Thursday, August 30, 2007

Once upon a time

Once upon a time there was an accident-prone bumblebee. She made origami cranes and was heartily sick of "bumble" puns. She wore scuffed purple knee-pads she'd inherited from a friend who was into skating. The kneepads were kind of embarrassing, but most of the time she was alone, and it saved on bruises to her fuzzy black knees.

The way she saw the world tended to make everything more than it was. She'd get overwhelmed and bump into things. She preferred the small exact folds in her tiny coloured squares of paper, plain and patterned, covered with four-petaled flowers or stripes or diamonds, which were suddenly birds. One fold at a time.

When she looked around her house, she saw many more cranes than there really were, a folded faceted flock of thousands. She smiled.

Moral: for the bruises, wear knee-pads. Otherwise, your eyes are fine.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Tuesday haiku

Coffee, idiom
Gutter-washed unreacted
crossfire shuriken

Monday, August 27, 2007

Bank holiday

This is my coffeemaker spouting espresso deliciousness onto a demerara sugar cube. I love watching the coffee.

Everywhere has its own little microcosm of aphorisms and proverbs unique to it. Cambridge has one made up or mangled from bits of Shakespeare or lines of poetry or something from film noir via Zizek. A well-thumbed favourite is Cornford's line on Brooke: "Magnificently unprepared/ For the long littleness of life."

In my case, on the contrary. I'm terribly, tragically equipped for the long littleness. Moment with no -ous. Time passes like an egg scrambling gently in the pan with nothing but an absent-minded wooden spoon and a dab of butter. I have no idea where the days go. People ask what I've been up to, and the answer, to the nearest reasonable approximation, is nothing. Nothing other than thinking some thoughts and conversing some conversations and having a bath and eating noodles and enjoying minor new-word discoveries and layering up rainbowed strata of trivia from Wikipedia. World history and species designations and celebrity babies like one of those souvenir bottles with coloured stripes of sand in it.

Good afternoon, all you little. Pull up a chair.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Pluvialis is sitting outside in her garden in tangle of sunshine and anonymous overgrowth. She is smoking her preferred Camel light out of the corner of her mouth while she makes a lure for the goshawk by stitching a rabbit pelt over a shooting dog's retrieval dummy, both of which she bought this morning on our visit to Quy Country Fair. She sews with black linen leatherwork thread, fine and powerful like a garrotte. She arranges the tail puff, as though primping the petticoats under a bridesmaid's dress.

I don't have my camera.

There is no hope for me in the Boy Scouts.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

London palling

Jane's door in London. A brilliant, chipped red signal of welcome in Islington. When first I saw it, I pressed my forehead against it like the pope kissing the tarmac, and not just because I have a thing for doors.

It was 9.30PM and I was Dead Woman Walking on a mixture of railway misinformation, Tube line closures and rain. Rain, especially, on the outside of the bus to which I was forced to resort, rain psychotropically smearing the brightly lit Saturday evening of London into an unparseable splodge of coloured chalk washed down the gutter; rain on the coats of everyone inside the bus, warmed into fog and plastered onto the windows, smokescreening the splodge into pastel shades of absolutely nothing you could pick out in the fucking A-Z, let me tell you.

A fabulously beautiful punk woman sat opposite me in black 20-ups, her hair standing precisely in tall and extremely acute eletric blue triangles, tapering into navy at the tip, like a spray of bunsen flames. She had bus-veteran mien. She'd know where the bus was on this route at any given moment blindfolded and with all the windows blacked out. A flicker of wry pity passed through her pink-shadowed eyes watching my nervous pomeranian-style angling and wuffling trying to work out where the hell we are. On her denims was a little yellow badge with the silhouette of a CCTV camera on it. Caption: OBEY.

By a miracle, or perhaps her milisecond of broadcast goodwill, I got off at the right stop, into the sheeting deluge. The wet world is friends with me and my map again. But not with my red chucks. I navigate with damp feet and my brown paper package safe in my woefully middle-class M&S bag for life. And through the curtain of cold asphalty droplets ...

Jane saw travel-trauma in my eyes. I drank red wine until my shoes dried out.

Next time, I'm wearing big, black shoes. And taking a big, black cab.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Today, I put the head of a day-old cockerel on top of a glove, held out my fist to a goshawk standing on another fist, and whistled.

Sudden, startlingly massive view of cream-and-chocolate barring, arched triangles of vintage television. Curious split-second of being in cross-hairs arced from nostrils. Then pow, like shaking hands with a grappling hook.

A delicate talon pronged through chick-eyeball. Thoughtful, fastidious consumption of same. Beak clicks, so close to lip-smacking you swear she has a pair. Something tempting offered on the other side of the room. Pow! Gone, like recoil or missing a step at the bottom of the stairs.

Here's what this was: cool.

Here's what you don't want to do: anything else, ever again.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Tuesday haiku

Once a baby twice
afferent, a hand afloat
brother, where art thou

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Once upon a time

Not so long ago, there was a stick insect. She was very beautiful --- the absolute spit of a twig. No insectivore gave her even a first glance, let alone a second one.

The stick insect liked romance novels and spent her weekends at the shooting range improving her accuracy. She figured that it was best to be prepared. She was a really terrible shot, but she daydreamed about taking out a predatory bird or two, SWAT-style.

But mostly, she made like a piece of wood. She was great at it. She had the most sophisticated anti-bird system in the world. To realise her dream, she'd have to go out to the end of the branch wearing a caterpillar hat and make like an edible cheerleader.

But she didn't. She made like a stick, and dreamed of riot shields and hand signals and automatic weaponry. Perfect.

Moral: sometimes life is dreaming and staying alive.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Tied up with string, 2

I wrapped my blog. Now for some crisp apple strudel!

Tied up with string

Tomorrow I am going to a party celebrating my dear friend Jane's birthday. With a side of housewarming. She is a person of wild and extraordinary talents, hooded blue eyes like coupons cut out of estuary water, and a kind of gulfstream system of loves and loyalties that make her never a dull moment. She is a playwright --- wonderful, wonderful word, even among all those appellations with which I am so in love.

This is my gift, wrapped up in my favourite brown paper and cotton string. I am holding it right now, because it is comforting, and today I have been squashed like a bug by someone whose mission it was to make me feel squashed like a bug. And, damn it all to hell, they managed it. Bug. Squashed. Me: 0. Evil squashing waste of my time: 1.

In spite of my enduring love for the paper and string, the best part of wrapping the gift is the fat white pencil I have for writing on the black tag. The pencil is from that mecca of stationery porn, Ordning&Reda, which is to notebooks and paper what Krispy Kreme is to donuts. And don't even get me started on the boxes. Which are expensive. Well, no, not really, except that I want them en masse. The thought of buying a lone instance of their black linen-covered medium box makes me think of a black bear cub alone in the snow. In the shops I pick them up and hold them fondly before putting them back on the shelf in the lovely matching-but-slightly-mismatching stack to which they so rightly belong. In my dreams, I have a room, or perhaps just a wall, which looks just like an archive. A ranked and filed flock of boxes, everything contentedly under a lid.

The white pencil is stout and vaguely anarchic. Ur-paper is white, erasers are white, correction fluid is white, the empty PhotoShop window is white. It is the un-pencil. You could unwrite something, white it out, blank it, bleach it. Goodbye, words! Or you could write on something black, something dark and unforgiving. And like magic, a message.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Inspired by a wonderful shot at Scrivenings, this is my first day of school. It is February, 1978, and I am four years old.

I am so tiny. I know it, even then. Everyone is taller than me, even my baby brother, who is two and a half. My miniaturity is such that all the other school blazers--even the smallest of the small ones--have three buttons, but mine only has two. My wee checked dress, light as air in cotton and polyester for the Australian summer, balloons at the bottom with its inch-upon-inch load of hemmed-up fabric. I long for something in the shot to provide some contrast for the enormous piece of luggage in my hand, the smallest schoolbag they had.

I remember the photograph being taken. We are in the tiny paved courtyard in the front of my house, through the French windows into the sitting room where there are a pair of scratchy brown couches that my mother covered with a pale lemon-coloured sheet for me when I had the chicken pox, and a tiny little bar behind a special door underneath the record player. It opens down, unlike any of the other doors in the world, and it has two tiny brass struts which pop out and hold the door straight out like a table, where my dad puts glasses and pours whiskey. I love the special door. The courtyard is behind the high white wall that is at the front of the house, where the number is, but not where the front door is. Our house is on a corner, and the street where we are numbered is not the street where the door is. Another wonderful and mysterious thing about our house, not like other houses. Another special door. It will take me many years of adulthood to get out of the habit of adding door-finding instructions to my address.

I fizz with nerves. I am completely, completely overwhelmed by the importance of what is happening. Especially the little forest green blazer, which is crispy and flat and stiff-fuzzy on the outside and has silky material inside it and it has buttons where everything before seemed to have zippers or nothing at all. Mum stands a little away, and her expression and the camera tell me more things about what is happening, her mobile eyebrows and crooked smile speaking of the need to capture me, because this is not the everyday, it is a part of the story that must be written down, like the appearance of a magical creature or the discovery of another door.

What I remember most vividly is the bag. It is so big, and it has two handles, and my hands are tiny, tiny, and my fingers are being squished together in a bunch from holding it. I look down at my fingers, because I hate this sensation. I still hate this sensation. Thirty years later I see my fingers, impossbly tiny, and I am back on the paving, and I can feel that I am not going to put the bag down, even though I want to rearrange my fingers, because mum wants me to hold it for the photo.

So I look away from my fingers, and up at her. I feel the bag lean against my knee, cool and vinylly. She crouches to get in line with me, folding up gracefully, as she always does, and I see her lovely, angular, precise pianist's hands prop the camera delicately at the edges as though it is already a negative.

I am so scared. Everything is so important. What if I don't find the right doors?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


So yesterday, when I said "The next number in the sequence is ... ", I was being all metaphorically rhetorical, you know.

But just in case you were wondering, this morning I was reminded that the answer is: my mother.

[sound of the heads of one million thirty-something women, exploding]

Monday, August 13, 2007

Once upon a time

Once there was a crab who lived under a rock, thinking. The rock was flattish and shaped a bit like a big stony dinner plate. It had a couple of barnacles on it and a flea-circus style population of tiny invertebrates of one sort or another.

The crab liked it under the rock. It was dark and salty.

Was it better under the rock? Perhaps there was a whole new world out under the sky, or in the many tiny pools bunted with bubbly seaweed and anemones nearby. On the other hand, she wasn't a crispy sun-dried crab up on the beach like the ones coasted up on the tide.

She blinked an eye on a stalk. And then she blinked another eye on a stalk. She watched some pretty silica fragments run through a crack in the rock like a tiny marine lava lamp. She clicked a claw. Mmmm, watery, she thought.

Moral: sometimes, you are your shell.


Yesterday I was leafing through one or other of the tree-nemesis spectacular of supplementary components to the Sunday newspaper. I think I may have been trying to do an ickle-wee crossword which I can never do. This is probably because it is too difficult for my weakling sabbath cognitive skills, but I always feel like it is because the damn thing is too ickle and my mind can't think of words in that point-size.

Anyway the rest of the page was short reviews of mystery fiction. The critic liked the things on offer, because they worked with the genre creatively, and because they did that other apparently desirable thing, which is to say something perspicuous or new or otherwise not neuron-fryingly banal about the human condition.

I hate this phrase because of course it comes under the heading of neuron-fryingly banal itself. But sure, some insight is always good. Or some amusement, or the poignant thrill of recognition, or whatever else we traditionally get from some goodly observations about What It Is To Be Alive, or similar tasty cliché.

But sometimes it is a paradox, no? Ought the incisive reflection upon how boring and repetitive and pre-re-experienced being alive sometimes is actually reflect? Actually be as boring as the experience it is trying to invoke? My life involves serried ranks of hackneyed whines which already litter the blogosphere. It is hard to finish a dissertation. I worry about my value. I am lonely. I am sad. I am bored. Students are stupid. Academics are both baroque and petty in their intrigues in pursuit of meaningless indications of status. Or tenure. I am not sure what it is all for. I have issues with procrastination. I am distracted by heartbreak. I lack the ambition and ruthlessness which everyone else seems to have. I feel displaced. Blah blah. The next number in the sequence is ...

You could develop a little utility to write blog posts like this. And then you could take over the world by frying everyone's neurons with a dirty banality bomb. Perhaps this is the master plan.

The moral of the story is: graduate students are the enemy. Read mystery novels.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

On the road, 2

Friday, 8AM

We scramble out of the cheapass futurism and warped windowframe must of the hotel as early as we can and make for the harbour, where Pluvialis will be meeting The Man with The Gos off the ferry.

We kill time. Or Stranraer kills it, I can't tell. Pluvialis smokes distractedly. Men with clippered haircuts wait in cars with things on the rear-vision mirrors, breakfasting from brightly coloured aluminium and heat-sealed plastic. A cormorant fishes among the boats, disappearing prehistoric ninja-style in the barest hint of concentric ripples. Black-headed gulls snooze and preen sleepily on tubular steel, some smudgy in winter plumage, some still sleekly balaclavaed. Ashy juvenile herring gulls coast massively overhead with parents white like optical brighteners in detergent.

I am absent and gummy for lack of sleep. I sit in the car while Pluvialis alternately wanders the waterfront and leans against the car, sprung tight with anticipation and the seismic weirdness that has been everywhere since we got here. I lean my head against the car window. There is a tap at it, and a spare man ten years younger than me with eyes that skitter and tobacco smoke shadows under his cheekbones wants £2 for the bus to Dumfries. He wouldn't ask, but his grandmother you see ...

He has a broad, lilting voice like singing or a child. He can't understand my accent. I break his long familiarity with the cadence of these exchanges and his face comes oddly alive from its almost graven, sooty impassivity. With a twinge of a surprising mixture of embarrassment and amusement I realise that he is annoyed. How dare I be difficult to understand! I look at him and raise my eyebrows in the universal language of fuck off. He plants his hands in his pockets and leaves, disconcerted.

The Man With the Gos arrives, enormous box in each hand. He and Pluvialis get the hawks out for a look on the waterfront. The air fills again with the thundering low thrum of the tacit. They turn their heads and speak to the hawks and their hands move and their gazes fix suddenly like catching sight of a lost contact lens, and what I know is happening becomes a single free electron on the enormous charged sphere of what is actually happening.

She chooses. The hawk goes back into the box.

We get into the car and drive 400 miles. We rig shade and open and shut windows and crank the AC up and down like an AI-governed climate control system on speed. Every now and then there is a rustle and a thump from the box and each time I am overcome with relief. At the services 25 miles from Scotch Corner, I eat a Solero and Pluvialis has a cigarette. I contort myself like a buttonhook to get a glimpse through the slit at the bottom of the box. A pair of yellow feet, planted like she means it, and perpectively enlongated feathery flanks like ermine. Sigh of relief. We get back to Cambridge like painted wood stripped with steam and overexcitement. Pluvialis takes the bird home.

I don't sleep a wink.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

On the road, 1

Thursday, 8PM

We're at the hotel. Pluvialis is making some temporary jesses, which she doesn't actually need, but we don't know that yet. She's forgotten her ruler, so she's cannibalised the frosted glass bedside tabletop for a cutting guide. An episode of a cop drama that we've seen before is on the itty TV, and we snicker about our previous predictions about the solution to the lame-duck mystery aspects of the story while calfskin moves between her hands.

The room smells of leather and sweet-and-sour pork we got from the guy down at the Cantonese takeaway with the growly, mellifluous Scottish accent and skater t-shirt. Pluvialis sits at the horrible frosted glass computer table, which matches the hysterical flock of frosted glass everywhere, looking hugely out of place and mismatched by desperate dint of matchiness. She handles leather and grease and scalpels with the thoughtlessly close attention of long familiarity. It is precise like watchmaking but bodily like painting something six feet across -- her arms make semaphore in tiny bursts between fingertipping some small crafty goal which I can't decipher. She uses her teeth. The leather is curled and pulled like ropes of sugar or plaited bread. Expertise and old, old knowings-how condense on the wall and run down the chipped wallpaper.

When she has cut them out, she lets me have one to grease for her, with a delicious-smelling stuff called Ko Cho Line which reminds me of getting new school shoes. I am five years old and allowed to stir the cupcake batter. It is over too quickly. I put furry bright pink dabs onto the skinny damp strip of leather and pull it between my hands over and over. Suddenly it is buttery and springy and I think again of breadmaking, of elastic, yeasty dough. She knots and folds. Holds them up in her new glove, pale yellow like sugar creamed with butter, a gift I bought her at the falconer's fair, the one where the parachutist fell out of the sky.

The light is terrible -- a tiny 40w bulb above our heads in a ludicrous cup-shaped frosted glass shade casting tea-coloured shadows everywhere you need to see. Pluvialis purses and frowns and cocks her head this way and that. I'd say she pushes her hair out of her eyes, but she doesn't -- it falls into her face and she looks right through it. She lines the jesses up next to the leash and the titanium swivel which came in the smallest ziploc bag I'd ever seen.

I go to take a bath, because I am hugely unsettled. Stranraer. I want to leave right away. It may have been the wrong time of day, because the epiphanic golden stain that illuminated our first glimpses of the ocean west of Dumfries is gone, and everything is grey and somehow both faded and bloated. The shop windows are covered with riot-proof steel shutters. The town is like a giant dead fish.

We have been on the road for nearly 400 miles. Just over the border into Scotland I see a raven on the soft verge. I cannot believe it is so big, and then I cannot believe that I cannot believe it, because it was that particular incredulity which made me want to see one at all. For a split-second I am comforted by the fact that knowing I'd be surprised had no impact on the surprise. I worry that I can think myself out of experiences, but I cannot. Not with a raven. It is clockworked like a giant rook, slowed down, stepping the gravel with majesterially impressive black pantaloons.

Everywhere is caterpillared with stone walls which I long to touch, and then long to build, and then long to pilfer a stone from, over and over again. Blackfaced sheep and whitewashed houses and scribbly AM radio as Tandulkar is caught behind in the second test. That won't happen until tomorrow, but time is squashed like a raisin. The motorway services are all the same, which I knew already, but the sameness bears down on me like loss of bloodflow in my toes, tingle-pain and fatigue. We stop at a Little Chef. It is a waiting room in Hell. A Hotel California--Groundhog Day temporal disturbance zings the air over the miasma of sublimed Heinz baked beans and bacon grease. Pluvialis and I hold the wipe-clean menus in front of ourselves like shields for an interminable minute, exchange glances and abandon the table.

The tub in the hotel is hugely long and sunken, and my puffy long-distance-drive toes don't touch the end. The bathroom is an extravaganza of clash. Bubblegum pink shower curtain. Gappy brick-red wannabe-axminster with egg-yolk accents, upon which rests a shaggy baby blue and navy bath mat and matching pedestal mat. The basin side tiled in deco-ish black and white, the recess tiled in mesmerising cream 1" mosaic with a gilding effect. There is pine-scented shower gel in forest green sachets.

There is a faux black marble false wall in the walk-in robe, and a nine-foot padded chocolate brown suedette headboard above the twin beds. To match the chocolate brown suedette roman blind, you understand.

The water is faintly coloured, as though someone dipped a teabag in it for half a minute. Or like the water in the glass where the jesses were soaked. Tannins. Peat water, says Pluvialis.
A bath in your basic whisky ingredients, she adds.

I don't sleep a wink.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Road trip

Pluvialis and I are off into the wild blue [northern] yonder to pick up the goshawk. And tour the wonders of motorway service station cuisine. Yay A-roads!

I have yet to eat a teacake with butter in a Little Chef, an experience I consider essential to my ongoing pursuit of Britishness. And I'd better get cracking.

Watch this space for forthcoming photoblogging of intriguing roadside-scapes.


So the sponsored link bar in my gmail account today is luring netizens to a Christian evangelism site with the headline Tithing is Un-Scriptural.


Fang you very much

So I'm still getting serious traffic from the creamy-and-delicious slice of nature kitsch, but for some reason once again known only to Skynet's incipient sentience, I'm now getting a respectable number of walk-throughs from:

Much better.

Singularly appropriate, as well. I was veritably in the proverbial headlights, this morning. I spent 25 minutes on the phone to the Home Office (or more accurately, from, since they called me). My brain went dead and silent. Stay Perfectly Still and The Giant Predator Won't Eat You. Now my basal ganglia are jingling with the rest of their paleolithic programming. Move! Move move move move.

Thank god Pluvialis and I will be on the road tomorrow on The Journey to The Goshawk. For a start, seeing a clawed goblin predator might cause my ganglions to shut down again and I can stop running around like an idiotic and tempting morsel of psychological-prey deliciousness.

I would suck under interrogation. Either that or I'd go into catatonic shock so quickly I'd be the best spy ever.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Poetical histories 3

Poetical Histories No. 3
D S Marriott

Reading this poem is a very strange experience. It's typeset large and fervent, each serif planting its own tiny flag of occupation. The size of the lettering means that the smallest kink in the kerning and lining is obvious, and there is something faintly seasick about the way the text travels. The words themselves are like English translated out of itself and then back ten times, like the lyrics of a very familiar song sung in Portuguese or one's own name seen in a mirror. Someone speaks in the poem, saying something made out of nothing but syntax and words, and we are set afloat by language that is not built for understanding.

It is light and warm inside the poem, and it smells of roast potatoes and wood and the sounds of people talking in the background. The poet likes words like "sequela" and "canticle" and "scansion" but the poem is best when it is not talking this way -- when it is talking of roads and birds, houses and the sea.

My favourite lines are:

The kite flew highly, pleurisy, &
dark dough. & the passageway is
another earth, double handle and
ratchet, to the churning warmth.

I am desperately in love with the ampersand at the beginning of the sentence. I always feel a minute zing of rebellion when I begin a sentence with And, which I do often, and ampersands are like typographical sugar roses -- the decoration that is edible.

The type on the first page is pressed twice as firmly as the rest -- its reverse stands in a faint, nubbly block on the cover. The paper, cream Ingres, is guillotined on every side and there is a single tiny bump to the spine, otherwise what the booksellers call fine. And on the last two pages, my first glimpse of the watermark on the paper -- a crowned lion rampant, holding a little sabre aloft. He looks braced and a little astonished, as though he's been caught sleeping by an assassin. Although his tail is rather nobly and particularly curved for that, perhaps.

Question hour

Good morning, googlers! This week's Sorry I Wasted Your Time, Dude consolation prize to:

am i a wicken

Can't help you there. The only person who truly knows is you. Check for reeds.

Monday, August 06, 2007

100 things

1. I talk very quickly.

2. This used to worry me.

3. Now I figure, keep up.

4. I like birds.

5. But only since I moved to Britain.

6. Go figure.

7. I was born in Australia.

8. I don't miss it like I thought I would.

9. But I do in ways I thought I wouldn't.

10. I'm short, but not so short that people remember it.

11. I have a codependent relationship with my hair.

12. I like typography.

13. I laugh at phrases like "I read a lot."

14. Because people who say that don't.

15. Because people who do don't say that.

16. I'm the sort of person who makes lists of phrases like that.

17. Autumn is my favourite time of year.

18. I don't hunt.

19. I am not opposed to hunting.

20. Bad reasoning about hunting makes me crazy with rage.

21. Bad reasoning about the environment makes me crazy with rage.

22. Bad reasoning typically makes me crazy with rage.

23. Even when it's about something unimportant like metaphysics.

24. I have fervent gender-political views.

25. I'm not vocal about them.

26. Except when someone pisses me off.

27. I think I've surprised some people.

28. I've been in love three times.

29. I've now been celibate about ten times as long as I would previously have claimed was possible.

30. I'm a cynical romantic.

31. I worry that I've chosen things that are too hard because to do easy things is cheating.

32. I worry that I've chosen things that are too easy because I'm lazy.

33. I love boxes.

34. Like, really love them.

35. Especially ones made of Kraft board.

36. I giftwrap using Kraft paper and white cotton string.

37. Brown paper and string. Because ... yes, really.

38. I have the same middle name as my mother.

39. I wish that my middle name was her mother's, instead.

40. I like systems and systematicity of all kinds.

41. But not formal logic or mathematics.

42. Although those talented in those areas impress the hell out of me.

43. I think in big clouds of connections but talk in very straight lines.

44. This can be intimidating.

45. Apparently.

46. I've never been to Japan.

47. I like my Vegemite applied very sparingly.

48. I'm not at all pleased about 29.

49. I like fairytales.

50. Because they're brimming with rage and vengeance and blood.

51. And stuff.

52. I used to wear expensive suits.

53. Now I wear Gap demi-boot-cut.

54. I consider this excellent progress.

55. If I think about leaving England, my heart breaks.

56. I hate being an expat.

57. In my dreams I live in an Arts and Crafts house.

58. I'd love to to write criticism for a literary paper.

59. I live around some very, very intelligent people.

60. And two hundred metric assloads of insecurity.

61. This can be very trying.

62. The tradeoff is good.

63. I can't draw.

64. Sometimes, I can.

65. I drink a lot of coffee.

66. I like it strong, sweet and milky.

67. Which sort of embarrasses me.

68. I like scotch neat or with one cube of ice.

69. I quote a lot of molesworth.

70. And Buffy.

71. And Douglas Adams.

72. And Star Wars.

73. I automatically assume that anyone with a gap in their knowledge of any part of the original Star Wars oeuvre is culturally ignorant.

74. That's not reasonable.

75. I have never bitten my nails.

76. I like red objects.

77. But my favourite colour is green.

78. I miss my brother every single damn day.

79. I am annoyingly evangelist about LaTeX.

80. I find exceptional competence of almost any description ridiculously hot.

81. I'm woefully overeducated.

82. I'm woefully undereducated.

83. I'm woefully dilettanteish.

84. I don't know whether or not I'm afraid of being by myself.

85. I really like to sleep.

86. P G Wodehouse makes me laugh even if I have spent the entire day weeping in the bathtub.

87. There was no religion in my upbringing.

88. But there was a bunch of other class-related crap I could have done without.

89. My parents believed in education.

90. Go figure.

91. The first boy I kissed tasted like coffee.

92. It's still all about the kiss.

93. For many years, I had bed linen in all different patterns and colours. Especially stripes.

94. My sheets have been plain white for five years.

95. Words are my friends.

96. Along with some people.

97. I have engraved writing paper.

98. This makes me feel at home.

99. I am often lonely.

100. I always use a pencil. Except for crosswords.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Roots 3

Alfred, Lord Nemesis

My maternal grandfather, the one married to this beauty, his lifelong love, was an engineer. He loved engines and gadgets and tinkering and building. His hands were never grimy or oily unless they were actually handling the parts of something. The rest of the time they were soft and warm and square and dry, like folded brown paper in the sun. He had dark, iron-coloured hair side-parted like a cartesian axis and smelling so comfortingly and deliciously of his hair tonic. In my mother's family (and mine) Christmas stockings were hung for everyone, no matter how old. My mother and grandmother bemoaned, by tradition, the difficulty of stuffing one for my grandfather. He was temperamentally immune to the ribbon-and-trinket excitement of Christmas. He had crumply, alert blue eyes that could be liquid or pebbly, depending on what he was thinking. When I was about eight, we sat together on one of the dining room chairs. They each had a tapestry seat stitched by my grandmother with a petit-point eagle in the centre. The windows had long, moss-coloured velvet curtains, and the sun was shafting between them onto the table, illuminating the airborne dust. My grandfather was telling me about atoms. "Do you see these?" he said, casting a shadow through the motes and onto the french polish with the cuff of his coat. "If an atom was standing in front of one of these, it would be like the most enormous skyscraper the atom had ever seen!"

One Christmas, my mother put a tiny roll of very small-gauge copper wire into the toe of my grandfather's stocking. No eight-year-old with a new bicycle lit up that brightly. He coiled and uncoiled the little roll like miniature tinsel on his tree-hands. For months afterwards, each time we saw him he'd tell us where a part of it had been put to use. I imagined tiny coppery fragments glinting secretly everywhere. My mother still laughs that the best present she ever gave her father was an impulse buy for seventy-five cents.

Actually, he wasn't really an engineer, because poetry made no sense to him.

He started the degree. They'd made special allowance for him, because he'd failed English in his final year at school, and a pass was mandatory to attend university. But he had a giant geeky brain full of numbers and diagrams, so they told him he could start reading for his degree on the condition that he get a pass in English that year.

My grandmother tutored him. (She was also reading for a degree, in English, a very unusual happenstance down to my very unusual great-grandfather, more about whom in some other post). But he failed again that first year. But since he was an exhibitioner in physics, he was allowed to stay on for the second year.

It was the Tennyson, they said ever afterwards. Patiently, and every night (or so the family story goes), my grandmother would read from the dog-eared Everyman edition that's next to the line of Austen in my bookshelf. But ...

At this point in the story my grandfather would raise his spare, dark brows and purse his lips, like a negative reverse-out of the expression he made when he was working on a machine. He'd hold up his lined, soft palms with a matte gleam on them like a well-loved paperback, and he'd shrug theatrically. Or as theatrically as my grandfather ever got, which wasn't very at all, which just made it that much funnier.

We'd all laugh, and his eyes would go crinkly and pebbly and then liquid. They kicked him out after the second time he failed, so he never got his degree.

He was the first person to tell me that a light year was something about how far, not something about how long. And I still see atoms gobsmacked at the dust.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous

or, Lurkers, I Love Thee

I'm not especially attached to my anonymity here. It seems to me both too much trouble and oddly self-aggrandizing to be too obsessive about precisely how many minutes with one's blog, one's links and the assistance of google would lead the assiduous reader to the details of your pension plan. Like most of the democratic industrialised world, I'm counting on my extreme and unrelenting dullness to protect me from anything really egregious.

The strange, one-way-perspexy pseudo-privacy of the electronic. Of course there is a seductively impervious, plastic feel to the safety of solitude with the keys under one's fingers. Waxy like a waxwork that never looks quite like Prince William. Scrutiny is not his friend. Reality is the split-second glance.

Still. One of my lurkers, someone I know in this, the much pithier and weirder real world with different Bayesian priors, is searching my blog for himself. By name. Good heavens, dear boy, I do not even refer to myself by name! Sure, it might not be neurosurgery to unearth same with a little intelligent data-mining, but there's laissez-faire and then there's My Supervisor Can Use Google Too, You Know.

You wanna pseudonym?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Cave shadows

Sometimes, people make lists of things they've never done. Or lists of things they should do before they die.

My world is extremely densely populated with imaginings of all sorts. A suitably hackneyed phrase is "rich fantasy life", but this mischaracterises the case fairly drastically. Sometimes my head hosts narrative-style wish-fulfilment. But mostly it just paints pictures. Or scrolls through photo-real sandwiches to find out what I want for lunch.

Some things make such systematic and long-standing appearances in my mind that it represents an effort of will -- a tiny, nano-erg fly wing-flap of an effort, but an effort nonetheless -- to recall that I have never done them. I would not write them on a list of things I need to do before I die.

One of these things is discharged a firearm.

How interesting. Particularly since I am perfectly certain I have not the slightest idea what that would really be like.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


Some poetry deserves no comment because it would waste time you could spend doing other things. Other poetry deserves no comment because it would waste time you could spend reading
the poem.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


So, for those of you who do not, like sane people, track test cricket as though your lives depended on it, India just crushed England by seven wickets in the second Test.

No, wait. I'm here about the jelly beans. When India was in to bat on Sunday, someone was chucking jellybeans surreptitiously onto the pitch in front of Zaheer Kahn. This has caused somewhat of a kerfuffle and a great deal of pretty hilarious radio call-in op-eddish material.

I must confess that I think sledge-by-jellybean is hilarious. But I am absolutely gobsmacked by a quote that, so far as I can see, has passed with no comment, perhaps because it doesn't need it. Of the incident, English batsman Paul Collingwood purportedly said:

“Zaheer wasn’t too pleased. I think he prefers blue jelly beans to the pink ones.”


Was that a homophobic slur disguised in a jellybean?

Am I being too subtle here? Maybe it's just me ...