South Park Self

Dark? what ideal conditions for night!

It's definitely the apocalypse, I was in the supermarket yesterday and they hit me amidships with the first Christmas carol of the year, "Silent Night" sung in what appeared, for some reason, to be Dutch. This was cruel and unusual in itself, since normally the Geneva convention requires that it be November before Christmas carols are permitted to enter the arena of war. It was rendered additionally and unnecessarily hideous by the fact that the supermarket was playing syrupy "Silent Night" in Dutch at one end, and an entirely different Supermarket Radio Experience was inexplicably churning out the Proclaimers at the other. Standing exactly in the middle, circa the ice-cream aisle, with one in each ear was completely indescribable. I emerged, shaken, and tottered across to the mall to acquire (1) soothing new towels in an attempt to recover, and (2) books for Da Niece, whose esteemed birthday it was yesterday.

Time is weird this year. Da Niece retains her excellent literary taste - Song of Achilles by request, and receiving with joy Naomi Novik (not the dark school one) and the second Spider-Gwen - but also vouchsafed the information that she turned 15 yesterday. I have genuinely spent the last two years thinking she's 13, by my mathematically-challenged calculations she should have been turning 14 at the absolute most. Apparently it's been 2018 since 2018. Or I'm in a serious kind of denial. I had been vaguely assuming, with auntly pride, that she's a particularly mature 13-year-old. She's a delightful and particularly mature 15-year-old, anyway.

Also on the Dark front: I have just re-read, with much enjoyment, Tamsyn Muir's Harrow the Ninth, which retains, beyond its unabashedly Gothy vibe, its status as an excellent LARP/escape room puzzler, now with added bones, blood and despair. I cannot, alas, get into the sequel at all, it appears to be submerging itself in excessive literary device, including fragmented time-flow and inexplicable descents into the second person. The worldbuilding remains amazing and fascinating, and there are satisfying revelations, but even with the first-book twist as a starting point, it's losing me. Phooey.

Possibly by way of slightly more satisfying excursions into blood and death, I am currently re-playing Fallout 4 on survival mode, which means dying approximatly four times a combat, and needing to eat, hydrate and sleep to a somewhat realistic schedule. In this, if nothing else, will we exert some control over the apocalpyse. This entry has been crossposted from my Dreamwidth blog at The comment action is all over there, and supports OpenID.
South Park Self

just another brick in the wall

I woke up spontaneously at a quarter to five this morning, which means it must be a random day ending in "Y", and bugger insomnia, anyway. Since I am functionally incapable of getting back to sleep once I've woken up, I did the usual, which entails stealth!tea (the plumbing in this house makes loud, weird noises in the neighbour's roof if you don't switch on taps strategically and in carefully-observed patterns, so obscenely early tea-drinking requires care) and climbing back into bed with two cats, a mug of Earl Grey and the Ipad, whereon I am currently reading Kindle books because the screen is larger. And I had just randomly bought the new Naomi Novik, which is called A Deadly Education, and which I thereafter read cover to cover in a giant, ravenous gollup between 5am and 8am, at which point I exhaled, muttered "She's so good! she's so fucking brilliant" in slightly resentful tones, and staggered off to work.

(Parenthesis: staggering off to work is so much better when it's literally staggering into the study to switch on the computer, and does not require dressing, driving, brushing one's hair or actual coherence).

I completely adored Naomi Novik's fairy tales, Spinning Silver (Jewish take on Rumplestiltskin; brilliant) and Uprooted (really dangerous darkly magical forests, also wizard's towers; brilliant). I also completely adored A Deadly Education, which is what you'd get if you crossed Lord of the Flies and the Hunger Games with A Wizard of Earthsea and executed the result with considerable verve in the mode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer while flipping a giant Up Yours over your shoulder in the general direction of J K Rowling. Which is to say, it's a very dark magical school story about what happens when both magic and magical education are carnivorous and predatory.

It's also about power and privilege. Everything Naomi Novik writes is about power and privilege, she's actually an extremely and deceptively political writer. She also did Napoleonic wars with dragons, remember? You are so busy being charmed by her tough, pragmatic protagonists that you don't notice the politics until it's socked you between the eyes with a brick. (She also severely does crossovers, apparently, which I suppose is logical enough given the fan fiction.) I was not so half-asleep this morning that I could not detect that this dark magic school story is also a more than somewhat searing critique of capitalism.

Anyway, I recommend Deadly Education,if you don't mind your school stories with a side order of death and really nasty politics. In addition to the politics, it has really interesting people. I am now more than somewhat slavering for the sequel. Sigh. This entry has been crossposted from my Dreamwidth blog at The comment action is all over there, and supports OpenID.
South Park Self

'tis the voice of the lobster

Today's weird fact! abandoning the lockdown day count in my subject lines appears to have somewhat neutralised my posting avoidance, I think I was being actively repelled by the amount of counting I needed to do on my slightly mathematically-challenged fingers in order to work out what day we were in. Alternatively, it's just depressing to contemplate how many days there have been since this whole nasty mess started. (Bonus weird fact: I enjoyed maths at school, despite crashing spectacularly out of the A-level version, but the other day I realised I can no longer remember how to do the particularly elegant abstract origami of either calculus or simultaneous equations. This is sad. I should find a YouTube video or something).

Today's additional and completely unrelated weird fact: having a healthy videogaming habit can create some incredibly bizarre cross-universe identifications given the fact that Western video games appear to draw from a comparatively small pool of voice actors. I am very voice- and accent-conscious when playing, it's a huge component in my choices for videogame romances (mmmm Fenris), and I'm getting weirdly good at picking up familiar tones, even behind slightly different accents and in completely different contexts. (The fact that I obsessively replay favourite games is probably also implicated, to be honest). This tends to leave me with rather odd predispositions to like or dislike particular NPCs based on the roles played by their voice actors in completely different games.

I am still hacking happily through Kingdoms of Amalur, which is still pretty and fey and consoling, while allowing me to work out my frustrations by hitting Bad Things very hard with lightning attacks and a Big Sword. While it's not a companion-oriented RPG in the mode of Bioware, it has a huge NPC cast and seems to particularly use familiar voices. Viz.:
  • OMG almost the entire cast of Critical Role is in here! Good grief! I don't even know their voices particularly well, given that I've never actually watched an episode of Critical Role and have imbibed what I know of it via clips on Tumblr, but it explained a lot about the niggling familiarities when I pulled up the cast list. (Also, Laura Bailey is Serena in Skyrim, I'd just played that DLC before Amaluring, who knew!)
  • Some of the minor characters are played by that one dude who plays minor Dark Elf characters in Skyrim, the guy with the slightly nasal baritone. Given the tendency of IMDB to list voice actors with one or two main roles and then "additional voices", I don't know who it is, but every time I hear him I look wildly around for dragons. Oh, wait, I know who it is, it's Erandur, which makes it Keith Szarabajka, which I think is impressive on my part because it means I identified him playing characters like "Citizen" and "Soldier" in Amalur, and they don't have huge amounts of dialogue.
  • There are also multiple turns from the guy who does the vaguely Scandinavian accent for lots of the Nords in Skyrim, notably Vilkas, which IMDB says makes him Michael Gough. It was seriously dislocating to have the Vilkas personality - slow, serious, meathead - coming from high-ranking Fae lords in Amalur.
  • Great tracts of Dragon Age. Seriously. Commander Cullen's voice actor (Greg Ellis) has played three different NPCs in the two days of Amalur gameplay, and I find the dissonance between Cullen's voice and the NPCs rather bewildering. Also, now I'm jonesing to replay Inquisition. I really liked Cullen. Can you tell I really liked Cullen?
  • Simon Templeman, most notably Logain in Origins, but also a bunch of Mass Effect characters (Admiral Han'Gerrel, and Gavin Archer).
  • That slightly dodgy Traveler who insists on calling me Dove all the time is the voice of Vicar Max from Outer Worlds, which explains why I never liked him, really. No offence to David B. Mitchell. He does a good sleaze.
I find it sad, in retrospect, but ultimately unsurprising that most of the voices I identify easily are male. The women tend to sound more similar to me, and I suspect that I am also being slightly ejected from identifying strongly with female characters because they tend to be written by male writers, and thus to conform more slavishly to stereotypes, particularly sexualised stereotypes. Ayln Shir has a lovely, throaty contralto, but the character wears such a ridiculous skimpy chain-mail bikini that I listen to her in a state of perpetual irritation.

But looking at the cast list of Amalur, there's something else going on here too: while there is quite a large female voice cast, there are comparatively few important female NPCs, most of the big roles with lots of dialogue are male. And, doing a random check on the female voice actors, they tend to skew a lot younger than the male. I don't recognise them because most of them don't have such a huge body of voice work: they not only have less access to plum roles, they have been at it for a lot shorter time.

This was supposed to be an amused survey of voice actor crossovers, it didn't set out to be a feminist rant, but apparently it ain't easy being a Gurrl in Kultcha, particularly Kultcha of the videogame persuasion. Systematic sexism is hell on female voices, in every sense of the word. This entry has been crossposted from my Dreamwidth blog at The comment action is all over there, and supports OpenID.
South Park Self

life gives you lemons

Life doesn't actually give me random lemons with any notable success, my potted lemon tree is one of those knobbly-skinned ones which gives me more evil poisonous spine encounters than anything else whenever I try to water, prune or move it. It has quite a nice outbreak of blossom this year but has only ever produced one small, knobbly, inedible fruit in past years. And the one "lime tree" I bought from the nursery turned out to be, in defiance of its labelling, a sort of miniature ornamental thingy which produces tiny mini-me orangey wossnames notable mainly for the incredible faces Jo used to pull while eating them off the bush, as they're excessively sour. I should, as she suggests, probably try making miniature marmalade with them, sourness is, I feel, a deeply desirable marmalade quality.

So, when the craving for lemon hits me, which it does reasonably regularly, I have to buy them like anyone else, or at the very least resort to the fruit basket on my sideboard, which as a result of my grocery shopping reflexes almost always has lemons in it in case of a break-glass-if-lemon-craving situation. And when the lemon craving hits me simultaneously with a random cheesecake yen, I get creative.

My favourite cheesecake recipe is that BoingBoing wake-up mocha one (warning, (a) that's an incredibly annoying comic format recipe, I generated a proper handwritten one for actual cooking purposes, and (b) BoingBoing's downside in terms of its geeky owners is that they're very good at bypassing adblockers, which means I've almost entirely stopped reading it because the ads are so annoying). Below is my creative lemon variation. It makes a dense, smooth, rich, slightly moist cheesecake which I am now craving again, dammit.


Philosophical preamble: white chocolate is not chocolate. It is An Abomination Unto Nuggan which has a nerve attempting to share chocolate's hallowed name. It is better classified as a sort of lame, offensive and inferior cheese. However, it has a tiny and marginal right to exist solely in order to enrich lemon cheesecake, as below. I will not be taking questions or criticism on this point.

450g cream cheese
30ml flour
120ml caster sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
finely-chopped zest of at a lemon, or two lemons if you're like me and like it sour
1 tblsp lemon juice
200g evil white chocolate, attempting to expiate its sins

Biscuit crust: 1 200g pack digestive biscuits; 60g butter, melted; 1 tblsp honey; anything between 1 tsp and 1 heaped tblsp ground ginger, to taste. (More is better in my book).

  1. Preheat oven to 180oC (350oF). Break the white chocolate into blocks and melt it (I do it in a glass jug in the microwave at half power, but you can be fancy and do it in a double boiler over hot water) and leave to cool for a bit.
  2. Make biscuit crust by crumbling the biscuits finely (I use the food processor, or the pestle from my pestle and mortar, or the bottom of a glass bottle. This can be vindictively cathartic to do by hand.) Stir in ground ginger.
    • Melt butter and honey together in the microwave and add to biscuit crumbs, mixing well.
    • Press into bottom and sides of buttered pie plate, smoothing and compressing with the back of a spoon.
    • Bake at 180oC for ten minutes. Turn oven down to 160oC (320oF) when you've taken the crust out.
  3. Beat the cream cheese slightly to soften and remove lumps, and add the eggs, sugar, flour and vanilla.
  4. Beat until smooth and add the lemon juice and zest; beat again.
  5. Pour in the melted white chocolate and mix until smooth.
  6. Pour into baked biscuit crust and bake at 160o for 40 minutes or so.
  7. This is particularly good if you cook down a small punnet of raspberries in the rest of the juice from the lemons to make a coulis, and spread on top of the cheesecake.
This entry has been crossposted from my Dreamwidth blog at The comment action is all over there, and supports OpenID.
South Park Self

hide under the covers, we don't know what's out there, could be wolves

This is definitely an apocalypse. Global pandemic. Global warming. Plagues of billionaires. California is on fire. America is tearing itself in half while the Orange Menace sets about blatantly stealing the next election. The UK has vanished up its own Tory-privileged arsepipe. And, oh, yes, Cape Town had an earthquake. Just a little one, offshore about 2000kms south of us, but I was lying in bed reading Witcher fanfic at about a quarter to nine last night, and thought, odd if that's thunder, it's barely raining. Long, distant rumble, either thunder or someone starting a bad-tempered Harley Davidson somewhere offstage. Other Capetonians reported feeling actual vibrations, but I didn't, and the cats barely noticed. It seems fitting for 2020, frankly. At this stage I wouldn't feel particularly surprised at an alien invasion or a meteor strike.

My current movie diet is alternating wildly between disaster movies and the entire Studio Ghibli back catalogue. (For the record: The Cat Returns is weird.) And my reading and gaming habit has retreated firmly into fae realms and is refusing to leave. Amalur is beautiful and consoling, while still allowing me to beat up monsters and baddies to a satisfying extent. Toby Daye, the Seanan McGuire series, is considerably darker but still pleasantly distracting, and every time I grab another in the series off Kindle I am pleasantly conscious that I am feeding Seanan's cats. Finally, in the Department of Musical Hypterfixation, The Amazing Devil are, what, alt-folk? progressive folk? at any rate, occasionally a bit hit-and miss, but when they miss are only mildly pretentious (the curse of prog anything), and when they hit, are sumptuous, textured, catchy, emotionally throat-punchy and lyrically both witty and real. I am constitutionally incapable of listening to "Wild Blue Yonder" only once, if this was old school that bit of the cassette tape would be all stretchy and worn.

This entry has been crossposted from my Dreamwidth blog at The comment action is all over there, and supports OpenID.
South Park Self

Day 156: not a social animal

Oo er time has rather crept up on me again, alas. Featureless lockdown days meander past like lazy insomniac sheep-counting sheep, dozens have ambled hypnotically over the fence before you notice. Although I should add for posterity, and jo&stv, who apparently sit in New Zealand and worry that they have relocated my entire social life to another continent, that I had one (1) whole in-person social interaction this weekend, I visited Vi and had gin on the lovely stoep of her nice new house, both of us carefully masked and social distanced and in the fresh air. Apparently I can uncurl from the hedgehoggy ball if prodded sufficiently.

Also, I hired the nice neighbour, who does odd jobs and is suffering worklessness under lockdown, to climb up ladders and replace all my lightbulbs yesterday, as I do not trust my dodgy balance/ineffective left arm combination at dizzy heights when alone in the house, my body would lie there for days, probably gnawed on by unimpressed cats, if I maintained my usual form and fell off. So that's two actual in-person interactions in a week, I am a merry hive of social activity. He also unscrewed the lightbulb cover in the oven, which the landlord tightened so efficiently I haven't been able to budge it, and put up the replacement house number outside (bastards nicked the old ones) so that my deliveries do not wander plaintively up and down the road, apparently unable to interpolate Number 10 from the aggressively labelled Number 12 next door. My house is now Well Lit and Plottable. Next up, when I have recovered from all this socialising, he can come and replace the washers in all the taps, currently you have to turn the hot tap in the sink anything between five and fifteen times before it randomly consents to disgorge actual water. And the shower one falls off.

Jo&stv have actually relocated my entire social life to another continent, but I honestly don't miss it much. I miss them, but not the social life. And not being able to unscrew things or climb up ladders are really very minor and fixable drawbacks to the otherwise wholesale joy of living alone. Even under lockdown. I am still enjoying lockdown. Sorry. This entry has been crossposted from my Dreamwidth blog at The comment action is all over there, and supports OpenID.
South Park Self

Day 143: still life with Codsworth

What has four feet, round shocked eyes, an attitude problem, and arthritis? This is what.

Pandora has been a bit off in the last few days, slower and more sedentary than usual, and particularly grumpy to Jyn (see: abrupt 2am wakes because Pandora has woken up on one side of my recumbent form, taken grave exception to the sleeping existence of Jyn on the other side of said form, and essayed a montane traversal in order to bite her and eject her from her warm spot). On Monday it became evident she was in pain, hunched and moving with difficulty, and almost completely unable to move her tail, which looks weird and distressing on a cat who is usually highly expressive with tail movements, mostly irritated lashing. One underestimates how attuned one becomes to cat body language: if the tail doesn't go up when you pet her, something's wrong.

So I hauled her in to the lovely vet, who agreed there was definitely pain present but couldn't say precisely what or where, and who gave her a shot of anti-inflammatory on general principles, and I brought her back for x-rays this morning. The x-rays show it's definitely the start of arthritic wossname in the base of her spine, and the shot helped a lot (although it's wearing off now). I have pills to give her to try and replicate that easing, which will be an adventure, Pandora bites when pilled.

And she has fancy joint-enhancing prescription food, and is set up on a soft pad of blanket on the floor, because she's too stiff to climb into her nest thing, and is in front of the heater, which seems to help. (Pictured above: heater, left; Pandora, centre; Codsworth, rear right, demonstrating his cowed and vanquished posture). But this isn't a cure, all we can do is manage it, and hope her kidneys can handle the anti-inflammatories long-term, and that the next stage, where the joint ankyloses and swaps pain for reduced mobility, kicks in soon. But it's not the bowel problem or cancer or anything terminal I was rather fearing. It's still life. This entry has been crossposted from my Dreamwidth blog at The comment action is all over there, and supports OpenID.
South Park Self

Day 135: (possibly)

How can it be August already? For a shapeless horror, its proportions all wrong, whose actual days are featureless and leaden, this year's monstrosity actually moves very fast. 2020: the wrong sort of zombie.

I am distracting myself extremely hard from work (first week of term and concomitant curriculum change nightmare, plus residual angst from performance review fuckery) by reading rather a lot. This week's discovery: the re-release on Kindle of a whole bunch of Joan Aiken's adult Gothic thrillers (Amazon page here, if only because I like the covers). I love Joan Aiken's kids' stuff, her fairy tales (Necklace of Raindrops et al, with the amazing Jan Pieńkowski silhouette art) and the alternate history series which starts with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and which I reviewed in more detail here.

Her adult Gothic is something else entirely. It's like the bastard love-child of Mary Stewart and Agatha Christie, with a dash of Edgar Allen Poe: domestic where Stewart is all exotic locations, atmospheric where Christie is clinical, and at times quite astonishingly lowering, threatening and claustrophobic. People do horrible things to other people in these books, as much manipulation as murder. Despite their comparatively modern setting they have a really sure sense of Gothic weather and place: the various houses are, properly for Gothic, very much characters in their own right. The slightly fey whimsy of the Dido series is almost entirely absent, although at least one of the adult novels shares with Dido's story the general correlation of musical ability with villainy. Somewhere in Joan Aiken's past a musician savaged her very badly.

You'd think that reading this sort of thing during lockdown in a pandemic would be counterintuitive, but in fact it's cathartic: there's something appropriate and resonant in the experience of these hedged, desperate heroines trying to escape their oncoming, inevitable doom. I feel you, sisters. Same. This entry has been crossposted from my Dreamwidth blog at The comment action is all over there, and supports OpenID.
South Park Self

Day 130: aargh

I am drowning in emails, I'm barely keeping up, there must be a couple of hundred a day. Probably over half of them are students asking questions which I can answer by simply saying "please see the announcement I sent out about this", which they have clearly missed or not read properly. Or, in fact, which they may be replying to in order to email me, which ... yeah. There is a certain amount of banging heads on desks, let's just say.

So I had a lovely long rant half-written about that, and then at lunchtime today had my annual performance review with the Dean, who is my line manager. And while she was nice about it and otherwise thanked me for all the extra work I have been doing to make remote faculty processes work, she felt impelled to relay a complaint she's had from a colleague (unnamed) who'd mentioned I was occasionally "abrasive" to students and staff. And did I have any comment, or solution?

So I have deleted my lovely long rant, because I feel sick, and also disinclined to grapple with my job in any detail. Because this job? is beautifully designed to make me do whatever student-facing scut work the academics don't want to do, and they overload me and under-resource me and keep trying to shuffle academics' responsibilities off onto me, because overall they are successful academics as a result of the wide streak of self-serving egotism in all of them, which you need to have in order to kick your way to the top of this antheap. And then during peak periods I break under the strain of 12-hour days and constant nagging for my attention, and develop panic attacks and insomnia and self-harming behaviours, and am "abrasive" to students when the twentieth boundary-ignoring stupid question of the day catches me at the end of my resources. They did that. They made me into that. To fucking well turn around and complain that I am "abrasive" under the strain is a fucking insult.

I'm going to play Skyrim now. I'm on strike. This entry has been crossposted from my Dreamwidth blog at The comment action is all over there, and supports OpenID.
South Park Self

Day 117: tickled

I have just spent ten minutes giggling helplessly, because of this, which takes to its logical conclusion the mash-up of the dungeon crawl and dating sim video game genres, to create one where you... date your weapons. Get your sword to fall in love with you in order to improve its abilities. Said swords being represented by suitably over-the-top swoony avatars with magical-girl special effects featuring roses, apparently. I had to do a quick calendar check just in case it was April 1st. I can't work out if I'm actually going to acquire it when it finally releases, just to see if it's as exquisitely ridiculous as it sounds, or if I'll be giggling too hard to click "purchase". I probably will acquire it, if only because it may stave off for a bit longer the inevitable moment when I cave and procure a Switch, and hence Zelda.

The horrors of lockdown and COVID are currently being complicated by the usual Eskom shenanigans, which means we've had load shedding for the last week or so. This means, among other things, that I need to fill up all my gas bottles, supposing the local hardware store actually has any gas, which means I will need to venture out of the house for the first time in a week and thereby resolve the indeterminate Schrodinger state of the car battery - flat or not? will the car start or won't it? My otherwise much-loved Beast lurks in the driveway with surprising threat when I haven't left the house for a while, I'm almost too afraid to climb in and turn the key, because it all becomes so complicated if it won't start. But I suppose I should buckle to and try. Under current circumstances, this is really a very First World Problem, people are dying out there. *flings self to Total Perspective Vortex in penance*. This entry has been crossposted from my Dreamwidth blog at The comment action is all over there, and supports OpenID.