by Catriona Mills

Strange Things Are Afoot at the Circle K (Otherwise Known as The Internet)

Posted 18 April 2008 in by Catriona

The strangest thing happened today, while I was sitting innocently, if belatedly, marking my students’ assessment and occasionally checking my e-mail. I had a browser open, to check some references, and was occasionally brushing a hand over the track pad to stop the computer from going to sleep.

That is, until I heard eerie music—and looked up to find that I’d somehow managed to enter The Church of Scientology’s video channel, and was being informed that it was the only major religion to emerge in the twentieth century via a montage of smiling children.

I think I managed to shut it down before they convinced me of the validity of their beliefs, but I’m going to keep a close eye on myself, just in case I manifest a sudden desire to write large donation cheques.

I find it even stranger that this happened not a week after Nick and I, in company with visiting family, had lunch directly opposite a large anti-Scientology gathering in the city.

For some reason, most of the protestors were wearing V for Vendetta style Guy Fawkes masks, which—while awesome in the film—start to look odder and odder the longer you stare at them.

Especially when several of the people wearing them are also wearing incongruent costumes: call me odd, but I don’t think a Guy Fawkes mask works well with a lime-green Zoot suit and fedora ensemble.

I am, however, starting to wonder why Scientology is suddenly popping up everywhere I look, even when I’m simply trying to eat lunch or mark some assignments.


Life on Mars

Posted 17 April 2008 in by Catriona

I’ve been meaning to say something about this since the second season ended, now that the Sam Tyler story arc has been wound up—so, yes, this is spoileriffic. But, frankly, I’m not sure how I feel about the resolution.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first season, despite the fact that we were watching Life on Mars when the second car (in a series of three, so far) drove through the fence, completely destroying my car and much of the surrounding property—it wasn’t Life on Mars‘s fault, but the programme did tend to trigger jumpiness for a few weeks after that.

But the first season was fantastic: the concept was clever, Philip Glenister was a joy to behold in every scene, and John Simm’s appearance as Sam—despite the fact that the character was not at all evil—made me very keen to see what he could do as The Master. And the answer to that turned out to be more a case of what couldn’t he do? I’d been looking forward to the return of The Master since the new series started; I kept saying to Nick that there was no chance that The Master returned to fight and die for Gallifrey, no chance. And I was right.

(On a slightly disconnected note, Nick and I also have an ongoing debate about his preference for the wonderful Roger Delgado and mine for The Master of my times, Anthony Ainley, who I’ve only just realised died four years ago. Vale, Anthony Ainley. So I was pleased that we both enjoyed John Simm’s version of the character.)

To get back to my main point, I was a little uncertain about the return of the show for a second season.

I am—as will come to no surprise to a readership comprised at the stage almost entirely of people who already know me—a media tart, capable of becoming strongly attached to particular programmes. I respond badly to my favourite shows being cut off in their prime, although I am flexible about what constitutes “prime”: for example, Firefly was cut off in its prime, while Angel, which I would happily have kept watching, doesn’t qualify, not after a run of five seasons.

And I’d enjoyed Life on Mars enough to want to keep watching it. What worried me was the fact that the concept might end up too thinly stretched. Some shows, no matter how good, need to end before the concept can become stale: Joe Ahearne’s wonderful Ultraviolet might still be one of the best instances of this. I would have watched more of that, but perhaps it is better that it ended at six superb episodes.

And it did seem at first as though the concept might have staled a little: the show wasn’t quite as funny nor quite as creepy as it had once been, although the episode where Gene Hunt was suspected of murder brightened things up a little.

Then we got to the final episode and, as the credits rolled, I turned to Nick to say, “Did what I think just happened actually just happen?”

Basically, my feelings about the show became thoroughly confused the minute Sam jumped off the roof.

But perhaps this is best encapsulated in a conversation that I ended up having with my mother (which I may not, after a period of some weeks, have reproduced verbatim):

MUM: What did you think of the end of Life on Mars?
ME: He killed himself!
MUM: I thought it was lovely; it brought back all the humour, which had been a bit missing from the episode.
ME: But he killed himself!
MUM: Because he was happier in the ’70s.
ME: But he wasn’t in the ’70s—he jumped off a roof.
MUM: But he was happier.
ME: But why did I spend twelve weeks of my life watching a character struggle to get back to his real life only to have him jump off a roof?

And I think that’s my main problem; it was out of character. I don’t want to characterise suicide as essentially a defeatist action, but in this case it was: after a brief period of isolation, the man who we’d seen struggling against all odds to return to his normal life gave up spectacularly and threw himself off a roof.

It didn’t seem in keeping with what we’d seen of Sam’s character up to that point.

(It also didn’t say much for the Metropolitan Police’s counselling of recuperative officers, but that’s a different matter.)

Nick tells me that the suicide reading—that Sam was genuinely hallucinating the 1970s’ episodes and managed to recover from the accident, only to kill himself—is writer and co-creator Matthew Graham’s preferred reading. (Perhaps it is not a coincidence that Graham is also, apparently, the writer of Doctor Who‘s “Fear Her,” which I frankly loathed.)

But there are alternative options. The main one, it seems to me, is the option offered by the surgeon in his alternative role as the high-ranking policeman from Hyde: that Sam, deep undercover, suffered a breakdown as the result of an accident in the 1970s, and that it is the modern life that is the hallucination. In this reading, the blue-tinted return to modern life at the end of the last episode would be the result of a psychotic break that Sam suffered in the tunnel, under the pressure of the shoot-out.

This would answer one small, but perhaps significant, question that the final episode raised for me, which was why, when Sam awoke in hospital after apparently undergoing brain surgery, was his head not shaved?

But perhaps I am grasping at straws here, to explain what was to me an unsatisfying conclusion.

Perhaps I should accept instead that sometimes, when we die, we go to the 1970s. It might be an improvement on dying and going to Devon.

Things That Have Made Me Cranky Recently, in No Particular Order

Posted 16 April 2008 in by Catriona

I’ve already done this recently, with things that have made me happy. But I’m feeling slightly odd, today—partly because I’m intensely tired and partly because I can’t be sure how well I did today with my lecture and tutorials: I seem to have lost the ability to read a room—and I’m frustrated by the fact that I haven’t had a chance to update recently. So cranky it is.

Mildly cranky, mind. Nothing that won’t be cured by a good night’s sleep.

1. Melancholic endings. (This goes for both books and television.)

Happy endings, people. Please? I just want my favourite fictional characters to be happy and healthy. It’s fiction—that’s where we all get to live happily ever after. (I’m living happily ever after already, but for argument’s sake . . .)

Unhappy endings have their own beauty, certainly—but more happy endings, please.

(I suspect the only way to get around this is to read more spoilers, so I know exactly what’s happening. But, really, spoilers just—ironically—spoil everything.)

2. That I need to tidy my living-room again, before my father-in-law comes around for dinner tomorrow night. The coming-around-to-dinner part is fine, but I really don’t want to have to tidy the living room. I’m sure I only tidied it recently.

3. The fact that I’ve just heard “Ode to Joy” on the television, and thought “Hey, it’s that song that South Korean fans sing at football games.” I mean, honestly. I’m sure I used to be cultured once.

(Now I’m reminding myself of the snobby conversation in Bridget Jones’s Diary—the novel—where they suggest that you shouldn’t be allowed to listen to the World Cup theme unless you’d sat through Turandot.)

4. That I’m smoking like a chimney at the moment. Why? No idea. But there you are.

5. I mentioned this at the top, but I seem to have lost the ability to read a room. I’m sure that I used to be able to do this, but I noticed this shift at my prospectus presentation a few years ago, when I egregiously misread the room—there were no consequences, but I was shocked.

I’m not sure why this happened, but it’s throwing me a little.

6. A conversation I had with Nick recently, which he’s forbidden me from blogging about, but the end result is that we’re getting a new television.

(Is it just me, or does that entry make us sound really dysfunctional?)

7. The weather. I know that I put this at the top of my list of things that have made me happy, but now I’ve changed my mind. Where’s the cold weather?

8. The way the sets in Packrat that I haven’t vaulted are really difficult to collect, and I’m having to buy everything—the rats don’t have anything worth stealing, these days.

Oddly, writing the list has made me feel a lot less cranky. Although, I will add one more item, in passing.

9. The fact that Nick has insisted on picking a television programme, and has now just run off, for no apparent reason and without warning, to play on the Internet. This, despite the fact that he now has a device that allows him to surf the Internet from anywhere in the house (and, his new hobby, in bed).

Nope, definitely feel less cranky now. So, having picked the topic of “Things That Make Me Cranky,” I’m going to have to leave the list there, before it becomes apparent that it’s a complete misnomer.

Ah, blog. Is there nothing that you can’t do?

Rewatching Doctor Who

Posted 11 April 2008 in by Catriona

Since my sister and my sister-in-law are visiting for a short period, we’ve been rewatching some episodes of Doctor Who: my sister never saw the first episode of Season 3—“Smith and Jones”—or the Christmas special that came between Seasons 3 and 4. And, of course, we now have the first episode of Season 4—and episode 2 to come, as of this weekend.

So we’ve been rewatching them, starting with “Smith and Jones.” And the rewatching is bringing up certain responses to the programme that have been somewhat deadened over the nine months or so since the last season ended.

I have a main point, but the first thing I always think with the new season is that it’s too Earth-bound. I did—and do—love John Pertwee, but at least he had a reason for being Earth-bound. Even then, you started to long for a space episode, which is where “The Curse of Peladon” was such a joy—well, that and the fact that David Troughton was in it.

But the revamped series doesn’t seem to have an justification for the fact that it’s so Earth-bound, and it did start to irritate me a little in Season 3. Sometimes, the Earth focus worked: “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances” were glorious episodes. And Torchwood is completely Earth-bound, and that works. But every now and then I start to want an episode set in space: the TARDIS doesn’t just travel in time, and while Shakespeare is wonderful, so are the occasional cat-people.

But the main thing that broke my heart—and still breaks my heart when I think about it—was the departure of Martha.

I loved Martha. She still sits as number three on my list of all-time favourite companions. And I say that as a life-long Doctor Who fan, someone who remembers Tom Baker from the original airing of the episodes.

My all-time favourite companion is still, and will always be, Ace. Part of the appeal of Ace, for me, is that she was the closest in age to me of all the Doctor’s companions, which had its own attraction. But I also loved the dynamic between Ace and Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor, the “Professor.” And Ace was also the companion for some of the stories that are still my favourites: “Ghostlight,” “The Curse of Fenric,” “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.”

Next to Ace comes Sarah Jane Smith. Again, the great pleasure of those episodes is the relationship between her and Tom Baker’s Doctor: I do love the Doctor’s tendency to say “Have you met Miss Smith? She’s my best friend.”

I use the term “relationship” advisedly. I am—as I noted when I said I was becoming a romantic in my old age—capable of becoming a ‘shipper if a show strikes me in the right way. But I’ve never been a Doctor Who ‘shipper . . . and, as an old-school, life-long fan, I found the rabidity with which Doctor/Rose ‘shippers attached themselves to the programme a little disturbing.

(Especially since I was, much as I hesitate to say it, not a big fan of Rose. Billie Piper was both gorgeous and adorable; I’m not arguing with that. But I found the relationship between her and the Doctor a little co-dependent, which didn’t appeal to me.)

But the friendship between Sarah and the Doctor I loved, and was thrilled beyond measure when Lis Sladen appeared in the new version—enough to even enjoy the ex-wife vs. new girlfriend vibe behind her interactions with Rose.

But Martha comes a solid third, and I suspect she always will. I was almost foaming at the mouth—metaphorically, I should say, to protect my fracturing reputation for sanity—when the Master was taunting the Doctor about the relative weakness of Martha compared to his earlier companions.

Oh, sure, Rose looked into the Time Vortex. That is pretty cool, and I’m not denigrating it—I’ve never done that.

But what Martha did in that three-part finale was phenomenal. Walking across the Earth? In a year? The only person to escape the burning of Japan? Bringing that passion, and intelligence, and energy to the saving of the human race? That took a fortitude and strength that Rose—no insult intended—was never required to display. Rose might have had it, but Martha displayed it, and I’m with Captain Jack: I’d trust Martha to the end of the world.

I want to avoid spoilers, and so I’m not going to say what I hope for from Martha. But I miss her.

One season is not nearly enough time to spend with my third-favourite companion. I’m sure you won’t be offended at your ranking, not considering who numbers one and two are.

And I suspect you’ll always be number three, Martha Jones. I wish you’d come back.

Strange Conversations: Part Three

Posted 9 April 2008 in by Catriona

After a frankly awful day (although I think my lecture did go quite well), I’ve just had the following conversation with Nick in the study.

NICK: Stop it!
ME: What?
NICK: You’re tickling me while I’m trying to lodge a support claim.
ME: What?
NICK: I’m trying to write a “please help me with my software” e-mail.
ME: Right. (Spots suspicious object) What’s that?
NICK: Nothing.
ME: What’s that?
NICK: It’s just a perfectly innocent chocolate bar!
ME: Where’s mine?
NICK: (long pause) Take it.
ME: Oddly enough, I don’t want your half-eaten Mars Bar.

While I don’t think either of us comes out of this conversation looking our best, I do think it’s rather a succinct account of the dynamics of our relationship.

The Great Question of Our Time (At Least in the Realm of Advertising)

Posted 7 April 2008 in by Catriona

When did iced coffee suddenly become macho?

All the iced coffee ads these days seem to emphasise that this is an inherently blokey drink.

I remember that there was a macho emphasis on some brand of milk-based drinks a few years ago—I can’t remember the name, now—but it seems to be endemic, these days.

I personally blame the Ice Break ads that suggested you weren’t worthy of incredibly sugary iced coffee made with skim milk unless you were also proficient at such extreme physical activities as jumping out of a plane in order to land on and enter another plane, or driving backwards very fast down a freeway and then clambering onto a semi-trailer with the help of some Dalek eye stalks. (Or, possibly, plungers.)

True, the last one did, I believe, have a woman in it. But the overwhelming emphasis is on hyper-masculine men drinking cold coffee from bottles, and I find this slightly odd.

I don’t have any answers, mind.

And they’re still a vast improvement over Lynx ads.

Am I a Leavisite? A Disconnected Ramble Through Interpretation

Posted 7 April 2008 in by Catriona

Nick and I, via a discussion of how much fun it is when comment threads build up on this blog, got to the point of wondering whether I am actually a Leavisite (which relates to possibly my favourite title for an academic work, John Docker’s “How I Became a Teenage Leavisite and Lived to Tell the Tale,” from his In a Critical Condition: Reading Australian Literature.

I’m not sure that I can be considered a Leavisite (to be fair, the suggestion was, perhaps tongue in cheek, that I demonstrated Leavisite tendencies, but let’s stick to absolutes for argument’s sake), not least because Leavis’s excoriation of mass culture is something with which, manifestly, I have no sympathy.

(Nick, wandering in, has just suggested “Well, I don’t think Terry Eagleton would find much to be displeased about in your writing . . . although you may talk a bit too much about women.” I think that might be the nicest compliment I’ve ever received.)

I’m not even certain that, as a student of the mid- to late-1990s, I’ve even read any of Leavis’s work. I’ve certainly read Q. D. Leavis’s Fiction and the Reading Public, which I found thought-provoking but frustrating; if I’m not forgetting my reactions—it’s been a couple of years since I read it—I found myself frustrated by a sensation underlying the text that working-class readers were helpless dupes of a publishing industry whose permutations they could barely grasp.

But I can’t recall ever reading one of Leavis’s books.

I’m certainly not in sympathy with Leavis’s canonical bent. I’m not denying the significance, value, or quality of canonical works. But the works that I’ve spent the majority of my effort on—for my M.Phil. and for my Ph.D.—have never been included in any canon, not even the revisionist ones.

But my problem with potential Leavisite tendencies arises with Leavis’s emphasis on textual criticism, divorced—to an extent—from the socio-economic and political connotations of the text’s production. The latter aspect is easier for me to avoid: I don’t identify as a strict Marxist, but my critical interests—and my political bent—are certainly left leaning.

(Incidentally, nearly a decade ago in my first share house—at the beginning of my postgraduate career, when my self-identification was more dogmatic and less nuanced—I did identify as a Marxist, as well as a feminist. This led, in a circuitous fashion, to a friend of one of my flatmates bursting into my room at midnight, while I was reading a Harry Potter novel in bed, to demand that I lend him my lipstick, so that he and my flatmate could draw warpaint on themselves and then wrestle. When I refused—on, I felt, the very sensible grounds that my solitary, very flattering, lipstick was an American brand not available here—he harangued me on the inappropriateness of Marxist feminists wearing lipstick at all, and then slammed the door. I think that’s one of the strangest things that’s ever happened to me.)

But I do value what close textual reading can tell us, and I do privilege textual analysis in my own work. I can’t personally encompass the idea of a critical approach—any critical approach—that completely divorces a text from the process of its mechanical production. Regardless of whether we wish to emphasise the value of writing or the value of reading in the construction of textual meaning, at some point an author placed those words in that order.

But the problem with that, I suppose, is that the intentionality of the author is unrecoverable. Even where it is recoverable, there is an element of speculation. We can argue, for example, that the reading list that Mary Shelley included in her diary has an element of veracity. Where reading lists can be a matter of personal representation, which implies a manipulation of the contents to show the writer as a different kind of reader, the private nature of the genre in this case helps negate that point: is there any need for Shelley to manipulate her presentation of her reading in a private document?

Then again, I remember an example from a Dorothy L. Sayers novel—I can’t remember which one it is, now, and I can’t find the reference. The instance is one in which Lord Peter is drinking a sadly dead Victorian port with his lawyer, who discusses the man who passed it on to him: a man who, a lonely bachelor for life, was discovered after his death to have had a rich fantasy life in which he married and lived with his true love, a life that he only expressed in his diary.

This is a fictional example, but that diary, too, is a private document. Had it been discovered in isolation—with no supporting testimony from friends and families—how would a reader have been able to judge its veracity?

I’m not intending to draw any hard-and-fast conclusions from what I’ve legitimately called a ramble. I’m not even entirely certain that I’ve isolated a critical perspective that absolutely works for me, rather than still being a state of flux.

But I am fairly certain that my work will always retain an interest in authorship: not as a work isolated from socio-economic status and historical placement, but certainly the work as the technologised output of individuals.

So perhaps there are shades of the Leavisite in me, after all.

Kenny's Renaissance

Posted 6 April 2008 in by Catriona

I was an enormous fan of Steven Moffat’s Press Gang as a lass. I was the right age and the right kind of academically focused girl to enjoy that programme.

(I’ve mentioned this before, I know: I may be either repetitive or narrow in my interests. I leave it to posterity to judge.)

But one effect of this interest is my delight in the current renaissance of Lee Ross, or Linda’s long-suffering best friend, Kenny (at least until he moved to Australia late in the show’s run.)

Kenny was a lovely character: he was clever, sweet, and efficient. He put up with Linda because he really loved her, despite her abrasive personality. He managed to woo a young Sadie Frost, albeit via the ghost of her drug-addicted brother. And then he sang in one episode, and all the fans who had a soft spot for a musician were smitten all over again.

So I’ve been really thrilled to see Kenny in a number of things, recently. According to, he’s been working regularly since Press Gang, but I’ve not seen him in anything.

But over the last year or so, I’ve seen him in The Catherine Tate Show, in Life on Mars, in Hustle—admittedly, four-year-old episodes of Hustle, but I’ve come to that show fairly late—and in Robin Hood.

Admittedly, he was a fairly unpleasant character in Life on Mars, who quite rightly got punched in the mouth by both Gene Hunt and Sam Tyler. And his Sir Jasper in Robin Hood wasn’t a pleasant man, either. The sketches he took part in for The Catherine Tate Show were simply bizarre. About the only redeeming character was Hustle: sure, he was a conman, but then so are the protagonists, and we sympathise with them.

But then, I don’t really mind that the characters are so far removed from sweet, hen-pecked Kenny.

I just like seeing Kenny back on the screen.

List of Things to Do When I Travel in Time, in Honour of the New Season of Doctor Who

Posted 6 April 2008 in by Catriona

Obviously, at some point in the future I will be able to travel in time. That’s a given. At least, I certainly hope so.

And if there’s one thing that watching television has taught me, it’s that time travellers often have little or no time to prepare for their initial departure. So, it seems a sensible precaution to make a list of things to do when I do become a time traveller.

Number one, currently, is to go and see Shakespeare perform in his own plays. And then heckle him. I get a kick out of the idea of shouting “You suck, Shakespeare! Stick to the quill, you ham!”

(In case this comes across as a little too mad, I must emphasise that I’ve never actually heckled anyone in my life—but I’ll make an exception for the Bard of Avon. On the other hand, I mentioned this to Nick, and he responded “I was with you, up to the heckling part.” I think I have to mention at this point, that this wasn’t originally my idea. But I still want to do it.)

At the risk of sounding shallow (and this, coming from the person who fancies heckling Shakespeare, must be taken as a warning), I think I’d be compelled to do some book shopping.

The main problem with my Ph.D. thesis was the ephemerality of the source material. I could stock up on all the relevant material for about 40 shillings, and save myself an enormous amount of hassle (and save the wonderful university library a small fortune).

Of course, then I’d have to cross my own timeline to deliver them to myself—so that might prove more problematic than I’d originally thought. I’d hate to end up in one of those situations where you think your future self is an apparition and accidentally kill yourself: those never end well.

Still, I’d definitely see about picking up copies (prompt copies, perhaps) of Cardenio and Love’s Labour’s Won. For my own edification only, obviously: you’d never be able to prove they weren’t just very good forgeries.

The main problem with time travel (well, apart from the obvious absurdities) is the tendency to think “Well, if I’m going to travel in time, I may as well go and see some history!” Then you stop and think about what history entails, and it doesn’t look like such fun.

I mean, the French Revolution I find fascinating, not least because of its direct impact on British culture—and therefore British literature—in the period that I study. But I don’t want to see it firsthand. (Mind, I’d love to see the lost Doctor Who story set in the French Revolution, but that’s another story and a different point.)

Ditto with the Battle of Thermopylae. Love the story, but definitely don’t want to see it in person; frankly, even bits of 300 were a little hard to watch.

But I’d like to have a little wander around in the more benign parts of some lost times. A Roman market. Sherwood Forest, before it disappeared. Tintagel in the time of Arthur. London before the Great Fire. Damascus, back when the Pearl of the Desert was largely unknown to Western visitors. Oberammergau, before the Passion Play became a major tourist destination. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. A trip on the Orient Express in the 1920s. Perhaps the great ball on the eve of Waterloo, although I suspect that would be heartbreaking (still, you might catch a glimpse of Becky Sharp stealing Amelia Osbourne’s husband).

I asked Nick what he’s do if he could travel in time, but he said he doesn’t have a historicist bent, which led to the following conversation:

ME: You could travel forwards in time as well as backwards.
NICK: Well, I’m not convinced that travelling forwards in time is possible.
ME: I’m not convinced travelling backwards in time is possible.

Apparently, though, it is theoretically more possible to travel backwards in time than forwards, which is contrary to the very nature of Doctor Who. So I think you’d have to at least try and travel forwards.

But you can’t even suggest what you’d want to travel forwards to see. Just “the future.” I would like to see a time when we could actually travel in space. (I mentioned this to a friend once, that I’d like to travel in space, and he said “Why?” Really, there’s no way I can answer that question. I just want to.) But if I have a time machine, travelling in space seems less interesting.

I have a feeling that I should perhaps have listed more noble intentions for my time-travelling future. Things like saving the contents of the Great Library of Alexandria (or even, more recently, the looted Iraqi museums). So perhaps I am shallow.

I’ll salve my conscience by reminding myself that this is all highly theoretical. Perhaps, had I the chance after all, my better self would come to the surface, and instead of exploiting Volcano Day, I might try and prevent it.

After finding that copy of Cardenio, naturally. After all, there’s no hurry—I have a time machine.

Oh, Thank You Very Bloody Much, Torchwood

Posted 5 April 2008 in by Catriona

(I’m going to do my best to avoid specifics and spoilers in this post, but I am reacting immediately to the final episode, which I only finished watching fifteen minutes ago, as well as to the season in general.)

And thank you, Torchwood. Thank you very bloody much.

You know, I asked really nicely.

All I wanted was some relief from unremitting horror and distress. Occasionally save the victim of the week. Perhaps a few jokes. The odd light-hearted episode.

But could you bring yourself to manage that? Oh, I think you know the answer to that, now, don’t you?

And yet you teased us.

You brought in James Marsters in a role that didn’t make me want to punch his character in the face. (And, honestly, that became the case fairly shortly after the fourth season of Buffy. It certainly wasn’t the actor’s fault, but rather a result of the way in which they manipulated the development of the other characters in order to keep Spike an integral part of the show. That did annoy me. Although I’ll forgive a lot for the sake of his part in the Muppet episode of Angel.)

But he was lovely in Torchwood, and it was an interesting new angle on Captain Jack’s character.

And there were shades of this season that reminded me of the good old days of Doctor Who—the original Doctor Who, that is.

The quality was far more consistent than the first season: some of these episodes frightened me as much as good old episodes like “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy”“. (Oh, those clowns! They still haunt me.)

I even mentioned how lovely I thought Cardiff looked in the show, and you had to go and mess with that, as well.

In fact, was there anything I liked about the show that you were willing to leave intact, Torchwood?

Don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing inherently bad about shifting the boundaries of an audience’s expectations about a show. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that programmes that don’t do that rapidly stagnate, and lose the audience that they’re attempting to placate.

But there are degrees, Torchwood. And I really don’t enjoy spending my Saturday nights weeping in front of the television.

So if you could just bear that in mind next season, I’d really appreciate it.

I’m a loyal fan, you know, and I could handle a little bit of placating before I stagnate, I think.


Posted 4 April 2008 in by Catriona

I don’t like to talk about my teaching on here, because I don’t blog anonymously and I really want to keep my job. Not that I’m likely to say anything offensive, because I do love teaching—I find there’s no job so stimulating as teaching young adults, and my students are invariably engaged and engaging. But they haven’t signed up for the courses to be blogged about.

But, I feel it’s safe to start this entry with something I’ve noticed while teaching writing courses: every semester, students claim that, outside university assessment, they simply don’t write. They back down from this position when I point out that, for example, e-mail, SMS, and online instant messaging count as writing. But it prompted me to list for one class the kinds of writing that I undertake regularly, and it surprised even me.

(I’m coming back to this entry a day late, after those rants about my temperamental car, and I’ll probably be interrupted again shortly when Nick returns with dinner. But in the interim I’ve been thinking further about this.)

When I spoke to my students about the variety of types of writing that I produced regularly, I was still in the process of completing my thesis. And one of the things that I found so challenging but also so fascinating about that work was the variety of different ways of organising material that that one document contained.

It had the usual components of an Eng. Lit. thesis: chapters that varied between connecting my object of study to a broader school of thought and close analysis of the texts, sections—such as the introduction and conclusion—that served largely to impose hierarchical structure on the work, a beautifully formatted bibliography (my supervisor said to me, “I was going to say this was one of the cleanest bibliographies I’d seen—then I saw that you’d put all your full stops outside the inverted commas.” Damn.), a Literature Review.

Ah, the Literature Review. How I hated writing you. You’re boring, and depressing, and you bring with you a constant anxiety that in boiling down a hundred years of theory on nineteenth-century fiction I might, conceivably, have missed something really important. But I got through you, thanks to a Jonathan Rose article that raised as many questions for me as it answered—it focused on working-class auto-didacts, which was too narrow for my purposes, and emphasised that working-class authors mentioned Dickens more often than they mentioned G. W. M. Reynolds. Sure, they did; it’s a matter of self-representation, though, isn’t it? And Reynolds still outsold Dickens by some magnitude, so someone was reading him.

Still, Rose is a superb scholar, the article was a fantastic response to claims that nineteenth-century, working-class readers could not grasp classics such as The Iliad, and his encapsulation of the difference between “old” and “new” book history methods was the catalyst that allowed me to get a grip on my Literature Review, for which I will be forever grateful.

But I also had vital sections in my thesis that relied on forms of writing that I’d never undertaken before.

I had one appendix that reproduced the contents of a nineteenth-century album, the absolutely pivotal find in my research, which enabled me to extend the work beyond a single author to draw conclusions about the field of publishing in which she worked. Most of this appendix was made up of a series of reproduced photographs, but organising this material and writing brief but illuminating captions was a challenge.

Then there were two further appendices, both indices to fiction in nineteenth-century penny weeklies. I would never have undertaken one of these if I had realised that it would take the better part of a year. The first—a short-lived, fiction-specific journal called Fiction for Family Reading, which I’ve already mentioned in conjunction with half-naked princesses—only took three days, because the run was so brief.

I knew Bow Bells—which I indexed from 1864 to 1881: 34 volumes in total—would take longer, but a year? I didn’t anticipate that. And I had no idea how time-consuming and intricate it would be to keep this material in order. Or that it would end up adding 164 pages to my thesis. Still, scholarship on penny weeklies suffers under a lack on indexing projects, and I don’t regret doing it. I do regret the fact that it was on microfilm, and working on it therefore triggered my motion sickness, but that’s out of my control.

Then there was the gem of my thesis, in my mind, anyway—my bibliography of the works of Eliza Winstanley. I’m still feeling a little bit smug about the number of works I managed to confirm as hers. But I’d never produced a critical bibliography before, and the fun was in trying to find a format that was immediately accessible but also included as the necessary information.

(Well, no—the real fun was being able to attribute twenty-one anonymous works to her by cross-referencing the journal contents with advertisements in The Times, but I admit that that doesn’t sound like fun.)

But then, as I pointed out to my students, there are all those other, more casual forms of writing.

E-mails have to be written every day: formal ones to students and colleagues, and informal ones to family and friends.

There’s Pownce, which I joined relatively late but love as a private, convenient way to hold conversations with friends when I should be doing other things. And, speaking of Pownce, whither the Pownce, friends? Whither the Pownce? Don’t let it die.

I’ve been doing two kinds of marking, lately: informal global feedback on non-assessed work and formal feedback on assessment.

Slightly more frivolous are Facebook status updates: I do enjoy reading them, though. As a friend of mine mentioned recently, it’s like communicating by SMS, without actually having to send the messages. Of course, they’re much more fun now that we’re not restricted to “is” verb forms.

I’ve also written a book review lately, and thought about ways to write more.

I have a teaching reference for a colleague due in ten days, and am still marking—two different types of assessment for two different grades of students.

And then there’s this blog, which I thoroughly enjoy writing but can’t update every day.

I’m sure I mentioned more types, when I was talking to my students, but if so, they’ve slipped my mind. Nevertheless, given the list I’ve managed to remember so far, I think I should probably stop feeling self-conscious about saying that I write for a living.

Well, that and get on with writing (and hopefully publishing) some journal articles.

Okay, So I'm a Pessimist

Posted 4 April 2008 in by Catriona

Is that really a surprise to anyone?

Apparently, the engine head is not warped. The mechanic is a little surprised by this, and warns me to keep a close eye on the gauge and check the radiator levels tomorrow and again in a couple of days, but at least we don’t have to replace the engine head.

I apologise, machinery. Apparently, you are capable of generous gestures.

Curse You, Mechanical Objects: You Win Again!

Posted 4 April 2008 in by Catriona

(Once again, this post has no bearing on books or reading. I do have another one half written, but this intervened.)

It has become painfully apparent that my computer and my car have entered into some sort of unholy alliance.

No sooner do I crow that we have managed to defeat the computer’s (or maybe—which amounts to the same thing for the purposes of this rant—the server’s) attempts to shut down dialogue on this blog, than my car gives up the ghost.

Of course, it had to give up the ghost on Coronation Drive in peak hour on a Friday morning, didn’t it? Well done, car, if you were aiming for maximum frustration!

Interesting point: apparently, putting on your hazard lights while steam pours out from under your bonnet is the cue for everyone to start honking, swearing, and gesticulating furiously. I have no idea what they expected me to do—it’s not a very big car, but it’s big enough.

Apparently, it overheated, and I failed to notice. (Well, I did notice—but not until it had stopped.) It can’t have been overheating for long, I suspect, because there really was no warning. The gauge would have shown it was overheating, but the gauge is rather out of my line of sight.

I would have noticed a flashing light, so maybe the manufacturers might want to think about adding one of those.

Or perhaps I should have been paying more attention. Hence my Facebook status update: “seriously unlucky with cars, or remarkably stupid? Or both?”

I’m now waiting for the mechanic to tell me whether the overheating warped the alloy of the engine head. He thinks it did, because there’s oil under the radiator cap, but needs to get the results of my new favourite thing, a “sniffer test.”

I think the head probably is warped, for two reasons.

Firstly, the engine head(s) is one part that is specifically excluded from our Mechanical Service Plan. I mean, it couldn’t just be a problem with the windshield wipers, for once?

(No, wait—that already happened. In a downpour. Late at night. On the Bruce Highway. Yeah, I don’t want that to happen again.)

And, secondly, it’s basically Murphy’s Law, isn’t it? I’m starting to think that’s more powerful than Newton’s and Asimov’s Laws combined, frankly.

Human Ingenuity Defeats the Pig-Headedness of Machinery

Posted 1 April 2008 in by Catriona

In other words, Nick has solved the recurring problem with the comments on the site.

Hip hip hurrah!



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