by Catriona Mills

Swedish Home-Furnishing Manufacturers: Efficient But Deadly

Posted 4643 days ago in by Catriona

Yes, yes: I know that tagline more properly belongs to the Swedish Mafia, but it’s thematically appropriate.

One present this Christmas was a lamp. A gorgeous red glass lamp from Sweden’s premier home-furnishing store.

As well as being gorgeous, it has been amusing me for days, because it has the most imperative instruction manual I’ve ever read.

(Yes: a lamp that comes in exactly two parts—base and shade—has an eight-page instruction manual telling me how to attach said two parts to one another. I love instruction manuals.)

It also comes with a helpful illustration:

I have a feeling that the expressions are the wrong way around: which expression would you be wearing while ringing Ikea to say, “Excuse me? Your table only has three legs. Why, yes: I do have my own allen key”?

But what really delights me is the primary instruction, which, in its English translation, reads as follows:

The external flexible cable or cord of this luminaire cannot be replaced; if the cord is damaged, the luminaire shall be destroyed.

Quick, Nick! Take the lamp out the back door—the Ikea Assassination Squad is here!

Strange Conversations: With Special Guest Stars, My Female Relatives

Posted 4645 days ago in by Catriona

What happens when you have a mix including my mother, my sister, Patrick McGoohan’s Danger Man, and an iconic British cartoon:

MY SISTER: We also saw DVDs of something called Danger Man.
NICK: With Patrick McGoohan? It’s basically a dry run for The Prisoner. And, of course, the inspiration for Danger Mouse.
MY MOTHER: Of course, he was quite a well-considered Shakespearean actor.
ME: Who, Danger Mouse?
MY MOTHER: Oh, yes—Shakespeare was well known for his roles for mice.
ME: Well, one of them was a mole.
MY SISTER: Penfold.
MY MOTHER: Penfold?
ME: Yes, Penfold was a mole.
MY MOTHER: In Shakespeare?
(Slightly stunned pause from all parties.)
ME: Yes. He was one of Henry V’s lords. It was a very small role.
MY SISTER: Because he was a mole.

Random Weirdness From My Father's Bookshelf

Posted 4647 days ago in by Catriona

My parents have recently returned from Vietnam, which they adored and which is all they talk about. My father, in particular, was taken with the food and is planning a seventeen-course Vietnamese banquet for tomorrow night.

(Apparently, they’re terribly small courses. I’m still thinking a couple of days of fasting might be necessary before embarking on a seventeen-course meal.)

So he has a pile of Vietnamese cookery books, including this one:

I apologise for the quality of the image: the book is insanely shiny and difficult to photograph.

It’s also insanely ’70s:

It’s frequently unusually random:

I would deny that those are, in fact, shrimp, onion, and water chestnut balls (or even “water chesnut” balls), since they appear to be slices of rather nice wholemeal and white loaves.

It’s also amusingly proofread—or not proofread, in parts:

But I will give them credit for the gorgeous presentation of the food, even if the photographs are as ’70s as the illustrations:

I’m rather hoping, though, that neither “fied powdered anchovy” nor “fried powdered anchovy” are actually on the menu tomorrow night.

Why We Don't Buy Christmas Presents At The Two-Dollar Shop

Posted 4648 days ago in by Catriona

We don’t, generally, because we’re a small family with a small pool of recipients—but the family has developed, by some strange sort of Christmas osmosis, the habit of adding what we call “the five-dollar present” to the main gift.

To add to that, my mother really enjoys anything that lights up and, for preference, makes an obnoxious noise. She the kind of woman who presses all the buttons in the toy section of Kmart.

(Something that Nick made me promise to stop doing, on pain of not coming shopping with me any more.)

So my brother and I wandered down to find something to add to Mam’s obnoxious Christmas orchestra, and found a jumping Santa playing the saxophone.

Brilliant, right?

Less brilliant that night, after my nephews figured out how to turn it on themselves—a jumping, singing Santa takes quite a while to become boring for a two-year-old and a four-year-old.

But they had fun singing, “Jump, jump, jump, ‘cause that’s what I do.”

It wasn’t until tonight that we heard the full lyrics:

Jump, jump, jump, ‘cause that’s what I do,
Jump, jump, jump, ‘cause I’m the Easter Bunny: it’s true.

Methinks Santa has been dipping a little too deep into the sherry.

Strange Conversations: A Special Christmas Edition

Posted 4649 days ago in by Catriona

While enjoying a convivial Christmas morning with my entire family, sitting in the garden room on a balmy, antipodean day:

ME: Nicholas, please put the iPhone away.
NICK: I need to check my e-mails!
ME: No one is going to send you an e-mail on Christmas morning.
NICK: I had four new e-mails!
ME: (skeptical pause)
NICK (defensively): Well, they were junk e-mails. But I needed to check!

Random Camden

Posted 4650 days ago in by Catriona

Wildlife Parity

Posted 4653 days ago in by Catriona

Of all the wildlife we see in the back garden, the one animal I haven’t immortalised on the blog is the possum.

This is partly to do with the fact that it only ever comes out late at night, when I am rarely carrying my camera, and partly to do with the fact that the little sod ate my chili plant, for which iniquitous act I shall never forgive it.

However, it did make its appearance during a boozy pre-Christmas drinks evening on the weekend, wandering casually up the stairs to see if it could scrounge any food:

Not the best picture of a possum, but who wants to get close to one, really?

This next photo is a lovely one, but I didn’t take it—a brave friend who was willing to get far closer to the possum than I was took this one:

Don’t think you’re going to be getting the same coverage as my water dragon, though, possum.

Strange Conversations: Part Seventy-Four

Posted 4653 days ago in by Catriona

My washing machine, the lemon:

ME: The washing machine is beeping again.
NICK: Always does with underwear loads.
ME: Mam says it might not be quite level, but that would mean that the concrete foundation to the house isn’t level. Still, we could get a spirit level and check.
NICK: Okay. I’ll get the spirit-level application for my iPhone!
ME: . . . I don’t like you.
NICK: Okay.

Strange Conversations: The Holiday Edition

Posted 4656 days ago in by Catriona

After Nick finished some secret, post-work shopping:

ME: So have you cunningly hidden my Christmas presents?
NICK: Under the bed.
ME: Don’t tell me where they are!
NICK: Well, I don’t want you scrounging around.
ME: But scrounging around is what Christmas is all about!
NICK: Oh, well, if I’d known that . . .
ME: “If you known that” what?
NICK: I probably still would have told you.

Nick never seems to get into the proper spirit of Christmas: that is, he has no cunning whatsoever. My family—led by my Machiavellian mother—is full of gift-giving cunning, so this is always a source of amusement to me.

A couple of years ago, he unwittingly revealed the genre of one of my Christmas presents, by loudly answering the phone to my sister and then saying, “I don’t know: I’ll just check” before ostentatiously wandering up and down the bookcases.

(But, then, who objects to getting books for Christmas? Apart from Albus Dumbledore.)

But my favourite was the birthday-present spoliation from last year:

NICK: Oh, it’s an SMS from your sister. “Hi, Nick: do you think Treen would like Kylie Kwong’s Simple Chinese Cooking for her birthday? Don’t read this out” . . . oh.

Strange Conversations: Part Seventy-Three

Posted 4657 days ago in by Catriona

Humid weather breeds strange musings . . .

ME: Life is terribly complicated. I thought that once I got old, life would become easier.
NICK: I find that when I trip, I am less likely to fall on my face, so I have negotiated one of life’s complexities. It still hurts like hell, but it is no longer lethal.

It’s all about the little victories, isn’t it?

A Quote I Really Need To Remember For Lectures

Posted 4657 days ago in by Catriona

Yes, it does seem as though I’m using my blog as a giant, electronic Post-it note, but it’s an interesting quote, either way.

Reginald Hill’s version of the “so what?” test:

During her previous existence as a lecturer, a colleague who ran a Creative Writing course had moaned to her that he spent far too much time dealing with the hang-ups of students who clearly regarded narrative fiction as a branch of therapy rather than a branch of art. Now she knew what he meant. Therapy you kept to yourself. Art took you, trembling, in front of the footlights.

She brought this perspective to bear on her rejected third novel. Suddenly she found herself asking paragraph by paragraph the two essential questions: Is this really so important to me I’ve got to say it? Is this potentially so interesting to readers, they’ll have to read it?

From Reginald Hill’s Arms and the Women, 2000. HarperCollins paperback, 2001. 65.

As Soon As I Can Stop Laughing . . .

Posted 4658 days ago in by Catriona

I’m going to blog about the new video game based on Dante’s Inferno.

Yes, you read that correctly.

The game hasn’t been released yet, and I’m already looking forward to the sequel: Dante’s Purgatory. I’m quite certain they have no intention of releasing Dante’s Paradiso. (Frankly, I don’t blame them: I re-read The Divine Comedy at least once a year, and I tend to stop after Purgatory. Heaven is quite dull in comparison to the sufferings of the damned and the penitent.)

Look, I’m not the first person to get a giggle out of this: check out today’s Penny Arcade strip.

But, honestly: The Divine Comedy is important for many reasons. Let me indulge in a brief and shallow list of the ones that spring to mind, in bullet-point form.

  • The Divine Comedy is a sustained engagement with the idea of contrapasso, or, as we might term it vernacularly, poetic justice. I’m not sure that this includes . . . but, actually, to say what this doesn’t include would be to preview the end of this post too early. So let’s just stop there.
  • it’s an immensely influential work, especially on authors of the Regency period—after the success of Henry Francis Cary’s translation—and afterwards. One of the more interesting engagements with Dante and with contrapasso, to my mind, is Lady Caroline Lamb’s Ada Reis, in which the entire third volume takes place in a hellish Dantean afterlife. But that’s only one example, and less obscure writers such as Walter Savage Landor, Leigh Hunt, and Lord Byron were also fascinated by Dante.
  • it represents a significant and influential development of the geography and sociology of Hell, including an engagement with aspects of lore that, while inferred from either the Old or New Testaments, gained greater significance later in the history of the church, such as the Harrowing of Hell.
  • it was written in vernacular Italian, rather than Latin, making it accessible to a broader number of readers.

A shallow list? Yes.

But not as shallow as the video game.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, courtesy of my friend Drew, here is the trailer for the video game of Dante’s Inferno.

And if what Dante does in that final scene qualifies as contrapasso, I need a new dictionary.

Some School Stories Are Weirder Than Others

Posted 4659 days ago in by Catriona

All three of these illustrations are from Marjorie W. Newman’s Scoring for the School, which, double entendres aside, includes a rousing cricket game in which, presumably, the players score for the school.

That’s not my main concern, though. My main concern is how strangely disparate these illustrations are.

I’m not imagining things, am I, when I get the feeling that these are the work of three different illustrators?

Whoever did the cover doesn’t seem to have realised that they weren’t illustrating the novelisation of Satan’s School for Girls. Or am I the only one who is highly suspicious of that central figure? And what is that girl on the bottom right doing? I think she’s supposed to be playing a harmonica, but she looks like surreptitiously licking something forbidden, judging from her cagey eyes.

But the cover illustration is often done by another illustrator. That doesn’t explain the vast difference between the next two illustrations.

First, a soft, Vaseline-on-the-lens, watercoloury illustration of schoolgirls picking flowers. Lovely: presumably, they’ll go back to the dorm and have a midnight feast, maybe a late swim, or gang up to pick on the fat, spotty kid—exactly what school is for.

But then there’s—actually, what is that? An all-girl jazz band? Or mobsters who wear matching jackets so that people know they’re a serious gang and not just the usual teenage-girl gang?

See, now I have no idea what’s happening.

Seriously, is that girl on the left wearing sunglasses with her drop-waisted school tunic?

Hang on! Maybe it’s a drug cartel? That would help explain the book’s title.

Moon, Cloud, Tree: Redux

Posted 4660 days ago in by Catriona

Strange Conversations: Part Seventy-Two

Posted 4660 days ago in by Catriona

What happens when Nick unexpectedly walks in while I’m accessing iTunes on his computer (or, as I call it, his iMistress) so I can listen to Jonathan Coulton.

ME: I wasn’t doing anything!
NICK: It’s fine. You can do whatever you want.
ME: On your computer?
NICK: Well . . . no. But you’re allowed to turn on iTunes.

As long as I know my boundaries.



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