by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Life, the Universe, and Everything”

Something Insanely Wonderful

Posted 13 September 2011 in by Catriona

… just turned up on my doorstep, and it’s making a bad day (Nick’s off for some frightening medical tests this morning, while I’ll be invigilating an exam) that much brighter.

A few weeks ago, I came across Kathleen Jennings’s blog and, particularly, her Dalek Game, where she replaces a word in a famous book title with the word “Dalek” and then draws a delightful pen-and-ink sketch of the result.

My favourite? Has to be Wuthering Daleks.

But thanks to the Wuthering Daleks page, I came across something even more delightful.

It’s right here.

Now, the Dalek of the Baskervilles? That’s brilliant. But the Flash Gordon picture made my heart sing. My love for that quotation outweighs the combined value of all the kingdoms of Mongo. Combine that with ducks (who doesn’t like ducks? Only monsters!), and you have something with which I fell in love at first sight.

So I texted Nick, and said, “Please, please find out if there’s any way we can get a print of this.” And because the artist is a woman who understands the susceptible hearts of geeks, the print landed on my doorstep this morning.

And it’s magnificent.

Right now, it’s sitting on my desk, just making me happy. But it’s going to be hung right here in the study, where I can see it as I work, and remember that we only have fourteen ducks to save to Earth.

The Epic Study Spring-Cleaning Ordeal of 2011: Not All Is Hyperbole

Posted 31 August 2011 in by Catriona

While documenting the epic study spring-cleaning ordeal of 2011, I’ve made mention, on occasion, of my spare room now looking as though a disreputable secondhand bookstore had exploded in it.

And I thought to myself, “Hmm. What if people think I’m being hyperbolic? If only there were some way to demonstrate that such a description is not merely hyperbole!”

It’s not hyperbole.

I cannot wait until this marking is finished and I have time to start moving these books back into their rightful home.

The Epic Study Spring-Cleaning Ordeal of 2011: The Slow Re-build

Posted 28 August 2011 in by Catriona


The carpet cleaner has come and done his best to remove the mould from carpets that should probably have just been stripped up and killed with fire. (And, incidentally, the carpet cleaner also loudly bemoaned modern morality, insulted the music I was playing while I was working, and said “Who cares?” when I explained what I did for a living. He also left me to move all the furniture myself after I corrected his assumption about my boss’s gender, which is fine, and called me a “brave girl” as he watched me drag a bookcase down the hallway, which is not fine.)

Leaving all that aside, though, the end result is that we can start moving stuff back into the study. Or we will be able to once my marking is out of the way, which means (practically speaking) we still won’t be able to get into the spare room for at least another week.

But we’ve moved the books out of the living room, so at least one room in the house isn’t littered with academic debris.

So now I can work at my desk again, loomed over by shelves of Victorian and Edwardian novels, just like a real nineteenth-century scholar:

Of course, until Nick has a chance to pop some picture hooks up for me, everything’s still in a state of “propped up wherever there’s a space”:

And the majority of the study looks like this, which is neat but not particularly useful:

Still, it’s better than a completely empty, mouldy room.

Slightly better, anyway.

The Epic Study Spring-Cleaning Ordeal of 2011: The Breathing Space

Posted 17 August 2011 in by Catriona

So, obviously, finding new life in the study carpet put a bit of a crimp in our plans to have everything back on the shelves and a lovely, sweet-smelling new work space by the end of the weekend.

And I was so looking forward to it: I love my little house, and try hard to make it both comfortable and attractive, and I’m so sick of spending all my days and half my nights in the ugliest, least comfortable room in the house.

I had grand plans. New curtains. A few pictures. A hot-pink plastic cuckoo clock. You know: the usual.

And then the mould. And the waiting for the real-estate agent to get a plumber out to us. Then the news that the whole shower has to be ripped out (goodbye, late ’50s fiberglass shell), but that we have to wait a week before we can have the carpet cleaned and get back into the study.

So now we live in a labyrinth of Victorian novels, video games, and manuscript notes. The spare room looks as though a bookshop exploded in it.

But in the interim, at least I’ve stripped the study back to the bare essentials, waiting until I can actually get the new curtains, the pictures, the cuckoo clock up on the walls and start filling the shelves again:

At least this much is certain: when I spring clean, I do it thoroughly.

The Epic Study Spring-Cleaning Ordeal of 2011: The Prequel

Posted 16 August 2011 in by Catriona

So, as anyone who is also connected to me in any of numerous forms of social networking already knows, we embarked on a thorough spring cleaning of the house a fortnight ago.

Since we can only clean on the weekends, we’re only two rooms through the process. (Luckily, this is a tiny house.)

This past weekend was dedicated to the study, a room that, as you can see, radically needed a thorough spring cleaning:

(Note that I have chosen to present the photographs in black-and-white form, to make them look “arty” rather than “squalid”.)

And all was progressing just beautifully, despite various complaints from Nick, until we discovered, after moving a bookcase, that the shower had apparently been leaking directly through the wall for some time, creating new life in the fertile ground of an ancient rental-house carpet.

It was at roughly that point that the spring cleaning passed from “annual chore” to “epic adventure” …

Oxygen-Rich Environment

Posted 4 July 2011 in by Catriona

I’ve been debating about whether or not to write this blog post, for a variety of reasons.

Partly because this is yet another in my intermittent series of “why I haven’t blogged lately” posts, and I’m sure there’s a saturation point to be reached in those.

But more than that, I just haven’t been sure I’ve wanted to talk about why I haven’t been blogging.

Don’t worry: it’s not as bad as I just made it sound. Though each time I’ve said to someone in person, “I should tell you this, but I don’t want to talk about it”, they say, “You’re not pregnant, are you?”

I’m not pregnant.

But I have quit smoking.

Big deal, right? I’ve done that before, and never successfully. But this time, it’s a bit different:

That’s the number of days since I last had a cigarette. Sort of: I’m over onto the next leaf of the calendar now. (And yes: that’s a Doctor Who calendar with a Dungeons & Dragons character sheet stuck under it, but that can’t come as a shock.)

So: three weeks. Nearly. Nearly three weeks.

And if I’d known that I’d feel this awful, I don’t think I could have ever done it, even though it was entirely my choice.

Luckily, and against all advice, I quit at a moment when I was insanely busy. So what with the nearly three-hundred first years whose final exams I had to either mark or moderate, the final grades for those students, and the Animal Farm manuscript (which came back from the structural edit right at the moment the exam was being sat), it wasn’t until last Thursday that I had a moment to notice the symptoms.

Oh, I noticed that I was a bit short-tempered and craving cigarettes. But I had no idea what a plethora of symptoms the quitting process would bring.

I can’t regulate my body temperature, so I’m either flushed or shaking uncontrollably, regardless of what I’m wearing or what the ambient temperature is.

Because I can’t control my body temperature, I can’t sleep through the night. I wake up boiling hot, but can’t throw off the bed clothes because it’s 3 am and freezing. So I can’t get back to sleep, and I lie there and fret.

And fretting has a whole new meaning, since quitting smoking messes with your adrenaline and cortisol levels, so my anxiety levels are through the roof, and I can’t control them.

My appetite has changed radically, and not in the direction I intended: I was expecting to be eating more, but instead I can force myself to eat during the day, but can’t stomach anything after about 6pm.

(Of course, it’s not as though missing a few meals would do me any harm. Quite the contrary.)

And—and this is the relevant one—I can’t concentrate.

I can’t concentrate on anything.

I can’t even read. After about half a page, I just can’t concentrate any more, even if it’s a book I’ve read before.

Can you imagine what not being able to read does to someone like me? Not to mention that I certainly can’t work, when I can’t even re-read a Charlaine Harris novel.

And one of the casualties of not being able to concentrate on anything for more than about five minutes at a time is this blog.

Before this blog post starts to sound like a particularly dangerous public-service announcement, I should say that I don’t regret quitting and I have no intention of starting again. My breathing is easier, even now. And my skin is brighter, too, even though I do look like a ghost. I’m sure it’s only going to get easier from this point.

It can’t get harder.

At least, I hope not.

But until I can get my brain (and body) back under control, I don’t think the blog will be updated as often as I like.

As I said to Nick, it’s like living at high altitude for fifteen years, and then coming down into an oxygen-rich environment. I just have to stop and sit down until my head stops spinning.

Lessons I Have Learned From Watching "Project Moonbase"

Posted 8 June 2011 in by Catriona

Last night, Nick and I watched the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 episode covering Project Moonbase, the 1953 film based on a short story by Robert Heinlein.

And, honestly, of all the many, many bad films we’ve watched in the course of our MST3K obsession, this was one of the less rubbish ones. They actually had some nice zero-gee effects, and Nick was delighted with the “Please Do Not Walk on the Walls” signs slathered all over the space station.

But the most important thing about the film was the important lessons it taught me about life in the distant future (1970, to be exact).

1. I really don’t like Heinlein, even when he’s being adapted by someone else.

2. Nick takes an odd delight in Heinlein. All through the film, he kept saying, “This is so Heinlein it’s killing me”. He also recommended that an enemy spy be thrown out an airlock, “because that’s what Heinlein would do” (and was immediately delighted when the second-in-command said, “Well, I could throw him out an airlock”).

3. Couples don’t have to agree on the value of Robert Heinlein to have a successful relationship.

4. In the future (1970), women will be allowed to have roles of supreme importance, like spaceship pilot (rank of colonel) or President of the United States of America.

5. Women in positions of power get uppity, so you need to balance gender equality in theory with extreme misogyny in practice. Therefore, women in power should be described to their subordinates as “spoiled brats” and, if necessary, be threatened with spanking by their superior officers. (No, really. This actually happened.)

6. Women should also have a good sense of their own weaknesses so that if, for example, they’re trapped on the dark side of the moon with no hope of rescue, they can offer an adequate apology for their behaviour. Something like “Sorry for coming over all female, Major” should do the trick.

7. All the above holds true even if the woman is a highly decorated Air-Force officer, the first pilot to achieve orbital flight, and the first pilot to successfully land a manned craft on the moon.

8. In fact, if she is the first pilot to achieve orbital flight, it’s probably due to tokenism. You should definitely tell her subordinates that, just before a vital mission. That won’t affect her authority, at all.

9. “Briteis” is a really stupid name for a woman, because no matter how much you emphasise that it’s pronounced Bry-TIES, people will still just call you “Bright Eyes.”

10. It’s important, if you wish to achieve orbit, that the weight in the cabin be minimised as far as possible. The first thing to go? All that unnecessary weight on your trousers. Hot pants for all!

11. If you end up having to make a forced landing on the moon, you might end up becoming a de facto moonbase. And if it’s just you and your co-pilot, and you’re different genders, NASA might make you marry each other, to stop the press writing scurrilous tales about the lax morals in the Air Force. Goodness knows what they’d make you do if you were the same gender …

12. An excellent wedding-present for your new husband is the rank of Brigadier General. Never mind that he’s only a major at present: you need to skip him up a good few ranks so that he safely outranks you. Nice gender politics there, Colonel Bright Eyes.

Farewelling the Old Place

Posted 17 April 2011 in by Catriona

The exodus from our main teaching building began last week. When we return (if we return, in my case, I suppose), the building will be shiny new.

And we certainly need shiny-new teaching rooms—hopefully, these ones will have windows. Windows would be awesome.

But I admit to a strong fondness for the old building, where I completed my graduate degrees and met my partner. So this is just pure nostalgia, really, before the building is gutted and rebuilt.

I’ll definitely miss the mysterious but deeply ’70s ceiling decorations:

I’ll miss the funky fonts and the building’s resistance to ordinary, non-textured walls:

I’ll miss the of-its-time stairwell sculpture, which I always wanted to touch, but never did:

I’ll even miss the staircase that I feel down on more than one occasion:

Dear Michie Building: you were rather ugly in some ways, and your hallway carpeting was older than I am. But you have a certain charm, for all that. Let’s hope they don’t strip all of that away from you.


Posted 30 December 2010 in by Catriona

My thoughtful parents have painted the hearthstone in the spare-room fireplace white, to stop witches coming down the chimney:

Now, that’s what I call thoroughgoing hospitality.

Witch-Finger Biscuits Are Not For The Faint-Hearted

Posted 31 October 2010 in by Catriona

While the brilliant Heather was carving pumpkins, the equally brilliant Michelle (also of the live-blogging peanut gallery) was making witch-finger biscuits (which—hee!—I warn you are not for the faint hearted):

The biscuits themselves are shortbread, or something very like it, which makes them just about my favourite type of biscuit in the world.

But delicious shortbread or not, I definitely had to close my eyes before biting off the bit with the fingernail on it.

Pumpkin Carving

Posted 30 October 2010 in by Catriona

Last night was our Hallowe’en Party—well, actually a combination Hallowe’en, Oktoberfest, up-coming anniversary, and friend’s birthday party, which really just meant quite a lot of alcohol with a fringe of cake.

But since it was Hallowe’en adjacent, the brilliant Heather (well known on the blog as one of the live-blogging peanut gallery) carved us some pumpkins:

Now the scary jack o’lantern is brilliant. Nothing like triangle eyes here:

But this was most definitely the pièce de résistance:

Eric Northman pumpkin. Isn’t he marvellous? All night, people were saying, “That pumpkin’s a bit sexy. How can a pumpkin be sexy?”

Spring Cleaning: Part One of a Series I Might Forget About Later

Posted 22 August 2010 in by Catriona

I’m not nuts for spring cleaning, but it is a good time to take a look at the house and see what little bits and pieces could do with a sprucing up for the new season. I’m feeling more enthusiastic about spring cleaning this year, too, because we tossed an enormous pile of books and clothes thanks to a fortuitous jumble sale, so we can breathe a little more easily in the house.

(The books, for the record, were pre-stacked in a corner of the wardrobe and had been for a year, so their absence makes no difference to my sorely abused bookshelves.)

But today’s task was my armchairs:

I love almost everything about these chairs: their solidity (they’re hardwood and weigh a tonne), the scalloped backs, the little wooden feet at the front, the wide armrests, the way they slope back, and the fact that they cost me $50 for the two.


Of course, they cost me $50 because they need re-springing, and re-springing just isn’t on the budget. That’s why they have those European pillows shoved down under the seat cushion: it stops us from losing guests down the back of the armchair.

But the orange just isn’t doing it for me any more. And neither is the upholstery, which is the one thing I hate about these chairs.


My mother says it’s fine, but I think they look like they’re crawling with veins. The upholstery also shows dirt a bit too readily, which isn’t great in sweltering summers.

Still, if re-upholstering isn’t in the budget (and it isn’t), at least I can take some preventative measures and get rid of those orange cushion covers.


Nice warm brown cushion covers, anti-maccassars that are actually chiffon table-runners (picked up in Sydney for pennies at a bargain basement: I only wish I’d been foresighted enough to pick up another couple to make arm covers from), and my favourite cushions (which look like ex-Muppets), and already the living room looks a little brighter and a little less orange.

Back in Brisbane

Posted 11 August 2010 in by Catriona

Normally, when I’m taking a break from blogging, I let you know in advance. But this time, I was lazy. Or neglectful. Or harassed.

Pick whichever one seems most plausible to you.

(Psst. I suggest “lazy.”)

So I’ve been down in Sydney for a week, and I didn’t blog, and I didn’t even tell you I was going.

But I’m back now, and I’ve lined up a whole series of photo posts for your viewing pleasure. (Or not, depending on how fussy you are about your photos actually being good.)

I’ll start with the strange atmospheric conditions of the Southern Highlands, shall I?

Me and The Mechanic

Posted 2 August 2010 in by Catriona

So I took my car in for a service and I said to the mechanic, “If you find anything extravagantly wrong with it, give me a ring before you fix it, okay?”

He said he would.

One courtesy bus, one ordinary bus, and an hour later, I get home, make myself a cup of coffee, and settle down to check my e-mails when the phone rings.

It’s the mechanic.

He says to me, “We were checking over the car and we found mumble, mumble, mumble. Would you like us to fix that?”

And I think, “Oh, no. I wasn’t actually listening to him; I was checking my e-mails.”

But I don’t want to admit that I wasn’t listening, so I come up with a cunning plan. This way, I’ll find out what he was saying before I commit to expensive car repairs, but I won’t have to admit that I wasn’t listening to him.

So I say, “Can you just remind me what that part does?”

And he says, “Those are the things that clean your windshield off when it rains.”

The Existential Horror of the 1980s

Posted 25 July 2010 in by Catriona

My students seems quite fascinated by the 1980s. I suppose, when the majority of them were born in the 1990s, it seems oddly exotic and ancient to them, a state of mind that in turn makes me feel ancient, though not particularly exotic.

So I tell them the 1980s was a time of unremitting horror, and they should be lucky they don’t have to revisit it.

(I’m actually quite fond of the ’80s, myself, in a nostalgic kind of way, but I seem to have gone a little mad in front of my classes, ever since I started teaching students who were born while I was in high school.)

I could tell them about the sense that we were all going to die in a nuclear holocaust or, this being a giant isolated island, survive in a nuclear wasteland among mutant kangaroos before committing suicide with Armand Assante.

(I may be mixing up Tank Girl and the 2000 adaptation of On the Beach, there, but, hey, it was a confusing time.)

But to drive home the true existential horror of the 1980s, all I really need to do is to show them the covers of Paula Danziger novels:

The tight jeans!

The short jeans!

The socks that match your magenta-and-black-striped jumper!

The magenta-and-black-striped jumper!

The blue slip-on shoes!

The polka dots!

Truly, an impending nuclear holocaust would always have been slightly less terrifying than those lemon-coloured, three-quarter-length leggings with white high heels and matching plastic bracelets.



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