"Muuuuuum. What does Brother #1 want for Christmas?"
"Oh, I don't know. Get him a voucher or something."
"That's so impersonal. He's my brother. I want to get him a present I thought about."
"He'd like a voucher."
"Oh, yeah, he can treasure it for years to come. Oooh! Maybe he'll frame it!"
"Anyway, why haven't you done your Christmas shopping yet?"
"Leaving it till Saturday before I meet Dad."
"You know? I get the train to the city in the morning, meet Dad and Brother #2 in the afternoon, we all drive home together in the evening, so I can go to my work Christmas night out on Friday and we don't all have to spend ages sorting out transport back to you? Anyway, Brother #1 always gets me something nice, so I thought I'd get him something good from the city."
"Well. Brother #1 bought a chair on eBay, except it's collection only and it's forty miles north of you, and that's a six hundred mile round trip for him, so what's going to happen is: your dad's going to drive up on Friday, get the chair, take it to your house, stay overnight, then leave the chair at yours while you both go to the city and help Brother #2 pack, and maybe you could help them with their Christmas shopping because you know what they're like, and then he'll pick the chair up when he drops off your brother and all his guitar stuff in January. Is that going to be a problem with your plans?"
"Can I speak to Brother #1, please?"
Clunk, shout, rustle.
"Jenny? Hi."
Postgraduate Office
A lonely, narrow room, with desks arranged in rows that remind you of battery farming. Yellowing printouts of Piled Higher and Deeper peel from the walls, and in the distance you can hear the faint sound of undergraduate feet tramping into an exam room.

There is an endless stack of essays in front of you.

>pick up stack
You really don't want to do that.

>make coffee
You move towards the other end of the office, view the Thing growing out of the kettle, and scuttle back to the safety of your desk.

>look at stack
It's not getting any smaller.

>pick up essay
You lift one essay off the pile.

>read essay
With trepidation, you lift aside the cover sheet. Suddenly, the world around you seems to melt away...

You are in a maze of twisty little paragraphs, all alike. The path ahead of you is littered with sentence fragments, left broken and twitching at your feet as their pathetic spaniel eyes implore you to put them out of their misery. Dangling modifiers loop happily through the branches overhead. In the distance, that sound of undergraduate feet has turned into a heavy, erratic thwump - swoop - THWUMP you recognise immediately - it's a badly-indented long quotation, and it's coming closer... )
1.12am, marking undergraduate essays.

Housemate:     'Language is a catalyst for Macbeth's actions.' Yes/no?
Me:                     No. Yes. Wait, whose language?
Housemate:     Just language, in general.
Me:                     It would have taken the witches a long bloody time to come up with those prophecies without it, I suppose.
Housemate:      Ha. Charades?
Me:                     Hail, Macbeth!
Housemate:     *waves*
Me:                     That shall be king hereafter!
Housemate:      *mimes a crown*
Me:                     How would you do 'Thane of Cawdor'?
Housemate:      First word...
Me:                     ...sounds like...
Housemate:      *grips side in mock-agony, slumps onto table*
Me:                     Glamis?
Housemate:      Sounds like...
Me:                     *flails arms in air*
Housemate:      Imagine how long it would take to get through Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane.
Me:                     Well, you could sort of... like this...
Housemate:      That's not Birnam Wood. That's Walk Like an Egyptian. 'Fear not, Macbeth, till the Bangles come to Dunsinane!'

(no subject)

Thursday, 24 August 2006 13:17
I set my alarm for 7.05 when I'm writing. This is not because I'll ever get anything done at 7.05, but because writing does something to my head that makes me believe I can, despite a) knowing I've been up until 1.30 writing anyway (see! see! I work! I do!), and b) knowing that I haven't been able to Do Mornings since I was eight.

To prove that my brain is not in a thinking stage at 7.05, here is what I did this morning:

- Woke up
- Got up, tripped over dog, went downstairs
- Got pair of socks out of dryer
- Went back upstairs
- Put socks under pillow
- Went back to sleep.

I do not know why.

People, don't set your alarm for 7.05. It makes you believe in the Sock Fairy.
eye_of_a_cat: (River)
Today I got to watch a video titled Why Your Back Hurts, You Incompetent Whining Excuse For A Biped (caution: this might not have been its exact name), in which a chirpy American man with a Muzak soundtrack recycled every other health-and-safety video that talks about how not to hurt your back, only this was for people who already had hurt their backs, and needed to be shamed.

That's an exaggeration, but it's not much of one. All right, yes, I'll concede that lots of back problems are avoidable, but must we take quite such a leap from there into "and if you ate properly and got some exercise and weren't stressed and sat up straight like your mother always told you, you'd be fine, puny weakling"? (And God help you if you smoke - your spine is probably crumbling away to dust even now.) The people behind this video must be in heaven whenever a family member stubs a toe. "What's that, sweetheart? You're hopping around the kitchen yelping with pain and dripping blood from your newly-mangled limb? Well, you know, people who make the effort to live healthier lifestyles often find they become much better at looking where they're going!"

My own back is feeling much improved after a few months of physiotherapy, although it's still whining that it never expected to have to do so bloody much physiotherapy (and it certainly didn't expect that every relevant muscle would be made to join in). It's been iffy - this, I believe, is the appropriate medical term - since I was about nineteen, thanks in large part to working in several nursing homes; care work has one of the highest rates of back injury by profession. Care assistants, the bulk of nursing home staff, do a lot of lifting and carrying heavy loads, and don't find health-and-safety videos on how to lift a medium-sized, medium-weight cardboard box much use when they need to lift a confused, frail and heavy eighty-year-old woman. Specialised lifting-and-handling training is mostly useless, and exists mainly to cover nursing homes against legal action from injured patients or staff; I've spent six hours sitting through a session - with handouts! - that listed all the lifts you shouldn't use, and not a single one that you should. (When someone else pointed this out to the man in charge, he explained that since old holds and lifts so often turn out to be dangerous, they found it more helpful not to print anything as acceptable 'in case it misleads people later on'. I am not making this up.) Mechanical hoists are handy, but they don't eliminate lifting any more than cars eliminate walking.

Oh, and did I mention that sometimes the person you're lifting will try to punch you in the face? That shifts are ten, twelve hours of very hard, very physical work? That people are so horrified by the very idea of nursing homes that they'll happily think of staff as an army of brutal, ignorant, uncaring monsters rather than separate out the inevitable unpleasant aspects of nursing homes from the unnecessary ones? That relatives who visit once every six months will scream at the staff for that exact same reason? And that you're paid minimum wage for all of this? Because if I didn't, I should have done.
eye_of_a_cat: (River)
I think I just got the Bruce Springsteen thing.

Not, that is, the reason women want to marry him (still puzzling) or the reason he's popular (never puzzling). The Bruce Springsteen Thing is the anger, annoyance, or intermediate level of grumble, that incredibly rich Bruce can sing first-person songs about being poor. I used to scoff and roll my eyes at this on the dual grounds that a) it's unfair to trap people in some bizarre cycle of negative-success, where if his songs about poor people are good enough for people to make them popular then he shouldn't be allowed to sing them, and b) the world does not need any more songs about how existentially horrific it is to be a famous rich white man. (See: Randy Newman's 'It's Lonely At The Top'. See also: What's Wrong With 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road', viz. "you, Elton John, have a plough. That you are going back to.")

Anyway, so. I didn't get the Bruce Springsteen thing until 11.21pm last night, when I was listening to 'Car Wash', in which a woman works a low-wage dead-end job in guess where, and it contained the following lines:

"Well, some day I'll sing in a night club
I'll get a million dollar break
Some handsome man will come here with a contract in his hand
And say 'Catherine, this has all been some mistake.'"

I still stick to my guns re: unfair fame cycle and no more rich-kid angst, but, um. Bruce, draw a line before you get to singing about poor people whose impossible dream of escape involves a multi-million dollar record deal, would you?

(no subject)

Saturday, 17 June 2006 20:10
One day democracy will be abolished and nobody will notice because we're all watching Deal Or No Deal. On every channel, twenty-four hours a day. Transfixed. And we'll have Noel Edmonds as the omnipresent face of the tyrannical new government, which will probably be a Tory government, since we've already learnt to respond to the appearance of blue things by cheering very loudly. And we'll like it.

One day soon. You read it here first.

(But wouldn't that make a great Doctor Who episode?)
You know that party game where someone mentions a news story and everyone else has to explain how it's all the fault of the immigrants/Muslims/feminists/socialists/single mothers/PC Brigade in under eight wildly improbable leaps of logic?

No? Well, okay - what about the one where you and your opponent have to shout 'It's Political Correctness Gone Mad!' in increasingly strident tones until one of you suffocates on your own bloated martyr complex?

You don't know that one either? Well, honestly. Remind me not to come to any parties you're throwing.

Luckily for you, though, you can now experience the full Daily Mail experience - with bonus 'Bring back Thatcher!' chants! - in the comfort of your own home, thanks to BBC News Online's Have Your Say section. Remember, kids: keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times.

Because these people need watching. )

And that, my friends, is the Have Your Say discussion boards. Remember: these people can vote.
eye_of_a_cat: (restart/resume?)
The dog will currently eat her really-tasty-honest dried puppy food if and only if:

- it's coated thickly in Iams Savoury Chicken Sauce
- she can eat it out of someone's hand.

I have a bunch of first-year essays to mark and a nightmarish assessment situation to deal with, and today I spent twenty minutes sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor, my hands covered in mechanically recovered chicken ooze, saying "Would Madam like her next meal to come on a silver tray?"


Saturday, 6 May 2006 17:28
Things not generally found in libraries:

- teams of men in Serious Overalls
- crumbled mortar covering the floor enough to cause interesting crunching sounds underfoot
- power-drills
- Lots And Lots Of Noise
- very large ladders. (Which, come to think of it, should be found in libraries a hell of a lot more often, so I won't have to go hunting for the extra-tall kickstools while people look at me and laugh.)

I weave around the strangeness and find Colleague, who explains that one of the large strip-lights in the roof fell down the night before. Wires, plaster dust, loud crash, everything. And this, it turns out, is due to a construction fault which means that every fifth row of lights could suddenly plummet to the floor at any moment.


Due to imminent threat of squishing, students aren't allowed to get books from the Danger Zone themselves. Which seems like good news, until Colleague repeats himself with the stress on 'themselves.'

"...I'm not going to like this, am I?", I say.

"You can collect your red shirt and tricorder from the office," he says.

Communist pool

Wednesday, 3 May 2006 22:46
To be played at the end of an evening, when you really should be helping tidy up.

#1 - Clear all the yellow balls off the table, leaving only the reds. (Note: this may not work if you're using a US pool table (stripes and solids rather than reds and yellows), in which case, get a snooker table and clear off all non-red balls.)

#2 - There are no teams. Both players work towards the same goal.

#3 - Potting one ball does not grant you an extra shot. Give the cue to the other player, and take your turn.

#4 (Maoist variant) - Potting the cue ball entails a public recantation of wrongs done and thought.

#5 (Maoist variant) - Laughing at the other player missing a really easy shot entails a span of time spent among the workers, learning to live as they do. (Translation - go and pick up the chocolate wrappers the kids left in the kitchen.)

#6 (Stalinist variant) - If you're taking a long time, and the Party's representative is making increasingly tetchy comments about Actually Helping Round Here, it is permissible for errant balls to 'disappear' from the table. They must not be spoken of again.

#7 (Stalinist variant) - If the cue ball is in an inconvient location, it is permissible to airbrush it to another place on the table.

#8 - When both of you decide that cues are the props of the borgeousie, all balls must be potted by hand.

You have nothing to lose but your chalk.


Thursday, 27 April 2006 00:57
Kakodaimon asked questions... )

eta: And I forgot the second part of the meme. If anyone wants me to ask them five questions, leave a comment below.
[SCENE: Small, suburban house on the Pleistocene savannah, maybe a million years ago. Looks suspiciously like somewhere in mid-twentieth-century America. There may be white picket fences. ANCESTRAL WOMAN, dressed in a fetching floral summer dress, is doing some ironing. The playful voices of ANCESTRAL BOY and ANCESTRAL GIRL drift through from outside. Enter ANCESTRAL MAN, stage left.]

ANCESTRAL MAN: Hi, honey, I'm home.

ANCESTRAL WOMAN: And about time! These kids are driving me up the wall. I'd have kicked them out to play earlier, but, well, you know what the lions are like at this time of year. And that two-faced bitch from the watering hole was gossiping about my new flint hair curlers again, and -

ANCESTRAL MAN: Okay! Enough! I get it! [He takes off his jacket and loosens his tie.] I've had a hard day too, you know. At least you're lucky enough to live in a society where men do all the providing and women raise the kids. Just don't ask me about mammoth, okay?

ANCESTRAL WOMAN: ...the hell were you hunting mammoth?

ANCESTRAL MAN: Because I Am A Mighty Hunter, and it sounds so much cooler than hunting voles.

Some thoughts on evolutionary psychology. )

Go Ask Alice

Tuesday, 21 February 2006 00:19
My house is owned by my housemate's parents. Sometimes they come here to visit their daughter, and sometimes they come here to do landlordy stuff. These things do not go well together.

And that's MY DAMN GERANIUM. )

Otherwise, I'm exhausted from a lack of sleep and a lot of walking, and aching in muscles I didn't know I had from playing dodgeball and stick-in-the-mud with a bunch of five-year-olds. But it was a good, happy weekend. I've been worrying a lot about deadlines and teaching recently, feeling completely incapable of balancing all the things I'm supposed to do, and really I should have cancelled going to Saturday's party and spent the time working. Or at least, gone and then left early. Or at least, gone and stayed over and then left first thing the next morning.

At least, that would have been sensible. But I couldn't stand going back to all the things I'm worried about, and the friend who's already met the geranium very good, very calming person to be near, so I spent the rest of the weekend with him: playing games with little kids, kneeling on stone, being introduced to people who like me before they've met me because of whatever description they've heard. I did no work at all, forgot to worry about it, and then both made my chapter deadline and taught two wonderfully successful classes this morning. Apart from the geranium, I'm on top of the world.

(no subject)

Tuesday, 31 January 2006 00:46
We took the dog for a walk in the freezing fog a couple of hours ago. On the way home, she spotted an Interesting Shape on the road and decided to go over and say hi. So we said "Come on, it's not that interesting," but she insisted.

It was a pair of large, furry gorilla slippers, and a study guide to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.

The dog wins.

Reference only

Tuesday, 24 January 2006 19:28
The scene: Lending desk, smallish academic library. Saturday afternoon.

Things are reasonably quiet and peaceful as MAN IN A HURRY enters, stage left. He's got an sad-looking empty bag slung over one shoulder and a worried expression on his face. His words come out rather fast. "I need the Oxford English Dictionary and it's not on the shelf!"

Hm. Weird. Especially when it turns out that yes, he is indeed looking for the 20-volume second edition of the OED, which takes up quite a bit of room. "Was there a big space on the shelf where it should have been?"

"No," he says, increasingly hurried. "Why don't you have it? You're a university!"

I smile sweetly and look up the correct shelfmark for him, which solves the Amazing Missing Dictionary issue ("that's on the top floor? Ohhh..."). It's reference only and can't be taken out of the library, I tell him, but (very quickly, while his face changes from 'optimistic' to 'totally devastated') we also have the complete OED on CD-ROM, which he can check out, and access to the online version via his student account.

"But!" he says, and then thinks about it, and then looks hopeful. "Can I still use the CD one or the online one from abroad, if I can't have the book one? I'm going to Germany tomorrow, and I really need to have access to it."

They'll both work fine from Germany, so problem solved. He disappears, still in a hurry, and it's only when he's been gone for half an hour that I realise he was planning to take a 20-volume dictionary on holiday with him.
We're currently hosting a Great Big Spider conference. Nobody told me about this, but the number of scuttly things with eight legs that are currently in our house is too high for chance. I don't know what they're discussing - "Achieving Optimum Speed Around the Bathtub"? "Introduction To Running Out Of Dark Corners At People Talking Peacefully On The Phone"? "Illegal Glass-And-Bit-Of-Paper Evictions: Your Rights And Responsibilities"? Either way, I wish they'd all get bored and go home.

I'm not scared of spiders, but there's something about a spider the size of a Corgi (this is an approximation only - exact spider-sizes may differ depending on how close the damn thing can get before you notice it) that's just plain unsettling. You know it's not exactly a dangerous creature, but it's far, far bigger than the mental picture you've got filed under 'Spider', and it won't fit in any of the glasses you find to carry it out of the house with, and oh my God, what's it been eating to get to this size anyway? Sheep?

Some Googling has turned up a bunch of interesting stuff about spiders. The word 'spider' apparently comes from the old English 'spithra' meaning 'spinner', which is nice if true ('spithra' sounds too much like the sound you make when you're happily drinking coffee and Spidiana Jones comes sprinting across the table). Also, somebody found it necessary to footnote and reference the idea that spiders are commonly found in the bath. I think these are called house spiders (as in 'if one turns up in yours, you may as well hand over the lease now'). They're still not as big as the biggest spider in Britain, though, which is this baby - a Raft Spider which lives on water. Surrender your bathtubs now.
My job situation has now turned into an episode of Frasier. This can only end with all my current and prospective employers in the same room, staring at each other in horror while my brother tells me I'm fired five times over and somebody's Jack Russell sneaks out of the door with my wallet.



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