by Catriona Mills

Minor Hiccup

Posted 18 March 2008 in by Catriona

For some reason, I can access the administration pages and the site, but can’t open specific pages or comment.

Nevertheless, loyal readers (mostly Tim and Nick at the moment, bless you both), I am still pondering the role that the Marriage at Cana played in the nineteenth-century Temperance Movement(s) against the time when I can post comments again.

(I am also very tired, and would never otherwise have used the term “loyal readers” in cold blood.)

Tired and Whingy

Posted 18 March 2008 in by Catriona

No proper entry, because this is one of those days when everything goes haywire.

I have an enormous pile of marking still to get through tonight (a one-week turn around on this piece, so it has to be done for tomorrow) and a lecture to finish prepping.

I seem to have let the work get slightly on top of me, probably thanks to my unseasonable period of laziness (three days) after submitting the Ph.D.

And yet I still feel as though I need a holiday.

I love my job—there can be no better job than teaching young adults—but, damn, it’s tiring in the early weeks.


I have a glass of wine, and my computer, and a sofa.

And at least I’m having a better day than the attendant at the refectory, with whom I had the following conversation:

HIM: How are you?
ME: Good. How are you?
HIM: I’m about to fucking beat someone up.
ME: Not me?

You can’t make this stuff up.

Give me half an hour—I’ll be fine.

The day just keeps getting better and better.

I had my glass of wine, but then got a very upset e-mail from someone who is legitimately upset over a problem that, although sympathetic, I cannot actually fix. Depending on a third party is beyond frustrating.

Nick then tipped a not-quite-empty container of curry on the carpet, and we both just stared at it in unmoving horror for about five minutes before shrieking “PICK IT UP!”

And I’ve just spotted Nick opening a kilogram packet of ground coffee while balancing it on the back of the sofa because “there’s more room there.”

I would say “roll on tomorrow,” but I still haven’t finished my marking.

Musings on Tonight's Advertisements

Posted 17 March 2008 in by Catriona

1. Small, computer-generated, dam-building mammals should never make appearances in tampon commercials. This seems self-evident to me.

And, on that note, I “only get one, so look after it”? What are they going to do? Repossess it if I buy the wrong brand of tampon?

2. Thank you for your kind offer of Easter specials, Woolworths, but eating something called a “Sitting Rabbit” just seems a little . . . unsportsmanlike.

3. Beer commercials are entirely dependent on a parade of homosociality—well, except for the Carlton United Brewery ads, which were kind of awesome. Not as awesome as the ad for a service I can’t currently recall, with the man picking a ninja master up from the bus stop, but still awesome.

Given this, it seems that a beer ad that emphasises that all-male rollerblading and “bromance” will flatten your beer would be counterproductive.

Slight Blogging Hiatus While I Ponder The Mysteries of the Universe

Posted 17 March 2008 in by Catriona

(As a side note, this entry is an exercise in writing a blog entry without mentioning personal names. Tricky.)

A old school-friend of mine is having her first child. Now.

She will have gone in to hospital half an hour ago.

I find this both marvellous and frightening: not frightening for the child—who will have two brilliant, devoted, creative, and fascinating parents—but a shock from my childless, still-sixteen-in-my-head perspective.

My best friend has two children, and I find that strange enough. Again, it’s not a bad kind of strange; I adore my friend and my two nephews, especially (solipsistically) now that the elder of the two is starting to realise how cool his Auntie Treena is, and brightened my last Christmas by insisting “Auntie Treena, come outside! Auntie Treena, sit here! Auntie Treena, touch that—I think it’s hot.”

But when you’ve known someone for twenty-six years and yet live 1000 kilometres away from them, their motherhood is something that comes as a surprise. Perhaps if I’d lived round the corner from her, I wouldn’t have felt that she’s suddenly leveled up while I wasn’t looking.

It’s not so much of a shock with this friend. We were part of a very close group of girlfriends at school—a group I cherished, who made high-school life—in a fascistic, agricultural high school where we were expected to pregnancy-test cows (honestly, do you know what that entails?) and dissect sheep—more than bearable. In fact, they created a joy in life and in the life of the imagination on which I’m still drawing now.

But then I lost touch, when I moved to Brisbane for graduate work.

My fault entirely.

And when things went a little wonky up here, I became more and more uncertain about reinitiating contact—something that stemmed from my own feelings of failure, not from any awareness of how they would react.

Enter Facebook, where one of these friends found me—and it all fell into place again.

I met up with many of them over Christmas for the first time in years. And most people who heard this asked, “Wasn’t it a bit strange?” But, it wasn’t. Because there’d been no falling out or hurt feelings. We’d been close and we’d drifted apart, so the re-meeting was just good fun (and that includes a separate meeting with another friend and her gorgeous children—hearing a friend you still think of as eighteen say to her six-year-old child “Catriona was Mummy’s friend at big school” is a shock and half, especially when said child was a foot long last time you saw him.)

And now one of these friends is having her first child.

She’ll be a wonderful mother—she always had a unique outlook on life.

And her husband will be a besotted father.

Their child is lucky, and I wish all good speed for its arrival.

Best of good luck, friend: best of good luck.

Computer Characters, Your Ability to Cheat is Counteracted by the Fact That I Control Your Difficulty Level

Posted 16 March 2008 in by Catriona

Anyone who plays Mario Party regularly eventually comes to complain about certain irritations in the gameplay.

The game—which essentially involves rolling dice by hitting them with your head, moving around a game board, and playing minigames at the end of each round, earning coins to buy stars—is immensely fun, but does have some frustrations, especially the way in which so many of the minigames are chance-based. This is exceptionally frustrating when you’re duelling one-on-one with a player, or playing a battle minigame for some insane amount of money.

But the other thing you tend to notice if you ever approach a Mario Party forum is the insistence by players that the computer cheats to benefit its own players.

And it does.

Nick and I compete in Mario Party 8 on the Wii, but mostly I play it on my DS, which means I’m playing against three computer players. And they all cheat.

Take tonight’s game on the DK’s Stone Statue level, versus Peach, Daisy, and Waluigi. This three-tier jungle board is the only one in which the Star Space is fixed, rather than moving around every time someone buys s star. Technically, this should make it easier, since you don’t spend three turns patiently moving up on the Star Space only to suddenly find it behind you because some computer character has rolled three 10s in a row.

But they still cheat. And I can prove it.

Round 1: I roll a 2. Not the most auspicious of starts.
Peach, of course, manages to roll a 10.

Round 2: Daisy manages to find a Hidden Block, containing a Star. I mean, honestly, it’s only the second round.
Peach lands on the only safe blue square in a five-square radius.
I double my luck by rolling a 4.
Mind, Waluigi is having the worst game so far, and is still only two squares from the start.

Round 3: I land on Peach’s 10-coin Hex and have to forfeit my money. It is at this point that I suspect the game is cheating, and start taking notes. This move, I might add, puts me in last place.
Daisy lands on a square that gives her a Triple Dice, allowing her to roll three 10-sided dice. Hmmm.

Round 4: I miss the magical, coin-dispensing bees by one square.
Thankfully, Peach and Waluigi are both stuck, and can’t get past the second tier, and Daisy wastes her Triple Dice by using it before she has the twenty coins for a star.
I win the minigame despite exploding twice, and move into second place.

Round 5: Uneventful, except Waluigi is still stuck.
A three-versus-one minigame means I have to forfeit money or give Peach and Daisy ten coins each. I fancy the money, and lucky for them I’m good at running away from model trains.

Round 6: It’s looking up, until Waluigi sets off a giant barrel that squishes ten coins out of each of us.
One bonus: Daisy inexplicably spends all her money, and then shows unusual acumen in our two-on-two minigame against the others.

Round 7: I manage to buy three stars and move to first place.
Peach manages to set off the barrel to detriment of both herself and Daisy.
Waluigi moves past the Star Space with insufficient funds, and then lands on the Bowser Square. For once, Bowser’s “Gimme Equality” attack works in my favour, with me moving from five to sixteen coins and Peach from forty-one coins down to sixteen.
I’m sure the computer won’t let this state of affairs continue.
Sure enough, Daisy makes up for her acumen in the last game with unparalleled stupidity in this one, letting Waluigi and Peach get ahead again.

Round 8: I roll a 1. Here we go again.
Daisy uses her Star Pipe to move straight to the Star Space, buy a star, and move to second place. The computer must not like her as much as the others, though, because she lands on the Bowser Square and immediately has the star taken off her. I warm to Daisy.
Another coin-grab minigame lets Peach and Waluigi win back all the money they lost in Round 7. I think I’ve said this before, but hmmmm.

Round 9: I roll a 2.
Peach still can’t get off the second tier, but is accumulating a huge bankroll, especially when she manages to win the minigame despite being set on easy.

Round 10: I finally roll a 10, and land on the magical, coin-dispensing bee square.
Daisy spends all her money again; clearly, the computer has decided that she’s not the horse to back here.
I explode again, but still win the minigame.

Final Five Frenzy—apparently designed to help the last-place character—means the stars drop in price from twenty to five coins. This is bad news if Peach ever gets off the second tier.

Round 11: I roll another 10, but the computer finds a way to make this bad: I land on a square that sends me back seven squares, allowing Peach to squish me with the giant barrel.
Bonus: she also squishes herself and Daisy.
Double bonus: Daisy sets off the barrel again on her turn, squishing herself and Waluigi.

Round 12: I win a Double Dice, which I’m hoping will help me avoid barrels and get to the Star Space.
Peach lands on a Duel Space and duels me for stars; I win, but since Peach didn’t actually have any stars, I end up just winning mine back.
Waluigi also lands on a Duel Space and duels me for stars; again, I win, and again my opponent didn’t actually have a star to pony up.
Daisy, meanwhile, buys two stars and moves into second place.

Round 13: Using my Double Dice, I still only manage to roll a 6 and set off the psychotic barrel again. Thankfully, it takes out Waluigi as well, but he still manages to buy eleven stars.
Peach still can’t make it past the second tier.
Daisy gets twenty-seven coins from the coin-dispensing bees, eight more than I managed.
(Nick, not playing the game, spots a gorgeous owl on the clothesline, which makes for a nice distraction.)

Round 14: Finally, I roll a 10, manage to buy twenty-three stars, and put myself in a comfortable first place. The computer, not to be distracted, has me land on a Duel Space. I duel Waluigi for half our coins, but since I’ve spent all mine I have nothing to lose, and since he only has six coins I have nothing much to gain. I win anyway.
Peach finally manages to get to the third tier, and sets off the barrel again.
Waluigi finds a Hidden Block (and why is it that the compute players always find these?) and gets nineteen coins.

Round 15: I immediately break my run of good luck by setting off the damn barrel again.
Peach finally gets to the Star Space, but thanks to the barrels can only afford thirteen stars. It’s enough for second place.
When Daisy lands on my 2-Star Hex, I’m comfortably in first place with twenty-eight stars.
And the final minigame, a Battle Minigame, affords the satisfaction of blowing up my competitors for more money than usual.

The computer makes a final bid for success, with the Bonus Stars: everyone gets a Friendship Star, Peach manages to snag a Green Star purely on the basis of how many times she set off the barrel, and Daisy’s shopping pays off with an Item Star.

Ah, wily computer! You can cheat and cheat all you like. But I will continue to set all your players on easy.

After all, the way you play, if I set them on normal they’d beat me every time, and—rambling blog posts aside—where’s the fun in that?

Strange Things about Robin Hood

Posted 16 March 2008 in by Catriona

(Nick suggested that I call this post “This, I Do Not Like,” but . . . no.)

I really enjoy Robin Hood, despite the fact that it’s very silly in parts. I’m fairly certain that one of the main reasons I like it is that Robin is one of the few genuinely English legends out there, along with King Arthur and Jack the Giant Killer.

I discussed it with my sister at one point, and she was uncertain about the idea, pointing out that it doesn’t even employ any of the main tropes, including the archery contest. My father, on the other hand, never misses an episode.

But there are stranger things about the show than the omission of the archery contest.

I feel a numerical list is warranted.

1. The fact that I’m blogging about it instead of just watching it.

2. Nick suggested that the hats in tonight’s episode probably weren’t period-appropriate. I don’t know about that, but I’m pretty sure that belted trenchcoats weren’t popular in the reign of Richard the Lionheart.

3. Ditto Guy of Gisbourne’s black-leather duster. But, really, who cares? It’s Guy of Gisbourne (or, as a friend calls him, “Lord, Have Mercy!”)

4. Marian’s over-the-dress corsets also cause me some concern. But Nick says I’m to leave those out of it.

5. In the middle of blogging I just came across the lines
“I’m not a Judas!”
“And I’m not Jesus.”
Well, no.

6. I’m fairly certain that Robin Hood didn’t earn his name because of his predilection for khaki-coloured hoodies.

7. Where is Friar Tuck? Nick swears he saw him in an early episode, but there’s been no real sign of it.

8. Shouldn’t Alan-a-Dale be a minstrel? Sure, any regular player of RPGs, especially table-top RPGs, knows that bards/minstrels are the most irritating of all character classes (although Nick suggests that if I’d ever played Dragonlance I would have found Kenders fairly annoying), but still, Alan is supposed to be a minstrel.

9. Will Scarlet’s memorial to his father, which was on par—despite the brilliance of Harry Lloyd’s performances—with the end of Van Helsing.

10. That Nick could tell that Sir Edward was going to die from his first appearance in the episode.

11. That Robin owes less to his literary ancestors and more to Marvel superheroes in his ability to completely and utterly defy the laws of physics.

12. Poor Much the Miller’s Son being relegated to the position of comic relief. Not appropriate for a Troughton.

13. They’ve just advertised next week’s episode as including a “Terminator.” I realise that that’s a metaphor, but, honestly, let’s not push the modern references too far, okay?

14. On that note, we’ve not only had an episode called “I Shot The Sheriff,” but we’re apparently about to have one called “Get Carter.” If that includes Michael Caine, I’ll be reasonably happy. If it stars Sylvester Stallone, I’m out of here.

15. The impunity with which they can wander around Nottingham with only the barest of disguises.

16. The casino episode. I know it co-starred Dexter Fletcher, and I realise that Wikipedia suggests that craps may date back to the Crusades, but really—did you not think we would notice that the mise en scene was distinctly Vegas?

Did I miss anything?

Soulmates? Or a World Where the Laws of Probability Stand Still?

Posted 16 March 2008 in by Catriona

Driving home from a lovely, celebratory lunch this afternoon, Nick and I realised that there was going to be a power struggle for toilet access once we got home.

So, like any other stable couple, we decided to play Rock, Paper, Scissors.

The only problem was we kept choosing the same item, over and over again.

On the fifth or sixth attempt, I finally managed to crush Nick’s scissors with my rock, but it was a little weird there for a while.

I’m tempted to try a coin toss to see how many times it comes down heads—then I know whether or not to accept any unexpected offers of a trip to England that might come from old university friends.

More Tales From The Study; or, Why Life Isn't Like a Sit-com

Posted 15 March 2008 in by Catriona

This afternoon, we decided to clean out the study a bit. The aim, eventually, is to move one of the bookcases into the spare room—which will soon be a labyrinth of shelving with a bed in the middle—but it didn’t quite work out that way.

(On the other hand, much progress was made. Nick’s just wandered through to ask if I’m blogging about how awesome he is for cleaning everything out, so I told him I am. In a manner of speaking.)

The problem is that I’m reluctant to throw out any work-related material—while regularly throwing out letters from the council and from the bank without opening them first—while Nick won’t throw out anything at all. In fact, I have a box in my spare-room wardrobe containing nothing but his calendars from the 1980s. So the study regularly devolves into a series of teetering piles of paper. And all of those have to be moved before we can even get to the bookcases.

(In fact, this is why Nick claims he needs praise—he decided, once we’d cleaned all the papers off his desk—that he needed to clean out his filing cabinet, which hasn’t been done in about six years. It’s now almost empty.)

At one point, we managed to carve a path to the corner shelving unit where Nick keeps his games—which is a story in itself, since when we bought it from K-Mart it arrived minus the struts that keep it stable, and I was too lazy to go back in and get them, so it’s now kept upright thanks to a blue plastic wine rack that inexplicably fell down behind it one day.

The top of this unit contains boxes full of our art equipment—and oddly, one that contained nothing but unopened, ten-year-old bank statements—and piles of sketchbooks.

It was these boxes that led to my downfall, because I decided to clean them out.

A reasonable ambition, I would have thought, but it ended up with me stuck behind a pile of ancient bank statements and drenched in linseed oil up to the elbows.

I probably should have seen that coming.

But, in a sit-com, the end result would have been humourous, salacious, or both.

The only end result for me was that I had to dig myself out from behind a pile of paper, getting increasingly dusty and sticking to everything I touched.

And even that wasn’t presented as a montage.

Having washed my hands, though, I’m quite pleased that life isn’t a sit-com. (And that relief doesn’t even take into account the fact that my most recent comedy has been Green Wing, and while it’s the most hilarious thing I’ve seen since Spaced and I am definitively addicted, I do not want to live in that world.)

Frankly, the real world has fewer plot holes and significantly better gender roles than the average sit-com.

I might make an exception if I could holiday in Futurama, though.

Competitive Gaming Anxiety

Posted 14 March 2008 in by Catriona

I’m no good at competitive sports—I never have been.

Much of this is down to natural clumsiness. My clumsiness—I once, as a small child, managed to slip on a boat and end up with my head jammed between two bollards. At least, in retrospect I believe they were bollards—seems to be irreparable, which suits me.

I understand that people say playing sports can actually reduce clumsiness, but I found all the shouting (mostly along the lines of “That’s your own goal!”) rather distracting.

But I’m not also not very good at competitive gaming, and that’s not down to clumsiness.

Some of it’s down to attitude—I’m both a bad winner and a bad loser, and frankly I don’t even like to play games with myself sometimes. But then most of my family are also game-based gloaters—well, alternately gloaters and sulkers, anyway—so I can shake that off.

But gaming also brings out a sort of anxiety. Especially those games that require you to get to a certain point before you can save.

I’m no good at the strategy-style games that Nick so thoroughly understands. I tend to get attached to my little pixellated men, and no sooner have I started to build up my mighty empire—usually by managing to build a well, and perhaps some hovels—then barbarians come out of nowhere and slaughter all my poor peasants.

The same is true for combat-based RPGs, except in that case it’s my avatar that gets repeatedly slaughtered.

Even games that have no combat breed their own kind of anxiety. Nick introduced me to the card-collecting and card-stealing game Packrat on Facebook—the very same game I was wasting the workday playing when my computer exploded, and which is consequently ambiguously immortalised in my astonishingly bad haikus. That rapidly became an obsession but, although the developers claim you can play it solo, there are various tricks built in to induce you to invite friends, such as restricted access to the markets that sell rare cards. And once you’re playing against real people—especially if, like me, all your Facebook friends are people you know in real life—you start feeling a little guilty about nicking cards off them.

This morning, for example, I nicked a high-end card from a friend—a card, in fact, that they would have had to spend some time constructing from lesser cards—and then felt so guilty that I spent forty minutes recreating the card myself and then dropping it back in their pack. (Hey, if you’re reading, I’m really sorry I nicked your Tangerine Turbo!)

But I like puzzle games. Those I can handle.

That’s why I loved Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords. Any RPG that uses the Bejeweled playfield as the basic combat mode for defeating the evil Lord Bane is my kind of game. In fact, Puzzle Quest became a bit of an obsession, and led to about six weeks’ worth of conversations along these lines:

NICK: Hey, how did your day go? Productive?

ME: Well, I got past the two-headed ogre in the end, and took his battle hammer as my reward. That’s awesome—I haven’t had any trouble with the liches after that. But then I had to get assistance from a fire-worshipping minotaur cult. I had to find the pieces of their former robotic leader, and reconstitute him so he could take back the northlands from Lord Bane’s emissary, and that was a bit tricky—I had to go through initiations and then fight a fire sprite in a volcano, and I just wasn’t getting the right gems, so I couldn’t build up any mana, and anyway he was immune to my earth magic—

NICK: . . . I meant with your thesis.

ME: Oh, right. That. Okay, I guess.

In fact, I’m now excited to see that there’s a sequel coming out this year, although I’m a little concerned about the introduction of the Tetris mechanic—I’ve never been any good at Tetris.

In short, I suspect I’m the kind of gamer that handheld systems were made for. The PSP and the Nintendo DS—especially the DS—have excellent games, but most importantly they’re really designed to be played solo—even if you do want to use the multi-player mode for the DS, for example, you still need to own a copy of the game for each player.

So, they’re ideal for a player like me. The computer players don’t care if I gloat or smacktalk, and I don’t have to worry about disrupting anyone else’s gameplay.

Now, if I could only convince the computer-controlled characters in Mario Party DS that the entire purpose of the game—its whole reason for existing—is for me to win every single time, we’d be laughing.

Blog Ambivalence

Posted 13 March 2008 in by Catriona

I’ve been fretting a little the last couple of days about the next update.

I didn’t update yesterday because I have four hours’ contact time with students on Wednesdays and was frankly exhausted, but I still fretted.

Then, this morning, I drove Nick into work, which meant a drive home through the city in peak hour, which left a lot of time for fretting. I would normally wile away traffic jams thinking about how much more interesting life would be if I lived in a world where I got to fight mountain trolls, but this morning I worried about blog topics.

I thought it was just tiredness, and that ideas would come, but now I’m starting to think it’s linked to a general ambivalence about blog writing.

Or perhaps “uncertainty” would be a better word.

I really enjoy writing this blog, but every now and then I start to wonder about it. I imagine most bloggers do.

I wonder whether I actually have anything interesting to write.

I wonder whether I’m actually capable of writing, or whether this blog is providing fodder for writing classes—like the ones I allegedly teach—all over the world.

I wonder if I’m actually making sense, or whether the blog is interesting.

I wonder whether a blog such as this is simply an exercise in electronic egocentricity.

And thought processes like these tend to spiral.

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I identify these days as second-generation lapsed Catholic; that is, I was raised by a lapsed Catholic. And one thing I’ve noticed about that is that Catholic guilt is absolutely the last thing to lapse.

So then I feel guilty about imposing my ramblings on an Internet that—in my saner moments—I realise can probably handle it.

And then I feel guilty about feeling guilty.

That’s the fun thing about guilt.

So I need to put a lot of these uncertainties away, and find a way to speak on this blog, a way with which I am comfortable.

That also means some negotiation of my sense of audience. I realise that, at the moment, my readership will be made up entirely of people who already know me—there’s no point trying to hide the crazy from them.

But this is the Internet, and there may be strangers out there who come across Circulating Library and find it interesting enough to return to it.

And that type of writing—to an anonymous audience whose scale and nature I can never really know—is a type of writing I’ve never done before.

I think this is just the ordinary panic attack of a neophyte. I’ve never left much of an imprint on the Internet, and I suspect that is where some of this uncertainty is coming from.

But I need to scupper it now, before it makes me second-guess the wisdom of starting this blog in the first place.

(Although, ultimately, I suspect my innate desire for an audience will be enough to pull me through.)

The Highwayman

Posted 11 March 2008 in by Catriona

The moon is a crescent tonight, and it reminds me of The Highwayman, Alfred Noyes’s poem from 1906.

For some reason, it’s always the crescent moon that makes me think of “the moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.” I’ve never seen a crescent moon ride horizontally rather than vertically, and I fear for the crew of a vertical galleon. But I don’t like to think too much about it, because I love this poem.

I don’t even know why. And, oddly enough for me, I can’t even remember when I first read or heard the poem. It seems as though I’ve always known it.

In a way, it reminds me of hearing Old English spoken—or, I suppose, more properly, read. I don’t understand the words, I have no vocabulary to draw on, and it may as well be gibberish—but it isn’t. It draws on some deep centre of my brain as though the language that I love, and speak every day, and work with, and revere as one of the most flexible modes of writing on earth gives me some degree of understanding of its alien root.

Fanciful? Yes. But it’s the best way I can think to describe it.

And “The Highwayman” draws a similar response from me—not as deep or primal, but similar. It’s not the only text that does so—Poe’s The Raven is another example—but it only happens when it’s a work that I seem to have known for as long as I’ve been alive.

Is “The Highwayman” good poetry?

I don’t know.

I’m not capable of judging.

It gives me goosebumps every time I read it, and I must have read it a hundred times by now.

Perhaps there’s a shadowing here of the nostalgia created by the fact that I, like so many young girls, favoured fatal love fantasies when I was younger; once upon a time, it seemed romantic to die of leprosy—or some such—in, if I can use this cliche, the pursuit of love. (And I’m not alone; look at Anne of Green Gables and Agatha’s Christie’s autobiography, to name just two.)

I grew out of it, but perhaps a shadow remains to lend some sympathy to the black-eyed landlord’s daughter, Bess the landlord’s daughter, resolving on gripping the trigger if she couldn’t free herself from her bonds.

But I think the real secret is the rhythm.

Take these verses as an example:

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight, Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own red blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter, The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

As I say, I don’t know if it’s good poetry. I do know that Noyes is profligate with his exclamation marks, which normally bothers me.

Is it doggerel? Not is we accept Wikipedia’s definition, because the metre here, the rhythm, the movement of the poem is where its evocative power lies.

Anyone who’s read my Ode to Pirates and the consequent silly but immensely fun comment thread knows that I’m no poet.

Perhaps, then, I’m easily moved by poetry that speaks on a shallow level.

Certainly, I’m no fan of Macauley’s Lays of Ancient Rome but I appreciated, and even thrilled to, the verses from “Horatius” when they were recited in an episode of the new series of Doctor Who:

And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods.

Shallow? Or just a poor judge of poetry?

I hope neither is true of my love for “The Highwayman,” or I won’t know how to celebrate the next crescent moon.

Eating Lamb At Easter

Posted 11 March 2008 in by Catriona

Once again, I’m addressing a topic that has little to do with my proposed focus for the blog, although it did come out of something that I’ve been reading.

Namely, I’ve been reading forum postings about inviting family for Easter dinner, and it took rather a strange direction: people started wondering why it was okay to eat lamb at Easter, which many posters said made them feel a bit funny, but not to eat rabbit.

I think this is a case of confusing the metaphorical with the actual.

Sure, Jesus is frequently referred to as The Lamb of God.

But he isn’t actually a baby sheep. It’s a metaphor.

But the Easter Bunny, on the other hand, is actually a rabbit. A real rabbit. (Yes, he is a real rabbit. I’m not accepting any suggestions that he doesn’t actually exist, even though the Easter Bunny that I grew up with bought his eggs at Woolies on Easter Monday once they’d gone on special.)

So eating rabbit on Easter might lead to some fairly horrified children if someone can’t distinguish an anthropomorphic animal from his less vocal colleagues, and the next Easter rolls around without any eggs at all.

A Note to Our Sponsors

Posted 10 March 2008 in by Catriona

Look, I enjoy watching Supernatural, okay?

Sure, it’s cheesy, but it’s fun and sometimes we need a bit of trash in our lives.

On the other hand, I don’t enjoy watching J-Horror, because J-Horror is freaky and terrifying.

I suppose that’s the point, really, in which case—well done, Japanese film makers.

But is it too much to ask that there aren’t any advertisements for freaky J-Horror films during Supernatural? I don’t really enjoy spending ad breaks with my hands over my face.

Oh, and on that note, Jessica Alba? Whatever happened to Sarah Michelle Gellar?

An Ode to Pirates

Posted 10 March 2008 in by Catriona

I’m obsessed with Pirates on Facebook.

I’m not as obsessed as some; I’m a mere level 244 Corsair Pirate. But even that level of high-seas ferociousness took some doing.

The game is slightly odd. It’s essentially farming; you roam around the ocean—well, you move forward in what feels like a straight line—picking up various items that you use to buy ship upgrades, or fight monsters, or attack your friends.

I mean, where’s the downside? Where else can you attack sea monsters with dynamite-wielding parrots?

Plus, pirates are awesome. Everyone knows that pirates are inherently cooler than ninjas.

But one of the things that I love most about Pirates is the way in which you need to type in thoroughly bizarre combinations of words in order to heal yourself after a fight. Apparently, the ability to type disconnected pairs of words proves that you’re a “human pirate.”

So, I’ve decided that the only way to really celebrate my joy in Pirates is to write a poem* entirely out of pairs of words that I’ve been asked to type during the healing process. I’ve added punctuation, but other than that each pair of words is accurate.

*Disclaimer: I’m not sure whether people regularly meet poets, but you do meet a large number of them when you work in an English department. Every poet I’ve ever met has been a lovely and extremely talented person. I sincerely hope that none of them think that I think that this is a real poem.

An Ode to Pirates

Weekends with
guess firearms
fantasia, but
[com]pany’s analogy—
wick shadowing
solicited, united.
Thieves and
circus circular
blunder, however,
attempt pianists,
theatre, horseback;
the affecting

An Exegesis

Lines 1-3: The author celebrates the fascination of a world in which she can spend weekends with fantastic weaponry, especially throwing bombs at fellow pirates.
There is an element of mendacity in these lines, since the author rarely waits for weekends, but instead usually plays Pirates during the work day.
Lines 3-7: A sense moves in of the passing of time, and the author starts to think that maybe blowing friends and colleagues out of the water is not a productive way of spending time.
Lines 8-10: This sense of wasted time leads to remembrance of childhood fantasies of running away from home and joining the circus, as long as it was the kind of circus that Enid Blyton depicted.
Lines 11-13: The author thinks of other, more productive ways of spending time, such as learning the piano, or reading Milton; the thought of the seventeenth-century poet is a particular spur to a sense of futility, leading to the more exaggerated desire for horseback riding, even though horses are ridiculously large and slightly creepy.
Lines 14-15: The surreality of the idea that she would even be capable of riding an enormous horse—with the fangs, and the frothing jaws, and the hooves the size of dinner plates—brings the author back to her senses, and the thought of forks reminds her that her best bet would be to go and make herself some lunch.

Wedge Antilles

Posted 9 March 2008 in by Catriona

Wedge, your father must be spinning in his grave.

(That is, if it weren’t more likely that Darth Vader simply had him thrown out an airlock.)

But that’s beside the point.

I’m very disappointed in you, Wedge Antilles.

Your father, the good Captain Antilles, resisted the Empire.

You fought against the original Death Star, and you survived. Not many people did.

You fought in the Ice Battle on Hoth, and you survived. Largely, I admit, because you didn’t make Dacks’s foolhardy mistake and claim you could “take on the whole Empire myself,” but still. You survived.

And then you flew against the second Death Star. The “fully operational” Death Star that blasted half your flotilla out of the air and still you survived.

That’s fairly impressive.

And now what is this I see?

Betraying King Richard?

(Sure, he may have been a testosterone-fuelled, war-crazy king, who left the kingdom to be ruled by his apparently able younger brother while he went gallivanting around killing ‘infidels,’ but that’s apparently beside the point.)

Having strangely creepy, bondage-infused sexual politics?

Selling everyone you know out for the sake of gaining control of Sussex?

(Okay, Sussex is kind of cool: it has Bexley-on-Sea where an Agatha Christie novel partly took place, and Crawley where part of The Cure grew up. But is that enough of a reason to actually betray people for it?)

Look, Victorian seaside resorts aside, I’m extremely disappointed in you.

The Wedge Antilles that I know would never have done this.

And I think you should give serious thought to this pattern of behaviour, before you end up duelling over a pit of hot tar.

None of us want to see that.



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