Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Life skills

Hume, because he was a genius with an insanely overproductive brain, came up with the following unbelievably simple yet basically indestructible argument against induction:

There are two kinds of arguments: inductive and deductive. So, an argument in defense of induction must be either deductive or inductive. You cannot give a deductive argument for induction, because nothing about the future follows deductively from the past. An inductive argument for induction is circular. Hence, induction is indefensible.

Nothing wrong with trying to model one's thought on geniuses, so I present the following consideration of The Question:

When Will Your PhD Be Finished?

There are two reasons that you might ask this question: (1) as a conversational gambit, or (2) because you take it that the asking of The Question has some role in contributing to the actual completion of the dissertation. Consider (1). A conversational gambit by definition attempts to start a conversation. Typically also, it aims not to make the interlocutee feel anxious, insecure, vulnerable, or generally terrible about themselves. This is why "I think you're stupid" and "Have you thought about how many years you have left to live?" are generally recognised as bad conversation starters. The Question will often stop the conversation dead, in which case it fails by (1)'s own justificatory lights. Even if it does not, you have reduced the interlocutee to a private hell while they mouth (typically false) inanities, for which at least a prima facie argument could be made to the conclusion that a conversation is no longer actually occurring. So much for (1).

Now assume (for purposes of reductio) that there are persons who believe that The Question has a role in getting dissertators to complete. They believe it because either (a) The Question is encouraging (especially in the well-known alternative formulation "How is your thesis going?") (b) The Question is threatening. (2a) is straightforwardly false, which does not entail that it is irrational to believe it. Except for anyone who has themselves written a dissertation or works for a university in which the circles of hell involved in doing so are so well-known that lightbulb and knock-knock jokes are produced about them. Ergo, most people who assert (2a) believe a contradiction. So finally, (2b). Since the interlocutor is almost never in a position to cause anything bad to happen to the unfinished dissertator that was not already going to happen as a result of his or her unfinishedness, (2b) is redundant and therefore fails to provide any grounds to ask The Question. Further, since The Question causes all sorts of negative impact as described above, the lack of justification combined with the known intent to threaten make it plain evil.

Conclusion: Don't Ask The Fucking Question. Ever.

Tuesday haiku

It's late, but not too
Wands in the tarot, midnight
clawed two godmothers

Monday, July 30, 2007

A Monday darkly

I cannot get my brain to engage today. The mental clutch is fully depressed. The gear teeth hang apart like a broken jaw.

As per usual, I am minimising efficiency by considering why this might be, which is the intellectual equivalent of heat loss. But you know, whatever. So far, I have identified, not to say reverse-engineered, still less to say generated in a hopelessly ad-hoc manner, the following factors:

(1) last night, I watched part of A Scanner Darkly. I didn't make it to the end. OK so Philip K Dick not the most soothing of thought-mongers, but that wasn't it. The rotoscoping gave me profound ontological anxiety. I think my thoughts are partially rotoscoped right now. Plus, Robert Downey, Jr. Yeah. Exactly.

(2) this morning, I had coffee in Not The Usual Location. So either or both (a) I was deprived of the routine context in which my brain usually boots (b) the coffee was different.

(3) I am wearing my new red canvas Converse All Star low-tops. So either or both (a) the incongruent coolness of same has caused my brain to seek a new identity since the usual one is patently inconsistent with new red shoes (b) thought actually depended on my Birkenstocks.

There might be something hormonal, too. Not to mention last night's full moon. I'm not ruling anything out.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


Do you hear words in your mind? I do, on occasion -- especially if I am thrashing out an argument while I walk. It is positively Socratastic in there, then.

But usually, I don't hear words in my head -- I see them. Lines and clouds and wandering perspectival parallel lines of letters and text, converging at infinity, circling a giant semiotic drain, expanding into giant syntactical tornadoes.

This makes me very prone, like many people I know, to fairly few and far between but nonetheless terrible and woefully long-standing mispronunciations of the oddest things. I still have to think about it when I say gesture against the ingraining of years of uttering it with a hard g.

I have long been a sucker for the great romance of the symbols themselves -- the letters of the alphabet, the anal yet fabulously creative and open-ended technicalities of typography, the small drawing that each word is, the tiny map that each letter makes. And, of course, most alluring of all, the exultant, rebellious meaninglessness of the mere letters. One of my favourite pieces of typography is an A4 setting of Castellar by Sebastian Carter. It is the alphabet and a single ampersand, but it is subtly disordered to improve the typographical aesthetics of the page.


When I think about how words sound, I am always seeing them. Somehow, I believe that "light" sounds different to "lite", even though it doesn't. I am convinced that I can hear the "a" in "healthy", even though I can't. Spelling errors make terrible sounds in my head, so that "cappucino" crackles like speaker feedback and "minutae" clacks like a dropped garbage-can lid. It is as though the words have a sound for how they look, as well as as sound for how they sound.

Today, poring with mind-bendingly onanistic fascination over my blog stats, as every self-obsessed respecting blogger does, I noticed that one of today's readers searched my blog -- not the web, my blog -- for "pronunciation".

I cocked an eyebrow.

Curious Reader must mean of "Xtinpore", I deduced. An excellent question.

"Xtin" was coined for me when I was five, by my father, another lover of the letterishness of words. It was more than twenty years before someone asked me how I might pronounce it. They had gotten into a debate with someone who claimed that the "X", since it was an abbreviation of a syllable, should be pronounced like that syllable. Their evidence was that the pronunciation of "Xmas" was obviously Christmas.

I was horrified.

In the first place, of course, "Xmas" does not sound like "Christmas". I mean, I'd never really thought about it before, because I'd been living in my comfortably weird yet mercifully personal world of lookish-sound. But if pressed, I'm firmly on the side of "Xmas" pronounced EX-mas.

Ergo, naturally, "Xtin" is pronounced EX-tin. Hence, Xtinpore. Except for the play on extempore to work, you have to change the stress. ex-TIN-pore-ee.

Glad we got that settled.

Once upon a time, 3

Not so long ago, there were some very fine cliffs overlooking the sea. On the cliffs lived a chough with a mind full of keen observations and lovely red legs like stalks of coral, neither of which she knew about.

In the sea and rocks below, there lived an otter who was an amateur astronomer. She kept her telescope and an increasingly chaotic collection of back issues of Astronomy under a rock.

The chough and the otter were great friends. They liked to talk about everything under the sun. The otter cracked crab claws and talked about Mars, and the chough stalked around beautifully, like a feathery fragment of night in the sunshine, and worried about things. I just don't know, she said. Life is so mysterious.

That's true, agreed the otter, lying on her back and combing her tummy-fur.

I don't know how to do it, said the chough.

What? said the otter, opening and shutting her nostrils.

Life, said the chough. The answers are all hiding. It's like the dark side of the moon.

The otter polished her nose. Did you know that the moon wiggles a bit? It's called libration. Over time, you can see 59% of the moon's surface from the Earth.

The chough put her head to one side. Really? she said.

Yes, said the otter. You can see more than you can't.

Moral: Sometimes gravity is working for you.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Once upon a time, 2

Long ago, there was a baker in a small town. Each morning, he would add butter and sugar to flour and magicks, and hundreds of delicacies would line up in his window, light as air and as fragrant.

On the outskirts of the town was a painter. She lived in what had once been a stable made of stones. All day long she mixed colours and water and imaginings, and canvases gorgeous with sunshine and fields lined the walls.

In the afternoons, after the redemption of morning light and before the dappled forgiveness of later, she would remember that she was hungry. She put her brushes into pots and tuppence in her pocket and walked the old pebbly path to town.

Two cakes, or half a dozen biscuits. Perhaps a twist of sweet bread. Her hands were stained and striped with paint. Green-and-purple trelliswork decorated her fingers, her palms spotted with rose madder, carmine beneath her fingernails, her knuckles a sunset. The baker watched her hands and saw magicks, which he made into cakes as light and golden as the wheat at dawn.

Moral: One never really knows what one's handiwork is.

Once upon a time

... there lived a remora who dreamed of true love. He was a thoughtful type, and read all the literary papers. He had long been suckered to a blue whale, who was very clever but didn't tend to the remora's brand of ocean-gazing. The remora spent a lot of time worrying about the difference between commensalism and mutualism. That was partly because it was a real worry for him, and partly because worrying about that sort of distinction was part of what did it for him in life generally. If he was bored, he'd look for a distinction to draw. Or one to collapse, if it seemed too obvious that there was one.

One day, he asked the whale what she thought. I don't know what you mean, she said. Well, said the remora, do you think that I'm basically just hitching a ride, or are you getting something important out of this?

This what? said the whale.

Me! said the remora.

The whale turned her eye to him bemusedly. But you'll always be there, she said.

Stop up the access and passage to remoras,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it!

Friday, July 27, 2007


The hits on my blog are spiking. Do you know why? It is this:

No, really. Yesterday I had 286 unique visitors, which is about three times as many as this time last week. The mountain was popular then, too, but now by far the greater bulk of my drop-ins are mountain-searchers from google images. The google image pointer, however, doesn't tell you what the search string was. But I think the best explanation is that this shot (linked to my blog rather than to the source of the image, for some reason completely obscure to me since it's under a link in my post) is the seventh image result for "nature". And I've said it's terribly pretty. Do you think that mattered? And if it did, can I stick an internet irony asterisk on it this time?

Some people, a very few, actually stay to read a few other pages. Hello, nature lovers! I'm in the type of mood lately that has me reading my horoscope a lot. So of course I tend to thinking that it's both galling and incredibly profound that most of the people who see my blog are drawn in by an unbelievably kitsch mountain shot.

It figures.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Pluvialis and I got back from the coast earlier this week. We drove through entire weather patterns, bordered double-take abruptly with new palettes like level-up in a videogame. When we arrived the sky was wind-scorched and pewtery and I felt oddly unwelcome and upset. It was blustery and the air was wet and I folded up between the shoulder blades until we were near enough to the sea to put our hands to it. We watched sanderlings on the way to Africa cast up and down the beach on legs that carried them like wheels, tracking the lap on the sand like leggy, birdy flotsam.

On the second day we went to Minsmere, the RSPB's oldest reserve. Avocets, dunlins, terns, salty, pebbly, reedy. Three incongruent black swans. Chaffinches bouncing tamely under the wet picnic tables outside the tearoom, where we ate delicious mushroom soup and I pressed my nose up against glass showcases wherein sat state-of-the-art optics lazing under halogen, amiably indifferent to the world of desire.

In the distance is the nuclear power station, with its chalky dome like a cathedral to the technological, or a pebble. The blocks are WWII anti-tank defences, to prevent beach-landing German tanks from getting inland. They are cracked and skewed and festooned with lichens. They were the first artifacts of the real threat of invasion that I ever saw. Australia's military identity is painted in the shades of mateship and the ideal of the ally, and England's history as agonist, written into fields and coast and up mountains, never ceases to strike me with the force of new realisation.

A couple of years ago I walked another line of stones -- West Kennet Avenue in Avebury. I walked from Silbury Hill to the Red Lion one day while Pluvialis was off doing something wearing her falconry hat. That was a very different summer day. Poppies, mobile on their spindly fuzzed stems as a bobble-head on the dashboard, waved at the field boundaries. Views for miles shimmering in sunshine steeped like tea. The strangely sea-like sound of wind in ripe wheat. Burnt-out candles and forlorn messages to loved ones in Druidical stands of trees, or trees that looked Druidical to someone. Butterflies and white briony in the hawthorn and the sudden green aquarial gloom of rights-of-way swallowed by arching hedges and pupils pinpricked back out into the golden fields over a stile lizard-warm on one side and damp and mossy on the other. There was a peacock in someone's garden.

Those stones are not like these ones, except when they are. The two walks spliced together. Reeds and wheat, power stations and stone circles, tall, tall oaks and terns, windy, cold hunger for mushroom soup and old curled sketches of Silbury Hill that smell of a hot day. I sat cross-legged on an anti-tank cube and looked out to sea. Pluvialis took my camera. "Think Ballardian thoughts," she said.

Brown paper packages

Today, in the little wooden mail hutch with my name over it, a package via the internal university system. A book from Boy with Yellow Converse, for my birthday. Recalling, dear readers, that he and I have never been in a room unoccupied by at least another half-dozen people, much less been for coffee. Or a movie. Um.

It is second-hand in the best possible way, which is to say bumped but not cocked. And a little scuffed, the warm paperback patina, with none of the sad rust of sunning. He has written on the title page in pencil, in case I don't like inscriptions. Or because he always uses a pencil, maybe. It is Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time.

I guess I could be a cynic and decide that this is just a shade too ... considered. Even if it is the right kind of considered. But instead, my toes are wriggling in a girly way rather uncomfortably at odds with yesterday's lightsabre wielding.

Or perhaps not.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bite me, 2

About an hour ago, I got an unsolicited message from a stranger on facebook. It's your basic bar pick-up line, adapted for the youtube age. It's premised on one of the group memberships I have listed in my super-super-restricted profile. As pick-ups go, it could be much thinner -- the group is an expression of a certain pretty arcane kind of fandom for a cultish but not overly well-known American author, so the fact that this guy likes this author and knows I do too is a much more sophisticated basis for e-chatting me up than most.


His profile is unrestricted, and under Interests, he lists Women.

As a matter of gender-political hopelessness, this is not actually the most egregious thing on this guy's profile, which is precisely why I'm going to spin a little vitriol in its direction. Because really? It's not that unusual. And I'd like to have a moment of explaining, Gender Politics for Idiots style, why it makes me want to snap pencils. Or pencilnecks.

A side issue in this discussion that I'm not going to get into is that part of what's in play here is not just what people will say, but what they think it's acceptable to say. Your user profile on a social networking site is not just some things about you -- it's the things which you think are the things you'd want other people to know. If you're not trying to come off clever and witty and generally nonchalant about it, you're probably trying to come off ironic for not doing so. Part of what gets my knickers in a bunch is the remembrance that this is the context in which Mr E-Pickup lists Women as one of his interests. (Along with concrete and classic cars. Uh-huh. But I digress).

OK. Perhaps you're saying that you like having sex. If this is what is meant by having women as an interest, then it's a very lame euphemism and I take a fair amount of exception to the use of the word "women" as a euphemism for anything at all, much less your getting your end in. But actually, that's the milder and much less offensive reading of what I think is going on here. If I challenged you with this, your eyebrows are going to pucker with hurt consternation and you'll claim that sex has nothing to do with it -- it's women. They're so fascinating. So mysterious. So amazing and changeable and endlessly intuitive and passionate and gentle.

You might even add something like not like men at all. I don't even care about this idiotic and vacuous last part, which exercises a whole lot of other people. No-one has a clear idea of what ought reasonably to count as a difference between men and women and which ought to be vilified as a horrifying example of gender discrimination, and frankly I don't really think that discussion is going anywhere.

The point is that you're talking about 50% of the goddamn world population. Saying that you are interested in them has literally no meaning except as a function of your simplistic, unreconstructed, utterly, utterly uninterrogated vision of what counts as a woman. And, so help me, if you claim in response that you are interested in their very variety, realise that that only means something relative to fixing the notion of "them".

God, this makes me feel so, so lonely.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Happy birthday me

This is me, drinking my birthday latte at Ray's Jazz Café at Foyles, which was as perfect a latte as one ever dreams of drinking on one's birthday. It was made by a woman in a many-laundered apron, who had big, soft brown eyes which narrowed slightly over the important tamping and brushing of the puck of coffee grounds with which she then proceeded to make magic.

Pluvialis bought two biscotti, as you can see. They were stuffed with nuts and other goodness, including fennel seeds, unexpectedly. I was disposed not to be pleased about that, but lulled by the fan-flipping-tastic coffee, I came around to the view that the lovely aniseedy scent and pistachio crunch was everything that could be desired in an accompaniment.

Downstairs at Foyle's in the natural history section leaned Pluvialis' book, next to the Poyser monograph on The Goshawk. She smiled. "How ironic," she said. I said something about G coming after F in the alphabet, to hide my sadness.

I watched a pygmy slow loris climb precisely around curled branches and turn amber-brown eyes in startlingly worried apostrophe-shaped black eye patches slowly, exactly, like a small furry satellite dish, like a puppy made of arms and legs dressed for a masquerade and turned to 0.25 speed. Crickets jumped in the dim light.

I ate Tay salmon on samphire which tasted of the sea and of gardens, made jokes with a very tall waiter in a very very clean pressed apron, drank Sauternes and discussed kind hearts, coronets and optics with my dearest friend.

Best day ever. Happy birthday to me.

Friday, July 20, 2007


This is my birthday coat. It is by Prada, and someone once described it as being as if fashioned from the skins of green babies. Which is fabulously creepy, but accurate.

I bought it for myself when I turned 30. Tomorrow, I will be 34. When I first owned it, I was rather afraid of it. It was so soft, so buttery, so perfect and unmarked, like a second-skin expanse of silky froglike untouchableness, a dew-strewn lawn that no-one has stepped on yet. It hung in my wardrobe a lot. Every now and then it saw daylight but most of the time it lived in the dimly lit liminal world of things invoking the pleasure of mere possession.

I got over it.

Now it is a coat of history, like a face. It is battered and stained and darkened and wrinkled. Its cuffs are blackened and smudged, because when I am nervous I fold up my hand like a jackknife and grip my sleeves. The buttons are burnished not because they've been buttoned but by hours of idle fiddling, the collar a patinated tideline of sweat, perfume and sunscreen, the sleeves a map of felt-tip stains, mysterious drip-shaped dark spots, the creased and grooved crevasse topography of over-and-over elbow-crookings. On the right shoulder there is an old, round, chalky, frilled watermark made by Pluvialis' tears. I don't remember why she was crying, but I remember putting my arms around her. She is tall, and I am short, and her chin rested on my shoulder. A puddle, full of minerals like water running through limestone.

Good morning, coat. I will tell your history again next year.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Wild thing, I think I love you

On my way home from my usual morning latte with Pluvialis, I met this little man wandering confusedly down the midline of the road, following the white line like it might lead him somewhere other than into the tread of the tyres on the number 4 bus. He's a baby woodmouse. He weighs 5g. He's having a snack of granola right now. I may let him go. If I can bear it.

Update: As many people who know and endure me can attest, one of the pantheon of arguments Xtin Hates Most in the World is an environmental argument which I call The Argument From Cuteness. It proceeds from the fact that something is incredibly adorable to the conclusion that we ought to save the environment. Quite often it does so while speaking words that have nothing whatever to do with the cuteness, but on closer inspection you realise that the argument proceeds only from the cuteness. My beef with the Argument from Cuteness is that it is not an argument at all. Cuteness almost certainly drives people to action and engages them with animals. All good things. Which are not themselves arguments which explain anything about what sort of attitude we should have toward wild spaces or ecology or whatever.

That being said, my woodmouse (conservation status: least concern, as in, you're kidding, right? There are millions of the little buggers) is now asleep with his itty itty itty paws over his grain-of-cous-cous sized nose in the corner of a 3" square box which once held a pot of styling wax.

Save the world! It has the cutest mice ever.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Smoke gets in your eyes

It's 18 days into the smoking ban. I'm surprised how little I've discussed it with people, really -- I know that at the moment I'm pretty hostile to anything that smacks of a Current Affairs Discussion because, frankly, my misanthropy and disillusionment complicated by fatigue and insecurity make me a very bad general conversationalist right now, but still.

I have mixed feelings. I'm not a smoker. I have a particular murderous hatred for the sort of not-really-a-smoker who props the cigarette between their fingers and lets it burn down without actually smoking it, like a curling ashy entrail making the air taste like burnt hair and oxidised wine. I am pleased to see the back of these polluting pretenders. But the pale, blueish clouds produced by those who actually do inhale the stuff -- I don't know. Without the miasma of smoke, some places lack a certain ... there's no other way to say it ... atmosphere. They are supposed to be contextualised and historicised and wreathed by the decades of nuance attached to the causal consumption of nicotine. It's just not the same. The vagueness of seeing things through a haze of microscopic ash particles. The scented, slightly bitter but almost negligible sense of something transgressive -- something transgressive in the air, something transgressive in the people, something slightly black leather, fishnet stockings, stiletto heels, mirror shades, something bad.

Of course, smokers aren't like this any more. But the smoke still is.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tuesday haiku

Break in the wind, ring
blackbird song like paper cuts
arched grit on thermals

Monday, July 16, 2007

Question hour

The fourth in an occasional series on the keywords that attract wide-eyed googlers to Xtinpore like beagles to the delicious but ultimately pointless scent of aniseed.

This week's Beautiful Insanity Award goes to: martian cupcakes

Who knew they liked baked goods? My mind reels with "cultural universal" jokes. (Also, extra insanity points for commitment: my blog is many, many pages into the result of this search, after a link entitled WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF SATAN?, which would totally have distracted me. But then I guess I'm not having Martians to tea. And in case you were wondering what cupcakes have to do with Satan, I'll tell you: it is that you can't hold a cupcake in your cloven hoof. I am not making this up).

Honourable Insanity Mention to: hide sausage

Dude, you have to use euphemisms when you google? That's just sad. I'd have given you the coveted Sorry I Wasted Your Time, Dude consolation prize but I'm afraid you were beaten to the gong by:

jedi control weather

Yeah. Haven't managed that one, either. Lightsabre in the ice, sure. X-wing in the Dagoba mud, no problemo. But this is England, man. Get real.

Die die die die

I loves me a good action flick. I love the noise and excitement and the lovingly shot pyromaniacal fetishism of explosions. I love the hysterical horn-heavy soundtracks and the panting, fricative cello low-notes that accompany angry men wearing resolute expressions of vengeance. I love the henchmen and the hot deconstructed-Catwoman outfit that the Evil Chick always wears. I love that once, the bad dudes were the ones with no hair, but now the best indication of evil is a very expensive haircut.

Usually, though, stunts leave me cold. I like the sounds. Smash! Kapow! Crash tinkle tinkle tinkle as the hero is propelled through a plate glass window. Doo'oof as the karate block hits the ninja chick in the chest. VrooooOOOm! as the car leaps a fifty foot gap in the obligatory unfinished bridge. Klklklssskrcksssftft as the protagonists wander through the smouldering wreckage of another inflagration. And best of all, fffs-ga-BLAM as yet another something apparently made of 99% accelerant blows up. But I'm tapping my fingers waiting for the dull, frantically edited boredom of the visuals to be over.

Die Hard 4.0, to my fantastic and enduring delight, contained the most inventive, creatively shot and witty 129 minutes of stunt material I've ever seen. I was even distracted from the cellos and injury-chic sported by Mr Willis and the oh-so-hot brushed steel belt buckle on Timothy Olyphant's all-black Evil Dude ensemble. And even Maggie Q's FBI bullet-proof vest. Which, seriously. If you want to know if a woman is completely unnaturally spectacular looking, put her in a bullet-proof vest and see if she becomes hotter. If yes, she is Not Normal. But I digress.

Stunts, man. If you want to see a helicopter-mounted gunman expelled towards the camera at high speed in close-focus after a car is ramped into aforementioned helicopter, which is (naturellement) exploding in the background of the shot, get thee hence to the multiplex immediately. Because you know what's cool? What is cool is when a helicopter is exploding in the background.

Long live the blam.

Friday, July 13, 2007


To my surprise, I have all sorts of things I'd like to blog about at the moment -- witty fragments abound in my list of draft posts. However, shit keeps hitting the fan at the most bizarre and relentless rate of knots that I don't have time to indulge in my micrometaphysical punditry.

For the love of god, people. I am prepared to accept that life can be hard because the right thing doesn't come along, and because the right choices don't seem to be available, and because one tortures oneself with the thought that the available choices ought to be the ones that one is happy with, and yet there seems to be something, something there in the dust and fog of your mind, which suggests something else ...

But that moment when everything goes south because the right thing does come along? When panic and the desperate scramble for the security of longing wins over the chance for which one has quietly, hopefully and always rather dubiously waited? If you need a reason to pull yourself together and be brave, make it the rest of us. Because if those who get the onces-in-a-lifetime don't take it, if they pass up the glittering, terrifying wonders of dreams come true for the mother's-skirts, soothing narcosis of the everyday and familiar, then no-one will believe any more. Fairies are dropping by the fucking hundreds.

Goddamn it! You owe it to those of us in the clichéd wilderness of Is-This-All-There-Is? Take your chances, by everything that is holy!

So since the great and wonderful hopes of millions are being trampled, I am looking at the small things which make me smile here in the wilderness. Such as the fact that in Terry Pratchett's Pyramids, the pharoah Pteppic's kingdom is called Djelibeybi.

That is all.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Door to door

I'm back. In the movie version, the conference unexpectedly revived my passion and commitment to the discipline. By dint of witty, intelligent colleagues, a few quirky and surprising plot-twists and a montage of the fantasy of intelligentsia shot under sunshine-drenched skies with a yellow filter, I was reminded of why I love this so much.

In the grimy real-time world, it rained. It blew a gale filled with grit and builder's sand and left the tiny beige pockmarks of what was once dirty rain on everything. I stayed in a shatteringly well-designed room in the brand-new student village and watched the weather batter the young trees staked and strapped to the newness below, stretching their adolescent branches desperately into the vortices of scraper-generated wind-tunnels, drawing the shreds of their dignity around themselves as some artist's impression of the space where they stood mocked them with watercolours of huge mature broadleaves breaking up the gleaming lakes of asphalt and neon disabled parking stencils.

The rooms were like something out of the Fifth Element meets Neal Stephenson. My pillow was neatly wrapped in a crinkly, crumply plastic wrapper that made a hospital sound and made my throat feel funny. There was a tiny wet room, which is what would once have been a toilet cubicle but is now an entire bathroom because there is a showerhead where you would have hung your Ramones concert poster. Autowash, but with taps. A sheet of creamy paper outside the door like a giant oblong beer coaster, helpfully printed YOUR BATHMAT.

And doors. Everywhere, doors. My room was past six one-way automatically locking firedoors operated by swipe cards. Getting places was accompanied by a soft metallic soundtrack of beeps and the tiny green welcome of flashing LEDs. The trip to the lecture theatre a tiring, alienating obstacle course of doors that opened automatically, doors opened with swipe, doors opened with green buttons, doors opened with brushed steel plates marked PUSH HERE TO OPEN terribly intuitively situated in such a way that one's response was often TO OPEN WHAT?, doors opened with plain old fashioned brute strength after you'd made a tit of yourself standing abashedly in front of it wondering where the Opening Technology (TM) for this one was to be found.

I sat through sessions, chewed food born in bain-marie captivity and watched herring gulls raise their arched white brows at walking wagon-trains of foreign language students passing in a ganglion-jangling babble of newly-learned English expletives and tinkling mobile phone charms.

I'm sure I learned a lot.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Gawd help us

I am going to a conference in Old Slaving Port Town tomorrow. Oh, joy. Two days of the smell of overhead projector fans and oh-so-stackable conference chairs covered in a colour the Pantone swatch for which reads Conference Chair Blue and a fabric which does a good impression of actual cloth from ten paces but once you sit upon it is revealed to be composed of thousands of minute blue kitchen scourers knitted together.

Two days of constant slight boredom and slight fatigue and the sense that one ought to be Getting Something Out of This which makes everyone more snippy in the Q&A sessions than they would be if they hadn't packed their rolling suitcase with a view to being updated on the state of the art in the discipline and instead ... it's the same as last year.

A night in a student room with a Conference Chair Blue bedspread and an itty bitty soap like a tallowate mosaic tile on the gritty white grouting of the hospitality towel allowance.

Instant coffee in the breaks and, all the heavens have mercy, the biscuits, the thought of which everyone is secretly invoking to get them through the next godforsaken minutes of whatever this session's theme is while your ass is slowly sanded by the minute demon kitchen scourers. Is the speaker done yet? Check watch under cover of useless handout ...

Oh, how I hate conferences. Pray for me.

Bite me

Metaphors are your basic life-management strategy for Xtin, but I'm having a lot of trouble right now with an intrusive one involving inanimate objects having teeth. Especially things which are benign or even welcoming. Like a sofa or a shrub in blossom or my favourite battered Gap hoodie. They're all ... fanged. Like the everyday comfort of my life wants to rip off my arm.

I'm an academic, right? One of those thinking types. Gotta have my writing implements handy. I like mechanical pencils, and black fine-tipped liners, and also a certain kind of liquid ink pen that WH Smith creatively calls a Handwriter. I keep these three in a bushed steel pen case which is one of those small objects that never ceases to give you a tiny, almost unnoticeable charge of delight and comfort whenever you handle it. It has rounded corners and is satisfyingly like a flattened, double-ended bullet, and inside my three scribble-enablers sit thoughtfully together like they know where they live and think it's a really good school district.

I love my handbag, too. I bought it for myself before I went to give a Big Serious Talk at A University North of Here, and some retail therapy was required to calm me the fuck down. It worked a dream. Great bag. Fabulous lining and squishy and waterproof and beautiful and containing just enough pockets but not the kind of ramified multi-multi-multi-slot/pocket/division system which means that everything essential always lives in some close possible universe rather than actually in your bag.

It closes by means of two leather-covered magnets. So lately, when I reach into my bag to get the pen case, my bag tries to stop me by grabbing my hand with its big toothy maw, like a dog tugging on a sneaker that it is Not Going To Let You Have Under Any Circumstances. I suddenly see its rows and rows of pointy little gnashers keen on digestion of my digits. Don't tell me that my pen case is just stuck to the magnets. My accessories are trying to get me.

Handbag dentata. Just what I needed.

Monday, July 02, 2007

More cowbell

Pluvialis and I went down to the Royal Festival Hall last night to see Cornelius, with support by Matmos.

Pluvialis' brother bought the tickets, a box high to the left of the stage. He couldn't make it, because he was stranded in Glasgow after the nuts with the flaming jeep got the airport shut down. Which was completely surreal and oddly congruent, because there was something unearthly about the whole evening. London still awes me, and the afternoon light glanced off the paving at South Bank like powdered chalk, overexposing everything like filmmakers signal flashback. Gormley figures stood high in the rooftops and I thought of the angels in March.

We ate posh salads in boxes and a supernaturally excellent chocolate brownie, collapsed in the middle and shaped like a UFO, cracked around the edges and making me hum the Close Encounters five-tone. We sat in a box like a sleigh, the more so for its red leatherette furnishings -- opposite, the royal box, quilted and crested and looking fitter for Saint Nick than HRM. A crowd with a bizarrely high geek-chic quotient milled about below. Hundreds of crisp white Ted Baker shirts and pairs of tiny oblong spectacles in boiled confectionary colours and chicks in flat maryjanes with witty patterns on them.

Of course, their echelons of geekitude had nothing on Matmos, who sounded like all these people wish the language of their thought sounded, if it were funnier, smarter and angrier, and able to take itself both a hell of a lot more seriously and a hell of a lot less. Flowerpots and xylophones and maraca-type things the size of table tennis balls. Six keyboards and five laptops and guitars with cello bows resting against them. Opera libretto, read aloud. A rack of black things with lights and slides and buttons, and an extraordinary pocket-sized screen that looked for all the world like it was doing a tiny radar sweep in red LED. Another rack of black things, and another, trailing yards of liquorice-strap cabling. A whiplash collection of hi-and-lo-tech, everything humming with mysterious purpose. One dude in an emerald green smoking jacket who grooved while he stroked the MacBook touchpads, and another one who stayed deadly, deadly still, except when cha-cha-chaing with the tiny maracas held delicately in his hands, precisely upright at his keyboard like a meerkat riffing while he looks out for a hawk. They had a video backdrop with imagery of a kind of studied amateurishness that made me feel like I was in Gene Wilder's sugar boat. Well, really it was Willy Wonka's boat, I suppose, but only Wilder could have made it that bloody terrifying. It was brilliant. Beautiful, and hilarious, and brave, and brilliant.

We got back from the interval to watch a bunch of roadies from Tokyo looking like Issey Miyake meets the Beastie Boys circa 1986, and basically being so cool their Converse were leaving little frosted patterns on the stage. I realise I'm getting hung up on the coolness factor here. But it was completely transcendent -- it was utterly through the looking glass, alternate reality, inside-the-anime transportation experience. I felt like the Lawnmower Man, accidentally tapped into the cool.

Cornelius were dressed in grey banker's shirts with white, white cuffs and collars and white trainers, and the lead singer added a bowler. They were dry ice to the roadies' frost. The visual realisation was absolutely awesome, like nothing I've ever seen before -- neither making the live music redundant, nor being a screen-saverish backdrop, but picking up the in-the-flesh band, the in-the-flesh crowd, and putting them in the cathode ray tube -- Hey! I'm Inside the TV! Paint and stop-motion and computer animation, anime and Loony Tunes, pop-culture pastiche pastiched with itself, with a startling awareness both of how to be alienating and dislocating and inclusive and locating, like a muppet sofa with fangs. It was creepy and hilarious and gorgeous and full of in-jokes and out-jokes, which is the sort of humour that you know has context but you don't know what it is, dressed effortlessly and unapologetically with loveliness which brought you so close and so far, like elastic at its furthest extent, like the print of a shoe you own yourself seen on a wet pavement in the morning, and you feel a strangely near friendliness for the person who passed by in your shoes.

And sugar cubes build steps for teaspoons.