by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Life, the Universe, and Everything”

It Wouldn't Be Winter (Or Nearly Winter)

Posted 24 June 2008 in by Catriona

If I didn’t drink so much coffee that I can only prevent myself from bouncing off the walls through sheer effort of will, and then upload a picture of my feet onto the Internet while listening to a Nine Inch Nails cover of a Joy Division song.

At least, that is the ritual by which I shall be celebrating the advent of winter from now on.

Blogging a Tuesday Night's Musical Odyssey

Posted 17 June 2008 in by Catriona

It’s not really live-blogging, per se. But, sometimes, when we don’t have anything we want to watch on television, Nick and I will just run through the CD collection—and that’s what we’re doing tonight.

(Just for the record, it was Nick who suggested it might make interesting blogging. I wasn’t so sure.)

So far, we’ve just finished listening to Elmore James’s “The Sky is Crying”—and before that his version of “Dust My Broom,” but, really, who hasn’t done a version of “Dust My Broom”?—and I’m about to insist on some Billy Bragg.

We’re not drunk, by the way. It just seems as though we are.

Ah, Nick has just brought me coffee at the same time as I’ve started Billy Bragg’s version of “The Red Flag”—I’ve been feeling unusually bolshie after the events of this week. This version has the original music—much more inspiring and martial than the dirge-like version that’s sung these days.

It has whistles and something called a “bodhran”—I’m not sure what that is.

Ah: it’s an Irish frame drum. Apparently. Makes a good sound, whatever it is.

NICK: I don’t think I’ve ever heard the more typical version.
ME: The dirge.
NICK: Yeah.
ME: You’ve watched a Labour party conference?
NICK: Ah . . . no. Of course, the Australian Labour Party’s anthem is “Fuck the Communists,” as far as I can tell.

(I was going to spell that with an asterisk, but my Mam doesn’t read my blog, anyway.)

(Is this the height of solipsism? Maybe—but it’s a fun writing exercise.)

Billy Bragg’s the only artist apart from The Cure that I’ve ever seen twice: he’s brilliant live. That’s why I’m breaking the rules, to play more than one song from this EP.

Ah, he’s just been singing about the “dark satanic mills” in “Jerusalem”—my Dad hates that line, on the basis of the digs in the ribs he used to get when he was a choir boy in the Midlands.

Now Nick’s complaining that I’ve put Duran Duran on. I intend to challenge him as to why he hates Duran Duran, but he’s pre-empted me.

NICK: The only good Duran Duran song is “View to a Kill”—and you can quote me on that.

(Apparently, my spell-checker doesn’t recognise “th” as misspelt—that’s odd. I’ve caught two instances of my leaving the last letter off already: I“ll have to keep an eye on that.)

Whoops, I think Nick’s slipped into a coma—I might have to change the CD.

I wonder if he’d let me play something from Essential Soul: Volume One—note: contains no actual soul songs—if I promise not to play Patches. I love that song: makes me laugh every time. It’s the soul equivalent of the death of Little Nell.

It shouldn’t make me laugh, of course, but there’s a fine line between pathos and bathos.

Nope—couldn’t stop myself from listening to “Patches.” Brilliant.

It’s actually not a bad song, and I am an evil, evil person to laugh at it. It’s got a lovely rhythm, really.

On the other hand, I was raised by a woman who asked me and my sister to write poems for her obituary a few years ago, on the grounds that she wanted to edit them before she actually died. (She wasn’t actually ill, or anything—she’d read a newspaper article about a man whose son had written a poem for the newspaper obituary, and it enflamed her ambition.)

My sister wrote a limerick.

This live version of the Local Hero theme goes on forever, but I’m with Douglas Adams on the subject of Mark Knopfler’s guitar playing.

(I just skipped on to the Admin pages—while listening to “The Ship Song”—and found that someone had found the blog by Googling “Romeo+Juliet+blurbs.” I’m not even sure what that means, but I hope they enjoyed the blog.)

Nick’s just shown me a picture without telling me that it would completely spoil the last two episodes of Doctor Who for this season. If you don’t want to be spoiled, do not click on this link.

For those of you who did click—cool, huh?

We’re up to The Smiths, by that way—just to add a cheery note to the whole evening. Has anyone spotted that I usually get to pick the music on these evenings?

But I have just dragged my best of Bon Jovi album out, just in case we do fancy something a little more up-beat.

Musical tastes is one area where Nick and I do not have a lot of overlap—it’s odd, really, given how similar we are in terms of our tastes in television and movies. (Well, except for the ongoing debate about whether I should be able to watch Battlestar Galactica without bursting into tears.) But we really have next to no overlap on music—except for The Cure. But Nick is the more magnanimous here, because he will listen to some of my stuff, whereas I can’t stand most of his favourite artists.

Oh, I am so not listening to “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me”—that’s grim even for The Smiths.

I’m not intending to make this the world’s longest post, by the way. But there is a different challenge to writing down mundane events (almost) as they happen and (hopefully) making them interesting. That’s what I like about the blog: well, one of two things. It makes me stretch my writing and it’s overcoming my distaste about showing my writing to people.

(I have no problem showing thesis drafts to my supervisors—but I’m reluctant to display any other form of writing. Or I was, until I started writing the blog.)

Of course, you can’t trust me—I’ve used the word “solipsistic” more times since I started writing this blog than . . . well, I was going to say “than I have in the 31 years preceding” but a more accurate closing clause would be “since I wrote that tutorial paper on Satre in my second year.”

Nick hasn’t given me many amusing comments so far—I’ll see if Bon Jovi will flush him out.

NICK: Ah, this song [“Living on a Prayer”] would be much better without the talk box. That “whah whah whah”—really annoying.

See?

Plus, we’ve just had a little chat about how “torque” and “talk” are homophones, so Bon Jovi is educational as well as fun.

Of course, now he’s singing along at the top of his voice, and I’m deeply, deeply regretting my choice.

Key change! It’s like Eurovision all over again.

Nick’s just told me that the American Red Cross has spent its entire disaster-relief budget. That’s . . . damn. I don’t even know what to say about that.

I’ve moved on to 1960s’ music, by the way, which has suddenly filled me with a overwhelming desire to listen to “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Hey—it’s not just Liverpool FC’s song (as though it needs to be anything else!) It also has geek credibility: it’s the song that Eddie the shipboard computer sang when the Polaris missiles were heading towards the Heart of Gold in Hitchhiker’s Guide.

Of course, I have it on an album called “Rock and Roll Heartbreakers”—which it really isn’t, even if you don’t associate it with tens of thousands of fans singing it after yet another FA Cup victory.

Is it just me, or is “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” the strangest song to find on the soundtrack of a Western? Even a Western like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

On the other hand, it has led to a spirited debate between Nick and me about whether “outro” is a real word. Nick thinks it is, on the grounds that “intro” is now a word in its own right and not merely a truncation of “introduction.” I think that’s rubbish.

The argument was a stalemate, because Nick brought out “well, in a musical context,” which gave me no grounds for riposte, since I know nothing about music.

But I do know that these are some of the greatest lines in musical history: “Eleanor, I really think you’re groovy. Let’s go out to a movie” and “You’re my pride and joy, et cetera”.

Actually, I think that last line reappeared in one of the Eurovision entries this year.

And on that note—Nick is singing along to “It’s My Party,” which has to be seen (and heard) to be believed—I should stop writing this before it either gets so long that people just skip over it or I’m tempted to use the word “solipsistic” again.

Making the Living Room Look Like A Retro Space Ship

Posted 14 June 2008 in by Catriona

Well, it’s one way to make Nick interested in interior decorating—for a creative man and a designer, he has remarkably little interest in the appearance of his domestic environment.

But there is a reason why his design company is called RetroRocket, so this might work.

The chairs do look rather as though they should be part of the interior of the Discovery One, but they also suit my fondness for sleek, 1960s’ design.

Sure, there’s some lovely, sleek design work being produced now, but I like the clean lines of good 1960s’ and 1970s’ design, so these also mesh well with my little plastic nested tables and the plethora of old lamps that I keep picking up at auctions and in antique centres.

Best of all, I can get rid of the hideously uncomfortable sofa that made its way here from my first share house—it’s always called “the black sofa,” despite the fact that all three of our sofas are actually black.

(On a similar principle, we have a table called “the swan table” that is completely free of any kind of swan or swan-shaped object. That’s the table in the back corner in the first photo—see, completely swan-free.)

But the black sofa (now a pleasing shade of light green) has been relegated to the back verandah, where it gives the space the slightly dissolute air of a student house (which I suppose it isn’t, now. How sad.)

I think Nick was a little uncertain about this, but it’s great—we moved it out this morning, before going to pick the new chairs up, and I’ve been sprawling on it at intervals throughout the day, basking in the sun.

I don’t think I’ll care to bask in the sun in summer, but in winter I think I’ll get a lot of use out of my verandah sofa.

Dear Giant Moth That I Found In My Bedroom

Posted 14 June 2008 in by Catriona

You are extremely beautiful. You are also enormous.

And you scare the pants off me. (Almost literally, in this case, since I found you while I was searching for clean clothes.)

I don’t know why you and so many of your brethren are coming to Brisbane these days—I believe it has to do with increased rain on the coast and therefore a plentiful food supply.

That’s fantastic! Eat and . . . well, no, don’t multiply. Much. Just don’t die out, because you are lovely.

But, and correct me if I’m wrong here, I don’t think that my bedroom is your natural habitat.

And I am very, very scared of you.

Does that make me a coward, giant moth? Probably. But I think I’ll just stay out here in the living room for now.

So I want to make a deal with you, giant moth.

There’s the window. Can you see the window? If not, I’ll just pick you up gently—no, let’s be serious for a moment. Someone else—who is not scared of you or, perhaps, is more scared of me than of you—will pick you up very gently and take you to the window.

Because we don’t want to hurt you, giant moth. We definitely don’t want to kill you. But I find not being able to enter my bedroom rather inconvenient.

So we’ll see you out the window, and you can fly free to eat thistles—or whichever food source you prefer—and find a companion, and circle futilely around lampposts on balmy Brisbane nights.

Does that sound like a fair compromise, giant moth?

But, before you go, I will say one thing.

I am grateful to you, giant moth, for one thing.

I am grateful that you are not one of those Hercules moths with the twenty-seven-centimetre wingspans that you find in Northern Queensland.

Because if I found one of those in my bedroom, I would have to abandon the house.

Snoring

Posted 4 June 2008 in by Catriona

Does anyone else have a partner who regularly snores like a water buffalo with sinus problems?

Every winter—even these balmy Brisbane winters, where it rarely drops below 10 degrees, if it gets that cold—Nick starts snoring. He doesn’t snore in summer, but it’s become a winter ritual.

And it drives me insane.

Literally.

I don’t really like to think about some of the things I’ve probably said at 3 a. m., when I’ve been woken for the sixth time by enthusiastic snoring. And I know my poking gets more and more vicious as the night goes on.

But, honestly, it’s nerve-wracking knowing that there’s not much point even trying to fall asleep, because you’re only going to be woken in fifteen minutes by what sounds like a jack-hammer.

Or dealing in the small hours of the morning with a partner who’s bewildered and a bit hurt because, after all, they’re asleep, and don’t really know how much confusion and distress they’re causing.

Or eventually snapping and kicking them out, when you haven’t slept in three hours because the snoring episodes are coming one on the tail of another, only to have your partner stumble out of the room, dragging their blanket behind them like Linus, mumbling that they don’t know what they were doing, they were only sleeping, they weren’t doing anything, really—so you relent, and then spend the next three hours with every nerve and sinew in your body screwed up in anticipation of the next snore.

And then!

Then, sometimes, you get the snoring episodes with the pauses. The pauses are the worst.

Because the pauses make you think that the snoring has actually stopped. That this time there won’t be another snore. So you lie there, counting under your breath, and feeling your mind expand with a new sense of hope and freedom . . . and then the snoring starts again.

That’s usually when the nasty comments come out.

I don’t think there’s any answer to the problems, really.

We’ve tried those strange nasal strips that I think athletes wear to enhance their breathing; I’m convinced that those just give the snores more room to move.

We’ve tried sprays to open the nasal passages: same problem, really.

I’ve heard that a small, round object sewn into the pajamas will work, since it stops the snorer sleeping on their back—but Nick doesn’t need to sleep on his back to snore. According to his frequent response to poking—“But I’m awake!”—he doesn’t even need to sleep.

I think the end result can only be the winter ritual we’ve slipped into over the past few years: three or fours days of midnight rib-cage poking and nasty comments, followed by a night where I sleep like the dead out of sheer exhaustion.

At least I’m not teaching again until the end of July.

I can always sleep in a little.

Another Nostalgic Memory

Posted 2 June 2008 in by Catriona

I don’t know why I’m compelled to write this: it may be the mention of Kibbutznik in the last post but one, or a conversation I just had with my Mam.

(I’m also not sure why I’m compelled to post three times tonight, but that may be the fact that I haven’t done much else today, and I’m onto my second glass of wine.)

When we took the trip to Israel, we also visited a number of other countries, taking advantage of the fact that we were overseas anyway—which is a big advantage when you live on a giant island continent.

One place we stopped was Paris.

I can’t remember how long we stayed there: I was only nine years old.

I can’t remember much of Paris at all, actually, except for the following three things.

We used to breakfast on croissants in street cafes in the morning. The croissants were fresh from the oven, and every croissant I’ve ever had since has been a vague disappointment—but I eat them anyway, in some kind of futile quest. The cafes also had sugar in individually packaged cubes instead of granules. When you’re nine, that’s about as exotic as it gets.

We went to the Louvre one day, to see the Mona Lisa—among other things. But my parents hadn’t checked whether the Louvre was open on Tuesdays, and it wasn’t. We were flying out the next day, so I still haven’t seen the Mona Lisa: despite having read Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” I’m still not sure whether seeing it on tea towels counts.

On the last day that we were there, we came across an Algerian street trader—the fact that he was Algerian isn’t relevant in any way, just additional information.

He was selling six-foot-tall, cylindrical balloons patterned with pictures of The Smurfs.

To a nine-year-old girl, these were entirely irresistible.

(Now, of course, I can’t abide The Smurfs: smug little isolationists, with their improbable language—making one word work as a noun, and a verb, and an adjective, and an adverb, and a proper noun. I wasn’t particularly distressed when Unicef bombed their village and I wasn’t alone, if I remember the reaction to that advertisement correctly. But that’s beside the point.)

So he had these balloons, and I was enraptured. He knew it, too. He kept saying, “You want one of these?”

I’d say “Yes” just as my parents said, “No.”

We were flying out that night, and the balloon was six-feet tall.

Then a gendarme arrived.

Street trading was illegal, so the gendarme told the man to move along. But there I was, a blonde, blue-eyed, nine-year-old girl, with starry, Smurf-inspired eyes.

So the gendarme gallantly presented me with the one balloon that the man had inflated for display, while running the man off.

My parents resisted, but I accepted with alacrity.

So there we were, walking along a street in Paris: my parents thoroughly bewildered, me quite satisfied in my possession of the balloon.

Behind us ran the street trader, shouting “You owe me ten francs!”

Behind him ran the gendarme, shouting “You! Move along!”

I have no idea what the pedestrians—or should that be flaneurs, perhaps?—thought.

Of course, we came to the Metro eventually, and we couldn’t fit the balloon through the doors. So my father put a hole in it with a pair of nail scissors, deflated it, and folded it into a pocket.

My parents swore we could re-inflate it when we got home.

But we never could.

Is that shallow, for one’s best memory of Paris?

Inanimate Objects Have the Cutest Faces

Posted 2 June 2008 in by Catriona

Today, I decided that I wasn’t going to start my marking, but instead give myself a long weekend after what has been an exhausting if thoroughly enjoyable semester.

I’m not even entirely sure what I did do today, except that it was very little: if you don’t count chatting to friends via Facebook, drinking coffee, listening to Elvis Costello, reading The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and enjoying the rain—and I don’t count those things.

But some time during the afternoon, I decided to play a spontaneously invented game called “Let’s see what interesting photographs I can take in my living room.” This is no doubt connected to my new passion for putting photographs on the blog. (And, really, who doesn’t like looking at photographs on the Internet?)

But then it turned out that the most interesting pictures were all the little inanimate faces that watch me every day from various perches around the room.

Most of these objects are connected to my childhood: old toys and so forth, now relegated (or elevated, depending on your attitude towards toys) to the status of ornaments. Not all of them are very ornamental, but I like having them around.

Take my Puggles, for instance:

(They’re very difficult to take a clear photograph of, the velvety little things. And yes, that is a Star Trek-branded magazine file behind them.)

Do people still remember Puggles? (People who visited back in the days when I used to store them on the back of the sofa probably remember them, since they’ve almost certainly been beaned in the head with them while blamelessly watching television—I know I have. Although they aren’t, strictly speaking, beanbags at all; they’re filled with crushed walnut shells, which is a fact that used to fascinate me as a child.)

Puggles were all the rage back when I was, I suppose, seven or eight? Maybe younger?

But they were toys that came with their own particular brand of nightmare.

Puggles arrived in little, velvet, drawstring bags; in fact, the bags were made out of the same material as the Puggles themselves, but I have never considered—until now—whether that meant that the bags were made out of the skins of other, less-fortunate Puggles.

That’s not the nightmarish part.

The bags had brass-encircled holes in the centre, for you to poke the Puggles’ noses out of. And you were sternly exhorted, in an accompanying pamphlet, to make sure you put the Puggles in the bag at night—otherwise, hunters would come along and grab them, to make them into Puggle pies.

And people think we’re destroying the current generation’s innocence.

I wonder sometimes how many hunters crept into my room at night, while I had the Puggles hanging off the posts of my bed, only to be foiled by the fact that the Puggles were in bags.

It boggles the mind.

Or what about Strawberry Shortcake?

Neither of these is Strawberry Shortcake, of course. The one on the left is Almond Tea. She normally wears overalls, but this particular doll was part of the “Party Pleaser” line; apparently, even tomboys have to wear skirts when they go to a party. More frightening still is the fact that these dolls were scented and, even though this one is well over twenty years old, she still smells.

(I would give the actual date, but I’ve forgotten. And, as a public service announcement, don’t try Googling “Strawberry Shortcake” and “Party Pleaser” unless you’ve got plans to bake a dessert.)

I’ve only just discovered from Wikipedia that Almond Tea is supposed to be Asian; well, Asian in a Strawberry Shortcake kind of way. Apparently, she’s from the country of “China Cup.” (Well, it was 1983 when she first appeared.)

I suppose that explains her pet, Marza Panda—alas, missing from my set, along with the doll’s plastic Mary Janes. Why are shoes always the first thing to go missing?

The other doll is Lemon Meringue; her pet, Frappe Frog, is also missing, but at least she never had shoes. She’s originally from a slumber-party range, which explains her terrifying eyes; they’re supposed to slide closed when she’s horizontal.

Now, one of them closes and the other sort of flickers for a while before settling half open. And we’re back to nightmares again.

But Mandy’s not nightmarish:

Mandy’s from a Fisher Price range called “My Friends,” from 1977. I think I must have been given her around about that time, because she was a gift from neighbours while we were still living in Scotland.

(She is a first-generation Mandy, because the cloth part of her body is pink-rosebud fabric, not the later yellow-rosebud fabric. See, wasn’t that an interesting fact?)

What I’ve always found interesting about Mandy is that I always assumed she’d come with that kicky little late-‘60s bob, but apparently she is supposed to have below-the-shoulder hair; I suppose her previous owner brought her up to date with contemporary fashions.

Mandy now lives next to Paddington Bear in the living room, which explains the “Please look after this bear” sign in the corner of the picture.

In the interests of parity, we have one of Nick’s childhood toys on Mandy’s other side:

Being as this robot is not mine, I have no fascinating information to impart and no anecdotes to tell. But he really does illustrate the title to this post: doesn’t he have the cutest face?

This doll, on the other hand, has a story:

(This isn’t a great photo—there are better ones—but I like the slight leaning to one side: she looks so nonchalant.)

This is a Kibbutznik, so-called because she was made and sold as a fund-raising exercise for one of the Israeli kibbutzes: Kibbutz Tzora, in this case.

(Interestingly, neither “kibbutz” or “kibbutznik” trigger off the spelling filter: the first I can understand; the second is stranger. I must do some more research on how broadly that term is applied now.)

The Kibbutznik was bought in Israel in 1986, when we were over there for a conference that my father was attending. I named her “Delilah,” because I was nine years old and it seemed like an appropriately biblical name.

She’s getting slightly shopworn, these days, but she’s still perhaps the most exotic doll on the shelf, even if she is being used as a book-end.

The final image isn’t a childhood toy but, given the title of the post, I couldn’t leave him out:

I love this dog’s little face beyond reason.

As best as I can tell, this is a modern Chinese or—more likely—Japanese knock-off of a well-known English model, probably a Staffordshire dog. (Staffordshire the potters, that is—not a Staffordshire bull terrier. I would link to a picture, but the only ones that I can find are from antiques dealers and will probably expire, causing irritating dead links.)

But what I love most is the fact that, at some point, someone stood back and thought, “You know what this dog needs? Eyebrows!”

Now it has a wickedly sardonic look that, combined with the slight backward tilt to the head, makes it seem as though it’s looking down on everything else in the living room.

This was a Christmas present from my parents, which meant it met two criteria: it was bought at auction well before Christmas and my mother displayed it in her living room for about six months, getting more and more attached to it in the process.

The end result was this conversation:

MUM: Mind, he looks good sitting next to the fireplace.
ME: No.
MUM: Oh, no, I know he’s yours.
ME: Damn skippy!
MUM: Oh, is that what you’re going to call him?

So Damn Skippy he is, the supercilious little hound.

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