South Park Self

bring meaning to the canyon's cry

The other night I dreamed an alien apocalypse, in which the bulk of humanity had fled or been removed, and I was living alone in a small country house, worrying because the visiting soldiers had gone out to buy beer and hadn't returned and the aliens could arrive at any moment. And while I was waiting I heard a loud engine approaching in the distance, and Tom Hardy arrived in a humvee with his dog, and proceeded to dig through my kitchen cupboards to find a large enough pot in which to give the dog water.

I have no idea. My suspicion is that this about (a) global political collapse, and (b) the fact that Tom Hardy, quite apart from his various roles, appears to be cordially insane. He was cordially insane in the dream, at any rate. I think we may have subsequently gone careering off across the country in the humvee with his dog and both my cats, looking for the military enclave to bring them intelligence. No actual aliens ever appeared, but I suspect they had eaten the missing soldiers.

My life at the moment is rather dull and very, very fatigued, with occasional high spots, most notably last night when jo&stv fed me delectable vegetarian supper out of Ottolenghi cookbooks. While I was familiar with "Ottolenghi" as a word, I hadn't associated it with an actual chef and had vaguely assumed it was a particularly complicated ethnic dish of some kind, along the lines of osso buco or saltimbocca. Both of which would, in fact, also make good chef names. At any rate, the baked minted rice with the olive/walnut/pomegranate salsa was bloody marvellous.

I also have to record for posterity that fanfic high spots can include, in defiance of probability, a Regency AU of the film versions of The Hobbit featuring a genderswapped Bilbo who's a vicar, and several trans dwarves. As yet unfinished, but the voice and worldbuilding are pitch perfect.

My subject line is Franz Ferdinand, currently on rotation in the car, from "Dream again". I record this after having spent twenty minutes fruitlessly trying to find the lyrics under the delusional and probably fatigue-related belief (fatigue stuffs my memory like whoa and dammit) that the song was by the Fratellis, who I see have two relatively recent albums I haven't actually acquired. Note to self.

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South Park Self

the sound of thirty people saying “tsk,” sorrowfully

I follow on Tumblr a blogger called elodieunderglass, who is wry and funny and has a thing about swans. Today they posted possibly my favourite thing in the history of ever, which is an outsider perspective on cricket which made me snort the traditional Early Grey up the traditional nasal appendage.

The post also, in a demented and lateral sort of fashion, exactly encapsulates not only the stunned bewilderment inevitably arising from the game's deranged terminology, but the tone and feel of Sunday cricket over the radio, which I remember vividly from my dad listening to it over afternoon tea. A mild, drowsy, comfortably arcane sort of space which swings gently between restrained approbation and slightly pained remonstrance, offset by long bouts of immersed and contemplative calm. It conjures a strangely embodied sort of afternoon sunlight punctuated by the distant, characteristic "pock" of bat on ball, and the distinct and otherworldly sensation of British tea-drinking.

I understand just enough about cricket to be obscurely comforted rather than maddened beyond belief by its arcane intricacies, and I find the whole unlikely edifice, particularly in its radio commentary incarnation, nostalgic and soothing in the extreme.

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South Park Self

I spoke into his eyes

Feeling a bit non-existent again, so am taking this opportunity to remind myself of my own instrumentality. When suffering reality slippage, it helps to tally up the small but perfectly real motions in evidence of one's own actual impact on the world.

Things I achieved over the weekend:
  1. A load of laundry.
  2. The watering of the garden with the grey water from the above load of laundry.
  3. Chocolate cake. (this one, but I leave the egg yolk out of the icing. I have been eating it for breakfast all week with indecent satisfaction).
  4. Fancy chicken lasagne dinner for jo&stv, based on this one but without the cream, extra cheese or actual skillet. Also, garlic bread, which has given me acid reflux for the better part of three days but was absolutely worth it.
  5. Courtesy of jo's demon drilling skills, curtain rails and curtains on my front windows, which has measurably reduced the temperature of the front rooms by a few degrees, and has incidentally allowed me to retire the (cheap and nasty) blinds, thus frustrating Jyn's ongoing attempts to render me actually homicidal by trying to climb through them so she can see out. I'm deliriously happy about this, the house suddenly feels properly furnished and my nocturnal activities properly veiled from prying eyes in a way they simply weren't given the flimsy and cat-raddled nature of the blinds.
  6. Prompted by the "properly furnished" sensation in (5), above, the cleaning down and anointing with teak oil of the small teak desk I use for sewing; it was a bit water-mottled from hosting potplants and is now a glowing, beautiful thing. Wood, so satisfying.
  7. The brushing of both the cats, resulting in (a) a small inanimate tribble of astonishing dimensions, and (b) absurd quantities of purring.
  8. A metric fuckton of Skyrim, as is the traditional way of my people when faced with the unavoidable and unpleasant onset of summer temperatures.

Surprisingly large and varied numbers of things were also achieved by me this week so far at work.
  1. Number of large/annoying committee meetings survived without undue mental trauma or actual homicide: 3.
  2. Number of colleagues rescued from weird and baffling curriculum intricacies: 4.
  3. Number of students whose weird and baffling curriculum intricacy was sorted by me personally with rabid efficiency and dispatch: 5.
  4. Number of gently collapsing students rescued from their own approaching-term-end angst, despite it being too late in the semester for most sane or rational administrative mechanisms to apply: 3.

*waves Flag of Existence triumphantly*

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South Park Self

I shit you not

So, Cape Town has water restrictions, because Drought. You probably knew that, because I, and all other Capetonians, bitch about it endlessly. We bitch about it endlessly because, by and large, we have all stepped up to the crisis and restricted our water use with such efficacy that dams are back up to over 70% capacity after an average rainy season. We cruelly curtail our showering, and lug buckets around, and purge the garden of water-needy plants, and refrain from flushing toilets, and wash the linen and our hair less frequently, all to a gentle refrain of whinging, but by gum we restrict our water use. We get it. We are Capetonians and love our city and are capable of doing what we can to make it work. The whinging is, I fear, intrinsic and possibly motivational to this process.

The particular aspect of all this which actually does render me homicidal is the language it generates. Ye gods and little drought-threatened fishes, we are coy about bodily functions. We are obliged to madly police how we flush, with specific reference to what we're flushing, and goddammit but we can't come out straight and say it. Instead, we blossom forth into a series of passive-aggressive notices couched in euphemistic terms, and contriving to suggest that our personal waste processing processes are being overseen by an intrusive cadre of over-potty-trained Victorian governesses. If I see one more instance of the twee little rhyme about "if it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down", I am going to start frothing at the mouth.

And make no mistake, the Pee Governesses are intrusive, and expect to moderate and control highly personal processes to which no outsider should be privy. I wish I could draw a tasteful veil over the most recent outbreak my Cherished Institution has harboured in the service of water retention, but I can't, because they're right there. Next to the pan. Significantly unveiled. The horrible high-tech plastic boxes with the doom-laden flappy door in the top, and the instructions which require you to make use of same to dispose of "urine-soaked toilet paper ONLY". Presumably to require less water by reducing toilet paper presence in the sewage system. Which makes sense, but there is something particularly horrible about waving urine-soaked toilet paper around in any vicinity except that of the actual loo. Eeuw, is all I can say. Eeeuw.

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South Park Self

headology

Weird sleep and dream patterns in the last few days, I had some sort of bug on Wednesday and was a bit flattened with nausea and stomach cramps, and it seems to have messed with my sleep cycles. I ended up lying awake the other night randomly remembering a piquant detail from my past, that being the time I met Terry Pratchett - it must have been in the early 90s, he came on a book tour to Cape Town, and did a talk at the university. ("The problem with South Africa is that it's like trying to open a box with a crowbar which is inside the box.") The local guys who were on the old alt.fan.pratchett newsgroup were also keen to meet with him in a smaller group setting, and got hold of me because I was chair of the Tolkien Society at the time and they (quite correctly) thought I might also like to meet Pterry. Retrospect suggests that I didn't actually fully understand what they were asking, because I ended up hijacking their intimate get-together dinner and turning it into a Tolkien society cheese-and-wine event for about forty people. I suspect they've never actually forgiven me. Seems fair. I'm sorry I was so oblivious.

At any rate, it was a lovely evening, quickly degenerating into most of us clustered around listening to Pterry talk, which was hilarious. (He did the "who likes ginger, garlic, cats" poll - apparently his fans overwhelmingly like all three). I remember the event vividly because at one point he did a shambling orangutan impersonation and picked fleas off me. But most of all I remember it because someone asked him for more details about what Magrat was like, and he looked around the room, pointed at me, and said "Like your friend there, but without the self-assurance".

The physical equivalences were probably valid - I was a particularly skinny thing back then, if not quite the traditional ironing board, was wearing a full-length black chintz dress, and had very long hair which, as now, I never blowdried, so it tended to frizz madly in all directions. Occult jewellery may also have been implicated. What weirds me out now, looking back on it, though, is the crack about self-assurance.

See, I'm not self-confident. I am awkward and reticent and self-conscious in large gatherings or meeting new people. My disaster of an academic career is testament to my wholesale ability to take on board negative opinions about me from anyone in my general vicinity, and I've never had an active enough belief in my academic abilities to hold to them in the teeth of criticism. I build up confidence very slowly, and tend to acquire it from the structures I represent; I conducted a two-hour meeting today with senior academics, and had absolutely no problem doing so with authority and dispatch, but that's taken me a decade to learn. I'm absolutely calm and self-assured in front of a lecture hall full of students, even when they heckle, because I can immerse myself in the teacher, and that, again, I've learned over time. One of the reasons I'm finding it so hard to leave this job, I think, is because I am exhausted at the mere though of having to build up that confidence again in a different context and role. And while academia and this job may have beaten the confidence out of me since those days, I think it's more likely that Pterry only saw me as confident because I was being Tolkien Society Chair at the time, and the role gave me the authority I might otherwise lack.

I never really did identify with Magrat, possibly because her slightly limp ineffectuality is everything I am afraid I actually am, but maybe Pterry's use of me as a model was one of his classically uncanny and withering insights. Or maybe my commitment to the role is simply that good and he genuinely thought I was self-assured. I dunno. Either way, for the record, these days I'm really much more of a Granny Weatherwax.

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South Park Self

the Guests Star-scatter'd on the Grass

There are many, many advantages to living in Cape Town, which is my Favourite Place In The World, but high on the list are two of them we invoked on Sunday: good food, and beautiful countryside. We drove out to Luddite wine farm, up past Grabouw, for a local chef's pop-up Sunday lunch. It's about an hour and a half's drive through beautiful scenery, up Sir Lowry's Pass and among mountains and farms and lakes, o my! We are firmly in Spring in the Cape, and it trotted out a blazing summer day just because, and it was a truly lovely excursion all round. Somerset West notwithstanding. (Somerset West is a small-town-vibey suburb of Cape Town, distinguished mainly by its apparently pathological need to assert its own importance by putting eight or so long-phase traffic lights in a row on the main highway going out of Cape Town. It backs up like a complete bastard. Took us an hour to get through, coming back. Citizens of Somerset West have, I fear, a high background level of minor mishap on account of all the ritual cursings of frustrated motorists).

The pop-up lunch thing is fun because apparently it's perambulatory, and takes place in odd kitchens - this one was the winemaker's own home, with concomitant lawns, and dogs, and interesting architecture and art, and a deliriously wonderful accumulation of mismatched crockery to accommodate all the people. (And an interesting selection of people, too! Apparently a good way to randomly expand one's social circle from unlikely angles). It was an excellent lunch - while we were promised Beef Wellington, apparently there was some sort of critical fumble with the beef, and we got two kinds of lamb instead, a sort of shredded slow cooked thing, and beautifully rare chops; also asparagus and artichoke starters and an amazing pan-fried trout with crispy skin, yum. Luddite also does a very small, very concentrated selection of really superlative wines, introduced during a winery tour by the fanatically dedicated and charming wine-maker. (Defiantly anti high tech, hence the farm name). Grenache noir, who knew? Amazing stuff, apparently very commonly grown in France, but rare in the Cape. Kinda light, and fruity, and a bit jewel-toned.

Part of the enjoyment for me was also that I drove, in my little Beastie car, which made for slightly slow and low-gear assaults on the steeper bits of the pass, with the AC turned off, because she has a very small engine and doesn't do hills well with three people in the car. (Or, frankly, with one person in the car). I love driving, and love having a reasonable car into which I can pack friends; it's also an elegant solution given that my current fatigue levels mean I can't actually drink very much without after-effects, so I may as well be Designated Driver and allow jo&stv to imbibe freely, which they did, to great hilarity. (Also, bonus, driver's music choice rule. When you put my MP3 player on random it reveals there is apparently an over-abundance of David Bowie and Annie Lennox in my music collection, but also occasional outbreaks of Franz Ferdinand, during which everyone bops).

The only problem was the wheel-wobble we picked up on the way back, which I attributed at the time to wheel alignment being knocked askew by the really rather terrible dirt roads on the farm. However, when I trundled the Beast into the tyre place on Monday for an alignment, they gently pointed out the balding front tyre on the point of actual collapse, and gave me a Stern Talking-To about tyre tread, the natural life of a tyre, and the need for replacement. Four new tyres, R4000, second visit to have a caster shift alignment done, whatever the hell that is. (Apparently the Beast was pulling the wrong way for our road camber. It's technical). I was clearly overdue for tyres, I've been driving the Beast for five years anyway, and mostly I'm just profoundly grateful she didn't explode on the highway on the way back. Other than in Somerset West, where she could have exploded with impunity on account of how we WEREN'T MOVING.

Owing to wine, heat and general uselessness I took absolutely no photos. You'll have to take my word for it. Also, my subject line is Omar Khayyam, by contractual obligation when I'm talking about a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and the wilderness.

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South Park Self

we are the dead



My road has outbreaks of volunteer poppies, they spring up in the oddest cracks and corners as soon as the weather starts to warm up. I love them and find them astonishingly poignant, possibly because they function as a really very overcoded symbol, which I shall proceed to unpack because you can't stop me, mwa ha ha!

Part of it is, I think, the colour: the splash of defiant red which is particularly brilliant against tarmac or concrete. It's a brave little flag, waving for life and growth in the teeth of a sterile cityscape, and doing so with insistent cheer and profligate overstatement of hue. It's also a lone standard-bearer, speaking directly to our humanly sentimental appreciation of the small, solitary individual facing off against overwhelming odds. It's so unlikely, this little fragment of life, struggling through the stonework, finding tiny cracks in the system through which to express itself. It undermines the monolithic constructedness of the city in a way which speaks directly to anyone who feels alienated and helpless in the face of the impersonal scale of contemporary existence.

Poppies also, of course, have the very obvious symbolism of Flanders fields and the way they have come to function as a reminder of the wholesale slaughter of the First World War. They are about death on a number of levels, not just the blood-red of their flowers or their growth in the fields of dead. Their medicinal properties associate them with a deep, unnatural, deathlike sleep, and with the corrupt, destructive decadence of opium and heroin. As a species their physicality is strangely fragile, their stems easily broken, their petals paper-thin and delicate - a visual reminder of the tenuous nature of life which paradoxically strengthens their impact. They grow in Flanders from the dead, but they make life out of that death, and brandish it defiantly at the world. That paradox is, I think, also at the heart of their impact as lone volunteers in an urban landscape, fragile but alive among the concrete.

I love poppies, but weirdly have no desire to grow them for myself, and I think that's precisely because they're so much more interesting a symbol when they're growing themselves, for their own sakes, where they shouldn't be able to. They are flags of unlikely hope.

(My subject line weirdly isn't David Bowie, it is, of course, John McCrae's "In Flanders Field", although Bowie has a particularly weird song by that title on "Diamond Dogs". Music from which was not, as far as I can tell, implicated in the really lovely concert we went to on Saturday, which was Bowie (mostly the early classics) reinterpreted as full-on Baroque by a Baroque quartet. Right up a number of my alleys, particularly the genre-bending ones, their German Baroque rendition of "Moonage Daydream" caused me untold unholy glee).

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South Park Self

the air of spring smelling of never and forever

It is surprisingly unsurprising to have turned up at Andrew S's "I'm in CT and it's my birthday!" braai yesterday to discover that approximately half the guests, self included, were wearing some iteration of a Star Wars t-shirt. Because old CLAW crowd, and we're all unabashedly geeky and clearly feel enabled in the expression of same by contact with the old tribe. Either that, or it's some sort of territorial display. But I have been reading an awful lot of Teen Wolf fanfic and my view may be unduly coloured by over-exposure to dodgy unscientific pack dynamics. At any rate, very pleasant gathering, and lovely to catch up with people I haven't seen in way too long owing to ingrowing hermitage.

It appears to be spring, which was useful for braai purposes, the weather has been lovely, clear and crisp. CT dams are at 70%, and there's more rain predicted for this week. I am, as usual, consoling myself for the inexorable approach of January heat-waves by wandering around my spring-loaded garden, patting odd exemplars of the burgeoning foliage on the head and exhorting it to further efforts with an insouciant verbosity which I suspect has led my neighbours to mentally categorise me as "crazy cat lady", an appellation which which I am down.

One of the mad floral activists is below, half a tray of violas which I grew from seed. This was the result of a slightly odd supermarket promotion at our local Checkers, where for a couple of months they handed out at the check-out a pile of little seed-growing packs, three or four depending on how much money you spent. These comprised a small cardboard box/pot thingy, a square of paper with embedded seeds, a few labels identifying the particular seed type, and the bit I really loved, a miniature hockey puck of compressed and dehydrated potting soil. When you stuck this in a saucer and added water, it madly expanded and crumbled to make actual soil in a fascinating and semi-magical fashion. In a spirit of experimentation I actually planted one batch of these, despite the fact that I can't grow things from seed worth a damn, and they all sprouted, possibly because Science. The cauliflower and parsley went spindly and leggy and didn't last long, but the violas produced the below, and there's something else quietly growing small, sturdy leaves in the other half of the box, it would be lovely if I could remember what the hell it was. Something floral rather than vegetable. I hope it survives long enough to identify it.

I cannot help but think that it was a slightly misguided promotional concept, to hand out plant-growing kits (a) in the middle of winter, and (b) in the middle of a drought, but the compressed soil was Cool Science, and on the upside, violas! I love their little velvety faces, especially this strain, which have goatees. When I went out into the courtyard this morning they all had their faces turned to the sun, except one, who had it turned backwards in a bit of a sulk. I think the others were mean to him overnight.



My subject line is e e cummings, which is inevitable given spring.

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