by Catriona Mills

Work, Work, Work

Posted 20 January 2009 in by Catriona

I’ve spent the day writing “cliche,” “fatuous,” “vague transition,” and the like on my own article (I’m much harder on myself than on my students, if anyone’s worrying about that. I’ve written “cliche” on students’ work before, but never “fatuous.”) and it has, oddly, put me out of the mood for updating the blog, especially since I’m only on page sixteen and it’s already after 6 p.m.

So, in the interim, here are some photographs of my dogs:

Well, technically, General Montgomery—the Elvis-fancying terrier of an earlier post—isn’t mine: my brother got him after our old dog, Scampy the Hell Hound, died, long after I moved out of home.

Petey the poodle is an old dog now, at least sixteen, and Monty only a youngster, but they’re both good boys, and Terry Pratchett tells us that that’s the highest praise we can give a dog.

If We Lived in Georgette Heyer's Version Of Regency England . . .

Posted 19 January 2009 in by Catriona

We’d all have splitting headaches all the time. (And probably a strong dislike of rhodomontade, but I only bring that up because I really wanted an excuse to use the word “rhodomontade” in cold blood, as it were.)

But, back to the relatively serious portion of the blog post, has anyone else noticed (assuming, for the purposes of this argument, that everyone reads Heyer novels) that Heyer’s characters are far more profligate with exclamation marks than anyone really should be?

Take this passage from the end of Friday’s Child (1944):

I don’t think there’s a single piece of dialogue in there that doesn’t end with either a question mark or an exclamation mark.

(All the questions seem to be rhetorical, as well—which would drive me nuts if I found myself stuck inside a Georgette Heyer plot. I mean, it’s all very well for the villain—and we can tell Sir Montague is the villain because he speaks “silkily.” Only villains speak “silkily”—to threaten the heroine with exposure, but can’t he do it in a statement? If it were me to whom he said, “I wonder if you will live to regret it? Do you know, I believe that you may?” I’d be furious that he hadn’t given me a chance to answer myself. I might have been able to offer an alternative, after all. That’s why I’m not the heroine of a Regency romance, you see.)

And it only gets worse after the villain draws a sword on the hero’s proxy:

I suppose we’re lucky at this point that there weren’t more italics, as well as all the exclamation marks.

And I think some of these exclamation marks could actually be question marks—“What have I done!”, for example. So it’s not as though we couldn’t have had a little variety in our punctuation marks.

Fans of Georgette Heyer and her ilk often rave about the architecture, the fashion, and the etiquette of the Regency period, and I don’t deny that it’s a place I’d like to visit if I every manage to wangle my way into the TARDIS.

But if everyone’s going to be wandering around exclaiming all their statements at the top of their voices or conversing exclusively in questions that they don’t give anyone a chance to answer?

I think Regency England might have just slipped down the list a little.

Maybe below Pompeii on Volcano Day.

Monday's Lizard

Posted 19 January 2009 in by Catriona

It worries me slightly that I don’t know whether he was just highly amenable to having his picture taken or was, in fact, too terrified to move.

Lifeline Bookfest Redux

Posted 18 January 2009 in by Catriona

“Lifeline booksale,
Lifeline booksale,
Lifeline booksale!”

Thus goes my usual pre-Lifeline Bookfest song, which I’ll admit isn’t actually any more impressive when sung than it is when written down. (And, yes, it is technically called the Lifeline Bookfest rather than the Booksale, but booksale works better for my song.)

Still, the song does give some vague sense of how much I enjoy the Lifeline Bookfest every six months.

This January’s sale (which isn’t over yet, but Nick would have a fit if I suggested going a second time) wasn’t quite filled with the delights of last June’s sale, which was—for some reason that is still inexplicable to me—packed with paperback copies of obscure but fabulous Victorian novels.

But I’ve never yet left a Lifeline Bookfest empty-handed and I don’t intend to start now. So I defaulted to detective fiction:

Actually, I’m pretty pleased with that pile. Any sale where you find four Reginald Hill novels you didn’t already own is a good sale. (On top of not owning these four, I haven’t even read two of them, so that’s a bonus.) The Louisa May Alcott on the bottom there I’m also excited about, since it has a vast number of her pot-boilers and other stories that I don’t otherwise own.

But I also bought a number of novels on spec, mostly Kathy Reichs:

And some by authors who warrant Penguins on the spine:

See this, to me, is the fun of the Lifeline Bookfest: the books are just so absurdly inexpensive that it’s the ideal opportunity to think, “Hey, I haven’t read any Kathy Reichs yet. I wonder if she’s any good? Well, she’s got to be worth at least $2, hasn’t she?” and buy half a dozen of them.

(Which is also the theory that explains my enormous collections of Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer novels.)

Combine this weekend’s buys with the lovely, lovely books I bought for my work at my favourite bookshop in the entire universe (note: I have not visited all the bookshops in the universe), which is also the bookshop with the world’s most alliterative name, Berkelouw’s Book Barn at Berrima, and January has been a thoroughly satisfactorily booky month so far:


Strange Conversations: Part Eighty-One

Posted 16 January 2009 in by Catriona

The type of conversation you have when
a. you assume you know your partner too well, and
b. you’ve spent the day alternating between extreme crankiness (because of the heat) and extravagant panic attacks (due to the essay revisions).

ME: I know what you’re thinking right now.
NICK: What’s that?
ME: You’re thinking, ‘Never, ever have children with this woman.’
NICK: Actually, I was thinking I might go and get an Ice Break.

Maybe that’s only funny if you know Nick.

Wondering Why I Haven't Been Blogging Much Lately?

Posted 16 January 2009 in by Catriona

And by lately, I mean in the last two days.

Well, admittedly, last night we just went out, which was terribly selfish of me, I know. But leaving that aside, this is essentially the reason:

Really, it shouldn’t be this hard. It certainly shouldn’t look like that. Considering this article comes from a thesis that I polished until it shone, and, in fact, comes from what was generally considered the best chapter of this thesis, the draft really shouldn’t look like that.

But, then, this is a steep learning curve. I’ve never before had to take a large piece of work (the chapter is some 17,000 words) which is itself part of a much larger piece (the overall thesis clocked in at over 90,000 words) and craft from it a much shorter piece (just over 7,000 words, at this point) that has its own complete and coherent argument.

I’m sure it will be fun.


But at the moment, it’s a little hairy. I was telling Nick the other day that I haven’t written this independently since I was an undergraduate: for both the Masters and the Ph.D., there were supervisors willing and able to keep an eye on my drafts. But here, despite supportive and thorough reports from readers and from the journal editor, I feel like I’m working independently.

Actually, I probably wouldn’t be quite so nervous if they hadn’t expressed a provisional interest in it already. Because now I’m worried—and worrying is my primary skill—that I might just be screwing it up instead of improving it.

So this is a small test for the blog.

I don’t have any intention of abandoning the blog, of course—but I started it a fortnight before I submitted the Ph.D., so this is the first time, really, that I’ve dealt with writing frantically all day and then coming here to write a post in the evening.

Still, there are always strange conversations, of course. And it’s the January Lifeline Bookfest tomorrow, so look forward to more pictures of my books. New books, this time.

In the interim, I’ll finish with a lithograph of Eliza Winstanley, the woman about whom I am writing for this article:

She doesn’t look as though she’d put up with any of this introspective nonsense.

Look At This Beautiful Boy

Posted 14 January 2009 in by Catriona

He turned up on our clothesline at eleven o’clock tonight:

It’s not the best photograph, of course—it was pitch black (hence the flash and the red-eye, which I thought of reducing in iPhoto, but it just made him look weird); I didn’t want to spook him by getting too close, and had to essentially guess where he was.

So, actually, not such a bad photo under the circumstances.

And isn’t he beautiful?

(Nick tells me that I should mention that this beautiful boy is a Tawny Frogmouth (and I’m so pleased to see that they’re at low risk of extinction, the lovely things). I just assumed everyone would know that, which just goes to show that I shouldn’t be writing on the Internet.

Strange Conversations: Part Eighty

Posted 14 January 2009 in by Catriona

Three strange conversations in a row might be a bit much (even if one was a thinly disguised excuse for yet another picture of a water dragon), but it’s just been one of those days.

NICK: That’s it! I’m gathering up all the tea towels and I’m washing them. They’re all disgusting!
(Note: They’re not. The majority of them are clean and folded in the linen cupboard.)
ME: Good idea. While you’re at it, you can do the foot towels, as well. (Pause) ‘Foot towels’?
NICK: You mean the hand towels?
ME: No, the . . . you know.
NICK: The towels?
ME: No, the . . . thingies. The bath mats!
NICK: Ah. Right.
ME: The bath mats, which from now on shall be known as foot towels.
NICK: It’s as good a name as any.
ME: It’s really not.

Strange Conversations: Part Seventy-Nine

Posted 14 January 2009 in by Catriona

Making my own fun while struggling to attract Nick’s attention and ask for a cup of coffee:

ME: Hey, whatsit.
NICK: Hmm?
ME: Yes, you. Who are you?
NICK: Nick.
ME: Really? Wow. I thought that was someone else.
NICK: Nope.
ME: How long have you been Nick?
NICK: Oh, a while now.
ME: More or less than eight years?
NICK: More.
ME: Really? I could have sworn that was another guy. Who was he, then?
NICK: (only vaguely amused look.)
ME (once I managed to stop laughing): . . . Damn. Now I’ve forgotten what I was actually going to ask.
NICK: Yeah, I’m not at all surprised that that happened.

Somehow, Nick always manages to get the last word. I think I may have killed my chances of getting a cup of coffee, though.

Strange Conversations: Part Seventy-Eight

Posted 14 January 2009 in by Catriona

NICK: Oh, look: there’s a water dragon climbing the yukka stalk!
ME: I can’t see it.
NICK: It’s sort of behind. You won’t see it from there.
ME: I still can’t see it.
NICK: Look, there! It just moved!
ME: There’s nothing there, is there?
NICK: No, there! See? It just moved its head.
ME: There’s seriously nothing there.
NICK: Oh my god. You can’t see that?
ME: No, because there’s nothing there.
NICK: There! It’s moving again.
ME: I’m not looking any more. There’s nothing there!

So, anyway (as my mother would say):

On the other hand, I don’t see a yukka stalk anywhere in this picture, do you? So I claim the moral victory.

The Ducks Are Back!

Posted 12 January 2009 in by Catriona

Actually, I don’t know for certain that these are the same ducks who came visiting in August, but I found them wandering their way around the garden this morning after a brief but intense sun-shower.

And then, bless them, they came even closer:

Who doesn’t love ducks?

Strange Conversations: Part Seventy-Seven

Posted 12 January 2009 in by Catriona

SCENE: A quiet mid-afternoon in the study. Gentle rappings from the renovations next door. Me, nursing a slight headache and worrying about the general shape of this journal article. Nick, still on annual leave, sitting at his computer with his headphones on.

NICK (physically leaping up into the air) AAARGH!
ME: What? Where? What the hell just happened?
ME: You what? You . . . how? Ah.

MORAL: Putting your headphones on while playing Fallout 3 out of a kind desire not to disturb your working girlfriend is negated if you also have a highly verbal approach to game-playing.

Garden At Night

Posted 11 January 2009 in by Catriona

Real-Time Blogging Doctor Who, Season One: Rose

Posted 11 January 2009 in by Catriona

This should be interesting. We haven’t even put the disc in yet and Nick is already complaining. Mind, I agree with him there: the TARDIS-shaped box takes up an enormous amount of space, and the glue perished very quickly, so the insets keep falling out. I’m quite glad that the others didn’t come in, say, a Dalek-shaped box.

Nick’s now decided that these should be called recaps, but I don’t fancy doing that: I’m already a little uncomfortable, thinking about the fact that these have already been recapped on TWoP. But then I decided that, firstly, that didn’t mean I couldn’t do it, as well, and, secondly, I never cared for those recaps, anyway.

And all that before we get to the actual episode . . .

. . . which, of course, opens not with the Doctor, but with Rose (once we get past the opening credits, which were exciting enough in 2005, sixteen years after we’d last heard them on live telly, and with the slow panning down to London from outer space).

Rose, and her alarm clock—Rose looking terribly cute, actually, back before she started annoying me.

And the careful shots of the plastic dummies, just so we know what’s actually coming up.

Now Rose being adorable with Mickey on her lunch break, and now back to the work montage.

Ah, but now things are heating up, when Rose has to take the lottery money down to the basement to poor, dead, never-seen Wilson. (That’s not a spoiler, surely? Not four years on. Sorry, but Wilson is totally dead.) And you can tell it’s getting serious, because the very jaunty music has stopped as soon as the lift doors open.

Wow, I’m out of practice at this.

I find this whole scene in the basement very creepy, but then I’ve always found the (spoiler!) Autons terribly creepy. The horrible little dolls! And that black plastic armchair that suffocated people! The only thing that frightened me more in the original series was the Peking homunculus.

And now the dummies start moving, and they’re waaaay creepier than the stop-motion dolls from the 1970s. Even Rose is thoroughly freaked, backing away, until—the Doctor grabs her hand. “Run!”


Actually, the dummies look less realistic and less frightening when they’re running. For some reason, they look more like people and less like dummies/Autons when they’re running.

DOCTOR: Why would they be students?
ROSE: ‘Cause to get that many people dressed up and acting stupid, they have to be students.

I can’t argue with that.

And there goes the Doctor. Well, that was quick. Shall we assume he’ll be back at some point? Rose looks a little shell-shocked—and that’s before her place of work explodes, which it just did.

Well, you can’t argue with that: that’s what the Doctor does, just wanders in to a planet and creates massive quantities of chaos.

Jacki really is at her most annoying in this episode, with the nattering about Rose being “aged” and “skin like an old Bible” and “honestly, if you walked in now, you’d think I was her daughter.” I like her more in later episodes. And Mickey, too, though I don’t dispute his desire to go down the pub to see the match. Perfectly normal impulse—unless it’s Man. United playing. Or Chelsea. Or Arsenal.

Uh oh, strange scuttling sounds, and rattling cat flaps.

Oh, that’s okay—it’s only the Doctor poking through the cat flap. Which sounds like a euphemism, but isn’t.

I love this scene with Jacki:

JACKI: I’m in my dressing gown.
DOCTOR: Yes, you are.
JACKI: There’s a strange man in my bedroom.
DOCTOR: Yes, there is.
JACKI: Well, anything could happen.
DOCTOR: . . . No.

I also love the montage of the Doctor wandering around the living room while Rose makes coffee and natters on—checking his new face in the mirror (how long has it been since he regenerated?) and flipping the playing cards all over.

And if Mickey is being immature earlier in the episode, at least that explains Rose’s assumption that the Doctor is pretending to strangle himself with the plastic arm.

I wonder if this exchange between Rose and the Doctor

DOCTOR: Just “the Doctor”.
ROSE: Is that supposed to sound impressive?
DOCTOR: Yeah, sort of.

is a nod to the fact that this is the first new episode in sixteen years, a nod to all those new viewers out there who don’t automatically see the title sequence and think, “Well, obviously he’s the Doctor.)

I love Eccleston’s Doctor, the way he can flip between a thoroughly brittle manic mood, almost hysterical, to a sort of portentous solemnity that also has something hysterical about it. I’m writing this passage during the sequence when he’s walking back to the TARDIS (our first real glimpse of the TARDIS, though Rose runs past it in the street after the explosion—and the first time we hear it) when he’s explaining how he can feel the Earth hurtling through space, and that’s a good scene to explain what I mean about this Doctor.

I’ve lost the knack of explaining where the plot is while also rambling on about other things!

For the record, Rose has just checked out the Doctor on the Internet, and now Mickey is over-protectively driving her to see the chap who runs the Doctor website. (Well, his driving isn’t over-protective, but you get my point.)

I like Clive’s son—“Dad! It’s one of your nutters!”—but his wife’s “She? She read a website about the Doctor, and she’s a she?” just makes me a little cranky. (Yes, there are girl Doctor Who fans, and, no, you don’t need to assume that a Doctor Who convention is just going to be sad men in anoraks standing around shuffling their feet.)

Clive is showing his photographs and pictures to Rose, and Nick wonders what the Doctor was doing at Kennedy’s assassination. I wonder that, too. He wasn’t assassinating the U.S. President, presumably, so what?

Ah, the wobbly wheelie bin. No, Mickey, don’t get out of the car! You fool! Oh, you know something bad’s going to happen when it’s a wobbly wheelie bin.

This sequence with the bin isn’t entirely convincing to me—and as I type those words, Nick says, “You know, given the requirements, I don’t think ILM could have done better with that.” But the strips of plastic attached to Mickey’s hands I like—they’re kind of creepy and mundane at the same time, but the wobbling bin itself—especially in the panoramic shots—isn’t convincing.

Mickey’s post-Auton make-up is fabulous, though—the shift in the eyebrows and eyes and the shininess of the skin. I love it. Very uncanny (in a Freudian sense).

On the other hand, the scene where the cork hits Mickey in the forehead is deeply unconvincing.

(While Mickey wrecks the restaurant, I want to know more about this boy for whom Rose left school. Who was he? Why is he never mentioned again? Why would she have to leave school? I want back-story, dammit!)

And Rose is inside the TARDIS for the first time, and completely and utterly freaked out. Can’t say I blame her.

When did the assembled hordes of Ghengis Khan try to get through the TARDIS doors? I don’t remember that episode.

Oh, dear: Rose is breaking down. Poor girl.

Damn, these two are self-absorbed. We’ve already had Rose’s “I’m sorry, I thought we were talking about me” line at the dinner table, and now the Doctor’s insisting “Yeah, culture shock—oh, what? Your boyfriend? Oh, him.”

Sorry, Doctor: I love you, but Rose has a point—a Police Public Call Box is not a good disguise. It wasn’t even really a good disguise in the 1960s.

And now we have the first real running scene of the new season: the Doctor and Rose, tearing along hand-in-hand towards the London Eye. It reminds me, vaguely, of all the running through Paris that the Doctor (the Fourth) and Romana do in “City of Death.” As always, with Russell T. Davies, I wonder if it’s deliberate homage.

And they’re underneath the streets, looking down on the Nestene Consciousness.

NICK: This is a setting they keep coming back to. Spaceship interiors, cellars . . .
ME: I think it’s the new series’ quarry, myself.

Oh, and Mickey’s still alive. Which is good, I suppose, though Mickey didn’t grow on me for quite some time.

The Doctor probably shouldn’t call us “dumb apes” and “stupid little people,” when he’s always claimed to be so fond of us.

This scene is odd: this hysteria when he’s talking about the Time War in some detail for the first time is heart-breaking, but the image of the Doctor as a diplomat doesn’t really work for me here. Maybe because he’s not very good at diplomacy? Or perhaps he’s just tentative in the role here, coming out of an uncomfortable role as a soldier?

While I’m pondering that, vaguely, the Nestene Consciousness has activated its Auton warriors, and they’ve killed poor old Clive. Why? Because he’s the only person other than Jacki and Mickey that we’ve seen in any detail this episode, and the implication is that we’ll feel sorrier for someone we know? Or because they recognise that he, like Rose, has had contact with the Doctor, albeit virtually?

Of course, Jacki is at risk, too, from the hyper-creepy Auton brides.

But that’s all right, Rose knows what she needs to do. I do feel a little sorry for the Nestene Consciousness, though. It’s controlling the Autons, and the Autons have always been mindless killing machines, but it doesn’t look like a nice death—it looks intensely painful, and the poor thing is only a refugee from a destroyed planet.

Oh, well—it’s dead now, so there isn’t much point worrying about it.

Rose, when your mother is trying to tell you not to leave the house because it’s dangerous, you probably shouldn’t hang up on her. She’ll be having a panic attack right now.

Now, now, Mickey: aliens are people, too, in the broadest sense of the word.

And while I’m writing that, Rose is turning down a trip in what she thinks is a spaceship. Because she’s an idiot. Who seriously turns down a chance to travel in the TARDIS, even if their boyfriend isn’t invited? (Sorry, Nick!)

Ah, but when the Doctor turns up again and tells her it’s a time machine, as well, then she’s off—and I love that grin of sheer joy on her face. But that exchange with Mickey (“Thanks.” “For what?” “Exactly.”) doesn’t leave me with a good impression of the newest companion.

And that’s “Rose”! Sometime in the not too distant future (that is, probably next Sunday), it’ll be “The End of the World.”

Public Service Announcement

Posted 11 January 2009 in by Catriona

I am, as vaguely promised in an earlier post, going to real-time blog (Nick has insisted I can’t call it live-blogging when the episodes aren’t actually airing on telly) the first episode of season one of Doctor Who this evening, probably around 5 p.m., when Nick’s finished killing zombies.

I don’t think it’s necessary to be watching the programme to enjoy the real-time blogging—at least, I don’t think it’s necessary for you. It’s fairly necessary for me to be watching the programme.

Still, it never hurts to give people a little heads up.



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