South Park Self

welcome to the House of Fun

Possibly all the Madness in the car is appropriate. Today I have to do early registration for 40 rugby players, who are all haring off on some sort of mad university-sanctioned rugby spree for which they need to be Official Students. Occasionally this job is surreal.

On the subject of surreal, have the utterly wonderful compilation which is Ursula Vernon live-tweeting her play through bizarre Japanese dating sims with post-apocalyptic genetically modified pigeons. No, really. I may have to look into dating sims, or at least this dating sim. Particularly since my Inquisition love interest has just ditched me rudely about two-thirds of the way through my third playthrough, and I'm feeling grumpy and rejected.

Yes, it is entirely possible I become too heavily invested in these games. One needs some sort of mental insulation from registering rugby players.
South Park Self

so begins another weary day

Gosh, guess I should blow the traditional dust and cobwebs off the ol' LJ, then? There's a slight problem with coming off three weeks of leave in which I can say "I did absolutely nothing". I did, in fact, absolutely nothing. I went on an almost complete social strike, barely saw anyone, didn't do the sewing or gardening or house-furnishing I planned to, entirely failed to write the paper that's due at the end of this month, utterly neglected (as you may have noticed) to do any blogging, and mostly played inordinate quantities of Inquisition. (Which is, incidentally, not only pleasingly distracting but a very nicely written game, all things considered, and has my vote.)

The slight problem is that, while the above looks like a pleasant menu of relaxation and a necessary withdrawal given the people-heavy nature of my working life, actually I think I was simply depressed. Again. One of those merry trough things. Another slough of despond, if you like. Not as bad as the last, in that things weren't actually grey and miserable from moment to moment, but they certainly didn't seem to have much point. My holiday can be summed up as an extended session of "why bother?". Marking time. Meh. That's not a natural state for me, and causes me to look sideways at my brain chemistry.

It's been exacerbated by coming back to work, because I am not only tired and heat-stressed, I am cringing despairingly at the looming threat of orientation and registration, which are going to leave me wrung and quivering, and which will require energy which I quite simply don't have right now. It'll be weirdly better once the actual students arrive since I'll be too damned busy to even think about being depressed and traditionally appear to be able to mine the necessary energy from some alternate dimension, but right now I hate this job.

My subject line is Madness, because the Great Alphabetical Music Trek appears to have hit a fortuitous run of Brit alt-rockishness, giving me Franz Ferdinand, Fratellis, Kaiser Chiefs and Madness in quick succession, for a level of rockingness which is not at all consonant with my mood. Under the circumstances it's probably a good thing that it's not all Wistful Indie up in here.
South Park Self

I feel the same

Apparently I have opted out of christmas this year. Not that I ever really opt in to any great extent, but I have cancelled my lunch plans owing to low-grade virus and nausea (sorry, Claire!), and have been at home playing Inquisition all day, enjoying the mild rain and coolth, and pretending it's a normal holiday sort of space. This caused me a twinge of guilt for all of about .1 of a nanosecond, and a vague self-pitying gosh-aren't-I-a-sad-thing for about the same amount of time, and then I thought, actually, no, stuff it, this is perfect, and exactly how I want to spend the day, and I'll be buggered if I'll feel ashamed of it. Bah, in fact, humbug. Although without malice and entirely without Scrooge's misanthropic grumpiness. I'm not misanthropically grumpy. I am quietly content. Christmas has my goodwill and best wishes as long as it continues to pass me by.

I think consumerism killed christmas for me, actually. I quite enjoy how kids enjoy christmas, and with the right mix of people giant christmas meals can be fun, but for me the season is poisoned at source by the relentless, jingle-themed, tinsel-encrusted pressure to buy, buy, buy - to expensively furnish the lavish iconage demanded by a social contract I don't think I ever really signed. It destroys any joy I might otherwise take in giving people presents; it makes me feel anxious, threatened, overwhelmed, resentful and slightly homicidal. I need not specify to my habitual readers, I hope, that the season has absolutely no religious significance for me whatsoever, so there's not even that. (As a recovering ex-pagan who still somewhat enjoys the symbolism I might feel impelled to have jolly winter Solstice feasts in a be-loudly-merry-to-make-winter-go-away sort of fashion, except that we're in the wrong hemisphere and it's too bloody hot. Maybe I'll have one in June. Idea.)

At any rate, all of the above notwithstanding, I hope that the seasonal wossnames have been appropriate and splendid for you all, and that any family gatherings have been characterised by good cheer and plenty rather than the stress and tension which can be the Dark Side of many of our traditions. Happy, in fact, Christmas. Or equivalent. To the depth you prefer.

I go kill demons now, and close fade rifts, and romance cute inarticulate Templars, because I can. It's Christmas.

(My subject line is a horribly lateral Sherlock quote which relies on hideous amounts of context to appreciate the full and layered signification clashes of the interchange. The preceding sentence is "But it's Christmas!", and the context is blackmail and villainy. Non-Sherlock fans can move right along, although all things considered they've probably abandoned me many moons ago in sheer baffled fury.)
South Park Self

that's why we only work when we need the money

This house smells of cake. Lots of cake. Really rather a lot of different cake, because I am (finally!) having a housewarming tomorrow, and the exigencies of space being what they are, have advertised myself as being At Home to visitors from 2 to 7pm, drop by when convenient, tea and cake if afternoon, booze if evening. This morning was very full of cake. I think I entered a sort of cake-baking fugue state, actually. I got into a rhythm. I looked up after a blurred and indeterminate amount of time and there was cake on every surface in the kitchen. There is blackcurrant jam in my hair, butter adorning my front, and a rather delectable Guinness/chocolate batter mix down what for want of a better word we'll call my cleavage. I am more than somewhat vanilla-scented and feeling astonishingly happy.

The laser-focus baking spree was partially motivated by fear, because in addition to the usual concerns (will anyone come? will there be enough food? enough glasses? enough things for them to sit on? will they all fit?) we currently face the merry South African challenge of whether or not Eskom, in its infinite inefficiency, will suddenly hit us with load shedding. They say not, but I don't trust them an inch. It would be just my luck to have something delicate in the oven when the lights die. The inscrutable gods of power are mostly quite good at pulling the plug punctually within their stipulated times, but only mostly.

You can also deduce from context that I'm on leave, calloo callay, and contemplate with joy three and a half weeks in which students can't get at me in person. Tomorrow is also one of those mad random South African public holidays, which is why I can plonk a housewarming onto it. Fittingly, my car system launched into Franz Ferdinand (inevitably, having gone from Eurythmics to Fleet Foxes) on my way home from work on Friday, my last day for the year. "It's always better on holiday!", it warbled. Hence my subject line. I hear you, Cosmic Wossnames.

Randomly, my At Home card for tomorrow. Because I had fun making it, and there's an offchance I left someone vital off the To: list, because it's the end of the year and I'm exhausted, so what little brain I have at the best of times has trickled sadly out of my ears. If you didn't receive this and are a Cape Town realspace friend who wishes to assist in celebrating my state of domicile, please email me!



Art evilly nicked from Brian Kesinger, whose Otto and Victoria are a whimsical steampunky delight. I hope he doesn't mind.
South Park Self

no fear no hate no pain no broken hearts

Moments when I do like my job. Third-year student who has had an exemplary career, passed everything first go, arrives in his final semester and fails the one first-year elective he needs to complete his degree before graduating next week. Devastated - he has landed a brilliant opportunity in London next year if he graduates. Remembers, at the last minute, that he had a year at another university before coming here. Dashes off to said university to obtain transcript. Sprints into my office, panting and quivering, a mere hour or two before the absolutely final grad notification deadline this afternoon and anxiously proffers said transcript.

I finangle a single general credit out of his external record, process instantly, trot it down to the admin office for capturing, confirm all is in order, trot back and tell the young man, "OK, you should be fine to graduate". He puts his head down on the chair next to him and bursts into tears. Is overcome and speechless for a minute or so. Tells me, emotionally, "You have changed the course of my life with a single click!" (Which is not quite true, it required multiple clicks, two printouts and at least three lines of typing). Leaves, is heard uttering subdued whoops of glee all down the corridor.

I spend a large chunk of my life gently informing students that I am not, in fact, able to make all their problems, particularly the consequences of their own less than sensible choices, go magically away by waving a wand. Occasionally it's bloody nice to be able to actually wave the wand and make it happen. Hideous power is mine, and I can actually use it for good. I'm all glowing and slightly weepy on his behalf. It's so nice when the gazelles triumph against the odds, says her sublimated maternal instinct proudly. (I don't go to grad ceremonies any more. They make me weep buckets from approximately halfway through the third student capped.)

The tour of the Eurythmics is now onto Touch which is one of their very early ones and the album which introduced me to the group when I was a teenager - it's still associated in my mind with those afternoons listening to music with the boy on whom I had the terrible crush. It's sheer fluke that the song from my subject line was playing when I drove up to campus this morning. In retrospect, I should have taken it as an omen.
South Park Self

it wrenches you up and you're left like a zombie

Oh, dear, board schedule season. I spent large chunks of the last four days going through a 2-cm thick wodge of student records, 700-odd students, all Social Science second-years, which is a technical term meaning they're not first-years and not about to graduate, so in practice could be in year 2, 3 or 4 of their studies. Purpose: to count up their courses and, indexing same against number of years of study according to a complicated table of my own devising based on the faculty rules, decide if they're allowed to continue their studies or not. This is a vital process which is carried out in multiple redundancy by a team of three academics and an admin person for each board schedule, and we compare notes and make a final decision.

Long-time readers of this blog will be sighing and thinking, oh gods, is it that time of year again? Because my annual rant on the subject of board schedule checking, how inelegant the system is, how bad academics are at it despite my best efforts to train them, how the WHOLE DAMNED THING SHOULD BE DONE BY A PROPERLY-PROGRAMMED COMPUTER, DAMMIT!, is something of a tradition. And all of the above still applies, please take the rant as read, or, for added verisimilitude, dig back through the blog for examples. (last year and 2010 are fairly entertaining.)

But something has shifted this year, possibly as a result of all this therapy. I'd estimate that about 10 hours of my life went into this year's schedule, and I'm very tired and not very well, but the truth is I didn't actually hate it while I was doing it. There's an analytic interest to it, seeing how these student did, spotting trends, conceptualising individual lives from the spread of marks over the years. Student records are surprisingly revealing, not just in their course choices and overall degree strategies, but in the way one can pinpoint turning points - here someone discovered a new major they loved and their results took off, here something awful happened and they fell off the map, this trailing degeneration is probably depression. And there's a certain pleasure in feeling my own command of the system, my ability to use it elegantly and with precision. Possibly I am becoming reconciled to this job, more willing to adopt it as an identity rather than as a thing I do reluctantly and solely to keep Hobbit in the style to which he is accustomed.

The this-wasn't-terrible was in spite of the fact that I'm also still bloody sick, sigh, suggesting that the weekend before last was a precursor - Wednesday last week was a dead loss, some sort of viral thingy which flattened me with nausea and one of those damned headaches which simply won't quite regardless of how many painkillers you throw at it. I'm still very tired and very glandular and drifting into nausea and headache at add intervals, which suggests that whatever virus it was has prodded the glandular fever with a stick and it's up and prowling. (The ten minutes I spent reading through my board schedule rants for the last few years has also revealed that I seem to be headachy and unwell with suspicious predictability at this time of year. It's the end of the year, I'm tired, I'm stressed, I suppose it's inevitable.)

Fortunately there's Inquisition with which to while away my evenings while all of the above enacts itself upon my hapless form. Inquisition is HUGE! Andraste's knickers, there's a lot of it. That initial 15 hours of so of play are really the introductory first act, things really get going in the second act. It's still beautiful, and varied, and lovingly detailed, and the not-quite-open-world only drives me demented occasionally. I don't seem to respond too well to being told, via unclimbable cliffs or sulphur swamps, that You Shall Not Pass. But the character interactions have stepped up, and I'm finding these people interesting, likeable and frequently poignant - I don't think it's just my generally lowered state which is responsible for the fact that the companion interactions occasionally make me cry. And the sexual politics so far has managed to be surprisingly enlightened and sensitive. They can be taught, apparently.

(Still ambling through Eurythmics in the car. "Love Is A Stranger" is probably my favourite track of theirs for all time.)
South Park Self

Monday finds you like a bomb

Well, that was lateral. Apparently last week's continual student demands + a three-hour session training curriculum advisors had a sneak build-up exhaustion effect, because I was completely wiped out this weekend. Saturday morning was fine, pottered around, talked to the cat, played some Inquisition, went out to do some shopping, hit Saturday crowds, and the wheels fell off. I can't handle crowds when I'm tired. I get shaky, and wibbly, and headachy, and want to crawl under my bed and never come out. I ended up cancelling both social engagements this weekend (sorry, nice people, I'm feeble) and actually napping on the sofa for a couple of hours on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons, much to the delight of Hobbit. (Recumbent human forms are clearly designed expressly as Hobbit-cushions, and induce sprawling and purring to excessive levels. Also biting, although somewhat lovingly). I never sleep in the afternoons unless I'm ill, but actually I think I'm a bit ill. Apparently this is a glandular resurgence, judging by the state of my neck (the Blunt-Toothed Vampire Nibbling effect). Phooey.

I also played much less Inquisition than I would otherwise have, because it's new and quite demanding and requires concentration which I don't really have right now. However, sufficient Inquisition was played that I can report the following:
  1. Inquisition still pretty. Ye gods, it's beautiful. The texturing and detail and the vividness of the different settings are quite something, I'm becoming wonderfully lost in these lovely landscapes. And it's huge. The whisper flies across social media somewhat repetitively - a lot of players are slightly intimidated by the scale. The sections sprawl in beautiful open-world profusion, although with possibly excessive levels of mini-quest grinding.
  2. Inquisition varied. The designers have apparently taken to heart the consistent player crit of Dragon Age II, which was the insultingly repetitive nature of the settings: rather than being all the same dungeon/bit of shoreline/house, they are all madly different and individual. And pretty. I approve. (Played bits of the Deep Roads yesterday - exquisite).
  3. The open-worldness is coupled with a completely marvellous and happy-making innovation, which is that structures and caves are not separate areas, you wander from one into the other without a loading screen, in one giant, open world. I cannot sufficiently express how wonderful this is. It suddenly and weirdly ups the realness factor in spades. (Which is just as well, as generally the wretched thing takes ages to load).
  4. Inquisition has ripped off its initial theme music wholesalely and unabashedly from that Billy Boyd song he sings to Denethor in Two Towers. Honestly: the first two and a half bars are pretty much identical. This seems to be a theme in video games - Skyrim steals theirs from Pirates of the Caribbean. I suspect this is a deliberate ploy to bolster recognition and identification.
  5. Inquisition all bloody wonderful, but not entirely Dragon Age: currently it feels like a rather more politically detailed and better voice-acted version of Skyrim. (And not just because the crafting is interesting). Companions feel a bit perfunctory, with to date no detailed mini-quests through which they join the party - they're just kinda there as a fait accompli. I haven't met any new ones yet, either. And so far they don't have huge amounts of personality. Reserving judgement a bit on this one, maybe it's just a slow start, but I right now it feels as if they've put even less effort into the companions than they did in DAII. Which is sad.

The Great Car Music Trek has catapulted me with alphabetical insouciance from early Eurythmics (Be Yourself Tonight) to late (Peace), which is entertaining because the first song on Peace is "17 Again", which is a direct engagement by an older, wiser and more cynical Eurythmics with their brash early days. I have completely ear-wormed myself with "I Saved The World Today", which is ridiculous catchy and causes outbreaks of singing in the corridors. Subject line accordingly. I'm a bit dead this morning.
South Park Self

sisters are doin' it for themselves

Some early impressions of Dragon Age: Inquisition, which I have played for about six hours today, with a break in the middle to go and upgrade my computer. (New graphics card, more RAM, now it doesn't give everyone plastic hair and the graphics have stopped with the momentary freezing. The fact that I am in a stage of life where I can randomly and wantonly go and spend a couple of thousand rand on an essentially inessential upgrade just because I feel like it, still fills me with wonder.)

  1. Inquisition pretty. And far more open-world, hooray.
  2. Story interesting, world-building ditto. Thedas politics is always pleasingly chewy.
  3. Combat seriously unpleasant. They've done away with auto-attack and click to move, which means you have to button-mash horribly. In my case, particularly horribly, because I suck at it.
  4. ALL CODICES AND JOURNAL ENTRIES ARE IN ALL CAPS IT'S DRIVING ME COMPLETELY ROUND THE TWIST!
  5. I have played for six hours and just finished the intro section. I'm not sure what this bodes, but it definitely bodes.

In a completely characteristic attack of the Cosmic Wossnames, my weekend is filled with social commitments. Notwithstanding this minor impediment, I should imagine that further dispatches from the inquisitorial front will almost certainly follow.

(My car music has moved on to the Eurythmics, which is appropriate given my fondness for her kick-butt contralto and my inevitable gaming tendency to play kick-butt women. Hence subject line.)
South Park Self

anticipation's got me glued

I had an outbreak of Summer on Tuesday and madly encouraged the nice hairdresser man to chop my hair short, in the interests of getting it the hell off the back of my neck. It's now a shortish bob, which as per usual I will defiantly refuse to blow-dry at any price, and which will thus never look quite as sleek and grown-up as it does when I leave the salon. I've noticed a bizarre thing, though. Yesterday and today have been filled with colleagues being ridiculously and uncharacteristically chatty at me. They bounce into my office to discuss minor points, they engage me in conversation while I'm swearing gently at the photocopier, they laugh at my involuntary word-play in meetings. (I am incapable of professional meeting language. There will be play, and often metaphor, high-coloured, for the use of. Mostly people just look blank.)

I am driven to the conclusion that this haircut is possibly (shudder) ... cute. At any rate, it seems to make me more approachable. I'm toying with the idea of seeing what black-rimmed hipster spectacles do to the effect.

A quick public service announcement: the PC version of Dragon Age: Inquisition is released tomorrow. I pre-ordered it from Origin, on the grounds that it was half the price of the disc version on Loot for the deluxe edition and comes with Cool Bonus Stuff. They opened it for preload on Monday, and, the cardboard-and-string internets of our beloved country being what they are, I have been gently downloading it in the background (and swearing at the resulting slow loads of Tumblr gifs) ever since. We were at about 82% this morning. The gods willing and the geeks don't rise (or the damned cat doesn't climb on the keyboard in my absence and accidentally halt the download again), it should be finished just in time for official scratch-off tomorrow. I shall thereafter vanish into obsessive Dragon Age companion-flirting with a muffled squeak, probably for the next few weeks. Or months. Posts, and actual human interaction, may be a little thin on the ground, and unduly dragon-flavoured. Don't take it personally. With any luck they won't fumble the dismount as badly as they did in Mass Effect 3...

The car music system is still with the Death Cab. We're now in Transatlanticism, which I think is the last album I have on this player. I must acquire more Death Cab, I only have about three of them, and You Can Play These Songs With Chords is worth it for the title alone. For the record, my subject line is from "Expo '86".
South Park Self

safe in a warming bath of sunlight

Term being over and all (except for those of us toiling in the marking-and-marks-processing salt-mines), there are outbreaks of workpeople all over campus, enthusiastically digging up things with presumable intent to improve them. (One of the major projects is the utter demolishment of a small, archaic cottage at the end of the avenue in order to build a new lecture theatre, in a faint, futile stab at keeping up with our ever-expanding student population. Currently a rather ridiculous proportion of our pedagogical efforts are defined by the Lecture Venue Crisis, which is... critical.)

This morning, however, some over-enthusiastic child of the concrete slab stuck a shovel or suchlike through a vital electrical cable, causing instant lights-out in four or five buildings, including mine. (History does not relate if he was thereby electrocuted, although one hopes not.) These days pretty much all of our projects and daily tasks are impossible without a computer. I filed everything in my office that wasn't actually nailed down, gave some desultory student advice severely hamstrung by my inability to access any student records, proofread the orientation manual, read several chapters of The Italian, because Gothic gloom felt appropriate, and then gave up and buggered off home, where I've been happily catching up on email and repulsing the cat for several hours. (He will try to sit on my wrists while I'm typing).

On the upside, I did the usual wander out into my courtyard when I got back, because green things and vaguely druidic impulses, and was reminded about my pomegranate. I have a small pomegranate tree in a pot. Thusly:

Photo0122

(the slightly demented beadwork hoopoe in the lemon tree pot is courtesy of Claire, following a wistful conversation we had about our common nostalgia for the highveld, specifically its thunderstorms and hoopoes on the lawn).

I grew this pomegranate myself, from seed. More accurately, about five years ago I bought a pack of pomegranate seeds to put on salad, and forgot about them, and they Went Feral in the back of the 'fridge. (I do this really rather a lot more than I should, and really miss having a composter in my new place to absorb the resulting ... compost). As I was throwing them out (imagine me cowing feral pomegranate seeds with a chair and whip and the sheer power of my gaze), I thought vaguely, hmmm, wonder if those'll grow? And in a spirit of scientific enquiry, dumped them into the vegetable box in a conveniently bare corner where the green pepper died (I can't grow peppers), covered them over with nice rich compost, and promptly forgot about them. Some undefined length of time later, I suddenly had a tiny forest of baby pomegranates under the tomatoes, growing promiscuously cheek by jowl and being shiny and glossy and bizarrely happy in a miniature sort of way. I thinned them, and planted them out into multitudinous pots as they grew, and gave them away to pretty much anyone I could think of, and ended up with one, growing like gangbusters. It's now approximately at shoulder height to me and is still green and glossy and weirdly happy.

A couple of weeks ago, I was patting the pomegranate in a vaguely encouraging fashion and suddenly realised that our current summer temperatures are having their inevitable effect, and it was fruiting. It has three or four little tiny mini pomegranate babies, all red and cheerful.

Photo0127

I did that, my very own self. I made that tree, or at least encouraged it, and now it's making babies. I feel like a grandmother.

My car music system has emerged from the thickets of Davids (Bowie and Byrne) and is now meandering amiably through Death Cab For Cutie, for whose wistful alt effusions I cherish something of an affection. My subject line is from "No Sunlight", which is an indecently catchy thing given how bleak its lyrics are. It's apparently a Wistful Indie Thing about sunlight: you have some, and then you don't. (If you're Belle & Sebastian you have rain instead).