poor Thingamajig have been the ones I've always remembered from the poem, going back to fairly early childhood. I miss teaching the Snark. Nonsense poetry is a weirdly good vehicle for unwrapping semiotic theory.