by Catriona Mills

Strange Conversations: Part Eighteen

Posted 18 June 2008 in by Catriona

Nick finally began thinking about the new armchairs, while I was sitting in the left-hand one:

NICK: You know what this is like?
ME: What?
NICK (patting the right-hand chair): I’m Will Riker; you’re Counsellor Troi. We need another big chair to go behind them.
ME: I’m Will Riker! That’s my chair!
NICK: And the television is the viewscreen. And we can pull the sofas around . . .
(My stare of bemusement finally gets through to him.)
NICK: I’m a geek!

You’re telling me, honey.

A couple of days after this conversation, I reclaimed the right-hand chair, Will Riker’s chair.

Nick looked at me for a couple of minutes, and then said, “You know, I had it the wrong way around before. Now you’re Deanna Troi.”

There’s no length to which that man will not go to stop me being Will Riker.

Blogging a Tuesday Night's Musical Odyssey

Posted 17 June 2008 in by Catriona

It’s not really live-blogging, per se. But, sometimes, when we don’t have anything we want to watch on television, Nick and I will just run through the CD collection—and that’s what we’re doing tonight.

(Just for the record, it was Nick who suggested it might make interesting blogging. I wasn’t so sure.)

So far, we’ve just finished listening to Elmore James’s “The Sky is Crying”—and before that his version of “Dust My Broom,” but, really, who hasn’t done a version of “Dust My Broom”?—and I’m about to insist on some Billy Bragg.

We’re not drunk, by the way. It just seems as though we are.

Ah, Nick has just brought me coffee at the same time as I’ve started Billy Bragg’s version of “The Red Flag”—I’ve been feeling unusually bolshie after the events of this week. This version has the original music—much more inspiring and martial than the dirge-like version that’s sung these days.

It has whistles and something called a “bodhran”—I’m not sure what that is.

Ah: it’s an Irish frame drum. Apparently. Makes a good sound, whatever it is.

NICK: I don’t think I’ve ever heard the more typical version.
ME: The dirge.
NICK: Yeah.
ME: You’ve watched a Labour party conference?
NICK: Ah . . . no. Of course, the Australian Labour Party’s anthem is “Fuck the Communists,” as far as I can tell.

(I was going to spell that with an asterisk, but my Mam doesn’t read my blog, anyway.)

(Is this the height of solipsism? Maybe—but it’s a fun writing exercise.)

Billy Bragg’s the only artist apart from The Cure that I’ve ever seen twice: he’s brilliant live. That’s why I’m breaking the rules, to play more than one song from this EP.

Ah, he’s just been singing about the “dark satanic mills” in “Jerusalem”—my Dad hates that line, on the basis of the digs in the ribs he used to get when he was a choir boy in the Midlands.

Now Nick’s complaining that I’ve put Duran Duran on. I intend to challenge him as to why he hates Duran Duran, but he’s pre-empted me.

NICK: The only good Duran Duran song is “View to a Kill”—and you can quote me on that.

(Apparently, my spell-checker doesn’t recognise “th” as misspelt—that’s odd. I’ve caught two instances of my leaving the last letter off already: I“ll have to keep an eye on that.)

Whoops, I think Nick’s slipped into a coma—I might have to change the CD.

I wonder if he’d let me play something from Essential Soul: Volume One—note: contains no actual soul songs—if I promise not to play Patches. I love that song: makes me laugh every time. It’s the soul equivalent of the death of Little Nell.

It shouldn’t make me laugh, of course, but there’s a fine line between pathos and bathos.

Nope—couldn’t stop myself from listening to “Patches.” Brilliant.

It’s actually not a bad song, and I am an evil, evil person to laugh at it. It’s got a lovely rhythm, really.

On the other hand, I was raised by a woman who asked me and my sister to write poems for her obituary a few years ago, on the grounds that she wanted to edit them before she actually died. (She wasn’t actually ill, or anything—she’d read a newspaper article about a man whose son had written a poem for the newspaper obituary, and it enflamed her ambition.)

My sister wrote a limerick.

This live version of the Local Hero theme goes on forever, but I’m with Douglas Adams on the subject of Mark Knopfler’s guitar playing.

(I just skipped on to the Admin pages—while listening to “The Ship Song”—and found that someone had found the blog by Googling “Romeo+Juliet+blurbs.” I’m not even sure what that means, but I hope they enjoyed the blog.)

Nick’s just shown me a picture without telling me that it would completely spoil the last two episodes of Doctor Who for this season. If you don’t want to be spoiled, do not click on this link.

For those of you who did click—cool, huh?

We’re up to The Smiths, by that way—just to add a cheery note to the whole evening. Has anyone spotted that I usually get to pick the music on these evenings?

But I have just dragged my best of Bon Jovi album out, just in case we do fancy something a little more up-beat.

Musical tastes is one area where Nick and I do not have a lot of overlap—it’s odd, really, given how similar we are in terms of our tastes in television and movies. (Well, except for the ongoing debate about whether I should be able to watch Battlestar Galactica without bursting into tears.) But we really have next to no overlap on music—except for The Cure. But Nick is the more magnanimous here, because he will listen to some of my stuff, whereas I can’t stand most of his favourite artists.

Oh, I am so not listening to “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me”—that’s grim even for The Smiths.

I’m not intending to make this the world’s longest post, by the way. But there is a different challenge to writing down mundane events (almost) as they happen and (hopefully) making them interesting. That’s what I like about the blog: well, one of two things. It makes me stretch my writing and it’s overcoming my distaste about showing my writing to people.

(I have no problem showing thesis drafts to my supervisors—but I’m reluctant to display any other form of writing. Or I was, until I started writing the blog.)

Of course, you can’t trust me—I’ve used the word “solipsistic” more times since I started writing this blog than . . . well, I was going to say “than I have in the 31 years preceding” but a more accurate closing clause would be “since I wrote that tutorial paper on Satre in my second year.”

Nick hasn’t given me many amusing comments so far—I’ll see if Bon Jovi will flush him out.

NICK: Ah, this song [“Living on a Prayer”] would be much better without the talk box. That “whah whah whah”—really annoying.


Plus, we’ve just had a little chat about how “torque” and “talk” are homophones, so Bon Jovi is educational as well as fun.

Of course, now he’s singing along at the top of his voice, and I’m deeply, deeply regretting my choice.

Key change! It’s like Eurovision all over again.

Nick’s just told me that the American Red Cross has spent its entire disaster-relief budget. That’s . . . damn. I don’t even know what to say about that.

I’ve moved on to 1960s’ music, by the way, which has suddenly filled me with a overwhelming desire to listen to “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Hey—it’s not just Liverpool FC’s song (as though it needs to be anything else!) It also has geek credibility: it’s the song that Eddie the shipboard computer sang when the Polaris missiles were heading towards the Heart of Gold in Hitchhiker’s Guide.

Of course, I have it on an album called “Rock and Roll Heartbreakers”—which it really isn’t, even if you don’t associate it with tens of thousands of fans singing it after yet another FA Cup victory.

Is it just me, or is “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” the strangest song to find on the soundtrack of a Western? Even a Western like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

On the other hand, it has led to a spirited debate between Nick and me about whether “outro” is a real word. Nick thinks it is, on the grounds that “intro” is now a word in its own right and not merely a truncation of “introduction.” I think that’s rubbish.

The argument was a stalemate, because Nick brought out “well, in a musical context,” which gave me no grounds for riposte, since I know nothing about music.

But I do know that these are some of the greatest lines in musical history: “Eleanor, I really think you’re groovy. Let’s go out to a movie” and “You’re my pride and joy, et cetera”.

Actually, I think that last line reappeared in one of the Eurovision entries this year.

And on that note—Nick is singing along to “It’s My Party,” which has to be seen (and heard) to be believed—I should stop writing this before it either gets so long that people just skip over it or I’m tempted to use the word “solipsistic” again.

A Strange Excursion into Reader-Response Theory

Posted 17 June 2008 in by Catriona

For once, I haven’t doubled up any of books at the Lifeline Bookfest, not even The Hunchback of Notre Dame, as I initially feared.

And, as I alluded in my earlier post, buying Phineas Redux did complete my collection of the Pallister series; I’ve now found the other five—which were, naturally enough, stored far apart from one another, on completely different bookcases, and, in fact, in completely different rooms—so I can assert its completion confidently now.

Of course, they’re largely different editions, which is annoying in a series of books: half of them are Oxford paperbacks, but in two different versions, and another two are inexpensive Wordsworth reprints.

But the one I’m thinking of replacing is the Panther edition—a television tie-in edition from 1975—of the first novel, Can You Forgive Her?

But not because it’s a television tie-in; I don’t particularly like that, but it’s not sufficient cause to replace the book.

No, it’s because of the introduction by Simon Raven, who had a hand in the adaptation of the series for television.

More specifically, it’s because of this quote about Alice Vavasour, called in the blurb “one of the most striking heroines in Victorian fiction”:

Alice, though keen on sexy men, is terrified about what is going to happen on her wedding night, and keeps shuttling from George to Grey and back, not so much because one cheats and the other is a bore, but because she funks consummation with either. How the matter is resolved, I leave you to read for yourself; with this caveat, however, that while you will be interested you will not be wholly convinced, and that well before the end you will long for Alice to be hit on the head with a mallet and then raped (which is not, I hardly need to add, what happens). (xix)

Well, that should certainly cure the poor girl’s wedding-night jitters! So that’s a relief.

I suppose you do have to admire the confidence with which he inscribes that horrific desire to the entirety of his readership—and to think I wasted all that time pondering the complexities of various reader-response theories.

I have never read any of Simon Raven’s novels—although I understand, and the quote can be found here on the Wikipedia page, that his Shadows in the Grass was called “the filthiest cricket book ever written,” which, frankly, is quite an achievement.

In fact, the quotes on the Wikipedia page make both broad and specific use of the word “cad” in a density I haven’t seen since I last read T. H. White, while even his obituary claimed that his characters are “guaranteed to behave badly under pressure; most of them are vile without any pressure at all.”

Whether the quote about Alice is meant to be taken literally or ironically, I think the same can be said of Simon Raven as of his characters.

Dear Television Advertisers

Posted 16 June 2008 in by Catriona

Look, I know I’ve said this before, but—futile though it may be—I’m going to keep saying it.

These days—and I know this is a shock, but bear with me—these days, lots of people are women.

I know! But it’s true.

And—brace yourself, now—we actually have the franchise.

Some of us are even allowed to have money, and thus to exercise some degree of influence over the country’s economy.

So, bearing those points in mind, do you think maybe these factors—now that you’re aware of them, that is—might perhaps shift the way that you approach television advertising?

That would be great.

And if you could speak specifically to the people who are responsible for Mark Loves Sharon—whatever that is—I’d be really grateful.

Because I can’t even articulate the ways in which getting your kicks out of keeping bikini-clad women in otter enclosures is wrong.

Household Inefficiencies: Redux

Posted 16 June 2008 in by Catriona

In a brief hiatus between finishing one set of marking (miraculously early, but a small group) and receiving the next, I resolved—in an unusual spurt of physical activity—to tidy the study.

Well, my desk—I’ve long since decided that Nick’s desk is his job alone, partly because it’s frustrating to have someone else determine how your work space should be organised and partly because I don’t want to be responsible for that disaster zone.

But I need to be responsible for my own desk and, frankly, in the aftermath of my submission, it wasn’t in great shape. Or, indeed, in any kind of shape.

I only wish I’d taken a “before” photograph, because it’s a difficult thing to ask people to imagine. Rest assured, however, that it was essentially covered with teetering piles of every piece of paper that I’d generated in three-and-a-half years of research work, with a small space carved out on the very edge, for me to rest my laptop on each night.

It certainly wasn’t a work space.

It wasn’t somewhere where I could write journal articles, prepare lectures, map out tutorial exercises, or mark student assessment.

So, really, what purpose did it serve, except as a repository for uncategorised papers? And, to a postgraduate student and university lecturer/tutor, what are uncategorised papers? They have no value, since they have no explicit shape or form.

But now—now, the desk looks like this:

(I hope people notice it’s even tidier than the last time that I decided posting photographs of my study was a legitimate blog update! I do notice, though, that the James Jean picture of Hansel “interrogating” witches is as creepy as ever. I also notice that the space above my desk is a good place for my other Jean print. Hmm.)

I notice that my glass of wine is prominent in the final shot—and my Diet Coke in the second one, which really tells you all you need to know about my habitual liquid intake—but such, as Ned Kelly allegedly said, is life. The fact that the government has just trivialised the issue of binge drinking by defining it as three or more drinks a night—regardless of circumstances—isn’t going to stop me enjoying this rather nice White Shiraz (which is, of course, neither white nor, I suspect, actually a Shiraz).

But this is all a distraction from the reason why I started writing this post—and the reason why I put it under “Writing” and not, as with the previous instalment, “Life, The Universe, And Everything.”

And that’s my conflicted relationship with the study.

Since I posted that first piece about the value of my study, Lisa Gunders over on The Memes of Production has written a thoughtful piece on the way in which “[m]uch intellectual work still takes place amidst the noise and messiness and constant demands of family life and interactions with ‘ordinary’ people in all their spendid diversity.”

So that’s why I love my study—it is a separate space.

But it’s not the ivory tower, if such a thing even exists. This may be a detached house, but we’re barely three metres, if that, from our neighbours on either side, and their daily lives impinge on ours. How can they not? I’m sure ours impinge on theirs.

But when, for example, you’re trying to finalise the editing of a chapter—and not, as in the writing stages, borne up by sheer euphoria of the writing process, but drearily replacing all the full stops that you’d mistakenly put outside the inverted commas—and the people painting the guttering next door are holding a loud conversation from opposite ends of the house, it takes all your self-control and awareness that you must, after all, recognise the rights of other people to move through their daily lives to keep yourself from leaning out of the window and shouting, “Oh, sod off!”

You don’t do it, of course, but it’s a distraction—like running errands, doing the housekeeping, paying bills, answering the phone, preparing meals, dealing with telemarketers, and all the other pinpricks—or joys, depending on your mood—of daily life.

And there are distractions from within this shared space, as well: this is Nick’s study, too. But, for Nick—with his fixed desk-top computer and his passion for all things Internet orientated—it’s his space for leisure, as well. And that’s a further distraction, although he has every right to use this room as he sees fit.

Nick once, for example, bought a keyboard with which he was delighted, because it simulated the tactility of the old-school keyboards.

“Listen to how wonderfully clacky it is!” he exclaimed.

There must have been something in the tone with which I responded, in a break from working, “Yes, I can hear that,” because he replaced it shortly afterwards. And, although I never actually asked him to get rid of it, I’ve always felt a little guilty that he felt he was obligated to. (Of course, he may have just become bored.)

Hence, the conflict: I want my study to be something that it can’t possibly be. I want it to be a haven, to be sound-proof, to be inspiring, to facilitate my creativity and my focus. No one room can possibly carry that burden.

But, before this post strikes anyone reading it as entirely self-centred, I do recognise that I’m writing this from a position of privilege—and that these problems would only occur in that privileged position.

Lisa’s post stems from a reading of the movement of the working classes into universities, and the fact that these pioneers—usually the first in their families to be able to pursue tertiary education—had no choice but to work among the bustle of everyday life.

That makes me feel petty.

I know that having had, as I have had, the leisure to pursue university study for thirteen years and, specifically, to spend eight years chasing postgraduate degrees, is a wonderful thing.

I do know that, and I’m grateful for it.

But somewhere in my mind, there’s an ideal study.

Right at the top of the house, so that the windows catch every available breeze instead of reflecting the setting sun off our neighbour’s corrugated-iron roof, and overlook the hills and valleys, instead of someone’s bathroom.

And with shelves all the way around the walls, from floor to ceiling, so that I never have to determine which books should be at the back of the shelves this time.

And a desk that will take all my notes, and books, and files, and still leave room for writing.

And, since this space is in my head, I may as well add tea, and a cushioned chaise longue for reading, and a pot-bellied stove for the winter that never comes in Brisbane.

I love my study—after all, haven’t I just spent an hour in it, writing this blog post?

But perhaps part of what I love is the fact that when I occupy it, I can occupy my ideal study somewhere in my mind at the same time.

What? Or, Why Television is Weird

Posted 15 June 2008 in by Catriona

TELEVISION ADVERTISEMENT FOR CSI: A crime so shocking, so mystifying . . . is this a case for the Mythbusters?
(Caption: Special Guest Stars: The Mythbusters)
ME: What?
NICK: What?
TELEVISION ADVERTISEMENT FOR CSI (sotto voce): Hang on, what did I just say?

Seriously—I realise that, as a good nineteenth-century scholar, I should be watching the BBC’s adaptation of Northanger Abbey. (I am going to watch it, but I was a bit scarred by an earlier adaptation that was apparently scripted by someone who has no understanding of the concept of irony.)

Perhaps my current confusion is a fair return for my decision to record Austen and watch CSI and Supernatural instead.

But I seriously think this belongs on my list of the most perplexing things I’ve ever seen on television—and I’ve seen at least one episode of Mutant X.

Making the Living Room Look Like A Retro Space Ship

Posted 14 June 2008 in by Catriona

Well, it’s one way to make Nick interested in interior decorating—for a creative man and a designer, he has remarkably little interest in the appearance of his domestic environment.

But there is a reason why his design company is called RetroRocket, so this might work.

The chairs do look rather as though they should be part of the interior of the Discovery One, but they also suit my fondness for sleek, 1960s’ design.

Sure, there’s some lovely, sleek design work being produced now, but I like the clean lines of good 1960s’ and 1970s’ design, so these also mesh well with my little plastic nested tables and the plethora of old lamps that I keep picking up at auctions and in antique centres.

Best of all, I can get rid of the hideously uncomfortable sofa that made its way here from my first share house—it’s always called “the black sofa,” despite the fact that all three of our sofas are actually black.

(On a similar principle, we have a table called “the swan table” that is completely free of any kind of swan or swan-shaped object. That’s the table in the back corner in the first photo—see, completely swan-free.)

But the black sofa (now a pleasing shade of light green) has been relegated to the back verandah, where it gives the space the slightly dissolute air of a student house (which I suppose it isn’t, now. How sad.)

I think Nick was a little uncertain about this, but it’s great—we moved it out this morning, before going to pick the new chairs up, and I’ve been sprawling on it at intervals throughout the day, basking in the sun.

I don’t think I’ll care to bask in the sun in summer, but in winter I think I’ll get a lot of use out of my verandah sofa.

Dear Giant Moth That I Found In My Bedroom

Posted 14 June 2008 in by Catriona

You are extremely beautiful. You are also enormous.

And you scare the pants off me. (Almost literally, in this case, since I found you while I was searching for clean clothes.)

I don’t know why you and so many of your brethren are coming to Brisbane these days—I believe it has to do with increased rain on the coast and therefore a plentiful food supply.

That’s fantastic! Eat and . . . well, no, don’t multiply. Much. Just don’t die out, because you are lovely.

But, and correct me if I’m wrong here, I don’t think that my bedroom is your natural habitat.

And I am very, very scared of you.

Does that make me a coward, giant moth? Probably. But I think I’ll just stay out here in the living room for now.

So I want to make a deal with you, giant moth.

There’s the window. Can you see the window? If not, I’ll just pick you up gently—no, let’s be serious for a moment. Someone else—who is not scared of you or, perhaps, is more scared of me than of you—will pick you up very gently and take you to the window.

Because we don’t want to hurt you, giant moth. We definitely don’t want to kill you. But I find not being able to enter my bedroom rather inconvenient.

So we’ll see you out the window, and you can fly free to eat thistles—or whichever food source you prefer—and find a companion, and circle futilely around lampposts on balmy Brisbane nights.

Does that sound like a fair compromise, giant moth?

But, before you go, I will say one thing.

I am grateful to you, giant moth, for one thing.

I am grateful that you are not one of those Hercules moths with the twenty-seven-centimetre wingspans that you find in Northern Queensland.

Because if I found one of those in my bedroom, I would have to abandon the house.

When Geeks Rule the World

Posted 13 June 2008 in by Catriona

One of the advantages of being Generation X—which almost outweighs the fact that you have to call yourself Generation X—is that the people moving into writing and directing positions now are often our age, and are mining our childhoods for reference material.

That’s one of the reasons why Nick and I so enjoy Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law and find it amusing when Unicef bombs the Smurf village.

So we’re already conditioned into looking for and delighting in intertextual references.

But that doesn’t quite explain the strange kind of madness that overtook us when we were watching Press Gang and realised that it uses an enormous number of actors who also appeared in Doctor Who.

This wouldn’t have concerned us, if it weren’t for the Steven Moffat connection.

Let’s face it: Nick and I are geeks.

We converse—not quite exclusively, but largely—in quotations from various books, movies, and video games, up to and including lines from WarCraft 2 (largely “Stop poking me!” and “Hi-ho, matey!”).

(Nick has, in fact, just been speaking in an appalling ‘European’ accent, and ended up by saying, “I don’t know why I’m trying to sound like Gunther, the Eurotrash vampire, but Sam and Max is a great game.”)

We’re prone to saying, when faced by events in the real world, “You know, that reminds me of [random episode of random show].”

I could go on, but that would just lead to me explaining how I once said “The geek shall inherit the earth” while I was giving a class on punctuation, and we all know how that story ends.

But the point is that we know how geeks think—which is why we’re not sure that this influx of former Doctor Who actors into a Steven Moffat—run show is entirely coincidental.

Of course, few of the major Press Gang characters have appeared in Doctor Who, if you don’t count Julia Sawalha’s appearance as the companion in the Comic Relief special “The Curse of Fatal Death”—and, since that was written by Moffat, I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Apart from Sawalha, there are only two exceptions: Lucy Benjamin, who played Julie Craig—once Head of Graphics, later Deputy Editor—also played the young Nyssa in “Mawdryn Undead” and Angela Bruce—Chrissy Stuart in the first two seasons of Press Gang—was, of course, Brigadier Winifred Bambera in “Battlefield.”

But consider the following list of guest stars, compiled by someone who has finished one major project and not started the next, and therefore has a lot of spare research energy floating around (or, at least, knows the URL for

Michael Jayston, who appeared as Colonel X/John England in “UnXpected”—an episode about a children’s television show that was a strange hybrid of Prisoner and Doctor Who, with a touch of Bond—also played The Valeyard, a shadowy semi-regeneration from between The Doctor’s twelfth and thirteenth regenerations, in “The Trial of a Time Lord.”

Also in “UnXpected,” were Eric Dodson, as Sir Edward, who played the Headman in “The Visitation,” and Brian Glover, as Dr Threeways, who played Griffiths in “Attack of the Cybermen.”

But it gets better, because in the same episode, as the psychiatrist Dr Clipstone, was perhaps the coolest guest star of all time: Michael Sheard. Not only did Sheard play the evil Mr Bronson in Grange Hill as well as once being choked the death by Darth Vader in the best of the three films (what prequels?), The Empire Strikes Back, but he was also in no fewer than six different Doctor Who stories, going back as far as 1966: as the headmaster of Coal Hill High School in “Remembrance of the Daleks,” Margrave in “Castrovalva,” Supervisor Lowe in “The Invisible Enemy,” Laurence Scarman in “Pyramids of Mars,” Dr Summers in “The Mind of Evil,” and Rhos in “The Arc.”

Or perhaps the coolest guest star was David Collings, who appeared in Press Gang as Mr Winters. He doesn’t have quite the Doctor Who credits on his CV that Sheard has, but he was in three episodes: as Vorus in “Revenge of the Cybermen,” as Poul in “Robots of Death,” and as Mawdryn in “Mawdryn Undead.”

Of course, while he was never choked to death by Vader, he was Silver in Sapphire and Steel, which is another degree of geek cool.

Also in “The Invisible Enemy,” as an opthamologist, was Jim McManus, who played Station Master Dutton in the Press Gang episode “Friends Like These.”

And “The Trial of a Time Lord” didn’t just have Michael Jayston—Sam Howard, who appeared as an unnamed “Teacher” in three Press Gang episodes, played Asta in that story.

Even the minor characters frequently appeared in Doctor Who episodes.

Peter Childs, playing the proprietor of a cafe, was also Jack Ward in “The Mark of the Rani.”

Tessa Shaw, who was a librarian in “Picking Up The Pieces,” was a UNIT Officer in “Spearhead from Space.”

Sharon Duce, who played Katherine Hill, was also Control in “Ghost Light”.

Paul Jerrico, a “TV policeman” in “Windfall,” was The Castellan in “Arc of Infinity”—“No, not the mind probe!”

Kevork Malikyan, who was Fahid in “Day Dreams,” was also Kemel Rudkin in “The Wheel in Space.”

Even the younger actors—the ones who haven’t been jobbing in the industry for twenty years—appear in Doctor Who episodes.

Christien Anholt, who was the tragic Donald Cooper in the two-part “The Last Word,” had previously played Perkins in the wonderful “Curse of Fenric.”

And, of course, Gian Sammarco—playing Benjamin Drexil in “Something Terrible,” a train-spotter who wanted a new image but didn’t think to mention that he was a black belt in judo and an accomplished mime—had followed up his role as Adrian Mole with the part of Whizzkid in “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.”

It’s even moving in the other direction, now—Raymond Sawyer, who played Councillor Peter Mayhew in “Breakfast at Czar’s,” recently played the desk sergeant in Moffat’s new-series episode “Blink.”

(And do you think that character name is a coincidence? Or are we supposed to think of Chewbacca?)

But is there any more to this than a strong indication that giving me a blog was not necessarily the wisest move?

Probably not.

But I would like to think that it’s not just coincidence—that, on some level, Steven Moffat is thinking, “Now, who can we get to play this role? I know, there was that guy on Doctor Who once!”

The World's Strangest Telemarketing Call

Posted 13 June 2008 in by Catriona

I said I wasn’t going to post much while I was marking, but this is too weird to pass up.

ME: Hello?

TELEMARKETER: Hi, ma’am. My name is Sam and I assume you’re the owner of this telephone number?

ME: Well, technically I rent it from Telstra. (I get a bit stroppy when I’m marking.)

TELEMARKETER: Well, that’s not important, ma’am, because I’m calling to tell you we’re giving you a brand-new mobile phone.

ME: Ah. Well, either there are fifteen companies making this kind of call, or I’ve received hundreds of calls from you despite asking for them to be discontinued. But I don’t have a mobile phone and I don’t want a mobile phone, thank you.

TELEMARKETER: You receive all those calls because you’re a big celebrity in Australia, ma’am.

ME: Right. Well, I’m still not interested in a mobile phone.

TELEMARKETER: You have a very lovely voice, ma’am.

ME: Sorry?

TELEMARKETER: What’s your name, ma’am?

ME: Why would you need to know my name when I’m not interested in your service?

TELEMARKETER: I’m just asking your name, ma’am.

ME: And I’m just asking why you want it.

TELEMARKETER: How old are you, ma’am?

ME: Why on earth would you need to know how old I am?

TELEMARKETER: You look to be maybe 24 or 22, ma’am.

ME: And how on earth do you know what I look like?

TELEMARKETER: I’m just imagining it, ma’am, because you have a lovely voice.

ME: I beg your pardon?

TELEMARKETER: What’s your name, ma’am?

ME: I’m not telling you my name.

TELEMARKETER: I just want to be friends, ma’am. Has anyone told you you have a really lovely smile?

ME: Okay, I’m either going to have to hang up now, or ask to speak to your supervisor.

TELEMARKETER: Okay, I’ll hang up now, ma’am. Bye!

Okay, maybe this is what I get for engaging with telemarketers in the first place.

But part of me really hopes that that call was recorded for training purposes.

An Apposite Quotation

Posted 12 June 2008 in by Catriona

Since I’m marking the work of writing students for the next couple of weeks, this quotation leapt out at me during this evening’s leisure reading of Dorothy L. Sayers’s Clouds of Witness.

(Note that I’m careful to call it a quotation, since my supervisor once mentioned that when he read my chapter all he could hear in his head was the voice of an old school teacher saying, “Quotes are what plumbers give.”)

Wimsey looked with a new respect at the lady in the Russian blouse. Few books were capable of calling up a blush to his cheek, but he remembered that one of Miss Heath-Warburton’s had done it. The authoress was just saying impressively to her companion:

‘—ever know a sincere emotion express itself in a subordinate clause?’

‘Joyce has freed us from the superstition of syntax,’ agreed the curly man.

‘Scenes which make emotional history,’ said Miss Heath-Warburton, ‘should ideally be represented in a series of animal squeals.’

‘The D. H. Lawrence formula,’ said the other.

‘Or even Dada,’ said the authoress. (135)

As long as I never receive assessment written in a series of animal squeals, I should perhaps stop complaining about inability to accurately punctuate a subordinate clause.

It’s never occurred to me question the sincerity of whatever emotion it might contain. But then, as my students keep saying, that’s academic writing for you.

It's That Time Again

Posted 11 June 2008 in by Catriona

Final assessment needs to be graded for semester one.

In addition, I have double the amount of exams to mark than I anticipated—entirely voluntarily, due to an unavoidable set of circumstances, but still—and only four days to turn those around, which works out at roughly twenty exams a day.

And, on top of that, I’ve just realised that I’ve scheduled a Doctor Who night right in the middle of those four days, which was jolly clever of me. (Still, I’m not postponing it—it’s the Steven Moffat episodes!)

That’s not even going into the administrative issue that’s thrown me into a right state today.

So, much as I love my blog—and, frankly, probably won’t be able to stay away from it for any length of time—I’m not planning any long updates for the next couple of weeks.

But that won’t stop me commenting on stupid television advertisements, which probably makes up about 60% of the content at the moment anyway.

(Slight aside: I have no idea what happened to my tone in this entry—it seems to have gone oddly hearty and hail-fellow-well-met. I haven’t even been reading any of my girls’ school stories, so I have no idea why I’m suddenly using phrases like “jolly clever,” but there you are.)

Of course, if I ever find my copy of Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, I might make an exception.

Things I Have Shouted At My Nintendo DS This Weekend

Posted 10 June 2008 in by Catriona

1. “Damn it, stop blocking my spells, you daft Fire Elemental! I’m only trying to relight the Elvish beacons! Don’t you want to help the Elves?”

2. “Why do you get all the skulls, just because you’re the Undead?”

3. “Stop killing me!”

4. “I love you, Patch, you sneaky little rogue Gnoll! Stab more people in the back!”

5. “Hang on, why have I just missed five turns in a row?”

6. “Well, what does that spell do, then?”

7. “No, wait—why are you draining all my mana? I need that to cast spells!”

8. “Stop stealing the gems that I want!”

9. “Why do the Undead get all the cool spells?”

10. “How am I supposed to kill you if you kept attacking me?”

11. “Seriously, stop blocking my spells! I don’t think you realise how annoying that is.”

12. “How can a Wyvern be such a rubbish mount?”

13. “Look, do you want me to win this game, or not? Because it’s very difficult for me to win if you won’t let me have any skulls!”

14. “Why are the Elves angry with me? I was only following the quest! And, anyway, it’s not as though the giant, magical eyeball originally belonged to them.”

15. “You know, I’m getting pretty sick of teaching these Minotaur slavers a lesson.”

16. “Hang on, did I just torture that Harpy? Oh, well.”

Ah, RPG gaming. It’s good for the development of your moral code and for your temper.

How to Cure a Hangover: Lifeline Bookfest

Posted 7 June 2008 in by Catriona

So today is one of the two greatest days on the Brisbane calendar: the Queen’s Birthday long weekend Lifeline Bookfest.

(The other greatest day is, of course, the Australia Day long weekend Lifeline Bookfest. And, yes, technically they take place over more than one day, but Nick is strangely resistant towards allowing me to go on more than one day, so as far as I’m concerned they’re one-day book sales.)

I love the Lifeline Bookfest.

The Lifeline Bookfest is, in fact, almost the sole reason why I will probably end up like that professor—I think he was Italian?—who spent a week trapped under one of his own bookcases while everyone assumed he was on sabbatical. Which I suppose he was, in a way.

As a book sale, though, it is variable; you won’t always find books that you absolutely have to buy (although, to be honest, I’ve never come away empty handed.)

But I’ve found some treasures: the Lifeline Bookfest yielded my lovely hardback facsimile reprints of a couple of Baum’s Oz books; a little copy of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen; a fat little copy of Keats’s poems bound in puffy, disintegrating, orange suede; a tiny Victorian copy of Clara Reeve’s early Gothic novel The Old English Baron; and girls’ school story after girls’ school story, often with their original dust cover.

I wouldn’t miss the Bookfest for the world.

But this one was bad timing: with a Doctor Who night last night and a party tonight that involves dressing as vaguely Victorian sideshow freaks, we were always going to be a little pressed for time.

But then the Doctor Who night turned out to be unusually convivial, thanks to the need to open a bottle of champagne to toast success and then, obviously, having to drink the rest of the bottle so it didn’t go flat. So Nick and I dragged ourselves off the bed somewhere about 1 a. m., knowing the Bookfest opened at 8 a. m.

The night was slightly punctuated by snoring, but mostly by me waking up regularly to think, “My head really hurts, and I bet it will hurt worse by morning.”

Next thing I know, Nick’s shouting, “Get up, get up, the alarm didn’t go off!” and we’re rushing to shower and dress without the benefit of coffee or breakfast (but thanks to the magical power of Nurofen.)

Still, a successful morning of book shopping will cure even the worst hangover: and not only was this not a terrible hangover, but it was a great sale.

I don’t know whether someone had liquidated an entire, jealousy guarded collection of Victorian novels, but I found some lovely things: a copy of Margaret Oliphant’s ghost stories and her gothicky novel Salem Chapel; a pile of Anthony Trollopes, including the fabulously titled Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite and Phineas Redux, which I’m pretty sure completes my Pallister series (only I can’t remember where I put the others, so I can’t check); some Oscar Wilde short stories; Wilkie Collins’s Basil; and even a copy of Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame De Paris (I checked: it is a translation, despite the misleading title.)

The latter led to me making the following disclaimer to Nick: “This really is an essential book. In fact, it’s so essential that I may already have a copy, but I’m pretty sure I don’t.”

I was also able to thoroughly indulge one of my other main hobbies, which is early crime fiction, thanks to a couple of Dover reprints of 1930s detective stories (one set in Oxford—the murder of an unpopular tutor in the Dean’s study! Horrors!—and one set on one of the Channel Islands), a collection of Edwardian stories of cosmopolitan crime called More Rivals to Sherlock Holmes (which leads me to hope that somewhere out there there’s a book called Rivals to Sherlock Holmes; I already have one called In the Shadow of Sherlock Holmes), and 1913’s The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu—how could I turn that down?

I didn’t just stick with books of at least seventy years’ vintage, either: I was going to cite Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop here, but of course that is exactly seventy years old. But I did buy Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, some Italo Calvino, and Umberto Eco’s Reflections on The Name of the Rose.

Even the children’s books were worth perusing this time; they’re often not, unless you’re looking to complete collections of Babysitters’ Club or Sweet Valley High books. But I dragged out a couple of later Wombles books, and two new (to me) Dana Girls Mysteries: the Dana Girls books—private-school girls who solve mysteries in their spare time—were written by “Carolyn Keene,” the “author” of the Nancy Drew Mysteries, and are essentially exactly the same books but with an additional detective.

But my crowning delight from this sale was a beautiful—still dust-jacketed!—copy of Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopaedia. I’ve said before that Benet’s is perhaps the only book that could challenge Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable as my go-to reference book, but now I don’t have to chose between them.

On the downside, I think my double-strength coffee and the Nurofen are wearing off simultaneously.

On the plus side, I have forty-five lovely new books to try and fit onto my shelves this afternoon.

Strange Conversations: Part Seventeen

Posted 7 June 2008 in by Catriona

While driving home, listening to what turned out to be “Bizarre Love Triangle” on the radio:

NICK: Ooh.
ME: What is it?
NICK: An extended mix, I think.
ME: Of?
NICK: This song.

Sometimes, it isn’t even worth trying to control the Fist of Death.



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