Monthly Archives: February 2011

Not Dead

Just a public service announcement:  I am not dead.  The past week I have been sock-knitting (turned my first heel!  and it still looks like a sock!), riding other people’s horses and falconry-ing.  I’ve upped my number of volunteer days with the hope that in a couple months a job might come out of this if I make myself useful enough.  As a result, I’m learning new and unexpected things.

Such as:

– I can feed The Grumpiest Eagle Owl without losing fingers.

– I can make jesses and anklets out of a mere sheet of leather.

– I know what a creance is, and how to wind it back up properly.

– I can now butcher both quail and rabbit, at least for avian consumption.

The last was something I hadn’t really known how I’d feel about, as a self-confessed animal lover.  Gutting and dismembering little feathered/fluffy things?  I thought I’d be too sad and a bit queasy.  Turns out I’m not.

I’ve realised that my time spent with the birds of prey has given me a somewhat raptorial outlook in life.  I no longer avert my gaze from roadkill, for one.  Not only am I not squeamish anymore, but I’m also less sentimental about things dying.  I appreciate the cycle of life better; one thing dies so another thing might live.

But, back to the topic at hand,  I’m not dead.  I’ve just not been writing lately, what with being busy, and thus feel like I don’t have much to say here.  Hopefully this will change.

And now I’m off to watch The Husband give a talk about religion and politics.  He’s freaking out a little, but he’s a big smarty-pants so it’ll be fabulous.

The Almost-Sock, Drunken Yarn Shopping and (Sober) Chicken-Sitting

If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t posted in a few days, I’ll tell you now:  Socks.

Or rather one sock.

Well, one almost-sock.

This sock:

This will not be another boob coaster incident.

Yes, my friends, after my last yarn-craft disaster I am actually attempting to knit a sock.  Well, two, ultimately.  And so far it’s been going unprecedentedly well, despite my disbelief at this magazine’s claims of “easy” and “quick” in reference to said project.  This has been actually taking up all my time since after Valentine’s Day when I bought the yarn.

Which brings me to another point.  Getting a bit tipsy on a glass of wine at lunch can be delightful.  And going shopping afterward may be a bit dangerous.  But getting tipsy and going yarn shopping?!  Now that’s a recipe for disaster cookies.

I bought 8 balls of yarn.  And this is despite the fact that they didn’t have the yarn I was actually looking for to complete my fuzzy scarf.  I also somehow decided I was ready to knit socks.

Several days later, however, this is surprisingly fabulous.  And I may have had to unravel my very first attempt, and then backtrack a couple of rows when I discovered that the stocking stitch is done completely different in the round – something that this magazine should have been more clear about, I feel, since directed at beginners to sock-knitting – but, regardless, here we are.  A pretty goddamn awesome almost-sock.

And in other news, you can tell you live in the country when you’re asked to chicken-sit.  True story.

How to Celebrate St. Valentine’s Day

So it’s Valentine’s Day.  After my rant about the last consumer-driven holiday, I feel it would be amiss to ignore this particularly virulent example.  Let’s discuss.

Firstly, Saint Valentine himself.  According to my sources, the name applies to several Roman saints.  And as for the one celebrated on February 14th we only really know that he was buried on the day in question.

So why is he the cause of this saccharin celebration of all things pink and red and heart-shaped?  Well, he’s the patron saint of the following:

Love – Ok, that makes sense.

Affianced couples – Well isn’t that nice.

Happy marriages – Precious.  I can feel the Hallmark phrases just building like bile in my throat.

Against fainting – Hm, I suppose fainting can be a side-effect of too many champagne-filled chocolates.  No one wants that.

Bee keepers – Um, sure.  Bees give us honey, and bee keepers steal the honey from said bees for the benefit of mankind.  Bee-keepers aren’t given the credit they’re due, honestly.

Plague – Yes, not only are you celebrating the day of love, but also the day of PLAGUE.  But, honestly, if there are plague victims among us today I believe that they should get Valentines as much as anyone else.  Something along the lines of: Roses are red/ Violets are blue/ You’ve got the Black Death/ But I still like you.

Epileptics – Maybe seizures are just the side-effect of being hit by Cupid’s arrow?  You never know.

So, in light of all these things, let’s see what we do for St. Valentine’s Day in modern times (if indeed we choose to celebrate it at all):

– Force poorly-worded greetings cards onto our loved ones.

– Purchase scanty red underthings.  Wear them, to varying degrees of successful attractiveness.

– Go out to dinner with a room full of other soppy couples, look lovingly into each others’ eyes, hold hands, etc etc.

Not very Saint Valentines-y, now is it?

I think if we really want to celebrate this day properly we need to do the following:

– Celebrate love in general, and maybe do a shout-out to an affianced couple you may know, or cheer on a happy marriage that’s going strong.

– Buy some smelling salts.

– Go visit a bee-keeper and thank them for their hard work.

– Raise money for plague sufferers.

– Start a campaign banning flash photography and strobe lights.

Let’s get right on that.

In Defense of an Arts Degree

So not only does an Arts degree not at all lead to a job, we knew this when we signed up for one, but now they’re telling us that having an Arts degree actually reduces your overall earnings compared to someone who left education at 18. (The article is from 2003, but I can’t imagine it’s gotten any better since then.  If anything, it’s probably worse.)

And this guy can tell you just how miserable it is to be an unemployed Arts graduate (in case you didn’t already know):

And even people, like The Husband who has both an undergraduate AND a Masters in his Arts subject, who don’t think they’re too good to be a labourer, barman/-maid, cleaner, waiter/-ress or call centre worker still can’t get work.  Those jobs typically won’t employ graduates, because they believe they won’t stick around long.  Little do they know that a graduate would be just as likely to stick around as anyone else, since there is literally nothing else out there.

However, does this mean that future undergraduates should eschew the Arts in favour of something more lucrative?  Or maybe forgo university altogether?

I think not.  And this is why:

We are not mere money-making machines.

I believe people still have the right to pursue what avenues excite them.  And for many, that avenue is in the Arts.  To reject that is to reject part of what makes you you.  Perhaps you’ll earn more in a Science or Business-related degree, but at the end of your life will you feel more fulfilled?  Will you be able to say that you did everything you wanted to do in life?

We only get one go at this mortal coil, let’s not throw it away on something so baseless as the pursuit of hard, cold cash.

Yes, we need to earn a living – but the emphasis should be the living and not the earning.  Right now it sucks to try to do either, but Arts graduates are nothing if not resourceful.

Doctor When’s Desert Danger and Hurray for Springtime

More Adventurous Time Adventures, for your enjoyment/eye-brow raising/confusion/scorn:

*

This time Doctor When opened the Time Machine door without hesitation upon arrival, and a blast of hot air enveloped them. They stepped out into blinding sunlight, and for a moment they were so dazzled they could only see white. Then it became clear that they stood amongst giant white sand dunes for as far as the eye could see.

‘This is rather convenient,’ the Chrononaut remarked. ‘We’ll be able to get dry.’

And indeed, their clothes began to warm immediately, and soon they were as dry as the few sun-bleached bones that were scattered in the sand. And after a few moments more they all wished they were underwater with the vicious merpeople again. It was far too hot, and they were all incredibly thirsty

‘What’s that?’ cried Tortellini, pointing to a patch of dull green suddenly visible before them, starkly contrasting against all the pale sand.

‘An oasis?’ Wilburforce wondered, having heard of such things on the rare occasions that he enjoyed a night in by the fire with tea and a good book, rather than his usual violence and mayhem.

Their steps quickened at the thought of water, but as they approached, they first noticed that the scattered bones were becoming less scattered and more concentrated in number.

‘When exactly are we?’ Cannelloni had the presence of mind to ask, knives in hand.

‘One thousand two hundred and forty-eight years, three months, two days, and eighteen minutes ago,’ the Doctor replied.

‘And that, hiding in the shrub? That’s what exactly?’

‘That would be a polar bear.’

‘I assume that’s our anomaly, then?’

‘You would be assuming correctly.’

The polar bear was not happy. He was far too hot, most of all, but also very confused. This was not something the polar bear could easily handle, and it made him very angry. So, whenever something came his way, the odd herd of camel-like beasts or such, he released that anger in the only way he knew how. Killing things.

So when the ragged band of humans arrived near his oasis, that instinct rose furiously within him and he immediately leapt forward. The chase made him even hotter, but he knew that quenching his thirst on their blood would make the discomfort worth it. They were slow, these two-legged beasts, but they had a head-start. It would not take long for him to catch up, he realised as he thundered through the sand towards them.

It was unclear to the polar bear why these creatures were rushing towards a tall, boxy object. It had an odd smell, but it was not food nor water. One had opened a section of it, revealing an opening like the mouth of a cave. He remembered caves, those dark and cool places to sleep. But he was nearly upon them, now, and gnashed his teeth in anticipation. One was within reach, and he reached out a paw to swipe.

But then it moved, too quickly, and the polar bear could not stop his headlong flight. Sand scattered as he was flung from his own inertia into the mouth of the strange cave and he hit the back wall with a thud.

‘Quickly now!’ Doctor When closed the door of the Time Machine.

‘But, Doctor!’ Tortellini exclaimed. ‘The polar bear is inside!’

‘Exactly.’ She opened a side-panel which revealed a miniature version of the dials and switches within. Buttons were pressed, levers were thrown, and the Time Machine seemed to implode on itself into nothing.

The Spaghetti Sisters clung to each other, horrified. Wilburforce stood sweating from the exertion beside them, staring in shock at the place the Time Machine had vacated.

‘We’re going to perish here!’ Cannelloni cried, turning on the Doctor. ‘What have you done?’

Doctor When was silent and merely shook her head.

‘Have you gone mad?’ she persisted.

‘I think you’ll find there was no “going” involved,’ the Doctor replied cheerily, checking her pocket watch. It was a miracle it still worked, after all their adventures.

‘But the Time Machine is gone!’

‘It is.’

‘So how will we get back?’

‘The Time Machine, of course.’

‘But it’s gone!’ the two sisters shouted in unison.

At that very moment, there was an expulsion of air. The Time Machine stood where it had been some moments before, as if it had never left.

‘And now it’s back,’ Doctor When remarked. ‘Shall we?’

The others recoiled in fear as she opened the door, but the interior was polar bear-less.

‘I merely instructed the Time Machine to take the poor creature back to a habitat to which it would be more suited. There was no reason to let the beast suffer needlessly,’ she explained, waving them inside.

‘You could’ve mentioned that before,’ Wilburforce grumbled, his civility momentarily shaken by yet another near-death experience.

‘Many apologies,’ the Chrononaut solemnly said, ‘I suppose I thought it obvious. Onward?’

*

I’m expecting there to be only one or two more installments left to write, depending on how verbose the ending gets.  Then I can put TATAoDW aside as a completed project!  How fabulous.

In other news, I’m very excited that spring is becoming more and more imminent here, as noted by the above header picture taken yesterday.  I love seeing flowers in February!  Back in Boston, we were lucky to see any signs of spring before late March or April most of the time.  And then you have one or two glorious weeks of spring before it all becomes far too hot, and then you have summer for the other half of the year.

Ah, I love Scotland.  Much more sensible.

It’s Shark Week on Doctor When, Naughty Time Machines and My Shameful Little Secret

And now onto the next chapter in Doctor When’s Adventurous Time Adventures!  I’m quite pleased because I finally worked out the final trajectory, and I know how it ends now.  But you don’t, HA!

*

The merpeople seemed to be taunting them, swimming just within reach to grab or yank some floating appendage or piece of clothing before swirling off again. For the humans, of course, fighting underwater was proving difficult. Even Wilburforce, usually so efficacious with his fists, was finding it hard to land a solid blow quickly or powerfully. Doctor When’s rapier cut the water with its keen edge, but it too was hampered by the slowing effect of the seawater.

After some minutes of struggling to acquit themselves well in the situation, the Doctor’s voice came through their submarinopulminators, ‘I think popfizz best we make a hasty retreat. Pop-geborg isn’t fizz anymore.’

Relieved, the others followed her lead and swam warily back the way they had come. The merpeople followed, raking exposed skin with sharp chitinous claws when the opportunity presented itself. A trail of red blood hanging in their wake soon marked their passage.

‘Ah, I think we poppop go even more hasty,’ the Chrononaut remarked, eyes fixed upon distant shapes growing nearer and more defined. Whereas the merpeople had merely moved shark-like, these shadows were the real thing, drawn to the scent of blood in the water.

The merpeople noticed the threat at the same time, and turned with predatory hissing to face the large carnivores. Suddnely the water was roiling with fins and teeth, a sheer smorgasbord of marine violence.

In the commotion, the humans managed to drift near enough to the Time Machine, perched on a bed of nearby coral, to board its periosphere. Or rather, to attempt to – for the hatch was refusing to open. And the fight between merpeople and sharks was getting more frenetic and, more importantly, closer to where they floated.

‘You fizzfizz bloody Time Machine!’ the Doctor swore. ‘If you let us in popfizz I vow that once this is over you can have fizz a proper go at doing me in!’ Immediately, the wheeled mechanism spun in her hands and they pulled themselves inside.

As the hatch shut, waves of pinkened water crept through the closing gap. The periosphere drained of water with the throwing of a lever, and soon Doctor When was removing her submarinopulminator.

‘Well that was bracing,’ she said, wringing out her lace cuffs. ‘On to the next, shall we?’

Back within the main body of the Time Machine, the bedraggled toughs were not feeling nearly as tough as they had when this chronological adventure had begun.

‘So how much further will we be travelling in time before we find this Ingeborg?’ Vermacelli asked, rubbing the spot on her scalp where her hair had been pulled.

‘Yeah,’ agreed her sister. ‘Cannelloni has a point.’

‘Thank you, Tortellini,’ Vermacelli-now-Cannelloni nodded curtly.

‘You’re very welcome,’ Rigatoni-now-Tortellini returned the gesture.

Doctor When watched their exchange with patience, and replied, ‘As long as it takes.’

‘Ahem,’ Wilburforce cleared his throat politely, getting the attention of the three formidable women. ‘And how will be know when we’ve found it/him/her?’

‘Oh, we’ll know,’ the Doctor proclaimed darkly. Then she turned back to her dials and before they knew it they were hurtling through time-space once more.

*

I’ll let you in on my shameful little secret.  It’s terrible, and please don’t judge me harshly, but:

I have to use Wikipedia’s List of Pasta Varieties to decide the interchangeable names for the Spaghetti Sisters.  There’s just no way I can remember that many different kinds of semolina-based noodle product on demand.

And now you know.

Doctor When’s Triumphant Return!

As well as working on Cobault, I’m also continuing with The Adventurous Time Adventures of Doctor When.  Hurrah!  Now it’s been a looong time since I began this shenanigan, so feel free to tag-travel and read what came before again (or indeed for the first time, if you’re uninitiated in my strange steampunk serial drama).

On with the wacky!

*

There was that swirling-down-the-drain feeling again as they slipped in and out of time, uncertain when or where they would end up next. And what strangeness they might encounter therein.

That question was soon answered.

‘Aha!’ Doctor When exclaimed once they had come to a chronological stop. ‘We’ll need to exit via the periosphere.’ With one hand, she pulled down an extendable ladder and reached up to unscrew what looked like a hatch from a submarine.

The others looked on bemused as the Chrononaut shed her tailed coat and shimmied up the ladder and out of sight. Three spherical objects were thrown to each of them in turn, clear-fronted and mechanical. Doctor When’s face appeared in the hatch opening.

‘Come on, then!’

‘Er,’ Wilburforce ventured, turning the object in his meaty but miniature hands. ‘What are these?’

‘Submarinopulminators! Of my own invention, of course. Still working on the communications system, though’

‘But what are they for?’ Vermacelli frowned.

‘How else do you expect to breathe underwater? Come on now, let’s get cracking!’

Up the ladder, they entered another cramped space which all but Wilburforce had to slouch in order to fit inside. Doctor When tightened the hatch shut once they were all within, and donned her submarinopulminator while the others followed suit after seeing how it was done. Thus prepared, the esteemed Doctor threw a lever and cold seawater rushed to fill the periosphere.

As they became soaked through, it became apparent how useful their devices were. Within the submarinopulminators the four land-dwelling air-breathing humans were able to freely draw breath and maintain a good field of vision. Right now, the three hired toughs were seeing Doctor When leaving them behind through an open hatch at the top of the periosphere.

They propelled themselves after her, with varying degrees of efficiency, through the dully lit marine landscape. When they caught up, the Doctor turned and spoke to them, her words fizzing and popping as they emanated through the device, as if beside each of their ears.

‘We need to swim fizzpop the other side of poppop stone outcropping fizzz,’ she said, or nearly. ‘The anoma-fizzpopfizz there.’

So they stretched their legs and arms weightlessly and headed off in that directions. Around them, drifts of seaweed caught on their clothing and extremities. Wilburforce frowned at the thought of what his outfit would look like after this undersea adventure, but then he was used to getting strange stains, usually blood, out of his garments.

Eventually they passed the specified outcropping, and turned to see what sat on its other side.

There were shapes in the water, dark and human-sized. And they moved quickly, like sharks, making the hairs rise on the necks of Wilburforce and the Spaghetti Sisters. Doctor When merely trod water and watched as they became surrounded.

‘What are these fizz-ings?’ Rigatoni had to ask, her voice squeaking with fear.

Fizzpop-ple,’ the Doctor replied, or tried to.

‘What?’

Poppop said, they’re merpeop-fizzz.’

‘Are they popfizz anomal-pop?’ Wilburforce wondered, trying to spin in place to keep his eye on as many as possible.

‘Oh indeed, as a matter of popfizz, merpeople became extinct two hundr-pop years ago. And we fizzpop travelled back only fifty.’

The shapes were drawing closer and closer, until they were swimming within mere metres of the humans. One swooped in and grabbed Vermacelli’s hair, drifting in a cloud from the back of her submarinopulminator, tearing a hank of it from the roots.

‘That fizzpop-ing watery bitch! I’m going to poppop kill her!’ the Spaghetti Sister cried.

‘I suggest fizz do so,’ the Doctor agreed, drawing her rapier.

*

Ok, so freely tell me if you find all that popping and fizzing to be terribly irritating, instead of wacktastically humorous as it was intended to be.  My feelings won’t be hurt (much).

I love having such a random side-project to lift my spirits when I get bogged down in Cobault.  And now I’ve decided that once its finished it’ll be a proper short-story which I can try to enter in various competitions for fame and prize money.

Both of which are certainly noble goals, yes?

Seasonal Prose, Lack of Productivity and The Scarf That Looks Like A Scarf

*

Before long, Cobault’s streets were swept by the high winds that characterised Autumn’s approach. Debris rattled on the cobblestones, thrown under the wheels of carriages and making the streets somewhat more hazardous than usual. Ladies’ long skirts twisted around their legs, tripping the unprepared and making men stare with knowing smiles to see the outlines of appendages hitherto unseen. These men had to be careful to remain at least somewhat self-aware and mind their hats, however, for not a few were stripped from their wearer’s very heads. Chill fingers of air groped pedestrians, raising gooseflesh in their wake.

This was an unfriendly season, and Euphemia was more aware of that than her peers – because of her peers, in actuality.

*

So I think I can handle moving forward in time, now, to some degree.  It’s been one of my struggles, and I have to say it took reading all of Harry Potter to give me the idea.  Every single book, J.K. Rowling uses the time device of the seasons to shift us through the academic year:

“As they entered November, the weather turned very cold.” (The Philosopher’s Stone)

“October arrived, spreading a damp chill over the grounds and into the castle.”  (Chamber of Secrets)

“Two weeks before the end of term, the sky lightened suddenly to a dazzling, opaline white and the muddy grounds were revealed one morning covered in glittering frost.” (The Prisoner of Azkeban)

And so on.  Notice how much purpler the prose of these descriptions get with every book?  Oh, J.K. Rowlz, I suppose the fame started to get to your head a wee bit there.  Not complaining, mind – I think the word “opaline” is sorely underused.

It makes a lot of sense but I don’t want to rely upon it.  Just like I began to notice that every single HP book relied upon seasonal prose to move forward through time, it can become clunky and expected.

And readers are a fickle bunch, and you can’t let them get what they expect – they’ll get bored and leave you!  Contrary bastards.

In other news, as noted by the excerpt, I’m writing Cobault again!  It’s kind of a big deal, because I’ve been a bit Blah and not writing for a week or so now.  You can generally tell how productive I’m being, writerly, by how many posts I’m posting here in a given week.  I think this week there has been a grand total of two.  So not very productive.

However, I’m feeling rather proud of the scarf I’m knitting.  It’s very fuzzy and actually looks like a scarf.  It’s impressive.

An Ode: To Cheese, From A Lactard

In lieu of having anything of interest to talk about, I give to you an ode to an inanimate object.  And just so you know – a “Lactard” is someone who is Lactose Intolerant, whose lactase enzymes are too retarded to do their job properly and digest the loveliness of cheese.  Curse you, enzymes!!!

To Cheese, From A Lactard

Why do you hurt me so?
I only wish to partake
Of your cheesy delight.
But – Alas! – it is not to be.

For I am a Lactard,
Full of unworthy enzymes
Which cannot digest you
And it leads to unpleasantness.

But every so often,
Once a moon or so,
I cannot help but eat you
And take lactase tablets.

Behold! The lovely cheese!
My favourite: Brie,
Creamy, soft and divine
After cutting off icky rind bits.

I devour it, in transports
Of fervour and delight –
Beauteous dairy!
I could eat it all day long.

But this binge passes
Too soon, and I am left bereft
Not to have my beloved cheese,
Left alone in the cruel world of soy substitution.

Yes – I have monthly cheese binges and it’s amazing.

Yesterday was one such Cheese Binge Day, and it was magical.  But even when I do take the tablets, it doesn’t get rid of all the side-effects.  I won’t divulge exactly what side-effects persevere, but let’s just say you don’t want to be locked in a small, airless room with me anytime soon.

An Epiphany

I’m too tired to make a more topical post, and in fact I’m having a hard enough time as it is writing this one.  Rereading and editing seem like momentous tasks.  But regardless, I wanted to share an epiphany I had during my day today.

Last night I had the most terrible night’s sleep; I didn’t fall asleep until well into the am and then I woke up at 5ish feeling most terribly naseaus.  I managed to get another hour of sleep in there before the alarm went off for volunteering.

I really didn’t want to go.

I still felt terrible, so the idea of gutting dead things and manual labour didn’t at all appeal to me.  So for five minutes I debated it, lying in bed wishing I was sleeping.

But I got up, got dressed, forced down some tea and porridge, and went on my way.  As a result, I actually had the most amazing day.  I overcame some mental blocks I’d had with the birds before, like the fear of injury if I put my hands too close while feeding them.  I got bitten, yes.  But so what?

This is the very core of my life philosophy:  Life is hard.  Life is painful.  You might not enjoy it all the time.  It might be dangerous.  But doing difficult, painful, unenjoyable and dangerous things show you what you’re capable of overcoming.  It might be hard to get started, but you’ll be glad you did it.

So I got bitten by a Bengal Eagle Owl while feeding him.  Whatever.  I now know that being bitten by this owl feels a certain way and, while it was a little painful, I now know that the fear of what it would be like to be bitten was worse than the bite.  And that was an amazing epiphany to have had.  Now I can put myself to the task of feeding the more intimidating birds without being paralysed by the fear of what would happen.

And all because I dragged myself out of bed this morning.