by Catriona Mills

Strange Conversations: Part Eight

Posted 5929 days ago in by Catriona

Nick’s given up on making me stop posting these conversations, so I’m going to continue them as an ongoing series—because, frankly, Nick and living with Nick are hilarious things, and everyone should get to enjoy them.

This one took place after Nick came back from buying dinner and was getting changed.

ME: (swearing for some reason.)
NICK: Don’t swear.
ME: What?
NICK: Don’t swear.
ME: (unable to keep myself from smirking.)
NICK: I’m just saying.
NICK: Bugger, I can’t get my shirt off. Help! It’s stuck! (Ripping sound.)

I’d be lying if I didn’t say my next action was to laugh and laugh.

If it makes it better, he didn’t rip his shirt badly. I just liked the lack of association between his assumption of authority and his inability to remove a shirt.

And it takes a fair bit to make me laugh on a day when I’m once again regretting getting my belly button pierced in my distant, barely rebellious teens.

Could I Love Doctor Who Any More Than I Do?

Posted 5931 days ago in by Catriona

No, is the short answer.

The episode we’re currently watching, though, is full of grammar jokes, which just makes me love it more.

We’re 29 minutes through the episode, and we’ve already had a reference to my favourite comeback to non-specific pronoun use—“She’s the cat’s mother”—as well as a tautology rant and a comment on conditional clauses.

But my favourite so far?

The irritating villain responds to the suggestion of space travel by sighing, “Oh, if only that was possible.”

At which point, the Doctor and I said simultaneously “If only that WERE possible.”

“Grammar nerds of the world unite” is a good slogan.

“Grammar nerds of the world celebrate your union by sharing your amusement at in-jokes embedded in the script of a cult sci-fi TV show” isn’t a slogan that will fit on a T-shirt, but it works for me.

Yet Another Blog Post About Robin Hood

Posted 5931 days ago in by Catriona

Since the final episode of Robin Hood has just aired, it seems an appropriate time for a final post about the things that irritate me.

(Prior to that, though, I need to ask an important question: am I the only person who thinks the Children’s Nurofen advertisement with the winged babies is intensely creepy? I really hope not.)

But back to Robin Hood, and yet another list of improbabilities.

1. Kudos, Robin Hood, to bringing Alan a-Dale back into the fold. But wasn’t that storyline a little improbable? Come on, you know it was. I’ve never seen anyone change their core beliefs so rapidly in my life.

(Whoops, the Max-Walker-cons-the-Third-World advertisement is back on. It’s even creepier this time around.)

2. Speaking of Alan a-Dale, do you remember, Robin Hood creators, when I suggested that he was actually a really important person in the Robin Hood mythos?

Well, that goes double for Maid Marian.

Maybe triple.

I mean, I’m not an expert on the subject, but I don’t actually remember the source that you must be using here, the one where Marian exits the narrative in a shallow grave in the Holy Land. I’d be interested in reading that one, actually.

3. As a slightly connected point, I realise that I’ve been enthusiastic in a couple of posts about my strong desire for characters with whom I sympathise to get married, live happily ever after, and produce lovely babies.

But that desire for weddings? It’s somewhat ameliorated when the characters are hanging by their arm in the middle of a desert, and there isn’t a clergyman in sight.

4. Oh, and on that note? If you’d thought to add Friar Tuck to the cast earlier—as Nick and I have been complaining for two years—perhaps that wedding would have been legal.

Nick and I have been debating this issue since the episode aired, but we’re not sure whether Richard’s presence would have made the wedding legal—I know nothing about the religious climate of England in this period, but I assume it was Catholic, so would the king have had any ecclesiastical standing?

It doesn’t matter, because the show isn’t known for its historical accuracy and Richard didn’t take a role in the second ineffectual wedding, anyway—but it’s been intriguing us.

5. Almost all these points have related to the movement of characters, so here’s another one: Harry Lloyd is one of the shining lights of that programme, and if he isn’t in season three, I’ll be very irritated.

6. Taking my lack of knowledge about the period into account, I’m not a big fan of Richard the Lionheart—he seems, even for the times, as an overly masculine warmonger who paid little attention to his civic responsibilities.

But I never imagined he was as big a prat as this episode made him out to be. Perhaps he was rather too prone to taking long walks in the desert in the middle of the day? Mad dogs and Englishmen, they say.

Nick was also deeply annoyed by the “King Richard as a man of peace” angle.

7. I might be doing a disservice here to Richard’s equal-opportunity employment practices, but I’m also strongly suspicious that his right-hand man is called “Carter.” I realise that they introduced the character so that they could have an episode called “Get Carter,” but it just seems that “Carter” is too working class a name for the period.

8. I’ve just asked Nick what else annoyed us about the episode, and he reminded me of the fact that the Sheriff got away scot-free at the end, giving the entire episode an “I’ll get that wascally wabbit” vibe.

9. I strongly suspect that King Richard saying “We are Robin Hood” would actually represent a radical alteration to the English constitution.

But, really, it’s starting to feel like shooting fish in a barrel, if I can be excused the odd cliche. There is fun to be had out of the programme, if you can suspend your disbelief: maybe I should pour my energy into that from now on.

Strange Conversations: Part Seven

Posted 5932 days ago in by Catriona

After a highly convivial Doctor Who night, Nick and I are both feeling a little tender. We were committed to another event today, but when we rang up to get directions we found that it had been cancelled.

So, with the unexpected gap in our schedules, Nick is planning on downloading more of the Sam and Max episodic video game, and I’m reading another Stephenie Meyer book.

(I should be finishing my marking, yes—but werewolves are more compelling right now.)

But the conviviality of last night might explain the following conversation, held while Nick was trying to put together a load of washing.

NICK: Once again, key T-shirts remain elusive.
ME: You just don’t have the skills. Treena has mad T-shirt-finding skillz. [Yes, I occasionally speak of myself in the third person. It’s perfectly normal. Shush.]
ME: I’m sadly domesticated. I don’t want mad T-shirt-finding skillz. I want mad ninja skillz.
NICK: Ah, well—you have to work for those.
ME: Hey! I worked for my T-shirt-finding skillz!

Still, you don’t get quite the same kudos for being able to regularly locate a Penny Arcade Photoshop Hero T-shirt as you do if you just flip out and kill people all the time, do you?

How to Make Me Buy a Book

Posted 5934 days ago in by Catriona

Well, essentially, it just has to be published.

But when I was looking at the upcoming releases in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, after reading the first novel, I came across Libba Brays’s A Great and Terrible Beauty, apparently the first in the Gemma Doyle Trilogy.

Normally, I wouldn’t look twice at a book called A Great and Terrible Beauty, assuming it to be a historical romance of some sort.

Then I saw the first line of the Amazon blurb:

“A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy—jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel.”

Yep—pretty much going to have to buy that.

After all, I own an entire bookcase’s worth of girls’ school stories and—while a lot of them tell me about passionate friendships, the rules of lacrosse, and how to win for your house—not one of them is set in “a girls’ academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing.”


Posted 5934 days ago in by Catriona

I have a feeling that I might have been a little over-eager in my rejection of vampires.

I mentioned in that post that I’d just bought Twilight, the first in Stephenie Meyer’s four-part series about, to borrow the terms used in the blurb, a high-school vampire romance.

I know—I was surprised when I bought it as well.

I bought it because it came to my attention as a book that had become something of a phenomenon, and I figured that if I continue labelling myself a bibliophile, I really should judge these things for myself.

Although I suspect that I came to this a little late—I’ve never been a trend-setter, but I do usually get onto these things a little earlier than this. I managed to come to Harry Potter before the real media frenzy built up, after all—not right at the beginning, but early enough to feel a bit smug. (You know, privately.)

(To counter that, though, I didn’t come across Green Wing until four years after it aired in the U. K., which is chastening enough to dampen the Harry Potter smugness.)

I have a vague recollection, if I’m to be totally honest, that I didn’t come across Twilight until I started seeing information about the forthcoming movie adaptation.

You see, it’s so far outside my normal realms of interest.

I read a lot of young-adult fiction—but it’s mostly fantasy. I tend to find that—with exceptions such as Charles Stross’s Merchant Princes saga—most of the innovative, fascinating writing in this genre is aimed at young adults, for some reason.

And I don’t often buy either vampire fiction of any description or horror fiction. (The exception to these two rules is sitting on a shelf behind me, however: I do own the first 30 Days of Night trade, because the concept fascinated me so much. I haven’t read it yet; Nick scared me by telling me to make sure I read it during the day.)

But I bought Twilight and, since I’ve been marking all day and Nick’s been out all night at a Belgian-beer cafe, I read it tonight in one sitting.

That should be sufficient to demonstrate that I enjoyed it much more than I was anticipating.

I wasn’t sure what I’d make of a vampire romance set in high school. The very concept sets off warring reactions.

I’m really not keen to relive high school. I enjoyed high school in terms of the friendships that I made there and the people I got to socialise with. I was also a girly swot—still am, actually—so I enjoyed the academic side of things.

But I didn’t like high school in general; in fact, when I’m very tired or under a lot of pressure, I still often have dreams that I’m back in high school, and that they won’t listen to me when I tell them that I should be able to leave since I already have two degrees.

On the other hand, I’m keen on a good romance narrative these days.

Put the two together, though, and you have a romance between teenagers—which is a bit of a tiring prospect.

But not always—I thoroughly enjoyed I Capture the Castle when I read it a couple of years ago (although the protagonists, while young, aren’t precisely high schoolers) and even got a kick out of The (now somewhat dated) Constant Nymph, with its fraught romance between a young girl and her cousin’s husband.

And I didn’t find this romance irritating, either.

Part of that might have been the prose, which was measured and deliberate without being frustrating—and nicely copy edited, which is important to me these days. With the exception of one incorrect irregular verb—“lay” where it should have been “lie”—nothing leapt out at me.

(Unlike my most recent reprints of Dorothy L. Sayers, which I think must have been prepared on character-recognition software, there are so many frustrating errors.)

But I think what intrigued me was the presentation of the vampires.

I’m not sure that vampires have ever been static characters: the mythos is too varied across the different cultures that believe in blood-suckers for them to have ever been effectually standardised, a point that this novel makes quite neatly.

But since Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire made radical shifts to the textual presentation of vampires, authors have been playing with their depiction.

Twilight doesn’t make any extraordinary alterations to the basic nature of vampires—they still need to drink blood and avoid sunlight, although they don’t sleep in coffins, thankfully—but she does tweak the characters in ways that allow interesting plot developments.

I don’t want to mention spoilers, and I’m not going into the plot, so there’s not much I can say about how the characterisation of the vampires works.

But one thing did intrigue me: the repeated emphasis on the coldness of their skin and their closer resemblance to the artificiality of statues than to humans. I think that’s where my interest in the book really lay: the construction of alienness.

Not a unique gift, perhaps—but one that always interests me when it’s done well.

I guess when it comes down to it, I’m not particularly interested in reading books about ordinary humans living their lives.

But, ultimately, this book is only the first of a four-part saga. I’m going to have to read the rest, now, before I can decide what I really think.

Strange Conversations: Part Six

Posted 5934 days ago in by Catriona

I haven’t had time to update lately, because I’ve been buried under an enormous pile of assessment.

I did start a rambling post of snippets I’d found amusing over the years, but then forgot half the ones I’d wanted to write about.

I’ll finish that one soon.

But I did have this conversation with Nick this afternoon. (Nick, on that note, wants me to change the name of this blog to “Life with Nick,” but I think that’s a little narcissistic on his part.)

Ever since I read a newspaper article that defined Generation Y as people born between 1977 and 1992, I’ve been teasing Nick about being Gen-Y—while I, as the (slightly) older woman, get to be the much cooler Gen-X.

I was teasing him about this again today.

ME: Well, you’re Gen-Y, of course.
NICK: I’m not sure I accept that.
ME: Well, it said so in the paper—from 1977 on.
NICK: Yes, but these things tended to happen later in New Zealand.

I thought that was a clever comeback from someone who identifies his country as slightly delayed.

Strange Conversations: Part Five

Posted 5936 days ago in by Catriona

A slightly cranky conversation (on my part), from which Nick emerges with the honours:

NICK (reading): You see, if you know a lot about the early history of Microsoft, you can kind of see the emaciated corpse of various early designs . . .
ME: Honestly, can we stop with the purple prose?
NICK: Well, I’m sorry, Mrs Pellucid.

(As a kind of payment for allowing me to blog this conversation, Nick has insisted that I add, as an addendum, the fact that I’ve just sat here muttering, “Shift button. Shift button. Do I have a shift button? Oh—it’s the one with ‘shift’ written on it.”

The Wisdom of Television

Posted 5937 days ago in by Catriona

Nick and I were watching an episode of Veronica Mars during dinner, and we came across Veronica musing that the downside to keeping a diary was that anyone could find it and learn your darkest secrets.

“Well, yes,” I said to Nick. “That’s why you should just keep a blog.”

Evening Conversation with Nick

Posted 5937 days ago in by Catriona

I’ve had a heavy marking load this past three days, as a result of taking a break from my work when family came to visit, so I was exhausted when Nick arrived home. Being the attentive partner that he is, he offered me a glass of wine.

NICK: I think you deserve a glass of the Semillon Chardonnay.
ME: Well, that and the fact the that the Semillon Chardonnay is the only screw-top bottle in the fridge.

There’s something to be said for a partner who considers your needs above his own convenience.

Mind, this Semillon Chardonnay is lovely.

I Never Cease to be Amazed by Television Advertising

Posted 5938 days ago in by Catriona

This must be about the fifth entry I’ve written on television advertising, but I never cease to be amazed by what they actually think is suitable for advertising.

On the one hand, I’ve just seen an advertisement for the Trading Post that suggests the best way to deal with your uncontrollable son and his tendency to violently shove his sister is to buy a swing-set.

True, I suppose it channels that strong desire to experiment with the potentialities of kinetic energy.

But what happens when the child ends up in an environment with no swing-set?

But the strangest advertisement I’ve seen all night is one for APIA, with Max Walker—at least, I’m fairly certain it was Max Walker—talking about being duped in the purchase of a diamond while on an African tour.

I think, from what I can remember, that the whole point was the idea that age brings wisdom.

But I saw it and said to Nick, “Did they really just build an entire advertising campaign around Max Walker attempting to buy an unregistered African diamond? A blood diamond?”

Honestly, I thought the Pepsi Max advertisement where they suggested that drinking that particular soft drink would make random businesswomen rip off half their clothes and wrestle in a spilled consignment of jelly was the oddest thing I’d ever seen on television.

Divergent Interests

Posted 5938 days ago in by Catriona

Nick and I have a fairly large number of shared interests, which always make co-habitation a little easier; I’m not always making him watch romantic comedies (although, action-film fan that I am, I did draw the line at Hitman Uncut last night: it was grotesquely violent and exploitative) and he’s not obsessed with sport, so we don’t end up living a life with a horrible resemblance to an American prime-time sit-com.

(Although I am obsessed with sport; well, I’m obsessed with football, anyway. But Nick just ignores the fact that I watch every game of each World Cup and get up at 4.30 a.m. to watch Liverpool win the Champion’s League final.)

But sometimes, our interests seem to diverge more than usual.

For example, I have spent today (after waking at 6.30 a.m.—on a Sunday!—to find that my fan had snapped in half during the night, a stranger than usual occurrence) sitting in the living room marking an enormous pile of assessment.

Nick, on the other hand, has pulled out a borrowed copy of Overlord—which he always describes as “the game written by Rhianna Pratchett”—and has apparently spent most of the afternoon carving a violent swathe through an environment that looks disturbingly like Hobbiton, complete with underground dwellings with round doors.

It’s all right, though; I think these are evil hobbits.

And I get to stop marking soon, so we can get back to our usual Sunday night activities of mocking Robin Hood and squabbling about what we’re going to watch afterwards.

After all, shared interests don’t have to equal perpetual consensus: that would be dull.

Strange Conversations: Part Four

Posted 5939 days ago in by Catriona

Happily watching a movie on a Saturday night, I ended up having the following conversation.

ME: Why are we watching this movie?
NICK: What?
ME: They just blew that guy up after chopping his arm off!
NICK: Well, they blew all the other guys up as well.

Somehow, I don’t find that an mitigating factor.

Packrat Woes

Posted 5939 days ago in by Catriona

The latest set in Packrat—the Facebook game that’s hands down the best application on the site—is called “The Quest for Montezuma.” The creators specify that it’s a tricky set, largely because you need an enormous number of maize cards and gold coin cards to make any of the high-end items.

Three maize cards will make a patolli game; three patolli games will make a codex. Three gold coins will make a spotted leopard; three spotted leopards will make a turquoise mask. Then you use the turquoise mask to make Montezuma’s headdress.

To complete the set, then—as far as gold coins alone go—you need to vault the coin itself, then a spotted leopard (another three coins), then a turquoise mask (another nine coins, to make three leopards), then another mask to make the headdress (another nine coins, or three leopards.) That’s a total of 23 gold coins to complete the set.

You need an almost equal number of maize cards, and of rubber trees, which you use to make rubber balls, then a Toltec warrior (by combining three rubber balls), then an Aztec temple (by combining the warrior, a map, and a conquistador’s helmet.)

That’s fine, as far as maize and rubber trees go—they don’t appear for sale very often, but you can buy them at the markets.

But those elusive 23 gold coins! To make the quest harder, it seems, the creators have limited the release of gold coins. You can’t buy them at the markets; instead, they’re pop-up cards (which randomly appear as you flick through your friends’ packs) and vault bonuses (which appear in your pack once you’ve vaulted a set of five or more cards from another set.)

Except that they never pop up for me.

Well, okay—once. Which isn’t much help when you need 23 of them.

And I don’t think they’re popping up that regularly for other people, since they don’t seem to be turning up in other people’s packs.

And although the aim of the game is to steal cards from other people to complete your sets, many of us aim to play co-operatively: to not steal cards from our friends unless they’ve given us permission. I prefer to play this way, because I don’t have the guilt of stealing cards that people have been husbanding, hoping to complete a set, and I know they will treat my pack the same way.

But it does make it difficult to get those elusive gold coins.

To make it worse, I’m somewhat addicted to Packrat, and I’ve completed—to the best of my ability, barring a couple of special delivery cards that I’ve never even seen—every other set currently available. So I have no other option but to work on “The Quest for Montezuma.”

On the plus side, I’m collecting quite a nice stash of credits in my futile flicking through other people’s packs trying to find gold coins.

But on the other hand, I hope they release some more new sets soon. There’s a limit to how many patolli games I’m willing to make, if there’s no possibility of more spotted leopards or turquoise masks in my future.

The Eternal Question: Vampires--Good or Bad?

Posted 5940 days ago in by Catriona

I’m feeling a little melodramatic tonight—not exactly a rare occurrence. Tonight, I think it’s because I’m wearing a floor-length, swishy, velvet skirt, an absurd quantity of bangles—quite why I’m wearing a wristful of Indian bangles while sitting in my own living room enjoying a quiet drink is a bit of a mystery, even to me—and a long cardigan. It’s an ensemble guaranteed to make anyone feel melodramatic.

(And to those who question the inherent coolness of a good cardigan, I shall simply point to the example of Kurt Cobain.)

So, I’ve decided that the best way to harness this melodramatic frame of mind is to listen to some covers of Jimi Hendrix songs and blog about vampires, while waiting for dinner to be ready.

Because the thing is that I’m actually not a big fan of vampires.

Or, more properly, I’m not a big fan of vampire fiction, which is why I put this under “Books” instead of “Television.” (Naturally, I’m also not a big fan of actual vampires: they’re insanely powerful bloodsuckers, and I don’t place much faith in that “can’t enter unless they’re invited” caveat. But, then, to balance that there is the idea that they don’t actually exist—that must be given due weight, I suppose.)

I loved Dracula when I first read it and realised how very different it was from any adaptation I’d ever seen—and I love seeing students’ reactions to it, when they experience it for the first time.

I simultaneously enjoyed and was slightly horrified by Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula. I always did have a soft spot for poor Jack Seward, which is probably partly inspired by the fact that he was once played by Richard E. Grant. But I’ve never read the later books, although Nick owns them all.

I’ve also been reading—intermittently—the Kim Harrison series of alternate history urban fantasies, which have a strong vampire component, and The Dresden Files, which are veering more and more into vampire-focused plots at the stage I’m up to, which is currently the fourth book.

I’ve also recently bought the first book in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, purely, in this case, because I felt I was out of the loop on something that I should probably judge for myself.

But, that lengthy series of exceptions aside, I rarely buy anything from the section of shelving that bookshops are increasingly labelling “Vampire Fiction.”

And I have no patience with the Interview with a Vampire series. I’ve read the first book—I’ve even taught classes on the first book—and I can see both the impact on contemporary horror fiction of Anne Rice’s re-visioning of the vampire and the fascination of the Anne Rice cult. But I really didn’t like the first book, and didn’t fancy reading the later ones.

But to balance this, I rather like vampire films and television. Within reason, anyway.

I was a big fan of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer—until season 5. I did keep watching after that, right until the end, but in common with a lot of fans I felt it lost something of its focus at that point. I liked Spike, but then I’d liked Angel as well, and if Buffy had been willing to kill Angel, why would she so fiercely defend Spike against the people whom he had injured?

I enjoyed Angel as well, although there the disappointment rather worked in reverse: season 1 wasn’t fantastic, to my mind, but it was still finding its feet and it worked itself into an interesting concept (although I do miss Glenn Quinn; I did like him in both Roseanne and Angel.)

But even when it comes to television, I’m not a big fan of vampire-themed shows.

Except for Ultraviolet, which Nick and I are rewatching now (after a brief and ultimately futile discussion as to which of us has been stalling on re-watching it since I bought it for him some years ago: I say him, he says me.)

I suppose, it one wished to be pedantic, you could claim that Ultraviolet isn’t, technically, a vampire show, since they never say the word “vampire” at all. When they do decide, around about episode two, that they do need a general noun, they call them “leeches.” In fact, Nick swears when it first came out it was advertised in such a way that he thought it was about a fraud investigation squad, and nearly didn’t watch it.

But, sophistry aside, it is one of the cleverest vampire-focused shows I’ve ever seen, and it’s holding up now, ten years after it was released (which is scary enough as it is; I don’t like thinking that ten years can pass since a show that I watched as an adult aired on free-to-air television.)

So while I don’t want to end every blog post by wavering away from my original point—I have fears that my blog will end permanently tentative and lacking any firm opinions—I suppose I do have one final caveat.

I’m really not that interested in vampires—unless they’re key characters in sexy British programmes starring Jack Davenport.

And, let’s face it, that doesn’t happen nearly often enough.



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