by Catriona Mills

More House-Cleaning Strange Conversations

Posted 5564 days ago in by Catriona

And yet another house-cleaning conversation:

NICK (surveying his new desk): There! I think that looks much better.
ME: Well, sort of.
NICK: What do you mean?
ME: Well, there’s a dead moth in that box of CD cases, for example.
NICK: Those things are turning up everywhere!
ME: And I don’t think we need to keep that box.
NICK: What?
ME: The box that the TiVo wireless adaptor came in: I don’t think we need to keep it.
NICK: You keep saying such horrible, hateful things!

Well, I did move in with a man who keeps all his old bus tickets in a tissue box.

And, continuing the theme of “Nick won’t throw anything out, ever,” we had this conversation when I found him carefully storing an empty box on a shelf:

ME: No! Flatten it and throw it in the recycling!
NICK: But it’s such a lovely box!
ME: And?
NICK: We can store things in it.
ME: Such as?
NICK: Paper. And . . . stuff.
ME: Do you really want to find a place for it in the garage?
NICK: . . . No.

Seriously: this man keeps old calendars on the grounds that they’ll be accurate again one day. Before I moved in with him, I didn’t know one could have conversations like this:

ME: What’s that under Walt Simonson’s run on Thor?
NICK: Just magazines.
ME: That looks like a Dick Smith catalogue.
NICK: Maybe. Ooh, Hi-Fi Magazine.

One day, I’m going to be found buried alive under a stack of Dick Smith catalogues, bus tickets, and Batman calendars from 1987.

Passive-Aggressive Strange Conversation

Posted 5564 days ago in by Catriona

While cleaning before a house inspection:

ME: Do you see the giant dead moth that I found on your side of the study?
NICK: Point it out to me?
ME: (Pointing)
NICK: Where?
ME: (Pointing more closely)
NICK: Oh, there. I guess, when you said “giant dead moth,” I was just expecting something a bit, you know, bigger.

The rest of the conversation was silent.

Well, largely.

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Twenty-Four

Posted 5565 days ago in by Catriona

ME: What’s this Facebook group you joined?
NICK: Oh, it’s just something I heard about.
ME: You shouldn’t join Facebook groups without discussing it with your girlfriend. (Note: this was a joke.)
NICK: No, you shouldn’t join pervy Facebook groups without discussing it with your girlfriend.

Lessons I Have Learned From Playing Lego Star Wars: Redux

Posted 5565 days ago in by Catriona

Back in October last year, I became obsessed with Lego Star Wars for the Nintendo DS, and wrote the original Lessons I Have Learnt From Playing Lego Star Wars post (as well as the spin-off, Horrible Things I Have Seen And Done In Lego Star Wars).

But this is different, because I picked the game up again, and am now far more advanced—meaning I have a whole new raft of characters to play with and a whole new set of lessons to learn.

1. Playing with characters who are also Force ghosts is both awesome and strangely creepy.

You can, once you save up several million credits, play as the Force ghosts of Obi-wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Yoda. The Force ghosts are see-through and (largely) invincible, they can pass across electrified floors without sustaining damage, and only those characters who are strong in the Force can see them.

Which is strangely disturbing in rooms where enemies spawn freely—and none of them can see you. They keep spawning, because that’s what the game tells them to do. But they can’t see you. So they don’t attack. And the room is full of silent stormtroopers, standing there with their blasters out, aiming at something that they know should be there, while you flit secretly past them all. Occasionally, you need to nudge them out of your way, but they still don’t respond to your presence. The whole level becomes ghostly and surreal.

Of course, it does make them easier to kill. There’s always a silver lining.

2. The Emperor rocks. Seriously, he’s like the Sith equivalent to Yoda in this game. (And, actually, I never play Yoda if I can help it. The little chap is too zippy: I attack someone with him, and he bounces all over the screen, and before I know it, he’s bounces right off the edge of a cliff and dies. Or out of a treehouse and dies, if I’m playing the Kashyyyk level. He never seems to move in a straight line. Drives me nuts.)

But the Emperor is less volatile than Yoda while also being intensely bouncy. And he has a brilliant move where he flies through the air sideways with his lightsaber in front of him.

Plus, he has force lightning. So you can attack enemies, and they’re flung up into the air and held there by the force of the lightning until they disintegrate into their constituent parts, and it’s completely . . . evil. Obviously. It’s an evil thing to do: that’s why only Sith manifest this skill.

(Just quietly, though? It’s awesome.)

3. Robots can’t pull levers. With a droid such as R2D2, this is fair enough: he doesn’t have any hands. But now I have purchased another droid character, whose name I have forgotten. He’s a droid bounty hunter. So he can use a blaster, operate a grappling hook, and throw thermal detonators—but he can’t operate levers.

Which means, in the universe of Lego Star Wars, that he can’t open doors.

Do you not suppose that this might be something of a career hindrance to a bounty hunter? At the very least, it would make it remarkably easy for his quarry to escape.

4. Space architecture is confusing. Take, for example, the Imperial Guards’ lounge (and, yes, there is one on the second Death Star, apparently, but you have to be a protocol droid to access it, which is odd, now I come to think about it). Does it really need moving platforms and a room to which you can only gain access by an Ewok-sized travel chute, not that it’s really important, since the room only contains a lever by which to make the moving platform work?

Wouldn’t it be more practical to have a coffee machine? Maybe a pool table? Some chairs and a few copies of the Time Literary Supplement?

Although on that note, the Imperial Guards’ lounge fills me with delight on two grounds:

1. It’s the Imperial Guards’ lounge. Do you think they take off those red hoods when they sit down for elevenses?

2. The chairs are identical to those in the Jedi council chamber in the “Ruin of the Jedi” level. It makes me think at some point, the Imperial Human Resources Department sent out the following memo:

TO: All personnel
CC: The Emperor

We at the Imperial Human Resources Department would like to congratulate the Imperial Clone Army on the astounding success of Order 66. Congratulations on the (as far as we know) complete annihilation of the Jedi! We think you deserve a party—we might even convince the Emperor to spring for a cake! Please have your department heads send us a memo with a note of available dates and we’ll see what we can do.

But in the meantime, the annihilation of an entire religion is no reason why their soft furnishings should go to waste. Remember, reuse comes before recycle, even in a galaxy-wide empire! So if anyone has space for some very comfortable armchairs, contact Andrea down in HR.

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Twenty-Three

Posted 5566 days ago in by Catriona

I have a pile of marking (again! And another assessment task coming in next week!), but I also have a house inspection (stupid rental agreements), so this morning is dedicated to tidying the bedroom.

But Nick has missed out on most of the cleaning so far, working nine to five as he does, so this conversation took place over instant messaging:

ME: Don’t think I didn’t notice that you were keeping your dirty socks on the armchair.
NICK: I was?
ME: And pants. And a T-shirt. And I noticed those, too.
NICK: I’m astonished.
ME: Am I suddenly typing to the wrong person? ‘Cause this is freaky.
ME: Well, then, why are you astonished? You must have noticed yourself putting your pants on the chair.
NICK: I don’t really pay that much attention, I’m sorry to say.
ME: You don’t pay much attention to where you put your pants?
NICK: No. Why that is, I cannot say.

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Twenty-Two

Posted 5567 days ago in by Catriona

I suppose the cold from which he is currently suffering is slowing down Nick’s thought processes.

ME: It’s hot tonight.
NICK: Well, it was always going to be 17-30 today.
ME: Yes, but it’s going to be 10-25 tomorrow, you said?
NICK: Yep.
ME: So, I thought it would be cooler tonight.
NICK: No, but it’s 17-30 tonight.
ME: Yes, but 10-25 tomorrow.
NICK: Yes.
ME: So it should be cooler tonight.
NICK: No, but that’s tomorrow. It’s 17-30 tonight.
ME: Yes, but that minimum temperature should be the night before. Otherwise, it would be 25-10, you see?
NICK: I see.
ME: So you think it would be cooler tonight.
NICK: Why?

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Twenty-One

Posted 5567 days ago in by Catriona

NICK: A couple of the guys who did KOTOR 2 worked on the original Fall-Out games. So they have excellent pedigree.
ME: Which is useful, if you wish to breed them with other games programmers.
NICK: True. And it’s sort of what happened.
ME: That’s kind of weird, honey.
NICK: Yeah, I know. Sorry.

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Twenty

Posted 5569 days ago in by Catriona

I find it necessary to note that I do become quite tense in supermarkets, especially at high-traffic times when many people bump into me with their trolleys, but that’s not the point . . .

NICK: I think that went very well.
ME: Because I didn’t get angry?
NICK: Yes.
ME: I don’t always get angry in the supermarket.
NICK: Still, I think you did very well.
ME: I will get angry if you patronise me.
NICK: Fair enough.

Why Else Was Instant Messenging Invented, If Not To Discuss Doctor Who?

Posted 5570 days ago in by Catriona

I don’t have a real reason for posting this. It’s not quite a strange conversation. It’s just that as we were having this conversation, the following thoughts ran through my head:

This is interesting: I’d not thought about Time Lords quite like this before.
I wonder if I should post something along these lines on the blog?
Would people be interested in that?
Hmm, that might be quite a bit of work, though.
What button is it to cut and paste? Control or command?

And, yes: I genuinely am this verbose on IM.

ME: Sweetie, Romana is dead.
NICK: Well, probably. But you’d have thought the same about the Rani.
ME: No, because the Rani comes under the same category as the Master.
She’s an outlaw. Why would she go back to fight for Gallifrey? The Master wouldn’t if they hadn’t resurrected him specifically for that purpose. So she would never have been involved in the Time War.
NICK: Yes that’s true.
ME: Romana would have been.
NICK: True.
ME: As Susan would have been. They have social consciences that the Master and the Rani never had.
NICK: I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a full-blown resurrection of the Time Lords at some point though. It’s too tempting for someone not to do.
ME: Yeah—I’d love to see that, in a way. You know? But, at the same time, this new series is predicated on that all being gone. So it would also be a cop-out, and I might shout a little bit.
NICK: I know. That’s very much the danger of such a move. A lot of the authentic emotion of the new series derives from it. It’s made the Time Lords seem a lot grander than they ever did in the flesh.
ME: Well, and they are a lot grander now than they were.
NICK: That’s true too.
ME: The Time Lords in the original series were grandiose. But they were also atrophied.
NICK: Yeah.
ME: And the original series never shied away from that. That’s why the Doctor fled, really.
NICK: Yes, though the mise en scene distinction between atrophied and spangly was always a difficult one.
ME: Well, yes. I’ll give you that. Those collars, though! Magnifique!
NICK: Oh yeah. That is why James Acheson got Academy Awards after leaving the BBC.
ME: The costuming was awesome. And it reinforced the fact that they were an atrophied species, that they were so secure (metaphorically) in their self-righteousness and (literally) in their dome that they never needed to fear attack. No species fearing attack would wear collars they couldn’t turn their head in. The Time Lord collars are their “brains in the hand.”
NICK: That’s genius. Maybe the collars were bulletproof too?
ME: Maybe? Who uses guns in the Whoverse? Apart from humans.
NICK: True. Stasers were used on Gallifrey.
ME: And we know Time Lords aren’t bullet proof—poor 7th Doctor.
NICK: Yes, indeed.

A Small Degree Of Internet Celebrity Goes To My Mother's Head

Posted 5571 days ago in by Catriona

ME: I’m sure that having children does bring a deep sense of joy.
MY MOTHER: When will I notice that?
(Short pause while peals of laughter echo down the phone line)
ME: I’m putting you in a home, Mother.
MY MOTHER: Are you going to put that on the blog? You can tell people I’m not your mother any more.
ME: You’re still my mother. I’m just putting you in a home.
MY MOTHER: Put that on the blog!

Illustrating The Naughtiest Girl

Posted 5572 days ago in by Catriona

Of course, I’ve done this before: no sooner had I started to read L. Frank Baum’s books again, then you were subjected to a series of posts on him and on John R. Neill’s illustrations to the later books. What can I say? This blog is a fickle creature.

But I was thinking at the end of the last post that I really do like the Dean illustrations to Enid Blyton’s Naughtiest Girl series. I have no idea who drew them: no illustrator is listed on either my 1980s’ or my 1990s’ Dean editions. But I do find them beautiful and I was wondering why.

I can’t say this is the only reason why I like them (apart from on aesthetic grounds), but I suspect the main reason is that they concisely capture the idea of Whyteleafe School as a child’s world, where adults are teachers but rarely authority figures—and, indeed, appear remarkably rarely as teachers, since the books concentrate more on the process of socialisation than that of education.

This idea of a child world isn’t unique to Blyton: it reminds me of both Lewis Carroll and L. Frank Baum, where in both cases the child enters a world in which everything—buildings, landscape, other people—is sized to them, so that they can move through it as freely as adults move through this one. (Though this is more true of the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, where the Munchkins are child size, than it is of the film.) And it isn’t unique this these three works among Blyton’s prodigious output: much the same phenomenon is evident in the Faraway Tree books.

But it is unique in my experience among school stories, and these illustrations capture it in detail.

They show a world in which work is the province of children:

(Even the cows there seem to be on the small side! Jerseys rather than Friesians, perhaps?)

A world where children socialise with one another, independent of adult involvement (and, of course, the fact that this is Blyton’s sole co-educational boarding school helps with that association):

They show a world in which adults rarely appear, even as authority figures. Instead, the authority figures are slightly older children, such as Rita the head girl:

They show a world in which children are deemed competent to deal with disasters (though some children are more competent than others, or Elizabeth would never have lit this fire in John’s absence, and certainly not when the wind was likely to blow it over the woodshed. Perhaps she saw something nasty in there?):

And the idealised child world of these illustrations is more obvious when you compare them with the illustrations of an earlier edition. I have a 1952 Angus and Robertson edition of the final book, The Naughtiest Girl is a Monitor. And the striking thing about this edition is that the children are presented as very much more adult.

This is the more striking in instances where the same scenario occurs across more than one book.

As in the case where Elizabeth shops for her ill-thought-out surprise birthday for Joan in The Naughtiest Girl At School:

Compared to the spoilt Arabella refusing to pool her money and buying expensive chocolates in The Naughtiest Girl Is A Monitor:

Or Elizabeth being greeted at the railway station by friends in The Naughtiest Girl Again (and, once again, note the absence of adults):

Versus the same scene at the beginning of The Naughtiest Girl Is A Monitor:

Call me old-fashioned, but I much prefer the child protagonists of the Dean illustrations to the oddly ageless ones that Angus and Robertson commissioned for the 1950s.

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Nineteen

Posted 5573 days ago in by Catriona

NICK: Pizza is servitoring!
ME: Really?
NICK: Yeah!
ME: You mean it’s going to bring me another glass of wine?
NICK: Yep.
ME: Sweet! We should have pizza every night.
NICK: We should!

The 1970s Don't Have A Monopoly On Ugly Covers For Girls' School Stories

Posted 5573 days ago in by Catriona

In the earlier post on ugly 1970s’ book covers for girls’ school stories, we got to talking about ugly 1980s’ and 1990s’ covers.

And I thought, “Wait, I have some of those!” And so here they are.

Actually, this one isn’t ugly, as such:

But can you imagine the teachers at Malory Towers putting up with such sloppiness? Particularly the hair: I remember distinctly that in this actual book, Gwendoline has her hair tied into pigtails by Matron because it ends up falling around her ears—much like the hair of that girl second from the right.

Plus, I really don’t see the point of updating the covers when the story inside is still so intensely 1940s.

But with this next one, the cover is very much of its time. The book was published in 1984:

And, wow, but that’s one 1980s’ cover. The sweatband! The random aeroplane (with speed lines)! The purple kneesocks! And what I love most about this is the fact that their hockey team is called the Trebizon Tramps. It may have been a simpler time, but that’s not actually that recent a slang term.

I have a later version of this book, too, from 1988:

I don’t know which is worse, but I do know there’s something seriously wrong with the thighs on that girl on the left. And I love the fact that the girls have all been rendered practically indistinguishable, despite the fact that they’re different nationalities.

ME: Honey, guess the nationality of these girls.
NICK: Eastern European.
ME: Really?
NICK: No. I can’t tell!
ME: The one on the right is Afro-Caribbean.
NICK: Wow.

That about sums it up.

But this one from 1995, is by far the ugliest of all:

I mean, that is just hideous, isn’t it? I see no redeeming characteristics at all—and I think that boy on the left has just had his neck snapped by the kid behind him. This is The Naughtiest Girl Again with vampires. (Yes, I associate neck-snapping exclusively with vampires. Blame Buffy.)

And it’s a shame, really, because it’s a Dean edition, and the Dean editions from the mid-1980s, when I first read them, were actually rather cute:

Plus, this terribly ugly one still has the original (Dean) illustrations, and I’ve always thought the line drawings for the Naughtiest Girl series were beautiful:

Certainly more beautiful than that revolting cover.

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Eighteen

Posted 5574 days ago in by Catriona

ME: Honey?
NICK: Yep?
ME: I’m doing a Facebook quiz to find out which literary time period I am.
NICK: Right . . .
ME: And it wants to know what people’s “most frequent (though perhaps mistaken) criticism” of me is. So am I a goody two-shoes, narcissistic, pretentious, a different person around different people, too serious, or (a couple of other options that I’ve forgotten already).
NICK: I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say anything negative.
ME: I’m sure you have, but for the purposes of the quiz, which am I?
NICK: In other people’s eyes?
ME: Yes. I’m veering towards “pretentious.”
NICK: Well, yes: you are that.
ME: Because I . . . you what?
NICK: For the purposes of the quiz!


Posted 5576 days ago in by Catriona



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