by Catriona Mills

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Seventeen

Posted 17 April 2009 in by Catriona

NICK: Dinner is almost ready, my lush.
ME: Okay.
NICK: I don’t know why I called you “my lush” there.
ME: Well, I was going to ask you to get me another glass of wine. Maybe it was precognitive?
NICK: Probably.

How Short Can A Story Be?

Posted 17 April 2009 in by Catriona

My best friend first brought the idea of a six-word memoir to my attention back in April last year. I glanced at them then, but didn’t really think about them further.

Then a student submitted a piece of assessment around the idea of six-word stories, drawing my attention to this post with six-word stories, including some lovely ones from Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Charles Stross. (Many, many ones from Charles Stross.)

And I was wondering what I could do in six words.

Chances are not a great deal. But I’ve been thinking more about restricted writing challenges lately, so it would be remiss of me not to at least try.

I’m settling on this:

“Our home planet’s gone? Well, bugger.”


Posted 16 April 2009 in by Catriona

Belated Conclusion To The Weirdness Of Girls' School Stories

Posted 16 April 2009 in by Catriona

While my parents were visiting, we popped out to a bookshop I rarely have a chance to visit, and I found a lovely little pile of Angela Brazil and Josephine M. Brent-Dyer school stories.

Including one that has the worst cover I have ever seen:


The mustard yellow! The hideously magnified laughing schoolgirls! The—actually, what is that font? Some sort of pseudo-Swiss 1970s’ thing?

And why is there what appears to be a waxwork model of one of the pilgrims who headed to the New World seeking a country in which they could worship in their own way and stop other people from worshipping in theirs? And why is she holding a rain gauge?

And is that Beethoven in the background?

I’m not even going into what’s happening over on the right-hand side of the cover, there.

I do think I’m going to have nightmares, though.

Lessons in Gender That I Learned From Watching The Star Wars Prequels

Posted 14 April 2009 in by Catriona

1. Women are essentially interchangeable. You can argue, I suppose, that it’s a terribly clever idea to draw attention away from your central woman by surrounding her with other women who are essentially interchangeable with one another. But, really, that’s just playing on the idea that one woman is, after all, very like another.

Since the main point of the interchangeable bodyguards is to draw the fire of potential assassins, it can also be argued that women are essentially disposable—probably because they are, after all, interchangeable.

2. Women really shouldn’t be Jedi. In fact, I suspect that there must be some odd equal-opportunity entrance requirements for the Academy, else women wouldn’t be allowed to be Jedi. If, thanks to this entirely unfair process of selection, women do become Jedi, they’ll turn out to be terribly bad at it. To take an entirely hypothetical example, a female Jedi might find herself cut down from behind by assassins before she can even turn around, where male Jedi would be able, in the same circumstances, to both turn and draw their weapons.

Yep: entirely hypothetical example.

3. Women are completely obsessed with fashion. Women are so obsessed with fashion, in fact, that it completely takes the place of comfort for them. They might sleep in a nightgown with seed pearls draped across the arms. Or they might choose to spend an evening lounging comfortably in front of a roaring fire in a skin-tight leather corset.

Let’s face it: who hasn’t done that at some point or another?

And, really, there’s no point dressing women sensibly. If, perchance, you do put a woman in a nice, practical (if skin-tight) combat outfit, she’s only going to get the midriff torn off by a sabre-toothed tiger.

Women are like that.

4. Women are terribly poor judges of characters. Even women who are supposed to be accomplished and intelligent can live intimately with another person and never, ever suspect that person of turning to the Dark Side.

Of course, this is convenient for both the other person in the relationship and for the narrative.

5. There is little noticeable difference between a teenage girl and a grown woman. The advantage of this is that a teenage girl can easily be the head of state for an entire planet. The disadvantage is that she won’t really learn from any mistakes she might make at that point.

Another way of putting this, I suppose, is to say that if you haven’t become a queen by the time you’re sixteen, you may as well abandon all ambition—and become a female Jedi.

6. Women are more than a little fragile. Perhaps, in retrospect, this is why they they need to wear corsets even when they’re lounging in front of fires? To stop bits of them from falling off?

The fragility of women is holistic in nature: should they be force-choked by their whinging, psychotic husbands, for example, they will then inevitably die in childbirth, despite the absence of any real biological connection between the trachea and the uterus.

(This is why women should always have doors opened for them: in case they accidentally catch their finger in the hinge and one of their legs falls off. You can’t take any chances with women.)

7. Probably because of their essential fragility, women’s back stories are easily ret-conned. After all, women are essentially interchangeable and disposable, so it should come as no surprise that the disposability extends beyond death.

Especially if the ret-conning helps prevent people from assuming that, just perhaps, not all women are corset-obsessed morons.

Spare-Room Dalek Update

Posted 13 April 2009 in by Catriona

Tonight, we had friends over for dinner.

As I was preparing dessert, I looked over and saw that the Dalek was moving down the hallway . . .

I screamed and screamed and screamed.

Eventually, the laughter stopped.

Later, I noticed that an attempt had been made to ameliorate the Dalek’s ferocious demeanour:

Do genocidal cyborgs not also deserve their dignity?

Two Strange Conversations For The Price Of One

Posted 13 April 2009 in by Catriona

ME: Honey, is there any coffee made up? I could really do with a cup of coffee.
NICK: I’ll make coffee, and then maybe we could try the Easter eggs Mum gave us?
ME: But what are you eating right now?
NICK: Other Easter eggs.

NICK: Do you want to put some music on?
ME: Sure. What do you fancy?
NICK: I don’t know. I’m easy, baby. Easy like Sunday morning.
ME: No, you’re not. You’re incredibly difficult, like . . . Friday afternoon.

You Mean You Don't Have An Inflatable Dalek In Your Spare Room?

Posted 13 April 2009 in by Catriona

What on earth do you keep in there, then?

Nick’s sister sent this to him for Christmas, and I’ve only just inflated it, because I needed to get a new pump (the old one finally succumbing under the strain of reinflating my plastic palm tree).

And, honestly, hand inflating a Dalek is nowhere near as easy as it sounds.

I have a somewhat conflicted relationship with inflatable objects. My best friend gave me an inflatable palm tree for Christmas the year before I moved the Brisbane, to get me into the tropical spirit, and it stood in the corner of my kitchen for years—until it starting deflating faster than I could reinflate it. I’ll need to locate that puncture at some point.

Prior to that, my parents bought me an inflatable version of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” which was fabulous—except it brought out the worst in my mother. When I was waitressing and coming home late at night, she’d relocate it from my bedroom to places like the toilet or the bathroom, so I’d open the door and scream.

She found this endlessly amusing until the day she set it up just inside my bedroom door, forgot about it, and scared the living daylights out of herself when she went in with some washing.

But there’s a simple and special kind of joy to having a Dalek in the spare room. My absolute favourite part of the Dalek is this, though:

Well, now: that’s something of an understatement.

The Weirdness of Girls' School Stories: Part Two

Posted 12 April 2009 in by Catriona

And still continuing Random Weirdness from Girls’ School Stories weekend on the Circulating Library.

(Don’t worry: I have no intention of running through all 132 books. Well, maybe. No, probably not.)

This frontispiece from Ierne (yes, Ierne) L. Plunket’s The Dare Club neatly encapsulates the difficulties of being a teenage girl struggling through adolescence in an all-female, highly regimented environment:

In other words, at any moment your peers might knock your hat off and attempt to suffocate you with a garishly patterned silk scarf. You can’t say you haven’t been warned.

And, in fact, The Dare Club, as one of the weirdest books on my shelf, gets a second mention in this series. This illustration is from the cover:

I’m going to do the illustrator the favour of assuming that this is some sort of lottery, but it looks as though the girl’s going into a trance over that hat. Perhaps they misplaced the ouija board, and are practicing a rough-and-ready form of divination with Scrabble tiles?

I have no idea what’s happening on the cover of Mrs Noah here:

Given that a cursory glance at my shelves reveals an improbably high number of illustrations showing schoolgirls being tied up by their peers, I’m increasing glad that I wasn’t a boarder at my semi-boarding school.

This one’s the frontispiece from W. E. Eastways’s Christine of the Fourth:

The actual caption is “‘You think you have the right to run everyone’s lives,’ flashed Christine.” But given that Christine’s expression is one of mild bewilderment rather than anger, I suspect a better caption would be, “Um, madam? I think your wedding might be in the other hall.”

And this frontispiece from Marjorie Taylor’s The Highland School is even more bewildering:

The caption reads “‘Never mind about that just now. I want to talk to you two,’ said Janet curtly.”

But every time I look at it, I’m visited by the overwhelming impulse to shout, “No capes!”

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Sixteen

Posted 11 April 2009 in by Catriona

Nick’s been spending the night on design work for his website, which always makes me think about my website.

ME: I really should have a search function on the blog.
NICK: You know, that’s not even a difficult thing to do.
(Pause of some minutes)
NICK: There! My website is nearly tolerable.
ME: Tolerable? Wow!
NICK: I’m an exacting man, Treena.
ME: Not as far as my blog is concerned. It doesn’t even have a search function!
NICK: Oh, god. Next task: a search function for Treena.
NICK: Or for her blog.

The Weirdness of Girls' School Stories: Part One

Posted 11 April 2009 in by Catriona

Continuing the Random Weirdness from Girls’ School Stories weekend on the Circulating Library.

These ones aren’t even mildly suggestive, like the last set. They’re just out-and-out odd, which is, frankly, how I like my school stories.

This one’s from St Margaret’s Trials and Triumphs, the last in Helen S. Humphries’s mildly religious school series.

Well, I say “mildly religious,” but the first book, Margaret the Rebel, is advertised on the back of this one with the following blurb:

Margaret Vincent had been the spoiled darling of her widowed mother. Consequently, when her mother marries again Margaret is furious and hates everything connected with her stepfather. At school Margaret is against everyone, but, fortunately, she has an understanding headmistress and form-mistress, and through them she is led to the Savior.

So “mildly” might have been understating it. They’re less religious than the Glendorran series, though, in which Wendy copes with a school whose inhabitants are such heathens that they smoke out of the dormitory windows. And no, I’m not joking about that.

So, St Margaret’s Trials and Triumphs:

Doesn’t seem that weird, you say? What I love is that the girl didn’t bother to remove her blazer before she leapt into the pond. Sure, a small child’s life was in danger, but, honestly, where’s the pride in the uniform? When Elizabeth did the same thing in The Naughtiest Girl Is A Monitor, she took off her blazer and her shoes and stockings, which is how the child’s wealthy father didn’t know who the rescuer was.

And, yes, I can just recite plot points from Enid Blyton novels off the top of my head. It’s a gift.

Methinks the St Margaret’s girl here wants some school branding prominently visible in the inevitable newspaper photographs.

Of course, it’s less disturbing than this illustration from Susan Ann Rice’s Form 2A At Larkhill:

Yes, she has stitched her finger to whatever garment she’s making in Home Economics. And, yes, this is the frontispiece to the book—of all the available scenes, the editors thought this was the one that best illustrated the book.

I’m assuming it takes place in chapter three, “Excitement in the Needlework Room,” but it gives me a poor impression of Larkhill in general and its Home Economics teachers in particular.

Pamela Hinkson’s Patsey At School is a different case altogether:

This is a school story, it’s just a school story masquerading as an early Edwardian melodrama. This could be easily captioned “Dead, and never called me mother!” or “Freedom I can promise myself, for who can chain or imprison the soul?”

The fact that it’s actually captioned “It was awfully wicked of you to do it, of course” doesn’t really clear up the confusion.

And I have absolutely no idea what’s happening in the cover to Elizabeth Tarrant’s Crisis At Cardinal:

I presume the crisis is that the students are being menaced by grotesquely oversized jewelry that when you look at it closely appears to be looking back at you.

It doesn’t help that, while I think the girl is looking back at the trio of girls on the right-hand side of the cover, it looks as though she’s thinking, “Damn! Is that brooch still following me?”

Slightly Suggestive Illustrations From Girls' School Stories

Posted 10 April 2009 in by Catriona

Nick very kindly bought me (or perhaps was given free, after spending much money on other applications: I’m not sure which) a copy of Delicious Library 2, an application that technically allows me to add all my books to an electronic database by holding them up to the Mac’s camera, which scans their barcode, checks the details on, and uploads a little bibliographic record and picture of the cover.

Cool, huh?

Of course, in practice it’s not that simple. Many, many of my books don’t have barcodes, so I need to perform a manual search for them. Many of my books aren’t on, especially the older copies of my Victorian novels. Also, barcodes are apparently recycled after a certain time, which explains why my 1970s’ edition of Diana Wynne Jones’s Archer’s Goon was uploaded as The UFO Report by Tim Moore. And, of course, it’s an an enormous amount of effort adding my existing library to the database.

It’s worth it, though—and it will be easy enough to add each new book as I buy it, to keep the database up to date. It also allows me to store books in sub-groups as well as in a main database of all my books, so I can see all my detective fiction or all my children’s fantasy at a glance.

So I spent an enjoyable couple of hours in the spare room this afternoon, adding 132 girls’ school stories to the database.

I didn’t know before that I owned 132 girls’ school stories. It does seem rather an excessive number, I admit—but they’re so hilarious! So, in honour of Delicious Library, this Easter long weekend is Random Weirdness From Girls’ School Stories weekend on the Circulating Library, starting with illustrations that are slightly suggestive.

This one’s from Mary Alice Faid’s Trudy Takes Charge:

I don’t know what Trudy’s pondering there, but at least she seems to be keeping her options open.

W. W. Eastways’s The Girls of Greycourt is slightly more ambiguous:

By which I mean I can’t figure out whether those girls are intimately involved with one another or are trying to seduce the reader.

Probably a combination of the two. Which is all well and good, since they seem on a cursory glance to be at least thirty-five, and therefore well over the age of consent.

This last one is from Elizabeth Tarrant’s Crisis at Cardinal, the cover of which is going to make an appearance in a later installment:

I love the air of intense concentration from the girl on the left. And the fact that the original caption reads “Within a couple of seconds they were both under the table” only increases my joy.

I shudder to think what the reaction of the mistress in the fetching sandals will be, though.

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Fifteen

Posted 10 April 2009 in by Catriona

As I watch Nick execute increasingly complicated dance moves in the living room:

ME: Nicholas, what is wrong with you?
NICK: I’m on holiday! And I’m so happy!
ME: Yes! All the more time for me to bully and nag you about things.
NICK: Bullying and nagging—exactly what I signed up for.
ME: You know, it was all fun until you said that.
NICK: It’s true. I do have a mean streak.

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Fourteen

Posted 9 April 2009 in by Catriona

Just an ordinary Maundy Thursday conversation:

ME: Honey, did you put the meat in the fridge?
NICK: No, because I’m about to cook it.
ME: No, not tonight’s. The meat for tomorrow night’s dinner.
NICK: Oh, double plus [adjectival expletive] [expletive].
ME: You know, I don’t think George Orwell would approve of that.
NICK: Well, perhaps not.

Some Films and Television Programmes That Fill Me With A Deep Sense Of Joy: A Possibly Ongoing Series

Posted 8 April 2009 in by Catriona

I’ve already mentioned how much I love watching old episodes of The Goodies, when they haven’t aged too badly (and make no mistake: some have). And it will come as no surprise that every episode of the original series of Doctor Who is dear to my heart. Yes, even “Silver Nemesis” and “Timelash.”

Here are some more programmes (and one film) that delight my heart.

In no particular order of importance:

1. Press Gang

Oh, Steven Moffat. My obsession with his writing started here—and this is one show that is just as enjoyable now as it was the first time I watched it. I’ll admit, the characterisation of Linda looks more ’80s now than I thought it did at the time (so high-powered business woman), but that doesn’t mean I love her any less. Or love Spike any less. Or love Linda and Spike as a couple any less.

In fact, any girlish romanticism in my nature (and there may be some, appearances notwithstanding) can be traced back to my teen obsession with this relationship.

On a slightly related note, I happily watched Doom (the movie, not the video game) once I realised it had half of Dexter Fletcher in it. (The top half, if anyone’s wondering.)

2. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

BILL AND TED: Iron Maiden? Excellent!

Enough said, really—though the fact that I didn’t even need to look that quotation up on the Internet probably speaks for itself.

3. Monkey

Seriously, this has to be one of the most surreal programmes ever to air. And that’s leaving out the blatant transvestism, which wasn’t limited to Tripitaka. We just watched an episode in which Monkey questioned the overall wisdom of Buddha: “He can’t even make up his mind whether he’s a bloke or not!”

Then there was that episode with the giant mushrooms—which I think were linked to some sort of Fungus King who, knowing Monkey, was called King Fungus. Or the episode with the unicorn who claimed that unicorns could rule the world “if we weren’t so nice—and mythical.” And the episode where Sandy and Pigsy became pregnant. Or the one with the teenage goblin who could cloud-fly, but his cloud had training wheels. Or my absolute favourite: the episode where Tripitaka believed that his other disciples had induced him to devour Pigsy, and he became possessed by Pigsy’s spirit and went to a disco where he danced to the Monkey theme song.

Sheer brilliance.

But there was also the aspect that never occurred to me as a child: for the late ’70s and early ’80s, this was hands down the least Anglo show ever to be a hit on Australian or British television. It may still be, for all I know. Voice acting aside, the actors are all Japanese, and the mise en scene (the costuming, the scenery, the mythology) is Chinese. Sesame Street always had African-American and Hispanic cast members (I don’t remember Asian cast members in my time), and there were other shows that played with issues of racial tolerance—the oddest example I can think of is Fraggle Rock, with its different races living in sometimes uneasy coexistence. But they were never anything like Monkey. It was fantastic for a child growing up in an intensely white town.



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