by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Life, the Universe, and Everything”

Rules That Should Never Be Broken

Posted 27 September 2008 in by Catriona

This post is brought to you by the difficulties of marking while Nick is holding a shouted video-cam conversation with my father a metre away: mind, I’m not blaming him for the shouting. It’s just distracting.

But if my obsessive reading and watching of television has taught me anything, it’s that some rules can be broken, and some are inviolable. These are the inviolable rules, as far as I know them.

1. Never go shopping with Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan.

2. Never mess with Veronica Mars.

3. If in doubt, nuke the planet from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

4. Never get involved in a land war in Asia.

5. Don’t go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line.

6. Always take a banana to a party.

7. Don’t wear a T-shirt reading “Clone” around Captain Jack.

8. There can only be one.*

9. Don’t forget your towel.

Have I missed anything important?

*(I have no idea why I’m currently obsessed with Highlander; I haven’t seen it in years, and I was never thrilled with the “rape as an object lesson” sub-plot. Yet I keep making jokes about it recently.)

A Glimpse Into My Thought Processes

Posted 24 September 2008 in by Catriona

I was listening to Tripod’s “Astronaut,” a song about the lack of a Japanese space programme, and heard these lyrics:

Because you can’t carry out a ninja style assassination dressed as an astronaut,
It’s the luminous fabric (Too visible.)
And they don’t let you (Ooo-ooo)
Use a samurai sword when you’re an astronaut,
You might puncture the suit.
You might depressurise, like a Gremlin in a microwave.

And then my thoughts ran roughly along these lines:

Hee!

No, wait.

What happens to Gremlins when you put them in microwaves? They explode, don’t they?

But they don’t explode because they depressurise, do they? It’s more of a . . . boiling effect.

Ew.

But, then, you do explode when you depressurise, yes? (Wait, wasn’t there a Mythbusters episode about that? No, that’s not important.)

So is that a sufficient similarity to make that an effective simile? After all, they both explode.

No, but they explicitly suggest that Gremlins in microwaves depressurise, and I’m fairly certain that’s not what happens.

You know, I really don’t think that’s the best simile.

No wonder my students think I’m overly pedantic.

Great song, though.

Today's Deeply Philosophical Question

Posted 22 September 2008 in by Catriona

If there can only be one, why does it have to be Christopher Lambert?

"Our House" Is Perhaps The Most Perfect Pop Song Ever Written

Posted 19 September 2008 in by Catriona

Feel free to dispute my claim, but I’m sticking by it.

Perhaps the most perfect pop song of the 1980s, anyway. (Although another contender for that title would be “Levi Stubbs’ Tears.” Nick’s vote is for “Just Like Heaven,” and I’m not going to dispute that, either.)

And, really, what is there not to like about Madness?

There were so many of them! There’s a band who didn’t feel that there was any point in restricting their numbers.

Plus, they wrote a gorgeous song about a teenage boy trying to buy his first packet of condoms, but being distracted by his own embarrassment—which made him speak entirely in euphemisms—and by the fact that his neighbours kept coming into the chemist’s.

And, as if that weren’t sufficient reason to love Madness, they also appeared in two separate episodes of The Young Ones, which would be sufficient in itself to make me love them. (Especially since most of the bands who played The Young Ones have since completely disappeared—except Motorhead. That was odd.)

But thinking about The Young Ones led me to Google Alexei Sayle and his biscuit quote, find this:

That’s a Zapata moustache, ennit? He’s Mexican, wasn’t he, eh? Funny, really, you know, Zapata. He starts out as a peasant revolutionary, and ends up as a kind of moustache. Che Guevara, he’s another one. South American revolutionary, ends up as a sort of boutique. Garibaldi, Italian revolutionary, ends up as a kind of biscuit. It’s quite interesting, you know, the number of biscuits that are named after revolutionaries. You’ve got your Garibaldi, of course, you’ve got your Bourbons, then of course you’ve got your Peek Freens Trotsky Assortment.

And then laugh so hard I made myself cough horribly.

But I can’t really blame Madness for that.

Playing With iPhoto

Posted 19 September 2008 in by Catriona

This is the original image:

iPhoto has a range (a small range) of “effects” options, so I ran a cropped version of this image through some of them.

Fading colour:

Boosting colour:

Something called “Antique”:

It’s all just for fun, really—but looking at these, maybe I should start my own range of saccharine greeting cards? I could just run everything through the “antiquing” function, maybe Photoshop an image of a baby into the photo somehow, and Bob’s your uncle!

Actually, I do like the result of boosting the colour. Bougainvilleas are a good subject for that, since their colour is fairly saturated in the first place.

Interesting Things That Nick and I Discussed in the Shopping Centre Tonight

Posted 18 September 2008 in by Catriona

1. Why chocolate coins aren’t available in the shops until Christmas, even though it’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day tomorrow and, also, chocolate coins are brilliant.

2. Whether memes can be de-memed or memed out. The example we were debating was pirates vs ninjas, which I think has been memed out. Nick suggested it had been de-memed, but I maintain that that construction suggests active demotion, which a brief scan of the Internet suggests is definitely not the case.

3. Whether Nick would be better buying a plain black pirate skullcap, a brown one in artificial leather, or a black one with a curiously smiley skull and crossbones on the front.

4. Whether I could justify buying a long, black, female pirate wig with an inbuilt head scarf. Sadly, we decided that September in Brisbane is probably too warm for a fake pirate wig. Plus, I already have a bright green, ’60s-style bob that I never wear.

It was a pretty awesome wig, though.

5. While Nick was wistfully eying Fallout 3, which hasn’t been released for the Wii, whether people who buy games for consoles they don’t own are engaging in a cargo cult or whether it’s an example of sympathetic magic.

I argued that it’s a cargo cult, since they seem to believe that if they simply build up a critical mass of games, the relevant console will appear.

Nick suggested it was sympathetic magic, but I maintain that sympathetic magic more accurately describes inert protective magics, like teddy bears (which I think is an idea I drew from Diana Wynne Jones, originally).

We got some odd looks during that conversation.

6. Whether Nick was better off buying a (plastic) flintlock that was awesome but inert or a cutlass that lit up and had sound effects.

I argued for both, but was overruled.

The conversations were a little pirate themed, admittedly, but that’s hardly surprising under the circumstances.

Why I'll Never Be A Superhero

Posted 17 September 2008 in by Catriona

Because, frankly, I just like writing lists.

1. I’m not too bad at multi-tasking, but I don’t think I’m at superhero level. If there’s one thing that movies and comics have taught me, it’s that superheroes have an extraordinarily difficult time balancing the needs of earning a decent living and fighting crime.

I suppose it would be easier if one were the kind of superhero who was paid for their services to the city. Or a billionaire playboy. Otherwise, it all seems a little difficult.

2. I don’t have any superpowers. I suppose that this should really have been the first item on the list, since it’s essential to a successful career as a superhero, but the multi-tasking still seems an important point.

3. I’m absolutely terrified of insects. So there goes one way of gaining superpowers.

4. I’m also old enough to be disturbed by experiments with nuclear technology—and that carries over to a disinclination to expose myself to gamma radiation. So there’s another means of gaining superpowers off the list.

5. I don’t think I’m a mutant. I certainly don’t seem to have any mutant powers. Of course, if I were to ask my brother whether I’m a mutant, he’d certainly answer, “Yes.” What is it about little brothers that means that if you ask them a simple question such as “Am I a mutant/stupid/making a huge mistake?” they always answer “Yes”?

6. I have no particular facility with technology. Now, it seems to me that you can be a superhero without having superpowers if you’re either excellent at building gadgets or have sufficient money to hire someone who’s excellent at building gadgets. I don’t fall into either of those categories.

7. I’m actually not that keen on being beaten up. This seems a serious disadvantage.

8. There’s always a risk that one will be seduced by the blatant advantages of becoming a supervillain instead. And, much like the Jager plans in which they lose their hats, that never ends well.

9. I struggle enough trying to stay on top of housecleaning. Can you imagine the difficulties of trying to keep a secret lair clean? Because secret lairs are always in inconvenient spaces: perhaps at the bottom of the ocean (think what the humidity would do to your soft furnishings!) or in a cave (the dust! the spiders!). And the whole point of a secret lair is that it’s secret: you can’t hire a cleaning lady. Although if you’re one of those superheroes who has their own butler, that would make things easier.

10. I’m not terribly keen on appearing in public in my underwear.

11. I’m very clumsy. My best friend’s mother used to say that it was as though I had no sense of the relationship between myself and the outside world. I can see that that might be a disadvantage for a superhero.

12. I suspect that my desire to be a superhero would manifest less as a burning desire to help the helpless at the expense of my own peace of mind (and regardless of personal injury) and more as a tendency to lie around on the chaise longues at Justice League headquarters, sipping margaritas and reading my own press clippings.

Actually, that’s a good idea.

Right, I’m off to find a margarita.

And a chaise longue.

And the Justice League.

Actually, forget the Justice League.

And the chaise longue.

Another Lizard Picture; Or, I Still Love My Camera

Posted 16 September 2008 in by Catriona

Sometimes, when they want to catch the breezes as well as the sun—and who wouldn’t, on a horrible, hot day like today?—the water dragons scramble up into the cat’s claw that covers what used to be a yukka, until it flowered:

These vines aren’t actually resting on anything but themselves, and it amazes me that the dragons are willing to rest their weight on something that must rock alarmingly under them.

I think the advantage for this one, which is the smaller of the the two current dragons, is that while he’s up here, the bigger one can’t chase him around the garden.

(Also? I love the zoom function on this camera.)

Yet More Random Photographs from the Back Garden

Posted 12 September 2008 in by Catriona

But there’s a different reason this time. Nick arrived home this afternoon—where I was lying on the sofa finishing off Diana Wynne Jones’s Conrad’s Fate, which I’ve owned for three years but hadn’t read before, and generally feeling sorry for myself, with this cold—with a shiny new camera.

He’s been dropping hints about this for weeks; it’s a gift for completing my Ph.D. successfully. (I have a nagging sense of guilt that I’d bullied him into a present by being rather cranky when I found out he hadn’t even told his parents about the thesis reports coming in.)

But it’s an awesome camera:

Significantly better than my old one, as the macro shots of flowers show most effectively:

So I spent the evening, before the unexpected storm came roaring in, anyway, running around the garden photographing as many flowers as I could find. I used to love taking macro photographs of flowers, and this macro function is a thousand times better than the one on the old camera.

So I’m rather afraid there are going be more photographs on the blog from now on. But at least they’ll mostly be photographs of flowers and other interesting objects, and not self-portraits.

That’s one thing I can promise: it’s highly unlikely there’ll ever be a self-portrait on this blog.

More Random Wildlife Photographs

Posted 10 September 2008 in by Catriona

In the absence of a proper update, I’m offering some photographs of the larger of the two water dragons we currently have in the garden:

Nick and I love the water dragons: in fact, with the water dragons, the bearded dragon who wanders around occasionally, the blue tongue, and the geckos, we have a thoroughly lizardy house.

Sometimes the water dragons wander into the house, and perch themselves on the living-room windowsill looking for insects. Chasing them out is one of my main summer activities. On one occasion, I was working quite innocently in the study, heard a mysterious scrabbling, and thought, “Hmm, that sounds rather like a water dragon becoming stuck in the box of fresh vegetables that was delivered this morning.” Which it was.

My favourite, though, was the enormous dragon who was completely unafraid of people and used to come and lie on the verandah in the sun even when I was sitting out there having a cigarette. During the summer storms, he used to saunter over to the far corner of the back verandah, the bit that gets sun all day, and flatten himself out as far as possible: he’d lie there with his legs stretched out and his belly pressed to the hot concrete and let the rain pour down on him.

That always looked fun.

Then there was the one who used to climb up into the frangipani, stretch himself out at full length, and pretend to be a dragon. At least I assume that’s what he was doing: he used to adopt a sort of noble, far-away look.

And the one that used to climb up the mulberry, scrabble along the guttering, and then throw himself down onto the concrete path, with no apparent ill effects.

This one’s not so tame. But he’s a feisty lizard, and won’t let the smaller dragon come near him. All day, we can hear the scrabbling that means he’s chasing the little one away from the insects.

But he also likes the sun on the back verandah.

And he’s a beauty.

I Will Blog Again, I Promise

Posted 10 September 2008 in by Catriona

I seem to have come down with yet another cold. This is my second cold this semester, which is frustrating me, because I’m rarely ill and this one is weird: I don’t have many normal cold symptoms, but I ache all over and my skin is highly sensitive, which makes sitting or lying down painful and is interrupting my sleep. Frankly, I’d rather just have a runny nose or a cough.

Plus, now is not a good time: I have first-year and second-year assessment to mark—over seventy assignments in total—as well as a journal article that I need to finish by Friday if I’m going to submit it in time.

I doubt it’s going to be a very good journal article, but I’m doing my best.

I’m also still struggling with the Ph.D. submission process, since the proof came out with some fairly annoying formatting issues. These are my fault, rather than the printery’s, and I’m annoyed that I let myself become so frustrated with the process that I didn’t pick them up first time. Now I’m wondering whether it’s possible to cancel the whole process and start again with a new version of the file.

Essentially, I’m a bit beaten down right now and would like a holiday. Even mid-semester break would be nice, but that’s not until after week ten, a full fortnight away.

In the interim, I shall work on thinking up amusing blog posts.

And finishing my journal article, of course.

Classic Books That Must Be Read!!!

Posted 3 September 2008 in by Catriona

When we were in high school, a friend and I put together a list of “Classic Books That Must Be Read!!!”—sadly, complete with the three exclamation marks.

I found it this evening, in—and I’m embarrassed to admit this—a pseudo-hatbox with cherubs printed on it. (In my defense, I bought it when I was much younger and didn’t have any taste.)

There are seventy-five books on the list, so perhaps it’s not the best idea to transcribe the entire list here.

I notice I haven’t read all seventy-five, though. Frankly, there are some on the list that I have no intention of reading and some that I have read but wish I hadn’t.

I haven’t read Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which comes in at the bottom of the list because we’d clearly forgotten Edward Albee’s name. (Most of the books are alphabetical by the author’s last name). On the other hand, I have read Pollyanna—and have no idea how that made it on to the list. Certainly, it’s a classic children’s book, but it’s also thoroughly irritating. Nevertheless, I’ve read it, and there were two advantages: I was able to spend eighteen months making fun of it when I taught an Academic Research course, and it also gave me a good giggle in volume one of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

I have never read Heidi, which turns up just above Pollyanna—I don’t think there’s much likelihood of my reading Heidi at my age. (On the other hand, I do own a copy of Swiss Family Robinson, which is also on the list, and I fully intend to read that at some point.) But, to balance that, I have read King Solomon’s Mines, which was less racist than I had anticipated (while still being rather racist) but no less sexist.

I’ve never read Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, and I do regret that. I don’t regret it much, mind, because I still have time to read it. And, on the other hand, I’ve never read Black Beauty—at least, I’m fairly sure I haven’t—and I consider that a plus.

(What is it about children’s books and general cruelty to animals? Watership Down was devastating and as for Colin Thiele, I think he must have killed a dog off in every single book he ever wrote. Was he badly bitten as a child? That’s the only explanation I can think of.)

Oddly enough, I seem to have ticked Brideshead Revisited off the list, and I have no memory whatsoever of ever reading that book. I remember reading The Loved One for school: I adored it, but I was the only one who did. And I have a copy of Scoop that I’m saving for when I have a free afternoon. But I have no memory of Brideshead Revisited—except that I remember Sebastian’s bear is called Aloyisus. Is that sufficient cause for claiming I’ve read it?

I notice we’ve put Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoyevsky down without specifying particular works. Perhaps we intended to read all of them? Well, Dickens only has fourteen novels, if you don’t count the Christmas novellas and the incomplete Edwin Drood. I’ve certainly read some of them, and really should read the rest. I might save The Old Curiosity Shop for when I need a good laugh. But I don’t know if I’m ever going to get to Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment, or The Brothers Karamazov.

(Confession: I have read none of the great Russian works. Not even Anna Karenina. I know I should, and I will. But as of now: not one. I have read a number of Boris Akunin crime novels, though, so I’m not without some Russian novels under my belt.)

I’ll freely admit that I’ve never read Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, though my mother keeps recommending it. Nor have I read Frank Herbert’s Dune, which would probably be a good candidate for a future round of Humiliation. I did try to read Dune, but I just couldn’t manage it.

I also note that we’ve added “Lawrence of Arabia,” apparently under the illusion that that was the book title rather than the author. Either way, I don’t think I’ll regret it much if I never read The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

On the plus side, I have finally read The Great Gatsby—but only because I had to. And I have read Heart of Darkness, Paradise Lost, and The Three Musketeers.

I suspect that this is now less of a reading list and more of a time capsule. I have no intention of working my way through many of these items, though I think that, now, more are read than unread.

I wonder, too, whether we consulted other people when we put this list together—I don’t recall whether someone else recommended Dostoyevsky or whether that was our pretentious teenage selves talking.

It’s nice to have this list, and to see what we thought were the Classic Books That Must Be Read!!!

But I don’t think it’ll be keeping it near me, to cross items off as I go.

I’ve read many books over the years, generally at the expense of doing all the other things that you’re supposed to do to “get a life.”

I see no reason why I shouldn’t read many more in the years to come.

But I doubt any of them will be Heidi.

Uncannily Prescient Lego Figurines

Posted 3 September 2008 in by Catriona

Many years ago, Nick and I made this picture using a website that allowed you to construct yourself as a Lego figurine. (There’s almost certainly a Facebook application that allows you to do the same thing.)

I found them this evening while I was rummaging through a box of letters, looking for the basis of the entry I’m about to write.

I was a little disturbed to see how faded the inks were looking, so putting it on the blog seems like a good attempt at conservation.

Plus, I’m frightened to see how prescient it is:

Is it just me, or does that device that we put in Nick’s hand seven years ago look exactly like an iPhone?

We'll Miss You, Pauline Baynes

Posted 2 September 2008 in by Catriona

I can’t believe that I only found out today that illustrator Pauline Baynes died a month ago.

But it’s fitting, with my current re-reading of the Narnia books, that I should find this out today.

Baynes didn’t only illustrate Narnia, of course. She was a favoured illustrator of Tolkien’s work and her illustrations appear on nearly every Puffin children’s fantasy book produced in the 1970s, as in this edition of one of Mary Norton’s later Borrower books:

Or this one of George Macdonald’s lovely The Princess and Curdie, the sequel to The Princess and the Goblin:

I actively seek out editions with Pauline Baynes illustrations, so central is she to the ideas about what fantasy should look like that I absorbed in my childhood.

But she is best known, perhaps, for her Narnia work. I know I’ve been carrying around these full-colour images from a commemorative calendar since about 1991.

We’ll miss you, Pauline Baynes.

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