South Park Self

adventures in retail

One of the side-effects of chronic fatigue is, it seems, its tendency to rot the memory. I have now honed to a fine and perfect point my ability to forget someone's name within approximately a second and a half of being introduced to them, which adds a particular dimension of terror to my teaching and curriculum advice activities. I also do not undertake to remember the details of complex administrative scenarios from longer ago than a week or two, which has led to a recurring motif in my interactions with faculty colleagues, in which I chase a vague impression of event along the lines of "did that actually happen, or did I hallucinate it?" Sometimes I have, in fact, hallucinated it. This cannot, I confess, attest to any particular professionalism on my part, and does lead colleagues to look at me a bit oddly, but on the other hand, I cherish a profound indifference to the notion of advancement within my career qua career, and am damned if I'm going to give up harmless idiosyncrasies1 in the pursuit of it.

All that being the case, it's something of a relief to discover that I am not alone in hallucinating things. This morning's usual Saturday grocery shop was enlivened by the discovery that the computer had somehow added, out of nowhere, a R14.99 item to my bill that was identified as "PAPRIKA/PWD SHAKR". I assume this is powdered paprika, but (a) I hadn't added any to my basket, (b) I hadn't even been in the spice aisle, (c)I never buy paprika from Checkers anyway as I prefer the smoked stuff, and (d) there wasn't any left on the counter by a previous shopper. Also, (e) the random addition came in the middle of the list, between the butter and the astonishingly cheap pecan nuts (what's with that? They've dropped from nearly R50 per packed to R23, presumably the pecan farmers have found the Entwives or something), so it wasn't left over from another bill. And (f) the nice checkout lady whose eagle eye had spotted the addition, re-scanned everything and it wasn't actually a wrong bar code on another product entirely. The system basically hallucinated it. Either that, or it's making sarky comments on my culinary tendencies, or has some sort of frustrated virtual affection for me and is trying to give me gifts. Odd, random and pointless gifts, but who am I to judge?

I am slightly more horrified to discover, perusing the list, that I seem to have accidentally bought gherkins, under the entirely erroneous impression that they were baby marrows. Gherkins in the pickled form are An Abomination Unto Nuggan, and I have always avoided the raw version on the grounds that they can only lead to evil. What does one do with raw gherkins, anyway? My current inclination is to bury them in the garden in a lead-lined box under an Elder Sign, but I may be over-reacting.

1Am I alone in always hearing that word said as "idio-idio-idiosyncrasy" by the goose in Charlotte's Web? A book which, may I add, is responsible for many of the long-word addictions I have had from childhood.
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South Park Self

rose by any other name

One of the academics with whom I correspond about complicated credit transfer issues insists on addressing me as "Julia", which is not actually my name. For some reason this gives me fits of the giggles. My slightly insane Uncle Bill, back in his bachelor days when I was still in high school, had a particularly tremendous upper-crust English-rose girlfriend called Julia, pronounced "Juliah!". She is responsible for my lifelong habit of making mashed potato with the skins left on, which I do for reasons of health and because I like a bit of texture in my mashed potato, but which I suspect she did for reasons of sheer flakiness. The first time she met the family she swanned into our house, took a quick look around the kitchen, and announced, with that sort of tally-ho British vigour, "What a wonderful kitchen! I'm going to make bread!". Which she proceeded immediately to do, having arrived with a bag of flour for this purpose. She was, I think, quite mad, but very entertaining, and accounts almost entirely for any amused resonances I have with the name, even erroneously applied to me.

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

I cannot lie, I am also deriving ongoing amusement from Windows 10's desperate, transparent and utterly doomed attempt to rebrand Internet Explorer. It would be endearing if Explorer wasn't the hissing and byword it is, and if its true form weren't evident so horribly through the glitzy design surface of Edge. It's not even a nice try.
South Park Self

all new faded for her

Hooray, I appear to have mostly kicked this ridiculous bug, although it had some slightly excessive death throes yesterday, in that I spent the day with a thundering sinus headache and nausea. Felt like a hangover, actually, although I don't think I drank enough at dinner on Saturday night to merit an actual requires-hair-of-dog scenario. (Dinner on Saturday night was lovely, usual excellent food at Frere's, and Claire's New Man has been duly met and subjected to rigorous scrutiny. She's allowed to keep him, although we reserve the right to suppression in the Carrollian sense if he keeps on inspiring stv to new depths of awful pun.)

The weekend was rendered slightly surreal partly by the need to spend most of Sunday horizontal and not moving much (which the cats loved), and partly because I'm suffering Mass Effect romance angst (ME2, narked all over again by Kaidan dumping me, but can't work out if I want to romance Garrus or Thane in the resulting fit of pique1) but mostly by the fact that I upgraded my home computer to Windows 10 via their spanky and slightly pushy auto-update download thingy, and liked it. I am not generally a Windows fangirl, but the update process was ridiculously smooth and took under an hour to download, reinstall and update, all quietly to itself and with minimal intervention from me. And I really like the look and feel, it's clean and spare in a way that grooves my personal aesthetic ploons no end, and word on the street is that it's less of a resource hog than earlier versions, although admittedly that's not saying much because bloatware. Also, its boot-up chime is way cuter.

There was, of course, the inevitable moment of microhomicidal rage when the install initialised with a range of tickyboxes all defaulting to "send Windows all the deeply personal information all the time including shoe size, favourite brand of tea and fanfic kink preferences as well as everything else ever", but there's a certain vindictive satisfaction in unticking the whole damned lot of them. I do realise that it's probably still reporting on my cat-macro preferences, celebrity crushes and typing speed quietly in the background, but Windows. And the penalty of being an uncharacteristically early adopter (Robbi made me do it) is that Chrome is bugged for Win10, although I have cunningly circumvented its complete refusal to load by accidentally clicking on "open new window", upon which it loads normally like a lamb. *jazz hands* Computers!

In other news, it's Monday, but I have brightened the morning by typing up a beautifully concise, pointed and slightly bitey rebuke to a more than usually flaky student who's been attending courses blithely all semester without actually being registered for them. Apparently she expected the actual admin realities to gradually coalesce out of the air and settle on her, like dandruff. In addition to the administrative satisfaction inherent in booting her off campus, it's calm and quiet and rainy after way too much sun and heat this weekend, and I have Earl Grey and a slice of coffee walnut cake, and a new coat my mother made for me, and I'm almost not snuffling at all any more. Also, this epic Twitterquest was still open in a tab from last week, and it made me laugh all over again. I'll take it.

(My subject line is a more than usually convolutedly related Inquisition reference which I shall leave in beautiful obscurity because I am Mysterious, or possibly too lazy to explain the multiple layered points of tangential semi-logic.)

1I'm very fond of Thane, but have a sneaking suspicion that going for the doomed tragic assassin is possibly a little self-destructive. Although at least it's not Jack. Or Morinth. In other news from The Department Of Computer Gaming As Therapy, I expect to grow as a person any moment now.
South Park Self

connecting to places we have known

I am at home today with 'flu, as I am phlegmy and disgusting and shouldn't breathe on anyone, and moreover have a head full of cement. Also, I need to hold Hobbit's hand a bit, he got beaten up by the neighbourhood tom again this morning, and is wandering around all subdued, with matted fur and covered with leaves. I think the bastard must have rolled him in a flower bed.

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

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

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

    (My subject line is from the Brian Eno/David Byrne album, which offers pretty much the definite anthem on this theme unless you count Madness).
South Park Self

I will follow you into the dark

I spent the weekend, as threatened, playing the latest Inquisition DLC, with rather more swearing than usual. This was because (a) I've been playing Mass Effect for the last month, and all my finger-twitches are habituated to big guns and biotics and using the space bar to interact rather than pause, and (b) because the latest Inquisition DLC is hardcore. It's all Deep Roads, caverns and underground cities and what have you, and you spend the first half of it being beaten up by hordes of Darkspawn, and the second half being beaten up by hordes of <spoilers> who have particularly nasty abilities in terms of <spoiler> and <spoiler>.

There was an especially bad set of curses at the point where the nasty, lengthy combat chipping away at the two rather ferociously indestructible <spoilers> ended with one of them, down to the last tiny fragment of health bar, falling through a glitchy bit of wall and getting stuck behind it so I couldn't finish them off, and I had to reload the damned combat and replay it four times before I managed to circumnavigate the glitch. (By dint of equipping my two tanks with the hook and chain thingy, gradually dragging the two bad guys out of the area and holding them away from the walls with static cage while we hacked at them. I confess to a certain vindictive satisfaction when the second one finally fell.) But it was at this point that I also realised why a moderately demanding DLC was ending up with me or my party down several times a combat and utterly out of healing potions: because (a) I was playing with the difficulty level at Hard rather than Normal or Casual, and (b) because this was my pacifist Inquisitor.

My difficulty level has been set at Hard for the last two games, despite my general lack of interest in heavy combat, because after the mumbleteenth replay of the same game I am so damned good at the tactics that combat was neither challenging nor enjoyable. And the pacifist Inquisitor is a combination of genuine roleplaying interest with sheer bloody-mindedness. I'm playing a human mage, which means a Circle origin - i.e. I've spent my life locked up in a mage tower learning magic while Templars breathe down my neck to make sure I'm not summoning demons. Magic in this world is heavily controlled, and I found myself wondering how likely it was that a mage would emerge from the Circle with any experience at all of combat magic. Because Dangerous and Bad and Templars wouldn't approve, surely? The most likely character trend would be towards academic geekiness and abstract or practical rather than combat spells. So my mental commentary at the start of the game constructed my Inquisitor as being horrified by the combat and somewhat violated at the idea of using magic - which is a very internal, personal sort of energy, I'd think - to kill stuff. And I developed her as far as possible without combat spells.

This was tricky, but possible - lots of support (barriers, resurrection, dispel, the whole spirit hog) and containment rather than damage (static cage, ice mine, etc.) I went ice rather than fire or electricity, as being less violently energetic, and eventually, and slightly counter-intuitively, developed her as a necromancer - i.e. animating already-dead corpses and scaring people off with Horror rather than destroying them directly. I also, in sheer self-defence, because you really can't be non-combat entirely in this sort of game, made the assumption that using a staff was a reasonable distancing mechanism, killing with a weapon rather than with your own life-force. The upshot being that she's fairly good at support but hopeless if anything gets close, hence the frequent dying. It was an interesting play-through, particularly in the demanding DLC setting, and interesting to see that it is possible to angle the game towards specific and slightly more coherent role-playing choices.

Of course, to play a demanding, combat-oriented DLC with a pacifist Inquisitor on Hard difficulty is sheer cussedness. I cop to the sheer cussedness. Possibly with pride.

My subject line is Death Cab for Cutie, a song which is a bizarre and idiosyncratic mix of sappy romantic with morbid. Fairly appropriately: if I have to spend a weekend following things into the dark while dying frequently, I have to say that this DLC is simply beautiful, especially in the lower levels where it's all dark blue shot through with lyrium veins, and in the final area which is <spoiler> and <spoiler> and generally exquisite.

South Park Self

a jug of wine, a loaf beneath the bough

I'm not quite sure what it suggests, that we (or at least Jo) are apparently on hugging terms with the maître-d of Overture, which is the very nice five-star restaurant on the Hidden Valley wine estate in Stellenbosch. I mean, we know the staff because we go there at least once a year, and they always say welcome back and nice to see you again with a degree of enthusiasm which says they're either genuinely happy to see us or are very well trained - possibly both. They know us well enough to bring extra bread so we can mop up the sauces (that delectable parmesan thing on the oxtail crêpe, for example). And while they no longer do the wine pairing which was hitherto such a marvellous feature of their menus, the nice maîitre-d is always very happy to suggest suitable wines for our various choices, and the single "carafe" we ordered of that lovely chenin was suspiciously free-flowing for far longer than it really should have been, I think he nipped out back and refilled it while we weren't looking. Also, note to self, the Hidden Valley shiraz blend is ace, obtain more. Hidden Secret, I think. Yum.

Overture is a favourite hang-out because it's always a really good experience, and any food they serve can be ranked on the scale of very good, really damned good, amazingly good and wow my tastebuds just exploded in a good way. And damn the expense. It's worth it. Also, I have discovered that my superhero ability appears to be "reliably order the best thing on the menu", putting me mostly at the head of the field in our informal fork-sharing comparisons. That vanilla souffle, mmmmm. Also, while it sounds unlikely, the gnocci with roasted mushrooms and smoked aubergine pâté. I don't know what they did to the mushrooms - portabellini which I think were slow-roasted so they were slightly dried and a concentrated mushroom taste explosion of note. Must try at home.

Today's lunchtime jaunt was additionally pleasant because it was a weekday, stv and I both took a day off work just because, and I at least was sitting in the winelands imbibing quality food and booze instead of wrestling through the thickets of HR-speak which have characterised large tracts of my week. (My Cherished Institution's HR department has the bit severely between its teeth in the performance-review area and is burying everyone in labyrinths of over-documented, overly positivist HR jargon of the worst description. SMART measures. Aspirational career goals. Objective-centred self-evaluation. My boss called my role "student-facing" in cold blood yesterday. While carefully stashing the term towards my ongoing efforts in linguistically role-playing, with some verve, the kind of person who actually takes this shit seriously, I nearly bit her.)

It's probably a good thing, all things considered, that I solved one minor mystery just before jo&stv came to collect us for the Overture jaunt. I lost Pandora this morning. She's settled in very happily and seems to be an entirely self-confident and autocratic bundle of affection nicely balanced with demand (preferred affection mode: headbutt me violently in chin, or preferably in mug of tea), but for about half an hour this morning she redefined herself as an intermittent and disembodied meeping. I could not find her. I thought she might have been stuck on the roof or something, because I opened every cupboard I could think of to check if I'd shut her inside, and nope.

Eventually, careful triangulation led to the kitchen, where she'd managed to get herself shut in the spice cupboard, which I hadn't checked because there's simply no space for her. It has three shelves which pull out with the door, and they're stacked with jars and boxes and what have you, and completely fill the cupboard when the door's closed; she must have climbed into the space behind the shelves when I opened the cupboard to refill the salt, and I have no idea how she folded herself up small enough to fit when I madly closed it again without noticing her. Possibly the usual feline pocket dimension. The one which allows them to walk through walls. Except, apparently, cupboard walls. I'm a bit tetchy on the cat subject because poor Hobbit was badly beaten up last night by the beastly neighbourhood tom, and is all subdued and sporting a notch on his ear, having left a swathe of orange fur on the pavement outside the front door. If I'd accidentally bent, bont and splugged Pandora by leaving her stuck in the cupboard for four hours while we made merry, I would have felt considerably worse than terrible, and inclined to doubt my cat-parenting skills on all fronts.

Anyway. You were warned about the flow of consciousness. My subject line is of course Omar Khayyam, not for the first time. Overture was lovely, Hobbit is much less subdued, and Pandora seems to have entirely forgiven me. I have just downloaded the new Inquisition DLC and propose to spend most of the weekend hacking my way joyously through the Deep Roads. (With a pacifist Inquisitor, which will be interesting, apparently it's fairly intense fighting). Today was OK. I'll take it.
South Park Self

in space no-one can hear you burn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

various varieties of evil

I have had two weeks of leave, during which I managed to (a) have my piano tuned and a practice bar fitted (to muffle it, because apparently semi-detached living makes me too self-conscious to play), and (b) acquire another cat. Philip & Jo are emigrating later this year, and needed a home for two of their cats, and I inherited Pandora. Pandora is black and solid and slightly roly-poly, and possessed of Personality, currently expressed via querulous meeping every time she realises she's in an unfamiliar place with an unfamiliar pink blob, i.e. constantly. She's also ridiculous affectionate and prone, as her name would suggest, to Evil, mostly manifested as knocking things over, head-butting me on the chin in the middle of particularly fierce Mass Effect battles, and sharpening her claws on Kevin, the leather chair in the living room. Hobbit is confused and betrayed but being rather sweet and tolerant - all the hissing is on her side, and is fairly minimal on the whole, possibly because I followed a simple principle of dosing them both with catnip every time they met for the first few days. Apparently territorial aggro is not compatible with stoned giggling. Fortunately.

Pandora's favourite place is between me and keyboard, writhing around demanding affection, and occasionally rolling onto the keyboard where a random key-smash will do the most damage. Thusly:



She's actually a black cat, but has a subtle underlay of tabby stripes which are more evident in that photo than they are in the flesh; the (completely accidentally staged) photo below is a more accurate representation of her overall blackness.



Hobbit has registered his displeasure at the invasion by pursuing evil of his own, presumably by sticking his head into the remains of someone's braai fire. He currently has half of a fierce black handlebar moustache and is hurt and embarrassed by my tendency to laugh at him a lot.

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South Park Self

medium armour rating

I had supper with jo&stv the other night, and Jo had recently acquired a cuddly and slightly Cubist blue velvet elephant approximately the size of an actual toddler, i.e. large enough for its trunk to curl lovingly around your neck when you hug it. Apparently I give off a "needs hugs" vibe, because after I'd spent the entirety of watching Interstellar ferociously embracing said elephant, she insisted on donating it to me wholesale. Now I have a blue velvet elephant. My lovely cleaning lady Margaret, who also works for the aforementioned jo&stv, appears to be somewhat taken with said blue velvet elephant, to the point where she invariably and meticulously centres it on my bed after she's made it, regardless of the fact that I habitually cluster it with my plush Cthulhu and fluffy snowy owl on the chest in the corner. (I'm really not a stuffed toy person. Those I retain have particular and specific meaning and have been given to me by particular and specific people, and their function is more memorial than adorable. They thus don't generally merit bed-space, even supposing I actually were an actual teenage girl.)

Jo and I theorise that Margaret is familiar with said blue velvet elephant from its initial days in their house, and is merely externalising her sense of its multi-household significance.



I have christened him Dorian, via an entirely logical if somewhat opaque process which will only make sense to anyone who plays Inquisition and shares my aesthetic, crafting and party composition proclivities to a reasonable extent. He really is the exact colour and texture of ring velvet. Presumably his Tier 2 additions to attack, willpower and electrical resistance will be of use when I need to apply hugs to my insomnia in the small hours of the morning.

I should add, for posterity, that the current Eskom incompetences manifested as load shedding, are particularly maddening to one whose current leisure hours are whiled away by computer gaming. Even though they're predictable under the fairly well-run load shedding schedules, the blackouts are putting a serious crimp in my gaming, and causing me to retreat into reading somewhat grumpishly. On the upside, I've read a lot recently. Reviews to follow.
South Park Self

furioser and furioser

I am suspicious of Mad Max: Fury Road. Deeply, deeply suspicious. And I've thought about this rather hard, but I don't think I'm simply reacting with sheer bloody-mindedness against the contextual responses - the buzz, the expectations, the claims of feminism, the gender slapfights. If half Teh Internets hadn't tried desperately to claim this as a Feminist Masterpiece, I might be less inclined to see its "feminism" negatively, but I don't think so. On the whole, panicked MRA horror at the thought that Girl Power Cooties might have got all over their cherished Man-Genre is largely irrelevant, if only because one shouldn't trust MRA insights with a ten-foot electric cattle prod1. And I'm not really swayed by the acclaim of a lot of female viewers who share my desperation for representation in a male-dominated Hollywood. I don't want to negate their responses, but I think they could stand to dig a little deeper. I don't think this is a feminist film masterpiece. At best, its somewhat self-congratulatory attempts at feminism are deeply, deeply flawed.

They're also part of the overall sense in which this is a very loud film, both literally and in its fumblings at message. I saw this in a cinema which had the sound turned up so far that it was itself an assault - the war rig engine note made my breastbone vibrate, and I emerged at the end of the film battered and literally shaking. This is not, however, an inappropriate response to the visual and conceptual assault the film offers. It's very much about violence, a far-future scenario of desperation and conflict, in which violence is both normalised and religiously ritualised. It's beautifully shot. The landscapes, the rolling sand and twisted rocks, the sense of desolation, are exquisite. The action choreography is breathtaking. A lot of it takes place at high speed, aboard fleets of perverse and unlikely vehicles speeding across the landscape - it's viscerally exciting, unexpected, demented, desperate. I liked the world-building, the random inexplicable detail, the bizarre social codes, the sense of all-out crazy as an up-yours in the teeth of despair. Why the hell there should be a rig specialised to a rack of giant kettledrums and a guitarist whose sole purpose is to supply a war-fleet soundrack of riffs from a flame-thrower guitar is anyone's guess, but it fits right into the post-apocalyptic aesthetic and it's effective as all get-out. In action-movie terms it's a hell of a ride.

This bit is spoilery, so skip it if you haven’t seen the film.Collapse )

Overall, as an action film it's pretty darned good: it gets additional points for (a) not chopping its action sequences up to hell and gone with delirious camera movement so you can actually determine tactical cause and effect, and (b) doing it mostly For Realz, with minimal CGI (apparently about 90% of those sequences were actually filmed, they had Cirque du Soleil performers and Olympic athletes in there doing those crazy stunts). You can tell. It feels very real.

But really feminist? not so much. Let's, children, let's talk about representation.

So. Misogynist post-apocalyptic dystopia. Men are In Charge, women are "breeders" if they're attractive and not deformed, and mostly ugly extras if they're not. Until we meet the Vuvalini towards the end, Furiosa herself is the only beautiful, damaged and kick-butt exception. Which is, if you think about it, itself a problem. You can't say that instrumental femaleness resides entirely in your ability to be Charlize Theron, it kinda dooms the rest of us who weren't actually born in Bloemfontein. (Nor, in fact, should it reside in your ability to perform the hackneyed male genre role of violence, much less violent protection of helpless women). While the Vuvalini are less stereotypical and allow a sort of grizzled middle-aged agency, it's fairly limited: they're depicted as marginal in both the world and the plot, generally sliding into a decline and resurrected only by Furiosa's and, ultimately, Max's leadership.

There's a weird body-sense driving the film in some ways: clearly the frantic desire by the warlord for non-deformed babies is because of high radiation, mutation, the usual post-apocalyptic nastiness. But there's no attempt whatsoever to rationalise the fact that almost all of the men in the film are damaged or deformed in some grotesque way, while the rescued "breeders" are model-beautiful, unblemished, firmly within the contemporary media ideal. Even Furiosa herself is disabled (and that's nicely done, a kind of by-the-way normalised representation we don't see often, as this response notes) but still beautiful, and her departure from the media body ideal is in terms of absence (missing arm) rather than impurity - missing arm or not, the rest of her is still very much Charlize Theron. The only non-deformed instrumental male character in the film is Max himself, whose damage is psychological; the icons of masculinity (warboys, warlords) are weird-looking or actively monstrous. The instrumental female characters are at worst aged, and a very high proportion of them are beautiful bodies. At the heart of the film is an unquestioning conformity to the old, ugly assumption of patriarchal Hollywood that only male viewers are important, and male viewers don't like to look at ugly women.

The cinematography is at least partially to blame for the weird beauty messages, because it works flatly against the film's superficial message of "woman are not things" to be ultimately objectifying. That initial scene with the escapee women, where they're gratuitously wasting precious water by hosing each other down, is shot and posed like an advert for, I dunno, boho punk clothing, or shampoo, or possibly girly hygiene products. Those are impeccably tanned, lithe, skinny bodies, their clothing a well-judged combination of revealing and femininely filmy and flowing. That camera gaze is as male and objectifying as hell. There's the same problem with the pregnant girl displaying herself to inhibit her pursuers - they try to co-opt the patriarchal objectification, to use their value as "breeders" against their pursuers, but as a feminist technique that's dangerous, running the risk of conformity to the tropes they're trying to subvert. It's a flawed strategy because in that moment, your gaze as audience is that of the girls' owners and rapists. Ultimately, it's difficult to see these as empowered women when the camera is complicit with their oppressors.

And the problem is that the narrative ultimately supports a view of women as reductionist stereotypes - not just the "breeder" trope it tries to overthrow, but both the "woman as visual object" and "powerful woman" images. Their power is either co-opted stereotypical male violence (Furiosa) or it's stereotypical female "power" which perceives their value as in their healthy bodies - their procreative ability and thus their sexuality. Hell, even the Vuvalini is a matriarchal all-woman group who stands for and holds the generative powers of seeds/life/birth. It's basically reductionist: the various women in the film are mostly rushing to embrace something that's simply another facet of the gender essentialism they're trying to escape. I invoke my patron saint, Angela Carter, to mutter "all myth is consolatory nonsense! Mother goddesses are just as silly a notion as father gods."

It really doesn't help the essentialism, either, to have a random romance flung into the middle of it all - mercifully they didn't try to ship Furiosa with Max, but apparently you can't have an action movie without someone getting a girl, however temporarily. It seemed to me to be utterly problematical to have one of the fleeing women suddenly turn around and romance, in terms of the visual and narrative coding of their interaction, a representative of the masculine war-cult which is out to capture her. If that was meant to be an attempt at exploring the damage of a misogynist war-cult does to its own male participants (which is itself a perfectly legitimate goal), it happened too suddenly and with too little scaffolding to be valid or likely.

This was not, I reiterate, a feminist film masterpiece. This was an extremely entertaining action film, which was self-conscious enough to try and subvert some of the gender poles of the genre by by surfacing and attempting to combat the idea of woman as object, and by inserting a woman into the classically male role. But not, you note, as the main character, a point this article makes at rather more length. I don't want to take away from the film's success as action movie, as spectacle, as aesthetic - there were many ways in which I thoroughly enjoyed it. But it's not particularly subversive. I don't think it's more than the sum of its parts, and its parts, while they've been creatively re-arranged, have largely been hauled intact out of Hollywood's misogyny vault.

1For those of you who have been blissfully unaware of the recent cultural shenanigans in netspace, Men's Rights Activists, an icky, icky bunch who are doing their utmost to spoil notions of masculinity for the remainder of their (comparatively) innocent gender.

NOTE: I have mildly edited at a couple of points after mature reflection (hence strikethroughs), and to address the inherent problem in attempting to dictate what "feminism" is for anyone other than me. I think you can read feminist elements into this film, for a given and somewhat simplistic definition of "feminism", and it's certainly a hell of a lot better than the average action film in its positioning of women. But it's definitely not a feminist masterpiece, and it's definitely still problematical in a lot of ways. It's dangerous, I think, to accept its ideologies uncritically, and to think that that's enough, because of all the misogynistic baggage that's accepted in the process; and it's very sad to think that female viewers are so starved of representation that they'll swallow it whole.
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