by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Life, the Universe, and Everything”

The 21st-Century Couple

Posted 31 March 2008 in by Catriona

Technically, Nick and I are spending quality time together, watching the Melbourne Comedy Gala.

In fact, I’m keeping one eye on the television (which has just shown me an advertisement for The Shield—I had no idea that was still going—and a show that, apparently, “just makes courtroom drama look so good“ called Conviction, which I’ve never heard of) while trying to complete my collection of fancy, absurdly named shoes on Packrat.

Nick, on the other hand, is browsing the iTunes store on his iPhone on the opposite sofa, and keeping an eye out for comedians that he likes.

Mind, we did bond over an Arj Barker skit about buying a new bed. I do love a comedian who can use the word “quagmire” in a skit.

There’s nothing particularly weird about this; this is how we spend many of our evenings.

My mother is constantly surprised by Nick’s tendency to say “Ooh, I’ve just read something really interesting; I“ll send you the link.”

But there’s something appealing to me about the online aspect of the relationship. It’s more permanent, in a way, than phone calls (and useful, should one of us dispute what was originally said).

Plus, there’s no separating Nick from his iPhone right now.

And I only need five more shoes.

Things That Have Made Me Happy Recently, in No Particular Order

Posted 31 March 2008 in by Catriona

1. The weather.

Much as I love living in Brisbane, this is largely in spite of the weather, which is frankly rather like suffering a feverish cold for nine months of the year.

But these cold, crisp nights and warm days are lovely: the best part of Brisbane is its beautiful mild winters.

2. The fact that last night’s Robin Hood did not, in the end, throw out the entire premise of the episode.

Mind you, it was still completely daft.

3. The hope that at some point in the future I’ll be able to use the sentence “Join me again next week on this episode of ‘Let’s make no fucking sense’ when I will be waxing an owl” in everyday conversation.

4. The new teaser trailer for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

I must admit, though, that this is tinged with a certain degree of wistfulness, since my own years of working in a university have included far more hours of marking and far fewer instances of grappling with Nazis than these movies led me to believe would be the case.

I suppose it’s because I’m not an archaeologist.

5. Reorganising the study, so that one can walk all the way into it and, even more miraculous, actually access all the bookshelves.

On the other hand, the downside of the reorganisation is that I got bored before I had quite finished putting everything back. So there is that.

6. Successfully creating a rhinoceros in Packrat.

Really, success is measured by how low you set your goals in the first place.

However, I did have to sacrifice my kangaroo to do it, and now am unable to find another camel, which is apparently a constituent ingredient of the kangaroo—something that I suspect even Darwin didn’t know.

7. A rather nice 2005 Western Australian Chardonnay clearskin that I found in a local bottleshop.

8. The smug feeling that comes from having made a reasonable dint in my marking.

9. A sudden predilection for painting my toenails a shiny pink.

10. The up-coming season of Doctor Who and my state of ignorance about the plotlines.

11. The fact that new Doctor Who means a new year of Doctor Who nights, the highlight of my social calendar.

12. James Marsters’s appearances in Torchwood.

13. An unusual number of lovely dinners with people I don’t otherwise spend enough time with.

14. Re-starting work on the third of the set of braided rugs for the hallway, and the hope that this means that the rugs might even be finished before we move out of this house (at some unspecified point of time in the future).

What will I do if I move to a house with no hallway?

15. My new pillow.

Nick Has A New Gadget

Posted 28 March 2008 in by Catriona

Which means he will be curiously absent for the next few days.

Apparently, the real benefit of this new gadget is that he’ll be able to surf the Internet from anywhere in the house.

I don’t think he’s quite grasped that I don’t think this is necessarily a good thing. True, I have a laptop, while he’s restricted to his desktop iMistress. But I do at least refrain from surfing the Internet while we’re actually watching television or otherwise spending time together. Nick, on the other hand, has been known to dash off to check his e-mail if I get up to make a cup of tea or nip to the bathroom.

Still, such are the sacrifices one makes when one moves in with a geek.

Reasons Why I Hate My Local Post Office

Posted 25 March 2008 in by Catriona

The closest post office is something of a thorn in our sides.

Partly, this is because the owner seems to run it on a part-time basis. The first time we had to collect a parcel from there, we looked carefully at the collection ticket, which mentioned a 10 a.m. opening for a Saturday, and arrived almost on time. But the sign on the door said it opened at 11 a.m. And the owner himself didn’t turn up until almost noon.

When we taxed him, politely, with the discrepancy between the ticket and the door sign, he mentioned he’d only just bought the place and didn’t want to pay to have all the tickets reprinted.

If I’d known that was an option, I wouldn’t have bothered taking all those takeaway menus home when I worked at the Peking Village, and correcting the solitary typo in front of the television for three evenings. It would have been much easier to just correct people when they came to pay.

Partly, the irritation comes from the fact that we can’t actually figure out the post office’s system. Last time we had a problem with the arrival of a parcel, I rang to ask why some turned up on my doorstep and some had to be collected. The woman spoke a lot about couriers, registered mail, and parcels too big to fit into the letterbox, which I already knew about, but couldn’t explain why my mother’s inexplicable gollywog tea-cosy arrived on my doorstep even though it was a large box sent through the regular post.

I also blame the post office, perhaps unfairly, for the loss of my poor ex-Corolla; if they hadn’t been insisting on a signature for a Nintendo DS game small enough to fit in the mailbox, then my poor car wouldn’t have been parked in the driveway when the Commodore came through the fence.

But today was the last straw, when the owner completely failed to find a parcel that I’d been sent a ticket for. I have no idea why that happens, but it did involve spending twenty minutes waiting in a post office roughly the size of a shoebox, trying to get out of the way of people searching for pre-paid envelopes and occasionally interrupting the man behind the counter to correct his mispronunciation of the name of the (alleged) parcel.

Of course, I say “the last straw,” but, really, what can I do? He can be as lax, as random, and as unprepared as he likes, and we have no way of removing our service—unless we arrange for everything to be sent registered mail.

So we’re stuck with the local post office and its frustrating business practices. I’ll just make sure that I don’t park the car in the driveway before going to pick up any parcels, just in case the bad post-office karma continues.

Conversations With My Father

Posted 25 March 2008 in by Catriona

It’s my mother’s birthday at the end of the week, so I rang my father to remind him (an annual daughterly duty, shared with my sister) and to ask him about what I’d bought.

Unfortunately, I’d gone so far out of my way to find obscure items that I couldn’t pronounce the relevant terms and he couldn’t remember if they were familiar, so that was a bit of a wash-out.

Then we had the following conversation:

DAD (jocularly): Well, thanks for your advice, not that it was much help.
ME: Well, my main advice was good, which was to ask my sister—she’s much better at this stuff. I can help if you want to know about good contemporary fantasy fiction.
DAD: I don’t want to know!
ME: No, I know; I’m just saying I could help. But I don’t really read much detective fiction.
DAD: I don’t know where we went wrong.
ME: Yes, imagine have a highly educated, stable daughter who doesn’t read detective fiction. It’s a tragedy!
DAD: Well, that’s the word I would have used.

There are just too many ways to disappoint your parents. I can’t keep track.


Posted 23 March 2008 in by Catriona

For some reason, I’ve made myself thoroughly melancholic recently—which is ironic, really, because I’m compulsively unable to spell “melancholic” and usually default to “meloncholic”—which I assume is the technical term for something like Midori.

I’m not actually a melancholic person; I have no reason to be.

I suspect this originates in my post-submission exhaustion.

However, I probably haven’t helped it along by watching Green Wing, reading Five Little Pigs, writing depressing blog posts, and listening compulsively to Nick Cave, Elvis Costello’s Spike—“Veronica” and “Let Him Dangle” are fabulous songs, guaranteed to make me want to weep—and The Crow soundtrack.

So I really only have myself to blame.

What I suspect I need is to put on some cheerful music—which means not letting Nick have a choice of CDs—and actually finish cleaning out the study. Who knows, I may find more books that I’d completely forgotten.

Tired and Whingy

Posted 18 March 2008 in by Catriona

No proper entry, because this is one of those days when everything goes haywire.

I have an enormous pile of marking still to get through tonight (a one-week turn around on this piece, so it has to be done for tomorrow) and a lecture to finish prepping.

I seem to have let the work get slightly on top of me, probably thanks to my unseasonable period of laziness (three days) after submitting the Ph.D.

And yet I still feel as though I need a holiday.

I love my job—there can be no better job than teaching young adults—but, damn, it’s tiring in the early weeks.


I have a glass of wine, and my computer, and a sofa.

And at least I’m having a better day than the attendant at the refectory, with whom I had the following conversation:

HIM: How are you?
ME: Good. How are you?
HIM: I’m about to fucking beat someone up.
ME: Not me?

You can’t make this stuff up.

Give me half an hour—I’ll be fine.

The day just keeps getting better and better.

I had my glass of wine, but then got a very upset e-mail from someone who is legitimately upset over a problem that, although sympathetic, I cannot actually fix. Depending on a third party is beyond frustrating.

Nick then tipped a not-quite-empty container of curry on the carpet, and we both just stared at it in unmoving horror for about five minutes before shrieking “PICK IT UP!”

And I’ve just spotted Nick opening a kilogram packet of ground coffee while balancing it on the back of the sofa because “there’s more room there.”

I would say “roll on tomorrow,” but I still haven’t finished my marking.

Slight Blogging Hiatus While I Ponder The Mysteries of the Universe

Posted 17 March 2008 in by Catriona

(As a side note, this entry is an exercise in writing a blog entry without mentioning personal names. Tricky.)

A old school-friend of mine is having her first child. Now.

She will have gone in to hospital half an hour ago.

I find this both marvellous and frightening: not frightening for the child—who will have two brilliant, devoted, creative, and fascinating parents—but a shock from my childless, still-sixteen-in-my-head perspective.

My best friend has two children, and I find that strange enough. Again, it’s not a bad kind of strange; I adore my friend and my two nephews, especially (solipsistically) now that the elder of the two is starting to realise how cool his Auntie Treena is, and brightened my last Christmas by insisting “Auntie Treena, come outside! Auntie Treena, sit here! Auntie Treena, touch that—I think it’s hot.”

But when you’ve known someone for twenty-six years and yet live 1000 kilometres away from them, their motherhood is something that comes as a surprise. Perhaps if I’d lived round the corner from her, I wouldn’t have felt that she’s suddenly leveled up while I wasn’t looking.

It’s not so much of a shock with this friend. We were part of a very close group of girlfriends at school—a group I cherished, who made high-school life—in a fascistic, agricultural high school where we were expected to pregnancy-test cows (honestly, do you know what that entails?) and dissect sheep—more than bearable. In fact, they created a joy in life and in the life of the imagination on which I’m still drawing now.

But then I lost touch, when I moved to Brisbane for graduate work.

My fault entirely.

And when things went a little wonky up here, I became more and more uncertain about reinitiating contact—something that stemmed from my own feelings of failure, not from any awareness of how they would react.

Enter Facebook, where one of these friends found me—and it all fell into place again.

I met up with many of them over Christmas for the first time in years. And most people who heard this asked, “Wasn’t it a bit strange?” But, it wasn’t. Because there’d been no falling out or hurt feelings. We’d been close and we’d drifted apart, so the re-meeting was just good fun (and that includes a separate meeting with another friend and her gorgeous children—hearing a friend you still think of as eighteen say to her six-year-old child “Catriona was Mummy’s friend at big school” is a shock and half, especially when said child was a foot long last time you saw him.)

And now one of these friends is having her first child.

She’ll be a wonderful mother—she always had a unique outlook on life.

And her husband will be a besotted father.

Their child is lucky, and I wish all good speed for its arrival.

Best of good luck, friend: best of good luck.

Soulmates? Or a World Where the Laws of Probability Stand Still?

Posted 16 March 2008 in by Catriona

Driving home from a lovely, celebratory lunch this afternoon, Nick and I realised that there was going to be a power struggle for toilet access once we got home.

So, like any other stable couple, we decided to play Rock, Paper, Scissors.

The only problem was we kept choosing the same item, over and over again.

On the fifth or sixth attempt, I finally managed to crush Nick’s scissors with my rock, but it was a little weird there for a while.

I’m tempted to try a coin toss to see how many times it comes down heads—then I know whether or not to accept any unexpected offers of a trip to England that might come from old university friends.

More Tales From The Study; or, Why Life Isn't Like a Sit-com

Posted 15 March 2008 in by Catriona

This afternoon, we decided to clean out the study a bit. The aim, eventually, is to move one of the bookcases into the spare room—which will soon be a labyrinth of shelving with a bed in the middle—but it didn’t quite work out that way.

(On the other hand, much progress was made. Nick’s just wandered through to ask if I’m blogging about how awesome he is for cleaning everything out, so I told him I am. In a manner of speaking.)

The problem is that I’m reluctant to throw out any work-related material—while regularly throwing out letters from the council and from the bank without opening them first—while Nick won’t throw out anything at all. In fact, I have a box in my spare-room wardrobe containing nothing but his calendars from the 1980s. So the study regularly devolves into a series of teetering piles of paper. And all of those have to be moved before we can even get to the bookcases.

(In fact, this is why Nick claims he needs praise—he decided, once we’d cleaned all the papers off his desk—that he needed to clean out his filing cabinet, which hasn’t been done in about six years. It’s now almost empty.)

At one point, we managed to carve a path to the corner shelving unit where Nick keeps his games—which is a story in itself, since when we bought it from K-Mart it arrived minus the struts that keep it stable, and I was too lazy to go back in and get them, so it’s now kept upright thanks to a blue plastic wine rack that inexplicably fell down behind it one day.

The top of this unit contains boxes full of our art equipment—and oddly, one that contained nothing but unopened, ten-year-old bank statements—and piles of sketchbooks.

It was these boxes that led to my downfall, because I decided to clean them out.

A reasonable ambition, I would have thought, but it ended up with me stuck behind a pile of ancient bank statements and drenched in linseed oil up to the elbows.

I probably should have seen that coming.

But, in a sit-com, the end result would have been humourous, salacious, or both.

The only end result for me was that I had to dig myself out from behind a pile of paper, getting increasingly dusty and sticking to everything I touched.

And even that wasn’t presented as a montage.

Having washed my hands, though, I’m quite pleased that life isn’t a sit-com. (And that relief doesn’t even take into account the fact that my most recent comedy has been Green Wing, and while it’s the most hilarious thing I’ve seen since Spaced and I am definitively addicted, I do not want to live in that world.)

Frankly, the real world has fewer plot holes and significantly better gender roles than the average sit-com.

I might make an exception if I could holiday in Futurama, though.

Household Inefficiencies

Posted 2 March 2008 in by Catriona

I am an appalling housekeeper.

I’m good at a number of things, I think. I seem to be an effective teacher; at least, my students mostly pass and, as far as I can tell, don’t actively hate me at the end of the semester. I’m an efficient researcher, as well. I’m also good at remembering where other people have left their glasses although not, alas, at remembering where I have put my own.

But housekeeping? No. We don’t live in actual squalor, mind: not the kind of squalor that includes dead animals or human waste (okay, there was that one possum, but he was in the downpipe, not the living room. And I do occasionally have to chase out water dragons seeking fresh fruit and bush turkeys hoping for a dry nesting place. But those are temporary).

But we generate a lot of paper: books, notebooks, draft chapters, sketchpads, notes, stray Post-its. And, somehow, I’m starting to think that having everything in piles doesn’t really qualify as being tidy.

The study is causing me particular concerns.

I love my study; since moving out of home, I’ve been longing for a house where my desk wasn’t in the corner of my bedroom, and this little, white, wooden house is the first place where I’ve managed that.

So I love my study.

I love the window, even though it opens on to next door’s unpainted, corrugated-iron roof, and the sun’s unbearable in the afternoon (don’t blame me for the chintz curtains—they came with the house).

I love my James Jean prints, even though the one of Hansel drowning two witches as an interrogation method (from Fables) does seem a little creepy, now I look at it.

And I love my books.

But that’s where the problem starts. And ends, really. Because books are never a waste of space, but they take up so much space. And technically, I only have half a study, since Nick occupies the other corner.

So what this picture doesn’t really show is that the shelves are essentially triple-packed: books, with books on top of them, then more books in front. Trying to find anything is a nightmare, and I’m getting to the point where I’ve forgotten what I’ve already bought.

There are also books on the floor, although that did cause amusement when the temporary kitten wouldn’t believe me when I told her that the piles weren’t stable and then had to go and hide behind the swan table until she calmed down.

What I find particularly odd is the tendency of the study to attract wasps, so that you hear them buzzing somewhere and next thing you know they’ve built a succession of nests down the back of your hardback of Leslie Stephens’s Literature and Society in the Eighteenth Century, which you don’t discover for months, because, really, who reads Leslie Stephens on a regular basis?

So I’m hoping now for a bigger study. One where I can have bookshelves lining the walls. Shallow bookshelves, so I can’t triple stack even if I’m tempted.

I could just stop buying books, but that doesn’t seem like a viable option. It would take a heart of stone to go to the Lifeline BookFest and walk past a facsimile reprint of late Wizard of Oz books, or The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, or the complete poems of Keats in a puffy orange suede jacket.

Even if they do end up sitting in a pile on the floor until you’ve temporarily forgotten about them.



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